Hardcover 1989 Review
Directed by: Tibor Takács
Starring: Jenny Wright, Clayton Rohner, Randall William Cook
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
People often ask how and why I don’t class A Nightmare on Elm Street to be a proper slasher flick and so I thought I’d clear it up once and for all. Firstly, the biggest giveaway is the word ‘slasher’, but to explain in more detail, we have to go back. In fact, we have to go way way back, back to the roots of the genre. What do Blood and Black Lace, Psycho, Black Christmas and Torso all have in common? Well they all had a maniac armed with some kind of ‘melee’ weapon (knife, axe, pitchfork etc) who stalked and murdered his/her intended prey. Halloween made its bogeyman supernatural in a way, but his modus operandi was to kill with non-supernatural appliances. Now Freddy is most definitely a stalk and slash villain, but as soon I saw Johnny Depp get dragged in to a bed with a fountain of crimson spraying over the ceiling, it dawned on me that this has to be clarified somewhere else.
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion on this subject, but for me, instead of saying that these are not slasher flicks, I would give them a separate category within the genre. That way, the likes of Pledge Night could also get a shout. Here on a SLASH above however it’s all about the ways people are killed that gives a movie the benefit of a review posted by the man himself (well, me!).
All this talk brings us to Hardcover, a film with big enough cojones to walk the fine line between A Nightmare on Elm Street grouping and your more regular catalogue addition. I said in my review of Maniac Cop that not only 1981 was a dandy time for psycho killers, but 1988 was also packed to the brim and here is even more evidence. Hardcover was finished and ready to hit the screens that year, but so as not to put it up against Freddy, Jason and Señor Myers who all had sequels in the cinema, they pushed it back to the following April. The intention here was most definitely to rival Freddy Krueger and the plot adds some fantasy and supernatural touches. The disfigured killer armed with a cut-throat razor however, makes this picture more aligned to its counterparts that are featured on this page than those of the ‘Elm Street’ variety
Virginia discovers a really good novel at the bookstore where she works. It’s called “I, Madman” and it’s about an insane doctor who goes on a kill frenzy in the name of love. Virginia soon discovers that as she turns the pages of the story, the killer is committing the same horrid murders in reality. She tells her detective boyfriend, Richard, but he rubbishes it off, thinking that she is getting carried away. As more bodies turn up around town, it’s left up to Virginia to stop the maniac before he kills again…
Compared to the majority of later entries, Hardcover has high-ish production values and is a wonderful flick to look at as it bathes in its gothic set designs. The action takes place in an apartment building that brings to mind the hotel from Barton Fink and it has an edgy score from Michael Hoenig. For director Tibor Takács, horror is all about big crescendos and false scares and he makes some of them work. What he does very well is take a few slasher clichés and expand them by mixing reality with imaginative fantasy. We have the charming final girl who no one believes, the disfigured killer who only seems to reveal himself to her outside of his victims and the cops who think she’s a loon. But instead of making it a mystery on a surrealist edge so the viewer is unaware if it is all in her mind or not, we share her frustration and know that she’s telling the truth, which allows us to bond with her.
Jenny Wright is good in the role of the bespectacled loveable bookworm with a subtle sexiness and finds the right balance between fearful female and brave heroine. The scenes of her alone, at home and reading her beloved horror stories make her come across just like us slasher fans, who love to indulge in the frightful side of media. Clayton Rohner from Destroyer and April Fool’s Day plays it straight as her boyfriend and they make for an attractive pairing. The maniac is performed by special effects guru Randall Cook, who rumour has it was so impressed with his guise for the bogeyman that he asked to wear it himself. The killer looks creepy as hell and the way he just appears unexpectedly creates a couple of great jump scares. I mentioned earlier that the story juxtaposes the standard trappings with a dose of fantasy, but I won’t reveal the OTT ending for you, except to say, some psycho killers have a strange choice in-house pets!!
There’s some cartoonish goo when the killer strikes, which is fun, but there’s nowhere near enough of it to make this a gore flick. The reason for his spree is because he steals a feature from each victim (nose, ears, mouth) and adds them to his own face to replace what he mutilated in order to look ‘handsome’ for the woman he loves, whom he mistakes for our book-reading heroine. This is a cooler than cool motive and it adds a subtle suspense to the runtime as we wait to see what he looks like after each killing. The effects get better and better too and even though they give the maniac a voice and some lines, he (thankfully) refrains from the comedic quips that we saw continuously in the cycle after the birth of Freddy Krueger.
Some have said that the movie loses some power in its final third, but I didn’t really notice that it dwindles at all. I do often get frustrated when these features overplay the fact that no one believes the final girl’s stories and the Police are always inept, but this one gets it just about right and before long, Richard sees that his girlfriend is not the nutcase that his boss makes her out to be. I wonder how they explained away the aftermath to the authorities though!
Hardcover is a good, enjoyable lushly filmed thriller with some fun set pieces and a nice momentum. It could be argued that with access to such a good budget and strong cast that it could have made more of what it had, but I enjoyed it. It’s never going to be listed amongst the classics, but it delivers more than enough popcorn horror for slasher fans.
Final Girl: √√√