Tag Slashers

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Desperately needing a new hit to appease their producer, a female rock band acquire an unpublished score by legendary violinist Niccolo Paganini and head to his old remote villa to shoot a music video for their latest track.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.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

To All a Goodnight (1980)

To All a Goodnight (1980)

You’ll Scream ’til Dawn

At the Calvin Finishing School for Girls, a student is teased by her friends during a game and falls from a balcony to her death. Two years later during Christmas vacation, a small group of girls stay behind to sneak in their boyfriends for some festive partying. But one by one the students begin getting murdered by a killer in a Santa Claus costume.

 

Pre-dating Silent Night, Deadly Night by a few years, To All a Goodnight is the first full-length feature film to throw a killer Santa Claus good and centre into the fray (I’m not counting short stories from anthology films like Tales From the Crypt). However, most people remember the infamous former, as well as 1980’s Christmas Evil, purely because they do a better job of using the jolly character for nefarious purposes. Hardly in the top ten of holiday-themed horrors, To All a Goodnight is a slasher which beat Friday the 13th to the punch by a couple of months back in the day but one glance at this and you’d think it a cast-off from the dying days of the 80s.

Director David Hess should have been able to churn out a better offering for his first directorial outing. After all, the guy was something of a genre staple throughout his acting career with credits ranging from nasty characters in The Last House on the Left to House on the Edge of the Park and should have known a thing or two about how to craft an effective horror-thriller. But he was let loose with a camera, a ten-day shooting schedule and little else by the looks of it. To All a Goodnight is dreadfully dull, brought about by deathly interactions between a bunch of horrendous actors who are trying their hardest to make a terrible script sound even worse. At a certain point during the film one when red herring has turned up dead, I thought that the film was going to kick in for the Final Girl finale before I realised I was little over half-way through! With the sluggish pace of the film, that felt like I’d been sat there for hours, let alone forty-five minutes.

The story itself is wafer-thin, as evident in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it prologue (not sure which one came first in 1980 between this and Prom Night but it’s virtually the same introduction, only shorter), and doesn’t know what it wants to do with anything apart from have the characters lounge around their bedrooms or the living room all of the time. People go missing and they continue to sit around. They even discover a body and report it to the police, whereby they continue to hang around the house despite the fact there’s a murderer loose! Hell, they don’t even acknowledge there’s a problem until the final third of the film even though pretty much all of their friends are now missing. These characters deserve to die for their stupidity and obsession with sex. I know that slasher formula dictates that the bulk of the younger characters are meant to be full-on with their feelings and hormones but this lot swap partners and move on without a second guess.

There is a substantial body count here, with no fewer than fifteen corpses to add to the tally by the end of the film. That’s impressive for any early 80s slasher and it’s just such a shame that the majority of them are so poorly planned and drawn out for maximum impact. There’s little tension or suspense with any of the kill scenes – the killer just pops up and does the deed with little fanfare or build-up. There is a decent variation in the methods of dispatch and, whilst not going to win any awards for most gory slasher, there is a bit of blood splashed around. And whilst the killer does sport the classic red Santa outfit, the difference here to the rest of the Santa slashers that followed is that the killer actually wears a creepy old man mask to go along with it. It’s a good costume but as the film is too dark and there’s little creativity in the camerawork, the killer is badly wasted. Even the creepy gardener who is thrown in there as a red herring doesn’t seem to have a proper role apart from randomly appear in the bedrooms of some of the girls at weird times of the night.

 

To All a Goodnight is a generally fright-free festive frolic which is a real chore to sit through. Clunky, uninspiring and failing to make the most of the holiday theme, it’s strictly one for purists. There are much better Santa slashers out there to fill your perverse needs at this time of the year!

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Valentine (2001)

Valentine (2001)

Remember that kid everyone ignored on Valentine’s Day? – He remembers you.

Five women are stalked by an unknown assailant while preparing for Valentine’s Day. When they each receive a sinister Valentine’s card, they realise that the person responsible is Jeremy Melton, a nerdy classmate who they tormented and tortured for asking them out at a Valentine’s dance when they were in sixth grade.

 

I shudder to think that I actually paid to go and see this at the cinema back in 2001. Not that it’s terrible, just so derivative and captures a post-Scream moment in teen terror that is probably best forgotten. Scream introduced the post-modern, self-aware slasher where the characters all knew the rules of the genre, what to do and what not to do, etc. But that quickly became tiresome as a slew of clones were rushed out, and so then-modern slashers went back-to-basics, ditching the jokes and self-referential humour and trying to emulate the 80s by returning to the serious scares – these quickly outstayed their welcome too. Valentine emerged at the end of that cycle and it clearly shows.

Director Jamie Blanks, having previously helmed the equally-forgettable Urban Legend, returns to the sub-genre and regurgitates the same run-of-the-mill nonsense, albeit it with the classic seasonal-themed twist so popular back in the 80s. The whole whodunnit mystery element to the story throws in plenty of characters to interact with each other and attempt to bamboozle the audience with red herrings (particularly the male characters who all come off as very self-absorbed, cocky or inconsiderate) but for anyone remotely intelligent, it’s blatantly obvious who the killer is right from the first moment you see them on-screen. There’s also a lack of urgency surrounding a lot of Valentine’s run time and the whole plodding pace of some of the stalking and ‘hide from the killer’ scenes slam a brake on to any sort of momentum the odd moment of brilliant inspiration provides. Valentine is never outright boring, but some of the scenes move far too slowly for their own good. When the set pieces appear, they’re devoid of any real energy and everyone in front of the camera goes through the motions – the female characters put up a heck of a fight in their self-preservation but ultimately succumb to the inevitable.

True to form, Valentine features a swathe of young-ish, good-looking American actors such as Denise Richards, David Boreanaz and Kathering Heigl to pad out the cast so that the audience are clueless about who is going to die next (this started and peaked with Drew Barrymore’s infamous scene in Scream). Rather than worry about that, I spent the duration of the running time trying to figure out how a bunch of gorgeous, supposedly twenty-five year old best friends are all still single. Their characters are fairly one-dimensional, generally arrogant and wholly unsympathetic (only one of them shows anything resembling remorse for their actions towards the young Melton). You do wonder why they’re all friends given the way they treat and talk to each other. There’s no real sense of friendship between them, something that Scream at least managed to develop between the lead teens.

The sad thing is that Valentine has production values way better than it deserves. This isn’t some slapdash low budget effort but something which has a bit of money behind it. There’s a really cool arty sequence inside an exhibition hall which smacks of Argento and the whole thing has a polished look to it: a far cry from the grainy, low budget slashers it’s seeking to emulate. Valentine was also heavily cut after its initial rating was given, in response to school shootings in America, and it shows in the relatively dry approach the film takes towards the gore. I think you see more blood from the cherub’s nosebleeds throughout the film than you actually do from any of the victims. Aside from some half-memorable kills involving a hot tub and power drill, and the obligatory bow and arrow (given the killer wears a Cherub mask) murder, there’s nothing to really get worked up over. The final revelation of who the killer is doesn’t come off as a shock in the slightest: as I’ve already said, you’ll have it worked out from the start – unfortunately for the characters, they spend far too much unnecessary exposition trying to piece together the clues. Well, something had to fill up the screen time.

 

A dull-looking killer, mediocre murders, a plodding pace and some pedestrian writing turn Valentine into a rather bland ninety-minutes of slasher action.  It’s not the worst example of the sub-genre you’re ever going to stumble across but it’s hardly going to get your pulse racing.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Doom Asylum (1988)

Doom Asylum (1988)

SLASHING with a snicker, SLAUGHTER with a smirk…

A group of teenagers wind up on the grounds of a creepy abandoned asylum and think they have found the perfect place to have a party. However, they don’t realise that the asylum is home to a deformed maniac who was driven to madness by the death of his fiancé many years ago.

 

Made in the dying days of the slasher era during the late 80s, Doom Asylum is scraping the barrel just about as much as it can. Guerrilla filmmaking at it’s best (or worst) with a micro budget, extremely short shooting schedule, a dearth of skill in the audio and visual departments and scripts, make-up effects and actors looking like they were picked up in the local second-hand shop. Clearly with a sub-zero budget at their disposal, the makers of Doom Asylum tried their best but it’s hardly going to touch the likes of The Evil Dead or The Blair Witch Project in the budget versus quality stakes.

Doom Asylum is borderline parody, and I’m not quite sure whether that’s intentional or not. There are plenty of comedic and light-hearted moments, even during some of the more serious kill sequences – one victim telling the killer she is a Republican and voted for Reagan in attempt to save her life comes off as rather forced. It doesn’t help when the script is truly appalling and delivered by a group of actors so stilted and monotone in their dialogue that you’d think they had stage fright. Doom Asylum is probably most famous for being the film debut of Sex and the City star Kristin Davis, who is far too attractive to be playing a nerdish bookworm, and no doubt will deny this film’s existence on her resume. I would. I’m already trying to erase it from my mind as I write this review.

Doom Asylum is at least gory. The demented lawyer has a large group of teenagers to dispose of and does so in various ways, which is a good given how irritating the characters are. The gore looks extremely cheap at times, with obvious dummies and prosthetic limbs, but the killer keeps the kills racking up fairly frequently and you’ll be impressed at the make-up effects given how low the budget clearly was. I am sure this looked ‘amazing’ on grainy VHS back in the days of the video rental stores to give it an extra edge – the sort of front cover you’d notice as a kid when you were in the video shop but were never allowed to rent until your dodgy friend was able to source a copy. At least they managed to film inside a real abandoned asylum to give the narrative a bit of realism and scope. But there’s literally no tension or suspense whatsoever as the characters just walk around a lot through the hallways of the asylum. And I mean a lot.

The pizza-faced madman off the poster looks like a bargain basement Freddy Krueger and has his annoying habit of spouting off lame one-liners. For some unknown reason, the bulk of the film is set during the day and so this guy’s make-up is exposed in every single shot you get of him. He’s not menacing in the slightest, nor is he funny enough to make the jokes work. There are attempts at humour but none of the script writers have a funny bone to know what would work and what would fall flat – the large majority of it doesn’t even get off the ground. I guess the makers of this were rolling around in hysterics at the things they’ve written but no one else will find it funny.

There’s also a lot of black and white footage lifted from old Tod Slaughter horror films from the 1930s-50s which the killer sits back and watches in his abandoned asylum lair – it’s blatant padding to keep the run time resembling a real film and not some amateurish hour-long home movie.  Some of the footage is a lot more interesting than the actual film however and has made me curious about these vintage British horrors released around the time that Universal were hitting their Frankenstein-Dracula-The Wolfman peak.

 

With a plot you could squeeze onto a postage stamp, a set of actors who would struggle to recite a nursery rhyme and a total lack of anything resembling tension, fear or seriousness, Doom Asylum is an excruciatingly bad watch, even for ardent slasher fans.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Student Bodies (1981)

Student Bodies (1981)

13 1/2 Murders + 1423 Laughs = Student Bodies

A murderer known as ‘The Breather’ begins to kill off students at Lamab High School. One of their classmates, Toby, inexplicably finds herself at each of the murder sites and becomes the prime suspect.

 

The recent Blu-ray release proclaims ‘Long before Scream, this was the original movie that asked audiences to tick-off the tributes’ and whilst that isn’t too far from the truth, Student Bodies has less in common with Craven’s seminal classic and far much more in common with the absurdity of the Scary Movie franchise (which in turn took it’s lead from the old Airplane and The Naked Gun style humour). It’s surprising to see that even in 1981, when the slasher flick was in peak form, that Student Bodies has enough wits about it to start to deconstruct the sub-genre, such was the formula that had already been established. Late 80s I could understand, but this came along during the same year as minor classics such as The Burning, The Funhouse and My Bloody Valentine.

Student Bodies tries to do to the slasher genre what Airplane and The Naked Gun did to their respective genres and that’s lampoon them in a million different ways; some funny, some not. This is a genuinely good-natured film which pretty much falls flat on it’s face with the sheer amount of misses in it’s scatter gun approach to comedy. Your enjoyment of Student Bodies will depend on your tolerance for really stupid jokes – silly one-liners, daft sight gags, groan-inducing puns and some utterly maniacal characters. Literally no stone is left unturned to try and elicit a chuckle from the audience. The humour has dated significantly (jokes about Africa for a start) but for every couple of fails, there are a few hits – though not as many as you’d hope for to keep the running time from dragging as badly as it does. Laughs get particularly sparse during the finale where the film opts for a crazier slant than it had been heading along.

On-going jokes involving a blind teenager will make you hate yourself for laughing, there’s a rolling on-screen body count number keeps the viewers up-to-date with the kills, helpful notes pop up to highlight points of interest, and there’s a public service announcement directed at the ratings people (who rated this R despite the fact there’s no explicit sex or violence) which ends in hilarious fashion to warrant the R-rating for profanity. Too many of the jokes go on for longer than they needed to and too many are repeated. Maybe there’s some sort of generational difference that my parents would have find some of the stuff in here funny (with 70s and 80s pop culture knowledge, in much the same way I would get more of the Scary Movie pop culture references that today’s teenagers wouldn’t) but a large chunk of the jokes, and I’m going to say 80%, are just not funny in the slightest. I’m not sure whether this was one person’s sense of humour forced onto the big screen or whether people had different tastes in comedy.

Due to the comedy falling flat on its face, you would hope that the other side of the film, the horror elements, would at least be bearable. Student Bodies’ narrative plays out like a serious slasher but without any of the tension or scares. There’s the opening scene similar to Halloween (and later, Scream), the introduction of the angelic Final Girl, killer’s POV shots, a load of red herrings (the film goes to great lengths to introduce as many potential killers as possible) and a constant flow of deaths without any real sense of atmosphere or suspense keeping everything working. There is little gore as you never get to see anyone killed, only a few bodies tucked away in bin bags. A plot twist at the end comes out of left field and feels like a total cop-out, clearly only being written that way to include a nod to Carrie.

The performances don’t work in conjunction with the material. This group of amateurs have hardly made another film between them since Student Bodies was released and there’s good reason – they’re not very good. Bordering anywhere from wooden to downright over-zealous, the group bumble their way through the script from one lame joke to the next crazy sequence. The deadpan nature of the material needs good, steady hands to deal with it. Look at how Leslie Nielsen, or to a lesser extent Anna Faris, did with their star turns in The Naked Gun and Scary Movie films respectively. That’s how you sell a parody like this to an audience. And yes, there is an actor actually called ‘The Stick’ in this (that is his name), playing Malvert the janitor. He’s an unusual specimen who will either make you laugh or creep you out to no end.

 

The trailer covers all of the best gags in Student Bodies and so you’ll spend most of your time groaning at all of the failed opportunities rather than laughing along. It’s not a horror film, and it’s a stretch to really call it a comedy. Student Bodies is a failed attempt to parody a sub-genre which hadn’t yet worn itself out enough to parody in the first place.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

All Through the House (2015)

All Through the House (2015)

There is a creature stirring

When Rachel Kimmel returns home from college for Christmas, she finds that her neighbourhood is struck by a reign of terror. A violent killer, hiding behind a Santa mask, is leaving a bloody trail of slaughtered women and castrated men behind them.

 

Ah the Christmas sub-genre, the festive fright fests which offer up holiday-themed hijinks that may offend some due to their anti-Christmas sentiments. From rampaging snowmen to murderous elves and the copious number of Santa slashers out there, it’s the most wonderful time of the year for some truly bizarre, mainly terrible, but sometimes downright glorious horror entertainment with a nice helping of sleaze and nastiness to counteract the seasonal saccharine soppiness. All Through the House picks up the killer Santa mantle from Silent Night, Deadly Night and runs with it in an 80s-slasher throwback kind of way. It’s not pretty but I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the better Christmas-themed horrors that have come my way in many years.

All Through the House is relatively average in just about everything it does, from the poor technical side of the film to the more obvious script issues, but just has that ‘it’ factor that is so essential in making a good slasher film. The director just gets it from the opening sequence, featuring a bloody double killing and a good look at the Santa slasher within the first six minutes. It’s a great way to hook in the demanding audience and get them on board. Let’s face it, the film needs you to get on board quickly. The script does fall into many of the usual sub-genre pitfalls of characters doing the silliest things and avoiding any sort of common sense and logic when trying to evade the killer. But it’s easy to criticise when that’s all these films can do – there wouldn’t be a story if the victims just ran away and didn’t look back. Stupidity is the name of the game to further the plot, as there’s little in the way of exposition or character development to do so. All Through the House features a bunch of shallow, one-note characters who are so thinly written that I had trouble remembering their names. From the Final Girl’s virtually anonymous best friends to her ‘we need an extra body in the finale’ ex-boyfriend and a whole slew of random neighbours, it’s hardly a film where the characters take centre stage. It’s a good job that Nunes knows what people paying to see this are wanting to see and ensures that they are not let down in this respect.

All Through the House gets it absolutely spot on with the gore and set pieces. This is clearly a production team who have seen their fair share of 80s slasher cheese and do their best to live up to the lofty standards that some of the previous works have set. The killer likes to use a pair of shears to do most their handiwork and there are some real doozies here – shears into the breasts, shears into the side of the throat, shears up into the chin and through the head, and some poor schmuck gets his manhood lopped off. The make-up effects are decent enough and the camera doesn’t mind lingering on the carnage for a little bit – the total absence of CGI gore is really noticeable and enhances that throwback vibe. There is a decent body count and the kills are spaced out enough to keep the pace of the film quite good. If there is one thing that is disappointing, it’s that the killer does make quick work of the majority of their victims, leading to a real lack of tension or suspense throughout the film.

The film also gets it right with the killer. Too many slasher films fail whenever their killer gets on the screen – too hidden behind a mask, too gimmicky or simply not intimidating enough. Thankfully, the Santa slasher here looks and acts the part. Whilst they are stuck behind a creepy grey mask for the duration of the film, the actor behind it manages to convey a lot of emotion through the eyes. There’s also something particularly frightening about seeing a hulking Santa popping out from a darkened corridor when you least expect it.

Ashley Mary Nunes, the sister of the director (so no guesses how she got the part) is the Final Girl and she’s a bit of a revelation. She’s not only a looker but she can act the part well and makes a decent heroine. Like everyone else, her role is underwritten but it’s to Nunes’ credit that she at least comes off with more depth than the others. Melynda Kiring just narrowly fails to steal the show as the barking mad Mrs Garrett. Her house full of creepy Christmas-dressed mannequins deserves pride of place at Halloween let alone the festive season but Kiring pulls off the nutty proprietor to perfection. It’s elements like this which add a sense of uneasiness to the film and I wished they had focused a little more on this side of the film to really give the audience the creeps.

 

Despite a few black comic moments, All Through the House plays the slasher material straight, simple and effective. The natural way with which Nunes manages to show his love and respect for the old 80s slashers is clear to see and I can see All Through the House becoming a cult favourite in the years to come, in much the same way as Silent Night, Deadly Night has become. It’s not quite on the same level as that controversial 80s classic as far as holiday horrors go, but it’s the best we’ve seen for some time.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort (2014)

Wrong Turn 6: Last Resoirt (2014)

The family needs new blood

A sudden inheritance brings Danny and a group of his friends to Hobb Springs, a forgotten hotel and spa resort in the middle of nowhere. Here, Danny hopes to find more about the long-lost family he has never known. But what he doesn’t know is that an off-shoot of his family are deformed cannibals and the lure of fresh meat is too hard for them to resist when Danny and his friends set off to explore the hotel and surroundings.

 

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is another sequel/prequel to the surprisingly long-running Wrong Turn horror franchise. When I say surprisingly, I mean who would have thought that some mildly entertaining The Hills Have Eyes-style flick back in 2003 would become one of the longest surviving horror series of recent years? I can only really think of Saw with nine films and Lake Placid with six films that come anywhere close (and by this, I mean franchises that had their original film released after 2000 – I know stuff like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is still on the go with reboots, remakes, etc.). But what we have now with the Wrong Turn series is exactly the same thing that happened with the Hellraiser series – it has become a series of totally unrelated or tenuously-linked films featuring deformed cannibal families, each of which are becoming increasingly poor and desperate for fresh ideas.

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is not the worst in the series, but it tries desperately to claim that mantle. Five minutes of this sequel is all you need to know about what you’re getting yourself in for here – boobs and blood. A further five minutes or so and there’s hints of incest, which is a big theme in the film (and it becomes more than a hint later on). Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is literally a film which has been stripped down to the genre bone and expects its audience to content themselves on the offerings we’re given. I didn’t even try to comprehend the whole inbred family tree plot that the film paints a picture of – some family look and act normal, others end up like the three deformed killers. Nor do I buy the fact that someone brought up in the ‘civilised’ world could, within the space of a few days, turn against his good friends and want to join up with the cannibal family he never knew he had. It is an interesting development but one which was weakly built-up and came out of nowhere.

There’s not much else to the story barring that – Danny’s friends get little development outside of usual stereotyping and are easy pickings for the cannibals. Given we don’t care in the slightest about any of them, they’re literally human fodder and so you’re just waiting to see how quickly and brutally they get taken out. There isn’t a much reliance on the stupid CGI gore as some of the earlier films relied on. The kills are generally done with old school effects – a nasty incident involving a barbed wire trap and subsequent beheading look good. The three deformed cannibals are little more than noisy henchmen here, popping up every now and then when they’re needed to further the plot with a kill. The make-up looks like little more than glued-on Halloween masks nowadays and has fallen a long way since the grotesque mountain men from the original film. Instead, the film focuses on the ‘normal’ brother and sister pair who run the hotel and keep the deformed brothers out of the way. In doing this, the film loses plenty of its novelty value as, just like in the last film with Clive Bradley’s Maynard character, the soliloquising human villains are less appealing than a bunch of grunting inbred mountain men who can’t be reasoned with. The simplicity of their brutality was something to behold – now there’s all sorts of plot threads and back story thrown in to the mix.

Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is the raunchiest of all of the films so far and its obvious that director Valeri Milev and writer Frank Woodward are resorting to copious amounts of sex and nudity to keep the predominantly-male audience interested in the film. Every female in the cast removes her clothes at some point (not counting the old lady who dies!) and are involved in a sex scene of some kind, sometimes more than once. Whilst they’re all attractive ladies, its blatant sexualisation and sits uncomfortably with the incest narrative that the film peddles from the beginning. Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort does peel itself back to the basics of the genre a little too much at times and the frequent nudity becomes a distraction. I mean, who in their right mind decides to have sex in a grotty, delipidated and abandoned part of a hotel? There are hundreds of comfy rooms available, including the one where they’re staying!

 

With a new director comes new ideas and a new direction for the series (let’s face it, they haven’t finished milking the cow yet) and whether you like the route it’s taking or not, at least it’s an improvement over a few of the previous films. Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort will appeal to die-hards only.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Cherry Falls (2000)

Cherry Falls (2000)

Lose your innocence – or lose your life

A psychotic serial killer that only kills virgins starts a bloodthirsty murder spree at Cherry Falls High School. Deciding to organise a sex party to lose their virginity to avoid becoming the next target, a group of teenagers are unaware that the killer has found out the location.

 

Famously highlighted in Scream that ‘sex = death’, losing your virginity in a horror film has always been a big no-no, right back to the late 70s and early 80s. It’s one of the core rules of the slasher genre, and one which has rarely been tampered with…until Cherry Falls. It’s a film that ran into the MPAA in America (the censors) who rejected the film numerous times and demanded more cuts and was unfortunately relegated to becoming a TV movie. Things were better for Cherry Falls overseas and, here in the UK at least, it received a cinematic release. I must have had a slow day because I remember going to the cinema on the afternoon to see Cherry Falls when it was first out. Looking back after re-watching it, it’s disappointing that this was quickly lost in the shuffle amidst the copious amount of Scream wannabes that were released in the late 90s and early 00s.

Cherry Falls is a slasher which has one novelty over the rest – the role reversal of the ‘have sex and die’ – but does little else differently than the swathe of Scream clones. Post-Scream, teen slashers needed to be self-aware to appeal to the ‘hip’ audience otherwise they would appear behind-the-times, and thus Cherry Falls is only too quick to allow the characters to get in on the act of knowing that they need to lose their virginity to survive. It doesn’t make a big deal of it, though it’s inevitable that this self-aware moment is a cue for a lot of awkward sexual innuendo and one-liners from the teenage cast. But in focusing the bulk of the film on this central narrative, too little time is spent on other matters like characters and minor plot threads. Despite the little twist on the tale, there’s literally nothing else that is different here from the likes of Urban Legend or I Know What You Did Last Summer. Director Geoffrey Wright includes all of the usual tropes, from the settings to the camera shots he uses, with the film sometimes drifting a little too far towards becoming a parody due to some of the dialogue.

There’s the usual assortment of red herrings – the sheriff who just so happens to decide to go to West Virginia during the murder spree, a headteacher who harbours a shifty past, a young male teacher who is a little too eager to get to know his female students, a frustrated on-and-off boyfriend. The sad thing here is that, sheriff aside, all of these characters here are too thinly-developed and no matter who is finally revealed as the killer, it’s not as effective and shocking as it could have been. The killer does follow standard procedure such as apparently being in two places at once, having a superhuman ability to withstand damage that would knock down any normal person, and the knack of knowing who to kill and when and where. It is also essential for the killer to wear some form of mask or conceal their identity so as not to be identified by anyone who may survive (or so that the audience can get a good look at them) and the costume here is a bit far-fetched and impractical. I’ve worn wigs as part of a Santa costume every year and there’s no way they stay that perfect after a bit of frenzied activity!

In its defence, Cherry Falls has been cut to shreds by the censors after it was submitted and rejected numerous times to the MPAA in the US. Who knows what the final version looks like in comparison with director Wright’s original edit. It’d be bloodier that’s for sure, as it’s obvious during the kill scenes that something is being held back. There’s also the blatant issue of the film’s central set piece – a ‘Pop Your Cherry Ball’ where dozens of horny teenagers are having pretty much a big orgy – and hardly any nudity in sight. What we do get to see of the kills, and it’s not much, is fairly bog-standard stuff but there was clearly a lot more in the tank which was taken out. The ambiguous nature of the killer’s gender is a nice move but it’s hardly a Sleepaway Camp style shock reveal.

The late Brittany Murphy stars in the ‘final girl’ role and she’s likeable enough, with her wide-eyes conveying a nice sense of innocence and naivety in her vulnerable moments. But there’s something different about her to the usual teen heroines which makes her stand out. Michael Biehn plays her father/the local sheriff and is the sort of stern adult presence the film needs to anchor some of the more dramatic and serious moments. Biehn gets a fair amount of screen time too, which was pleasing, as the guy is criminally underrated and has been since his double turn in the 80s in The Terminator and Aliens. Those two apart, the rest of the cast is almost invisible such is their minimal screen time. The group of teenagers that make up the friendship group are virtually anonymous and there’s so many kids from the school that get one or two lines to make the orgy at the end make more sense in that everyone is there.

 

You’ve seen it all before and done better. You’ve also seen it done a lot worse too. Cherry Falls is as routine as they come, save for the twist on the old sub-genre trope, but a lot of that is purely down to the censors, rather than the filmmakers. There was a lot more underneath the surface but it’s been ripped out, leaving a rather tame and neutered remnant.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Creep (2004)

Creep (2004)

Your journey terminates here.

Modelling agency worker Kate finds herself trapped in the London Underground when her late-night plans to crash a party goes wrong after she falls asleep and wakes to find the place has closed. An attempted rape by someone who has followed her is brutally broken up by an unseen assailant. Kate flees and takes refuge with a young homeless pair who live in the Underground, who tell her of stories of homeless people going missing. A hideously-deformed killer is living in the sewers below and prowling the Underground for more victims.

 

Not enough horror films have been set in the London Underground. Oh there was Hammer’s more sci-fi than horror flick Quatermass and the Pit, Death Line in 1972 and the fantastic werewolf chase sequence in An American Werewolf in London. But its slim pickings for variety which is a shame as the long, winding pedestrian tunnels which snake from the surface down to the rail tracks look chilling when they’re empty, with the white-tiled walls bathed in an eerie fluorescent light. I’m sure it looks like a hundred other subways, but the London Underground has a historic legacy of being the world’s first metro system and has seen plenty of action and drama during its time.

It is a pity then that Creep is the latest film to use this location as its main setting. A pity in that it’s a story we’ve seen done before, and done better, but not without its merits. A dread-filled opening half in the subway, with the potential escape routes and solutions to Kate’s situation, promises much which is not really capitalised on with the more routine second half. The claustrophobic subway passages are replaced with more generically-grim environments such as storerooms and old medical labs. It’s a good job that the first half of the film builds up plenty of goodwill to carry itself through. The dimly-lit prologue promises plenty from first time writer-director Christopher Smith and, script aside, he clearly knows his stuff, with clear influences all the way from Hammer to more recent ‘torture porn’ flicks.

Cinematography is nice and crisp, with the bright white walls of the Underground contrasting sharply against the darkness and grime of some of the sewers and abandoned tunnels. Neither brings any sort of comfort or satisfaction for the characters or the audience watching. It’s a pity not as much is made of the pure darkness that would be present over 100ft underground in these unlit corridors as it could be. It’s all too easy for the story to come across plenty of storerooms and underground medical facilities that have been left to time, and conveniently most of the rooms have power and electricity which kind of kills a lot of the ambiance. Nevertheless, there is still a generally effective atmosphere filling the screen and the claustrophobia of being stuck down there is played on fairly regularly.

Sadly, Creep doesn’t do an awful lot with the decent set-up and effective tools of the trade. Its essentially an underground slasher, where the characters’ isolation is in the subway rather than some summer camp in the middle of nowhere and they all go off looking around dark places, succumbing one-by-one to the killer. A number of thinly-written characters are introduced into the film simply to pad out the body count – this is Kate’s film and everyone else is second to that. At least she’s not totally stupid, doing a lot of reasonable things that the majority of people would do (like running away from the killer’s body after you think you’ve killed him…just get the hell out of there!). But the script doesn’t give her enough progression apart from running and screaming and fending for herself, which she seems very good at doing to begin with. Usually, the heroine finds some inner strength and overcomes the odds in this type of film.

Franka Potente may look good but her character is wholly unlikeable, made out to be a nasty, self-centred piece of work from the opening sequences. She looks down upon everyone else and is rude to everyone she meets, never thinking of them or their problems but what they can do for her. Potente plays the part well in this case, it’s just a pity it’s been written so badly. When she does eventually run into trouble, are we meant to really care for her wellbeing or celebrate in the torment that she is put through? The same can be said for the rest of the small cast, with the characters made up of annoying comic relief, jobsworth security guards, homeless druggies and sleazy co-workers. I’m not sure who we’re supposed to be rooting for. Maybe the unfortunate sewage worker who makes sure he tells Kate “I’ve got a kid” ticks this because guess what? That kid is going to be an orphan! The star turn comes in the form of the ‘Creep’ of the title, your typical The Hills Have Eyes type of mutant humanoid. Sean Harris isn’t the most intimidating physical presence, but he gives the monster some weird mannerisms and acts the part well with some stage theatrics that distinguish him from other similar creations – I could have done without the whimpering and squealing though. If you’re expecting some sort of clear background to his origins, think again. There are a few hints and ideas floating around but they’re not the priority here. In fact, the more you try and think about who or what the Creep is, the sillier and more fantastical it all becomes.

Surprisingly, the film is fairly bloody despite not really appearing to sell itself like that to begin with. Throats are slit, there’s some unwanted surgery, heads rammed onto metal spikes and plenty more. The camera doesn’t dwell on the gore but its there as an add-on to really convey the sense of just how brutal and inhuman the Creep really is. But given the weaknesses in his backstory, some of his mystery and threat are eroded quickly.

 

Creep is not a brilliant film, nor is it terrible. Writer-director Smith knows his stuff and clearly has some potential to go on to bigger and better things. The directing side of things works well, the script less so. With a more polished script, he could have avoided the plot gaps, the abrasive characters and the horrid dialogue and built upon the solid foundations he established at the beginning.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆