Final Scream 2001
aka Final Stab
Directed by: David DeCoteau
Starring: Jamie Gannon, Erinn Hayes, Melissa Martin
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The fact that I grew up collecting low budget slasher flicks meant that I was fully aware of what to expect when I walked into Blockbuster video in the early noughties and saw the cover of Final Scream amongst the horror titles for rent. It looked too cheap to be a sequel to Wes Craven’s groundbreaking series, but I’m sure that because it had been targeted to trick unsuspecting viewers into believing it was a fourth chapter in the franchise caused confusion amongst less-experienced viewers. I wonder how many people picked up a copy expecting to find Ghostface, Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell amongst the runtime? Talk about taking the biscuit with creative marketing.
Anyway, the film was a return to the stalk and slash sub-genre for horror regular David DeCoteau after his work on Dreamaniac during the eighties. Whilst D’maniac was something of a loose inclusion that pushed the boundaries of standard stalk and slash, Final Scream has no such identity issues and knows exactly what it wants to be.
A group of youngsters head off to a secluded mansion in order to pull a prank on two of their colleagues. At the same time, one of them wants to trial a set-up for a murder-mystery weekend so that she can open her own business. Before long, they’re all in on the idea that it’s only a prank until a real masked killer turns up and begins slicing his way through the stranded troupe
In 2001, the slasher genre was still very much in Kevin Williamson ‘know the rules’ territory. Whilst this picture smartly decides to avoid the parody angle that so many of its brethren chose to follow, the fact that it still mentions Friday the 13th means that it shows a similar type of genre self-recognition. It opens with a scene that incorporates some stylish lighting and sharp flourishes to set a sleek tone. Decoteau’s trademark of replacing the typical amount of bra-less chicas with topless males is showcased almost immediately in an early shower scene. In fact, there’s only one female victim that I remember throughout the entire movie and the rest are muscle bound jocks.
After the obligatory fumble through the development of a group of cardboard characters, the killings start fairly rapidly. Although there isn’t really any gore or hint that there will be, the focus on the mystery and a few taut stalking scenarios deliver a smidgen of suspense. The killer looks creepy in a mask not too dissimilar to that of Blood Slaughter Massacre or Small Town Massacre and the fact that there is quite a huge body count means that we never feel bored by what’s going on. Melissa Martin does a good job as the self-centred hostess and if we have to compare the performances with those of DeCoteau’s prior work, he had definitely sharpened his pencil when it came to subtracting a believable level of dramatics from his cast. He also directs with polish and some neat camera angles, but the fact that almost every victim uses the age-old ‘hey I know it’s you out there, stop fooling around’ chestnut, shows obvious repetition and a lack of creativity from the screenwriter. It’s a shame that the peeps that dreamed up the scandalous title weren’t allowed to get involved with the dialogue in the script. I’m sure they’d have added a lot more controversy ;)
I must admit that the idea of a murder-mystery weekend did remind me of 1986’s April Fools Day, but DeCoteau doesn’t explore that plot angle too much and it ends up more of a typical slasher by the numbers synopsis. There is a revenge backstory that unearths itself as the picture flows, but for something so simple to execute it is bewildering how DeCoteau allows it to become so convoluted. It results in a couple of plot twists that make zero sense upon revelation and are easy enough to guess anyway. Still, there is some excitement as the victims are slaughtered by the loon and the revelation scene smothers itself in an equal share of ineptitude and cheesy fun.
Final Scream is a standard stalk and slasher that does deliver the odd thrill, but it’s more bland than it is bouncy. It steps close to being a one-star movie, but the fact that it is easy on the eye and fairly watchable for the most part, means that it just about scrapes the two stars I’ve given it below. It reminds me of the recent records of Enrique Iglesias; as in, gone are the new-wave chimes of originality, but you kind of get exactly what you were expecting. So I doubt you’ll shout, ‘Baby I like it’ and it won’t ‘Be your Hero’ but at least you won’t feel that you need to ‘Escape’ – (Boom Boom, I’m here all week)) ;)
Killer Guise: √√√√
Babysitter Massacre 2013
Directed by: Henrique Couto
Starring: Erin R. Ryan, Marylee Osborne, Joni Durian
Review by Luis Joaquín González
As fans of the slasher genre, if you got the opportunity to make your own movie, how would it look? Would you tick all the boxes in regards to the general trademarks that you know and love? Would you pack it with nudity and gore? I ask this because Henrique Couto’s Babysitter Massacre is exactly how I’d imagine a true genre lover might roll out a slasher flick. That’s not a critical evaluation by any means, but a brief outline of what you should expect from this overlooked entry.
A group of girls that grew up together have decided to spend Halloween at a slumber party to rekindle their friendships. They haven’t been as close since one of their number was kidnapped years earlier and has never been found. They used to run a group called ‘The Babysitter Club’ and charge a fee to look after younger children in the area. This all stopped after the disappearance of young April and they hold a girl called Bianca wholly responsible for the awful event. Little do they know that a masked killer has began stalking and murdering them one by one and he seems to have a specific focus on Angela, their bubbly host. Can they stop the psychopath before he kills them all?
What I thought really worked about Babysitter was that it went out of its way to highlight some of the category’s favourite moments without needing to revert to parody. I noticed nods to Slumber Party Massacre, Sorority House Massacre II, Halloween and others, but they were rolled out slightly under the radar, which made it more satisfying when I recognised them. The killer boasted a unique and surprisingly effective blank mask, which I felt really gave him an aura of macabre non-identity. He kidnaps the majority of his victims and kills them with more of a torture-porn approach, but most of these scenes are exceptionally brutal and fairly authentic. My favourite would have to be the opening shot, which sees a girl getting her fingernails pulled off by a pair of pliers… Ouch!
Scenes between cast-members are neatly staged and comfortably shot and Couto has written some expressive dialogue in places. Erin Ryan is solid as Angela, the final girl, and even if she is surrounded by a lot of lesser actresses, she keeps the dramatics believable. It’s strange because the sequences of characters in conversation seem to work much better than the moments when the killer strikes. There are quite a few murders, but we have absolutely no idea who most of the early victims are and none of them have any kind of build up or anticipation. What I did find interesting was the use of text messages as a tool to threaten rather than the usual deranged phone calls. Babysitter Massacre is definitely a modern advancement on the old When a Stranger Calls chestnut. There was one chase sequence in an office complex that was sharp and tense, but aside from that, the killer just turned up immediately in most of the other killings. It’s hard to tell how much of this was performed that way due to a lack of budget, but the film was crying out for more suspense. Especially because Couto had proved that he could deliver it when the opportunity arose.
The final third is again very torture-porn-esque and offers a set-up where two of a trio of kidnapped girls have to murder their friend with a claw hammer in order to have a chance to escape the concrete basement that they’ve been locked in. Whilst the idea is twisted and sadistic, it doesn’t make sense, because logic dictates that they should have at least waited and seen if they could use said hammer to retaliate against their abductor. This brought my rating of the feature down considerably as I felt that it was unrealistic and thrown together with minimal thought. Thankfully, the downbeat ending salvages the tone as the credits roll and I actually thought it was really quite a shock.
Babysitter Massacre is a fine example of exploitation that is packed to the rafters with nudity (seriously there’s loads), gore and a pretty good mystery. I just think that it had something of a stagnated flow, which in fairness may well have been because of the stringent funding. Director Henrique Couto is a cool guy and because of that, it’s hard to give his movies a bad rating. His personality shines through his work and he seemed to love splashing the screen with goo and getting most of his actresses naked as much as we enjoyed watching it. I am sure that no one knows more than he that there is room for improvement here, but in the meantime it’s a film that I definitely enjoyed.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Blood Slaughter Massacre 2013
Directed by: Manny Serrano
Starring: Matt W. Cody, Michael Roche, Carmela Hayslett
Review by Luis Joaquín González
A film called Blood Slaughter Massacre could only be, in any language, a slasher movie. I’ve written before about the amount of entries that have titles that start with Blood or end with the word Massacre and here we have a combination of the two with Slaughter (another common term amongst this genre’s features) chucked in the middle for the hell of it. I like the fact that there’s no messing around with this one, you get what it says on the box.
Anyway, the movie had an aura surrounding it throughout its production with some exciting photos of a killer donning a mask that brought to mind the Tor Johnson one used in Small Town Massacre. That has always been one of my favourites, because it gave the killer a haunting ‘deranged’ look, which had a similar effect as Michael Myers’ cherub-like Shatner. It was also refreshing to see a film that whilst paying tribute to the classics of the eighties, avoided the ‘done to death’ parody angle. No matter how much I love the genre, I’ve grown tired of watching filmmakers demonstrate the amount of references they can include in a runtime. We’ve moved to a time now where the best way of representing the cycle is by introducing a unique approach and avoiding the need for satire.
Two detectives that were involved in a tough case a decade ago are thrown back into the heart of it when a ruthless killer returns to their town and begins murdering the children of earlier massacre victims. The police are left stumped as the maniac stalks the city, but it soon becomes clear that there’s a method to his madness…
Last week, I posted a review of Camp Blood here on a SLASH above. Even if it is a low budget slasher movie just like this one, there’s a major difference that separates the way the two are presented and received. If you threw, for example, three-million dollars at the production of Brad Sykes’ entry, there would surely be improvements, but not really enough to completely alter the net result. Serrano on the other hand delivers a picture that totally outshines its budget and you can only wonder what he could achieve with that much more funding. I admit that it’s perhaps unfair to compare a campy David Sterling flick with a film that exudes such ambition, but as they share the same sub-genre, it exemplifies my point.
BSM is a true horror movie; and what I mean by that is it sacrifices the modern stereotype of regular attempts at humour to maintain a grisly tone. Like the best slashers, this one rolls out its antagonist in the midst of a dark and compelling mystery. It comes close to crossing into serial killer flick territory with the focus on its investigation, but it works by finding the right balance of the two styles. Our lead persona is something of an anti-hero, (an alcoholic cop), but we can overlook his character flaws because we hope that his heart is in the right place. There is a final girl here, but she’s kept somewhat in the background and doesn’t play the typical central role. The screenwriters have certainly taken a risk by avoiding the structure that’s commonly utilised almost identically in these more recent films, but what we get instead plays in the most satisfying of ways.
With such a bright spotlight of focus shone upon the story, Serrano needed to develop a constant feeling of dread to keep up the film’s momentum. I’ve already highlighted that the killer looks extremely intimidating in that ghoulish mask, but the director makes the most of his hulking frame and menacing size to add extra trepidation to the kill scenes. Whilst there are a couple of gore shots (a shower murder very similar to the one from The Prowler and a chainsaw slaughter spring to mind), it’s the placing of the bogeyman in each stalking sequence that really delivers the necessary fear factor. He’s up there with the guy from The Orphan Killer as one of the scariest maniacs I can recall and the director doesn’t waste a chance to make the most of his presence. He butchers a huge amount of victims and his sadistic brutality is extremely threatening. This is one of those films that develops its shocks because it makes you question how you’d react if you were to be placed in the situation that you see unfolding on the screen.
At two-hours and five-minutes, Serrano has a lot of ground to cover and he does so with a plot that may seem slightly convoluted to the lesser viewer. I’m not sure if a further prologue scene was removed late in the production, but I recommend watching the film through twice to really understand the synopsis. The lesser actors amongst the cast survive due to solid direction and Serrano pushes his cast to the limit in order to draw the performances that he required. We even get something of a ‘The Departed’ moment during the film’s conclusion and it does succeed in leaving you unsure what’s going to happen next.
We live in a world now where every new production comes with pages of untrustworthy IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes reviews and exciting social media commentaries that more often than not build a level of anticipation that rarely proves accurate when a film is finally released. I’m pleased to say that Blood Slaughter Massacre is better than I thought it would be and that in itself is a real achievement. What Serrano has built on a modest budget should set the standard for the slasher films of 2015. It is not a remake and It really is that good…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Camp Blood 1999
Directed by: Brad Sykes
Starring: Jennifer Ritchkoff, Michael Taylor, Tim Young
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I have mentioned Camp Blood a number of times on a SLASH above, but never actually got round to reviewing it. I picked it up back in the early noughties on big-box VHS and it was possibly the first no budget slasher of the new age that I got to see. Since then, I always thought of it as the quintessential example of a bad dime-store take on the slasher template. Over a decade has passed since I last watched it and the genre has seen its fair share of features that were financed on even smaller pocket books. This left me wondering if Blood would still maintain the status that I bestowed upon it on first viewing.
Two couples head off to explore a secluded woodland called Camp Blackfoot. Locals have named it Camp Blood due to the fact that a betrayed husband killed his cheating partner and her lover with a machete before disappearing into the wilderness. Legend states that he still roams the hills and murders anyone that is unfortunate or stupid enough to roam his region…
It was a strange feeling sitting in front of Camp Blood again after so long. Part of me was reminiscing the stack of VHS that I used to trawl through in my room when I’d just turned twenty and the other part was proud of the patience that I possessed to ‘appreciate’ so many turkies. Make no mistake about it, Blood isn’t like a bottle of fine wine. What I mean by that is my ten-year hiatus from exposure to it hasn’t turned it into Halloween. With that said, I did find things here that made me smile, which was most definitely more that I’d expected.
Brad Sykes, for all his obvious signs of amateurism, does understand what people enjoy about slasher movies. It takes less than five-minutes for the inevitable boob shot (what a pairing) and the next sight that we are treated to is a lumbering maniac in a clown mask. The kill scenes are deftly edited considering the budget and for the un-trained eye (i.e. my Mrs), the various splashings of blood and an imposing menace could be considered as generally effective. To give you an example, there’s a sequence that starts dumbly, because our sympathetic hero type guy chases the assailant into the forest when there was absolutely no logic in him doing so (the killer was actually fleeing the scene). Anyway, it results in a fight sequence on a cliff that’s well staged and then we get a smartly crafted gore shot that was surprisingly audacious. There are countless ‘tributes’ to Friday the 13th of course, with the most obvious being the film’s title, which was what Camp Crystal Lake became known by after Jason and his mum’s rampages.
I guess the above paragraph may look like I am about to take back all the mocking things that I’ve said previously about Brad Sykes’ addition to the stalk and slash family. Well in honesty, my experience was less painful than I’d anticipated, but I won’t be adding this to any top slasher lists in the near future. You see, the few bits and pieces that are classic slasher fun are punctured by some of the worst and most bizarre filmmaking decisions I’ve ever seen. We spend what feels like a lifetime in the clutches of a group of poorly acted and whiny campers and when the killer finally turns up and starts chopping through them, we’ve completely lost interest in their plight. Our final girl sinks to levels of rancid dramatics that had me reaching for the vomit bag and the patently cardboard machete can only appear so many times without beginning to look comical. There’s a really good and creepy score that often borders on building a menacing tone, but just when I was about to write a positive comment, something dumb kept happening and I felt like the guy in the picture to my right >>. It’s strange, because Camp Blood includes all the ingredients to become a trash-slasher hit. It’s just that it somehow puts them together awkwardly, like trying to build a flat-pack wardrobe without the instructions. I guess the fact that I had prepared myself for something awful meant that I could better handle the unbelievable levels of amateurism when I put it on this time. I went in knowing that there was going to be a mountain of goofiness, which made it easier than when I initially saw this and had less of an idea of what to expect.
There’s no doubt that Blood was filmed on the smallest of budgets, which was obvious because the same actors were re-used to play different characters with minimal effort to disguise their identities. It was bizarre seeing faces returning to the screen as Police Officers or Nurses when we’d witnessed them get slashed just moments earlier(!) I’m sure that back in the day, I noticed this stuff and found it easy to criticise, whereas now I kind of appreciated the cheesiness, if that makes sense. In my opening paragraph, I called this the quintessential example of a bad dime-store take-on the slasher template. Whilst I stand by that statement, I feel now that I can add the word ‘fun’ before bad in that statement. Either I’ve developed a sense of humour over the past decade or I’ve just got used to sitting through so much worse. At least this one has its heart in the right place. So yeah, as discussed, Camp Blood is a (fun) bad dime-store take-on the slasher template
Killer Guise: √√√√
The Inherited 2009
Directed by: Patrick C. Clinton
Starring: Khory Pilley, Tyler Cross, Natalie Sieber
Review by Luis Joaquín González
There are a number of stalk and slash sites on the web and the way I try to make a SLASH above stand out is by tracking down those complete obscurities that for whatever reason you may not have yet seen. With a track record that includes Cards of Death, Hard Rock Nightmare, Heavy Metal Massacre, Sawblade and Early Frost, you might well say that I’ve aced the target I set out to achieve. Well here we have one that tops all of them.
Type ‘The Inherited slasher’ in Google and you’ll find absolutely nada. Much like 1987’s Legend of Moated Manor, this one has totally and completely disappeared. It does have a listing on the IMDB, but it’s got zero user reviews and only one critic rating from when it screened at a festival. I have no information as to its production notes and it was sent to me anonymously. The plot thickens….
A young man inherits a fortune from a relative that he never knew he had. Clearly surprised by his luck, he heads off to stay at the house he was given with a group of his closest friends. As soon as he arrives, he begins to feel uneasy on the premises and a hooded killer turns up and begins slicing his way through the guests one by one…
We are back in the Bloodstream realms of having no idea why this entry remains shelved. That’s not to say that it’s an amazing piece of filmmaking, but when you think that something as ‘awkward’ as Carnage Road got a global release, you only have to wonder what went on behind the scenes to stop this one from being picked up. At just under two hours, The Inherited comes dangerously close to being a marathon instead of the usual brisk sprint that works fine for slasher movies. What impressed me most though was that there were very few times when the runtime became tedious or unwelcome with its storytelling. This is mainly due to some well-developed characters that all face personal issues that manage to keep interest levels raised when nothing else is happening. Although a few more killings wouldn’t have gone a miss, the mystery does manage to keep the momentum moving in the right direction and there’s a neat tone of impending doom that remains consistent.
It also helps that director Patrick Clinton pulls out all the stops to inject pizazz into the visuals. He shoots with an abundance of rapid cuts and inventive camera angles that are energetic to watch. Most of the action takes place in tight locations, but Clinton manages to film them with a perception of expansiveness. During the first thirty minutes or so, I was unsure what type of film I was watching, because it opens with a traditional slasher sequence but then throws some haunted house clichés in the mix. These are all superbly staged and include some striking Evil Dead-alike POV shots and a superb use of a creepy phantom clown. We later learn that these additions are only added as unsettling flair and the story soon finds its footing as a typical slasher/whodunit. More importantly, it’s one with a twist that’s unpredictable and actually quite shocking.
A clearly talented filmmaker, Clinton seems to be especially unfortunate with his output. Both this and his debut, Last Getaway (2007), remain unreleased, despite being surrounded by good word of mouth throughout post-production. I guess his style could be described as being similar to that of Tyler Tharpe from Freak fame, which is another title that I thoroughly enjoyed. He certainly invests in the depth of his players, but I felt that the kill scenes were too diluted to really make an impact. This was crying out for some gore to really become a missing gem, but instead it relies on plot delivery and a terrific score to generate the tension. This was a deliberate ploy from Clinton because he wanted to attempt the less is more approach that John Carpenter delivered so purely. I totally agree with the idea of that philosophy, but perhaps because of the film’s budget look, I felt that it really needed an injection of goo to complete the exploitation package.
The Inherited is a sharp blend of horror trademarks that plays like a mix of The Boogeyman and The Ghastly Ones. It’s a good movie that probably would have been well received by fans if given the chance. The fact it has disappeared is totally bemusing and it’s a shame that it remains elusive. After six-years of no news though, it’s unlikely to surface anytime soon. Whilst it may not boast extremely strong performances from the entire cast and the lack of gore is clearly quite disappointing, it does keep you interested and remains rather unique.
I only hope that one day you can check it out for yourself…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Directed by: Andrea Bianchi
Starring: Gino Concari, Patrizia Falcone, Silvia Conti
Review by Luis Joaquín González
It’s somewhat ironic that Lucio Fulci supervised this belated entry to the giallo catalogue. Despite being two years his elder, Andrea Bianchi’s work has always made him look like something of a protégé of the notorious craftsman. There are many Fulci trademarks to be found in the works of Bianchi. Most notably the extreme use of gratuitous gore and a taste for barely logical plot points. Over the years many have labeled Fulci as an inept filmmaker that hid his directorial shortcomings behind the talent of his special effects team. But titles like Don’t Torture a Duckling and Zombi 2 have pretty much taken the gust out of that argument. If these critics truly believe that Fulci was an incompetent director, then gawd only knows what they’d make of Bianchi. His most famous movie – the notorious Burial Ground – is great fun if you love blood and guts. But if you judge it on it’s merits as a motion picture, then it fails in just about every department. The acting was diabolical, the direction non-existent and I don’t even think that it was filmed from a script. I hoped that Massacre would keep the gratuitous exploitation edge, but I was also looking for a little more credibility from Bianchi this time around.
Massacre kicks off with a gruesome murder that was re-used by Fulci along with other gore scenes in the bemusing Nightmare Concert. A guy wearing red gloves, shades and a beanie hat is seen cruising along a lengthy stretch of road. He pulls up beside a young woman in a skimpy dress who greets him with the classic line, “Hey cutie wanna make love mmmm!” Unfortunately, ‘making love’ isn’t exactly what this guy had in mind, and he proceeds to chop off the woman’s hand and then decapitate her with an axe. Next up we meet a film crew that are shooting a zombie flick in the area called Dirty Blood. There’s a whole heap of tension on the set because it doesn’t look like any of the employees seem to get along with one another. The lead actress Jennifer (Patrizia Falcone) is dating a Local Police Captain called Walter (Gino Concarni). We soon learn from him that this maniacal killer has already murdered four other victims, and the authorities don’t have a clue to his identity. Things really get nasty after the producer calls in a medium to hold a séance and teach his cast and crew the ways of the supernatural. The circle is broken when an evil spirit invades the sitting and forces the Medium to end the seance. Only hours later an unseen maniac begins slaughtering his way through the cast list one by one. Will any of them survive…?
Surprisingly, Massacre is not as bad as I had initially expected. Silvano Tessicini did a credible job with the photography and the director even managed to build suspense in places. No really. As this is a Bianchi joint, the exploitation is spread thick and fast, and there’s more female nudity than an Electric Blue omnibus. Look out for the scene where a victim flees the marauding killer with only a short skirt covering her modesty! The gory murders reveal a great flair for the macabre from the filmmaker and there’s a body count to rival an Arnold Schwarzenegger machine gun frenzy. You probably won’t solve the twist and turn mystery with ease, plus the boathouse massacre is a tremendous piece of mayhem, which deserves a second look. Massacre also boasts some wacky pre-politically correct dialogue, which will make even the most sinister viewer smile. It’s also worth noting the amount of American stalk and slash clichés that have been incorporated with the more typical native giallo platitudes. At one point a fornicating couple are slaughtered whilst parked in the woods – an indisputable trademark of the USA teen slasher.
But still this is far too bizarrely structured to be anything other than good in a bad way. As was the case with Burial Ground, there’s just too much inadvertent humor to allow this to join the giallo elite. The murders certainly could have benefited with a little more directorial flourish and the musical accompaniment was continuously monotomous to the point of frustration. Bianchi certainly has an eye for a beautiful actress, and he always tries to include everything from lesbian proposals to soft-core pornography. Only problem is that he seems to prioritize acting ability way below bra size. It’s a flaw that’s only too evident from the start.
The net result is a film that will satisfy forgiving fans that aren’t expecting anything along the lines of Tenebrae or even Eyeball. To put it another way, if you could sit through Burial Ground without cringing at the screen then you’ll probably enjoy this.
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Don Gronquist
Starring: Laurel Munson, Janet Penner, Sara Ansley
Review by Luis Joaquín González
In these recent times of rapid action cuts and CGI overloads, slow boiling thrillers have lost some their allure amongst audiences. I always try to value craft over excess, but recently I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds again and noticed I was losing focus during the lengthy character development parts. It’s strange, because I loved that movie so much when I was growing up.
This fairly intriguing genre entry grabbed a slice of notoriety because it was banned in the United Kingdom and quickly added to the video nasty list upon its release in 1982. With only four on-screen killings during the seventy-two minute runtime, nowadays it’s hard to see what the BBFC found so offensive. It’s been billed most places as more of a psychological chiller than an out and out stalk and slasher, so I promised myself to be extra patient when watching it unfold.
Three young girls that are on their way to a Jazz concert, crash their car in a rainstorm and wake up stranded in a large mansion. Even though everything seems comfortable at first, it soon becomes apparent that there’s a local killer on the loose and the girls have to fight to survive.
Director Don Gronquist has said that his sole ambition throughout his life had been to make a feature film. His first attempt, a serial killer/crime drama based on Charles Starkweather’s exploits, wasn’t picked up until eight-years after its 1973 production date. He didn’t let this deter him and Unhinged proved to be a lot more attractive to relevant suitors due to the boom of the slasher genre. Costing only $100,000 to produce, the film is a mix of Halloween and Psycho that coincidentally results in a blend that’s a lot like The Unseen. The early shots of a car heading along a winding road brought to mind The Shinning, which I also believe played a part in the ambition behind the project.
In terms of the influences taken from Carpenter’s classic, Gronquist pulls off some generally effective heavy-breath POV shots and a strong utilisation of sound to unsettle viewers. Jon Newton’s brooding score works wonders in maintaining an atmosphere and lesser scenes come alive solely because of the striking audio accompaniment. Dressed in a rain-mac, the killer strikes with unpredictability and each murder is brutal and ruthless. If you’re expecting bundles of gore because of the video nasty status, you’ll be disappointed, but there’s something unsettling about the way the killings are staged. Tension is brought from a complex mystery and a claustrophobic feeling that the girls are truly stranded in the wilderness. Building a creepy environment is not something all can achieve, but the unusual characters and (again) that frantic score really do wonders in maintaining the menace.
Whilst there can be no greater sources of inspiration than Hitchcock, Carpenter and Kubrick; as a director, Gronquist doesn’t come close to achieving that level of artistry. Unhinged is shot rather flatly, and rarely tries anything audacious. Outside of the impressive steadi-cam moments, the camera always seems to abide by the safest option and this has a noticeable effect on the film’s energy. Some of the most amateur editing that I can remember certainly doesn’t help matters and it’s surprising that this wasn’t picked up upon before release. We’ll see a shot of an open doorway for three-seconds before someone walks through or a sequence will just stop and fade to black awkwardly. This also plays havoc with the story’s timeline, because I couldn’t keep track of whether minutes or hours had passed between one part and the next. Whilst it would be fair to call Gronquist’s work ‘uninspired’, it deserved a lot better than how his editors made it look.
I called The Unhinged intriguing, and I really believe that it is. The plot concludes with a twist that I didn’t mention so as not to ruin, and it provides moments that are generally chilling. The performances are poor and the technical ability shoddy, at best. Despite that, it remains worth a look because it is so – what’s that word again? – Oh yes, intriguing. I prefer horror films develop an atmosphere and even if the pace does drop here and there, I actually quite liked it.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Ripper: A Letter From Hell 2001
Directed by: John Eyres
Starring: A.J. Cook, Bruce Payne, Kelly Brook
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Being that I host a SLASH above, it’s fair to say that I’ve watched my share of films that definitely weren’t the best. A few of those though included enough for me to see that certain crew members had the talent for another shot at stardom. Whether it be a smart line of dialogue or a smoothly edited set-piece, a bad film doesn’t always mean that everyone involved is part of the bad-ness. There are a million things that can go wrong during a movie shoot and sometimes a person’s true ability can be concealed through no fault of their own.
John Eyres was responsible for 1987’s woeful killer priest slasher, Goodnight Godbless, and I have to say that seeing his name here didn’t fill me with confidence. I certainly don’t recall anything from that picture that made me think that Eyres’ skill was restrained by the mediocre budget. Still, I’m one of those that believes everyone deserves a second chance and so I’ve finally got round to checking out his follow-up, Ripper: A Letter From Hell.
A girl with a slight attitude problem decides to study criminology under an eccentric professor. She doesn’t get along too well with her classmates, but they become close after a vicious maniac begins to target the group and brutally murder them one by one. They soon discover that they share their initials with the victims of Jack the Ripper and it looks like he could be back from beyond the grave…
At just under two-hours, if Ripper had been of similar quality to its elder brother Godbless, we would have been in for a tiresome exercise in visual punishment. Thankfully, during the fourteen-year gap between those two entries, Eyres has learned a lot about the art of slick direction. In fact, the film launched with such an impressive amount of panache that I was left wondering if this was really the same guy. It shows us the conclusion of a set of killings that occurred sometime earlier in a dense forest. We get flashy cuts and intense camera tricks that build neat tension, even though we don’t know yet who or what we are witnessing. After a couple more fast-paced shocks, we learn that this was a unique way of introducing Molly, our central character. It seems that she was the lone survivor of the aforementioned massacre and she’s now relocated to restart her life and enrolled in a new university.
The next few parts that develop the players (and likely suspects) who will carry us through the runtime are amongst my favourite of the picture. They contain intelligent discussions on the characteristics of serial killers and are shot with intriguing movement that delivers a subtle underscoring of energy to the talk scenes. It’s nice to see that the writers have researched their subject-matter and also they’ve included an authentic slant on one of Scream’s major gimmicks. Whilst Kevin Williamson’s screenplay name-checked the likes of Tom Cruise and Richard Gere, here we get Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo and of course Jack the Ripper. The fact that Eyres has privately investigated the Jack the Ripper case for most of his adult life made him the perfect choice for this project. It’s easy to see that he felt he had a score to settle with the slasher genre.
Whilst Godbless owed a lot to John Carpenter’s Halloween, here it seems that Eyres has followed the path taken by Jamie Blanks’ Urban Legend. There are a lot of similarities in the way both films are staged, which I mean as a genuine compliment. The kill scenes are delivered with style and they create some memorable images, like when a freshly murdered corpse pours blood on to a girl’s white dress as she dances below. Another youngster gets rammed off a cliff by a truck that brought to mind the one used in Mirage, and whilst these murders may not be overtly gory, they are powerful due to their brutality. By the time the conclusion comes around, we end up in a tree-chopping factory (?) that really needed a visit from a health & safety expert in a hi-viz jacket. If it doesnt bother the authorities that there are deadly blades that spin around 24/7, perhaps the fact that it’s left totally unguarded will. This leads to a couple of taut chase sequences and a revelation that is highly ambiguous. This was apparently down to Eyres not havin enough budget left to deliver what he had initially intended. I am guessing that might also explain why such a smart story suddenly becomes disjointed in the final ten-minutes.
The cast do a good enough job of keeping things moving without really delivering any sympathetic characters. Ripper is a film that believes in its dialogue and compelling mystery, so the focus is taken off individuals and centred more around the overall plot. We are treated to some truly beautiful actresses and kudos to Eyres for killing off the worst performers quickly. Brit glamour girl Kelly Brook is the first to go and despite her highly unconvincing pleas for mercy, she takes part in one of the greatest stalk and slash murders of the entire cycle. You should watch the film if only for that one sequence.
John Eyres’ website completely ignores Goodnight Goodbless and doesn’t even list it as one of his features. In fact, it goes as far as to say that his filmmaking career began in 1990, which is three-years after that film was released. Whilst it’s unlikely that another British ‘John Eyres’ was responsible for Godbless, the fact that he wants to erase it from his filmography speaks a thousand words. I’m not sure whether that was really necessary, but either way, he had certainly upped his game by the time Ripper went in to production. It’s a tense and engrossing entry that really does impress. In fact I’m fairly surprised that it isn’t more fondly thought of amongst genre connoisseurs.
I guess the only question we are left with is what Eyres was doing that was so important he turned down the sequel…?
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Tim Cowles
Starring: Eleanor James, Emily Eaves, Jason Impey
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I’ve recently turned 34, which I tell you because I’m from a generation that grew up just before the invasion of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Hi5. I was in my twenties during the noughties, so I still got to experience the impact that these sites had on social interaction and relationships. It’s interesting, because I remember the times of having to call landlines or walk to knock on someone’s front door if I wanted to chat with them. Nowadays I can simply drop them a note on What’sapp or some other messaging service and ascertain where they are, who they’re with and whether they’re choosing to ignore me ;) I’m often told that I should be more proactive on Twitter and Facebook, especially with regards to a SLASH above, but perhaps it’s because of my age that I haven’t quite grasped the necessity of a social media presence.
Whether these methods of contact are a benefit or a hindrance to our evolution as humans is impossible to answer, but it’s an interesting theory to think about. It’s one that was certainly on the mind of director Tim Cowles when he put pen to paper for this British slasher that hit shelves last year. Not to be confused with 2005’s Backslash, Backslasher was poorly received upon release and currently holds a 2.2 rating on the IMDB. This Is incredibly low, but there’s always the excuse that slasher movies are easy targets for mockery from stern critics because of their simplistic style. Seeing that the excellent Billy Club has dropped from 7.4 to 5.6 on the same website adds weight to this theory.
A young woman who’s obsessed with her social media accounts launches an online business that sells lingerie and sex toys. She Is running a blog to assist with marketing but soon discovers that someone maybe taking an unhealthy interest in her status updates. It soon becomes apparent that a masked killer is stalking her friend list and it looks as if she’s next in his sights…
Shooting films on a penny sweet budget must be tough, because creative concepts can get lost amongst the lack of funding. Backslasher tries hard to deliver something unique and intriguing but has suffered, slightly unfairly, due to its minimal production values. It choses an unusual starting path, which introduces our characters rather awkwardly. The best horror movies begin with a scare or shock sequence of some kind to set a tone, but it takes fifteen-minutes or so for the killer to even put in an appearance here. This makes the opening scenes a bit pointless because we are left trying to get our heads around what we are watching. A group of girls prance around in lingerie to introduce the theme of the products that they’re selling, but these parts are a nothingness in terms of the film’s horror backbone. I haven’t seen the old chestnut of a maniac stalking two lovers parked in a secluded spot for quite some time, so it was refreshing to be back at a set up that is so rudimentary yet satisfying. Cowles shows his knowledge of the period slashers in a couple of the murders, including an assault of a female jogger, which was last seen in Graduation Day. Dressing the killer in a common mask and hooded jumper underlines the film’s cheapness, but he is at least brutal and intimidating when he strikes.
What I really liked about Backslasher was its smartly ambiguous conclusion. The plot works along the line of you thinking you’ve guessed who is under the mask, but just when you believe you’ve really nailed it, your choice of culprit becomes the next victim. I felt initially cheated by the revelation scene, but later I understood that it was the perfect end to a story that focuses on the privacy and anonymity of Social Media. It’s extremely unusual for a stalk and slash film to include an ending that you’ll need to watch through again to really understand and in honesty it impressed me. Whodunits have been done to death and outside of tricking the audience unfairly, there’s very little that we haven’t seen before. Cowles takes a risk that might disappoint some viewers, but I appreciated his ambition to try an off-kilter resolution.
It’s unfair to criticise a low budget movie for being low budget, but Backslasher’s main issues are visible exactly because of that. The performances are predictably mediocre and the footage is grainy and poor in quality. We do get a guitar-based score that is fresh and uplifting, but when the horror starts, there are some misplaced sci-fi-like buzzing sounds that are notably out of place. Whilst the screenplay does have moments that are strongly commendable, it could have been structured to have a much smoother flow. I imagine the film would play much better with a murder in the pre-credits and most of the background characters are interchangeable because they’re given very little to do. There were a couple of times when people got killed and I couldn’t remember who they were, which showed they had been poorly introduced.
Backslasher is a project that writes cheques its budget can’t cash. It’s a creative concept that could have done with some fine tuning. Many people won’t have the patience to really appreciate it, which is a shame, but a lesson that can be learned. Tim Cowles shouldn’t give up on his filmmaking dream, but he’s still some way off delivering a really credible entry.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Chill: The Killing Games 2013
aka Chill (Working Title)
Directed by: Noelle Bye, Meredith Holland
Starring: Roger Conners, Bradley Michael Arner, Kelly Rogers
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I must tell you that Chill was one of those movies that I was really excited about getting my hands on. Haydn Watkins, the co-author of magnificent upcoming slasher book Alone in the Dark, told me about it and so I got in touch with director Noelle Bye who sent me over an online copy to review. At the time of writing, it boasts a 7.5 ranking on the IMDB and it has been keenly anticipated amongst cult horror circles due to a couple of successful pre-screenings.
Despite accusations that slasher movies are all exactly the same, genre completists will note the small traits that distinguish titles by their production date. Since about 2011, we have seen a theme of strategic multi-layered twists and revelation scenes that have appeared in the likes of Billy Club, Camp 139, Smiley, Blood Junkie and Backslasher. From what I’d heard on the grapevine about Chill, it was another that had been written with a focus on maintaining a compelling mystery.
A college in the US has become notorious due to the grim legend of a game that goes by the name of Chill. It involves a number of people randomly picking a piece of paper from a box and keeping what they get a secret from the other participants. Dependent on what they receive, they will either become the ‘killer’ or a ‘victim’ and it’s the killer’s job to hunt out and ‘murder’ the other players, whilst keeping his/her identity anonymous until the end. Chill was popular until about 1988, when one gamer took the whole assassin thing a bit too seriously and butchered twelve students before succumbing to a gruesome fate. Since then, the game has been outlawed on campus and it has become a part of the town’s history that they’d rather leave behind. One business-minded local thinks otherwise though and decides to revisit the scene of the original massacre and televise a new version of the game for profit. Despite resistance from some of the townsfolk, especially an over-zealous professor, the launch date goes ahead as planned. It seems that someone still has an axe to grind and before long, the youngsters are forced to pit their wits against a maniacal villain.
Before we get going, I think it’s important that you understand one thing about Chill that’s really essential as to how you perceive it. I’d been wrapped up in the decent IMDB rating and the positivity that I’d heard and so I was expecting a slick slasher along the lines of Billy Club. It wasn’t until thirty-five minutes in that I realised this was in fact a micro-budget production ($3,000) and only then did I really begin to appreciate the film’s accomplishments.
You see, Chill is quite long for a slasher movie, (one hour and forty-five minutes in fact) and the first half of those are pretty unconvincing. Awkwardly acted characters in under-lit scenarios are the order of the day and I was thinking that I was going to be the first critic to put a dent in the film’s glorious reputation. There’s a lot of focus on a group of marginally-appealing personalities and they’re given dialogue that barely registers because it’s so basic and unimaginative. To offer an example, we meet a washed-up kid star who has been invited to take part in the game, but upon his arrival he is disappointed that there’s no fanfare and only one person recognises him. He’s obviously deluded as to the level of his notoriety, but it’s a joke that doesn’t need or warrant the amount of attention that it’s given by the script.
I was thinking the worst by that point, but when the games finally launch, the directors unleash a couple of really sharp and effective shock sequences. There’s nothing quite as creepy as dark dilapidated corridors and the film is nicely scored with gloomy low-chords that help maintain the morbid tone. In the earlier killings, we don’t get to see the antagonist’s bird mask clearly, but there’s a really well structured scene that introduces him with credible menace. He then goes on to slash the throat of a hapless youngster and there’s a juicy blood effect to maximise the impact. For the next half an hour, we get a tense showdown as the remaining players discover that they are locked inside the auditorium with a vicious maniac. Blood flows fluidly as people are sliced, diced and strangled, but the real suspense is delivered by the enigma of who it is that’s slaughtering the group. I didn’t work out the psychopath’s true identity, but I still am unsure as to whether it was a surprise or a bit of a a cheat on the audience. Either way, it successfully keeps you guessing and there’s nothing more that I could have asked for.
What I thought was really authentic was that the story was led for the most part by an openly homosexual central character. Kyle Carpenter (cool surname) does a good job of giving us a likeable protagonist and ticks many of the boxes that are stereotypically filled by a heroine. We also get a role reversal that I don’t want to reveal without giving anything away, but let’s just say that the film’s choice of survivor(s) is an uncommon piece of template realignment. It all leads to an intriguing open ending and I have heard through the same grapevine that Chill 2 is already on the cards.
Chill is one of a number of recent entries that underline the necessity of the slasher genre as a filmaking talent pool. There truly is no better style of movie to unleash some flair and the more of these examples we get, the closer we come to a complete category rebirth. Whilst the feature itself is not without its problems (poor illumination, half-hearted dialogue, noticeably average acting, a couple of WTF revelations and it could have done with some eye candy), it gives me great pleasure to see that we have moved well away from the era of Camp Blood and Carnage Road. Nowadays low budget features are stronger than they’ve ever been and that in itself is a real achievement. Congratulations to Noelle, Meredith and Roger for a decent effort considering the budget. The gloss and invention in some of their photography was extremely impressive and I am looking forward to seeing more of their work.
Killer Guise: √√√√