Blood Slaughter Massacre 2013
Directed by: Manny Serrano
Starring: Matt W. Cody, Michael Roche, Carmela Hayslett
Review by Luis Joaquín González
A film called Blood Slaughter Massacre could only be, in any language, a slasher movie. I’ve written before about the amount of entries that have titles that start with Blood or end with the word Massacre and here we have a combination of the two with Slaughter (another common term amongst this genre’s features) chucked in the middle for the hell of it. I like the fact that there’s no messing around with this one, you get what it says on the box.
Anyway, the movie had an aura surrounding it throughout its production with some exciting photos of a killer donning a mask that brought to mind the Tor Johnson one used in Small Town Massacre. That has always been one of my favourites, because it gave the killer a haunting ‘deranged’ look, which had a similar effect as Michael Myers’ cherub-like Shatner. It was also refreshing to see a film that whilst paying tribute to the classics of the eighties, avoided the ‘done to death’ parody angle. No matter how much I love the genre, I’ve grown tired of watching filmmakers demonstrate the amount of references they can include in a runtime. We’ve moved to a time now where the best way of representing the cycle is by introducing a unique approach and avoiding the need for satire.
Two detectives that were involved in a tough case a decade ago are thrown back into the heart of it when a ruthless killer returns to their town and begins murdering the children of earlier massacre victims. The police are left stumped as the maniac stalks the city, but it soon becomes clear that there’s a method to his madness…
Last week, I posted a review of Camp Blood here on a SLASH above. Even if it is a low budget slasher movie just like this one, there’s a major difference that separates the way the two are presented and received. If you threw, for example, three-million dollars at the production of Brad Sykes’ entry, there would surely be improvements, but not really enough to completely alter the net result. Serrano on the other hand delivers a picture that totally outshines its budget and you can only wonder what he could achieve with that much more funding. I admit that it’s perhaps unfair to compare a campy David Sterling flick with a film that exudes such ambition, but as they share the same sub-genre, it exemplifies my point.
BSM is a true horror movie; and what I mean by that is it sacrifices the modern stereotype of regular attempts at humour to maintain a grisly tone. Like the best slashers, this one rolls out its antagonist in the midst of a dark and compelling mystery. It comes close to crossing into serial killer flick territory with the focus on its investigation, but it works by finding the right balance of the two styles. Our lead persona is something of an anti-hero, (an alcoholic cop), but we can overlook his character flaws because we hope that his heart is in the right place. There is a final girl here, but she’s kept somewhat in the background and doesn’t play the typical central role. The screenwriters have certainly taken a risk by avoiding the structure that’s commonly utilised almost identically in these more recent films, but what we get instead plays in the most satisfying of ways.
With such a bright spotlight of focus shone upon the story, Serrano needed to develop a constant feeling of dread to keep up the film’s momentum. I’ve already highlighted that the killer looks extremely intimidating in that ghoulish mask, but the director makes the most of his hulking frame and menacing size to add extra trepidation to the kill scenes. Whilst there are a couple of gore shots (a shower murder very similar to the one from The Prowler and a chainsaw slaughter spring to mind), it’s the placing of the bogeyman in each stalking sequence that really delivers the necessary fear factor. He’s up there with the guy from The Orphan Killer as one of the scariest maniacs I can recall and the director doesn’t waste a chance to make the most of his presence. He butchers a huge amount of victims and his sadistic brutality is extremely threatening. This is one of those films that develops its shocks because it makes you question how you’d react if you were to be placed in the situation that you see unfolding on the screen.
At two-hours and five-minutes, Serrano has a lot of ground to cover and he does so with a plot that may seem slightly convoluted to the lesser viewer. I’m not sure if a further prologue scene was removed late in the production, but I recommend watching the film through twice to really understand the synopsis. The lesser actors amongst the cast survive due to solid direction and Serrano pushes his cast to the limit in order to draw the performances that he required. We even get something of a ‘The Departed’ moment during the film’s conclusion and it does succeed in leaving you unsure what’s going to happen next.
We live in a world now where every new production comes with pages of untrustworthy IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes reviews and exciting social media commentaries that more often than not build a level of anticipation that rarely proves accurate when a film is finally released. I’m pleased to say that Blood Slaughter Massacre is better than I thought it would be and that in itself is a real achievement. What Serrano has built on a modest budget should set the standard for the slasher films of 2015. It is not a remake and It really is that good…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Camp Blood 1999
Directed by: Brad Sykes
Starring: Jennifer Ritchkoff, Michael Taylor, Tim Young
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I have mentioned Camp Blood a number of times on a SLASH above, but never actually got round to reviewing it. I picked it up back in the early noughties on big-box VHS and it was possibly the first no budget slasher of the new age that I got to see. Since then, I always thought of it as the quintessential example of a bad dime-store take on the slasher template. Over a decade has passed since I last watched it and the genre has seen its fair share of features that were financed on even smaller pocket books. This left me wondering if Blood would still maintain the status that I bestowed upon it on first viewing.
Two couples head off to explore a secluded woodland called Camp Blackfoot. Locals have named it Camp Blood due to the fact that a betrayed husband killed his cheating partner and her lover with a machete before disappearing into the wilderness. Legend states that he still roams the hills and murders anyone that is unfortunate or stupid enough to roam his region…
It was a strange feeling sitting in front of Camp Blood again after so long. Part of me was reminiscing the stack of VHS that I used to trawl through in my room when I’d just turned twenty and the other part was proud of the patience that I possessed to ‘appreciate’ so many turkies. Make no mistake about it, Blood isn’t like a bottle of fine wine. What I mean by that is my ten-year hiatus from exposure to it hasn’t turned it into Halloween. With that said, I did find things here that made me smile, which was most definitely more that I’d expected.
Brad Sykes, for all his obvious signs of amateurism, does understand what people enjoy about slasher movies. It takes less than five-minutes for the inevitable boob shot (what a pairing) and the next sight that we are treated to is a lumbering maniac in a clown mask. The kill scenes are deftly edited considering the budget and for the un-trained eye (i.e. my Mrs), the various splashings of blood and an imposing menace could be considered as generally effective. To give you an example, there’s a sequence that starts dumbly, because our sympathetic hero type guy chases the assailant into the forest when there was absolutely no logic in him doing so (the killer was actually fleeing the scene). Anyway, it results in a fight sequence on a cliff that’s well staged and then we get a smartly crafted gore shot that was surprisingly audacious. There are countless ‘tributes’ to Friday the 13th of course, with the most obvious being the film’s title, which was what Camp Crystal Lake became known by after Jason and his mum’s rampages.
I guess the above paragraph may look like I am about to take back all the mocking things that I’ve said previously about Brad Sykes’ addition to the stalk and slash family. Well in honesty, my experience was less painful than I’d anticipated, but I won’t be adding this to any top slasher lists in the near future. You see, the few bits and pieces that are classic slasher fun are punctured by some of the worst and most bizarre filmmaking decisions I’ve ever seen. We spend what feels like a lifetime in the clutches of a group of poorly acted and whiny campers and when the killer finally turns up and starts chopping through them, we’ve completely lost interest in their plight. Our final girl sinks to levels of rancid dramatics that had me reaching for the vomit bag and the patently cardboard machete can only appear so many times without beginning to look comical. There’s a really good and creepy score that often borders on building a menacing tone, but just when I was about to write a positive comment, something dumb kept happening and I felt like the guy in the picture to my right >>. It’s strange, because Camp Blood includes all the ingredients to become a trash-slasher hit. It’s just that it somehow puts them together awkwardly, like trying to build a flat-pack wardrobe without the instructions. I guess the fact that I had prepared myself for something awful meant that I could better handle the unbelievable levels of amateurism when I put it on this time. I went in knowing that there was going to be a mountain of goofiness, which made it easier than when I initially saw this and had less of an idea of what to expect.
There’s no doubt that Blood was filmed on the smallest of budgets, which was obvious because the same actors were re-used to play different characters with minimal effort to disguise their identities. It was bizarre seeing faces returning to the screen as Police Officers or Nurses when we’d witnessed them get slashed just moments earlier(!) I’m sure that back in the day, I noticed this stuff and found it easy to criticise, whereas now I kind of appreciated the cheesiness, if that makes sense. In my opening paragraph, I called this the quintessential example of a bad dime-store take-on the slasher template. Whilst I stand by that statement, I feel now that I can add the word ‘fun’ before bad in that statement. Either I’ve developed a sense of humour over the past decade or I’ve just got used to sitting through so much worse. At least this one has its heart in the right place. So yeah, as discussed, Camp Blood is a (fun) bad dime-store take-on the slasher template
Killer Guise: √√√√
The Boogey Man 1980
Directed by: Ulli Lommel
Starring: Suzanna Love, John Carradine, Ron James
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Money… When Lennon and McCartney wrote that it couldn’t buy you love, they were wrong. It can purchase pretty much everything and it’s the backbone to most of the experiences that we come across throughout our lives. The slasher boom of the eighties was not because Halloween received a four-star review from Roger Ebert. It was, quite simply, a response to the bundles of cash that Carpenter and Co transferred to their bank accounts after its surprising success. That’s not to say that there weren’t filmmakers that were inspired by that movie, but somewhere lurking in the background was the hunger that most humans are born with… The ravishing lust for cash.
I say this, because of all the Halloween imitators that hit screens during the peak years, none looked more single-minded in their effort to become a cash cow than this one. A friend of mine owns a small bar and I remember when I was about eighteen (and foolish), I filled a glass with a bit of everything in order to invent a brand new cocktail that he could call his own. It tasted like cat’s urine, but drinking more than one and a half of them would result in you being absolutely span-dangled. The Boogey Man is a lot like my brazen attempt at a phenomenal new beverage, because it takes parts of many popular horror films and chucks them into a blender in the hope that it’ll appeal to every ticket buying horror fan in the stratosphere. Does it result in a smooth blend of slasher-holic heaven or are we in for more feline-urine…?
A mother returns to the house where she was raised to overcome psychological demons that have haunted her since one fateful night twenty or so years earlier. Her mother’s boyfriend was abusive to her brother, which resulted in him stabbing the elder man to death. Somehow, her arrival awakens the spirit of the deceased villain that was trapped, supernaturally, in a mirror. Unbeknownst to them, they take the mirror with them to help with her rehabilitation and the evil awakens…
If that plot description seems somewhat peculiar to you when compared to other eighties Halloween clones, then you can be proud of your stalk and slash knowledge. The Bogey Man’s unique slant was in danger of not really knowing what it wanted to be, but in fairness, the net result just about works. Haunted house stories always seem to generate chills, which is likely because ghostly urban legends were what we heard the most whilst growing up. Thanks to a smart use of sound and an unnerving Halloween-alike score, we get the right kind of spooky atmosphere to maximise that fear-factor. The slasher homage is most visible when the killer strikes and these regular murders add gore and brutality to the concept. After the traditional cut and pasted Carpenter-esque POV house stalking shot, Lommel manages to implement a few of his own ideas into the direction and the odd one pays off. I thought the scenes that saw characters exploring a dark barn and discovering corpses were exceptionally filmed and there’s always a subtle undercurrent of dread.
It’s tough to make out what got The Boogey Man added to the DPP list and banned in the United Kingdom, although there’s quite a bit of tacky goo and shots of a child – and later his sister – being tied up in a suggestive manner. Like many former video nasties though, this picture doesn’t seem particularly gruesome in comparison with others that it shares its genre with and it was likely a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve read reviews that criticise the level of the dramatics, but personally, I really didn’t think the cast were that bad. Uli Lommel’s beautiful wife, Suzanne Love, had some strong moments as the heroine and her real-life brother was cast to play, well, her brother in a role with minimal dialogue. The fact that he’s mute (and also a bit creepy) made us believe that he was set to be the villain, but it doesn’t take us long to realise that isn’t the case. In fact the film never really clarifies who or what the antagonist is and it’s these parts that show a weakness in the screenplay. It’s hinted that the mother’s evil boyfriend has reached out from the beyond to seek revenge, but without giving anything away, the conclusion throws so much at us that we’re left scratching our heads. There’s a reason why I think this to be a strategic picture that’s targeted mainly to make a profit; and the Amityville-alike house where the action takes place, Exorcist-lite conclusion and aforementioned Halloween-style murders are enough evidence to justify my accusation.
Still, The Boogey Man does provide some neat shocks and when it sticks to what it does best, it’s actually a compelling and scary film. Lommel pulls enough tricks to sustain a morbid tone and despite bordering on being ‘too supernatural’ in places, I think it is a good addition to the slasher catalogue. Those questioning whether it’s truly a stalk and slash movie can take comfort in the fact that it most certainly is; even if it is one that pushes the boundaries. On a side note, Blood Sisters, Girls School Screamers and more recently, The Inherited, could all be considered as inspired by this. With Screamers, it was of course unintentional, but interesting all the same…
Killer Guise: √
Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives 1986
Directed by: Tom McCloughlin
Starring: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen
Review by Eric LeMaster
Well… hello again!
When I was a kid, I never went to summer camp. I had a few opportunities to go to a local Christian camp called “Camp Nathaniel”, but never tried to complete the Bible-themed workbooks required to guarantee free attendance. When I was confirmed into the Episcopal Church in April of 2009, the ceremony was held at a camps and conference center in (very) rural East-and-South-of-Central KY. Having already been a fan of slasher movies, I was VERY happy to be there.
I have been there many times since, but this first experience of an overnight stay during this first time gave me the “feel” I needed to truly appreciate the “forest” slasher. While I (previously) never cared for Slashaway Camp, I soon realized why it became a classic. Friday the 13th movies moved much closer in rank to my beloved Halloween movies.
Anywho– Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives:
After Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) “killed” Jason in Part IV, and after Tommy (then John Shepherd) confronted a “different” Jason in Part V, Tommy (now Thom Matthews) takes a fellow escapee to a grave yard in Crystal Lake (Now “Forest Green”) to ensure that, once and for all, Jason is truly dead. When lightning strikes a metal fencing sphere that was stabbed into Jason’s body, Jason is revived and returns to bring havoc upon his home turf!
Part 6 introduces Tony Goldwyn in his first role. He dies very soon in the movie, but it’s nice to see such a respected and recognizable face in the film. Other notable actors and actresses who appear are Renee Jones (from Days of Our Lives), Tom Fridley (nephew of John Travolta); and Jennifer Cooke (from V, and Guiding Light), as Megan, our “final girl.”
Writer/Director Tom McLoughlin does a fine job at creating atmosphere and great humor– something that has developed a love/hate relationship amongst fans of the franchise. The movie was well-shot, and the actors and actresses involved were very talented; in fact, their on-screen cohesion is among the best I’ve ever seen amongst the cast in a slasher.
The MPAA required a number of scenes to be cut from the film (What’s new?); but, regardless, it plays well as a result of good editing. Sissy’s death scene was removed completely, the backbreaking scene in the cemetery was originally longer, and the Tommy/Jason fight was trimmed.
Also, the soundtrack was quite good, and with a lot of tracks from Alice Cooper. He’s Back (Man Behind the Mask) was made into a music video featuring Jason stalking a theatre, and was popular back in the day. Teenage Frankenstein was also featured on his popular Constrictor album.
I really have nothing but good things to say about this entry. If I had anything bad to acknowledge, it would be that there are times when the dialogue can seem a little over the top: Tom Fridley’s (Cort) excessive uttering of “This is great!” comes to mind…
Regardless, I give the film a 4 1/2 out of 5 starts. Part 6 is, for me, the best entry into the Friday the 13th franchise, and one of my favorite slashers of all time– second only to Halloween 4, the movie I previously reviewed.
As a side note– as an autograph collector, I had the great opportunity of having friendly contact with Tom Fridley, who I find to be an all-in-all awesome guy. It’s always great when I can collect from the actors whose work I have so enjoyed!
Luis’ view: Also one of my favourites of the series, Part VI stands apart because it successfully blends some gooey ‘action horror’ with a satirical ability to poke fun at itself and its franchise predecessors. I still believe it to be one of the slickest and easiest to watch of the series, but it perhaps lacks the haunting tone that was so successful in part II. This was one of the first slasher movies I ever tracked down and I remember having a youthful crush on Jennifer Cooke. On top of having a feisty heroine, I also liked the soundtrack, which included Felony from Graduation Day. It’s a shame Tom McCloughin didn’t return to the franchise/genre. Whilst it is a treat to watch, it was perhaps the first Friday to have a cartoonish ‘popcorn’ feel. This is something that the series never really recovered from and I would say Part IV was the last truly scary entry. Four stars from me..
Killer Guise: √√√√
The Inherited 2009
Directed by: Patrick C. Clinton
Starring: Khory Pilley, Tyler Cross, Natalie Sieber
Review by Luis Joaquín González
There are a number of stalk and slash sites on the web and the way I try to make a SLASH above stand out is by tracking down those complete obscurities that for whatever reason you may not have yet seen. With a track record that includes Cards of Death, Hard Rock Nightmare, Heavy Metal Massacre, Sawblade and Early Frost, you might well say that I’ve aced the target I set out to achieve. Well here we have one that tops all of them.
Type ‘The Inherited slasher’ in Google and you’ll find absolutely nada. Much like 1987’s Legend of Moated Manor, this one has totally and completely disappeared. It does have a listing on the IMDB, but it’s got zero user reviews and only one critic rating from when it screened at a festival. I have no information as to its production notes and it was sent to me anonymously. The plot thickens….
A young man inherits a fortune from a relative that he never knew he had. Clearly surprised by his luck, he heads off to stay at the house he was given with a group of his closest friends. As soon as he arrives, he begins to feel uneasy on the premises and a hooded killer turns up and begins slicing his way through the guests one by one…
We are back in the Bloodstream realms of having no idea why this entry remains shelved. That’s not to say that it’s an amazing piece of filmmaking, but when you think that something as ‘awkward’ as Carnage Road got a global release, you only have to wonder what went on behind the scenes to stop this one from being picked up. At just under two hours, The Inherited comes dangerously close to being a marathon instead of the usual brisk sprint that works fine for slasher movies. What impressed me most though was that there were very few times when the runtime became tedious or unwelcome with its storytelling. This is mainly due to some well-developed characters that all face personal issues that manage to keep interest levels raised when nothing else is happening. Although a few more killings wouldn’t have gone a miss, the mystery does manage to keep the momentum moving in the right direction and there’s a neat tone of impending doom that remains consistent.
It also helps that director Patrick Clinton pulls out all the stops to inject pizazz into the visuals. He shoots with an abundance of rapid cuts and inventive camera angles that are energetic to watch. Most of the action takes place in tight locations, but Clinton manages to film them with a perception of expansiveness. During the first thirty minutes or so, I was unsure what type of film I was watching, because it opens with a traditional slasher sequence but then throws some haunted house clichés in the mix. These are all superbly staged and include some striking Evil Dead-alike POV shots and a superb use of a creepy phantom clown. We later learn that these additions are only added as unsettling flair and the story soon finds its footing as a typical slasher/whodunit. More importantly, it’s one with a twist that’s unpredictable and actually quite shocking.
A clearly talented filmmaker, Clinton seems to be especially unfortunate with his output. Both this and his debut, Last Getaway (2007), remain unreleased, despite being surrounded by good word of mouth throughout post-production. I guess his style could be described as being similar to that of Tyler Tharpe from Freak fame, which is another title that I thoroughly enjoyed. He certainly invests in the depth of his players, but I felt that the kill scenes were too diluted to really make an impact. This was crying out for some gore to really become a missing gem, but instead it relies on plot delivery and a terrific score to generate the tension. This was a deliberate ploy from Clinton because he wanted to attempt the less is more approach that John Carpenter delivered so purely. I totally agree with the idea of that philosophy, but perhaps because of the film’s budget look, I felt that it really needed an injection of goo to complete the exploitation package.
The Inherited is a sharp blend of horror trademarks that plays like a mix of The Boogeyman and The Ghastly Ones. It’s a good movie that probably would have been well received by fans if given the chance. The fact it has disappeared is totally bemusing and it’s a shame that it remains elusive. After six-years of no news though, it’s unlikely to surface anytime soon. Whilst it may not boast extremely strong performances from the entire cast and the lack of gore is clearly quite disappointing, it does keep you interested and remains rather unique.
I only hope that one day you can check it out for yourself…
Killer Guise: √√√√
The PickAxe Murders Part III: The Final Chapter 2015
Directed by: Jeremy Sumrall
Starring: Nick W. Nicholson, Tiffany Shepis, A. Michael Baldwin
Review by Luis Joaquín González
In the slasher cycle, it’s fair to say that a genre parody has become such a cliche that the next step would be for someone to make a parody of slasher parodies. For a style of film that’s not bustling with unique character traits, we certainly ran out of the need for satire long before filmmakers realised that was the case. All due credit to director Jeremy Sumrall though, because he has found a novel way of poking his tongue at the genre that he’s obviously a big fan of.
Franchises were as large a part of the early slasher phase as were masked killers and after the consistent success of the Friday the 13th continuations, every new movie was produced with the intention of starting a series. In most cases, the quality of films deteriorated on a chapter by chapter basis and that’s the key gimmick behind the genius of The Pickaxe Murders III: The Final Chapter. Sumrall has introduced us to his boogeyman immediately from the third instalment and as we all know so well in horror legacies, part tres is generally amongst the cheesiest. It’s one of those ideas that’s so good that I wished I’d thought of it myself and so I was indeed hopeful that the film would live up to its creative concept.
It opens with a text introduction that describes two previous massacres that were the work of a maniac that may well be the son of Satan and goes by the name of Alex Black. He was presumed dead, but two hikers discover an amulet that possesses a mystic power to bring him back from beyond. Before long, he’s up to his old tricks again and the residents of a small rural town have to fight to survive his Satanic wraith.
Jeremy Sumrall’s début film, Posum Walk remains unreleased and I’m the first to hope that his feature-length follow up doesn’t suffer the same unfortunate fate. The Pickaxe Murders is a bloody ride of no nonsense thrills that packs one hell of an exploitation punch. We don’t wait around long for our first slaughter and the victims carry on dropping at an impressive rate throughout. Alex Black looks tremendous in a guise that’s pretty much a burlap sack and he stalks and slashes with a similar imposing threat to Jason Voorhees’ finest moments. Whilst we can see that the production team were operating on a meagre budget, they hide the lack of funding well enough, and there are some impressive effects amongst the murders. A pickaxe is a superb tool for gooey mayhem, but Black also utilises his strength to crush throats, squeeze heads and rip off limbs.
The story takes place in 1988 and there’s a lot of effort put into bringing that era to life. Our main characters of the story are heading to a hair-metal concert and the director actually takes us inside the venue to witness the goings on. We don’t only get two bands that dress and act in a style that’s perfectly retro, but there’s also an audacious massacre sequence that is both hilarious and gruesome in equal measure. We’ve been transported to the eighties many times before of course, but Pickaxe actually ‘feels’ authentic. Sumrall is a director that pays the closest attention to detail and because of that, he has a huge career ahead of him. There are many occasions when we head into a deep dark forest setting and everything is so finely lighted and so purely shot that I had to remind myself that this was only his second full film… and the first to be released (hope hope)
There’s an old saying where I come from in Andaluz that translates to something like, ‘an excellent artist can never overcome the canvass he paints upon’. Pickaxe Murders reminded me of that proverb, because I often felt that director Sumrall was by far the most talented person in this crew and the rest of them somewhat let him down. Watching the dialogue scenes and the actions of his characters made me visualise his standing there and showing them how they should perform. What he couldn’t do though is improve the levels of their dramatic ability and the net result is like Fernando Alonso giving his all in a Robin Reliant instead of the Mcclaren F1 he deserves. I could mention the lack of an alluring central character or that the plot sometimes seems as if it loses track of where it’s supposed to go next, but all those minor moments where I was feeling critical are made up for by that amazing rock sequence and an overall tone of fun. Sorry to utilise a platitude, but this is most definitely a film made by a fan for fans. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but overall it works and that’s what matters most. Also, whilst I can’t be sure if it was intentional, I am thirty-four-year’s old and the fact that I look younger than these, ahem, ‘Hi-School kids’ was a real ego-booster. Well, one of them was clearly getting silver fox sideburns, so was that part of the humour? During the eighties, the ‘teens’ in these movies were notorious for being closer to the big four-zero than their supposed age…?
The pre-screener I watched to write this review was only 80% finished and Sumrall told me that there’s still a bit that needs to be done before release. Still, I think The Pickaxe Murders III is a slick genre entry with lashings of potential and it will satisfy slasher hounds immensely. From a personal perspective, I thought there was a tad too much nudity (regular readers will know I’m surprisingly prude… unless it comes to undeniably HOT Chicas, which these aren’t)) but that’s part of the exploitation package and I accept that. We can only hope that Pickaxe gets the release and success it deserves, because I’m eagerly awaiting the prequels :)
Killer Guise: √√√√
Ripper: A Letter From Hell 2001
Directed by: John Eyres
Starring: A.J. Cook, Bruce Payne, Kelly Brook
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Being that I host a SLASH above, it’s fair to say that I’ve watched my share of films that definitely weren’t the best. A few of those though included enough for me to see that certain crew members had the talent for another shot at stardom. Whether it be a smart line of dialogue or a smoothly edited set-piece, a bad film doesn’t always mean that everyone involved is part of the bad-ness. There are a million things that can go wrong during a movie shoot and sometimes a person’s true ability can be concealed through no fault of their own.
John Eyres was responsible for 1987’s woeful killer priest slasher, Goodnight Godbless, and I have to say that seeing his name here didn’t fill me with confidence. I certainly don’t recall anything from that picture that made me think that Eyres’ skill was restrained by the mediocre budget. Still, I’m one of those that believes everyone deserves a second chance and so I’ve finally got round to checking out his follow-up, Ripper: A Letter From Hell.
A girl with a slight attitude problem decides to study criminology under an eccentric professor. She doesn’t get along too well with her classmates, but they become close after a vicious maniac begins to target the group and brutally murder them one by one. They soon discover that they share their initials with the victims of Jack the Ripper and it looks like he could be back from beyond the grave…
At just under two-hours, if Ripper had been of similar quality to its elder brother Godbless, we would have been in for a tiresome exercise in visual punishment. Thankfully, during the fourteen-year gap between those two entries, Eyres has learned a lot about the art of slick direction. In fact, the film launched with such an impressive amount of panache that I was left wondering if this was really the same guy. It shows us the conclusion of a set of killings that occurred sometime earlier in a dense forest. We get flashy cuts and intense camera tricks that build neat tension, even though we don’t know yet who or what we are witnessing. After a couple more fast-paced shocks, we learn that this was a unique way of introducing Molly, our central character. It seems that she was the lone survivor of the aforementioned massacre and she’s now relocated to restart her life and enrolled in a new university.
The next few parts that develop the players (and likely suspects) who will carry us through the runtime are amongst my favourite of the picture. They contain intelligent discussions on the characteristics of serial killers and are shot with intriguing movement that delivers a subtle underscoring of energy to the talk scenes. It’s nice to see that the writers have researched their subject-matter and also they’ve included an authentic slant on one of Scream’s major gimmicks. Whilst Kevin Williamson’s screenplay name-checked the likes of Tom Cruise and Richard Gere, here we get Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo and of course Jack the Ripper. The fact that Eyres has privately investigated the Jack the Ripper case for most of his adult life made him the perfect choice for this project. It’s easy to see that he felt he had a score to settle with the slasher genre.
Whilst Godbless owed a lot to John Carpenter’s Halloween, here it seems that Eyres has followed the path taken by Jamie Blanks’ Urban Legend. There are a lot of similarities in the way both films are staged, which I mean as a genuine compliment. The kill scenes are delivered with style and they create some memorable images, like when a freshly murdered corpse pours blood on to a girl’s white dress as she dances below. Another youngster gets rammed off a cliff by a truck that brought to mind the one used in Mirage, and whilst these murders may not be overtly gory, they are powerful due to their brutality. By the time the conclusion comes around, we end up in a tree-chopping factory (?) that really needed a visit from a health & safety expert in a hi-viz jacket. If it doesnt bother the authorities that there are deadly blades that spin around 24/7, perhaps the fact that it’s left totally unguarded will. This leads to a couple of taut chase sequences and a revelation that is highly ambiguous. This was apparently down to Eyres not havin enough budget left to deliver what he had initially intended. I am guessing that might also explain why such a smart story suddenly becomes disjointed in the final ten-minutes.
The cast do a good enough job of keeping things moving without really delivering any sympathetic characters. Ripper is a film that believes in its dialogue and compelling mystery, so the focus is taken off individuals and centred more around the overall plot. We are treated to some truly beautiful actresses and kudos to Eyres for killing off the worst performers quickly. Brit glamour girl Kelly Brook is the first to go and despite her highly unconvincing pleas for mercy, she takes part in one of the greatest stalk and slash murders of the entire cycle. You should watch the film if only for that one sequence.
John Eyres’ website completely ignores Goodnight Goodbless and doesn’t even list it as one of his features. In fact, it goes as far as to say that his filmmaking career began in 1990, which is three-years after that film was released. Whilst it’s unlikely that another British ‘John Eyres’ was responsible for Godbless, the fact that he wants to erase it from his filmography speaks a thousand words. I’m not sure whether that was really necessary, but either way, he had certainly upped his game by the time Ripper went in to production. It’s a tense and engrossing entry that really does impress. In fact I’m fairly surprised that it isn’t more fondly thought of amongst genre connoisseurs.
I guess the only question we are left with is what Eyres was doing that was so important he turned down the sequel…?
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √√
The Orphan Killer 2011
Directed by: Matt Farnsworth
Starring: Diane Foster, David Backus, Edward Winrow
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The IMDB is such a fantastic tool for checking out big budget movies. Before going to the cinema or buying a DVD, it’s always worth looking at the ranking that a studio flick has acquired. If it’s above an 8, you’re generally in for an out and out classic, whilst anything from 6.5 will certainly be worth investing two-hours of your life with. Where the site really has issues is when it comes to stalk and slash pictures. Whilst Halloween sits accurately at 7.9, Friday the 13th Part II has a measly 6. It’s even worse when you start to look at low budget entries, and that’s where I found a problem with The Orphan Killer.
After watching the film, I checked to see what others had been saying about it and I found five reviews in a row that had given it 1/10, the lowest ranking that the IMDB offers. There were also a few comments, including the classic, ‘Just when you think you’ve seen the worst movie in the world, you stumble upon this piece of trash.‘ Really? We live in an age where there are features available that have been shot and edited on an iPad, but if you listen to the users on the IMDB, this is poorer than any of them. Without blowing my own trumpet too much, I have to underline the necessity of a site like a SLASH above, where authors like my good self make the effort to analyse these films in detail to give you the best possible heads-up.
Two young children that survived the brutal murder of their parents in a botched robbery attempt are transferred to a catholic orphanage and put up for adoption. Upon arrival, Audrey manages to settle in quickly and make friends with the other kids, but her brother Marcus has a much tougher time and displays bouts of vicious violence that lead to aggressive punishment from his superiors. It doesn’t take long for Audrey to find a home with a loving family, but Marcus is left behind to suffer abuse from the over-zealous priest. Years later, Marcus escapes his confines and returns to the church to hunt out the sibling that he feels abandoned him.
As someone who was collecting slasher VHS during the late eighties, I remember the buzz of hunting out the full version of a gore film. Back then, due to censorship issues, it was a challenge to uncover an uncut copy from foreign (usually Dutch) shores and a real treat when you finally did. The likes of Absurd or Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche were never known for their intriguing plots or great acting, but they certainly delivered on the red stuff, which gave them a unique standing. In more recent times, we have much more leniency in what gets through on DVD or Blue Ray and it means that viewers don’t only demand gruesome effects; they want everything else to boot. If The Orphan Killer had been released in 1981, it would have become one of those cult classics that horror fans spent an eternity searching for. Nowadays though it’s a fossil from a bygone era and gratuitous bloodletting alone doesn’t have the same underground appeal.
Whilst it’s hard for me to say whether my recollections of those times have swayed my opinion, I found quite a lot to appreciate about The Orphan Killer. I am writing this review the morning after the 2015 Oscars and Alejandro González Inarritu’s wonderfully kooky Birdman picked up Best Picture. It was filmed using lengthy tracking sequences that were so cleverly cut that the film looked like one continuous shot from start to finish. Director Matt Farnsworth (on a much smaller scale of course) utilises the completely opposite approach here, but also creates some intriguing visuals that brought to mind early Aronofsky. I counted 8 cuts in a thirty-second scene at one point; and each came from a camera placed in a creative location that was rarely static. It’s almost as if Farnsworth entered a room and spent hours defining all the possible areas that he could shoot from before deciding how he could apply movement to keep the momentum running. During the mid-section, there’s a marathon of stalk and slash action that includes so many camera switches and angles that I literally lost count of them. A great example of this can be found in the murder of the unfortunate nun that I have posted above.
Orphan is a splatter flick at heart and the gore is exceptional considering the stringent funding. Heads are crushed, squashed, smashed and in one really gruesome scene, split in two by a machete. I recall numerous moments that made me flinch away due to the level of grotesque imagery, and this is a picture that revels in the suffering of its players. Marcus Miller is a terrifyingly ruthless antagonist and he stalks with an obvious menace that brings to mind the iconic bogeymen of yesteryear. Unlike many of his kin, Marcus taunts his victims with verbal threats that add to his intimidation and the backstory works to help build his psychopathic aura. David Backus does a superb job of bringing the killer to life and he fills the role with power, strength and maniacal intent.
Even if I have highlighted that gore films are never huge on character development, it is clearly visible how the lack of any at all has left Orphan looking extremely hollow. It’s rare that you’ll see a cast list with so many anonymous credits such as ‘Skateboarder’ or ‘Urban Legend Teen #2’ and the people featured within are given less importance than the props the killer uses to dispatch them. It makes such a difference to have players that we’ve invested in emotionally, but even the heroine failed to win us over in this script. This leaves the film without a solid structure and it plays almost like a collection of kill scenes that have been loosely stapled together. I’m not a fan of death metal and I look at horror as a genre that succeeds when audio and visual are juxtaposed together to bring an environment to life. More often than not I found myself reaching for the ear plugs and the film could have done with a suitably creepy score.
Once Marcus has finally caught and imprisoned Audrey, we get some slower paced torture porn-like scenes that are a lot less engrossing. A directorial style as rapid as Farnsworth’s didn’t flow as well in an enclosed environment and the best pieces of his work came during the numerous chase sequences. In terms of dramatics, the performances were weak but serviceable and kudos to Diane Foster, who gives her all in a portrayal that asked an incredible amount of physicality. The insane killer stalking his sister synopsis has been done to death, but Orphan manages to keep you interested, despite the numerous flaws.
Matt Farnsworth has worked really hard here to give us a film that pushes the boundaries of what we have experienced previously. It infuriates me that all this effort can be brushed off by a 1/10 rating without recognition of all that he has achieved. It’s ok to dislike a film, but it’s a waste of time to read any write-up that contains something along the lines of ‘this is the worst movie ever made’. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you that it simply is not…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Tim Cowles
Starring: Eleanor James, Emily Eaves, Jason Impey
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I’ve recently turned 34, which I tell you because I’m from a generation that grew up just before the invasion of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Hi5. I was in my twenties during the noughties, so I still got to experience the impact that these sites had on social interaction and relationships. It’s interesting, because I remember the times of having to call landlines or walk to knock on someone’s front door if I wanted to chat with them. Nowadays I can simply drop them a note on What’sapp or some other messaging service and ascertain where they are, who they’re with and whether they’re choosing to ignore me ;) I’m often told that I should be more proactive on Twitter and Facebook, especially with regards to a SLASH above, but perhaps it’s because of my age that I haven’t quite grasped the necessity of a social media presence.
Whether these methods of contact are a benefit or a hindrance to our evolution as humans is impossible to answer, but it’s an interesting theory to think about. It’s one that was certainly on the mind of director Tim Cowles when he put pen to paper for this British slasher that hit shelves last year. Not to be confused with 2005’s Backslash, Backslasher was poorly received upon release and currently holds a 2.2 rating on the IMDB. This Is incredibly low, but there’s always the excuse that slasher movies are easy targets for mockery from stern critics because of their simplistic style. Seeing that the excellent Billy Club has dropped from 7.4 to 5.6 on the same website adds weight to this theory.
A young woman who’s obsessed with her social media accounts launches an online business that sells lingerie and sex toys. She Is running a blog to assist with marketing but soon discovers that someone maybe taking an unhealthy interest in her status updates. It soon becomes apparent that a masked killer is stalking her friend list and it looks as if she’s next in his sights…
Shooting films on a penny sweet budget must be tough, because creative concepts can get lost amongst the lack of funding. Backslasher tries hard to deliver something unique and intriguing but has suffered, slightly unfairly, due to its minimal production values. It choses an unusual starting path, which introduces our characters rather awkwardly. The best horror movies begin with a scare or shock sequence of some kind to set a tone, but it takes fifteen-minutes or so for the killer to even put in an appearance here. This makes the opening scenes a bit pointless because we are left trying to get our heads around what we are watching. A group of girls prance around in lingerie to introduce the theme of the products that they’re selling, but these parts are a nothingness in terms of the film’s horror backbone. I haven’t seen the old chestnut of a maniac stalking two lovers parked in a secluded spot for quite some time, so it was refreshing to be back at a set up that is so rudimentary yet satisfying. Cowles shows his knowledge of the period slashers in a couple of the murders, including an assault of a female jogger, which was last seen in Graduation Day. Dressing the killer in a common mask and hooded jumper underlines the film’s cheapness, but he is at least brutal and intimidating when he strikes.
What I really liked about Backslasher was its smartly ambiguous conclusion. The plot works along the line of you thinking you’ve guessed who is under the mask, but just when you believe you’ve really nailed it, your choice of culprit becomes the next victim. I felt initially cheated by the revelation scene, but later I understood that it was the perfect end to a story that focuses on the privacy and anonymity of Social Media. It’s extremely unusual for a stalk and slash film to include an ending that you’ll need to watch through again to really understand and in honesty it impressed me. Whodunits have been done to death and outside of tricking the audience unfairly, there’s very little that we haven’t seen before. Cowles takes a risk that might disappoint some viewers, but I appreciated his ambition to try an off-kilter resolution.
It’s unfair to criticise a low budget movie for being low budget, but Backslasher’s main issues are visible exactly because of that. The performances are predictably mediocre and the footage is grainy and poor in quality. We do get a guitar-based score that is fresh and uplifting, but when the horror starts, there are some misplaced sci-fi-like buzzing sounds that are notably out of place. Whilst the screenplay does have moments that are strongly commendable, it could have been structured to have a much smoother flow. I imagine the film would play much better with a murder in the pre-credits and most of the background characters are interchangeable because they’re given very little to do. There were a couple of times when people got killed and I couldn’t remember who they were, which showed they had been poorly introduced.
Backslasher is a project that writes cheques its budget can’t cash. It’s a creative concept that could have done with some fine tuning. Many people won’t have the patience to really appreciate it, which is a shame, but a lesson that can be learned. Tim Cowles shouldn’t give up on his filmmaking dream, but he’s still some way off delivering a really credible entry.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Chill: The Killing Games 2013
aka Chill (Working Title)
Directed by: Noelle Bye, Meredith Holland
Starring: Roger Conners, Bradley Michael Arner, Kelly Rogers
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I must tell you that Chill was one of those movies that I was really excited about getting my hands on. Haydn Watkins, the co-author of magnificent upcoming slasher book Alone in the Dark, told me about it and so I got in touch with director Noelle Bye who sent me over an online copy to review. At the time of writing, it boasts a 7.5 ranking on the IMDB and it has been keenly anticipated amongst cult horror circles due to a couple of successful pre-screenings.
Despite accusations that slasher movies are all exactly the same, genre completists will note the small traits that distinguish titles by their production date. Since about 2011, we have seen a theme of strategic multi-layered twists and revelation scenes that have appeared in the likes of Billy Club, Camp 139, Smiley, Blood Junkie and Backslasher. From what I’d heard on the grapevine about Chill, it was another that had been written with a focus on maintaining a compelling mystery.
A college in the US has become notorious due to the grim legend of a game that goes by the name of Chill. It involves a number of people randomly picking a piece of paper from a box and keeping what they get a secret from the other participants. Dependent on what they receive, they will either become the ‘killer’ or a ‘victim’ and it’s the killer’s job to hunt out and ‘murder’ the other players, whilst keeping his/her identity anonymous until the end. Chill was popular until about 1988, when one gamer took the whole assassin thing a bit too seriously and butchered twelve students before succumbing to a gruesome fate. Since then, the game has been outlawed on campus and it has become a part of the town’s history that they’d rather leave behind. One business-minded local thinks otherwise though and decides to revisit the scene of the original massacre and televise a new version of the game for profit. Despite resistance from some of the townsfolk, especially an over-zealous professor, the launch date goes ahead as planned. It seems that someone still has an axe to grind and before long, the youngsters are forced to pit their wits against a maniacal villain.
Before we get going, I think it’s important that you understand one thing about Chill that’s really essential as to how you perceive it. I’d been wrapped up in the decent IMDB rating and the positivity that I’d heard and so I was expecting a slick slasher along the lines of Billy Club. It wasn’t until thirty-five minutes in that I realised this was in fact a micro-budget production ($3,000) and only then did I really begin to appreciate the film’s accomplishments.
You see, Chill is quite long for a slasher movie, (one hour and forty-five minutes in fact) and the first half of those are pretty unconvincing. Awkwardly acted characters in under-lit scenarios are the order of the day and I was thinking that I was going to be the first critic to put a dent in the film’s glorious reputation. There’s a lot of focus on a group of marginally-appealing personalities and they’re given dialogue that barely registers because it’s so basic and unimaginative. To offer an example, we meet a washed-up kid star who has been invited to take part in the game, but upon his arrival he is disappointed that there’s no fanfare and only one person recognises him. He’s obviously deluded as to the level of his notoriety, but it’s a joke that doesn’t need or warrant the amount of attention that it’s given by the script.
I was thinking the worst by that point, but when the games finally launch, the directors unleash a couple of really sharp and effective shock sequences. There’s nothing quite as creepy as dark dilapidated corridors and the film is nicely scored with gloomy low-chords that help maintain the morbid tone. In the earlier killings, we don’t get to see the antagonist’s bird mask clearly, but there’s a really well structured scene that introduces him with credible menace. He then goes on to slash the throat of a hapless youngster and there’s a juicy blood effect to maximise the impact. For the next half an hour, we get a tense showdown as the remaining players discover that they are locked inside the auditorium with a vicious maniac. Blood flows fluidly as people are sliced, diced and strangled, but the real suspense is delivered by the enigma of who it is that’s slaughtering the group. I didn’t work out the psychopath’s true identity, but I still am unsure as to whether it was a surprise or a bit of a a cheat on the audience. Either way, it successfully keeps you guessing and there’s nothing more that I could have asked for.
What I thought was really authentic was that the story was led for the most part by an openly homosexual central character. Kyle Carpenter (cool surname) does a good job of giving us a likeable protagonist and ticks many of the boxes that are stereotypically filled by a heroine. We also get a role reversal that I don’t want to reveal without giving anything away, but let’s just say that the film’s choice of survivor(s) is an uncommon piece of template realignment. It all leads to an intriguing open ending and I have heard through the same grapevine that Chill 2 is already on the cards.
Chill is one of a number of recent entries that underline the necessity of the slasher genre as a filmaking talent pool. There truly is no better style of movie to unleash some flair and the more of these examples we get, the closer we come to a complete category rebirth. Whilst the feature itself is not without its problems (poor illumination, half-hearted dialogue, noticeably average acting, a couple of WTF revelations and it could have done with some eye candy), it gives me great pleasure to see that we have moved well away from the era of Camp Blood and Carnage Road. Nowadays low budget features are stronger than they’ve ever been and that in itself is a real achievement. Congratulations to Noelle, Meredith and Roger for a decent effort considering the budget. The gloss and invention in some of their photography was extremely impressive and I am looking forward to seeing more of their work.
Killer Guise: √√√√