Category Archives: Pure Eighties Cheese
Those that make you laugh as much (or more) than scream…
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…
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…
Fatal Exam 1985
Directed by: Jack Snyder
Starring: Mike Coleman, Terry Comer, Carol Fitzgerald Carlberg
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Good morning a SLASH abovers… So, here we have one that I never thought that I’d be adding to this website. I’ve owned Fatal Exam on VHS for many years, but I didn’t bother covering it because I’ve always considered it to be a bit of an outsider. I guess that it just about scrapes the guidebook in terms of what’s needed to fit within the standard template, but I was under the impression that it was a little too Satanic to really be a traditional entry. Still, with so many of you asking me to include it (12 at last count), I decided to dust off my VHS cassette and give it a whirl.
A college professor gives six students an assignment to stay in a secluded house and investigate some murders that took place a few years earlier. As the weekend unfolds, strange occurrences begin to unsettle the visitors…
The best way that I could describe Fatal Exam to you is by comparing it with one of those all-day conferences that companies send you on to do some ‘networking’. As you enter the site at 8:30 in the am, you see crates of beers being lined up behind the bar and a sign that reads, “Free drinks and snacks after the event”. You sit in a chair for the next six hours battling exhaustion, boredom and the desperate desire to fidget, whilst maintaining positivity by picturing the booze and cocktail sausages that you’ll eventually be consuming (and stuffing in your briefcase whilst no one’s looking). In the case of James Snyder’s long-forgotten debut feature though, it’s like a fourteen-hour lecture on the collaboration of a steel plate with only a stick of celery and a cup of soda water to look forward to when it’s finally finished.
120 minutes is a risky runtime for Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest motion picture achievement, so you can imagine what to expect from a flick by Jack ‘no idea what momentum means’ Snyder. Despite the glamour and glitz, filmmaking can be a long and frustrating process, because crews spend hours shooting the same thing at countless angles in order to get the right ‘tone’ for every scene. A talented editor makes his mark thereafter by removing excessive overindulgence and making sure that a taut but descriptive pace is amalgamated from the mounds of footage. Fatal Exam plays like Snyder didn’t trust his audience to understand anything without being held by the hand, so every sequence is conveyed without any dynamism or brevity at all. When a character mouths a statement in a group conversation, we see a separate reaction shot from each person, which is totally unnecessary and monotonous, because really we only needed the one – or even none at all. Also, a simple action, like someone getting an item from their car, will be displayed to us by them exiting the house, heading along a pathway, opening the boot, picking up the item and then returning. All this wasn’t necessary, because the same point could be emphasised in a single line of expository dialogue. In the world of Señor Snyder however, he yearns to show you e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in the finest detail, which gets very boring, very quickly. The film even starts with our protagonist climbing out of bed, brushing his hair, cleaning his teeth, eating a bowl of cereal, getting dressed, entering his car and driving to school. I mean FFS! JUST START THE DAMN MOVIE FROM THE DAMN SCHOOL!!!
In fact, the first forty-five minutes could have been removed and replaced with a simple text intro that would’ve worked a whole lot better. We could’ve read something like, ” Ambitious student Nick and a gang of his college buddies are given an assignment to spend a weekend at the house where the sadistic Malcolm Nostrand killed his family two-years earlier. Here’s what happened once they settled in.” That would have given us the same amount, if not more, information than we gained from the coma-inducing hour of watching bad actors do a big pile of nada. The net result is something that I can only guess was created to test the patience of Buddhist monks. Either that or it was funded by the CIA as a potential psychological weapon of torture? I’m joking of course, but the truth is that this is a sleep-inducing marathon of pointless nothingness. Apparently the film was completed in 1985, but sat on a shelf for five-years because the crew ‘ran out of budget’. I am not surprised, think how much $$$ was wasted on shooting scenes that were completely devoid of relevance. 16mm film isn’t cheap, you know. By the way, I must give a shout out to Carl Leta, the guy that scored the movie. He really played like a man that knew what he was up against, but battled valiantly to try and bring some kind of atmosphere to what he was given. It was amusing that the score was getting creepier and creepier, but all we could see on screen were a gang of halfwits doing another big pile of na….
The reason that I was in no rush to post Fatal Exam here was not only because it’s an arduous feature to sit through, but mainly because it plays more like Blood Cult than it does a typical slasher flick. We do get an antagonist in a cool grim reaper-alike guise, but he’s one of a number of villains that appear in the final thirty-minutes, which is alien to the more standard ‘central boogeyman’ trademark. Ironically, I wrote two paragraphs about the film’s lacklustre editing strategy, but the one noteworthy slasher sequence that we do get on the 78 minute mark is cut so rapidly that we can barely make out what’s happening. It’s a shame, because after sitting through all that nonsense for so long, I felt as if I thoroughly deserved the ‘free beer and sandwiches’ for my effort. What I got though was the aforementioned mouldy stick of celery and a glass of flat tomato juice.
I’m not sure what else I can tell you about Fatal Exam. I guess it’s like an even more tedious version of Girls School Screamers, but with a silly satanic sheen and the worst digital special effect at the conclusion that I’ve ever seen. In fact, I’d recommend watching it if only to see that C64-type moment of cheesy eighties madness. So this is nowhere near as good as the similarly titled Final Exam, but does it stoop to the lows of Fred Olen Ray’s Final Examination? Hmmm… That’s one I am not willing to investigate
Memorial Valley Massacre 1988
aka Valley of Death
Directed by: Robert C Hughes
Starring: John Kerry, Cameron Mitchell, Julie Jachim
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Those were the days… The intrigue… The tension… The excitemen… Oh hello a SLASH abovers and excuse me, I was just reminiscing about the times when I first discovered the Internet and opened the door to a world of slashers that stretched beyond my local video emporiums. Strange as it may seem to you all, I was collecting these things even before I knew that they were part of a genre called ‘slasher’. Instead, I’d just pick up similar looking video covers and hope to see certain things that I recognised from the one that started it all for me, Halloween. Nowadays, you can check the web and know instantly whether a prospective picture is actually an entry to our beloved category or not, but in moons gone by, it was all about lucky dip.
When I eventually got onto the IMDB, I would use various investigative techniques to uncover entries to add to my search list. One of those was typing the word ‘Massacre’ into the search bar and examining the length of titles to see if they were worthy of beginning a hunt. It didn’t take long for me to uncover this beauty, but the challenge from there became actually locating a copy. During the late nineties, Amazon US weren’t all that on International delivery and despite them having twelve copies on VHS at a reasonable price, I just couldn’t find a seller that’d send me one.
There I sat staring longingly at the picture from the listing, dreaming of the slasher fun that lurked inside the cardboard cover. For you pups, I guess it’s a lot easier, because additions such as this have become free content and can be downloaded in an instant from YouTube. Times have changed for the better for slasher buffs. Eventually I came across a Spanish language version in Jaén, but did Memorial Valley Massacre satisfy me in all the ways I’d expected…? Well…
It tells the tale of a city businessman that has bought a huge piece of land and wants to open it as a camp site for people to bring their Winnebagos and spend a few days in the wild. During pre-launch, the production has suffered some unexplained events, including the deaths of a few construction workers. Despite no running water, the openning goes ahead as planned to coincide with Memorial Day, and the campers pull up in droves. Little do they know that they are sharing the grounds with a cave dwelling maniac that is out to kill….
I often go to Spain to visit my dad, younger brother and the rest of my family. Last year, whilst laying on a beach in Punta Umbría, I realised how much I miss Andalucía and felt sad that the branches of life had led me away from my true home. I returned to England and the weather was atrocious, which added to my gloomy feeling. In a semi-drunken stupor, I booked another vacation for the next couple of weeks and pretty much went straight back. From the moment I got off the return plane, it began raining and continued to do so throughout my trip. ‘Tienes mala suerte’ my dad told me, but I decided that I’d at least try to go out and enjoy Sevilla with an umbrella; – and I did exactly that. That my friends is what psychologists call a ‘Positive Thinking Mindset’
You need a ‘Positive Thinking Mindset’ to really enjoy Memorial Valley Massacre, and if you engage one, you may find that your experience will be a lot like mine in rainy Andalucía. We may not have a sterling killer in the woods flick here, but instead it’s an entertaining campy ride that does provide some cheesy thrills – with the emphasis being on cheesy. For 92 minutes, MVM moves incredibly quickly and even if the action only really begins on the hour mark, the characters are silly enough to remain amusing throughout. It’s also worth noting that the picture is certainly authentic and I don’t remember another that goes for a killer that’s been borrowed from Disney’s Jungle Book. Looking like the fifth member of Twisted Sister – in a get-up that you could pick up in any dime-store fancy dress shop – his story is unique, if slightly underplayed. He was left in the forest as a child because a kidnap/ransom attempt went wrong and therefore grew up as a feral human. The filmmakers do however try to bizarrely build pathos for him in the early scenes, by showing him feeding a mouse and generally seeming at one with nature. These moments of vulnerability weaken his fear factor, but when he begins his kill frenzy, he becomes considerably ruthless. One guy gets set on fire and runs around screaming as he burns to death, whilst another likeable chap ends up in a pit of spikes. It was refreshing that I felt like I wanted these guys to survive, because in more modern slashers, I couldn’t care less.
Massacre’s strengths are definitely its have a campy ball with the trademarks attitude and it’s cast of likably dumb participants. There’s an interesting relationship between hero, David Sangster, who’s the son of a millionaire businessmen that bought the land, and George Webster, the head ranger of the site. They don’t really get along at first, but instead of the more typical rookie/veteran bonding methodology, Robert C Hughes’ screenplay works slightly differently. We do get a hottie love interest for David, who’s there mainly to add eye-candy. His attempts to woo her are highly amusing, especially the speech that he uses to finally seal the deal. In fact, the dialogue here has some stand out lines like, “I’ve got cigars older than her” and “They couldn’t punch their way through a wet cracker”, which show that Hughes boasted a knack for the tongue in cheek. Having eighties slum artists such as, William Smith, John Kerry and Cameron Mitchell reciting such campiness just added the final gloss to the cheesecake.
This film plays much like Doom Asylum, which I reviewed recently, but it’s not quite as good. Whilst you could never call Doom particularly scary, it boasted gore and sharper direction, whilst Valley just feels too light-hearted, even in moments when it’s actually merciless. I believe this is because the killer just doesn’t look threatening and it doesn’t help that the Yamaha Keyboard score is so atrocious. I’m no master musician, but just when you feel that the composer shouldn’t go a note higher nor lower, go there he does – and then some. The final thirty minutes of Valley are rapid with a handful of killings and a breakneck pace, but it still looks devoid of a certain something. Hughes’ direction never seems to draw you in and that’s why I couldn’t buy into what I was seeing. By no means is this a horror comedy but it would only take some minor script adjustments to make it one. There lies its biggest flaw.
We slasher fans know more than most that it’s possible to enjoy a bad movie and with MVM that’s exactly what happened for me. With minimal gore and nudity, it’s certainly not a worthwhile killer in the woods flick, but it’s one that serious collectors should be adding to their pile.
Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge! 1989
Directed by: Richard Friedman
Starring: Derek Rydall, Jonathan Goldsmith, Kari Whitman
Review by Luis Joaquín González
What do you get if you cross an intelligent idea for subtle comment with a garbage bag bulging with eighties trash…?
Well, you get Phantom of the Mall. This was the second slasher effort from Richard Friedman, the director of campy genre-parody, Doom Asylum. It became an attractive proposition for financiers after author Scott Schnied circulated a draft in 1982, because coming before The Initiation meant that it was the first slasher to incorporate a mall as a backdrop for some murderous mayhem. Soon after, it was signed up for a four-million dollar development with advanced special effects, but the production date was never confirmed and it kept being further delayed. As the eighties drew to a close, the budget was halved and different writers were brought on-board to make sure that the script could be completed within the tighter funding. Having read an interview with Schnied, it seems like the version that we were eventually delivered is nothing like what he had planned at the outset. In fact, it’s something of a twisted mishmash that is dismilar to anything that I’ve seen before (or likely will see after).
An un-named town in America sets about building a huge mall in its centre, but construction is held-up by a family that refuse to sell their house so that the development can continue across their land. When that same abode is burned to the ground in a fatal ‘accident’, production begins and the stores are opened quicker than expected. Local girl Melody, whose boyfriend was killed in the blaze, finds a job in the food court, but she’s still upset about the death of her beau. Before long, people begin disappearing in and around the mall and it seems that someone has an axe to grind. Could Melody’s love Eric have survived…?
For all intents and purposes, Phantom of the Mall is slightly bewildering in its structure. A story about a guy that ends up disfigured by a fire that also killed his parents, because greedy cigar-chomping politicians wanted to build a shopping centre where their house stood, should only throw pathos in one direction. Bizarrely, our antagonist turns out to be Eric; – the guy that we were feeling sorry for in the opening act – and because he had been portrayed to be a genuinely decent character, his transformation into a murderous villain is illogical and hard to comprehend. I understand of course that we are not expecting intense drama from a cheesy eighties slasher and I do like psycho killers with a believable motive. A better writer though would have recognised the obvious contradiction in the synopsis, and either made Eric have a dark side from the start (perhaps a fiery temper) or at least not conceived him to be as clean-cut and heroic as he came across in the opening scenes. From what I understand, Schnied’s original screenplay had Eric remain a good-natured vigilante type all the way through, which makes a lot more sense, but the latter adjustments deviated from a logical plot-path.
What we are left with is a movie that nods at the same kind of ‘obsession with image’ commentary that the wonderful Spanish film, Abrir los Ojos, delivered, but doesn’t really make anything of the concept. There were so many possibilities that could have been explored by the return of a disfigured former sweetheart that is seeking revenge and a reunion with the love of his life. Not one of these themes were developed to any level though and you could erase the link between the heroine and the phantom and just make it a film about a masked killer in the basement of a mall and nobody would’ve noticed any difference. Eric only murders wrong-doers and even protects Melody and her new admirer at one point in the runtime. This makes her decision to turn her back on him when he finally reveals himself the atom bomb that obliterates her appeal. She had been conveyed up until then as a sensitive heroine, but we forget about that as soon as she meets a handsome journalist and brushes off the disfigured hero that saved her life – twice. It is kind of like her saying, “I know you were my first love and suffered excruciating pain so that I could escape, but I met a guy with a car and a steady income that doesn’t live in the sewer or have a disfigured face, so see ya” . All this begs the question, why include another romantic angle when that of a saviour returning from beyond the grave is about the best that any writer could hope for? It all stinks of a poorly put-together plan of action, which is generally what you get from four separate screenwriters that don’t know or have contact with one another outside of the connection that they must finish a film on time and within budget. In principle, it’s the same as a few of my readers writing a paragraph each for a film that they watched once upon a time and me posting them together in one review here on a SLASH above.
These script issues are mainly notable because they prevent the film from fulfilling its obvious potential, but there are still bits and pieces that I enjoyed. It’s hard not to be entertained by a bunch of dweebs being stalked by a masked Kung-Fu kicking killer and this is definitely one for eighties aficionados. We get a host of bad hair styles and cheesy catchphrases along with an all-encompassing performance from Gregory Scott Cummings (Hack-O-Lantern/Click: The Calendar Girl Killer) as a hilariously OTT bad guy. He gets into a martial-arts fight with Eric that flows like Steve Seagal in extreme slo-mo and he delivers a teeth-gnashing portrayal of silliness. There’s one ok-ish killing that involves a length of rope and an escalator, but I don’t remember a single splash of blood which was a shame. In fact, the murders seem to abruptly cut before the money shot and despite the fact that I’ve never heard of an unrated copy, it’d be interesting to find out if such a thing exists. It’s only speculation, but those jumps do look a little too forced to be genuine. Perhaps it was just bad editing.
Director Richard Friedman, who had achieved marvels with his previous slasher, seems to be on auto-pilot mode for this project. His characters are fairly well proposed, but aimless, and he shoots most scenes flatly. Whereas Doom Asylum set a tone of comedic fun, Mall seems to be lost in the confusion of its moral compass. Also, the fact that we know that it’s Eric hiding in the shadows destroys any suspense or mystery surrounding the killer’s identity and motivations. It’s hard to understand why no one in the production recognised the need for a slice of tension or intrigue, but instead, a film that took seven-years to finally shoot comes across like a rushed un-planned mess. How easy would it have been to keep Eric’s identity a secret and just have him reveal himself at the conclusion? It could’ve opened the door for a more emotional struggle from a heroine who had met a new love and was suddenly confronted with the guy that was hideously scarred whilst preventing her demise. Audiences generally bond with characters that face big decisions and that would’ve worked a lot better than the confusing dreck that we were presented with. Still, we can find consolation in the fact that it may be a shame for us viewers, but imagine how Scott Schnied must’ve felt when he watched this back. His great idea for a unique slasher was ruined by influences beyond his control. It’s a shame.
Phantom of the Mall is a disappointing movie because of all the things that it doesn’t do. There’s still a chance that someone could pick up Schnied’s original script and salvage the idea, but it is looking unlikely. If that never happens, we are left with a cheesy eighties slasher that’s entertaining in a bargain-bucket way, but it’s also a failed opportunity to make something truly exceptional.
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
Prom Night 1980
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens
Review by Luis Joaquín González
This is another of those titles that to be honest, I should have covered on the site long ago. It was only when a SLASH abover, Ned, gave me a kick up the backside by reminding me that I hadn’t yet posted my thoughts on it that I converted it to MP4 and added it to my iPhone 6 Plus playlist.
Back in the days when I was hunting through video shops for slasher films, Prom Night was one of those that I couldn’t find for love nor money. I’d seen images of Jamie Lee Curtis facing off with a balaclava sporting nut job and had believed that it would be a classic slice of eighties special-ness. With a top-notch cast and a comparatively big budget, my eleven year-old brain saw nothing but slasher-tastic satisfaction. Eventually it got another limited VHS release and the nice guys at HMV (RIP) ordered me a pristine copy. Without a review to browse through (children of the Internet don’t know how lucky they are) I was on the bus home and fully expectant to enjoy a rival for Halloween.
A disfigured maniac that was accused of a heinous crime, breaks out of his asylum and heads back to the location of the event from a decade earlier. It’s Prom Night at the main high-school and Kim is highly emotional. Not only is she set to be the Prom queen, but it’s also the ten-year anniversary of the death of her younger sister – the victim of the escapee. When the body of a young nurse is found gruesomely slashed, it looks like the loony is up to his old tricks.
At the tender age of 16, I was mad about cars. No I’m not talking about toys; I’m talking about the real fuel-guzzling automobiles. I saved up some money from my weekend job and purchased a 1982 Ford Fiesta from a newspaper and fell madly in love. Over the year whilst I was waiting to pass my test, I bought a set of gold-coloured alloy wheels, a chrome exhaust system, a race carburettor, tinted windows and neon lights for the number plate. When I finally got my driving license, I was ready to hit the road, but just as I’d turned the first corner, the clutch went. A week later, it was the entire gearbox. I got it towed to the garage and they noticed that nasty brown rust had been devouring the floorboards. My world was shattered, but the car wasn’t worth the sum of the parts that I’d placed upon it, so it had to be scrapped.
Watching Prom Night after many years reminded me of that Fiesta so much. First things first, the film is beautifully shot and DP Robert New has done an amazing job of planning his photography with grace and dynamism. The opening scene takes place inside an abandoned school and there’s an adept aura of isolation and spookiness that surrounds the child actors. Paul Zaza’s scoring is as creepy as always and the film lets you know from the off that it’s slickly put-together. When our key players are introduced, they are awarded the space and time to bond with the audience and it’s interesting how the script hints that humans develop a specific personality trait that maturity doesn’t alter. It was almost as if they were subtlety stating that if you’re born with a nasty streak, it’s likely that you’ll stay that way unless you decide to change. During the story development parts, the underscoring of horror is provided by some stalking scenarios and the killer phoning and threatening his intended victims. This concept was clearly lifted from Black Christmas and shows that Prom Night is a slasher movie that knew its target audience. We get very few, if any, attempts at innovation and the crisp rolling photography through the town where this was filmed may well have been left-over footage from Carpenter’s Halloween. As with Humongous, Lynch was certainly a director that wasn’t ashamed of looting from his peers.
Jaime Lee Curtis heads up a note-perfect group of performers and I couldn’t point out any weaknesses in the casting. This was Peter Simpson’s first foray into slasherdom and the success that he received led him to begin development on the far more authentic Curtains. Prom Night was a big hit upon its release and is widely regarded as one of the genre’s most recognised features. Going back to the Fiesta that I told you about above though, the strong dramatics, superb score and lush photography don’t conceal the film’s limp and predictable spine.
Robert Guza’s script is extremely focused on its mystery, but we are given far too many clues to the maniac’s true identity. They were expecting the unmasking scene to be something of a shock, however it is obviously diluted by the fact that it’s exactly who we expected it to be. It’s almost like the screenwriters didn’t think that their audience would be smart enough to face a compelling puzzle without assistance. I felt that a lot of effort was wasted focussing on numerous red-herrings, when perhaps what the movie really needed was a larger impetus on generating suspense. It’s impossible to deny that Lynch is a director that shoots with panache and draws the best from his cast, but with Prom Night – I noticed this with Humongous too – there’s just never an air of unpredictability. Once we’ve picked who will survive, we know that they’re untouchable and it takes the tension away from the rest getting killed. It’s strange that a filmmaker so inspired by John Carpenter didn’t recognise the necessity of keeping his viewers hooked. Perhaps he just couldn’t pull it off.
Still, there’s a lot of silly eighties stuff, including a bizarre Saturday Night Fever-like boogie scene towards the climax. I also found it hard to keep a straight face when Jamie Lee called Leslie Nielsen’s character a ‘Disco King’ whilst he was awkwardly bopping like a one-legged ostrich. Oh and the fat joker guy in this one actually pulls (and scores) with a chica. So there was one authentic aspect after all ;).
Prom Night is a well-produced slasher movie that has moments of creepiness that are truly well delivered. It’s just a shame that it feels too much like a Halloween rip off and even lacks the authenticity of titles like: Friday the 13th, The Prey, Unhinged, The Unseen, Silent Scream, Small Town Massacre, My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler, American Nightmare or even Graduation Day, Happy Birthday To Me and Embalmed. Also, the fact that it’s never really scary is a sin that, for such a visually competent picture, is hard to forgive…
The Last Slumber Party 1988
Directed by: Stephen Tyler
Starring: Jan Jenson, Nancy Mayer, Joann Whitley
Review by Luis Joaquín González
This was one of those flicks that I had been advised to avoid, but I let my love of the slasher genre get the better of me. I learned of its existence from the IMDB in 1998 and the fact that no one had yet bothered posting any reviews led me to immediately set about getting hold of a copy. I went around asking a few of my contacts in the horror community about it and the general consensus was that I should steer well clear. Those warnings only heightened my interest, and after ordering it from Amazon under standard international shipping procedure, I had to face a lengthy six-weeks for it to arrive at my door.
Whilst I was waiting for the postman to bring me my padded jiffy bag, it seemed the more days that went past, the further my curiosities strengthened. By the time it turned up, I was just off to work and all day I was looking forward to getting home and finding out if it would live up to the hidden gem status that my expectations had automatically allowed it to become. Looking back after so much time, it’s comical how blissfully unaware I was of what awaited me…
At first we meet a group of jesting teens that are celebrating in high spirits on their last day of school. Tracy (Nancy Meyer), Chris (Jan Jensen), Tommy (Danny David), Scott (Paul Amend) and Billy (Lance Descourez) all plan a slumber party at Linda (Joann Whitley) ‘s house. They plan to spend the night drinking, taking drugs and doing the usual cheesy antics that eighties teens in slasher movies love to do. Meanwhile, whilst they all merrily head off home to prepare for their fateful gathering, elsewhere in the town it seems a lunatic patient from the local asylum has escaped sporting a surgical mask and clutching a very sharp scalpel. He gets the address of his psychiatrist’s home and heads over there to carry out the threat that we learn he gave only days before. – He warned the doctor that he would locate and kill him. Then we find out that the medic is Linda’s father, so the vicious butcher has conveniently discovered a house full of partying teens to work through. As the beer flows at the party, the unwelcome guest turns-up and before long the blood begins to flow too…
Ok, ok so I should’ve listened, but there’s no need to say, ‘I told you so’. The Last Slumber Party is a heinous movie. As soon as I heard the ear-numbing hard rawk track that burst out of my speakers in the first five minutes and saw the cheesy POV shots in the muggiest of bad quality cinematography, I realised that I had made a big mistake. Every single cliché in the book is present and accounted for, but they’re conveyed like a twelve-year old’s tribute to Slumber Party Massacre. The only thing more sickening than the atrocious acting and the horrid Bontempi score – that doesn’t even sound like it’s played in tune – is the incredibly inept plot that must’ve been made up on the spot as they went along.
It’s pretty obvious that the editor just pasted scenes in any order without even browsing through the script. In fact, I’m not even sure if there was a script to browse through. There’s a moment that could have added some spice to the bog-standard template, when a second killer appears inside the house. This brief attempt at originality is shattered almost immediately though, because he’s removed from proceedings without letting us know who he was, where he came from or why he was there. Was it a kid pulling a prank? We can’t be sure, because like many things, there’s just no explanation. Keeping all this in mind makes me believe that the choice for the ending, which I won’t reveal, was director Steven Tyler’s desperate attempt to escape the massive plot inconsistencies. Things just plod along like a random YouTube playlist and I’ve begun to believe that The Last Slumber Party was the source code for Click: The Calendar Girl Killer‘s bewildering structure. It’s just the ‘why’ that I’m struggling to comprehend.
I know it’s routine for a slasher victim to be dumb, but these folks are unbelievable. When the unlikely leading girl finally realises something’s not quite right in the house, she sets off to investigate and find out where everyone’s disappeared too. She takes a brief look around outside, but fails to locate any of her buddies. As she turns to re-enter, a bleeding victim staggers through the door and drops to the ground in front of her – dead. Faced with the obvious fact that there’s some sort of psychopath at work in the home, what do you think that she does? Run to a neighbour’s house to raise the alarm or maybe call the cops? No, of course not, instead she decides to walk back in and around the death trap finding a few more bodies on the way, before grabbing a knife and setting off to uncover the killer! Confused? You will be. Each murder is identical to the last, as a line of nobodies have their throat slashed with an incredibly bad gore effect. The Michael Myers-lite assassin, –who shows us the extent of his insanity by keeping his eyes wide open and holding a scalpel up to the camera menacingly MULTIPLE times – offers nothing new or exciting at all.
On the plus side there are loads of unintentional laughs on offer, like when the first two victims get killed. A nurse heads outside the hospital to a bus stop where she waits to head home. There’s another guy sitting there who’s fast asleep on the bench (?). Before she gets a chance to wake him up, she bumps into the maniac and… (unsurprisingly), has her throat cut by a scalpel. The lazy bystander manages to snore his way through her hysterical screams for help, but conveniently, he stirs just after she’s been dispatched. Of course this leaves him defenceless, unaware and wide open to get, you’ve guessed it, his throat slashed by a scalpel…. Oh, How I cried! Perhaps the most amusing thing of all, is the way that the film’s described on the back cover:
“The plot is twisted inside out leaving you stunned and clinging to your chair as you witness shock after horrifying shock. The ending will leave you breathless.”
I certainly agree; it was indeed hard to catch my breath after I had been snoring for 80 minutes.
As you’ve probably guessed The Last Slumber Party is really bottom of the barrel stuff. It’s cheap, inept, badly shot, jerkily edited, awfully scripted and has all the tension of grass growing. It’s not even able to redeem itself by being bad in an always-endearing Nail Gun Massacre kind of way. The most intriguing thing about Slumber Party is the fact that it ever secured distribution. I think it’s great that someone with a few dollars to waste can make an independent movie and get it released. But to make a small film like this a success, you need a little bit of, what’s that word? Ah yes, TALENT. Sadly it seems none of these guys were aware of that part
Directed by: Colin Eggleston
Starring: PJ Soles, Kit Taylor, Grigor Taylor
Review by Luis Joaquín González
After watching so many modern slashers of late, I really felt the need to go back and check out an early-eighties piece. It’s interesting how the new-age entries can be so similar to the peak additions in one way, but there again, to the trained eye, they do, in effect, have striking differences. There’s something about the oldies that just sets them apart. The characters were so much easier to like and the fact that I grew up hunting them out across rivers deep and mountains high, means that they carry a certain amount of nostalgia. They’re also cheesy as hell…
This particular picture is an interesting example when it comes to discussing dates, because it was shot in 1983, completed in 84, but sat on a shelf until 1991. That makes it a golden-age slasher that was released during ‘the lost years’ and barely made a ripple upon genre fans. It’s from Colin Eggleston, a prolific horror auteur, who already has two titles listed on a SLASH above: the first of the five Stage Frights and also Cassandra from 1986. Eggleston has never hid the fact that he’s a huge fan of Carpenter’s Halloween and here he cast a recognised face from that picture, P.J Soles, as his heroine. Whilst Innocent Prey is certainly a slasher movie, it boasts something of a unique structure that allows it to stand apart…
Soles plays Cathy, a Dallas based woman who is married to a business man from New Zealand. Thinking that her husband may be betraying her trust, she follows him one night to a hotel, where she looks on through a window whilst he sleeps with and then murders a young prostitute. After helping the authorities to capture him, she is terrified to learn that he has escaped his asylum and is heading back to take revenge. Cathy flees the country to her friend in Australia, however she soon realises that she’s jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire…
I recall writing that Colin Eggleston’s Cassandra stood out as an intriguing slasher flick due to its creative photography and bundles of suspense. Innocent Prey offers more of the same slick direction in places and manages to make a lot more out of its premise than I assumed would be possible. Unlike Cassandra and Stage Fright before it, Prey is not a typical genre entry. We don’t get either a masked killer or a whodunit angle. Instead it offers a synopsis that’s a lot more authentic; and as much intriguing as it is diverse. Cathy’s husband is the lead antagonist and despite being given an identity of sort, he carries a similar maniacal aura to that of Michael Myers. He’s sadistically evil and imposes himself on the screen with impeccable menace. When his unfortunate wife escapes to Australia after his initial rampage, she meets another loon that’s equally as murderous, but different in his approach and MO. The fact that she hotfoots it from one nutjob and immediately bumps into another means that she could well be the most unfortunate final girl in the whole history of slasher films.
It’s indeed interesting that Innocent Prey switches location and antagonist halfway through the shoot and it does give the film an extra layer of uniqueness. To be frank, the second killer has less of an impact than Cathy’s husband and I wonder if it might have played better if the story had focussed solely on the initial villain and his plan of revenge. I can’t but help wonder if there may be a production based reason as to why the change was necessary? Would this explain the delayed release? It’d be interesting to know for sure, because it’s hard to ascertain why the film didn’t secure immediate distribution. Unlike Cassandra, Prey is superbly acted and Brian May’s intense operatic score compliments Eggleston’s expertise with shadow play immaculately. Soles is convincing as the unfortunate final girl, but despite the quality of her acting, I was left feeling that she wasn’t particularly approachable. Perhaps she should have followed in the footsteps of her school friend Laurie Strode, from her most famous film.
When all’s said and done though, Innocent Prey delivers enough to remain worth a look. It’s not quite a classic, but it generates some spooky moments and a riveting finale. There’s some suspense and violence when the killer strikes, an incredibly cheesy final scene and hell, they even cast Debi Sue Voorhees (topless.) Colin Eggleston may not be as celebrated as other genre names, but his films are fairly underrated and deserve to be seen. This one’s debatably his best.