Miner’s Massacre 2002
aka Curse of the Forty Niner
Directed by: John Carl Buechler
Starring: Karen Black, John Phillip Law, Richard Lynch
Review by Luis Joaquín González
What with Штолиьч and XP3D, I’ve been coincidentally ‘digging’ through the mine-based slashers with a pick-axe at an impressive rate. Here we have one that I’ve wanted to add for some time, but there’s always been a title in front of it… Until now. Curse of the Forty Niner or Miner Massacre as it’s known round these parts was the second slasher film from John Carl Buechler after he directed arguably the most ‘gutted’ of the Friday the 13th sequels (part 7). He also provided special make-up effects for a number of eighties films including, The Prey.
Known for his visceral gore scenarios, Buechler was something of a cult hero throughout horror’s most cheesetastic decade. Although his directorial efforts never really put him on a level with Carpenter or Craven, he still played an important part in the production of numerous entries. After the Scream-inspired slasher rebirth, he returned to the cycle that he had heavily contributed to with this overlooked inclusion.
A group of young adults head off to a remote Southern location where it’s rumoured that a murderous outlaw named Jeremiah Stone stashed a pile of gold. The area is surrounded by the legend of the ‘Curse of the Forty-Niner’, which dictates that if anyone finds the treasure, the spirit of Stone will return from beyond the grave and murder those responsible. Guess what happens next…
Is sticking consistently to your stereotype always a bad thing? To be honest I’m not so sure. If we erase the past twenty years, I’m a massive Robert Deniro fan. I honestly believe that his Vito Corleone in Godfather 2 and his Leonard Lowe in Awakenings are (along with Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking) amongst the greatest performances ever captured on film. His critics will say that he can only play a gangster or a villain, but I disagree, because the best of his work from the past two decades is Silver Linings Playbook and Everybody’s Fine, which are everything but dark characters. It’s a shame that the roles that he’s most renowned for are violent or aggressive, because he has more strings to his bow than he is given credit for. Despite accusations of churning out anything for the paycheque of late, his quality has been mainly evident when he’s played against type.
In the case of John Buechler though, Miner’s Massacre has the opposite effect. If you’ve got a film from a guy that’s known for making ‘the goriest continuation to Friday the 13th‘ (in its uncut form), I guess you build a certain level of pre-view anticipation. Then when said movie has less blood splashing than I Know What You Did Last Summer, you kind of feel, well, a bit disappointed. It certainly looked as if, stung by the censorship issues that plagued his entry to the Voorhees saga, Buechler had re-invented himself as a filmmaker more focused on suspense. In honesty, I much prefer the Carpenter methodology and value style over substance, so was keen to see how he’d get on with such a stark change of approach.
On first glance, Miner’s Massacre starts fairly limply, with pancake personalities and plot branches that have minimal exposition. Our antagonist is brought back from the grave rapidly with no real explanation and the gang know exactly where they’re going to seek treasure after receiving only half a map and a chunk of gold(???). It could have been a prank by a friend or a marketing gimmick from Walmart, but they merrily pack their stuff and off they go without a second look. Thankfully, when they reach the secluded location, the film drastically improves due to a tighter pace and an aura that’s subtlety reminiscent of inclusions from the tail-end of the peak period. Buechler outshines many of his contemporaries by capturing the charm and wit of the late eighties without over-emphasising the fact. He fills his film with archetypal slasher personalities, but I did like a couple of them, which made a real difference to the egotistical tosh that fills other modern slashers. I think that my favorite was the ‘moan-a-lot-bitch-girlfriend-from-hell’ that became the first victim of the troupe. Her OTT Brooklyn ‘My Cousin Vinny’-alike accent really gave her some spark and I was fairly disappointed when she checked out prematurely. She may not have escaped her stereotype, but because she was played with fire, I really thought that she stood out.
Looking like a cross between Freddy Kruegar and Jack Sparrow, the killer stalks and slashes his way through the group with impressive menace and the murders build up to a tense conclusion in an underground mine. Its fair to say that Buechler directs with endeavor, but there’s nothing outstanding that genuinely transcends the norm. The decision to shoot the night scenes with a tint of blue was a poor one and the lack of visual clarity is surprising considering the budget. That’s not to say that the production had extensive funds to play with, but there were a handful of explosions and OTT effects, which could have been substituted for a better lighting rig. One of my readers, a cool dude from the Philippines posted a comment recently on Death Valley. He correctly mentioned that it was one of the only slashers that had a Western slant, but I guess that you could say that Miner’s Massacre also counts as a genre entry that owes something to outlaws and gunslingers from America’s deep south.
I guess that you could call Miner’s Massacre the slasher equivalent of a film like Con Air. It’s an entertaining stroll that takes the expected route, but doesn’t attempt to uncover an adventurous shortcut. There’s a cute chick (Eve), some exciting stalking scenarios and an authentic antagonist, but I couldn’t help but think that this director is capable of delivering so much more. I was saying to my mum recently that it’s amusing how so many heavy metal groups from the eighties have ‘reunions’ when the bank balance is looking a bit on the light side. I suppose that in the case of Buechler, he just accepts the odd director’s gig for the exact same reason.
Girls Gone Dead 2012
aka Bikini Spring Break Massacre
Directed by: Michael Hoffman Jr., Aaron T. Wells
Starring: Katie Peterson, Shea Stewart, Brandy Whitford
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I often wonder if exploitation cinema may be reaching its date of expiration. For decades, a host of low-budget titles would provide horror, shocks, nudity and gore that would fulfill both morbid curiosities and rebellious desires. Having grown up during the tail-end of the exploitation boom, I experienced first hand the excitement of hunting out hand-drawn VHS covers and guessing what forbidden treasures might be included within. Nowadays of course, the most explicit content imaginable can be found quite easily with a Google search, which is why I wonder whether the market might be drying up for the exploitation genre.
Released in 2012, Girls Gone Dead was marketed as a T&A slasher; – a style that we saw in abundance during the noughties. Generally, T&A slashers lack technical quality in their attempts at delivering terror, so they up the ante with nudity and silicone enhanced ‘babes’. Good examples of the phenomenon are, Strip Club Slasher, Porn Shoot Massacre, Blood and Sex Nightmare, Fatal Delusion, Sandy Hook Lingerie Party Massacre, Fatal Pulse and Massacre at Rocky Ridge. As I alluded to in my opening paragraph, I can’t help but assume that the growth of free-access online porn has stolen a percentage of the audience for titles that sell themselves on having a couple of extra nudity shots.
A group of girlfriends head off to the remote mansion of one of the troupe’s fathers for a weekend of crazy partying. Missy, the daughter of an over-zealous church member, promises that she will let her hair down and finally break the shackles that have been imposed on her by her incredibly strict mother. Excitement leads to disappointment when they learn that their ‘house of fun’ is actually located in a retirement community. The bad news gets worse when a hulking masked killer turns up with a large axe…
Whilst T&A slashers are my least favourite sub-category of our favourite sub-genre, I will never complete my mission of reviewing the entire pool of these flicks if I don’t go against my preferences from time to time. I’m reminded of something a girl I met in Kraków once told me, “Be more intelligent than the rest, without making it obvious”. Another suitable quote might be, “The smartest disguise is that of the clueless clown”. I mention these because, GGD is an interesting addition to the slasher collection and it’s one that may have a hidden layer.
I watched it straight after Most Likely To Die and whilst they are both modern slasher movies with slick productions, they are totally different beasts cinematically. MLTD spent a while expanding the complex identities of its unique personalities, whilst GGD rolls out the clichés without a second look. Directors Michael Hoffman and Aaron T. Wells have a ball with their cast of attractive bunnies and said bunnies carry the lengthy exposition parts comfortably. At 102 minutes, I was expecting the momentum to stagnate whilst watching the girls getting drunk and pulling off the predicted shenanigans, but the script has enough wit and endeavour to keep things moving. There’s a sub-plot about an adult porno/big-brother type website, which I initially thought was an unnecessary diversion. It leads to a house party sequence that includes a humorous (if misplaced) cameo from Ron Jeremy, tonnes of bikini-clad bimbos and an abusive wannabe Hugh Hefner with a face that you’d love to punch. With a crowbar. Thankfully, the killer turns up and puts an abrupt end to the decadence with his trusty hatchet. Due to the cameras that were capturing the boogieing hotties, some footage of the murders is posted online and we get to see our key players watch it, in jest, a short while later. The irony didn’t escape me that they were mocking the earlier massacre, whilst blissfully unaware that they’re next on the maniac’s list.
Eventually the killer turns up to take care of Missy and her pals, and begins picking them off one by one as they wander off to get up to mischief. Hoffman and Wells go all guns blazing and deliver some brutal murders and gratuitous gore. We get an antagonist dressed in a robe and cherub mask (nod to Valentine?) and there’s a few interesting set-ups, including the death of a valiant chica that I really felt deserved to escape the maniac’s clutches. It’s fair to say that 90% of the runtime sustains an ‘entertaining’ (but non threatening) tone, although the final twenty-minutes did deliver some really neat tension and a couple of scares. I mentioned earlier that these types of pictures are generally pretty shabby from a technical perspective, but that’s not the case with this one and the directors pull off some interesting stuff. Some other reviews that I have read criticised the mystery saying that it was too easy to guess who it was under the mask. In honesty though, I didn’t notice it to be worse (or better) than any other slasher/whodunit I’ve seen of late. One thing I will say is that I often complain about unlikeable characters in modern entries, but GGD managed to even make me root for the spoiled brat. That’s a real achievement.
Going back to the comparison with Most Likely to Die, for the best part of GGD, I was thinking that it lacked the intelligence in scripting and preferred ticking boxes over attempting MLTD’s more ambitious style of storytelling. Later though, I noticed the aforementioned ‘hidden layer’ and that GGD possibly included a subtle comment on modern voyeurism and the easy access to society’s ills via social media, which in effect makes them dangerously acceptable. Perhaps there was also a nod to parental relations and how there comes a time when padres need to accept generational differences. I also noticed a view on religious fanaticism and how certain ideologies have become outdated with the technologies and desires of modern society. Then again, maybe it’s just a silly slasher and I was overreaching when i noticed those depths…?
What I can be sure of is that Girl’s Gone Dead is an entertaining and fun entry that is as close as it gets to an eighties cheese flick without being an eighties cheese flick. It’s overlong; for sure. Actually, if they removed all the cuts away to Ron Jeremy and his chums, the film would work a damn site better. Still, I managed to remain hooked and I couldn’t ask for more than that. In reference to my comment on the fading appeal of exploitation pictures, it’s fair to say, if they’re this fun, there’s still a market for them. Oh and one last thing, I’ve proved many times on a SLASH above that the IMDB is an awful guide to slasher movies. Well this one has a rating of 3.5 on there! Stop the world, I want to get off…
Most Likely to Die 2015
Directed by: Anthony DiBlasi
Starring: Heather Morris, Jason Tobias, Tatum Miranda
Review by Luis Joaquín González
For me, the biggest mystery surrounding the slasher genre is how such a basic and straight forward formula has resulted in so few genuinely credible motion pictures. Of the 800 or so entries that have been produced, you can count the truly outstanding ones on your fingers. For movie watchers that aren’t slasherholics, there seems to be a thin middle ground and these flicks are either superb or trash-can worthy. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons why the category hosts so few exquisite inclusions, but I think a big part of it is that filmmakers often try to expand on the traditional template when there’s really no need to.
Most Likely to Die is refreshing because it’s a big(ger) budgeted effort that proves that you can still make a sharp and thoroughly entertaining movie by sticking to the guidelines. Instead of flamboyant recalibration of the nuts and bolts, Anthony DiBlasi has decided to polish the old ones and paint them in chrome – and it works
A group of youngsters arrange a get-together at the remote mansion of one of their friends to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of their graduation. As they begin to arrive, they notice that Ray – the house owner and a professional hockey player – is mysteriously absent. Still, they begin to catch-up on their achievements and celebrate their reunion. Little do they know that a brutal masked killer is watching them and before long they’re fighting for their lives…
When I first learned that DiBlasi was making a slasher movie I was extremely keen to see the net result because he’s a director that I have a lot of respect for. His previous features have shown a unique flair for mixing horror with strongly developed characters and I wondered how he’d get on with the more basic trappings of a stalk and slash flick. If there were any lingering doubts about his potential as a competent up and comer, he washes them away with MLTD, by staying true to the category’s principles without betraying his own vision. The film offers a wealth of intriguing set-ups that allow its players to transcend the usual stereotypes and this is most-evident in the choice of final girl; – a professional poker player with a self-destructive lack of trust. At first I wrote a note that the friendships looked unconvincing, but as the film progresses, we are given more insight on the complex relationships that exist between the former classmates and why some of them may have the motive to kill. Whilst I wouldn’t say that the mystery is outstanding or that the conclusion was a shock (it is in fact fairly underwhelming), it does add an extra layer to the tension of the marauding killer.
DiBlasi is wise to pay tribute to the slashers of old without making it obvious that he’s doing so. The film can be described as a mix of Terror Train, Pranks and Slaughter High, but it doesn’t attempt to hide the fact that it’s been filmed in 2015. We get a host of gimmicks that we’ll recognise from the classics including the killer putting a red X over the yearbook pictures of his victims and a subtle sub-plot of a prank that backfired. In time-honoured tradition, the opening scene includes a chase sequence and a (surprisingly) bloodless slaughter, but we don’t get to witness the antagonist for quite a while after. The in-between parts are spent unraveling the personalities of the school friends and there’s some interesting tweaks that bring them to life. What I liked about MLTD is that it breaks away from the ‘one by one they wander off to die’ chestnut, because the entire group are made aware fairly early that there’s an uninvited guest on site. This means that the script needs to be more creative in the way it strands its victims and puts them at the peril of their pursuer.
Our antagonist has a unique guise and he strikes with a ferocious brutality. There’s a really well set-up scene in an alleyway that provides suspense as the maniacal menace closes in on a trapped victim, smashing lightbulbs along the way, like we saw in both My Bloody Valentine and Terror Train. It would be an extreme exaggeration to call this a gore film, but there are some gruesome moments and an audacious kill with a hockey stick that’ll satisfy blood hounds. DiBlasi directs with confidence and draws pitch-perfect performances from an inexperienced cast. His choice of lighting for the second half of the picture is perfect and he delivers a vibrant combination of audio that hits more often than misses. Using the English National anthem for a kill scene was a masterstroke that I’m surprised didn’t come with an explanation of kind.
The lengthy attempts at dramatising the key players may be off-putting to those looking for a fast-paced slasher flick. It could also be said that the killings aren’t graphic enough for hardcore hounds, but you’d have to be hyper-critical to truly find much more fault with Most Likely To Die. Here we have a movie from a production team that made the right decisions: don’t waste budget on non-essential ingredients when all you really need is competent actors, a cool killer guise, some blood and a director with the ambition to succeed. Sometimes doing the basics to the best of your ability outshines an overload of creativity. This may not be a genre-defining movie, but it’s a worthy inclusion that should be a lesson to filmmakers looking to continue the legacy.
Bone Cave 2011
Directed by: Matthew Brooks
Starring: Justin Rose, Jeremy Jusek, Andrew Hart
Review by Luis Joaquín González
So here we have yet another extremely rare slasher movie, but it’s one that is refreshingly unique. Even as a fan of the genre, I often get tired of the amount of films that traipse along the standard clichés without even attempting to inject any authenticity. Bone Cave on the other hand is unlike anything that I’ve seen before and despite its limitations, it offers an encouraging slant on the stalk and slash formula.
A pair of college kids hatch a life-changing plan to get rich by robbing a local ecstasy dealer and hosting a rave so that they can sell the tabs that they stole. As the party gets underway, it soon becomes apparent that a caped killer is lurking among the revelers and looking to slaughter the drug-induced teens…
For the first twenty-minutes or so, Bone Cave played like it was little more than a slasher by the numbers. It kicked off with a pair of poorly acted lovers being murdered in a cave by a caped menace with a painted face. There was nothing about the sequence that couldn’t have been copy and pasted from a million other genre entries and when the next cut showed us a couple of kids sitting outside a high-school, I felt like I was watching a lower budget knock-off of President’s Day. However as those same characters began speaking about their ambitious plan to rob a local drug pusher and host an illegal party, I began to realise that Ohio based director Matthew Brooks was on a thoroughly different wave-length.
Whilst there’s no denying that Bone Cave is a slasher movie, it’s one that plays like it’s only half-aware of the trappings, which I mean as a compliment. We get forty-five minutes of plot development from the three main players and perhaps because the dialogue has been written by a youngster (Brooks was in his twenties) it comes across as genuine as to how youngsters speak. It could be said that the pace during these parts isn’t as tight as it should be and a couple of killings might have made the runtime sharper, but Brooks’ flair for witty lines and realistic scenarios kept things afloat. If you’ve been a long-term reader of a SLASH above, you’ll know my thoughts on the challenges of mixing slapstick and terror into a palatable cocktail. There are many entries that have tried this formula (Easter Sunday/Slaughter Studios) and the majority of them are disjointed and shabby. It would be unfair to call Bone Cave a slasher/comedy, but the script delivers a nice blend of humor (from the dialogue) and horror (from the multiple victims). I expected the theft of the ecstasy tablets to be a small background sub-plot, but it is smartly expanded to generate a solid spine. It’s fair to say that there are no real surprises in later revelations and the killer’s identity is easy to guess, but most of the ideas here are novel and smartly delivered.
The second half of the film takes place inside the cave of the title, which was the location chosen to host the rave. The exteriors were filmed locally and are impressively conveyed considering the lack of experience and I can only guess that a hall was used for the other parts, but credut to the set designer(s) that worked hard to make it look as realistic as possible. Early on, I was a little worried that the lighting would be a problem, because we have about ten-minutes of footage that is illuminated by a couple of torches, but this soon improves and the crew did a good job technically. I also thought it was original the way that the killings were staged. Initially we get a torture porn-esque kidnap of a young girl that gets acid thrown in her face, but then the maniac goes on a rampage and runs into the middle of the party-goers with his custom blade and begins slashing… Cue pandemonium! We do get some blood splashing and a couple of gooey moments, but Bone Cave is fairly light on the gore score. It draws to a conclusion with the three main characters trapped with the maniac and they must overpower him in order to flee the carnage. If I were to be really harsh, I could say that the film might’ve worked better with a meaner spirit and I also didn’t think that the killer’s dialogue (he’s a real chatterbox) was effective. Still, earlier on I mentioned President’s Day and whilst the pair have very little in common, they share an alluring vibe that’s impossible to brush off.
All in all I enjoyed Bone Cave. It’s certainly full of innovation and a handful of smart accomplishments. The pace does stagnate a bit during the first half and some of the effects are visibly cheap (the grenade explosions are PSone-esque!!), but I guess that they made the most of an extremely tight budget. Matthew Brooks is certainly a talented filmmaker and his inclusion to the genre is worth a look.
Final Exam 1980
Directed by: Jimmy Huston
Starring: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown
Review by Luis Joaquín González
So following on from my review of Fatal Exam, I thought I’d cover this peak period sleeper and get all of the ‘exam’ slashers out of the way once and for all. I must admit that I hadn’t seen it for about twenty-years, so I was keen for a second viewing and thorough analysis. My perception from back then was that it was a bit too much of a Halloween magpie and I didn’t appreciate the unimaginative ‘look’ of the antagonist. I was about 15 at the time and my non-franchise favourites were the likes of My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler, StageFright and Legend of Moated Manor, which all included killers with memorable masks. In comparison, Final Exam felt, well, a little bit ‘meh’, and I have never re-visited it… Until now…
Writer/Director Jimmy Huston shot Exam over six-weeks during the spring of 1980 and he utilised friends and students that he had recruited from word of mouth and a small advertising campaign. It would be his fourth motion picture and a complete change of tone from his previous work, which was mostly genre films that played like European productions. Despite the self-sourced nature of the development, the $53,000 budget didn’t stretch as far as anticipated, which resulted in a few scenes having to be re-written or completely scrapped. I couldn’t find any information in regards to the film’s box-office performance, but it certainly acquired a solid VHS distribution deal, because I own Spanish, British and Polish copies.
As a small college prepares to close its doors for the end of semester, a number of students remain on campus for the last of the exams. Their final preparations for the journey into adulthood take a turn for the worse when a psychopathic killer begins to butcher them one by one…
I won’t be making any headlines when I inform you that Final Exam is not a competitor to Halloween, Friday the 13th or even Curtains, but I do think that it’s a much better movie than its reputation would lead you to believe. In fact, I’d say that if all the slasher flicks of the past twenty-years had been a similar level of quality, the genre would be filled with a lot more critical acclaim.
We are given the clichés of the category’s most notorious offerings with the characterisations (virginal lead, promiscuous friend, ‘horror’ nerd, bullying jock etc) but I found it intriguing how they were conveyed with a subtle depth. Radish, the curly haired geeky guy, was certainly a prototype for Scream’s Randy both physically and personally. He has a crush on our straight-laced heroine, Courtney, and his romantic pursuit shows moments of realism that are well-handled and recognisable. There’s an interesting scene, where the two have a heart to heart about her insecurities, which offers a delicate comment on the fear of rejection and the challenges of confessing true feelings. Courtney herself is clearly based on the sensitive Laurie Stroud-stereotype, but she carries a desire to overcome her social trepidation, which I thought made her more appealing. The ‘slut’ persona, Lisa, defends her actions in a humorous sequence that displays how she uses her appearance to progress. Hell, even the rebellious jock had something of a sadness about him and a desperation for recognition. All these common elements that are never explored in most slasher movies seem to be written with a keener focus and it gives the personalities an extra layer. Whilst it can be argued that the key players never really have an arc or reach the destination of their inner journies, the dialogue is memorable because it offers situations that we can relate to.
Whilst Huston deserves praise for his scripting and ability to derive convincing performances from an inexperienced cast, the look of the movie definitely belongs to Darrel Cathcart. As one of the most underrated DPs of the peak period, he really put his visual stamp down with some wide-framed set-ups and impressive camera placement. His input also greatly improved another eighties slasher (Death Screams from the same year), but Exam demonstrates the best of his work. There are countless postcard shots of the boogeyman in dimly lighted locations that are extremely impressive and even if the score is clearly ripped from John Carpenter, it assists with the creation of some creepy moments.
I always felt that Michael Myers was much scarier than Jason Voorhees, because his motives were ambiguous and never clarified. Jason killed to avenge the decapitation of his mother and Michael just murdered because he was ‘pure evil’. It’s true that when it comes to antagonists, less is always more; but the killer here is a total nobody and the ‘nothing at all’ approach doesn’t work. I’m not sure if it was an unsuccessful attempt at breaking ground from Huston or some expository scenes were cut from the final print, but we’re left with a villain that is little more than a cardboard prop. We didn’t even hear the traditional radio news report that informed us that, ‘an infamous murderer has escaped the local asylum killing two-guards…’ I’ve overcome my disappointment at his lack of a ‘killer guise’, because I took it as him being so deranged that he didn’t care about concealing his identity. It’s just that the story lacks a Dr Loomis type character to elaborate his menace with some hammy lines about, ‘The blackest eyes… The devil’s eyes…’ It’s strange that the film is so similar to Halloween in its structure, but so authentic in the finer details. It’s a shame that those are the ones that no one really notices.
Over the years, many reviewers have commented on the film’s sluggish first-half and the extreme lack of gore, which are fair criticisms that I can’t defend. Personally though, I felt that this captured the essence of the peak-period superbly and showed why the golden oldies will always be the best examples of the sub-genre. There’s no denying that the pathway to the conclusion builds a sharp momentum as bodies drop in rapid succession and the final face-off in a claustrophobic bell-tower is competently staged.
Final Exam is an important addition to the slasher grouping that overcomes its accusations of imitation with some solid examples of impressive filmmaking. There are a lot of elements that don’t really move the plot in a progressive direction (the artistic, yet unnecessary POV through a kitchen vent for example) that over-inflate the runtime, but all in all there’s a lot here that warrants respect. Jimmy Huston never really revealed any trivia about the production in later interviews, which only adds to the enigma.
We live in a world that’s full of injustices and whilst Final Exam is regularly brushed aside as an average picture, Porkchop gets remade in 3D. Let that sink in for a moment…
aka Kandie Land
Directed by: Eddie Lengyel
Starring: Haley Kocinski, Max Elinsky, Ari Lehman
Review by Donny Ybarra (Brother’s Grim)
I recently reached out to director/writer/horror aficionado Eddie Lengyel, whom not only let me screen the movie, but has been very eager to discuss this film too! What is nice is to be able to connect with filmmakers and discuss what it is that brings you together, in this case it is the love of the slasher genre! I explained to Eddie how much of a fan I am of slashers, I’m constantly on the lookout for new flicks, especially ones that have an iconic masked villain. Before digging right in I’d like to also point out that Mr. Lengyel has another upcoming project due out later this year called Naughty List, and yes, it is a Christmas slasher!
When you watch horror movies/slasher movies, what keeps you invested? For me it is the cast, and while there are some moments of dry acting, I’d say you can see the passion in this film from everyone in front and behind the camera, and that definitely counts. Now everybody knows Ari Lehman in the slasher world as the “kid Jason Voorhees”, but I have been watching some great indie slashers here lately and Ari is all in the horror mix and is fun in this film briefly. Having cast a horror vet in a slasher flick only adds to the appeal to me, kudos for bringing him on board. Another standout for me was Don Kilrain as “Jonah” who was our masked madman. With a name like KILRAIN, you expect to have one badass mother____%#^!!, and Jonah is that! Jonah is pretty imposing and is fairly creative when it comes to the kills. Another standout was Molly Miller as “Tiny”. Tiny was an interesting aspect to this film, she brought the “humanity” out of Jonah, and I don’t know if that is such a good thing! It was also nice to see Janine Sarnowski as “Luna” she was a familiar face from Chill: The Killing Games (which I loved!), and I really enjoyed her character in this one.
The plot for this one is straight up, you get a tragic past that creates this villain…who has grown to despise “pretty people”., so what do you think happens to a group of models that cross paths with this creepy brute?!?! Let’s just say, beauty is only skinned deep! I wasn’t really a fan of the scenes with the models, there was just not a character I cared about, I found the models rather annoying and not at all interesting (other than wanting them to die quickly), but they served their purpose.
Being a fan of iconic killers like Jason, Freddy and Chucky, what works for them is their motivations for killing and unique ways of doing so with a kickass look. I wouldn’t put Jonah up there with them, but I would say that if given a sequel I would love to see the “punish the pretty people” angle more to give our killer a little more edge. What brings this slasher up a notch from others is not only motivations, but the kills. This movie was pretty brutal, and dare I say offered up some inventive demises. You are treated to some old school practical effects too, no CGI blood! Also, the mask had no explanation with its origin, but it was fun to guess. Was it a “pretty crush” that turned Jonah down and he ended up taking her face? Who knows, but the hair on the side was creepy. The fact that the mask looked like old dried skin was creepy too, kinda reminded me of the Indian slasher from Ghost Dance a little before he is revived.
I’ll forgive many a slasher film for acting if I know that some thought when in to the body count, which this movie racks them up nicely. The pacing is pretty fast and you get kills frequently. When the movie starts winding down, there is a scene towards the end with a couple trying to escape via row boat, which I thought was pretty hilarious. Another funny bit was the “prophet of doom” on the hoveround, if anyone is going to escape this movie it would be that old lady, after all she does have a head start! I wouldn’t have minded more of a chase scene towards the end, although I did enjoy that last kill quit a bit, it really made me squirm a little. Also, I was hoping for a “final girl” when I realized that at the end, Luna was it! Which broke the slasher norms and made me think of the “final girl” Alley Oats (played by Deborah Rose) from The Boneyard. This made the movie believable and gave us someone that could be a kickass character later too!
I always look forward to reviewing these indie films, many boast about being a “homage” to the 80’s, while I think others just do. With this one I do get a little nostalgia from that decade, it’s almost a mix of Leatherface: TCM 3 (1990) and a tad bit of Twisted Nightmare. I could definitely see this one released towards the later part of the 80’s, when most slashers just ran through a checklist of what it takes to be a slasher, which with today’s horror releases it isn’t a bad thing. I say give this one a peep creepers, two thumbs up.
I found Scarred to be a relatively fast-paced slasher that was both unique and grisly. I appreciated that the core characters had been developed beyond the hooker/stripper stereotypes to actually carry a screenplay and build rapport with viewers. I don’t recall seeing the gorgeous Hayley Kocinski in Chill, which is strange, because she’s got the Eastern European-type of beauty (her surname’s Polish) that I adore. Still, I thought she was good as the lead. I totally agree with Donny that ‘Tiny’ (reminiscent in a way of the ‘kid’ from Burial Ground) somewhat weakened the killer’s menace, but there was enough of an enigma surrounding his hate of ‘pretty people’ to supply a macabre aura. Whilst most of the victims make dumbfoundingly stupid escape decisions and some of the acting is sketchy, I can’t deny that Scarred offers all you want from a slasher spectacular. My only question is, what happened to the girl from the prologue?
Killer Guise: √√√
Night Killer 1989
aka Non Aprite Quella Porta 3
Directed by: Claudio Fragasso
Starring: Peter Hooten, Tara Buckman, Richard Foster
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I was saying to a friend the other night that after four-years of writing reviews for a SLASH above, I’m still nowhere near halfway through the slashers that I own. Due to the sheer weight of numbers, I’m guilty of overlooking the Giallo sub genre, which is a shame because Italy deserves its place in this online encyclopaedia. To make up for the lack of Tenebrae etc, I’ve tried covering the slasher films from Southern Europe that were moulded upon their US counterparts. The likes of StageFright, Nightmare Beach, Absurd and Bodycount have always intrigued me, because it’s strange that Italian directors adapted their methodologies to appeal to a foreign market trend that had been inspired by a style they created.
This is another one of their ‘Americanised’ exports and it’s by far the most obscure. It’s from Claudio Fragasso, who became a cult hero from the popularity of his daft project that was filmed on US soil. I haven’t seen Troll 2, but you don’t have to search far to learn that it’s a notorious ‘so bad it’s good’ cheese-fest. Fragasso began his career as an assistant to Bruno Mattei and it’s easy to see similarities in their filmographies. They worked extensively in the exploitation space and both seemed equally as focused on tackling popular cinematic trends on minimal funding. Due to loopholes in copyright laws, many low-budget flicks were released in Italy as unofficial sequels to renowned hits in order to grab an audience. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Italian title is Don’t Open the Door (Non Aprite Quella Porta). Well this one was circulated as a continuation of kind to that series (Non Aprite Quella Porta 3), which made me think that it might be heavily influenced by Leatherface and his cannibalistic family.
It begins in much the same fashion as did Michael Soavi’s StageFright, with a group of theatre performers practicing their dance moves. Before long we meet our masked killer and he slaughters one of the bunnies backstage with a Freddy Kruegar-esque glove. When the bitchy director goes to check on the missing cast-member’s whereabouts, she also gets attacked by the loon, but he only manages to slice her throat delicately, which weakens her vocal chords. What follows is an energetic chase sequence that ends with the injured female tumbling from the auditorium to the floor below. The cast members look on in shock at the corpse and the screen fades to black.
We soon learn that the city is being plagued by a maniac that is killing and raping females at a terrifying rate. Thus far, the Police and a Psychiatrist (by far the most credible Sam Loomis impersonation) have no lead on his true identity, but they’re desperate to put an end to the ferocious butchery. His next victim, Melanie Beck (Tara Buckman), manages to survive and gets a view of the attacker’s face, but the event has left her with short term memory loss and she doesn’t recall anything about the night. She is released from hospital and bumps into an alcoholic vagabond by the name of Axel (Peter Hooten). His frantic beeping of his horn and offer of alcohol doesn’t immediately woo her, so he follows her into the women’s toilets (even a cubicle) where she draws a gun and forces him to strip to his briefs and flush away his clothes (I’m not joking). Axel manages to find a T-Shirt and new pair of pants from somewhere and continues his pursuit, which results in him preventing the desperate female from committing suicide on a beach. After taking her to a hotel, he begins to reveal some worrying shades to his personality. It looks like Axel is increasingly unstable and could well be the vicious maniac that she escaped from last time…
I mentioned Bruno Mattei above and whilst it’s true that he made some pretty bad movies, his Eyes Without a Face is a smart giallo that proved that even directors renowned for cheesy trash could helm a stylish picture on occasion. if you break down this film to the sum of its parts, I guess you could say that it looks fairly mediocre. We do get some gore, but it’s very amateur (the boogeyman’s glove is clearly rubber), the uncredited score is only outdone by the flamboyance of the performances and we lack a traditionally ‘clean cut’ protagonist that the audience can sympathise with. Somehow though, the bouncy soundtrack, unhinged characters, peculiar dialogue (“Oh Grandma, what a big schlong you have(!)”) and videotape picture quality combine to create an authentic and pulsating movie that blew my expectations to smithereens. It’s almost as if I kept waiting for the runtime to become tedious, but it maintained a momentum and only grew in intrigue with every step.
It’s clear that Night Killer was structured like a slasher movie, but it certainly has the grit and (not so) subtle sexual themes of a giallo. Our heroine regularly exposes her breasts (she massages them at one point after receiving a threatening call (?)) and we are told that the victims are raped before they are slaughtered. Thankfully, this is never demonstrated visually, and we only see the psychopath punching his bladed glove through their stomachs like he was The Terminator (??). One of the unfortunate females is even killed by having her face pushed into a bowl of latex (???). I managed to work out who was under the mask long before the conclusion, but there’s a further revelation that makes zero sense on reflection, even if it would rival the denouement of The Usual Suspects if you happen to be the guy from Momento or a Goldfish with a five-second attention span.
As I alluded to above, the leads really go OTT with their portrayals. This is especially true in the case of Peter Hooten, whose demeanor and vocal delivery was reminiscent of Matthew McConaughey’s cameo from The Wolf of Wall Street. Despite the misleading Italian release title, Night Killer is not similar at all to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s pure slasher trash that plays like a mix between Terror Eyes and Halloween. There are no supernatural elements, but the killer’s mask is clearly modelled on the face of Freddy Krueger and then of course there’s the bladed glove. We even get a final sequence that could have been lifted from the Edmund Purdom trash bag, Don’t Open ’til Christmas. I know that seems unlikely, but if great minds think alike, I guess that the opposite can happen too 😉
It would be illogical to call Night Killer a well made movie, but it’s constantly entertaining and riddled with intrigue. I thoroughly enjoyed my viewing and it’s another of those time capsules from a long forgotten time that modern entries regularly attempt to but never manage to emulate…
Bloody Creek 1993
Directed by: Gary Whitson
Starring: Ivory Blackwood, Michelle Caporaletti, Dave Castiglione
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Back in the days before we were all connected via the Internet, the best way to meet and converse with other horror collectors would be to attend film festivals. Nine times out of ten, they would be filled with geeky halfwits that would drop comments like, “Do you know that I have Killer Moon completely uncut on long play?” Or, “I’ve seen The Exorcist 1,998,764,647,576 times and can quote every line of dialogue, backwards.” This is when I’d pull my ace from my sleeve and say, “Well, I’ve got a pristine copy of Bloody Creek at home.” What would follow would be two-minutes of tense jealousy driven silence as the nerds would look me up and down and think, ‘What the hell is this Bloody Creek? Why does this skinny Spaniard have a copy??‘
In fairness, I’ve always owned quite a large collection of obscure pictures, but when my Japanese VHS of Cards of Death wasn’t enough, or if I couldn’t steal the limelight with my pre-cert print of Early Frost, I’d reach for my special weapon – Bloody Creek unrated. I mean, let’s be honest, before this review, you had no idea it even existed, right?
It was an early release from Gary Whitson’s WAVE Productions studio and it’s arguably the most traditional slasher of his filmography. My VHS is dated as 1994 and on the IMDB it’s listed as 1993, but I’m pretty confident that the IMDB have uncharacteristically got it right for once. The beautiful Tina Krause was discovered by Whitson in early ’94 and made her debut in Fatal Delusions the same year. Her china doll-like face combined with a sensational figure made her the poster girl of WAVE through the nineties and so I’m pretty sure that she’d have featured if it was made after she joined their team.
It tells the tale of a female author that’s writing a book about a number of killings that have taken place in Bloody Creek State Park. She is invited to the local Police station to interview those that investigated the case, but soon discovers that the killer may still be on the loose.
I guess that whether or not you’ll want to see Bloody Creek is dependent on your experience and taste for films that have been produced on this kind of budget. A lot of early WAVE releases were shot on a camcorder and filled with actors that had been picked up at conventions (like Krause) or from word of mouth. I knew what I was getting in to when I sat down to watch this picture and therefore found it easier to accept, but others need to be prepared for the non-existent funding so as not to be disappointed. Please keep in mind that I’ve taken this into consideration with my review.
So, the film lasts for whopping ninety-minutes, but would look much better without some of the bloatedness. The problem with directors that edit their own footage is that they are following their singular vision and its better when a third-party can advise on momentum. The movie’s stagnated pace is best demonstrated in the build-up to the first slaughter, which is shown via flashback (as is most of the runtime). We are introduced to the scenario by a detective that makes the fatal mistake of telling us beforehand that the girl is about to be butchered. Even in Zodiac – a cinematic account of a serial killer whose victims are globally known – David Fincher conveyed each murder from the outset in order to develop some tension. Here though, because we’d already been informed of the character’s fate, it was pointless to see her wake-up, get dressed, get in her car, drive, drive some more, reach the forest, set-up her camp, wander around etc etc. The only plot point of relevance and interest to us was HOW she died; – anything else was just filler. With that said, a voluptuous chick that goes camping on her own and downs a bottle of Cognac in a couple of gulps could never be considered unappealing. It’s just that this whole sequence would’ve played so much better if Whitson changed the detective’s dialogue from, “This is how the first victim was killed” to “It began like this…” – without any premature knowledge of the outcome.
Brushing aside the amount of over-emphasis for a second, I can say that I enjoyed Bloody Creek. It offers a wealth of slasher scenarios, a couple of cheesetastic gore scenes (they use leaves to cover the head of one bunny so it looks like she’s been decapitated!) and a few surprisingly ambitious twists. Sure, you can list continuity holes and enough inadvertent humour to rival Nail Gun Massacre, but I didn’t ever want to give up watching. The only thing that I thought was missing, was a decent ‘killer guise’, because without one, the maniac lacked an imposing presence. There’s also a chase and fight sequence in a swamp that I have to mention because it was so hilariously overblown. A pair of actors splash and tussle for about five-minutes, whilst accidentally swallowing mouthfuls of muddy rain water. Yuk!
I’m in a good mood, so I haven’t gone in to detail about all the little things that disappointed me with Bloody Creek (even if I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from mentioning the horrendous score). It’s an astoundingly cheap production (the cop’s office is surely someone’s kitchen – it even has a microwave!), but I was in the mood for some junky fun and junky fun’s what I received. We get a sprinkling of gore, some terrifically hot chicas (a WAVE trademark although they’re not quite Tina Krause) and a devious assailant that constantly surprises with his unpredictability. Gary Whitson wrote a script that does well to keep you guessing and I can only take my hat off to him for that.
Look, I can’t recommend you hunt down Bloody Creek and I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it. In its defence though I expected the worst and was originally going to write a step-by-step sarcastically mocking review as I did with Curse of Halloween, but the feature impressed me enough not to. I can’t give it any more credit than that.
Final Curtain 2003
Directed by: Mike Goodreau
Starring: Michelle Algarin, Tricia DePaola, Mike Goodreau
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I’ve covered a few obscurities of late, so thought it was about time that I got round to giving this one a blast. Not to be confused with Brett Kelly’s identically themed (and titled) film of 2005, Final Curtain comes with its fair share of trivia. The IMDB lists eleven sequels, but I heard on the slasher grapevine that there are even a couple more and I have no idea how they’re funded because it’s almost impossible to find copies to buy on any format. I tracked down this one on eBay, but a brief scan through the usual purchase sites shows no listings at all.
The collection comes from Mike Goodreau and was shot on video as a throwback to the low budget flicks of the eighties. Goodreau has a few actor credits that I came across, but looks to have dedicated his directorial career to these films. It’s a shame that I haven’t yet managed to track down every instalment, because I’d like to see if they changed with yearly progression.
An ambitious businessman relocates to the small town of Taft, Massachusetts and hatches a plan to open an amateur theatre. Despite some friction from officials, the community are generally happy about the idea and he begins casting locals. It seems though that someone wants to tell their own story and they are willing to resort to murder to do so…
Not knowing anything about Mr Goodreau, I had to go into the film unarmed figuratively speaking. What I ascertained from what I saw was that he’s a big fan of theatre and probably a lot in reality like the character he plays here, Levi O’Neil. The background plot of him opening a small dramatic group is fairly engaging in the fact that it dominates the main chunk of the runtime. When the killer strikes, it comes out of nowhere and leaves us thinking, ‘Oh wow I forgot that I was watching a slasher movie.’ It takes twenty-minutes for said assailant to put in an appearance, but after, we get a handful of murders. They’re rolled out in the typical whodunit fashion, with the antagonist mostly off-screen, but despite their unimaginative nature (sword or knife stabbings), they are set-up impressively. We also get a few brazen attempts at gore that range from el cheapo to actually pretty good. In fact, we have to credit Goodreau for doing what he could on such a pocket-money budget.
That pocket-money budget is certainly visible in Final Curtain and it gives the film a ‘homemade’ sheen. Most of the audio is sketchy at best and the score, which is at least memorable, jumps like a scratched vinyl in places. I’m guessing that it was shot on a camcorder, but overall, it would be unfair to criticise the visuals. Despite some haziness, I don’t recall squinting to make-out what was happening too many times and there are a couple of bigger budgeted films, like Humongous for example, that couldn’t even achieve this level of clarity.
What prevented me from being really impressed was that as I alluded to above, the initial kill-scenes feel like they’ve been bolted-on to a TV show or documentary. When you think about classic scary movies, they’re not built upon much else than a horror core. You can have a mystery, sub-plots, in-depth character development, hidden meanings and even romance; but these elements should always be side-salads to a terrorising main course. Goodreau looked to be putting more effort into the trials and tribulations of the theatre plot branch, which reduced the impact of the murders. I don’t want to come across as being petty, but this didn’t ‘feel’ like a horror film for the most part and that prevented me from giving it a higher ranking. Other similarly funded features like Killer Campout or Bloody Creek managed to sustain a grim environment, but this one sacrificed some of its fear factor (and momentum) for the tale of a ‘theatrical’ journey. We spent a lot of time with the cast members, but never really knew who they were. Because of this, we couldn’t care less when they were killed.
Still, Final Curtain works in a cheapjack way. It’s one that much like Day of the Reaper, you need to be extra forgiving to enjoy, but me, I’m all about forgiveness…
Marco Polo 2008
Directed by: Alton Glass
Starring: Cristina DeRosa, Eddie Goines, William L. Johnson
Review by Luis Joaquín González
When you look at all the ‘hard to find’ slashers, you’ll notice that the majority of them share familiar characteristics. Whether it be that they were self-funded and lacked solid distribution or were plagued throughout production, which led the crew to abandon circulation, there’s usually a common link to be discovered between them. That’s where Marco Polo stands apart. This one was completed in 2007 on a solid budget and with a talented cast, so it’s strange that it has become so obscure.
In fact, what we have here is a feature that truly frustrates me; and my frustrations stem from the fact that it’s better than a large majority of the slashers that I watch, so why isn’t it available for global consumption? It kicks off with a fast-paced sequence that offers a pre-credits introduction to our boogeyman, Marco Polo. In a periodic scene from 1342, Polo, his wife and daughter are pursued through some forest, where they are eventually cornered and assaulted by their weapon-clenching assailants. Director Alton Glass goes for an incredibly merciless approach by showing us in detail how Polo was made to suffer by being blinded by the thumbs of a hulking barbarian. As he lies screaming on the floor, he can only listen helplessly whilst his spouse is raped and his child slaughtered. It’s an uncommonly harrowing intro, which shows a level of graphic violence that was quite intense. We then fast forward to present day California, where we meet our likely victims.
It’s these parts that most proved to me that Glass has the potential to be a competent filmmaker. We see all of our characters together at a pool party and there’s a blend of African Americans and Whites. What stood out to me was that the dialogue was audacious and intriguing, because it’s not the usual Hollywood sugar coated chit-chat. One girl nags her black boyfriend for leering over a white chick and he responds by saying, “She must have some black in her to be that fine”. Then a bullish Caucasian belittles a guy that looks like a poor man’s Eminem with the line, “Stay White Brother!” We live in a world where touching upon such topics always carries a risk of offence, but in reality, the majority of us aren’t racists and can share good-natured (and even competitive) interracial banter. I admired the director’s ambition to strive for realism and this continues throughout the runtime.
After such a crowded launch, we get a closer look at what will surely be our two central players. Jared is extremely disappointed that his younger brother Kelly wants to play basketball in Italy and not follow his sibling into the business that their entrepreneurial father left them when he passed away. This leads to an interesting ‘head or heart’ conversation that offers enough depth to develop both personalities. They decide to spend a camping trip together before Kelly jets off to Europe and this gives us a logical pathway to alienate our intended victims. There are eight campers that board the Winnebago to the forest, and each of them gets enough screen time to stand out. It would be wrong to say that they broke away from the traditional clichés, but the annoying jock type guy diversified into a real hero that I found myself rooting for. Actually, I wanted most of them to survive and I guess it’s because they were given more than just basic lines to move the plot from A to B.
When the killings start, they’re ferociously gory and Glass unleashes some tremendous visceral FX and a real injection of excitement. One guy gets chopped in half with a machete, there’s a unique decapitation and the brutal masked killer gives a credible Jason Voorhees impersonation. I liked the way that the film gave the players a slice of courage that convinced us that they wanted to survive. It’s tough to convey the true effect that a mass-killer would have on the average everyday Joe, but at least they weren’t just slashed and immediately rushed off screen to be forgotten. Every single box in regards to slasher trademarks is ticked (we even get a scary story around a campfire scene), but this film differentiates itself by including influences from thrillers like Fallen as well as a large dose of Friday the 13th. The biggest chunk of originality came from the conclusion, which I certainly wasn’t expecting.
The real Marco Polo was an ambitious traveller that passed away peacefully, surrounded by his wife and daughters, in bed. There are definite question marks over the logic of using such a renowned historical figure as the film’s antagonist. The fact that the screenwriter has bolted-on a distinct and unflattering streak to his personality makes it all the more peculiar. It would have been easier if they’d just used an imaginary person – a conquistador perhaps – because Polo was everything but a sadistic butcher. Still, I cannot really find any other relevant criticism to aim at this slasher and I’m scratching my head as to why it’s so obscure. When a motion picture that is confidently produced and includes sharp direction, a rapid pace, unpredictability, interesting scenarios, a professional gloss and some gore, you’d think that it had achieved everything that was asked during pre-production. A friend of mine said that he had heard that this was extremely similar to See No Evil, but it’s not at all. Alton Glass’ entry to the sub-genre is much better and deserving of a more prominent status.
So why does the film remain on the missing list? It seems like it all came down to bad timing. Just as shooting was completed in 2008, the lead producer had to deal with some personal matters, which meant that the concept was pushed to one side. When he was finally able to re-focus his efforts on securing circulation, the digital boom had rendered him unable to find the right deal. Now, eight-years later, it can finally be seen on Amazon.com, but only if you reside in the US.
There are around sixty slashers that I know of that will never see light of day on the right format. There’s a strong argument to say that Marco Polo and Legend of Moated Manor are the best of those. I hope you one day get the opportunity to see if you agree.