Out of the Dark 1988
Directed by: Michael Schroeder
Starring: Karen Black, Lynn Danielson-Rosenthal, Divine
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Another of the late eighties slashers that disappeared soon after its release, Out of the Dark has recently seen a belated peak in popularity. I often get emails in regards to slashers like Cards of Death, Early Frost et al, which makes sense, because they’re rare as hell. Lately though I’ve had a few inquiries about this picture and a quick search on Amazon was all that was needed for me to understand why. There is a DVD available that you can purchase online, but it’s from a boutique distributor, which means that there are not many copies and each is costly. Luckily, my trusty VHS still has some views left in it and so I decided to revisit the movie for the first time In twenty-years.
A phone fantasy service is targeted by a loon in a clown mask, who calls and taunts the girls before murdering them brutally. The remaining models group together in order to stop the blood thirsty maniac, but it soon becomes apparent that he could be someone that they know.
Over the past decade or more, the slasher genre has been engulfed with titles that can best be identified as ‘erotic horror’. Movies like Porn Shoot Massacre, Blood and Sex Nightmare and Massacre at Rocky Ridge are produced as much for the inclusion of T&A as they are for their maniacal killers. Out of the Dark can be considered as something of a pre-cursor to those entries, because it invests heavily in giving its young cast of females the opportunity to whip off their undies whenever possible. They work in an apartment where they provide phone sex services to sleaze-bag clients. We spend time watching them converse and make fun of the callers, which provides some development on the closeness of their friendships. Outside of the girls and their manager, who resembles a beaten up Rozlin Focker, we meet Kevin Silver, a fashion photographer that is dating one of the call girls. We also learn that he is a big hit with the ladies, because a female detective comments that he must, ‘get more ass than a toilet seat’. Nice
We only get a break from all this momentous intrigue when the maniac strikes. Like many of his genre colleagues from the late eighties, he has a repertoire of wisecracks that he unleashes after each slaying. Aside from Freddy Krueger, who was played with the right charisma by Robert Englund, and perhaps the inadvertently hilarious dude from Nail Gun Massacre, killers with a catchphrase rarely work. Bobo the Clown (the bogeyman here) has a fantastic mask and would have been even creepier if they’d have dropped the chatter and given us more stalking or chase sequences. The one time that we do get to see him lurk in the shadows and pounce is by far the best set piece of the movie. He puts a shovel through the head of an unsuspecting neighbour before throttling his intended target with a hosepipe.
Despite the masked killer and slaughter of bunnies, Out of the Dark is far more murder-mystery-thriller than it is out and out slasher. We spend most of the last half snooping around for clues and investigating who could be the assailant. I worked that out pretty early on, but when the revelation scene comes around, they still make a real go of it. Michael Schroeder, who had thus far filmed everything with the oomph of a budget soap opera, pulls of a fabulous Carpenter-esque shot of the looming killer in the background. The majority of his efforts to build a tense environment had failed by that point (he used the old ‘waiting for the lift’ suspense mechanism twice in a row without result), but I loved the inclusion of the Sergio Leone eyeball chestnut.
Producer David C Thomas had a crack at the slasher genre during the boom years, with The House Where Death Lives and had thrown everything into making this a success. The film has a fantastic B-Movie ensemble and was slickly produced. In the end though, it failed to even recuperate half of its production budget, which was probably due to a poor marketing strategy. If they’d have gone all out as a slasher and dropped the eroticism angle, it may have been more of a hit. You only have to look at the success of Maniac Cop and Child’s Play to know that there were still crowds for horror movies 1988
Alas, Out of the Dark is not much of a rumpus, but there are countless entries that are worse
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√
Freeway Maniac 1988
Directed by: Paul Winters
Starring: Loren Winters, Shepherd Sanders, Jeff Morris
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The cover for Freeway Maniac proudly states that it’s a ‘cult-thriller in the tradition of such splatter hits as The Hills Have Eyes, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. After reading, I was indeed intrigued as to exactly what that bold statement meant? Did it mean that Freeway Maniac was a seminal movie that went on to define an entire genre? Did it mean that there had been hundreds of low-budget Freeway Maniac clones desperately trying to follow in its footsteps? If so, where were they and why hadn’t I seen them? The questions were flowing through my mind like the alcohol at a Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan ‘patch up our differences’ convention.
Released at a time when the slasher genre had shredded its final hopes of any credibility, Freeway Maniac was certainly one of the last entries of the eighties to be given considerable funding by a mid- studio. I struggled to track down any information about the film at all and it is rarely mentioned alongside the more familiar slasher hits.
It kicks off gratuitously with a couple making out on a kitchen table. Little do the lovers know that they are not alone and are being observed by the woman’s junior son. A sound alerts the couple to his presence and his mother pursues him into his bedroom, where she shouts at him for being such a perverted voyeur. The kid reacts angrily and brutally butchers his mother and her unsuspecting lover with a large kitchen knife. The screen then fades to black and the credits (accompanied by a jazzed-up re-hash of Halloween’s theme-tune) begin to roll.
Skip a few years and Arthur is still locked up in an asylum for his vicious act from the pre-credits. A new member of staff has joined the complex and his colleague gives him a guided tour of the corridors and their most notorious inmates. On approaching one cell, the orderly informs the new-starter that the guy inside, Arthur – the killer from the opening scene, is by far the most dangerous and vicious patient in the hospital. This fact is proved when he violently assaults the pair and makes a daring escape from the complex, murdering various staff-members on his way.
Next up we meet Linda Kinney, a young actress who is just launching her career in Hollywood. Her agent manages to convince her to accept an offer of a casting session with a studio that is producing a low-budget sci-fi flick. Whilst on her way to the location, her automobile breaks down and she heads off in search of help. She eventually finds a remote auto-garage, but unfortunately, instead of uncovering a competent mechanic, she bumps into Arthur on another maniacal rampage. After a lacklustre battle, she manages to defeat the psychopath and her victory sends him back to the security of his institution. Against the odds, she decides to head to the casting for the feature and her choice proves to be a resounding success. Once the producers notice that she is the same Linda that was attacked by Arthur, the David-Hasslehoff-alike psycho from earlier, they decide that her notoriety would make her a bankable cast-member.
Some time later, shooting on-site in the dessert begins with typical enthusiasm. Unfortunately, little do the cast and crew know that Arthur has once again escaped and is looking to get even with the actress that he considers to be his nemesis.
Don’t you just love shoddy low-budget features that attempt in their plot-line to mock the production of shoddy low-budget features? In the case of Freeway Maniac it’s not so much the pot calling the kettle black as the pot calling the pot a pot! This effort is criminally bad and lacks everything that makes a horror film even passable. Suspense – zero, gore – zero, shocks – zero, creativity – zero and hope – zero. It’s a wayward addition and I just couldn’t understand what the producers had in mind when they decided to finance it. Extremely low budget entries can be forgiven for their lack of credibility as they are usually produced on the kind of funds that Cameron Diaz spends on weekly hairdressers. This means that their chances of competing with the more competently budgeted features are resoundingly small. But Freeway Maniac looks to have been quite highly financed, which makes its failure bizarre and totally unforgivable.
It boasts one of the biggest body counts that I can remember in slasher cinema, but of the multitude of characters that appear on the screen, I think that only 4 or 5 were given characterisation. The killer is from the Freddy Krueger School of wise-cracking, meaning that he often murders his victims with a sarcastic remark and a cheeky smirk. Whereas Michael Myers looked terrifying in his boiler suit and mask, Arthur sports a hilarious plaid suit combination and boasts a mullet that would shame Richard Marx. The film is comfortably shot and the dessert makes for an exquisite location, but that can’t stop Freeway Maniac from feeling like an uninspired mess.
All the way through the feature, I just couldn’t be sure if this was supposed to be a serious stab at horror or a semi-parody of the lovable genre that it frequents. One thing’s for certain however, the next time I see the words ‘in the tradition of…’ on a box-cover, I’ll know that it in marketing speak that translates to rip-off
Final Girl: √√
Posed for Murder 1988
Directed by: Brian Thomas Jones
Starring: Charlotte J. Helmkamp, Laura Flanagan, Charles Kuhune
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I was crazily in love once, you know? We moved in together and she was so special that I even watched slasher films with her… including Cards of Death. Then she left me for a richer guy and I was stuck with my collection of tatty VHS and a bottle of vodka. Serious. Rumours that I have kidnapped her and she’s locked in the basement with Savage Water on continuous play are totally false and erroneous and I refuse to entertain them. (Ignore those screams btw, the neighbors have a noisy kid…))
Anyway, moving on. Love is a powerful emotion and the perfect motive for a cheesy slasher picture and in Posed for Murder that’s exactly what we have. Now this is a late late entry to the cycle that I really should have posted ages ago, before it got released on DVD. If I had done that, I could have called it an a SLASH above exclusive because it was incredibly rare. Nowadays though, it can be picked up on Amazon on a shiny disc that includes two other delightful features at a budget cost. Should you click buy it now and add it to your collection? Well allow me to answer that for you in fine detail…
Laura is a topless model and a wannabe scream queen with dozens of sleazy male admirers. Her popularity is not solving her issues however and she’s feeling a little down in the dumps. It certainly not helping matters that a psycho with breathing difficulty is making things tougher for her. Can she find a way to stop the marauding maniac…???
Suspense. Intrigue. Gore. Tension and Terror… are all the things that you won’t find whilst watching Posed for Murder. That’s ok though because the mahoosive amount of liquified cheese that is poured all over the screen instead kind of makes up for that. Well, kinda. I mean, it takes 32 mins for the killer to actually get going, but somehow the picture manages to hold itself together and keep you interested through to the end.
The best way for me to describe the script to you is that it comes across a lot like it was written by someone that speaks English as a second language. Everything is discussed in the most basic of sentence structures and the dialogue literally gets you from A to C without even a hint that B exists. Despite this, director Brian Thomas Jones does an intriguing job of keeping each shot interesting, by setting up distinct backdrops and camera movements. They don’t always work of course, but they help to keep up the level of momentum.
There’s a scene where our final girl has an audition with a pair of seedy filmmakers and I had to wonder if it was included to poke fun at the lead actress. They barely check if she can speak a line of dialogue before they offer her the part and I think that in reality the procedure for this production was very similar. Why bother worrying if Charlotte Helmkamp can act when she has breasts like pineapples in stockings? In fact these subtle in-jokes became something of an ongoing thing for the rest of the runtime. They can be the only logical explanation as to why her in-film director, Serge La Rue, called her a ‘method actor’. Or what about when her friend asked how she managed to perform with ‘such emotion’. Bwahahaha! Oh how we laughed. It was brilliant. Say what you want about our buxom scream queen, buy you can’t deny that she knows how to take a joke at her own expense. Oh. Oh, ok. Sorry, I didn’t know that she wasn’t let in on that fact…? Oh in that case, I take it all back….
There was one thing though that I actually found quite interesting. Every single guy that she meets ends up flirting with her and looking down her top. I thought about this and felt how hard it must be for an attractive woman (or guy) when most men always think with head number two. What kind of opinion would you have of the male gender if all that they ever did was hit on you? Is it really like that girls? Man, I need to change my approach.
So there’s not a great deal left to say. The soundtrack sums up all that was bad about eighties music and hums along over shots of spandex bound jocks working out in a gymnasium. This activity breaks up the ‘intense drama’ of our cycolina’s quest to discover the identity of the psycho maniac. Thinking about it, I guess that this could be a slasher sister of kind to Killer Workout in that sense. Chuck in a handful of diluted killings and a twist that turns out to be exactly what you thought it was all along and what you have is a fondue festival that’s cunningly disguised as a DVD. In other words, if you like ’em trashy you should give this a whirl. Just don’t bring your brain.
…Oh and about my ex-fianceé and her being locked in the cellar… I was actually joking about all that. It was four years ago now and I was lucky enough to meet my soul mate (Hi Żaneta xx) and I’m on my way to see her now. Damn. Where did I put the key to the padlock on the door to the basement…? 😉
Final Girl: √√√
aka Night Crew: The Final Checkout aka Intruso en la Noche
Directed by: Scott Spiegel
Starring: Elizabeth Cox, Sam Raimi, Renée Estévez
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Every decade creates its own individual cultural characteristics that are easy to look back on and distinguish as key to that era. Even though perhaps there has been little invention during the last fifteen years or so, the tail end of the twentieth century delivered a multitude of creation within the entertainment industry. The fifties will always be remembered for the birth of rock and roll, whilst The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the introduction of the ‘make love not war’ anti-Vietnam mentality of Western youth signified the cultural identity of the sixties. Vivid images of white suited, medallion sporting men and disco divas became synonymous with the seventies, but it was the eighties that will be remembered for launching the most memorable generation landmarks.
Slasher films also played a strong part in defining the personality of those (in)glorious years. Despite the invasion of titles during the post-Scream outbreak of 1996, there will never be a time that can compete with the genre’s initial overkill period. It all began with the notorious, “kill her mommy” lines of Friday the 13th and despite a fall in popularity as the decade progressed, studios were still producing cycle entries consistently right the way through. I have said previously in my review of Maniac Cop that despite many believing that 1981 was the peak of the entire cycle, 1988 also should be acknowledged, if not only for the sheer amount of releases that hit shelves. Intruder is easily one of the best of those…
It tells the tale of a group of staff in a super market that are asked to work through the night, pricing down all the stock as they all have been made redundant due to the closure of the store. As they lock the shutters for the last time, it becomes apparent that an unwelcome guest has crept in amongst them. Before long, they are being stalked and killed one by one by an unseen maniac.
In film, as in life, timing is everything. Whether it be that of a screen comedian or the understanding of the span of suspense by a director, the clock can be a vital tool in the creation of cinematic perfection. The reason I write this is because as it stands, Intruder is an obscure slasher movie that is highly regarded by those that have seen it. If, however, it had been released eight years earlier, I would be writing the review of an out and out horror classic. Spiegel’s opus has enough wit, gore, audacity and creativity to be ranked amongst the best of its ilk and it is only purely due to the multitude of titles that it was released with that it has been so unfairly overlooked.
If Sam Raimi’s adventurous direction makes him the outlaw of Hollywood sensibility, then Scott Spiegel should be Billy the Kid. The Jesse James of eccentric cinematic vision. Here is a man whose modus operandi seems to be to imagine the most audacious and outrageous camera angle possible and then in the same breath attempt to shoot it. Although, much like mayonnaise on chips, you’ll either love his flamboyant approach or hate it; kudos should be given for his brazen audacity and outlandish vision.
What we have here is a pie-eating contest of slasher clichés, which add up to a mega-feast of tongue-in-cheek over-indulgence that leaves you begging for more after the final curtain. The gore is Intruder’s biggest selling point. Heads get lopped off, crushed and sawed in half; and much like the work of Fulci, everything is filmed in loving close-up. A movie can sometimes become an extension of the film-maker’s personality and having watched Scott Spiegel’s interviews many times, this, his signature feature, is truly a case in point. It’s a shame that such a modest, down-to-earth and clearly talented director has never reached the heights of his high-school buddies, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell.
Paramount Studios– the enemy of all gore hounds after their stringent censorship of countless genre classics – were responsible for changing the name of Intruder from the much better Night Crew: The Final Checkout. Their VHS release also, characteristically, cut out all the gore. The first copy that I watched was the BBFC’s rated version, which in all fairness was still a well-produced and competent slasher – but it’s the uncut print that is the real gem. Obviously Spiegel’s effort is no Halloween and it’s something that the director is well aware of. If, however, you asked me to pick the best fifty – hell, best twenty – genre classics, Intruder would certainly be amongst them somewhere alongside Carpenter’s seminal favourite.
Very few know that Intruder is a remake of an old Spiegel 8mm feature that he shot during the early eighties, titled Night Crew. Credit has to be given to Lawrence Bender’s slick production skills, which turned an equally gory, but ultimately mediocre Halloween-clone (which the aforementioned short most definitely was) into a stand-out slasher classic. This project would act as a learning curve for Bender who would go on – through Spiegel’s introduction – to become one of the most important producers of the last twenty years. It’s strange to think that this low-budget stalk and slash flick would be the first step on the career that would bring us Quentin Tarantino and a host of Hollywood hits including, Good Will Hunting.
OK, so the cast were never going to turn up at the academy awards, but they do enough to get the job done and a nod to Dan Hicks, who delivers a highly committed performance. One change that I would have made would be to have given Renee Estévez (sister of Charlie and Emilio) the lead role over Elisabeth Cox, who I felt was the weakest link in places. The ‘twist’ ending – which I really enjoyed – has been seen before, although I am convinced that it was just coincidental rather than Spiegel borrowing from other genre pieces. There’s also a decent whodunit plot running, which is stupidly ruined by the packaging on many versions that gives away the killer’s identity on the front cover. Doh!
Intruder is by far one of the best slasher movies of the eighties and should be a member of every avid fan’s collection. It mixes black humour and gruesome slaughter outstandingly well and basically takes the guide book to making a slasher movie, reads it and then blows it out of the window by maximising every damn page/trapping. This is how slashers are supposed to be and Señor Spiegel is welcome back here anytime to have another crack at a genre classic…
Final Girl √√
Fatal Pulse 2013
Directed by: Anthony J. Christopher
Starring: Joe Estevez, Michelle McCormick, Ken Roberts
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
There’s no doubt about it, the slasher boom of the eighties should always be traced back to the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Hot on its heels though, were two other key genre pieces that also became outlines for copycat titles to follow. Friday the 13th must take its share of credit for launching the mass of killer in the woods titles, which included Don’t go in the Woods, Just Before Dawn, The Prey and more recently Camp Blood et al. Another offering that can also be attributed with generating a long line of mostly inferior imitations is Amy Holden Jones’ Slumber Party Massacre. Despite being received unenthusiastically by critics, Jones’ splatter flick went on to achieve cult status and inspired the likes of Sorority House Massacre, The Last Slumber Party, Blood Sisters, Cheerleader Massacre and Anthony J Christopher’s Fatal Pulse from 1988.
Sororities were never a safe place during the eighties and Fatal Pulse is no exemption to that rule. After co-eds begin turning up murdered around the campus, Jeff Kramer (Ken Roberts) is immediately put in the frame when it is revealed that he was the last person to see one of the victims before she was slaughtered. Aided by his lumbering buddy Mark (Blair Karsch), Jeff sets out on a mission to prove his innocence and catch the psychopath before he kills again. As the bodies pile up, Jeff begins to realise that his girlfriend Lisa (Michelle McCormick) could be next on the assassin’s list.
Fatal Pulse is truly a bizarre movie experience, which combines moments of mediocrity, stupidity, inadvertent comedy and uncomfortable brutality to conjure up a somewhat authentic juxtaposition. Technically, we are in amateur-ville once again and the performances from the unknown cast are completely awful. The hero of the feature (Ken Roberts) was the worst offender and boasted the expressive fluency of a turnip. Seriously, I have seen wooden bridges with more emotional definition. Michelle McCormick made for an incredibly unapproachable final girl and pretty much everyone involved delivered their lines with the conviction of a toilet cleaner on the day before retirement. They were not helped by a woefully uninspired script, which added just about every stereotype from the annals of bad-movie obscurity. Brad the obnoxious ‘tough guy’ was characterised as some kind of odd fifties ‘Grease’ throwback, whilst the token comic relief inclusion, Mark, was greeted by a peculiar ‘Boing!’ effect in the soundtrack upon his every arrival. Strangely enough, this even occurred during a suspense scene towards the film’s conclusion. Boing!
Director Anthony Christopher mimics the Giallo titans of yesteryear, by conveying every murder from the view of the black gloved assassin. Mario Bava was a master of creating artistic suspense in his set pieces, whereas Christopher fails to generate even a millisecond. Despite the disappointingly fast-paced nature of the murders, the merciless brutality of them does provide a somewhat reverse spiral on the quality of the feature. Even heavily financed slashers such as the latter entries to the Friday the 13th series failed to add convincing viciousness to their slaughters. Despite being laughably lacklustre in almost every department, Fatal Pulse is surprisingly sadistic in the way it draws out the suffering of its victims. The electrocution sequence was particularly mean spirited and ruthless. Any sense of dread or fear factor that could have been gained by a particularly savage antagonist is cheapened and therefore ruined by the fact that *every* female victim manages to flash her heaving breasts before being executed. An advertisement for feminism in the slasher industry Fatal Pulse certainly is not.
The score also becomes an irritation with consistent screeching synthesizer accompaniment, whilst the less said about the ‘jazz band on acid’ intro music, the better. As Fatal Pulse is a bad eighties movie, it characteristically offers its share of bad eighties movie moments, which have become lovably nostalgic for many retro cheese fans. Part of the story involves an un-engaging romance between the two emotionless leads. There are plenty of inadvertent laughs to be had when the couple go cycling to the strains of an eighties pop monstrosity. Also watch out for a bizarre and somewhat inexplicable scene involving comic relief character Mark (Boing!) and a Captain Marvell outfit. I won’t ruin it for you by describing it here, but it almost beggars belief.
The killer does have a fairly intriguing motive and to be fair the last 15 minutes manage to add the smallest possible dose of intrigue to the final conclusion. It’s tough to recommend Fatal Pulse for any kind of recognition though, because it is just too poorly conceived.
Another that has been completely overlooked on DVD, I think that even the most loyal slasher fan will find it tough to sit through. It does include some interesting killings (one girl has her throat sliced by a 12″ vinyl – WHAT?), but the lack of suspense, chills or shocks mean that there’s very little to provide scares. It just seems so carelessly misogynistic that it leaves a sour taste in the throat.
Final Girl: √
Blizzard of Blood 1988
Directed by: Jeff Kwitny
Starring: Joseph Alan Johnson, Lisa Loring, Deborah Deliso
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I used to work with a guy who thought himself a bit of a lad. He wore designer clothes to work (and probably to bed), slick hairstyle, drove a BMW, had the latest gadgets, bit of a bully, girlfriend with fake boobs – you know the kind. Anyway, i thought he was shallow and the complete opposite to me (I don’t even bother to comb my hair some days) but despite the fact we were complete opposites, we got on quite well.
We did have one thing in common though; both of us were massive fans of cinema. We often compared lists of flicks and spent time discussing Tarantino et al. Just like me, he had tonnes of DVDs and I introduced him to Amazon’s budget discs at good prices. I never really talked slashers with him as he didn’t come across as someone that’d know what one was, however he did mention that he had a soft spot for the rubbish eighties flick, No Retreat No Surrender. So much so that he bought a cinema print of it for a whole heap of cash.
In case you haven’t seen it, this is a very corny eighties film with a laughable synopsis and it boasts probably Van Damme’s worst performance, which is definitely saying something. Anyway, my point is, even people who act like they’re hard usually have a cheesy secret at home on VHS in the cupboard that they break out when alone – almost like a comfort blanket. It’s not only geeks like me. How many of us have the cojones to openly admit to them though?
Now you could say that I have got more than one, because I actually gave Graduation Day a good review and that’s definitely not something that’ll give me much street cred. But the real embarrassment in my collection, the one I watch when no one can see and I’m feeling pretty down is this little cheeseball.
Iced is a film so bad that it could be broadcast to life forms in galaxies far away so that they think humans are too dumb to bother with and don’t invade. Now don’t get me wrong, you can find worse lying around (Night Divides the Day oh and Carnage Road – the movie equivalent of being in a concrete cell for a week), but Iced just has a special charm for me. Maybe it’s that it was meant to be actually quite scary and mysterious? Or maybe it’s the killer’s awesome disguise? I am not sure, but I have seen Iced probably much more than many in my collection and for all the wrong reasons.
This is not the only snow bound slasher available on the market, but it’s the one that makes the most of its icy surroundings (death by icicle – ooh yeah!). Six acquaintances are mysteriously invited to a mountainous snow bound resort for a weekend break. It’s the first time that they’ve been skiing since the death of a former friend five years earlier. Jeff died after he had sworn vengeance on Cory for stealing the woman he had eyes for, Trina. Even before they all arrive, a psycho sporting the snowsuit and ski mask that the deceased was wearing when he was killed has made an extra room available by splashing one of the invitees across the motorway with a snow plough. So it looks like Jeff is back from the grave to get revenge…
If you are thinking that the plot is as hackneyed as they come, then you are completely right and it’s perhaps one of the reasons that I like this so much. Iced never even tries to be anything other than complete slasher trash. Whereas many of the latter genre entries were attempting to spice up things in an attempt to win new audiences, Kwitny’s opus studies the slasher text book and ticks off all ingredients one by one. Masked Killer: Check. POV shots: Check. Dumb victims: Check. Yes, it’s all here and even if there’s a small tad of self-recognition, mostly this plays things straight and remains content to swim in the shallow depths of the stalk and slash formula.
Funnily enough, the story was written by Joseph Alan Johnson, a name that you may recognise as he was a member of the cast for two other cheesy entries, namely: Berserker: The Nordic Curse from 1986 and also Slumber Party Massacre from 1982. He played a small part here and was not the only one who had a bit of a history in cinema. He was sharing the stage (or slopes) with Debra Deliso (also from Slumber Party Massacre) and Lisa Loring who was lucky enough to get her break at a very early age. She played Wednesday in the original Addam’s family series and despite a few TV roles after, her career certainly stalled in the years that followed. 1987 saw her comeback with parts in Savage Harbour and the gooey slasher, Blood Frenzy and then she hit the peak of her return with this. She married adult star Jerry Butler the same year and her next screen offering was in porn film Layin’ Down the Law in a non-sex role (well that’s what it says here). It probably wasn’t the career resurgence that she initially intended, to be fair.
You’ve more chance of discovering the corpse of Thomas Desimone than you have of finding any polished dramatics here and the characters are all clichés. I did however really like Carl, the sleazy coke-head, who spent most of the runtime walking around naked or sniffing lines in the bathroom. During his haze of cocaine, cheese and snow, he cracks on to Lisa Loring’s character with the awesome line, ‘I would love to make the blood pump in your veins again!” – That has to be amongst the best and most direct chat up hooks that I have ever heard. Oh and did I mention that he has one of those tiny pig-style ponytails? How could you not love the guy? Whilst everyone walked around in a mullet, he went for the bad in any decade rat’s tail look. What a tool.
There are enough plot holes throughout the runtime to soak up the rivers from the recent Thailand floods. We get a small touch of the supernatural when a character that was just murdered calls up to say that he’s ‘…with Jeff now’ but it never really goes anywhere. It’s also amusing that during the five years that’s supposed to have passed since the opening, they don’t seem to have aged at all. The first victim’s car conveniently breaks down where the killer has a snowplough parked so that he can rearrange his body parts and these guys must all be stone deaf, because they never hear the dying screams of their buddies as they’re mutilated only a few yards away.
Aside from suffering from hearing difficulties, Trina is also particularly dumb. She wakes up to find her husband lying in the kitchen with a knife sticking out of his chest and after the obligatory fumble for the keys to a car that won’t start, she eventually decides to use the telephone. Instead of ringing the local law enforcement or a paramedic for her partner who is by now probably bleeding to death, she calls Alex the resort manager whom they shared dinner with the night before. Sometime later when the killer is finally unmasked after a pretty pacey showdown, his motives are thinner than Lisa Loring’s ‘comeback’ career. And just as baffling!
It’s not all campiness though and Kwitny does manage at least one jolt. There’s an ok-ish chase sequence towards the climax too, which adds some suspense. Dan Milner’s excellent score, which was obviously ripped off from a certain Harry Manfredini, helps to build the tension and probably was better than this picture deserved. It’s a shame that the production crew didn’t make use of the local set locations that were brimming with potential. You’d think that they could have staged a few remarkable set pieces and made good use of the snow coated mountains, but instead they decided to kill off everyone in and around the cabin. With that said, the murder scenes are fairly unique and I’m sure that the reason that they filmed everything indoors was because of budget and not a lack of creativity.
If you are one of those that’s riding the eighties revival and your favourite song is still ‘It’s the final countdown‘, then Iced will rock your world. It was released in the years when slasher directors no longer had gore to rely on to hide their lack of talent, so instead they used lame nudity and – mostly unintentional – humour.
I am sure that this will not be the last time I reach for this decrepit VHS when I need a slasher fix. I’ll have to put up with bad tracking though, because there’s still no sign of a release date on DVD. Perhaps people nowadays prefer the infinitely better Shredder from 2001? Either way, I like this cheesy slasher and recommend it wholeheartedly to those who love their campy eighties movies.
Final Girl √√
Cutting Class 1988
Directed by: Rospo Pallenberg
Starring: Donovan Leitch, Jill Schoelen, Brad Pitt
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So you’ve all been told until you are blue in the face by me and others how Scream redefined the genre blah blah. Whilst Kevin Williamson’s script was sharp and clever, attempts at a comedic self-referential whodunit had been on the scene since the late eighties. The majority of them have been forgotten or simply weren’t good enough to grab the success of Wes Craven’s hit.
One of that number was Cutting Class, a film that is often overlooked by genre enthusiasts, because it’s always been easy to find on VHS and then DVD. It will have been seen perhaps more times than many due to the appearance of a young Brad Pitt, who at this point was still some way off his super star status.
An unseen nut job is killing students and teachers at a High School. The murders seem to have a connection with beautiful student Paula Carson, but as more bodies turn up, she realises that it could be someone closer to her than she expected…
Lushly financed and shot with a gorgeous cast of up and coming talent and a couple of veterans, Cutting Class was released at a time when the slasher genre was not much of a draw at all for audiences. Viewers had already seen everything that could be done with the simplistic plot structure and had ambled along to pastures new. This one offers nothing particuarly adventurous, but packs just about enough to please fans looking for a period piece of slashertastic action.
You can see what they were attempting with the story, which focuses heavily on the mystery of who it is that’s committing the killings. Could it be Brian Woods who has just been released from an asylum and looks the most likely? Maybe it’s the possessive and aggressive Dwight Ingalls, who in typical slasher fashion shows no redeeming moral features? Or perhaps it’s the creepy caretaker who hangs around muttering about being the ‘custodian of lives’? The screenwriter tries hard to throw as many red herrings in as possible, but the revelation still lacks punch. Between all this we have a teen romance between the three leads, which engulfs much of the runtime. We do get numerous killings, but they are rushed and gore free, so at times it’s easy to forget that you’re watching a horror film. I still liked the way they were conveyed, especially the gruesome demise of the art teacher and the twin murder during a basketball game. There are attempts at humour to stop the pace from dissolving, but the film rarely hits a crescendo as either a horror or comedy feature.
The picture quality is superb with a lot of bright colours and the performances are good enough all round. Brad Pitt had his moments, but was outshone by Donovan Leitch, who built audience sympathy with his portrayal of a misunderstood loner. Jill Schoelen was cute and naïve as the gorgeous goodie goodie heroine and although underused, the campy turn from Roddy McDowall was a nice addition. Like many of its eighties colleagues, Cutting Class is unbelievably cheesy and sometimes a tad too silly. Despite missing people, bodies turning up on a daily basis and a killer on the loose, the Police presence is non existent and the fate of William Carson III is beyond logical explanation.
Rospo Pallenburg had been a screenwriter prior to the shoot and somehow worked his way in to the director’s chair for this. His style is lacking invention and bland however, which is no doubt the reason behind his short career thereafter. In the case of Cutting Class, I can’t help but wonder what it would have looked like in the hands of a more creative filmmaker. People like Scott Spiegel or Skip Schoolnik would have jumped at the chance to utilise a budget and cast like this, and both were active around this time. Thankfully the momentum is kept afloat by the energetic performances and an overdose of OTT eighties fashions.
When I sit down to watch a slasher movie, I think of a checklist with the most important box being, ‘Am I having a good time’. Cutting Class is a fun time waster that you’ll easily forget, but enjoy while it lasts, which means that there’s a good time to be had. It even has a moral to its story that says, ‘stay at school’, which is ironic as it is flicks like these that I used to skip class to watch.
So, we have the cinematic equivalent of a McDonald’s Double Sausage and Egg McMuffin. You know that it is a calorie extravaganza, but when you are heavily hungover, nothing hits the spot quite the same. Cutting Class is not dark enough to be memorable, but thanks to a fantastic leading lady and an all round interesting cast, it’s worth dusting off to take a look at. We would see Ms Schoelen again in Popcorn, before she disappeared, which is a shame because she should have done much more
Final Girl: √√√√√
Directed by: Emmett Alston
Starring: George Kennedy, David Michael O’Neill, Michelle Bauer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In the eyes of the majority of splatter fans across the globe, John Carl Buechler has always played second fiddle as a serious contender for king of the horror crown. Despite Roger Corman crediting him as ‘the best in the business’ and being the only make up effects guy to work on all three of the giant franchises (Freddy/Jason/Michael Myers), he never quite attracted the cult appeal that Tom Savini held throughout horror’s heyday. As a director he showed potential with kids favourite Troll; but Paramount’s stringent censoring of his Friday the 13th sequel (part VII) left the movie ranking among the series’ worst. His directorial career pretty much faded following The New Blood’s dismal reception and his recent slasher – Miner’s Massacre – underlined the fact that he would never share a stall with the likes of Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Demonwarp was my first taste of Buechler as an author and in all honesty I felt quite optimistic. There’s no denying that he possesses extreme talent, it’s just unfortunate that a few of his greatest moments have suffered under the hands of the MPAA.
Demonwarp chucks everything but the kitchen sink into a horror cocktail that sounds extraordinary on paper. Zombies, aliens, UFOs and a murderous big foot all play a part in a plot that’s riddled with gore and mayhem. But it can really only be categorised as a slasher movie, because the majority of the runtime plays almost identically to cult favourite and former video-nasty Night of the Demon.
The opening scene is actually supposed to be set in the 1880s, but we’re not told that until much later in the feature. A priest is wandering leisurely along the top of a cliff reciting bible psalms and giving his horse a personnel sermon. (I know that sounds strange, but there was no one else anywhere near him!) As he reaches the peak of the mountain, out of the corner of his eye he spots an unidentified flying object hurtling directly into his path. It crashes down to create a huge crater just a yard from his feet. Despite leaving a chasm the size of a football pitch, the impact doesn’t even unbalance the churchman and his trusty mule! Don’t forget that this guy is so religious that he even preaches to his horse, so it’s understandable that he believes it’s the second coming. I’m less convinced.
Transport forward a century to the glorious eighties and things are already looking hackneyed as we enter a remote cabin in the woods. That old hamster George Kennedy must have been in desperate need of a bit of extra ‘beer money’; because here he is further degrading his one-time Academy Award garnished status. You can tell that he signed up for this just BEFORE the first Naked Gun job was offered, because that pretty much lifted his career beyond the realms of B movie plop for a few years or so. Anyway here he plays Bill Crafton, an old coot that’s just trying to spend a little quality time with his bubble-permed daughter. We can tell that this reunion isn’t going to last much longer as soon as we see those classic growling POV shots creeping up the road in front of the cabin. Before you can say ‘Friday the 13th’, the door flies off the hinges and Julie Crafton is victim número uno. She gets brutally smothered to death by what looks to be a huge Big Foot creature, whilst her dad’s left fighting for consciousness on the floor.
Next up a van full of clichés pull up outside the cabin, presumably for a woodland break, although Jack (a creditable Kurt Russell look-alike) has his own reasons for visiting that particular spot. Apparently his uncle Clem disappeared around that area and so he’s brought along some psycho-fodder to help track him down. As if you hadn’t guessed Big Foot is still out roaming and he continues his rampage upon the group of eighties space fillers. Will George Kennedy’s numerous explosive traps save them? Or will they have to stop the beast by themselves?
Demonwarp traipses through the trappings like a programmed robot for the first hour or so, with nothing to separate it from any other killer in the woods flick from around that time. As soon as scream queen extraordinaire Michelle Bauer turns up only to rip off her top, I knew that this was going to be cheese by the bucket full. But then on the hour-mark things get even sillier as we’re given zombies, aliens, satanic rituals and even spacecrafts all in the space of about thirty-five minutes. I won’t ruin the plot by telling you how Buechler’s story tried to incorporate every known horror icon in one movie; but let’s just say that by the end it wouldn’t have looked out of place if we had seen cameos from Frankenstein, Dracula and Jekyll and Hyde.
The acting is as below par as you might expect and Kennedy just looks to be waiting for that paycheck to be written. There’s a couple of ok-ish gore scenes that brighten things up, which include a gooey head ripping and an ingenious ‘death by stick’, which is really quite unsettling. The monster also looks pretty good and infinitely better than the cheapo big foot in Night of the Demon.Unfortunately there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen somewhere else before. Emmett Alston fails to lift the shocks above passable, but what do you expect from the guy that directed New Years Evil?
So all in all a run of the mill eighties hack and slasher, despite the promise of everything rolled into one. The ending leaves you wondering just what drugs Buechler was snorting when he dreamt up this little beauty? Average…
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Tibor Takács
Starring: Jenny Wright, Clayton Rohner, Randall William Cook
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
People often ask how and why I don’t class A Nightmare on Elm Street to be a proper slasher flick and so I thought I’d clear it up once and for all. Firstly, the biggest giveaway is the word ‘slasher’, but to explain in more detail, we have to go back. In fact, we have to go way way back, back to the roots of the genre. What do Blood and Black Lace, Psycho, Black Christmas and Torso all have in common? Well they all had a maniac armed with some kind of ‘melee’ weapon (knife, axe, pitchfork etc) who stalked and murdered his/her intended prey. Halloween made its bogeyman supernatural in a way, but his modus operandi was to kill with non-supernatural appliances. Now Freddy is most definitely a stalk and slash villain, but as soon I saw Johnny Depp get dragged in to a bed with a fountain of crimson spraying over the ceiling, it dawned on me that this has to be clarified somewhere else.
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion on this subject, but for me, instead of saying that these are not slasher flicks, I would give them a separate category within the genre. That way, the likes of Pledge Night could also get a shout. Here on a SLASH above however it’s all about the ways people are killed that gives a movie the benefit of a review posted by the man himself (well, me!).
All this talk brings us to Hardcover, a film with big enough cojones to walk the fine line between A Nightmare on Elm Street grouping and your more regular catalogue addition. I said in my review of Maniac Cop that not only 1981 was a dandy time for psycho killers, but 1988 was also packed to the brim and here is even more evidence. Hardcover was finished and ready to hit the screens that year, but so as not to put it up against Freddy, Jason and Señor Myers who all had sequels in the cinema, they pushed it back to the following April. The intention here was most definitely to rival Freddy Krueger and the plot adds some fantasy and supernatural touches. The disfigured killer armed with a cut-throat razor however, makes this picture more aligned to its counterparts that are featured on this page than those of the ‘Elm Street’ variety
Virginia discovers a really good novel at the bookstore where she works. It’s called “I, Madman” and it’s about an insane doctor who goes on a kill frenzy in the name of love. Virginia soon discovers that as she turns the pages of the story, the killer is committing the same horrid murders in reality. She tells her detective boyfriend, Richard, but he rubbishes it off, thinking that she is getting carried away. As more bodies turn up around town, it’s left up to Virginia to stop the maniac before he kills again…
Compared to the majority of later entries, Hardcover has high-ish production values and is a wonderful flick to look at as it bathes in its gothic set designs. The action takes place in an apartment building that brings to mind the hotel from Barton Fink and it has an edgy score from Michael Hoenig. For director Tibor Takács, horror is all about big crescendos and false scares and he makes some of them work. What he does very well is take a few slasher clichés and expand them by mixing reality with imaginative fantasy. We have the charming final girl who no one believes, the disfigured killer who only seems to reveal himself to her outside of his victims and the cops who think she’s a loon. But instead of making it a mystery on a surrealist edge so the viewer is unaware if it is all in her mind or not, we share her frustration and know that she’s telling the truth, which allows us to bond with her.
Jenny Wright is good in the role of the bespectacled loveable bookworm with a subtle sexiness and finds the right balance between fearful female and brave heroine. The scenes of her alone, at home and reading her beloved horror stories make her come across just like us slasher fans, who love to indulge in the frightful side of media. Clayton Rohner from Destroyer and April Fool’s Day plays it straight as her boyfriend and they make for an attractive pairing. The maniac is performed by special effects guru Randall Cook, who rumour has it was so impressed with his guise for the bogeyman that he asked to wear it himself. The killer looks creepy as hell and the way he just appears unexpectedly creates a couple of great jump scares. I mentioned earlier that the story juxtaposes the standard trappings with a dose of fantasy, but I won’t reveal the OTT ending for you, except to say, some psycho killers have a strange choice in-house pets!!
There’s some cartoonish goo when the killer strikes, which is fun, but there’s nowhere near enough of it to make this a gore flick. The reason for his spree is because he steals a feature from each victim (nose, ears, mouth) and adds them to his own face to replace what he mutilated in order to look ‘handsome’ for the woman he loves, whom he mistakes for our book-reading heroine. This is a cooler than cool motive and it adds a subtle suspense to the runtime as we wait to see what he looks like after each killing. The effects get better and better too and even though they give the maniac a voice and some lines, he (thankfully) refrains from the comedic quips that we saw continuously in the cycle after the birth of Freddy Krueger.
Some have said that the movie loses some power in its final third, but I didn’t really notice that it dwindles at all. I do often get frustrated when these features overplay the fact that no one believes the final girl’s stories and the Police are always inept, but this one gets it just about right and before long, Richard sees that his girlfriend is not the nutcase that his boss makes her out to be. I wonder how they explained away the aftermath to the authorities though!
Hardcover is a good, enjoyable lushly filmed thriller with some fun set pieces and a nice momentum. It could be argued that with access to such a good budget and strong cast that it could have made more of what it had, but I enjoyed it. It’s never going to be listed amongst the classics, but it delivers more than enough popcorn horror for slasher fans.
Final Girl: √√√