Monthly Archives: October 2013
Friday the 13th: Halloween Night 1994
Directed by: Chris Seaver
Starring: Brad Gough, Zach Allen, Chris Seaver
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So peeps, it’s Halloween, let’s make it a good one! What are y’all up to? I’m taking Oliverio and Kalinka trick-or-treating with two of the scariest women I know (I need to be careful with my words here – żartuje dziewczyny przysięgam) and then most likely going somewhere Friday in full psycho garb. It’s the only time that slasher fans can get away with dressing like their heroes and fit in with everybody else. I’m not going for my traditional Jason Voorhees outfit this year because I believe that I’d make an excellent vampire. I mean, I have the chiseled dark good looks and the unrivalled ability to pull the ladies, right? Are you all in agreement…? Erm… Any of you? Just one? HELLLLLLLOOOOOOO? Oh ok…
Anyway, as it’s our favourite day of the year, I wanted to take this opportunity to post a real rarity from my collection and break the a SLASH above mould somewhat. You see, my A-Z list of slasher movies is a fairly good reference point, but it doesn’t include any of the fabulous ‘shorts’ that can be found all over the globe in multiple formats. I did post a review of Death O’ Lantern recently, but aside from that, I’ve overlooked them more than I ignore my flat mate when she keeps telling me that the coffee table is not the best place to leave half-empty bottles of vodka. But you can teach an old dog new tricks, so here we have a real interesting entry… (Excuse me, I have some bottles in the living room that I need to clear up)
After a horrific massacre on a campsite, a local enthusiast heads to the location to survey the aftermath. He discovers Jason’s notorious hockey mask and feels an unavoidable urge to put it on just the once. Suddenly, he becomes possessed by the spirit of the notorious murderer and heads to a town on Halloween night where Michael Myers is already out on the prowl for teenage victims. What happens however when the pair come face to face?
I mentioned the cheese treat Death O’ Lantern earlier and interestingly enough, this is an extremely early production from the same director, Chris Seaver. I can’t say for sure whether it was his debut movie, but I did find out that it was most definitely amongst the first that he scraped the funds together for. It’s a fan boy video through and through, shot on a camcorder with Beastie Boys and the like playing in the background just for good measure. In terms of visual quality, my iPhone can create better footage during a fog-laden blackout, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have a giggle whilst watching the events that unfold herein.
At thirty-four minutes, there’s not a great deal that I can write in terms of critical appraisal, but I will say that there’s some really good ideas on display. One moment that i thought demonstrated a fine level of creativity, was when a teen is butchered under a strobe effect, which really does look the business. Taking on board the total amateurism of the setup, I must say that the editing was actually quite slick in places and the guys playing Jason and Michael did a credible job at mimicking the renowned horror icons.
Where the film really stands out is in the high amount of gore. One cut throat is that impressive that it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a much bigger budgeted picture and each kill scene is lively, bloody and fun. Jason and Michael are finally shown on screen together for (arguably) the first time in video history and although the budget restraints restrict a super battle between them, it’s still cool to watch.
There’s no doubt that the cast are just a bunch of mates and funnily enough there’s not one female amongst the characters. You would have thought that they could have convinced the local prom queen to put in an appearance, but instead we get to watch Seaver’s buddies get slashed gorily, which is a subtle up yours to the ‘feminism against slashers’ movement. We get some periodic references for eagle-eyed viewers (OJ’s trial is mentioned and we see posters of Jason goes to hell on one guy’s bedroom) and they even pinch the original Halloween score for good measure.
Friday the 13th: Halloween Night is an interesting (and confusingly titled) little obscurity that needs to be seen by slasher fanatics who can forgive shoestring budgeting. Whilst technically it’s at the level that you’d expect for $200 (the POV through eye-hole shots are clearly just a mask placed on top of the camcorder) there’s enough cheesy fun to be had by forgiving fans. If you got through Day of the Reaper without screaming, then you may just be able to survive this.
Good work again from Señor Seaver, a filmmaker who is really just one of us. Enjoy…
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Directed by: Steve Latham
Starring: Linnea Quigley, Cameron Mitchell, Ryan Lathshaw
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s the second birthday of a SLASH above and almost October the 31st, so I thought I’d post this Halloween related feature 🙂 Now, any film that has horror veterans Linnea Quigley, Cameron Mitchell and John Carradine all in the same cast list must surely be worth a watch, right?
Jack-O was the second to last movie to include a role for Mr. Carradine senior. He died in 1988 and this was released in 1995, which means that his performance must have been lifted from stock-footage. It’s actually quite ingenious how director Steve Lathshaw made it work so well. It was also the swan song for cheesy slasher regular Cameron Mitchell, before his death in 1994. The screenplay was adapted from a story by Fred Olen Ray, whom we all know exceedingly well from his previous ‘videomatic’ misdemeanors. He was behind slashers,Scalps and Final Examination and is still chucking out B-movies at a rate that Lance Armstrong on a whole bag of his performance enhancing drugs couldn’t keep up with. Lathshaw went on after this to direct a couple more flicks, including the interesting Death Mask, before switching to screen-writing and churning out scripts for twenty-eight movies. Unlike most American direct to video/cable horror films from the mid-nineties, this actually secured a global distribution and I have VHS versions from England, Poland and Spain. The UK’s Midnight Movies label released so few copies that originals have now become somewhat of a rarity and sell for fairly good money on eBay. Is it one that deserves the hunt?
Many years ago, the families of Oakmoor Crossing tracked down a vicious murderer named Walter Machen (Carradine) and lynched him. He was a powerful warlock and just before he died, he summoned a demon from the depths of hell to seek revenge on the townsfolk. The maniac attacked and butchered lots of people, until a man called Arthur Kelly found a way to stop him for good. Now, present day, three rowdy teens accidentally revive the pumpkin headed fiend, much to their dismay. Armed with a scythe, he heads back to the same town to continue where he left off his killing spree. He couldn’t have picked a better night for murder, because it happens to be October the 31st, or in other words, Halloween. Arthur’s great, great Grandson, Sean Kelly (Ryan Lathshaw) is only a young boy, but little does he know, that he is the only person alive with the power to stop the bloodthirsty killer. Will he realise his potential before the demon reaches his parents, or will he be too late?
Make no mistake about it, they certainly don’t come much cheesier than this fierce example of dairy produce in a videomatic format. Everything from the killer’s laughable Jack O’ Lantern head to the way that his urban legend is spread through rhymes that my six-year old daughter could have written (Mr Jack will break your back and chop off your head with a whack whack whack!) is the cinematic equivalent of a fondue festival. Olen Ray has once again rushed out a nonsensical screenplay, which is overflowing with make believe characters, impossible situations and basically poor screenwriting. I especially enjoyed the woefully out of date ‘cool dude’ guy, who, dressed in a leather jacket, jeans and quiff whilst perched on a motorbike, couldn’t have been more cliche if he’d had ‘cool character’ written on his forehead. Over the years, since her debut in Psycho from Texas and inclusion in tonnes of cheapo flicks including Graduation Day and Fatal Games, Linnea Quigley has gained herself a devoted cult following. She doesn’t disappoint fans here and takes a long gratuitous shower just to display her lady lumps for at least two minutes in her first scene. Just do your thing, baby…
Unfortunately, the lesser-known faces are all good actors in a dimension that’s totally the opposite to this one. Gary Doles was the only human in a 100-mile radius that even attempted to add a little life to his character and the rest really didn’t look bothered. If you blink, you’ll miss Cameron Mitchell’s brief cameo. He plays Dr.Cadaver, a creepy TV presenter that hosts a show filled with all things horror. His inclusion in flicks ranging from The Toolbox Murders to Memorial Valley Massacre made it a part that was perfect for him. There were two anti-establishment toffs who I guess were there to supply the comic relief bits. That really wasn’t necessary though, because the whole thing was little more than a bad joke in the first place.
Jack O’ chucks in some supernatural elements, but the special FX for these gimmicks are poorly conceived, which is a shame, because other titles produced on similar budgets have delivered much more. The lightening, for example, looked like it had been drawn onto the negatives with a felt tip pen and the killer’s lantern-head was pretty much a dime-store mask. A cool one mind, but hardly ‘convincing’. The production team at least manage to chuck in some gooey red-stuff and a fairly well modeled decapitation, which is surprisingly gory. Even if Lathshaw didn’t get much from his amateur cast, he planned a few interesting camera angles and the woodland scenes are all well lighted. You won’t get bored whilst watching and it doesn’t hang around to introduce cheesy horror as the central characteristic, so really you can’t complain too much. I don’t know, it just feels like amateur night at the local karaoke bar and if that’s what tickles your fancy, then you’re in luck. By the way, keep a look out for the director’s son, Ryan in a starring role. You can’t deny that he’s an ‘authentic’ actor, if nothing else.
What did you actually expect from a movie called ‘Jack-O’ with a pumpkin-headed killer on the cover and Linnea Quigley in the cast? Yeah, yeah; I was also expecting a trip to the Oscars – damn it. Thankfully, it’s bad in a good way and fans of mature cheddar circumstances will find more than enough to fill their hunger. It’s better than that other Halloween-based throwaway, Hack-o-Lantern, but go in with the right frame of mind to avoid disappointment. Come October the 31st, don’t you dare forget that Mr. Jack will snap your spine and cut you in half with a scaly vine…! Oooooooh!
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √
American Nightmare 1981
Directed by: Don McBrearty
Starring: Michael Ironside, Lawrence Day, Lora Stanley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is the earlier of two slasher movies in circulation that have the title American Nightmare. The more recent one was unleashed amongst the mass of Scream imitators and disappeared fairly quickly, whilst this entry from the golden years looks to have suffered a similar fate. With a score from Paul Zaza and a cast that included (then) up and coming talents like Michael Ironside, Lora Stanley and Lenore Zann it came as a surprise to me that it didn’t grab any of the buzz that served its compatriots like Curtains, My Bloody Valentine and Terror Train so well.
The son of a wealthy local businessman returns to his hometown after receiving a letter from his younger sister that begs for help. Upon arrival, he learns that his sibling has disappeared (brutally murdered in the pre-credits) and asks a stripper to help to locate her. Unbeknownst to them, her murder was the first at the hands of a vicious psychopath that is butchering local hookers.
I have been collecting slasher movies for longer than I care to remember and as the list on a Slash above shows clearly, I’ve worked hard to uncover a share of the hidden ‘gems’. I didn’t know that this even existed until fairly recently and I was quite surprised that I’d never come across it before. American Nightmare is a misleading title in more ways than one, because the film was actually a Canadian production that was shot in Toronto and it plays like a European Giallo. It has very little in common with Slashers from the US and this is most obvious in the disguise for the killer and characterisation of the key players. We do have a final girl, but she’s no Laurie Strode. In fact, she’s a stripper, which is an unusual touch for a film of this style.
Another way that it feels more closely aligned to its European counterparts is in its excessive use of sexual psychology as a backbone for the story. The victims are all degenerates of the kinky variety and the motive is one that you’re more likely to find from the films of Southern Europe. McBrearty tries hard to develop a sustainably sleazy tone, but he goes about it the wrong way and the runtime instead becomes needlessly repetitive and in all truth, slightly tedious.
The majority of the female victims are killed whilst in a state of undress and in between there are a lot of scenes that take place at a seedy strip bar. Whilst it makes sense to use this location in order to develop the atmosphere, the director includes long sequences from nude dancers as a form of padding. Now padding, much like ice in a vodka and coke, is something that looks like, feels like and smells like what it is – unnecessary. It doesn’t help that these parts are flatly directed and dull, and whilst I appreciate that bare skin is part of the exploitation package, the choreography was mind-numbing and the girls were not the hottest. At first, I wanted to acknowledge the realism, because let’s face it; bottom-dollar prostitutes are not going to be as beautiful as roses. Needless to say, if you are going to pack your feature with overlong set pieces of chicks whipping off their kit, it may be an idea to at least make them worth watching.
It was also a struggle to relate to the story as neither of the key players shine in any way at all. Staley is fine as the heroine, but she is given very little that makes us want to bond with her, whilst Lawrence Day is colourless and weak in the lead. The majority of the picture is shot with the creativity of a soap opera and lacks any va-va-voom, so the pace remains stagnant for extended periods. This changes drastically when the shadowed psycho gets to work and the killings are surprisingly well executed and mix an unnerving level of brutality with a superb, but sadly underused score from Paul Zaza. One of the later murders is almost unwatchable due to the visible suffering of the victim and at times it almost feels like these parts are too good to be have been shot by the same guy that has bored us rigid during the development of the characters and the mystery.
I didn’t manage to work out the identity of the maniac, but this is one of those films where I did think it may well be her, but then I kept changing my mind as the plot unravelled. I am not sure if this can really be credited as great screenwriting though, as it was hardly a shock once the big unmasking scene came around. I remained eager to see who the sadistic slayer was though and I guess that’s what matters most.
What American Nightmare does brilliantly is give depth and a face to a horror film cliché. Think about titles like Maniac, The Burning, Close your eyes and prey and, well, I could go on but the list is endless. Prostitutes in these films are always introduced as lowlifes that can be killed without anyone batting an eyelid, whereas here we are given more of a look into their lifestyles. Some, (but not all surprisingly), want to leave the game behind and they work the streets out of desperation, which makes a refreshing change from the norm. Our hero even gets a scene where he realises his error in pre-judgement and I liked this concept very much.
To be honest though I’m not quite sure what to rate this one. It has some really unique, sharp and brilliant moments, but struggles with the basics a bit too often to be a classic. I think it could be so much better if it were twenty minutes shorter, but at just shy of an hour and a half, it’s hardly Dances with Wolves. It’s a shame, because there’s stuff here that is worthy of Argento, but it’s the little bits, you know, those that aren’t so much fun to film, where we lose that momentum and focus. I’m reminded of my review of Grim Weekend, where I mentioned that the trailer had me fooled into believing that I was in for a good time. It feels here like McBrearty was only interested in the parts that were setup to convey horror and although he does well to build suspense and trepidation at the hardest of times, he strolls through the rest of the movie in first gear like it doesn’t matter.
If you haven’t seen American Nightmare then you should track it down. I just get disappointed when something comes within smelling distance of greatness, but throws it all away in the midriff. With better lighting and pacing, it could have given Curtains a run for its money, as it stands, it sits alongside Evil Judgement as an obscure Canadian picture that hits the right switches, but only on occasion