Bikini Island 1991
Directed by: Anthony Markes
Starring: Holly Floria, Alicia Anne, Jackson Robinson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
There’s a title in my collection that I’ve been looking to add to this site for sometime. The thing is, it’s only available on VHS and watching a video is infinitely harder on my day plan than ripping a DVD and chucking it on my iPad. Last Dance was a belated entry to the category that hit video stores on the heels of Stripped to Kill, Slashdance, Deadly Dancer and the rest of those boogie/slasher flicks that strangely came out in mass around a similar timespan. Instead, I decided to review the same director Anthony Markes’ début feature, which is also a slasher movie and is thankfully available on Russian DVD. Good that I speak Russian – yay.
Released in 1991, Bikini Island is the kind of film that many men (me included) would kill to make. What we have here is a gang of pretty young women that are stranded on a desert island and dressed, as the title helpfully informs us, in next to nothing for an entire runtime. You want exploitation my friends, you’ve got it. The slasher sub-plot plays tenth-fiddle to more cleavage and bum shots than an Ann Summers catalogue. I had a feeling that I was in for a good time…
Swimwear Illustrated, the leading magazine for people who take their fashion sense and water sports seriously, are looking for five models for their anniversary issue. The women must represent the brand’s image and be beautiful, fit and presumably eager to whip off their undies. They head off to a remote island for the shoot, but after two days, they soon realise that one of their troupe has murderous intentions….
Although in reality this is not the case, Last Dance, instead of being a different movie, could have been a prequel or follow up to this. Both have an overdose of chicks in next to no clothing, both have an unseen mystery killer floating around and both have similar catchy soundtracks. To be frank, Bikini Island is the slasher movie equivalent of a Vodka and Coke that is 98.9% Coke. It takes us forty-five minutes or so to see the first killing and I had to fast forward through to check that it wasn’t just some cheesy late night drama or love story.
In the last half hour though, the maniac strikes. His weapon of choice – a kitchen plunger. No, seriously. We see in POV as two goons get ‘suffocated’ with said appliance and then he must’ve got bored, because out comes a length of hosepipe, a rock and a bow and arrow for the rest of the victims. Markes shows he knows the genre and attempts a rehash of the wonderful greenhouse killing from La Residencia. Minus the suspense, skilful photography, pulsating score, blood, shocks, superb performance and artistry, the two scenes are interchangeable. Our job of course is to guess the identity of our murderous psycho. To be fair, I had no idea, but that’s more down to randomness than brilliance on the screenwriter’s part. The final girl pouts her way through the last battle and we all live happily ever after. The end.
Despite its somewhat diluted feel, Bikini Island isn’t as boring as it could have been and it gleefully accepts the level of its ingenuity, which to be fair, is pretty low. The producers were well aware that they had a cast with zero dramatic plausibility, so they have conjured up a script that specifically allows for this. What I didn’t like was that they killed a real mouse in a scene that was fairly pointless and it is something that I just don’t agree with. What did the mouse do to them?
This was released a few weeks before Popcorn proved that the slasher movie was no longer something that young audiences were interested in during the early nineties. It still became moderately successful enough for Markes to find funding for his follow-up and it was something of a staple on late night cable for many years and still plays even today. It’s by no means worth spending time hunting out, because it is far too weak and corny to be a compelling murder mystery. It scores points only because it is as cheesy as hell and amusing in an inadvertent type of way.
The first screen that we see, boldly informs us that the picture that we are about to witness is ‘based on a true story’. Yes, that old transparent marketing chestnut that turns up every once in a while. I think we can quietly assume that they meant the ‘true story’ of a gang of models getting photographed and very little else. Pop-tastic soundtrack aside, Bikini Island is slasher by the numbers and as ‘lite’ as a diet coke.
Final Girl: √√
aka Monkey Boy
Directed by: Lawrence Gordon Clark
Starring: John Lynch, Kenneth Cranham, Emer Gillespie
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Now here’s a review that I never thought I’d be adding to a SLASH above. Could a feature length edition of a four-part series that was aired way back in 1991 on the comfort of a Sunday evening’s television really be classed a slasher flick? Surprisingly the answer is yes. I remember watching Chimera as a ten year old child and being absolutely petrified by the sights I was witnessing. Many years later as my love for horror grew, I often reminisced about Lawrence Gordon Clark’s opus and was enthusiastic when I discovered an ageing copy at a video store under the alias of Monkey Boy. Chimera had launched to much critical acclaim in the United Kingdom and I wondered whether it could survive the stark condensation from a four hour runtime to a measly length of a hundred and four minutes.
It launches with a suspenseful set-piece, which was drastically shortened from the sequence broadcasted on television in 1991. In its original format we were given a huge amount of development into the lives of the opening victims, whereas in this shorter version, the characters are slaughtered almost as soon as they are introduced. It all kicks off in The Jener Clinic – a remote fertility surgery in the Yorkshire countryside. A van pulls into the car park and out jump four panic stricken workers. They drag something screaming from the back of the vehicle before silencing it with tranquillisers and carrying it into the complex. Although we don’t get to see the struggling aggressor, we can tell from its screams that it’s certainly not human. As night sets in on the clinic, the alarm is raised when an unseen someone begins stalking through the surgery and slaughtering the staff Michael Myers-style with a carving knife. The unseen maniac escapes the location, leaving behind him a mess of butchered corpses and flames.
The following morning we are introduced to Peter Carson (John Lynch). Peter is apprehended by Police whilst on his way to the clinic in order to meet his ex-girlfriend, Tracy. He is forced to identify the nurse’s mutilated corpse, but when he asks for answers he is given the run-around by the senior detectives. Visibly frustrated at the lack of information he is given, Peter begins to suspect that the Police are covering up the true motives behind the massacre. He soon launches his own private investigation, which uncovers something worse than he could ever have imagined.
The days when British Hammer Horror features were at the forefront of the genre have long since passed and UK cinema has yet to produce a slasher movie to rival its American brethren. It comes as some surprise that the closest they have come is with this made for TV thriller from the early nineties. Chimera combines a gripping story with the standard clichés to create an entry that sticks in your mind long after the closing credits have rolled. Mixing shady government conspiracies and genetic engineering with approachable characters and a bogeyman that splits the viewer between moods of sympathy and hatred, Stephen Gallagher’s script generates enough complexity and terror to allow it to stand as a memorable viewing experience.
The opening massacre borrows heavily from Halloween and its sequel, and in a further nod to the cycle, the killer sports a red striped top ala Freddy Krueger. As Chimera was made for television, the gore is kept to a bare minimum, but Clark’s sharp and rapid direction and a plot that successfully delays the explanation to the psycho’s identity keeps the tension running fluidly. John Carpenter has stated that one of the reasons that the original Halloween towered so prominently over the quality of its sequels was the excellent dramatization of ‘the shape’ by Nick Castle. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of a chillingly portrayed bogeyman, but it’s something that Clark was aware of and Douglas Mann does an excellent job of giving the killer a distinguishing characterisation. In the lead, John Lynch fails to take advantage of a multi-layered plot and delivers a half-hearted colourless performance, whilst the majority of the cast members never leave the comfort zone of b-grade television dramatics. Only Kenneth Cranham emerges with credibility, portraying the ruthless Hennessey with a vicious guile that offers the viewer a genuine hate figure.
The fact that Chimera is based on Gallagher’s novel from 1982 – a time when the genre was at its most productive – explains why the plot is so knee deep in slasher references. But to classify Chimera as just another cycle entry would perhaps be an injustice, because it falls into a huge number of categories. Part Sci-fi, part detective mystery and a huge part stalk and slash, Clark’s opus is an altogether interesting feature that never outstays its welcome.
Ok so this is an updated write-up from a a few years back. It’s the first of two British TV slashers that I am going to post for you all. My first review of this flick got a mixed response, with people disagreeing and some in fact said it was insulting that I called it a slasher film. Well, if you don’t think that an unseen killer stalking through POV shots with a butcher’s knife is Carpenter-esque, then I don’t know what to do with you… Check it out…
Killer Guise: √
aka Phantom of the Cinema
Directed by: Mark Herrier
Starring: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
For the slasher cycle, Popcorn was a whole lot more than just another genre retread…
You see, there weren’t really any other cinematic styles around during the eighties that could multiply a budget as easily as a stalk and slash flick. Drama? You either needed De Niro, Pacino, a Costner or someone like a Mickey Rourke; and they’re not cheap. Action? Good shout. But explosions, fake M60s, stuntmen and helicopters can also drain a monetary resource pool. Ok so what about a chick flick? Again always popular at the box office if they’re done well, but can you name me one without a megabucks pairing? Obviously not. No, it’s decided – when it comes to a quick and relatively easy way for a producer to make a fortune, nothing does it like a slasher does it.
But the small problem was that the good old milk laden cash cow had run bone dry midway through the eighties and left only a couple of major franchises to mop up the proceeds. If anything, Popcorn was a hand pushed in to the bath to test the temperature of the water before entry in to a bold new decade. A film well financed enough to get publicity, which boasted a great cast, cool location, neat gimmick and good marketing strategy. If it had been a success I predict we would have had a start to the nineties that would have mirrored the previous decade with a million wannabe duplicates. In effect, this was the first slasher since 1988 to be given actual backing from big studio players like Bob Clark and Ashtok Amiritraj. The only problem was that it flopped. Drastically.
But the biggest question is why?
A group of drama students are given the opportunity to renovate an old cinema for an all night horror-thon. At first, they’re less than impressed, but when they’re told that there may be some budget left over to make their own movie, they all climb aboard. Many years ago on that site, a deranged film cult screened ‘Possession’, which resulted in a few murders and then a big fire within which the aggressor supposedly perished. When sweet student Maggie begins seeing him in her nightmares and conspicuous things start happening, it seems that he’s returned.
Not only is Popcorn a belated entry to the slasher catalogue, which utilises all the traditional trappings, but it’s also a tribute to the notorious B-Movies of the fifties. We should keep in mind that Bob Clark would have grown up on the features of Christian Nyby, Andre De Toth and even Edward Wood, so it makes sense that he would want to reference them here. Popcorn is fun to watch, because when we are not seeing the black gloved killer get to work, we are enjoying full scenes of the films that the audience are watching.
It was shot in Jamaica, which was something of an intriguing slice of trivia. At first I though that it may have been a collaboration of sorts between the two countries, but I couldn’t find any evidence of a producer from JM. The film does however have a very fun reggae/pop play-list. Hell it even has a reggae band that come on and play for no apparent reason halfway through! Keep in mind that this was an era when Chaka Demus and Pliers, Bitty McClean and Shabba Ranks were regulars in the charts and the choice does not seem so unusual. In fact, I rather enjoyed the refreshing soundtrack.
The cast are pretty good in lightweight roles. I was thinking of giving Tom Villard a mention for a solid performance, but then just as I thought that, he went completely overboard with the hyper-acting and got lost somewhat. The gorgeous Jill Schoelen gives another great wide-eyed babe in the woods portrayal and easily manages to win over the audience. We last saw her in genre entry Cutting Class and it strikes me that of the three ‘stars’ that appeared in that flick, only the weakest performer on that occasion built a superstar career. Whilst everyone in the world knows the name and face of Brad Pitt; Schoelen gave up on movies to be a mother and never really fulfilled her potential. Despite the fact that everyone here is little more than a cliché, the characters are likeable and the villain is fun.
Perhaps I was tired (or drunk) at the time, but the twist really caught me off-guard. It was (for me) totally unexpected. It made sense too. There’s some far fetched examples of the maniac’s ability to camouflage himself, but they only add to the thick…THICK dollops of cheese. Yes; and I mean pure and unadulterated cheese. This is like a fondue festival and despite its nineties release date, could seriously be a contender for cheesiest movie of all time. SERIOUSLY. Everything from the bubblegum toons to the wacky costumes (it even incorporates fancy dress) is campy comedy at its best (or worst)
So with so much fun to be had, why was Popcorn such a flop? Good question. To be honest, it’s hard to understand exactly what happened, but the problems that plagued production certainly didn’t help. Original director Alan Ormsby disagreed on a few plot points and walked off the shoot, which unsettled his choice for the lead actress, Amy O’Neill and she soon followed after three-weeks of filming. Schoelen was a more than adequate replacement, but the script reeks of obvious re-writes and missing scenes.
The thing is though, many slasher movies suffered similar troubles behind the scenes and to the untrained eye, Popcorn’s riddles aren’t outstandingly obvious. So what else was wrong? Was it tad too diluted? (There’s no real gore anywhere throughout). Maybe it was just a wee-bit sillier than it should have been? Was it the extreme lack of a mean spirit? I think more realistically, cinema audiences had moved on from masked killers and screaming teens and the reputation of such flicks being incompetently made and embarrassingly bad was still in its fullest of flows back then. It’s a shame, because looking back now it’s actually a really quirky little gem.
Popcorn’s failure to grab an audience most definitely signified the death of the studio slasher flick and it would take the success of Scream five-years later to reignite the sub genre. Still, this deserved a lot more than it received and should be remembered as a decent entry that had everything except luck.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√√