Los Inocentes 2013
aka Bloody April Fools
Directed by: 12 Directors
Starring: Charlotte Vega, Bárbara Mestanza, Mario Marzo
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Ok, I have to be honest; I just couldn’t live with it. You see, despite my respect and gratefulness to the country I live in (UK), I’m a patriotic Spaniard and I’m one that sees beauty in all things de España. Well, except maybe bull fighting. Oh and Magaluf. Anyway, I’m proud to state that I was the first slasher critic to give Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche a reputable ranking and here you’ll find an equally complementary review of José Larraz’s, Al Filo Del Hacha. I defended Jesus Franco’s cheese-tastic video nasty, La Sierra de la Muerte, and didn’t wince once during the corny closing of Los Ojos de Julia. So with this in mind, how could I live with the knowledge that the most recent Spanish slasher film to be reviewed on a SLASH above was the awful Altrapados en el Miedo. Since watching it, I’ve felt depressed, panicked, I’ve suffered insomnia, began drinking and smokin… Ok, I’m exaggerating, but still, something needed to be done.
I had to quickly find a film that could regain my home country some credibility, but with my copy of El Arte de Morir miles away in Spain, I was somewhat struggling. Then I remembered that I hadn’t yet got round to watching a DVD that I picked up a year back, called Los Inocentes. I came across it in a small shop in Aracena, purchased it and then totally forgot that I’d done so. Last Wednesday, I was tidying up my room and there it was staring at me, almost as if to subtlety say, “llevarme, verme, yo te ayudo… yo te salvo!!” – Could I have found the cure to drag me from the gutters of despair..?
A gang of kids get lost on the way to a party and so decide to spend the night in an abandoned school. It was the site of a gruesome accident a few years earlier, where a student was killed during a practical joke. Now someone haunts the corridors and the joke is most definitely on the partying teenagers…
It seems that when I watch slasher movies, I go through phases. I’m sure that as readers, you notice that I’ll post one or two ‘one star’ movies in a row and then a couple of much better ones. I don’t do this deliberately, it’s a coincidence, but I’m back on a roll, because Los Inocentes sits comfortably with Kill Game as one of the best modern slashers that I’ve recently seen. Much like a bottle of Sangria, it doesn’t blur the lines of what it has been produced to achieve. It’s a straight up slasher movie for fans of the genre and ticks and underlines the things that we expect and most importantly WANT it to do.
I guess that you could call it a mix between the stories of both Slaughter High and Friday the 13th, but it’s refreshing how the script never feels the urge to over-elaborate the homages. In a pre-launch interview, the crew openly admitted that they were referencing the peak period, but it’s a natural vibe that doesn’t overpower. We get a more typical final girl, ‘the have sex and die’ rule, heavy breath POVs and even a romantic sub-plot that is intelligently conveyed. Perhaps because the main characters are given emotive scenarios, we want them to prevail and I was extremely surprised by a couple of the deaths. Los Inocentes is a merciless movie at times and this tone is set from lift off, when the old ‘prank that went wrong’ chestnut is delivered with a starker more graphic flair than usual. In fact, this is quite a gory little movie that is filled with creative deaths of the like I’ve never seen previously. My favourites were the bee attack and a bizarre one with a girl’s brain, which is gooey, erotic and somewhat artistic in its delivery. The screenplay attempts to inject pitch black humour on occasion, including a genius play on words with the Spanish slang for a lighter; – ‘fuego’ (fire). In honesty though I preferred the moments when the atmosphere was more macabre.
The idea stemmed from a collaboration of twelve writers/directors that had met and studied at the notorious ESCAC School of cinema. Whilst some would question the concept of so many varying ideas on a production, one member of the crew, Laura García, said that she found it extremely natural and that she wanted the film to act as proof that ‘being a team’ really works. What we’re left with is an entry that strives to provide some deftly shot set pieces. The lighting is exceptional in places and the filmmakers do their best to bring the large dilapidated hi-school backdrop to life. We also get a nod to the recent ‘found footage’ trend where the action is shown through iPhone cameras, which leads to a pulsating escape sequence as the survivors hotfoot it through the woodland. There’s no killer guise for the antagonist and he isn’t even given a physical presence until the climax, but we do get a ‘killer calling card’; – a kind of ‘ginger bread man’ that’s left upon the corpses of victims. Writer Lluís Segura describes his vision of the classic slasher structure as starting out with 10 or so characters and killing them off throughout without knowing who’s doing it or the reasons why. You can see that they stayed true to this formula.
At times the film pushes the boundaries of reality and begins to feel a bit fairytale-ish. It’s not supernatural in any way, but some of the murderous set-ups defy logic, which seemed out of place with a concept that was so traditional. I was also disappointed with the performance of the actor that played the killer. In general, the acting was solid, but the best villains are restrained and not over-played. It looked like the person given this role (I won’t reveal so as not to ruin the mystery) knew what to do, but somehow didn’t really convince. Still, we get some truly beautiful women and a cute lead in Charlotte Vega – a girl that was born in Spain from English parents – who I predict that we’ll see more from.
Los Inocentes is pretty much a Slaughter High remake (El día de los Inocentes is like April Fool’s Day in Spain), but it is far more gritty and ruthless. There are a bunch of smart twists and gimmicks that bring the film to life, with the only real weakness being the killer’s revelation, which lacks the explosion of the source code that it was borrowed from. All is thankfully salvaged by a downbeat ending that we’ve seen before (even in a great eighties Spanish slasher), but was still a surprise. The DVD that I own comes with English subtitles so you should definitely check it out. I’m excited about the sequel that may already be on the cards…
Atrapados En El Miedo 1983
Directed by: Carlos Aured
Starring: Adriana Vega, Sara Mora, José Luis Alexandre
Review by Luis Joaquín González
My recent love-in with Mexican slashers (Muerte, Bosque, Masacre) made me feel the need to dig out the last few of my own country’s entries. I wanted to confirm to myself and y’all that Spain could compete with other nations that speak our wonderful language and prove that we are indeed the Hispanic kings of the slasher category. After seeing Atrapados en el Miedo, I wish I hadn’t bothered…
This one comes from Carlos Aured, who had made a name for himself with his cult pictures of the seventies. His career began as an assistant for Leon Klimovsky and he soon progressed to the director’s chair to unleash some solid horror features, such as: El Espanto Surge de la Tumba and Los Ojos Azules de la Muñeca. Like many exploitation gurus that had achieved a modicum of prior success, the slasher boom of the early eighties gave Aured the desire to grab a slice of the cash pie that the filmmaking world had been scoffing. Atrapados would be his very own addition to the cycle and it was, in effect, his last movie. What a way to signal your departure from cinema.
Four youngsters head off to a secluded house in some woodland to spend a romantic weekend away from the rat race of Madrid. Little do they know that an escaped lunatic is also hanging around the site and he has murderous intentions for the foursome…
It’s only early December and already the Christmas parties have begun. There are few things worse than going to work after a night of heavy drinking. Your brain is a mangled mess of alcohol, cheap aftershave and cigarrillos and whilst you may be at your desk in body, you’re certainly not there in either awareness or spirit. The clock drags by like a one-legged tortoise on tranquillisers and a trip to the server room for a sly power-nap is an absurdity that seems more and more attractive. I look at Atrapados en el Miedo and I can only presume that Carlos Aured, for all his previous experience, was drinking a bit too much during the production. Either that or he’d gone insane. Actually, this was his last picture, so maybe I’m on to something there…
So where do we start? Well, with the ‘original’ aspect of a unidentified stranger breaking out of an asylum. This is demonstrated to us on-screen by a guy jumping over a wall that has a sign that says ‘mental hospital’ on it. Do we actually get to see this Mental Hospital? No. Did the crew in reality just stick a sign on the brick wall at the bottom of the producer’s back garden? Quite possibly. So with no idea who he is, what his motivations are or why he escaped, we are meant to be scared of this normal looking bloke with a curly mullet. Perhaps he was just at the asylum visiting his grandma? Maybe he was actually the groundskeeper? I mean, he was wearing a green woolly jumper. Ah, no, no; that can’t be the case. He breathes like an asthmatic after smoking twenty whole packs of Marlborough Reds. If you know your slashers dear reader, you’ll know that during the eighties, only Darth Vader and stalk and slash psychos did that; – and this sure as hell ain’t no Star Wars film.
Next up we see two Spanish chicas walking through a park. I have to give credit to Carlos Aured, because one of them, Monica, was honestly one of the most beautiful women that I have ever seen. (Except for my Mrs of course – you know, in case she’s reading). In fact, whilst watching, my partner said to me, “Do you think that girl’s pretty?” I replied, “What girl? Oh that was a woman on screen? Sorry I didn’t notice.” 😉 Anyway, Monica’s friend, who’s also at the high end of the ‘eye candy’ scale, attempts to steal a kiss in the most unconvincing lesbian clinch ever filmed. Clearly confused by her feelings, Monica sprints off into the trees where she is attacked by a stray dog. Don’t worry my dear, I’ve had days like that too. She is saved from a mauling by an unseen somebody who beats the aggressive mutt with a large branch. Just when she thinks her luck has marginally improved, Monica’s hero turns out to be our bogeyman and he begins strangling her with said branch. Her friend/would-be lover hears the commotion and sprints over to assist, but she too meets her fate at the hands of the escaped loon.
So now we are introduced to two pals and two sisters that are travelling to a remote house to study molecular science. Not really, they’re off to make ‘lurve’; a fact proven by one of the guys continually cracking sex-jokes that are so bad, even his best friend tells him to take a break. We look on as the pair of hombres go to a shop and get some booze, face the drama of not being able to buy any yoghurt and have to overcome the trials and tribulations of a puncture on their Mercedes. Meanwhile the muchachas stay at home and do very little aside from spout the silliest dialogue I’ve ever heard and look gormless. Eventually after offing the daughter of a couple of shopkeepers (who was minding her own business on a groovy bicicleta), the killer turns up and slowly begins ‘terrorising’ the couples.
I guess that with the Latin looks, cruddy dialogue, shaky photography and dumbfounding scenes, Atrapados reminded me a tiny bit of Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground. The only difference is that whilst Ground had bundles of gore, this lazy Spanish effort is essentially bone-dry. Also, I know that the music in Bianchi’s ‘classic’ was pretty off-kilter, but Código Exterior’s scoring for this is absolutely hideous. It starts with a poorly timed jazz-piece that’s as bad as an ogre playing the bagpipes and then continues to go downhill from there. If you recall Mask of Murder‘s heinous guitar lick that highlighted every ‘twist’ in the story, these guys manage even to ‘out-awful’ that with their accompaniment. It’s truly cringeworthy.
I mentioned earlier Aured directing Atrapados like he had a monster hangover throughout the production, well this is especially evident in the film’s pacing, which completely slows to a standstill during the mid-section. There’s only so much of four people spouting absurd dialogue in a small house that I can take before my eyelids come over all heavy and I begin to snooze. When the killer finally turns up, we get a conclusion that might have been ok if we could make out anything that was happening. We’ve seen on the TV that directors shout, “Lights, Camera, Action!” It looks like Aured, in his drunken stupor, forget the ‘lights’ bit. I don’t know, I just feel that an 83 minute runtime that features only three on-screen killings seems a bit tame, but maybe I’m a tough cookie to please. Where I guess that the film does succeed is in its level of bad movie-ness that’ll appeal to those that love Nail Gun Massacre, Boardinghouse, Night Ripper and the like. I already mentioned the conversations and soundtrack, but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg. Other things that stood out were that the girls getting attacked by the psychopath, but completely forgetting about it only moments later and when he returns for our heroine, she goes into a trance-like state and has to be escorted from the premises by her poorly-acted buddies. Just when you feel that every basic filmmaking principle has been shattered, the final credits show an HP Lovecraft quote that has absolutely *nothing* to do with anything we’ve witnessed…?
We live in a time now where a unified Spain could be a thing of the past as the likes of Cataluña regularly campaign for their own independence. I believe that we should stick together, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the back of the guys that made this particular picture, whatever autonomous community that they are from. We could revoke their passports for treason or something. I’m joking, of course, but one thing I will say is that Atrapdos en el Miedo translates to Trapped in Fear. I admit that it’s a cool title, but I have thought of one that’s far more suitable: Atrapado en el Baño con una Gran Caca… I’ll let you Google translate it…
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.
Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche 1982
Director Juan Piquer Simón
Starring, Christopher George, Ian Sera, Lynda Day George, FrankBraña
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I must admit, it’s been cool being Spanish lately. What with the immensely popular and equally as successful Rafael Nadal tearing up tennis and La Furia Roja wining the European and then World Cup whilst playing the best football imaginable, it has to be said that from a patriotic standpoint, all is going well for my country.
The thing is, when we look at slasher movies, our output leaves me pretty much lost for words when it comes to competitive banter. It makes it harder that despite a few stabs, Mil Grititos Tiene La Noche is the most recognised (but not the best) effort of my country’s involvement in the slasher cycle. Just a quick browse through the reviews online and as of yet, I haven’t seen one that praises Spain’s weapon of choice for stalk and slash recognición
So I took it upon myself to start preparing my defensive arguments. A legend of Spain from Simón’s era is singer/poet Joan Manuel Serrat. His most renowned LP was Mediterraneo, which got him expelled from fascist Spain for its intelligent subtle lyrics and views on the struggle of Spaniards under El Generalissimo, Francisco Franco. A fine example is the track, Barquito de Papel (small boat of paper). On first impression, it seems quite harmless and even my brother still likes to look at it as a song about a young boy, at a time when money in villages was invisible, floating the aforementioned barquito down a local stream (something he used to do.). But lines like, “Without a boss, without a direction it travels where it wants to” were a shrewd dig at the struggles of our people under fascism and the truth was in the subliminal messages.
What if Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche was made under a similar pretense? What if Simón’s slasher was really a social comment on our obsession with image? Maybe he was hinting that you can’t build the perfect person and that we should all accept that everyone has pluses and minuses and we could get lost in the search forever? Or maybe the chainsaw wielding maniac was our lust for credit and the message was that we are starting to dismember our economy (just look at how we stand at the moment)? Ok so I’m reaching…
In the end I decided to try a different trick. I returned home and told my flatmate, a film (but not slasher) fan, who generally trusts my judgment that Simón’s effort had a 7.5 rating on IMDB and was an intelligent psycho thriller. I wanted to see if the movie’s reputation had led it down a path of poor reviews because people had read so much rubbish about it that they went in looking exactly for that. Media opinion can have a big sway on our considered expectations.
A masked maniac is stalking a college campus and murdering co-eds, leaving them with missing body parts. Armed with a chainsaw, the police are baffled as to his identity and bring in extra help to solve the case.
One thing that critics never acknowledge is that this is in fact a tribute (dare I say rip-off) of Narciso Serrador’s La Residencia. That movie probably had a big effect on Simón when he was younger and the influences are undeniable. The film was shot in both Boston and Madrid with producers from Italy, Spain, England and America. As far as I am aware cast members like Frank Braña, Gérard Tichy and Silvia Gambino could not speak English, so you can imagine some of the on-set confusion.
Admittedly there are some great inadvertently humorous moments that I can’t provide an reasonable defensive excuse for. The best of these is when a Bruce Lee lookalike violently attacks an undercover Police officer and then the pair laugh it off as it’s all down to ‘…Some bad chop suey’. This was actually intentional as the actor was from a Kung Fu movie that Dick Randall was working on at the time and Simón wrote the scene on the spot to include him in a cameo. Oh and I can’t forget to mention when the Lieutenant tells his colleague to, ‘take some uppers’ to stay awake and help with the case. Also, what about when one goofy big-breasted floozy spouts, “The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and f***ing on a waterbed at the same time” – Or the Footloose-esque boogie scene, which sees a bunch of leotard clad eighties bunnies twisting and dancing and seems to have been choreographed by Stevie Wonder but offers absolutely *nothing* to the story? I could go on, but I’ll save some moments for you to uncover for yourself.
Now inept Police forces in slasher movies are as essential as a twisted killer, but Christopher George and Frank Braña manage to take things to a whole new level. I may not be a master detective, but I would say that anyone who has been found in the vicinity of a gruesome chainsaw killing more than once and has no solid reasoning as to him being that close would probably be considered at least a ‘considerable suspect’. Well these bozos let college student Kendall (Ian Sera) work alongside them throughout the runtime and he even finds the clue that cracks the case! .
Credit has to be given to Basilio Cortijo for his brilliant gore effects, which are very well done. The film is one of the goriest of the period and for that alone it is well worth a look. It also never gets boring and has become a classic Grindhouse/drive-in favorite with a strong and loyal following. You definitely can’t knock the director for his effort and if you watch it with an open mind, some of the murder scenes are effective if not creepy. Also, many critics pick up on this perhaps unfairly, but the girl smashing through a mirror at the beginning DOES have something to do with the plot. It is meant to signify the return of the murderer’s psychosis (it was launched by a smashed mirror in the opening). It’s not handled in the best way, but that was the point that they were attempting to get across. I just actually got an update from one of the cast and apparently a lot of scenes were shot that didn’t make the final print. Reportedly, one of those was the aftermath of the aforementioned mirror scene where the girl says that she’s ok and the maniac is shown lurking nearby. In fact it is that same bunny that gets her head lopped off immediately after. All this got me thinking that maybe Simon’s film would have made more sense with everything included. Who knows what else was left on the cutting room floor? There was definitely a few gore scenes that were not featured, so who knows?
Ok so I have tried to give a different perspective and can openly admit that there is a lot to laugh at with the production of this feature, but then there were with most slashers of the early eighties that were not European produced (Graduation Day, Fatal Games et al). My flatmate actually really enjoyed it (partly because she thought she was cool by working out the killer’s identity – by his shoes!) and she gave it the thumbs up (admitting however that it’s not scary).
Mil Gritos does deserve a place in the annuals of slasher history and kudos to Simón who said he never cared what the critics said; he just really enjoyed making these movies. It may not have got the reviews that he initially intended, but I loved watching it all the same. You need to see it for the breathtaking scene when Lynda Day George summons every bit of her minimal acting ability to scream, ‘Barstard, Baaarstaaard….BAAARRRSTAAARD! It’s up their with the napalm scene from Apocalypse Now and the opening of The Godfather. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Just as the advert said, it’s exactly what you think it is…
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl √√