The Initiation 1984
Directed by: Larry Stewart
Starring: Daphne Zuniga, Clu Gulager, Vera Miles
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Although it’s fantastic for avid collectors like myself that the slasher genre was so heavily populated during its two lengthy runs, it perhaps made it harder for some titles to achieve the recognition that they deserved. Whilst it’s generally acknowledged that Friday the 13th and the Halloween series were the most memorable genre outings from the overkill period of the eighties, many of their cousins from that time were deserving of further recognition.
The likes of My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, Prom Night, Maniac, The Prowler and Intruder are often mentioned as the ‘second-tier’ of the category and have achieved cult status and a legacy in their own right. Unfortunately that means movies such as Hell Night, Just Before Dawn and Madman have been somewhat unfairly overlooked.
If judged solely on its merits as a motion picture, then The Initiation doesn’t even sit amongst the latter titles that I mentioned above. It does however boast an undeniably alluring sheen, which is impossible to ignore. Sure, it’s cheesy as hell; but it nicely paced, slickly produced, atmospheric and has its share of decent moments. It’s not a view that is shared by everybody, but personally I like the movie and think it’s somewhat under-valued.
Kelly Fairchild is a pledge at her local college and as the new term draws near, she learns that she has to participate in the annual prank-filled Initiation in order to earn the respect of her senior sorority sisters. This year, the youngster and three of her friends have been tasked with stealing the uniform of the security guard that patrols the local mall after hours. Fortunately for the youngsters, the shopping centre is owned by Kelly’s father, Dwight, who is somewhat of a local entrepreneur. Unbeknownst to the group, they have picked a time when a recently escaped lunatic is also hiding in the dimly lighted complex and before long the girls are being stalked and systematically slaughtered by an unseen assassin.
There are two key reasons as to why Halloween is widely regarded as the best and the most respectable of all the early eighties genre entries. Firstly, John Carpenter is an extremely talented director and he developed a motion picture that displays a pure undertanding of horror as a genre and tone. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, his movie was made purely with the inspiration to do something different. This contrasts completely with what I believe to be the motivation behind titles like The Initiation, which was simply to cash in on the stalk and slash craze that had swept the early part of the decade. Things move swiftly in cinema and the fact that a quick profit was all that most producers were looking for from the genre meant that film-makers were never given enough time to indulge in their cinematic visions.
There’s no hiding the fact that money was the key factor behind the production of TV director Larry Stewart’s one and only flick. In fairness though, he looks to have been given the space and freedom to develop the project as he had initially intended, which means that we the audience benefit from an entry that never feels pressured.
Cinematically, The Initiation is a film of two halves and starts rather flatly with nothing to note from Stewart’s direction. It’s only when the victims are locked in the mall with the maniac killer that he gets the chance to flex his creative muscle and deliver some taut suspense and engaging set pieces. He has a ball with the spacious locations and pulls off some cat and mouse suspense during the second half of the runtime, which turns the feature into an explosive cocktail of slasher clichés and pacey scenarios.
The cast remain cheesy throughout, but do enough to allow the audience to warm to them. All eyes are on Daphne Zuniga in her first real film role (if you ignore her brief cameo as ‘the girl that gets gruesomely squished by a car’ in The Dorm that Dripped Blood), but she does precious little to separate herself from the rest of the junior hopefuls. It’s the impressive script that really steals the limelight here and very few can honestly admit that they expected the Scooby-Doo twist conclusion.
Yes, it could be argued that this is a remake (rip off?) of another successful early eighties slasher, which I can’t mention without ruining the crux of the plot. That’s hardly a bad thing however and The Initiation has just about enough in its locker to succeed on its own merit. Blood hounds may be disappointed with the lack of any extreme gore, but those looking for a fun slice of slasher hokum will certainly find enough to get their teeth into.
All in all, I liked the Initiation. It is a reminder of all that was good about early-eighties splatter flicks and unlike many of its genre cousins, it also packs a double fisted punch to your ocular senses. The acting is hilariously campy, but the good points, such as the impressively strong pacing, just about outweigh the bad.
Final Girl √√√
School Killer 2001
aka El Vigalante
Directed by: Carlos Gil
Starring: Paul Naschy, Carlos Fuentes, Zoe Berriatúa
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Spanish people, in general, are notorious for doing things slightly differently than everybody else. It’s an unwritten rule for us that we take a standard task and add our own slant on it, whether it be for the better or for the worse. That’s why I wasn’t surprised that this post Scream inclusion to the stalk and slash cycle wasn’t by any means a run-of-the-mill genre entry.
El Vigilante or School Killer – as it’s known on these shores – was released with something of a buzz during the early noughties. This was due to the fact that it included a starring role for Paul Naschy who was Spain’s very own Christopher Lee. He was a former bodybuilder that stepped into Lon Chaney Jr’s shoes to portray ‘Wolfman’ Waldemar Daninsky in a script that he had penned for Hell’s Creatures (1968). He reprised the popular role for the series of sequels and became a horror icon by playing Dracula, The Mummy and even Jack the Ripper throughout the following decades. Perhaps the purest example of a fan dedicating his life to the genre that he adored, Naschy passed away in 2009 at the age of 75, leaving behind over a hundred movies.
It’s a shame that such a charismatic actor didn’t make more slasher films. With his hulking frame and imposing presence, he was perfect bogeyman material. His participation in the obscure El Lado Oscuro (2002), the Giallo, El asesino está entre los trece (1976), and this new-age stalk and slasher are the only examples that we have of him slashing it up. The plot for School Killer seems fairly routine at first glance and involves a group of six kids heading off to a dilapidated school to spend a weekend exploring the creepy corridors. Upon arrival they notice that some lights are turning on and off by themselves and it seems that they’re far from alone. Soon after, they begin being stalked and slaughtered by the deranged groundskeeper. The strange thing is, he was supposed to have died many years ago…
I was having a chat recently with Haydn Watkins, co-author of the upcoming book Alone in the Dark: 80 years of stalk and slash. He agrees with my controversial theory that A Nightmare on Elm Street is a tad too supernatural to be a standard inclusion to the genre. If that’s the case though, how do I justify putting a film like this on a SLASH above? Well, whilst there are ghostly apparitions here and even jumps in the time/space continuum, the hulking maniac murders victims with methods more common to the standard template than Freddy’s subconscious fantasies. We get stabbings, slashings and a gruesome decapitation that allow us to be sure that this is on the right website.
Director Carlos Gil had been a successful assistant to Steven Spielberg on the original Indiana Jones trilogy. His experience is clearly evident here and he wraps the movie in a foggy blue tint of cinematography that works wonders in setting the tone of desolation. A large campus is used as the backdrop for the stalking scenarios and the darkened corridors isolate the players exceptionally. Naschy gives us a killer with a relentless brutality and although generally I prefer a strong silent antagonist, his delivery of grim dialogue does add ruthlessness to his impact. Only a couple of the main cast members are clearly developed and the rest were pretty much interchangeable, but their jesting succeeded in convincing us that they were indeed a group of close friends. There are the supernatural flourishes that we don’t usually see in these movies, but they are more of an after-effect than a key ingredient and the inclusion of trademarks like the heavy breath POV, mean this is definitely a stalk and slasher. It is an authentic one for sure, but not enough to push it outside of the category.
Whilst I certainly enjoyed School Killer and was impressed by the way it was conveyed, it shot itself in the foot somewhat with that age-old issue that plagues countless horror films. Our group of youngsters had various opportunities to escape the site and save themselves or get help, but the more that they bizarrely chose not to, the sillier the whole thing began to look. Whilst the script did try to rationalise their peculiar indecision, each explanation became more and more farcical and it had a huge effect on the credibility of the story. For example, the troupe learn early on that the tyres on their car have been slashed, which would make the average everyday Joe start sprinting until their legs buckled from exhaustion. These nitwits however decide to return back inside the complex and wait around until it’s their turn to get butchered. I am hesitant to call this lazy scripting, but it certainly should have been handled more creatively. I also felt that the film would have played better with a more suitable score, but it’s impossible to say whether this was down to a small-ish budget.
There’s a lot about School Killer that I really liked. It’s suspenseful, creepy and original, with a few Kevin Williamson-alike referential quips from the cast (Including a mention of Scream 3 funnily enough). We get a couple of hot chicas, an extremely convincing head-lopping and a downright creepy atmosphere. There’s just something that holds it back from touching on greatness, even if, it’s hard to ascertain exactly what that is. I guess that the film is best summed up by its conclusion, which is bold and ambitious but somewhat inadequately executed.
Ripper: A Letter From Hell 2001
Directed by: John Eyres
Starring: A.J. Cook, Bruce Payne, Kelly Brook
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Being that I host a SLASH above, it’s fair to say that I’ve watched my share of films that definitely weren’t the best. A few of those though included enough for me to see that certain crew members had the talent for another shot at stardom. Whether it be a smart line of dialogue or a smoothly edited set-piece, a bad film doesn’t always mean that everyone involved is part of the bad-ness. There are a million things that can go wrong during a movie shoot and sometimes a person’s true ability can be concealed through no fault of their own.
John Eyres was responsible for 1987’s woeful killer priest slasher, Goodnight Godbless, and I have to say that seeing his name here didn’t fill me with confidence. I certainly don’t recall anything from that picture that made me think that Eyres’ skill was restrained by the mediocre budget. Still, I’m one of those that believes everyone deserves a second chance and so I’ve finally got round to checking out his follow-up, Ripper: A Letter From Hell.
A girl with a slight attitude problem decides to study criminology under an eccentric professor. She doesn’t get along too well with her classmates, but they become close after a vicious maniac begins to target the group and brutally murder them one by one. They soon discover that they share their initials with the victims of Jack the Ripper and it looks like he could be back from beyond the grave…
At just under two-hours, if Ripper had been of similar quality to its elder brother Godbless, we would have been in for a tiresome exercise in visual punishment. Thankfully, during the fourteen-year gap between those two entries, Eyres has learned a lot about the art of slick direction. In fact, the film launched with such an impressive amount of panache that I was left wondering if this was really the same guy. It shows us the conclusion of a set of killings that occurred sometime earlier in a dense forest. We get flashy cuts and intense camera tricks that build neat tension, even though we don’t know yet who or what we are witnessing. After a couple more fast-paced shocks, we learn that this was a unique way of introducing Molly, our central character. It seems that she was the lone survivor of the aforementioned massacre and she’s now relocated to restart her life and enrolled in a new university.
The next few parts that develop the players (and likely suspects) who will carry us through the runtime are amongst my favourite of the picture. They contain intelligent discussions on the characteristics of serial killers and are shot with intriguing movement that delivers a subtle underscoring of energy to the talk scenes. It’s nice to see that the writers have researched their subject-matter and also they’ve included an authentic slant on one of Scream’s major gimmicks. Whilst Kevin Williamson’s screenplay name-checked the likes of Tom Cruise and Richard Gere, here we get Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo and of course Jack the Ripper. The fact that Eyres has privately investigated the Jack the Ripper case for most of his adult life made him the perfect choice for this project. It’s easy to see that he felt he had a score to settle with the slasher genre.
Whilst Godbless owed a lot to John Carpenter’s Halloween, here it seems that Eyres has followed the path taken by Jamie Blanks’ Urban Legend. There are a lot of similarities in the way both films are staged, which I mean as a genuine compliment. The kill scenes are delivered with style and they create some memorable images, like when a freshly murdered corpse pours blood on to a girl’s white dress as she dances below. Another youngster gets rammed off a cliff by a truck that brought to mind the one used in Mirage, and whilst these murders may not be overtly gory, they are powerful due to their brutality. By the time the conclusion comes around, we end up in a tree-chopping factory (?) that really needed a visit from a health & safety expert in a hi-viz jacket. If it doesnt bother the authorities that there are deadly blades that spin around 24/7, perhaps the fact that it’s left totally unguarded will. This leads to a couple of taut chase sequences and a revelation that is highly ambiguous. This was apparently down to Eyres not havin enough budget left to deliver what he had initially intended. I am guessing that might also explain why such a smart story suddenly becomes disjointed in the final ten-minutes.
The cast do a good enough job of keeping things moving without really delivering any sympathetic characters. Ripper is a film that believes in its dialogue and compelling mystery, so the focus is taken off individuals and centred more around the overall plot. We are treated to some truly beautiful actresses and kudos to Eyres for killing off the worst performers quickly. Brit glamour girl Kelly Brook is the first to go and despite her highly unconvincing pleas for mercy, she takes part in one of the greatest stalk and slash murders of the entire cycle. You should watch the film if only for that one sequence.
John Eyres’ website completely ignores Goodnight Goodbless and doesn’t even list it as one of his features. In fact, it goes as far as to say that his filmmaking career began in 1990, which is three-years after that film was released. Whilst it’s unlikely that another British ‘John Eyres’ was responsible for Godbless, the fact that he wants to erase it from his filmography speaks a thousand words. I’m not sure whether that was really necessary, but either way, he had certainly upped his game by the time Ripper went in to production. It’s a tense and engrossing entry that really does impress. In fact I’m fairly surprised that it isn’t more fondly thought of amongst genre connoisseurs.
I guess the only question we are left with is what Eyres was doing that was so important he turned down the sequel…?
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √√
Slumber Party Massacre 1982
Directed by: Amy Jones
Starring: Michelle Michaels, Robin Stille, Debra De Liso
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’ve been putting off reviewing Slumber Party Massacre for quite some time and I’m not sure exactly why. It has become a notorious example of peak period slasher movies and went on to launch a long list of tributes and rip-offs. Roger Corman, arguably THE most prolific producer of low-budget clones of box office hits ever, had taken his time to jump on-board the stalk and slash bandwagon. When he finally did though, he used his flair for understanding cinematic trends to develop a feature that would become highly successful.
The film began life as a parody of teenie-kill flicks with the added allure of being pencilled by a female-scribe. Controversy had began surrounding the genre amongst left-wing critics and feminist groups that felt the movies were riddled with misogyny and unnecessary violence. Rita Mae Brown had decided to make light of the situation and show that it wasn’t only men that could contribute to the craze. She wrote a story that poked fun at the themes that were under the spotlight called, ‘Sleepless Nights’. Once Roger Corman got hold of the screenplay, he maintained some of the humour, but shot it as an out and out slasher flick. The rest, as they say, is history.
A group of sorority sisters decide to have a celebratory slumber party whilst one of their friend’s parents are away on vacation. Little do they know that an escaped lunatic is loitering around the location. It’s left up to new transfer Valerie and her younger sister to try and prevent a bloodbath.
I hadn’t seen Slumber Party Massacre for many years and in honesty, it turned out to be much better than I had remembered. My recollections of a half-hearted rehash of the traditional clichés has been smashed by re-visiting the movie as a more-experienced viewer. It’s perhaps because the last copy that I saw was the heavily edited UK print released as The Slumber Party Murders. Watching it now, totally uncut, after all that time really changed the idea that I had in mind for a rating and I’m so glad that I’ve given it another look.
Any thoughts that director Amy Jones and author Rita Brown were looking to support criticisms of anti-feminism are destroyed by an opening that’s extremely gratuitous. In the first five minutes alone, a key character whips off her top to give us a boob shot and soon after we get mounds of T&A from a lengthy group shower scene. Jones doesn’t hang around to introduce her antagonist, but the first two victims are barely given a line of dialogue before they’re killed and the earlier parts of the story take a while to settle themselves. I expected the worst when we got to see the assailant, a pint-sized loon that looks like an average everyday Joe, almost immediately. Horror works much better when a bogeyman is left somewhat in the shadows and upon revelation, at least looks the part. Thankfully after four false-scares in a row (a record?), the girls get hungry and spice up their evening by ordering a pizza. When they are greeted upon opening the door by a corpse with his eyes plucked out, the momentum seriously begins to tighten.
What I think works best about Slumber Party Massacre is the way that Jones handles the actions of her characters. There’s a scene where two girls barricade themselves in a room to hide from the intruder downstairs. Thanks mostly to some genuine dialogue, you really can believe that this is how they would act in that situation. It’s not always a grim depiction of reality that we get though, because there’s a comedic moment when one of the youngsters prizes the pizza from the dead delivery guy’s hand. She then states that she feels much better after eating a hearty slice. Robin Stille, as the heroine, had obviously been ordered to watch Laurie Strode and base her performance on that of Jamie Leigh Curtis’. Whilst she doesn’t hit the same levels of scream queen perfection, she creates a sympathetic lead that we grow to bond with.
Much like Prom Night before it, Slumber Party does borrow heavily from Carpenter’s Halloween. There are many parts here that are weaker imitations of sequences from that film, but because they’re sharply delivered, we don’t really bother to pick on them as much. Jones pulls off a number of effective shocks and scares, with one set-piece that sees two males run out of the house to search for help, proving to be impressively tense. This leads to a bloody stabbing that’s inter-cut with a scene from Corman’s Hollywood Boulevard and it’s stylishly edited together. Due to the murder of some sympathetic personalities, we are never totally sure who will survive the assassin’s drill. The conclusion wraps it all up neatly and for a film that was supposed to be riddled with humour, it’s actually quite downbeat.
As I have alluded to, Slumber Party Massacre does fall foul of not improving upon ingredients that we’ve seen done better elsewhere. Also, I do still believe that it was lucky to receive the adulation and amount of imitations that it has acquired since its release. I’ve been captured by some of its charms though and it is one of the better peak entries. It’s funny that we live in a world that is light years away in terms of technology from the early eighties. One thing that definitely hasn’t improved is the production of slasher movies. They don’t make them like this anymore no matter how hard they try.
Final Girl √√√
Blood Sisters 1987
Directed by: Roberta Findlay
Starring: Amy Brentano, Shannon McMahon, Dan Eriksen
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’ve obviously never met her, but I’d imagine Roberta Findlay to be the kind of woman that would come along to watch a match and then join you at the bar to get smashed on Jägerbombs after. The type of cool chick that a guy can hang out with and tell her everything as if she were one of the lads. I think this because Exploitation films from the seventies were almost always male-dominated productions. With some help from her hubby (fellow director Michael) though, Roberta often managed to totally out-sleaze the competition and her filmography makes for interesting reading. She took softcore porn to the boundaries of hardcore territory with The Alter of Lust in 1971. Then three-years later she created controversy (and profit) by the bucketload with a fake pretending to be real Snuff movie that was imaginatively titled, Snuff. It had began life as a proto-slasher (many of her and Michael’s movies were), but producer Alan Shackleton tipped off the Police and spread word that the murders committed in the footage were in fact real. This brought audiences flocking and it has become something of a Grindhouse classic since.
The birth of the slasher genre offered former-exploitation directors an opportunity to return to the frontline. Successful titles like Halloween and Friday the 13th were not a million miles away from the style of film that they had been churning out over a decade earlier, which made it an even more logical step. It took Roberta Findlay until 1987, but she finally released Blood Sisters and I couldn’t help but be excited by the possibilities. What kind of slasher movie would a person responsible for everything from hardcore porn to sadomasochistic thrillers bring to the table?
The set-up is as traditional as they come. A group of sorority pledges have to spend the night in an old dilapidated mansion to become fully fledged members. Little do they know that the site was once a knocking shop that is reportedly haunted after a gruesome murder thirteen-years earlier. Unfortunately for the girls, it seems that a psychopathic intruder dressed in the clothing of the deceased prostitute has come along to spoil the party.
In fairness to Findlay, she had proven in films such as The Clamdigger’s Daughter that underneath all the sexploitation, she was more than capable of handling drama and extracting good performances from a cast. Whilst Blood Sisters is not amongst the best of her work, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I enjoyed watching it. Running a SLASH above means that I have to sit through tonnes of modern slashers when sometimes all I really want is a dose of cheesy eighties trash. Thankfully, it’d be hard to get more trashy than this one. Much like the fat kid at school that wears broken spectacles and gets picked last for the soccer team, this has become something of an easy target to be mocked. I had a browse online to see what other people were saying about it and the general consensus is that it offers very little to be appreciated. Whilst I agree that there’s not much here in terms of credible filmmaking, I have to admit that Sisters deserves a little more love from slasher buffs than it currently receives.
There’s nothing more hilarious than seeing someone try their hardest to achieve a feat, whilst it falls down all around them. TV shows like You’ve Been Framed or Funniest Home Videos have made a fortune out of broadcasting such scenarios for audience pleasure. There’s a good example of this during Sisters in an early character definition scene. It’s set at a party and Findlay packs every shot with extras bustling past the lens in a bid to bring the environment to life. The problem is that they act in such a cheesy manner that it ends up looking extremely comedic. This is applicable especially to the sultry Diana, who after admitting that she has three dates lined up for the evening, boogies on down whilst a trio of jocks leer over her and try their hardest to dance at the same speed as the person closest to them.
When we do finally reach the fabled ‘haunted whorehouse of horror’, the tone does become somewhat darker. All of the girls are sent on a scavenger hunt, which means they split into pairs and head off to secluded corners of the spacious building. Whilst it does take maybe ten-minutes too long for the maniac to finally get to work (an hour in fact), Findlay does a sterling job of keeping things interesting in the meantime. Our characters are possessed briefly by the ghosts of former prostitutes that worked there, which is peculiar because we only saw one of them murdered in the beginning(?). Despite that, some of these sequences are strangely effective, especially an erotic scene that’s seen through a reflection. It’s hinted that mirrors are doorways of sort to the afterlife; an interesting concept that’s never really taken anywhere further.
Without a doubt the reason that Sisters is not thought of more highly is because after such a long build up, the bogeyman finally arrives and rushes through a bunch of diluted killings without any suspense. If Findlay had taken the approach of say, Pieces for example, we’d be looking at this with a similar level of adulation. Instead we have a film that has the cheese, hilarious dialogue and acting, but excludes the gore and grittiness. A director with such an extensive experience of Grindhouse pictures should have known better than most what ingredients were necessary. When it comes to the horror parts though, she flies through them with minimal application. I had trouble picking my choice of final girl to do battle with the lunatic, but there’s a reason why I found it so hard, which I won’t spoil for you.
To give you a better idea, Blood Sisters is extremely similar to the previous year’s Girls School Screamers. In fact I could go you one better by saying that it was almost completely reproduced by Jim Wynorski in 1991 and titled Sorority House Massacre Part II. If Findlay had gone with what I guess would be her natural instinct and been more exploitive with the death scenes, we’d be looking at a trash slasher classic. In the end though, a few softcore embraces and bemusing characters don’t do enough to salvage it. I liked the fact that it was such a clear postcard of eighties fashion and goofiness and simply for that reason, if very little else, it does deserve to be seen.
Killer Guise: √√
Left For Dead 2007
aka Devil’s Night
Directed by: Christopher Harrison
Starring: Steve Byers, Danielle Harris, Shawn Roberts
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Halloween has become far more significant than just a reason to dress up for slasher enthusiasts. After the success and legacy of the seminal film of that title, it will always be known to us as ‘The night he came home’. I first saw Carpenter’s classic on the 31st of October 1987 and I launched a SLASH above around the same date in 2011, which makes this the site’s third year on the net. Happy Birthday and all that.
As it is such a momentous day, I generally try to find a suitable slasher film to mark the occasion and this year I’ve chosen Left for Dead. Despite decent funding and a cast including scream queen Danielle Harris, Christopher Harrison’s entry has become surprisingly obscure. Not many of the leading slasher sites have bothered with it and it is hard to find a copy to buy online. It was produced with a large amount of PR and I remember reading an exciting preview in Fangoria back in 2007 before everything went quiet. It snuck out direct to Canadian TV some two-years later with much less media coverage and didn’t hit disc format right up until 2012. It’s never a good sign when that happens, so I wasn’t expecting too much.
After an unfortunate event in an early scene, which leaves a kid dead, a group of youngsters promise to keep it a secret and they get on with their lives. The next Halloween, they decide to have a fancy dress party, but it becomes apparent that someone is watching their every move…
To be fair, there are quite a few things that Left for Dead gets right. For example, the killer turns up almost immediately and once he’s on screen, there’s never a huge gap between one murder and the next. Harrison as a director is all about visuals and the majority of the first half of the movie is filled with girls with ample cleavages, cheesy fancy dress costumes and bright colours. He also tries to get the best out of his (admittedly below average) cast, especially when they’re speaking one on one. There’s a good example of this in an early scene where Danielle Harris and her boyfriend, played by Steve Byers, converse. Whilst it’s impossible to say how much of this was down to the creativity of the actors, the scene is nicely set-up and convincingly portrayed. Little things like this are important to see in a feature film and even if you don’t notice them initially, subconsciously you will.
Another thing worth mentioning is that there’s no doubt that Harrison is a fan of the slasher genre and eagle-eyed viewers will notice many tributes to titles like Maniac (the shotgun through windscreen murder), Fatal Games (victim on crutches), Friday the 13th Part II (spear through lovemaking couple) and Halloween. Oh yes, he’s a fan of Halloween alright; so much so in fact that he duplicated entire sequences… And the score. I don’t have a problem with this though, because it is fun playing the recognition game and makes you feel all wise and knowledgeable on the genre. The only issue though is that it seems that the director was more interested in showing us his inspirations than concentrating on making a credible entry that future pictures could reference themselves.
I have complained previously about overlong character development, but Left for Dead doesn’t seem to have much at all. Most of the time I couldn’t recognise one person from the next and once we had defined the main players, we really didn’t get any backdrop on the others. Not only did this mean that we couldn’t care less about what happened to them, but it had a devastating effect on the mystery. When the culprit is finally revealed, it was like, who was that again? Did I miss something? Erm… Ok…
Still there’s a fair few murders and despite a disappointing lack of gore or suspense, it’s worth watching for the most part. A missed opportunity to be sure, but it’s at least worth a look.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √
The Pool 2000
Directed by: Boris Von Sychowski
Starring: Kristen Miller, Isla Fischer, Paul Grasshoff
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
After watching and thoroughly enjoying Anatomy a couple of weeks back, I thought that I’d check out another of Germany’s post-Scream additions to the slasher genre. The Pool didn’t make as big a splash as Stefan Ruzowitzky’s entry when it hit shelves, but it did tick a box that I’d dreamed of since I was a youngster.
You see, I remember visiting a Swimming complex in London when I was growing up called Fantaseas. It was a huge water park that had American-style flumes, countless wave-based gimmicks and a mixed-sex changing room, which was enough motivation for a youngster like me to hope to pick up some chicas. It was only open for a short while until a few serious accidents caused its sudden closure. One of those was a gruesome fatality that launched a tirade of bad press and the rumour that the site was haunted. With this in mind, a group of friends and I climbed through an air vent one night to see if we could discover any paranormal activity. Whilst we didn’t come across any ghosts or sentient beings, the sight of the dilapidated complex in spooky solitude is an image that’s stayed with me to this day.
I always felt that if I were to make a horror film, I would chose a similar backdrop to that which had effected me so much back then, but Boris von Sychowski beat me to it. I just hoped that he would make the most of what there was to offer.
A group of youngsters decide to celebrate their graduation by throwing a party inside a swimming complex. Little do they know that one of their number is looking to slash rather than splash…
Even though Pool was a German production, the cast is made up of various nationalities and a lot of the exteriors were filmed in one of my favourite cities, Prague. The mix of actors does create an interesting blend of accents, but unlike the aforementioned Anatomy, the crew decided to utilise English as the main language to make the movie easier to market globally. There are some faces that you may have seen in other pictures since this hit shelves, but the most recognisable is a young Isla Fischer who has carved out a steady career in cinema since.
Back in the early noughties, slasher films were still making a tidy profit and it’s visible that The Pool is extremely well financed to capitalise on that. Von Sychowski directs with a vibrant panache and plans every shot extremely well. He chooses a blue-ish tinge to shoot the action and it complements the film’s aquatic nature. I was hoping to see the water park backdrop utilised as much as possible and some memorable set pieces are created because they do just that. We get a kill scene that has become notorious and it sees a young bunny get sliced in half after sliding down a flume on to a strategically placed blade. It brought back memories of all those urban legends about razors in watershoots and its one that’ll make female viewers flinch. An impressive number of partying teenagers are dispatched via the killer’s signature machete, but perhaps because the producers were hoping not to suffer censorship issues, there’s very little gore on display.
There was another sequence that I thought was credible, which saw a group of teenagers stalked inside an air vent. It worked well due to the obvious claustrophobia and the fact that the victims had no real method of defence. What it lacked though, and it’s something that I felt really let the movie down, was the right amount of suspense. Make no mistake about it; The Pool is a fine advertisement for the slasher genre. It’s got some hilarious dialogue, a decent soundtrack, beautiful cast members and it knows how to have some fun. The only thing that was really missing was the slice of tension that can turn a good film into a great one and it had an effect on my idea of a rating. I don’t recall many moments when I felt that I didn’t know what was coming next and because there were no shocks or genuine scares, it made things feel somewhat diluted. Chuck on top of that a poorly handled mystery and a pointless subplot with a detective that looks like Roy Cropper and the film loses a chunk of its polish.
The Pool tries its darndest to follow the Scream methodology, (the opening sequence is almost identical) and I guess that it succeeds, because if you really like Craven’s picture, you’ll most definitely enjoy this. It’s a slick slasher movie that ticks the right boxes, but the only disappointment is that it doesn’t go for the jugular.Funnily enough one character even says, I know what you did last summer just to prove the Williamson inspiration
Looking at the fate that befell Cherry Falls when it was cut to smithereens, it’s easy to see why The Pool played it safe and didn’t go all out for the gore-filled approach. Unfortunately it left a movie that has all the gloss, but not enough grit. Me, well I prefer them gritty…
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Starring: Franka Potente, Benno Fürmann, Anna Loos
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Like most slasher fans of the thirty+ age bracket, I much prefer the eighties genre boom to the one that followed hot on the heels of Scream. There’s a type of veteran feeling attached to knowing that you were collecting big-box VHS during the glory years and even if Craven’s classic is nearly twenty-years old, it’s not quite retro yet.
Taking the sentimentality out of the equation though, there’s a strong case to say that the second peak was more beneficial for the category. Firstly, we received three times as many entries from 1996 to the current date than we did back then, and secondly, a lot more countries contributed to the rebirth. Anatomy was an early addition to be produced by Germany and its huge box office return opened the door for more European states to jump on the bandwagon. In the years that followed, we would see Cold Fear, School Killer and Haute Tension bring flair to the template and continue the category’s progression.
Young anatomy student Paula (Franka Potente) is one of the best young medics in her country. When she is offered a place on a course in Heidelberg taught by a famous professor she is clearly over the moon. However, her suspicions are aroused when one by one her fellow students go missing and the body of a young man she met only days earlier turns up on the dissecting table – dead. So is she just paranoid or is there something far more sinister behind the strange disappearances?
I watched Anatomy with my Mrs and after it had finished, she said, “That’s not a slasher film, it’s a thriller”. Now usually, I counter such claims from her with a knowing nod, as if to say, ‘let me be the critic, you’re just along for the ride’. In this instance (and in this one only), I must begrudgingly admit that she may have a point. You see, Anatomy does spend more time developing its mystery than it does underlining the clichés. Victims are kidnapped by a gloved assailant, but there’s no masked killer and very few of the references that Kevin Williamson’s screenplay underlined so confidently
The fact that we do have a scalpel clenching psychopath, a typical final girl and ingredients such as the ‘have sex and die’ rule mean that I’m not unsure about the film’s status upon this site. So with that cleared up, I’m free to tell you that what we have here is a superb addition to the cycle. There are some fine acting skills on display, especially from Benno Furmann who has gone on to become a great talent in his home country. Franka Potente gives us a smart and charming heroine that reminded me of Laurie Strode far more than many that I have seen of late. Director Stefan Ruzowitzky manages to pile on the suspense in a number of scenes. One of the most outstanding is when the butcher attempts to hide a freshly murdered corpse that he viciously slashed only moments earlier. He hears the cleaners coming down the corridor, so he blocks the door to the Morgue with a surgical trolley. Of course, the staff can’t understand why it’s been suddenly locked, so they call their superiors to assist with getting it open. The psycho has to race against the clock to put the body into the refrigerator and hide before he gets caught red handed. It’s real nail biting stuff and the tension doesn’t end there. We get a brutal chase sequence towards the end, which is reminiscent of Halloween II. The scalpel-wielding killer and he’s loyal accomplice stalk our likeable final girl through the basement of the University and create a harrowing atmosphere that is rarely seen to such a great effect in today’s horror movies.
As I’ve highlighted, this is pure whodunit for the most part and there are suspicious suspects everywhere to put you off of the real assassin’s identity. Take the somewhat unfriendly looking dissector who hangs around the students clenching a saw and asking if they’re ready for him to `…open the skull’. Ruzowitzky adds the odd touch of comedy to brighten things up in-between the kill scenes. In one bit Paula is talking on the phone to her friend who is an overweight middle-aged male. Out of the corner of her eye she catches her fancy man Caspar waiting for her. In an attempt to make him jealous, she states to to the male `…on your firm buttocks’ to which he mops his brow and wonders what the hell she’s going on about. It’s comedy gold.
After the victims have been injected with an anaesthetic and kidnapped by the madman, they wake up on a dissecting table with an uplifting piece of music playing while they’re being gutted. The merciless surgeons completely ignore their cries for help, which makes them seem all the more sadistic. I’ll tell you something else too, after watching this I’m going to do my best to keep out of medical centres for the foreseeable future. It successfully made me contemplate what sort of mind is on the other end of that sharp looking surgical saw.
In Anna Loos, the film has an amazing slice of eye-candy, and she flaunts her voluptuous figure in a wonderful seduction scene. The script succeeds in giving her and all the other background characters a unique personality and you do find that you what them to survive. The assailant’s identity is revealed quite early in the runtime, but there’s still some revelations before the final credits roll and the film’s unique structure is one of the biggest pluses.
Anatomy is a slickly directed, stylish horror film with brilliant dialogue and personalities that we care about. Make sure that you get the subtitled copy though as I’ve heard that it was weakly dubbed for global distribution. Still, I’m extremely pleased that I watched it again and I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it too.
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl √√√√
Sorority House Massacre Part 2 1990
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Starring: Robyn Harris, Melissa Moore, Stacia Zhivago
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This viewing experience was a bit like one of those moments in cheesy films when a character gets a warning like, ‘Don’t go in the basement‘, and then does it anyway. I’d seen the 3.6 rating on the IMDB, I had read the awful reviews posted in the slasher stratosphere and therefore wasn’t feeling motivated to insert this particular cassette into my aging VCR. It had been sitting on my shelf looking cold, lonely and rejected for over fifteen years. Let’s be frank, by 1990, the chance of finding a good low-budget slasher film amongst the rubble was like walking over to the most beautiful girl in the disco after 13 jägerbombs and convincing her to let you take her for a spin in your jalopy. My fiancé however is not as knowledgeable on crap horror films as me and she saw something in the desolate cover that convinced her that we were in for a good time.
Five sorority babes decide to renovate an old house so that they can study and party, but they are unaware that it was the location of a notorious massacre from five years earlier. As darkness falls, the girls are stalked and slaughtered by a hooded and hook-clenching nutjob. Can any of them escape alive?
Well you can’t make all of the people happy all the time. Mullholland Drive is amongst the highest rated films on the IMDB and one of my all-time favourites, but my friend Andy – whom I rate as a good film critic – can’t stand it. He feels it’s poorly paced and too complex. I tell you this because I had a great time with Sorority House Massacre Part Deux and was left somewhat confused by the scathing criticism that it’d received elsewhere.
Now maybe it was the four cans of lager that I’d ingested earlier in the day. Or maybe my brain had taken a temporary break from logical thinking. I’m not sure exactly why, but either way, I found that there was much here to appreciate. I mean, technically we certainly won’t be singing from any rooftops about what’s on display and bra size looked to be much higher on the list of essential casting attributes than acting talent. Once the slashing starts after a slightly lengthy chunk of padding though, the movie builds a solid momentum.
Rumour has it that back in 1989, Jim Wynorski couldn’t get in contact with Roger Corman, so ran the idea for this feature past his wife who gave him the go ahead to shoot in her husband’s absence. The director was only afforded an extremely short production timespan (seven days) and a Happy Meal budget, but managed to knock this together with all that he had. When Mr Corman finally got round to seeing the completed print, he liked it so much that he spliced in some footage from his previous slasher hit, Slumber Party Massacre and gave the go ahead to make it a sequel of sorts to another of his entries, Sorority House Massacre. There’s no doubt that the rationale for doing so was because he felt that it would be much easier to market this as a sequel than as an unknown stand alone. The fact that this story has absolutely nothing to do with either SPM or SHM though, does add an unnecessary amount of WTF??? I wasn’t the biggest fan of Carol Frank’s original Sorority House Massacre, because much like Offerings, I felt that she had taken the level of Halloween pilfering to a point that bordered on duplication. Thankfully, this ‘title only’ follow up adds enough pizazz to bring some credibility to the series.
It works because Wynorski knows his and his budget’s limits. Previous pictures that he had given us were never renowned for their levels of suspense or intrigue, so he played to his strengths and packed the movie with cheese and an exploitation overload. His female characters are buxom and spend the majority of the runtime in tight fitting lingerie. I am not sure what the record for boob shots in a stalk and slasher is, but I am pretty sure that SHM Part 2 is not far off that number. Our final girl is played by Robyn Harris, a British former page 3 model, whose accent leaps from Yorkshire to phony-American two to three times in one sentence. She overcomes this and the fact that she can’t act with her heart stopping beauty. Her thick wavy locks, voluptuous figure and angelic face, reminded me of Traci Lords during her adult-movie years, which is no mean feat. What better way could a screenwriter make you want someone to survive? Don’t worry about character background, just make sure that they’re undeniably hot…
There’s a mystery that is easy enough to solve but keeps things moving and an undercurrent of humour that is never overdone. When we finally get to the scenes that show the girls fighting to survive against the hooded menace, they are competently handled and mix tension and excitement to good effect. Movies like this usually work much better with large dollops of gore and the fact that most of the killings here are off-screen is probably the biggest gripe that I had. It doesn’t ruin the feature by any means, but I couldn’t help but wonder what we might have been treated to if Roger Corman had picked up that first phone call and passed a couple of hundred extra dollars Wynorski’s way. As I said previously, this shares very little with the original Sorority House Massacre and instead feels like a combination of Slumber Party Massacre and Killer Party. Its not going to be the one that makes you leave the light on at night, but it’s fun all the same.
So we really enjoyed watching Wynorski’s first sorority slasher and I’ll have to revisit Hard to Die when I get the chance. Robyn Harris is truly a delectable scream queen and the she alone makes this worth a look. Thankfully, there’s a lot more than just a hot chica and I thoroughly recommend that you track this down
Final Girl: √√√√
Rosemary’s Killer 1981
aka The Prowler aka The Graduation
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Starring: Vicky Dawson, Farley Granger, Laurence Tierney
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So here we have it, my favourite ever slasher movie. (I don’t include Halloween in that, because well – that’s everyone’s favourite). I found out about Rosemary’s Killer when I was at school and by the strangest possible means. My buddies and I used to have a sly cigarette in an old shed in the woods nearby to where I lived. We would always find ripped magazine pages covering the floor and as devious thirteen-year-olds, we would hope to uncover something interesting amongst the mess. Anyway, one night I went there alone and as if by fate, lying in the corner was a horror fanzine in pretty good condition. I was already a huge fan of the genre and so I scurried home to study the pages in the comfort of my bedroom. There in loving colour, my eyes first met with the iconic image from one of the finest killings of the category; – ‘The swimming pool murder’. You can see it in the picture to your right and it is also the background of a SLASH above. I immediately began a hunt for a copy on VHS, which much like my search for Graduation Day, would continue for much longer than I’d hoped.
Now without eBay and Amazon, my method for tracking down slashers was restricted to car boot sales around the London area. I found lots of titles during my travels, including Night Screams, Nightmare (Dutch uncut copy!) Ghostkeeper, Stormbringer,One by One, The Demon, Fatal Games and Psycho Puppet. However the one that I REALLY wanted remained elusive. It started to become an obsession, but after months of trying, I finally came to the disappointing conclusion that I would probably never see the darn thing. Then through a twist of fate, I found a video-search agency that came to my aid with an almost pristine copy. The price of £30 was daylight robbery, but for me it was mission accomplished and I probably would have paid £50
Avalon Bay is getting set for the first annual dance since a young couple were viciously murdered 35 years earlier. The youngsters of the community are eagerly anticipating the event and spend the day preparing and decorating the town hall. The junior Deputy is alone for the first time as the Sheriff has gone on his annual fishing trip and stress levels are raised when it’s revealed that a wanted criminal that slashed two young females could be heading to the area. As darkness descends, it becomes apparent that there’s a maniac dressed in World War 2 army fatigues stalking the Bay. Can the Deputy muster the courage to stop him?
Rosemary’s Killer is not only one of the best examples of stalk and slash cinema from the golden era, but it’s also one of the most underrated. The movie ticks every box in terms of the relevant trappings and instead of just ticking them, in a few places it completely surpasses them. I like the World War II gimmick and I think that the killer’s disguise is an absolutely brilliant touch. His calling card of leaving a rose by his victims is creepily effective and there’s a great moment towards the climax where he offers it, almost romantically, to the final girl before attempting to ram a pitch folk through her! In 2007, a low budget entry by the name of Rose of Death attempted to utilise the same idea, but failed to add the slash with panache necessary to pay tribute to this sterling effort.
It’s Zito’s pacey direction that sustains an awesome amount of suspense during the first half, which works, because even when not much happens, we are kept fully aware that something could at any moment. Other parts of the film equally excel in their technicality with some beautiful photography and a focused score. I especially liked the staircase stalking sequence, which in true popcorn fashion, keeps everything tight by having the intended victim make all the wrong decisions.
Vicky Dawson makes for a classy final girl and she works well in partnership with Christopher Goutman. For relatively inexperienced performers, they carry the picture comfortably and they deliver only one or two weak moments. I thought Dawson was unfortunate not to have built a longer career in cinema, because much like Amy Steel in Friday the 13th 2, she offers a sweet and alluring naivety, but shows brave independence when left alone to face the prowler. Before the final credits rolled, my wife who was watching with me said, “tough girl” – my sentiments exactly. Farley Granger added class to the cast list, but it’s been confirmed that he had a horrible time on set and suffered some uncomfortable sweating during the make-up effects. Laurence Tierney’s on-board too, although I have no idea why, his character is barely used to much effect and was probably a waste of budget.
Tom Savini’s effects once again steal the show and there’s no denying that Killer is amongst the best of his work. We feel at times that what we are watching is almost too realistic and the swimming pool killing even includes an aftermath shot that’s uncomfortable in its authenticity. It happens as the victim’s lifeless body sinks to the tiles below and her legs begin to twitch as her nervous system comes to terms with the fact that the lights are going out for the last time. The best part of the sequence was actually a mistake from Savini, because at the same time as the gallons of blood seep from her wound, some bubbles also appear under the water (from the pipe pumping the goo). Instead of re-shooting, the effects master recommended that Zito utilise the footage as is, because the bubbles look as if they were the last gasps of the dying teenager’s breath.
It’s been noted that the plot structure is similar to the same year’s My Bloody Valentine and the two would work superbly on a double-bill. Strangely enough, what one title lacks the other boasts in abundance and if you were to mix the two together you would have the perfect slasher film. Whilst MBV also has some great kill scenes (equally as gratuitous) and a good-fun factor that adds momentum to the plot, it lacks any decent suspense. Rosemary’s Killer on the other hand is nail-bitingly tense in places, but has some serious problems with its pace.
Now I picked my favourite slasher film when I was about fourteen years old and much like my love for the Arsenal (the closest team to where I lived), I must admit that it was a ‘teenager’s decision’. Adults have the ability to analyse; step back and view the bigger picture before making a choice. Young minds do everything spontaneously and I didn’t notice the faults back then in Rosemary’s Killer that I see now. As I said, it starts superbly and comes across almost like an anxiety marathon. My Mrs and I were watching it together in silence, knowing full well that there would be a shock at any moment (And I have seen this flick a lot of times). Then after about thirty minutes the rapidity dries up and the film can’t maintain the same thrust.
It’s not necessarily the fault of Joseph Zito, but the script wastes too much time building the mystery in locations that are drab and overtly dark. Some parts could have been much shorter or removed completely during post production to make the film slicker. I especially thought that the length of time used when the Deputy was contacting the Sheriff was ridiculous and ultimately ended up being a pointless diversion.
Despite those issues, this is still one of the best entries of the golden period. It does drag a bit in the development of the plot, but the excellent kill scenes and two fantastic leads more than make up for it. Joseph Zito was widely tipped to be a future horror maestro after his work on this and Friday the 13th The Final Chapter (one of the better sequels of the series). When horror began to lose its way towards the second half of the decade, he moved over to action-orientated flicks, which didn’t give him the same chances and his career unfortunately faded.
I would say that Rosemary’s Killer, even under its superb two alias titles, is a perfect example of a solid horror director’s work. It’s also a time-capsule from the best year of the slasher genre thus far. I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember but still not once too many. Enjoy…
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√√√√