Monthly Archives: May 2013
The Clown at Midnight 1998
Directed by: Jean Pellerin
Starring: Christopher Plumber, Margot Kidder, Tatyana Ali
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The emergence of Wes Craven’s Scream in 1996 had a similar effect on cinema as John Carpenter’s Halloween did back in 1978. Once again, shelves of video rental stores were filled with colorful low budget knock-offs. There were so many in fact that Blockbuster Video reported that it was receiving four times the amount of Horror films from 1998 to 2004 that it had since the organisation’s birth in 1985. Although this was also due to the popularity of titles like The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense and The Ring, Craven’s opus can be credited for playing a major part in the reemergence of horror as a bankable medium.
It’s been over a decade since the post-Scream influx of stalk and slash titles, so now we can look back and analyse the difference between that period and the one from twenty years earlier. Whilst there certainly were a number of weak entries released during the eighties (Don’t go in the Woods/Home Sweet Home etc), their lack of credibility was sweetened by the likes of ‘The Prowler‘ and ‘My Bloody Valentine‘, which went on to become horror classics. The more recent span of stalk and slash titles hasn’t given us anywhere near as much panache to shield the brunt of the mediocrity and we haven’t seen many that are worthy of a place amongst the elite.
The Clown at Midnight was released hot on the heels of Scream and chose the horror chestnut of incorporating a killer clown into its synopsis. It tells the tale of seven drama students that are forced as part of their course work to clean and prepare a dilapidated theatre for re-opening. It had been closed for many years since a leading actress was brutally butchered by a maniac who escaped the scene without trial. The victim’s daughter, Kate Williams (Sarah Lassez), is among the eager group and upon her arrival she begins suffering flashbacks and visions of the fate of her mother. Before long, the group are locked in and the psychopathic clown makes an inevitable reappearance for his swan song performance.
If there is any credit to be given to this scarcely popular new-age entry, it has to be for the visible effort that’s been made by Barry Gravelle, the ‘horror-regular’ cinematographer. Most of his work is stylish and energetic and he tries admirably to add a little ‘va va voom’ to the shoot. It’s a shame then that despite his enthusiasm, the film still plays too much like a hobo with a hangover, which has no doubt contributed to its lack of a global DVD release. Considering the fact that this was first circulated in 1998 by a relatively large studio, it can be considered a huge snub that as of mid-2013, it has still been ignored by the digital format.
The main problem with The Clown at Midnight is that it feels bereft of energy from everyone else involved aside from the aforementioned camera guy. We are given a cast that portray themselves lazily with minimal intent on bringing the story to life, which is a shame as these are actors that have proved that they can do better when seen in other places. Despite the inclusion of various ‘stars of the future’ (so it says on the back cover but I’m not so sure), the dramatics remain distinctly sub-par throughout and I found it really hard to have any kind of bond with the people carrying the story. It’s left up to Christopher Plummer to inject some class to proceedings, but even he looks like he’s turned up to contribute the bare minimum and quickly ‘escapar’ with his payslip. There are various attempts to add some intrigue and depth to the personalities that guide us through the story, including a wonderful back story that links well to our final girl, Kate. She’s played so coldly though by Sarah Lassez that I felt zero sympathy for her and therefore had no one to root for.
The mystery is smartly constructed and in fairness, you’ll do well to guess who it is that’s sporting the creepy clown attire. It’s just a shame that the twists and turns are made somewhat redundant by the film’s limp spine, which removes any hope of suspense. TCAM felt like a movie that was screaming for a tense chase sequence or a one-off sprinkling of terror that would really get the viewer engaged. No such moment ever arrived though and instead we were left feeling like we were treading over the same old ground. Slasher movies rarely break away from the multitude, but there’s enough in the age-old formula that can make for an exciting and entertaining picture. It just depends on how well you utilise those ingredients. Jean Pellerin seemed more concerned with directing pretty photography than creating any kind of horror atmosphere or pushing his actors and Kenneth Hall’s script deserved better.
I have seen posts that describe The Clown at Midnight as the best killer clown movie since the more psychological ‘Clownhouse’ on some message boards. That statement says more about the lack of quality in that sector of horror than it does about the credibility of this muddled effort. I first watched TCAM many years back as a young student in Uni. I remember that I was lucky enough to be with an extremely hot chica called Faye and she was a huge fan of horror flicks. I enjoyed it thoroughly because she was the kind of girl that would flinch at every jolt in the soundtrack of a scary movie and each time that she did, my hands would ‘accidentally’ wander further down her top. After seeing her reaction, I remember feeling that The Clown at Midnight must have been really good to have that kind of effect on her, even if she was something of a vulnerable viewer. Unfortunately after watching the film again so many years later, I was disappointed with not only its mediocre quality, but also with my ability back then to judge a decent movie. It’s surprising how our levels of awareness can change isn’t it?
There are reports of an uncut copy somewhere in existence, although these have neither been confirmed nor denied. A huge amount of gore would not subtract from a half-hearted final product though and with the finances that Pellerin had at his disposal, this really should have been better. It does have its share of ambitious moments (The opening killing marks an excellent use of camera tricks and creativity), but overall it doesn’t have enough of them to warrant a purchase. I agree, there are not enough killer clown movies in existence, but the excellent ‘The House on Sorority Row‘ should always be placed miles and miles above this.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √
Moon In Scorpio 1987
Directed by: Gary Graver
Starring: Britt Eckland, John Phillip Law, William Smith
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
If you judged every director on only the one title, then your DVD shelf would be a very lonely place. Coppola, Spielberg, Stone, hell even Scorsese – they have all made slight ‘miscalculations’ throughout their respective careers. Keeping that in mind though, the last film that I saw from Gary Graver was the abysmal ‘slasher’ Trick or Treats, which in all honesty made Carnage Road look almost as good as Halloween, so I didn’t expect much from Moon in Scorpio. With junk movie titan Fred Olen Ray on board, there’s no way of ever knowing what you could be in for though, and a cast of Britt Eckland, William Smith, John Phillip Law AND Don Scribner surely meant cheesiness by the bucket load. I was just scratching my head as to why they didn’t get Charles Nappier too?
Making sure that there is absolutely no attempt to break new ground, we begin with the oldest of all slasher clichés. Yep you guessed it; an unseen nut-nut makes a break from the least secure mental hospital imaginable, killing an unfortunate orderly on the way. Once outside the complex, the psycho makes short work of a cheery pharmaceutical salesman and then flees the scene in the dead guy’s car. For some inexplicable reason, the head psychiatrist doesn’t bother informing the Police that they have a murderous maniac on the loose. Instead he calls in Private Detective Richard Vargas who is described by one shrink as being, “Almost crazy enough to be a patient here himself.” Next we fast-forward two weeks and Vargas is seen boarding an abandoned-looking boat that is adrift in the middle of the sea. Once on board he finds Linda (Britt Eckland) sprawled across the floor in a heap. Whilst attempting to wake her up, she stabs him in the stomach with a bizarre spear like device. The (unconvincingly) hysterical Linda is then dragged off of the boat by two orderlies who don’t seem at all concerned by the fact that Vargas has just been fatally impaled on the huge spike. They even push him out of the way whilst he is dying. It was a pretty cold act by his colleagues and leads you to believe that he couldn’t have been much liked.
A few days later, Linda is fit to be interviewed by the head psychiatrist and he asks her what exactly happened out in the middle of the sea. We soon learn that she had been on a honeymoon with her husband, two of his war buddies and their girlfriends. The plan was to sail to Acapulco and spend a couple of weeks lapping up the sun on the beaches. Unfortunately along with the suitcases and sangria, the gang had inadvertently brought along a maniacal killer who had his own reasons to want to be stranded in the ocean with the holidaymakers. For the rest of the runtime, we see through flashbacks exactly what happened aboard the cursed death ship. Just who was responsible for these viscous murders?
According to many reports that I’ve read over the web, this feature was continually re-edited by third-parties post-completion and was eventually released without any of the supernatural elements that had originally featured in Olen Ray’s script. Gary Graver had set out to make a unique movie that incorporated everything from ghosts to vampires, but rumour has it that his financiers got cold feet and chopped his work to oblivion once he’d handed in the finished footage. Graver was no stranger to such events though as in 1979 he had competed a drama called ‘The Boys’ that was reputedly powerful enough for Cameron Mitchell (!) to call it a masterpiece in an interview at the time. For reasons that have been lost to time, the producer tried turning in into a comedy at the last minute and it is that average as you like version that you can pick up under the title, ‘Texas Lightening’. In the case of Moon in Scorpio, the print that we have been left with plays like a traditional hack and slasher, albeit a diluted one with an elder group of victims as the body count material.
Even if we could blame the snip-happy post-production team for ruining the initial concept, this is still something of a lackadaisical entry, which lacks suspense, creativity and effort from any of the big name cast members. Eckland was laughable as she struggled to look even slightly motivated, whilst hard man character actor William Smith was totally wasted in an undemanding role. These faults could not have been improved upon by simply adding the extra footage, so I am not sure if its fair to completely blame everything on outside intervention. Film distribution is a competitive market and one that you either sink or swim within. I just couldn’t see why a company would ruin a perfectly good feature without a plausible reason for doing so. By what I see here, I would assume that the net result was deemed to be poorer than the set expectations, so they they decided to just unleash it as a straight up slasher and get at least a small chance of making a profit on VHS. Keep in mind that in 1987, slasher films will still turning a few bucks on the video rental market.
The story is conveyed through flashback narration, but it seems to run illogically beside what we are seeing on the screen, which must be due to the stuff that was deleted. We are never offered a credible reason for the killer’s motive and it is impossible not to recognise that some pages were missing from the script. At a guess, I’d say that the maniac became a vampire post-death in the scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor. At one point in the runtime there’s a slight hint as a character drinks her partner’s blood after he accidentally cuts his finger whilst dicing carrots. There’s also a sub-plot involving a link between the three male cast members, who fought in Vietnam together. But these few scenes, which amusingly look more like they were filmed in a park down the road from Gary Graver’s house than anywhere near ‘Nam, never amount to anything either. If you don’t manage to work out the unseen killer’s identity by the half hour mark then you shouldn’t be watching anything that’s not PG-13 rated. It all results in an anemic showdown between the survivor and the film’s antagonist couldn’t have been any less entertaining if it were filmed in slow motion.
Perhaps one day we will be able to see what Graver really intended with Moon in Scorpio. But as it stands I’m afraid that there is very little to recommend. Don’t bother hunting this one down.
Final Girl √√
Christina’s House 1999
Directed by: Gavin Wilding
Starring: Brad Rowe, Allison Lange, Chelsea Hobbs
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’m sure that the creatively pencilled blurb on the cover of the U.K. release of Christina’s House tricked many an unsuspecting victim into parting with their pennies. The front boldly boasts that it’s ‘from the hit-making writers of Poltergeist’, backed with a quote from ‘Videoworld’ that reads – ‘Fantastic! It will scare the hell out of you’. Flip to the reverse and we’re informed that star, Brad Rowe is the new Brad Pitt or Leonardo Di Caprio and apparently, this is also a ‘must see Box Office smash‘. The real hyperbole though came from the ingenious warning box, which states that we should be, prepared for the most terrifying 92 minutes of our lives. I was starting to wonder why I hadn’t seen or heard of this before? I mean it sounds just amazing…
Credit has to be given to the peeps over at Xscapade video. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much brouhaha. The quality of their work made me think about hiring them to do an advert for my blog. You know, something like, “Pulitzer prize winning author, fresh from curing a deadly disease, writes a blog about the cinema defining genre, ‘The Slasher’.” Anyway, the box-art made me believe that this was some kind of terrifying Amityville spin-off, involving a spooky haunted house and plenty of ghosts and demonic horror. The truth though is that it’s just another lamer than lame Scream wannabe that’s as ‘terrifying’ as Thomas the Tank Engine.
Unsurprisingly it’s about a girl called Christina that lives in a house. Only joking, there’s a tiny bit more to it than that. Thing’s look like they could get tricky for the titular Christina, when we witness a jolly cookie sales girl getting shaken to death by an unseen assailant outside the abode’s front door. How he actually broke her neck by wiggling her hips was something that I still haven’t quite grasped; but hey let’s not be picky. So we soon learn that there’s a psycho up to no good in the hood and a standard murder-mystery plot ensues. Local residents begin getting offed in diluted ways and it looks like Christina’s stumbled across a spot of bother…
The only thing that’s worse than an overlong movie is a boring overlong movie, which Christina’s House pulls off to perfection. It’s more like a sleep-inducing teen drama than a horror flick, with the scares amounting to a sandwich mysteriously appearing in the kitchen or the whereabouts of Christina’s diary. Brad Pitt, (sorry, Brad Rowe) was about the best performer on offer, but I really don’t think that Mr. Jolie himself has got to watch his back just yet. This came as a surprise after reading the monumental praise Rowe received on the back of the box. (You should see what they said about Lange!) I couldn’t for the life of me work out what the BBFC thought was extreme enough here that they gave this an 18 rating? You’re likely to find more gore in an episode of Scooby Doo, because all of the murders are committed somewhat leisurely off screen. To make matters worse for exploitation buffs, there’s only one extremely brief flash of boobies too. (They are a nice pair though))
The main players that guide us through the story are all conveyed to look slightly deranged, which must’ve been an attempt to add some depth to the mystery. It’s constructed so poorly though that you’ll guess who’s behind everything by the 30 minute mark. Gavin Wilding – who also helmed The Wisher – has no idea how to sustain momentum and most of the runtime moves painfully s.l.o.w.l.y. So much so, that I had a job to watch it through to the end without my eyes growing heavy and the need for a siesta becoming overpowering. To be fair, the conclusion had an interesting twist, but again, it was just sloppily handled. Stuart Allison, the debút screenwriter, adds nothing novel or compelling to be admired and instead traipses through the usual rigmarole at the pace of a Dalek in a swamp.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m sure that the whole plot barely made any sense at all. I mean, how the hell did the killer manage to turn Christina’s house into a prison with unbreakable windows and centrally lockable doors without anyone noticing? Where did he get the money to do such a thing? And how could the Sheriff be so deplorably inept that he would ignore plenty of blatant signs that something is not quite right inside the property that he’s meant to be ‘protecting’? He doesn’t even bat an eyelid when a hammer that’s thrown through a window lands directly in front of him! When the twists finally do arrive, they make little sense and the killer’s motivation is pretty much left up to our imagination. At the end we learn that she was insane (obviously), but if you’re looking for a more detailed explanation you’ll have to wait for the sequel, which is set to begin production on Mars in 4015 ;).
The net result is truly an authentic case, because it must be the one time that I’ve watched a film and not written down one redeeming feature in my note pad. It’s not even really much of a horror flick. Slasher fans won’t enjoy it because there’s no actual slashing and you might find the mystery intriguing if you’re… I don’t know… 12… or… well… you know… a retard. For all its boasts about its great screenplay, it turns out to be more of a ‘pick one of the cast as the killer’ and has no logical reasoning behind its conclusion. Even the few bizarre hints of supernatural immediately disappear when the nut job is revealed to be just a normal guy. I’m all for slow boiling suspense thrillers, but this one filters out after the first thirty-seconds to leave a lame and predictable sleep aid. Nice boobies though….
Christina’s house should be boarded up and abandoned…
Final Girl: √
City In Panic 1986
Directed by: Robert Bouveir
Starring: David Adamson, Lee Ann Nestegard, Derrick Emery
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Dependent on the product there can be sometimes no better marketing tool than controversy. For their time, The Sex Pistols were controversial and made a great career out of it. The Rolling Stones, Elvis, hell even Sir Cliff Richard caused uproar in his day. As Max Clifford once famously said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” This little-known Canadian slasher must’ve been aiming for some of the same media coverage when it attempted to make an admittedly ham-fisted social comment on one of the eighties’ biggest discussion points – the HIV virus. Any severe medical condition should be handled with care and consideration by a filmmaker that is attempting to broach such delicate topics, but Bouvier’s feature is the cinematic equivalent of telling a friend that they looked better last year when they could still fit in those jeans.
In the first few minutes, the director attempts a role reversal on Hitchcock’s notorious shower scene. A hulking killer sporting a fedora, dark glasses and typical giallo-like psycho-garb bursts into a bathroom and hacks an unfortunate guy to death with a kitchen knife. Before leaving, the maniac carves the letter ‘M’ into his back with the aforementioned blade. This becomes the macabre calling card of the maniacal assassin and also the name that he becomes known by in media. Next up we meet Dave Miller (David Adamson) a radio talk show host that immediately takes an interest in the madman’s motives. As the bodies continue to pile up around the city, Dave decides to set a trap using his popular broadcast as the bait. Eventually, the killer himself phones the show and begins to slaughter people that are close to the presenter. Is Miller next on the death list?
City in Panic starts with a protagonist narrative that is vaguely reminiscent of the maverick cop thrillers of the seventies. The depiction of a sleazy town in peril led me to believe that Bouvier was as much a fan of Dirty Harry and the like as he was of Halloween. To be fair there are times when the atmosphere gets credibly morbid and some of the gruesome murders are brutal if not graphically audacious enough to rival gore marathons. We are treated to occasional flashes of innovative photography that are exciting and spontaneous and provide the odd glimpse of suspense that helps to strengthen the few moments of macabre mayhem. Perhaps the most memorable of those is the repugnant castration of a toilet loitering sex pest. After having his ‘Johnson’ chopped off by the masked killer, the guy is left to die in agony and spray blood on the walls like the final spurts of a wayward sprinkler system. It’s a grim sight indeed; but unfortunately, aside from those few examples of flair from Bouvier, the majority of the film struggles to pull itself from the realms of amateur night.
I remember a Glam metal band that were unsigned in the late eighties and recorded two demos that were popular amongst collectors. Indian Angel’s set list included catchy tracks like Playing Hard To Get, Loneliness Motel and Just Pretending, but after a few years on the club circuit they disbanded. When they finally did call it quits it was clear that they had not improved on their musicianship and were still playing those same songs that I mentioned above. They failed to build upon their initial strengths and in the end were doomed to remain rock and roll apprentices. This film is a similar case in point, because it perhaps needed Bouvier to step back, analyse his work and then try a bit harder. The spluttering dramatics fail to convince on even the lowest level, which immediately destroys any sense of realism being created. An idea with such a strong topical standpoint needed to be solid with its scripting in order to deliver what it intended, but Andreas Blackwell’s confused screenplay is sketchy and it leaves characters contradicting themselves. The glossy veneer of intellectual dialogue soon becomes transparent as nonsensical chit chat and the fact that City in Panic seems to have been written with minimal effort means that viewers won’t make the effort to appreciate it. At one point the investigator says, “Now I began to accept that the city had on its hands a killer”.That line came after we had already seen a couple of mutilated corpses with the same MO. Go figure.
The soundtrack plays like an example of what a chimp can get out of a Bontempi keyboard and it does absolutely * nothing * to add to the mood of the feature. I have also read that some viewers felt that the plot was deliberately homophobic. Making the majority of the victims homosexual guys and then torturing them sadistically was a dumb move and although a female (and a heterosexual male) also got splattered, it ends up with a tone that I can understand that some could find offensive. Over the years, the slasher genre has developed a large gay following and movies such as HellBent have been accepted warmly. Due to City in Panic’s lack of self-analysis, it has failed to register as an entry that pays the same amount of respect. Personally, I found it to be too mindlessly written to be offensive and too weakly structured to be controversial. We can’t ignore the fact though that director Robert Bouvier has clumsily, although surely unintentionally, exploited one of the most tragic diseases that mankind has ever known.
Despite the awful attempt at a social commentary, taken as a slasher movie, this never gets boring and the viscous murders are spaced quite frequently all the way through. For a cheap piece of junk hokum it could’ve been a passable entry to the cycle. It’s just a shame that the filmmakers took the wrong approach…
Blood Splash 1981
aka Nightmare aka Nightmare’s in a Damaged Brain
Directed by: Romano Scavolini
Starring: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, Danny Ronan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During the eighties slasher boom, there were two different styles that launched successfully from the initial template. Whilst the multitude of genre entries would focus on an undeveloped identity for their boogeymen and build their plot structures on the characterisation of their victims, there were a few that took the opposite cinematic approach. I’ve always thought that making your central character the antagonist is an intriguing idea, but possibly the toughest to convey in a workable concept. It’s not easy to establish a favourable personality for a homicidal maniac; especially when he must carry the entire feature as the lead. It could be said that the key strength that made the synopsis for Halloween so successful was the lack of clarity for Michael Myers’ identity and motives. Just why did he want to kill Laurie Strode? Why did he get up after being shot six times by Sam Loomis? We never got to find out, and that was an ingenious touch from Carpenter. A touch of surreality or openess from a screenplay can attract much interest and lengthy post-movie debate amongst audiences. Just look at classics like American Psycho, 2001 A Space Odyssey etc for further proof.
Despite the potential banana skins, a few features experimented with centralising their story around the characterisation of the main villain delivering mixed results. Whilst William Lustig’s Maniac can be credited as a genre classic, Bits and Pieces was shoddy and forgettable. That’s why I was thoroughly inspired to watch Blood Splash, which after years of repression as a video nasty has garnered itself a gruesome reputation. I own two copies of the movie and each has a separate title. The first one I came across was under the title Blood Splash and is heavily edited, but the second is an uncut VHS that I picked up in Amsterdam as ‘Nightmare’ and it has all the gooey bits intact 🙂
In the opening few scenes, we learn that George Tatum was recently released from his asylum due to the fact that his doctors have discovered a breakthrough cure for his violent spells of delirium and psychosis. The combination of drugs had completely cured the patient of his psychopathic hallucinations and his adviser believed that with time and measured access to society, Tatum would be fit to fully resume a normal standard of life. However it doesn’t take long for us to realise that his doctor’s hypothesis was drastically erroneous. This is evidently demonstrated when Tatum drops to the floor foaming from the mouth whilst watching a patently lackadaisical pornographic peep show.
Soon after, the clearly psychotic loner heads across the country on a personal vendetta to confront the inner demons of his consistent nightmares. His doctors panic when they realise that they have made a deadly mistake, and it’s a race against time to see if they can catch Tatum before he murders again…
Splash succeeds in being an unsettling, brutal and straight laced horror experience. It’s the kind of movie that does what it says on the tin. The Daily Mail-inspired campaign that launched the video nasty phase of the early eighties was unnecessary because as human beings we have a choice. If you don’t want to be offended by a film that was created directly to shock, then don’t watch Blood Splash. In 1984 David Grant, a former UK porn producer that had moved into feature film distribution, was jailed for 18 months (later reduced to 12) for releasing a version that waived the 62 seconds of cuts slapped upon it by the BBFC. This was a harsh statement of intent to further enforce the video nasty ban and it was a ridiculously un-democratic way of informing us that Big Brother was watching and the establishment reigned supreme.
The movie itself is a uniquely conveyed mix of unthinkable brutality and gooey money shots in a dreary depiction of a descent into vicious madness. Director Romano Scavolini makes no effort to hide his inspirations, and the film references various genre maestros without ever directly stealing from them. In places, he impressively manages to mimic Carpenter’s skill of emanating terror from the background. By now you should know how it works: the camera is fixed on a focal point for a sustained time, but as it begins to pan you become aware that something menacing is looming into focus just out of shot. It’s moments like this that can make or break a decent horror film and Splash does boast its fair share of successful tricks and flourishes.
It’s not unusual for a slasher movie to have a cast that disappears down the long road to film obscurity almost immediately after release. The genre has never been credited for its emphasis on dramatics. However it seems somewhat harsh on the actors from Blood Splash as the majority of them do a good enough job. Baird Stafford was impressive in an extremely complicated part and it’s hard to pick any bones from his psychotic depiction. He delivers a gnashing, foaming portrayal of dementia, which rarely touches on the OTT. Without a doubt the film’s reputation derives from its copious amounts of gore; and in its uncut print the feature doesn’t disappoint. Tom Savini was credited as the make-up artist, although he latter sued the producers, claiming that he had only worked as a consultant. In reality the effects were supplied by soon-to-be Oscar nominee Ed French and his work was worthy of Savini’s name. The gory final sequence, which involves a messy decapitation and an axe through the head, has become the stuff of slasher legend.
Splash is not without its negatives however and they stem from the confusing plot. The idea to break the runtime into segmented days ala The Shinning was a good one, but characters are randomly introduced without clarification, which creates a story that’s awkward to follow. There’s also a lack of cohesion in some of the promising ideas that are hinted but never followed through. Our deranged killer shares an interesting relationship with the child of the family that he stalks, but it never develops as we are left feeling like it should have. The script hints at an altogether more ambiguous depth to the synopsis, but it’s not given enough clarification to go anywhere.
Some may say that Blood Splash can be rather tedious in its long excursions into the depth of the antagonist’s insanity, but I managed to enjoy Scavolini’s opus and I recommend it to be seen. It’s not one that’s going to terrify you, but it’s slow and brooding atmosphere can become quite gripping.
Final Girl: √√
Rush Week 1989
Directed by: Bob Bralver
Starring: Pamela Ludwig, Dean Hamilton, Roy Thinnes
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I read it a lot, but have to argue that saying Halloween was the first American slasher film is just lazy journalism. Simply check out Black Christmas, Class Reunion Massacre, Drive-in Massacre, Savage Weekend or The Town that Dreaded Sundown for pieces that clearly pre-date 1978 and have many of the relevant trappings. There’s no denying however that John Carpenter’s seminal classic was the feature responsible for cementing the trademarks and turning them into an actual sub-genre that others could populate. The zillions of imitations that dominated horror cinema throughout the following ten-years are as much a part of eighties nostalgia as spandex or bad hair styles. A retro eighties party without someone dressing up as Jason or Freddy is no party at all. Even Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – the great PS2 game, which heavily parodied that era – referenced the slasher genre in a satirical way, confirming it’s importance as a referential milestone.
There are still about 10-15 slasher movies being released every year, most of them very low budget productions, but the eighties will always be recognised as the golden period. The whole cycle started with a bang. In 1980, Night of the Demon, Friday the 13th, Terror Train and To all a Good Night were all released before Summer and a new craze had been launched, which would continue without interruption for over twelve-months and carry on a lesser scale right through until the nineties.
So what does that have to do with Rush Week, I hear you ask? Well this was the last slasher movie to be produced in the golden decade, even though it was released a while later. That makes this an interesting reference point as you can see how much the genre had adapted during that period. If Friday the 13th was the flagship for the launch of ten-years of teen splatter, Bob Bralver’s slasher was the swan song.
During rush week, a young journalism student picks up on a story when she notices that young women seem to be disappearing after a seedy meeting with a photographer after hours in the science lab. A killer, dressed in a cape and old-man mask is stalking the dormitory and offing lonesome females. Who could be the masked menace and what are his motives?
Ok so we’re definitely not breaking new ground here. Set on a college campus, the movie follows the traditional route without ever attempting to add something even slightly adventurous to the norm. I guess the first thing to notice about the difference between this and its brothers from nine-years earlier is the lack of gore. Whilst Friday the 13th set a new tone with its gruesome death scenes and investment in special effects, stringent censors and bad media had left many movies with their ‘money shots’ on cutting room floors before they had reached audiences, so film-maker’s were much more prudent with their budgets in latter years. This killer has an authentic double-bladed axe, but the majority of the murders are off-screen and therefore lack any punch.
Bralver seems a director far more interested in Frat jokes and teen fart humour than he does horror and the majority of the runtime is filled with Porky’s style character development and a blossoming romance between the leads. The slashings take a back seat quite early in the picture and it made me wonder if they had chucked in a hooded killer to make the flick look more attractive to prospective financiers? There’s the chance to guess the cast member that’s hiding beneath the mask and cape, but the mystery is poorly handled and you’ll see through the apparent red herrings with relevant ease. There’s a smidgen of suspense during the final stalking sequence through the school corridors and some looming tracking shots help to build a nice atmosphere. To be fair, I have to mention that the movie does reference its brethren by casting Dominick Brascia (Friday the 13th 5/Evil Laugh) and Kathleen Kinmont (Halloween 4) in small cameos.
It seems like they had a good budget to play with and the cinematography is crisp and adventurous. The leads carried the film really well and built some nice chemistry during the romance and I really liked Pamela Ludwig as the final girl. It’s amazing to think that her film journey quickly stagnated soon after, because she had enough talent to build a career in pictures. Her co-star Dean Hamilton would find his fortune as a producer, working both in Television and Cinema. His biggest investment so far, the awful chick flick Blonde and Blonder (which he also directed), was absolutely ripped to shreds by critics, but proved popular enough for a sequel and at the time of writing, he is working on a project with ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ director Joel Zwick.
If the producers had decided to veto the lashings of blood for fear of extreme censorship, they certainly didn’t scrimp on the nudity. There are more breasts on display here than feeding time in a maternity ward and I personally would have loved to have studied here at Tambers college as it seems every female student has the body of a Playboy model. In another slightly bizarre twist, hardly any of the developed characters that we meet become victims of the axe clenching madman. It seems women are simply introduced to take off their kit and then scream as the hatchet swings, which means that we feel absolutely zero sympathy for them. That adds ammunition to my suspicions that the slasher elements were a mere sub-plot to allow the story to focus on the romance/dorm ingredients that seemed to certainly be the priority.
So not much of a final farewell from Rush Week for the decade of decadence where the box office was stalked and slashed by masked killers like there would be no tomorrow. This is not necessarily a bad film, but will only act more as a small snack if your hungry for a full slasher buffet.
Final Girl √√√√
Symphony of Evil 1987
aka Coda aka Deadly Possession aka Sinfonía Del Diablo
Directed by: Craig Lahiff
Starring: Penny Cook, Arna-Maria Winchester, Liddy Clark
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a well-known fact amongst those that know their horror movies that Australia hasn’t exactly excelled itself with the quality of its output within the slasher genre. It’s intriguing then that within the space of a month, I’ve found two credible efforts that successfully manage to disprove that fallacy. Firstly, I came across the creepy Cassandra, which mixes erratic photography and razor sharp editing to a surprisingly credible effect. Then I discovered the ambitiously restrained and meritoriously tense Symphony of Evil…
Taking a large slice of Halloween‘s appetizing pie and filling the spaces with a few Hitchcockian nods just for good measure, this confident offering is perhaps one of the most commendable long forgotten entries to the stalk and slash cycle. It succeeds mainly because it chooses to follow the path of down to earth realism over far-fetched gore and gratuitous shock tactics. The protagonist of the feature is not a bimbo in a Wonderbra. Instead, she’s an ordinary young woman who finds herself in a tricky situation, which helps to give the film an undeniably naturalistic edge.
Director Craig Lahiff also accepts with glee, the challenge of giving his female characters complete control of the script without relying on sexual overtones to make them appealing. There’s no needless nudity or even any slight references towards it; and to be honest, it isn’t something that’s missed.
A masked maniac is slaughtering musical students at an Australian university. A young innocent woman becomes involved in the plot when her flatmate is brutally murdered. With the body count mounting, it becomes clear that the psychopath has intriguing motives.
To say that Symphony of Evil was ‘inspired’ by Halloween is like saying that Joan Rivers has had a touch of plastic surgery. The film borrows heavily from the title that it so obviously tries to emulate, leaving very little to disguise the obvious influences (the killer stalking the hospital, the Michael Myers-alike disguise etc). Imitation however is not necessarily a bad thing if it’s handled correctly and Lahiff’s opus feels more like a tribute to Carpenter’s classic than it does a rip-off. Lahiff conveys an impressive flair for building suspense and in places he builds a tone that’s remarkably tense. A perfect example is the sword-murder about halfway through the runtime, which incorporates brooding photography to create a foreboding environment that makes good use of those ageless stalk and slash clichés.
The performances from a likable cast are fairly comfortable and there’s even a classy score that’s vaguely reminiscent of John Williams’ theme from Oliver Stone’s masterpiece, JFK. The characters are competently scripted and approachable, which builds a decent amount of sympathy for our heroine. Evil doesn’t boast a huge body count, so the actors are given a lot of screen time and dialogue to keep things moving. Thankfully, they do a fine job of keeping us intrigued and are amicable enough to win over the audience with realistic performances.
Because the synopsis takes place at a classical music school, the production team get the chance to experiment with an excellent operatic soundtrack, which satisfies both cinematically and audibly. Frank Stragio’s work does wonders to help sustain a good level of energy, which is great because during the moments where not a lot happens, you’re always aware that something is just about to.
Like many eighties slashers, Symphony of Evil focuses heavily on the mystery of discovering who it is behind the creepy mask, which is possibly the feature’s only flaw. Guessing the killer’s identity is a relatively simple task and more thought should have been put into giving us more suspects or at least a credible red-herring. It’s interesting that despite earning the respect to be trusted with bigger budgets from this offering, Lahiff never improved upon his work on this atmospheric murder-mystery. Heaven’s Burning was a so-so thriller that had the added bonus of starring Russell Crowe. His most recent movie Black and White was promising, but hardly a worthy follow-up to such an ambitious debut. It proves that bigger budgets don’t always make better features and it seems that with Symphony of Evil he struck the perfect medium.
If you like slasher movies, then you’ll like Symphony of Evil – there’s really nothing else to say. It is good enough to sit comfortable alongside the likes of The Dorm that Dripped Blood, Curtains and The House on Sorority Row as a worthwhile genre entry that has been bizarrely overlooked. It seems surprising that the cruddy Houseboat Horror has numerous fans across the globe, but a real treat like this has disappeared from the face of the planet. Recommended
Final Girl √√√