Hanging Heart 1983?
Director Jimmy Lee
Starring, Barry Wyatt, Francine Lapensee, Debra Robinson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
How does that old Bruce Springsteen number go again, Everybody’s got a hungry heart? Well not everyone’s got a Hanging Heart that’s for sure. This peak period entry from 1983 is so obscure that it has no reviews on its lonely IMDB page… Until now. I picked it up in Poland on VHS many moons ago because its back-cover blurb sounded slightly slasher-esque. It’s been gathering cobwebs in my garage since that time, because I didn’t really think it was a genre entry until a SLASH above reader Alexander Gretil contacted me and said that it certainly was. (Thanks for that Alex))
Much like Cards of Death, the film was shot in California, but only secured distribution in a handful of countries outside of the US. I managed to source a Brazilian copy with much better visuals than my aging videotape and I also saw a Dutch cassette on eBay, which shows that it’s not ‘totally’ impossible to track down. There’s very little information that I can find scattered about on the web, so I really have no idea why it was never picked up in its country of origin. Although it’s MIA status did set off alarm bells that it may be utter tosh, I was still keen to give it a go.
A masked killer targets an up and coming theatre production, leaving the star, Denny, as the most likely suspect. When he is arrested and thrown in jail, his lawyer begins a campaign to free him. As soon as he is released the murders begin again, which makes him look extremely guilty. Is he the killer?
At the time that this went to production, the film’s director, Jimmy Lee was a South Korean citizen who had emigrated to study in the US and chase his filmmaking dream. Since 1998’s Whispering Corridors, South Korean horror has had a huge impact on the genre, which led me to believe that I may have been in for an undiscovered precursor of sorts with this. Well, whilst Hanging Heart is not one that plays it by the book, its tricks and twists are definitely those of the least impressive variety.
Heart is, in fact, one of the strangest films that I have ever seen. Characters pop up out of nowhere with no introduction in scenes that are totally disjointed and we never really know who is doing what and for why. At first I thought that it must have been an inexperienced editor that gave it the structure of Spaghetti Bolognese, but Steven Nielsen had three films under his belt before he worked on this, so that can’t be the case. It’s very hard to ascertain what went wrong and how no one picked up on the incoherent flow before it was packaged up for release, but it makes the film difficult to watch.
Lee incorporates an abundance of obvious homoerotic imagery that goes way beyond anything David DeCoteau has ever rolled out. Our lead character/suspect, Denny, is constantly pursued by his homosexual lawyer who has the hots for him and this leads to a graphic scene where Denny dreams that he is sexually assaulted in the shower. Later, we watch full on as he is strip searched in a Police station, before being thrown in a cell with two guys that make out in front of him, much to his discomfort. We also get a flashback from his childhood that shows him being forced to perform a sex act on his stepfather and it’s all done in real bad taste. Whilst titles such as Hellbent have been gleefully accepted for opening up the slasher genre to a sexual preference that had been largely ignored for too long, Hanging Heart, whether intentionally or not, conveys homosexuals as sleazy stalkers and that’s unforgivable.
What is unique about the picture though is that it follows the main suspect through a trial, into prison and then to a mental hospital, which begs the question is this more of a drama than a slasher movie? Well with only three blood-less killings (a stocking is used to strangle the first two victims) that’s actually a point that holds some weight. Whilst there is a hooded nutjob doing the rounds, the core of the story is most definitely the mystery, which is unfortunate, because the conclusion turns out to be the person that we expected it to be all along. Conveyed over 100+ minutes, Heart does rather hang on the borders of tedium. In fact that’s a rather generous description, because it smashes through said borders to send viewers in to a coma-like state. Whilst my tolerance levels for trash cinema have weakened over the years, I am lucky enough to have found a partner who is not as critical and generally enjoys everything from Mask of Murder to Houseboat Horror. The fact that she fell asleep three times (we had to watch the feature over a trifecta of days) should tell you all that you need to know. If a movie can’t keep someone as forgiving as my Mrs interested then it has got serious problems.
None of the cast featured here went on to do anything else, which is perhaps unfair because they were by no means the worst actors to grace slasherdom. It can’t have helped that their debut received such limited exposure, but it still seems strange that all of their careers started and ended with this. One thing that I found interesting was that the IMDB has it dated as 1983, but it looks at least three-years younger. Jimmy Lee made another film nearly two decades later and I wonder if this has been listed incorrectly? I’d be keen to find out
It’s not hard to see why Hanging Heart wasn’t picked up for US distribution. It’s overlong, boring and possibly offensive to boot. Whilst its obscurity does give it a cult-ish sheen, it is not one that offers much more.
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl √
American Nightmare 1981
Directed by: Don McBrearty
Starring: Michael Ironside, Lawrence Day, Lora Stanley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is the earlier of two slasher movies in circulation that have the title American Nightmare. The more recent one was unleashed amongst the mass of Scream imitators and disappeared fairly quickly, whilst this entry from the golden years looks to have suffered a similar fate. With a score from Paul Zaza and a cast that included (then) up and coming talents like Michael Ironside, Lora Stanley and Lenore Zann it came as a surprise to me that it didn’t grab any of the buzz that served its compatriots like Curtains, My Bloody Valentine and Terror Train so well.
The son of a wealthy local businessman returns to his hometown after receiving a letter from his younger sister that begs for help. Upon arrival, he learns that his sibling has disappeared (brutally murdered in the pre-credits) and asks a stripper to help to locate her. Unbeknownst to them, her murder was the first at the hands of a vicious psychopath that is butchering local hookers.
I have been collecting slasher movies for longer than I care to remember and as the list on a Slash above shows clearly, I’ve worked hard to uncover a share of the hidden ‘gems’. I didn’t know that this even existed until fairly recently and I was quite surprised that I’d never come across it before. American Nightmare is a misleading title in more ways than one, because the film was actually a Canadian production that was shot in Toronto and it plays like a European Giallo. It has very little in common with Slashers from the US and this is most obvious in the disguise for the killer and characterisation of the key players. We do have a final girl, but she’s no Laurie Strode. In fact, she’s a stripper, which is an unusual touch for a film of this style.
Another way that it feels more closely aligned to its European counterparts is in its excessive use of sexual psychology as a backbone for the story. The victims are all degenerates of the kinky variety and the motive is one that you’re more likely to find from the films of Southern Europe. McBrearty tries hard to develop a sustainably sleazy tone, but he goes about it the wrong way and the runtime instead becomes needlessly repetitive and in all truth, slightly tedious.
The majority of the female victims are killed whilst in a state of undress and in between there are a lot of scenes that take place at a seedy strip bar. Whilst it makes sense to use this location in order to develop the atmosphere, the director includes long sequences from nude dancers as a form of padding. Now padding, much like ice in a vodka and coke, is something that looks like, feels like and smells like what it is – unnecessary. It doesn’t help that these parts are flatly directed and dull, and whilst I appreciate that bare skin is part of the exploitation package, the choreography was mind-numbing and the girls were not the hottest. At first, I wanted to acknowledge the realism, because let’s face it; bottom-dollar prostitutes are not going to be as beautiful as roses. Needless to say, if you are going to pack your feature with overlong set pieces of chicks whipping off their kit, it may be an idea to at least make them worth watching.
It was also a struggle to relate to the story as neither of the key players shine in any way at all. Staley is fine as the heroine, but she is given very little that makes us want to bond with her, whilst Lawrence Day is colourless and weak in the lead. The majority of the picture is shot with the creativity of a soap opera and lacks any va-va-voom, so the pace remains stagnant for extended periods. This changes drastically when the shadowed psycho gets to work and the killings are surprisingly well executed and mix an unnerving level of brutality with a superb, but sadly underused score from Paul Zaza. One of the later murders is almost unwatchable due to the visible suffering of the victim and at times it almost feels like these parts are too good to be have been shot by the same guy that has bored us rigid during the development of the characters and the mystery.
I didn’t manage to work out the identity of the maniac, but this is one of those films where I did think it may well be her, but then I kept changing my mind as the plot unravelled. I am not sure if this can really be credited as great screenwriting though, as it was hardly a shock once the big unmasking scene came around. I remained eager to see who the sadistic slayer was though and I guess that’s what matters most.
What American Nightmare does brilliantly is give depth and a face to a horror film cliché. Think about titles like Maniac, The Burning, Close your eyes and prey and, well, I could go on but the list is endless. Prostitutes in these films are always introduced as lowlifes that can be killed without anyone batting an eyelid, whereas here we are given more of a look into their lifestyles. Some, (but not all surprisingly), want to leave the game behind and they work the streets out of desperation, which makes a refreshing change from the norm. Our hero even gets a scene where he realises his error in pre-judgement and I liked this concept very much.
To be honest though I’m not quite sure what to rate this one. It has some really unique, sharp and brilliant moments, but struggles with the basics a bit too often to be a classic. I think it could be so much better if it were twenty minutes shorter, but at just shy of an hour and a half, it’s hardly Dances with Wolves. It’s a shame, because there’s stuff here that is worthy of Argento, but it’s the little bits, you know, those that aren’t so much fun to film, where we lose that momentum and focus. I’m reminded of my review of Grim Weekend, where I mentioned that the trailer had me fooled into believing that I was in for a good time. It feels here like McBrearty was only interested in the parts that were setup to convey horror and although he does well to build suspense and trepidation at the hardest of times, he strolls through the rest of the movie in first gear like it doesn’t matter.
If you haven’t seen American Nightmare then you should track it down. I just get disappointed when something comes within smelling distance of greatness, but throws it all away in the midriff. With better lighting and pacing, it could have given Curtains a run for its money, as it stands, it sits alongside Evil Judgement as an obscure Canadian picture that hits the right switches, but only on occasion
aka The Bleeder
Directed by: Han Hatwig
Starring: Ake Eriksson, Sussi Ax, Eva Danielsson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Although American cinema was the key player during the slasher cycle’s heyday, many other countries also provided a considerable contribution to the fledgling category. Whilst Spain’s Bloody Moon and South Africa’s City of Blood would never rival the audience revenue achieved by their US genre compatriots, the popularity of titles such as Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine proved that the formula had truly become a global cash-cow for ambitious producers.
By 1984 almost everywhere where there was a buzzing cinematic market had churned out at least one attempt at imitating the success of Halloween and its brethren; and Blödaren was Sweden’s entry. Han’s Hatwig’s low-budget rarity was not only the first slasher flick to be released directly for the Swedish market; it was in fact the first horror film that the country had ever self-produced. As of yet it has not been made available for global audiences, which has allowed it to achieve something of an obscure cult status amongst category enthusiasts.
The plot focuses on a female pop group called The Rock Cats. Whilst touring across the country, their mini-bus breaks down on a secluded road, leaving them stranded in the wilderness. They head out on foot to find assistance and are relieved when they discover a seemingly abandoned mansion in the depths of the woodland. Unbeknownst to the hapless women, they are sharing the location with a recently escaped lunatic who has a facial disfigurement, which means that blood constantly streams from his eyes. Before long they are fighting for their lives as they are stalked and ruthlessly slaughtered by ‘The Bleeder’.
The first thing that struck me about Blödaren is that it is surprisingly well-financed for such a small-scale project. Slasher movies often fall prey to a lack of funding, but I have read that this was shot on video and it is really hard, in fact; it is almost impossible to tell from what we see on the screen. Unfortunately that’s pretty much the only real positive that I took down in my notepad and it soon becomes apparent exactly why this has never been subtitled for worldwide consumption.
The methodology of horror is fairly simple and it’s not something that you need to be a genius to figure out. Audiences check out the genre because they want to be engulfed in a temporary feeling of dread. Yeah sure, a bit of cheesiness or black humour doesn’t hurt, but generally people watch horror movies to be scared. Fear is by far the hardest mood to create cinematically and the stats back this up. Of the horror films that you have seen, how many have actually terrified you? How many have made you check under your bed when you are alone at night and the lights are low? Although as an entertainment medium cinema has successfully portrayed moments of pathos and intense drama, fear has seldom been conveyed accurately and it takes a master director to make a competent horror film. Whilst it is totally acceptable that not everyone has the ability to pull off the next Rosemary’s Baby, the problem with Blödaren is that it doesn’t even try. Not even a little bit.
What we are really missing here is any kind of a threatening antagonist. Watching ‘The Bleeder’ shuffle around the woodland pushing a pram is not a scary sight, and his bizarre gimmick of sticking out his tongue like a spoiled child before he commits each murder is laughable…and not in a good way. We are offered absolutely zero dramatic credibility from the cast and it’s shot with the flair of a TV soap, which means that there is literally no effort to energise the cinematography, framing, blocking or placement of the characters on the screen. The sound is awful too and is mostly filled with long drawn out high-pitched whining tones that end up making you want to headbutt the screen…aaaaaah!!!
Any chance of tension evaporates when we realise that the victims are excessively dumb and the plot offers nothing more than one character wandering off to find a missing friend and being confronted by the hilariously inept killer. The score is a total rip-off of Halloween’s notorious theme and you’ll most likely be reading the small print of the vodka label on the 2 litre bottle you had to drink rather than watching the screen.
Blödaren is something of a cult-classic in Sweden as it launched a market that has delivered titles such as the gory Death Academy, Camp Slaughter, Evil Ed, Drowning Ghost and Blood Tracks. Whilst it may be remembered as a novelty for being the first, it really shouldn’t be recognised for anything more. Funnily enough, I watched this before going to see The Place Beyond the Pines at the cinema. I felt that Derek Cianfrance’s opus was as close to being a perfectly put together picture as possible. It boasted rich well-acted characters, superb cinematography, perfect sound and editing and a story that kept us hooked throughout. Whilst it is unfair of course to compare something as mundane as Blödaren to a brilliant character study, I always believe that there is no excuse, no matter what the level, to not do the basics right. The truth of the matter is that there are shorts on YouTube, shot on not much more than an iPhone that offer better movie making professionalism than this turkey. I’m sorry, but it’s true. One for the trash can.
*I don’t speak Swedish by the way so thanks to the gorgeous Monica for watching the film with me and explaining everything. Spending an hour and twenty minutes in front of this in itself must’ve been hard enough. Thank you xx
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 √√
Directed by: Gorman Bechard
Starring: Frances Raines, Mark Walker, Carl Koch
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Well, I have to first tell you that Disconnected is certainly an odd beast that takes us in to the realms of slasher movies that just about fit the traditional guidelines of the category. As with The Shaman and Grotesque – two similarly confused juxtapositions – this one attempts to branch away from the hackneyed likes of The Prowler and Edge of the Axe whilst still doing enough to be classed as a slasher flick.
After the credits have rolled we meet Alicia (Francis Raines) the protagonist of the feature. On her way home from work one day she finds an elderly man hanging around mysteriously beside her apartment. Sympathetically she allows the stranger to come inside and use her phone, but whilst she’s making a cup of tea, he vanishes from her living room without trace. Later that night, Alicia tells her twin sister Barbara Ann (also Francis Raines) about the mysterious visitor, but she laughs it off telling her sibling that he probably just made a call and left suddenly. We soon learn that these twins don’t exactly see eye to eye, mainly because Barbara Ann keeps sleeping with Alicia’s boyfriends behind her back. Mike (Carl Koch) is the latest in the line of unfaithful partners to get the chop, not only for the aforementioned cheating, but presumably also because he has the worst case of ‘bad mullet syndrome’ that I have ever seen. Imagine a mid-eighties geek with a poodle on his head and you may be able to conjure up your own visual image.
Down in the dumps and on the rebound, Alicia meets up with a guy named Franklin (Mike Walker) and agrees to go out on a date with him. Franklin comes across as a polite fellow and he hides pretty well the fact that he loves nothing more than picking up promiscuous women, taking them back to his flat and then slaughtering them with the handy switch blade that he keeps in his bedside cabinet. Around the same time that Alicia meets this undercover maniac, she begins receiving bizarre and frankly quite credibly eerie persistent anonymous phone calls. As the bodies pile up around the city the Police get more and more baffled. Is Franklin the mysterious caller or is the petrified female just a little disconnected?
Disconnected is one of those rare types of features that will literally leave you staring at the screen in confusion more often than it’ll make a lick of sense. After the killer is revealed and dealt with halfway through the runtime, the mystery is still un-resolved and to be honest the whole point of the story remains inconclusive to the viewer even after the final credits have rolled. Gorman Bechard’s direction will have you as baffled as the illogical plot line. 88 of the 90-minute runtime looks to have been shot and edited by a retarded gibbon, but then every once in a while he manages to pull off a standout shock sequence that feels out of place amongst the rest of the point and shoot mediocrity. The majority of the dialogue scenes take place at wide, spacious and eminently dull backdrops, which soon become boring, and most chapters look to have been sewn together using a chainsaw and a tub of wallpaper paste.
The dramatics from the supporting actors are generally non-existent, but Francis Raines showed flashes of potential in the confused/victimised and slightly eccentric heroine. Playing the roles of both twins must have been good fun, but of the two, it’s Alicia that offers the real challenge over the more typical Barbara Ann persona. Raines would turn up again in the cycle providing the T&A in The Mutilator meaning that she had a short but fairly impressive spell in B movies and there’s no doubt that her sultry sexiness and great figure helped her no end. One thing that is worth mentioning is the cheesy but still rather enjoyable soundtrack, which must have soaked up the majority of the minuscule budget. Look out for the hilarious nightclub scene, which in true slasher cheese on toast fashion shows us why the early eighties will always remain a bad disco memory to those that were alive and kicking at the time.
Bechard didn’t attempt to hide the fact that he was making a schlock-a-lock feature. One character says, “I feel like I’m stuck in a low budget horror film, because some man is going round killing young women!” Another character mentions something about nudity and violence and you can tell that the director knew exactly which audience he was aiming to satisfy. I guess in a way he succeeded, because for all its nonsensical and off the wall ramblings, Disconnected remains worth a watch. The idea was to provide an ambiguous openness to the conclusion, but the ambition is ruined by a poor script and a clear lack of professionalism. What it did do though was manage something not many can achieve and that’s a few moments of true eerie uneasiness. There are only a couple of on-screen killings and it’s by no means a typical stalk and slash bonanza, but it might still be worth tracking down if you can find it.
Final Girl √√
Ogroff: Blood Zone 1983
aka Mad Mutilator
Directed by: N.G. Moutier
Starring: Robert Alaux, Francoise Deniel, Howard Vernon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Way back in the days before the slasher genre was even a genre and before the Internet had given us a much easier way of tracking down information, a horror fan was simply a horror fan. The likes of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Exorcist had given cinema goers the chance to be scared and it was an escapism that provided great thrills, away from our mundane 9-5 routines. Supernatural terror storytelling has been embedded in folklore for many centuries, but when it comes to gore and special effects depicted on stage for audience consumption, links can most definitely be traced to the theatre of Grand Guignol from France. As I have described in my review for William Lustig’s Maniac, these large scale productions gave viewers the chance to be terrified in the comfort that it was all only an illusion and they could turn away/walk-out at any moment that they wanted to. We humans are a morbid bunch, but thankfully we no longer satisfy our blood lust from public executions and the like. Now we just watch it on the stage or screen.
Norbert Georges Moutier, as publisher of a popular horror fanzine in Paris and owner of a video store, was obviously well aware of France’s links with gore-laden horror and being an avid enthusiast, he decided to bring Grand Guignol back to French screens with his own low budget shocker. Inspired heavily by the popular titles of the time, Moutier’s extremely rare slasher is an extravaganza of ingredients.
It tells the tale of Ogroff, a wooden-hut dwelling maniac, whose soul ambition in life seems to be to murder anyone who trespasses across the small patch of woodland that he calls home. As the story unfolds, it takes a slightly different angle to most conventional slasher flicks as the antagonist learns that he is not the only bogeyman in that secluded piece of woodland.
Unlike the majority of archetypal genre entries, this is an extremely intriguing beast. I studied French at school and have visited the country many times, but French is not one of the languages that I speak fluently. It wouldn’t matter if I were stone deaf however as the feature has only eight lines of dialogue, which makes it the closest that we have to a ‘silent slasher film’. As mentioned above, it’s easy to see that Ogroff is a film made for horror fans by a horror fan. It plays like a myriad of clichés jumbled together and thrown into a juxtaposition that although not over-long, can often feel like a check-list of trademarks that have been sewn together with no apparent structure.
It’s like a shoplifter in a stripy black and white top with a bag that has the wording ‘swag’ on it, because it’s not afraid of its obvious pilfering and openly imitates titles such as Friday the 13th Part II, The Burning, Burial Ground and even some of the cannibal flicks that were popular during that period. You can almost picture NG Moutier working in his video shop, much as a certain Quentin Tarantino would a few years later, and writing his ideas into a notepad whilst an omnibus of horror classics played on in the background.
Although this tries its damnedest to shock with its brazen approach and no holds barred gratuitous imagery, by far the scariest sight in the feature is that of a Citroen 2CV. Yes, one of those terrifying French yoghurt-pot-on-wheels, which bizarrely became far more popular than they had any right to after World War II. Fortunately, Ogroff does his nation proud by dismantling it completely with his trusty axe! This killer is not in the slightest bit picky and dismembers pretty much everything that he comes across from unfortunate locals to poorly parked vehicles and even chess boards. You name it, he can smash it with his big shiny hatchet.
Is it gory? Yes; but the effects are so tacky that they don’t quite sit in line with the level of the video nasties of that era. Short, cheap and hokey are more apt descriptions. There are limbs and heads flying by the bucket-load and a multitude of gore-laden scenarios, but the effects never impress as would a Maniac or The Prowler. Ogroff himself is as wacky as the plot structure, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the director’s eagerness to make him as gratuitously evil as possible leaves him looking far more comedic than he is scary. His motives are twisted and he dons an excellent mask, but he lacks the fear factor that led his peers to cult classic status.
The feature sticks closely to the slasher rulebook and the masked axe-wielding killer as a central character makes no mistake as to where the inspirations lie. With that said, things aren’t strictly conventional because there is someone for everyone and I am sure that on dating direct, there is even a category for masked raving lunatics. Well, Monsieur Ogroff finds himself a Mademoiselle and impressed by his large chopper, she moves in and the two fall in love. All is going swimmingly for our murderous hero, especially as he can now come home from a hard days killing and have his dinner on the table waiting for him. It could have been a happily ever after lifetime of blood, guts and romance, only if it weren’t for some pesky zombies turn up toward the climax of the feature. From here on out, the story enters authentic territory as our bogeyman wages battle against the hordes of the living dead that have invaded his killing zone.
NG Moutier would go on to direct a few more direct-to-video titles, which would unfortunately fail to provide him with the cult status that he so desperately aspired to achieve. Blood Zone on the other hand remains interesting mainly because it’s so amazingly obscure. Even though I could never comfortably recommend this feature to anybody, if you enjoyed the work of Nathan Schiff, you’ll lap it up greedily. There’s nothing else in the world that it can be compared to.
Final Girl √√
City of Blood 1983
Directed by: Darrell Roodt
Starring: Joe Stewardson, Ian Yule, Liz Dick
* I will post a second review today, as I keep getting asked about this one… cold isn’t it brrrr…
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This South African lensed feature is often mentioned when discussing rare genre entries with enthusiasts and has become highly sought after, because it has never seen light of day on DVD and is impossibly hard to find.Released in the early eighties, the movie has a title and plot structure that would lead you to believe that it could sit comfortably alongside the multitude of horror films from this period as an intriguing cycle addition.
It opens superbly in ancient Africa with two stylishly shot stalking sequences.A masked killer pursues and kills two tribesmen in the forest with a spiked-club. The scene utilises superb and energetic cinematography with an excellent guise for the bogeyman and an authentic choice of weapon.
Next up we fast forward to present day SA and we are introduced to our protagonist Joe Henderson (Joe Stewardson). Joe is a medical examiner who is suffering depression after losing his wife and child. Meanwhile, it seems that there is a masked killer on the loose, stalking the streets at night and butchering prostitutes. His choice of weapon is the ancient club from the opening, which leads authorities to believe that there is a ritualistic slant to the murders. As more bodies are discovered, Joe becomes obsessed with uncovering the killer’s identity. But in a politically unstable environment can he keep his sanity long enough to catch the butcher?
If you read this or any of the other synopsis listed anywhere on the web, you can understand why this feature has become such a trophy for slasher fans to track down. The plot description boasts all the right ingredients that make it sound as if it stands amongst the many other rare entries that are fun to seek out on eBay, usually at extremely high prices.
Prepare to be disappointed though, because City of Blood is not much of a slasher movie. In fact, I am convinced that this was just a fraudulent ploy to broadcast a political view to unsuspecting audiences. As soon as the credits have rolled, we are led down a winding path of jumbled inconsistency that makes for an uncomfortable and ultimately coma-inducing runtime.
So ok, everything starts brilliantly after the aforementioned opening, but thereafter things go downhill quicker than a boulder on a skateboard. Instead of sticking to the (rather intriguing) story involving the ritualistic masked killer, things turn sour when a subplot is introduced involving a political prisoner and a bogus death certificate that has been requested by the prime minister in order to cover-up the murder of the aforementioned inmate. Henderson, a delusional depressive on a one-man morality crusade, declines the order to forge the proof of death, and so a political battle launches involving black power groups and government officials.
South Africa under Apartheid was a heavily publicized and key period of the last century with long-lasting global effects. Even though I have a Master’s Degree in History, I studied Romanov-era Russia and I am not going to pretend to be an expert on this subject matter. In fact, I don’t want to be, as it’s not something that I was ever particularly interested in. I am however a fan of slasher movies and when I am in the mood to watch one, I know what I want and I know what I should expect. Now I’m sure that there are many cinematic views from equally as many angles on the complex struggles that occurred during these times. It seems the modus operandi here, however, was to use the slasher undertones (the genre was extremely popular at the time) to forcibly and fraudulently convey a message to an audience that would be otherwise uninterested. You know at General Election time when you see pop idols standing with politicians and looking like they know everything about the party’s manifesto? But deep inside, you know that they’re just doing it for the pay-cheque and the publicity and couldn’t care less about the plans for the economy? Well it’s the same kind of methodology that’s being used here.
Once the political aspect is introduced, the killings are thrown straight in to the backseat in terms of screen time and instead we are supplied with a multitude of flat uninteresting characters. None of them have any kind of explained back story or development and they ramble incoherently about topics unfamiliar to almost everyone outside of the government houses of SA. By the 45 minute mark, if you haven’t already fallen asleep, you will be absolutely furious. Furious that you have been tricked in to parting with your pennies for a falsely-advertised slasher flick that’s just an over-long talk-a-thon that would feel more at home playing on the Discovery Channel’s graveyard shift. Don’t be fooled in to thinking the killer will re-appear either. He turns up only once or twice throughout the runtime and when he is unmasked later in the feature, his motivations are political (surprise) and he’s not even a character that we’ve been introduced to previously.
All in all City of Blood is a failure. A failure as a horror film and a bore-marathon as a drama. Riddled with unappealing and bland characters (the lead looks like the rear end of a removal truck), a tedious plot and a lack of clarity in its direction, it would be better off placed in a box and floated out to sea, never to be seen or heard of again. I was considering putting it on eBay where copies sell for almost £100 when they appear, but I am a nice guy and couldn’t live with the guilt of putting another genre fan through this torturous excursion.
If you’re looking to track down a rare slasher – (because as we all know, most of the time finding them is the most fun part!) – please avoid paying premium prices for this entry. Despite the intriguing premise, this is nothing but a long, insulting reservoir of boredom with only really five minutes of slashertastic stuff and has no real redeeming qualities aside from the excellent opening. Don’t waste your time or money…