School Killer 2001
aka El Vigalante
Directed by: Carlos Gil
Starring: Paul Naschy, Carlos Fuentes, Zoe Berriatúa
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Spanish people, in general, are notorious for doing things slightly differently than everybody else. It’s an unwritten rule for us that we take a standard task and add our own slant on it, whether it be for the better or for the worse. That’s why I wasn’t surprised that this post Scream inclusion to the stalk and slash cycle wasn’t by any means a run-of-the-mill genre entry.
El Vigilante or School Killer – as it’s known on these shores – was released with something of a buzz during the early noughties. This was due to the fact that it included a starring role for Paul Naschy who was Spain’s very own Christopher Lee. He was a former bodybuilder that stepped into Lon Chaney Jr’s shoes to portray ‘Wolfman’ Waldemar Daninsky in a script that he had penned for Hell’s Creatures (1968). He reprised the popular role for the series of sequels and became a horror icon by playing Dracula, The Mummy and even Jack the Ripper throughout the following decades. Perhaps the purest example of a fan dedicating his life to the genre that he adored, Naschy passed away in 2009 at the age of 75, leaving behind over a hundred movies.
It’s a shame that such a charismatic actor didn’t make more slasher films. With his hulking frame and imposing presence, he was perfect bogeyman material. His participation in the obscure El Lado Oscuro (2002), the Giallo, El asesino está entre los trece (1976), and this new-age stalk and slasher are the only examples that we have of him slashing it up. The plot for School Killer seems fairly routine at first glance and involves a group of six kids heading off to a dilapidated school to spend a weekend exploring the creepy corridors. Upon arrival they notice that some lights are turning on and off by themselves and it seems that they’re far from alone. Soon after, they begin being stalked and slaughtered by the deranged groundskeeper. The strange thing is, he was supposed to have died many years ago…
I was having a chat recently with Haydn Watkins, co-author of the upcoming book Alone in the Dark: 80 years of stalk and slash. He agrees with my controversial theory that A Nightmare on Elm Street is a tad too supernatural to be a standard inclusion to the genre. If that’s the case though, how do I justify putting a film like this on a SLASH above? Well, whilst there are ghostly apparitions here and even jumps in the time/space continuum, the hulking maniac murders victims with methods more common to the standard template than Freddy’s subconscious fantasies. We get stabbings, slashings and a gruesome decapitation that allow us to be sure that this is on the right website.
Director Carlos Gil had been a successful assistant to Steven Spielberg on the original Indiana Jones trilogy. His experience is clearly evident here and he wraps the movie in a foggy blue tint of cinematography that works wonders in setting the tone of desolation. A large campus is used as the backdrop for the stalking scenarios and the darkened corridors isolate the players exceptionally. Naschy gives us a killer with a relentless brutality and although generally I prefer a strong silent antagonist, his delivery of grim dialogue does add ruthlessness to his impact. Only a couple of the main cast members are clearly developed and the rest were pretty much interchangeable, but their jesting succeeded in convincing us that they were indeed a group of close friends. There are the supernatural flourishes that we don’t usually see in these movies, but they are more of an after-effect than a key ingredient and the inclusion of trademarks like the heavy breath POV, mean this is definitely a stalk and slasher. It is an authentic one for sure, but not enough to push it outside of the category.
Whilst I certainly enjoyed School Killer and was impressed by the way it was conveyed, it shot itself in the foot somewhat with that age-old issue that plagues countless horror films. Our group of youngsters had various opportunities to escape the site and save themselves or get help, but the more that they bizarrely chose not to, the sillier the whole thing began to look. Whilst the script did try to rationalise their peculiar indecision, each explanation became more and more farcical and it had a huge effect on the credibility of the story. For example, the troupe learn early on that the tyres on their car have been slashed, which would make the average everyday Joe start sprinting until their legs buckled from exhaustion. These nitwits however decide to return back inside the complex and wait around until it’s their turn to get butchered. I am hesitant to call this lazy scripting, but it certainly should have been handled more creatively. I also felt that the film would have played better with a more suitable score, but it’s impossible to say whether this was down to a small-ish budget.
There’s a lot about School Killer that I really liked. It’s suspenseful, creepy and original, with a few Kevin Williamson-alike referential quips from the cast (Including a mention of Scream 3 funnily enough). We get a couple of hot chicas, an extremely convincing head-lopping and a downright creepy atmosphere. There’s just something that holds it back from touching on greatness, even if, it’s hard to ascertain exactly what that is. I guess that the film is best summed up by its conclusion, which is bold and ambitious but somewhat inadequately executed.
The Pool 2000
Directed by: Boris Von Sychowski
Starring: Kristen Miller, Isla Fischer, Paul Grasshoff
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
After watching and thoroughly enjoying Anatomy a couple of weeks back, I thought that I’d check out another of Germany’s post-Scream additions to the slasher genre. The Pool didn’t make as big a splash as Stefan Ruzowitzky’s entry when it hit shelves, but it did tick a box that I’d dreamed of since I was a youngster.
You see, I remember visiting a Swimming complex in London when I was growing up called Fantaseas. It was a huge water park that had American-style flumes, countless wave-based gimmicks and a mixed-sex changing room, which was enough motivation for a youngster like me to hope to pick up some chicas. It was only open for a short while until a few serious accidents caused its sudden closure. One of those was a gruesome fatality that launched a tirade of bad press and the rumour that the site was haunted. With this in mind, a group of friends and I climbed through an air vent one night to see if we could discover any paranormal activity. Whilst we didn’t come across any ghosts or sentient beings, the sight of the dilapidated complex in spooky solitude is an image that’s stayed with me to this day.
I always felt that if I were to make a horror film, I would chose a similar backdrop to that which had effected me so much back then, but Boris von Sychowski beat me to it. I just hoped that he would make the most of what there was to offer.
A group of youngsters decide to celebrate their graduation by throwing a party inside a swimming complex. Little do they know that one of their number is looking to slash rather than splash…
Even though Pool was a German production, the cast is made up of various nationalities and a lot of the exteriors were filmed in one of my favourite cities, Prague. The mix of actors does create an interesting blend of accents, but unlike the aforementioned Anatomy, the crew decided to utilise English as the main language to make the movie easier to market globally. There are some faces that you may have seen in other pictures since this hit shelves, but the most recognisable is a young Isla Fischer who has carved out a steady career in cinema since.
Back in the early noughties, slasher films were still making a tidy profit and it’s visible that The Pool is extremely well financed to capitalise on that. Von Sychowski directs with a vibrant panache and plans every shot extremely well. He chooses a blue-ish tinge to shoot the action and it complements the film’s aquatic nature. I was hoping to see the water park backdrop utilised as much as possible and some memorable set pieces are created because they do just that. We get a kill scene that has become notorious and it sees a young bunny get sliced in half after sliding down a flume on to a strategically placed blade. It brought back memories of all those urban legends about razors in watershoots and its one that’ll make female viewers flinch. An impressive number of partying teenagers are dispatched via the killer’s signature machete, but perhaps because the producers were hoping not to suffer censorship issues, there’s very little gore on display.
There was another sequence that I thought was credible, which saw a group of teenagers stalked inside an air vent. It worked well due to the obvious claustrophobia and the fact that the victims had no real method of defence. What it lacked though, and it’s something that I felt really let the movie down, was the right amount of suspense. Make no mistake about it; The Pool is a fine advertisement for the slasher genre. It’s got some hilarious dialogue, a decent soundtrack, beautiful cast members and it knows how to have some fun. The only thing that was really missing was the slice of tension that can turn a good film into a great one and it had an effect on my idea of a rating. I don’t recall many moments when I felt that I didn’t know what was coming next and because there were no shocks or genuine scares, it made things feel somewhat diluted. Chuck on top of that a poorly handled mystery and a pointless subplot with a detective that looks like Roy Cropper and the film loses a chunk of its polish.
The Pool tries its darndest to follow the Scream methodology, (the opening sequence is almost identical) and I guess that it succeeds, because if you really like Craven’s picture, you’ll most definitely enjoy this. It’s a slick slasher movie that ticks the right boxes, but the only disappointment is that it doesn’t go for the jugular.Funnily enough one character even says, I know what you did last summer just to prove the Williamson inspiration
Looking at the fate that befell Cherry Falls when it was cut to smithereens, it’s easy to see why The Pool played it safe and didn’t go all out for the gore-filled approach. Unfortunately it left a movie that has all the gloss, but not enough grit. Me, well I prefer them gritty…
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Do You Wanna Know a Secret? 2001
Directed by: Thomas Bradford
Starring: Chad Allen, Jeff Conway, Jack McGee
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When I was a young dumb teenager, I remember that I fell madly in love with an older woman. I was too scared to ask her out, but we spent loads of time together and my heart used to beat like a UFC afterparty. One time we got drunk on cheap cider and in a final attempt to make her mine, I sung her the Billy J. Kramer hit, Do you wanna know a secret? Anyway, when the key line of, ‘I’m so in love with you‘ dropped I serenaded her emphatically. She smiled in a mocking way, finished the drink that I paid for and went home without batting an eyelid. I never saw her again.
I was hopeful that this overlooked genre entry, which was titled after that song, might solve some of the deep-rooted confidence issues that have haunted me since that fateful day. Perhaps my experience with those words might be a bit more enjoyable this time around and maybe, just maybe, I would be able to leave the past behind and start my life again… Weep
A year after Beth’s boyfriend is brutally hacked to death, she decides to take a weekend away with her new beau and four buddies. Almost as soon as they arrive, a masked killer turns up and begins slashing his way through them, leaving the words, Do you wanna know a secret, beside each corpse. Who could be the killer and what is the secret?
If I may, I’d like to remind you of the opening to the film, Reservoir Dogs. Instead of setting up the introduction of a protagonist in a typical fashion, we meet a whole group of characters that are sitting around a table drinking coffee. Even if no clear tone is being set by what we see, the dialogue is so intriguing and well written that we can’t take our eyes away from the screen. Now I know that it’s unfair to compare Do You Wanna Know a Secret to Quentin Tarrantino’s breakout motion picture, but I did so to underscore the importance of developmental dialogue.
Thomas Bradford’s slasher leaves us in the hands of a pack of one dimensional players for the first forty minutes and despite only finishing this last night, I can’t remember a single word or sentence that any of them said. I’ve overhead conversations on trains that are more engaging, which leaves us with a chunk of tedium that would fail to maintain the attention span of a cyborg. I often gripe about poor attempts at slapstick in horror movies, but I would probably rather that than what feels like a lifetime of nonsensical chatter between people that are absolute nobodies to us. They flirt, they dance, they argue and they pose, but they have the chemistry of strangers and the intrigue of a dishwasher.
I’d completely lost interest by the time that the killer started slashing, but to be fair, they gave him an exceptional mask, which reminded me of the Tor Johnson one from Small Town Massacre. The kill scenes are delivered in ways that eliminate the chances of suspense and there’s not much gore either. Most slasher flicks give us a unique weapon or a method of murder that makes them stand out. Secret doesn’t bother with that though and does everything in the driest way possible. We finally arrive at the build up to the conclusion and the stupidity continues as the killer murders a police chief for no apparent reason in the toilets of a jailhouse. Our Reese Witherspoon wannabe final girl witnesses this and looks on as the masked assailant drives off in a rusty pick up truck. If you were left in that same position, outside a Police station, would you a) turn around and tell an armed law enforcement officer what you’d seen or b) take off after the murderous maniac alone with no weapon? Take a guess as to what she does. This all leads to a revelation scene that has been ripped off from Embalmed and then we learn the ‘secret’, which has the impact of a dandelion.
So was there anything that impressed me? Well, the photography was energetic in places and Jack McGee and Jeff Conway did what was asked of them with the limited script. It was just that I was disappointed, because such a clearly well funded picture should have been capable of so much more. Ideas for movies don’t always work, but this one didn’t even do the basics properly. With minimal gore, unattractive females and yawn inducing plot delivery, I really couldn’t wait for the final credits to roll.
So did this assist me in my issues with rejection from so long ago? No. Instead, I went on Facebook and looked up that girl to see what she was like eighteen-years later. Six kids, twice divorced and a figure that would scare a sumo wrestler. I had a lucky escape… 😉
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √