Monthly Archives: June 2013
Wicked Games 1994
Directed by: Tim Ritter
Starring: Joel D. Wynkoop, Patricia Paul, Kevin Scott Crawford
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Before we get started, I’d just like to point out that in 1995 a film called Writer’s Block was released that attempted to be a sequel of kind to A Critical Madness. Back then, there was a lot of confusion as to whether Tim Ritter was involved or not with its production, because it lifted many elements from the series. Even though we soon learned that it had no official links, I may well post a review of it at some point if I feel that it has enough to warrant a place on a SLASH above – the web’s most dedicated stalk and slash site. I tried watching it just recently but had to rush out before it ended. I must admit that what I saw didn’t convince me of fact that it was even a slasher movie and therefore I am in no rush to post it here.
Anyway, I was actually quite impressed by the original Truth or Dare. It may have suffered from stinking performances and continuity that made ‘The Blazing Ninja’ look like Mensa staged it. Nevertheless, exploitation is also something of an art form and Tim Ritter’s ambition to go the extra mile made the whole thing seem exciting and fresh, which is all good. If you aren’t aware of his previous work, Ritter could best be described as an American Jesus Franco. His movies are usually always unrated and contain explicit sexual situations and violence that would never in a million years make it through classification for any kind of release in numerous global countries. After working on a few other projects and picking up experience, it was decided that Ritter should dust off the old copper mask and bring his unique sleaze-ridden perspectives back to the slasher genre for something that had been anticipated for quite some time in cult circles.
In the beginning a woman in kinky bondage gear (she’s got to be a porn star?) is seen straddling a bearded man and asking him to ‘beg for it’. A bespectacled middle-aged guy that looks like Queen guitarist Brian May’s deranged brother is watching them unnoticed from the doorway. We soon learn that his name is Gary Block and he’s just caught his wife sleeping with someone she works with (sorry I didn’t remember exactly who he was), a fact that’s emphasised by his threatening to blow their brains out with a handgun. Clearly distraught, he heads around to his buddy Dan’s place where yet another female (but the same actress?) in little but some pervy underwear greets him. Dan is a police officer that has been friends with Gary for some time, but has his reservations about him because his cousin is Mike Strauber, the maniac responsible for killing eleven people eight years ago. After hearing his tale of woe, the kind-hearted cop says that Gary can stay until he gets himself sorted, but later that night he finds him with a gun in his mouth playing truth or dare and threatening to take his own life.
Somewhat concerned about his pal’s mental-health, the detective takes a trip to Sunnyville mental hospital to discuss it with Dr. Siedow, the head psychiatrist. The shrink tries to calm the situation by telling him, `I think your friend is having some difficult times… but I don’t think he’s going to put on a Copper mask and go on a killing spree’ (!) As a form of proof, if ever it were needed, that you shouldn’t trust a Doctor that uses his stomach as an ashtray in his spare time (don’t ask); someone in an identical mask starts slaughtering sexually promiscuous individuals all around town. But is Gary Block the killer? He’s certainly proved he’s unstable by heavily drinking, smashing a bottle over the head of his love rival and urinating in a plant-pot outside a restaurant (please don’t ask!) As more bodies pile up, Detective Dan realises that it’s looking more and more like his mate’s gone too far off the rails…
Wicked Games’ exploration of rejection, sexual addictions and fetishes made for a deep and interesting approach. Whereas most mystery/slashers fall flat because their conclusions are far too evident right from the start, Ritter has managed to create a good puzzle that’s obvious when it’s resolved, but will keep you guessing all the way through. To be frank, it’s a superbly written story with an element of sleaziness that’s rarely seen to such extremity in the horror that we’ve become more accustomed to. Due to the lack of a censor rating, Ritter’s been able to chuck in a fair bit of gore that’s brightens up the kill scenes. Almost every murder spews buckets of blood, but the best would have to be the woman that’s impaled on a sprinkler, which starts spraying crimson all over the garden! There was also a decidedly nasty ripped can to the throat and a gory barbed wire strangulation to name but two.
Ritter takes all you know about ‘gratuitous flicks’ and shows you that really you know nothing at all. Basically, it’s the closest that you’re going to get to porn without heading over to Pornhub. Most of the female characters wear very little or nothing at all and the endless references to bondage and kinky sex are so frequent that they actually become quite irritating. It’s disappointing then that we’re not given much in terms of eye candy and the hottest chica is rubbed out almost as soon as she enters the screen. (A scene that is classically described by the first cop on the scene, `It looks like they came out for a little picnic, a little sex… got killed!) Every single personality in the story is either a bizarre nymphomaniac with a fetish for pain or fag-burns, a rapist or generally just a pervert; and it can get a little overpowering at times. But the thing that really prevents this from scoring a higher mark is the home movie like quality of the photography that is no less than atrocious. I’m used to accepting and enjoying SOV horror, but the main issue here is that the budget here is nowhere near as healthy as it was in the previous chapter. In fact, it was so minuscule that Patricia Paul played the two lead parts, which explains the agonising wig. Acting that would make day-time Soap stars look like Academy nominees is never particularly inviting and the fact that these guys are probably just folk from the street should be enough of a warning what’s in store for you if you hunt this out. Perhaps the only thing that’s improved since last time around is the killer’s guise, which is amongst the best of the genre
Tim Ritter could’ve taken the time to raise a bigger budget and made good use of the interesting premise, but I guess that we can’t criticise his ambition to stick with the ‘underground’ scene that he made his name from. Wicked Games is not without its charms, but you need to forgive some of the quality issues in the first place to be dazzled by them. Kudos for not softening on the shock-factor in a bid to go mainstream, but A Critical Madness still does it for me a tad better than this follow up. The biggest (and it’s a big un’) disappointment is that they couldn’t convince John Brace to return for the follow up. The film is seriously lacking his heinous acting and ‘I’m a psycho’ gurning 😦 Fans of John Brace are still left, ever hopeful, that he will return to the screen once more!
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Terminal Choice 1985
aka DeathBed aka Critical List
Directed by: Sheldon Larry
Starring: Joe Spano, Diane Venora, Ellen Barkin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During my life long mission to track down all the obscure slasher movies ever released I came across this little known mid-eighties entry, which threw a real curve-ball into the mix. Terminal Choice is NOT a typical genre piece in the Halloween/Friday the 13th mould. But it does include enough of the trappings (mystery killer/bloody deaths) to allow it to carve a way into the category. Unlike fellow medicinal additions such as Hospital Massacre and Visiting Hours, Sheldon Larry’s mystery thriller uses futuristic computer technology as the main method of slaughter. This makes a refreshing change from the traditional surgical masked psycho with a scalpel, and its always nice to see a slice of originality in a sub-genre that is renowned for its repetitive nature.
Terminal Choice is set in a high tech clinic in the near future, where operations are controlled by a huge computer terminal and monitored by numerous doctors. This is certainly not the kind of hospital that you or I would want to have your tonsils removed at, because the medics gamble on patient’s recovery and survival. Lylah Crane (Teri Austin) is in for a minor complaint, which Dr. Frank Holt (Joe Spano) believes he has handled with ease. Things turn nasty when an unseen someone enters the head computer terminal and poisons the youngster’s drip with an unknown substance. The female chokes on her own blood and leaves Dr. Holt under extreme pressure as the top suspect in an in-house investigation. When more patients fall victim to fatal computerised glitches, Frank unravels a sadistic conspiracy of murder, deceit and treachery. But who is responsible for these unexplained killings…?
It’s strange that Terminal Choice has been overlooked, because it does hold its corner remarkably well as an appealing mystery thriller. The first gooey murder had me flinching away from the screen and director Sheldon Larry does well to focus on exploiting people’s underlying fear of untrustworthy medical centres. It’s something all of us briefly consider if we have to trust our lives in the hands of a stranger with a white coat and a stethoscope. That’s why Choice flourishes as an enjoyable and fascinating cinematic journey. Boasting equal moments of suspense and intrigue, the story never outstays its welcome and despite a fairly predictable false-scare climax, the majority of the runtime is eminently triumphant.
So many eighties slasher movies famously launched the careers of actors that would become home-names in later years. Brad Pitt, Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, Sally Kirkland…you can find so many soon to be superstars if you search hard enough. Well this time around it’s Ellen Barkin looking amusingly fresh-faced and youthful. Some time later she would embark on a lengthy career that would peak with starring roles alongside method titans Al Pacino (Sea of Love) and Mickey Rourke (Johnny Handsome). Here she plays a young nurse by the name of Mary O’ Conner, and does a good enough job with a small part. The rest of the cast manage to keep things running smoothly enough without a hiccup and I especially thought that Diane Venora added flamboyance to her character.
Some people may argue that this really isn’t much of a slasher movie and to be honest, they may have a point. As I said earlier, Sheldon Larry was well aware of the clichés, especially with the Tenebrae-like stalking of Ellen Barkin in the shower. Many features of the time were still cashing in on the mystery-killer craze, and it looks as if Peter Lawson was keeping that in mind when he put pen to paper. When you consider the fact that movies like Candyman, Final Destination and Demon Possessed are often falsely accused of fitting in the cycle, Terminal Choice slots among the guidelines with relevant ease. I picked this up in Krakow many years ago and the reason that I did so was because it was marketed in that particular country as an out and out slasher flick. I have posted the cover of the VHS that I own above. They even put a kitchen knife along the title just to make sure…
Making good use of a common trepidation and chucking in a few better than average performances, Terminal Choice succeeds as a solid mid-week night’s diversion. As one writer on the IMDB said previously, you may never trust a hospital again. That’s an atmosphere that titles like the rancid Hospital Massacre could only ever dream of creating…
Final Girl: √√
Grim Weekend 2002
aka S.I.C.K Serial Insane Clown Killer
Directed by: Bob Willems
Starring: Ken Hebert, Charlie Fenwick, Melissa Bale
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Back in 2004, I found Grim Weekend’s colourful cover at my local Blockbuster Video and was intrigued by its misleading blurb. I checked with the IMDB and no one had yet posted a review, but there was a link to the film’s official site, which included a small preview. From the clip I gathered that it didn’t include the most talented cast in the world, but looked plausibly tight and brimming with suspense. Believe me, if you’ve seen that great trailer, you’ll understand why I was so excited. Keeping in mind that I’d only seen two minutes of advertisement and the movie is over eighty in length, it’s not always conclusive as to what’s in store for you when you finally watch. I had a good feeling about this one though and went ahead and bought a copy anyway. Weekend was initially listed on most websites as a TV movie, but judging by some of the bad language – the C word, no less – I quickly worked out that wasn’t the case. Last time that I looked it had been corrected almost everywhere and updated with its rightful status as a DTV effort.
In the opening we see a point of view murder that proves Director Bob Willems is a big fan of Halloween and is paying his homage to Carpenter’s hit. An adulterous wife, or girlfriend (actually we never find out who she is and this scene has NOTHING to do with the rest of the movie) is on the phone when someone creeps up and stabs her in the stomach. As she recoils from the wound she asks, ‘What did you do?‘, which I actually found pretty amusing. I kept expecting the killer to reply ‘What do you think I did dummy‘. But the scriptwriter instead decided to try to keep things creepy… Next up we meet Brandon Walker (Ken Hebert), an office executive that’s planning a weekend getaway to a remote cabin out in the woods. It’d be a pretty boring movie if he went alone, so we are soon introduced to his date Tracy (Amanda Watson) and their friends Susan (Chris Bruck) and Mark (Hank Fields). Whilst on the long journey to the previously abandoned house, they meet Diane (Melissa Bale) in a bar and she soon joins the troupe of merry campers. After they have arrived and night falls, the group sit round a fire and tell ghost stories – so far so Friday the 13th-, but we see that they are being watched by an ominous presence. The next morning when everyone wakes up, Susan has disappeared and someone has filled the area with bizarre mutilated dolls. Before long they are stranded with only a ruthless killer clown for company!
Grim Weekend is a prime example of a movie putting the best bits into the trailer, leaving about an hour and a half of screen time totally devoid of redemption. There are only three, yes THREE, on screen murders in the whole film. The first is about thirty-seconds into the feature and the next over an hour after. They’re all bloodless and forgettable, which makes me wonder why the BBFC felt the need to rate this as an 18. We get a retarded killer clown as a boogeyman, but he’s especially obnoxious, because he spends most of his time singing nursery rhymes or chopping wood for what seems like an eternity before finally getting round to ‘terrorising’ the campers. In-between that we are plagued by loose performances that are as horrible as you had probably imagined and the characters are mostly unsympathetic and flat. Mark finds a gutted victim lying in the woodland struggling for breath and makes no attempt to comfort or help him. He just looks at him with zero emotion and then wanders off leaving him to die, which makes no sense at all from a story perspective. Denise, the under acted slut, was the character that I felt delivered the most audience allure; – even if she was supposed to be a hate-figure. I couldn’t help but find myself rooting for her instead of the bore that was meant to grab the viewer’s vote of sympathy. When the gang enter a bar early on in the movie, they meet a prostitute called Sophia (Jamie Hartzog), who in a few lines proved to be far more talented than any of the other lame ‘actors’ that plague the screen throughout. Why couldn’t she have played a bigger part?
Thankfully the film doesn’t suffer from a lack of lighting like so many of its counterparts and the director manages to pull off a couple of decent shots. Admittedly the ending was quite unexpected, owing a sly nod perhaps to The Texas chainsaw Massacre without over using the influence. Finding strange dolls around the house started as a fairly macabre touch, but the idea gets tired very quickly, which sadly the crew failed to notice. It was a brave attempt by the director to try and extract fear without using many murders or too much gore, however an extreme lack of momentum and no apparent filling leaves Grim Weekend feeling like a Krispy Kreme doughnut without the Krispy bits or the Kreme. We get to play the tick the slasher trappings game with the usual abundance of references and Willems even chucks in a few sillier than silly POV shots through a clown mask. Nevertheless, the lack of professionalism is far too glaring to gain credit and he doesn’t even try to add anything new to the formula. I bought this on the same day that I picked up the 25th anniversary Halloween DVD. Watching the special features, I noticed that John Carpenter took his masterpiece to someone from 20th Century Fox without it’s excellent score and surprisingly they said that ‘it just wasn’t scary’. It made me wonder what the hell the producers thought was frightening about this rubbish? Times have changed for the worse amigos.
There really is very little to recommend about this lazy and flat lined effort. It’s tedious, poorly constructed and generally sucks harder than a black hole on a night out with Jasmine Tame. Yeah, that hard. If there’s a moral to the story, it’s don’t trust a trailer…
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √
To Become One 2002
Directed by: Neil Johnson
Starring: Emma Grasso, Jamie Giddens, David Vallon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I’m in my early thirties and to be totally honest I envy those that were old enough to experience the initial boom years of the slasher category. Imagine going to see Halloween, Friday the 13th or The Prowler at the cinema, it would have been amazing! I have a wide age range of readers here on a SLASH above, with some in their teens and some much older. Despite the disappointment of being a child during the key period, I can at least say that I lived through and enjoyed the second onslaught of slasher pictures after the Scream rebirth.
Throughout those times of the late nineties and early noughties, video stores were once again packed to the absolute brim with slasher movies and I remember very fondly hunting through the shelves for the newest releases. There was a (now defunct) label in the UK called Film 2000 that played a huge part in the circulation of the next phase. With a track record that included, Dead Above Ground, Camp Blood, Carnage Road, Granny and Paranoid (gulp), it’s tough to decide if they should be considered a friend of the genre or a foe. Another example from their catalogue was To Become One; and even if it has a title that sounds like an Adam Sandler, Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston rom-com tribute video, it’s actually a stalk and slasher.
We’re back in the world of Aussie horror here, which means we are either going to get an hour and a half with Katie Upton or an hour and a half with Katie Price. I think that’s what I like most about the entries from down-under, you never can be sure what you’re going to get.
Melinda is an uncannily unlucky teen. One year ago, her mother was brutally murdered by a gas-masked killer brandishing a sword right in front of her eyes. Now it seems that he has returned and is happily slicing his way through all of her friends, methodically clearing a path so that he can catch her on her lonesome. More and more bodies begin hitting the deck and Melinda will have to think quickly if she wants to stay alive.
Ok ok, let me take a deep breath here. Right. So… things started intriguingly enough with a murder in the first five minutes, which included some cheap but mindlessly diverting gore. Then, the bogeyman is back on screen, weapon in hand, within the next three. It’s like the director just skipped the generally poorly-acted character development stuff to jump straight into the action. I did think though that just like Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final, throwing your all into the opening was a bit of a risk. I mean, who can keep up that momentum for eighty-minutes? I was of course right, but even my cocky know-it-all-ness did not quite prepare me for what happened next.
You see, when the nut job’s unmasked only half an hour into the runtime, things take a turn for the… how can I call it? … Deranged! What begins as a typical slasher by the numbers with a homage to Halloween and Friday the 13th (there’s even a hammy old guy that tells the heroine that her friends are doomed) degenerates into… well, there’s nothing that I’ve ever seen before that could give you a comparable description. The final girl is dragged to a ‘hospital’ that is supposed to seem more like a cross between a torture chamber and a Nazi concentration camp (but really just looks like an ordinary basement). There we learn a ‘shocking’ secret that I won’t reveal and following that, we are left in the hands of some clunky dialogue and dramatics that have the credibility of an email from a dying African politician who wants to leave $200,000,000 in your account. Only if you’ll kindly supply your bank details and also your credit card number…
Ok so this project cost a measly $2,000 to make. That doesn’t make things any easier for me watching it though. Keep your $2k and spend it on something more worthwhile (film studies courses are fairly reasonable nowadays). The second half of the movie touches on grades of ineptness that have not yet been defined. It’s like the Z-movie version of the USS Enterprise; boldly going to sewerage plant levels of cinematic smelliness that no one has ever been to before. If I were to be generous, then I guess that I can credit the authenticity of the story. Having a good idea however does not mean that you have the ability to direct a slasher movie and the net result is absolutely awful.
There are a few unintentionally amusing scenes that I enjoyed. The best that springs to mind is when Melinda’s father tries to comfort her by singing a soppy lullaby into her ear. That’s exactly what’s needed when your friends have been pick-axed in front of your eyes. Neil Johnson’s heavy-handed approach at ramming the message that ‘we shouldn’t ridicule people with disabilities’ is forced down our throats clumsily, in a manner that would offend those that the story is using as subject matter. That’s just unforgivable and takes away any comedy that could have been enjoyed from the pure ineptness of the picture.
You could forgive the inane characters, fishnet script (the whole slasher part made zero sense), awful dramatics and the director’s needless switches between colour and black and white photography at the strangest of times if there was something there worthy of merit. I mean, even Camp Blood was kinda fun and certainly delivered a lot more logic than this. One character states, “We’re playing this out like a B-grade movie, when the killer finds us, he’s gonna pick us off one by one!’ Change the B to a minus Z and that statement might make sense.
To Become One picks the wrong subjects to exploit and is not even laughably bad. The ever-reliable IMDB took a fair time to put this on their website and it’s not surprising, because it doesn’t deserve a place in cinema history. As Butt Head so philosophically stated when he and Beavis ‘’did’ America, ‘ This sucks like nothing has ever sucked before’…
Killer Guise: √√
Shock: Diversão Diabólica 1982
Directed by: Jair Correia
Starring: Claudia Alencar, Aldine Muller, Jurandir Abreu
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
They say that slasher films lack originality. Well, this is the third entry from Brazil that I am covering on a Slash above and the second time that I’m going to try and incorporate football (soccer) into the review. So in other words, my writing style suits this type of film, yes?
With Spain winning the last World Cup and two Euros on the bounce in recent years, people have been comparing us to the trophy-laden Brazil side of the early seventies. I thought that I would extend that rivalry into the slasher category for some fun by pitching a genre piece from the key period from each country and seeing who wins the stalk and slash Latino cup. In fact both of the titles that I have chosen could be said to have a tiny bit in common. They missed the peak period release date of 1981 by only a few months and disappeared from video stores for a lengthy period sometime after. Whilst one of them went on to be considered a cult classic, the other, to this day, has remained on the hard to find list. So much so that this is in fact an a SLASH above exclusive…
So without further to do, in the fluorescent yellow corner, from the sway of a carnival on the sunny shores of Rio de Janeiro, we have Shock: Diversão Diabólica!!! Over on the other side of the ring, shrouded in red and yellow, we have the Sangria drenched matador, Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche!!!! I have already posted my thoughts on Gritos and you can find them here. So with that in mind, let’s see who could do ‘slash con salsa’ better back in the glory days of masked killers
A rock band end up abandoned in a house when the transport for their instruments is delayed overnight. They soon learn that they are trapped with a vicious killer that wants to butcher every one of them…
There’s little doubt that the reason that Diabólica has become so obscure is because it has never been subtitled or dubbed for export to global audiences. I must confess that I do not speak fluent Portuguese, but seeing that my mother tongue is Spanish and I’m originally from Huelva (right beside the Portugal border), I could understand more of the speech than perhaps someone that only knows English would. The languages are similar enough for me to focus and get an idea of the dialogue and I found that the plot was fairly easy to follow.
Whereas Mil Gritos was proud to be an out and out dupe of its American forefathers, it could be said that Diabólica feels a lot more European in its approach. It’s a darker feature in both its cinematography and tone and although there are obvious nods to Friday the 13th, one could also say that they could be to Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood, which was of course the source code for the Jason franchise. The beautiful Aldine Muller, who is of Italian and Portuguese heritage, provides the T&A in a sex scene that is far more gratuitous than anything from the USA at the time; and the killer is closer to the Giallo style of murderer than that of the stalk and slash category.
Another way that this feels more in touch with its Euro partners is in the fact that its not just a pure exploitation picture and it actually has something of a message to convey. I can’t print too much without giving away the crux of the mystery, which is the best thing about the feature, but there’s an interesting idea for a motive behind the massacre. At one point whilst the maniac is waiting for his victims – they have locked themselves in a room upstairs in the house – we see him sit down and make a sandwich like he’s taking a break. It gives us the impression that he is not on a kill spree due to a lust for murder or revenge, but rather as if its a task that he has been given, or a ‘piece of work’ from an employer. Keeping this in mind, the final scene leaves us with a lot more to ponder and it’s an unique and ambiguous conclusion. Brazil was an interesting place politically back in those times and I’m confident that the plan was to offer more than a straight up slasher film. This is proven by the wide range of topics covered in the conversation of the characters that includes amongst other things: freedom, positivity and the roles of both human genders in society.
Jair Correia’s screenplay also experiments with the have sex and die rule and somewhat has fun with it. One bunny rejects her boyfriend the usual way and I wrote the note, ‘archetypal final girl.’ Then suddenly she changes her tune and begins to seduce him (he has by now smoked a joint and passed out) and soon after that, she gets viciously killed. It is the horror parts in Diabólica though that prevent the film from scoring many points. The bogeyman is smart and scary in equal measure and he does a great job of setting up one of the victims so that his friends believe that he is the assailant. They then tie him up alone in a basement, which leaves him free to be slaughtered by the real assassin. He also attempts to torment his prey by continually banging a drum-kit randomly outside the place that they have chosen to barricade themselves within. All this is wasted though because whenever he catches up with one of them, the kill scenes are anaemic and monotonous. There’s only so much that can be done with strangulation as the main MO and despite the director trying his hardest to make things interesting – by using effects such as flashing lights and slow motion – the lack of blood is a real negative.
It can be argued that perhaps Correia was attempting to build a claustrophobic atmosphere, but I feel that keeping all the characters in one room for the majority of the runtime made the movie seem dull and stagnated. You can have million dollar dialogue and be successful in a drama film, but in a slasher there needs to be more action. Here, we didn’t even see one chase sequence! After probably the most flat and uninspiring opening credits that I have ever seen, we get 20+ minutes filled with shots of an awful rock band and a gang of fashion nightmares dancing. By the time that the psychopath finally turns up, it’s most definitely too little too late.
Shock Diversão Diabólica is not a movie that’s devoid of credit, but it is not particularly worth tracking down. Although we learn later why we see the killer only from his shiny boots, we perhaps didn’t need forty-seven repetitive shots of them. Put it this way, there’s a reason as to why this one has remained in its country of birth exclusively and I can’t see any distributors rushing to re-release it.
So a resounding victory for La Furia Roja then, with the Grindhouse classic, Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche competently destroying this snoozy challenger. I just hope that there’s a similar result in next year’s World Cup for us 😉 Somehow though, that seems harder to imagine.
If you’re going to see a Brazilian slasher, stick with Ritual of Death, which is the best of them by a mile
Final Girl: √√
Death O’ Lantern 1986
Directed by: Chris Seaver
Starring: Candase Patterson, Dutch Hogan,Savanna Ramone
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a shame that there aren’t more filmmakers like Chris Seaver about. He has been producing budget features for about twenty years and his filmography is packed with titles that the majority of a SLASH above readers might adore. I was first introduced to his recent work by accidentally stumbling across the Warlock Video website whilst researching a Steve Lathshaw horror flick of a similar title to this one. The name Chris Seaver was not new to me, because I remembered that he had been the director of an old VHS on the Low Budget Productions label from ’94 called, Friday the 13th ‘Halloween Night’ . It was a fan film in every sense of the word that pitched Michael Myers against Jason Voorhees at a Halloween party. Despite being a very obvious back garden development, I never forgot about it because it was immensely gory and extremely fun. In fact, I’m somewhat surprised that it has never made it on to a shiny disc. Perhaps that’s something that could happen as an Extra or Easter Egg in the near future?
Over the years, Seaver and his buddies over at Warlock Video have continued to secure funding so that they can develop DTV chillers and have built a solid reputation in cult circles. They recently came up with the idea of letting their fans financially contribute towards their projects and receive the benefit of an executive producer credit or something similar, which is great for the horror community and really takes the genre to its grassroots. I was hoping that whilst browsing through his extensive online catalogue I would discover at least one or two slashers. With all of his films being tributes to the SOVs of the eighties, I knew that there had to be an entry amongst them somewhere.
At 42 minutes, Death-O-Lantern is more of a semi-short than an all out extravaganza, but it’s extremely affordable to pick up so I was keen to give it a shot. It tells the tale of a small town in 1986 where the talk on the kids’ lips is still heavy metal, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Four such youngsters are forced to face their own horror story when the urban legend of Stingy Jack, a child murderer who was killed in the 1800s, comes alive to haunt them a few days before Halloween night. Before long, they are battling to survive against a vicious maniac that needs to butcher six teenage souls in order to return for good…
I watched Death-O-Lantern on my iPad on the train to Reading from my home in London and I honestly had no idea what to expect. The screen lit up with a typical, but impressive, Halloween-alike score and some driving shots of a small suburban city. Within the next two minutes there was an audacious gore shot that was as exceptionally good as it was drastically cheesy and the tone had been set from there on.
You see, Lantern is not a film that wants to confuse itself and its audience in a clash of styles like so many others. Entries like Easter Bunny Bloodbath tend to build a solid foundation with a creepy intro, only to shatter it mindlessly when desperation sets in and they resort to goofy attempts at humour to maintain the pace. Seaver sets a campy tone from the off and never attempts to divert in another direction and this allows his feature to remain fast moving and entertaining. As the story is set in 1986, anyone that knows their horror will remember that killers of that time were as quick with a wisecrack as they were with a machete. Well, Stingy Jack is a follower of annual fashions and he quips and talks as he kills throughout the runtime, which not only keeps things cheesy, but also gives us the chance to stay up to date with the plot. The characters are defined in the archetypal fashion, but the bunny that I thought was sure to be the final girl, suddenly got splattered, which I wasn’t expecting.
It would be pointless of me to rate the dramatics because this is a time when SOVs were full of bad actors, so they are deliberately playing it tongue in cheek. Personally I found the talky scenes to be more annoying than I’d have liked, but thankfully the killings are spaced frequently enough to separate the screen time with the players. The witty dialogue, which was quite obviously pencilled from the mind of a genre enthusiast, was by far the best thing about the picture. We hear the kids discussing Friday the 13th Part VI and Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend, which were two of the biggest horror films of the year and it’s those bonus additions that set this feature apart. For such a minuscule ZERO budgeted production, the gore effects are quite brilliant and the bogeyman looked surprisingly effective in that mask and scarecrow-alike garb.
So is Death-O-Lantern a great horror movie? No. But then again it’s not trying to be. What we have here is a doorway into the mind of a fan of camp eighties horror and as I’m one of those myself, I quite enjoyed it. The ending seemed a bit ‘thrown on top’ and the comedy was a tad risqué for my liking, but yes; it is still worth a look.
For viewers with a sense of humour that understand something about a no budget production, this is a quirky effort with enough pluses in its carry case for it to deliver. Seaver is growing all the time as a director and I’ll be waiting patiently for his next slasher effort.
Killer Guise: √√√√
*Ps you probably guessed that this was not really made in 1986, it’s 2011, but why ruin a good gag?