Easter Sunday 2014
Directed by: Jeremy Todd Moorehead
Starring: Robert Z’Dar, Jeremy Todd Morehead, Ari Lehman
Review by Luis Joaquín González
When I launched a SLASH above, I wanted to create an online guide to the truest form of Halloween-alike slashers for fans to use as a reference point. My motivation was that I’d been stung hundreds of times reading a review of a ‘slasher’ movie only to go online and buy it then find out it was nothing of the sort. For me, writing the reviews wasn’t the important part, it was having a complete online list for genre fans. As the site has grown, I’ve had to start thinking more as a film critic and give an honest opinion on the direction, audio, blocking, camera placement etc of the pictures I featured. I took a few filmmaking courses and got an understanding of production from the earliest stages so that I could offer a constructive and informed view.
My earliest exposure to slashers was those of the peak period and therefore I’ve always used Halloween as the prototype. I’ve made my thoughts clear on A Nightmare on Elm Street many times and the reasons why I haven’t posted it here. However, from its success, we did get a host of genre entries that did fit with the category’s trademarks, but had antagonists with a repertoire of wise-cracks. These were the likes of Nail Gun Massacre, Psycho Cop, Doom Asylum, Hollow Gate and Happy Hell Night. Personally, I am a big fan of a macabre tone and don’t see the benefit of mixing slapstick with horror. I’m smart enough to know though that there’s an audience for pictures of that sort, or, well, they wouldn’t exist, right?
Easter Sunday, the yet to be released addition from Jeremy Todd Morehead, plays like something straight out of 1986 and includes a killer with an array of quips larger than his arsenal of weapons. It tells the tale of a vicious psychopath that murders his family on Easter Sunday whilst sporting a creepy mask. Sometime later, an up and coming rock group called, The Heartbreakers, accidentally bring the maniac back from beyond the grave…
I read an interview with director Jeremy Moorehead and he stated that he felt modern horror films had lost the humour that made them so addictive during the eighties. Many times on a SLASH above, I have said that the egotistic brats that populate a huge percentage of the post-Scream entries are no substitute for the goofy teens from the eighties. What Jeremy described as humour though, I would call charm; – and cinematically, there’s quite a difference between the two. After an intriguing and visually impressive credit sequence, Easter Sunday throws a whole heap of moods at us. We go from the throat slashing of a campy victim to a misplaced fart joke (?) and then on to the gratuitous murder of a sweet young child. This jumble of atmospheres continues throughout the runtime and creates a juxtaposition that I just couldn’t bring myself to digest, even though I really tried.
At times the comedic angle would wane and a dark, almost threatening, feel would generate from the scoring and some creative photography. During these parts, I felt myself subconsciously hoping that the runtime would maintain this flow, but alas, something silly would misplace all that’d gone before it. A fine example is when our protagonist (a spirited ‘look at me’ performance from director Jeremy Moorhead) informs his colleagues of how he fled the maniacal menace (a plot point that the viewer had witnessed and didn’t really need explaining). The scene is set-up well and it re-energises the momentum, but we then cut to a close-up of a character gulping down a burger in one mouthful and playfully jeering, which took the sting out of any ominous vibe. This is followed by the troupe discovering the dismembered head of their colleague in a refrigerator (a guy that was murdered then farted upon – no really), but instead of displaying fear or panic, we get a joke about the freshness of half a burrito that was left in the same fridge.
Look, I’m the first to admit that this approach may be one that I can’t personally appreciate and I feel guilty that I have to criticise the valiant work of a fellow slasher enthusiast. I don’t watch horror films for toilet humour and I can’t recall many slasher classics that succeeded with that approach. I almost coughed up ‘half a burrito’ when the lead told another player in a rare moment of seriousness, “No offence, but we’re not in the mood to joke around”!?! – Really? For me, that was likely the funniest part of the movie.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is, if your characters aren’t taking the horror in your movie seriously, how can your audience? Would the grotesque axe-murder of a pregnant woman work in the middle of Naked Gun? It’s a shame, because there’s some sure signs of potential on display here. We get CGI gore by the bucketload, a couple of generally creepy moments and an unexpected shock at the conclusion that I REALLY wasn’t expecting. It’s just that it was, once again, weakened by the moments that followed.
There’s a good slasher movie somewhere inside Jeremy Moorhead. If he sacrifices one tone to focus on the other, he could be a contender. In fairness, Easter Sunday is not a movie I’d ever really buy into due to my personal beliefs and it’s important that other viewers keep in mind that if you like Horror with Porkys humour, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this film. It’s fast moving, gory and fun with moments that are truly commendable. For me though it felt like an express train that kept getting caught in engineering works.
The Night Before Easter 2014
Directed by: Joseph Henson, Nathan Johnson
Starring: April Sinclair, Emily Chidalek, Alyssa Matusiak
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Wow we’re almost in April already, this year has really flown by. So here I have a film that I have to admit that I was interested in seeing. I don’t know directors Joseph Henson or Nathan Johnson personally, but they’re friends of JA Kerswell, the scribe that motivated me to begin writing-up slasher films. As a geeky teen, before I could afford my own dial-up internet connection, I used to head to my local library to check out Hysteria Lives and it was reassuring knowing that there were other slasher nerds in the world just like me. I was truly grateful when JA asked me to contribute to his website and from those humble scribbles, a SLASH above was born.
The reason that I was so keen to check out The Night Before Easter was because I can logically relate to Joseph and Nathan; two true fans that finally got the chance to make their own addition to our beloved genre. I’m a person of self-reflection and I would be a liar if I said that I didn’t think about the criticisms I deliver and that it’s easy to talk from afar without ever having made my own motion picture. So how would two equally as prolific slasher critics get on when they jumped in at the deep end?
Some friends decide to spend the night together to say goodbye to one of their group that’s moving to London. Their local town is shrouded in the rumours of a maniac called Alex Sykes who many years back butchered his family whilst dressed as an Easter Bunny. As the alcohol flows, the revellers are stalked by an identical looking spectre. Has Sykes returned to seek revenge?
I’m happy to say that there’s a lot of fun to be had with TNBE and it’s comforting knowing that the film is in the hands of a crew that understand what’s needed to tick the relevant boxes. We are treated to a storming killer bunny that really brought to mind the hulking maniacs of old. There’s also an abundance of gooey red stuff to keep gore hounds chomping and a couple of extremely creative kill-scenes. Alyssa Matusiak makes for a foxy final girl and the fact that we see her get inebriated means that she’s far more genuine than the stereotypical Laurie Stroud template. I was surprised to see that she hasn’t got any other pictures in the pipeline as of yet, because the actress showed immense potential in her debut role. Henson and Johnson play it safe with their direction, but one scene that I thought really worked was the murder of a partially sighted victim that’d lost her glasses. A blurred screen POV was used to convey her vision as the boogeyman stalked up to murder her and it reminded me of a similar sequence from Nightmare on the 13th Floor.
Whilst there’s truly a heap of credibility to be found in the slasher scenes, the character development parts were where the film struggled to maintain the same level of credibility. Unlike most of the Western world, I’m not a fan of Big Brother, and the reason for that is because I once returned home late from work and decided to give it a try to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps because it was halfway through a series, I was confused as to the attraction in watching a group of strangers discussing another group of people that I didn’t know or have any interest in. It felt like sitting on a train behind a couple that are conversing about their work friends; – it’s hard to engage yourself to subjects that you have no knowledge of.
After an intriguing opening, TNBE introduces its players with them standing in a circle and talking of their lives at school. I can appreciate that as a concept, this might seem a viable way of unraveling key script members and I admire that these filmmakers understand the importance of character definition. However, there’s only so much of, “Riley dated Kelly, but Kelly’s such a b**tch” that I could listen to, before I had to ask, “Hold on, who’s Riley again? I think I know who Kelly is, but isn’t she with Barney? Hold on, who’s Barney…? Fred? Wilma? Yabba Dabba Dingle, can we get to the slashing please…?” Later, the discussions began to switch to heart pouring from some of the soon-to-be-victims about their weaknesses or whether they’ve been genuine to their friends. I guess that these were included in an effort to magnify the personalities, make them more human and build a level of sympathy for their demises, which thus would make them have a bigger impact on the audience. Again, this is a good idea, but I never attached myself to anyone from the story and therefore found these parts to be awkward and unnecessary. I’m not saying that it’s an easy task, but when you think about movies like Halloween or Friday the 13th that mastered the creation of intriguing characterisations in a horror universe, they did so with the simplest of methods that avoided overindulgence. The risk that Henson and Johnson ran was that a lot of time is spent in the hands of uninteresting cast members and it proved a challenge for the film to rediscover its momentum.
Still, when the killer gets to work, the good outweighs the bad and The Night Before Easter overcomes it’s obvious budget deficiency to provide some thrills and spills. I can honestly say that behind the film’s lesser parts was the glaring logic as to why those decisions were taken and even if not everything worked, it was a bold effort all round. I am looking forward to Gory Graduation… Happy Easter
Reviews by Luis Joaquín González
a SLASH abover Paul Morris sent me an email a while back asking why I don’t review many slasher shorts on the site. I guess the reason is because I post a review once a week and I’m used to covering a feature-length movie. There’s only so much that you can say about a film that’s a few minutes long and I write about 800 words about each flick that I watch. Then suddenly it dawned on me, why don’t I just review a few together!?! Ta-da. (It’s hardly inventing the wheel, but you have to understand that sometimes, I’m not the quickest)
So, every now and then from here on out, I’ll post an update here that’ll feature the shorts that I’ve watched and my opinion on them. I own quite a few and with many I have zero information on how they were put together. I apologise in advance if I don’t provide all you need, but they’ll all be slashers and I’ll give what I can:
Dead Air 2014
Directed by: Zac Morris. Running time: 6 Minutes
Set at a dorm party on Halloween night no less, Dead Air focuses on revenge for a prank that went wrong some time ago. At just over five-minutes, it’s a fun little flick, but doesn’t particularly explode with an abundance of potential film making quality. Whilst it’s creatively shot, the killings are all off-screen, I didn’t think much of the performances and there are no new gimmicks or tweaks to the formula. Cool black mask though and I will admit, if this was a teaser for an up and coming slasher, I would be adding it to my ‘to watch list’.
I, Murderer 2014
Directed by Dipayan Chatterjee. Running Time: 7 minutes
A poignant and disturbing seven-minute flick from India that will certainly make you think. I don’t agree that the slasher genre is the right place for political or campaign messages, but I’ll make an exception here because it truly is beautifully shot and professionally edited. If we forget about the concept for a moment, we can credit the haunting mask and musical accompaniment, which is top-class. I guess in this over-populated rat-race of a world that we live in, we need to think more about this subject, take precaution and as we say in Spain, controlarse y tened cuidado.
Fear the Reaper2004
Directed by Keith Munden. Running Time: 28 minutes
The first of Munden’s Reaper trilogy, this one tells the tale of a supernatural murderous being that’s stalking and murdering youngsters around a small residential area. A plump teen has a bizarre connection with the killer and sees what he does in visions and dreams, which means she must try to stop him. A few good moments that border on suspense are ruined by a disjointed flow and the fact that we can barely see anything some of the time. Even when we are given clear day shots, it’s still tough to follow, because the plot has the narration of melted ice cream and even repeats a few minutes of the SAME scene toward the conclusion. I can only presume that the editor was with his friend LSD when he put this together. Still, for a big fat 0 budget, it does show signs of potential here and there.
Directed by Steve Goltz. Running Time: 11 minutes
After a group of kids run down an old man by a roadside, a masked killer follows them camping to take revenge. Here we have the debut movie from Slasher Studios; the team that would go on to bring us Dismembering Christmas and Don’t Go to the Reunion. It’s a dose of extreme slasherism that’s confidently produced and tells an entire I Know What You Did Last Summer-type story in eleven-minutes, which is some achievement. Keeping in mind the bite size runtime, the characters are well conveyed and the film goes all out to impress. A true tribute to everything that we love about slashers, the use of the teddy bear and a cool mask are welcome inclusions. With four murders, some gore and a sex scene, you get bang for your buck, it’s just a shame they couldn’t chuck in some suspense. Still, as slasher shorts go, it’s a definite must see.
She’s Not Alone 2012
Directed by Mike Streeter. Running Time: 8 minutes
The slasher genre went through a bizarre referential phase recently, where there were a host of entries that played like Z-grade Elvis tribute acts to the peak period. I can honestly say that I can’t name many that managed to pull off the retro gimmick as well as this classy and stylishly directed addition from Mike Streeter (a name to watch). Everything from the music, props, fashion and style is pure nostalgia. It annoys me with shorts that if crews only need to fulfil a few minutes of screen time, why can’t they make the most of each shot. We are given a plethora of good camera work during SNA and even some tricks that Carpenter himself would have been proud of. In fact, if someone told me that Carpenter had directed this, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to question. I can’t give She’s Not Alone any more credit that that.
Pesadilla Sangrienta 2006
Directed by Marceleo Cabrera/Felipe Paredes. Running Time: 7 minutes
A pretty nothing-ness slasher movie that was likely filmed on a cheap mobile phone. Zero dialogue, zero gore and you can’t see what’s going on most of the time. No real story with this one outside of a guy with a Guns n Roses-era Slash-style haircut stalking a girl that has one too, which only adds to the confusion. It’s great that people make slashers at home, but I can’t give them credit if they’re this bad.
Directed by Ryan Shovey. Running Time: 12 minutes
This one was originally meant as a teaser for a feature length slasher that thus far hasn’t materialised. It’s a shame, because Hunter really is a superb slice of slasherism that much like She’s Not Alone, shows heavy Carpenter influences. It’s set inside a house and so we don’t get given much space, but Shovey delivers suspense, shocks and some Argento-alike camera tricks. The killer is creepy as hell too. What I thought worked best was the fact that we got to know the two characters in only twelve-minutes, which was a sign of good scripting. I understand that the director is working on another slasher movie, so let’s hope it turns out to be as stylish as this.
Title Unknown 2011
Directed by Unkown. Running Time: 9 minutes
I have no information on this one or even its title, which is a shame because I kind of have a soft spot for it. The whole production reminded me of mid-nineties SOV titles like Savage Vows and it has a similar type of attractive obscurity. It tells the tale of an ambitious Deputy that wants to rid the town of a vicious masked killer, but the Sheriff is less eager, which raises suspicion in the eyes of the apprentice. Whilst there’s no gore and the score has been borrowed from other hits (even Halloween), the killer’s mask (reminiscent of the Monk from Terror Train) and a couple of impressive shots make this one interesting. It’s by no means a polished example of great filmmaking, but it gains points because it’s so reminiscent of the days of buying cheap VHS from stores/websites.
Directed by David Dinetz, Dylan Trussell . Running Time: 8 minutes
Chainsaw was presented by Eli Roth and it tells the tale of a huge maniac stalking a Haunted House at a theme park. It’s certainly amongst the most gratuitous shorts that I’ve witnessed and includes some extremely graphic shots of a chainsaw-blade cutting into flesh. Whilst it is an extremely modern picture with its MTV flash cuts and CGI, it had an interesting comment on voyeurism, which was a key theme of Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse. Bizarrely, the intro reminded me of the brilliant Derek Cianfrance drama, The Place Beyond the Pines. Definitely one for gore hounds.
Panic Fear 2015
Directed by John Francis Conway III. Running Time: 5 minutes
Panic Fear won’t take up too much of your time, but it makes a statement with its structured shots and inventive camera placement. I appreciated the lengths that the director went to for realism by demonstrating how victimised we would be if a similar scenario were to strike when we least expect it. The smart use of muffled external sound worked wonders to set-up the theme of a killer invading a place of complete seclusion: our home. In fact, this one becomes more scary upon post reflection. I’ve seen thousands of people butchered in slasher films, but this one just felt a little more ruthless than usual.
Directed by Jarno Mahlberg. Running Time: 12 minutes
If I had to compare this Finnish slasher with any other that I’d reviewed of late, then it would have to be Murhapukki, which funnily enough hails from… Finland. Whilst I don’t like horror comedies that go out of their way to try to be funny, I’m a big fan of black humour or a slice of the tongue in cheek. Axecutioner overcomes its low budget with a huge chunk of fun that I thoroughly enjoyed. There’s some very cheap gore that is creatively displayed and the outlandish camera angles are Scott Spiegel-esque. It’s as standard as could possibly be in terms of plot (three guys go to a cabin in the woods to drink whilst there’s a masked nut on the loose), but it ticks the boxes with its overall campiness. This one reminded of cheesy eighties hits without broadcasting that it’s doing so.
Time to Die 2011
Directed by Madness INC. Running Time: 10 minutes
Whilst on the subject of Horror Comedies that work, here we have one on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. At nine minutes and thirty-nine seconds, Time to Die is nine minutes and thirty-eight seconds too long. From what I could make out from the bad audio, it tells the tale of a group of misfits that have paid for a time share or something along those lines to explain away the threadbare plot. Before long, a killer that looks like a throwback from the Kiss glam metal era offs a handful of them in slapstick ways. Look I appreciate that this is just a group of friends having fun, but I have to call it as I see it and what I saw sucked like a mosquito on steroids. To make a comedy work, you either need jokes that are, well, funny or an obvious source code for what you’re mocking. I had no idea what was going on here and wish they hadn’t have bothered. In fact, it made me wish it was time to…
Killer on the Loose 2015
Directed by Mark Baliff. Running Time: 15 minutes
Here we have an expertly taut and cunningly smart slasher from director Mark Baliff that definitely needs to be seen. It demonstrates style right from an opening credit sequence that incorporates a handful of creative shots of Halloween props to build the tone. We then cut to a blood stained girl that’s fleeing a hockey mask sporting stranger. She manages to sneak into an unoccupied house where a cat and mouse game of hide and seek begins with the would-be assailant. Killer on the Loose includes a bundle of references to Halloween and Friday the 13th (including an abode very similar to the Myers House and Night of the Living Dead playing on the TV). It’s no carbon copy though and builds up to a unique and impressive conclusion. What really stood out for me, aside from the aforementioned structured shots, was a strong use of sound and gothic lighting. If the slasher genre is left in the hands of filmmakers like Señor Baliff, we have loads to look forward to.
The Welder 2015
Directed by Justin Cauti. Running Time: 15 minutes
Three girls head to their college to meet Trey, the boyfriend of Alex, who’s celebrating her birthday. Little do they know that a psychopathic Welder that was mutilated ten-years earlier is back for revenge. With a decent budget, killer guise, location and score, I was disappointed that this one wasn’t better. Most of the characters are the brash-cocky-brat-type that ruined a plethora of post-Scream entries, except one; but he doesn’t last long enough to make an impression. With nothing to attract me to the victims, I was hoping for some gore or suspense, but aside from a couple of interesting shots, it was mainly put-together with minimal flair. It’s hard to find fault with the hulking maniac and his deranged heavy breath, but the film lacks the polish of others I’ve reviewed here. Still a killer Welder is a good idea for a feature length picture guys..
Directed by Will Morris. Running Time: 4 minutes
Porkchop was so bad that it ruined the concept of a cool killer ‘Pig Head’ guise. Thankfully, Squeal improves upon the lacklustre Chop but still falls short of giving us a great and gratuitous gammon gore fest. It tells the tale of a group of girls at a party that are stalked by said maniacal assassin; but this guy has a deranged but intriguing motive for his attacks. As expected, he looks pretty menacing clutching a scythe, but some awful acting and overuse of a strobe effect prevents the film from really impressing.
Night Night Nancy 2011
Directed by Lewis Farinella. Running Time: 5 minutes
I have often believed that surrealism would be a good blend with the Slasher genre, but in fairness we haven’t seen many attempts at introducing the concept. The idea here was definitely to make a visual interpretation of a bad dream and the net result was fairly impressive. A young girl wakes up alone and discovers that there’s a masked intruder in her house and so she tries desperately to escape his clutches. What I really liked about Night Night Nancy was the killer’s awkward limp and deranged breathing, which really gave the impression that he/she was seriously disturbed. I also thought that incorporating a mobile phone as a source of terror was smart and the conclusion conveyed a nightmarish quality. The final girl made some silly decisions, but mostly it worked well.
Forest Falls 2012
Directed by Ryan McDuffie. Running Time: 27 minutes
At just under half an hour, Falls is longer than many on this page and it’s also one of the most unique that I’ve featured. The plot line starts as have a million others, with a group of teens heading up to a secluded camp site to indulge in some beer drinking and partying. It’s when the killer reveals himself BEFORE starting the bloodletting that the film heads off on a pathway that’s ambitiously uncommon. Whilst I am not really sure if I enjoyed everything I saw here, I can’t knock director Ryan McDuffie for trying to break the mould. Our masked killer is no Jason Voorhees wannabee and dispatches his victims rapidly with a handgun, which takes the ‘slash’ out of any slasher flick. I also didn’t think that knowing who the killer was from the outset worked, because it removed any intrigue or mystery that may have made him more ominous. Still, there’s no denying that Falls is expansively produced and I was impressed by some of the acting. The sets are slick and well-lighted and the movie opens with a Doo-Wop song, which added some real culture. It’s just that for me, guns in slashers are like sausages at a Vegan banquet – totally out of place. The film just couldn’t recover from that.
Midnight Man 2011
Directed by Kyle Stackhouse. Running Time: 4 minutes
Midnight Man is another of the many shorts that chooses a ‘one woman alone in apartment’ set-up to deliver some creative visuals. Here we have a maniac with a creepy mask (reminded me of the the antagonist from Final Scream) stalking a blonde female in her bedroom. The director uses some neat sound and a couple of Carpenter-alike ‘boogeyman looming in the background’ shots to add class, but it’d been nice to have seen more of a struggle from the victim or even a chase sequence.
Pizza Man 2015
Directed by Todd Condit. Running Time: 5 minutes
Interesting idea for a slasher movie, where the boogeyman is your Pizza Delivery guy! In honesty, these couriers get a hard time, because they bare the brunt of your wrath if the food’s late (even if it’s rarely their fault) and they don’t get a tip as would a Taxi driver. Shot in black and white, Pizza Man plays well on the fact that waiting around for a meal is the most antagonising thing in the history of food. Whilst there’s not a lot of suspense in the way the stalking is rolled out, we do get some gore and a killer Delivery Guy who’d make a great spouse for the chick from Pizza Girl Massacre don’t you think?
Directed by Steve Piché. Running Time: 3 minutes
Well this one wins the award for the shortest title of today’s post at under 180 seconds, but that surprisingly doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. A Slash abover Martin was involved in the production of this one over ten years ago and he kindly allowed me to review it for you all today. It only shows the stalking and slashing of an unfortunate wanderer, but there’s definitely a chunk of credibility on display. We get some nice low camera angles, a machete through cranium killing and a slow stalking maniac in a burlap sack, which regular readers will know is my favourite guise.
Tear Her 2014
Directed by Ricky Bird. Running Time: 6 minutes
Creepy little short from Hectic films that was made as a tribute to watching scary movies on VHS and dealing with inconsistent tracking. Rather than reminisce about my VCR though, the mazy screen and some chilling sound effects gave Tear Her a nightmarish feel, which helped to make it fresh. It shows a killer in a terrifying mask stalking an unfortunate model in a large dilapidated complex, which may not be much in terms of novel scripting, but works because it’s uniquely put together. I always have believed that the best horror is the type that goes the extra mile. Tear her does just that
Terror at Black Tree Forest 2010
Directed by: Dustin Ferguson
Starring: Allison Scott II, Paul Albers, Steve Carty
Review by Luis Joaquín González
One of the toughest tasks that blog authors/critics face is that we often converse with filmmakers before seeing their movies. Sometimes they’re generally nice people and if their movie sucks thereafter you do feel a shade of guilt for having to put into words all that was bad about their effort. It’s tough, honestly it is, but it’s something that we must do. When I posted the write-up of Cheerleader Camp: To the Death, Dustin Ferguson wrote a very honest comment beneath and warned me against his debut feature, Terror at Black Tree Forest. He said that he was expecting a negative rating, because he’s made 29 films since and has obviously improved upon his breakthrough flick. With this in mind, he’s made my job a whole lot easier, because my expectations are now already lower than Christ of the Abyss and I don’t have to worry about offending him. Nice…!
Twenty-years after the rape and murder of a married couple, the only survivor, a young child at the time, breaks out of his asylum and heads back to Black Tree Forest. He arrives just when two couples and a pair of campers are planning a fun-packed weekend and he soon begins lurking ominously as they unwind. Will any of them escape the blade of the vicious masked maniac…?
Despite being a pretty cool guy, it’s fair to say that Dustin Ferguson is also fairly modest. You see, if a filmmaker himself tells you that he’s picture’s bad, you can be pretty sure that it’s not going to be anything other. Fortunately, I’d have to disagree with him on this one, because Terror at Black Tree Forest may not be the Maradona of slasher movies, but it’s not quite the Ali Dia either.
Before the pre-credits, we are shown two trailers of seventies cult classics in an effort to relive the experience of watching rental VHS cassettes. The films chosen were Robert Englund’s ‘Slashed Dreams’ and the Christmas shocker, ‘Silent Night Bloody Night’. Whilst this is a fairly simple technique and not particularly authentic, it worked because Terror is shot with a lens-gimmick that gives the screen a static/fuzz that’s reminiscent of those 16mm prints that we all know and love. Even if the opening scene is the only one that is set in 1970 (the rest of the action is twenty years later) they choose to film the entire runtime this way, which is certainly unique.
Aside from that, what I feel really made Terror stand out was the killer’s bloodied burlap sack-guise and a deep haunting electronic soundtrack from Nathan Christensen. At times his accompaniment single-handedly carried the tone, because it’s so effective in its ability to unsettle the viewer. There’s a murder late-on that may be poorly lit, but the actor’s pre-death gargling and the strength of the keyboard sampling really does create a macabre feeling. We also get a tacky but solid ‘knife through eyeball’ gore shot that brought to mind Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. Ferguson’s films almost always include a solid playlist and this, his first picture, is no different in that respect. As a director, it’s clear to see that he values in the importance of well- produced audio. His choice of camera movement and angles also show that he sees his pictures with a creative vision and I believe this is why his projects overcome their fund-related deficiencies.
So after all that I’ve stated above, why was Dustin so keen to prepare me for the worst? Well, there are a few reasons. I watched Terror on a three-hour flight, which meant that I was something of a ‘captive audience’. I can imagine that the mid-section may begin to drag for those that are surrounded by possible distractions, because the dialogue is predominantly routine and the characters lack intrigue. It’s also worth nothing that a lot of shots could have been shortened by at least a few seconds and it seems strange that this wasn’t noticed during editing. I can only guess that the financiers for the picture gave Ferguson a runtime and said it had to be filled?? The net result is a 1.5 star movie at just over an hour that could have been 2 stars if it were reduced to 52 minutes. I also thought it was strange that after a lengthy and smartly put-together chase sequence, the final stand-off between the heroine and the killer is left off-screen. Perhaps they ran out of budget?
As I said earlier, the boogeyman truly looks scary, but I had to read the back of the cover to make sure who he was because we don’t really get an explanation. I mean, sure, we can work out that he’s the kid from the opening scene, but in that case what happened to the rapist/murderer that killed his parents? Was he captured? Is he on the loose? Oh and whilst on the subject of the opening sequence, Terror has stolen the crown from Nail Gun Massacre for the most comical rape sequence in horror film history. Still, I’d prefer that any day to the grotesque stuff we saw in Gutterballs.
Terror at Black Tree Forest is a cheap and cheerful slasher movie that scores points for the level of creativity and a few good ideas. It’s got gore, brief nudity, a cool killer and a fantastic score, which is quite a lot for such an obscure flick. I would say that this is perfect viewing material for a train/plane journey when you have an hour or so to waste…
Directed by: Todd Jason Cook
Starring: Rebecca Torrellas, Mike Gebbie, Lisa Whiteman
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Running a site that is purely dedicated to reviewing only the truest of stalk and slash entries is great, but I must admit that sometimes there are films that I’d like to cover, but can’t because they don’t fit the template. I believe I’ve stayed faithful to only posting genuine entries, but the one that I’m most unsure of is The Dead Pit. My rationale for including it was because, sure, it’s a zombie movie, but there is really so much in the first half that reminded me of our favourite film style. The hulking masked doctor, the terrorised final girl, stalking sequences and heavy breath POV shots; it’s hard not to look at those ingredients and think: stalk and slash.
Actually, it’s interesting that there have been so few true crossbreeds, but that’s where Zombiefied stands apart. Director Todd Jason Cook has said that he set out to make this picture the truest amalgamation ever released and so I was keen to see what he could achieve. Would this be a post that I would be confident could sit comfortably with the rest and tick the right boxes?
Well, it all kicks off in a bedroom with a naked chick and a guy sharing lines of coke. As if on cue, the girl says with a knowing nod, “I’m off to take the obligatory shower”. Whilst she’s scrubbing away (in gratuitous close-up), her partner hears a noise in the kitchen and goes to investigate. He comes across a creepy mannequin that’s holding an MP3 player, but before he has a chance to raise the alarm, he is stabbed from behind by an unseen killer. Next up, the maniac goes to take care of his bathing girlfriend, but just as we are waiting for the anticipated slashing, out jumps the ‘zombiefied’ corpse of her recently deceased partner and it begins chewing on her neck! So, a zombie, a hulking killer, blood, a jump scare, a fantastic pair of (natural) boobies and cocaine. It’s fair to say that there have been worse opening scenes.
Next up we head over to a heavy metal club called, Röcbar, where a concert is in full flow. As the group perform, the nut job from earlier (who’s now sporting a Nixon mask that’s identical to the one from Horror House on Highway 5) subtlety murder’s the DJ and inserts a CD into the music system. The new sound seems to have a strange effect on the crowd and they begin morphing into zombies and attacking those that haven’t yet turned – cue pandemonium. After a violent struggle, one band and their singer manage to escape the carnage and flee into the streets that are now filled with roaming re-animated corpses. We soon learn that a similar occurrence has happened once before, but not on such a grand scale. With the Police unwilling to assist, it’s left up to the gang of rockers to prevent the plague from spreading and find a cure. They’ll have to do so whilst avoiding the flesh hungry zombies and a malevolent masked killer…
It gives me great pleasure to tell you that Zombiefied is a truly entertaining horror flick that may be rough around the edges, but delivers a rugged ride that’s unlike anything I’ve previously seen. It’s full to the brim with bloody action and it rarely allows you to catch a breath as the corpses drop. The plot unravels amongst hordes of murderous zombies that chow their way through an impressive number of victims. The director flings everything into the cooking pot to conjure up a gore-laden stew. Your taste buds may not be totally tickled by every mouthful, but it’ll leave your belly too fulfilled to complain about the service.
Director Todd Cook has had a film reviewed here on a SLASH above previously of course, but Evil Night was a totally different beast that simply had no structure. People would walk on screen with no introduction, get killed and the same thing would happen once over. He does revert to a similar technique at times here, because there are a lot of nameless and eminently pointless victims that are lined up like pins only to be bowled over with minimal fuss. Zombiefied overcomes that though, because everything’s held together by a central concept that’s progressively intriguing and addictive. We follow a group of likeable characters that are desperately trying to find a cure for the epidemic and even if the way that the story choses to write out the authorities is laughable, there are various tweaks that maintain our engagement.
Not everyone agrees with my stringent view on what makes up a true ‘slasher’ movie, but seeing as I am strict with my idea of the guidelines, I wondered what I’d make of a zombie/slasher cocktail. In fairness to Cook, he shows respect to both genres and their principles. The living dead are the modern kind that sprint after their prey, but the slasher scenes are traditional, with a hulking masked killer that has a calling card (aforementioned mannequin) and a traditional slo-mo stalk. The army of gut-munchers are under the control of the boogeyman and sometimes he uses them to devour his prey instead of a blade or axe. Even if this concept sounds like it may be tough to digest, I have to give credit to Cook for making the blend so palatable. He pulls of a number of moods and even chucks in suspense on occasion, which magnifies during the slasher scenes. We also get fair amount of gore, a couple of hot-ish chicas, a riveting mystery, an open-ending and the chance of a sequel, which I’d personally like to see. Perhaps the best thing of all is that an hour and forty-five minutes is a long time for a horror movie, but it really flew by. I was watching without alcohol too!
From a technical perspective, Zombiefied is not a perfect movie experience. The thrash metal soundtrack is not for all tastes, it’s a bit casually scripted and it suffers the flaw that ‘plagues’ all zombie movies, which is, how much can really be done with the same MO? I honestly believe though that there’s so much here that works that you can accept those minor gripes because it’s a real extravaganza of horror excess. I liked it so much that I was disappointed to see that Cook doesn’t have any other projects currently in the pipeline. I would never have said that when all I knew of his work was Evil Night and Night of the Clown. I can accept titles like that if they lead on to a wider plan and Zombiefied may well be his masterpiece.
Finally we have a zombie/slasher that truly can fit in with its brothers here.
Memorial Valley Massacre 1988
aka Valley of Death
Directed by: Robert C Hughes
Starring: John Kerry, Cameron Mitchell, Julie Jachim
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Those were the days… The intrigue… The tension… The excitement… Oh hello a SLASH abovers and excuse me, I was just reminiscing about the times when I first discovered the Internet and opened the door to a world of slashers that stretched beyond my local video emporium. Strange as it may seem to you all, I was collecting these things even before I knew that they were part of a genre called ‘slasher’. Instead, I’d just pick up similar looking video covers and hope to see certain things that I recognised from the one that started it all for me, Halloween. Nowadays, you can check the web and know instantly whether a prospective picture is actually an entry to our beloved category or not. In moons gone by however, it was all about lucky dip.
When I eventually got onto the IMDB, I would use various investigative techniques to uncover entries to add to my list of ‘desperate to sees’. One of those was typing the word ‘Massacre’ into the search bar and examining each title to see if they were slashertastic enough for a purchase. It didn’t take long for me to uncover this beauty…. but upon discovery, a new challenge arose… locating a copy. During the late nineties, Amazon US weren’t keen on International delivery and despite them having twelve copies available on VHS at a reasonable price, I just couldn’t find a seller that’d distribute across the pond.
There I sat staring longingly at the picture from the listing, dreaming of the slasher fun that lurked inside the cardboard cover. For you pups, I guess it’s a lot easier, because additions such as this have become free content and can be downloaded in an instant from YouTube. Times have changed for the better for slasher buffs. Eventually I came across a Spanish language version in Jaén and I rushed home in excitement, eager to to witness whether Memorial Valley Massacre would satisfy me in all the ways I’d expected…? Well…
It tells the tale of a city businessman that has bought a huge piece of land and wants to open it as a camp site for people to bring their Winnebagos and spend a few days in the wild. During pre-launch, the production has suffered some unexplained events, including the deaths of a few construction workers. Despite no running water, the openning goes ahead as planned to coincide with Memorial Day, and the campers pull up in droves. Little do they know that they are sharing the grounds with a cave dwelling maniac that is out to kill….
I often go to Spain to visit my dad, younger brother and the rest of my family. Last year, whilst laying on a beach in Punta Umbría, I realised how much I miss Andalucía and felt sad that the branches of life had led me away from my true home. I returned to England and the weather was atrocious, which added to my gloomy feeling. In a semi-drunken stupor, I booked another vacation for the next couple of weeks and effectively went straight back to the Andalusian hills. From the moment I got off the return plane, it began raining; – and it continued to do so throughout my trip. ‘Tienes mala suerte’ my dad told me, but I decided that I’d at least try to go out and enjoy Sevilla with an umbrella; – and I did exactly that. That my friends is what psychologists call a ‘Positive Thinking Mindset’
You need a ‘Positive Thinking Mindset’ to really enjoy Memorial Valley Massacre, and if you engage one, you may find that your experience will be a lot like mine in rainy Andalucía. We may not have a sterling killer in the woods flick here, but instead it’s an entertaining campy ride that does provide some cheesy thrills – with the emphasis being on cheesy. For 92 minutes, MVM moves incredibly quickly and even if the action only really begins on the hour mark, the characters are silly enough to remain amusing throughout. It’s also worth noting that the picture is certainly authentic and I don’t remember another that goes for a killer that’s been borrowed from Disney’s Jungle Book. Looking like the fifth member of Twisted Sister – in a get-up that you could pick up in any dime-store fancy dress shop – his story is unique, if slightly underplayed. He was left in the forest as a child because a kidnap/ransom attempt went wrong and therefore grew up as a feral human. The filmmakers do however try to bizarrely build pathos for him in the early scenes, by showing him feeding a mouse and generally seeming at one with nature. These moments of vulnerability weaken his fear factor, but when he begins his kill frenzy, he becomes effectively merciless. One chap is set on fire and runs around screaming as he burns to death, whilst another likeable fellow ends up in a pit of spikes. It was refreshing that I felt like I wanted these guys to survive, because in more modern slashers, I couldn’t care less.
Massacre’s strengths are definitely its have a campy ball with the trademarks attitude and it’s cast of likably dumb participants. There’s an interesting relationship between hero, David Sangster, who’s the son of a millionaire businessmen that bought the land, and George Webster, the head ranger of the site. They don’t really get along at first, but instead of the more typical rookie/veteran bonding methodology, Robert C Hughes’ screenplay works slightly differently. We do get a hottie love interest for David, who’s there mainly to add eye-candy. His attempts to woo her are highly amusing, especially the speech that he uses to finally seal the deal. In fact, the dialogue here has some stand out lines like, “I’ve got cigars older than her” and “They couldn’t punch their way through a wet cracker”, which show that Hughes boasted a knack for the tongue in cheek. Having eighties slum artists such as, William Smith, John Kerry and Cameron Mitchell reciting such campiness just added the final gloss to the cheesecake.
This film plays much like Doom Asylum, which I reviewed recently, but it’s not quite as good. Whilst you could never call Doom particularly scary, it boasted gore and sharper direction, whilst Valley just feels too light-hearted, even in moments when it’s more ruthless than you expected. I believe this is because the killer just doesn’t look particuarly intimidating and the attrocious keyboard score doesn’t help. I’m no master musician, but just when you feel that the composer shouldn’t go a note higher nor lower, go there he does – and then some. The final thirty minutes of Valley are rapid with a handful of killings and a breakneck pace, but it still looks devoid of a certain something. Hughes’ direction never seems to draw you in and that’s why I couldn’t buy into what I was seeing. By no means is this a horror comedy but it would only take some minor script adjustments to make it one. And within its undecidedness on whether to go full-on gruesome tone or stay campy lies the movie’s biggest flaw.
We slasher fans know more than most that it’s possible to enjoy a shoddy movie and we pretty much created the ‘so bad its good’ saying. With MVM that’s exactly what happened for me. Due mainly to the minimal gore and nudity, it’s certainly not a worthwhile killer in the woods flick, but it’s one that serious collectors should be adding to their pile for its pure entertainment potential.
Scream Bloody Murder 2000
aka Bloody Murder
Directed by: Ralph Portillo
Starring: Jessica Morris, Patrick Cavanaugh, Justin Ross Martin
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Good Morning a SLASH abovers! I haven’t updated the blog for a while simply because I had to recover from New Years and Christmas. I’m nearly thirty-five and diabetic, so it doesn’t get any easier. Also, unfortunately my external HDD that has my review list on it is broken – so panic mode is at DEFCON 2. Luckily, I have a few DVDs in my room to go through, so I should be getting back up to speed…
Anyway, I’ve mentioned many times here that aside from slashers I’m a big fan of all different types of cinema. With this in mind, like most of the population of the world, I was drooling over the release of a new Star Wars movie. I got a ticket for 00:01 on the very first day it hit screens and even if there were bits I enjoyed, I must confess that my overall feeling was one of disappointment.
I was never a fan of the prequels because the scripts were so rushed and illiogical that I spent more time questioning what was happening than enjoying the action. My initial perception was the same about The Force Awakens, which – without giving away spoilers if there’s anyone left that hasn’t seen it – had an unconvincing villain, two characters that weaken the enigma of the force, plot branches based on convenience and an extreme lack of originality. I was gutted. In my review of Halloween Camp (the sequel to this film funnily enough), I wrote about human expectation levels. Well, I’m happy to say that the second time I saw TFA – with a mind clear of what I wanted it to be – I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sure, the plot holes were still there, but the large amount of action and humour really meant that I could overlook the poor continuity.
What does this have to do with Scream Bloody Murder you ask? Well, I have mentioned this film a few times on a SLASH above as being one of the worst titles of the category. I picked it up in the year 2000 from a video shop in Bromley. My girlfriend of the time and I had been desperately searching out more slasher action and came across Ralph Portillo’s second slasher inadvertently. I remember being appalled that the crew had blatantly ripped-off Jason’s hockey mask and that huge shock had immediately turned me against the film. I wondered if now, after stealing from the classics has almost become a necessity, I might find that I could re-evaluate it.
A group of counsellors arrive to prepare a summer camp for the incoming children. There’s an urban legend surrounding the location about Trevor Moorehouse – a hockey masked killer that has never been captured. Before long, the teens begin going missing and it’s left up to the kind-hearted Julie to solve the mystery…
After Christmas, most of the Western world is riddled with guilt and feels the need to go on a crash diet to fit back into the jeans that felt so snug on December the 23rd. At lunch the other day, one of the girls I work with ate two rice cakes, with no butter, cheese, ham or any ingredient to improve the taste. Bewildered, I asked her, “What’s happened to your usual cheeky Nandos takeaway with a jam doughnut?” She looked up at me sternly and responded, “Christmas dinner happened”. Those dry, plain and boring snacks remind me so much of Scream Bloody Murder; – a film that has become well-renowned for its incompetence. It’s surprisingly hard though to understand exactly why this one gets as much stick as it does.. I mean, it’s bad – definitely; but is it worse than Curse of Halloween?? (Puts on a Darth Vader voice from the end of Revenge of the Sith), Nooooooooooooooooo
In fact there’s a bit here that I felt really worked. We get a mystery that attempts to convey itself smartly and I loved the flashbacks that demonstrate how a certain suspect could have committed each murder. The stalking scenes deserve a mention as they are credibly lighted and include creative character placement that builds surprise tension. One chase sequence through a forest was really impressive and the resulting victim’s dying attempts to get the attention of an unaware colleague were a smart gimmick. It’s fair to say that Jessica Morris is no actress, but she plays final girl Julie with enough goofy hotness to lead you to believe that if you got her drunk enough, you could tell her some cheesy garbage and she’d be yours for eternity. These things are definitely positives.
The majority of the negatives stem from the fact that as a director, Ralph Portillo reminds me of the kind of guy that goes to a supermarket to buy a pint of milk and returns six-hours later after reading the small print of every label to make sure he’s chosen the right carton. There’s a bunch of scenes that should have been merged together, shot more sharply or just completely removed, because they don’t tell us anything new. I preach about character development endlessly on a SLASH above, but it needs to be intriguing, well-acted and appealing. Watching cardboard cut outs discuss family members that we haven’t met for extended timeframes soon becomes a chore. I lost count of the number of potential friendship bonds that don’t go anywhere and the whole thing ends up playing like a soap opera. In fact, with minimal gore, nudity or foul language, Scream Bloody Murder could be exactly that. It even has a truly hideous soap opera-alike over-imposing and knocked up on a Yamaha Keyboard score.
Whilst I do admit that setting my expectations at -10 meant that I was thinking it’d be much worse, SBM still fails to deliver anything that really separates it from a million others. Unless of course you think ripping off Friday the 13th beyond imagination counts. It’s a shame that a film with such solid financing couldn’t be a bit higher in the ol’ quality stakes. Instead what we’re left with is an entry that has the odd moment, but pretty much remains the dry rice cake of possible lunch choices. Whereas me; I’m a large Zinger Tower Meal with Double-Chocolate-Milkshake kinda guy.
Staying on the Star Wars theme, it’s said that A New Hope – one of the greatest motion pictures ever (after Empire) – was saved in editing. It’s only a hunch, but if Raymond Chow had got his hands on the dailies of this, I wonder what he could’ve achieved? Oh and before I go, I must mention that some of the most convincing dramatics that I’ve ever seen appear in SBM. It’s when the kids are watching Portillo’s previous bore, Fever Lake, and they prevent themselves from falling into a catatonic state. That my friends is REAL acting. I’m surprised that Oscar nods weren’t given. It’s good to be back…
Directed by: Antti Kiuru and 6 more
Starring: Andres Pass, Aatto Paasonen, Ville Lähde
Review by Luis Joaquín González
My recent posts of Mexican and Spanish films such as Chacal, Masacre and Atrapados en el Miedo went down really well with my readers, so continuing along the linguistic thread, I thought I’d review this Finnish slasher from the year 2000. Shot by (a record?) 7 directors, I found this 27 minute short whilst on vacation in Estonia. I have literally no information about its production, but I’ll say that it’s the first addition from Finland that I’ve come across.
A group of young males decide to meet up for a drink over Christmas. Whilst the ground is covered with snow outside, blood begins to spurt because a psychopathic stranger dressed as St Nick begins brutally slashing through the revellers. Can they stop him in their tracks?
With so many entries that I still have left to review to complete the largest online slasher A-Z, I am guilty of overlooking the countless ‘shorts’ that people have recommended.The three that I did cover, Death O’Lantern, The Hook of Woodland Heights and Friday the 13th:Halloween Night were posted more for their obscurity than anything else and I guess the same could be said about Murhapukki. What we have here is an immensely enjoyable seasonal slash-fest and despite being cheaply put-together, I found loads to appreciate.
The film kicks off with a killer in a Santa suit stealing a car from an unfortunate individual. An OTT tone is set almost immediately when the assailant chops off the hand of his intended victim and then runs him down with the automobile that he just stole. Whilst the effects are the bare minimum of believable gore, it was fun to see spraying crimson and gruesome violence so early on in the picture. From then on, we are introduced to a group of guys that are gathered in two or three homes across a snow-laden landscape. As you can imagine, twenty-seven minutes allows almost no time for character development, but the plot is rapped around a typical ‘revenge for a past event’ core that unravels as more victims are dispatched.
I guess that the reason that I enjoyed Murhapukki is because it breaks the mould by not bothering with smart-ass ‘know it all’ characters or vomit inducingly blatant ‘homages’ to genre classics. Instead it includes a handful of recognisable elements, but doesn’t portray them with the mission of proving to the audience that the screenwriter(s) are knowledgeable of the greatest hits of the category. Our psycho Santa, for example, cuts up photos of his victims after murdering them -(due to identical clothing and hair, they look to have been taken the same day?!?) -, which we saw in Prom Night/Fatal Games and Graduation Day amongst others. There’s a Carpenter-alike shot of a bread knife on a kitchen table that disappears in the next instant when the camera returns to the focal point. We even get an effective Argento-esque ‘the maniac’s behind you’ moment that’s set-up in a bathroom mirror. We could say of course that these are tributes to the trademarks, but they’re conveyed more subtlety and not with the recent methodology of ‘let’s see who can include the most references to the eighties’, which has been done to death.
In a 27 minute runtime, the directors managed to pack in tonnes of bloody murders and a handful of chase sequences that meant that I was entertained all the way through the admittedly short runtime. One of the pursuits built impressive tension as the camera switched from POV to fixed-angles and the snowy landscape single-handedly mushroomed the underscore of isolation. Whilst the continuity is laughable (one guy gets a machete in the hand, but is fine moments later) and the acting is non-existent, I thought Murhapukki achieved a good-time slasher vibe admirably.
I often wonder when watching low budget entries, how so many can struggle to take a relatively simple formula and not have a ball with it. Pukki could act as a lesson to up and coming filmmakers that getting too mixed-up in parody and conceitedness is unnecessary. I could criticise the dramatics or flimsy plot, but there’s really no need to. Instead, I got more than I was expecting. Cheesy bloody deaths, amusing inebriated ‘gangsters’, a creepy score and a Santa-suited slayer in glasses… Are you really ready…?
Dismembering Christmas 2015
Directed by: Austin Bosley
Starring: Nina Kova, Johnathon Krautkramer, Leah Wiseman
Review by Donny Ybarra (Brother’s Grim)
Oh, the weather outside is frightful. But the terror is sooo delightful! It’s getting cold outside now and snuggling up with your lovey and popping in some classic horror movies is the perfect way to spend your chilly evenings. As a rabid slasher fan, the Christmas Holiday has contributed to those chilly evenings by the fire with gifting some great horror films from the 70’s and 80’s. Some standouts like; To All A Goodnight, Home for the Holidays, Silent Night Deadly Night, Elves and the ultimate classic, Black Christmas (and I love the remake too, don’t judge me!), are always a fun watch. So what does a slasher movie called ‘Dismembering Christmas’ have to offer for the “old school” slasher fans? Plenty. Just don’t expect “the next big gimmick”. There is no found footage, no cgi and absolutely no convoluted twist. It’s golden age slasher horror for fans, made by fans.
Kicking the film off was a pretty awesome cameo from co-writer/executive producer Kevin Sommerfield, I thought it was a great scene and really set the tone for the film. You may have seen his other Slasher Studious film, Don’t Go to the Reunion (2013). The aforementioned plays more to the post-Scream crowd, here Dismembering Christmas plays it straight to the body count films from the 80’s. Now, after a bloody start, we are introduced to eight friends that are traveling to stay in a cabin for the Christmas Holiday, unbeknownst to them there was a few murders years ago and somebody wants to make sure they remember this holiday….cue horror synth!
The cast shines, some more than others, and when the survivor/survivors emerge you get some truly kickass scenes. But it wasn’t the cast that sold me as much as it was the setting. The most exciting aspect about this film was the chilly snowy setting. Here, you have the cabin out in the sticks with nothing but snow for miles, this already isolates the viewers and sets up a nice dynamic later for some great chase scenes. Speaking of chase scenes, this movie had some great stalk and chase, major thumbs up. From running through treacherous terrain, to having to maneuver through the interiors of the cabin, the hide and seek with this killer was highly effective. Also, there were some really nice pov shots of the interiors of the cabin and the decorations, I immediately thought of Black Christmas as “Billy” made his way throughout the house. The dark reds and hunter greens reflecting the walls and interiors were highly effective in adding class without overproduction. Lots of small details like that elevate this film where others fall flat.
Now, on to the slasher, my favorite part of the film. This killer sports a wicked mask, it kind of reminded me of an interpretation of “Boo Hag” from Canadian Folklore, pale with long dark hair. Armed with a very interesting blade, this slasher gave good KILL. The kills ranged from stabbings to decapitations, to a very fun “wreath kill”. Goltz and Sommerfield know what their fans want, practical creative deaths, giving this film a pretty decent body count. There is a set piece towards the end where our final character discovers the lair of the killer, this was a nice addition to developing the motivations for the killer.
On to the negatives, which mirror my one complaint with Don’t Go to the Reunion, the runtime for the movie. This movie was short, at about an hour and seven minutes of content, I would have loved for about 10 more minutes. But this is a minor complaint, and if anything it shows just how much I enjoyed this movie. Despite the shorter runtime, having to not suffer through filler is much welcome, so more run time does not always equal better movie either. I’m excited for what slasher studious has planned for the future, I would love to see them tackle a camp inspired horror, something like an expanded version of Slasher Studious short film Teddy (2011), if you haven’t seen I suggest you watch immediately! Pick this one up now!
Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge! 1989
Directed by: Richard Friedman
Starring: Derek Rydall, Jonathan Goldsmith, Kari Whitman
Review by Luis Joaquín González
What do you get if you cross an intelligent idea for subtle comment with a garbage bag bulging with eighties trash…?
Well, you get Phantom of the Mall. This was the second slasher effort from Richard Friedman, the director of campy genre-parody, Doom Asylum. It became an attractive proposition for financiers after author Scott Schnied circulated a draft in 1982, because coming before The Initiation meant that it was the first slasher to incorporate a mall as a backdrop for some murderous mayhem. Soon after, it was signed up for a four-million dollar development with advanced special effects, but the production date was never confirmed and it kept being further delayed. As the eighties drew to a close, the budget was halved and different writers were brought on-board to make sure that the script could be completed within the tighter funding. Having read an interview with Schnied, it seems like the version that we were eventually delivered is nothing like what he had planned at the outset. In fact, it’s something of a twisted mishmash that is dismilar to anything that I’ve seen before (or likely will see after).
An un-named town in America sets about building a huge mall in its centre, but construction is held-up by a family that refuse to sell their house so that the development can continue across their land. When that same abode is burned to the ground in a fatal ‘accident’, production begins and the stores are opened quicker than expected. Local girl Melody, whose boyfriend was killed in the blaze, finds a job in the food court, but she’s still upset about the death of her beau. Before long, people begin disappearing in and around the mall and it seems that someone has an axe to grind. Could Melody’s love Eric have survived…?
For all intents and purposes, Phantom of the Mall is slightly bewildering in its structure. A story about a guy that ends up disfigured by a fire that also killed his parents, because greedy cigar-chomping politicians wanted to build a shopping centre where their house stood, should only throw pathos in one direction. Bizarrely, our antagonist turns out to be Eric; – the guy that we were feeling sorry for in the opening act – and because he had been portrayed to be a genuinely decent character, his transformation into a murderous villain is illogical and hard to comprehend. I understand of course that we are not expecting intense drama from a cheesy eighties slasher and I do like psycho killers with a believable motive. A better writer though would have recognised the obvious contradiction in the synopsis, and either made Eric have a dark side from the start (perhaps a fiery temper) or at least not conceived him to be as clean-cut and heroic as he came across in the opening scenes. From what I understand, Schnied’s original screenplay had Eric remain a good-natured vigilante type all the way through, which makes a lot more sense, but the latter adjustments deviated from a logical plot-path.
What we are left with is a movie that nods at the same kind of ‘obsession with image’ commentary that the wonderful Spanish film, Abrir los Ojos, delivered, but doesn’t really make anything of the concept. There were so many possibilities that could have been explored by the return of a disfigured former sweetheart that is seeking revenge and a reunion with the love of his life. Not one of these themes were developed to any level though and you could erase the link between the heroine and the phantom and just make it a film about a masked killer in the basement of a mall and nobody would’ve noticed any difference. Eric only murders wrong-doers and even protects Melody and her new admirer at one point in the runtime. This makes her decision to turn her back on him when he finally reveals himself the atom bomb that obliterates her appeal. She had been conveyed up until then as a sensitive heroine, but we forget about that as soon as she meets a handsome journalist and brushes off the disfigured hero that saved her life – twice. It is kind of like her saying, “I know you were my first love and suffered excruciating pain so that I could escape, but I met a guy with a car and a steady income that doesn’t live in the sewer or have a disfigured face, so see ya” . All this begs the question, why include another romantic angle when that of a saviour returning from beyond the grave is about the best that any writer could hope for? It all stinks of a poorly put-together plan of action, which is generally what you get from four separate screenwriters that don’t know or have contact with one another outside of the connection that they must finish a film on time and within budget. In principle, it’s the same as a few of my readers writing a paragraph each for a film that they watched once upon a time and me posting them together in one review here on a SLASH above.
These script issues are mainly notable because they prevent the film from fulfilling its obvious potential, but there are still bits and pieces that I enjoyed. It’s hard not to be entertained by a bunch of dweebs being stalked by a masked Kung-Fu kicking killer and this is definitely one for eighties aficionados. We get a host of bad hair styles and cheesy catchphrases along with an all-encompassing performance from Gregory Scott Cummings (Hack-O-Lantern/Click: The Calendar Girl Killer) as a hilariously OTT bad guy. He gets into a martial-arts fight with Eric that flows like Steve Seagal in extreme slo-mo and he delivers a teeth-gnashing portrayal of silliness. There’s one ok-ish killing that involves a length of rope and an escalator, but I don’t remember a single splash of blood which was a shame. In fact, the murders seem to abruptly cut before the money shot and despite the fact that I’ve never heard of an unrated copy, it’d be interesting to find out if such a thing exists. It’s only speculation, but those jumps do look a little too forced to be genuine. Perhaps it was just bad editing.
Director Richard Friedman, who had achieved marvels with his previous slasher, seems to be on auto-pilot mode for this project. His characters are fairly well proposed, but aimless, and he shoots most scenes flatly. Whereas Doom Asylum set a tone of comedic fun, Mall seems to be lost in the confusion of its moral compass. Also, the fact that we know that it’s Eric hiding in the shadows destroys any suspense or mystery surrounding the killer’s identity and motivations. It’s hard to understand why no one in the production recognised the need for a slice of tension or intrigue, but instead, a film that took seven-years to finally shoot comes across like a rushed un-planned mess. How easy would it have been to keep Eric’s identity a secret and just have him reveal himself at the conclusion? It could’ve opened the door for a more emotional struggle from a heroine who had met a new love and was suddenly confronted with the guy that was hideously scarred whilst preventing her demise. Audiences generally bond with characters that face big decisions and that would’ve worked a lot better than the confusing dreck that we were presented with. Still, we can find consolation in the fact that it may be a shame for us viewers, but imagine how Scott Schnied must’ve felt when he watched this back. His great idea for a unique slasher was ruined by influences beyond his control. It’s a shame.
Phantom of the Mall is a disappointing movie because of all the things that it doesn’t do. There’s still a chance that someone could pick up Schnied’s original script and salvage the idea, but it is looking unlikely. If that never happens, we are left with a cheesy eighties slasher that’s entertaining in a bargain-bucket way, but it’s also a failed opportunity to make something truly exceptional.