Tag 1980s

Mr Vampire Part 3 (1987)

Mr Vampire Part 3 (1987)

The Taoist priest Mao Ming uses his ghost friends to trick people into believing their houses are haunted so he can go in and exorcise them. However, the two ghosts humiliate Chiang, an assistant of great Taoist Master Gau, who quickly captures them in a jar as punishment and warns Ming to follow the right path. Breaking into Gau’s house to save his friends, Ming opens the wrong jar and accidentally releases the ghost of an evil witch instead. With the witch and her minions causing havoc across the village, it is up to Ming to join forces with Gau to try and stop her.

 

After the disastrous attempt to move the Mr Vampire franchise into a modern day setting with more of a focus on the slapstick and silliness in Mr Vampire II, director Ricky Lau goes back to some of what made the original such a hit in the first place. The good news is that Mr Vampire Part 3 is marginally better than its predecessor. The bad news is that it’s still far too silly for its own good.

There’s no storyline to follow from the previous films and, as these Mr Vampire films are unconnected, it should make it easier for the writers to come up with interesting stories for the characters to venture through. But there is no semblance of plot to Mr Vampire Part 3 at all. It’s purely a collection of madcap cartoon-esque sequences involving kung fu, magic and lots of annoying gurning and mugging for the camera by the actors involved. I’m not even sure it looked good on paper as the narrative has too many sudden stop-start moments where the story suddenly heads off in a different direction. At least there is one, admittedly flimsy, thread to follow throughout the film, even if it doesn’t really hold everything together that well. The problem is that there are too many supporting characters to go around – both monks have their own helpers, and both sets of helpers serve the same purpose in acting as comedic foil. They’re all fighting for the same screen time which is probably why the story goes in all manner of directions, just to keep as many of the characters happy as possible.

Being back in a period setting helps Mr Vampire Part 3 massively. The magic and mystic aura works better in a Republic-era China than it does in a contemporary environment, with all manner of superstitions and occult practices just fitting better into a more ignorant age without the benefits of modern technology. The corny 80s special effects fit the bill perfectly here too, with weird laser beams and flashes of light working well to create a real sense of the supernatural, even if the sound effects sound like a video game boss fight. They don’t detract from the action and are merely little add-ons, something a lot of big budget films in today’s era could learn from.

There are some decent moments of action anarchy in Mr Vampire Part 3, in particular an early sequence where fraudulent priest Mao Ming, having freshly ‘exorcised’ his ghost friends in order to trick a wealthy businessman, suddenly realise that there are real ghosts in the house. But then other sequences drag on for far too long and rely on the same joke – there’s no sense of restraint. A scene involving the invisible ghosts messing around with a bumbling idiot inside a restaurant goes on forever, as does a scene involving a melted ghost stalking Mao King inside a spa room. Billy Lau (I wonder if he’s any relation to the director) was funny in the original but his screen time was lower and he was never the focus of the scene, rather a supporting participant in it for others to play off. Here, he seems to be the focus of many of the film’s cringey slapstick sequences and overexposure to his goofy character is to the film’s detriment.

Lam Ching-Yang reprises his titular role, playing it straight for the most part but not taking things ultra-seriously and he has the deadpan down to a tee by this point in the franchise. It’s easy to see why he became typecast. One of Mr Vampire II’s biggest mistakes was keeping the character off-screen for as long as it did before he was introduced. He pops up earlier here, though still a little too late given he’s the main character and is given some fancy moves in an action sequence in the forest. We sometimes forget that these are kung fu films as well as horror and comedy and this is rectified with some well-choreographed fight scenes early on. The energy on display during some of the specific routines is ridiculous, something the rest of the film does at least manage to capture. Mr Vampire Part 3 is rarely slow and quiet, which can get a little in-your-face at times, especially when the punchline or the gag has outstayed it’s welcome.

And sadly, despite the title, there are no hopping vampires to be seen here at all.

 

Mr Vampire Part 3 was a step back in the right direction for the series, albeit a baby step. It does a few things right in getting back to the series’ roots but there is still much of a focus on the goofy supporting characters and the balance isn’t quite right between the comedy, horror and action. This is meant to about Mr Vampire, not the goofballs mugging for the camera around him.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

The Bogey Man (1980)

The Bogey Man (1980)

The most terrifying nightmare of childhood is about to return!

Twenty years ago, Lacey witnessed her brother murder their mother’s abusive boyfriend. Years later and suffering from nightmares, she decides to revisit their old home to lay to rest the past. But when she inadvertently shatters a mirror that was present on the night of his death, she accidentally frees his evil spirit from inside. This invisible prowler is now able to slice his way through the family of the people who caused his demise.

 

A cross between Halloween, The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror, The Bogey Man is a supernatural slasher which emerged at the start of the decade just before the market hit saturation point with knife-wielding maniacs. Caught between this new wave of visceral terror and the late 70s obsession with the supernatural and the Devil, The Bogey Man is a weird mix of the two which doesn’t do either sub-genre the greatest lip service. The Bogey Man was also one of a batch of films which was blacklisted in the UK during the 80s as part of the ‘Video Nasties’ furore that engulfed a lot of the video market at the time. It is only recently that these films have become available uncut for the first time and genre fans who might have missed the likes of this in the cinema because they were too young can now appreciate their wonderfully offbeat charm in all of their glory. The grisly poster of the priest holding up a crucifix whilst blood drips down his face has long been etched on my mind but I never get around to watching The Bogey Man until the recent blu-ray release (which looked amazing I just say – congratulations 88 Films on the great job with the transfer). NB – I would also like to add that I’m watching the UK titled version of this, with Bogey having a single ‘o’ as opposed to the US ‘oo.’

Watching The Bogey Man today, it’s hard to see why it would have been tagged along with the likes of Cannibal Holocaust and SS Experiment Camp back in 1984. More a supernatural thriller than a slasher, there’s nothing here both explicit or suggested to warrant a ban – perhaps it just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Bogey Man is also a bit of a misleading title. Not to be confused with the dreadful 2005 film Boogeyman, there is no actual ‘boogeyman’ physically going around killing people but rather a malevolent unseen spirit doing the handiwork. Whilst it does allow the film to free itself of the man-in-the-mask clichés, the idea of a supernatural slasher is one which isn’t well developed. The idea of the spirit possessing the mirror and then making people go mad or attack each other seems to have been tacked on half-way through the film as a money-saving option. And it’s definitely going to disappoint those who expected some actual physical boogeyman to be popping out of wardrobes and out from under beds to slice people up.

The influences of Halloween are evident, from the opening scene with the static shot of the Myers-like house, along with the child-killer murder scene, down to the voyeuristic first person camera work allowing us to see from the eyes of the killer as the supernatural assailant stalks his victims, and the generic synth score. The Bogey Man wears its influence on its sleeve and it isn’t too shy about it either, only this isn’t John Carpenter behind the scenes and Uli Lommel is no Carpenter 2.0. He doesn’t allow the tension to build, doesn’t frame shots to create unease and is happy to keep going back to the close-up shot whenever an effect sequence needs it, thus allowing the audience to clearly see that it is a make-up effect and not something more realistic. The only thing that is truly sinister is the house they’ve used, something out of The Amityville Horror playbook.

The pacing of The Bogey Man is awful, but the script does the film no favours at all, introducing characters and plot threads for no real purpose and failing to follow up on a lot of leads. Whilst the first half of the film is more supernatural and sets up the second half, it’s only in the latter part that the kills begin to mount up as the focus of the narrative shifts onto a group of thirtysomethings who are seemingly in the film to get killed off in grisly ways ala Friday the 13th. These are random additions who bear no relation to any of the main characters or the back story behind why the spirit is murdering people; they’re simply there to up the body count. Horror legend John Carradine pops up for a brief cameo which he filmed in one day – hey it’s good work if you’re famous enough to get it! His character and brief side story have no connection to the rest of the film either but at least it’s another name for them to add to the credits.

There is a streak of mean-spiritedness which runs through The Bogey Man though and it gives the film more of a punch than it should. You know that this evil spirit is intent on murderous revenge but what’s worse is that you get the sense that it knows it can’t really be stopped and begins toying with its victims a little bit. It isn’t fussed about who or how it targets people either: girls have their throats cut; kids have their necks broken; priests have their faces melted; and more. There is a decent selection of kills but as previously stated, the director has the annoying habit of shooting them with close-ups, taking you out of the film for a moment and allowing you the chance to see that you’re looking at a special effect. The idea is to make it look as real as possible, not show the audience how you did it.

 

Never as scary or interesting as it’s title and poster suggests, The Bogey Man clearly wanted to rip off a number of bigger and better films that preceded it and had no idea about how to bring all of them together under one banner. Switching between parts Halloween, parts The Exorcist and parts The Amityville Horror results in a big mess of a movie which you’ll desperately try to like given the year and era it was made but find difficult to love.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Last Horror Film, The (1982)

The Last Horror Film (1982)

She’s dying to be in his film…

Vinny Durand is an New York taxi driver who obsesses of becoming a big-time film director and heads off to attend the Cannes Film Festival in the vain hope of making beautiful actress lady Jana Bates the leading lady in his horror film. The problem is that he has never made a film before and no one knows who he is. His arrival coincides with a series of violent killings of the actresses’ friends.

 

Reuniting Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro from 1980’s Maniac, I can see the intentions here a mile away, especially with the underlying plot – besotted man with mother issues and on verge of a complete psychotic breakdown stalks attractive woman who wants nothing to do with him – being virtually the same, with a few different bells and whistles tacked on. Maniac was one of the 80s best exploitation slasher films, a truly grimy and grubby experience with a fantastic performance from Spinell and some superb make-up effects courtesy of Tom Savini. The Last Horror film is clearly an attempt to see if lightning will strike twice.

Sadly, it won’t, but that’s not to say that The Last Horror Film isn’t worthy enough to stand on its own two feet. It’s not as well-made and the lack of William Lustwig in the director’s chair could be a big part of this, but the tone is generally lighter with more black humour and it’s not as seedy (though it does have its moments). It’s clear there was little pitch to this film aside from “let’s make something similar to Maniac with the same actor and actress” and the story feels very much put together at the last minute. One of Maniac’s issues was trying to buy how someone as stunning as Caroline Munro’s character would fall for an overweight, out-of-shape fruitcake like Spinell’s character and it did take you out of the narrative trying to accept that. Here, the two revert to stereotype with the ‘beauty and the beast’ characters more familiar to audiences. There is a whole lot more going on in The Last Horror Film though so having this traditional set-up allows some of the other story to get a bit sillier and madcap because believe me, things do go crazy.

The Last Horror Film is almost experimental in its approach, almost as if it was made up as shooting went along based upon what they able to film. Most of it was shot without permits at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival and so a lot of it has been filmed guerrilla-style, in secret, around the festival itself. With all of the glitz and glamour of the Cannes Film Festival on display in the background, The Last Horror Film appears to have a bigger budget than it actually did, though its obvious which footage has been shot for a narrative purpose and which has been shot documentary-style to pad out the running time with footage of limos, cheering crowds and people enjoying themselves on the beaches. The beauty of the film is that this plays perfectly with the story in that no one knows who Durand is and so watching him try and get into events, pretend to be famous and make his film on the sly is just exactly what was happening in real life – Spinell and the crew would wait until the real celebrities had left, gate-crash the scene pretending to be a big star, with all of the real paparazzi flashing their cameras and real doormen and security guards stopping them from entering, and make sure it was all caught on camera. It’s smart, maverick filmmaking which gives the film an unpredictable, rough edge, though I could have done without the twist-of-a-twist double ending.

Never what you’d consider a leading man or even photogenically camera-friendly, Joe Spinell was nevertheless an effective character actor who managed to find roles in some of the most critically-acclaimed films of the 70s (Rocky, Taxi Driver and The Godfather), worked with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola and Sylvester Stallone (Spinell was even made godfather to Sage Stallone) and was friends with Steven Spielberg. This should give you an insight into how well-liked he was and how rated he was. He finally broke into the limelight with the sleazy and grimy 1980 exploitation slasher Maniac, which has become a cult classic and made Spinell a firm favourite in the genre. Like Maniac, The Last Horror Film is Spinell’s platform to shine and whilst Vinny Durand, his character here, doesn’t meet the same crazy levels as Frank Zito, he’s still capable of delivering a great performance and is central to the film at all times. Durand has a genuine likeability that it’s hard not to root for him as he tries desperately to make his film – given that he’s playing an obsessed stalker, it’s a feat in itself that Spinell manages to get the audience to actually get behind him but that’s a credit to the man’s intensity and genuine talent in front of the camera. The scene where he finally comes face-to-face with Munro as she is taking a shower is a tour-de-force of genuine acting, so much so its hard to know where Spinell is performing and where he’s really going insane. The character has lots of hallucinations of being famous and some do borderline on complete camp, with Spinell overacting massively. I will admit, Spinell is not for everyone but it’s in the quieter, more down-to-Earth moments where he can calm down a bit and showcase his skills. Sadly, Spinell was taken far too early, having been found dead in his home after accidentally cutting himself and bleeding to death at the age of 52.

Finally, with this being a horror film and all, there are some kills. Disappointingly for slash fans, the body count is lower than anticipated but there’s some cool make-up on show for the kill scenes here including burnings, stabbings and a chainsaw attack in the finale. What blurs reality is the film-within-a-film moments so some of these sequences are in fact part of the horror films that Munro is starring in. An interesting side-note to end on – the fictional film that Munro’s character has made is none other than Scream and promotional posters around Cannes advertise a film called Stab. Horror fans will recognise the links with a certain Wes Craven 1995 post-modern teen horror and its sequel.

 

As I praised him highly in Maniac, I’ll praise him highly again here. The Last Horror film isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination, a messy scrapbook of ideas and set pieces which has been ad-libbed and winged as much as possible, but it’s a great vehicle for the supremely-talented Spinell to showcase his bug-eyed range and it has some inspired moments of magic which would never have occurred had they filmed it ‘properly.’

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Return To Horror High (1987)

Return to Horror High (1987)

School spirit has never been this dead.

In 1982, a mysterious serial killer caused panic at Crippen High School but was never caught. Five years later, a movie company decides to make a feature film about these events – on location at the now-abandoned school. But when members of the cast and crew start to disappear without a trace, it seems as if history is repeating itself.

 

1987 and the slasher boom has already come and gone. Any ounce of originality, and let’s face it there was hardly any to begin with, had been bled dry. Audiences had been subjected to the same formula over and over, with lessening results. Unless you were one of the big hitting franchises like Friday the 13th, no one was flocking to the cinema to see your second-rate slasher and the best you could hope for was some prolonged shelf-life in a video store. There is this weird era between the ‘golden age’ and the post-modern 90s horror that is just a void of any truly remarkable slashers. With subtle hints that this would be something of an early precursor to the meta-horror of Scream, Return to Horror High looked to do something a little different and go for the film-within-a-film route, trying to subvert the genre with varying success. There had been other attempts earlier in the decade, with Student Bodies being one that springs to mind, but nothing had really worked.

Sadly, any real pretence this had to become something satirical and witty quickly evaporates once you realise Return To Horror High is literally a one-trick pony, where you’re not sure what you see on-screen is part of the film or part of the film-within-a-film. Far too often, there’s an elaborate kill scene filled with gore but then it is revealed to just be part of the film getting made and that the character isn’t actually dead. This works for the first instance, but then it grows tiresome as you realise the writers don’t have anything else up their sleeves. One scene is hilariously interrupted by the sleazy producer who pops into frame complaining that the camera should be focused on her breasts as that’s what the fans want to see, prompting the actress to go on a bit of a feminist rant at him. As well as the film-within-a-film structure, the whole narrative is framed around the sole survivor recounting the story to the police and also linking it back to the original murders, making the story even more confusing with a series of flashbacks to two different times and then back-to-presents. The combination of the two gives Return To Horror High a haphazard flow, pulling you out from a particular time to go backwards and forwards, or whether it’s real or not. It’s confusing to say the least.

Return to Horror High is messy though and not afraid to spill the red stuff. Given that this was made in 1987, the slasher film was living up the stereotypes that the producer in the film wanted – tits and blood – as there was nothing else left for it to do to shock audiences. Whether the gore is ‘real’ or part of the film-within-a-film concept, it’s effective enough and looks to have a sizeable budget. The best sequence involving someone tied upside down with a giant fan propeller moving towards him is like something out of a Saw film, albeit without the seriousness. There is a stronger emphasis on the humour over the horror throughout, so the goofy nature of the film can become a little overbearing with the amount of slapstick and one-liners. This contradicts with the horror elements as the slashing side of things can get quite serious. The two are weird bedfellows here, neither fitting well with the other.

With the story all over the place, the actors try their best but it’s a tough ask. George Clooney makes his screen debut here but blink and you’ll miss him as he’s quickly ‘written’ out of the film. Lor Lethin plays three different roles in the film, rather confusing given that the only noticeable difference between her characters is the wigs she wears, making it difficult to know just which character she is playing in a certain scene. Highlight of the film is by far and away Alex Rocco, who famously played Las Vegas casino owner Moe Greene in The Godfather, who is an absolute riot as the sleazy producer who just wants to see more tits and blood on the screen. He is almost like the inner voice of many of the target demographic. The problem the characters have is that there are so many of them and it isn’t until the halfway point before you realise just who the main characters are meant to be. By this point, you won’t really care less about them, and the rest of the story, as a result. The twist ending is ludicrous (you’ll never spot it a mile away though!) and another kick below the belt after you’ve tried to stick with the story for so long.

 

The dual storytelling approach of Return To Horror High creates a disjointed narrative, difficult to follow and leaving the audience spending most of their time figuring out just what the hell is going on. It’s a shame as there is some decent material here but despite the script thinking it was smart in trying to constantly fool the audience, it just trips them up one time too many.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Screamers (1981)

They Fight and Live on the Bottom of the Ocean

They Fight and Live on the Bottom of the Ocean

The survivors of a prison ship, which has sunk at sea, find themselves stranded on a hostile island, where its only human inhabitants appear to be the sinister Edward Rackham and his female companion, Amanda. After some time on the island, it turns out that Amanda’s father, Ernest Marvin, is a brilliant professor whose genetic engineering work has led to the creation of a race of humanoid fishmen, who work for Rackham by diving down to the deep depths and retrieving valuable buried treasure from the remains of Atlantis.  Marvin believes his work is for the good of mankind but is unaware that Rackham plans to double cross him with all of the loot that has been discovered so far.

 

Screamers was originally released in 1979 as Island of the Fishmen but after being acquired by New World Pictures in the States and falling into the hands of legendary shock horror producer Roger Corman, over half an hour of footage was culled, a new opening sequence was added to spice things up with plenty of grisly gore to and the film renamed not once but twice. The version of the film I watched goes under the second moniker of Screamers, not to be confused with the 1995 Peter Weller sci-fi horror. This is definitely a ‘kitchen sink’ type of film with so many ideas and stories floating around in the vain hope that something sticks.

Screamers starts off promisingly enough, as a group of treasure hunters come croppers at the hands of the fishmen – throats ripped, heads torn off, the usual gory dispatches. It is ironic that the part of the film that most appealed to me was the totally unrelated introduction shot two years later! It promises a lot of old school cheese, some nice 80s gore effects and reasonably well-shot and atmospheric moments (ok, so they did go a little overboard with the dry ice machine). But, as this is totally unrelated to the rest of the film, none of these characters will be seen again and so their fate is obvious. For a gore junkie like me, the film is downhill from here on in regards to the violence.

From there on, Screamers turns into some weird Island of Dr Moreau-like fantasy adventure with the doctor and the prisoners arriving on the island, quickly succumbing to a number of pitfalls including toxic water and deadly traps straight out of a cannibal flick. The production values are decent and the film itself is well-shot, with the island looking a fairly inhospitable place to live. But the pacing is all over the place and after this frenetic opening salvo which kills off plenty of characters (both with the new footage and the original film), the film grinds to a complete halt once the survivors meet up with Rackham and Amanda. Things plod along with the secrets and mysteries of the fishmen slowly being revealed, gearing up for the inevitable final confrontation between the hero, villain and anyone and anything else involved in the story. The last fifteen minutes or so aren’t bad, with the action picking up a notch and director Sergio Martino works wonders with his small budget. The only thing vaguely disappointing is the tacky miniature sets doubling up for Atlantis.

Lead actor Claudio Cassinelli is one of the better leading men from this period of Italian filmmaking and he has a nice intensity – it also helps that he self-dubbed for the English language version so it’s his actual voice. Barbara Bach never really convinced me much as a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me – she was pretty enough but her delivery was always wooden. There’s no change here and Bach plays upon her strengths (her attractiveness) whilst her failings are all too apparent (she’s a terrible actress, truth be told). Richard Johnson twirls his moustache well as the slimy English villain, although the script gives up his real intentions too quickly for my liking and he comes on far too viciously and aggressively early on – a more restrained approach could have kept his secrets under wraps a little longer and draw out the mystery of the island. Martino would use most of the principal cast in his monster movie The Big Alligator River, with Cassinelli, Bach and Johnson all starring. I guess it was a two-for-one kind of contract!

I’m a sucker for some of the cheesy monster effects that they were using in the 70s and 80s, giving the creatures at least a sense of realism that CGI effects can’t, and an old school vibe where you know at least the effects team put some effort into creating something that didn’t look like a fancy dress costume, even if the end results didn’t quite match up with the vision. The fishmen don’t look that bad in all honesty and it helps that most of the time they are shown on camera, they are semi-submerged in the water. The only issue I have is the daft eyes which seem to goofily roll around their big bulging white sockets whenever they walk, making them look cross-eyed. Just like the underwater scenes from The Creature From the Black Lagoon, it’s to the credit of the performers inside the suits that they are able to swim so convincingly and majestically through the water. Screamers is surprisingly low on gore, save for that opening act, which makes it all the more disappointing given the potential for some serious carnage during the finale as the humans lose control of the fishmen and they run amok.

 

Screamers isn’t the type of genre film I was expecting and, though I was a little disappointed with the lack of gratuitous gore and violence that I was lured into wanting after the opening blood, the eventual fantasy-sci-fi-horror hybrid is a quirky little film that has a lot more going for it than you’d realise. Not great but definitely not the dud it sounds like – Island of the Fishmen is a ridiculous title!

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Body Count (1986)

Body Count (1986)

The woods are alive with the sound of screaming

A group of teenagers roaming around Colorado in their RV pick up hitchhiker Ben, who offers them a place to stay at his parents’ campsite as a way of thanks. However, the group are unaware that fifteen years earlier, a murderous Native American shaman killed a pair of teenagers on his land and Ben’s father is convinced he is still prowling the woods.

 

Italy’s answer to Friday the 13th, Body Count is an apt title if ever there was one for a slasher film which ratchets up the kills as much as this one. It’s a routine campground slasher which I’d hoped would put more of a European flavour to the usual American trappings but rather plays out in exactly the same way as one would expect, just with plenty of extra Parmesan. By 1986, the slasher formula had been entirely played out, with the entire cycle of serious slashers followed up by themed holiday slashers and then finally the self-aware/spoof slashers all being done to death. That never stopped the Italians though, who were always late to the party and constantly tried to jump on horror bandwagons that had already long-gone in the US.

With no overlong build-up or messing around, Body Count gets straight down to butchering work and keeps a fast pace going, spreading plenty of kills over it’s running time (I counted thirteen, although one is left ambiguous) without worrying too much about characters or overarching story. It’s very much a case of getting the victims all assembled as efficiently and quickly as possible and then unleashing the shaman upon them, many times before I’d even worked out who was who. The copy available for streaming on Prime was quite dark and so its difficult to see who is being attacked from time-to-time. To be fair, it matters little when the characters are this sketchy and there’s little to no plot – people like me are just here to see the shaman get down to work.

Director Ruggero Deodato, most infamous for grisly exploitation flick Cannibal Holocaust and notorious revenge flick The House on the Edge of the Park, helms this one so you would expect a tsunami of violence, blood and guts. Whilst the murders are graphic in comparison to a lot of other slashers, you would not expect Deodato to hold back as much as he does here. The kills are fairly routine, most copied from its American counterparts (you can spot the Kevin Bacon kill from Friday the 13thcoming a mile away) and with little real suspense or tension to build up. The characters don’t seem to notice that their group of friends is dwindling one-by-one and even when they find themselves in dangerous situations, they do the most stupid things. Said ‘Kevin Bacon kill moment’ involves one character opting to run upstairs in an abandoned house and lie on a bed rather than fleeing out of the front door to go and get help. There is sticking to the formula and then there’s lazy writing. Surely it wouldn’t be too hard for the writers to give her character some degree of brain power so they could set up a kill, rather than do what they do here. It’s repeated throughout the film – characters do the most insane things at the wrong times. Or the killer comes up with the most ‘out of nowhere moments’ purely so the script can set up the next kill. Either scrap the kill at this point or find writers who can come up with these things. Thankfully, the writers at least know that nudity is a key ingredient to a successful slasher flick and the script throws almost all of its female cast into the shower at some point of the film.

Deodato’s old buddy David Hess is given an extended role as the slightly-deranged father (when was Hess ever anything less than deranged in this type of horror flick?) to add a potential red herring into the mix. Clearly along for a nice Italian holiday, American character actor Charles Napier pops up in a trademark authority role, this time as a police officer rather than an army officer. As for the rest of the cast, it’s mainly your usual array of Italian actors with bad dub jobs imposed over the top. The problem with Body Count, in fact the majority of Italian horrors pretending to be set in the US, is that the dialogue is cringy beyond belief, as the middle-aged Italian writers think they know what teenage Americans sound like. I’ve had the same issue with Nightmare Beach, another Italian slasher set in America, and watched in the same sitting as Body Count. These ‘teenagers’ couldn’t be anymore square if they tried.

Composer Claudio Simonetti has always been one of my favourite Italian maestros, responsible for some rocking soundtracks to the likes of Demons as a solo artist but more famously as the keyboardist for Goblin, the progressive rock group who scored such massive Italian horror hits as Suspiria. Simonetti works miracles again with some excellent music that would have befitted a far superior film and certainly adds something extra to the ambiance and vibe.

 

Body Count is by no means the worst slasher film out there but given the director’s resume, this should have been bloodier and messier if not more competently made. With so many clichés, you wonder where the director was just slumming by this point or whether he thought he was making something different. Either way, Body Count is for die-hard slash fans only.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Nightmare Beach (1989)

Nightmare Beach (1989)

The beach of terror

After the execution of motorcycle gang leader Diablo who was convicted of murder, a helmeted biker mysteriously appears and goes on a killing spree during spring break in Florida. As the bodies start piling up, the authorities try and keep everything quiet to avoid scaring people away.

 

An utterly bonkers slasher with a difference, it is impossible to dislike Nightmare Beach, no matter how hard I’ve tried when I’m writing this review. Its almost as if the people behind it scraped up the leftovers from both the goofball teen sex comedies of the 80s and whatever remnants of the slasher genre that had been unused by 1989 and slapped them into a blender. It is difficult to get a hold on things when the behind-the-scenes shenanigans was just as confusing. Original director Umberto Lenzi, of Nightmare City fame, allegedly backed out shortly before production began and screenwriter Harry Kirkpatrick stepped in to direct. But he apparently asked Lenzi to stay on set as an unofficial advisor. Some say Kirkpatrick was an alias used by Lenzi. He denied it. Some say he refused to sign the credit after he’d finished shooting. I guess no one will know. All I can say is that has all of the hallmarks of a Lenzi film – madcap moments with plenty of graphic gore and no real sense of direction.

Nightmare Beach follows the typical slasher narrative simply and effectively. Introduce the tiny bit of back story needed, have the main characters arrive at their destination early on, unleash the killer and start to crank up the carnage as red herrings are tossed across the screen, blood drips copiously and breasts jiggle for the gratuity of the male audience. The wafer-thin narrative is stretched out to its utmost length and even with a number of sub-plots that go nowhere, Nightmare Beach outstays its welcome whenever the killer isn’t doing his thing. From pickpocketing teenagers, a buxom blonde who lures rich men to her hotel room, a peeping tom caretaker, a corrupt mayor desperate to cover it all up, a practical joker who is always pulling pranks (what are the odds he’ll wind up dead and everyone else thinks it’s a prank?), a reverend’s rebellious daughter who doesn’t want to pray with him…..the list goes on and on of characters who are given screen time and something resembling characterisation but the majority have virtually zero interaction with each other or the main characters and are there simply for fodder.

As alluded to in my introduction, Nightmare Beach is a film with two very distinct parts: the slasher and the screwball comedy. When it is slashing, it is a riot. When it is screwballing, it is horrendously dated. There’s plenty of footage of teenagers partying on spring break – diving in pools, drinking in bars, sunbathing on beaches, and ‘Lenzi’ even throws in a token wet t-shirt contest. But none of the major storyline happens at the beach and this is all filler to pad out the running time. Like many horrors from Italy in the 80s, Nightmare Beach tries and fails desperately to convince anyone that this is typical America. It is but as seen through the eyes of foreigners as they assume this is how the youth speak and act. The writers do a terrible job of making these characters look and sound American despite trying so hard, with the obvious exceptions of the American actors in the cast like John Saxon. The two young leads aren’t very engaging and don’t have any screen presence whatsoever. Thankfully, the older actors in the film like Saxon and Michael Parks have much more fun in their roles. Saxon, who appeared in a fair few Italian films in the 80s, is particularly good at chewing the scenery as the sheriff who framed Diablo.

Like most slashers, the real joy of Nightmare Beach is seeing how wacky the kills are. Seriously, this biker is one creative person who has meticulously planned every single detail and possible outcome of murdering someone. If they’ve not pimped up their motorcycle to only electrocute the person riding on the back, they’re hiding on top of a lift and waiting for someone who has just discovered a dead body to enter so they can finish them off too. What if they’d taken the stairs? Or hadn’t found the body for another few hours? Were they just going to lie patiently on top of the lift? The practical effects, usually involving someone being electrocuted or burnt to a hideous crisp, are excellent as layer upon layer of make-up is applied to some, whilst obvious dummy heads are blasted with fire for a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style head melting for others. The biker outfit is also a nice change to the usual mask-wearing psycho. The problem with how madcap some of the build-up is, is that the finale was always going to be a disappointment and the almost Scooby Doo-like revealing of who the biker really is comes totally out of leftfield – a complete contrast to the way the character had behaved in the film up until that point. It’s hard to care about the character and their motivations given that they were non-existent earlier on.

One thing you can’t help but remember from Nightmare Beach is the soundtrack, full of classic 80s-style hair metal and rock ballads and a great score by Claudio Simonetti. The songs get repetitive as they’re played throughout but they do add a certain charm to the film which reminds its audience of a simpler time of horror filmmaking. There’s no mistaking which decade this came from!

 

Nightmare Beach is silly slasher fun which is even less concerned with characters, cohesion, plot and sense than most of its kind. I lost a few brain cells watching it and a few more whilst writing this review but I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy the ninety-minutes of mayhem.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Edge of the Axe (1988)

Edge of the Axe (1988)

An axe murderer terrorizes a small Northern California mountain community, murdering women who share a link of having worked at the same mental institution. while two young computer-obsessed adults attempt to solve the killings.

 

This little-known Spanish slasher is exactly the sort of copycat Euro-horror that was all the go in the 80s – whatever big fad the US was going through, it was down to (mainly) the Italians and in this instance, the Spanish, to regurgitate the same formula with a foreign twist. From killer animals in the wake of Jaws to a slew of zombie films in the wake of Dawn of the Dead, it was only time for Europeans to jump on the coattails of the slasher genre, so big during the early 80s. However, Edge of the Axe arrives very late in the cycle and by 1988, the sub-genre was virtually dead in the US. Whatever feeble efforts were being released by this point were spent forces, devoid of any new ideas and fresh material. It’s a bit of a surprise to see the Spanish finally jump on the bandwagon towards the end of this decade.

Shot in a mix of locations between California and Spain, Edge of the Axe is a weirdly blurred mix between full-on giallo and local backwoods homemade horror. The slasher moments have an Argento-like style, whilst the laid-back footage of the characters driving around dinky little towns rings true of someone’s first home movie. It can be quite jarring and there’s no guesses which out of the two work better. Edge of the Axe has one good thing going for it – it’s violence – and that’s pretty much it. The narrative is well-worn and the film doesn’t even do a decent job of stringing together a decent story to pad out the moments in between kills. There’s a lot of filler here, with so many characters driving and seemingly going about their everyday lives, not really that concerned there is a serial killer on the loose. And there are a lot of characters here, most of whom serve no real purpose or have any real depth. You’d assume they were there to pad out the body count but the killer seems to kill people we haven’t seen before on-screen and have no connection to. I have no real comment to make on the actors either – most of the main cast had no real career either before or after this film and it shows.

The script is to blame here. I get the sense that the filmmakers wanted to make a slasher but had no real idea of what to do outside of the murder sequences. There’s the romantic conquests of one of the characters, given plenty of screen time, to keep the running time high. The Macguffin of the computer being able to do a lot of detective work is a cop-out too. In typical 1980s fashion, the film computer does more than a computer in real life could do back then. My old Commodore 64 would struggle to load in Pong and take forever doing it, let alone do some of the complicated algorithms and loading of software that this one does. I suppose it’s an easy trope for the film to throw in to allow the characters the chance to piece together the clues quicker but it’s just more evidence of the lazy writing. To add the cherry on the top, along comes the twist revelation at the end which not only comes straight out of left-field but makes no sense in the context of the rest of the film, making a lot of the murders appear improbable.

And back to the violence, which is the film’s strongest selling point. Opening with a great kill inside a car wash, the film has nowhere to really go with upping the stakes and so just keeps everything as violent as possible. Too much of the film is shot in the daylight, which is a pity as the night scenes manage to create a bit of atmosphere and suspense. Despite the killer targeting random characters and despite there being little blood, the kills are decent enough. The weapon of choice, the axe, gives the killer the opportunity to really go to town on their victims. It’s one of the few slasher films I can recall where you can see the prop axe really driving down hard into the actors and actresses and the force behind the swings manage to convey the anger behind the blows. The white face mask for the killer is also a nice touch, although the characters has no personality whatsoever – just blunt force and determination.

 

Edge of the Axe is a typical late 80s slasher. The novelty of it being European made washes off pretty quickly and what you’re left with is a rather dull, plodding slasher with sporadic moments of violence which will entertain only the sub-genre die-hards. And, as I included myself in that category, it’s even a tough slog for us.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Psycho III (1986)

Psycho III (1986)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the shower!

Norman Bates is still running the Bates Motel and business is picking up when a suicidal nun arrives looking for somewhere to hide out for a bit. Norman is stricken with her resemblance to his first victim Marion Crane and, after saving her life, the two begin a romantic relationship. But things take a turn for the worse with the arrival of nosey reporter Tracy who enlists the help of the motel’s assistant manager to prove that Norman’s insanity plea was all a work. The spectre of Mother threatens to rear her head again.

 

After twenty-three years since the original, Universal took a big risk with Psycho II, a belated follow up to one of the most influential films of all time. After all, the 80s was now over-saturated with knife-wielding maniacs like Michael Myers so what better time to bring back Norman Bates and show the rest how it was done? The question was how could anyone do a follow-up to Hitchcock’s classic and how would modern audiences react to seeing an aging Norman return to the big screen? Well it was a surprise box office success in 1983 and that is in no big part down to the assured direction from one-time Hitchcock student Richard Franklin and clever script from Tom Holland (who would go on to become a competent director in his own right with genre favourites such as Fright Night and Child’s Play). The sequel wasn’t necessary but was far better than it had any right to be. In my review, I said it may be the ‘most underrated sequel of all time’ and definitely deserved the acclaim it received.

However, like many things, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing and that is clearly the case with Psycho III. Taking place one cinematic month after the events of Psycho II, Psycho III is a marked decline in quality from the first sequel, but it isn’t without merit. If anyone was to know what made a good Psycho film, it was surely main star himself Anthony Perkins, and he stepped up to direct here. Sadly, Perkins’ direction lacks any of the consistent finer eye for detail that made Hitchcock and Franklin’s films so good. He does have his moments, such as a sequence where the sheriff is talking to Norman after deciding he didn’t murder a guest and dips his hands into the ice box, without realising that is where her body is stashed. It’s very Poe-esque The Tell-Tale Heart as the sheriff sucks on a bloody ice cube as the camera cuts back and forth to Norman’s panicked face. The film needed more of this sophistication and less of the 80s slasher elements – it’s clear that the script was written to cater towards what everyone thought younger audiences would want to see. The slasher film was on the decline in 1986 though, the market having been oversaturated with dozens of sub-standard efforts, and so the decision to play to this demographic rather than keep with what had made the previous two films successful was a daft one.

If there is one thing that Psycho III is good at, it’s ensuring continuity with the previous films but it’s also one of the film’s biggest weaknesses – its insistence on being so self-referential i.e. you need to have seen the first two films to acknowledge a lot of the lines, circumstances and shots that are copied and spun around. Sometimes they pan out the same way, sometimes they don’t. There are only so many quotes and references to the previous films you can stomach before they start to become tiresome, simply because they keep reminding you that this film isn’t anywhere near as well-made. It’s almost all they’ve got to go on to keep the narrative fresh and they overplay this too much, too soon.

There’s also no real suspense to the proceedings – Psycho II at least had the novel idea of not knowing whether Norman was crazy or not but he’s full-blown wacko here and there’s no hiding it. The story just isn’t as interesting as a result, with Norman becoming just another knife-wielding maniac, only without the Michael Myers mask. There’s no whodunnit, like there was in the previous films, and no real mystery to solve thanks to the ending of Psycho II (which this film continues on with, rather than jettisoning it as the throwaway joke scene it was clearly meant to be). There’s just the narrative of Norman descending further and further into madness, with little to piece together the scenes between slashes.

Anthony Perkins had managed to hold the films together as Norman, a well-meaning and polite character who always had that degree of vulnerability and weakness so that he was sympathetic, despite his homicidal tendencies. Here, Perkins starts to overplay Norman a little too much, as the character does go into his full-blown psycho persona, but he still has some moments of tenderness and humanity. His little twitches and constant nervous stutters make Norman Bates a character we like and want to help, rather than wish to see hang for his crimes. That’s a difficult accomplishment and Perkins, through the previous films as well, has managed to craft the character in such a way that even now he has gone insane, he’s still able to resonate with the audience. The same can’t be said for the rest of the cast, who have such poorly written and sketched out characters that are not interesting in the slightest. Diane Scarwid’s nun, Maureen, starts off with an interesting character arc but gets side-lined too much once the narrative has gone into slasher territory. Even worse is Jeff Fahey’s slimy Duke, who is a complete douche bag and acts like a jerk towards everyone, getting his just rewards.

 

Psycho III was a flop and became the lowest grossing film in the franchise to that date, which is why the final film ended up going straight-to-TV. A sad end for a series started off and continued in such style by Hitchcock and Franklin. Psycho III isn’t a total disaster and if you’ve got to this point in the series already, you’ll be too engaged with the character of Norman to really bother about the smaller details.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Paganini Horror (1989)

Paganini Horror (1989)

Desperately needing a new hit to appease their producer, a female rock band acquire an unpublished score by legendary violinist Niccolo Paganini and head to his old remote villa to shoot a music video for their latest track. Little did they know that the sheet music is cursed and that they have unleashed the spirit of the dead composer and unlocked a gateway to Hell.

 

One final hurray for the Italian horror genre in the 80s or a damp squib to end the decade? I’ll give you a second to guess which category Paganini Horror falls into. A film with a bit of potential but with no clue on what it wanted to be, Paganini Horror is the epitome of how desperate the Italian horror genre was at this point in history; a film which did little success at the box office in Italy and didn’t really get much of a look-in across the world, consigned to obscurity and dodgy video bootlegs for decades. Now in a time where niche distributors in the UK and US are finally releasing these lost old school horrors for contemporary audiences, Paganini Horror sees the light of day to a whole new fanbase.

Paganini Horror comes with a bit of history between producer Fabricio De Angelis and director Luigi Cozzi. Angelis wanted a simple horror film whilst Cozzi wanted to play on his science fiction credentials by making something more fantastical. What we end up is a film which satisfies neither man – a timid horror film without any real scares or gore and a sci-fi film where all of the wacky cosmic stuff had been cut out by the time it hit theatres. The mish-mash of approaches is obvious. There are no rules. No limits. No restrictions. Like the majority of surreal Italian horror films from this era, you can’t even try and comprehend what is going on – just sit back and accept all of the nonsensical stuff on display. The plot meanders from idea to idea and not settling down with one clear direction – you’ve got Paganini slumming around the villa killing people, invisible forcefields preventing people from leaving and green fungus which melts people into piles of goo amongst other incidents that occur. It’s all very bewildering, especially with a twist ending which tries to explain everything that has come before it.

Paganini looks to be pitched as some sort of Freddy Krueger-like villain, stalking and killing with his Stratovarius complete with a retractable blade, but he’s hardly in the film enough to make a real impression. Instead, you have the characters exploring the villa, crawling around the same blue-lit tunnels, green glowing pits of Hell and red-coloured corridors. It’s just the sort of cheap and tacky Halloween funhouse you’d get in a carnival but it’s purely superficial atmosphere due to a lack of real scares or tension. Above all, and the cardinal sin for any film from my point of view, is that Paganini Horror is just dull. There’s a lot of crazy stuff floating around but there’s also a lot of nothing, with too many scenes just involving characters standing around talking about what is going on (and a dreadful script full of exposition to explain all) or walking around exploring the villa.

This being the 80s and featuring a rock group as the main characters, if you think you’re going to survive without hearing some of their songs then you’ve got another thing coming. I’m not sure we needed to listen to the entire blatant rip-off versions of ELO’s Twilight and Bon Jovi’s You Give Love a Bad Name being blasted out by the band, but it does waste valuable screen time in two lengthy sequences. However, they’re kind of catchy in that 80s Italian rip-off way and I have immediately downloaded them to add to my cheesy Italian horror rock collection (Clue in the Crew’s The Sound of Fear from Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 will take some beating)

Donald Pleasance cameos in a throwaway role as the mysterious dealer who sells the score to the group. It’s probably the easiest pay cheque he will have ever received, working only three days and getting a free holiday to Venice out of it. Bizarrely, he’s dubbed over by someone else in the English language version of the film, making him sound like some low budget Pinhead. The rest of the cast are your typical group of 80s fashion victims, ineffectual male characters and cute but vapid females. Flicking between the English language dub and the original Italian version, it didn’t make much difference to the performances, consisting of really bad overacting, shouting when not needed and a general sense of phoning in it. Pretty standard for Italian horror at this time.

 

Cozzi denounced the film as the ‘poorest film in the history of the cinema’ and though he’s got something of a point, Paganini Horror is by no way the worst Italian horror film you’re ever going to see. It’s cheesy enough, mad enough and quick enough to provide some entertainment but the film is very much scraping the barrel of the genre at this point.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆