Monthly Archives: May 2016
Final Exam 1980
Directed by: Jimmy Huston
Starring: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown
Review by Luis Joaquín González
So following on from my review of Fatal Exam, I thought I’d cover this peak period sleeper and get all of the ‘exam’ slashers out of the way once and for all. I must admit that I hadn’t seen it for about twenty-years, so I was keen for a second viewing and thorough analysis. My perception from back then was that it was a bit too much of a Halloween magpie and I didn’t appreciate the unimaginative ‘look’ of the antagonist. I was about 15 at the time and my non-franchise favourites were the likes of My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler, StageFright and Legend of Moated Manor, which all included killers with memorable masks. In comparison, Final Exam felt, well, a little bit ‘meh’, and I have never re-visited it… Until now…
Writer/Director Jimmy Huston shot Exam over six-weeks during the spring of 1980 and he utilised friends and students that he had recruited from word of mouth and a small advertising campaign. It would be his fourth motion picture and a complete change of tone from his previous work, which was mostly genre films that played like European productions. Despite the self-sourced nature of the development, the $53,000 budget didn’t stretch as far as anticipated, which resulted in a few scenes having to be re-written or completely scrapped. I couldn’t find any information in regards to the film’s box-office performance, but it certainly acquired a solid VHS distribution deal, because I own Spanish, British and Polish copies.
As a small college prepares to close its doors for the end of semester, a number of students remain on campus for the last of the exams. Their final preparations for the journey into adulthood take a turn for the worse when a psychopathic killer begins to butcher them one by one…
I won’t be making any headlines when I inform you that Final Exam is not a competitor to Halloween, Friday the 13th or even Curtains, but I do think that it’s a much better movie than its reputation would lead you to believe. In fact, I’d say that if all the slasher flicks of the past twenty-years had been a similar level of quality, the genre would be filled with a lot more critical acclaim.
We are given the clichés of the category’s most notorious offerings with the characterisations (virginal lead, promiscuous friend, ‘horror’ nerd, bullying jock etc) but I found it intriguing how they were conveyed with a subtle depth. Radish, the curly haired geeky guy, was certainly a prototype for Scream’s Randy both physically and personally. He has a crush on our straight-laced heroine, Courtney, and his romantic pursuit shows moments of realism that are well-handled and recognisable. There’s an interesting scene, where the two have a heart to heart about her insecurities, which offers a delicate comment on the fear of rejection and the challenges of confessing true feelings. Courtney herself is clearly based on the sensitive Laurie Stroud-stereotype, but she carries a desire to overcome her social trepidation, which I thought made her more appealing. The ‘slut’ persona, Lisa, defends her actions in a humorous sequence that displays how she uses her appearance to progress. Hell, even the rebellious jock had something of a sadness about him and a desperation for recognition. All these common elements that are never explored in most slasher movies seem to be written with a keener focus and it gives the personalities an extra layer. Whilst it can be argued that the key players never really have an arc or reach the destination of their inner journies, the dialogue is memorable because it offers situations that we can relate to.
Whilst Huston deserves praise for his scripting and ability to derive convincing performances from an inexperienced cast, the look of the movie definitely belongs to Darrel Cathcart. As one of the most underrated DPs of the peak period, he really put his visual stamp down with some wide-framed set-ups and impressive camera placement. His input also greatly improved another eighties slasher (Death Screams from the same year), but Exam demonstrates the best of his work. There are countless postcard shots of the boogeyman in dimly lighted locations that are extremely impressive and even if the score is clearly ripped from John Carpenter, it assists with the creation of some creepy moments.
I always felt that Michael Myers was much scarier than Jason Voorhees, because his motives were ambiguous and never clarified. Jason killed to avenge the decapitation of his mother and Michael just murdered because he was ‘pure evil’. It’s true that when it comes to antagonists, less is always more; but the killer here is a total nobody and the ‘nothing at all’ approach doesn’t work. I’m not sure if it was an unsuccessful attempt at breaking ground from Huston or some expository scenes were cut from the final print, but we’re left with a villain that is little more than a cardboard prop. We didn’t even hear the traditional radio news report that informed us that, ‘an infamous murderer has escaped the local asylum killing two-guards…’ I’ve overcome my disappointment at his lack of a ‘killer guise’, because I took it as him being so deranged that he didn’t care about concealing his identity. It’s just that the story lacks a Dr Loomis type character to elaborate his menace with some hammy lines about, ‘The blackest eyes… The devil’s eyes…’ It’s strange that the film is so similar to Halloween in its structure, but so authentic in the finer details. It’s a shame that those are the ones that no one really notices.
Over the years, many reviewers have commented on the film’s sluggish first-half and the extreme lack of gore, which are fair criticisms that I can’t defend. Personally though, I felt that this captured the essence of the peak-period superbly and showed why the golden oldies will always be the best examples of the sub-genre. There’s no denying that the pathway to the conclusion builds a sharp momentum as bodies drop in rapid succession and the final face-off in a claustrophobic bell-tower is competently staged.
Final Exam is an important addition to the slasher grouping that overcomes its accusations of imitation with some solid examples of impressive filmmaking. There are a lot of elements that don’t really move the plot in a progressive direction (the artistic, yet unnecessary POV through a kitchen vent for example) that over-inflate the runtime, but all in all there’s a lot here that warrants respect. Jimmy Huston never really revealed any trivia about the production in later interviews, which only adds to the enigma.
We live in a world that’s full of injustices and whilst Final Exam is regularly brushed aside as an average picture, Porkchop gets remade in 3D. Let that sink in for a moment…
aka Kandie Land
Directed by: Eddie Lengyel
Starring: Haley Kocinski, Max Elinsky, Ari Lehman
Review by Donny Ybarra (Brother’s Grim)
I recently reached out to director/writer/horror aficionado Eddie Lengyel, whom not only let me screen the movie, but has been very eager to discuss this film too! What is nice is to be able to connect with filmmakers and discuss what it is that brings you together, in this case it is the love of the slasher genre! I explained to Eddie how much of a fan I am of slashers, I’m constantly on the lookout for new flicks, especially ones that have an iconic masked villain. Before digging right in I’d like to also point out that Mr. Lengyel has another upcoming project due out later this year called Naughty List, and yes, it is a Christmas slasher!
When you watch horror movies/slasher movies, what keeps you invested? For me it is the cast, and while there are some moments of dry acting, I’d say you can see the passion in this film from everyone in front and behind the camera, and that definitely counts. Now everybody knows Ari Lehman in the slasher world as the “kid Jason Voorhees”, but I have been watching some great indie slashers here lately and Ari is all in the horror mix and is fun in this film briefly. Having cast a horror vet in a slasher flick only adds to the appeal to me, kudos for bringing him on board. Another standout for me was Don Kilrain as “Jonah” who was our masked madman. With a name like KILRAIN, you expect to have one badass mother____%#^!!, and Jonah is that! Jonah is pretty imposing and is fairly creative when it comes to the kills. Another standout was Molly Miller as “Tiny”. Tiny was an interesting aspect to this film, she brought the “humanity” out of Jonah, and I don’t know if that is such a good thing! It was also nice to see Janine Sarnowski as “Luna” she was a familiar face from Chill: The Killing Games (which I loved!), and I really enjoyed her character in this one.
The plot for this one is straight up, you get a tragic past that creates this villain…who has grown to despise “pretty people”., so what do you think happens to a group of models that cross paths with this creepy brute?!?! Let’s just say, beauty is only skinned deep! I wasn’t really a fan of the scenes with the models, there was just not a character I cared about, I found the models rather annoying and not at all interesting (other than wanting them to die quickly), but they served their purpose.
Being a fan of iconic killers like Jason, Freddy and Chucky, what works for them is their motivations for killing and unique ways of doing so with a kickass look. I wouldn’t put Jonah up there with them, but I would say that if given a sequel I would love to see the “punish the pretty people” angle more to give our killer a little more edge. What brings this slasher up a notch from others is not only motivations, but the kills. This movie was pretty brutal, and dare I say offered up some inventive demises. You are treated to some old school practical effects too, no CGI blood! Also, the mask had no explanation with its origin, but it was fun to guess. Was it a “pretty crush” that turned Jonah down and he ended up taking her face? Who knows, but the hair on the side was creepy. The fact that the mask looked like old dried skin was creepy too, kinda reminded me of the Indian slasher from Ghost Dance a little before he is revived.
I’ll forgive many a slasher film for acting if I know that some thought when in to the body count, which this movie racks them up nicely. The pacing is pretty fast and you get kills frequently. When the movie starts winding down, there is a scene towards the end with a couple trying to escape via row boat, which I thought was pretty hilarious. Another funny bit was the “prophet of doom” on the hoveround, if anyone is going to escape this movie it would be that old lady, after all she does have a head start! I wouldn’t have minded more of a chase scene towards the end, although I did enjoy that last kill quit a bit, it really made me squirm a little. Also, I was hoping for a “final girl” when I realized that at the end, Luna was it! Which broke the slasher norms and made me think of the “final girl” Alley Oats (played by Deborah Rose) from The Boneyard. This made the movie believable and gave us someone that could be a kickass character later too!
I always look forward to reviewing these indie films, many boast about being a “homage” to the 80’s, while I think others just do. With this one I do get a little nostalgia from that decade, it’s almost a mix of Leatherface: TCM 3 (1990) and a tad bit of Twisted Nightmare. I could definitely see this one released towards the later part of the 80’s, when most slashers just ran through a checklist of what it takes to be a slasher, which with today’s horror releases it isn’t a bad thing. I say give this one a peep creepers, two thumbs up.
I found Scarred to be a relatively fast-paced slasher that was both unique and grisly. I appreciated that the core characters had been developed beyond the hooker/stripper stereotypes to actually carry a screenplay and build rapport with viewers. I don’t recall seeing the gorgeous Hayley Kocinski in Chill, which is strange, because she’s got the Eastern European-type of beauty (her surname’s Polish) that I adore. Still, I thought she was good as the lead. I totally agree with Donny that ‘Tiny’ (reminiscent in a way of the ‘kid’ from Burial Ground) somewhat weakened the killer’s menace, but there was enough of an enigma surrounding his hate of ‘pretty people’ to supply a macabre aura. Whilst most of the victims make dumbfoundingly stupid escape decisions and some of the acting is sketchy, I can’t deny that Scarred offers all you want from a slasher spectacular. My only question is, what happened to the girl from the prologue?
Killer Guise: √√√
aka The Pit
Directed by: Lubomyr Levytskyi
Starring: Svitlana Artamonova, Mykola Kartzev, Olga Storozhuk
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The fact that my kids are half Polish and I speak the language fluently means I feel like an honouree Pole of sorts. Due to this I always wanted to review a category addition from that country, but despite the fact that horror is extremely popular in PL, they haven’t yet given us a true slasher flick. I had high hopes when I learned about the production of 2008’s Pora Mroku, because it had been listed in the media as a similar concept to Wes Craven’s Scream. The net result though turned out to be more of a Hostel clone, so we are still waiting for an entry from the land of żubrówka. Some may cite Fantom Killer as a Polish slasher, but it was actually filmed in East London and Roman Nowicki is an alias for British filmmaker, Trevor Barley.
The reason I tell you this is because I was excited about seeing this offering from Ukraine, which neighbours Poland along the Eastern border. Ukrainian as a language utilises the same Cyrillic alphabet as Russian, but a lot of words are far more similar to Polish (Jak instead of Kak, Tak instead of Da etc)). I speak Russian, Polish and I’m learning Bulgarian, which means I had no problem at all in understanding the dialogue spoken throughout this movie.
A group of students head off to explore an underground chamber where it’s rumoured that an ancient Pagan cult had hidden valuable artefacts. They are accompanied by their college professor and soon discover a locked entrance to a tunnel that leads to the darkness below. When they wake up the next morning, the professor has disappeared and the gate has been mysteriously opened. They venture inside to hunt for their colleague and some treasure, but eventually discover more than they bargained for.
Much as with the case of the aforementioned Pora Mroku, there are various different synopsises that can be discovered online for Штольня. If you were left wondering if this actually is a slasher movie, you’ll be happy to learn that it certainly is, right down to a hooded menace bumping off students one by one. It’s surprising how much the film plays true to the genre’s trappings, especially in the cliched personalities of its personnel. We get the stereotypical jocks, cute heroine and geeky hero and there’s even the chance to guess if the maniac is someone we’ve already met. Debutant Lubomer Levytski draws solid performances from his actors and Olga Storozhuk is brilliant as the beautiful heroine. Eastern European women are amongst the most gorgeous in the world and the director certainly makes the most of this fact by casting a few staggeringly hot chicas. I was disappointed that other titles from Slavic countries, like Slovenia’s Masaker, were so weak on the eye-candy factor. Luckily, Trackman – a film arguably inspired by this – brought back some credibility.
We get a couple of fantastic set-pieces that really underline the abandonment of the victims. The most memorable is when they discover a ventilation pipe that leads outside and begin screaming for help in the hope that someone will hear them. We are shown a worker that is a few yards away and would immediately be able to assist if it weren’t for the fact he was wearing sound-mufflers to protect from the roar of his chainsaw and generator (!). Perhaps what makes the scene all the more hard hitting is that he turns off his devices and removes the earplugs at the exact same time that the troupe take a break from shouting. Just as he puts them back in, their cries begin again….only more frantically!. Don’t you just hate days like that?!? There’s also a very effective jump scare that hits us as the kids are driving to the excavation site. It shows impeccable timing from Levytski.
With the underground backdrop, flashlights and dark tunnels, it’s impossible not to think of My Bloody Valentine when analysing this entry. The difference is, George Mihalka’s classic boasted a hulking antagonist that was regularly on screen and shown to be stalking his intended prey. Maybe it was an attempt to add an extra layer of mystery to Штольня’s premise, but the killer is barely seen up until the climax. I don’t even recall a chase sequence that attempted to deliver suspense. I’ve always believed that it’s much harder to direct a horror movie than it is any other genre and whilst Levytski does well with many of the core principles of filmmaking, he fails to capture the tone of dread that this feature needed. With so much at his disposal in terms of a great location and a convincing set-up, it’s a shame that the flick didn’t deliver much tension or terror. We cared about the characters and wanted them to prevail, but we never faced a genuine aura of trepidation. I sat watching in the hope that a dark cloud would engulf the purity of the runtime, but the threat wasn’t really visible to us. Looking back at Halloween, we had the eerie scoring and ‘the shape’ lurking in the background of many shots. Here I couldn’t shake the feeling that the characters had to tell us that they were scared because there was no visual antagonist to impose fear upon us. It’s also worth noting how little the flick offers in terms of cultural recognition. The cast and language are Ukrainian, but aside from that this could just be a dubbed copy of a US film. I was hoping to see some expository dialogue whilst they ate Pelmeni or prepared Borsch, but unfortunately there was nothing that truly represented the blue and yellow of the former Soviet state.
Штольня is a solid slasher film that would be a great one if it had an atmosphere of doom and a central villain. We needed a lot more stalking and even a few more heavy breath POVs, but instead it was left up to the actors to convey the terror verbally. Of course that doesn’t mean that this is a bad movie, in fact it’s actually pretty good. It’s just a shame how close it came to being outstanding and just missed that certain something.
Night Killer 1989
aka Non Aprite Quella Porta 3
Directed by: Claudio Fragasso
Starring: Peter Hooten, Tara Buckman, Richard Foster
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I was saying to a friend the other night that after four-years of writing reviews for a SLASH above, I’m still nowhere near halfway through the slashers that I own. Due to the sheer weight of numbers, I’m guilty of overlooking the Giallo sub genre, which is a shame because Italy deserves its place in this online encyclopaedia. To make up for the lack of Tenebrae etc, I’ve tried covering the slasher films from Southern Europe that were moulded upon their US counterparts. The likes of StageFright, Nightmare Beach, Absurd and Bodycount have always intrigued me, because it’s strange that Italian directors adapted their methodologies to appeal to a foreign market trend that had been inspired by a style they created.
This is another one of their ‘Americanised’ exports and it’s by far the most obscure. It’s from Claudio Fragasso, who became a cult hero from the popularity of his daft project that was filmed on US soil. I haven’t seen Troll 2, but you don’t have to search far to learn that it’s a notorious ‘so bad it’s good’ cheese-fest. Fragasso began his career as an assistant to Bruno Mattei and it’s easy to see similarities in their filmographies. They worked extensively in the exploitation space and both seemed equally as focused on tackling popular cinematic trends on minimal funding. Due to loopholes in copyright laws, many low-budget flicks were released in Italy as unofficial sequels to renowned hits in order to grab an audience. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Italian title is Don’t Open the Door (Non Aprite Quella Porta). Well this one was circulated as a continuation of kind to that series (Non Aprite Quella Porta 3), which made me think that it might be heavily influenced by Leatherface and his cannibalistic family.
It begins in much the same fashion as did Michael Soavi’s StageFright, with a group of theatre performers practicing their dance moves. Before long we meet our masked killer and he slaughters one of the bunnies backstage with a Freddy Kruegar-esque glove. When the bitchy director goes to check on the missing cast-member’s whereabouts, she also gets attacked by the loon, but he only manages to slice her throat delicately, which weakens her vocal chords. What follows is an energetic chase sequence that ends with the injured female tumbling from the auditorium to the floor below. The cast members look on in shock at the corpse and the screen fades to black.
We soon learn that the city is being plagued by a maniac that is killing and raping females at a terrifying rate. Thus far, the Police and a Psychiatrist (by far the most credible Sam Loomis impersonation) have no lead on his true identity, but they’re desperate to put an end to the ferocious butchery. His next victim, Melanie Beck (Tara Buckman), manages to survive and gets a view of the attacker’s face, but the event has left her with short term memory loss and she doesn’t recall anything about the night. She is released from hospital and bumps into an alcoholic vagabond by the name of Axel (Peter Hooten). His frantic beeping of his horn and offer of alcohol doesn’t immediately woo her, so he follows her into the women’s toilets (even a cubicle) where she draws a gun and forces him to strip to his briefs and flush away his clothes (I’m not joking). Axel manages to find a T-Shirt and new pair of pants from somewhere and continues his pursuit, which results in him preventing the desperate female from committing suicide on a beach. After taking her to a hotel, he begins to reveal some worrying shades to his personality. It looks like Axel is increasingly unstable and could well be the vicious maniac that she escaped from last time…
I mentioned Bruno Mattei above and whilst it’s true that he made some pretty bad movies, his Eyes Without a Face is a smart giallo that proved that even directors renowned for cheesy trash could helm a stylish picture on occasion. if you break down this film to the sum of its parts, I guess you could say that it looks fairly mediocre. We do get some gore, but it’s very amateur (the boogeyman’s glove is clearly rubber), the uncredited score is only outdone by the flamboyance of the performances and we lack a traditionally ‘clean cut’ protagonist that the audience can sympathise with. Somehow though, the bouncy soundtrack, unhinged characters, peculiar dialogue (“Oh Grandma, what a big schlong you have(!)”) and videotape picture quality combine to create an authentic and pulsating movie that blew my expectations to smithereens. It’s almost as if I kept waiting for the runtime to become tedious, but it maintained a momentum and only grew in intrigue with every step.
It’s clear that Night Killer was structured like a slasher movie, but it certainly has the grit and (not so) subtle sexual themes of a giallo. Our heroine regularly exposes her breasts (she massages them at one point after receiving a threatening call (?)) and we are told that the victims are raped before they are slaughtered. Thankfully, this is never demonstrated visually, and we only see the psychopath punching his bladed glove through their stomachs like he was The Terminator (??). One of the unfortunate females is even killed by having her face pushed into a bowl of latex (???). I managed to work out who was under the mask long before the conclusion, but there’s a further revelation that makes zero sense on reflection, even if it would rival the denouement of The Usual Suspects if you happen to be the guy from Momento or a Goldfish with a five-second attention span.
As I alluded to above, the leads really go OTT with their portrayals. This is especially true in the case of Peter Hooten, whose demeanor and vocal delivery was reminiscent of Matthew McConaughey’s cameo from The Wolf of Wall Street. Despite the misleading Italian release title, Night Killer is not similar at all to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s pure slasher trash that plays like a mix between Terror Eyes and Halloween. There are no supernatural elements, but the killer’s mask is clearly modelled on the face of Freddy Krueger and then of course there’s the bladed glove. We even get a final sequence that could have been lifted from the Edmund Purdom trash bag, Don’t Open ’til Christmas. I know that seems unlikely, but if great minds think alike, I guess that the opposite can happen too 😉
It would be illogical to call Night Killer a well made movie, but it’s constantly entertaining and riddled with intrigue. I thoroughly enjoyed my viewing and it’s another of those time capsules from a long forgotten time that modern entries regularly attempt to but never manage to emulate…