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 √
Mask of Murder 1985
Directed by: Arne Mattsson
Starring: Rod Taylor, Valerie Perrine, Christopher Lee
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Following hot on the heels of my reviews of Out of the Dark and Dead End, Mask of Murder is another of those mystery thrillers that borrows plot points from the slasher movies and giallos that had been popular around the time. It was a joint Swedish/Canadian production that was shot in Uppsala län, and it was that unusual blend of cultural heritage that initially caught my attention.
Christopher Lee’s credits over the last twenty years have included three mega-blockbusters, which isn’t bad going for an actor that made his first movie appearance way back in the midst of World War 2. He was initially John Carpenter’s choice to play the Sam Loomis character in Halloween, but he didn’t accept; something he admits he’s always regretted. He even went as far as to call it the biggest blunder of his career.
Obviously annoyed that he’d missed out on some supreme slasher action, perhaps the reason he took a supporting role here was because he didn’t want to make the same mistake twice? Or maybe he was blackmailed into doing it? I really don’t know, but one thing is certain however, he was definitely slumming it.
It’s all set in a small snowy Canadian town. Almost immediately, a loony in a mask grabs an unsuspecting woman and slices her throat with a straight razor. Later that day in another location, a second victim suffers the same fate at the hands of the gruesome killer. He removes his disguise and heads back to a remote cabin where he proves his dementia by gnashing his teeth and staring into the screen. Ooooh scary…
We next get to meet the members of our cast over an evening’s gathering. First off there’s John (Christopher Lee) the chief of the local Police Force. His best detective, Bob (Rod Taylor) has been having problems with his wife Marianne (Valerie Perrine). These difficulties must have a lot to do with the fact that his partner Ray (Sam Cook) is busy banging her every time that he gets the chance. The dinner party is cut short when Bob receives a call informing him that they have the assassin surrounded. They rush to the scene and to cut an overlong story short; the city of Nelson should be a little quieter from now on. But the tranquillity doesn’t last. It begins to look like there’s a copycat murderer at work when more women turn up with their throats slit. Is someone mimicking the murders? Or is the killer back from beyond the grave?
Why Christopher Lee turned down Halloween but chose to play a part in this turkey is one of the world’s biggest mysteries. It’s up there with the Bermuda Triangle, Roswell and Big Foot. I mean seriously come on; surely the screenwriter must have known that the killer’s identity was patently obvious from the start. This is perhaps the dumbest and most basic premise for a murder mystery that I have ever seen. The Scooby Doo cartoon offers less obvious plot twists. Swedish filmmaker Arne Mattsson directs so sloppily that he manages to drag surprisingly wooden performances from an inviting ensemble of screen veterans. Lee’s the best of the bunch, but he’s not on screen long enough to warrant his fans to hunt this down. The pace moves like a traffic jam, and perhaps the most obnoxious thing about Mask of Murder is the horrible music that accompanies every ‘twist’ in the story. It sounds like one of those guitar-sporting beggars that you sometimes see on the street had been recorded whilst heavily inebriated.
Surprisingly though, there are some things that I liked about the film’s set up. For example, the killer has a pillow case over his head and if you squint your eyes it almost looks like the kind of burlap sack that Jason wore in Friday the 13th Part II. Also, the throat slashings are fairly bloody and in one scene a girl is murdered in a cinema – a trick that has become a slasher trademark after He Knows You’re Alone, Cut and Scream 2. The only problem is that the gore scenes are so leisurely executed that the gratuitous blood gushes just look like a poor attempt to flog a dead horse. There was never really a moment where I felt like things might improve or that I was perhaps being a tad over-critical. My suspicions were confirmed once and for all when I witnessed Rod Taylor sniffing his adulterous wife’s underwear. (Don’t ask!)
Mask of Murder was once amongst the rarest fossils of the genre, despite being released in quite a few countries. Nowadays though, its available on a Swedish DVD, although I must admit that I haven’t seen what the quality is like or what version it is on that disc.The first copy that I ever found was the BBFC rated print, which is missing 124 seconds of footage, but then I came across a VHS in Spain that’s totally uncut. It doesn’t really make much of a difference though because the film is as exciting as root canal surgery and almost as painful…
Killer Guise: √√√
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Starring: Janet Julian, David Wallace, Janit
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I must admit that Humongous was always a slasher movie that I had a certain fondness for. Not because I remembered much about its production quality (I’d only seen it the once, many years ago), but it always struck me as one that had been completely overlooked, perhaps unfairly. Personally, I love an underdog and that’s why I was keen to see if I could salvage some positives from giving it another blast on my Plasma.
Director Paul Lynch had come hot off making a major success out of a relatively average movie in Prom Night and therefore the odds were looking good for a similar return with this, his second effort. In the end though, his follow up turned out to be not very humongous at all and a bit of a cocktail sausage in the popularity stakes. Despite solid distribution from a major label, it failed to achieve the standing of titles like Madman or Hell Night, which are fairly similar in their concepts.
After a disturbing rape sequence in the pre-credits, we meet five youngsters who are planning to go sailing on a huge lake. When their boat explodes after an unfortunate accident, they find sanctuary on a remote island. Little do they know that the land is inhabited by a woman and her deformed son who are not the most welcoming hosts…
A lot of critics (myself included in an earlier review) have written about the film’s poor illumination, so to save you from reading the same thing, I have decided not to go over it again. It could be argued though that Lynch deliberately attempted to keep his antagonist off screen for the most part and reveal him gradually as the film rolled on. It’s a ploy that is used regularly in horror features and it reminds me of the anticipation of having a surprise present in a wrapped box and guessing what’s inside as you shake it. You only have to check titles like Halloween, The Predator, The House by the Cemetery or even Night of the Demon to see that it works. In the case of Humongous though, photos recently discovered by JA Kerswell over at Hysteria Lives show that not only was the director aiming to deliver suspense, but his bogeyman’s make-up was definitely the kind that you wouldn’t want to have the best lighting rig in town for.
Paul Lynch has spoken quite openly about the film’s low budget, but the locations and earlier effects (the uncut dog mauling scene especially) demonstrate funding that looked superior to other titles released around the same time. Perhaps the monetary reservoir drained far quicker than expected, so they had to cut costs for the remainder of the shoot? I often wondered why the first on screen murder was so gruesome and the rest looked brief and diluted. I presumed that much like Happy Birthday to Me, the studio had shortened the death scenes to escape punishment from scissor happy censors. If that was the case, does any of that footage still exist? It’d be nice to know. Further proof of this possibility can be found in the double murder that cuts so rapidly that it’s tough to make out what’s happening. The majority of the runtime is comfortably edited, which makes it look even more unusual and likely that some gore was removed prior to release.
I was never the biggest fan of Lynch’s Prom Night as I felt it took the Halloween pilfering to the gatepost and then crashed straight through it. There are signs of the same level of imitation here, especially in the shot for shot duplication of the stalking sequence from Carpenter’s classic, where Michael Myers emerges from the shadows to push Laurie Strode down some stairs. This came straight after a scene where Sandy, our final girl, momentarily confuses the bogeyman by dressing in his mother’s clothes. This had been quite blatantly lifted from Friday the 13th Part II, which was released a year earlier. Whilst the reuse of ideas is extremely common in the slasher genre, Humongous overcomes accusations of being a freeloader by bringing a few of it’s own drinks to the party.
Some of the characters featured are intriguingly developed and filled with insecurities. The hero’s brother, Nick, is obviously envious of his elder sibling. So much so in fact that he fires a loaded rifle past his head for no apparent reason. Then Donna, a cheeky redhead, adds some depth to her ‘slut’ persona by conveying subtly that she uses her breasts and body to sell herself due to a lack of confidence and to get people to like her. There’s also an ambiguous hint that perhaps the youngsters had stumbled upon the island out of destiny and that our heroine was there to follow in the footsteps of the deranged mother. The final freeze frame shows us how the events that Sandy has overcome have affected her psychologically. This begs the question, did she stay behind to live in the house and therefore takeover from the deceased landowner? I also liked how the killer, who it is suggested had grown up with only dogs as companions, growled and grunted like he was in fact a mongrel himself.
Whilst the previous issues with Humongous still remain and the acting is up and down-ish, I really enjoyed watching the movie this time around. It’s obvious that Lynch had grown as a director and parts like the eyeball jump scare and Donna filling her bra with blueberries rate high up there with the other great slasher postcards. I think that the best achievement of all was the successful delivery of an ominous tone that wraps around the runtime like a comfort blanket and kept me guessing what will come next. Moments like this have been too easily overlooked due to criticisms of the lighting, which is a huge shame.
I have a lot more respect for this picture now and would say that it’s the best example of Lynch’s slasher work. It may never achieve the status of a cult classic, but there’s enough here to have made me glad that I saw it again
Final Girl: √√
Evil Judgement 1981
Directed by: Claudio Castravelli
Starring: Pamela Collyer, Jack Langedijk, Walter Massey
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This is an update of the review that I posted on the IMDB way back in 2004. Enjoy… Looking at the cheesy cover, one could be forgiven for immediately passing off Evil Judgement as just a typical bottom of the barrel slasher from the years when studios were knocking them out faster than the time it takes to boil an egg. Due mainly to the huge amount of slasher films released during the golden period, many struggled to find an audience and rapidly vanished without recognition. Although the likes of ‘Movie House Massacre‘ and ‘Click: The Calendar Girl Killer‘ were perhaps deserving of such a fate, the excellent ‘Terror Night’ and the two ‘BloodStreams’ (both 1985 and 2000 respectively) proved to be worthy of a more prominent status.
As I have said before, 1981 was a fine year for fans of slasher movies. Not only were enthusiasts treated to a sequel of Halloween, which was arguably the movie that started it all; but also they were given excellent features such as Small Town Massacre, Friday the 13th Part 2, The Prowler, My Bloody Valentine and Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse. It was also without a doubt the most lucrative period for the cycle and it is reported that over 60% of box office receipts were from slasher flicks.
Evil Judgement was also completed in 1981, but missed out on the chance to become a part of the peak year influx, due to post-production problems, which have remained undisclosed. The movie sat on the shelves for 3 years and was released direct to video in 1984. Usually such a fate is reserved only for the worst of entries (Twisted Nightmare anybody?), so initially the signs were unconvincing for this Canadian effort.
Everything kicks-off stereotypically as an unidentified patient escapes an asylum, murdering a doctor and an unsuspecting orderly along the way. Next up we meet our heroine, Janet (Pamela Collyer), who is hardly the virginal alter-girl that so often dictates the stereotype for the female protagonist of a slasher movie. Working in a grimy café really begins to get her down and so after much convincing, she decides to accompany her friend, who is an expensive hooker, on a money-spinning night of erotica. Janet’s prostitution début doesn’t go specifically as planned, because an unseen maniac turns up on site and attempts, albeit unsuccessfully, to murder her. Despite his failure to relieve us of our leading lady, the killer does manage to slaughter both her friend April (Nanette Workman) and their unfortunate client. The killer realises that he has left a surviving eye-witness and begins to stalk Janet throughout the rest of the feature, gorily slaughtering everyone that gets in his way. Numerous twists and turns in the plot keep the audience guessing until the surprising conclusion…..
Evil Judgement has become something of an obscurity and is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Prom Night or My Bloody Valentine. It’s a real shame, because actually Castravelli’s slasher is one of the better peak-year murder-mysteries. The film’s strengths lie in the ambition of its synopsis and an excellent characteristic performance from Jack Langedijk as the anti-hero, Dino. When first watching, I had the feeling that he had turned up on the wrong set and was meant to be playing a wise guy in the Mafia flick that was shooting next door. But in fairness, he quickly began to grow on me and made a likeable persona from an audience boo-boy, which is no mean feat.Despite an obviously low production budget, the director manages to build an immensely atmospheric puzzle, which includes characters that break the monotonous slasher clichés. The story enters realms of the unknown in terms of plot development (how many slashers can you name that mix Mafioso with a demented psychopath?) and it deserves credit for its flair for the ambitious.
Judgement is not a gore film like so many that populated the genre at this point in the period, but there’s something notably gruesome in the manner that the killer dispatches his victims. The murders are bloody; and the camera never shies away from the graphic corpses. Some may argue that more creativity was needed – every victim suffers the same gooey throat slashing. With that said, Castravelli does well to build a fist-full of tension in the right places and the stalking scenes in the mansion are dark and memorable. Mixing a few decent shocks with a talent for building a gothic atmosphere, the movie makes the most of its plus-points and rarely struggles to keep up a comfortable momentum.
Whilst Jack Langedijk is excellent as the problematic Dino, Pamela Collyer is irredeemably poor as the one-toned Janet. In fact the couple perform arguably the worst ever sex-scene (I’m not an advocate of gratuitous sex in a movie, but hey, this sucked) in the history of cinema. The words two, wooden and planks spring to mind. At times, the lighting dims to keyring-torch illumination, which is usually a big negative for slasher flicks. On this occasion though, the darkness adds to the sleazy feel of what’s going on, so it doesn’t effect things too much. When we are not steering into the dimension of sleazy, things get surprisingly cheesy, which is a strong selling point to many retro fans. The OTT eighties fashions are pushed to the max here and the dialogue and music help to bolster the film’s inadvertent comedy factor. Swapping between the two moods is something that not many trash slashers can claim that they have mastered, which is why I am surprised that Judgement is so rarely acknowledged as a decent slice of genre garlic bread. With cheese, bacon and all the toppings too…
Its lack of a fan-base means that Evil Judgement may never get the respect it deserves, but if you have time then I recommend that you give this one a shot. Compelling and alluring, Castravelli’s part slasher/part crime movie is well worth a revisit.
Final Girl: √√
Deliver Us From Evil 1992
aka Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil
Directed by: Clay Borris
Starring: Nikki De Boer, J.H Wyman, Joy Tanner
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a tough job to try to categorise the Prom Night series. The first of them was a blatant Halloween clone, which borrowed everything from the rolling photography in almost identical locations to the choice of actress for the final girl. Part two popped up some seven years later and owed more of a knowing nod to A Nightmare on Elm Street by including an indestructible bogey(wo)man and a desire to experiment with a dream-like subconscious reality. Number three was the only chapter to reuse an antagonist from a previous entry but was more of a black comedy than an out and out horror flick. This final installment was a return ticket home to traditional slasher land, where everything had begun.
You could quite easily use the franchise as a timeline to track the development of horror trends throughout the eighties and ‘lost years’ of the early nineties. Every time that the direction of scary movies at the box office was modified by a new successful picture, this series adapted it’s methodology to match the latest style. By 1992’s release of Deliver us from Evil, producer Peter Simpson’s favourite and most successful project had finally come full circle. This must be why the film is more traditional in its approach.
It is surprising that after the enormous flop of 1991’s Popcorn, Peter Simpson still believed that it was worthwhile putting his cheque book behind a large scale offering. Deliver us is visibly slick and offers a break from the realms of low budget and lower quality SOV pictures that were popping up during this period. I bought the VHS that I own in the UK and it was marketed here as a stand alone film and had no obvious links to Prom Night at all. It was only later, with the help of the Internet that I discovered that it was the fourth of that legacy.
In an opening that’s suspiciously familiar to Frat Fright from the previous year, a Priest goes on a kill frenzy and is captured and locked up beneath a church. 30+ years later, a foolishly kind hearted vicar tries to help the psychotic padre, but he breaks free and heads back to the scene of the original murders. It just so happens that four teenagers are there at the secluded location for a party…
You could say that Deliver us From Evil is a similar experience to eating a bag of pick and mix sweets that someone else chose for you. Even if every now and then you pick out a yucky stick of liquorice, it won’t be long before your taste buds are treated to a fizzy cherry cola bottle. If you see the words ‘Paul Zaza’ on a crew list, then you should know that the score that you are about to hear is sure to be top class. He provides a smooth and eerie accompaniment for this piece, which allows director Clay Borris to pull off some surprisingly good set-pieces. There’s a prologue that references the fifties and after a couple of exciting murders, we fast forward to the present time…
Unfortunately, once we are given the core elements of the story, I began to grow a bit disillusioned with what I was watching. You see, being just a good actor does not make you an interesting person to watch on the screen. I have read countless times, even from respected critics, how Arnold Schwarzenegger is not a solid dramatic performer. Ok fine, I agree – but could you imagine a film like The Predator with John Hurt or Robert Deniro in the lead? Anyway, the cast here are surprisingly well coached in delivering their lines with emotion, but fail collectively to add the necessary audience connection. Nikki de Boer makes for an incredibly unsympathetic final girl. She had obviously based her character on Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode, but didn’t portray even an ounce of the charm. Joy Tanner is fine as the slut, but again without allure; and it’s left up to future screenwriter John Howard Wyman to give us the only person that we give a damn about. The mid-section filled with this cast can at times begin to drag and I was thinking that we were watching (yet) another entry that starts well and then fades. There simply wasn’t enough intrigue to keep the talky scenes from slowing the pace down and it didn’t take long until I was begging for some action.
In the final third though, the movie gets an injection of adrenalin and completely shakes itself out of its slumber. I had written a note around the forty-minute mark that said ‘this needs an injection of gore’, but then along came a kill scene that completely changed all that. We have seen the old Jason Voorhees ‘head-crushing’ trick a few times in other pictures, but the use of sound and the actor’s cries made it especially effective this time around. Goodnight Godbless, another killer padre film, was a failure in terms of professionalism and filmmaking ability, but did boast an incredibly scary bogeyman. Our killer here has a pony tail and chiseled dark features, which makes him look like a poor man’s Johnny Depp. Thankfully, the director works smartly to create some grim moments and a genuine aura of apprehension.
The screenplay is a bit muddled in places and there’s a hint of supernatural that’s never really explained. It’s a quite blatant oversight, because we don’t learn the killer’s motivation or why they were hiding him in a church dungeon. There are many parts that remind us that we are waiting for some kind of confirmation, but it never comes. Not explaining why the monster was unstoppable and hellbent on killing teens was really bizarre and it left me wondering if it may have been budget related? Did the film have a nightmare production and miss out on some of the script?
Whilst thinking along those lines, I came to the idea that maybe this was initially planned as just a one-off horror movie. Perhaps out of fear of failure, they latter marketed it as a fourth entry to the Prom Night series? As I said earlier, in the UK there are no visible franchise links and most importantly, the bulk of the action doesn’t even take place at a prom, which is a bit of an odd contradiction. Not every horror film that Simpson released was in this series, so that may well be the case. It would be interesting to find out.
I was impressed by some of the well delivered shocks, the competent production and all in all, there is loads here for all slasher fans to enjoy. It also has its share of creepy moments, which by 1992 had become mission impossible for these films. The first Prom Night is considered by some to be one of the finest of the peak entries and at least the fourth and final part has enough in its man-bag to allow the franchise to wave good bye with class. I recommend that you track it down, because despite a few blemishes, it has a rugged handsomeness and sometimes that’s all that you need…
Final Girl: √
Zombie Nightmare 1986
Directed by: Jack Bravman
Starring: Adam West, Jon Mikl Thor, Tia Carrere
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
And here we have another eighties ‘zombie’ movie, which despite having a title that brings to mind illusions of Romero-alike walking-dead mayhem, owes a damn site more to slasher flicks such as Friday the 13th and The Prowleret al. Inexplicably, there was a high number of horror attempts during that decade, which incorporated the living dead into their titles, but delivered stalk and slash cinematic experiences. Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetery was a prime example of a slasher film cloaked under the guise of a zombie-thon, whilst Zombie Island Massacre was another. The Dead Pit and Ruben Galindo’s Cementerio Del Terror went as far as to mix re-animated corpses with the plot trappings of the slasher craze and more recently, Todd Cook’s Zombiefied has brought the slasher/zombie hybrid back from the grave (no pun intended)
It opens on a high school baseball field sometime during the 1960s. An amicable coach named Bill Washington is watched playing catch with some youngsters by his wife and son. Also in the stands are a Haitian school girl and two troublesome youngsters who let their intentions be known by plotting a nasty surprise for the Caribbean spectator. As the young family head home across the streets of the idyllic neighbourhood, they come across the two hoodlums from earlier attempting to rape the passive Haitian. Bill Washington immediately intervenes, much to his downfall, because whilst his back is turned he is stabbed in the chest by one of the rampant thugs. The screen fades with a shot of the young boy watching his father struggle for life on the cold concrete side walk.
Fast forward twenty years and Tony Washington – the child from the prologue – has grown into a helpful and polite young man. Whilst out shopping for his mum’s groceries, he underlines his impressive community status by courageously battering two armed thugs that were attempting to rob the local shop keeper. Things takes a turn for the worse for the vigilante, when he is savagely run down and killed by a gang of inebriated teenagers. The gang of drunkards speed off into the night, showing no remorse for their victim. Despite being visually devastated, Tony’s mum decides not to inform the police of the murder and instead she calls upon the favour owed by the Haitian from the pre-credits sequence. Somewhat fortunately (albeit stereotypically) Molly Mokembe is now a voodoo priestess and so with a dust of black magic, Tony Washington rises from the dead to avenge his ruthless murder….
If you were looking for another possible pre-cursor to Kevin Williamson’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, then look no further than this cheap as you like slasher jam, which pre-dates the aforementioned title by a whole eleven-years. The plot is familiar to each and all, as the victim of a horrendous event returns to avenge his death, systematically slaughtering the culprits one by one in gruesome fashion. Although we never reach the heights of slasher-classic status, this does boast a few credible benefits that lift it from the irreversible depths of a half-star review. The soundtrack is awesomely impressive, with songs provided by Motorhead, Girlschool and Thor and I must admit that I was astounded as ‘The Ace of Spades’ confidently adorned the credit sequence. As is the case with so many eighties slasher entries, Zombie Nightmare plays host to one young and fresh-faced ‘soon to be superstar’. Yep, you don’t need to clean those spectacles. That chubby faced youngster that is unconvincingly warbling through her lines is none other than Tia Carrere, most memorable for her characteristic performances in Wayne’s World and True Lies.
Unfortunately, it seems the budget spent on the soundtrack pretty much drained the finances from the rest of the feature, because Zombie Nightmare seems to take an unprecedented slope to mediocrity very quickly. Despite a decent début performance from Frank Dietz as the protagonist, the dramatics are really scraping along the lines of junior school play level. Watch out for the hilarious Manuska Rigaud, who seems to believe that ‘acting’ amounts to squawking her voice like she’s desperately in need of a lozenge. Zombie Nightmare is famous for thrash legend Jon Mikl Thor’s lengthy cameo in the opening half of the film. Despite proving that rock stars certainly shouldn’t walk the path to Hollywood, he also miraculously manages to grow a few inches post-death. It’s so easy to notice that Thor had taken his paycheque and scooted very early on in the production, leaving the crew to cast a totally unconvincing body ‘double’, which somewhat adds to the cheesy charm.
There’s no gore or suspense worth mentioning and the whole feature is weakly directed to the excess of point and shoot mediocrity. Originality is a wayward concept in the eyes of Jack Bravman, so basically, what you see is what you get – and you get very little. There’s a few kooky deaths and a fairly sympathetic motive for our hulking maniac, but it never escapes the feeling of being overly diluted, so I’m sure that you’ll end up fairly bored.
Zombie Nightmare is far from being the worst slasher movie released during the peak period, but I really could only find very little to recommend. The stalking lone killer proves that this is pure slasher trash and those searching for a dose of zombie gore will be thoroughly disappointed. It would probably have remained a complete obscurity if it hadn’t been rescued by MST3K who pointed out some of the cheesy aspects in their usual hysterical way. When I wrote this review three-years ago, there was a copy of their antics available on YouTube to watch, although it may have disappeared by now.
Ignore the word ‘Zombie’ in the title and add this to your slasher collection if you dig the eighties cheapies. There’s nothing here to recommend in a respectable way, but if you are a fan of pure trashola then you should most definitely pick it up. You’ll have to dust off your VCR though, because there’s no planned DVD rehash.
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Jim Makichuk
Starring: Riva Spier, Georgie Collins, Sheri McFadden
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Ghostkeeper was one of the many of films that I collected during my searches of video stores in the eighties/early nineties. Back then I was a slasher fan, but would also pick up any horror movies that I came across and take them home with me to add to the growing stack in my room. It was released on the Apex label in the UK. They should be known to horror aficionados of the 30+ age bracket because they won the rights to a plethora of titles. These included the likes of Dawn of the Mummy, Nights of Terror, House of Evil, Don’t Go in the House and even Evilspeak and Mausoleum under another sub-brand (Horror Classics).
Apex were one of the most outlandish VHS distributors in Britain, because their covers rarely had anything to do with the features inside. Here we have another fine example of this, because as you can see by the picture above, they have marketed this snow-coated hotel-based semi-slasher with a large demon-like clawed figure towering over a sun scorched desert!
I got the chance to speak briefly with director Jim Makichuk, who confirmed that he hadn’t set out to make a slasher movie in the traditional sense. The initial plan was to produce a supernatural thriller based around the legend of the Wendigo, but the script was never completed due to the budget running out halfway through. He was left with two choices: pack up and go home or finish the shoot with what minuscule money that they had left in the pot. Due to this, the second part of the feature was put together spontaneously, with scenes being written literally on a day to day basis. The net result is an unique obscurity that does include a few of the slasher genre’s trademarks.
The Wendigo (spelt here as Windigio) is a superb antagonist for a horror film. Found mostly in ancient legends of the Algonquin people, it is described as a violent cannibalistic spirit that can either appear as a demonic cryptid-like creature or in human form due to its ability to possess victims through their dreams. Those who indulged in cannibalism were at the highest risk of its wrath and the stories were most likely circled as a warning to prevent the attacks of tribal carnivores.
The plot seems to focus more on ‘Wendigo psychosis’, which scriptures describe as a rare disease that gave sufferers an intense yearning to eat human flesh. These people would in effect become monsters, stuck in a trance-like state who would be kept in ties and tortured or used for medicinal experiments. Although the disorder is rarely mentioned in recent times, it can be discovered in Native American folklore.
A group of three friends are out in the snowy Canadian Rockies to celebrate New Years Eve. When one of their snowmobiles breaks down, they come across a hotel and decide to see if they can stay for the night. As darkness sets, they soon become aware that they are not alone…
It’s a tough job to describe the quality of Ghostkeeper without you first understanding its lack of cinematic ingredients. We meet just seven characters in the whole picture (five are spoken) and we are limited to only one location. There’s minimal blood, no central bogeyman and an incoherent storyline to carry us through. But despite having very little at his disposal, Makichuk has created an unsettling and eerie horror film with an abundance of gothic atmosphere. The only other feature that had achieved such a feat from that period was 1980’s The Shining; a title that this is often accused of imitating. Whether that be true or not, Makichuk did admit that he was inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween. It’s not as obvious here as it was in almost every other film that was released in the early eighties, but still the nods can be felt in places.
‘Keeper works due to a few elements blending successfully together in an unlikely combination. The stunning snow coated backdrops for the old hotel help to build the claustrophobia and once inside and under shelter, the gloomy corridors and spooky décor add to the feeling of impending doom. John Holbrook’s tight cinematography is perfect for the mood and Makichuk is a director that gives his characters fascinating depths that are evident but not overtly obvious. The lead, or ‘Final Girl’, is immersed in a mentality that makes you question her sanity and the conclusion offers a neat ambiguity. Her ‘boyfriend’ gives new meaning to the word bastard and his psychological bullying and humiliation of his partner is awkward to watch. Whilst the ending may not be ‘open’ in the normal sense, it is left somewhat up to the imagination to define. I prefer to believe that Jenny slowly went mad and imagined most of what we see for the latter part of the story. This, however is only my opinion; and it’s one of many that can be drawn from the events that unfold throughout the feature. Most of the cast are amateurs with very little previous experience, but their performances are solid. They are eaten alive though by the sheer screen presence of Georgie Collins as ‘The Ghostkeeper’. In a portrayal that brings to mind Kathy Bates’ Oscar winning turn from Misery, she captures and delivers the intrigue that the role required.
If the technique of those participants helped to dress everything together, then the film belongs without a shadow of a doubt to Paul Zaza’s glossy overcoat. This is quite comfortably the best of the composers work. In many parts, his haunting score alone carries the momentum and most of the atmosphere is built upon his crescendos. The crew must have been over the moon with his work and it really makes the film complete. Add on top of that some fine lighting and good use of sound and everything falls in to place.
So with what I said earlier about this not being a typical stalk and slash flick, what is there here for my regular readers? Well this is a good question. Despite not being a deliberate attempt at slashertastic classification, I really can’t see Ghostkeeper being grouped anywhere else. There is a chainsaw wielding maniac, a gooey sliced throat and a knife murder, which tick the right boxes. Whether these trappings were in the original script or not will never be known for sure. It’s also worth noting that almost every review that I have read call this a slasher movie and even the grand old daddy of horror websites, Terror Trap, classify it amongst our favourite cinematic style. What I think will attract a SLASH above readers most is the stylish environment, which brings to mind titles like Curtains and the creepiness of Halloween. It’s also worth noting that the distributors had their own idea of what audience they were targeting. A few versions can be found with an opening shot that is most definitely screaming out to the Friday the 13th crowd. You can see it in the video above. Now this wasn’t filmed by Makichuk, despite it being on the same location, which makes it even more intriguing.
The good news is that the Ghostkeeper story is not over… yet. I have seen a proposal for a sequel, which could be shot as soon as the team secure funding. Quite a few filmmakers check out a SLASH above, so drop me a line for more information if you may be interested in getting involved and I can put you in touch with the right people. This is most definitely a very good idea for a feature film. My Bloody Valentine 3D was a huge success and it began life as a draft script for a follow up to the original. The possibility of remaking another Canadian gem is one that I fully believe is worth exploring. Lionsgate, are you reading?
Although Ghostkeeper may not be a film for gore hounds and some may not be patient enough to allow the slow-boiling momentum to take hold, if you’re in the right mood then this truly is a cult classic. Check out Code Red’s DVD, which is available on their website now and transferred from a gleaming print that was recently discovered in New York. A very good obscurity that you really need to see…
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: √√√√
Frat Fright 1988
aka Happy Hell Night aka Hell Night
Directed by: Brian Owens
Starring: Charles Cragin, Frank John Hughes, Laura Carney
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Before we get started, I have to tell you that Frat Fright is Happy Hell Night (released in the UK simply as Hell Night in 1991). Unfortunately, a lot of web sites have them listed as separate features and to add to the confusion one print says that it was directed by Brian Owens and the other by editor David Mitchell, but they are exactly the same movie. I already owned the UK VHS of Hell Night and bought this copy after seeing it on eBay, because I thought it was a rare gem. It even had two listings on the IMDB back then, but they deleted the one for Frat Fright, which means my review that I posted under that flick also disappeared.
It was a joint development between Canada and Serbia (then part of Yugoslavia), with thirteen producers working on the concept. THIRTEEN – I mean that must be some kind of record. The shoot wasn’t the easiest and saw Brian Owens heading over to film some exteriors in Eastern Europe, whilst Mitchell did other parts in Canada. This must be the explanation as to why they were given credits on the separate versions, but I still haven’t managed to discover why it had two releases on different labels. I know that it was originally packaged as Frat Fright in 1988 (much earlier than most sites would lead you to believe) and so I can only assume that the crew wanted a second bite at making some money and so they repackaged and distributed it again four years later.
The synopsis of a killer priest stalking teens is pretty much a duplicate of Deliver us from Evil (Prom Night 4), so I wonder if this was the inspiration for the final Prom Night chapter? As both were Canadian productions, it’s hard to believe that it was just a twist of fate, but I have browsed everywhere and with very little information available, I can find no concrete link. Continuing in the vein started by its counterparts from the same decade, there’s an early appearance from a ‘soon to be’ superstar. Here, it’s a young Sam Rockwell, whose emotional four-word performance must have made an impression on some of the right people, because his career took off at the speed of a Concorde soon after. If the future protagonist of the wonderful Sci/Fi flick Moon wasn’t enough, we also see a young Jorja Fox AND Frank John Hughes!
Phi Delta Fraternity has a dark secret. 25 years ago a deranged priest murdered and mutilated 7 college students and a local girl on campus. The killer was caught and remains imprisoned in a local asylum. The massacre has been kept under wraps and has become the stuff of urban legend. Now in the present day, Eric Collins (Nick Gregory) and a group of fun-loving frats are preparing for the annual hell night celebrations. It’s tradition for the local colleges to hold a competition where an award is given for the best prank performed by a pledge from each faculty. Phi Delta has held the title for the past three years and doesn’t plan on loosing it tonight. When the kids find out about the gruesome slayings from a quarter of a century earlier, they decide to send in Sonny (Frank Hughes) – Eric’s younger brother – and Ralph to take a photograph of Malius, the psychopath, in his cell. You don’t need to be a genius to guess that things don’t go exactly to plan and the wrong person leaves the institution. So with a psycho-priest heading for the campus where so many kids are partying, what will become of the celebratory frat boys and their friends?
Frat Fright starts with some familiar `he just sits there… waiting‘ dialogue that will immediately lead you to believe that this is yet another mindless Halloween clone. The script bolts on a few spicy supernatural shenanigans later though that add an innovative twist to the standard plot outline and give it a unique slant. Although the talk of spells and re-animation is a little far-fetched to feel anywhere near believable, Frat Fright earns credibility for trying something different. In the prologue scenes, Father Cane (Irfan Mensur) finds Malius splashed in blood and holding dismembered body parts in a dimly lighted basement. These parts are shot so well that they deliver an air of genuine creepiness and I was impressed at how quickly the film had built a subtle tone of menace. When the killer priest tries picking off the last four teens in the dark mansion one by one, the pace becomes tauter and we are treated to some subtle shades of tension. There may be a lack of experience in the more technical elements, but some strategically planned shots and good use of the shadows from the director manage to keep you on your toes and away from the eject switch.
Aside from a lack of professional lighting, the (thirteen) producers manage to overcome the small funding extremely well. There’s some cheaply entertaining gore, which includes hands and arms getting ripped off and one murder ends rather sharply in this version, never showing us the results, which possibly means that it suffered at the hands of censorship intervention. I never expect great performances from a cheap slasher movie and Frat Fright is no exception to that rule, because most of the characters come across as amateur and poorly coached. You’d think the (thirteen) producers would have made the most of their Serbian connections to cast more gorgeous Slavic women to up the eye candy factor, but we only get a few minutes of Tatjana Pujin and Gala Videnovic doing very little. Fans of T&A will get their fulfillment though, because there’s the usual amount of bouncing lady lumps and thighs.
What I found most disappointing about Frat Fright, and it’s something that I rarely enjoy in late-eighties entries, was the killer’s unnecessary one-liners. They work in a movie like Nail Gun Massacre, because the film itself is so unintentionally comical that they suit the tone. Frat Fright on the other hand had a chance to be something that’s nearly impossible to find in a horror movie lately – scary, but the poor attempts at humour ruined any chance for the director to make the most of his threatening bogeyman. A psycho priest as an antagonist has been used a few times, most recently in Deliver us From Evil and Goodnight Godbless. I would say that Zachary Malius is the scariest of those bogeymen, because his bulging black eyes and aura of invincibility give him a powerful presence. It’s a shame that the chirpy quips ruin his impact and I truly believe that they made a mistake with that approach.
In fairness, this is by no means without its charms, but I wouldn’t rush to watch again. It’s another example of potential not being realised, which is a shame. There are many better entries floating around, but none that had an antagonist quite as potential-laden as Frat Fright.
Final Girl: √√