The Boogey Man 1980
Directed by: Ulli Lommel
Starring: Suzanna Love, John Carradine, Ron James
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Money… When Lennon and McCartney wrote that it couldn’t buy you love, they were wrong. It can purchase pretty much everything and it’s the backbone to most of the experiences that we come across throughout our lives. The slasher boom of the eighties was not because Halloween received a four-star review from Roger Ebert. It was, quite simply, a response to the bundles of cash that Carpenter and Co transferred to their bank accounts after its surprising success. That’s not to say that there weren’t filmmakers that were inspired by that movie, but somewhere lurking in the background was the hunger that most humans are born with… The ravishing lust for cash.
I say this, because of all the Halloween imitators that hit screens during the peak years, none looked more single-minded in their effort to become a cash cow than this one. A friend of mine owns a small bar and I remember when I was about eighteen (and foolish), I filled a glass with a bit of everything in order to invent a brand new cocktail that he could call his own. It tasted like cat’s urine, but drinking more than one and a half of them would result in you being absolutely span-dangled. The Boogey Man is a lot like my brazen attempt at a phenomenal new beverage, because it takes parts of many popular horror films and chucks them into a blender in the hope that it’ll appeal to every ticket buying horror fan in the stratosphere. Does it result in a smooth blend of slasher-holic heaven or are we in for more feline-urine…?
A mother returns to the house where she was raised to overcome psychological demons that have haunted her since one fateful night twenty or so years earlier. Her mother’s boyfriend was abusive to her brother, which resulted in him stabbing the elder man to death. Somehow, her arrival awakens the spirit of the deceased villain that was trapped, supernaturally, in a mirror. Unbeknownst to them, they take the mirror with them to help with her rehabilitation and the evil awakens…
If that plot description seems somewhat peculiar to you when compared to other eighties Halloween clones, then you can be proud of your stalk and slash knowledge. The Bogey Man’s unique slant was in danger of not really knowing what it wanted to be, but in fairness, the net result just about works. Haunted house stories always seem to generate chills, which is likely because ghostly urban legends were what we heard the most whilst growing up. Thanks to a smart use of sound and an unnerving Halloween-alike score, we get the right kind of spooky atmosphere to maximise that fear-factor. The slasher homage is most visible when the killer strikes and these regular murders add gore and brutality to the concept. After the traditional cut and pasted Carpenter-esque POV house stalking shot, Lommel manages to implement a few of his own ideas into the direction and the odd one pays off. I thought the scenes that saw characters exploring a dark barn and discovering corpses were exceptionally filmed and there’s always a subtle undercurrent of dread.
It’s tough to make out what got The Boogey Man added to the DPP list and banned in the United Kingdom, although there’s quite a bit of tacky goo and shots of a child – and later his sister – being tied up in a suggestive manner. Like many former video nasties though, this picture doesn’t seem particularly gruesome in comparison with others that it shares its genre with and it was likely a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve read reviews that criticise the level of the dramatics, but personally, I really didn’t think the cast were that bad. Uli Lommel’s beautiful wife, Suzanne Love, had some strong moments as the heroine and her real-life brother was cast to play, well, her brother in a role with minimal dialogue. The fact that he’s mute (and also a bit creepy) made us believe that he was set to be the villain, but it doesn’t take us long to realise that isn’t the case. In fact the film never really clarifies who or what the antagonist is and it’s these parts that show a weakness in the screenplay. It’s hinted that the mother’s evil boyfriend has reached out from the beyond to seek revenge, but without giving anything away, the conclusion throws so much at us that we’re left scratching our heads. There’s a reason why I think this to be a strategic picture that’s targeted mainly to make a profit; and the Amityville-alike house where the action takes place, Exorcist-lite conclusion and aforementioned Halloween-style murders are enough evidence to justify my accusation.
Still, The Boogey Man does provide some neat shocks and when it sticks to what it does best, it’s actually a compelling and scary film. Lommel pulls enough tricks to sustain a morbid tone and despite bordering on being ‘too supernatural’ in places, I think it is a good addition to the slasher catalogue. Those questioning whether it’s truly a stalk and slash movie can take comfort in the fact that it most certainly is; even if it is one that pushes the boundaries. On a side note, Blood Sisters, Girls School Screamers and more recently, The Inherited, could all be considered as inspired by this. With Screamers, it was of course unintentional, but interesting all the same…
Killer Guise: √
Directed by: Don Gronquist
Starring: Laurel Munson, Janet Penner, Sara Ansley
Review by Luis Joaquín González
In these recent times of rapid action cuts and CGI overloads, slow boiling thrillers have lost some their allure amongst audiences. I always try to value craft over excess, but recently I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds again and noticed I was losing focus during the lengthy character development parts. It’s strange, because I loved that movie so much when I was growing up.
This fairly intriguing genre entry grabbed a slice of notoriety because it was banned in the United Kingdom and quickly added to the video nasty list upon its release in 1982. With only four on-screen killings during the seventy-two minute runtime, nowadays it’s hard to see what the BBFC found so offensive. It’s been billed most places as more of a psychological chiller than an out and out stalk and slasher, so I promised myself to be extra patient when watching it unfold.
Three young girls that are on their way to a Jazz concert, crash their car in a rainstorm and wake up stranded in a large mansion. Even though everything seems comfortable at first, it soon becomes apparent that there’s a local killer on the loose and the girls have to fight to survive.
Director Don Gronquist has said that his sole ambition throughout his life had been to make a feature film. His first attempt, a serial killer/crime drama based on Charles Starkweather’s exploits, wasn’t picked up until eight-years after its 1973 production date. He didn’t let this deter him and Unhinged proved to be a lot more attractive to relevant suitors due to the boom of the slasher genre. Costing only $100,000 to produce, the film is a mix of Halloween and Psycho that coincidentally results in a blend that’s a lot like The Unseen. The early shots of a car heading along a winding road brought to mind The Shinning, which I also believe played a part in the ambition behind the project.
In terms of the influences taken from Carpenter’s classic, Gronquist pulls off some generally effective heavy-breath POV shots and a strong utilisation of sound to unsettle viewers. Jon Newton’s brooding score works wonders in maintaining an atmosphere and lesser scenes come alive solely because of the striking audio accompaniment. Dressed in a rain-mac, the killer strikes with unpredictability and each murder is brutal and ruthless. If you’re expecting bundles of gore because of the video nasty status, you’ll be disappointed, but there’s something unsettling about the way the killings are staged. Tension is brought from a complex mystery and a claustrophobic feeling that the girls are truly stranded in the wilderness. Building a creepy environment is not something all can achieve, but the unusual characters and (again) that frantic score really do wonders in maintaining the menace.
Whilst there can be no greater sources of inspiration than Hitchcock, Carpenter and Kubrick; as a director, Gronquist doesn’t come close to achieving that level of artistry. Unhinged is shot rather flatly, and rarely tries anything audacious. Outside of the impressive steadi-cam moments, the camera always seems to abide by the safest option and this has a noticeable effect on the film’s energy. Some of the most amateur editing that I can remember certainly doesn’t help matters and it’s surprising that this wasn’t picked up upon before release. We’ll see a shot of an open doorway for three-seconds before someone walks through or a sequence will just stop and fade to black awkwardly. This also plays havoc with the story’s timeline, because I couldn’t keep track of whether minutes or hours had passed between one part and the next. Whilst it would be fair to call Gronquist’s work ‘uninspired’, it deserved a lot better than how his editors made it look.
I called The Unhinged intriguing, and I really believe that it is. The plot concludes with a twist that I didn’t mention so as not to ruin, and it provides moments that are generally chilling. The performances are poor and the technical ability shoddy, at best. Despite that, it remains worth a look because it is so – what’s that word again? – Oh yes, intriguing. I prefer horror films develop an atmosphere and even if the pace does drop here and there, I actually quite liked it.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
The Slayer 1982
aka Nightmare Island
Directed by: J Cardone
Starring: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The Slayer only manages to scrape its way in to the slasher genre with its heels dragging across the floor. Like Dead Pit, Hard Cover and Small Town Massacre; J.S. Cardone’s video nasty includes many of the prominent trappings, but tries to incorporate something slightly different. The majority of the runtime is pretty standard stuff as a silhouetted killer hacks off cast members one by one, but when the maniac is revealed to be a supernatural monster, Cardone stretches the realms of the category beyond tradition. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a tad of originality, but the stalk and slash cycle is renowned for its stringent similarities. This of course pushes titles like Pledge Night, Child’s Play and A Nightmare on Elm Street just outside of the equation. Much has been written about The Slayer’s obvious links to the creation of Wes Craven’s Freddy franchise, so I won’t dwell too much on that topic. But it’s worth recognising the fact that he certainly lifted a few plot points from this and the Frankie Avalon bore fest of the following year (Blood Song) to come up with the idea for his huge horror series.
Surreal artist Kay (Sarah Kendall) has been having the same reoccurring dark dream since she was a young child. It contains vivid images of a horrific monster that stalks her in a flame filled room. Even though the nightmare has plagued her more and more over the past few days, she has never been able to see it through to its conclusion. Her Doctor husband David (Alan McRae) has agreed to take her away on a trip with her brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook). He hopes that a little break from the pressures of everyday life will finally put an end to the restless nights. They have borrowed a beautiful house on a secluded island, which at this time of the year remains virtually un-inhabited. The rugged beauty of the isle immediately captivates Eric, but Kay is spooked because she believes that she has been there sometime before. On the first night they are warned that a dangerous storm is thundering towards the land, and it’s arrival sends the atmosphere into total chaos. The following morning when they awaken, David has disappeared, unbeknownst to them, murdered by an unseen menace. Before long, the silhouetted killer begins stalking the island with a pitchfork, looking to turn Kay’s dreams into a shocking reality.
The Slayer succeeds in being one of the few video nasties that someway lives up to its gruesome reputation. Robert Folk’s impressively orchestrated score keeps the tension running high and Cardone adds some neat directorial touches that build a few satisfying scares throughout the runtime. Although Richard Short’s special effects don’t stand up to the scrutiny of Tom Savini’s greatest hits, there are still some memorable gore scenes on offer. One guy gets semi decapitated in an ingenious killing that has surprisingly never been imitated over the following years, and there’s a decidedly grisly pitchfork impalement that is worth the budget purchase price alone. The film does drag somewhat in places, but some splendid scenes, which see Kay battling to stay awake and prevent the monster’s reappearance, salvage the final third. A good plot twist in the closing scene makes up for the somewhat brief showdown when the beast is finally unveiled. The net result is a movie that overcomes it’s flaws with a generally macabre underlining of claustrophobic doom.
Unfortunately, the years haven’t been to kind to this feature and the digitally remastered DVD cannot hide the numerous blips on the negative. The level of performance from the cast is really bad, especially the lack of emotion from lead, Sarah Kendall. Even when her brother and husband have been slaughtered she fails to look anything other than totally flat. At times, the script falls foul of the old ‘victim # 1 goes missing so victim # 2 goes looking for him’ shortcut, which shows a weakness in the screenplay. But the intriguing set locations and some stunning aerial photography keep things moving.
The Slayer is one of the many old horror movies that have been re-released totally unedited on budget DVD. You can pick it up for next to nothing on Amazon, so there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t. Eerie and at times downright gruesome, this one is certainly worth re-visiting.
Final Girl √
Directed by: Joe D’amato
Starring: George Eastman, Annie Belle, Ed Purdom
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
About fifteen-years ago, whilst looking round the second-hand video shops in Soho, London, I stumbled upon a gleaming copy of Absurd for only £4.00 ($8.00). Seeing how the movie had been banned in Great Britain since the Video Nasty days, I knew that the guy behind the counter wasn’t aware of the true price of what he was losing out on. Finding Joe D’amato’s splatter extravaganza completely unedited and at an extreme budget price was indeed good fortune on my part and so I picked it up and rushed home for a gore-soaked evening’s viewing.
This is not a direct sequel to Anthropophagus, although George Eastman returns as the demented bogeyman. The secluded Island has been abandoned as a location and instead he roams a small (supposedly) American town and hospital, which was obviously inspired by Michael Myers’ exploits in John Carpenter’s Halloween and Halloween II. Eagle eyed viewers will spot British-born actor and slasher regular, Edmund Purdom, who was certainly slumming it after already ‘starring’ in Pieces and following this with Don’t open ’til Christmas. His choices of roles over those years deserved an award of some kind. A B-movie Razzie? Well, not many performers at any level have endured trash to such an extent.
In the beginning, a priest (Purdom) is seen chasing Mikos Stenopolis through a forest. The pursuit continues until the visually deranged giant reaches a huge gate. As he begins to climb over, the clergyman grabs him and pulls him on to the sharp spikes, effectively disemboweling him. Mikos crawls up to the house that was behind the fence and staggers in to the kitchen where he falls to the floor clutching his entrails. A quaint family owns the mansion that he stumbles in to, and as you can well imagine, they’re pretty shocked when they see the bearded beast collapse in their doorway with his guts in his hands. (Literally!) He is taken to a nearby hospital where surgeons are bewildered by his impressive recovery skills and before long he’s up on his feet, drilling through the head of an unsuspecting nurse as he goes. For some bizarre reason, he seems to have taken a liking to the house that he chanced upon earlier, so he heads back there, taking the time to kill off any bystanders that he runs into on the way. A teenage girl that’s recovering from a spinal operation, a young (extremely obnoxious) boy and their babysitter inhabit the home and before long, our unstoppable maniac is skulking in the shadows with an axe. Meanwhile, perhaps the family’s only salvation is the priest from earlier who has joined forces with the local constabulary in a bid to stop the maniacal killer. We soon learn that his indestructibility was the result of a military science experiment and the only way that he can be killed is by completely destroying his brain. That sounds like the perfect cue for a gore-tastic showdown.
Whereas Anthropophagus made good use of its effectively foreboding locations to create an overall feeling of uneasiness that sat heavily on your shoulders throughout the movie, Absurd rarely touches on that level of fear or apprehensiveness. Instead the movie’s real impact is displayed visually, in the bundles of goo and vicious murders. Perhaps the most disturbing of the bunch is when an unfortunate guy is caught off guard whilst sweeping a warehouse and gets his head chopped in half with a band saw, which is, of course, filmed in graphic close-up. D’ amato tries to add as much suspense as he can to the stalking scenes, but more often than not his results are inconclusive. On occasion, he pulls off the odd effective shock, like when the assailant springs on the unsuspecting Emily as she attempts to cross the spacious kitchen to reach the child that she’s protecting. He then continues the savage brutality by trying to cook her head in an oven, whilst she’s alive and screaming for mercy. Slasher films are notorious for setting a tone that borders on black comedy and therefore avoid displaying the suffering of their dumb and poorly acted victims. Absurd on the other hand is incredibly sadistic and unforgiving in what it conveys on screen when Stenopolis strikes.
The roots of inspiration are grounded in the genre pieces from America and D’amato avoids the Giallo approach that is far more prevalent amongst his native counterparts. The director relinquishes the black hat and gloves of a mysterious killer in favour of a Michael Myers-alike hulking boogeyman that stays on screen from the outset. Setting a temporarily disabled teenage target as the film’s heroine was an effort to maximise Carpenter’s methodology of making his protagonist a polar opposite in terms of strength and defensive ability. It’s obvious that the director wanted the chance of survival for his characters to be as inconceivable as possible in order to make things all the more terrifying. Perhaps the only influence taken from his countrymen is the excessive use of gore that would become a trademark for names like Lucio Fulci, whom perhaps D’ Amato’s work can be most closely compared with. He lacks the panache of an Argento or Bava, and instead opts for shock tactics and bloody excess.
Seeing too much of Eastman’s growling insanity breaks the ‘less is more’ guideline that proved most effective in deft slasher outings. The fact that we know from the start that Mikos is indestructible removes the surprise element that we got from Michael Myers when he arose after those six shots in Halloween. There’s no denying the fact that the barrage of gore is attractive to horror hounds, but the film struggles to sustain a credible momentum during the in-between parts. The performances are extremely poor and Purdom’s attempt at a Greek accent is hilarious, even though he was arguably the best performer of an awful bunch. Let me state that again, Edmund Purdom was the best actor on show here… Yes, the movie does have that many problems. When we are away from the ferocity of Mikos and his machete, the pace slows right down to an almost standstill and sleepy heads might find their eyes beginning to link together for a snooze.
D’amato gets labelled as a hack more regularly than most, but the recent peak in slashers that include bags of goo have justified his work to be better than the criticism that he has received for the best part of thirty-years. It’s not hard to fill the screen with corn syrup, but creating a tone of dread is a skill that we don’t come across regularly enough. Even if it may be true that this lacks the chills that his previous slasher conveyed so credibly, it still provides enough to create an underlying atmosphere of gloom.
Final Girl: √
Don’t Go In The Woods 1981
Directed by: James Bryan
Starring: Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, James P. Hayden
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Picking out the crème de la crème of the stalk and slash genre is a task that’s only too easy. Ask nine out of ten fans for their opinions on who’s the king bogeyman, and I’m betting that they’ll all reply, without pause for a breath: Michael Myers, Halloween. You may get the odd individuals that’ll pipe up with their love for Scream or Friday the 13th, but more often than not, it’ll be John Carpenter that rightly snatches the glory for his long-standing seminal masterpiece. A much tougher task on the other hand is attempting to root out the category’s biggest toads, simply because, there’s just so many of them. For every one half-decent attempt at rehashing the formula, there are twenty or more total turkeys, which makes the mission to save Private Ryan look simple compared to hunting out the undisputed crapola champion. If there were ever a poll to seek out the lowest of the low in psycho-killer entertainment, then I can guarantee, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, that Don’t go in the woods would be there gleaming amongst the top five.
Woods is a true, true travesty of a movie that sinks the tonal depths in just about every way shape and form that a motion picture possibly can. Everything from the torch with low-batteries worthy lighting to the woefully irritating score – which sounds like it was composed by a drunken moggy running across the keys of his owner’s Bontempi – puts this rancid beast on a new level of shameful amateurism.
Certainly the most bizarre slice of trivia that has allowed this to gain the smallest level of cinematic notoriety is the fact that it was banned in the United Kingdom. Along with the bland, but not quite as atrocious Delirium, this is yet another video-nasty that leaves you questioning the astoundingly stringent decisions of UK censorship during the early eighties. Perhaps it was all just an ingenious marketing ploy to allow copies of this junk to sell for nonsensical prices on e-bay in years to come? (The other day I saw one up for £30!) I don’t know for sure, but either way, it doesn’t deserve the cult-classic accolade it has achieved since it was considered a tad too extreme by some numbskull left-wing Guardian reader.
It kicks off with shaky shots of some beautiful woodland. A young woman comes sprinting from out of the trees, closely pursued by jerky steadi-cam. She trips over, screams, and just when you think she’s about to get splattered – the screen jumps like a kangaroo on a hot plate. At first I thought that I may have been watching a heavily censored print, I mean this was 1982 and the video-nasty prohibition was just about to kick-off all over the world. I took the liberty of asking JA Kerswell from the kingdom of slasher knowledge – Hysteria Lives – if there was an uncut copy floating around. He told me that this was the only version that he knew of, and simply to put the erratic skipping down to cack-handed editing. In fact, he told me to put the whole movie down to bad editing, but I guess that we’re jumping the gun a little by saying that this early in the review. (Though I must admit, he does have a point.) Cut to a bird watcher loitering in the same area (presumably). He’s only on screen for ten seconds tops, and then the still unseen maniac turns up and offers him a life-long disability permit by gorily yanking off his hokey arm, which looks like it was moulded with paper-mâché.
Finally we get to meet four characters that aren’t only there to be butchered (just yet). There’s Craig, who infuriatingly keeps lecturing everyone on the dangers of strolling through the woodland. It’s a characteristic that grates throughout the runtime, until he bumps into Mr. nut-job a lot later than we’d really have liked him too. Suffice to say that his woodland experiences didn’t prepare him for that particular endeavour. The second male along for the ride is Peter, the brash rebellious guy, who’s full of piss and vinegar right through to the film’s ridiculous climax. They’ve also brought along their two girlfriends, but they’re both so flat that I really can’t be bothered to think up a description. The only thing that I will say is that one of them looks alarmingly like Richard Cunningham from Happy Days, even sporting a ginger ‘flat top’ side-parting. Anyway things plod along at the pace of an autistic tortoise, as we cut between the four nincompoops enjoying all that nature has to offer, and various no-hopers getting splattered by the psycho, who looks like a cross between a caveman and a hippy. Don’t go in the Woods’ only claim to any originality comes when Peter decides enough is enough, and heads out into the trees to track down and get revenge on the killer. Ho-hum indeed…
Funnily enough, the film was released this side of the ocean as Don’t go in the woods Alone, which would’ve been a catchy little title if it wasn’t so profoundly riddled with irony. You see, when the ‘hero’ does eventually jog off into the forest on his lonesome, not only does he manage to emerge with his limbs intact, but he also ends up defeating the maniac. Perhaps a more suitable title would have been Don’t go in the Woods in a Wheelchair, because one unfortunate friend of the director spends a tiresome ten minutes struggling to get to the top of a rocky hill in his. When he finally does reach the peak, the loony proves that he’s a nasty piece of work by showing us that he has no compassion for those with disabilities – Tsk! We never find out why this particular victim decided to take his wheelchair into the uneven grounding of a forest of all places, but to be honest, character development wasn’t brimming from the screenwriter’s mind when it came to padding out these 82 minutes with body count material. Characters are manufactured only for the slaughter, and if they do get a small snippet of dialogue, then it’s usually so inane that they themselves look puzzled as they struggle desperately to convince. Take for example the two newly-weds (so it says on the cover), who provide the only real quality cheesy giggle. It seems that the guy’s unfortunate enough to be called Dick, and his fledgling missus makes the best comical use of his name, by goofing things like, ‘Oh Dick, oh Dick…It’s just that my head isn’t in the right place Dick.’ (Make what you want of the last bit) Anyway Dick and Cherry (no, really) won’t be celebrating any anniversaries in the near future, they too were cast only as soon-to-be deadites.
Every review that I’ve ever read on this dollop of dung, refers to the theme song that plays over the end credits, which means it’d be pretty un-original of me to do exactly the same thing. But after hearing it, I can appreciate an author’s keenness to quote the lyrics word for word. God bless composer H. Kingsley Thurber is all that I can say, his ‘remarkable’ nursery rhyme re-imaging is one of the funniest things that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. This being a ‘video-nasty’, you’d expect to find gore to rival the bloodiest Fulci or sexual nudity straight from Debbie does Dallas. But no luck in that department either, every character keeps their blouses buttoned, and the first Friday the 13th was bloodier, which cancels any gore hounds delight, because that got released on a stringent eighteen certificate.
Don’t go in the Woods is truly a work of utter incompetence that can only be rivalled by crap like Movie House Massacre in the shoddy film-making department. One character summed up her movie-making experience perfectly as she trundled through the woodland on the long winding path to film obscurity. Discussing the enviroment at that particular moment, she blurted out something along the lines of, ‘what a stink, yuk – it’s rancid!’ What she could never have predicted is that not even a truly polished cinema critique could have given a more accurate description of what she was partaking in. If you’re still one of the insane few that bids tirelessly on eBay to own an original copy of this stinker, then please do yourself a favour and save yourself the pain. This is one of the many cases when the bidding is the most fun that you’ll ever get if you win. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √
Blood Splash 1981
aka Nightmare aka Nightmare’s in a Damaged Brain
Directed by: Romano Scavolini
Starring: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, Danny Ronan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During the eighties slasher boom, there were two different styles that launched successfully from the initial template. Whilst the multitude of genre entries would focus on an undeveloped identity for their boogeymen and build their plot structures on the characterisation of their victims, there were a few that took the opposite cinematic approach. I’ve always thought that making your central character the antagonist is an intriguing idea, but possibly the toughest to convey in a workable concept. It’s not easy to establish a favourable personality for a homicidal maniac; especially when he must carry the entire feature as the lead. It could be said that the key strength that made the synopsis for Halloween so successful was the lack of clarity for Michael Myers’ identity and motives. Just why did he want to kill Laurie Strode? Why did he get up after being shot six times by Sam Loomis? We never got to find out, and that was an ingenious touch from Carpenter. A touch of surreality or openess from a screenplay can attract much interest and lengthy post-movie debate amongst audiences. Just look at classics like American Psycho, 2001 A Space Odyssey etc for further proof.
Despite the potential banana skins, a few features experimented with centralising their story around the characterisation of the main villain delivering mixed results. Whilst William Lustig’s Maniac can be credited as a genre classic, Bits and Pieces was shoddy and forgettable. That’s why I was thoroughly inspired to watch Blood Splash, which after years of repression as a video nasty has garnered itself a gruesome reputation. I own two copies of the movie and each has a separate title. The first one I came across was under the title Blood Splash and is heavily edited, but the second is an uncut VHS that I picked up in Amsterdam as ‘Nightmare’ and it has all the gooey bits intact 🙂
In the opening few scenes, we learn that George Tatum was recently released from his asylum due to the fact that his doctors have discovered a breakthrough cure for his violent spells of delirium and psychosis. The combination of drugs had completely cured the patient of his psychopathic hallucinations and his adviser believed that with time and measured access to society, Tatum would be fit to fully resume a normal standard of life. However it doesn’t take long for us to realise that his doctor’s hypothesis was drastically erroneous. This is evidently demonstrated when Tatum drops to the floor foaming from the mouth whilst watching a patently lackadaisical pornographic peep show.
Soon after, the clearly psychotic loner heads across the country on a personal vendetta to confront the inner demons of his consistent nightmares. His doctors panic when they realise that they have made a deadly mistake, and it’s a race against time to see if they can catch Tatum before he murders again…
Splash succeeds in being an unsettling, brutal and straight laced horror experience. It’s the kind of movie that does what it says on the tin. The Daily Mail-inspired campaign that launched the video nasty phase of the early eighties was unnecessary because as human beings we have a choice. If you don’t want to be offended by a film that was created directly to shock, then don’t watch Blood Splash. In 1984 David Grant, a former UK porn producer that had moved into feature film distribution, was jailed for 18 months (later reduced to 12) for releasing a version that waived the 62 seconds of cuts slapped upon it by the BBFC. This was a harsh statement of intent to further enforce the video nasty ban and it was a ridiculously un-democratic way of informing us that Big Brother was watching and the establishment reigned supreme.
The movie itself is a uniquely conveyed mix of unthinkable brutality and gooey money shots in a dreary depiction of a descent into vicious madness. Director Romano Scavolini makes no effort to hide his inspirations, and the film references various genre maestros without ever directly stealing from them. In places, he impressively manages to mimic Carpenter’s skill of emanating terror from the background. By now you should know how it works: the camera is fixed on a focal point for a sustained time, but as it begins to pan you become aware that something menacing is looming into focus just out of shot. It’s moments like this that can make or break a decent horror film and Splash does boast its fair share of successful tricks and flourishes.
It’s not unusual for a slasher movie to have a cast that disappears down the long road to film obscurity almost immediately after release. The genre has never been credited for its emphasis on dramatics. However it seems somewhat harsh on the actors from Blood Splash as the majority of them do a good enough job. Baird Stafford was impressive in an extremely complicated part and it’s hard to pick any bones from his psychotic depiction. He delivers a gnashing, foaming portrayal of dementia, which rarely touches on the OTT. Without a doubt the film’s reputation derives from its copious amounts of gore; and in its uncut print the feature doesn’t disappoint. Tom Savini was credited as the make-up artist, although he latter sued the producers, claiming that he had only worked as a consultant. In reality the effects were supplied by soon-to-be Oscar nominee Ed French and his work was worthy of Savini’s name. The gory final sequence, which involves a messy decapitation and an axe through the head, has become the stuff of slasher legend.
Splash is not without its negatives however and they stem from the confusing plot. The idea to break the runtime into segmented days ala The Shinning was a good one, but characters are randomly introduced without clarification, which creates a story that’s awkward to follow. There’s also a lack of cohesion in some of the promising ideas that are hinted but never followed through. Our deranged killer shares an interesting relationship with the child of the family that he stalks, but it never develops as we are left feeling like it should have. The script hints at an altogether more ambiguous depth to the synopsis, but it’s not given enough clarification to go anywhere.
Some may say that Blood Splash can be rather tedious in its long excursions into the depth of the antagonist’s insanity, but I managed to enjoy Scavolini’s opus and I recommend it to be seen. It’s not one that’s going to terrify you, but it’s slow and brooding atmosphere can become quite gripping.
Final Girl: √√
The Burning 1981
Directed by: Tony Maylam
Starring: Brian Matthews, Brian Becker, Jason Alexander
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Tony Maylam’s The Burning is one of the most notorious non-franchise slashers of all time. Even before pre production had begun in the summer of 1980, the movie had an incredible buzz surrounding it. Enough so in fact that superstar horror FX maestro Tom Savini rejected the chance to return to the Friday the 13th series for Steve Miner’s classic sequel and instead took this project for a lesser salary.
Of all the peak period genre entries, none can boast the depth in terms of personnel that was put together here. Alongside the aforementioned magic of Savini, the cast included Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg and Oscar winners Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. The grim and unique score came from former Yes keyboardist, Rick Wakeman and directorial duties went to Tony Maylam, who at the time had been predicted for big things after his work on rock band Genesis’ outstanding concert video from 1977.
There can be little doubt that the hype and quality in recruitment was down to an early example of the skills of production partnership Harvey and Bob Weinstein, whose company Miramax films would go on to become one of the most successful entertainment brands in Hollywood over the next three decades. This was the first feature length motion picture to be released under that brand and thereafter, they would go on to distribute over fifty films, including classics such as The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction and even Wes Craven’s Scream. If that wasn’t enough, then can you believe that the script was co-written by future Paramount Pictures CEO Brad Grey? Astonishing…
After a prank goes wrong, a sadistic camp caretaker returns to the site where the accident took place, looking for revenge. Armed with a shiny pair of shears, Cropsy begins to stalk a group of counsellors with mutilation on his mind…
In the UK, The Burning was one of the first entries to join the video nasty list and it received perhaps higher persecution for the fact that Thorn-EMI accidentally released the full uncut print instead of the censored copy that the BBFC had cleared. The tapes were impounded and destroyed, but bizarrely, Thorn-EMI were more fortunate than David Grant who was sent to prison for doing the exact same thing when he distributed a longer version of the film Blood Splash a year later. I paid an absolute fortune for an unedited version of this when I was a nipper and it was a mistake as the cassette had an infuriating line running through the middle, which made it almost as bad as just sticking to the 18 rated VHS. Watching it now though, on the BlueRay pre-screener that I was sent, is a glorious experience and the film looks as if it could have been a production from the last decade. The masters have obviously been well looked after and playing it on my Plasma allowed me to turn out the lights and almost feel like I was in the cinema in 1981.
Maylam attempts the John Carpenter methodology of slowly generating an undertone of dread that boils along in the background and then attacks like a shark in the places when the killer strikes. A great example of this is the infamous ‘Raft Massacre’ sequence, which boasts an almost perfect build up. Wakeman’s scoring warns us that something is about to happen, but the camera never reveals enough to let us be sure. When the loon finally strides on to the screen, the bloodletting is quick, brutal and graphic. To this day, you can count on one hand the amount of times in slasher cinema that an antagonist has taken out so many victims in one fell swoop. Tom Savini proves once again here why he was the go to guy for the most realistic special effects back in the overkill period of the slasher cycle.
What I like about the script is that it spends time developing its characters and their performances really add the necessary realism that makes what happens later seem all the more shocking. Jason Alexander steals every scene as a quick-witted camper, whilst Brian Matthews, Leah Ayers and Ned Eisenberg were solid and flawless in their roles. The dialogue and banter works not only to add fun to the parts where the horror takes a backseat, but also to develop a genuine level of believability in the set up and I found it easy to forget that I was watching a group of actors. The screenplay also separates itself from the multitude of its genre brethren by having a ‘final boy’ instead of the usual heroine left alone to face the marauding maniac. The thing is that despite the fact that Brian Becker does a good job with the role, the decision is a risk that just doesn’t pay off.
The Burning has become a true cult classic and has legions of admirers in not only slasher but also horror movie circles. Personally though, I think that it is slightly overrated and perhaps undeserving of so much notoriety. Despite its visible slickness, it lacks a real cutting edge in its moments of terror. Whilst the gore is great and almost like a snuff film in places, the murder sequences lack jump scares or suspense and there’s very little true tension. This is most evident in the conclusion, which I found to be really disappointing. Our hero heads up with an axe to take on the boogeyman and we’re expecting at least a fight. There’s a revelation that builds up a deserving target, at least in the eyes of our nut job caretaker, but Maylam’s attempts at prolonging the money shot are overwrought. In the end it’s more ‘was that it?’ than ‘oh yeah that’s it!’ if you get what I mean. Whilst the notorious ‘Raft Massacre’ is magnificent in terms of the excellence of the make-up FX and it’s an all round great postcard of slasher genre splatter, has anyone ever wondered how it might have looked had it not been SO rapidly edited?
As I highlighted earlier, the script doesn’t bother with a traditional female heroine and instead develops a male geeky type guy in her place. The thing is though we are not talking about a loveable mummy’s boy here. Instead, he is conveyed as an unlikeable pervert and it’s just too hard to bond with him or even want him to survive. It’s funny because before this, we watched The Prowler and Joseph Zito opted for a conventional lead character there and the difference is impossible not to notice. When Vicky Dawson was trying her darnedest to fend off the pitch folk clenching maniac, my partner shouted, “Go on girl!” But there was never any chance of the Mrs doing the same thing here. We ended up saying that Todd should leave Cropsy to get on with it and save himself instead of risking his life for the dweeby Alfred.
I have regular conversations with you guys and girls about these slasher films and I know that not all of you will agree with my view. That’s the beauty of the genre though; everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Tom Savini delivers on the goo-o-rama, there are some nice performances, it’s beautifully produced and Rick Wakeman’s score is a masterpiece. If I could however take maybe 15% of its reputation and give it to Nightmare at Shadow Woods, I would feel a lot better about the whole thing. Tony Maylam’s biggest film after this was Split Second with Rutger Hauer. Maybe this picture would have been better if Steve Miner had also opted not to work on Friday the 13th Part 2 and followed his friend Tom over to Camp Blackfoot? Just a thought…
The Dorm That Dripped Blood 1981
aka Pranks aka Death Dorm
Directed by: Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow
Starring: Laurie Lapinski, Stephen Sachs, Daphne Zuniga
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Many of the slasher films from the early eighties were made by filmmakers with minimal experience who were looking to land their first big break. Whenever I get the chance to speak to crew members from that period, I notice that there’s usually always a unique story about how they secured funding or what corners they cut to get the feature released. None of those that I’ve heard though startled me quite as much as what I found out about The Dorm that Dripped Blood, which is one of my favourites of the golden age.
I was sure that lurking behind the scenes here was a fat cat producer with a wad of notes and a hunger to cash in on the slasher craze. It turns out though that this was nothing more than a thesis project from three ambitious students of the University of California. After seeing John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween at the cinema, Jeffrey Obrow, Stephen Carpenter and Stacey Giachino decided that they wanted to have a crack at making something similar. With minimal funding they put together a team of up and comers, which resulted in a launch pad for a few notable careers. Christopher Young was studying music on a campus that was situated close to Obraw and Carpenter, whilst twenty-four year old make-up artist Matthew Mungle had just began pitching his junior portfolio to prospective employers. Years after they completed this film, Young would become one of the most popular composers of recent times and Mungle would win an Academy award and gain a further three nominations.
The shoot took place mainly during the December of 1980 and Obrow and his crew built their entire schedule around when the equipment that was provided by UCLA was available for use. The locations were all discovered in and around the campus and the majority of cast members were unknowns or eager friends. Their coming together resulted in a superb example of the genre’s strengths when handled with ambition
A group of youngsters stay behind over the Christmas period to help clean and disassemble a dorm that is about to be closed down. Little do they know that they are sharing the location with a brutal killer…
I came across the film Pranks (as it was known in the UK) when I was growing up in London. Alongside The Driller Killer, Night of the Demon and Madhouse it had been quickly added to the DPP list and classified as a video nasty. Although the intention of the British government had been to do the exact opposite, the tag gave the film a cult classic reputation and it was passed around on bootleg format with the added rebellious attraction of its unlawful status. A younger kid called Dean from across the street had a genuine copy that his dad had rescued from the claws of the Video Nasty campaign. In the end he sold to me for £10, which was a lot of money for an eleven year old child, but I wanted it so badly I would have paid £50.
Dorm is without a shadow of a doubt one of the grittiest of the period slashers and in my opinion, one of the most underrated. Despite not boasting the finesse of a My Bloody Valentine or Dressed to Kill, it succeeds by sacrificing an atmosphere of campy fun and replacing it with unrelenting grimness. From the first moment on screen – when a guy is brutally murdered before the credits – the audience is made aware that they are watching a horror movie and there are no real attempts to alter the mood. I have always believed that in terms of structure for a slasher, you need to open with a shock, spend no more than thirty-five minutes on plot development with maybe the odd killing to maintain the tone. Follow that with a suspenseful mid-section, whilst the body count mounts, and then leave a good twenty-five minutes for the showdown/unmasking scene with the protagonist. Obraw’s screenplay gets that pretty much spot on and despite a few hollow moments that could have perhaps been much shorter, Christopher Young’s fantastic score (one of the best of the genre) sustains the energy.
Watching the newly released director’s cut has given Matthew Mumble’s gore effects the stage that they deserve and on BlueRay, they look superb. Hearing about the minimalistic funding that he was given to achieve these results somehow makes them seem all the better and in its entirety, Dorm can rightly be acknowledged as one of the most gruesome of its kind. There’s a fairly well-constructed mystery with red-herrings popping up in the right places and even if the killer’s revelation is not expertly conveyed (the motive is non-existent) it leads to a bold final scene, which was unique at the time of filming.
Perhaps what the feature lacks the most is a group of well developed personalities that we can bond with. The players here are wafer thin and therefore we never feel particularly intrigued by their dialogue or sympathetic towards their plight. In film’s such as Iced, Evil Laugh or Friday the 13th Part II, memorable faces such as Carl, Barney and Ted added some comedic warmth to the proceedings and make us care more about the results of the oncoming horror. Here though, Laurie Lapinski gave us a one-dimensional and extremely unapproachable final girl, whilst the rest of the cast were never offered anything authentic to escape their stereotype. Soon to be superstar Daphne Zuniga gets no chance to impress on her five-minute feature debut. It has to be said though that the kill scene that sees her get gruesomely mutilated along with her parents has been written in to slasher folklore as one of the best sequences of the cycle. Whilst it could be argued that the lower amount of definition in the characters that guide us through the story give the film a more ‘complete’ feel of out and out horror, I couldn’t help but wonder how good this could have been with a tad more depth put into the protagonist and her co-stars.
Perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that despite the complete lack of experience of those involved, Dorm is one of most notorious pieces of the initial slasher phase. It is a brutal, scary, gory and atmospheric slasher that engulfs you in its storm of underlying gloom. It overcomes its obviously raw level of filmmaking technicality to be a real treat for horror audiences. I thoroughly recommend it.
Final Girl √√
Night of the Demon 1980
Directed by: James C. Wasson
Starring: Michael Cutt, Joy Allen, Bob Collins
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Some of the video nasties from the early eighties were nowhere near as gruesome as their reputation would lead you to believe and half of the time they left you bewildered as to why they were banned in the first place. That’s not the case with Night of the Demon though, which doesn’t take long to let you know what philosophy these filmmakers believed in. We can safely assume that someone over at the BBFC was concerned that a contrast of images that includes a biker getting his ‘Johnson’ ripped off by a furry beast may be just a tad too much for public consumption. In the end, they decided that the best thing to do was to chuck this in a vault and hope that it quietly went away. It was resubmitted and heavily edited ten years later by ex-video nasty distributor, VipCo films. I found a copy on that label in a trade store on Regent Street, London. Imagine my unparalleled joy when I got home and watched it only to notice that it was time-coded and totally uncut. It turns out that I had discovered a pre-screener and it was a personal ‘up yours’ from me to the establishment. Sometime later I came across another version in Spain with a hilarious cover, which I have posted here.
In all fairness, director James C Watson is somewhat extreme with his over-use of visual suggestion. In the first five minutes alone, a fisherman is forced to a life collecting disability benefits courtesy of bumping into the ‘demon’ who was out on his rounds and hungry for a dismembered limb or two. The movie continues in this gratuitous vein all the way through, never bothering to add a touch of suspense or atmosphere development. Instead, it relies on grotesque images to boost the shock factor, breaking new grounds for gooey extremities.
The first scene takes place in a dingy little room that I guess is really supposed to look-like it’s a Hospital ward. A guy lays bed-ridden, with his face covered by bandages and plasters. Two doctors and a Sheriff discuss his injuries, stating that, ‘… his face is horribly mutilated (and) most of the skin is burned away’. Any man with his extreme medical condition must have some sombre tale of woe that (graphically) details how he ended up in such an uncomfortable position. When the lawman asks for his description of the events that left him so severely disfigured, he kicks it all off with the cheesy intriguing build up, ‘Those horror stories that you heard about the forest…they’re all true!’ So begins the flashback that will narrate us through his gore-laden adventure…
Apparently, the man without a face is Bill Nugent, an anthropology lecturer (a popular career amongst slasher alumni, I’m sure you’ll agree), that you could say is somewhat obsessed with uncovering the truth behind the legend of a murderous Big Foot. He and a group of budding students have decided that a journey out to the location where the stories came from should offer some clues to solve the mystery. They are to be joined on their excursion by Carla Thomas, the daughter of the unfortunate angler that I told you about earlier. She warns the volunteers of the dangers that lie ahead, by telling them the tale of a man who was brutally murdered whilst making-out in the back of a van with his girlfriend. The young woman who survived the murder was especially memorable, because she seems to think that portraying fear amounts to making ecstatic grunts that sound more like she had been sharing a bed with Ron Jeremy after he’d swallowed a bag of Viagra. Despite the fearful advice, the group decide to continue with their trip and head off in small boats down a long winding river into the wilderness, just like Burt Reynolds and his pals did in Deliverance.
They arrive at the destination and we get another flashback (within a flashback) that shows us the fate of a previous victim of the hairy beast. Note that our bogeyman actually looks more like an unshaven member of the heavy metal group Twisted Sister than any kind of rare big-foot mammal. This story involves a guy in a sleeping bag being swung round in circles before plummeting on to a dangerously miss-placed branch. The next morning, the group decide to interrogate the local townspeople in a scene that was most definitely ‘borrowed’ by The Blair Witch Project some time later. They’re told tonnes of conflicting rumours by the villagers, but every story that they hear has at least one thing in common: a hermit who lives in the hills and goes by the fitting name of ‘Crazy Wanda’. Apparently, she had a baby that was, ‘Awful to look at… deformed…a Mongoloid.’ The somewhat straight talking interviewee also gives us her opinion on what made the sprogg look so retarded. “It could have been down to malnutrition”, she comments. Erm… Okey. Now that they finally have a real lead, they head deeper into the forest and conveniently further away from civilization, which makes any sort of rescue attempt a definite impossibility.
As darkness falls, the group sit around a bonfire and discuss their findings so far. They learn from the professor that they’ve arrived at the point where years earlier a motorcyclist took his last piss in the bushes, due to the creature showing up and ‘copping a feel’ with horrifying results. Apparently in the edited print, the actual castration is totally removed. In the full version, it’s not that it’s particularly gory, but any male that’s watching will most definitely flinch purely at the thought of it. During the night, the campers are awoken by mysterious sounds emulating from within the trees. Nugent and his buddy investigate and come across a black mass, which looks more like a Country dancing festival, but I suppose it was meant to look really creepy. A young girl lies in the middle of the chanting crowd and we see that she is awkwardly consenting to intercourse with a strange fellow that looks suspiciously like Davy Jones from The Monkeys. The anthropologist immediately thinks that it’s rape and spoils the party by popping off a few caps into the sky from his trusty firearm. The revellers take off running in different directions, leaving the heroic visitors to head back to their tents feeling like they’ve done a good deed. As wrongful repayment for their helpful services, the next morning they wake up to find that their boats are missing. That means they’re stranded without any ammunition; – or in other words, doomed. Their luck worsens when two of the teenage students take a stroll under the moonlight for a spot of nookie, which is always a bad idea. Their fondling comes to an abrupt halt when the guy’s back is violently scratched by the killer’s fury hand (or should that be paw?). They sit round and chat about the assault, but strangely enough, not one of them seems to realise that they’re on a crash course for destruction if they hang around this area any longer. What more proof do they need? I’d hate to enroll at the university that these guys attended. I’ve heard about students offering blood, sweat and tears for their assignments, but as Eddie Cochran so truthfully said, that’s something else.
Eventually the hapless group stumble across Wanda’s cabin, which is situated in an area where a few years ago, the dumbest movie murder ever transferred to celluloid took place. Two girls are grabbed by Big Foot and bashed into each other unconvincingly. They’re both holding knifes in their hands, which results in them spraying blood over one another, because they didn’t think of ‘dropping the blades’. After a while, we’re finally introduced to the crazy hermit who really doesn’t help too much, because she’s been left muted by her involvement with the walking carpet. Before the remaining hunters even have the chance to shout ‘Help me Wanda’, old Mr. Grisly turns up and reveals himself to the unwelcome tourists. He expresses his apparent distaste that they’ve come traipsing into his area without direct permission, by surrounding and then violently murdering them one by one, in one of the goriest final scenes in the whole history of splatter flicks.
Watching Night of the Demon is like attending a horror reunion filled with parts that were ‘borrowed’ from the more popular films released from the mid-seventies to when this hit the shelves. We start in traditional Friday the 13th territory, with victims getting picked off in the woods by an unseen assailant. Then we sail into the realms of Eaten Alive with a rape sequence, which is watched by a baying gang of hillbilly crazies. Chuck in some Rosemary’s Baby, as we get all sacrilegious with the inclusion of a demonic offspring and plenty of satanic cursing. Finally we take a trip into the world that was prominently inhabited by Lucio Fulci around this time, with a gore-tastic showdown that’s not a million miles away from the House by the Cemetery. There are some truly blood-soaked scenes that have made the uncut version highly sought after, selling for big bucks on eBay. The most amusing of the bunch, is when the monster pulls out one gentleman’s intestines and spins them around his head like a cowboy twirling his lasso. Perhaps his true ambition was to be accepted as a hairy Southern wrangler? Hey, now there’s a plot twist…
The cast manage to offer nothing but putrid performances all the way through. It’s not like they’re bad actors trying to look good; they just aren’t any kind of actors at all. Dennis McCarthy’s music sounds like he dropped a vial of acid and then blew the flute over some Jazz that’s been played badly and the photography seems to have been performed by a guy with a nervous twitch because it judders more than a Sumo wrestler on a bouncy castle. Most of the characters remain nameless (and pointless) all the way through. In fact I’m sure that it was only the professor that was addressed by a title? The plot suffers from narration that’s about as much use as Stevie Wonder guiding you through a mile-long maze, and we never even find out a reason why the Big-foot has such animosity against human kind in the first place? It would have been nice to perhaps learn an interesting motive for his apparent hatred.
Despite the back-garden amateurism of the production, Wasson’s slasher film pulls no punches. Even if it is absolute trash, it’s fun trash all the same. I actually found it to be highly unforgiving with its level of outright brutality and the gooey murders do add something of a grim tone to the final scene. I’m no stranger to gory mayhem, but it does succeed in its excessive overindulgence. It is too cheesy to be taken seriously, but for such a low budget picture, the hokey effects manage to really unsettle at times. The director even manages a superb jump scare at the end that caught me off guard.
I guess that Demon most definitely deserves credit for trying something a little different from the majority of early eighties killer in the woods flicks. The POV shots and various references keep it tightly nailed into the slasher genre, but at least it isn’t just another masked killer on a campsite offering. If you want some gory fun then check out the UNCUT copy only. Alongside Pieces, The Last Horror Film et al, it’s become something of a Grindhouse dish of the day…. I am sure that you’ll have a good time.
Terror Eyes 1981
aka Night School
Directed by: Kenneth Hughes
Starring: Rachel Ward, Drew Snyder, Leonard Mann
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This early eighties addition to the cycle was one of the last of the key period to acquire a re-release on DVD. It’s hard to understand exactly why the digital revolution has ignored it for so long, because Terror Eyes is certainly no worse than the legions of Halloween clones that have been packaged and then re-packaged once again on special edition discs. Not only is it one of the seventy-four ‘collectable’ video nasties that were unfortunate enough to be banned in the United Kingdom and added to the notorious DPP list, but on top of that, its production boasts some interesting trivia.
Director Kenneth Hughes was not just an ambitious wet-behind-the-ears beginner like so many of his genre counterparts from the period. Instead he was a film-maker with a long and varied résumé, which included a few high-profile productions. Perhaps even more bewildering is the fact that his most recognised cinematic achievement prior to this violent splatter flick had been kiddies favourite and Oscar-nominee, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Terror Eyes also handed a début role to Rachel Ward, who would go on to become a popular actress in later years.
The city of Boston is being terrorised by a head hunting psychopath. Dressed in motorcycle leathers and masked by a tinted crash helmet, the killer is decapitating his victims and then submerging their heads in water, which leads the Police to believe that he is a ritualistic maniac. Detectives are mystified as to the motives of the deranged assassin and as the bodies pile up they realise that they must move quickly to prevent the terror from striking again.
Whilst this is most definitely a slasher movie, it does steer close to being classified as something of a gratuitous cop-thriller. Usually in more traditional stalk and slash flicks, our protagonist will be either a final girl or a hero of some kind and the Police are mere background characters that assist with moving the plot from A to B. In Terror Eyes though, the story is told mostly from the eyes of the investigators and this somewhat breaks the mould when compared with the flicks that were popular around this time. It’s during the kill scenes though that the tone becomes far more slasher-esque, and the violence is at times astoundingly brutal. Our boogeyman slashes his victims with a curved machete, which sprays blood over the walls with each slice. Aided by a menacing score from Brad Fiedel, these scenes are intimidating and rampant enough to cast aside any confusion on the scary movie classification.
Horror is different from every other cinematic genre because it offers much more of a challenge to create the necessary tone. Of all the entries that are released every year, not many are really frightening and this Is especially true in such a recognised and overused template as the slasher. Hughes does manage to build some intimidating scenarios and an incredibly tense scene in a café kitchen that sets pulses rising. He also received one of the biggest compliments possible for his work, because Dario Argento was almost certainly inspired by Terror Eyes for his popular eighties giallo, Tenebrae. Watching the two films one after the other shows the undeniable similarities. It’s worth noting that the majority of the shocks here are built through claustrophobic menace and the film doesn’t rely on gore to hit its targets. Sure, there’s blood by the bucket-load, but none of the decapitations are shown on-screen and there are no striking special make-up effects.
The script came from female auter Ruth Avergon, which is surprising considering the level of misogyny. In my opinion her screenplay is perhaps the biggest issue with the feature and Hughes’ direction deserved a lot better. Some of the dialogue is extremely erratic and regularly switches from historical references to nonsensical chatter, which hinders the actors in their attempts to play it straight. It must’ve been hard for them to remain composed whilst reciting lines that are often bemusing. We are given a premise, which tries to hold our hands and walk us through every twist and turn, and it seems as if Avergon underestimated the intelligence of her audience. It’s always a good idea to show your viewers contempt (not!). Rachel Ward, who looks incredible, is extremely wooden and due to the structure of the story, we never really feel the need to sympathise with her situation. Drew Snyder is woefully mis-cast as a womaniser and the fact that he looks like someone’s crazy scientist uncle makes things even less believable. The best parts of the movie are most certainly the horror scenes, but whenever the characters are given time to sustain the momentum without the addition of the boogeyman, they look confused by what they have to work with. There’s a peculiar ‘skin painting’ scene in a shower and a whole heap of other stuff that doesn’t seem natural or logical. What we are left with is a runtime of filler in-between the best parts and the only time filler is of any use is when there’s a hole in a surface that needs some DIY.
Terror Eyes is an at times stylish and in the same breath daft thriller, which suffers mainly from a huge dose of poor cinematic balancing. It is certainly no classic, but the violent and at times harrowing death scenes make it worthy of a high standing within the slasher elite. It’s one that I have plenty of time for and if you have an eye for the ladies, Rachel Ward will blow you away…
Final Girl √√√