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La Muerte del Chacal Review 1983

La Muerte Del Chacal 1983

aka The Death of the Jackal

Directed by: Pedro Galindo III

Starring: Mario Almada, Fernando Almada, Christina Molina

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Review by Luis Joaquín González

My review of Bosque De Muerte from a couple of weeks ago got me thinking. There’s no doubting that the best overall slasher films are from the United States. However, because 45656767766565656576America has also unleashed so many ‘challenging’ entries, like Curse of Halloween, Angus Valley Farms and Fever Lake, the quality percentage on average of their entire output has taken something of a battering. It’s unfair of course to compare a country that’s not far from quadruple figures with a country with only a hundred or so releases. My point is that Mexican slashers, in general, are pretty damn good. The few that I’ve reviewed on a SLASH above (Bosque, Trampa Infernal, Dimensiones Ocultas and Ladrones de Tumbas) are all well worth a watch; and La Muerte del Chacal is yet another.45657687989887766676

Directed by prolific horror (and slasher) craftsman Pedro Galindo III, Chacal was arguably the first Mexican entry to truly show signs of a John Carpenter influence. Like many of its hermanas from south of the US border, it was unfortunate not to have garnered a subtitled global distribution deal and therefore remains barely seen. I noticed that there has been a recent DVD release, but from the listing I found on Amazon, it doesn’t look to have been dubbed or translated in any way, which I thought was a shame.

A psychopathic killer in traditional Giallo garb is stalking the local port and murdering anyone unfortunate enough to wander close to an abandoned ship where he resides. 465768787877676657687898Sherif Bob is struggling to uncover any clues to the maniac’s identity and so he enlists his brother Roy to help him capture the maniacal assassin. Before long Bob become the target for the boogeyman and decides to set a trap to stop him once and for all…

I feel really bad for saying this, because I understand that the majority of my readers don’t speak Spanish. Well, start writing emails to Anchor Bay and the like right now demanding an accessible copy, because Chacal is an outstanding slice of eighties entertainment. Like many European and South American titles of the peak years (Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche/Shock Diversão Diabolica), director Galindo either didn’t recognise or care to display the subtle differences between the Giallo and the Slasher. The killer’s guise, shadowy presence and the in-depth investigation that follows him are all elements lifted from the Bava/Argento school of murderous motion pictures. On the other hand, the utilisation of the ‘have sex and die’ rule, heavy breath POVs and the 4657687878776655879898inclusion of a lone female as the final target are trademarks of the Stalk and Slasher. In fairness to Galindo though, his addition also adds a few of its own unique ingredients.

I’m not going to tell you the identity of the boogeyman because it comes as a shock, even though it’s revealed quite early in the runtime. It was essential for Gilberto de Anda’s script to unmask its antagonist prematurely, because the twist adds a unique level of emotional involvement to the final stretch toward the finishing line. Galindo ups the ante by including a speed boat chase, an asylum break-out and a fair few murders that may lack graphic gore but are still smartly conveyed. Some structured camera placement makes the killer’s lair (an abandoned boat), seem creepily isolated and the fact that he is accompanied by a trio of vicious Doberman Pinchers makes him seem all the more indestructible. A few set-pieces deliver sharp shades of suspense and there’s no better example of this than the slaughter of a female and her mother in a spacious living room. Nacho Mendez’s score is 45457687879887787665767687at times reminiscent of the best of Paul Zaza’s work and when he’s not ruining it by incorporating weird sci/fi-alike tweaks, he compliments the overall atmosphere superbly.

Chacal was filmed in Brownsville, Texas and it’s interesting that the characters all boast English-language names, such as: Roy, Bob, Joan, Sally and Jack. With that in mind, it seems strange that producer Santiago Galindo didn’t explore a wider release plan with dialogue translations because the film could have been popular on external shores. Still, they must have achieved a modicum of success because a sequel was released within twelve-months that continued the saga. I’m sitting looking at a copy right now and thinking that I need to pencil a review for you45456576879898900909 all shortly. In fact, it’s being inserted into my VCR as I type.

I guess the hardest question for me to answer for you is, should you watch Chacal in Spanish if you don’t understand the dialogue? To be honest, I would say, no. It’s not that you won’t be scared by some of the stalking sequences and kept on the edge of your seat when the killer strikes. It’s just that de Anda’s script has invested heavily in adding an authentic undercurrent of shock, rivalry, despair, shame and sorrow to the 76764373873983983983093093synopsis that would be ruined without understanding the concept. I am cautious of making the movie sound better than it truly is, but I really bought into the idea of a hero that’s been thrust into a situation that demands so much more than personal sacrifice. It’s also worth nothing that Mario Almada does a superb job of bringing that persona to life. I’m so convinced of its quality that I’ve placed Chacal in my top 50.

Get writing those emails peeps. The power of the slasher fanbase got us My Bloody Valentine uncut, so let’s do the same here (I’m available to provide translations if the price fits ;)) haha

Slasher Trappings:

Killer Guise:√√

Gore:√√

Final Girl:√√√

RATING: a-slash-above-logo11a-slash-above-logo11a-slash-above-logo11a-slash-above-logo11

456576878787877676878798

The Silent Scream 1979 Review

The Silent Scream 1979

Directed by: Denny Harris

Starring: Barbara Steele, Rebecca Balding, Cameron Mitchell

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Review by Luisito Joaquín González

Perhaps it’s because they were generally more amateurish projects, or maybe it’s just that funding was often 43225567632hard to secure, but I’ve always wondered why so many slasher movies from the peak years suffered problematic productions. Titles like Moon In Scorpio, Scalps, Truth or Dare, Killer Party and especially Curtains never saw light of day as they were initially intended and the issues were certainly visible in the final print. Silent Scream was completed in 1977, but was considered unreleasable by director Denny Harris. He hired an entire new cast and brought in Jim and Ken Wheat to re-write the script at his own expense. 344433322Together they decided to make it more similar to the boom that had swept cinema around that time, the slasher genre.

Now the major difference between the titles that I mentioned earlier and Silent Scream is that for once the movie that we ended up with worked superbly. Whereas for example Curtains never escaped its muddled backbone, if I hadn’t have read the stories of a troubled shoot, I would have been none the wiser here.

 

In the rush to find housing before the new semester, four students end up at a recently refurbished house overlooking a remote beach. A couple of hours after they move in, they are shocked when one of their 43265number is brutally murdered by an unseen fiend during the night. Little do they know that the deranged killer is closer than they could ever have imagined.

Whilst I have no doubt in my mind that Halloween played a part in the inspiration for the final version of Silent Scream, the fact that it was released so close to Carpenter’s classic means that it avoids many of the traditional trappings. Instead, the Wheat brothers seem to have followed the blueprint of features like Black Christmas and Psycho to come up with the synopsis for this doom-laden thriller. Even if we do get the standard troupe of teenage victims, there’s no sign of trademarks like the have sex and die rule. I found it refreshing that the heroine’s characterisation didn’t follow the path that would become a cliché and the story feels closer to reality because of that. The four key personalities are so well developed during the opening scenes that it’s tough to chose who we think will succumb to the killer’s blade first. This gives the picture an extra shade of suspense that only adds to the 2133444solid mystery.

Harris had been a big fan of horror movies and he rallied valiantly to get his first film produced. After watching how professionally everything had been put together, I had no idea that this was the work of a debutant and I’m still surprised that it’s his one and only motion picture credit. A slick juxtaposition of fixed camera angles and shots that loom ominously give the feature an extremely polished look and a fitting score from Richard Kellaway adds an extra layer of class. What impressed me most about the film was that the screenwriters took something as unoriginal as a tale of a bogeyman in the basement and twisted it continuously keep viewers guessing. The decision to include a corny doo-wop tune as the psycho’s calling card worked along the same methodology 366554439977as utilising childlike themes such as a clown or a doll. Once combined, these elements gave Silent Scream an incredibly creepy tone of subtle menace that remained constant throughout.

It’s often forgotten that the art of acting is not just spouting lines of dialogue with emotion. I was saying to a friend just recently that if Brad Pitt ends his career without an Oscar, it would be almost criminal. It could have been easy for him to become a Rom-Com king and trade on his looks, but he always chooses audacious roles that for whatever reason he hasn’t yet been acknowledged for. Barbara Steele shows here that she can deliver a performance via body language and gestures that puts her a level above her peers. She steals every scene in a brilliant portrayal that must’ve 6776554332motivated those around her to up their game. The dysfunctional family stereotype is skewed to perfection and it never reaches the realms of over indulgence.

Silent Scream is a brilliant slasher movie and amongst the best of the genre. Whilst it may be more of a Hitchcockian nod to Psycho than a true teenie-kill feature, it delivers blood and scares like the best of them. Quite why it is not as fondly thought of as The Burning et al is an enigma and I definitely think you should re-visit it sooner rather than latter.

Slasher Trappings:

Killer Guise:

Gore √

Final Girl √√√

RATING:a-slash-above-logo11a-slash-above-logo11a-slash-above-logo11a-slash-above-logo11

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Terror Night 1987 Review

Terror Night 1988

aka Bloody Movie

Directed by: Nick Marino (Andre De Toth rumoured)

Starring: John Ireland, Cameron Mitchell, Alan Hale Jr.

Review by Luisito Joaquín González

This is an update of the review that I posted on the IMDB many years ago. I think that I wrote something like 2,500 words, so I have condensed it down to the bare minimum for you 🙂

Produced in 1987, Terror Night became the 746746746737837slasher movie equivalent of the Holy Grail for horror enthusiasts after it never secured its expected release. We waited for twenty 74784874387383years until it finally crept out almost unnoticed on a budget DVD with a cruddy transfer. During production, it had been covered in various horror fanzines, meaning that when a launch date never arrived, fans were left wondering what exactly happened. It became like an urban legend with people knowing someone who knew somebody else that had seen it, but it wasn’t until the late nineties when I came across a German subtitled bootleg copy that I was sure that it even existed.

It is believed that copyright wrangles with additional footage, which was ‘borrowed’ from classic movies for inclusion to the story, prevented Terror Night from gaining public exposure. There are also purely unconfirmed reports that it was funded by mob money, which adds a real Hollywood-style twist to its reputation. I must admit that I find that hard to believe, because the Mafia in Los Angeles surely had better things to throw their money at than an entry to a dying craze, which the slasher was by 1988. With that said, I have also read a report that stated that Nick Marino’s Mafioso cousin got him involved in the production as a favour and convinced Andre De Toth to sign on to help the inexperienced 985875849839393débutant. Perhaps they made De Toth an offer that he couldn’t refuse? Did he find a horse’s head in his bed one morning? Anyway, a few pre-screeners saw the light of day, which were then copied privately and passed around on the VHS black-market, but up 736736732142362until very recently, it had remained locked in a studio vault. The unfortunate production problems admittedly gave the film a somewhat alluring edge and I was happy when I finally got my hands on a watchable print.

A group of youngsters decide to spend the night in the dilapidated Hollywood mansion of one-time screen idol Lance Hayward. Hayward has been missing for over forty years and despite rumours that he emigrated to Europe, it is believed that he died many years ago. The teenagers soon learn that this is not true as Hayward begins stalking and slaughtering the group one by one, whilst donning costumes of the characters from his previous cinematic adventures.

Had Terror Night been released as had been intended by the production team, I predict that it would have been a relatively popular addition to the category and a good 78784674784875757854874874seller on the VHS and drive-in markets. It boasts many of the essential ingredients that made its more successful genre counterparts household names, including a young and attractive cast, some decent bloody deaths, credible gore and a unique antagonist.

The use of retro movie footage to accompany the murders was an interesting touch; even though it almost certainly proved to play a key part in the film’s downfall and ruined any chance of the ongoing franchise that producers during this period would have hoped for. Despite sticking closely to the familiar rulebook, the key source of influence seems to stem from the 1980 thriller, Fade to Black. The synopsis is incredibly similar, although Terror Night gives its all to be an out and out slasher flick, whereas Fade to Black promised so much but turned out to be nothing of the sort.

The cast do a good enough job with what they are given, especially the old-timers who seem to be having a ball with their small cameos. Cameron Mitchell turns up for an awesome slice of scene-874874784874chewing and like all the senior screen veterans, he seems to be motivated to do more than just phone-in a few lines for the paycheque. The various choices of costume for the killer provide a good dose of cheesy fun (I especially enjoyed the maniacal knight-in-armour) and the murders are almost always energetic and gory. Screen queen Michelle Bauer comes along for her usual shift of getting naked and then viciously slaughtered and porn hottie Jamie Summers is also included for a rare non-adult film role to up the eye-candy factor.

First (and last) time director Nick Marino creates little in terms of tension or suspense and his modus operandi seemed to be little more than point the camera, shoot what was in front of him and then shout ‘Cut’! Andre De Toth’s involvement in the direction of a share of the scenes is a rumour that has never been confirmed or denied, but either way, there’s nothing exceptional here to be noted. He gets a thank you in the closing credits, which adds some weight to the case, but unfortunately, 76without the press package that would have accompanied Terror Night if it had secured a better release, there is little way of knowing for sure who worked on what.

Perhaps the flaws that we come across whilst watching are also to be blamed on the problematic production? The sets are inadequately lighted to the point of frustration in places and they lack the visual gloss that their creative layouts deserved. The story is also somewhat rushed and unclear and fails to deliver a satisfying resolution to the puzzle that it works so hard on creating throughout the length of the runtime. We never find out if our bogeyman is actually a ghost or just a semi-supernatural ninety-year-old with the appearance of someone half that age. Would these blemishes have been ironed out if the movie had not have come up against so many issues during and after the shoot? It is really hard to say and we will never know for sure when it was decided that Terror Night would not secure worldwide circulation17373673. Perhaps the filmmakers never got the chance to add the finishing touches that would have given their project a more ‘completed’ feel. The campy ending however can’t be blamed on disjointed development 84874674873873woes. It’s pure eighties cheese on toast slasher screenwriting at its funniest – you just have to check it out!

It’s as clear as a polished crystal that Terror Night didn’t have the most straight forward journey on to budget DVD. Even if there are a handful of weak moments, none of them look to have been big or bad enough to have kept the movie in a vault for so long. It has enough in its gore coated handbag to satisfy fans that are looking for an obscure and fun genre-piece that does deliver the goods. It’s packed to the brim with hokey gore and excessive nudity, which makes it an almost perfect exploitation piece.

I briefly thought about adding Terror Night to my top 50 slasher pictures category here on a SLASH above, but I finally decided against it. Still, it is quite a quirky slasher picture and I really enjoyed sitting down to watch it.

Slasher Trappings:

Killer Guise:√√√√

Gore √√√

Final Girl √√

RATING:

1738673652367287111

Deadly Blessing 1981 Review

Deadly Blessing 1981

aka Bendición Mortal

Directed by: Wes Craven

Starring: Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Susan Buckner

Review by Luisito Joaquín González

At first glance, one could be forgiven for believing it was fairly paradoxical that it should be Wes Craven that i7865746555ended up directing Kevin Williamson’s tribute to the slasher films of the early-eighties. The polished offerings that earned him his reputation up until that point had not actually been the traditional stalk and slash flicks that Scream so lovingly references. Despite what a lot of people assume, A Nightmare on Elm Street was more of a supernatural new style of horror flick than a typical slasher. That isn’t meant as any kind of criticism, because a little originality goes a very long way in this category. At the end of the day though, Freddy Krueger was not1527 a typical slasher movie bogeyman and neither was Horace Pinker from Shocker, which is also often wrongly confused as a formulaic Halloween spin-off. Horace’s ability to merge with electricity and possess his victims spoiled his chances of joining the brand that Mr. Myers and his knife-wielding accomplices frequent with their own stringent guidelines.

It’s a debate that could go on forever and I guess no one is truly ‘right’. For me however, with so many titles that follow the Halloween/Friday the 13th mould so closely, Freddy and the like always just felt a tad too far removed from the initial template and that’s why I don’t consider them to be true stalk and slash flicks. I mean, shouldn’t a ‘slasher’ use a blade or something to ‘slash’ with?

Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that Craven did create a rarely-mentioned offering that can neatly slot itself 838743784378476476433alongside its counterparts and was indeed good enough to rub shoulders with a few of the genre giants. His 1981 opus Deadly Blessing, makes good use of the clichés that hadn’t been so severely overused at the time of its release and he also includes a few authentic ingredients of his own, which mark an intriguing addition to the formula.

This was also an early movie role for the woman who would go on to become one of the eighties’ sexiest leading ladies. She’s famous for the most memorable leg-crossing scene in movie history and also 1893283743764managed at least one credible dramatic performance in Scorsese’s Casino. You guessed it – one of the scrumptious females terrorised by the mystery killer is an extremely young and barely recognisable Sharon Stone.

The Hitties are an Amish-like sect who have built their own community in the secluded hills of a rural area. When a former member of their number is mysteriously murdered in the opening, they lay the blame on his wife, Martha (Maren Jensen) by calling her ‘the incubus’. In order to help with her grief and animosity from the locals, two of her friends drive up from the city to stay with her. After a while, a 32893834784374black-gloved maniac begins cutting his way through the locals and taking a particular interest in the widow and her visitors. Who could be the assassin?

Wes Craven mixes some neat visual flourishes and some superb set pieces to great effect throughout Deadly Blessing. The barn-scene has already made a place for itself amongst horror hits and it’s an electric and pulsating sequence. Lana (Sharon Stone) heads to the farmhouse to find a replacement spark plug for a tractor that the girls have been using for the land work. Once she’s inside, the door and windows slam shut, as if by a supernatural force. Then a mysterious assailant stalks her in one of the tightest and most skilfully crafted sequences of the slasher era. After a successful jump-scare, she finally sees a way out of the claustrophobic nightmare and heads for the exit. Just as she’s about to leave, an earlier victim’s corpse – which was strung up by rope – drops down in front of her, marking the perfect finish to a superb scene. Sharon Stone gets a pretty torrid time in this feature and when she’s not being targeted by the 27327636732672367326727617unseen menace, she’s having nightmares about a large spider being dropped in her mouth! (Real spider by the way)

The stalking in the barn isn’t the only moment that shines with the incandescent brim of stylish craftsmanship. There’s a ‘snake in bathtub’ sequence that was equally as spellbinding and Craven flick shows enough confidence in his storytelling to avoid making the movie a total rip-off of it’s peers. Although at heart, this is a slasher film with all the necessary ingredients that keep it in the category, the constant use of snakes and spiders as a skin-crawling alternative to masks and kitchen knifes is very inviting. There is also a satanic sheen and a supernatural twist at the end, which you may not get to see, depending on what version that you own. The IMDB states that the UK release omits that final scene (which is not true), but the Spanish copy that I own definitely doesn’t include it. Yes, the notorious incubus ending does add a bit of a desperate and unnecessary enigma to an otherwise logical story. Don’t blame Craven for this unnecessary inclsion though, apparently it was the decision of over anxious producers.

The experienced cast members do a good job here, especially Ernest Borgnine who is restrained when handling a potential ham-feast. Obviously someone saw enough in Sharon Stone’s somewhat amateur portrayal, which would begin her on the road to mega stardom. It’s worth noting that Lana is probably the most approachable and sympathetic character that she’s ever played. She’s certainly a lot different from the ice-cold personas that Stone would later become famous for.832747843743

Blessing has an interesting moral compass with an unusual and authentic pathway on who to root for. The plot touches on subjects such as marriage and adultery, but doesn’t reward either as a rightful path and has no defined stance. Glenn Benest’s script also builds very strong female players and this is especially evident in the climax, which I won’t spoil here. Placing the synopsis around such a religious and respectful sect explores various intriguing notions. Whilst the elders are disgusted about the modern and what they consider to be reckless ways of Martha and her alien city folk friends, the younger males are captivated by their style and easy-natured beauty. Because of the difference in the views of morality between the opposing lifestyles, there are obvious clashes and the slasher rules like ‘have sex and die’ seem all the more prohibited and stand out because of that. Although this is nowhere near as dream focused as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven’s obsession with our sleep subconscious is also utilised here in the aforementioned spider sequence and there’s almost always some nightmare imagery incorporated 32893834784374somewhere in his features. ( Remember the dentist part from Last House on the Left?). In fact, even if the incubus finale does somewhat destroy any coherent structure, it does leave the feature with a dreamlike surreal tone, even if it was unintended.

The only real let down is the somewhat intermittent pacing. A lot more screen-time should have been given to the assailant and the murders are too infrequently placed for my liking. With a fantastic score and good cast to play with, I would have perhaps liked to have seen a few more killings. Still though, it boasts an intriguing story, hot Sharon Stone, polished production and adept direction, so it’s everything a slasher movie needs to be. The jump scares here are very well delivered and the suspense is teeth-clenching. If you can find Deadly Blessing, then it’s definitely worth checking out.

Slasher Trappings:

Killer Guise:

Gore √

Final Girl √√√√

RATING: 

67747847848748438939839839



Death Valley 1982 Review

Death Valley 1982

Directed by: Dick Richards

Starring: Paul Le Mat, Catherine Hicks, Peter Billingsley

Review by Luisito Joaquín González

There’s a line in this forgotten mid-budgeted slasher that really struck a chord with me. It reminded me that there are some couples I know that meet in their early teens and stay together 786747for most of their lives. Other friends that I have jump from one relationship to the next and never really find a platonic bond with a partner. In a surprisingly philosophical piece of dialogue early on in the runtime, a father is asked by his child as to why he has separated from his mother. “We fell in love with a picture”. He replies rather awkwardly. “I’m 4564656558not the man that your mother wants and she’s not the woman with whom I fell in love with”. ‘Fell in love with a picture’…

This is a fault in the wiring of mankind that occurs with unfortunate regularity. We are so brainwashed by the desperation to find Mr or Mrs Right that sometimes we don’t see the ‘wider plan’ and so we buy in to an image of a person that our imagination has construed. Then we get disappointed that things don’t work out the way that we envisioned. What a fine piece of insight from a member of a genre that’s not known for its intelligence or cultural acknowledgement.

There are other touching moments in Death Valley, which are brought about from a gamble taken by screenwriter Richard Rothstein. Almost all of the slasher movies released during the peak years had a central character that was either in their late teens or adulthood. Here we have a ‘Final Boy’ who is just that: a young boy. It’s a shot in the dark that hits the target and creates an authentic and enjoyable alternative.

A divorcee and her young son head off to Arizona to visit her boyfriend. Whilst exploring the desert, the young child becomes an unwitting witness in a murder case. When the killer is made aware of his identity, he begins to stalk the threesome, killing everyone in his way…

Rothstein has never been considered as a particularly accomplished screenwriter and a list of credits that include Universal Soldier and Hard to Hold add weight to that consensus. On this basis, I would consider Death Valley to be the best of his work. It’s a film that offers various cinematic moods in one fast paced and compact time frame. It was released in 1982 on a generous budget (for the category it frequents), but got lost in the multitude of masked killers and disappeared quite rapidly. Despite being picked 784674674up by a large label, it received very little fanfare or marketing, which didn’t help and it has only recently been given a shot on DVD.

The ‘father and son’ opening conversation scene that I mentioned above builds an interesting sub-plot, which involves the mother’s new boyfriend who is played by Paul Le Mat. Le Mat is somewhat of an enigma for me, because he made his name in the pre Star Wars George Lucas hit, American Graffiti. He shared billing there with Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith and outshone the three of them with a performance full of charisma. Handsome and rugged with an intriguing screen presence, he seemed to be perfect leading man material, suited to the kind of roles that his co-star from Graffiti, Harrison Ford, would later excel in. His ship never rolled in however and eight years down the line, he was turning up in mid-range films such as this.

The guy that he portrays here is in love with the mother of our final boy and wants to be accepted with minimal fuss. The child however is ‘loyal’ to his father and isn’t open to the ‘uninspired’ attempts to win his trust. It’s staged superbly, because the viewer is unsure who is more deserving of sympathy. Whilst we can notice that the kid may be unnecessarily awkward in not accepting the efforts to build a friendship; said ‘efforts’ are delivered half-heatedly and with minimal patience from the adult. At times it feels like he is an unwanted addition on the holiday, which in a way makes neither character morally superior. I was totally engrossed in this relationship for the first twenty minutes or so and forgot that I was watching a horror film.

When the slasher stuff starts though, things hot up nicely. Three teens in a RV, including an amazingly hot chica in a boob tube, are slaughtered systematically with some neat camera work and splashings of blood. The killer puts in a couple more creepy appearances and chucks in a well timed jump scare to boot. He drives a creepy as hell 1958 Cadillac Series 62 Sedan with the legendary ‘Dagmar’ Bumpers and the moments where we see the car ‘stalking’ bring to mind John Carpenter’s Christine, a year before that movie was even released. There’s a few tense moments, like when the boy stumbles across a murder site early on and we get a cooler than cool chase sequence in an old Western town, where the intended victim thinks it’s just a game. There’s also a terrific score from Dana Kaproff that sounds like a cross between Manfredini and Zaza. Yes, it is that good.

The acting from the entire cast is top quality and real mention should go to the outstanding work from the eleven year old Peter Billingsley as the youngster and Stephen McHattie as the twisted killer. Even if director Dick Richards didn’t do anything exciting technically, he got the best out of his cast with the dramatics. The plot roles very neatly through to it’s conclusion and they even manage to chuck in a twist and a tad of humour of the darkest kind. This involves a girl with obvious, ahem, ‘weight problems’ getting slashed because she went for just that one treat too many. It’s worth noting that Valley is the closest we have to a slasher Western and the nut job even sports a ‘mask’ that is a Cowboy hat and a neckerchief! How can you not like that?

Some have written that the film suffers from a muddled story, but I really didn’t notice that at all. Instead, it chucks in all the clichés and still manages to be somewhat off-beat. Perhaps not scary or gory enough to be a lost classic, but it has enough suspense, intrigue and fluidity to guarantee a fun hour and a half’s entertainment.

Slasher Trappings:

Killer Guise: √√√

Gore: √√

Final Girl:

RATING:

838748738738739833

Silent Madness 1984 Review

Silent Madness 1984

aka Beautiful Screamers, The Omega Factor

Directed by: Simon Nuchtern

Starring: Belinda Montgomery, Viveca Lindfors, Solly Marx

Review by Luisito Joaquín González

In my review for The Scaremaker, I mentioned that it was one of a number of slasher flicks that were overlooked due to the barrage of releases at that time. Silent Madness is another such entry that barely gets any recognition nowadays, which I was keen to investigate once again having not watched it for a decade or so. As you are well aware, a SLASH above is always trying to hunt 988976556out hidden gems for your collections.

Recently, there has been a wealth of 3D in our cinemas, which could lead you to believe that it was something of a new invention for the humble stalk and slash category. Although effects have definitely improved, the truth is that we were treated to offerings in three dimension long before the remake of My Bloody Valentine. You are probably aware already of Friday the 13th part III, but there was also this much lower budgeted effort that launched across cinemas with the neat gimmick that you need groovy specs for.

After a blunder at a mental hospital, the staff release the mute and psychotic Howard Johns who was responsible for some sorority slashing years earlier instead of the relatively harmless John Howard. A considerate shrink believes that he could be on his way back to the location of his previous crimes and heads there in order to stop him.

By 1984 the genre was already less of a draw for studio financing, so it’s somewhat refreshing to watch an effort that seems to have the mission statement of being played in theatres rather than 1564561523aiming straight for video store shelves. It’s notably bold in that unlike the same year’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, Silent Madness makes absolutely no effort to do anything even remotely authentic and instead sticks to the formula of a dollop of Slumber Party Massacre with a bit of Halloween and Friday the 13th thrown in just for good measure. 8978766554The killer is your typical muted menace with a murder lust and there’s a whole host of teenagers that he slices through and stalks using the trademark methodology.

I own two copies of this feature. One is on VHS, which is totally uncut and then I have a budget UK DVD that omits a few fun cheesy gore scenes. In their entirety, the murders are all quite creative in their delivery and I was quite impressed with the director’s imagination. One skateboarding bunny gets her head crushed in a vice and there’s a couple of other gruesome highlights that are worth a look. Watch out for the bit when a girl is slaughtered whilst playing that old arcade classic, Dragon’s Lair, which I used to spend hours trying to complete with my brother on my Commodore 64. The director pulls off the odd moment of suspense and there’s a very good jump scare here too.

What I was really impressed with was the film’s subtle political commentary. There’s a lot said about the asylum not having the budget to keep all of its patients and they are trying to release as 898976676565many as possible. This is an obvious dig at the cost cutting ideas of the Reagan era when it was noted that many unfortunates were being freed too prematurely and it’s quite effective in its delivery. I also picked up on a heavy dose of obvious misogyny; not only in the maniac’s choice of victims, but in the way that the male characters approach the heroine. All the hospital workers treat her as an idiot and she is even disrespected by the orderlies (watch out of the hilarious evil laugh scene). If it weren’t for the fact that the head manager was a woman who was equally as dubious, I would have been sure that it was another subtle expression of cultural topic from the filmmakers.

The other character with a confused sense of morals is the goofball sheriff who spouts lines such as, ‘Just because the gawdamn broad is so good looking, don’t mean we all have to think with our dicks!’ In typical genre fashion, he’s a bit of a doofus and to call him ‘smart’ would be like saying that Ryan Giggs was ‘faithful’. No one really believes the Doctor when she warns them that the maniac could be on his way back to the sorority and she only has a journalist as a partner to help apprehend the murderous nut job. There’s a pretty unexpected twist that came as a surprise and in a rare move, there is no open ending so it hints that the production team were never considering a sequel even if this had of been a major success, which I doubt it was.

None of the teenage girls are given any real depth or personality and they are only there to be murdered, but the leads put in a good enough shift with what they are given. Belinda Montgomery was charming as the final ‘woman’ and Viveca Lindfors gave it her all in the smallest of parts. The momentum stagnates a tad in places and some of the dialogue scenes were fairly limp, but the story has just enough to keep you hooked and I never felt the need to take my eyes off the screen.

Silent Madness is pretty much stalk and slash in its comfort zone and never manages anything out of the ordinary and plods through the clichés like a tortoise on Valium. It’s by no means a bad film, but not a diamond in the rough either. It is certainly no worse than some of its peers that it shares a release date with and I can only put it down to bad luck that it is not more often mentioned as a referential piece of slasher hokum.

If you’re a collector, I can’t think of any reason why you shouldn’t pick it up and it offers much more than the likes of Final Exam and He Knows You’re Alone. It made me want to download one of those C64 converters a have a shot at Dragon’s Lair and The Last Ninja once again…

Slasher Trappings:

Killer Guise:

Gore √√

Final Girl √√√

RATING:


Hardcover 1989 Review

Hardcover 1988

aka I,Madman

Directed by: Tibor Takács

Starring: Jenny Wright, Clayton Rohner, Randall William Cook

Review by Luisito Joaquín González

People often ask how and why I don’t class A Nightmare on Elm Street to be a proper slasher flick and so I thought 874784873893983983983I’d clear it up once and for all. Firstly, the biggest giveaway is the word ‘slasher’, but to explain in more detail, we have to go back. In fact, we have to go way way back, back to the roots of the genre. What do Blood and Black Lace, Psycho, Black Christmas and Torso all have in common? Well they all had a maniac armed with some kind of ‘melee’ weapon (knife, axe, pitchfork etc) who stalked and murdered his/her intended prey. Halloween made 89787654its bogeyman supernatural in a way, but his modus operandi was to kill with non-supernatural appliances. Now Freddy is most definitely a stalk and slash villain, but as soon I saw Johnny Depp get dragged in to a bed with a fountain of crimson spraying over the ceiling, it dawned on me that this has to be clarified somewhere else.

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion on this subject, but for me, instead of saying that these are not slasher flicks, I would give them a separate category within the genre. That way, the likes of Pledge Night could also get a shout. Here on a SLASH above however it’s all about the ways people are killed that gives a movie the benefit of a review posted by the man himself (well, me!).

All this talk brings us to Hardcover, a film with big enough cojones to walk the fine line between A Nightmare on Elm Street grouping and your more regular catalogue addition. I said in my review of Maniac Cop that not only 1981 was a dandy time for psycho killers, but 1988 was also packed to the brim and here is even more evidence. Hardcover was finished and ready to hit the screens that year, but so as not to put it up against Freddy, Jason and Señor Myers who all had sequels in the cinema, they pushed it back to the following April. The intention here was most definitely to rival Freddy Krueger and the plot adds some fantasy and supernatural touches. The disfigured killer armed with a cut-throat razor however, makes this picture more aligned to its counterparts that are featured on this page than those of the ‘Elm Street’ variety

Virginia discovers a really good novel at the bookstore where she works. It’s called “I, Madman” and it’s about an insane doctor who goes on a kill frenzy in the name of love. Virginia soon 874674873873983983983983discovers that as she turns the pages of the story, the killer is committing the same horrid murders in reality. She tells her detective boyfriend, Richard, but he rubbishes it off, thinking that she is getting carried away. As more bodies turn up around town, it’s left up to Virginia to stop the maniac before he kills again…

Compared to the majority of later entries, Hardcover has high-ish production values and is a wonderful flick to look at as it bathes in its gothic set designs. The action takes place in an apartment building that brings to mind the hotel from Barton Fink and it has an edgy score from Michael Hoenig. For director Tibor Takács, horror is all about big 89765645crescendos and false scares and he makes some of them work. What he does very well is take a few slasher clichés and expand them by mixing reality with imaginative fantasy. We have the charming final girl who no one believes, the disfigured killer who only seems to reveal himself to her outside of his victims and the cops who think she’s a loon. But instead of making it a mystery on a surrealist edge so the viewer is unaware if it is all in her mind or not, we share her frustration and know that she’s telling the truth, which allows us to bond with her.

Jenny Wright is good in the role of the bespectacled loveable bookworm with a subtle sexiness and finds the right balance between fearful female and brave heroine. The 8487487398398393093093scenes of her alone, at home and reading her beloved horror stories make her come across just like us slasher fans, who love to indulge in the frightful side of media. Clayton Rohner from Destroyer and April Fool’s Day plays it straight as her boyfriend and they make for an attractive pairing. The maniac is performed by special effects guru Randall Cook, who rumour has it was so impressed with his guise for the bogeyman that he asked to wear it himself. The killer looks creepy as hell and the way he just appears 893784367456unexpectedly creates a couple of great jump scares. I mentioned earlier that the story juxtaposes the standard trappings with a dose of fantasy, but I won’t reveal the OTT ending for you, except to say, some psycho killers have a strange choice in-house pets!!

There’s some cartoonish goo when the killer strikes, which is fun, but there’s nowhere near enough of it to make this a gore flick. The reason for his spree is because he steals a feature from each victim (nose, ears, mouth) and adds them to his own face to replace what he mutilated in order to look ‘handsome’ for the woman he loves, whom he mistakes for our book-reading heroine. This is a cooler than cool motive and it adds a subtle suspense to the runtime as we wait to see what he looks like after each killing. The effects get better and better too and even though they give the maniac a voice and some lines, he (thankfully) refrains from the comedic quips that we saw continuously in 83743783893983984984094the cycle after the birth of Freddy Krueger.P

Some have said that the movie loses some power in its final third, but I didn’t really notice that it dwindles at all. I do often get frustrated when these features overplay the fact that no one believes the final girl’s stories and the Police are always inept, but this one gets it just about right and before long, Richard sees that his girlfriend is not the nutcase that his boss makes her out to be. I wonder how they explained away the aftermath to the authorities though!

Hardcover is a good, enjoyable lushly filmed thriller with some fun set pieces and a nice momentum. It could be argued that with access to such a good budget and strong cast that it could have made more of what it had, but I enjoyed it. It’s never going to be listed amongst the classics, but it delivers more than enough popcorn horror for slasher fans.

Slasher Trappings:

Killer Guise:√√

Gore:√√

Final Girl: √√√

RATING:

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Freak 1999 Review

Freak 1997

Directed by: Tyler Tharpe

Starring: Amy Paliganoff, Travis Patton, Andrea Johnson

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Review by Luisito Joaquín González

Freak is not particularly rare or hard to find and it secured global distribution on both VHS and DVD, which is a real feat for a slice of regional filmmaking. Despite that status, it never gets 6467467378387383983983mentioned really by any slasher enthusiasts that I speak to and it’s something of an overlooked entry to the category.

The production was launched ten months after the release of Scream, but this is no cash-in on the craze started by the cycle’s rebirth and feels cinematically closer to its earlier cousins.674674743873983983 It was one that has been sitting on my shelf for a while, but it’s only now that I have found the time to give it a whirl.

In the opening, a disfigured child kills his mother with a rock in a macabre and daunting scene. Many years later, we meet Staci a young woman who is about to move house with her younger sister Jodi. They set off at the exact same time as the murderer from the opening is being transferred to a new hospital for treatment. After a mistake from the driver of the transportation van, the menace is free to roam the roads and he homes in on the two sisters as they head across the spacious Ohio farmlands.

Like most DTV slashers released over the past fifteen years, Freak has been visibly produced on the most minuscule of budgets. It works to the films favour however as the grainy 16MM photography and the desolate Midwestern backdrops give it a good gritty tone. The plot was heavily influenced by Halloween and shows no shame of wearing its inspirations on its sleeve. Much like the aforementioned classic, it spends time developing its characters and builds suspense through portraying the psychological effects of its actions rather than using sharp shocks and gore. I am inclined to label this as more of a slow building thriller than an out and out slasher film even if it does utilise every single cliché and knows within which genre it wants to be classified.

The maniac here looks really creepy in his workman clothes and face covered in bandages and comes across visually as a combination between Michael Myers and the nut job from Blood Harvest. His intentions are authentic as in he doesn’t seem to want to kill as many bystanders as humanly possible and instead he has a more deluded plan of action. The fact that he only murders 7467467387383983three people (one in the prologue) may put off most gore hounds, but I quite enjoyed the steady simmering of the synopsis and it has a neat vibe of impending doom. The abused child coming back for revenge gimmick has been done a plethora of times, but here it is handled quite effectively with an authentic pay off. This also hints at an obvious plot twist that looked like a dead-cert, but it never really gets explained and is only conveyed through hints and guesses. I wonder if there are some missing scenes for this somewhere that never made the final print, because it’s unusual not to reveal such a branch in the story in further detail.

What I did find interesting was that director Tyler Tharpe only uses a very light score during the terror moments in his feature, which was something of an odd and risky decision. There’s a nice acoustic piece for the scenes that move the story along, but nothing menacing when the mood switches. Horror thrives on its musical accompaniment and very few can survive without an atmospheric theme, but Freak manages to pull it off. The director goes for realism and just about achieves it and there’s nothing here supernatural or 746748748783983893unbelievable, which credits that approach. His framing is tight and he pulls off some good scares and well-edited jumps whenever the bogeyman is on screen and the final chase sequence is remarkably exciting. After watching this, I hunted out his other feature, Return in Red, which shows that Tharpe is a director that believes in his methodology of slowly boiling up his plot through deep characterisations. In these days of MTV quick cuts and beautiful leads, his style is refreshing and owes more to the classic tactic of Carpenter and dare I say it Hitchcock. One of the weakest links of modern slashers is that they leave their story in the hands of a group of personas who all have the looks of Armani models and offer no connection to the average everyday Joe like you and I. This makes it extremely hard to relate to them and therefore the horror is only possible through the wizardry of a slick cinematographer or excessive gore. I like that this was brazen enough to take a stab at individuality and it cannot in any way be considered as an attempt at exploitation. There’s no nudity, profanity or outrageous effects here.

The dramatics are not outstanding, but they’re definitely strong enough to carry the plot and make you care about its players and intrigued by what fate has in store for them. This was also one of 217326736543674674the rare stalk and slash flicks that uses protagonist narration to help expand the story’s background and the final girl here is a real fighter and shows immense courage when left to confront her assailant. The feature also touched on the morals of one particular character, whose recklessness and lack of concentration allowed the fiend to escape. He is more concerned about the impending consequences and his own predicament than the doom that has been left in the wake of his actions. His grovelling pleas for a favour in the conclusion were squirm-inducing.448748748746755

I am somewhat hesitant to class Freak as a hidden gem, because I respect my slasher readers and I am not sure that all of you will agree. It has long periods were the pace falls quite limp and this is definitely NOT an audacious killer spectacular along the lines of Friday the 13th or Scream. If you like your chills built through characters and creepy imagery (check out the shots of the psycho sitting in the corner of his cell) then this should be a real treat for you, but as a teenie kill splatter flick, you will hate it with a passion.

This is a very brave attempt to be different and I saw a lot of excellent stuff that I really enjoyed here. It reminded me a lot of Symphony of Evil, but without the fantastic score, which is perhaps one thing that this lacked. It is a very rare occurrence that I can pick up a bottom shelf DTV slasher flick and be thoroughly impressed and maybe that’s what makes me rate it so highly.

Recommend, but with caution. It is only if you like this style of picture that you will really enjoy its benefits

Slasher Trappings:

Killer Guise:√√√√

Gore √

Final Girl √√√

RATING:

Curtains 1983 Review

Curtains 1983

Directed by: Richard Ciupka/Peter Simpson

Starring: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thornson, Lynne Griffin, Lesleh Donaldson

Review by Luisito Joaquín González

This is one of the few slasher flicks that I actually ‘grew up with.’ Now I say few, because now I own over 600 titles, but back before the internet and keeping in mind that not all video 8746748738783shopkeepers would supply 18-rated flicks to a ten-year-old boy, my options were somewhat limited. I had a small collection of VHS that I bought from my backstreet rental store (the only one locally that would sell to me) in Hackney and they were Curtains, Small Town Massacre, Whodunit?, Halloween, The Unseen, Massacre at Central High, Friday the 13th 6 and Stagefright. I watched these over and over back in those days and this has always been one of my favourites. 932876353

It was initially planned that Curtains would be the directorial debut of Richard Ciupka, a cinematographer that had worked on various cult-movies throughout the seventies and was the main camera operator on the excellent Giallo, Blood Relatives from 1982. In the end though, the movie was shot in two parts, with the second half having to be completed by producer Peter Simpson after an artistic disagreement saw Ciupka leave the shoot. This marked Simpson and his team’s second venture into the then-popular territory of the slasher genre. Their participation explained the healthy budget, excellent back-drop and also the contribution of Paul Zaza, a highly regarded composer from that era.

It’s no secret that Curtains suffered a nightmare production that was riddled with problems, which began when lead actress Celine Lamez was sacked halfway through the shoot. Reports have 847846743783673873said that the producers were disappointed with her acting abilities and that she became awkward after two days on set. Linda Thornson was drafted in as her replacement, but footage had to be re-shot with the substitute actress and this stretched the budget and began a spiral of misfortune. It resulted in various script changes and eventually the mutual termination of Ciupka’s contract. Peter Simpson would later note that he had set out to make an adult slasher movie, whilst Ciupka had the intention to deliver more of an artistic approach. The two of them holding totally different cinematic ideas meant that the collaboration was jinxed from the start.

Many scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, which explains the numerous stills that hint at parts that never appeared in the final print. One of these shows the killer surrounded by the bodies of his victims and I’ve learned that it was an alternate ending that Simpson claims never really worked; however it makes for a disturbing image. At one point, the film was rumoured to be ‘unreleasable’, but it eventually went8746748738783 public in 1983, three-years after shooting had begun. It sank without trace upon release and failed to become the follow up to Prom Night that many had predicted. Much like the fate that befell The Shawshank Redemption, a second lease of life on VHS has made Curtains something of a cult-classic and it is now considered to be one of the better entries from the peak-period.

Six actresses head up to a secluded mansion in the Canadian Rockies to audition for the part of Audra, a highly regarded script from renowned director Jonathan Stryker. In the end only five arrive as it becomes apparent that a masked killer has targeted the production with a bizarre vengeance against the stars.

9847847847843873Curtains certainly has more than its fair share of noteworthy moments and is a highly authentic entry that shares no close resemblance to any of its genre brethren. It truly stands alone as an individual stalk and slash experience that demands respect for its ability to keep tension running at an impressive altitude 874874674874387383983throughout the feature. The awe-inspiring second killing ranks highly as one of the most creatively handled slaughters from the genre’s peak. The photography and structure of the scene is at times breathtaking and Simpson’s work is reminiscent of Argento’s.

The final chase sequence is equally as suspenseful and utilises a superb use of illumination and claustrophobic trappings to create a fitting finale. The dimly lighted prop-room location gives the director a chance to shine as he makes the most of some ingenious decor and creates a memorable collage of striking images. I especially liked the flashing lights revealing the killer hiding in the back of a beaten-up Mini and then when the camera momentarily returns, he has disappeared. Curtains manages to build a truly spooky atmosphere and it’s perhaps one of the creepier entries of the early eighties. The imagery of empty corridors help to build a feeling of isolation and the film succeeds in sustaining a mood that I cannot remember finding in even the best pieces that I’ve sat through. Using a doll as a ‘calling card’ for the arrival of the maniac showed a neat flair for the macabre and it’s a shame that it was only used twice. On top of that, we have the magnificent Paul Zaza’s score, which is the cherry on top of an unique, if slightly jumbled thriller.74674674784873873

Another bonus is the good work from the cast, which is filled with actors that have far more undiscovered talent than any kind of reputation or A-list credibility. John Vernon makes a competent – if a little theatrical – lead, never once pleading for audience-sympathy, whilst Eggar does a good job as the essential red herring (or is she?). But it’s Lynne Griffin who really steals the show. The dynamic little Canadian actress delivers a fantastic portrayal, which sees her effortlessly switch between emotions of anxiety, fear, insecurity and anger. She even takes the time to include a stand up comedy routine…no really.

A film with such a turbulent production is bound to have its share of flaws and Curtains is a case in point. Even though we’re unable to tell exactly how much the shoot was affected by the unfortunate occurrences, the fact that it was finally released under a director pseudonym proves that it certainly wasn’t a smooth process. Some of the characters 895785785are laughably under developed and a couple even remain nameless. (A sequence that offered a back story for Christie didn’t make the final print). It’s impossible to pick your choice for the surviving girl, because not one of the actresses has enough screen time to display their individual persona, which has an indisputable 87367467467387393effect on the mystery.

It is a surprise when the killer is revealed, but to be honest, it could have been absolutely anybody, because we’re not offered any solid leads or motives. What’s really needed is a total rehash of the picture from the raw footage or the ‘dailies’ – so to speak. Then we could get a true look at how the feature was planned in the director’s vision. The recent death of Peter Simpson and the fact that Curtains is a combination of two vastly opposing ideas has made this unlikely, but we can never give up hope.

Until then, what we’re left with is a movie that could and should have been, but never was. It has its moments, a few of them outstanding, but just falls a few hurdles short of being recognised as a true classic. Definitely amongst the top-ten of the eighties’ best slashers, but it’s painful to think that it should have been in the top three…

Slasher Trappings:

Killer Guise: √√√√√

Gore √

Final Girl √√

RATING:a-slash-above-logo-211

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Small Town Massacre 1981Review

Small Town Massacre 1981

aka Dead Kids, Strange Behaviour, Human Experiments, Shadowlands

Director Michael Laughlin

Starring, Michael Murphy, Louise Fletcher, Fiona Lewis, Arthur Digman, Dan Shor.

Review by Luisito Joaquín González

I have already written reviews of this for other websites, but it’s one that I wanted to update a little, because it holds a 893783673673very special place for me amongst the billions of slashers that I’ve watched and I think it’s an underrated gem of a feature.

I recently picked up the DVD version quite cheaply as Strange Behaviour (this flick has more ‘aka’s’ than a secret agent), but have chosen to post it under my favourite title, Small Town Massacre. It was this copy that I found in my local corner shop (which also offered a selection of videos to rent – including some of the, ahem, XXX variety out the back… Those were the days!). I had seen Halloween and Friday the 13th and I was always on the look out for more slasher action. I had already become a bit of an obsessive horror enthusiast and would spend hours hunting out flicks from the top shelves of localhot-chica3 stores, but this one just captivated me. I remember my juvenile eyes peering at the cheesy hand dawn cover and reading the description, wondering what on earth words such as mutilated could possibly mean. I rented it lots of times and in the end bought it for 50p when it became a bit rugged from (probably only my) continuous viewing.

I don’t have the greatest concentration span even now, so you can imagine that as a ten-year-old, I never really understood the plot or even that it was different in anyway from the other slashers that I had seen. However I always recalled the awesome party scene and the claustrophobic final sequence, which still holds-up quite well.

Some of the best slasher action of the golden period –

A sleepy suburban town in Illinois becomes the target of a maniac killer when bodies of the local townsfolk’s teenage children begin turning up hacked up and dismembered. The Police are stumped as to who it is that’s slashing his way through the community, but things are far more mysterious than they initially seem…

Now Small Town Massacre is not a typical slasher movie – I mean in the Halloween rip-off kind of way. Director Michael 90298278272672Laughlin had an idea of a plot and included enough to make his movie appeal to the category’s fanbase, which was big in 1981. Clearly too intelligent a director to flagrantly imitate his inspirations, he instead pays homage with a few instantly recognisable nods. One of those is a stand out scene where the killer in a great mask (Tor Johnson – the wrestler/actor) stalks two teens parked in a secluded lane. There’s some great imagery and shots of the assailant lurking in the bushes and then picking off the male as he has to exit the vehicle, only to return to murder his unsuspecting partner. I honestly think that it is one of the best teen-kill set pieces of the golden era and you can’t really get any more ‘slasher trademark’ than that sequence.

Like the majority of eighties children that emigrated to London, my family were quite poor and I was brought up during my earliest years listening to old 7” singles on the grimy record player in our front room (we didn’t even have 892782762762762TV) and so I have maintained a fondness for the music of the the rock and roll generation, which my mum adored. That probably contributes to my love for this slasher because much like John Carpenter’s Christine, it boasts a deliberate retro ambiance that recalls the age of innocence and the locality of close-knit communities of the fifties/sixties. Suspense is built not by sharp editing or hokey gore, but by the storytelling. Deeply developed characters and well-worked relationships help to bring a ‘small town’ vibe to the plot and it gives the film a unique personality, which includes people that you actually care about in key roles.

Whilst talking about retro, we cannot forget to mention the (now) notorious scene where a bunch of teens dance in 8743874387438733tandem to Lou Christie’s ‘Lighting Strikes’ whilst dressed as sixties TV characters. It’s an amazing sequence, because it doesn’t feel out of place and the story is so well delivered that the mood can change in an instant. The choice of song (writer Bill Condon’s favourite – the guy has taste) is another bonus from an already outstanding soundtrack, which sees Tangerine Dream keep the tone perfectly. – If you’re gonna mix former Rock and Roll teen idol Christie with a masked killer, you’ve got to be a man with ambition.

The choice of cast is notable for selecting actors based on talent and experience rather than status, which is exactly what the feature needed to maintain the closeness of the characters. There are solid turns from Fletcher and 98873783673673Dignam, whilst Lewis did a credible job as the sadistic nurse (She created a character that’s so easy to hate). The film really belongs however to Murphy, Shor and Young for the strength and chemistry of their relationships. There’s a scene in the beginning where Murphy and Shor engage in a conversation (about shaving) like a father and son would do and it’s moments like these that add welcome depth to the characterisations. I liked the microwave romance between the two ambitious lead youngsters and the warmth of the witty dialogue. It’s no surprise that Condon would later get an Oscar nod for his writing skills.

Producer Antony Ginnane harboured desires of getting Australian horror (or Ozploitation) on the map during the early 873783763763eighties and this was one (arguably the best) of a number of features that he was involved with. I was surprised to learn that this was in fact an Australian production, as it has an almost entirely American cast and strong continuity to keep everything in check. It was filmed in Auckland (the first time for a horror film), but you’d never notice that it wasn’t a small Illinois town as the plot describes.

As I said earlier, the film relies on it’s storytelling to provide a fear factor and there’s no gratuitous gore, but there’s a nasty syringe pushed into an eyeball scene, which is very hard to watch. When the killer(s) strike, 873673673872872982there’s enough creativity in the murder scenes to show that Laughlin had done his homework on the slasher genre and the ending is authentic, unexpected and intelligently conveyed.

The luscious wide lensed photography must’ve looked amazing in the cinema, with long tracking shots of the New Zealand countryside, but the transfer to VHS was terrible and cropped the 18272367328733visuals catastrophically. Thankfully DVD has solved that problem and the plasma generation can enjoy the beautiful photography as it was meant to be seen.

Aside from some cack-handed editing in places, there’s really very little wrong with Small Town Massacre. A neat and extremely underrated chiller that boasts enough of the necessary ingredients to sit amongst it’s slasher brethren from the period.

I truly believe that Small Town Massacre is overlooked and somewhat mis-understood and should stand much higher as a successful mix of cinematic styles and great performances from a note-perfect cast.

 Slasher Trappings:

Killer Guise: √√√

Gore √

Final Girl √√√√√

RATING:a-slash-above-logo11a-slash-above-logo11a-slash-above-logo11a-slash-above-logo11

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