Rush Week 1989
Directed by: Bob Bralver
Starring: Pamela Ludwig, Dean Hamilton, Roy Thinnes
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I read it a lot, but have to argue that sayingHalloween was the first American slasher film is just lazy journalism. Simply check outBlack Christmas, Class Reunion Massacre, Drive-in Massacre, Savage Weekend or The Town that Dreaded Sundown for pieces that clearly pre-date 1978 and have many of the relevant trappings. There’s no denying however that John Carpenter’s seminal classic was the feature responsible for cementing the trademarks and turning them into an actual sub-genre that others could populate. The zillions of imitations that dominated horror cinema throughout the following ten-years are as much a part of eighties nostalgia as spandex or bad hair styles. A retro eighties party without someone dressing up as Jason or Freddy is no party at all. Even Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – the great PS2 game, which heavily parodied that era – referenced the slasher genre in a satirical way, confirming it’s importance as a referential milestone.
There are still about 3-5 slasher movies being released every year, most of them very low budget productions, but the eighties will always be recognised as the golden period. The whole cycle started with a bang. In 1980, Night of the Demon, Friday the 13th, Terror Train and To all a Good Night were all released before Summer and a new craze had been launched, which would continue without interruption for over twelve-months and continue on a lesser scale right through until the nineties.
So what does that have to do with Rush Week, I hear you ask? Well this was the last slasher movie to be produced in the golden decade, even though it was released a while later. That makes this an interesting reference point as you can see how much the genre had adapted during that period. If Friday the 13th was the flagship for the launch of ten-years of teen splatter, Bob Bralver’s slasher was the swan song.
During rush week, a young journalism student picks up on a story when she notices that young women seem to be disappearing after a seedy meeting with a photographer after hours in the science lab. A killer, dressed in a cape and old-man mask is stalking the dormitory and offing lonesome females. Who could be the masked menace and what are his motives?
Ok so we’re definitely not breaking new ground here. Set on a college campus, the movie follows the traditional route without ever attempting to add something even slightly adventurous to the norm. I guess the first thing to notice about the difference between this and its brothers from nine-years earlier is the lack of gore. Whilst Friday the 13th set a new tone with its gruesome death scenes and investment in special effects, stringent censors and bad media had left many movies with their ‘money shots’ on cutting room floors before they had reached audiences, so film-maker’s were much more prudent with their budgets in latter years. The killer has an authentic double-bladed axe, but the majority of the murders are off-screen and therefore lack any punch.
Bralver seems a director far more interested in Frat jokes and teen fart humour than he does horror and the majority of the runtime is filled with Porky’s style character development and a blossoming romance between the leads. The slashings take a back seat quite early in the picture and it made me wonder if they had chucked in a hooded killer to make the flick look more attractive to prospective financiers? There’s the chance to guess the cast member that’s hiding beneath the mask and cape, but the mystery is poorly handled and you’ll see through the apparent red herrings with relevant ease. There’s a smidgen of suspense during the final stalking sequence through the school corridors and some looming tracking shots help to build a nice atmosphere. To be fair, I have to mention that the movie does reference its brethren by casting Dominick Brascia (Friday the 13th 5/Evil Laugh) and Kathleen Kinmont (Halloween 4) in small cameos.
It seems like they had a good budget to play with and the cinematography is crisp and adventurous. The leads carried the film really well and built some nice chemistry during the romance and I really liked Pamela Ludwig as the final girl. It’s amazing to think that her film journey quickly stagnated soon after, because she had enough talent to build a career in pictures. Her co-star Dean Hamilton would find his fortune as a producer, working both in Television and Cinema. His biggest investment so far, the awful chick flick Blonde and Blonder (which he also directed), was absolutely ripped to shreds by critics but proved popular enough for a sequel and at the time of writing, he is working on a project with ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ director Joel Zwick.
If the producers had decided to veto the lashings of blood for fear of extreme censorship, they certainly didn’t scrimp on the nudity. There are more breasts on display here than feeding time in a maternity ward and I personally would have loved to have studied here at Tambers college as it seems every female student has the body of a Playboy model. In another slightly bizarre twist, hardly any of the developed characters that we meet become victims of the axe clenching madman. It seems women are simply introduced to take of their kit and then scream as the hatchet swings, which means that we feel absolutely zero sympathy for them. That adds ammunition to my suspicions that the slasher elements were a mere sub-plot to allow the story to focus on the romance/dorm ingredients that seemed to certainly be the priority.
So not much of a final farewell from Rush Week for the decade of decadence where the box office was stalked and slashed by masked killers like there would be no tomorrow. This is not necessarily a bad film, but will only act more as a small snack if your hungry for a full slasher buffet.
Final Girl √√√√
The Dorm that Dripped Blood 1981
aka Pranks aka Death Dorm
Directed by: Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow
Starring: Laurie Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, Daphne Zuniga
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Many of the slasher films from the early eighties were made by filmmakers with minimal experience that were looking for their first big break. Whenever I get a chance to speak to crew members from the peak period, I notice that there’s usually always a unique story about how they secured funding or what corners they cut to get the feature released. None of those that I’ve heard though startled me quite as much as what I found out about this movie, which is one of my favourites of the golden age.
I was sure that lurking behind the scenes here was a fat cat producer with a wad of notes and a hunger to cash in on the slasher craze. The Dorm that Dripped Blood however was nothing more than a thesis project from three ambitious students of the University of California, Los Angeles. After seeing John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween at the cinema, Jeffrey Obrow, Stephen Carpenter and Stacey Giachino decided that they wanted to have a crack at making something similar. With minimal funding they came across other up and comers and the project became a launch pad for a few very fine careers. Christopher Young was studying music on a campus that was situated yards away from Obrow and Carpenter, whilst twenty-four year old make-up artist Matthew Mungle was pitching his small portfolio around town to get work. Years after they completed this film, Young would become one of the most popular composers of recent times and Mungle would win an Academy award and gain a further three nominations.
The shoot took place mainly during the December of 1980 and Obrow and his crew built their entire schedule around when the equipment that was provided by UCLA was available for their use. The locations were all discovered in and around the campus and the majority of cast members were unknowns or friends that had been eager to sign on. The net result is a superb example of the genre’s strengths when handled with ambition
A group of youngsters stay behind over the Christmas period to help clean and disassemble a dorm that is about to be closed down. Little do they know that they are sharing the location with a brutal killer…
I came across the film Pranks (as it was known in the UK) when I was growing up in London. Alongside The Driller Killer, Night of the Demon and Madhouse it had been quickly added to the DPP list and classified as a video nasty. Although the intention of the British government had been to do the exact opposite, the tag gave the film a cult classic reputation and it was passed around on bootleg with the added rebellious attraction of its unlawful status. A younger kid called Dean from across the street had a genuine copy that his dad had rescued from the claws of the Video Nasty campaign. In the end he sold to me for £10, which was a lot of money for an eleven year old child, but I wanted it so badly I would have paid £50.
Dorm is without a shadow of a doubt one of the grittiest of the period slashers and in my opinion, one of the most underrated. Despite not boasting the finesse of a My Bloody Valentine or Dressed to Kill, it succeeds by sacrificing an atmosphere of campy fun and replacing it with unrelenting grimness. From the first moment on screen, when a guy is brutally murdered before the pre-credits, the audience is made aware that they are watching a horror movie and there are no real attempts to alter the mood. I have always believed that in terms of structure for a slasher, you need to open with a shock, spend no more than thirty-five minutes on plot development with maybe the odd killing to maintain the tone. Follow that with a suspenseful mid-section as the body count mounts and then leave a good twenty-five minutes for the showdown/unmasking scene with the protagonist. The screenplay here gets that pretty much spot on and despite a few hollow moments that could have perhaps been much shorter, Christopher Young’s fantastic score (one of the best of the genre) sustains the energy.
Watching the newly released director’s cut has given Matthew Mumble’s gore effects the stage that they deserve and on BlueRay, they look superb. Hearing about the minimalistic funding that he was given to achieve these results somehow makes them seem all the better and in its entirety, Dorm can rightly be acknowledged as one of the most gruesome of its kind. There’s a fairly well-constructed mystery with red-herrings popping up in the right places and even if the killer’s revelation is not expertly conveyed (the motive is non-existent) it leads to a bold final scene, which was unique at the time of filming.
Perhaps what the feature lacks the most is a group of well developed personalities that we can bond with. The players here are wafer thin and therefore we never feel particularly intrigued by their dialogue or sympathetic towards their plight. In film’s such as Iced, Evil Laugh or Friday the 13th Part II, memorable faces such as Carl, Barney and Ted added some comedic warmth to the proceedings and make us care more about the results of the oncoming horror. Here though, Laurie Lapinski gave us a one-dimensional and extremely unapproachable final girl, whilst the rest of the cast were never offered anything authentic to escape their stereotype. Soon to be superstar Daphne Zuniga gets no chance to impress on her five-minute feature debut, even if the kill scene that sees her get gruesomely mutilated along with her parents has been written in to slasher folklore as one of the best sequences of the cycle. Whilst it could be argued that the lower amount of definition in the characters that guide us through the story give the film a more ‘complete’ feel of out and out horror, I couldn’t help but wonder how good this could have been with a tad more depth put into the protagonist and her co-stars.
Perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that despite the complete lack of experience of all involved, they have managed to put together one of most notorious pieces of the initial slasher phase. Dorm is a brutal, scary, gory and atmospheric slasher that engulfs you in its storm of underlying gloom. It overcomes its obviously raw level of filmmaking technicality to be a real treat for horror audiences. I thoroughly recommend it.
Final Girl √√
Directed by: Danny Graves
Starring: Alexandra Holden, Michael Weston, A.J. Buckley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
For a genre with such a simplistic structure, it’s a shame that the slasher hasn’t produced more crossbreed attempts. There are of course a few and you could say that the likes of Basic Instinct et al would never have existed without John Carpenter’s Halloween, but in terms of out and out combining of trappings, I have always felt that there should be a few more tasty bocadillos on the menu. Stalk and slash flicks sit most closely to their thriller counterparts in terms of cinematic proximity and there has been times when the difference in styles has been incredibly slim. I mean was Dressed to Kill a slasher or a thriller? What about James Mangold’s Identity? How would you classify The Last Stop? For me, these are all slasher flicks, but I guess mostly, it all comes down to individual opinion.
In terms of reputation and standing with critics however, you could say that the slasher category has most in common with the chick flick. Bizarre as it may at first sound, take a step back and allow me to explain. Chick flicks all have pretty much the same plot: Guy meets girl. Guy and girl dislike each other. Guy and girl (for some reason) end up being thrown together for an amount of time and then they fall in love. There’s a tragedy/accident/something that will split them for a while. Guy and girl overcome the odds and end up happily ever after. It’s the simplest of scenarios and one that was started most probably by the classics of Walt Disney. I always ask my friends when we are discussing movies to name me at least one chick flick that does not abide by the aforementioned structure. It’s fun watching them stumble and then bow to my cinematic expertise. Even if there most probably are a handful of titles that break away (Lost in Translation?), the synopsis that I have outlined above remains mostly untampered with. Why try and fix something that just isn’t broke? So we can say that stalk and slash films have become the chick flick of the horror genre, but has anyone ever mixed the two together? Could it ever work? Although I feel that it may not have been writer Larry Katz’s initial idea, Wishcraft from 2002 is the closest I can think of that takes parts of both styles and mixes them to create an entry that on the face of it, seems worth checking out…
Hi-school nerd Brett Bumper (Michael Weston) has got a crush on the school beauty, Samantha (Alexandra Holden). However, Sam merely sees him as a geek that gives her private tuition about the Second World War for the sake of her history classes. Brett despises her boyfriend, Cody and wishes that he could take her to the school prom. One day, he arrives home from school to find a strange package addressed to him from ‘an anonymous friend’. On closer inspection, he reveals a creepy box containing an ancient totem and a bizarre note stating that he can have three wishes for whatever he wants. Clearly confused, he puts the weird object in the bin and carries on unusual. When he tells his friend about the occurrence, his pal says that he shouldn’t throw it away without at least testing it. Still uncertain, he decides to make a wish that the girl of his dreams would ask him to the dance the following night. He’s shocked when the next day, out of the blue, Samantha wants to know his plans for the evening. Brett’s dream has come true and he’s over the moon. Unfortunately as soon as he uses the extraordinary object, someone begins methodically killing off his classmates. As his relationship with his sweetheart deepens, the murders begin getting closer to home until Brett realises that Sam could be next on the killer’s list….
Unlike most of the z-grade genre pieces that have slowly faded from store shelves, Wishcraft looks neatly produced and fairly well budgeted. The supporting cast, which includes Meat Loaf and Zelda Rubinstein (the lady who’s most famous for her high pitched ‘Caroool Aynnne’ routine from Poltergeist) seem uninspired and just here for the pay cheque, but the two leads are charming and bond superbly with the ambitious plot. Alexandra Holden was really good as the lovesick teen and she worked well with Michael Weston. I was surprised by the amount of chemistry that they managed to create in their unlikely pairing and I was enjoying waiting to see how their relationship would blossom. Director Danny Graves does ok on his debut and manages to build some tension in one or two of the murders. It’s always something of an alarm call when you see that a director has only the one credit to his IMDB listing, but I felt that it was most likely more because of a poor financial run from this feature (?) than a lack of talent.
There’s a good bit of creativity in the the way that the killer slaughters his victims and the majority of the kill scenes are sharp and unique. My favourite is when one guy is knocked unconscious in the school changing room and then wakes up sometime later buried up to his chin in the ground. The killer then proceeds to roll a bowling ball at his head and he is visibly relieved when the bumpy terrain sends it just skimming past. There’s no such fortune with the second one though and it hits him square in the face, which is conveyed to be as gruesome as it sounds. Even if most of the slayings are committed off-screen, they are delivered in a manor that allows your imagination to do the work and they are surprisingly brutal, which sits somewhat awkwardly amongst the cheesiness of the two lovebirds and their soppy romance. One outside review that I’ve read criticized the choice for the ending here and called it ‘stupid’ and ‘corny’, but I disagree. I thought it was a good decision – but then I guess that I’m an old romantic at heart – and maybe that helped. The story adds just enough character development to allow you to care about the outcome of the plot and you’ll find that you’ll breeze through the movie and never feel like you’ve wasted your time.
So there’s definitely a theme running here and Wishcraft mixes chick flick trappings with those of the stalk and slash category, but the creative blend doesn’t combine flawlessly and ends up looking like the horror bits have been sellotaped on to a cheesy love story. Maybe it could have worked if there were a few more minutes spent with the maniac as he stalks and murders the cast members or if they played the whole thing straighter from both angles. For some reason though the film never develops a dark enough tone to convince as a horror picture and struggles to deliver an adequate amount of trepidation. Also, the main comic relief character is obnoxious and annoying, which means that he should have been one of the first to die. Add everything together and what starts as a clever and original plot, just loses complete focus and rolls along to leave a whole load of unanswered questions. I mean, why didn’t Brett use his power to conjure up a 12 bore shotgun, or wish that the twosome could escape to safety? It’s hard to believe that no one on the crew highlighted this to the writer or director as they worked through the production.
Of the myriad of Scream imitators that were unleashed during the early noughties, Wishcraft is most definitely not one of the worst that you can place your hands upon. Weston and Holden make for an agreeable pairing and the film is worth seeing for maintaining an impressive pace and generating moments of unique humour. It is an ok time-waster rather than a good one and I can’t help but feel that it tries too hard to have one over on Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson.
I will have to wait a bit longer for someone to successfully mix Halloween with Breakfast at Tiffany’s then…
Final Girl √√√√
Study Hell 2004
Directed by: Mark McNabb
Starring: Brian Austin JR, Randy Cunnigham, Lindsey Day
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The screen lights up very suddenly with no credits or text introduction. A petrified girl runs in to a school gymnasium and sees a pile of corpses on the floor. She sprints off in to the locker room and begins looking for a place to hide. “This is interesting”, I thought to myself. “We’ve cut out absolutely everything else and just headed straight to the final chase sequence. Is this a slasher short?” My question was quickly answered when the fleeing bunny finally bumped into the unseen maniac and the title ‘Study Hell’ burst on to the screen.
Being a fan of slasher, or in fact any budget movies, is cool because alongside the satisfaction of enjoying the films, there’s also the challenge of hunting them down. I get message upon message asking me to rip Cards of Death, Savage Vows, Early Frost and the like for some of you folk; and even if I certainly would love to, these studios have much better lawyers than little old me. Piracy is a crime and all that.
Anyway I can understand that it’s hard to uncover some of these oldies, especially if they’re not on DVD. But when I got a message asking if I could direct someone towards a copy of Study Hell I was actually fairly surprised. You see this one’s not even that ancient, so why has it disappeared?
A teacher with personal issues is asked to look after a gang of kids who have detention. The teens begin to abuse him, without knowing the fact that he is a Vietnam veteran with a questionable record. Before long he locks the doors and begins to stalk and slaughter the kids one by one.
Back in 1987 there was an Australian film released called Dangerous Game. It put a teenage cast up against a deranged loon in a setting very similar to the same year’s Hide and Go Shriek. If you check my A-Z listings page, you’ll see that I haven’t included it, because for me, it’s not a slasher film. Instead I’d call it something of a cat and mouse thriller. Study Hell really reminded me of that picture in the way that it doesn’t really follow the normal concrete approach for slasher movies. The killer here is a normal guy and he never stalks through Michael Myers-alike POV with heavy breath. In fact, this entry excludes many of the genre’s trappings, but I posted it here because unlike the Ozploitation picture that I mentioned earlier, it just doesn’t fit anywhere else.
It’s from director Mark McNabb and he has been fairly prolific in the DTV market since he shot his first picture, Dark Fields in 2003. He began work on this project straight after but both titles took longer than he’d anticipated to secure distribution and sat on the shelf for three years. Study Hell doesn’t hang around to let you know the reasons why no one was in a rush to package and ship it to unsuspecting audiences, because it’s amateur night right from the off.
Now there are different kinds of bad actors that you can find in the movies. There are those that have studied the art of drama and are just not very good at it, even thought they do try. Then there are those that are just normal people. I mean, like you and I. People like doctors, students, bricklayers, salesmen or cleaners who may well be superb in their chosen profession, but when it comes to portraying emotion in front of a camera, they just don’t have a scooby doo. Here we have a feature that’s crammed with that level of dramatics and it is extremely difficult to watch.
Every conversation is marred by heinous acting and it looks as if McNabb wasn’t even trying to aim for realism. The characters tick every known stereotype but look to have been cast by José Feliciano. We’ve got a junkie thug played by a dweeby guy with glasses, a flirtatious hottie played by a plump non-actress and the ‘maniac’ stalks around with a receding side parting, spectacles, white shirt and an awful tie. The expression on the faces of the ‘actors’ never changes no matter whether they stumble across the corpse of their best friend or are fighting for their lives and the dialogue is just ridiculous.
There are a few unintentional lol moments like the Vietnam war scenes (filmed in the producer’s back garden?) and a hilarious part where a fleeing bunny choses to hide underwater in a swimming pool from the marauding maniac – and he doesn’t see her! Those looking for a hearty slasher though will come away disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, Study Hell is bad, excruciatingly so, but somehow I wanted to see it to the end. It even has a WTF twist that comes out of nowhere and adds to the paroxysms of laughter. I tried to find out a bit of info about the film’s author James Mcarthur, but what I really wanted to learn was his age. His script comes across like a twelve-year old’s wet dream and it’s tough to believe that an adult would be behind this work. It’s just embarrassing. There’s a final confrontation between our hero (another dweeb in specs) and the nut job and the dialogue and set-up would shame an eighties Van-Damme movie. I wondered after the final credits had rolled, what on earth McNabb thought he was doing when he filmed this? What was going through his mind? If I ever get the chance to speak with him, i’ll also ask where a teacher managed to find a load of hunting knives, a bow with deadly arrows and a hair shaver in a locked school. Any ideas?
I was on something of a roll having watched Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine 3D and Cassandra back to back; and with so much ‘four-star’ action, I was missing the usual junk that I have to sit through to write a review for you peeps. Study Hell came along and changed all that and it’s the first rubbish feature that I’ve sat through in 2013. That my friends is why it has disappeared…
¡Viva El Cinematic Trash!
Final Girl √
Graduation Day 1981
Directed by: Herb Freed
Starring: Christopher George, Patch Mackenzie, E. Danny Murphy
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Graduation Day almost came close to being the first horror movie that I ever watched. In the area where I grew up, there were two local video-shops just meters away from each other. One of them was as strict as a Nazi head teacher and wouldn’t let the nine year old me rent out any 18 rated movies. Luckily, the other guy just wanted to see the colour of your money no matter how old you were and that’s where I spent most of my weekly allowance. Whilst looking at the ex-rental films for sale, I found this eye catching hand-drawn cover, which was graced with a warning sticker that threatened, ’85 minutes of sheer terror whodunit!’ Now when you’re that young and inexperienced, those words sound extremely intriguing and even rebellious, because I knew that I was doing something that I wasn’t yet lawfully supposed to. I took it up to the counter and five minutes later the big sweaty guy returned from the stock room and told me that the tape had been damaged and he no longer had it. My little world had been shattered, so I asked if I could keep the box for future reference and disappointedly headed home.
Around that time, the movie had been deleted and it seemed more likely that I’d find the body of Jimmy Hoffa in my lunchbox than eventually get to view the damned thing. The more I looked at the box-art that promised ‘… Grisly, gruesome murders’ and terror beyond my wildest dreams, the more I yearned to find out if it could truly be as ‘terrifying’ and ‘grisly’ as the beguiling blurb had made out. My curiosities never died and some nine years later, when I learned of Video-search agencies, this was one of the first movies that popped into my head to track down. Finally I managed to get hold of a gleaming copy, knowing that it would have to be an unsurpassed masterpiece to achieve the strong expectations that nine years had built up in my overactive imagination. The point that I’m trying to make is that I hold a lot of sentimentality for Graduation Day, so excuse me if you think that I’m mad after you’ve read this review…
It kicks off in funky enough fashion with the memorable theme tune, ‘everybody wants to be a winner’. We are shown a collage of shots as the students of Midville High track-team compete in events against other athletes. Suddenly the camera pans in on the 100 meter sprint and one eager youngster shoots off to an audacious lead, leaving the other competitors stuttering in her wake. The crowd cheer her on to victory, but as Laura Ramstead bursts across the finish line, she slumps to the floor – dead.
As Graduation Day looms, the seniors of Midville still have the memory of Laura’s death fresh in their minds. Her grieving boyfriend Danny is relieved when Laura’s sister arrives to pay her final respects to the tragic youngster. But as soon as she turns up, the members of the track team begin being brutally killed by a maniac dressed in a tracksuit and fencing mask. The assassin creatively murders the athletes and then crosses their faces off of a team photo with bright red lipstick. As the bodies pile up, we are left to wonder if there will be any one left alive to participate in Graduation day…….
Despite some hokey gore effects, Graduation Day presents itself efficiently, and we never get the feeling that this has been made on the merest of budgets (which it was). For readers who are unaware of director Herb Freed (Beyond Evil/Haunts), he was a prolific horror moviemaker from 1977-81 and his features were all extensively cheesy and perhaps slightly better than their fate would allow. He was a former Rabbi, which meant that horror films were not the most obvious next step in his career. Alongside his wife however, they watched numerous entries and tried to find the right formula for box office success. She even went as far as to go through the runtimes with a stopwatch and time the gaps in-between the killings, which is the real reason why the maniac utilises the timepiece here. Not only was it a neat gimmick, but it was also a tribute from the director to his wife who at the time of shooting was fighting cancer and regrettably she died following the film’s national release. That must have made Freed’s job even harder and I think it would’ve been understandable if he called the whole thing off. He persisted with production and the net result was well worth it because Graduation Day is a key addition to the category even if it’s not one of the better entries.
To be fair, he does a good enough job of creating a smidgen of suspense in places and there’s one or two skilfully planned set-pieces. Editor Martin Jay Saddof uses flash cuts to define the intensity of an engaging scene, which is an interesting technique that Saddof swears was his idea, but I was sure that Freed used a similar style in his previous film, Beyond Evil. I may well be wrong, because I haven’t seen that movie for over a decade, so if you can help me out, then please let me know.
I do agree that Graduation Day is probably the daftest of all the period slashers. However, I must confess, that I really don’t think that it’s all that bad. I know, I know, you must think I’m crazy, but watching it last night whilst taking notes for this review, I actually rather enjoyed myself. It managed to keep me interested and the cheesy thrills make a worthy alternative to competent horror. Christopher George turns out a decent performance and the jesting banter between B-movie vet Michael Pataki and Broadway star E.J. Beaker actually works. Admittedly it looked as if screenwriter David Baughn was stuck in the Rock Hudson/Doris Day era, but as light comic refreshment, they made a good job of it. Even the youngsters weren’t all that bad. You’ll spot a young Linnea Quigley and an infamous early appearance from Vanna White, who spends most of her screen time screaming unconvincingly. E. Danny Murphy was really good as the grieving boyfriend and his teeth-gnashing turn much later was exactly what this campy feast needed.
Herb Freed has tried to include everything that was in vogue in 1981. There’s a roller-disco, loads of ear-bashing heavy metal and the surviving girl even fends off the killer using some (somewhat lame) martial arts, which was pretty hot stuff at the time. (Rejoice the times when we used to run around our school at night dressed in black tracksuits with scarves around our faces – the days of the Ninja!). The direction was somewhat sluggish, but the scene where the hooded-killer sneaks along a window behind an unsuspecting victim was impressive and the score is decent enough without ever being exceptional.
There is of course, the now notorious Graduation party, which is known to be by far the most annoying ten minutes from the slasher category. A musical group by the name of ‘Felony’ take centre stage at the disco, where teens whiz round in circles on roller skates. With their faces painted like seventies glamsters Kiss, they sing a painful song called ‘Gangster Rock’, which is no shorter than seven minutes and just repeats the same verse and chorus over and over again. They’re terrible, with a singer that has extreme vocal limitations and not even a decent song for him to attempt to sing. They seriously ruined an otherwise comical sequence that includes Quigley being pursued by the psycho in a fencing mask. Joseph Zito said that all the slasher directors were competing to find the scariest mask after Michael Myers’ fearful Shatner impersonation in Halloween. Quite what made these guys dig out a Fencing visor was somewhat dubious, but it must’ve impressed John Ottman, because he ‘borrowed’ it for his Urban Legend follow up.
It looks as if Freed blew his entire budget on the actors and hiring the rock band, leaving him with nothing to spend on effects. The gore scenes are so hokey that they’re derisory, including perhaps the worst decapitation that I’ve ever seen. In one murder, the maniac throws an American football with a sword through the middle for about 300 yards before it slices through a victim and only one of the slaughters is shown on screen, in the rest we only get a look at the aftermath.
Ok so if you’ve done your research then you’ve probably already found out what most people think of Graduation Day. If you’re unsure, then trust them, because my opinion may be biased and it’s certainly a minority. For what it’s worth I found it to be an enjoyable little cheesy frolic, with the added bonus of Christopher George making the most of a ham-sandwich characterisation.
This was never going to rival the likes of Halloween in the slasher stakes. But it delivered what I was looking for; – fun by the bucket-load. It actually benefited from an impressive box office return ($2.4 million from a budget of just over $250,000), which must’ve opened the possibility for a sequel that somewhat unfortunately never materialised. Financially the movie fights its corner well against its contemporaries and it deserves a place in the slasher hall of fame….
Final Girl √√
The Prowler 1981
aka Rosemary’s Killer aka The Graduation
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Starring: Vicky Dawson, Farley Granger, Laurence Tierney
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here we have it my favourite ever slasher movie. (I don’t include Halloween in that, because well – that’s everyone’s favourite). I found out about The Prowler when I was at school and by the strangest possible means. My buddies and I used to have a sly cigarette in an old wooden shed that was in some woodland near where I lived and usually there were pages of porno scattered across the floor (great excitement for a thirteen-year-old lad, I can tell you). Anyway, one night I went alone there alone and as if by fate, lying on the grass was a ripped horror fanzine (maybe it was Fangoria, I don’t recall). Anyway I was already a huge fan of the genre and so I scurried home to study all the pages in the comfort of my bedroom. There in loving colour my eyes first met with the iconic image that is the current background of a SLASH above and one of the finest killings from the category, the swimming pool murder. And so began a hunt that much like I had with Graduation Day, would continue for much longer than my excitement would have wanted.
Now without eBay and Amazon, my methods for tracking down slashers were restricted to Boot and Jumble sales around the London area. I found lots and lots of titles during my travels, including Night Screams, Nightmare (Dutch uncut copy!) Ghostkeeper, Stormbringer,One by One, The Demon, Fatal Games and Psycho Puppet. However the one that I REALLY wanted remained elusive. It started to become an obsession and after months of trying, I finally came to the disappointing conclusion that I would probably never see the darn thing. Then through a twist of fate, I found a video-search agency that came to my aid with an almost pristine copy. The price of £30 was daylight robbery, but for me it was mission accomplished and I probably would have paid £50
Avalon Bay is getting set for the first annual dance since a young couple were viciously murdered 35 years earlier. The youngsters of the community are eagerly anticipating the event and spend the day preparing and decorating the town hall. The junior Deputy is alone for the first time as the Sheriff has gone on his annual fishing trip and stress levels are raised when it’s revealed that a wanted criminal that slashed two young females could be heading to the area. As darkness descends, it becomes apparent that there’s a maniac dressed in World War 2 army fatigues stalking the Bay. Can the Deputy muster the courage to stop him?
The Prowler is not only one of the best examples of stalk and slash cinema from the golden era, but it’s also one of the most underrated. The movie ticks every box in terms of the relevant trappings and instead of just ticking them, in a few places it completely surpasses them. I liked the World War 2 gimmick and I think the killer’s disguise was an absolutely brilliant touch. His calling card of leaving a rose by his victims was creepily effective and there’s a great moment towards the climax where he offers it almost romantically to the final girl before attempting to ram a pitch folk through her!
Joseph Zito’s pacey direction sustains an awesome amount of suspense and the film excels in its technicality with some beautiful photography and a focused score. The director achieves the difficult feat of setting an unrelenting sharpness in the first half and even when not much happens, you are fully aware that at any moment something could. I liked the staircase stalking sequence and in true popcorn fashion, the intended victim makes all the wrong directional choices, which keeps the scene taught.
Vicky Dawson makes for a great final girl and she works well with Christopher Goutman. For relatively inexperienced performers, they carry the picture very well and they share only one or two weak moments. I thought Dawson was especially unfortunate not to have built a lasting career in cinema as much like Amy Steel in Friday the 13th 2, she offers a sweet and alluring naivety, but shows a brave independence when left to alone to face the prowler. Before the final credits rolled, my girlfriend who was watching with me said, “tough girl” – my sentiments exactly. Farley Granger was a neat addition to the cast list, even though it’s confirmed that he had a horrible time and suffered some uncomfortable sweating during the make-up effects, which annoyed him profusely. Laurence Tierney’s on-board too, although I have no idea why, his character is barely used to much effect and was probably a waste of budget.
Despite all this, Tom Savini’s effects once again steal the show and there’s no denying that this is the best of his work. The gore here is especially gruesome and the swimming pool throat slashing even boasts an aftermath shot that’s uncomfortably realistic. It happens as the victim’s lifeless body sinks to the tiles below and her legs begin to twitch as her nervous system comes to terms with the fact that the lights are going out for the last time. The best part of the sequence was actually a slight mistake from Savini, because at the same time as the gallons of blood seep from her wound, some bubbles also appear under the water (from the pipe pumping the goo). Instead of taking a reshoot, the effects master recommended that Zito utilise the footage as it was and it makes it much more convincing as if the bubbles were the last gasps of her breath.
This movie has a similar structure to the same year’s My Bloody Valentine and the two would work superbly on a double-bill. Strangely enough, what one title lacks the other boasts in abundance and if you were to mix the two together you would have the perfect slasher film. Whilst MBV also has some great kill scenes (equally as gratuitous) and a good-fun factor that adds momentum to the plot, it lacks any decent suspense. The Prowler on the other hand is nail-bitingly tense in places, but has some serious problems with its pace. And that’s where the real flaws with this feature lie.
Now I picked my favourite slasher film when I was about fourteen years old and much like my love for the Arsenal (the closest team to where I lived), I must admit that it was a ‘teenager’s decision’. Adults have the ability to analyse; step back and view the bigger picture before making a choice. Young minds just do this instantaneously and I am not sure if I noticed the faults back then in The Prowler that I see now. As I said, it starts superbly and comes across almost like an anxiety marathon. My Mrs and I were watching it together in silence, knowing full well that there would be a shock at any moment (And I have seen this flick a lot of times). But then after about thirty minutes the rapidity dries up and the film can’t maintain the same thrust.
It’s not necessarily the fault of Joseph Zito, but the script wastes too many minutes building the mystery and most of this is spent in an overly-dark and contained location, which soon begins to lose interest. There are many parts here that should have been much shorter. I especially thought the length of time used when the Deputy was contacting the Sherriff was ridiculous and ultimately pointless.
Despite an uneven runtime, this is still easily one of the best entries of the golden period. It does drag a bit in the development of the plot, but the excellent kill scenes and two fantastic leads more than make up for it. You won’t find too many better slashers around and it manages to be something that many of its brethren could only dream of – truly scary. Believe it or not, Joseph Zito was widely tipped to be a future horror maestro after his work on this and Friday the 13th The Final Chapter (one of the better sequels of the series), but he foolishly attempted the transition to action-orientated flicks, which never made the most of his abilities and his career rapidly faded.
I still rate this extremely highly and recommend it to anyone with even a passing hunger for some peak-period slasher shenanigans
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√√√√
Directed by: Jamie Blanks
Starring: Denise Richards, David Boreanaz, Marie Shelton
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Director Jamie Blanks split critics with Urban Legend, his debut movie. Some called it brainlessly entertaining, whilst others just called it brainless. Looking back, it was actually one of the better efforts that shamelessly jumped on the Scream bandwagon. Good enough to garner two sequels and it showed that the director knew how to build tension and had an eye for stylish photography. For his follow up, he put a popular cast together, including Denise Richards and David Boreanaz and went back to the roots of the slasher genre’s trappings to terrorize an annual day of celebration. His choice was Valentine’s Day, the same that was (pick) axed in 1981 by director George Milhalka and his gas masked bogeyman, Harry Walden.
Despite its large fan base, the original My Bloody Valentine was not as successful as the producers had hoped for upon initial release. It was only much later that it really began to achieve its status as an out and out slasher classic. The Special Edition disc that finally brought back the majority of the gore sequences was a fantastic moment for the genre and the film has acquired a new generation of followers. Blanks’ second attempt at slashtastic success was released eight-years before the remake of My Bloody Valentine hit screens, and I went to catch it at the cinema on its opening night. Despite not having any link to the aforementioned Canadian classic, I have often thought that the idea here was to at least pay homage to that film. Perhaps the original plan was to produce a remake, but in the end they just settled for a theme that was close instead. Aside from the obvious link that both stories take place on the same date, the psycho has an extremely similar calling card. It’s also worth noting that even though this claims to be an adaptation of Tom Savage’s novel, there’s little more than a few characters and a title that has been ported over from the book to the big screen. This aided my belief that they set out to modernise, albeit unofficially, one of the slasher category’s long standing fan favourites. Either way, I hoped that Blanks could at least manage to capture some of the vibe that was so prominent over at Valentine Bluffs back in 1981. And if that was too much to ask, then duplicating the fun that he had with his previous movie would be good enough for me…
It starts with a pre-teen valentine disco set in 1988. A bespectacled young boy heads on the dance floor looking for a young female to share a dance with. First he approaches Shelly (later played by Katherine Heigl) who embarrassingly rebuffs him. His charm doesn’t seem to work with Lilly (Jessica Cauffer), Paige (Denise Richards) or Kate (Marley Shelton) either; they all send him packing mercilessly. His luck changes when Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw) actually acknowledges him and the twosome leave hand in hand. They are later caught kissing under a bench by a gang of bullies. In order to save her own self from persecution, Dorothy accuses the youngster of attacking her and so the gang decides to take their own revenge. They cover him in red goo, strip him and chase him onto the dance floor where they proceed to beat him up. You already know that this kind of stuff usually turns someone in to a violent mass murderer.
Fast forward ten years and the girls have become women. No one is sure what happened to Jeremy (the unfortunate kid from the prologue) as he disappeared after that dance. It’s close to Valentine’s Day and they each receive a card signed with a poetic threat to their lives. They soon begin to take them seriously when Shelly is found with her throat sliced. Before long a mysterious masked madman stalks each of them leaving Kate and her boyfriend Adam (David Boreanaz) to work out that she’s next on the psycho’s list…
From the off, Valentine certainly looks the business. The healthy production values have been put to good use and the photography is sharp and confident in places. The director shows some real creativity in some of his twisting shots and I liked how he managed to keep the energy rampant for the first half an hour of the feature. At times, I really felt like I had been transported back to the eighties and I enjoyed the attempts to camp the tone up enough to align the film more closely with its stalk and slash forefathers. Parody is nothing new for these titles after Kevin Williamson, but Blanks demonstrates a fondness for the category and has fun with the trademarks
We’ve got a cast of actors that have more experience than usual, but there’s no denying the fact that their attractiveness played a huge part in the success of their auditions. Denise Richards spends the majority of her screen-time pouting and posturing at the camera and even though she’s a great piece of eye candy, it quickly becomes obvious that her performance motivation for the role was something along the lines of, “Denise, just treat the camera like a pole in a strip club”. Sadly, if ever the phrase ‘looks aren’t everything’ could be applied specifically to a movie, then Valentine is that film. It lacks the fundamentals to back up the quality of the make-up and wardrobe department’s work on the faces and bodies of its stars. Fundamentals such as: momentum, intrigue, suspense and realism. It reminds me of those houseplants that you see in Ikea that are made of plastic. They most certainly look the part, but in the end, they’re completely fake and therefore hollow.Think of Cheryl Cole for a second and you should be able to understand where I am going. Ok, take your mind off Ms Cole now so we can get back to the film… Are you ready? Good.
The murders are surprisingly weak and gore-free (perhaps an attempt to gain the most lenient rating possible), which may have worked for Halloween because John Carpenter used precision to make sure that each killing was extremely suspenseful. The problem here is that Jamie Blanks is no John Carpenter. There’s a chase sequence early on that was tight and brilliantly crafted, but the rest simply felt rushed and unplanned. The nut job does indeed look creepy in a cherub mask and the blood trickling from his nose after he dispatches each victim was a neat little touch. Nevertheless, there aren’t enough of those pleasing elements to add up to a satisfying whole and mostly Valentine is as shallow as a puddle in the Sahara.
Another problem is that the characters are incomprehensibly self indulgent and morally extracted and it’s simply impossible for them to win over the audience. I know that the story demanded that they behave that way, but I still needed someone to root for, you know? The film was lacking a central character that we could relate to and it really left a heart-candy sized hole in the runtime. It’s fine if the players that are soon going to get their comeuppance don’t have a shred of likeable-ness between them; but what about the heroine? Surely she has to be a class above? How can anyone want such pompously arrogant characters to survive? In a typical slasher movie, the ‘final girl’ is usually the shy reclusive type and she earns audience sympathy for being the one that we can bond with. The personalities here are all incredibly shallow and conceited, which makes you believe that the world would be a better place without them anyway. In fairness, much like the amusing Shallow Hal from a few years later, the film does try to convey a deep rooted message about our current obsession with image. It’s a poorly delivered social commentary however and the point is never made with any class or strength.
Jamie Blanks has proved that he has the potential to be a fair filmmaker; however I would consider this to be a failure. There are some very good things here (the killer was mega creepy), but as a whole it can’t escape its overall feeling of, well, nothingness. It’s a shame that he couldn’t have made more of the talented cast and competent budget; but in the end, Valentine just feels like a bottle of vodka at on a stag night – totally empty. This mystery aspect and the ‘twist’ just about worked when I saw this in the cinema. So what do Warner Bros go and do? Well they go ahead and ruin it for you by giving away the killer’s identity on the back cover. Yipeeeeeeeee!!
The film is unfortunately a lot like Kim Kardashian. Beautiful at first glance, but hideous and ghastly underneath. That was a bit harsh actually. Nothing is quite as bad as Kardashian.
Cupid certainly missed when he fired the arrow of fortune toward this bleeding heart…
Final Girl √
Hell High 1989
Directed by: Douglas Grossman
Starring: Maureen Mooney, Christopher Stryker, Christopher Cousins
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Unleashed a tad too late to make an impression on the slasher cycle, Hell High is an entry that deserves a second look due to its effort to branch away from the standard template. It is not one that is particularly obscure and has always been fairly easy to locate on VHS and then DVD. Surprisingly enough, most genre fans have never paid it much attention, which is an unusual feat for a film so widely available.
Producers David Steinman and Douglas Grossman had set out to make a feature from as early as 1982. Whilst searching for opportunities, Grossman touted himself as a writer around Hollywood and interviewed with a few studios to little avail. He eventually landed the job of adding the finishing touches to a Jim Kouf script titled, Up the Creek. The film was a moderate success and Grossman put the profits towards developing his own project the following summer. What Do You Want To Do Tonight? was finished in 1986, but the distribution deal that they secured initially fell by the wayside over a disagreement on the fee.Tragedy struck when lead actor, Christopher Stryker fell ill and died shortly after of an AIDS related complication. In the aftermath, the movie was picked up relatively cheaply, given a minuscule cinema run and then re-titled and shipped out quietly on VHS where it barely made a ripple.
In the first scene, a young girl heads off to a hut in some secluded swampland with a handful of toys. Whilst she is playing, a roaring engine is heard pulling near and so she heads off to hide amongst the surrounding shrubbery. Two rock and roll teens burst in to the shack and begin to make out, but somewhat stereotypically, the female (complete with a hairstyle that is ‘air-baloon-like’) ‘doesn’t feel safe’. Her gentlemanly boyfriend accepts her decision with the charming words of, “You f*king bitch!” He also pulls the head off of one of the toys inside, much to the displeasure of the on looking child. Both rockers jump on to their motorcycle and begin to speed off, but just before they leave, they are hit by a bucket full of mud, thrown in anger in response to the dismemberment of the dolly. The bike loses control and violently crashes into a pit of bizarrely misplaced spikes.The kiddie looks on in shock as the two bikers bleed to death.
Fast forward to present time and the infant is now grown up and a teacher at a local high school. Her strict approach causes friction with one rebellious group of students and after an aggressive confrontation, they plan revenge on her. The posse head up to her house later that night with a prank in mind to torment her, but what they find waiting for them is not what they expected…
I was really impressed with Hell High’s modification of the ‘avengement’ theme that has been used many times by the likes of Slaughter High, Terror Train and Evil Night.The story we have here however seems to owe more to the revenge flicks of the seventies such as Massacre at Central High and Horror High than the titles that it shares its release date with. It focuses very heavily on building the personalities of its key players and this translates to around fifty-minutes of high school frat pranks, flirting and teen-banter. The characters are loud, brash and fun to watch as they do everything possible to worm their way in to the audience’s psyche. Christopher Stryker’s Dickens is a sociopath without a shred of remorse and his persona is unequivocally evil. He drowns out his friend/nemesis’ morals by inflicting peer pressure on him. Eventually, Jon-Jon reluctantly has to submit to the notion that he is in fact not as confident of his moral stance as he’d like to believe. The other two gang members have perhaps less of an impact on the story, but still provide worthwhile dialogue. They successfully build the picture that their shallow regret is far more centered towards a fear of punishment than a recognition of the crimes they committed. This leaves them without sympathetic redemption and also creates an interesting paradox. Who do we root for, the murderer or the victims? Perhaps neither is deserving of audience support.
I touched on the authenticity of the synopsis and it becomes most obvious when the film’s ‘bogeyman’ begins her rampage. We are not given a loon in a mask or a super-human assailant, but instead a killer twisted by the actions inflicted upon her, which makes her very human and VERY real. The murders are brutal, if not particularly gory and include a rock, blade, pencil to the head and a fire-poker impalement. Perhaps the lack of a more physically imposing aggressor made it more of a challenge to convey a genuine fear factor.
There’s a great money shot that was used on most covers and marketing material and it sees the teacher running down the stairs in silhouette with a knife in her hand a la Psycho. In fact, the photography from Stephen Fierberg is by far the best thing technically about the picture. The scenes in the swamp are particularly gloomy and atmospheric and superbly lighted. Kudos to the producers for making the most of a low budget and Hell High shows no obvious signs of being lesser funded than the Friday the 13th sequel developed the same year. The editing is not sharp enough to create any true suspense or shocks, but I must admit that at times I felt rather unsettled during my viewing, which left an impression all the same.
Whilst I found myself to be moderately engrossed in the majority of the plot, I do concur that the average dramatics may be off-putting to some viewers. We have teens, we have lady lumps (I counted three boob-shots in the first twenty-minutes) but this is not a traditional stalk and slasher. The attempt to add a psychological theme is a bit of a risk and much like mayonnaise on chips, you’ll either love or hate it. It has a ‘kind of’ central character to relate to and also a confused, but intriguing moral to its story. It’s low-level of popularity exists for a reason though and I’m not sure whether to highlight or warn against it.
Hell High is an oddity of a genre entry, and I mean that in both a complimentary and non-complimentary way. I most definitely enjoyed watching it again after so many years, but was left feeling like you would after a pre-planned passionate fling that lasted for only two-minutes. Enjoyable, but worthy of being so much more.
Eighties enthusiasts should track it down, but again it’s one that I recommend with reservations.
Evil Night 1992
Directed by: Todd Cook
Starring: Holly Aeck, Joseph Fautinos, Spencer Trask
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s always been intriguing for me how a clown can be one part children’s comic performer and one part icon of horror. Clowns are family entertainment personified, but would you feel comfortable sharing a dimly lighted alleyway with one in the early hours of the morning? That instantly recognisable figure has been used throughout the slasher genre almost since its birth. Rumour has it that Michael Myers would have worn clown attire had someone in John Carpenter’s wardrobe not found that iconic Shatner mask. It’s interesting how we can take the comforts of our youth and twist them into horrific imagery.
Evil Night continues the trend set way back in the annals of horror history, by giving its bogeyman the guise of a circus jester. Although the costume is unoriginal, movies such as the excellent House on Sorority Row and Stephen King’s IT have proved that if used correctly, such a figure can successively invade your innermost fears. Mixing the comforts of childhood serenity with the malevolence of a psychopathic imposter always seems to give horror fans the goosebumps and rightly so.
Here we have a clown killer story from Todd Jason Cook that treads the familiar territory of a bullied school boy that seeks revenge on those who have taunted him. In the opening we get to meet Jimmy Fisher (Spencer Trask), a high school geek that has a crush on the girlfriend of one of the school’s most popular rebels. Jimmy has been subjected to various humiliating taunts by the gang of bullies, so he has lost faith in the humanity of his classmates. However he is flattered and shocked when lead bully Peter (Joseph Pautinos) invites him to a party. Foolishly, Jimmy accepts the invitation and if you haven’t already guessed, it turns out to be yet another vicious prank. Humiliated and left unconscious in his boxer shorts, Jimmy finally loses his cool and sets out to seek revenge on those who have taunted him…..
OK so first things first, Evil Night was originally released DTV in 1992 and pretty much vanished in to obscurity almost immediately. After the popularity of the DVD phenomenon, Cook (Night of the Clown/Demon Dolls) gave his movie a second shot at recognition on a budget disk, which can be picked up from Amazon at an agreeable price. As I have stated previously in my review list, I am all for ambitious directors having a crack at making their own independent features. The beauty of the slasher genre is the fact that you don’t need a six figure budget to make a profitable schlockbuster. But keeping that in mind, this backgarden entry feels like an attempt to win the Indy 500 on a tricycle.
Do I respect Todd Cook? Quite frankly, yes. I envy him a bit too. Here we have a guy who loves horror movies and found in his wife Lisa, a soul mate who was so supportive of his ambition that she helped out in major ways with the release his five or six no budget movies. Their most recent effort, Zombiefied, picked up some real good press (review coming soon) and much like Dead Pit and others, mixed the zombie and slasher sub-genre’s together into something of a B-movie cocktail. Twenty years earlier when this was produced though, they had neither the experience nor the budget to deliver their visions and Evil Night is a tough runtime to sit through.
If you can accept the camcorder like quality of the picture and you are forgiving enough to ignore the rotten Thrash Metal soundtrack, then you will still struggle to understand how a movie can be produced without a logical concept. In fact the scenario seems to take place in a dimension where logic is an uncommon word. I searched and I searched, but all I uncovered was a screenplay that works along the lines of, ‘unknown guy walks in front of the camera, gets killed and then the scene fades to black’. Forget character development, because it’s simply non-existent. Cast members appear without rhyme or reason, as if they’re on a conveyer belt from a production line to be slaughtered. This makes Evil Night seem more like a collection of images than a film and despite some impressive gore effects, it rapidly loses its momentum.
You know, I was the first to post a review of this on the IMDB and it’s a film that few have seen. This is probably because watching Evil Night is almost an impossible mission. It lacks even the slightest of structures and there’s no pay-off in viewing the plot through to its conclusion. The cast sound like they’re reading their lines from the small print of a spam email and the most memorable slice of dialogue spoken throughout the runtime is, “Eric are you taking a dump again?” The whole movie looks to have been edited by a blind man with a blunt razor-blade and the lighting for the night scenes seems to have been provided by one of those pencil sized torch keyrings that you get in souvenir shops.
On the plus side, there are the imaginative gore effects that I mentioned and kudos to Clark for the creepy killer costume. However, his attempt to build a competitive Slaughter High imitation is suffocated by its stringent funding. I agree that it was made tongue in cheek to be watched with that in mind, but that doesn’t make it any easier to sit thorough. Even if I’m being mega generous, there’s absolutely nothing that I can recommend here. Bad, bad, bad and not in a good way, Evil Night is destined for obscurity once again….
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Michael J. Gallagher
Starring: Caitlain Gerad, Melanie Papalia, Roger Bart
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Those of you that are connected to the a SLASH above Facebook page may recall that recently I mentioned that I’d been invited to an early showing of the new horror film, Smiley. As it was in the US, I thought nothing of it until as luck would have it I had to fly out there on business. Not being one that’s scared of a few hours on a train as long as I have my trusty iPad, I took a slight detour and managed to catch it on the big screen.
I was born in 1981, so I never got the chance to see a slasher movie ‘live’ during the post-Halloween heyday. When Scream came out, I was fifteen years old and despite already being a massive collector on VHS, I missed out on that one too. I have tried to make up for it as much as possible by attending almost every new release that gets a showtime in the UK since. I guess that the best experience that I have had so far was being one of the first to see the My Bloody Valentine remake in 3D. I blagged myself tickets to a pre-screener three-days before it showed nationally in the UK and if you search the web, you can probably still find my extremely positive review. You know what? I will have to look for it myself, take a second viewing of the film and post the update here.
I remember thinking then that the stalk and slash cycle was going to bounce back once again from the dead, just as it did in 1996. That didn’t quite happen though, so I’m always hopeful that the next picture that I witness in the cinema will be the ‘big one’. I read a few reports on Smiley whilst it was being produced and from what information I could gather, it looked to be fairly well-budgeted with a good idea for a plot. Me being me, I couldn’t help but think, ‘You know what? Maybe this is the one…’
A young girl leaves her family home for the first time to go to college. Once she arrives, she is invited to a party, where she comes across the urban legend of a sadistic killer. Rumour has it that if you type a specific sentence on an Internet chat room three times, a masked maniac will slaughter the person that you are talking to. Most of the kids laugh at the story and think that the webcam videos floating around are phoney. Ashley feels differently however and under pressure from her friend, she decides to try it out for herself. When the guy that she’s speaking to gets stabbed by a masked loon, suddenly fear settles in. Soon local kids begin disappearing and it looks like the youngster is next on the killer’s list..
I looked this up on the IMDB just now and it already has a score of 3.3. Just to put that in perspective, it shares a ranking on the world’s largest Internet movie site with Camp Blood. Think about that for a second and I’ll try to explain to you what I made of it.
When the second phase of slasher domination kicked off during the nineties, it was all about crossbreeding the style that we knew so well with something that had been tried before, but never taken to its maximum potential: satire. Kevin Williamson’s screenplay was sharp, witty and smart. When it was mixed with Craven’s experience and technical flair, the combination was highly successful and both critics and audiences swooned. You can’t knock Michael Gallagher for trying to mix two different cinematic tones in an attempt to reach a similar novel juxtaposition. Smiley does have a masked killer, a sensitive heroine, teenage victims and a shade of mystery to the maniac’s motive and identity. The plot here goes for a more psychological slant though and therefore sacrifices the opportunity for action scenes.
What do you expect when you sit down to watch a slasher film? Blood, suspense, nudity, gore, fun? None of those are the strongest points of Gallagher’s story and his movie tries to say so much that the real point gets lost somewhere amongst the crossroads of loose sub-plots. Is this a character study on a protagonist that’s emotionally vulnerable? Is it a social commentary on the effects of Internet trolling? Or is it just an ambitious slasher movie with a heavily flawed screenplay? I couldn’t make it out and maybe I need to watch again when the DVD is released. What I did notice was that the dialogue really wants to come across as intellectual and instead it seems too desperate to impress. You want to sit down with me and talk philosophy? Great; pull up a chair and let’s begin. Do you want to do it whilst we’re watching a slasher film? No, of course you don’t. Gallagher’s ideas should not not in a million years have been included in a film of this kind. Also if you are looking to give your audience some examples of your intelligence, it may be better not to make the catchphrase of your movie, ‘I did it for the lulz’. Saying ‘Candyman’ three times is creepy, shouting ‘Madman Marz’ above a whisper is ominous. Typing ‘I did it for the lulz’ on MSN is plain stupid.
In honesty, I didn’t think that Smiley was as bad as it has been made out to be. It includes a lot of effective jump scares, a great performance from Roger Bart and a decent guise for its bogeyman. Actually it reminded me a bit of the mask that the maniac wore in the late nineties serial killer flick, Resurrection. There’s the usual amount of teen eye candy for both the guys and slasherettes and did anyone else notice that that Melanie Papalia looked a bit like Penélope Cruz? There’s a couple of attempts at suspense, but I guess that the main problem with a story that needs us to see murders over webcam is that it eradicates the chance of lengthy stalking sequences. This made it harder for Gallagher to develop a taut atmosphere.
The final ‘twist’ is a massive gamble that unfortunately doesn’t pay off. I really don’t want to reveal it, because you definitely won’t enjoy the film if you already know. I kind of had a feeling that it would end that way, so probably you will too. The majority of the people in the audience and especially the one that I saw it with were totally dissatisfied. Probably because it is poorly handled and leaves too many holes that weren’t filled.
Should you go and see Smiley at the cinema? I think it depends on the amount of spare time you have available and your budget restraints. If you chose it as your Saturday night feature after a hard week’s work and pay for premier seats, you might be disappointed. I wasn’t, because I quite liked the incorporation of pseudoscience in to the plot, the intriguing dialogue and the expressive ideas. Those looking for a typical dose of teenie kill cheese will not find their filling here.
This is most definitely not gonna re-launch the slasher film and I guess that I was most hopeful for that outcome. Instead it seems to have done the complete opposite and ironically, lines of Internet trolls have taken to social media sites and online forums to bash it. Whilst I feel that it is somewhat undeserving of such hatred, there’s no doubt in my mind that a huge opportunity has been missed.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √√√