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The 1988 original film is usually considered the best. The seventh, second, and fourth films are generally liked as well. The third and fifth films are the most disliked by fans.
Don't Go in the Woods (1981)
Proof That Anyone Can Make a Movie
There isn't that much to say about "Don't Go in the Woods". It is basically the most uninspired slasher film I've seen, and that's saying something from a guy who has seen every sequel, prequel, remake, and knock-off, and who in particular loves early 80's slasher gold. This is fool's gold. So what makes this movie worse than flicks like "Madman", "The Burning", "Prom Night", "The Prowler", and "Graduation Day"?
For starters, "Don't Go in the Woods" has absolutely no originality to it. The movie is basically a complete knock-off of the previous year's "Just Before Dawn", only "Woods" has more characters and deaths but lacks the atmosphere, suspense, and twist of "Dawn". This film is absolutely amateur in its making. It has a great atmosphere to use and doesn't use it. It doesn't allow any room for character development. Rather than creating suspense it jumps right to the kill. There is simply no use of artistic film-making or creativity in this entire flick.
Earlier in the week I finally was able to see another infamous B-movie slasher, "Graduation Day", which I thought was missing something. Compared to "Woods", "Graduation Day" looks like a masterpiece. "Graduation Day", along with "Friday the 13th", "The Burning", "Madman", "The Prowler", "Happy Birthday to Me", "Prom Night", "Halloween", "A Nightmare on Elm Street", "House on Sorority Row", "Just Before Dawn", "My Bloody Valentine", and others may follow a simple formula but it knows how to make that formula entertaining. Those movies have a rhythm. "Don't Go in the Woods" has no rhythm, but seems more like a bunch of footage of random, annoying people we don't care about or like getting killed in uneventful ways.
Watching this movie felt like it was taking hours, even though it was only 85 minutes. So why would I continue watching "Don't Go in the Woods"? It is a movie from a time period that will never return. Movies like "Woods" will never be released again. This is a grindhouse picture - a low-budget, cheesy movie that played in limited cinemas and never went mainstream. It has earned a large cult fanbase over the past thirty years, and the title has become infamously famous for being a bad movie. For a horror fan, "Woods" is a sort of time capsule, a look back in time to when anyone could make a slasher movie as long as you had a camera. This time has come and gone, and has been forgotten about. For over twenty years, no one thought about "Woods", but the internet and DVD sales have helped bring it back.
The cult horror film "Don't Go in the Woods" is only a popular movie because it is so bad and at one point so unpopular. As a slasher film fan, I am glad to have seen it. The acting is atrocious, the writing is wretched, the effects and laughable, and the plot is absent. But with a few cool shots of the scenery, "Don't Go in the Woods" somehow can keep the audience's minds off its lack of substance. And does this movie really need any substance? That's a debatable question.
Definitely only a movie for hardcore slasher fans. Regular genre fans will most probably get bored and turn it off, and if you don't like horror movies or bad b-movies than steer clear and don't enter "the Woods".
Graduation Day (1981)
"Graduation Day" - The Definition of 80's Slasher Cheese
"Graduation Day" was released in May 1981, during the height of the slasher film craze. Earlier that year, fans had been subjected to flicks like "My Bloody Valentine", "Just Before Dawn", "Friday the 13th Part 2", and "The Burning" and theaters still were expecting flicks such as "Halloween II", "The Prowler", and "Happy Birthday to Me". I have seen all of these films, and out of all the popular 1981 slashers "Graduation Day" is by far the worst.
What "Graduation Day" amounts to is an exercise in poor, low-budget film-making with bad acting, bad writing, pointless characters, pointless scenes, unneeded nudity, cheesy dialogue, and an experiment in editing that didn't work so well. And who could forget the classic 80's disco music that plays throughout the film (the opening scene's music is only rivaled by the music that plays during a chase scene). However when renting a movie like this a person should be aware that those details will be in this film. So why isn't "Graduation Day" considered a classic like "Halloween", "Friday the 13th", "A Nightmare on Elm Street", "My Bloody Valentine", "The Burning", or "Prom Night"? Why do fans still seek those films but disregard this without care?
Where slasher films need to succeed above all other areas is in the pacing. There is nothing worse than a slow moving slasher, and "Graduation Day" moves pretty slow. The most aggravating part is that there are plenty of opportunities to speed things up; there are numerous pointless characters who are introduced and who are never allowed the chance to be a suspect in the murders or be a victim. There's a sleazy teacher, a stressed principal, a cunning secretary, a dopey school security guard, a clueless detective, an alcoholic step father, a mindless grandmother, and a mom to an earlier victim still grieving. All of these characters could have a motive to killing or a reason to getting killed, but they are all wasted. The worst part is that the story still focuses on them, and at times designates entire scenes just to flesh out their character. But for what?
What does amaze me about "Graduation Day" and its small fanbase is that people aren't more amazed by the death scenes. Fans go wild for death scenes like the raft massacre in "The Burning", the washing-machine death in "My Bloody Valentine", the kabob death in "Happy Birthday to Me", the upside down death in "Friday the 13th Part 3", and hot tub death in "Halloween II", and even the car hood death in "Madman". But where is the respect for some truly unique (even though cheesy) deaths in "Graduation Day". One victim gets impaled right through the jugular with a fencing sword, while another gets that sword thrown at them like a javelin. The best death includes spikes under a landing mat. Why aren't these deaths famous among the genre like the deaths in more popular slasher films?
"Graduation Day" tries hard to be a great and unique film, but there is just an element of logic and pacing missing that really ruins the whole experience. Its not the worst of its kind (try checking out "Don't Go in the Woods... Alone") and there is a bit of suspense, plus it delivers just what fans are looking for (blood, gore, nudity, sex, and nostalgia) but "Graduation Day" will not be remembered as one of the all time greatest slasher films ever made. It's not a question of budget - almost all slashers have a low-budget - however it is a question of ideas, creativity, and craftsmanship. That's all any type of movie making is...
Recommended for hardcore slasher fans. General horror fans might get a little bored, and people who don't have much interest in horror at all should steer clear. It's not the worst slasher film ever made, but its a long way from being the best.
Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
To Many This Might Not Mean A Lot, But This is the Best "Friday" There Is
After the huge success of the first two "Friday the 13th" movies, there was of course going to be a third entry. In 1982 the third entry was released into theaters for 3D viewing - "Friday the 13th Part 3D". This third entry turned out to be more successful than the previous film in the series and just shy of beating the original's box office gross. Aside from "Freddy vs. Jason", "Friday the 13th Part 3D" is the highest grossing sequel in the series, and at its time was the highest grossing sequel of all time (pretty impressive for a low budget slasher film). Today people regard all the "Friday the 13th" movies as silly, predictable, and cheesy - they certainly are, but they are also some of the most entertaining flicks you will ever see. "Friday the 13th Part 3D" is the best in the series, and that may not mean a lot to most people, but to a slasher fan it is certainly a blessing.
"Friday the 13th Part 3D" is most famous for introducing the world to the iconic hockey mask, which as not only come to define the series but come to symbolize the genre as a whole. Anyone who truly loves horror movies should definitely see the film where the hockey mask comes into play. The story is pretty much the same as the first two films - it takes place directly after the events of "Part 2" with Jason on the run and hiding out in a barn on Crystal Lake that is occupied by a group of college kids. Also on the barn are a biker gang that truly do make the movie. Dana Kimmell shines as the heroine of the story, and she certainly lands her mark as one of the most likable heroines in horror history. There really aren't any famous faces in this entry, with the exception of Newscaster Tracy Savage who plays Kimmell's best friend.
The film really defines the 80's in its own way. You have every type of character; the country boy, the pretty girl, the tough biker chick, the abusive biker, the biker gang leader, the obnoxious wife, the bizarre animal-loving husband, the two stoner's, the bitchy beauty, the athletic fellow, the final girl, the nut-case carrying around body parts, and of course the prankster outcast who was the one to introduce the famous mask. 80's fans will also enjoy the musical theme, which isn't so much a standard horror theme but more of a disco theme that will make you giggle at the time period. The direction is very good and at times the movie manages to be suspenseful, even on today's standards.
"Friday the 13th Part 3D" is available in a single bare-bones DVD with just a trailer or it is available in the "From Crystal Lake to Manhattan" box set with the first eight "Friday the 13th" films. In the box set you get a commentary by select cast members including Kimmell, a trailer, a featurette dedicated to this one film, and a lot of extras for the whole series. If you have the money the box set is worth it, but its still a shame that this film can't be presented in its original 3D format. Rumor has it that some DVD's have managed to put this format, however those DVD's generally go for very, very needy prices.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
The Film That Will Make Any Slasher Fan a Happy Camper
"Sleepaway Camp" is certainly not the most well done slasher movie and at times seems cheap, but when you are finished with it you will never forget it. As everyone knows, it is all about the shocking, twisted, and unbeatable ending which could possibly be the most successful slasher film ending ever ("Psycho" beats it but that may not technically be a slasher). Then again, everyone has heard about the ending; if you know it you will still be shocked (I knew the ending the first time I saw it and it still had the power to shock me and stick with me) but if you don't know it than you will probably be blown out of the water.
The story of "Sleepaway Camp" is pretty much routine for the most part; campers who do mean things to other campers are murdered in grisly ways by an maniac. The main characters include Ricky, Angela, Paul, and Judy. For his young age, Jonathan Tiersten plays Ricky to a perfect pitch, and he provides as a tough, likable hero (or villain?) to the story. Ricky's shy and awkward sister Angela, whose father died years beforehand in a boating accident, steals the show for more than one reason. Not only does she literally 'make the movie' but Felissa Rose plays her with such grace that you can't help but feel bad for her while also questioning if she is the maniac. Chrisopher Collett plays Paul, Angela's love interest who attempts to bring her out from her shy state, while Karen Fields plays Judy, the nemesis of all three other characters. Fields does her job as playing someone you can't help but hate.
The direction of "Sleepaway Camp" is a little rough at times but still manages to pull of that authentic look. The musical score is good and keeps you tuned it, but the true essence of the film lies in the time period which is was made in. The outfits worn by the characters are at times scarier than the theme of the film, but you can't help but love them. Men wearing half-shirts, the short shorts... they're all there.
"Sleepaway Camp" is available in a boxed set along with its two sequels, and it is also available in a single keepcase DVD. On the DVD is a commentary with the director, Felissa Rose, and others while a trailer is also included. Rumors have it that when the currently shelved sequel "Return to Sleepaway Camp" is released there may just be a special edition of the original shocker available.
Terror Train (1980)
A Well Done Slasher That Doesn't Fall off the Tracks
"Terror Train" is the final Jamie Lee Curtis horror movie (not including the "Halloween" sequels) and it certainly is a high note to go out on. The film doesn't have the substance and art that "Halloween" or "The Fog", but one might find that "Terror Train" is an above average slasher film that, like its fellow Curtis movies, relies more on story and thrills than blood and guts. This movie truly puts others like "Prom Night", "My Bloody Valentine", "Madman", "Happy Birthday to Me", and "Graduation Day" to shame, and one could easily argue that its better than the extremely popular "Friday the 13th" films.
"Terror Train" is a little more complicated than most slasher fares. It is about a fraternity holding a New Year's Eve costume party on a train but someone has boarded the train with a vendetta against the college kids for an accidental prank that occurred several years beforehand. While on the train, the killer takes on the costumed identity of whoever he kills, so who is the killer and who is just dressed up. Its got a great plot and the movie delivers some as well.
Jamie Lee Curtis and Ben Johnson are the stars of this movie, but other big names are included as well. David Copperfield is one of them; he does his job playing himself basically, but the true acting chops go to Hart Bochner, who plays the stuck up, rude, and mostly mean fraternity brother responsible for the accident years ago. Ben Johnson is of course good, but his role is limited to a train conductor. Jamie Lee Curtis is pretty much playing yet another heroine in a horror movie, and her performance is stellar but nothing special.
"Terror Train" is a great slasher film recommended for slasher fans. It has its plot holes, but overall its makes up for them with a good story, some decent suspense, and a great twist ending that you won't soon forget. It definitely doesn't fall off the tracks.
"Terror Train" is available on DVD only on a simple DVD with just the theatrical trailer included. The impending remake may bring about a special edition.
The Trick is the Scares, The Treat is The Film Itself
In 1978 John Carpenter introduced Michael Myers to the world in his mega-hit blockbuster "Halloween". Starring Donald Pleasance as the obsessed doctor hunting down psychopathic Michael Myers, the low-budget film immediately became one of the most successful films ever made and spawned seven sequels plus a remake, as well as countless knock-offs. With its introduction of modern day star Jamie Lee Curtis as well as appearances by legends Charles Cyphers and PJ Soles, "Halloween" landed a spot for itself as being a classic, and a well deserved title it is.
The plot is standard and has been copied so many times that you would think the world would be tired of it, but the world will never be tired of the immortal "Halloween" story. It is about a man who murdered his teenage sister on Halloween night fifteen years ago, but who escapes his mental hospital and heads back to his home town where he stalks three teenage girls around the same age as his deceased sister relentlessly. Meanwhile, his obsessed doctor tries to track him down, understand him, and ultimately destroy him with the help of local police.
"Halloween" still has the power to scare people nearly thirty years after its initial release. It is one of the few slasher films that doesn't rely on gruesome deaths, such as "Friday the 13th", in order to deliver a shock. The stalking scenes involving the three teenage girls are unforgettable and realistic - making them all the more terrifying. John Carpenter truly mastered his camera-work to give us not only the point of view of the killer (earlier seen in "Black Christmas" and "Jaws"), but to also give us truly eerie shots involving lighting as well.
Unlike many of its imitators, "Halloween" will keep most everyone entertained while still having the power to scare you. It is not a film people will be turned off due to gore and blood (there is very, very little shown), however slasher fans will enjoy the thrills that the film has to offer (the last chase scene is the one that set the standard for all to come). If you are a slasher fan, this should be a no-brainer, but even if you find those particular films to be nothing but nonsense you should still check out John Carpenter's "Halloween" - its bound to give one good scare and the trick is that you'll find a treat is this nice American classic.
"Halloween" has had a lot of DVD editions due to its popularity, but the one that would most satisfy a fan would definitely be Anchor Bay's 25th Anniversary Edition, which features commentary tracts, radio spots, TV spots, a trailer, an 80-minute documentary, a re-visiting the sets tour, actor and director profiles, photo gallery, and more! A sure treat for "Halloween".
Prom Night (1980)
This "Prom" Has the Formula But Doesn't Seem to Cut It
"Prom Night", starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielson, is certainly a slasher movie but undoubtedly one of the worst of its kind. Why is was such a huge success in 1980 will be the biggest mystery that this low-budget Canadian flick has to offer. It is one of the most predictable films you will ever see, it isn't relatively scary or gruesome, and the entire production cost of the film seems to be misguided.
The film is about a killer targeting four high school kids on the day of their prom who were responsible for the accidental death of a girl seven years beforehand. That's about all the movie has to offer. Both Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielson are not targets, and if really feels as if all their stardom is really wasted and that they were simply written into the script to have some kind of name behind the movie.
Unlike "Halloween", which "Prom Night" almost directly clones at parts, this movie lacks the characterization and substance that creates a genuinely scary slasher movie. Its mystery is fruitless with no attempts at a plot twist. The entire first part of the film is just tiresome and boring.
While "Prom Night" certainly is by no means a good slasher film, or film in general, it is a fun flick to observe. You most likely won't get scared by it, but there may be some laughs at the film, especially the goofy disco soundtrack that is truly one of the more memorable parts of the entire movie. Probably the best part of this movie is a chase scene involving one of the killer's targets through the school during the actual prom dance. The chase scene is actually very entertaining, well done, and overall suspenseful - in other words this ten minute chase scene is worth putting yourself through the rest of the movie. You won't be disappointed by that one part.
"Prom Night" sort of has a very similar feeling to it that "I Know What You Did Last Summer" has. The latter, which is more famous in today's society and certainly a better overall movie, might be the one to look for if you are after a good, entertaining night. However if you are looking for a piece of 80's memorabilia, then "Prom Night" is the one to bring home.
All DVD versions of "Prom Night" are pretty bare bones, offering up only a trailer at best. Prehaps when the 2008 remake, starring Brittany Snow of "John Tucker Must Die" is released, there may be a special edition of the original just for those who actually like it. "Halloween", "The Fog", and "Terror Train" are all Jamie Lee Curtis vehicles that are recommended over "Prom Night".
The Burning (1981)
"The Burning" Hits the Hot Spots of Entertainment
Before they were huge producers, the Weinstein brothers released a little known slasher picture entitled "The Burning", which featured in small roles modern day stars Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, and Holly Hunter. While the stars and producers of the film went on to have their careers flourish with success, "The Burning" seemed to fade away into looking just like another pointless slasher from the early 80's. "The Burning" does not deserve to be disregarded in any way; it is without a doubt one of the, if not the, best slasher film from that era. "The Burning" certainly is better than hits like "Prom Night", "My Bloody Valentine", "Madman", "The Prowler", "Happy Birthday to Me", and the original "Friday the 13th", and its debatable as to whether it is better than the first three sequel to "Friday the 13th". The film features the right amount of suspense to keep you on the edge, a compelling story, likable and unique characters, and of course a pool full of blood.
"The Burning" is basically about a cruel camp caretaker named Cropsy who gets horribly burned in a prank-gone-wrong by some of the kids. Five years later Cropsy is released from the hospital where he goes out to get his revenge on those who burned him, and he is led to a new camp where one of the culprits is now the head camp councilor. The story is certainly nothing special, but it does more than most slasher films - it gives a clear motive, a nice bit of history, and it builds up a bond between the hero of the story and its monstrous villain.
Brian Matthews stars as Todd, a character who could be one of the most likable heroes of any slasher film. Matthews has the looks, the charm, the charisma, the acting ability, and he is in no way a wimp. You truly root for Matthews when he's trying to save his friends from the evil Cropsy. Co-starring is Leah Ayres, who is definitely an attractive young woman with some good acting skills herself. Its a shame that Matthews and Ayres never really took off in their careers - they easily could have been stars. "The Burning" is most well known for its gore, especially the famous 'raft scene', done by no other than Tom Savini ("The Prowler", "Friday the 13th"). Why the gore isn't as extreme or nasty as "The Prowler", it does still pack a punch and is a little upsetting. Savini's best effects are on Cropsy himself, making those burns worse than even Freddy Krueger's.
Prehaps the best part of "The Burning" is the musical score by Rick Wakeman. It is seems to have the perfect mix of synthesizer and suspense, and truly brings you back to the early 80's. It also fits in perfectly with the wooded setting. The entire movie just works perfectly together, and it is very entertaining and never really has a dull moment.
However there's just one burning question... where's the DVD?
The Definition of Early 80's Slasher
Joe Giannone's "Madman" is without a doubt one of the most typical slasher movies that you will ever see. Its one-dimensional characters, ridiculous death scenes, cheesy script, over-the-top killer, and fundamental plot all makeup exactly what you would expect in a slasher movie - and you will love every bloody second of it! "Madman" is not a movie where you need to think even the slightest bit, you don't really even need to pay attention. In "Madman", it is easy to leave the room for fifteen minutes and come back, having not missed any pivotal plot points. "Madman" succeeds because of that - it is what it set out to be and is nothing more.
The story is simple and you definitely have seen it in other movies such as "Friday the 13th", "Sleepaway Camp", and "The Burning". Basically, camp councilors are being killed in gruesome ways by a psychopath. Only in "Madman", the psycho is a once-presumed dead farmer named 'Madman Marz' who murdered his wife and kids before a lynch mob tried to kill him. But guess what, his body was never found and strange things happen around his old home where the murders took place. And rumor has it that when you call him he will come and kill and kill and kill. Well, one of the kids tests that theory and unfortunately for him and the others it turns out to be true. So in a nutshell, "Madman" is "The Burning" meets "Bloody Mary".
Slasher fans will get a chuckle from the death scenes, including the now famous 'decapitation by car hood' scene. The acting is sub-par, but that only adds to the experience. When watching "Madman" there is a feeling that you are sitting in your living room in 1982 watching that exact movie. Why "Madman" is so great is not because of its ridiculous plot line or cheesy acting, but because it is one of the few movies that truly represent an era of film-making that no longer exists. This era was most recently honored in the film "Grindhouse", however there will never be movies like "Madman" again. Movies today are made for money, not for entertainment. "Madman" and its fellow cheesy slashers certainly deserve their spot in movie history.
Anchor Bay has released what I consider to be one of the best DVD's around, not because it is jam-packed with special features but because it delivers more to "Madman" than what the movie really deserves. You get TV spots, a trailer, and a feature-length commentary by the director, producer, and the actor that played Madman Marz himself. Without a doubt one of the best releases for a movie of this kind.
Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
Almost Too Smart for An Early 80's Slasher
The 1981 slasher film, "Happy Birthday to Me", is actually too smart for your average horror film from that time period. When looking at it next to others such as "Friday the 13th", "Friday the 13th Part 2", "My Bloody Valentine", "Madman", "Hell Night", "The Prowler", and especially "Prom Night", you can't help but wonder why this movie was not as successful as the others. The reason - it was actually too smart with too many twists and turns for the people of the time period. What was in during 1981 were body count films - people didn't care about plot as long as they got lots of gore and nudity. "Happy Birthday to Me" certainly offers violence, but aside from that this is more of a mystery thriller than a horror film.
The plot does not revolve around some girl's 18th birthday party like you would be led to believe, although her birthday does play a significant part in the mystery of the story. The whole entire story is better left to be viewed and not told. It is certainly a well written mystery that will keep you guessing up until the very last second. Pamela Sue Anderson and Glenn Ford star in the film, both of them giving stellar performances. It could probably be assumed that Glenn Ford, as a veteran talent, would deliver his role in a well done fashion. But the true stunner is Pamela Sue Anderson, who not only has a charismatic beauty about her but she also is a very talented, wonderful actress that carries the film basically on her own two shoulders.
Slasher fans will certainly enjoy the gruesome death scenes, my favorite involved a scarf and a motorbike. But aside from a few gruesome deaths the film is really more of a mystery thriller. From the very start you are left guessing exactly who the killer is all the way up until the final moments of the film. Even non-slasher fans will get a kick out of the mystery and story that builds up throughout the film. There are a lot of clever plot twists to keep you guessing throughout the entire movie. The ending is a little forced, but overall you will be satisfied.
The DVD for "Happy Birthday to Me", released by Sony, is pretty bare bones. Aside from the movie itself you get three movie trailers, including the 90's slasher classic "I Know What You Did Last Summer". Overall the movie deserves a better DVD, but its still worth a night's viewing that you will certainly enjoy. Hey, if your birthday's coming up why not put this nice little movie on the list?