Monthly Archives: February 2015
Directed by: Tim Cowles
Starring: Eleanor James, Emily Eaves, Jason Impey
Review by Luis Joaquín González
I’ve recently turned 34, which I tell you because I’m from a generation that grew up just before the invasion of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Hi5. I was in my twenties during the noughties, so I still got to experience the impact that these sites had on social interaction and relationships. It’s interesting, because I remember the times of having to call landlines or walk to knock on someone’s front door if I wanted to chat with them. Nowadays I can simply drop them a note on What’sapp or some other messaging service and ascertain where they are, who they’re with and whether they’re choosing to ignore me 😉 I’m often told that I should be more proactive on Twitter and Facebook, especially with regards to a SLASH above, but perhaps it’s because of my age that I haven’t quite grasped the necessity of a social media presence.
Whether these methods of contact are a benefit or a hindrance to our evolution as humans is impossible to answer, but it’s an interesting theory to think about. It’s one that was certainly on the mind of director Tim Cowles when he put pen to paper for this British slasher that hit shelves last year. Not to be confused with 2005’s Backslash, Backslasher was poorly received upon release and currently holds a 2.2 rating on the IMDB. This Is incredibly low, but there’s always the excuse that slasher movies are easy targets for mockery from stern critics because of their simplistic style. Seeing that the excellent Billy Club has dropped from 7.4 to 5.6 on the same website adds weight to this theory.
A young woman who’s obsessed with her social media accounts launches an online business that sells lingerie and sex toys. She Is running a blog to assist with marketing but soon discovers that someone maybe taking an unhealthy interest in her status updates. It soon becomes apparent that a masked killer is stalking her friend list and it looks as if she’s next in his sights…
Shooting films on a penny sweet budget must be tough, because creative concepts can get lost amongst the lack of funding. Backslasher tries hard to deliver something unique and intriguing but has suffered, slightly unfairly, due to its minimal production values. It choses an unusual starting path, which introduces our characters rather awkwardly. The best horror movies begin with a scare or shock sequence of some kind to set a tone, but it takes fifteen-minutes or so for the killer to even put in an appearance here. This makes the opening scenes a bit pointless because we are left trying to get our heads around what we are watching. A group of girls prance around in lingerie to introduce the theme of the products that they’re selling, but these parts are a nothingness in terms of the film’s horror backbone. I haven’t seen the old chestnut of a maniac stalking two lovers parked in a secluded spot for quite some time, so it was refreshing to be back at a set up that is so rudimentary yet satisfying. Cowles shows his knowledge of the period slashers in a couple of the murders, including an assault of a female jogger, which was last seen in Graduation Day. Dressing the killer in a common mask and hooded jumper underlines the film’s cheapness, but he is at least brutal and intimidating when he strikes.
What I really liked about Backslasher was its smartly ambiguous conclusion. The plot works along the line of you thinking you’ve guessed who is under the mask, but just when you believe you’ve really nailed it, your choice of culprit becomes the next victim. I felt initially cheated by the revelation scene, but later I understood that it was the perfect end to a story that focuses on the privacy and anonymity of Social Media. It’s extremely unusual for a stalk and slash film to include an ending that you’ll need to watch through again to really understand and in honesty it impressed me. Whodunits have been done to death and outside of tricking the audience unfairly, there’s very little that we haven’t seen before. Cowles takes a risk that might disappoint some viewers, but I appreciated his ambition to try an off-kilter resolution.
It’s unfair to criticise a low budget movie for being low budget, but Backslasher’s main issues are visible exactly because of that. The performances are predictably mediocre and the footage is grainy and poor in quality. We do get a guitar-based score that is fresh and uplifting, but when the horror starts, there are some misplaced sci-fi-like buzzing sounds that are notably out of place. Whilst the screenplay does have moments that are strongly commendable, it could have been structured to have a much smoother flow. I imagine the film would play much better with a murder in the pre-credits and most of the background characters are interchangeable because they’re given very little to do. There were a couple of times when people got killed and I couldn’t remember who they were, which showed they had been poorly introduced.
Backslasher is a project that writes cheques its budget can’t cash. It’s a creative concept that could have done with some fine tuning. Many people won’t have the patience to really appreciate it, which is a shame, but a lesson that can be learned. Tim Cowles shouldn’t give up on his filmmaking dream, but he’s still some way off delivering a really credible entry.
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√
Chill: The Killing Games 2013
aka Chill (Working Title)
Directed by: Noelle Bye, Meredith Holland
Starring: Roger Conners, Bradley Michael Arner, Kelly Rogers
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Chill had been one of the few movies that I was really excited about getting my hands upon. Haydn Watkins, the co-author of magnificent upcoming slasher book Alone in the Dark, told me about it, so I got in touch with director Noelle Bye and she sent me over an online copy to review. At the time of writing, it boasts a 7.5 ranking on the IMDB and has been keenly anticipated amongst cult horror circles due to a couple of successful pre-screenings.
Despite accusations that slasher movies are all identically structured, genre completists will note the small traits that distinguish titles by their production dates. Since about 2011, we have seen a theme of strategic multi-layered twists and revelation scenes that have appeared in the likes of Billy Club, Camp 139, Smiley, Blood Junkie and Backslasher. From what I’d heard on the grapevine about Chill, it was another that had been written with a focus on maintaining a compelling mystery.
A college in the US has become notorious due to the grim legend of a game that goes by the name of Chill. It involves a number of people randomly picking a piece of paper from a box and keeping what they get a secret from the other participants. Dependent on what they receive, they will either become the ‘killer’ or a ‘victim’ and it’s the killer’s job to hunt out and ‘murder’ the other players, whilst keeping his/her identity anonymous until the end. Chill was popular until about 1988, when one gamer took the whole assassin thing a bit too seriously and butchered twelve students before succumbing to a gruesome fate. Since then, the game has been outlawed on campus and it has become a part of the town’s history that they’d rather leave behind. One business-minded local thinks otherwise though and decides to revisit the scene of the original massacre and televise a new version of the game for profit. Despite resistance from some of the townsfolk, especially an over-zealous professor, the launch date goes ahead as planned. It seems that someone still has an axe to grind and before long, the youngsters are forced to pit their wits against a maniacal villain.
Before we get going, I think it’s important that you understand one thing about Chill that’s really essential as to how you perceive it. I’d been wrapped up in the decent IMDB rating and the positivity that I’d heard and so I was expecting a slick slasher along the lines of Billy Club. It wasn’t until thirty-five minutes in that I realised this was in fact a micro-budget production ($3,000) and only then did I really begin to appreciate the film’s accomplishments.
You see, Chill is quite long for a slasher movie, (one hour and forty-five minutes in fact) and the first half of those are pretty unconvincing. Awkwardly acted characters in under-lit scenarios are the order of the day and I was thinking that I was going to be the first critic to put a dent in the film’s glorious reputation. There’s a lot of focus on a group of marginally-appealing personalities and they’re given dialogue that barely registers because it’s so basic and unimaginative. To offer an example, we meet a washed-up kid star who has been invited to take part in the game, but upon his arrival he is disappointed that there’s no fanfare and only one person recognises him. He’s obviously deluded as to the level of his notoriety, but it’s a joke that doesn’t need or warrant the amount of attention that it’s given by the script.
I was thinking the worst by that point, but when the games finally launch, the directors unleash a couple of really sharp and effective shock sequences. There’s nothing quite as creepy as dark dilapidated corridors and the film is nicely scored with gloomy low-chords that help maintain the morbid tone. In the earlier killings, we don’t get to see the antagonist’s bird mask clearly, but there’s a really well structured scene that introduces him with credible menace. He then goes on to slash the throat of a hapless youngster and there’s a juicy blood effect to maximise the impact. For the next half an hour, we get a tense showdown as the remaining players discover that they are locked inside the auditorium with a vicious maniac. Blood flows fluidly as people are sliced, diced and strangled, but the real suspense is delivered by the enigma of who it is that’s slaughtering the group. I didn’t work out the psychopath’s true identity, but I still am unsure as to whether it was a surprise or a bit of a a cheat on the audience. Either way, it successfully keeps you guessing and there’s nothing more that I could have asked for.
What I thought was really authentic was that the story was led for the most part by an openly homosexual central character. Kyle Carpenter (cool surname) does a good job of giving us a likeable protagonist and ticks many of the boxes that are stereotypically filled by a heroine. We also get a role reversal that I don’t want to reveal without giving anything away, but let’s just say that the film’s choice of survivor(s) is an uncommon piece of template realignment. It all leads to an intriguing open ending and I have heard through the same grapevine that Chill 2 is already on the cards.
I strongly believe that Chill is one of a number of recent entries that underline the necessity of the slasher genre as a filmaking talent pool. There truly is no better style of movie to unleash some flair and the more of these examples we get, the closer we come to a complete category rebirth. Whilst the feature itself is not without its problems (poor illumination, half-hearted dialogue, noticeably average acting, a couple of WTF revelations and it could have done with some eye candy), it gives me great pleasure to see that we have moved well away from the era of Camp Blood and Carnage Road. Nowadays low budget features are stronger than they’ve ever been and that in itself is a real achievement. Congratulations to Noelle, Meredith and Roger for a decent effort considering the budget. The gloss and invention in some of their photography was extremely impressive and I am looking forward to seeing more of their work.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Halloween 4 1988
Directed by: Dwight H. Little
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris
Review by Eric LeMaster
Buenos Dias and Happy Valentine’s Day a SLASH abovers, I’m extremely proud to include a guest post from regular reader Eric LeMaster. For his debut, he has chosen the film that got him hooked on the genre and I am sure you’ll agree that he’s done a sterling job of describing for us what he loves about it…
Halloween 4 is my favorite horror movie of all time, so I was quite thrilled when Luisito asked me to write my first guest review about this– what I believe to be– a gem of a film. Some don’t appreciate this instalment because they believe that Michael should be dead– and by all rights, he should have been after the hospital explosion in Halloween II. If you take the movie at face value, it’s a wonderful entry into the sub-genre that is the SLASHER FILM!
Many years ago, I watched this for the first time on AMC. It succeeded in getting me hooked on slasher movies. The setting and the realistic premise of a madman who wants nothing more than to kill you makes slasher flicks pretty much the only style that can give me chills. The wonderful cinematography and utter darkness of the film bring something special that “budget” movies just don’t ever seem to give.
To prepare for this review, I popped in my Blu-ray of Halloween 4– that’s right, I own the Blu-Ray. Does that make me cool? No? Ok. Continuing… The montage of Midwestern Autumn scenery immediately brings me back to my childhood, though not too far, because I can still see the rickety farm buildings and “country” scenery around where I live. Eastern Kentucky hasn’t grown up much; we’re stuck in 1988. The only thing that could make the film seem more “true to the area” is if John Cougar Mellencamp sang the score– and I guess that just wasn’t on the cards.
After Halloween 3 flopped due to the removal of Michael Myers, Moustapha Akkad wanted to continue the franchise and bring back its iconic villain. John Carpenter and Debra Hill weren’t on board for another Halloween and sold their rights to the series, so Moustapha found the very talented director, Dwight Little.
Alan McElroy would write the script and finished it in an amazing eleven days. Ellie Cornell, whose only previous acting experience included an episode of Thirtysomething and a minor role on Married to the Mob, would play the seventeen year-old Rachel Carruthers, the foster sister to the main protagonist, Jamie Lloyd (the lovely, young Danielle Harris) the daughter of the late Laurie Strode (who apparently died in a car accident).
Donald Pleasance signed on to continue his role as Dr. Loomis, the once psychiatrist of Michael Myers, who would continue to chase him and try to end Michael’s killing spree once and for all. Also signing on were Sasha Jenson who would play Rachel’s boyfriend (Brady), Beau Starr who would play Sheriff Ben Meeker, and Kathleen Kinmont would play his daughter, Kelly Meeker.
We begin the fun with an ambulance traveling in a rain storm. We find that Michael is being transferred from Smith’s Grove unbeknownst to Dr. Loomis. Once approved for transfer, Michael is wheeled into the ambulance. Per the conversation between the EMTs, Michael discovers that he has a living niece and decides to murder his only living blood-relative. He kills the ambulance workers and makes his way back to Haddonfield.
True to form, Dr. Loomis becomes concerned with the transfer and begins to question the head of the Sanitarium. While he’s there, the manager receives a phone call informing him of the accident. Overhearing, Loomis takes off and lets his sixth sense of Michael’s whereabouts take over.
What happens after then? Much trick-or-treating, high school drama, and some high class stalking! There’s even some humor, too. The scene with the “traveling Reverend” is hilarious, and adds some comic relief to a more serious film. You’ll have to see it all for yourself.
To say that I recommend this film would be an understatement. It’s got plot, it’s got good acting, it’s got a great score by Alan Howarth, and it has some good gore. I beg you to see it. Don’t watch it as a perfect continuance of the series and you will find that it’s a gem. If you don’t like it for all of these things, at least you’ll enjoy it for it’s 80’s vibes– and boy does it have it. If you’re like me, you’ll fall in love with Ellie Cornell, and if Danielle Harris isn’t one of your favorite child movie stars, you’ll more than likely change your opinion.
This movie is widely available on DVD and Blu-Ray with or without its less amazing partner, Halloween 5; and, if you’re lucky, you can catch it on AMC like I did.
Luis’ view: Whilst I agree with a lot of what Eric has said here, I must confess it’s a three and a half star rating from me. The main cast members show a lack of range in their dramatics and the bonding ‘acting’ scenes don’t look credible. It’s left up to Donald Pleasence to be the film’s only competent performer, even if he was slumming it at this point of his caeer. Another thing I disliked was the vigilante set-up with the goofy redknecks. I thought that those scnes were unrealistic and made the film far too popcorn/unrealistic and the scenes ruined the menacing tone. There’s no denying though that this is somewhat underrated due to its darkness and engrossing story. The ending was grim and truly a shock: it’s just a shame that the filmakers behind Halloween 5 didn’t have the cojones to continue the theme. Dwight H. Little is competent in the director’s chair and overall, the movie just about works. Whilst it may be slightly disjointed and Michael’s mask doesn’t look as threatening, it shares more with its elder siblings than any of the latter installments. It is better than part 2, which I do not hate.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √√√
Girls School Screamers 1986
Directed by: John P Finnegan
Starring: Molly O’ Mara,Sharon Christopher, Mari Butler
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Imagine taking a film, any film in fact, and bolting on top scenes that would turn it into a slasher movie. You could have, say, a psychopathic mobster trimming the cast list of The Godfather. It’d be something like Cleaver from The Sopranos. Just remove the current deaths of Moe Green, Luca Brasi and Sonny Corleone and splice in footage of a masked menace doing the deeds with a pitchfork. It makes me wonder how Casablanca might look with an extended chase sequence that sees Inga Berman pursued by a maniac in a burlap sack? Do you think it could work? CGI is pretty good nowadays.
Whilst that does of course sound somewhat far fetched, Troma, the studio responsible for a number of cinematic curiosities, did exactly that when they picked up budget haunted house flick, The Portrait in late 1985. John P Finnegan had set out with absolutely no experience to make himself a motion picture. He pencilled a script and sourced funding independently in order to realise his dream. With $100,000 to play with, he called the University of New York and asked if they had any students that may be interested in his project. Within a couple of months, he had secured a cast of 18, a full crew and a superb location. His original intention had been to create a Hitchcockian tale of the ghosts of an incestuous relationship returning home. Troma agreed to distribute his work only if they could call it Girls School Screamers and shoehorn in some slasher action. The net result is an entry that can best be described as, well, something of a curiosity.
Seven fresh faced college girls have just found out that they’re going to be spending four days cleaning up an old Victorian mansion. It had been left to the school in the will of a recently deceased entrepreneur who stated that they could renovate or sell it. The youngsters pack their bags and head to the location, but soon learn that they could be in for more than they bargained for.
Look, I’ll give it to you straight, I’m not a massive fan of the supernatural/slasher hybrids that I’ve come across. Whilst there are a couple that have taken parts of each sub-genre and created a passable combination, more often than not, the strength of one style brings out the weaknesses in the other. I guess that in the same way I wouldn’t like a possessed child turning up during the conclusion of Halloween, I wouldn’t feel great about Michael Myers slashing his way through The Exorcist either. The glaring possibilities for creative expression make it seem strange that we haven’t yet been treated to a truly credible crossbreed of haunted house and slash, but of the ones that are currently available, none do a good job of selling the concept. Girls School Screamers is an interesting case in point though, because it’s a ghost flick that has been Godfrey Ho’d by its distributor. Godrey Ho of course was that Hong Kong born kungfu movie director from Filmark International and IFD that would chuck white American Ninjas in films that had not been completed or were a few years old. The net result would turn out to be an extremely confusing story, but full of outlandish Ninja action. The films made a huge profit in USA/Europe and titles like Ninja American Warrior or Ninja Terminator are good fun if you can stomach poor scripts and confusing screenplays. Watching Girls School Screamers now, after learning of Troma’s tampering, does give it something of an extra allure.
GSS, for all intents and purposes, is not a film that’s ashamed of its minimal budget. This fact is emphasised at the start of the credits where the words ‘introducing’ are placed before the entire cast, as if to helpfully inform us that none of the names that follow have done anything else before this at all. This is clearly evident in everything that we witness thereafter, from the plodding direction to the amateurish performances. Dialogue and story scenes are conveyed as if they’re filmed on a soundstage and it’s rare that we get any camera movement at all. Finnegan’s script, which Is certainly ambitious, spends a long time building its background and giving its characters the chance to make an impression. They’re all written to be pretty much interchangeable though, so the first hour, while we are waiting for the maniac to turn up, struggles to hold your attention and quickly becomes sluggish. It can’t have helped to have so many debutants throughout the cast, because they had no one to turn to when in need of some guidance. Unfortunately, being directed by somone who was also a first timer, made the whole shoot something like a high school play.
If you haven’t nodded off by the time that the action starts, we finally get to see what Troma’s input brought to the production. The killings are rather random in how they’re staged, because one or two are shown to be committed by a traditional unseen maniac, whilst the rest come courtesy of an invisible ‘force’. This has an effect on the story, because we have no central villain to fear. Whist the same actors were used and the footage doesn’t stand out as if it’s been bolted-on, it does leave obvious plot holes. It also make classifying Girls School Screamers as a slasher movie something of a harder task. Whilst we see meat cleavers, pitchforks and electrocutions with regularity in the genre, there are things here that are alien to the template. I want a SLASH above to be the truest stalk and slash catalogue on the web, but if I haven’t yet posted The Superstition or The Incubus here as entries, is it fair of me to include Girls School Screamers? I guess that you could call it slasher-esque, but something of a supernatural take-on the standard format. It’s a, what was that word again… oh yes… curiosity!!
John Finnegan has never shied away from the fact that he believes that Troma’s intervention ruined his initial ideas for the template. It’s easy of course to point the finger somewhere else for failings, but does he have a point? Yes and no is the answer, because without the added gore scenes, we would be left with a hideously boring travesty. At least now, the film does have moderate cult appeal, but it comes at the cost of a bewildering effect on the continuity. We see a silly intro involving a child getting freaked out by a ghost in the house, but it never gets resolved. Also, the motivation of the antagonist is left up to the imagination. We never learn the reasons for his rage and why he kills the girls in the house. In fact, I am not even sure if it truly was him??? There’s the odd atmospheric moment that comes courtesy of a truly superb score and it’s funny to see college girls played by actresses the wrong side of their thirties, but is it enough? I really wanted to like Girls School Screamers and find a defence for it, but it is, unfortunately, a bit of a mess. A curiosity type mess? Well, yes funnily enough…
Killer Guise: √√