Tag Slashers

Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, A (1985)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

The Man of Your Dreams Is Back

A new family move into the house on Elm Street and it isn’t long before the local teenagers begin having nightmares about Freddy Krueger. This time, Freddy attempts to take over the mind and body of Jesse, the teenage boy in the house, in an attempt to continue his heinous crimes against the Elm Street residents.

 

The laws of cinema dictated that a sequel to the hugely successful A Nightmare on Elm Street would be rushed out as quickly as possible and here we had it, only a year after Wes Craven’s genre classic struck horror gold. Much of the success of the original stemmed from infamous bogeyman Freddy Krueger, who had become an iconic horror character within the space of one feature film. Audiences wanted to see more of the pizza-faced villain and to strike whilst the iron was hot, this sequel was pumped out very quickly, with little thought to quality apart from the $$$ that the studio was expecting it would bring in. It shows.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is a poor sequel in comparison to the original but on its own it stands up fairly well. Unfairly maligned, the film may not be everyone’s favourite sequel but I’d question anyone who favours it over Parts 4-6. After an imaginative opening in which Freddy Krueger drives a school bus full of teenagers into the desert where the ground begins to give way, revealing Hell beneath, the film quickly grinds to a halt. It’s not that there isn’t a decent story here because there are some interesting ideas floating around (more on those in a moment) but it’s that the script just doesn’t do anything with them. Jesse seems to experience one weird dream after another but he doesn’t end up resolving anything or learning anything on his own. Freddy has to spell it all out for him and the audience because the script is too weak to give us any real progression of the story.

Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy from the original gave the audience someone to root for and cheer on but there’s no repeat of her here. Instead, Jesse (Mark Patton) spends the bulk of the film sulking or brooding and is one of the most miserable leading characters I’ve ever seen. Jesse is not likeable in the slightest, though not exactly in the ‘I hate you so much I can’t wait for the killer to get you’ category. He does manage to convey the inner torment that Freddy is causing Jesse, particularly towards the middle section of the film where the nightmares became weirder and more vivid and Freddy begins to make his move.

At least Freddy is still scary here. He’s kept in the background for most of the film but when he does appear, he’s mean, sadistic and manipulative. He needs Jesse in order to return to the real world, though more should have been done with this side of Krueger’s personality. He probably has about the same amount of screen time as the original, which is good as he doesn’t become overexposed, and he’s not firing off cheesy one-liners yet. Robert Englund was the only person to return from the original and he carves out another fantastic Freddy performance. Those expecting Krueger to up the body count a little more in the fashion of Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers will remain disappointed. Despite slashing his way through a group of teenagers at a pool party in the film’s most memorable scene, Krueger doesn’t really do a lot of damage. He’s still in the psychological torture stage of his character development, playing and toying with his main victim to extract the maximum satisfaction from his revenge.

This has been dubbed the ‘gay’ A Nightmare on Elm Street film and for good reasons. There seems to be a not-so-hidden message about Jesse ‘coming out’ about his sexuality. He’s got a ‘No Chicks’ sign on his door. He runs away from his girlfriend after an awkward romantic encounter to spend the night in the masculine safety of his shirtless best friend. During a sleepwalking incident, he ends up in an S&M bar where he meets his high school gym coach who then proceeds to take him back to the school for a late night workout. With loaded dialogue like “there’s a man trying to get inside of me” and “Fred Krueger! He’s inside me and he wants to take me again” it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that Jesse is a man with a sexual dilemma. Whether A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was progressive in its approach to homosexuality during the AIDs scare of the 1980s or whether this was all unintentional, this homosexual subtext was that strong that I wrote about this film as part of my university dissertation (alongside The Burning and Sleepaway Camp). The homosexual subtext does absolutely nothing to subtract from the quality of the film, in fact it improves it tenfold because it’s something a little different.

Despite the interesting ideas in the film, this is the dullest of the series by a long way. It does have its moments, but these are too few and far between. There’s a great moment where Freddy emerges from inside Jesse’s body, complete with a rather gory body ripping, and there’s another gross-out moment involving Freddy’s tongue. I can’t help but wonder how much more mileage they could have got out of the film with a few more of these ‘is it a dream or isn’t it a dream?’ sequences.

 

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has the ideas and the vision but fails to match up to them with a paltry budget clearly designed to cash in for maximum profit and a sense that this doesn’t really do anything with the character of Freddy Kruger or some of the surviving story from the original. It gets unfairly criticised and having watched it numerous times as part of my studies, I have a greater liking and understanding of it than I ever did before. However, Freddy would bounce back bigger and better with the next sequel. This one stands out as some kind of anomaly within the Elm Street franchise.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Maniac Cop (1988)

Maniac Cop (1988)

You have the right to remain silent…forever.

A killer dressed in a police uniform begins murdering innocent people on the streets of New York City. It turns out that a vengeful former cop has taken to branding out their own style of justice, determined to make people pay for the awful things that happened to him when he was unfairly imprisoned on made-up charges.

 

I can’t believe it took someone as long as they did to make a film about a killer police officer. This was the 80s, a decade known for being the playground of the slasher flick where all manner of deformed caretakers, jilted lovers and murderous siblings turned into serial killers, taking aim at the nearest bunch of partying teenagers they could find. What better stock character to turn into a psycho than one of the people meant to be protecting you?

Definitely a case of a film which sticks rigidly to its title, Maniac Cop doesn’t pretend to be anything other than an exploitation film and wears its heart on it’s sleeve. This is a rare film which actually delivers on its promises and then some, combining action and horror in equal measure. William Lustig had helmed the disturbing and controversial Maniac a few years earlier and applies himself well again, lifting a little bit of the grime and sleaziness and playing it straighter to avoid offending as many people. He has a certain eye and flair for the low budget carnage that ensues in his films and he sure can milk every penny from the finances. The film looks good, with the darker side of New York being exploited as much as it can to add a sense of atmosphere and tension to the night time scenes. This is certainly a city where you wouldn’t want to be out at night.

Not only can he create the right mood, but Lustig is skilled at directing action pieces and throws in plenty of exciting moments here, including the great finale where the maniac cop attempts to escape justice by fleeing in a police van.  Getting the balance between being a low budget action film and a suspenseful slasher just about right, the narrative veers across the borderlines a few times. The slasher elements work better in the first half of the film, as Cordell racks up a decent body count from law-abiding citizens in the means streets of New York. He’s pretty handy with whatever police accessories he’s carrying – he’ll even use wet cement if the need arises. The kills are decent enough and filmed well to convey a real sense of atmosphere. When the action begins to ramp up in the second half of the film, the horror elements go out of the window somewhat but by this point, the audience know the stakes are high to stop this guy.

Director Lustig has assembled a cracking cast to really add some class to proceedings. Bruce Campbell, still fresh-faced after his appearances in the first two The Evil Dead films, takes on the leading role of the rookie cop. It’s far from Campbell’s best work, and he plays it completely straight, but his youthful appeal is a nice contrast to the ever-reliable Tom Atkins. He is somewhat underused in a smaller role as the more experienced Detective McRae and it’s good to see the pair work off each other in the screen time they get. Richard Roundtree, of Shaft fame, adds more credibility as the police commissioner. All three men get a decent chunk of screen time too which was nice to see. Too many low budget horror films hire named actors to give top billing to and then only give them a few minutes of screen time for budgetary purposes. Cohen’s script allows all three men to shine in the roles they’ve got. The fact that the focus of the film is on adult characters with jobs and lives, rather than annoying teenagers in the woods somewhere, lends the narrative more of a gritty edge.

They’re not the only stars in the cast but special note should be given to Robert Z’Dar. He is the maniac cop of the title and is a mountain of a man. His Officer Cordell is one of the most imposing villains to come along in an 80s horror flick and gives Jason Vorhees a run for the money in the physicality stakes. It’s no wonder that Z’Dar returned for the two sequels – his deadly character just smacks of franchise as there was so much more you could do with the notion of a killer cop. Sadly, the sequels, nor this for that matter, never really played on the paranoia and fear that a vigilante member of the police would create for a town or city and turn the character into something of a one-note slasher. Cordell does have a back story which is explored here but that fades into the background and becomes irrelevant when he murders innocent people.

The soundtrack is effective, with a pulsating typically-80s synthesised to accompany the thrilling moments and a haunting whistling song to be paired with the flashbacks to Cordell’s miscarriage of justice. I do like a good synthesiser score. Finally, no review would be complete without highlighting the fact that Maniac Cop also sports one of the greatest tag lines from an 80s horror film, hell any film made – ‘You have the right to remain silent…forever!’ ranks up there with the best.

 

With an effective director-producer-screenwriter pairing of William Lustig and Larry Cohen, Maniac Cop is one of the horror genre’s most unappreciated entries. A solid, entertaining way to indulge in some of the 80s finest exploitation offerings and essential viewing for any genre fans.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Slumber Party Massacre, The (1982)

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Close your eyes for a second … and sleep forever

Left alone for the weekend when her parents go away, teenager Trish decides to hold a slumber party for some of her school friends. What she didn’t count on was recently-escaped psycho Russ Thorn deciding to gate-crash the party with his power drill.

 

The epitome of the 80s slasher or the ultimate nadir of the sub-genre? It’s hard to decide whether The Slumber Party Massacre should be celebrated as one of the best things to happen to the slasher or have a cheap pop at it for reducing the sub-genre to its ultimate base elements. Everything that was popular about the slasher flick was streamlined into this film, unfortunately also highlighting everything that was wrong with it at the same time. Minimal plot. Minimal characterisation. Maximum carnage. Played as straight as an arrow. That seems to be the motto here.

The Slumber Party Massacre wastes little time getting down to business, letting us know who the killer is from the start and dispatching a couple of victims early on. At a lean seventy-seven minutes long, the film never truly outstays its welcome but even at that length, it gets a little repetitive after a while. The wafer-thin plot is literally a one-line summary (I’ve stretched it out to two for the introduction), the main character is the de facto heroine simply because she’s the one organising the party and the killer is just a complete nutter because of his love for power drills. The film doesn’t even bother trying to expand or explain anything beyond what the audience needs to know to get through to the next scene. Made during the heyday of the slasher, the audience is expected to know the sub-genre tropes off by heart. Why bother with a motive for the killer when you can see him drill holes into people? Why develop the girls as characters because we’ll root for them by default when a psycho starts chasing them?

Low production values give off exploitation/grindhouse vibes, firmly supported by an effective synthesised score which carbon dates the film smack bang into the early 80s (coupled with some classic 80s clothing and hairstyles to boot). There’s nothing overly complex about how this was made – a few simply urban locations, a big house and a few side alleys and gardens. Throw in lots of girls who quite happily take off their clothes for the camera (and the female director doesn’t shy away from exploiting every last second) and a group of token guys who gate-crash the party to add to the body count. There’s nothing more to it. You’ll have seen this done a million times before and a million times after – what makes The Slumber Party Massacre that bit different is that it gets in there early, back in 1982, where such sort of satirical slasher had yet to really kick off in earnest. There’s a bit of humour scattered around – let’s face it, you won’t be scared in the slightest watching this, despite a few generic ‘boo’ scares such as the obligatory cat jumping out into the camera moment.

Once you get over the fact that the killer looks just like a normal bloke wearing some denim and holding a power drill and not some guy in a mask, he can be quite fun. He’s not hidden in the shadows, though the film could have used him more effectively if they didn’t keep showing us close-ups of his bored face. He’s not given loads of unnecessary back story. He’s just a nut job with a drill – simple, but effective. I’m not too sure on the superhuman powers he seems to exhibit in the final third as the surviving girls throw all sorts of things to him and he keeps coming back. Thankfully, he’s pretty adept at killing people and so the body count is substantial (eleven kills altogether, not including the killer), fairly well-scattered through the running time and reasonably gory. The fact he keeps using the power drill for the most part keeps the kills relatively generic but at least there’s a bit of blood and gore as a result.

 

It’s light-hearted and cheesy, definitely a product of its time, and just about makes it over the line without getting too irritating and outstaying it’s welcome. The Slumber Party Massacre is fairly pacey, full of naked women, has a decent body count and some effective stalk’n’slash moments (or I should say stalk’n’drill) – I just don’t hold it in as much esteem as some of my fellow genre fans.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Scream Park (2012)

Scream Park (2012)

Death is the new attraction

On the final night at Fright Land before its permanent close, the group of teen workers and their manager are killed off one-by-one by two masked killers. Unbeknownst to the group, the owner has hired the two men in order to create a media sensation and attract a new breed of ‘dark’ tourists to the park.

 

The rising trend of low budget horror films getting their big breaks via crowdfunding continues with Scream Park, a derivative throwback to 80s slasher films with a meagre budget that most likely covered Doug Bradley’s appearance fee and that’s all.

Can’t pitch your slasher film to a younger, modern horror market weaned on found footage horror and gimmicky ‘killer entity’ films (Insidious, Sinister, The Babadook etc.)? Then pander to the adult horror crowd who grew up on the home video slasher era and throw in a few nods to old school slashers. Scream Park clearly has a director/producer/writer who has seen a couple of old school slashers and thought “I could do that for a living” and tried to make their own with diminishing results. The problem is that Scream Park needed to show off some sort of creative spin on the old formula because it ends up being wholly derivative and not very good at that. There’s a reason that the sub-genre died out in the 80s and that was because it was done to death. The 90s saw a post-modern self-aware revival but that was short-lived. Since then, we’ve been getting ‘80s throwbacks’ but that doesn’t mean to say the material is any less stale than it once was. This is a cheap tactic which is designed to make us remember the glory days and play upon on our nostalgia to pretend that these modern films are better than they are. Watching Scream Park, I’m guessing the intention was to link it back to Tobe Hooper’s classic The Funhouse and have the same sort of affinity to tourist attractions. Well this fails miserably.

I’ve ranted a bit too much, unfairly aiming a lot of the sub-genre’s current problems onto this one film, so time to get more film-specific. Scream Park’s most glaring issue is that the filmmakers had a potentially great location to utilise but fail to do almost anything novel with it – the majority of the film could have been shot inside a murky barn for all the viewer knows because there’s so little done with the park itself. Only on occasions does the film attempt to showcase some of the rides and more sinister attractions of the theme park – one of the film’s highlights involves a hanging from a rollercoaster. It’s these little unique kills related to the location which Scream Park should have been championing from the very start. It’s almost a wasted opportunity.

But it’s almost a blessing to be fair because even if the theme park had been used more, the people inhabiting it would have killed off the mood. The acting here is, to put it mildly, diabolical. The actors mumble through their lines, sounding bored, lifeless and definitely without rehearsing beforehand. There’s no urgency or emotion in voices – one character’s reaction to seeing one of his co-workers brutally slain is laughably pathetic. It never helps actors when the script is as bad as it is here but that shouldn’t stop them from actually trying. Look back at some of the turkeys that horror legends like Vincent Price, John Carradine and Peter Cushing starred in and listen to some of the dialogue they had to recite – at least they put effort in to make it sound like the most dramatic thing ever!

The only person with any remote sense of talent in the acting department is Doug Bradley. He is the token genre name in the cast and he pops up far too late and with a role that is limited to a solitary scene. Bradley’s character provides the necessary exposition to explain just why the employees are all getting killed off and the speech comes slightly out of leftfield in the context of the scene. I guess we’re just meant to accept the fact that the guy proposes outright murder and the person he is speaking to just bluntly agrees. Researching more about the film, it appears that Bradley shot his scene a few months before the production commenced in order to sell the concept to get more crowdfunding – I’m sure the donators expected to see more of him than the solitary scene they had already seen!

With a soundtrack that owes a lot to Halloween and Friday the 13th, Scream Park at least gets a few brownie points for trying something a little different. It’s a pity that the dialogue comes and goes at times because the sound is generally solid throughout, adding just the right amount of tension even if some of the music is a tad overplayed. Technical issues should not be making it this far into a production which is a shame.

 

On occasion, the low budget shows but this is the least of this film’s problems. A right slog to get through, if this was a real theme park, Scream Park would deserve closing down for good. You’ve all been on bigger, better and scarier rides than this.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Scarecrow Gone Wild (2004)

Scarecrow Gone Wild (2004)

He’s the death of the party.

After a fraternity prank goes horribly wrong and results in his accidental death, a young college freshman is resurrected in the guise of a vengeful scarecrow who descends on the beach where those who killed him are having their spring break.

 

Since when did the scarecrow become such a cinematic horror icon that he has now starred in his own trilogy of horror films? I can understand why Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers all become icons and to a lesser extent even the annoying Leprechaun. But the scarecrow? Didn’t anyone see Scarecrow or Scarecrow Slayer? Two of the most atrocious, low grade slasher films I’ve ever seen, with their own saving grace being a slightly-cool killer who looks way better on the front covers of the DVD boxes than he does in person in the films. Now we have a third instalment, Scarecrow Gone Wild, though thankfully this has been the last one (to date). To think they managed to crank out two sequels still gives me shivers!

Scarecrow Gone Wild goes down the serious route and this is its biggest mistake, despite it being billed as a ‘comedy’ on IMDB. The idea of this killer scarecrow heading to the beach and killing off a load of co-eds cries tongue-in-cheek: surfing scarecrow, sun-bathing scarecrow, volleyball-playing scarecrow and sitting-round-a-beach-campfire scarecrow were all ridiculous ideas waiting to be mined (NB the scarecrow doesn’t do any of this in the film, I’m just saying they could have made him do some stuff to lighten the tone). Anything to get him to, well, go wild. He doesn’t. He’s a pretty boring dude and just opts for the usual slash ‘n’ dash moments. But then again most of the film is based around empty hospital corridors, schools or the generic cornfields and not the beach. Something seems to have wrong in the translation of the plot. Also, the fact that the costume looks worse than my Halloween scarecrow outfit doesn’t exactly send chills down your spine. For some reason, a lot of the scarecrow is seen during the daytime which completely nullifies any sort of fear factor that could be created. Scarecrows, especially ones designed for horror like this, are pretty damned scary – I know, I’m a 6’5” walking monstrosity in my scarecrow outfit when it comes around to Halloween – but that’s because I stick to going out when it’s dark.

Scarecrow Gone Wild does contain the necessary slasher elements including loads of cheesy gore. Sadly, though there is plenty on offer, it’s not exactly been done well and is a clear sign of the meagre budget they worked with on the shoot. There is also plenty of T&A. One female character has about two lines but spends most of the film walking around without a top on. Boxes had to be ticked and she ticks them. It’s not exactly slim pickings for slasher fans when it comes to the goodies but it’s the haphazard way in which the ingredients are cobbled together which comes off as more disappointing than anything. The problem with Scarecrow Gone Wild is that, despite it being a slasher flick, it’s actually rather dull and boring. There’s far too much human drama, with the characters arguing with each other and dealing with too much nonsense other than the fact that there’s a killer scarecrow on the loose. To rub salt into the wounds, just when you think Scarecrow Gone Wild is over, along comes another ten minutes to prolong the misery.

Ex-UFC and WWE wrestler Ken Shamrock is the ‘big name’ in the cast this time around, portraying the school’s baseball coach who, for some sinister reasons, decides to follow these teenagers around on their spring break. He’s a better fighter than he is an actor and at least gets to duke it out with the scarecrow in one scene. But, like the rest of the fun factor getting sucked out of the film, Shamrock doesn’t get to do any trademark moves and instead just tumbles around in the sand with the scarecrow as if they’re making out with each other. It’s such a letdown – you get one of the toughest men on the planet (at the time) into your film, knowing that a certain audience will be tuning it to see him kick ass, and then proceed to neuter him completely. Such a wasted opportunity.

 

Scarecrow Gone Wild continues the rapid downward spiral of this dead-on-arrival series. At this alarming rate of decline, I’ll be giving minus stars out for the next few sequels. Avoid this at all costs and to make sure they don’t make a fourth one, set fire to any scarecrows you see outside.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Nightmare on Elm Street, A (1984)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

If Nancy doesn’t wake up screaming she won’t wake up at all.

Nancy Thompson has been having recurring nightmares about a sinister, disfigured man who tries to mutilate her in her sleep but it’s only when she finds out that her friends at high school have been having the same dreams, that she realises something is seriously wrong. As the physical effects of what happens in their dreams begin to appear on their bodies in real life, and as some of her friends begin to die, Nancy knows that no one will believe what is happening to them and decides to take matters in her own hands.

 

It’s no exaggeration to state that A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of horror’s most famous films. Hell, I could argue that it’s one of the most famous films ever made. Almost everyone has heard of the film and, if not, you’ll have heard the name of its main antagonist, Freddy Krueger. Spawning one of Hollywood’s longest and most financially successful horror franchises, it’s funny to see the rather quaint origins of this global behemoth in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Made on a low budget of $1.8m, the film brought in over $25.5m in box office (it made its budget back in opening week alone) and firmly established director Wes Craven as the ‘Master of Horror.’ A Nightmare on Elm Street was released at the tail-end of the golden age of slashers in the early 80s. Audiences had become tired of seeing the same formula rehashed time and time again, with a cast of teenagers being subjected to slaughter at the hands of some masked assailant. Craven brought those ideas on board but subverted them in a way that no one else was doing at the time. As a result, A Nightmare on Elm Street stands head and shoulders above the majority of its 1980s horror counterparts.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is almost a ‘How To Do Horror’ for film students and is a testament to late director Wes Craven who was a lot more skilled behind the camera than people give him credit for. His eye for detail, coupled with the cinematography by Jacques Haitkin, is fantastic, using a mix of shadows, blue-tinted lighting and natural light to give many of the scenes a surreal, dream-like quality to them. This isn’t just your typical man-in-a-mask slasher film but something greater and something which plays upon a deeper level of fear than your average horror film. The atmosphere throughout the film is unnerving, bleak and very ominous. Craven builds up great levels of suspense in a number of scenes, from the attack on Tina in the opening ten minutes, chasing Nancy through the boiler room or the race to save Rod. The characters are never too far away from Freddy’s clutches and the whole ‘don’t fall asleep’ plot is just a writer’s dream. How can anyone survive for too long without sleep?

Craven continually toys with the audience, blurring the lines between dreams and being awake, between fantasy and reality, and so you’re never quite sure whether what you’re watching is real or not. Some scenes are clearly dreams, some are clearly reality but there are many scenes in which you believe the characters are awake turn out to be dreams and vice versa. Keeping the audience guessing allows Craven to play with our expectations as he removes the signposted barriers saying ‘dream’ or ‘reality’ for full effect – look at the sequence in which Nancy is taking a bath. Craven flips the sequence numerous times to ensure that the audience remains on tender hooks.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is more character-driven than its contemporaries but that doesn’t mean to say it shies away from delivering the gory goods when needed. The sequels would focus on elaborately cartoonish dream death sequences but here they are played out for full horror effect. Whilst there are only a handful of deaths, the ones that are given to us are highly memorable. The first death, in which a girl is tossed around a room by an invisible Freddy and has her stomach cut open, is still effective in conveying the sense of the supernatural and how the characters are powerless to resist. However, it’s the legendary ‘geyser of blood’ scene where one unlucky victim is dragged into their bed that is the most impressive.

One aspect to the film that is sorely, sorely overlooked whenever people review it is the Otherworldly soundtrack by Charles Bernstein. The main theme begins with a creepy piano number, a little more low key and subtle than other horror films, before the electronic synth kicks in. These slower tracks build up the suspension and unease nicely as you wait for something louder to kick in. Thankfully, the pace of some of the synth tracks picks up during attack or chase scenes. It may be too 80s for some people but the music is just an extra tool that Craven uses to shape the scares. If you’ve got a spare few minutes, head to Youtube and check out the track ‘Run Nancy’ which is one of my favourite film scores – menacing, chilling and building to a nice crescendo.

Finally, what review would be complete without addressing the elephant in the room. A Nightmare on Elm Street gave birth to one of, if not the, biggest pop culture icon of the horror genre – pizza-faced child killer Freddy Krueger. Long before he started throwing wisecracks in the sequels, shilling lunch boxes in TV ads and participating in boxing-style showdowns with Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger was not only a sadistic bogeyman but he’s always been a child killer. Confined to the shadows for a large part of the film, Freddy is someone straight out of your worst nightmares. With his trademark red-and-black striped sweater, his fedora and his knife-laden glove, he is a truly iconic horror character who manages to chill you, scare you and even make you laugh (inappropriately that is but comedy is always a good valve release for fear). The first full appearance of him in the alley, with eerie low key lighting and a ghostly blue tint, is still terrifying to this day. Freddy enjoys tormenting his victims, perversely toying with them in their vulnerable sleep state, and taking great pleasure from his acts. However, he still has a raw anger and aggression, a rage which drives him to commit these acts of revenge, boiling underneath the surface. Robert Englund’s portrayal of Freddy Krueger rightly etched him into horror lore. His performance is superb, easily floating between all of Freddy’s emotions at the flick of a switch. Caked underneath layers of superb make-up, Englund is unforgettable in the role and allows his personality to shine through. It’s no wonder he became typecast as a horror villain in the years following.

Equally as good in this film is Heather Langenkamp as Nancy. A nice mix of youthful vulnerability and innocence and sheer-minded determination and strong-headedness, Langenkamp makes for an appealing lead who doesn’t really let Freddy get the better of her. There’s a reason she was brought back for two further sequels. Johnny Depp’s acting debut doesn’t exactly give you a taste of what would be to come in later years but he’s not too bad and has one of the most memorable last scenes ever committed to horror.

If there’s one thing that almost ruins A Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s the ridiculous ending. I’m not sure how Craven ever thought that final scene would give everyone an appropriate send-off. Not only is it confusing but it kind of undermines a lot of stuff that happened before it. I can understand he wanted to throw one last curveball with the whole ‘is it a dream or is it reality?’ double take that had been used so effectively throughout but it clearly is one time too many.

 

I guess it’s a generational thing where you have to have watched certain films by a certain age for them to leave a lasting impression. Horror films of the 70s and 80s still have the raw ability to chill today and A Nightmare on Elm Street did for me for sleeping what Jaws did for swimming for me as a kid. I’m sure teenagers today prefer the awful remake and think that this would be dated and ‘looks fake’ as the case is with most films made pre-2000. But A Nightmare on Elm Street is a fantastic horror flick, equally scary, surreal and sinister with lots of memorable moments, a once-in-a-lifetime villain who just works on so many levels, a great cast who bring to life their characters with relish and a soundtrack which aids the mood immeasurably. Wes Craven’s death was global news when it happened in 2015 and bulletins carried A Nightmare on Elm Street as his main work. Rightly so. It has become one of the most influential films ever made, not only in horror but in any genre.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

You won’t be coming home!

Angela lost her father and brother in a boating accident when she was just a small child. Eight years after the accident, she is still traumatised and has problems fitting in at school. The problems continue when she gets whisked off to summer camp with her cousin, Ricky, where she starts to get picked on by the other girls. However, anyone with sinister or less than honourable intentions towards Angela soon meets their comeuppance.

 

One of the most infamous slasher films of all time, Sleepaway Camp would have been just another face in the crowd and lost amongst the tidal wave of 80s slashers if it wasn’t for its controversial ending. Few self-respecting fans of horror are unaware of the shocking climax here, even if you have yet to see the film. But if you know nothing about it and are watching it for the first time, the finale hits you like a sucker punch to the ribs. You’ll not see it coming a mile away and you’ll still have to go back and double-take to make sure you didn’t imagine it.

The ending. Without giving anything away, it certainly comes out of left-field. Not just for the reveal of the killer but the connotations and implications of the startling final shot, a shot which has been seared on my mind since the very first time I saw it. Sleepaway Camp does hold a special place in my heart as it was one of the three films that I studied for my university dissertation on masculinity in horror films. Along with The Burning and A Nightmare on Elm Street II: Freddy’s Revenge, it provided me enough ammo to discuss the role of the ‘final girl’ and why it wasn’t commonplace in the genre for a ‘final boy.’ The twisted and warped implications of this final sequence in Sleepaway Camp is the exact reason why I chose this film to analyse and support my views. Raising questions about sexual repression, behaviour and how we as a society view and construct gender, I’ve been entirely sure whether the director and writer actually had some deeper messages to send or whether the ending was purely for shock value. Either way, it provided me with enough ammo to absolutely nail my dissertation to a tee.

Sleepaway Camp’s iconic ending works because of the way in which it portrays its protagonist in the run-up. The film does a great job of making Angela one of the most sympathetic leading characters you’re ever going to see in a slasher film. Doe-eyed, reserved and genuinely looking like she’s about to break down with all of the torment she receives, credit must be given to actress Felissa Rose for bringing the character to life in such a way. It’s hard not like her and, because of her quietly-spoken grace, it’s easier to hate those who try to take advantage of her. The fact that she hardly speaks helps matters immensely given the appalling nature of some of the other performances in the film. By default, Rose’s performance is the best by virtue of remaining silent.

The fact that Sleepaway Camp is set inside another dysfunctional summer camp will draw the inevitable Friday the 13th comparisons. Whilst the two films share many of the same low budget qualities and grimy appearance, Sleepaway Camp is more concerned with unsettling its audience with a variety of dodgy-looking characters and secretive sexual allusions. It’s certainly a more ‘dirty’ film than any of the Friday the 13ths, with an undercurrent of filth and depravity running through the whole thing, and it’s certainly more mean-spirited. The adults who worked at the camp are sleazy, perverted and vaguely paedophilic. The rest of the kids there are a messy mix of bitchy girls, borderline rapists and leering sickos. I wouldn’t wish any kid the misfortune of staying at this place over the summer.

Whilst the camp staff are on the receiving end of the lion’s share of the savage deaths, the young campers are not spared either. This adds in an unsettling element especially given that the actors portraying them actually were teenagers rather than over-30s pretending to be kids again. This meant no nudity or sex, something highly unusual for an 80s slasher, and gives Sleepaway Camp another unique selling point. Not only is there a lack of sex but even the gore quota has been reduced. The body count is acceptable and the deaths are fairly decent and creative (death by bee stings, death by boiling water, etc) but it’s not the goriest of displays. You mainly get to see the results of the kills rather than the gruesome acts but the make-up effects are decent here and, what’s worse, is that the camera tends to linger on the bodies a bit, adding to that voyeuristic, creepy vibe that runs all the way through this.

 

Still harbouring that grimy early 80s horror feel, Robert Hiltzik’s seedy slasher plods along rather pedestrianly for the most but it’s only in that final few shots that Sleepaway Camp truly cements itself as one of the greatest. It doesn’t rely on the usual sub-genre tricks to keep its audience entertained. Definitely a film that would never be made today, sit back and enjoy one of the ‘dirtiest’ horror films going. You’ll need a bath after watching.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Prom Night (1980)

Prom Night (1980)

If you’re not back by midnight… you won’t be coming home.

Four children playing in an abandoned convent cause the accidental death of a little girl. Promising that they would never tell anyone that they were involved and blaming a paedophile for the crime, the group think that everything will be fine. Six years later and on the day of their high school prom, a masked killer targets them for a horrific revenge.

 

One of the earliest of the slasher sub-genre to emerge in the wake of Halloween, Prom Night was released at a time when, even by now, the formula had established itself to such an extent that this is almost derivative and it has gone on to establish itself as one of the more famous slasher films of the 80s. It’s like a weird mix between Halloween, Carrie and, bizarrely enough, Saturday Night Fever. Curious bedfellows especially as disco was in its death throws in the late 70s and early 80s!

If Prom Night only had half the energy and pace of any of those aforementioned films, it would have been a lot more enjoyable. It’s dreadfully dull for the first half of its running time as it spends far too long engaging with the teenage characters and their “will she/he go with me to the prom?” nonsense. It’s not interesting in the slightest to watch characters scheme about how they’re going to get someone back on prom night – the only payback I want to see is of the axe to the head variety. There are a few menacing phone calls and some hints of the slaughter to come but Prom Night is a film which loads up its final third at the sacrificial cost of the quality of its opening acts.

The ‘killer looking to avenge a previous wrong from childhood’ plot device became a popular go-to for a lot of slasher films in the years and decades to come but it doesn’t really work here. Prom Night forcefully throws countless red herrings at the screen including a creepy caretaker at the school and an escaped convict in an attempt to keep you guessing as to who the killer is. However they aren’t really needed to propel the plot further on because the killer wears a black mask for the duration of the film, only revealing themselves at the end and so the red herrings and the police investigation sub-plot are a complete waste of time.

Prom Night does kick in when the prom actually begins and the killer comes out of the shadows. There are some decent stalk and chase scenes through the empty part of the school and there are one or two shock moments to jolt you out of your seat. The good thing is that it’s played serious and so there is a suitably ominous and foreboding mood as you know this person will stop at nothing to get back at the four teenagers. Prom Night is hardly a ‘scary’ film but compared to a lot of other slasher films, the atmosphere is good.

There’s a decent kill count too – they’re not paced out evenly enough to keep things ticking over – and the majority of the kills are confined to this final third of the film. Whilst not up to the same level of gore as Friday the 13th or something like The Burning, Prom Night doesn’t hold back with the blood. One particular set piece involving the unveiling of the prom king and queen, a decapitated head and a catwalk, all to the accompaniment of some outrageous disco music, is highly memorable – actually one of the standout kills from the whole 80s slasher craze. Although if there is one thing you’ll quickly learn from this film is that “It’s prom night…and everything is alright” (lyrics from the only cheesy disco song that the DJ at the prom seems to play).

Jamie Lee Curtis would star in Terror Train and The Fog in the same year, making her quite the scream queen pin-up for 1980. This is arguably her worst performance of the three and she almost looks and sounds bored to be appearing though this is largely down to the script which doesn’t place as much focus on her as a main character than it should do. The less said about the lengthy disco dancing segment she has to complete, the better. Leslie Nielsen is the token elder statesman in the cast, adding some credibility amongst the throng of teenagers, though it’s really hard to take him seriously in a dramatic role so close to his amazing comic turns in Airplane! and The Naked Gun films.

Bizarrely, Prom Night inspired a whole batch of unrelated sequels towards the end of the decade which had nothing to do with this and just coast along under the Prom Night moniker. Prom Night was also remade in 2008 with quite possibly one of the worst remakes of all time.

 

Prom Night is one of the quintessential slashers from the golden age of the sub-genre but I’m not quite sure why it’s classed as one. The standard issue black mask and axe combination means that the killer is hardly the most distinctive slasher going and maybe this is where Prom Night’s problems lie. Everything is perfunctory, just not really memorable give or take one or two moments. Plus the dodgy disco-themed prom dates this film significantly compared to the other big slasher hitters of the year.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Anthroprophagus (1980)

Anthropophagus (1980)

It’s not fear that tears you apart…it’s him!

A group of tourists take a trip to a remote Greek island where they find that the local townspeople have all disappeared. After their boat drifts away, and with no phone service or electricity, the group takes refuge in one of the abandoned houses. It isn’t long before they discover why there is no one left on the island – a crazed cannibal with a taste for human flesh is prowling the streets.

 

An ultra-notorious Italian shocker, Anthroprophagus was one of the infamous ‘Video Nasty’ titles that the UK banned in the early 80s. So shocking was one particular scene in this film that Anthroprophagus was successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act in 1984 and banned from publication for over eighteen years. It joined an elite list of films to be given the boot from the video store shelves including The House by the Cemetery, Cannibal Ferox and The Last House on the Left. It’s laughable to realise that the film was passed totally uncut in 2015, just showing how times have changed and how much more de-sensitized to horror films we are nowadays.

Like a lot of the titles that were successfully prosecuted, Anthroprophagus became something of a Holy Grail for horror, where a dodgy black market of rough VHS copies were traded behind closed doors. If you wanted to see it, you’d know an uncle or the best mate of a mate who had a pre-certification copy stashed away in a loft somewhere. But this is 2016 and what was shocking in 1980 is nowhere near as bad today – not exactly saintly however! Anthroprophagus’ reputation precedes it, overshadowing it somewhat much like the reputations for the likes of Cannibal Holocaust or even The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. When a film comes with a hefty reputation, nine of out ten times it usually ends up being a let-down.

Anthroprophagus is one of those nine out of ten times. What a complete dud of a horror film! Being branded a Video Nasty, you’d expect something, well, nasty or even remotely graphic and disturbing. The only reason I can see Anthroprophagus being banned was for the infamous scene in which the cannibal eats a fetus. Yes, it’s pretty gross to see though this is more to do with the thought and implications of what he’s doing rather than actually watching him tuck into a piece of butcher’s meat. The rest of the kills are tame and fairly weak given the nature of other Italian horror films from around the same time period and what they were doing in regards to gore. Ironically the best kill is saved for the end of the film and features a pick axe and a load of intestines. It’s scant pay-off for the previous eighty or so minutes.

Talky and with a plodding pace, Anthroprophagus will try and test the patience of hardened genre fans. Those weaned on giallo or late 70s/early 80s Italian horror flicks may be able to cope with the tedious speed of the narrative but anyone dipping in to this type of film for the first time will find it immensely hard going. With little plot, the uninteresting characters mope around the desolate Greek village with little purpose for the good part of forty minutes. They just go through the motions, in particular the guys who show no distinguishing features and I’d even forgotten their names by the end. Whilst this is annoying as far as the film goes, its impact on the viewer will be more so – total disengagement from the proceedings. This means that when things do perk up in the final ten minutes, you’re already so bored that you don’t really care what happens as long as the film finishes. At least the shots of the empty village look eerie and, coupled with the suitably atmospheric synth score, add up to some decent atmosphere. It’s a shame that nothing actually happens.

The film’s best asset is its imposing killer. This cannibal monster of a man looks intimidating and has a powerful physical presence but he’s hardly used – it’s a good fifty minutes into the film before we first see him. On a number of occasions, the film teases us with appearances, where something has happened or we see a point-of-view shot. But then nothing. This can be effectively managed and we know that the killer is lurking around somewhere close. But to be scared, we need something for us to be scared of and not just thunder and lightning or cheap scares with cats jumping out from nowhere. His eventual reveal, hiding behind a closing door, is good and director Joe D’Amato, famous his skin flicks and cheap horror efforts, uses natural lighting to slowly reveal his disfigured facial features. George Eastman, who also co-wrote, stars as the cannibal and brings the film to life in the final fifteen minutes. There is a chilling sequence inside some catacombs (where aforementioned fetus is eaten) and there’s a great stalking sequence where he climbs up a ladder after Tisa Farrow – but this is literally the final ten minutes of the film. Far too little, too late to save it.

 

Anthroprophagus has clearly relied upon one or two shock moments of infamy to become the cult classic that it is today but don’t be fooled by the reputation. You can do a whole lot worse when it comes to Italian horror but this is nowhere near as deserving its status that it has. There is something memorable about Eastman’s cannibal though and he’ll stick in your mind long after watching. I guess that counts for something.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Terror Train (1980)

Terror Train (1980)

The boys and girls of Sigma Phi. Some will live. Some will die.

A bunch of medical students staging a fraternity prank go too far when they lure Kenny, one of the more socially-awkward boys, along to what he thinks is going to be a hot night with sorority girl Alana. However, the students use a medical corpse stolen from the morgue and Kenny freaks out a little more than anyone anticipated, leading him to become hospitalised. Three years later when the students are celebrating graduation, they hire out a train for the world’s biggest party where one gate-crasher is only too happy to reunite with his former frat buddies.

 

With Roger Spottiswoode (who would go on to helm Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies no less), cinematographer John Alcott (who worked with Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange and The Shining), featuring a cast with the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, Hart Bochner, Academy Award winner Ben Johnson and famous illusionist David Copperfield, and with a fairly reasonable budget, Terror Train has some serious pedigree for a 1980 slasher film. Luckily, the film beat the slasher flood by a year or so before the market was saturated with rip-offs and clones of Halloween and Friday the 13th. As a result, a lot of what you see on the screen is fairly original, if lacklustre.

Terror Train is competent, I’ll give it that. Despite the novel setting and the fact that it should be a lot more original than it is given that the slasher formula had still to be ‘perfected,’ it’s just about passable to get through. For every decent atmospheric, claustrophobic shot of the murky, dingy insides of the carriages, there’s another shot of the same thing with only with dancing teenagers and flashing lights to ruin the mood. For every few minutes of excitement or tension, there’s twice as much talking or standing around doing nothing. Terror Train is definitely a film that you think you enjoyed watching a lot more than you actually did. Maybe it is the gloss after all. Alcott’s photographic presence really shines to the fore here, presenting this train ride as the ultimate vision of a ride to hell, complete with darkness, smoke, red lights, silhouettes…you name it, it’s the perfect location for someone to be getting some revenge in.

As the big party is a fancy dress one (or costume party for those American readers), the killer has the annoying habit of assuming the identity of the person he has just killed. Most famously brought to life in the ‘Groucho Marx’ mask splattered across the poster, there are other costumes equally as sinister, though I did have to draw the line of credibility when gender roles become blurred and the killer attempted to pass himself off as one of those hot co-eds walking around with little on. Quite how he finds the time to change (and conveniently anyone he kills is his size in clothes – a massive problem if I was to do that as I’m 6’ 5”), apply make-up/face paint if needed, dispose of the body of the previous victim and clean up the mess before anyone finds it also stretches credibility a bit. Though the audience knows which costume the killer is wearing, the other characters do not and so this ramps up the tension a little bit, especially in some of the earlier scenes of the killer targeting his victims.

Unfortunately, Terror Train cuts away from the moments of death, depriving the audience of some much-needed closure with some of the less likeable characters on show. There’s a bit of blood splattered around with an odd severed limb or decapitated head but this is at the birth of the ‘Golden Age’ and gore was yet to really come into its own. Sadly, the cramped confines and relative lack of escape routes and hiding places on board the train aren’t really used to much effect and Terror Train lacks any real suspense or stalking scenes, save for a particularly good final chase involving a conductor’s cage inside a carriage.

Jamie Lee Curtis is her usual likeable self in this one, playing up the typical ‘Laurie Strode’ role she had done two years earlier in Halloween. Curtis would also star in Prom Night and The Fog in the same year, making her quite the horror pin-up for 1980. Hart Bochner douches it up big time as Doc, the lead prankster who doesn’t care about anyone except for himself. Oscar winner Ben Johnson is on hand as the token veteran and adult authority figure and adds some gravitas and dignity to what should have been a throwaway role. The most bizarre piece of casting comes in the form of illusionist David Copperfield, who performs magic tricks to dazzle the teenagers on the train and is throw around as a red herring for a bit. It doesn’t really work and just stands out a mile as deliberate padding to keep the running time going. Copperfield does perform plenty of tricks and at times it’s like an advertisement reel for one of his shows.

 

Some stylish cinematography really raises the appearance of Terror Train, an average slasher which not too many people outside of the genre have ever heard but which is possibly too well-thought of for those who are familiar with the genre. Pacing issues, plodding at times, frustrating at others and impressive in flashes, Terror Train is a decent example of pre-splatter slasher, just don’t expect it to be as memorable as you’d hope it to be.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆