Blood Harvest 1987
aka The Marvelous Mervo aka Nightmare
Directed by: Bill Rebane
Starring: Tiny Tim, Itonia Salchek, Dean West
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Blood Harvest is yet further evidence how the slasher genre was a good cash cow for ambitious B-Movie producers during the eighties. So much so that even celebrated low budget titans like Bill Rebane were keen to get in on the action and have a stab at creating their ownHalloween.
Rebane himself is a bit if a movie enigma who preferred the comfort zone of budget sci-fi/Horror than a golden ticket to Hollywood. An educated film-maker whose creativity and flair for adventure saw him innovate cinema with his 360 degrees wrap-around motion picture process, he could have used his skill for technology and his cultural intelligence (He was Latvian born and fluent in five languages) to join a major studio. Instead he stuck to releasing his own self-financed productions that were each fairly successful in their own right.
In the mid-eighties he hosted a 50s nostalgia event at his Wisconsin based studio, The Shooting Ranch. There, a chance meeting with Tiny Tim, another oddball celebrity who had found fortune with his falsetto voice and quirky character – led to the production of this curious slasher.
There are three versions of the feature in circulation and each is slightly different. The American VHS release includes all the nudity and gore, whilst the UK tape is missing three-minutes of footage, which was considered too gruesome by the BBFC. There’s also a director’s cut on DVD, which is itself rather strange because it also removes most of the blood and bare skin. That must be the first time that a director’s version subtracts from the existing print and offers a more lenient alternative. It’s rumoured that this may have been either due to Rebane’s political ambitions at the time or the fact that the gore was not in his initial vision for the flick and rather it was added at the insistence of his production partners (most of his previous work was PG13 rated) to make the film more marketable to the splatter audiences.
Jill returns home to her city from University to find that her parents are missing and the local bank (which they own) has forced most of the farmers to sell their properties. They are not the most popular people in the neighborhood, so Jill is rightly concerned about their disappearance. Things go where you expect them to, when a killer with a stocking on his head turns up and begins stalking the youngster and murdering anyone who has contact with her.
I can only say that a slasher film starring Tiny Tim is as jaw droopingly bizarre as you would expect it to be. To be fair to him, his performance is one of the few highlights in an otherwise dull offering and he manages to deliver a troubled-childlike creepiness with depths to his character. Dressing him in a clown costume was a masterstroke from the scriptwriters and adds to the overall desperation of his deluded persona.
The rest of the cast are nowhere near as credible and he carries the torch in terms of capable dramatics. I have to mention Itonia Salchek, the final girl, who can’t act for toffee but seems to enjoy nothing more than getting her kit off at every available opportunity, which makes her a hit with T&A fans and most likely the highlight of a single guy’s night out in any bar that she frequents. Anyway, she is lost here carrying most of the plot development on her (usually naked) shoulders and comes across as unapproachable.
I mentioned about Bill Rebane being an enigma earlier, but he is nowhere near as mysterious as his lead actress. I couldn’t uncover any information about her anywhere. Now her surname looks Eastern European (I speak Russian and Polish and it’s not from those countries) but her first name Itonia is an epithet from Greek mythology for the Goddess Athena. Interesting stuff. Anyway, she vanished in to obscurity after this, but if you know something, then please give me a shout. Here’s a rare screenshot of her in clothing, which is something that we don’t see very often.
It seems like Rebane was aware of the slasher genre but hadn’t researched its trappings and unlike many entries of the same year, the movie steers clear of feeling like a total rip off. There are no POV shots, the final girl doesn’t come across as shy and withdrawn and the killer seems more like what you would expect to find in a Giallo than a slasher flick. This is most evident in the heavy sexual undertones and his motive, which is at least well-handled and believable.
The film would suffer in later years, disappearing due to legal tangles, not just once, but for a second time after its outing on DVD. This gives it a somewhat alluring sheen, especially as it’s impossible to find now in its uncut form. The only version worth watching is the unrated cut, because despite of some uninspired and pedestrian direction from Rebane (I expected better) there are snippets of a really foreboding atmosphere. The killer is exceptionally merciless and brutal and the actor does well playing off-his-rocker insanity at the climax. There’s the mystery of guessing his identity, but there are not many choices and you’ll work it out pretty quick if you watch closely enough. Some more killings would have been nice (only two on screen) but the gooey throat-slashing is really well done (by soon to be big shot Dieter Sturm no less)
There’s a nice synth score that I liked and the killer looks creepy with a stocking over his head, but there’s too much missing in terms of continuity to make this a hidden-gem. Some of the plot points were bordering on stupidity and what the hell was with the incredibly inept sheriff? There are long periods of dull rubbish acting where your attention will turn away from the screen and it definitely hasn’t aged well.
Worthy only because it’s rare and a great performance from Tiny Tim, but otherwise not really recommended as a competitor.
Final Girl √√√
City In Panic 1986
Directed by: Robert Bouveir
Starring: David Adamson, Lee Ann Nestegard, Derrick Emery
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Dependent on the product there can be sometimes no better marketing tool than controversy. For their time, The Sex Pistols were controversial and made a great career out of it. The Rolling Stones, Elvis, hell even Sir Cliff Richard caused uproar in his day. As Max Clifford once famously said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” This little-known Canadian slasher must’ve been aiming for some of the same media coverage when it attempted to make an admittedly ham-fisted social comment on one of the eighties’ biggest discussion points – the HIV virus. Any severe medical condition should be handled with care and consideration by a filmmaker that is attempting to broach such delicate topics, but Bouvier’s feature is the cinematic equivalent of telling a friend that they looked better last year when they could still fit in those jeans.
In the first few minutes, the director attempts a role reversal on Hitchcock’s notorious shower scene. A hulking killer sporting a fedora, dark glasses and typical giallo-like psycho-garb bursts into a bathroom and hacks an unfortunate guy to death with a kitchen knife. Before leaving, the maniac carves the letter ‘M’ into his back with the aforementioned blade. This becomes the macabre calling card of the maniacal assassin and also the name that he becomes known by in media. Next up we meet Dave Miller (David Adamson) a radio talk show host that immediately takes an interest in the madman’s motives. As the bodies continue to pile up around the city, Dave decides to set a trap using his popular broadcast as the bait. Eventually, the killer himself phones the show and begins to slaughter people that are close to the presenter. Is Miller next on the death list?
City in Panic starts with a protagonist narrative that is vaguely reminiscent of the maverick cop thrillers of the seventies. The depiction of a sleazy town in peril led me to believe that Bouvier was as much a fan of Dirty Harry and the like as he was of Halloween. To be fair there are times when the atmosphere gets credibly morbid and some of the gruesome murders are brutal if not graphically audacious enough to rival gore marathons. We are treated to occasional flashes of innovative photography that are exciting and spontaneous and provide the odd glimpse of suspense that helps to strengthen the few moments of macabre mayhem. Perhaps the most memorable of those is the repugnant castration of a toilet loitering sex pest. After having his ‘Johnson’ chopped off by the masked killer, the guy is left to die in agony and spray blood on the walls like the final spurts of a wayward sprinkler system. It’s a grim sight indeed; but unfortunately, aside from the couple of select examples of flair from Bouvier, the majority of the film struggles to pull itself from the realms of amateur night.
I remember a Glam metal band that were unsigned in the late eighties and recorded two demos that were popular amongst collectors. Indian Angel’s set list included catchy tracks like Playing Hard To Get, Loneliness Motel and Just Pretending, but after a few years on the club circuit they disbanded. When they finally did call it quits it was clear that they had not improved on their musicianship and were still playing those same songs that I mentioned above. They failed to build upon their initial strengths and in the end were doomed to remain rock and roll apprentices. This film is a similar case in point as it perhaps needed Bouvier to step back, analyse his work and then try a bit harder. The spluttering dramatics fail to convince on even the lowest level, which immediately destroys any sense of realism being created. An idea with such a strong topical standpoint needed to be solid with its scripting in order to deliver what it intended, but Andreas Blackwell’s confused screenplay is sketchy and it leaves characters contradicting themselves. The glossy veneer of intellectual dialogue soon becomes transparent as nonsensical chit chat and the fact that City in Panic seems to have been written with minimal effort means that it only appeals to those that can’t be bothered to make the effort. At one point the investigator says, “Now I began to accept that the city had on its hands a killer”. That line came after we had already seen a couple of mutilated corpses with the same MO. Go figure.
The soundtrack is an example of what a chimp can get out of a Bontempi keyboard and it does absolutely * nothing * to add to the mood of the feature. I have also read that some viewers felt that the plot was deliberately homophobic. Making the majority of the victims homosexual guys and then torturing them sadistically was a dumb move and although a female (and a heterosexual male) also got splattered, the film, ends up with a tone that I can understand that some could find offensive. Over the years, the slasher genre has developed a large gay following and movies such as HellBent have been accepted warmly. Due to City in Panic’s lack of focus, it has failed to register as an entry that pays the same amount of respect. Personally, I found it to be far too mindlessly written to be offensive and too weakly structured to be controversial. We can’t ignore the fact though that director Robert Bouvier has clumsily, although surely unintentionally, exploited one of the most tragic diseases that mankind has ever known.
Despite the awful attempt at a social commentary, taken as a slasher movie, this never gets boring and the viscous murders are spaced quite frequently all the way through. For a cheap piece of junk hokum it could’ve been a passable entry to the cycle. It’s just a shame that the filmmakers took the wrong approach…
Dead Above Ground 2002
Directed by: Chuck Bowman
Starring: Corbin Bernsen, Stephen J. Cannell, Robert Conrad
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Well, it all kicked off authentically enough, with stock footage of people turning up in limousines to the (fictional) ‘All-American Motion Picture Awards’ in Los Angeles. Director Chuck Bowman intercuts the baying crowds with a decent credit sequence, in which a robed killer slices through the screen with a steel axe. In my review for Killer Instinct, I said that Corbin Bernsen was really slumming it. Two years down the line and still nothings changed. Here he plays Mark Mallory, a director that has just won a prestigious award (yeah, that’ll be the day) for his Western. He returns home with his girlfriend, telling her that he’s going to use his statuette for… well, I’ll let her reply paint the picture, “If you think I’m gonna let you use that as a dildo, you’ve been hovering up some bad sh*t again…” Charming. Their night of questionable methods for passion is ruined when they reach the front door of his house to notice that it’s been vandalised. Someone has painted a bizarre satanic emblem around the knocker and written the words ‘Dead above ground’ in blood-red paint underneath. Instead of calling the police, Mallory decides to search the place himself and after a fumble in the dark and a smart trick by the caped killer, he discovers that offering to make his assailant a ‘movie star’ really isn’t going to save him from a fitting demise.
Afterwards, we head over to a school field where we’re introduced to our obvious victims and two forsaken Gothics. Dressed all in black (naturally), they prove their joint-weirdness by talking about, `Escaping into the Kelt world to be with the dark gods’ because the `Malevolent entities don’t ask for photo-ID!’ Then we discover that the guy’s name is Jeff Lucas and apart from being a credible Gareth Gates look-alike, he’s a budding film director too. The other Goth is his faithful girlfriend, who also worships all things Pagan. For their media studies course, all the kids have made summer video documentary projects, but Lucas has just ignored all that and cranked out a gory slasher film, much to the distaste of his grumpy lecturer. He screens the short anyway, and it invokes laughter and insults from the jesting teen-audience. This makes Jeff loose his rag and he warns everyone that they `…will die on the seventh equinox of Maven’ (?) He really dislikes his frumpy old teacher and tastefully informs him, ‘his end is nigh’. By now, I was beginning to wonder if the screenwriter had swallowed a few volumes of Shakespeare before he got to work on this. Jeff is carted off for a visit with the attractive Doctor Brenda Boone for a psychic examination. She’s the kind of medic that would make most Hi-school boys pretend that they were hearing voices, just so they could share a room with her for ten minutes. She thinks that Jeff is not crazy and it’s just a cry for help, but after he talks a lot more gibberish about ‘cutting eternity into time and space’, everyone agrees that he’s ‘certifiable’ and ‘a real nut job!!’ (And a really bad actor.)
Surprisingly enough, later that evening the mad student is invited to a pool party with his classmates, where Dr. Boone and the principal discuss his crazy fits and we also find out that he is actually the nephew of George Lucas. (I wonder if old Georgie knows about this?) Jeff dreams of being a big-time director just like his uncle, which would lead me to suggest that he gives up the trench coats and eyeliner and invests in some of those ‘stylish’ flannel shirts that Lord Skywalker loves so much. It doesn’t take long before he blows a fuse again and he slaps a girl with considerable force, knocking her into the swimming pool. Her boyfriend, Dylan, flaws the spiky haired anarchist and he curses everyone again before legging it to his car. Unsatisfied that he’s taught him a tough-enough lesson, Dylan takes off in pursuit and after the most leisurely paced car-chase ever filmed, Jeff’s brakes conveniently cease to exist and he drives off of the edge of a cliff. The car drops about 100 feet and then explodes into a ball of flames, making survival a total impossibility. Don’t forget that this is a slasher film, so it’s unlikely that people are going to be allowed to get away with that kind of thing without some loony or another coming back to seek revenge…
Twelve months down the line, a new student has moved into Jeff’s old house at Moss Point and is knocking about with his former ‘friends’. Chip reckons that he keeps having nightmares about someone warning him that they’ll come back to kill off everyone that was involved in the accident. The Gothic chick suggests that they attempt to contact Jeff’s spirit through a séance and she’ll be the medium. Later that night, they all sit in a circle and she tries to conjure a spirit guide with the rip-roaring speech, `Spirits of the South that are warm and bright like Atlantis’. Chip starts moaning the words ‘dead above ground’ and generally begins looking deranged, so everyone breaks the circle and the séance ends. Before long a hooded killer with a steel axe begins chopping up the teens and their teachers in the exact same ways that were depicted in Jeff’s movie one year earlier. It looks as if he’s come back from the grave to settle the score…
Television director Chuck Bowman has made such a sloppy mess of Dead Above Ground, that I’m surprised he can still get work on the small screen, let alone in the movies. Instead of using operatic themes to create suspense and tension, he’s chucked in cheap and junky heavy metal that’s genuinely painful to the ears. The cast sound as if they’d struggle to get bit parts dubbing a video game and they must’ve generally believed that expressing an emotion would put them higher up the killer’s to-do list, because they remain as flat as ten year old can of coke all the way through. Josh Hammond is perhaps the worst actor on the planet and the lack of any interesting characters means that you couldn’t care less if they all died of gonorrhea or if they invented a cure for diabetes. We are treated to a laughably small body count and there is probably more gore in a three-hour teletubbies extravaganza than there is in this utter dross. Slashers that are this crud usually manage to redeem themselves with a little unintentional comedy, but the fact that this is so painstakingly boring pretty much puts a poo-poo on the chance of that. The pagan-chatter was occasionally amusing, but everything else was put together at such a slow pace that I managed to read all of the eight-hundred and eighty-eight documents of the Warren Commission and still only be halfway through. Couldn’t they at least have thought of a premise that hadn’t been done more times than Danielle Lloyd? It’s like The Burning never happened, and what’s with all the ‘I swallowed a dictionary’ dialogue?
Horror movies need to be big on atmosphere. The only feeling that this creates is contempt for shelling out the money to pay for it. When I was living in Moscow, I picked up a copy of this for 100 Rubles, which is about £2. I remember wondering how on earth it got a release there? What did the fine people of Russia do to deserve such fodder exported and thrust upon them? The Cold War is long over, you know. Dead Above Ground, should be ‘dead under ground’ – Never to resurface again!
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Atração Satânica 1990
aka Satanic Attraction
Directed by: Fauzi Mansur
Starring: Emilia Mazur, Gabriela Toscano, Ênio Gonçalves
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Completely off topic, but Brazil can boast a peerless reputation for producing some of the greatest soccer idols that mankind has ever known. Pele, Ronaldo, Bebeto, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and the magnificent Romario are just some of the football legends that have worn the fluorescent yellow shirt of their five-time world cup winning country. Being a massive football fan and former player means that I have the greatest respect for my Latin cousins from across the pond and whenever I go out in central London, the hottest parties are those at my favourite Brazilian club on the Charing Cross road.
With their notorious flamboyant lust for life and excellent titles such as City of God already very popular amongst critics, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this late addition to the slasher cycle. Shock Diversao Diabolica was an interesting entry from 1982, but nowhere near good enough to rival the key players from the US during the boom years. But Spain, France and Italy – three other great football nations – can boast slasher output that is nearly as good as their World Cup winning squads, which made the initial signs look promising for Satanic Attraction.
It kicks off in traditional satanic fashion in the midst of a crowded ritual. A masked figure makes his way through a pack of dancers and heads down some underground stairs to host a bizarre black mass in front of a crowd of hooded revellers. The strange cult leader picks up a huge dagger and heads over to a pair of blonde beaming twin children. The mysterious stranger then slices the wrists of the youngsters and pushes their arms together, presumably to link the pair with a bond of blood. The crowd look on in anticipation as the twins grin sadistically.
Sometime later we meet Fernanda, a radio announcer who hosts a controversial show on which she tells creepy stories to a captivated nationwide audience. Some listeners believe that her ramblings are dangerous and could result in violent consequences, while others are just happy to see so many people turning to radio for their source of entertainment. Her latest tale concerns a dark figure roaming the town and murdering young women with various gruesome weapons. The killer then uses the victim’s blood to reanimate his deceased sister in her beachside grave. After dismembered bodies begin turning up around the local town, Fernanda realises that her stories are somehow connected to identical murderous events that are taking place at exactly the same time as she speaks on air. What connection does she share with the ritualistic psycho and what links the killings to the hapless DJ?
Satanic Attraction looks to have been produced on a fairly decent budget and it’s immediately apparent that director Fauzi Mansur didn’t scrape the barrel for the effects that he decided would make his movie a hit. A few of the murders are extremely gory: meat cleaver through the head, dismemberment, gooey throat lashing’s and a spear pushed through a love making couple a la Friday the 13th II. The killer is seen mainly from behind and dresses in traditional Giallo-like black psycho-garb. Although part of the plot concerns searching for the maniac’s identity, the whodunit aspect is mostly left simmering on the backburner. Even though things stick closely to the typical Giallo/slasher rulebook, Mansur manages to mix in a share of supernatural elements that are both interesting and utterly confusing in equal measures.
As this is a Brazilian production, the original vocal soundtrack is in Portuguese and the producers didn’t opt for subtitles to export the feature to English speaking nations. Instead the movie has been dubbed by a gang of wooden planks, sorry, students from America and the United Kingdom. Obviously it’s impossible to tell what these guys were studying, but one thing’s for certain; they definitely weren’t considering a career in drama. This has to rank along with Samurai Reincarnation as the worst dubbing in cinema history. But that’s not Satanic Attraction’s only problem. The movie is nearly two hours long and a huge majority of this time is spent listening to the aforementioned ‘actors’ warble their way through a poorly translated script, with characters popping up all over the place without any rhyme or reason. The net result is an overlong dreary feature that takes an hour and a half to finally shift into gear as the killer goes on an excellent maniacal spree. When we reach the film’s conclusion, it just gets silly as one twist that was easy to predict gives way to yet another.
Unfortunately, Satanic Attraction is a major let down in every respect. It’s hardly worth tracking down for the excessive gore and all that’s left is a long corridor of confusion and horrendous acting. Put it this way, I think even Jag Mundhra’s Open House, which also incorporates a DJ could be better – seriously!
I’ll stick to watching Brazilian football for now…
Final Girl √√
Movie House Massacre 1982
aka Blood Theatre
Directed by: Rick Sloane
Starring: Mary Woronov, Jenny Cunningham, Johnathan Blakeley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The successful cinema chain, Spotlite Theatres have decided to renovate an old abandoned auditorium and add it to their list of multiplexes. It has been closed since a manager went mad decades earlier and killed off a whole heap of people. Almost as soon as they get started though, the bodies begin dropping once again. Who could be behind the series of killings?
Fortunately, I’m a child of the Internet age and since I was eighteen, I have always had the ability to read an online review of the films that I’m looking to watch prior to purchasing them. There’s no doubt that the warning signs were there with Movie House Massacre. It’s been torn apart globally on the www; and even if sometimes I can disagree with other authors, the outright level of criticism on this particular title made the chance of that seem rather slim.
The reason I mention this is because the marketing team behind the packaging of Rick Sloane’s debut were most definitely the feature’s worst enemy. Looking at the box, it’s easy to believe that you are going to be in for a gory slasher in the vein of The Burning et al. That is totally inaccurate however, because Movie House Massacre is actually nothing but a goofy horror spoof. I got to the eleven minute mark in the runtime and had to rewind it to the beginning and start again with my comedy hat on. To continue watching whilst expecting attempts at terror would have been unfair on this film. So did the change of my initial perception make MHM any better?
Quite frankly, no. It lives up very well to its reputation of incompetence. What we have here is a shambolic example of filmmaking in every possible way. Technically, the level of professionalism is pitiful and this is most evident in the editing, which strings scenes together with no apparent logical structure. There’s a semblance of a story there, somewhere; but it’s muddled, unbalanced and ultimately very boring.
Good comedy done well is priceless and almost as tough to produce on the silver screen as effective suspense. I’m a big fan of slapstick and films such as Naked Gun or Airplane work because they fire everything at their audience and if the first five jokes don’t stick, it’s guaranteed that there’s a couple that will. The problem with Movie House Massacre is that it could fling a million attempts at us, but it’d make no difference because it is just not funny. Rick Sloane was 21 when he put this together, but he must have been twelve when he wrote the script. It’s simply awful.
As the majority of the crew don’t seem to have a clue about filmmaking, you don’t need me to tell you how low the level of the dramatics sink. I must, however, praise Mary Woronov who gives us some of the finest acting that I have ever seen. It’s not in the way that she portrays her character however. It’s her ability to hide the obvious disappointment and bewilderment that an actress of her experience must have had on this set. Seriously, she deserved an Oscar nod for that. I reckon that she must have sacked her agent straight after for putting her near this tosh.
If you type Movie House Massacre in to Google, you can find review after review that will tell you how bad the film is. There is absolutely zero point in me writing any more of the same things in a different way, but I did pick up a few interesting points. It seems as if the idea here was to spoof horror in general rather than just the slasher genre and there’s a couple of haunted-house type shenanigans that go on throughout the runtime, such as light bulbs smashing and objects flying across the room. Still this just qualifies as a slasher movie because it does include a knife clenching killer (an elderly man with zilch scare factor) and a ‘heroic’ final girl. What I did find to be authentic was that in the parallel universe where this story takes place, every door or locker makes a sound like a torpedo when it opens and people can disappear and get killed with no one at all noticing. One girl just turns up to get murdered (somewhat creatively) in a popcorn machine. Either I fell asleep briefly or she just appeared from nowhere, to be frank I just don’t know anymore. Excuse me, I need to go and have a lie down.
I have never deemed any film that I’ve seen atrocious enough to give a no star review. I was close here, but in the end I decided on half a star. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is a terrible picture. Painful, horrible, grotesque and monstrous. It doesn’t attempt however to cover up its weaknesses with vulgarity, which is something that others seem to do constantly. I also laughed when I heard the Casio keyboard Halloween knock-off score, which is suspiciously similar to the cheesy club track ‘Little bit of luck’ by DJ Luck and MC Neat. It was amusing watching an old man with a knife stalk a theater isle, whilst a cheap rendition of “Ta na ne, ta na ne, ta na ne, ta na ne tee boi” was playing in the background. I think that alone salvaged the film somewhat. Maybe Sloane should have sued them for the use of his tune? He could have retrieved some of the budget that I am sure he never got back on this. Also, did anyone else notice how much the actor who played the young killer was similar to Ray Liotta? Gawd I must have been bored if I was thinking things like that.
If you needed to read it yet another time just to be sure, then I can confirm to you that Movie House Massacre should be avoided at all costs. I felt like throwing my sock at my iPad countless times throughout and I know people always say it halfheartedly, but I promise you that I was cringing in places. Horrible acting, no story, a dumb geriatric killer, zero suspense and well zero anything, really.
A good friend of mine recently was trying to split with his girlfriend. He had tried everything, but she just wouldn’t go. I told him to show her Movie House Massacre and pretend it was his favourite film. They are no longer together…
A Day of Judgement 1981
Directed by: Charles Reynolds
Starring: George Kennedy, David Michael O’Neill, Michelle Bauer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is not just an update, but a complete rewrite of my 2004 review of A Day of Judgement, which is still online. I found out some more information about the production of the picture that I have included here. Enjoy…
A Day of Judgement tells the tale of a small Southern town in the 1920s during the Great Depression, where the local church congregation has been reduced to three elderly pensioners. Father Cage blames himself for the lack of attendance and the townsfolk’s unethical attitudes toward the Ten Commandments. Unable to come to terms with the fact that the villagers would rather live in sin than hear his weekly sermons, the priest packs his horse and cart and heads for the city. On his way out of town, he passes a cloaked figure shouldering a scythe and realises that it’s too late for him to save the sinners from a gory punishment.
Around the time of the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, I watched an intriguing documentary. It claimed that the decaying wreck at the bottom of the North Atlantic is actually her sister, the RMS Olympic and it was all a major insurance fraud that went drastically wrong. History shows that the RMS Olympic was a very unlucky vessel after her maiden voyage and she had an alarming amount of bumps and scrapes in a very short space of time. The worst of those was when the HMS Hawke, a British warship, ploughed into the side of her; an accident that it was rumoured that she might never recover from. To make matters worse, the collision was considered to be the RMS Olympic’s fault, so she got no payout at all to help towards the large costs of her repairs.
This resulted in a sink or swim (literally) situation for the Olympic’s parent company, White Star Line, and it was even said that she may never pass another board of trade inspection test. There’s no doubt that this is why creative imaginations have found a plausible motive for ‘the switch’. Drown the Olympic in the North Atlantic under the name of her identical sibling and then claim the insurance funds. It sounds far fetched, but who knows…?
Like all good conspiracies, there’s some evidence that funds these claims, and the fact that the letters MP are clearly visible engraved into the hull under the missing characters of the (riveted on top) nameplate TITANIC does speak a thousand words. Such stories are great junk food for the mind and always interesting to read about, but one of the things that really caught my attention, was the fact that JP Morgan, the millionaire banker who had recently purchased White Star Line, claimed ill health and pulled out of the journey at the last minute. So did most of his friends that were due to join the ride. Did they perhaps know something that the rest of the passengers didn’t? Or did they just make an unbelievably fortunate change of plan at the last minute?
Personally, I hate it when plans get changed – most definitely at the last minute – and even if with JP Morgan the alteration probably saved his life, it’s usually always a bad idea. When this particular film was produced, the sudden decision to switch strategy really made little common sense.
You see, it began life as a religious drama of the type that were popular on the church circuit in rural America around that time. Director Charles Reynolds was hired to manage the shoot and he did so as per the original script, which included no horror. When he had completed his work, he picked up his paycheque and left to move on to other projects. It was then that one of the financiers got cold feet and thought that the best thing to do was to chuck in a silhouetted killer and market it to the buzzing slasher crowd. They hired someone else to shoot the extra parts and then sewed it all together like a bright colour clashing patchwork.
So what we were left with is a bit of a Godfrey Ho. You know Mr Ho, right? I have written about him before in my review of Delirium. He was the master of taking a half finished feature and chucking outrageous Ninjas on top of it in the hope that it might make a profit. He was completely right with that assumption, because they usually always did. Judgement on the other hand snoozes along over its ghastly 101 minute runtime, showing us the town’s residents ‘sinning’ and trying their hardest to look like they’re interested in the lacklustre dialogue, whilst the original church morality plot moves along at the pace of a snail crossing a drawbridge backwards.
This is a story that is populated by an incredibly unappealing group of characters, which includes a greedy bank manager played by William T. Hicks, who true slasher fans
may recognise as the lard-ass sheriff from Death Screams. Also sharing the screen, we see a mechanic who wants to send his mother and father to the old people’s home so
that he can use their house for his rendezvous with various females of the species. Then we get to witness the carrying ons of an adulterous wife and her lover, an elderly grump and a paranoid loaner that believes that his ex has cheated on him. Or something like that. Please excuse any slight inaccuracies, but by this point I was using the ‘matchstick between eyelids’ technique as a weak attempt at staying awake.
Anyway, each of the players got twenty or so minutes to show why they should be punished by the grim reaper, before he turned up and *briefly* put the struggling actors out of their misery in various boring ways. The ‘horror’ after shots that were hastily bolted on lasted for thirty-seconds tops and I counted one hokey decapitation before the matchsticks snapped under the weight of desperation of my eyelids to finally go to sleep.
One thing that did interest me was the use of period costumes, horses, carts and automobiles. These ingredients must’ve eaten heavily into the budget and it’s inexplicable why they didn’t utilise those funds on a stronger cast selection. Most of these guys were EO Corp regulars who were little more than ambitious locals. Their lack of experience did cause one or two inadvertently amusing ‘bad movie scenes’ that brightened things up a tad. I especially liked the part when one of the bunnies boogied to some period pop, blissfully unaware of how ‘unfortunate’ that she looked. Sadly, even if it had been Katy Perry belly dancing in a see-through Arsenal football kit, I still don’t think it could’ve saved this one for me. Whether it be the Titanic or her sister laying in a sorry state two-miles under the surface upon the seabed, this film is in an almost identical condition. Ruined. Unsalvageable. Kaput.
Unless you are a sadist and enjoy boredom as a form of torture, there is very little here for you to bother with. Oh and by the way, the ‘day of judgement’ takes place over a week or more. If you have taken a caffeine overdose and *still* can’t get to sleep, then and only then would this be ideal…
Killer Guise √√
Last Dance 1992
Directed by: Anthony Markes
Starring: Cynthia Basinet, Elaine Hendrix, Jason Logan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The ability to recognise your own faults is a quality that’s seen only too rarely amongst human kind. We all come across many people in life that would rather conjure up an impossibly improbable story than admit to any wrongdoing on their own part. Thankfully though, there are some exceptions. My friend Juan has an awful voice, but loves karaoke, so what he does is pick fairly easy songs that people can’t help but sing along with. This works, because in a drunken haze, crowds always remember him as being one of the best and stay stuff like, ‘He really got everyone going!”
Director Anthony Markes is a lot like my friend, Juan, because he looks to have worked out pretty quickly that he wasn’t quite up to the John Carpenter level of delivering shocks. So what does he do when making slasher films? Well he packs them full of scantily-clad chicas and campy frolics and then he simply hopes for the best.
This is his second slasher movie in the space of a year after the cheese ball that was Bikini Island. He was most definitely sticking to the ‘if it got financed last time around don’t fix it’ methodology, so he was returning to a playground that he knew fairly well. He also wrote the screenplay for 1990′s The Invisible Maniac. Unlike the fate that befell many similarly budgeted and produced features from this point in the span, both of his directorial additions to the grouping became late night cable TV regulars, and still are to this day, so I guess that he can be quietly satisfied by his achievements.
A club is preparing to host a dance off on live TV and the girls are having to perform arduous tasks not only to stay on the stage, but also to stay alive! It seems that a certain someone is taking the competition a tad too seriously and has gone on a kill frenzy. Will there be anyone left to prance in a leotard?
Location aside, the storyline is *identical* to the one from Bikini Island, right down to the personalities of the characters, so instead of writing the same stuff for you all over again, you could always save yourself some time and read that review here. Of course, it would be incredibly lazy on my part just to leave it like that and not give you the lowdown on this one too, so I will do my best to be original with my musings on Markes’ película del terror número dos. (Hopefully more original than he was with his idea for this movie…)
Maybe it’s because it is early in the morning, but I just can’t think of any other directors that followed up their début with another film that is EXACTLY the same? Last Dance is an interesting case however because it is tough to ascertain what audience it was produced for. People get killed, but it’s far too diluted to be a true horror film. There are two scenes that are more explicit than the usual embraces that we see in slasherdom (they include mounds of T&A and the most OBVIOUS body double in the history of cheap videotape), but they’re still not hard enough to be considered even light eroticism. Could we call this a a murder mystery? Well, the fact that it is painfully obvious from the twenty-minute mark who it is that’s bashing people’s brains in with tree-branches, a bucket and the like is pretty much a pooh-pooh for that category too. I think that these kind of genre entries are unique enough to have their own exclusive branding. Instead of stalk and slashers we could call them cheese and trashers. What do you reckon?
It’s a bit of a chore to sit through Last Dance if you’re not a fan of choreographed dance scenes. Each of the starlets gets her chance to give it her all and twirl on the stage to some pop rock tunes, whilst dressed in a skimpy outfit. Jeff Kwitny’s Iced from 1988 was a slasher set on a ski slope, but you could fit the amount of actual ‘skiing’ that we see in to the pre-credits sequence alone it was that minimal. Markes however is not a man to overlook a backdrop and so we get as much; – in fact we get more – boogie scenes than we do slashertastic action. It’s ok though, because the girls are fairly hot if you like fake tan and ten-inches of foundation and the whole film glows (not a fake tan type of glow) with a vibe that everyone involved was keeping their tongue firmly in cheek.
That tongue in cheek-ness produces a few unintentional laughs that make up for the moments when I was snoozing in front of a bunny dancing the jig. One victim walks straight into a hilariously placed noose that was just hanging there hoping that someone would be dumb enough to do exactly that, whilst the final girl discovers a novel way to put a pause on a marauding maniac’s rampage, which involves some speed of thought and a disco ball(!). There’s also an effectively handled sequence where said final girl begins to discover the bodies of her chums lying around the abandoned club. Did I also mention the fact that The Seeds have a song on the surprisingly good soundtrack?
Recommending Last Dance to you creates a bit of a paradox. Whilst in filmmaking terms it fails at almost every hurdle (acting, direction, script, editing etc etc), I can’t help but feel that some of you, much like me, might just enjoy it. There’s no gore and there’s as much chance of getting scared watching Friends, but somehow I kind of liked it. As much as Bikini Island? Hmmm… well yes actually.
It was a Thursday evening and the choices were minimal. I could have either chosen How to lose a guy in 10 days, which was on one channel or Spurs’ Europa league match, which was on the other. In the end I went with the VHS of Last Dance and it was the right decision. Whilst that may not be a gigantic compliment, it at least proves that I wasn’t too bored.
Final Girl √√
Easter Bunny BloodBath 2010
Directed by: Richard Mogg
Starring: Shayan Bayat, Meghan Kinsley, Travis Turner.
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Back in the golden age of the genre, we had it all, didn’t we? Christmas got stalked and Halloween got slashed. Valentine’s and April fool’s Days were pickaxed, whilst a maniac aboard a locomotive terrorised New Year’s Eve. Hell, even Thanksgiving was dismembered by a loony with a machete… But what about Easter? That time of year when everyone puts on 6kg in weight due to a chocolate egg overload and then spends the next month at the gym trying to burn it off? Why didn’t we get a multitude of titles set around the Good Friday break?
It seems that when it comes to slashertastic action on an annual holiday, Easter was like the geeky kid at school that always got picked last for the soccer team and remained on his lonesome at the end of term disco. We had to wait for what seemed like a lifetime before someone decided to ‘massacarise’ that particular calendar event, but then finally in 2002 we received, along with our cacao butter coated calorie overdose, an attempt to revive the European Giallo named, Semana Santa. Next up four years later came the slightly better Easter Bunny Kill! Kill!
I was thinking of reviewing one of those for you in time for today, but by now I am sure that my regular readers will know that a SLASH above will always pick the more obscure entries over those that have been covered to death. So here I offer you the wonderfully rare, Easter Bunny Bloodbath from 2010.
This is the first film from director Richard Mogg who I have spoken to recently and he’s a lovely guy. Much like Chris Seaver from Warlock Home Video (Death O’Lantern review coming soon), his features are tributes to the SOV titles of the eighties that we all know and love. I really enjoy these fan flicks, simply because most of the time they have been put together by someone with the same kind of lifetime respect for the genre that we have.
A young man chooses to return with some of his friends to his deceased father’s house after twenty-years. It’s his first time back since a girl was brutally murdered by a guy dressed as the Easter Bunny when he was only six years old. He witnessed the killing, but has since put the incident to the back of his mind. Almost as soon as they arrive however, he begins to feel uneasy, because he sees a nut job in a white rabbit suit with a machete hanging around the location. Is it all in his head or are the group really up against a vicious psycho with creative dress sense…?
When I was growing up, like many immigrants that flocked to London from the EU, my family didn’t have a great deal of money. Whilst the rest of the kids were playing their C64s on a colour TV, my Brother and I would be reading library books or rolling abandoned tires down the hill outside our back garden. My mum was never one to let the lack of funds hold us back however and she would always try and be creative with what little cash that we had. I remember one particular time that there was a fancy dress presentation at school and my buddies were all discussing what costume that their parents were going to buy for them. The usual names were coming up, Batman, Spider Man, Superman et al and I remember having this overpowering feeling of rejection. I was pretty upset by the time that I got home and when I explained to my mother why, she would hear no more about it. She stayed up practically all night rapping cardboard boxes with oven foil and sticking coloured fruit gums on them with Sellotape. In the morning when I woke up, I had a full silver robot suit that cost us literally nothing. I wish I still had a photograph of me in it to show you how good that it was, but the children in my class loved it and my teacher even gave me a prize for the ingenuity.
Easter Bunny Bloodbath is very similar to that robot suit actually, because despite being filmed on a nothing budget, it’s covers up the fact exceptionally well that it is missing some of the elements that its cash loaded siblings have in abundance. Just like one of those classic eighties slashers that it pays its dues to, it starts with a prologue set twenty years earlier and Mogg uses black and white photography to highlight the fact. The gap in time becomes especially apparent later, because after the credits have rolled, the director dazzles us with an amazing amount of bright colour. The picturesque forests and lakes of the beautiful British Columbia backdrop look extremely crisp and the quality of the picture somewhat betrays the lunch money production that financed it. Shooting everything in the daytime showed good planning as the film remains well lit throughout and the director pulls off some decent and extremely creative camera tricks during the runtime. All this is accompanied by a professional soundtrack that has been mixed perfectly to match the superb visuals.
The choice of costume for the killer is intriguing because much like the bear mascot suit from Girl’s Nite Out, there’s something really intimidating about seeing such an innocent child-like guise splashed in blood. At times, Mogg manages to build an incredibly creepy atmosphere and the kill scenes are brutal, well timed and fairly gory. My favourite would have to be the kitchen murder of an unsuspecting female. She has her face boiled in water and then her head squished like a cherry. Mogg looks to have followed the method that worked for both Gaspar Noé (Irréversible) and Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) by using the right sound effect for the head crushing scene. It’s gruesome. Obviously, we have become accustomed to bad acting in SOV flicks, but I must mention the surprise of the final girl here, Lisa, who was played superbly by unknown actress, Meghan Kisnley. She does a really good job with the role and managed a nice range of emotions. She also had a kind of a ‘looks a bit like Katy Perry’ thing going on and well… who doesn’t think Katy’s hot???
There is a fair bit to be admired here, but also something that majorly disappointed me about Bloodbath, and it is a personal bugbear of mine that I speak about more often than I feel that I should have to here on a SLASH above. I just fail to comprehend why these pictures are continually plagued by mixing unnecessary attempts at comedy into horror films that truly should just focus on the scares. Black humour can fit superbly when utilised the right way in a scary movie, but how many times do we need to see dumb slapstick failing in the slasher genre before filmmakers begin to realise that it just doesn’t work? Here it feels especially out of place because the tone became quite grim on occasion and I was really impressed by the mixture of mystery and terror. Despite some of the dialogue being amusing and the film having some fun, I felt that Mogg could have got much more out of the concept if he just played it straight. Characters like the obnoxious Steve were kept alive for far too long and the quips were little more than a hindrance on the movement of the plot. I have rarely seen a low budget offering that had so much potential to be effectively eerie but instead preferred to go for cheap laughs. Although it can be of course said that the whole point of paying homage to SOV flicks is to keep things campy, I found it harder to take because Mogg was close to achieving the toughest feat of all: – creating a genuine villain and an ominous environment to unleash him within. It is clear that shoe-string budgeted pictures are never going to have A-list continuity, but leaving vehicles, DVD Players and TVs from the last decade in a scene that’s billed as 1967 is a strange decision. Or was that another joke that I didn’t quite get?
There’s still the chance there for an ambitious filmmaker to create a really memorable Easter themed stalk and slash movie, but the ones that we have will do the job in the meantime. Easter Bunny Bloodbath is most definitely not a bad film and in fact I rather enjoyed parts of it. It took slightly too long to get going, a couple of the cast members could have died earlier; but I still saw some great signs of potential. I will be keeping an eye on Mogg’s future pictures, because there were moments here that brought to mind a Scott Spiegel or a Sam Raimi. All that on the tiniest of budgets…
I guess that if you take your horror served with a slice of American Pie-style laughs, then you can overlook my paragraph about the negatives. For me however I would like to see Señor Mogg make a pure out and out slasher flick. It’s rare that such a cheap movie delivers a few chills. This one managed just that…
Final Girl √√√
Night of the Demon 1980
Directed by: James C. Wasson
Starring: Michael Cutt, Joy Allen, Bob Collins
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Some of the video nasties from the early eighties were nowhere near as gruesome as their reputation would lead you to believe and half of the time they left you bewildered as to why they were banned in the first place. That’s not the case with Night of the Demon though, which doesn’t take long to let you know what philosophy these filmmakers believed in. We can safely assume that someone over at the BBFC was concerned that a contrast of images that includes a biker getting his ‘Johnson’ ripped off by a furry beast may be just a tad too much for public consumption. In the end, they decided that the best thing to do was to chuck this in a vault and hope that it quietly went away. It was resubmitted and heavily edited ten years later by ex-video nasty distributor, VipCo films. I found a copy on that label in a trade store on Regent Street, London. Imagine my unparalleled joy when I got home and watched it only to notice that it was time-coded and totally uncut. It turns out that I had discovered a pre-screener and it was a personal ‘up yours’ from me to the establishment. Sometime later I came across another version in Spain with a hilarious cover, which I have posted here.
In all fairness, director James C Watson is somewhat extreme with his over-use of visual suggestion. In the first five minutes alone, a fisherman is forced to a life collecting disability benefits courtesy of bumping into the ‘demon’ who was out on his rounds and hungry for a dismembered limb or two. The movie continues in this gratuitous vein all the way through, never bothering to add a touch of suspense or atmosphere development. Instead, it relies on grotesque images to boost the shock factor, breaking new grounds for gooey extremities.
The first scene takes place in a dingy little room that I guess is really supposed to look-like it’s a Hospital ward. A guy lays bed-ridden, with his face covered by bandages and plasters. Two doctors and a Sheriff discuss his injuries, stating that, ‘… his face is horribly mutilated (and) most of the skin is burned away’. Any man with his extreme medical condition must have some sombre tale of woe that (graphically) details how he ended up in such an uncomfortable position. When the lawman asks for his description of the events that left him so severely disfigured, he kicks it all off with the cheesy intriguing build up, ‘Those horror stories that you heard about the forest…they’re all true!’ So begins the flashback that will narrate us through his gore-laden adventure…
Apparently, the man without a face is Bill Nugent, an anthropology lecturer (a popular career amongst slasher alumni, I’m sure you’ll agree), that you could say is somewhat obsessed with uncovering the truth behind the legend of a murderous Big Foot. He and a group of budding students have decided that a journey out to the location where the stories came from should offer some clues to solve the mystery. They are to be joined on their excursion by Carla Thomas, the daughter of the unfortunate angler that I told you about earlier. She warns the volunteers of the dangers that lie ahead, by telling them the tale of a man who was brutally murdered whilst making-out in the back of a van with his girlfriend. The young woman who survived the murder was especially memorable, because she seems to think that portraying fear amounts to making ecstatic grunts that sound more like she had been sharing a bed with Ron Jeremy after he’d swallowed a bag of Viagra. Despite the fearful advice, the group decide to continue with their trip and head off in small boats down a long winding river into the wilderness, just like Burt Reynolds and his pals did in Deliverance.
They arrive at the destination and we get another flashback (within a flashback) that shows us the fate of a previous victim of the hairy beast. Note that our bogeyman actually looks more like an unshaven member of the heavy metal group Twisted Sister than any kind of rare big-foot mammal. This story involves a guy in a sleeping bag being swung round in circles before plummeting on to a dangerously miss-placed branch. The next morning, the group decide to interrogate the local townspeople in a scene that was most definitely ‘borrowed’ by The Blair Witch Project some time later. They’re told tonnes of conflicting rumours by the villagers, but every story that they hear has at least one thing in common: a hermit who lives in the hills and goes by the fitting name of ‘Crazy Wanda’. Apparently, she had a baby that was, ‘Awful to look at… deformed…a Mongoloid.’ The somewhat straight talking interviewee also gives us her opinion on what made the sprogg look so retarded. “It could have been down to malnutrition”, she comments. Erm… Okey. Now that they finally have a real lead, they head deeper into the forest and conveniently further away from civilization, which makes any sort of rescue attempt a definite impossibility.
As darkness falls, the group sit around a bonfire and discuss their findings so far. They learn from the professor that they’ve arrived at the point where years earlier a motorcyclist took his last piss in the bushes, due to the creature showing up and ‘copping a feel’ with horrifying results. Apparently in the edited print, the actual castration is totally removed. In the full version, it’s not that it’s particularly gory, but any male that’s watching will most definitely flinch purely at the thought of it. During the night, the campers are awoken by mysterious sounds emulating from within the trees. Nugent and his buddy investigate and come across a black mass, which looks more like a Country dancing festival, but I suppose it was meant to look really creepy. A young girl lies in the middle of the chanting crowd and we see that she is awkwardly consenting to intercourse with a strange fellow that looks suspiciously like Davy Jones from The Monkeys. The anthropologist immediately thinks that it’s rape and spoils the party by popping off a few caps into the sky from his trusty firearm. The revellers take off running in different directions, leaving the heroic visitors to head back to their tents feeling like they’ve done a good deed. As wrongful repayment for their helpful services, the next morning they wake up to find that their boats are missing. That means they’re stranded without any ammunition; – or in other words, doomed. Their luck worsens when two of the teenage students take a stroll under the moonlight for a spot of nookie, which is always a bad idea. Their fondling comes to an abrupt halt when the guy’s back is violently scratched by the killer’s fury hand (or should that be paw?). They sit round and chat about the assault, but strangely enough, not one of them seems to realise that they’re on a crash course for destruction if they hang around this area any longer. What more proof do they need? I’d hate to enroll at the university that these guys attended. I’ve heard about students offering blood, sweat and tears for their assignments, but as Eddie Cochran so truthfully said, that’s something else.
Eventually the hapless group stumble across Wanda’s cabin, which is situated in an area where a few years ago, the dumbest movie murder ever transferred to celluloid took place. Two girls are grabbed by Big Foot and bashed into each other unconvincingly. They’re both holding knifes in their hands, which results in them spraying blood over one another, because they didn’t think of ‘dropping the blades’. After a while, we’re finally introduced to the crazy hermit who really doesn’t help too much, because she’s been left muted by her involvement with the walking carpet. Before the remaining hunters even have the chance to shout ‘Help me Wanda’, old Mr. Grisly turns up and reveals himself to the unwelcome tourists. He expresses his apparent distaste that they’ve come traipsing into his area without direct permission, by surrounding and then violently murdering them one by one, in one of the goriest final scenes in the whole history of splatter flicks.
Watching Night of the Demon is like attending a horror reunion filled with parts that were ‘borrowed’ from the more popular films released from the mid-seventies to when this hit the shelves. We start in traditional Friday the 13th territory, with victims getting picked off in the woods by an unseen assailant. Then we sail into the realms of Eaten Alive with a rape sequence, which is watched by a baying gang of hillbilly crazies. Chuck in some Rosemary’s Baby, as we get all sacrilegious with the inclusion of a demonic offspring and plenty of satanic cursing. Finally we take a trip into the world that was prominently inhabited by Lucio Fulci around this time, with a gore-tastic showdown that’s not a million miles away from the House by the Cemetery. There are some truly blood-soaked scenes that have made the uncut version highly sought after, selling for big bucks on eBay. The most amusing of the bunch, is when the monster pulls out one gentleman’s intestines and spins them around his head like a cowboy twirling his lasso. Perhaps his true ambition was to be accepted as a hairy Southern wrangler? Hey, now there’s a plot twist…
The cast manage to offer nothing but putrid performances all the way through. It’s not like they’re bad actors trying to look good; they just aren’t any kind of actors at all. Dennis McCarthy’s music sounds like he dropped a vial of acid and then blew the flute over some Jazz that’s been played badly and the photography seems to have been performed by a guy with a nervous twitch because it judders more than a Sumo wrestler on a bouncy castle. Most of the characters remain nameless (and pointless) all the way through. In fact I’m sure that it was only the professor that was addressed by a title? The plot suffers from narration that’s about as much use as Stevie Wonder guiding you through a mile-long maze, and we never even find out a reason why the Big-foot has such animosity against human kind in the first place? It would have been nice to perhaps learn an interesting motive for his apparent hatred.
Despite the back-garden amateurism of the production, Wasson’s slasher film pulls no punches. Even if it is absolute trash, it’s fun trash all the same. I actually found it to be highly unforgiving with its level of outright brutality and the gooey murders do add something of a grim tone to the final scene. I’m no stranger to gory mayhem, but it does succeed in its excessive overindulgence. It is too cheesy to be taken seriously, but for such a low budget picture, the hokey effects manage to really unsettle at times. The director even manages a superb jump scare at the end that caught me off guard.
I guess that Demon most definitely deserves credit for trying something a little different from the majority of early eighties killer in the woods flicks. The POV shots and various references keep it tightly nailed into the slasher genre, but at least it isn’t just another masked killer on a campsite offering. If you want some gory fun then check out the UNCUT copy only. Alongside Pieces, The Last Horror Film et al, it’s become something of a Grindhouse dish of the day…. I am sure that you’ll have a good time.
Nightmare at Shadow Woods 1983
aka Blood Rage
Directed by: John Grissmer
Starring: Mark Soper, Louise Lasser, Marianne Kanter
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Firstly, before we get going, I must confess that this review is of the old US video version under the name of Blood Rage. The film played briefly in theaters as Nightmare at Shadow Woods and I also have Dutch and Argentinian copies that were released the same way. There was a budget disc that came out quite recently, but it cuts out all the good stuff, so if you are looking to track this down after reading, go for the VHS ONLY. Well, at least until it gets picked up and given the care and attention that it should have received long ago…
Although this overlooked little gem wasn’t marketed as an out and out gore flick, in its uncut form it certainly delivers on the red stuff. It was shot in 1982 and finished early the following year, but it didn’t get released until much later when the stalk and slash style of horror had seriously become old hat. There are many such examples that you can find here on a SLASH above, where features have been left on the shelf for whatever reason, but in the case of Woods, it is a real disappointment that such a fun little entry has become totally obscure.
There’s something uniquely satisfying about watching a gory film. It may be impossible to put it into words, but there’s a reason why an uncut version of a splatter fest will always favour that of a censored print. Humans have a morbid curiosity and it’s fun watching an actor getting his face cut in half with a bench saw when you know it’s just prosthetics…
We kick off at a drive in movie theater. A mother is far too busy making out with her lover to notice that her twin boys Terry and Todd have crept out of the car and headed out onto the forecourt. After a brief confrontation with a teenage viewer and his girlfriend, one of the twins hacks the unfortunate jock to death with a handy axe that he picked up on route. Clearly a quick thinker, Terry gives the hatchet to his dumb-founded brother and leaves him to face a life behind bars in an asylum for a crime that he did not commit.
Fast forward ten years and Todd, who has been in a catatonic state since that fateful night, begins to recollect the fact that it is actually his twin-brother that should be held accountable for the grisly murder and so armed with the truth, he escapes the hospital to clear his name and bring his sibling to justice. Meanwhile the news of Todd’s escape, coupled with the uncomfortable fact that his mother is about to get married, sends Terry back on a maniacal rampage.
What we have here is the slasher movie equivalent of a ’67 Pontiac Firebird. Nowadays it may look a bit clunky and rough around the edges, but that doesn’t diminish any of its coolness. John Grissmer obviously set out with the ambition to fill his feature with all the necessary ingredients for it to rival the hard-hitters of the horror market during that period and if it weren’t for a few post-production issues, he would have succeeded wholeheartedly. As I mentioned earlier, the gore is spread thick and fast throughout the runtime and there’s no space left for sentimentality as the killer stalks his victims with a mean-spirited air of arrogance. In most traditional slasher films, the antagonist is either an unknown entity with no other link to his victims than a lust for murder or more commonly it’s a psychopathic colleague that’s seeking revenge, but conceals his identity from those that he stalks. Grissmer’s psycho however kills indiscriminately and celebrates the fact that he is slashing those that look upon him as a friend. He taunts as would a playground bully and like the most fearsome schizophrenic, he has no apparent realization of the grotesque acts that he is committing.
Future Oscar nominee Ed French’s gore effects are heavily underrated and hold up well against some of the cycle’s more renowned bloody treasures. My favorite of the bunch would have to be when Maddy discovers the corpse of her boyfriend in the apartment complex and unaware that he has been murdered, she prods him to ascertain why he is failing to answer her questioning. As his body falls forward, the head splits completely in half through the middle and its a decent and credibly handled scare. This is one of many neat directorial flourishes on display and the final stalking scenes build some flashes of suspense and tension. The budget restrictions are obvious, but the film holds it’s own against its slasher siblings.
Mark Soper steals the show here playing both of the evil twins with an intelligent and well researched performance that defies his lack of experience. Instead of just going for the obvious and giving his separate characters distinctive vocal twangs, his body language, composure and stride are uniquely delivered and therefore look almost unrecognizable as the work of the same actor. He has a ball playing the maniacal killer and his ‘cranberry sauce’ lines are chillingly dark and brought to mind something that Jack Nicholson might ad lib. Louise Lasser, a good actress usually, is hit and miss here as the mother, but I guess that she did manage much more ‘hit’ and the role was a difficult one. I also quite liked the innocent (and heroic) final girl who was played well by an unknown who had very few previous screen credits. Bruce Rubin’s screenplay is conventional of the slasher genre, but smart with the majority of its twists and gimmicks and it does well to set up scenarios that develop the story and maintain the pace. Do you remember the scene in Halloween when Laurie Strode is screaming and in desperate need for help from her neighbours, but they dismiss her cries as drunken malarkey? Well, there’s something similar here when a kiddie is pre-warned not to open the door because there’s someone dangerous about. Later, when the heroine is fleeing and looking for a place to hide, guess which house that she runs to and begins frantically knocking?
What I did find disappointing though was that Rubin didn’t make the most of an ambitious plot by adding a possible element of mystery. We know from the start that Terry is the psychopathic sibling, but with a bit more adventurous scripting, we could have been left deciding which of the twins is the true killer until an archetypal revelation climax.
With that said, Woods still remains a top top splatter flick and would be a great sister companion for The Prowler or My Bloody Valentine from the same period. It is scary, well-written, fast moving and unique and on top of that mega gory. Ray Peterson was a rock and roll singer in the late fifties who had a four-octave voice. His songs were brilliant and he covered everything from doo-wop to up-tempo ballads, but only boasted a handful of minor hits. Woods in a way is similar to Peterson, because it has it all; and for reasons that only the immortal guardians can provide, it never got the respect that it deserves…..
Final Girl √√