Only Darkness 1999
Directed by: Mitchell Morgan
Starring: Nicole Streak, Crispin Manson, Edmund Dehn
Review by Luisjo González
The two films I get asked about most here on a Slash above are Legend of Moated Manor and Only Darkness as they’re both on my my A-Z slasher list. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I’ve lost count of the amount of emails I’ve received from you guys and gals about that double. Well I’m finally going to post a review of one of them and I hope that it answers some of your questions. Britain doesn’t have a great reputation with it’s output within the slasher genre, so there’s certainly a gap in the market for a decent entry from those shores. Only Darkness came out hot on the heels of Scream, but a traditional slasher movie, it’s definitely not. In fact, it’s barely a slasher movie at all, but it’s more like a giallo and even that doesn’t really describe it.
Paul Salem is a horror author who writes screenplays for slasher movies. Salem wants to write in other genres and move away from the horror stereotype, but his agent tries to convince him otherwise. One evening, whilst he is driving home, he comes across a young girl who is fleeing an assailant. The young girl moves in temporarily to the author’s house, but the maniac is closing in on her…
Out of Darkness is certainly a strange creature and it defies traditional description. It definitely does belong on this page, but it’s not a duplicate of either Halloween or Scream. I prefer silent antagonists that kill without being given a characterisation, but the assassin here has basic dialogue. Another strange thing about OD is that the antagonist flees from the hero, which totally dilutes his fear factor. This is all explained in the big revelation, but what could have been an extremely authentic twist doesn’t end up making a lick of sense. Whilst trying not to give anything away, one murder is explained in the conclusion, but the slaughter of the doctor? What about that? I’ve always said that guns don’t belong in a slasher movie because you can’t ‘slash’ with a pistol, but the nutjob here uses a beretta to murder one victim and it disappointed me. One way that Michell Morgan’s screenplay really succeeds is that it plays with the roles of the ‘final girl’ and the ‘maniac’. I can’t really say much more without giving away the twist, but the open ending leaves interesting questions. I thought it was a supremely intelligent idea to play with the rules that way, but as I said above, the screenwriter made a clear error.
This was shot on video in the late nineties when British SOV flicks were not just a rarity, they totally didn’t exist. It’s IMDB page has zero reviews and no one has even ranked it. What is interesting is that the VHS I own is not in a typical British video case, it’s one of the types of covers used in the American rental market, which begs the question was this only released stateside? A Google search reveals minimal information on this feature and it is completely obscure. It’s all put together in a fairly basic manner and the performances are competent, but not exceptional. I’ve never been able to understand how two directors are able to work on one feature film, but we get a duo in the hot seat(s) here. The pair released two more movies that actually have rankings on the IMDB, but their last effort was over twelve years ago. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, but I didn’t hate them either, so I was intrigued to find out how it would all conclude. One thing that I loved about ther movie was that every character is seen smoking cigarettes. I miss the old days when people were real in movies. I smoked for many years, but it wasn’t cinema that made me do it. Nowadays, every person in filmland is woke, doesn’t smoke, drink too much or do drugs. Give me Wolf Of Wall Street anyday over Many Saints of Newark. In real life, people I meet smoke crack, snort coke, puff on cigarillos and I’ve met hundreds of racists at work or in clubs. I’ve received racism myself. Producers consider their audiences idiots, but most people don’t want to view fairytales.
There’s not much more that I can tell you about Only Darkness, because it’s the type of film where too much information will ruin it for viewers. It’s a giallo with a pretty small body count, but it’s not a whodunit. There is a revelation in the final scene, but it’s not what you’re used to seeing. I’ve never viewed a movie similar to this and I guess I must praise that.
aka Broken Skull
Directed by: Ricardo Islas
Starring: Stephanie Beaton, Johnny Areola, Dominic Capone
Review by Luisjo González
HAPPY HALLOWEEN!! Can you believe it? A Slash above has been online for 10 years! This is our tenth birthday. I agree, there’s been some problems. The fact that I was in hospital a lot of that time, doesn’t help matters and whilst I’m the first to admit that el tiempo usually flies by, I’ve really felt this recent decade. A lot has been lost for me and I’ve definitely changed. No one ever told us that life was going to be easy.
Anyway, the major difference between the slasher cycle of today and the boom years of the early eighties is that it’s much easier to make a movie now. If you had the budget to produce a small feature then there’s not a genre less complicated than the traditional stalk and slash flick. Many of the hundreds of direct to video turkeys that have been released post-Scream haven’t even attempted to revitalise the age old formula, which makes it enticing that a fair majority of them still make a tidy profit. Being a self-confessed avid fan of the category, it’s great to find a poorly financed effort that actually looks to have been made with the inspiration to try something different. Headcrusher certainly carries a great deal of intrigue that warrants it to be seen by aficionados like myself. Despite being one of the few Hispanic-American or Latino cycle-entries, it also boasts a gore-filled reputation and a cameo from a blood-descendant of Al Capone playing a psychotic mobster.
After the credits have rolled, we see prolific scream queen (and all round nudity guarantee)) Stephanie Beaton straddling a soldier named John Ramsey (George Orsini) in a dimly lighted room. Adultery is a bad idea if the wife that you’re playing around with is ‘married to the mob’. Unfortunately for this randy couple, her husband just happens to be a sadistic gangster – and he’s just caught them in an inescapable situation. Before the Lothario has even had the chance to zip up his flies, the mob boss has strung up his flirtatious mistress, snapped a few of her fingers and strangled the last gasp of air from her lungs. It takes two to tango of course, so lover boy gets his head squished in a vice and gives us the explanation for the choice for the movie’s title. (Great brief gore shot!)
Twenty years later, a group of builders are renovating that same room, which has now become an abandoned basement. As the rest of the workers go to lunch, Manolo Santana (Kris Haines) continues digging until he discovers a broken skull lodged behind some re-laid brickwork. As he examines his bizarre find he suddenly begins smashing his head against the wall as if a mad spirit has possessed him. His friend Miguel – who was eating his lunch nearby – rushes to help his workmate, but by the time he arrives Manolo’s head has been crushed to a bloody pulp. Sometime later, whilst being prepared for an autopsy, Manolo’s body re-animates and goes on a bloody rampage. Dressed from head to toe in army surplus garb and sporting a gore-splashed gas mask, the maniac begins killing off the gangsters that were involved with the soldier’s slaughter from the prologue. Manolo’s daughter Sol (Paola Valdes), his friend Miguel (John Arreola) and an inquisitive doctor (Nancy Adams) all begin an investigation to try and discover what strange occurrence has lead to this gruesome massacre…
Headcrusher is possibly the most gratuitous exploitation effort that I’ve seen in 2021. Perhaps you could say that it vaguely resembles the works of filmmakers like Tim Ritter and the Polonias. Richard Islas does look to have a sprinkling of talent and he seems to enjoy pushing the boundaries of what he can display. He worked prolifically after this debut, but since 2018, he’s been quiet. If I had to make a critcism of his style, I’d say that he frames shots poorly and this copy is badly lighted in a large majority of sequences. Make no mistake about it though, this is one gore filled excursion into exploitation that is literally overflowing with blood and extreme scenarios. One guy gets his ‘little friend’ bitten of whilst being ‘pleasured’ by his girlfriend in a scene that’s both painstakingly gruesome and made me cringe at the thought of it happening to me. Another fellow is kneecapped and then squished by a train, a couple of others get their heads crushed and the torture scenes in the pre-credits are fairly hard hitting in how they set a grim tone. Islas manages to get away with the cheap gore effects as they’re only on screen for an extremely brief time. He provides just enough splatter to allow your mind’s eye to grab the full extremity of his intention.
The major problem with Headcrusher is that a lot of things were thrown in wholly unnecessarily, when the feature would have probably played better without the attempts at a ‘shock factor’. There’s a gay sex scene, which seems only to have been included to incorporate homosexual antics. I must mention the Cambodian torture-vixen, who is a female character so inexplicably bizarre that she makes Elvira look like the spectacled church girl that lives next door. There’s also a brief sub plot concerning a government ‘Jacobs Ladder-type’ conspiracy that was immensely intriguing, but was left simmering on the back burner, which is a shame as it deserved a decent conclusion. I really was engrossed in that idea, but it just disappears as the runtime grew.
Although Headcrusher does feel somewhat like a petrol sports car that has been filled with diesel and never manages to hit top speed, the good points just about outweigh the bad. Watching Dominique Capone play a mob boss, when his relative was the most famous gangster in the history of the mafia was a neat touch – even more so when you see how similar Dominique looks to Big Al. Although the dramatics will never be mind blowing in a film of this level, these guys certainly tried their hardest and they deserve credit just for that. Having a Hispanic final girl, even though she wasn’t Meryl Streep, certainly made me happy. I can think of worse ways to waste eighty minutes and it’s certainly better than Don’t Look In The Cellar. I’m not sure about recommending it, because it’s the Adam Sandler of slashers. What I mean by that is, you’ll either love it or hate it. I actually like Adam Sandler, he’s a libertarian like me and knowing that made me start liking his movies, when previously, I didn’t. One last thing I must mention, Stephanie Beaton would get it if I ever met her. She disappeared for sixteen years, (probably being a mum), but I was told she’s got a few projects in the pipeline by a director friend of mine.
Directed by: Chris LaMartina
Starring: Sean Quinn, Jenny Saurallo, Andrew Hughes
Review by Luis Joaquín González
How ya didling a SLASH abovers? Here we have another obscurity that I’ve spent years tracking down to examine for y’all – I’m just too damn nice! Amerikill was the first horror flick from esteemed director Chris LaMartina and it really is a ‘junior project’ in every sense of the word. Whilst it has become a cliche of the genre that most slasher films have actors in their mid-thirties unconvincingly playing teens, Amerikill turns that totally on its head. You see, this was Mr LaMartina’s High School project and he shot it with his friends at the age of 14!
I learned of its existence when I purchased Death O’Lantern from Warlock Home Video. They had a large catalogue of titles and what stood out to me about this one was the killer’s awesome Jester guise. I immediately tried to buy a copy, but was told that there were none left and there likely wouldn’t be any more available. Dejected, I set up an eBay search and tried all the usual methods of allocating a copy, to no avail. My recent review of President’s Day put me in touch directly with filmmaker Chris LaMartina and after a few begging emails, I managed to finally get him to send me a pristine DVD…
A small town High School is thrown into chaos when ‘Jester Face’ – a vicious masked serial killer – begins butchering local kids. A group of friends set out to solve the mystery by watching ‘cheesy slasher films’ to uncover the killer’s logic.
Before we kick off the review, I think it’s important that I mention something that will better allow you to understand this film. In terms of maturity, I was something of a late bloomer. I’ve just turned thirty-five and when I look back on the silly things that I did in my past, I wish that I had the ‘intelligence’ or ‘cultural understanding’ that I posses today. Adult minds are filled with analysis of past experiences, consideration of consequences and a greater fear of risk, whereas youngsters only think, ‘That looks cool, let’s do it!’. At the age of fourteen, I had no idea what a protagonist was, the difference between gibberish and complex dialogue or the reasons why I enjoyed certain films more than others. My list of ‘essential good movie ingredients’ was the size of a postage stamp and I could mindlessly sit through crap like Ninja Terminator or Day of Judgement without flinching an eyelid. Now of course, the smallest mediocre element can force me to reevaluate my rankings and even a great eighties cheese-fest like Commando has lost some of its appeal.
I tell you this because it has a lot to do with how you may perceive Amerikill. Did I think it was a very good movie? No, not particularly. Would I have done so when I was an impressionable fifteen-year-old? Hell yeah!! You see, this is a ‘fan boy’ film in the truest sense and ticks all the boxes that we know and love. It is very obviously inspired by Wes Craven’s Scream but also verbally pays homage to some peak period slasher hits such as, Sleepaway Camp. What surprised me most though was that there were a few signs of credibility that transcended the dime store budget and pre-pubescent age range.
For a start, it’s amazing how there are so few visible weaknesses in the dramatics. Whilst we are not talking method actors by any means, we see very little flat or wooden line delivery, which is a real achievement considering the amateur cast members. It could be argued of course that the kids were literally ‘playing themselves’; but in comparison with most budget stalk and slashers, Amerikill has no bad performances that really stand out. We get a whodunit mystery that waddles along admirably and even if I guessed who was under the mask early on, I never felt completely sure of my decision, and there was even a twist of kind before the credits rolled. As I mentioned earlier, the maniac has a truly creepy disguise and it led me to wonder why there are so many killer clowns, but so few psycho jesters? This dude outshone Marty Rantzen from Slaughter High, simply because he looked much more ominous in black with a white face mask that was splashed with blood. We get a number of kill scenes that include some bare bones attempts at gore and they all take place to the strains of a rock soundtrack that actually includes a few decent songs.
I guess that the reason I can’t really say that Amerikill will appeal to all slasher buffs is because it is very much a teenage movie. It was almost awkward for me watching the production, because I felt like an old guy that was trying to fit in. That’s no fault of the filmmakers of course, they couldn’t change their age; but it’s important that you prepare yourself before viewing the film. We do get a semblance of a plot narrative, but there’s no central character or script cohesion, which is totally understandable considering the lack of experienced heads on set. In fact, it’s pointless really to criticise Amerikill because it’s astounding how much the director managed to get right. Even Tim Ritter was two-years older when he made Day of the Reaper and that’s nowhere near as slick as this.
When all is said and done, Amerikill is much better than it has any right to be. We can ignore the lack of Police, the flimsy structure etc, because this is a high school project and if you leave your brain at the door, you might even enjoy some parts of the film; – I know I did. There’s fun to be had with the cheesetastic gore and we see a glimpse of the light humour tone that was so successful in President’s Day. Also, have you ever wondered why might happen if a masked killer bumped into a trio of school bullies? No? Well Chris LaMartina has – and his interpretation of it is actually pretty funny… I’m glad I saw Amerikill.
Dead End 1999
Directed by: Iren Koster
Starring: William Snow, Victoria Hill, Matthew Dyktynski
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Not to be confused with Jean Andrea’s Dead End from 2003, this Australian picture is barely acknowledged by fans, despite the fact that it received global distribution. I picked it up many years ago on VHS and it’s one of those that I’ve wanted to cover for a while, but my VCR Machine has seen better days and I haven’t had the time to pick up a new one. Recently though, I came across a shiny DVD whilst on vacation down-under and watched it on the flight back.
It tells the tale of a former detective turned author named Todd Russell that becomes involved in a spate of brutal murders. They are extremely similar to the last case that he worked on before retiring from the Force, called the Evergreen killings. The fact that he had so much knowledge of the original slayings makes him the key suspect and as the evidence and bodies begin to pile up, he is forced to get involved for a second time. Could it be that Todd Russell has lost his mind and moral compass?
I guess that the first question to answer with this feature is whether it qualifies as a stalk and slash flick or is it a thriller? Well whilst it doesn’t follow the traditional path of stranded teens against a malevolent force, it includes many Giallo trademarks, such as brutal slayings committed by a masked assailant, so for me it’s definitely on the right website here. Before watching it, I had sat through 1988’s Out of the Dark, which is generally considered a slasher and is almost interchangeable in terms of plot content and delivery. I would go as far as to say that this is even grislier in terms of its murders and therefore underlines the horror categorisation. Amongst those murders, whether intentional or not, we get a rehash of Al Filo Del Hacha’s car wash set-piece, only this time the killer strikes with a hook rather than axe. Later, we see the menace stalk a young girl in an elevator, which was similar in many ways to a scene from Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche. The assailant even looks the same in a dark fedora and mask and it made me wonder, was director Iren Koster a fan of Spanish slashers? That could well be the case.
Dead End’s biggest strengths can be found in its accomplished dramatics and ability to wrap viewers up in the enigma of its storyline. I did work out early on who was behind everything, but I was never 100% sure. There are numerous twists that pop up throughout the picture, which help to keep us engaged and the intelligent pacing works to sustain the tone of intrigue.
Perhaps the only thing missing was a bit more development into the choice of victims. One murder sees a girl literally walk on to the screen before she’s shot, so we really don’t know enough about any of them to care what happens. I would have hoped for at least one tense chase sequence, but there’s still a whole heap of suspense to be found in the complexity of the puzzle. The revelation part is handled well enough and I was amused by the survival techniques of one soon-to-be victim. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that if all else fails and you look like Victoria Hill, then remove your underwear 😉
A film so driven by its characters needed good performers in order to succeed. Snow and Hill rarely have a weak moment and they are given a few tough scenes to work with. The star of the show is Iren Koster though, because he directs with an energy that keeps us on the edge of our seats. Aside from the obvious, filmmaking is mainly about placement, blocking, length of shots and location. In all of these, he did a sterling job. He has another horror movie under his belt that I haven’t got around to seeing, but I’ll definitely be checking it out soon.
Without hesitation, I would give Dead End a thumbs up. Whilst it may not be slashertastic enough to rival Friday the 13th or its brothers, there is loads here to warrant a viewing. I haven’t seen it reviewed anywhere else, so therefore it is yet another a SLASH above exclusive 🙂
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√√
Directed by: Tyler Tharpe
Starring: Amy Paliganoff, Travis Patton, Andrea Johnson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Freak is not particularly rare or hard to find and it secured global distribution on both VHS and DVD, which is a real feat for a slice of regional filmmaking. Despite that status, it never gets mentioned really by any slasher enthusiasts that I speak to and it’s something of an overlooked entry to the category.
The production was launched ten months after the release of Scream, but this is no cash-in on the craze started by the cycle’s rebirth and feels cinematically closer to its earlier cousins. It was one that has been sitting on my shelf for a while, but it’s only now that I have found the time to give it a whirl.
In the opening, a disfigured child kills his mother with a rock in a macabre and daunting scene. Many years later, we meet Staci a young woman who is about to move house with her younger sister Jodi. They set off at the exact same time as the murderer from the opening is being transferred to a new hospital for treatment. After a mistake from the driver of the transportation van, the menace is free to roam the roads and he homes in on the two sisters as they head across the spacious Ohio farmlands.
Like most DTV slashers released over the past fifteen years, Freak has been visibly produced on the most minuscule of budgets. It works to the films favour however as the grainy 16MM photography and the desolate Midwestern backdrops give it a good gritty tone. The plot was heavily influenced by Halloween and shows no shame of wearing its inspirations on its sleeve. Much like the aforementioned classic, it spends time developing its characters and builds suspense through portraying the psychological effects of its actions rather than using sharp shocks and gore. I am inclined to label this as more of a slow building thriller than an out and out slasher film even if it does utilise every single cliché and knows within which genre it wants to be classified.
The maniac here looks really creepy in his workman clothes and face covered in bandages and comes across visually as a combination between Michael Myers and the nut job from Blood Harvest. His intentions are authentic as in he doesn’t seem to want to kill as many bystanders as humanly possible and instead he has a more deluded plan of action. The fact that he only murders three people (one in the prologue) may put off most gore hounds, but I quite enjoyed the steady simmering of the synopsis and it has a neat vibe of impending doom. The abused child coming back for revenge gimmick has been done a plethora of times, but here it is handled quite effectively with an authentic pay off. This also hints at an obvious plot twist that looked like a dead-cert, but it never really gets explained and is only conveyed through hints and guesses. I wonder if there are some missing scenes for this somewhere that never made the final print, because it’s unusual not to reveal such a branch in the story in further detail.
What I did find interesting was that director Tyler Tharpe only uses a very light score during the terror moments in his feature, which was something of an odd and risky decision. There’s a nice acoustic piece for the scenes that move the story along, but nothing menacing when the mood switches. Horror thrives on its musical accompaniment and very few can survive without an atmospheric theme, but Freak manages to pull it off. The director goes for realism and just about achieves it and there’s nothing here supernatural or unbelievable, which credits his approach. His framing is tight and he pulls off some good scares and well-edited jumps whenever the bogeyman is on screen and the final chase sequence is remarkably exciting. After watching this, I hunted out his other feature, Return in Red, which shows that Tharpe is a director that believes in his methodology of slowly boiling up his plot through deep characterisations. In these days of MTV quick cuts and beautiful leads, his style is refreshing and owes more to the classic tactic of Carpenter and dare I say it Hitchcock. One of the weakest links of modern slashers is that they leave their story in the hands of a group of personas who all have the looks of Armani models and offer no connection to the average everyday Joe like you and I. This makes it extremely hard to relate to them and therefore the horror is only possible through the wizardry of a slick cinematographer or excessive gore. I like that this was brazen enough to take a stab at individuality and it cannot in any way be considered as an attempt at over-exploitation ie Gutterballs. There’s no nudity, profanity or outrageous effects here.
The dramatics are not outstanding, but they’re definitely strong enough to carry the plot and make you care about its players and intrigued by what fate has in store for them. This was also one of the rare stalk and slash flicks that uses protagonist narration to help expand the story’s background and the final girl here is a real fighter and shows immense courage when left to confront her assailant. The feature also touched on the morals of one particular character, whose recklessness and lack of concentration allowed the fiend to escape. He is more concerned about the impending consequences and his own predicament than the doom that has been left in the wake of his actions. His grovelling pleas for a favour in the conclusion were squirm-inducing.
I am somewhat hesitant to class Freak as a hidden gem, because I respect my slasher readers and I am not sure that all of you will agree. It has long periods were the pace falls quite limp and this is definitely NOT an audacious killer spectacular along the lines of Friday the 13th or Scream. If you like your chills built through characters and creepy imagery (check out the shots of the psycho sitting in the corner of his cell) then this should be a real treat for you, but as a teenie kill splatter flick, you will hate it with a passion.
This is a very brave attempt to be different and I saw a lot of excellent stuff that I really enjoyed here. It reminded me a lot of Symphony of Evil, but without the fantastic score, which is perhaps one thing that this lacked. It is a very rare occurrence that I can pick up a bottom shelf DTV slasher flick and be thoroughly impressed and maybe that’s what makes me rate it so highly.
Recommend, but with caution. It is only if you like this style of picture that you will really enjoy its benefits
Final Girl √√√