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 √
Final Scream 2001
aka Final Stab
Directed by: David DeCoteau
Starring: Jamie Gannon, Erinn Hayes, Melissa Martin
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The fact that I grew up collecting low budget slasher flicks meant that I was fully aware of what to expect when I walked into Blockbuster video in the early noughties and saw the cover of Final Scream amongst the horror titles for rent. It looked too cheap to be a sequel to Wes Craven’s groundbreaking series, but I’m sure that because it had been targeted to trick unsuspecting viewers into believing it was a fourth chapter in the franchise caused confusion amongst less-experienced viewers. I wonder how many people picked up a copy expecting to find Ghostface, Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell amongst the runtime? Talk about taking the biscuit with creative marketing.
Anyway, the film was a return to the stalk and slash sub-genre for horror regular David DeCoteau after his work on Dreamaniac during the eighties. Whilst D’maniac was something of a loose inclusion that pushed the boundaries of standard stalk and slash, Final Scream has no such identity issues and knows exactly what it wants to be.
A group of youngsters head off to a secluded mansion in order to pull a prank on two of their colleagues. At the same time, one of them wants to trial a set-up for a murder-mystery weekend so that she can open her own business. Before long, they’re all in on the idea that it’s only a prank until a real masked killer turns up and begins slicing his way through the stranded troupe
In 2001, the slasher genre was still very much in Kevin Williamson ‘know the rules’ territory. Whilst this picture smartly decides to avoid the parody angle that so many of its brethren chose to follow, the fact that it still mentions Friday the 13th means that it shows a similar type of genre self-recognition. It opens with a scene that incorporates some stylish lighting and sharp flourishes to set a sleek tone. Decoteau’s trademark of replacing the typical amount of bra-less chicas with topless males is showcased almost immediately in an early shower scene. In fact, there’s only one female victim that I remember throughout the entire movie and the rest are muscle bound jocks.
After the obligatory fumble through the development of a group of cardboard characters, the killings start fairly rapidly. Although there isn’t really any gore or hint that there will be, the focus on the mystery and a few taut stalking scenarios deliver a smidgen of suspense. The killer looks creepy in a mask not too dissimilar to that of Blood Slaughter Massacre or Small Town Massacre and the fact that there is quite a huge body count means that we never feel bored by what’s going on. Melissa Martin does a good job as the self-centred hostess and if we have to compare the performances with those of DeCoteau’s prior work, he had definitely sharpened his pencil when it came to subtracting a believable level of dramatics from his cast. He also directs with polish and some neat camera angles, but the fact that almost every victim uses the age-old ‘hey I know it’s you out there, stop fooling around’ chestnut, shows obvious repetition and a lack of creativity from the screenwriter. It’s a shame that the peeps that dreamed up the scandalous title weren’t allowed to get involved with the dialogue in the script. I’m sure they’d have added a lot more controversy ;)
I must admit that the idea of a murder-mystery weekend did remind me of 1986’s April Fools Day, but DeCoteau doesn’t explore that plot angle too much and it ends up more of a typical slasher by the numbers synopsis. There is a revenge backstory that unearths itself as the picture flows, but for something so simple to execute it is bewildering how DeCoteau allows it to become so convoluted. It results in a couple of plot twists that make zero sense upon revelation and are easy enough to guess anyway. Still, there is some excitement as the victims are slaughtered by the loon and the revelation scene smothers itself in an equal share of ineptitude and cheesy fun.
Final Scream is a standard stalk and slasher that does deliver the odd thrill, but it’s more bland than it is bouncy. It steps close to being a one-star movie, but the fact that it is easy on the eye and fairly watchable for the most part, means that it just about scrapes the two stars I’ve given it below. It reminds me of the recent records of Enrique Iglesias; as in, gone are the new-wave chimes of originality, but you kind of get exactly what you were expecting. So I doubt you’ll shout, ‘Baby I like it’ and it won’t ‘Be your Hero’ but at least you won’t feel that you need to ‘Escape’ – (Boom Boom, I’m here all week)) ;)
Killer Guise: √√√√
Babysitter Massacre 2013
Directed by: Henrique Couto
Starring: Erin R. Ryan, Marylee Osborne, Joni Durian
Review by Luis Joaquín González
As fans of the slasher genre, if you got the opportunity to make your own movie, how would it look? Would you tick all the boxes in regards to the general trademarks that you know and love? Would you pack it with nudity and gore? I ask this because Henrique Couto’s Babysitter Massacre is exactly how I’d imagine a true genre lover might roll out a slasher flick. That’s not a critical evaluation by any means, but a brief outline of what you should expect from this overlooked entry.
A group of girls that grew up together have decided to spend Halloween at a slumber party to rekindle their friendships. They haven’t been as close since one of their number was kidnapped years earlier and has never been found. They used to run a group called ‘The Babysitter Club’ and charge a fee to look after younger children in the area. This all stopped after the disappearance of young April and they hold a girl called Bianca wholly responsible for the awful event. Little do they know that a masked killer has began stalking and murdering them one by one and he seems to have a specific focus on Angela, their bubbly host. Can they stop the psychopath before he kills them all?
What I thought really worked about Babysitter was that it went out of its way to highlight some of the category’s favourite moments without needing to revert to parody. I noticed nods to Slumber Party Massacre, Sorority House Massacre II, Halloween and others, but they were rolled out slightly under the radar, which made it more satisfying when I recognised them. The killer boasted a unique and surprisingly effective blank mask, which I felt really gave him an aura of macabre non-identity. He kidnaps the majority of his victims and kills them with more of a torture-porn approach, but most of these scenes are exceptionally brutal and fairly authentic. My favourite would have to be the opening shot, which sees a girl getting her fingernails pulled off by a pair of pliers… Ouch!
Scenes between cast-members are neatly staged and comfortably shot and Couto has written some expressive dialogue in places. Erin Ryan is solid as Angela, the final girl, and even if she is surrounded by a lot of lesser actresses, she keeps the dramatics believable. It’s strange because the sequences of characters in conversation seem to work much better than the moments when the killer strikes. There are quite a few murders, but we have absolutely no idea who most of the early victims are and none of them have any kind of build up or anticipation. What I did find interesting was the use of text messages as a tool to threaten rather than the usual deranged phone calls. Babysitter Massacre is definitely a modern advancement on the old When a Stranger Calls chestnut. There was one chase sequence in an office complex that was sharp and tense, but aside from that, the killer just turned up immediately in most of the other killings. It’s hard to tell how much of this was performed that way due to a lack of budget, but the film was crying out for more suspense. Especially because Couto had proved that he could deliver it when the opportunity arose.
The final third is again very torture-porn-esque and offers a set-up where two of a trio of kidnapped girls have to murder their friend with a claw hammer in order to have a chance to escape the concrete basement that they’ve been locked in. Whilst the idea is twisted and sadistic, it doesn’t make sense, because logic dictates that they should have at least waited and seen if they could use said hammer to retaliate against their abductor. This brought my rating of the feature down considerably as I felt that it was unrealistic and thrown together with minimal thought. Thankfully, the downbeat ending salvages the tone as the credits roll and I actually thought it was really quite a shock.
Babysitter Massacre is a fine example of exploitation that is packed to the rafters with nudity (seriously there’s loads), gore and a pretty good mystery. I just think that it had something of a stagnated flow, which in fairness may well have been because of the stringent funding. Director Henrique Couto is a cool guy and because of that, it’s hard to give his movies a bad rating. His personality shines through his work and he seemed to love splashing the screen with goo and getting most of his actresses naked as much as we enjoyed watching it. I am sure that no one knows more than he that there is room for improvement here, but in the meantime it’s a film that I definitely enjoyed.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Blood Slaughter Massacre 2013
Directed by: Manny Serrano
Starring: Matt W. Cody, Michael Roche, Carmela Hayslett
Review by Luis Joaquín González
A film called Blood Slaughter Massacre could only be, in any language, a slasher movie. I’ve written before about the amount of entries that have titles that start with Blood or end with the word Massacre and here we have a combination of the two with Slaughter (another common term amongst this genre’s features) chucked in the middle for the hell of it. I like the fact that there’s no messing around with this one, you get what it says on the box.
Anyway, the movie had an aura surrounding it throughout its production with some exciting photos of a killer donning a mask that brought to mind the Tor Johnson one used in Small Town Massacre. That has always been one of my favourites, because it gave the killer a haunting ‘deranged’ look, which had a similar effect as Michael Myers’ cherub-like Shatner. It was also refreshing to see a film that whilst paying tribute to the classics of the eighties, avoided the ‘done to death’ parody angle. No matter how much I love the genre, I’ve grown tired of watching filmmakers demonstrate the amount of references they can include in a runtime. We’ve moved to a time now where the best way of representing the cycle is by introducing a unique approach and avoiding the need for satire.
Two detectives that were involved in a tough case a decade ago are thrown back into the heart of it when a ruthless killer returns to their town and begins murdering the children of earlier massacre victims. The police are left stumped as the maniac stalks the city, but it soon becomes clear that there’s a method to his madness…
Last week, I posted a review of Camp Blood here on a SLASH above. Even if it is a low budget slasher movie just like this one, there’s a major difference that separates the way the two are presented and received. If you threw, for example, three-million dollars at the production of Brad Sykes’ entry, there would surely be improvements, but not really enough to completely alter the net result. Serrano on the other hand delivers a picture that totally outshines its budget and you can only wonder what he could achieve with that much more funding. I admit that it’s perhaps unfair to compare a campy David Sterling flick with a film that exudes such ambition, but as they share the same sub-genre, it exemplifies my point.
BSM is a true horror movie; and what I mean by that is it sacrifices the modern stereotype of regular attempts at humour to maintain a grisly tone. Like the best slashers, this one rolls out its antagonist in the midst of a dark and compelling mystery. It comes close to crossing into serial killer flick territory with the focus on its investigation, but it works by finding the right balance of the two styles. Our lead persona is something of an anti-hero, (an alcoholic cop), but we can overlook his character flaws because we hope that his heart is in the right place. There is a final girl here, but she’s kept somewhat in the background and doesn’t play the typical central role. The screenwriters have certainly taken a risk by avoiding the structure that’s commonly utilised almost identically in these more recent films, but what we get instead plays in the most satisfying of ways.
With such a bright spotlight of focus shone upon the story, Serrano needed to develop a constant feeling of dread to keep up the film’s momentum. I’ve already highlighted that the killer looks extremely intimidating in that ghoulish mask, but the director makes the most of his hulking frame and menacing size to add extra trepidation to the kill scenes. Whilst there are a couple of gore shots (a shower murder very similar to the one from The Prowler and a chainsaw slaughter spring to mind), it’s the placing of the bogeyman in each stalking sequence that really delivers the necessary fear factor. He’s up there with the guy from The Orphan Killer as one of the scariest maniacs I can recall and the director doesn’t waste a chance to make the most of his presence. He butchers a huge amount of victims and his sadistic brutality is extremely threatening. This is one of those films that develops its shocks because it makes you question how you’d react if you were to be placed in the situation that you see unfolding on the screen.
At two-hours and five-minutes, Serrano has a lot of ground to cover and he does so with a plot that may seem slightly convoluted to the lesser viewer. I’m not sure if a further prologue scene was removed late in the production, but I recommend watching the film through twice to really understand the synopsis. The lesser actors amongst the cast survive due to solid direction and Serrano pushes his cast to the limit in order to draw the performances that he required. We even get something of a ‘The Departed’ moment during the film’s conclusion and it does succeed in leaving you unsure what’s going to happen next.
We live in a world now where every new production comes with pages of untrustworthy IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes reviews and exciting social media commentaries that more often than not build a level of anticipation that rarely proves accurate when a film is finally released. I’m pleased to say that Blood Slaughter Massacre is better than I thought it would be and that in itself is a real achievement. What Serrano has built on a modest budget should set the standard for the slasher films of 2015. It is not a remake and It really is that good…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Camp Blood 1999
Directed by: Brad Sykes
Starring: Jennifer Ritchkoff, Michael Taylor, Tim Young
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I have mentioned Camp Blood a number of times on a SLASH above, but never actually got round to reviewing it. I picked it up back in the early noughties on big-box VHS and it was possibly the first no budget slasher of the new age that I got to see. Since then, I always thought of it as the quintessential example of a bad dime-store take on the slasher template. Over a decade has passed since I last watched it and the genre has seen its fair share of features that were financed on even smaller pocket books. This left me wondering if Blood would still maintain the status that I bestowed upon it on first viewing.
Two couples head off to explore a secluded woodland called Camp Blackfoot. Locals have named it Camp Blood due to the fact that a betrayed husband killed his cheating partner and her lover with a machete before disappearing into the wilderness. Legend states that he still roams the hills and murders anyone that is unfortunate or stupid enough to roam his region…
It was a strange feeling sitting in front of Camp Blood again after so long. Part of me was reminiscing the stack of VHS that I used to trawl through in my room when I’d just turned twenty and the other part was proud of the patience that I possessed to ‘appreciate’ so many turkies. Make no mistake about it, Blood isn’t like a bottle of fine wine. What I mean by that is my ten-year hiatus from exposure to it hasn’t turned it into Halloween. With that said, I did find things here that made me smile, which was most definitely more that I’d expected.
Brad Sykes, for all his obvious signs of amateurism, does understand what people enjoy about slasher movies. It takes less than five-minutes for the inevitable boob shot (what a pairing) and the next sight that we are treated to is a lumbering maniac in a clown mask. The kill scenes are deftly edited considering the budget and for the un-trained eye (i.e. my Mrs), the various splashings of blood and an imposing menace could be considered as generally effective. To give you an example, there’s a sequence that starts dumbly, because our sympathetic hero type guy chases the assailant into the forest when there was absolutely no logic in him doing so (the killer was actually fleeing the scene). Anyway, it results in a fight sequence on a cliff that’s well staged and then we get a smartly crafted gore shot that was surprisingly audacious. There are countless ‘tributes’ to Friday the 13th of course, with the most obvious being the film’s title, which was what Camp Crystal Lake became known by after Jason and his mum’s rampages.
I guess the above paragraph may look like I am about to take back all the mocking things that I’ve said previously about Brad Sykes’ addition to the stalk and slash family. Well in honesty, my experience was less painful than I’d anticipated, but I won’t be adding this to any top slasher lists in the near future. You see, the few bits and pieces that are classic slasher fun are punctured by some of the worst and most bizarre filmmaking decisions I’ve ever seen. We spend what feels like a lifetime in the clutches of a group of poorly acted and whiny campers and when the killer finally turns up and starts chopping through them, we’ve completely lost interest in their plight. Our final girl sinks to levels of rancid dramatics that had me reaching for the vomit bag and the patently cardboard machete can only appear so many times without beginning to look comical. There’s a really good and creepy score that often borders on building a menacing tone, but just when I was about to write a positive comment, something dumb kept happening and I felt like the guy in the picture to my right >>. It’s strange, because Camp Blood includes all the ingredients to become a trash-slasher hit. It’s just that it somehow puts them together awkwardly, like trying to build a flat-pack wardrobe without the instructions. I guess the fact that I had prepared myself for something awful meant that I could better handle the unbelievable levels of amateurism when I put it on this time. I went in knowing that there was going to be a mountain of goofiness, which made it easier than when I initially saw this and had less of an idea of what to expect.
There’s no doubt that Blood was filmed on the smallest of budgets, which was obvious because the same actors were re-used to play different characters with minimal effort to disguise their identities. It was bizarre seeing faces returning to the screen as Police Officers or Nurses when we’d witnessed them get slashed just moments earlier(!) I’m sure that back in the day, I noticed this stuff and found it easy to criticise, whereas now I kind of appreciated the cheesiness, if that makes sense. In my opening paragraph, I called this the quintessential example of a bad dime-store take-on the slasher template. Whilst I stand by that statement, I feel now that I can add the word ‘fun’ before bad in that statement. Either I’ve developed a sense of humour over the past decade or I’ve just got used to sitting through so much worse. At least this one has its heart in the right place. So yeah, as discussed, Camp Blood is a (fun) bad dime-store take-on the slasher template
Killer Guise: √√√√
The Inherited 2009
Directed by: Patrick C. Clinton
Starring: Khory Pilley, Tyler Cross, Natalie Sieber
Review by Luis Joaquín González
There are a number of stalk and slash sites on the web and the way I try to make a SLASH above stand out is by tracking down those complete obscurities that for whatever reason you may not have yet seen. With a track record that includes Cards of Death, Hard Rock Nightmare, Heavy Metal Massacre, Sawblade and Early Frost, you might well say that I’ve aced the target I set out to achieve. Well here we have one that tops all of them.
Type ‘The Inherited slasher’ in Google and you’ll find absolutely nada. Much like 1987’s Legend of Moated Manor, this one has totally and completely disappeared. It does have a listing on the IMDB, but it’s got zero user reviews and only one critic rating from when it screened at a festival. I have no information as to its production notes and it was sent to me anonymously. The plot thickens….
A young man inherits a fortune from a relative that he never knew he had. Clearly surprised by his luck, he heads off to stay at the house he was given with a group of his closest friends. As soon as he arrives, he begins to feel uneasy on the premises and a hooded killer turns up and begins slicing his way through the guests one by one…
We are back in the Bloodstream realms of having no idea why this entry remains shelved. That’s not to say that it’s an amazing piece of filmmaking, but when you think that something as ‘awkward’ as Carnage Road got a global release, you only have to wonder what went on behind the scenes to stop this one from being picked up. At just under two hours, The Inherited comes dangerously close to being a marathon instead of the usual brisk sprint that works fine for slasher movies. What impressed me most though was that there were very few times when the runtime became tedious or unwelcome with its storytelling. This is mainly due to some well-developed characters that all face personal issues that manage to keep interest levels raised when nothing else is happening. Although a few more killings wouldn’t have gone a miss, the mystery does manage to keep the momentum moving in the right direction and there’s a neat tone of impending doom that remains consistent.
It also helps that director Patrick Clinton pulls out all the stops to inject pizazz into the visuals. He shoots with an abundance of rapid cuts and inventive camera angles that are energetic to watch. Most of the action takes place in tight locations, but Clinton manages to film them with a perception of expansiveness. During the first thirty minutes or so, I was unsure what type of film I was watching, because it opens with a traditional slasher sequence but then throws some haunted house clichés in the mix. These are all superbly staged and include some striking Evil Dead-alike POV shots and a superb use of a creepy phantom clown. We later learn that these additions are only added as unsettling flair and the story soon finds its footing as a typical slasher/whodunit. More importantly, it’s one with a twist that’s unpredictable and actually quite shocking.
A clearly talented filmmaker, Clinton seems to be especially unfortunate with his output. Both this and his debut, Last Getaway (2007), remain unreleased, despite being surrounded by good word of mouth throughout post-production. I guess his style could be described as being similar to that of Tyler Tharpe from Freak fame, which is another title that I thoroughly enjoyed. He certainly invests in the depth of his players, but I felt that the kill scenes were too diluted to really make an impact. This was crying out for some gore to really become a missing gem, but instead it relies on plot delivery and a terrific score to generate the tension. This was a deliberate ploy from Clinton because he wanted to attempt the less is more approach that John Carpenter delivered so purely. I totally agree with the idea of that philosophy, but perhaps because of the film’s budget look, I felt that it really needed an injection of goo to complete the exploitation package.
The Inherited is a sharp blend of horror trademarks that plays like a mix of The Boogeyman and The Ghastly Ones. It’s a good movie that probably would have been well received by fans if given the chance. The fact it has disappeared is totally bemusing and it’s a shame that it remains elusive. After six-years of no news though, it’s unlikely to surface anytime soon. Whilst it may not boast extremely strong performances from the entire cast and the lack of gore is clearly quite disappointing, it does keep you interested and remains rather unique.
I only hope that one day you can check it out for yourself…
Killer Guise: √√√√