Monthly Archives: November 2014
Dead of Nite 2013
Directed by: S.J. Evans
Starring: Tony Todd, Joseph Millson, Cicely Tennant
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It still surprises me that since Cannibal Holocaust launched the ‘found footage’ gimmick that has been vital to horror hits like The Blair Witch Project and Rec, it hasn’t been used very often in the slasher genre. It’s strange because I can’t imagine another style of horror that would benefit more from that narrative. I remember considering posting a review of The Last Broadcast on a SLASH above, as it incorporates many of the ingredients that are commonplace amongst features on this site. In the end though, I decided that this was wishful thinking on my part as it is not, in fact, a slasher movie.
That argument cannot be levelled at today’s choice of post, Dead of Nite, which is a recent British entry to the cycle. It was released hot on the heels of Evidence – another title that utilised pre-filmed flashbacks as a structure, but chose the standard stalk and slash template as an overcoat. What is it they say about waiting ages for a bus and then two coming along at once?
A team of youngsters that run an online paranormal exploration site decide to visit the notorious Jericho mansion. It has a reputation as the most haunted place in the South East of England due to rumoured sightings of ghosts and a murderous history. They are locked in for the night to complete some research, however the next morning, most of them are found dead. All that remains are the tapes from their cameras…
To say that Nite starts badly would be one hell of an understatement. We open with Police taping off the scene of the massacre and the camerawork judders like it was being filmed by an epileptic. To make matters worse, these weren’t even scenes of found footage that could be excused due to a shaky hand. Many low budget horror films incorporate cameos from previous stars such as Kane Hodder or Robert Englund as a form of genre recognition. Here we get Candyman’s Tony Todd, but I’m not sure if you could consider his appearance to be a plus. He spends ten of his fifteen-minutes worth of screen time whispering inaudibly and then when he does raise his voice, it seems that the effort he took doing so made him totally forget that he was supposed to be ‘acting’. To be fair though, it’s not only Todd that could be accused of poor dramatics. The scenes filmed outside the mansion before the teens are locked in the abode play like a pre-school playground production of West Side Story. Someone call the drama coach, you guys have all got detention.
Anyway, when they finally bolt the doors, the screenplay goes on a self-discovery mission. If a script could suffer a midlife identity crisis, then Dead of Nite’s is in desperate need of counselling. After the obligatory shot of a full moon, the visitors decide to hold a seance. The ouija board spells out the word death and the glass flies off the table and smashes to smithereens against the wall. You could be forgiven for thinking that we have got a supernatural thriller on our hands, but after a sickle is grabbed from the wall by an ominous hand, the paranormal elements are never seen (or heard of) again. That’s not such a bad thing though, because when the slasher stuff starts, the film finally finds some credibility and delivers a few impressive chills.
Whilst Nite can be considered a ‘found footage’ film, these elements, much like the ghostly stuff I mentioned earlier, are kind of bolted on. One minute we will be watching a camcorder shot of the action and then in the next instant, we see everything through a fixed lens. Surprisingly though, this blend works extremely well in some places, like when the director cuts to isolated staircases and rooms to underline the atmosphere of solitude. After the fusebox is destroyed early in the runtime, everything is filmed in night vision and it makes the actor’s eyes illuminate like reflective motorway studs in the darkness, which was creepy. I liked the antagonist’s guise and Robin Scott Fleming delivers a decent score to help maintain the tension. The killer stalks with a traditional Michael Myers-alike strut and even if we only get a handful of murders, they are creatively delivered and fairly menacing.
Whilst there aren’t any true gore scenes and the mystery is easy to figure out, Dead of Nite has enough in its briefcase to at least deliver the odd moment that is worthy of praise. I wasn’t expecting much, but I enjoyed the few jolts and the attempt to make the stalking sequences as scary as possible. If you have seen everything else and keep what I’ve said in mind, you should check it out.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √
Directed by: Dick Mass
Starring: Huub Stapel, Monique van de Ven, Serge-Henri Valcke
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Being that I was born in Huelva, finished my studies in Moscow and have also resided in Budapest, Przymysl, Paris and London, you could say that I’ve seen a bit of the world. If I had to chose one city that I would put at the top of my list of fun places to go, then it’d have to be the capital of The Netherlands. From its rich and tranquil canal based landscapes to its mind blowing cafés, there’s so much to love about Amsterdam. That’s why I was infinitely excited when I learned that Holland had created its own addition to my favourite cinema sub-genre – an aquatic slasher movie. You read it right; Amsterdamned manages to mix the B-movie bliss of a masked psychopath with the cultural trademarks of a top European destination. It’s also an amster-damned good movie
It opens with a cool credit sequence that mixes some brilliant underwater photography with an eerie horror soundtrack that was provided by director Dick Maas. The shot pans along the riverbanks as a yet unidentified predator stalks its prey. It’s almost like Jaws in a canal, as we watch the camera emerge from the murky depths, scan the area and then move on to another location. Next we cut to a prostitute flagging down a taxi later that same night. After an amusing bust up with the randy driver, the hooker is left walking the back streets to find her way home. Before she even has a chance to begin her journey, a dark figure raises out of the canal and repeatedly stabs her with a large blade. The killer, leaving a streaming trail of blood behind him, then drags her corpse into the river and disappears into a mass of bubbles. The following morning, the woman is discovered hanging upside down from a bridge by a boat that’s filled with tourists.
Next up we meet Detective Eric Visser (Huub Stapel), a hard-boiled Dirty Harry-alike who is immediately put on the case of the bizarre killing. After a vital clue is found at the scene of the next slaughter, the Police seem convinced that the maniac is a diver and begin checking out all the local clubs and stores. Whilst following that lead, Eric meets Laura (Monique Van de Ven), a beautiful artist who is keen to help him crack the case. Meanwhile the body count is rising and the town mayor wants this killer caught. Can Visser track down this maniacal madman? Or will the killer find him first…?
I have no hesitation in stating that Amsterdamned is amongst the best slasher movies to be released towards the end of the eighties. Boasting a superb script (“What does she mean a big black monster with huge claws?” “I don’t know but your mother-in-law better have a good alibi!”), some stunning photography, intriguing characters and a talented director, this is truly a great advertisement for Dutch cinema. It’s not really a teen-slasher in the hackneyed Friday the 13th mould. Instead it’s best described as a slasher/murder-mystery/thriller, which makes the most of being a part of each category. It’s easy to see that Amsterdamned was extremely well financed and at times, it even manages to outshine its American brethren from the same period. How many hack and slash flicks have you seen that include a town-wide motorcycle chase AND a colossal boat pursuit in the same feature? Dick Maas did an extremely good job of making his movie stand out from the mediocrity that had engulfed the cycle this late into its rein and it gives ‘Damned a plush backbone.
Whilst it could by no means be considered a gore flick, there are enough gooey corpses floating about (literally) to keep the bloodhounds interested. It’s also competently written, which means that it’s not easy to work out the psychopath’s identity until he is unmasked at the conclusion. There’s a fairly large body count and most of the murders are carried out creatively, whilst trying to pack in as much suspense and intrigue as possible. My favourite would have to be the underwater battle between the killer and an unsuspecting Police diver. The whole scene is filmed aboard a submerged boat and the claustrophobic tension is superbly executed. Unfortunately, Amsterdamned was yet another victim of poor dubbing for international broadcast, which means that the voice-overs sound like a consignment of community drama-project dropouts. It’s impossible for me to rate the true performances of the cast because it’s this dubbed version that I saw, but I’ve heard that they’re pretty poor from the supporting actors anyway in the real print. It’d be nice to find a subtitled copy one day and check that out though
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Amsterdamned turned out to be a big surprise for me and it is wholly recommended to slasher fans across the globe. It’s extremely well financed, boasts some snappy dialogue, superb direction, a cool killer costume and even a cheesy theme tune; how can you argue with that? The boat chase alone is worth the budget purchase price. Recently we were talking about slasher movies that have unique antagonists. A killer Diver? Well I’ll be (Amster)-damned… – (And yes, I did steal the same joke twice))
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl √
Fever Lake 1996
Directed by: Ralph Portillo
Starring: Corey Haim, Mario Lopez, Bo Hopkins
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Imagine being the director behind the worst slasher movie ever made. Now no doubt in terms of technical application and production values, there are far poorer entries to be uncovered, but Bloody Murder from the year 2000 has long been widely regarded as the weakest addition to the stalk and slash cycle. There are a couple of reasons as to why this is the case. Firstly, it received quite a solid distribution deal, which meant that it was seen a lot more than most of the DTV monstrosities that have littered the genre. Secondly – and in effect most importantly – it is without doubt a turgid excuse for a scary movie experience.
Prior to its release though, director Ralph Portillo already had a stab at the stalk and slash grouping with Fever Lake, a virtually forgotten addition that slightly pre-dates Wes Craven’s Scream. Whilst I can admit that I wasn’t overly excited about seeing it again for this review, I carried the hope that I may find something that I missed all those years ago.
Six school friends head off to a remote lake on a fishing trip for a weekend’s break. Upon arrival they learn the legend of an evil spirit that emerges from the depths and causes unrest amongst local wildlife and human inhabitants. After a young girl is butchered by a wolf, the natives believe that the evil has returned…
Due to a flagrantly ripped off opening scene that sees an axe-clenching father stalk his wife and child through a similar looking house, Lake has been branded some places as a teen-slash imitation of The Shining. The methodology of Stanley Kubrick’s masterful picture was to spend a length of time with the characters and develop a successful tone of dread that built up the moments of horror exceptionally. Portillo’s flick also lets its players dominate the majority of the plot, only this time around it results in an overwhelming feeling of frustration and boredom. This is mainly because we have a story that’s as exciting as being kept on hold to customer service, and it’s been populated with personalities that are as intriguing as an empty cereal packet. Around the fifty-minute mark, I asked my Mrs if she knew the name or a noteworthy detail of anyone that had appeared on the screen up to that point. I waited thirty-seconds or so for a response and then realised that she had fallen asleep.
Now I understand and appreciate a director that can build an underlying apprehension that explodes into a crescendo at the conclusion of a feature. I also recognise that this is by no means an easy feat to accomplish. What confused me most about this though was that it looked to have been put together by a crash test dummy. If Halloween acts as an example of a film that’s been produced with a complete understanding of horror as an experience, Fever Lake is its mirror reflection. We are only made aware that there is a threat lurking around the location by the repetition of identical dialogue by a ‘Native American’ that’s played by a white man(?) and adds absolutely *nothing* else to the story. He and other members of the townsfolk (including inept sheriff of the year award winner Bo Hopkins) talk of an evil spirit that lurks in the lake, but there is nothing that demonstrates this visually. Instead we get suspense music at the dumbest of times, like when the teens are discussing what to have for dinner(?). Well over an hour is spent with the cast involved in breakneck moments of tedium that include: going fishing, chatting about uninteresting crap and running out of petrol. Every now and then we cut back to the aforementioned American Indian who reiterates those lines he said five-minutes ago and it all merges into a steaming pile of nada.
When the killer finally turns up 72 minutes later, the momentum tightens slightly before one embarrassing twist leads to an incomprehensible one and it all fades to black. I have reviewed many slasher films that have been over-padded by 15 minutes and should have been trimmed down to give their runtime a smoother flow. A whopping forty-five could be removed from Lake though and it would still make an incredibly boring short. There’s no slasher action for the first hour and everything else that happens is delivered so leisurely and with such ineptitude that it’s a real challenge to keep your eyes locked on the screen. One false scare was so bad that I felt shame for the filmmakers, but my sympathy was turned to anger when I saw that they’d tried to do the exact same thing again at the conclusion.
I have no idea what Portillo was thinking when he made this film and I don’t know why he even bothered. It’s easier to give credit to someone who has tried and failed than it is when you can’t see any logic in an attempt or its delivery. Fever Lake is absolute rubbish and is perhaps even worse than the more notorious film that it led to. Of course I will re-watch Bloody Murder and explore this in finer detail, but don’t expect the results of my analysis anytime soon. I need a break from Ralph Portillo. A considerable one to be honest.
Air Terjun Pengantin 2009
aka Lost Paradise – Playmates in Hell
Directed by: Rizal Mantovani
Starring: Tamara Blezinski, Marcel Chandrawinata, Tyas Mirasih
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Throughout the history of Indonesian cinema, it has mostly been dominated by imports from larger countries. When Dutch-born filmmaker L. Heuveldorp attempted to launch a domestic market in 1926 with his silent fantasy piece Loetoeng Kasaroeng, he soon realised that his attempts were futile against the popularity of larger budgeted and technically competent features from the U.S. and Hong Kong. Later in the century during the Japanese occupation, films became more of a propaganda tool and the moderate success of self-developed titles such as 1938’s Fatima was brushed under the carpet once again.
It wasn’t until the year 2000, under the Reformasi movement of the post-Suharto era that a freedom was found once again in independent filmmaking. More titles were released that covered previously censored themes of love, politics, happiness and religion. This allowed budding directors to finally approach a genre that had been highly in-demand amongst native audiences: horror. Whilst obviously not on a par in terms of special effects, the creepy and haunting Jelankung from 2001 showed a huge amount of potential. It took a further eight-years, but in 2009, Indonesia’s first attempt at a slasher movie was released called Air Terjun Pengantin, or Waterfall of the Bride.
A group of youngsters take two boats and head to a secluded island of tranquil beauty for a romantic break. On route they discuss a myth about a deranged witch doctor that lived there and was rejected by his stunning bride. Before long, it becomes apparent that a masked killer inhabits the Isle and a fight for survival ensues…
When watching Pengantin, I was reminded of a skit from the 1988 tongue in cheek slasher, Return to Horror High. It’s the part where the eccentric producer mentions that he doesn’t care about plot or depth as long as there’s enough boobs and blood to go round. Whilst there is no ‘true’ nudity exposed herein, the first twenty minutes play like an exercise in the best camera angles to reveal the female anatomy through a bikini. Now there’s not a lot wrong with that, considering the fact that the chicas were undeniably hot, but when an attempt at exploitation becomes instantly recognisable, it is in danger of falling into the realms of campiness.
Keeping that in mind and the fact that I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Rizal Mantovani’s picture, I initially felt that it may be little more than a slice of prime fondue. In the opening scene for example, our obvious final girl is shown waking up in the morning sporting exquisite lingerie with perfectly coiffed hair and make-up. Despite attempting multiple times, I have never managed to avoid looking like an alcoholic scarecrow when my alarm goes off in the AM, so I found that extremely impressive. Moments after, when we are introduced to her gang of friends, they convey a collective cheesiness that would shame the cast of Embalmed. Upon the killer’s arrival sometime later though, the tone changes dramatically and the film becomes violent, gory and slightly mean-spirited. The murders are most definitely inspired by the torture porn trend and the first one caught me totally off guard. A teenage girl is nailed to a chair and has her finger dismembered before receiving a machete through the top of her cranium. Following that, another victim is slashed across the shoulder and left to bleed to death in agonising pain.
Even though both brutality and cheese are found regularly throughout the slasher genre, the strength of one mood brought out the weakness of the other in this juxtaposition. Pengantin has some memorable characters that are placed into intimidating situations, but I was never rooting for one of them to survive. I found myself more interested that actress Tamara Bleszynski was half Polish and born in London than I did anything that she gave to the final girl role and the rest of the cast offered nothing worth remembering. I’m not sure if this was mainly down to a poor translation of the script or because the plot was so threadbare that it failed to give us a reason to be interested. The lack of any real focus on the backstory though made it come across more like a collection of sequences that had been strung together randomly. Funnily enough, I Know What You Did Last Summer was immensely popular upon its release in Indonesia and I could see that it was a source of inspiration behind the planning and delivery of this feature. It’s just a shame that screenwriter Alim Sudho didn’t follow Summer’s strongest suit, which was its smart and engaging mystery.
On the plus side, the location is outstanding in its beauty and Mantovani captures the colours of the picturesque landscape exceptionally. There’s also a great soundtrack that gives the production a truly polished feel and gore fans will enjoy some of the outlandish killings. It’s just that the film’s methodology was best demonstrated by its portrayal of its female cast members: glossy and attractive, but ultimately hollow. Last year, a sequel of kind to this was released, titled, Air Terjun Pengantin Phuket. I haven’t plucked up the courage to sit through that one yet 😉
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl √√