Tag Slashers

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.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Final Examination (2003)

Final Examination (2003)

You fail, you die

A publisher of a men’s magazine invites a bunch of sorority sisters to Hawaii to do a photo shoot for their five-year reunion. Before long, they start succumbing to gruesome murders one-by-one. It’s up to two local police detectives to track down the killer before the next victim is murdered.

 

When a film calls one of its characters Hugh Janus, you know the type of level it is aiming for. In this case, rock bottom, lowest denominator humour. Final Examination is taking the mickey somewhat by labelling itself as a horror/thriller when it’s virtually softcore porn. Within the first ten minutes, there are so many warning signs not to proceed but being the sucker for punishment that I am, I endured the rest of the film. An elongated shower scene which lingers upon its naked actress for far longer than necessary and the aforementioned Hugh Janus are just two of the “Immediately Press Stop” button moments that fill the film.

The flimsy slasher plot is one of the worst MacGuffins I’ve ever seen to pad out a bunch of sex scenes between the cast. I’m all for a bit of T&A to liven up a horror film but Final Examination goes overboard with the nudity. Long-standing B-movie sleaze merchant Fred Olen Ray (going under the alias of Ed Raymond) literally drapes the film with breasts. From gratuitous shower scenes to implant-enhanced blondes getting jiggy in hot-tubs, the film doesn’t waste an opportunity. It even has one of the characters stand talking topless on the phone in the most blatant breast shot in the entire film.

Funnily enough, the only female to not bare her chest is Kari Wuhrer, which is a real crime since she’s done so in countless other films of similarly low quality. Maybe she changed her agent? Whatever the reason, she seems so out of place in this film, presumably because we know she can act and yet is stuck in a clichéd supporting role as one of the detectives. The tedious scenes of her and her partner investigating the crime would have been better placed in NCIS or another crime TV show but here we are following them around looking for clues, all the while the rest of the cast have sex and bare their bodies.

Clues will do you few favours towards the end of Final Examination as there are about thirty plot twists within the space of a few minutes (OK I may be exaggerating that number slightly but you get the idea). Some are of the typical slasher variety such as finding out who has been doing the killing as well as a copious number of red herrings but some aren’t and the whole thing is just drawn out far too long. It’s just a mess but it’s an embodiment of the rest of the film in not knowing quite what it wants to be: a softcore skin flick, a slasher, a police thriller or some lame action TV movie. At ninety-seven minutes, Final Examination feels about twice that length due to its incoherent narrative.

Having watched the film, I’m still no further forward in understanding the ‘Examination’ part of the title and the tagline ‘You Fail. You Die.’ The killer leaves a few calling cards of exam papers with ‘failed’ written on them but the sketchy story linking the past event with the current killings is weak and feeble at best. Likewise, the slasher elements fail drastically short of expectations. There’s no real build-up or suspense to the kills, they’re pretty bloodless and the killer’s token masked costume is hardly the most chilling sight. Plus the fact that you could count on one hand the amount of times the killer shows up in the film and you have a film which is barely watchable for a number of reasons.

 

Final Examination is a terrible slasher, a poor softcore flick and it doesn’t even register on the police thriller scale. Go and get a decent slasher from the 80s if you want gore and scares. And if you want a bit of skin, use Google. Definitely one of the worst films I’ve ever sat through.

 

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

X-Ray (1981)

X-Ray (1982)

You Have Nothing to Fear … Until They Operate!

While receiving a routine check-up, a Sarah has her test results swapped and is then stalked by a maniac out to avenge a childhood Valentine’s Day humiliation.

 

With the hospital setting from Halloween II and a Valentine’s Day revenge plot straight out of My Bloody Valentine, X-Ray has been on my ‘To Watch’ list for years now. Under its other title of Hospital Massacre, the promise of a medical massacre has had me desperate to see it for a long time. Made in 1982 during the golden age of the slasher film, I was always hopeful that I’d be looking another great slasher gem. Alas X-Ray is a sporadically-violent but grossly overrated slasher which abandons any sort of logic or sense of story from the opening moments and is content to plod along in its own little slasher bubble.

Clearly borrowing the medical setting from Halloween II and taking it a little bit further, X-Ray treads out a whole heap of blatant clichés which entertain at times, bore at others and generally frustrate during the rest. The glaring problem is that there is no real story keeping everything ticking over. Sarah goes in for her results, the killer swaps them around, and then the rest of the film is spent with Sarah desperately trying to convince everyone that she’s not ill whilst the mad doctor literally kills off every single person in the hospital. We know literally nothing about Sarah at the start of the film and only a little more by the end. There’s no one else to get behind or root for – characterisation is at zero. Ex-Playboy Playmate Barbi Benton is Sarah and you can bet the director made sure he got her stripping off for the role, partaking in an overlong, and extremely sinister, medical examination where the doctor (not the killer I might add, just a regular doctor doing his job) takes forever checking over her body.

Taking forever is a trademark of X-Ray though. Despite getting down to the no-frills business rather quickly when Sarah arrives at the hospital, it’s virtually impossible to engage with the story or invest in a character. What follows is virtually a series of non-characters being killed off by the killer in a hospital which hardly has any patients or staff. It’s not scary in the slightest, despite a number of false scares thrown around. Due to the lack of any character to get attached to save for Sarah (and even then she’s so thinly-sketched she might as well be another patient), you’ll not feel a connection to the film at all. What’s worse is that X-Ray is pretty silly, bordering on comedy at times. It’s unintentional humour but adds a thick layer of cheese to proceedings.

With a copious amount of red herrings introduced at the beginning, it’s pretty obvious who the killer is going to be and X-Ray doesn’t go for the subtle route. Close-ups of creepy janitors. Slobby, perverted patients peeking in on examinations. Fumigators with gas masks on. Sleazy interns. You name it, X-Ray presents a slew of male characters for us to wonder who the killer is. Only we know that from the start, X-Ray is nowhere near clever enough to pull the wool over our eyes and so the killer will inevitably be linked back to the prologue where the lead character spurns a wannabe Romeo, leaving him shattered and psychopathic. Again, the daft use of these red herrings would indicate more of a parody but the film continues to play it straight.

The kills are reasonably violent for 1981 though mostly gore-free, with strangulation via stethoscope, a syringe-in-the-chest moment and a token bath in acid all featuring prominently. The medically-themed kills are at least original enough to keep slasher fans entertained and the high body count (I counted ten) keeps things ticking over nicely enough. The problem is the pacing of the film means that you get little clusters of kills before it goes quiet for a while. The Omen-esque Latin-Gregorian choir music which plays during the kill scenes is a little off-putting but together with some of the surreal cinematography, including a smoke-filled floor which is being fumigated, the film has some sort of quasi-Italian feel to it. All it needed was a Goblin score and it would have been right at home in the midst of Fulci, Bava and co.

 

X-Ray contains no plot and no characters so you’ll find it hard to stay invested in it all the way through. With a messy approach full of silly comedy, a laughable script, incompetent acting and a general sense that no one really had a clue what they were attempting to make, X-Ray is one hospital appointment you’ll want to miss.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Girlhouse (2014)

Girlhouse (2014)

Enjoy the show

Kylie is a beautiful young college student who, needing money for tuition after her father dies, moves into a secret all-girl house that streams content to an X-rated website where punters can login to chat to the girls and watch them strip. After she offends one of her fans, he hacks in to determine the house’s location and proceeds to track her down. Soon Kylie and the other girls find themselves in a terrifying fight for their lives.

 

I was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t seen a good solid slasher in ages. Having picked up a copy of Girlhouse on its day of release and reading the less-than-exciting blurb on the back of the DVD about the college girls-webcam-psycho setup, I had a feeling I would be in for a longer wait. Sure, Girlhouse is a typical slasher flick and it doesn’t do anything remotely different from the staple formula that the slasher boils down to but it’s the way in which it does the essentials that makes it such an entertaining ride. Girlhouse is the best modern slasher film I’ve seen for a while.

Don’t get me wrong, Girlhouse is no different to hundreds of slashers that have come before it: hot, scantily-clad young women; a masked male killer; a remote location; bloody and graphic murder scenes; and so on. The film is simple and borrows the standard issue ‘angry, sexually-frustrated man wronged as a child/teenager commits acts of unspeakable terror when he’s older’ plot which so many classic slasher films ran with. Adding new technology into the mix really gives Girlhouse that cutting edge. In a digital age where you are just three clicks away from finding graphic porn on the internet (allegedly!) and in an era where anyone can hide behind a keyboard and pretend to be someone they’re not, it’s good to see a film attempting something a little different and contemporary. Mixing footage from the Girlhouse webcams, the viewpoint of the computer screens and the traditional camera shots, the film uses a variety of perspectives to reveal or hide certain things (in particular the killer when he turns up). On the negative side, I’m sure Girlhouse will date a lot quicker as technology advances and internet habits move on.

Girlhouse does take a while to get going after the opening scene but this is essential in building up some of the characters, particularly the relationship between Kylie and Ben. Kylie isn’t just a bimbo like the other girls in the house but someone who is only doing what she is doing because she’s desperate. Keeping her humanised and rooted in reality keeps the audience from wanting to see her suffer because she’s sexually provocative. What also works, surprisingly, is the cast of female characters. Yes they’re all easily summed up in one-word clichés (stoner, bitch, etc.) but the actresses behind the characters actually put some effort in and ended up performing way better than they have any right to do in a slasher film. Ali Cobrin, as well as looking stunning, makes for a very sweet and likeable Final Girl in Kylie but the rest of the girls all play their part. They’re developed well enough to make you care for them, even the nastier ones. Of course it helps that they’re all very attractive young women to which the camera certainly panders a lot of attention to. In many ways, the audience is put into the position of Loverboy as we watch the girls through the various web cams around the house. Despite the nature of the webcam content, the film rarely feels gratuitous even if some of the girls do get naked.

It’s when Girlhouse starts putting the girls through the ringer that you begin to realise just how much the characters have grown on you. From some pretty brutal and exploitative death and torture sequences, the girls are tormented and savaged beyond belief. This is not a film which springs up a load of novelty death sequences but the way in which the various dispatches are handled is excellent. Lots of realistic gore is thrown around, particularly a brutal dis-fingering of one unlucky girl. The fact that the production values are clearly high class really livens everything up too. The film looks good, the editing is spot on and the lighting is all designed to create atmosphere and suspense.

Loverboy is an intimidating presence as a slasher. Played by Slaine (what a name), his portrayal harks back to Gunnar Hansen’s classic physical portrayal of Leatherface in the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He charges down his victims, using sheer physicality and brute force to overpower them. Let’s face it, very few cinematic slashers would be successful in real life as they’re too slow and methodical. This guy just pulverises his victims, using his body weight and strength to take them out which would seem more realistic as they’re not just going to stand around waiting to die in real life. What really sets Loverboy apart from other generic killers (and he does look very generic when he dons the wig and mask) is that he’s a sympathetic character we can actually empathise with. He’s just some ordinary Joe who was a little nervous around girls in real life and started using the internet to get attention from the opposite sex – sounds like any number of lonely heart stories you hear about in the news. You can’t really give him an excuse for the horrific actions that he eventually takes in the film though!

 

Girlhouse does the usual slasher thing with gusto, presenting us with a decent group of likeable characters, plenty of unique approaches to the formula and, above all, delivering punch when it matters. It’s hardly going to reinvent the wheel but it keeps it turning pretty quickly.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Reality Kills (2002)

Reality Kills (2002)

They’re dying to be on TV

A group of people starring in a new reality TV show gather in a deserted house which was home to a mass murder years ago. However shortly after arriving, the murders begin again, with the contestants disappearing one-by-one. Without knowing who to trust, the contestants soon begin blaming each other in a desperate bid to win the $100,000 cash prize.

 

I have a suggestion – just leave! If I saw that other contestants were going missing, I surely wouldn’t want to wait around until my number was up even if there was a significant cash prize on offer. But then little details are never the greatest worry of low budget shockers like Reality Kills, whose primary goal is to make a quick, simple slasher film to fill up some bottom shelf space in a video store somewhere.

Reality Kills wasn’t the first to do the reality TV slasher flick formula and it certainly won’t be the last either. Released in the same year as two high profile reality TV-themed horrors in Halloween: Resurrection and My Little Eye, Reality Kills was clearly made to cash-in on a momentary fad. I absolutely loathe the vast majority of reality TV shows, making ‘celebrities’ out of idiots who should be denied oxygen rather than given large amounts of free publicity. The UK media is the worst for ‘celebritising’ some of the most moronic, unintellectual, bottom-feeding wastes of human space as thousands of copycats and wannabes suddenly realise that by going on TV, saying or doing some stupid things in front of millions of people, will give them their fifteen minutes of fame. Anyway rant enough over! Reality TV hit its peak around this time and though the likes of X-Factor and various international versions of ‘… Got Talent‘ still do the rounds, the obsession with knowing what Z-rate celebrities are doing in a remote house has definitely waned.

Realty Kills already comes off feeling dated in its dependence on the reality TV show format. Despite this sub-genre being short-lived, the clichés were already rolling thick and fast and this never really manages to overcome any of them, pandering to the usual genre tropes to keep the film moving. There’s the obligatory individual monologues to the camera at various points in the film (you know where they talk directly to the camera on Big Brother and the like) which are designed to build character but are terribly written. There’s the inevitable ‘deaths caught on camera’ scenes where the other characters re-watch footage to find the killer doing his thing. There’s also the sense that the characters know that ‘death = ratings’ and staying in the house despite what is going on will make them even more famous.

The contestants are a wholly unlikeable bunch who, after literally just meeting, are already verbally tearing chunks out of each other. The ‘diverse’ nature of the group means you’ll get one of each major stereotyped character including the innocent virginal girl, a politically incorrect redneck (which is a politically incorrect term too!), the black ‘gangsta’ producer, the diva and more. It’s lazy writing because all of the hard work has been done for us in developing their characters – as soon as the redneck opens his mouth we know he’ll be hostile towards the ethnic minority characters, the diva will throw a strop because she wants to be the star, etc. The quicker the majority of them are killed off, the better the film will be.

Post-Scream and every low budget slasher film had to feature a killer in a black robe and a white mask. Reality Kills is no exception. The kills are weak and a little overly complicated too. The killer subdues their victim with a Taser first of all and then gets out a hypodermic needle with something nasty inside to finish the job. It’s the same routine over and over again with no variation. There’s little blood on offer though the body count is quite filled out to keep things ticking along nicely. Those with a keen eye will figure out who the killer is early on, if you discount the physical impossibilities of the first two kills. There’s hardly any suspense in the kill scenes and the film throws in a couple of cheap boo moments throughout but nothing that will really get the heart racing.

 

Reality Kills is cheap, bargain basement horror designed to capitalise on a mini-fad that went nowhere. It’s dull, barely passable at the best of times and will be instantly forgotten after the end credits finish.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Slaughter Studios (2002)

Slaughter Studios (2002)

The Place Where Nightmares Come True

Young filmmaker Steve discovers that Slaughter Studios, the place where his favourite B-Movies were filmed, is going to be demolished. The studios had been closed twenty years earlier after the death of a young star while shooting a scene. Determined to shoot one last horror film there, he gets a cast and crew together and sneaks into the studio the night before the demolition in order to make a cheap horror film. However strange things begin to happen and they soon find out that they are not alone in the studio.

 

Great. Another low budget horror film about a bunch of low budget horror filmmakers making a low budget horror film. It’s a well-worn out premise and the whole film-within-a-film has been done to death. Originally starting out as a remake of The Slumber Party Massacre, Slaughter Studios morphed into a spoof of not only the slasher films of the 80s but the cheapo sci-fi horrors of the 50s when the writers realised that they were able to use Roger Corman’s old film studios in California. The studios were in the process of being torn down so a quick twelve-day shoot allowed the filmmakers an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create something bigger than they expected.

What comes out the other end is a surprisingly entertaining slasher film which acts better as a low budget parody on low budget horror filmmaking. Slaughter Studios enjoys itself during the first half of the film, setting up a load of predictable clichés and poking fun at them in the process. It’s not exactly cutting edge satire but the comedy works well enough to give the proceedings a nice light-hearted tone. The dialogue is pretty sharp at times and once you get past the annoying accents put on by some of the cast and their smarmy “I know everything about horror” attitude, there’s a lot of mileage to get out of the idea that these idiots are really making a low budget film with a cast and crew of about ten people. If you love old school B-movies then there will be plenty of homages and nods to tropes that you’ll be familiar with – even the title of the film-within-a-film harks back to memories of the sci-fi trash released in the 50s with the glorious name of ‘Naughty Sex Kittens vs The Giant Preying Mantis.’

Slaughter Studios has production values which defy the limitations of the budget. For a start, it helped that the filmmakers were able to use the old studios whilst they were being demolished. Having access to some sets which would have been way beyond the budget of the film really adds a nice sense of atmosphere. You really get the feeling that this is a massive film studio filled with dozens of rooms and corridors, all left to the ravages of time with cobwebs and dust covering everything that has been left behind. The art direction is spot on, with these dingy sets being lit with a variety of coloured lighting to give them an unsettling and ominous vibe. At times, the film has the kind of charm that a fairground ghost train or high-brow Halloween haunt exhibits. It doesn’t exactly look like a top class production but you know it’s been designed with heart and soul.

The problem with Slaughter Studios is that it takes too long to get to what it sets out to be at the beginning – a slasher film. The set-up is long and whilst it’s not boring watching the antics of the crew, it seems like something of a deviation from where the film should have been heading. There is about forty minutes of watching these people attempt to make the film, with a few little morsels of plot advancement thrown in. But it’s nothing that couldn’t have been shortened and sped up a bit to keep the pace going. Once the slashing does begin, things move rapidly enough and the cast and crew begin to dwindle one-by-one. There’s some decent gore involved and the kills are perfunctory if nothing else with a variety of spears, pickaxes and other implements being used to shorten the cast number. The film knows what it is trying to be and doesn’t shy away from getting exploitative when it needs to. The female cast have been hired for obvious reasons and are required to disrobe with alarming frequency, with the lovely, late Lorissa McComas winning the award for most time spent topless.

The cast play mostly to type. Peter Stanovich is the stereotypical English auteur in charge of the production and mangles a bad accent and even worse dialogue trying to sound posh and artistic. He is so blinded by believing that he is making a good film that he fails to see how ludicrous everything is.  The rose-tinted glasses approach rings home true with a lot of Roger Corman’s studio output over the decades – films so terrible that the directors must have believed they were making Lawrence of Arabia or The Godfather. Apart from Lorissa McComas’ ample bosom, Tara Killian steals the show as the diva-like blond actress who demands that certain concessions are made for her to star in the film. Rounding off the “fresh from film school” clichés are the sound guy and a sleazy actor who just happens to be Indian, killing two stereotypes with one stone here.

 

Slaughter Studios is a bit goofy, a bit silly and a lot of fun. It works far better as a spoof of low budget horror filmmaking than it does as an outright slasher but there’s plenty for genre fans to get stuck into here. Hardly the most demanding ninety minutes to sit through, it would have worked far better had it just continued to spoof rather than try to get serious in the final third.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆