Symphony of Evil 1987
aka Coda aka Deadly Possession aka Sinfonía Del Diablo
Directed by: Craig Lahiff
Starring: Penny Cook, Arna-Maria Winchester, Liddy Clark
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a well-known fact amongst those that know their horror movies that Australia hasn’t exactly excelled itself with the quality of its output within the slasher genre. It’s intriguing then that within the space of a month, I’ve found two credible efforts that successfully manage to disprove that fallacy. Firstly, I came across the creepy Cassandra, which mixes erratic photography and razor sharp editing to a surprisingly credible effect. Then I discovered the ambitiously restrained and meritoriously tense Symphony of Evil…
Taking a large slice of Halloween‘s appetizing pie and filling the spaces with a few Hitchcockian nods just for good measure, this confident offering is perhaps one of the most commendable long forgotten entries to the stalk and slash cycle. It succeeds mainly because it chooses to follow the path of down to earth realism over far-fetched gore and gratuitous shock tactics. The protagonist of the feature is not a bimbo in a Wonderbra. Instead, she’s an ordinary young woman who finds herself in a tricky situation, which helps to give the film an undeniably naturalistic edge.
Director Craig Lahiff also accepts with glee, the challenge of giving his female characters complete control of the script without relying on sexual overtones to make them appealing. There’s no needless nudity or even any slight references towards it; and to be honest, it isn’t something that’s missed.
A masked maniac is slaughtering musical students at an Australian university. A young innocent woman becomes involved in the plot when her flatmate is brutally murdered. With the body count mounting, it becomes clear that the psychopath has intriguing motives.
To say that Symphony of Evil was ‘inspired’ by Halloween is like saying that Joan Rivers has had a touch of plastic surgery. The film borrows heavily from the title that it so obviously tries to emulate, leaving very little to disguise the obvious influences (the killer stalking the hospital, the Michael Myers-alike disguise etc). Imitation however is not necessarily a bad thing if it’s handled correctly and Lahiff’s opus feels more like a tribute to Carpenter’s classic than it does a rip-off. Lahiff conveys an impressive flair for building suspense and in places he builds a tone that’s remarkably tense. A perfect example is the sword-murder about halfway through the runtime, which incorporates brooding photography to create a foreboding environment that makes good use of those ageless stalk and slash clichés.
The performances from a likable cast are fairly comfortable and there’s even a classy score that’s vaguely reminiscent of John Williams’ theme from Oliver Stone’s masterpiece, JFK. The characters are competently scripted and approachable, which builds a decent amount of sympathy for our heroine. Evil doesn’t boast a huge body count, so the actors are given a lot of screen time and dialogue to keep things moving. Thankfully, they do a fine job of keeping us intrigued and are amicable enough to win over the audience with realistic performances.
Because the synopsis takes place at a classical music school, the production team get the chance to experiment with an excellent operatic soundtrack, which satisfies both cinematically and audibly. Frank Stragio’s work does wonders to help sustain a good level of energy, which is great because during the moments where not a lot happens, you’re always aware that something is just about to.
Like many eighties slashers, Symphony of Evil focuses heavily on the mystery of discovering who it is behind the creepy mask, which is possibly the feature’s only flaw. Guessing the killer’s identity is a relatively simple task and more thought should have been put into giving us more suspects or at least a credible red-herring. It’s interesting that despite earning the respect to be trusted with bigger budgets from this offering, Lahiff never improved upon his work on this atmospheric murder-mystery. Heaven’s Burning was a so-so thriller that had the added bonus of starring Russell Crowe. His most recent movie Black and White was promising, but hardly a worthy follow-up to such an ambitious debut. It proves that bigger budgets don’t always make better features and it seems that with Symphony of Evil he struck the perfect medium.
If you like slasher movies, then you’ll like Symphony of Evil – there’s really nothing else to say. It is good enough to sit comfortable alongside the likes of The Dorm that Dripped Blood, Curtains and The House on Sorority Row as a worthwhile genre entry that has been bizarrely overlooked. It seems surprising that the cruddy Houseboat Horror has numerous fans across the globe, but a real treat like this has disappeared from the face of the planet. Recommended
Final Girl √√√
Directed by: Colin Eggleston
Starring: Tessa Humphries, Shane Briant, Susan Barling
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Australia left an often unnoticed but essential mark on the slasher genre and it could be argued that after Canada, they probably had the biggest input outside of the US. Their entries can generally be spliced into three categories: Very Good (Small Town Massacre, Coda), Average (Cut, Stage Fright) and absolutely awful (To Become One, Houseboat Horror).
Thankfully, Cassandra is a member of the first grouping and is one of the rare few psycho-killer flicks that has an endearing macabre sheen. The bogeyman here has taken a liking to writing ‘who killed cock robin’ on the wall at the scene of his gruesome slashings, which measures up nicely with the killer leaving a broken doll beside his victims in The Baby Doll Murders and the spooky appearance of that creepy dolly in the classic Curtains. Of course, there’s bound to be some kind of deluded motive for this psychotic creativity and it’s down to us viewers to figure out the not so obvious connection…
It begins with cool credit sequence that boasts a notable theme tune and a great graphic for the title. Following that, we’re given one of the creepiest openings that I ever remember witnessing in a slasher flick. A young girl is shown throwing stones into a lake beside a remote cabin in the woods. A car pulls up outside the hut and out steps a woman and a creepy looking child who’s singing the nursery rhyme, ‘who killed cock robin?’ Next we see inside the cabin and the woman is turning a shotgun on herself in a suicide bid, while the boy mutters ‘do it’ in a spooky voice reserved only for horror maniacs. The young girl jogs up to the hut in excellent steadi-cam, but arrives too late; the woman had already pulled the trigger. It’s a great launch for the feature, which is skilfully photographed and smoothly edited, giving it enough power to keep your hopes raised for the rest of the movie. It brought to my mind the spooky commencement from that all but forgotten Ozploitation classic, Alison’s Birthday. At first I wondered if the two movies shared some kind of connection other than both hailing from similar parts of the world? But I haven’t managed to find any notes that would confirm this to be true.
Next we learn that the spooky occurrence was only a dream, one that has been plaguing Cassandra (Tessa Humphries) quite regularly just lately. It seems so realistic that she believes it may be a memory recollection from her childhood, but she’s confused and just can’t remember the truth. She asks her mother and father if she could have ever witnessed a similar course of events, but they suspiciously convince her that it’s all in her mind. To be honest, they look as if they have more skeleton’s in their closet than the local morgue has corpses, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn out to be hiding a few shocking secrets beneath their obviously false exterior.
Cassandra’s father, Steven, is a photographer with more than just a ‘photographic’ eye for the ladies and pretty soon we learn that he’s shoulder deep in an affair with one of his projects. Cassandra catches her dad and Libby together, just as the model was in the middle of telling him that she’s fallen pregnant. On top of her continuous restless nights that’s not what the troubled youngster needed to hear at that time. She heads to the local bar, where she pours her heart out to her friend Robbie, who lends a sympathetic ear.
The following night, Libby heads out to a remote beach house after an argument with Steven over why he wont tell his wife about the baby . After an extremely gratuitous shower, an unseen maniac creeps into the house in superb first person cinematography, picking up a bread knife en route a la Michael Myers. Some time later, Steve discovers her corpse in his bed with her throat slashed from ear to ear. He also finds a creepy message left at the scene by the killer, which reads: ‘who killed cock robin?’
The police turn up and question everybody and we find out that Cassie witnessed the murder through a psychic link that she mysteriously shares with the killer. From here on out the majority of the runtime resolves around the mystery, as we learn more about the characters and their shady backgrounds – and boy have they got shady backgrounds. To break up the dialogue, Eggleston chucks in some suspense as the shadowed maniac puts in another appearance. This time, he tries unsuccessfully to murder Cassie’s mother in yet another sequence that’s packed with credible tension.
Eventually the assassin manages to get everyone that’s on his list of would-be victims in the same place at the same time, including the unsuspecting heroine. After a cool decapitation by shovel (the first I remember seeing) and another brutal murder, it’s left up to Cassie to try and save herself and her family from his malevolent rage.
It’s looks a little more than obvious that Colin Eggleston was greatly inspired by the American titans of eighties horror, such as John Carpenter and Sam Raimi. Previously, he had penned the screenplay for 1980’s slasher misfire, Stage Fright and to say that he had ‘borrowed’ the basic plot pointers from Halloween for that script would be a considerable understatement. He showed much more potential once behind the camera, but still kept the horror references pouring thick and fast. Check out some of the flowing photography in the dream sequence, which clearly owes a great deal to Raimi’s first-person-possession from The Evil Dead. Still, don’t hold that against the man, I mean, you show me a slasher movie that doesn’t steal from its fellow genre-men and I’ll show you a pink elephant with wings and a driving licence.
As a matter of fact, Cassandra’s imaginative use of the camera is perhaps its most alluring attribute. Take for example the first murder, which packs a great deal of suspense into a short sequence and skilfully manages to keep the tension running high all the way through. We look on in traditional hand-held shots as the victim climbs into bed, leading us to successfully believe that we’re watching from the eyes of the killer. However as the camera zooms in on the female, the knife appears from a different location than the one we were expecting, which provides a great jolt and a decent shock-tactic that can be credited as one of Eggleston’s own.
Let’s just say for argument’s sake that Stage Fright was Eggleston’s Halloween. Then I guess Cassandra could quite easily be labelled as his Eyes of Laura Mars. The two movies share a great deal of story points, most notably of course, the use of a psychic link between the killer and heroine. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Mars, so I didn’t notice many other similarities that I could immediately remember. I’m pretty certain though that it was somewhere on his list of inspirations before he sat down to pen the synopsis for this closely themed thriller.
Ian Mason’s screeching score helps to provide the tense atmosphere and Josephine Cook edits with a visible confidence that was one of the strongest elements in the brilliance of the opening sequence. It’s also stylishly produced for an underground slasher flick and doesn’t deserve to have become such an obscurity since it’s release. Initially the feature was going to get a cinematic run, but it ended up creeping out direct to video. I had never even heard of Cassandra until I found the DVD in my local newsagent’s bargain bucket. Later I learned that it was briefly distributed in the United Kingdom sometime in 1987, but vanished from existence pretty soon after.
The performances here are a bit of a disappointment, although I quite liked Tessa Humphies (Dame Edna’s daughter) as the protagonist. Despite obvious limitations as an actress, she at least offers some charm and a good screen presence. Surprisingly enough, the lack of any truly outstanding dramatics really didn’t spoil the movie too much and I still thoroughly enjoyed watching it.
There are of course a few flaws to be found throughout the runtime that may ruin the story for the more critical viewers. As I said previously, it isn’t greatly acted and some may find the character driven storyline a slightly disappointing alternative to a numerous body count. It’s also pretty easy to guess whom it is that’s actually killing everyone and I was expecting a slightly more intelligent conclusion than the mediocre and somewhat uninspired result that we ended up with. But the odd stylish sequence lifted this above the majority of its counterparts and almost every murder is neatly staged. Suspense is one of the toughest things to be found in underground slasher movies, but Colin Eggleston successfully manages to create quite a few credible sequences that give the movie a noteworthy professional sheen.
As far as Australian stalk and slash efforts go, it’s actually one of the best of its kind…
Final Girl √√
Directed by: Ollie Martin
Starring: Alan Dale, Christine Jenson, Gavin Wood
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
*I do write a lot of my new reviews on the go, but because I want to cover the entire slasher genre, I like to reuse some of the ones I have previously penciled. Whenever I do though, I always update them after watching the movie once again. Here we have Houseboat Horror and I was THE first outside of Australia to post a write-up of it! I spent years trying to track it down and eventually when I did, it was, ahem, everything that I had expected to be. It is available now on DVD, but this review is from April 2003, when it was still an obscure locally released VHS. I hope that you enjoy the update….
This late-eighties Australian inclusion to the slasher cycle is famous mainly for being the most widely panned of all of the hack and slash entries. It even manages to out-trash utter trashola like Home Sweet Home and the abysmal Voyeur.com in the bad review stakes. Considering the ‘quality’ of those aforementioned movie nightmares, being that poorly received is quite a considerable achievement. Perhaps Houseboat’s only saving grace is the fact that it has become so immensely rare to fans of the genre outside Melbourne that most of us have more chance of buying the winning lottery ticket than actually seeing the damn thing. With that said, I must admit that its mystifying disappearance has indeed given the picture something of an alluring edge. I am ‘fortunate’ enough to be one of the few that actually own this rarity of a mishap on VHS and therefore feel a certain moral commitment to share my views on whether it’s actually as bad as its reputation would lead you to believe.
The hackneyed plot here is a pure cut and paste amalgamation of two of its biggest American brethrens: Friday the 13th and The Burning. Director Grant Evans (Alan Dale) has been given the job of shooting a music video for a struggling local rock band. He has chosen the location of Lake Infinity as a backdrop for his creation and before long his crew, the gang of musicians and their rowdy groupies are floating aboard the Houseboats of the title. Unfortunately for the youngsters, they decide to settle on a site where many years ago a group of actors were mysteriously torched and a young child was horrendously disfigured. Have you worked it out yet? Thought as much. Yes, it’s no surprise when almost as soon as they arrive, the motley crew begins to fall prey to the frazzled hands of an unseen maniac – Ho-hum indeed. The rest of the story goes exactly where you’d expect it to, as the crispy killer makes short work of the outrageously mulleted cast members…
To be fair, Houseboat Horror starts commendably with an atmospheric (and gory) murder and chase sequence that is plagued only by the fact that the young actress playing the victim has an issue keeping her eyes tightly closed for a two-second corpse close-up. From that moment onward, the best way I can describe this to you is like a burger on a boiling hot griddle that has just had the cheese placed on top. If you imagine that minutes in this feature’s timeline were seconds for our lump of meat on that grill, you can feel the processed cheese topping slowly engulfing the entire burger (in our case movie). For a start, I couldn’t fail to mention that one of the beer swilling, woman pressing rebel rousers is none other than Alan Dale, who is of course most famously known as Jim Robinson from the Aussie daytime soap, Neighbors. Old Helen Daniels would be turning in her grave if she witnessed his loutish shenanigans, which include swearing prolifically and racing his car on the wrong side of the road! Whilst we are on the topic of Ramsey Street, it is even more surprising that his former neighbor (for want of a better word) and equally frumpy pudding faced goody-goody, Harold Bishop (Ian Smith) expressed his dark side in another corny throwaway named Body Melt. Neither actor returned to the horror genre, which I’m sure was something that they never regretted. The choice between working daily with mega-babes to the level of Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruliga and Holly Valance or ‘acting’ besides a gang of talentless brain-starved strumpets is surely the easiest decision since Dave Navarro said yes to Carmen Electra.
In fact, this cast of no-hopers manage to break records in the speed that they will begin clawing at the strings of your patience. Fifteen minutes into the feature you’ll be preying for a couple of The Burning’s ‘raft sequences’, so you can witness five or six of the poorly dramatised losers getting splattered simultaneously. Unfortunately, this Jason Voorhees wannabe is nowhere near as creative as good old Cropsy, so you’ll have to watch the numb-skulls getting slaughtered one by one – extremely S-L-O-W-L-Y. The murders are without a doubt the film’s highlight, simply because they boast some tacky yet surprisingly rewarding gore effects and there’s a whole bunch of them for you to check out. We also get a couple of murderous devices that are rarely seen in slasher cinema (Harpoon, flamethrower and how could I forget the horseshoe?). Let’s not underplay the fact that the chance of seeing Jim Robinson get his head split in half with a giant machete is an occasion that most would find simply too irresistible to miss.
Houseboat Horror certainly isn’t going to win any awards, but for all its nonsensical amateurism it does at least manage to provide a few bad movie giggles. The back cover boldly boasts the inclusion of a ‘pop hit’, which once heard, sounds like a drunken pub karaoke version of Boney M’s greatest hits (the song’s titled “Young Cool and Groovy” no less). Also, what about when the hero manages to go toe-to-toe with the maniac five minutes after he’s been almost chopped in half by a machete? And I can’t forget to mention when the same character is first confronted by the hulking killer and goofs, “Awww p**s off!” I could go on all day, but instead I’ll leave you with a choice slice of dialogue that I believe sums up this whole movie experience perfectly. When one of the bit part extras asks one of the mulleted muppets if his brain is in repeat mode, he answers boldly “Nah, just a little retarded” And in that sentence my friends, you have Houseboat Horror…
Final Girl: √
Early Frost 1981
Directed by: Unkown
Starring: Joanne Samuel, David Franklin, Guy Doleman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
There are a few slasher sites on the web, so what I try to do here for you guys and gals is give you some of the rarer titles that are floating about alongside the most commonly known. Recently in my review of Si Yiu, I promised you some flicks from 1981 that you may not yet have come across. After i posted the uber-obscure The Phantom Killer, here my friends is yet another. Early Frost is an Ozploitation number from the boom year and thus far, it has not been reviewed on any other blog/website. It is, in fact, so unknown that I have searched everywhere and tracked down only minimal information on its development. No wonder that it has been so blatantly overlooked. (Another a SLASH above exclusive. I do accept cheques lol)
If regional filmmaking was a term that applied globally, then Early Frost is as regional as a phone code. It was shot in Blacktown, Australia, and the only snippets of knowledge that I could gather were that many people from that area have heard about it or in effect, know someone who was involved with its production. The reasons as to why it hasn’t been reviewed or given the time of day are indeed a mystery, because it was picked up by Medusa Communications ltd and they were a fairly large VHS distributor back in the day. It just seems to be the one that got away.
It boasts a 7.3 rating on the IMDB. 7.3! That’s only .6 decimals away from Halloween. I should also inform you that it is listed there and on other sites that reuse the IMDB’s data as a ‘thriller’. Well that’s only half-true. I picked it up moons ago at a car boot sale not expecting a slasher, but trust me, it is 100% a hopeful stab at making Australia’s Dressed to Kill. Personally I quite like Aussie horror and especially their experiments within the slasher sub-genre. In only a few attempts, they have covered everything possible from a classy Carpenter-lite suspense treat (Coda) to a campy bucket of stale fondue (Houseboat Horror). Let’s see where Early Frost sits amongst those gateposts…
A private detective discovers a link in some recent fatal accidents that hint at the possibility that they were in fact murders. Along with a local boy who keeps news clippings on such events, the pair begins to investigate the possibility that there is an intelligent serial killer on the lose…
Cinema is a truly amazing form of media because it has the ability to seriously meddle with your emotions. Some films can make you laugh, some can make you cry. Some can be so suspenseful that they lead you to chew your nails until they’re almost down to the skin. I was hoping to post a review of Early Frost much earlier (pun intended), but what I kept getting when watching the flick was the uncontrollable urge to go to sleep. I mean, like seriously. After a record 14 cups of coffee in twelve hours, I have finally got to see it all the way through – yay! It’s a slasher that’s far more ‘er’ than it is ‘slash’, because we are not treated to any rubber masked psychopaths that stalk bra-less bimbos in boob-tubes. We do however get bundles of killer-cam shots from our unseen nut job with audible breathing difficulty, so the Halloween influences are present and correct. It’s a character driven story, with a huge emphasis on the mystery, but without a traditional final boy or girl to drive the story. Instead it flows more like a study on a family – a mother and her two sons – and their dark secrets.
The single parent is a clichéd ‘bad movie mum’ without one redeeming feature. She’s a horrible bitch to watch on the screen and she thinks more about getting drunk and laid than she does looking after her two boys. She was also inadvertently responsible for the death of their father, which has left an uneasy chemistry in the house. These scenes of story development are competently written, well staged, comfortable to watch and the cast do a fairly good job with what they were given. Most of them were signed from TV shows that were popular at the time, including Aussie screen legend, Guy Doleman. Along for the ride also was Joanne Samuel, who played Mel Gibson’s wife in Mad Max and the tortured protagonist in Alison’s Birthday.
The idea of the story is really good, because the unseen killer is intelligent in the way that he makes each murder look like an accident. This leads to a few interesting slaughter scenes, which I won’t list here so as not to ruin them. It was written by Terry O’Connor who had his name placed above the title as would a director, but funnily enough, it wasn’t him in the hot seat. This is the most interesting thing about Early Frost, because no one is sure who actually did manage the shoot. It remains the only Australian film without a director’s credit; and from the little that I have learned, the guy who worked it for the most part walked off the set halfway through. In the end, producers David Hanney and Geoff Brown took control, but whether they decided to finish it between them or hire someone else is something that has never been stated. This must have had an effect on the rest of the crew and maybe it somewhat explains the movie’s low level status. On a sombre note, two of the leading players were themselves involved in fatal accidents within five years of the film’s release. Local papers called it ‘The Jinx of Early Frost’, although I prefer not to look at things that way. Rest in Piece to Jon Blake and Daniel Cumerford.
For a movie that wants you to be engrossed in its puzzle, it delivers a really poor conclusion. I mean, it was easy to figure out, but very hard to believe. (I mean how did he know that stuff?) Then the final image throws a complete curveball on us that was surely meant to be quite smart, but it’s just confusing and annoying.
Despite a couple of neat attempts at building suspense, Early Frost is too much of an oddball for its own good. It has no nudity, minimal gore, a bewildering spine to its synopsis and most importantly, a lack of momentum. A superb idea has been hindered no doubt by what was going on behind the scenes. Not really worthy of your effort in searching out, because it’s a bit of a misfire. Oh and by the way, what the hell was the reason behind the title?
Directed by: John D. Lamond
Starring: Jenny Neumann, Gary Sweet, Peter Tulloch
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Right, the last review that I posted was the wonderful Italian slasher Stagefright and so I thought in order to add some alphabetical structure to the blog, I would follow it up with its namesake from seven-years earlier.
I said before in my review of Small Town Massacre about producer Anthony Ginnane’s mission to put Australia on the horror map with his Ozploitation efforts of the early eighties. Well it came as a surprise to me that he wasn’t involved with this Sydney based production, although I’m sure he helped to lay the groundwork for its release. Instead, it was developed and co-written by Colin Eggleton who would go on to direct the interesting Cassandra in 1986. The idea here was most definitely to jump on the express train to profit that Halloween had set in to motion and the references are plain enough for all to see. Despite not offering much in terms of authenticity, it is perhaps worth noting that this picture was the first to utilise a theater as a story location, which is something that would be reused in other entries as the genre flourished.
Stagefright or Nightmares as it is also known, has become somewhat of a rare beast and I don’t believe that it has made the transition to DVD or BlueRay yet. I have owned it on VHS for what feels like a lifetime, but funnily enough I’ve only attempted to watch it once.
So it begins with a typical ‘twenty years earlier’ prologue that cancels out any suspicion that this is not a Halloween rip-off. A young girl accidentally kills her randy mother in a car accident and then the credits roll. Move on up to the eighties and a group of actors are preparing for a stage show. Meanwhile it seems that a black-gloved assassin is working his way through the cast with a shard of glass. Who is the killer and what are his motives?
In the González household, we usually cook something really good during the weekend and then use the leftovers on Monday evening for a quickie dinner. It seems that no matter what we have, if you chuck it in to a frying pan with a few eggs and potatoes, it usually comes out really well. Stagefright is a similar exercise in juxtaposition and mixes moods that range from macabre horror to outright peculiarity. It’s an incredibly violent movie with a unique murder weapon. The killer always smashes the nearest window, mirror or glass object and then attacks with a large broken slice. We don’t get much more in gore effects than a splash of ketchup, but the film is incredibly explicit in that a large amount of victims are butchered whilst naked. By this I mean COMPLETELY naked. There’s a sex scene in an alleyway early on that pushes the boundaries for acceptability and there’s another gratuitous moment when the nut job chases a girl in her skin suit out in to the street. I am sure that if released back then in the United Kingdom, this probably would have been added to the notorious DPP list in a heartbeat. You could even call it the video nasty that never was, but most definitely would have been.
The reason for the large amount of bare flesh is because the script takes the have sex and die rule and amplifies it by a billion watts. The cast are a particularly randy bunch and when not actually making out, they are usually sitting around and talking about doing it. One character even tries to bribe another in to the sack with the promise of a better review and all this activity unsettles our psycho killer and kicks him in to action. There are quite a few slaughters that are spaced frequently and at eighty-minutes, it’s too short to get bored. The fact that everything’s filmed in such an energetic fashion means that the mix of a frantic (and very good) score, unnerving screams and some wild photography blur in to something of a horror movie kaleidoscope. Director Lamond shows his inspirations by using countless Carpenter-esque heavy-breath killer-cam shots, which are great for stalking sequences. The thing is that most of the ones that he features don’t lead anywhere and therefore lack impact. Especially the pointless occasions that just show the psycho roaming around backstage. Yawn
The story is structured rather weirdly and pretty much tells us early on who the maniac is, but then utilises the Giallo style of just a black glove whenever he strikes. I was expecting some kind of mega twist or justification for the attempt at a mystery angle, but it looks like the writers may have had second thoughts about halfway through and altered the conclusion. This creates an obvious problem and it’s one that certainly leaves a crater in the delivery of the fear factor. You see, it’s very hard to build suspense when you have a menace that remains off-screen. Only maestros can deliver scares from an assailant that is nothing more than a hand holding a dagger. So why use that methodology if you’re not really hiding the identity of your bogeyman? It makes no sense. Add on top of this the fact that Eggleton seems to have edited the negatives with a pair of nail clippers and what we’re left with is a feature that doesn’t even attempt to hide its technical amateurism.
Even if he may be an awful editor, as a writer, Eggeton excels himself and his hilarious dialogue and intriguing personas are brilliant. I’ve done quite a bit of theatre and can confirm that the featured characterisations are spot on. I once read that celebrities are some of the most non-confident people on the planet and the fact that they’re swimming in a pool of insecurities up on the world’s stage makes them self-centred and narcissistic. The script most definitely touches on that and it means that we can have fun watching them get slashed. And get slashed they do. EVERY single one of them. The performances may not be earth moving and there’s no one really to bond with, but it’s still enjoyable enough to watch.
Ok picture this scenario. You just read my review of Michele Soavi’s Stagefright and so you see the praise that I gave it and go online to buy it on DVD. The retailer makes a mistake and sends you this one instead of the aforementioned Italian classic. None the wiser, you place it your system and hit play. Would you be astounded that I praised it so highly and email me to complain? I would say that probably no. You would maybe question my sanity, but hey; you wouldn’t be the first to do so. My point is that this Australian stalk and slasher is no rancid test of viewing endurance. It’s just that it doesn’t really do enough to make itself stand out. Not a patch on the other entry that it shares a title with, but it will provide you with some cheesy thrills.
Serious collectors should give it a whirl, but don’t go expecting anything outstanding. I mean, it could result in you getting angry, breaking a mirror and chasing some naked bunny out on to the street. I don’t want to be responsible for that dear readers 😉
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Kimble Randall
Starring: Molly Ringwald, Jennifer Napier, Erika Walters
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Funny how opinions change over the years, isn’t it? I wonder if critics like Ebert and the like watch movies for a second time and find something more that they missed initially? I saw Cut when it was released in 2000 and I was nineteen years old. I had followed its production and had hoped it would be as good as the snippets that I’d read had made it sound, because thanks to some brilliant marketing, it had been covered everywhere that I looked. When I received my copy however, the only feeling was one of disappointment. Was it my expectations being too high? I cant be sure, but this time around, some twelve years later, I had a totally different experience.
On the set of the eighties slasher movie, ‘Hot Blooded!’ director Hilary Jacobs gets tired of the constant mistakes from actor Brad and she fires him on the spot and embarrasses him in front of his colleagues. Later he heads over to ask for another chance, but she insults him even more, which makes him go berserk and he kills her. He is prevented from going on a further spree by the quick thinking instincts of Vanessa Turnbill, the lead actress, who gives him a rapid tracheotomy, which ends in Brad being electrocuted. It seems however that his death leaves a curse on Hot Blooded and all who try to watch or remake it.
Present day Australia, a group of drama pupils attempt to finish the film for their graduation. They bring back Vanessa Turnbill to co-star and put together a cast, ignoring the rumours of the hex. Almost as soon as they arrive on the secluded location, a masked killer begins to murder the members of the crew. But how can they kill something that’s already dead?
Interestingly enough, I watched this the day after Fright Flick and coincidentally the two features are quite similar. Both place their story on the production of a fictional slasher movie and they have the same smooth blend of graphic horror and witty scripting. Cut is generally considered as Australia’s attempt at creating an entry in to the catalogue of Scream inspired new age slasher flicks, but it actually takes a slightly different route in the delivery of its plot. Whereas Urban Legend, Cherry Falls – actually almost every slasher released since 1996 – aimed to imitate Kevin Williamson’s heavy use of mystery in working out the killer’s identity, David Warner’s screenplay owes more to its cousins of old by giving us a REAL bogeyman and one that we know about from the start. The killer is blessed with a strong presence, excellent guise and neat weapon of choice (a modified garden shear). He stalks and heavy breathes using the methods of old; the ones that Wes Craven didn’t reference when he relaunched the genre. There’s a great sequence when he attacks two characters that have locked themselves in a car and instead of the usual brick through the window technique or pitchfork through the roof, he just takes some gasoline and sets it on fire!
The film that they are shooting incorporates a maniac that wears the same guise and mask as the actual killer, so there are a few times when the characters mistake the psychopathic stalker for their buddy right up to the moment that he draws his weapon and swipes. This leads to an amusing scene when the two ‘bogeymen’ come face to face (or mask to mask) – Guess who comes off worse? In fact, the screenwriter showed a good flair for black humour, especially by doing something that many people with a dislike of corny pop music have wanted to do for years – cut out Kylie Minogue’s tongue. No, seriously! The few players that do live long enough to realise that they’re facing doom put up a really good fight and it makes the deaths more exciting. I thought Erika Waters’ pre-demise performance was great and I was disappointed that she was written out so quickly. She seemed to be a good actress and by far the most beautiful of the females, so it’s a surprise that she hasn’t done anything else since. The dramatics are slasher-standard, meaning they’re ok for this kind of film, but credit to the producer for getting a couple of big names involved, including of course the ten-minute cameo from Kylie. Jessica Napier was good as the brave final girl and Molly Ringwald shows her ability as the spunky anti-heroine, creating a persona that we wanted to survive despite her non-endearing arrogance.
The movie is slickly produced with a good score and neat soundtrack including classic Split Enz hit, ‘I Got You’. The attempt at maintaining a momentum is continuous and the director pulls off some good stuff. The deaths are numerous and creative, but I was disappointed that they didn’t do more with the make-up effects. Cut plays like a R rated feature and lacks the ambition to put on screen the initiative that had been dreamed up during the writing. There’s a decapitation and a neat death where a girl gets her head squished by a large power tool, but you don’t really see any of it and the effects amount too a gallon or so of fake blood. It also gets very silly toward the climax as a character that was presumed dead reappears despite having a pipe through his throat, but the way that they finally stop the maniac is intriguing and well conveyed.
I don’t expect to get scared by slasher films of modern times and I have said previously, they are a similar cinematic experience to chick flicks. Nowadays, We know what to expect and we realise that the acting won’t be great, but we still want to have some fun and see people get squished. Cut delivers as a good time popcorn flick and it does nothing wrong if that’s what you’re looking for. By no means a classic, but I have most definitely changed my first opinion.
Final Girl: √√√
Directed by: Alec Mills
Starring: Leon Lissek, Christine Amor and Ian Williams
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Not to be confused with Bloody Moon, Jesus Franco’s gore feast of 1980; this Australian lensed slasher utilises the popular ‘killer on campus’ plot line that’s so frequently used by its US counterparts. It’s fairly amusing how much Alec Mills tries his hardest to Americanise the setting, but thankfully he refrains from asking the cast to perform unconvincing accents. Strangely, the characters that are actually supposed to be from the States still speak in flawless Australian twangs – go figure…
In the small town of Coopers Bay, there are two Hi-schools situated right next to each other. There’s Winchester, an all boys comprehensive and St Elizabeth’s, a girl’s only Catholic faculty. They are separated by woodland where pupils from both can meet and engage in the things that attract the attention of maniac killers. It’s not surprising then that an unseen one begins murdering the youngsters as they indulge, choosing to strangle them with a length of barbed wire before removing their eyes and burying them under the soil. Mary, the daughter of a Hollywood movie actress, becomes involved when the killer targets her and Kevin, her boyfriend. But who is this twisted psychopath and why does he want to kill all the kids?
Blood Moon opens with a terrific score courtesy of Brian May and some superb cinematography. The dense woodland in which the kids are pursued is brilliantly conveyed and I was immediately impressed by the general production values on display. After a couple of murders, we’re introduced to a predictable troupe of troublesome teens and our obvious final girl. There’s an interesting subplot that sprouts as one of the local poor kids falls for Mary, the daughter of an actress. The rich Winchester boys hate the local working class, so it’s almost like a homage to Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story but without the decent soundtrack (Instead we get ‘reach for the earplugs’ Heavy Metal). Shakespeare and the slasher genre, what a combination. I bet the poor author would turn in his grave.
There’s one really gruesome – if not graphic – murder, involving a desk, a young girl’s head and a deranged killer; but aside from that, there’s hardly any gore and most of the slaughters are left to the devices of an active imagination. There’s a tad of nudity and one of the girls is a real hottie. She brought to mind a young Angelina Jolie, but she was taken out pretty early, which was a shame. The performances are fairly poor throughout, with only Leon Lissek standing out as the troubled teacher. Although the plot mostly keeps things directly by the slasher rulebook, there are a few twists that you probably won’t guess and we also get some background on the reasons for the murderer’s insanity. His modus operandi was suspiciously similar to that of real life serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, especially the ‘sexual’ motive and removal of his victim’s eyes. Whether this was coincidental or not is purely sceptical, but an interesting slice of trivia all the same.
British born Alec Mills’ lackadaisical direction left a lot to be desired and he failed to generate any true suspense. He’s a much better camera man and his CV boasts Return of the Jedi and various James Bond movies through the seventies and eighties. It’s a fairly slow-moving story, but when the killer is revealed things begin to perk up right up until it ends rather suddenly leaving one or two unanswered questions. Like what happened to Kevin? Did he survive?
Even though the bodies start piling up toward the finale, the movie certainly could have benefited from a few more excursions into the well-lighted woodland with the killer and his length of barbed-wire. It was a decent choice of weapon that was literally begging for some creative special effects to make the most of its possibilities, but as previously mentioned, Bloodmoon is bone dry. As it stands, there was too little horror, no gore and an excessive amount of frolics that didn’t really do create any type of mood. It feels like a poor teen comedy with the odd slaying chucked in as a cheeky bonus, which is definitely not a good thing. Imagine an hour and a half long Neighbours episode, but with an unseen killer chucked in and you will be a lot closer than you actually think.
The storyline also feels half-hearted and un-finished. There are some good ideas that could add to the skeleton-thin characterisations, but they are never thoroughly developed and the whole thing feels thrown together. I felt sympathy for Helen Thomson’s plight and the rejection from her parents, but the script didn’t really take it anywhere
You can ignore most of the reviews that completely slate Blood Moon; it really isn’t all worthy of such criticism. It’s just that it’s best described as the sort of film that you’ll watch once and forget about immediately after. As far as Australian slashers go, it manages not to feel as cack-handed as Houseboat Horror or To Become One but then that’s still not much of a worthy compliment. I would call it an ideal hang-over movie. You know, one you watch in bed whilst nursing a sore head and your expectations are completely lowered.
Oh and I mentioned earlier the rubbish ‘Heavy Metal’. Well make sure to place those earplugs back in as soon as you see the end credit because the last song is a killer: ‘Blood moon is rising, stay home tonight’ and ‘Blood Moon arising over building and over hill, take care if you will!’ You get the picture…
Final Girl √√
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 very 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 local 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 Laughlin 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 TV) 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 tandem 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 Dignam, 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 eighties 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, there’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 visuals 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.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √√√√√