Category Archives: Killer as protagonist
Lucker The Necrophagus 1986
Directed by: Johan Vandewoestijne
Starring: Nick Van Suyt, Martine Scherre, Carry Van Middel
Review by Luisjo González
Whilst Spain (Atrapados en el Miedo), the UK (Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas), Hong Kong (He Lives By Night), Italy (Madhouse), Canada (My Bloody Valentine), Australia, (Stagefright) and a couple of other countries jumped on the initial Halloween bandwagon, the phase didn’t last long. The release of A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984 changed horror completely and in the following years, antagonists were more supernatural and had wisecracks after each kill. Classic Friday the 13th style stalk and slash films that we know and love, became less popular and only a small handful of entries crept out each year until 1988. I went into more detail in my review of Maniac Cop, about the large amount of great titles that we received in 88, so I won’t write it again, but it’s probably my favourite year in the genre’s timeline.
The one country that wasn’t ready to give up on the old school slasher template just yet was Belgium. They waited right up until 1986 to give us their offering and they certainly had more ambition than to just duplicate everybody else. Lucker the Necrophagus boasts something of a reputation in cult circles and it’s known as an X rated and somewhat extreme movie. I’ve owned it on VHS for a long while, but I also picked up the DVD a few year’s ago, but it’s in my shed under loads of boxes, somewhere.
John Lucker is a serial murderer with a necrophilia fetish. Eight years ago, he went on a killing spree that took eight victims, until he was finally caught and institutionalised. Now he’s been put in a private clinic after attempting suicide during an asylum transfer. Despite being heavily drugged, Lucker escapes the clinic and heads to finish the girl that survived his last massacre, Cathy Jordan…
I’m aware that you readers probably consider me as something of a strange individual. I’d have to be to work so hard to locate and review so many s**t slasher movies. One thing I’m not too keen on though is sexual perversion. In fact, I’m not a fan of any perversion at all. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against porn. In fact, watching adult material on a date is amazing and I thoroughly recommend it. Necrophilia though is not something I’m interested in knowing about. On that subject, I remember at my 2016 Christmas party, when I worked at Hays, we all had to drive up to Bristol, which was the head office of our region. I pulled a sexy little redhead on the high street after the disco and took her back to my hotel to get high. When we were pretty f**ked, I said to her, what’s the dirtiest sexual thing you’ve always wanted to do and not done? She replied, I’ve always been excited by incest. I went to the toilet, texted my Greek buddy and said, call me and say there’s an emergency. Looking back, it’s lucky I didn’t throw her out of my room stark naked. She wants to f**k her father? Drop me out.
That story I told you proves that there’s some strange people inhabiting our planet and I likely will meet the majority of them in my lifetime, knowing my luck. Anyway, on to Lucker the Necrophagus. So this is a slasher movie in the vein of Maniac, Bits and Pieces, Skinner and Blood Splash or in other words the bogeyman as protagonist style. These can work well sometimes and I enjoyed those I mentioned, but I much prefer the Halloween or whodunnit technique of stalk and slash. As I hinted earlier, this particular flick has become known in the horror community as a blood-filled extravaganza that take things to excess. I have to say that’s not quite the truth and whilst it touches on some extreme stuff, it’s reputation is somewhat overblown. The most gore you get is fake blood on a shirt or pouring from the mouths of victims. There is a scene where one woman is filmed holding something that looks like her intestines outside her shirt, but there’s nothing here that would rival the level of Nightmare at Shadow Woods, Intruder or even Pieces. One bit I guess I should mention is towards the end, we see the killer f**k a corpse. Whilst the makeup is ok, would a corpse rot that much in a week? Also wouldn’t he be vomiting from the smell? I’m not sure if it’s this scene that started the standing that this movie is explicit, but whilst it’s not a nice thing to watch, it’s far from extreme.
I mentioned Bits and Pieces and Maniac earlier as films that this could be considered somewhat similar too, but the main difference between them and Lucker is that they actually had something of a plot. B&P had the daft love story between the cop and Rosie our heroine, whilst Maniac had Frank Zito’s hinted obsession with Anna D’Antoni. Lucker had nothing at all similar and the entire runtime involves the killer stalking the final girl and murdering anyone else he bumps into. In a more traditional slasher movie like, I don’t know, Don’t Look in the Cellar for example, there’s actually a bit of story to break up the kill scenes and so we are excited for when the maniac returns. Hold on, I’m using Don’t Look in the Cellar as a positive example? Well that’s because Lucker doesn’t have anything aside from watching Lucker kill an infinite number of people that we know zero about. Director Johan Vandewoestijne never told the producers, who paid to fund the movie, exactly what he had in mind for the picture, including the necrophilia. When they finally found out what he had filmed, they reportedly destroyed the negatives and all that was left is what’s available today. Johan Vandewoestijne has said that he initially had a journalist in the synopsis that was investigating John Lucker and it was the reporter that sent the antagonist crazy and started the whole kill frenzy. I own the director’s cut and it doesn’t jump quickly like it’s missing footage, so it’s impossible to say if that’s true. There’s a chance Vandewoestijne said it to excuse the fact that the movie literally doesn’t have any setup at all. I guess the real truth is lost to time.
Whilst there are three male victims, it this were to be released today in this WOKE environment, there would likely be worldwide protests. The females are all incredibly dumb or hookers and none of them get a good time during the feature. If you considered some of the later Friday the 13th sequels to roll out victims with minimal exposition; during Lucker, some of them literally walk on the screen to die, sometimes with the bare minimum of dialogue. Whilst no one watches slasher movies for intense dramatic verve, the best features of the category have characters that we care about. One of the most basic rules of filmmaking is develop well the good guys, because the drama comes from wanting them to survive. Lucker is more like a collection of murders bolted together and whilst I never got bored, I had the same amount of emotional involvement as if I was watching a football (soccer) match between two teams I don’t care about in the French league. I did think a couple of the chicas were hot, especially one blonde victim, but that’s not the kind of emotion horror flicks should aim for solely. One positive I’ll mention is that the final chase sequence is excellent. Placed in a great environment and well filmed, I have to take my hat off to the director for his work there.
Necrophilia is not new to the slasher genre, check 555, Splatter Farm and Corpse Mania for more examples. Lucker is the movie that pushes it the hardest, but I don’t believe it would make the feature any worse if they didn’t bother with it at all. For a group of unknowns, the performances aren’t hideously bad. They’re not good in any way, but not as awful as say Don’t Look in the Cellar. I must say that the languages spoken naturally in Belgium are Dutch, German and French, but the English accents here are top class and we must praise that. The film is shot quite well, but I guess the main issue is the bogeyman doesn’t seem scary, despite playing off his rocker well. He’s a balding, short guy and I don’t know, maybe they needed a big masked Robert Z’Dar type actor. Don’t misunderstand me, I already said, he performed insane effectively, but he didn’t ‘look’ the part and it hurt the story. A creepy mask would’ve been another better option to make him more frightening. The net result is I don’t want to seem like a party pooper, because I know this film has it’s fans, but I personally think it’s overrated.
Directed by: Ivan Nagy
Starring: Traci Lords, Ted Raimi, Ricki Lake
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Skinner was released three years before Scream and at a time when the slasher genre was most definitely at its lowest ebb. This is not so much an entry in the style of Halloween, Friday the 13th et al and instead plays more like Maniac or Bits and Pieces and gives the killer the majority of the screen time. These type of plot structures owe more in heritage to Blood Feast than they do Blood and Black Lace, but in the blur of the early eighties overkill period, they were pushed together and can now both be classified within the category.
Skinner is cut of somewhat finer cloth than the majority of titles that were hitting the bottom shelves during the early nineties. This is visible in the cast, which is perhaps the most intriguing thing about the feature. Ted Raimi is a cult figure amongst horror fans, because despite the success of his brother Sam, he is quite a selective actor and prefers cameos in low-budget projects. Also along for the ride is Ricki Lake, before she lost a few pounds and became a huge draw for prime time US television. Traci Lords gets top billing and she is an actress with one of the most interesting stories that I can remember. By now everyone’s aware of her porn star roots and the fact that her one false ID card almost brought down the entire Adult industry. It’s the effort that she has put in to reinventing herself, even though she has so many haters in the entertainment sector that has allowed me to develop a respect for her. Obviously a beautiful woman, she plays down her looks here and accepts a role that offers her the chance to rise above her reputation. From what I understand, she has become her own worst enemy by blaming others for her earlier career choices, when it was fraudulent behavior on her part that allowed her to get work in X rated films in the first place. I prefer to look at her talent for dramatics over her previous ‘convictions’ though, and was keen to see how she’d get on in a ‘skin flick’ that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase.
A drifter rents a room from a lonely housewife and begins to build a relationship with her. Little does she know however that he is a twisted sadist who flays hookers that he picks up on the street. Before long, he decides to reveal his darkest secret…
Director Ivan Nagy has done an amazing job of building a desolate world for his plot to boil in on the smallest of funding. Skinner is a bleak, dreary feature, which takes place in a grimy graffiti filled world of depression and there’s no redemption for any of the characters that carry the story. The plot revolves around the madness of Dennis Skinner and his murderous lust for blood, but the other players also lack morals. Traci Lords’ Heidi is a one of his former victims with a morphine addiction and an unhealthy obsession for revenge, whilst Ricki Lake is an insecure housewife that falls to the temptation to commit adultery on her stay away husband. I was impressed how they showed quite cleverly the ways in which people are insensitive to the feelings of others and the script conveys the struggles of everyday life in a poverty-stricken hell hole.
All the actors get a chance to shine and Lords has a couple of very good scenes. Raimi’s best part is the goriest of the feature, which is missing from R rated prints. He describes the roots of his madness to a hooker that he just killed whilst he mutilates her corpse; and it builds up to the money shot of him ripping off her entire face. He is cool, calm and chilling as the deranged serial killer and he pulls it off with believable efficiency. The effects from KNB are uncomfortably realistic and the parts that see Raimi stalking for victims in a suit made of skin are creepy and amusing at the same time. There’s no pressing suspense or tension, but it’s not that kind of film. Instead of aiming for edge of your seat tension, the director was looking for sleazy depravity; and he succeeds in delivering it.
This can’t really be called much of a gore flick, because only one murder allows KNB to unleash some of their talent, but there’s a fairly large body count. Even if the majority of the victims are those of the ‘walk on to get killed’ variety, there are no major gaps or moments where the film feels that it will become tedious. Funnily enough, the musical accompaniment was provided for the most part by Keith Arem, who soon after would build a mega successful career as a director and composer for big budgeted video games, including the Call of Duty series. He does nothing exceptional here, but his subtle under-scoring adds somewhat to the moody atmosphere. Ivan Nagy shows no real flair for creative conveyance, but at the same time, maintains a solid momentum. He boasts almost as interesting a life story as his lead actress, especially because of his notorious relationship with Heidi Fleiss. He was already a convicted bookmaker when the two met and he went on to introduce her to the world of prostitution. Lords’ character here has been named after Fleiss, so maybe there was still something between them when this was developed? I’m sure that his first-hand experiences in those areas helped him to deliver such a grim virtual landscape on screen.
This entry may be a tad off-key for some viewers and it kind of ends with a feeling of nothingness. There’s no questions answered, no bonds built and no mysteries solved. The cast members are nobodies to us, the viewer and with such a long runtime, I would have appreciated some more development. With that said, it remains effective in its gruesomeness and outrageous in its delivery.
Although Skinner is no hidden gem, it does have a few powerful sequences and deserves praise solely for that. I have not seen many horror movies that carry such a dense lake of morbid surroundings and it breaks the ‘happy ending’ mould.
Final Girl: √
Directed by: Paul Leder
Starring: Dick Sargent, Bernard White, James Avery
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Well actually, NO. You see, this is the ‘other’ Bodycount. The one that’s an utter obscurity, which rarely gets acknowledged despite the promise of so much. Director Paul Leder populated the genre more prolifically than most throughout his filmmaking tenure. Even if it could be argued that I Dismember Mama is not really a proto-slasher, then there’s no denying that The Babydoll Murders slots straight in to the stalk and slash grouping. What we have here on the other hand, is not so much of a Halloween clone and instead plays a bit like Blood Splash or Maniac by making the killer the film’s central character. It’s generally more of a challenge to make these type of stories work, so I was keen to see what Leder could do.
It begins with one hell of an artsy credit sequence. We hear a beautiful violin piece and then the musician, a young brunette in a red dress, appears from behind a tree. The camera pans along and follows her as she approaches a large white building and then it’s revealed for the first time that we are outside an asylum. Here we meet Robert Knight, a mixed up young man who is polite, believes in god and sometimes can’t help but stab people with his trusty blade. You’ll never guess what happens? Yes, surprisingly, he escapes the confines of his cushy cell and heads out to solve some deep-rooted family issues, causing havoc along the way
So as I hinted above, BodyCount is not a slasher movie in the most obvious sense and it’s more like a thriller with some slasher action bolted on top. Don’t get me wrong, there’s blood, stabbings and plenty of victims, but Leder has attempted to make this film more plot-driven than the usual low-budget follies featured on this site. Is that a good thing? Well it can be if it’s done well.
The problem that we have here is that the script is ambitious, but ignores cinematic basics. Any thriller generally needs a villain and a hero, but the maniac here is portrayed as something of a victim, which makes you feel sorry for him. When he kills people it just doesn’t seem right because we’ve invested in him emotionally and he is the most approachable of the key characters. In Halloween for example, Myers escaped to stalk and slaughter his sister and because Laurie Strode was such a good egg, we shared her fear. Robert has broken out to murder a member of his family too, but his uncle is a swindling deviant who is rumoured to have been responsible for the death of the killer’s father, so he comes across worse than the guy doing the slashing. In fact the only adult person in the film that is portrayed to have any morals at all is Kim, the helpful maid. Sadly, she’s played by an actress that speaks like Jar Jar Binks after a few lines of Peruvian coke, so she’s not one that we care too much about. Nevertheless, I didn’t want her to die, so I guess that she was doing something right. Come to think of it, even the majority of the victims were low lives (a bully, a drug addict, a gold digger etcetera), so our ‘bogeyman’ really does seem like a gem in comparison. Go figure…
You’ll see I mentioned above that Kim Kim Binks is the only adult person with morals because the story has something of a curveball in the shape of Robert’s six-year-old cousin, Deborah. He picks her up and drives her around and treats her superbly, which is an additional minus to his already minimal scare-o-factor. Little kids and horror is not something that always works. Yes, you can mention Poltergeist or Death Valley
Aside from the kidnap that’s not really a kidnap part of the story, there’s also another branch that trundles along in the background. It’s something to do with a heap of money that Robert is entitled to, so pretty much everyone else wants to kill him off so that they can claim it for themselves. We get treated to a lot of talky scenes where this stuff is discussed and I guess that they are supposed to wrap us up in an intrigue of double-crossing, treachery and cunning manipulation. The music that accompanies these moments though sounds like something that you might find in an online commercial for a retirement home and so that pretty much pooh-poohs the tone.
Talking about retirement home commercials, Leder shoots this horror movie like it is one. So much can be achieved with a tad of creativity in the placement of characters and cameras, the blocking, tracking and movement of visuals on the screen. Here though, everything feels so laboured and ‘functional’ that we never really get a chance to be excited by what we are witnessing. There was one tense set-piece that was really well done and utilised the age-old ‘grab the key from the sleeping guy’ trick. Unfortunately, it seems as though that emptied Leder’s glass of filmmaking flair right there. (Did you see that I made that rhyme?)
What about plus points you say? Well aside from Kim Kim Binks, the cast do a stellar job, especially Bernard White as Robert. Quite a few people get stabbed too; but again, even these horror parts are rapid and best described as ‘functional’. Each of the casualties gets a blade to the gut, before being hustled off the screen without a second look. Or mention. Or thought. There’s no variety in the killer’s MO and no suspense in the build up. Come to think of it, Babydoll Murders from Leder was exactly the same. “Hey, Luisito… I thought you were talking about the plus points bro?” Okaaaaaaaay, ok… Well to be fair, it’s not a total failure and I was interested to see how it finished. You could say that it’s like the film equivalent of a cheese sandwich. What was that word again? Oh yes… FUNCTIONAL. (Dictionary check: functional adj [ˈfʌŋkʃənəl]1. practical rather than decorative)
I watched Bodycount in three parts. The first time I stopped it because my eyes came over really heavy and I dozed off; whilst the second was because I heard the ice cream van outside. So basically, it couldn’t compete with a king cone and a flake. Make of that what you will.
Blood Splash 1981
aka Nightmare aka Nightmare’s in a Damaged Brain
Directed by: Romano Scavolini
Starring: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, Danny Ronan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During the eighties slasher boom, there were two different styles that launched successfully from the initial template. Whilst the multitude of genre entries would focus on an undeveloped identity for their boogeymen and build their plot structures on the characterisation of their victims, there were a few that took the opposite cinematic approach. I’ve always thought that making your central character the antagonist is an intriguing idea, but possibly the toughest to convey in a workable concept. It’s not easy to establish a favourable personality for a homicidal maniac; especially when he must carry the entire feature as the lead. It could be said that the key strength that made the synopsis for Halloween so successful was the lack of clarity for Michael Myers’ identity and motives. Just why did he want to kill Laurie Strode? Why did he get up after being shot six times by Sam Loomis? We never got to find out, and that was an ingenious touch from Carpenter. A touch of surrealist or openness from a screenplay can attract much interest and lengthy post-movie debate amongst audiences. Just look at classics like American Psycho, 2001 A Space Odyssey etc for further proof.
Despite the potential banana skins, a few features experimented with centralising their story around the characterisation of the main villain delivering mixed results. Whilst William Lustig’s Maniac can be credited as a genre classic, Bits and Pieces was shoddy and forgettable. That’s why I was thoroughly inspired to watch Blood Splash, which after years of repression as a video nasty has garnered itself a gruesome reputation. I own two copies of the movie and each has a separate title. The first one I came across was under the title Blood Splash and is heavily edited, but the second is an uncut VHS that I picked up in Amsterdam as ‘Nightmare’ and it has all the gooey bits intact 🙂
In the opening few scenes, we learn that George Tatum was recently released from his asylum, due to the fact that his doctors have discovered a breakthrough cure for his violent spells of delirium and psychosis. The combination of drugs had completely cured the patient of his psychopathic hallucinations and his adviser believed that with time and measured access to society, Tatum would be fit to fully resume a normal standard of life. However it doesn’t take long for us to realise that his doctor’s hypothesis was drastically erroneous. This is evidently demonstrated when Tatum drops to the floor foaming from the mouth whilst watching a patently lackadaisical pornographic peep show.
Soon after, the clearly psychotic loner heads across the country on a personal vendetta to confront the inner demons of his consistent nightmares. His doctors panic when they realise that they have made a deadly mistake, and it’s a race against time to see if they can catch Tatum before he murders again…
Splash succeeds in being an unsettling, brutal and straight laced horror experience. It’s the kind of movie that does what it says on the tin. The Daily Mail-inspired campaign that launched the video nasty phase of the early eighties was unnecessary, because as human beings we have a choice. If you don’t want to be offended by a film that was created directly to shock, then don’t watch Blood Splash. In 1984 David Grant, a former UK porn producer that had moved into feature film distribution, was jailed for 18 months (later reduced to 12) for releasing a version that waived the 62 seconds of cuts slapped upon it by the BBFC. This was a harsh statement of intent to further enforce the video nasty ban and it was a ridiculously un-democratic way of informing us that Big Brother was watching and the establishment reigned supreme.
The movie itself is a uniquely conveyed mix of unthinkable brutality and gooey money shots in a dreary depiction of a descent into vicious madness. Director Romano Scavolini makes no effort to hide his inspirations, and the film references various genre maestros without ever directly stealing from them. In places, he impressively manages to mimic Carpenter’s skill of emanating terror from the background. By now you should know how it works: the camera is fixed on a focal point for a sustained time, but as it begins to pan you become aware that something menacing is looming into focus just out of shot. It’s moments like this that can make or break a decent horror film and Splash does boast its fair share of successful tricks and flourishes.
It’s not unusual for a slasher movie to have a cast that disappears down the long road to film obscurity almost immediately after release. The genre has never been credited for its emphasis on dramatics. However it seems somewhat harsh on the actors from Blood Splash as the majority of them do a good enough job. Baird Stafford was impressive in an extremely complicated part and it’s hard to pick any bones from his psychotic depiction. He delivers a gnashing, foaming portrayal of dementia, which rarely touches on the OTT. Without a doubt the film’s reputation derives from its copious amounts of gore; and in its uncut print the feature doesn’t disappoint. Tom Savini was credited as the make-up artist, although he latter sued the producers, claiming that he had only worked as a consultant. In reality the effects were supplied by soon-to-be Oscar nominee Ed French and his work was worthy of Savini’s name. The gory final sequence, which involves a messy decapitation and an axe through the head, has become the stuff of slasher legend.
Splash is not without its negatives however and they stem from the confusing plot. The idea to break the runtime into segmented days ala The Shinning was a good one, but characters are randomly introduced without clarification, which creates a story that’s awkward to follow. There’s also a lack of cohesion in some of the promising ideas that are hinted but never followed through. Our deranged killer shares an interesting relationship with the child of the family that he stalks, but it never develops as we are left feeling like it should have. The script hints at an altogether more ambiguous depth to the synopsis, but it’s not given enough clarification to go anywhere.
Some may say that Blood Splash can be rather tedious in its long excursions into the depth of the antagonist’s insanity, but I managed to enjoy Scavolini’s opus and I recommend it to be seen. It’s not one that’s going to terrify you, but it’s slow and brooding atmosphere can become quite gripping.
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: Michael J. Murphy
Starring: Patrick Olliver, Jacquelin Logan, Catherine Rowlands
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It is said by some historians that back in the times before humans began to travel and integrate, a name was thought to be much more than just a term of identification.
In places like Israel, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia, names were given as a pathway to destiny and could also be earned by acts of courage and strength. A person would be judged as much upon what they were called as a star sign today distinguishes characteristics for those that believe in horoscopes. Ancient Hebrew forbade the true name of God to be used in writing or speech and it was thought that his spirit could be summoned by verbally addressing him. Nowadays of course names mean very little and such superstitions have long been banished to memory. Kids get lumbered with the trend of the month when it comes to Christenings and I’ve seen everything from ‘Biscuit’ to ‘Rainbow’ to ‘Pilot Inspektor’. (The last one is Jason Lee’s son!). I wonder if our stronger, bigger-brained cousins, the Neanderthals had a similar society with identification for family/friends? It’s a shame, we made them extinct.
Michael J Murphy’s slasher from 1985 pushed two separate words together to conjure up the title, ‘Bloodstream’. Fifteen years later, Steve Jarvis and co from Cinematrix films coincidentally did exactly the same thing. What really stands out as a bizarre and inexplicable link is the fact that both films never secured distribution. So two motion pictures released within twenty years of each other in a niche genre with identical titles suffered exactly the same unusual fate. Could it be that their names somehow jinxed their destiny?
This is another a SLASH above exclusive and a total rarity that I am posting for your perusal. It’s from cult horror helmer Michael Murphy and British film has far too few directors like him. His style can be compared to that of Nathan Schiff and he has released well over twenty-five pictures on the smallest of budgets. Invitation to Hell and The Last Night are the most recognised, with the latter being considered by some to sit within the stalk and slash grouping. Whilst The Last Night’s place amongst the category is indeed questionable, Bloodstream has none of the same identity issues. It’s a slasher through and through.
When up and coming director Alistair Bailey is fired from a project by notorious VHS distributor William King, he believes that his footage has been left in the trash can. He soon discovers however that King tricked him and is planning to globally sell the movie that he spent ages working upon. As the lust for revenge strengthens, Bailey decides to don the same disguise as the one used by his antagonist and make a new feature. Only this time, the murders will be real…
Interestingly enough, Bloodstream is a project that was made with the mission to deliver a unique message to specific parties. Murphy’s career up until that point had been blighted by poor deals with shady producers, which meant that he had seen little financial gain from his experiences. He had been stiffed on both of his previous efforts, and so he created this ‘revenge’ story that sees characters similar to those that had wronged him getting slaughtered in the worst possible ways. Although it must have been a personal triumph to make his point so vividly, it no doubt contributed to the fact that the film failed to pick up any kind of release and was forgotten fairly quickly. It’s not even listed on the IMDB.
Shot on Super 8mm, the only available version is tough to watch even for a fan of the category. The quality of the production is obviously unprofessional in everything from the visuals to the performance of its participants. Somehow though, the strength of its creativity gives it some kind of escape ticket from the clutches of mediocrity and it touched me because it plays like it has been created as a back garden tribute of kind to the slasher genre.
The synopsis has no mystery angle and we learn the maniac’s identity right from the start, but it all manages to unfold in an interesting way. The killer is the central character that guides us through the story and even if he seems open to the idea of vicious avengement, he would probably have done very little if he had been left to his own devices. Instead, he is guided by a willing partner whose motivation is far more shallow. This relationship between the two is intriguing and well written. It made me consider the fact that there are hundreds of slasher films without an ounce of authenticity that are available to find quite easily. This one, despite its novel approach, remains locked away, which seems somewhat unfair.
The majority of the runtime is filled with ‘film within a film’ scenes that are blended into the story by the fact that our antagonist watches a constant stream of VHS movies in his bedsit. Murphy uses this as an excuse to pay homage (rip off) everything from Mad Max to Friday the 13th Part II, because we get to view everything that our protagonist inserts into his VCR. The director even takes on The Exorcist and other classics that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself. There’s no doubt that these are included as a form of padding to extend a minimalistic story, but the runtime rarely drags and the cocktail just about works. When the maniac finally begins his rampage, the kill scenes are bloody in the tackiest possible way and surprisingly brutal. The first one, which ‘borrows’ an idea from Happy Birthday to Me is edited and structured superbly and shows impressive technical craft from Murphy. Such moments made me believe that he most definitely should have been offered the chance to work with a bigger budget during his career. Dick Randall and the like may have missed a trick by not looking him up.
Bloodstream has a big enough number of victims and the right amount of outright weirdness for me to have enjoyed it. Whilst it can by no means be considered a good movie, it earns points for its peculiarity. I’m sure that now Michael Murphy has forgotten the financial loss and frustration at not seeing his project picked up for circulation, he must be quite happy that his VHS message to dishonest distributors has become a cult rarity.
Whilst I can’t recommend that you hunt this one out for its ability to generate even the lowest level of fear, it is worth tracking down because it is truly a warped take-on the slasher template.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √
Ritual of Death 1990
Directed by: Fauzi Mansur
Starring: Vanessa Alves, Olair Cohen, Paulo Domingues
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When the clock struck midnight on December the 31st 1989, we weren’t just signalling the final curtain for recent history’s most outrageous decade, we were also bidding farewell to a lifestyle that would never return. As time rolled on from that date, music would change so that someone could have a hit record without even being able to play an instrument or read a note. The introduction of ambulance chasing lawyers would offer a way that everyone could sue one another and we would all go on to become a generation of Facebook geeks.
Perhaps more important (well to people like you and I dear reader) than the steady decline of our social morals and networking skills is the fact that the superpowers of cinema had totally given up on the slasher genre. Aside from Mirage and Popcorn, I can’t really think of any other decent catalogue entries until Scream reinvigorated things some six years later.
When it came to hunting out production teams with their hearts still in it, the peeps leading the way were those from Central America. That’s right, after the close of the decade, Mexico was the new source for slash-tastic shenanigans from filmmakers with ambition and passion for the genre and they were still competently financed comparatively speaking. The movies from Rubén and Pedro Galindo and Carlos Ortigoza shamed their counterparts from the USA from this point.
But Mexico wasn’t the only Latin American country who wanted to pick up the pace now that the US had abandoned it. Brazilian porn director Fauzi Mansur made two slasher movies in the same year and both were flamboyant and audacious stabs at bringing some life back to the cycle. Ritual of Death is a tad more obscure than Satanic Attraction, but very similar in both its tone and delivery.
An ancient book that has mystic powers falls in to the hands of an actor from a play that’s looking for financing. Before long he becomes possessed by an evil demon, puts on a mask and begins to stalk and slaughter his colleagues one by one.
Ritual of Death is a tough one to judge. I had an idea of a rating in my mind and then I began thinking about it later and felt like watching it again, which is always a good sign. It plays exactly how you would expect a notorious pornographer to roll out a slasher; all excessive nudity and blood and guts. Oh and let’s not forget the sex in a bathtub scene, which involves sex, a bathtub and a recently severed goat’s head. If you think that’s strange, then ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of Senhor Mansur. A world where plot takes the back seat and dependence on bloody effects reigns supreme.
There’s a whole host of talking parts that still never become vaguely coherent after three viewings, but from what I can gather the ‘ancient book’ is a Native American translation of an Egyptian scripture of rituals that offer a blood host to the god of death and there’s a medium/priest (well I thought that’s what he was) who looks like a cross between Ernest Borgnine and Donald Pleasance in a bowler hat. Does all of that make any sense? Well who cares when you have strawberry ice cream coloured blood by the bucket load, a seriously hot Brazilian female lead and don’t forget the gooey goat’s head that makes more than one appearance.
As I alluded to earlier, Mansur loves to cover the stage with limbs and fake blood and the words ‘off screen’ are alien to him. There’s one outrageous death scene where a guy is squished by a fog machine on wheels and the maniac then goes on to use the propeller on said appliance to obliterate another wrongly placed unfortunate. You can see it above! All of the kills are strong enough to have got the movie banned in most countries and if exploitation is what you’re looking for, then Mansur is your man of the match.
There’s no real attempts at suspense or mystery and the characters are little more than body count material, but let’s be honest, you’re not going to invest time, money and effort to track this down if you are looking for a decent drama. The director is not a master of building tension and most of his shots are wide framed and simple, but its his effort to be the most audacious with his horror imagery that salvages his lack of more technical talent and he turns each moment of horror in to a carnival. When he is not dismembering his cast with creative methods, then he is allowing his bogeyman to pull off his own face or filling the picture with native rituals or shots of his possessed menace oozing vile green puss from his mouth. Sleaze and slasher aficionados will most definitely get what they’re looking for and it delivers enough for three movies.
As was the problem with Satanic Attraction, this has been very poorly dubbed for English speaking markets. It seems that they weren’t watching the film whilst they were reading their lines and they didn’t seem to be working with any kind of dramatic director. It’s a shame, because Ritual is better than that and deserved a more favourable global release. The poor acting ruins things quite a bit and I would have rather read subtitles and seen the performances in their own native tongue than had to listen to a cast that were unmotivated, poorly organised and not in tune with the camp spirit. This was perhaps the biggest negative about the feature.
Still, I was going to give this a one star rating, but after a while, I began thinking that it deserves two. Hell, I’ll give it two and a half. It’s not the most clearly structured movie on the planet, but if you are going to watch an exploitation piece by a notorious porn merchant and expect it to be Citizen Kane, then it’s you who needs to re-evaluate your expectations, not our good friend Fauzi…
Final Girl √√
New Year’s Evil 1980
Directed by: Emmett Alston
Starring: Kip Niven, Roz Kelly, Chris Wallace
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
New Years Eve being the day that it is, it’s surprising that there are not as many slashers on that date as there are on Christmas for example. Terror Train is set on the 31st of December, but it pays more attention to its locomotive setting, which is understandable. Emmet Alston’s entry is by far the most theme driven of the peak period slashers and so I thought I’d check it out for y’all.
It was brought to the screen by Yoraham Globus and Menahem Golan who between them have produced well over 150 films. The cousins moved to LA in 1979 and took over the independent studio, Cannon Films. Their output of mid-budgeted motion pictures were always cash-ins on lucrative trends, moving from martial arts (¡Viva American Ninja! The Dudikoff classic I watched a million times as a kid) to out-and-out action and most recently drama back in their native Israel. As they had a keen eye for what’s hot at the box office, they obviously have a couple of slashers under their belts, including, Hospital Massacre and this little beauty, which was an early band wagon jumper.
Despite its release date, New Year’s Evil is no clone of Halloween. It boasts an intriguing concept, which works to make the most of its calendar date. After the intro, we meet the self-proclaimed ‘lady of rock’, Diane Sullivan. She’s hosting a punk TV show, which offers a separate countdown to the big moment for each US time zone. Viewers are invited to phone in for requests as the bands play, but the first call Diane receives is from a mysterious stranger called, ‘Evil’. He threatens that on each strike of 12, he will kill someone and he promises that his final victim will be the host herself. As the bodies pile up, it’s left up to the Police to prevent a New Years massacre…
With a loony who is constantly on-screen from the first minute, a great method for building suspense as the minutes tick away to the murderous countdown and a comparatively high budget to make the most of its surroundings, New Year’s Evil should’ve been much more entertaining than it turned out to be. The problems stem from the fact that the runtime has the pace of a dead snail, but paradoxically looks like it was rushed through production at the same break neck speed that these actors disappeared in to cinema obscurity. It’s almost like the screenwriter came up with a really good concept, but the rest of the crew had no idea of how to do it justice.
Whilst Evil just about qualifies as a genre entry, there’s almost no stalking and very little slashing, which doesn’t bode well for a ‘scary movie’. My eyes felt heavy on the 55 minute mark and I rolled over and went to sleep, meaning that I had to watch the rest of the movie in the morning to write this review. We get a characterised antagonist that’s regularly on-screen, but there’s minimal fear factor surrounding him. He seduces the first couple of female victims and then wisks them somewhere to murder off-screen and so there’s no tense pursuits or jump scares. We do get a smidgen of a chase sequence about halfway through, which involves future Playboy bunny (and unbelievably cute chick) Teri Copley. She escapes the assailant’s clutches and hot foots it into the night and I was thinking that things might improve from there on. The scene doesn’t really go anywhere though and we soon slope back into the land of the lackadaisical. In fact, the only horror aspect that I thought was worth a mention was the killer’s awesome mask. I can’t remember him wearing it more than once though and the rest of the time they break the most obvious rule of all – ‘don’t give your villain too much screen time.’ There’s a twist at the end that you’d have to be unconscious not to guess and the fact that our ‘heroine’ is shown to be so self-absorbed that she pays no attention to her own son, means that there is no one to root for.
If I had the money, I would invest in getting this film re-made. I would use the gimmick about the different time zones, make the calls creepier like say, Black Christmas, and keep the killer off-screen or at least constantly sporting that creepy guise. I would re-write the twist so that it hints at the maniac’s identity, but I’d make it someone else (I know who, can’t say without ruining this one) and have a lot more stalking scenes and heavy breath POVs. The heroine would be a more traditional and give us a reason to want her to prevail, whilst the Police investigation would give us clues that create suspense. I’m telling you this, because I really believe that the basic concept is good enough to make a solid slasher, but through lame direction and a lack of spark, this one is everything but that. Alston would return to the slasher genre much later with the equally bad (but much more fun) Demonwarp.
Don’t get me wrong there’s plenty of cheese and eighties dumbness on offer, but as a slasher movie New Year’s Evil is thread bare. I guess you could get absolutely wasted and watch this on New Years Eve for a few laughs, but I think that it’s more likely that (like me) you will be asleep on the hour mark. I mentioned a remake, but on second thoughts, if I had that kind of money, it wouldn’t be me doing it. I’d be on a Bahamas beach in my Arsenal shorts surrounded by a bevy of beauties and as far away from New Year’s Evil as possible… (Just don’t tell the Mrs…)
Bits and Pieces 1985
Directed by: Leland Thomas
Starring: Suzanna Smith, Brian Burt, Tally Chanel
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s an interesting job reviewing slasher movies. Despite how it may look, I don’t only spend my spare time watching cruddy horror films and I’m actually a big fan of cinema in general. My favourite directors are Luis Buñeal, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar and I love the writing skills of Charlie Kaufman. The reason I’m telling you this is because a different form of ratings apply to me between slasher and ‘normal’ flicks.
Allow me to explain what I mean. Ok let’s take a well known movie; – let’s say Casino with DeNiro and Pesci for example. Now I would give that a three star rating, but on a SLASH above, I gave Killer Workout exactly the same. How could that be? Well because I have taken in to account the target audience and intended results. If I sit down to enjoy a big budget motion picture with an Oscar worthy cast, I expect a different kind of sensation than if I watch a David Prior cheese marathon. So in effect, a three star slasher is different to a three star top box office hit – catch my drift? As much as I love seeing a method actor wrap himself in a portrayal (Rourke, Norton and Brando are my favourites), I equally find haven in an ‘unknown’ trying to be convincing with his one and only shot.
So with that cleared up, we turn our attention to Bits and Pieces; a trash extravaganza that is as far removed from Scorsese as an episode of Sesame Street. Maybe, even further…
Note – I had to try to put in a killing, but most of them involve nudity, so this is the best I could do – but it is intercut with some non-murder plot stuff
Police have been finding dismembered corpses of young females around the city. It seems there’s a psychopathic killer on the loose. The maniac in question kidnaps women, dresses them in wigs and then kills them in his grimy bedroom. Unbeknownst to him though, he has left a possible witness. Will he be able to silence her before the police track him down?
I have recently learned that director Leland Thomas went on to teach filmmaking years after the release of Bits and Pieces and he uses this as an example of how not to make a movie. He informs his classes in part about the production before finally showing them the feature in its entirety. The producers put together the funds with the simple intention of cashing in on the slasher craze and were very vocal on what they felt was needed to make it a success. Apparently the final version omitted the majority of John Naulin’s gore effects, because the decision makers got cold feet about the explicit violence. As it is unavailable on DVD and very hard to track down any information on, it’s difficult to see exactly how much was removed. From what I have learned though, it does seem that it was jinxed by development woes.
The film itself is best described as a remake of 1980’s Maniac; especially in the way it gives the killer a lot of screen time and the viewer a chance to see the reasons why he has become so unhinged. The influences are most evident in the psycho’s obsession with his mother and the mannequin that he keeps stored in his apartment. Pieces is nowhere near as good though and lacks Lustig’s stylish direction, Tom Savini’s remarkable gore effects and even the twisted presence of a Joe Spinnell type actor. There are a few of this kind of slasher flick that differentiate themselves from the masked assassin synopsis that the genre is most renowned for. Others that include a characterisation for their bogeyman include, Skinner, Murderlust and Mardi Gras Massacre. It’s a much harder task to make a monster with a personality and dialogue creepy, but when handled correctly, the results can be genuinely effective.
Bits and Pieces is not one of those though that could be described as ‘effective’ however, and it’s pretty bad in all departments. It spends a long time developing its characters, but they are so badly acted that I felt like throwing my sock at the screen. The two leads enter different realms of awful dramatics, which are each as laughable as the other. Detective Lieutenant Carter must be on Temazepam as he has no awareness of human emotion and mutters in the same drab tone no matter what the situation. Then we have Rosie; our big-haired bleach-blonde final girl. Now she screams and cries and overacts at every given opportunity, but again it’s so rubbish that you just want to cringe. There’s tonnes of padding, which sees those same ‘stars’ falling in love and heading out to the beach a few hours after they have first met (!), but it looks drawn out and laborious because we have zero connection with anyone on the screen.
A slasher this low grade will always provide some campy comedic moments to lift the mood and there are a few here courtesy of the dim-witted script. At one point the police find a decapitated head in a dumpster and an officer tells our leading detective on the investigation that they have a positive ID on the killer’s number plate. If you’re expecting an immediate reaction, like putting out an urgent APB or for him to break from his tranquiliser-induced trance at least for a second, you’re out of luck. His only response is, ‘Ok great. I’m going home!’ I also liked the moment during the longest, least passionate ‘make out’ scene ever, when they finally begin to kiss and then suddenly, the girl starts crying. Whether it be intentional or not (I would say definitely not) it has a great sense of comic timing. It’s almost as if you can feel the thwarted lover’s frustration and him thinking, “Do you have to start the tears now, for gawd’s sake?! I was just about to get it on!!!” The use of musical accompaniment and effects here is also pretty funny. The score sounds like it was put together on a toddler’s keyboard and every now and then they chuck in peculiar sci-fi noises for no obvious reason in the strangest of places.
Some of the victims are abducted from outside a male strip bar and we get to see a couple of the bare chested, heavily oiled studs (although one of them is painfully anorexic looking) performing. I suddenly felt like I guess all slasherettes must feel when they have to sit through endless mounds of boobies in these flicks, so it was a moment of table turning from the crew behind this piece. The killer lumbers about in his shirt and tie, trying to be scary, but comes across as a bit of a wuss; and most of the gore that the producers left in was penniless. I did, however want to see this through to the end and despite teetering on the brink of tedium, it kept me interested.
Things pick up somewhat towards the final pay off and the last scene is quite lurid and mean spirited. It’s touching on torture porn more than slasher, but unsettling all the same. Aside from that, there’s not much here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere, but if you fancy a poor man’s Maniac then you can give this a look. There’s quite a bit of nudity, one really cute chick as a victim and some cheesy moments too. Don’t pay the extortionate video prices, but if it gets a DVD release, it may take your fancy. I give it one and a half stars, so not quite the slasher equivalent of Gigli, but more like Righteous Kill.
Final Girl √√
Silent Night Deadly Night 1984
aka Noche de Paz Noche De Muerte
Directed by: Charles E Sellier Jr
Starring: Lilyan Chauvin, Robert Brian Wilson, Toni Nero
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I find generational changes in acceptance really interesting. What will life be like for my kids in twenty years? Whilst it was ok during the eighties in the UK for popular comedies like, Love Thy Neighbour and Only Fools and Horses to use slurs that would nowadays be considered so racist that they would cause riots in multi-cultural Britain, the sight of a teenager getting killed by the cheesiest effect imaginable caused a censorship outcry back then. Present day, most of those same films have been released uncut, but some sections of the left wing PC Brigade will jump on you for so much as singing Merry Christmas too loudly in case you offend someone. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the common sense that the general public are fine with and it’s only those that are light years away from working class communities that dream up such rubbish.
Silent Night Deadly Night was a victim of the eighties political correct massacre. After TV spots that showed the featured bad Santa wielding an axe, the campaigners that were starving for a reason to rebel against something – anything, went absolutely mad. So much so that they picketed the cinemas upon its release, which eventually led to TriStar Pictures pulling it after a few days. It had taken more on its opening weekend than A Nightmare on Elm Street, which goes some way to showing how much its marketing had captured the imagination of audiences. The news of its controversial withdrawal gave the film much more publicity than it would have ever gained if it had just been left alone to become a collector’s item for slasher enthusiasts and guess what? Children would have still believed in St Nick and loved Christmas.
Roger Ebert was characteristically at the forefront of the criticism of the film’s synopsis, but Leonard Martin’s comment of ‘…what’s next, the Easter Bunny as a child molester?‘ was pure bandwagon jumping on his part. How do I know? Well he gave the similarly plotted Christmas Evil an extremely favourable review and called it ‘…a sleeper with cult status possibilities’ just four years earlier. Go figure…
After witnessing his parents murdered by a robber dressed in a Santa suit, Billy and his brother are sent to a Catholic orphanage. One of his carers realises that he is still suffering from the effects of the things he saw at such a young age, but she is powerless in her plea to get him some help, because the Mother Superior constantly punishes him for his lack of festive spirit and subjects him to regular beatings. Ten years later, he is given a job at the local toy store and seems to have put his demons behind him. A can of worms is opened when the shopkeeper, unaware of his history, asks him to stand in as Father Christmas in full bright red Yuletide get-up. This sends Billy over the edge and he sets out on a killing spree, still disguised as St. Nick.
Silent Night Deadly Night was the last ‘peak’ slasher movie to be backed by a major studio and some horror buffs believe that the genre ended with this piece. Vera Dika in her book, Games of Terror, states that the ‘stalk and slasher’ started with Halloween and finished immediately after this reached cinemas six years later. The trappings of the category are things that not everyone sees the same way and are dependent on individual opinion, but although I may stand alone in saying that Final Destination is not a slasher movie, I think that most will disagree with her in saying that everything produced after 1984 is not a slasher movie. If you can seriously tell me that Dead Girls, Intruder or Hide and Go Shriek are not category flicks, then we could have a debate that I am not going to back down from.
This, however, has no identity issues and is an out and out slasher in anyone’s book. The high production values give it a chance to really make the most of its concept and it benefits no end from some effective performances and crisp visuals. Robert Brian Wilson was solid as the troubled Billy and cinema vet Lilyan Chauvin was scary as hell as the sinister Mother Superior. Night differentiates itself from most of its brethren by offering an in-depth account of the bogeyman’s motives and it spends time developing a back story. You could be forgiven for feeling sympathy after such an unfortunate life of hardship, but the film opts to move the focus away from his plight as he begins his murderous rampage and on to more typical slasher ingredients.
In its uncut format, the killings are rampant and satisfying and I especially liked the antler impalement of a young (and topless) Linnea Quigley. There’s an ingenious decapitation of a teen on a sledge and the maniac’s chanting of the word,’Punishment’ as he murders each victim removes any mean-spirit and gives the film a more cheesy, fun kind of tone. He racks up quite a body count when he’s out on road and every murder is shown in gory detail. There are two scenes that must have really, REALLY peeved the hordes of placard waving do-gooders that set up the pickets around multiplexes. The first is when Billy hands a blood stained Stanley knife as a gift to a cute little girl who thinks he’s the real Santa (at first it looks like he’s going to stab her!). Then shortly after, a deaf Catholic Priest, who is dressed as Father Christmas and mistaken for our loony of the title, gets gunned down in front of a group of children. Catholicism gets a hard time throughout this picture, but you know what? I am Catholic, but I have a sense of humour and can take things with a pinch of salt when I know that they’re not intended to seriously offend. Why they got so upset about a cheesy eighties slasher is anyone’s guess.
The movie is very authentic in the way that it depicts Christmas. A few characters mutter sentences like, ‘I can’t wait until it’s all over’, which is a more realistic way of how some look at the expense and stress involved with this time of year. It’s something that you would never see in typical Hollywood exaggerated visions of everyone holding hands and counting the hours. The script aims for black comedy in many places and on occasion successfully delivers. Charles E Sellier Jr directs comfortably and builds a few well crafted shocks, especially with the Granddad’s speech and the ruthless murder of Billy’s parents. It’s fair to say that the film lacks any real suspense, which leads me to believe that the modus operandi was more to rely on gore and outrageous imagery.
Nowhere near as bad as the majority of its genre colleagues that this shares its calendar date with, Silent Night Deadly Night is a treat for slasher fans that are looking for a fast paced festive movie with enough of everything in its stocking. There are many turkeys that you can watch on the big day, but do yourself a favour and go for the one that is well roasted with the best seasoning… And if you can’t find Black Christmas, then give this one a whirl…Tastes all the much better with an alcoholic beverage and a good sense of humour (something the numbskulls on the campaigns didn’t have).
Final Girl √
Directed by: William Lustig
Starring: Joe Spinell, Carolyn Munro, Abigail Clayton
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Over one century ago (1897 to be exact) in the dingy back streets of Montmartre, Paris, an eccentric ex-secretary to a Police commissioner named Oscar Metenier, opened the Theatre du Grand Guignol. For 65 years, groups of performers staged one-act plays that depicted graphic scenes of murder, mutilation and torture. Famous works by authors such as Charles Dickens and James Hadley Chase were adapted for Grand Guignol and made into, some might say, horrific gore-laden masterpieces. People’s morbid curiosities kept the shows ever popular, all the way up until the Nazis invaded France during World War II. Perhaps because the French population was experiencing true horrors of their own, the urge to see such events portrayed on stage, quite obviously became a lot less alluring. The theatre never recovered, and it finally closed its doors for the last time in 1962. William Lustig’s Maniac is basically Grand Guignol for the cinematic audiences of the eighties. A movie that viewers of a quainter disposition will describe as depraved, demoralising and redundantly mean spirited; while others have touted its story telling as artistic, ballsy and daring.
Although it’s often labelled as a formulaic stalk and slash offering, it is actually a member of the sub, sub-genre that differentiates itself from the Halloween and Friday the 13th created format. Along with Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, Mardi Gras Massacre, and Don’t go in the House; Maniac offers something refreshing, by giving the killer characterisation and making him more than just a loony in a mask with a machete.
The plot portrays the life of Frank Zito, an insane and stammering psychological mess of a man, with more than a few severe mental health issues. His story unravels around his descent into madness, which stems from his seclusion and isolation from the outside world. He is a lonely, redoubtable character, with no friends or companionship. He spends his time alone with just his fragmented mind to torment him. His desperation to feel accepted by civilisation results in him creating his own ‘family’ from female mannequins. To add realism to their beings and to make them as human-like as could be possible, he furnishes their heads with the scalps of women that he butchers remorselessly. In the first ten minutes, an unfortunate prostitute is ruthlessly slaughtered for no apparent reason and the misogyny continues all the way through the movie. Nurses, models and innocent bystanders are gorily slain for nothing more than the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The creepiest thing about these murders is the fact that Zito has no apparent understanding of the results of his actions. He reads headlines, which describe the feelings of a city left in fear by his spate of madness and he watches news updates that inform us of the aftermath of his bloodthirsty rein. His reaction however is non-existent. He shows no knowledge of any wrongdoing, almost like he is unaware that he commits such atrocities. His mental downfall takes a U-turn, when he meets up with Anna D’Antoni (Caroline Munro) a photographer that attracts his attention for the first time when she snaps him wondering through a park. We finally get to see a thoroughly different side to his character: – a romantic, insecure personality that’s been buried beneath years of self-inflicted misery and emotional torture. There is a constant battle between two separate personalities that rages inside Zito’s mind and Anna’s fate depends upon whether the good or evil side emerges victoriously…
The opening sequence stays true to its stalk and slash counterparts, as the masked, heavy breathing Zito kills a loving couple on a beach. Lustig describes the scene as homage to Jaws, only this time the monster is out of the sea and on land, thus explaining the beach setting. It’s a well-handled commencement, with Savini adding the magic that he is most reputed for and Robert Lindsay’s competent photography creates energy that prevails throughout the whole movie. Body count material is introduced without any characterisation or development, but it can be argued that the story revolves around Zito and to him victims are only objects or playthings anyway.
I have always considered Bill Lustig to be a highly underrated filmmaker. Maniac Cop was yet another great movie, although I would consider this to be one of his best – probably because he was relatively unknown when he worked it. The parts that were filmed inside the killer’s flat are shot in complete silence, which effectively adds to the feeling of seclusion and abandonment. It’s like the viewer is inside the character’s apartment, but also inside his own remote world, where his loneliness has degenerated into an unrelenting insanity. It is added moments like these that make Maniac all the more creepy. The subway scene adds some awe-inspiring suspense, as Frank stalks a nurse through the station. Lustig does well to keep the atmosphere tense and the viewer is always aware that something is about to happen, meaning there is never any allowance for comfort in the fact that any of the characters will escape to safety. He also manages at least two effective jump-scares. The final Carrie-esque jolt is particularly memorable and adds the perfect finale. Jay Chattaway provides a superb score to accompany the visuals and Lorenzo Marinelli’s editing is equally impressive.
Although you could never call Joe Spinnell a fantastic dramatic performer by any of his pre-Maniac work, Frank Zito (named as a nod to Joseph Zito the director of The Prowler and friend to Lustig and Savini) was undoubtedly the part he was put on this planet to play. It’s a convincing performance that allowed the actor to immerse himself deep into something that he had researched thoroughly, accurately and he gives his character a vivid portrait of realism that was necessary to create the child’s nightmare-like quality that the movie possesses. Spinnell is Maniac and Maniac is Spinnell, there’s no doubt about it. It was his signature role. It’s impossible to imagine another character actor fitting the bill so perfectly. Not only does he play the part; he also looks and sounds it too.
He wasn’t the only one that hit a career high under Lustig’s direction though; Caroline Munro gave her most realistic portrayal too. Her career had reached it’s cliff-top in 1980, before she became a scream queen in less memorable flicks such as Slaughter High and Faceless, which would supplement her income well into motherhood. This also offered a chance to break away from the bikini-clad bimbo roles that she had been given up until that point and it gave her an opportunity to try something a little different. I strongly respect her refusal to do any nudity, which cost her a contract with Hammer Horror in the early seventies. It takes a strong woman to reject such offers for the sake of her modesty and Munro proved that she was just that. It’s worth noting that the pair were reunited two years later for Fanatic (aka The Last Horror Film), which lacked the gritty edge and invitingly sleazy surroundings of its predecessor. It still attempted to cash-in on the fame that Lustig’s film had earned from its gruesome reputation.
Maniac was filmed on super 16 mm and like the best slashers from this period it was shot for the most miniscule of budgets (‘under a million dollars’). A lot of the on-location work was staged illegally, without any insurance or authorised permission. In speaking, Lustig anecdotes about the exploding head scene (no less than Tom Savini’s, by the way), where they had to fire a shotgun through the windscreen of a car and then make a quick getaway, before the Police arrived to investigate the gunshot!
Munro was given only one-day to rehearse the script before starting work, due to replacing Dario Argento’s wife of the time, Daria Nicolodi. Admittedly, it does seem pretty strange that a woman with a name as Italian as Anna D’ Antoni, would be played by an English Rose; but she does a good enough job and is truly a sight to behold. Many, MANY countries rejected this movie on the grounds of its unnecessary violence towards women, including the censors here in the UK, who made sure to add it to the DPP list almost immediately. The Philippines’ board of film review was so outraged by what they discovered that they told the producers to take it to Satan instead of their country and went on to describe it as ‘un-entertaining’ and ‘unfit for Human consumption’! Of course, knowledge of those monstrosities, only made it seem all the more curious to youngsters that had heard such tales of unruly degradation and were eager to check it out for themselves. This helped to give the flick a massive cult following. Upon release, it became immensely popular, although it was heavily criticised for its brutal violence. Spinnell said that the blood was never on screen long enough for his creation to be considered too gruesome. He lied. – There are parts of the movie that are incredibly gory and blood-soaked. You’ll find decapitations, a scalping and dismemberment – if you can name a gory way to slaughter a female, then you’ll find it somewhere in here. Maniac is one of the only video-nasties that have managed to retain its shock factor, even after twenty-four years.
I saw an edited copy of this in the mid-nineties and was left totally unimpressed. Perhaps my attentions were elsewhere or I was expecting something more? I can’t be sure, but last night, watching it once again for this review, I found myself captivated. There are flaws, yes for certain. It’s unlikely that a beauty as striking, as Anna would give the time of day to a misfit like Zito in the first place and the end sequence is a little bizarre to say the least. But all niggles are forgiven when you acknowledge the effort that has been put into making this production as realistically as they possibly could.
Credit has to be given to Spinnell for believing in the project and his dedication and research into serial killers deserves recognition. Maniac has earned itself another fan and I believe that it deserves to be seen. There has never been, and probably never will be, another slasher movie so depraved and disturbing; so grab a copy whilst you’ve got the chance. It’s an innovative and daring take on the standard stalk and slash genre, which succeeds because it is just that.
Final Girl √√√