Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives 1986
Directed by: Tom McCloughlin
Starring: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen
Review by Eric LeMaster
Well… hello again!
When I was a kid, I never went to summer camp. I had a few opportunities to go to a local Christian camp called “Camp Nathaniel”, but never tried to complete the Bible-themed workbooks required to guarantee free attendance. When I was confirmed into the Episcopal Church in April of 2009, the ceremony was held at a camps and conference center in (very) rural East-and-South-of-Central KY. Having already been a fan of slasher movies, I was VERY happy to be there.
I have been there many times since, but this first experience of an overnight stay during this first time gave me the “feel” I needed to truly appreciate the “forest” slasher. While I (previously) never cared for Slashaway Camp, I soon realized why it became a classic. Friday the 13th movies moved much closer in rank to my beloved Halloween movies.
Anywho– Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives:
After Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) “killed” Jason in Part IV, and after Tommy (then John Shepherd) confronted a “different” Jason in Part V, Tommy (now Thom Matthews) takes a fellow escapee to a grave yard in Crystal Lake (Now “Forest Green”) to ensure that, once and for all, Jason is truly dead. When lightning strikes a metal fencing sphere that was stabbed into Jason’s body, Jason is revived and returns to bring havoc upon his home turf!
Part 6 introduces Tony Goldwyn in his first role. He dies very soon in the movie, but it’s nice to see such a respected and recognizable face in the film. Other notable actors and actresses who appear are Renee Jones (from Days of Our Lives), Tom Fridley (nephew of John Travolta); and Jennifer Cooke (from V, and Guiding Light), as Megan, our “final girl.”
Writer/Director Tom McLoughlin does a fine job at creating atmosphere and great humor– something that has developed a love/hate relationship amongst fans of the franchise. The movie was well-shot, and the actors and actresses involved were very talented; in fact, their on-screen cohesion is among the best I’ve ever seen amongst the cast in a slasher.
The MPAA required a number of scenes to be cut from the film (What’s new?); but, regardless, it plays well as a result of good editing. Sissy’s death scene was removed completely, the backbreaking scene in the cemetery was originally longer, and the Tommy/Jason fight was trimmed.
Also, the soundtrack was quite good, and with a lot of tracks from Alice Cooper. He’s Back (Man Behind the Mask) was made into a music video featuring Jason stalking a theatre, and was popular back in the day. Teenage Frankenstein was also featured on his popular Constrictor album.
I really have nothing but good things to say about this entry. If I had anything bad to acknowledge, it would be that there are times when the dialogue can seem a little over the top: Tom Fridley’s (Cort) excessive uttering of “This is great!” comes to mind…
Regardless, I give the film a 4 1/2 out of 5 starts. Part 6 is, for me, the best entry into the Friday the 13th franchise, and one of my favorite slashers of all time– second only to Halloween 4, the movie I previously reviewed.
As a side note– as an autograph collector, I had the great opportunity of having friendly contact with Tom Fridley, who I find to be an all-in-all awesome guy. It’s always great when I can collect from the actors whose work I have so enjoyed!
Luis’ view: Also one of my favourites of the series, Part VI stands apart because it successfully blends some gooey ‘action horror’ with a satirical ability to poke fun at itself and its franchise predecessors. I still believe it to be one of the slickest and easiest to watch of the series, but it perhaps lacks the haunting tone that was so successful in part II. This was one of the first slasher movies I ever tracked down and I remember having a youthful crush on Jennifer Cooke. On top of having a feisty heroine, I also liked the soundtrack, which included Felony from Graduation Day. It’s a shame Tom McCloughin didn’t return to the franchise/genre. Whilst it is a treat to watch, it was perhaps the first Friday to have a cartoonish ‘popcorn’ feel. This is something that the series never really recovered from and I would say Part IV was the last truly scary entry. Four stars from me..
Killer Guise: √√√√
Death O’ Lantern 1986
Directed by: Chris Seaver
Starring: Candase Patterson, Dutch Hogan,Savanna Ramone
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a shame that there aren’t more filmmakers like Chris Seaver about. He has been producing budget features for about twenty years and his filmography is packed with titles that the majority of a SLASH above readers might adore. I was first introduced to his recent work by accidentally stumbling across the Warlock Video website whilst researching a Steve Lathshaw horror flick of a similar title to this one. The name Chris Seaver was not new to me, because I remembered that he had been the director of an old VHS on the Low Budget Productions label from ’94 called, Friday the 13th ‘Halloween Night’ . It was a fan film in every sense of the word that pitched Michael Myers against Jason Voorhees at a Halloween party. Despite being a very obvious back garden development, I never forgot about it because it was immensely gory and extremely fun. In fact, I’m somewhat surprised that it has never made it on to a shiny disc. Perhaps that’s something that could happen as an Extra or Easter Egg in the near future?
Over the years, Seaver and his buddies over at Warlock Video have continued to secure funding so that they can develop DTV chillers and have built a solid reputation in cult circles. They recently came up with the idea of letting their fans financially contribute towards their projects and receive the benefit of an executive producer credit or something similar, which is great for the horror community and really takes the genre to its grassroots. I was hoping that whilst browsing through his extensive online catalogue I would discover at least one or two slashers. With all of his films being tributes to the SOVs of the eighties, I knew that there had to be an entry amongst them somewhere.
At 42 minutes, Death-O-Lantern is more of a semi-short than an all out extravaganza, but it’s extremely affordable to pick up so I was keen to give it a shot. It tells the tale of a small town in 1986 where the talk on the kids’ lips is still heavy metal, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Four such youngsters are forced to face their own horror story when the urban legend of Stingy Jack, a child murderer who was killed in the 1800s, comes alive to haunt them a few days before Halloween night. Before long, they are battling to survive against a vicious maniac that needs to butcher six teenage souls in order to return for good…
I watched Death-O-Lantern on my iPad on the train to Reading from my home in London and I honestly had no idea what to expect. The screen lit up with a typical, but impressive, Halloween-alike score and some driving shots of a small suburban city. Within the next two minutes there was an audacious gore shot that was as exceptionally good as it was drastically cheesy and the tone had been set from there on.
You see, Lantern is not a film that wants to confuse itself and its audience in a clash of styles like so many others. Entries like Easter Bunny Bloodbath tend to build a solid foundation with a creepy intro, only to shatter it mindlessly when desperation sets in and they resort to goofy attempts at humour to maintain the pace. Seaver sets a campy tone from the off and never attempts to divert in another direction and this allows his feature to remain fast moving and entertaining. As the story is set in 1986, anyone that knows their horror will remember that killers of that time were as quick with a wisecrack as they were with a machete. Well, Stingy Jack is a follower of annual fashions and he quips and talks as he kills throughout the runtime, which not only keeps things cheesy, but also gives us the chance to stay up to date with the plot. The characters are defined in the archetypal fashion, but the bunny that I thought was sure to be the final girl, suddenly got splattered, which I wasn’t expecting.
It would be pointless of me to rate the dramatics because this is a time when SOVs were full of bad actors, so they are deliberately playing it tongue in cheek. Personally I found the talky scenes to be more annoying than I’d have liked, but thankfully the killings are spaced frequently enough to separate the screen time with the players. The witty dialogue, which was quite obviously pencilled from the mind of a genre enthusiast, was by far the best thing about the picture. We hear the kids discussing Friday the 13th Part VI and Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend, which were two of the biggest horror films of the year and it’s those bonus additions that set this feature apart. For such a minuscule ZERO budgeted production, the gore effects are quite brilliant and the bogeyman looked surprisingly effective in that mask and scarecrow-alike garb.
So is Death-O-Lantern a great horror movie? No. But then again it’s not trying to be. What we have here is a doorway into the mind of a fan of camp eighties horror and as I’m one of those myself, I quite enjoyed it. The ending seemed a bit ‘thrown on top’ and the comedy was a tad risqué for my liking, but yes; it is still worth a look.
For viewers with a sense of humour that understand something about a no budget production, this is a quirky effort with enough pluses in its carry case for it to deliver. Seaver is growing all the time as a director and I’ll be waiting patiently for his next slasher effort.
Killer Guise: √√√√
*Ps you probably guessed that this was not really made in 1986, it’s 2011, but why ruin a good gag?
City In Panic 1986
Directed by: Robert Bouveir
Starring: David Adamson, Lee Ann Nestegard, Derrick Emery
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Dependent on the product there can be sometimes no better marketing tool than controversy. For their time, The Sex Pistols were controversial and made a great career out of it. The Rolling Stones, Elvis, hell even Sir Cliff Richard caused uproar in his day. As Max Clifford once famously said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” This little-known Canadian slasher must’ve been aiming for some of the same media coverage when it attempted to make an admittedly ham-fisted social comment on one of the eighties’ biggest discussion points – the HIV virus. Any severe medical condition should be handled with care and consideration by a filmmaker that is attempting to broach such delicate topics, but Bouvier’s feature is the cinematic equivalent of telling a friend that they looked better last year when they could still fit in those jeans.
In the first few minutes, the director attempts a role reversal on Hitchcock’s notorious shower scene. A hulking killer sporting a fedora, dark glasses and typical giallo-like psycho-garb bursts into a bathroom and hacks an unfortunate guy to death with a kitchen knife. Before leaving, the maniac carves the letter ‘M’ into his back with the aforementioned blade. This becomes the macabre calling card of the maniacal assassin and also the name that he becomes known by in media. Next up we meet Dave Miller (David Adamson) a radio talk show host that immediately takes an interest in the madman’s motives. As the bodies continue to pile up around the city, Dave decides to set a trap using his popular broadcast as the bait. Eventually, the killer himself phones the show and begins to slaughter people that are close to the presenter. Is Miller next on the death list?
City in Panic starts with a protagonist narrative that is vaguely reminiscent of the maverick cop thrillers of the seventies. The depiction of a sleazy town in peril led me to believe that Bouvier was as much a fan of Dirty Harry and the like as he was of Halloween. To be fair there are times when the atmosphere gets credibly morbid and some of the gruesome murders are brutal if not graphically audacious enough to rival gore marathons. We are treated to occasional flashes of innovative photography that are exciting and spontaneous and provide the odd glimpse of suspense that helps to strengthen the few moments of macabre mayhem. Perhaps the most memorable of those is the repugnant castration of a toilet loitering sex pest. After having his ‘Johnson’ chopped off by the masked killer, the guy is left to die in agony and spray blood on the walls like the final spurts of a wayward sprinkler system. It’s a grim sight indeed; but unfortunately, aside from those few examples of flair from Bouvier, the majority of the film struggles to pull itself from the realms of amateur night.
I remember a Glam metal band that were unsigned in the late eighties and recorded two demos that were popular amongst collectors. Indian Angel’s set list included catchy tracks like Playing Hard To Get, Loneliness Motel and Just Pretending, but after a few years on the club circuit they disbanded. When they finally did call it quits it was clear that they had not improved on their musicianship and were still playing those same songs that I mentioned above. They failed to build upon their initial strengths and in the end were doomed to remain rock and roll apprentices. This film is a similar case in point, because it perhaps needed Bouvier to step back, analyse his work and then try a bit harder. The spluttering dramatics fail to convince on even the lowest level, which immediately destroys any sense of realism being created. An idea with such a strong topical standpoint needed to be solid with its scripting in order to deliver what it intended, but Andreas Blackwell’s confused screenplay is sketchy and it leaves characters contradicting themselves. The glossy veneer of intellectual dialogue soon becomes transparent as nonsensical chit chat and the fact that City in Panic seems to have been written with minimal effort means that viewers won’t make the effort to appreciate it. At one point the investigator says, “Now I began to accept that the city had on its hands a killer”.That line came after we had already seen a couple of mutilated corpses with the same MO. Go figure.
The soundtrack plays like an example of what a chimp can get out of a Bontempi keyboard and it does absolutely * nothing * to add to the mood of the feature. I have also read that some viewers felt that the plot was deliberately homophobic. Making the majority of the victims homosexual guys and then torturing them sadistically was a dumb move and although a female (and a heterosexual male) also got splattered, it ends up with a tone that I can understand that some could find offensive. Over the years, the slasher genre has developed a large gay following and movies such as HellBent have been accepted warmly. Due to City in Panic’s lack of self-analysis, it has failed to register as an entry that pays the same amount of respect. Personally, I found it to be too mindlessly written to be offensive and too weakly structured to be controversial. We can’t ignore the fact though that director Robert Bouvier has clumsily, although surely unintentionally, exploited one of the most tragic diseases that mankind has ever known.
Despite the awful attempt at a social commentary, taken as a slasher movie, this never gets boring and the viscous murders are spaced quite frequently all the way through. For a cheap piece of junk hokum it could’ve been a passable entry to the cycle. It’s just a shame that the filmmakers took the wrong approach…
Zombie Nightmare 1986
Directed by: Jack Bravman
Starring: Adam West, Jon Mikl Thor, Tia Carrere
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
And here we have another eighties ‘zombie’ movie, which despite having a title that brings to mind illusions of Romero-alike walking-dead mayhem, owes a damn site more to slasher flicks such as Friday the 13th and The Prowleret al. Inexplicably, there was a high number of horror attempts during that decade, which incorporated the living dead into their titles, but delivered stalk and slash cinematic experiences. Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetery was a prime example of a slasher film cloaked under the guise of a zombie-thon, whilst Zombie Island Massacre was another. The Dead Pit and Ruben Galindo’s Cementerio Del Terror went as far as to mix re-animated corpses with the plot trappings of the slasher craze and more recently, Todd Cook’s Zombiefied has brought the slasher/zombie hybrid back from the grave (no pun intended)
It opens on a high school baseball field sometime during the 1960s. An amicable coach named Bill Washington is watched playing catch with some youngsters by his wife and son. Also in the stands are a Haitian school girl and two troublesome youngsters who let their intentions be known by plotting a nasty surprise for the Caribbean spectator. As the young family head home across the streets of the idyllic neighbourhood, they come across the two hoodlums from earlier attempting to rape the passive Haitian. Bill Washington immediately intervenes, much to his downfall, because whilst his back is turned he is stabbed in the chest by one of the rampant thugs. The screen fades with a shot of the young boy watching his father struggle for life on the cold concrete side walk.
Fast forward twenty years and Tony Washington – the child from the prologue – has grown into a helpful and polite young man. Whilst out shopping for his mum’s groceries, he underlines his impressive community status by courageously battering two armed thugs that were attempting to rob the local shop keeper. Things takes a turn for the worse for the vigilante, when he is savagely run down and killed by a gang of inebriated teenagers. The gang of drunkards speed off into the night, showing no remorse for their victim. Despite being visually devastated, Tony’s mum decides not to inform the police of the murder and instead she calls upon the favour owed by the Haitian from the pre-credits sequence. Somewhat fortunately (albeit stereotypically) Molly Mokembe is now a voodoo priestess and so with a dust of black magic, Tony Washington rises from the dead to avenge his ruthless murder….
If you were looking for another possible pre-cursor to Kevin Williamson’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, then look no further than this cheap as you like slasher jam, which pre-dates the aforementioned title by a whole eleven-years. The plot is familiar to each and all, as the victim of a horrendous event returns to avenge his death, systematically slaughtering the culprits one by one in gruesome fashion. Although we never reach the heights of slasher-classic status, this does boast a few credible benefits that lift it from the irreversible depths of a half-star review. The soundtrack is awesomely impressive, with songs provided by Motorhead, Girlschool and Thor and I must admit that I was astounded as ‘The Ace of Spades’ confidently adorned the credit sequence. As is the case with so many eighties slasher entries, Zombie Nightmare plays host to one young and fresh-faced ‘soon to be superstar’. Yep, you don’t need to clean those spectacles. That chubby faced youngster that is unconvincingly warbling through her lines is none other than Tia Carrere, most memorable for her characteristic performances in Wayne’s World and True Lies.
Unfortunately, it seems the budget spent on the soundtrack pretty much drained the finances from the rest of the feature, because Zombie Nightmare seems to take an unprecedented slope to mediocrity very quickly. Despite a decent début performance from Frank Dietz as the protagonist, the dramatics are really scraping along the lines of junior school play level. Watch out for the hilarious Manuska Rigaud, who seems to believe that ‘acting’ amounts to squawking her voice like she’s desperately in need of a lozenge. Zombie Nightmare is famous for thrash legend Jon Mikl Thor’s lengthy cameo in the opening half of the film. Despite proving that rock stars certainly shouldn’t walk the path to Hollywood, he also miraculously manages to grow a few inches post-death. It’s so easy to notice that Thor had taken his paycheque and scooted very early on in the production, leaving the crew to cast a totally unconvincing body ‘double’, which somewhat adds to the cheesy charm.
There’s no gore or suspense worth mentioning and the whole feature is weakly directed to the excess of point and shoot mediocrity. Originality is a wayward concept in the eyes of Jack Bravman, so basically, what you see is what you get – and you get very little. There’s a few kooky deaths and a fairly sympathetic motive for our hulking maniac, but it never escapes the feeling of being overly diluted, so I’m sure that you’ll end up fairly bored.
Zombie Nightmare is far from being the worst slasher movie released during the peak period, but I really could only find very little to recommend. The stalking lone killer proves that this is pure slasher trash and those searching for a dose of zombie gore will be thoroughly disappointed. It would probably have remained a complete obscurity if it hadn’t been rescued by MST3K who pointed out some of the cheesy aspects in their usual hysterical way. When I wrote this review three-years ago, there was a copy of their antics available on YouTube to watch, although it may have disappeared by now.
Ignore the word ‘Zombie’ in the title and add this to your slasher collection if you dig the eighties cheapies. There’s nothing here to recommend in a respectable way, but if you are a fan of pure trashola then you should most definitely pick it up. You’ll have to dust off your VCR though, because there’s no planned DVD rehash.
Final Girl: √
Cards of Death 1986
Directed by: W.G MacMillan
Starring: Shamus Sherwood, Robert Rothman, Will MacMillan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here it is. The most obscure eighties horror film on the planet…
I have seen Cards of Death described as the ‘Holy Grail’ for slasher fans by one writer on an online forum. A movie so rare that it is barely mentioned in a google search and has never been reviewed by any site on the Internet. It was shot in 1985 on video in California and was the directorial début of William MacMillan. MacMillan starred in the classic Romero zombie flick, The Crazies and has appeared in a few other films and TV shows over the years, including a decent performance in Oliver Stone’s Salvador. He is also a puppeteer and regular on the theatre circuit, which means that he has spent the majority of his life in the world of entertainment.
Macmillan’s status and previous experiences are sure to have given him an insight in to the trials and tribulations of developing a low-budget feature. This makes the disappearance of his only stab at filmmaking all the more bewildering. I have tried to make contact with him for a chat and will continue to do so, but as it stands, I’ll just have to share with you my assumptions based on what I have seen here.
For reasons that remain unknown, Death never secured a distribution deal or even played at a Drive-In in the US and was instead shipped out to Japan, where it was picked up by Sony and packaged on VHS. Even there it received a limited release, so at a guess I would say that there are maybe only a handful of copies left in circulation. I doubt that a master print still exists, because if it did, you could pretty much guarantee that Code Red or someone similar would have already taken advantage of its highly collectible standing amongst horror buffs.
Another thing worth noting is that despite what you may read on horror fan sites, Cards of Death is not a standard slasher flick at all. Instead, it has more in common with Blood Cult or Video Violence and includes multiple killers and an authentic plot.
An unnamed city is rocked by a vicious spate of murders. Every Thursday, a mutilated corpse is discovered somewhere in the streets. When the dismembered fingers and nose of a Police captain are mailed to the department, the victim’s son joins the investigation and helps the attempts to track down the killer. Clues lead to a card game that is being played in a secluded location in town…
So as I said above, this is not a slasher movie in the traditional sense. The murders are quite typical of the genre’s then popular methodology, but they are not committed by a central antagonist, which goes against the grain of the formula that we know so well. The Police are heavily involved in the story and we get to share their journey as they attempt to track down the maniac. The script makes no attempt to hide the identity of the killers however, so there’s no whodunit theme. The plot sprouts its branches from the macabre card games of the title. After each event, the winner gets a nice wad of cash, but the rules dictate that he or she must also murder the loser within twenty-four hours or both of them get slaughtered. In the first example of this, the victorious player sticks an axe in the chest of his target and then wraps a length of barbed wire around his face and throat in unflinching close-up. The participants use tarots instead of the usual deck of 52 and the rules of play are best described as a murderous twist on Poker. If the ‘death card’ turns up then it means exactly that – a bloody death for the unfortunate holder.
The men partaking around the table disguise their identity with rubber masks, whilst the women dress in provocative dominatrix gear, which may explain the links to the stalk and slash cycle. From a distance, if you consider that it includes masked killers, hatchets and blades then I guess you can understand why it has been classified as a missing entry. It’s worth keeping in mind though that there are no POV shots, there’s no final girl, no stalking and no shocking twist; so in my opinion, Macmillan wasn’t targeting the slasher crowd specifically. Where this does sit closely with most of its brethren on this site though is in the high levels of exploitation on display. Even in the US, censorship was at its harshest during the eighties, so did this contribute to its lack of distribution? That could well be the case.
The gore effects from Bryan Moore (He has worked on various pictures including, Dolls and Underworld Evolution) are the best thing technically about the picture. In the opening, a guy gets his nose sliced off and it is a very memorable scene, worth ranking with any other great eighties splatter moment. Later on we are treated to a few more equally gruesome set pieces, including a girl being crushed in a large human slaughter device. Most of the female characters get naked regularly and the tone can feel somewhat perverted at times. This is most obvious when we see a bizarre sequence where two of our murderous culprits make out next to the corpse of their victim. Moments earlier they had been drinking her blood from a wine glass and they continue to bathe in her crimson whilst they get it on! Chuck on top of that some cocaine snorting from the gang of maniacs and the levels of sleaziness are high enough to have given Jesus Franco a boner.
I appreciate that all this makes Cards of Death sound like it is well worth tracking down, but it is riddled with flaws that make it uncomfortable to watch. The dramatics are constantly poor and the photography is shaky and blatantly unprofessional. The fact that it has been shot on video doesn’t help and as you can see from my screensnaps, the sets are poorly lighted. By far the biggest disappointment though is the pacing, which fails to generate constant interest. I was looking away from the screen more often than not and it is only in the last twenty minutes that the story begins to gather momentum.
When the final credits roll, we get an awful theme song (Beware the cards of death etc) that sounds like a tone-deaf alcoholic warbling over a Casio keyboard. Kind of like a Ronettes 45 that’s been played on 33. I am guilty of mentioning rubbish theme songs a lot on a SLASH above and it seems that they are quite common in the slasher genre. So keeping in mind that I have experienced so many, I’m happy to state that this is one of the worst. ANYWHERE EVER.
Cards of Death is an interesting film mainly because it is such an enigma. I doubt that many of you have seen it, simply because it is as rare as an honest politician. It has some strengths, which include a superb story, some brutal deaths and a decent last twenty minutes. If it had been seen a bit more, I would have no hesitation in calling it a pre-cursor to the Torture Porn films that would dominate horror over a decade later. Perhaps the most inexplicable thing is why it never got released in its country of origin. It’s by no means a good movie, but I have seen many that are worse. I feel extra pressure to describe Cards of Death to you, because I know how much it has become THE lost slasher that everyone wants to see. Well you can most definitely live without it, but it’s one that I am quite happy that I have in my collection, if that makes sense.
Sleazy, gory and cheap to boot; I guess if it was widely available you could consider it to be a similar type of flick to 555 or maybe The Ripper. The fact that MacMillan has never really pushed to get it released probably says more than my words ever will. Well at least now you know something about it and that it actually does exist. If you have any more questions, feel free to contact me in the usual ways…
Killer Guise: √√√
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: √√
Midnight Killer 1986
aka Morirai a Mezzanote aka You’ll Die at Midnight
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Starring: Valeria D’Obici, Paolo Malco, Eliana Miglio
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In any industry, I think it’s always hard to follow in the footsteps of your father. It must be especially tough though if he’s an outright legend that’s credited with not only defining a genre, but also launching one. No matter how well you and your dad get along, there’s always going to be a little bit of friendly rivalry. Plus you can virtually guarantee that critics will always compare the works of a senior with that of his son. That’s why it must’ve been almost impossible for Lamberto Bava to escape the consistent comparisons and make his own name in Italian cinema. But Morirai a Mezzanotte (Midnight Killer) goes some way to showing that talent certainly ran thickly through the genes of the Bava family. It’s just a shame that Mario was not alive to witness his son’s worthy addition to the category that he created.
Now in all honesty, despite being extremely knowledgeable about the slasher cycle, I must admit that I have spent very little time researching the Giallo. I have still thoroughly enjoyed the likes of Mystery in Venice, Eyes without a Face, Too Beautiful to Die and Blood and Black Lace. It wasn’t until after I’d been impressed with this rarity that I began tracking down other genre classics. So you could say that Midnight Killer was something of a turning point for me…
It opens with a middle-aged woman shopping for some lingerie in a bustling town centre. Her husband Nicola (Leonardo Treviglio) sees her walking the street and begins following her. He buys a flower and waits outside the shop to give her a charming surprise. He certainly didn’t expect to see another man enter the changing rooms and he is even more shocked when they sneak out of the rear exit and shoot off in the mysterious stranger’s car. Later that night when she finally returns, the couple have a violent argument, which ends with Nicola storming out of the flat. After he has left, a black gloved assailant creeps into the apartment and brutally murders the promiscuous female with an ice pick. Inspector Pierro Teri (the always intriguing Paolo Malco) immediately suspects Nicola as the killer and so he enlists a psychological profiler named Anna Berardi (Valeria D’Obici) to help him crack the case. Berardi is a good friend to the Detective and she also teaches his daughter’s college course. She doesn’t think that Nicola is the guilty party, instead she suspects Franco Trebo – a serial murderer that was supposedly killed in a fire eight years earlier. As the bodies begin piling up round the city, it’s looking more and more like Trebo is back from the grave. The most worrying thing for inspector Terzi is that this bizarre maniac seems to have a viscous taste for his youngest daughter Carol (Lara Wendel). Will he be able to stop the ruthless psychopath before he tracks down his little girl?
Many critics have been disappointed with Lamberto Bava’s directorial work since his début feature (Macabre) pretty much flopped on release in 1980. I have begun to realise though that it’s only because they always compare his filmography to the seminal works of his father. It’s a shame that this murder mystery was not distributed to a much wider audience, as it is a little seen gem that deserves recognition. This is mainly due to a fantastic score from Brazilian composer Claudio Simonetti (of the Goblin fame) and some truly chilling set locations. The killer stalks his way through a neglected theatre, a sinister museum and a vacant hotel with relish and the atmosphere-engrossing musical accompaniment helps to create some decent suspense. He also looks extremely menacing in a rubber facemask and his victims usually suffer at the hands of a stylishly directed set piece. The acting is fairly good from the leads and credit to Bava for enlisting Lucio Fulci-favorite Paolo Malco to join a comfortable cast. Many previous Italian Giallos (Eyes without a Face/Massacre) have suffered from inept and poorly translated English voice-overs. Fortunately that’s not the case with Midnight Killer, which was dubbed with considerable thought for non-Italian viewers.
Fans of gore cinema may be disappointed at the minuscule amount of the old gooey stuff. Also the lack of any nudity will probably switch off exploitation buffs that have been spoilt over the years by the likes of The New York Ripper. The mystery-aspect is not as complex and intelligent as many of its genre forefathers have proved to be either, which may cause bedroom Agatha Christies to search in the opposite direction. Still, this is a refreshing and fairly absorbing entry that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. I do agree that Lamberto is a much better screenwriter than he is a director, but Midnight Killer is good enough to make his father proud. As I said earlier, it’s a real shame he wasn’t alive to see it. Recommended…
Final Girl: √√√
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 √√√
Terror on Alcatraz 1986
Directed by:Philip Marcus
Starring: Aldo Ray, Sandy Brooke, Victoria Porche Ali
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The slasher genre is often mocked for its lack of originality, but there’s no way that you could level that accusation at this underplayed entry from 1986 –
Remember the Clint Eastwood film, Escape From Alcatraz? It portrayed the story of Frank Morris, the only prisoner that ever managed to break out and flee that notorious island of captivity. Well this is in effect a continuation of what he would have got up to if he had survived and carried on with his criminal activity outside of a concrete cell…
The Alcatraz escape of 1962 is a topic of much interest across the world and recent files have been released by the FBI that suggest that a raft was found on the island opposite with footprints leading away to freedom. A car was also hijacked locally that same night. Did the prisoners go on to build new lives under false identities? Well if they did, they certainly left behind a great story and I guess that we will never know for sure.
If the film versions of the jail-breaking legend offer a realistic account of his true persona, then Frank Morris seems to have changed a bit since we last saw him on screen portrayed by Clint Eastwood. These days, he is a woman-beating sadist who, in a really mean-spirited scene, puts a cigarette out on his girlfriend’s breast. We learn that he needs to return to Alcatraz to find a map that leads to a bank vault that will solve his financial woes. Instead of breaking in at night, he heads over on a boat with a group of youngsters and disappears in to the corridors whilst they are given a guided tour. Six of the kids (supposed to be teens, but they’re older than me) decide to spend the night in the jail for a cell block party, but little do they know that the psychotic Morris has found a meat cleaver and has murder on his mind…
Whilst the above narrative seems to be as far away from a typical slasher as you could imagine, the film does in fact have more in common with the genre’s traditional template than A Nightmare on Elm Street or Child’s Play do. Once stranded on the island, the maniac stalks the victims in the typical fashion and kills using the devices that we have seen many times before. All of the murders include some gore and the effects are surprisingly good. It’s just a shame that the actors couldn’t keep up their end of the bargain, because the dramatics are so unrealisticly OTT that they make the gore effects look clumsy. One girl flinches a hand long after she had been drowned, whilst another guy whines like he is being tickled when he has a machete four-inches deep in his cranium. The director makes good enough use of the awesome prison location though and listening to the guide prattle on about its history was actually quite interesting.
There are two separate threads to the plot, which shows that the screenwriter was ambitious when he put this together. One involves the slasher killings and the other concentrates on Morris’ plans for the heist. The thing is, they don’t really flow side by side and Aldo Ray comes across like two different personalities depending on the part. He’s a charming rouge in the crime scenes, but evil and as I mentioned, sadistic, in the others. It’s a bit of a strange tone because we should really be rooting for his intended victims, but the most intriguing personality is most definitely Frank, our antagonist. We never really care too much about the cannon fodder that he slices and dices and it’s hard to put a finger on why. They’re not your typical slasher movie clichés and each has a strong personality. There’s an overweight coke head, an Alcatraz obsessive who knows more about the prison’s history than the tour guide and a Native American, whose portrayal could be considered a tad offensive. He is a bit of an idiot and blames the ‘white man’ for everything, but dresses up in army paint in order to have a showdown with the loon and is the most easily murdered of the lot. It was an awkward way to handle an ambitious characterisation. There is a final girl that faces up to the boogeyman, but there was nothing really exceptional about her. In fact, she could have been any number of the cast members. None of them were given enough dialogue or screentime to stand out as a player that we wanted to survive. They are written to be extremely shallow and leave one of their number to die without even trying to assist him, which immediately destroys their appeal.
I guess that the acting is ok-ish from the youngsters and Aldo Ray is just plain Aldo Ray. Now that’s not a bad thing, because he is blessed with a screen presence that means characters become him, not that he becomes his characters. This is not a method actor that we are talking about. In fact, much like Clint Eastwood, he is the same in everything that we watch him in, it’s just that watching him is so damn fun. The best performance of the bunch though came from Sandy Brooke, who is a bit of a slasher heavyweight having been in both Sledgehammer and Bits and Pieces. She may not be an Oscar winner, but she was starkly convincing as the lovesick gangster’s mole. To be fair, she stole every scene that she appeared in!
Despite a great location and an experienced lead, Terror on Alcatraz is a lower than low budget feature and it shows. The photography is grainy and the amusing pan-pipe-alike score sounds undeniably cheap. Also, check out the electric keyboard Halloween rip-off over the opening credits that sounds like it was recorded in a junior school or something. The entire production just has an overwrought feeling of amateurism, especially with the pedestrian direction and nonsensical script. As I said earlier, the two plot lines don’t really match and this is most evident when the killer falls off of an Alcatraz cliff in to the freezing water below, but emerges in the next scene, fully clothed, unscathed and back on the San Francisco shore ready to raid his fortune. He never mentions once back in the city the eight or so victims that he slaughtered and if it wasn’t for the same lead character, you’d think that you’d been watching two different flicks. In reality, Frank Morris was closer to Einstein than he was Al Capone. The guy had an IQ of 133, which is touching on genius. The thing is, the script makes him come across as a bit of a mindless thug and despite his numerous spells in the slammer, in reality, he was everything but that. It’s worth noting the curve-ball ending, which is bizarre, but extremely un-expected. I’d love to hear a screenwriter commentary and how he would explain some of these plot ‘twists’ away, but the fact that this is not on DVD by now, means that it probably never will be.
Alcatraz drags a lot in places and it’s too jumbled to be great, but I quite enjoyed my time spent with it and it is certainly authentic. Aldo Ray carries most of the runtime on his shoulders, which makes up for the lackadaisical work in other places. Recommended if you like them cheap and gorily cheerful…
Final Girl √
Into The Darkness 1986
Directed by: David Kent-Watson
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Polly Jo Pleasence, John Saint Ryan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When discussing icons of cinematic genres, none can be more recognised than Donald Pleasence’s involvement with the slasher cycle. His portrayal of Sam Loomis in Halloween became an iconic ingredient to slasher cinema and perhaps one of the actor’s most recognised performances. His contribution to the category continued and Pleasence donated his unique screen persona to various entries prior to his demise in 1995. Alongside starring roles in four sequels to Halloween, he also featured in Ten Little Indians, Alone in the Dark and the rancid Buried Alive. Another obscurity on his long and illustrious CV was this mid-eighties mishap, which has been pretty much extinct since it’s release in 1986.
UK produced slashers have never been able to rival their American peers when it comes to popularity or creativity. Whilst blockbusters such as Friday the 13th and Halloween dominated the box offices, British offerings such as Goodnight Godbless struggled to exert themselves to any recognition in the annals of horror history. That’s why I had set my expectations extremely low for Into the Darkness.
The movie was shot in Malta and credit to the producers for picking a Mediterranean location to create this addition to the stalk and slash group. It all opens with that old slasher chestnut of a young child witnessing the wrongdoing of his less than respectable parents. A sure-fire excuse to turn a youngster into a homicidal maniac. In this case, it ‘s a young boy who looks on as his flirtatious mother sells her body on the streets of Malta to all that can afford her hefty price. We see through Michael Myers-style POV shots as the parent tells her son, “You’re loving mother’s a whore!” That is of course the psychological landslide that will click into action a forthcoming massacre.
Skip forward a few years and now we’re in sunny London. An unseen assailant follows a prostitute into a rural abode and whilst watching her undress, he draws a huge blade from within his coat. The hooker screams at the recognition of her demise and the screen fades to black. Next up we meet a seedy agent that is looking to cast models for a ‘big-bucks’ photo shoot on location in Malta. After convincing Jeff Conty – an unemployed actor played by prolific UK TV star John Saint Ryan – that his dire financial status requires him to accept the opportunity, Jeff reluctantly agrees. Early the next morning the gang of beaming big haired models and the photographic crew meet at the airport for their pre-briefing. One of the hopefuls won’t be making the trip overseas, due to the fact that she has been brutally strangled Michael Myers style by the murderer. Almost as soon as the crew touchdown on the Mediterranean island, the killer gets to work, slaughtering the models one by one with his trusty blade. But who is behind the vicious murders?
Despite being somewhat sluggish in places, Into the Darkness is undeserving of it’s AWOL status. Brit-director Kent-Watson builds some impressive suspense scenarios and despite the heavy Halloween homage, the film offers a few credible set pieces. Suspects are developed conceivably and the numerous red herrings add spice to the final pay off. Slasher movies are not overly renowned for their huge dramatic performances and Watson’s effort is no exception to the rule. Pleasence is incredibly hammy in his brief cameo, whilst his daughter Polly failed to inherit any of his unmistakable screen presence. To be fair, Ryan carries the movie fairly well and the killer has a ball playing ‘off his rocker’ insanity towards the conclusion.
The climax also warrants a mention, as it’s by far the film’s grisly highlight. Once the diversionary tactics have been crossed off and the assassin’s identity has been revealed, the final battle heralds a few decent twists. The abandoned location sets the mood adequately and the likable final girl (an early performance from Jeanette Driver) does quite a good job against the killer. She lacks the courage and grit of Jamie Lee Curtis and Amy Steel; in fact she cowers away at every opportunity, but as an approachable heroine, she ticks the right boxes. It’s also worth noting that Chris Rea provided the majority of the songs for the soundtrack, which must have cost the producers a small fortune.
Although we are still waiting for a valuable contribution to the slasher cycle from British cinema, Into the Darkness is not as bad as its ‘missing list’ status would have you believe. The IMDb lists that the feature has a title for a DVD release, so maybe in the near future it will achieve a second outing and a stab at recognition.
Final Girl √√√