Prom Night 1980
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens
Review by Luis Joaquín González
This is another of those titles that to be honest, I should have covered on the site long ago. It was only when a SLASH abover, Ned, gave me a kick up the backside by reminding me that I hadn’t yet posted my thoughts on it that I converted it to MP4 and added it to my iPhone 6 Plus playlist.
Back in the days when I was hunting through video shops for slasher films, Prom Night was one of those that I couldn’t find for love nor money. I’d seen images of Jamie Lee Curtis facing off with a balaclava sporting nut job and had believed that it would be a classic slice of eighties special-ness. With a top-notch cast and a comparatively big budget, my eleven year-old brain saw nothing but slasher-tastic satisfaction. Eventually it got another limited VHS release and the nice guys at HMV (RIP) ordered me a pristine copy. Without a review to browse through (children of the Internet don’t know how lucky they are) I was on the bus home and fully expectant to enjoy a rival for Halloween.
A disfigured maniac that was accused of a heinous crime, breaks out of his asylum and heads back to the location of the event from a decade earlier. It’s Prom Night at the main high-school and Kim is highly emotional. Not only is she set to be the Prom queen, but it’s also the ten-year anniversary of the death of her younger sister – the victim of the escapee. When the body of a young nurse is found gruesomely slashed, it looks like the loony is up to his old tricks.
At the tender age of 16, I was mad about cars. No I’m not talking about toys; I’m talking about the real fuel-guzzling automobiles. I saved up some money from my weekend job and purchased a 1982 Ford Fiesta from a newspaper and fell madly in love. Over the year whilst I was waiting to pass my test, I bought a set of gold-coloured alloy wheels, a chrome exhaust system, a race carburettor, tinted windows and neon lights for the number plate. When I finally got my driving license, I was ready to hit the road, but just as I’d turned the first corner, the clutch went. A week later, it was the entire gearbox. I got it towed to the garage and they noticed that nasty brown rust had been devouring the floorboards. My world was shattered, but the car wasn’t worth the sum of the parts that I’d placed upon it, so it had to be scrapped.
Watching Prom Night after many years reminded me of that Fiesta so much. First things first, the film is beautifully shot and DP Robert New has done an amazing job of planning his photography with grace and dynamism. The opening scene takes place inside an abandoned school and there’s an adept aura of isolation and spookiness that surrounds the child actors. Paul Zaza’s scoring is as creepy as always and the film lets you know from the off that it’s slickly put-together. When our key players are introduced, they are awarded the space and time to bond with the audience and it’s interesting how the script hints that humans develop a specific personality trait that maturity doesn’t alter. It was almost as if they were subtlety stating that if you’re born with a nasty streak, it’s likely that you’ll stay that way unless you decide to change. During the story development parts, the underscoring of horror is provided by some stalking scenarios and the killer phoning and threatening his intended victims. This concept was clearly lifted from Black Christmas and shows that Prom Night is a slasher movie that knew its target audience. We get very few, if any, attempts at innovation and the crisp rolling photography through the town where this was filmed may well have been left-over footage from Carpenter’s Halloween. As with Humongous, Lynch was certainly a director that wasn’t ashamed of looting from his peers.
Jaime Lee Curtis heads up a note-perfect group of performers and I couldn’t point out any weaknesses in the casting. This was Peter Simpson’s first foray into slasherdom and the success that he received led him to begin development on the far more authentic Curtains. Prom Night was a big hit upon its release and is widely regarded as one of the genre’s most recognised features. Going back to the Fiesta that I told you about above though, the strong dramatics, superb score and lush photography don’t conceal the film’s limp and predictable spine.
Robert Guza’s script is extremely focused on its mystery, but we are given far too many clues to the maniac’s true identity. They were expecting the unmasking scene to be something of a shock, however it is obviously diluted by the fact that it’s exactly who we expected it to be. It’s almost like the screenwriters didn’t think that their audience would be smart enough to face a compelling puzzle without assistance. I felt that a lot of effort was wasted focussing on numerous red-herrings, when perhaps what the movie really needed was a larger impetus on generating suspense. It’s impossible to deny that Lynch is a director that shoots with panache and draws the best from his cast, but with Prom Night – I noticed this with Humongous too – there’s just never an air of unpredictability. Once we’ve picked who will survive, we know that they’re untouchable and it takes the tension away from the rest getting killed. It’s strange that a filmmaker so inspired by John Carpenter didn’t recognise the necessity of keeping his viewers hooked. Perhaps he just couldn’t pull it off.
Still, there’s a lot of silly eighties stuff, including a bizarre Saturday Night Fever-like boogie scene towards the climax. I also found it hard to keep a straight face when Jamie Lee called Leslie Nielsen’s character a ‘Disco King’ whilst he was awkwardly bopping like a one-legged ostrich. Oh and the fat joker guy in this one actually pulls (and scores) with a chica. So there was one authentic aspect after all ;).
Prom Night is a well-produced slasher movie that has moments of creepiness that are truly well delivered. It’s just a shame that it feels too much like a Halloween rip off and even lacks the authenticity of titles like: Friday the 13th, The Prey, Unhinged, The Unseen, Silent Scream, Small Town Massacre, My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler, American Nightmare or even Graduation Day, Happy Birthday To Me and Embalmed. Also, the fact that it’s never really scary is a sin that, for such a visually competent picture, is hard to forgive…
Directed by: David J. Gardner
Starring: Tracy Pacheco, Jason Hamer, Shannon Nelson
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Towards the end of the nineties/beginning of the noughties, there were a host of slasher films that based their structures around a craze that was popular amongst audiences: Reality Television. Kolobos was the first that I witnessed and it proved to be a superb slasher that showed what could be achieved with a voyeuristic set-up. Soon after, we received a few more similar themed additions which varied in quality, with the worst of them being the heinous Voyeur.com. Less and less Reality-Slasher entries appeared as the years went by, but then in 2014, the wonderful Girl House brought panache back to the sub-sub-genre.
TheCampusHouse.Com is without a doubt the most obscure of all these titles and it’s an addition that I was keen to add to the site. I picked up a copy years ago on DVD at a horror festival, but I’ve never seen it on Amazon/eBay or anywhere else for general purchase. The only information that I could find in relation to its production were three generous user reviews on the IMDB, where it boasts a healthy 6.7 rating. There’s literally nothing else that can be discovered from an online search and as far as I’m aware, it never secured a distribution deal. This makes it (yet) another a SLASH above exclusive. I’m good to you all, eh?
A group of students are invited to gain free lodging in a large campus house if they take part in a social project. An ambitious businessman is offering to pay for their courses if they allow themselves to be filmed around the clock for online viewers. Once inside the camera-laden abode, they bond quicker than had been expected, but the fun is shattered when one of their neighbours is butchered by a masked maniac. The group become nervous, but their fears are brushed aside by the Police, who believe the murder to be the work of a gang of escaped convicts that have now fled the area. As other people begin to disappear, it soon becomes apparent that the stories about the house’s haunted past may well be true.
I’d watched Redwoods Massacre the day before this and I have to admit that in comparison, Campus kicked off with an extreme amount of class. Seeing a dark-haired artist being stalked in moody flashing lights brought to mind the style that was apparent in Kolobos and there are certainly worse titles that this could be compared to. It has become a trend over the last decade to pay constant homage to the classics of the eighties. Whereas it’s relatively easy to duplicate scenes or mention titles in dialogue, Campus achieves the difficult task of actually capturing some of the charm that was present during that decade. Watching a gang of cheesy teens unpack their belongings to the strains of some pop-rock reminded me of Evil Laugh and the characters are more alluring than we usually find in modern efforts. There’s even a ‘psycho calling card’ for the first couple of murders. It is a creepy music box that echoed the doll from Curtains, the cassette player from Island of Blood and the rose from Rosemary’s Killer
Whilst this is most definitely a Reality Slasher, the onlooking cameras are brushed aside fairly sharply when the mystery begins to take-hold of the story. We are given a plot-branch from thirty-years earlier that adds an extra layer of difficulty to guessing who it could be that’s under the mask and I have to give credit to the screenwriters for the conclusion that they chose for the close of their saga. There are quite a few killings and the maniac looks extremely creepy in a white mask and cape. Perhaps what the film lacked most was some neatsuspense and any real brutality when he struck, but we are at least treated to a couple of lively photography gimmicks.
Now I consider Halloween to be the perfect slasher movie and its synopsis was structured through just the one night to compact the horror with developing the background story. Campus House is set over a number of days and despite the director’s constant attempts to maintain momentum (characters argue, a romance blossoms etc), the film borders on becoming too slow moving and therefore dull. The ambitious sub-plots spaced over a lengthy runtime were reminiscent of another unreleased film, The Inherited; and both entries could be accused of throwing too many ideas at a template that succeeds when it’s played straight. It is strange to criticise a slasher for trying too hard, but there’s a lot of talky-stuff here when really all we wanted was to get to the crimson splashing. I was generally disappointed that Campus couldn’t continue at the pace that it began with, because it had set high expectations with its handling of the early scenes.
What we are left with is a slasher movie that’s better than the majority of DTV efforts that get released en masse year upon year, but it has a few issues that prevent it from hitting the heights that were to be expected. A killer in a superb mask, a nice score, some creative directorial flourishes and an intelligent twist are let down by an uneven momentum and a failure to build upon that initial energy. Still, as I said above, it’s better than many that are produced on the same budget and it’s a real mystery as to why it didn’t get the shot it deserved.
President’s Day 2010
Directed by: Chris LaMartina
Starring: Bennie Mack McCoy IV, Lizzy Denning, Nicolette le Faye
Review by Luis Joaquín González
With Graduation Day, Memorial Day, Birthday, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter and Valentine‘s pretty much slashed beyond slashable recognition, you must take your hat off to this production team for giving us an authentic theme for their genre entry. We don’t have a ‘President’s Day’ in the UK, so I had to check online to see if it was actually a calendar event. When I discovered that it’s a federal holiday in the States, I was astounded that this was the first stalk and slasher that had based its synopsis around that date.
The film comes from Chris LaMartina, who had previously directed Ameri-Kill; an extremely rare DTV effort that includes a killer in an audacious mask from 1999. When I bought Death-O-Lantern from Warlock Video, I tried getting a copy of Ameri-Kill too, but they had sold out of discs, so I’ve spoken directly with Chris and he’s promised to send me a copy. This particular addition is highly regarded amongst fans of the category, and when I recently asked the members of the a SLASH above Facebook Page if they could recommend any films that I should review, President’s Day was the one that most a SLASH abovers wanted. So without further to do…
A school is going through an extremely competitive period because they are currently holding an election for the role of ‘head of the student body’. Class joker, Barry, decides to run for president in order to impress new girl, Joanne, who has recently moved to the area. The task becomes a lot more dangerous, when the hopeful candidates begin getting slaughtered by a lunatic dressed as Abe Lincoln. Barry and Joanne team-up to attempt to stop the maniac, but could they be putting themselves in the firing line…?
As a critic, I have been guilty many times in the past of forgiving weak parts of slasher movies due to the fact that they were produced on stringent financing. If anything, President’s Day acts as proof that I can no longer use that explanation for poor filmmaking decisions, because the rumoured budget for this picture was a measly $5,000. With this relatively modest pocket book, LaMartina has created a stand-out slasher flick that does things the right way. On top of that, it is crisply shot, looks fantastic and includes gore effects as good as those seen in entries that were put together on four or five times the cost.
I often criticise horror comedies here on the site and you only need to read my reviews of either Easter Bunny Bloodbath or Slaughter Studios to see my opinion on slapstick scenarios combined with murderous mayhem. It takes a special filmmaker to give us a feature that can successfully merge the two styles in a paletable Cherry Falls-type way and I have to give credit to LaMartina for what he has achieved here. There are a host of amusing tongue-in-cheek sequences in President’s Day that could have given the picture an awkward tone that it would struggle to recover from. Instead, he admirably gets the mix of humour and horror spot on and creates an environment that allows viewers to enjoy the character development sequences without them having an effect on the darker moments.
The entire cast and crew of P-Day accepted parts in the feature with minimal payment, but they still put in visible effort to deliver solid performances. In a unique move, the story gives us an African-American anti-hero that we grow to like more and more as the runtime progresses. Our two main players differentiate from the Laurie Strode stereotype because they aren’t overtly innocent or virginal. Barry is an intelligent guy that is guilty of choosing fun over his studies and Joanne is looking for a fresh start after an unfortunate incident at her previous school. These depths to the two lead personalities make them more appealing and we do genuinely share their adventure and want them to overcome what’s thrown at them.
We are treated to a complex mystery that you’ll either guess immediately or be shocked by when the killer is unmasked. Even if the motive is fairly nonsensical, it can be easily overlooked, because we had such a good time on our way to the conclusion. Dressing the killer as Abe Lincoln not only suits the theme, but he looks exceptionally creepy and there are a whole heap of creatively gory murders for us to feast our eye upon. They include audacious stuff such as death by hair straighteners, asphyxiation with a statue (?) and a voluptuous Latina is burned to death on a cooker! One early scene gives the film an ‘anything could happen’ tone, when a disabled girl in a wheelchair gets dismembered with an axe. It was reminiscent of the notorious sequence from Friday the 13th Part II, which at that far less politically-correct time was fairly controversial. It’s easy then to see that LaMartina has got the balls to go where others don’t and go there he does, continuously until the final credits roll. Despite the fact that the killings are fairly gratuitous, the atmosphere isn’t mean-spirited and maintains the subtle tongue-in-cheek tone even when the crimson is spread.
President’s Day is a solid entry that deserves a place amongst the slasher elite. There are many new-age stalk and slashers that get lost in their attempts to either try something different or pay endless tributes to the hits of the eighties. Chris LaMartina proves here that all you need to do is include enough of the recognised ingredients and have a bit of a ball with them. It really is that simple. It surprises me still to this day how many filmmakers fail to get it right.
Click: The Calendar Girl Killer 1989
Directed by: Joe Stewart, Ross Hagen
Starring: Ross Hagen, Gregory Scott Cummins, Troy Donahue
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I picked up a VHS copy of Click The Calendar Girl Killer for $1 on Amazon back in the early noughties and I’ve wanted to post a review of it for ages, because it is indeed something of a slasher obscurity. I’ve never managed to get past the thirty-minute mark in previous attempts at watching, but I was determined to make a go of it this time around after receiving an enquiry from one of you lovely peeps via my Facebook page.
As far as I could make out, it leisurely tells the tale of an up and coming fashion photographer that enjoys snapping hot chicas in bizarre situations. Think Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Chicks that love Guns’ short from Jackie Brown and it should give you an idea of his artistic tendencies. Anyway, he invites a group of hopefuls away to a spot in the wilderness to complete an important shoot, but it seems there’s a psychopathic drag-queen-masked-killer on the loose that is determined to ruin the party.
This time last year, pretty much everyone I knew was getting soaked from the #icebucketchallenge phenomenon, which was a great idea to raise some funds for good causes. I’m thinking of launching my own charitable event soon, with the task being, ‘Try watching Click: The Calendar Girl Killer for a whole hour without: yawning, checking your phone, fast-forwarding or poking your eyes out with cocktail sticks.’ I tell you, it’s nigh on impossible. The film rolls through its first sixty-minutes like a collection of personal videos from a weirdo’s iPhone gallery. Characters appear and then disappear at the drop of a hat and scenes merge together in a row without a lick of sense between them. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a runtime that’s so incomprehensibly disjointed and it makes for a tiresome viewing experience. The girl that I was watching it with was so disgruntled that she begged me to turn it off and put on something else. For the love of my a SLASH above readers, I continued (alone), and I’m not sure if even I’ve recovered yet.
If there was an award for the length of time it takes for a killer to turn up in a slasher movie, Click would be in the running to win hands-down. After an hour of mindless tedium, the pace does perk up slightly when the maniac (dressed in drag) begins slicing his way through the models and their beaus. There’s one ok-ish death scene in a bath tub, but it barely makes up for the boredom that we’ve suffered whilst getting there. Many sites have this flick listed as a thriller but it’s definitely a slasher movie. It includes everything from a (very bad) whodunit aspect to heavy breath POVs and a smidgen of nudity.
Like many of its eighties genre buddies, Click suffered one hell of a bemusing development, which certainly aided in the creation of the barely logical structure that we’re left with today. I have found out that the project was pitched around to agencies as a Union backed feature and a cast was hired under the impression that their contracts were secured by a regulatory body. When the SAG became aware seventeen-days into the shoot that there actually wasn’t any Union supporting the production, they pulled most of their members from the site, which left a host of scenes unfinished. This of course explains the disappearance of so many characters without rhyme or reason. Now I’m only speculating, but after the loss of those experienced faces, it could be that Hagen threatened to walk too unless he could take more of a lead on the development. The credits list him as producer, co-screenwriter (there’s ‘six’ of them) and co-director and the film does play like something of a vanity product for the veteran actor. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because he delivers an interesting performance, but it does feel like it’s entirely focussed on him and him only.
There are rumours rumbling around the internet that former Friday the 13th babe Juliette Cummings gave up on horror movies after such an unsettling experience with this production. I’ve also read an interview within which she states that she doesn’t know anything about Click: The Calendar Girl Killer and her scenes were taken from a clip show for the promotional reel of a mid-eighties feature that she thought nothing became of. It’s her belief that someone purchased those parts that she’d completed previously and then spliced them into the current version of this feature. She went on to say, “Amazing! You can shoot something and never know what it’s going to be used for!” Her statement creates more questions than it does answers, because she is clearly seen in scenes with Hagen, another Friday the 13th babe: Susan Jennifer Sullivan, and co-star Gregory Scott Cummins (from Hack-O-Lantern fame). This can only mean either that: a) She was extremely bitter to the crew behind Click (She was left uncredited), so when she said she had no idea about its existence, that wasn’t the truth. Or b) It’s a film that was shot in about 1985 then left in a vault until some new footage was spliced in towards the end of the decade and it was patched up and released as is. I mean that certainly explains the mess that we’re left with, but I’ve searched and searched on the Internet and that’s all the information that I could uncover. I was having an email conversation with someone who was involved with the film, but they didn’t respond when I asked about the date that it was shot. So the mystery remains open to interpretation
What we’re left with is a jumbled picture that there’s really no reason for anyone to sit through. The potential was certainly there for an eighties cheese-fest, what with all those models and mullets, but aside from a couple of energetic performances, it’s mostly a boring knot of badness that’s impossible to enjoy. It’s probably the most mixed-up slasher that I’ve ever sat through and that really is saying something.
Stage Fright 2005
Directed by: Rick Jordan
Starring: Craig Saslow, Christopher Wolfe, Clive Kennedy
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I got an email recently from one of my readers asking me to review Stage Fright. I immediately replied with the link to my write-up of Michele Soavi’s 1987 slasher spectacular. He replied only, ‘No, I’ve read that, I meant the other Stage Fright.’ So with that, I forwarded my thoughts on Colin Eggerton’s nude-fest from 1980, hoping that finally, I’d fulfilled the request. His response was almost identical, ‘No, that’s not the one I meant.’ I wrote back asking if he was referring to the stalk and slash musical from last year or the newest entry that’s currently playing in cinemas as The Gallows? His answer was something along the lines of, ‘The OTHER Stage Fright damn it.‘ This could have gone on forever, but I suddenly felt the urge to take a siesta. Of course, he was absolutely right.
There are five (or more?) Stage Frights that I know of and all of them were released at different stages of the cycle. In a way, you could use each as a marker to define the milestones of the genre’s lifespan. The first came out hot on the heels of Halloween, whilst Soavi’s hit was a rare slice of panache during the comedown of that boom. Rick Jordan’s is by far the most obscure of them all and was produced slap bang between the euphoria of Scream‘s rebirth and the period of creativity that we are currently witnessing. The fact that it’s so tough to track down a copy somewhat heightens its allure.
A crew that are desperately working on an amateur production of Hamlet, come into some luck when they secure a large theatre in order to rehearse and prepare for their show. Despite its location and classic feel, the complex was once the sight of a gruesome massacre and the reputation has lingered ever since. As soon as the group begin to practice, an unseen killer starts bumping off the cast members one by one. Who could be behind the murders?
So this one starts rather weirdly for a slasher in as much as it takes about twenty-minutes to introduce any indications that it’s even a horror film. We get to meet a group of characters who seem to argue and jest without adding any depth to their characterisations at all. There’s an English producer who is ruthless and stereotypically money hungry, a director that demands respect for past achievements that no one seems to acknowledge and an author who is infuriated at the way the others are making a mockery of Shakespeare’s work. Chuck in a couple of hot chicas and three guys that are much of a muchness and all the ingredients were there for a decent slasher romp.
A decent slasher romp is not really what we get, but after an impossibly long opening, the pace does pick up somewhat when the killings start. The group split up to begin looking for an open exit (the doors were locked by a mysterious force) and then they are picked off by the psycho in imaginative, if gore-free, ways. What I guess is slightly different about Stage Fright is that it kind of comes full-circle when the killer reveals himself and is defeated in a sword fight (?). Then another maniac turns up – a supernatural one (?) – and we start again almost from scratch! Our remaining two players are stalked by the supernatural guy (who doesn’t seem to have any mystical powers of note) until he is stopped by exactly the same method that we saw in a popular Australian slasher from five-years earlier. It almost as if they completed the movie and then bolted on some extra scenes when they realised that the running time was just over an hour. Either that or the screenwriter was overly ambitious and wanted to include a bit of everything? Who knows…
It could be said that coincidentally, this Stage Fright is a sum of parts of all of the others. The whole whodunit backstory was memorable of Eggerton’s early entry. Those supernatural ingredients could be considered similar to Stage Fright aka ‘The Gallows that’s currently playing in cinemas. There’s a lot of dialogue based around the fear of the opening day that reminded me of the musical Stage Fright, and sitting all the corpses in chairs on the stage was directly copy and pasted from Soavi’s classic. I guess I am just waffling. So to cut a over-long review short, Stage Fright is a bit of a bare bones slasher and lacks gloss, grace, style and grit. It started really badly, but picked up briefly enough during the mid-section to keep me entertained. Probably not worth the effort of hunting down, but you won’t be too disappointed if you come across it cheap…
Cheerleader Camp: To The Death 2014
Directed by: Dustin Ferguson
Starring: Jarad Allen, Jennifer Banko, Karrie Bauman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So, a killer stalking cheerleaders that are training in some remote woodland in a film called Cheerleader Camp. Have we seen that before? I don’t know anymore… I’m going back to sleep.
Yes so here we have another extremely rare one from director Dustin Ferguson, the guy who also gave us Doll Killer, which I’ll review for you soon. In many ways, Ferguson reminds me of Gary Whitson, because his films are generally lowest of the low in terms of budget, but tick the boxes in terms of genre recognition and fun. Whitson has done a fair bit in his career, but nothing outshines the accomplishment of discovering the beautiful Tina Krause. Could Ferguson go on to achieve something similar?
A year ago, five cheerleaders were horribly mutilated and burned to death by an unknown someone replacing the water source to a sprinkler hose with sulphuric acid. Now, a group of girls return to the same site to prepare for the regional dance off for the first time since that fateful accident. Amongst them is Tanya, a youngster who was replaced on the last event due to her being ill. Living with the guilt that she escaped certain demise, she becomes a mother figure to the more sensitive members of the troupe and stands up to the lead bully. Almost as soon as they arrive though, their coach wanders off into the night and is seemingly slaughtered by a masked killer. Stranded with no contact with the outside world, the girls have to overcome their differences and do battle with the psychopathic assailant.
Cheerleader Camp kicks off with the aforementioned acid/sprinkler sequence, which despite not being delivered as well as it could have, still provides a gruesome shock. There’s perhaps nothing more frightening than the thought of having a molten liquid thrown in to your face and Ferguson tops it off with some tacky gore to boot. After an impressive credit sequence (the film has an awesome soundtrack), we meet the teenagers that will narrate us through the synopsis. It’s here that Camp somewhat loses some credibility, which is mainly because of two things. Firstly, the acting is extremely erratic and seems to descend into the depths of absurdity every time something happens that requires emotion. Secondly – and perhaps most importantly – the audio and clarity of the picture jumps from bad to abysmal at the drop of a hat.
There was a scene early on that saw Tanya explain her nervous behaviour on the trip. The dialogue was so difficult to hear and comprehend that I turned the volume on my TV up to 45. This was absolutely fine until the music kicked in and deafened everyone within a 200-yard radius. It’s strange because at times, Camp looks to have been comfortably produced, but then every now and then we are given lengthy set-ups that look to have been filmed on an old-skool Nokia. I guess in a way that my opinion of the film’s visual and audible quality could be re-used to describe the entire movie. We get a couple of genuinely out-there nightmare sequences and some creative camera placements that show panache from the director. These few moments of credibility though are often diluted by something unnecessarily inept that appears just moments after.
Overall, it’s fair to say that Camp achieves the feat of paying tribute to some of the genre’s lesser-known titles superbly. I’m sure that I’m not the only one that’s tired of the amount of new-age entries that are so desperate to prove that they’ve seen more than one eighties-slasher that they broadcast each tribute in neon lights. It reminds me of those short fifty-year olds that buy a Ferrari to compensate for their insecurities (party sausage??). Well in Cheerleader Camp, the homages are more under-played and the Jeep (similar to the one from the first Friday the 13th), a plunger murder (Bikini Island) and the killer’s guise (Girl’s Nite Out) are much more refined. In fact the only obvious acknowledgement was a verbal nod to Cropsy from The Burning. Oh and talking of the killer’s guise, here we have one of the best. A maniac in a Panda suit… Brilliant! I was somewhat surprised that there was no featured nudity, but Karrie Bauman, who played Sophia, certainly provided some eye-candy.
Recently, I was in my town centre in desperate need of some Wagamama action. My heart sunk when I noticed that my local chain was closed for refurbishment. Highly disgruntled, I headed off to buy a pack of Japanese noodles from Tesco, which was only a cheap compensation. Cheerleader Camp is very similar, because it’s an extreme budget example of the parts of these films that we adore. Sure, it’s certainly not going to win any awards, but it does offer some pretty fun scenarios. El cheapo fun for sure, but fun all the same…
The Initiation 1984
Directed by: Larry Stewart
Starring: Daphne Zuniga, Clu Gulager, Vera Miles
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Although it’s fantastic for avid collectors like myself that the slasher genre was so heavily populated during its two lengthy runs, it perhaps made it harder for some titles to achieve the recognition that they deserved. Whilst it’s generally acknowledged that Friday the 13th and the Halloween series were the most memorable genre outings from the overkill period of the eighties, many of their cousins from that time were deserving of further recognition.
The likes of My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, Prom Night, Maniac, The Prowler and Intruder are often mentioned as the ‘second-tier’ of the category and have achieved cult status and a legacy in their own right. Unfortunately that means movies such as Hell Night, Just Before Dawn and Madman have been somewhat unfairly overlooked.
If judged solely on its merits as a motion picture, then The Initiation doesn’t even sit amongst the latter titles that I mentioned above. It does however boast an undeniably alluring sheen, which is impossible to ignore. Sure, it’s cheesy as hell; but it nicely paced, slickly produced, atmospheric and has its share of decent moments. It’s not a view that is shared by everybody, but personally I like the movie and think it’s somewhat under-valued.
Kelly Fairchild is a pledge at her local college and as the new term draws near, she learns that she has to participate in the annual prank-filled Initiation in order to earn the respect of her senior sorority sisters. This year, the youngster and three of her friends have been tasked with stealing the uniform of the security guard that patrols the local mall after hours. Fortunately for the youngsters, the shopping centre is owned by Kelly’s father, Dwight, who is somewhat of a local entrepreneur. Unbeknownst to the group, they have picked a time when a recently escaped lunatic is also hiding in the dimly lighted complex and before long the girls are being stalked and systematically slaughtered by an unseen assassin.
There are two key reasons as to why Halloween is widely regarded as the best and the most respectable of all the early eighties genre entries. Firstly, John Carpenter is an extremely talented director and he developed a motion picture that displays a pure undertanding of horror as a genre and tone. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, his movie was made purely with the inspiration to do something different. This contrasts completely with what I believe to be the motivation behind titles like The Initiation, which was simply to cash in on the stalk and slash craze that had swept the early part of the decade. Things move swiftly in cinema and the fact that a quick profit was all that most producers were looking for from the genre meant that film-makers were never given enough time to indulge in their cinematic visions.
There’s no hiding the fact that money was the key factor behind the production of TV director Larry Stewart’s one and only flick. In fairness though, he looks to have been given the space and freedom to develop the project as he had initially intended, which means that we the audience benefit from an entry that never feels pressured.
Cinematically, The Initiation is a film of two halves and starts rather flatly with nothing to note from Stewart’s direction. It’s only when the victims are locked in the mall with the maniac killer that he gets the chance to flex his creative muscle and deliver some taut suspense and engaging set pieces. He has a ball with the spacious locations and pulls off some cat and mouse suspense during the second half of the runtime, which turns the feature into an explosive cocktail of slasher clichés and pacey scenarios.
The cast remain cheesy throughout, but do enough to allow the audience to warm to them. All eyes are on Daphne Zuniga in her first real film role (if you ignore her brief cameo as ‘the girl that gets gruesomely squished by a car’ in The Dorm that Dripped Blood), but she does precious little to separate herself from the rest of the junior hopefuls. It’s the impressive script that really steals the limelight here and very few can honestly admit that they expected the Scooby-Doo twist conclusion.
Yes, it could be argued that this is a remake (rip off?) of another successful early eighties slasher, which I can’t mention without ruining the crux of the plot. That’s hardly a bad thing however and The Initiation has just about enough in its locker to succeed on its own merit. Blood hounds may be disappointed with the lack of any extreme gore, but those looking for a fun slice of slasher hokum will certainly find enough to get their teeth into.
All in all, I liked the Initiation. It is a reminder of all that was good about early-eighties splatter flicks and unlike many of its genre cousins, it also packs a double fisted punch to your ocular senses. The acting is hilariously campy, but the good points, such as the impressively strong pacing, just about outweigh the bad.
Final Girl √√√
aka La Casa Del Terror
Directed by: John Wintergate
Starring: John Wintergate, Kalassu Kay, Lindsay Freeman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Move over Nail Gun Massacre, make way Last Slumber Party and step aside Night Ripper… There’s a new kid in town… Boarding House is the new contender for king of the trash-video crown. This is a movie so criminally rubbish that you’ll believe that you’ve died and been deported to bad movie hell. I Learnt of its existence from The Terror Trap and then looked it up on the IMDB, where I read various write-ups that described the inadvertent humour and jaw dropping cheesy horror. I immediately set about buying a copy and two weeks later, here’s what I found…
It begins with a prologue showing us murders that have plagued ‘The Hoffman House’. A guy is pushed into a swimming pool, which bizarrely kills him. Another stranger is seen pulling out his intestines and an unseen someone with a black glove forces a woman (that really doesn’t seem too concerned) to hang herself. These are all intercut with a computer screen that shows us in text that every person that has ever so much as entered this abode has ended up either hung, drawn, quartered or has suffered some other gruesome fate. So can you guess who will be the next occupants to move in to the mansion and meet their doom? Why of course you can – it’s a randy telekinetic guy and a troupe of beaming ‘hotties’ with a tonne of mascara but not a trace of common sense between them.This was the first horror movie to be shot on video, which is a big up yours to Christopher Lewis who made the belated claim that Blood Cult, his semi-slasher effort from three years after, was the first entry of that kind. Funnily enough, this one actually had a theatre run, but I have no idea about its box office successes. I can only guess that it was hardly a massive hit.
Surprisingly, to all intents and purposes, Boarding House is not your typical hack and slasher. Director John Wintergate has chucked in a neat dose of outer-body mayhem, which means that the killer can eliminate the useless thespians without being anywhere near them at the time. This gives us the chance to see the drama school dropouts attempting to look as if they’ve suddenly been possessed by a mysterious hellish agony, without knowing where the hell it’s come from. Cue plenty of unconvincing facial expressions and stilted cries as the cast choke and pull off their faces whilst trying to act like they’re completely unaware why they’re doing it. In one particular scene, our heroine screams consistently for about two minutes while she suffers (yet) another of her ‘terrifying’ nightmares, which I think reached double figures before the final credits rolled. I am not sure what was more effected, my eardrums or her throat after that yelling marathon.
The ‘star’ of the movie, Hank Adly (a guy who looks like Rod Stewart might after 12 grams of coke), provided bucket loads of inadvertent humour. I loved the bit where he made a bar of soap fly around his bathtub to show off his telekinetic abilities and impress the on looking bunnies. There’s certainly plenty of nonsensical activity to bring a smile to the lips to those who cherish those classic bad movie moments. The final scene is particularly hilarious, as the killer and two survivors stand off for a telekinetic battle. Staged like a showdown from a Sergio Leone movie, the three gather in a circle and simultaneously gurn as they each try to inflict psychic pain on one another. It’s hard to give you a description that would do justice to the extent of the silliness, but trust me – it’s worth its weight in comedy gold. All of the female cast members manage to whip off their underwear at one point or another and there’s just enough exploitation to satisfy eighties trash fans.
Interestingly enough, Boarding House was something of a first, because it included a warning for viewers of a weaker disposition that would let us know when something horrific was about to happen. Suddenly, the screen comes alive in a maze of colours and that’s when we the audience know that someone is going to get dismembered. I must admit that this was a novel idea if we were about to sit down and watch a Lucio Fulci marathon. I’m not exaggerating my claim however when I state that my four-year-old daughter can create more realistic body parts with her Play Doh kit. This is especially evident in the ‘intestine ripping’ scene, which is clearly an actor pulling corn-syrup coated sausages from the gap in his shirt. Maybe they could have featured a warning before every bad movie moment? In fact they could have just placed an ‘amateur morons at work’ notice before the first credit sequence? Imagine the savings on budget!
Boarding House IS as mind numbingly atrocious as you had probably expected it to be. Even the back cover blurb has NO relevance whatsoever to the movie and I can’t forget to mention the wonderful tagline that promises intrigue, suspicion and a sinister environment (yeah right!). Oh and before I go, I’ll leave you with a quote from the female lead singer of ’33 and a third’ – The heavy metal band that ‘entertain’ the party at the film’s climax. “You say you want a rock romance, you’ve been begging just to get in my pants!” And with that I shall leave you to explore for yourselves…
Final Girl √
Directed by: Tom McGatlin
Starring: Tim Beamish, Johnny Derango, Casey Ellison
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Making an authentic take-on the slasher template is an extremely tough task, because the genre is densely populated and the guidelines don’t flex too much without stepping outside of the accepted trappings. The little-seen Headhunter pulls off the spectacular feat of giving us a synopsis that rises above expectations. Sure, it’s a slasher movie alright, but it’s one with something of a smart twist.
Released in 2002, Hunter has been largely ignored by most genre books and websites, which may well be because of its limited release. It was shot on a handheld camera in and around a fairly standard location, but it is concrete proof that a dose of creativity can outshine a meagre budget. I picked it up in a bargain bucket quite a while back and thought that I’d go back to re-evaluate it for you lovely people that follow a SLASH above.
A night-watchman in a warehouse settles in for his usual shift when suddenly he gets a call from a deranged stranger that claims to be ‘The Headhunter’ – a psychopathic killer that has recently escaped from a high security asylum. Soon after, he discovers the corpse of his chum and realises he has to fight to survive…
This film launches with a flowing tracking shot that lasts for at least five-minutes. It incorporates quite a lot of well-rehearsed movement and displays immediate ambition from director Tom McGatlin. There were many opportunities for a brief cut, but he braves out the timespan to deliver an intro that confirms that he’s out to impress. The biggest criticism of the Star Wars prequels, aside from the fact that they were awful, was that George Lucas filmed every dialogue scene like something from a wide-panned news desk. If he ever decides to return to the hot seat, there’s a conversation part here which is shot in a basic office space that he really should watch and learn from. McGatlin bolsters every set-up with an abundance of energy; and the riveting camera movement and visible enthusiasm is a pleasure to witness. He continued the dynamic approach throughout the runtime and kept things interesting even when nothing important was going on with the story.
The majority of the feature is made-up of only two characters sharing sequences at the one time and there was always a danger – in such an enclosed space – that the pace could dry-up and stagnate. Whilst there are a couple of sequences that should have been shorter, the film manages to valiantly sustain intrigue and keep us guessing. Victims are smartly introduced and quickly dealt with, which allows the focus to remain on developing tension. Hunter is by no means a gore film and all of the killings are off-screen, but what McGatlin manages to adequately provide are some sharp shades of suspense. Above all else, this is a cat-and-mouse chase feature and what is achieved on such minimalistic funding and basic ingredients is eminently impressive.
Another thing of note is the realism of the dialogue, which is written not to imitate how movie stars speak, but instead how normal people do. In an early discussion, two guys converse about their dead-end jobs and wanting to study in order to find something better. Of course this is not quite Tarantino pop-trivia scripting, but at least it’s recognisable as genuine. I also liked it when T.J. was hiding from the masked-killer and said something along the lines of, “God if get you get me out of this situation, I promise that I’ll… “ – Again something many of us might see ourselves doing.
Headhunter is cheap and it definitely shows. The lighting is bad, the acting is sketchy and it takes place in a bog standard backdrop. It overcomes its budgetary deficiencies with a whole heap of raw talent, which I feel deserves praise. Knowing a bit about the production of independent features opened my eyes to the qualities that this one boasts, but I advise caution, because it’s not for everyone. Fans of body count flicks and splatter should steer well clear. If however, you like them unique and are willing to overlook some basic moments, by all means give this a spin…
Killer Guise: √√
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: √√√√