Doom Asylum 1987
aka The House of Horror
Directed by: Richard Friedman
Starring: Patty Mullen, Ruth Collins, Kristin Davis
Review by Luis Joaquín González
So here we have more proof, if ever it were needed, that during the years between 1984 and ’88, we saw the most clichéd titles of the slasher genre’s timeline. After Halloween‘s initial launch, many knock-offs were circulated, but they did at least aim to bring something new to the table in order to garner a following. Whether it was a unique gimmick or an un-slashed calendar-date, the likes of Evil Judgement, My Bloody Valentine and The Prowler were far more authentic than Bloody Pom Poms, Cutting Class, Hollow Gate and Berserker attempted to be.
If I didn’t read that Doom Asylum had been shot in 1987, I would have guessed easily, because it has everything that the entries released on the back of Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street felt compelled to include. Comedic quipping boogeyman? Check. Bunch of attractive young-adults pretending to be teens? Check. Cheesy gore? Check. It’s almost like the producer brought a list of ingredients along to the set and stated that wages wouldn’t be paid until they’d all been ticked off. Where Asylum does differentiate itself a tad is that it goes for the same kind of parody/tongue in cheek outfit that both Return to Horror High and Evil Laugh had sported. Would it do a better job of looking slick whilst wearing it…?
Five bubble-gum teens head off to an abandoned asylum for a secluded break. The site is surrounded by the notorious urban legend of a deranged coroner that slaughtered two doctors before disappearing. When the kids arrive, they bump into Tina and the Tots; a peculiar punk band that use the location to rehearse their gritty sound. Before long the youngsters are being stalked and viciously slaughtered by a heavily disfigured killer…
It’s very unusual for a slasher movie to completely surpass my expectations. Upon re-visiting Doom Asylum for the first time in twenty-years though, I enjoyed my viewing infinitely more than I’d envisioned. What we have here is an entry that gets the mix of cheesy eighties humour and tacky horror spot on to build a good time vibe that is all encompassing. Both Scary Movie and Scream could be described as genre parodies, but one of them was sarcastic with its targeted mocking whilst the latter paid tribute whilst keeping its tongue firmly in cheek. It’s easy to see from the comparison in their popularity, which one went about it the right way and thankfully Doom is a pre-cursor to that style. Director Richard Freidman knew the rules of the category heavyweights and wanted to have a bit of fun with them whilst delivering some splatter. By doing so he’s produced a film that could have gone wrong in so many ways, but instead turns out to be a real treat.
Despite a minimalistic budget, Doom was shot on film, which means that the bright photography looks as crisp as a pot of Pringles and has aged extremely well. Dave Erlanger and Jonathan Stuart’s simple score grows on you as the film progresses and the final twenty-minutes, when the killer stalks the remaining survivors, are credibly atmospheric. As we approach the conclusion, the horror certainly tightens, which is a large switch in mood from the rest of the runtime. Doom is quite obviously a Mickey-take of the slasher craze that’d swept the decade and this is demonstrated in dialogue like, “If I don’t return, don’t come looking for me”. It also means that Friedman gets away with letting his characters merrily wander off to their demise dumbly, because it’s all pulled off with a ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ to the viewer. There is quite a lot of incredibly cheap looking gore here, but the producers must’ve noticed that they had more budget remaining than they expected as the production came to a close. The last two-murders are far more realistic (and credible) than the rest, including one guy getting his toes chopped off with a pair of pliers. It’s a tough thing to watch without flinching and what I found the harshest was that his girlfriend just walks off and leaves him to bleed out and die… Nice! An old VHS copy of this that I bought under the title, The House of Horror, was heavily cut, but thankfully Anchor Bay have restored all the bloody bits.
Doom Asylum doesn’t hang about to jump into the action and it’s impressive how rapidly the killer turns up and gets to work. In keeping us entertained from the off though, I think Friedman made the mistake of not considering his runtime. There are a lot of obviously ‘bolted on after’ scenes of the nut job strolling around in heavy breath POVs and they even went as far as to nail on footage from Todd Slaughter pictures from the 1930s. This gives the film a similar gimmick to the same year’s, Terror Night, but here it’s quite obvious that it was a post-production attempt to pad the runtime. I don’t even think they used the same actor to play the boogeyman watching these flicks? An abandoned asylum was where the action took place and the director really makes the most of it to give the film a maze of isolation. Apparently the site has now been demolished but fans of desolate places will appreciate the idea.
Much like Hide and Go Shriek and Blood Frenzy, Doom Asylum is a good late slasher flick that shows that some of the efforts that came prior to 1988’s re-emergence weren’t as bad as they’re reputed to be. Doing the basics well is more beneficial than going overboard; especially in this genre. Director Friedman would return to the cycle with Phantom of the Mall, a film that… well… I’ll let you know when I post the review shortly…
Only one question remains; and that’s who was paying the electricity bill for a dilapidated hospital? Was it the same person that shelled-out for the phone bill in the house from Silent Night Bloody Night:The Homecoming? How generous…
Directed by: Tom McGatlin
Starring: Tim Beamish, Johnny Derango, Casey Ellison
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Making an authentic take-on the slasher template is an extremely tough task, because the genre is densely populated and the guidelines don’t flex too much without stepping outside of the accepted trappings. The little-seen Headhunter pulls off the spectacular feat of giving us a synopsis that rises above expectations. Sure, it’s a slasher movie alright, but it’s one with something of a smart twist.
Released in 2002, Hunter has been largely ignored by most genre books and websites, which may well be because of its limited release. It was shot on a handheld camera in and around a fairly standard location, but it is concrete proof that a dose of creativity can outshine a meagre budget. I picked it up in a bargain bucket quite a while back and thought that I’d go back to re-evaluate it for you lovely people that follow a SLASH above.
A night-watchman in a warehouse settles in for his usual shift when suddenly he gets a call from a deranged stranger that claims to be ‘The Headhunter’ – a psychopathic killer that has recently escaped from a high security asylum. Soon after, he discovers the corpse of his chum and realises he has to fight to survive…
This film launches with a flowing tracking shot that lasts for at least five-minutes. It incorporates quite a lot of well-rehearsed movement and displays immediate ambition from director Tom McGatlin. There were many opportunities for a brief cut, but he braves out the timespan to deliver an intro that confirms that he’s out to impress. The biggest criticism of the Star Wars prequels, aside from the fact that they were awful, was that George Lucas filmed every dialogue scene like something from a wide-panned news desk. If he ever decides to return to the hot seat, there’s a conversation part here which is shot in a basic office space that he really should watch and learn from. McGatlin bolsters every set-up with an abundance of energy; and the riveting camera movement and visible enthusiasm is a pleasure to witness. He continued the dynamic approach throughout the runtime and kept things interesting even when nothing important was going on with the story.
The majority of the feature is made-up of only two characters sharing sequences at the one time and there was always a danger – in such an enclosed space – that the pace could dry-up and stagnate. Whilst there are a couple of sequences that should have been shorter, the film manages to valiantly sustain intrigue and keep us guessing. Victims are smartly introduced and quickly dealt with, which allows the focus to remain on developing tension. Hunter is by no means a gore film and all of the killings are off-screen, but what McGatlin manages to adequately provide are some sharp shades of suspense. Above all else, this is a cat-and-mouse chase feature and what is achieved on such minimalistic funding and basic ingredients is eminently impressive.
Another thing of note is the realism of the dialogue, which is written not to imitate how movie stars speak, but instead how normal people do. In an early discussion, two guys converse about their dead-end jobs and wanting to study in order to find something better. Of course this is not quite Tarantino pop-trivia scripting, but at least it’s recognisable as genuine. I also liked it when T.J. was hiding from the masked-killer and said something along the lines of, “God if get you get me out of this situation, I promise that I’ll… “ – Again something many of us might see ourselves doing.
Headhunter is cheap and it definitely shows. The lighting is bad, the acting is sketchy and it takes place in a bog standard backdrop. It overcomes its budgetary deficiencies with a whole heap of raw talent, which I feel deserves praise. Knowing a bit about the production of independent features opened my eyes to the qualities that this one boasts, but I advise caution, because it’s not for everyone. Fans of body count flicks and splatter should steer well clear. If however, you like them unique and are willing to overlook some basic moments, by all means give this a spin…
Killer Guise: √√
The PickAxe Murders Part III: The Final Chapter 2015
Directed by: Jeremy Sumrall
Starring: Nick W. Nicholson, Tiffany Shepis, A. Michael Baldwin
Review by Luis Joaquín González
In the slasher cycle, it’s fair to say that a genre parody has become such a cliche that the next step would be for someone to make a parody of slasher parodies. For a style of film that’s not bustling with unique character traits, we certainly ran out of the need for satire long before filmmakers realised that was the case. Credit is due to director Jeremy Sumrall though, because he has found a novel way of poking his tongue at the genre that he’s obviously a big fan of.
Franchises were as large a part of the early slasher phase as were masked killers and after the consistent success of the Friday the 13th continuations, every new movie was produced with the intention of starting a series. In most cases, the quality of films deteriorated on a chapter by chapter basis and that’s the genius behind the gimmick of The Pickaxe Murders III: The Final Chapter. Sumrall has introduced us to his boogeyman immediately from the third instalment and as we all know so well in horror legacies, part tres is generally the cheesiest. It’s one of those ideas that’s so good that I wished I’d thought of it myself and so I was indeed hopeful that the film would live up to its creative concept.
It opens with a text introduction that describes two previous massacres that were the work of a maniac that may well be the son of Satan and goes by the name of Alex Black. He was presumed dead, but two hikers discover an amulet that possesses a mystic power to bring him back from beyond. Before long, he’s up to his old tricks again and the residents of a small rural town have to fight to survive his Satanic wraith.
Jeremy Sumrall’s début film, Posum Walk remains unreleased and I’m the first to hope that his feature-length follow up doesn’t suffer the same unfortunate fate. The Pickaxe Murders is a bloody ride of no nonsense thrills that packs one hell of an exploitation punch. We don’t wait around long for our first slaughter and the victims carry on dropping at an impressive rate throughout. Alex Black looks tremendous in a guise that brings to mind the greatest backwoods burlap-sack sporting villains and he stalks and slashes with a similar imposing threat to Jason Voorhees’ finest moments. Whilst we can see that the production team were operating on a meagre budget, they hide the lack of funding well enough, and there are some impressive gore effects amongst the murders. A pickaxe is a superb tool for gooey mayhem, but Black also utilises his strength to crush throats, squeeze heads and rip off limbs.
The story takes place in 1988 and there’s a lot of effort put into visually bringing that era to life for us. Our main characters of the story are heading to a hair-metal concert and the director actually takes us inside the venue to witness the band in action. We don’t only get two rock groups that dress and act in a style that’s perfectly retro, but there’s also an audacious massacre sequence that is both hilarious and gruesome in equal measure. We’ve been transported to the eighties many times before of course, but Pickaxe actually ‘feels’ authentic. Sumrall is a director that pays the closest attention to detail and because of that, he has a huge career ahead of him. There are many occasions when we head into a deep dark forest setting and everything is so finely lighted and so purely shot that I had to remind myself that this was only his second full film… and the first to be released (hope hope)
There’s an old saying where I come from in Andalucía that translates to something like, ‘an excellent artist can never overcome the canvass he paints upon’. Pickaxe Murders reminded me of that proverb, because I often felt that director Sumrall was by far the most talented person in this crew and the rest of them somewhat let him down. Watching the dialogue scenes and the actions of his characters made me visualise his standing there and showing them how they should perform. What he couldn’t do though is improve the levels of their dramatic ability and the net result is like Fernando Alonso giving his all in a Robin Reliant instead of the Mcclaren F1 that he deserves. I could mention the lack of an alluring central character or that the plot sometimes seems as if it loses track of where it’s supposed to go next, but all those minor moments where I was feeling critical are made up for by that amazing rock sequence and an overall tone of fun. Sorry to utilise a platitude, but this is most definitely a film made by a fan for fans. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but overall it works and that’s what matters most. Also, whilst I can’t be sure if it was intentional, I am thirty-four-year’s old and the fact that I look younger than these, ahem, ‘Hi-School kids’ was a real ego-booster. Well, one of them was clearly getting silver fox sideburns, so was that part of the humour? During the eighties, the ‘teens’ in these movies were notorious for being closer to the big four-zero than their supposed age…?
The pre-screener I watched to write this review was only 80% finished and Sumrall told me that there’s still a bit that needs to be done before release. Still, I think The Pickaxe Murders III is a slick genre entry with lashings of potential and it will satisfy slasher hounds immensely. From a personal perspective, I thought there was a tad too much nudity (regular readers will know I’m surprisingly prude… unless it comes to undeniably HOT Chicas, which these aren’t)) but that’s part of the exploitation package and I accept that. We can only hope that Pickaxe gets the release and success it deserves, because I’m eagerly awaiting the prequels 🙂
Killer Guise: √√√√
Phantom Brother 1988
Directed by: William Szarka
Starring: John Gigante, John Hammer, Cheryl Hendricks
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Woo-wee!!! You know those times when you have a few beers too many and your head pounds like a bass drum? Well Phantom Brother is the stalk and slash equivalent of that feeling. Allow me to catch my breath… One second. Ok right, let me attempt to explain…
I have owned the VHS of this one for literally ages and its been peering at me from my shelf for as long as I can remember. There has been many a time that I’ve stumbled home late and been in the mood for some slasher action and I’ve picked up this cover only to put it back down and watch something else. I can’t explain exactly why I never had the urge to see it, but I guess that I had the feeling that it was another Splatter Farm or Death Nurse quality hunk of junkola. How wrong I was.
Four ‘young adults’ head off in to the forest, where there’s an old abandoned house that is perfect for a spot of rumpy pumpy. One of the girls senses danger, so she wants to wait outside with her beau, whilst the other couple head on upstairs. The guy shouts all the time with an obvious Brooklyn accent and has a hairstyle that looks like someone has skinned a wolf and put the fur coat on his head. His partner could most definitely do with discovering a washing machine, but has arguably the most fantastic natural boobs that I have ever seen. Seriously, they’re amazing. Anyway, they’re not at it for long, when a loon in a great mask/hood combo jumps out and kills them both with a kitchen blade. The guy downstairs hears a scream and shoots off to check it out, but he also meets his end via a bloody tracheotomy.
The last remaining chica decides against following them to their doom and instead runs off to look for help. She bumps in to Abel, who promises to go and take a look, but seems to know more than he cares to let on about the dilapidated abode. We learn that it used to belong to his family, before they were all killed in a car accident in which Abel was the only survivor. The remaining spirits of his mother and sister haunt the woodland along with his ‘Phantom Brother’ who enjoys nothing more than murdering trespassers with his trusty blade.
Abel is disgusted with the antics of his family, but there’s very little he can do except clean up after them. He does however have feelings for the unfortunate surviving girl who is curious about what happened to her friends. They partake in an ‘awkward’ getting to know you scene that goes something like: Girl: (Jill) You’re very nice. Guy: (Abel) You’re groovy. Jill: You’re sweet. Abel: You’re happening. Jill: You’re interesting. Abel: You’re pretty. Jill: You’re bleeding. Abel: You’re observant. And on and on and Ariston… Can he protect her from his murderous hermano whilst at the same time cleaning up the blood from the multitude of victims?
Phantom Brother is in many ways a really authentic piece of slasher hokum. Much like Evil Laugh, it’s a parody of the genre it frequents, but it’s also one of the VERY few horror comedies that actually works. There’s a good example of the cheeky humour about halfway through that I have to tell you about. Abel has arranged to meet Jill at the horror house that is frequented by the murderous trio. He informs us over narration (the vocal story guidance is another unique aspect) that he is running late because he stopped off to purchase some condoms, ‘just in case’. When he gets there, his date is nowhere to be seen because unbeknownst to him, she’s been tied up by his maniacal bro. The voice over continues, ‘I hoped that nothing bad had happened to her and also wondered if the chemist would give me the money back for the condoms if it had’. Brilliant.
It’s not that there are loads of hilarious lines throughout the picture, it’s just that it is totally weird and if it had have taken a more serious approach, I don’t think things would’ve worked. There’s so much going on that in order to tell you everything I’d need to buy a new server to handle the amount of paragraphs, so I will try to keep it as condensed as possible. Suffice to say that various plot-branches pop-up that are arranged solely to give us more victims to kill off. The special effects are really bargain basement and are pretty much just a few lashings of corn syrup and dismembered body parts. There was one seriously good throat-slashing though and there is a fairly humongous body count. People could have thought that maybe it was too supernatural to be a typical stalk and slash movie, but that isn’t the case at all. It also includes a really good twist that I was not expecting and it ties things together nicely.
The mystery-aspect helps to keep things rolling at a great pace and some of the cinematography is really impressive. The score is a bit manic. Almost like Jan Hammer had sniffed a gram of pure cocaine and then attempted to do a cover version of the Halloween medley, but I guess it suits the film’s atmosphere. The bad acting also helps the cheesiness and it’s one of those mega rare occasions where the overall amateurism works to the film’s favour. Professional crews don’t make movies like this and so it’s nice to find one that’s not exactly ‘so bad it’s good’, but more ‘quite bad but at the same time pretty good’, if you get what I mean.
It was shot by a gang of acquaintances who really wanted to jump aboard the SOV horror bandwagon. Director William Szarka has previously worked on the godawful Plutonium Baby, but had walked off set after a disagreement with his camera operator. Here they get it just about right by giving us a cheesy dose of slasher trash with enough ingenuity for it to stand out from the crowd. It’s an interesting movie that packs in bundles of strange situations and a superb guise for its psycho killer. High alcohol intake aside, I really enjoyed it and am surprised that I haven’t seen it before. The corny attempts at humour are not as despicable as usual because the movie is not trying to be two things at the same time and it sets the goofy tone early on. Whilst I have never been a fan of stupid comedy mixed with slasher shenanigans, this one somehow managed to get the blend spot on.
It’s not often that I will tell you to track down an obscurity here on a SLASH above, but this one’s well worth a punt. I had a great time watching it and I am sure that you will too. It’s incredibly hard to find, but if you can grab a copy for a couple of quid, then by all means add it to your collection. I think that because I was expecting something really awful, I was really surprised with what I got. If you like ’em cheap and quirky, you should feel the same. Cheryl Hendricks’ breats alone are worth the purchase price…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √√
aka Phantom of the Cinema
Directed by: Mark Herrier
Starring: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
For the slasher cycle, Popcorn was a whole lot more than just another genre retread…
You see, there weren’t really any other cinematic styles around during the eighties that could multiply a budget as easily as a stalk and slash flick. Drama? You either needed De Niro, Pacino, a Costner or someone like a Mickey Rourke; and they’re not cheap. Action? Good shout. But explosions, fake M60s, stuntmen and helicopters can also drain a monetary resource pool. Ok so what about a chick flick? Again always popular at the box office if they’re done well, but can you name me one without a megabucks pairing? Obviously not. No, it’s decided – when it comes to a quick and relatively easy way for a producer to make a fortune, nothing does it like a slasher does it.
But the small problem was that the good old milk laden cash cow had run bone dry midway through the eighties and left only a couple of major franchises to mop up the proceeds. If anything, Popcorn was a hand pushed in to the bath to test the temperature of the water before entry in to a bold new decade. A film well financed enough to get publicity, which boasted a great cast, cool location, neat gimmick and good marketing strategy. If it had been a success I predict we would have had a start to the nineties that would have mirrored the previous decade with a million wannabe duplicates. In effect, this was the first slasher since 1988 to be given actual backing from big studio players like Bob Clark and Ashtok Amiritraj. The only problem was that it flopped. Drastically.
But the biggest question is why?
A group of drama students are given the opportunity to renovate an old cinema for an all night horror-thon. At first, they’re less than impressed, but when they’re told that there may be some budget left over to make their own movie, they all climb aboard. Many years ago on that site, a deranged film cult screened ‘Possession’, which resulted in a few murders and then a big fire within which the aggressor supposedly perished. When sweet student Maggie begins seeing him in her nightmares and conspicuous things start happening, it seems that he’s returned.
Not only is Popcorn a belated entry to the slasher catalogue, which utilises all the traditional trappings, but it’s also a tribute to the notorious B-Movies of the fifties. We should keep in mind that Bob Clark would have grown up on the features of Christian Nyby, Andre De Toth and even Edward Wood, so it makes sense that he would want to reference them here. Popcorn is fun to watch, because when we are not seeing the black gloved killer get to work, we are enjoying full scenes of the films that the audience are watching.
It was shot in Jamaica, which was something of an intriguing slice of trivia. At first I though that it may have been a collaboration of sorts between the two countries, but I couldn’t find any evidence of a producer from JM. The film does however have a very fun reggae/pop play-list. Hell it even has a reggae band that come on and play for no apparent reason halfway through! Keep in mind that this was an era when Chaka Demus and Pliers, Bitty McClean and Shabba Ranks were regulars in the charts and the choice does not seem so unusual. In fact, I rather enjoyed the refreshing soundtrack.
The cast are pretty good in lightweight roles. I was thinking of giving Tom Villard a mention for a solid performance, but then just as I thought that, he went completely overboard with the hyper-acting and got lost somewhat. The gorgeous Jill Schoelen gives another great wide-eyed babe in the woods portrayal and easily manages to win over the audience. We last saw her in genre entry Cutting Class and it strikes me that of the three ‘stars’ that appeared in that flick, only the weakest performer on that occasion built a superstar career. Whilst everyone in the world knows the name and face of Brad Pitt; Schoelen gave up on movies to be a mother and never really fulfilled her potential. Despite the fact that everyone here is little more than a cliché, the characters are likeable and the villain is fun.
Perhaps I was tired (or drunk) at the time, but the twist really caught me off-guard. It was (for me) totally unexpected. It made sense too. There’s some far fetched examples of the maniac’s ability to camouflage himself, but they only add to the thick…THICK dollops of cheese. Yes; and I mean pure and unadulterated cheese. This is like a fondue festival and despite its nineties release date, could seriously be a contender for cheesiest movie of all time. SERIOUSLY. Everything from the bubblegum toons to the wacky costumes (it even incorporates fancy dress) is campy comedy at its best (or worst)
So with so much fun to be had, why was Popcorn such a flop? Good question. To be honest, it’s hard to understand exactly what happened, but the problems that plagued production certainly didn’t help. Original director Alan Ormsby disagreed on a few plot points and walked off the shoot, which unsettled his choice for the lead actress, Amy O’Neill and she soon followed after three-weeks of filming. Schoelen was a more than adequate replacement, but the script reeks of obvious re-writes and missing scenes.
The thing is though, many slasher movies suffered similar troubles behind the scenes and to the untrained eye, Popcorn’s riddles aren’t outstandingly obvious. So what else was wrong? Was it tad too diluted? (There’s no real gore anywhere throughout). Maybe it was just a wee-bit sillier than it should have been? Was it the extreme lack of a mean spirit? I think more realistically, cinema audiences had moved on from masked killers and screaming teens and the reputation of such flicks being incompetently made and embarrassingly bad was still in its fullest of flows back then. It’s a shame, because looking back now it’s actually a really quirky little gem.
Popcorn’s failure to grab an audience most definitely signified the death of the studio slasher flick and it would take the success of Scream five-years later to reignite the sub genre. Still, this deserved a lot more than it received and should be remembered as a decent entry that had everything except luck.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√√
Return to Horror High 1987
Directed by: Bill Froehlich
Starring: Richard Brestoff, George Clooney, Vince Edwards
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I bought Return to Horror High many years ago on a budget VHS and it was one of those that I watched, didn’t think much of, put back in its box and left in the bottom of my wardrobe. Recently I began thinking about it again after seeing a program about George Clooney and felt that I should dig it out for a second viewing. I can’t explain why, but I had the feeling that it may have been something of a hidden gem that didn’t get rightful praise first time around. Lately, I’ve found things in movies that I brushed off years ago that I didn’t notice when I saw them initially.
So this is another of the multitude of slasher movies that has a ‘soon-to-be’ star amongst its cast. In fact, there are many fairly good performers here and it’s quite well produced for its time of release. I remember reading a review of the Playstation Survival Horror classic, Resident Evil, where the writer said something along the lines of, “The voice-overs are so wooden, they make me think that George Clooney is convincing.” That seems like an incredible statement aimed at an Oscar-winning (and twice nominated) actor. Back in those days though, when he first appeared on the screen, the general consensus amongst everybody was that he was a pretty boy with zero talent. Nowadays, I can’t think of many better character actors.
A film crew are looking to shoot a slasher movie on the set of a notorious massacre. Crippen High School has been closed ever since the aforementioned killings and the maniac was never caught. As members of the production begin disappearing, it seems that the nut job may well have returned.
What is interesting is that this is most definitely produced with the mission statement of parodying the stalk and slash cycle. Alongside the likes of April Fool’s Day and Evil Laugh, it is clearly a tongue in cheek tribute to the style that had dominated horror throughout the early eighties and it emphatically underlines its self awareness. The film crew are working on a low budget feature and they highlight every possible stereotype from the guide book list. The producer doesn’t care about plot as long as there’s enough blood and boobs, whilst the director is trying to be recognised for the opportunity of a more respectable project and paycheque. Within the first ten minutes, their lead actor quits to take up a role on TV and scenes are rewritten on demand if a performer disappears or they want something a tad more explicit.
Wes Craven’s Screamwas rejected by the MPAA as an R rating nine times initially until Bob Weinstein stepped in and told the board to, ‘Think about it as a comedy’. This completely altered their viewpoint and it was given the go ahead for wider consumption. Return to Horror High is also aiming for laughs, but the problem is that whereas Kevin Williamson’s script was clever and subtle, Bill Froehlich’s goes for an unappealing Troma-esque style of slapstick that just doesn’t work. The goofy vibe fails to combine with the horror and the tone is completely ruined by wasted efforts at inane quips. For example, if you find the thought of someone peeing on their own shoe to be funny then this will rock your world. Me, I am looking for a little more from a screenplay than that.
It also suffers from milking the same idea until it has run bone dry and then doing it again all over. The plot works with a few different timelines and attempts to blur them in order to pull a trick on the audience. We skip between scenes of the aftermath of the current massacre, flashbacks to the way the victims were killed and also snippets from the original murders from five-years earlier. Usually, the parts that are from the first wave of slaughters end with the on-screen director shouting ‘cut!’ We then learn that this was actually just a film within a film, so this means that the people that are about to be killed are playing the people that were killed all those years ago…? Even if the first time we see this, it could be considered a smart gimmick, after it has been repeated to the point of confusion, all that credibility disappears. We build a level of rapport with personalities that turn out to be false and it leaves us without someone to really root for. It doesn’t help that the most interesting characters on display are those from the ‘film within a film’. The ones that carry the majority of the runtime for us are as shallow as a rain puddle in the desert and incredibly hard to care about.
Perhaps because of the lack of clarity and the minimal attempts at suspense, Horror High’s good points are not able to achieve their deserved recognition. Some of the cinematography is really neat, like the wide-framed shots of a dark corridor that are accompanied by the constant squeaks on the soundtrack that represent the fact that the maniac is nearby. There are also a few twists that I certainly wasn’t expecting in the final ten minutes that will catch you unawares, but make little sense when you think about them after. But because we have already witnessed too many false dawns and wrong-footed scenarios, we are never sure if what we are seeing is real or not. There’s a great surreal artist from Cataluña called Joan Miró whose pictures are so complex that you only figure out the true meaning upon a second look or reflection. Whilst the ability to successfully mangle the lines between fantasy and reality is a strength in itself, Bill Froehlich’s ideas are poorly structured and therefore write ambitious cheques that their delivery can’t cash.
Despite an incoherent spine, the film rarely bores and it’s fairly well acted in a campy way. There’s one really gruesome murder that involves a guy being nailed to a desk and dissected (Vince Edwards no less) and you have to appreciate the irony of a Biology teacher getting cut open that way. The loon has a great mask/cape disguise and there’s a decent score here too. Also if you ever wondered what an icon of fashion like George Clooney would look like in a hilarious mullet, then check out his five-minute walk-on. Now that really is the funniest thing about this supposed ‘comedy’.
The most annoying fact about Horror High is that it is purely and simply a waste of a good budget. As it stands, it’s little more than an interesting time-capsule for fans of one handsome Hollywood superstar. Really though, it should be regarded as an early example of the Scream methodology, but in all honesty, it’s simply not good enough for that.
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Kimble Randall
Starring: Molly Ringwald, Jennifer Napier, Erika Walters
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Funny how opinions change over the years, isn’t it? I wonder if critics like Ebert and the like watch movies for a second time and find something more that they missed initially? I saw Cut when it was released in 2000 and I was nineteen years old. I had followed its production and had hoped it would be as good as the snippets that I’d read had made it sound, because thanks to some brilliant marketing, it had been covered everywhere that I looked. When I received my copy however, the only feeling was one of disappointment. Was it my expectations being too high? I cant be sure, but this time around, some twelve years later, I had a totally different experience.
On the set of the eighties slasher movie, ‘Hot Blooded!’ director Hilary Jacobs gets tired of the constant mistakes from actor Brad and she fires him on the spot and embarrasses him in front of his colleagues. Later he heads over to ask for another chance, but she insults him even more, which makes him go berserk and he kills her. He is prevented from going on a further spree by the quick thinking instincts of Vanessa Turnbill, the lead actress, who gives him a rapid tracheotomy, which ends in Brad being electrocuted. It seems however that his death leaves a curse on Hot Blooded and all who try to watch or remake it.
Present day Australia, a group of drama pupils attempt to finish the film for their graduation. They bring back Vanessa Turnbill to co-star and put together a cast, ignoring the rumours of the hex. Almost as soon as they arrive on the secluded location, a masked killer begins to murder the members of the crew. But how can they kill something that’s already dead?
Interestingly enough, I watched this the day after Fright Flick and coincidentally the two features are quite similar. Both place their story on the production of a fictional slasher movie and they have the same smooth blend of graphic horror and witty scripting. Cut is generally considered as Australia’s attempt at creating an entry in to the catalogue of Scream inspired new age slasher flicks, but it actually takes a slightly different route in the delivery of its plot. Whereas Urban Legend, Cherry Falls – actually almost every slasher released since 1996 – aimed to imitate Kevin Williamson’s heavy use of mystery in working out the killer’s identity, David Warner’s screenplay owes more to its cousins of old by giving us a REAL bogeyman and one that we know about from the start. The killer is blessed with a strong presence, excellent guise and neat weapon of choice (a modified garden shear). He stalks and heavy breathes using the methods of old; the ones that Wes Craven didn’t reference when he relaunched the genre. There’s a great sequence when he attacks two characters that have locked themselves in a car and instead of the usual brick through the window technique or pitchfork through the roof, he just takes some gasoline and sets it on fire!
The film that they are shooting incorporates a maniac that wears the same guise and mask as the actual killer, so there are a few times when the characters mistake the psychopathic stalker for their buddy right up to the moment that he draws his weapon and swipes. This leads to an amusing scene when the two ‘bogeymen’ come face to face (or mask to mask) – Guess who comes off worse? In fact, the screenwriter showed a good flair for black humour, especially by doing something that many people with a dislike of corny pop music have wanted to do for years – cut out Kylie Minogue’s tongue. No, seriously! The few players that do live long enough to realise that they’re facing doom put up a really good fight and it makes the deaths more exciting. I thought Erika Waters’ pre-demise performance was great and I was disappointed that she was written out so quickly. She seemed to be a good actress and by far the most beautiful of the females, so it’s a surprise that she hasn’t done anything else since. The dramatics are slasher-standard, meaning they’re ok for this kind of film, but credit to the producer for getting a couple of big names involved, including of course the ten-minute cameo from Kylie. Jessica Napier was good as the brave final girl and Molly Ringwald shows her ability as the spunky anti-heroine, creating a persona that we wanted to survive despite her non-endearing arrogance.
The movie is slickly produced with a good score and neat soundtrack including classic Split Enz hit, ‘I Got You’. The attempt at maintaining a momentum is continuous and the director pulls off some good stuff. The deaths are numerous and creative, but I was disappointed that they didn’t do more with the make-up effects. Cut plays like a R rated feature and lacks the ambition to put on screen the initiative that had been dreamed up during the writing. There’s a decapitation and a neat death where a girl gets her head squished by a large power tool, but you don’t really see any of it and the effects amount too a gallon or so of fake blood. It also gets very silly toward the climax as a character that was presumed dead reappears despite having a pipe through his throat, but the way that they finally stop the maniac is intriguing and well conveyed.
I don’t expect to get scared by slasher films of modern times and I have said previously, they are a similar cinematic experience to chick flicks. Nowadays, We know what to expect and we realise that the acting won’t be great, but we still want to have some fun and see people get squished. Cut delivers as a good time popcorn flick and it does nothing wrong if that’s what you’re looking for. By no means a classic, but I have most definitely changed my first opinion.
Final Girl: √√√
Fright Flick 2011
Directed by: Israel Luna
Starring: Chad Allen, Richard D. Curtin, Todd Jenkins
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So what did you slasher fans think of 2011? Thirty-three years after the release of Halloween and the genre is again going through something of a lull. The biggest flick of the year was the fourth chapter in the Scream trilogy, which to be fair was a bit of a flop, but most surprising was the amount (or therefore lack) of DTV entries that were financed by up and coming filmmakers. Now since the success of the original Scream, Brain Damage and the like have been rolling out slashers by the bucket load, but this year it all came to a thundering halt with very few hitting the ex-rental DVD sale section of Blockbusters. It’s become so bad that I’m longing for the likes of To Become One, Camp Blood and Paranoid again. Ok, so that’s an exaggeration, but you catch my drift
Fright Flick was one of those that snuck out last year, but even that’s not entirely proof that there’s still a desire to make these films, as it was completed in 2008. Shot in Dallas on a minimal budget by Texan filmmaker Israel Luna, who had received high praise for his camp cult/revenge flick Ticked-off Trannies with Knives, it was one I had been keen to see.
A group of filmmakers are preparing to shoot the third and final sequel to the ‘Fright Flick’ series, but almost as soon as production begins, there’s obvious animosity and jealousy on the set between the cast and crew. The franchise has something of a morbid history as during the development of the first chapter, the lead actress was murdered by an unseen assailant. As soon as shooting begins, it becomes apparent that the maniac has returned and the people involved begin to die at the gloved hand of the killer…
Many slasher movies have chosen film productions as a backdrop for slaughter and it is as good a reason as any to place a group of victims against a maniacal nut job. Although Fright Flick makes good use of its synopsis, it doesn’t try to blur its film within a film fantasy so much with the slashertastic reality of what’s going on. Cinematically, I guess you could say that this was closest in its structure to that forgotten entry, Return to Horror High, but it’s hard to tell if that’s intentional or not. There have been so many parodies by now of the flicks of old that at times it feels like there are no ideas left to mock. Luna’s self-penned script however gets the mix of humour and horror spot on, by keeping the references flowing but restricted to only a couple of major genre pictures. The hints are so subtle that at times I was unaware if they were deliberate or not, but then in the final third, the director reveals that he’s done his homework as we see a neat homage to Halloween II, Friday the 13th (heavy) and believe it or not, Pieces. It was delivered with finesse and without giving too much away, I loved the closing sequence and remember thinking, ‘Are they really going to go there?’ Go there they did and it was a perfect OTT and fitting finale.
Israel Luna is a proud member of his local gay community and if I hadn’t just told you that, you’d easily have guessed it by watching this film (and Ticked-Off Trannies most definitely). Almost every male character here is either homosexual or bi and he camps them up to the max, which leads to a few intentional laughs. There are jokes that are targeted specifically at gay film fans, but as a straight guy, I also enjoyed them. There’s pretty much something here for all genre enthusiasts and if you keep in mind that the first thing(s) on-screen are an enormous pair of silicone lady lumps in the most gratuitous ‘shower scene’ anywhere ever, you will know pretty much what to expect.
There’s quite a bit of gore too and the opening few murders are creative and fast paced. We get a tripod through the skull, a smart decapitation (one of two) and the most ingenious ‘garden shear murder’ that I have seen for a while. I wasn’t amazed by Luna’s direction; I mean, there were no stand-out ‘wow’ sequences, but the odd trick he pulled off just about worked. The ‘turn on the light’ sequence in the bathroom was well handled and there were a couple of decent jumps. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the sound wasn’t completed on the rough print I watched, so it’ll probably look a lot better in the final release that you folks will see. What was weird was that whilst the first four of five murders were rock and roll, they started to become a bit samey as the film wore on. It’s almost as if the director ran out of budget later and had to take us back to basics.
The performances are below average, but passable, it all looks polished enough and it’s a fun popcorn flick that delivers most things you’re looking for from a slasher movie. So is there anything that I hated? Well, to be honest, no not really. The characters are all unlikeable but it seemed like part of the gimmick, so I can’t really complain about that. There were only very few scares, but most modern-day slashers have lost the art of building a foreboding atmosphere, so it’s become par for the course. It’s called Fright Flick, but there’s nothing here very frightening. In fact, there’s nothing at all. It’s not one for people who can’t forgive the odd goof, because it gets very stupid in places, especially in the way that some of the victims are still screaming/moving LONG after they should have been dead.
This is a straight up new age slasher flick that makes the most of a low-budget and aims to give viewers a good time. I would say that it’s better than Gutterballs that was produced around the same time and if you set your expectations low enough, you’ll probably enjoy some of the cool murders and easy-to-recognise references from one of the category faves. Although I would love to see a modern-day entry that captures the chilling environment that we saw in the likes of The Mutilator, House by the Cemetery and The Prowler, until then this is as good as we’ve got – and by now, I am used to it.
Final Girl: √
Scream Uncut 1996
Directed By: Wes Craven
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Rose McGowan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When I was growing up on the mean streets of London, I never really shared my love for slashers with the kids that I associated with. I guess it’s because it can be considered a strange hobby. Why do I spend so much money and effort tracking down these rarities? I mean they hardly ever offer any artistic reward. It’s also a topic that can be somewhat misinterpreted. Does the politically correct brigade think it is right for someone to watch horror movie after horror movie? Nowadays I couldn’t care less, but back in those times, it wasn’t something that I particularly wanted to broadcast.
When my girlfriend of the time came around and told me that she’d just seen Scream, she unwittingly opened a crammed can of worms that she probably regrets to this day. I revealed to her my darkest secret – my love of the humble slasher – and took great pleasure in setting up a planned viewing schedule for the next twenty years.
I had an excuse from then on to roll out the stalk and slash collection with lines like, ‘It’s just like Scream’ or ‘Remember, you said that you loved Scream…’! Now you know why we are no longer in contact…
We all know by now that Wes Craven’s tribute to the slasher genre reinvigorated the cycle and gave it another gallon of petrol in the tank that would keep DTV merchants in business long after its day of release. Looking back though after all these years, is it really that good? Does it deserve to share the stage with Halloween?
A small Californian town that is still reeling from a ruthless murder a year earlier becomes the target of a masked killer. A group of youngsters realise that the psycho is playing games that follow the rules set out in the movies. Do they have enough knowledge of the guidelines to know what they need to do to survive?
All great horror movies need the right opening sequence. It’s an unwritten rule. How many truly scary films have you seen that don’t start with an edge of your seat intro? That’s right, there are none that I can think of either. Scream raises the bar from that terrific and startling launch scene; – and the first victim to get slashed is a seasoned Hollywood star. I remember being intoxicated on my initial viewing, especially with the line, ‘I want you to drive down the street to the Mackenzie’s house‘. It was like all my secret passions were being rolled out for examination for a new generation and it captivated me.
Whilst we are on the subject of rules, Scream is notorious for underlining the majority of them and twisting them inside out to make good use of their repetition. Almost every victim here puts up a good fight with the antagonist and none of them fall foul of making the usual bad route of escape decisions. What sets Scream apart from the likes of Return to Horror High and April Fool’s Day, which also attempted to mock the trappings, is that it pays homage with more intelligence and a higher form of cinematic energy that only an adept horror craftsman could have provided. Craven uses every trick in his repertoire and let’s none of them go to waste. Some of the photography here, like the shot of Sidney’s house in the sunset, is breathtaking and I loved the bouncing movement in the looming tracking shots. Despite Craven’s standing in horror as one of the greats, he is not the most consistent filmmaker and is as capable of releasing a big miss (Shocker) as he is of helming a skilled submission (Deadly Blessing). Here he finds the perfect balance of his trademarks and it’s among the best titles of his illustrious resume.
The film’s true quality is in its witty self reference and ability to take each mood to its maximum potential. The gags are fresh and don’t feel overdone, but when Scream wants to be scary, it does so with ease. There’s something foreboding about the way that the killer is always one step ahead of his intended prey and his ruthless ‘games’ take the development of his victims to a new level. These guys don’t want to die and through good acting and smart scripting, you share their suffering. During the first sequence, Casey is dragged to her doom whilst still clenching her phone. When her parents return to the smashed up abode, the first thing they do is attempt to get on the line to the police. What they hear is the dying breath of their daughter as she is pulled along the ground, because she is still connected. It’s a grimly disturbing set-piece and sets a tone that plays in stark contrast with the lighter moments. The fact that a recognised movie face was the one getting slaughtered gives Scream an ‘anything can happen’ vibe and it continues with its panache for breaking limitations. Newcomer Kevin Williamson’s script is sharp, but is guilty of perhaps expecting a tad too much from some of its gimmicks. With that said, it is never feels underwritten or lacking in continuity.
The performances are excellent throughout, with a career best (in movies) for Courtney Cox and a solid turn from all of the youngsters. I especially appreciated Matthew Lillard’s ‘break all boundaries’ portrayal and Skeet Ulrich handled the different depths that we were meant to see in his character with finesse. What I didn’t like about the movie and it is perhaps due to personal taste was the conceited MTV style of its charecterisations. I much prefer a set up like Freak or Coda that casts its characters as normal everyday folk, because it makes the terror seem much closer to home. Take a walk through your local town on a Saturday afternoon, how many rich, beautiful people do you see? Are they the type that fill you with sympathy? Can you truly relate to someone with a sugar daddy and a smug air of arrogance? Maybe it’s because I am a working class kid that grew up in worst parts of London, but personally I prefer to go for realism. I can’t remember the last time that I felt true bonding with a modern day slasher heroine. Perhaps I am just getting old.
Scream’s comedic style hasn’t aged well and it’s interesting that whilst being the launch pad for the modern day slasher, it suffered the same fate as it’s forefather, Halloween and was blatantly copied to death. After not watching this for ten or more years, the movie had lost some of its impact, but that’s only because I have seen all these tricks more recently in poorer clones. Scream still made my heart beat rapidly, which is a feeling that I’m always looking for, but struggle to find in the newer flicks that I watch. Perhaps my biggest regret is that I never saw this at the cinema when it was first released, because I can imagine it being an absolutely amazing experience, especially for true fans of the genre like us.
This is still a SLASH above when it comes to horror films and shows what can be done with the slasher genre if it is well funded and competently produced. Buy some popcorn and a few beers and give it another blast. I’m glad that I did.
Final Girl √√
Evil Laugh 1986
aka El Retorno de Martin
Directed by: Dominick Brascia
Starring: Ashlyn Gere, Jody Gibson, Steven Baio
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I was born in 81, so am ‘lucky’ enough to say that I definitely experienced the eighties. I can remember coming home from school with my bouffant hairstyle and listening to ‘Look What the Cat Dragged in’ on my radio shack tape recorder whilst waiting for my older brother to go out. Then I would sit on the top bunk bed and watch a plethora of slasher hits on big box VHS. I may not have been old enough to really understand, but I certainly got a taste of fashion’s most embarrassing period
This slasher will be a gift for eighties enthusiasts, because it seems to include most of the cheesiest things that you can recall from that excessive decade (big hair, bad clothes, crap music etc). It even goes one step further by chucking them all in a blender with the clichés that had become a necessary part of the stalk and slash guide book. After being whirled round at the speed of Lynford Christie wearing a jet pack, the net-result is a Crottin du Chovignol of the most intriguing variety…
A group of medical students head off to a house in some secluded woodland, to help their colleague to do some repairs. It has something of a history as a few children were killed there ten-years earlier by a psychopath called Martin. Almost as soon as they begin to unpack, a masked loon begins to stalk the property and it’s left up to the kids to prevent another massacre…
Dominick Brascia directed this strangely obscure entry to our favourite grouping, and he was something of a slasher regular during the eighties. His credits include, Friday the 13th Part V, Rush Week, They’re Playing With Fire and he also helmed the wonderful Hard Rock Nightmare from 1988. He never tried to disguise his love of the stalk and slash genre, which is clearly visible by the way that he utilizes the full quota of trademarks, but does so with enough respect so as not to mock them. Amongst the obvious references, his synopsis nods at Halloween heavily and the second time that I watched Evil Laugh for this review, I noticed many more examples of category recognition. When Tina takes off her top for the necessary T&A scene, she says, ‘See anything you like?’ P.J. Soles’ Lynda did exactly the same thing in Carpenter’s masterpiece back in 1978. Without giving too much away, the twist ending was also a reworking of another major slasher franchise.
Kevin Williamson had certainly seen Evil Laugh before he sat down to write his screenplay for Scream. In fact, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that he pinched a few ideas from this in the knowledge that only extreme genre nuts like us would notice his theft. Even if Laugh lacks the intelligence of Wes Craven’s box office smash, the Barney character here, who knows the rules of horror and warns the characters that if they have sex they’ll die et al, is basically Scream’s ‘Randy’ with a mullet. To me, it looks like Williamson literally cut and pasted that persona and then took the credit for it; and there’s a lot more here that he looks to have pilfered (Tina’s murder for example)
Perhaps even more interesting are the cast members; or in effect, what would become of a couple of them. Not content to have Ashlyn Gere – a soon to become award winning porn star in the lead, – Jody Gibson, who plays Tina, would later spend three-years in the most notorious high-security prison in the US for being the owner of one of the biggest brothels in the world. The case was highly publicised and it was revealed that Ms Gibson had become the most infamous Madam in Hollywood, catering (and performing) for thousands of exclusive clients. Whilst of course it’s only acting, Gibson’s characterisation doesn’t make that seem so farfetched (she gets the token slut role and whips off her top to provide the T&A), but Gere’s latter career choice seems a lot less likely by what we see here. She remains fully wrapped throughout (an obvious body double was used for the shower scene) and plays a shy Laurie Stroud type extremely well. She loses her dramatic bearings and goes berserk with her overacting during the climax, but I honestly thought that she was an alluring actress and gave a competent performance. Even though I remembered that one of the girls from this had gone on to a career in porn, I was surprised that it turned out to be her. The rest of the cast seem to be having fun on set and the movie works because it remains campy and doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It’s not stupid enough to become one of those rancid horror comedies, but it plays much like a film that I remember watching years ago called, Doom Asylum.
On his directorial début, Brascia shows little ability in building suspense and a lot of exciting set-pieces are ruined by the lack of a creative gloss from the director. There’s a nice set up where two nincompoop law enforcement officers are speaking via walkie talkie, but are located within sight of each other. The Sheriff, who is stationed in his vehicle, is asked by his colleague who can see movement in the backseat, ‘Who is that other guy in the car with you?’ The Sheriff, unaware of the creeping menace behind him, replies, ‘There’s no one else here’. We know of course that it’s the hooded killer, but we wonder whether the Deputy can get back in time to save his colleague? It’s a very well-written idea and has the potential to be a stand-out sequence, but the fact that it doesn’t result in a popcorn shock or any tension makes it a wasted opportunity. It’s this uninspired ‘point and shoot’ style of direction that prevents the film from ever touching on a gothic atmosphere. There are times where the comedic tone successfully switches mood and becomes really eerie, especially with the garbled voices on the cassette tapes and the ‘stay out’ signs posted around the house. This entry though is a lot like my beloved soccer team, Arsenal: – all impressive build up, but when it comes to finishing off a good manoeuvre with aplomb, it just doesn’t have the knowhow.
Evil Laugh’s real strengths lie in the tone and campy nature of its players. Unlike many eighties entries, this never becomes a bore when left in the hands of its actors and some of the goofball antics were enjoyable and even quite funny. There are some poptastic songs that sound like a Madonna LP that’s been played on the wrong speed and in an absolutely stupendous scene, the cast all dance around the house in tight shorts whilst cleaning, which has to be seen to be believed. The production team didn’t have the budget for any effects, so most of the slashing is off screen, but there’s a gallon or so of corn syrup that’s splashed around after each kill. We also get the now infamous ‘microwave murder’, which underlines the true comedic intention of the script. I mean how else could you explain someone getting their head cooked when the door has been left open? When the maniac is unmasked, the actor does a pretty good job of playing ‘totally nuts’ and the twist is at least believable. The final girl however turns out to be one of the dumb kind that always chooses to run downstairs to the basement instead of out the front door… You know the type.
So really Evil Laugh is slasher by the numbers, but scores points for its positive vibe and tongue in cheek style, which I think was as much forced as it was intentional. It certainly deserves a place in the stalk and slash museum and should be considered not just to be a proto-Scream parody, but instead the main influence behind the screenplay for that flick.
Final Girl √√√