The Slayer 1982
aka Nightmare Island
Directed by: J Cardone
Starring: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The Slayer only manages to scrape its way in to the slasher genre with its heels dragging across the floor. Like Dead Pit, Hard Cover and Small Town Massacre; J.S. Cardone’s video nasty includes many of the prominent trappings, but tries to incorporate something slightly different. The majority of the runtime is pretty standard stuff as a silhouetted killer hacks off cast members one by one, but when the maniac is revealed to be a supernatural monster, Cardone stretches the realms of the category beyond tradition. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a tad of originality, but the stalk and slash cycle is renowned for its stringent similarities. This of course pushes titles like Pledge Night, Child’s Play and A Nightmare on Elm Street just outside of the equation. Much has been written about The Slayer’s obvious links to the creation of Wes Craven’s Freddy franchise, so I won’t dwell too much on that topic. But it’s worth recognising the fact that he certainly lifted a few plot points from this and the Frankie Avalon bore fest of the following year (Blood Song) to come up with the idea for his huge horror series.
Surreal artist Kay (Sarah Kendall) has been having the same reoccurring dark dream since she was a young child. It contains vivid images of a horrific monster that stalks her in a flame filled room. Even though the nightmare has plagued her more and more over the past few days, she has never been able to see it through to its conclusion. Her Doctor husband David (Alan McRae) has agreed to take her away on a trip with her brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook). He hopes that a little break from the pressures of everyday life will finally put an end to the restless nights. They have borrowed a beautiful house on a secluded island, which at this time of the year remains virtually un-inhabited. The rugged beauty of the isle immediately captivates Eric, but Kay is spooked because she believes that she has been there sometime before. On the first night they are warned that a dangerous storm is thundering towards the land, and it’s arrival sends the atmosphere into total chaos. The following morning when they awaken, David has disappeared, unbeknownst to them, murdered by an unseen menace. Before long, the silhouetted killer begins stalking the island with a pitchfork, looking to turn Kay’s dreams into a shocking reality.
The Slayer succeeds in being one of the few video nasties that someway lives up to its gruesome reputation. Robert Folk’s impressively orchestrated score keeps the tension running high and Cardone adds some neat directorial touches that build a few satisfying scares throughout the runtime. Although Richard Short’s special effects don’t stand up to the scrutiny of Tom Savini’s greatest hits, there are still some memorable gore scenes on offer. One guy gets semi decapitated in an ingenious killing that has surprisingly never been imitated over the following years, and there’s a decidedly grisly pitchfork impalement that is worth the budget purchase price alone. The film does drag somewhat in places, but some splendid scenes, which see Kay battling to stay awake and prevent the monster’s reappearance, salvage the final third. A good plot twist in the closing scene makes up for the somewhat brief showdown when the beast is finally unveiled. The net result is a movie that overcomes it’s flaws with a generally macabre underlining of claustrophobic doom.
Unfortunately, the years haven’t been to kind to this feature and the digitally remastered DVD cannot hide the numerous blips on the negative. The level of performance from the cast is really bad, especially the lack of emotion from lead, Sarah Kendall. Even when her brother and husband have been slaughtered she fails to look anything other than totally flat. At times, the script falls foul of the old ‘victim # 1 goes missing so victim # 2 goes looking for him’ shortcut, which shows a weakness in the screenplay. But the intriguing set locations and some stunning aerial photography keep things moving.
The Slayer is one of the many old horror movies that have been re-released totally unedited on budget DVD. You can pick it up for next to nothing on Amazon, so there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t. Eerie and at times downright gruesome, this one is certainly worth re-visiting.
Final Girl √
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Starring: Janet Julian, David Wallace, Janit
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I must admit that Humongous was always a slasher movie that I had a certain fondness for. Not because I remembered much about its production quality (I’d only seen it the once, many years ago), but it always struck me as one that had been completely overlooked, perhaps unfairly. Personally, I love an underdog and that’s why I was keen to see if I could salvage some positives from giving it another blast on my Plasma.
Director Paul Lynch had come hot off making a major success out of a relatively average movie in Prom Night and therefore the odds were looking good for a similar return with this, his second effort. In the end though, his follow up turned out to be not very humongous at all and a bit of a cocktail sausage in the popularity stakes. Despite solid distribution from a major label, it failed to achieve the standing of titles like Madman or Hell Night, which are fairly similar in their concepts.
After a disturbing rape sequence in the pre-credits, we meet five youngsters who are planning to go sailing on a huge lake. When their boat explodes after an unfortunate accident, they find sanctuary on a remote island. Little do they know that the land is inhabited by a woman and her deformed son who are not the most welcoming hosts…
A lot of critics (myself included in an earlier review) have written about the film’s poor illumination, so to save you from reading the same thing, I have decided not to go over it again. It could be argued though that Lynch deliberately attempted to keep his antagonist off screen for the most part and reveal him gradually as the film rolled on. It’s a ploy that is used regularly in horror features and it reminds me of the anticipation of having a surprise present in a wrapped box and guessing what’s inside as you shake it. You only have to check titles like Halloween, The Predator, The House by the Cemetery or even Night of the Demon to see that it works. In the case of Humongous though, photos recently discovered by JA Kerswell over at Hysteria Lives show that not only was the director aiming to deliver suspense, but his bogeyman’s make-up was definitely the kind that you wouldn’t want to have the best lighting rig in town for.
Paul Lynch has spoken quite openly about the film’s low budget, but the locations and earlier effects (the uncut dog mauling scene especially) demonstrate funding that looked superior to other titles released around the same time. Perhaps the monetary reservoir drained far quicker than expected, so they had to cut costs for the remainder of the shoot? I often wondered why the first on screen murder was so gruesome and the rest looked brief and diluted. I presumed that much like Happy Birthday to Me, the studio had shortened the death scenes to escape punishment from scissor happy censors. If that was the case, does any of that footage still exist? It’d be nice to know. Further proof of this possibility can be found in the double murder that cuts so rapidly that it’s tough to make out what’s happening. The majority of the runtime is comfortably edited, which makes it look even more unusual and likely that some gore was removed prior to release.
I was never the biggest fan of Lynch’s Prom Night as I felt it took the Halloween pilfering to the gatepost and then crashed straight through it. There are signs of the same level of imitation here, especially in the shot for shot duplication of the stalking sequence from Carpenter’s classic, where Michael Myers emerges from the shadows to push Laurie Strode down some stairs. This came straight after a scene where Sandy, our final girl, momentarily confuses the bogeyman by dressing in his mother’s clothes. This had been quite blatantly lifted from Friday the 13th Part II, which was released a year earlier. Whilst the reuse of ideas is extremely common in the slasher genre, Humongous overcomes accusations of being a freeloader by bringing a few of it’s own drinks to the party.
Some of the characters featured are intriguingly developed and filled with insecurities. The hero’s brother, Nick, is obviously envious of his elder sibling. So much so in fact that he fires a loaded rifle past his head for no apparent reason. Then Donna, a cheeky redhead, adds some depth to her ‘slut’ persona by conveying subtly that she uses her breasts and body to sell herself due to a lack of confidence and to get people to like her. There’s also an ambiguous hint that perhaps the youngsters had stumbled upon the island out of destiny and that our heroine was there to follow in the footsteps of the deranged mother. The final freeze frame shows us how the events that Sandy has overcome have affected her psychologically. This begs the question, did she stay behind to live in the house and therefore takeover from the deceased landowner? I also liked how the killer, who it is suggested had grown up with only dogs as companions, growled and grunted like he was in fact a mongrel himself.
Whilst the previous issues with Humongous still remain and the acting is up and down-ish, I really enjoyed watching the movie this time around. It’s obvious that Lynch had grown as a director and parts like the eyeball jump scare and Donna filling her bra with blueberries rate high up there with the other great slasher postcards. I think that the best achievement of all was the successful delivery of an ominous tone that wraps around the runtime like a comfort blanket and kept me guessing what will come next. Moments like this have been too easily overlooked due to criticisms of the lighting, which is a huge shame.
I have a lot more respect for this picture now and would say that it’s the best example of Lynch’s slasher work. It may never achieve the status of a cult classic, but there’s enough here to have made me glad that I saw it again
Final Girl: √√
Zombie Island Massacre 1984
Directed by: John N. Carter
Starring: David Broadnax, Rita Jenrette, Tom Cantrell
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
You know, choosing a title for a motion picture is not always such a tough task. Peter North has starred in a plethora of films with names like, ‘Anal Addicts’ or ‘Perverted Passions’ and from those combinations of words, you don’t need much of an imagination to predict the, ahem, ‘plot’. Keeping that in mind, when you pick up Troma’s ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE, it could be easy for you to follow that same logical thought process. I mean, It certainly sounds like there’s going to be a massacre; its obviously going to take place on an island – and it looks to me like a gang of Romero-like zombies are sure to be the culprits. Why else would you choose a title like that?
Well only director John Carter knows the answer to that conundrum, because he alone turned out to be the only zombie that was present on the set of this eighties miss match. Yes folks, for some unknown reason, what we have hear is an eighties slasher that’s branded as a living dead marathon. But even stalk and slash addicts will feel cheated because we swap genres once again towards the climax, but we’ll get to that later…
Things launch with the oldest and most common of slasher movie chestnuts. The camera pans in on the exceptionally well-endowed Sandy (Rita Jenrette) as she washes off the suds in a shower. She must’ve just finished mud wrestling in a sewer judging by the way she’s scrubbing those bazookas. Before you have the chance to say ‘hackneyed’, a masked intruder is on the scene creeping up on the unsuspecting female. Fortunately for Sandy, it’s only her husband Joe (Ian McMillan) playing a prank. As a consolation, the two head off to the bedroom so Jenrette can give us one last flash of her fantastic lady lumps. Next up we learn that the couple are currently in the Caribbean enjoying a pleasure trip with a group of tourists that for once aren’t teenagers. Along with Sandy and Joe we have an elderly couple, a pair of newly weds, two stoners, a mysterious photographer and a single guy and gal who look certain to join the couple’s list any time soon.
Part of their holiday package includes a trip to the remote isle of San Marie and they will be transported to the location aboard a coach that looks fit only for the scrap yard. Upon arrival they witness a voodoo mass, which sees a priest bring a corpse back to life using only goats blood and a few bizarre chants. The gruesome sacrificial sights are too much for one young madam to handle, so she and her hubby head off to the deep forest for a kiss and cuddle under the moonlight. That cues the arrival of an unseen menace with a spiked club, a murderous intent and heavy breath that sounds like a pig grunting over its chow. The maniac slaughters the two lovers before disappearing into the depths of the forest. Meanwhile, the rest of the holiday makers head back to their coach only to find that their driver is missing and so is the distributor cap, making the vehicle about as much use as a glass hammer. Luckily one of the travellers knows of a house that is situated nearby and the troupe decides to head over and bed down until morning. Little do they know that a psychopath is stalking them and it doesn’t take long for him to start slashing the tourists…
Zombie Island Massacre is a bit of a let down in every respect really. As a Living Dead flick, the lack of any actual zombies is a bit of a poo-poo, don’t you think? As a slasher it starts promisingly with a few tense shocks and creative use of the clichés, but soon withers in to an unnecessary climax that involves everything from a Colombian drugs cartel to spear chucking Zulu assassins. No really. Finally, as a gore film it looks about as gruesome as an episode of Sesame Street. The early woodland stalking scenes are fairly atmospheric, mainly due to the decent musical accompaniment from Harry Manfredini. He proves once again however, that he can only modify and pretty much reuse the same old melodies that we’ve heard before (Friday the 13th/Slaughter High etc).
To be fair the acting is passable and you’ll never ever guess who it is that’s behind the maniacal murders. Shooting things in a Caribbean setting gives the film an added vibe of seclusion for the victims and the sub-reggae soundtrack is somewhat refreshing for a flick of this genre. The maniac’s disguise is also worth a look; imagine a ninja that’s been covered in feathers and dragged backwards through forty yards of forest and you’ll almost have a mental picture. I couldn’t get a clear snap of him for you unfortunately, despite the fact that I did try numerous times.
Interesting killer guises and a fabulous setup don’t cover up the fact that it feels like John Carter set out to make three different movies and ended up chucking elements from all of them into one confused runtime. The net result is a frizzy mop of ineptitude with too many rough edges that cannot be smoothed out by the bizarre plot sprouts and Rita Jenrette’s amazing cleavage. The drugs cartel idea had – and still has – great potential and could be used to excellent effect in a larger budgeted thriller. The reason that I can’t give it credit here is because Zombie Island Massacre plays mostly like a stalk and slash flick. Well, actually, it’s a semi-stalk and slash flick that’s been marketed as a zombie gore extravaganza and that my friends is a bit of a faux pas. Earlier on, I mentioned Peter North and his specific kind of adult ‘entertainment’. If you’re a fan of this work and you purchase one of his features only to see Mike Tyson’s greatest knockouts when you hit the play button, you are going to be pretty disappointed. It’s not that you don’t like Tyson of course, but it takes something absolutely earth shattering to change human expectations. There were a few elements here that I felt were really well put together, but the fact that it’s been falsely advertised and erroneously marketed kind of leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
So I can’t really find much to recommend about this one then, which is best described as the living dead flick where the only zombie was the guy in the director’s chair. It really had the chance to be a great little slasher flick, but tried to be too many things all at the same time. Even Jenrette’s stupendous breasts couldn’t save it. What a waste. Perhaps she would have been more exciting in one of the Peter North titles I mentioned above? Hmmm…
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√
Twisted Nightmare 1987
Directed by: Paul Hunt
Starring: Rhonda Gray, Cleve Hall, Robert Padilla
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So you like clichés eh? Well, I’ll give you clichés alright. I’ll give you so many clichés that you’ll loose count before the ten-minute mark!
Twisted Nightmare is not a movie. It may have a cast and a crew and all the ingredients that you would associate with a feature film, but in fact it’s just a check-list of slasher stereotypes rapped up into ninety-minutes of cheap videotape and cunningly disguised as a motion picture. What, you don’t believe me? Then why don’t you check out this fabulous synopsis:
A group of ‘ahem’ teenagers head off to a summer camp (Friday the 13th) where a few years earlier, the brother of one of their number was burned beyond recognition by an unseen menace. (The Burning). Before the accident, he had been the victim of malicious bullying by the rest of the group, who tormented his inability to attract the opposite sex (Terror Train). This particular camp site is not the best place for a summer vacation as it had been cursed by Native Americans many years ago and it’s rumoured that the curse lives on (Ghost Dance). Before long a disfigured lunatic turns up and begins killing off the cast members one by one. (Just about every slasher movie ever produced).
Now do you catch my drift?
In all seriousness, Twisted Nightmare is an uncomfortably tough film to review. That’s simply because it’s a tricky task to explain exactly what went wrong with the feature. It’s not hard to write a mocking review of a bad movie, but it is harder to try and define the reasons why an offering so full of possibilities just didn’t make the grade. It would be easy to blame the rancid dramatics or the inane scripting, but the cast of Friday the 13th were hardly method actors and that was still an infinitely better effort than this. Slasher flicks are different from almost every other genre, because they can still make a profit or at least grab an audience without most of the ingredients that other categories of cinema take for granted. For example, could you imagine a poorly acted drama being successful? Or perhaps an awfully scripted comedy? Stalk and slash features consistently commit gross cinema crimes and still the production line of titles has only recently showed signs of slowing down. Keeping that in mind, I have tried to find out why a project from such an interesting team of low-budget titans ended up being such a flop.
Rumours abound that this was completed in eighty-two, but shelved for five years due to a total lack of confidence from the entire production team. Now aside from the IMDB, which is hardly the most reliable pillar of info, I haven’t uncovered proof of this anywhere else. For a start, the budget here was obviously fairly low, so keeping that in mind, why does it boast a better quality of picture than the much heavier financed Friday the 13th Part III, which was shot in ’82. It’s just not logical, which must mean that the speculation that the two movies were filmed on the same location at the same time must be either false or there’s a mix up with the dates. Another thing I noticed is that most of the cast had more than one acting credit in 1987, but none in 1982, which I think pretty much ends the argument. In my opinion, Twisted Nightmare was not shelved for five-years at all. And if it truly was, only very very little had been shot back then. If I had to guess, I would say that ’85 or ’86 is a more realistic possibility, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the IMDB have got muddled up with that info
If anything, Twisted Nightmare tries too hard, and due to the director’s insistence of ticking every single box on the slasher trappings clipboard, the movie breaks that age-old ‘less is more’ ground rule. Alfred Hitchcock once said that the key ingredient to the production of suspense is isolation, but that’s where Paul Hunt’s opus comes unstuck. His feature boasts an unusually high body count and there’s also some impressive gore sequences. Unfortunately, with so many characters getting butchered in such a small space of time, things get very boring very quickly and the deaths rapidly loose their impact.
Another negative is the film’s one-tone pacing, which never seems to change throughout the runtime. Characters get killed, characters get naked. Characters make-out and characters argue. But it all happens at such a snail-like momentum that that any attempts at a ‘money-shot’ just pass by without recognition. The plodding direction adds no bite to the suspense scenarios and an infuriating lack of lighting takes the credit away from the decent make-up effects. The script doesn’t help matters and the plot is littered with more holes than a hash smoker’s mattress. Cast members are slaughtered and none of their colleagues question their disappearances and some of the gaps in continuity are so obviously dumb that it’s almost unbelievable that this was the effort of a man with as much cinematic experience as Paul Hunt. One girl’s haircut changes literally from scene to scene.
Now part of these problems may well have something to do with the fact that the story’s writer Charles Philip Moore hated director Paul Hunt with a passion. They did work together again on Demon Wind in 1990, but the animosity was high enough for them to deliver unflattering comments to the press. After the release of the movie and the negative reception and lack of success took its effect, Moore struck the cruellest of blows in defence of his involvement many years later, by stating, “Twisted Nightmare is the sorriest piece of drek ever put on film. When Hunt wasn’t bombed on coke he was coming down with hash. He hired inexperienced wannabes just so he could screw them out of their pay”. Even if Hunt did not get the chance to respond, he did once write that, “I personally hate horror films and did Twisted Nightmare as a favor for Ed DePriest.” So there you go.
If you take an experienced director, a good budget, an excellent location, some great gore effects, a group of ambitious cast members and still end up with a feature as jumbled as this, then something is very, very wrong. The above proves comments prove things weren’t going swimmingly in the production camp.
On the plus side, as I mentioned earlier there’s some decent gore, including a deer antler impalement and one guy gets his head pushed off, which is hokey, but fun all the same. Nightmare also seems to generate an eighties feel much better than many of its counterparts from the period. There are mullets, bubble perms, bad metal tracks, boobies, elastic belts, bright tops and muscles by the bucket load. Let’s not beat about the bush, this feature is absolute tosh. But I know you dear reader. I know you better than you think. You like cheese. You like bad acting and blood. You like disfigured killers that growl like bears and stare through windows whilst breathing like they’re having asthma attacks. As you know that I know this, then I am going to recommend that you give Twisted Nightmare a shot. It’s bad, but bad in the way that we all love…
Killer Guise: √√
The Forest 1982
aka Terror in the Forest
Directed by: Don Jones
Starring: Gary Kent, Dean Russell, Tomi Barrett
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Another of the numerous backwoods Friday the 13th inspired slasher flicks, The Forest was for sure aware of what audience it was looking to target. With that said though, it is no typical slasher by the numbers. In fact, some peeps doubt whether it is actually a slasher flick at all, due to it being somewhat authentic with its storytelling. There’s no teens here, no T&A, no have sex and die, no masks and no campfire tales. Its lack of convention makes it somewhat of an outsider amongst the titles that it has become classified alongside, but it has enough of the things that are needed to give it the privilege of a review by myself and a place amongst its brethren on the a SLASH above hall of fame
It was the work of Don Jones, another exploitation director who had seen a potential profit burger in the slasher boom during the early eighties. Jones was a pretty good boxer before he caught the movie bug and his career certainly started well with two sleazy pieces in as many years that are now considered by some to be cult classics. When he pencilled the script for this project, he struggled initially to find investors and therefore had to mortgage his house for the $43,000 needed to get it made. Unfortunately, although that minimal funding covered the production, it didn’t leave him with enough to finish the film and that’s where the problems really began.
An outside contact was recommended to Jones as a good editor to patch together his footage, but he realigned the script to make the entire story in to a kind of flashback sequence. When a would be investor watched the net result, he was astounded at how poor it was and The Forest remained without distribution. Jones is still furious about what happened. Not only because it left him back at square one, but also because he lost his mortgaged house during the wait. Eventually, after a third and final cut, a deal was finally secured and the movie was set for release. There was still a tiny problem though. Don Jones has never seen a cent of the payment.
A pair of married couples head off to the forest for a camping weekend. On their way, they pass through an area where we saw two backpackers were slaughtered by an unseen menace in the opening sequence. Before long they begin to discover that things aren’t what they seem in the woodland and they have to pit their wits against a vicious cannibalistic killer…
As I have alluded to earlier, The Forest plays like it was made by someone who wanted to shoot a slasher flick, but hadn’t spent too much time researching the category’s trappings. It’s either that or Jones went all out to bring something new to the grouping, which he later hinted was truly the case. Whereas the most common methodology for these features is to have a killer that remains clouded in mystery, or at least off screen for the majority of the runtime, Jones’ effort introduces its antagonist very early and gives him a share of the screen time. It is this authenticity that allows for a couple of very interesting scenes. One of them sees two of the campers – that are unaware as of yet that there is any danger – sit down with the nut job to chat and shelter from a rain storm. It is not that it is a great piece of cinematic delivery by any means, but it’s an intriguing set up. Even more so as it includes one of the guys eating a piece of his wife’s corpse that’s been cooking over a camp fire. He has absolutely no idea of what he is munching on of course, but it’s made quite haunting because he gets a sudden chill, as if deep down inside or perhaps spiritually, he knows what he has just done. These kind of moments show great creativity from the script.
Alongside the backwoods loon of the title, we also get another unexpected addition that’s alien to the template. There are three ghosts that pop up and are key to the movement of the story and despite them not being a real threat to the campers, they do add something else that’s rather unique. One of them is the maniac’s cheating wife, whilst the other two are his children. The killer’s motive also makes sense and adds pathos to his situation. He hunts humans for food, although the movie never explains why he doesn’t go for deer or another wild animal. Perhaps he lacked the physicality to catch such prey or maybe human skin tastes better? It’s not really important though, because I guess what we needed was a reason for a massacre, which in effect we have. The closing sequence is also fairly unusual and moments such as these do deserve recognition.
Sequoia National Park proves to be the perfect location and the shots of the water, rocks and skyscraper-in-height trees are truly remarkable. The peculiar soundtrack is a bizarre blend of bubble-gum pop and various other styles that result in a mind-boggling combination. It seems to have been recorded especially for the feature and you can make fun at some of the lyrics, including wonderful lines such as: ‘In the chaos, the demons shout (what?)’. Oh and how could I forget, the opening orchestra piece sounds like something that you’d find in Lassie, not a ‘horror’ flick.
The acting, of course, is really weak and amateurish with little emphasis on setting any kind of suspense through the actions of the players. The photography is also quite bland, with only the odd moment or two of invention and energy. I enjoyed the inadvertently funny scene during a flashback, where the jilted husband makes quick work of his adulterous wife and then heads out to take care of her lover. We see a brief fight and then a chase sequence, which isn’t really fair because said hubby has an inexplicable ability to teleport right in front of his intended victim every time he turns to run somewhere new. He even manages to materialise a new weapon from out of nowhere! There’s very little in terms of gore on offer but the first three murders all boast different qualities. The opening two are fleetingly photographed with good movement and use of backgrounds, whilst the next slaughter some twenty or so minutes later looks really quite realistic and is astoundingly brutal. With that said though, it’s quite obvious as to why The Forest never quite made the notorious list of video nasties and it boasts no real special effects that are worth mentioning.
Jones’ entry is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination and offers zilch in terms of suspense, scares or tension. I did however have a lot more fun than perhaps I thought that I was going to whilst watching and had no idea what was going to happen next. Nothing can be taken away from an admittedly very unique story, a soundtrack that is totally loco and a knife clenching cannibal in a baseball cap. And I haven’t even mentioned the three ghosts! If that doesn’t sound inviting to you dear reader, then I am afraid that you are checking the wrong website. Oh yes…
Final Girl: √√
Honeymoon Horror: Director’s Cut Bootleg 1982
Directed by: Harry Preston
Starring: Bob Wagner,Paul Iwanski, Cheryl Black
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This peak period slasher movie is one of those that rarely gets a mention, which is quite strange as it has a lot going for it. Even if a honeymoon can hardly be considered a calendar holiday, it does boast a recognised setting that slots in nicely with the likes of Halloween, Friday the 13th, Graduation Day, Happy Birthday to Me et al. The killer has the whole burned to a crisp/Cropsy style thing going on and if you squint your eyes a bit, then the location could even be considered a summer camp! What more do you need I ask you? I hadn’t watched this one for literally donkey’s years, but when I got my hands on the ‘director’s cut’ I just had to give it a whirl. It was shot in 1981 and financed by a group of Texan business men. Most of it was directed by a Garland based screen and theatre writer named Harry Preston, but when the producers ran out of money, Preston was shut out of the post production.
The remaining decision makers became anxious at the film’s grim tone and ordered editor Malcolm Wittman to re-cut it with additional footage. Scared that they would be left with a feature that they wouldn’t find distribution for, they sold it to Sony for $50,000. This was pretty much the same amount that they had spent on its development. It was a fantastic bit of business for the media giant however as it went on to make over 20 million dollars in VHS sales. It still to this day has not been picked up for DVD release and this is because (a) the rights for the picture are owned by Sony and they do not sub-licence any of their back-catalogue and (b) the print is in extremely bad shape and will probably never see light of day again. If you have a copy on VHS, then keep hold of it as it may be worth something in years to come. The rare director’s cut version that I watched this time around, was a rough quality bootleg and is quite different from the other one that I have on the Sony label. I know that I am quite a generous critic, but I actually think that it plays much better and has a completely different tone due to it being what was initially intended.
We open on a secluded Island, a man catches his Mrs in bed with another guy and in the ensuing scuffle the house catches fire. The adulterous woman manages to hot foot it out of the front door with her lover, but they leave her unconscious hubby in the midst of the flames stating, “Let him burn”… One year later and and the widow is now remarried to her partner in crime, Vic. They have reluctantly decided to return to the fully repaired site in order to get it up and running and then sell it on. They are joined by three newly-wed couples who are renting cabins from them to celebrate their honeymoons. But guess who’s back in the motherfucking house? Yep, you guessed it, before long a flame-grilled hand is seen pulling back the branches to get a better look as only backwoods psychos do. They soon discover that they are trapped until morning and fighting to survive against the charred assailant with a machete.
First things first, this director’s cut excludes the tagged-on comedic scenes of the cholesterol-ly challenged Sheriff and instead opts for an altogether darker feel. Whereas the other print often cuts away from the horror to show the goofy antics of lard ass and his deputy (stuff like him eating a burger with a cigar in his mouth and acting like a general doofus), this one plays it straight and has a far more effective feeling of dread because of that. I didn’t note any suspense on the review that I wrote of this in 2001, but there was most definitely the odd smidgen here. Although most of the stalking shots were directly lifted from Friday the 13th parts 1 and 2, Preston does chuck in the odd good idea. I especially liked the killer’s revelation scene where he bursts through the door and closes in on his prey. The way the director sets up the dynamics of the shot and the distance, which makes the cowering victim seem so small in comparison; is no less than brilliant.
When the remaining characters realise that they are being stalked by a maniac, they do the right thing and attempt to stick together. The script does well to create a false sense of security, because they mistake the identity of the madman and believe that they have stopped him early on. I was sure that I’d picked our final girl when one of the bunnies started talking of her uneasy feelings and wanting to get off the island. Instead, she got quite gorily slaughtered, which was unusual and authentic. None of the cast ever really did anything else worth noting after this and for first timers, they did ok with what they were given. Bad acting is par for the course in a slasher, so it came as no surprise that it was all very amateur here. What I appreciated was the fact that they were genuinely likeable and showed concern for their buddies when the trouble started. They don’t really do enough for you to want any of them not to get splattered, but at least they’re not conceited ignoramuses of the type we see so regularly in new age slasher flicks. The feature is still weakened by a bloated mid-section and incredibly bizarre dialogue, which switches from comedic to bewildering many times throughout.
There are far too many pointless scenes that could have been either cut down or completely removed to have given the film a slicker runtime. It’s also very poorly lighted and whenever the action heads outside, it’s tough to see what’s going on. It is somewhat frustrating that the killer seems to take forever to get his butt in gear and when he does, the murders are edited so choppily that they’re tough to make out. There is some goo, but it’s not really shown for enough time to be appreciated and therefore seems pretty pointless. It’s also hilariously non-politically correct with lines such as, “Joe’s a little bit retarded and can’t speak, but if you need anything, just ask him and he’ll get it for you.” Retarded? Nice.
Honeymoon Horror is a poorly put together movie, but looks much better here than in the most common print available. Preston has said that the production was so awkward that most of his ideas were devoured by the lack of budget and the film does look shoddy and cheap. For a slice of regional filmmaking with a cool maniac though, it at least deserves to be seen. One thing that I forgot to mention. What a crap place to have a honeymoon 😉
Killer Guise: √
Final Girl: √
The Icebox Murders 1982
aka El Cepo
Directed by: Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo
Starring: Jack Taylor, Mira Miller, Manuela Jiménez
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
A lot of people assume that the slasher boom of the early eighties was mainly populated by the American and Canadian movie industries. Although in terms of major investment and quality of output, they’re right, but some of the craziest examples of low budget fun were also found in the most unlikely of places. ‘The slasher plague’ was a global cinematic epidemic and if you search hard enough, then you get to uncover titles such as Fen Ku Lou that were really unique and interesting.
Spain’s contribution to the genre is often overlooked, even though we were equally responsible for our fair share of output. The first offering to grace the category from España was Jesus Franco’s Bloody Moon, which found notoriety after achieving the cult status in the United Kingdom of joining the infamous ‘video nasty’ list. Hot on the heels of Franco’s effort was the equally bloody Pieces and the decade closed with Jose Larraz’s fairly decent slasher/mystery, Edge of the Axe. However, there was a film from that ever so fruitful period that slipped by completely unnoticed by completists and critics alike, which was called, El Cepo or The Icebox Murders.
It originally secured a small release on the long defunct Mogul label, which also gave life to slashers Satan’s Blade and Lucifer aka Goodnight Godbless. It never found an audience outside its country of origin and like so many of its less fortunate cousins from around that time, it soon vanished from existence. Eventually it became one of those rare gems that sell for big bucks to die hard collectors on Internet video-search agencies and eBay, due to their impossible to locate status.
Admittedly, the fact that it had become so obscure only helped to evoke my curiosities about the picture and an impressive and intriguing title also led me to begin a mission to track down a copy. After months of hearing absolutely nothing, finally, I stumbled across a VHS on show in a charity shop window (!) and simply couldn’t believe my luck. I picked it up and immediately headed home. On the way, I gazed longingly at the cover and hoped to discover if my patience could be rewarded with the bonus that I’d found an all but forgotten slasher masterpiece.
They say that when a film disappears, it’s never without good reason and they’re usually right with that assumption. But this time I kept my opinions open, because every now and then I’ve uncovered a rarity that’s turned out to be a whole lot more than I ever expected. The audacious cover artwork and blurb that offered so much, only heightened my spirits, so I slipped the cassette into my much-overused VCR and cracked open a chilled bottle of Smirnoff for the journey.
Despite the fact this was a Spanish production, the movie’s actually set in Paris, France. It kicks off with a girl running down a dimly lighted corridor. She’s fleeing a slow stalking camera shy maniac, who eventually catches her and puts his hands around her throat. She screams and then the shot ends. Cut to a news report, which helpfully informs us that she’s the sixth woman to be butchered by this unseen menace and it looks as if he has a taste for slashing beautiful young ladies and leaving their corpses in public places.
Next up we meet a prostitute called Chantelle who boasts that she’s found a goldmine in a man who buys her presents without wanting anything in return. If this generous gent (played by cult favourite Jack Taylor no less) isn’t an over-zealous advertisement for a could-be psychotic killer, then I don’t know what on earth is. He walks with a cane and his dress sense amounts to a pitch-black suit with dark glasses. This makes him look like a peculiar cross between a secret service agent and an especially morbid undertaker. The hooker pops round to his apartment and he informs her that he doesn’t like the way she dresses so provocatively. He tells her that she should give up that ‘ridiculous profession’ and he wants to whisk her away somewhere and ‘help regain her youth’ (Awesome chat-up line!). She agrees to the vacation as long as she can bring her friend Sylvia along. That night, Sylvia has a dream that ‘the undertaker’ has some murderous ambitions up his sleeve and the next day she remains wary of his true intentions. Soon we learn that he isn’t actually a grave-filler or secret agent by trade, but he’s actually a doctor – unfortunately.
They arrive at a mansion that’s conveniently secluded miles from civilisation and we meet another suspicious character that shares the spacious abode. John the twitchy caretaker takes an interest in the young ladies’ appearance, but is warned off by the solemn doctor, who beats him with the aforementioned cane. The peaceful serenity gets a bit depressing for the spirited girls and they head out to the local discotheque, where we meet yet another possible suspect – a smooth talking local that tries to engage in flirtatious conversation with the moody Sylvia. When they return later that night, she sees two silhouettes carrying a suspicious shape into the icebox. Could it have been a dead body? Do fish swim in the sea? Not a lot happens from here on out, it’s mostly just a whole heap of talking, which is painfully dragged out and mind-numbingly boring.
Eventually things liven up a little, when poor old John gets gunned down by an unseen sniper and Sylvie spies ‘someone’ with a decapitated head in his tool shed. Of course no one believes what she saw, and on inspection, it mysteriously disappears. Some time later, Chantelle discovers a collection of human trophies in a cleverly concealed cupboard. This results in the killer having to reveal himself and the traditional fight for survival ensues…
Right that’s it. Finally I’ve learned my lesson. Never again will I be enticed by a movie that has (rightly) been banished from wise-minded collections, thinking that it was just an unfortunate twist of fate. The Icebox Murders is as rancid as a geriatric sewer rat – and just as stinky! Even the title and the tag-lines are outright lies to trick unsuspecting victims (such as myself) into believing this could be an impressive premise for a slasher flick. The cover says that a maniac murders women and stores their bodies in a freezer. Total BS!! There’s just two on-screen killings in the whole film and the only corpse that’s found in the said icebox belongs to an animal – no fair! This isn’t even really a slasher flick, seeing how the second murder is committed with a gun, so I urge all genre collectors not to bother adding this one to your collection. There’s truly nothing here that would warrant even the most adamant fan to hunt it down, no matter how much you want to own every genre piece that was ever transferred to cheap videotape.
Let’s get this straight, now. This isn’t just a painfully long and irritating epic of nonsensical dribble with the oomph of a squished slug. Oh no, it’s flawed in just about every respect that a motion picture possibly can be. It looks to have been edited by someone using a seven year old’s ‘my first stationary’ kit, the theme-music plays randomly, with no apparent acknowledgement of the scene it’s accompanying and it boasts the directorial flair of gibbon holding an iPhone. By far the worst aspect of this monstrosity is the abysmal quality of the acting, which is best described as the dramatic equivalent of a Desperate Housewives blooper real. – Yes it is that bad. They could have packed the whole story in about twenty-five minutes of screen-time, which probably would have made a fairly watchable short. Instead it drags on – like a two-legged camel – for an hour and a half, as we watch a pair of marginally interesting females continually express their distaste at being cooped up in a mansion that they could have left whenever they felt the need to. Sadly, they were too dumb to work that out, so we have to look on as they (slowly) come to the conclusion that they’re heading for a slashing if they hang around the cane-clenching weirdo for much longer.
In fairness, it’s actually meant to be more of a character study or a slow paced Giallo and I guess it’s not really the fault of the film-makers that Mogul packaged it as a piece of slasher trash called The Icebox Murders. It’s Spanish title is El Cepo, which means ‘stocks’ that you put your legs in (picture to the left). I am guessing the Spanish filmmakers were trying to call the film ‘the trap’ in English. Trampa means trap in my mother tongue (Spanish), so I am not sure what they meant by the English language appellation, Icebox murders. Is it because they were stuck in that house with an icebox? I have no idea. I bet Mogul imagined that title. It must’ve been an ambitious marketing ploy from the distributor and an attempt to give the film more of an allure aimed towards the stalk and slash audience. In my review of The Ghostkeeper, I mentioned that the UK box art had absolutely *nothing* to do with the film inside and Mogul have done a similar thing here. They’ve taken everything that would appeal to the slasher genre and put it on the cover of a title that’s basically the equivalent of a boring and poorly produced TV movie. Even the music sucks. Another interesting thing is that I saw a VHS copy of this for sale on Amazon for $180 and a couple of days later it was gone. $180 for this is really quite an amazing price. If it’s become a collectors item, then maybe it makes sense, but if it was bought by someone hoping to find a forgotten splatter classic. Well, I would pay to see their reaction when the final credits rolled. It would have been a darn site more dramatic than anything that happened here.
As I’ve already said, this is not much of a slasher movie, which begs the question, why did I post a review of it? Well due to the aforementioned misguided marketing, chances are most collectors have already come across it or will do soon. I wanted to stop you from making the mistake that I made. Little remains to be said, except steer well clear of this misinterpreted, misguided and mis-advertised waste of a production budget. There’s really only very little to be salvaged from this sabotaged slasher, unless you enjoy watching how terrible Spanish fashion sense was in the early eighties. I was born and lived there back then, so I could smirk, but I doubt that any of you will. Especially not for $180…
I cannot warn you harshly enough about the dangers of mis-judging what lurks within the cover of The Icebox Murders. It’s as unforgiving as an ex-partner that you ruthlessly dumped – and you’ll want to avoid it just the same! Be afraid… Be very afraid…
Final Girl: √
The Prey 1984
Directed by: Edwin Brown
Starring: Debbie Thureson, Jackie Coogan, Jackson Bostwick
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
If imitation is truly a form of admiration, then Friday the 13th was entitled to carry an ego the size of a Brazilian rain forest during the early eighties. The success of Sean Cunningham’s opus led to an invasion of almost identically themed titles, which ranged from the good (Just Before Dawn) to the rancid (Don’t go in the Woods). Interestingly enough, The Prey was generally thought of as yet another of those bandwagon jumpers, but recent cast-member reports have suggested that it was actually shot in 1978, two years earlier than Friday, but was shelved for a few years whilst finding a distributor. I find this hard to believe as it is CLEARLY borrowing from Halloween and that was released in October of that year. If I had to guess an earlier production date. I would say mid-1979, which still pre-dates Sean Cunnigham’s opus by enough time to give it the benefit of not being a rip-off. Just to think, with perhaps a little better marketing and a quicker post-production, this could have been the one with ten sequels and a remake under its belt. Forget Jason, we would have had the disfigured cave dweller from this one to contend with…
After a muted release, The Prey rapidly disappeared under the landslide of negative media coverage that engulfed the genre during its heyday. Despite some impressive gore, Edwin Brown’s effort didn’t even manage to garner the cult status of an appearance on the UK’s notorious video nasty list, which added vitality to many of its undeserving cousins. Still awaiting a second shot at recognition on DVD, it looks as if this slasher has long since been forgotten and scrapped to the video graveyard.
The only available version of the feature is missing huge chunks of footage that had been filmed from the original script but failed to make it to the final cut. This includes a background story for the bogeyman’s motives and some gratuitous extensions to the gore scenes. The reason for their exclusion remains unclear and I would be interested to see a director’s cut, although that’s becoming more and more unlikely with every year that passes.
After a murderous and appealing opening, we meet a van full of kids that are heading into the forest for a relaxing vacation. They are welcomed by the Park Sheriff who becomes a key player in the plot and a memorable figure in the film’s poor reputation (more on that later). As they head deeper into the woodland, we are made aware that they are not alone due to the constant point of view shots from an unseen maniac. After what seems like a lifetime, the killer finally gets to work on the youngsters and it’s up to the lethargic sheriff to come to their rescue.
The Prey is among the most widely panned of the early eighties slashers, which is probably the key reason why it hasn’t yet been offered a stab at secondary acknowledgement on DVD. The first factor that the film’s critics set-upon is the use of a large amount of wildlife stock footage, which digresses somewhat from the ‘horror’ structure of the plot. Although certainly over-used, I actually felt that the shots of nature worked well to build the backwoods surroundings of the storyline and I never found it as irritating as most describe it to be. I actually would never have criticised or even noticed its inclusion myself if I hadn’t have read other reviews previously.
I said in my description that I would return to the Park Sheriff and rightly so, because he has become something of a cult figure in slasher cinema – unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. His self-confessed ‘phoned-in’ performance sets a tone that’s impossible to take seriously from the start, but he is most fondly remembered for three exceptional slices of unintentionally hilarious cinema. One bizarre piece of scripting sees him telling a rubbish joke to a faun in the midst of the forest, whilst another equally peculiar sequence has him playing a four-minute solo on an ukulele, which offers absolutely *nothing* worthwhile to the storyline. The inadvertent humour doesn’t end there and there’s a slow-mo chase scene during the climax that is pure slapstick. In fact, it’s probably all the more amusing because it was supposed to look rather creepy. And while we’re talking of the climax, I cannot forget to mention final girl Nancy (Debbie Thureson)’s contribution. The Prey, just like many of its slasher brethren, boasts performances around the level of a high-school musical. Thureson’s portrayal of a woman awaiting her fate from the maniacal assassin is so randomly offbeat that at times I wasn’t sure if she was joking. Perhaps it’s best I don’t mention the ‘good chow’ lines from the opening scene.
Edwin Brown attempts to emulate Joe D’Amato’s method of feature pacing, which to be fair is about as beneficial as a playboy using Eddie Murphy’s methods of contraception. The film drags along at the speed of a one legged tortoise and if it weren’t for the odd inter-cut shot of the heavy-breathing psycho, you could be forgiven for forgetting that this is a horror film at all. The score is a jumbled mix of ear piercing keyboard jaunts that sound like it was rustled up on a Casio keyboard and the photography is limp and lacks energy.
To be fair when the maniac does get focused on the slashing, the murders are lively enough to bring you out of your siesta and John Carl Buechler’s gore effects outshine the minuscule budget. It’s interesting for me that the things that most people criticise, I actually found to be rather credible. It’s almost as if the philosophy here was to build an environment through visual examples of wilderness desolation and a slow boiling climax. The problem is that we are not seeing the movie as it was intended to be seen, which means it is impossible to blame the director when a full cut may have delivered a clearer example of his vision. More than likely, this footage has long since been destroyed and will never resurface. This is a shame as there are parts of this effort that play really well.
The Prey is not gonna be anyone’s idea of a classic and it’s not my idea of one either. To call it one of the worst of the cycle though is incredibly harsh and I rather enjoyed watching it again.
You know, I used to go to school with a guy whose video cassette of The Usual Suspects ended before the last few minutes of the feature. When I asked him if he liked it, he said, “It’s ok, but who actually was Keyser Söze?” I realise that this might be an extreme example, but that’s why I’m never confident about rating films that are missing some footage. If it’s only a part of the vision, it’s unfair to judge…
Final Girl √√
Satan’s Blade 1984
aka Espada Satánica
Directed By: L. Scott Castillo
Starring: Tom Bongiorno, Stephanie Leigh Steel, Paul Batson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This will be the second time I have written a review of Satan’s Blade, as it’s a film I watched seven-years ago and rated it under an old user name on the IMDB. As I have said previously, I don’t get as much time to browse my old collection of VHS and as this is not on DVD, so it is not one of those that I could convert to MP4 and enjoy on my iPad. I have, however, recently had a little bit of time on my hands. Basically my parent in-laws are visiting from sunny Poland for two-weeks and as we only have two bedrooms (one with a single bed), I’m off to my mum’s for a little break. When the cat’s away, the mice will play and all that, so I watched Cards of Death, Moonstalker and Satan’s Blade one after another on my first night of freedom. Oh the debauchery!
Now as I said, I have already had a say on this dirt-cheap but alluring entry, but as the years have passed and my film-knowledge has grown, I have actually noticed that my opinions have changed quite a bit. Of the 700+ slashers that I own, Satan’s Blade always stood out to me, because of the cheesy but intriguing cover, which boasts a skull-faced killer in a cape holding a blade and staring out in to reality as if to say, “buy me young man, I will absolutely terrify you“. To a teenage boy, this was pretty intriguing stuff and back then, these young eyes were unaware of how much hyperbole eighties cheap video companies would add to their VHS covers. It’s actually pretty fun nowadays to look back on the amount of boxes from that time that had absolutely *no* significance to the film contained inside. Nowadays if Apex, Mogul and the like were still distributing movies, ambulance chasing lawyers would have a field-day with the false-advertisement claims. I bought an Argentinian VHS that I found in a shop in Spain, because I also search out most flicks in my country of birth as in general they are unrated and it allows me to see the complete version. In case you are interested, the blurb and tagline on that copy are equally as nonsensical
A group of ski bunnies and a pair of married couples head off to a cabin in the mountains for a weekend break. They soon learn that the site has a murderous past; with the most recent of its victims dying only a few hours earlier. Despite this, they ignore the warnings and book in to their rooms. Before long an unseen maniac begins slicing his way through the visitors one by one. But is there more to the location than meets the eyes?
Watching Satan’s Blade is a bit like hearing ABBA at an elderly relative’s birthday party. You know that its rubbish and you shouldn’t really like it, but as long as no one notices, you secretly do. To be fair there’s an absolute heap of stuff that is easy to criticize here, but what Blade does do well, it does very much so. Atmosphere is one of the hardest things to build for a horror movie, and Castillo manages to give his film a macabre, foreboding and somewhat ruthless feeling throughout. Borrowing heavily from Carpenter’s method of creating a daunting mood from the start, the continuous score – although monotonous – adds to the apprehension. There’s one scene, a dream sequence, which is so skilfully edited and competently shot that it sits quite comfortably alongside Curtains‘ ice skating murder as one of the best of the genre. Seriously, it is THAT good.
There are mountains of minutes of character development where not a lot happens and I’ll get back to that in a bit, but I actually felt sympathy for one or two of the personnel and was even disappointed when a couple of them died. When you consider the fact that ninety-percent of the cast were pretty rancid dramatically, to build audience sympathy is quite an achievement. As I mentioned earlier, the killings feel a lot more mean-spirited here and I think it’s because of their cheap execution (pun intended) and lack of gore. Compared to the majority of its brethren from the same period, Blade is extremely light in the blood department, but it makes up for that in the detail of the death sequences. The victims scream and struggle for their last breath and it’s much more unsettling than a gooey decapitation. So much so that the BBFC (or the film Gestapo as they were known back then) saw fit to cut out three and a half minutes of footage.
Also check out the bank heist, which seems to have been included for no other reason (in terms of plot benefit) than the director wanting to include a bank heist in his movie. It’s fast, direct and pretty mean-spirited, even though the cashier could have prevented everything by simply closing the door. It’s a very interesting way to start a standard slasher movie and I thought it just about worked.
The problems haven’t gone away over time however and the film still struggles drastically for momentum. If you want to see a ‘horror’ film, then watching bad actors go fishing and talk about ‘passing the bar’ can become very tedious very quickly and structurally the plot suffers. I have read the few comments from the cast that mention constant script re-writes and a lack of vision from the production team, which is quite apparent throughout. I find it hard to believe that there was no finished script, but hey if the cast members say so that must be the case. – Unless they’re a little bitter at not getting any money after this was released???
So Satan’s Blade is still not really worth tracking down unless you’re an obsessed enthusiast (hey, like me!). You have to question why the producer didn’t just film this on cheaper 16mm instead of 32 and invest some more cash in the production. An average genre entry that had the right ideas but struggled with the execution (yes I am using the same joke twice).
Oh and by the way – I still have *NO* idea what this has to do with Satan…?
Final Girl √√
Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas 1984
Directed by: Edmund Purdom
Starring: Edmund Purdom, Belinda Mayne, Alan Lake
Review by Luisjo Joaquín González
Don’t open ’till Christmas was the middle of the three slasher flicks from the short-lived Dick Randall/Steve Minasian production partnership and by far the most bizarre. Most of it was shot in August 1982, but after various creative disagreements, it was shelved, whilst extra footage was filmed and then spliced together some two years later.
After three potentials rejected the script, it was set to be the debut of Edmund Purdom in the director’s chair, but he soon realised that he was way above his head and so handed the steering wheel over to the story’s writer, Derek Ford. Ford shot a number of scenes, but also gave up on the project, so Randall drafted in someone who had experience of taking over the hot seat in a jumbled production, namely Ray Selfe. He was also given the unenviable job of editing the footage and making some kind of cinematic sense out of the misguided work of three separate visions, which was an incredibly difficult task. Many scenes failed to make the final cut and it is perhaps credit to Selfe that he managed to put enough together to get the film released.
Randall’s previous production, Pieces, had been a relatively successful entry and the mission statement here was most definitely to aim for more of the same. Make no bones about it, this is pure slasher by the numbers and has been given a Christmas gimmick for the chance of a big festive audience and a longer life expectancy. But what this flick does do differently is instead of having a maniac in a Santa suit killing off people, which had already been done, they turned it around to give us a masked psycho killing guys wearing that distinctive clothing.
After a Father Christmas is killed during a fancy dress party, the victim’s daughter and her boyfriend get involved in the investigation. They believe that the Police aren’t doing all they can with the mystery and before long, the killer begins to target them. With only hours remaining until the big day and Santas dropping like flies, who will be able to solve the mystery?
You know what? Don’t open ’till Christmas plays like it was the result of three opposing personalities that had thrown contrasting ideas in to a saucepan and hoped for the best. Hold on a minute; that’s exactly what happened! Ok, so seriously, this one is a bit like singing the words of Living’ on a Prayer over the backing track of Sweet Child o Mine at a karaoke bash. Before I was informed about its production woes, I just assumed that it was a poorly paced and rushed released mess, but now I know about what happened, it’s easy to see the reasons why it’s such a patchwork. Characters pop up here and there without any real structure and some scenes, like the hilarious twist revealing phone call between Kate Briosky and the housekeeper were definitely added in a lazy attempt to string the plot together. George Dugdale, the director of Slaughter High and the hubby of Caroline Munro, was involved in this project and got his wife to turn in a cameo in an obvious attempt to add some experience to the cast. She is on screen for two minutes tops (singing an awful disco oddity) and then vanishes like the sense of the storyline. The movie starts very well, with three murders in ten minutes, but from then on the momentum just vanishes and the fun comes to a screeching halt. It’s hard to tell what was in the original concept and what wasn’t, but the film is something of an enigma. It spends ages building up a possible final girl, only to brutally slaughter her and bring on a substitute who doesn’t fit the traditional characteristics about half way through. I guess that Randall took the real reasons that an interesting venture fell apart to the grave with him in 1996.
Christmas plays host to the worst chase sequence anywhere ever. The location is immense (The London Dungeon no less), the killer has an outstanding guise, but it’s just so poorly handled that it is far more comedic than it is suspenseful. In fact, despite boasting a huge body count, none of the killings are creepy, even though they most definitely have the potential to be just that. The movie does its best to keep you guessing and the unmasking scene is ok, but to be honest, the whole thing is such a crack handed knot that it could have been anyone. Hell, it could have been you!
The film aims to come across as sleazy and therefore sacrifices the fun factor that’s usually abundant in eighties slashers. One overweight Santa gets castrated in a grimy urinal whilst another gets his face burned off on a grill for roasting chestnuts. The gore effects by Peter Litton are surprisingly good, but got the movie in a hell of a lot of trouble with UK censors and I was only able to see the full version because I picked it up in Spain. It also has a rather haunting score; a kind of eerie take on Jingle Bells, which if used properly could have set a creepy environment. I also thought that the various masks that the killer used were pretty cool, especially the one in the picture below. Whether it was intentional or not, the atmosphere conveyed here is one of depression and the film, much like Scrooge, ignores any attempts at festive spirit, which means it is definitely not one that I could recommend to be watched this time of the year.
By far the worst of Randall’s eighties output, it gives the viewer as much of a headache as I’m sure that it gave the people involved in the concept. I like seeing London as a backdrop and lines such as, “Get away, go on clear off!” in a Bermondsey tone were amusing, but I can’t find much here to warrant a purchase. The grammatical mistake on the title card (dont instead of don’t) is only the start of the incompetence and the film never escapes its clutches thereafter.
Final Girl √