Directed by: Chris LaMartina
Starring: Sean Quinn, Jenny Saurallo, Andrew Hughes
Review by Luis Joaquín González
How ya didling a SLASH abovers? Here we have another obscurity that I’ve spent years tracking down to examine for y’all – I’m just too damn nice! Amerikill was the first horror flick from esteemed director Chris LaMartina and it really is a ‘junior project’ in every sense of the word. Whilst it has become a cliche of the genre that most slasher films have actors in their mid-thirties unconvincingly playing teens, Amerikill turns that totally on its head. You see, this was Mr LaMartina’s High School project and he shot it with his friends at the age of 14!
I learned of its existence when I purchased Death O’Lantern from Warlock Home Video. They had a large catalogue of titles and what stood out to me about this one was the killer’s awesome Jester guise. I immediately tried to buy a copy, but was told that there were none left and there likely wouldn’t be any more available. Dejected, I set up an eBay search and tried all the usual methods of allocating a copy, to no avail. My recent review of President’s Day put me in touch directly with filmmaker Chris LaMartina and after a few begging emails, I managed to finally get him to send me a pristine DVD…
A small town High School is thrown into chaos when ‘Jester Face’ – a vicious masked serial killer – begins butchering local kids. A group of friends set out to solve the mystery by watching ‘cheesy slasher films’ to uncover the killer’s logic.
Before we kick off the review, I think it’s important that I mention something that will better allow you to understand this film. In terms of maturity, I was something of a late bloomer. I’ve just turned thirty-five and when I look back on the silly things that I did in my past, I wish that I had the ‘intelligence’ or ‘cultural understanding’ that I posses today. Adult minds are filled with analysis of past experiences, consideration of consequences and a greater fear of risk, whereas youngsters only think, ‘That looks cool, let’s do it!’. At the age of fourteen, I had no idea what a protagonist was, the difference between gibberish and complex dialogue or the reasons why I enjoyed certain films more than others. My list of ‘essential good movie ingredients’ was the size of a postage stamp and I could mindlessly sit through crap like Ninja Terminator or Day of Judgement without flinching an eyelid. Now of course, the smallest mediocre element can force me to reevaluate my rankings and even a great eighties cheese-fest like Commando has lost some of its appeal.
I tell you this because it has a lot to do with how you may perceive Amerikill. Did I think it was a very good movie? No, not particularly. Would I have done so when I was an impressionable fifteen-year-old? Hell yeah!! You see, this is a ‘fan boy’ film in the truest sense and ticks all the boxes that we know and love. It is very obviously inspired by Wes Craven’s Scream but also verbally pays homage to some peak period slasher hits such as, Sleepaway Camp. What surprised me most though was that there were a few signs of credibility that transcended the dime store budget and pre-pubescent age range.
For a start, it’s amazing how there are so few visible weaknesses in the dramatics. Whilst we are not talking method actors by any means, we see very little flat or wooden line delivery, which is a real achievement considering the amateur cast members. It could be argued of course that the kids were literally ‘playing themselves’; but in comparison with most budget stalk and slashers, Amerikill has no bad performances that really stand out. We get a whodunit mystery that waddles along admirably and even if I guessed who was under the mask early on, I never felt completely sure of my decision, and there was even a twist of kind before the credits rolled. As I mentioned earlier, the maniac has a truly creepy disguise and it led me to wonder why there are so many killer clowns, but so few psycho jesters? This dude outshone Marty Rantzen from Slaughter High, simply because he looked much more ominous in black with a white face mask that was splashed with blood. We get a number of kill scenes that include some bare bones attempts at gore and they all take place to the strains of a rock soundtrack that actually includes a few decent songs.
I guess that the reason I can’t really say that Amerikill will appeal to all slasher buffs is because it is very much a teenage movie. It was almost awkward for me watching the production, because I felt like an old guy that was trying to fit in. That’s no fault of the filmmakers of course, they couldn’t change their age; but it’s important that you prepare yourself before viewing the film. We do get a semblance of a plot narrative, but there’s no central character or script cohesion, which is totally understandable considering the lack of experienced heads on set. In fact, it’s pointless really to criticise Amerikill because it’s astounding how much the director managed to get right. Even Tim Ritter was two-years older when he made Day of the Reaper and that’s nowhere near as slick as this.
When all is said and done, Amerikill is much better than it has any right to be. We can ignore the lack of Police, the flimsy structure etc, because this is a high school project and if you leave your brain at the door, you might even enjoy some parts of the film; – I know I did. There’s fun to be had with the cheesetastic gore and we see a glimpse of the light humour tone that was so successful in President’s Day. Also, have you ever wondered why might happen if a masked killer bumped into a trio of school bullies? No? Well Chris LaMartina has – and his interpretation of it is actually pretty funny… I’m glad I saw Amerikill.
Dead End 1999
Directed by: Iren Koster
Starring: William Snow, Victoria Hill, Matthew Dyktynski
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Not to be confused with Jean Andrea’s Dead End from 2003, this Australian picture is barely acknowledged by fans, despite the fact that it received global distribution. I picked it up many years ago on VHS and it’s one of those that I’ve wanted to cover for a while, but my VCR Machine has seen better days and I haven’t had the time to pick up a new one. Recently though, I came across a shiny DVD whilst on vacation down-under and watched it on the flight back.
It tells the tale of a former detective turned author named Todd Russell that becomes involved in a spate of brutal murders. They are extremely similar to the last case that he worked on before retiring from the Force, called the Evergreen killings. The fact that he had so much knowledge of the original slayings makes him the key suspect and as the evidence and bodies begin to pile up, he is forced to get involved for a second time. Could it be that Todd Russell has lost his mind and moral compass?
I guess that the first question to answer with this feature is whether it qualifies as a stalk and slash flick or is it a thriller? Well whilst it doesn’t follow the traditional path of stranded teens against a malevolent force, it includes many Giallo trademarks, such as brutal slayings committed by a masked assailant, so for me it’s definitely on the right website here. Before watching it, I had sat through 1988’s Out of the Dark, which is generally considered a slasher and is almost interchangeable in terms of plot content and delivery. I would go as far as to say that this is even grislier in terms of its murders and therefore underlines the horror categorisation. Amongst those murders, whether intentional or not, we get a rehash of Al Filo Del Hacha’s car wash set-piece, only this time the killer strikes with a hook rather than axe. Later, we see the menace stalk a young girl in an elevator, which was similar in many ways to a scene from Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche. The assailant even looks the same in a dark fedora and mask and it made me wonder, was director Iren Koster a fan of Spanish slashers? That could well be the case.
Dead End’s biggest strengths can be found in its accomplished dramatics and ability to wrap viewers up in the enigma of its storyline. I did work out early on who was behind everything, but I was never 100% sure. There are numerous twists that pop up throughout the picture, which help to keep us engaged and the intelligent pacing works to sustain the tone of intrigue.
Perhaps the only thing missing was a bit more development into the choice of victims. One murder sees a girl literally walk on to the screen before she’s shot, so we really don’t know enough about any of them to care what happens. I would have hoped for at least one tense chase sequence, but there’s still a whole heap of suspense to be found in the complexity of the puzzle. The revelation part is handled well enough and I was amused by the survival techniques of one soon-to-be victim. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that if all else fails and you look like Victoria Hill, then remove your underwear 😉
A film so driven by its characters needed good performers in order to succeed. Snow and Hill rarely have a weak moment and they are given a few tough scenes to work with. The star of the show is Iren Koster though, because he directs with an energy that keeps us on the edge of our seats. Aside from the obvious, filmmaking is mainly about placement, blocking, length of shots and location. In all of these, he did a sterling job. He has another horror movie under his belt that I haven’t got around to seeing, but I’ll definitely be checking it out soon.
Without hesitation, I would give Dead End a thumbs up. Whilst it may not be slashertastic enough to rival Friday the 13th or its brothers, there is loads here to warrant a viewing. I haven’t seen it reviewed anywhere else, so therefore it is yet another a SLASH above exclusive 🙂
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√
Directed by: Tyler Tharpe
Starring: Amy Paliganoff, Travis Patton, Andrea Johnson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Freak is not particularly rare or hard to find and it secured global distribution on both VHS and DVD, which is a real feat for a slice of regional filmmaking. Despite that status, it never gets mentioned really by any slasher enthusiasts that I speak to and it’s something of an overlooked entry to the category.
The production was launched ten months after the release of Scream, but this is no cash-in on the craze started by the cycle’s rebirth and feels cinematically closer to its earlier cousins. It was one that has been sitting on my shelf for a while, but it’s only now that I have found the time to give it a whirl.
In the opening, a disfigured child kills his mother with a rock in a macabre and daunting scene. Many years later, we meet Staci a young woman who is about to move house with her younger sister Jodi. They set off at the exact same time as the murderer from the opening is being transferred to a new hospital for treatment. After a mistake from the driver of the transportation van, the menace is free to roam the roads and he homes in on the two sisters as they head across the spacious Ohio farmlands.
Like most DTV slashers released over the past fifteen years, Freak has been visibly produced on the most minuscule of budgets. It works to the films favour however as the grainy 16MM photography and the desolate Midwestern backdrops give it a good gritty tone. The plot was heavily influenced by Halloween and shows no shame of wearing its inspirations on its sleeve. Much like the aforementioned classic, it spends time developing its characters and builds suspense through portraying the psychological effects of its actions rather than using sharp shocks and gore. I am inclined to label this as more of a slow building thriller than an out and out slasher film even if it does utilise every single cliché and knows within which genre it wants to be classified.
The maniac here looks really creepy in his workman clothes and face covered in bandages and comes across visually as a combination between Michael Myers and the nut job from Blood Harvest. His intentions are authentic as in he doesn’t seem to want to kill as many bystanders as humanly possible and instead he has a more deluded plan of action. The fact that he only murders three people (one in the prologue) may put off most gore hounds, but I quite enjoyed the steady simmering of the synopsis and it has a neat vibe of impending doom. The abused child coming back for revenge gimmick has been done a plethora of times, but here it is handled quite effectively with an authentic pay off. This also hints at an obvious plot twist that looked like a dead-cert, but it never really gets explained and is only conveyed through hints and guesses. I wonder if there are some missing scenes for this somewhere that never made the final print, because it’s unusual not to reveal such a branch in the story in further detail.
What I did find interesting was that director Tyler Tharpe only uses a very light score during the terror moments in his feature, which was something of an odd and risky decision. There’s a nice acoustic piece for the scenes that move the story along, but nothing menacing when the mood switches. Horror thrives on its musical accompaniment and very few can survive without an atmospheric theme, but Freak manages to pull it off. The director goes for realism and just about achieves it and there’s nothing here supernatural or unbelievable, which credits that approach. His framing is tight and he pulls off some good scares and well-edited jumps whenever the bogeyman is on screen and the final chase sequence is remarkably exciting. After watching this, I hunted out his other feature, Return in Red, which shows that Tharpe is a director that believes in his methodology of slowly boiling up his plot through deep characterisations. In these days of MTV quick cuts and beautiful leads, his style is refreshing and owes more to the classic tactic of Carpenter and dare I say it Hitchcock. One of the weakest links of modern slashers is that they leave their story in the hands of a group of personas who all have the looks of Armani models and offer no connection to the average everyday Joe like you and I. This makes it extremely hard to relate to them and therefore the horror is only possible through the wizardry of a slick cinematographer or excessive gore. I like that this was brazen enough to take a stab at individuality and it cannot in any way be considered as an attempt at exploitation. There’s no nudity, profanity or outrageous effects here.
The dramatics are not outstanding, but they’re definitely strong enough to carry the plot and make you care about its players and intrigued by what fate has in store for them. This was also one of the rare stalk and slash flicks that uses protagonist narration to help expand the story’s background and the final girl here is a real fighter and shows immense courage when left to confront her assailant. The feature also touched on the morals of one particular character, whose recklessness and lack of concentration allowed the fiend to escape. He is more concerned about the impending consequences and his own predicament than the doom that has been left in the wake of his actions. His grovelling pleas for a favour in the conclusion were squirm-inducing.
I am somewhat hesitant to class Freak as a hidden gem, because I respect my slasher readers and I am not sure that all of you will agree. It has long periods were the pace falls quite limp and this is definitely NOT an audacious killer spectacular along the lines of Friday the 13th or Scream. If you like your chills built through characters and creepy imagery (check out the shots of the psycho sitting in the corner of his cell) then this should be a real treat for you, but as a teenie kill splatter flick, you will hate it with a passion.
This is a very brave attempt to be different and I saw a lot of excellent stuff that I really enjoyed here. It reminded me a lot of Symphony of Evil, but without the fantastic score, which is perhaps one thing that this lacked. It is a very rare occurrence that I can pick up a bottom shelf DTV slasher flick and be thoroughly impressed and maybe that’s what makes me rate it so highly.
Recommend, but with caution. It is only if you like this style of picture that you will really enjoy its benefits
Final Girl √√√