School’s Out 1999
aka Schrei Denn Ich Werde Dich Toten
Directed by: Robert Sigl
Starring: Katharina Wackernagel, Niels-Bruno Schmidt, Nils Nelleßen
Review by Luis Joaquín González
In my review of Amerikill, I made an unforgivable error. I said that it was strange that there are so many killer clowns and hardly any psycho jesters in the slasher genre. Slaughter High got a well-deserved mention, but I failed to acknowledge School’s Out, which includes arguably the most slasheristic jester disguise of them all. I hope that you find it in your hearts to forgive me…?
I picked this one up back in the early 2000s on an Amazon multi-buy with Party Crasher, The Catcher and Carnage Road. There’s another German slasher called School’s Out Forever that I will likely review soon, but to the best of my knowledge, it has nothing else in common with this. Whilst researching, I found out that this was originally a TV production, which I’d never have guessed, because aside from a lack of gore, it looks plush enough to have been a cinematic release. I’m quite surprised by its lack of popularity amongst slasher completists and that it has picked up only a few mixed reviews. With this in mind, I thought it was about time that I set the record straight with a gloves-off autopsy here on a SLASH above…
We begin with a young girl heading along a dark road and listening to music, which immediately brought to mind the opening of Urban Legend. She even comes across a creepy looking stranger whose car has broken down just to confirm the homage. Jessica slows down to offer assistance to the incapacitated driver, but comes to her senses and speeds off when he tries opening her door. As she heads along the road, her cellular phone rings and the voice quickly identifies himself as the man she just left in a layby. He admits that he has her number because it’s painted on the side (she’s driving her father’s taxi) and pleads again for a ride into town. The mystery caller gives his best Scream ‘creepy mutter’ impression, but it doesn’t prevent the foolish youngster from turning around and returning to the scene…
Next up we meet a group of students that are going to stay over at their campus to celebrate graduation. Nina has recently broken up with her boyfriend and that’s just one of a number of delicate complexities that surround the relationships of the troupe. As they begin to party through the night, it soon becomes apparent that a maniac that was responsible for a massacre on the site a decade earlier has broken out of a local asylum. Their worst fears are realised when a masked killer begins slicing through the revellers with the same weapon that the escapee used all those years ago – a large pair of scissors…
School’s Out is a film that’s split into three distinct acts and the best way that I can review it for you is by describing how each one delivered varying moods. For the first thirty minutes or so, I was struggling to adapt to the tone, which was mainly due to the most unconvincing dubbing since The Blazing Ninja and some peculiar lines that had been awkwardly translated from the German script. There were a host of conversations that sounded unusual and noticeably peculiar, so I would have preferred to have viewed a subtitled copy. On top of that, the fact that it had started with the aforementioned elements that were clearly lifted from Urban Legend and Scream meant that my initial impression was that this was an extremely poor European rendition of its American brethren. We were given a few scenarios that attempted to bring the key players to life, but the staggered flow of the klutzy dialogue meant that I couldn’t buy into what I was seeing. With so little to keep me engaged, I began to fidget and lose interest whilst waiting for the action to commence.
When the killer gets to work though, the pace begins to tighten, which is mainly due to a couple of splendid decisions from director, Robert Sigl. Never has the inside of a school looked so gothic and he traps his characters amongst terrific backdrops, including an ominous spiral staircase and a room that’s filled with mannequins and tarpaulin maps. Without any gore, the crew rely on sharp editing and frantic movement to bring the kill scenes to life and there’s a tense moment when a fleeing bunny tries to grab the assailant’s weapon whilst he’s temporarily immobilised. Another notable sequence sees a victim slaughtered whilst her friend looks on through an air vent and there’s a fairly tight mystery that will keep you unsure of your choice of cast member that’s under the mask. I mentioned above that this is the most ‘slasheristic’ jester guise of those I’ve featured on a SLASH above and with a red mask and period costume it’s hard to disagree with that statement. Sadly, I also think it’s the weakest of the three; – because the plastic look of the visor is at odds with the rest of the attire. Amerikill and Slaughter High did it better for me.
The third and final part of School’s Out is my favourite and its authenticity allows the film to overcome allegations of being a complete Scream clone. Our heroine Nina and one of her friends survive the school massacre but they do not believe that the Police have pinned it on the correct suspect. We get some effective dialogue scenes that open-up new layers to the puzzle and they all lead to a final confrontation back on the campus that’s staged well enough to build drama. It’s unusual for a slasher to go for an aftermath plot-branch and I liked the way that the script didn’t push itself into corners or run up blind alleys. Nina makes for a subtlety appealing heroine, if again, let down by the scripting; whilst the motive, when revealed, is totally ‘out there’ but that’s pretty much par for the course.
Even if it may be a bit long-winded in places, School’s Out is a satisfying slasher film that has some slick embellishments. If I could track down a subtitled copy, I’d give it an extra half-star, but as it is, it’s still worth the effort of checking out. It was followed by an equally enjoyable sequel that has, strangely, become almost impossible to track down. On another note,I just noticed I’ve posted this on the weekend after Brexit. As a Spanish/Irishman that lives in the UK, perhaps reviewing a German slasher could be considered a political statement of kind…? Then again, perhaps not…
Bone Cave 2011
Directed by: Matthew Brooks
Starring: Justin Rose, Jeremy Jusek, Andrew Hart
Review by Luis Joaquín González
So here we have yet another extremely rare slasher movie, but it’s one that is refreshingly unique. Even as a fan of the genre, I often get tired of the amount of films that traipse along the standard clichés without even attempting to inject any authenticity. Bone Cave on the other hand is unlike anything that I’ve seen before and despite its limitations, it offers an encouraging slant on the stalk and slash formula.
A pair of college kids hatch a life-changing plan to get rich by robbing a local ecstasy dealer and hosting a rave so that they can sell the tabs that they stole. As the party gets underway, it soon becomes apparent that a caped killer is lurking among the revelers and looking to slaughter the drug-induced teens…
For the first twenty-minutes or so, Bone Cave played like it was little more than a slasher by the numbers. It kicked off with a pair of poorly acted lovers being murdered in a cave by a caped menace with a painted face. There was nothing about the sequence that couldn’t have been copy and pasted from a million other genre entries and when the next cut showed us a couple of kids sitting outside a high-school, I felt like I was watching a lower budget knock-off of President’s Day. However as those same characters began speaking about their ambitious plan to rob a local drug pusher and host an illegal party, I began to realise that Ohio based director Matthew Brooks was on a thoroughly different wave-length.
Whilst there’s no denying that Bone Cave is a slasher movie, it’s one that plays like it’s only half-aware of the trappings, which I mean as a compliment. We get forty-five minutes of plot development from the three main players and perhaps because the dialogue has been written by a youngster (Brooks was in his twenties) it comes across as genuine as to how youngsters speak. It could be said that the pace during these parts isn’t as tight as it should be and a couple of killings might have made the runtime sharper, but Brooks’ flair for witty lines and realistic scenarios kept things afloat. If you’ve been a long-term reader of a SLASH above, you’ll know my thoughts on the challenges of mixing slapstick and terror into a palatable cocktail. There are many entries that have tried this formula (Easter Sunday/Slaughter Studios) and the majority of them are disjointed and shabby. It would be unfair to call Bone Cave a slasher/comedy, but the script delivers a nice blend of humor (from the dialogue) and horror (from the multiple victims). I expected the theft of the ecstasy tablets to be a small background sub-plot, but it is smartly expanded to generate a solid spine. It’s fair to say that there are no real surprises in later revelations and the killer’s identity is easy to guess, but most of the ideas here are novel and smartly delivered.
The second half of the film takes place inside the cave of the title, which was the location chosen to host the rave. The exteriors were filmed locally and are impressively conveyed considering the lack of experience and I can only guess that a hall was used for the other parts, but credut to the set designer(s) that worked hard to make it look as realistic as possible. Early on, I was a little worried that the lighting would be a problem, because we have about ten-minutes of footage that is illuminated by a couple of torches, but this soon improves and the crew did a good job technically. I also thought it was original the way that the killings were staged. Initially we get a torture porn-esque kidnap of a young girl that gets acid thrown in her face, but then the maniac goes on a rampage and runs into the middle of the party-goers with his custom blade and begins slashing… Cue pandemonium! We do get some blood splashing and a couple of gooey moments, but Bone Cave is fairly light on the gore score. It draws to a conclusion with the three main characters trapped with the maniac and they must overpower him in order to flee the carnage. If I were to be really harsh, I could say that the film might’ve worked better with a meaner spirit and I also didn’t think that the killer’s dialogue (he’s a real chatterbox) was effective. Still, earlier on I mentioned President’s Day and whilst the pair have very little in common, they share an alluring vibe that’s impossible to brush off.
All in all I enjoyed Bone Cave. It’s certainly full of innovation and a handful of smart accomplishments. The pace does stagnate a bit during the first half and some of the effects are visibly cheap (the grenade explosions are PSone-esque!!), but I guess that they made the most of an extremely tight budget. Matthew Brooks is certainly a talented filmmaker and his inclusion to the genre is worth a look.
Paranormal Xperience 3D 2011
Directed by: Sergi Vizcaino
Starring: Amaia Salamanca, Alba Ribas, Miguel Ángel Jenner
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Like most slasher fans, I’d be a liar if I said that I hadn’t considered making my own entry to the sub-genre. On the drive from Aracena, my family’s pueblo, to Huelva, there’s an old quarry that is one of the most historical sites in Southern Andalucía. Nowadays, Parque Minero Riotinto has a museum that displays artifacts from its 3,000 years as Europe’s biggest mine. The story began with the Phoenicians hunting for copper, and as the tides of time swept over the Iberian peninsular, the Romans took over when they discovered large stashes of silver. In the late nineteen-hundreds, an entrepreneur from London purchased the site and it became one of the first British settlements in Spain. Even if the visitors loved the hot weather and spacious deserts, they missed a few of their own novel customs and decided to introduce them to their gracious hosts. Before long, a Golf course was opened and a soccer team by the name of, Recreativo de Huelva. None of those early settlers could have predicted that they had laid the foundations for the creation of the league that would give us the largest match in the world, ‘El Clásico’ between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
With its dilapidated tunnels and isolated landscape, I often felt that the Riotinto mine would be the perfect location to shoot a slasher movie. A lack of time and funds however meant that I never took my daydreams further than the initial stage. When I learned about the production of XP3D, I hoped that the crew would make the most of the concept and I can’t deny a slight satisfaction in thinking that an idea of mine was actually being developed for the big screen. Albeit, by someone else and without my involvement :((
A group of medical students are given the task of hunting out any truth to the rumours that surround an abandoned mine. Years earlier, a professor ruthlessly butchered some locals, but his corpse was never discovered and legend dictates that he still roams the grounds. Due to a lack of transport, Ángela invites her younger sister, Diana, who owns a van to join them on their expedition. Their relationship broke down after their father committed suicide and since then, they have never seen eye to eye. Almost as soon as the group arrive, they sense an ominous presence and are left having to fight to survive…
I’m from Andalucía and the fact that so much of Spain’s globally recognised culture comes from my community (Siesta, Toros, Flamenco, Tapas etc) makes me extremely proud. Even Cristóbal Colón set sale on his groundbreaking journey of discovery from the ports of Huelva. When it comes to slashers though, I have to take my hat off to Cataluña, because their track record of Los Inocentes and Los Ojos de Julia speaks for itself. XP3D is another Catalan entry and I was keen to see if it could be the Luis Suarez to sit alongside Messi and Neymar in their slasheristic attack.
On a relatively light budget of €3,200,000, the film looks as good as any of the entries that have thrown untold-millions behind their developments. Shooting in contained underground environments is always a recipe for a bad lighting rig, but Rosa Ros’ sets are extensive in their detail and perfectly displayed. Whilst It takes around forty minutes for our first killing, Paranormal Xperience sustains interest due to an exquisitely mastered intro, which I won’t spoil for you. I will say though that it is a masterclass of tension in a confined environment. From then on, we spend time with a group of youngsters that may not be extensively developed, but they are at least likeable and given interesting tweaks. It was a risk to fill the cast with actors that hadn’t even really made a mark in TV shows, but the dramatics are surprisingly solid, especially from Maxi Iglesias and Amaia Salamanca as our beautiful heroine. Although they prove that they weren’t only cast for their physical appearance, the camera does linger longingly on Úrsula Corberó’s rear-end almost as many times as it does her face. I guess though, a culo like hers deserves to be appreciated 😉
Director Sergi Vizcaino shoots the action with a visible gloss and it gives the film an adroit realism. I recall the advertising campaign, which created the impression that we were in for an out and out gore extravaganza. We do get an extremely gruesome CGI head-rip and a wince worthy moment where a rock hammer is removed from a victim’s eye socket (nasty), but not everything was shown on-screen. I did like the look of the antagonist, who sports a ‘Phantom of the Opera’ style half-mask, but his taunts are neither threatening nor witty, which leaves them lingering without substance.
Even if Spanish cinema is renowned for its unique character driven narratives, I’m the first to confess that we do often make films that are inspired by Hollywood trends and conventions. Following the success of Saw and My Bloody Valentine in 3D, XP attempts to follow In their footsteps with the same visual gimmick. In doing so, I feel that the film sacrificed some of its potential. It’s almost as if they were halfway through writing the script when a producer came up with the idea of 3D and then everything else fell by the wayside. All the realistic dialogue and depth that had been visible from the launch suddenly evaporates and it felt like someone gave acupuncture to the second-half of the screenplay. The characters clearly have mobile phones (I won’t mention the most obvious Sony product placement ever) and use them to contact each other whilst at the mine. When the killings finally start, not one of the panicking victims even mentions calling for assistance, which looked like a bizarre thing for the author to overlook. (?) In fairness, the invention of cellular technology was the biggest challenge that the slasher genre’s basic structure has ever faced. It can be overcome though with a simple line of goofy but expository dialogue like, ‘My battery’s dead’ or, ‘I have no signal’ (I mean, they were in an underground mine). Штольня even went as far as to give us a scene that explained the lack of a call for help; – and whilst that’s not always necessary, anything looks better than absolutely nada.
Another issue is that the film overestimates the intelligence of its gimmick. I won’t tell you how so as not to ruin any potential surprise, but it reminded me of an excited present bearer that wants to tell you what your gift is before you shake the box or rip the wrapping paper. There’s nothing wrong with a twist, because many slasher movies are built upon them, but it was easy to predict the outcome here. It could also be said that the storyline doesn’t really know what it wants to be. We launch along a pathway that makes us believe that we’re watching a film about a haunting, which makes sense considering the ‘paranormal’ title. Then the masked killer turns up and we slot into the traditional template without a second look. I mean, they do mention a supernatural-ish aspect later, but it felt like it’d been bolted on at the last minute when someone on set said to the screenwriter, “Yo dude, what about the ghostly stuff?”. The response was probably something along the lines of, “Oh yeah… Damn it, I forgot about that…” I don’t know; it just looks like the script was completed in a week and based on a combination of ideas that were cobbled together in haste. If you compare XP with Los Inocentes, it’s easy to see that one had a logical plan THAT WORKED and the other plays like a skateboard rolling down a pebbled hill.
It’s a strange analogy, but you can’t prepare a good curry by simply throwing in more spice. It’s about the finer details; the timing, the seasonings, the blend of the right herbs. XP borders on being an exquisite main course, but the fact that it throws too much into the Tandoori oven, leaves it a bit too overdone to be truly succulent. Not even a helping of gore-soaked poppadoms could perfect the taste. So with that I’m off to the kitchen…
aka The Pit
Directed by: Lubomyr Levytskyi
Starring: Svitlana Artamonova, Mykola Kartzev, Olga Storozhuk
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The fact that my kids are half Polish and I speak the language fluently means I feel like an honouree Pole of sorts. Due to this I always wanted to review a category addition from that country, but despite the fact that horror is extremely popular in PL, they haven’t yet given us a true slasher flick. I had high hopes when I learned about the production of 2008’s Pora Mroku, because it had been listed in the media as a similar concept to Wes Craven’s Scream. The net result though turned out to be more of a Hostel clone, so we are still waiting for an entry from the land of żubrówka. Some may cite Fantom Killer as a Polish slasher, but it was actually filmed in East London and Roman Nowicki is an alias for British filmmaker, Trevor Barley.
The reason I tell you this is because I was excited about seeing this offering from Ukraine, which neighbours Poland along the Eastern border. Ukrainian as a language utilises the same Cyrillic alphabet as Russian, but a lot of words are far more similar to Polish (Jak instead of Kak, Tak instead of Da etc)). I speak Russian, Polish and I’m learning Bulgarian, which means I had no problem at all in understanding the dialogue spoken throughout this movie.
A group of students head off to explore an underground chamber where it’s rumoured that an ancient Pagan cult had hidden valuable artefacts. They are accompanied by their college professor and soon discover a locked entrance to a tunnel that leads to the darkness below. When they wake up the next morning, the professor has disappeared and the gate has been mysteriously opened. They venture inside to hunt for their colleague and some treasure, but eventually discover more than they bargained for.
Much as with the case of the aforementioned Pora Mroku, there are various different synopsises that can be discovered online for Штольня. If you were left wondering if this actually is a slasher movie, you’ll be happy to learn that it certainly is, right down to a hooded menace bumping off students one by one. It’s surprising how much the film plays true to the genre’s trappings, especially in the cliched personalities of its personnel. We get the stereotypical jocks, cute heroine and geeky hero and there’s even the chance to guess if the maniac is someone we’ve already met. Debutant Lubomer Levytski draws solid performances from his actors and Olga Storozhuk is brilliant as the beautiful heroine. Eastern European women are amongst the most gorgeous in the world and the director certainly makes the most of this fact by casting a few staggeringly hot chicas. I was disappointed that other titles from Slavic countries, like Slovenia’s Masaker, were so weak on the eye-candy factor. Luckily, Trackman – a film arguably inspired by this – brought back some credibility.
We get a couple of fantastic set-pieces that really underline the abandonment of the victims. The most memorable is when they discover a ventilation pipe that leads outside and begin screaming for help in the hope that someone will hear them. We are shown a worker that is a few yards away and would immediately be able to assist if it weren’t for the fact he was wearing sound-mufflers to protect from the roar of his chainsaw and generator (!). Perhaps what makes the scene all the more hard hitting is that he turns off his devices and removes the earplugs at the exact same time that the troupe take a break from shouting. Just as he puts them back in, their cries begin again….only more frantically!. Don’t you just hate days like that?!? There’s also a very effective jump scare that hits us as the kids are driving to the excavation site. It shows impeccable timing from Levytski.
With the underground backdrop, flashlights and dark tunnels, it’s impossible not to think of My Bloody Valentine when analysing this entry. The difference is, George Mihalka’s classic boasted a hulking antagonist that was regularly on screen and shown to be stalking his intended prey. Maybe it was an attempt to add an extra layer of mystery to Штольня’s premise, but the killer is barely seen up until the climax. I don’t even recall a chase sequence that attempted to deliver suspense. I’ve always believed that it’s much harder to direct a horror movie than it is any other genre and whilst Levytski does well with many of the core principles of filmmaking, he fails to capture the tone of dread that this feature needed. With so much at his disposal in terms of a great location and a convincing set-up, it’s a shame that the flick didn’t deliver much tension or terror. We cared about the characters and wanted them to prevail, but we never faced a genuine aura of trepidation. I sat watching in the hope that a dark cloud would engulf the purity of the runtime, but the threat wasn’t really visible to us. Looking back at Halloween, we had the eerie scoring and ‘the shape’ lurking in the background of many shots. Here I couldn’t shake the feeling that the characters had to tell us that they were scared because there was no visual antagonist to impose fear upon us. It’s also worth noting how little the flick offers in terms of cultural recognition. The cast and language are Ukrainian, but aside from that this could just be a dubbed copy of a US film. I was hoping to see some expository dialogue whilst they ate Pelmeni or prepared Borsch, but unfortunately there was nothing that truly represented the blue and yellow of the former Soviet state.
Штольня is a solid slasher film that would be a great one if it had an atmosphere of doom and a central villain. We needed a lot more stalking and even a few more heavy breath POVs, but instead it was left up to the actors to convey the terror verbally. Of course that doesn’t mean that this is a bad movie, in fact it’s actually pretty good. It’s just a shame how close it came to being outstanding and just missed that certain something.
Night Killer 1989
aka Non Aprite Quella Porta 3
Directed by: Claudio Fragasso
Starring: Peter Hooten, Tara Buckman, Richard Foster
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I was saying to a friend the other night that after four-years of writing reviews for a SLASH above, I’m still nowhere near halfway through the slashers that I own. Due to the sheer weight of numbers, I’m guilty of overlooking the Giallo sub genre, which is a shame because Italy deserves its place in this online encyclopaedia. To make up for the lack of Tenebrae etc, I’ve tried covering the slasher films from Southern Europe that were moulded upon their US counterparts. The likes of StageFright, Nightmare Beach, Absurd and Bodycount have always intrigued me, because it’s strange that Italian directors adapted their methodologies to appeal to a foreign market trend that had been inspired by a style they created.
This is another one of their ‘Americanised’ exports and it’s by far the most obscure. It’s from Claudio Fragasso, who became a cult hero from the popularity of his daft project that was filmed on US soil. I haven’t seen Troll 2, but you don’t have to search far to learn that it’s a notorious ‘so bad it’s good’ cheese-fest. Fragasso began his career as an assistant to Bruno Mattei and it’s easy to see similarities in their filmographies. They worked extensively in the exploitation space and both seemed equally as focused on tackling popular cinematic trends on minimal funding. Due to loopholes in copyright laws, many low-budget flicks were released in Italy as unofficial sequels to renowned hits in order to grab an audience. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Italian title is Don’t Open the Door (Non Aprite Quella Porta). Well this one was circulated as a continuation of kind to that series (Non Aprite Quella Porta 3), which made me think that it might be heavily influenced by Leatherface and his cannibalistic family.
It begins in much the same fashion as did Michael Soavi’s StageFright, with a group of theatre performers practicing their dance moves. Before long we meet our masked killer and he slaughters one of the bunnies backstage with a Freddy Kruegar-esque glove. When the bitchy director goes to check on the missing cast-member’s whereabouts, she also gets attacked by the loon, but he only manages to slice her throat delicately, which weakens her vocal chords. What follows is an energetic chase sequence that ends with the injured female tumbling from the auditorium to the floor below. The cast members look on in shock at the corpse and the screen fades to black.
We soon learn that the city is being plagued by a maniac that is killing and raping females at a terrifying rate. Thus far, the Police and a Psychiatrist (by far the most credible Sam Loomis impersonation) have no lead on his true identity, but they’re desperate to put an end to the ferocious butchery. His next victim, Melanie Beck (Tara Buckman), manages to survive and gets a view of the attacker’s face, but the event has left her with short term memory loss and she doesn’t recall anything about the night. She is released from hospital and bumps into an alcoholic vagabond by the name of Axel (Peter Hooten). His frantic beeping of his horn and offer of alcohol doesn’t immediately woo her, so he follows her into the women’s toilets (even a cubicle) where she draws a gun and forces him to strip to his briefs and flush away his clothes (I’m not joking). Axel manages to find a T-Shirt and new pair of pants from somewhere and continues his pursuit, which results in him preventing the desperate female from committing suicide on a beach. After taking her to a hotel, he begins to reveal some worrying shades to his personality. It looks like Axel is increasingly unstable and could well be the vicious maniac that she escaped from last time…
I mentioned Bruno Mattei above and whilst it’s true that he made some pretty bad movies, his Eyes Without a Face is a smart giallo that proved that even directors renowned for cheesy trash could helm a stylish picture on occasion. if you break down this film to the sum of its parts, I guess you could say that it looks fairly mediocre. We do get some gore, but it’s very amateur (the boogeyman’s glove is clearly rubber), the uncredited score is only outdone by the flamboyance of the performances and we lack a traditionally ‘clean cut’ protagonist that the audience can sympathise with. Somehow though, the bouncy soundtrack, unhinged characters, peculiar dialogue (“Oh Grandma, what a big schlong you have(!)”) and videotape picture quality combine to create an authentic and pulsating movie that blew my expectations to smithereens. It’s almost as if I kept waiting for the runtime to become tedious, but it maintained a momentum and only grew in intrigue with every step.
It’s clear that Night Killer was structured like a slasher movie, but it certainly has the grit and (not so) subtle sexual themes of a giallo. Our heroine regularly exposes her breasts (she massages them at one point after receiving a threatening call (?)) and we are told that the victims are raped before they are slaughtered. Thankfully, this is never demonstrated visually, and we only see the psychopath punching his bladed glove through their stomachs like he was The Terminator (??). One of the unfortunate females is even killed by having her face pushed into a bowl of latex (???). I managed to work out who was under the mask long before the conclusion, but there’s a further revelation that makes zero sense on reflection, even if it would rival the denouement of The Usual Suspects if you happen to be the guy from Momento or a Goldfish with a five-second attention span.
As I alluded to above, the leads really go OTT with their portrayals. This is especially true in the case of Peter Hooten, whose demeanor and vocal delivery was reminiscent of Matthew McConaughey’s cameo from The Wolf of Wall Street. Despite the misleading Italian release title, Night Killer is not similar at all to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s pure slasher trash that plays like a mix between Terror Eyes and Halloween. There are no supernatural elements, but the killer’s mask is clearly modelled on the face of Freddy Krueger and then of course there’s the bladed glove. We even get a final sequence that could have been lifted from the Edmund Purdom trash bag, Don’t Open ’til Christmas. I know that seems unlikely, but if great minds think alike, I guess that the opposite can happen too 😉
It would be illogical to call Night Killer a well made movie, but it’s constantly entertaining and riddled with intrigue. I thoroughly enjoyed my viewing and it’s another of those time capsules from a long forgotten time that modern entries regularly attempt to but never manage to emulate…
Final Curtain 2003
Directed by: Mike Goodreau
Starring: Michelle Algarin, Tricia DePaola, Mike Goodreau
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I’ve covered a few obscurities of late, so thought it was about time that I got round to giving this one a blast. Not to be confused with Brett Kelly’s identically themed (and titled) film of 2005, Final Curtain comes with its fair share of trivia. The IMDB lists eleven sequels, but I heard on the slasher grapevine that there are even a couple more and I have no idea how they’re funded because it’s almost impossible to find copies to buy on any format. I tracked down this one on eBay, but a brief scan through the usual purchase sites shows no listings at all.
The collection comes from Mike Goodreau and was shot on video as a throwback to the low budget flicks of the eighties. Goodreau has a few actor credits that I came across, but looks to have dedicated his directorial career to these films. It’s a shame that I haven’t yet managed to track down every instalment, because I’d like to see if they changed with yearly progression.
An ambitious businessman relocates to the small town of Taft, Massachusetts and hatches a plan to open an amateur theatre. Despite some friction from officials, the community are generally happy about the idea and he begins casting locals. It seems though that someone wants to tell their own story and they are willing to resort to murder to do so…
Not knowing anything about Mr Goodreau, I had to go into the film unarmed figuratively speaking. What I ascertained from what I saw was that he’s a big fan of theatre and probably a lot in reality like the character he plays here, Levi O’Neil. The background plot of him opening a small dramatic group is fairly engaging in the fact that it dominates the main chunk of the runtime. When the killer strikes, it comes out of nowhere and leaves us thinking, ‘Oh wow I forgot that I was watching a slasher movie.’ It takes twenty-minutes for said assailant to put in an appearance, but after, we get a handful of murders. They’re rolled out in the typical whodunit fashion, with the antagonist mostly off-screen, but despite their unimaginative nature (sword or knife stabbings), they are set-up impressively. We also get a few brazen attempts at gore that range from el cheapo to actually pretty good. In fact, we have to credit Goodreau for doing what he could on such a pocket-money budget.
That pocket-money budget is certainly visible in Final Curtain and it gives the film a ‘homemade’ sheen. Most of the audio is sketchy at best and the score, which is at least memorable, jumps like a scratched vinyl in places. I’m guessing that it was shot on a camcorder, but overall, it would be unfair to criticise the visuals. Despite some haziness, I don’t recall squinting to make-out what was happening too many times and there are a couple of bigger budgeted films, like Humongous for example, that couldn’t even achieve this level of clarity.
What prevented me from being really impressed was that as I alluded to above, the initial kill-scenes feel like they’ve been bolted-on to a TV show or documentary. When you think about classic scary movies, they’re not built upon much else than a horror core. You can have a mystery, sub-plots, in-depth character development, hidden meanings and even romance; but these elements should always be side-salads to a terrorising main course. Goodreau looked to be putting more effort into the trials and tribulations of the theatre plot branch, which reduced the impact of the murders. I don’t want to come across as being petty, but this didn’t ‘feel’ like a horror film for the most part and that prevented me from giving it a higher ranking. Other similarly funded features like Killer Campout or Bloody Creek managed to sustain a grim environment, but this one sacrificed some of its fear factor (and momentum) for the tale of a ‘theatrical’ journey. We spent a lot of time with the cast members, but never really knew who they were. Because of this, we couldn’t care less when they were killed.
Still, Final Curtain works in a cheapjack way. It’s one that much like Day of the Reaper, you need to be extra forgiving to enjoy, but me, I’m all about forgiveness…
Marco Polo 2008
Directed by: Alton Glass
Starring: Cristina DeRosa, Eddie Goines, William L. Johnson
Review by Luis Joaquín González
When you look at all the ‘hard to find’ slashers, you’ll notice that the majority of them share familiar characteristics. Whether it be that they were self-funded and lacked solid distribution or were plagued throughout production, which led the crew to abandon circulation, there’s usually a common link to be discovered between them. That’s where Marco Polo stands apart. This one was completed in 2007 on a solid budget and with a talented cast, so it’s strange that it has become so obscure.
In fact, what we have here is a feature that truly frustrates me; and my frustrations stem from the fact that it’s better than a large majority of the slashers that I watch, so why isn’t it available for global consumption? It kicks off with a fast-paced sequence that offers a pre-credits introduction to our boogeyman, Marco Polo. In a periodic scene from 1342, Polo, his wife and daughter are pursued through some forest, where they are eventually cornered and assaulted by their weapon-clenching assailants. Director Alton Glass goes for an incredibly merciless approach by showing us in detail how Polo was made to suffer by being blinded by the thumbs of a hulking barbarian. As he lies screaming on the floor, he can only listen helplessly whilst his spouse is raped and his child slaughtered. It’s an uncommonly harrowing intro, which shows a level of graphic violence that was quite intense. We then fast forward to present day California, where we meet our likely victims.
It’s these parts that most proved to me that Glass has the potential to be a competent filmmaker. We see all of our characters together at a pool party and there’s a blend of African Americans and Whites. What stood out to me was that the dialogue was audacious and intriguing, because it’s not the usual Hollywood sugar coated chit-chat. One girl nags her black boyfriend for leering over a white chick and he responds by saying, “She must have some black in her to be that fine”. Then a bullish Caucasian belittles a guy that looks like a poor man’s Eminem with the line, “Stay White Brother!” We live in a world where touching upon such topics always carries a risk of offence, but in reality, the majority of us aren’t racists and can share good-natured (and even competitive) interracial banter. I admired the director’s ambition to strive for realism and this continues throughout the runtime.
After such a crowded launch, we get a closer look at what will surely be our two central players. Jared is extremely disappointed that his younger brother Kelly wants to play basketball in Italy and not follow his sibling into the business that their entrepreneurial father left them when he passed away. This leads to an interesting ‘head or heart’ conversation that offers enough depth to develop both personalities. They decide to spend a camping trip together before Kelly jets off to Europe and this gives us a logical pathway to alienate our intended victims. There are eight campers that board the Winnebago to the forest, and each of them gets enough screen time to stand out. It would be wrong to say that they broke away from the traditional clichés, but the annoying jock type guy diversified into a real hero that I found myself rooting for. Actually, I wanted most of them to survive and I guess it’s because they were given more than just basic lines to move the plot from A to B.
When the killings start, they’re ferociously gory and Glass unleashes some tremendous visceral FX and a real injection of excitement. One guy gets chopped in half with a machete, there’s a unique decapitation and the brutal masked killer gives a credible Jason Voorhees impersonation. I liked the way that the film gave the players a slice of courage that convinced us that they wanted to survive. It’s tough to convey the true effect that a mass-killer would have on the average everyday Joe, but at least they weren’t just slashed and immediately rushed off screen to be forgotten. Every single box in regards to slasher trademarks is ticked (we even get a scary story around a campfire scene), but this film differentiates itself by including influences from thrillers like Fallen as well as a large dose of Friday the 13th. The biggest chunk of originality came from the conclusion, which I certainly wasn’t expecting.
The real Marco Polo was an ambitious traveller that passed away peacefully, surrounded by his wife and daughters, in bed. There are definite question marks over the logic of using such a renowned historical figure as the film’s antagonist. The fact that the screenwriter has bolted-on a distinct and unflattering streak to his personality makes it all the more peculiar. It would have been easier if they’d just used an imaginary person – a conquistador perhaps – because Polo was everything but a sadistic butcher. Still, I cannot really find any other relevant criticism to aim at this slasher and I’m scratching my head as to why it’s so obscure. When a motion picture that is confidently produced and includes sharp direction, a rapid pace, unpredictability, interesting scenarios, a professional gloss and some gore, you’d think that it had achieved everything that was asked during pre-production. A friend of mine said that he had heard that this was extremely similar to See No Evil, but it’s not at all. Alton Glass’ entry to the sub-genre is much better and deserving of a more prominent status.
So why does the film remain on the missing list? It seems like it all came down to bad timing. Just as shooting was completed in 2008, the lead producer had to deal with some personal matters, which meant that the concept was pushed to one side. When he was finally able to re-focus his efforts on securing circulation, the digital boom had rendered him unable to find the right deal. Now, eight-years later, it can finally be seen on Amazon.com, but only if you reside in the US.
There are around sixty slashers that I know of that will never see light of day on the right format. There’s a strong argument to say that Marco Polo and Legend of Moated Manor are the best of those. I hope you one day get the opportunity to see if you agree.
Directed by: Chris LaMartina
Starring: Sean Quinn, Jenny Saurallo, Andrew Hughes
Review by Luis Joaquín González
How ya didling a SLASH abovers? Here we have another obscurity that I’ve spent years tracking down to examine for y’all – I’m just too damn nice! Amerikill was the first horror flick from esteemed director Chris LaMartina and it really is a ‘junior project’ in every sense of the word. Whilst it has become a cliche of the genre that most slasher films have actors in their mid-thirties unconvincingly playing teens, Amerikill turns that totally on its head. You see, this was Mr LaMartina’s High School project and he shot it with his friends at the age of 14!
I learned of its existence when I purchased Death O’Lantern from Warlock Home Video. They had a large catalogue of titles and what stood out to me about this one was the killer’s awesome Jester guise. I immediately tried to buy a copy, but was told that there were none left and there likely wouldn’t be any more available. Dejected, I set up an eBay search and tried all the usual methods of allocating a copy, to no avail. My recent review of President’s Day put me in touch directly with filmmaker Chris LaMartina and after a few begging emails, I managed to finally get him to send me a pristine DVD…
A small town High School is thrown into chaos when ‘Jester Face’ – a vicious masked serial killer – begins butchering local kids. A group of friends set out to solve the mystery by watching ‘cheesy slasher films’ to uncover the killer’s logic.
Before we kick off the review, I think it’s important that I mention something that will better allow you to understand this film. In terms of maturity, I was something of a late bloomer. I’ve just turned thirty-five and when I look back on the silly things that I did in my past, I wish that I had the ‘intelligence’ or ‘cultural understanding’ that I posses today. Adult minds are filled with analysis of past experiences, consideration of consequences and a greater fear of risk, whereas youngsters only think, ‘That looks cool, let’s do it!’. At the age of fourteen, I had no idea what a protagonist was, the difference between gibberish and complex dialogue or the reasons why I enjoyed certain films more than others. My list of ‘essential good movie ingredients’ was the size of a postage stamp and I could mindlessly sit through crap like Ninja Terminator or Day of Judgement without flinching an eyelid. Now of course, the smallest mediocre element can force me to reevaluate my rankings and even a great eighties cheese-fest like Commando has lost some of its appeal.
I tell you this because it has a lot to do with how you may perceive Amerikill. Did I think it was a very good movie? No, not particularly. Would I have done so when I was an impressionable fifteen-year-old? Hell yeah!! You see, this is a ‘fan boy’ film in the truest sense and ticks all the boxes that we know and love. It is very obviously inspired by Wes Craven’s Scream but also verbally pays homage to some peak period slasher hits such as, Sleepaway Camp. What surprised me most though was that there were a few signs of credibility that transcended the dime store budget and pre-pubescent age range.
For a start, it’s amazing how there are so few visible weaknesses in the dramatics. Whilst we are not talking method actors by any means, we see very little flat or wooden line delivery, which is a real achievement considering the amateur cast members. It could be argued of course that the kids were literally ‘playing themselves’; but in comparison with most budget stalk and slashers, Amerikill has no bad performances that really stand out. We get a whodunit mystery that waddles along admirably and even if I guessed who was under the mask early on, I never felt completely sure of my decision, and there was even a twist of kind before the credits rolled. As I mentioned earlier, the maniac has a truly creepy disguise and it led me to wonder why there are so many killer clowns, but so few psycho jesters? This dude outshone Marty Rantzen from Slaughter High, simply because he looked much more ominous in black with a white face mask that was splashed with blood. We get a number of kill scenes that include some bare bones attempts at gore and they all take place to the strains of a rock soundtrack that actually includes a few decent songs.
I guess that the reason I can’t really say that Amerikill will appeal to all slasher buffs is because it is very much a teenage movie. It was almost awkward for me watching the production, because I felt like an old guy that was trying to fit in. That’s no fault of the filmmakers of course, they couldn’t change their age; but it’s important that you prepare yourself before viewing the film. We do get a semblance of a plot narrative, but there’s no central character or script cohesion, which is totally understandable considering the lack of experienced heads on set. In fact, it’s pointless really to criticise Amerikill because it’s astounding how much the director managed to get right. Even Tim Ritter was two-years older when he made Day of the Reaper and that’s nowhere near as slick as this.
When all is said and done, Amerikill is much better than it has any right to be. We can ignore the lack of Police, the flimsy structure etc, because this is a high school project and if you leave your brain at the door, you might even enjoy some parts of the film; – I know I did. There’s fun to be had with the cheesetastic gore and we see a glimpse of the light humour tone that was so successful in President’s Day. Also, have you ever wondered why might happen if a masked killer bumped into a trio of school bullies? No? Well Chris LaMartina has – and his interpretation of it is actually pretty funny… I’m glad I saw Amerikill.
Fatal Exam 1985
Directed by: Jack Snyder
Starring: Mike Coleman, Terry Comer, Carol Fitzgerald Carlberg
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Good morning a SLASH abovers… So, here we have one that I never thought that I’d be adding to this website. I’ve owned Fatal Exam on VHS for many years, but I didn’t bother covering it because I’ve always considered it to be a bit of an outsider. I guess that it just about scrapes the guidebook in terms of what’s needed to fit within the standard template, but I was under the impression that it was a little too Satanic to really be a traditional entry. Still, with so many of you asking me to include it (12 at last count), I decided to dust off my VHS cassette and give it a whirl.
A college professor gives six students an assignment to stay in a secluded house and investigate some murders that took place a few years earlier. As the weekend unfolds, strange occurrences begin to unsettle the visitors…
The best way that I could describe Fatal Exam to you is by comparing it with one of those all-day conferences that companies send you on to do some ‘networking’. As you enter the site at 8:30 in the am, you see crates of beers being lined up behind the bar and a sign that reads, “Free drinks and snacks after the event”. You sit in a chair for the next six hours battling exhaustion, boredom and the desperate desire to fidget, whilst maintaining positivity by picturing the booze and cocktail sausages that you’ll eventually be consuming (and stuffing in your briefcase whilst no one’s looking). In the case of James Snyder’s long-forgotten debut feature though, it’s like a fourteen-hour lecture on the collaboration of a steel plate with only a stick of celery and a cup of soda water to look forward to when it’s finally finished.
120 minutes is a risky runtime for Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest motion picture achievement, so you can imagine what to expect from a flick by Jack ‘no idea what momentum means’ Snyder. Despite the glamour and glitz, filmmaking can be a long and frustrating process, because crews spend hours shooting the same thing at countless angles in order to get the right ‘tone’ for every scene. A talented editor makes his mark thereafter by removing excessive overindulgence and making sure that a taut but descriptive pace is amalgamated from the mounds of footage. Fatal Exam plays like Snyder didn’t trust his audience to understand anything without being held by the hand, so every sequence is conveyed without any dynamism or brevity at all. When a character mouths a statement in a group conversation, we see a separate reaction shot from each person, which is totally unnecessary and monotonous, because really we only needed the one – or even none at all. Also, a simple action, like someone getting an item from their car, will be displayed to us by them exiting the house, heading along a pathway, opening the boot, picking up the item and then returning. All this wasn’t necessary, because the same point could be emphasised in a single line of expository dialogue. In the world of Señor Snyder however, he yearns to show you e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in the finest detail, which gets very boring, very quickly. The film even starts with our protagonist climbing out of bed, brushing his hair, cleaning his teeth, eating a bowl of cereal, getting dressed, entering his car and driving to school. I mean FFS! JUST START THE DAMN MOVIE FROM THE DAMN SCHOOL!!!
In fact, the first forty-five minutes could have been removed and replaced with a simple text intro that would’ve worked a whole lot better. We could’ve read something like, ” Ambitious student Nick and a gang of his college buddies are given an assignment to spend a weekend at the house where the sadistic Malcolm Nostrand killed his family two-years earlier. Here’s what happened once they settled in.” That would have given us the same amount, if not more, information than we gained from the coma-inducing hour of watching bad actors do a big pile of nada. The net result is something that I can only guess was created to test the patience of Buddhist monks. Either that or it was funded by the CIA as a potential psychological weapon of torture? I’m joking of course, but the truth is that this is a sleep-inducing marathon of pointless nothingness. Apparently the film was completed in 1985, but sat on a shelf for five-years because the crew ‘ran out of budget’. I am not surprised, think how much $$$ was wasted on shooting scenes that were completely devoid of relevance. 16mm film isn’t cheap, you know. By the way, I must give a shout out to Carl Leta, the guy that scored the movie. He really played like a man that knew what he was up against, but battled valiantly to try and bring some kind of atmosphere to what he was given. It was amusing that the score was getting creepier and creepier, but all we could see on screen were a gang of halfwits doing another big pile of na….
The reason that I was in no rush to post Fatal Exam here was not only because it’s an arduous feature to sit through, but mainly because it plays more like Blood Cult than it does a typical slasher flick. We do get an antagonist in a cool grim reaper-alike guise, but he’s one of a number of villains that appear in the final thirty-minutes, which is alien to the more standard ‘central boogeyman’ trademark. Ironically, I wrote two paragraphs about the film’s lacklustre editing strategy, but the one noteworthy slasher sequence that we do get on the 78 minute mark is cut so rapidly that we can barely make out what’s happening. It’s a shame, because after sitting through all that nonsense for so long, I felt as if I thoroughly deserved the ‘free beer and sandwiches’ for my effort. What I got though was the aforementioned mouldy stick of celery and a glass of flat tomato juice.
I’m not sure what else I can tell you about Fatal Exam. I guess it’s like an even more tedious version of Girls School Screamers, but with a silly satanic sheen and the worst digital special effect at the conclusion that I’ve ever seen. In fact, I’d recommend watching it if only to see that C64-type moment of cheesy eighties madness. So this is nowhere near as good as the similarly titled Final Exam, but does it stoop to the lows of Fred Olen Ray’s Final Examination? Hmmm… That’s one I am not willing to investigate
Easter Sunday 2014
Directed by: Jeremy Todd Moorehead
Starring: Robert Z’Dar, Jeremy Todd Morehead, Ari Lehman
Review by Luis Joaquín González
When I launched a SLASH above, I wanted to create an online guide to the truest form of Halloween-alike slashers for fans to use as a reference point. My motivation was that I’d been stung hundreds of times reading a review of a ‘slasher’ movie only to go online and buy it then find out it was nothing of the sort. For me, writing the reviews wasn’t the important part, it was having a complete online list for genre fans. As the site has grown, I’ve had to start thinking more as a film critic and give an honest opinion on the direction, audio, blocking, camera placement etc of the pictures I featured. I took a few filmmaking courses and got an understanding of production from the earliest stages so that I could offer a constructive and informed view.
My earliest exposure to slashers was those of the peak period and therefore I’ve always used Halloween as the prototype. I’ve made my thoughts clear on A Nightmare on Elm Street many times and the reasons why I haven’t posted it here. However, from its success, we did get a host of genre entries that did fit with the category’s trademarks, but had antagonists with a repertoire of wise-cracks. These were the likes of Nail Gun Massacre, Psycho Cop, Doom Asylum, Hollow Gate and Happy Hell Night. Personally, I am a big fan of a macabre tone and don’t see the benefit of mixing slapstick with horror. I’m smart enough to know though that there’s an audience for pictures of that sort, or, well, they wouldn’t exist, right?
Easter Sunday, the yet to be released addition from Jeremy Todd Morehead, plays like something straight out of 1986 and includes a killer with an array of quips larger than his arsenal of weapons. It tells the tale of a vicious psychopath that murders his family on Easter Sunday whilst sporting a creepy mask. Sometime later, an up and coming rock group called, The Heartbreakers, accidentally bring the maniac back from beyond the grave…
I read an interview with director Jeremy Moorehead and he stated that he felt modern horror films had lost the humour that made them so addictive during the eighties. Many times on a SLASH above, I have said that the egotistic brats that populate a huge percentage of the post-Scream entries are no substitute for the goofy teens from the eighties. What Jeremy described as humour though, I would call charm; – and cinematically, there’s quite a difference between the two. After an intriguing and visually impressive credit sequence, Easter Sunday throws a whole heap of moods at us. We go from the throat slashing of a campy victim to a misplaced fart joke (?) and then on to the gratuitous murder of a sweet young child. This jumble of atmospheres continues throughout the runtime and creates a juxtaposition that I just couldn’t bring myself to digest, even though I really tried.
At times the comedic angle would wane and a dark, almost threatening, feel would generate from the scoring and some creative photography. During these parts, I felt myself subconsciously hoping that the runtime would maintain this flow, but alas, something silly would misplace all that’d gone before it. A fine example is when our protagonist (a spirited ‘look at me’ performance from director Jeremy Moorhead) informs his colleagues of how he fled the maniacal menace (a plot point that the viewer had witnessed and didn’t really need explaining). The scene is set-up well and it re-energises the momentum, but we then cut to a close-up of a character gulping down a burger in one mouthful and playfully jeering, which took the sting out of any ominous vibe. This is followed by the troupe discovering the dismembered head of their colleague in a refrigerator (a guy that was murdered then farted upon – no really), but instead of displaying fear or panic, we get a joke about the freshness of half a burrito that was left in the same fridge.
Look, I’m the first to admit that this approach may be one that I can’t personally appreciate and I feel guilty that I have to criticise the valiant work of a fellow slasher enthusiast. I don’t watch horror films for toilet humour and I can’t recall many slasher classics that succeeded with that approach. I almost coughed up ‘half a burrito’ when the lead told another player in a rare moment of seriousness, “No offence, but we’re not in the mood to joke around”!?! – Really? For me, that was likely the funniest part of the movie.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is, if your characters aren’t taking the horror in your movie seriously, how can your audience? Would the grotesque axe-murder of a pregnant woman work in the middle of Naked Gun? It’s a shame, because there’s some sure signs of potential on display here. We get CGI gore by the bucketload, a couple of generally creepy moments and an unexpected shock at the conclusion that I REALLY wasn’t expecting. It’s just that it was, once again, weakened by the moments that followed.
There’s a good slasher movie somewhere inside Jeremy Moorhead. If he sacrifices one tone to focus on the other, he could be a contender. In fairness, Easter Sunday is not a movie I’d ever really buy into due to my personal beliefs and it’s important that other viewers keep in mind that if you like Horror with Porkys humour, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this film. It’s fast moving, gory and fun with moments that are truly commendable. For me though it felt like an express train that kept getting caught in engineering works.