Directed by: Jim Makichuk
Starring: Riva Spier, Georgie Collins, Sheri McFadden
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Ghostkeeper was one of the many of films that I collected during my searches of video stores in the eighties/early nineties. Back then I was a slasher fan, but would also pick up any horror movies that I came across and take them home with me to add to the growing stack in my room. It was released on the Apex label in the UK. They should be known to horror aficionados of the 30+ age bracket because they won the rights to a plethora of titles. These included the likes of Dawn of the Mummy, Nights of Terror, House of Evil, Don’t Go in the House and even Evilspeak and Mausoleum under another sub-brand (Horror Classics).
Apex were one of the most outlandish VHS distributors in Britain, because their covers rarely had anything to do with the features inside. Here we have another fine example of this, because as you can see by the picture above, they have marketed this snow-coated hotel-based semi-slasher with a large demon-like clawed figure towering over a sun scorched desert!
I got the chance to speak briefly with director Jim Makichuk, who confirmed that he hadn’t set out to make a slasher movie in the traditional sense. The initial plan was to produce a supernatural thriller based around the legend of the Wendigo, but the script was never completed due to the budget running out halfway through. He was left with two choices: pack up and go home or finish the shoot with what minuscule money that they had left in the pot. Due to this, the second part of the feature was put together spontaneously, with scenes being written literally on a day to day basis. The net result is an unique obscurity that does include a few of the slasher genre’s trademarks.
The Wendigo (spelt here as Windigio) is a superb antagonist for a horror film. Found mostly in ancient legends of the Algonquin people, it is described as a violent cannibalistic spirit that can either appear as a demonic cryptid-like creature or in human form due to its ability to possess victims through their dreams. Those who indulged in cannibalism were at the highest risk of its wrath and the stories were most likely circled as a warning to prevent the attacks of tribal carnivores.
The plot seems to focus more on ‘Wendigo psychosis’, which scriptures describe as a rare disease that gave sufferers an intense yearning to eat human flesh. These people would in effect become monsters, stuck in a trance-like state who would be kept in ties and tortured or used for medicinal experiments. Although the disorder is rarely mentioned in recent times, it can be discovered in Native American folklore.
A group of three friends are out in the snowy Canadian Rockies to celebrate New Years Eve. When one of their snowmobiles breaks down, they come across a hotel and decide to see if they can stay for the night. As darkness sets, they soon become aware that they are not alone…
It’s a tough job to describe the quality of Ghostkeeper without you first understanding its lack of cinematic ingredients. We meet just seven characters in the whole picture (five are spoken) and we are limited to only one location. There’s minimal blood, no central bogeyman and an incoherent storyline to carry us through. But despite having very little at his disposal, Makichuk has created an unsettling and eerie horror film with an abundance of gothic atmosphere. The only other feature that had achieved such a feat from that period was 1980′s The Shining; a title that this is often accused of imitating. Whether that be true or not, Makichuk did admit that he was inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween. It’s not as obvious here as it was in almost every other film that was released in the early eighties, but still the nods can be felt in places.
‘Keeper works due to a few elements blending successfully together in an unlikely combination. The stunning snow coated backdrops for the old hotel help to build the claustrophobia and once inside and under shelter, the gloomy corridors and spooky décor add to the feeling of impending doom. John Holbrook’s tight cinematography is perfect for the mood and Makichuk is a director that gives his characters fascinating depths that are evident but not overtly obvious. The lead, or ‘Final Girl’, is immersed in a mentality that makes you question her sanity and the conclusion offers a neat ambiguity. Her ‘boyfriend’ gives new meaning to the word bastard and his psychological bullying and humiliation of his partner is awkward to watch. Whilst the ending may not be ‘open’ in the normal sense, it is left somewhat up to the imagination to define. I prefer to believe that Jenny slowly went mad and imagined most of what we see for the latter part of the story. This, however is only my opinion; and it’s one of many that can be drawn from the events that unfold throughout the feature. Most of the cast are amateurs with very little previous experience, but their performances are solid. They are eaten alive though by the sheer screen presence of Georgie Collins as ‘The Ghostkeeper’. In a portrayal that brings to mind Kathy Bates’ Oscar winning turn from Misery, she captures and delivers the intrigue that the role required.
If the technique of those participants helped to dress everything together, then the film belongs without a shadow of a doubt to Paul Zaza’s glossy overcoat. This is quite comfortably the best of the composers work. In many parts, his haunting score alone carries the momentum and most of the atmosphere is built upon his crescendos. The crew must have been over the moon with his work and it really makes the film complete. Add on top of that some fine lighting and good use of sound and everything falls in to place.
So with what I said earlier about this not being a typical stalk and slash flick, what is there here for my regular readers? Well this is a good question. Despite not being a deliberate attempt at slashertastic classification, I really can’t see Ghostkeeper being grouped anywhere else. There is a chainsaw wielding maniac, a gooey sliced throat and a knife murder, which tick the right boxes. Whether these trappings were in the original script or not will never be known for sure. It’s also worth noting that almost every review that I have read call this a slasher movie and even the grand old daddy of horror websites, Terror Trap, classify it amongst our favourite cinematic style. What I think will attract a SLASH above readers most is the stylish environment, which brings to mind titles like Curtains and the creepiness of Halloween. It’s also worth noting that the distributors had their own idea of what audience they were targeting. A few versions can be found with an opening shot that is most definitely screaming out to the Friday the 13th crowd. You can see it in the video above. Now this wasn’t filmed by Makichuk, despite it being on the same location, which makes it even more intriguing.
The good news is that the Ghostkeeper story is not over… yet. I have seen a proposal for a sequel, which could be shot as soon as the team secure funding. Quite a few filmmakers check out a SLASH above, so drop me a line for more information if you may be interested in getting involved and I can put you in touch with the right people. This is most definitely a very good idea for a feature film. My Bloody Valentine 3D was a huge success and it began life as a draft script for a follow up to the original. The possibility of remaking another Canadian gem is one that I fully believe is worth exploring. Lionsgate, are you reading?
Although Ghostkeeper may not be a film for gore hounds and some may not be patient enough to allow the slow-boiling momentum to take hold, if you’re in the right mood then this truly is a cult classic. Check out Code Red’s DVD, which is available on their website now and transferred from a gleaming print that was recently discovered in New York. A very good obscurity that you really need to see…
Final Girl: √√
Twisted Nightmare 1987
Directed by: Paul Hunt
Starring: Rhonda Gray, Cleve Hall, Robert Padilla
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So you like clichés eh? Well, I’ll give you clichés alright. I’ll give you so many clichés that you’ll loose count before the ten-minute mark!
Twisted Nightmare is not a movie. It may have a cast and a crew and all the ingredients that you would associate with a feature film, but in fact it’s just a check-list of slasher platitudes rapped up into ninety-minutes of cheap videotape and cunningly disguised as a motion picture. What you don’t believe me? Then why don’t you check out this fabulous synopsis:
A group of ‘ahem’ teenagers head off to a summer camp (Friday the 13th) where a few years earlier, the brother of one of their number was burned beyond recognition by an unseen menace. (The Burning). Before the accident, he had been the victim of malicious bullying by the rest of the group, who tormented his inability to attract the opposite sex (Terror Train). This particular camp site is not the best place for a summer vacation as it had been cursed by Native Americans many years ago and it’s rumoured that the curse lives on (Ghost Dance). Before long a disfigured lunatic turns up and begins killing off the cast members one by one. (Just about every slasher movie ever produced).
Now do you catch my drift?
In all seriousness, Twisted Nightmare is an uncomfortably tough film to review. That’s simply because it’s hard to explain exactly what went wrong with the feature and why it never lived up to its obvious potential. It’s not an awkward task to write a mocking review of a bad movie, but it’s a lot harder to try and define the reasons why an offering so full of possibilities just didn’t make the grade. It would be easy to blame the rancid dramatics or the inane scripting, but the cast of Friday the 13th were hardly method actors and that was still an infinitely better effort than this. Slasher flicks are different from almost every other genre, because they can still make a profit or at least grab an audience without most of the ingredients that other categories of cinema take for granted. For example, could you imagine a poorly acted drama being successful? Or perhaps an awfully scripted comedy? Stalk and slash features consistently commit gross cinema crimes and still the production line of titles has only recently showed signs of slowing down. Keeping that in mind, I have tried to find out why a project from such an interesting team of low-budget titans ended up being such a flop.
Rumours abound that this was completed in eighty-two, but shelved for five years due to a total lack of confidence from the entire production team. Now aside from the IMDB, which is hardly the most reliable pillar of info, I haven’t uncovered proof of this anywhere else. For a start, the budget here was obviously fairly low, so keeping that in mind, it would be insane to suggest that it could boast a better quality of cinematography than Friday the 13th Part III. Especially when this is a film that if speculation is to be believed was shot on the same location at the same time. Another thing is that most of the cast had more than one acting credit in 1987, but none in 1982, which I think pretty much ends the argument. In my opinion, Twisted Nightmare was not shelved for five-years at all. And if it truly was, only very very little had been shot back then. If I had to guess, I would say that ’85 or ’86 is a more realistic possibility, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the IMDB have got muddled up with that info
If anything, Twisted Nightmare tries too hard, and due to the director’s insistence of ticking every single box on the slasher check list, the movie breaks that age-old ‘less is more’ ground rule. Alfred Hitchcock once said that the key ingredient to the production of suspense is isolation, but that’s where Paul Hunt’s opus comes unstuck. His feature boasts an unusually high body count and there’s also some impressive gore sequences. Unfortunately, with so many characters getting butchered in such a small space of time, things get very boring very quickly and the deaths rapidly loose their impact.
Another negative is the film’s one-tone pacing, which never seems to change throughout the runtime. Characters get killed, characters get naked. Characters make-out and characters argue. But it all happens at such a snail-like momentum that that any attempts at a ‘money-shot’ just pass by without recognition. The plodding direction adds no bite to the suspense scenarios and an infuriating lack of lighting takes the credit away from the decent make-up effects. The script doesn’t help matters and the plot is littered with more holes than a hash smoker’s mattress. Cast members are slaughtered and none of their colleagues question their disappearances and some of the gaps in continuity are so obviously dumb that it’s almost unbelievable that this was the effort of a man with as much cinematic experience as Paul Hunt. One girl’s haircut changes literally from scene to scene.
Now part of these problems may well have something to do with the fact that the story’s writer Charles Philip Moore hated director Paul Hunt with a passion. They did work together again on Demon Wind in 1990, but the animosity was high enough for them to deliver unflattering comments to the press. After the release of the movie and the negative reception and lack of success took their effect, Moore struck the cruelest of blows in defence of his involvement many years later, by stating, “Twisted Nightmare is the sorriest piece of drek ever put on film. When Hunt wasn’t bombed on coke he was coming down with hash. He hired inexperienced wannabes just so he could screw them out of their pay”. Even if Hunt did not get the chance to respond, he did once write that, “I personally hate horror films and did Twisted Nightmare as a favor for Ed DePriest.” So there you go.
If you take an experienced director, a good budget, an excellent location, some great gore effects, a group of ambitious cast members and still end up with a feature as jumbled as this, then something is very, very wrong. The above proves that there most definitely was.
On the plus side as I mentioned earlier there’s some decent gore, including a deer antler impalement and one guy gets his head pushed off, which is hokey, but fun all the same. Nightmare also seems to generate an eighties feel much better than many of its counterparts from the period. There are mullets, bubble perms, bad metal tracks, boobies, elastic belts, bright tops and muscles by the bucket load. Let’s not beat about the bush, this feature is absolute tosh. But I know you dear reader. I know you better than you think. You like cheese. You like bad acting and blood. You like disfigured killers that growl like bears and stare through windows whilst breathing like they’re having asthma attacks. As you know that I know this, then I am going to recommend that you give Twisted Nightmare a shot. Now…
Killer Guise: √√
The Ghost Dance1980
Directed by: Peter F Buffa
Starring: Julie Amato, Victor Mohica, Felicia Leon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Just a side note, before we get going. I pencilled this in 2008 and my topic was the terrible credit crunch that had struck the world economy back then. It is obviously very focused on the events of those times, but instead of rewriting everything, I decided to leave it because it is actually rather interesting that not too much has changed some four-years later.
As I write this review, the world is on the verge of one of the biggest financial meltdowns in economic history. My country of birth, Spain, has just guaranteed the savings of up to 80,000 Euros for every Spaniard in order to restore customer confidence, whilst in the UK a rumoured 500 billion of tax payer’s money is about to be pumped into the recently nationalised British banking system in a bid to put trust back in to the financial market. In Iceland, banks have already crashed completely, leaving customers without their hard-earned savings, whilst politicians in the USA are battling around the clock to to thrash out a saviour package. Things are not looking good.
Two weeks ago the Credit Crunch seemed a million miles away, but today I noticed that it’s starting to hit the most financially adventurous of sports, with London’s West Ham United football club looking set to be the first to feel the pinch. As investments tumble, chairmen will begin to haul in the reigns and become less enthusiastic to spend on those much-needed squad reinforcements in the transfer window. We may be seeing the beginning of a total re-shape in entertainment as we know it.
That suddenly got me thinking, what if the Credit Crunch was to hit the movie industry? What if suddenly producers became bankrupt and it was left up to production teams with experience of delivering a feature on the tightest of budgets to fill cinemas on a Friday evening? Although that would be awful news for global viewers, it would be a momentous occasion for the slasher genre. You see for all their faults (and they have many), stalk and slash flicks are arguably the cheapest and easiest to produce. So if you don’t see the names of Nolan, Spielberg and Mendes on billboards in the near future and instead see the likes of Devine, Stryker and Decoteu, don’t be too surprised…
There was a time of course when a cheap slasher movie at the flicks was a common occurrence. Back in the inglorious days of the early eighties, titles like Ghost Dance were the ‘Paranormal Activities’ of that long-gone and thankfully forgotten era. Although that sounds bizarre in our current climate of multi-million-dollar blockbusters, history has a funny way of repeating itself.
Ghost Dance kicks off in trappings that we would see again three years later in Olen Ray’s Scalps. A group of youngsters on an excavation raise a grave from the Californian desert and head off into the night with the corpse on-board their flat-bed pick-up. Next up we meet a crazy medicine man who seems determined to raise the spirit of an ancient American Indian renegade from beyond the grave. After a hopelessly unconvincing ‘magic’ spell, the evil spirit possess the mystical magician and heads off into the desert on a maniacal rampage. Soon we learn that there is something more sinister to the killer’s motives as he begins closing in on our leading lady
Alongside titles that include Scalps, Demon Killer and Camping Del Terrore, Peter Buffa’s opus attempts to inject the curiosities and intrigue of Native American culture into the trappings of the slasher genre that were all the rage in the early eighties. Back then, the cycle was still in a transitional phase and unaware of its platitudes, but the feature plays by the rulebook adequately and underlines all the clichés that would become a trademark of identification in years to come. Despite making good use of gimmicks like the good-old ‘have sex and die’ routine, kudos must be given to the scriptwriter for adding a little puzzle and intrigue to the template.
A large chunk of the runtime is dedicated to the mystery element of tracing the origins of the maniacal assassin and although the ideas are bold and commendable, the story telling does limit the space for occasions of glorious splatter. It does feel somewhat snooze-enticingly slow moving in places and the killer’s appearances are disappointingly sparse. When the psycho does strike, Buffa handles the tension surprisingly well and the score creates a mildly foreboding and at times impressively claustrophobic atmosphere. I especially enjoyed the murders in the abandoned museum and Ben’s face slashing was exceptionally gruesome. Although there’s very little in terms of grotesque gore, the killings, when they occur, are satisfying enough and competently handled by a capable director.
It doesn’t take log for us to realise that there’s sure to be a twist in the plot towards the climax and even though it may seem fairly ‘old-hat’ by today’s standards, the conclusion was fairly ingenious for its time of release. Native Americans are always intriguing and mystic characters for the silver screen, but hiring a cast of competent actors that carry the appearance, heritage and dramatic credibility is never an easy task for a film crew on a meagre budget. With that said, the performances here are reasonably good and credit to Victor Mohica for a strong turning as the leading man.
Ghost Dance is not a hidden-gem, but it is decent enough for true genre fans to appreciate. It seems somewhat unfair that whilst utter dross like Don’t go in the Woods can live on in the hearts of slasher aficionados, Ghost Dance has been largely forgotten. Slight problems with pacing do not detract from a decent entry to the cycle. I recommend viewers get used to watching this kind of entertainment…you never know when the Hollywood financial bubble could burst……….
Final Girl: √√
Demon Warrior 1988
Directed by: Frank Patterson
Starring: Wiley M. Pickett, Leslie Mullin, John Langione
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It didn’t take too long after Halloween had kicked off the slasher boom for the category to be cursed by continuous mediocrity. As early as 1983 the genre was already struggling to release more than a handful of decent offerings per year and by ’90 the stalk and slash flick had become pretty much the whipping boy of horror cinema. By that time major studios were all aware that repeating the tired formula was no longer a lucrative direction, which left it up to independent and mostly inexperienced filmmakers to continue the legacy that John Carpenter had created. Although there was still an impressive number of features hitting shelves in 88, most of them were weakly produced and taken as a whole it was surprising that there were a fair few gems amongst the rubble. Scott Spiegel’s Intruder in its uncut form was a superb gross out classic, whilst Evil Dead Trap proved that the cycle had not yet completely run out of style and panache. William Lustig’s Maniac Cop was successful enough to launch a franchise and we haven’t yet mentioned Hardcover.
It was the continual release of schlock like Blood Lake, Deadly Dreams and The Last Slumber Party that cursed the slasher movie to eight years of obscurity. It finally took the big budgeted flamboyance of Wes Craven’s Scream to provide the necessary resuscitation. Having not heard anything about Demon Warrior before I came across it unexpectedly, I instantly assumed that it was part of the low brow trash that led to the downfall of the slasher phase. But with that said the movie boasts an intriguing premise that sits comfortably beside Scalps and Camping Del Terrore as another welcome addition to the Native-American influenced catalogue.
A truck pulls up on a woodland road and out step two laughably dramatised rednecks. The hillbilly lumberjacks are only on screen for around for ten seconds and then they are murdered by an unseen menace. Next we meet a troupe of five young adults that are heading to the same location for a spot of shotgun-target-practice on some of the local wildlife. The area is owned by Neil Willard and has been passed down through three generations of his family. His Grandfather stole the land from an Indian medicine man that was rumoured to have left a curse on the property. According to legend, every ten years a Demon Warrior with an extreme hatred for mankind stalks the forest reaping revenge on those he deems responsible for the pilfering of the tribe’s home. It wouldn’t be much fun if those myths were a falsehood, so regular as clockwork a maniacal assassin turns up with a taste for blood. Will the kids be able to stop this phantom killer…?
Demon Warrior is best described as a bigger budgeted (but still woefully cheap) re-imaging of Fred Olen Ray’s Scalps. The bogeymen from both films are virtually identical and the director even throws in a scalping sequence to confirm my suspicions. Things start promisingly with some crisp Friday the 13th-style first-person cinematography and a couple of shock-jolts that were composed with finesse by director Frank Patterson. Thomas Callaway did a good job with the photography and the tribal-drum score makes a refreshing change from the more traditional late-eighties synthesizer rubbish. Flourishes of suspense are juxtaposed with a couple of credible directorial embellishments and there are even a few attempts at humour. The killer looked successfully creepy in demon attire and the inclusion of a bow and arrow as the main murder weapon was a deft touch from the director.
Fred Olen Ray’s notorious slasher was notable for its stark and credibly unsettling atmosphere. Unfortunately despite being produced on twice the budget, Demon Warrior never comes close to the film that it so desperately emulates. Rumour has it that the majority of the actors were drafted from the Texas Baylor University and were not even paid for their inclusion in the feature. Of course it goes without saying that the dramatics are appropriately abysmal. I especially enjoyed the hilarious John Langione – an ‘Italian’ Native American (don’t ask) that portrays about as much emotion as the trees in the forest that surrounded him. Warrior started with some credible glimpses of panache from the director that actually led me to believe that this could be a welcome inclusion to the slasher index. Unfortunately, the poisonous cocktail of limp dialogue and an ending plucked directly from stupidsville seriously changed the initial plan I had in mind for a rating. It’s a shame that the dramatics were so scraped from the bottom of the thespian barrel, because at times Demon Warrior showed flashes of potential.
All in all, Patterson’s movie is a mixed bag of ideas – some of them were good, but mostly they were staggeringly mediocre. Because this was released at a time when the slasher genre had been watered down to avoid the scissor happy censors, there’s really no gore worth mentioning. Even the scalping sequence is relatively tame compared to Olen Ray’s graphic depiction. It may not be quite as bad as the aforementioned Deadly Dreams, Blood Lake et al, but not really THAT good either….
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Fred Olen Ray
Starring: Jo-Ann Robinson, Richard Hench, Roger Maycock
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Looking back that whole video-nasty thing was really just a big anti climax. Kind of like sharing a bed with Angelina Jolie and finding out that she’d just given her vow to a nunnery. In the UK, films like Pranks and Madhouse were reputed to be so vile and depraved that the thought of sitting through one of them felt like stealing your next door neighbor’s car and going banger racing round the block. But when they finally hit shelves some twenty years later it was like, “Oh was that really what all the fuss was about?” That’s why it’s nice to come across a title that someway lives up to its exaggerated reputation. Scalps certainly delivers on the gore score and includes one or two grisly scenes that somewhat exceed the expectations of the shoestring budget. The Grim Reaper and Mystery in Rome also boasted extreme gore scenarios, but still couldn’t lift themselves above mediocrity. I hoped that Scalps could support the bloody stuff with a few decent shocks and surprises.
Six bizarrely spaced out anthropology students head out to the Californian Desert to dig up Indian artifacts. Despite a crazy Ralph-style ominous warning from an old Indian named Billy Iron Wing, they continue their journey deep into the vastly uninhabited wasteland. Whilst digging in the blistering sun, the troupe unwittingly evoke the wraith of Black Claw, the spirit of an evil renegade who died one hundred years earlier. Before long he has possessed one of the gang members and begins to slaughter the rest of them one by one. Stranded in the remote wilderness, the remaining students realize that they have to fight to survive the Renegade’s murderous intentions…
Fred Olen Ray tells us on the very informative DVD commentary track that the original distributors of Scalps took the liberty of editing the movie themselves in an attempt to make it more appealing for the commercial market. Unfortunately, what they did was pretty much make a mish-mash of a film that would have probably been a damn site more intelligible if they had just released it as the director had originally intended. That explains why we see images of the killer roaming the hills before he has even taken possession of the body that he uses to stalk his victims. Despite these unintentional blunders, Olen Ray’s slasher entry is actually a worthwhile addition to anyone’s horror collection. Yes it’s easy to mock the amateurish dramatics, unfocused photography and choppy editing. I’m very sure that any film critique worth his salt could quite rightly rip the production standards to shreds. It’s when you consider the fact that this is probably THE most poorly-financed of the early eighties genre additions thatyou have to give credit for the fact that it actually manages to do what many bigger budgeted efforts from the time couldn’t come close to. You see, for all its shoestring and money skimping short cuts, you just cannot deny that Scalps is still one hell of an unsettling movie experience.
The director wisely chose to mimic John Carpenter’s method of creating an eerie soundtrack and keeping it playing continuously throughout the runtime. It helped to build a credibly creepy and extremely desolate feeling that reamins a fixture right the way through the runtime. The pace is a tad too slow in places, but you’re always aware that something is going to happen soon, and when the shocks finally arrive they certainly deliver perhaps more brutality than you were expecting. The notorious rape sequence feels all the more mean spirited because the victim then has her throat messily slashed before being scalped moments later. There’s also a pretty effective decapitation that shows a plausible flair for the macabre from the director. Not many horror films can create the feeling of isolation that Scalps carries so effortlessly, and that’s why this movie in its uncut form is so severely underrated.
Unfortunately, all this credibility doesn’t come without its fair share of problems. The lighting is no less than awful in places. One minute the characters will be sitting around a camp fire in total darkness and then the next scene will look like it was filmed at around 6 o’clock in the morning. It’s obvious that any early eighties miniscule slasher production isn’t going to have the best lighting rig in Hollywood, but when it boils down to a handful of candles and two flashlights, questions seriously do need to be asked. Perhaps Olen Ray would’ve done better to shoot all the action in the afternoon light, instead of trying to outgrow his finances. As I said earlier, the acting is as block-like as an antique timber yard and some of the camera operators look to have turned up on the set after a 24-hour rendezvous with Jim Bean and Jack Daniels. It’s also worth noting that the bemusing tag lines on most VHS releases make this sound like some type of zombie flick. Don’t be fooled. It is 100% stalk and slash and it looks like the person responsible for the cover blurb didn’t even bother watching the movie.
Scalps is still mean and creepy enough to earn a decent three-star star rating. It is most certainly cheap, but when you consider the fact that drivel like Trick or Treat cost almost three times as much to make, then you have to say that this is a pretty decent chunk of slasher memorabilia. It certainly has the potential to be updated and remade; there just haven’t been enough crazy Indian killers! Certainly worth a look and definitely undeserving of the 2.9 rating that it has on the IMDB
aka The Eleventh Commandment aka Camping Del Terrore aka Paraiso Sangriento
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Starring: Charles Nappier, David Hess, Mimsy Farmer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I once met Ruggero Deodato you know. I was at a Cinema festival in Camden and there were quite a few filmmakers of different statures, but me being me, I was only interested in those who had made horror films. I also spoke to José Ramon Larraz who was a gentleman and gave me his autograph and liked the fact I had loved Al Filo Del Hacha.Maybe it was a countryman thing though, because Deodato was nowhere near as interested in speaking to me. I remember clearly that he was wearing more jewellery than a gypsy fortune teller and a white Armani jumper. It was easy to make out because it had the words ARMANI blazed across it in bold capitals, probably in an attempt to make sure no one mistook it for PRIMARK. At the time, I thought that was pretty cool, I mean I was fourteen-years old; but now I look back and wonder why an adult would want to broadcast the fact that this was a DESIGNER top? Anyway, I digress…
Camping Del Terrore or Bodycount as it’s known in these parts is a cheese extravaganza. It’s a shameless dupe of the Friday the 13th series, but has enough in its suitcase to offer an enjoyable contribution to the cycle. Deodato’s prior works include exploitation classic Cannibal Holocaust and the tense revenge flick, The House on the Edge of the Park. Despite some criticisms of his style, he has proved to be a director that understands timing and can handle suspense and plot development. Here was his belated attempt to dip his leg in the slasher genre’s profit pool, but interestingly enough, this entry never secured distribution in the US, which is something very tough to understand. That should have been the market that this kind of flick tried hardest to target. I mean us Europeans love our horror, but there’s nowhere near as much chance of seeing massive revenue from Euro markets as there is in the US.
A group of youngsters who are touring Colorado in a RV pick up a hitchhiker called Ben who lets them stay at his parent’s campsite. They are unaware of local superstition, which states that ancient Indians sent a Shaman to guard the area because it was built upon their burial ground. The teenager’s antics bring the Shaman back to stalk the location and the blood begins to flow…
Deodato hired an interesting ensemble of B-movie stars here, including his old buddy David Hess who had worked with him previously, Mimsy Farmer, Bruce Penhall and tough as nails Southerner, Charles Napier. Alongside those, there’s a typical cliché-laden group of young-adults, which consists of boys who are all jocks (except the usual lard-ass joker, played here by comedy writer Andrew Lederer) and some attractive girls who must be really dirty (not like that), because they seem to spend most of their screen time gratuitously scrubbing in the shower. If not, then you can be sure that they’re finding another reason to get naked somewhere else. When they’re not bathing in their skin suits or throwing buckets of water over each other whilst smiling profusely, they’re being nastily murdered one by one by the old Indian shaman. This psycho-killer has hit jackpot with his intended prey here, because they don’t seem to notice when their numbers start to dwindle and even when they do come across mysterious occurrences, like skulls and that kind of thing, they usually wander off to check them out on their lonesome.
There’s one part where a girl finds her boyfriend in a bloody mess on the floor and instead of fleeing the scene, she proceeds to go and lie down on the nearest bed and wait for the maniac to pop-up and ram a steak knife through her chest. One guy gets his comeuppance after climbing up a mountain only to bump into the Shaman, who at the time seemed to be doing little more than admiring the view. Nevertheless, he falls backward off the cliff, but must have visited a barber in-between losing his grip and hitting the floor, because the body we see plunging has completely different colour hair from the one that we saw climbing up. (Was it that hard to find a blonde wig for his stunt ‘double’?) His girlfriend, whom was waiting below, witnesses the incident but not what caused it. Does she go and check if he survived or run off to get her beau some help? Of course not, instead she heads to the nearest bathhouse and begins taking off her clothes! Just what was it about that bathhouse and stripping?
To be fair, the teens never stood a chance against the most prepared killer in the history of slasher movies. When he slaughters one curly-haired blonde at the beginning, he manages to materialise a wig from out of nowhere that exactly matches his now defunct victim’s bubble-perm style. He then climbs inside a handy tree-trunk in record breaking time in order to convince her partner to walk over so that he can give him a violent tracheotomy. Shame he couldn’t have conjured a hairpiece as quickly for the stuntman which I told you about above.
In fairness, I liked the part when one character had his fingers chopped off with an axe and most of the murders are pretty cool and never without a splash of goo. I have a feeling that I have made Bodycount seem somewhat dumb, but to be honest it’s actually fairly engaging. Some of the flowing photography was brilliant as victims ran through the woods from the killer’s pursuit and there’s a fairly outlandish nightmare sequence that’s impressive and eerie. At times, the director builds a fair slice of suspense and the twist at the end was actually unexpected. Let’s just say that it works well to lead you to believe one thing throughout the movie and then it takes a U-turn in the final scene that I didn’t see coming first time around. In the beginning, each victim found a teddy bear somewhere before they were murdered, a neat and macabre touch (I love killer calling cards) that mysteriously evaded the rest of the movie. The attractive females and obnoxious males managed to whisk up a few giggles with their joint cheesiness and eighties talk is always fun to hear – (they were raving about Iron Maiden here!) To top it all off there’s a fantastic score from Claudio Simonetti that creates the excitement by itself in some parts.
This is a lot better than most of the Friday rip-offs that were made circa 1986. It’s nicely paced, never becomes boring and it offers cheese and slasher trash by the bucket load. I recommend Bodycount as an entertaining alternative to fans that have seen Friday the 13th too many times. It doesn’t break new ground or even make anything outstanding from the old, but it’s a whole heap of fun. If you fancy a weekend of Italian slashers, get this, Nightmare Beach and Stagefright and you’re guaranteed a good time… Enjoy!
Final Girl √√