Directed by: Steve Latham
Starring: Linnea Quigley, Cameron Mitchell, Ryan Lathshaw
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s the second birthday of a SLASH above and almost October the 31st, so I thought I’d post this Halloween related feature 🙂 Now, any film that has horror veterans Linnea Quigley, Cameron Mitchell and John Carradine all in the same cast list must surely be worth a watch, right?
Jack-O was the second to last movie to include a role for Mr. Carradine senior. He died in 1988 and this was released in 1995, which means that his performance must have been lifted from stock-footage. It’s actually quite ingenious how director Steve Lathshaw made it work so well. It was also the swan song for cheesy slasher regular Cameron Mitchell, before his death in 1994. The screenplay was adapted from a story by Fred Olen Ray, whom we all know exceedingly well from his previous ‘videomatic’ misdemeanors. He was behind slashers, Scalps and Final Examination and is still chucking out B-movies at a rate that Lance Armstrong on a whole bag of his performance enhancing drugs couldn’t keep up with. Lathshaw went on after this to direct a couple more flicks, including the interesting Death Mask, before switching to screen-writing and churning out scripts for twenty-eight movies. Unlike most American direct to video/cable horror films from the mid-nineties, this actually secured a global distribution and I have VHS versions from England, Poland and Spain. The UK’s Midnight Movies label released so few copies that originals have now become somewhat of a rarity and sell for fairly good money on eBay. Is it one that deserves the hunt?
Many years ago, the families of Oakmoor Crossing tracked down a vicious murderer named Walter Machen (Carradine) and lynched him. He was a powerful warlock and just before he died, he summoned a demon from the depths of hell to seek revenge on the townsfolk. The maniac attacked and butchered lots of people, until a man called Arthur Kelly found a way to stop him for good. Now, present day, three rowdy teens accidentally revive the pumpkin headed fiend, much to their dismay. Armed with a scythe, he heads back to the same town to continue where he left off his killing spree. He couldn’t have picked a better night for murder, because it happens to be October the 31st, or in other words, Halloween. Arthur’s great, great Grandson, Sean Kelly (Ryan Lathshaw) is only a young boy, but little does he know, that he is the only person alive with the power to stop the bloodthirsty killer. Will he realise his potential before the demon reaches his parents, or will he be too late?
Make no mistake about it, they certainly don’t come much cheesier than this fierce example of dairy produce in a videomatic format. Everything from the killer’s laughable Jack O’ Lantern head to the way that his urban legend is spread through rhymes that my six-year old daughter could have written (Mr Jack will break your back and chop off your head with a whack whack whack!) is the cinematic equivalent of a fondue festival. Olen Ray has once again rushed out a nonsensical screenplay, which is overflowing with make believe characters, impossible situations and basically poor screenwriting. I especially enjoyed the woefully out of date ‘cool dude’ guy, who, dressed in a leather jacket, jeans and quiff whilst perched on a motorbike, couldn’t have been more cliché if he’d had ‘Fonzie wannabe’ tattooed on his forehead. Over the years, since her debut in Psycho from Texas and inclusion in tonnes of cheapo flicks including Graduation Day and Fatal Games, Linnea Quigley has gained herself a devoted cult following. She doesn’t disappoint fans here and takes a long gratuitous shower just to display her lady lumps for at least two minutes in her first scene. Just do your thing, baby…
Unfortunately, the lesser-known faces are all good actors in a dimension that’s totally the opposite to this one. Gary Doles was the only human in a 100-mile radius that even attempted to add a little life to his character and the rest really didn’t look bothered. If you blink, you’ll miss Cameron Mitchell’s brief cameo. He plays Dr.Cadaver, a creepy TV presenter that hosts a show filled with all things horror. His inclusion in flicks ranging from The Toolbox Murders to Memorial Valley Massacre made it a part that was perfect for him. There were two anti-establishment toffs who I guess were there to supply the comic relief bits. That really wasn’t necessary though, because the whole thing was little more than a bad joke in the first place.
Jack O’ chucks in some supernatural elements, but the special FX for these gimmicks are poorly conceived, which is a shame, because other titles produced on similar budgets have delivered much more. The lightening, for example, looked like it had been drawn onto the negatives with a felt tip pen and the killer’s lantern-head was pretty much a dime-store mask. A cool one mind, but hardly ‘convincing’. The production team at least manage to chuck in some gooey red-stuff and a fairly well modelled decapitation, which is surprisingly gory. Even if Lathshaw didn’t get much from his amateur cast, he planned a few interesting camera angles and the woodland scenes are all well lighted. You won’t get too bored whilst watching this movie and it doesn’t hang around to introduce cheesy horror as the central characteristic, so really you can’t complain too much. I don’t know, it just feels like amateur night at the local karaoke bar and if that’s what tickles your fancy, then you’re in luck. By the way, keep a look out for the director’s son, Ryan in a starring role. You can’t deny that he’s an ‘authentic’ actor, if nothing else.
What did you actually expect from a movie called ‘Jack-O’ with a pumpkin-headed killer on the cover and Linnea Quigley in the cast? Yeah, yeah; I was also expecting a trip to the Oscars – damn it. Thankfully, it’s bad in a good way and fans of mature cheddar circumstances will find more than enough to fill their hunger. It’s not as good as that other Halloween-based throwaway, Hack-o-Lantern, but go in with the right frame of mind to avoid disappointment. Come October the 31st, don’t you dare forget that Mr. Jack will snap your spine and cut you in half with a scaly vine…! Oooooooh!
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √
Mark of the Devil 666: The Moralist 1995
Directed by: Jason Paul Collum
Starring: Karen Dilloo, Mick Wynhoff, Tami Klamm
*This is only available on VHS and the quality is quite awful. My apologies for the screen shots. I struggled to get a picture of the masked killer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Jason Paul Collum has gone from being a school boy fan of movies like Jaws and Halloween to becoming one of modern horror’s most respected auteurs. He has well over ten credits as a director, producer and writer and has made a name for himself as one of the genre’s undeniable prospects. As is the case with many directorial success stories, it all began with a low-grade slasher movie. Actually with Mr. Collum, it’s more of a no-grade slasher movie, but we’ll get to that later on.
Mark of the Devil 666: The Moralist is – believe it or not – the sixth chapter in a series that started back in 1970. But I would call this more of a second cousin twice removed than a close relative to the original, because the first Mark of the Devil was a West German production. I’m not exactly sure what ‘special favours’ Moore home video had to do to blag the rights to call this a sequel to the aforementioned exploitation classic, but suffice to say that The Moralist shares * no * similarities whatsoever with the rest of the series and instead borrows platitudes from the more popular hack and slash genre.
A ritualistic maniac sporting a Graduation Day-like fencing mask is murdering people that he believes are responsible for society’s downfalls. The Moralist – as he becomes known – uses methods from horror movies like The Omen, Alice Sweet Alice, Black Christmas and Driller Killer to dispatch his victims gruesomely. Detective Mark Hastings (Mick Wynhoff) joins up with ambitious journalist Meredith O’ Brian (Karen Dilloo) to solve the case of the bizarre maniac. As corpses continue to pile up around the city, the pair soon begins to realize that the killer could be closer to them than they expected. With every clue that they uncover, the couple put their own safety at risk and the maniac starts getting uncomfortably near to O’ Brian. Will they be able to put an end to the Moralist’s wicked games? Or will they be the next bodies found strung up for public display?
If you were to rate the budgets of horror movies on a scale of one to ten, then something like Unhinged would be a six whilst The Moralist could barely achieve a score of minus ten. J P Collum admits that the film only cost $450 to make – an amount of money that some of us spend during an adventurous weekend. So keeping that in mind, I honestly expected the net result to be a horrendous waste of shelf space with no redeeming qualities as per usual of no-budget slashers. (Night Divides the Day anybody?) In all honesty, a sprinkling of talent goes a very long way and Collum’s flair just manages to save this from utter mediocrity. The murders are surprisingly grisly for the level of funding and the plot is extremely twisted and intriguing. For a total unknown, Karen Dilloo did an extremely good job in the lead. Amusingly enough, she hated the box art, which she thinks made her look too slutty! The screenplay just about manages to keep you guessing and the final showdown is remarkably tense considering the long-winded build up. I actually spoke to the director via email and would recommend that he should maybe consider a bigger-budgeted remake if he’s reading?
Unfortunately, Collum had no control over the final edit, which may explain the sloppy garden sheer and super glue-like work from the distributors. Moore video are also to blame for the absolutely horrendous soundtrack that swaps irritatingly between tedious death metal and bemusing country music continuously throughout. The movie sold extremely well for its weak circulation, and the director was offered Mark of the Devil VII as a reward for his work. He instead decided to produce 5 Dark Souls – another fairly intriguing splatter flick, which I haven’t seen as of yet. Perhaps the funniest thing about Mark of the Devil 666 is Mark Wynhoff’s hilarious ‘haircut’. The mullet was a style that should never NEVER have lasted as long as it did. When you’ve got big enough cojones to grow a pony tail too, then perhaps you should be rewarded with some kind of prize. An Academy hairstyle award perhaps?
It took me literally years to hunt this ‘gold dust’ cycle entry down. But I’ve got some good news for all slasher addicts; the movie can now be purchased directly from the director’s personal site. I must warn you that if you aren’t forgiving enough to allow for minimal budgets, then you’ll probably hate The Moralist. However the chance to see the roots of one of modern horror’s upcoming talents was certainly something that I just couldn’t miss. Jason Collum himself hates this movie and is the first to criticize its numerous flaws, If you give it a chance with expectations lowered, you may just find enough creativity there to redeem the purchase price. One and a half stars is indeed a credible rating for a movie that cost so little to make. Now Mr. Collum…how about that remake…?
Final Girl: √√