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
Slumber Party Massacre Part III 1990
Directed by: Sally Mattison
Starring: Keely Christian, Brandi Burkett, Maria Ford
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I feel a bit strange posting a review of Slumber Party Massacre III. It’s mainly because I’ve never covered the first chapter, which is one of the biggest and most popular slasher movies of all time. Still I watched this one more recently and I decided that none of you would really care or even notice the chronological order of which I work through the series and so I took them from behind. (Oooh yeh!)
I’ll go in to this in more detail when I get round to tackling Amy Jones’ cheese and marinara extravaganza that launched the franchise, but I always felt that it was one of those movies that was blessed with a reputation that was built upon the back of a Brontosaurus. What do I mean by that I hear you ask? Well in other words it became successful based on elements or an element that didn’t actually exist in reality. Oh, you didn’t know the truth about those particular dinosaurs? Well every day, you learn something new my friends…
A young girl decides to enjoy the final hours of having her parent’s house to herself by inviting some friends over for a slumber party. Before long, their boyfriend’s gate crash and the frolics begin to flow. Little do they know that a psychopath is amongst them and he’s brought a large power tool along for the ride…
Let’s be honest with each other here; Part II was as good as a single’s disco in Pripyat town centre and the series really needed to up the quality levels if it wanted to sign off in style. In the end, they did what everyone that’s having a bit of a visionary nightmare should do when the chips are down… went back to basics. By doing so they created not only the strongest entry of the entire trilogy, but also one of the best slasher movies of the late eighties/early nineties.
Número tres doesn’t play by the rules of either of its predecessors and instead begins as something of a mystery/whodunit. Not a huge amount of time or effort is spent on disguising the identity of the nut job though and he reveals himself about halfway through, which allows for a pulsating final rout. Instead of him waiting around for victims as they wander off to do something stupid like making out in a deserted place or searching for a missing friend, he just confronts and goes after the remaining five or six as a group and it’s something that we don’t get to see often enough. It also allows the stranded girls to work together in conjunction to save themselves when the maniac finally traps one of them alone. This leads to a gobsmacking moment when sexy semi-scream queen Maria Ford’s character, Maria, who had fought valiantly to protect two of her buddies moments earlier, is slowly murdered whilst those same ‘friends’ watch on without doing anything to help. No fair! I’ll come back to that scene in a bit.
For the first slaughter, which happens after only eight-minutes, the maniac remains off screen, but for the next couple he dons an awesome guise that’s exceptionally creepy. One of the things that I thought was weak about part one was the fact that the killer looked like such an ordinary guy. So much had been borrowed already from John Carpenter’s Halloween that I was somewhat disappointed that they settled on a bogeyman in a denim jacket and jeans. Thankfully, this time around we get a full-on masked, power-tool clenching nut job and in effect, the complete slasher package.
Whilst SPM 3 can hardly be classified as a gross out classic, it does have a few extremely brutal murders and the film feels credibly menacing when compared against the two earlier efforts that share its branding. The comedic slant has been lessened to an almost bare minimum and an eerie score from Jamie Sheriff builds some credible tension. Director Sally Mattison does well to enlighten the tone on only the rarest of occasions and the feeling of dread remains consistently strong all the way through. Aside from a couple of flat shots that I felt could have been more creative, she did a solid job on her debut and pulled off some decent stuff. It’s interesting, because the SPM series are famous for having female screenwriters and directors, but you’d never in a million years guess that was the case by what you see on the screen here. Some of these chicks get a pretty horrific time, especially Maria in the scene that I said I’d come back to earlier. After being pinned down, stripped and sexually assaulted (almost raped) whilst her friends just stand there and look, she’s disemboweled by a power drill after begging for her life. It’s pretty grim to be honest and not what I’d have expected.
We cut away from the action now and then to a bumbling cop who ignores various calls from the girls and thinks that they’re just having a drunken party. This is of course is the most basic and simple screenwriting method of removing the chance of any armed-police attending the scene. Midway through, he introduces a plot-branch about a cop that had committed suicide very recently. Then we learn immediately after, that the father of Jackie, the likely heroine, is a successful lawyer. I was sure from that chain of events that we were going to be given a really good back-story and motive that unraveled more as the flick came to a close. I mean why else put those sequences in that order? Was it an investigation from Jackie’s dad that forced the cop to kill himself? Did he leave behind an orphaned deranged killer that’s seeking revenge on the lawman’s daughter and her friends? It seemed fairly logical by what we had seen to expect something along those lines, but what we got was; well, not quite what we’d been promised.
It looks as if they rushed the back-story parts and left one too many loose ends. I mean, who was the long-haired guy from the beach? Why did he climb into the basement? What was it exactly about the uncle? Was he an abuser? Was that sexually or psychologically? Is the girl watching this with me really not wearing any knickers? Well at least one of those I can find the answer to, but the rest are ongoing mysteries. Excuse me, ahem…
Still, whining aside, as far as slasher movies go, this is a rip roaring one and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It reminded me of the reasons that I fell in love with the genre in the first place. Cheesy pop-rock tracks, beautifully dumb women, awful acting, a threatening masked killer, some effective scares, oh and Marta Kober! Did I tell you that the busty brunette that got speared in Friday Part II turns up for a cameo and gets a pretty good kill scene? Is that enough? No? Well how about death by vibrator? Does that tickle your fanciful spots? (No pun, honest)
SPM 3 is not a perfect movie, but what it does well, it does really well. I have added it to the 30 greatest all time slashers list. Let me know of you agree. Peace…
Killer Guise: √√√
Directed by: Terrence O’Hara
Starring: Loren Winters, Shepherd Sanders, Jeff Morris
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Sorry for the late post this week, I woke up with one helluva hangover…. Anyway, B-movie stalwart, Nico Mastorakis produced this late entry to the category and surprisingly enough, it was his first true effort at a slasher film. After Island of Death built him a career in exploitation cinema, Nico remained in the kingdom of low-budget thrillers with a solid track-record from the projects that he was involved with. I really enjoyed The Zero Boys from 1986 and people have often citied that it could sit alongside Friday the 13 et al as a traditional killer in the woods yarn. I believe however that this later effort plays it much truer to the archetypal template and that’s why I have posted it here for your perusal.
Janet (Jill Pierce) returns home to her family farm in order to spend more time with her boyfriend Steve (Jeffrey Alan Arbaugh). Unbeknownst to the youngster, a maniac killer is stalking the vicinity, dressed in a bright yellow rain coat. This is an artistic psychopath because after he butchers his victims, he takes pictures of them and develops them in the darkroom of the title. As more and more people die, it looks like Janet is his main target.
Lack of originality is a criticism that’s hard to level at the slasher as the genre’s familiarity is what has given it an unique style of its own and a cinematic personality. However this lazily delivered and lackadaisical offering really feels like it omits even the slightest amount of effort from those involved and has pretty much nothing in terms of suspense, pace or excitement.
The plot concentrates on the mystery element and the development of the characters to help build a good puzzle for audience sleuths. Unfortunately for director Terrence O’Hara, the marketing team working on the picture must have been missing from the pre-production meetings when the whodunit aspect was discussed, because the killer is shown not only on the back cover of most prints in circulation, but also in the trailer for the feature. O’Hara must’ve been furious when he found out… It’s like, HELLO! I’m making a mystery thriller guys!!!!
There are a few themes running throughout the movie that show some ambition from the screenwriters, but sadly, they are poorly handled and not properly developed. Since the proto-slasher, Eyeball, I like seeing killers in rain coats and armed with an axe, this dude is pretty cool. He’s also quite brutal, which means that some of the killings are surprisingly menacing if not graphically appealing. In fact, gore hounds will be disappointed with the lack of any gooey effects (almost everyone is murdered off-screen) and despite the endless scenes of stalking, the director struggles to build any trepidation or atmosphere at all.
The cast come across as amateur throughout and the porn-level delivery of banal dialogue soon begins to claw at the strings of your patience. There were also some serious casting miscalculations that seemed obvious to me, but surprisingly not to the decision makers behind the scenes here. I mean, Sarah Lee Wade played Cindy really well and her bubbly character was conveyed with a flamboyance that was hard to dislike. I would have felt an allure towards her if she had played the role of the final girl, but that job went to Jill Pierce who came across as arrogant, cold and stone-like. She did get more work in pictures after this, but for me she was the weakest link and couldn’t raise the runtime from the grasp of tedium.
And there we have the real problem with Darkroom. It’s basically twenty-five minutes of story stretched in to an hour on a half of screen time and it really feels like the director was struggling to fill scenes with the empty script that he had. I guess that if they had hired better actors, the character development and family feuds could have added a bit of depth to the plot. As it stood, we were given a tiresome expedition of monotonous waiting around for the psychopath to turn up. By the time that he finally did, I was expecting something, anything, to lift me from a near-catatonic state. Unfortunately it remained totally B-O-R-I-N-G
This was the debut movie of TV director Terrence O’Hara and I was guessing that with it being his first shot and all, we could have expected him to show that urge and hunger that’s usually tough to hide. Career best cinematography from David Makin was wasted however and technically the film was as inflated as a puncture. Chuck into the mix some bizarre and random dialogue (“I don’t trust air I can’t see?”) and you’re left with a pretty low grade excuse for a horror yarn.
It’s a shame, because this was the breakout movie for so many of the people involved in it, so with a fairly good budget, it could have been SO much more. It’s a real mystery as to why it has come across so heartless and it feels like no one was motivated to turn up
Perhaps it may be rather interesting to genre enthusiasts for the Nico Mastorakis links and the photography aspect of the murderer’s methodology, but aside from that it’s best left in obscurity. Hey, maybe in the corner of a darkroom
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl:√ √
Long Island Cannibal Massacre 1980
Directed by: Nathan Schiff
Starring: Loren Winters, Shepherd Sanders, Jeff Morris
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Firstly I have to apologize that I haven’t been posting reviews at the usual rate just recently. I have had a few changes in my life and what with moving house, getting a new job and a gorgeous new girlfriend to slowly break down mentally until she has no other choice but to agree to watch slasher films with me (lol), I have been finding time a little hard to come by. So it’s going to be just the once a week for the meantime, but I do have some good titles in store for you. Thanks as always for looking. We are still growing month on month and I really appreciate that you keep reading my reviews. If I was a millionaire, I would send every one of you a double vodka Sangria and a Tortilla con Salchicha Polaca, but unfortunately, I am not Anyway… on to our feature presentation….
Long before Andreas Schnaas began walking the streets of Hamburg with a camcorder and a bucket of pig’s intestines and long before studios like Sub Rosa were releasing any kind of horror junk that they could get their hands on, Nathan Schiff was directing no-budgeted gore films that rapidly gained cult status. His first, ‘Weasels rip my flesh’, was a throwback from the cheesy sci-fi movies of the ’50s and it proved to be successful enough to give him the funds for a follow up. The resulting feature is widely regarded as the director’s best work as a gore auteur and it acts as concrete evidence of what can be achieved on the merest of funding. And boy, do I mean the merest. ME-ERE-A-RE-EST. A new lease of life on DVD has opened Schiff’s work to a wider audience, and interest in his back-catalogue has reached an all time high.
Long Island Cannibal Massacre is not a standard slasher film like the multitude of horror flicks from this period were, but it does include many of the trappings that were prominent at that time. The film starts as it means to go on with a gruesome and audacious excuse to brighten the screen with colourful goo. A young girl that we see sunbathing in a remote field is assaulted and knocked unconscious by a masked assailant (wearing a costume extremely similar to Jason Voorhees’ in Friday the 13th Part 2, which would be released the following year). The maniac drags the girl into the bushes and ties her arms behind her back, before disappearing into the trees and leaving her struggling on the floor. He returns with a lawn mower and gives us the first gratuitous murder of the feature. You can see it just above…
Next up we meet Inspector James Cameron (played by John Smihula, who would appear in all of Schiff’s films); – a hard as nails wild card with a bitterly poetic view of crime on the streets. He soon gets involved in the mass of murders when he discovers a decapitated head on a beach whilst working undercover. When he fails to get the support that he needs from the local constabulary, Cameron quits the force and takes matters into his own hands. The vigilante soon discovers a circle of torture, slaughter and cannibalism that’s stranger than anyone could imagine.
As I said earlier, this is not a typical slasher movie and it combines elements from numerous genres. The inclusion of a masked maniac and various cinematic references to Carpenter’s Halloween mean that it has enough of the right stuff to slot into the category and in effect on to a SLASH above. Instead of having just the one psychopathic killer though, the plot gives us a gruesome-twosome; and even they play second-fiddle to an altogether more abominable bogeyman. This is where LICM really separates itself from the multitude of its brethren, because its conclusion owes more to monster features such as ‘Scared to Death’ than it does ‘Black Christmas‘ et al.
Nathan Schiff is a gore director, and the reason anyone watches his films is simply to see as much blood spraying fun as possible – and on that note the movie doesn’t disappoint. It’s also worth noting that he does try his hardest to provide an engaging plot and in places the movie succeeds quite impressively and shows strengths where some of the more heavily financed entries that I could name came up short. The revelation of the killer’s identity was certainly unexpected, and credit to the director for being so ambitious with his story telling.
Shot on Super 8mm, the picture quality is exactly as what you would expect, with the cinematography looking jaded and somewhat murky. Fortunately, Schiff wisely decided to shoot all the action under the security of daylight, which means the film isn’t ruined by a lack of visual clarity. The music was lifted from various bigger budgeted horror classics and it’s an enjoyable exercise for enthusiasts to try and recognise where we’ve heard those famous themes before. Despite the director’s lack of experience, he does manage to pull off at least one decent jump-scare and the photography is creative, which allows you to overlook the places where it isn’t completely clear.
In a feature such as this, the blood and guts is always the most important aspect and here it ranges from the outlandish to the outstanding. The chainsaw murder in the closing is uncomfortably detailed and kudos to the actors, because they took some huge risks with the deadly blades so close to their anatomy. Although there’s nothing here that would have forced Tom Savini to seek another profession, the effects are decent and gratuitous enough for fans to enjoy. If you ask your friends to act in your feature film, the performances are never going to win any awards, so I didn’t expect too much, but was impressed with the effort that was made, if nothing else. That’s neither here nor there however, as everything is just padding to give the plot an excuse to let the crimson flow.
So is Nathan Schiff an unsung horror hero? Not really; but if bucket loads of red corn syrup and dead animal’s internal organs are what you’re looking for then his movies are a lot better than really they should be. He’s some way off being the next Lucio Fulci, but his cheapo style has a neat little personality and is fun all the same… As Samuel L. Jackson said in Pulp Fiction, “Personality goes a long way…”
Killer Guise: √√√√
Posed for Murder 1988
Directed by: Brian Thomas Jones
Starring: Charlotte J. Helmkamp, Laura Flanagan, Charles Kuhune
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I was crazily in love once, you know? We moved in together and she was so special that I even watched slasher films with her… including Cards of Death. Then she left me for a richer guy and I was stuck with my collection of tatty VHS and a bottle of vodka. Serious. Rumours that I have kidnapped her and she’s locked in the basement with Savage Water on continuous play are totally false and erroneous and I refuse to entertain them. (Ignore those screams btw, the neighbors have a noisy kid…))
Anyway, moving on. Love is a powerful emotion and the perfect motive for a cheesy slasher picture and in Posed for Murder that’s exactly what we have. Now this is a late late entry to the cycle that I really should have posted ages ago, before it got released on DVD. If I had done that, I could have called it an a SLASH above exclusive because it was incredibly rare. Nowadays though, it can be picked up on Amazon on a shiny disc that includes two other delightful features at a budget cost. Should you click buy it now and add it to your collection? Well allow me to answer that for you in fine detail…
Laura is a topless model and a wannabe scream queen with dozens of sleazy male admirers. Her popularity is not solving her issues however and she’s feeling a little down in the dumps. It certainly not helping matters that a psycho with breathing difficulty is making things tougher for her. Can she find a way to stop the marauding maniac…???
Suspense. Intrigue. Gore. Tension and Terror… are all the things that you won’t find whilst watching Posed for Murder. That’s ok though because the mahoosive amount of liquified cheese that is poured all over the screen instead kind of makes up for that. Well, kinda. I mean, it takes 32 mins for the killer to actually get going, but somehow the picture manages to hold itself together and keep you interested through to the end.
The best way for me to describe the script to you is that it comes across a lot like it was written by someone that speaks English as a second language. Everything is discussed in the most basic of sentence structures and the dialogue literally gets you from A to C without even a hint that B exists. Despite this, director Brian Thomas Jones does an intriguing job of keeping each shot interesting, by setting up distinct backdrops and camera movements. They don’t always work of course, but they help to keep up the level of momentum.
There’s a scene where our final girl has an audition with a pair of seedy filmmakers and I had to wonder if it was included to poke fun at the lead actress. They barely check if she can speak a line of dialogue before they offer her the part and I think that in reality the procedure for this production was very similar. Why bother worrying if Charlotte Helmkamp can act when she has breasts like pineapples in stockings? In fact these subtle in-jokes became something of an ongoing thing for the rest of the runtime. They can be the only logical explanation as to why her in-film director, Serge La Rue, called her a ‘method actor’. Or what about when her friend asked how she managed to perform with ‘such emotion’. Bwahahaha! Oh how we laughed. It was brilliant. Say what you want about our buxom scream queen, buy you can’t deny that she knows how to take a joke at her own expense. Oh. Oh, ok. Sorry, I didn’t now that she didn’t realise… Oh in that case, I take it all back….
There was one thing though that I actually found quite interesting. Every single guy that she meets ends up flirting with her and looking down her top. I thought about this and felt how hard it must be for an attractive woman (or guy) when most men always think with head number two. What kind of opinion would you have of the male gender if all that they ever did was hit on you? Is it really like that girls? Man, I need to change my approach.
So there’s not a great deal left to say. The soundtrack sums up all that was bad about eighties music and hums along over shots of spandex bound jocks working out in a gymnasium. This activity breaks up the ‘intense drama’ of our cycolina’s quest to discover the identity of the psycho maniac. Thinking about it, I guess that this could be a slasher sister of kind to Killer Workout in that sense. Chuck in a handful of diluted killings and a twist that turns out to be exactly what you thought it was all along and what you have is a fondue festival that’s cunningly disguised as a DVD. In other words, if you like ‘em trashy you should give this a whirl. Just don’t bring your brain.
…Oh and about my ex-fianceé and her being locked in the cellar… I was actually joking about all that. It was four years ago now and I was lucky enough to meet my soul mate (Hi Żaneta xx) and I’m on my way to see her now. Damn. Where did I put the key to the padlock on the door to the basement…?
Final Girl: √√√
Wicked Games 1994
Directed by: Tim Ritter
Starring: Joel D. Wynkoop, Patricia Paul, Kevin Scott Crawford
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Before we get started, I’d just like to point out that in 1995 a film called Writer’s Block was released that attempted to be a sequel of kind to A Critical Madness. Back then, there was a lot of confusion as to whether Tim Ritter was involved or not with its production, because it lifted many elements from the series. Even though we soon learned that it had no official links, I may well post a review of it at some point if I feel that it has enough to warrant a place on a SLASH above – the web’s most dedicated stalk and slash site. I tried watching it just recently but had to rush out before it ended. I must admit that what I saw didn’t convince me in fact that it was even a slasher movie and therefore I am in no rush to post it here.
Anyway, I was actually quite impressed by the original Truth or Dare. It may have suffered from stinking performances and continuity that made ‘The Blazing Ninja’ look like Mensa staged it. Nevertheless, exploitation is also something of an art form and Tim Ritter’s ambition to go the extra mile made the whole thing seem a exciting and fresh, which is all good. If you aren’t aware of his previous work, Ritter could best be described as an American Jesus Franco. His movies are usually always unrated and contain explicit sexual situations and violence that would never in a million years make it through classification for any kind of release in numerous global countries. After working on a few other projects and picking up experience, it was decided that Ritter should dust off the old copper mask and bring his unique sleaze-ridden perspectives back to the slasher genre for something that had been anticipated for quite some time in cult circles.
In the beginning a woman in kinky bondage gear (she’s got to be a porn star?) is seen straddling a bearded man and asking him to ‘beg for it’. A bespectacled middle-aged guy that looks like Queen guitarist Brian May’s deranged brother is watching them unnoticed from the doorway. We soon learn that his name is Gary Block and he’s just caught his wife sleeping with someone she works with (sorry I didn’t remember exactly who he was), a fact that’s emphasised by his threatening to blow their brains out with a handgun. Clearly distraught he heads around to his buddy Dan’s place where yet another female (but the same actress?) in little but some pervy underwear greets him. Dan is a police officer that has been friends with Gary for some time, but has his reservations about him because his cousin is Mike Strauber, the maniac responsible for killing eleven people eight years ago. After hearing his tale of woe, the kind-hearted cop says that Gary can stay until he gets himself sorted, but later that night he finds him with a gun in his mouth playing truth or dare and threatening to take his own life.
Somewhat concerned about his pal’s mental-health, the detective takes a trip to Sunnyville mental hospital to discuss it with Dr. Siedow, the head psychiatrist. The shrink tries to calm the situation by telling him, `I think your friend is having some difficult times… but I don’t think he’s going to put on a Copper mask and go on a killing spree’ (!) As a form of proof, if ever it were needed, that you shouldn’t trust a Doctor that uses his stomach as an ashtray in his spare time (don’t ask); someone in an identical mask starts slaughtering sexually promiscuous individuals all around town. But is Gary Block the killer? He’s certainly proved he’s unstable by heavily drinking, smashing a bottle over the head of his love rival and urinating in a plant-pot outside a restaurant (please don’t ask!) As more bodies pile up, Detective Dan realises that it’s looking more and more like his mate’s gone too far off the rails…
Wicked Games’ exploration of rejection, sexual addictions and fetishes made for a deep and interesting approach. Where as most mystery/slashers fall flat because their conclusions are far too evident right from the start, Ritter has managed to create a good puzzle that’s obvious when it’s resolved, but will keep you guessing all the way through. To be frank, it’s a superbly written story with an element of sleaziness that’s rarely seen to such extremity in the horror that we’ve become more accustomed to. Due to the lack of a censor rating, Ritter’s been able to chuck in a fair bit of gore that’s brightens up the kill scenes. Almost every murder spews buckets of blood, but the best would have to be the woman that’s impaled on a sprinkler, which starts spraying crimson all over the garden! There was also a decidedly nasty ripped can to the throat and a gory barbed wire strangulation to name but two.
Ritter takes all you know about gratuitous and shows you that really you know nothing at all. Basically, it’s the closest that you’re going to get to porn without heading over to Pornhub. Most of the female characters wear very little or nothing at all and the endless references to bondage and kinky sex are so frequent that they actually become quite irritating. It’s disappointing then that we’re not given much in terms of eye candy and the hottest chica is rubbed out almost as soon as she enters the screen. (A scene that is classically described by the first cop on the scene, `It looks like they came out for a little picnic, a little sex… got killed!) Every single personality in the story is either a bizarre nymphomaniac with a fetish for pain or fag-burns, a rapist or generally just a pervert; and it can get a little overpowering at times. But the thing that really prevents this from scoring a higher mark is the home movie like quality of the photography that is no less than atrocious. I’m used to accepting and enjoying SOV horror, but the main issue here is that it’s painfully obvious that the budget here is nowhere near as healthy as it was in the previous chapter. In fact, it was so minuscule that Patricia Paul played the two lead parts, which explains the agonising wig. Acting that would make day-time Soap stars look like Academy nominees is never particularly inviting and the fact that these guys are probably just folk from the street should be enough of a warning what’s in store for you if you hunt this out. Perhaps the only thing that’s improved since last time around is the killer’s guise, which is amongst the best of the genre
Tim Ritter could’ve taken the time to raise a bigger budget and made good use of the interesting premise, but I guess that we can’t criticise his ambition to stick with the ‘underground’ scene that he made his name from. Wicked Games is not without its charms, but you need to forgive some of the quality issues in the first place to be dazzled by them. Kudos for not softening on the shock-factor in a bid to go mainstream, but A Critical Madness still does it for me a tad better than this follow up. The biggest (and it’s a big un’) disappointment is that they couldn’t convince John Brace to return for the follow up. The film is seriously lacking his heinous acting and ‘I’m a psycho’ gurning Fans of John Brace are still left, ever hopeful, that he will return to the screen once more!
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Terminal Choice 1985
aka DeathBed aka Critical List
Directed by: Sheldon Larry
Starring: Joe Spano, Diane Venora, Ellen Barkin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During my bizarre life long mission to track down all the obscure slasher movies ever released I came across this little known mid-eighties entry, which threw a real curve ball into the mix. Terminal Choice is NOT a typical genre piece in the Halloween/Friday the 13th mould. But it does include enough of the trappings (mystery killer/bloody deaths) to allow it to carve a way into the category. Unlike fellow medicinal additions such as Hospital Massacre and Visiting Hours, Sheldon Larry’s mystery thriller uses futuristic computer technology as the main method of slaughter. This makes a refreshing change from the traditional surgical masked psycho with a scalpel, and its always interesting to see a slice of originality in a cycle that has often been slandered for its repetitiveness.
Terminal Choice is set in a high tech clinic in the near future, where operations are controlled by a huge computer terminal and monitored by numerous doctors. This is certainly not the kind of hospital that you or I would want to have your tonsils removed at, because the medics gamble on patient’s recovery and survival. Lylah Crane (Teri Austin) is in for a minor complaint, which Dr. Frank Holt (Joe Spano) believes he has handled with ease. Things turn nasty when an unseen someone enters the head computer terminal and poisons the youngster’s drip with an unknown substance. The female chokes on her own blood and leaves Dr. Holt under extreme pressure as the top suspect in an in-house investigation. When more patients fall victim to fatal computerised glitches, Frank unravels a sadistic conspiracy of murder, deceit and treachery. But who is responsible for these unexplained killings…?
Even though Terminal Choice has been bemusingly overlooked, it does hold its corner remarkably well as an appealing mystery thriller. The first murder is extremely gooey, claustrophobic and scary, which makes it succeed impressively in leaving the viewer flinching away from the screen. Sheldon Larry focuses mainly on exploiting people’s underlying fear of untrustworthy medical centres. A fear that can be embedded in almost anybody that has at one time or another put their life in the hands of a stranger in a white coat. That’s why Choice flourishes as an enjoyable and fascinating cinematic journey. Boasting equal moments of suspense and fascination, the story never outstays its welcome and despite a fairly predictable false-scare climax, the majority of the runtime is eminently triumphant.
So many eighties slasher movies famously launched the careers of actors that would become home-names in later years. Brad Pitt, Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, Sally Kirkland…you can find so many soon to be superstars if you search hard enough. Well this time around it’s Ellen Barkin looking amusingly fresh-faced and youthful. Some time later she would embark on a lengthy career that would peak with starring roles alongside method titans Al Pacino (Sea of Love) and Mickey Rourke (Johnny Handsome). Here she plays a young nurse by the name of Mary O’ Conner, and does a good enough job with a small part. The rest of the cast manage to keep things running smoothly enough without a hiccup and I especially thought that Diane Venora added flamboyance to her character.
Some people may argue that this really isn’t much of a slasher movie. To be honest, they certainly have a case in point. But as I said earlier, Larry was well aware of the clichés, especially with the Tenebrae-like stalking of Ellen Barking in the shower. Many features of the time were still cashing in on the mystery-killer craze, and it looks as if Peter Lawson was keeping that in mind when he put pen to paper. When you consider the fact that movies like Candyman, Final Destination and Demon Possessed are often falsely accused of fitting in the cycle, Terminal Choice slots among the guidelines with relevant ease. I picked this up in Krakow many years ago and the reason that I did so was because it was marketed in that particular country as an out and out slasher flick. I have posted the cover of the VHS that I own above. They even put a traditional kitchen knife there just to make sure!
Making good use of a common trepidation and chucking in a few better than average performances, Terminal Choice succeeds as a solid mid-week night’s diversion. As one writer on the IMDB said previously, you may never trust a hospital again. That’s an atmosphere that titles like the rancid Hospital Massacre could only ever dream of creating…
Final Girl: √√
Grim Weekend 2002
aka S.I.C.K Serial Insane Clown Killer
Directed by: Bob Willems
Starring: Ken Hebert, Charlie Fenwick, Melissa Bale
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Back in 2004, I found Grim Weekend’s colourful cover at my local Blockbuster Video and was intrigued as to what kind of movie it actually was. I checked with the IMDB and no one had yet posted a review, but thankfully there was a link to the film’s official site, which included a small preview. From the clip I gathered that it didn’t include the most talented cast in the world, but it looked plausibly tight and brimming with suspense. Believe me, if you’ve seen that great trailer, you’ll understand where I’m coming from. Keeping in mind that said footage is only two minutes long and the movie is over eighty, it’s not always overly conclusive as to what’s in store for you when you finally watch. I had a good feeling about this one though and went ahead and bought a copy anyway. This was listed on most websites for ages as a TV movie, but judging by some of the bad language – the C word, no less – I quickly worked out that wasn’t the case. Last time that I looked it had been corrected almost everywhere and it’s actually a DTV effort.
In the opening we see a point of view murder that proves Director Bob Willems is a big fan of Halloween and is paying his homage (maybe completely ripping it off? Whatever you want to call it). An adulterous wife, or girlfriend (actually we never find out who she is and this scene has NOTHING to do with the rest of the movie) is on the phone when someone creeps up and stabs her in the stomach. As she recoils from the wound she asks, ‘What did you do?‘, which I actually found pretty amusing. I kept expecting the killer to reply ‘What do you think I did dummy‘. But the scriptwriter instead decided to try to keep things creepy… Next up we meet Brandon Walker (Ken Hebert), an office executive that’s planning a weekend getaway to a remote cabin out in the woods. It’d be a pretty boring movie if he went alone, so we are soon introduced to his date Tracy (Amanda Watson) and their friends Susan (Chris Bruck) and Mark (Hank Fields). Whilst on the long journey to the previously abandoned house, they meet Diane (Melissa Bale) in a bar and she soon joins the troupe of merry campers. After they have arrived and night falls, the group sit round a fire and tell ghost stories – so far so Friday the 13th-, but we see that they are being watched by an ominous presence. The next morning when everyone wakes up, Susan has disappeared and someone has filled the area with bizarre mutilated dolls. Before long they are stranded with only a ruthless killer clown for company!
Grim Weekend is a prime example of a movie putting most of the good bits into the trailer, leaving about an hour and a half of screen time totally devoid of anything redeeming. There are only three, yes THREE on screen murders in the whole film. The first is about thirty-seconds into the feature and the next over an hour after. They’re all mostly bloodless and instantly forgettable, which makes me wonder why the BBFC rated this as an 18. The killer clown is especially obnoxious, spending most of his time singing nursery rhymes or chopping wood for what seems like an eternity before he finally gets round to terrorising the campers. The performances are as horrible as you had probably imagined and the characters are mostly unsympathetic and flat. Mark finds a gutted victim lying in the woodland struggling for breath and makes no attempt to comfort or help him. He just looks at him with zero emotion and then wanders off leaving him to die (?). The most likeable person of the bunch was Denise, the under acted slut, and I’m sure that it was meant to be her that was the hate-figure for the audience. I couldn’t help but find myself rooting for her instead of the bore that was meant to grab the viewer’s vote of sympathy. When the gang enter a bar early on in the movie, they meet a prostitute called Sophia (Jamie Hartzog), who in a few lines proves to be far more talented than any of the other lame ‘actors’ that plague the screen throughout. Why couldn’t she have played a bigger part?
Thankfully the film doesn’t suffer from a lack of lighting like so many of its counterparts and the director manages a couple of decent shots. Admittedly the ending was quite unexpected, owing a sly nod perhaps to The Texas chainsaw Massacre without over using the influence. Finding strange dolls around the house started as a fairly macabre touch, but the idea gets tired very quickly, which sadly the crew failed to notice. It was a brave attempt by the director to try and extract fear without using many murders or too much gore, however an extreme lack of momentum and no apparent filling leaves Grim Weekend feeling like a Krispy Kreme doughnut without the Krispy bits or the Kreme. We get to play the tick the slasher trappings game and Willems opens the full bag and even chucks in a few sillier than silly POV shots through a clown mask. Nevertheless, the lack of professionalism is far too glaring to gain credit and he doesn’t even try to add anything new to the formula. I bought this on the same day that I picked up the 25th anniversary Halloween DVD. Watching the special features, I noticed that John Carpenter took his masterpiece to someone from 20th Century Fox without it’s excellent score and surprisingly they said that ‘it just wasn’t scary’. It makes you wonder what the hell did the producers think was frightening about this rubbish?
There really is very little to recommend about this lazy and flat lined effort. It’s tedious, poorly constructed and generally sucks harder than a black hole on a night out with Jasmine Tame. Yeah, that hard. Next time that I see something like this in the video store, I think I’ll keep my expectations a little lower.
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √
To Become One 2002
Directed by: Neil Johnson
Starring: Emma Grasso, Jamie Giddens, David Vallon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’m in my early thirties and to be totally honest I envy those that were old enough to experience the initial boom years of the slasher category. Imagine going to see Halloween, Friday the 13th or The Prowler at the cinema. It would have been amazing. I have a wide age range of readers here on a SLASH above, with some in their teens and some much older. Despite the disappointment of being a child back in the key period, I can at least say that I lived through and enjoyed the second onslaught of slasher pictures after the Scream rebirth.
During those times of the late nineties and early noughties, video stores were once again packed to the absolute brim with slasher movies and I remember very fondly hunting through the shelves for the newest releases. There was a (now defunct) label in the UK called Film 2000 that played a huge part in the circulation of the next phase. With a track record that included, Dead Above Ground, Camp Blood, Carnage Road, Granny and Paranoid (gulp), it’s tough to decide if they should be considered a friend of the genre or a foe. Another example from their catalogue was To Become One; and even if it has a title that sounds like an Adam Sandler, Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston rom-com tribute video, it’s actually a stalk and slasher.
We’re back in the world of Aussie horror here, which means we are either going to get an hour and a half with Katie Upton or an hour and a half with Katie Price. I think that’s what I like most about the entries from down-under. You never can be sure what you’re going to get.
Melinda is an uncannily unlucky teen. One year ago, her mother was brutally murdered by a gas-masked killer brandishing a sword right in front of her eyes. Now it seems that he has returned and is happily slicing his way through all of her friends, methodically clearing a path so that he can catch her on her lonesome. More and more bodies begin hitting the deck and Melinda will have to think quickly if she wants to stay alive.
Ok ok, let me take a deep breath here. Right. So, things started intriguingly enough with a murder in the first five minutes, which included some cheap but mindlessly diverting gore. Then, the bogeyman is back on screen, weapon in hand, within the next three. It’s like the director just skipped the usually mind-numbing poorly-acted character development stuff to jump straight into the action. I did think though that just like Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final, throwing your all into the opening was a bit of a risk. I mean, who can keep up that momentum for eighty-minutes? I was of course right, but even my cocky know-it-all-ness did not quite prepare me for what happened next.
You see, when the nut job’s unmasked only half an hour into the runtime, things take a turn for the… how can I call it? … Deranged! What begins as a typical slasher by the numbers with a homage to Halloween and Friday the 13th (there’s even a hammy old guy that tells the heroine that her friends are doomed) degenerates into… there’s nothing that I’ve ever seen before that could give you a comparable description. The final girl is dragged to a ‘hospital’ that is supposed to seem more like a cross between a torture chamber and a Nazi concentration camp (but really just looks like an ordinary basement). There we learn a ‘shocking’ secret that I won’t reveal and following that, we are left in the hands of some clunky dialogue and dramatics that have the credibility of an email from a dying African politician who wants to leave $200,000,000 in your account. Only if you’ll kindly supply your bank details and also your credit card number…
Ok so this project cost a measly $2,000 to make. That doesn’t make things any easier for me watching it though. Keep your $2k and spend it on something more worthwhile (film studies courses are fairly reasonable nowadays). The second half of the movie touches on grades of ineptness that have not yet been defined. It’s like the Z-movie version of the USS Enterprise; boldly going to sewerage plant levels of cinematic smelliness that no one has ever been to before. If I were to be generous, then I guess that I can credit the authenticity of the story. Having a good idea however does not mean that you have the ability to direct a slasher movie and the net result is absolutely awful.
There are a few unintentionally amusing scenes; the best that springs to mind is when Melinda’s father tries to comfort her by singing a soppy lullaby into her ear. That’s exactly what’s needed when your friends have been pick-axed in front of your eyes. But Neil Johnson’s heavy-handed approach at ramming the message that we shouldn’t ridicule people with disabilities down our throats is forced upon us clumsily, in a manner that would offend those that the story is using as subject matter. That’s just unforgivable and takes away any comedy that could have been enjoyed from the pure ineptness of the picture.
You could forgive the inane characters, fishnet script (the whole slasher part made zero sense), awful dramatics and the director’s needless switches between colour and black and white photography at the strangest of times, if there was something there worthwhile. I mean, even Camp Blood was kinda fun. One character states, “We’re playing this out like a B-grade movie, when the killer finds us, he’s gonna pick us off one by one!’ Change the B to a minus Z and that statement might be more suitable.
To Become One picks the wrong subjects to exploit and is not even laughably bad. The ever-reliable IMDB took a fair time to put this on their website and it’s not surprising, because it doesn’t deserve a place in cinema history. As Butt Head so philosophically stated when he and Beavis ‘’did’ America, ‘ This sucks like nothing has ever sucked before’…
Killer Guise: √√