Evil Laugh 1986
aka El Retorno de Martin
Directed by: Dominick Brascia
Starring: Ashlyn Gere, Jody Gibson, Steven Baio
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I was born in 81, so am ‘lucky’ enough to say that I definitely experienced the eighties. I can remember coming home from school with my bouffant hairstyle and listening to ‘Look What the Cat Dragged in’ on my radio shack tape recorder whilst waiting for my older brother to go out. Then I would sit on the top bunk bed and watch a plethora of slasher hits on big box VHS. I may not have been old enough to really understand, but I certainly got a taste of fashion’s most embarrassing period
This slasher will be a gift for eighties enthusiasts, because it seems to include most of the cheesiest things that you can recall from that excessive decade (big hair, bad clothes, crap music etc). It even goes one step further by chucking them all in a blender with the clichés that had become a necessary part of the stalk and slash guide book. After being whirled round at the speed of Lynford Christie wearing a jet pack, the net-result is a Crottin du Chovignol of the most intriguing variety…
A group of medical students head off to a house in some secluded woodland, to help their colleague to do some repairs. It has something of a history as a few children were killed there ten-years earlier by a psychopath called Martin. Almost as soon as they begin to unpack, a masked loon begins to stalk the property and it’s left up to the kids to prevent another massacre…
Dominick Brascia directed this strangely obscure entry to our favourite grouping, and he was something of a slasher regular during the eighties. His credits include, Friday the 13th Part V, Rush Week, They’re Playing With Fire and he also helmed the wonderful Hard Rock Nightmare from 1988. He never tried to disguise his love for the stalk and slash genre, which is clearly visible by the way that he utilizes the full quota of trademarks, but does so with enough respect so as not to mock them. Amongst the obvious references, his synopsis nods at Halloween heavily and the second time that I watched Evil Laugh for this review, I noticed many more examples of category recognition. When Tina takes off her top for the necessary T&A scene, she says, ‘See anything you like?’ P.J. Soles’ Lynda did exactly the same thing in Carpenter’s masterpiece back in 1978. Without giving too much away, the twist ending was also a reworking of another major slasher franchise.
Kevin Williamson had certainly seen Evil Laugh before he sat down to write his screenplay for Scream. In fact, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that he pinched a few ideas from this, in the knowledge that only extreme genre nuts like us would notice his theft. Even if Laugh lacks the intelligence of Wes Craven’s box office smash, the Barney character here, who knows the rules of horror and warns the characters that if they have sex they’ll die et al, is basically Scream’s ‘Randy’ with a mullet. To me, it looks like Williamson literally cut and pasted that persona and then took the credit for it; and there’s a lot more here that he looks to have pilfered (Tina’s murder for example)
Perhaps even more interesting are the cast members; or in effect, what would become of a couple of them. Not content to have Ashlyn Gere – a soon to become award winning porn star in the lead, – Jody Gibson, who plays Tina, would later spend three-years in the most notorious high-security prison in the US for being the owner of one of the biggest brothels in the world. The case was highly publicised and it was revealed that Ms Gibson had become the most infamous Madam in Hollywood, catering (and performing) for thousands of exclusive clients. Whilst of course it’s only acting, Gibson’s characterisation doesn’t make that seem so farfetched (she gets the token slut role and whips off her top to provide the T&A), but Gere’s latter career choice seems a lot less likely by what we see here. She remains fully wrapped throughout (an obvious body double was used for the shower scene) and plays a shy Laurie Stroud type extremely well. She loses her dramatic bearings and goes berserk with her overacting during the climax, but I honestly thought that she was an alluring actress and gave a not bad performance. Even though I remembered that one of the girls from this had gone on to a career in porn, I was surprised that it turned out to be her. The rest of the cast seem to be having fun on set and the movie works, because it remains campy and doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It’s not stupid enough to become one of those rancid horror comedies, but it plays much like a film that I remember watching years ago called, Doom Asylum.
On his directorial début, Brascia shows little ability in building suspense and a lot of exciting set-pieces are ruined by the lack of a creative gloss from the director. There’s a nice set up where two nincompoop law enforcement officers are speaking via walkie talkie, but are located within sight of each other. The Sheriff, who is stationed in his vehicle, is asked by his colleague who can see movement in the backseat, ‘Who is that other guy in the car with you?’ The Sheriff, unaware of the creeping menace behind him, replies, ‘There’s no one else here’. We know of course that it’s the hooded killer, but we wonder whether the Deputy can get back in time to save his colleague? It’s a very well-written idea and has the potential to be a stand-out sequence, but the fact that it doesn’t result in a popcorn shock or any tension makes it a wasted opportunity. It’s this uninspired ‘point and shoot’ style of direction that prevents the film from ever touching on a gothic atmosphere. There are times where the comedic tone successfully switches mood and becomes really eerie, especially with the garbled voices on the cassette tapes and the ‘stay out’ signs posted around the house. This entry though is a lot like my beloved soccer team, Arsenal: – all impressive build up, but when it comes to finishing off a good manoeuvre with aplomb, it just doesn’t have the knowhow.
Evil Laugh’s real strengths lie in the tone and campy nature of its players. Unlike many eighties entries, this never becomes a bore when left in the hands of its actors and some of the goofball antics were enjoyable and even quite funny. There are some poptastic songs that sound like a Madonna LP that’s been played on the wrong speed and in an absolutely stupendous scene, the cast all dance around the house in tight shorts whilst cleaning, which has to be seen to be believed. The production team didn’t have the budget for any effects, so most of the slashing is off screen, but there’s a gallon or so of corn syrup that’s splashed around after each kill. We also get the now infamous ‘microwave murder’, which underlines the true comedic intention of the script. I mean how else could you explain someone getting their head cooked when the door has been left open? When the maniac is unmasked, the actor does a pretty good job of playing ‘totally nuts’ and the twist is at least believable. The final girl however turns out to be one of the dumb kind that always chooses to run downstairs to the basement instead of out the front door… You know the type.
So really Evil Laugh is slasher by the numbers, but scores points for its positive vibe and tongue in cheek style, which I think was as much forced as it was intentional. It certainly deserves a place in the stalk and slash museum and should be considered not just to be a proto-Scream parody, but instead the main influence behind the screenplay for that flick.
Final Girl √√√