Category Archives: Top 50 Slashers
The best of The Best
Friday the 13th 1980
Directed by: Sean S Cunningham
Starring: Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon, Betsy Palmer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a known saying amongst film fans that the first actor that you see who plays Bond will always be your favourite. There’s most definitely some truth in this, because I watched The Spy who Loved me when I was about six years-old and Roger Moore, despite being nowhere near as cool as Sean Connery, is inexplicably the one that I like the most.
I wondered if a similar method could work on Friday the 13th films. Now first things first, I’m a massive fan of the franchise. I mean massive. I live in London, but flew to the US specifically to attend an advanced screening of Jason X when I had barely turned 20. It cost me an arm and a leg, but it was worth it. It all started because I was desperately searching for some more slasher action after watching Halloween when I was knee-high to a hub-cap. Back then, without the Internet, we had to rely on the stock of our local video stores for selection choices and there I found the extremely Michael Myers-alike back-cover blurb of Friday the 13th Part 2. So that became my first taste of the Voorhees legacy.
Straight after, I began visiting all the mom and pop rental shops within a 100 mile radius until I’d tracked down every single entry to the story. In Spain, Paramount distributed parts 2 to 8, but this film, the opening chapter, was released by Warner Bros. It could be because they didn’t print as many copies on VHS, but bizarrely enough, this was the last of them that I got to see.
Taking a browse around the other websites, I noticed that it is perhaps the most highly rated by my fellow stalk and slash critics in the blogosphere. Justin over at Hysteria Lives gave it a full five-stars, whilst Hud from Vegan Voorhees did the same. In my review of Friday the 13th Part 2, I said that it was my número uno of the series and one of the best slasher movies ever made. I have watched it at least ten times, whereas I’ve only seen this on two occasions and both were many many moons ago. I guess that the point that I’m trying to make is would a mind completely free of bias or any kind of sentimentality really call Sean S Cunningham’s notorious shocker the best of the collection? Is it really THAT good?
A local businessman has decided to reopen a summer camp that has remained in his family for almost fifty years. Previous attempts to restore Camp ‘Crystal Lake’ have always met with ominous incidents that began after the drowning of an unfortunate child. The following year, two youngsters were brutally murdered and when the killer was not apprehended, the cabins were closed and abandoned. Nowadays, townsfolk call it ‘Camp Blood’ and gossip amongst them states that it is cursed and so it has remained uninhabited since that fateful night. Steve Chrysty doesn’t believe in those whispers and has already hired a group of counsellors to help him with preparation for the grand opening. As soon as they’ve began to settle however, they are stalked and ruthlessly butchered by an elusive psychopath…
Whilst the filmmakers have admitted both privately and in interviews that this was little more than a cash-in on the success of Halloween, the key source of inspiration behind the picture was Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood and knowing that allows you to clearly see the nods and winks. Cunningham makes great use of the campsite location and the crisp photography laps up the greens and browns of the forest to give the picture a colourful radiance of a backdrop. After a brief (and surprisingly – keeping in mind that Savini was on board) gore free murder in the pre-credits, we get introduced to the first of our counsellors. What is interesting is that Annie, a bubbly hitchhiker, is given enough screen time that would lead you to believe that she could become our heroine. She’s sweet, fiery and sincere and offers something of a backstory to her persona. The opening scenes with her are intriguing because we don’t get a clear picture of what we can expect to happen. Crazy Ralph’s warnings are that ‘Camp Blood’ is doomed. Does that mean haunted? Are we about to watch a ghost story? Whilst of course we know now that wasn’t the case, the film does begin with a feeling like we could be up against something more supernatural than a twisted killer.
Victor Miller’s screenplay manages to break archetypal slasher movie boundaries even before they were set by killing off that first, well developed, character almost immediately and letting us know that no one is safe from the unseen menace. Whilst the world and their mother are aware by now of who the antagonist of this feature turned out to be, audiences of 1980 had no idea, and the story plays like something of a regular giallo/whodunit. Sean Cunningham didn’t get the breaks that would build careers for Carpenter, Craven and Hooper, but what is clear to me here is that he got the right performances from his inexperienced cast. Whilst none of them are given complex enough dialogue to really steal a scene, infamous moments such as Marcie’s Audrey Hepburn in the mirror, Ned’s practical jokes and Alice’s hysterical heroine were all pitch perfect for this campy horror classic
Once the night scenes come around, the movie really steps up a gear and delivers a genuinely dark and tense atmosphere. The backgrounds are shot in a tone that’s almost grey scale and the constant barrage of rain is a horror cliché that is used to the best possible effect. If Cunningham deserves credit for helping sustain a sense of mystery and suspense, the film really belongs to Tom Savini’s make-up effects and Bill Freda’s razor sharp editing. The pair create some amazing death scenes; with the impalement of a young Kevin Bacon and Jeannine Taylor’s gruesome end being two of the most memorable slasher murders of all time. Harry Manfredini’s musical accompaniment is powerful enough to single handedly change the mood and the poignant tranquility of his last piece, which successfully builds up to the closing jump scare – Jason’s screen début – is creative and unique.
When the killer is revealed and finally shows her face it’s a genuine shock, but also a bit of a cheat. The majority of the runtime sees suspicion point at Steve or maybe one of the campers but then it turns out to be a face that hasn’t yet been introduced to us. It’s hard to believe that this could really be the person that we have seen ramming axes through people’s faces and nailing counsellors to cabin doors, but once the final battle gets going, we just let the filmmakers take over and it turns out to be one of the best showdowns of the cycle. Betsy Palmer was heavily criticised by Roger Ebert and the like and Gene Siskel even went as far as to tell fans to write to her expressing their disappointment that she accepted such a poor choice in role. She was also nominated for that year’s supporting actress Razzie – one of the worst and most insulting things that can happen to any screen performer. Personally, I really enjoyed her natty Mrs Voorhees and think that she did exactly what was asked of her. That hammy as a sandwich schizophrenia is surprisingly effective and I just couldn’t imagine how the film would play without it. Oh and by the way Señor Siskel, Señora Palmer later stated that she received exactly 0 complaints through the mail and only letters praising her inclusion in the picture. So there :p
Friday the 13th is, for me, a four star slasher movie. It’s a suspenseful and exciting killer in the woods flick that has a couple of memorably edited scares, a wonderful final battle and some of the best character-driven situations of the entire genre. The only thing that it lacks is a solid central antagonist; or to be more clear, a Jason Voorhees. Of course though, we have to keep in mind that without this, we would never have had a mass-murderer in a hockey mask and the greatest legacies have to start somewhere. Whilst I am still convinced that part two, the first that I ever saw, is the best in the series, I have only the tiniest of disagreements with those that consider this to be their favourite.
Maybe it is just like what they say about Bond and that I saw the sequel first…?
Final Girl: √√√√
aka Night Crew: The Final Checkout aka Intruso en la Noche
Directed by: Scott Spiegel
Starring: Elizabeth Cox, Sam Raimi, Renée Estévez
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Every decade creates its own individual cultural characteristics that are easy to look back on and distinguish as key to that era. Even though perhaps there has been little invention during the last fifteen years or so, the tail end of the twentieth century delivered a multitude of creation within the entertainment industry. The fifties will always be remembered for the birth of rock and roll, whilst The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the introduction of the ‘make love not war’ anti-Vietnam mentality of Western youth signified the cultural identity of the sixties. Vivid images of white suited, medallion sporting men and disco divas became synonymous with the seventies, but it was the eighties that will be remembered for launching the most memorable generation landmarks.
Slasher films also played a strong part in defining the personality of those (in)glorious years. Despite the invasion of titles during the post-Scream outbreak of 1996, there will never be a time that can compete with the genre’s initial overkill period. It all began with the notorious, “kill her mommy” lines of Friday the 13th and despite a fall in popularity as the decade progressed, studios were still producing cycle entries consistently right the way through. I have said previously in my review of Maniac Cop that despite many believing that 1981 was the peak of the entire cycle, 1988 also should be acknowledged, if not only for the sheer amount of releases that hit shelves. Intruder is easily one of the best of those…
It tells the tale of a group of staff in a super market that are asked to work through the night, pricing down all the stock as they all have been made redundant due to the closure of the store. As they lock the shutters for the last time, it becomes apparent that an unwelcome guest has crept in amongst them. Before long, they are being stalked and killed one by one by an unseen maniac.
In film, as in life, timing is everything. Whether it be that of a screen comedian or the understanding of the span of suspense by a director, the clock can be a vital tool in the creation of cinematic perfection. The reason I write this is because as it stands, Intruder is an obscure slasher movie that is highly regarded by those that have seen it. If, however, it had been released eight years earlier, I would be writing the review of an out and out horror classic. Spiegel’s opus has enough wit, gore, audacity and creativity to be ranked amongst the best of its ilk and it is only purely due to the multitude of titles that it was released with that it has been so unfairly overlooked.
If Sam Raimi’s adventurous direction makes him the outlaw of Hollywood sensibility, then Scott Spiegel should be Billy the Kid. The Jesse James of eccentric cinematic vision. Here is a man whose modus operandi seems to be to imagine the most audacious and outrageous camera angle possible and then in the same breath attempt to shoot it. Although, much like mayonnaise on chips, you’ll either love his flamboyant approach or hate it; kudos should be given for his brazen audacity and outlandish vision.
What we have here is a pie-eating contest of slasher clichés, which add up to a mega-feast of tongue-in-cheek over-indulgence that leaves you begging for more after the final curtain. The gore is Intruder’s biggest selling point. Heads get lopped off, crushed and sawed in half; and much like the work of Fulci, everything is filmed in loving close-up. A movie can sometimes become an extension of the film-maker’s personality and having watched Scott Spiegel’s interviews many times, this, his signature feature, is truly a case in point. It’s a shame that such a modest, down-to-earth and clearly talented director has never reached the heights of his high-school buddies, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.
Paramount Studios– the enemy of all gore hounds after their stringent censorship of countless genre classics – were responsible for changing the name of Intruder from the much better Night Crew: The Final Checkout. Their VHS release also, characteristically, cut out all the gore. The first copy that I watched was the BBFC’s rated version, which in all fairness was still a well-produced and competent slasher – but it’s the uncut print that is the real gem. Obviously Spiegel’s effort is no Halloween and it’s something that the director is well aware of. If, however, you asked me to pick the best fifty – hell, best twenty – genre classics, Intruder would certainly be amongst them somewhere alongside Carpenter’s seminal favourite.
Very few know that Intruder is a remake of an old Spiegel 8mm feature that he shot during the early eighties, titled Night Crew. Credit has to be given to Lawrence Bender’s slick production skills, which turned an equally gory, but ultimately mediocre Halloween-clone (which the aforementioned short most definitely was) into a stand-out slasher classic. This project would act as a learning curve for Bender who would go on – through Spiegel’s introduction – to become one of the most important producers of the last twenty years. It’s strange to think that this low-budget stalk and slash flick would be the first step on the career that would bring us Quentin Tarantino and a host of Hollywood hits including, Good Will Hunting.
OK, so the cast were never going to turn up at the academy awards, but they do enough to get the job done and a nod to Dan Hicks, who delivers a highly committed performance. One change that I would have made would be to have given Renee Estévez (sister of Charlie and Emilio) the lead role over Elisabeth Cox, who I felt was the weakest link in places. The ‘twist’ ending – which I really enjoyed – has been seen before, although I am convinced that it was just coincidental rather than Spiegel borrowing from other genre pieces. There’s also a decent whodunit plot running, which is stupidly ruined by the packaging on many versions that gives away the killer’s identity on the front cover. Doh!
Intruder is by far one of the best slasher movies of the eighties and should be a member of every avid fan’s collection. It mixes black humour and gruesome slaughter outstandingly well and basically takes the guide book to making a slasher movie, reads it and then blows it out of the window by maximising every damn page/trapping. This is how slashers are supposed to be and Señor Spiegel is welcome back here anytime to have another crack at a genre classic…
Final Girl √√
Nightmare at Shadow Woods 1983
aka Blood Rage
Directed by: John Grissmer
Starring: Mark Soper, Louise Lasser, Marianne Kanter
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Firstly, before we get going, I must confess that this review is of the old US video version under the name of Blood Rage. The film played briefly in theaters as Nightmare at Shadow Woods and I also have Dutch and Argentinian copies that were released the same way. There was a budget disc that came out quite recently, but it cuts out all the good stuff, so if you are looking to track this down after reading, go for the VHS ONLY. Well, at least until it gets picked up and given the care and attention that it should have received long ago…
Although this overlooked little gem wasn’t marketed as an out and out gore flick, in its uncut form it certainly delivers on the red stuff. It was shot in 1982 and finished early the following year, but it didn’t get released until much later when the stalk and slash style of horror had seriously become old hat. There are many such examples that you can find here on a SLASH above, where features have been left on the shelf for whatever reason, but in the case of Woods, it is a real disappointment that such a fun little entry has become totally obscure.
There’s something uniquely satisfying about watching a gory film. It may be impossible to put it into words, but there’s a reason why an uncut version of a splatter fest will always favour that of a censored print. Humans have a morbid curiosity and it’s fun watching an actor getting his face cut in half with a bench saw when you know it’s just prosthetics…
We kick off at a drive in movie theater. A mother is far too busy making out with her lover to notice that her twin boys Terry and Todd have crept out of the car and headed out onto the forecourt. After a brief confrontation with a teenage viewer and his girlfriend, one of the twins hacks the unfortunate jock to death with a handy axe that he picked up on route. Clearly a quick thinker, Terry gives the hatchet to his dumb-founded brother and leaves him to face a life behind bars in an asylum for a crime that he did not commit.
Fast forward ten years and Todd, who has been in a catatonic state since that fateful night, begins to recollect the fact that it is actually his twin-brother that should be held accountable for the grisly murder and so armed with the truth, he escapes the hospital to clear his name and bring his sibling to justice. Meanwhile the news of Todd’s escape, coupled with the uncomfortable fact that his mother is about to get married, sends Terry back on a maniacal rampage.
What we have here is the slasher movie equivalent of a ’67 Pontiac Firebird. Nowadays it may look a bit clunky and rough around the edges, but that doesn’t diminish any of its coolness. John Grissmer obviously set out with the ambition to fill his feature with all the necessary ingredients for it to rival the hard-hitters of the horror market during that period and if it weren’t for a few post-production issues, he would have succeeded wholeheartedly. As I mentioned earlier, the gore is spread thick and fast throughout the runtime and there’s no space left for sentimentality as the killer stalks his victims with a mean-spirited air of arrogance. In most traditional slasher films, the antagonist is either an unknown entity with no other link to his victims than a lust for murder or more commonly it’s a psychopathic colleague that’s seeking revenge, but conceals his identity from those that he stalks. Grissmer’s psycho however kills indiscriminately and celebrates the fact that he is slashing those that look upon him as a friend. He taunts as would a playground bully and like the most fearsome schizophrenic, he has no apparent realization of the grotesque acts that he is committing.
Future Oscar nominee Ed French’s gore effects are heavily underrated and hold up well against some of the cycle’s more renowned bloody treasures. My favorite of the bunch would have to be when Maddy discovers the corpse of her boyfriend in the apartment complex and unaware that he has been murdered, she prods him to ascertain why he is failing to answer her questioning. As his body falls forward, the head splits completely in half through the middle and its a decent and credibly handled scare. This is one of many neat directorial flourishes on display and the final stalking scenes build some flashes of suspense and tension. The budget restrictions are obvious, but the film holds it’s own against its slasher siblings.
Mark Soper steals the show here playing both of the evil twins with an intelligent and well researched performance that defies his lack of experience. Instead of just going for the obvious and giving his separate characters distinctive vocal twangs, his body language, composure and stride are uniquely delivered and therefore look almost unrecognizable as the work of the same actor. He has a ball playing the maniacal killer and his ‘cranberry sauce’ lines are chillingly dark and brought to mind something that Jack Nicholson might ad lib. Louise Lasser, a good actress usually, is hit and miss here as the mother, but I guess that she did manage much more ‘hit’ and the role was a difficult one. I also quite liked the innocent (and heroic) final girl who was played well by an unknown who had very few previous screen credits. Bruce Rubin’s screenplay is conventional of the slasher genre, but smart with the majority of its twists and gimmicks and it does well to set up scenarios that develop the story and maintain the pace. Do you remember the scene in Halloween when Laurie Strode is screaming and in desperate need for help from her neighbours, but they dismiss her cries as drunken malarkey? Well, there’s something similar here when a kiddie is pre-warned not to open the door because there’s someone dangerous about. Later, when the heroine is fleeing and looking for a place to hide, guess which house that she runs to and begins frantically knocking?
What I did find disappointing though was that Rubin didn’t make the most of an ambitious plot by adding a possible element of mystery. We know from the start that Terry is the psychopathic sibling, but with a bit more adventurous scripting, we could have been left deciding which of the twins is the true killer until an archetypal revelation climax.
With that said, Woods still remains a top top splatter flick and would be a great sister companion for The Prowler or My Bloody Valentine from the same period. It is scary, well-written, fast moving, unique and on top of that mega gory. Ray Peterson was a rock and roll singer in the late fifties who had a four-octave voice. His songs were brilliant and he covered everything from doo-wop to up-tempo ballads, but only boasted a handful of minor hits. Woods in a way is similar to Peterson, because it has it all; and for reasons that only the immortal guardians can provide, it never got the respect that it deserves…..
Final Girl √√
aka Sound Stage Massacre aka Bloody Bird aka Aquarius aka Deliria
Directed by: Michele Soavi
Starring: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Mary Sellers
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Easily one of the best slasher movies of all time, Stagefright is as close as you will get to a perfect juxtaposition of the trappings that had created their own specific sub-genre throughout the seventies and eighties.
Born in 1957, seventeen-years after his idol Dario Argento, Michele Soavi experienced first-hand the golden period of the Italian Giallo in theatres. His love for these thrillers made-up his mind to move away from his mother and stepfather’s profession of art and he quickly developed a passion for cinema. After a chance meeting with the director who had inspired him, Soavi’s ambition impressed Argento so much that he took him under his wing and gave him the opportunity to be his second assistant on the 1982 hit, Tenebrae. Lamberto Bava, who had also worked on that picture and shared the belief in Michele’s ability, went on to hire him for a similar position on A Blade in the Dark. For the next few years, Soavi continued to build his knowledge by accepting roles either within crews or as an actor until he finally had the confidence and the opportunity to shoot his own feature.
By 1987, the slasher genre, which was unarguably an Americanisation of the Giallo, was no longer only an enemy of critics but a failure with audiences too. This was the case almost everywhere except for Southern Europe, where there remained strong interest and popularity at box offices and on VHS. Soavi had been expected to shoot his début in the style that he had not only grown up with, but worked upon; however he surprisingly chose to create an effort that owed much more to Halloween than it did Blood and Black Lace. Stagefright delivers no mystery as to who is the movie’s antagonist and instead we are given a real bogeyman that much like Michael Myers has no motive outside of a lust for violent murder. The thing that perhaps separates this from almost all of its colleagues from that period is that it’s shot with the panache found more predominantly in European efforts and is by far the best crossbreed of those visions. The filmmaking heritage of the man in the hot seat means that the combination feels natural and takes the best of both methodologies to make an entry that succeeds on every possible level.
A group of amateur stage actors are rehearsing for a production of an ambitious musical. The director is frustrated that his cast are so far behind and one of the financiers is getting hot under the collar with the lacklustre effort from the people he has hired. That all changes however when one of them turns up dead in the car park outside; brutally murdered. The Police arrive and it is believed that the maniac has taken off into the night. After heavy persuasion, the actors decide to stay and continue with their preparation knowing that the events will bring people from far and wide with morbid curiosities. Before long there’s another murder and they realise that they are now locked in the theatre with the killer. How will they survive until morning?
Being that I have worked in sales for over ten years, I have been on many courses and learned from lots of different professionals. I have picked up a great deal of advice, but one of the most prominent messages that has stayed with me is ‘treat everyday like it’s your first.’ When you initially join a new company, you are brimming with motivation to prove that your boss has made the right decision in hiring you. You don’t take five minutes to check Twitter at lunch time and you can’t stop typing and hitting the phone. Soavi, as a first time director shows that he has that same bug for exuberance and every shot feels like it comes from a filmmaker who is absolutely brimming with flair and innovation.
Stagefright is a wonderful blend of stylish imagery and energetic ideas and it is this abundance of mastery that makes it an adept example of bringing the best out of an overused formula. Due to some well-thought out scripting, intriguing personas and witty dialogue, you can enjoy the moments when the killer is not on-screen almost as much as when he begins stalking. There are various notions explored that viewers can relate to, including each of the characters being broke and desperate for money, especially the young couple who discover that they are about to be parents for the first time. David Brandon is absolutely outstanding as the vainglorious and cowardly director and the players are split between those you immediately dislike and the few that you hope will survive. Mary Sellers’ Laurel is a great demonstration of a horrible personality and even with her final breath she illustrates a trait of selfishness that you will come across only too often in reality. I can’t think of any scene more symbolic than when David Brandon’s aforementioned director mistakes the real psychopath for an actor that sports the same disguise and eggs him on during a rehearsal with lines like, ‘Go on, kill her!’ as the maniac lingers close to a female member of the crew. He then realises far too late that he has just rooted for the slaughter of one of his colleagues. This results in another great twist when Brandon’s character comes across what he thinks to be the nut job sitting in the attic. I won’t ruin what happens, but the film is riddled with a large amount of false shocks and rule bending.
In fact it’s the knowledge of the genre’s typical values that allows Soavi to experiment so wildly. Even though this is by no means a parody, it does enjoy realigning your expectations and catching you out with its off-key hop-scotching through what you think that you know will happen. I like the way that the victims, upon realising that they are locked in with the psycho, decide to grab some weapons and fight back. The screenplay handles all the emotions you can imagine that there would be, including paranoia, fear, anxiety and panic. Even though some bonds are built between the characters, they are quickly broken if they find a chance to push the person next to them ahead in the queue to be slaughtered and the final girl only gets that opportunity because she is knocked unconscious by one of the people who is fleeing alongside her. This flaw in human nature seems to be something that Soavi has much interest in and there’s another sequence where the survivors begin violently shaking a girl who is bleeding to death because she knows where a hidden key is located. It’s an intriguing comment on how high some people value themselves over the lives of others. There are few heroes here, which to be fair seems much closer to the true nature of mankind than Hollywood would like us to believe.
The photography is marvellous and is only bettered by a great use of sound. It is more than a gimick that the killer is stalking a musical, because Soavi attempts successfully to use his fantastic accompaniment to assist in the delivery of the change of moods from scene to scene. Included are some smart opportunities for suspense and a handful of very good jump scares and the owl mask starts out almost comically, but seems to get creepier as it gets more splattered with blood. I can’t think of many better postcards of the slasher craze than the shot of the killer listening to classical music in an armchair on the stage with a black cat on his lap and the corpses of all of his prey lying around him like trophies. It’s so good that it’s almost artistic. The film is filled with enough blood to satisfy gore fans and the killer works with almost all the most notorious tools including, an axe (Friday the 13th), chainsaw (Pieces), drill, (Pranks), pick-axe (My Bloody Valentine) and every psychopath’s favourite, the bread-knife (Almost every slasher movie ever). Upon consideration, Stagefright could well be just a collection of elements from the following features: Whodunit? (the sleazy producer), House of Death (gut ripping scene), Halloween (the escape), Tenebrae (the ‘look who’s behind you’ trick) and Demons (the location). Then again, maybe it’s just a coincidence.
As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of Michele Soavi’s stalk and slash effort. Even if he never became anywhere near as prolific as his contemporaries, he kept the quality levels high throughout his following filmography. This is by far my favourite of his work and I believe that you will rarely find a better genre movie. It has everything from moments of extreme creepiness (like when the killer and final girl come face to face for the first time) to hilarious dialogue (some of the one-liners are electric). Put it this way, style like this doesn’t come around very often. Not very often at all…
Final Girl: √√√
Directed by: Daniel Liatowitsch David Todd Ocvirk
Starring: Amy Webber, Donny Terranova, Nichole Pelerine
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So what is there to say about things that emerged during the noughties, eh? Well we didn’t get many life altering inventions, but for sure social networking and reality television became the media sensations of the last decade. Whether it be struggling stars trying to prevent that last nail entering their career coffin on, ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!’ or audacious personalities swimming in a pool of insecurities and trying to grab their fifteen minutes on ‘Big Brother’, the viewing stats for this rubbish were astronomical. It was the latter that proved to be the source code for this post-Scream slasher yarn, which set up a reality TV (or VHS) backdrop just before that style of interactive entertainment took the entire world by storm.
Five youngsters respond to an advert in a local paper asking for ambitious extroverts to be boarded up in a house for five days and have all their emotions and activities filmed. Almost as soon as they arrive however, they are locked in with a sadistic faceless killer and no chance to escape…
There was so much junk that came out in the late nineties and attempted to cash in on the new wave of slashers that it is really refreshing when you uncover an effort that’s even slightly above average. Kolobos however is much more than that – it’s an intelligent, stylish and creepy entry that has been bizarrely overlooked. It recalls the elements that make up the greatest titles of the category, including a good mystery, stylish direction, superb gore and a creepy tone.
The film is made by people who appreciate the genre and at the same time acknowledge its weaknesses. One of the personas is an actress who appeared in the fictional slasher movie franchise, ‘The Slaughterhouse Factor’. The group sit down to watch the films one after another and mock the poor continuity, cheesy deaths and silly plot and they could, in effect, be watching any number of dumb eighties titles. It is this recognition however that allows those same characters when they become trapped with the psychopathic killer, to do the right things, like sticking together and working in tandem to escape. The film has a somewhat surreal nightmarish quality, which is brought about by blurry imagery and a haunting score from William Kidd. The inspiration here seems to stem more from Argento than Craven and there’s some stuff that even he would be proud of. When they realise that they are imprisoned and become locked down, the directors use flashing red and white lights to illuminate the darkness and it builds a great environment of gothic horror. The house is layered with ingenious death traps that are triggered when one of the victims crosses an area that is covered with mission impossible-style red lasers. This means that every step they take could be the wrong one and it helps add to the tension
The realism portrayed in the way the actors handle the situations of impending doom is what sets this apart. They try desperately to survive and show emotions of paranoia and fear in how they have become the victims of unprovoked murder. Could one of these people that they just met and hardly know be responsible for the sudden deaths? The first slaughter takes you by surprise because it’s so out of the blue and from then on the gore is spread thick and fast. The effects are excellent and include an eye impalement, disembowelment and an acid shower that’s similar to the one from Whodunit. There’s some tight pulsating sequences and a sense of the macabre in all the aspects of terror and as the characters have been so well-developed, there’s more of an effect on the audience when they die.
We are treated to a couple of decent jump scares and an exciting final battle and the cast do a good job at developing themselves. I especially thought a lot of Amy Weber who is a good actress and brought to mind Jennifer Love Hewitt with more than just the fact that they look quite similar. They even managed to get Linnea Quigley to turn up for a cameo. On top of that it even has the odd cheesy scene, like when they all head in to the corner and begin grooving under a ‘disco ball’ for what seems like no apparent reason.
Kolobos starts very well, but doesn’t manage to keep the suspense at the same level all the way through. It just seems to throw too much of everything in to the final forty minutes, which lessens the impact a tad. I was also extremely disappointed with the final twist, which was smart but a bit of a cheat and totally unnecessary. I feel the movie would have been better if it finished on the seventy-three minute mark, but it does leave a bit of an ambiguous finale, which plays on your mind. Was it real or all a dream?
This is by no means perfect, but very few slasher movies ever have been. It is still one of the best titles of the last twenty years and in the top fifteen of all time. Superbly directed with style, panache, a fast pace and a great cast; Kolobos is a titan of slasher styling and should most definitely be added to your collection.
The strangest thing that I learned after watching this is that neither of the two directors have gone on to anything else. This is really bizarre as they showed immense potential here and should have at least been given another opportunity.
Final Girl: √√√
Black Christmas 1974
Directed by: Bob Clark
Starring: Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Lynne Griffin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Long before Jamie Blanks turned popular urban legends into a theme for his routine slasher, Urban Legend; director Bob Clark took one of the most vigorously touted of those fables and created a genre staple that would become the forerunner of the stalk and slash cycle. Comparisons can obviously be drawn between this and Halloween, including notorious but unconfirmed reports that Carpenter’s film was in fact based upon an un-produced concept that Clark had earlier initiated as a sequel to this 1974 sleeper. Both efforts certainly have a lot in common with one another, including two excellent steady-cam openings, which put the viewer in the killer’s shoes as he enters his ‘soon to be’ scene of a crime. On the ‘making of’ feature for the 25th anniversary of Halloween, perhaps one commentator is fairly unjust when he states that it was that movie alone that started the excessive use of point of view shots that are so often imitated in horror cinema ever since. Black Christmas was equally as effective with its application of first person cinematography and even though Carpenter had already endorsed the technique in an earlier short from his University days, he was most definitely influenced by what he saw here.
The story concerns a group of sorority sisters that are preparing for their Christmas celebrations in a remote house. They have been receiving bizarre and anonymous calls from what sounds like a group of insane people, although no one takes them seriously at first, believing that they’re just a typical prank from a few of the local town boys. However fears are ignited when one of the students, Claire (Lynne Griffin), doesn’t arrive to meet her father on time and is reported missing. Later a child is found butchered in the park, whilst the loony continues his demented ringing and terrorising the young women. Before long Lieutenant Fuller (John Saxon) realises that there may be a link in the occurrences and asks Jess (Olivia Hussey) to remain close to her phone so that he can trace the line when the lunatic next rings. But will there be anyone left alive when that happens?
Even though this movie is neither graphic, gratuitous nor particularly exploitive by today’s standards, it remains one of the most disturbing and chilling slasher movies ever made. Perhaps as mysteriously alluring as the exploits of Michael Myers and certainly far more alarming than any of its endless imitations could ever hope to be, the killer here simply oozes fear factor. It’s not by the use of the typical methods that have become somewhat old-hat in more recent efforts either. For example, this assassin doesn’t wear a mask, probably doesn’t possess any super-human attributes and may only be threatening towards the female of our species. But his enigmatic ranting and crazy excessive skips between multiple personalities that are portrayed superbly over phone calls, effortlessly allow him to become one of the creepiest wackos ever seen on film. Never has a telephone been implemented as a tool for creating fear so efficiently. There’s something really unsettling as this Jekyll and Hyde argues with his demented alter ego(s). In the midst of his outbursts, he changes his pitch from that of a high female to a deep and aggressive male and then back again, in a manner of pure and unadulterated insanity that really sticks in your throat. He perhaps reaches the most blood-curdling moment when he drops the wacky persona to adopt a civil yet curt voice and mutter once,`I’m going to kill you’. This proves to be the one and only direct threat that he makes in the whole movie.
Where as Michael Myers’ success was brought about by the mystery that surrounded the little that we knew of the true motivations of his character, a similar method has been used here. I won’t write too much in case that you haven’t already seen the film, but the script does a great job of maintaining a mysterious bogeyman. Bob Clark’s talents as a horror director certainly reached their peak with Black Christmas. Helped excessively by some great cinematography and neatly planned lighting effects that often evade the more recent slasher movies, he proved his worth as a genre legend. He used some creative methods to keep the killer obscured from view, whilst not forgetting the fundamental silhouette and shadow play. I am sure that the quality of his work here gave him the springboard to the latter success that he would find in other areas of cinema. If you do predict the twists in the plot, then it’s only because they have be copied so many times since this hit the shelves that they now feel second nature to any slasher fan. It’s important to remember that this was one of the first to use those elements and you must also note how perfectly this holds up against the majority of attempts that have been released up to three decades after.
Some brilliant actors whom themselves would make their own slight impressions on the genre (Margot Kidder: The Clown at Midnight, Lynne Griffin: Curtains and John Saxon: Nightmare Beach and The Babydoll Murders) offer support to a competent lead in Olivia Hussey. Aside from a couple of weak moments she carried the majority of the picture extremely well. Kudos also to the actor(s) that performed the terrorising calls, because their effort to sound as deranged as humanly possible gave the film one of the scariest ingredients of the cycle. We cannot forget to mention Roy Moore and Bob Clark’s dialogue; because without it, the movie certainly would not have been so fearfully memorable.
The slasher genre has gained a reputation over the years for being somewhat over populated by incompetent/amateur filmmakers. But efforts like this, Halloween and House on Sorority Row prove that the category is a necessary ingredient to cinema history when it’s handled properly. This has recently been re-released on DVD with minimal extras but maximum value for money and really does warrant a purchase. There’s not a lot more to be said to convince you, this is a true cult-classic and your collection is poorer without a copy. Maybe next time you are bothered by a crank caller, you’ll be a little more cautious as to how you handle the situation…
Final Girl √√√
Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, PJ Soles
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Over ten years have passed since I posted my first slasher movie review under an alias on the web. I was studying at that time and watching flicks when I should have been doing coursework, so I wrote under the name of Chrisie Tuohy – a tribute to my Nan, Cristina, who had died that year. A decade is a long time and surprisingly enough, I have never got round to reviewing the one that started it all (for me anyway) – Halloween.
It’s a big task, because it has been covered so many times and I wondred if I could really do it any justice? I always had this on my mind when I thought about putting pen to paper. How do I accurately describe in words something that had such a profound effect on my life? Could I really say what needed to be said?
I came up with an idea. I’m not going to cover the same old ground here and instead I will write about the effect that Halloween had on me and the things that I personally believe made it such a classic.
I recorded this on video when I was very young and I remember that apart from being genuinely terrified (walking from the living room to the kitchen in pitch black was a challenge) I was sincerely intrigued. Just what the hell was Michael Myers? Why wouldn’t he die?
It took me a while to learn that there was a sequel (you can imagine my disappointment when the first that I found was part 3 – I mean, where was Mr. Myers?) and so I had a burning passion to understand some more about this pure evil. I used to plague my mum constantly, always asking about it – well she WAS an adult and she had seen it many moons ago, but she didn’t share my passion and couldn’t answer my question, so it became an obsession.
More than anything, I really wanted to relive that experience. I mean was there another film that could terrify me that much? So became my love of slashers, before I even knew that they were called slashers, and it’s an addiction I have carried ever since.
Back in those days there was a label called VipCo in the UK and it claimed to be a leading provider of horror movies and video-nasties. In my eagerness, (I had a lot of time) I managed to get the owner’s phone number and used to call him quite a bit. He never really enjoyed speaking to me, but persistence paid off and he pointed me in the way of some more slashers (only the ones he was releasing, of course) and from then my collection began.
I never really got to feel how I did that night, but I have had some great fun courtesy of my favourite past time and I don’t regret becoming an avid collector.
In the opening, an unseen maniac escapes from an institution and heads back to the town where he murdered his sister when he was six years old. It’s the anniversary of his previous crime and he is back to celebrate it in some style.
Now the first thing I noticed, having watched so many slashers and not this one for a long time, is the cinematography. It’s essential to have creativity in kill scenes and totally expected, but to see such energy during the plot development parts is a brilliant ingredient. Halloween could have walked the fine line of losing its focus during the unraveling of its story, a fate that befell many other genre entries, but there’s a constant feeling of dread that surrounds the characters. It’s almost as if you can sense the fate that’s awaiting them.
Donald Pleasence was not the first choice for such a key role. Carpenter was looking to recognised genre heavyweights such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing for the iconic Sam Loomis. Both turned him down (Christopher Lee called it the biggest mistake of his career – although for me that’s accepting a role in Mask of Murder) and even though I’m sure that either could have done a good enough job, Pleasence makes the role his own. Jamie Lee Curtis shines on her debut and I don’t think that anyone has captured the geeky/naive innocence and warmth that she delivers so effortlessly. It’s easy to root for Laurie Strode, she’s the perfect heroine. She will fight to defend those close to her, she’s loyal, she’s shy, she’s intelligent and she boasts an under-developed beauty. It’s also very easy to relate to her. Anyone that has a slightly sensitive side will recognise a piece of Laurie Strode and Carpenter’s script captures the essence of an ideal protagonist.
I believe that the reason that Michael Myers was so much scarier than other bogeymen – and I think it helped Jason from Friday the 13th Part 2 (before he became a comical character), – was that he only lived to kill. In slasher movies that have a ‘guess who is the maniac’ sub-plot, the impact is different because you have usually seen the antagonist behaving normally (probably the most normal in an attempt to divert suspicion) and then all of a sudden they turn out to be a psychopath with a lust for murder. Myers on the other hand was terrifying because he hadn’t spoken for fifteen years and his modus operandi was simply to stalk and slaughter random targets. Unlike a villain from a whodunit synopsis, you could never imagine this masked assailant sharing a joke with the person he wants to kill or taking a stroll to the shop to buy a newspaper. This was a pure force of evil, without a motive – and he can’t be compared to someone that’s seeking vengeance for an earlier wrongdoing. This rampage wasn’t about revenge, it was about cold-blooded murder.
Now one of the oldest rules of the Horror category, from way back in the days of Grand-Guignol is that if you really want to make your monster scary, don’t make him visible until the climax. There are many samples of this that you can find within the slasher cycle, but none of them do it this well. The framing is artful and the tension is ramped by the enigma of the silhouetted specter. We aren’t shown the notorious mask until the final quarter and we never get a chance to clearly witness the face that’s underneath it. What could this guy look like? I would love to take a peek at ‘…the blackest eyes, the devils eyes’ as Sam Loomis puts it. Imagination is a wonderful thing and Carpenter allowed ours to run away in to the shadows that were left by one of the most terrifying fiends ever to stalk the silver screen.
The suspense here is marvellous and holds up quite well even today after I have seen the film a million times. I love the way Myers sits up in the background and looks at the petrified Laurie Strode in that postcard final scene. Carpenter was right in giving us so little exposition and nothing to relate to Myers as a person, because we still don’t really know why he became an unstoppable killer. It’s a shame that the sequels never managed to build on the film’s strengths and perhaps this is a motion picture that should never have had a continuation.
Whether or not Halloween started the slasher genre is irrelevant, because this is the best example by a country mile and it’s crazy to think that it’s never been improved upon. It’s impossible to come up with another movie that has been imitated as many times and as I said to the girl that I watched it with, you may have seen this all before, but this is where it came from – this is the source code. The rest are just wannabes.
You’ve read all the praise before, but for me this is without a doubt the best horror movie anywhere ever. I would also suggest that Carpenter at the height of his creativity was the greatest horror director.
Watch it tonight, go on, I dare you…
Final Girl √√√√√
Friday the 13th Part II 1981
Directed by: Steve Miner
Starring: John Furey, Amy Steel, Kirsten Baker, Marta Kober
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The Friday the 13th series has become almost comedic nowadays. Long gone are the times when Jason was scary. The signature Hockey Mask has turned into a ‘loveable’ image and I read a funny comment online the other day where a girl on the IMDB was asking about generally terrifying horror films and she said, “Not little-kid stuff like Friday the 13th”. However that wasn’t always the case and Steve Miner’s pulse raising sequel is easily the best of the F13 series. Dare I say it? It’s almost as good as Halloween (there I said it). Put it this way, if I were to be abducted by aliens and they said, “Hey earthling lead us to the best Friday film” I would offer this version in a heartbeat. This is an ideal example of what a real slasher movie should be: Fast, suspenseful, creepy and ultimately out of your seat-jumpingly scary.
Many people forget – and Kasey was brutally reminded in the opening of Wes Craven’s Scream – that Jason was nothing but an unfortunate pup in the first film that popped out of the river as a kind of joke-scare for the climax. Even the, ahem, ‘lazy’ continuity of this particular franchise could not bring Madame Voorhees back for another stab at a campsite massacre and so the screenwriters turned to her ready and willing son. I have it on good authority that a second installment was always on the cards and it was part of the initial plan when the first chapter was seeking distribution. Sean S. Cunningham passed up on the chance to return, leaving directorship to his buddy Steve Miner who was heavily involved in the development the first time around. They say that inside every producer lies an eager director and he proved to be the perfect choice, as he showed a previously unseen flair for suspense that would make this film the classic that it has become.
Five years after the now notorious Camp Blood killings, life is getting back to normal in the vicinity of Camp Crystal Lake. Paul Holt, an ambitious local, has decided to open a counselor training complex and invites some teenage applicants to begin training in the secluded location. Of course, they are not alone and before long the silhouette of a mysterious prowler is seen stalking the campsite.
Writer Victor Miller has openly admitted that the mission statement behind Friday the 13th was to literally rip-off Halloween and Carrie and make a quick buck. With that in mind, I must admit that it’s more visible that Steve Miner is paying homage to Carpenter’s film here than it was in the previous episode. The lengthy opening borrows heavily from Halloween, especially in the POV shots of Jason stalking the house and there’s a similar mystery of keeping the killer in the shadows for the first part. You could count on ten hands the myriad of references to Carpenter’s signature piece, but one less obvious one is where Jason hides under a bed sheet and sits up (really taut sequence), which clearly mimics a scene in 1978’s slasher template-setter when Myers makes his ‘telephone strangulation’. The fluidity of the direction is so good here though that the film stands on its own as a suspense marathon and therefore feels not so much a rip-off and more of a deep lying respect for Carpenter’s masterpiece.
Whereas later entries to the F13 chain would seem to roll out victims just to show their face and get killed, this screenplay spends time here developing the lesser characters and it’s one of the best things about the feature. There are some unique personalities that help to unravel the first half of the picture and I remember having such a crush on Marta Kober’s Sandra when I was thirteen that I ended up dating a girl called Tracey Coster who looked exactly like her. (I even showed her the similarities; probably not the most thoughtful thing that I have ever done.) Whilst there are no obvious weaknesses in the performances of any of the supporting characters, it’s the two leads that walk away with the biggest adulation. Amy Steel is widely regarded as the greatest final girl of all time and I don’t remember seeing many that put up such a good fight against their assailant. The later chase sequences are effective, because Ginny is markedly intelligent and doesn’t make the usual mistakes of running upstairs when the door is open or walking straight in to the bogeyman’s clutches. I also liked the child psychology angle and the quick-witted way that she momentarily disables (and almost defeats) Jason. John Furey’s Paul may not be given get the same opportunities as his co-star to shine, but without his fearsome support of our fiery heroine, we never could have seen such a pulsating showdown .
Amy Steel may deliver an almost perfect example of a woman in peril fighting back, but it is Steve Miner’s direction that is the REAL star of the show here. Each shot seems more creative than the last and he makes the most of an absolutely terrific score from Harry Manfredini. There are more popcorn-jolts in these 83 minutes than in many of the later continuations and thanks to some brilliant photography, Jason’s revelation (he had only been seen in silhouette up until that point) is well worth the anticipated wait.
Steve Miner’s focused work with Warrington Gillette and Steve Daskawisz created the most creepy and least cartoon-like Jason that later entries lost when they turned him into a marauding zombie. Ron Kurz and Phil Scuderi’s script delivers much more of a motive that is expressed with pathos by Amy Steel’s speech in the bar about his ‘child like’ mentality. He seems nowhere near as indestructible here and shows fear when he becomes the victim of defensive attacks from intended victims (the chainsaw scene for example). Obviously there’s no hockey mask and I personally prefer the potato-sack, backwoods lumber-jack get-up. This may have been lifted from The Town that Dreaded Sundown and Charles Pierce could have sued if it wasn’t for the fact that the disguise was taken from witness descriptions of the fiend from the real-life ‘Texarkana Moonlight Murders’. It worked for me, because it was obvious that a more ‘alive’ Jason could be embarrassed by his disfigured features, which added sympathy to his character and brought to mind John Hurt’s wonderful portrayal from The Elephant Man, who also wore a similar headpiece.
The only problems come not from a fault of the production team but from the bullshit work of the MPAA. There’s hardly any blood on display and you can tell (despite some decent re-editing) that the kill scenes should be longer. The most recent copy has a 15 rating in the UK, I mean how bad is that? Nowadays, it’s alright to watch Quentin Tarantino characters use a sword to dismember countless victims, or the numerous grisly murders from the SAW series, but a few outdated effects cannot be restored to Friday the 13th? I mean, really? Is Paramount really going to lose credibility for re-submitting this uncut? Come on! It looks however, like most of the footage has been destroyed and we will never get to see the movie how it was intended, which is a major disappointment. We can only live in hope, I guess… If I seriously dislike any major studio, then it is Paramount for their scalping of the F13 series, My Bloody Valentine and even Scott Spiegel’s Intruder. The twin murder of Jeff and Sandra was shown to special effects guru Greg Nicotero from KNB on video tape (maybe the only copy anywhere) and he commented that it was ‘shocking’ and that ‘the look on Sandra’s face as blood spurted from her partner’s back was horrible.’ He meant that as a compliment of course to his friend Carl Fullerton, but damn what I would give to see it
As you can tell, I love Friday the 13th Part 2. It’s a fantastic slasher movie and a fine example of everything that’s great about the genre. The only sequels I have time for are this, Zito’s ‘the final chapter’ and the incredibly cheesy part six. I would love to have not already seen this addition and could still have the opportunity to enjoy it for the first time. If you truly love your chills, grab a beer (or preferably a few Kopparbergs) some snacks, turn the lights down low, make sure you watch it with an easily scared partner and enjoy… Just enjoy!
Final Girl √√√√√
My Bloody Valentine 1981
Directed by: George Mihalka
Starring: Paul Kelman, Neil Affleck and Lori Hallier
Updates review from the release date of the special edition DVD
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
And so… the slasher ‘Holy Grail’ has been re-discovered and after thirty years of patience, we can finally see the almost-complete version of this hugely popular early-eighties genre piece.
Notorious for being the film most tortured by censors upon its initial release, My Bloody Valentine has become something of a cult classic with a large number of fans. Even the most lukewarm horror enthusiast must admit to being slightly excited by the prospect of witnessing all the notorious gore that has, up until now, only been seen in a set of studio stills. The previously available print was missing over three minutes of footage, which thankfully producer John Dunning has now located. The online campaign to get the full uncut copy restored and released was one of the largest of its kind and thanks to the efforts of the movie’s legions of adoring fans, we now have a special edition disc with nearly all of the glorious splatter intact.
A small mining town in Canada has become famous over the years after a maniacal ex-miner went on a killing spree in the early sixties. He was the only survivor from a fatal accident on Valentine’s night that stole the lives of numerous workers and left him having to survive by feeding on the corpses of his colleagues. Harry Warden murdered the supervisors that he considered responsible for the tragedy and stuffed their hearts into candy boxes to remind the townsfolk that their incompetence should never be forgiven. Twenty years later and the town is preparing for its first Valentine’s dance since the gruesome massacre, but it seems that it is not only the decorations and romantic spirit that has returned. As a mutilated heart is sent to the local Sheriff with a gruesome warning that there will be more murders, it seems apparent that Harry Warden has come back once again….
My Bloody Valentine is certainly a fine example of all that gave the most popular eighties slashers a significant standing in the annals of horror cinema. It boasts a likeable cast that make up for their lack of A-list dramatic credibility with a warmness and depth of character that although laughably cheesy, evokes sympathy from the audience. The love triangle between the three leads is an intriguing sub-plot and the script is strong enough to allow the characters to work their way into the hearts of viewers.
It can also lay claim to arguably the best arsenal of marketable gimmicks ever to be included in a single splatter feature. If the authentic calendar date doesn’t get you interested, then it’s impossible to resist the excellent guise for the maniacal killer and the creepy mine location. Warden’s gas mask adds an extra dimension to the killer’s essential clichéd heavy breath and a pickaxe makes for an exquisite tool for gory slaughter. You can almost visualise the director’s smile upon witnessing for the first time the awesome sight of his bogeyman strolling through the dimly-lighted shaft and stalking his intended victims. In terms of slasher visualisations, it’s pure poetry-in-motion and Mihalka understandably milks the possibilities. On top of that you have the killer’s calling card, which was a slasher trademark that disappointingly disappeared from the genre just after 1981. Graduation Day had a stopwatch, The Prowler had a rose, Curtains had that creepy doll but I liked this one the best. This maniac puts the hearts of his deceased victims in valentine decorated boxes and pencils a riddle, such as: ‘From the heart comes a warning filled with cheer, remember what happened as the 14th draws near’. I agree, it’s cheesy as hell, but sets a nice tone for the feature.
Mihalka is no John Carpenter and he struggles to sustain suspense, but he does an impressive job in building an overall atmosphere and creates one or two decent jolts. The cast are surprisingly good for complete amateurs and their above-average performances are a welcomed bonus. It was a conscious decision from John Dunning, the producer, to use actors that boasted far more potential than they did impressive CVs, because he wanted to invest heavily in the special effects. Mihalka has said that people don’t go to see a slasher movie to witness a ‘name’ actor. He is right in acknowledging the fact that the amount of money a producer would spend on such a performer just to see him get splattered on the wall is an entirely pointless exercise.
The movie began filming in September 1980, but the set designer took the time to make sure that everything was decked out in hearts and banners and they made things look like it actually was Valentine’s Day. Mihalka makes good use of the spooky mine as a setting and most of the murders are imaginative and well thought out. In one scene, a young lass is trapped in a room where miner’s uniforms are dropping from rails and surrounding her. In her panic she tries to find a way out of the claustrophobic confinement (all courtesy of the imaginative killer), but she bumps into a costume with the maniac in it. If that isn’t bad enough, he goes on to slaughter her in a most gruesome fashion. (One of the best kill scenes – ever!)
A great uncut trailer for this feature…
You only need to take a brief look at this site to see that I’m a slasher fan, but My Bloody Valentine has never been amongst my favourites. I often wondered how the movie could have even been considered to be better than the likes of Intruder, The Prowler or even Curtains, because to me it felt like I wasn’t watching the vision that Mihalka had initially intended. Now, with most of the gore intact, the film feels ‘complete’ and in its entirety it is a totally different concept. Despite popular belief, there were many early slashers that were stylishly produced and genuinely strong entries to the horror catalogue. My Bloody Valentine is one such feature and it’s well-deserving of its legion of admirers.
The plot is actually pretty smart for a slasher flick. I won’t go into too much detail because I can’t say anything without spoiling it all for you, but watch how they manage to keep you guessing toward the film’s climax. It’s also worth noting that James Mangold borrowed that classic body (or in his case, head) in a tumble dryer scene for his part-slasher, Identity in 2003.
If you are even a half-hearted fan of early eighties stalk and slash flicks then I urge you to part with your pennies for this excellent example of non-franchise slash with panache that sums up everything that was great about the early eighties domination. No collection is complete without this sitting on a shelf next to Joseph Zito’s The Prowler and Mark Rosman’s The House on Sorority Row. The Harry Warden legacy has finally come full circle…..
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√√√
Directed by: Richard Ciupka/Peter Simpson
Starring: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thornson, Lynne Griffin, Lesleh Donaldson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is one of the few slasher flicks that I actually ‘grew up with.’ Now I say few, because now I own over 600 titles, but back before the internet and keeping in mind that not all video shopkeepers would supply 18-rated flicks to a ten-year-old boy, my options were somewhat limited. I had a small collection of VHS that I bought from my backstreet rental store (the only one locally that would sell to me) in Hackney and they were Curtains, Small Town Massacre, Whodunit?, Halloween, The Unseen, Massacre at Central High, Friday the 13th 6 and Stagefright. I watched these over and over back in those days and this has always been one of my favourites.
It was initially planned that Curtains would be the directorial debut of Richard Ciupka, a cinematographer that had worked on various cult-movies throughout the seventies and was the main camera operator on the excellent Giallo, Blood Relatives from 1982. In the end though, the movie was shot in two parts, with the second half having to be completed by producer Peter Simpson after an artistic disagreement saw Ciupka leave the shoot. This marked Simpson and his team’s second venture into the then-popular territory of the slasher genre. Their participation explained the healthy budget, excellent back-drop and also the contribution of Paul Zaza, a highly regarded composer from that era.
It’s no secret that Curtains suffered a nightmare production that was riddled with problems, which began when lead actress Celine Lamez was sacked halfway through the shoot. Reports have said that the producers were disappointed with her acting abilities and that she became awkward after two days on set. Linda Thornson was drafted in as her replacement, but footage had to be re-shot with the substitute actress and this stretched the budget and began a spiral of misfortune. It resulted in various script changes and eventually the mutual termination of Ciupka’s contract. Peter Simpson would later note that he had set out to make an adult slasher movie, whilst Ciupka had the intention to deliver more of an artistic approach. The two of them holding totally different cinematic ideas meant that the collaboration was jinxed from the start.
Many scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, which explains the numerous stills that hint at parts that never appeared in the final print. One of these shows the killer surrounded by the bodies of his victims and I’ve learned that it was an alternate ending that Simpson claims never really worked; however it makes for a disturbing image. At one point, the film was rumoured to be ‘unreleasable’, but it eventually went public in 1983, three-years after shooting had begun. It sank without trace upon release and failed to become the follow up to Prom Night that many had predicted. Much like the fate that befell The Shawshank Redemption, a second lease of life on VHS has made Curtains something of a cult-classic and it is now considered to be one of the better entries from the peak-period.
Six actresses head up to a secluded mansion in the Canadian Rockies to audition for the part of Audra, a highly regarded script from renowned director Jonathan Stryker. In the end only five arrive as it becomes apparent that a masked killer has targeted the production with a bizarre vengeance against the stars.
Curtains certainly has more than its fair share of noteworthy moments and is a highly authentic entry that shares no close resemblance to any of its genre brethren. It truly stands alone as an individual stalk and slash experience that demands respect for its ability to keep tension running at an impressive altitude throughout the feature. The awe-inspiring second killing ranks highly as one of the most creatively handled slaughters from the genre’s peak. The photography and structure of the scene is at times breathtaking and Simpson’s work is reminiscent of Argento’s.
The final chase sequence is equally as suspenseful and utilises a superb use of illumination and claustrophobic trappings to create a fitting finale. The dimly lighted prop-room location gives the director a chance to shine as he makes the most of some ingenious decor and creates a memorable collage of striking images. I especially liked the flashing lights revealing the killer hiding in the back of a beaten-up Mini and then when the camera momentarily returns, he has disappeared. Curtains manages to build a truly spooky atmosphere and it’s perhaps one of the creepier entries of the early eighties. The imagery of empty corridors help to build a feeling of isolation and the film succeeds in sustaining a mood that I cannot remember finding in even the best pieces that I’ve sat through. Using a doll as a ‘calling card’ for the arrival of the maniac showed a neat flair for the macabre and it’s a shame that it was only used twice. On top of that, we have the magnificent Paul Zaza’s score, which is the cherry on top of an unique, if slightly jumbled thriller.
Another bonus is the good work from the cast, which is filled with actors that have far more undiscovered talent than any kind of reputation or A-list credibility. John Vernon makes a competent – if a little theatrical – lead, never once pleading for audience-sympathy, whilst Eggar does a good job as the essential red herring (or is she?). But it’s Lynne Griffin who really steals the show. The dynamic little Canadian actress delivers a fantastic portrayal, which sees her effortlessly switch between emotions of anxiety, fear, insecurity and anger. She even takes the time to include a stand up comedy routine…no really.
A film with such a turbulent production is bound to have its share of flaws and Curtains is a case in point. Even though we’re unable to tell exactly how much the shoot was affected by the unfortunate occurrences, the fact that it was finally released under a director pseudonym proves that it certainly wasn’t a smooth process. Some of the characters are laughably under developed and a couple even remain nameless. (A sequence that offered a back story for Christie didn’t make the final print). It’s impossible to pick your choice for the surviving girl, because not one of the actresses has enough screen time to display their individual persona, which has an indisputable effect on the mystery.
It is a surprise when the killer is revealed, but to be honest, it could have been absolutely anybody, because we’re not offered any solid leads or motives. What’s really needed is a total rehash of the picture from the raw footage or the ‘dailies’ – so to speak. Then we could get a true look at how the feature was planned in the director’s vision. The recent death of Peter Simpson and the fact that Curtains is a combination of two vastly opposing ideas has made this unlikely, but we can never give up hope.
Until then, what we’re left with is a movie that could and should have been, but never was. It has its moments, a few of them outstanding, but just falls a few hurdles short of being recognised as a true classic. Definitely amongst the top-ten of the eighties’ best slashers, but it’s painful to think that it should have been in the top three…
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√