Monthly Archives: July 2013
Freeway Maniac 1988
Directed by: Paul Winters
Starring: Loren Winters, Shepherd Sanders, Jeff Morris
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The cover for Freeway Maniac proudly states that it’s a ‘cult-thriller in the tradition of such splatter hits as The Hills Have Eyes, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. After reading, I was indeed intrigued as to exactly what that bold statement meant? Did it mean that Freeway Maniac was a seminal movie that went on to define an entire genre? Did it mean that there had been hundreds of low-budget Freeway Maniac clones desperately trying to follow in its footsteps? If so, where were they and why hadn’t I seen them? The questions were flowing through my mind like the alcohol at a Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan ‘patch up our differences’ convention.
Released at a time when the slasher genre had shredded its final hopes of any credibility, Freeway Maniac was certainly one of the last entries of the eighties to be given considerable funding by a mid- studio. I struggled to track down any information about the film at all and it is rarely mentioned alongside the more familiar slasher hits.
It kicks off gratuitously with a couple making out on a kitchen table. Little do the lovers know that they are not alone and are being observed by the woman’s junior son. A sound alerts the couple to his presence and his mother pursues him into his bedroom, where she shouts at him for being such a perverted voyeur. The kid reacts angrily and brutally butchers his mother and her unsuspecting lover with a large kitchen knife. The screen then fades to black and the credits (accompanied by a jazzed-up re-hash of Halloween’s theme-tune) begin to roll.
Skip a few years and Arthur is still locked up in an asylum for his vicious act from the pre-credits. A new member of staff has joined the complex and his colleague gives him a guided tour of the corridors and their most notorious inmates. On approaching one cell, the orderly informs the new-starter that the guy inside, Arthur – the killer from the opening scene, is by far the most dangerous and vicious patient in the hospital. This fact is proved when he violently assaults the pair and makes a daring escape from the complex, murdering various staff-members on his way.
Next up we meet Linda Kinney, a young actress who is just launching her career in Hollywood. Her agent manages to convince her to accept an offer of a casting session with a studio that is producing a low-budget sci-fi flick. Whilst on her way to the location, her automobile breaks down and she heads off in search of help. She eventually finds a remote auto-garage, but unfortunately, instead of uncovering a competent mechanic, she bumps into Arthur on another maniacal rampage. After a lacklustre battle, she manages to defeat the psychopath and her victory sends him back to the security of his institution. Against the odds, she decides to head to the casting for the feature and her choice proves to be a resounding success. Once the producers notice that she is the same Linda that was attacked by Arthur, the David-Hasslehoff-alike psycho from earlier, they decide that her notoriety would make her a bankable cast-member.
Some time later, shooting on-site in the dessert begins with typical enthusiasm. Unfortunately, little do the cast and crew know that Arthur has once again escaped and is looking to get even with the actress that he considers to be his nemesis.
Don’t you just love shoddy low-budget features that attempt in their plot-line to mock the production of shoddy low-budget features? In the case of Freeway Maniac it’s not so much the pot calling the kettle black as the pot calling the pot a pot! This effort is criminally bad and lacks everything that makes a horror film even passable. Suspense – zero, gore – zero, shocks – zero, creativity – zero and hope – zero. It’s a wayward addition and I just couldn’t understand what the producers had in mind when they decided to finance it. Extremely low budget entries can be forgiven for their lack of credibility as they are usually produced on the kind of funds that Cameron Diaz spends on weekly hairdressers. This means that their chances of competing with the more competently budgeted features are resoundingly small. But Freeway Maniac looks to have been quite highly financed, which makes its failure bizarre and totally unforgivable.
It boasts one of the biggest body counts that I can remember in slasher cinema, but of the multitude of characters that appear on the screen, I think that only 4 or 5 were given characterisation. The killer is from the Freddy Krueger School of wise-cracking, meaning that he often murders his victims with a sarcastic remark and a cheeky smirk. Whereas Michael Myers looked terrifying in his boiler suit and mask, Arthur sports a hilarious plaid suit combination and boasts a mullet that would shame Richard Marx. The film is comfortably shot and the dessert makes for an exquisite location, but that can’t stop Freeway Maniac from feeling like an uninspired mess.
All the way through the feature, I just couldn’t be sure if this was supposed to be a serious stab at horror or a semi-parody of the lovable genre that it frequents. One thing’s for certain however, the next time I see the words ‘in the tradition of…’ on a box-cover, I’ll know that it in marketing speak that translates to rip-off.
Final Girl: √√
Hollow Gate 1988
Directed by: Ray Di Zazzo
Starring: Addison Randall, Katrina Alexy, Richard Dry
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I delayed posting a review of Hollow Gate for quite a while, because I was convinced that it had been produced sometime earlier than 1988 and I wanted to do some research in order to find out the truth. I eventually discovered that it was mostly shot in ’86 and spent longer than expected in the transition from the editing suite to VHS cassette. It was a launch film from Richard Pepin and Joseph Toufik Merhi who would go on to start the PM Entertainment Group. PM were a production company that began life as a smaller version of Cannon films and then went on to circulate a whole heap of low budget schlock busters right up until the new millennium when they finally sold off the brand and its 150+ catalogue of titles.
I must confess that the reason that I believed that this had been put together earlier, was simply because by ’88 the genre had adapted from the initial rip-off Halloween plan that was the standard at the start of the decade. It was an evolution that led from strong silent antagonists to wise-cracking killers and then we ended up with altogether more supernatural villains like those from Maniac Cop, Child’s Play or even Demon Warrior.
Like most ’86 entries, Hollow Gate includes a quick-witted bogeyman, only this one has been turned to the ‘dark side’ by the age-old slasher cliché of an abusive parent. We see in the opening that his dad is disappointed with his apple bobbin’ skills at a Halloween party, so he gets humiliated in front of all of his friends. Obviously that’s a bad move in slasher land, so a few years later, the kid has grown into a maniacal murderer. Four teens that are on their way to a party are about to find out the extent of his insanity because they get abandoned on the grounds of his house. Guess what happens next…
When the screen lights up, we see a china doll sitting in a window and a magnificent childlike score begins playing as the camera slowly pans in a downward trajectory. Underneath the figurine is a creepy jack-o-lantern and as soon as it appears in our view, we hear the chime of a low chord as the musical accompaniment becomes darker and more suited to the horror that we are expecting to witness. I was seriously impressed by this credit sequence, because I felt that without saying anything it had given us so much. Could the obvious collision of the two tones signify the ‘taking over’ of the young child that turned his innocence into psychotic delusion after the abuse of his father? Or was it a reference to the innocent teenagers being stalked by the ruthless assailant? With such a stylistic opening, I was really thinking that I could be in for a treat with this flick. On recollection though, I now believe that the credits were made by someone otherwise uninvolved with the production; and the director most probably disliked or completely failed to understand the idea. What makes me so sure that this is the case? Well there are a few reasons…
Most of us know that all good horror films need a central character, otherwise known as a protagonist. Someone like a Laurie Strode, Ginny Fields, R.J. MacCready or Reiko Asakawa. As this is a slasher film that’s based on the 31st of October, we can use Laurie Strode as a perfect example. She was shy, fairly withdrawn, insecure about her popularity with the opposite sex but devoted to those around her. In other words she is someone that most people can bond with. In a film that has superhuman killers, screaming victims and gruesome terror, it is important to include one person that is far more ‘normal’ to the everyday Joe or Joanna. They can then act as our own personal avatar of the story and guide us through to the end, which creates drama and tension because we want them to survive
It takes thirty minutes of Hollow Gate, before we meet four youngsters that are on their way to a party and I just can’t think of anything that I can tell you about them at all. I could find very little that made any of them even the slightest bit appealing or memorable. No style of speech, unique characteristic, catchphrase, gimmick or information on their relationships or where they were from. They were just four young people that we learned absolutely nothing about. The problem is that when a movie is populated with cardboard cut-outs, then it’s almost impossible to give a damn about what happens to them. So we are left with a guy who is nothing more than a total loony stalking four kids that are complete strangers. It could of course be argued that the psycho is the main player, but not much time is spent on his background either.
Character development is probably one of the most important things in filmmaking and you’d think that anyone with even the slightest intention of creating a motion picture would recognise that. But hold on a minute, what is this? An hour into the story, two cops join the party. We see them sitting in a café where they discuss their histories, how long they’ve been on the force and why they decided to sign up. Their banter shows some warmth in their friendship (didn’t like the racist joke though) and because of this, we become drawn to their part of the goings on. So lets get to grips with Hollow Gate logic then. The characters that we should care about get zilch backstory, whilst two police officers that feature for ten-minutes tops, tell us about their entire lives??? #HollowGateLogic
The director doesn’t even attempt to build any pizazz in the framing and most shots are long, wide and boring. It’s no surprise that Ray Di Zazzo is not the first name on anyone’s lips when discussing icons of horror and this was to be his first and last attempt in the movies. On top of that there are pacing issues because the runtime is so poorly edited and the flow is plagued by serious flaws in continuity. Alfred Hitchcock once said that there is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation. Those words are totally lost in a film that not only lacks the anticipation part but also the bang.
There was an early discussion featured amongst lawyers and legal men about the nutjob’s psychotic state after he had become a concern, but not yet committed the massacre. Obviously hinting at President Reagan’s budget cuts of the eighties, the group agreed that he should be locked away, but hinted that it would be tough to do so in the current climate. It was a smart snippet of social reference and I could barely believe that it was from the same hand that let an unarmed teen hiding in a bush from the deranged madman state that he, ‘had the advantage’ over his assailant. Eh? It’s like the film has two seconds of credibility and then absolutely demolishes them with fifty minutes of asininity.
Despite much amateurism spread throughout, there were a couple of things that I quite liked about the picture. The bogeyman changes costume for each killing, and not only does he don a different disguise, he also performs for each role. For example as a cowboy he offers an off-kilter John Wayne and then he becomes something of an evil quipping doctor a bit later. Perhaps it was because I had my serious horror head on when I was watching Hollow Gate that I disliked it so much and maybe I should’ve given it a chance as an inadvertent comedy. There’s enough rubbish dialogue, horrendous acting and the like for it to satisfy cheese fans, but for me it was irredeemable. The bad news is that I’m not prepared to watch it again and see if my opinion can be swayed. In fact, I’d rather place my hand in a vat of acid.
Alexander Pushkin once wrote that there is no bigger tragedy than wasted love or wasted talent. I’d like to add ‘wasted time’ on top of that and blame Hollow Gate for me doing so. With no blood, suspense or action, I really can’t see why or how you’d enjoy it
Killer Guise: √√
Long Island Cannibal Massacre 1980
Directed by: Nathan Schiff
Starring: Loren Winters, Shepherd Sanders, Jeff Morris
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Firstly I have to apologize that I haven’t been posting reviews at the usual rate just recently. I have had a few changes in my life and what with moving house, getting a new job and a gorgeous new girlfriend to slowly break down mentally until she has no other choice but to agree to watch slasher films with me (lol), I have been finding time a little hard to come by. So it’s going to be just the once a week for the meantime, but I do have some good titles in store for you. Thanks as always for looking. We are still growing month on month and I really appreciate that you keep reading my reviews. If I was a millionaire, I would send every one of you a double vodka Sangria and a Tortilla con Salchicha Polaca, but unfortunately, I am not 😦 Anyway… on to our feature presentation….
Long before Andreas Schnaas began walking the streets of Hamburg with a camcorder and a bucket of pig’s intestines and long before studios like Sub Rosa were releasing any kind of horror junk that they could get their hands on, Nathan Schiff was directing no-budgeted gore films that rapidly gained cult status. His first, ‘Weasels rip my flesh’, was a throwback from the cheesy sci-fi movies of the ’50s and it proved to be successful enough to give him the funds for a follow up. The resulting feature is widely regarded as the director’s best work as a gore auteur and it acts as concrete evidence of what can be achieved on the merest of funding. And boy, do I mean the merest. ME-ERE-A-RE-EST. A new lease of life on DVD has opened Schiff’s work to a wider audience, and interest in his back-catalogue has reached an all time high.
Long Island Cannibal Massacre is not a standard slasher film like the multitude of horror flicks from this period were, but it does include many of the trappings that were prominent at that time. The film starts as it means to go on with a gruesome and audacious excuse to brighten the screen with colourful goo. A young girl that we see sunbathing in a remote field is assaulted and knocked unconscious by a masked assailant (wearing a costume extremely similar to Jason Voorhees’ in Friday the 13th Part 2, which would be released the following year). The maniac drags the girl into the bushes and ties her arms behind her back, before disappearing into the trees and leaving her struggling on the floor. He returns with a lawn mower and gives us the first gratuitous murder of the feature. You can see it just above…
Next up we meet Inspector James Cameron (played by John Smihula, who would appear in all of Schiff’s films); – a hard as nails wild card with a bitterly poetic view of crime on the streets. He soon gets involved in the mass of murders when he discovers a decapitated head on a beach whilst working undercover. When he fails to get the support that he needs from the local constabulary, Cameron quits the force and takes matters into his own hands. The vigilante soon discovers a circle of torture, slaughter and cannibalism that’s stranger than anyone could imagine.
As I said earlier, this is not a typical slasher movie and it combines elements from numerous genres. The inclusion of a masked maniac and various cinematic references to Carpenter’s Halloween mean that it has enough of the right stuff to slot into the category and in effect on to a SLASH above. Instead of having just the one psychopathic killer though, the plot gives us a gruesome-twosome; and even they play second-fiddle to an altogether more abominable bogeyman. This is where LICM really separates itself from the multitude of its brethren, because its conclusion owes more to monster features such as ‘Scared to Death’ than it does ‘Black Christmas‘ et al.
Nathan Schiff is a gore director, and the reason anyone watches his films is simply to see as much blood spraying fun as possible – and on that note the movie doesn’t disappoint. It’s also worth noting that he does try his hardest to provide an engaging plot and in places the movie succeeds quite impressively and shows strengths where some of the more heavily financed entries that I could name, came up short. The revelation of the killer’s identity was certainly unexpected, and credit to the director for being so ambitious with his story telling.
Shot on Super 8mm, the picture quality is exactly as what you would expect, with the cinematography looking jaded and somewhat murky. Fortunately, Schiff wisely decided to shoot all the action under the security of daylight, which means the film isn’t ruined by a lack of visual clarity. The music was lifted from various bigger budgeted horror classics and it’s an enjoyable exercise for enthusiasts to try and recognise where we’ve heard those famous themes before. Despite the director’s lack of experience, he does manage to pull off at least one decent jump-scare and the photography is creative, which allows you to overlook the places where it isn’t completely clear.
In a feature such as this, the blood and guts is always the most important aspect and here it ranges from the outlandish to the outstanding. The chainsaw murder in the closing is uncomfortably detailed and kudos to the actors, because they took some huge risks with the deadly blades so close to their anatomy. Although there’s nothing here that would have forced Tom Savini to seek another profession, the effects are decent and gratuitous enough for fans to enjoy. If you ask your friends to act in your feature film, the performances are never going to win any awards, so I didn’t expect too much, but was impressed with the effort that was made, if nothing else. That’s neither here nor there however, as everything is just padding to give the plot an excuse to let the crimson flow.
So is Nathan Schiff an unsung horror hero? Not really; but if bucket loads of red corn syrup and dead animal’s internal organs are what you’re looking for, then his movies are a lot better than really they should be. He’s some way off being the next Lucio Fulci, but his cheapo style has a neat little personality and is fun all the same… As Samuel L. Jackson said in Pulp Fiction, “Personality goes a long way…”
Killer Guise: √√√√
Posed for Murder 1988
Directed by: Brian Thomas Jones
Starring: Charlotte J. Helmkamp, Laura Flanagan, Charles Kuhune
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I was crazily in love once, you know? We moved in together and she was so special that I even watched slasher films with her… including Cards of Death. Then she left me for a richer guy and I was stuck with my collection of tatty VHS and a bottle of vodka. Serious. Rumours that I have kidnapped her and she’s locked in the basement with Savage Water on continuous play are totally false and erroneous and I refuse to entertain them. (Ignore those screams btw, the neighbours have a noisy kid…))
Anyway, moving on. Love is a powerful emotion and the perfect motive for a cheesy slasher picture and in Posed for Murder that’s exactly what we have. Now this is a late late entry to the cycle that I really should have posted ages ago, before it got released on DVD. If I had done that, I could have called it an a SLASH above exclusive, because it was incredibly rare. Nowadays though, it can be picked up on Amazon on a shiny disc that includes two other delightful features at a budget cost. Should you click buy it now and add it to your collection? Well allow me to answer that for you in fine detail…
Laura is a topless model and a wannabe scream queen with dozens of sleazy male admirers. Her popularity is not solving her issues however and she’s feeling a little down in the dumps. It certainly not helping matters that a psycho with breathing difficulty is making things tougher for her. Can she find a way to stop the marauding maniac…???
Suspense. Intrigue. Gore. Tension and Terror… are all the things that you won’t find whilst watching Posed for Murder. That’s ok though because the mahoosive amount of liquified cheese that is poured all over the screen instead kind of makes up for that. Well, kind of. I mean, it takes 32 mins for the killer to actually get going, but somehow the picture manages to hold itself together and keep you interested through to the end.
The best way for me to describe the script to you is that it comes across a lot like it was written by someone that speaks English as a second language. Everything is discussed in the most basic of sentence structures and the dialogue literally gets you from A to C without even a hint that B exists. Despite this, director Brian Thomas Jones does an intriguing job of keeping each shot interesting, by setting up distinct backdrops and camera movements. They don’t always work of course, but they help to keep up the level of momentum.
There’s a scene where our final girl has an audition with a pair of seedy filmmakers and I had to wonder if it was included to poke fun at the lead actress. They barely check if she can speak a line of dialogue before they offer her the part and I think that in reality, the procedure for this production was very similar. Why bother worrying if Charlotte Helmkamp can act when she has breasts like pineapples in stockings? In fact these subtle in-jokes became something of an ongoing thing for the rest of the runtime. They can be the only logical explanation as to why her in-film director, Serge La Rue, called her a ‘method actor’. Or what about when her friend asked how she managed to perform with ‘such emotion’. Bwahahaha! Oh how we laughed. It was brilliant. Say what you want about our buxom scream queen, buy you can’t deny that she knows how to take a joke at her own expense. Oh. Oh, ok. Sorry, I didn’t know that she wasn’t let in on that fact…? Oh in that case, I take it all back….
There was one thing though that I actually found quite interesting. Every single guy that she meets, ends up flirting with her and looking down her top. I thought about this and felt how hard it must be for an attractive woman (or guy) when most men always think with head number two. What kind of opinion would you have of the male gender if all that they ever did was hit on you? Is it really like that girls? Man, I need to change my approach.
So there’s not a great deal left to say. The soundtrack sums up all that was bad about eighties music and hums along over shots of spandex bound jocks working out in a gymnasium. This activity breaks up the ‘intense drama’ of our cycolina’s quest to discover the identity of the psycho maniac. Thinking about it, I guess that this could be a slasher sister of kind to Killer Workout in that sense. Chuck in a handful of diluted killings and a twist that turns out to be exactly what you thought it was all along and what you have is a fondue festival that’s cunningly disguised as a DVD. In other words, if you like ’em trashy you should give this a whirl. Just don’t bring your brain.
…Oh and about my ex-fianceé and her being locked in the cellar… I was actually joking about all that. It was four years ago now and I was lucky enough to meet my soul mate (Hi Żaneta xx) and I’m on my way to see her now. Damn. Where did I put the key to the padlock on the door to the basement…? 😉
Final Girl: √√√