Monthly Archives: November 2015
Into the Woods 2006
Directed by: Chad Hundley, Michael Smith
Starring: Andrew Hyde, Chad Hundley, Colleen Mooney Wright
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I remember a couple of years back, my son Olivero loved travelling on the train. He was two-years old then and it was something amazing for him to be sitting on the carriages similar to those he’d seen in Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. It was intriguing to witness his excitement, because for me, someone who has taken the same route day-in/day-out for nine-years, there’s nothing more predictable than waiting at the station every morning. When on my way to work, I know every house, tree and landmark that I pass, because I’ve witnessed them for almost a decade. In other words, it’s become a routine.
This obscure slasher flick from 2006 is a similar case in point to my journey, because it takes the standard slasher rule book and follows it step by step without injecting any panache at all. I found about it from the IMDB whilst looking up another film of the same title. It boasts there an impressive 6.7 rating and three extremely positive user reviews that were posted within months of each other (and within a year of this film’s release…). Even if I understand how easy it is to set-up fake IMDB accounts and post self-penned critiques as an effective marketing ploy, the optimist in me always finds a glimpse of hope in those emphatic write-ups.
A group of youngsters decide they want to go camping in the woods to get away from the hustle and bustle of life. They head out to a secluded location in the woods and come across another group of individuals who are also there to party. Before long a hooded killer turns up and begins hacking through them one by one…
Last week, I posted a review of Doom Asylum and there’s something about that picture that I want to recap so as to assist in underlining the biggest flaw of today’s feature presentation. Without checking my notes, I’m going to describe to you the characters that carried us through Doom Asylum, which I watched over two-weeks ago. We had the comedic blonde geek that could never make a decision and his kooky girlfriend who kept calling him, ‘mum’ for some strange reason (?). Then there was the randy black dude who fell in love with the drummer of punk group, Tina and the Tots. Tina herself was tough as nails and fought valiantly with the killer during the conclusion and how could I forget the cute psychology graduate and the dweeby guy that collected baseball cards? I’ve literally finished watching Into the Woods and If you were to ask me one personality trait of the youngsters that I’ve just witnessed, I’d struggle to tell you anything about a single one of them.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the script of every eighties slasher movie was a shining example of expert personality development. In fact, they were generally pretty slack when it came to giving their victims much time to do anything other than get naked and die. They did, however, utilise stereotypes, such as: virginal heroine, slut, jock, fat practical joker and lard ass Sheriff, which allowed us to separate cast members by more than a hairstyle or T-shirt colour. The really good entries would take these clichés and have a ball with them, so we would discover something to subconsciously bond with and grow to appreciate in that person. Into the Woods spends 40+ minutes frolicking with a bunch of absolute nobodies and there are few things to be found that are more underwhelming.The gang head off to a campsite to flirt, drink and chat the usual recycled quips, but the lack of anything remotely intriguing about them bored me to tears.
There are ways that a motion picture can bounce back from a cast that’s filled with cardboard boxes. I’m thinking of Sorority House Massacre 2, which overcame this by giving us a slick momentum and bundles of cheese. I was hoping that Woods might deliver some expert killings or bouncy gore, but despite a large body count, these parts were a lot like my train ride to work; predictable and uninspiring. It’s fair to say that the crew here were operating on minuscule funding; but hell, even Movie Machine Massacre generated a small slice of gloom and according to Mark Demise, in that production ‘there was no budget’. ;). Frankly, a 78 minute slasher flick should never feel overlong, but the Mrs had just finished painting her toe nails and I wasn’t sure if watching them dry from the corner of my eye was tantalising me more than what was going on with this feature. With a killer in an interesting hood that made him look ghostly, tonnes of cannon fodder and a good location, it should have been a straight forward task to make a fun stalk and slasher. Instead what we end up with is a film as exciting as seeing the word cancelled on the timetable when I go to the station that I told you about in my first paragraph. As regular a SLASH abovers know too well, it’s fashionable of late to pay homage to the hits of the eighties. Quite why directors Chad Hundley and Mike Smith chose Blood Lake as their flick to imitate is beyond me.
I think the scene that really killed the picture for me in terms of credibility was when there was the corpse of an earlier victim on the screen and as a fleeing chica stepped on him, the actor flinched not once, but twice in a row. Was that the best take that the two directors could get? Neither of them felt that they might need to shout cut and start again? They were shooting on video for gawd’s sake, so don’t even have the excuse of wasting celluloid. It was so bad that I included a clip of it above for you to see for yourself. Also, it’s great that Chad and Mike have a few mates in a rock band that’ll provide the music for their feature début and in all honesty, they’re not even that bad. I ask though, is soulful acoustic grunge-style accompaniment the right choice for a killer in the woods flick?
Let’s put it another way, amongst other things, President’s Day had its romance between the two leads, which was fun. Chill went with a gaming gimmick that added intrigue. Billy Club‘s mystery kept us engaged throughout, whilst Lost After Dark bundled us with immense gore. Into the Woods, well, it just exists really. There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years of computers being able to take over from humans in the future in a variety of jobs. Woods is an example of how a C64 might direct a slasher movie. Insert cassette with the guideline data and load press play on the tape. In other words, it’s a film with the personality of a cyborg. I’m not talking Hasta La Vista upgraded Arnie either…
Doom Asylum 1987
aka The House of Horror
Directed by: Richard Friedman
Starring: Patty Mullen, Ruth Collins, Kristin Davis
Review by Luis Joaquín González
So here we have more proof, if ever it were needed, that during the years between 1984 and ’88, we saw the most clichéd titles of the slasher genre’s timeline. After Halloween‘s initial launch, many knock-offs were circulated, but they did at least aim to bring something new to the table in order to garner a following. Whether it was a unique gimmick or an un-slashed calendar-date, the likes of Evil Judgement, My Bloody Valentine and The Prowler were far more authentic than Bloody Pom Poms, Cutting Class, Hollow Gate and Berserker attempted to be.
If I didn’t read that Doom Asylum had been shot in 1987, I would have guessed easily, because it has everything that the entries released on the back of Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street felt compelled to include. Comedic quipping boogeyman? Check. Bunch of attractive young-adults pretending to be teens? Check. Cheesy gore? Check. It’s almost like the producer brought a list of ingredients along to the set and stated that wages wouldn’t be paid until they’d all been ticked off. Where Asylum does differentiate itself a tad is that it goes for the same kind of parody/tongue in cheek outfit that both Return to Horror High and Evil Laugh had sported. Would it do a better job of looking slick whilst wearing it…?
Five bubble-gum teens head off to an abandoned asylum for a secluded break. The site is surrounded by the notorious urban legend of a deranged coroner that slaughtered two doctors before disappearing. When the kids arrive, they bump into Tina and the Tots; a peculiar punk band that use the location to rehearse their gritty sound. Before long the youngsters are being stalked and viciously slaughtered by a heavily disfigured killer…
It’s very unusual for a slasher movie to completely surpass my expectations. Upon re-visiting Doom Asylum for the first time in twenty-years though, I enjoyed my viewing infinitely more than I’d envisioned. What we have here is an entry that gets the mix of cheesy eighties humour and tacky horror spot on to build a good time vibe that is all encompassing. Both Scary Movie and Scream could be described as genre parodies, but one of them was sarcastic with its targeted mocking whilst the latter paid tribute whilst keeping its tongue firmly in cheek. It’s easy to see from the comparison in their popularity, which one went about it the right way and thankfully Doom is a pre-cursor to that style. Director Richard Freidman knew the rules of the category heavyweights and wanted to have a bit of fun with them whilst delivering some splatter. By doing so he’s produced a film that could have gone wrong in so many ways, but instead turns out to be a real treat.
Despite a minimalistic budget, Doom was shot on film, which means that the bright photography looks as crisp as a pot of Pringles and has aged extremely well. Dave Erlanger and Jonathan Stuart’s simple score grows on you as the film progresses and the final twenty-minutes, when the killer stalks the remaining survivors, are credibly atmospheric. As we approach the conclusion, the horror certainly tightens, which is a large switch in mood from the rest of the runtime. Doom is quite obviously a Mickey-take of the slasher craze that’d swept the decade and this is demonstrated in dialogue like, “If I don’t return, don’t come looking for me”. It also means that Friedman gets away with letting his characters merrily wander off to their demise dumbly, because it’s all pulled off with a ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ to the viewer. There is quite a lot of incredibly cheap looking gore here, but the producers must’ve noticed that they had more budget remaining than they expected as the production came to a close. The last two-murders are far more realistic (and credible) than the rest, including one guy getting his toes chopped off with a pair of pliers. It’s a tough thing to watch without flinching and what I found the harshest was that his girlfriend just walks off and leaves him to bleed out and die… Nice! An old VHS copy of this that I bought under the title, The House of Horror, was heavily cut, but thankfully Anchor Bay have restored all the bloody bits.
Doom Asylum doesn’t hang about to jump into the action and it’s impressive how rapidly the killer turns up and gets to work. In keeping us entertained from the off though, I think Friedman made the mistake of not considering his runtime. There are a lot of obviously ‘bolted on after’ scenes of the nut job strolling around in heavy breath POVs and they even went as far as to nail on footage from Todd Slaughter pictures from the 1930s. This gives the film a similar gimmick to the same year’s, Terror Night, but here it’s quite obvious that it was a post-production attempt to pad the runtime. I don’t even think they used the same actor to play the boogeyman watching these flicks? An abandoned asylum was where the action took place and the director really makes the most of it to give the film a maze of isolation. Apparently the site has now been demolished but fans of desolate places will appreciate the idea.
Much like Hide and Go Shriek and Blood Frenzy, Doom Asylum is a good late slasher flick that shows that some of the efforts that came prior to 1988’s re-emergence weren’t as bad as they’re reputed to be. Doing the basics well is more beneficial than going overboard; especially in this genre. Director Friedman would return to the cycle with Phantom of the Mall, a film that… well… I’ll let you know when I post the review shortly…
Only one question remains; and that’s who was paying the electricity bill for a dilapidated hospital? Was it the same person that shelled-out for the phone bill in the house from Silent Night Bloody Night:The Homecoming? How generous…
Masacre En Rio Grande 1984
aka Massacre in Rio Grande, Chacal 2, Caceria de un Criminal
Directed by: Pedro Galindo III
Starring: Mario Almada, Fernando Almada, Cristina Molina
Review by Luis Joaquín González
So this is the sequel to La Muerte Del Chacal, which I reviewed a week back and gave an impressive four star rating. Many sites have both films listed as being released in 1984, which I think is slightly inaccurate (Chacal was 83), but either way, it shows that the producers were keen to maintain the intrigue that the first entry had generated and get a follow-up out as soon as possible. In order to keep up with the pace that they set, I decided to post a write-up of Masacre now, so you could enjoy full coverage of the series.
Chacal’s synopsis included a twist that had a huge impact on the way I perceived the feature and its follow-up continues to run with the ramifications of that revelation. So as not to ruin the surprise if you haven’t yet seen part 1, I’m going to refer to the killer as The Jackal (El Chacal). I strongly recommend that you don’t watch this one first even if it is, unfortunately, much easier to find. I’m so glad that I bought both on VHS together many years back and was able to see them in order.
Following from the events of the last picture, The Jackal survived the confrontation with Sheriff Bob and is picked up in the sea clinging to a buoy by a passing fishing vessel. Once on-board, he (gorily) makes quick work of the two crewmen and mutilates then dumps one of their corpses so that the authorities will believe that he’s truly deceased. He heads back to the abandoned boat that he calls home, befriending a generous vagabond called Old Joe that feeds and shelters him. Before long he’s back up to his old tricks and slashing anyone that he comes across. It’s left up to Bob to put a stop to him once and for all…
As I stated in my review, I think La Muerte Del Chacal is a solid slasher and much like Halloween, I knew would that it would be tough to extend that level of panache into a franchise. That doesn’t mean that Masacre is a bad movie, it’s just that it’s enjoyable in a different, somewhat cheesier, kind of way. The first instalment worked because of the subtle rivalry between the goaded Sheriff and the deadly killer. It’s logical that the screenwriter had run the emotional aspect dry and the attempt to rekindle it here just isn’t as effective. We get to meet Bob’s alcoholic mother who I guess was supposed to fill the void of the authentic bond that we saw with Muerte. Despite the fact that she’s actually quite an enjoyable character and plays a key part in latter events, she’s no substitute for what we had last time and they try a bit too hard for the same undercurrent of intrigue.
Another thing that doesn’t work is that Sheriff Bob refuses to believe that El Chacal is still alive and spends the entire movie aggressively confronting anyone that levels that hypothesis. It could be argued that psychologically he just couldn’t accept that truth, which would make sense, but in that case he should have been removed from the investigation by his superiors. This would have opened up a far more palatable plot pathway that we could have digested convincingly. Throughout Muerte Del Chacal, we had sympathised with Bob’s despair because he was such a genuine and moral protagonist. Watching him deflect clear evidence here and behave like a bimbo from a more basic slasher premise minimises the semblance of heroism that made him so popular. It’s kind of like Rick Rosenthal turning Laurie Stroud into a brother-adoring slut for Halloween II. It just wouldn’t have been the person that we remembered.
Despite these limitations, Masacre is still an entertaining stalk and slasher. Obviously aware that the level of quality had slipped a bar, to compensate, Galindo ups the gore factor with some audacious kill scenes. One guy gets power-drilled through the cranium and there’s a fast-paced triple machete slaughter of three English-speaking models. Their initial introduction leads to an absolutely mind-bending cheese-fest of a sequence, within which a group of six males break dance on stage in a strip club to a synthesiser monstrosity that sounds like it was helmed by an inebriated Jan Hammer. In fact, Nacho Mendez gave us many different shades of musical accompaniment for this movie that consistently interchange as the runtime lengthens. Juxtaposed together, they create a strange aura, because one moment we’re in the realms of Paul Zaza and then in the next it sounds like a clip from a seventies kids show.
The Jackal, who’s given a bit more screen time here, dresses in military fatigues and murders pretty much everyone that he comes in contact with. He doesn’t even spare the few that attempt to help him, which further demonstrates his malevolence. It would have been nice to understand his true motivations and maybe get an explanation as to why he feels the need to kill, because overall he ends up looking a little aimless. It’s hinted that his rage is genetic, because we learn that his dad was also a bit of a loon, but I still felt like something was missing. Sure, we know he wants to murder Sheriff Bob, but he gets various opportunities to do so and waits until the final stand-off to try. When a screenplay lacks the imagination to conceal the fact it’s been structured to fit, well, a screenplay, it can be a bit disheartening. I’m sure that the fact that it had to be written extremely quickly didn’t make things easier. With Chacal, it didn’t matter that victims weren’t given much of an introduction, whereas here, perhaps because of the lesser story elements, it’s a lot more visible that they’re rolled out only to be dispatched. This does remove a level of unpredictability from the overall package and dampens the shock factor.
I was speaking recently about Mexican slashers with Haydn Watkins and they’re an untouched pool that I really need to spend more time investigating. Aside from the obvious entries that are out and out stalk and slash, there are many Crime/Thrillers that include deranged maniacs (A Garrote Limpio/Atrapado con el Asesino etc). Masacre plays like one of those, because it has a drug bust and a lot of elements that were surely included to pad out the runtime. There were moments whilst watching when I felt disappointed with the quality comparison between this and it’s predecessor, but the totally freaky ending redeemed things and left me feeling satisfied. Taken as a stand-alone, Masacre en Rio Grande is a cheesy (and momentarily gory) eighties slasher. It’s putting the two together though that makes them a SLASH above the rest.
Además, si lees mi página y vives en México, me gustaría hablar contigo sobre la posibilidad de escribir reseñas o ayudarme para encontrar películas de allá. Obviamente yo os voy a pagar todo lo que puedo o podéis escribir algo en a SLASH above. Mándame un correo si estás interesado y nos vamos a hablar. Saludos
La Muerte Del Chacal 1983
aka The Death of the Jackal
Directed by: Pedro Galindo III
Starring: Mario Almada, Fernando Almada, Christina Molina
Review by Luis Joaquín González
My review of Bosque De Muerte from a couple of weeks ago got me thinking. There’s no doubting that the best overall slasher films are from the United States. However, because America has also unleashed so many ‘challenging’ entries, like Curse of Halloween, Angus Valley Farms and Fever Lake, the quality percentage on average of their entire output has taken something of a battering. It’s unfair of course to compare a country that’s not far from quadruple figures with a country with only a hundred or so releases. My point is that Mexican slashers, in general, are pretty damn good. The few that I’ve reviewed on a SLASH above (Bosque, Trampa Infernal, Dimensiones Ocultas and Ladrones de Tumbas) are all well worth a watch; and La Muerte del Chacal is yet another.
Directed by prolific horror (and slasher) craftsman Pedro Galindo III, Chacal was arguably the first Mexican entry to truly show signs of a John Carpenter influence. Like many of its hermanas from south of the US border, it was unfortunate not to have garnered a subtitled global distribution deal and therefore remains barely seen. I noticed that there has been a recent DVD release, but from the listing I found on Amazon, it doesn’t look to have been dubbed or translated in any way, which I thought was a shame.
A psychopathic killer in traditional Giallo garb is stalking the local port and murdering anyone unfortunate enough to wander close to an abandoned ship where he resides. Sherif Bob is struggling to uncover any clues to the maniac’s identity and so he enlists his brother Roy to help him capture the maniacal assassin. Before long Bob become the target for the boogeyman and decides to set a trap to stop him once and for all…
I feel really bad for saying this, because I understand that the majority of my readers don’t speak Spanish. Well, start writing emails to Anchor Bay and the like right now demanding an accessible copy, because Chacal is an outstanding slice of eighties entertainment. Like many European and South American titles of the peak years (Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche/Shock Diversão Diabolica), director Galindo either didn’t recognise or care to display the subtle differences between the Giallo and the Slasher. The killer’s guise, shadowy presence and the in-depth investigation that follows him are all elements lifted from the Bava/Argento school of murderous motion pictures. On the other hand, the utilisation of the ‘have sex and die’ rule, heavy breath POVs and the inclusion of a lone female as the final target are trademarks of the Stalk and Slasher. In fairness to Galindo though, his addition also adds a few of its own unique ingredients.
I’m not going to tell you the identity of the boogeyman because it comes as a shock, even though it’s revealed quite early in the runtime. It was essential for Gilberto de Anda’s script to unmask its antagonist prematurely, because the twist adds a unique level of emotional involvement to the final stretch toward the finishing line. Galindo ups the ante by including a speed boat chase, an asylum break-out and a fair few murders that may lack graphic gore but are still smartly conveyed. Some structured camera placement makes the killer’s lair (an abandoned boat), seem creepily isolated and the fact that he is accompanied by a trio of vicious Doberman Pinchers makes him seem all the more indestructible. A few set-pieces deliver sharp shades of suspense and there’s no better example of this than the slaughter of a female and her mother in a spacious living room. Nacho Mendez’s score is at times reminiscent of the best of Paul Zaza’s work and when he’s not ruining it by incorporating weird sci/fi-alike tweaks, he compliments the overall atmosphere superbly.
Chacal was filmed in Brownsville, Texas and it’s interesting that the characters all boast English-language names, such as: Roy, Bob, Joan, Sally and Jack. With that in mind, it seems strange that producer Santiago Galindo didn’t explore a wider release plan with dialogue translations because the film could have been popular on external shores. Still, they must have achieved a modicum of success because a sequel was released within twelve-months that continued the saga. I’m sitting looking at a copy right now and thinking that I need to pencil a review for you all shortly. In fact, it’s being inserted into my VCR as I type.
I guess the hardest question for me to answer for you is, should you watch Chacal in Spanish if you don’t understand the dialogue? To be honest, I would say, no. It’s not that you won’t be scared by some of the stalking sequences and kept on the edge of your seat when the killer strikes. It’s just that de Anda’s script has invested heavily in adding an authentic undercurrent of shock, rivalry, despair, shame and sorrow to the synopsis that would be ruined without understanding the concept. I am cautious of making the movie sound better than it truly is, but I really bought into the idea of a hero that’s been thrust into a situation that demands so much more than personal sacrifice. It’s also worth nothing that Mario Almada does a superb job of bringing that persona to life. I’m so convinced of its quality that I’ve placed Chacal in my top 50.
Get writing those emails peeps. The power of the slasher fanbase got us My Bloody Valentine uncut, so let’s do the same here (I’m available to provide translations if the price fits ;)) haha