Most Likely to Die 2015
Directed by: Anthony DiBlasi
Starring: Heather Morris, Jason Tobias, Tatum Miranda
Review by Luis Joaquín González
For me, the biggest mystery surrounding the slasher genre is how such a basic and straight forward formula has resulted in so few genuinely credible motion pictures. Of the 800 or so entries that have been produced, you can count the truly outstanding ones on your fingers. For movie watchers that aren’t slasherholics, there seems to be a thin middle ground and these flicks are either superb or trash-can worthy. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons why the category hosts so few exquisite inclusions, but I think a big part of it is that filmmakers often try to expand on the traditional template when there’s really no need to.
Most Likely to Die is refreshing because it’s a big(ger) budgeted effort that proves that you can still make a sharp and thoroughly entertaining movie by sticking to the guidelines. Instead of flamboyant recalibration of the nuts and bolts, Anthony DiBlasi has decided to polish the old ones and paint them in chrome – and it works
A group of youngsters arrange a get-together at the remote mansion of one of their friends to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of their graduation. As they begin to arrive, they notice that Ray – the house owner and a professional hockey player – is mysteriously absent. Still, they begin to catch-up on their achievements and celebrate their reunion. Little do they know that a brutal masked killer is watching them and before long they’re fighting for their lives…
When I first learned that DiBlasi was making a slasher movie I was extremely keen to see the net result because he’s a director that I have a lot of respect for. His previous features have shown a unique flair for mixing horror with strongly developed characters and I wondered how he’d get on with the more basic trappings of a stalk and slash flick. If there were any lingering doubts about his potential as a competent up and comer, he washes them away with MLTD, by staying true to the category’s principles without betraying his own vision. The film offers a wealth of intriguing set-ups that allow its players to transcend the usual stereotypes and this is most-evident in the choice of final girl; – a professional poker player with a self-destructive lack of trust. At first I wrote a note that the friendships looked unconvincing, but as the film progresses, we are given more insight on the complex relationships that exist between the former classmates and why some of them may have the motive to kill. Whilst I wouldn’t say that the mystery is outstanding or that the conclusion was a shock (it is in fact fairly underwhelming), it does add an extra layer to the tension of the marauding killer.
DiBlasi is wise to pay tribute to the slashers of old without making it obvious that he’s doing so. The film can be described as a mix of Terror Train, Pranks and Slaughter High, but it doesn’t attempt to hide the fact that it’s been filmed in 2015. We get a host of gimmicks that we’ll recognise from the classics including the killer putting a red X over the yearbook pictures of his victims and a subtle sub-plot of a prank that backfired. In time-honoured tradition, the opening scene includes a chase sequence and a (surprisingly) bloodless slaughter, but we don’t get to witness the antagonist for quite a while after. The in-between parts are spent unraveling the personalities of the school friends and there’s some interesting tweaks that bring them to life. What I liked about MLTD is that it breaks away from the ‘one by one they wander off to die’ chestnut, because the entire group are made aware fairly early that there’s an uninvited guest on site. This means that the script needs to be more creative in the way it strands its victims and puts them at the peril of their pursuer.
Our antagonist has a unique guise and he strikes with a ferocious brutality. There’s a really well set-up scene in an alleyway that provides suspense as the maniacal menace closes in on a trapped victim, smashing lightbulbs along the way, like we saw in both My Bloody Valentine and Terror Train. It would be an extreme exaggeration to call this a gore film, but there are some gruesome moments and an audacious kill with a hockey stick that’ll satisfy blood hounds. DiBlasi directs with confidence and draws pitch-perfect performances from an inexperienced cast. His choice of lighting for the second half of the picture is perfect and he delivers a vibrant combination of audio that hits more often than misses. Using the English National anthem for a kill scene was a masterstroke that I’m surprised didn’t come with an explanation of kind.
The lengthy attempts at dramatising the key players may be off-putting to those looking for a fast-paced slasher flick. It could also be said that the killings aren’t graphic enough for hardcore hounds, but you’d have to be hyper-critical to truly find much more fault with Most Likely To Die. Here we have a movie from a production team that made the right decisions: don’t waste budget on non-essential ingredients when all you really need is competent actors, a cool killer guise, some blood and a director with the ambition to succeed. Sometimes doing the basics to the best of your ability outshines an overload of creativity. This may not be a genre-defining movie, but it’s a worthy inclusion that should be a lesson to filmmakers looking to continue the legacy.
Bone Cave 2011
Directed by: Matthew Brooks
Starring: Justin Rose, Jeremy Jusek, Andrew Hart
Review by Luis Joaquín González
So here we have yet another extremely rare slasher movie, but it’s one that is refreshingly unique. Even as a fan of the genre, I often get tired of the amount of films that traipse along the standard clichés without even attempting to inject any authenticity. Bone Cave on the other hand is unlike anything that I’ve seen before and despite its limitations, it offers an encouraging slant on the stalk and slash formula.
A pair of college kids hatch a life-changing plan to get rich by robbing a local ecstasy dealer and hosting a rave so that they can sell the tabs that they stole. As the party gets underway, it soon becomes apparent that a caped killer is lurking among the revelers and looking to slaughter the drug-induced teens…
For the first twenty-minutes or so, Bone Cave played like it was little more than a slasher by the numbers. It kicked off with a pair of poorly acted lovers being murdered in a cave by a caped menace with a painted face. There was nothing about the sequence that couldn’t have been copy and pasted from a million other genre entries and when the next cut showed us a couple of kids sitting outside a high-school, I felt like I was watching a lower budget knock-off of President’s Day. However as those same characters began speaking about their ambitious plan to rob a local drug pusher and host an illegal party, I began to realise that Ohio based director Matthew Brooks was on a thoroughly different wave-length.
Whilst there’s no denying that Bone Cave is a slasher movie, it’s one that plays like it’s only half-aware of the trappings, which I mean as a compliment. We get forty-five minutes of plot development from the three main players and perhaps because the dialogue has been written by a youngster (Brooks was in his twenties) it comes across as genuine as to how youngsters speak. It could be said that the pace during these parts isn’t as tight as it should be and a couple of killings might have made the runtime sharper, but Brooks’ flair for witty lines and realistic scenarios kept things afloat. If you’ve been a long-term reader of a SLASH above, you’ll know my thoughts on the challenges of mixing slapstick and terror into a palatable cocktail. There are many entries that have tried this formula (Easter Sunday/Slaughter Studios) and the majority of them are disjointed and shabby. It would be unfair to call Bone Cave a slasher/comedy, but the script delivers a nice blend of humor (from the dialogue) and horror (from the multiple victims). I expected the theft of the ecstasy tablets to be a small background sub-plot, but it is smartly expanded to generate a solid spine. It’s fair to say that there are no real surprises in later revelations and the killer’s identity is easy to guess, but most of the ideas here are novel and smartly delivered.
The second half of the film takes place inside the cave of the title, which was the location chosen to host the rave. The exteriors were filmed locally and are impressively conveyed considering the lack of experience and I can only guess that a hall was used for the other parts, but credut to the set designer(s) that worked hard to make it look as realistic as possible. Early on, I was a little worried that the lighting would be a problem, because we have about ten-minutes of footage that is illuminated by a couple of torches, but this soon improves and the crew did a good job technically. I also thought it was original the way that the killings were staged. Initially we get a torture porn-esque kidnap of a young girl that gets acid thrown in her face, but then the maniac goes on a rampage and runs into the middle of the party-goers with his custom blade and begins slashing… Cue pandemonium! We do get some blood splashing and a couple of gooey moments, but Bone Cave is fairly light on the gore score. It draws to a conclusion with the three main characters trapped with the maniac and they must overpower him in order to flee the carnage. If I were to be really harsh, I could say that the film might’ve worked better with a meaner spirit and I also didn’t think that the killer’s dialogue (he’s a real chatterbox) was effective. Still, earlier on I mentioned President’s Day and whilst the pair have very little in common, they share an alluring vibe that’s impossible to brush off.
All in all I enjoyed Bone Cave. It’s certainly full of innovation and a handful of smart accomplishments. The pace does stagnate a bit during the first half and some of the effects are visibly cheap (the grenade explosions are PSone-esque!!), but I guess that they made the most of an extremely tight budget. Matthew Brooks is certainly a talented filmmaker and his inclusion to the genre is worth a look.
Paranormal Xperience 3D 2011
Directed by: Sergi Vizcaino
Starring: Amaia Salamanca, Alba Ribas, Miguel Ángel Jenner
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Like most slasher fans, I’d be a liar if I said that I hadn’t considered making my own entry to the sub-genre. On the drive from Aracena, my family’s pueblo, to Huelva, there’s an old quarry that is one of the most historical sites in Southern Andalucía. Nowadays, Parque Minero Riotinto has a museum that displays artifacts from its 3,000 years as Europe’s biggest mine. The story began with the Phoenicians hunting for copper, and as the tides of time swept over the Iberian peninsular, the Romans took over when they discovered large stashes of silver. In the late nineteenth century, an entrepreneur from London purchased the site and it became one of the first British settlements in Spain. Even if the visitors loved the hot weather and spacious deserts, they missed a few of their own novel customs and decided to introduce them to their gracious hosts. Before long, a Golf course was opened and a soccer team by the name of, Recreativo de Huelva. None of those early settlers could have predicted that they had laid the foundations for the creation of the league that would give us the largest match in the world, ‘El Clásico’ between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
With its dilapidated tunnels and isolated landscape, I often felt that the Riotinto mine would be the perfect location to shoot a slasher movie. A lack of time and funds however meant that I never took my daydreams further than the initial stage. When I learned about the production of XP3D, I hoped that the crew would make the most of the concept and I can’t deny a slight satisfaction in thinking that an idea of mine was actually being developed for the big screen. Albeit, by someone else and without my involvement :((
A group of medical students are given the task of hunting out any truth to the rumours that surround an abandoned mine. Years earlier, a professor ruthlessly butchered some locals, but his corpse was never discovered and legend dictates that he still roams the grounds. Due to a lack of transport, Ángela invites her younger sister, Diana, who owns a van to join them on their expedition. Their relationship broke down after their father committed suicide and since then, they have never seen eye to eye. Almost as soon as the group arrive, they sense an ominous presence and are left having to fight to survive…
I’m from Andalucía and the fact that so much of Spain’s globally recognised culture comes from my community (Siesta, Toros, Flamenco, Tapas etc) makes me extremely proud. Even Cristóbal Colón set sale on his groundbreaking journey of discovery from the ports of Huelva. When it comes to slashers though, I have to take my hat off to Cataluña, because their track record of Los Inocentes and Los Ojos de Julia speaks for itself. XP3D is another Catalan entry and I was keen to see if it could be the Luis Suarez to sit alongside Messi and Neymar in their slasheristic attack.
On a relatively light budget of €3,200,000, the film looks as good as any of the entries that have thrown untold-millions behind their developments. Shooting in contained underground environments is always a recipe for a bad lighting rig, but Rosa Ros’ sets are extensive in their detail and perfectly displayed. Whilst It takes around forty minutes for our first killing, Paranormal Xperience sustains interest due to an exquisitely mastered intro, which I won’t spoil for you. I will say though that it is a masterclass of tension in a confined environment. From then on, we spend time with a group of youngsters that may not be extensively developed, but they are at least likeable and given interesting tweaks. It was a risk to fill the cast with actors that hadn’t even really made a mark in TV shows, but the dramatics are surprisingly solid, especially from Maxi Iglesias and Amaia Salamanca as our beautiful heroine. Although they prove that they weren’t only cast for their physical appearance, the camera does linger longingly on Úrsula Corberó’s rear-end almost as many times as it does her face. I guess though, a culo like hers deserves to be appreciated 😉
Director Sergi Vizcaino shoots the action with a visible gloss and it gives the film an adroit realism. I recall the advertising campaign, which created the impression that we were in for an out and out gore extravaganza. We do get an extremely gruesome CGI head-rip and a wince worthy moment where a rock hammer is removed from a victim’s eye socket (nasty), but not everything was shown on-screen. I did like the look of the antagonist, who sports a ‘Phantom of the Opera’ style half-mask, but his taunts are neither threatening nor witty, which leaves them lingering without substance.
Even if Spanish cinema is renowned for its unique character driven narratives, I’m the first to confess that we do often make films that are inspired by Hollywood trends and conventions. Following the success of Saw and My Bloody Valentine in 3D, XP attempts to follow In their footsteps with the same visual gimmick. In doing so, I feel that the film sacrificed some of its potential. It’s almost as if they were halfway through writing the script when a producer came up with the idea of 3D and then everything else fell by the wayside. All the realistic dialogue and depth that had been visible from the launch suddenly evaporates and it felt like someone gave acupuncture to the second-half of the screenplay. The characters clearly have mobile phones (I won’t mention the most obvious Sony product placement ever) and use them to contact each other whilst at the mine. When the killings finally start, not one of the panicking victims even mentions calling for assistance, which looked like a bizarre thing for the author to overlook. (?) In fairness, the invention of cellular technology was the biggest challenge that the slasher genre’s basic structure has ever faced. It can be overcome though with a simple line of goofy but expository dialogue like, ‘My battery’s dead’ or, ‘I have no signal’ (I mean, they were in an underground mine). Штольня even went as far as to give us a scene that explained the lack of a call for help; – and whilst that’s not always necessary, anything looks better than absolutely nada.
Another issue is that the film overestimates the intelligence of its gimmick. I won’t tell you how so as not to ruin any potential surprise, but it reminded me of an excited present bearer that wants to tell you what your gift is before you shake the box or rip the wrapping paper. There’s nothing wrong with a twist, because many slasher movies are built upon them, but it was easy to predict the outcome here. It could also be said that the storyline doesn’t really know what it wants to be. We launch along a pathway that makes us believe that we’re watching a film about a haunting, which makes sense considering the ‘paranormal’ title. Then the masked killer turns up and we slot into the traditional template without a second look. I mean, they do mention a supernatural-ish aspect later, but it felt like it’d been bolted on at the last minute when someone on set said to the screenwriter, “Yo dude, what about the ghostly stuff?”. The response was probably something along the lines of, “Oh yeah… Damn it, I forgot about that…” I don’t know; it just looks like the script was completed in a week and based on a combination of ideas that were cobbled together in haste. If you compare XP with Los Inocentes, it’s easy to see that one had a logical plan THAT WORKED and the other plays like a skateboard rolling down a pebbled hill.
It’s a strange analogy, but you can’t prepare a good curry by simply throwing in more spice. It’s about the finer details; the timing, the seasonings, the blend of the right herbs. XP borders on being an exquisite main course, but the fact that it throws too much into the Tandoori oven, leaves it a bit too overdone to be truly succulent. Not even a helping of gore-soaked poppadoms could perfect the taste. So with that I’m off to the kitchen…
Final Exam 1980
Directed by: Jimmy Huston
Starring: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown
Review by Luis Joaquín González
So following on from my review of Fatal Exam, I thought I’d cover this peak period sleeper and get all of the ‘exam’ slashers out of the way once and for all. I must admit that I hadn’t seen it for about twenty-years, so I was keen for a second viewing and thorough analysis. My perception from back then was that it was a bit too much of a Halloween magpie and I didn’t appreciate the unimaginative ‘look’ of the antagonist. I was about 15 at the time and my non-franchise favourites were the likes of My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler, StageFright and Legend of Moated Manor, which all included killers with memorable masks. In comparison, Final Exam felt, well, a little bit ‘meh’, and I have never re-visited it… Until now…
Writer/Director Jimmy Huston shot Exam over six-weeks during the spring of 1980 and he utilised friends and students that he had recruited from word of mouth and a small advertising campaign. It would be his fourth motion picture and a complete change of tone from his previous work, which was mostly genre films that played like European productions. Despite the self-sourced nature of the development, the $53,000 budget didn’t stretch as far as anticipated, which resulted in a few scenes having to be re-written or completely scrapped. I couldn’t find any information in regards to the film’s box-office performance, but it certainly acquired a solid VHS distribution deal, because I own Spanish, British and Polish copies.
As a small college prepares to close its doors for the end of semester, a number of students remain on campus for the last of the exams. Their final preparations for the journey into adulthood take a turn for the worse when a psychopathic killer begins to butcher them one by one…
I won’t be making any headlines when I inform you that Final Exam is not a competitor to Halloween, Friday the 13th or even Curtains, but I do think that it’s a much better movie than its reputation would lead you to believe. In fact, I’d say that if all the slasher flicks of the past twenty-years had been a similar level of quality, the genre would be filled with a lot more critical acclaim.
We are given the clichés of the category’s most notorious offerings with the characterisations (virginal lead, promiscuous friend, ‘horror’ nerd, bullying jock etc) but I found it intriguing how they were conveyed with a subtle depth. Radish, the curly haired geeky guy, was certainly a prototype for Scream’s Randy both physically and personally. He has a crush on our straight-laced heroine, Courtney, and his romantic pursuit shows moments of realism that are well-handled and recognisable. There’s an interesting scene, where the two have a heart to heart about her insecurities, which offers a delicate comment on the fear of rejection and the challenges of confessing true feelings. Courtney herself is clearly based on the sensitive Laurie Stroud-stereotype, but she carries a desire to overcome her social trepidation, which I thought made her more appealing. The ‘slut’ persona, Lisa, defends her actions in a humorous sequence that displays how she uses her appearance to progress. Hell, even the rebellious jock had something of a sadness about him and a desperation for recognition. All these common elements that are never explored in most slasher movies seem to be written with a keener focus and it gives the personalities an extra layer. Whilst it can be argued that the key players never really have an arc or reach the destination of their inner journies, the dialogue is memorable because it offers situations that we can relate to.
Whilst Huston deserves praise for his scripting and ability to derive convincing performances from an inexperienced cast, the look of the movie definitely belongs to Darrel Cathcart. As one of the most underrated DPs of the peak period, he really put his visual stamp down with some wide-framed set-ups and impressive camera placement. His input also greatly improved another eighties slasher (Death Screams from the same year), but Exam demonstrates the best of his work. There are countless postcard shots of the boogeyman in dimly lighted locations that are extremely impressive and even if the score is clearly ripped from John Carpenter, it assists with the creation of some creepy moments.
I always felt that Michael Myers was much scarier than Jason Voorhees, because his motives were ambiguous and never clarified. Jason killed to avenge the decapitation of his mother and Michael just murdered because he was ‘pure evil’. It’s true that when it comes to antagonists, less is always more; but the killer here is a total nobody and the ‘nothing at all’ approach doesn’t work. I’m not sure if it was an unsuccessful attempt at breaking ground from Huston or some expository scenes were cut from the final print, but we’re left with a villain that is little more than a cardboard prop. We didn’t even hear the traditional radio news report that informed us that, ‘an infamous murderer has escaped the local asylum killing two-guards…’ I’ve overcome my disappointment at his lack of a ‘killer guise’, because I took it as him being so deranged that he didn’t care about concealing his identity. It’s just that the story lacks a Dr Loomis type character to elaborate his menace with some hammy lines about, ‘The blackest eyes… The devil’s eyes…’ It’s strange that the film is so similar to Halloween in its structure, but so authentic in the finer details. It’s a shame that those are the ones that no one really notices.
Over the years, many reviewers have commented on the film’s sluggish first-half and the extreme lack of gore, which are fair criticisms that I can’t defend. Personally though, I felt that this captured the essence of the peak-period superbly and showed why the golden oldies will always be the best examples of the sub-genre. There’s no denying that the pathway to the conclusion builds a sharp momentum as bodies drop in rapid succession and the final face-off in a claustrophobic bell-tower is competently staged.
Final Exam is an important addition to the slasher grouping that overcomes its accusations of imitation with some solid examples of impressive filmmaking. There are a lot of elements that don’t really move the plot in a progressive direction (the artistic, yet unnecessary POV through a kitchen vent for example) that over-inflate the runtime, but all in all there’s a lot here that warrants respect. Jimmy Huston never really revealed any trivia about the production in later interviews, which only adds to the enigma.
We live in a world that’s full of injustices and whilst Final Exam is regularly brushed aside as an average picture, Porkchop gets remade in 3D. Let that sink in for a moment…
aka Kandie Land
Directed by: Eddie Lengyel
Starring: Haley Kocinski, Max Elinsky, Ari Lehman
Review by Donny Ybarra (Brother’s Grim)
I recently reached out to director/writer/horror aficionado Eddie Lengyel, whom not only let me screen the movie, but has been very eager to discuss this film too! What is nice is to be able to connect with filmmakers and discuss what it is that brings you together, in this case it is the love of the slasher genre! I explained to Eddie how much of a fan I am of slashers, I’m constantly on the lookout for new flicks, especially ones that have an iconic masked villain. Before digging right in I’d like to also point out that Mr. Lengyel has another upcoming project due out later this year called Naughty List, and yes, it is a Christmas slasher!
When you watch horror movies/slasher movies, what keeps you invested? For me it is the cast, and while there are some moments of dry acting, I’d say you can see the passion in this film from everyone in front and behind the camera, and that definitely counts. Now everybody knows Ari Lehman in the slasher world as the “kid Jason Voorhees”, but I have been watching some great indie slashers here lately and Ari is all in the horror mix and is fun in this film briefly. Having cast a horror vet in a slasher flick only adds to the appeal to me, kudos for bringing him on board. Another standout for me was Don Kilrain as “Jonah” who was our masked madman. With a name like KILRAIN, you expect to have one badass mother____%#^!!, and Jonah is that! Jonah is pretty imposing and is fairly creative when it comes to the kills. Another standout was Molly Miller as “Tiny”. Tiny was an interesting aspect to this film, she brought the “humanity” out of Jonah, and I don’t know if that is such a good thing! It was also nice to see Janine Sarnowski as “Luna” she was a familiar face from Chill: The Killing Games (which I loved!), and I really enjoyed her character in this one.
The plot for this one is straight up, you get a tragic past that creates this villain…who has grown to despise “pretty people”., so what do you think happens to a group of models that cross paths with this creepy brute?!?! Let’s just say, beauty is only skinned deep! I wasn’t really a fan of the scenes with the models, there was just not a character I cared about, I found the models rather annoying and not at all interesting (other than wanting them to die quickly), but they served their purpose.
Being a fan of iconic killers like Jason, Freddy and Chucky, what works for them is their motivations for killing and unique ways of doing so with a kickass look. I wouldn’t put Jonah up there with them, but I would say that if given a sequel I would love to see the “punish the pretty people” angle more to give our killer a little more edge. What brings this slasher up a notch from others is not only motivations, but the kills. This movie was pretty brutal, and dare I say offered up some inventive demises. You are treated to some old school practical effects too, no CGI blood! Also, the mask had no explanation with its origin, but it was fun to guess. Was it a “pretty crush” that turned Jonah down and he ended up taking her face? Who knows, but the hair on the side was creepy. The fact that the mask looked like old dried skin was creepy too, kinda reminded me of the native American slasher Ghost Dance .
I’ll forgive many a slasher film for acting if I know that some thought when in to the body count, which this movie racks them u nicely. The pacing is pretty fast and you get kills frequently. When the movie starts winding down, there is a scene towards the end with a couple trying to escape via row boat, which I thought was pretty hilarious. Another funny bit was the “prophet of doom” on the hoveround, if anyone is going to escape this movie it would be that old lady, after all she does have a head start! I wouldn’t have minded more of a chase scene towards the end, although I did enjoy that last kill quit a bit, it really made me squirm a little. Also, I was hoping for a “final girl” when I realized that at the end, Luna was it! Which broke the slasher norms and made me think of the “final girl” Alley Oats (played by Deborah Rose) from The Boneyard. This made the movie believable and gave us someone that could be a kickass character later too!
I always look forward to reviewing these indie films, many boast about being a “homage” to the 80’s, while I think others just do. With this one I do get a little nostalgia from that decade, it’s almost a mix of Leatherface: TCM 3 (1990) and a tad bit of Twisted Nightmare. I could definitely see this one released towards the later part of the 80’s, when most slashers just ran through a checklist of what it takes to be a slasher, which with today’s horror releases it isn’t a bad thing. I say give this one a peep creepers, two thumbs up.
I found Scarred to be a relatively fast-paced slasher that was both unique and grisly. I appreciated that the core characters had been developed beyond the hooker/stripper stereotypes to actually carry a screenplay and build rapport with viewers. I don’t recall seeing the gorgeous Hayley Kocinski in Chill, which is strange, because she’s got the Eastern European-type of beauty (her surname’s Polish) that I adore. Still, I thought she was good as the lead. I totally agree with Donny that ‘Tiny’ (reminiscent in a way of the ‘kid’ from Burial Ground) somewhat weakened the killer’s menace, but there was enough of an enigma surrounding his hate of ‘pretty people’ to supply a macabre aura. Whilst most of the victims make dumbfoundingly stupid escape decisions and some of the acting is sketchy, I can’t deny that Scarred offers all you want from a slasher spectacular. My only question is, what happened to the girl from the prologue?
Killer Guise: √√√
aka The Pit
Directed by: Lubomyr Levytskyi
Starring: Svitlana Artamonova, Mykola Kartzev, Olga Storozhuk
Review by Luis Joaquín González
The fact that my kids are half Polish and I speak the language fluently means I feel like an honouree Pole of sorts. Due to this I always wanted to review a category addition from that country, but despite the fact that horror is extremely popular in PL, they haven’t yet given us a true slasher flick. I had high hopes when I learned about the production of 2008’s Pora Mroku, because it had been listed in the media as a similar concept to Wes Craven’s Scream. The net result though turned out to be more of a Hostel clone, so we are still waiting for an entry from the land of żubrówka. Some may cite Fantom Killer as a Polish slasher, but it was actually filmed in East London and Roman Nowicki is an alias for British filmmaker, Trevor Barley.
The reason I tell you this is because I was excited about seeing this offering from Ukraine, which neighbours Poland along the Eastern border. Ukrainian as a language utilises the same Cyrillic alphabet as Russian, but a lot of words are far more similar to Polish (Jak instead of Kak, Tak instead of Da etc)). I speak Russian, Polish and I’m learning Bulgarian, which means I had no problem at all in understanding the dialogue spoken throughout this movie.
A group of students head off to explore an underground chamber where it’s rumoured that an ancient Pagan cult had hidden valuable artefacts. They are accompanied by their college professor and soon discover a locked entrance to a tunnel that leads to the darkness below. When they wake up the next morning, the professor has disappeared and the gate has been mysteriously opened. They venture inside to hunt for their colleague and some treasure, but eventually discover more than they bargained for.
Much as with the case of the aforementioned Pora Mroku, there are various different synopsises that can be discovered online for Штольня. If you were left wondering if this actually is a slasher movie, you’ll be happy to learn that it certainly is, right down to a hooded menace bumping off students one by one. It’s surprising how much the film plays true to the genre’s trappings, especially in the cliched personalities of its personnel. We get the stereotypical jocks, cute heroine and geeky hero and there’s even the chance to guess if the maniac is someone we’ve already met. Debutant Lubomer Levytski draws solid performances from his actors and Olga Storozhuk is brilliant as the beautiful heroine. Eastern European women are amongst the most gorgeous in the world and the director certainly makes the most of this fact by casting a few staggeringly hot chicas. I was disappointed that other titles from Slavic countries, like Slovenia’s Masaker, were so weak on the eye-candy factor. Luckily, Trackman – a film arguably inspired by this – brought back some credibility.
We get a couple of fantastic set-pieces that really underline the abandonment of the victims. The most memorable is when they discover a ventilation pipe that leads outside and begin screaming for help in the hope that someone will hear them. We are shown a worker that is a few yards away and would immediately be able to assist if it weren’t for the fact he was wearing sound-mufflers to protect from the roar of his chainsaw and generator (!). Perhaps what makes the scene all the more hard hitting is that he turns off his devices and removes the earplugs at the exact same time that the troupe take a break from shouting. Just as he puts them back in, their cries begin again….only more frantically!. Don’t you just hate days like that?!? There’s also a very effective jump scare that hits us as the kids are driving to the excavation site. It shows impeccable timing from Levytski.
With the underground backdrop, flashlights and dark tunnels, it’s impossible not to think of My Bloody Valentine when analysing this entry. The difference is, George Mihalka’s classic boasted a hulking antagonist that was regularly on screen and shown to be stalking his intended prey. Maybe it was an attempt to add an extra layer of mystery to Штольня’s premise, but the killer is barely seen up until the climax. I don’t even recall a chase sequence that attempted to deliver suspense. I’ve always believed that it’s much harder to direct a horror movie than it is any other genre and whilst Levytski does well with many of the core principles of filmmaking, he fails to capture the tone of dread that this feature needed. With so much at his disposal in terms of a great location and a convincing set-up, it’s a shame that the flick didn’t deliver much tension or terror. We cared about the characters and wanted them to prevail, but we never faced a genuine aura of trepidation. I sat watching in the hope that a dark cloud would engulf the purity of the runtime, but the threat wasn’t really visible to us. Looking back at Halloween, we had the eerie scoring and ‘the shape’ lurking in the background of many shots. Here I couldn’t shake the feeling that the characters had to tell us that they were scared because there was no visual antagonist to impose fear upon us. It’s also worth noting how little the flick offers in terms of cultural recognition. The cast and language are Ukrainian, but aside from that this could just be a dubbed copy of a US film. I was hoping to see some expository dialogue whilst they ate Pelmeni or prepared Borsch, but unfortunately there was nothing that truly represented the blue and yellow of the former Soviet state.
Штольня is a solid slasher film that would be a great one if it had an atmosphere of doom and a central villain. We needed a lot more stalking and even a few more heavy breath POVs, but instead it was left up to the actors to convey the terror verbally. Of course that doesn’t mean that this is a bad movie, in fact it’s actually pretty good. It’s just a shame how close it came to being outstanding and just missed that certain something.
Marco Polo 2008
Directed by: Alton Glass
Starring: Cristina DeRosa, Eddie Goines, William L. Johnson
Review by Luis Joaquín González
When you look at all the ‘hard to find’ slashers, you’ll notice that the majority of them share familiar characteristics. Whether it be that they were self-funded and lacked solid distribution or were plagued throughout production, which led the crew to abandon circulation, there’s usually a common link to be discovered between them. That’s where Marco Polo stands apart. This one was completed in 2007 on a solid budget and with a talented cast, so it’s strange that it has become so obscure.
In fact, what we have here is a feature that truly frustrates me; and my frustrations stem from the fact that it’s better than a large majority of the slashers that I watch, so why isn’t it available for global consumption? It kicks off with a fast-paced sequence that offers a pre-credits introduction to our boogeyman, Marco Polo. In a periodic scene from 1342, Polo, his wife and daughter are pursued through some forest, where they are eventually cornered and assaulted by their weapon-clenching assailants. Director Alton Glass goes for an incredibly merciless approach by showing us in detail how Polo was made to suffer by being blinded by the thumbs of a hulking barbarian. As he lies screaming on the floor, he can only listen helplessly whilst his spouse is raped and his child slaughtered. It’s an uncommonly harrowing intro, which shows a level of graphic violence that was quite intense. We then fast forward to present day California, where we meet our likely victims.
It’s these parts that most proved to me that Glass has the potential to be a competent filmmaker. We see all of our characters together at a pool party and there’s a blend of African Americans and Whites. What stood out to me was that the dialogue was audacious and intriguing, because it’s not the usual Hollywood sugar coated chit-chat. One girl nags her black boyfriend for leering over a white chick and he responds by saying, “She must have some black in her to be that fine”. Then a bullish Caucasian belittles a guy that looks like a poor man’s Eminem with the line, “Stay White Brother!” We live in a world where touching upon such topics always carries a risk of offence, but in reality, the majority of us aren’t racists and can share good-natured (and even competitive) interracial banter. I admired the director’s ambition to strive for realism and this continues throughout the runtime.
After such a crowded launch, we get a closer look at what will surely be our two central players. Jared is extremely disappointed that his younger brother Kelly wants to play basketball in Italy and not follow his sibling into the business that their entrepreneurial father left them when he passed away. This leads to an interesting ‘head or heart’ conversation that offers enough depth to develop both personalities. They decide to spend a camping trip together before Kelly jets off to Europe and this gives us a logical pathway to alienate our intended victims. There are eight campers that board the Winnebago to the forest, and each of them gets enough screen time to stand out. It would be wrong to say that they broke away from the traditional clichés, but the annoying jock type guy diversified into a real hero that I found myself rooting for. Actually, I wanted most of them to survive and I guess it’s because they were given more than just basic lines to move the plot from A to B.
When the killings start, they’re ferociously gory and Glass unleashes some tremendous visceral FX and a real injection of excitement. One guy gets chopped in half with a machete, there’s a unique decapitation and the brutal masked killer gives a credible Jason Voorhees impersonation. I liked the way that the film gave the players a slice of courage that convinced us that they wanted to survive. It’s tough to convey the true effect that a mass-killer would have on the average everyday Joe, but at least they weren’t just slashed and immediately rushed off screen to be forgotten. Every single box in regards to slasher trademarks is ticked (we even get a scary story around a campfire scene), but this film differentiates itself by including influences from thrillers like Fallen as well as a large dose of Friday the 13th. The biggest chunk of originality came from the conclusion, which I certainly wasn’t expecting.
The real Marco Polo was an ambitious traveller that passed away peacefully, surrounded by his wife and daughters, in bed. There are definite question marks over the logic of using such a renowned historical figure as the film’s antagonist. The fact that the screenwriter has bolted-on a distinct and unflattering streak to his personality makes it all the more peculiar. It would have been easier if they’d just used an imaginary person – a conquistador perhaps – because Polo was everything but a sadistic butcher. Still, I cannot really find any other relevant criticism to aim at this slasher and I’m scratching my head as to why it’s so obscure. When a motion picture that is confidently produced and includes sharp direction, a rapid pace, unpredictability, interesting scenarios, a professional gloss and some gore, you’d think that it had achieved everything that was asked during pre-production. A friend of mine said that he had heard that this was extremely similar to See No Evil, but it’s not at all. Alton Glass’ entry to the sub-genre is much better and deserving of a more prominent status.
So why does the film remain on the missing list? It seems like it all came down to bad timing. Just as shooting was completed in 2008, the lead producer had to deal with some personal matters, which meant that the concept was pushed to one side. When he was finally able to re-focus his efforts on securing circulation, the digital boom had rendered him unable to find the right deal. Now, eight-years later, it can finally be seen on Amazon.com, but only if you reside in the US.
There are around sixty slashers that I know of that will never see light of day on the right format. There’s a strong argument to say that Marco Polo and Legend of Moated Manor are the best of those. I hope you one day get the opportunity to see if you agree.
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.
Easter Sunday 2014
Directed by: Jeremy Todd Moorehead
Starring: Robert Z’Dar, Jeremy Todd Morehead, Ari Lehman
Review by Luis Joaquín González
When I launched a SLASH above, I wanted to create an online guide to the truest form of Halloween-alike slashers for fans to use as a reference point. My motivation was that I’d been stung hundreds of times reading a review of a ‘slasher’ movie only to go online and buy it then find out it was nothing of the sort. For me, writing the reviews wasn’t the important part, it was having a complete online list for genre fans. As the site has grown, I’ve had to start thinking more as a film critic and give an honest opinion on the direction, audio, blocking, camera placement etc of the pictures I featured. I took a few filmmaking courses and got an understanding of production from the earliest stages so that I could offer a constructive and informed view.
My earliest exposure to slashers was those of the peak period and therefore I’ve always used Halloween as the prototype. I’ve made my thoughts clear on A Nightmare on Elm Street many times and the reasons why I haven’t posted it here. However, from its success, we did get a host of genre entries that did fit with the category’s trademarks, but had antagonists with a repertoire of wise-cracks. These were the likes of Nail Gun Massacre, Psycho Cop, Doom Asylum, Hollow Gate and Happy Hell Night. Personally, I am a big fan of a macabre tone and don’t see the benefit of mixing slapstick with horror. I’m smart enough to know though that there’s an audience for pictures of that sort, or, well, they wouldn’t exist, right?
Easter Sunday, the yet to be released addition from Jeremy Todd Morehead, plays like something straight out of 1986 and includes a killer with an array of quips larger than his arsenal of weapons. It tells the tale of a vicious psychopath that murders his family on Easter Sunday whilst sporting a creepy mask. Sometime later, an up and coming rock group called, The Heartbreakers, accidentally bring the maniac back from beyond the grave…
I read an interview with director Jeremy Moorehead and he stated that he felt modern horror films had lost the humour that made them so addictive during the eighties. Many times on a SLASH above, I have said that the egotistic brats that populate a huge percentage of the post-Scream entries are no substitute for the goofy teens from the eighties. What Jeremy described as humour though, I would call charm; – and cinematically, there’s quite a difference between the two. After an intriguing and visually impressive credit sequence, Easter Sunday throws a whole heap of moods at us. We go from the throat slashing of a campy victim to a misplaced fart joke (?) and then on to the gratuitous murder of a sweet young child. This jumble of atmospheres continues throughout the runtime and creates a juxtaposition that I just couldn’t bring myself to digest, even though I really tried.
At times the comedic angle would wane and a dark, almost threatening, feel would generate from the scoring and some creative photography. During these parts, I felt myself subconsciously hoping that the runtime would maintain this flow, but alas, something silly would misplace all that’d gone before it. A fine example is when our protagonist (a spirited ‘look at me’ performance from director Jeremy Moorhead) informs his colleagues of how he fled the maniacal menace (a plot point that the viewer had witnessed and didn’t really need explaining). The scene is set-up well and it re-energises the momentum, but we then cut to a close-up of a character gulping down a burger in one mouthful and playfully jeering, which took the sting out of any ominous vibe. This is followed by the troupe discovering the dismembered head of their colleague in a refrigerator (a guy that was murdered then farted upon – no really), but instead of displaying fear or panic, we get a joke about the freshness of half a burrito that was left in the same fridge.
Look, I’m the first to admit that this approach may be one that I can’t personally appreciate and I feel guilty that I have to criticise the valiant work of a fellow slasher enthusiast. I don’t watch horror films for toilet humour and I can’t recall many slasher classics that succeeded with that approach. I almost coughed up ‘half a burrito’ when the lead told another player in a rare moment of seriousness, “No offence, but we’re not in the mood to joke around”!?! – Really? For me, that was likely the funniest part of the movie.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is, if your characters aren’t taking the horror in your movie seriously, how can your audience? Would the grotesque axe-murder of a pregnant woman work in the middle of Naked Gun? It’s a shame, because there’s some sure signs of potential on display here. We get CGI gore by the bucketload, a couple of generally creepy moments and an unexpected shock at the conclusion that I REALLY wasn’t expecting. It’s just that it was, once again, weakened by the moments that followed.
There’s a good slasher movie somewhere inside Jeremy Moorhead. If he sacrifices one tone to focus on the other, he could be a contender. In fairness, Easter Sunday is not a movie I’d ever really buy into due to my personal beliefs and it’s important that other viewers keep in mind that if you like Horror with Porkys humour, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this film. It’s fast moving, gory and fun with moments that are truly commendable. For me though it felt like an express train that kept getting caught in engineering works.
The Night Before Easter 2014
Directed by: Joseph Henson, Nathan Johnson
Starring: April Sinclair, Emily Chidalek, Alyssa Matusiak
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Wow we’re almost in April already, this year has really flown by. So here I have a film that I have to admit that I was interested in seeing. I don’t know directors Joseph Henson or Nathan Johnson personally, but they’re friends of JA Kerswell, the author of the slasher website that motivated me to begin writing-up slasher films. As a geeky teen, before I could afford my own dial-up internet connection, I used to head to my local library to check out Hysteria Lives and it was reassuring knowing that there were other slasher nerds in the world just like me. I was truly grateful when JA asked me to contribute to his website; and from those humble scribbles, a SLASH above was born.
The reason that I was so keen to check out The Night Before Easter was because I can logically relate to Joseph and Nathan; two true slasher fans that finally got the chance to make their own addition to our beloved genre. I’m a person of self-reflection and I would be a liar if I said that I didn’t think about the criticisms I deliver and that it’s easy to talk from afar without ever having made my own motion picture. So how would two equally as prolific slasher critics get on when they jumped in at the deep end?
Some friends decide to spend the night together to say goodbye to one of their group that’s moving to London. Their local town is shrouded in the rumours of a maniac called Alex Sykes who many years back, butchered his family whilst dressed as an Easter Bunny. As the alcohol flows, the revellers are stalked by an identical looking spectre. Has Sykes returned to seek revenge?
I’m happy to say that there’s a lot of fun to be had with TNBE and it’s comforting knowing that the film is in the hands of a crew that understand what’s needed to tick the relevant boxes. We are treated to a storming killer bunny that really brought to mind the hulking maniacs of old. There’s also an abundance of gooey red stuff to keep gore hounds chomping and a couple of extremely creative kill-scenes. Alyssa Matusiak makes for a foxy final girl and the fact that we see her get inebriated means that she’s far more genuine than the stereotypical Laurie Stroud template. I was surprised to see that she hasn’t got any other pictures in the pipeline as of yet, because the actress showed immense potential in her debut role. Henson and Johnson play it safe with their direction, but one scene that I thought really worked was the murder of a partially sighted victim that’d lost her glasses. A blurred screen POV was used to convey her vision as the boogeyman stalked up to murder her and it reminded me of a similar sequence from Nightmare on the 13th Floor.
Whilst there’s truly a heap of credibility to be found in the slasher scenes, the character development parts were where the film struggled to maintain the same level of credibility. Unlike most of the Western world, I’m not a fan of Big Brother, and the reason for that is because I once returned home late from work one evening, and decided to give the show a try, to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps because it was halfway through a series, I was confused as to the attraction in watching a group of strangers discussing another group of people that I didn’t know or have any interest in. It felt like sitting on a train behind a couple that are conversing about their work friends; – it’s hard to engage yourself to subjects that you have no knowledge of.
After an intriguing opening, TNBE introduces its players with them standing in a circle and talking of their lives at school. I can appreciate that as a concept, this might seem a viable way of unraveling key script members and I admire that these filmmakers understand the importance of character definition. However, there’s only so much of, “Riley dated Kelly, but Kelly’s such a b**tch” that I could listen to, before I had to ask, “Hold on, who’s Riley again? I think I know who Kelly is, but isn’t she with Barney? Hold on, who’s Barney…? Fred? Wilma? Yabba Dabba Dingle, can we get to the slashing please…?” Later, the discussions began to switch to heart pouring from some of the soon-to-be-victims about their weaknesses or whether they’ve been genuine to their friends. I guess that these parts were included in an effort to magnify the personalities, make them more human and build a level of sympathy for their demises, which thus would make them have a bigger impact on the audience. Again, this is a good idea, but I never attached myself to anyone from the story and therefore found these parts to be awkward and unnecessary. I’m not saying that it’s an easy task, but when you think about movies like Halloween or Friday the 13th that mastered the creation of intriguing characterisations in a horror universe, they did so with the simplest of methods that avoided overindulgence. The risk that Henson and Johnson ran was that a lot of time is spent in the hands of uninteresting cast members and it proved a challenge for the film to rediscover its momentum.
Still, when the killer gets to work, the good outweighs the bad and The Night Before Easter overcomes it’s obvious budget deficiency to provide some thrills and spills. I can honestly say that behind the film’s lesser parts was the glaring logic as to why those decisions were taken and even if not everything worked, it was a bold effort all round. I am looking forward to Gory Graduation their next slasher movie … Happy Easter