Monthly Archives: July 2015
Cheerleader Camp: To The Death 2014
Directed by: Dustin Ferguson
Starring: Jarad Allen, Jennifer Banko, Karrie Bauman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So, a killer stalking cheerleaders that are training in some remote woodland in a film called Cheerleader Camp. Have we seen that before? I don’t know anymore… I’m going back to sleep.
Yes so here we have another extremely rare one from director Dustin Ferguson, the guy who also gave us Doll Killer, which I’ll review for you soon. In many ways, Ferguson reminds me of Gary Whitson, because his films are generally lowest of the low in terms of budget, but tick the boxes in terms of genre recognition and fun. Whitson has done a fair bit in his career, but nothing outshines the accomplishment of discovering the beautiful Tina Krause. Could Ferguson go on to achieve something similar?
A year ago, five cheerleaders were horribly mutilated and burned to death by an unknown someone replacing the water source to a sprinkler hose with sulphuric acid. Now, a group of girls return to the same site to prepare for the regional dance off for the first time since that fateful accident. Amongst them is Tanya, a youngster who was replaced on the last event due to her being ill. Living with the guilt that she escaped certain demise, she becomes a mother figure to the more sensitive members of the troupe and stands up to the lead bully. Almost as soon as they arrive though, their coach wanders off into the night and is seemingly slaughtered by a masked killer. Stranded with no contact with the outside world, the girls have to overcome their differences and do battle with the psychopathic assailant.
Cheerleader Camp kicks off with the aforementioned acid/sprinkler sequence, which despite not being delivered as well as it could have, still provides a gruesome shock. There’s perhaps nothing more frightening than the thought of having a molten liquid thrown in to your face and Ferguson tops it off with some tacky gore to boot. After an impressive credit sequence (the film has an awesome soundtrack), we meet the teenagers that will narrate us through the synopsis. It’s here that Camp somewhat loses some credibility, which is mainly because of two things. Firstly, the acting is extremely erratic and seems to descend into the depths of absurdity every time something happens that requires emotion. Secondly – and perhaps most importantly – the audio and clarity of the picture jumps from bad to abysmal at the drop of a hat.
There was a scene early on that saw Tanya explain her nervous behaviour on the trip. The dialogue was so difficult to hear and comprehend that I turned the volume on my TV up to 45. This was absolutely fine until the music kicked in and deafened everyone within a 200-yard radius. It’s strange because at times, Camp looks to have been comfortably produced, but then every now and then we are given lengthy set-ups that look to have been filmed on an old-skool Nokia. I guess in a way that my opinion of the film’s visual and audible quality could be re-used to describe the entire movie. We get a couple of genuinely out-there nightmare sequences and some creative camera placements that show panache from the director. These few moments of credibility though are often diluted by something unnecessarily inept that appears just moments after.
Overall, it’s fair to say that Camp achieves the feat of paying tribute to some of the genre’s lesser-known titles superbly. I’m sure that I’m not the only one that’s tired of the amount of new-age entries that are so desperate to prove that they’ve seen more than one eighties-slasher that they broadcast each tribute in neon lights. It reminds me of those short fifty-year olds that buy a Ferrari to compensate for their insecurities (party sausage??). Well in Cheerleader Camp, the homages are more under-played and the Jeep (similar to the one from the first Friday the 13th), a plunger murder (Bikini Island) and the killer’s guise (Girl’s Nite Out) are much more refined. In fact the only obvious acknowledgement was a verbal nod to Cropsy from The Burning. Oh and talking of the killer’s guise, here we have one of the best. A maniac in a Panda suit… Brilliant! I was somewhat surprised that there was no featured nudity, but Karrie Bauman, who played Sophia, certainly provided some eye-candy.
Recently, I was in my town centre in desperate need of some Wagamama action. My heart sunk when I noticed that my local chain was closed for refurbishment. Highly disgruntled, I headed off to buy a pack of Japanese noodles from Tesco, which was only a cheap compensation. Cheerleader Camp is very similar, because it’s an extreme budget example of the parts of these films that we adore. Sure, it’s certainly not going to win any awards, but it does offer some pretty fun scenarios. El cheapo fun for sure, but fun all the same…
The Initiation 1984
Directed by: Larry Stewart
Starring: Daphne Zuniga, Clu Gulager, Vera Miles
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Although it’s fantastic for avid collectors like myself that the slasher genre was so heavily populated during its two lengthy runs, it perhaps made it harder for some titles to achieve the recognition that they deserved. Whilst it’s generally acknowledged that Friday the 13th and the Halloween series were the most memorable genre outings from the overkill period of the eighties, many of their cousins from that time were deserving of further recognition.
The likes of My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, Prom Night, Maniac, The Prowler and Intruder are often mentioned as the ‘second-tier’ of the category and have achieved cult status and a legacy in their own right. Unfortunately that means movies such as Hell Night, Just Before Dawn and Madman have been somewhat unfairly overlooked.
If judged solely on its merits as a motion picture, then The Initiation doesn’t even sit amongst the latter titles that I mentioned above. It does however boast an undeniably alluring sheen, which is impossible to ignore. Sure, it’s cheesy as hell; but it nicely paced, slickly produced, atmospheric and has its share of decent moments. It’s not a view that is shared by everybody, but personally I like the movie and think it’s somewhat under-valued.
Kelly Fairchild is a pledge at her local college and as the new term draws near, she learns that she has to participate in the annual prank-filled Initiation in order to earn the respect of her senior sorority sisters. This year, the youngster and three of her friends have been tasked with stealing the uniform of the security guard that patrols the local mall after hours. Fortunately for the youngsters, the shopping centre is owned by Kelly’s father, Dwight, who is somewhat of a local entrepreneur. Unbeknownst to the group, they have picked a time when a recently escaped lunatic is also hiding in the dimly lighted complex and before long the girls are being stalked and systematically slaughtered by an unseen assassin.
There are two key reasons as to why Halloween is widely regarded as the best and the most respectable of all the early eighties genre entries. Firstly, John Carpenter is an extremely talented director and he developed a motion picture that displays a pure undertanding of horror as a genre and tone. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, his movie was made purely with the inspiration to do something different. This contrasts completely with what I believe to be the motivation behind titles like The Initiation, which was simply to cash in on the stalk and slash craze that had swept the early part of the decade. Things move swiftly in cinema and the fact that a quick profit was all that most producers were looking for from the genre meant that film-makers were never given enough time to indulge in their cinematic visions.
There’s no hiding the fact that money was the key factor behind the production of TV director Larry Stewart’s one and only flick. In fairness though, he looks to have been given the space and freedom to develop the project as he had initially intended, which means that we the audience benefit from an entry that never feels pressured.
Cinematically, The Initiation is a film of two halves and starts rather flatly with nothing to note from Stewart’s direction. It’s only when the victims are locked in the mall with the maniac killer that he gets the chance to flex his creative muscle and deliver some taut suspense and engaging set pieces. He has a ball with the spacious locations and pulls off some cat and mouse suspense during the second half of the runtime, which turns the feature into an explosive cocktail of slasher clichés and pacey scenarios.
The cast remain cheesy throughout, but do enough to allow the audience to warm to them. All eyes are on Daphne Zuniga in her first real film role (if you ignore her brief cameo as ‘the girl that gets gruesomely squished by a car’ in The Dorm that Dripped Blood), but she does precious little to separate herself from the rest of the junior hopefuls. It’s the impressive script that really steals the limelight here and very few can honestly admit that they expected the Scooby-Doo twist conclusion.
Yes, it could be argued that this is a remake (rip off?) of another successful early eighties slasher, which I can’t mention without ruining the crux of the plot. That’s hardly a bad thing however and The Initiation has just about enough in its locker to succeed on its own merit. Blood hounds may be disappointed with the lack of any extreme gore, but those looking for a fun slice of slasher hokum will certainly find enough to get their teeth into.
All in all, I liked the Initiation. It is a reminder of all that was good about early-eighties splatter flicks and unlike many of its genre cousins, it also packs a double fisted punch to your ocular senses. The acting is hilariously campy, but the good points, such as the impressively strong pacing, just about outweigh the bad.
Final Girl √√√
aka La Casa Del Terror
Directed by: John Wintergate
Starring: John Wintergate, Kalassu Kay, Lindsay Freeman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Move over Nail Gun Massacre, make way Last Slumber Party and step aside Night Ripper… There’s a new kid in town… Boarding House is the new contender for king of the trash-video crown. This is a movie so criminally rubbish that you’ll believe that you’ve died and been deported to bad movie hell. I Learnt of its existence from The Terror Trap and then looked it up on the IMDB, where I read various write-ups that described the inadvertent humour and jaw dropping cheesy horror. I immediately set about buying a copy and two weeks later, here’s what I found…
It begins with a prologue showing us murders that have plagued ‘The Hoffman House’. A guy is pushed into a swimming pool, which bizarrely kills him. Another stranger is seen pulling out his intestines and an unseen someone with a black glove forces a woman (that really doesn’t seem too concerned) to hang herself. These are all intercut with a computer screen that shows us in text that every person that has ever so much as entered this abode has ended up either hung, drawn, quartered or has suffered some other gruesome fate. So can you guess who will be the next occupants to move in to the mansion and meet their doom? Why of course you can – it’s a randy telekinetic guy and a troupe of beaming ‘hotties’ with a tonne of mascara but not a trace of common sense between them.This was the first horror movie to be shot on video, which is a big up yours to Christopher Lewis who made the belated claim that Blood Cult, his semi-slasher effort from three years after, was the first entry of that kind. Funnily enough, this one actually had a theatre run, but I have no idea about its box office successes. I can only guess that it was hardly a massive hit.
Surprisingly, to all intents and purposes, Boarding House is not your typical hack and slasher. Director John Wintergate has chucked in a neat dose of outer-body mayhem, which means that the killer can eliminate the useless thespians without being anywhere near them at the time. This gives us the chance to see the drama school dropouts attempting to look as if they’ve suddenly been possessed by a mysterious hellish agony, without knowing where the hell it’s come from. Cue plenty of unconvincing facial expressions and stilted cries as the cast choke and pull off their faces whilst trying to act like they’re completely unaware why they’re doing it. In one particular scene, our heroine screams consistently for about two minutes while she suffers (yet) another of her ‘terrifying’ nightmares, which I think reached double figures before the final credits rolled. I am not sure what was more effected, my eardrums or her throat after that yelling marathon.
The ‘star’ of the movie, Hank Adly (a guy who looks like Rod Stewart might after 12 grams of coke), provided bucket loads of inadvertent humour. I loved the bit where he made a bar of soap fly around his bathtub to show off his telekinetic abilities and impress the on looking bunnies. There’s certainly plenty of nonsensical activity to bring a smile to the lips to those who cherish those classic bad movie moments. The final scene is particularly hilarious, as the killer and two survivors stand off for a telekinetic battle. Staged like a showdown from a Sergio Leone movie, the three gather in a circle and simultaneously gurn as they each try to inflict psychic pain on one another. It’s hard to give you a description that would do justice to the extent of the silliness, but trust me – it’s worth its weight in comedy gold. All of the female cast members manage to whip off their underwear at one point or another and there’s just enough exploitation to satisfy eighties trash fans.
Interestingly enough, Boarding House was something of a first, because it included a warning for viewers of a weaker disposition that would let us know when something horrific was about to happen. Suddenly, the screen comes alive in a maze of colours and that’s when we the audience know that someone is going to get dismembered. I must admit that this was a novel idea if we were about to sit down and watch a Lucio Fulci marathon. I’m not exaggerating my claim however when I state that my four-year-old daughter can create more realistic body parts with her Play Doh kit. This is especially evident in the ‘intestine ripping’ scene, which is clearly an actor pulling corn-syrup coated sausages from the gap in his shirt. Maybe they could have featured a warning before every bad movie moment? In fact they could have just placed an ‘amateur morons at work’ notice before the first credit sequence? Imagine the savings on budget!
Boarding House IS as mind numbingly atrocious as you had probably expected it to be. Even the back cover blurb has NO relevance whatsoever to the movie and I can’t forget to mention the wonderful tagline that promises intrigue, suspicion and a sinister environment (yeah right!). Oh and before I go, I’ll leave you with a quote from the female lead singer of ’33 and a third’ – The heavy metal band that ‘entertain’ the party at the film’s climax. “You say you want a rock romance, you’ve been begging just to get in my pants!” And with that I shall leave you to explore for yourselves…
Final Girl √
Directed by: Tom McGatlin
Starring: Tim Beamish, Johnny Derango, Casey Ellison
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Making an authentic take-on the slasher template is an extremely tough task, because the genre is densely populated and the guidelines don’t flex too much without stepping outside of the accepted trappings. The little-seen Headhunter pulls off the spectacular feat of giving us a synopsis that rises above expectations. Sure, it’s a slasher movie alright, but it’s one with something of a smart twist.
Released in 2002, Hunter has been largely ignored by most genre books and websites, which may well be because of its limited release. It was shot on a handheld camera in and around a fairly standard location, but it is concrete proof that a dose of creativity can outshine a meagre budget. I picked it up in a bargain bucket quite a while back and thought that I’d go back to re-evaluate it for you lovely people that follow a SLASH above.
A night-watchman in a warehouse settles in for his usual shift when suddenly he gets a call from a deranged stranger that claims to be ‘The Headhunter’ – a psychopathic killer that has recently escaped from a high security asylum. Soon after, he discovers the corpse of his chum and realises he has to fight to survive…
This film launches with a flowing tracking shot that lasts for at least five-minutes. It incorporates quite a lot of well-rehearsed movement and displays immediate ambition from director Tom McGatlin. There were many opportunities for a brief cut, but he braves out the timespan to deliver an intro that confirms that he’s out to impress. The biggest criticism of the Star Wars prequels, aside from the fact that they were awful, was that George Lucas filmed every dialogue scene like something from a wide-panned news desk. If he ever decides to return to the hot seat, there’s a conversation part here which is shot in a basic office space that he really should watch and learn from. McGatlin bolsters every set-up with an abundance of energy; and the riveting camera movement and visible enthusiasm is a pleasure to witness. He continued the dynamic approach throughout the runtime and kept things interesting even when nothing important was going on with the story.
The majority of the feature is made-up of only two characters sharing sequences at the one time and there was always a danger – in such an enclosed space – that the pace could dry-up and stagnate. Whilst there are a couple of sequences that should have been shorter, the film manages to valiantly sustain intrigue and keep us guessing. Victims are smartly introduced and quickly dealt with, which allows the focus to remain on developing tension. Hunter is by no means a gore film and all of the killings are off-screen, but what McGatlin manages to adequately provide are some sharp shades of suspense. Above all else, this is a cat-and-mouse chase feature and what is achieved on such minimalistic funding and basic ingredients is eminently impressive.
Another thing of note is the realism of the dialogue, which is written not to imitate how movie stars speak, but instead how normal people do. In an early discussion, two guys converse about their dead-end jobs and wanting to study in order to find something better. Of course this is not quite Tarantino pop-trivia scripting, but at least it’s recognisable as genuine. I also liked it when T.J. was hiding from the masked-killer and said something along the lines of, “God if get you get me out of this situation, I promise that I’ll… “ – Again something many of us might see ourselves doing.
Headhunter is cheap and it definitely shows. The lighting is bad, the acting is sketchy and it takes place in a bog standard backdrop. It overcomes its budgetary deficiencies with a whole heap of raw talent, which I feel deserves praise. Knowing a bit about the production of independent features opened my eyes to the qualities that this one boasts, but I advise caution, because it’s not for everyone. Fans of body count flicks and splatter should steer well clear. If however, you like them unique and are willing to overlook some basic moments, by all means give this a spin…
Killer Guise: √√