The Last Slumber Party 1988
Directed by: Stephen Tyler
Starring: Jan Jenson, Nancy Mayer, Joann Whitley
Review by Luis Joaquín González
This was one of those flicks that I had been advised to avoid, but I let my love of the slasher genre get the better of me. I learned of its existence from the IMDB in 1998 and the fact that no one had yet bothered posting any reviews led me to immediately set about getting hold of a copy. I went around asking a few of my contacts in the horror community about it and the general consensus was that I should steer well clear. Those warnings only heightened my interest, and after ordering it from Amazon under standard international shipping procedure, I had to face a lengthy six-weeks for it to arrive at my door.
Whilst I was waiting for the postman to bring me my padded jiffy bag, it seemed the more days that went past, the further my curiosities strengthened. By the time it turned up, I was just off to work and all day I was looking forward to getting home and finding out if it would live up to the hidden gem status that my expectations had automatically allowed it to become. Looking back after so much time, it’s comical how blissfully unaware I was of what awaited me…
At first we meet a group of jesting teens that are celebrating in high spirits on their last day of school. Tracy (Nancy Meyer), Chris (Jan Jensen), Tommy (Danny David), Scott (Paul Amend) and Billy (Lance Descourez) all plan a slumber party at Linda (Joann Whitley) ‘s house. They plan to spend the night drinking, taking drugs and doing the usual cheesy antics that eighties teens in slasher movies love to do. Meanwhile, whilst they all merrily head off home to prepare for their fateful gathering, elsewhere in the town it seems a lunatic patient from the local asylum has escaped sporting a surgical mask and clutching a very sharp scalpel. He gets the address of his psychiatrist’s home and heads over there to carry out the threat that we learn he gave only days before. – He warned the doctor that he would locate and kill him. Then we find out that the medic is Linda’s father, so the vicious butcher has conveniently discovered a house full of partying teens to work through. As the beer flows at the party, the unwelcome guest turns-up and before long the blood begins to flow too…
Ok, ok so I should’ve listened, but there’s no need to say, ‘I told you so’. The Last Slumber Party is a heinous movie. As soon as I heard the ear-numbing hard rawk track that burst out of my speakers in the first five minutes and saw the cheesy POV shots in the muggiest of bad quality cinematography, I realised that I had made a big mistake. Every single cliché in the book is present and accounted for, but they’re conveyed like a twelve-year old’s tribute to Slumber Party Massacre. The only thing more sickening than the atrocious acting and the horrid Bontempi score – that doesn’t even sound like it’s played in tune – is the incredibly inept plot that must’ve been made up on the spot as they went along.
It’s pretty obvious that the editor just pasted scenes in any order without even browsing through the script. In fact, I’m not even sure if there was a script to browse through. There’s a moment that could have added some spice to the bog-standard template, when a second killer appears inside the house. This brief attempt at originality is shattered almost immediately though, because he’s removed from proceedings without letting us know who he was, where he came from or why he was there. Was it a kid pulling a prank? We can’t be sure, because like many things, there’s just no explanation. Keeping all this in mind makes me believe that the choice for the ending, which I won’t reveal, was director Steven Tyler’s desperate attempt to escape the massive plot inconsistencies. Things just plod along like a random YouTube playlist and I’ve begun to believe that The Last Slumber Party was the source code for Click: The Calendar Girl Killer‘s bewildering structure. It’s just the ‘why’ that I’m struggling to comprehend.
I know it’s routine for a slasher victim to be dumb, but these folks are unbelievable. When the unlikely leading girl finally realises something’s not quite right in the house, she sets off to investigate and find out where everyone’s disappeared too. She takes a brief look around outside, but fails to locate any of her buddies. As she turns to re-enter, a bleeding victim staggers through the door and drops to the ground in front of her – dead. Faced with the obvious fact that there’s some sort of psychopath at work in the home, what do you think that she does? Run to a neighbour’s house to raise the alarm or maybe call the cops? No, of course not, instead she decides to walk back in and around the death trap finding a few more bodies on the way, before grabbing a knife and setting off to uncover the killer! Confused? You will be. Each murder is identical to the last, as a line of nobodies have their throat slashed with an incredibly bad gore effect. The Michael Myers-lite assassin, –who shows us the extent of his insanity by keeping his eyes wide open and holding a scalpel up to the camera menacingly MULTIPLE times – offers nothing new or exciting at all.
On the plus side there are loads of unintentional laughs on offer, like when the first two victims get killed. A nurse heads outside the hospital to a bus stop where she waits to head home. There’s another guy sitting there who’s fast asleep on the bench (?). Before she gets a chance to wake him up, she bumps into the maniac and… (unsurprisingly), has her throat cut by a scalpel. The lazy bystander manages to snore his way through her hysterical screams for help, but conveniently, he stirs just after she’s been dispatched. Of course this leaves him defenceless, unaware and wide open to get, you’ve guessed it, his throat slashed by a scalpel…. Oh, How I cried! Perhaps the most amusing thing of all, is the way that the film’s described on the back cover:
“The plot is twisted inside out leaving you stunned and clinging to your chair as you witness shock after horrifying shock. The ending will leave you breathless.”
I certainly agree; it was indeed hard to catch my breath after I had been snoring for 80 minutes.
As you’ve probably guessed The Last Slumber Party is really bottom of the barrel stuff. It’s cheap, inept, badly shot, jerkily edited, awfully scripted and has all the tension of grass growing. It’s not even able to redeem itself by being bad in an always-endearing Nail Gun Massacre kind of way. The most intriguing thing about Slumber Party is the fact that it ever secured distribution. I think it’s great that someone with a few dollars to waste can make an independent movie and get it released. But to make a small film like this a success, you need a little bit of, what’s that word? Ah yes, TALENT. Sadly it seems none of these guys were aware of that part
aka La Casa Del Terror
Directed by: John Wintergate
Starring: John Wintergate, Kalassu Kay, Lindsay Freeman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Move over Nail Gun Massacre, make way Last Slumber Party and step aside Night Ripper… There’s a new kid in town… Boarding House is the new contender for king of the trash-video crown. This is a movie so criminally rubbish that you’ll believe that you’ve died and been deported to bad movie hell. I Learnt of its existence from The Terror Trap and then looked it up on the IMDB, where I read various write-ups that described the inadvertent humour and jaw dropping cheesy horror. I immediately set about buying a copy and two weeks later, here’s what I found…
It begins with a prologue showing us murders that have plagued ‘The Hoffman House’. A guy is pushed into a swimming pool, which bizarrely kills him. Another stranger is seen pulling out his intestines and an unseen someone with a black glove forces a woman (that really doesn’t seem too concerned) to hang herself. These are all intercut with a computer screen that shows us in text that every person that has ever so much as entered this abode has ended up either hung, drawn, quartered or has suffered some other gruesome fate. So can you guess who will be the next occupants to move in to the mansion and meet their doom? Why of course you can – it’s a randy telekinetic guy and a troupe of beaming ‘hotties’ with a tonne of mascara but not a trace of common sense between them.This was the first horror movie to be shot on video, which is a big up yours to Christopher Lewis who made the belated claim that Blood Cult, his semi-slasher effort from three years after, was the first entry of that kind. Funnily enough, this one actually had a theatre run, but I have no idea about its box office successes. I can only guess that it was hardly a massive hit.
Surprisingly, to all intents and purposes, Boarding House is not your typical hack and slasher. Director John Wintergate has chucked in a neat dose of outer-body mayhem, which means that the killer can eliminate the useless thespians without being anywhere near them at the time. This gives us the chance to see the drama school dropouts attempting to look as if they’ve suddenly been possessed by a mysterious hellish agony, without knowing where the hell it’s come from. Cue plenty of unconvincing facial expressions and stilted cries as the cast choke and pull off their faces whilst trying to act like they’re completely unaware why they’re doing it. In one particular scene, our heroine screams consistently for about two minutes while she suffers (yet) another of her ‘terrifying’ nightmares, which I think reached double figures before the final credits rolled. I am not sure what was more effected, my eardrums or her throat after that yelling marathon.
The ‘star’ of the movie, Hank Adly (a guy who looks like Rod Stewart might after 12 grams of coke), provided bucket loads of inadvertent humour. I loved the bit where he made a bar of soap fly around his bathtub to show off his telekinetic abilities and impress the on looking bunnies. There’s certainly plenty of nonsensical activity to bring a smile to the lips to those who cherish those classic bad movie moments. The final scene is particularly hilarious, as the killer and two survivors stand off for a telekinetic battle. Staged like a showdown from a Sergio Leone movie, the three gather in a circle and simultaneously gurn as they each try to inflict psychic pain on one another. It’s hard to give you a description that would do justice to the extent of the silliness, but trust me – it’s worth its weight in comedy gold. All of the female cast members manage to whip off their underwear at one point or another and there’s just enough exploitation to satisfy eighties trash fans.
Interestingly enough, Boarding House was something of a first, because it included a warning for viewers of a weaker disposition that would let us know when something horrific was about to happen. Suddenly, the screen comes alive in a maze of colours and that’s when we the audience know that someone is going to get dismembered. I must admit that this was a novel idea if we were about to sit down and watch a Lucio Fulci marathon. I’m not exaggerating my claim however when I state that my four-year-old daughter can create more realistic body parts with her Play Doh kit. This is especially evident in the ‘intestine ripping’ scene, which is clearly an actor pulling corn-syrup coated sausages from the gap in his shirt. Maybe they could have featured a warning before every bad movie moment? In fact they could have just placed an ‘amateur morons at work’ notice before the first credit sequence? Imagine the savings on budget!
Boarding House IS as mind numbingly atrocious as you had probably expected it to be. Even the back cover blurb has NO relevance whatsoever to the movie and I can’t forget to mention the wonderful tagline that promises intrigue, suspicion and a sinister environment (yeah right!). Oh and before I go, I’ll leave you with a quote from the female lead singer of ’33 and a third’ – The heavy metal band that ‘entertain’ the party at the film’s climax. “You say you want a rock romance, you’ve been begging just to get in my pants!” And with that I shall leave you to explore for yourselves…
Final Girl √
Final Scream 2001
aka Final Stab
Directed by: David DeCoteau
Starring: Jamie Gannon, Erinn Hayes, Melissa Martin
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The fact that I grew up collecting low budget slasher flicks meant that I was fully aware of what to expect when I walked into Blockbuster video in the early noughties and saw the cover of Final Scream amongst the horror titles for rent. It looked too cheap to be a sequel to Wes Craven’s groundbreaking series, but I’m sure that because it had been targeted to trick unsuspecting viewers into believing it was a fourth chapter in the franchise caused confusion amongst less-experienced viewers. I wonder how many people picked up a copy expecting to find Ghostface, Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell amongst the runtime? Talk about taking the biscuit with creative marketing.
Anyway, the film was a return to the stalk and slash sub-genre for horror regular David DeCoteau after his work on Dreamaniac during the eighties. Whilst D’maniac was something of a loose inclusion that pushed the boundaries of standard stalk and slash, Final Scream has no such identity issues and knows exactly what it wants to be.
A group of youngsters head off to a secluded mansion in order to pull a prank on two of their colleagues. At the same time, one of them wants to trial a set-up for a murder-mystery weekend so that she can open her own business. Before long, they’re all in on the idea that it’s only a prank until a real masked killer turns up and begins slicing his way through the stranded troupe
In 2001, the slasher genre was still very much in Kevin Williamson ‘know the rules’ territory. Whilst this picture smartly decides to avoid the parody angle that so many of its brethren chose to follow, the fact that it still mentions Friday the 13th means that it shows a similar type of genre self-recognition. It opens with a scene that incorporates some stylish lighting and sharp flourishes to set a sleek tone. Decoteau’s trademark of replacing the typical amount of bra-less chicas with topless males is showcased almost immediately in an early shower scene. In fact, there’s only one female victim that I remember throughout the entire movie and the rest are muscle bound jocks.
After the obligatory fumble through the development of a group of cardboard characters, the killings start fairly rapidly. Although there isn’t really any gore or hint that there will be, the focus on the mystery and a few taut stalking scenarios deliver a smidgen of suspense. The killer looks creepy in a mask not too dissimilar to that of Blood Slaughter Massacre or Small Town Massacre and the fact that there is quite a huge body count means that we never feel bored by what’s going on. Melissa Martin does a good job as the self-centred hostess and if we have to compare the performances with those of DeCoteau’s prior work, he had definitely sharpened his pencil when it came to subtracting a believable level of dramatics from his cast. He also directs with polish and some neat camera angles, but the fact that almost every victim uses the age-old ‘hey I know it’s you out there, stop fooling around’ chestnut, shows obvious repetition and a lack of creativity from the screenwriter. It’s a shame that the peeps that dreamed up the scandalous title weren’t allowed to get involved with the dialogue in the script. I’m sure they’d have added a lot more controversy 😉
I must admit that the idea of a murder-mystery weekend did remind me of 1986’s April Fools Day, but DeCoteau doesn’t explore that plot angle too much and it ends up more of a typical slasher by the numbers synopsis. There is a revenge backstory that unearths itself as the picture flows, but for something so simple to execute it is bewildering how DeCoteau allows it to become so convoluted. It results in a couple of plot twists that make zero sense upon revelation and are easy enough to guess anyway. Still, there is some excitement as the victims are slaughtered by the loon and the revelation scene smothers itself in an equal share of ineptitude and cheesy fun.
Final Scream is a standard stalk and slasher that does deliver the odd thrill, but it’s more bland than it is bouncy. It steps close to being a one-star movie, but the fact that it is easy on the eye and fairly watchable for the most part, means that it just about scrapes the two stars I’ve given it below. It reminds me of the recent records of Enrique Iglesias; as in, gone are the new-wave chimes of originality, but you kind of get exactly what you were expecting. So I doubt you’ll shout, ‘Baby I like it’ and it won’t ‘Be your Hero’ but at least you won’t feel that you need to ‘Escape’ – (Boom Boom, I’m here all week)) 😉
Killer Guise: √√√√
Girl House 2014
Directed by: Trevor Matthews
Starring: Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Slaine
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I read some marketing gumpf during the production of Girl House that said it was going to be the Halloween of the digital age. Immediately after, my interest in the project waned because whenever a feature tries to capture an audience by claiming that it’s ‘the best thing since Halloween’, it turns out to be nothing of the sort. Later I learned that its synopsis was a reality porn show with girls locked in a house and stalked by a masked menace. This brought visions of Voyeur.Com, Porn Shoot Massacre and Strip Club Slasher streaming to my mind. From then, Girl House had been languishing on my ‘to do list’ for quite some time and only yesterday did I decide, with the enthusiasm of a hungover Monday Morning, to finally give it a go. I’m really glad that I did.
A beautiful student that’s struggling for the funds to get through college, accepts an offer to join the internet sensation, Girl House. It’s a website that offers viewers the chance to watch women 24/7 in a secluded mansion as they reveal all for the numerous cameras. Whilst there’s no shortage of sites that give you one on one access to chicas, this one allows you to get to know them as their lives are rolled out in front of your eyes. When regular visitor ‘Loverboy’ is unintentionally offended by one of the housemates, he decides to extract revenge in the most merciless way possible.
Over the past week, I’ve watched Babysitter Massacre, Blood Slaughter Massacre, Camp Blood and Blood and Sex Nightmare, so I immediately noticed how well funded Girl House looked in comparison. Make no mistake about it, Trevor Matthew’s slick debut is much lusher than the aforementioned entries and it looks ravishing as it bathes in its crystal clear colours. It’s blessed with an outstanding performance from Ali Cobrin as heroine Kylie Atkins. She achieves what Neve Campbell failed to in Scream, by giving us a gorgeous new-age lead that also conveys a sensitive and approachable side. She’s aided by a note-perfect turn from Adam DiMarco as her would be boyfriend and some genuinely likeable personalities amongst the background players.
The real casting achievement though in terms of bringing the screen alive is Slaine as the homicidal maniac. In a portrayal with barely any dialogue, he delivers a villain with initial shades of pathos. This gives him the opportunity to rip said shades to shreds as he grows more and more ruthless throughout the runtime. To do that with so little speech is in itself a mesmerising accomplishment and dressed in a skin mask and wig, he creates a villain that’s terrifyingly memorable. Calling this ‘Halloween for the digital age’ was in fact a half-truth, because Girl House’s boogeyman is not a Michael Myers clone. Unlike Carpenter’s film and its trillion imitators, this screenplay spends more time during its opening unravelling the situations that lead to the maniac’s murderous psyche. So many stalk and slash movies fail to maintain momentum during the character development parts, which makes Girls House stand out because it stays sharp through the elaboration of both its protagonist and also its antagonist.
All this is simply preparation though for a marvellous climax that sees the masked killer torture and murder the housemates in a suspense-filled bloodbath. It’s been a while since I’ve sat through a final sequence that’s so skilfully tense and the director throws literally everything in to the pot to create the right blend of gory and sleek bloodletting. There’s enough time left for a pulsating battle between the masked killer and our final girl, which is unpredictable, brave and extremely fast-paced. My partner and I were watching with our fists clenched in anticipation and thanks to some solid direction, the pace remains breakneck all the way through.
Girls House is a motion picture with something to say about the effect of porn on our lives, our obsession with image and overcoming our insecurities. Examining the concerns of our leading lady as she contemplates entering the world of seedy internet peep-shows displayed an intelligent social commentary with views from both sides. They even include a memorable quote from serial killer Ted Bundy that highlights the film’s ethical standpoint. This is all done subtly enough so as not to overindulge and it adds up to an intelligent and glossy scary movie.
I recently said that Blood Slaughter Massacre was the best recent slasher I’ve seen, but a week later, it has lost that title to this thoroughly enjoyable extravaganza. Even if they are cut from a different budgetary cloth, it’s a compliment that both can be proud of. If you haven’t already tracked this down, do so at the next opportunity. It is, quite frankly, a brilliant stalk and slasher
Killer Guise: √√√√
The Boogey Man 1980
Directed by: Ulli Lommel
Starring: Suzanna Love, John Carradine, Ron James
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Money… When Lennon and McCartney wrote that it couldn’t buy you love, they were wrong. It can purchase pretty much everything and it’s the backbone to most of the experiences that we come across throughout our lives. The slasher boom of the eighties was not because Halloween received a four-star review from Roger Ebert. It was, quite simply, a response to the bundles of cash that Carpenter and Co transferred to their bank accounts after its surprising success. That’s not to say that there weren’t filmmakers that were inspired by that movie, but somewhere lurking in the background was the hunger that most humans are born with… The ravishing lust for cash.
I say this, because of all the Halloween imitators that hit screens during the peak years, none looked more single-minded in their effort to become a cash cow than this one. A friend of mine owns a small bar and I remember when I was about eighteen (and foolish), I filled a glass with a bit of everything in order to invent a brand new cocktail that he could call his own. It tasted like cat’s urine, but drinking more than one and a half of them would result in you being absolutely span-dangled. The Boogey Man is a lot like my brazen attempt at a phenomenal new beverage, because it takes parts of many popular horror films and chucks them into a blender in the hope that it’ll appeal to every ticket buying horror fan in the stratosphere. Does it result in a smooth blend of slasher-holic heaven or are we in for more feline-urine…?
A mother returns to the house where she was raised to overcome psychological demons that have haunted her since one fateful night twenty or so years earlier. Her mother’s boyfriend was abusive to her brother, which resulted in him stabbing the elder man to death. Somehow, her arrival awakens the spirit of the deceased villain that was trapped, supernaturally, in a mirror. Unbeknownst to them, they take the mirror with them to help with her rehabilitation and the evil awakens…
If that plot description seems somewhat peculiar to you when compared to other eighties Halloween clones, then you can be proud of your stalk and slash knowledge. The Bogey Man’s unique slant was in danger of not really knowing what it wanted to be, but in fairness, the net result just about works. Haunted house stories always seem to generate chills, which is likely because ghostly urban legends were what we heard the most whilst growing up. Thanks to a smart use of sound and an unnerving Halloween-alike score, we get the right kind of spooky atmosphere to maximise that fear-factor. The slasher homage is most visible when the killer strikes and these regular murders add gore and brutality to the concept. After the traditional cut and pasted Carpenter-esque POV house stalking shot, Lommel manages to implement a few of his own ideas into the direction and the odd one pays off. I thought the scenes that saw characters exploring a dark barn and discovering corpses were exceptionally filmed and there’s always a subtle undercurrent of dread.
It’s tough to make out what got The Boogey Man added to the DPP list and banned in the United Kingdom, although there’s quite a bit of tacky goo and shots of a child – and later his sister – being tied up in a suggestive manner. Like many former video nasties though, this picture doesn’t seem particularly gruesome in comparison with others that it shares its genre with and it was likely a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve read reviews that criticise the level of the dramatics, but personally, I really didn’t think the cast were that bad. Uli Lommel’s beautiful wife, Suzanne Love, had some strong moments as the heroine and her real-life brother was cast to play, well, her brother in a role with minimal dialogue. The fact that he’s mute (and also a bit creepy) made us believe that he was set to be the villain, but it doesn’t take us long to realise that isn’t the case. In fact the film never really clarifies who or what the antagonist is and it’s these parts that show a weakness in the screenplay. It’s hinted that the mother’s evil boyfriend has reached out from the beyond to seek revenge, but without giving anything away, the conclusion throws so much at us that we’re left scratching our heads. There’s a reason why I think this to be a strategic picture that’s targeted mainly to make a profit; and the Amityville-alike house where the action takes place, Exorcist-lite conclusion and aforementioned Halloween-style murders are enough evidence to justify my accusation.
Still, The Boogey Man does provide some neat shocks and when it sticks to what it does best, it’s actually a compelling and scary film. Lommel pulls enough tricks to sustain a morbid tone and despite bordering on being ‘too supernatural’ in places, I think it is a good addition to the slasher catalogue. Those questioning whether it’s truly a stalk and slash movie can take comfort in the fact that it most certainly is; even if it is one that pushes the boundaries. On a side note, Blood Sisters, Girls School Screamers and more recently, The Inherited, could all be considered as inspired by this. With Screamers, it was of course unintentional, but interesting all the same…
Killer Guise: √
The Inherited 2009
Directed by: Patrick C. Clinton
Starring: Khory Pilley, Tyler Cross, Natalie Sieber
Review by Luis Joaquín González
There are a number of stalk and slash sites on the web and the way I try to make a SLASH above stand out is by tracking down those complete obscurities that for whatever reason you may not have yet seen. With a track record that includes Cards of Death, Hard Rock Nightmare, Heavy Metal Massacre, Sawblade and Early Frost, you might well say that I’ve aced the target I set out to achieve. Well here we have one that tops all of them.
Type ‘The Inherited slasher’ in Google and you’ll find absolutely nada. Much like 1987’s Legend of Moated Manor, this one has totally and completely disappeared. It does have a listing on the IMDB, but it’s got zero user reviews and only one critic rating from when it screened at a festival. I have no information as to its production notes and it was sent to me anonymously. The plot thickens….
A young man inherits a fortune from a relative that he never knew he had. Clearly surprised by his luck, he heads off to stay at the house he was given with a group of his closest friends. As soon as he arrives, he begins to feel uneasy on the premises and a hooded killer turns up and begins slicing his way through the guests one by one…
We are back in the Bloodstream realms of having no idea why this entry remains shelved. That’s not to say that it’s an amazing piece of filmmaking, but when you think that something as ‘awkward’ as Carnage Road got a global release, you only have to wonder what went on behind the scenes to stop this one from being picked up. At just under two hours, The Inherited comes dangerously close to being a marathon instead of the usual brisk sprint that works fine for slasher movies. What impressed me most though was that there were very few times when the runtime became tedious or unwelcome with its storytelling. This is mainly due to some well-developed characters that all face personal issues that manage to keep interest levels raised when nothing else is happening. Although a few more killings wouldn’t have gone a miss, the mystery does manage to keep the momentum moving in the right direction and there’s a neat tone of impending doom that remains consistent.
It also helps that director Patrick Clinton pulls out all the stops to inject pizazz into the visuals. He shoots with an abundance of rapid cuts and inventive camera angles that are energetic to watch. Most of the action takes place in tight locations, but Clinton manages to film them with a perception of expansiveness. During the first thirty minutes or so, I was unsure what type of film I was watching, because it opens with a traditional slasher sequence but then throws some haunted house clichés in the mix. These are all superbly staged and include some striking Evil Dead-alike POV shots and a superb use of a creepy phantom clown. We later learn that these additions are only added as unsettling flair and the story soon finds its footing as a typical slasher/whodunit. More importantly, it’s one with a twist that’s unpredictable and actually quite shocking.
A clearly talented filmmaker, Clinton seems to be especially unfortunate with his output. Both this and his debut, Last Getaway (2007), remain unreleased, despite being surrounded by good word of mouth throughout post-production. I guess his style could be described as being similar to that of Tyler Tharpe from Freak fame, which is another title that I thoroughly enjoyed. He certainly invests in the depth of his players, but I felt that the kill scenes were too diluted to really make an impact. This was crying out for some gore to really become a missing gem, but instead it relies on plot delivery and a terrific score to generate the tension. This was a deliberate ploy from Clinton because he wanted to attempt the less is more approach that John Carpenter delivered so purely. I totally agree with the idea of that philosophy, but perhaps because of the film’s budget look, I felt that it really needed an injection of goo to complete the exploitation package.
The Inherited is a sharp blend of horror trademarks that plays like a mix of The Boogeyman and The Ghastly Ones. It’s a good movie that probably would have been well received by fans if given the chance. The fact it has disappeared is totally bemusing and it’s a shame that it remains elusive. After six-years of no news though, it’s unlikely to surface anytime soon. Whilst it may not boast extremely strong performances from the entire cast and the lack of gore is clearly quite disappointing, it does keep you interested and remains rather unique.
I only hope that one day you can check it out for yourself…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Directed by: Don Gronquist
Starring: Laurel Munson, Janet Penner, Sara Ansley
Review by Luis Joaquín González
In these recent times of rapid action cuts and CGI overloads, slow boiling thrillers have lost some their allure amongst audiences. I always try to value craft over excess, but recently I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds again and noticed I was losing focus during the lengthy character development parts. It’s strange, because I loved that movie so much when I was growing up.
This fairly intriguing genre entry grabbed a slice of notoriety because it was banned in the United Kingdom and quickly added to the video nasty list upon its release in 1982. With only four on-screen killings during the seventy-two minute runtime, nowadays it’s hard to see what the BBFC found so offensive. It’s been billed most places as more of a psychological chiller than an out and out stalk and slasher, so I promised myself to be extra patient when watching it unfold.
Three young girls that are on their way to a Jazz concert, crash their car in a rainstorm and wake up stranded in a large mansion. Even though everything seems comfortable at first, it soon becomes apparent that there’s a local killer on the loose and the girls have to fight to survive.
Director Don Gronquist has said that his sole ambition throughout his life had been to make a feature film. His first attempt, a serial killer/crime drama based on Charles Starkweather’s exploits, wasn’t picked up until eight-years after its 1973 production date. He didn’t let this deter him and Unhinged proved to be a lot more attractive to relevant suitors due to the boom of the slasher genre. Costing only $100,000 to produce, the film is a mix of Halloween and Psycho that coincidentally results in a blend that’s a lot like The Unseen. The early shots of a car heading along a winding road brought to mind The Shinning, which I also believe played a part in the ambition behind the project.
In terms of the influences taken from Carpenter’s classic, Gronquist pulls off some generally effective heavy-breath POV shots and a strong utilisation of sound to unsettle viewers. Jon Newton’s brooding score works wonders in maintaining an atmosphere and lesser scenes come alive solely because of the striking audio accompaniment. Dressed in a rain-mac, the killer strikes with unpredictability and each murder is brutal and ruthless. If you’re expecting bundles of gore because of the video nasty status, you’ll be disappointed, but there’s something unsettling about the way the killings are staged. Tension is brought from a complex mystery and a claustrophobic feeling that the girls are truly stranded in the wilderness. Building a creepy environment is not something all can achieve, but the unusual characters and (again) that frantic score really do wonders in maintaining the menace.
Whilst there can be no greater sources of inspiration than Hitchcock, Carpenter and Kubrick; as a director, Gronquist doesn’t come close to achieving that level of artistry. Unhinged is shot rather flatly, and rarely tries anything audacious. Outside of the impressive steadi-cam moments, the camera always seems to abide by the safest option and this has a noticeable effect on the film’s energy. Some of the most amateur editing that I can remember certainly doesn’t help matters and it’s surprising that this wasn’t picked up upon before release. We’ll see a shot of an open doorway for three-seconds before someone walks through or a sequence will just stop and fade to black awkwardly. This also plays havoc with the story’s timeline, because I couldn’t keep track of whether minutes or hours had passed between one part and the next. Whilst it would be fair to call Gronquist’s work ‘uninspired’, it deserved a lot better than how his editors made it look.
I called The Unhinged intriguing, and I really believe that it is. The plot concludes with a twist that I didn’t mention so as not to ruin, and it provides moments that are generally chilling. The performances are poor and the technical ability shoddy, at best. Despite that, it remains worth a look because it is so – what’s that word again? – Oh yes, intriguing. I prefer horror films develop an atmosphere and even if the pace does drop here and there, I actually quite liked it.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Girls School Screamers 1986
Directed by: John P Finnegan
Starring: Molly O’ Mara,Sharon Christopher, Mari Butler
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Imagine taking a film, any film in fact, and bolting on top scenes that would turn it into a slasher movie. You could have, say, a psychopathic mobster trimming the cast list of The Godfather. It’d be something like Cleaver from The Sopranos. Just remove the current deaths of Moe Green, Luca Brasi and Sonny Corleone and splice in footage of a masked menace doing the deeds with a pitchfork. It makes me wonder how Casablanca might look with an extended chase sequence that sees Inga Berman pursued by a maniac in a burlap sack? Do you think it could work? CGI is pretty good nowadays.
Whilst that does of course sound somewhat far fetched, Troma, the studio responsible for a number of cinematic curiosities, did exactly that when they picked up budget haunted house flick, The Portrait in late 1985. John P Finnegan had set out with absolutely no experience to make himself a motion picture. He pencilled a script and sourced funding independently in order to realise his dream. With $100,000 to play with, he called the University of New York and asked if they had any students that may be interested in his project. Within a couple of months, he had secured a cast of 18, a full crew and a superb location. His original intention had been to create a Hitchcockian tale of the ghosts of an incestuous relationship returning home. Troma agreed to distribute his work only if they could call it Girls School Screamers and shoehorn in some slasher action. The net result is an entry that can best be described as, well, something of a curiosity.
Seven fresh faced college girls have just found out that they’re going to be spending four days cleaning up an old Victorian mansion. It had been left to the school in the will of a recently deceased entrepreneur who stated that they could renovate or sell it. The youngsters pack their bags and head to the location, but soon learn that they could be in for more than they bargained for.
Look, I’ll give it to you straight, I’m not a massive fan of the supernatural/slasher hybrids that I’ve come across. Whilst there are a couple that have taken parts of each sub-genre and created a passable combination, more often than not, the strength of one style brings out the weaknesses in the other. I guess that in the same way I wouldn’t like a possessed child turning up during the conclusion of Halloween, I wouldn’t feel great about Michael Myers slashing his way through The Exorcist either. The glaring possibilities for creative expression make it seem strange that we haven’t yet been treated to a truly credible crossbreed, but of the ones that are currently available, none do a good job of selling the concept. Girls School Screamers is an interesting case in point though, because it’s a ghost flick that has been Godfrey Ho’d by its distributor. Watching it now, after learning of Troma’s tampering does give it something of an extra allure.
GSS, for all intents and purposes, is not a film that’s ashamed of its minimal budget. This fact is emphasised at the start of the credits where the words ‘introducing’ are placed before the entire cast, as if to helpfully inform us that none of the names that follow have done anything else before this at all. This is clearly evident in everything that we witness thereafter, from the plodding direction to the amateurish performances. Dialogue and story scenes are conveyed as if they’re filmed on a soundstage and it’s rare that we get any camera movement at all. Finnegan’s script, which Is certainly ambitious, spends a long time building its background and giving its characters the chance to make an impression. They’re all written to be pretty much interchangeable though, so the first hour, while we are waiting for the maniac to turn up, struggles to hold your attention and quickly becomes sluggish. It can’t have helped to have so many debutants throughout the cast, because they had no one to turn to when in need of some guidance.
If you haven’t nodded off by the time that the action starts, we finally get to see what Troma’s input brought to the production. The killings are rather random in how they’re staged, because one or two are shown to be committed by a traditional unseen maniac, whilst the rest come courtesy of an invisible ‘force’. This has an effect on the story, because we have no central villain to fear. Whist the same actors were used and the footage doesn’t stand out as if it’s been bolted-on, it does leave obvious plot holes. It also make classifying Girls School Screamers as a slasher movie something of a harder task. Whilst we see meat cleavers, pitchforks and electrocutions with regularity in the genre, there are things here that are alien to the template. I want a SLASH above to be the truest stalk and slash catalogue on the web, but if I haven’t yet posted The Superstition or The Incubus here as entries, is it fair of me to include Screamers? I guess that you could call it a slasher-esque, what was that word again? Oh yes, curiosity.
John Finnegan has never shied away from the fact that he believes that Troma’s intervention ruined his initial ideas for the template. It’s easy of course to point the finger somewhere else for failings, but does he have a point? Yes and no is the answer, because without the added gore scenes, we would be left with a hideously boring travesty. At least now, the film does have moderate cult appeal, but it comes at the cost of a bewildering effect on the continuity. We see a silly intro involving a child that never gets resolved and the motivation of the antagonist is left up to the imagination. There’s the odd atmospheric moment that comes courtesy of a truly superb score and it’s funny to see college girls played by actresses the wrong side of their thirties, but is it enough? I really wanted to like Girls School Screamers and find a defence for it, but it is, unfortunately, a bit of a mess. A curiosity type mess? Well, yes funnily enough…
Killer Guise: √√
The Unseen 1980
Directed by: Danny Steinmann
Starring: Stephen Furst, Barbara Bach, Sydney Lassick
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
With the process of a studio backed film to go from pre-production to post production taking quite a while, I’m amazed that so many early slashers managed to ‘borrow’ so much from Halloween so quickly. Carpenter’s hit was released on October the 31st 1978, but within a few months, there were already titles like The Demon that were definitely trampling the borders of creative inspiration. That isn’t the case so much with The Unseen though, because despite being labelled as a stalk and slash flick everywhere you look, it really doesn’t play by the rules of a typical genre piece.
It was one of the first films that I came across on big box VHS, but back then, I never rated it as a favourite. I hadn’t bothered with it for at least twenty-years before I sat down to write this review and I was keen to see what I’d make of it now.
After a mix-up with the bookings at their hotel, three female journalists are forced to seek somewhere else to stay. Due to there being a celebratory festival in town, rooms are impossible to come by, but they find salvation in a jovial museum owner. He lives with his wife in a hotel that has been closed for ages, but after considering their panicked situation, he allows them to stay there. What he doesn’t tell them is that his son that lives in the basement doesn’t know how to play friendly…
I was reminded of this feature recently after completing my review of Silent Scream for the site. The two films have more in common than just an almost identical synopsis, because they both suffered fairly troubled productions. Whilst after an extensive reshoot, ‘Scream ended up close to what Denny Harris had envisioned, director Danny Steinmann was so disappointed with the final print of The Unseen that he asked to have his name removed from the credits. His justification was that the producers had edited out the majority of the big scares and left his feature unrecognisable. This intrigued me no end, because I wondered how a director’s cut of the footage might look. Steinmann never pursued the opportunity outside of a few interview comments, but it’d be interesting to know how much was removed or replaced.
The Unseen has its fans amongst slasher critics, but I must admit that I’m not really one of them. Whilst there is a lot to be credited that I’ll happily tell you about, I feel that in its entirety, it’s just a bit too odd for its own good. It spends the majority of the runtime building up an antagonist in the traditional fashion, but his revelation throws a swerve ball at us that’s just, well, alien. Without giving too much away, the bogeyman turns out to be more clumsy than creepy and then in a truly bizarre move, the script gives him an incomprehensible layer of pathos. He then makes a swift exit in a scene that’s as mushy as the death of Bambi’s mother, only to pass the mantle to another villain that is nowhere near as scary. I understand that they were trying to keep us on our toes by giving us something new to fear, but the idea is lost in its execution. We had waited so long for a glimpse of what we expected to be a hulking menace, only to be forced to change our perception at the last minute.
Another thing that you’ll notice is that the film is extremely slow paced. It plods along like a soap opera for large chunks, but then launches into an outrageous nudity scene that feels out of place. It does manage to build enough of a tone to keep us interested though and we do get a couple of creatively planned murder scenes. The first sees a young woman have her neck broken in a steel trap door and it’s juxtaposed with shots of a chicken being decapitated in a back garden farmhouse. This is one of a number of slightly off-kilter, yet effective moments, with the majority of the rest coming courtesy of an eccentric portrayal by Sydney Lassick.
I mentioned that I’d be interested in seeing a director’s cut of The Unseen and that’s because from a pure filmmaking perspective, it is simply a SLASH above. As I have already said, Lassick’s erratic characterisation really has to be seen to be believed. He shared top billing with Barbara Bach, who is also superb as the hapless heroine. One could be forgiven for thinking that the former Mrs Ringo Starr had been hired only for her looks, but she is totally believable as the woman in peril. My favourite performances though came from Lelia Goldoni as Virginia, Lassick’s long-suffering wife, and Stephen Furst who played his son. It’s not an exaggeration to state that if awards could be given for horror film dramatisations, Furst would have at least walked away with a nomination. It’s a totally different person from his comedic turn in Animal House and he’s quite brilliant with the level of his conviction. We also get some classy cinematography in and around the gothic Victorian mansion that helps sustain an uneasy atmosphere that manifests itself credibly during the climax.
This is a tough film to review, because in many ways it embodies everything that I usually spend paragraphs criticising the lack of in other features. The thing is, you can photograph a crystal with the best lens that money can buy, but it’ll never be a diamond. There are certain rules of horror that can’t be broken and what we’re left with is a film that over promises and under delivers. It’s a shame that we will never see what Steinmann really intended, but there are those that like it, so check around before you take my word as gospel
Final Girl √√√
Slumber Party Massacre 1982
Directed by: Amy Jones
Starring: Michelle Michaels, Robin Stille, Debra De Liso
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’ve been putting off reviewing Slumber Party Massacre for quite some time and I’m not sure exactly why. It has become a notorious example of peak period slasher movies and went on to launch a long list of tributes and rip-offs. Roger Corman, arguably THE most prolific producer of low-budget clones of box office hits ever, had taken his time to jump on-board the stalk and slash bandwagon. When he finally did though, he used his flair for understanding cinematic trends to develop a feature that would become highly successful.
The film began life as a parody of teenie-kill flicks with the added allure of being pencilled by a female-scribe. Controversy had began surrounding the genre amongst left-wing critics and feminist groups that felt the movies were riddled with misogyny and unnecessary violence. Rita Mae Brown had decided to make light of the situation and show that it wasn’t only men that could contribute to the craze. She wrote a story that poked fun at the themes that were under the spotlight called, ‘Sleepless Nights’. Once Roger Corman got hold of the screenplay, he maintained some of the humour, but shot it as an out and out slasher flick. The rest, as they say, is history.
A group of sorority sisters decide to have a celebratory slumber party whilst one of their friend’s parents are away on vacation. Little do they know that an escaped lunatic is loitering around the location. It’s left up to new transfer Valerie and her younger sister to try and prevent a bloodbath.
I hadn’t seen Slumber Party Massacre for many years and in honesty, it turned out to be much better than I had remembered. My recollections of a half-hearted rehash of the traditional clichés has been smashed by re-visiting the movie as a more-experienced viewer. It’s perhaps because the last copy that I saw was the heavily edited UK print released as The Slumber Party Murders. Watching it now, totally uncut, after all that time really changed the idea that I had in mind for a rating and I’m so glad that I’ve given it another look.
Any thoughts that director Amy Jones and author Rita Brown were looking to support criticisms of anti-feminism are destroyed by an opening that’s extremely gratuitous. In the first five minutes alone, a key character whips off her top to give us a boob shot and soon after we get mounds of T&A from a lengthy group shower scene. Jones doesn’t hang around to introduce her antagonist, but the first two victims are barely given a line of dialogue before they’re killed and the earlier parts of the story take a while to settle themselves. I expected the worst when we got to see the assailant, a pint-sized loon that looks like an average everyday Joe, almost immediately. Horror works much better when a bogeyman is left somewhat in the shadows and upon revelation, at least looks the part. Thankfully after four false-scares in a row (a record?), the girls get hungry and spice up their evening by ordering a pizza. When they are greeted upon opening the door by a corpse with his eyes plucked out, the momentum seriously begins to tighten.
What I think works best about Slumber Party Massacre is the way that Jones handles the actions of her characters. There’s a scene where two girls barricade themselves in a room to hide from the intruder downstairs. Thanks mostly to some genuine dialogue, you really can believe that this is how they would act in that situation. It’s not always a grim depiction of reality that we get though, because there’s a comedic moment when one of the youngsters prizes the pizza from the dead delivery guy’s hand. She then states that she feels much better after eating a hearty slice. Robin Stille, as the heroine, had obviously been ordered to watch Laurie Strode and base her performance on that of Jamie Leigh Curtis’. Whilst she doesn’t hit the same levels of scream queen perfection, she creates a sympathetic lead that we grow to bond with.
Much like Prom Night before it, Slumber Party does borrow heavily from Carpenter’s Halloween. There are many parts here that are weaker imitations of sequences from that film, but because they’re sharply delivered, we don’t really bother to pick on them as much. Jones pulls off a number of effective shocks and scares, with one set-piece that sees two males run out of the house to search for help, proving to be impressively tense. This leads to a bloody stabbing that’s inter-cut with a scene from Corman’s Hollywood Boulevard and it’s stylishly edited together. Due to the murder of some sympathetic personalities, we are never totally sure who will survive the assassin’s drill. The conclusion wraps it all up neatly and for a film that was supposed to be riddled with humour, it’s actually quite downbeat.
As I have alluded to, Slumber Party Massacre does fall foul of not improving upon ingredients that we’ve seen done better elsewhere. Also, I do still believe that it was lucky to receive the adulation and amount of imitations that it has acquired since its release. I’ve been captured by some of its charms though and it is one of the better peak entries. It’s funny that we live in a world that is light years away in terms of technology from the early eighties. One thing that definitely hasn’t improved is the production of slasher movies. They don’t make them like this anymore no matter how hard they try.
Final Girl √√√