Monthly Archives: December 2012
Hell High 1989
Directed by: Douglas Grossman
Starring: Maureen Mooney, Christopher Stryker, Christopher Cousins
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Unleashed a tad too late to make an impression on the slasher cycle, Hell High is an entry that deserves a second look due to its effort to branch away from the standard template. It is not one that is particularly obscure and has always been fairly easy to locate on VHS and then DVD. Surprisingly enough, most genre fans have never paid it much attention, which is an unusual feat for a film so widely available.
Producers David Steinman and Douglas Grossman had set out to make a feature from as early as 1982. Whilst searching for opportunities, Grossman touted himself as a writer around Hollywood and interviewed with a few studios to little avail. He eventually landed the job of adding the finishing touches to a Jim Kouf script titled, Up the Creek. The film was a moderate success and Grossman put the profits towards developing his own project the following summer. What Do You Want To Do Tonight? was finished in 1986, but the distribution deal that they secured initially fell by the wayside over a disagreement on the fee.Tragedy struck when lead actor, Christopher Stryker, fell ill and died shortly after of an AIDS related complication. In the aftermath, the movie was picked up relatively cheaply, given a minuscule cinema run, re-titled as Hell High and shipped out quietly on VHS where it barely made a ripple.
In the first scene, a young girl heads off to a hut in some secluded swampland with a handful of toys. Whilst she is playing, a roaring motorbike engine is heard pulling near and so she heads off to avoid detection amongst the surrounding shrubbery. Two rock and roll teens burst in to the shack and begin to make out, but somewhat stereotypically, the female (complete with a hairstyle that is ‘air-balloon-like’) ‘doesn’t feel safe’. Her gentlemanly boyfriend accepts her decision with the charming words of, “You f*king bitch!” He also pulls the head off of one of the toys inside, much to the displeasure of the on looking child. Both rockers jump on to their motorcycle and begin to speed off, but just before they leave, they are hit by a bucket full of mud, thrown by the kiddie in response to the dismemberment of the dolly. The bike loses control and violently crashes into a pit of bizarrely misplaced spikes The kiddie looks on in shock as the riders bleed to death.
Fast forward to present time and the infant is now grown up and a teacher at a local high school. Her strict approach causes friction with one rebellious group of students and after an aggressive confrontation, they plan revenge on her. The posse head up to her house later that night with a prank in mind to torment her, but what they find waiting for them is not what they expected…
I was really impressed with Hell High’s modification of the ‘avengement’ theme that has been used many times by the likes of Slaughter High, Terror Train and Evil Night. The story here seems to owe more to the revenge flicks of the seventies such as Massacre at Central High and Horror High than the titles that it shares its release date with. It focuses very heavily on building the personalities of its key players, which translates to around fifty-minutes of high school frat pranks, flirting and teen-banter. These characters are loud, brash and fun to watch as they do everything possible to worm their way in to the audience’s attention. Christopher Stryker’s Dickens is a sociopath without a shred of remorse and his persona is unequivocally evil. He drowns out his friend/nemesis, Jon-Jon’s morals by inflicting peer pressure on him. Eventually, Jon-Jon reluctantly has to submit to the notion that he is in fact not as confident of his morally superior stance as he’d like to believe. The other two gang members have perhaps less of an impact on the story, but still provide worthwhile dialogue. In the aftermath of their crimes, they successfully build the picture that their shallow regret is far more cantered towards a fear of punishment than a recognition of the horrendous acts that they committed. This leaves them without sympathetic redemption and also creates an interesting paradox. Who do we root for, the murderer or the victims? Perhaps neither is deserving of pathos.
I touched on the authenticity of the synopsis and it becomes most obvious when the film’s ‘bogeyman’ begins her rampage. We are not given a loon in a mask or a super-human assailant, but instead a killer that has been twisted by the actions inflicted upon her, which makes her very human and VERY real. The murders are brutal, if not particularly gory and include a vicious pencil to the head and a fire-poker impalement. Perhaps the lack of a more physically imposing aggressor made it more of a challenge to convey a genuine fear factor.
There’s a great money shot that was used on most covers and marketing material and it sees the teacher running down the stairs in silhouette with a knife in her hand a la Norman Bates. In fact, the photography from Stephen Fierberg is by far the best thing technically about the picture. The scenes in the swamp are particularly gloomy and atmospheric and superbly lighted. Kudos to the producers for making the most of a low budget and Hell High shows no obvious signs of being lesser funded than the Friday the 13th sequel developed the same year. The editing is not sharp enough to create any true suspense or shocks, but I must admit that at times I felt rather unsettled during my viewing, which left an impression all the same.
Whilst I found myself to be moderately engrossed during the majority of the plot, I do concur that the average dramatics may be off-putting to some viewers. We have teens, we have lady lumps (I counted three boob-shots in the first twenty-minutes) but this is not a traditional stalk and slasher. The attempt to add a psychological theme is a bit of a risk and much like mayonnaise on chips, you’ll either love or hate it. It has a ‘kind of’ central character to relate to and also a confused, but intriguing moral to its story. It’s low-level of popularity exists for a reason though and I’m not sure whether to highlight or warn against it.
Hell High is an oddity of a genre entry, and I mean that in both a complimentary and non-complimentary way. I most definitely enjoyed watching it again after so many years, but was left feeling like you would after a passionate fling that lasted for only two-minutes. Enjoyable, but worthy of being so much more.
Eighties enthusiasts should track it down, but it’s one that I recommend with reservations.
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Slash-Happy New Year!!!
It’s that time of the year again!!! I know that you’ve all been good girls and boys and Santa is gonna bring you what you desrve! As for me, well I shall be spending time with the heirs to my throne and then getting very drunk. I will need to sober up around midnight though as I have been roped in to going to church! I hope all you guys and gals have a fantastic Christmas and remeber drink it up, live it up, but keep it safe… peace!!
Home Sick 2007
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Starring: Forest Pitts, Bill Mosely, Tom Towels
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Wow it’s Christmas already! Where the hell did 2012 go? Unbelievable. On recollection, this time last year on a SLASH above, I made a huge mistake. For the build up to the big day, I reviewed six of the most well known Xmas themed slashers. I got a lot of hits from readers and so that justified it as being a good idea at the time. The thing is, moving forward, I will have a tough job to seek out more periodic films for the festive season that I haven’t already covered. Damn…
Luckily, however, you don’t spend 20+ years watching these movies without having a few tricks up your sleeve and I happen to own a couple of the lesser known stocking fillers in my collection. Released in 2007, Home Sick is set at the jolliest time of year, but it is not a Christmas slasher per se. If it wasn’t for the odd flash of tinsel, it could have taken place in March, August or any other day of the year. Still, due to the odd pointer that this is a story that’s based during the advent calendar countdown, I decided to post it up here for you guys and gals to enjoy during your festive alcohol and food overindulgence. It came out at the time when DTV slashers were hitting shelves faster than a Juan Manuel Marquez combo and so it didn’t really whip up much of ripple in the rivers of post-millennium horror. Checking it out more recently though, some collectors have began to notice that it is actually a lot more than just another cheap and cheesy stalk and slash flick.
A creepy weirdo (superbly portrayed by Bill Moseley) gatecrashes a party in a small Southern town. He opens up a suitcase full of razorblades and asks each of the people in the room to tell him the name of a person that they hate. Scared by the freakishness of the situation and also because the nutjob has one of their number within slashing distance, they are all forced to offer up an acquaintance that’s not on their Christmas card list. In an effort to mock and disobey the demands of the stranger, one of the guests foolishly says that he hates everyone in the room. The loon then gets up and leaves the group wondering what the hell just happened. Before long, bodies begin turning up and we learn that a super human killer has been unleashed. Now they need to stick together to fight off the maniac and save their own lives.
HS kicks off with an abundance of energy and jumps out of the screen like an aggressive Rottweiler that’s just seen a cat with a steak in its mouth stroll by. We get hookers, black comedy, grimly intense photography, a lesbian clench and excessive gore all in the first five minutes. What makes things really impressive is how director, Adam Wingard manages to convey the interchanging moods of these moments with a unique simplicity and command. I especially liked a scene that immediately sets the standard and was included to give us a bit of early humour. It’s nothing more than a man (and soon to be victim) buying cigarettes in a store. But the camera shots, editing, dialogue and the way that Wingard manages the two actors; – their eyes and body movements – is seriously a different class of filmmaking. Keeping in mind that he was only nineteen when he began working on this only adds to the credit he deserves. Home Sick began shooting late in 2003 and was completed early the following year. Quite why it took so long to get a full release is beyond me, because it’s good. Unexpectedly so.
This is most definitely a slasher movie. It’s also a monster movie. You could call it a torture porn flick too. Or even a surrealist nightmare. The script encourages simple clarification only to deny it at the final hurdle, which makes for an interesting synopsis. There is a masked killer roaming around, but this is not really a whodunit and instead the ambiguity is maintained by zany situations for the unique characters. The majority of them are too perverted to be liked, but I did want the Mark guy to survive and was surprised to see that the actor playing him has no other film credits. The dramatics aren’t as awful as I’d expected, which is a real plus and the two ‘bigger name’ cameos from Towley and Mosely are each good in their own different way.
Since the torture-porn explosion, modern day horror films are becoming more and more gratuitous and Home Sick does come close to traipsing in to Gutterballs territory at times with its sleaziness. This is proven in one scene where a coked up slapper comes home to find her mum’s corpse in the kitchen. What follows is truly bizarre as she begins rolling about in the puddles of blood, stripping to her undies and then vomiting at the same time. For me it was quite hard to watch, but it has found praise on some other sites. It’s not something that I enjoyed though.
The motivation of the guy with the suitcase and the identity of the demon killer don’t really get explained, but I’m sure that was a deliberate ploy from screenwriter E.L Katz. The film takes the David Lynch route and plays like you’re experiencing a gory dream, or in effect, a nightmare, which shows real talent from the junior director. There’s no shying away when it comes to the kill scenes here. Home Sick is as visceral as any of the features that got banned in the early eighties and the goo is very well done. I especially liked the murder of the ‘bathing in blood’ girl I mentioned earlier. She gets her foot cut in half and her skull pounded to a pulp! Gruesome.
Regular readers of a SLASH above will know that I’m not the biggest fan of vulgarity in pictures and even if HS is not the worst, as I alluded too earlier, it does push the exploitation stuff to the limits in places. This does somewhat bring down the idea that I had in mind for a rating. Great movies of old like Deliverance, Badlands or Straw Dogs managed to deliver creepy inbred characters perfectly without having to revert to foul language. It’s something that I don’t feel is necessary and a tad of ‘less is more’ would have improved the movie no end.
Still, what we have here is a decent example of modification on the slasher template and despite not being overly Christmassy, it’s a good enough flick to roll out at this time of year. Whilst taken notes during watching, I wrote, ‘Really enjoying so far’ – so I think you will too. Track it down…
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √
Zombie Island Massacre 1984
Directed by: John N. Carter
Starring: David Broadnax, Rita Jenrette, Tom Cantrell
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
You know, choosing a title for a motion picture is not always such a tough task. Peter North has starred in a plethora of films with names like, ‘Anal Addicts’ or ‘Perverted Passions’ and from those combinations of words, you don’t need much of an imagination to predict the, ahem, ‘plot’. Keeping that in mind, when you pick up Troma’s ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE, it could be easy for you to follow that same logical thought process. I mean, It certainly sounds like there’s going to be a massacre; its obviously going to take place on an island – and it looks to me like a gang of Romero-like zombies are sure to be the culprits. Why else would you choose a title like that?
Well only director John Carter knows the answer to that conundrum, because he alone turned out to be the only zombie that was present on the set of this eighties miss match. Yes folks, for some unknown reason, what we have hear is an eighties slasher that’s branded as a living dead marathon. But even stalk and slash addicts will feel cheated because we swap genres once again towards the climax, but we’ll get to that later…
Things launch with the oldest and most common of slasher movie chestnuts. The camera pans in on the exceptionally well-endowed Sandy (Rita Jenrette) as she washes off the suds in a shower. She must’ve just finished mud wrestling in a sewer judging by the way she’s scrubbing those bazookas. Before you have the chance to say ‘hackneyed’, a masked intruder is on the scene creeping up on the unsuspecting female. Fortunately for Sandy, it’s only her husband Joe (Ian McMillan) playing a prank. As a consolation, the two head off to the bedroom so Jenrette can give us one last flash of her fantastic lady lumps. Next up we learn that the couple are currently in the Caribbean enjoying a pleasure trip with a group of tourists that for once aren’t teenagers. Along with Sandy and Joe we have an elderly couple, a pair of newly weds, two stoners, a mysterious photographer and a single guy and gal who look certain to join the couple’s list any time soon.
Part of their holiday package includes a trip to the remote isle of San Marie and they will be transported to the location aboard a coach that looks fit only for the scrap yard. Upon arrival they witness a voodoo mass, which sees a priest bring a corpse back to life using only goats blood and a few bizarre chants. The gruesome sacrificial sights are too much for one young madam to handle, so she and her hubby head off to the deep forest for a kiss and cuddle under the moonlight. That cues the arrival of an unseen menace with a spiked club, a murderous intent and heavy breath that sounds like a pig grunting over its chow. The maniac slaughters the two lovers before disappearing into the depths of the forest. Meanwhile, the rest of the holiday makers head back to their coach only to find that their driver is missing and so is the distributor cap, making the vehicle about as much use as a glass hammer. Luckily one of the travellers knows of a house that is situated nearby and the troupe decides to head over and bed down until morning. Little do they know that a psychopath is stalking them and it doesn’t take long for him to start slashing the tourists…
Zombie Island Massacre is a bit of a let down in every respect really. As a Living Dead flick, the lack of any actual zombies is a bit of a poo-poo, don’t you think? As a slasher it starts promisingly with a few tense shocks and creative use of the clichés, but soon withers in to an unnecessary climax that involves everything from a Colombian drugs cartel to spear chucking Zulu assassins. No really. Finally, as a gore film it looks about as gruesome as an episode of Sesame Street. The early woodland stalking scenes are fairly atmospheric, mainly due to the decent musical accompaniment from Harry Manfredini. He proves once again however, that he can only modify and pretty much reuse the same old melodies that we’ve heard before (Friday the 13th/Slaughter High etc).
To be fair the acting is passable and you’ll never ever guess who it is that’s behind the maniacal murders. Shooting things in a Caribbean setting gives the film an added vibe of seclusion for the victims and the sub-reggae soundtrack is somewhat refreshing for a flick of this genre. The maniac’s disguise is also worth a look; imagine a ninja that’s been covered in feathers and dragged backwards through forty yards of forest and you’ll almost have a mental picture. I couldn’t get a clear snap of him for you unfortunately, despite the fact that I did try numerous times.
Interesting killer guises and a fabulous setup don’t cover up the fact that it feels like John Carter set out to make three different movies and ended up chucking elements from all of them into one confused runtime. The net result is a frizzy mop of ineptitude with too many rough edges that cannot be smoothed out by the bizarre plot sprouts and Rita Jenrette’s amazing cleavage. The drugs cartel idea had – and still has – great potential and could be used to excellent effect in a larger budgeted thriller. The reason that I can’t give it credit here is because Zombie Island Massacre plays mostly like a stalk and slash flick. Well, actually, it’s a semi-stalk and slash flick that’s been marketed as a zombie gore extravaganza and that my friends is a bit of a faux pas. Earlier on, I mentioned Peter North and his specific kind of adult ‘entertainment’. If you’re a fan of this work and you purchase one of his features only to see Mike Tyson’s greatest knockouts when you hit the play button, you are going to be pretty disappointed. It’s not that you don’t like Tyson of course, but it takes something absolutely earth shattering to change human expectations. There were a few elements here that I felt were really well put together, but the fact that it’s been falsely advertised and erroneously marketed kind of leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
So I can’t really find much to recommend about this one then, which is best described as the living dead flick where the only zombie was the guy in the director’s chair. It really had the chance to be a great little slasher flick, but tried to be too many things all at the same time. Even Jenrette’s stupendous breasts couldn’t save it. What a waste. Perhaps she would have been more exciting in one of the Peter North titles I mentioned above? Hmmm…
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√
Evil Night 1992
Directed by: Todd Cook
Starring: Holly Aeck, Joseph Fautinos, Spencer Trask
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s always been intriguing for me how a clown can be one part children’s comic performer and one part icon of horror. Clowns are family entertainment personified, but would you feel comfortable sharing a dimly lighted alleyway with one in the early hours of the morning? That instantly recognisable figure has been used throughout the slasher genre almost since its birth. Rumour has it that Michael Myers would have worn clown attire had someone in John Carpenter’s wardrobe not found that iconic Shatner mask. It’s interesting how we can take the comforts of our youth and twist them into horrific imagery.
Evil Night continues the trend set way back in the annals of horror history, by giving its bogeyman the guise of a circus jester. Although the costume is unoriginal, movies such as the excellent House on Sorority Row and Stephen King’s IT have proved that if used correctly, such a figure can successively invade your innermost fears. Mixing the comforts of childhood serenity with the malevolence of a psychopathic imposter always seems to give horror fans the Goosebumps and rightly so.
Here we have a clown killer story from Todd Jason Cook that treads the familiar territory of a bullied school boy that seeks revenge on those who have taunted him. In the opening we get to meet Jimmy Fisher (Spencer Trask), a high school geek that has a crush on the girlfriend of one of the school’s most popular rebels. Jimmy has been subjected to various humiliating taunts by the gang of bullies, so he has lost faith in the humanity of his classmates. However he is flattered and shocked when lead bully Peter (Joseph Pautinos) invites him to a party. Foolishly, Jimmy accepts the invitation and if you haven’t already guessed, it turns out to be yet another vicious prank. Humiliated and left unconscious in his boxer shorts, Jimmy finally loses his cool and sets out to seek revenge on those who have taunted him…..
OK so first things first, Evil Night was originally released DTV in 1992 and pretty much vanished in to obscurity almost immediately. After the popularity of the DVD phenomenon, Cook (Night of the Clown/Demon Dolls) gave his movie a second shot at recognition on a budget disk, which can be picked up from Amazon at an agreeable price. As I have stated previously in my review list, I am all for ambitious directors having a crack at making their own independent features. The beauty of the slasher genre is the fact that you don’t need a six figure budget to make a profitable schlockbuster. Even with that being the case, this back garden entry feels like an attempt to win the Indy 500 on a tricycle.
Do I respect Todd Cook? Quite frankly, yes. I envy him a bit too. Here we have a guy who loves horror movies and found in his wife Lisa, a soul mate who was so supportive of his ambition that she helped out in major ways with the release his five or six no budget movies. Their most recent effort, Zombiefied, picked up some real good press (review coming soon) and much like Dead Pit and others, mixed the zombie and slasher sub-genre’s together into something of a B-movie cocktail. Twenty years earlier when this was produced though, they had neither the experience nor the budget to deliver their visions and Evil Night is a tough runtime to sit through.
If you can accept the camcorder like quality of the picture and you are forgiving enough to ignore the rotten Thrash Metal soundtrack, then you will still struggle to understand how a movie can be produced without a logical concept. In fact, the scenario seems to take place in a dimension where logic is an uncommon word. I searched and I searched, but all I uncovered was a screenplay that works along the lines of, ‘unknown guy walks in front of the camera, gets killed and then the scene fades to black’. Forget character development, because it’s simply non-existent. Cast members appear without rhyme or reason, as if they’re on a conveyer belt from a production line to be slaughtered. This makes Evil Night seem more like a collection of images than a film; and despite some impressive gore effects, it rapidly loses its momentum.
You know, I was the first to post a review of this on the IMDB and it’s a film that few have seen. This is probably because watching Evil Night is almost an impossible mission. It lacks even the slightest of structures and there’s no pay-off in viewing the plot through to its conclusion. The cast sound like they’re reading their lines from the small print of a spam email and the most memorable slice of dialogue spoken throughout the runtime is, “Eric are you taking a dump again?” The whole movie looks to have been edited by a blind man with a blunt razor-blade and the lighting for the night scenes was likely provided by one of those pencil sized torch keyrings that you get in souvenir shops.
On the plus side, there are the imaginative gore effects that I mentioned and kudos to Clark for the creepy killer costume. However, his attempt to build a competitive Slaughter High imitation is suffocated by its stringent funding. I agree that it was made tongue in cheek to be watched with that in mind, but that doesn’t make it any easier to sit through. Even if I’m being mega generous, there’s absolutely nothing that I can recommend here. Bad, bad, bad and not in a good way, Evil Night is destined for obscurity once again….
Final Girl: √
Campsite Massacre 1981
aka The Final Terror aka Carnivore
Directed by: Anthony Davis
Starring: Ernest Harden, Rachel Ward, Daryl Hannah
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Another of the golden age slashers that is often overlooked – and no more so than by myself, Campsite Massacre has recently become something of a cult classic in some circles. I have owned it on VHS since I can remember, but haven’t really ever watched it more than once until I picked up a budget DVD in a newsagents recently.
Pencilled in 1980 and filmed in ’81, it would never have secured distribution if it weren’t for the rapid rise to fame of a few of its cast members. Check out the amount of ‘soon to be stars’ in this listing: Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Adrian Zmed, Ernest Harden, Lewis Smith and even Joe Pantoliano – phew that’s some ensemble.
It was directed by Andrew Davis who has had quite a prolific career of mid to large budgeted features. Although admittedly, his resume boasts more misses than hits. The Fugitive and Holes are both very good films that received positivity from audiences and critics alike.
A group of youngsters head off deep in to the forest for a work project. It starts off normally enough, but when one of them goes missing, all hell breaks lose. Before long, they are left alone with a maniacal mad man and a deadly cat and mouse battle of wits begins…
There’s no better feeling than unearthing an undiscovered gem. Although it can be said that Campsite Massacre is hardly ‘undiscovered’ and it’s not really a ‘gem’ either, but I must admit that I enjoyed it a damn site more this time around than I remembered upon my last view 20 something years ago. As far as slasher movies go, it’s very well made with razor sharp cinematography, good editing and an overall feeling of competence from the production team. As it includes such a qualified group of performers, you’ll find no surprise in the fact that it’s competently acted. Even if none of the characters are given a great deal to do, they do each build an identity for themselves. The film seems to mould itself more on Deliverance than Friday the 13th, but it does still manage to pack in most of the clichés. These include the classic campfire tale scene, the have sex and die rule and some stereotypical killer-cam shots.
Andrew Davis pulls off some very good set pieces, including an exciting ‘rooftop attack’ aboard a bus. It’s a credible sequence that sustains its frantic pace by providing regular shocks and jumps. There’s not much gore to brighten up our screens, because it seems that the modus operandi was to aim for chills through a grim slow boiling atmosphere. It almost pays off thanks to a smart use of sound that helps to create a menacing tone. Massacre doesn’t really have a pulsating score to rival the likes of Halloween/Friday the 13th and instead uses low-chords or spooky effects in places that are fairly unsettling. The killer also warrants a mention as he is a backwoods loon of the old school type. He stalks his prey almost like The Predator, often camouflaging himself amongst his surroundings. There’s a good example of this halfway through, where he blends in with the scenery whilst the gang row past on their way down a winding river. He reveals himself only briefly to throw a corpse on to their raft and create panic.
Perhaps the most authentic thing about Campsite Massacre is that it doesn’t have a final girl and instead leaves a group to do battle with the psychopath. There’s also a cool role reversal in the story for the players, because the hunted become hunters and look to get revenge on who they think is the assailant. Much like Lance Johnson from Apocalypse Now, their leader swallows a bag of magic mushrooms and spends the majority of the conclusion wildly hallucinating. It’s intriguing, because despite being in a dazed state, he is still followed by the rest of the group, which must have been because of his aura of toughness and natural leadership skills. There’s a twist also, which I have tried my hardest not to give away, but you will probably figure it out anyway.
Campsite Massacre is a good enough slasher yarn that’s deserving somewhat of a better reputation. I think the reason that it has been pushed to the bottom of the pile is simply because there’s not much of a body count (6), it’s sometimes too dark to see clearly and it may be a tad too slow-moving for some folks.
If you are a fan of period pieces however and appreciate neat attempts at suspense, you can most definitely find worse entries floating around. A good cast along with a few moments of superb creepiness and a beautiful location give it a high five from a SLASH above. Just don’t go expecting much of a Campsite Massacre…Oh, hold on that’s what it was called… hmmm…
Killer Guise: √√√