Directed by: David Noble
Starring: Courtney Shay Young, LaTasha Williams, Elgin Foster
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I remember reading a report a few years back about a slasher movie that was being produced in Louisiana and how local residents were excited about its release. It had been named after a regional dance/music trend, but the one photo that was attached to the article showed a hulking killer pursuing a petrified blonde girl through some forest. I filed the news-clipping under ‘items of interest’ in a SLASH above‘s sprawling HQ (my room) and heard nothing else on the subject. Then, about a year ago, I dug-out that preview and set myself a mission of discovering the status of that peculiar picture. Zydeco is an impossibly obscure title and another a SLASH above exclusive. It’s a slice of small-town filmmaking that takes pride in its heritage and so I was keen to see how it’d play.
Two chicas from Chicago head down to explore the sights of Louisiana. Once there, they inadvertently upset the local townsfolk and become the targets of a giant merciless killer.
You know, I was so close to posting this on my Slasher Shorts page, because at 45 minutes, it barely qualifies as ‘feature length’. The reason I changed my mind is because much like Death O’Lantern and Friday the 13th: Halloween Night, it’s quite a rarity and deserves at least one ‘full’ review on the web. Perhaps the reason it’s become so obscure is because it’s such a strange runtime to sit through. We open with a text description of the notorious ‘Bloody Benders’ from Kansas, which I thought was a credible launchpad. Next comes a slickly produced credit sequence that shows a young girl fleeing through a forest from an unknown pursuer. I sat up in my seat and thought, ‘Damn, this looks good’, and it really did… at least up until I heard the twang of a country guitar…
I’m reminded of when the geeky cashier in Burger King only gives you one Ketchup to go with your XXL Bacon Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal. You’re left desperately trying to squeeze the last remaining drips from the sachet so as not be eating dry salty chips whilst wondering, “Do they pay for these sauces from their salaries or something?!?”. Zydeco looked to have run out of salsa in those first ten-seconds of pre-credit sequence and it rapidly took a downward spiral into Poopsville. We follow the two poorly acted girls as they visit sights around Louisiana and even if we could perhaps accept the uninspiring dialogue, the lack of any actual horror was proving less forgivable. I was left struggling to ascertain what tone Noble was aiming for. There’s the historical intrigue with the Bloody Bender intro, the effective chills from that initial chase scene, but then we slump into comedic dialogue and a collage of the girls on a shopping trip. I mean, what were they trying to make the audience feel…?
I stopped watching Zydeco on the twenty-five minute mark because my train had pulled into my station and the next day, I wasn’t overly keen to pick up from where I’d left off. Thankfully, director David Noble seemed to realise that the ante should be upped and when I eventually got round to finishing the feature, the introduction of the Jason Voorhees-alike killer did seem to offer slight redemption. Our antagonist is a big hefty menace and he takes out a handful of victims, which results in at least one tacky but fun gore scene. (It includes slasher regular and all round cool guy Jade La Font getting gutted!!)) I didn’t notice a huge amount of panache in the way that Noble decided to shoot the movie, but one lengthy tracking shot, which looked to have been filmed with the cameraman on a quad bike or something, was really rather audacious. It was in fact so impressive that the editor included it three times, but I’m not convinced that the only reason for its repetition was because they were proud of how it looked.
You see, Zydeco has a unique structure for a slasher that starts out fairly well, but kind of gets progressively stranger as the film rolls along. We have our main story, which is the fate of the two city girls and their eminent misfortune in and around Louisiana. Then there’s also a plot-branch involving a brother that has hired a Private Detective a while later (exactly how much later is left un-clarified) to hunt out his missing sibling. These two timelines coincide quite well until the final scene, which I won’t spoil, but it left me with the impression that they ran out of budget before finishing the original script. I could even speculate that the whole Private Detective part was bolted on to pad out the runtime and explain away the bizarre ending. If I went into detail about why I think this, it would ruin a twist that in fairness, I wasn’t expecting. If you manage to locate a copy of Zydeco though, you’ll automatically see what I mean. It feels like there’s a part of the movie that they didn’t have the funds to film and so they had to include a wrap-up scene to get it to a format that was at least releasable. I guess that this could explain why Zydeco has become hard to find and why they re-used that impressive footage. The idea was obviously to get as much out of what they had as humanly possible.
Then again, with no concrete information, all that we have is my ramblings on a SLASH above and what do I know? Maybe this is how it was all meant to be. Maybe people like collages of badly acted girls doing shopping in slasher movies. Well if that be the case, give Zydeco five-stars and hunt it out. Me, I’ll leave it with just the one (and a bit)
Scream Park 2012
Director Cary Hill
Starring, Wendy Wygant, Steve Rudzinski, Nivek Ogre
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Whenever I go to an Amusement Park, I am always in awe of the possibilities for a pulsating slasher film. Ghost Houses are dark and claustrophobic and I can visualise a chase sequence through a hall of mirrors, there’s just so much that could be done. The Funhouse was one of the first to utilise such a location to stalk some teens and it turned out to be one of the better entries of the key period. Produced in 2012, Scream Park went about taking this potential into more modern surroundings and that’s why I was extremely excited to check it out.
It was the debut movie of director Cary Hill and was packaged to DVD by a company called ProtoMedia Productions. Unlike most budget slasher films that are unleashed of late, I didn’t know anything about this one until it had literally popped up in the products I might be interested in field on Amazon. There has been a major surge in genre entries produced over the past couple of years and I am still trying to track down a handful of them.
A horror themed amusement park called Fright Land has seen its number of visitors dwindle to the point that they have to close the doors for the last time. The manager has asked the remaining workers to stay behind and help to clear up and so they decide to bring in some booze and have a party. Little do they know that they are not alone and before long they are forced to battle with a pair of masked maniacs…
I recall in my review of Runaway Terror, that I mentioned the importance of marketing your product to give it the best possible chance of being competitive. Well here we have another example of great digital advertising, because the information that I found about Scream Park made it sound almost too good to be true. There was an 8/10 review on the IMDB and a few anonymous comments on boards that had flung praise all over it. Chuck on top of that a quality cover that shows a menace in a burlap sack clenching an axe and I was chomping at the bit to get involved. At a cool £9 including delivery, it didn’t even burn a hole in my wallet.
The credits pop up on a black screen with white lettering as an obvious nod to the early Friday the 13th films and then we get an interesting POV shot from a rollercoaster, which showed initial ingenuity. Immediately after though, as our characters are introduced, the pace drops to a near standstill and our old friend tedium begins to creep in. Now no matter what film school that you attend, you will always learn that an opening scene is necessary for setting the tone of your feature. You won’t see a pie in the face gag at the beginning of The Exorcist and a gruesome murder won’t launch Naked Gun for a specific reason. Scream Park gives us thirty-two minutes of humdrum conversations before the first kill scene and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you had already switched it off long before then. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is as conventional as ketchup on chips and it’s delivered by actors that seem to be devoid of any recgognisable human emotion.
When it finally gets itself in gear though, Scream Park breaks the mould by having a twosome of assailants that stalk the youngsters across the theme park. Upon their joint introduction, things do get more exciting and the murders boast a spark of inventiveness. The first guy to go is the token black security guard and he is hoisted up on a rope and then stabbed in the heart with a switchblade. Moments earlier, he had been watching Night of the Living Dead on his TV and it made me wonder if he was related to the guy from Silent Night Bloody Night: The Homecoming; also a black security guard that was murdered whilst watching the same flick. Next up a girl with a World Cup winning cleavage is boiled alive in a chip fryer and the killings continue to occur at an impressive rate. They even find the time to scalp one unfortunate dweeb before playing fancy dress with his hairpiece. One of the psychopaths gets unmasked quite early in the runtime and he’s a typical backwoods loon that took us too deep into the territory that ruined 2009’s The Cycle. The reason why John Lithgow, Dennis Hopper and the like got so many villain roles is because playing a deranged nut is not as easy as you’d think. It takes something special to make the old backwoods hillbilly stereotype work and the actor here just doesn’t have it. His accomplice was more of a traditional silent assailant, which worked much better, but bizarrely, they chose to get rid of him first.
Whilst the screenplay does show amateurism, the photography is creative and sharp. Hill utilises a bright palette of colour, which makes the sets of the fairground jump out and grab our attention. He tries hard to highlight the ‘amusement park’ theme as much as possible and it results in some fairly decent gimmicks. There are shades of suspense in some of the chase sequences and it all closes off with a fairly impressive twist. Most of what’s wrong with the movie is down to inexperience and lack of funding, which would be unfair to grumble about too much. Much like what I said in my write-up of Methodic, the talent is there and most likely Hill will learn from what he got wrong here and improve as his career develops.
Scream Park has some good ideas, some fun killings and a bucketful of ambition. What ruins it more than anything is the snooze-inducing first half and unconvincing acting throughout. Cute final girl aside, the film needed stronger characterisations to carry the development moments and without them, the pace struggles. Still, its heart is in the right place and that counts for a lot.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √√√
Silent Night 2012
Directed by: Stephen C. Miller
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Jaime King, Donal Logue
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
On a SLASH above, I often analyse the stats of my visits and around this time of year, the traffic that I get on certain pages is astronomical. I guess that you’ve already worked out that those are the reviews for Home Sick, Black Christmas, To All a Goodnight, Don’t Open ’till Christmas, Home for the Holidays et al. The logic in making a festive slasher is undeniable. I mean, it’s natural that people think, ‘Hey it’s Christmas, let’s watch a themed horror movie’ and so there’s cash to be made for ambitious producers. Santa pickaxing teenagers is the perfect visual present for the advent calendar countdown.
But would such a feature truly offer the same level of entertainment in the middle of spring?
I think about this, because for me, there’s a certain stigma about watching an Xmas themed horror flick at any other time of the year. They lose their charm somewhat. I wanted to have some reviews ready to post earlier for Xmas, but I just couldn’t motivate myself to sit down and put one of them on. As soon as I read my six year-old daughter’s letter to St Nick in early December however, I was ready to rock and roll…
On Christmas Eve in a small Midwestern town, the police search for a killer Santa Claus who is picking off citizens in secluded places. As the bodies begin to pile up, it seems certain that it’s someone who knows the local inhabitants…
So I heard that Silent Night is a semi-remake of Silent Night Deadly Night. I also have no idea what semi-remake means, but after watching, I can say that it’s more of a total re-imaging. We’ve got a killer in the guise of St Nick and a few minor references (including a rehash of one of the killings), but aside from that there’s very little else that you’d recognise. The good news is that the film doesn’t need to borrow from anywhere, because as far as Christmas entries go, it’s one of the best by a country mile.
Slasher movies were as popular as bell-bottom slacks in 2012, so I was over the moon when I found out that this was being developed on a good budget. What we ended up with was proof that there’s still life in the aging recipe if you do it the right way. Steven C Miller -who had previously given us the underrated TV Movie, Scream of the Banshee – does a wonderful job in the hot seat and delivers us a juggernaut of slasher fun that rips and roars it’s way through a slick runtime of thrills.
He doesn’t hang around to introduce audacious killings as the film’s vocal point. Our maniac is on screen from the opening minute and he doesn’t stay away for long thereafter. We are treated to goo by the bucket load, including a gruesome scene where a girl is dismembered and then pushed into a timber cutter. Although her screams of pain are disturbing, the film avoids being too mean-spirited by giving us a reason to dislike the victims before their demise. We also get a head split with an axe, lopped off fingers and a couple of frantic chase scenes before the inevitable money shot. Even if the script looks to be set up like a standard slasher, it works so that we never really know what could happen next and there’s a fine blend of tension in the unravelling of the Police investigation.
I was impressed by the way that the plot breaks the unwritten slasher code with its revelation of the psychopath’s identity, but it all made sense in the end. Jamie King’s Aubrey Bradimore is a tough, likeable and brave heroine that reminds of the ones of old and she delivers by far the best performance of the pack. McDowell is hammy as hell as the sheriff, but he gets the job done and overall the dramatics are suitable for the content. Screenwriter Jayson Rotwell deserves a thumbs up for some memorable dialogue and if lines such as, ‘Don’t put Avocado on the burger’ can’t grab your attention then you’re surely not in tune with the overall mood. Donal Logue, who plays one of the key suspects, gets a strong scene with King in which he talks about why so many people go crazy around the festive period. He highlights that Christmas has become more of a blue-chip marketing tool than a religious celebration and it’s an interesting point that caught my attention.
The final showdown is set-up in an Argento-esque haze of red lights and sprinklers that creates an impressive tone of isolation. Even if the heroine gets a convenient route to escape (she just happened to land next to a loaded weapon), the suspense that surrounds the outcome means that we can easily forgive a bit of unlikely fortune for the good guys. It climaxes with a chance that we haven’t seen the final chapter in this story and let’s keep our fingers crossed that there is still belief amongst financiers that this is a franchise that has legs.
I seriously can’t give Silent Night any higher praise than saying that it’s a perfect tribute to the pictures of old. I was left wanting more and I’m hopeful that there will be other projects in the pipeline that can follow this example.
Slasher films of late seem to have forgotten that they ought to be gory, outrageous and fun. Miller’s entry is the perfect example of these three elements and for that it deserves to be seen. There was criticism that it didn’t bring anything new to the table, but with so many failed attempts at updating the template, I for one was just relieved to see things done the right way.
Final Girl √√√√
The Sleeper 2012
Directed by: Justin Russell
Starring: Brittany Belland, Tiffany Arnold, Riana Ballo
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
One of the best films of last year was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. A stylish mix of Hollywood-noir and action flick, it was propelled by a unique blend of vulnerable, emotional background players and a restrained and mysterious protagonist in Ryan Gosling. It’s deliberate ‘false retro’ ambience gave it an almost hypnotic dream-like vibe. It felt like an eighties throwback that was comfortably seated amongst modern day conventions.
Whilst The Sleeper is nowhere near Drive in terms of its class and quality, it does fully attempt to create a similar environment for its plot to unravel within. Justin Russell has tried admirably on modest funding to capture and transport us back to the glory days of the slasher genre and in a few places, he succeeds.
Of the five-hundred or so slasher films that I have listed in my A-Z, you could say that 85% or more are based on the formula and methodology put in place by John Carpenter’s Halloween. I have often wondered why so few entries borrow from Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, which was another genre template setter that has bundles of neat pluses. Well, The Sleeper is one of those that pays tribute solely to Christmas and aims for the same style of giving its antagonist the chance to convey his presence through prank calls and eerie vocalisation.
It’s 1981 in a snow coated small American town. The girls of Alpha Gamma Theta sorority throw a party and invite two new friends that they met earlier. Unbeknownst to them, they are also joined by an ominous uninvited presence. Hiding in the shadows, he begins watching the youngsters and later continuously calling them and speaking in a spooky deranged tone. After one of the co-eds disappears during the night, the Police are called in. The snow has made travel around the location awkward however, and before long they realise that they are trapped against a vicious and maniacal killer
Shadows Run Black, Home Sweet Home and Don’t go in the Woods. Look at those titles for a second and remember the feeling you had whilst watching them. Now these are awful movies, but they have something that I never find in more modern entries: – an abundance of charm. Whilst The Sleeper doesn’t quite capture the same charisma, it stands apart solely because it at least has the ambition to try. I admire that they have made the effort to cast our minds back to that forgotten period and even if the continuity doesn’t always live up to the intent, it does give the film an authentic allure.
I have never been the biggest fan of killers without masks, but the mysterious and barely characterised (he is billed in the credits simply as ‘The Sleeper’) nut job here does a good enough job of being a creepy bogeyman. His weapon of choice is a claw hammer, which is one that we don’t see used often enough in slasher cinema, and he stalks through the snow with an impressive air of malevolent menace. The first gore scene that we get is said tool smashing the head of a sleeping bunny and to be fair it is extremely fake and paper-mâché-like. I was thinking that the rest would be equally as rubbish, but surprisingly, some of the later murders are really well done, including a couple of gooey throat slashings. I am not sure if it was a good idea that they used the one with the worst effect first, but maybe it was better to get it out of the way as early as possible. Later, one of the girls is seen alone in a swimming pool and as we were on the whole retro/pay tribute tip, I was hoping for a rehash of the memorable hackings from either The Prowler or Fatal Games. That didn’t quite happen, but we still got a well-planned set-piece. I especially liked the hokier than hokey rolling eyes post-decap shot!
Russell’s use of sound is by far the film’s most credible strength. He has put together a decent retro-ish accompaniment on his pocket-money budget and the score during the horror scenes is classy and neat. He manages to pull off the odd shock too and some of his low-angled cinematography is brilliantly structured and very impressive. The long, wide-panned views of the frost coated streets really helped to build the claustrophobia of the small town in peril and the aforementioned haunting theme sets it all off perfectly. There’s a tense chase sequence towards the end, some very good POV stalking shots and a classic slashertastic conclusion that no feature that’s following the typical guidelines should be without. The acting is fairly wooden throughout, but not as bad as others that I have seen and even if the script does have a few glaring inconsistencies, it gets the job done.
By far my favourite part of the movie – and if you love your slashers served with a slice of cheese on top, then you’ll enjoy it too – was the dance scene. Oh my gawd. Think the Lightening Strikes sequence from Small Town Massacre, but worse…much worse. This is where Justin Russell is really showing his knowledge of the category. 80s slashers WERE cheesy and it’s one of the best things for us to notice now when we look back. I read a review somewhere online that was really critical for including this, but obviously that writer didn’t get the joke. I did; and it was surely only played for laughs. They even do the ‘staying alive’ jig…!
I mentioned earlier about the continuity not doing as much as the determination to keep us believing that it’s 1981 and it is perhaps one of the main disappointments about The Sleeper. Whilst $30,000 is very small in terms of a production budget, I think that the wardrobe department could have done a better job to make the girls look more ‘eighties-like’. Their hairstyles and clothes are all very modern and if you caught the feature halfway through, you would never in a million years guess that it was aiming to transport us back thirty years in to the past. You’ve all been to eighties parties, right? You all know how to dress. It’s just a shame that they didn’t work a tiny bit harder with the look of the characters to add the finishing touch. Blood Junkie did a much better job and that was made for similar funds. Also, the rotary-dial phone was a neat addition, but it’s just a bit weird that they forgot about it when decorating the Police chief’s office. It’s either that they didn’t notice, or he had been time traveling and grabbed himself a digital touch-tone and brought it back from the future to show off to his colleagues on the force 😉
The IMDB has numerous user reviews listed for this feature, but they are bewildering and a terrible guide for prospective audiences. There are one or two that have rated the movie as a 10/10, which leads me to believe that they were written by people with an affiliation to the production team as a form of prior marketing. Then there are many that are at a stingy 1/10, which is the complete opposite end of the scale and it seems like they were posted by someone with something against those behind the flick or the director. A more realistic score would be 5.5 as The Sleeper has some really nice and interesting touches. Slasher films are meant to be fun and I can only appreciate the fact that someone would have enough love for the genre to go the full hog and helm a real tribute. A tribute that even references the time when horror and in particular slasher cinema was really hot stuff.
I hope that we get to see a few more titles this year and I would also like to see another effort from señor Russell in the near future