Monthly Archives: August 2013
Directed by: Paul Leder
Starring: Dick Sargent, Bernard White, James Avery
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Bodycount… The slasher movie from 1987 you say? Yeah, I have seen that, it’s a well-known one… by Ruggero Deodato, right?
Well actually no. You see; this is the ‘other’ Bodycount. The one that’s an utter obscurity, which rarely gets acknowledged despite the promise of so much. Director Paul Leder populated the genre more prolifically than most throughout his filmmaking tenure. Even if it could be argued that I Dismember Mama is not really a proto-slasher, then there’s no denying that The Babydoll Murders slots straight in. What we have here on the other hand is not so much of a Halloween clone and instead plays a bit like Blood Splash or Maniac by making the killer the film’s central character. It’s generally more of a challenge to make these type of stories work, so I was keen to see what Leder could do.
It begins with one hell of an artsy credit sequence. We hear a beautiful violin piece and then the musician, a young brunette in a red dress, appears from behind a tree. The camera pans along and follows her as she approaches a large white building and then it’s revealed for the first time that we are outside an asylum. Here we meet Robert Knight, a mixed up young man who is polite, believes in god and sometimes can’t help but stab people with his trusty blade. You’ll never guess what happens? Yes, surprisingly, he escapes the confines of his cushy cell and heads out to solve some deep-rooted family issues, causing havoc along the way
So as I hinted above, BodyCount is not a slasher movie in the most obvious sense and it’s more like a thriller with some slasher action bolted on top. Don’t get me wrong, there’s blood, stabbings and plenty of victims, but Leder has attempted to make this film more plot-driven than the usual low-budget follies featured on this site. Is that a good thing? Well it can be if it’s done well.
The problem that we have here is that the script is ambitious, but ignores cinematic basics. Any thriller generally needs a villain and a hero, but the maniac here is portrayed as something of a victim, which makes you feel sorry for him. When he kills people it just doesn’t seem right because we’ve invested in him emotionally and he is the most approachable of the key characters. In Halloween for example, Myers escaped to stalk and slaughter his sister and because Laurie Strode was such a good egg, we shared her fear. Robert has broken out to murder a member of his family too, but his uncle is a swindling deviant who is rumoured to have been responsible for the death of his father, so he comes across worse than the guy doing the slashing. In fact the only adult person in the film that is portrayed to have any morals at all is Kim, the helpful maid. Sadly, she’s played by an actress that speaks like Jar Jar Binks after a few lines of Peruvian coke, so she’s not one that we care too much about. Nevertheless, I didn’t want her to die, so I guess that she was doing something right. Come to think of it, even the majority of the victims were low lives (a bully, a drug addict, a gold digger etcetera), so our ‘bogeyman’ really does seem like a gem in comparison. Go figure…
You’ll see I mentioned above that Kim Kim Binks is the only adult person with morals because the story has something of a curveball in the shape of Robert’s six-year-old cousin, Deborah. He picks her up and drives her around and treats her superbly, which is an additional minus to his already minimal scare-o-factor. Little kids and horror is not something that always works. Yes, you can mention Poltergeist or Death Valley, but I still consider using a sweet child as a main player to be a bit of an overdose of heartstring pulling. LaurenWoodland does an impressive job with the role, however I think that a teenage final girl would have made the film feel much less schmaltzy.
Aside from the kidnap that’s not really a kidnap part of the story, there’s also another branch that trundles along in the background. It’s something to do with a heap of money that Robert is entitled to, so pretty much everyone else wants to kill him off so that they can claim it for themselves. We get treated to a lot of talky scenes where this stuff is discussed and I guess that they are supposed to wrap us up in an intrigue of double-crossing, treachery and cunning manipulation. The music that accompanies these moments though sounds like something that you might find in an online commercial for a retirement home and so that pretty much pooh-poohs the tone.
Talking about retirement home commercials, Leder shoots this horror movie like it is one. So much can be achieved with a tad of creativity in the placement of characters and cameras, the blocking, tracking and movement of visuals on the screen. Here though, everything feels so laboured and ‘functional’ that we never really get a chance to be excited by what we are witnessing. There was one tense set-piece that was really well done and utilised the age-old ‘grab the key from the sleeping guy’ trick. Unfortunately, it seems as though that emptied Leder’s glass of filmmaking flair right there. (Did you see that I made that rhyme?)
What about plus points you say? Well aside from Kim Kim Binks, the cast do a stellar job, especially Bernard White as Robert. Quite a few people get stabbed too; but again, even these horror parts are rapid and best described as ‘functional’. Each of the casualties gets a blade to the gut, before being hustled off the screen without a second look. Or mention. Or thought. There’s no variety in the killer’s MO and no suspense in the build up. Come to think of it, Babydoll Murders from Leder was exactly the same. “Hey, Luisito… I thought you were talking about the plus points bro?” Okaaaaaaaay, ok… Well to be fair, it’s not a total failure and I was interested to see how it finished. You could say that it’s like the film equivalent of a cheese sandwich. What was that word again? Oh yes… FUNCTIONAL. (Dictionary check: functional adj [ˈfʌŋkʃənəl]1. practical rather than decorative)
I watched Bodycount in three parts. The first time I stopped it because my eyes came over really heavy and I dozed off; whilst the second was because I heard the ice cream van outside. So basically, it couldn’t compete with a king cone. Make of that what you will.
Sorority Girls and the Creature from Hell 1989
Directed by: John McBrearty
Starring: Deborah Dutch, BJ Davis, Dori Courtney
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Although I have to confess that’s it a real honour supplying y’all with a weekly dose of slasher trash to chew through, the constraints of time and the pressure of the everyday hustle and bustle of a young Spaniard in the United Kingdom do take their toll. Especially when you have a Mrs like mine who would much rather watch ‘Zakochani’ for the hundred-millionth time than anything with masked killers and screaming chicks in it.
Anyway it also helps a great deal when you guys and gals recommend me slasher pictures to post, because with a collection of so many titles, sometimes it’s hard to pick out just the one to watch. Funnily enough though, I got the strangest of emails recently. It was strange because it came from the address ‘free email service – do not reply’ and I have no idea who sent it. He/she recommended that I review Sorority Girls and the Creature from Hell and it’s one that to be honest, I had left at the bottom of my VHS pile and completely forgotten about. So thanks anonymous mailer…. This is just for you…
These late eighties slasher movies are usually a giggle because filmmakers would always try to spice up the formula with a supernatural twist or an ambitious synopsis. The censorship uproar that had left patchworks of earlier entries meant that producers could no longer utilise gory effects as a marketing gimmick and so instead they went for big-breasted bimbos and that’s just fine by me.
It kicks off with a haze of cheesy action. We are introduced to a guy who spends his time uncovering Native American artifacts in a secluded cave (he should’ve known better – hasn’t he seen Scalps?). At the same time, a group of prisoners are driven out to do manual labour in some woodland. The benefit of this work is not really clarified, because they seem to just be digging pointless holes among some trees. (Were they preparing their own graves? Wow what a great plot twist that would have been). But seriously, couldn’t they have painted a church, worked on a construction site or done something that helped local society? Anyway, the guards are momentarily disrupted by a sorority girl with a boob-tube and a push bike, which gives the jailbirds the opportunity to launch a violent, but successful escape attempt and they sprint off in separate directions.
A large number of the escapees are shot and killed or captured soon after by a sheriff with a machine gun that sounds like a GI Joe toy, but a villain called Gerome Disenso, who brings to mind a poor man’s Richard Marx, manages to flee into the forest. I guess by the search that’s made thereafter, he must be a dangerous criminal; however we never really find out why we should fear him. I mean, perhaps he was just a run of the mill down on his luck kinda guy that was doing a week in jail for jaywalking or something? It would have been nice to be told such things.
So next up, we meet a gang of sorority jocks (that look about 38) and some free and easy bunnies that are on their way to a party at the cabin that belongs to the archaeologist from the beginning. Unfortunately for them, and him, his relentless digging has uncovered an ancient demonic relic that has possessed him and sent him out to murder anyone that he bumps into. So with a bloodthirsty killer, a secluded location AND an escaped convict, these guys are in for the party of their lives… (Most likely the last)
By the first thirty minutes of SGATCFH, you would never tell that this is a slasher film and instead you’d probably be under the impression that you were set for a First Blood rip-off. We seem to be focused mainly on the jailbreak storyline and it’s only later that things fall back into the traditional set up. It’s been said that back in the glory days of the cycle, producers would pride themselves on the amount of helicopter shots that they could afford to put in to their pictures. The Burning had a good one and Maniac borrowed a few from Dario Argento’s Inferno. Well these guys managed to get a full military chopper out for the hunt for their man on the run, but I’m convinced that it had more to do with John McBrearty knowing a guy that owned one rather than him having a healthy budget to play with.
Why do I have this opinion? Well the film is filled with a cast that may be the worst ever put together in a barrel-bottom ensemble and that can only be because they couldn’t scrape together what was needed to fund anyone better. These guys greet things like the uncovering of a freshly mutilated corpse with the same emotional oomph that a normal person puts into changing the TV channel. I have grown accustomed to over or under-acting through the years, but completely non-acting is a new one for me. The killer, who has a cheesier than cheesy black and white heavy breath POV, is rarely seen under any kind of light, which is obviously because the make-up effects (or rubber mask) for him were so shoddy. Saying that though, I was impressed with the screenplay for the first 45 minutes or so, because it split the characters into separate groups and gave each of them a story that eventually threw them together in the cabin for the grand finale. Whilst this showed an impressive flair for structure from first-timer McBrearty, he didn’t give us any kind of central protagonist and so the final pair felt more like they’d literally been picked out of a hat than built up to battle the demonized assailant. We were introduced to a geeky virginal type in the early scenes and I felt sure that she would be the one that would end up being the heroine, but instead she was one of the first of the troupe to get splattered.
Despite the problems with the feature in terms of the poor quality of the dramatics and the lack of gooey effects, I still thought that it was actually a fun flick to sit through. It’s just so incredibly cheesy and dumb that I think you’d be hard pushed to find someone that wouldn’t enjoy it. The ancient artifact that possesses the unfortunate excavator and sends him on a kill spree, speaks flawless English with a New York accent, which is impressive for something that’s been entombed in a cave since the days of the Native American tribes. We never get to find out why it needs the blood of those dead bodies in the first place and I was guessing for why it could be. Will it bring him back from beyond the grave so that he can cause havoc again? Is it a plan to rid the world of heinous acting? Your guess is as good as mine. Don’t you just love a villain with a clear motivation? Also could someone tell me the point of the prison break-out part of the story? Maybe I missed it or something, because from what I saw, it went absolutely nowhere, changed absolutely nothing and affected absolutely no one. Confused? I most definitely was.
Sorority Girls and The Creature From Hell mixes a kaleidoscope score (very similar in fact to the one from Ruggero Deodato’s BodyCount), some fun characters, loads of big boobs and a laughable story to make a cheese-drenched treat that a SLASH above readers will most definitely enjoy watching. It’s basically Scalps with an overdose of inadvertent stupidity and that my friends is surely a good thing. I loved it.
Final Girl: √√
aka The Bleeder
Directed by: Han Hatwig
Starring: Ake Eriksson, Sussi Ax, Eva Danielsson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Although American cinema was the key player during the slasher cycle’s heyday, many other countries also provided a considerable contribution to the fledgling category. Whilst Spain’s Bloody Moon and South Africa’s City of Blood would never rival the audience revenue achieved by their US genre compatriots, the popularity of titles such as Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine proved that the formula had truly become a global cash-cow for ambitious producers.
By 1984 almost everywhere where there was a buzzing cinematic market had churned out at least one attempt at imitating the success of Halloween and its brethren; and Blödaren was Sweden’s entry. Han’s Hatwig’s low-budget rarity was not only the first slasher flick to be released directly for the Swedish market; it was in fact the first horror film that the country had ever self-produced. As of yet it has not been made available for global audiences, which has allowed it to achieve something of an obscure cult status amongst category enthusiasts.
The plot focuses on a female pop group called The Rock Cats. Whilst touring across the country, their mini-bus breaks down on a secluded road, leaving them stranded in the wilderness. They head out on foot to find assistance and are relieved when they discover a seemingly abandoned mansion in the depths of the woodland. Unbeknownst to the hapless women, they are sharing the location with a recently escaped lunatic who has a facial disfigurement, which means that blood constantly streams from his eyes. Before long they are fighting for their lives as they are stalked and ruthlessly slaughtered by ‘The Bleeder’.
The first thing that struck me about Blödaren is that it is surprisingly well-financed for such a small-scale project. Slasher movies often fall prey to a lack of funding, but I have read that this was shot on video and it is really hard, in fact; it is almost impossible to tell from what we see on the screen. Unfortunately that’s pretty much the only real positive that I took down in my notepad and it soon becomes apparent exactly why this has never been subtitled for worldwide consumption.
The methodology of horror is fairly simple and it’s not something that you need to be a genius to figure out. Audiences check out the genre because they want to be engulfed in a temporary feeling of dread. Yeah sure, a bit of cheesiness or black humour doesn’t hurt, but generally people watch horror movies to be scared. Fear is by far the hardest mood to create cinematically and the stats back this up. Of the horror films that you have seen, how many have actually terrified you? How many have made you check under your bed when you are alone at night and the lights are low? Although as an entertainment medium cinema has successfully portrayed moments of pathos and intense drama, fear has seldom been conveyed accurately and it takes a master director to make a competent horror film. Whilst it is totally acceptable that not everyone has the ability to pull off the next Rosemary’s Baby, the problem with Blödaren is that it doesn’t even try. Not even a little bit.
What we are really missing here is any kind of a threatening antagonist. Watching ‘The Bleeder’ shuffle around the woodland pushing a pram is not a scary sight, and his bizarre gimmick of sticking out his tongue like a spoiled child before he commits each murder is laughable…and not in a good way. We are offered absolutely zero dramatic credibility from the cast and it’s shot with the flair of a TV soap, which means that there is literally no effort to energise the cinematography, framing, blocking or placement of the characters on the screen. The sound is awful too and is mostly filled with long drawn out high-pitched whining tones that end up making you want to headbutt the screen…aaaaaah!!!
Any chance of tension evaporates when we realise that the victims are excessively dumb and the plot offers nothing more than one character wandering off to find a missing friend and being confronted by the hilariously inept killer. The score is a total rip-off of Halloween’s notorious theme and you’ll most likely be reading the small print of the vodka label on the 2 litre bottle you had to drink rather than watching the screen.
Blödaren is something of a cult-classic in Sweden as it launched a market that has delivered titles such as the gory Death Academy, Camp Slaughter, Evil Ed, Drowning Ghost and Blood Tracks. Whilst it may be remembered as a novelty for being the first, it really shouldn’t be recognised for anything more. Funnily enough, I watched this before going to see The Place Beyond the Pines at the cinema. I felt that Derek Cianfrance’s opus was as close to being a perfectly put together picture as possible. It boasted rich well-acted characters, superb cinematography, perfect sound and editing and a story that kept us hooked throughout. Whilst it is unfair of course to compare something as mundane as Blödaren to a brilliant character study, I always believe that there is no excuse, no matter what the level, to not do the basics right. The truth of the matter is that there are shorts on YouTube, shot on not much more than an iPhone that offer better movie making professionalism than this turkey. I’m sorry, but it’s true. One for the trash can.
*I don’t speak Swedish by the way so thanks to the gorgeous Monica for watching the film with me and explaining everything. Spending an hour and twenty minutes in front of this in itself must’ve been hard enough. Thank you xx
Final Girl: √
The Hook of Woodland Heights 1989
Directed by: Michael Savino
Starring: Christine McNamara, Robert W. Allen, Michael Elyanow
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s easy to make a slasher film. No really, it is. Compared to any other cinematic genre, the funds and tools needed to get a masked killer movie on the shelves are quite simple to put together. That’s why a category so low on room for authenticity and creativity is as overcrowded as a central-London bus during rush hour. Although it may be a relatively simple task to pitch a dime store maniac against a group of your closest buddies and then package it as the most shocking cinematic gross-out since The Exorcist, creating a decent entry has become something of an impossibility for modern up and coming filmmakers.
Many, MANY budding directors have attempted bravely to give the cycle a new landmark feature, but the results have almost always been resoundingly dismal. Of the six-hundred-plus entries currently in existence, only a 3% have achieved recognition from celebrated cinema critics. 3%! Despite those shocking statistics, the genre continues to thrive on the bottom shelves of video stores across the globe and every now and then future stars are discovered hamming their way through a woefully uninspired killer in the woods yarn.
The huge personal satisfaction gained by a crew being involved in the production of a film that people have actually seen – that has actually gained some kind of back-hand distribution – also cannot be ignored. For most people it’s a dream that’s as far away as an undiscovered solar system; but for a select few – even if the said feature just happens to be an awful low-budget splatter flick – that dream has become reality.
With that said, it’s easy to understand the motivation behind the production of The Hook of Woodland Heights. Released on a twin-pack with the equally appetizing (in the cheesiest possible way) Attack of the Killer Refrigerator, Hook is one of those movies, made strictly tongue in cheek in order to be consumed in a similar fashion. Long live trash cinema…
It all kicks off with an introduction to our central characters. First off we meet Tommy, a weasel-like jock whose modus operandi throughout the runtime seems only to be to succeed in getting his leg over his frumpy sweetheart Katie. Kate is also no one’s definition of a genius and spends most of the movie attempting to do everything in her power to get herself killed. The pair head out to the serenity of the local woodland, blissfully unaware that Mason Kraine – a maniacal one-armed maniac – has taken it upon himself to escape the surprisingly cosy confinement of the local asylum and head out to bolster his already impressive list of victims. Will the angst-ridden youngsters be able to make-out in peace and avoid the now fork-handed psycho? Do ducks float on water?
Hook is an out and out slasher movie alright and seems content to swim amongst the platitudes of its brethren. There’s no danger of breaking any new ground here as director Savino stumbles through the clichés like a wrong-footed alcoholic on a Marine assault course.
With that said, in many places the film transcends its $32,000 budget. There’s some fun gore on display and the hilarious performance of the hyperactive killer is worth the budget rental price alone. It even plays host to by far the most bizarre murder ever committed to cheap videotape. Death by clipboard anybody? Exactly.
Hook of Woodland Heights runs no longer than forty minutes, which is probably the perfect length for a picture of this genre. I mean, it manages to pack in all the necessary character development, whilst in the same breath laughing in the face of titles such as The Prey, which found it essential to pad their runtimes with pointless and irrelevant footage in order to bolster the length of the feature. The script packs in everything that’s needed to keep the plot running and the audience are never left feeling short-changed.
Rumour has it that none of the cast and crew saw a shiny circular dime for their participation in the production of this ambitious title, so kudos to director Savino for keeping them motivated enough to deliver enthusiastic, if not decent, performances. There are the expected continuity shotgun holes and the acting is as rancid as a blooper reel from a daytime soap, but Hook is by no means the worst slasher flick on the market.
Savino even tries to go all controversial by putting a pre-teen to the sword, but things never get too mean-spirited. This is mainly thanks to the killer’s laugh-inducing performance and his awful make up, which leaves him looking like an anemic Russell Brand.
OK so there’s nothing here to recommend, but if you’re like me and have an unhealthy addiction to slasher trash, give this cheapie a try. There are a lot worse efforts clogging up Amazon.
Directed by: Terrence O’Hara
Starring: Loren Winters, Shepherd Sanders, Jeff Morris
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Sorry for the late post this week, I woke up with one helluva hangover…. Anyway, B-movie stalwart, Nico Mastorakis produced this late entry to the category and surprisingly enough, it was his first true effort at a slasher flick. After Island of Death had built him a career in exploitation cinema, Nico remained in the kingdom of low-budget thrillers with a solid track-record from the projects that he was involved with. I really enjoyed The Zero Boys from 1986 and people have often citied that it could sit alongside Friday the 13 et al as a traditional stalk and slash/killer in the woods yarn. I believe that this later effort plays it much truer to the archetypal slasher template though and that’s why I have posted it here for your perusal.
Janet (Jill Pierce) returns home to her family farm in order to spend more time with her boyfriend Steve (Jeffrey Alan Arbaugh). Unbeknownst to the youngster, a maniac killer is stalking the vicinity, dressed in a bright yellow rain coat. This is an artistic psychopath because after he butchers his victims, he takes pictures of them and develops them in the darkroom of the title. As more and more people die, it looks like Janet is his main target.
Lack of originality is a criticism that’s hard to level at these movies, because the slasher genre’s familiarity is what has given it an unique style of its own and a cinematic personality. This lazily delivered and lackadaisical offering on the other hand, really feels like it omits even the slightest amount of effort from those involved and has pretty much nothing in terms of suspense, pace or excitement.
The plot concentrates on the mystery element and the development of the characters to help build a good puzzle for audience sleuths. Unfortunately for director Terrence O’Hara, the marketing team working on the picture must have been missing from the meetings when the whodunit aspect was discussed, because the killer is shown not only on the back cover of most prints in circulation, but also in the trailer for the feature. O’Hara must’ve been furious when he found out… It’s like, ‘HELLO! I’m making a mystery thriller guys!!!!’
There are a few themes running throughout the movie that show ambition from the screenwriters, but sadly, they are poorly handled and not properly developed. Ever since the proto-slasher, Eyeball, I have liked seeing rain coats as disguises for murderous psychos; and armed with an axe, this dude is pretty cool. He’s also quite brutal, which means that some of the killings are surprisingly menacing even if they’re not packed to the brim with crimson. In fact, gore hounds will be disappointed with the lack of any effects (almost everyone is murdered off-screen) and despite the endless scenes of stalking, the director struggles to build any trepidation or atmosphere at all.
The cast come across as amateur throughout, and the porn-level delivery of banal dialogue soon begins to claw at the strings of your patience. There were also some serious casting miscalculations that seemed obvious to me, but surprisingly not to the decision makers behind the scenes. I mean, Sarah Wade played Cindy really well and her bubbly character was conveyed with a flamboyance that was hard to dislike. I would have felt an allure towards her if she had been given the role of the final girl, but that job went to Jill Pierce who came across as arrogant, cold and unappealing. Pierce did get more work in pictures after this, but for me she was the weakest link and couldn’t raise the runtime from the grasp of tedium.
And there we have the real problem with Darkroom: It’s basically twenty-five minutes of story stretched in to an hour and a half of screen time and it really feels like the director was struggling to fill scenes with the empty script that he had. I guess that if they had hired better actors, the character development and family feuds could have added a bit of depth to the plot. As it stood, we were given a tiresome expedition of waiting around for the psychopath to turn up. By the time that he finally did, I was expecting something, anything, to lift me from a near-catatonic state. Unfortunately it remained totally B-O-R-I-N-G
This was the debut movie of TV director Terrence O’Hara and I was guessing that with it being his first shoot and all, we could have expected him to show that urge and hunger that’s usually tough to hide on an initial attempt. Career best cinematography from David Makin was wasted however and technically the film was as bouncy as a puncture. Chuck into the mix some bizarre and random dialogue (“I don’t trust air I can’t see?“) and you’re left with a pretty low grade excuse for a horror yarn.
It’s a shame, because this was the breakout movie for so many of the people involved in it, so with a fairly good budget, it could have been SO much more. It’s bizarre as to why it has come across so basic and it feels like no one was motivated to turn up
Perhaps it may be rather interesting to genre enthusiasts for the Nico Mastorakis links and the photography aspect of the murderer’s methodology, but aside from that it’s best left in obscurity. Hey, maybe in the corner of a dark room (boom boom) 😉
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl:√ √