Monthly Archives: July 2014
Mask of Murder 1985
Directed by: Arne Mattsson
Starring: Rod Taylor, Valerie Perrine, Christopher Lee
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Following hot on the heels of my reviews of Out of the Dark and Dead End, Mask of Murder is another of those mystery thrillers that borrows plot points from the slasher movies and giallos that had been popular around the time. It was a joint Swedish/Canadian production that was shot in Uppsala län, and it was that unusual blend of cultural heritage that initially caught my attention.
Christopher Lee’s credits over the last twenty years have included three mega-blockbusters, which isn’t bad going for an actor that made his first movie appearance way back in the midst of World War 2. He was initially John Carpenter’s choice to play the Sam Loomis character in Halloween, but he didn’t accept; something he admits he’s always regretted. He even went as far as to call it the biggest blunder of his career.
Obviously annoyed that he’d missed out on some supreme slasher action, perhaps the reason he took a supporting role here was because he didn’t want to make the same mistake twice? Or maybe he was blackmailed into doing it? I really don’t know, but one thing is certain however, he was definitely slumming it.
It’s all set in a small snowy Canadian town. Almost immediately, a loony in a mask grabs an unsuspecting woman and slices her throat with a straight razor. Later that day in another location, a second victim suffers the same fate at the hands of the gruesome killer. He removes his disguise and heads back to a remote cabin where he proves his dementia by gnashing his teeth and staring into the screen. Ooooh scary…
We next get to meet the members of our cast over an evening’s gathering. First off there’s John (Christopher Lee) the chief of the local Police Force. His best detective, Bob (Rod Taylor) has been having problems with his wife Marianne (Valerie Perrine). These difficulties must have a lot to do with the fact that his partner Ray (Sam Cook) is busy banging her every time that he gets the chance. The dinner party is cut short when Bob receives a call informing him that they have the assassin surrounded. They rush to the scene and to cut an overlong story short; the city of Nelson should be a little quieter from now on. But the tranquillity doesn’t last. It begins to look like there’s a copycat murderer at work when more women turn up with their throats slit. Is someone mimicking the murders? Or is the killer back from beyond the grave?
Why Christopher Lee turned down Halloween but chose to play a part in this turkey is one of the world’s biggest mysteries. It’s up there with the Bermuda Triangle, Roswell and Big Foot. I mean seriously come on; surely the screenwriter must have known that the killer’s identity was patently obvious from the start. This is perhaps the dumbest and most basic premise for a murder mystery that I have ever seen. The Scooby Doo cartoon offers less obvious plot twists. Swedish filmmaker Arne Mattsson directs so sloppily that he manages to drag surprisingly wooden performances from an inviting ensemble of screen veterans. Lee’s the best of the bunch, but he’s not on screen long enough to warrant his fans to hunt this down. The pace moves like a traffic jam, and perhaps the most obnoxious thing about Mask of Murder is the horrible music that accompanies every ‘twist’ in the story. It sounds like one of those guitar-sporting beggars that you sometimes see on the street had been recorded whilst heavily inebriated.
Surprisingly though, there are some things that I liked about the film’s set up. For example, the killer has a pillow case over his head and if you squint your eyes it almost looks like the kind of burlap sack that Jason wore in Friday the 13th Part II. Also, the throat slashings are fairly bloody and in one scene a girl is murdered in a cinema – a trick that has become a slasher trademark after He Knows You’re Alone, Cut and Scream 2. The only problem is that the gore scenes are so leisurely executed that the gratuitous blood gushes just look like a poor attempt to flog a dead horse. There was never really a moment where I felt like things might improve or that I was perhaps being a tad over-critical. My suspicions were confirmed once and for all when I witnessed Rod Taylor sniffing his adulterous wife’s underwear. (Don’t ask!)
Mask of Murder was once amongst the rarest fossils of the genre, despite being released in quite a few countries. Nowadays though, its available on a Swedish DVD, although I must admit that I haven’t seen what the quality is like or what version it is on that disc.The first copy that I ever found was the BBFC rated print, which is missing 124 seconds of footage, but then I came across a VHS in Spain that’s totally uncut. It doesn’t really make much of a difference though because the film is as exciting as root canal surgery and almost as painful…
Killer Guise: √√√
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Starring: Janet Julian, David Wallace, Janit
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I must admit that Humongous was always a slasher movie that I had a certain fondness for. Not because I remembered much about its production quality (I’d only seen it the once, many years ago), but it always struck me as one that had been completely overlooked, perhaps unfairly. Personally, I love an underdog and that’s why I was keen to see if I could salvage some positives from giving it another blast on my Plasma.
Director Paul Lynch had come hot off making a major success out of a relatively average movie in Prom Night and therefore the odds were looking good for a similar return with this, his second effort. In the end though, his follow up turned out to be not very humongous at all and a bit of a cocktail sausage in the popularity stakes. Despite solid distribution from a major label, it failed to achieve the standing of titles like Madman or Hell Night, which are fairly similar in their concepts.
After a disturbing rape sequence in the pre-credits, we meet five youngsters who are planning to go sailing on a huge lake. When their boat explodes after an unfortunate accident, they find sanctuary on a remote island. Little do they know that the land is inhabited by a woman and her deformed son who are not the most welcoming hosts…
A lot of critics (myself included in an earlier review) have written about the film’s poor illumination, so to save you from reading the same thing, I have decided not to go over it again. It could be argued though that Lynch deliberately attempted to keep his antagonist off screen for the most part and reveal him gradually as the film rolled on. It’s a ploy that is used regularly in horror features and it reminds me of the anticipation of having a surprise present in a wrapped box and guessing what’s inside as you shake it. You only have to check titles like Halloween, The Predator, The House by the Cemetery or even Night of the Demon to see that it works. In the case of Humongous though, photos recently discovered by JA Kerswell over at Hysteria Lives show that not only was the director aiming to deliver suspense, but his bogeyman’s make-up was definitely the kind that you wouldn’t want to have the best lighting rig in town for.
Paul Lynch has spoken quite openly about the film’s low budget, but the locations and earlier effects (the uncut dog mauling scene especially) demonstrate funding that looked superior to other titles released around the same time. Perhaps the monetary reservoir drained far quicker than expected, so they had to cut costs for the remainder of the shoot? I often wondered why the first on screen murder was so gruesome and the rest looked brief and diluted. I presumed that much like Happy Birthday to Me, the studio had shortened the death scenes to escape punishment from scissor happy censors. If that was the case, does any of that footage still exist? It’d be nice to know. Further proof of this possibility can be found in the double murder that cuts so rapidly that it’s tough to make out what’s happening. The majority of the runtime is comfortably edited, which makes it look even more unusual and likely that some gore was removed prior to release.
I was never the biggest fan of Lynch’s Prom Night as I felt it took the Halloween pilfering to the gatepost and then crashed straight through it. There are signs of the same level of imitation here, especially in the shot for shot duplication of the stalking sequence from Carpenter’s classic, where Michael Myers emerges from the shadows to push Laurie Strode down some stairs. This came straight after a scene where Sandy, our final girl, momentarily confuses the bogeyman by dressing in his mother’s clothes. This had been quite blatantly lifted from Friday the 13th Part II, which was released a year earlier. Whilst the reuse of ideas is extremely common in the slasher genre, Humongous overcomes accusations of being a freeloader by bringing a few of it’s own drinks to the party.
Some of the characters featured are intriguingly developed and filled with insecurities. The hero’s brother, Nick, is obviously envious of his elder sibling. So much so in fact that he fires a loaded rifle past his head for no apparent reason. Then Donna, a cheeky redhead, adds some depth to her ‘slut’ persona by conveying subtly that she uses her breasts and body to sell herself due to a lack of confidence and to get people to like her. There’s also an ambiguous hint that perhaps the youngsters had stumbled upon the island out of destiny and that our heroine was there to follow in the footsteps of the deranged mother. The final freeze frame shows us how the events that Sandy has overcome have affected her psychologically. This begs the question, did she stay behind to live in the house and therefore takeover from the deceased landowner? I also liked how the killer, who it is suggested had grown up with only dogs as companions, growled and grunted like he was in fact a mongrel himself.
Whilst the previous issues with Humongous still remain and the acting is up and down-ish, I really enjoyed watching the movie this time around. It’s obvious that Lynch had grown as a director and parts like the eyeball jump scare and Donna filling her bra with blueberries rate high up there with the other great slasher postcards. I think that the best achievement of all was the successful delivery of an ominous tone that wraps around the runtime like a comfort blanket and kept me guessing what will come next. Moments like this have been too easily overlooked due to criticisms of the lighting, which is a huge shame.
I have a lot more respect for this picture now and would say that it’s the best example of Lynch’s slasher work. It may never achieve the status of a cult classic, but there’s enough here to have made me glad that I saw it again
Final Girl: √√
Camp 139 2013
Directed by: Matthew Joseph Adams, Benjamin James
Starring: Ricardo Andres, Greg Bronson, Michael Cooley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Last week, when I posted my write-up of Blood Shed, I was chatting about other entries that included a crazed soldier as an antagonist and how the ‘born to kill’ synopsis made a perfect motive for a film such as this. Well Camp 139 has a plot outline so similar to Shed that I had to check that they weren’t from the same crew. Released on DVD earlier this year, not many have given this the time of day, which makes your old uncle Luis proud to be the first to put pen to paper on a Slash above. Interestingly enough, there’s a short that I have seen called Camp 139 that was released back in 2010 by director Ryan Polukord. I haven’t uncovered a link between the two productions, which is strange, because they have similar woodland backdrops and the same unique title…
Four youngsters head off to a place in the forest where it’s rumoured that there lies an abandoned military hospital. Legend states that many years after the Second World War, the site became a hub of experiments to create soldiers that were brainwashed to become remorseless killing machines. After a while, we learn that a maniacal force is hiding amongst the woodland…
Like many hard working Joes across the world, I use public transport, the train in fact, to arrive at my place of work. (Rarely on time) Readers in countries like Germany and Canada can be comforted by the fact that they may never have to experience the catastrophe that is the National Rail Service in the United Kingdom. A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at the station to see that not just one, but two of my scheduled journeys had been cancelled due to an ‘undiagnosed fault’. When a carriage finally did pull up to my platform an hour and a half later, it was packed like a cattle truck so they would let no other desperate passengers clamber aboard. My boss was livid. Camp 139 is a similar experience to that event, because we wait 38 minutes for the killer to arrive, and when he finally does, he drags his victim off the screen in two-seconds flat. It felt like one of those crappy Secret Santa presents where a devious colleague has wrapped a health-food bar in an iPad box. I’m still not sure if I have fully recovered.
Up until that point, things had been grim, inescapably so. A mechanic couldn’t give you heart surgery, a bricklayer wouldn’t build you a cloud software platform and a person without a clue won’t deliver an exciting scary movie experience. I felt a bit sorry for the actors, because they weren’t doing such a bad job. I closed my eyes to listen to their conversations and they sounded almost how you would imagine a gang of friends to talk. It’s just that the dialogue is so bad and so tediously shot that it takes the will power of an ancient monk to keep focus. They didn’t even bother including a score of some kind to add energy to the sequences. It’s hard on occasion, when watching a bad movie, to put a finger on the true roots of the problem. With directors Matthew Joseph Adams and Benjamin James, there’s no mistake in uncovering the guilty party.
The final third takes place in an abandoned factory of sorts and rips off Blood Junkie so much that for a moment I forgot what film I was watching. I often wonder how psycho killers that reside in such a dilapidated place manage to survive when dumb teens don’t wander through on a camping trip. I mean, what do they eat? Do pizza guys accept payment from a fellow in camouflage and a Gas Mask? Do such people receive homeless benefits? Anyway, whereas Junkie was a fine example of craft and finesse on shoestring funding, Camp offers absolutely nothing. No chills, no thrills, no skills and no hundred-dollar bills baby. You can blame the minuscule budget all you want but that’s not an excuse for flat boring camera angles, cringeworthy conversations and a killer in a mask that doesn’t even fit him. I mean come on!!! Even the sight of Victoria Paege in a bikini couldn’t save it.
I knew that I was in for a bad time when the pre-credits scene burst on to the screen like a headless bull. Just who were those people and what the hell was going on? Before I even had a chance to analyse the visuals, my ears were pounded by some death metal and everything faded to black. It came to a close with a twist that you’ll have guessed and a hilarious explanatory scene, which had my partner and I grimacing. Following that, our room was like something from a Sergio Leone Western. All that was missing was a gust of wind and some tumbleweed. We looked at each other in silence and a state of shock. Perhaps it was only a bad dream? If only.
Quarantine this Camp on the double is my recommendation, I’m off to catch my train… (Crosses fingers)
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √
Blood Shed 2014
aka American Weapon
Directed by: Cliff Vasco
Starring: Amin Joseph, Maria-Elena Laas, Benjamin Mouton
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Recently in my review of Rose of Death, I mentioned that leaving a rose beside a murdered corpse had been done before and much better in one of my all-time favourites, Rosemary’s Killer. Well it’s nice to see that the film that I have so much respect for is still having an influence on the genre it assisted in defining, because Cliff Vasco’s recent stalk and slasher has also ‘utilised’ a similar idea to that classic synopsis. Blood Shed is the latest film to include a psycho killer that’s not been able to escape his military background, but its plot takes things to a more intriguing level than we’ve seen in previous entries…
Six teenagers take a break in some secluded woodland for a few days to get away from it all. Little do they know however that hiding in the woodland is a deranged psychopathic killer…
Whilst I was logging on to Vimeo to watch this pre screener, I took a browse around online to see if I could find any news or information about the picture. On the IMDB, I saw that it already has a laughable 2.7 rating with a couple of not so generous comments posted below. There were also a few external reviews that equally criticised Cliff Vasco’s debut feature. Often slashers get a hard time from snooty authors even if they do deserve praise and I couldn’t help but wonder if this may have been the reason behind the initial negativity?
Well yes and no is the answer, because whilst Shed is not going to redefine the way that we look at slashers, it deserves more respect than it’s currently being given. It all kicks off at what I guess is a marine training camp. We see two actors giving fairly credible impressions of Private Pyle and Gny. Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket (If you haven’t seen that and don’t know what I am referring to, I’ve just given you the perfect excuse to see a fantastic movie). To add a dose of realism, the scene incorporates real footage of soldiers being drilled at a military base and it’s very easy to see that it is (ancient Vietnam) stuff that is of totally different quality, which is kind of cheesy and amusing. I liked the idea of an antagonist that had been warped by the pressure of an over zealous/bullying drill sergeant and was excited about what would come next.
We then get to meet our group of young adults (aka cannon fodder) who are off camping for a weekend in the woods. The first thing that I noticed about them was that their dinnertime conversation was unlike the norm. Screenwriter Vasco is most certainly a fan of conspiracy theories and his characters discuss subjects such as the CIA’s power and that war is the organising principle for any society. It was enough to make Oliver Stone want to send a Facebook request and continued the tone for our lone assassin on the grassy knoll, sorry, in the surrounding forest. We are made aware of his presence by constant POVs that show him preparing to strike and we don’t wait long until he does.
The kill scenes in Shed may not be gory, but they are incredibly gruesome and they are spaced well enough to so that we are never left waiting around for action. There are a couple of effective jump scares that keep your heart racing and Vasco does well to make the chase sequences fast flowing and tense. We work out pretty quickly who is set to be our final girl and she gets twenty-odd minutes alone to confront the killer. Unfortunately, it’s the way that our nut job is conveyed that reveals the biggest of the feature’s problems. When he is first introduced, he looks incredibly creepy in army fatigues and a Nixon (?) mask. The headpiece is lost almost immediately though and then we are left with little more than an average middle-aged guy in camouflage that just wasn’t imposing enough to deliver scares. I recently saw The Demon from 1979, and the bogeyman there was clearly visible on-screen on only the odd occasion. This wasn’t important though, because his size and demeanor made him incredibly intimidating. Blood Shed has a big hole in the middle of its story, which is about the size of a threatening assailant.
As I alluded to earlier, the murders are consistent, which left me wondering as to why the film failed to maintain my attention. It’s hard to put a finger on the exact reasoning, because on reflection a lot of things are done with more input than usual. For example, each of the screen personalities gets time to build a relationship with the viewer and they have strongly defined, albeit stereotypical, characteristics. In fairness though, like many recent genre entries, Shed fails to make them ‘likeable’ in any way and therefore it’s hard to care if they survive. Even the final girl lacked charm and charisma. It’s unfair perhaps to criticise the sound mixing of a pre-screener (these issues are usually ironed out before going to print), but I must admit that I nearly blew my speakers every time that the music came on because I had the volume at 95% to hear the dialogue.
Blood Shed is an interesting addition to the genre, because it is a generic slasher film in so many ways, but in others it snaps branches of the template. The final scene for example is overplayed and poorly delivered, but I have never seen anything quite like it in twenty-plus- years of watching slashers. I won’t reveal what happens, so as not ruin it for you, but it was extremely unique in a peculiar way. In fact, the whole film is a mish mash of ideas that work only sporadically, but those sporadic moments are worth checking out. Having a confused military angle and trying to deliver a political message of some kind was unusual and perhaps slightly misplaced, but interesting all the same.
Whilst Shed is ultimately flawed, I must admit that a 2.7 rating is incredibly harsh…
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √