Mask of Murder 1985
Directed by: Arne Mattsson
Starring: Rod Taylor, Valerie Perrine, Christopher Lee
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Following hot on the heels of my reviews of Out of the Dark and Dead End, Mask of Murder is another of those mystery thrillers that borrows plot points from the slasher movies and giallos that had been popular around the time. It was a joint Swedish/Canadian production that was shot in Uppsala län, and it was that unusual blend of cultural heritage that initially caught my attention.
Christopher Lee’s credits over the last twenty years have included three mega-blockbusters, which isn’t bad going for an actor that made his first movie appearance way back in the midst of World War 2. He was initially John Carpenter’s choice to play the Sam Loomis character in Halloween, but he didn’t accept; something he admits he’s always regretted. He even went as far as to call it the biggest blunder of his career.
Obviously annoyed that he’d missed out on some supreme slasher action, perhaps the reason he took a supporting role here was because he didn’t want to make the same mistake twice? Or maybe he was blackmailed into doing it? I really don’t know, but one thing is certain however, he was definitely slumming it.
It’s all set in a small snowy Canadian town. Almost immediately, a loony in a mask grabs an unsuspecting woman and slices her throat with a straight razor. Later that day in another location, a second victim suffers the same fate at the hands of the gruesome killer. He removes his disguise and heads back to a remote cabin where he proves his dementia by gnashing his teeth and staring into the screen. Ooooh scary…
We next get to meet the members of our cast over an evening’s gathering. First off there’s John (Christopher Lee) the chief of the local Police Force. His best detective, Bob (Rod Taylor) has been having problems with his wife Marianne (Valerie Perrine). These difficulties must have a lot to do with the fact that his partner Ray (Sam Cook) is busy banging her every time that he gets the chance. The dinner party is cut short when Bob receives a call informing him that they have the assassin surrounded. They rush to the scene and to cut an overlong story short; the city of Nelson should be a little quieter from now on. But the tranquillity doesn’t last. It begins to look like there’s a copycat murderer at work when more women turn up with their throats slit. Is someone mimicking the murders? Or is the killer back from beyond the grave?
Why Christopher Lee turned down Halloween but chose to play a part in this turkey is one of the world’s biggest mysteries. It’s up there with the Bermuda Triangle, Roswell and Big Foot. I mean seriously come on; surely the screenwriter must have known that the killer’s identity was patently obvious from the start. This is perhaps the dumbest and most basic premise for a murder mystery that I have ever seen. The Scooby Doo cartoon offers less obvious plot twists. Swedish filmmaker Arne Mattsson directs so sloppily that he manages to drag surprisingly wooden performances from an inviting ensemble of screen veterans. Lee’s the best of the bunch, but he’s not on screen long enough to warrant his fans to hunt this down. The pace moves like a traffic jam, and perhaps the most obnoxious thing about Mask of Murder is the horrible music that accompanies every ‘twist’ in the story. It sounds like one of those guitar-sporting beggars that you sometimes see on the street had been recorded whilst heavily inebriated.
Surprisingly though, there are some things that I liked about the film’s set up. For example, the killer has a pillow case over his head and if you squint your eyes it almost looks like the kind of burlap sack that Jason wore in Friday the 13th Part II. Also, the throat slashings are fairly bloody and in one scene a girl is murdered in a cinema – a trick that has become a slasher trademark after He Knows You’re Alone, Cut and Scream 2. The only problem is that the gore scenes are so leisurely executed that the gratuitous blood gushes just look like a poor attempt to flog a dead horse. There was never really a moment where I felt like things might improve or that I was perhaps being a tad over-critical. My suspicions were confirmed once and for all when I witnessed Rod Taylor sniffing his adulterous wife’s underwear. (Don’t ask!)
Mask of Murder was once amongst the rarest fossils of the genre, despite being released in quite a few countries. Nowadays though, its available on a Dutch DVD, although I must admit that I haven’t seen what the quality is like or what version it is on that disc.The first copy that I ever found was the BBFC rated print, which is missing 124 seconds of footage, but then I came across a VHS in Spain that’s totally uncut. It doesn’t really make much of a difference though because the film is as exciting as root canal surgery and almost as painful…
Killer Guise: √√√
Dead End 1999
Directed by: Iren Koster
Starring: William Snow, Victoria Hill, Matthew Dyktynski
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Not to be confused with Jean Andrea’s Dead End from 2003, this Australian picture is barely acknowledged by fans, despite the fact that it received global distribution. I picked it up many years ago on VHS and it’s one of those that I’ve wanted to cover for a while, but my VCR Machine has seen better days and I haven’t had the time to pick up a new one. Recently though, I came across a shiny DVD whilst on vacation down-under and watched it on the flight back.
It tells the tale of a former detective turned author named Todd Russell that becomes involved in a spate of brutal murders. They are extremely similar to the last case that he worked on before retiring from the Force, called the Evergreen killings. The fact that he had so much knowledge of the original slayings makes him the key suspect and as the evidence and bodies begin to pile up, he is forced to get involved for a second time. Could it be that Todd Russell has lost his mind and moral compass?
I guess that the first question to answer with this feature is whether it qualifies as a stalk and slash flick or is it a thriller? Well whilst it doesn’t follow the traditional path of stranded teens against a malevolent force, it includes many Giallo trademarks, such as brutal slayings committed by a masked assailant, so for me it’s definitely on the right website here. Before watching it, I had sat through 1988’s Out of the Dark, which is generally considered a slasher and is almost interchangeable in terms of plot content and delivery. I would go as far as to say that this is even grislier in terms of its murders and therefore underlines the horror categorisation. Amongst those murders, whether intentional or not, we get a rehash of Al Filo Del Hacha’s car wash set-piece, only this time the killer strikes with a hook rather than axe. Later, we see the menace stalk a young girl in an elevator, which was similar in many ways to a scene from Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche. The assailant even looks the same in a dark fedora and mask and it made me wonder, was director Iren Koster a fan of Spanish slashers? That could well be the case.
Dead End’s biggest strengths can be found in its accomplished dramatics and ability to wrap viewers up in the enigma of its storyline. I did work out early on who was behind everything, but I was never 100% sure. There are numerous twists that pop up throughout the picture, which help to keep us engaged and the intelligent pacing works to sustain the tone of intrigue.
Perhaps the only thing missing was a bit more development into the choice of victims. One murder sees a girl literally walk on to the screen before she’s shot, so we really don’t know enough about any of them to care what happens. I would have hoped for at least one tense chase sequence, but there’s still a whole heap of suspense to be found in the complexity of the puzzle. The revelation part is handled well enough and I was amused by the survival techniques of one soon-to-be victim. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that if all else fails and you look like Victoria Hill, then remove your underwear ;)
A film so driven by its characters needed good performers in order to succeed. Snow and Hill rarely have a weak moment and they are given a few tough scenes to work with. The star of the show is Iren Koster though, because he directs with an energy that keeps us on the edge of our seats. Aside from the obvious, filmmaking is mainly about placement, blocking, length of shots and location. In all of these, he did a sterling job. He has another horror movie under his belt that I haven’t got around to seeing, but I’ll definitely be checking it out soon.
Without hesitation, I would give Dead End a thumbs up. Whilst it may not be slashertastic enough to rival Friday the 13th or its brothers, there is loads here to warrant a viewing. I haven’t seen it reviewed anywhere else, so therefore it is yet another a SLASH above exclusive :)
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√
Out of the Dark 1988
Directed by: Michael Schroeder
Starring: Karen Black, Lynn Danielson-Rosenthal, Divine
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Another of the late eighties slashers that disappeared soon after its release, Out of the Dark has recently seen a belated peak in popularity. I often get emails in regards to slashers like Cards of Death, Early Frost et al, which makes sense, because they’re rare as hell. Lately though I’ve had a few inquiries about this picture and a quick search on Amazon was all that was needed for me to understand why. There is a DVD available that you can purchase online, but it’s from a boutique distributor, which means that there are not many copies and each is costly. Luckily, my trusty VHS still has some views left in it and so I decided to revisit the movie for the first time In twenty-years.
A phone fantasy service is targeted by a loon in a clown mask, who calls and taunts the girls before murdering them brutally. The remaining models group together in order to stop the blood thirsty maniac, but it soon becomes apparent that he could be someone that they know.
Over the past decade or more, the slasher genre has been engulfed with titles that can best be identified as ‘erotic horror’. Movies like Porn Shoot Massacre, Blood and Sex Nightmare and Massacre at Rocky Ridge are produced as much for the inclusion of T&A as they are for their maniacal killers. Out of the Dark can be considered as something of a pre-cursor to those entries, because it invests heavily in giving its young cast of females the opportunity to whip off their undies whenever possible. They work in an apartment where they provide phone sex services to sleaze-bag clients. We spend time watching them converse and make fun of the callers, which provides some development on the closeness of their friendships. Outside of the girls and their manager, who resembles a beaten up Rozlin Focker, we meet Kevin Silver, a fashion photographer that is dating one of the call girls. We also learn that he is a big hit with the ladies, because a female detective comments that he must, ‘get more ass than a toilet seat’. Nice
We only get a break from all this momentous intrigue when the maniac strikes. Like many of his genre colleagues from the late eighties, he has a repertoire of wisecracks that he unleashes after each slaying. Aside from Freddy Krueger, who was played with the right charisma by Robert Englund, and perhaps the inadvertently hilarious dude from Nail Gun Massacre, killers with a catchphrase rarely work. Bobo the Clown (the bogeyman here) has a fantastic mask and would have been even creepier if they’d have dropped the chatter and given us more stalking or chase sequences. The one time that we do get to see him lurk in the shadows and pounce is by far the best set piece of the movie. He puts a shovel through the head of an unsuspecting neighbour before throttling his intended target with a hosepipe.
Despite the masked killer and slaughter of bunnies, Out of the Dark is far more murder-mystery thriller than it is out and out slasher. We spend most of the last half snooping around for clues and investigating who could be the assailant. I worked that out pretty early on, but when the revelation scene comes around, they still make a real go of it. Michael Schroeder, who had thus far filmed everything with the oomph of a budget soap opera, pulls of a fabulous Carpenter-esque shot of the looming killer in the background. The majority of his efforts to build a tense environment had failed by that point (he used the old ‘waiting for the lift’ suspense mechanism twice in a row without result), but I loved the inclusion of the Sergio Leone eyeball chestnut.
Producer David C Thomas had a crack at the slasher genre during the boom years, with The House where Death Lives and had thrown everything into making this a success. The film has a fantastic B-Movie ensemble and was slickly produced. In the end though, it failed to even recuperate half of its production budget, which was probably due to a poor marketing strategy. If they’d have gone all out as a slasher and dropped the eroticism angle, it may have been more of a hit. You only have to look at the success of Maniac Cop and Child’s Play to know that there were still crowds for horror movies 1988
Alas, Out of the Dark is not much of a rumpus, but there are countless entries that are worse
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√
Do You Wanna Know a Secret? 2001
Directed by: Thomas Bradford
Starring: Chad Allen, Jeff Conway, Jack McGee
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When I was a young dumb teenager, I remember that I fell madly in love with an older woman. I was too scared to ask her out, but we spent loads of time together and my heart used to beat like a UFC afterparty. One time we got drunk on cheap cider and in a final attempt to make her mine, I sung her the Billy J. Kramer hit, Do you wanna know a secret? Anyway, when the key line of, ‘I’m so in love with you‘ dropped I serenaded her emphatically. She smiled in a mocking way, finished the drink that I paid for and went home without batting an eyelid. I never saw her again.
I was hopeful that this overlooked genre entry, which was titled after that song, might solve some of the deep-rooted confidence issues that have haunted me since that fateful day. Perhaps my experience with those words might be a bit more enjoyable this time around and maybe, just maybe, I would be able to leave the past behind and start my life again… Weep
A year after Beth’s boyfriend is brutally hacked to death, she decides to take a weekend away with her new beau and four buddies. Almost as soon as they arrive, a masked killer turns up and begins slashing his way through them, leaving the words, Do you wanna know a secret, beside each corpse. Who could be the killer and what is the secret?
If I may, I’d like to remind you of the opening to the film, Reservoir Dogs. Instead of setting up the introduction of a protagonist in a typical fashion, we meet a whole group of characters that are sitting around a table drinking coffee. Even if no clear tone is being set by what we see, the dialogue is so intriguing and well written that we can’t take our eyes away from the screen. Now I know that it’s unfair to compare Do You Wanna Know a Secret to Quentin Tarrantino’s breakout motion picture, but I did so to underscore the importance of developmental dialogue.
Thomas Bradford’s slasher leaves us in the hands of a pack of one dimensional players for the first forty minutes and despite only finishing this last night, I can’t remember a single word or sentence that any of them said. I’ve overhead conversations on trains that are more engaging, which leaves us with a chunk of tedium that would fail to maintain the attention span of a cyborg. I often gripe about poor attempts at slapstick in horror movies, but I would probably rather that than what feels like a lifetime of nonsensical chatter between people that are absolute nobodies to us. They flirt, they dance, they argue and they pose, but they have the chemistry of strangers and the intrigue of a dishwasher.
I’d completely lost interest by the time that the killer started slashing, but to be fair, they gave him an exceptional mask, which reminded me of the Tor Johnson one from Small Town Massacre. The kill scenes are delivered in ways that eliminate the chances of suspense and there’s not much gore either. Most slasher flicks give us a unique weapon or a method of murder that makes them stand out. Secret doesn’t bother with that though and does everything in the driest way possible. We finally arrive at the build up to the conclusion and the stupidity continues as the killer murders a police chief for no apparent reason in the toilets of a jailhouse. Our Reese Witherspoon wannabe final girl witnesses this and looks on as the masked assailant drives off in a rusty pick up truck. If you were left in that same position, outside a Police station, would you a) turn around and tell an armed law enforcement officer what you’d seen or b) take off after the murderous maniac alone with no weapon? Take a guess as to what she does. This all leads to a revelation scene that has been ripped off from Embalmed and then we learn the ‘secret’, which has the impact of a dandelion.
So was there anything that impressed me? Well, the photography was energetic in places and Jack McGee and Jeff Conway did what was asked of them with the limited script. It was just that I was disappointed, because such a clearly well funded picture should have been capable of so much more. Ideas for movies don’t always work, but this one didn’t even do the basics properly. With minimal gore, unattractive females and yawn inducing plot delivery, I really couldn’t wait for the final credits to roll.
So did this assist me in my issues with rejection from so long ago? No. Instead, I went on Facebook and looked up that girl to see what she was like eighteen-years later. Six kids, twice divorced and a figure that would scare a sumo wrestler. I had a lucky escape… ;)
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √
Bloody Moon 1981
Directed by: Jesus Franco
Starring: Olivia Pascal, Christopher Moosbrugger, Nadja Gerganoff
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I always believed that the Máximo Espejo character in the brilliant romantic comedy, ¡Átame! (1989) was based on Jesús Franco. That film’s director, Pedro Almodovar, also used scenes from Bloody Moon in another of his Antonio Banderas led pictures, Matador from 1986. Does this mean that Almodovar is a fan of his fellow countryman’s work? It’s hard to say, but the amount of sleaze in Franco’s 180+ filmography makes it easy to overlook the fact that he could be a capable filmmaker when he put his mind to it.
After the success of Halloween, a German production team approached Franco to help them put together an entry strong enough to grab a share of the hottest cinema craze. Bloody Moon went on thereafter to become something of a grindhouse classic in cult circles. This was mainly due to its whacky dialogue, explicit gore and extreme nudity. After being released uncut pre-cert on VHS in the United Kingdom, it went on to join the DPP list and become a video nasty, which added to its notoriety. Much like I had done with Juan Simón’s Pieces, I wanted to go back and view it with an open mind to see what I made of it.
A group of German students head to a language school in Spain to brush up on their Español and catch a bit of sun. It becomes apparent that they are sharing the location with a disfigured murderer who has just been released from the local asylum. Girls soon begin disappearing, so could it be that Miguel has not been fully cured?
Checking out Bloody Moon after all these years, I found that I appreciated it much more than I did a decade ago when I wrote the review that you can find here. This time around, I watched it in Spanish and the dialogue is not as hilarious as the, “I love your tenderness” and “let yourself melt in my arms” slop that we got in English language prints, which helps to make it a bit less comical. Juan Soler utilises a bright palate of cinematography that brings the screen alive, but he does overuse the zoom effect too much. Screenwriter Erich Tomek pinches a lot from Halloween, including the isolation of the final girl in her knowledge that there’s a psychopath on campus. In that role, Olivia Pascal screams her way through each new scenario with a subtle vulnerability and we do genuinely want her to survive.
The mystery is clumsy in the amount of early information that it gives us, but there are still a few surprises to be had as it unravels. Franco includes a couple of tense sequences, like the claustrophobic finale, which sees Pascal’s character uncover the corpses of her chums spread around her apartment. Juan Molina’s gore effects haven’t aged well, because nowadays, we can see similar levels of goo in most DTV efforts. Still, there’s something quite unsettling about watching a young kid get mowed down by an automobile (no, really) and the famous buzzsaw murder of a promiscuous chick hasn’t lost any of it’s pitch black humour. After letting herself be tied to a table, the aforementioned bimbo quips that she’s up for anything with what she believes is a hunky Latin lover. It’s funny, because she’s expecting to get drilled (if you know what I mean) and instead, she ends up getting sawed and TOTALLY screwed!
I wrote in my notes that some elements of the extraordinary soundtrack were almost Pink Floyd-like and then I read that Franco had falsely been promised some authentic music from that band by his producers before signing on. No wonder that he later stated that he had countless problems with them and that may explain some of the outright weirdness that we come across in the story. I mean, if there were two opposing visions working on the project, then who knows what came from where.
Going back after all this time, I’m still not convinced that Bloody Moon is much more than a cheese-sleaze slice of trash. It’s enjoyable trash though, which I guess is most important. It’s a film that I feel often gets overlooked, because with the hottest collection of chicas that I can remember, some fun gore and more moments of WTF than you can shake a stick at, it deserves a lot more recognition than it currently boasts.
Bloody Moon is gleefully bad enough to be enjoyed and although it hasn’t aged as well as others, it’s still well worth re-checking.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√√√
Rose Of Death 2007
Directed by: L. Alan Brooks
Starring: Luke Jones, Sarah McGuire, Sandra Winogrocki
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Buenos días slasher fans, my apologies that I have been away for so long, but since the last time that we spoke, I’ve moved house twice and stumbled a bit upon the work/life balance tightrope. Funnily enough the site’s visit stats during my MIA status have shot through the roof, which means one of two things: 1) You guys and girls prefer when I’m not updating a SLASH above or 2) the legion of global stalk and slash admirers is growing. I’m hopeful that it’s the second.
So here we have one that I believe not many have heard of, Rose of Death. It’s a cheapo quickie from 2007 that was included in the Tomb of Terrors 50-film DVD pack that I picked up a few years back. Much like the slashers of yesteryear it tells the tale of a group of kids that go too far with their bullying on Prom Night. A sadistic event leaves two teenagers, Rose and Kevin, dead and the wrongdoers agree a pact, never to tell anyone about what happened that fateful night.
Ten years later, the murderers attend their high school reunion, but it soon becomes apparent that someone must have worked out their secret. A masked menace and his accomplice begin killing them off one by one by the most brutal means possible. Who could be behind the killings?
For many years, Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2 held the record for the longest pre-credits sequence in cinema history. Rose of Death runs it close here with the opening slaughter of the unfortunate prom attendees. There’s a story that I guess makes sense, regarding a jilted jock ex-boyfriend who sets out to teach his geeky love rival a lesson, but accidentally murders him in cold blood. In order to cover up the grim deed, he and his buddies decide to get rid of Rose, who is the only surviving witness. This sequence is effectively brutal in its content, but it is filmed so badly that I began to lose interest after four minutes of struggling to make out what was going on.
We are plagued by the usual mind numbingly bad acting, mumbled speech and braindead dialogue, but its the lack of ilumination that’s the real issue. I noticed that some times, even during key moments, it was impossible to see anything at all. We learn later that the two corpses were put into an automobile and pushed into a lake, but if the producer invested any money in this effect, it was wasted because all that was visible was blackness. This continues throughout the runtime on every occasion that the camera heads outside into the night sky and it doesn’t take long to become frustrating.
We fast forward ten years and the plot then stumbles through the development of the guilty parties after the events of the prologue. If I had the chance, I’d ask what skin cream that they use because they haven’t aged a day. Soon enough, a gruesome twosome of killers begin to slash their way through the troupe and we get one slightly ok gore effect. As a nod to Rosemary’s Killer, they leave a freshly picked calling card at the scene of each death. The girl’s name was Rose, so they leave a bright red one.
To be fair, the momentum tightens during the second half of the story, because we are asking ourselves who the vigilantes could possibly be. The budget piggy bank must’ve been empty by the time that we get to the big revelation scene though because the whole thing is left pretty much unexplained. Without giving too much away, I was scratching my head with perhaps the most important of all questions, which is: how? Please let me know if you have any idea.
ROD has some good ideas in both it’s script and filmmaking technique, but it’s plagued by the obvious lack of funding. I liked the referencing of The Prowler and they even find the time to put in the old head in a toilet trick, which we saw in both Curtains and The House on Sorority Row. The odd flash of genre recognition is not enough to make up for the moments of ineptitude though and the film is just awkward to watch.
L. Alan Brooks’ slasher couldn’t help but bring to my mind the title of the underrated Nicolas Refn film, Only God Forgives. I feel that in this case though, even the almighty may not be quite forgiving enough…
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Rosemary’s Killer 1981
aka The Prowler aka The Graduation
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Starring: Vicky Dawson, Farley Granger, Laurence Tierney
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here we have it, my favourite ever slasher movie. (I don’t include Halloween in that, because well – that’s everyone’s favourite). I found out about Rosemary’s Killer when I was at school and by the strangest possible means. My buddies and I used to have a sly cigarette in an old shed in the woods nearby to where I lived. We would always find ripped magazine pages covering the floor and as devious thirteen-year-olds, we would hope to uncover a few porno highlights amongst the mess. Anyway, one night I went there alone and as if by fate, lying in the corner was a horror fanzine in pretty good condition. I was already a huge fan of the genre and so I scurried home to study the pages in the comfort of my bedroom. There in loving colour, my eyes first met with the iconic image from one of the finest killings of the category, the swimming pool murder. You can see it to your immediate right and it is also the background of a SLASH above. I immediately began a hunt for a copy on VHS, which much like my search for Graduation Day, would continue for much longer than I’d hoped.
Now without eBay and Amazon, my method for tracking down slashers was restricted to car boot sales around the London area. I found lots of titles during my travels, including Night Screams, Nightmare (Dutch uncut copy!) Ghostkeeper, Stormbringer,One by One, The Demon, Fatal Games and Psycho Puppet. However the one that I REALLY wanted remained elusive. It started to become an obsession, but after months of trying, I finally came to the disappointing conclusion that I would probably never see the darn thing. Then through a twist of fate, I found a video-search agency that came to my aid with an almost pristine copy. The price of £30 was daylight robbery, but for me it was mission accomplished and I probably would have paid £50
Avalon Bay is getting set for the first annual dance since a young couple were viciously murdered 35 years earlier. The youngsters of the community are eagerly anticipating the event and spend the day preparing and decorating the town hall. The junior Deputy is alone for the first time as the Sheriff has gone on his annual fishing trip and stress levels are raised when it’s revealed that a wanted criminal that slashed two young females could be heading to the area. As darkness descends, it becomes apparent that there’s a maniac dressed in World War 2 army fatigues stalking the Bay. Can the Deputy muster the courage to stop him?
Rosemary’s Killer is not only one of the best examples of stalk and slash cinema from the golden era, but it’s also one of the most underrated. The movie ticks every box in terms of the relevant trappings and instead of just ticking them, in a few places it completely surpasses them. I like the World War 2 gimmick and I think that the killer’s disguise is an absolutely brilliant touch. His calling card of leaving a rose by his victims is creepily effective and there’s a great moment towards the climax where he offers it almost romantically to the final girl before attempting to ram a pitch folk through her. In 2007, a low budget entry by the name of Rose of Death attempted to mimic that calling card, but failed to add the slash with panache necessary to pay tribute to Joseph Zito’s classic.
It’s his pacey direction that sustains such an awesome amount of suspense during the first half, which works, because even when not much happens, we are kept fully aware that something could at any moment. Other parts of the film equally excel in their technicality with some beautiful photography and a focused score. I especially liked the staircase stalking sequence, which in true popcorn fashion, keeps everything tight by having the intended victim make all the wrong decisions.
Vicky Dawson makes for a classy final girl and she works well in partnership with Christopher Goutman. For relatively inexperienced performers, they carry the picture comfortably and they deliver only one or two weak moments. I thought Dawson was unfortunate not to have built a longer career in cinema, because much like Amy Steel in Friday the 13th 2, she offers a sweet and alluring naivety, but shows brave independence when left alone to face the prowler. Before the final credits rolled, my wife who was watching with me said, “tough girl” – my sentiments exactly. Farley Granger added class to the cast list, but it’s been confirmed that he had a horrible time on set and suffered some uncomfortable sweating during the make-up effects. Laurence Tierney’s on-board too, although I have no idea why, his character is barely used to much effect and was probably a waste of budget.
Tom Savini’s effects once again steal the show and there’s no denying that Killer is amongst the best of his work. We feel at times that what we are watching is almost too realistic and the swimming pool killing even includes an aftermath shot that’s uncomfortable in its authenticity. It happens as the victim’s lifeless body sinks to the tiles below and her legs begin to twitch as her nervous system comes to terms with the fact that the lights are going out for the last time. The best part of the sequence was actually a mistake from Savini, because at the same time as the gallons of blood seep from her wound, some bubbles also appear under the water (from the pipe pumping the goo). Instead of re-shooting, the effects master recommended that Zito utilise the footage as is, because the bubbles look as if they were the last gasps of the dying teenager’s breath.
It’s been noted that the plot structure is similar to the same year’s My Bloody Valentine and the two would work superbly on a double-bill. Strangely enough, what one title lacks the other boasts in abundance and if you were to mix the two together you would have the perfect slasher film. Whilst MBV also has some great kill scenes (equally as gratuitous) and a good-fun factor that adds momentum to the plot, it lacks any decent suspense. Rosemary’s Killer on the other hand is nail-bitingly tense in places, but has some serious problems with its pace.
Now I picked my favourite slasher film when I was about fourteen years old and much like my love for the Arsenal (the closest team to where I lived), I must admit that it was a ‘teenager’s decision’. Adults have the ability to analyse; step back and view the bigger picture before making a choice. Young minds do everything spontaneously and I didn’t notice the faults back then in Rosemary’s Killer that I see now. As I said, it starts superbly and comes across almost like an anxiety marathon. My Mrs and I were watching it together in silence, knowing full well that there would be a shock at any moment (And I have seen this flick a lot of times). Then after about thirty minutes the rapidity dries up and the film can’t maintain the same thrust.
It’s not necessarily the fault of Joseph Zito, but the script wastes too much time building the mystery in locations that are drab and overtly dark. Some parts could have been much shorter or removed completely during post production to make the film slicker. I especially thought that the length of time used when the Deputy was contacting the Sheriff was ridiculous and ultimately ended up being a pointless diversion.
Despite those issues, this is still one of the best entries of the golden period. It does drag a bit in the development of the plot, but the excellent kill scenes and two fantastic leads more than make up for it. Joseph Zito was widely tipped to be a future horror maestro after his work on this and Friday the 13th The Final Chapter (one of the better sequels of the series). When horror began to lose its way towards the second half of the decade, he moved over to action-orientated flicks, which didn’t give him the same chances and his career unfortunately faded.
I would say that Rosemary’s Killer, even under its superb two alias titles, is a perfect example of a solid horror director’s work. It’s also a time-capsule from the best year of the slasher genre thus far. I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember but still not once too many. Enjoy…
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√√√√
Buried Alive 1990
Directed by: Gerard Kikoine
Starring: Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, Karen Witter
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The tag-lines that were sprawled across this colourful cover would lead you to believe that it was more of a zombie adventure. ‘Some secrets are best left buried. But will they stay there?‘ and ‘The dead return!‘ make this sound as if it’s yet another attempt at a Dawn of the Dead rip-off. Bizarrely enough, these marketing ‘errors’ were seen a lot more than they should have been during the eighties, check: Embalmed, Ghost Keeper and Zombie Island Massacre for proof. I bought it anyway, as it was one of those titles that I had seen many times gathering dust on the top shelf of my local VHS emporium, and I often wondered what it was like. (Stalk and slash films aren’t my only vice, you know.) Anyway it turned out to be pure slasher cheese, right down to a masked killer preying on young female students in an all girl reform school.
I was also interested that this claimed to be adapted from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. By this, they mean the short story (one of his best) ‘Premature Burial’. There’s a TV movie that goes by the identical title and was released during the same year (although this was made twenty-four months earlier) that was also based on that novel.
It opens with some gloomy shots of an eerie looking building silhouetted by the foggy night sky. The sign outside reads ‘Ravens croft Reform School’ and Inside we see a group of teenage girls all deeply sleeping, except for one dark-haired youngster who looks as if she’s packing her things to make a daring escape. She puts her rucksack on her back and heads towards the exit. Just before she leaves, her friend calls her back and gives her a leaving present – a blue switch-blade – and then she says her goodbyes and heads out into the misty night sky.
She hotfoots it through the woods, until she spots a car driving along a road in the distance. She takes a break for just a second, and all of a sudden a masked assailant jumps out from within the bushes and violently knocks her on to the floor. He picks her up and drops her into a man made pothole and she falls into a corrugated steel tube that leads into a dank and spooky underground chamber. She awakes to see the grisly psycho standing menacingly above her. He injects her with a sedative, puts her in a straight jacket and then drags her by the feat to a cramped cell-like room. Once inside the assassin begins to brick and cement up the doorway, effectively leaving her ‘Buried Alive’…
Next we meet a young science teacher named Janet Pendleton (Karen Witter) who has just got a job teaching at the college. We also see the head doctor Gary Julian (Robert Vaughn), his twitchy assistant Dr. Schaeffer (Donald Pleasence) and a group of bitchy female co-eds who enjoy nothing more than pulling each others hair out. (Later quite literally) When another girl goes missing from the campus, Janet becomes suspicious and investigates the history of Ravenscroft, only to find a sincere and shocking secret. But who is it that is violently killing the young helpless girls?
With a cast including Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, John Carradine and porn star Ginger Allen, and a plot that pits a group of saucy female co-eds against a vicious psychopath, Buried Alive should have had enough in its manbag to offer a decent entry to the cycle. Gerard Kikoine attempts to seduce you with his claim that this is adapted from the twisted mind of that famous author, but to be honest, apart from the odd black cat popping up here and there, it’s standard stalk and trash. In fact, it is so weakly put together that even the generous amount of genre luminaries seemed to succumb to the ‘pitiful performance’ bug. I mean, what the hell was Donald Pleasence thinking here? I never thought that I could describe one of his characterisations as ‘obnoxious’ – a million miles away from his legendary Sam Loomis. It probably didn’t help to put him in a dodgy toupee and a give the Nottinghamshire-born Brit a role that required a German accent. Anyway, he is by no means the only one here to be slummmmmmmmmingggggg… (Ahem, Mr Vaughn…!)
The screenplay by Jake Chesi must have been written in the director’s native French, translated to Swahili and then put through the Google translate equivalent of those days to make it look this jumbled. In one scene Miss Pendleton has another of her strange nightmares, which begun plaguing her as soon as she arrived on campus and reached quadruple figures before the final credits rolled. She ends up lying on the floor, panting, sweating and hysterically screaming. Dr Julian witnesses this unsettling episode and instead of rushing to her aid, asks with the oomph of water-logged crisp packet, ‘Is something wrong?’ I was expecting a sarcastic response along the lines of, ‘No, this is generally how I relax myself to sleep’ – but the screenwriter didn’t gives us that pleasure, unfortunately. Also at one point the doctor asks the shaky heroine if she’ll marry him. No harm in that you may think; but the funny thing is, the two of them only met a couple of days earlier. I kept wondering if I had fallen asleep for a while. I’m all for being spontaneous, but Mr Vaughn dear sir, I would at least recommend a substantial prenup.
I enjoyed the creative ways that they dreamed up to kill off the cast though. They included a painful looking electrocution, a trough in the side of the head and a young girl that gets buried up to her waste in wet cement. When she screams for help, she gets her mouth ‘concreted’ to shut her up. The director at least shows promise with a couple of decent ideas, including some morbid shots of the rotten corridors of the creepy chamber, which are accompanied by the victim’s screams as they get dragged off to their demise. Each unlucky individual spots a black cat before they are dispatched, which as I earlier alluded to, is the only real noticeable element lifted from Poe. I remember also at least one very gory scene that will liven you up if you end up nodding off. A female teen is curling her hair on a food mixer (?) when she’s scared by an unseen menace (presumably the masked maniac), and ends up drilling into her head and pulling her hair completely off of her scalp…Ouch!
It’s also worth noting that the killer sports a Reagan mask to disguise his identity. This is interesting because Reagan’s rein was notorious for many things, and one of them was cutting the federal funding for mental institutions across the US, which meant many people still needing treatment were thrown out on to the street. I was thinking that maybe this was a slight dig at those policies, but then I wasn’t sure if I was right in crediting such an inane script with hidden intelligence.There’s really no point in including subliminal political statements in a screenplay, if you can’t develop characters, dialogue or even common sense; but hey ho.
This was the last film that John Carradine worked on before his untimely death in 1988, which sadly wasn’t the greatest to close the curtain on a five-decade career in the movies with. It’s not that it doesn’t try; it’s just that with a cast of sexy youngsters that were only too eager to reveal some skin, a decent enough budget and some senior faces with bundles of experience, the movie really shouldn’t have been this dull. Kikoine had worked with Jess Franco for years and although I am no great fan of his, we could have used some of his exploitation leering to liven things up. It’s occasionally interesting but mostly predictable and long winded.
Although it pains me to steer you away from the slasher genre and into the land of thriller features, I must admit that you’re better off taking a look at the other made for TV flick with the same moniker…it’s a much stronger effort and this one is sadly best left in the bargain bucket…
Final Girl √√
Blood Harvest 1987
aka The Marvelous Mervo aka Nightmare
Directed by: Bill Rebane
Starring: Tiny Tim, Itonia Salchek, Dean West
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Blood Harvest is yet further evidence how the slasher genre was a good cash cow for ambitious B-Movie producers during the eighties. So much so that even celebrated low budget titans like Bill Rebane were keen to get in on the action and have a stab at creating their ownHalloween.
Rebane himself is a bit if a movie enigma who preferred the comfort zone of budget sci-fi/Horror than a golden ticket to Hollywood. An educated film-maker whose creativity and flair for adventure saw him innovate cinema with his 360 degrees wrap-around motion picture process, he could have used his skill for technology and his cultural intelligence (He was Latvian born and fluent in five languages) to join a major studio. Instead he stuck to releasing his own self-financed productions that were each fairly successful in their own right.
In the mid-eighties he hosted a 50s nostalgia event at his Wisconsin based studio, The Shooting Ranch. There, a chance meeting with Tiny Tim, another oddball celebrity who had found fortune with his falsetto voice and quirky character – led to the production of this curious slasher.
There are three versions of the feature in circulation and each is slightly different. The American VHS release includes all the nudity and gore, whilst the UK tape is missing three-minutes of footage, which was considered too gruesome by the BBFC. There’s also a director’s cut on DVD, which is itself rather strange because it also removes most of the blood and bare skin. That must be the first time that a director’s version subtracts from the existing print and offers a more lenient alternative. It’s rumoured that this may have been either due to Rebane’s political ambitions at the time or the fact that the gore was not in his initial vision for the flick and rather it was added at the insistence of his production partners (most of his previous work was PG13 rated) to make the film more marketable to the splatter audiences.
Jill returns home to her city from University to find that her parents are missing and the local bank (which they own) has forced most of the farmers to sell their properties. They are not the most popular people in the neighborhood, so Jill is rightly concerned about their disappearance. Things go where you expect them to, when a killer with a stocking on his head turns up and begins stalking the youngster and murdering anyone who has contact with her.
I can only say that a slasher film starring Tiny Tim is as jaw droopingly bizarre as you would expect it to be. To be fair to him, his performance is one of the few highlights in an otherwise dull offering and he manages to deliver a troubled-childlike creepiness with depths to his character. Dressing him in a clown costume was a masterstroke from the scriptwriters and adds to the overall desperation of his deluded persona.
The rest of the cast are nowhere near as credible and he carries the torch in terms of capable dramatics. I have to mention Itonia Salchek, the final girl, who can’t act for toffee but seems to enjoy nothing more than getting her kit off at every available opportunity, which makes her a hit with T&A fans and most likely the highlight of a single guy’s night out in any bar that she frequents. Anyway, she is lost here carrying most of the plot development on her (usually naked) shoulders and comes across as unapproachable.
I mentioned about Bill Rebane being an enigma earlier, but he is nowhere near as mysterious as his lead actress. I couldn’t uncover any information about her anywhere. Now her surname looks Eastern European (I speak Russian and Polish and it’s not from those countries) but her first name Itonia is an epithet from Greek mythology for the Goddess Athena. Interesting stuff. Anyway, she vanished in to obscurity after this, but if you know something, then please give me a shout. Here’s a rare screenshot of her in clothing, which is something that we don’t see very often.
It seems like Rebane was aware of the slasher genre but hadn’t researched its trappings and unlike many entries of the same year, the movie steers clear of feeling like a total rip off. There are no POV shots, the final girl doesn’t come across as shy and withdrawn and the killer seems more like what you would expect to find in a Giallo than a slasher flick. This is most evident in the heavy sexual undertones and his motive, which is at least well-handled and believable.
The film would suffer in later years, disappearing due to legal tangles, not just once, but for a second time after its outing on DVD. This gives it a somewhat alluring sheen, especially as it’s impossible to find now in its uncut form. The only version worth watching is the unrated cut, because despite of some uninspired and pedestrian direction from Rebane (I expected better) there are snippets of a really foreboding atmosphere. The killer is exceptionally merciless and brutal and the actor does well playing off-his-rocker insanity at the climax. There’s the mystery of guessing his identity, but there are not many choices and you’ll work it out pretty quick if you watch closely enough. Some more killings would have been nice (only two on screen) but the gooey throat-slashing is really well done (by soon to be big shot Dieter Sturm no less)
There’s a nice synth score that I liked and the killer looks creepy with a stocking over his head, but there’s too much missing in terms of continuity to make this a hidden-gem. Some of the plot points were bordering on stupidity and what the hell was with the incredibly inept sheriff? There are long periods of dull rubbish acting where your attention will turn away from the screen and it definitely hasn’t aged well.
Worthy only because it’s rare and a great performance from Tiny Tim, but otherwise not really recommended as a competitor.
Final Girl √√√
American Nightmare 1981
Directed by: Don McBrearty
Starring: Michael Ironside, Lawrence Day, Lora Stanley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is the earlier of two slasher movies in circulation that have the title American Nightmare. The more recent one was unleashed amongst the mass of Scream imitators and disappeared fairly quickly, whilst this entry from the golden years looks to have suffered a similar fate. With a score from Paul Zaza and a cast that included (then) up and coming talents like Michael Ironside, Lora Stanley and Lenore Zann it came as a surprise to me that it didn’t grab any of the buzz that served its compatriots like Curtains, My Bloody Valentine and Terror Train so well.
The son of a wealthy local businessman returns to his hometown after receiving a letter from his younger sister that begs for help. Upon arrival, he learns that his sibling has disappeared (brutally murdered in the pre-credits) and asks a stripper to help to locate her. Unbeknownst to them, her murder was the first at the hands of a vicious psychopath that is butchering local hookers.
I have been collecting slasher movies for longer than I care to remember and as the list on a Slash above shows clearly, I’ve worked hard to uncover a share of the hidden ‘gems’. I didn’t know that this even existed until fairly recently and I was quite surprised that I’d never come across it before. American Nightmare is a misleading title in more ways than one, because the film was actually a Canadian production that was shot in Toronto and it plays like a European Giallo. It has very little in common with Slashers from the US and this is most obvious in the disguise for the killer and characterisation of the key players. We do have a final girl, but she’s no Laurie Strode. In fact, she’s a stripper, which is an unusual touch for a film of this style.
Another way that it feels more closely aligned to its European counterparts is in its excessive use of sexual psychology as a backbone for the story. The victims are all degenerates of the kinky variety and the motive is one that you’re more likely to find from the films of Southern Europe. McBrearty tries hard to develop a sustainably sleazy tone, but he goes about it the wrong way and the runtime instead becomes needlessly repetitive and in all truth, slightly tedious.
The majority of the female victims are killed whilst in a state of undress and in between there are a lot of scenes that take place at a seedy strip bar. Whilst it makes sense to use this location in order to develop the atmosphere, the director includes long sequences from nude dancers as a form of padding. Now padding, much like ice in a vodka and coke, is something that looks like, feels like and smells like what it is – unnecessary. It doesn’t help that these parts are flatly directed and dull, and whilst I appreciate that bare skin is part of the exploitation package, the choreography was mind-numbing and the girls were not the hottest. At first, I wanted to acknowledge the realism, because let’s face it; bottom-dollar prostitutes are not going to be as beautiful as roses. Needless to say, if you are going to pack your feature with overlong set pieces of chicks whipping off their kit, it may be an idea to at least make them worth watching.
It was also a struggle to relate to the story as neither of the key players shine in any way at all. Staley is fine as the heroine, but she is given very little that makes us want to bond with her, whilst Lawrence Day is colourless and weak in the lead. The majority of the picture is shot with the creativity of a soap opera and lacks any va-va-voom, so the pace remains stagnant for extended periods. This changes drastically when the shadowed psycho gets to work and the killings are surprisingly well executed and mix an unnerving level of brutality with a superb, but sadly underused score from Paul Zaza. One of the later murders is almost unwatchable due to the visible suffering of the victim and at times it almost feels like these parts are too good to be have been shot by the same guy that has bored us rigid during the development of the characters and the mystery.
I didn’t manage to work out the identity of the maniac, but this is one of those films where I did think it may well be her, but then I kept changing my mind as the plot unravelled. I am not sure if this can really be credited as great screenwriting though, as it was hardly a shock once the big unmasking scene came around. I remained eager to see who the sadistic slayer was though and I guess that’s what matters most.
What American Nightmare does brilliantly is give depth and a face to a horror film cliché. Think about titles like Maniac, The Burning, Close your eyes and prey and, well, I could go on but the list is endless. Prostitutes in these films are always introduced as lowlifes that can be killed without anyone batting an eyelid, whereas here we are given more of a look into their lifestyles. Some, (but not all surprisingly), want to leave the game behind and they work the streets out of desperation, which makes a refreshing change from the norm. Our hero even gets a scene where he realises his error in pre-judgement and I liked this concept very much.
To be honest though I’m not quite sure what to rate this one. It has some really unique, sharp and brilliant moments, but struggles with the basics a bit too often to be a classic. I think it could be so much better if it were twenty minutes shorter, but at just shy of an hour and a half, it’s hardly Dances with Wolves. It’s a shame, because there’s stuff here that is worthy of Argento, but it’s the little bits, you know, those that aren’t so much fun to film, where we lose that momentum and focus. I’m reminded of my review of Grim Weekend, where I mentioned that the trailer had me fooled into believing that I was in for a good time. It feels here like McBrearty was only interested in the parts that were setup to convey horror and although he does well to build suspense and trepidation at the hardest of times, he strolls through the rest of the movie in first gear like it doesn’t matter.
If you haven’t seen American Nightmare then you should track it down. I just get disappointed when something comes within smelling distance of greatness, but throws it all away in the midriff. With better lighting and pacing, it could have given Curtains a run for its money, as it stands, it sits alongside Evil Judgement as an obscure Canadian picture that hits the right switches, but only on occasion