Long Island Cannibal Massacre 1980
Directed by: Nathan Schiff
Starring: Loren Winters, Shepherd Sanders, Jeff Morris
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Firstly I have to apologize that I haven’t been posting reviews at the usual rate just recently. I have had a few changes in my life and what with moving house, getting a new job and a gorgeous new girlfriend to slowly break down mentally until she has no other choice but to agree to watch slasher films with me (lol), I have been finding time a little hard to come by. So it’s going to be just the once a week for the meantime, but I do have some good titles in store for you. Thanks as always for looking. We are still growing month on month and I really appreciate that you keep reading my reviews. If I was a millionaire, I would send every one of you a double vodka Sangria and a Tortilla con Salchicha Polaca, but unfortunately, I am not 😦 Anyway… on to our feature presentation….
Long before Andreas Schnaas began walking the streets of Hamburg with a camcorder and a bucket of pig’s intestines and long before studios like Sub Rosa were releasing any kind of horror junk that they could get their hands on, Nathan Schiff was directing no-budgeted gore films that rapidly gained cult status. His first, ‘Weasels rip my flesh’, was a throwback from the cheesy sci-fi movies of the ’50s and it proved to be successful enough to give him the funds for a follow up. The resulting feature is widely regarded as the director’s best work as a gore auteur and it acts as concrete evidence of what can be achieved on the merest of funding. And boy, do I mean the merest. ME-ERE-A-RE-EST. A new lease of life on DVD has opened Schiff’s work to a wider audience, and interest in his back-catalogue has reached an all time high.
Long Island Cannibal Massacre is not a standard slasher film like the multitude of horror flicks from this period were, but it does include many of the trappings that were prominent at that time. The film starts as it means to go on with a gruesome and audacious excuse to brighten the screen with colourful goo. A young girl that we see sunbathing in a remote field is assaulted and knocked unconscious by a masked assailant (wearing a costume extremely similar to Jason Voorhees’ in Friday the 13th Part 2, which would be released the following year). The maniac drags the girl into the bushes and ties her arms behind her back, before disappearing into the trees and leaving her struggling on the floor. He returns with a lawn mower and gives us the first gratuitous murder of the feature. You can see it just above…
Next up we meet Inspector James Cameron (played by John Smihula, who would appear in all of Schiff’s films); – a hard as nails wild card with a bitterly poetic view of crime on the streets. He soon gets involved in the mass of murders when he discovers a decapitated head on a beach whilst working undercover. When he fails to get the support that he needs from the local constabulary, Cameron quits the force and takes matters into his own hands. The vigilante soon discovers a circle of torture, slaughter and cannibalism that’s stranger than anyone could imagine.
As I said earlier, this is not a typical slasher movie and it combines elements from numerous genres. The inclusion of a masked maniac and various cinematic references to Carpenter’s Halloween mean that it has enough of the right stuff to slot into the category and in effect on to a SLASH above. Instead of having just the one psychopathic killer though, the plot gives us a gruesome-twosome; and even they play second-fiddle to an altogether more abominable bogeyman. This is where LICM really separates itself from the multitude of its brethren, because its conclusion owes more to monster features such as ‘Scared to Death’ than it does ‘Black Christmas‘ et al.
Nathan Schiff is a gore director, and the reason anyone watches his films is simply to see as much blood spraying fun as possible – and on that note the movie doesn’t disappoint. It’s also worth noting that he does try his hardest to provide an engaging plot and in places the movie succeeds quite impressively and shows strengths where some of the more heavily financed entries that I could name, came up short. The revelation of the killer’s identity was certainly unexpected, and credit to the director for being so ambitious with his story telling.
Shot on Super 8mm, the picture quality is exactly as what you would expect, with the cinematography looking jaded and somewhat murky. Fortunately, Schiff wisely decided to shoot all the action under the security of daylight, which means the film isn’t ruined by a lack of visual clarity. The music was lifted from various bigger budgeted horror classics and it’s an enjoyable exercise for enthusiasts to try and recognise where we’ve heard those famous themes before. Despite the director’s lack of experience, he does manage to pull off at least one decent jump-scare and the photography is creative, which allows you to overlook the places where it isn’t completely clear.
In a feature such as this, the blood and guts is always the most important aspect and here it ranges from the outlandish to the outstanding. The chainsaw murder in the closing is uncomfortably detailed and kudos to the actors, because they took some huge risks with the deadly blades so close to their anatomy. Although there’s nothing here that would have forced Tom Savini to seek another profession, the effects are decent and gratuitous enough for fans to enjoy. If you ask your friends to act in your feature film, the performances are never going to win any awards, so I didn’t expect too much, but was impressed with the effort that was made, if nothing else. That’s neither here nor there however, as everything is just padding to give the plot an excuse to let the crimson flow.
So is Nathan Schiff an unsung horror hero? Not really; but if bucket loads of red corn syrup and dead animal’s internal organs are what you’re looking for, then his movies are a lot better than really they should be. He’s some way off being the next Lucio Fulci, but his cheapo style has a neat little personality and is fun all the same… As Samuel L. Jackson said in Pulp Fiction, “Personality goes a long way…”
Killer Guise: √√√√
Friday the 13th 1980
Directed by: Sean S Cunningham
Starring: Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon, Betsy Palmer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a known saying amongst film fans that the first actor that you see who plays Bond will always be your favourite. There’s most definitely some truth in this, because I watched The Spy who Loved me when I was about six years-old and Roger Moore, despite being nowhere near as cool as Sean Connery, is inexplicably the one that I like the most.
I wondered if a similar method could work on Friday the 13th films. Now first things first, I’m a massive fan of the franchise. I mean massive. I live in London, but flew to the US specifically to attend an advanced screening of Jason X when I had barely turned 20. It cost me an arm and a leg, but it was worth it. It all started because I was desperately searching for some more slasher action after watching Halloween when I was knee-high to a hub-cap. Back then, without the Internet, we had to rely on the stock of our local video stores for selection choices and there I found the extremely Michael Myers-alike back-cover blurb of Friday the 13th Part 2. So that became my first taste of the Voorhees legacy.
Straight after, I began visiting all the mom and pop rental shops within a 100 mile radius until I’d tracked down every single entry to the story. In Spain, Paramount distributed parts 2 to 8, but this film, the opening chapter, was released by Warner Bros. It could be because they didn’t print as many copies on VHS, but bizarrely enough, this was the last of them that I got to see.
Taking a browse around the other websites, I noticed that it is perhaps the most highly rated by my fellow stalk and slash critics in the blogosphere. Justin over at Hysteria Lives gave it a full five-stars, whilst Hud from Vegan Voorhees did the same. In my review of Friday the 13th Part 2, I said that it was my número uno of the series and one of the best slasher movies ever made. I have watched it at least ten times, whereas I’ve only seen this on two occasions and both were many many moons ago. I guess that the point that I’m trying to make is would a mind completely free of bias or any kind of sentimentality really call Sean S Cunningham’s notorious shocker the best of the collection? Is it really THAT good?
A local businessman has decided to reopen a summer camp that has remained in his family for almost fifty years. Previous attempts to restore Camp ‘Crystal Lake’ have always met with ominous incidents that began after the drowning of an unfortunate child. The following year, two youngsters were brutally murdered and when the killer was not apprehended, the cabins were closed and abandoned. Nowadays, townsfolk call it ‘Camp Blood’ and gossip amongst them states that it is cursed and so it has remained uninhabited since that fateful night. Steve Chrysty doesn’t believe in those whispers and has already hired a group of counsellors to help him with preparation for the grand opening. As soon as they’ve began to settle however, they are stalked and ruthlessly butchered by an elusive psychopath…
Whilst the filmmakers have admitted both privately and in interviews that this was little more than a cash-in on the success of Halloween, the key source of inspiration behind the picture was Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood and knowing that allows you to clearly see the nods and winks. Cunningham makes great use of the campsite location and the crisp photography laps up the greens and browns of the forest to give the picture a colourful radiance of a backdrop. After a brief (and surprisingly – keeping in mind that Savini was on board) gore free murder in the pre-credits, we get introduced to the first of our counsellors. What is interesting is that Annie, a bubbly hitchhiker, is given enough screen time that would lead you to believe that she could become our heroine. She’s sweet, fiery and sincere and offers something of a backstory to her persona. The opening scenes with her are intriguing because we don’t get a clear picture of what we can expect to happen. Crazy Ralph’s warnings are that ‘Camp Blood’ is doomed. Does that mean haunted? Are we about to watch a ghost story? Whilst of course we know now that wasn’t the case, the film does begin with a feeling like we could be up against something more supernatural than a twisted killer.
Victor Miller’s screenplay manages to break archetypal slasher movie boundaries even before they were set by killing off that first, well developed, character almost immediately and letting us know that no one is safe from the unseen menace. Whilst the world and their mother are aware by now of who the antagonist of this feature turned out to be, audiences of 1980 had no idea, and the story plays like something of a regular giallo/whodunit. Sean Cunningham didn’t get the breaks that would build careers for Carpenter, Craven and Hooper, but what is clear to me here is that he got the right performances from his inexperienced cast. Whilst none of them are given complex enough dialogue to really steal a scene, infamous moments such as Marcie’s Audrey Hepburn in the mirror, Ned’s practical jokes and Alice’s hysterical heroine were all pitch perfect for this campy horror classic
Once the night scenes come around, the movie really steps up a gear and delivers a genuinely dark and tense atmosphere. The backgrounds are shot in a tone that’s almost grey scale and the constant barrage of rain is a horror cliché that is used to the best possible effect. If Cunningham deserves credit for helping sustain a sense of mystery and suspense, the film really belongs to Tom Savini’s make-up effects and Bill Freda’s razor sharp editing. The pair create some amazing death scenes; with the impalement of a young Kevin Bacon and Jeannine Taylor’s gruesome end being two of the most memorable slasher murders of all time. Harry Manfredini’s musical accompaniment is powerful enough to single handedly change the mood and the poignant tranquility of his last piece, which successfully builds up to the closing jump scare – Jason’s screen début – is creative and unique.
When the killer is revealed and finally shows her face it’s a genuine shock, but also a bit of a cheat. The majority of the runtime sees suspicion point at Steve or maybe one of the campers but then it turns out to be a face that hasn’t yet been introduced to us. It’s hard to believe that this could really be the person that we have seen ramming axes through people’s faces and nailing counsellors to cabin doors, but once the final battle gets going, we just let the filmmakers take over and it turns out to be one of the best showdowns of the cycle. Betsy Palmer was heavily criticised by Roger Ebert and the like and Gene Siskel even went as far as to tell fans to write to her expressing their disappointment that she accepted such a poor choice in role. She was also nominated for that year’s supporting actress Razzie – one of the worst and most insulting things that can happen to any screen performer. Personally, I really enjoyed her natty Mrs Voorhees and think that she did exactly what was asked of her. That hammy as a sandwich schizophrenia is surprisingly effective and I just couldn’t imagine how the film would play without it. Oh and by the way Señor Siskel, Señora Palmer later stated that she received exactly 0 complaints through the mail and only letters praising her inclusion in the picture. So there :p
Friday the 13th is, for me, a four star slasher movie. It’s a suspenseful and exciting killer in the woods flick that has a couple of memorably edited scares, a wonderful final battle and some of the best character-driven situations of the entire genre. The only thing that it lacks is a solid central antagonist; or to be more clear, a Jason Voorhees. Of course though, we have to keep in mind that without this, we would never have had a mass-murderer in a hockey mask and the greatest legacies have to start somewhere. Whilst I am still convinced that part two, the first that I ever saw, is the best in the series, I have only the tiniest of disagreements with those that consider this to be their favourite.
Maybe it is just like what they say about Bond and that I saw the sequel first…?
Final Girl: √√√√
Night of the Demon 1980
Directed by: James C. Wasson
Starring: Michael Cutt, Joy Allen, Bob Collins
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Some of the video nasties from the early eighties were nowhere near as gruesome as their reputation would lead you to believe and half of the time they left you bewildered as to why they were banned in the first place. That’s not the case with Night of the Demon though, which doesn’t take long to let you know what philosophy these filmmakers believed in. We can safely assume that someone over at the BBFC was concerned that a contrast of images that includes a biker getting his ‘Johnson’ ripped off by a furry beast may be just a tad too much for public consumption. In the end, they decided that the best thing to do was to chuck this in a vault and hope that it quietly went away. It was resubmitted and heavily edited ten years later by ex-video nasty distributor, VipCo films. I found a copy on that label in a trade store on Regent Street, London. Imagine my unparalleled joy when I got home and watched it only to notice that it was time-coded and totally uncut. It turns out that I had discovered a pre-screener and it was a personal ‘up yours’ from me to the establishment. Sometime later I came across another version in Spain with a hilarious cover, which I have posted here.
In all fairness, director James C Watson is somewhat extreme with his over-use of visual suggestion. In the first five minutes alone, a fisherman is forced to a life collecting disability benefits courtesy of bumping into the ‘demon’ who was out on his rounds and hungry for a dismembered limb or two. The movie continues in this gratuitous vein all the way through, never bothering to add a touch of suspense or atmosphere development. Instead, it relies on grotesque images to boost the shock factor, breaking new grounds for gooey extremities.
The first scene takes place in a dingy little room that I guess is really supposed to look-like it’s a Hospital ward. A guy lays bed-ridden, with his face covered by bandages and plasters. Two doctors and a Sheriff discuss his injuries, stating that, ‘… his face is horribly mutilated (and) most of the skin is burned away’. Any man with his extreme medical condition must have some sombre tale of woe that (graphically) details how he ended up in such an uncomfortable position. When the lawman asks for his description of the events that left him so severely disfigured, he kicks it all off with the cheesy intriguing build up, ‘Those horror stories that you heard about the forest…they’re all true!’ So begins the flashback that will narrate us through his gore-laden adventure…
Apparently, the man without a face is Bill Nugent, an anthropology lecturer (a popular career amongst slasher alumni, I’m sure you’ll agree), that you could say is somewhat obsessed with uncovering the truth behind the legend of a murderous Big Foot. He and a group of budding students have decided that a journey out to the location where the stories came from should offer some clues to solve the mystery. They are to be joined on their excursion by Carla Thomas, the daughter of the unfortunate angler that I told you about earlier. She warns the volunteers of the dangers that lie ahead, by telling them the tale of a man who was brutally murdered whilst making-out in the back of a van with his girlfriend. The young woman who survived the murder was especially memorable, because she seems to think that portraying fear amounts to making ecstatic grunts that sound more like she had been sharing a bed with Ron Jeremy after he’d swallowed a bag of Viagra. Despite the fearful advice, the group decide to continue with their trip and head off in small boats down a long winding river into the wilderness, just like Burt Reynolds and his pals did in Deliverance.
They arrive at the destination and we get another flashback (within a flashback) that shows us the fate of a previous victim of the hairy beast. Note that our bogeyman actually looks more like an unshaven member of the heavy metal group Twisted Sister than any kind of rare big-foot mammal. This story involves a guy in a sleeping bag being swung round in circles before plummeting on to a dangerously miss-placed branch. The next morning, the group decide to interrogate the local townspeople in a scene that was most definitely ‘borrowed’ by The Blair Witch Project some time later. They’re told tonnes of conflicting rumours by the villagers, but every story that they hear has at least one thing in common: a hermit who lives in the hills and goes by the fitting name of ‘Crazy Wanda’. Apparently, she had a baby that was, ‘Awful to look at… deformed…a Mongoloid.’ The somewhat straight talking interviewee also gives us her opinion on what made the sprogg look so retarded. “It could have been down to malnutrition”, she comments. Erm… Okey. Now that they finally have a real lead, they head deeper into the forest and conveniently further away from civilization, which makes any sort of rescue attempt a definite impossibility.
As darkness falls, the group sit around a bonfire and discuss their findings so far. They learn from the professor that they’ve arrived at the point where years earlier a motorcyclist took his last piss in the bushes, due to the creature showing up and ‘copping a feel’ with horrifying results. Apparently in the edited print, the actual castration is totally removed. In the full version, it’s not that it’s particularly gory, but any male that’s watching will most definitely flinch purely at the thought of it. During the night, the campers are awoken by mysterious sounds emulating from within the trees. Nugent and his buddy investigate and come across a black mass, which looks more like a Country dancing festival, but I suppose it was meant to look really creepy. A young girl lies in the middle of the chanting crowd and we see that she is awkwardly consenting to intercourse with a strange fellow that looks suspiciously like Davy Jones from The Monkeys. The anthropologist immediately thinks that it’s rape and spoils the party by popping off a few caps into the sky from his trusty firearm. The revellers take off running in different directions, leaving the heroic visitors to head back to their tents feeling like they’ve done a good deed. As wrongful repayment for their helpful services, the next morning they wake up to find that their boats are missing. That means they’re stranded without any ammunition; – or in other words, doomed. Their luck worsens when two of the teenage students take a stroll under the moonlight for a spot of nookie, which is always a bad idea. Their fondling comes to an abrupt halt when the guy’s back is violently scratched by the killer’s fury hand (or should that be paw?). They sit round and chat about the assault, but strangely enough, not one of them seems to realise that they’re on a crash course for destruction if they hang around this area any longer. What more proof do they need? I’d hate to enroll at the university that these guys attended. I’ve heard about students offering blood, sweat and tears for their assignments, but as Eddie Cochran so truthfully said, that’s something else.
Eventually the hapless group stumble across Wanda’s cabin, which is situated in an area where a few years ago, the dumbest movie murder ever transferred to celluloid took place. Two girls are grabbed by Big Foot and bashed into each other unconvincingly. They’re both holding knifes in their hands, which results in them spraying blood over one another, because they didn’t think of ‘dropping the blades’. After a while, we’re finally introduced to the crazy hermit who really doesn’t help too much, because she’s been left muted by her involvement with the walking carpet. Before the remaining hunters even have the chance to shout ‘Help me Wanda’, old Mr. Grisly turns up and reveals himself to the unwelcome tourists. He expresses his apparent distaste that they’ve come traipsing into his area without direct permission, by surrounding and then violently murdering them one by one, in one of the goriest final scenes in the whole history of splatter flicks.
Watching Night of the Demon is like attending a horror reunion filled with parts that were ‘borrowed’ from the more popular films released from the mid-seventies to when this hit the shelves. We start in traditional Friday the 13th territory, with victims getting picked off in the woods by an unseen assailant. Then we sail into the realms of Eaten Alive with a rape sequence, which is watched by a baying gang of hillbilly crazies. Chuck in some Rosemary’s Baby, as we get all sacrilegious with the inclusion of a demonic offspring and plenty of satanic cursing. Finally we take a trip into the world that was prominently inhabited by Lucio Fulci around this time, with a gore-tastic showdown that’s not a million miles away from the House by the Cemetery. There are some truly blood-soaked scenes that have made the uncut version highly sought after, selling for big bucks on eBay. The most amusing of the bunch, is when the monster pulls out one gentleman’s intestines and spins them around his head like a cowboy twirling his lasso. Perhaps his true ambition was to be accepted as a hairy Southern wrangler? Hey, now there’s a plot twist…
The cast manage to offer nothing but putrid performances all the way through. It’s not like they’re bad actors trying to look good; they just aren’t any kind of actors at all. Dennis McCarthy’s music sounds like he dropped a vial of acid and then blew the flute over some Jazz that’s been played badly and the photography seems to have been performed by a guy with a nervous twitch because it judders more than a Sumo wrestler on a bouncy castle. Most of the characters remain nameless (and pointless) all the way through. In fact I’m sure that it was only the professor that was addressed by a title? The plot suffers from narration that’s about as much use as Stevie Wonder guiding you through a mile-long maze, and we never even find out a reason why the Big-foot has such animosity against human kind in the first place? It would have been nice to perhaps learn an interesting motive for his apparent hatred.
Despite the back-garden amateurism of the production, Wasson’s slasher film pulls no punches. Even if it is absolute trash, it’s fun trash all the same. I actually found it to be highly unforgiving with its level of outright brutality and the gooey murders do add something of a grim tone to the final scene. I’m no stranger to gory mayhem, but it does succeed in its excessive overindulgence. It is too cheesy to be taken seriously, but for such a low budget picture, the hokey effects manage to really unsettle at times. The director even manages a superb jump scare at the end that caught me off guard.
I guess that Demon most definitely deserves credit for trying something a little different from the majority of early eighties killer in the woods flicks. The POV shots and various references keep it tightly nailed into the slasher genre, but at least it isn’t just another masked killer on a campsite offering. If you want some gory fun then check out the UNCUT copy only. Alongside Pieces, The Last Horror Film et al, it’s become something of a Grindhouse dish of the day…. I am sure that you’ll have a good time.
Terror Train 1980
Directed by: Roger Spottiswood
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Hart Bochner, Ben Johnson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The girls and boys from Sigma Phi. Some will live. Some will die… Taglines don’t get much better than that now, do they? Thankfully Roger Spottiwood’s debut has a lot more to offer than just imaginative promotion, it was actually one of the best flicks of the peak period. Add on top of that the fact that it was the first post-Halloween slasher to set in stone the ‘revenge of the bullied nerd’ premise that would become a signature in movies like Slaughter High and Iced throughout the decade.
The three and a half million-dollar budget that was thrown at the feature acts as proof that way back in 1980, a lot of studios were serious about backing the slasher cycle.
To keep with the holiday theme, it kicks off at a massive outdoors New Year’s party where youngsters converse and dance around a bonfire. A group of Medical students secluded from the rest of the revelers set up a prank in which one of their colleagues enters a (smartly lighted) room to find ‘love’ for the first time. Elaine (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been pressured into taking part, although she is unaware of the full implications. Unsurprisingly, something goes wrong and they end up creating a maniac that’s bitter, twisted and eager for revenge.
After the credits have rolled, we see that its New Years Eve once again; a couple of years down the line. Doc (Hart Bochner) has arranged a party on a locomotive train and all the culprits from earlier have shown up with the rest of the students from their year. The theme is fancy dress and the mood is set when an old lady that works at the station comments, `With a party like that, I’m always afraid some kid’s going to hurt himself’. The Conductor (Ben Johnson) replies `I wish to hell they’d put a radio on that train…’ So basically once the wheels are set in motion, everybody’s stranded until they reach the next station, which is a fair few miles away.
There’s an uninvited guest aboard for the ride and he doesn’t take long to begin slicing his way through the guilty revellers. Can Elaine avoid him for long enough for them to reach the next station?
Let’s face it – any slasher movie with Jamie Lee Curtis at the height of her scream queen prowess has got an instant advantage over its peers. Here she’s got some decent support from Hart Bochner and Sandee Currie, who herself in the same year had been working on Curtains, which was released in 1983. Screen mogul Ben Johnson brings some class to proceedings. His ‘is it worth it‘ speech was especially memorable. Director Roger Spottiswood had worked previously as an editor on various movies, including Straw Dogs. Here he proves, beyond a doubt that he can handle horror and build suspense, which is especially tight in places. The parts in which the guards search carriages with very little light were superb and you’re always aware that the killer could strike at any minute. Doc’s deserved fate was exceptionally handled and it was fun watching the once-brash bully turn into a grovelling coward.
The silent-killer stuff still felt fresh this early on and even though we’re pretty certain who’s under the various masks (more on that in a second), there’s still an intriguing mystery, because we don’t know whom he’s actually disguised as. Could he be the creepy magician? Or perhaps the driver that disappears? The conclusion is not one you’ll easily be able to solve.
The maniac here steals and then sports the attire of his most recent victim and with it being a fancy dress party; he is spoiled for choice. A similar idea was visible in both Class Reunion Massacre and Hide and Go Shriek, but it is utilised to the best effect here. He dons some really disturbing guises, but my favorite was the creepy robe (well it looked like a robe) and mask that he wore in his confrontation with Elaine. In a fantastic sequence, the killer who is splashed in blood, proceeds to smash out the lights in the carriage with a spear, as he constantly pursues the petrified final girl. In terms of horror sequences, it’s a real classic and stands comfortably alongside the similar scene from My Bloody Valentine. Whilst Terror Train isn’t exactly a gore hound’s delight, it’s still graphic enough to satisfy most and it’s one that will stay with you after the credits have rolled.
Sadly there are a few flaws that prevent total praise, mostly due to the intermittent pacing. Terror Train has a truly terrifying antagonist, but he isn’t used as often as he should have been on a train filled with passengers. The between scenes mainly consist of obnoxious magician David Copperfield looking for excuses to give yawn-inducing magic shows or using them to try and score with Elaine. I found these parts to be an especially tedious form of padding; – padding that an otherwise slick film really didn’t need. They could have cut him out completely and just trimmed it to eighty-minutes and it probably would’ve worked much better. John Mills Cockell’s award-nominated accompaniment wasn’t used as much as it could have been. Such a great score should’ve had a lot more screen-time. It proved to be effective in working up the suspense and heating up the climax towards the end, when the flashes of brilliance made-up for some of the slower patches that were evident earlier on.
One thing I did find interesting were the various talks about trains dying out and how they would become just a memory in a few years time. Well, that was 1980 and over thirty years later, they’re still as over-crowded as they’ve ever been…
Terror Train mixes relentless gloom, compelling mystery and good performances to achieve fairly decent results. Everything’s neatly photographed and it’s a refreshing change to see a healthy budget put to good use in a slasher flick. Trains are a claustrophobic location anyway and Spottiswood does enough to work it to the flick’s advantage. I like it much better than the other genre piece that Jamie Lee accepted, Prom Night, but it still can’t touch Carpenter’s Halloween. Despite a very mean-spirited tone and some really dark and disturbing scenes (a vibe much similar to Class Reunion Massacre, which coincidentally has much in common with this), it is far too heavily padded with long, boring and unnecessary David Copperfield moments to be a complete classic.
Buy yourself a ticket if you love slasher movies, but don’t expect just a fun-filled high-speed ride. This journey will take you on the odd snooze-laden diversion instead of a direct line on the horror express…
Final Girl √√√√√
The Ghost Dance 1980
Directed by: Peter F Buffa
Starring: Julie Amato, Victor Mohica, Felicia Leon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Just a side note, before we get going. I pencilled this in 2008 and my topic was the terrible credit crunch that had struck the world economy back then. It is obviously very focused on the events of those times, but instead of rewriting everything, I decided to leave it as it was, because it is actually rather interesting that not too much has changed some four-years later.
As I write this review, the world is on the verge of one of the biggest financial meltdowns in economic history. My country of birth, Spain, has just guaranteed the savings of up to 80,000 Euros for every Spaniard in order to restore customer confidence. In the UK, a rumoured 500 billion of tax payer’s money is about to be pumped into the recently nationalised British banking system in a bid to put trust back in to the financial market. In Iceland, banks have already crashed completely, leaving customers without their hard-earned savings, whilst politicians in the USA are battling around the clock to to thrash out a saviour package. Things are not looking good.
Two weeks ago the Credit Crunch seemed a million miles away, but today I noticed that it’s starting to hit the most financially adventurous of sports, with London’s West Ham United football club looking set to be the first to feel the pinch. As investments crumble to dust, chairmen will begin to haul in the reigns and become less enthusiastic to spend on those much-needed squad reinforcements during the transfer window. We may be seeing the beginning of a total re-shape in entertainment as we know it.
That suddenly got me thinking, what if the Credit Crunch was to hit the movie industry? What if suddenly producers became bankrupt and it was left up to production teams with experience of delivering a feature on the tightest of budgets to fill cinemas on a Friday evening? Although that would be awful news for global viewers, it would be a momentous occasion for the slasher genre. You see for all their faults (and they have many), stalk and slash flicks are arguably the cheapest and easiest of any genre to produce. So if you don’t see the names of Nolan, Spielberg and Mendes on billboards in the near future and instead see the likes of Devine, Stryker and Decoteu, don’t be too surprised…
There was a time of course when a cheap slasher movie at the flicks was a common occurrence. Back in the inglorious days of the early eighties, titles like Ghost Dance were the ‘Paranormal Activities’ of that long-gone and thankfully forgotten era. Although that sounds bizarre in our current climate of multi-million-dollar blockbusters, history has a funny way of repeating itself.
Ghost Dance kicks off in trappings that we would see again three years later in Fred Olen Ray’s Scalps. A group of youngsters on an excavation raise a grave from the Californian desert and head off into the night with the corpse on-board their flat-bed pick-up. Next up we meet a crazy medicine man who seems determined to conjure the spirit of an ancient American Indian renegade from beyond the grave. After a hopelessly unconvincing ‘magic’ spell, the evil ghost possess the mystical magician and heads off into the desert on a maniacal rampage. Soon we learn that there is something more sinister to the killer’s motives as he begins closing in on our leading lady
Alongside titles that include the aforementioned Scalps, Demon Warrior and Camping Del Terrore, Peter Buffa’s opus attempts to inject the curiosities and intrigue of Native American culture into the trappings of the slasher genre that was all the rage in the early eighties. Back then, the cycle was still in a transitional phase and unaware of its stereotypes. This feature though, seems to already know the rulebook and underlines all the clichés that would become a trademark of identification in years to come. Despite making good use of gimmicks like the good-old ‘have sex and die’ routine, kudos must be given to the scriptwriter for adding a little puzzle and intrigue to the template.
A large chunk of the runtime is dedicated to the mystery element of tracing the origins of the maniacal assassin and although the ideas are bold and commendable, the story-telling does limit the space for occasions of glorious splatter. It does feel somewhat snooze-enticingly slow moving in places and the killer’s appearances are disappointingly sparse. When the psycho does strike, Buffa handles the tension surprisingly well and the score creates a mildly foreboding and at times impressively claustrophobic atmosphere. I especially enjoyed the murders in the abandoned museum and Ben’s face slashing was exceptionally gruesome. Although there’s very little in terms of grotesque gore, the killings, when they occur, are satisfying enough and competently handled by a capable director.
It doesn’t take long for us to realise that there’s sure to be a twist in the plot towards the climax and even though it may seem fairly ‘old-hat’ by today’s standards, the conclusion was fairly ingenious for its time of release. Native Americans are always intriguing and mystic characters for the silver screen, but hiring a cast of competent actors that carry the appearance, heritage and dramatic credibility is never an easy task for a film crew on a meagre budget. With that said, the performances here are reasonably good and credit to Victor Mohica for a strong turning as the leading man.
So this may not be a hidden-gem, but it is decent enough for true genre fans to appreciate. It seems somewhat unfair that whilst utter dross like Don’t go in the Woods can live on in the hearts of slasher aficionados, Ghost Dance has been largely forgotten. Slight problems with pacing do not detract from a decent entry to the cycle. I recommend viewers get used to watching this kind of entertainment…you never know when the Hollywood financial bubble could burst……….
Final Girl: √√
Directed by: John D. Lamond
Starring: Jenny Neumann, Gary Sweet, Peter Tulloch
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Right, the last review that I posted was the wonderful Italian slasher Stagefright and so I thought in order to add some alphabetical structure to the blog, I would follow it up with its namesake from seven-years earlier.
I said before in my review of Small Town Massacre about producer Anthony Ginnane’s mission to put Australia on the horror map with his Ozploitation efforts of the early eighties. Well it came as a surprise to me that he wasn’t involved with this Sydney based production, although I’m sure he helped to lay the groundwork for its release. Instead, it was developed and co-written by Colin Eggleton who would go on to direct the interesting Cassandra in 1986. The idea here was most definitely to jump on the express train to profit that Halloween had set in to motion and the references are plain enough for all to see. Despite not offering much in terms of authenticity, it is perhaps worth noting that this picture was the first to utilise a theater as a story location, which is something that would be reused in other entries as the genre flourished.
Stagefright or Nightmares as it is also known, has become somewhat of a rare beast and I don’t believe that it has made the transition to DVD or BlueRay yet. I have owned it on VHS for what feels like a lifetime, but funnily enough I’ve only attempted to watch it once.
So it begins with a typical ‘twenty years earlier’ prologue that cancels out any suspicion that this is not a Halloween rip-off. A young girl accidentally kills her randy mother in a car accident and then the credits roll. Move on up to the eighties and a group of actors are preparing for a stage show. Meanwhile it seems that a black-gloved assassin is working his way through the cast with a shard of glass. Who is the killer and what are his motives?
In the González household, we usually cook something really good during the weekend and then use the leftovers on Monday evening for a quickie dinner. It seems that no matter what we have, if you chuck it in to a frying pan with a few eggs and potatoes, it usually comes out really well. Stagefright is a similar exercise in juxtaposition and mixes moods that range from macabre horror to outright peculiarity. It’s an incredibly violent movie with a unique murder weapon. The killer always smashes the nearest window, mirror or glass object and then attacks with a large broken slice. We don’t get much more in gore effects than a splash of ketchup, but the film is incredibly explicit in that a large amount of victims are butchered whilst naked. By this I mean COMPLETELY naked. There’s a sex scene in an alleyway early on that pushes the boundaries for acceptability and there’s another gratuitous moment when the nut job chases a girl in her skin suit out in to the street. I am sure that if released back then in the United Kingdom, this probably would have been added to the notorious DPP list in a heartbeat. You could even call it the video nasty that never was, but most definitely would have been.
The reason for the large amount of bare flesh is because the script takes the have sex and die rule and amplifies it by a billion watts. The cast are a particularly randy bunch and when not actually making out, they are usually sitting around and talking about doing it. One character even tries to bribe another in to the sack with the promise of a better review and all this activity unsettles our psycho killer and kicks him in to action. There are quite a few slaughters that are spaced frequently and at eighty-minutes, it’s too short to get you bored. The fact that everything’s filmed in such an energetic fashion means that the mix of a frantic (and very good) score, unnerving screams and some wild photography blur in to something of a horror movie kaleidoscope. Director Lamond shows his inspirations by using countless Carpenter-esque heavy-breath killer-cam shots, which are great for stalking sequences. The thing is that most of the ones that he features don’t lead anywhere and therefore lack impact. Especially the pointless occasions that just show the psycho roaming around backstage. Yawn
The story is structured rather weirdly and pretty much tells us early on who the maniac is, but then utilises the Giallo style of just a black glove whenever he strikes. I was expecting some kind of mega twist or justification for the attempt at a mystery angle, but it looks like the writers may have had second thoughts about halfway through and altered the conclusion. This creates an obvious problem and it’s one that certainly leaves a crater in the delivery of the fear factor. You see, it’s very hard to build suspense when you have a menace that remains off-screen. Only maestros can deliver scares from an assailant that is nothing more than a hand holding a dagger. So why use that methodology if you’re not really hiding the identity of your bogeyman? It makes no sense. Add on top of this the fact that Eggleton seems to have edited the negatives with a pair of nail clippers and what we’re left with is a feature that doesn’t even attempt to hide its technical amateurism.
Even if he may be an awful editor, as a writer, Eggeton excels himself and his hilarious dialogue and intriguing personas are brilliant. I’ve done quite a bit of theatre and can confirm that the featured characterisations are spot on. I once read that celebrities are some of the most non-confident people on the planet and the fact that they’re swimming in a pool of insecurities up on the world’s stage makes them self-centred and narcissistic. The script most definitely touches on that and it means that we can have fun watching them get slashed. And get slashed they do. EVERY single one of them. The performances may not be earth moving and there’s no one really to bond with, but it’s still enjoyable enough to watch.
Ok picture this scenario. You just read my review of Michele Soavi’s Stagefright and so you see the praise that I gave it and go online to buy it on DVD. The retailer makes a mistake and sends you this one instead of the aforementioned Italian classic. None the wiser, you place it your system and hit play. Would you be astounded that I praised it so highly and email me to complain? I would say that probably no. You would maybe question my sanity, but hey; you wouldn’t be the first to do so. My point is that this Australian stalk and slasher is no rancid test of viewing endurance. It’s just that it doesn’t really do enough to make itself stand out. Not a patch on the other entry that it shares a title with, but it will provide you with some cheesy thrills.
Serious collectors should give it a whirl, but don’t go expecting anything outstanding. I mean, it could result in you getting angry, breaking a mirror and chasing some naked bunny out on to the street. I don’t want to be responsible for that dear readers 😉
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…)
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 √√√