Miner’s Massacre 2002
aka Curse of the Forty Niner
Directed by: John Carl Buechler
Starring: Karen Black, John Phillip Law, Richard Lynch
Review by Luis Joaquín González
What with Штолиьч and XP3D, I’ve been coincidentally ‘digging’ through the mine-based slashers with a pick-axe at an impressive rate. Here we have one that I’ve wanted to add for some time, but there’s always been a title in front of it… Until now. Curse of the Forty Niner or Miner Massacre as it’s known round these parts was the second slasher film from John Carl Buechler after he directed arguably the most ‘gutted’ of the Friday the 13th sequels (part 7). He also provided special make-up effects for a number of eighties films including, The Prey.
Known for his visceral gore scenarios, Buechler was something of a cult hero throughout horror’s most cheesetastic decade. Although his directorial efforts never really put him on a level with Carpenter or Craven, he still played an important part in the production of numerous entries. After the Scream-inspired slasher rebirth, he returned to the cycle that he had heavily contributed to with this overlooked inclusion.
A group of young adults head off to a remote Southern location where it’s rumoured that a murderous outlaw named Jeremiah Stone stashed a pile of gold. The area is surrounded by the legend of the ‘Curse of the Forty-Niner’, which dictates that if anyone finds the treasure, the spirit of Stone will return from beyond the grave and murder those responsible. Guess what happens next…
Is sticking consistently to your stereotype always a bad thing? To be honest I’m not so sure. If we erase the past twenty years, I’m a massive Robert Deniro fan. I honestly believe that his Vito Corleone in Godfather 2 and his Leonard Lowe in Awakenings are (along with Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking) amongst the greatest performances ever captured on film. His critics will say that he can only play a gangster or a villain, but I disagree, because the best of his work from the past two decades is Silver Linings Playbook and Everybody’s Fine, which are everything but dark characters. It’s a shame that the roles that he’s most renowned for are violent or aggressive, because he has more strings to his bow than he is given credit for. Despite accusations of churning out anything for the paycheque of late, his quality has been mainly evident when he’s played against type.
In the case of John Buechler though, Miner’s Massacre has the opposite effect. If you’ve got a film from a guy that’s known for making ‘the goriest continuation to Friday the 13th‘ (in its uncut form), I guess you build a certain level of pre-view anticipation. Then when said movie has less blood splashing than I Know What You Did Last Summer, you kind of feel, well, a bit disappointed. It certainly looked as if, stung by the censorship issues that plagued his entry to the Voorhees saga, Buechler had re-invented himself as a filmmaker more focused on suspense. In honesty, I much prefer the Carpenter methodology and value style over substance, so was keen to see how he’d get on with such a stark change of approach.
On first glance, Miner’s Massacre starts fairly limply, with pancake personalities and plot branches that have minimal exposition. Our antagonist is brought back from the grave rapidly with no real explanation and the gang know exactly where they’re going to seek treasure after receiving only half a map and a chunk of gold(???). It could have been a prank by a friend or a marketing gimmick from Walmart, but they merrily pack their stuff and off they go without a second look. Thankfully, when they reach the secluded location, the film drastically improves due to a tighter pace and an aura that’s subtlety reminiscent of inclusions from the tail-end of the peak period. Buechler outshines many of his contemporaries by capturing the charm and wit of the late eighties without over-emphasising the fact. He fills his film with archetypal slasher personalities, but I did like a couple of them, which made a real difference to the egotistical tosh that fills other modern slashers. I think that my favorite was the ‘moan-a-lot-bitch-girlfriend-from-hell’ that became the first victim of the troupe. Her OTT Brooklyn ‘My Cousin Vinny’-alike accent really gave her some spark and I was fairly disappointed when she checked out prematurely. She may not have escaped her stereotype, but because she was played with fire, I really thought that she stood out.
Looking like a cross between Freddy Kruegar and Jack Sparrow, the killer stalks and slashes his way through the group with impressive menace and the murders build up to a tense conclusion in an underground mine. Its fair to say that Buechler directs with endeavor, but there’s nothing outstanding that genuinely transcends the norm. The decision to shoot the night scenes with a tint of blue was a poor one and the lack of visual clarity is surprising considering the budget. That’s not to say that the production had extensive funds to play with, but there were a handful of explosions and OTT effects, which could have been substituted for a better lighting rig. One of my readers, a cool dude from the Philippines posted a comment recently on Death Valley. He correctly mentioned that it was one of the only slashers that had a Western slant, but I guess that you could say that Miner’s Massacre also counts as a genre entry that owes something to outlaws and gunslingers from America’s deep south.
I guess that you could call Miner’s Massacre the slasher equivalent of a film like Con Air. It’s an entertaining stroll that takes the expected route, but doesn’t attempt to uncover an adventurous shortcut. There’s a cute chick (Eve), some exciting stalking scenarios and an authentic antagonist, but I couldn’t help but think that this director is capable of delivering so much more. I was saying to my mum recently that it’s amusing how so many heavy metal groups from the eighties have ‘reunions’ when the bank balance is looking a bit on the light side. I suppose that in the case of Buechler, he just accepts the odd director’s gig for the exact same reason.
Directed by: Tom McGatlin
Starring: Tim Beamish, Johnny Derango, Casey Ellison
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Making an authentic take-on the slasher template is an extremely tough task, because the genre is densely populated and the guidelines don’t flex too much without stepping outside of the accepted trappings. The little-seen Headhunter pulls off the spectacular feat of giving us a synopsis that rises above expectations. Sure, it’s a slasher movie alright, but it’s one with something of a smart twist.
Released in 2002, Hunter has been largely ignored by most genre books and websites, which may well be because of its limited release. It was shot on a handheld camera in and around a fairly standard location, but it is concrete proof that a dose of creativity can outshine a meagre budget. I picked it up in a bargain bucket quite a while back and thought that I’d go back to re-evaluate it for you lovely people that follow a SLASH above.
A night-watchman in a warehouse settles in for his usual shift when suddenly he gets a call from a deranged stranger that claims to be ‘The Headhunter’ – a psychopathic killer that has recently escaped from a high security asylum. Soon after, he discovers the corpse of his chum and realises he has to fight to survive…
This film launches with a flowing tracking shot that lasts for at least five-minutes. It incorporates quite a lot of well-rehearsed movement and displays immediate ambition from director Tom McGatlin. There were many opportunities for a brief cut, but he braves out the timespan to deliver an intro that confirms that he’s out to impress. The biggest criticism of the Star Wars prequels, aside from the fact that they were awful, was that George Lucas filmed every dialogue scene like something from a wide-panned news desk. If he ever decides to return to the hot seat, there’s a conversation part here which is shot in a basic office space that he really should watch and learn from. McGatlin bolsters every set-up with an abundance of energy; and the riveting camera movement and visible enthusiasm is a pleasure to witness. He continued the dynamic approach throughout the runtime and kept things interesting even when nothing important was going on with the story.
The majority of the feature is made-up of only two characters sharing sequences at the one time and there was always a danger – in such an enclosed space – that the pace could dry-up and stagnate. Whilst there are a couple of sequences that should have been shorter, the film manages to valiantly sustain intrigue and keep us guessing. Victims are smartly introduced and quickly dealt with, which allows the focus to remain on developing tension. Hunter is by no means a gore film and all of the killings are off-screen, but what McGatlin manages to adequately provide are some sharp shades of suspense. Above all else, this is a cat-and-mouse chase feature and what is achieved on such minimalistic funding and basic ingredients is eminently impressive.
Another thing of note is the realism of the dialogue, which is written not to imitate how movie stars speak, but instead how normal people do. In an early discussion, two guys converse about their dead-end jobs and wanting to study in order to find something better. Of course this is not quite Tarantino pop-trivia scripting, but at least it’s recognisable as genuine. I also liked it when T.J. was hiding from the masked-killer and said something along the lines of, “God if get you get me out of this situation, I promise that I’ll… “ – Again something many of us might see ourselves doing.
Headhunter is cheap and it definitely shows. The lighting is bad, the acting is sketchy and it takes place in a bog standard backdrop. It overcomes its budgetary deficiencies with a whole heap of raw talent, which I feel deserves praise. Knowing a bit about the production of independent features opened my eyes to the qualities that this one boasts, but I advise caution, because it’s not for everyone. Fans of body count flicks and splatter should steer well clear. If however, you like them unique and are willing to overlook some basic moments, by all means give this a spin…
Killer Guise: √√
aka Cut Throat
Directed by: Keith Walley
Starring: Luciano Saber, Kate Norby, Raquel Baldwin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
You know what? I had a great idea the other day for the opening of a slasher film. A girl is all alone in her house late at night, when the telephone rings. She answers it and a demented voice that she doesn’t recognise begins taunting her with personal knowledge that he has about her life. At first she wonders if it could be a prank, but then the deranged caller becomes more threatening and asks if she wants to play a game. We soon learn that he has a family member/boyfriend tied up close by, and if she doesn’t complete the quiz, the loved one will die. So then we… Hold on, my phone is ringing…. “Oh hi Mr Craven. Yes, of course I know what a lawsuit is, why do you ask?”
This totally forgotten entry from the boom years of the second cycle starts pretty much the way that I’ve written above. Whilst I appreciate that it may have been a subtle comment on the magpie nature of the slasher genre, it doesn’t really hint at satire and instead plays it incomprehensibly straight. Would a film really be bold enough to rip off its obvious inspiration (Scream) so openly?
A film crew that are working on an up and coming slasher movie called Death Blade become the target for a brutal masked killer. As more crew and cast members end up dead, the leading lady decides to hunt out the murderer.
Whilst watching Scared, I was reminded of a very good Tim Robbins film from 1992 called The Player. Aside from having an intriguing synopsis, The Player became renowned for an eight-minute tracking shot that was truly a miraculous slice of cinematography. It wasn’t only the length of running time that made it so impressive, but also the amount of action that was perfectly coordinated all the way through. There were a large number of actors working in conjunction and on cue to maintain the momentum, which really stood out as an ambitious director going the extra mile. Scared includes a somewhat shorter (96 seconds), but similar in craft set-piece that immediately created the impression that we were watching a stylish slice of motion picture development. In fact, with so much dialogue revolving around the background details of movie production, I was convinced that we may have a slasherised homage of type to Roger Altman’s classic. Unfortunately, like a senior manager that berates his team for their lack of focus whilst clearly logged on to Facebook, Scared doesn’t lead by the example that its script brags about.
I remember a time when even the worst slasher movies included characters that we kind of enjoyed watching. Give me a van full of numbskulls from The Prey or Don’t go in the Woods over a group of conceited silicone-enhanced brats any day. Scared has a cast that’s so deplorably unlikeable that I failed to understand the screenwriters’ logic for even bothering to include a central character. They were all involved in some kind of inane love triangle that made them look like a bunch of junkie sluts. I forget the exact details, but our heroine Samantha had been passed round more of the crew members than the script they were working on and her buddy was portrayed to have the intelligence of a tadpole. They set out to uncover the identity of the masked killer, but this wasn’t much fun for us, because we had guessed it ages ago. It turns out that there’s a tag team of homicidal maniacs on the loose, which I think I might have seen somewhere else ( Mr Craven, whilst I have you on the line…)
When a mystery is really crappy in a slasher movie, it’s an easy slant for a critic to call it Scooby Doo-esque. With Scared, we don’t even need to resort to such slander, because the final girl and her partner set out on a mission to catch the psychopaths using a gimmick that they admit was learned from an episode of Scooby Doo(?). This involves them both dressing in identical disguises as the killers so that they can trick the villains into thinking that they’ve come across their partner-in-crime and not an intended victim. Sound confusing? Well it gets that way, when the final girl bumps into the assailant and they roll about on the floor in exactly the same attire. Robert McKee from Adaptation said that voice-narration is a cheat’s way of depicting what’s going on in a scene. I can only assume that he hadn’t experienced Scared’s methodology of having a conclusive battle between two characters that are wearing exactly the same masks and garments. Perhaps they could have placed two luminous arrows on the screen above each participant and scribbled, ‘bad guy’ and ‘the one we’re rooting for’ to make it clearer? Then in what I guess could only have been included as a deliberate piece of inadvertent humour, the heroine challenges the maniac, who had thus far notched up about 6 of her colleagues, to a knife fight. You know, as you do. How we laughed. It’s almost as dumb as trying to track down a psychopathic killer by yourself… Oh yeah… Oh…. They did that too. Mind you, if you meet cops as incompetent as those featured here in real life, you might just feel the need to start your own investigation. I forgot about the unwritten rule that makes detectives in crud horror films a) insanely inept and b) unable to purchase a normal suit and tie combo. Damn it.
Bad slasher movies are two-a-penny, but what made this one worse was that it talked a good game. It’s ironic that the script was filled with choice lines about making ‘the next Scream‘ and ‘the need for a good twist and T&A’ but Scared doesn’t practice what it preaches. It was released in the US as Cut-Throat; a title that I guess was safer than Cut-Off-My-Own-Head-With-A-Blunt-Hacksaw, which is what, at times, I felt like doing. The awful acting (the director guy was abysmal), terrible inept dialogue, characters that vanish without trace from scene to scene and predictable mystery are totally at odds with some creative cinematography. It’s a shame that it was totally wasted in this junk.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √
aka Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain
Directed by: Christian Viel
Starring: Jennifer Jameson, Chasey Lain, Ginger Lynn
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So before we kick off, it’s important that I tell you that this review is of the workprint that I got my hands on in 2002 (Thanks very much to Christian Viel) under the film’s original title of Samhain. It turns out that the copy released later as Evil Breed, was heavily butchered by Lionsgate and includes numerous scenes that were shot by a different director. I haven’t seen that version, so I’m unaware of exactly how much of this footage was kept, but judging by the reviews that I’ve read scattered around the web, it ended up as a bit of a jumbled mishmash. Please forgive me if you go and buy the DVD and it excludes most of the stuff that I’m going to write about here.
Secondly, I took the liberty of posting a picture of Chasey Lain. Now this is not from the movie, which was made after she got hooked on drugs and lost that traffic-stopping beauty. But hey, when would I get another opportunity, eh? Ok, back to the film…
If you were a director that was looking to cast female victims for a slasher movie, then surely it would make sense to add a couple of porn stars? It’s not as if they’re inexperienced in front of the camera, they have no qualms with the requisite nudity and how many unattractive porn queens can you name? Christian Viel obviously recognized the potential of mixing hardcore actresses with hard-gore effects and so he cast four of adult cinema’s sexiest and most notorious stars. Jenna Jameson, Chasey Lain, Ginger Lynn Allen and Taylor Hayes all turn up for cameos in arguably the most intriguing slasher flick to be released since Scream reinvigorated the genre.
Five Canadian/American students and their teacher head to Southern Ireland as part of their history course. Upon arrival they are told the legend of a cannibalistic clan that roamed the hills of Scotland and murdered locals for food. The cannibals were eventually caught and burnt at the stake, but it’s rumoured that one of the tribe escaped and headed to the woodland of Ireland to find refuge. After the kids have settled and begun doing what all massacre-fodder does in these flicks, the mandatory goody two-shoes (and definite heroine candidate) begins to be spooked by a shadow creeping around late at night. Could it be that the flesh hungry maniac is still at large in the Forest? Well what do you think…?
Samhain suffered terribly throughout a nightmare production and seems to have been jinxed right from the get-go. It had been initially scheduled for an October 2002 cinematic release to coincide with the Halloween based date of the story, but over a year later, the best that it could muster was a trip to DTV land on the Film 2000 label. (Yeah, the guys that gave us crap like Paranoid, Carnage Road et al). Almost as soon as the shoot started, Wal-Mart refused to develop Jenna Jameson’s nude make-up shots and Chasey Lain began acting like a drugged-out primadonna on set, which upset cast and crew members. Finally to add insult to injury, the producers got cold feet just before the flick was about to hit shelves and began talking of re-editing everything and removing all the gore. Reports have said that they were unhappy about the copious amounts of violence and wanted to trim scenes down so it would achieve an R rating. Veil of course disagreed, seeing how his entire synopsis was boosted by its creatively graphic display. Eventually after months of arguments, the director parted company with Warehouse productions and the feature was locked in the vaults.
It is because of these issues that Veil’s slasher is a tough one to rate accurately. The workprint that I received came without a completed soundtrack, but all the gooey parts were full and intact. I was impressed that it boasted a few credible jump-scares, some luscious cinematography and a couple of the most disturbing set pieces that I’ve seen for some time. One guy is disemboweled via his rectum before being strangled with his own intestine, Jenna Jameson is stripped naked and gutted in unflinching close up and Chasey Lain ends up ‘spilling her guts’ after an unfortunate rescue attempt from her boyfriend (Richard Grieco).
Even if the murders are uncommonly gruesome, Samhain never feels mean-spirited, which is due to the characters being thinly portrayed as little more than typical slasher clichés. The dialogue was not so much inspired by Wes Craven’s Scream as it was flagrantly cut and pasted, and they never really invested in developing the personnel beyond a basic level. Certainly the inclusion of Jenna Jameson was a great move by Veil, due to her massive global following and profile. Her fans will be pleased to know that she whips off her top (as expected) and so do Chasey Lain and Taylor Hayes too. Samhain is no soft porn movie though, and when it gets its hands dirty with the horror parts, the tone really does turn grim. Veil’s direction is sharp and he provides some much-needed injections of suspense. Even if the film includes countless nods to Halloween (going as far as to include footage from the movie), Veil choses to follow the Joe D’amato ‘gross-out’ methodology. There are a few attempts of humour in the script that feel somewhat misplaced and unnecessary, because there was real comedy to be found in Ginger Lynn’s shameful attempt at an Irish accent. I have to give her some credit for a great battle with the hulking killer though and it was well choreographed by Alan Chou. Hilarious pronunciation aside, she probably gave the most energy to her character and out-performed the majority of the non-porno actors and actresses, which isn’t a huge compliment, but still…
The final cut that is available of Samhain removed most of the gore that was in this workprint, which is a shame, because I would have liked to have seen how it would have looked with sound and all the trimmings. Despite Veil’s vision never being completely fulfilled, this version is worth checking out for a slice of exploitation that we haven’t seen to such an extent since the times of titles like Giallo a Venezia (1979). That also had a few extreme moments, but more importantly for this comparison, it was poorly acted, roughly made and never gained much recognition. It may not be Veil’s fault that this one ended up in such a mess, but the net result is still a feature that could, would and most certainly should have been a contender. It ultimately wasn’t though.
Final Girl: √√
* Review originally posted 12/11/2002
Dead Above Ground 2002
Directed by: Chuck Bowman
Starring: Corbin Bernsen, Stephen J. Cannell, Robert Conrad
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Well, it all kicked off authentically enough, with stock footage of people turning up in limousines to the (fictional) ‘All-American Motion Picture Awards’ in Los Angeles. Director Chuck Bowman intercuts the baying crowds with a decent credit sequence, in which a robed killer slices through the screen with a steel axe. In my review for Killer Instinct, I said that Corbin Bernsen was really slumming it. Two years down the line and still nothings changed. Here he plays Mark Mallory, a director that has just won a prestigious award (yeah, that’ll be the day) for his Western. He returns home with his girlfriend, telling her that he’s going to use his statuette for… well, I’ll let her reply paint the picture, “If you think I’m gonna let you use that as a dildo, you’ve been hovering up some bad sh*t again…” Charming. Their night of questionable methods for passion is ruined when they reach the front door of his house to notice that it’s been vandalised. Someone has painted a bizarre satanic emblem around the knocker and written the words ‘Dead above ground’ in blood-red paint underneath. Instead of calling the police, Mallory decides to search the place himself and after a fumble in the dark and a smart trick by the caped killer, he discovers that offering to make his assailant a ‘movie star’ really isn’t going to save him from a fitting demise.
Afterwards, we head over to a school field where we’re introduced to our obvious victims and two forsaken Gothics. Dressed all in black (naturally), they prove their joint-weirdness by talking about, `Escaping into the Kelt world to be with the dark gods’ because the `Malevolent entities don’t ask for photo-ID!’ Then we discover that the guy’s name is Jeff Lucas and apart from being a credible Gareth Gates look-alike, he’s a budding film director too. The other Goth is his faithful girlfriend, who also worships all things Pagan. For their media studies course, all the kids have made summer video documentary projects, but Lucas has just ignored all that and cranked out a gory slasher film, much to the distaste of his grumpy lecturer. He screens the short anyway, and it invokes laughter and insults from the jesting teen-audience. This makes Jeff loose his rag and he warns everyone that they `…will die on the seventh equinox of Maven’ (?) He really dislikes his frumpy old teacher and tastefully informs him, ‘his end is nigh’. By now, I was beginning to wonder if the screenwriter had swallowed a few volumes of Shakespeare before he got to work on this. Jeff is carted off for a visit with the attractive Doctor Brenda Boone for a psychic examination. She’s the kind of medic that would make most Hi-school boys pretend that they were hearing voices, just so they could share a room with her for ten minutes. She thinks that Jeff is not crazy and it’s just a cry for help, but after he talks a lot more gibberish about ‘cutting eternity into time and space’, everyone agrees that he’s ‘certifiable’ and ‘a real nut job!!’ (And a really bad actor.)
Surprisingly enough, later that evening the mad student is invited to a pool party with his classmates, where Dr. Boone and the principal discuss his crazy fits and we also find out that he is actually the nephew of George Lucas. (I wonder if old Georgie knows about this?) Jeff dreams of being a big-time director just like his uncle, which would lead me to suggest that he gives up the trench coats and eyeliner and invests in some of those ‘stylish’ flannel shirts that Lord Skywalker loves so much. It doesn’t take long before he blows a fuse again and he slaps a girl with considerable force, knocking her into the swimming pool. Her boyfriend, Dylan, flaws the spiky haired anarchist and he curses everyone again before legging it to his car. Unsatisfied that he’s taught him a tough-enough lesson, Dylan takes off in pursuit and after the most leisurely paced car-chase ever filmed, Jeff’s brakes conveniently cease to exist and he drives off of the edge of a cliff. The car drops about 100 feet and then explodes into a ball of flames, making survival a total impossibility. Don’t forget that this is a slasher film, so it’s unlikely that people are going to be allowed to get away with that kind of thing without some loony or another coming back to seek revenge…
Twelve months down the line, a new student has moved into Jeff’s old house at Moss Point and is knocking about with his former ‘friends’. Chip reckons that he keeps having nightmares about someone warning him that they’ll come back to kill off everyone that was involved in the accident. The Gothic chick suggests that they attempt to contact Jeff’s spirit through a séance and she’ll be the medium. Later that night, they all sit in a circle and she tries to conjure a spirit guide with the rip-roaring speech, `Spirits of the South that are warm and bright like Atlantis’. Chip starts moaning the words ‘dead above ground’ and generally begins looking deranged, so everyone breaks the circle and the séance ends. Before long a hooded killer with a steel axe begins chopping up the teens and their teachers in the exact same ways that were depicted in Jeff’s movie one year earlier. It looks as if he’s come back from the grave to settle the score…
Television director Chuck Bowman has made such a sloppy mess of Dead Above Ground, that I’m surprised he can still get work on the small screen, let alone in the movies. Instead of using operatic themes to create suspense and tension, he’s chucked in cheap and junky heavy metal that’s genuinely painful to the ears. The cast sound as if they’d struggle to get bit parts dubbing a video game and they must’ve generally believed that expressing an emotion would put them higher up the killer’s to-do list, because they remain as flat as ten year old can of coke all the way through. Josh Hammond is perhaps the worst actor on the planet and the lack of any interesting characters means that you couldn’t care less if they all died of gonorrhea or if they invented a cure for diabetes. We are treated to a laughably small body count and there is probably more gore in a three-hour teletubbies extravaganza than there is in this utter dross. Slashers that are this crud usually manage to redeem themselves with a little unintentional comedy, but the fact that this is so painstakingly boring pretty much puts a poo-poo on the chance of that. The pagan-chatter was occasionally amusing, but everything else was put together at such a slow pace that I managed to read all of the eight-hundred and eighty-eight documents of the Warren Commission and still only be halfway through. Couldn’t they at least have thought of a premise that hadn’t been done more times than Danielle Lloyd? It’s like The Burning never happened, and what’s with all the ‘I swallowed a dictionary’ dialogue?
Horror movies need to be big on atmosphere. The only feeling that this creates is contempt for shelling out the money to pay for it. When I was living in Moscow, I picked up a copy of this for 100 Rubles, which is about £2. I remember wondering how on earth it got a release there? What did the fine people of Russia do to deserve such fodder exported and thrust upon them? The Cold War is long over, you know. Dead Above Ground, should be ‘dead under ground’ – Never to resurface again!
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Danny Graves
Starring: Alexandra Holden, Michael Weston, A.J. Buckley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
For a genre with such a simplistic structure, it’s a shame that the slasher hasn’t produced more crossbreed attempts. There are of course a few and you could say that the likes of Basic Instinct et al would never have existed without John Carpenter’s Halloween, but in terms of out and out combining of trappings, I have always felt that there should be a few more tasty bocadillos on the menu. Stalk and slash flicks sit most closely to their thriller counterparts in terms of cinematic proximity and there has been times when the difference in styles has been incredibly slim. I mean was Dressed to Kill a slasher or a thriller? What about James Mangold’s Identity? How would you classify The Last Stop? For me, these are all slasher flicks, but I guess mostly, it all comes down to individual opinion.
In terms of reputation and standing with critics however, you could say that the slasher category has most in common with the chick flick. Bizarre as it may at first sound, take a step back and allow me to explain. Chick flicks all have pretty much the same plot: Guy meets girl. Guy and girl dislike each other. Guy and girl (for some reason) end up being thrown together for an amount of time and then they fall in love. There’s a tragedy/accident/something that will split them for a while. Guy and girl overcome the odds and end up living happily ever after. It’s the simplest of scenarios and one that was started most probably by the classics of Walt Disney. I always ask my friends when we are discussing movies to name me at least one chick flick that does not abide by the aforementioned structure. It’s fun watching them stumble and then bow to my cinematic expertise. Even if there most probably are a handful of titles that break away from that route (Lost in Translation?), the synopsis that I have outlined above remains mostly un-altered. Why try and fix something that just isn’t broken?
So we can say that stalk and slash films have become the chick flick of the horror genre, but has anyone ever mixed the two together? Could it ever work? Although I feel that it may not have been writer Larry Katz’s initial idea, Wishcraft from 2002 is the closest I can think of that takes parts of both styles and mixes them to create an entry that on the face of it, seems worth checking out…
Hi-school nerd Brett Bumper (Michael Weston) has got a crush on the school beauty, Samantha (Alexandra Holden). However, Sam merely sees him as a geek that gives her private tuition about the Second World War for the sake of her history classes. Brett despises her boyfriend, Cody and wishes that he could take her to the school prom. One day, he arrives home from school to find a strange package addressed to him from ‘an anonymous friend’. On closer inspection, he reveals a creepy box containing an ancient totem and a bizarre note stating that he can have three wishes for whatever he wants. Clearly confused, he puts the weird object in the bin and carries on unusual. When he tells his friend about the occurrence, his pal says that he shouldn’t throw it away without at least testing it. Still uncertain, he decides to make a wish that the girl of his dreams would ask him to the dance the following night. He’s shocked when the next day, out of the blue, Samantha wants to know his plans for the evening. Brett’s dream has come true and he’s over the moon. Unfortunately as soon as he uses the extraordinary object, someone begins methodically killing off his classmates. As his relationship with his sweetheart deepens, the murders begin getting closer to home until Brett realises that Sam could be next on the killer’s list….
Unlike most of the z-grade genre pieces that have slowly faded from store shelves, Wishcraft looks neatly produced and fairly well budgeted. The supporting cast, which includes Meat Loaf and Zelda Rubinstein (the lady who’s most famous for her high pitched ‘Caroool Aynnne’ routine from Poltergeist) look uninspired and just here for the pay cheque, but the two leads are charming and bond superbly with the ambitious plot. Alexandra Holden was really good as the lovesick teen and she worked well with Michael Weston. I was surprised by the amount of chemistry that they managed to create in their unlikely pairing and I was enjoying waiting to see how their relationship would blossom. Director Danny Graves does ok on his debut and manages to build some tension in one or two of the murders. It’s always something of an alarm call when you see that a director still has only the one credit to his IMDB listing, but I felt that it was most likely more because of a poor financial run from this feature (?) than a lack of talent.
There’s a good bit of creativity in the the way that the killer slaughters his victims and the majority of the kill scenes are sharp and unique. My favourite is when one guy is knocked unconscious in the school changing room and then wakes up sometime later buried up to his chin in the ground. The killer then proceeds to roll a bowling ball at his head and he is visibly relieved when the bumpy terrain sends it just skimming past. There’s no such fortune with the second one though and it hits him square in the face, which is conveyed to be as gruesome as it sounds. Even if most of the slayings are committed off-screen, they are delivered in a manor that allows your imagination to do the work and they are surprisingly brutal, which sits somewhat awkwardly amongst the cheesiness of the two lovebirds and their soppy romance. One outside review that I’ve read criticized the choice for the ending here and called it ‘stupid’ and ‘corny’, but I disagree. I thought it was a good decision – but then I guess that I’m an old romantic at heart – and maybe that helped.
So there’s definitely a theme running here, but the creative blend doesn’t combine flawlessly and ends up looking like the horror bits have been sellotaped on to a cheesy love story. Maybe it could have worked if there were a few more minutes spent with the maniac as he stalks and murders the cast members or if they played the whole thing straighter from both angles. For some reason though the film never develops a dark enough tone to convince as a horror picture and struggles to deliver an adequate amount of trepidation. Also, the main comic relief character is obnoxious and annoying, which means that he should have been one of the first to die. Add everything together and what starts as a clever and original plot, just loses complete focus and rolls along to leave a whole load of unanswered questions. I mean, why didn’t Brett use his power to conjure up a 12 bore shotgun, or wish that the twosome could escape to safety? It’s hard to believe that no one on the crew highlighted this to the writer or director as they worked through the production.
Of the myriad of Scream imitators that were unleashed during the early noughties, Wishcraft is most definitely not one of the worst that you can place your hands upon. Weston and Holden make for an agreeable pairing and the film is worth seeing for maintaining an impressive pace and generating moments of unique humour. It is an ok time-waster rather than a good one and I can’t help but feel that it tries too hard to have one over on Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson.
I will have to wait a bit longer for someone to successfully mix Halloween with Breakfast at Tiffany’s then…
Final Girl √√√√
Slaughter Studios 2002
Directed by: Brian Katkin
Starring: Nicholas Read, Amy Shelton-White, Tara Killian
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Personally, I never got the whole comedy/horror thing. I understand about opposites attract and all that, but are you really telling me that it’s good to laugh and be scared during the same sequence? Wouldn’t one emotion done well be better than the two mixed poorly together? I recently saw Decampitated, which is a fairly watchable film for the simple fact that much like Scary Movie, it is really just a comedy that’s been set in a horror universe. That’s ok if you know what audience you are targeting. It’s when writers aim for the best of both worlds that things seem to really get messy. I can’t think of many entries at all that made the combination work: Scream, Cherry Falls, Blood Hook; but they were only marginally comedic… Erm… I’m struggling for more… Maybe it’s just my sense of humour?
Slaughter Studios was originally pencilled to be a Slumber Party Massacre remake. It was only when producer Damian Akhavi managed to rope in Roger Corman and access to his soon to be demolished studio that the idea was scrapped in favour of a whole new story. They went for the goofy dialogue approach and have attempted to interweave toilet humour with some cool deaths and a whodunit storyline.
A group of film school students get together to make a horror film in a dilapidated studio. ‘Slaughter Studios’ has been closed down since the fateful night when one of their lead actors was killed by a real loaded gun that was accidentally used as a prop. The rapidly cobbled together crew decide to shoot the whole picture in one sitting and have only nine hours to finish the photography. Almost as soon as they arrive however, an unseen someone begins killing off the cast members one by one. Could it be that the unfortunate star has returned from the grave with murderous intent…?
When my family first emigrated to England from Spain in 1987, I was six years old and shared a bedroom with my older brother, Oscar. There’s eight years between us, so I was little more than a nuisance to him then, even though we get on real well now. To look at and speak to, you would never guess that we even know each other, let alone that we are siblings. Aside from the stereotypical Latino dark hair and olive eyes, we share no similarities in our appearance and our lives have traipsed in separate directions. He worked from the age of sixteen, found the perfect wife a couple of years later and has three lovely children with her. I was a total wild child, bounced from girl to girl and on top of that, we even support rival football teams (he’s Spurs I’m Arsenal).
When we lived together, as you can imagine, we were completely non-compatible. Him and I leaving the family abode brought us closer and was a blessing in disguise for our relationship. Watching Slaughter Studios takes me back to those times so well, because its two opposing styles are a combination that don’t see eye to eye in a 90 minute runtime.
Firstly, Greg Salman deserves a massive pat on the back for his art direction here. We are treated to well crafted sets that look fantastic and make superb use of horror ‘prop stereotypes’ such as cobwebs and low lights. The photography is also top notch and visibly stylish with a real emphasis on keeping the runtime as energetic as possible. Cinematographer Mark Lulkin drapes the film in a gothic darkness that helps to keep the tone ever threatening. The first few killings are off-screen and bloodless, and so on the 45 minute mark, I had written a note that it was somewhat disappointing considering the OTT theme of the feature in other areas. During the final half though, things go on a rampage and the blood begins to flow. There’s a couple of really grisly murders, including a fitting demise for the spoilt slut character that I won’t ruin for you here. I also cringed at the drawn-out slaughter of one guy who tried to jump to safety from a second-floor window. He ends up breaking both of his legs on impact and crawls away with his smashed limbs trailing behind him only to be stabbed and decapitated with a pitchfork! Christopher Farrell’s score is well composed and manages to evoke various moods when the momentum does briefly stagnate.
Most of the time though, things move at a neat pace and I was really excited to see who it was that was killing everyone. There’s a fairly large body count and all the usual post-Scream slasher movie stereotype characters. This almost borders on being one of those semi-erotic slasher flicks and chucks in bundles of nudity and a Lesbian clinch. It’s not as adult focused as say, for example, Porn Shoot Massacre though and does try hard to stick with the original plan of action.
As you have probably already guessed by what I have said earlier in this review, it is the stupid attempts at goofy humour that really damage Slaughter Studios. The script is all, pretty much, tongue in cheek tosh and I didn’t find any of the jokes funny. I read a review of this somewhere online that said, the film can be digested much easier if you take it as a comedy. Ok cool, then tell that to the marketing bods who made it look like a gore extravaganza on the cover. Also, I am the last person in the world to stand up for political correctness, but why turn the only Asian character in to a cowardly, perverted fool with a stammering accent?
The revelation of the killer was equally annoying and a bit of a cheat too. After the credits had rolled, I was left thinking, what was the point of the opening scene? In fact, what was the point of any of the story before it? It just came across as rushed, unexplained and effectively hollow. There’s a predictable false climax that feels drawn out because its obviously a red-herring and it all ends with an overall feeling of disappointment.
On occasion I was really impressed by some of the stuff in Slaughter Studios. I kept thinking to myself, maybe it will come good from this moment onward. Despite a brazen attempt at an exciting finish though, the damage had already been done and I really didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. The producers made the movie look incredibly slick, but the comedic aspect should never have been given the go ahead. An impressive amount of technically adept filmmaking flair is wasted in a stupid attempt at a mix of genres.
It’s no surprise that this has become such an obscurity and it really is its own worst enemy. Gone and quite simply well forgotten, it doesn’t warrant a place in your collection.
Final Girl: √√
Nine Lives 2002
aka Nueves Tumbas aka The Terror
Directed by: Andrew Green
Starring: Paris Hilton, Amelia Warner, Rosie Fellner
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
* This is an update of a review that I posted in 2006
Whilst staying at my buddy’s house recently, he showed me a film starring Paris Hilton that left me overwhelmed by her talent. What a performance! From start to finish she was totally convincing and she certainly had feelings for the, err, part. No, in case you’re wondering, it wasn’t Nine Lives. Actually it was her starring ‘roll’ in that other movie, which probably grossed a damn site more worldwide than this British slasher flick ever would. Now I’m no expert on porn actresses. I never really went through that whole top-shelf magazine/video phase. Perhaps it was because ever since I can remember I’ve been in one relationship or another? Or maybe it was because I got married at the tender age of 21? Now I’m 31 and still haven’t got much knowledge on all things X-rated. I do however, have a fairly good eye for talent, which has served me well throughout the years of enjoying cinema. I soon realized that if this feisty young heiress could show that much conviction, dedication and (ahem) experience when the camera is concentrating on her face…well…who knows?
I first learned about Nine Lives from an extremely generous preview in Empire magazine late 2002. After that the movie mysteriously seemed to vanish and I heard nothing more until I came across the DVD in Sevilla under the alias title Nueves Tumbas in summer 2004. To the best of my knowledge this wasn’t released in Britain until June 2005, which seemed like a long delay for a home-grown movie. In fact it graced American shores at least a year before it hit UK shelves. I couldn’t track down any information anywhere concerning the belatedness of Andrew Green’s début feature. I can only assume that not many distributors were rushing to pick it up for release?
Nine high school pals head to their friend’s remote mansion in Scotland to join him for his birthday celebrations. Emma (Rosie Fellner), Lucy (Vivienne Harvey), Jo (Paris Hilton), Laura (Amelia Warner), Linda (Maureen Turner), Tim (Patrick Kennedy), Andy (Ben Peyton) and Damien (James Schlesinger) are soon joined by Pete (David Nicolle), who was late arriving due to a hazardous snow storm that is crashing against the secluded house. (British weather, eh?). The group is pleased to be together again and they spend hours drinking and reminiscing over old times. As the evening gives way to a severely rain beaten night, the drunken youngsters decide to retire and sleep off all the alcohol.
Before they have even had the chance to turn out the lights, the tranquillity is shattered by an ominous scream. On exploration, they find Jo’s mutilated corpse sprawled across the bathroom floor. It seems that there’s a maniacal killer amongst the group and he’s intent on making this the last reunion they’ll ever share. But these ‘friends’ have known each other for years, surely there’s no motive for mass slaughter amongst them…?
Nine Lives starts really well. The location is fairly alluring, the characters interesting and Green manages to pull off a decent early shock. It’s somewhat of a surprise then that as soon as Madame Hilton checks her Gucci bags out twenty minutes into the feature things go downhill…DRASTICALLY. It seems that Ms Moneybags’ on-screen demise starts a chain reaction of bad-movie-syndrome that doesn’t take long to completely engulf the entire feature. You’d think that nine victims would be more than enough to pad out an eighty-minute runtime, right? Unfortunately, the murders are so poorly constructed that it doesn’t take too long for things to start feeling horrendously humdrum. The uninspired lead performance from Amelia Warner didn’t help and the rest of the cast seem to spend too much time standing around and staring blankly at the camera as if they’re thinking, “What do I do next? What’s going on? Why am I here? HELP!”
I’m going to give away the crux of the plot, which isn’t really a spoiler, but if you don’t want to know then stop reading now. Ok, so it seems that the spirit of an ancient Scotsman that was tortured by the English during the invasion of his homeland many years ago has taken possession of one of the kids in order to get revenge on the three lions. So we have a deranged Scottish killer that wants to bump off anyone that has the heritage of his southern neighbours. Fine. But if that’s the case, please tell me why does he kill Paris Hilton –you couldn’t get more American – first? Perhaps he had seen what Mel Gibson and Randall Wallace did with Braveheart? When it comes to plot holes, Nine Lives is the cinema equivalent of a kitchen sieve. You’ll be screaming at the screen when Warner manages to work out the killer’s methods and motives from nothing more than a couple of scrappy pictures. The dumbfounding actions of the majority of the characters shows an embarrassing lack of thought from the rushed screenplay. It closes with the kind of dialogue that I presume was supposed to stick in our memory long after the credits have rolled. The thing is, it’s written so shabbily that it’s more hilarious than it is thoughtful. Kind of like an ambitious seven-year-old wrote it for a homework project. There’s no gore, suspense or attempts at building tension and by the 45-minute mark, the whole movie feels like a line of dominoes on the eve of a hurricane. By the 46th, the wind has most definitely blown.
It’s a shame, because trchnically, Andrew Green is a fairly talented director. You also have to give him credit for managing to get Paris Hilton to come all the way to Hertfordshire for a cameo, just a few months before 1 night in Paris was about to make her a superstar. He certainly picked the right time to offer her a contract. With that said though, his screen writing abilities are non-existent and next time that he’s hired to direct a feature, he should make sure that the script is someone else’s. Unfortunately Nine Lives is yet another British slasher-failure to add to the list.
I guess I’ll just have to wait a bit longer to see if Hilton can match the skill of that (ahem) breathtaking breakout performance…
Final Girl √
Runaway Terror 2002
Directed by: Mark Baranowski
Starring: Mark Baranowski, Ryli Morgan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
For my day job, I sell IT solutions. You know, servers, hardware and some Linux based software. (Don’t worry; it’s more fun than it sounds). Despite studying history and being able to speak four-languages, Sales is the only work that ever really suited me, because I get bored with doing the same thing very quickly and the constant pressure and space for creativity means my day is rarely tedious.
I worked on a different team last year and we were supplying smart phones to shops such as Carphone Warehouse, Fonehouse et al. When a new product came out on the market, I was always given ample training in its selling points and some of them were really good. Now I use an iPhone – and so does most of the world; but the market is big enough for the likes of RIM, Samsung, Nokia and HTC to make a tidy profit on their handsets. Anyway, probably one of the best new launches that I was trained on during my stint was the Palm Pre 2 from HP. I won’t go in to the full specs in a review of a slasher movie, but a lot of the phone’s gimmicks were actually very good and the fact that all information was stored on a ‘cloud based’ web OS was a pure masterstroke. Only problem was, when it came to selling the damn thing, no one was interested. I think we bought 2,500 units and six months later (the lifespan of a mobile telephone nowadays) we still had 2,482. I know and I had advised HP as to why I thought no one was interested, because it all comes down to one of the most fundamental things about product development – effective marketing.
This handset could have woken you up, made you a cup of tea and then dry cleaned your suits, but if no one knows about it, why will they buy it? The reason I mention this is that it’s a point that Mark Baranowski was more than aware of when he released this cheapo in 2002. Type Runaway Terror in Google and you will find review upon review about how sexy and how great an actress Ryli Morgan (his wife) is and how this is the greatest slasher movie of the new age. Seriously. There is one write up on the IMDB for this feature and the title is: ‘What don’t they make slashers like this anymore?’ (sic). The author then goes on to call it ‘atmospheric’ and that we should ’watch the originality unfold in front of our eyes’! – It aroused my curiosity even though I should have known better, but I guess that’s why filmmakers sometimes write their own reviews… 😉
A masked killer is stalking girls that audition for a sleazy porn director in the centre of town. It seems that meeting with him does nothing more than mark their cards and they are killed the following night by a hooded wacko. Detective Luke Brennan attempts to stop the psycho in his tracks, but what is the link between the seedy XXX hustler and the ruthless murderer…?
I am full of admiration for folks like Mr Baranowski and his wife. They have self-financed more than five independent movies and then worked long hours to promote them in the ways that I have mentioned above. I marvel at such dedication to a hobby and it’s good to see that it’s something they that they believe in and work together to improve. With that said though, I would have to disagree with the anonymous critics that have said that Runaway Terror is ‘atmospheric’ and the ‘greatest slasher movie of the new age’.
For a start, many times during the runtime it was almost impossible for me to make out what was going on due to a quality of photography (videography) that looked like someone had poured mud through a sieve over it. I’d have no problem accepting that level of screen clarity if I was watching a bootleg or a Torrent download, but this was a DVD, which I purchased directly from their website for a heart-stopping $19.99. I appreciate that these guys are not going to be rivalling LucasFilm in terms of visual finesse, but after reading how Runaway Terror would ‘keep me guessing’ and was ‘Ambitious’, ‘Atmospheric’ or any other dime-store platitude that could be thrown at it, I expected a bit more bang for my fair-few bucks. Mark Baranowski doesn’t have the budget to make a decent stalk and slash flick, but he does have a lot of loyal friends that will write how ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ his features are all over the worldwide web. If the old film stuff doesn’t work out, there are worse ways to earn a buck than digital marketing 😉
But it’s not just the look of the movie that’s bad, we are given countless scenes that are long, boring and totally unnecessary. I mean tell me what was the point of filming the lead sitting on her bed for five minutes? The direction is bland and uninspired and lacks any kind of urgency, which is unacceptable because horror above any other genre is where flair and energy is highly rewarded. I also wasn’t a fan of the soundtrack, which is basically poorly produced techno or something that sounds like a sample from a Casio keyboard. There’s also a gratuitous and horrible sex sequence, which makes little sense in relation to the plot and although it may be a shallow thing to say (I am not a massive fan of sex scenes anyway), but these were two characters that I can’t see people queuing round the block to see stripping off.
In fairness, many of the problems come down to a lack of funding and given a slightly bigger budget, there’s no reason why this couldn’t have been a bit better. Baranowski is not the worst actor and everyone seemed to be trying their hardest, which showed that their was some motivation on set. Ok I am trying to think of something else good to say about it? Well… the killer’s guise is pretty cool (I always like white masks) and they cover up the mystery well (I was sure I had cracked this one in the first five minutes, but I had underestimated Baranowski) and erm… oh damn… I can’t believe that I nearly forgot! There’s a guy who holds the auditions for the porno movies and looks like Mr Shickadance from Ace Ventura. Anyway, he sleeps with most of the hopefuls whilst his long-term girlfriend is working outside on reception. What a player!
So, unfortunately, I didn’t ‘watch the originality unfold in front of my eyes’ and I really didn’t think that Runaway Terror ‘takes the slasher formula and works with it in the right way’. No blood, no suspense, in fact there’s hardly anything of note…. (Except for a producer who sleeps with girls whilst his Mrs waits outside.). Well, it’s better than Curse of Halloween… marginally
Final Girl √