Rush Week 1989
Directed by: Bob Bralver
Starring: Pamela Ludwig, Dean Hamilton, Roy Thinnes
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I read it a lot, but have to argue that saying Halloween was the first American slasher film is just lazy journalism. Simply check out Black Christmas, Class Reunion Massacre, Drive-in Massacre, Savage Weekend or The Town that Dreaded Sundown for pieces that clearly pre-date 1978 and have many of the relevant trappings. There’s no denying however that John Carpenter’s seminal classic was the feature responsible for cementing the trademarks and turning them into an actual sub-genre that others could populate. The zillions of imitations that dominated horror cinema throughout the following ten-years are as much a part of eighties nostalgia as spandex or bad hair styles. A retro eighties party without someone dressing up as Jason or Freddy is no party at all. Even Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – the great PS2 game, which heavily parodied that era – referenced the slasher genre in a satirical way, confirming it’s importance as a referential milestone.
There are still about 3-5 slasher movies being released every year, most of them very low budget productions, but the eighties will always be recognised as the golden period. The whole cycle started with a bang. In 1980, Night of the Demon, Friday the 13th, Terror Train and To all a Good Night were all released before Summer and a new craze had been launched, which would continue without interruption for over twelve-months and continue on a lesser scale right through until the nineties.
So what does that have to do with Rush Week, I hear you ask? Well this was the last slasher movie to be produced in the golden decade, even though it was released a while later. That makes this an interesting reference point as you can see how much the genre had adapted during that period. If Friday the 13th was the flagship for the launch of ten-years of teen splatter, Bob Bralver’s slasher was the swan song.
During rush week, a young journalism student picks up on a story when she notices that young women seem to be disappearing after a seedy meeting with a photographer after hours in the science lab. A killer, dressed in a cape and old-man mask is stalking the dormitory and offing lonesome females. Who could be the masked menace and what are his motives?
Ok so we’re definitely not breaking new ground here. Set on a college campus, the movie follows the traditional route without ever attempting to add something even slightly adventurous to the norm. I guess the first thing to notice about the difference between this and its brothers from nine-years earlier is the lack of gore. Whilst Friday the 13th set a new tone with its gruesome death scenes and investment in special effects, stringent censors and bad media had left many movies with their ‘money shots’ on cutting room floors before they had reached audiences, so film-maker’s were much more prudent with their budgets in latter years. The killer has an authentic double-bladed axe, but the majority of the murders are off-screen and therefore lack any punch.
Bralver seems a director far more interested in Frat jokes and teen fart humour than he does horror and the majority of the runtime is filled with Porky’s style character development and a blossoming romance between the leads. The slashings take a back seat quite early in the picture and it made me wonder if they had chucked in a hooded killer to make the flick look more attractive to prospective financiers? There’s the chance to guess the cast member that’s hiding beneath the mask and cape, but the mystery is poorly handled and you’ll see through the apparent red herrings with relevant ease. There’s a smidgen of suspense during the final stalking sequence through the school corridors and some looming tracking shots help to build a nice atmosphere. To be fair, I have to mention that the movie does reference its brethren by casting Dominick Brascia (Friday the 13th 5/Evil Laugh) and Kathleen Kinmont (Halloween 4) in small cameos.
It seems like they had a good budget to play with and the cinematography is crisp and adventurous. The leads carried the film really well and built some nice chemistry during the romance and I really liked Pamela Ludwig as the final girl. It’s amazing to think that her film journey quickly stagnated soon after, because she had enough talent to build a career in pictures. Her co-star Dean Hamilton would find his fortune as a producer, working both in Television and Cinema. His biggest investment so far, the awful chick flick Blonde and Blonder (which he also directed), was absolutely ripped to shreds by critics but proved popular enough for a sequel and at the time of writing, he is working on a project with ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ director Joel Zwick.
If the producers had decided to veto the lashings of blood for fear of extreme censorship, they certainly didn’t scrimp on the nudity. There are more breasts on display here than feeding time in a maternity ward and I personally would have loved to have studied here at Tambers college as it seems every female student has the body of a Playboy model. In another slightly bizarre twist, hardly any of the developed characters that we meet become victims of the axe clenching madman. It seems women are simply introduced to take of their kit and then scream as the hatchet swings, which means that we feel absolutely zero sympathy for them. That adds ammunition to my suspicions that the slasher elements were a mere sub-plot to allow the story to focus on the romance/dorm ingredients that seemed to certainly be the priority.
So not much of a final farewell from Rush Week for the decade of decadence where the box office was stalked and slashed by masked killers like there would be no tomorrow. This is not necessarily a bad film, but will only act more as a small snack if your hungry for a full slasher buffet.
Final Girl √√√√
Directed by: Doug Robertson
Starring: Brien Blakely, Blake Pickett, Michael Schwitzgebel
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The nineties certainly didn’t begin with a bang for the slasher genre, which was to be expected after its prolific population of horror cinema throughout the previous decade. Censorship restrictions and an extreme lack of originality meant that the category had become a dumping ground for low-budget and lower-quality independent movies that had lost the allure that made them popular in the first place. It is widely considered that the last glory year was 1988, because the dying breath of the cycle unleashed solid titles like: Maniac Cop, Intruder, Evil Dead Trap and Edge of the Axe. From then on it was a downward spiral into mediocrity, as throwaways like Zipperface and Live Girls put the final nails in the sub-genre’s coffin. Hauntedween was another feature from the ‘lost years’ – a term that describes the gap between 1988 and the Scream rebirth in 1996.
If you check on the web, you will find a lot of Hauntedween reviews and a large number of them praise the flick as if it were the slasher equivalent of Citizen Kane. Closer inspection however, shows that the majority of these positive comments are from the vicinity of where the feature was shot because it has a somewhat legendary status amongst locals. Almost all of the actors were picked up from West Kentucky University and the producers held casting days in the town centre. Many residents were given parts as extras and local businesses got involved with the marketing. It reminds me so much of my home town, Aracena, where community projects are exactly like that.
In the prologue the camera heads along a country road that leads to a haunted house. There’s a young child at the gate collecting an entrance fee from revellers that all comment on his Halloween mask. Eddie Burber looks like a great prospect to become a junior serial slasher, mainly because he doesn’t speak too much and as we all know REAL bogeymen are inexplicably muted. The point is proved when he enters the house of horror and chases a young girl until she ends up impaled on a bizarrely misplaced spike. Accidents do happen, but that can’t be the excuse for young Eddie. He confirms his murderous intent by finishing the job with a huge machete that he conjured up from thin air. He escapes the scene of the crime and heads back home to his mother who informs him that they’re going to have to go away for a while.
Twenty years down the line, we bump into the fully-grown Eddie and his mum living at a secluded ranch. Whilst chopping some firewood with a huge axe that I presume will play a part later in the feature, his mother drops to the floor, seemingly suffering a heart-attack. The still-unseen bogeyman picks up the corpse of his parent and tells her “It’s time to go home“.
Reguaws, Kentucky hasn’t changed much over two decades, except now there’s a new gang of thirty-year-old students in the Topshill State College. They’re struggling with the threat of having their Sigma Pi fraternity closed if they can’t come up with 37, 000 dollars in the next couple of weeks. Despite some bemusing moneymaking plans that include car washing (I estimate that they’d have to scrub about 20,000 cars!?), they settle with the idea of a haunted house at the home of the murderous child from the prologue. We all know how much Eddie enjoys attending these events, and he doesn’t disappoint when he turns up with a creepy mask and a few tricks up his sleeves…
Whilst watching Hauntedween for a second time, I noticed that my opinion has changed considerably over the twenty years since I last gave it a viewing. Back then, I remember thinking that it was boring and badly shot; but today I found a lot more to appreciate. When rating a small production like this you have to take into account the meagre budget and inexperienced crew, which probably amounted to little more than a few men and a dog. They do however go about things with a dollop of self-referential humour and I found it easier to see that Hauntedween is as subtly tongue in cheek as the imaginative title would lead you to believe. Horror/comedies never really click; and aside from the odd stand-out addition, they generally struggle to achieve the feat that they set out to. Thankfully, Hauntedween manages to avoid falling into the realms of slapstick, because the laughs are not forced and come across more as a production team that realise that their movie is never going to be anything more than a cheesy slasher. I think that they just wanted the viewer to join in with the fun that they were having and it’s hard to criticise them for that.
When the killer starts his rampage, he proves to be a real showman by murdering victims in front of a baying crowd that believe they’re watching a ‘theatrical performance’. Luckily for him, he can keep up the act without any fringe of suspicion, because the special effects are as hokey as a Rolex at a car-boot sale. There’s an ambitious decapitation and half a dozen or so victims that all get their chance to thespian-up their final breath whilst covered with a gallon of fake blood.
The movie stays true to its slasher heritage and writer/producer/director Doug Robertson was definitely a fan of the genre. Despite the title, ‘Ween doesn’t mimic Carpenter’s classic as much as you’d think, and instead it tries to spice things up a bit with some slightly different branches to the plot.
You can almost feel the enthusiasm of the whole crew streaming out from the cheap plastic video cassette because it is that contagious. It’s clearly evident that a good time was had by all behind the scenes and whilst this is no substitute for great filmmaking, it allows you to accept Hauntedween for what it is. I mean, let’s make no mistake about it, this is a shoe-string movie. It’s a shoe-string movie though that knows its limitations and makes the most of them, without trying to achieve more than could be possible. That doesn’t make it worthy of the inflated purchase price that it sells for on VHS, but if you come across it cheap, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give it a whirl. The final twenty minutes of mayhem are worth seeing for some cheapskate slasher shenanigans and at least this flick managed to capture some of the eighties charm that for us, is generally so hard to find. I’m not sure if I am breaking any copyright laws by telling you this, but hey, whilst looking for more info I noticed that it is on YouTube. Sssshhhhh!!
A few buckets of blood, some topless chicks and a masked killer – what can be so bad about that? Take it with a pinch of salt and it might be worth a look…
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl √
Blood Lake 1987
Directed by: Tim Boggs
Starring: Doug Barry, Angela Barter, Mike Kaufman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When reviewing these wonderful stalk and slash flicks, no matter how bad they may be (and some of them are horrendous), I always try to put at least a thousand words down and give as thoughtful an insight as possible. I know very well that there are people globally like me who love these obscurities and copies of some of them are really hard to find. No matter how late I stay up to watch countless entries though, sometimes it’s just impossible to conjure enough words for a review.
Blood Lake is an example when writer’s block has struck. Maybe it’s because it’s a motion picture that’s so empty that I refuse to waste any more time on it? I am not sure, but my apologies for the short(er) review.
A group of teenagers head off to wood-side cabin for a weekend of partying and debauchery. The location is based alongside a large lake, so they make the most of their time by water-skiing, fishing and taking romantic moonlight trips on a boat. They’re not aware however that they are sharing the location with a plump hick in cowboy boots who has different ideas for his choice of entertainment.
You know what? In my garage I have a skateboard that I used to ride on when I was thirteen-years old. Back in those days, I took it everywhere like a comfort rug and I reckon that if I dug it out, I could still bounce off a few ramps with the guile of a mid-life-crisis-stricken Tony Hawks. With this in mind, I ask myself, would I expect audiences to be satisfied if I populated my feature debut with fifteen minutes of me using said skateboard to look ‘groovy’ on the screen? Frankly dear Watson, the answer is, no. Well director Tim Boggs obviously has a very different idea of what pleases a viewer, because he includes what feels like a never-ending scene of his cast-members ‘water-skiing’. It’s not that there’s something wrong with water-skiing. It’s an audacious sport that looks like an incredible amount of fun. Sitting through a quarter of an hour of unappealing actors getting dragged around behind a boat during a horror film though, doesn’t sit too high on my list of ‘entertaining things to do’.
In fact; long, tedious and ultimately pointless scenes are the director’s trademark and he seems to like nothing better than filling the screen with ingredients that take the story absolutely nowhere. I understand that we need to develop our characters in these flicks, but sitting them in a Trans-Am for what feels like an eternity whilst they mumble gibberish gets pretty tedious pretty quickly. Oh and please don’t get me started with the tear-inducing card game scene, which had me pulling out my chest hair before it had come to an end. By this point in the film, I started to feel more like Blood Lake was an over-long YouTube video on how cool the Blood Lake Posse are at weekends. So would things improve when we finally got to see our psychopathic killer?
Frankly dear Watson, the answer is…. well, I am sure you can guess. I could never understand why if you are going to rip off Halloween and Friday the 13 then you wouldn’t go all out and give your antagonist a decent disguise. How much could it cost to buy of a mask and a boiler suit from the fancy dress store? The killer here looks laughable in cowboy boots, hat and scruffy shirt that just about covers his beer belly. Scary? You’ll get more chills from Sesame Street. There’s no real gore on offer either and the obvious lack of filmmaking experience from everyone involved is a big poo poo to the chance of suspense. I recall one decent shadow shot that I rather enjoyed and the soundtrack is not as bad as I expected it to be, but that’s hardly enough to offer redemption.
After the self-mutilation inducingly poorly-acted climax, there is a sequence that had me flabbergasted. I won’t spoil it for you, because it’s the best thing that Blood Lake had to offer. To be fair it had me scratching my head with confusion. All due respect to the honesty of the film crew, because as the credits rolled it’s the first thing that they explained. Perhaps that was a bad move, because that moment gave the film more credibility than it ended up deserving.
I am not usually harsh on a poor movie, because at least these guys had the cojones to put together the funds to make a feature, which is something that I would love to do. The only thing that annoys me is that it’s such it is such a splendid opportunity, so why didn’t they make the most of it? Little old me, a Spanish genre fan living in London has taken the effort to review a back-garden project that was made nearly twenty-five years ago. Doesn’t that make them wish that they’d tried harder?
Well I managed 1000 words, but I didn’t enjoy this flick. I doubt that anyone else will either.
Final Girl √