Monthly Archives: May 2012
The Icebox Murders 1982
aka El Cepo
Directed by: Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo
Starring: Jack Taylor, Mira Miller, Manuela Jiménez
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
A lot of people assume that the slasher boom of the early eighties was mainly populated by the American and Canadian movie industries. Although in terms of major investment and quality of output, they’re right, but some of the craziest examples of low budget fun were also found in the most unlikely of places. ‘The slasher plague’ was a global cinematic epidemic and if you search hard enough, then you get to uncover titles such as Fen Ku Lou that were really unique and interesting.
Spain’s contribution to the genre is often overlooked, even though we were equally responsible for our fair share of output. The first offering to grace the category from España was Jesus Franco’s Bloody Moon, which found notoriety after achieving the cult status in the United Kingdom of joining the infamous ‘video nasty’ list. Hot on the heels of Franco’s effort was the equally bloody Pieces and the decade closed with Jose Larraz’s fairly decent slasher/mystery, Edge of the Axe. However, there was a film from that ever so fruitful period that slipped by completely unnoticed by completists and critics alike, which was called, El Cepo or The Icebox Murders.
It originally secured a small release on the long defunct Mogul label, which also gave life to slashers Satan’s Blade and Lucifer aka Goodnight Godbless. It never found an audience outside its country of origin and like so many of its less fortunate cousins from around that time, it soon vanished from existence. Eventually it became one of those rare gems that sell for big bucks to die hard collectors on Internet video-search agencies and eBay, due to their impossible to locate status.
Admittedly, the fact that it had become so obscure only helped to evoke my curiosities about the picture and an impressive and intriguing title also led me to begin a mission to track down a copy. After months of hearing absolutely nothing, finally, I stumbled across a VHS on show in a charity shop window (!) and simply couldn’t believe my luck. I picked it up and immediately headed home. On the way, I gazed longingly at the cover and hoped to discover if my patience could be rewarded with the bonus that I’d found an all but forgotten slasher masterpiece.
They say that when a film disappears, it’s never without good reason and they’re usually right with that assumption. But this time I kept my opinions open, because every now and then I’ve uncovered a rarity that’s turned out to be a whole lot more than I ever expected. The audacious cover artwork and blurb that offered so much, only heightened my spirits, so I slipped the cassette into my much-overused VCR and cracked open a chilled bottle of Smirnoff for the journey.
Despite the fact this was a Spanish production, the movie’s actually set in Paris, France. It kicks off with a girl running down a dimly lighted corridor. She’s fleeing a slow stalking camera shy maniac, who eventually catches her and puts his hands around her throat. She screams and then the shot ends. Cut to a news report, which helpfully informs us that she’s the sixth woman to be butchered by this unseen menace and it looks as if he has a taste for slashing beautiful young ladies and leaving their corpses in public places.
Next up we meet a prostitute called Chantelle who boasts that she’s found a goldmine in a man who buys her presents without wanting anything in return. If this generous gent (played by cult favourite Jack Taylor no less) isn’t an over-zealous advertisement for a could-be psychotic killer, then I don’t know what on earth is. He walks with a cane and his dress sense amounts to a pitch-black suit with dark glasses. This makes him look like a peculiar cross between a secret service agent and an especially morbid undertaker. The hooker pops round to his apartment and he informs her that he doesn’t like the way she dresses so provocatively. He tells her that she should give up that ‘ridiculous profession’ and he wants to whisk her away somewhere and ‘help regain her youth’ (Awesome chat-up line!). She agrees to the vacation as long as she can bring her friend Sylvia along. That night, Sylvia has a dream that ‘the undertaker’ has some murderous ambitions up his sleeve and the next day she remains wary of his true intentions. Soon we learn that he isn’t actually a grave-filler or secret agent by trade, but he’s actually a doctor – unfortunately.
They arrive at a mansion that’s conveniently secluded miles from civilisation and we meet another suspicious character that shares the spacious abode. John the twitchy caretaker takes an interest in the young ladies’ appearance, but is warned off by the solemn doctor, who beats him with the aforementioned cane. The peaceful serenity gets a bit depressing for the spirited girls and they head out to the local discotheque, where we meet yet another possible suspect – a smooth talking local that tries to engage in flirtatious conversation with the moody Sylvia. When they return later that night, she sees two silhouettes carrying a suspicious shape into the icebox. Could it have been a dead body? Do fish swim in the sea? Not a lot happens from here on out, it’s mostly just a whole heap of talking, which is painfully dragged out and mind-numbingly boring.
Eventually things liven up a little, when poor old John gets gunned down by an unseen sniper and Sylvie spies ‘someone’ with a decapitated head in his tool shed. Of course no one believes what she saw, and on inspection, it mysteriously disappears. Some time later, Chantelle discovers a collection of human trophies in a cleverly concealed cupboard. This results in the killer having to reveal himself and the traditional fight for survival ensues…
Right that’s it. Finally I’ve learned my lesson. Never again will I be enticed by a movie that has (rightly) been banished from wise-minded collections, thinking that it was just an unfortunate twist of fate. The Icebox Murders is as rancid as a geriatric sewer rat – and just as stinky! Even the title and the tag-lines are outright lies to trick unsuspecting victims (such as myself) into believing this could be an impressive premise for a slasher flick. The cover says that a maniac murders women and stores their bodies in a freezer. Total BS!! There’s just two on-screen killings in the whole film and the only corpse that’s found in the said icebox belongs to an animal – no fair! This isn’t even really a slasher flick, seeing how the second murder is committed with a gun, so I urge all genre collectors not to bother adding this one to your collection. There’s truly nothing here that would warrant even the most adamant fan to hunt it down, no matter how much you want to own every genre piece that was ever transferred to cheap videotape.
Let’s get this straight, now. This isn’t just a painfully long and irritating epic of nonsensical dribble with the oomph of a squished slug. Oh no, it’s flawed in just about every respect that a motion picture possibly can be. It looks to have been edited by someone using a seven year old’s ‘my first stationary’ kit, the theme-music plays randomly, with no apparent acknowledgement of the scene it’s accompanying and it boasts the directorial flair of gibbon holding an iPhone. By far the worst aspect of this monstrosity is the abysmal quality of the acting, which is best described as the dramatic equivalent of a Desperate Housewives blooper real. – Yes it is that bad. They could have packed the whole story in about twenty-five minutes of screen-time, which probably would have made a fairly watchable short. Instead it drags on – like a two-legged camel – for an hour and a half, as we watch a pair of marginally interesting females continually express their distaste at being cooped up in a mansion that they could have left whenever they felt the need to. Sadly, they were too dumb to work that out, so we have to look on as they (slowly) come to the conclusion that they’re heading for a slashing if they hang around the cane-clenching weirdo for much longer.
In fairness, it’s actually meant to be more of a character study or a slow paced Giallo and I guess it’s not really the fault of the film-makers that Mogul packaged it as a piece of slasher trash called The Icebox Murders. It’s Spanish title is El Cepo, which means ‘stocks’ that you put your legs in (picture to the left). I am guessing the Spanish filmmakers were trying to call the film ‘the trap’ in English. Trampa means trap in my mother tongue (Spanish), so I am not sure what they meant by the English language appellation, Icebox murders. Is it because they were stuck in that house with an icebox? I have no idea. I bet Mogul imagined that title. It must’ve been an ambitious marketing ploy from the distributor and an attempt to give the film more of an allure aimed towards the stalk and slash audience. In my review of The Ghostkeeper, I mentioned that the UK box art had absolutely *nothing* to do with the film inside and Mogul have done a similar thing here. They’ve taken everything that would appeal to the slasher genre and put it on the cover of a title that’s basically the equivalent of a boring and poorly produced TV movie. Even the music sucks. Another interesting thing is that I saw a VHS copy of this for sale on Amazon for $180 and a couple of days later it was gone. $180 for this is really quite an amazing price. If it’s become a collectors item, then maybe it makes sense, but if it was bought by someone hoping to find a forgotten splatter classic. Well, I would pay to see their reaction when the final credits rolled. It would have been a darn site more dramatic than anything that happened here.
As I’ve already said, this is not much of a slasher movie, which begs the question, why did I post a review of it? Well due to the aforementioned misguided marketing, chances are most collectors have already come across it or will do soon. I wanted to stop you from making the mistake that I made. Little remains to be said, except steer well clear of this misinterpreted, misguided and mis-advertised waste of a production budget. There’s really only very little to be salvaged from this sabotaged slasher, unless you enjoy watching how terrible Spanish fashion sense was in the early eighties. I was born and lived there back then, so I could smirk, but I doubt that any of you will. Especially not for $180…
I cannot warn you harshly enough about the dangers of mis-judging what lurks within the cover of The Icebox Murders. It’s as unforgiving as an ex-partner that you ruthlessly dumped – and you’ll want to avoid it just the same! Be afraid… Be very afraid…
Final Girl: √
Silent Madness 1984
aka Beautiful Screamers, The Omega Factor
Directed by: Simon Nuchtern
Starring: Belinda Montgomery, Viveca Lindfors, Solly Marx
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
In my review for The Scaremaker, I mentioned that it was one of a number of slasher flicks that were overlooked due to the barrage of releases at that time. Silent Madness is another such entry that barely gets any recognition nowadays, which I was keen to investigate once again having not watched it for a decade or so. As you are well aware, a SLASH above is always trying to hunt out hidden gems for your collections.
Recently, there has been a wealth of 3D in our cinemas, which could lead you to believe that it was something of a new invention for the humble stalk and slash category. Although effects have definitely improved, the truth is that we were treated to offerings in three dimension long before the remake of My Bloody Valentine. You are probably aware already of Friday the 13th part III, but there was also this much lower budgeted effort that launched across cinemas with the neat gimmick that you need groovy specs for.
After a blunder at a mental hospital, the staff release the mute and psychotic Howard Johns who was responsible for some sorority slashing years earlier, instead of the relatively harmless John Howard. A considerate shrink believes that he could be on his way back to the location of his previous crimes and heads there in order to stop him.
By 1984 the genre was already less of a draw for studio financing, so it’s somewhat refreshing to watch an effort that seems to have the mission statement of being played in theatres rather than aiming straight for video store shelves. It’s notably bold in that unlike the same year’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, Silent Madness makes absolutely no effort to do anything even remotely authentic and instead sticks to the formula of a dollop of Slumber Party Massacre with a bit of Halloween and Friday the 13th thrown in just for good measure. The killer is your typical muted menace with a murder lust and there’s a whole host of teenagers that he slices through and stalks using the trademark methodology.
I own two copies of this feature. One is on VHS, which is totally uncut and then I have a budget UK DVD that omits a few fun cheesy gore scenes. In their entirety, the murders are all quite creative in their delivery and I was quite impressed with the director’s imagination. One skateboarding bunny gets her head crushed in a vice and there’s a couple of other gruesome highlights that are worth a look. Watch out for the bit when a girl is slaughtered whilst playing that old arcade classic, Dragon’s Lair, which I used to spend hours trying to complete with my brother on my Commodore 64. The director pulls off the odd moment of suspense and there’s a very good jump scare here too.
What I was really impressed with was the film’s subtle political commentary. There’s a lot said about the asylum not having the budget to keep all of its patients and they are trying to release as many as possible. This is an obvious dig at the cost cutting ideas of the Reagan era when it was noted that many unfortunates were being freed too prematurely and it’s quite effective in its delivery. I also picked up on a heavy dose of obvious misogyny; not only in the maniac’s choice of victims, but in the way that the male characters approach the heroine. All the hospital workers treat her as an idiot and she is even disrespected by the orderlies (watch out of the hilarious evil laugh scene). If it weren’t for the fact that the head manager was a woman who was equally as dubious, I would have been sure that it was another subtle expression of cultural topic from the filmmakers.
The other character with a confused sense of morals is the goofball sheriff who spouts lines such as, ‘Just because the gawdamn broad is so good looking, don’t mean we all have to think with our dicks!’ In typical genre fashion, he’s a bit of a doofus and to call him ‘smart’ would be like saying that Ryan Giggs was ‘faithful’. No one really believes the Doctor when she warns them that the maniac could be on his way back to the sorority and she only has a journalist as a partner to help apprehend the murderous nut job. There’s a pretty unexpected twist that came as a surprise and in a rare move, there is no open ending so it hints that the production team were never considering a sequel even if this had have been a major success, which I doubt it was.
None of the teenage girls are given any real depth or personality and they are only there to be murdered, but the leads put in a good enough shift with what they are given. Belinda Montgomery was charming as the final ‘woman’ and Viveca Lindfors gave it her all in the smallest of parts. The momentum stagnates a tad in places and some of the dialogue scenes were fairly limp. The story has just enough to keep you hooked and I never felt the need to take my eyes off the screen.
Silent Madness is pretty much stalk and slash in its comfort zone and never manages anything out of the ordinary and plods through the clichés like a tortoise on Valium. It’s by no means a bad film, but not a diamond in the rough either. It is certainly no worse than some of its peers that it shares a release date with and I can only put it down to bad luck that it is not more often mentioned as a referential piece of slasher hokum.
If you’re a collector, I can’t think of any reason why you shouldn’t pick it up and it offers much more than the likes of Final Exam and He Knows You’re Alone. It made me want to download one of those C64 converters a have a shot at Dragon’s Lair and The Last Ninja once again…
Final Girl √√√