Directed by: Dick Mass
Starring: Huub Stapel, Monique van de Ven, Serge-Henri Valcke
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Being that I was born in Huelva, finished my studies in Moscow and have also resided in Budapest, Przymysl, Paris and London, you could say that I’ve seen a bit of the world. If I had to chose one city though that I would put at the top of my list of fun places to go, then it’d have to be the capital of The Netherlands. I love everything about Amsterdam; – from its rich and tranquil canal based landscapes to its mind blowing cafés, you truly haven’t lived until you’ve been there. That’s why I was infinitely excited when I learned that Holland had created its own addition to my favourite cinema sub-genre – an aquatic slasher movie. You read it right; Amsterdamned manages to mix the B-movie bliss of a masked psychopath with the cultural trademarks of Europe’s most exciting location for a weekend break. Perhaps better than that is the fact that it’s actually an amster-damned good movie
It opens with a cool credit sequence that mixes some brilliant underwater photography with an eerie horror soundtrack that was provided by director Dick Maas. The shot pans along the riverbanks as a yet unidentified predator stalks its prey. It’s almost like Jaws in a canal, as we watch the camera emerge from the murky depths, scan the area and then move on to another location. Next we cut to a prostitute flagging down a taxi later that same night. After an amusing bust up with the randy driver, the hooker is left walking the back streets to find her way home. Before she even has a chance to begin her journey, a dark figure raises out of the canal and repeatedly stabs her with a large blade. The killer, leaving a streaming trail of blood behind him, then drags her corpse into the river and disappears into a mass of bubbles. The following morning, the woman is discovered hanging upside down from a bridge by a boat that’s filled with tourists.
Next up we meet Detective Eric Visser (Huub Stapel), a hard-boiled Dirty Harry-alike who is immediately put on the case of the bizarre killing. After a vital clue is found at the scene of the next slaughter, the Police seem convinced that the maniac is a diver and begin checking out all the local clubs and stores. Whilst following that lead, Eric meets Laura (Monique Van de Ven), a beautiful artist who is keen to help him crack the case. Meanwhile the body count is rising and the town mayor wants this killer caught. Can Visser track down this maniacal madman? Or will the killer find him first…?
I have no hesitation in stating that Amsterdamned is amongst the best slasher movies to be released towards the end of the eighties. Boasting a superb script (“What does she mean a big black monster with huge claws?” “I don’t know but your mother-in-law better have a good alibi!”), some stunning photography, intriguing characters and a talented director, this is truly a great advertisement for Dutch cinema. It’s not really a teen-slasher in the hackneyed Friday the 13th mould. Instead it’s best described as a slasher/murder-mystery/thriller, which makes the most of being a part of each category. It’s easy to see that Amsterdamned was extremely well financed and at times, it even manages to outshine its American brethren from the same period. How many hack and slash flicks have you seen that include a town-wide motorcycle chase AND a colossal boat pursuit in the same feature? Dick Maas did an extremely good job of making his movie stand out from the mediocrity that had engulfed the cycle this late into its rein and it gives ‘Damned a plush backbone.
Whilst it could by no means be considered a gore flick, there are enough gooey corpses floating about (literally) to keep the bloodhounds interested. It’s also competently written, which means that it’s not easy to work out the psychopath’s identity until he is unmasked at the conclusion. There’s a fairly large body count and most of the murders are carried out creatively, whilst trying to pack in as much suspense and intrigue as possible. My favourite would have to be the underwater battle between the killer and an unsuspecting Police diver. The whole scene is filmed aboard a submerged boat and the claustrophobic tension is superbly executed. Unfortunately, Amsterdamned was yet another victim of poor dubbing for international broadcast, which means that the voice-overs sound like a consignment of community drama-project dropouts. It’s impossible for me to rate the true performances of the cast because it’s this dubbed version that I saw, but I’ve heard that they’re pretty poor from the supporting actors anyway. It’d be nice to find a subtitled copy one day and check that out though
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Amsterdamned turned out to be a big surprise for me and it is wholly recommended to slasher fans across the globe. It’s extremely well financed, boasts some snappy dialogue, superb direction, a cool killer costume and even a cheesy theme tune; how can you argue with that? The boat chase alone is worth the budget purchase price. Recently we were talking about slasher movies that have unique antagonists. A killer Diver? Well I’ll be (Amster)-damned… – (And yes, I did steal the same joke twice))
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl √
Fever Lake 1996
Directed by: Ralph Portillo
Starring: Corey Haim, Mario Lopez, Bo Hopkins
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Imagine being the director behind the worst slasher movie ever made. Now no doubt in terms of technical application and production values, there are far poorer entries to be uncovered, but Bloody Murder from the year 2000 has long been widely regarded as the weakest addition to the stalk and slash cycle. There are a couple of reasons as to why this is the case. Firstly, it received quite a solid distribution deal, which meant that it was seen a lot more than most of the DTV monstrosities that have littered the genre. Secondly – and in effect most importantly – it is without doubt a turgid excuse for a scary movie experience.
Prior to its release though, director Ralph Portillo already had a stab at the stalk and slash grouping with Fever Lake, a virtually forgotten addition that slightly pre-dates Wes Craven’s Scream. Whilst I can admit that I wasn’t overly excited about seeing it again for this review, I carried the hope that I may find something that I missed all those years ago.
Six school friends head off to a remote lake on a fishing trip for a weekend’s break. Upon arrival they learn the legend of an evil spirit that emerges from the depths and causes unrest amongst local wildlife and human inhabitants. After a young girl is butchered by a wolf, the natives believe that the evil has returned…
Due to a flagrantly ripped off opening scene that sees an axe-clenching father stalk his wife and child through a similar looking house, Lake has been branded some places as a teen-slash imitation of The Shining. The methodology of Stanley Kubrick’s masterful picture was to spend a length of time with the characters and develop a successful tone of dread that built up the moments of horror exceptionally. Portillo’s flick also lets its players dominate the majority of the plot, only this time around it results in an overwhelming feeling of frustration and boredom. This is mainly because we have a story that’s as exciting as being kept on hold to customer service, and it’s been populated with personalities that are as intriguing as an empty cereal packet. Around the fifty-minute mark, I asked my Mrs if she knew the name or a noteworthy detail of anyone that had appeared on the screen up to that point. I waited thirty-seconds or so for a response and then realised that she had fallen asleep.
Now I understand and appreciate a director that can build an underlying apprehension that explodes into a crescendo at the conclusion of a feature. I also recognise that this is by no means an easy feat to accomplish. What confused me most about this though was that it looked to have been put together by a crash test dummy. If Halloween acts as an example of a film that’s been produced with a complete understanding of horror as an experience, Fever Lake is its mirror reflection. We are only made aware that there is a threat lurking around the location by the repetition of identical dialogue by a ‘Native American’ that’s played by a white man(?) and adds absolutely *nothing* else to the story. He and other members of the townsfolk (including inept sheriff of the year award winner Bo Hopkins) talk of an evil spirit that lurks in the lake, but there is nothing that demonstrates this visually. Instead we get suspense music at the dumbest of times, like when the teens are discussing what to have for dinner(?). Well over an hour is spent with the cast involved in breakneck moments of tedium that include: going fishing, chatting about uninteresting crap and running out of petrol. Every now and then we cut back to the aforementioned American Indian who reiterates those lines he said five-minutes ago and it all merges into a steaming pile of nada.
When the killer finally turns up 72 minutes later, the momentum tightens slightly before one embarrassing twist leads to an incomprehensible one and it all fades to black. I have reviewed many slasher films that have been over-padded by 15 minutes and should have been trimmed down to give their runtime a smoother flow. A whopping forty-five could be removed from Lake though and it would still make an incredibly boring short. There’s no slasher action for the first hour and everything else that happens is delivered so leisurely and with such ineptitude that it’s a real challenge to keep your eyes locked on the screen. One false scare was so bad that I felt shame for the filmmakers, but my sympathy was turned to anger when I saw that they’d tried to do the exact same thing again at the conclusion.
I have no idea what Portillo was thinking when he made this film and I don’t know why he even bothered. It’s easier to give credit to someone who has tried and failed than it is when you can’t see any logic in an attempt or its delivery. Fever Lake is absolute rubbish and is perhaps even worse than the more notorious film that it led to. Of course I will re-watch Bloody Murder and explore this in finer detail, but don’t expect the results of my analysis anytime soon. I need a break from Ralph Portillo. A considerable one to be honest.
Left For Dead 2007
aka Devil’s Night
Directed by: Christopher Harrison
Starring: Steve Byers, Danielle Harris, Shawn Roberts
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Halloween has become far more significant than just a reason to dress up for slasher enthusiasts. After the success and legacy of the seminal film of that title, it will always be known to us as ‘The night he came home’. I first saw Carpenter’s classic on the 31st of October 1987 and I launched a SLASH above around the same date in 2011, which makes this the site’s third year on the net. Happy Birthday and all that.
As it is such a momentous day, I generally try to find a suitable slasher film to mark the occasion and this year I’ve chosen Left for Dead. Despite decent funding and a cast including scream queen Danielle Harris, Christopher Harrison’s entry has become surprisingly obscure. Not many of the leading slasher sites have bothered with it and it is hard to find a copy to buy online. It was produced with a large amount of PR and I remember reading an exciting preview in Fangoria back in 2007 before everything went quiet. It snuck out direct to Canadian TV some two-years later with much less media coverage and didn’t hit disc format right up until 2012. It’s never a good sign when that happens, so I wasn’t expecting too much.
After an unfortunate event in an early scene, which leaves a kid dead, a group of youngsters promise to keep it a secret and they get on with their lives. The next Halloween, they decide to have a fancy dress party, but it becomes apparent that someone is watching their every move…
To be fair, there are quite a few things that Left for Dead gets right. For example, the killer turns up almost immediately and once he’s on screen, there’s never a huge gap between one murder and the next. Harrison as a director is all about visuals and the majority of the first half of the movie is filled with girls with ample cleavages, cheesy fancy dress costumes and bright colours. He also tries to get the best out of his (admittedly below average) cast, especially when they’re speaking one on one. There’s a good example of this in an early scene where Danielle Harris and her boyfriend, played by Steve Byers, converse. Whilst it’s impossible to say how much of this was down to the creativity of the actors, the scene is nicely set-up and convincingly portrayed. Little things like this are important to see in a feature film and even if you don’t notice them initially, subconsciously you will.
Another thing worth mentioning is that there’s no doubt that Harrison is a fan of the slasher genre and eagle-eyed viewers will notice many tributes to titles like Maniac (the shotgun through windscreen murder), Fatal Games (victim on crutches), Friday the 13th Part II (spear through lovemaking couple) and Halloween. Oh yes, he’s a fan of Halloween alright; so much so in fact that he duplicated entire sequences… And the score. I don’t have a problem with this though, because it is fun playing the recognition game and makes you feel all wise and knowledgeable on the genre. The only issue though is that it seems that the director was more interested in showing us his inspirations than concentrating on making a credible entry that future pictures could reference themselves.
I have complained previously about overlong character development, but Left for Dead doesn’t seem to have much at all. Most of the time I couldn’t recognise one person from the next and once we had defined the main players, we really didn’t get any backdrop on the others. Not only did this mean that we couldn’t care less about what happened to them, but it had a devastating effect on the mystery. When the culprit is finally revealed, it was like, who was that again? Did I miss something? Erm… Ok…
Still there’s a fair few murders and despite a disappointing lack of gore or suspense, it’s worth watching for the most part. A missed opportunity to be sure, but it’s at least worth a look.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √
Billy Club 2013
Directed by: Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer
Starring: Marshall Caswell, Erin Hammond, Nick Sommer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I don’t remember the last time that I’ve anticipated a slasher movie quite as much as I have Billy Club. To be fair though, it’s logical as to why I’m feeling this way. It’s from Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer, the creators of Blood Junkie, which was one of the best genre entries of the past decade. Junkie achieved the admirable feat of mixing campy SOV wit with a smart synopsis and it was shot with an ambitious pizzazz. It’s also worth noting that it’s not just a SLASH above that have been counting the days for the release of this one either. Horror forums, sites and critics across the world have been extremely vocal in their support for the project and I haven’t seen quite this kind of buzz since the 3D remake of My Bloody Valentine was rumoured.
With Billy Club, Rosas and Sommer have approached a theme that really needs a credible entry, – ‘the sports slasher’ – and their choice of sport is baseball. We’ve been here before of course in 1998 with The Catcher, but the fact that my one-star review of the film is the most positive that can be found on the net, should tell you all you need to know about its quality. Another title, Sawed from 2004 also included a psychopath with a b-ball bat, but aside from the weapon, it offered little else to be considered as a comparison. There was still a gap in the market for an addition that could stand the test of time due to such a unique and popular subject matter. Add on top of that the fact that it is based around Halloween and all the elements were there for a real slasher treat.
A guy travels back to his town of birth to meet up with his former teammates from his school baseball team. Things haven’t been the same for them since a kid that they used to know went mad and killed his coach in cold blood. Upon his return, it seems that he has stirred the wrath of the psychopath and before long he’s fighting to protect not only his own life, but also that of his hi-school sweetheart…
The second major motion picture after a successful debut for a filmmaker is always the hardest to produce. Despite the experience and critical praise that has been received, there’s a lot more pressure to improve upon what was done previously and it’s tougher to build the same level of motivation. I remember when Donnie Darko was released all those years ago, I waited patiently for Richard Kelly’s follow up. When Southland Tales hit screens five-years later, there was no sign of that same spark. I’m happy to say that this is by no means the case with Billy Club and in fact, it’s the total opposite. What we have here is a pitch perfect slasher movie and instead of being strong in just the odd area, the crew have delivered the complete package
As is common in these pictures, the bogeyman’s motive is linked to an incident from the key characters’ childhood. Instead of following the typical Halloween/Prom Night methodology of showing you this event at the outset, it is unravelled in glimpses as the plot gathers momentum. This authentic approach works wonders in sustaining the mystery and it also builds an underscore of tension that doesn’t waiver all the way through. I consider myself amongst the best at guessing the identity of a masked maniac in whodunits, but in honesty, this one had me stumped until the revelation scene. I’d like to be able to state that I was cheated by the screenplay, but I wasn’t; I’d been outsmarted at every turn. It also helps that we are given personalities that grow on us as the story unfolds and the performances are strong enough for us to develop bonds with the cast members. I was especially impressed with Marshall Caswell’s turn as the male protagonist and he looks to be a fine actor that can handle numerous emotional levels. I can’t believe that this was his first full feature
Blood Junkie was marketed as a horror comedy and it did have a number of scenes that were highly amusing. Club’s humour is far more subdued, but when it strikes, it’s handled with care. There’s a hilarious skit in the mid-section that sees a youngster accidentally consume a large amount of shrooms and the directors utilise colours and camera trickery to portray the effects of his hallucinations. In my review of Intruder, I highlighted Spiegel’s energetic photography as highly addictive and entertaining. Well there are examples of the same panache here and it works perfectly to set the tone. When the killer turns up, he does so with menace and his guise (a modified umpire mask and lumberjack get-up) recalls the best backwoods loons. In time honoured slasher tradition, he crosses faces from a team-photo, however this time it’s done with a blow torch that’s also used to stamp the victims with their shirt number post-mortem. You’d expect a film so ripe in so many places to be equally as gory and we are treated to some outrageous kill scenes. These do aim more for realism than extremity though and I believe that suits the film’s set-up perfectly. Whilst the chase sequences are suspenseful and the bogeyman does have that hulking Jason Voorhees-like frame, the best chills for me came from the discovery of the killer’s lair and the childlike score that accompanied it. I found these moments to exude an adept aura of creepiness.
I recently went to see Fincher’s Gone Girl at the cinema and about halfway through, I got that exquisite feeling that comes only when you’re watching a great film. It’s best described as the dropping of your critical guard and just letting the filmmaker’s takeover because you are secure in the knowledge that these guys know what they’re doing. I had that same impulse whilst sitting through Billy Club and I honestly can’t give it any higher praise than that. It makes a change to see a movie that lived up to it’s potential and I was over the moon that it did so. Let’s work together to make it the success that it deserves to be and then we can remain in hope that Rosas and Sommer give us another slasher movie sooner rather than later. Club has already picked up three awards prior to its release and I’m confident that it will receive more after November the 4th. Pre-order your copy without delay.
I had always predicted that it would take a big budget hit to bring back the slasher genre. Movies like Billy Club are making me think otherwise.
- Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer have given me some T-Shirts to give away to lucky readers to follow the November the 4th launch. All you have to do to is answer the questions here and you will be in the mix to receive one. Check back on Halloween for the link :)
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √√√
Dead 7 2000
Directed by: Garrett Clancy
Starring: Joe Myles, Matt Emery, Delia Copold
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I certainly wasn’t expecting much from Dead 7, especially after I learned that it was a Brain Damage films release. They are the production criminals that have unloaded excrement like Maniacal and the rancid Butchered on to unsuspecting movie fans for the past ten years. But with that said though I’m always open minded when it comes to low budget features, because for every twenty Camp 139s there’s always the chance that there could be a Killer Campout lurking amongst them somewhere. Surprisingly enough – Shock horror – Garret Clancy’s slasher opus was a damn site better than it had any right to be, and it has somewhat restored my faith (momentarily) in Brain Damage as a label.
Clancy opens proceedings with a neat collage of woodland wildlife shots that brought eighties schlock classic The Prey to mind. Next we cut to a girl named Venus who is searching for her younger brother in the dense forest. She is very protective of Harley as he is death and mute, which makes it harder for him to communicate and let people know if he needs help. The two had been playing hide and seek until Harley’s attention had been diverted by the mysterious station wagon that had parked just yards in front of him. Hidden behind the camouflage of the dense trees, the young boy watches on as two men climb out of the car and drag a struggling man out of the boot. Franky (Matt Emery) and Brownley (Joe Myles) are viscous drug dealing gangsters that are just about to enforce the consequences of messing with their clique. They drag the victim out to an abandoned mine shaft and decapitate him with an axe before throwing his body down the pit. They hurriedly leave and meet up with their girlfriends Julie (Tanya Dempsey) and Karen (Janet Keijser) and their co-ed friend Drusilla (Gina Zachory).
Franky suddenly realizes that he has left his wallet back at the shaft, and after consulting Brownley, the two decide that they’ll have to go and find it without arousing the suspicion of Drusilla. Despite having very bad taste in friends, ‘Silla doesn’t seem like the type to be a part of any immoral activities and that’s why they try to keep the corpse under wraps. All five of them head back to the scene, and leave Dru to join Harley playing Hide and Seek. Unfortunately whilst searching for a secluded place, Harley comes across the foursome in a criminal situation, which means that they have no option but to silence him…for good! So down the mineshaft he goes with no chance of ever escaping or calling for help. Poor old Drusilla has no idea that her buddies have just killed the youngster and she is dragged away without an explanation.
A couple of months down the line, everyone except Venus seems to have forgotten about Harley’s death. But the gangsters are given an ominous reminder when an unseen intruder throws some incriminating evidence through Franky’s window. This results in a chain of events that leads to the gang being stalked and gruesomely slaughtered one by one by a mysterious stranger. Brownley has already proved that he is a ruthless killer, but it looks like he may have met his match in this mystifying vigilante. But who could be behind this frenzy of retribution?
Even though it sounds like a textbook slasher by the numbers, Dead 7 is actually a fairly engaging and moderately authentic take on the genre. It makes a refreshing change to have a mystery that actually pays off the viewer with a satisfying conclusion, and Clancy has enough screen writing flair to keep you guessing through to the climax. He directs with a confidence that exceeds his lack of experience, and the photography is fluid, crisp and innovative all the way through. Kudos also to the editor who did an extremely credible job when compared with similar no-budget offerings. The decision to shoot all the horror scenes in broad daylight was a wise method of avoiding the frequent problems caused by insufficient illumination and even though the locations were those of the ‘take what you can get’ variety, they suit the desolate atmosphere of the feature. Modern day horror enthusiasts might be disappointed by the lack of any really convincing gore, but the murders are fairly imaginative all the same: Death by copious amounts of cocaine anybody? The acting is fairly shoddy and unconvincing, but it’s by no means the worst that I’ve seen. It’s perhaps ironic that the best performance happens to be the director’s cameo as a bent copper.
It goes without saying that Dead 7 does show it’s amateurism in places. Clancy’s script includes some inadvertently amusing dialogue that certainly wasn’t his initial intention and one or two of the bargain bucket death scenes are hilariously hokey. One guy gets his ears lopped off and spends the rest of his screen time covering them up with his hands so that we don’t see the wounds!. In all fairness though, the killer’s face make-up in the final scene was actually quite good and there’s also a gooey slashed throat among other grisly highlights.
The net result is a decent slasher with a supernatural sheen that manages to keep you watching from start to finish. And that’s a target that many other Brain Damage monstrosities couldn’t even dream of achieving. There’s some raw but worthwhile talent on display within Dead 7 and it warrants at least a viewing.
I say check it out…
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl √
The Pool 2000
Directed by: Boris Von Sychowski
Starring: Kristen Miller, Isla Fischer, Paul Grasshoff
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
After watching and thoroughly enjoying Anatomy a couple of weeks back, I thought that I’d check out another of Germany’s post-Scream additions to the slasher genre. The Pool didn’t make as big a splash as Stefan Ruzowitzky’s entry when it hit shelves, but it did tick a box that I’d dreamed of since I was a youngster.
You see, I remember visiting a Swimming complex in London when I was growing up called Fantaseas. It was a huge water park that had American-style flumes, countless wave-based gimmicks and a mixed-sex changing room, which was enough motivation for a youngster like me to hope to pick up some chicas. It was only open for a short while until a few serious accidents caused its sudden closure. One of those was a gruesome fatality that launched a tirade of bad press and the rumour that the site was haunted. With this in mind, a group of friends and I climbed through an air vent one night to see if we could discover any paranormal activity. Whilst we didn’t come across any ghosts or sentient beings, the sight of the dilapidated complex in spooky solitude is an image that’s stayed with me to this day.
I always felt that if I were to make a horror film, I would chose a similar backdrop to that which had effected me so much back then, but Boris von Sychowski beat me to it. I just hoped that he would make the most of what there was to offer.
A group of youngsters decide to celebrate their graduation by throwing a party inside a swimming complex. Little do they know that one of their number is looking to slash rather than splash…
Even though Pool was a German production, the cast is made up of various nationalities and a lot of the exteriors were filmed in one of my favourite cities, Prague. The mix of actors does create an interesting blend of accents, but unlike the aforementioned Anatomy, the crew decided to utilise English as the main language to make the movie easier to market globally. There are some faces that you may have seen in other pictures since this hit shelves, but the most recognisable is a young Isla Fischer who has carved out a steady career in cinema since.
Back in the early noughties, slasher films were still making a tidy profit and it’s visible that The Pool is extremely well financed to capitalise on that. Von Sychowski directs with a vibrant panache and plans every shot extremely well. He chooses a blue-ish tinge to shoot the action and it complements the film’s aquatic nature. I was hoping to see the water park backdrop utilised as much as possible and some memorable set pieces are created because they do just that. We get a kill scene that has become notorious and it sees a young bunny get sliced in half after sliding down a flume on to a strategically placed blade. It brought back memories of all those urban legends about razors in watershoots and its one that’ll make female viewers flinch. An impressive number of partying teenagers are dispatched via the killer’s signature machete, but perhaps because the producers were hoping not to suffer censorship issues, there’s very little gore on display.
There was another sequence that I thought was credible, which saw a group of teenagers stalked inside an air vent. It worked well due to the obvious claustrophobia and the fact that the victims had no real method of defence. What it lacked though, and it’s something that I felt really let the movie down, was the right amount of suspense. Make no mistake about it; The Pool is a fine advertisement for the slasher genre. It’s got some hilarious dialogue, a decent soundtrack, beautiful cast members and it knows how to have some fun. The only thing that was really missing was the slice of tension that can turn a good film into a great one and it had an effect on my idea of a rating. I don’t recall many moments when I felt that I didn’t know what was coming next and because there were no shocks or genuine scares, it made things feel somewhat diluted. Chuck on top of that a poorly handled mystery and a pointless subplot with a detective that looks like Roy Cropper and the film loses a chunk of its polish.
The Pool tries its darndest to follow the Scream methodology, (the opening sequence is almost identical) and I guess that it succeeds, because if you really like Craven’s picture, you’ll most definitely enjoy this. It’s a slick slasher movie that ticks the right boxes, but the only disappointment is that it doesn’t go for the jugular.Funnily enough one character even says, I know what you did last summer just to prove the Williamson inspiration
Looking at the fate that befell Cherry Falls when it was cut to smithereens, it’s easy to see why The Pool played it safe and didn’t go all out for the gore-filled approach. Unfortunately it left a movie that has all the gloss, but not enough grit. Me, well I prefer them gritty…
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Memorial Day Killer 1999
Directed by: Christopher Alender
Starring: Marcos Gabriel, Therese Fretwell, Andrew Williams
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Slasher films have always been notorious for their low production budgets, but the aftermath of the success of Wes Craven’s Scream saw huge growth in the output of such titles. The introduction of digital equipment made it easier for up and coming filmmakers to develop features and they were picked up relatively cheaply for global consumption. Films like Camp Blood, Granny, Head Cheerleader Dead Cheerleader and Dead 7 were a common sight in rental stores around the turn of the millennium and the lack of expenditure that was put into them meant that they usually always turned a tidy profit for distributors.
Memorial Day Killer is one that I came across back then, but never got round to watching. I think this was mainly due to there being so many new additions coming out that this one ended up at the bottom of a pile in my bedroom where it was forgotten. It was only recently when I was discussing 1988′s Memorial Valley Massacre with one of my readers here that I remembered that it even existed.
A group of youngsters head off into the woodland for the Memorial Day weekend. It’s been three-years since Rachel’s younger brother drowned in the local lake and this is the first time that she’s been able to return. Before long a masked killer begins to slice his way through the crew…
You could best describe MDK as the slasher movie equivalent of a two-star hotel. You get a bed to sleep in and a sink to wash your hands, but you have to share the bathroom and the breakfast is little more than value cornflakes and UHT milk. Oh and let’s not talk about the towels… Yuk! I say this because the visuals here are extremely foggy and Christopher Alender shoots everything flatly and with little invention. The characters are badly constructed and poorly portrayed, which makes them one dimensional and forgettable. There was a funny example of this where one soon-to-be-victim pleads for her life with the enthusiasm of a slice of dry bread. She was crawling along on a death trap that was laden with deadly razor blades, but looked about as bothered as if someone had just disturbed her from a snooze… Well maybe they had. There’s nothing in the screenplay to differentiate one face from another and the dialogue just feels recycled and irrelevant. I was impressed that the filmmakers included the old ‘campfire scary story’ chestnut, but it was leisurely replicated and mundane. We get little time to build any kind of relationship with the cast members and the first half of the runtime is spent waiting for the maniac to hurry up and get to work.
In the opening scene, we see an unattractive couple get murdered and there’s a part of this sequence that I thought was hilarious. After the boyfriend gets offed when he goes out to his car to grab a condom, the killer enters the house to take care of the female. She doesn’t realise that the masked nut-job is not her lover and so he blindfolds her from behind and goes on to re-enact Mickey Rourke from Nine 1/2 Weeks. Quite what the director had in mind when he got his bogeyman to erotically feed diced strawberries to the girl that he was about to kill is beyond me, but it was an amusing slice of WTF madness.
The threadbare locations emphasise the obvious lack of budget and the score may well have been one of those that you can buy online for $50. To be honest, by the twenty-five-minute mark I was ready to cast off Memorial Day Killer as absolute tosh, but there were a few things that I feel partially redeemed it before the final credits rolled. You see, it’s tough to make a great movie on peanuts, but trying your hardest is something that pays dividends. Whilst there’s a load here that is easy to mock, Alender does at least attempt to go the extra mile in places to give his movie a sharper suit.
The murders for example are extremely creative and there’s a lot of thought that has been put into how they’re conveyed. It would have been easy to give the killer a machete and gone with the usual sliced throat effect, but instead each slaughter is one that we don’t see very often and they’re extremely imaginative, albeit gore free. We are also given a twist that may not be exactly logical, but at least I didn’t see it coming. Some may consider it as bolted on, but it did at least spice up the story.
All in all, Memorial never really escapes its penny sweet budget (was the killer’s mask cardboard?), but it tries hard to pay tribute to Friday the 13th as much as possible and with a decent dose of creativity to boot. Whilst I concur that it’s still not one that you should go out of your way for, it’ll do the job if you’re hard up. Hey, like a Two-Star hotel…
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Starring: Franka Potente, Benno Fürmann, Anna Loos
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Like most slasher fans of the thirty+ age bracket, I much prefer the eighties genre boom to the one that followed hot on the heels of Scream. There’s a type of veteran feeling attached to knowing that you were collecting big-box VHS during the glory years and even if Craven’s classic is nearly twenty-years old, it’s not quite retro yet.
Taking the sentimentality out of the equation though, there’s a strong case to say that the second peak was more beneficial for the category. Firstly, we received three times as many entries from 1996 to the current date than we did back then, and secondly, a lot more countries contributed to the rebirth. Anatomy was an early addition to be produced by Germany and its huge box office return opened the door for more European states to jump on the bandwagon. In the years that followed, we would see Cold Fear, School Killer and Haute Tension bring flair to the template and continue the category’s progression.
Young anatomy student Paula (Franka Potente) is one of the best young medics in her country. When she is offered a place on a course in Heidelberg taught by a famous professor she is clearly over the moon. However, her suspicions are aroused when one by one her fellow students go missing and the body of a young man she met only days earlier turns up on the dissecting table – dead. So is she just paranoid or is there something far more sinister behind the strange disappearances?
I watched Anatomy with my Mrs and after it had finished, she said, “That’s not a slasher film, it’s a thriller”. Now usually, I counter such claims from her with a knowing nod, as if to say, ‘let me be the critic, you’re just along for the ride’. In this instance (and in this one only), I must begrudgingly admit that she may have a point. You see, Anatomy does spend more time developing its mystery than it does underlining the clichés. Victims are kidnapped by a gloved assailant, but there’s no masked killer and very few of the references that Kevin Williamson’s screenplay underlined so confidently
The fact that we do have a scalpel clenching psychopath, a typical final girl and ingredients such as the ‘have sex and die’ rule mean that I’m not unsure about the film’s status upon this site. So with that cleared up, I’m free to tell you that what we have here is a superb addition to the cycle. There are some fine acting skills on display, especially from Benno Furmann who has gone on to become a great talent in his home country. Franka Potente gives us a smart and charming heroine that reminded me of Laurie Strode far more than many that I have seen of late. Director Stefan Ruzowitzky manages to pile on the suspense in a number of scenes. One of the most outstanding is when the butcher attempts to hide a freshly murdered corpse that he viciously slashed only moments earlier. He hears the cleaners coming down the corridor, so he blocks the door to the Morgue with a surgical trolley. Of course, the staff can’t understand why it’s been suddenly locked, so they call their superiors to assist with getting it open. The psycho has to race against the clock to put the body into the refrigerator and hide before he gets caught red handed. It’s real nail biting stuff and the tension doesn’t end there. We get a brutal chase sequence towards the end, which is reminiscent of Halloween II. The scalpel-wielding killer and he’s loyal accomplice stalk our likeable final girl through the basement of the University and create a harrowing atmosphere that is rarely seen to such a great effect in today’s horror movies.
As I’ve highlighted, this is pure whodunit for the most part and there are suspicious suspects everywhere to put you off of the real assassin’s identity. Take the somewhat unfriendly looking dissector who hangs around the students clenching a saw and asking if they’re ready for him to `…open the skull’. Ruzowitzky adds the odd touch of comedy to brighten things up in-between the kill scenes. In one bit Paula is talking on the phone to her friend who is an overweight middle-aged male. Out of the corner of her eye she catches her fancy man Caspar waiting for her. In an attempt to make him jealous, she states to to the male `…on your firm buttocks’ to which he mops his brow and wonders what the hell she’s going on about. It’s comedy gold.
After the victims have been injected with an anaesthetic and kidnapped by the madman, they wake up on a dissecting table with an uplifting piece of music playing while they’re being gutted. The merciless surgeons completely ignore their cries for help, which makes them seem all the more sadistic. I’ll tell you something else too, after watching this I’m going to do my best to keep out of medical centres for the foreseeable future. It successfully made me contemplate what sort of mind is on the other end of that sharp looking surgical saw.
In Anna Loos, the film has an amazing slice of eye-candy, and she flaunts her voluptuous figure in a wonderful seduction scene. The script succeeds in giving her and all the other background characters a unique personality and you do find that you what them to survive. The assailant’s identity is revealed quite early in the runtime, but there’s still some revelations before the final credits roll and the film’s unique structure is one of the biggest pluses.
Anatomy is a slickly directed, stylish horror film with brilliant dialogue and personalities that we care about. Make sure that you get the subtitled copy though as I’ve heard that it was weakly dubbed for global distribution. Still, I’m extremely pleased that I watched it again and I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it too.
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl √√√√
Hanging Heart 1983?
Director Jimmy Lee
Starring, Barry Wyatt, Francine Lapensee, Debra Robinson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
How does that old Bruce Springsteen number go again, Everybody’s got a hungry heart? Well not everyone’s got a Hanging Heart that’s for sure. This peak period entry from 1983 is so obscure that it has no reviews on its lonely IMDB page… Until now. I picked it up in Poland on VHS many moons ago because its back-cover blurb sounded slightly slasher-esque. It’s been gathering cobwebs in my garage since that time, because I didn’t really think it was a genre entry until a SLASH above reader Alexander Gretil contacted me and said that it certainly was. (Thanks for that Alex))
Much like Cards of Death, the film was shot in California, but only secured distribution in a handful of countries outside of the US. I managed to source a Brazilian copy with much better visuals than my aging videotape and I also saw a Dutch cassette on eBay, which shows that it’s not ‘totally’ impossible to track down. There’s very little information that I can find scattered about on the web, so I really have no idea why it was never picked up in its country of origin. Although it’s MIA status did set off alarm bells that it may be utter tosh, I was still keen to give it a go.
A masked killer targets an up and coming theatre production, leaving the star, Denny, as the most likely suspect. When he is arrested and thrown in jail, his lawyer begins a campaign to free him. As soon as he is released the murders begin again, which makes him look extremely guilty. Is he the killer?
At the time that this went to production, the film’s director, Jimmy Lee was a South Korean citizen who had emigrated to study in the US and chase his filmmaking dream. Since 1998′s Whispering Corridors, South Korean horror has had a huge impact on the genre, which led me to believe that I may have been in for an undiscovered precursor of sorts with this. Well, whilst Hanging Heart is not one that plays it by the book, its tricks and twists are definitely those of the least impressive variety.
Heart is, in fact, one of the strangest films that I have ever seen. Characters pop up out of nowhere with no introduction in scenes that are totally disjointed and we never really know who is doing what and for why. At first I thought that it must have been an inexperienced editor that gave it the structure of Spaghetti Bolognese, but Steven Nielsen had three films under his belt before he worked on this, so that can’t be the case. It’s very hard to ascertain what went wrong and how no one picked up on the incoherent flow before it was packaged up for release, but it makes the film difficult to watch.
Lee incorporates an abundance of obvious homoerotic imagery that goes way beyond anything David DeCoteau has ever rolled out. Our lead character/suspect, Denny, is constantly pursued by his homosexual lawyer who has the hots for him and this leads to a graphic scene where Denny dreams that he is sexually assaulted in the shower. Later, we watch full on as he is strip searched in a Police station, before being thrown in a cell with two guys that make out in front of him, much to his discomfort. We also get a flashback from his childhood that shows him being forced to perform a sex act on his stepfather and it’s all done in real bad taste. Whilst titles such as Hellbent have been gleefully accepted for opening up the slasher genre to a sexual preference that had been largely ignored for too long, Hanging Heart, whether intentionally or not, conveys homosexuals as sleazy stalkers and that’s unforgivable.
What is unique about the picture though is that it follows the main suspect through a trial, into prison and then to a mental hospital, which begs the question is this more of a drama than a slasher movie? Well with only three blood-less killings (a stocking is used to strangle the first two victims) that’s actually a point that holds some weight. Whilst there is a hooded nutjob doing the rounds, the core of the story is most definitely the mystery, which is unfortunate, because the conclusion turns out to be the person that we expected it to be all along. Conveyed over 100+ minutes, Heart does rather hang on the borders of tedium. In fact that’s a rather generous description, because it smashes through said borders to send viewers in to a coma-like state. Whilst my tolerance levels for trash cinema have weakened over the years, I am lucky enough to have found a partner who is not as critical and generally enjoys everything from Mask of Murder to Houseboat Horror. The fact that she fell asleep three times (we had to watch the feature over a trifecta of days) should tell you all that you need to know. If a movie can’t keep someone as forgiving as my Mrs interested then it has got serious problems.
None of the cast featured here went on to do anything else, which is perhaps unfair because they were by no means the worst actors to grace slasherdom. It can’t have helped that their debut received such limited exposure, but it still seems strange that all of their careers started and ended with this. One thing that I found interesting was that the IMDB has it dated as 1983, but it looks at least three-years younger. Jimmy Lee made another film nearly two decades later and I wonder if this has been listed incorrectly? I’d be keen to find out
It’s not hard to see why Hanging Heart wasn’t picked up for US distribution. It’s overlong, boring and possibly offensive to boot. Whilst its obscurity does give it a cult-ish sheen, it is not one that offers much more.
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl √
Mask of Murder 1985
Directed by: Arne Mattsson
Starring: Rod Taylor, Valerie Perrine, Christopher Lee
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Following hot on the heels of my reviews of Out of the Dark and Dead End, Mask of Murder is another of those mystery thrillers that borrows plot points from the slasher movies and giallos that had been popular around the time. It was a joint Swedish/Canadian production that was shot in Uppsala län, and it was that unusual blend of cultural heritage that initially caught my attention.
Christopher Lee’s credits over the last twenty years have included three mega-blockbusters, which isn’t bad going for an actor that made his first movie appearance way back in the midst of World War 2. He was initially John Carpenter’s choice to play the Sam Loomis character in Halloween, but he didn’t accept; something he admits he’s always regretted. He even went as far as to call it the biggest blunder of his career.
Obviously annoyed that he’d missed out on some supreme slasher action, perhaps the reason he took a supporting role here was because he didn’t want to make the same mistake twice? Or maybe he was blackmailed into doing it? I really don’t know, but one thing is certain however, he was definitely slumming it.
It’s all set in a small snowy Canadian town. Almost immediately, a loony in a mask grabs an unsuspecting woman and slices her throat with a straight razor. Later that day in another location, a second victim suffers the same fate at the hands of the gruesome killer. He removes his disguise and heads back to a remote cabin where he proves his dementia by gnashing his teeth and staring into the screen. Ooooh scary…
We next get to meet the members of our cast over an evening’s gathering. First off there’s John (Christopher Lee) the chief of the local Police Force. His best detective, Bob (Rod Taylor) has been having problems with his wife Marianne (Valerie Perrine). These difficulties must have a lot to do with the fact that his partner Ray (Sam Cook) is busy banging her every time that he gets the chance. The dinner party is cut short when Bob receives a call informing him that they have the assassin surrounded. They rush to the scene and to cut an overlong story short; the city of Nelson should be a little quieter from now on. But the tranquillity doesn’t last. It begins to look like there’s a copycat murderer at work when more women turn up with their throats slit. Is someone mimicking the murders? Or is the killer back from beyond the grave?
Why Christopher Lee turned down Halloween but chose to play a part in this turkey is one of the world’s biggest mysteries. It’s up there with the Bermuda Triangle, Roswell and Big Foot. I mean seriously come on; surely the screenwriter must have known that the killer’s identity was patently obvious from the start. This is perhaps the dumbest and most basic premise for a murder mystery that I have ever seen. The Scooby Doo cartoon offers less obvious plot twists. Swedish filmmaker Arne Mattsson directs so sloppily that he manages to drag surprisingly wooden performances from an inviting ensemble of screen veterans. Lee’s the best of the bunch, but he’s not on screen long enough to warrant his fans to hunt this down. The pace moves like a traffic jam, and perhaps the most obnoxious thing about Mask of Murder is the horrible music that accompanies every ‘twist’ in the story. It sounds like one of those guitar-sporting beggars that you sometimes see on the street had been recorded whilst heavily inebriated.
Surprisingly though, there are some things that I liked about the film’s set up. For example, the killer has a pillow case over his head and if you squint your eyes it almost looks like the kind of burlap sack that Jason wore in Friday the 13th Part II. Also, the throat slashings are fairly bloody and in one scene a girl is murdered in a cinema – a trick that has become a slasher trademark after He Knows You’re Alone, Cut and Scream 2. The only problem is that the gore scenes are so leisurely executed that the gratuitous blood gushes just look like a poor attempt to flog a dead horse. There was never really a moment where I felt like things might improve or that I was perhaps being a tad over-critical. My suspicions were confirmed once and for all when I witnessed Rod Taylor sniffing his adulterous wife’s underwear. (Don’t ask!)
Mask of Murder was once amongst the rarest fossils of the genre, despite being released in quite a few countries. Nowadays though, its available on a Dutch DVD, although I must admit that I haven’t seen what the quality is like or what version it is on that disc.The first copy that I ever found was the BBFC rated print, which is missing 124 seconds of footage, but then I came across a VHS in Spain that’s totally uncut. It doesn’t really make much of a difference though because the film is as exciting as root canal surgery and almost as painful…
Killer Guise: √√√