Reviews by Luis Joaquín González
a SLASH abover Paul Morris sent me an email a while back asking why I don’t review many slasher shorts on the site. I guess the reason is because I post a review once a week and I’m used to covering a feature-length movie. There’s only so much that you can say about a film that’s a few minutes long and I write about 800 words about each flick that I watch. Then suddenly it dawned on me, why don’t I just review a few together!?! Ta-da. (It’s hardly inventing the wheel, but you have to understand that sometimes, I’m not the quickest)
So, every now and then from here on out, I’ll post an update here that’ll feature the shorts that I’ve watched and my opinion on them. I own quite a few and with many I have zero information on how they were put together. I apologise in advance if I don’t provide all you need, but they’ll all be slashers and I’ll give what I can:
Dead Air 2014
Directed by: Zac Morris. Running time: 6 Minutes
Set at a dorm party on Halloween night no less, Dead Air focuses on revenge for a prank that went wrong some time ago. At just over five-minutes, it’s a fun little flick, but doesn’t particularly explode with an abundance of potential film making quality. Whilst it’s creatively shot, the killings are all off-screen, I didn’t think much of the performances and there are no new gimmicks or tweaks to the formula. Cool black mask though and I will admit, if this was a teaser for an up and coming slasher, I would be adding it to my ‘to watch list’.
I, Murderer 2014
Directed by Dipayan Chatterjee. Running Time: 7 minutes
A poignant and disturbing seven-minute flick from India that will certainly make you think. I don’t agree that the slasher genre is the right place for political or campaign messages, but I’ll make an exception here because it truly is beautifully shot and professionally edited. If we forget about the concept for a moment, we can credit the haunting mask and musical accompaniment, which is top-class. I guess in this over-populated rat-race of a world that we live in, we need to think more about this subject, take precaution and as we say in Spain, controlarse y tened cuidado.
Fear the Reaper2004
Directed by Keith Munden. Running Time: 28 minutes
The first of Munden’s Reaper trilogy, this one tells the tale of a supernatural murderous being that’s stalking and murdering youngsters around a small residential area. A plump teen has a bizarre connection with the killer and sees what he does in visions and dreams, which means she must try to stop him. A few good moments that border on suspense are ruined by a disjointed flow and the fact that we can barely see anything some of the time. Even when we are given clear day shots, it’s still tough to follow, because the plot has the narration of melted ice cream and even repeats a few minutes of the SAME scene toward the conclusion. I can only presume that the editor was with his friend LSD when he put this together. Still, for a big fat 0 budget, it does show signs of potential here and there.
Directed by Steve Goltz. Running Time: 11 minutes
After a group of kids run down an old man by a roadside, a masked killer follows them camping to take revenge. Here we have the debut movie from Slasher Studios; the team that would go on to bring us Dismembering Christmas and Don’t Go to the Reunion. It’s a dose of extreme slasherism that’s confidently produced and tells an entire I Know What You Did Last Summer-type story in eleven-minutes, which is some achievement. Keeping in mind the bite size runtime, the characters are well conveyed and the film goes all out to impress. A true tribute to everything that we love about slashers, the use of the teddy bear and a cool mask are welcome inclusions. With four murders, some gore and a sex scene, you get bang for your buck, it’s just a shame they couldn’t chuck in some suspense. Still, as slasher shorts go, it’s a definite must see.
She’s Not Alone 2012
Directed by Mike Streeter. Running Time: 8 minutes
The slasher genre went through a bizarre referential phase recently, where there were a host of entries that played like Z-grade Elvis tribute acts to the peak period. I can honestly say that I can’t name many that managed to pull off the retro gimmick as well as this classy and stylishly directed addition from Mike Streeter (a name to watch). Everything from the music, props, fashion and style is pure nostalgia. It annoys me with shorts that if crews only need to fulfil a few minutes of screen time, why can’t they make the most of each shot. We are given a plethora of good camera work during SNA and even some tricks that Carpenter himself would have been proud of. In fact, if someone told me that Carpenter had directed this, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to question. I can’t give She’s Not Alone any more credit that that.
Pesadilla Sangrienta 2006
Directed by Marceleo Cabrera/Felipe Paredes. Running Time: 7 minutes
A pretty nothing-ness slasher movie that was likely filmed on a cheap mobile phone. Zero dialogue, zero gore and you can’t see what’s going on most of the time. No real story with this one outside of a guy with a Guns n Roses-era Slash-style haircut stalking a girl that has one too, which only adds to the confusion. It’s great that people make slashers at home, but I can’t give them credit if they’re this bad.
Directed by Ryan Shovey. Running Time: 12 minutes
This one was originally meant as a teaser for a feature length slasher that thus far hasn’t materialised. It’s a shame, because Hunter really is a superb slice of slasherism that much like She’s Not Alone, shows heavy Carpenter influences. It’s set inside a house and so we don’t get given much space, but Shovey delivers suspense, shocks and some Argento-alike camera tricks. The killer is creepy as hell too. What I thought worked best was the fact that we got to know the two characters in only twelve-minutes, which was a sign of good scripting. I understand that the director is working on another slasher movie, so let’s hope it turns out to be as stylish as this.
Title Unknown 2011
Directed by Unkown. Running Time: 9 minutes
I have no information on this one or even its title, which is a shame because I kind of have a soft spot for it. The whole production reminded me of mid-nineties SOV titles like Savage Vows and it has a similar type of attractive obscurity. It tells the tale of an ambitious Deputy that wants to rid the town of a vicious masked killer, but the Sheriff is less eager, which raises suspicion in the eyes of the apprentice. Whilst there’s no gore and the score has been borrowed from other hits (even Halloween), the killer’s mask (reminiscent of the Monk from Terror Train) and a couple of impressive shots make this one interesting. It’s by no means a polished example of great filmmaking, but it gains points because it’s so reminiscent of the days of buying cheap VHS from stores/websites.
Directed by David Dinetz, Dylan Trussell . Running Time: 8 minutes
Chainsaw was presented by Eli Roth and it tells the tale of a huge maniac stalking a Haunted House at a theme park. It’s certainly amongst the most gratuitous shorts that I’ve witnessed and includes some extremely graphic shots of a chainsaw-blade cutting into flesh. Whilst it is an extremely modern picture with its MTV flash cuts and CGI, it had an interesting comment on voyeurism, which was a key theme of Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse. Bizarrely, the intro reminded me of the brilliant Derek Cianfrance drama, The Place Beyond the Pines. Definitely one for gore hounds.
Panic Fear 2015
Directed by John Francis Conway III. Running Time: 5 minutes
Panic Fear won’t take up too much of your time, but it makes a statement with its structured shots and inventive camera placement. I appreciated the lengths that the director went to for realism by demonstrating how victimised we would be if a similar scenario were to strike when we least expect it. The smart use of muffled external sound worked wonders to set-up the theme of a killer invading a place of complete seclusion: our home. In fact, this one becomes more scary upon post reflection. I’ve seen thousands of people butchered in slasher films, but this one just felt a little more ruthless than usual.
Directed by Jarno Mahlberg. Running Time: 12 minutes
If I had to compare this Finnish slasher with any other that I’d reviewed of late, then it would have to be Murhapukki, which funnily enough hails from… Finland. Whilst I don’t like horror comedies that go out of their way to try to be funny, I’m a big fan of black humour or a slice of the tongue in cheek. Axecutioner overcomes its low budget with a huge chunk of fun that I thoroughly enjoyed. There’s some very cheap gore that is creatively displayed and the outlandish camera angles are Scott Spiegel-esque. It’s as standard as could possibly be in terms of plot (three guys go to a cabin in the woods to drink whilst there’s a masked nut on the loose), but it ticks the boxes with its overall campiness. This one reminded of cheesy eighties hits without broadcasting that it’s doing so.
Time to Die 2011
Directed by Madness INC. Running Time: 10 minutes
Whilst on the subject of Horror Comedies that work, here we have one on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. At nine minutes and thirty-nine seconds, Time to Die is nine minutes and thirty-eight seconds too long. From what I could make out from the bad audio, it tells the tale of a group of misfits that have paid for a time share or something along those lines to explain away the threadbare plot. Before long, a killer that looks like a throwback from the Kiss glam metal era offs a handful of them in slapstick ways. Look I appreciate that this is just a group of friends having fun, but I have to call it as I see it and what I saw sucked like a mosquito on steroids. To make a comedy work, you either need jokes that are, well, funny or an obvious source code for what you’re mocking. I had no idea what was going on here and wish they hadn’t have bothered. In fact, it made me wish it was time to…
Killer on the Loose 2015
Directed by Mark Baliff. Running Time: 15 minutes
Here we have an expertly taut and cunningly smart slasher from director Mark Baliff that definitely needs to be seen. It demonstrates style right from an opening credit sequence that incorporates a handful of creative shots of Halloween props to build the tone. We then cut to a blood stained girl that’s fleeing a hockey mask sporting stranger. She manages to sneak into an unoccupied house where a cat and mouse game of hide and seek begins with the would-be assailant. Killer on the Loose includes a bundle of references to Halloween and Friday the 13th (including an abode very similar to the Myers House and Night of the Living Dead playing on the TV). It’s no carbon copy though and builds up to a unique and impressive conclusion. What really stood out for me, aside from the aforementioned structured shots, was a strong use of sound and gothic lighting. If the slasher genre is left in the hands of filmmakers like Señor Baliff, we have loads to look forward to.
The Welder 2015
Directed by Justin Cauti. Running Time: 15 minutes
Three girls head to their college to meet Trey, the boyfriend of Alex, who’s celebrating her birthday. Little do they know that a psychopathic Welder that was mutilated ten-years earlier is back for revenge. With a decent budget, killer guise, location and score, I was disappointed that this one wasn’t better. Most of the characters are the brash-cocky-brat-type that ruined a plethora of post-Scream entries, except one; but he doesn’t last long enough to make an impression. With nothing to attract me to the victims, I was hoping for some gore or suspense, but aside from a couple of interesting shots, it was mainly put-together with minimal flair. It’s hard to find fault with the hulking maniac and his deranged heavy breath, but the film lacks the polish of others I’ve reviewed here. Still a killer Welder is a good idea for a feature length picture guys..
Directed by Will Morris. Running Time: 4 minutes
Porkchop was so bad that it ruined the concept of a cool killer ‘Pig Head’ guise. Thankfully, Squeal improves upon the lacklustre Chop but still falls short of giving us a great and gratuitous gammon gore fest. It tells the tale of a group of girls at a party that are stalked by said maniacal assassin; but this guy has a deranged but intriguing motive for his attacks. As expected, he looks pretty menacing clutching a scythe, but some awful acting and overuse of a strobe effect prevents the film from really impressing.
Night Night Nancy 2011
Directed by Lewis Farinella. Running Time: 5 minutes
I have often believed that surrealism would be a good blend with the Slasher genre, but in fairness we haven’t seen many attempts at introducing the concept. The idea here was definitely to make a visual interpretation of a bad dream and the net result was fairly impressive. A young girl wakes up alone and discovers that there’s a masked intruder in her house and so she tries desperately to escape his clutches. What I really liked about Night Night Nancy was the killer’s awkward limp and deranged breathing, which really gave the impression that he/she was seriously disturbed. I also thought that incorporating a mobile phone as a source of terror was smart and the conclusion conveyed a nightmarish quality. The final girl made some silly decisions, but mostly it worked well.
Forest Falls 2012
Directed by Ryan McDuffie. Running Time: 27 minutes
At just under half an hour, Falls is longer than many on this page and it’s also one of the most unique that I’ve featured. The plot line starts as have a million others, with a group of teens heading up to a secluded camp site to indulge in some beer drinking and partying. It’s when the killer reveals himself BEFORE starting the bloodletting that the film heads off on a pathway that’s ambitiously uncommon. Whilst I am not really sure if I enjoyed everything I saw here, I can’t knock director Ryan McDuffie for trying to break the mould. Our masked killer is no Jason Voorhees wannabee and dispatches his victims rapidly with a handgun, which takes the ‘slash’ out of any slasher flick. I also didn’t think that knowing who the killer was from the outset worked, because it removed any intrigue or mystery that may have made him more ominous. Still, there’s no denying that Falls is expansively produced and I was impressed by some of the acting. The sets are slick and well-lighted and the movie opens with a Doo-Wop song, which added some real culture. It’s just that for me, guns in slashers are like sausages at a Vegan banquet – totally out of place. The film just couldn’t recover from that.
Midnight Man 2011
Directed by Kyle Stackhouse. Running Time: 4 minutes
Midnight Man is another of the many shorts that chooses a ‘one woman alone in apartment’ set-up to deliver some creative visuals. Here we have a maniac with a creepy mask (reminded me of the the antagonist from Final Scream) stalking a blonde female in her bedroom. The director uses some neat sound and a couple of Carpenter-alike ‘boogeyman looming in the background’ shots to add class, but it’d been nice to have seen more of a struggle from the victim or even a chase sequence.
Pizza Man 2015
Directed by Todd Condit. Running Time: 5 minutes
Interesting idea for a slasher movie, where the boogeyman is your Pizza Delivery guy! In honesty, these couriers get a hard time, because they bare the brunt of your wrath if the food’s late (even if it’s rarely their fault) and they don’t get a tip as would a Taxi driver. Shot in black and white, Pizza Man plays well on the fact that waiting around for a meal is the most antagonising thing in the history of food. Whilst there’s not a lot of suspense in the way the stalking is rolled out, we do get some gore and a killer Delivery Guy who’d make a great spouse for the chick from Pizza Girl Massacre don’t you think?
Directed by Steve Piché. Running Time: 3 minutes
Well this one wins the award for the shortest title of today’s post at under 180 seconds, but that surprisingly doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. A Slash abover Martin was involved in the production of this one over ten years ago and he kindly allowed me to review it for you all today. It only shows the stalking and slashing of an unfortunate wanderer, but there’s definitely a chunk of credibility on display. We get some nice low camera angles, a machete through cranium killing and a slow stalking maniac in a burlap sack, which regular readers will know is my favourite guise.
Tear Her 2014
Directed by Ricky Bird. Running Time: 6 minutes
Creepy little short from Hectic films that was made as a tribute to watching scary movies on VHS and dealing with inconsistent tracking. Rather than reminisce about my VCR though, the mazy screen and some chilling sound effects gave Tear Her a nightmarish feel, which helped to make it fresh. It shows a killer in a terrifying mask stalking an unfortunate model in a large dilapidated complex, which may not be much in terms of novel scripting, but works because it’s uniquely put together. I always have believed that the best horror is the type that goes the extra mile. Tear her does just that
Prom Night 1980
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens
Review by Luis Joaquín González
This is another of those titles that to be honest, I should have covered on the site long ago. It was only when a SLASH abover, Ned, gave me a kick up the backside by reminding me that I hadn’t yet posted my thoughts on it that I converted it to MP4 and added it to my iPhone 6 Plus playlist.
Back in the days when I was hunting through video shops for slasher films, Prom Night was one of those that I couldn’t find for love nor money. I’d seen images of Jamie Lee Curtis facing off with a balaclava sporting nut job and had believed that it would be a classic slice of eighties special-ness. With a top-notch cast and a comparatively big budget, my eleven year-old brain saw nothing but slasher-tastic satisfaction. Eventually it got another limited VHS release and the nice guys at HMV (RIP) ordered me a pristine copy. Without a review to browse through (children of the Internet don’t know how lucky they are) I was on the bus home and fully expectant to enjoy a rival for Halloween.
A disfigured maniac that was accused of a heinous crime, breaks out of his asylum and heads back to the location of the event from a decade earlier. It’s Prom Night at the main high-school and Kim is highly emotional. Not only is she set to be the Prom queen, but it’s also the ten-year anniversary of the death of her younger sister – the victim of the escapee. When the body of a young nurse is found gruesomely slashed, it looks like the loony is up to his old tricks.
At the tender age of 16, I was mad about cars. No I’m not talking about toys; I’m talking about the real fuel-guzzling automobiles. I saved up some money from my weekend job and purchased a 1982 Ford Fiesta from a newspaper and fell madly in love. Over the year whilst I was waiting to pass my test, I bought a set of gold-coloured alloy wheels, a chrome exhaust system, a race carburettor, tinted windows and neon lights for the number plate. When I finally got my driving license, I was ready to hit the road, but just as I’d turned the first corner, the clutch went. A week later, it was the entire gearbox. I got it towed to the garage and they noticed that nasty brown rust had been devouring the floorboards. My world was shattered, but the car wasn’t worth the sum of the parts that I’d placed upon it, so it had to be scrapped.
Watching Prom Night after many years reminded me of that Fiesta so much. First things first, the film is beautifully shot and DP Robert New has done an amazing job of planning his photography with grace and dynamism. The opening scene takes place inside an abandoned school and there’s an adept aura of isolation and spookiness that surrounds the child actors. Paul Zaza’s scoring is as creepy as always and the film lets you know from the off that it’s slickly put-together. When our key players are introduced, they are awarded the space and time to bond with the audience and it’s interesting how the script hints that humans develop a specific personality trait that maturity doesn’t alter. It was almost as if they were subtlety stating that if you’re born with a nasty streak, it’s likely that you’ll stay that way unless you decide to change. During the story development parts, the underscoring of horror is provided by some stalking scenarios and the killer phoning and threatening his intended victims. This concept was clearly lifted from Black Christmas and shows that Prom Night is a slasher movie that knew its target audience. We get very few, if any, attempts at innovation and the crisp rolling photography through the town where this was filmed may well have been left-over footage from Carpenter’s Halloween. As with Humongous, Lynch was certainly a director that wasn’t ashamed of looting from his peers.
Jaime Lee Curtis heads up a note-perfect group of performers and I couldn’t point out any weaknesses in the casting. This was Peter Simpson’s first foray into slasherdom and the success that he received led him to begin development on the far more authentic Curtains. Prom Night was a big hit upon its release and is widely regarded as one of the genre’s most recognised features. Going back to the Fiesta that I told you about above though, the strong dramatics, superb score and lush photography don’t conceal the film’s limp and predictable spine.
Robert Guza’s script is extremely focused on its mystery, but we are given far too many clues to the maniac’s true identity. They were expecting the unmasking scene to be something of a shock, however it is obviously diluted by the fact that it’s exactly who we expected it to be. It’s almost like the screenwriters didn’t think that their audience would be smart enough to face a compelling puzzle without assistance. I felt that a lot of effort was wasted focussing on numerous red-herrings, when perhaps what the movie really needed was a larger impetus on generating suspense. It’s impossible to deny that Lynch is a director that shoots with panache and draws the best from his cast, but with Prom Night – I noticed this with Humongous too – there’s just never an air of unpredictability. Once we’ve picked who will survive, we know that they’re untouchable and it takes the tension away from the rest getting killed. It’s strange that a filmmaker so inspired by John Carpenter didn’t recognise the necessity of keeping his viewers hooked. Perhaps he just couldn’t pull it off.
Still, there’s a lot of silly eighties stuff, including a bizarre Saturday Night Fever-like boogie scene towards the climax. I also found it hard to keep a straight face when Jamie Lee called Leslie Nielsen’s character a ‘Disco King’ whilst he was awkwardly bopping like a one-legged ostrich. Oh and the fat joker guy in this one actually pulls (and scores) with a chica. So there was one authentic aspect after all ;).
Prom Night is a well-produced slasher movie that has moments of creepiness that are truly well delivered. It’s just a shame that it feels too much like a Halloween rip off and even lacks the authenticity of titles like: Friday the 13th, The Prey, Unhinged, The Unseen, Silent Scream, Small Town Massacre, My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler, American Nightmare or even Graduation Day, Happy Birthday To Me and Embalmed. Also, the fact that it’s never really scary is a sin that, for such a visually competent picture, is hard to forgive…
Left For Dead 2007
aka Devil’s Night
Directed by: Christopher Harrison
Starring: Steve Byers, Danielle Harris, Shawn Roberts
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Halloween has become far more significant than just a reason to dress up for slasher enthusiasts. After the success and legacy of the seminal film of that title, it will always be known to us as ‘The night he came home’. I first saw Carpenter’s classic on the 31st of October 1987 and I launched a SLASH above around the same date in 2011, which makes this the site’s third year on the net. Happy Birthday and all that.
As it is such a momentous day, I generally try to find a suitable slasher film to mark the occasion and this year I’ve chosen Left for Dead. Despite decent funding and a cast including scream queen Danielle Harris, Christopher Harrison’s entry has become surprisingly obscure. Not many of the leading slasher sites have bothered with it and it is hard to find a copy to buy online. It was produced with a large amount of PR and I remember reading an exciting preview in Fangoria back in 2007 before everything went quiet. It snuck out direct to Canadian TV some two-years later with much less media coverage and didn’t hit disc format right up until 2012. It’s never a good sign when that happens, so I wasn’t expecting too much.
After an unfortunate event in an early scene, which leaves a kid dead, a group of youngsters promise to keep it a secret and they get on with their lives. The next Halloween, they decide to have a fancy dress party, but it becomes apparent that someone is watching their every move…
To be fair, there are quite a few things that Left for Dead gets right. For example, the killer turns up almost immediately and once he’s on screen, there’s never a huge gap between one murder and the next. Harrison as a director is all about visuals and the majority of the first half of the movie is filled with girls with ample cleavages, cheesy fancy dress costumes and bright colours. He also tries to get the best out of his (admittedly below average) cast, especially when they’re speaking one on one. There’s a good example of this in an early scene where Danielle Harris and her boyfriend, played by Steve Byers, converse. Whilst it’s impossible to say how much of this was down to the creativity of the actors, the scene is nicely set-up and convincingly portrayed. Little things like this are important to see in a feature film and even if you don’t notice them initially, subconsciously you will.
Another thing worth mentioning is that there’s no doubt that Harrison is a fan of the slasher genre and eagle-eyed viewers will notice many tributes to titles like Maniac (the shotgun through windscreen murder), Fatal Games (victim on crutches), Friday the 13th Part II (spear through lovemaking couple) and Halloween. Oh yes, he’s a fan of Halloween alright; so much so in fact that he duplicated entire sequences… And the score. I don’t have a problem with this though, because it is fun playing the recognition game and makes you feel all wise and knowledgeable on the genre. The only issue though is that it seems that the director was more interested in showing us his inspirations than concentrating on making a credible entry that future pictures could reference themselves.
I have complained previously about overlong character development, but Left for Dead doesn’t seem to have much at all. Most of the time I couldn’t recognise one person from the next and once we had defined the main players, we really didn’t get any backdrop on the others. Not only did this mean that we couldn’t care less about what happened to them, but it had a devastating effect on the mystery. When the culprit is finally revealed, it was like, who was that again? Did I miss something? Erm… Ok…
Still there’s a fair few murders and despite a disappointing lack of gore or suspense, it’s worth watching for the most part. A missed opportunity to be sure, but it’s at least worth a look.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √
aka Phantom of the Cinema
Directed by: Mark Herrier
Starring: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
For the slasher cycle, Popcorn was a whole lot more than just another genre retread…
You see, there weren’t really any other cinematic styles around during the eighties that could multiply a budget as easily as a stalk and slash flick. Drama? You either needed De Niro, Pacino, a Costner or someone like a Mickey Rourke; and they’re not cheap. Action? Good shout. But explosions, fake M60s, stuntmen and helicopters can also drain a monetary resource pool. Ok so what about a chick flick? Again always popular at the box office if they’re done well, but can you name me one without a megabucks pairing? Obviously not. No, it’s decided – when it comes to a quick and relatively easy way for a producer to make a fortune, nothing does it like a slasher does it.
But the small problem was that the good old milk laden cash cow had run bone dry midway through the eighties and left only a couple of major franchises to mop up the proceeds. If anything, Popcorn was a hand pushed in to the bath to test the temperature of the water before entry in to a bold new decade. A film well financed enough to get publicity, which boasted a great cast, cool location, neat gimmick and good marketing strategy. If it had been a success I predict we would have had a start to the nineties that would have mirrored the previous decade with a million wannabe duplicates. In effect, this was the first slasher since 1988 to be given actual backing from big studio players like Bob Clark and Ashtok Amiritraj. The only problem was that it flopped. Drastically.
But the biggest question is why?
A group of drama students are given the opportunity to renovate an old cinema for an all night horror-thon. At first, they’re less than impressed, but when they’re told that there may be some budget left over to make their own movie, they all climb aboard. Many years ago on that site, a deranged film cult screened ‘Possession’, which resulted in a few murders and then a big fire within which the aggressor supposedly perished. When sweet student Maggie begins seeing him in her nightmares and conspicuous things start happening, it seems that he’s returned.
Not only is Popcorn a belated entry to the slasher catalogue, which utilises all the traditional trappings, but it’s also a tribute to the notorious B-Movies of the fifties. We should keep in mind that Bob Clark would have grown up on the features of Christian Nyby, Andre De Toth and even Edward Wood, so it makes sense that he would want to reference them here. Popcorn is fun to watch, because when we are not seeing the black gloved killer get to work, we are enjoying full scenes of the films that the audience are watching.
It was shot in Jamaica, which was something of an intriguing slice of trivia. At first I though that it may have been a collaboration of sorts between the two countries, but I couldn’t find any evidence of a producer from JM. The film does however have a very fun reggae/pop play-list. Hell it even has a reggae band that come on and play for no apparent reason halfway through! Keep in mind that this was an era when Chaka Demus and Pliers, Bitty McClean and Shabba Ranks were regulars in the charts and the choice does not seem so unusual. In fact, I rather enjoyed the refreshing soundtrack.
The cast are pretty good in lightweight roles. I was thinking of giving Tom Villard a mention for a solid performance, but then just as I thought that, he went completely overboard with the hyper-acting and got lost somewhat. The gorgeous Jill Schoelen gives another great wide-eyed babe in the woods portrayal and easily manages to win over the audience. We last saw her in genre entry Cutting Class and it strikes me that of the three ‘stars’ that appeared in that flick, only the weakest performer on that occasion built a superstar career. Whilst everyone in the world knows the name and face of Brad Pitt; Schoelen gave up on movies to be a mother and never really fulfilled her potential. Despite the fact that everyone here is little more than a cliché, the characters are likeable and the villain is fun.
Perhaps I was tired (or drunk) at the time, but the twist really caught me off-guard. It was (for me) totally unexpected. It made sense too. There’s some far fetched examples of the maniac’s ability to camouflage himself, but they only add to the thick…THICK dollops of cheese. Yes; and I mean pure and unadulterated cheese. This is like a fondue festival and despite its nineties release date, could seriously be a contender for cheesiest movie of all time. SERIOUSLY. Everything from the bubblegum toons to the wacky costumes (it even incorporates fancy dress) is campy comedy at its best (or worst)
So with so much fun to be had, why was Popcorn such a flop? Good question. To be honest, it’s hard to understand exactly what happened, but the problems that plagued production certainly didn’t help. Original director Alan Ormsby disagreed on a few plot points and walked off the shoot, which unsettled his choice for the lead actress, Amy O’Neill and she soon followed after three-weeks of filming. Schoelen was a more than adequate replacement, but the script reeks of obvious re-writes and missing scenes.
The thing is though, many slasher movies suffered similar troubles behind the scenes and to the untrained eye, Popcorn’s riddles aren’t outstandingly obvious. So what else was wrong? Was it tad too diluted? (There’s no real gore anywhere throughout). Maybe it was just a wee-bit sillier than it should have been? Was it the extreme lack of a mean spirit? I think more realistically, cinema audiences had moved on from masked killers and screaming teens and the reputation of such flicks being incompetently made and embarrassingly bad was still in its fullest of flows back then. It’s a shame, because looking back now it’s actually a really quirky little gem.
Popcorn’s failure to grab an audience most definitely signified the death of the studio slasher flick and it would take the success of Scream five-years later to reignite the sub genre. Still, this deserved a lot more than it received and should be remembered as a decent entry that had everything except luck.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√√
Blood Symbol 1992
Directed by: Maurice Devereaux
Starring: Maurice Devereaux, Micheline Richard, Sophie Dion
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Maurice Devereux’s Blood Symbol took no less than seven years to finally acquire a release. Production began in mid 1984 and due to financial restraints plus a few cast-related problems, the movie stayed on the shelves until 1991. When you consider the changes that you as a person have been through in the past eighty-four months, you must admit that its amazing really that this wasn’t just left half-finished to gather cobwebs in a small dark cupboard. The hack and slash cycle was still fairly hot property in the mid-eighties. Unfortunately by the time that this had finally snuck onto shelves, audiences for these flicks were much smaller, which couldn’t have made it easy for Devereux. That’s a real shame, because Blood Symbol boasts an intriguing premise that combines elements from the abysmal Blood Cult and the cheese feast that is Hack-O-Lantern with a few directorial flourishes that could allow it to secure a place amongst the independent slasher elite.
The opening scene sees two young females being pursued through the woods by a group of hooded torch-wielding cult members. Devereux uses some pacey hand-held camera shots to make the chase scenes feel as pulse-rising as possible. The youngsters cannot out run the sadistic worshippers and when they’re finally caught, their harrowing screams shatter the murky night sky. After a great credit sequence, we skip a century or so to what we presume is the midst of the eighties and we’re introduced to our hapless heroine. Tracy Walker (Micheline Richard) has been having strange nightmares, which involve a creepy scar faced figure and a bizarre satanic symbol. When she is stalked at school by a similar black-gloved spectre, Tracy decides to look up the origins of the symbol at her college library. She uncovers a book that details the history of the motif, which involves a Satan worshipping cult that possessed a history of sacrificial slaughter throughout the late nineteenth century. Before long the nightmares become a reality as one of Tracy’s student friends disappears and the psychopathic stalker begins closing in on the petrified female.
As I said earlier, people change drastically over seven years. I myself must admit that I am thirty now – and scared to step on the scales! It’s interesting then to see how leading lady Micheline Richard seems to swap waist measurements prolifically from one scene to another. She kicks off the movie playing baseball and looking the part as a fresh-faced teenager, but every now and then she ages dramatically as one shot swaps with the next. It probably didn’t help matters that she had a bust up with the director three quarters of the way through production and a few later parts had to be filmed using a body double.
Despite these visual discrepancies, Blood Symbol manages to create a few decent shocks and scares throughout the runtime. Many of the nightmare sequences are shot in black and white and Devereux shows imagination behind the camera with some energetic photography and intriguing set pieces. There’s a terrific stalking sequence, which sees the director imitate John Carpenter’s flair for building suspense in the background behind the screen’s focal point. The first murder is equally creditable, because it mixes some squirm-inducing blood gushing with panache photography. The killer himself looks like a cross between Cropsy and the psychopath from City of Panic in a fedora, dark rain coat and ‘psycho’s only’ gloves. To be honest it would have been nice to see him perhaps slaughter a few more teenagers, because Blood Symbol contains a little too much stalking and not enough slashing. Still, the occasions when he was called to stain his trident with blood were good enough and fairly unique
As with all B-grade slasher obscurities, the performances in Blood Symbol are fairly patchy. It’s perhaps unjust to the original actors however as the movie was dubbed to cover their French-Canadian accents. It was shot on both 8mm and 16mm film and the differences in quality are obvious throughout. A few reviews that I’ve read elsewhere have criticised the choice for the ending, which to be fair does pop up from out of the blue and leave a few unanswered questions. I didn’t really feel that the final scene was too far out of place, because it made a refreshing change from the typical clichéd sequences that have been re-used continuously throughout the slasher genre since 1978.
Blood Symbol is certainly worth a look and has just enough potential to lift it above some of the B movie plop from this point of the genre. A few unpleasant gore scenes and some energetic Carpenter-inspired cinematography make this an above average thriller with a Satanic sheen. It has become extremely rare on VHS, but the recent success of Maurice Devereux’s latest title (Slashers) means that this could soon acquire a DVD release…
Final Girl √√√
Happy Birthday to Me 1981
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lesleh Donaldson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
You could be instantly forgiven for expecting the obvious. I mean by the time this was released we’d already had Graduation Day, My Bloody Valentine, Black Christmas, Friday the 13th, et al; so what was left to terrorise in terms of notable calendar dates? Well hey; everyone has a birthday, right? Whereas the majority of titles that I’d mentioned were more or less clones of the buzzing slasher genre’s biggest hits, Happy Birthday to me stands apart. This is simply because it has enough wit and dare I say it, intelligence to already display subtle self recognition.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no parody, but has enough in its rucksack to satisfy fans of thrillers, eighties retro and anyone who has popcorn and is looking for a damn good time.
Canada certainly held its own in terms of releases during the period’s golden age and if Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine and Terror Train don’t do enough to convince you, then Curtains or American Nightmare certainly should. It can be argued that in terms of credible output, the Canadians were slightly ahead of their neighbors when analysing the average quality of overall releases. We also can’t forget that John Dunning and Peter Simpson played huge parts in the cycle’s early successes. I spoke to the gorgeous and extremely talented Lesleh Donaldson who featured in this, Curtains and Funeral Home. She told me that she loved working on all of those pictures, but Birthday is probably her favourite.
The top ten students of Crawford Academy begin mysteriously disappearing. We see that they are being murdered by a black-gloved nut job. The question is, in such a close clique, who could have a motive to kill?
Many dorm slashers mixed gruesome high-jinks with frat humour during the length of the period, but not many managed to merge the two opposing styles with the finesse of Happy Birthday to me. The strength of the performances here helps the plot to flow smoothly, and each character stands out without ever coming across as forced or overbearing.
John Saxton’s story focuses not only on developing its players, but also on sustaining its mystery and unlike the majority of genre entries that were painfully easy to solve, Birthday’s slick script delivers an outstanding puzzle. There are a few obvious red-herrings that’s are meant to be that way, but if you tell me that you managed to figure out the killer’s identity before he’s been unmasked without assistance – then I’m sorry, but I find that hard to believe. There are a few slashers that have explosive revelations that you can notice big holes in when you think about them thereafter (Urban Legend?). Birthday on the other hand provides a tense knot of twists that make sense when unraveled.
From 1979 to 1983 there was a war raging. No, I’m not talking about the Cold War, Vietnam or outbreaks on the Gaza strip. This was the kind of stuff that the commandos in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket were talking about. It was the time of the battles to see who could come up with the most creative, gratuitous or bloody ways to kill someone on screen – otherwise known as ‘the gore wars‘! The teenage casualties were extremely high and an extensive campaign was broadcasted in box offices across the globe. Sororities, frat houses, summer camps and the like became the targets for numerous masked-killers and psychopaths. This regiment under the command of General J. Lee Thompson had a strategy to be the most creative teen-killer of the conflict. Have you even seen someone killed with a Shish Kebab skew for example?
The murders here were indeed ingenious and what they lacked in suspense they made up for with sheer audacity. It was said that in order to keep the tone running throughout, the director threw gallons of blood everywhere during the shoot and these behind-the-scenes motivations must’ve made the production a dream to work on. Lesleh told me that when the crew were filming the Birthday party scene, which puts all of the previously killed character’s corpses around a table, she took a walk around Montreal with Richard Riberie at lunch time, whilst they were still in their full make-up. Imagine the stares that they received –- it must’ve been a blast! The main version of the film that you’ll buy from the shelves is an edited print, but I have seen the uncut bootleg, which adds about a minute in total (maybe a tad more) to all the killings. I thought the motorcycle and weightlifting slaughters were very well done in their entirety and it’s a shame that they haven’t yet made it to DVD. We can only keep our fingers crossed in hope.
As I mentioned above, the quality of the dramatics is perhaps one of the strongest elements of the feature. It’s not that every actor gets a chance to show their full emotional range, but what they are asked to do, they do superbly and they’re all operating on the same wavelength, which helps no end with the chemistry that makes the characters come alive. Melissa Sue Anderson gets some MASSIVE scenes and she carries them off credibly, whilst only stumbling on the odd occasion. She was given a couple of tricky sequences and a lot of screen time to win over the audience. It could have been tempting, perhaps, to play the role a whole lot straighter. In the end, she chose the right mix of moods to maintain the necessary intrigue.
There’s an incredibly good score that caused controversy for Sony when they released a new updated copy of the film in 2004. Some of the music had been replaced with new pieces, including the eerie piano piece from the opening. It came as a real disappointment for slasher fans that wanted the original in better quality but as they remembered it. The best available version of the feature deserves to be seen in the best possible format because it is so beautifully put together that it acts as a reminder from a time when slasher movies could command solid casts and bigger budgets.
So what complaints do I have? Well none so bad that they affect my rating. You can’t really compare Birthday with Halloween as it offers a completely different vibe. I mean, sure this is a slasher movie, but it’s the Brazilian carnival of slasher movies – all wacky visuals and extreme levels of fun with more twists than a tower staircase.
I loved this cheeseball and it’s definitely in the all time top-ten.
* Massive thanks to Lesleh Donaldson for her help – what a lovely, warm person she is!.
Final Girl √√√
My Bloody Valentine 1981
Directed by: George Mihalka
Starring: Paul Kelman, Neil Affleck and Lori Hallier
Updates review from the release date of the special edition DVD
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
And so… the slasher ‘Holy Grail’ has been re-discovered and after thirty years of patience, we can finally see the almost-complete version of this hugely popular early-eighties genre piece.
Notorious for being the film most tortured by censors upon its initial release, My Bloody Valentine has become something of a cult classic with a large number of fans. Even the most lukewarm horror enthusiast must admit to being slightly excited by the prospect of witnessing all the notorious gore that has, up until now, only been seen in a set of studio stills. The previously available print was missing over three minutes of footage, which thankfully producer John Dunning has now located. The online campaign to get the full uncut copy restored and released was one of the largest of its kind and thanks to the efforts of the movie’s legions of adoring fans, we now have a special edition disc with nearly all of the glorious splatter intact.
A small mining town in Canada has become famous over the years after a maniacal ex-miner went on a killing spree in the early sixties. He was the only survivor from a fatal accident on Valentine’s night that stole the lives of numerous workers and left him having to survive by feeding on the corpses of his colleagues. Harry Warden murdered the supervisors that he considered responsible for the tragedy and stuffed their hearts into candy boxes to remind the townsfolk that their incompetence should never be forgiven. Twenty years later and the town is preparing for its first Valentine’s dance since the gruesome massacre, but it seems that it is not only the decorations and romantic spirit that has returned. As a mutilated heart is sent to the local Sheriff with a gruesome warning that there will be more murders, it seems apparent that Harry Warden has come back once again….
My Bloody Valentine is certainly a fine example of all that gave the most popular eighties slashers a significant standing in the annals of horror cinema. It boasts a likeable cast that make up for their lack of A-list dramatic credibility with a warmness and depth of character that although laughably cheesy, evokes sympathy from the audience. The love triangle between the three leads is an intriguing sub-plot and the script is strong enough to allow the characters to work their way into the hearts of viewers.
It can also lay claim to arguably the best arsenal of marketable gimmicks ever to be included in a single splatter feature. If the authentic calendar date doesn’t get you interested, then it’s impossible to resist the excellent guise for the maniacal killer and the creepy mine location. Warden’s gas mask adds an extra dimension to the killer’s essential clichéd heavy breath and a pickaxe makes for an exquisite tool for gory slaughter. You can almost visualise the director’s smile upon witnessing for the first time the awesome sight of his bogeyman strolling through the dimly-lighted shaft and stalking his intended victims. In terms of slasher visualisations, it’s pure poetry-in-motion and Mihalka understandably milks the possibilities. On top of that you have the killer’s calling card, which was a slasher trademark that disappointingly disappeared from the genre just after 1981. Graduation Day had a stopwatch, The Prowler had a rose, Curtains had that creepy doll but I liked this one the best. This maniac puts the hearts of his deceased victims in valentine decorated boxes and pencils a riddle, such as: ‘From the heart comes a warning filled with cheer, remember what happened as the 14th draws near’. I agree, it’s cheesy as hell, but sets a nice tone for the feature.
Mihalka is no John Carpenter and he struggles to sustain suspense, but he does an impressive job in building an overall atmosphere and creates one or two decent jolts. The cast are surprisingly good for complete amateurs and their above-average performances are a welcomed bonus. It was a conscious decision from John Dunning, the producer, to use actors that boasted far more potential than they did impressive CVs, because he wanted to invest heavily in the special effects. Mihalka has said that people don’t go to see a slasher movie to witness a ‘name’ actor. He is right in acknowledging the fact that the amount of money a producer would spend on such a performer just to see him get splattered on the wall is an entirely pointless exercise.
The movie began filming in September 1980, but the set designer took the time to make sure that everything was decked out in hearts and banners and they made things look like it actually was Valentine’s Day. Mihalka makes good use of the spooky mine as a setting and most of the murders are imaginative and well thought out. In one scene, a young lass is trapped in a room where miner’s uniforms are dropping from rails and surrounding her. In her panic she tries to find a way out of the claustrophobic confinement (all courtesy of the imaginative killer), but she bumps into a costume with the maniac in it. If that isn’t bad enough, he goes on to slaughter her in a most gruesome fashion. (One of the best kill scenes – ever!)
A great uncut trailer for this feature…
You only need to take a brief look at this site to see that I’m a slasher fan, but My Bloody Valentine has never been amongst my favourites. I often wondered how the movie could have even been considered to be better than the likes of Intruder, The Prowler or even Curtains, because to me it felt like I wasn’t watching the vision that Mihalka had initially intended. Now, with most of the gore intact, the film feels ‘complete’ and in its entirety it is a totally different concept. Despite popular belief, there were many early slashers that were stylishly produced and genuinely strong entries to the horror catalogue. My Bloody Valentine is one such feature and it’s well-deserving of its legion of admirers.
The plot is actually pretty smart for a slasher flick. I won’t go into too much detail because I can’t say anything without spoiling it all for you, but watch how they manage to keep you guessing toward the film’s climax. It’s also worth noting that James Mangold borrowed that classic body (or in his case, head) in a tumble dryer scene for his part-slasher, Identity in 2003.
If you are even a half-hearted fan of early eighties stalk and slash flicks then I urge you to part with your pennies for this excellent example of non-franchise slash with panache that sums up everything that was great about the early eighties domination. No collection is complete without this sitting on a shelf next to Joseph Zito’s The Prowler and Mark Rosman’s The House on Sorority Row. The Harry Warden legacy has finally come full circle…..
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√√√
Directed by: Richard Ciupka/Peter Simpson
Starring: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thornson, Lynne Griffin, Lesleh Donaldson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is one of the few slasher flicks that I actually ‘grew up with.’ Now I say few, because now I own over 600 titles, but back before the internet and keeping in mind that not all video shopkeepers would supply 18-rated flicks to a ten-year-old boy, my options were somewhat limited. I had a small collection of VHS that I bought from my backstreet rental store (the only one locally that would sell to me) in Hackney and they were Curtains, Small Town Massacre, Whodunit?, Halloween, The Unseen, Massacre at Central High, Friday the 13th 6 and Stagefright. I watched these over and over back in those days and this has always been one of my favourites.
It was initially planned that Curtains would be the directorial debut of Richard Ciupka, a cinematographer that had worked on various cult-movies throughout the seventies and was the main camera operator on the excellent Giallo, Blood Relatives from 1982. In the end though, the movie was shot in two parts, with the second half having to be completed by producer Peter Simpson after an artistic disagreement saw Ciupka leave the shoot. This marked Simpson and his team’s second venture into the then-popular territory of the slasher genre. Their participation explained the healthy budget, excellent back-drop and also the contribution of Paul Zaza, a highly regarded composer from that era.
It’s no secret that Curtains suffered a nightmare production that was riddled with problems, which began when lead actress Celine Lamez was sacked halfway through the shoot. Reports have said that the producers were disappointed with her acting abilities and that she became awkward after two days on set. Linda Thornson was drafted in as her replacement, but footage had to be re-shot with the substitute actress and this stretched the budget and began a spiral of misfortune. It resulted in various script changes and eventually the mutual termination of Ciupka’s contract. Peter Simpson would later note that he had set out to make an adult slasher movie, whilst Ciupka had the intention to deliver more of an artistic approach. The two of them holding totally different cinematic ideas meant that the collaboration was jinxed from the start.
Many scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, which explains the numerous stills that hint at parts that never appeared in the final print. One of these shows the killer surrounded by the bodies of his victims and I’ve learned that it was an alternate ending that Simpson claims never really worked; however it makes for a disturbing image. At one point, the film was rumoured to be ‘unreleasable’, but it eventually went public in 1983, three-years after shooting had begun. It sank without trace upon release and failed to become the follow up to Prom Night that many had predicted. Much like the fate that befell The Shawshank Redemption, a second lease of life on VHS has made Curtains something of a cult-classic and it is now considered to be one of the better entries from the peak-period.
Six actresses head up to a secluded mansion in the Canadian Rockies to audition for the part of Audra, a highly regarded script from renowned director Jonathan Stryker. In the end only five arrive as it becomes apparent that a masked killer has targeted the production with a bizarre vengeance against the stars.
Curtains certainly has more than its fair share of noteworthy moments and is a highly authentic entry that shares no close resemblance to any of its genre brethren. It truly stands alone as an individual stalk and slash experience that demands respect for its ability to keep tension running at an impressive altitude throughout the feature. The awe-inspiring second killing ranks highly as one of the most creatively handled slaughters from the genre’s peak. The photography and structure of the scene is at times breathtaking and Simpson’s work is reminiscent of Argento’s.
The final chase sequence is equally as suspenseful and utilises a superb use of illumination and claustrophobic trappings to create a fitting finale. The dimly lighted prop-room location gives the director a chance to shine as he makes the most of some ingenious decor and creates a memorable collage of striking images. I especially liked the flashing lights revealing the killer hiding in the back of a beaten-up Mini and then when the camera momentarily returns, he has disappeared. Curtains manages to build a truly spooky atmosphere and it’s perhaps one of the creepier entries of the early eighties. The imagery of empty corridors help to build a feeling of isolation and the film succeeds in sustaining a mood that I cannot remember finding in even the best pieces that I’ve sat through. Using a doll as a ‘calling card’ for the arrival of the maniac showed a neat flair for the macabre and it’s a shame that it was only used twice. On top of that, we have the magnificent Paul Zaza’s score, which is the cherry on top of an unique, if slightly jumbled thriller.
Another bonus is the good work from the cast, which is filled with actors that have far more undiscovered talent than any kind of reputation or A-list credibility. John Vernon makes a competent – if a little theatrical – lead, never once pleading for audience-sympathy, whilst Eggar does a good job as the essential red herring (or is she?). But it’s Lynne Griffin who really steals the show. The dynamic little Canadian actress delivers a fantastic portrayal, which sees her effortlessly switch between emotions of anxiety, fear, insecurity and anger. She even takes the time to include a stand up comedy routine…no really.
A film with such a turbulent production is bound to have its share of flaws and Curtains is a case in point. Even though we’re unable to tell exactly how much the shoot was affected by the unfortunate occurrences, the fact that it was finally released under a director pseudonym proves that it certainly wasn’t a smooth process. Some of the characters are laughably under developed and a couple even remain nameless. (A sequence that offered a back story for Christie didn’t make the final print). It’s impossible to pick your choice for the surviving girl, because not one of the actresses has enough screen time to display their individual persona, which has an indisputable effect on the mystery.
It is a surprise when the killer is revealed, but to be honest, it could have been absolutely anybody, because we’re not offered any solid leads or motives. What’s really needed is a total rehash of the picture from the raw footage or the ‘dailies’ – so to speak. Then we could get a true look at how the feature was planned in the director’s vision. The recent death of Peter Simpson and the fact that Curtains is a combination of two vastly opposing ideas has made this unlikely, but we can never give up hope.
Until then, what we’re left with is a movie that could and should have been, but never was. It has its moments, a few of them outstanding, but just falls a few hurdles short of being recognised as a true classic. Definitely amongst the top-ten of the eighties’ best slashers, but it’s painful to think that it should have been in the top three…
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√