Monthly Archives: April 2013
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: √
Terror Night 1988
aka Bloody Movie
Directed by: Nick Marino (Andre De Toth rumoured)
Starring: John Ireland, Cameron Mitchell, Alan Hale Jr.
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is an update of the review that I posted on the IMDB many years ago. I think that I wrote something like 2,500 words, so I have condensed it down to the bare minimum for you 🙂
Produced in 1987, Terror Night became the slasher movie equivalent of the Holy Grail for horror enthusiasts after it never secured its expected release. We waited for twenty years until it finally crept out almost unnoticed on a budget DVD with a cruddy transfer. During production, it had been covered in various horror fanzines, meaning that when a launch date never arrived, fans were left wondering what exactly happened. It became like an urban legend with people knowing someone who knew somebody else that had seen it, but it wasn’t until the late nineties when I came across a German subtitled bootleg copy that I was sure that it even existed.
It is believed that copyright wrangles with additional footage, which was ‘borrowed’ from classic movies for inclusion to the story, prevented Terror Night from gaining public exposure. There are also purely unconfirmed reports that it was funded by mob money, which adds a real Hollywood-style twist to its reputation. I must admit that I find that hard to believe, because the Mafia in Los Angeles surely had better things to throw their money at than an entry to a dying craze, which the slasher was by 1988. With that said, I have also read a report that stated that Nick Marino’s Mafioso cousin got him involved in the production as a favour and convinced Andre De Toth to sign on to help the inexperienced débutant. Perhaps they made De Toth an offer that he couldn’t refuse? Did he find a horse’s head in his bed one morning? Anyway, a few pre-screeners saw the light of day, which were then copied privately and passed around on the VHS black-market, but up until very recently, it had remained locked in a studio vault. The unfortunate production problems admittedly gave the film a somewhat alluring edge and I was happy when I finally got my hands on a watchable print.
A group of youngsters decide to spend the night in the dilapidated Hollywood mansion of one-time screen idol Lance Hayward. Hayward has been missing for over forty years and despite rumours that he emigrated to Europe, it is believed that he died many years ago. The teenagers soon learn that this is not true as Hayward begins stalking and slaughtering the group one by one, whilst donning costumes of the characters from his previous cinematic adventures.
Had Terror Night been released as had been intended by the production team, I predict that it would have been a relatively popular addition to the category and a good seller on the VHS and drive-in markets. It boasts many of the essential ingredients that made its more successful genre counterparts household names, including a young and attractive cast, some decent bloody deaths, credible gore and a unique antagonist.
The use of retro movie footage to accompany the murders was an interesting touch; even though it almost certainly proved to play a key part in the film’s downfall and ruined any chance of the ongoing franchise that producers during this period would have hoped for. Despite sticking closely to the familiar rulebook, the key source of influence seems to stem from the 1980 thriller, Fade to Black. The synopsis is incredibly similar, although Terror Night gives its all to be an out and out slasher flick, whereas Fade to Black promised so much but turned out to be nothing of the sort.
The cast do a good enough job with what they are given, especially the old-timers who seem to be having a ball with their small cameos. Cameron Mitchell turns up for an awesome slice of scene-chewing and like all the senior screen veterans, he seems to be motivated to do more than just phone-in a few lines for the paycheque. The various choices of costume for the killer provide a good dose of cheesy fun (I especially enjoyed the maniacal knight-in-armour) and the murders are almost always energetic and gory. Screen queen Michelle Bauer comes along for her usual shift of getting naked and then viciously slaughtered and porn hottie Jamie Summers is also included for a rare non-adult film role to up the eye-candy factor.
First (and last) time director Nick Marino creates little in terms of tension or suspense and his modus operandi seemed to be little more than point the camera, shoot what was in front of him and then shout ‘Cut’! Andre De Toth’s involvement in the direction of a share of the scenes is a rumour that has never been confirmed or denied, but either way, there’s nothing exceptional here to be noted. He gets a thank you in the closing credits, which adds some weight to the case, but unfortunately, without the press package that would have accompanied Terror Night if it had secured a better release, there is little way of knowing for sure who worked on what.
Perhaps the flaws that we come across whilst watching are also to be blamed on the problematic production? The sets are inadequately lighted to the point of frustration in places and they lack the visual gloss that their creative layouts deserved. The story is also somewhat rushed and unclear and fails to deliver a satisfying resolution to the puzzle that it works so hard on creating throughout the length of the runtime. We never find out if our bogeyman is actually a ghost or just a semi-supernatural ninety-year-old with the appearance of someone half that age. Would these blemishes have been ironed out if the movie had not have come up against so many issues during and after the shoot? It is really hard to say and we will never know for sure when it was decided that Terror Night would not secure worldwide circulation. Perhaps the filmmakers never got the chance to add the finishing touches that would have given their project a more ‘completed’ feel. The campy ending however can’t be blamed on disjointed development woes. It’s pure eighties cheese on toast slasher screenwriting at its funniest – you just have to check it out!
It’s as clear as a polished crystal that Terror Night didn’t have the most straight forward journey on to budget DVD. Even if there are a handful of weak moments, none of them look to have been big or bad enough to have kept the movie in a vault for so long. It has enough in its gore coated handbag to satisfy fans that are looking for an obscure and fun genre-piece that does deliver the goods. It’s packed to the brim with hokey gore and excessive nudity, which makes it an almost perfect exploitation piece.
I briefly thought about adding Terror Night to my top 50 slasher pictures category here on a SLASH above, but I finally decided against it. Still, it is quite a quirky slasher picture and I really enjoyed sitting down to watch it.
Final Girl √√
Atração Satânica 1990
aka Satanic Attraction
Directed by: Fauzi Mansur
Starring: Emilia Mazur, Gabriela Toscano, Ênio Gonçalves
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Completely off topic, but Brazil can boast a peerless reputation for producing some of the greatest soccer idols that mankind has ever known. Pele, Ronaldo, Bebeto, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and the magnificent Romario are just some of the football legends that have worn the fluorescent yellow shirt of their five-time world cup winning country. Being a massive football fan and former player means that I have the greatest respect for my Latin cousins from across the pond and whenever I go out in central London, the hottest parties are those at my favourite Brazilian club on the Charing Cross road.
With their notorious flamboyant lust for life and excellent titles such as City of God already very popular amongst critics, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this late addition to the slasher cycle. Shock Diversao Diabolica was an interesting entry from 1982, but nowhere near good enough to rival the key players from the US during the boom years. But Spain, France and Italy – three other great football nations – can boast slasher output that is nearly as good as their World Cup winning squads, which made the initial signs look promising for Satanic Attraction.
It kicks off in traditional satanic fashion in the midst of a crowded ritual. A masked figure makes his way through a pack of dancers and heads down some underground stairs to host a bizarre black mass in front of a crowd of hooded revellers. The strange cult leader picks up a huge dagger and heads over to a pair of blonde beaming twin children. The mysterious stranger then slices the wrists of the youngsters and pushes their arms together, presumably to link the pair with a bond of blood. The crowd look on in anticipation as the twins grin sadistically.
Sometime later we meet Fernanda, a radio announcer who hosts a controversial show on which she tells creepy stories to a captivated nationwide audience. Some listeners believe that her ramblings are dangerous and could result in violent consequences, while others are just happy to see so many people turning to radio for their source of entertainment. Her latest tale concerns a dark figure roaming the town and murdering young women with various gruesome weapons. The killer then uses the victim’s blood to reanimate his deceased sister in her beachside grave. After dismembered bodies begin turning up around the local town, Fernanda realises that her stories are somehow connected to identical murderous events that are taking place at exactly the same time as she speaks on air. What connection does she share with the ritualistic psycho and what links the killings to the hapless DJ?
Satanic Attraction looks to have been produced on a fairly decent budget and it’s immediately apparent that director Fauzi Mansur didn’t scrape the barrel for the effects that he decided would make his movie a hit. A few of the murders are extremely gory: meat cleaver through the head, dismemberment, gooey throat lashing’s and a spear pushed through a love making couple a la Friday the 13th II. The killer is seen mainly from behind and dresses in traditional Giallo-like black psycho-garb. Although part of the plot concerns searching for the maniac’s identity, the whodunit aspect is mostly left simmering on the backburner. Even though things stick closely to the typical Giallo/slasher rulebook, Mansur manages to mix in a share of supernatural elements that are both interesting and utterly confusing in equal measures.
As this is a Brazilian production, the original vocal soundtrack is in Portuguese and the producers didn’t opt for subtitles to export the feature to English speaking nations. Instead the movie has been dubbed by a gang of wooden planks, sorry, students from America and the United Kingdom. Obviously it’s impossible to tell what these guys were studying, but one thing’s for certain; they definitely weren’t considering a career in drama. This has to rank along with Samurai Reincarnation as the worst dubbing in cinema history. But that’s not Satanic Attraction’s only problem. The movie is nearly two hours long and a huge majority of this time is spent listening to the aforementioned ‘actors’ warble their way through a poorly translated script, with characters popping up all over the place without any rhyme or reason. The net result is an overlong dreary feature that takes an hour and a half to finally shift into gear as the killer goes on an excellent maniacal spree. When we reach the film’s conclusion, it just gets silly as one twist that was easy to predict gives way to yet another.
Unfortunately, Satanic Attraction is a major let down in every respect. It’s hardly worth tracking down for the excessive gore and all that’s left is a long corridor of confusion and horrendous acting. Put it this way, I think even Jag Mundhra’s Open House, which also incorporates a DJ could be better – seriously!
I’ll stick to watching Brazilian football for now…
Final Girl √√
Movie House Massacre 1982
aka Blood Theatre
Directed by: Rick Sloane
Starring: Mary Woronov, Jenny Cunningham, Johnathan Blakeley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The successful cinema chain, Spotlite Theatres have decided to renovate an old abandoned auditorium and add it to their list of multiplexes. It has been closed since a manager went mad decades earlier and killed off a whole heap of people. Almost as soon as they get started though, the bodies begin dropping once again. Who could be behind the series of killings?
Fortunately, I’m a child of the Internet age and since I was eighteen, I have always had the ability to read an online review of the films that I’m looking to watch prior to purchasing them. There’s no doubt that the warning signs were there with Movie House Massacre. It’s been torn apart globally on the www; and even if sometimes I can disagree with other authors, the outright level of criticism on this particular title made the chance of that seem rather slim.
The reason I mention this is because the marketing team behind the packaging of Rick Sloane’s debut were most definitely the feature’s worst enemy. Looking at the box, it’s easy to believe that you are going to be in for a gory slasher in the vein of The Burning et al. That is totally inaccurate however, because Movie House Massacre is actually nothing but a goofy horror spoof. I got to the eleven minute mark in the runtime and had to rewind it to the beginning and start again with my comedy hat on. To continue watching whilst expecting attempts at terror would have been unfair on this film. So did the change of my initial perception make MHM any better?
Quite frankly, no. It lives up very well to its reputation of incompetence. What we have here is a shambolic example of filmmaking in every possible way. Technically, the level of professionalism is pitiful and this is most evident in the editing, which strings scenes together with no apparent logical structure. There’s a semblance of a story there, somewhere; but it’s muddled, unbalanced and ultimately very boring.
Good comedy done well is priceless and almost as tough to produce on the silver screen as effective suspense. I’m a big fan of slapstick and films such as Naked Gun or Airplane work because they fire everything at their audience and if the first five jokes don’t stick, it’s guaranteed that there’s a couple that will. The problem with Movie House Massacre is that it could fling a million attempts at us, but it’d make no difference because it is just not funny. Rick Sloane was 21 when he put this together, but he must have been twelve when he wrote the script. It’s simply awful.
As the majority of the crew don’t seem to have a clue about filmmaking, you don’t need me to tell you how low the level of the dramatics sink. I must, however, praise Mary Woronov who gives us some of the finest acting that I have ever seen. It’s not in the way that she portrays her character however. It’s her ability to hide the obvious disappointment and bewilderment that an actress of her experience must have had on this set. Seriously, she deserved an Oscar nod for that. I reckon that she must have sacked her agent straight after for putting her near this tosh.
If you type Movie House Massacre in to Google, you can find review after review that will tell you how bad the film is. There is absolutely zero point in me writing any more of the same things in a different way, but I did pick up a few interesting points. It seems as if the idea here was to spoof horror in general rather than just the slasher genre and there’s a couple of haunted-house type shenanigans that go on throughout the runtime, such as light bulbs smashing and objects flying across the room. Still this just qualifies as a slasher movie because it does include a knife clenching killer (an elderly man with zilch scare factor) and a ‘heroic’ final girl. What I did find to be authentic was that in the parallel universe where this story takes place, every door or locker makes a sound like a torpedo when it opens and people can disappear and get killed with no one at all noticing. One girl just turns up to get murdered (somewhat creatively) in a popcorn machine. Either I fell asleep briefly or she just appeared from nowhere, to be frank I just don’t know anymore. Excuse me, I need to go and have a lie down.
I have never deemed any film that I’ve seen atrocious enough to give a no star review. I was close here, but in the end I decided on half a star. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is a terrible picture. Painful, horrible, grotesque and monstrous. It doesn’t attempt however to cover up its weaknesses with vulgarity, which is something that others seem to do constantly. I also laughed when I heard the Casio keyboard Halloween knock-off score, which is suspiciously similar to the cheesy club track ‘Little bit of luck’ by DJ Luck and MC Neat. It was amusing watching an old man with a knife stalk a theater isle, whilst a cheap rendition of “Ta na ne, ta na ne, ta na ne, ta na ne tee boi” was playing in the background. I think that alone salvaged the film somewhat. Maybe Sloane should have sued Luck and Neat for the use of his tune? He could have retrieved some of the budget that I am sure he never got back on this. Also, did anyone else notice how much the actor who played the young killer was similar to Ray Liotta? Gawd I must have been bored if I was thinking things like that.
If you needed to read it yet another time just to be sure, then I can confirm to you that Movie House Massacre should be avoided at all costs. I felt like throwing my sock at my iPad countless times throughout and I know people always say it halfheartedly, but I promise you that I was cringing in places. Horrible acting, no story, a dumb geriatric killer, zero suspense and well zero anything, really.
A good friend of mine recently was trying to split with his girlfriend. He had tried everything, but she just wouldn’t go. I told him to show her Movie House Massacre and pretend it was his favourite film. They are no longer together…
A Day of Judgement 1981
Directed by: Charles Reynolds
Starring: William Hicks, Harris Bloodworth, Susan Bloodworth
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is not just an update, but a complete rewrite of my 2004 review of A Day of Judgement, which is still online. I found out some more information about the production of the picture that I have included here. Enjoy…
A Day of Judgement tells the tale of a small Southern town in the 1920s during the Great Depression, where the local church congregation has been reduced to three elderly pensioners. Father Cage blames himself for the lack of attendance and the townsfolk’s unethical attitudes toward the Ten Commandments. Unable to come to terms with the fact that the villagers would rather live in sin than hear his weekly sermons, the priest packs his horse and cart and heads for the city. On his way out of town, he passes a cloaked figure shouldering a scythe and realises that it’s too late for him to save the sinners from a gory punishment.
Around the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, I watched an intriguing documentary that claims that the decaying wreck at the bottom of the North Atlantic is actually her sister, the RMS Olympic. It demonstrated a pretty convincing case to say that the ships were ‘switched’ in a major insurance fraud that went drastically wrong. History shows that the RMS Olympic was a very unlucky vessel after her maiden voyage and that she had an alarming amount of bumps and scrapes in a very short space of time. The worst of those was when the HMS Hawke, a British warship, ploughed into the side of her; an accident that it was rumoured she may never recover from. To make matters worse, the collision was considered to be the RMS Olympic’s fault, so she got no Insurance payout to help towards the large costs of her repairs.
This resulted in a sink or swim (literally) situation for, White Star Line, her and Titanic’s parent company, and it was even said that the Olympic may never pass another board of trade inspection test. There’s no doubt that this is why creative imaginations have found a plausible motive for ‘the switch’: Drown the Olympic in the North Atlantic under the name of her identical sibling and then claim the insurance funds. It sounds far fetched, but who knows…?
Like all good conspiracies, there’s some evidence that backs up these claims and the more I watched of the documentary, the more I began to believe that it could be true. The fact that the letters MP are clearly visible engraved into the hull under the missing characters of the (riveted on top) nameplate TITANIC does speak a thousand words. Such stories are great junk food for the mind and always interesting to read about, but one of the things that really caught my attention, was the fact that JP Morgan, the millionaire banker who had recently purchased White Star Line, claimed ill health and pulled out of the journey just before it set sail. Most of his friends that were due to join the ride also had second thoughts, which is something of an amazing coincidence. Did they perhaps know something that the rest of the passengers didn’t? Or was it an unbelievably fortunate change of plan at the last minute?
Personally, I hate it when plans get changed – most definitely at the last minute – and even if with JP Morgan the alteration saved his life, it’s usually always a bad idea. When this particular film was produced, there was also some strategy switching going on, but unlike what happened with Señor Morgan, I can’t find any logic at all in these choices…
You see, A Day of Judgement began life as a religious drama of the type that were popular on the church circuit in rural America around that time. Director Charles Reynolds was hired to manage the shoot and he did so as per the original script, which included no horror. When he had completed his work, he picked up his paycheque and left to move on to other projects. It was then that one of the financiers got cold feet and thought that the best thing to do was to chuck in a silhouetted killer and market it to the buzzing slasher crowd. They hired someone else to film some additional footage and then sewed it all together like a colour clashing patchwork.
So what we are left with is a bit of a Godfrey Ho. You know Mr Ho, right? I have written about him before in my review of Delirium. He was the master of taking a half finished feature and chucking in outrageous Ninjas in the hope that it might make a profit. He was completely right with that assumption, because they usually always did. Judgement on the other hand snoozes along over its ghastly 101 minute runtime, showing us the town’s residents ‘sinning’ and trying their hardest to look like they’re interested in the lacklustre dialogue, whilst the original church morality plot moves along at the pace of a snail crossing a drawbridge backwards.
The story is populated by an incredibly unappealing group of characters, which includes a greedy bank manager played by William T. Hicks, who true slasher fans may recognise as the lard-ass sheriff from Death Screams. Along with him, we meet a mechanic who wants to send his parents to an old people’s home so that he can use their house for his rendezvous with various females of the species. Then we get to witness the carrying ons of an
adulterous wife and her lover, an elderly grump and a paranoid loaner that believes that his ex has cheated on him. Or something like that. Please excuse any slight inaccuracies, but by this point I was using the ‘matchstick between eyelids’ technique as a weak attempt at staying awake.
Each of the players got twenty or so minutes to show why they should be punished by the grim reaper, before he turns up and *briefly* puts the struggling actors out of their misery in various boring ways. The ‘horror’ after shots that were hastily bolted on lasted for thirty-seconds tops and I counted one hokey decapitation before the matchsticks snapped under the weight of desperation of my eyelids to finally go to sleep.
One thing that did interest me was the use of period costumes, horses, carts and automobiles. These ingredients must’ve eaten heavily into the budget and it’s inexplicable as to why they didn’t utilise those funds on a stronger cast selection. Most of these guys were EO Corp regulars who were little more than ambitious locals. Their lack of experience did cause one or two inadvertently amusing ‘bad movie scenes’ that brightened things up a tad. I especially liked the part when one of the bunnies boogied to some period pop, blissfully unaware of how ‘unfortunate’ that she looked. Sadly, even if it had been Katy Perry belly-dancing in a see-through Arsenal football kit, I still don’t think it could’ve saved this one for me. Whether it be the Titanic or her sister laying in a sorry state two-miles under the surface upon the seabed, this film is in an almost identical condition. Ruined. Unsalvageable. Kaput.
Unless you are a sadist and enjoy boredom as a form of torture, there is very little here for you to bother with. Oh and by the way, the ‘day of judgement’ takes place over a week or more. If you have taken a caffeine overdose and *still* can’t get to sleep, then and only then would this be ideal…
Killer Guise √√
The Burning 1981
Directed by: Tony Maylam
Starring: Brian Matthews, Brian Becker, Jason Alexander
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Tony Maylam’s The Burning is one of the most notorious non-franchise slashers of all time. Even before pre production had begun in the summer of 1980, the movie had an incredible buzz surrounding it. Enough so in fact that superstar horror FX maestro Tom Savini rejected the chance to return to the Friday the 13th series for Steve Miner’s classic sequel and instead took this project for a lesser salary.
Of all the peak period genre entries, none can boast the depth in terms of personnel that was put together here. Alongside the aforementioned magic of Savini, the cast included Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg and Oscar winners Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. The grim and unique score came from former Yes keyboardist, Rick Wakeman and directorial duties went to Tony Maylam, who at the time had been predicted for big things after his work on rock band Genesis’ outstanding concert video from 1977.
There can be little doubt that the hype and quality in recruitment was down to an early example of the skills of production partnership Harvey and Bob Weinstein, whose company Miramax films would go on to become one of the most successful entertainment brands in Hollywood over the next three decades. This was the first feature length motion picture to be released under that brand and thereafter, they would go on to distribute over fifty films, including classics such as The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction and even Wes Craven’s Scream. If that wasn’t enough, then can you believe that the script was co-written by future Paramount Pictures CEO Brad Grey? Astonishing…
After a prank goes wrong, a sadistic camp caretaker returns to the site where the accident took place, looking for revenge. Armed with a shiny pair of shears, Cropsy begins to stalk a group of counsellors with mutilation on his mind…
In the UK, The Burning was one of the first entries to join the video nasty list and it received perhaps higher persecution for the fact that Thorn-EMI accidentally released the full uncut print instead of the censored copy that the BBFC had cleared. The tapes were impounded and destroyed, but bizarrely, Thorn-EMI were more fortunate than David Grant who was sent to prison for doing the exact same thing when he distributed a longer version of the film Blood Splash a year later. I paid an absolute fortune for an unedited version of this when I was a nipper and it was a mistake as the cassette had an infuriating line running through the middle, which made it almost as bad as just sticking to the 18 rated VHS. Watching it now though, on the BlueRay pre-screener that I was sent, is a glorious experience and the film looks as if it could have been a production from the last decade. The masters have obviously been well looked after and playing it on my Plasma allowed me to turn out the lights and almost feel like I was in the cinema in 1981.
Maylam attempts the John Carpenter methodology of slowly generating an undertone of dread that boils along in the background and then attacks like a shark in the places when the killer strikes. A great example of this is the infamous ‘Raft Massacre’ sequence, which boasts an almost perfect build up. Wakeman’s scoring warns us that something is about to happen, but the camera never reveals enough to let us be sure. When the loon finally strides on to the screen, the bloodletting is quick, brutal and graphic. To this day, you can count on one hand the amount of times in slasher cinema that an antagonist has taken out so many victims in one fell swoop. Tom Savini proves once again here why he was the go to guy for the most realistic special effects back in the overkill period of the slasher cycle.
What I like about the script is that it spends time developing its characters and their performances really add the necessary realism that makes what happens later seem all the more shocking. Jason Alexander steals every scene as a quick-witted camper, whilst Brian Matthews, Leah Ayers and Ned Eisenberg were solid and flawless in their roles. The dialogue and banter works not only to add fun to the parts where the horror takes a backseat, but also to develop a genuine level of believability in the set up and I found it easy to forget that I was watching a group of actors. The screenplay also separates itself from the multitude of its genre brethren by having a ‘final boy’ instead of the usual heroine left alone to face the marauding maniac. The thing is that despite the fact that Brian Becker does a good job with the role, the decision is a risk that just doesn’t pay off.
The Burning has become a true cult classic and has legions of admirers in not only slasher but also horror movie circles. Personally though, I think that it is slightly overrated and perhaps undeserving of so much notoriety. Despite its visible slickness, it lacks a real cutting edge in its moments of terror. Whilst the gore is great and almost like a snuff film in places, the murder sequences lack jump scares or suspense and there’s very little true tension. This is most evident in the conclusion, which I found to be really disappointing. Our hero heads up with an axe to take on the boogeyman and we’re expecting at least a fight. There’s a revelation that builds up a deserving target, at least in the eyes of our nut job caretaker, but Maylam’s attempts at prolonging the money shot are overwrought. In the end it’s more ‘was that it?’ than ‘oh yeah that’s it!’ if you get what I mean. Whilst the notorious ‘Raft Massacre’ is magnificent in terms of the excellence of the make-up FX and it’s an all round great postcard of slasher genre splatter, has anyone ever wondered how it might have looked had it not been SO rapidly edited?
As I highlighted earlier, the script doesn’t bother with a traditional female heroine and instead develops a male geeky type guy in her place. The thing is though we are not talking about a loveable mummy’s boy here. Instead, he is conveyed as an unlikeable pervert and it’s just too hard to bond with him or even want him to survive. It’s funny because before this, we watched The Prowler and Joseph Zito opted for a conventional lead character there and the difference is impossible not to notice. When Vicky Dawson was trying her darnedest to fend off the pitch folk clenching maniac, my partner shouted, “Go on girl!” But there was never any chance of the Mrs doing the same thing here. We ended up saying that Todd should leave Cropsy to get on with it and save himself instead of risking his life for the dweeby Alfred.
I have regular conversations with you guys and girls about these slasher films and I know that not all of you will agree with my view. That’s the beauty of the genre though; everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Tom Savini delivers on the goo-o-rama, there are some nice performances, it’s beautifully produced and Rick Wakeman’s score is a masterpiece. If I could however take maybe 15% of its reputation and give it to Nightmare at Shadow Woods, I would feel a lot better about the whole thing. Tony Maylam’s biggest film after this was Split Second with Rutger Hauer. Maybe this picture would have been better if Steve Miner had also opted not to work on Friday the 13th Part 2 and followed his friend Tom over to Camp Blackfoot? Just a thought…
Last Dance 1992
Directed by: Anthony Markes
Starring: Cynthia Basinet, Elaine Hendrix, Jason Logan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The ability to recognise your faults is a quality that’s seen only too rarely amongst human kind. We all come across 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’ mantra, so he was returning to a playground that he knew fairly well. He also wrote the screenplay for 1990’s The Invisible Maniac, so bottom barrel slashers were almost second nature. 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 he achieved a modicum of success.
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 sex 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 soft porn. 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, pretty much pooh-poohs 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 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. 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 hanging there just hoping that someone would be dumb enough to do that, whilst the final girl discovers a novel way to put a pause to the 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 before he jumps out to attack her. 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 who were looking to land their first big break. Whenever I get the chance to speak to crew members from that 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 The Dorm that Dripped Blood, 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. It turns out though that this was nothing more than a thesis project from three ambitious students of the University of California. 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 put together a team of up and comers, which resulted in a launch pad for a few notable careers. Christopher Young was studying music on a campus that was situated close to Obraw and Carpenter, whilst twenty-four year old make-up artist Matthew Mungle had just began pitching his junior portfolio to prospective employers. 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 use. The locations were all discovered in and around the campus and the majority of cast members were unknowns or eager friends. Their coming together resulted in 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 format 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 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, whilst the body count mounts, and then leave a good twenty-five minutes for the showdown/unmasking scene with the protagonist. Obraw’s screenplay 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. It has to be said though that 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 those involved, Dorm is one of most notorious pieces of the initial slasher phase. It 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 √√