Final Exam 1980
Directed by: Jimmy Huston
Starring: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown
Review by Luis Joaquín González
So following on from my review of Fatal Exam, I thought I’d cover this peak period sleeper and get all of the ‘exam’ slashers out of the way once and for all. I must admit that I hadn’t seen it for about twenty-years, so I was keen for a second viewing and thorough analysis. My perception from back then was that it was a bit too much of a Halloween magpie and I didn’t appreciate the unimaginative ‘look’ of the antagonist. I was about 15 at the time and my non-franchise favourites were the likes of My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler, StageFright and Legend of Moated Manor, which all included killers with memorable masks. In comparison, Final Exam felt, well, a little bit ‘meh’, and I have never re-visited it… Until now…
Writer/Director Jimmy Huston shot Exam over six-weeks during the spring of 1980 and he utilised friends and students that he had recruited from word of mouth and a small advertising campaign. It would be his fourth motion picture and a complete change of tone from his previous work, which was mostly genre films that played like European productions. Despite the self-sourced nature of the development, the $53,000 budget didn’t stretch as far as anticipated, which resulted in a few scenes having to be re-written or completely scrapped. I couldn’t find any information in regards to the film’s box-office performance, but it certainly acquired a solid VHS distribution deal, because I own Spanish, British and Polish copies.
As a small college prepares to close its doors for the end of semester, a number of students remain on campus for the last of the exams. Their final preparations for the journey into adulthood take a turn for the worse when a psychopathic killer begins to butcher them one by one…
I won’t be making any headlines when I inform you that Final Exam is not a competitor to Halloween, Friday the 13th or even Curtains, but I do think that it’s a much better movie than its reputation would lead you to believe. In fact, I’d say that if all the slasher flicks of the past twenty-years had been a similar level of quality, the genre would be filled with a lot more critical acclaim.
We are given the clichés of the category’s most notorious offerings with the characterisations (virginal lead, promiscuous friend, ‘horror’ nerd, bullying jock etc) but I found it intriguing how they were conveyed with a subtle depth. Radish, the curly haired geeky guy, was certainly a prototype for Scream’s Randy both physically and personally. He has a crush on our straight-laced heroine, Courtney, and his romantic pursuit shows moments of realism that are well-handled and recognisable. There’s an interesting scene, where the two have a heart to heart about her insecurities, which offers a delicate comment on the fear of rejection and the challenges of confessing true feelings. Courtney herself is clearly based on the sensitive Laurie Stroud-stereotype, but she carries a desire to overcome her social trepidation, which I thought made her more appealing. The ‘slut’ persona, Lisa, defends her actions in a humorous sequence that displays how she uses her appearance to progress. Hell, even the rebellious jock had something of a sadness about him and a desperation for recognition. All these common elements that are never explored in most slasher movies seem to be written with a keener focus and it gives the personalities an extra layer. Whilst it can be argued that the key players never really have an arc or reach the destination of their inner journies, the dialogue is memorable because it offers situations that we can relate to.
Whilst Huston deserves praise for his scripting and ability to derive convincing performances from an inexperienced cast, the look of the movie definitely belongs to Darrel Cathcart. As one of the most underrated DPs of the peak period, he really put his visual stamp down with some wide-framed set-ups and impressive camera placement. His input also greatly improved another eighties slasher (Death Screams from the same year), but Exam demonstrates the best of his work. There are countless postcard shots of the boogeyman in dimly lighted locations that are extremely impressive and even if the score is clearly ripped from John Carpenter, it assists with the creation of some creepy moments.
I always felt that Michael Myers was much scarier than Jason Voorhees, because his motives were ambiguous and never clarified. Jason killed to avenge the decapitation of his mother and Michael just murdered because he was ‘pure evil’. It’s true that when it comes to antagonists, less is always more; but the killer here is a total nobody and the ‘nothing at all’ approach doesn’t work. I’m not sure if it was an unsuccessful attempt at breaking ground from Huston or some expository scenes were cut from the final print, but we’re left with a villain that is little more than a cardboard prop. We didn’t even hear the traditional radio news report that informed us that, ‘an infamous murderer has escaped the local asylum killing two-guards…’ I’ve overcome my disappointment at his lack of a ‘killer guise’, because I took it as him being so deranged that he didn’t care about concealing his identity. It’s just that the story lacks a Dr Loomis type character to elaborate his menace with some hammy lines about, ‘The blackest eyes… The devil’s eyes…’ It’s strange that the film is so similar to Halloween in its structure, but so authentic in the finer details. It’s a shame that those are the ones that no one really notices.
Over the years, many reviewers have commented on the film’s sluggish first-half and the extreme lack of gore, which are fair criticisms that I can’t defend. Personally though, I felt that this captured the essence of the peak-period superbly and showed why the golden oldies will always be the best examples of the sub-genre. There’s no denying that the pathway to the conclusion builds a sharp momentum as bodies drop in rapid succession and the final face-off in a claustrophobic bell-tower is competently staged.
Final Exam is an important addition to the slasher grouping that overcomes its accusations of imitation with some solid examples of impressive filmmaking. There are a lot of elements that don’t really move the plot in a progressive direction (the artistic, yet unnecessary POV through a kitchen vent for example) that over-inflate the runtime, but all in all there’s a lot here that warrants respect. Jimmy Huston never really revealed any trivia about the production in later interviews, which only adds to the enigma.
We live in a world that’s full of injustices and whilst Final Exam is regularly brushed aside as an average picture, Porkchop gets remade in 3D. Let that sink in for a moment…
Directed by: Chris LaMartina
Starring: Sean Quinn, Jenny Saurallo, Andrew Hughes
Review by Luis Joaquín González
How ya didling a SLASH abovers? Here we have another obscurity that I’ve spent years tracking down to examine for y’all – I’m just too damn nice! Amerikill was the first horror flick from esteemed director Chris LaMartina and it really is a ‘junior project’ in every sense of the word. Whilst it has become a cliche of the genre that most slasher films have actors in their mid-thirties unconvincingly playing teens, Amerikill turns that totally on its head. You see, this was Mr LaMartina’s High School project and he shot it with his friends at the age of 14!
I learned of its existence when I purchased Death O’Lantern from Warlock Home Video. They had a large catalogue of titles and what stood out to me about this one was the killer’s awesome Jester guise. I immediately tried to buy a copy, but was told that there were none left and there likely wouldn’t be any more available. Dejected, I set up an eBay search and tried all the usual methods of allocating a copy, to no avail. My recent review of President’s Day put me in touch directly with filmmaker Chris LaMartina and after a few begging emails, I managed to finally get him to send me a pristine DVD…
A small town High School is thrown into chaos when ‘Jester Face’ – a vicious masked serial killer – begins butchering local kids. A group of friends set out to solve the mystery by watching ‘cheesy slasher films’ to uncover the killer’s logic.
Before we kick off the review, I think it’s important that I mention something that will better allow you to understand this film. In terms of maturity, I was something of a late bloomer. I’ve just turned thirty-five and when I look back on the silly things that I did in my past, I wish that I had the ‘intelligence’ or ‘cultural understanding’ that I posses today. Adult minds are filled with analysis of past experiences, consideration of consequences and a greater fear of risk, whereas youngsters only think, ‘That looks cool, let’s do it!’. At the age of fourteen, I had no idea what a protagonist was, the difference between gibberish and complex dialogue or the reasons why I enjoyed certain films more than others. My list of ‘essential good movie ingredients’ was the size of a postage stamp and I could mindlessly sit through crap like Ninja Terminator or Day of Judgement without flinching an eyelid. Now of course, the smallest mediocre element can force me to reevaluate my rankings and even a great eighties cheese-fest like Commando has lost some of its appeal.
I tell you this because it has a lot to do with how you may perceive Amerikill. Did I think it was a very good movie? No, not particularly. Would I have done so when I was an impressionable fifteen-year-old? Hell yeah!! You see, this is a ‘fan boy’ film in the truest sense and ticks all the boxes that we know and love. It is very obviously inspired by Wes Craven’s Scream but also verbally pays homage to some peak period slasher hits such as, Sleepaway Camp. What surprised me most though was that there were a few signs of credibility that transcended the dime store budget and pre-pubescent age range.
For a start, it’s amazing how there are so few visible weaknesses in the dramatics. Whilst we are not talking method actors by any means, we see very little flat or wooden line delivery, which is a real achievement considering the amateur cast members. It could be argued of course that the kids were literally ‘playing themselves’; but in comparison with most budget stalk and slashers, Amerikill has no bad performances that really stand out. We get a whodunit mystery that waddles along admirably and even if I guessed who was under the mask early on, I never felt completely sure of my decision, and there was even a twist of kind before the credits rolled. As I mentioned earlier, the maniac has a truly creepy disguise and it led me to wonder why there are so many killer clowns, but so few psycho jesters? This dude outshone Marty Rantzen from Slaughter High, simply because he looked much more ominous in black with a white face mask that was splashed with blood. We get a number of kill scenes that include some bare bones attempts at gore and they all take place to the strains of a rock soundtrack that actually includes a few decent songs.
I guess that the reason I can’t really say that Amerikill will appeal to all slasher buffs is because it is very much a teenage movie. It was almost awkward for me watching the production, because I felt like an old guy that was trying to fit in. That’s no fault of the filmmakers of course, they couldn’t change their age; but it’s important that you prepare yourself before viewing the film. We do get a semblance of a plot narrative, but there’s no central character or script cohesion, which is totally understandable considering the lack of experienced heads on set. In fact, it’s pointless really to criticise Amerikill because it’s astounding how much the director managed to get right. Even Tim Ritter was two-years older when he made Day of the Reaper and that’s nowhere near as slick as this.
When all is said and done, Amerikill is much better than it has any right to be. We can ignore the lack of Police, the flimsy structure etc, because this is a high school project and if you leave your brain at the door, you might even enjoy some parts of the film; – I know I did. There’s fun to be had with the cheesetastic gore and we see a glimpse of the light humour tone that was so successful in President’s Day. Also, have you ever wondered why might happen if a masked killer bumped into a trio of school bullies? No? Well Chris LaMartina has – and his interpretation of it is actually pretty funny… I’m glad I saw Amerikill.
Fatal Exam 1985
Directed by: Jack Snyder
Starring: Mike Coleman, Terry Comer, Carol Fitzgerald Carlberg
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Good morning a SLASH abovers… So, here we have one that I never thought that I’d be adding to this website. I’ve owned Fatal Exam on VHS for many years, but I didn’t bother covering it because I’ve always considered it to be a bit of an outsider. I guess that it just about scrapes the guidebook in terms of what’s needed to fit within the standard template, but I was under the impression that it was a little too Satanic to really be a traditional entry. Still, with so many of you asking me to include it (12 at last count), I decided to dust off my VHS cassette and give it a whirl.
A college professor gives six students an assignment to stay in a secluded house and investigate some murders that took place a few years earlier. As the weekend unfolds, strange occurrences begin to unsettle the visitors…
The best way that I could describe Fatal Exam to you is by comparing it with one of those all-day conferences that companies send you on to do some ‘networking’. As you enter the site at 8:30 in the am, you see crates of beers being lined up behind the bar and a sign that reads, “Free drinks and snacks after the event”. You sit in a chair for the next six hours battling exhaustion, boredom and the desperate desire to fidget, whilst maintaining positivity by picturing the booze and cocktail sausages that you’ll eventually be consuming (and stuffing in your briefcase whilst no one’s looking). In the case of James Snyder’s long-forgotten debut feature though, it’s like a fourteen-hour lecture on the collaboration of a steel plate with only a stick of celery and a cup of soda water to look forward to when it’s finally finished.
120 minutes is a risky runtime for Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest motion picture achievement, so you can imagine what to expect from a flick by Jack ‘no idea what momentum means’ Snyder. Despite the glamour and glitz, filmmaking can be a long and frustrating process, because crews spend hours shooting the same thing at countless angles in order to get the right ‘tone’ for every scene. A talented editor makes his mark thereafter by removing excessive overindulgence and making sure that a taut but descriptive pace is amalgamated from the mounds of footage. Fatal Exam plays like Snyder didn’t trust his audience to understand anything without being held by the hand, so every sequence is conveyed without any dynamism or brevity at all. When a character mouths a statement in a group conversation, we see a separate reaction shot from each person, which is totally unnecessary and monotonous, because really we only needed the one – or even none at all. Also, a simple action, like someone getting an item from their car, will be displayed to us by them exiting the house, heading along a pathway, opening the boot, picking up the item and then returning. All this wasn’t necessary, because the same point could be emphasised in a single line of expository dialogue. In the world of Señor Snyder however, he yearns to show you e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in the finest detail, which gets very boring, very quickly. The film even starts with our protagonist climbing out of bed, brushing his hair, cleaning his teeth, eating a bowl of cereal, getting dressed, entering his car and driving to school. I mean FFS! JUST START THE DAMN MOVIE FROM THE DAMN SCHOOL!!!
In fact, the first forty-five minutes could have been removed and replaced with a simple text intro that would’ve worked a whole lot better. We could’ve read something like, ” Ambitious student Nick and a gang of his college buddies are given an assignment to spend a weekend at the house where the sadistic Malcolm Nostrand killed his family two-years earlier. Here’s what happened once they settled in.” That would have given us the same amount, if not more, information than we gained from the coma-inducing hour of watching bad actors do a big pile of nada. The net result is something that I can only guess was created to test the patience of Buddhist monks. Either that or it was funded by the CIA as a potential psychological weapon of torture? I’m joking of course, but the truth is that this is a sleep-inducing marathon of pointless nothingness. Apparently the film was completed in 1985, but sat on a shelf for five-years because the crew ‘ran out of budget’. I am not surprised, think how much $$$ was wasted on shooting scenes that were completely devoid of relevance. 16mm film isn’t cheap, you know. By the way, I must give a shout out to Carl Leta, the guy that scored the movie. He really played like a man that knew what he was up against, but battled valiantly to try and bring some kind of atmosphere to what he was given. It was amusing that the score was getting creepier and creepier, but all we could see on screen were a gang of halfwits doing another big pile of na….
The reason that I was in no rush to post Fatal Exam here was not only because it’s an arduous feature to sit through, but mainly because it plays more like Blood Cult than it does a typical slasher flick. We do get an antagonist in a cool grim reaper-alike guise, but he’s one of a number of villains that appear in the final thirty-minutes, which is alien to the more standard ‘central boogeyman’ trademark. Ironically, I wrote two paragraphs about the film’s lacklustre editing strategy, but the one noteworthy slasher sequence that we do get on the 78 minute mark is cut so rapidly that we can barely make out what’s happening. It’s a shame, because after sitting through all that nonsense for so long, I felt as if I thoroughly deserved the ‘free beer and sandwiches’ for my effort. What I got though was the aforementioned mouldy stick of celery and a glass of flat tomato juice.
I’m not sure what else I can tell you about Fatal Exam. I guess it’s like an even more tedious version of Girls School Screamers, but with a silly satanic sheen and the worst digital special effect at the conclusion that I’ve ever seen. In fact, I’d recommend watching it if only to see that C64-type moment of cheesy eighties madness. So this is nowhere near as good as the similarly titled Final Exam, but does it stoop to the lows of Fred Olen Ray’s Final Examination? Hmmm… That’s one I am not willing to investigate
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
Directed by: David Noble
Starring: Courtney Shay Young, LaTasha Williams, Elgin Foster
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I remember reading a report a few years back about a slasher movie that was being produced in Louisiana and how local residents were excited about its release. It had been named after a regional dance/music trend, but the one photo that was attached to the article showed a hulking killer pursuing a petrified blonde girl through some forest. I filed the news-clipping under ‘items of interest’ in a SLASH above‘s sprawling HQ (my room) and heard nothing else on the subject. Then, about a year ago, I dug-out that preview and set myself a mission of discovering the status of that peculiar picture. Zydeco is an impossibly obscure title and another a SLASH above exclusive. It’s a slice of small-town filmmaking that takes pride in its heritage and so I was keen to see how it’d play.
Two chicas from Chicago head down to explore the sights of Louisiana. Once there, they inadvertently upset the local townsfolk and become the targets of a giant merciless killer.
You know, I was so close to posting this on my Slasher Shorts page, because at 45 minutes, it barely qualifies as ‘feature length’. The reason I changed my mind is because much like Death O’Lantern and Friday the 13th: Halloween Night, it’s quite a rarity and deserves at least one ‘full’ review on the web. Perhaps the reason it’s become so obscure is because it’s such a strange runtime to sit through. We open with a text description of the notorious ‘Bloody Benders’ from Kansas, which I thought was a credible launchpad. Next comes a slickly produced credit sequence that shows a young girl fleeing through a forest from an unknown pursuer. I sat up in my seat and thought, ‘Damn, this looks good’, and it really did… at least up until I heard the twang of a country guitar…
I’m reminded of when the geeky cashier in Burger King only gives you one Ketchup to go with your XXL Bacon Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal. You’re left desperately trying to squeeze the last remaining drips from the sachet so as not be eating dry salty chips whilst wondering, “Do they pay for these sauces from their salaries or something?!?”. Zydeco looked to have run out of salsa in those first ten-seconds of pre-credit sequence and it rapidly took a downward spiral into Poopsville. We follow the two poorly acted girls as they visit sights around Louisiana and even if we could perhaps accept the uninspiring dialogue, the lack of any actual horror was proving less forgivable. I was left struggling to ascertain what tone Noble was aiming for. There’s the historical intrigue with the Bloody Bender intro, the effective chills from that initial chase scene, but then we slump into comedic dialogue and a collage of the girls on a shopping trip. I mean, what were they trying to make the audience feel…?
I stopped watching Zydeco on the twenty-five minute mark because my train had pulled into my station and the next day, I wasn’t overly keen to pick up from where I’d left off. Thankfully, director David Noble seemed to realise that the ante should be upped and when I eventually got round to finishing the feature, the introduction of the Jason Voorhees-alike killer did seem to offer slight redemption. Our antagonist is a big hefty menace and he takes out a handful of victims, which results in at least one tacky but fun gore scene. (It includes slasher regular and all round cool guy Jade La Font getting gutted!!)) I didn’t notice a huge amount of panache in the way that Noble decided to shoot the movie, but one lengthy tracking shot, which looked to have been filmed with the cameraman on a quad bike or something, was really rather audacious. It was in fact so impressive that the editor included it three times, but I’m not convinced that the only reason for its repetition was because they were proud of how it looked.
You see, Zydeco has a unique structure for a slasher that starts out fairly well, but kind of gets progressively stranger as the film rolls along. We have our main story, which is the fate of the two city girls and their eminent misfortune in and around Louisiana. Then there’s also a plot-branch involving a brother that has hired a Private Detective a while later (exactly how much later is left un-clarified) to hunt out his missing sibling. These two timelines coincide quite well until the final scene, which I won’t spoil, but it left me with the impression that they ran out of budget before finishing the original script. I could even speculate that the whole Private Detective part was bolted on to pad out the runtime and explain away the bizarre ending. If I went into detail about why I think this, it would ruin a twist that in fairness, I wasn’t expecting. If you manage to locate a copy of Zydeco though, you’ll automatically see what I mean. It feels like there’s a part of the movie that they didn’t have the funds to film and so they had to include a wrap-up scene to get it to a format that was at least releasable. I guess that this could explain why Zydeco has become hard to find and why they re-used that impressive footage. The idea was obviously to get as much out of what they had as humanly possible.
Then again, with no concrete information, all that we have is my ramblings on a SLASH above and what do I know? Maybe this is how it was all meant to be. Maybe people like collages of badly acted girls doing shopping in slasher movies. Well if that be the case, give Zydeco five-stars and hunt it out. Me, I’ll leave it with just the one (and a bit)
Memorial Valley Massacre 1988
aka Valley of Death
Directed by: Robert C Hughes
Starring: John Kerry, Cameron Mitchell, Julie Jachim
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Those were the days… The intrigue… The tension… The excitement… Oh hello a SLASH abovers and excuse me, I was just reminiscing about the times when I first discovered the Internet and opened the door to a world of slashers that stretched beyond my local video emporium. Strange as it may seem to you all, I was collecting these things even before I knew that they were part of a genre called ‘slasher’. Instead, I’d just pick up similar looking video covers and hope to see certain things that I recognised from the one that started it all for me, Halloween. Nowadays, you can check the web and know instantly whether a prospective picture is actually an entry to our beloved category or not. In moons gone by however, it was all about lucky dip.
When I eventually got onto the IMDB, I would use various investigative techniques to uncover entries to add to my list of ‘desperate to sees’. One of those was typing the word ‘Massacre’ into the search bar and examining each title to see if they were slashertastic enough for a purchase. It didn’t take long for me to uncover this beauty…. but upon discovery, a new challenge arose… locating a copy. During the late nineties, Amazon US weren’t keen on International delivery and despite them having twelve copies available on VHS at a reasonable price, I just couldn’t find a seller that’d distribute across the pond.
There I sat staring longingly at the picture from the listing, dreaming of the slasher fun that lurked inside the cardboard cover. For you pups, I guess it’s a lot easier, because additions such as this have become free content and can be downloaded in an instant from YouTube. Times have changed for the better for slasher buffs. Eventually I came across a Spanish language version in Jaén and I rushed home in excitement, eager to to witness whether Memorial Valley Massacre would satisfy me in all the ways I’d expected…? Well…
It tells the tale of a city businessman that has bought a huge piece of land and wants to open it as a camp site for people to bring their Winnebagos and spend a few days in the wild. During pre-launch, the production has suffered some unexplained events, including the deaths of a few construction workers. Despite no running water, the openning goes ahead as planned to coincide with Memorial Day, and the campers pull up in droves. Little do they know that they are sharing the grounds with a cave dwelling maniac that is out to kill….
I often go to Spain to visit my dad, younger brother and the rest of my family. Last year, whilst laying on a beach in Punta Umbría, I realised how much I miss Andalucía and felt sad that the branches of life had led me away from my true home. I returned to England and the weather was atrocious, which added to my gloomy feeling. In a semi-drunken stupor, I booked another vacation for the next couple of weeks and effectively went straight back to the Andalusian hills. From the moment I got off the return plane, it began raining; – and it continued to do so throughout my trip. ‘Tienes mala suerte’ my dad told me, but I decided that I’d at least try to go out and enjoy Sevilla with an umbrella; – and I did exactly that. That my friends is what psychologists call a ‘Positive Thinking Mindset’
You need a ‘Positive Thinking Mindset’ to really enjoy Memorial Valley Massacre, and if you engage one, you may find that your experience will be a lot like mine in rainy Andalucía. We may not have a sterling killer in the woods flick here, but instead it’s an entertaining campy ride that does provide some cheesy thrills – with the emphasis being on cheesy. For 92 minutes, MVM moves incredibly quickly and even if the action only really begins on the hour mark, the characters are silly enough to remain amusing throughout. It’s also worth noting that the picture is certainly authentic and I don’t remember another that goes for a killer that’s been borrowed from Disney’s Jungle Book. Looking like the fifth member of Twisted Sister – in a get-up that you could pick up in any dime-store fancy dress shop – his story is unique, if slightly underplayed. He was left in the forest as a child because a kidnap/ransom attempt went wrong and therefore grew up as a feral human. The filmmakers do however try to bizarrely build pathos for him in the early scenes, by showing him feeding a mouse and generally seeming at one with nature. These moments of vulnerability weaken his fear factor, but when he begins his kill frenzy, he becomes effectively merciless. One chap is set on fire and runs around screaming as he burns to death, whilst another likeable fellow ends up in a pit of spikes. It was refreshing that I felt like I wanted these guys to survive, because in more modern slashers, I couldn’t care less.
Massacre’s strengths are definitely its have a campy ball with the trademarks attitude and it’s cast of likably dumb participants. There’s an interesting relationship between hero, David Sangster, who’s the son of a millionaire businessmen that bought the land, and George Webster, the head ranger of the site. They don’t really get along at first, but instead of the more typical rookie/veteran bonding methodology, Robert C Hughes’ screenplay works slightly differently. We do get a hottie love interest for David, who’s there mainly to add eye-candy. His attempts to woo her are highly amusing, especially the speech that he uses to finally seal the deal. In fact, the dialogue here has some stand out lines like, “I’ve got cigars older than her” and “They couldn’t punch their way through a wet cracker”, which show that Hughes boasted a knack for the tongue in cheek. Having eighties slum artists such as, William Smith, John Kerry and Cameron Mitchell reciting such campiness just added the final gloss to the cheesecake.
This film plays much like Doom Asylum, which I reviewed recently, but it’s not quite as good. Whilst you could never call Doom particularly scary, it boasted gore and sharper direction, whilst Valley just feels too light-hearted, even in moments when it’s more ruthless than you expected. I believe this is because the killer just doesn’t look particuarly intimidating and the attrocious keyboard score doesn’t help. I’m no master musician, but just when you feel that the composer shouldn’t go a note higher nor lower, go there he does – and then some. The final thirty minutes of Valley are rapid with a handful of killings and a breakneck pace, but it still looks devoid of a certain something. Hughes’ direction never seems to draw you in and that’s why I couldn’t buy into what I was seeing. By no means is this a horror comedy but it would only take some minor script adjustments to make it one. And within its undecidedness on whether to go full-on gruesome tone or stay campy lies the movie’s biggest flaw.
We slasher fans know more than most that it’s possible to enjoy a shoddy movie and we pretty much created the ‘so bad its good’ saying. With MVM that’s exactly what happened for me. Due mainly to the minimal gore and nudity, it’s certainly not a worthwhile killer in the woods flick, but it’s one that serious collectors should be adding to their pile for its pure entertainment potential.
Directed by: Eamon Hardiman
Starring: Derek Rydall, Jonathan Goldsmith, Kari Whi
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Whilst slasher directors are regularly mocked by critics, I wonder if they really get the appreciation that they deserve. I mean, let’s examine this a little more closely. With 1,000+ titles in existence, do you know how hard it must be to choose a unique mask for your antagonist? Let’s be thankful for those that just keep their killer off-screen throughout the runtime, because if not, there would be no masks left for up and coming filmmakers to choose from.
Eamon Hardiman found the solution for that conundrum by going for a pig headpiece. I can hazard a guess at how he came up with the idea, it likely went something like, ‘hmmm what guise should I use for my slasher? Perhaps a dog? No – they’re man’s best friend, so not shocking enough. A bull? Hmmm well, they’re pretty threatening, but they remind me of a burger. No, we can’t have a killer Big Mac. A pig? Well Evilspeak had hogs in it. Ok, that’ll do, let’s move along. Now l know that pigs get killed in slaughterhouses (but so do cows, chickens, sheep etc) and slaughterhouses are scary, so there’s more to this idea than just animal lovin’. In fairness to Hardiman, whatever the reason for his choice, Porkchop certainly led the way in creative killer garbs for the year two-o-one-zero…
A gang of dweebs head off to a campsite in the woods for a spot of the usual antics. They fail to take heed of the legend of Porkchop – a pig-masked killer that is rumoured to stalk the local vicinity. Before long he’s after the campers with a chainsaw and a sledgehammer…
One thing that we all know about the slasher genre is that originality is rarely found amongst titles. Halloween was indeed so iconic that many of its cinematic inventions are duplicated even today. In modern times, there’s a common element that we see more and more in post-Scream productions that makes no sense to me at all. It’s the process of filling a story with totally unlikeable characters. I have hurt my head thinking about this and I cannot uncover any logic in the approach or why we see it so often. On a basic psychological level, fear derives from the threat of something that could happen to you or someone that you care about. Whilst films are obviously just fantasy, there’s a big difference between how we feel towards a character like Laurie Stroud or how we feel about ‘forgot what her name is girl’ from Porkchop. It’s a trend in recent times for slasher movies to pack their casts with boring, loutish idiots and it’s amazing in many respects how many crews stick with this methodology
In Hardiman’s slasher, we get a stereotypical punk rocker(?) with an awful English accent (I thought he was Australian at first), a guy who is cheating on his girlfriend with a ditsy teenager, a porn obsessed geek, two foul-mouthed sluts and a robot (?) voiced by Dan Hicks as the source of comic relief. R2D2 and C3PO were perfect humour providers in the original Star Wars pictures and that may have been the idea here. I don’t remember seeing a prop made of yoghurt pots taking a chick from behind in any Star Wars movie though and they could’ve ripped off Jar Jar Binks (cringe) and it would’ve made the same nonsensical impact. We look on for an hour as these poorly acted, heinously scripted jerks make jokes that progressively become more vomit inducing whilst we are left begging for the killer to turn up and put us out or misery.
When ‘Pig-Head’ finally gets to slashing, the first couple of campers are butchered off screen, which is a huge disappointment because the pre credits murder was explicitly gory and promised so much. In fact, I have to ask whether that opening sequence was bolted on later, presumably after a distributor gave them more money to inject some pizazz. The scene builds up so well, with the killer’s boots traipsing through some undergrowth whilst a stunning chica whips off her top to unveil a lovely pair of jubblies. We get a superb machete through head effect and then what follows is a ski slope to ineptsville as the film leisurely strolls through its clichéd footpath. I can give credit for the eighties references (a hideously acted guy screams ‘you’re doomed’ ala Crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th), the chicks are hotter than usual and the part where Deb uncovers the bodies of her chums is stylish with its red-ish tint and creepy scoring. My main gripe is with the characters, which are as appealing as having your appendix removed by Cropsy. Without anaesthetic.
All this leaves me wondering, what if Hardiman had scripted his cast to be likeable youngsters that we see bond over an hour’s build up? They wouldn’t have had to be good natured, we could’ve had an insecure slutty type like Donna from Humongous for example. The group could’ve grown as friends as normal people do and then when the psychopath makes an appearance, we might have rooted for them to overcome the evil, just like in any film with a well-developed protagonist. Instead, we get an overlong, poorly directed bore that I’d forgotten about moments after it’d finished.
It’s worth mentioning that Hardiman’s entry was successful enough to have a follow-up and a remake of sort that was filmed in 3D. I haven’t seen either so can’t really comment on whether the level of quality had improved, but I am mystified by Porkchop’s popularity. It offers little more than either Blood Reaper or Memorial Day and should really be thought of with the same amount of adulation. I’d go as far as to say that Camp Blood was better. Even Carnage Roa…. Ok, ok… that’s going too far…
Directed by: Antti Kiuru and 6 more
Starring: Andres Pass, Aatto Paasonen, Ville Lähde
Review by Luis Joaquín González
My recent posts of Mexican and Spanish films such as Chacal, Masacre and Atrapados en el Miedo went down really well with my readers, so continuing along the linguistic thread, I thought I’d review this Finnish slasher from the year 2000. Shot by (a record?) 7 directors, I found this 27 minute short whilst on vacation in Estonia. I have literally no information about its production, but I’ll say that it’s the first addition from Finland that I’ve come across.
A group of young males decide to meet up for a drink over Christmas. Whilst the ground is covered with snow outside, blood begins to spurt because a psychopathic stranger dressed as St Nick begins brutally slashing through the revellers. Can they stop him in their tracks?
With so many entries that I still have left to review to complete the largest online slasher A-Z, I am guilty of overlooking the countless ‘shorts’ that people have recommended.The three that I did cover, Death O’Lantern, The Hook of Woodland Heights and Friday the 13th:Halloween Night were posted more for their obscurity than anything else and I guess the same could be said about Murhapukki. What we have here is an immensely enjoyable seasonal slash-fest and despite being cheaply put-together, I found loads to appreciate.
The film kicks off with a killer in a Santa suit stealing a car from an unfortunate individual. An OTT tone is set almost immediately when the assailant chops off the hand of his intended victim and then runs him down with the automobile that he just stole. Whilst the effects are the bare minimum of believable gore, it was fun to see spraying crimson and gruesome violence so early on in the picture. From then on, we are introduced to a group of guys that are gathered in two or three homes across a snow-laden landscape. As you can imagine, twenty-seven minutes allows almost no time for character development, but the plot is rapped around a typical ‘revenge for a past event’ core that unravels as more victims are dispatched.
I guess that the reason that I enjoyed Murhapukki is because it breaks the mould by not bothering with smart-ass ‘know it all’ characters or vomit inducingly blatant ‘homages’ to genre classics. Instead it includes a handful of recognisable elements, but doesn’t portray them with the mission of proving to the audience that the screenwriter(s) are knowledgeable of the greatest hits of the category. Our psycho Santa, for example, cuts up photos of his victims after murdering them -(due to identical clothing and hair, they look to have been taken the same day?!?) -, which we saw in Prom Night/Fatal Games and Graduation Day amongst others. There’s a Carpenter-alike shot of a bread knife on a kitchen table that disappears in the next instant when the camera returns to the focal point. We even get an effective Argento-esque ‘the maniac’s behind you’ moment that’s set-up in a bathroom mirror. We could say of course that these are tributes to the trademarks, but they’re conveyed more subtlety and not with the recent methodology of ‘let’s see who can include the most references to the eighties’, which has been done to death.
In a 27 minute runtime, the directors managed to pack in tonnes of bloody murders and a handful of chase sequences that meant that I was entertained all the way through the admittedly short runtime. One of the pursuits built impressive tension as the camera switched from POV to fixed-angles and the snowy landscape single-handedly mushroomed the underscore of isolation. Whilst the continuity is laughable (one guy gets a machete in the hand, but is fine moments later) and the acting is non-existent, I thought Murhapukki achieved a good-time slasher vibe admirably.
I often wonder when watching low budget entries, how so many can struggle to take a relatively simple formula and not have a ball with it. Pukki could act as a lesson to up and coming filmmakers that getting too mixed-up in parody and conceitedness is unnecessary. I could criticise the dramatics or flimsy plot, but there’s really no need to. Instead, I got more than I was expecting. Cheesy bloody deaths, amusing inebriated ‘gangsters’, a creepy score and a Santa-suited slayer in glasses… Are you really ready…?
Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge! 1989
Directed by: Richard Friedman
Starring: Derek Rydall, Jonathan Goldsmith, Kari Whitman
Review by Luis Joaquín González
What do you get if you cross an intelligent idea for subtle comment with a garbage bag bulging with eighties trash…?
Well, you get Phantom of the Mall. This was the second slasher effort from Richard Friedman, the director of campy genre-parody, Doom Asylum. It became an attractive proposition for financiers after author Scott Schnied circulated a draft in 1982, because coming before The Initiation meant that it was the first slasher to incorporate a mall as a backdrop for some murderous mayhem. Soon after, it was signed up for a four-million dollar development with advanced special effects, but the production date was never confirmed and it kept being further delayed. As the eighties drew to a close, the budget was halved and different writers were brought on-board to make sure that the script could be completed within the tighter funding. Having read an interview with Schnied, it seems like the version that we were eventually delivered is nothing like what he had planned at the outset. In fact, it’s something of a twisted mishmash that is dismilar to anything that I’ve seen before (or likely will see after).
An un-named town in America sets about building a huge mall in its centre, but construction is held-up by a family that refuse to sell their house so that the development can continue across their land. When that same abode is burned to the ground in a fatal ‘accident’, production begins and the stores are opened quicker than expected. Local girl Melody, whose boyfriend was killed in the blaze, finds a job in the food court, but she’s still upset about the death of her beau. Before long, people begin disappearing in and around the mall and it seems that someone has an axe to grind. Could Melody’s love Eric have survived…?
For all intents and purposes, Phantom of the Mall is slightly bewildering in its structure. A story about a guy that ends up disfigured by a fire that also killed his parents, because greedy cigar-chomping politicians wanted to build a shopping centre where their house stood, should only throw pathos in one direction. Bizarrely, our antagonist turns out to be Eric; – the guy that we were feeling sorry for in the opening act – and because he had been portrayed to be a genuinely decent character, his transformation into a murderous villain is illogical and hard to comprehend. I understand of course that we are not expecting intense drama from a cheesy eighties slasher and I do like psycho killers with a believable motive. A better writer though would have recognised the obvious contradiction in the synopsis, and either made Eric have a dark side from the start (perhaps a fiery temper) or at least not conceived him to be as clean-cut and heroic as he came across in the opening scenes. From what I understand, Schnied’s original screenplay had Eric remain a good-natured vigilante type all the way through, which makes a lot more sense, but the latter adjustments deviated from a logical plot-path.
What we are left with is a movie that nods at the same kind of ‘obsession with image’ commentary that the wonderful Spanish film, Abrir los Ojos, delivered, but doesn’t really make anything of the concept. There were so many possibilities that could have been explored by the return of a disfigured former sweetheart that is seeking revenge and a reunion with the love of his life. Not one of these themes were developed to any level though and you could erase the link between the heroine and the phantom and just make it a film about a masked killer in the basement of a mall and nobody would’ve noticed any difference. Eric only murders wrong-doers and even protects Melody and her new admirer at one point in the runtime. This makes her decision to turn her back on him when he finally reveals himself the atom bomb that obliterates her appeal. She had been conveyed up until then as a sensitive heroine, but we forget about that as soon as she meets a handsome journalist and brushes off the disfigured hero that saved her life – twice. It is kind of like her saying, “I know you were my first love and suffered excruciating pain so that I could escape, but I met a guy with a car and a steady income that doesn’t live in the sewer or have a disfigured face, so see ya” . All this begs the question, why include another romantic angle when that of a saviour returning from beyond the grave is about the best that any writer could hope for? It all stinks of a poorly put-together plan of action, which is generally what you get from four separate screenwriters that don’t know or have contact with one another outside of the connection that they must finish a film on time and within budget. In principle, it’s the same as a few of my readers writing a paragraph each for a film that they watched once upon a time and me posting them together in one review here on a SLASH above.
These script issues are mainly notable because they prevent the film from fulfilling its obvious potential, but there are still bits and pieces that I enjoyed. It’s hard not to be entertained by a bunch of dweebs being stalked by a masked Kung-Fu kicking killer and this is definitely one for eighties aficionados. We get a host of bad hair styles and cheesy catchphrases along with an all-encompassing performance from Gregory Scott Cummings (Hack-O-Lantern/Click: The Calendar Girl Killer) as a hilariously OTT bad guy. He gets into a martial-arts fight with Eric that flows like Steve Seagal in extreme slo-mo and he delivers a teeth-gnashing portrayal of silliness. There’s one ok-ish killing that involves a length of rope and an escalator, but I don’t remember a single splash of blood which was a shame. In fact, the murders seem to abruptly cut before the money shot and despite the fact that I’ve never heard of an unrated copy, it’d be interesting to find out if such a thing exists. It’s only speculation, but those jumps do look a little too forced to be genuine. Perhaps it was just bad editing.
Director Richard Friedman, who had achieved marvels with his previous slasher, seems to be on auto-pilot mode for this project. His characters are fairly well proposed, but aimless, and he shoots most scenes flatly. Whereas Doom Asylum set a tone of comedic fun, Mall seems to be lost in the confusion of its moral compass. Also, the fact that we know that it’s Eric hiding in the shadows destroys any suspense or mystery surrounding the killer’s identity and motivations. It’s hard to understand why no one in the production recognised the need for a slice of tension or intrigue, but instead, a film that took seven-years to finally shoot comes across like a rushed un-planned mess. How easy would it have been to keep Eric’s identity a secret and just have him reveal himself at the conclusion? It could’ve opened the door for a more emotional struggle from a heroine who had met a new love and was suddenly confronted with the guy that was hideously scarred whilst preventing her demise. Audiences generally bond with characters that face big decisions and that would’ve worked a lot better than the confusing dreck that we were presented with. Still, we can find consolation in the fact that it may be a shame for us viewers, but imagine how Scott Schnied must’ve felt when he watched this back. His great idea for a unique slasher was ruined by influences beyond his control. It’s a shame.
Phantom of the Mall is a disappointing movie because of all the things that it doesn’t do. There’s still a chance that someone could pick up Schnied’s original script and salvage the idea, but it is looking unlikely. If that never happens, we are left with a cheesy eighties slasher that’s entertaining in a bargain-bucket way, but it’s also a failed opportunity to make something truly exceptional.
Atrapados En El Miedo 1983
Directed by: Carlos Aured
Starring: Adriana Vega, Sara Mora, José Luis Alexandre
Review by Luis Joaquín González
My recent love-in with Mexican slashers (Muerte, Bosque, Masacre) made me feel the need to dig out the last few of my own country’s entries. I wanted to confirm to myself and y’all that Spain could compete with other nations that speak our wonderful language and prove that we are indeed the Hispanic kings of the slasher category. After seeing Atrapados en el Miedo, I wish I hadn’t bothered…
This one comes from Carlos Aured, who had made a name for himself with his cult pictures of the seventies. His career began as an assistant for Leon Klimovsky and he soon progressed to the director’s chair to unleash some solid horror features, such as: El Espanto Surge de la Tumba and Los Ojos Azules de la Muñeca. Like many exploitation gurus that had achieved a modicum of prior success, the slasher boom of the early eighties gave Aured the desire to grab a slice of the cash pie that the filmmaking world had been scoffing. Atrapados would be his very own addition to the cycle and it was, in effect, his last movie. What a way to signal your departure from cinema.
Four youngsters head off to a secluded house in some woodland to spend a romantic weekend away from the rat race of Madrid. Little do they know that an escaped lunatic is also hanging around the site and he has murderous intentions for the foursome…
It’s only early December and already the Christmas parties have begun. There are few things worse than going to work after a night of heavy drinking. Your brain is a mangled mess of alcohol, cheap aftershave and cigarrillos and whilst you may be at your desk in body, you’re certainly not there in either awareness or spirit. The clock drags by like a one-legged tortoise on tranquillisers and a trip to the server room for a sly power-nap is an absurdity that seems more and more attractive. I look at Atrapados en el Miedo and I can only presume that Carlos Aured, for all his previous experience, was drinking a bit too much during the production. Either that or he’d gone insane. Actually, this was his last picture, so maybe I’m on to something there…
So where do we start? Well, with the ‘original’ aspect of a unidentified stranger breaking out of an asylum. This is demonstrated to us on-screen by a guy jumping over a wall that has a sign that says ‘mental hospital’ on it. Do we actually get to see this Mental Hospital? No. Did the crew in reality just stick a sign on the brick wall at the bottom of the producer’s back garden? Quite possibly. So with no idea who he is, what his motivations are or why he escaped, we are meant to be scared of this normal looking bloke with a curly mullet. Perhaps he was just at the asylum visiting his grandma? Maybe he was actually the groundskeeper? I mean, he was wearing a green woolly jumper. Ah, no, no; that can’t be the case. He breathes like an asthmatic after smoking twenty whole packs of Marlborough Reds. If you know your slashers dear reader, you’ll know that during the eighties, only Darth Vader and stalk and slash psychos did that; – and this sure as hell ain’t no Star Wars film.
Next up we see two Spanish chicas walking through a park. I have to give credit to Carlos Aured, because one of them, Monica, was honestly one of the most beautiful women that I have ever seen. (Except for my Mrs of course – you know, in case she’s reading). In fact, whilst watching, my partner said to me, “Do you think that girl’s pretty?” I replied, “What girl? Oh that was a woman on screen? Sorry I didn’t notice.” 😉 Anyway, Monica’s friend, who’s also at the high end of the ‘eye candy’ scale, attempts to steal a kiss in the most unconvincing lesbian clinch ever filmed. Clearly confused by her feelings, Monica sprints off into the trees where she is attacked by a stray dog. Don’t worry my dear, I’ve had days like that too. She is saved from a mauling by an unseen somebody who beats the aggressive mutt with a large branch. Just when she thinks her luck has marginally improved, Monica’s hero turns out to be our bogeyman and he begins strangling her with said branch. Her friend/would-be lover hears the commotion and sprints over to assist, but she too meets her fate at the hands of the escaped loon.
So now we are introduced to two pals and two sisters that are travelling to a remote house to study molecular science. Not really, they’re off to make ‘lurve’; a fact proven by one of the guys continually cracking sex-jokes that are so bad, even his best friend tells him to take a break. We look on as the pair of hombres go to a shop and get some booze, face the drama of not being able to buy any yoghurt and have to overcome the trials and tribulations of a puncture on their Mercedes. Meanwhile the muchachas stay at home and do very little aside from spout the silliest dialogue I’ve ever heard and look gormless. Eventually after offing the daughter of a couple of shopkeepers (who was minding her own business on a groovy bicicleta), the killer turns up and slowly begins ‘terrorising’ the couples.
I guess that with the Latin looks, cruddy dialogue, shaky photography and dumbfounding scenes, Atrapados reminded me a tiny bit of Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground. The only difference is that whilst Ground had bundles of gore, this lazy Spanish effort is essentially bone-dry. Also, I know that the music in Bianchi’s ‘classic’ was pretty off-kilter, but Código Exterior’s scoring for this is absolutely hideous. It starts with a poorly timed jazz-piece that’s as bad as an ogre playing the bagpipes and then continues to go downhill from there. If you recall Mask of Murder‘s heinous guitar lick that highlighted every ‘twist’ in the story, these guys manage even to ‘out-awful’ that with their accompaniment. It’s truly cringeworthy.
I mentioned earlier Aured directing Atrapados like he had a monster hangover throughout the production, well this is especially evident in the film’s pacing, which completely slows to a standstill during the mid-section. There’s only so much of four people spouting absurd dialogue in a small house that I can take before my eyelids come over all heavy and I begin to snooze. When the killer finally turns up, we get a conclusion that might have been ok if we could make out anything that was happening. We’ve seen on the TV that directors shout, “Lights, Camera, Action!” It looks like Aured, in his drunken stupor, forget the ‘lights’ bit. I don’t know, I just feel that an 83 minute runtime that features only three on-screen killings seems a bit tame, but maybe I’m a tough cookie to please. Where I guess that the film does succeed is in its level of bad movie-ness that’ll appeal to those that love Nail Gun Massacre, Boardinghouse, Night Ripper and the like. I already mentioned the conversations and soundtrack, but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg. Other things that stood out were that the girls getting attacked by the psychopath, but completely forgetting about it only moments later and when he returns for our heroine, she goes into a trance-like state and has to be escorted from the premises by her poorly-acted buddies. Just when you feel that every basic filmmaking principle has been shattered, the final credits show an HP Lovecraft quote that has absolutely *nothing* to do with anything we’ve witnessed…?
We live in a time now where a unified Spain could be a thing of the past as the likes of Cataluña regularly campaign for their own independence. I believe that we should stick together, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the back of the guys that made this particular picture, whatever autonomous community that they are from. We could revoke their passports for treason or something. I’m joking, of course, but one thing I will say is that Atrapdos en el Miedo translates to Trapped in Fear. I admit that it’s a cool title, but I have thought of one that’s far more suitable: Atrapado en el Baño con una Gran Caca… I’ll let you Google translate it…