Monthly Archives: April 2012
Sorority Row 2009
Directed by: Stewart Hendler
Starring: Briana Evigan, Audrina Partridge, Carrie Fisher
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Now I am somewhat of a fence sitter when it comes to remakes. Whilst I quite enjoyed My Bloody Valentine 3D, I still haven’t seen the rehash of Halloween and I don’t intend to. For me, the original was a masterpiece and with all due respect, giving Rob Zombie the reins for a new version is almost like giving Henry Hill the chance to do a remake of The Godfather. Somehow, modern-day teens seem far more arrogant than they used to and the MTV generation are a lot less alluring body count material for splatter flicks.
The House on Sorority Row was one of my favourite genre pieces of the peak period. A great story with a compelling mystery and razor sharp direction gave it an advantage on its brethren from the same era. That eerie final sequence is a postcard from the greatest period of the stalk and slasher and I hoped that if there’s any justice in the kingdom of moviedom, Sorority Row would pay not just homage, but respect to its grandfather. Having Mark Rosman on board as executive producer, was a good move, because I felt sure that he would really want to guide the way in terms of representing the brand he created.
After a poorly-planned prank goes wrong, a group of sorority sisters are left with an incriminating secret that could cost them their lives. After some on the spot soul searching they decide to keep it between themselves and dispose of any remaining evidence. Eight months pass and the group have mostly put the events behind them and are looking forward to graduation. Things take a turn for the worse when someone begins targeting the girls with evidence linking them to their earlier endeavours. Before long a hooded killer turns up and begins working his way through the group one-by-one…
The film kicks off weakly and by the ten-minute mark, I was expecting the worst. After the prank backfires, there’s a panic-stricken scene which was a golden opportunity for the junior thesps to show that they had the talent to build some rapport with the audience. Unfortunately, they don’t take it and there’s a clearly visible lack of chemistry and cohesiveness as they scream at each other unconvincingly and sink to further depths of banal dramatics.
I found it hard at first glance to like these characters and for an avid fan of eighties slashers, the words Facebook and YouTube seemed bizarre in this kind of flick. Well I have just turned thirty, so maybe I am getting too long in the tooth now. My view is admittedly dated as social networking plays such a large part of the youth culture of today that I guess I should credit the necessary attempt to pull the category forward in to more modern surroundings. In fairness, as a critic I should have given this a chance on its own to impress from the start, but it was impossible for me not to think of comparisons with the original. I hadn’t seen it for a while, but I remembered the ominous opening and the haunting score that set the tone so early on. Here we are given a bouncing ‘Hip-Hop’ baseline, conceited characters and zero recognition that this is a horror film rather than yet another dumb teen comedy.
Then suddenly and most unexpectedly things began to improve. Now I’m not sure if it’s because the aforementioned poorly-acted sequence was the first that they shot and they hadn’t yet found their footing. But after an uncomfortable and disorientated opening, the plot began to tighten, the dramatics improved and the river of intrigue began to flow. The killer’s guise was nothing special (how many cloaked maniacs have there been since Urban Legends?) but using a lug wrench as a weapon allowed for some inventive slayings and the film found the right balance of subtle parody and engaging plot.
Stewart Hendler’s energetic and ambitious direction is exactly what the film needed and the fluid cinematography adds to the party-like vibe. Briana Evigan grew in to her role as the plot thickened and there’s a good mix of characteristics on display so that you can chose those that you like or those you want to see gruesomely impaled on the tyre iron. The mystery is a tough one to crack, but in effect is a bit disappointing once revealed. I mean, where did that come from?
Nowadays MTV horror movies are targeted at a younger generation of viewers, so in order to get a wider target audience they don’t invest in gratuitous gore, which would probably result in a stringent rating from the censors. Sorority Row, unlike the appalling Prom Night remake, does at least pack some blood and creativity in to its murders and although there’s never any really solid fear factor on display, Hendler does produce moments of suspense.
So is Sorority Row worthy to share the brand of one of the best films of the golden period? I would say just about, yes. Don’t get me wrong this is nowhere near as good as the film it redesigns, but compared to the amount of plop we get nowadays that describes itself as horror, Hendler’s slasher does enough to separate itself from the masses.
The only negatives are the large amount of ‘hard-to-like’ characters, an insignificant bogeyman (they don’t even try to make an iconic Jason/Michael Myers type) and no real scares.
It pains me to say it, but slasher films of modern times are the chick-flicks of the horror genre and that’s why they need to do the little that is expected of them to the best of their ability. Row does exactly that and boasts a frantic pace, some cool kills, a good mystery and a divine final girl. Fairly good global box office meant there’s life in the cycle yet…
Final Girl: √√√
Midnight Killer 1986
aka Morirai a Mezzanote aka You’ll Die at Midnight
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Starring: Valeria D’Obici, Paolo Malco, Eliana Miglio
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In any industry, I think it’s always hard to follow in the footsteps of your father. It must be especially tough though if he’s an outright legend that’s credited with not only defining a genre, but also launching one. No matter how well you and your dad get along, there’s always going to be a little bit of friendly rivalry. Plus you can virtually guarantee that critics will always compare the works of a senior with that of his son. That’s why it must’ve been almost impossible for Lamberto Bava to escape the consistent comparisons and make his own name in Italian cinema. But Morirai a Mezzanotte (Midnight Killer) goes some way to showing that talent certainly ran thickly through the genes of the Bava family. It’s just a shame that Mario was not alive to witness his son’s worthy addition to the category that he created.
Now in all honesty, despite being extremely knowledgeable about the slasher cycle, I must admit that I have spent very little time researching the Giallo. I have still thoroughly enjoyed the likes of Mystery in Venice, Eyes without a Face, Too Beautiful to Die and Blood and Black Lace. It wasn’t until after I’d been impressed with this rarity that I began tracking down other genre classics. So you could say that Midnight Killer was something of a turning point for me…
It opens with a middle-aged woman shopping for some lingerie in a bustling town centre. Her husband Nicola (Leonardo Treviglio) sees her walking the street and begins following her. He buys a flower and waits outside the shop to give her a charming surprise. He certainly didn’t expect to see another man enter the changing rooms and he is even more shocked when they sneak out of the rear exit and shoot off in the mysterious stranger’s car. Later that night when she finally returns, the couple have a violent argument, which ends with Nicola storming out of the flat. After he has left, a black gloved assailant creeps into the apartment and brutally murders the promiscuous female with an ice pick. Inspector Pierro Teri (the always intriguing Paolo Malco) immediately suspects Nicola as the killer and so he enlists a psychological profiler named Anna Berardi (Valeria D’Obici) to help him crack the case. Berardi is a good friend to the Detective and she also teaches his daughter’s college course. She doesn’t think that Nicola is the guilty party, instead she suspects Franco Trebo – a serial murderer that was supposedly killed in a fire eight years earlier. As the bodies begin piling up round the city, it’s looking more and more like Trebo is back from the grave. The most worrying thing for inspector Terzi is that this bizarre maniac seems to have a viscous taste for his youngest daughter Carol (Lara Wendel). Will he be able to stop the ruthless psychopath before he tracks down his little girl?
Many critics have been disappointed with Lamberto Bava’s directorial work since his début feature (Macabre) pretty much flopped on release in 1980. I have begun to realise though that it’s only because they always compare his filmography to the seminal works of his father. It’s a shame that this murder mystery was not distributed to a much wider audience, as it is a little seen gem that deserves recognition. This is mainly due to a fantastic score from Brazilian composer Claudio Simonetti (of the Goblin fame) and some truly chilling set locations. The killer stalks his way through a neglected theatre, a sinister museum and a vacant hotel with relish and the atmosphere-engrossing musical accompaniment helps to create some decent suspense. He also looks extremely menacing in a rubber facemask and his victims usually suffer at the hands of a stylishly directed set piece. The acting is fairly good from the leads and credit to Bava for enlisting Lucio Fulci-favorite Paolo Malco to join a comfortable cast. Many previous Italian Giallos (Eyes without a Face/Massacre) have suffered from inept and poorly translated English voice-overs. Fortunately that’s not the case with Midnight Killer, which was dubbed with considerable thought for non-Italian viewers.
Fans of gore cinema may be disappointed at the minuscule amount of the old gooey stuff. Also the lack of any nudity will probably switch off exploitation buffs that have been spoilt over the years by the likes of The New York Ripper. The mystery-aspect is not as complex and intelligent as many of its genre forefathers have proved to be either, which may cause bedroom Agatha Christies to search in the opposite direction. Still, this is a refreshing and fairly absorbing entry that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. I do agree that Lamberto is a much better screenwriter than he is a director, but Midnight Killer is good enough to make his father proud. As I said earlier, it’s a real shame he wasn’t alive to see it. Recommended…
Final Girl: √√√
The Ghost Dance 1980
Directed by: Peter F Buffa
Starring: Julie Amato, Victor Mohica, Felicia Leon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Just a side note, before we get going. I pencilled this in 2008 and my topic was the terrible credit crunch that had struck the world economy back then. It is obviously very focused on the events of those times, but instead of rewriting everything, I decided to leave it as it was, because it is actually rather interesting that not too much has changed some four-years later.
As I write this review, the world is on the verge of one of the biggest financial meltdowns in economic history. My country of birth, Spain, has just guaranteed the savings of up to 80,000 Euros for every Spaniard in order to restore customer confidence. In the UK, a rumoured 500 billion of tax payer’s money is about to be pumped into the recently nationalised British banking system in a bid to put trust back in to the financial market. In Iceland, banks have already crashed completely, leaving customers without their hard-earned savings, whilst politicians in the USA are battling around the clock to to thrash out a saviour package. Things are not looking good.
Two weeks ago the Credit Crunch seemed a million miles away, but today I noticed that it’s starting to hit the most financially adventurous of sports, with London’s West Ham United football club looking set to be the first to feel the pinch. As investments crumble to dust, chairmen will begin to haul in the reigns and become less enthusiastic to spend on those much-needed squad reinforcements during the transfer window. We may be seeing the beginning of a total re-shape in entertainment as we know it.
That suddenly got me thinking, what if the Credit Crunch was to hit the movie industry? What if suddenly producers became bankrupt and it was left up to production teams with experience of delivering a feature on the tightest of budgets to fill cinemas on a Friday evening? Although that would be awful news for global viewers, it would be a momentous occasion for the slasher genre. You see for all their faults (and they have many), stalk and slash flicks are arguably the cheapest and easiest of any genre to produce. So if you don’t see the names of Nolan, Spielberg and Mendes on billboards in the near future and instead see the likes of Devine, Stryker and Decoteu, don’t be too surprised…
There was a time of course when a cheap slasher movie at the flicks was a common occurrence. Back in the inglorious days of the early eighties, titles like Ghost Dance were the ‘Paranormal Activities’ of that long-gone and thankfully forgotten era. Although that sounds bizarre in our current climate of multi-million-dollar blockbusters, history has a funny way of repeating itself.
Ghost Dance kicks off in trappings that we would see again three years later in Fred Olen Ray’s Scalps. A group of youngsters on an excavation raise a grave from the Californian desert and head off into the night with the corpse on-board their flat-bed pick-up. Next up we meet a crazy medicine man who seems determined to conjure the spirit of an ancient American Indian renegade from beyond the grave. After a hopelessly unconvincing ‘magic’ spell, the evil ghost possess the mystical magician and heads off into the desert on a maniacal rampage. Soon we learn that there is something more sinister to the killer’s motives as he begins closing in on our leading lady
Alongside titles that include the aforementioned Scalps, Demon Warrior and Camping Del Terrore, Peter Buffa’s opus attempts to inject the curiosities and intrigue of Native American culture into the trappings of the slasher genre that was all the rage in the early eighties. Back then, the cycle was still in a transitional phase and unaware of its stereotypes, but this feature seems to already know the rulebook and underlines all the clichés that would become a trademark of identification in years to come. Despite making good use of gimmicks like the good-old ‘have sex and die’ routine, kudos must be given to the scriptwriter for adding a little puzzle and intrigue to the template.
A large chunk of the runtime is dedicated to the mystery element of tracing the origins of the maniacal assassin and although the ideas are bold and commendable, the story-telling does limit the space for occasions of glorious splatter. It does feel somewhat snooze-enticingly slow moving in places and the killer’s appearances are disappointingly sparse. When the psycho does strike, Buffa handles the tension surprisingly well and the score creates a mildly foreboding and at times impressively claustrophobic atmosphere. I especially enjoyed the murders in the abandoned museum and Ben’s face slashing was exceptionally gruesome. Although there’s very little in terms of grotesque gore, the killings, when they occur, are satisfying enough and competently handled by a capable director.
It doesn’t take long for us to realise that there’s sure to be a twist in the plot towards the climax and even though it may seem fairly ‘old-hat’ by today’s standards, the conclusion was fairly ingenious for its time of release. Native Americans are always intriguing and mystic characters for the silver screen, but hiring a cast of competent actors that carry the appearance, heritage and dramatic credibility is never an easy task for a film crew on a meagre budget. With that said, the performances here are reasonably good and credit to Victor Mohica for a strong turning as the leading man.
So this may not be a hidden-gem, but it is decent enough for true genre fans to appreciate. It seems somewhat unfair that whilst utter dross like Don’t go in the Woods can live on in the hearts of slasher aficionados, Ghost Dance has been largely forgotten. Slight problems with pacing do not detract from a decent entry to the cycle. I recommend viewers get used to watching this kind of entertainment…you never know when the Hollywood financial bubble could burst……….
Final Girl: √√