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 √√
The Funhouse 1981
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Jeanne Austin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
We humans all reflect on poor previous experiences and wish that we had chosen a different option, a different set of words or a different solution. It’s a common thought process to imagine what might have been had we reacted to a bad situation in a different way. No matter how successful, happy or influential someone may be, we all carry regrets that weigh heavily upon our shoulders like anchors. Deep inside every one of us is a dreamer that yearns for a chance to relive past experiences armed with the knowledge that we gained the first time around. Although turning back the hands of time is an impossible act, the ability to do so would be beneficial to each and every one of us.
This mentality applies in all walks of life, and cinema is no different. Imagine for a moment that after John Carpenter’s Halloween set the standard, the genre loosened its restraints and pushed forward to greater heights. Instead of the intoxicating pollution of minimal brained and non budgeted features that plagued cinemas after 1978; what if studios had spent time and money investing in the cycle and pushing new boundaries for its ongoing development? Despite an astoundingly negative reputation, the slasher genre, when handled correctly, can provide exemplary results. Just ask Alfred Hitchcock.
In 1981, Tobe Hooper was a director with the world at his feet. Hot on the heels of his cult classic features The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the director had been recognised by movie mogul Steven Spielberg and his name had become well respected in Hollywood circles. With the weight of a major studio behind him, Hooper decided to invest his talents in the fashionable slasher genre, which on paper promised to provide a feature that would finally rival Carpenter’s classic.
Hooper makes no effort to disguise Funhouse’s slasher heritage and he launches his entry with a scene that references two of the genre’s heavyweights. Whilst showering, our protagonist Amy is stalked via Carpenter-alike steady-cam in an opening that successfully sets the mood for the remaining runtime. The carnival has arrived in town and Amy and three of her teenage friends have decided to go along for the opening night. Despite warnings from her parents, the youngster bows to the pier pressure from her boyfriend and they arrive to be entertained by the lights and attractions on display. Ritchie has the ambitious idea to spend the night in the Funhouse, believing that the group can make-out and spend time alone without the intervention of their parents. It soon turns out to be a fateful plan, when the teens witness the brutal slaughter of one of the workers. Alone and locked in the carnival until morning, the troupe are stalked by a maniacal assassin with no chance of escape.
An endless amount has been written about Tobe Hopper’s full from grace and it reminds me very much of soccer striker Andrei Shevchenko’s awkward stint at London club Chelsea FC a few years back. It was hard to watch the former legend strolling around so clumsily and being criticised every week for his mediocre performances and the downhill slope for the quality of Hooper’s later work was equally as stark and unrelenting. The Spielberg collaboration that gave us 1982′s Poltergeist promised us so much and was supposed to launch Hooper as a Hollywood suspense maestro who could maybe share a status with past-greats like Hitchcock and Kubrick. Unfortunately the opposite happened and his career never hit the heights that had been predicted. Nowadays, horror connoisseurs look back on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as the only truly outstanding feature in his portfolio. That’s somewhat unfair on The Funhouse though as this is an equally shocking and grim vision of terror.
Chainsaw Massacre’s strengths were its excessive use of terrifying sound, a skill that Hooper successfully repeats in this follow up. The final scene is an excellent juxtaposition of visual and audible horror and the film maintains a harsh and unrelenting feeling of danger that surrounds the heroine. Mixing bright flashes of light and the ear piercing chimes of steel cogs and chains, the director creates an atmosphere of unease that provides the right mechanical backdrop for a tense showdown. The final girl here is obviously different from any that we had been treated to in the genre prior to this and at no time did she show the bravery of a Laurie Strode or a Ginny Fields. She cowers away at the smallest of noises and spends the majority of her confrontation dumbfounded, petrified and in a state of shock. Although Elizabeth Berridge is reputedly no fan of the genre and spent years criticising the film and others like it for their content, there’s no denying that she delivers a fantastic portrayal and it’s breathtaking watching the extent of her visual transformation into a terrified wreck
Modern day humans are obsessed with their image, and Hooper makes an intelligent social commentary as the youngsters glare in amusement at the freaks on display at the carnival. Their brash attitudes are ruthlessly avenged when they realise that they are alone with something that they had previously considered to be defenceless against their mockery. Revenge is served coldly as the protagonist emerges psychologically warped and drained like the creatures on display at the ‘freak show’. Funhouse’s subtle ethical theme shows an intelligence largely unseen in the genre.
The intelligence of author Larry Block’s script is given due respect by the vision of a director at the top of his game. His work is also complemented by some crisp photography and shadow play that’s planned with finesse. Set pieces are skilfully conveyed and the circus freak makes for an authentic and creepy bogeyman. Much like Halloween, Hooper takes the decision to steer away from gratuitous gore and builds a credible underlying momentum of growing dread over a longer period of time. The killer does not begin to stalk the teens until at least an hour in to the feature, but we never get bored or never feel like the terror is far off. This is mainly due to some well-developed characters and a tense and well-streamlined runtime. John Beal’s rangy score works perfectly to sustain the moods in places.
Why Tobe Hooper never became the horror maestro that so many predicted is a mystery. Funhouse proves however that there is more to his catalogue than a Chainsaw Massacre in Texas. By far one of the best of the early eighties slashers, this entry deserves to be remembered. On a footnote, Funhouse was bizarrely and inaccurately banned briefly in the United Kingdom as part of the video nasty phase.
Final Girl √√√√
Directed by: Colin Eggleston
Starring: Tessa Humphries, Shane Briant, Susan Barling
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Australia left an often unnoticed but essential mark on the slasher genre and it could be argued that after Canada, they probably had the biggest input outside of the US. Their entries can generally be spliced into three categories: Very Good (Small Town Massacre, Coda), Average (Cut, Stage Fright) and absolutely awful (To Become One, Houseboat Horror).
Thankfully, Cassandra is a member of the first grouping and is one of the rare few psycho-killer flicks that has an endearing macabre sheen. The bogeyman here has taken a liking to writing ‘who killed cock robin’ on the wall at the scene of his gruesome slashings, which measures up nicely with the killer leaving a broken doll beside his victims in The Baby Doll Murders and the spooky appearance of that creepy dolly in the classic Curtains. Of course, there’s bound to be some kind of deluded motive for this psychotic creativity and it’s down to us viewers to figure out the not so obvious connection…
It begins with cool credit sequence that boasts a notable theme tune and a great graphic for the title. Following that, we’re given one of the creepiest openings that I ever remember witnessing in a slasher flick. A young girl is shown throwing stones into a lake beside a remote cabin in the woods. A car pulls up outside the hut and out steps a woman and a creepy looking child who’s singing the nursery rhyme, ‘who killed cock robin?’ Next we see inside the cabin and the woman is turning a shotgun on herself in a suicide bid, while the boy mutters ‘do it’ in a spooky voice reserved only for horror maniacs. The young girl jogs up to the hut in excellent steadi-cam, but arrives too late; the woman had already pulled the trigger. It’s a great launch for the feature, which is skilfully photographed and smoothly edited, giving it enough power to keep your hopes raised for the rest of the movie. It brought to my mind the spooky commencement from that all but forgotten Ozploitation classic, Alison’s Birthday. At first I wondered if the two movies shared some kind of connection other than both hailing from similar parts of the world? But I haven’t managed to find any notes that would confirm this to be true.
Next we learn that the spooky occurrence was only a dream, one that has been plaguing Cassandra (Tessa Humphries) quite regularly just lately. It seems so realistic that she believes it may be a memory recollection from her childhood, but she’s confused and just can’t remember the truth. She asks her mother and father if she could have ever witnessed a similar course of events, but they suspiciously convince her that it’s all in her mind. To be honest, they look as if they have more skeleton’s in their closet than the local morgue has corpses, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn out to be hiding a few shocking secrets beneath their obviously false exterior.
Cassandra’s father is a photographer with more than just a ‘photographic’ eye for the ladies and pretty soon we learn that he’s shoulder deep in an affair with one of his projects. Cassandra catches her dad and Libby together, just as the model was in the middle of telling him that she’s fallen pregnant. On top of her continuous restless nights that’s not what the troubled youngster needed to hear at that time. She heads to the local bar, where she pours her heart out to her friend Robbie, who lends a sympathetic ear.
The following night, Libby heads out to a remote beach house after an argument with Steven over why he wont tell his wife about the baby . After an extremely gratuitous shower, an unseen maniac creeps into the house in superb first person cinematography, picking up a bread knife en route a la Michael Myers. Some time later, Steve discovers her corpse in his bed with her throat slashed from ear to ear. He also finds a creepy message left at the scene by the killer, which reads: ‘who killed cock robin?’
The police turn up and question everybody and we find out that Cassie witnessed the murder through a psychic link that she mysteriously shares with the killer. From here on out the majority of the runtime resolves around the mystery, as we learn more about the characters and their shady backgrounds – and boy have they got shady backgrounds. To break up the dialogue, Eggleston chucks in some suspense as the shadowed maniac puts in another appearance. This time, he tries unsuccessfully to murder Cassie’s mother in yet another sequence that’s packed with credible tension.
Eventually the assassin manages to get everyone that’s on his list of would-be victims in the same place at the same time, including the unsuspecting heroine. After a cool decapitation by shovel (the first I remember seeing) and another brutal murder, it’s left up to Cassie to try and save herself and her family from his malevolent rage.
It’s looks a little more than obvious that Colin Eggleston was greatly inspired by the American titans of eighties horror, such as John Carpenter and Sam Raimi. Previously, he had penned the screenplay for 1980′s slasher misfire, Stage Fright and to say that he had ‘borrowed’ the basic plot pointers from Halloween for that script would be a considerable understatement. He showed much more potential once behind the camera, but still kept the horror references pouring thick and fast. Check out some of the flowing photography in the dream sequence, which clearly owes a great deal to Raimi’s first-person-possession from The Evil Dead. Still, don’t hold that against the man, I mean, you show me a slasher movie that doesn’t steal from its fellow genre-men and I’ll show you a pink elephant with wings and a driving licence.
As a matter of fact, Cassandra’s imaginative use of the camera is perhaps its most alluring attribute. Take for example the first murder, which packs a great deal of suspense into a short sequence and skilfully manages to keep the tension running high all the way through. We look on in traditional hand-held shots as the victim climbs into bed, leading us to successfully believe that we’re watching from the eyes of the killer. However as the camera zooms in on the female, the knife appears from a different location than the one we were expecting, which provides a great jolt and a decent shock-tactic that can be credited as one of Eggleston’s own.
Let’s just say for argument’s sake that Stage Fright was Eggleston’s Halloween. Then I guess Cassandra could quite easily be labelled as his Eyes of Laura Mars. The two movies share a great deal of story points, most notably of course, the use of a psychic link between the killer and heroine. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Mars, so I didn’t notice many other similarities that I could immediately remember. I’m pretty certain though that it was somewhere on his list of inspirations before he sat down to pen the synopsis for this closely themed thriller.
Ian Mason’s screeching score helps to provide the tense atmosphere and Josephine Cook edits with a visible confidence that was one of the strongest elements in the brilliance of the opening sequence. It’s also stylishly produced for an underground slasher flick and doesn’t deserve to have become such an obscurity since it’s release. Initially the feature was going to get a cinematic run, but it ended up creeping out direct to video. I had never even heard of Cassandra until I found the DVD in my local newsagent’s bargain bucket. Later I learned that it was briefly distributed in the United Kingdom sometime in 1987, but vanished from existence pretty soon after.
The performances here are a bit of a disappointment, although I quite liked Tessa Humphies (Dame Edna’s daughter) as the protagonist. Despite obvious limitations as an actress, she at least offers some charm and a good screen presence. Surprisingly enough, the lack of any truly outstanding dramatics really didn’t spoil the movie too much and I still thoroughly enjoyed watching it.
There are of course a few flaws to be found throughout the runtime that may ruin the story for the more critical viewers. As I said previously, it isn’t greatly acted and some may find the character driven storyline a slightly disappointing alternative to a numerous body count. It’s also pretty easy to guess whom it is that’s actually killing everyone and I was expecting a slightly more intelligent conclusion than the mediocre and somewhat uninspired result that we ended up with. But the odd stylish sequence lifted this above the majority of its counterparts and almost every murder is neatly staged. Suspense is one of the toughest things to be found in underground slasher movies, but Colin Eggleston successfully manages to create quite a few credible sequences that give the movie a noteworthy professional sheen.
As far as Australian stalk and slash efforts go, it’s actually one of the best of its kind…
Final Girl √√
Deliver Us From Evil 1992
aka Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil
Directed by: Clay Borris
Starring: Nikki De Boer, J.H Wyman, Joy Tanner
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a tough job to try to categorise the Prom Night series. The first was a blatant Halloween clone, which borrowed everything from the rolling photography in almost identical locations to the choice of actress for the final girl. Part two popped up some seven years later and owed more of a knowing nod to A Nightmare on Elm Street by including an indestructible bogey(wo)man and a desire to experiment with a dream-like subconscious reality. Number three was the only chapter to reuse an antagonist from a previous entry but was more of a black comedy than an out and out horror flick and then this installment was a return ticket home to traditional slasher land.
You could quite easily use the franchise as a timeline to track the development of terror cinema throughout the eighties and ‘lost years’ of the early nineties. Every time that the direction of scary movies at the box office was modified by a new successful picture, this series adapted it’s methodology to match the latest trend. By 1992′s release of Deliver us from Evil, producer Peter Simpson’s favourite and most successful donation to horror had finally come full circle and with no clear trend to follow, he went back to basics.
It is surprising that after the enormous flop of 1991′s Popcorn, Simpson still believed that it was worthwhile putting his cheque book behind a large scale offering. Deliver us is visibly slick and offers a break from the realms of low budget and lower quality SOV pictures that were popping up during this period. I bought the VHS that I own in the UK and it was marketed here as a stand alone film and had no obvious links to Prom Night at all. It was only later, with the help of the Internet that I discovered that it was the fourth of that legacy.
In an opening that’s suspiciously familiar to Frat Fright from the previous year, a Priest goes on a kill frenzy and is captured and locked up beneath a church. 30+ years later, a stupidly kind hearted vicar tries to help him, but he breaks free and heads back to the scene of his original murders. It just so happens that four teenagers are there at the secluded location for a party…
You could say that Deliver us From Evil is a similar experience to eating a bag of pick and mix sweets that you didn’t choose yourself. Even if every now and then, you’ll come across the odd liquorice allsort, it won’t be long before your taste buds are treated to a fizzy cherry cola bottle. Now If you see the words ‘Paul Zaza’ on a crew list, then you should know that the score that you are about to hear is going to be top class. He doesn’t disappoint here and neither does director Clay Borris who pulls off some very good stuff. Their combined finesse allows the movie to kick off with a real punch. Simpson again references the rock and roll era of the late fifties, which works for me, seeing as I have about 500 Doo-Wop tracks on my iPad playlist. The photography is crisp and composed, the musical accompaniment is pulsating and the screen comes alive with a great set piece that is superbly structured and exciting. We are introduced for the first time to our crazy priest and then after a couple of murders, we roll forward to the (then) present time.
It’s here that after a short time, I began to grow a bit disillusioned with what I was watching. You see, being just a good actor does not make you an interesting person to watch on the screen. I have read countless times, even from respected critics, how Arnold Schwarzenegger is not a solid dramatic performer. Ok fine, I agree. But I dare these commentators to imagine a film like The Predator with John Hurt or Robert Deniro in the lead? Anyway, the cast here are surprisingly well coached in delivering their lines with emotion, but fail collectively to add the necessary audience connection. Nikki de Boer makes for an incredibly unsympathetic final girl. She had obviously based her character on Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode, but despite the fact that she doesn’t struggle with the role, she fails to capture even a handful of the sensitivity or charm that’s required. Joy Tanner is fine as the slut, but again without allure and it’s left up to future screenwriter John Howard Wyman to deliver the only person that we give a damn about. The mid-section filled with these four can at times begin to drag and I was thinking that we were watching (yet) another entry that starts well and then fades. There was not enough intrigue to keep the talky scenes from slowing the pace and it didn’t take long until I was begging for some action.
When things get going though, the film becomes impressively grim. Creepy, engrossing and convincingly brutal, the final 20 minutes or so really turn up the heat. I had written a note that said ‘needs an injection of gore’, but then along came a kill scene that completely changed all that. ‘Borrowed’ from Jason Voorhees’ guide to kill teenagers, a youngster is picked up off the ground and has his head squished by the marauding maniac. It’s not that it is graphic in the Tom Savini sense, but the actor’s cries mixed with a good use of sound really make it quite nasty. Whereas Goodnight Godbless, another killer padre film, could never come close to this cinematically, it did boast an incredibly scary bogeyman. Our killer here has a pony tail and chiseled dark features and looks more like a poor man’s Johnny Depp than a disfigured maniac. Luckily, the talent of the director allows him to creat some fear.
What I did notice was that Deliver us, like many slasher features, had a quite blatant feel of anti-catholicism. Members of the church are made to look sinister, unforgiving, sleazy and their beliefs are portrayed as pointless and laughable. In these recent times of extreme political correctness, I could never see a movie getting away with that and it is, to be fair, quite harsh. Just look at the mass hysteria caused recently by the ‘Innocence of the Muslims’ debacle. Being from a catholic background in a country where amongst elders, disrespect to the church is almost a crime, I must admit that I felt it was a bit of a cheap shot. I’m not particularly religious at all, but if going to church gives you pleasure, then so be it.
The screenplay is a bit muddled in places and there’s a hint of supernatural that’s never really explained. It’s a quite blatant oversight, because we don’t learn the killer’s motivation or why they were hiding him in a church dungeon. There are many parts that remind us that we are waiting for some kind of confirmation, but it never comes. Not explaining why the monster was unstoppable and hellbent on killing teens was really bizarre and it left me wondering if it may have been budget related? Did the film have a nightmare production and miss out on some of the script?
Whilst thinking along those lines, I came to the idea that maybe this was initially planned as just a one-off horror movie. Perhaps out of fear of failure, they latter marketed it as a fourth entry to the Prom Night series? As I said earlier, in the UK there are no visible franchise links and most importantly, the bulk of the action doesn’t even take place at a prom, which is a bit of an odd contradiction. Not every horror film that Simpson released was in this series, so that may well be the case. It would be interesting to find out.
I was impressed by some of the well delivered shocks and competent production and all in all, there is loads here for all slasher fans to enjoy. It’s also quite scary, which by 1992 had become mission impossible for these films. The first Prom Night is considered by many to be one of the best slasher films of all time and the fourth and final part in the series has enough in its man-bag to allow the franchise to wave good bye with class. I recommend you track it down, because despite a few blemishes, it has a rugged handsomeness to its sinister face that gives it a thumbs up from me.
Final Girl: √
Death Valley 1982
Directed by: Dick Richards
Starring: Paul Le Mat, Catherine Hicks, Peter Billingsley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
There’s a line in this forgotten mid-budgeted slasher that really struck a chord with me. I think that it’s interesting that there are some couples I know that meet in their early teens and stay together for most of their lives. Other friends that I have jump from one relationship to the next and never really find a platonic bond with a partner. In a surprisingly philosophical piece of dialogue early on in the runtime, a father is asked by his child as to why he has separated from his mother. “We fell in love with a picture”. He replies rather awkwardly. “I’m not the man that your mother wants and she’s not the woman with whom I fell in love with”. ‘Fell in love with a picture’…
This is a fault in the wiring of mankind that occurs with unfortunate regularity. We are so brainwashed by the desperation to find Mr or Mrs Right that sometimes we don’t see the ‘wider plan’ and buy in to an image of a person that our imagination has construed. Then we get disappointed that things don’t work out the way that we envisioned. What a fine piece of insight from a member of a genre that’s not known for its intelligence or cultural acknowledgement.
There are a few touching moments in Death Valley, which are brought about from a gamble taken by screenwriter Richard Rothstein. Almost all of the slasher movies released during the peak years had a central character that was either in their late teens or adulthood. Here we have a ‘Final Boy’ who is just that: a young boy. It’s a shot in the dark that hits the target and creates an authentic and enjoyable alternative.
A divorcee and her young son head off to Arizona to visit her boyfriend. Whilst exploring the desert, the young child becomes an unwitting witness in a murder case. When the killer is made aware of his identity, he begins to stalk the threesome, killing everyone in his way…
Rothstein has never been considered as a particularly accomplished screenwriter and a list of credits that include Universal Soldier and Hard to Hold add weight to that consensus. On this basis, I would consider Death Valley to be the best of his work. It’s a film that offers various cinematic moods in one fast paced and compact time frame. It was released in 1982 on a generous budget (for the category it frequents), but got lost in the multitude of masked killers and disappeared quite rapidly. Despite being picked up by a large label, it received very little fanfare or marketing, which didn’t help and it has only recently been given a shot on DVD.
The ‘father and son’ opening conversation scene that I mentioned above builds an interesting sub-plot, which involves the mother’s new boyfriend who is played by Paul Le Mat. Le Mat is somewhat of an enigma for me, because he made his name in the pre Star Wars George Lucas hit, American Graffiti. He shared billing there with Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith and outshone the three of them with a performance full of charisma. Handsome and rugged with an intriguing screen presence, he seemed to be perfect leading man material, suited to the kind of roles that his co-star from Graffiti, Harrison Ford, would later excel in. His ship never rolled in however and eight years down the line, he was turning up in mid-range films such as this.
The guy that he portrays here is in love with the mother of our final boy and wants to be accepted with minimal fuss. The child however is ‘loyal’ to his father and isn’t open to the ‘uninspired’ attempts to win his trust. It’s staged superbly, because the viewer is unsure who is more deserving of sympathy. Whilst we can notice that the kid may be unnecessarily awkward in not accepting the efforts to build a friendship; said ‘efforts’ are delivered half-heatedly and with minimal patience from the adult. At times it feels like he is an unwanted addition on the holiday, which in a way makes neither character morally superior. I was totally engrossed in this relationship for the first twenty minutes or so and forgot that I was watching a horror film.
When the slasher stuff starts though, things hot up nicely. Three teens in a RV, including an amazingly hot chica in a boob tube, are slaughtered systematically with some neat camera work and splashings of blood. The killer puts in a couple more creepy appearances and chucks in a well timed jump scare to boot. He drives a creepy as hell 1958 Cadillac Series 62 Sedan with the legendary ‘Dagmar’ Bumpers and the moments where we see the car ‘stalking’ bring to mind John Carpenter’s Christine, a year before that movie was even released. There’s a few tense moments, like when the boy stumbles across a murder site early on and we get a cooler than cool chase sequence in an old Western town, where the intended victim thinks it’s just a game. There’s also a terrific score from Dana Kaproff that sounds like a cross between Manfredini and Zaza. Yes, it is that good.
The acting from the entire cast is top quality and real mention should go to the outstanding work from the eleven year old Peter Billingsley as the youngster and Stephen McHattie as the twisted killer. Even if director Dick Richards didn’t do anything exciting technically, he got the best out of his cast with the dramatics. The plot roles very neatly through to it’s conclusion and they even manage to chuck in a twist and a tad of humour of the darkest kind. This involves a girl with obvious, ahem, ‘weight problems’ getting slashed because she went for just that one treat too many. It’s worth noting that Valley is the closest we have to a slasher Western and the nut job even sports a ‘mask’ that is a Cowboy hat and a neckerchief! How can you not like that?
Some have written that the film suffers from a muddled story, but I really didn’t notice that at all. Instead, it chucks in all the clichés and still manages to be somewhat off-beat. Perhaps not scary or gory enough to be a lost classic, but it has enough suspense, intrigue and fluidity to guarantee a fun hour and a half’s entertainment.
Killer Guise: √√√
Midnight Killer 1986
aka Morirai a Mezzanote aka You’ll Die at Midnight
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Starring: Valeria D’Obici, Paolo Malco, Eliana Miglio
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In any industry, I think it’s always hard to follow in the footsteps of your father. It must be especially tough though if he’s an outright legend that’s credited with not only defining a genre, but also launching one. No matter how well you and your dad get along, there’s always going to be a little bit of friendly rivalry. Plus you can virtually guarantee that critics will always compare the works of a senior with that of his son. That’s why it must’ve been hard for Lamberto Bava to escape the consistent comparisons and make his own name in Italian cinema. But Morirai a Mezzanotte (Midnight Killer) goes some way to showing that talent certainly ran thickly through the genes of the Bava family. It’s just a shame that Mario was not alive to witness his son’s worthy addition to the category that he created.
Now in all honesty, despite being extremely knowledgeable about the slasher cycle, I must admit that I have spent very little time researching the Giallo. But I have still thoroughly enjoyed the likes of Mystery in Venice, Eyes without a Face, Too Beautiful to Die and Blood and Black Lace. It wasn’t until after I’d been impressed with this rarity that I began tracking down other genre classics. So you could say that Midnight Killer was something of a turning point for me…
It opens with a middle-aged woman shopping for some lingerie in a bustling town centre. Her husband Nicola (Leonardo Treviglio) sees her walking the street and begins following her. He buys a flower and waits outside the shop to give her a charming surprise. He certainly didn’t expect to see another man enter the changing rooms and he is even more shocked when they sneak out of the rear exit and shoot off in the mysterious stranger’s car. Later that night when she finally returns, the couple has a violent argument, which ends with Nicola storming out of the flat. After he has left, a black gloved assailant creeps into the apartment and brutally murders the promiscuous female with an ice pick. Inspector Pierro Teri (the always intriguing Paolo Malco) immediately suspects Nicola as the killer and so he enlists a psychological profiler named Anna Berardi (Valeria D’Obici) to help him crack the case. Berardi is a good friend to the Detective and she also teaches his daughter’s college course. She doesn’t think that Nicola is the guilty party, instead she suspects Franco Trebo – a serial murderer that was supposedly killed in a fire eight years earlier. As the bodies begin piling up round the city, it’s looking more and more like Trebo is back from the grave. The most worrying thing for inspector Terzi is that this bizarre maniac seems to have a viscous taste for his youngest daughter Carol (Lara Wendel). Will he be able to stop the ruthless psychopath before he tracks down his daughter?
Many critics have been disappointed with Lamberto Bava’s directorial work since his début feature (Macabre) pretty much flopped on release in 1980. But I believe that it’s only because they always compare his filmography to the seminal works of his father. It’s a shame that this murder mystery was not distributed to a much wider audience, as it is a little seen gem that deserves recognition. This is mainly due to a fantastic score from Brazilian composer Claudio Simonetti (of the Goblin fame) and some truly chilling set locations. The killer stalks his way through a neglected theatre, a sinister museum and a vacant hotel with relish and the atmosphere-engrossing musical accompaniment helps to create some decent suspense. He also looks extremely menacing in a rubber facemask and his victims usually suffer at the hands of a stylishly directed set piece. The acting is fairly good from the leads and credit to Bava for enlisting Lucio Fulci-favorite Paolo Malco to join a comfortable cast. Many previous Italian Giallos (Eyes without a Face/Massacre) have suffered from inept and poorly translated English voice-overs. Fortunately that’s not the case with Midnight Killer, which was dubbed with considerable thought for non-Italian viewers.
Fans of gore cinema may be disappointed at the minuscule amount of the old gooey stuff. Also the lack of any nudity will probably switch off exploitation buffs that have been spoilt over the years by the likes of The New York Ripper. The mystery-aspect is not as complex and intelligent as many of its genre forefathers have proved to be either, which may cause bedroom Agatha Christies to search in the opposite direction. But still this is a refreshing and fairly absorbing entry that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. I do agree that Lamberto is a much better screenwriter than he is a director, but Midnight Killer is good enough to make his father proud if he had been alive to see it. Recommended…
Final Girl: √√√
Terror Eyes 1981
aka Night School
Directed by: Kenneth Hughes
Starring: Rachel Ward, Drew Snyder, Leonard Mann
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I can only now watch this early eighties addition to the cycle on DVD, because it was one of the last of the key period to acquire a re-release. It’s hard to understand exactly why the digital revolution has ignored this intriguing category addition for so long, because it’s certainly no worse than the legions of Halloween clones that have been packaged and then re-packaged once again on special edition discs. Not only is Terror Eyes one of the seventy-four ‘collectable’ video nasties that were unfortunate enough to be banned in the United Kingdom and added to the notorious DPP list, but on top of that, its production boasts some interesting trivia.
Director Kenneth Hughes was not just an ambitious non-experienced wet-behind-the-ears beginner like so many of his genre counterparts from the period. Instead he was a film-maker with a long and varied résumé, which included a few high-profile efforts. Perhaps even more bewildering is the fact that his most recognised cinematic achievement prior to this violent splatter flick had been kiddies favourite and Oscar-nominee, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The feature also handed a début role to Rachel Ward, who would go on to become a well-respected actress in later years.
The city of Boston is being terrorised by a head hunting psychopath. Dressed in motorcycle leathers and masked by a tinted crash helmet, the killer is decapitating his victims and then submerging their heads in water, which leads the Police to believe that he is a ritualistic maniac. Detectives are mystified as to the motives of the deranged assassin and as the bodies pile up they realise that they must move quickly to prevent the terror from striking again.
Even though Terror Eyes has enough of the necessary trademarks to allow it to be identified as a slasher movie, it plays more like an ultra-violent cop-thriller. It switches consistently between two starkly opposing tones and each causes a lack of consistency in the other. The film is often unintentionally implausible and at times the dramatics feel excessively cheesy. During the kill scenes however, things get nail-bitingly dark and the violence is at times astoundingly brutal. The killer slashes his victims with a curved machete ruthlessly, spraying blood over the walls as he goes. Aided by a menacing score from Brad Fiedel, the scenes are intimidating and rampant enough to stick in your memory.
Horror is different from every other cinematic genre and offers a much tougher challenge for directors. Hughes, however, does ok here and builds some impressive suspense scenarios. There’s one stand out and incredibly tense scene in a café kitchen, which is particularly memorable because it doesn’t involve the film’s bogeyman and the players on screen during the scenario are unaware of any impending horror. The day after a girl is brutally slaughtered, the owner turns up to find his restaurant in a mess. We already know by viewing the first two murders that the maniac submerges the decapitated heads of his victims in the nearest pool of water, so we’re already expecting him to find a shocking sight somewhere lying around. As he begins clearing up the tables and chairs, two builders arrive and ask him to heat up some food for them. He places a large saucepan on the hob, which is filled with stew and turns on the gas. After he serves them, one of them finds a long hair in his bowl. By now you’re cringing thinking, surely the head wasn’t in there…was it? The chef continues chatting and pours the remainders of the pan down the sink. You’re on the edge of your seat and expecting to see it roll out at any minute! I won’t tell you what happens, but the vibe it creates is excellent. He also received one of the biggest compliments possible for his work here, because Dario Argento was almost certainly inspired by Terror Eyes for his popular eighties Giallo, Tenebrae. Watching the two films one after the other shows the undeniable similarities and evidence.
Kenneth Hughes deserves credit for at times building a harsh and gruesome atmosphere, without any real gore. Sure, there’s blood by the bucket-load, but none of the decapitations are shown on-screen and there’s no striking special make-up effects. Female writer Ruth Avergon pencilled the script, which is surprising considering the level of misogyny. It’s also extremely erratic and includes everything from intelligent historical references to nonsensical and bewildering dialogue, which hinders the actors in their attempts to play it straight. In fact, I would say that it is the biggest flaw of the feature. The basic premise somewhat mocks the intelligence of the audience and therefore gives too many clues and ruins the pay-off far too early. The cast are given very little in terms of heavyweight drama to work with, but in fairness their performances are undeserving of any better. The fact that Rachel Ward built a career in dramatics after this embarrassingly wooden début just proves that you don’t need talent to be a success in Hollywood; all that’s required is an attractive face. Also, what’s with the casting of Drew Snyder as a womaniser? He may be a lot of things, but handsome and charming are not two of them.
Terror Eyes is an at times stylish and in the same breath daft thriller, which suffers mainly from a huge dose of poor cinematic balancing. It is certainly no classic, but the violent and at times harrowing death scenes make it worthy of a high standing within the slasher elite. It’s one that I have plenty of time for and if you have an eye for the ladies, Rachel Ward will blow you away…
Final Girl √√√
Urban Legend 1998
Directed by: Jamie Blanks
Starring: Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Jared Leto
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here it is, one of the first ever reviews that I wrote of a slasher movie. I posted this way back in 2001 and wanted to see if I still agree with what I said after eleven long years. I have updated some parts of it, but it’s still pretty much the same… Enjoy!
First things first, there are a couple of things that I have to get off my chest before I begin my review of Jamie Blanks’ much-maligned slasher/whodunit Urban Legend. What caught my attention initially was the fact that it boldly states on the front cover that it’s the: `Bloodiest teen slasherfest to come over from the states so far…’ That, I then thought to myself, was one hell of a bold statement to make. Could it be a film gorier than Nightmares in a damaged brain or Maniac? Could it even be a flick with more goo than Blood Rage, The Burning or the uncut Intruder? If so how did it gain a certificate from the BBFC? Or could it be that the unnamed reviewer from The Sun who wrote that article was trying out some freshly picked highly hallucinogenic magic mushrooms? I’m afraid that after watching this I found that the latter is probably the closest to the truth because although Urban Legend has its moments, gore is definitely not one of the movie’s strong points. As for it being one of the bloodiest of its kind to come over from the states so far? Well lets just say that this must’ve been the first slasher flick that the writer in question had seen, or he must have accidentally watched the wrong film. Who knows?
Secondly before watching UL I was biased into thinking it was going to be really rather terrible after the amount of bad publicity it got from its UK release. Almost every review that I read was warning the viewer to avoid it at all costs. But to anyone, who has got a video library filled with as many, how can I put it, ‘matter of taste’ flicks as me will know that is all the invitation I needed.
After an exciting opening, we are shown a campus named Pendleton University and introduced to a few likely suspects or victims that are discussing the recent murder of Michelle Mancini, a girl that was killed in the pre-credits. The conversation then turns to the legend of the ‘Stanley Hall Massacre’, where It’s rumoured that 25 years earlier at that same college a professor went berserk and off’d ‘a whole floor’ full of students before stabbing himself through the heart with a honey knife. In good old slasher tradition the kids decide to have a party to commemorate the aforementioned kill frenzy, which you know is definitely going to be a bad idea.
Before long a butcher in a parka coat puts in a few appearences and starts working his way through the cast in some pretty imaginative ways. Natalie, our obvious heroine, witnesses most of these murders but of course, no-one else sees them or believes her, especially the somewhat suspicious Deane. As more people disappear, the killer’s motive is revealed and it’s left up to Natalie to stop him.
To be honest, and I’m going to be an individual here, I can’t for the life of me see what is so bad about Jamie Blanks’ first attempt at a horror movie. Seeing how this was his directorial debut (previously he had worked as a camera operator on action flick The Huntsman) I think he’s done a pretty damn good job. I was so puzzled when I had finished watching after reading such bad reviews and thoroughly enjoying it that I rang up two of my friends and invited them to come around and view it with me and my girlfriend. When it was finished I asked what they thought and all three of them agreed it was a good film, one even went as far as to say it was better than Scream.
Each murder gets more imaginative than the next, with the killer going to various lengths to stage his slaughter. All are based on popular urban legends and most of them are burning with innovation. The opening gimmick is brilliant with the way it cheats the audience and who can honestly say that they didn’t jump when Damon bit the dust? I agree that when the butcher’s identity is revealed you are left thinking how did he manage to perform those killings unaided, but that is by no means grounds to say that the film is poor. If you’re watching a slasher movie for sensible continuity, then you’re on a losing team there buddy. What lifts Urban Legend way above average is its wonderful imagination, pulsating energy and ability to make the most of its bag full of good ideas. It also benefits from a haunting score and a strong cast, which were at the time of release mostly unknowns. Jared Leto has since gone on to earn roles in Fight Club and American Psycho, not to mention The Thin Red Line. He is an actor that I have seen many times, but has never grabbed the moment or left me with the impression that he’s an outstanding performer. He does very well here though and shows much promise in his delivery. Alicia Witt is solid as the final girl and there’s a fair turn from Rebecca Gayheart as her bubble head friend. This was made before Tara Reid had developed a reputation as a party girl and was hoping for a career as an actress. She had the look and a good agent, but that wasn’t enough to hide her limits as a dramatic success. I did kind of hope that her character would survive, although I believe that’s more because she’s hot. However, Blanks is quite ruthless with the cast and not many players avoid the assassin’s blade.
We are treated to a couple of effective jumps and false scares and some wonderful flowing cinematography, which keeps the energy level at maximum. Due to the impressive momentum, things also gets ‘edge of your seat’ tense toward the end as you play the game of work out the killer’s identity. The story keeps on twisting and pointing the finger at everyone who appears on screen and you can’t help but carry on guessing. I even enjoyed the OTT motive and even though the actor struggled to deliver a believable portrayal of insanity, the revelation just about works.
So all said and done I think it just goes to show Urban Legend is a matter of taste movie; you’ll either love it or hate it. I must admit that I actually thought it was fairly enjoyable and remains far more entertaining than the one-toned Valentine. Don’t be dissuaded by the poor publicity that circled this one, its well worth checking out.
Final Girl: √√√
JOHN CARPENTER’S SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME1978
aka High Rise
Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Lauren Hutton, David Birney,Adrienne Barbeau
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Just as Dino Everett, an archivist at the University of Southern California, has discovered John Carpenter’s first student flick, which beyond doubt adds clarity to the fact that the director is an originator behind the slasher genre, I decided to post another early Carpenter prototype slasher. The recently uncovered Captain Voyeur was filmed in 1969 and the black and white short sees a masked menace stalk a work colleague in POV shots before being gunned down at the end. This clearly pre-dates Bob Clark’s Black Christmas and shows that Carpenter was already using killer-cam shots way before the aforementioned classic.
Someone’s Watching Me was also filmed a few months prior to the pre-production of Halloween and despite the fact that it may be considered more of a thriller than an out and out slasher; it’s a fine example of the helmer at his imaginative peak.
Leigh Michael’s moves in to a stylish high rise apartment with all modern conveniences and immediately finds a great local job. All is going well until she begins receiving prank phone calls and gifts from an unidentified menace. She informs the Police, but because nothing has been particularly threatening, there’s nothing they can do. Frustrated and scared, Leigh decides to get to the bottom of the mystery without the support of the law.
This is a non-stop nail-biting ride of suspense with a great mystery and standout performances from the cast. Leigh Michaels is a great example of what would become a typical Carpenter Heroine. She’s brave, independent and strong and not easily bullied by her assailant. Hutton handles the role well and is bubbly and personable whilst showing an impressive range of emotions. She is supported by a very good ensemble, including Carpenter’s soon-to-be wife Adrienne Barbeau. The performances are so natural that they add a necessary sense of realism and there are no weak-links in the dramatics.
Perhaps it wasn’t as easy to notice in Halloween, but this offers a lot more insight in to Carpenter’s real inspirations. The plot and style is pure Hitchcock, but the cinematography and framing is pure Carpenter. What a combination! Here he uses wide scale shots of claustrophobic locations to compound the tension and his love of character-perspective photography is used to immense effect. He also keeps his bogeyman off screen right up to the conclusion and the flick manages to be really creepy, without ever really treading too deep in horror stereotypes.
As I have said this is not much of a slasher flick, because there’s only one on-screen killing, but the stalking and final chase are fine examples of a pre-cursor to the genre’s template-setter. There’s even a scene where the killer moves a branch out of his POV shot, which was lifted by Friday the 13th two-years later. Threatening phone calls were a trademark of the category during the seventies and early eighties, but disappeared midway through the decade, only to be revived for Wes Craven’s Scream generation. They were used to good effect in Halloween, Black Christmas and When a Stranger Calls. Here, they are menacing instead of eerie, but well utilised as a method for sustaining tension and keeping the maniac’s presence never outside of the running plot.
It is easy to compare this to Rear Window, Deep Red and even Shaun O’ Riordan’s If It’s a Man, HANG UP from the TV series ‘Thriller’, – but it cannot be accused at all of being a complete imitation. I guess it’s like saying that Goodfellas was inspired by The Godfather, which is about as close as the similarities get. I believe that Carpenter was too good at his trade to ever be considered a copycat and everyone has an inspiration, even Sir Alfred Hitchcock. I think that if Sir Alfred had watched some of Carpenter’s work, he would have taken his hat off to him. It’s true that he does recycle some of the master’s inventions, but most importantly, he makes superb use of them and adds his own flair for tone and visuals to make for a classy cinematic delivery.
I can only thoroughly recommend this great thriller, even more so when you consider that it was a TV Movie and not given a cinema release. It was the first time in years that my partner and I checked if the door was locked, because it had that much of an effect on us. The use of location and some of the scaling photography was great and the car-park and final revelation sequences were unbelievably taut. Sharp, tense and full of great performances, it puts many modern day thrillers to shame.
Final Girl √√√√√
Trampa Infernal 1989
aka Hell’s Trap
Directed by: Pedro Galindo III
Starring: Pedro Fernández, Edith González, Charly Valentino
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Rumour has it that around the time that ABBA – the multi-award winning Swedish disco favourites –’s star had reached its zenith, the band grew disillusioned with singing in English and yearned to perform in their native tongue. Soon after, problems began to emerge in the one-time-wed-locked-watertight partnership and recordings became less and less frequent. The band dissolved, albeit unofficially, in 1982 and pop lost one of its most celebrated artists. Although they have never admitted that there’s any truth in those rumours, the fact remains that ABBA would never have been so successful had they not adapted from their homeland. If you want to appeal to the largest money-making media market in the entire world, then you must cater for English speaking audiences.
It’s amazing for me how such a small island that’s located a stone’s throw away from the European continent could have created perhaps the most recognised, although not most widely spoken, language in the world. Everyone speaks a little bit of English; whether it be simply ‘hello’ or a common swear word – you’ll find someone that can assist you in that tongue almost everywhere. Pedro Galindo obviously didn’t agree, because Trampa Infernal was never subtitled for global consumption until it was released very recently on budget DVD. That’s a real shame, because it’s actually a decent slasher movie that’s a lot better than many of its genre buddies fro across theborder.
The film launches in the somewhat unfamiliar territory of a pistol duel. Two unidentified characters are shown sneaking around a dilapidated complex searching out one another for the inevitable final showdown. After some suspense and a couple of near misses, one of the pistoleers emerges victoriously. Next we learn that they were only paintball guns and the two competitors are actually youngsters from the local town. Nacho and Mauricio are fiercest rivals and Mauricio is always trying to prove himself to be better than his soft-spoken opponent, but as of yet he hasn’t succeeded.
Later that night, whilst the victorious gunslinger celebrates his triumph with his girlfriend Alejandra and his buddy Charly, Mauricio enters the bar and says that he has one last challenge for his glorious nemesis. He says that this will be the competition that will prove to the town once and for all who deserves the uttermost respect. Nacho is at first reluctant because Alejandra warns him of the perils of continual competitiveness, but he eventually succumbs to the weight of peer pressure and agrees; much to the distaste of his morally superior partner.
They plan to head out to the remote region of Filo de Caballo, because recent press coverage has reported that numerous people have been butchered by what locals believe to be a vicious bear. Mauricio proposes that whoever murders the animal can be regarded as the greatest and he also promises that it will be the last battle that he wages against his adversary.
After visiting the armoury to stock up on weapons and ignoring the warnings of the elderly store-keeper, the group set out to the remoteness of the secluded woodland. Hunters become hunted as they learn that the ‘bear’ is actually a homicidal Vietnam vet who is still unaware that the war has ended and considers all humans as his enemy. What started as a competitive adventure suddenly becomes a battle for survival as they are stalked and slaughtered by the malevolent assassin.
I picked up Trampa whilst studying in Madrid from a Mexican student who lived in the dorm room next-door to me. I remember that the copy I watched was faulty and the tape ended about 10 minutes before the final credits rolled, which meant I never got to see the final scenes. I still own that VHS today, but thankfully I came across the budget DVD recently on Amazon and immediately added it to my collection.
Gallindo’s slasher is a surprisingly good effort that excels mainly because of its skillful direction and enthusiastic plot, which attempts to cover areas not usually approached by slasher movies. It is in fact so good that I was reminded of the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger hit Predator on occasion. There’s something about the way that the creepy-masked assassin jogs through the forest and stalks the panic-stricken troupe as they struggle to escape the maniac’s ability to blend into the wilderness
Despite Gallindo’s obvious awareness of genre platitudes (the bogeyman even uses a claw-fingered glove a la Freddy Kruegar), Trampa also attempts to add something different to the standard template. Whilst the majority of the runtime plays by the concrete rules of the category, the final third heralds a significant step in individuality as the maniac arms himself with a machine gun and entices the hero to his lair for the final showdown. From here on, the film rapidly swaps genres and becomes almost an action film, which depending on your taste will either excite or disappoint you. The last slasher that tried to crossbreed the two styles was that shoddy eighties entry ‘The Majorettes’, which made a real mess of the combination
As is the case with many Latin films (especially Spanish flicks by Almodovar and Amenabar), Trampa has a subtle undercurrent of a moral to its story, which is conveyed successfully without being forcibly rammed down the viewer’s throat. Over indulge in the temptations of competitive masculinity and you may not always be the winner. It’s a sugar-coated point, but it’s handled delicately enough not to detract from the fun of the feature.
Trampa may be cheesy, but it deserves to be seen and recognised as one of the better late slashers. The killer looks great in creepy army fatigues and white Valentine-style mask and the attempts at originality just about work. It may lack the gore that most sincere horror fans enjoy, but it has enough in terms of suspense and creativity to warrant at least one viewing.
Final Girl √√