Directed by: Don Gronquist
Starring: Laurel Munson, Janet Penner, Sara Ansley
Review by Luis Joaquín González
In these recent times of rapid action cuts and CGI overloads, slow boiling thrillers have lost some their allure amongst audiences. I always try to value craft over excess, but recently I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds again and noticed I was losing focus during the lengthy character development parts. It’s strange, because I loved that movie so much when I was growing up.
This fairly intriguing genre entry grabbed a slice of notoriety because it was banned in the United Kingdom and quickly added to the video nasty list upon its release in 1982. With only four on-screen killings during the seventy-two minute runtime, nowadays it’s hard to see what the BBFC found so offensive. It’s been billed most places as more of a psychological chiller than an out and out stalk and slasher, so I promised myself to be extra patient when watching it unfold.
Three young girls that are on their way to a Jazz concert, crash their car in a rainstorm and wake up stranded in a large mansion. Even though everything seems comfortable at first, it soon becomes apparent that there’s a local killer on the loose and the girls have to fight to survive.
Director Don Gronquist has said that his sole ambition throughout his life had been to make a feature film. His first attempt, a serial killer/crime drama based on Charles Starkweather’s exploits, wasn’t picked up until eight-years after its 1973 production date. He didn’t let this deter him and Unhinged proved to be a lot more attractive to relevant suitors due to the boom of the slasher genre. Costing only $100,000 to produce, the film is a mix of Halloween and Psycho that coincidentally results in a blend that’s a lot like The Unseen. The early shots of a car heading along a winding road brought to mind The Shinning, which I also believe played a part in the ambition behind the project.
In terms of the influences taken from Carpenter’s classic, Gronquist pulls off some generally effective heavy-breath POV shots and a strong utilisation of sound to unsettle viewers. Jon Newton’s brooding score works wonders in maintaining an atmosphere and lesser scenes come alive solely because of the striking audio accompaniment. Dressed in a rain-mac, the killer strikes with unpredictability and each murder is brutal and ruthless. If you’re expecting bundles of gore because of the video nasty status, you’ll be disappointed, but there’s something unsettling about the way the killings are staged. Tension is brought from a complex mystery and a claustrophobic feeling that the girls are truly stranded in the wilderness. Building a creepy environment is not something all can achieve, but the unusual characters and (again) that frantic score really do wonders in maintaining the menace.
Whilst there can be no greater sources of inspiration than Hitchcock, Carpenter and Kubrick; as a director, Gronquist doesn’t come close to achieving that level of artistry. Unhinged is shot rather flatly, and rarely tries anything audacious. Outside of the impressive steadi-cam moments, the camera always seems to abide by the safest option and this has a noticeable effect on the film’s energy. Some of the most amateur editing that I can remember certainly doesn’t help matters and it’s surprising that this wasn’t picked up upon before release. We’ll see a shot of an open doorway for three-seconds before someone walks through or a sequence will just stop and fade to black awkwardly. This also plays havoc with the story’s timeline, because I couldn’t keep track of whether minutes or hours had passed between one part and the next. Whilst it would be fair to call Gronquist’s work ‘uninspired’, it deserved a lot better than how his editors made it look.
I called The Unhinged intriguing, and I really believe that it is. The plot concludes with a twist that I didn’t mention so as not to ruin, and it provides moments that are generally chilling. The performances are poor and the technical ability shoddy, at best. Despite that, it remains worth a look because it is so – what’s that word again? – Oh yes, intriguing. I prefer horror films develop an atmosphere and even if the pace does drop here and there, I actually quite liked it.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Ripper: A Letter From Hell 2001
Directed by: John Eyres
Starring: A.J. Cook, Bruce Payne, Kelly Brook
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Being that I host a SLASH above, it’s fair to say that I’ve watched my share of films that definitely weren’t the best. A few of those though included enough for me to see that certain crew members had the talent for another shot at stardom. Whether it be a smart line of dialogue or a smoothly edited set-piece, a bad film doesn’t always mean that everyone involved is part of the bad-ness. There are a million things that can go wrong during a movie shoot and sometimes a person’s true ability can be concealed through no fault of their own.
John Eyres was responsible for 1987’s woeful killer priest slasher, Goodnight Godbless, and I have to say that seeing his name here didn’t fill me with confidence. I certainly don’t recall anything from that picture that made me think that Eyres’ skill was restrained by the mediocre budget. Still, I’m one of those that believes everyone deserves a second chance and so I’ve finally got round to checking out his follow-up, Ripper: A Letter From Hell.
A girl with a slight attitude problem decides to study criminology under an eccentric professor. She doesn’t get along too well with her classmates, but they become close after a vicious maniac begins to target the group and brutally murder them one by one. They soon discover that they share their initials with the victims of Jack the Ripper and it looks like he could be back from beyond the grave…
At just under two-hours, if Ripper had been of similar quality to its elder brother Godbless, we would have been in for a tiresome exercise in visual punishment. Thankfully, during the fourteen-year gap between those two entries, Eyres has learned a lot about the art of slick direction. In fact, the film launched with such an impressive amount of panache that I was left wondering if this was really the same guy. It shows us the conclusion of a set of killings that occurred sometime earlier in a dense forest. We get flashy cuts and intense camera tricks that build neat tension, even though we don’t know yet who or what we are witnessing. After a couple more fast-paced shocks, we learn that this was a unique way of introducing Molly, our central character. It seems that she was the lone survivor of the aforementioned massacre and she’s now relocated to restart her life and enrolled in a new university.
The next few parts that develop the players (and likely suspects) who will carry us through the runtime are amongst my favourite of the picture. They contain intelligent discussions on the characteristics of serial killers and are shot with intriguing movement that delivers a subtle underscoring of energy to the talk scenes. It’s nice to see that the writers have researched their subject-matter and also they’ve included an authentic slant on one of Scream’s major gimmicks. Whilst Kevin Williamson’s screenplay name-checked the likes of Tom Cruise and Richard Gere, here we get Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo and of course Jack the Ripper. The fact that Eyres has privately investigated the Jack the Ripper case for most of his adult life made him the perfect choice for this project. It’s easy to see that he felt he had a score to settle with the slasher genre.
Whilst Godbless owed a lot to John Carpenter’s Halloween, here it seems that Eyres has followed the path taken by Jamie Blanks’ Urban Legend. There are a lot of similarities in the way both films are staged, which I mean as a genuine compliment. The kill scenes are delivered with style and they create some memorable images, like when a freshly murdered corpse pours blood on to a girl’s white dress as she dances below. Another youngster gets rammed off a cliff by a truck that brought to mind the one used in Mirage, and whilst these murders may not be overtly gory, they are powerful due to their brutality. By the time the conclusion comes around, we end up in a tree-chopping factory (?) that really needed a visit from a health & safety expert in a hi-viz jacket. If it doesnt bother the authorities that there are deadly blades that spin around 24/7, perhaps the fact that it’s left totally unguarded will. This leads to a couple of taut chase sequences and a revelation that is highly ambiguous. This was apparently down to Eyres not havin enough budget left to deliver what he had initially intended. I am guessing that might also explain why such a smart story suddenly becomes disjointed in the final ten-minutes.
The cast do a good enough job of keeping things moving without really delivering any sympathetic characters. Ripper is a film that believes in its dialogue and compelling mystery, so the focus is taken off individuals and centred more around the overall plot. We are treated to some truly beautiful actresses and kudos to Eyres for killing off the worst performers quickly. Brit glamour girl Kelly Brook is the first to go and despite her highly unconvincing pleas for mercy, she takes part in one of the greatest stalk and slash murders of the entire cycle. You should watch the film if only for that one sequence.
John Eyres’ website completely ignores Goodnight Goodbless and doesn’t even list it as one of his features. In fact, it goes as far as to say that his filmmaking career began in 1990, which is three-years after that film was released. Whilst it’s unlikely that another British ‘John Eyres’ was responsible for Godbless, the fact that he wants to erase it from his filmography speaks a thousand words. I’m not sure whether that was really necessary, but either way, he had certainly upped his game by the time Ripper went in to production. It’s a tense and engrossing entry that really does impress. In fact I’m fairly surprised that it isn’t more fondly thought of amongst genre connoisseurs.
I guess the only question we are left with is what Eyres was doing that was so important he turned down the sequel…?
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Tim Cowles
Starring: Eleanor James, Emily Eaves, Jason Impey
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I’ve recently turned 34, which I tell you because I’m from a generation that grew up just before the invasion of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Hi5. I was in my twenties during the noughties, so I still got to experience the impact that these sites had on social interaction and relationships. It’s interesting, because I remember the times of having to call landlines or walk to knock on someone’s front door if I wanted to chat with them. Nowadays I can simply drop them a note on What’sapp or some other messaging service and ascertain where they are, who they’re with and whether they’re choosing to ignore me ;) I’m often told that I should be more proactive on Twitter and Facebook, especially with regards to a SLASH above, but perhaps it’s because of my age that I haven’t quite grasped the necessity of a social media presence.
Whether these methods of contact are a benefit or a hindrance to our evolution as humans is impossible to answer, but it’s an interesting theory to think about. It’s one that was certainly on the mind of director Tim Cowles when he put pen to paper for this British slasher that hit shelves last year. Not to be confused with 2005’s Backslash, Backslasher was poorly received upon release and currently holds a 2.2 rating on the IMDB. This Is incredibly low, but there’s always the excuse that slasher movies are easy targets for mockery from stern critics because of their simplistic style. Seeing that the excellent Billy Club has dropped from 7.4 to 5.6 on the same website adds weight to this theory.
A young woman who’s obsessed with her social media accounts launches an online business that sells lingerie and sex toys. She Is running a blog to assist with marketing but soon discovers that someone maybe taking an unhealthy interest in her status updates. It soon becomes apparent that a masked killer is stalking her friend list and it looks as if she’s next in his sights…
Shooting films on a penny sweet budget must be tough, because creative concepts can get lost amongst the lack of funding. Backslasher tries hard to deliver something unique and intriguing but has suffered, slightly unfairly, due to its minimal production values. It choses an unusual starting path, which introduces our characters rather awkwardly. The best horror movies begin with a scare or shock sequence of some kind to set a tone, but it takes fifteen-minutes or so for the killer to even put in an appearance here. This makes the opening scenes a bit pointless because we are left trying to get our heads around what we are watching. A group of girls prance around in lingerie to introduce the theme of the products that they’re selling, but these parts are a nothingness in terms of the film’s horror backbone. I haven’t seen the old chestnut of a maniac stalking two lovers parked in a secluded spot for quite some time, so it was refreshing to be back at a set up that is so rudimentary yet satisfying. Cowles shows his knowledge of the period slashers in a couple of the murders, including an assault of a female jogger, which was last seen in Graduation Day. Dressing the killer in a common mask and hooded jumper underlines the film’s cheapness, but he is at least brutal and intimidating when he strikes.
What I really liked about Backslasher was its smartly ambiguous conclusion. The plot works along the line of you thinking you’ve guessed who is under the mask, but just when you believe you’ve really nailed it, your choice of culprit becomes the next victim. I felt initially cheated by the revelation scene, but later I understood that it was the perfect end to a story that focuses on the privacy and anonymity of Social Media. It’s extremely unusual for a stalk and slash film to include an ending that you’ll need to watch through again to really understand and in honesty it impressed me. Whodunits have been done to death and outside of tricking the audience unfairly, there’s very little that we haven’t seen before. Cowles takes a risk that might disappoint some viewers, but I appreciated his ambition to try an off-kilter resolution.
It’s unfair to criticise a low budget movie for being low budget, but Backslasher’s main issues are visible exactly because of that. The performances are predictably mediocre and the footage is grainy and poor in quality. We do get a guitar-based score that is fresh and uplifting, but when the horror starts, there are some misplaced sci-fi-like buzzing sounds that are notably out of place. Whilst the screenplay does have moments that are strongly commendable, it could have been structured to have a much smoother flow. I imagine the film would play much better with a murder in the pre-credits and most of the background characters are interchangeable because they’re given very little to do. There were a couple of times when people got killed and I couldn’t remember who they were, which showed they had been poorly introduced.
Backslasher is a project that writes cheques its budget can’t cash. It’s a creative concept that could have done with some fine tuning. Many people won’t have the patience to really appreciate it, which is a shame, but a lesson that can be learned. Tim Cowles shouldn’t give up on his filmmaking dream, but he’s still some way off delivering a really credible entry.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Chill: The Killing Games 2013
aka Chill (Working Title)
Directed by: Noelle Bye, Meredith Holland
Starring: Roger Conners, Bradley Michael Arner, Kelly Rogers
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I must tell you that Chill was one of those movies that I was really excited about getting my hands on. Haydn Watkins, the co-author of magnificent upcoming slasher book Alone in the Dark, told me about it and so I got in touch with director Noelle Bye who sent me over an online copy to review. At the time of writing, it boasts a 7.5 ranking on the IMDB and it has been keenly anticipated amongst cult horror circles due to a couple of successful pre-screenings.
Despite accusations that slasher movies are all exactly the same, genre completists will note the small traits that distinguish titles by their production date. Since about 2011, we have seen a theme of strategic multi-layered twists and revelation scenes that have appeared in the likes of Billy Club, Camp 139, Smiley, Blood Junkie and Backslasher. From what I’d heard on the grapevine about Chill, it was another that had been written with a focus on maintaining a compelling mystery.
A college in the US has become notorious due to the grim legend of a game that goes by the name of Chill. It involves a number of people randomly picking a piece of paper from a box and keeping what they get a secret from the other participants. Dependent on what they receive, they will either become the ‘killer’ or a ‘victim’ and it’s the killer’s job to hunt out and ‘murder’ the other players, whilst keeping his/her identity anonymous until the end. Chill was popular until about 1988, when one gamer took the whole assassin thing a bit too seriously and butchered twelve students before succumbing to a gruesome fate. Since then, the game has been outlawed on campus and it has become a part of the town’s history that they’d rather leave behind. One business-minded local thinks otherwise though and decides to revisit the scene of the original massacre and televise a new version of the game for profit. Despite resistance from some of the townsfolk, especially an over-zealous professor, the launch date goes ahead as planned. It seems that someone still has an axe to grind and before long, the youngsters are forced to pit their wits against a maniacal villain.
Before we get going, I think it’s important that you understand one thing about Chill that’s really essential as to how you perceive it. I’d been wrapped up in the decent IMDB rating and the positivity that I’d heard and so I was expecting a slick slasher along the lines of Billy Club. It wasn’t until thirty-five minutes in that I realised this was in fact a micro-budget production ($3,000) and only then did I really begin to appreciate the film’s accomplishments.
You see, Chill is quite long for a slasher movie, (one hour and forty-five minutes in fact) and the first half of those are pretty unconvincing. Awkwardly acted characters in under-lit scenarios are the order of the day and I was thinking that I was going to be the first critic to put a dent in the film’s glorious reputation. There’s a lot of focus on a group of marginally-appealing personalities and they’re given dialogue that barely registers because it’s so basic and unimaginative. To offer an example, we meet a washed-up kid star who has been invited to take part in the game, but upon his arrival he is disappointed that there’s no fanfare and only one person recognises him. He’s obviously deluded as to the level of his notoriety, but it’s a joke that doesn’t need or warrant the amount of attention that it’s given by the script.
I was thinking the worst by that point, but when the games finally launch, the directors unleash a couple of really sharp and effective shock sequences. There’s nothing quite as creepy as dark dilapidated corridors and the film is nicely scored with gloomy low-chords that help maintain the morbid tone. In the earlier killings, we don’t get to see the antagonist’s bird mask clearly, but there’s a really well structured scene that introduces him with credible menace. He then goes on to slash the throat of a hapless youngster and there’s a juicy blood effect to maximise the impact. For the next half an hour, we get a tense showdown as the remaining players discover that they are locked inside the auditorium with a vicious maniac. Blood flows fluidly as people are sliced, diced and strangled, but the real suspense is delivered by the enigma of who it is that’s slaughtering the group. I didn’t work out the psychopath’s true identity, but I still am unsure as to whether it was a surprise or a bit of a a cheat on the audience. Either way, it successfully keeps you guessing and there’s nothing more that I could have asked for.
What I thought was really authentic was that the story was led for the most part by an openly homosexual central character. Kyle Carpenter (cool surname) does a good job of giving us a likeable protagonist and ticks many of the boxes that are stereotypically filled by a heroine. We also get a role reversal that I don’t want to reveal without giving anything away, but let’s just say that the film’s choice of survivor(s) is an uncommon piece of template realignment. It all leads to an intriguing open ending and I have heard through the same grapevine that Chill 2 is already on the cards.
Chill is one of a number of recent entries that underline the necessity of the slasher genre as a filmaking talent pool. There truly is no better style of movie to unleash some flair and the more of these examples we get, the closer we come to a complete category rebirth. Whilst the feature itself is not without its problems (poor illumination, half-hearted dialogue, noticeably average acting, a couple of WTF revelations and it could have done with some eye candy), it gives me great pleasure to see that we have moved well away from the era of Camp Blood and Carnage Road. Nowadays low budget features are stronger than they’ve ever been and that in itself is a real achievement. Congratulations to Noelle, Meredith and Roger for a decent effort considering the budget. The gloss and invention in some of their photography was extremely impressive and I am looking forward to seeing more of their work.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Blood Sisters 1987
Directed by: Roberta Findlay
Starring: Amy Brentano, Shannon McMahon, Dan Eriksen
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’ve obviously never met her, but I’d imagine Roberta Findlay to be the kind of woman that would come along to watch a match and then join you at the bar to get smashed on Jägerbombs after. The type of cool chick that a guy can hang out with and tell her everything as if she were one of the lads. I think this because Exploitation films from the seventies were almost always male-dominated productions. With some help from her hubby (fellow director Michael) though, Roberta often managed to totally out-sleaze the competition and her filmography makes for interesting reading. She took softcore porn to the boundaries of hardcore territory with The Alter of Lust in 1971. Then three-years later she created controversy (and profit) by the bucketload with a fake pretending to be real Snuff movie that was imaginatively titled, Snuff. It had began life as a proto-slasher (many of her and Michael’s movies were), but producer Alan Shackleton tipped off the Police and spread word that the murders committed in the footage were in fact real. This brought audiences flocking and it has become something of a Grindhouse classic since.
The birth of the slasher genre offered former-exploitation directors an opportunity to return to the frontline. Successful titles like Halloween and Friday the 13th were not a million miles away from the style of film that they had been churning out over a decade earlier, which made it an even more logical step. It took Roberta Findlay until 1987, but she finally released Blood Sisters and I couldn’t help but be excited by the possibilities. What kind of slasher movie would a person responsible for everything from hardcore porn to sadomasochistic thrillers bring to the table?
The set-up is as traditional as they come. A group of sorority pledges have to spend the night in an old dilapidated mansion to become fully fledged members. Little do they know that the site was once a knocking shop that is reportedly haunted after a gruesome murder thirteen-years earlier. Unfortunately for the girls, it seems that a psychopathic intruder dressed in the clothing of the deceased prostitute has come along to spoil the party.
In fairness to Findlay, she had proven in films such as The Clamdigger’s Daughter that underneath all the sexploitation, she was more than capable of handling drama and extracting good performances from a cast. Whilst Blood Sisters is not amongst the best of her work, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I enjoyed watching it. Running a SLASH above means that I have to sit through tonnes of modern slashers when sometimes all I really want is a dose of cheesy eighties trash. Thankfully, it’d be hard to get more trashy than this one. Much like the fat kid at school that wears broken spectacles and gets picked last for the soccer team, this has become something of an easy target to be mocked. I had a browse online to see what other people were saying about it and the general consensus is that it offers very little to be appreciated. Whilst I agree that there’s not much here in terms of credible filmmaking, I have to admit that Sisters deserves a little more love from slasher buffs than it currently receives.
There’s nothing more hilarious than seeing someone try their hardest to achieve a feat, whilst it falls down all around them. TV shows like You’ve Been Framed or Funniest Home Videos have made a fortune out of broadcasting such scenarios for audience pleasure. There’s a good example of this during Sisters in an early character definition scene. It’s set at a party and Findlay packs every shot with extras bustling past the lens in a bid to bring the environment to life. The problem is that they act in such a cheesy manner that it ends up looking extremely comedic. This is applicable especially to the sultry Diana, who after admitting that she has three dates lined up for the evening, boogies on down whilst a trio of jocks leer over her and try their hardest to dance at the same speed as the person closest to them.
When we do finally reach the fabled ‘haunted whorehouse of horror’, the tone does become somewhat darker. All of the girls are sent on a scavenger hunt, which means they split into pairs and head off to secluded corners of the spacious building. Whilst it does take maybe ten-minutes too long for the maniac to finally get to work (an hour in fact), Findlay does a sterling job of keeping things interesting in the meantime. Our characters are possessed briefly by the ghosts of former prostitutes that worked there, which is peculiar because we only saw one of them murdered in the beginning(?). Despite that, some of these sequences are strangely effective, especially an erotic scene that’s seen through a reflection. It’s hinted that mirrors are doorways of sort to the afterlife; an interesting concept that’s never really taken anywhere further.
Without a doubt the reason that Sisters is not thought of more highly is because after such a long build up, the bogeyman finally arrives and rushes through a bunch of diluted killings without any suspense. If Findlay had taken the approach of say, Pieces for example, we’d be looking at this with a similar level of adulation. Instead we have a film that has the cheese, hilarious dialogue and acting, but excludes the gore and grittiness. A director with such an extensive experience of Grindhouse pictures should have known better than most what ingredients were necessary. When it comes to the horror parts though, she flies through them with minimal application. I had trouble picking my choice of final girl to do battle with the lunatic, but there’s a reason why I found it so hard, which I won’t spoil for you.
To give you a better idea, Blood Sisters is extremely similar to the previous year’s Girls School Screamers. In fact I could go you one better by saying that it was almost completely reproduced by Jim Wynorski in 1991 and titled Sorority House Massacre Part II. If Findlay had gone with what I guess would be her natural instinct and been more exploitive with the death scenes, we’d be looking at a trash slasher classic. In the end though, a few softcore embraces and bemusing characters don’t do enough to salvage it. I liked the fact that it was such a clear postcard of eighties fashion and goofiness and simply for that reason, if very little else, it does deserve to be seen.
Killer Guise: √√
aka Cut Throat
Directed by: Keith Walley
Starring: Luciano Saber, Kate Norby, Raquel Baldwin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
You know what? I had a great idea the other day for the opening of a slasher film. A girl is all alone in her house late at night, when the telephone rings. She answers it and a demented voice that she doesn’t recognise begins taunting her with personal knowledge that he has about her life. At first she wonders if it could be a prank, but then the deranged caller becomes more threatening and asks if she wants to play a game. We soon learn that he has a family member/boyfriend tied up close by, and if she doesn’t complete the quiz, the loved one will die. So then we… Hold on, my phone is ringing…. “Oh hi Mr Craven. Yes, of course I know what a lawsuit is, why do you ask?”
This totally forgotten entry from the boom years of the second cycle starts pretty much the way that I’ve written above. Whilst I appreciate that it may have been a subtle comment on the magpie nature of the slasher genre, it doesn’t really hint at satire and instead plays it incomprehensibly straight. Would a film really be bold enough to rip off its obvious inspiration (Scream) so openly?
A film crew that are working on an up and coming slasher movie called Death Blade become the target for a brutal masked killer. As more crew and cast members end up dead, the leading lady decides to hunt out the murderer.
Whilst watching Scared, I was reminded of a very good Tim Robbins film from 1992 called The Player. Aside from having an intriguing synopsis, it became renowned for an eight-minute tracking shot that was truly a miraculous slice of cinematography. It wasn’t only the length of running time that made the scene impressive, but also the amount of action that was perfectly coordinated all the way through. There were a large number of actors working in conjunction and on cue to maintain the momentum, which really stood out as an ambitious director going the extra mile. Scared includes a somewhat shorter (96 seconds), but similar in craft set-piece that immediately created the impression that we were watching a stylish slice of motion picture development. In fact, with so much dialogue revolving around the background details of movie production, I was convinced that we may have a slasherised homage of type to Roger Altman’s classic. Unfortunately, like a senior manager that berates his team for their lack of focus whilst clearly logged on to Facebook, Scared doesn’t lead by the example that its script brags about.
I remember a time when even the worst slasher movies included characters that we kind of enjoyed watching. Give me a van full of numbskulls from The Prey or Don’t go in the Woods over a group of conceited silicone-enhanced brats any day. Scared has a cast that’s so deplorably unlikeable that I failed to understand the screenwriters’ logic for even bothering to include a central character. They were all involved in some kind of inane love triangle that made them look like a bunch of junkie sluts. I forget the exact details, but our heroine Samantha had been passed round more of the crew members than the script they were working on and her buddy was portrayed to have the intelligence of a tadpole. They set out to uncover the identity of the masked killer, but this wasn’t much fun for us, because we had guessed it ages ago. It turns out that there’s a tag team of homicidal maniacs on the loose, which I think I might have seen somewhere else ( Mr Craven, whilst I have you on the line…)
When a mystery is really crappy in a slasher movie, it’s an easy slant for a critic to call it Scooby Doo-esque. With Scared, we don’t even need to resort to such slander, because the final girl and her partner set out on a mission to catch the psychopath using a gimmick that they admit was learned from an episode of Scooby Doo(?). This involves them both dressing as the killer so that the villains will think that the person they come across is actually their partner-in-crime and not an intended victim. Sound confusing? Well it gets that way, when the final girl bumps into the assailant and they roll about on the floor in exactly the same attire. Robert McKee from Adaptation said that voice-narration is a cheat’s way of depicting what’s going on in scene. I can only assume that he hadn’t experienced Scared’s methodology of having a conclusive battle between two identically dressed characters. Perhaps they could have placed two luminous arrows on the screen above each participant and scribbled, ‘bad guy’ and ‘the one we’re rooting for’ to make it clearer? Then in what I guess could only have been included as a deliberate piece of inadvertent humour, the heroine challenges the maniac, who had thus far notched up about 6 of her colleagues, to a knife fight. You know, as you do. How we laughed. It’s almost as dumb as trying to track down a psychopathic killer by yourself… Oh yeah… Oh. Mind you, if you meet cops as incompetent as those featured here in real life, you might just feel the need to start your own investigation. I forgot about the unwritten rule that makes detectives in crud horror films a) insanely inept and b) unable to purchase a normal suit and tie combo. Damn it.
Bad slasher movies are two-a-penny, but what made this one worse was that it talked a good game. It’s ironic that the script was filled with choice lines about making ‘the next Scream‘ and ‘the need for a good twist and T&A’ but Scared doesn’t practice what it preaches. It was released in the US as Cut-Throat; a title that I guess was safer than Cut-Off-My-Own-Head-With-A-Blunt-Hacksaw, which is what, at times, I felt like doing. The awful acting (the director guy was abysmal), terrible inept dialogue, characters that vanish without trace from scene to scene and predictable mystery are totally at odds with some creative cinematography. It’s a shame that it was totally wasted in this junk.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √
The Silent Scream 1979
Directed by: Denny Harris
Starring: Barbara Steele, Rebecca Balding, Cameron Mitchell
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Perhaps it’s because they were generally more amateurish projects, or maybe it’s just that funding was often hard to secure, but I’ve always wondered why so many slasher movies from the peak years suffered problematic productions. Titles like Moon In Scorpio, Scalps, Truth or Dare, Killer Party and especially Curtains never saw light of day as they were initially intended and the issues were certainly visible in the final print. Silent Scream was completed in 1977, but was considered unreleasable by director Denny Harris. He hired an entire new cast and brought in Jim and Ken Wheat to re-write the script at his own expense. Together they decided to make it more similar to the boom that had swept cinema around that time, the slasher genre.
Now the major difference between the titles that I mentioned earlier and Silent Scream is that for once the movie that we ended up with worked superbly. Whereas for example Curtains never escaped its muddled backbone, if I hadn’t have read the stories of a troubled shoot, I would have been none the wiser here.
In the rush to find housing before the new semester, four students end up at a recently refurbished house overlooking a remote beach. A couple of hours after they move in, they are shocked when one of their number is brutally murdered by an unseen fiend during the night. Little do they know that the deranged killer is closer than they could ever have imagined.
Whilst I have no doubt in my mind that Halloween played a part in the inspiration for the final version of Silent Scream, the fact that it was released so close to Carpenter’s classic means that it avoids many of the traditional trappings. Instead, the Wheat brothers seem to have followed the blueprint of features like Black Christmas and Psycho to come up with the synopsis for this doom-laden thriller. Even if we do get the standard troupe of teenage victims, there’s no sign of trademarks like the have sex and die rule. I found it refreshing that the heroine’s characterisation didn’t follow the path that would become a cliché and the story feels closer to reality because of that. The four key personalities are so well developed during the opening scenes that it’s tough to chose who we think will succumb to the killer’s blade first. This gives the picture an extra shade of suspense that only adds to the solid mystery.
Harris had been a big fan of horror movies and he rallied valiantly to get his first film produced. After watching how professionally everything had been put together, I had no idea that this was the work of a debutant and I’m still surprised that it’s his one and only motion picture credit. A slick juxtaposition of fixed camera angles and shots that loom ominously give the feature an extremely polished look and a fitting score from Richard Kellaway adds an extra layer of class. What impressed me most about the film was that the screenwriters took something as unoriginal as a tale of a bogeyman in the basement and twisted it continuously keep viewers guessing. The decision to include a corny doo-wop tune as the psycho’s calling card worked along the same methodology as utilising childlike themes such as a clown or a doll. Once combined, these elements gave Silent Scream an incredibly creepy tone of subtle menace that remained constant throughout.
It’s often forgotten that the art of acting is not just spouting lines of dialogue with emotion. I was saying to a friend just recently that if Brad Pitt ends his career without an Oscar, it would be almost criminal. It could have been easy for him to become a Rom-Com king and trade on his looks, but he always chooses audacious roles that for whatever reason he hasn’t yet been acknowledged for. Barbara Steele shows here that she can deliver a performance via body language and gestures that puts her a level above her peers. She steals every scene in a brilliant portrayal that must’ve motivated those around her to up their game. The dysfunctional family stereotype is skewed to perfection and it never reaches the realms of over indulgence.
Silent Scream is a brilliant slasher movie and amongst the best of the genre. Whilst it may be more of a Hitchcockian nod to Psycho than a true teenie-kill feature, it delivers blood and scares like the best of them. Quite why it is not as fondly thought of as The Burning et al is an enigma and I definitely think you should re-visit it sooner rather than latter.
Final Girl √√√
Directed by: Denis Devine
Starring: Meredith Mills, Eric Bunton, Joe Decker
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When you take a look at some of slop that has populated the slasher genre since 1978, it’s not hard to see why so many entries are mocked for their ineptitude. Have you ever wondered what was the initial production plan behind movies like Night Divides the Day or Camp 139? Do you think that the distributors who picked them up were expecting extravagant success when they watched them through? Were they haunted by a delusion that prevented them from recognising the heinous level of their product’s quality? Keeping that in mind, it would take a brave man to take a gamble on a slasher movie that hasn’t – as of yet – been signed for any kind of distribution. Made way back in the year 2000, Bloodstream has yet to find a scheduled release anywhere across the globe. It was only because it had come from genre veterans Dennis Devine and Steve Jarvis (Dead Girls/Fatal Images/Club Dead) that I even bothered trying to track a copy down. I eventually managed to contact Jarvis, who was good enough to send me a DVD screener. Despite the experience of the filmmakers behind the project, I found it hard not to approach Bloodstream with expectations lowered. Surely if the movie was any good then it would have been snapped up moons ago, right? Well fortunately enough and not for the first time in my splatter-reviewing career, my preliminary expectations were off target with this one….
It kicks off in the unfamiliar settings of a chemical laboratory. A devious worker manages to trick a dim-witted security guard into letting her sneak out a small quantity of an unknown substance. The woman takes the vial to a remote warehouse, but she is brutally murdered by an unseen menace before she is able to receive payment for her pilfering! Next up we meet the likely body count material and massacre applicants at a Los Angeles ‘talent’ show. Pam has traveled from Arizona to watch her younger sister Sandy’s singing debut and she soon gets to meet her friends and colleagues. Unbeknownst to her and the guests, Sandy will not be performing tonight, which is due to the fact that she has been kidnapped by a nut job who may or may not be a vicious serial killer. The following morning when she doesn’t return, Pam and her new found friends begin searching for the youngster. It soon becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Sandy to be discovered, because members of the search party begin being kidnapped and then surgically dissected by a cackling masked psycho. Next we learn that the motive for the attacks is not as straight-forward as first expected and soon a mysterious link between the victims leads to an authentic conclusion…
Unlike traditional post-Scream slasher yarns, Bloodstream has an extremely complex and creative synopsis. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the screenwriters deliver an impressive number of sub-plots and branches without wrapping themselves up in an awkward knot. Despite a huge amount of interchanging activity in the story, ‘Stream manages to maintain its momentum, which is all down to some slick work from Jarvis and Devine. Even if the budget restrictions are visually obvious from the start, the sets are stylishly lighted and attempts at suspense are carried out with flair and panache. There are also a couple of bloody murders that liven up proceedings, which include a grisly eye-stabbing that reminded me of the terrific opening from Evil Dead Trap. Also watch out for a few surgical ‘torture’ scenes that manage to look credibly realistic, despite the miniscule budget. There’s an extra lick of gloss that comes from an engaging mystery and Bloodstream is a movie that stays in your head hours after the film has ended. That’s a very accomplished feat for a modern teen-slasher.
When reviewing a pre-screener, you have to ignore some of the continuity mishaps because they would likely be ironed out before the final print is submitted. I did pick up on a few blunders that really stood out though, like seeing the nozzle of a smoke machine bellowing fog into the moody night sky. Jarvis admits that the audio on the disc is not perfect; and in honesty, it is sketchy in places. What I found stood out more to me though was the cheesy level of the acting quality, which gives away the amateurism of the budget cast members. Still, there was enough in the story to overcome this and none of the issues were nearly bad enough to have kept the film from being released. It was apparently re-edited and streamlined twice to tweak the mystery elements and give the runtime a smoother flow. This left a couple of minor gaps in the plot, which don’t detract credit from the complexity of the story, but were likely explained in the footage that was later removed.
It isn’t far off a crime, when you consider the amount of schlock being released with regularity, that an authentic and ambitious title like Bloodstream hasn’t yet been given an opportunity at mass consumption. Perhaps it is not too late for a company to pick up the title and give it the exposure it deserves. I find it hard to explain why movies as contemptible as Paranoid and Head Cheerleader Dead Cheerleader managed to find distribution, whilst this looks set to suffer the fate that befell ‘The Legend Of Moated Manor’ before it. I just hope that this isn’t the case and one day you guys have the chance to see if you agree with my comments……
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl √√
Dead of Nite 2013
Directed by: S.J. Evans
Starring: Tony Todd, Joseph Millson, Cicely Tennant
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It still surprises me that since Cannibal Holocaust launched the ‘found footage’ gimmick that has been vital to horror hits like The Blair Witch Project and Rec, it hasn’t been used very often in the slasher genre. It’s strange because I can’t imagine another style of horror that would benefit more from that narrative. I remember considering posting a review of The Last Broadcast on a SLASH above, as it incorporates many of the ingredients that are commonplace amongst features on this site. In the end though, I decided that this was wishful thinking on my part as it is not, in fact, a slasher movie.
That argument cannot be levelled at today’s choice of post, Dead of Nite, which is a recent British entry to the cycle. It was released hot on the heels of Evidence – another title that utilised pre-filmed flashbacks as a structure, but chose the standard stalk and slash template as an overcoat. What is it they say about waiting ages for a bus and then two coming along at once?
A team of youngsters that run an online paranormal exploration site decide to visit the notorious Jericho mansion. It has a reputation as the most haunted place in the South East of England due to rumoured sightings of ghosts and a murderous history. They are locked in for the night to complete some research, however the next morning, most of them are found dead. All that remains are the tapes from their cameras…
To say that Nite starts badly would be one hell of an understatement. We open with Police taping off the scene of the massacre and the camerawork judders like it was being filmed by an epileptic. To make matters worse, these weren’t even scenes of found footage that could be excused due to a shaky hand. Many low budget horror films incorporate cameos from previous stars such as Kane Hodder or Robert Englund as a form of genre recognition. Here we get Candyman’s Tony Todd, but I’m not sure if you could consider his appearance to be a plus. He spends ten of his fifteen-minutes worth of screen time whispering inaudibly and then when he does raise his voice, it seems that the effort he took doing so made him totally forget that he was supposed to be ‘acting’. To be fair though, it’s not only Todd that could be accused of poor dramatics. The scenes filmed outside the mansion before the teens are locked in the abode play like a pre-school playground production of West Side Story. Someone call the drama coach, you guys have all got detention.
Anyway, when they finally bolt the doors, the screenplay goes on a self-discovery mission. If a script could suffer a midlife identity crisis, then Dead of Nite’s is in desperate need of counselling. After the obligatory shot of a full moon, the visitors decide to hold a seance. The ouija board spells out the word death and the glass flies off the table and smashes to smithereens against the wall. You could be forgiven for thinking that we have got a supernatural thriller on our hands, but after a sickle is grabbed from the wall by an ominous hand, the paranormal elements are never seen (or heard of) again. That’s not such a bad thing though, because when the slasher stuff starts, the film finally finds some credibility and delivers a few impressive chills.
Whilst Nite can be considered a ‘found footage’ film, these elements, much like the ghostly stuff I mentioned earlier, are kind of bolted on. One minute we will be watching a camcorder shot of the action and then in the next instant, we see everything through a fixed lens. Surprisingly though, this blend works extremely well in some places, like when the director cuts to isolated staircases and rooms to underline the atmosphere of solitude. After the fusebox is destroyed early in the runtime, everything is filmed in night vision and it makes the actor’s eyes illuminate like reflective motorway studs in the darkness, which was creepy. I liked the antagonist’s guise and Robin Scott Fleming delivers a decent score to help maintain the tension. The killer stalks with a traditional Michael Myers-alike strut and even if we only get a handful of murders, they are creatively delivered and fairly menacing.
Whilst there aren’t any true gore scenes and the mystery is easy to figure out, Dead of Nite has enough in its briefcase to at least deliver the odd moment that is worthy of praise. I wasn’t expecting much, but I enjoyed the few jolts and the attempt to make the stalking sequences as scary as possible. If you have seen everything else and keep what I’ve said in mind, you should check it out.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √
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 √