Blood Splash 1981
aka Nightmare aka Nightmare’s in a Damaged Brain
Directed by: Romano Scavolini
Starring: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, Danny Ronan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During the eighties slasher boom, there were two different styles that launched successfully from the initial template. Whilst the multitude of genre entries would focus on an undeveloped identity for their bogeymen and build their plot structures on the characterisation of the victims, there were a few that took the opposite cinematic approach. The potential flaws were obvious. It’s incredibly difficult to establish a favourable personality for a homicidal maniac; especially when he must carry the entire feature as the protagonist. The key strength that made the synopsis for Halloween so successful was the lack of clarity for Michael Myers’ identity and motives. Just why did he want to kill Laurie Strode? Why did he get up after being shot six times by Sam Loomis? We never got to find out, and that was an ingenious touch from Carpenter. The guessing game is an addictive one and it attracts much interest and lengthy post-movie debate amongst audiences.
Despite the potential banana skins, the few features that experimented with the concept of giving the antagonist the lead role delivered mixed results. Whilst William Lustig’s Maniac can be credited as a genre classic, Bits and Pieces was shoddy and forgettable. That’s why I was thoroughly inspired to watch Blood Splash, which after years of repression as a video nasty has garnered itself a gruesome reputation. I own two copies of the movie and each has a separate title. The first one I came across was under the title Blood Splash and is heavily edited, but the second is an uncut VHS that I picked up in Amsterdam with all the gooey bits intact
In the opening few scenes, we learn that George Tatum was recently released from his asylum due to the fact that his doctors have discovered a breakthrough cure for his violent spells of delirium and psychosis. The combination of drugs had completely cured the patient of his psychopathic hallucinations and his adviser believed that with time and measured access to society, Tatum would be fit to fully resume a normal standard of life. However it doesn’t take long for us to realise that his doctor’s hypothesis was drastically erroneous. This is evidently demonstrated when Tatum drops to the floor foaming from the mouth whilst watching a patently lackadaisical pornographic peep show.
Soon after, the clearly psychotic loner heads across the country on a personal vendetta to confront the inner demons of his consistent nightmares. His doctors panic when they realise that they have made a deadly mistake, and it’s a race against time to see if they can catch Tatum before he murders again…
Splash succeeds in being an unsettling, brutal and straight laced horror experience. It’s the kind of movie that does what it says on the tin. The Daily Mail-inspired campaign that launched the video nasty phase of the early eighties was unnecessary; simply because as human beings we have a choice. If you don’t want to be offended by a film that was created directly to shock, then don’t watch Blood Splash. In 1984 David Grant, a former UK porn producer that had moved into feature film distribution, was jailed for 18 months (later reduced to 12) for releasing a version that waived the 62 seconds of cuts slapped upon it by the BBFC. This was a harsh statement of intent to further enforce the video nasty ban and it was a ridiculously un-democratic way of informing us that Big Brother was watching and the establishment reigned supreme.
The movie itself however is an uniquely conveyed mix of unthinkable brutality, gooey money shots and dreary depiction of a descent into vicious madness. Director Romano Scavolini makes no effort to hide his inspirations and the film references various genre maestros without ever directly stealing from them. In places, he impressively manages to mimic Carpenters skill of emanating terror from the background. By now you should know how it works: the camera is fixed on a focal point for a sustained time, but as it begins to pan you become aware that something menacing is looming into focus just out of shot. It’s moments like this that can make or break a decent horror film and Nightmare does boast its fair share of successful tricks and flourishes.
It’s not unusual for a slasher movie to have a cast that disappears down the long road to film obscurity almost immediately after release. The genre has never been credited for its emphasis on dramatics. However it seems somewhat harsh on the actors from Blood Splash as the majority of them do a good enough job. Baird Stafford was impressive in an extremely complicated part and it’s hard to pick any bones from his psychotic depiction. He delivers a gnashing, foaming portrayal of dementia, which rarely touches on the OTT. Without a doubt the film’s reputation derives from its copious amounts of gore; and in its uncut print the feature doesn’t disappoint. Tom Savini was credited as the make-up artist, although he latter sued the producers, claiming that he had only worked as a consultant. In reality the effects were supplied by soon-to-be Oscar nominee Ed French and his work was worthy of Savini’s name. The gory final sequence, which involves a messy decapitation and an axe through the head has become the stuff of slasher legend.
Splash is not without its negatives however and they stem from the confusing plot. The idea to break the runtime into segmented days ala The Shinning was a good one, but characters are randomly introduced without clarification, which creates a story that’s awkward to follow. There’s also a lack of cohesion in some of the promising ideas that are hinted but never followed through. Our deranged killer shares an interesting relationship with the child of the family that he stalks, but it never develops as we are left feeling like it should have. The script hints at an altogether more ambiguous depth to the synopsis, but it’s not given enough clarification to go anywhere.
Some may say that Blood Splash can be rather tedious in its long excursions into the depth of the protagonist’s insanity, but I managed to enjoy Scavolini’s opus and I recommend it to be seen. It’s not one that’s going to terrify you, but it’s slow and brooding atmosphere can become quite gripping.
Final Girl: √√
The Burning 1981
Directed by: Tony Maylam
Starring: Brian Matthews, Brian Becker, Jason Alexander
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Tony Maylam’s The Burning is one of the most notorious non-franchise slashers of all time. Even before pre production had begun in the summer of 1980, the movie had an incredible buzz surrounding it. Enough so in fact that superstar horror FX maestro Tom Savini rejected the chance to return to the Friday the 13th series for Steve Miner’s classic sequel and instead took this project for a lesser salary.
Of all the peak period genre entries, none can boast the depth in terms of personnel that was put together here. Alongside the aforementioned magic of Savini, the cast included Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg and Oscar winners Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. The grim and unique score came from former Yes keyboardist, Rick Wakeman and directorial duties went to Tony Maylam, who at the time had been predicted for big things after his work on rock band Genesis’ outstanding concert video from 1977.
There can be little doubt that the hype and quality in recruitment was down to an early example of the skills of production partnership Harvey and Bob Weinstein, whose company Miramax films would go on to become one of the most successful entertainment brands in Hollywood over the next three decades. This was the first feature length motion picture to be released under that brand and thereafter, they would go on to distribute over fifty films, including classics such as The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction and even Wes Craven’s Scream. If that wasn’t enough, then can you believe that the script was co-written by future Paramount Pictures CEO Brad Grey? Astonishing…
After a prank goes wrong, a sadistic camp caretaker returns to the site where the accident took place, looking for revenge. Armed with a shiny pair of shears, Cropsy begins to stalk a group of counsellors with mutilation on his mind…
In the UK, The Burning was one of the first entries to join the video nasty list and it received perhaps higher persecution for the fact that Thorn-EMI accidentally released the full uncut print instead of the censored copy that the BBFC had cleared. The tapes were impounded and destroyed, but bizarrely, Thorn-EMI were more fortunate than David Grant who was sent to prison for doing the exact same thing when he distributed a longer version of the film Blood Splash a year later. I paid an absolute fortune for an unedited version of this when I was a nipper and it was a mistake as the cassette had an infuriating line running through the middle, which made it almost as bad as just sticking to the 18 rated VHS. Watching it now though, on the BlueRay pre-screener that I was sent, is a glorious experience and the film looks as if it could have been a production from the last decade. The masters have obviously been well looked after and playing it on my Plasma allowed me to turn out the lights and almost feel like I was in the cinema in 1981.
Maylam attempts the John Carpenter methodology of slowly generating an undertone of dread that boils along in the background and then attacks like a shark in the places when the killer strikes. A great example of this is the infamous ‘Raft Massacre’ sequence, which boasts an almost perfect build up. Whilst Wakeman’s score warns us that something is about to happen, the camera never reveals enough to let us be sure and when the loon strides on to the screen, the bloodletting is quick, brutal and graphic. To this day, you can count on one hand the amount of times in slasher cinema that an antagonist has taken out so many victims in one fell swoop. Tom Savini proves once again here why he was the go to guy for the most realistic special effects back in the overkill period of the slasher cycle.
What I like about the script is that it spends time developing its characters and their performances really add the necessary realism that makes what happens later seem all the more shocking. Jason Alexander steals every scene as a quick-witted camper, whilst Brian Matthews, Leah Ayers and Ned Eisenberg were solid and flawless in their roles. The dialogue and banter works not only to add fun to the parts where the horror takes a backseat, but also to develop a genuine level of believability in the set up and I found it easy to forget that I was watching a group of actors. The screenplay also separates itself from the multitude of its genre brethren by having a ‘final boy’ instead of the usual heroine left alone to face the marauding maniac. The thing is that despite the fact that Brian Becker does a good job with the role, the decision is a risk that just doesn’t pay off.
The Burning has become a true cult classic and has legions of admirers in not only slasher but also horror movie circles. Personally though, I think that it is slightly overrated and perhaps undeserving of so much notoriety. Despite its visible slickness, it lacks a real cutting edge in its moments of terror. Whilst the gore is great and almost like a snuff film in places, the murder sequences lack jump scares or suspense and there’s very little true tension. This is most evident in the conclusion, which I found to be really disappointing. Our hero heads up with an axe to take on the bogeyman and we’re expecting at least a fight. There’s a revelation that builds up a deserving target, at least in the eyes of our nut job caretaker, but Maylam’s attempts at prolonging the money shot are overwrought. In the end it’s more ‘was that it?’ than ‘oh yeah that’s it!’ if you get what I mean. Whilst the notorious ‘Raft Massacre’ is magnificent in terms of the excellence of the make-up FX and it’s an all round great postcard of slasher genre splatter, has anyone ever wondered how it might have looked had it not been SO rapidly edited?
As I highlighted earlier, the script doesn’t bother with a traditional female heroine and instead develops a male geeky type guy in her place. The thing is though we are not talking about a loveable mummy’s boy here. Instead, he is conveyed as an unlikeable pervert and it’s just too hard to bond with him or even want him to survive. It’s funny because before this, we watched The Prowler and Joseph Zito opted for a conventional lead character there and the difference is impossible not to notice. When Vicky Dawson was trying her darnedest to fend off the pitch folk clenching maniac, my partner shouted, “Go on girl!” But there was never any chance of the Mrs doing the same thing here. We ended up saying that Todd should leave Cropsy to get on with it and save himself instead of risking his life for the dweeby Alfred.
I have regular conversations with you guys and girls about these slasher films and I know that not all of you will agree with my view. That’s the beauty of the genre though; everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Tom Savini delivers on the goo-o-rama, there are some nice performances, it’s beautifully produced and Rick Wakeman’s score is a masterpiece. If I could however take maybe 15% of its reputation and give it to Nightmare at Shadow Woods, I would feel a lot better about the whole thing. Tony Maylam’s biggest film after this was Split Second with Rutger Hauer. Maybe this picture would have been better if Steve Miner had also opted not to work on Friday the 13th Part 2 and followed his friend Tom over to Camp Blackfoot? Just a thought…
aka Night Crew: The Final Checkout aka Intruso en la Noche
Directed by: Scott Spiegel
Starring: Elizabeth Cox, Sam Raimi, Renée Estévez
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Every decade creates its own individual cultural characteristics that are easy to look back on and distinguish as key to that era. Even though perhaps there has been little invention during the last fifteen years or so, the tail end of the twentieth century delivered a multitude of creation within the entertainment industry. The fifties will always be remembered for the birth of rock and roll, whilst The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the introduction of the ‘make love not war’ anti-Vietnam mentality of Western youth signified the cultural identity of the sixties. Vivid images of white suited, medallion sporting men and disco divas became synonymous with the seventies, but it was the eighties that will be remembered for launching the most memorable generation landmarks.
Slasher films also played their part in defining the personality of those years and despite the invasion of titles during the post-Scream outbreak that emerged after 1996, there will never be a time that can compete with the genre’s initial overkill period. It all began with the notorious, “kill her mommy” lines of Friday the 13th and despite a fall in popularity; studios were still producing cycle entries consistently right the way through. I have said previously in my review of Maniac Cop that despite many believing that 1981 was the peak of the entire cycle, ’88 was in my opinion not that far off. Not that far off at all…
Released towards the end of those twelve heavily populated months, Intruder tells the tale of a group of night staff in a super market that are asked to work through the night, pricing down all the stock as they all have been made redundant due to the closure of the store. As they lock the shutters for the last time, it becomes apparent that an unwelcome guest has crept in amongst them. Before long, the staff are being killed one by one by an unseen maniac.
In film, as in life, timing is everything. Whether it be that of a screen comedian or the understanding of the span of suspense by a director, the clock can be a vital tool in the creation of cinematic perfection. The reason I write this is because as it stands, Intruder is an obscure slasher movie that is highly regarded by those that have seen it. If, however, it had been released eight years earlier, I would be writing the review of an out and out horror classic. Spiegel’s opus has enough wit, gore, audacity and creativity to be ranked amongst the best of its ilk and it is only purely due to the multitude of titles that it was released with that it has been so unfairly overlooked.
If Sam Raimi’s adventurous direction makes him the outlaw of Hollywood sensibility, then Scott Spiegel should be Billy the Kid. The Jesse James of eccentric cinematic vision. Here is a man whose modus operandi seems to be to imagine the most audacious and outrageous camera angle possible and then in the same breath attempt to shoot it. Although, much like mayonnaise on chips, you’ll either love his flamboyant approach or hate it; kudos should be given for his brazen audacity and outlandish vision.
What we have here is a pie-eating contest of slasher clichés, which add up to a mega-feast of tongue-in-cheek over-indulgence that leaves you begging for more after the final curtain. The gore is Intruder’s biggest selling point. Heads get lopped off, crushed and sawed in half; and much like the work of Fulci, everything is filmed in loving close-up. A movie can sometimes become an extension of the film-maker’s personality and having watched Scott Spiegel’s interviews many times, this, his signature feature, is truly a case in point. It’s a shame that such a modest, down-to-earth and clearly talented director has never reached the heights of his high-school buddies, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.
Paramount Studios– the enemy of all gore hounds after their stringent censorship of countless genre classics – were responsible for changing the name of Intruder from the much better Night Crew: The Final Checkout; and their VHS release also, characteristically, cut out all the gore. The first copy that I watched was the BBFC’s rated version, which in all fairness was still a well-produced and competent slasher, but the uncut print is the real gem. Obviously Spiegel’s effort is no Halloween and it’s something that the director is obviously aware of. But if you asked me to pick the best fifty – hell, best twenty – genre classics, Intruder would certainly be amongst them somewhere alongside Carpenter’s seminal favourite.
Very few know that Intruder is a remake of an old Spiegel 8mm feature that he shot during the early eighties, titled Night Crew. Credit has to be given to Lawrence Bender’s slick production skills, which turned an equally gory, but ultimately mediocre Halloween-clone (which the aforementioned short most definitely was) into a stand-out slasher classic. This project would act as a learning curve for Bender who would go on – through Spiegel’s introduction – to become one of the most important producers of the last twenty years. It’s strange to think that this low-budget stalk and slash flick would be the first step on the career that would bring us Quentin Tarantino and a host of Hollywood hits including, Good Will Hunting.
OK, so the cast were never going to turn up at the academy awards, but they do enough to get the job done and a nod to Dan Hicks, who delivers a highly committed performance. One change that I would have made would be to have given Renee Estévez (sister of Charlie and Emilio) the lead role over Elisabeth Cox, who I felt was the weakest link in places, but this is only a minor gripe. The ‘twist’ ending – which I really enjoyed – has been seen before, although I am convinced that it was just coincidental rather than Spiegel borrowing from other genre pieces. There’s also a decent whodunit plot running, which is stupidly ruined by the packaging on many versions that gives away the killer’s identity on the front cover. Doh!
Intruder is by far one of the best slasher movies of the eighties and should be a member of every avid fan’s collection. It mixes black humour and gruesome slaughter outstandingly well and basically takes the guide book to making a slasher movie, reads it and then blows it out of the window by maximising every damn page/trapping. This is how slashers are supposed to be and Señor Spiegel is welcome back here anytime to have another crack at a genre classic…
Final Girl √√
Maniac Cop 1988
Directed by: William Lustig
Starring: Tom Atkins, Laurene Landon, Bruce Cambell, Robert Z’Dar
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Ok I am going to be a tad controversial here and I know that many of you will disagree with me (especially JA Kerswell over at Hysteria Lives), but 1981 is not my favourite year of the slasher period. Don’t get me wrong, I can see the reason why people will think I’m a tad crazy. ’81 gave us the best entry to the Friday the 13THseries, not to mention a sequel to Halloween. We also had, to mention just a handful, My Bloody Valentine, Pieces, Pranks, The Prowler (my personal favourite), The Burning and Small Town Massacre – all of those are genre classics that actually achieved a run in the cinema instead of just a quiet transfer to budget VHS. (Also in February of that year in a pueblo blanco in Spain, someone special was born – well, me…) – However the best time of the cycle for this particular slasher enthusiast was 1988. Hold on, hold on – allow me to explain why…
Ok, so admittedly, my justification for this is based on personal experiences. I was knee-high to a hubcap back then and can clearly recall searching video stores, after seeing Halloween on TV, for more guilty pleasures that I could sneak up to my room and add to my forbidden collection of ex-rental VHS. What a large amount of trash that there was for me to choose from. Who can honestly admit to not enjoying the cheese on toasts that were Hack-O-Lantern, Iced, Demon Warrior, Memorial Valley Massacre, The Last Slumber Party or Fatal Pulse? Or the gore splattered Evil Dead Trap, Demonwarp or 555? For a decent mystery with a good twist you could do much worse than Al Filo Del Hacha, whilst franchise fans had an outright extravaganza with Installments to Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13TH and Sleepaway Camp to contend with. Just to think, I haven’t even mentioned Scott Spiegel’s wonderfully audacious and awesomely gory, Intruder.You see, my argument is gathering steam…
Despite that impressive collection of titles, the biggest players of the category had admittedly been running a little dry on ideas. Halloween 4 was a major disappointment and we will never get to see how John Carl Buechler’s The New Blood may have been had big brother not gone mad with his scissors during certification. The genre was screaming out for a new icon to lead the way in to the brave oncoming decade and in 1988 we very nearly had one. (Two if you are one of those that consider Child’s Play to be a slasher flick.)
This competently produced and visibly slick offering boasted a brilliant synopsis that had the potential to revitalise the slasher the same way that Halloween had done ten-years earlier. Carpenter has said that he thought that his seminal flick was so successful because he had taken horror away from the cliché of desolated environments and on to the streets and schools that we associate with secure normality. Maniac Cop attempted to build on this by turning the Police – the entity that we immediately associate with safety when horror strikes– in to the film’s bogeyman.
With a script from Larry Cohen, a director in William Lustig who had already had a successful stab at stalk and slash cinema with Maniac and a dreamy ensemble of B-Movie favourites, this looked to have more than enough in its locker to rival the titans for a place at the peak of the splatter-laden pyramid…
A serial killer is talking the streets of New York at night and murdering seemingly innocent bystanders. Witness reports have mentioned that the maniac is dressed as a Police officer, which makes tensions run high around the city. Could there really be a maniac cop on the force or is it a disguise for something far more sinister?
Some critics deny that this is a slasher picture and instead label it as a revenge flick in the vein of Death Wish et al. I completely disagree with that assessment, because the strong, silent bogeyman and countless examples of genre self-recognition mean that it’s definitely got the right recipe to sit alongside its brethren here on this website. In fairness, the larger budget allows Cohen to crossbreed various cinematic styles and there is something here for action audiences, those who like vigilante flicks and also back-street exploitation thrillers.
From the off you can tell that Maniac Cop is a SLASH above the usual plop that was littering shelves or being released DTV this late in the cycle, due to some decent photography and the obvious qualities that an experienced director and production team automatically bring. Lustig cloaks the screen in lingering shots of dark and dilapidated streets that bring a sleazy Taxi Driver-esque feel to the opening. This brings an abundance of energy to the feature and the killer, who is seen mainly in silhouette, has a supernatural ambiance not too dissimilar to that of Michael Myers.
Turning a cop in to the bogeyman offers a wealth of potential for set pieces and one of those is especially effective. Two backstreet muggers attempt to rob a barmaid of her bag, but after a brief struggle, she manages to escape and run to the supposed safety of a uniformed officer. It’s a well-delivered opening sequence as the shadowed maniac hoists the female up high and snaps her neck in front of the on looking thugs who are rightly bewildered by the sight of a Policeman sinking to lower depths of criminality than even they could muster.
Compared with Lustig’s Maniac from 1980, the film is much more restrained in terms of gratuitous special effects. Terror is conveyed in the brutality of the death scenes, the choices of victims and a haunting score, which is authentic and memorable. The prison murder sequence is incredibly vicious and was deemed too gruesome by the BBFC, who removed it, almost completely, from the 18 rated print. But that’s the only gooey shot in the entire picture and the rest of the kill scenes are relatively tame. I liked the police station massacre, which was neatly paced and creepy, but again was surprisingly dry on the gore score.
Cohen attempts to transcend the normal template of the slasher cycle by focusing on the media reaction to the effects of a killer at large. It doesn’t take long before citizens begin to fear the boys in blue and one character rightly mentions that criminals now have a valid justification to fight back against the Police. Things come to a head when an elderly woman shoots an officer who was only trying to help her with her broken down vehicle and the town mayor rightly begins to panic.
It’s in these multiple plot additions that Maniac Cop somewhat looses its way. The direction fails to sustain the high energy levels that it began with and before long things begin to become predictable. There’s so much going on in the first twenty-minutes that it leaves little time to tie up all lose ends. The story hints at a whodunit mystery initially by keeping the monster in silhouette and showing characters that share his build or act suspiciously, but then chooses to reveal the nut job’s identity about halfway through. There’s an underdeveloped sub-story about his motive, which never gets resolved and the conclusion feels somewhat rushed, uninspired and ultimately disappointing when you consider how the script had started with so much creativity.
In terms of eighties horror, excuse the pun, but Maniac Cop has a cast to die for. Tom Atkins plays it straight and delivers a rugged and approachable performance and the film does miss him after his early exit, which was as much as a shock as when Tom Skerritt bowed out of Alien back in 1979. It takes guts to kill off your tough and sympathetic leading man. Cult favourite Bruce Campbell doesn’t get the comedic style of script that plays to his strengths and he is somewhat subdued here, although it was an interesting choice to make him more of an anti-hero. He is exposed as an insensitive adulterer quite early on in the runtime, but just about manages to win over the audience with his unique style of B-Movie charm. Overall the dramatics were never weak enough to ruin the momentum and Robert Z’Dar was the perfect choice for the marauding psychopath.
Maniac Cop is a good horror film and one of the best late entries to the slasher cycle. I don’t want to steer you away with my minor gripes, but I am slightly disappointed because it had everything that was needed to be great instead of just ‘good’ and ended up following the pattern that we have seen time and time again. Still, the opening 30 minutes are absolutely amazing and Atkins’ grizzled performance itself makes this worth a look. Also, keep an eye out for the goof when Laurene Landon is handcuffed to a dead Police officer and just before the scene fades he sits up and moves out of the way of the smashing glass!
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √√
Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain. Uncut Workprint 2002
Directed by: Christian Viel
Starring: Jennifer Jameson, Chasey Lain, Ginger Lynn
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Ok first things first. I haven’t added anything here for a while, because I recently started a new role and my plan was always to post like a rabbit on Viagra during the first few months so that there was enough for you guys and gals to read and then roll out new stuff on the site when I can.
Now this is an update of a review that I wrote in 2002 and it’s important that I tell you that this is from the workprint that I got my hands on back then (Thanks very much Christian Viel). It turns out that the released copy is nowhere near as good, so please forgive me if you go and buy the DVD and see nothing that I have written here. Lastly, I took the liberty of posting a picture of Chasey Lain. Now this is not from the movie, which was made after she got hooked on drugs and lost that traffic-stopping beauty. But hey, when would I get another excuse, eh? Ok, back to the film…
If you were a director that was looking to cast female victims for a slasher movie, then surely it would make sense to add a couple of porn stars? It’s not as if they’re inexperienced in front of the camera, they have no qualms with the requisite nudity and how many unattractive porn queens can you name? Christian Viel obviously recognized the potential of mixing hardcore actresses with hard-gore effects and so he cast four of adult cinema’s sexiest and most notorious stars. Jenna Jameson, Chasey Lain, Ginger Lynn Allen and Taylor Hayes all turn up for cameos in arguably the most intriguing slasher flick to be released since Scream reinvigorated the genre.
Samhain was originally intended for a cinema release in October 2002 – thus keeping in check with the Halloween-based synopsis. Unfortunately, the shoot was plagued by many problems, which have thus prevented the feature from achieving the exposure that it deserves. Last I heard it had been signed by Film 2000 here in the UK and was penned for a late October release direct to DVD. Unfortunately that label has a peerlessly abysmal track record with DTV slashers. Not content with polluting our shelves with Camp Blood and its follow-up, they were also responsible for unleashing Granny, Bleed and the rancid Paranoid. Could Samhain finally be worthwhile ammunition to their contemptible catalogue cannon?
Five Canadian/American students and their teacher head to Southern Ireland as part of their history course. Upon arrival they are told the legend of a cannibalistic clan that roamed the hills of Scotland and murdered locals for food. The cannibals were eventually caught and burnt at the stake, but it’s rumoured that one of the tribe escaped and headed to the woodland of Ireland to find refuge. After the kids have settled and begun doing what all massacre-fodder does in these flicks, the mandatory goody two-shoes (and definite heroine candidate) begins to be spooked by a shadow creeping around late at night. Could it be that the flesh hungry maniac is still at large in the Forest? Well what do you think…?
It looks as if Samhain’s production was jinxed right from the start. Almost immediately Wal-Mart refused to develop Jenna Jameson’s nude make-up shots and Chasey Lain began acting characteristically like a drugged-out primadonna. Finally to add insult to injury, the producers got cold feet just before the flick was about to hit shelves and began talking of re-editing and removing all the gore. Reports have said that they were unhappy about the copious amounts of violence and they wanted to trim scenes down so it would achieve an R rating. Veil of course disagreed, seeing how his entire synopsis was boosted by its creatively graphic display. Eventually after months of arguments, the director parted company with Warehouse productions and the feature was once again locked in the vaults.
Despite countless disruptions, Veil’s slasher opus is still one of the best genre pieces to be released since the new millennium. The copy I was sent was the pre-release screener, which was obviously a test press without sound effects or the complete soundtrack. But still it boasted a few credible jump-scares, some superb cinematography and a couple of the goriest set pieces that I’ve seen for some time. One guy is disembowelled via his rectum before being strangled with his own intestine, Jenna Jameson is stripped naked and gutted in unflinching close up and Chasey Lain ends up ‘spilling her guts’ after an unfortunate rescue attempt from her boyfriend (Richard Grieco).
Even if the murders are uncommonly gruesome, Samhain never feels mean-spirited, which is basically due to the characters being thinly portrayed as basic slasher clichés. In all honesty the script was perhaps the movies biggest downfall, because the dialogue was not so much inspired by Wes Craven’s Scream movies as it was flagrantly cut and pasted from them. Certainly the inclusion of the mouth-watering Jenna Jameson was a great move by the producers. Her fans will be excited to know that she does whip off her top (as expected) and so does Chasey Lain and Taylor Hayes. But Samhain is no soft porn movie, and it benefits from sticking to the structure that it set out to produce. It’s worth noting that the aforementioned XXX stars almost out-perform the supposed ‘actors’ of the feature, which isn’t much of a complement. Ginger Lynn was at least notable (if you ignore the shameful ‘Oirish’ accent), and her battle with the hulking killer was superbly performed and choreographed by Alan Chou. Taylor and Jenna delivered expectedly poor dramatics, which could have been caused by the numerous problems on-set. Veil’s direction is sharp and he provides some much-needed injections of suspense. Exciting and crisp photography is mixed with a good flair for storytelling and the net result is a slasher extravaganza to satisfy even the most critical gore hounds.
It will be interesting to see what kind of final cut is released of Samhain. Rumour has it that a second director was drafted in to shoot a different ending, and I’m curious as to how much of the explicit gore will remain intact for worldwide distribution. If the end result is only half as good as the rough print that I watched, then it’s still better than nearly all of the genre pieces that have been unleashed over the past ten years. This one is certainly worth checking out… * I watched the DVD recently, just before posting this and it is missing most of the good stuff, so try and see this version if you really want to see how it should’ve looked.
Final Girl: √√
* Review originally posted 12/11/2002
Scream Uncut 1996
Directed By: Wes Craven
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Rose McGowan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When I was young, growing up on the mean streets of London, I never really shared my love for slashers with the kids that I associated with. I guess it’s because it can be considered a strange hobby. Why do I spend so much money and effort tracking down these rarities? I mean they hardly ever offer any artistic reward. It’s also a topic that can be somewhat misinterpreted. Does the politically correct brigade think it is right for someone to watch horror movie after horror movie? Nowadays I couldn’t care less, but back in those times, it wasn’t something that I particularly wanted to broadcast.
When my girlfriend of the time came around and told me that she’d just seen Scream and I needed to watch it, she unwittingly opened a crammed can of worms that she probably regrets to this day. I revealed to her my darkest secret and took great pleasure in setting up a planned viewing schedule for the next twenty years.
I had an excuse from then on to roll out the stalk and slash collection with lines like, ‘it’s just like Scream’ or ‘Remember, you said you loved that one’. Do you wonder why we are no longer in contact?
We all know by now that Wes Craven’s tribute to the slasher genre reinvigorated the cycle and gave it another gallon of petrol in the tank that would keep DTV merchants in business long after its day of release. But looking back after all these years is it really that good? Does it deserve to share the stage withHalloween?
A small Californian town that is still reeling from a ruthless murder a year earlier becomes the target of a masked killer. A group of youngsters realise that the psycho is playing games that follow the rules set out in the movies. Do they have enough knowledge of the guidelines to know what they need to do to survive?
All great horror movies need a great opening. It’s pretty much an unwritten rule. How many truly scary films of terror have you seen that don’t start with an edge of your seat intro? That’s right, there are none that I can think of either. Scream raises the bar from the very opening scene and can you believe it? The first victim is a seasoned Hollywood star. I remember being intoxicated on my initial viewing, especially with the line, ‘I want you to drive down the street to the Mackenzie’s house’. It was like all my secret passions were being rolled out for examination for a new generation and it was captivating.
Whilst we are on the subject of rules, Scream is notorious for underlining the majority of them and twisting them inside out to make good use of their repetition. Almost every victim here puts up a good fight and none of them fall foul of making the usual bad route of escape decisions. What sets it apart from the likes of Return to Horror High and April Fool’s Day, which also attempted to mock the trappings, is that it does it with more intelligence and a higher form of cinematic energy that only a seasoned horror craftsman could have provided. Craven uses every trick in his repertoire and let’s none of them go to waste. Some of the photography here, like the shot of Sidney’s house in the sunset, is breathtaking and I loved the bouncing movement in the looming tracking shots. Despite Craven’s standing in horror as one of the greats, he is not the most consistent filmmaker and is as capable of releasing a big miss (Shocker) as he is of helming a skilled submission (Deadly Blessing). Here he finds the perfect balance and it’s among the best titles of his illustrious resume.
The film’s true quality is in its witty self reference and ability to take each mood to its maximum potential. The gags here are fresh and don’t feel overdone, but when Scream wants to be scary, it does so with ease. There’s something foreboding about the way that the killer is always one step ahead of his intended prey and his ruthless ‘games’ take the development of his victims to a new level. These guys don’t want to die and through good acting and smart scripting, you share their suffering. During the first sequence, Casey is dragged to her doom whilst still clenching her phone and when her parents return to the smashed up abode, the first thing they do is attempt to get on the line to the police. What they hear is the dying breath of their daughter who is still connected. It’s an efficiently disturbing scene and sets the atmosphere nicely. The fact that a recognised movie face was the one getting slaughtered gives Scream an ‘anything can happen’ vibe and it reaches its potential with its panache for breaking limitations. Newcomer Kevin Williamson’s script is sharp, but is guilty of perhaps expecting a tad too much from some of its gimmicks. With that said, it is never feels underwritten or lacking in continuity.
The performances are excellent throughout, with a career best (in movies) for Courtney Cox and a solid turn from all of the youngsters. I especially appreciated Matthew Lillard’s ‘break all boundaries’ portrayal and Skeet Ulrich handled the different depths that we were meant to see in his character with finesse. What I didn’t like about the movie and it is perhaps due to personal taste was the conceited MTV style of its players. I much prefer a set up like Freak or Coda that casts its characters as normal everyday folk, because it makes the terror seem much closer to home. Take a walk through your local town on a Saturday afternoon, how many rich, beautiful people do you see? Are they the type that fills you with sympathy? Can you relate to someone with a mega rich daddy and a smug air of arrogance? Maybe it’s because I am a working class kid that grew up in worst parts of London, but personally I prefer to go for realism. I can’t remember the last time that I felt true bonding with a modern day slasher heroine. Perhaps I am just getting old.
Scream’s comedic style hasn’t aged well and it’s interesting that whilst being the launch pad for the modern day slasher, it suffered the same fate as it’s forefather, Halloween and was blatantly copied to death. After not watching this for ten or more years, it had lost some of its impact, but that’s only exactly because I have seen all this more recently done again in poorer clones. It still plays well and delivers scares and good characters and it made my heart beat rapidly, which is a feeling I’m always looking for, but find less and less in the newer flicks that I watch. Perhaps my biggest regret is that I never saw this at the cinema when it was first released as I can imagine it being an absolutely amazing experience, especially for true fans of the genre like me.
This is still a SLASH above when it comes to horror films and shows what can be done with the slasher genre if it is well funded and competently produced. Buy some popcorn and a few beers and give it another blast. I’m glad that I did.
Final Girl √√
Silent Night Deadly Night1984
aka Noche de Paz Noche De Muerte
Directed by: Charles E Sellier Jr
Starring: Lilyan Chauvin, Robert Brian Wilson, Toni Nero
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I find generational changes in acceptance really interesting. What will life be like for my kids in twenty years? Whilst it was ok during the eighties in the UK for popular comedies like, Love Thy Neighbour and Only Fools and Horses to use slurs that would nowadays be considered so racist that they would cause riots in multi-cultural Britain, the sight of a teenager getting killed by the cheesiest effect imaginable caused a censorship outcry back then. Present day, most of those same films have been released uncut, but some sections of the PC Brigade will jump on you for so much as singing Merry Christmas too loudly in case you offend someone. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the common sense that the general public are fine with and it’s only those that are light years away from working class communities that dream up such rubbish.
Silent Night Deadly Night was a victim of the eighties political correct massacre. After TV spots that showed the featured bad Santa wielding an axe, the campaigners that were starving for a reason to rebel against something – anything, went absolutely mad. So much so that they picketed the cinemas upon its release, which eventually led to TriStar Pictures pulling it after a few days. It had taken more on its opening weekend than A Nightmare on Elm Street, which goes some way to showing how much its marketing had captured the imagination of audiences. The news of its controversial withdrawal gave the film much more publicity than it would have ever gained if it had just been left alone to become a collector’s item for slasher enthusiasts and guess what? Children would have still believed in St Nick and loved Christmas.
Roger Ebert was characteristically at the forefront of the criticism of the film’s synopsis, but Leonard Martin’s comment of ‘…what’s next, the Easter Bunny as a child molester?’ was pure bandwagon jumping on his part. How do I know? Well he gave the similarly plotted Christmas Evil an extremely favourable review and called it ‘…a sleeper with cult status possibilities’ just four years earlier. Go figure…
After witnessing his parents murdered by a robber dressed in a Santa suit, Billy and his brother are sent to a Catholic orphanage. Only one of his carers seems to realise that he is still suffering from the effects of the things he saw at such a young age, but she is powerless in her plea to get him some help. The Mother Superior instead constantly punishes him for his lack of festive spirit and subjects him to regular beatings. Ten years later, he is given a job at the local toy store and seems to have put his demons behind him. A can of worms is opened when the shopkeeper, unaware of his history, asks him to stand in as Father Christmas in full bright red Yuletide get-up. This sends Billy over the edge and he sets out on a killing spree, still disguised as St. Nick.
Silent Night Deadly Night was the last non franchise slasher movie to get backed by a major studio and for some followers the genre ended with this piece. Vera Dika in her book, Games of Terror, states clearly that the ‘stalk and slasher’ started with Halloween and closed just after this hit cinemas six years later. The trappings of the category are things that not everyone sees the same way and are dependent on individual opinion, but although I may stand alone in saying that Final Destination is not a slasher movie, I think that most will disagree with her in saying that anything produced after 1984 has to be classed as anything other. If you can seriously tell me that Dead Girls, Intruder or Hide and Go Shriek are not slasher flicks, then we could have a debate that I am not going to back down from.
This however has no identity issues and is a genre entry in anyone’s book. The high production values give it a chance to really make the most of its concept and it benefits no end from some effective performances and crisp visuals. Robert Brian Wilson was solid as the troubled Billy and cinema vet Lilyan Chauvin was scary as hell as the sinister Mother Superior. This differentiates itself from most of its brethren by offering an in-depth account of the bogeyman’s motives and it spends time developing a back story. You could be forgiven for feeling sympathy after such an unfortunate life of hardship, but the film opts to move the focus away from his plight as he begins his murderous rampage and on to more typical slasher ingredients.
In its uncut format, the killings are rampant and satisfying and I especially liked the antler impalement of a young (and topless) Linnea Quigley. There’s an ingenious decapitation of a teen on a sledge and the maniac’s chanting of the word,’Punishment’ as he murders each victim removes any mean-spirit and gives the film a more cheesy, fun kind of tone. He racks up quite a body count when he’s out on road and every murder is shown in gory detail. There are two parts that must have really, REALLY peeved the hordes of placard waving do gooders that set up the pickets around multiplexes. The first is when Billy hands a blood stained Stanley knife as a gift to a cute little girl who thinks he’s the real Santa (at first it looks like he’s going to stab her!). Then shortly after, a deaf Catholic Priest, who is dressed as Father Christmas and mistaken for our loony of the title, gets gunned down in front of a group of children. Catholicism gets a hard time throughout this picture, but you know what? I am Catholic, but I have a sense of humour and can take things with a pinch of salt when I know that they’re not intended to seriously offend. Why they got so upset about a cheesy eighties slasher is anyone’s guess. Too many people with too little to do and too much time on their hands if you ask me.
The movie is very authentic in the way that it depicts Christmas. A few characters mutter sentences like, ‘ I can’t wait until it’s all over’, which is a more realistic way of how some people look at the expense and stress involved with this time of year. It’s something that you would never see in typical Hollywood exaggerated visions of everyone holding hands and counting the hours, which is unreal in modern times. The script aims for black comedy in many places and on occasion successfully delivers. Charles E Sellier Jr directs comfortably and builds a few well crafted shocks, especially with the Granddad’s speech and the ruthless murder of Billy’s parents. There’s no real suspense, but at least there are no failed attempts, which leads me to believe that the modus operandi was more to rely on gore and outrageous imagery.
Nowhere near as bad as the majority of its genre colleagues that it shares its calendar date with, Silent Night Deadly Night is a treat for slasher fans that are looking for a fast paced festive movie with enough of everything in its stocking
There are many turkeys that you can watch on the big day, but do yourself a favour and go for the one that is well roasted with the best seasoning… And if you can’t find Black Christmas, then give this one a whirl…Tastes all the much better with an alcoholic beverage and a good sense of humour (something the numbskulls on the picket line clearly didn’t have).
Final Girl √
Directed by: Ryan Nicholson
Starring: Alastair Gamble, Mihola Terzic, Nathan Wittle
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
As fans of horror, maybe you can tell me, when is it safe to say that in attempts to shock, filmmakers have gone too far? Now a big part of my youth was spent hunting out video nasties, but bizarre as it may seem, they look very tame opposed to some of the efforts to be gratuitous that we get now.
I turned thirty this year and maybe it’s just that I’m a bit of an old fashioned kind of guy. I even think that modern music takes the level of profanity far too high. I mean, as adults we all have sex, we all know swear words, we all can drink and if we really, REALLY wanted to, we could probably all get hold of a bag of drugs. Does it excite you to hear songs about this? How does it make you feel? Is it really necessary? Personally I think it’s more creative to be restrained, but as I said, I must be somewhat out of touch.
I know that it is a strange thing to say, but cultural transgression and a much looser level of acceptance, has given old-skool slashers a kind of innocence about them. I guess that you could compare it to the way that the fifties era of rock and roll now looks laughably lame,but at the time was pretty controversial. Despite it’s efforts to reference its retro roots as you can see in most of the artwork, Gutterballs goes all out to take things to a new level of explicitness.
A verbal and physical fight between two gangs results in the sadistic rape of a young girl. The following night at the bowling rink, a masked killer locks everyone inside and begins to slaughter them one by one.
* I tried to edit out the language as much as possible, but I couldn’t post without one ‘F’ so be warned -
Judging by his age, director Ryan Nicholson would have experienced and enjoyed the outstanding achievements of Canada’s entries to the slasher genre under producers such as John Dunning and Peter Simpson and directors including William Fruet and Paul Lynch. He began his career as a make-up artist and special effects technician for TV shows like the X Files and Stargate before he took his talents to the silver screen for major budgeted pictures, which include Final Destination. His success has allowed him to be the major force in Canada based studio, Plotdigger films. His first feature length movie, Live Feed – a torture porn gore fest in the vein of Hostel – gave him the springboard to produce more of his ideas and Gutterballs is the result of years of hard work.
The movie has a nice look and a very retro feel in the way it makes the most of its eighties setting. The bootleg that I watched for this review has a great soundtrack, which was never licensed for the final cut that is widely available, due to the obvious high costs involved. Nicholson makes good use of the location and the methods of murder are themed to involve all that you can imagine from bowling appliances. One girl is killed by having her throat sliced by the laces of a pair of the specialised shoes, whilst another has his entire face ‘burned off’ by a ball waxing machine (see above). There’s also a highly amusing ’69 suffocation’, where a chick is choked by her partner’s (prosthetic) penis and the guy is smothered to death by…well, you get the idea. The director has said that he doesn’t believe in cutting away and his vision of horror is to make it as graphic as possible. In its unrated print, Gutterballs definitely delivers on the gore score and you will never feel cheated by a lack of ambition from the effects.
The killer’s disguise is immense and the mystery aspect is handled with enough suspects to keep you guessing and I liked the choice for the maniac’s identity. The pace stays high from start to finish and there’s even a macabre calling card as the body count is notched up on the computerised score board – a skull and crossbones for each victim.
If this had been released during the period that it references, it would have been banned in most countries and therefore would have become a cult classic. I can imagine it being the kind of film that my buddies and I would have uncovered on a cruddy VHS and bunked off of school to sit down and watch – repeatedly. But while trying its hardest to be the baddest of the bunch, it comes across as too excessive and lacks class and charm. The director has been very vocal in his defence of the extremely graphic rape sequence, which sees a girl violated by a bowling pin after being brutally penetrated by three guys. He has admitted that it was tough to shoot, but he did it to get a reaction from the audience, even if it be one of immense disgust. It’s certainly an uncomfortable scene to watch, but even after the appalling nature of the event, it’s almost impossible to feel sympathy for any of these characters as they are a collection of personalities without one redeeming feature between them.
There’s no excuse for rape and no one deserves it, but after an intro that takes ludicrous sexual profanity to a level perhaps unseen in cinema previously, it’s impossible to pick anyone to care about. The film is heinously scripted to the extent that it looks to have no vocabulary other than swear words and in some scenes we get five or six actors shouting over each other at the same time. Every second word is a vile cuss and by the fifth time of hearing c**t or d**k it had exactly the wrong kind of effect. I may have thought that Gutterballs was cool when I was a rebellious fourteen year-old, but as an adult it just looked ignorant and devoid of intelligence.
It’s not just the language that is taken to the outer limits. When it comes to nudity, we get a close up shot of a shaved vagina and countless prosthetic penises. Most of the murders have a sexual angle, including one guy getting his eyes gauged out and then his corpse discovered with used condoms in his eye sockets. The ‘included just for a reason to be homophobic’ transvestite gets his genitals cut in half in loving close up and one guy is violently sodomised with a sharp instrument.
If any or all of the above takes your fancy then Gutterballs will fulfil your wildest cinematic desires and if that’s the case it has achieved exactly what the director had intended. But me, I definitely prefer the less is more approach and thought this was too distasteful for its own good. It’s sleazy for sure, but in a way that lacks sympathy for the results of its actions and that’s the biggest missing ingredient that it needed to make it effective. I agree with director Ryan Nicholson that gore is in itself a form of art, but to be artistic you need to be aware of parameters and this slasher has none that I noticed.
A tribute to the eighties peak this may be, but even the worst of them had more style than this. I may be harsh as the director seems like an intelligent enough guy to realise that pushing it beyond the limits was always going to upset some and therefore he must have expected this type of reaction. I do however have to call it as I see it and what I saw I didn’t enjoy as much as I should have
Final Girl √
Directed by: Howard Avedis
Starring: Bill Paxton, Christopher and Lynda Day George, David Wallace, Mary McDonough
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
You know nowadays when you walk in to a newsagent or petrol station and see a box on the counter that says DVDs £4.99? Well back in the late eighties there used to be bargain buckets of VHS where you now find those budget discs. I was always a fan of horror flicks and I remember that in one such place, I found One Dark Night and Embalmed at an affordable pocket-money price. Both had equally as gratuitous zombie box art, but upon watching them later, I discovered that only one of them had any actual zombies in it. Embalmed must have lost some friends and made some enemies before the introduction of the Internet, because it has arguably the most misleading cover artwork ever. Just look at that picture. I mean jeez…
Now this flick has already got a reputation for being somewhat campy and there’s a (very good) review on Hysteria Lives, which outlines all its cheesy parts (it has many), but so as not to bore you with the same comments, I decided to go in with an open mind and give you the low down on its other ‘strengths’
Since her father died (murdered in the opening by an unseen assailant with a baseball bat), Christie has been suffering from nightmares and she has been sleepwalking. It doesn’t help that a masked loon in a cape is after her every night too. Is she really as deluded as her mother makes out or is there a killer stalking her?
If you have a glass in your hand, you may want to put it down before I say this. Embalmed actually manages to be extremely good in places and has moments that are just downright creepy. It’s blessed with a neat score and although maybe a tad too dark, the scenes inside Christie’s house are suspenseful and foreboding. It’s hard to find this movie in its totally uncut format, but one or two of the murders are very taut and the heartbeat on the soundtrack keeps the tension at a compulsive level. There’s a very good stalking sequence where Avedis makes great use of the killer’s heavy breath and the embalming pipe is an authentic tool for gooey murder.
The performances interchange from campy to pretty decent constantly throughout. I thought that David Wallace was solid and Lynda Day George carried two identities very well. She came across as both suspicious when necessary and then charming much later and boy was she packing a bod in that negligee. I didn’t rate Mary McDonough (formerly known as squeaky clean Erin from the Waltons) too highly and felt that she overreacted at times when she should have just played it straight, but Christopher George was at his grisly best in his final cinematic outing. It’s Bill Paxton that steals the show in this early role, taking the part to the borders of normality and then breaking them down with his eagerness to steal the limelight. He did very well with what he was given and added life to a bemusing script and it was exactly what the film needed.
In fact it’s the screenplay that is the film’s main blunder and the key reason as to why it’s become regarded as silly and not worthy to share a place amongst its more sinister counterparts. The dialogue is totally off the wall and although this can be highly amusing in places, it takes some of the impact away from the times that the flick could have been really scary. After a fairly good build up and the creation of an unsettling atmosphere, the final scene takes all that had been good and completely ruins it. I was really enjoying the momentum as the killer sat all the corpses in chairs like the identical set-up from Happy Birthday to Me, but then the last five minutes are a lesson in how not to end a feature and for me, completely destroy it from a scare-factor standpoint.
There’s a subplot involving the mortician and his taste for black masses that edges on a supernatural sheen, but never really drives it anywhere and I wondered if that was due to the loss of interest from producers prior to filming? Now I have been told – and by a pretty good source – that this was originally intended to have a very big budget and that there’s a lot of scenes (including some more blood) that never made the final print. Now whether this will ever see light of day is another matter, but I wondered if the black masses were part of another branch of the story? Now this doesn’t feel like a half-finished feature and there’s no gaping holes that I recall, but I always imagine myself as a screenwriter and if I keep reading over and over what I’ve written, I would almost definitely only include big scenes if they had a purpose. There is a pay off for the seance stuff, but it doesn’t seem like a very good one. The problem that we have with Embalmed is that it’s not very popular, so no one has really bothered to look too deep in to the stories behind its making. The fact that it is not on DVD means that any chance of getting our questions answered is still a long way off. Perhaps we never will.
I guess in a way that Embalmed can be whatever you want it to be. For some its a cheese three-course meal that is extremely funny, others say that it drags too much in the hands of its characters, whilst for me I thought it was quite creepy and I rather enjoyed it. Director Howard Avedis would return to the cycle with They’re Playing with Fire, which was a tad more nonsensical than this.
One more thing, I was not one of those that picked this up expecting a zombie gore flick and was totally disappointed (I am sure many of you were). I was always in to slashers and the living dead were always second best, so I actually got a nice surprise. But just look at that cover again. Nowadays, people would sue…
Final Girl √√
EYES OF A STRANGER 1981
Directed by: Ken Wiederhorn
Starring: Lauren Tewes, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John DiSanti
Luisito Joaquín González
I am interested, of the two most important horror ingredients, which one do you prefer? Are you a fan of gruesome gore or teeth-clenching suspense? Let’s put it another way. If you went to the local multiplex and were in the mood for a bit of terror and there were two choices showing: – In screen one a gratuitous Grindhouse slaughter-thon. In screen two a taut suspense marathon. Which would you buy a ticket for? It’s a good question, right?
Now I love seeing someone get an axe in the face as much as the next man (on screen of course), but I think I’m more amazed by watching a true craftsman manipulate timing and framing to make me bite my nails than I am watching someone spill pig’s intestines everywhere in close-up. Eyes of a Stranger is an interesting case, because its synopsis hints at the formula of suspense classics like Rear Window, Someone’s Watching Me or When a Stranger Calls, but it has gore effects by Tom Savini. Could this be one of the extremely few horror films that delivers on both counts…?
There’s a maniac terrorising Miami and committing gruesome rapes and murders. Jane Harris, an ambitious reporter, becomes involved when she begins to suspect a creepy neighbour that lives directly opposite. She has always felt responsible for what happened to her younger sister who was attacked and as a result lost her hearing, sight and the ability to speak. Can she find the evidence to stop the creepy killer?
Unlike in my country of birth, a sunny day in the UK is very hard to come by. Earlier this year, we woke up and looked out the window and the sun was scorching at 8am. We packed up our bucket and spade, I put on a T-shirt and a pair of shorts and we jumped on the train to Bournemouth. Halfway through the trip, I started to feel a little cold and suddenly a big ominous cloud appeared in the sky. As soon as we arrived, Señor sol had disappeared and it started to hammer down with rain. To cut a short story even shorter we ended up on the next train home. So what had started as a glorious adventure, ended up being a water-drenched nightmare and my Bermuda trunks have never recovered.
Eyes of a Stranger is a very similar experience to the one that I just mentioned, as in it kicks off exceptionally well, but then the clear blue sky turns a bit grey and the sun never manages to break back through. I will only ever post a review of an uncut movie as censor intervention can have a massive effect on the final result of a feature (Cherry Falls anybody?). Well Tom Savini’s inclusion here was pretty pointless as aside from one standout sequence, there’s nothing notable from his work. Certainly no blame can be put on his shoulders, but you’d think that any producer willing to fund his presence on set must’ve had the motivation to make the most of his capabilities. Stranger doesn’t really give him enough to work with. There’s some decent stuff here, but too many of the killings are off screen.
The first featured murder is superb and mixes jump scares, tight framing, brutality and some pretty good gore. One guy gets decapitated with a cleaver and his head chucked in a fish tank (check that hand twitching) and then the female is attacked by the masked menace (you can see it uncut below). This was a pretty terrifying opening and we were expecting some more of the same. Funnily enough, after the introduction of the final girl, the slide to mediocrity began.
There are three things that ruin Eyes of a Stranger. Firstly, the script gives too much time to the psychopath and he doesn’t get characterised as well as say, in a movie like Maniac. There are no real shots of him behaving like a loon and instead we just see him sitting down to have his dinner and with all due respect to John DiSanti, he just doesn’t ooze scariness. He’s certainly no bad actor, but he has a kind of everyday bloke-ness about him and for me, he just doesn’t cut it as a bogeyman. The synopsis would have been wiser to take the Somebody’s Watching Me route of keeping the assailant in the shadows. But in its ambition not to feel like a rip-off (which it is), it deliberately breaks the most important rule: Don’t give your monster too much screen time.
Next up we have our final girl (or in effect we are given two of them). Again there’s nothing here that would suggest that Lauren Tewes couldn’t handle the part, but the story portrays her character as foolish and annoying rather than victimised and brave. Instead of unintentionally crossing paths with the maniac, she invites him to stalk her by being plain stupid. She’s a victim due to her own actions and not for any other reason. Jennifer Jason Leigh on the other hand gives a good enough Laurie Strode impression, albeit a blind, deaf and mute one. The only thing that I didn’t like was the fact that she had to flash her breasts. It just felt pointless and took away some of her innocence – final girls just shouldn’t do that.
Lastly, the movie has some serious problems with its pacing. It’s hard to put a finger on why it can’t sustain its momentum, but once it starts to drag, it never really picks itself back up. If ever there was a fine chance to build suspense, it was in the apartment scene. Jane thinks that she knows who the killer is, so she breaks in to his flat and begins searching for some proof. Meanwhile he is downstairs waiting for the lift. Can she get out in time or will he catch her in his wardrobe? You couldn’t dream of a better route to create some tension, but director Ken Wiederhorn doesn’t manage to make anything of the situation. If he fails to excite in a scenario like that, you can be sure that it’s not going to get any better. There’s the old slasher trademark of two randy youngsters in a car parked up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The build up is good, the gore effects are neat (the second best of the feature), but the shot feels rushed and there’s no real shocks.
I liked the pretty decent score and even if this is by no means the best of Tom Savini, it is Tom Savini all the same. Jennifer Jason Leigh put up a good battle with the killer and the cat and mouse chase in the apartment between them was pretty intense. It was particularly mean spirited the way that he was mocking her disabilities and tormenting her by moving items around in front of her. I am struggling to think of any other positives. Well… it’s nicely acted and it looks professional. It’s also another of those slasher/thriller features of which there were plenty of back then (Eyes of Laura Mars, Dressed to Kill) and… umm … well did I mention Tom Savini?
I really wanted to like Eyes of a Stranger, because it’s the one peak-period slasher that I had never got round to watching until now. I wouldn’t have been so disappointed if it was just plain bad, but the problem is that it showed glimpses of genius, but never made the most of them. I gave it two stars because well… I would pick this over the majority of new-skool slashers, but as a time-capsule from the overkill years, it’s not one of the strongest.
Final Girl √√