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Fatal Games (1984)
Takin' a Jab at It!
If you've been following my reviews thus far (in particular this long, on-going 80s Slasher review series), you may start calling your own sanity into question – or mine for that matter – when considering such a long list of titles that fall under the scope of this infamous sub- genre. "Oh what, dear Corpse Rot, do you have in store for us this fine winter's eve?" you may beseech, anxious to partake in a Slasher sequenza. Allow the maestro to conduct your attention to another time- honored vintage production simply known as 'Fatal Games'.
Featured in this routine installment are the athletes of Falcon Academy of Athletics, eager to test their physical prowess among other potential young Olympians in the US Regional Competitions. The plot tightens its grip when centering on a clique of boys and girls that qualify for the Nationals. But alas! Someone is envious of the aforementioned talent and taking matters into their own hands; quietly railroading the operation by killing each individual with a javelin. Could it be Coach Webber a man still bitter about his athletic shortcomings? Or is it Joe, the star javelin thrower who's been exhibiting signs of frustration and a volatile temperament against the staff?
Fatal Games, Olympic Nightmare, The Killing Touch - whatever title you choose to refer to this after-school-special-sissy are all acceptable working titles. What I find interesting is that the actors and actresses chosen must've surely been selected solely based on their gymnastic abilities. The outstanding qualities of a tragedian were assuredly an after-thought. Adding another hindrance to this negative value is a script that hones too closely on family values, relationship quarrels, and the difficult lifestyle of a dedicated athlete; a ridiculous notion to consider when expecting a Slasher film. I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that after the film's completion, the authority figures who were unfortunate enough to lead this conquest failed to address the absence of any decent horror-related material. "Oh! Our mistake Sir! I thought the output of all our labor was for the good of the community and finely tuned moralistic values, certainly not that of a Slasher entry!" they muttered as armed security ushered them out of the building.
Falling in line with other Slashers we're tossed a few distractions that attempt to build interest in identifying the killer; really, at this point, such an expression should receive the same depth and attention as a circle. But in keeping my smart-alec comments to a minimum, this sprinkling of herrings are mere salt grains to a tabletop; lightly frosted, if you will, and too convenient to be true. When the final reveal is thrust hitherto, it's handled terribly and there's no logical explanation for the motive. The choice to pin it on "mysterious killer A" with no build-up or evidence renders options B, C, and D pointless and you'll be left wondering why they distracted you with those individuals in the first place. I challenge anyone to watch this film and make an accurate prediction, 100%, of what'll happen during the final moments...because quite honestly, with such little evidence, I can't see how it's possible. "Ah, forget all of that, it'll just be this person anyway...they'll never guess this."
Much to the contrary of a film like 1983's Sleepaway Camp in which the viewer has some notion of the outcome and an inkling of what to expect, Fatal Games just tosses the idea straight into your lap like a scared animal, thrashing about and clawing your person with reckless abandon. If you're totally lost, don't worry - the camera will quickly pan to a shot of a newspaper article that just happens to be lying face up, on the ground, revealing all of the details. "We'll just throw this newspaper on the ground featuring an article outlining all of the necessary details, and hell, why not, the motive of the killer too. Yea, that sounds like it should do just fine."
Viewers may be treated to a period of reprieve when witnessing the director of Fatal Games, Michael Elliot, acting out the role of Dr. Jordine – the head physician that's strictly adhering to a program that focuses on the use of anabolic steroids. Why should we care about this bit of commentary? There's absolutely NO use for it. Especially when an utterance of Russian Olympians juicing up is spouted forth; assuming that Slasher audiences would give one iota of a cow's tail to be outraged over steroid use and the increasing media coverage centering around the Olympics in the 1980s. In what can only be described as a great civic duty, a close friend or a sponsor from an AA organization must have stopped Michael Elliot from making another film after the release of Fatal Games in 1984. A man in a lobster suit could've met him on a sidewalk one late afternoon and politely expressed his opposition to another title; a pleasant request to quit the 'biz. Regardless of how it happened, the world can rest on its laurels and avoid sleep deprivation therapy.
I'm sure you didn't need me to tell you about the failure that encompasses Fatal Games. A flash of the title and a quick glance at the box art will cement your opinion almost instantly. That is to say, if you heed my warning! I can speak with confidence in assuring you that no exact replica of this premise is floating around in circulation. I can say, however, that 1981's Graduation Day is closely resemblant in that they both utilize a "sports" angle. If you enjoy reveling in failed attempts at horror you may want to catch a viewing of this one. This slop-house feature, celebrating its 27th year of existence, really only fits the needs of a fanatic with a desire insatiable; plagued by that vicious disease known as completism.
The Initiation (1984)
A Bit of Fun
It's a hit or miss moment when you're about to experience a viewing of another '80s Slasher. Will it be but a mere rip-off of its predecessors or offer a new take on the formula? Sometimes, the film's conclusion will leave you stranded between both schools of thought.
Kelly Fairchild is a bright college student and new initiate of Delta Ro Kai sorority. She has a troubled past and due to a traumatic incident in her youth she suffered from amnesia and cannot remember anything before the age of 9. She's also plagued by a reoccurring nightmare of a burning man and a few other hazy details that are interpreted by her professor, Peter Adams, who is working on a doctoral thesis in parapsychology. The plot also focuses on the escape of several mental patients of a psychiatric clinic hundreds of miles away – in particular, a man on the loose who spends his free time dispatching his victims with a garden rake. Is there a connection? And what's in store for prank night when the Delta Kai girls are trapped inside of a mall complex?
With a few years separating this title from the well-known classics, it's a shame that Initiation wasn't released earlier. It did, however, mark the film debut of Hunter Tylo, a young and attractive model; Daphne Zuniga also plays a memorable role featured as the female lead with 1982's The Dorm That Dripped Blood securely stashed away in her horror repertoire. These two girls, along with a young cast of characters, offer the viewing audience a fun little performance.
The mall complex that sets the stage for murder later on in the film was an excellent choice; constructed with vast ceilings and an intimately laden store configuration. The death scenes won't shock or disgust – instead, opting to epitomize the Slasher medium that features ill- advised decisions that lead to treachery. As a result, we're treated to characters that follow the guidelines of your standard horror movie. You won't find something "new" to talk about – just more of the same, but outputted more crispy and coherently than usual. The pacing is slow during the first half of the story but remarkably enough, I wasn't bothered by it.
A film of this caliber would not be complete without your typical twist- ending; a trademark of Slasher films throughout the '80s and Initiation receives equal treatment. This big secret that patiently waits in the wings isn't too common of a device so you may be somewhat surprised by the conclusion. With a bit of cheese and that 80s flair, Initiation should be placed into the upper echelon of the Hack-'n-Slashers of days gone by – and while I can't necessarily deem it as a "classic" it's far better than the mop and schlop low-budgeters that overwhelmed audiences 3 decades ago.
Blood Sisters (1987)
Setting the Bar as Low as Possible
Produced on a shoe string budget, Blood Sisters (aka Slash) is another genre piece that outputs a story all-too-familiar to already established classics from days gone by. Roberta Findlay, the film's director, writer, and cinematographer, wore multiple hats to turn her vision into reality – but more specifically, to ensure her immediate future in terms of finances. Findlay also offered her services as an active cinematographer in '76's Snuff - a film in which I still feel sorry for...an in, feel sorry for anyone involved in that project.
Blood Sisters revisits the same ol' concept of off'ing sorority girls within the confines of a desolate atmosphere. The new pledges of Kappa Gamma must endure a hellacious night of fake scares and buffoonery in an old brothel that witnessed a scandalous murder 13 years prior. As par for the course, the boys over at Sigma doctor the house up with phony- looking Halloween décor and sound equipment to illicit a scare or two from the unsuspecting gaggle of innocents. The game turns sour, however, when real ghost sightings are reported and a psycho is let loose to set the stage for mayhem.
This relatively unknown title is a bit of a hybrid – representative of the supernatural and the Slasher respectively. The ghostly bits are thrown in for good measure almost a demonstration of "look at what we can do!" If we're following a step by step guide on how to make a Slasher film From the 1980s, which I swear is in publication, then the identity of the killer is revealed in a chopped up ending. To say that every single plot point and device used in this film is a cliché would be a vast understatement. The cast and crew practically boast it from the roof-tops. In one scene a character playfully points out that the car's engine never successfully starts in a horror movie. At least the players and the crew acknowledge that their project is nothing more than a spin-off.
The use of comic relief would have been a welcome reprieve for such a drudgingly dull film. Of course, as I've been known to repeat, the last 10-15 minutes are the only worthwhile moments. The conclusion has somewhat of a sinister feel to it but it's not terribly original either. Blood Sisters has nothing to offer; regarding the level of dedication, even the most accepting fans would find it difficult to enjoy this one. The performances are lousy, the soundtrack sucks, and the dialog could've been written by a highschooler during study hall. To compound such an award winning achievement, the blood droplets found on the victims is too watered down and lacks the consistency of the real thing. As I pointed out earlier, the only reason this film exists was out of desperation, as it shows in every facet. I suggest avoiding this flick unless you're willing to set your standards extremely low. If you're searching for a similar movie but actually done well, try a viewing of 1980's Hell Night starring Linda Blair - now that's a treat.
Silent Madness (1984)
I Tried to Keep This One Short....
Silent Madness throws us right into a psychiatric hospital and hones in on Dr. Joan Gilmore, a no-nonsense doctor who doesn't have time for games. By the powers of deduction she concedes that Crest Haven hospital has released the wrong patient in a mix-up of like-sounding names. The hospital claims that Howard Johns is deceased but Joan's intuition knows better because momma didn't raise no foo'
that, and there's an obvious paper trail leading back to an old 80286 jobber from the early days of computing.
As a result of Johns' instability and absence of any moral faculties, it's just another night in the Christmas workhouse for him to steal someone's car, drive to NY, and impose his will of terror upon a grouping of innocent sorority co-eds. Why this particular campus you may ask? It was the scene of humiliation at the hands of a small group of sorority sisters many years earlier, followed up with their demise and Howard's imprisonment. Dr. Gilmore attempts to convince the stereotypical, fat-bellied town Sheriff (Sydney Lassick of 1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest fame) that disaster is close at hand but her pleas are ignored. Meanwhile, the hospital puts a plan into motion that attempts to silence Joan before the horrible news reaches the public; an atrocity much akin to Watergate and that misprint in CVS circulars allowing customers half-off on bags of Doritos.
The experts that extended their years of experience put Silent Madness through the usual ringer of "let's ignore the only intelligent character and decide upon ourselves that she's delusional while young females are haplessly destroyed around us." On one hand I suppose it's refreshing to see a killer displayed more realistically (and one that performs his own stunts, by the way), but the dumbfounded expressions and the deer in headlights approach to the victims sucks the life right out of it. The more than obvious scripted death sequences of "stand here, on this marker, and die", are proof of this. We're even treated to an exhibition of stupidity that features a muscle-bound fool who simply can't match the speed and cunning of the killer; either that or he's spent too much time grooming his dark pompadour-like mane to focus on saving his girl from certain death.
Belinda Montgomery (Grandma Flynn in 2010's Tron: Legacy) is perhaps the only character that responds intelligently and reasonably in the face of danger. Her acting merits are legitimate as the lead role and she's paired her up a male reporter; albeit cheesy in his portrayal but not too shabby overall.The death scenes mostly happen off-screen while the watering hole of suspense remains dry – there are no redeeming qualities in these murderous segments – therefore, it has the appeal and the semblance of a made-for-TV movie. A cut and uncut version of this film have both been distributed so a viewing of the latter may change your opinion.
The 1980s was a gimmicky period for many things, I'll give you that. One notorious element that persisted to find a niche was the use of 3-D in films. 1953's House of Wax serves as a fine example that got the ball rolling in horror films. Kids today would probably scoff at the supposed 'three dee' of olden days but it's commonly known that human beings under the age of 18 shouldn't share their opinions. Horror movies adopted this technique and ran with it all throughout the '80s and one can only guess the director of Silent Madness expected such an idea to boost the film's worth. But alas, it's an inferior product. The use of 3-D was vapid and over-used 30 years ago. This recent barrage we're experiencing will run its course.
Simon Nuchtern, the film's director, was the same guy who released a film called Snuff in 1976. If you're in the majority of not having seen it, than surmise rather quickly that it is worth far less than the entrails of Interstate carrion. Simon's slapdash effort in riding the Slasher wave with a project like Silent Madness only amounted to roughly 10 minutes of actual entertainment and 80 minutes of tedious, color-by- numbers malarkey just to reach any semblance of "fun" – a heinously modified entry in his vocabulary with an elusive meaning. I guess it's only fair to slap smart-mouthed viewers, rings-first, in the mouth with a clunky, awkward ending so unjustly tacked on that it doesn't make the aforementioned abuse even slightly worth it. So come time for that dreaded curtain call, you won't be surprised by the shocking conclusion simply due to disinterest.
Nuchtern only released one more film as a director in 1985 before calling it quits; easily the best decision he's ever made in his career. If there was a petition going around to ban this no-talent, and I was older than the age of 2 in 1984, I would have gladly signed the top line of the document. Technically I probably could have if someone allowed me to grasp a pen within my infantile fingers to haphazardly scrawl my initials. Silent Madness is a mistake of a film – other than a few items taken from a different angle and a killer derived more from reality, it can easily be shelved into the Z-grade bank of Slasher-types made possible by hack directors who treated the genre like a playground for Down syndrome children. This colossal number of mishaps supersedes a figure unimaginable.
Films of this persuasion should ban together and employ a tag-line that more accurately summarizes their endgame:
"SILENT MADNESS - THE MOVIE, JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER MOVIE, JUST LIKE THAT ONE MOVIE, BUT NOT! COME SPEND MONEY ON AN OVER-PRICED TICKET TO FUND MY PET PROJECT THAT I MADE ON BARELY A DIME'S BUDGET! WITNESS OUR EXCEPTIONAL TALENT TO PRODUCE SOMETHING COMPLETELY UNORIGINAL! FUN FOR NO AGES!
Killer Workout (1987)
The First Attempt
We may as well establish that the lesser-known category within Slasher flicks, the killer exercise variety, consists of two films: Killer Workout, aka Aerobicide, and seated at the right hand of it - Death Spa, released one year later. Why should anyone ask the redundant question of "why?" in regards to Slasher films veering off in this direction. It's all thanks to the workout craze of the 1980s. Get with the program!
The film opens with a young woman that receives near-fatal burns as a tanning bed experience goes terribly awry. We're then treated to the likes of "Rhonda's Workout" – a gym, naturally run by a woman named Rhonda, that features a dance class that is infinitely in session, packed to the brim with facial close-ups, synthy hum drum, and anatomical regions of the feminine persuasion. This will be 1 of 5 (or roughly so, I actually lost count) dance sequences littered throughout. Amidst the slaughter of innocents with no relative modus operandi, the patrons of the workout facility barely bat an eyelash to acknowledge these gruesome affairs. Toss in your average "bad cop" authority figure who's willing to play hardball and a new muscle head employee who's actually a private investigator and you're ready to stir up the contents of a stereotypical 80s cheese-fest.
Moments worth cherishing within Killer Workout mostly pertain to the excellently delivered dialog, such as this bread-winner of Shakespearean-level achievement:
Typical Workout Jock: I just wanna know one thing. Workout Girl: What? Typical Workout Jock: (points to her zipped up spandex onesy) What's the zipper for, baby? Workout Girl: I'll leave it to your imagination .(storms off, rather annoyed)
What's the zipper for baby? It's a complicated human invention crafted from a metal compound called a zipper; it's commonly sewn onto a garment for the purpose of concealing basic parts our anatomy, in particular, her breasts, you dim-witted Neanderthal. Of course it's really a wonder at all that you can hear this conversation over the whine of the electric guitar busting into a solo as it plays on throughout the opening segment. And furthermore, who hugs someone else after a rigorous dance routine anyway? It's like Killer Workout was written and directed in an alternate universe called Make-Pretend-Movie-Land where the players are tra-la-la'ing. Only a world such as this would feature musical cues at the start of scenes that don't require them like a simple conversation. Why, oh why?
If these elements don't spark your fancy, perhaps you're in the mood for a few hilariously bad fight scenes. David Prior, who wrote and directed this low-budget travesty, has been known to string together B-rated action flicks throughout the course of his career – the evidence of such a preference is on display as it rears its marred visage. At one point neighborhood hoodlums spray-paint the words "Death Spa" on the front window of Rhonda's Workout as a result of the murders receiving public attention. What's that you say an omen? Is it a coincidence that a film entitled Death Spa would be released a year later? At least these thugs were dispatched off with ease, with crimped, Aquanet-sprayed locks a-flyin'. Indeed a punishment that befits the crime for suggesting that another Slasher fall under the confines of a training facility.
The murder weapon of choice is a large safety pin that'd really only serve the purpose of holding up a cloth diaper, not ridding a hapless victim of his or her life. Killer Workout has a length of about 80 minutes or so and concludes rather absurdly with a half-hearted twist that, not surprisingly, is not much of one at all. By the way, if you missed the numerous dance numbers that could've easily been sold as a workout video, available via VHS 25 years ago, catch a glimpse of them on repeat as the end credits play to a finish. Killer Workout is a pathetic movie in literally every facet of film-making imaginable. Forget the likes of Sleepaway Camp if you and your friends are in for a laugh - "Aerobicide" has it all and more fully equipped with brightly colored leotards and leg warmers.
Mother's Day (1980)
Troma Ushering in the '80s!
Produced in 1979 and distributed by Troma Entertainment, Mother's Day was directed by Charles Kaufman (brother to the famous Lloyd Kaufman who founded Troma Studios in the mid '70s). On a small budget of about $115,000 this cult classic is still recognized by the horror community in recent times. It's a known fact that the majority of film was shot in Newton, NJ, right across the lake from the cast and crew of Friday the 13th. Yes, that's right! Friday the 13th and Mother's Day were filmed at the same time, in the same relative location. The release of Friday the 13th several months before Mother's Day stifled the intended shock value of the latter but audiences worldwide would soon familiarize themselves with this overlooked gem.
The film gets us acquainted with 3 women who were close friends and dorm buddies in college in 1970. Flash forward ten years to the present, with each individual living separate lives. They keep in correspondence with each other and by way of a telegram, set up another one of their annual weekend excursions. They've agreed to go on a camping trip to a remote location in New Jersey called the "Deep Barrens." After a restful day or two, the women are assaulted and kidnapped by two backwoods rednecks; Ike and Addley. These mentally unstable guys drag the girls back to their shack in the woods and present their trophies to Mother – a psychotic and delusional elderly woman. The girls, who referred to themselves as The Rat Pack in their college days, must find a way to escape the clutches of Mother and her retarded offspring.
This movie is nicely polished. Troma is widely accepted as a company that not only produces crap, but promotes it by acting as a distribution company. Whether you're of this mindset or not, Mother's Day can be looked at as a very inspirational Slasher early on in sub-genre – it's vastly different than its cousin, Friday the 13th. The acting is great. One of the most disturbing scenes out of the movie is a ruthless sexual act performed on one of the girls and in addition to some of the other gory bits, may still disturb the viewers of today. The special effects aren't the best that you'll ever see but they work well enough, considering what's implied. Mother's Day can be classified as a girl- gets-revenge Slasher. It's more intelligent than that, however, because there's a bit of commentary and a black comedy feel to it that's difficult to describe.
In a recent interview conducted with Nancy Hendrickson (the actress who portrayed Abbey), she confirmed the rumor that a dead body was found in the house they used before shooting began. The previous homeowner was murdered and sat vacant for 15 years – a seemingly tall tale to put one over on the audiences but 'tis no tale my friends! It's true! It's this eerie fact that heightens the experience of Mother's Day even more.
Darren Lynn Bousman of Saw II, III, and IV and Repo! The Genetic Opera fame directed a remake of Mother's Day that is slated for an April release in 2011. What's my take on that? I think it's infuriating – we don't need a remake of Mother's Day with a re-vamped premise, Darren. If the younger audiences of today want to see Mother's Day they can sit down and watch the original from 30 years ago. If the tears start flowing out of boredom, guess what? Not everything centers on Grand Theft Auto, smart phones, and Justin Bieber. The film wasn't made for the teenagers of 2010 that can't appreciate older filming techniques and outdated effects; believe it or not, there was a world before the mid- 1990s.
The Final Terror (1983)
Another 'Out-in-the-Woods' Release
Filmed in 1981 but released two years later, The Final Terror, aka The Campsite Massacre, aka Carnivore, is a piece made possible by Andrew Davis, the same guy responsible for 1992's Under Siege and the Harrison Ford suspense film The Fugitive.
So here we have a couple of forest rangers who head up to a remote wooded region accompanied by a group of girls – they're there to camp, do manly things, and take drugs. The bus driver Eggar (Joe Pantoliano – known for playing Cypher in 1999's The Matrix) doesn't seem to get along with the rest of the gang and possesses a volatile temperament. Rachel Ward also appears in this film as Margaret, a level-headed female character that doesn't fall under the usual restraints of a Slasher stereotype.
As the night creeps in, the rangers sit by the campfire and busy themselves by recounting tales of the macabre, with one story focusing in on a family that lived deep in the woods many years earlier. After the death of the father in the family, a distant uncle took up residence within the household and raped his niece. The young girl was committed to a mental facility and as a result of the assault, impregnated by way of incest. After the birth of her son he was taken away from her for 19 years. One day he returned, taking his mother out of the ward and back into the forest – and that is where the tale is cut short.
Already we have a change of pace because the back-story could easily set up a premise that resembles the likes of Humongous, or even The Prey. The fact that it's an old woman roaming the shaded areas of the Redwood forest is a new and refreshing take, although a bit nonsensical to consider when pitted up against experienced woodsmen. After the rangers realize what is happening, they band together and form somewhat of a militia, utilizing army tactics and actually sticking together for a change; something you don't see often at all in any Slasher concoction.
This movie launched several acting careers so the performances aren't a point of concern whatsoever. The filming techniques found within are well done too, save for the dark, almost unwatchable nocturnal sequences. I've discussed a similar occurrence in other films, all thanks to the shoddy work of a third-rate VHS distribution company. The Final Terror is not available in a digitally re-mastered DVD format as of 2010. The best anyone can do is to find it on VHS or DVD-R – it can also be purchased as a compilation set paired up with 1980's Christmas Evil. I highly recommend The Final Terror to any Slasher fan; it's tense, it's well put-together, and the ending is fantastic.
Another Dark Transfer....
After the success of 1980's Prom Night, screenplay writer William Gray and director Paul Lynch teamed up once more to output another film in the genre, albeit lesser known, that could've counted as another hit for Canada if audiences could tell what was going on for more than 50% of it.
The film opens in 1946 at a cocktail party – Ida Parsons is chased into the woods and raped by a drunken patron. After the completion of this evil deed, the guard dogs on the premises break loose from their protective cages and savagely maul the perpetrator, allowing Ida to procure a sizable rock to smash his skull in with. Fast forward 36 years into the 1980's - three siblings and a couple of friends head out on a boat trip only to experience trouble later that evening when they rescue a stranded sailor who warns them about Dog Island – a reclusive locale that houses a lonely old woman and her dogs. While the night fog renders the coastline invisible and a disagreement between two of the siblings to complicate matters further, the ship runs aground and the troupe of younglings experience first-hard the terrors of Dog Island.
This early Slasher is plagued with various issues throughout the film's duration; quite possibly the most glaring would be the quality. The majority of the story takes place in the black of night and it's very difficult to make heads or tails of what's happening from scene to scene. This final film release is known as the American Embassy video and is not only a horrendously displayed transfer but a sizable chunk of the film's gratuity is trimmed out. There is a Canadian VHS release that's uncut and a more accurate representation of Lynch's lighting scheme for the majority of the film. As of November of 2010, fans are still waiting for an official DVD release of Humongous. For now, the best option available is to purchase it on DVD-R, (basically a VHS copy burned onto a disc) made available on the web.
For those who are aware of this film's existence, they fail to point out another obvious problem with the audio. During many sequences of dialog, as the actors and actresses perform their lines, one can't help but notice that their voices resonate as if they've rattled them off in a studio. Regardless of whether they are trotting outside or sitting in a room, the result is the same. The audio is extremely poor and this could be chalked up to the scrubs over at Embassy or Lynch and the gang failing miserably incorporating the over-dubbed dialog into the film. On account of American Embassy botching the VHS release so horrendously with the visual aspects of the film it wouldn't surprise me if the same could be said about the audio as well.
Well now that all of the technicalities are out of the way, what should we expect from Humongous? A bit of sleaze, a bit of beer, and a giant deformed human wandering the woods of the island that has no qualms sending each character off to the Charon. There's over an hour of build-up with only two brief killings prior; we've witnessed plots dragged out numerous times from the Slasher vault so it's no longer a shock. Viewers will never truly get to see the face of the monster which could've existed as a highlight of the film. There are some fans who blame the VHS transfer and some that theorize that Lynch purposely executed this idea to compensate for a lousy special effects job. I consider Humongous a rare title that has its share of problems but if one has the patience to overlook them, he or she may be treated to a slightly entertaining film.
Sweet 16 (1983)
Small Town Texas Ripper
Melissa, the 15-year-old new girl, is the main attraction for all of the small town boys. But why is it that each person that shares a connection with her ends up dead by the work of a blade? Sheriff Dan Burke investigates with the unwanted but appreciative aid of his son and daughter – Hank and Marci.
Easily the most recognizable player in this low-budget cheapie is Patrick Macnee which some of you may recognize from Waxwork 1 & 2(1988 & 1992), The Howling from 1981, '77's Dead of Night, and most notably The Avengers (1961-1969). He's held a long career in both film and television with a small focus on horror. Macnee didn't receive an important role in Sweet Sixteen so his appearance is limited. The rest of the cast do a fine job of transitioning each scene to the next so Macnee's presence isn't a total waste. Another well-known actress for the time was Dana Kimmell who scored decently as the Sheriff's daughter. She's still famous for starring in 1982's Friday the 13th: Part III.
Sweet Sixteen doesn't focus on the murders too much but opts to hone in on the characters instead. This decision was a poor one because at no point do we feel overly attached to any of them, rendering this exercise pointless. In maintaining the proper mindset, we have to be aware of what to expect from an entry like this – so despite a very low production, this isn't too bad of a film for what it is. The twist ending is somewhat confusing and to spin things once more, an event that plays out just moments before the curtain call isn't terribly original but classic for the era. The run-time falls somewhere in the realm of an hour and 28 minutes and although certain segments are lengthy and dull it's definitely not the worst Slasher you'll ever see.
To All a Goodnight (1980)
Wham's Never Seen a Holiday like This
This Christmas, avoid if you're smart It's a bad one you'll say, Let's make no delay, This year, to save you from fear, I'm reviewing a title unspecial.
To All a Good Night is probably the rarest Christmas revenge Slasher from the 1980's. Wow, what a treat! It manages to drop the audience straight into the action with barely a minute's worth of back-story. As if you've woken up in a field with a concussion and no recollection of the events that precluded your dilemma.
During Christmas break, at Calvin Finishing School for Girls (what the hell is a Finishing School?), a soon-to-be sorority sister is accidentally murdered during the onset of typical college hijinks. Fast forward 2 years to the present time; the girls are prepping for the upcoming holiday break – only this time, a knife-wielding lunatic donning a Santa suit and plastic mask is on the prowl.
To reference my introductory statement in this review, this film manages to shotgun the audience straight into the killing grounds. How about some back-story? Nah. Perhaps a bit of a story arc so the suspense builds some substantialness? Nope. To All a Good Night just whiplashes you straight into the premise and says "forget all of that" and ignores your pleas for a bit of reasonable pacing in its hurried execution. I suppose we could agree that getting to the chewy center is a good thing; how many times have we witnessed Slasher films that came chock-full of filler that was completely unnecessary? It's a tall order to request a balance of both worlds with so many films shoved carelessly into the Slasher sub-genre.
The film quality is dodgy – there's no denying it. The lighting is so poor you can barely make out what's happening in the outdoor segments, most notably those filmed by moonlight. It matters not in the end, however, because the film in its entirety barely manages to showcase a level of competency as it is. This is a rank amateur piece of celluloid. The players in this production must've needed an additional paycheck, going a step further to ruin a screenplay that was phished out of a sewer to begin with. To its credit, by 1980, Slashers weren't completely overdone and outplayed, so there's really no excuse – probably the only thing it has going for it is that it seems to be one of the first films of the 80's to feature a killer Santa, sharing a spot next to Christmas Evil, also released in the same year and equally as awful.
What's a Slasher film without a twist ending, right? It's all here. The stereotypes, the clichés, the ending spelled out right from the beginning with a bit of a twist tacked on for good measure. The director, David Hess, is more experienced in the realm of acting than directing and we can see the results. Hess even gave himself a role in this Christmas feature, albeit uncredited; taking a part in the film's shocking, or as it were, less than shocking, conclusion. Stick to acting, David.
If I were in the position of a casual fan, I'd want an experienced fanatic to warn me wholeheartedly about the impending doom that To All a Good Night brings to the campus. I am, for that purpose, the individual sought after; here to remind you that Christmas is for eggnog, gingerbread men, and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer – certainly not a sludge-inhabiting, D-rated feature wispier than an untamed plume of hair.
Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)
Christmas Movie For the Kiddies
Coincidentally, I was going to review this UK-based, Christmas-themed Slasher as part of my final review anyway but since the holidays are right around the corner, it couldn't have come at a better time. Perhaps you've heard mention of '84's Silent Night, Deadly Night and 1980's Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out). Both can be considered films within the sub-genre as well, especially the former, but they aren't what I consider obscure
at least not to the standards of this particular review series. In terms of top-tiered material, Black Christmas is still the reigning champ; the original from 1974 of course, although the remake was done remarkably well.
The film opens with scenes depicting a costume party several days before Christmas. Kate's father, dressed as Santa Claus, makes his appearance on stage and is quickly assassinated by someone from the crowd. The police are quick to investigate; particularly Inspector Ian Harris (Edmund Purdom, also the director). The blame is gradually shifted upon Kate's boyfriend Cliff. Any male participant found representing good ol' St. Nick is taken out in brutal fashion. Is Christmas doomed?
I found it difficult to reasonably describe the film's premise on account of how humorous and well stupid, it is. During the opening segments, while the credits appeared on screen, I had a glimmer of hope – could THIS be the Christmas-themed horror movie of the past so aggressively sought after by enthusiasts? After the high of my inner pep-talk wore off I was faced with the grim reality of a mess-ridden film. It's been documented that the finished product was the result of a few directorial changes in the crew's lineup.
Hideous cut-jobs are littered throughout and it'd be a chore to find a lengthy segment that does not have this issue. Probably the most prominent example of such shortcomings pertains to the death sequences – you may as well forget any use of subtlety and smooth transitional work. The killings begin and end so abruptly; they merely drop them on you like a giant anvil. Not to mention that they occur so rapidly and involve characters that share no screen time prior to their demise. Obviously the highlight in a moment like this is the gore factor but even that is severely lacking.
I may as well spell things out for you as to familiarize yourself with the players involved in Don't Open Till Christmas E-M-B-A-R-R-A-S-I-N-G. Outside of Edmund Purdom (who's been in a few horror movies, and his acting merits far outweigh his brief directorial work), the inflections used, or rather, not used, result in a very underwhelming performance. They manage to be so unconvincing in their deliveries that, collectively, they'd fail miserably at selling bottles of oxygen in a space vacuum.
In your typical Hey-What's-Going-On-Here? one can always expect a few distractions; characters thrown into the mix that make the audience think twice of who the killer is. In this case, a reporter is introduced, unfurling a red flag to allow the guessing games to begin among the audience. I wouldn't worry about twists, tricks, or cerebral traps because the red herring in this film is so fat you may just want to throw it in the oven.
At the height of the film's conclusion, the motive of the killer is finally revealed, in what turns out to be the DUMBEST of reasons to go on a murderous spree. I'm not even sure it makes logical sense. It's zany and unintentionally hilarious which probably stands as the most insulting thing you could do as a film producer. Don't Open Till Christmas is one cookie that you shouldn't leave out for Santa; when it's all said and done, I'm sure you'll agree that not only does it have nothing to do with the title, but English accents can't hide poor quality. A native of Britain would probably conclude this review by saying this – "It's rubbish!"
Sorority House Massacre (1986)
College Girls Go Running
In what is deemed as somewhat of Halloween rip-off, Sorority House Massacre is Carol Frank's first project as director, and her last to boot. While her credits in the film industry are minuscule, she completed work as an assistant to the director of The Slumber Party Massacre, released in 1982. Frank must've been impressed by the film's output because here we have another Slasher that features sorority girls frantically trying to escape a knife-wielding killer in their night gowns.
Beth, after the death of her aunt, moves in with her sorority girlfriends. She's been suffering from chronic nightmares that seem to hold no relevance to her existence; the elements include a menacing male killer and a mysterious house that she's never visited. Beth's friends attempt to dissect these dream sequences – meanwhile, a dangerous patient escapes from the local mental ward. His goal? To bring death and destruction to the unsuspecting troupe of young women.
Readers should be advised that this film is commonly confused with The House on Sorority Row, with good reason of course. Slasher films can be broken down further and categorized into neat little compartments and in this instance, witnessing college girls get bested by a maniac is practically a sub- genre of its own.
Here we have all of the most common mainstream 80's elements you can think of – and much to your 80's-driven satisfaction, wrapped up in a video montage that features the girls trying on clothes. While the music plays on, almost as if it was ripped straight from a sitcom of 25 years ago, they model brightly-colored dresses, outfitted with shoulder pads, complimented a step further with pictures of Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister on the wall. It's probably the most cheesy and out-of- place montage you'll ever see in a horror film not only is it ridiculous but the editing for this particular sequence is absolutely shocking in how pitifully it's done – like watching an episode of Charles in Charge while huffing a cheap can of Krylon.
This film desperately wants you to love it, and I have to admit, it does have its charm. I was never really one to praise a film for being charming on account of how bad it is, however; lines of dialog within are too horrid to recount. The act of being thorough with reality isn't really a priority of Sorority House Massacre especially if you consider a scene in which an institution orderly enters the room of the uncontrollable maniac with headphones on. He is swiftly dispatched of. Why, if this man was filled with rage and anger, would they not warn the rest of the staff? Why would another employee carelessly stroll into his quarters woefully unprepared? What nonsense.
The reason that Sorority House Massacre is compared to Halloween is mainly because of the story – we have a young woman who has an odd connection to the male killer – a killer who's been locked away in a facility for 15 years. His weapon of choice is a knife and his propensity to outlive mortal wounds is reminiscent of Michael Myers. People make the mistake here, though, in just assuming that the director wanted the madman to be indestructible; I don't think that's the case. I wouldn't be surprised if this title was influenced by the John Carpenter classic, but I can't say it's a rip-off it's too convenient. It's worth noting that this film spawned two sequels – Sorority House Massacre 2 and Hard to Die, both released in 1990. I won't be covering these follow-up films in this review, however, so you can exhale with relief.
So what's the word, hoss? Should you strut down to your local video store, rummage through the Netflix archives, or scan torrent banks to scout this movie out? If you care to take note of this film's release, 1986, you should know what to expect in terms of a Slasher film. Aside from the more well-known titles that offered a refreshing take, flicks this late in game regurgitated old ideas. If you've been on a long journey to complete the quest of tracking down every 80's Slasher, like I have, you might want to add this one to the list. It's not original and it's only entertaining in the way of it being humorously bad; certainly not a serious investment but one worth a look for a completest.
Night School (1981)
Gotta Get 'Em All! From 1981.
With a barrage of Slashers from the early 1980's, how could any casual horror fan keep all of them straight? Unless you're a fanatic, or have an extremely good memory – or both, then it's easy to get lost with so many titles to consider. This trend of repeating similarly-based movies isn't a foreign concept to cinema and yet the Slashers of the '80's stand out in most people's minds as an overbearing exercise. Night School, although existing on the rare side of the heap, is featured next on our operating table.
Night School recounts the tale of a young teacher's aid found slain in a back alley. This vicious act featured her decapitation at the hands of an individual donning a black outfit and a darkened motorcycle helmet. Lt. Judd Austin, a scholarly and effective crime scene investigator, is called out to examine the details. He concludes that the victim was employed by a local all-girls night school. Judd broadens his investigation by interviewing several acquaintances of the deceased woman. The murders that follow thereafter all showcase the preferred method of execution – beheadings! These are tied closely together by an additional similarity; each severed head is submerged in water.
The premise of this film spells out a traditional who-dun-it. Director Ken Hughes, the creator of this project, made his debut in the early '50's and Night School would be his last piece of work in the directorial field. He is also responsible for 1968's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Ken died at the age of 79 in 2001 and was not a major player in the horror industry by any stretch of the imagination. Night School was also the debut of Rachel Ward who led a successful career as an actress after her involvement with this movie.
Right off the bat I noticed a glaring mistake in the editing. This can be the result of various practices – whether poor editing all around or a scene removal process to make the grade are viable occurrences to blame. Night School also went by the name of Terror Eyes in the UK and was denounced as a "Video Nasty" by the British Board of Film Censors in the 1980's. Like other films found on that list, the ban has since been lifted. Warner Bros currently owns the rights to Night School and fans have yet to see a DVD release as of November of 2010.
The thing about Night School is that it's more of a cop story than your average teenage entourage ushered into slaughter. In this respect it's a breath of fresh air but with moments of cop humor thrown in for good measure it's hard to fully classify the film alongside it's kin. I certainly wouldn't be able to write an in-depth essay on the articulation of the actors and actresses found within but their mannerisms and emotional output are believable enough. As far as the characters go, the masked killer is highly reminiscent of that dopey buffoon that I had the displeasure of viewing in 1985's The Nailgun Massacre (well it's a stretch I guess).
Night School's soundtrack was composed by Brad Fiedal – a young and ambitious composer at the time who would later be responsible for working on all 4 installments of the Terminator series. Fiedal can also be credited with the likes of Just Before Dawn from 1981, Fright Night 1 & 2, and the Serpent and the Rainbow. Fiedal currently works on writing and arranging original musicals and holds no interest in returning to cinema. It never ceases to amaze me how so many professionals get their start doing horror films in one way or another almost as if it's the proving grounds for talent.
I think all-in-all, Ken Hughes had fun making this movie. I believe the players did too. Night School is, to some extent, considered a rare Slasher in comparison to some of the other greats established in '81 (and not-so-greats, too). When we discuss a film's rarity in the horror genre one can rest assuredly that a cult following is close at hand. So where does that leave me? A film's notoriety isn't a selling point for me to own it – there has to be something more; an air of panache, a chilling soundtrack, or great set of characters. This particular title just didn't hold my interest for long. In order for someone to swallow the very large pill that Night School is, they'd have to be a die-hard Slasher film collector or a completist such as myself. Is it a rare film? It is, and if it has even stricken your fancy to embark on a Slasher tour perhaps it's within your interest to give this a once-over. Like Eyes of a Stranger, which I've covered previously, Night School plays it too safely and by the numbers. Don't expect anything shocking or dangerous.
Eyes of a Stranger (1981)
Well Structured But Not Very Memorable Overall
1981 was a big year for Slasher fans. The Friday the 13th and Halloween franchises both released a sequel, My Bloody Valentine hailed from our northerly neighbors in Canada, and a young Jason Alexander starred in The Burning. Movie-goers that year also experienced the likes of The Prowler, Happy Birthday to Me, Just Before Dawn, Graduation Day, and Final Exam. With the release of so many films with a similar premise, the question of "who came first" barely applies. One thing is for certain however; the early 1980's encapsulated some of the best films within the sub-genre and Eyes of a Stranger existed with the rest of the pack all the while.
The film opens with a young woman who receives several disturbing phone calls by a threatening yet psychic-sounding stranger. She files a claim with the police department but due to a high volume of similar calls, her concerns are taken lightly. This negligent act leads to a most heinous crime; the woman, in addition to her boyfriend, are intruded upon and slain by a masked marauder. Female news anchor Jane Harris, all-too-familiar with the crimes, suspects that the unknown assailant resides in her high-rise apartment complex. Jane must find a way to produce enough evidence to substantiate her claims, compelling enough to captivate the interest of her boyfriend David; a defense lawyer who approaches the situation with reluctance. Are her theories outlandish? Or will her curiosity result in her demise?
Current retiree from the world of special effects makeup, Tom Savini, was a big name in the industry back in the 1980's. Not only was he a regular in George Romero's crew but he lent a skilled hand and a keen eye to various Slasher films of the era – most prominent would be his work in Friday the 13th, followed up by Maniac which was also released in the same year. The year of 1981 was particularly successful for Savini as Eyes of a Stranger, The Burning, and The Prowler would all benefit from his artistic touch. Originally, Eyes of a Stranger received an R rating which rendered many of the gory effects absent from the final release. This exercise of taming a film to abide by society's sense of morality was a standard practice in the industry during this time. Now that audiences have experienced the likes of Saw and Hostel it seems as though censorship boards are more lenient on certain forms of brutality.
Eyes of a Stranger would be director Ken Wiederhorn's second horror movie, as later endeavors materialized with the likes of Return of the Living Dead Part II from '88 and 7 episodes of Freddy's Nightmares. This short tenure was the extent of Ken's foray into horror. In comparison to other no-names in the Slasher game, Ken managed to string together a nice little story with Eyes of a Stranger – everything works out by-the-numbers and stays within the guidelines of mystery and suspense. I'd be speaking untruthfully if I were to say that it's an entertaining entry; no twists or turns or freakish elements to speak of, it merely sits complacently and unwinds to a rather dull finish. Thankfully the screenplay carries itself strongly and frivolous details with laughably bad dialog won't be found for miles.
Lauren Tewes, the actress who played Jane Harris, led a semi-successful career before and after her involvement in Eyes of a Stranger. Quite possibly her most prominent role was her involvement with the late 70's television show The Love Boat. After an intense struggle with cocaine abuse she was replaced by another actress in 1984. She began the withdrawal process in 1980 with the help of a counselor but due to her poor performance at the work place she was let go. She managed to recover after a highly publicized affair and continued onward as a successful TV actress.
Eyes of a Stranger is what I'd like to categorize as a safe movie. It offers the viewing audience the facts, laid out on the table, and runs straight to the finish line without any hesitation. Some might say that such a description sounds appealing and while they may be partially right it doesn't allow itself to plateau into stardom. If I could draw a likeness to this film I'd say that it could be a distant relative of Maniac. In comparison, Maniac offered a more sinister and dark approach into the killer's psyche and played upon nightmarish elements – whereas Eyes of a Stranger presents the killer in a fully lit room with little intrigue or likability (although the notion of liking a serial killer in a movie is absurd, it happens!).
I've given similar reviews to films in the past when I say that this particular title could be played in the background while more pressing matters are attended to. It's not unwatchable or pathetic; the acting is believable and the characters react logically for a change but who really wants to see that? There's a reason why Slasher films specifically dumb down the level of intelligence of the players featured – it gives us, the viewers, a chance to be fully aware of what lurks around the corner even if the lead actor or actress does not. Once you remove that element you're simply watching the villain get bested with little to no effort at all – and in reality, that's not very appealing.
The Mutilator (1984)
Hard Work and Dedication Did Not Pay Off
Originally entitled "Fall Break" but changed due to marketing advice based on the time of its release, The Mutilator is a Slasher, like others in the sub-genre that has generated a cult following. The film's director, Buddy Cooper, wanted desperately to make his own film – he did not have any prior film-making experience. Initially working with a budget of $80,000, he soon realized that money was disappearing quickly so he worked with the bank and took out another loan in addition to maxing out two credit cards. The grand total that was spent on the film would tally up to $450,000, giving insight to fans of cinema on how much time and money goes into making a movie. It's a shame that the outcome of The Mutilator isn't more memorable. In my opinion, it becomes lost among several of its kind. The short answer lies in the fact that Buddy Cooper did not undergo a mission to produce a horror movie in particular; just a movie in general. It seems as though the genre as a whole is a playground for inexperienced individuals. It's no surprise that the Slasher genre most of all is a wasteland of excuse- to-make-a-film entries.
The story opens with a young boy named Ed, who, for his father's birthday, takes it upon himself to clean the gun cabinet. After removing one of the rifles from the protective encasement, Ed aims it at the kitchen door and pulls the trigger; blasting his mother in the spine, resulting in a fatal injury. Shortly thereafter, Ed's father comes home and witnesses the accursed scene – slapping the boy across the face. He proceeds to sink down upon the floor while staring out blankly until the police arrive. The film shifts focus to many years later during Ed's college years. Ed and a group of friends are looking for a good time during Fall break until an opportunity arises – Ed's father notifies him after several years of estrangement to meet up at a secluded beach house. Ed and the gang embark on a journey to spend a couple of fun-filled days at the house but reality's grim expression rears its head – Ed's father suffers from psychological issues pertaining to the death of his wife many years earlier. He has chosen to blame Ed for the accidental shooting and viciously murder his friends singlehandedly.
It's fitting that we should discuss the opening credits early on in this review – they're uninspiring. This is compounded with the visage of a hideous-looking, color-by-numbers title card. The affair reminds me of the opening segments of an episode of Bosom Buddies or some other comparable '80s sitcom. At one point there's a freeze-framed shot then quickly snapped back into action as one of the characters mouths off a funny one-liner. Oh, that Ralph! He's so zany! This probably stands as one of corniest methods to a horror film that I've ever seen. It goes to show Cooper's inexperience as a film director to think that this sort of cheese would fly. The opening song is entitled "Fall Break" for reasons listed above – it exists in limited copies on record that are currently collecting dust in Buddy Cooper's garage.
The death sequences are largely looked at as being original, credited to the various murderous devices. I've seen far too many Slasher films from this era to praise this film for any sort of ingenuity. The lead special effects makeup artist on the set, Mark Shostrom, displayed his talents wonderfully despite how unoriginal the death sequences are. Shostrom has an impressive resume and his relevance and contribution to horror is equally praise-worthy.
The players in The Mutilator were unknown semi-professionals in 1985 and currently still are (in terms of acting, of course). The film was shot on location at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina so some of the acting talent was picked up locally. The lead actor who plays Ed, Matt Mitler, is easily the best one of the lot but the span of his acting career was a short one. The biggest issue I had was how ridiculously over-sold the death pantomimes were they are truly appalling. One character in particular is surprised by a chainsaw and shredded by its rotating blades. His death rattle and violent seizures are spastically similar to a drunken bar patron riding a mechanical bull. Essentially, the crew of The Mutilator would go on to have successful careers while the actors, and especially the director, would fade into obscurity. A similar fate besieged numerous fledgling thespians at the height of the Slasher era.
I had the pleasure of watching the unrated version of The Mutilator; a copy that is highly sought after because a censored version, known as the VIPCO copy, is still running amok in the horror card catalog. According to an interview I watched with Buddy Cooper, conducted in 2008, there are several segments of cut footage that do not exist on any known copy. Code Red, a film distribution company, has announced a few years ago that a new DVD release is in production. As of 2010, fans of The Mutilator are still waiting.
What's left to be said about The Mutilator? The first half of the film is paced so dreadfully slow that no amount of gory pay-off is worth the trouble. The carnage is well done for what it is; a sentiment that should repeat itself for miles. Unfortunately Cooper and the gang managed to output another typical, clichéd, re-hasher, that's only likable to the underground crowds who fully acknowledge that it sucks - which, if you think about it, seems a lot like showing interest in something only because it seems cool to do so. The Mutilator is garbage top-tiered garbage. If you enjoy trash for what it is like other "Fall Break" supporters, you may find what you've been looking for.
Hospital Massacre (1981)
Cliché Setup in an Unconventional Atmosphere
As we've explored various times now in this review series, Slasher films jump at the chance to rehash similar environments in the attempt of besting their predecessors – or just simply the first to be in line for such an idea (let's think back in the late 70's and early 80's when the idea was still relatively fresh). It's a promising attribute to learn of a title that doesn't revisit the same old campground/college campus during spring or fall break/some unknown high school with a cast of rejects that get on your last nerve. Hospital Massacre, directed by "one-entry-in-the-vault-of-horror" Boaz Davidson, displays to the audience a different environment to catch our attention. The conclusion is predictable from start to finish and the ending wouldn't even a surprise a grade-schooler but with the original working title of "Be My Valentine, or Else
" let's see what this 1982 entry has to offer.
The story takes place in 1961 - young Susan and her brother are playing with a toy train set. A neighborhood boy by the name of Harold leaves a Valentine's Day card on the doorstep for Susan and scurries off into the bushes. Peering into the window, he notices Susan laughing mockingly at the card, tossing it to the floor. Volatile from rejection, Harold breaks into the home and murders Susan's brother while she remains occupied in the kitchen. Her discovery upon returning is a ghastly one – her sibling is strung up viciously by the jaw, impaled on a hat hanger. Flash forward 19 years - Susan, now a divorced parent, schedules a routine examination at a Los Angeles county hospital. Susan arrives at her appointment only to discover that Dr. Jacobs, her physician, isn't there. A certified M.D. is appointed to carry out the examination on Susan and finds discrepancies concerning her anatomy – but what are they? Meanwhile, in the bowels of the complex, a murderous fiend disposes of Dr. Jacob's body. Donning a surgical mask and wielding lethal operating room instruments, the mad man has a particular victim in his sights - Susan. Will she survive this dreadful nightmare?
As my review header indicates, this is your typical "heartbreak leads to murder" recipe; a film of standard fare with a hint of mystery. Luckily Hospital Massacre rushes right into the thick of it, wasting absolutely no time on yawn-inducing sub-plots and After School Special dopiness. If the massacring of dim-witted college frat boys and their incessant buffoonery is what you're after, look elsewhere! The majority of the story takes place within the hospital but that's another matter altogether.
Most of the staff working at the establishment are made to look sketchy; throwing several diversions into the mix for confusion's sake. This methodical system of side-tracking the audience is far too strained in this film because it's obvious who the culprit will be. The ending is spelled out right from the beginning a minimal amount of intelligence is required in order to pick up on this. Viewers, and even myself, may be fooled into believing that there's more to the story than what's touted, relenting themselves to the red herrings in a desperate plea for a plot twist. There are no twists in Hospital Massacre. You may be left thinking, "Surely things can't play out this predictably." Oh, but they do.
The actress who portrayed the female lead, Barbi Benton, had a widely publicized relationship with Hugh Hefner from 1969 to 1976. This would be, and still remains, her most prominent career move in terms of celebrity status. Benton never plateaued beyond occasional TV appearances and Hospital Massacre was one of the few movies that she starred in. Others may not care too much for Barbi as an actress; her filmography and current occupation (it was reported in 2002 that she's now an Interior Decorator) could easily support their claim. On the contrary, I found her acting ability well beyond average for the role given to her. Her delivery was believable in a Slasher film - what more could you ask for?
Other titles exist in the Slasher vault's repertoire that utilize a hospital setting. Certainly Hospital Massacre is not the first to dive into this region. A smattering of gore and an overly enthusiastic soundtrack play well with the environment – but throwing red herrings for the sake of doing so is like gift wrapping an item for someone else and upon them opening it, reacting in awe and amazement when the prize is retrieved. Shall the audience ignore all of these devices and the silly contraptions therein? The point I was trying to make earlier suggests that we should, indeed, go along for the ride. Hospital Massacre is a well done Slasher movie but not a film worthy to exist among my collection. For a routine flick of this caliber I'd say it's worth a look due to how rare it is. I had the pleasure of watching a VHS transfer of the film; complete with bad tracking and all!
Death Spa (1989)
If Only I Knew What I Was Getting Into
With a name like "Death Spa" one can't be too surprised what this 80's schlock-house feature will bring to the table – but that's not where my confusion was based. I was under the impression that Death Spa fell under the category of other boredom-inducing Slashers from the era, chalking it up to be another entry filled with dumb jocks, air-headed bimbos, and a gym setting
and while this film does encompass some of those elements, the direction it headed offered me a different approach to the usual kill-or-be-killed set up; a product made possible by relatively unknown Austrian director Michael Fischa – so devoid of any form of recognition that he's gone blind from residing so deep underground. A director's popularity is by no means a sure-fire way of distinguishing their movie-making talents but if I'm to be honest with my readers, there's no mistaking that Fischa should stay far, far away from the industry with a pitiful whopper like this embarrassing entry. Allow me to entertain you with a brief synopsis.
Michael Evans is a recent widower and owner of Star Body Health Spa (quite possibly the dumbest name imaginable); a state-of-the-art training facility that's run entirely by a computer. Michael's former brother-in-law David is the lead programmer and mastermind behind this sophisticated machine; his relationship with Michael remains strained after his sister's suicide. The film opens with a young woman by the name of Laura Danders. After a brief conversation with one of her trainers she finds herself alone in the building and before locking up for the night, ventures into the shower room. A freak mishap occurs when the shower head spouts forth a toxic chemical, causing Laura to receive severe burns in addition to a temporary loss of vision. The police are quick to investigate while several suspects appear suspicious: David, the brother-in-law, who remains in charge of the computer system and Priscilla, the general manager who was placed at the scene of the accident later that night. Who is behind these bizarre happenings? Is someone targeting Michael? Can there be saboteurs on the prowl?
If Death Spa's premise alone doesn't sound laughable enough to your liking, the story takes a turn for the worse about half-way in. Themes of the supernatural, sabotage, and demonic possession are all thrown into the melting pot and result in a convoluted telling. The only instance I can see this film gaining any notoriety for being a cult 80's hit is if it was voted into such a state by the same supporters who lobbied a release for Ghoulies IV on DVD because surely no sane individual would promote such a waste of shelf space; even dust has a more important role than Death Spa does in our universe.
Far off into the future, when we eventually destroy ourselves, an alien race will travel forth to our solar system and subsequently land on our planet. Their mission: to delve deep into our sophisticated relics. A foreign and other-worldly hand would sift through all of the clutter and retrieve a pristine-looking copy of Death Spa on VHS; an item of unknown worth to the distant travelers. In the attempt to access our supposed "archives", their advanced research will procure a device to view the 7 3/8 x 4 1/6 plastic encasement. What ensues is unspeakable - these strange beings will be faced with an hour and 28 minutes of poorly written dialog, stupid-looking special effects, and an inconclusive screenplay that any grade-schooler could have been commissioned to write via Now & Laters. Top it off with an 80's hokey soundtrack that goes nowhere in a hurry. The extraterrestrials will surmise that our race was a rather forgettable one – all thanks to the pangs of curiosity and wonderful that Michael Fischer felt when he embarked on producing this terrible film, going a step further to shamelessly employ a well-known horror icon to boost the market value. Thanks for singlehandedly bringing our civilization to its knees, Mike! I really appreciate it!
Some horror fans might slide down the banister when they learn that Ken Foree plays the role of Marvin – a trainer who works at the fitness center. Foree is most certainly a horror icon as far as acting goes. His most famous role is from George A. Romero's Pennsylvania-based zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead from 1978 as "Peter". Foree also received another prominent role in 1986's From Beyond; an H.P Lovecraft short story, directed by Stuart Gordon and featured alongside fellow veteran Jeffrey Combs (Dr. Herbert West from '85's Re-Animator another Stuart Gordon classic). For those of you unfamiliar with Ken's work from the past, you may even remember him as Charlie Altamont in The Devil's Rejects.
I'll be the first to admit that I love the idolization of horror actors and actresses I feel that these individuals are in a league of their own. Unfortunately it's people like this that are slapped on a movie cover regardless of how big their part is in a film. I'm trying desperately not to derail the point I'm making here – Foree's part in Death Spa is a small one, and even if it was more significant, the movie is too pathetic for it to matter.
What would be the proper way to conclude a review for this heap of a film? Are there are any specific plot twists or incredible endings to speak of? No. The finale might strike some people as appealing but only for a split second; almost like catching a glimpse of something interesting and colorful out of the corner of your eye, only to learn that it's a beat-up cardboard box that a gaggle of vermin have been living in.
The Silent Scream (1979)
An Unsung and Underrated Classic
Originally filmed in 1977, the first version of The Silent Scream was so poorly rendered that the actors and actresses had to be called back for a second shooting. The final rendition was released on August 7th of 1980. Directorial new-comer Denny Harris would try his amateurish hand at producing a horror film – in particular, that with a zesty Slasheresque appeal. We must keep in mind that by 1977, Slasher films were not formularized and the usual setup commonly found in this sub- genre was slowly becoming more common (Bob Clarks '74 classic, Black Christmas truly got the ball rolling, in my opinion). Unfortunately Harris would not further his career as a director or proceed down the avenue of show business a second time.
The story concerns Scotty Parker, a college transfer who arrives too late to sign up for on-campus housing and is forced to seek elsewhere for suitable living accommodations. On the edge of town she spots a large estate; situated high up on a cliff-side, flanked by the shore line. Through these arrangements she is introduced to two other housemates – Peter Ransom, a young college man with a rich father, and Doris Prichart. Jack Towne arrives the following day to complete the group of students. A high-schooler by the name of Mason Engels and his mother own the house. Both mother and son share a tragic past and exhibit strange behavior as a result. After a drunken evening of larking around, Peter, stripped of his faculties, is stabbed to death on the beach by an unknown assailant. A police Lieutenant and his partner spring into action and discover evidence that uncovers the dark history of the Engels family; Victoria, Mason's sister, was committed to a psychiatric ward 15 years earlier. Is she to blame for these grisly crimes?
Barbara Steele (Victoria Engels) – a scream queen that solidified her status in 1960's Black Sunday (La maschera del demonio). In 1961 she starred alongside Vincent Price in the Roger Corman, Edgar Allen Poe adaptation, The Pit and the Pendulum. In 1965 audiences also witnessed her appearance in the low-budget chiller Nightmare Castle. If these references don't ring a bell perhaps you've seen her in 1978's Piranha, directed by Joe Dante. The Silent Scream would be Steele's only theatrical appearance of the 80's.
Yvonne De Carlo (Mrs. Engels) – A classic film starlet that was born in 1922, De Carlo made her film debut in 1941 and it wasn't until 1964 that she received her break-through role in the comedic TV-series The Munsters. Yvonne's career was not relegated to horror alone, for her work encompassed a wide variety of roles that spanned over the course of 54 years. She passed away in 2007 at the age of 85 from natural causes; the same year that Denny Harris succumbed to a battle with cancer.
Avery Schreiber (Sgt. Manny Ruggins) – a multi-talented individual who shared a passion for comedy during the 60's and 70's. For those of you who've seen Robin Hood: Men in Tights he was the tax assessor who took Robin Hood's castle away by a horse-drawn carriage. "Yea, yea. You vow, we move. Let's go boys! Take it out!" I always thought he shared an uncanny resemblance to my high school literature teacher in Junior year. But, as the bearer of bad news, I should inform you that Schreiber died of a heart attack in 2002.
Now that we've reviewed the more well-known actors of the big screen, what about the rest of the cast? Rachel Balding takes on the lead role of Scotty Parker. Balding has done a fair amount of television work but does not hold extensive credit as a film actress. Her inexperience as a theatrical actress is irrelevant, however, as I believe her work in The Silent Scream was above-par from what we've come to expect from low- budget Slasher types. The rest of the cast play nicely in correlation with her leading tone resulting in a job well done. The production values are on queue and don't miss a beat so it's nice to see things pan out the way they should despite a low budget.
The Silent Scream doesn't waste too much time attracting red herrings to a bug zapper. The premise is straight-forward and won't stray too much from your expectations. A slight twist at the end will have you second- guessing yourself but this technique shouldn't be looked at as too severe and the result isn't distracting in the least. The level of carnage is subtle and relies more on clever cinematography and a competent level of editing as opposed to over-the-top bloodshed that many Slashers from the 80's relied on. What we see in The Silent Scream is more representative of how horror films started out - which in my opinion, is a nod to the classics established long ago.
I'm satisfied to end this review on a positive note with a film like The Silent Scream. It will certainly provide you with that dreaded feeling of, "there's someone in the house!" but I wouldn't say that it's downright terrifying. Any fan that deeply assesses horror movies will inform you that a film's expression of fear is not a requirement in the traditional sense; as for you casual fans, why not celebrate a title that pays tribute to the old days? It may be this level of appreciation that transitions you from the leisurely spectator of the genre into a knowledgeable student of dark cinema.
Final Exam (1981)
More Kids Killed on Campus
Final Exam was an attempt made by Jimmy Huston, the film's director, for creating a Slasher title that tried ignoring the obvious boundaries that haunt the genre. This was the same man that would later go on to create a more popular product in 1987's My Best Friend is a Vampire. Teamed up with Huston is Gary S. Scott who arranged some of the music featured on Fox's Funhouse (hosted by J.D. Roth) in 1988, and in that same year allowed his musical hand to complete 31 episodes of Freddy's Nightmares (1988-1990).
The film takes place at Lanier College and opens up with a murder at another campus. The killer is an unknown assailant who holds no ties to the cast in question; just a lunatic out for blood. The viewing audience is strung along on a 50-minute "heartfelt" exhibition of a "rigorous" college life. A second murder occurs in close proximity and poses a threat to the well-being of the young crowd as the remaining minutes display the disposal of the characters in a quick, albeit cheap, fashion.
My description of Final Exam is brief because there's not too much to say, honestly. Mockingly I mentioned the heartfelt moments contained within – so many, in fact, it'll cause you to feel as if you're watching an after-school special or an episode of Full House rather than a movie filled with dread. The director wanted to avoid the usual Slasher routine so instead he opted to focus more on character development. I wonder who told him that this was a good idea – sure, not enough character involvement is unwise and too much of it in a Slasher film is boring why can't there be a balance of both? Is that such a cross to bear? "Ugh, toiling endlessly on creating a decent film for audiences to appreciate such a burden," Huston says to himself in the waking hours of daybreak. I'm curious as to why the horror genre attracts so many foolish wannabes who have the urge to pick up a camera and start filming absolutely nothing; almost like a curse, a hex if you will, which I suppose would be rather fitting. Seriously, film-makers should create a movie about a director who thrives on creating sloppy films that contain no substance or value – oh wait, they already did, and they based it on Ed Wood.
Everything about this movie is dumb – which shouldn't be viewed as a wild accusation since the majority of films in the Slasher sub-genre are not only inadequate but also incompetent. The dialog alone should be a subject of ridicule with Oscar-rated material such as this to cleanse your palette:
"I leave in the morning for the big city. You're gonna be left with nothing' but that saggin' old wife of yours. *Laughs arrogantly* She must almost be 30 by now?"
Out of all the Slasher titles that involve students at a University or high school, I'd suggest watching those instead, more precisely, ANYTHING over Final Exam. Watching paint dry will become a favorite past time after experiencing the dregs of boredom that this movie invokes within its viewers. Final Exam executes the movement of a snail too perfectly and allows 1984's Girls Nite Out to look like a Masterpiece Theatre rendition of Julius Caesar.
Graduation Day (1981)
This film is brought to you by Troma Team Video Distribution Company which is a part of Troma Entertainment. They have been responsible for releasing B-rated pictures since the mid-1970's under its founders Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz. Troma has shared in the success of several underground features; 1984's The Toxic Avenger stands as their most recognizable work. Tromeo and Juliet from 1996 and '93's Cannibal! The Musical should also receive a mention as far as popularity is concerned.
This film tells the story of a high school senior, Laura, who dies of a heart attack following the events of a 30-second 100-meter dash. Laura's death causes her sister, Anne, to return home from the Navy as a set of grisly murders occur among a group of clowny high-schoolers.
Viewers can expect the usual cast of losers to appear...almost like film producers meet in a dark alley to swap actors and actresses enabling a healthy rotation of amateurism. In the far out reaches of your expectations Vanna White fills a role in Graduation Day - due to the common age range of most of my readers, White doesn't need much of an introduction. If you're still drawing a blank, she was the "letter turner" on Wheel of Fortune. She is also the niece of famed actor Christopher George (he also appeared in Mortuary) who plays a role in this film as well.
In addition, Linnea Quigley was added to the group as the whorish archetype that she willingly embraced in many of her earlier horror movies. Quigley is a cult icon in the genre and most notably portrayed "Trash" in 1985's Return of the Living Dead - other works include Silent Night, Deadly Night, Creepozoids (I would have had a field day with that film if I was writing reviews back then), Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Night of the Demons, and Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings.
Much to my surprise the creators of Graduation Day managed to cast young-looking individuals to portray high school students. There is one exception to this and it concerns Laura's boyfriend Kevin who appears to be over 30. Unfortunately I cannot find proper documentation to state how old he was in 1981 but passing him off as someone in their late teens was a ridiculous stretch. The woman responsible for the special effects makeup, Jill Rockow, would advance her career by branching out to films like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Silver Bullet, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3, and the Star Trek remake that was released in 2009. Rockow's achievements in Graduation Day are text-book, novice level achievements and won't frighten or impress the majority of viewers.
The use of false leads in this film run off into the countryside with the remaining sensibility you were desperately clutching onto. Everything from the principle having a knife collection in his top drawer, the head Track coach that people blame for Laura's death, the annoyed persona of Anne, to the heckled police officer who frequents the school grounds; no one is safe from the accusatory index finger, not even the bees who spread pollen from one flower to another.
The killer in question is armed with a fencing sword and dons a sweat suit and netted mask, fumbling around with a stop watch before and after the murders. I don't find such a silly image too far out of the ball park but why do characters who are caught off guard by the killer's presence always try to act reasonably? An anonymous brigand is lurking around in the hedges and the only thing that you can insist upon is how mannerly you come across? What a half-witted decision that is. How daft! Let's not allow this small facet to overshadow the simplemindedness involved when allowing oneself to stand motionlessly while the killer performs his/her preferred method of execution on your person. I've always refused to suspense my disbelief in this department; the act of "letting" someone kill you is preposterous and isn't functional on any level. Far be it for me to rain on the Slasher parade, though, as the sub-genre is littered with unrealistic bits like this o' plenty.
Bandwagon-jumpers of the 1980's all rushed to throw your average, ordinary high school and college students into the clutches of danger. The vast number of them seems staggering – the only way to properly catalog them all is to keep a list or have an amazing memory. I've seen so many titles that resort to this formula and shake my head in disappointment when I realize that I'm not out of the woods yet. Graduation Day, like many of its breed, simply "exists" just for the sake of being there the look of the film itself even appears dated and I cannot think of one single element that stands above the rest. For us completists, the obsessive fanatics that we are, we may find it appealing that Linnea Quigley plays a role but even this tidbit can go either way considering some of the doozies she's been in.
Night Screams (1987)
Could Have Been Worse
Trying to fairly evaluate a film this far down the totem pole is a pretty difficult task – it's no secret how poorly-made it'll be and leaves you comparing it to weaker selections in order to justify a viewing of it. Night Screams is a title, like some of the others I've reviewed thus far, that arrived late to the game and was immediately engulfed by the ever-growing Slasher cesspool. Whether it was looked at as an exercise in futility or a point of experimentation directors were forced to introduce something new and shocking to grab audiences or release the same old drivel in order to gain back what was spent. I can boldly say that Night Screams is not a good film; it sucks, to be honest, but somehow the premise isn't all that far-fetched.
The film sets the stage with a married couple watching Graduation Day on television (now you can see why I reviewed these films back-to-back, eh?). While the husband is outside preparing hamburgers on the grill his wife is stabbed to death by an intruder. After he notices the body he immediately calls the authorities; the call is cut short when he is murdered in turn. The story shifts its focus to David, the star of the local high school football team who's pressured by the presence of a scout from Oklahoma University. David and his friends decide to throw a party at his parent's house in celebration of his achievement. Meanwhile, across town, two mental asylum escapees kill a few police officers and after they arrive in town, hide out in David's basement. Added to this complex equation is David's mental state; prone to bouts of anger without his prescribed pills. With the maniacal duo hidden away in the cellar, David's volatile temperament, and the demented knife- wielder, who is responsible for the deaths of the party-goers?
I mentioned a moment ago the inclusion of archival footage of Graduation Day. The initial thing that occurred to me was, " of all the movies to reference, why that one?" I wish I had an explanation. If you haven't seen the murderous segments from Graduation Day, fear not! Night Screams does a fine job of spoiling them for you – I suppose it's not much of a let-down anyway. After several wasted minutes of this in the opening segment the husband displays the most hysterical reaction to his wife's murder...I don't think it's possible to sound any less shocked. Speaking of less than shocking, the quality of his deliverance doesn't come as much of a surprise since the majority of the cast debut'd their acting talents with this movie.
In the same swift motion, they exited the business – even the director, Allen Plone, would only make three more films after Night Screams (spread out over the span of 12 years). The only actor worth mentioning in this affair is Ron Thomas. Viewers may recognize him as "Bobby Brown" from The Karate Kid parts 1 & 2; certainly not the most prestigious credentials but among the other bit players featured in this film he comes across as a master of the arts.
The audio, specifically the intro music, is laughably bad. I can envision the composer's son sneaking into the recording studio, laying down a few stock tracks, and messing around with the volume dials. It's rickety and experimental sounding; an experiment gone terribly awry. Clearly, the composer's body of work in this feature is an uninspiring, synth-based cling-a-clanged crescendo of awfulness. Whoever had the displeasure of being the first to listen to this monstrosity would have been better off reproducing similar sounds by throwing a few pots and pans into the dryer and walking off the set.
The herrings displayed in Night Screams aren't vividly red; they are dressed up in nice little outfits so you aren't aware of their intended purpose. You may feel that your intelligence is underestimated with the use of obvious over-aged guys and gals to portray high schoolers. It's really that bad. I seem to make this complaint with every Slasher that I review but the creators of Night Screams must've desperately been in search for actors and actresses that appeared age-appropriate. For instance, the football locker room in the beginning of the film looks like a police precinct with all of the bravado, extreme chest hair, and mustaches to go around. Even David, the film's star character, looks as if he's been married with a kid for a few years with another on the way.
Night Screams isn't as bad as I predicted. The production values are bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. The acting is mostly crappy and the use of special effects is limited because of the angles used during the death sequences. While there are many clichés to point and laugh at Night Screams tried its little heart out despite the lack of budget. It's a disgraceful movie for sure but at least they tried. I've chosen to happily accept their sentiment but I'll never watch the movie again.
A Memorable 'Woods' Slasher
Madman (1982): A Memorable 'Woods' Slasher
Released in 1982, Madman is another Slasher flick that features helpless campers sent to the slaughter for our viewing entertainment. At this point in the game you're probably thinking, "Again?!" Although it's difficult to overlook clichéd elements within this sub-genre some movie directors manage to get the balance right – regardless of a low budget. This is where the cult classic, already-out-of-print Madman (aka Madman Marz) makes its appearance in order to woo us over.
The film opens with a varied group of campers huddled around a campfire in the dead of night, scaring each other with ghoulish stories of the macabre. Their supervisor and camp counselor, Max, entertains the small crowd with a grisly tale about a lunatic farmer by the name of Madman Marz; convicted for the crime of murdering his family, and as a result, condemned to hang by the neck. Marz escapes and remains on the prowl; widely believed to be a legend among the wide-eyed younglings. In common practice and impeccable timing, a young man by the name of Ritchie stands up and shouts Marz's name challenging him to appear in order to prove the validity of his existence. The campers expire for the evening and reminisce about the fun times of the camping season. Waiting in the wings, however, is the 'Madman' – called forth by Ritchie and awaiting the opportunity to eviscerate the unsuspecting troupe.
Madman is a competent and simplistic Slasher from the early days of the sub-genre. The film's director, Joe Giannone, would not further his career as a director. He died in 2006 at the age of 60, leaving me to wonder how well he could've sculpted his talents had he pursued show business more adamantly. Gary Sales, one of the writers who contributed his talents to the film, is currently in the works with Paul Ehlers (the man who portrayed the 'Madman') to release a second film entitled "Madman Marz" slated for a 2011 release in 3D. It's all part of the recent remake craze. Besides, Madman has generated enough underground interest that allows a remake of this caliber to happen.
Madman is definitely worth a look – from the isolated camp trails to the eerily shot Marz house, this film allows us to shut our brain off and enjoy a chilling collection of events. Think back four years ago to a splendid tale called Hatchet. There are obvious influences drawn from Madman and that's enough evidence to prove that this formula works.
Oh the Drama Again!
Not to be confused with Alfred Hitchcock's 1950 crime drama (entitled Stage Fright), StageFright: Aquarius is a product made possible by Italian director Michele Soavi. The name may sound unfamiliar to the majority of you; he worked as a director and producer on 1994's Cemetery Man and served as an actor for films such as in Paura nella città dei morti viventi (Gates of Hell from 1980) and Lo squartatore di New York (The New York Ripper from 1982) – both of which were directed by the master of horror Lucio Fulci.
Soavi also had the privilege of working with Dario Argento; in 1982 he served as an assistant director in the infamous giallo Tenebre. Three years later he would appear not only as an actor but also a Second Unit Director once more in Phenomena and Dèmoni. StageFright: Aquarius is the result of a man who has worked closely with the forerunners of Italian horror.
The story opens with a dramatic theatre scene that's cut short by the play's director, Brandon. After he thoroughly berates the production's leading lady, Alicia, she secretly leaves the building to have a doctor treat her sprained ankle. Alicia, paired with her with fellow theatre companion Betty, have no choice but to seek help from the local mental hospital in order to receive treatment. There, they happen-across a dark room that houses a mentally disturbed patient. They learn of the man's back-story; Irving Wallace, an ex-actor turned criminally insane.
After their return to the theatre, Brandon notices that Alicia was absent and promptly fires her. Her dismissal results in a grisly discovery in the parking lot – Betty, who was just moments behind her before entering the building, is now dead. The death requires the involvement of the police and two men are stationed outside of the theatre. At the request of the production's director, the key to the facility is hidden and everyone is forced to rehearse new material – unfortunately the key holder is butchered and the thespians inside are trapped and forced to deal with a maniac on the prowl.
The sets and imagery portrayed in StageFright: Aquarius are slightly reminiscent to the final portion of 1983's Curtains. The dark, quiet- as-a-church theatre provides an eerie setting that does an excellent job of elevating the mood. Some of the more successful Slasher films have focused on this aspect. Slasher films have the on-going issue of predictability, and while that's part of the charm and silliness, emphasizing the film's surroundings is crucial in setting it apart from the rest of the pack.
The premise, and more importantly the outcome, may play out too clichéd to help capture the fancy of casual fans. Regardless of Michele Soavi's close ties with Italian horror, one shouldn't expect any sleaziness or exploitative themes expressed within. This serves as a surprise to me since Joe D'Amato (director of Anthropophagus and Ross sangue) was the producer of StageFright: Aquarius. Thankfully the apple falls far, far away from the tree on this one. For those of you who haven't pieced this part of the puzzle together, I haven't made it a secret that I highly disapprove of D'Amato's work and think his films are garbage. When I noticed that he was attributed to this film, it filled me with extreme worry.
StageFright: Aquarius may fall under the "Category B" Slasher formula: group of individuals are terrorized by an unknown/anonymous killer, one person is left intact, and a quirky ending leaves you raising your eyebrow. The characters, rather than team-up and face the lone-psycho, run away in fear and frantically pound on the tightly shut doors of the complex. When they do finally render the decision to fight back, they do so foolishly. This small detail has plagued the genre since its transference to film; a character's lack of intelligence has to exist in order to stretch out a film's run-time. Perhaps this is why the horror genre remains a target in the eyes of a critic – nuances are common in other genres of film but viewers become especially fed-up and insulted by a character's cowardice and stupidity when avoiding danger. StageFright adheres to this common problem and rather than steer clear of it, embraces it fully. Soavi has stated that the ending of the film was a homage to the typical Slasher finale. In my opinion, his endeavor as a whole is a tribute – because of this, I cannot find it within myself to express a harsh opinion on his efforts.
In closing, StageFright is a comprehensive piece that won't go above and beyond your expectations. It's better than most low-budget Slashers but when you look at the competition, it doesn't say much. The acting and soundtrack especially are above average. The gore-factor is well executed too, and for 1987, quite plausible. If you're able to handle a theme that plays out rather commonly, it's worth a look. While I would mark this one as mediocre, upon further consideration, I wouldn't mind adding this one to my collection. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it does have an air of panache that's difficult to ignore.
Girls Nite Out (1982)
Cannon Fodder Aplenty
Robert Deubel, the director of this feature, would end his career upon his completion of Girls Nite Out; the 3 remaining works in his filmography aren't relevant to the horror genre. It seems all too easy to assume why Robert quit the business after the release of this movie but personally I like to envision a group of angry villagers chasing him out of town with brick bats.
A homecoming basketball game allows the students of a small Ohio college to form a victory party in order to celebrate their accomplishments; heavily laden with profuse drinking, promiscuity, and relationship drama. In the midst of all of the drunken horseplay and buffoonery, the team mascot is murdered in cold blood and his cherished bear suit is stolen. The college sorority follows through with a "scavenger hunt"; additional fun and games for the young girls to partake in. Meanwhile, the campus security guard delves into his tragic past that involves his deceased daughter and her obsessive ex-boyfriend, pronounced lunatic, Dickie Cavanaugh. With the security guard hung up with curiosity, the campus DJ harassed by the killer's incessant phone calls, and close friends dispatched of ruthlessly, the truth remains to be seen.
I took notice that Hal Holbrook, the campus security officer, took a part in this film, after witnessing his appearance in The Fog from 1980 and 1982's Creepshow - in particular, the segment entitled "The Crate." I find him to be a suitable actor in Girls Nite Out in addition to the aforementioned titles. Also appearing in Girls Nite Out is his son David. An interesting tidbit worth addressing is David's appearance in Creepshow 2 in the Old Chief Wood'nHead story...how awesome is it that both father and son secured two roles in BOTH Creepshow movies!? It's awesome, right?
More prestigiously, however, is the addition of Lauren-Marie Taylor from Friday the 13th Part 2 fame, and Carrick Glen from The Burning. This is one of the many perks that form as a result of watching so many horror titles...after a great deal of time, or even immediately in some cases, you begin to observe that actors and actresses are recycled throughout. Simply put, it's always nice to see a familiar face.
The creators of Girls Nite Out managed to output a piece that follows the numbers too closely almost like they had a cheat sheet handy and referenced a checklist whenever they reached an artistic barrier. Whether you've digested my mockery of Girls Nite Out as humorous or insulting, it's laced with a great deal of truth.
If the feel of a Slasher title is what you're after you'll be sorely disappointed when you discover that the film primarily focuses on college tomfoolery. The only part worth watching is the end. It pains me to admit how effective it is but how many times should I allow a lenient stance on this? In the past I've thought to myself, "You know that movie was horrible but it had one killer ending, it might be worth owning just for that." If I had a dime for every time I've said that I'd be a rich man; spending carelessly on sub-par Slashers wouldn't be an issue for me. The only accomplishment Girls Nite Out should be credited with is its ability to remain more predictable than a whole night's worth of TGIF.
Oh the Drama!
Curtains is an underrated Canadian flick directed by Richard Ciupka. Ciupka's name isn't plastered on horror memorabilia to purchase wholesale but a resurgence of interest for Curtains has grown increasingly over the years. You won't find Richard's name during the film's opening credits - in the place of director you'll see the name Jonathan Stryker, a character within the story. This was done to avoid putting Ciupka's name on the film
for what reason I do not know. Part of the team that helped create Curtains is UK-born producer Peter Simpson of Prom Night 1 & 2 fame and the classically trained Canadian pianist and composer Paul Zaza; praised within the community as the man responsible for scoring Prom Night 1-4 and 1981's My Bloody Valentine. This talented team was met with difficulty, however, as the film saw 3 years worth of re-shoots and re-casting after filming began in 1980. As a result of so many set-backs, Curtains was finally released in March of 1983.
The story opens with two characters: famous method actress Samantha Sherwood and well known director Jonathan Stryker. As a powerhouse couple, Stryker creates a film called Audra about an unstable woman with a vindictive personality towards men. His intentions are to cast his lover, Sherwood, as the lead role but after seeing her mock performance he proposes the idea of performing background research in a mental institution. After a violent but believable performance the two convince the staff at the institution to commit Samantha; allowing her full access to the grounds and to personally witness the mental deficiencies of the patients. Meanwhile Stryker holds an audition for the role of Audra without Samantha knowing - extending the offer to a small group of girls to audition at his mansion. Angered immensely, Samantha escapes from the asylum and confronts Jonathan at his home; joining the troupe of actresses that are all competing for the same role. In addition, a young actress who was sent an invitation did not arrive but was murdered instead. Six women, along with Stryker, must live in a tense household over the course of a few days while strange events plague the atmosphere.
Actor John Vernon portrays the character of Jonathan Stryker in this suspenseful tale. His resume is filled to the brim with 50 years worth of television appearances and film roles - two of which that I can recall is an episode of Tales from the Crypt in 1992 and the 1976 western starring Clint Eastwood, The Outlaw Josey Wales. Samantha Eggar also plays a role in this film as...you guessed it...Samantha Sherwood. I drew a connection to her after her appearance in David Cronenberg's horror classic The Brood. Without debate the strong suit of Curtains lies in this decision; casting the two strongest thespians as the lead roles. The other cast involved is acceptable, too, and those are strong words when you mention this around the word "Slasher."
Zaza's composition for the musical score is brilliant because it utilizes the sound of a classic piano. Many films from the 1980's relied more on an experimental and synth-based medium which remains a distinguishable feature from the decade. It's refreshing to hear Zaza's rendition during this period because I believe it works in conjunction with the set design. While on that topic, Stryker's mansion houses a basement that features old theater props and equipment. The creators of the film accentuated this by adding manikins that intensify each scene. How many of you who have shared similar feelings while walking through unlit rooms in a theatre? If this is something you've experienced then getting on-board with this idea is effortless. Naturally these segments that I mention occur at the tale-end of Curtains but working to obtain this goal transitions smoothly without any major plot hiccups. Unlike the previous film that I reviewed, The Prey, Curtains paces itself correctly without incessant time-wasting techniques and pointless footage.
The killer bears the mask of an elderly crone; definitely not the most original concept to hide the face of the killer by using a mask ***insert Halloween reference here*** but the inclusion of this didn't come across as a cheap knock-off. It would be outrageous to think that fans of Halloween require notification before a masked visage is adopted into a film post 1978 so the fact that Curtains embraces a familiar approach shouldn't be seen as a rip-off. Besides, the premises differ greatly so any quarreling among horror fans should remain null.
I enjoyed Curtains - it incorporates chilling surroundings with a well- thought-out screenplay that help boost the film above the droves of Slasher films that litter the '80's. If casual fans still appreciate early Slasher titles, they may enjoy it too.