Don’t Panic 1987 Review
Dimensiones Ocultas 1987
aka Don’t Panic aka El Secreto de la Ouija
Directed by: Rubén Galindo Jr.
Starring: Jon Michael Bischof, Gabriela Hassel, Helen Rojo
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Part A Nightmare on Elm Street, part Halloween with a little bit of The Bogeyman thrown in for good measure, Don’t Panic is a successful crossbreed of those styles which makes for an entertaining ninety minutes of slasher frolics. Latin American entries are always good fun and they were very easy for me to find when I was younger, because my native language is Spanish and many got released in España, my country of birth. Titles such as Bosque de Muerte, Trampa Infernal and La Noche del Payaso are all audacious in their approach and on top of that, they usually boast gore and credible suspense.
In the outset we meet Michael (Jon Michael Bischof), our protagonist, who has recently moved down to Mexico with his alcoholic mother away from Beverley Hills and his unsympathetic father. He’s celebrating with his newly found friends, which include Tony (Juan Ignacio Aranda) – a smart-ass wise cracker – and the gorgeous Alexandra (Gabriella Hassel) whom he has the hots for. It’s Mike’s seventeenth birthday and as a present the gang have got him an Ouija board (Only ever really needed in moviedom if people want to get possessed or die!) and even though at first Michael refuses to take part, the gang force him to join in on one of their séances. They all gather round in a circle and join hands around an eerie looking candle lit table as Tony attempts to call up a medium known as ‘Virgil’. They make contact, but Virgil isn’t very talkative and instead lifts up the arrow to point it at Mike in a threatening manner. All of a sudden, the door flies open and in bursts the birthday boy’s inebriated mother who soon sends the group packing and Mickey to bed.
Soon after that night Michael begins to have strange dreams that an unseen psycho holding an ancient dagger is viciously murdering his friends. When it’s revealed that the teens are actually being bloodily butchered, he begins seeing premonitions of someone warning him who is next on the killer’s list. With this knowledge, he is forced to attempt to save them from the maniacal assassin. But who is it that is slaughtering the hapless group and what are their motives?
About two weeks before I saw this, I watched the more recent British slasher Long Time Dead and it looks as if Don’t Panic may have been the inspiration for that flick because the two plots are almost interchangeable. Director Ruben Galindo Jr. – who was also behind slashers Cemetery of Terror and Ladrones De Tumbas– has given us an unique picture, which despite sailing a tad too close to being an Elm Street dupe, managed to keep itself within the traditional slasher template. It makes a refreshing change when one of these crossbreed efforts actually works, because films like Girl’s School Screamers or Pledge Night have either pushed themselves outside of the slasher branding due to their OTT supernatural elements or just ended up a bit of a mess. Although It’s obvious here that the performances aren’t the best, what the film lacks in that area, it more than makes up for with a decent premise and a good dose of originality.
This was the full-uncut copy that I purchased many moons ago in Spain and it includes some tacky but effective gore effects that I really enjoyed. In one scene, a victim gets stabbed through the chin with a giant dagger, which protrudes through his mouth! There are also a couple of great chase sequences, which include a pursuit through a hospital that was vaguely reminiscent of Halloween II. The killer stalks in traditional slow-mo Michael Myers manner and taunts his victims viciously. You won’t get bored whilst watching, because Galindo maintains a good pace and even gives us the chance to play whodunit for the first half. He doesn’t spend too much time on the investigative stuff though and chooses instead to reveal the maniac’s identity early on, which gives us an on-screen bogeyman for the rest of the feature
For all its attempts at extremity and creepy horror though, Don’t Panic never manages to escape the dairy and is overwhelmingly cheesy in so many places that I honestly lost count (in a good way of course). For example Jon Michael Bischof spends three quarters of the runtime in a pair of groovy pyjamas and I must confess that I don’t remember any other movie ‘hero’ that has battled tyrannic evil forces in an embarrassing pair of jim-jams. Also watch out for a whole lot of incredibly silly dialogue that occurs during the character development bits, like when Michael and Alexandra head out on a date in the beginning of the feature. Even if the things that they get up to whilst out and about are comical enough (riding bikes and letting go of balloons simultaneously etc), nothing can beat the advice that Tony gives Michael when he returns later. He tells his buddy that if he really loves her he should ‘give her a rose‘, but not just any one mind, it must be ‘the magic rose’. He then walks over to a giant bowl in his room, places a towel over the top and then he pulls out a thorn covered stem and offers it to the confused looking character. What is this guy? A relationship advice guru..? Why does he have a bowl of fresh roses in his bedroom…? The mind wanders…
It’s been a little while since I’ve watched a slasher that I’ve truly enjoyed and this high-tempo Mexican extravaganza is a great roller-coaster of cheesy thrills. Don’t Panic may be too campy to be scary, but it has been put together with thought and it adds supernatural touches to the age-old slasher clichés better than most. Yeah, I honestly recommend this and it rivals the extremely good (and from the same director) Grave Robbers from 1989
Final Girl √√