Christina’s House 1999
Directed by: Gavin Wilding
Starring: Brad Rowe, Allison Lange, Chelsea Hobbs
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I bet that the excellent work form the marketing bod that promoted the UK release of Christina’s House fooled many unsuspecting ‘victims’ in to parting with their pennies to rent it. The front boldly boasts that it’s ‘from the hit-making writers of Poltergeist’, backed with a quote from ‘Videoworld’ that reads – ‘Fantastic! It will scare the hell out of you’. Flip to the reverse and we’re informed that star, Brad Rowe is the new Brad Pitt or Leonardo Di Caprio and underneath we learn that this is a ‘must see Box Office smash‘. But the real hyperbole came from the ingenious warning box, which states that we should be prepared for the most terrifying 92 minutes of our lives. I was starting to wonder why I hadn’t seen or heard of this before?I mean it sounds just amazing…
Credit has to be given to the peeps over at Xscapade video. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much brouhaha. The quality of their work made me think about hiring them to do an advert for my blog. You know something like, “Pulitzer prize winning author, fresh from curing a deadly disease writes a blog about the cinema defining genre, ‘The Slasher.” Anyway, the box-art made me believe that this was some kind of creepy Amityville spin-off, involving a spooky haunted house and plenty of ghosts and demonic horror. But the truth is, this is just a lamer than lame Scream wannabe that’s about as ‘terrifying’ as Thomas the Tank Engine.
Unsurprisingly it’s about a girl called Christina that lives in a house. Only joking, there’s a tiny bit more to it than that. Thing’s look like they could get tricky for our Chrissie, when we witness a jolly cookie sales girl getting shaken to death by an unseen assailant outside the abode’s front door. How he actually broke her neck by wiggling her hips was something that I still haven’t quite grasped; but hey let’s not be picky. So we soon learn that there’s a psycho up to no good in the hood and a standard murder-mystery plot ensues. Local residents begin getting offed in diluted ways and it looks like Christina’s stumbled across a spot of bother…
The only thing that’s worse than an overlong movie is an overlong boring movie, which Christina’s House pulls off to perfection. It’s more like a sleep-inducing teen drama than a horror flick, with the scares amounting to a sandwich mysteriously appearing in the kitchen or the whereabouts of the heroine’s diary. Brad Pitt, sorry, Brad Rowe, was about the best performer on offer, but I really don’t think that Mr. Jolie himself has got to watch his back just yet, despite the confident praise that Rowe has been awarded on the back of the box. (You should’ve seen what they said about Lange!) I really couldn’t for the life of me work out what the BBFC saw here to give this an 18 rating? You’re likely to find more gore in an episode of Scooby Doo, because all the murders are committed somewhat leisurely off screen. We do get treated to a ‘crack’ in the soundtrack on the odd occasion, but I’m afraid that’s your lot folks. To make matters worse for exploitation buffs, there’s only one extremely brief flash of boobies too.
The main players that guide us through the story are all written to look slightly deranged, in an attempt to make the most of the mystery. The thing is though, it’s constructed so poorly that you’ll guess who it is half way through anyway. Gavin Wilding – who was also behind The Wisher – has no idea how to build pace and most of the runtime moves painfully s.l.o.w.l.y. So much so, that I had a job to watch it to the end without falling into a catatonic state. To be fair, the conclusion had an interesting twist, but again, it was just sloppily handled. Stuart Allison, an experienced screenwriter, has really let himself down with this piece.
In fact, the whole plot barely made sense. I mean, how the hell did the killer manage to turn Christina’s house into a prison with unbreakable windows and centrally lockable doors, without any of the family noticing? Where did he get the money to do such a thing? And how could the Sheriff be so deplorably inept that he would ignore plenty of blatant signs that something’s not quite right inside the property that he’s meant to be watching. He even questions a hammer that’s thrown through a window, which lands directly in front of him! You’d find more character development in a Los Zetas execution vid and we don’t even find out any reasoning for the majority of the story’s twists. The killer’s motivation is also left up to our imagination. At the end we learn that she was insane (obviously), but we’re left to work out our own ideas for the motive with literally no attempt at an explanation. Perhaps the wrath of the actors at the desperation of their agents to cast them in this turkey was the true reason for the massacre? Could be possible.
The end result is truly a bit of an enigma, because it must be the one time that I’ve watched a film and not written down even one redeeming feature in my note pad. It’s predictable, lame and boring rubbish. It’s not even really much of a horror flick. Slasher fans won’t like it because there is no actual slashing and If you are looking for a murder mystery then you’ll also be disappointed. For all its boasts about its great screenplay, it turns out to be more of a ‘pick one of the cast as the killer’ than ‘solve the puzzle’ and has no true logic. Even the few bizarre hints of supernatural immediately disappear when the nut job is revealed to be just a normal guy. I guess that all that I have to let you know is that this is tedious and doesn’t deserve any of your time. I’m all for slow boiling suspense thrillers, but this just sucks. Sorry.
Christina’s house should be boarded up and abandoned…
Final Girl: √
Blood Harvest 1987
aka The Marvelous Mervo aka Nightmare
Directed by: Bill Rebane
Starring: Tiny Tim, Itonia Salchek, Dean West
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Blood Harvest is yet further evidence how the slasher genre was a good cash cow for ambitious B-Movie producers during the eighties. So much so that even celebrated low budget titans like Bill Rebane were keen to get in on the action and have a stab at creating their ownHalloween.
Rebane himself is a bit if a movie enigma who preferred the comfort zone of budget sci-fi/Horror than a golden ticket to Hollywood. An educated film-maker whose creativity and flair for adventure saw him innovate cinema with his 360 degrees wrap-around motion picture process, he could have used his skill for technology and his cultural intelligence (He was Latvian born and fluent in five languages) to join a major studio. Instead he stuck to releasing his own self-financed productions that were each fairly successful in their own right.
In the mid-eighties he hosted a 50s nostalgia event at his Wisconsin based studio, The Shooting Ranch. There, a chance meeting with Tiny Tim, another oddball celebrity who had found fortune with his falsetto voice and quirky character – led to the production of this curious slasher.
There are three versions of the feature in circulation and each is slightly different. The American VHS release includes all the nudity and gore, whilst the UK tape is missing three-minutes of footage, which was considered too gruesome by the BBFC. There’s also a director’s cut on DVD, which is itself rather strange because it also removes most of the blood and bare skin. That must be the first time that a director’s version subtracts from the existing print and offers a more lenient alternative. It’s rumoured that this may have been either due to Rebane’s political ambitions at the time or the fact that the gore was not in his initial vision for the flick and rather it was added at the insistence of his production partners (most of his previous work was PG13 rated) to make the film more marketable to the splatter audiences.
Jill returns home to her city from University to find that her parents are missing and the local bank (which they own) has forced most of the farmers to sell their properties. They are not the most popular people in the neighborhood, so Jill is rightly concerned about their disappearance. Things go where you expect them to, when a killer with a stocking on his head turns up and begins stalking the youngster and murdering anyone who has contact with her.
I can only say that a slasher film starring Tiny Tim is as jaw droopingly bizarre as you would expect it to be. To be fair to him, his performance is one of the few highlights in an otherwise dull offering and he manages to deliver a troubled-childlike creepiness with depths to his character. Dressing him in a clown costume was a masterstroke from the scriptwriters and adds to the overall desperation of his deluded persona.
The rest of the cast are nowhere near as credible and he carries the torch in terms of capable dramatics. I have to mention Itonia Salchek, the final girl, who can’t act for toffee but seems to enjoy nothing more than getting her kit off at every available opportunity, which makes her a hit with T&A fans and most likely the highlight of a single guy’s night out in any bar that she frequents. Anyway, she is lost here carrying most of the plot development on her (usually naked) shoulders and comes across as unapproachable.
I mentioned about Bill Rebane being an enigma earlier, but he is nowhere near as mysterious as his lead actress. I couldn’t uncover any information about her anywhere. Now her surname looks Eastern European (I speak Russian and Polish and it’s not from those countries) but her first name Itonia is an epithet from Greek mythology for the Goddess Athena. Interesting stuff. Anyway, she vanished in to obscurity after this, but if you know something, then please give me a shout. Here’s a rare screenshot of her in clothing, which is something that we don’t see very often.
It seems like Rebane was aware of the slasher genre but hadn’t researched its trappings and unlike many entries of the same year, the movie steers clear of feeling like a total rip off. There are no POV shots, the final girl doesn’t come across as shy and withdrawn and the killer seems more like what you would expect to find in a Giallo than a slasher flick. This is most evident in the heavy sexual undertones and his motive, which is at least well-handled and believable.
The film would suffer in later years, disappearing due to legal tangles, not just once, but for a second time after its outing on DVD. This gives it a somewhat alluring sheen, especially as it’s impossible to find now in its uncut form. The only version worth watching is the unrated cut, because despite of some uninspired and pedestrian direction from Rebane (I expected better) there are snippets of a really foreboding atmosphere. The killer is exceptionally merciless and brutal and the actor does well playing off-his-rocker insanity at the climax. There’s the mystery of guessing his identity, but there are not many choices and you’ll work it out pretty quick if you watch closely enough. Some more killings would have been nice (only two on screen) but the gooey throat-slashing is really well done (by soon to be big shot Dieter Sturm no less)
There’s a nice synth score that I liked and the killer looks creepy with a stocking over his head, but there’s too much missing in terms of continuity to make this a hidden-gem. Some of the plot points were bordering on stupidity and what the hell was with the incredibly inept sheriff? There are long periods of dull rubbish acting where your attention will turn away from the screen and it definitely hasn’t aged well.
Worthy only because it’s rare and a great performance from Tiny Tim, but otherwise not really recommended as a competitor.
Final Girl √√√
City In Panic 1986
Directed by: Robert Bouveir
Starring: David Adamson, Lee Ann Nestegard, Derrick Emery
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Dependent on the product there can be sometimes no better marketing tool than controversy. For their time, The Sex Pistols were controversial and made a great career out of it. The Rolling Stones, Elvis, hell even Sir Cliff Richard caused uproar in his day. As Max Clifford once famously said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” This little-known Canadian slasher must’ve been aiming for some of the same media coverage when it attempted to make an admittedly ham-fisted social comment on one of the eighties’ biggest discussion points – the HIV virus. Any severe medical condition should be handled with care and consideration by a filmmaker that is attempting to broach such delicate topics, but Bouvier’s feature is the cinematic equivalent of telling a friend that they looked better last year when they could still fit in those jeans.
In the first few minutes, the director attempts a role reversal on Hitchcock’s notorious shower scene. A hulking killer sporting a fedora, dark glasses and typical giallo-like psycho-garb bursts into a bathroom and hacks an unfortunate guy to death with a kitchen knife. Before leaving, the maniac carves the letter ‘M’ into his back with the aforementioned blade. This becomes the macabre calling card of the maniacal assassin and also the name that he becomes known by in media. Next up we meet Dave Miller (David Adamson) a radio talk show host that immediately takes an interest in the madman’s motives. As the bodies continue to pile up around the city, Dave decides to set a trap using his popular broadcast as the bait. Eventually, the killer himself phones the show and begins to slaughter people that are close to the presenter. Is Miller next on the death list?
City in Panic starts with a protagonist narrative that is vaguely reminiscent of the maverick cop thrillers of the seventies. The depiction of a sleazy town in peril led me to believe that Bouvier was as much a fan of Dirty Harry and the like as he was of Halloween. To be fair there are times when the atmosphere gets credibly morbid and some of the gruesome murders are brutal if not graphically audacious enough to rival gore marathons. We are treated to occasional flashes of innovative photography that are exciting and spontaneous and provide the odd glimpse of suspense that helps to strengthen the few moments of macabre mayhem. Perhaps the most memorable of those is the repugnant castration of a toilet loitering sex pest. After having his ‘Johnson’ chopped off by the masked killer, the guy is left to die in agony and spray blood on the walls like the final spurts of a wayward sprinkler system. It’s a grim sight indeed; but unfortunately, aside from the couple of select examples of flair from Bouvier, the majority of the film struggles to pull itself from the realms of amateur night.
I remember a Glam metal band that were unsigned in the late eighties and recorded two demos that were popular amongst collectors. Indian Angel’s set list included catchy tracks like Playing Hard To Get, Loneliness Motel and Just Pretending, but after a few years on the club circuit they disbanded. When they finally did call it quits it was clear that they had not improved on their musicianship and were still playing those same songs that I mentioned above. They failed to build upon their initial strengths and in the end were doomed to remain rock and roll apprentices. This film is a similar case in point as it perhaps needed Bouvier to step back, analyse his work and then try a bit harder. The spluttering dramatics fail to convince on even the lowest level, which immediately destroys any sense of realism being created. An idea with such a strong topical standpoint needed to be solid with its scripting in order to deliver what it intended, but Andreas Blackwell’s confused screenplay is sketchy and it leaves characters contradicting themselves. The glossy veneer of intellectual dialogue soon becomes transparent as nonsensical chit chat and the fact that City in Panic seems to have been written with minimal effort means that it only appeals to those that can’t be bothered to make the effort. At one point the investigator says, “Now I began to accept that the city had on its hands a killer”. That line came after we had already seen a couple of mutilated corpses with the same MO. Go figure.
The soundtrack is an example of what a chimp can get out of a Bontempi keyboard and it does absolutely * nothing * to add to the mood of the feature. I have also read that some viewers felt that the plot was deliberately homophobic. Making the majority of the victims homosexual guys and then torturing them sadistically was a dumb move and although a female (and a heterosexual male) also got splattered, the film, ends up with a tone that I can understand that some could find offensive. Over the years, the slasher genre has developed a large gay following and movies such as HellBent have been accepted warmly. Due to City in Panic’s lack of focus, it has failed to register as an entry that pays the same amount of respect. Personally, I found it to be far too mindlessly written to be offensive and too weakly structured to be controversial. We can’t ignore the fact though that director Robert Bouvier has clumsily, although surely unintentionally, exploited one of the most tragic diseases that mankind has ever known.
Despite the awful attempt at a social commentary, taken as a slasher movie, this never gets boring and the viscous murders are spaced quite frequently all the way through. For a cheap piece of junk hokum it could’ve been a passable entry to the cycle. It’s just a shame that the filmmakers took the wrong approach…
Rush Week 1989
Directed by: Bob Bralver
Starring: Pamela Ludwig, Dean Hamilton, Roy Thinnes
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I read it a lot, but have to argue that sayingHalloween was the first American slasher film is just lazy journalism. Simply check outBlack Christmas, Class Reunion Massacre, Drive-in Massacre, Savage Weekend or The Town that Dreaded Sundown for pieces that clearly pre-date 1978 and have many of the relevant trappings. There’s no denying however that John Carpenter’s seminal classic was the feature responsible for cementing the trademarks and turning them into an actual sub-genre that others could populate. The zillions of imitations that dominated horror cinema throughout the following ten-years are as much a part of eighties nostalgia as spandex or bad hair styles. A retro eighties party without someone dressing up as Jason or Freddy is no party at all. Even Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – the great PS2 game, which heavily parodied that era – referenced the slasher genre in a satirical way, confirming it’s importance as a referential milestone.
There are still about 3-5 slasher movies being released every year, most of them very low budget productions, but the eighties will always be recognised as the golden period. The whole cycle started with a bang. In 1980, Night of the Demon, Friday the 13th, Terror Train and To all a Good Night were all released before Summer and a new craze had been launched, which would continue without interruption for over twelve-months and continue on a lesser scale right through until the nineties.
So what does that have to do with Rush Week, I hear you ask? Well this was the last slasher movie to be produced in the golden decade, even though it was released a while later. That makes this an interesting reference point as you can see how much the genre had adapted during that period. If Friday the 13th was the flagship for the launch of ten-years of teen splatter, Bob Bralver’s slasher was the swan song.
During rush week, a young journalism student picks up on a story when she notices that young women seem to be disappearing after a seedy meeting with a photographer after hours in the science lab. A killer, dressed in a cape and old-man mask is stalking the dormitory and offing lonesome females. Who could be the masked menace and what are his motives?
Ok so we’re definitely not breaking new ground here. Set on a college campus, the movie follows the traditional route without ever attempting to add something even slightly adventurous to the norm. I guess the first thing to notice about the difference between this and its brothers from nine-years earlier is the lack of gore. Whilst Friday the 13th set a new tone with its gruesome death scenes and investment in special effects, stringent censors and bad media had left many movies with their ‘money shots’ on cutting room floors before they had reached audiences, so film-maker’s were much more prudent with their budgets in latter years. The killer has an authentic double-bladed axe, but the majority of the murders are off-screen and therefore lack any punch.
Bralver seems a director far more interested in Frat jokes and teen fart humour than he does horror and the majority of the runtime is filled with Porky’s style character development and a blossoming romance between the leads. The slashings take a back seat quite early in the picture and it made me wonder if they had chucked in a hooded killer to make the flick look more attractive to prospective financiers? There’s the chance to guess the cast member that’s hiding beneath the mask and cape, but the mystery is poorly handled and you’ll see through the apparent red herrings with relevant ease. There’s a smidgen of suspense during the final stalking sequence through the school corridors and some looming tracking shots help to build a nice atmosphere. To be fair, I have to mention that the movie does reference its brethren by casting Dominick Brascia (Friday the 13th 5/Evil Laugh) and Kathleen Kinmont (Halloween 4) in small cameos.
It seems like they had a good budget to play with and the cinematography is crisp and adventurous. The leads carried the film really well and built some nice chemistry during the romance and I really liked Pamela Ludwig as the final girl. It’s amazing to think that her film journey quickly stagnated soon after, because she had enough talent to build a career in pictures. Her co-star Dean Hamilton would find his fortune as a producer, working both in Television and Cinema. His biggest investment so far, the awful chick flick Blonde and Blonder (which he also directed), was absolutely ripped to shreds by critics but proved popular enough for a sequel and at the time of writing, he is working on a project with ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ director Joel Zwick.
If the producers had decided to veto the lashings of blood for fear of extreme censorship, they certainly didn’t scrimp on the nudity. There are more breasts on display here than feeding time in a maternity ward and I personally would have loved to have studied here at Tambers college as it seems every female student has the body of a Playboy model. In another slightly bizarre twist, hardly any of the developed characters that we meet become victims of the axe clenching madman. It seems women are simply introduced to take of their kit and then scream as the hatchet swings, which means that we feel absolutely zero sympathy for them. That adds ammunition to my suspicions that the slasher elements were a mere sub-plot to allow the story to focus on the romance/dorm ingredients that seemed to certainly be the priority.
So not much of a final farewell from Rush Week for the decade of decadence where the box office was stalked and slashed by masked killers like there would be no tomorrow. This is not necessarily a bad film, but will only act more as a small snack if your hungry for a full slasher buffet.
Final Girl √√√√
Symphony of Evil 1987
aka Coda aka Deadly Possession aka Sinfonía Del Diablo
Directed by: Craig Lahiff
Starring: Penny Cook, Arna-Maria Winchester, Liddy Clark
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a well-known fact amongst those that know their horror movies that Australia hasn’t exactly excelled itself with the quality of its output within the slasher genre since Small Town Massacre in 1981. It’s intriguing then that within the space of a month I’ve found two credible efforts that successfully manage to disprove that fallacy. Firstly, I came across the creepy Cassandra, which mixed erratic photography and razor sharp editing to a surprisingly credible effect. Then I discovered the ambitiously restrained and meritoriously tense Symphony of Evil.
Taking a large slice of Halloween‘s appetizing pie and filling the spaces with a few Hitchcockian nods just for good measure, this confident offering is perhaps one of the most commendable long forgotten late entries to the stalk and slash cycle. It succeeds mainly because it chooses to follow the path of down to earth realism over far-fetched gore and gratuitous shock tactics. For example, the heroine of the feature is not an archetypal buxom bimbo that’s played simply for eye candy instead of character. She’s an ordinary young woman who finds herself in a tricky situation, which helps to give the film an undeniably naturalistic edge.
Director Craig Lahiff also accepts with glee, the challenge of giving his female characters complete control of the script without relying on sexual overtones to make them appealing. There’s no needless nudity or even any slight references towards it; and to be honest, it isn’t something that’s missed.
A masked maniac is slaughtering musical students at an Australian university. A young innocent woman becomes involved in the plot when her flatmate is brutally murdered. With the body count mounting, it becomes clear that the psychopath has intriguing motives.
To say that Symphony of Evil was ‘inspired’ by Halloween is like saying that Joan Rivers has had a touch of plastic surgery. . The film borrows heavily from the title that it so obviously tries to emulate, leaving very little to disguise the obvious influences (the killer stalking the hospital, the Michael Myers-alike disguise etc). Imitation however is not necessarily a bad thing if it’s handled correctly and Lahiff’s opus feels more like a tribute to Carpenter’s classic than it does a rip-off. The director shows an impressive flair for building suspense and in places the feature becomes remarkably tense. A perfect example is the sword-murder about halfway through the runtime. The brooding photography creates a foreboding and tight environment and the stalking sequence makes good use of those ageless stalk and slash clichés.
The performances from a likable cast are fairly comfortable and there’s even a classy score that’s vaguely reminiscent of John Williams’ theme from Oliver Stone’s masterpiece, JFK. The characters are competently scripted and approachable, which builds a decent amount of sympathy for the protagonist. Evil doesn’t boast a huge body count, so a large majority of the runtime is filled with the development of the mystery and the persona of the leading players, which if poorly dramatised could lose momentum and leave little in terms of reward for viewers. Thankfully, the actors do a fine job of keeping us intrigued and they are realistic and amicable enough to win over audiences and to allow the plot to move neatly to its conclusion.
Because the synopsis takes place at a classical music school, the production team get the chance to experiment with an excellent operatic soundtrack, which satisfies both cinematically and audibly. Frank Stragio’s work does wonders to help sustain a good level of energy, which is great because during the moments where not a lot happens, you’re always aware that something is just about to.
Like many eighties slashers, Symphony of Evil focuses heavily on the mystery of discovering who it is behind the creepy mask, which is possibly the feature’s only flaw. Guessing the killer’s identity is a relatively simple task and more thought should have been put into giving us more suspects or at least a credible red-herring. It’s interesting that despite earning the respect to be trusted with bigger budgets from this offering, Lahiff never improved upon his work on this atmospheric murder-mystery. Heaven’s Burning was a so-so thriller that had the added bonus of starring Russell Crowe. Also his most recent movie Black and White was promising, but hardly a worthy follow-up to such an ambitious debut. It proves that bigger budgets don’t always make better features and it seems that with Symphony of Evil he struck the perfect medium.
If you like slasher movies, then you’ll like Symphony of Evil – there’s really nothing else to say. It is good enough to sit comfortable alongside the likes of The Dorm that Dripped Blood, Curtains and The House on Sorority Row as a worthwhile genre entry that has been bizarrely overlooked. It seems surprising that the cruddy Houseboat Horror has numerous fans across the globe, but a real treat like this disappears from the face of the planet. Recommended
Final Girl √√√
Dead Above Ground 2002
Directed by: Chuck Bowman
Starring: Corbin Bernsen, Stephen J. Cannell, Robert Conrad
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Well, it all kicked off authentically enough, with stock footage of people turning up in limousines to the (fictional) ‘All-American Motion Picture Awards’ in Los Angeles. Director Chuck Bowman intercuts the baying crowds with a decent credit sequence, in which a robed killer slices through the screen with a steel axe. In my review for Killer Instinct, I said that Corbin Bernsen was really slumming it. Two years down the line and still nothings changed. Here he plays Mark Mallory, a director that has just won a prestigious award (yeah, that’ll be the day) for his Western. He returns home with his girlfriend, telling her that he’s going to use his statuette for… well, I’ll let her reply paint the picture, “If you think I’m gonna let you use that as a dildo, you’ve been hovering up some bad sh*t again…” Charming. Their night of questionable methods for passion is ruined when they reach the front door of his house to notice that it’s been vandalised. Someone has painted a bizarre satanic emblem around the knocker and written the words ‘Dead above ground’ in blood-red paint underneath. Instead of calling the police, Mallory decides to search the place himself and after a fumble in the dark and a smart trick by the caped killer, he discovers that offering to make his assailant a ‘movie star’ really isn’t going to save him from a fitting demise.
Afterwards, we head over to a school field where we’re introduced to our obvious victims and two forsaken Gothics. Dressed all in black (naturally), they prove their joint-weirdness by talking about, `Escaping into the Kelt world to be with the dark gods’ because the `Malevolent entities don’t ask for photo-ID!’ Then we discover that the guy’s name is Jeff Lucas and apart from being a credible Gareth Gates look-alike, he’s a budding film director too. The other Goth is his faithful girlfriend, who also worships all things Pagan. For their media studies course, all the kids have made summer video documentary projects, but Lucas has just ignored all that and cranked out a gory slasher film, much to the distaste of his grumpy lecturer. He screens the short anyway, and it invokes laughter and insults from the jesting teen-audience. This makes Jeff loose his rag and he warns everyone that they `…will die on the seventh equinox of Maven’ (?) He really dislikes his frumpy old teacher and tastefully informs him, ‘his end is nigh’. By now, I was beginning to wonder if the screenwriter had swallowed a few volumes of Shakespeare before he got to work on this. Jeff is carted off for a visit with the attractive Doctor Brenda Boone for a psychic examination. She’s the kind of medic that would make most Hi-school boys pretend that they were hearing voices, just so they could share a room with her for ten minutes. She thinks that Jeff is not crazy and it’s just a cry for help, but after he talks a lot more gibberish about ‘cutting eternity into time and space’, everyone agrees that he’s ‘certifiable’ and ‘a real nut job!!’ (And a really bad actor.)
Surprisingly enough, later that evening the mad student is invited to a pool party with his classmates, where Dr. Boone and the principal discuss his crazy fits and we also find out that he is actually the nephew of George Lucas. (I wonder if old Georgie knows about this?) Jeff dreams of being a big-time director just like his uncle, which would lead me to suggest that he gives up the trench coats and eyeliner and invests in some of those ‘stylish’ flannel shirts that Lord Skywalker loves so much. It doesn’t take long before he blows a fuse again and he slaps a girl with considerable force, knocking her into the swimming pool. Her boyfriend, Dylan, flaws the spiky haired anarchist and he curses everyone again before legging it to his car. Unsatisfied that he’s taught him a tough-enough lesson, Dylan takes off in pursuit and after the most leisurely paced car-chase ever filmed, Jeff’s brakes conveniently cease to exist and he drives off of the edge of a cliff. The car drops about 100 feet and then explodes into a ball of flames, making survival a total impossibility. Don’t forget that this is a slasher film, so it’s unlikely that people are going to be allowed to get away with that kind of thing without some loony or another coming back to seek revenge…
Twelve months down the line, a new student has moved into Jeff’s old house at Moss Point and is knocking about with his former ‘friends’. Chip reckons that he keeps having nightmares about someone warning him that they’ll come back to kill off everyone that was involved in the accident. The Gothic chick suggests that they attempt to contact Jeff’s spirit through a séance and she’ll be the medium. Later that night, they all sit in a circle and she tries to conjure a spirit guide with the rip-roaring speech, `Spirits of the South that are warm and bright like Atlantis’. Chip starts moaning the words ‘dead above ground’ and generally begins looking deranged, so everyone breaks the circle and the séance ends. Before long a hooded killer with a steel axe begins chopping up the teens and their teachers in the exact same ways that were depicted in Jeff’s movie one year earlier. It looks as if he’s come back from the grave to settle the score…
Television director Chuck Bowman has made such a sloppy mess of Dead Above Ground, that I’m surprised he can still get work on the small screen, let alone in the movies. Instead of using operatic themes to create suspense and tension, he’s chucked in cheap and junky heavy metal that’s genuinely painful to the ears. The cast sound as if they’d struggle to get bit parts dubbing a video game and they must’ve generally believed that expressing an emotion would put them higher up the killer’s to-do list, because they remain as flat as ten year old can of coke all the way through. Josh Hammond is perhaps the worst actor on the planet and the lack of any interesting characters means that you couldn’t care less if they all died of gonorrhea or if they invented a cure for diabetes. We are treated to a laughably small body count and there is probably more gore in a three-hour teletubbies extravaganza than there is in this utter dross. Slashers that are this crud usually manage to redeem themselves with a little unintentional comedy, but the fact that this is so painstakingly boring pretty much puts a poo-poo on the chance of that. The pagan-chatter was occasionally amusing, but everything else was put together at such a slow pace that I managed to read all of the eight-hundred and eighty-eight documents of the Warren Commission and still only be halfway through. Couldn’t they at least have thought of a premise that hadn’t been done more times than Danielle Lloyd? It’s like The Burning never happened, and what’s with all the ‘I swallowed a dictionary’ dialogue?
Horror movies need to be big on atmosphere. The only feeling that this creates is contempt for shelling out the money to pay for it. When I was living in Moscow, I picked up a copy of this for 100 Rubles, which is about £2. I remember wondering how on earth it got a release there? What did the fine people of Russia do to deserve such fodder exported and thrust upon them? The Cold War is long over, you know. Dead Above Ground, should be ‘dead under ground’ – Never to resurface again!
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Last Dance 1992
Directed by: Anthony Markes
Starring: Cynthia Basinet, Elaine Hendrix, Jason Logan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The ability to recognise your own faults is a quality that’s seen only too rarely amongst human kind. We all come across many people in life that would rather conjure up an impossibly improbable story than admit to any wrongdoing on their own part. Thankfully though, there are some exceptions. My friend Juan has an awful voice, but loves karaoke, so what he does is pick fairly easy songs that people can’t help but sing along with. This works, because in a drunken haze, crowds always remember him as being one of the best and stay stuff like, ‘He really got everyone going!”
Director Anthony Markes is a lot like my friend, Juan, because he looks to have worked out pretty quickly that he wasn’t quite up to the John Carpenter level of delivering shocks. So what does he do when making slasher films? Well he packs them full of scantily-clad chicas and campy frolics and then he simply hopes for the best.
This is his second slasher movie in the space of a year after the cheese ball that was Bikini Island. He was most definitely sticking to the ‘if it got financed last time around don’t fix it’ methodology, so he was returning to a playground that he knew fairly well. He also wrote the screenplay for 1990′s The Invisible Maniac. Unlike the fate that befell many similarly budgeted and produced features from this point in the span, both of his directorial additions to the grouping became late night cable TV regulars, and still are to this day, so I guess that he can be quietly satisfied by his achievements.
A club is preparing to host a dance off on live TV and the girls are having to perform arduous tasks not only to stay on the stage, but also to stay alive! It seems that a certain someone is taking the competition a tad too seriously and has gone on a kill frenzy. Will there be anyone left to prance in a leotard?
Location aside, the storyline is *identical* to the one from Bikini Island, right down to the personalities of the characters, so instead of writing the same stuff for you all over again, you could always save yourself some time and read that review here. Of course, it would be incredibly lazy on my part just to leave it like that and not give you the lowdown on this one too, so I will do my best to be original with my musings on Markes’ película del terror número dos. (Hopefully more original than he was with his idea for this movie…)
Maybe it’s because it is early in the morning, but I just can’t think of any other directors that followed up their début with another film that is EXACTLY the same? Last Dance is an interesting case however because it is tough to ascertain what audience it was produced for. People get killed, but it’s far too diluted to be a true horror film. There are two scenes that are more explicit than the usual embraces that we see in slasherdom (they include mounds of T&A and the most OBVIOUS body double in the history of cheap videotape), but they’re still not hard enough to be considered even light eroticism. Could we call this a a murder mystery? Well, the fact that it is painfully obvious from the twenty-minute mark who it is that’s bashing people’s brains in with tree-branches, a bucket and the like is pretty much a pooh-pooh for that category too. I think that these kind of genre entries are unique enough to have their own exclusive branding. Instead of stalk and slashers we could call them cheese and trashers. What do you reckon?
It’s a bit of a chore to sit through Last Dance if you’re not a fan of choreographed dance scenes. Each of the starlets gets her chance to give it her all and twirl on the stage to some pop rock tunes, whilst dressed in a skimpy outfit. Jeff Kwitny’s Iced from 1988 was a slasher set on a ski slope, but you could fit the amount of actual ‘skiing’ that we see in to the pre-credits sequence alone it was that minimal. Markes however is not a man to overlook a backdrop and so we get as much; – in fact we get more – boogie scenes than we do slashertastic action. It’s ok though, because the girls are fairly hot if you like fake tan and ten-inches of foundation and the whole film glows (not a fake tan type of glow) with a vibe that everyone involved was keeping their tongue firmly in cheek.
That tongue in cheek-ness produces a few unintentional laughs that make up for the moments when I was snoozing in front of a bunny dancing the jig. One victim walks straight into a hilariously placed noose that was just hanging there hoping that someone would be dumb enough to do exactly that, whilst the final girl discovers a novel way to put a pause on a marauding maniac’s rampage, which involves some speed of thought and a disco ball(!). There’s also an effectively handled sequence where said final girl begins to discover the bodies of her chums lying around the abandoned club. Did I also mention the fact that The Seeds have a song on the surprisingly good soundtrack?
Recommending Last Dance to you creates a bit of a paradox. Whilst in filmmaking terms it fails at almost every hurdle (acting, direction, script, editing etc etc), I can’t help but feel that some of you, much like me, might just enjoy it. There’s no gore and there’s as much chance of getting scared watching Friends, but somehow I kind of liked it. As much as Bikini Island? Hmmm… well yes actually.
It was a Thursday evening and the choices were minimal. I could have either chosen How to lose a guy in 10 days, which was on one channel or Spurs’ Europa league match, which was on the other. In the end I went with the VHS of Last Dance and it was the right decision. Whilst that may not be a gigantic compliment, it at least proves that I wasn’t too bored.
Final Girl √√
The Dorm that Dripped Blood 1981
aka Pranks aka Death Dorm
Directed by: Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow
Starring: Laurie Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, Daphne Zuniga
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Many of the slasher films from the early eighties were made by filmmakers with minimal experience that were looking for their first big break. Whenever I get a chance to speak to crew members from the peak period, I notice that there’s usually always a unique story about how they secured funding or what corners they cut to get the feature released. None of those that I’ve heard though startled me quite as much as what I found out about this movie, which is one of my favourites of the golden age.
I was sure that lurking behind the scenes here was a fat cat producer with a wad of notes and a hunger to cash in on the slasher craze. The Dorm that Dripped Blood however was nothing more than a thesis project from three ambitious students of the University of California, Los Angeles. After seeing John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween at the cinema, Jeffrey Obrow, Stephen Carpenter and Stacey Giachino decided that they wanted to have a crack at making something similar. With minimal funding they came across other up and comers and the project became a launch pad for a few very fine careers. Christopher Young was studying music on a campus that was situated yards away from Obrow and Carpenter, whilst twenty-four year old make-up artist Matthew Mungle was pitching his small portfolio around town to get work. Years after they completed this film, Young would become one of the most popular composers of recent times and Mungle would win an Academy award and gain a further three nominations.
The shoot took place mainly during the December of 1980 and Obrow and his crew built their entire schedule around when the equipment that was provided by UCLA was available for their use. The locations were all discovered in and around the campus and the majority of cast members were unknowns or friends that had been eager to sign on. The net result is a superb example of the genre’s strengths when handled with ambition
A group of youngsters stay behind over the Christmas period to help clean and disassemble a dorm that is about to be closed down. Little do they know that they are sharing the location with a brutal killer…
I came across the film Pranks (as it was known in the UK) when I was growing up in London. Alongside The Driller Killer, Night of the Demon and Madhouse it had been quickly added to the DPP list and classified as a video nasty. Although the intention of the British government had been to do the exact opposite, the tag gave the film a cult classic reputation and it was passed around on bootleg with the added rebellious attraction of its unlawful status. A younger kid called Dean from across the street had a genuine copy that his dad had rescued from the claws of the Video Nasty campaign. In the end he sold to me for £10, which was a lot of money for an eleven year old child, but I wanted it so badly I would have paid £50.
Dorm is without a shadow of a doubt one of the grittiest of the period slashers and in my opinion, one of the most underrated. Despite not boasting the finesse of a My Bloody Valentine or Dressed to Kill, it succeeds by sacrificing an atmosphere of campy fun and replacing it with unrelenting grimness. From the first moment on screen, when a guy is brutally murdered before the pre-credits, the audience is made aware that they are watching a horror movie and there are no real attempts to alter the mood. I have always believed that in terms of structure for a slasher, you need to open with a shock, spend no more than thirty-five minutes on plot development with maybe the odd killing to maintain the tone. Follow that with a suspenseful mid-section as the body count mounts and then leave a good twenty-five minutes for the showdown/unmasking scene with the protagonist. The screenplay here gets that pretty much spot on and despite a few hollow moments that could have perhaps been much shorter, Christopher Young’s fantastic score (one of the best of the genre) sustains the energy.
Watching the newly released director’s cut has given Matthew Mumble’s gore effects the stage that they deserve and on BlueRay, they look superb. Hearing about the minimalistic funding that he was given to achieve these results somehow makes them seem all the better and in its entirety, Dorm can rightly be acknowledged as one of the most gruesome of its kind. There’s a fairly well-constructed mystery with red-herrings popping up in the right places and even if the killer’s revelation is not expertly conveyed (the motive is non-existent) it leads to a bold final scene, which was unique at the time of filming.
Perhaps what the feature lacks the most is a group of well developed personalities that we can bond with. The players here are wafer thin and therefore we never feel particularly intrigued by their dialogue or sympathetic towards their plight. In film’s such as Iced, Evil Laugh or Friday the 13th Part II, memorable faces such as Carl, Barney and Ted added some comedic warmth to the proceedings and make us care more about the results of the oncoming horror. Here though, Laurie Lapinski gave us a one-dimensional and extremely unapproachable final girl, whilst the rest of the cast were never offered anything authentic to escape their stereotype. Soon to be superstar Daphne Zuniga gets no chance to impress on her five-minute feature debut, even if the kill scene that sees her get gruesomely mutilated along with her parents has been written in to slasher folklore as one of the best sequences of the cycle. Whilst it could be argued that the lower amount of definition in the characters that guide us through the story give the film a more ‘complete’ feel of out and out horror, I couldn’t help but wonder how good this could have been with a tad more depth put into the protagonist and her co-stars.
Perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that despite the complete lack of experience of all involved, they have managed to put together one of most notorious pieces of the initial slasher phase. Dorm is a brutal, scary, gory and atmospheric slasher that engulfs you in its storm of underlying gloom. It overcomes its obviously raw level of filmmaking technicality to be a real treat for horror audiences. I thoroughly recommend it.
Final Girl √√
Easter Bunny BloodBath 2010
Directed by: Richard Mogg
Starring: Shayan Bayat, Meghan Kinsley, Travis Turner.
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Back in the golden age of the genre, we had it all, didn’t we? Christmas got stalked and Halloween got slashed. Valentine’s and April fool’s Days were pickaxed, whilst a maniac aboard a locomotive terrorised New Year’s Eve. Hell, even Thanksgiving was dismembered by a loony with a machete… But what about Easter? That time of year when everyone puts on 6kg in weight due to a chocolate egg overload and then spends the next month at the gym trying to burn it off? Why didn’t we get a multitude of titles set around the Good Friday break?
It seems that when it comes to slashertastic action on an annual holiday, Easter was like the geeky kid at school that always got picked last for the soccer team and remained on his lonesome at the end of term disco. We had to wait for what seemed like a lifetime before someone decided to ‘massacarise’ that particular calendar event, but then finally in 2002 we received, along with our cacao butter coated calorie overdose, an attempt to revive the European Giallo named, Semana Santa. Next up four years later came the slightly better Easter Bunny Kill! Kill!
I was thinking of reviewing one of those for you in time for today, but by now I am sure that my regular readers will know that a SLASH above will always pick the more obscure entries over those that have been covered to death. So here I offer you the wonderfully rare, Easter Bunny Bloodbath from 2010.
This is the first film from director Richard Mogg who I have spoken to recently and he’s a lovely guy. Much like Chris Seaver from Warlock Home Video (Death O’Lantern review coming soon), his features are tributes to the SOV titles of the eighties that we all know and love. I really enjoy these fan flicks, simply because most of the time they have been put together by someone with the same kind of lifetime respect for the genre that we have.
A young man chooses to return with some of his friends to his deceased father’s house after twenty-years. It’s his first time back since a girl was brutally murdered by a guy dressed as the Easter Bunny when he was only six years old. He witnessed the killing, but has since put the incident to the back of his mind. Almost as soon as they arrive however, he begins to feel uneasy, because he sees a nut job in a white rabbit suit with a machete hanging around the location. Is it all in his head or are the group really up against a vicious psycho with creative dress sense…?
When I was growing up, like many immigrants that flocked to London from the EU, my family didn’t have a great deal of money. Whilst the rest of the kids were playing their C64s on a colour TV, my Brother and I would be reading library books or rolling abandoned tires down the hill outside our back garden. My mum was never one to let the lack of funds hold us back however and she would always try and be creative with what little cash that we had. I remember one particular time that there was a fancy dress presentation at school and my buddies were all discussing what costume that their parents were going to buy for them. The usual names were coming up, Batman, Spider Man, Superman et al and I remember having this overpowering feeling of rejection. I was pretty upset by the time that I got home and when I explained to my mother why, she would hear no more about it. She stayed up practically all night rapping cardboard boxes with oven foil and sticking coloured fruit gums on them with Sellotape. In the morning when I woke up, I had a full silver robot suit that cost us literally nothing. I wish I still had a photograph of me in it to show you how good that it was, but the children in my class loved it and my teacher even gave me a prize for the ingenuity.
Easter Bunny Bloodbath is very similar to that robot suit actually, because despite being filmed on a nothing budget, it’s covers up the fact exceptionally well that it is missing some of the elements that its cash loaded siblings have in abundance. Just like one of those classic eighties slashers that it pays its dues to, it starts with a prologue set twenty years earlier and Mogg uses black and white photography to highlight the fact. The gap in time becomes especially apparent later, because after the credits have rolled, the director dazzles us with an amazing amount of bright colour. The picturesque forests and lakes of the beautiful British Columbia backdrop look extremely crisp and the quality of the picture somewhat betrays the lunch money production that financed it. Shooting everything in the daytime showed good planning as the film remains well lit throughout and the director pulls off some decent and extremely creative camera tricks during the runtime. All this is accompanied by a professional soundtrack that has been mixed perfectly to match the superb visuals.
The choice of costume for the killer is intriguing because much like the bear mascot suit from Girl’s Nite Out, there’s something really intimidating about seeing such an innocent child-like guise splashed in blood. At times, Mogg manages to build an incredibly creepy atmosphere and the kill scenes are brutal, well timed and fairly gory. My favourite would have to be the kitchen murder of an unsuspecting female. She has her face boiled in water and then her head squished like a cherry. Mogg looks to have followed the method that worked for both Gaspar Noé (Irréversible) and Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) by using the right sound effect for the head crushing scene. It’s gruesome. Obviously, we have become accustomed to bad acting in SOV flicks, but I must mention the surprise of the final girl here, Lisa, who was played superbly by unknown actress, Meghan Kisnley. She does a really good job with the role and managed a nice range of emotions. She also had a kind of a ‘looks a bit like Katy Perry’ thing going on and well… who doesn’t think Katy’s hot???
There is a fair bit to be admired here, but also something that majorly disappointed me about Bloodbath, and it is a personal bugbear of mine that I speak about more often than I feel that I should have to here on a SLASH above. I just fail to comprehend why these pictures are continually plagued by mixing unnecessary attempts at comedy into horror films that truly should just focus on the scares. Black humour can fit superbly when utilised the right way in a scary movie, but how many times do we need to see dumb slapstick failing in the slasher genre before filmmakers begin to realise that it just doesn’t work? Here it feels especially out of place because the tone became quite grim on occasion and I was really impressed by the mixture of mystery and terror. Despite some of the dialogue being amusing and the film having some fun, I felt that Mogg could have got much more out of the concept if he just played it straight. Characters like the obnoxious Steve were kept alive for far too long and the quips were little more than a hindrance on the movement of the plot. I have rarely seen a low budget offering that had so much potential to be effectively eerie but instead preferred to go for cheap laughs. Although it can be of course said that the whole point of paying homage to SOV flicks is to keep things campy, I found it harder to take because Mogg was close to achieving the toughest feat of all: – creating a genuine villain and an ominous environment to unleash him within. It is clear that shoe-string budgeted pictures are never going to have A-list continuity, but leaving vehicles, DVD Players and TVs from the last decade in a scene that’s billed as 1967 is a strange decision. Or was that another joke that I didn’t quite get?
There’s still the chance there for an ambitious filmmaker to create a really memorable Easter themed stalk and slash movie, but the ones that we have will do the job in the meantime. Easter Bunny Bloodbath is most definitely not a bad film and in fact I rather enjoyed parts of it. It took slightly too long to get going, a couple of the cast members could have died earlier; but I still saw some great signs of potential. I will be keeping an eye on Mogg’s future pictures, because there were moments here that brought to mind a Scott Spiegel or a Sam Raimi. All that on the tiniest of budgets…
I guess that if you take your horror served with a slice of American Pie-style laughs, then you can overlook my paragraph about the negatives. For me however I would like to see Señor Mogg make a pure out and out slasher flick. It’s rare that such a cheap movie delivers a few chills. This one managed just that…
Final Girl √√√
Friday the 13th 1980
Directed by: Sean S Cunningham
Starring: Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon, Betsy Palmer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a known saying amongst film fans that the first actor that you see who plays Bond will always be your favourite. There’s most definitely some truth in this, because I watched The Spy who Loved me when I was about six years-old and Roger Moore, despite being nowhere near as cool as Sean Connery, is inexplicably the one that I like the most.
I wondered if a similar method could work on Friday the 13th films. Now first things first, I’m a massive fan of the franchise. I mean massive. I live in London, but flew to the US specifically to attend an advanced screening of Jason X when I had barely turned 20. It cost me an arm and a leg, but it was worth it. It all started because I was desperately searching for some more slasher action after watching Halloween when I was knee-high to a hub-cap. Back then, without the Internet, we had to rely on the stock of our local video stores for selection choices and there I found the extremely Michael Myers-alike back-cover blurb of Friday the 13th Part 2. So that became my first taste of the Voorhees legacy.
Straight after, I began visiting all the mom and pop rental shops within a 100 mile radius until I’d tracked down every single entry to the story. In Spain, Paramount distributed parts 2 to 8, but this film, the opening chapter, was released by Warner Bros. It could be because they didn’t print as many copies on VHS, but bizarrely enough, this was the last of them that I got to see.
Taking a browse around the other websites, I noticed that it is perhaps the most highly rated by my fellow stalk and slash critics in the blogosphere. Justin over at Hysteria Lives gave it a full five-stars, whilst Hud from Vegan Voorhees did the same. In my review of Friday the 13th Part 2, I said that it was my número uno of the series and one of the best slasher movies ever made. I have watched it at least ten times, whereas I’ve only seen this on two occasions and both were many many moons ago. I guess that the point that I’m trying to make is would a mind completely free of bias or any kind of sentimentality really call Sean S Cunningham’s notorious shocker the best of the collection? Is it really THAT good?
A local businessman has decided to reopen a summer camp that has remained in his family for almost fifty years. Previous attempts to restore Camp ‘Crystal Lake’ have always met with ominous incidents that began after the drowning of an unfortunate child. The following year, two youngsters were brutally murdered and when the killer was not apprehended, the cabins were closed and abandoned. Nowadays, townsfolk call it ‘Camp Blood’ and gossip amongst them states that it is cursed and so it has remained uninhabited since that fateful night. Steve Chrysty doesn’t believe in those whispers and has already hired a group of counsellors to help him with preparation for the grand opening. As soon as they’ve began to settle however, they are stalked and ruthlessly butchered by an elusive psychopath…
Whilst the filmmakers have admitted both privately and in interviews that this was little more than a cash-in on the success of Halloween, the key source of inspiration behind the picture was Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood and knowing that allows you to clearly see the nods and winks. Cunningham makes great use of the campsite location and the crisp photography laps up the greens and browns of the forest to give the picture a colourful radiance of a backdrop. After a brief (and surprisingly – keeping in mind that Savini was on board) gore free murder in the pre-credits, we get introduced to the first of our counsellors. What is interesting is that Annie, a bubbly hitchhiker, is given enough screen time that would lead you to believe that she could become our heroine. She’s sweet, fiery and sincere and offers something of a backstory to her persona. The opening scenes with her are intriguing because we don’t get a clear picture of what we can expect to happen. Crazy Ralph’s warnings are that ‘Camp Blood’ is doomed. Does that mean haunted? Are we about to watch a ghost story? Whilst of course we know now that wasn’t the case, the film does begin with a feeling like we could be up against something more supernatural than a twisted killer.
Victor Miller’s screenplay manages to break archetypal slasher movie boundaries even before they were set by killing off that first, well developed, character almost immediately and letting us know that no one is safe from the unseen menace. Whilst the world and their mother are aware by now of who the antagonist of this feature turned out to be, audiences of 1980 had no idea, and the story plays like something of a regular giallo/whodunit. Sean Cunningham didn’t get the breaks that would build careers for Carpenter, Craven and Hooper, but what is clear to me here is that he got the right performances from his inexperienced cast. Whilst none of them are given complex enough dialogue to really steal a scene, infamous moments such as Marcie’s Audrey Hepburn in the mirror, Ned’s practical jokes and Alice’s hysterical heroine were all pitch perfect for this campy horror classic
Once the night scenes come around, the movie really steps up a gear and delivers a genuinely dark and tense atmosphere. The backgrounds are shot in a tone that’s almost grey scale and the constant barrage of rain is a horror cliché that is used to the best possible effect. If Cunningham deserves credit for helping sustain a sense of mystery and suspense, the film really belongs to Tom Savini’s make-up effects and Bill Freda’s razor sharp editing. The pair create some amazing death scenes; with the impalement of a young Kevin Bacon and Jeannine Taylor’s gruesome end being two of the most memorable slasher murders of all time. Harry Manfredini’s musical accompaniment is powerful enough to single handedly change the mood and the poignant tranquility of his last piece, which successfully builds up to the closing jump scare – Jason’s screen début – is creative and unique.
When the killer is revealed and finally shows her face it’s a genuine shock, but also a bit of a cheat. The majority of the runtime sees suspicion point at Steve or maybe one of the campers but then it turns out to be a face that hasn’t yet been introduced to us. It’s hard to believe that this could really be the person that we have seen ramming axes through people’s faces and nailing counsellors to cabin doors, but once the final battle gets going, we just let the filmmakers take over and it turns out to be one of the best showdowns of the cycle. Betsy Palmer was heavily criticised by Roger Ebert and the like and Gene Siskel even went as far as to tell fans to write to her expressing their disappointment that she accepted such a poor choice in role. She was also nominated for that year’s supporting actress Razzie – one of the worst and most insulting things that can happen to any screen performer. Personally, I really enjoyed her natty Mrs Voorhees and think that she did exactly what was asked of her. That hammy as a sandwich schizophrenia is surprisingly effective and I just couldn’t imagine how the film would play without it. Oh and by the way Señor Siskel, Señora Palmer later stated that she received exactly 0 complaints through the mail and only letters praising her inclusion in the picture. So there :p
Friday the 13th is, for me, a four star slasher movie. It’s a suspenseful and exciting killer in the woods flick that has a couple of memorably edited scares, a wonderful final battle and some of the best character-driven situations of the entire genre. The only thing that it lacks is a solid central antagonist; or to be more clear, a Jason Voorhees. Of course though, we have to keep in mind that without this, we would never have had a mass-murderer in a hockey mask and the greatest legacies have to start somewhere. Whilst I am still convinced that part two, the first that I ever saw, is the best in the series, I have only the tiniest of disagreements with those that consider this to be their favourite.
Maybe it is just like what they say about Bond and that I saw the sequel first…?
Final Girl: √√√√