Monthly Archives: March 2014
Rosemary’s Killer 1981
aka The Prowler aka The Graduation
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Starring: Vicky Dawson, Farley Granger, Laurence Tierney
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here we have it, my favourite ever slasher movie. (I don’t include Halloween in that, because well – that’s everyone’s favourite). I found out about Rosemary’s Killer when I was at school and by the strangest possible means. My buddies and I used to have a sly cigarette in an old shed in the woods nearby to where I lived. We would always find ripped magazine pages covering the floor and as devious thirteen-year-olds, we would hope to uncover something interesting amongst the mess. Anyway, one night I went there alone and as if by fate, lying in the corner was a horror fanzine in pretty good condition. I was already a huge fan of the genre and so I scurried home to study the pages in the comfort of my bedroom. There in loving colour, my eyes first met with the iconic image from one of the finest killings of the category; – ‘The swimming pool murder’. You can see it in the picture to your right and it is also the background of a SLASH above. I immediately began a hunt for a copy on VHS, which much like my search for Graduation Day, would continue for much longer than I’d hoped.
Now without eBay and Amazon, my method for tracking down slashers was restricted to car boot sales around the London area. I found lots of titles during my travels, including Night Screams, Nightmare (Dutch uncut copy!) Ghostkeeper, Stormbringer,One by One, The Demon, Fatal Games and Psycho Puppet. However the one that I REALLY wanted remained elusive. It started to become an obsession, but after months of trying, I finally came to the disappointing conclusion that I would probably never see the darn thing. Then through a twist of fate, I found a video-search agency that came to my aid with an almost pristine copy. The price of £30 was daylight robbery, but for me it was mission accomplished and I probably would have paid £50
Avalon Bay is getting set for the first annual dance since a young couple were viciously murdered 35 years earlier. The youngsters of the community are eagerly anticipating the event and spend the day preparing and decorating the town hall. The junior Deputy is alone for the first time as the Sheriff has gone on his annual fishing trip and stress levels are raised when it’s revealed that a wanted criminal that slashed two young females could be heading to the area. As darkness descends, it becomes apparent that there’s a maniac dressed in World War 2 army fatigues stalking the Bay. Can the Deputy muster the courage to stop him?
Rosemary’s Killer is not only one of the best examples of stalk and slash cinema from the golden era, but it’s also one of the most underrated. The movie ticks every box in terms of the relevant trappings and instead of just ticking them, in a few places it completely surpasses them. I like the World War II gimmick and I think that the killer’s disguise is an absolutely brilliant touch. His calling card of leaving a rose by his victims is creepily effective and there’s a great moment towards the climax where he offers it, almost romantically, to the final girl before attempting to ram a pitch folk through her! In 2007, a low budget entry by the name of Rose of Death attempted to utilise the same idea, but failed to add the slash with panache necessary to pay tribute to this sterling effort.
It’s Zito’s pacey direction that sustains an awesome amount of suspense during the first half, which works, because even when not much happens, we are kept fully aware that something could at any moment. Other parts of the film equally excel in their technicality with some beautiful photography and a focused score. I especially liked the staircase stalking sequence, which in true popcorn fashion, keeps everything tight by having the intended victim make all the wrong decisions.
Vicky Dawson makes for a classy final girl and she works well in partnership with Christopher Goutman. For relatively inexperienced performers, they carry the picture comfortably and they deliver only one or two weak moments. I thought Dawson was unfortunate not to have built a longer career in cinema, because much like Amy Steel in Friday the 13th 2, she offers a sweet and alluring naivety, but shows brave independence when left alone to face the prowler. Before the final credits rolled, my wife who was watching with me said, “tough girl” – my sentiments exactly. Farley Granger added class to the cast list, but it’s been confirmed that he had a horrible time on set and suffered some uncomfortable sweating during the make-up effects. Laurence Tierney’s on-board too, although I have no idea why, his character is barely used to much effect and was probably a waste of budget.
Tom Savini’s effects once again steal the show and there’s no denying that Killer is amongst the best of his work. We feel at times that what we are watching is almost too realistic and the swimming pool killing even includes an aftermath shot that’s uncomfortable in its authenticity. It happens as the victim’s lifeless body sinks to the tiles below and her legs begin to twitch as her nervous system comes to terms with the fact that the lights are going out for the last time. The best part of the sequence was actually a mistake from Savini, because at the same time as the gallons of blood seep from her wound, some bubbles also appear under the water (from the pipe pumping the goo). Instead of re-shooting, the effects master recommended that Zito utilise the footage as is, because the bubbles look as if they were the last gasps of the dying teenager’s breath.
It’s been noted that the plot structure is similar to the same year’s My Bloody Valentine and the two would work superbly on a double-bill. Strangely enough, what one title lacks the other boasts in abundance and if you were to mix the two together you would have the perfect slasher film. Whilst MBV also has some great kill scenes (equally as gratuitous) and a good-fun factor that adds momentum to the plot, it lacks any decent suspense. Rosemary’s Killer on the other hand is nail-bitingly tense in places, but has some serious problems with its pace.
Now I picked my favourite slasher film when I was about fourteen years old and much like my love for the Arsenal (the closest team to where I lived), I must admit that it was a ‘teenager’s decision’. Adults have the ability to analyse; step back and view the bigger picture before making a choice. Young minds do everything spontaneously and I didn’t notice the faults back then in Rosemary’s Killer that I see now. As I said, it starts superbly and comes across almost like an anxiety marathon. My Mrs and I were watching it together in silence, knowing full well that there would be a shock at any moment (And I have seen this flick a lot of times). Then after about thirty minutes the rapidity dries up and the film can’t maintain the same thrust.
It’s not necessarily the fault of Joseph Zito, but the script wastes too much time building the mystery in locations that are drab and overtly dark. Some parts could have been much shorter or removed completely during post production to make the film slicker. I especially thought that the length of time used when the Deputy was contacting the Sheriff was ridiculous and ultimately ended up being a pointless diversion.
Despite those issues, this is still one of the best entries of the golden period. It does drag a bit in the development of the plot, but the excellent kill scenes and two fantastic leads more than make up for it. Joseph Zito was widely tipped to be a future horror maestro after his work on this and Friday the 13th The Final Chapter (one of the better sequels of the series). When horror began to lose its way towards the second half of the decade, he moved over to action-orientated flicks, which didn’t give him the same chances and his career unfortunately faded.
I would say that Rosemary’s Killer, even under its superb two alias titles, is a perfect example of a solid horror director’s work. It’s also a time-capsule from the best year of the slasher genre thus far. I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember but still not once too many. Enjoy…
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√√√√
Directed by: Ivan Nagy
Starring: Traci Lords, Ted Raimi, Ricki Lake
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Skinner was released three years before Scream and at a time when the slasher genre was most definitely at its lowest ebb. This is not so much an entry in the style of Halloween, Friday the 13th et al and instead plays more like Maniac or Bits and Pieces and gives the killer the majority of the screen time. These type of plot structures owe more in heritage to Blood Feast than they do Blood and Black Lace, but in the blur of the early eighties overkill period, they were pushed together and can now both be classified within the category.
Skinner is cut of somewhat finer cloth than the majority of titles that were hitting the bottom shelves during the early nineties. This is visible in the cast, which is perhaps the most intriguing thing about the feature. Ted Raimi is a cult figure amongst horror fans, because despite the success of his brother Sam, he is quite a selective actor and prefers cameos in low-budget projects. Also along for the ride is Ricki Lake, before she lost a few pounds and became a huge draw for prime time US television. Traci Lords gets top billing and she is an actress with one of the most interesting stories that I can remember. By now everyone’s aware of her porn star roots and the fact that her one false ID card almost brought down the entire Adult industry. It’s the effort that she has put in to reinventing herself, even though she has so many haters in the entertainment sector that has allowed me to develop a respect for her. Obviously a beautiful woman, she plays down her looks here and accepts a role that offers her the chance to rise above her reputation. From what I understand, she has become her own worst enemy by blaming others for her earlier career choices, when it was fraudulent behavior on her part that allowed her to get work in X rated films in the first place. I prefer to look at her talent for dramatics over her previous ‘convictions’ though, and was keen to see how she’d get on in a ‘skin flick’ that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase.
A drifter rents a room from a lonely housewife and begins to build a relationship with her. Little does she know however that he is a twisted sadist who flays hookers that he picks up on the street. Before long, he decides to reveal his darkest secret…
Director Ivan Nagy has done an amazing job of building a desolate world for his plot to boil in on the smallest of funding. Skinner is a bleak, dreary feature, which takes place in a grimy graffiti filled world of depression and there’s no redemption for any of the characters that carry the story. The plot revolves around the madness of Dennis Skinner and his murderous lust for blood, but the other players also lack morals. Traci Lords’ Heidi is a one of his former victims with a morphine addiction and an unhealthy obsession for revenge, whilst Ricki Lake is an insecure housewife that falls to the temptation to commit adultery on her stay away husband. I was impressed how they showed quite cleverly the ways in which people are insensitive to the feelings of others and the script conveys the struggles of everyday life in a poverty-stricken hell hole.
All the actors get a chance to shine and Lords has a couple of very good scenes. Raimi’s best part is the goriest of the feature, which is missing from R rated prints. He describes the roots of his madness to a hooker that he just killed whilst he mutilates her corpse; and it builds up to the money shot of him ripping off her entire face. He is cool, calm and chilling as the deranged serial killer and he pulls it off with believable efficiency. The effects from KNB are uncomfortably realistic and the parts that see Raimi stalking for victims in a suit made of skin are creepy and amusing at the same time. There’s no pressing suspense or tension, but it’s not that kind of film. Instead of aiming for edge of your seat tension, the director was looking for sleazy depravity; and he succeeds in delivering it.
This can’t really be called much of a gore flick, because only one murder allows KNB to unleash some of their talent, but there’s a fairly large body count. Even if the majority of the victims are those of the ‘walk on to get killed’ variety, there are no major gaps or moments where the film feels that it will become tedious. Funnily enough, the musical accompaniment was provided for the most part by Keith Arem, who soon after would build a mega successful career as a director and composer for big budgeted video games, including the Call of Duty series. He does nothing exceptional here, but his subtle under-scoring adds somewhat to the moody atmosphere. Ivan Nagy shows no real flair for creative conveyance, but at the same time, maintains a solid momentum. He boasts almost as interesting a life story as his lead actress, especially because of his notorious relationship with Heidi Fleiss. He was already a convicted bookmaker when the two met and he went on to introduce her to the world of prostitution. Lords’ character here has been named after Fleiss, so maybe there was still something between them when this was developed? I’m sure that his first-hand experiences in those areas helped him to deliver such a grim virtual landscape on screen.
This entry may be a tad off-key for some viewers and it kind of ends with a feeling of nothingness. There’s no questions answered, no bonds built and no mysteries solved. The cast members are nobodies to us, the viewer and with such a long runtime, I would have appreciated some more development. With that said, it remains effective in its gruesomeness and outrageous in its delivery.
Although Skinner is no hidden gem, it does have a few powerful sequences and deserves praise solely for that. I have not seen many horror movies that carry such a dense lake of morbid surroundings and it breaks the ‘happy ending’ mold.
Final Girl: √
The House by the Cemetery 1981
aka Quella Villa Accanto Al Cimetero
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Peroni
There will be spoilers in the later part of this review, so best not to read if you haven’t as of yet seen this –
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Lucio Fulci had been working steadily in Italian cinema since the late fifties and had achieved critical acclaim for efforts like Four of the Apocalypse and The Psychic, but he didn’t find his film-making forte until sometime later. After being briefly blacklisted in his home country for expressing his political views in movies like Don’t torture a Duckling, he returned to grace with the popular Zombie Flesh Eaters and finally discovered his trademark. During the years that followed, he quite proudly carried an association with no holds barred exploitation that resulted in a string of notable horror films. These included the brutal Giallo, New York Ripper and the splatter drenched, The Beyond. If Flesh Eaters was Fulci’s Dawn of the Dead, then House by the Cemetery could quite easily be his Friday the 13th. Many people have made the mistake of confusing this title as another of Fulci’s living dead efforts, but it clearly has a structure like a slasher flick and was even released during the most important year of the category.
There are no flesh eaters munching on blood spurting throats to be found anywhere and instead Fulci makes good use of the traditional stalk and slash ingredients and marries them off with his own flair for graphic visual violence. I find it to be somewhat strange that some critics continue to misleadingly label this as a regular zombie horror picture, when it looks strikingly clear from the first knife through the cranium murder that Fulci’s inspirations for the feature owed more to the other leading horror sub-genre of the period. If you are still not sure, answer me this: what is the difference between House by the Cemetery and Black Christmas? An attic and a basement?Both have mysterious ‘live-in’ killers that store corpses in the abode, and share a knack for keeping themselves extremely well-hidden. So why is only one of those features touted as a stalk and slash flick?
That’s not to say that the zombie classifications are completely unfounded. I mean, what exactly was Dr. Freudstein if not a psychotic re-animated corpse? But one thing that I deliberately haven’t touched on is that it is in fact a whole lot more than either of those aforementioned brandings…
The project re-teamed Fulci with Fabrizio De Angelis as producer and the special effects genius of Gianetto De Rossi, whose work on Flesh Eaters is still very highly regarded. The best returnee here is Sergio Salvati whose unique style of photography helped set the tone for every good Fulci feature. With such a great crew at his disposal and a genuinely creepy location to create some gore drenched set pieces, House by the Cemetery was bound to be memorable…
A young family relocate to a house by a cemetery in New England so that doctor Boyle can continue the studies that a colleague never completed because he committed suicide. Before long it becomes apparent that the house has more than just an architectural character….
Released by VipCo (heavily cut) in the UK in the early nineties, I picked this up back then as a teenager and have watched it countless times. I never really used to think that much of it as most of the gore was missing and the plot seemed to drag terribly. As I have matured and discovered other areas of cinema, I decided to come back and give it another look (in all its uncut glory, of course).
My favourite ‘outside of slasher’ films are those by David Lynch and Luis Buñuel and I began thinking, what if I had just given up on Mullholland Drive deciding that it was incoherent rubbish? Instead, I watched it another time, with an open mind, and finally, all was revealed (well I think it was). House is heavily panned for its lack of logic, but returning this time around, everything made a bit more sense to me. Now I have the opinion that instead of being a misconstrued feature with only a few nice kill scenes, it is actually a very intelligent script with a surreal and Lynchian plot. The killer is not called FREUDstein for nothing you know…
Now come the spoilers – Ok so I was seriously not considering sharing my thoughts, I mean the best thing about ambiguity in cinema is the fact that everyone has their own opinion, but I wanted to see if maybe some of you would agree with me. We know Norman Boyle had definitely been to that town before with a female (according to locals who keep saying he had visited with his daughter, which he venomously denies). People suggest that he and the mysterious (and gorgeous) Ann were having an affair. Well it was them that had been there previously together, but I’m more inclined to believe that they were partners in his research firstly and therefore found that they were attracted to one another along the way. Norman had learned from his friend Dr. Peterson (whom he denied knowing to his wife) that Dr Freudstein had uncovered a way to stay alive. Whether he knew that Freudstein’s methods included freshly splattered corpses is questionable, but he most definitely was aware of that the doctor was up to something in that house.This would also explain why Ann mops up the pools of blood without batting an eyelid (she knew enough about the research not to be shocked by it) and is ignorant to Lucy, Norman’s wife, whom she considers to be a threat to her romance with Doctor Boyle. I think Ann knew what was going on and helped to make Lucy think that she was going mad. But why she decided to head down to the basement and into the madman’s clutches is anyone’s guess? Perhaps she just didn’t believe it to be true
Now even if Norman knew more than he let on about the house, he obviously wasn’t planning on revealing that and adding more strain to his marriage. I believe that he was only really after one thing – Freudstein’s secret. This explains his somewhat lackadaisical rescue attempt when he hears the tape of his predecessor warning him about the monster and why he doesn’t really want to rush off and save his family. A small part of him was most definitely concerned, but he was more consumed by the strength of his yearning – totally obsessed.
As for the final scene, Fulci has admitted that the children entered another dimension and I’m guessing in that he meant death or eternal life in ‘the Beyond’. I would suggest that the child gets killed by Freudstein and the two ‘angels’ guide him in to the spirit world (or hell). It’s quite obvious that Mae is a supernatural being and maybe young Bob is like the kid from The Sixth Sense. Or maybe they were all dead from the start and The House is actually hell – again, the beauty of ambiguity.
I read many reviews that criticise the confusing plot in the film, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it was deliberate from the filmmakers and The House by the Cemetery is not going to take your hand and lead you through the story, instead you need to work it out on your own. Lost Highway has a similar lack of an incoherent structure, which I also enjoyed working out.
Yet another interesting point is that this film was meant first and foremost for the Italian Market, with obvious latter translations so that the rest of the world could see it. But the copy I own hints that Norman is the killer (he is holding a knife above the house). Now we know that this is not cinematically the case, so automatically we think that its typical cack-handed marketing. But consider that for a second. Who is the real monster? Is it the maniac in the basement or the one responsible for leading victims to him for selfish reasons?
Now I’m not saying those reviewers are dumb and I’m the Spanish matador that worked it all out, because there’s one major problem that ruins this for English speaking audiences my friends (I’ve most recently seen the Italian version with Spanish subtitles) – and it is the biggest flaw of the feature – poor translation and gawd awful dubbing. Much like Kenji Fukasaku’s classic Samurai Reincarnation, it was unfortunate enough to be awfully converted for the English speaking world, which pretty much ruined the chance for anyone who doesn’t understand Italian to enjoy it. Take young Bob’s voice-over for example, who succeeded in turning the child into the most vocally infuriating character ever set to celluloid. Due to the poor acting, the movie becomes pretty slow and long-winded in places. It’s a shame, because that was a sin that Fulci himself considered totally unforgivable. His attempts at building an unsettling atmosphere are impressively creepy, but the ghost-like cries and ‘bumps in the night’ are ruined every time one of the poorly dramatised cast-members has a line of dialogue.
If the only reason that you are watching is for the gore, then you will be slightly disappointed. I mean, when Freudstein eventually does come out of his hiding place, the murders are nice and gooey, and Fulci’s flair for setting a Gothic tone runs rampantly throughout the feature. But there aren’t too many killings aside from a great climax and I don’t think that it was Fulci’s mission to simply make yet another exploitation piece. Walter Razzatis music sets the right mood in places and the snappy editing adds to the overall peculiarity. Fulci is not a master of the type of suspense that John Carpenter excelled in. His strengths are setting a slow morbid tone that engulfs his features and keeps you aware that terror will consume the characters at any moment.
The use of a Henry James passage for the film’s finish wasn’t just plucked from a bookshelf either. In fact I could never track down where it came from and would suggest that it’s a quote he created and attributed to the author. Fulci, a great fan of James, who never gave too much away about this feature, did confirm that it was heavily influenced by ‘Turn the screw’. He had to however, because the references are so obvious (especially the children being terrorised by a menace in a house with a bloody history). But there are also some nods to Lovecraft, especially that the film is set in Lovecraft County (New England).
So what we have here is a miss-understood masterpiece that got lost somewhere in poor translations. Or maybe not. Perhaps it is just the illogical rubbish that some have said – but that’s the beauty of a surrealist feature, it can be whatever you want it to be.
As a fan of this type of exploratory cinema, I prefer to think of it as I have described here, but either way the fact that it is open to this much discussion makes it the work of art that it is.
A slasher with a brain – and then some… You can watch it if you just want to see some (very typical, but gooey) stalk and slash murders or even if you want a little more...
Final Girl √