Fatal Exam 1985
Directed by: Jack Snyder
Starring: Mike Coleman, Terry Comer, Carol Fitzgerald Carlberg
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Good morning a SLASH abovers… So, here we have one that I never thought that I’d be adding to this website. I’ve owned Fatal Exam on VHS for many years, but I didn’t bother covering it because I’ve always considered it to be a bit of an outsider. I guess that it just about scrapes the guidebook in terms of what’s needed to fit within the standard template, but I was under the impression that it was a little too Satanic to really be a traditional entry. Still, with so many of you asking me to include it (12 at last count), I decided to dust off my VHS cassette and give it a whirl.
A college professor gives six students an assignment to stay in a secluded house and investigate some murders that took place a few years earlier. As the weekend unfolds, strange occurrences begin to unsettle the visitors…
The best way that I could describe Fatal Exam to you is by comparing it with one of those all-day conferences that companies send you on to do some ‘networking’. As you enter the site at 8:30 in the am, you see crates of beers being lined up behind the bar and a sign that reads, “Free drinks and snacks after the event”. You sit in a chair for the next six hours battling exhaustion, boredom and the desperate desire to fidget, whilst maintaining positivity by picturing the booze and cocktail sausages that you’ll eventually be consuming (and stuffing in your briefcase whilst no one’s looking). In the case of James Snyder’s long-forgotten debut feature though, it’s like a fourteen-hour lecture on the collaboration of a steel plate with only a stick of celery and a cup of soda water to look forward to when it’s finally finished.
120 minutes is a risky runtime for Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest motion picture achievement, so you can imagine what to expect from a flick by Jack ‘no idea what momentum means’ Snyder. Despite the glamour and glitz, filmmaking can be a long and frustrating process, because crews spend hours shooting the same thing at countless angles in order to get the right ‘tone’ for every scene. A talented editor makes his mark thereafter by removing excessive overindulgence and making sure that a taut but descriptive pace is amalgamated from the mounds of footage. Fatal Exam plays like Snyder didn’t trust his audience to understand anything without being held by the hand, so every sequence is conveyed without any dynamism or brevity at all. When a character mouths a statement in a group conversation, we see a separate reaction shot from each person, which is totally unnecessary and monotonous, because really we only needed the one – or even none at all. Also, a simple action, like someone getting an item from their car, will be displayed to us by them exiting the house, heading along a pathway, opening the boot, picking up the item and then returning. All this wasn’t necessary, because the same point could be emphasised in a single line of expository dialogue. In the world of Señor Snyder however, he yearns to show you e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in the finest detail, which gets very boring, very quickly. The film even starts with our protagonist climbing out of bed, brushing his hair, cleaning his teeth, eating a bowl of cereal, getting dressed, entering his car and driving to school. I mean FFS! JUST START THE DAMN MOVIE FROM THE DAMN SCHOOL!!!
In fact, the first forty-five minutes could have been removed and replaced with a simple text intro that would’ve worked a whole lot better. We could’ve read something like, ” Ambitious student Nick and a gang of his college buddies are given an assignment to spend a weekend at the house where the sadistic Malcolm Nostrand killed his family two-years earlier. Here’s what happened once they settled in.” That would have given us the same amount, if not more, information than we gained from the coma-inducing hour of watching bad actors do a big pile of nada. The net result is something that I can only guess was created to test the patience of Buddhist monks. Either that or it was funded by the CIA as a potential psychological weapon of torture? I’m joking of course, but the truth is that this is a sleep-inducing marathon of pointless nothingness. Apparently the film was completed in 1985, but sat on a shelf for five-years because the crew ‘ran out of budget’. I am not surprised, think how much $$$ was wasted on shooting scenes that were completely devoid of relevance. 16mm film isn’t cheap, you know. By the way, I must give a shout out to Carl Leta, the guy that scored the movie. He really played like a man that knew what he was up against, but battled valiantly to try and bring some kind of atmosphere to what he was given. It was amusing that the score was getting creepier and creepier, but all we could see on screen were a gang of halfwits doing another big pile of na….
The reason that I was in no rush to post Fatal Exam here was not only because it’s an arduous feature to sit through, but mainly because it plays more like Blood Cult than it does a typical slasher flick. We do get an antagonist in a cool grim reaper-alike guise, but he’s one of a number of villains that appear in the final thirty-minutes, which is alien to the more standard ‘central boogeyman’ trademark. Ironically, I wrote two paragraphs about the film’s lacklustre editing strategy, but the one noteworthy slasher sequence that we do get on the 78 minute mark is cut so rapidly that we can barely make out what’s happening. It’s a shame, because after sitting through all that nonsense for so long, I felt as if I thoroughly deserved the ‘free beer and sandwiches’ for my effort. What I got though was the aforementioned mouldy stick of celery and a glass of flat tomato juice.
I’m not sure what else I can tell you about Fatal Exam. I guess it’s like an even more tedious version of Girls School Screamers, but with a silly satanic sheen and the worst digital special effect at the conclusion that I’ve ever seen. In fact, I’d recommend watching it if only to see that C64-type moment of cheesy eighties madness. So this is nowhere near as good as the similarly titled Final Exam, but does it stoop to the lows of Fred Olen Ray’s Final Examination? Hmmm… That’s one I am not willing to investigate
Directed by: Michael J. Murphy
Starring: Patrick Olliver, Jacquelin Logan, Catherine Rowlands
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It is said by some historians that back in the times before humans began to travel and integrate, a name was thought to be much more than just a term of identification.
In places like Israel, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia, names were given as a pathway to destiny and could also be earned by acts of courage and strength. A person would be judged as much upon what they were called as a star sign today distinguishes characteristics for those that believe in horoscopes. Ancient Hebrew forbade the true name of God to be used in writing or speech and it was thought that his spirit could be summoned by verbally addressing him. Nowadays of course names mean very little and such superstitions have long been banished to memory. Kids get lumbered with the trend of the month when it comes to Christenings and I’ve seen everything from ‘Biscuit’ to ‘Rainbow’ to ‘Pilot Inspektor’. (The last one is Jason Lee’s son!)
Michael J Murphy’s slasher from 1985 pushed two separate words together to conjure up the title, ‘Bloodstream’. Fifteen years later, Steve Jarvis and co from Cinematrix films coincidentally did exactly the same thing. What really stands out as a bizarre and inexplicable link is the fact that both films never secured distribution. So two motion pictures released within twenty years of each other in a niche genre with identical titles suffered exactly the same unusual fate. Could it be that their names somehow jinxed their destiny?
This is another a SLASH above exclusive and a total rarity that I am posting for your perusal. It’s from cult horror helmer Michael Murphy and British film has far too few directors like him. His style can be compared to that of Nathan Schiff and he has released well over twenty-five pictures on the smallest of budgets. Invitation to Hell and The Last Night are the most recognised, with the latter being considered by some to sit within the stalk and slash grouping. Whilst The Last Night’s place amongst the category is indeed questionable, Bloodstream has none of the same identity issues. It’s a slasher through and through.
When up and coming director Alistair Bailey is fired from a project by notorious VHS distributor William King, he believes that his footage has been left in the trash can. He soon discovers however that King tricked him and is planning to globally sell the movie that he spent ages working on. As the lust for revenge strengthens, Bailey decides to don the same disguise as the one used by his antagonist and make a new feature. Only this time, the effects will be real…
Interestingly enough, Bloodstream is a project that was made with the mission to deliver a unique message to specific parties. Murphy’s career up until that point had been blighted by poor deals with shady producers, which meant that he had seen little financial gain from his experiences. He had been stiffed on both of his previous efforts, and so he created this ‘revenge’ story that sees characters similar to those that had wronged him getting slaughtered in the worst possible ways. Although it must have been a personal triumph to make his point so vividly, it no doubt contributed to the fact that the film failed to pick up any kind of release and was forgotten fairly quickly. It’s not even listed on the IMDB.
Shot on Super 8mm, the only available version is tough to watch even for a fan of the category. The quality of the production is obviously unprofessional in everything from the visuals to the performance of its participants. Somehow though, the strength of its creativity gives it some kind of escape ticket from the clutches of mediocrity and it touched me because it plays like it has been created as a back garden tribute of kind to the horror genre.
The synopsis has no mystery angle and we learn the maniac’s identity right from the start, but it all manages to unfold in an interesting way. The killer is the central character that guides us through the story and even if he seems open to the idea of vicious avengement, he would probably have done very little if he had been left to his own devices. Instead, he is guided by a willing partner whose motivation is far more shallow. This relationship between the two is intriguing and well written. It made me consider the fact that there are hundreds of slasher films without an ounce of authenticity that are available to find quite easily. This one, despite its novel approach, remains locked away, which seems somewhat unfair.
The majority of the runtime is filled with ‘film within a film’ scenes that are blended into the story by the fact that our antagonist watches a constant stream of VHS movies in his bedsit. Murphy uses this as an excuse to pay homage (rip off) everything from Mad Max to Friday the 13th Part II, because we get to view everything that our protagonist inserts into his VCR. The director even takes on The Exorcist and other classics that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself. There’s no doubt that these are included as a form of padding to extend a minimalistic story, but the runtime rarely drags and the cocktail just about works. When the maniac finally begins his rampage, the kill scenes are bloody in the tackiest possible way and surprisingly brutal. The first one, which ‘borrows’ an idea from Happy Birthday to Me is edited and structured superbly and shows impressive technical craft from Murphy. Such moments made me believe that he most definitely should have been offered the chance to work with a bigger budget during his career. Dick Randall and the like may have missed a trick by not looking him up.
Bloodstream has a big enough number of victims and the right amount of outright weirdness for me to have enjoyed it. Whilst it can by no means be considered a good movie, it earns points for its peculiarity. I’m sure that now Michael Murphy has forgotten the financial loss and frustration at not seeing his project picked up for circulation, he must be quite happy that his VHS message to dishonest distributors has become a cult rarity.
Whilst I can’t recommend that you hunt this one out for its ability to generate even the lowest level of fear, it is worth tracking down because it is truly a warped take-on the slasher template.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √
Twisted Nightmare 1987
Directed by: Paul Hunt
Starring: Rhonda Gray, Cleve Hall, Robert Padilla
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So you like clichés eh? Well, I’ll give you clichés alright. I’ll give you so many clichés that you’ll loose count before the ten-minute mark!
Twisted Nightmare is not a movie. It may have a cast and a crew and all the ingredients that you would associate with a feature film, but in fact it’s just a check-list of slasher stereotypes rapped up into ninety-minutes of cheap videotape and cunningly disguised as a motion picture. What, you don’t believe me? Then why don’t you check out this fabulous synopsis:
A group of ‘ahem’ teenagers head off to a summer camp (Friday the 13th) where a few years earlier, the brother of one of their number was burned beyond recognition by an unseen menace. (The Burning). Before the accident, he had been the victim of malicious bullying by the rest of the group, who tormented his inability to attract the opposite sex (Terror Train). This particular camp site is not the best place for a summer vacation as it had been cursed by Native Americans many years ago and it’s rumoured that the curse lives on (Ghost Dance). Before long a disfigured lunatic turns up and begins killing off the cast members one by one. (Just about every slasher movie ever produced).
Now do you catch my drift?
In all seriousness, Twisted Nightmare is an uncomfortably tough film to review. That’s simply because it’s a tricky task to explain exactly what went wrong with the feature. It’s not hard to write a mocking review of a bad movie, but it is harder to try and define the reasons why an offering so full of possibilities just didn’t make the grade. It would be easy to blame the rancid dramatics or the inane scripting, but the cast of Friday the 13th were hardly method actors and that was still an infinitely better effort than this. Slasher flicks are different from almost every other genre, because they can still make a profit or at least grab an audience without most of the ingredients that other categories of cinema take for granted. For example, could you imagine a poorly acted drama being successful? Or perhaps an awfully scripted comedy? Stalk and slash features consistently commit gross cinema crimes and still the production line of titles has only recently showed signs of slowing down. Keeping that in mind, I have tried to find out why a project from such an interesting team of low-budget titans ended up being such a flop.
Rumours abound that this was completed in eighty-two, but shelved for five years due to a total lack of confidence from the entire production team. Now aside from the IMDB, which is hardly the most reliable pillar of info, I haven’t uncovered proof of this anywhere else. For a start, the budget here was obviously fairly low, so keeping that in mind, why does it boast a better quality of picture than the much heavier financed Friday the 13th Part III, which was shot in ’82. It’s just not logical, which must mean that the speculation that the two movies were filmed on the same location at the same time must be either false or there’s a mix up with the dates. Another thing I noticed is that most of the cast had more than one acting credit in 1987, but none in 1982, which I think pretty much ends the argument. In my opinion, Twisted Nightmare was not shelved for five-years at all. And if it truly was, only very very little had been shot back then. If I had to guess, I would say that ’85 or ’86 is a more realistic possibility, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the IMDB have got muddled up with that info
If anything, Twisted Nightmare tries too hard, and due to the director’s insistence of ticking every single box on the slasher trappings clipboard, the movie breaks that age-old ‘less is more’ ground rule. Alfred Hitchcock once said that the key ingredient to the production of suspense is isolation, but that’s where Paul Hunt’s opus comes unstuck. His feature boasts an unusually high body count and there’s also some impressive gore sequences. Unfortunately, with so many characters getting butchered in such a small space of time, things get very boring very quickly and the deaths rapidly loose their impact.
Another negative is the film’s one-tone pacing, which never seems to change throughout the runtime. Characters get killed, characters get naked. Characters make-out and characters argue. But it all happens at such a snail-like momentum that that any attempts at a ‘money-shot’ just pass by without recognition. The plodding direction adds no bite to the suspense scenarios and an infuriating lack of lighting takes the credit away from the decent make-up effects. The script doesn’t help matters and the plot is littered with more holes than a hash smoker’s mattress. Cast members are slaughtered and none of their colleagues question their disappearances and some of the gaps in continuity are so obviously dumb that it’s almost unbelievable that this was the effort of a man with as much cinematic experience as Paul Hunt. One girl’s haircut changes literally from scene to scene.
Now part of these problems may well have something to do with the fact that the story’s writer Charles Philip Moore hated director Paul Hunt with a passion. They did work together again on Demon Wind in 1990, but the animosity was high enough for them to deliver unflattering comments to the press. After the release of the movie and the negative reception and lack of success took its effect, Moore struck the cruellest of blows in defence of his involvement many years later, by stating, “Twisted Nightmare is the sorriest piece of drek ever put on film. When Hunt wasn’t bombed on coke he was coming down with hash. He hired inexperienced wannabes just so he could screw them out of their pay”. Even if Hunt did not get the chance to respond, he did once write that, “I personally hate horror films and did Twisted Nightmare as a favor for Ed DePriest.” So there you go.
If you take an experienced director, a good budget, an excellent location, some great gore effects, a group of ambitious cast members and still end up with a feature as jumbled as this, then something is very, very wrong. The above proves that there most definitely was.
On the plus side as I mentioned earlier there’s some decent gore, including a deer antler impalement and one guy gets his head pushed off, which is hokey, but fun all the same. Nightmare also seems to generate an eighties feel much better than many of its counterparts from the period. There are mullets, bubble perms, bad metal tracks, boobies, elastic belts, bright tops and muscles by the bucket load. Let’s not beat about the bush, this feature is absolute tosh. But I know you dear reader. I know you better than you think. You like cheese. You like bad acting and blood. You like disfigured killers that growl like bears and stare through windows whilst breathing like they’re having asthma attacks. As you know that I know this, then I am going to recommend that you give Twisted Nightmare a shot. Now…
Killer Guise: √√
Mark of Cain 1985
Directed by: Bruce Pittman
Starring: Robin Ward, Wendy Crewson, Anthony Parr
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Brothers and sisters have played a big part in the slasher category ever since its launch. Starting with The Communion in 1976, the number of titles that have incorporated sibling rivalry and mistaken identity into their plots is almost vast enough to warrant a specific sub genre. Attempts such as Just Before Dawn, Nightmare at Shadow Woods, Happy Birthday to Me, The Initiation and Blood Link have all interwoven family bonds to boost their plot lines. Mark of Cain was one of the last cycle entries to use that structure and somewhat bizarrely, it’s also one of the least recognised. Released in 1985 this Canadian thriller never gained much exposure and despite an inviting premise, it rapidly disappeared.
For a thespian, one of the greatest challenges is playing two separate personalities in the same feature. Jeremy Irons and Nicholas Cage were excellent in Dead Ringers and Adaptation respectively, whilst John Lithgow boosted his status after his outstanding quadruple-faced portrayal in Raising Cain. Here Canadian character actor Robin Ward plays two identical twins; one good and the other is dangerously insane.
The plot takes place predominantly around an old and eerie mansion in the Canadian wilderness. It opens with a female searching the snow-laden surroundings for either of the twins that occupy the creepy abode. As she turns a corner, she is suddenly grabbed by an unseen menace and dragged inside the house. She screams and struggles, but the violent aggressor repeatedly stabs her, spraying her blood over the room’s décor. Sean, who we later find out to be the sane member of the siblings, arrives in a car with his neighbour and hears the commotion from inside the mansion. He frantically breaks open the door and follows the blood stains out into the backyard, where he discovers the woman’s mutilated corpse nailed to a tree.
Fifteen years later and Michael is still locked in an asylum for the murder in the opening scenes. His brother Sean comes to see him regularly, but since marrying his girlfriend, the visits have decreased, much to Michael’s anger. Sean finally arrives and informs his brother that he needs to sell the mansion, simply because he doesn’t have the funds to keep it. Michael reacts angrily and brutally escapes the institution, with the intent of reaping revenge on his more fortuitous twin.
It took a long time for me to track down a copy of Mark of Cain, simply because it has never been re-released since its initial VHS outing in 1986. Usually when a movie disappears, it’s never without a good reason, but fortunately that isn’t the case with this taut psycho thriller. Cain opens with some impressive vigour and in places the film builds a credibly suspenseful atmosphere. Bruce Pittman’s energetic direction consistently shines; and mixed with some impressive cinematography from John Herzog, the scenes flow fluidly throughout. Although Robin Ward can never be credited in the same bracket as Nicholas Cage, Jeremy Irons or even John Lithgow, here he delivers a decent performance and Wendy Crewson is impressive by his side.
Michael is viciously malevolent as the psychopath and there’s a hint of ritualistic evil to his murders, which is never thoroughly explained. Satanic imagery is strewn subtly throughout the feature without verification, but the movie never digresses into anti-religious melodrama. In one scene he murders an unfortunate extra and then places his body under the wheels of a vehicle before driving over the corpse and then reversing continuously. Despite the fact that Mark of Cain doesn’t boast the hugest of body counts, the grim and macabre flair of the murders is satisfying enough for all blood fiends.
The film’s only problems lie in its failure to take advantage of the benefits of an ambitious plot. An excellent opening eventually gives way to a mixed and bland conclusion and it seems that when the inevitable plot twist arrives, it’s handled somewhat clumsily. The flamboyant direction is hindered by an inane musical accompaniment and at times there’s an obvious lack of lighting.
It’s somewhat refreshing to finally view a rare slasher movie that doesn’t thoroughly disappoint. Mark of Cain may not be an excellent film, but as far as obscurities go, it’s definitely better than the usual plop that lands on my doorstep. Energetic, well-acted and engaging, I recommend that true genre fans track this one down.
Final Girl √√√
Appointment with Fear 1985
aka El Resplandor De La Muerte
Directed by: Alan Smithee
Starring: Michele Little, Debi Sue Voorhees, Michael Wyle
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Appointment with Fear’s director Alan Smithee is one of the most prolific filmmakers in cinema. He has worked on over 80 motion pictures, with his first being released in 1968. With such a huge amount of work under his belt it is indeed a surprise that he is so much of an enigma. I have never read an interview with him, seen a picture, a biography or any awards attributed to his work. I tried locating him to no avail and his output is so diverse that it shows no unique style or philosophy. I couldn’t even track down his date of birth!
Ok, so as my daughter would say, I’m being silly. In 1967 during the production of period western, Death of a Gunfighter, original director Robert Totten fell out with his lead actor Richard Widmark after a year’s work and was sacked from the shoot. He was replaced by Don Siegel, but Siegel felt that it was unfair that he alone be credited and offered the title to his predecessor. Totten rejected and they went to the Director’s Guild who released the film under the directorial alias of Alan Smithee (Al Smith was considered, but it was already in use). The ploy worked and critics praised the newcomer’s work, with The New York Times stating, ‘(it’s) sharply directed by Alan Smithee who has an adroit facility for scanning faces and extracting sharp background detail’!
From then on, the DGA allowed for their members to use that pseudonym if their work had been drastically re-shot and re-cut by others without their approval before submission, hence, why it is usually seen on entries that are rubbish or incoherent. There’s not a lot of information available on the development of this mid-eighties slasher, but the fact that Ramsey Thomas distanced himself from its release tells you more than enough. It’s rumoured that he wasn’t even the only director who worked on this, but with no sources available, it’s hard to know the truth. I have learned that on completion, producer Moustapha Akkad was so disappointed with what he was handed by Thomas that he called back most of the actors and spliced in new footage before it was unleashed theatrically.
Akkad himself had made so much profit from Halloween that he must’ve spent the rest of his days hoping that he could get one more shot at the same level of success. There are shades of the aforementioned classic clearly visible here in everything from the mental hospital escapee to the white van stalking the neighbourhood. You can see the allure in the concept on paper and why he believed in the project, but I’d be intrigued to know what he made of the net result.
For a genre with such a low profile in cinema and a reputation for amateurism, it is surprising that we have not had more genuinely weird offerings. Disconnected is for sure a tad strange and there’s nothing more hallucinogenic than the goings on over at Horror House on Highway 5. It’s alongside those slices of bewilderment that Appointment with Fear sits comfortably.
In the opening, a psycho in a white van is seen to be chasing a young woman with a baby. He finally catches up and stabs the mother, but the niño is nowhere to be found. A young girl witnesses the assault and runs over to the female who is profusely bleeding and asks leisurely, “Excuse Me, is there anything I can do for you?” Instead of begging for an ambulance, or in fact, the Police; the victim gives the spaced out youngster her child and tells her to protect him. The rest of the runtime is filled with the maniac hunting down his newborn and killing off the teens that get in his way, but hold on! How can he be doing it when he is clearly unconscious and locked up in an asylum for an earlier crime? That’s where things get a tad more interesting…
Fear has a lot of unique characteristics that make it intriguing even if you push its riddled production to one side. It is extremely new wave in its approach, from its avant-garde locations to its pop-punk soundtrack and ‘tree-spirit’ plot gimmick. One groovy teen wears bright blue eye make-up and is performing a mime routine on her screen introduction, whilst a key male player drives around on a motorbike with a mannequin that he talks to in his sidecar. And no, before you ask, he isn’t even the loon of the title. We also have a homeless guy called Norman who lives in the back of a pick-up truck and spends his screen time either asleep or talking to god and then we haven’t mentioned the disheveled anti-hero who demonstrates limitless bravery with his actions, but really doesn’t end up doing too much. Look out for one of those modernistic dance routines, which lasts about five minutes and seems to have been thrown in for no logical reason and takes the weirdness to a whole different level that even leaves the actors looking bemused.
Between all that we have our clean-cut psycho killer, who looks a bit like he could be Mikel Arteta’s slightly less handsome elder brother. He works his way through a few victims, but doesn’t raise pulses, because there are no chase sequences and most attempts at scares are misplaced. There’s no gore either, which is a bit of a let down and the bogeyman doesn’t look creepy and more like a normal kind of guy. There is of course the twist that owes a nod to Psychic Killer and it’s explained away quite sluggishly, but adds to the unusual tone. The main complaint I had was that after so much effort to build the maniac up as indestructible, he is defeated relatively easily and the ending feels rushed and out-of-place with all that went before it.
It is surprising considering the obvious problems suffered on set just how well the cast carry the feature. Michele Little was cute and charming as the final girl and Michael Wyle also did well as her eccentric love interest. Douglas Rowe captured an under-written character perfectly and the only weaknesses were more the fault of a lack of cohesion in the scripting. The exceptionally well-endowed Debi Sue Voorhees adds to a collection of attractive female cast members that Little heads up superbly and you definitely feel that you want the leads to survive.
The plot is riddled with numerous holes and wasted shots that end in no significance (for example what was it with those dolls?) and it has a massive effect on the pacing. It took me two viewing to see it all the way through and I feel that it may be a hard task for less forgiving fans. To be totally honest, Appointment with Fear is not a very good movie and it will not even generate thrills of the so bad it’s good variety.
With that said, I enjoyed its off the wall stance, attractive cast and ambitious gimmick. It’s bad for sure, but has an allure because it is generally off-beat and extremely peculiar.
Final Girl: √√√
New York Massacre 1985
Director Louis Ferriol
Starring, Barbara Heller, Norma Sparno
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The slasher genre has survived by sticking to its clichés. Although John Carpenter’s Halloween was not the first of its kind to be released, its humongous popularity set a benchmark that would develop the unbreakable rules of the cycle. One genre pattern that John Carpenter cannot be credited with installing is the emergence of the massacre titles that would prove to be as much of a platitude as a psycho killer in a mask. After Tobe Hooper’s seminal low budget shocker, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it became a trademark to incorporate the M word into the title for an ambitious slasher hit. Since then we have had The Mardi Gras Massacre, Nail Gun Massacre, Woodchipper Massacre, Jackhammer Massacre, Slumber Party Massacre, and Andrea Bianchi’s adeptly titled Massacre to name but a few. Nowadays if the word massacre is seen in the title of a feature, you can rest assured that you are about to witness another entry to the already overcrowded cycle.
So here we have Louis Ferriol’s attempt to jump the bandwagon with the extremely rare and woefully unoriginal New York Centrefold Massacre. Despite being harder to locate than a deck chair in the Antarctic, this short and almost unheard of offering does have its fingers in a few trivia pies. Horror fans that are knowledgeable of the category will no doubt be aware that Christopher Lewis’ Blood Cult was rewarded the unenviable feat of being the first movie produced exclusively for the home video market. However I challenge that accomplishment, because NY Centrefold Massacre began production in 1982 and was released in ’85 direct to video on the long defunct Vidimax label.
It all launches with a thoroughly bizarre sequence, which was no doubt preparation for the cumbersome plot line to follow. The credits are juxtaposed with some extreme nudity (stock footage?) and the odd flash of a mutilated corpse. The collage of shots has no cinematic cohesion, which remains a theme throughout the feature. Next up we learn that a masked psycho has been cutting his way through New York centrefold models that have been posing for a smutty photographer. Cassie Peterson is considering launching a career as a glamour model, because she wants to escape the overzealous gaze of her severe Grandmother, who has taken care of the youngster since her parents were killed in an accident. As the bodies begin to mount up around the city, can Cassie avoid confrontation with the maniacal assassin?
Judging direct to video features that have been produced on minimalistic budgets is no easy task, because artistic flair can be imprisoned due to a lack of funding. However that cannot be levelled at a feature as rancid as New York Centrefold Massacre, which struggles to impress even at the most minuscule level. Firstly the editing is inexplicably atrocious, which is unacceptable considering the fact that horror is a genre that thrives on its shock factor best contributed by an ambitious editor. The plot revolves around the mystery element of guessing who it is that’s hiding under the pillowcase mask and murdering the ‘models’. However it’s impossible to build a mystery with such a small number of suspects and the lack of any satisfactory character development derives any interest from the plot. Of course when the killer is revealed to be exactly who you thought it was all along, the film fails to redeem itself even in its conclusion.
The soundtrack is even stranger, incorporating porn ‘oh ah’ sound effects into a rancid synthesizer score, which creates a combination that leaves you embarrassed to turn up the volume in order to avoid accusations of watching porn. For a moment I thought there had been a problem with the celluloid transfer and the movie had been super imposed onto a rouge copy of Traci Lord’s early CV entries. Somewhat unfortunately however, that wasn’t the case. A strangely short running time of only 39 minutes still managed to feel like an eternity and by the time the incomprehensible conclusion arrived, I was struggling to stay awake, let alone interested.
Louis Ferriol has recently defended his attempt at a top-notch thriller by stating that he filmed some really good slasher sequences and some scenes with REAL centrefold models. Unfortunately all this footage was destroyed in a fire, so what we have left is the ‘leftovers’ of the dailies that survived the wrath of those flames. That must have been a truly intelligent and demonic blaze, to seek out and destroy only the ‘decent’ parts of this guy’s movie, what an unlucky guy Ferriol is. Mind you this kind of luck can definitely strike you when it matters most. Did I ever tell you about the time I was going to score with Laura Harring and my Oyster card ran out when I was about to go back to her place? Or when I was called up to play for the Spanish National Football team at the last World Cup, but I couldn’t find my car keys? Damn buddy, I know how you feel…
On the plus side, the script was fairly amusing and boasted some creative dialogue, which was at times a fond reminder of the hilariously un-politically correct persona of the eighties. There was also one vaguely impressive murder sequence, which made decent use of the editor’s minuscule talents. But the lack of any gore, suspense and creativity and the extreme amount of flagrant stupidity (death by hair-dryer anybody?) rendered the feature almost irredeemably pointless.
The movie was released on mail order and no one has ever seen a copy anywhere in existance, so I apologies for the lack of a cover shot. The copy I own, I found in Spain and it was sold with a white label on the tape and had no catalogue numbers or any signs of a distributor. It’s also very VERY poor quality. So much so that I couldn’t take any screenshots. My apologies for that –
Yes New York Centrefold Massacre is as rare as hell and yes it it’s a bonus addition to the collection of all slasher enthusiasts that seek out such obscurities, but it simply doesn’t warrant the time and effort needed to track it down. Gone and quite frankly well forgotten, don’t expect to see the DVD any time soon.
Killer Guise: √