Tag Slashers

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.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

New Year’s Evil (1980)

New Year's Evil (1980)

This New Year’s, you’re invited to a killer party…

During a New Year’s Eve celebration, New Wave rock show host Diane gets a phone call saying that when New Year’s strikes in each time zone in America, someone will be murdered – and she will be the last one. Though no one believes him at first, once the bodies begin to pile up the police realise that he’s the real deal and begin to search for him before time runs out and Diane becomes the next target.

 

One of the last of the holiday-themed horror films from the 80s that I hadn’t seen, New Year’s Evil is relatively routine, overly plodding and downright dull at times, lightened up by the odd moment of inspiration. I mean they managed to put horrors spins onto every other holiday of the year (take your pick from Friday the 13th, Halloween, any number of Christmas-themed horrors, April Fool’s Day, My Bloody Valentine, Prom Night, a couple of birthday slashers and of course, Mother’s Day) so why not New Year as well? After all, it’s one of the busiest nights of the year around the world and I’m sure that some people use it to create as much mischief or mayhem as possible whilst everyone is out partying and celebrating.

Tagged along in the slasher bracket because that was what was popular at the time, New Year’s Evil isn’t so much of a typical entry into that sub-genre. The body count is pretty low, there’s not a lot of stalking and we know who the killer is before the first third of the film is over, despite the pointless presence of some red herrings. If we’re shown who the killer is, what is the point in providing these seedy, weird characters and giving them a load of screen time? None of them further the plot in any shape. In fact the film makes the killer something of the prime focus of the film – we spend more time with him prowling around looking for his next victim than we do with some of the other characters. It’s a different approach to the norm – usually slashers introduce a bunch of characters to be the main focus of the film, give them some development and then have the killer come in and start taking them apart. Sometimes these characters work, sometimes they don’t depending on the script. But at least they’re the focus, and some of them will last all the way until the end, giving us a reason to emotionally invest in them. Here, the characters show up briefly for a few minutes of screen time before they’re killed off and the psycho moves on to the next non-character. There’s no one to root for – we can’t cheer on the killer (for obvious reasons) and there’s no point in pretending to care for any character that gets a handful of lines before dying.

On the flip side to this, having the killer as the focus of the film (and he’s not meant to be a sympathetic, tragic character either) gives us a rare chance to see some of the lengths that a determined psycho will go to in order to succeed. The killer would have been a better undercover agent than a murderer as he adopts a number of costumes and guises throughout the film in order to get close to, win the trust of, and then murder his victim. From a mild-mannered priest to a charismatic doctor, this killer loves dressing up. Since he does a lot of talking, we get to know the guy quite well within the running time and Kip Niven does a fair job of making him into a fully-rounded character. He’s a bit nutty and completely misogynist but at least there are attempts to flesh him out. Splashed on the back of the DVD cover is the killer wearing a strange mask which he does wear late in the film and comes off far more interesting and scary than anything he had come up with in the past. I guess this is how the film was sold though – another masked killer on the rampage.

This would be all well and good if the film was any decent but New Year’s Evil is bland beyond belief. As I’ve said, the body count is pretty low and we’re mainly subjected to the killer’s attempts to carry out his next attack in between. This is interspersed with a number of awfully-dated scenes set in the music phone-in show which showcase a lot of terrible late 70s/early 80s fashion and music – the hairstyles and crazy clothes during the ‘mosh pit’ scenes are laughable, especially looking back over thirty years later. The soundtrack is awful too, with the title track being replayed a number of times during the film (as if the rock show only has one record to repeat). There are a few other New Wave tracks in there which help to pad out the running time far longer than it needs to be as the radio show’s in-house band perform live.

Though the body count is low and the kills are pretty bloodless when they come, they are at least more original than the usual methods of dispatch – how many times can you say you’ve seen someone handcuffed to the bottom of a lift (not quite a kill but near enough) or choked to death with a bag of marijuana? The problem the film has is that this killer doesn’t stalk people or wait in the shadows, he gets to know them first. I don’t watch horror films to see Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees have a cup of tea with their next victim before slicing their heads off. This approach kills off any attempts at suspense or tension or even scares.

 

The basic problem with New Year’s Evil is that it doesn’t really know how it wants to set itself out. By trying to be different with its focus on the killer, it loses everything that would have made the film at least a cheesy watch. If it wanted to be a slasher and sit right at home in the ‘Golden Age’ of the slasher, then it went about everything the wrong way. With 1980 and 1981 arguably being the two best years for slashers, you’re spoiled for choice and have no reason whatsoever to want to check out New Year’s Evil – unless you’re a slasher completist.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Scary Movie (2000)

Scary Movie (2000)

No mercy. No shame. No sequel.

A group of none-too-bright teenagers are stalked by a masked killer who wants them dead because of their involvement in a car accident that happened last Halloween. The kids are also being stalked by a television news reporter determined to get the story. One by one, the young friends are dispatched in a grisly and ridiculous fashion.

 

First watching Scary Movie upon its release around fifteen years ago, I was scathing in my review, criticising its consistent use of crude gags to lampoon the 90s teen horror fad rather than sophisticated spoofing. However, having then sat through progressively worse sequels and a raft of similarly-themed pop-culture parodies like Meet the Spartans, I decided to check it out and see if was as bad as I remembered it. Whether it’s maturity through age or the fact that there doesn’t seem to be too many decent comedies being anymore but I actually liked Scary Movie this time around. Sure it’s still got its fair share of bottom-of-the-barrel toilet jokes but there’s so many jokes I missed first time that you’ll have so much to process by the time it’s finished, it will all depend on what frame of mind you were in. Feeling daft, then the bad taste will rise to the top. Feeling more relaxed and you’ll enjoy the cleverer jokes.

To talk about a plot in a film like Scary Movie is pushing it. It follows the same story as Scream, of a group of friends being tormented by a masked killer, but that’s about where the similarities lie. Basically the story derails and detours so many times, depending on what films the writers wanted to spoof next, so it’s best to sit back and wait for the jokes to fly. Some of the jokes will be dead-on-arrival (basically anything that the irritating Shorty, played by Marlon Wayans, says is just not funny in the slightest), some will depend on your mood and others require more thought. There’s dick jokes, fart jokes, poop jokes and sex jokes to pander to the lowest denominators but then for every one of these, there’s a witty one-liner, a clever in-joke or a subtle dig at another film. It’s the scattergun approach that worked well for Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker with the likes of Airplane! and The Naked Gun though the offensive content has been upped dramatically since those days. I’d be hard-pressed to say that half of the jokes work but the fact that there are hundreds of jokes means that the hit rate is still pretty good by the end of the film.

The bulk of the gags come at the expense of Scream. It’s easy to see why: Craven’s classic teen slasher is ripe for the picking with its infamous masked villain, copious plot twists and genuinely tense moments ready to be laughed at. Ironically, Scream itself was a parody of slasher films, with numerous in-jokes and clichés aimed towards an audience who knew the genre well. As a result, Scary Movie can only take these in-jokes and clichés and do daft things with them rather than clever spoofing. Sometimes, Scary Movie just replays entire scenes out from Scream without doing much with them, making the idea of this being a spoof rather a null point, particularly the copycat finale where it seems that the writers ran out of jokes or another scene in which one character actually says “didn’t this happen in some film?” to which the reply is “Scream.” Yes, we know that you’re spoofing Scream but you don’t need to explicitly tell us.

On the occasion when it does something different, the results are funny. A parody of Scream 2’s murder in the theatre provides plenty of amusement as the victim’s constant chatting through the film leads to the rest of the audience taking matters into their own hands before the killer has chance. The I Know What You Did Last Summer spoof is also decent, if played out a little too long. The pop-culture references are rife throughout the film. If it isn’t getting the likes of Carmen Electra to poke fun of herself, it’s throwing in Matrix gags, parading brand names around like they were part of the sponsorship deals, cementing itself in a specific time with the ‘Wazzup’ Budweiser commercial rip, scenes which echo The Blair Witch Project or bizarre references like The Usual Suspects, Basic Instinct and Amistad (though this bit was pretty funny).

Likeable Anna Faris got her big screen break with this one and she plays the lead female role though, as this is an ensemble piece, she’s not the constant focus. Faris has a natural ability for deadpan and attract empathy from the audience when something goes wrong, making her a lovable oaf much in the fashion that Leslie Nielsen played his Lt. Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun films. Shannon Elizabeth solidified her status as one of the early 00s most searched for actresses with this and American Pie. As stated, Marlon Wayans is one of the most annoying men on the planet and his scenes are painful to sit through. Thankfully his brother Shawn Wayans is much better, playing the part of ‘is-he-or-isn’t-he-gay?’ Ray with some great delivery. Final note must to go to the underrated Kurt Fuller who plays the Sheriff. Fuller is one of those faces you see pop up in all sorts of things from Ghostbusters II to Wayne’s World as snooty businessmen or slimy executives. His timing is perfect in this, especially during the scene in which he’s asking Cindy to look at some photos in the police station – only the photos aren’t of perpetrators but of him in raunchy poses!

 

It’s hard to review a film like Scary Movie because of the sheer content of it. For everyone who hates one set of jokes, there’ll be someone else who hates another set. The bottom line is that you will need to have seen the main films that this spoofs in order to get the most out of it. If you’re prepared to sit through a lot of crude jokes to get really funny material, then you’ll be in for a treat. Likewise, if you feel the subtle humour doesn’t do it for you, there’ll be another bodily fluid joke along in a few minutes. There’s something here for everyone and that’s not exactly a bad thing. Hardly a classic spoof and definitely a product of its time (which makes me feel really old!) but still worth a look.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Texas Chainsaw (2013)

Texas Chainsaw (2013)

Evil wears many faces.

When word gets out about what happened at the Sawyer farmhouse, Sheriff Hooper heads straight there to demand that they hand over the perpetrator. With the Sawyer clan fortified inside and refusing to come out, an angry mob descends upon the building and torches it to the ground after a shoot-out. One of the mob finds a survivor in the barn along with a baby girl. Taking the baby and killing the mother, the man decides to raise her with his wife who was unable to have children. Moving ahead to the present time, Heather is a now a young woman who receives papers to say that she has inherited a house from a grandma she didn’t know existed. Finding out that her parents aren’t her biological parents, Heather and some of her friends head to Texas to check out the house, unaware that Heather isn’t the only descendant of the Sawyer clan left.

 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of horror’s greatest films. One of the most brutal, unrelenting ordeals of all-time, as the years go by it seems that the film becomes more and more appreciated for the nightmarish masterpiece it is. The grainy, pseudo-documentary style brought to life the horrors of Leatherface and his cannibal family in shockingly realistic fashion. It’s an assault on the senses and makes you feel like you need a shower after watching because you’ve been put through the ringer along with the cast. With the horror boom in the 80s, it was only a matter of time before someone went back and revisited the iconic Leatherface and a couple of sequels followed, none of which did the original any justice whatsoever. Then way back in 2003 (that sounds really weird saying that but its eleven years ago!), Platinum Dunes kicked off the whole horror remake fad with their pretty decent re-imagining of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A prequel followed which wasn’t so decent and Leatherface was sent back into oblivion….until now.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films have never adhered to continuity. The patchwork sequels picked and chose what parts of the original they wanted to follow on from and never followed on from each other. The Platinum Dunes remake in 2003 and its resultant prequel exist in their own bubble. Now along comes a glossy sequel which would have fit in better with the modern films but decides to go back to its roots instead. Texas Chainsaw kicks off minutes after the moment that the 1974 original ends. Yes, despite the passage of thirty-nine years of real life, the film decides that it would be a great idea to deal with the immediate aftermath of the original attacks. Talk about confusing – most of this film’s target audience will wrongfully assume that the 2003 remake is the only ‘original’ out there anyway.

Whilst the idea is nice in theory and it is executed as best as it has any right to do to begin with, it doesn’t quite fit right with the original due to the cleaner, glossier digital print. Then come all of the temporary lapses in logic that this film doesn’t have answers for if we take the thirty-nine years between films as being some reflection of film time (given the cars and clothing from the 70s in the prologue and the iPhones from the 2000s and 2010s used in the modern part of the film). This would make Leatherface about sixty so why is he so agile and spritely? Why does Heather look like she’s in her early twenties when surely if she’s a baby in the 70s she’d be pushing her forties?

Texas Chainsaw’s faults lie squarely at its bizarre script. Not only is there the questionable decision to follow on from the original but the narrative then sets about becoming a poor man’s remake of the original, with similar set-ups and death scenes (mallets to the head and bodies thrown onto hooks after investigating strange rooms). Leatherface is clearly the antagonist, smashing and slicing the teenage cast with his usual array of meat-cutting utensils. The sad thing is that we saw all of this during the recap of the events of the original and so showing us newer versions of the same scenes just keeps reminding us of how superior the original was. Granted the film is quite bloody during this first half, with one unlucky victim being chainsawed in half being amongst the scant highlights. The film tries to make use of its 3-D gimmick as best as it can but most of the shots are predictably pointless. This half completely goes against the grain of the original, showcasing gory set pieces and throwing CGI blood around like confetti in an attempt to mask its blatant shortcomings.

However in the final third, there is an even more random development where Heather finds out she is related to the Sawyers and due to events in the film, Leatherface becomes her saviour – despite the fact that he just butchered her friends. The novelty of seeing Leatherface as an anti-hero wears off in about two minutes when you realise he just does the same things only to different people. This kind of sums up the whole film: once certain novelty factors have worn off, Texas Chainsaw is just your very average, sub-par rather, teen horror film which just so happens to include one of horror’s most iconic characters. Remove Leatherface, rename the film something else and you have any number of backwoods horrors with demented hillbilly killers beating a path of destruction through a teenage cast. Throw in some generic ‘boo’ scares, a contemporary soundtrack which doesn’t invoke any sort of atmosphere whatsoever and a bunch of unlikeable, one-note characters and you’ve got pretty much any teen horror film released in the last fifteen years.

Three former Chainsaw alumni appear in roles in a nice nod to the films that preceded this one: the original Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen, pops up as one of the older Sawyers in the introduction; Bill Moseley, who played ‘Chop Top’ in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, takes over from Jim Siedow as Drayton Sawyer for the introduction; and Marilyn Burns, who was put through the ringer by the cannibal clan in the original, is Verna Carson, Heather’s grandmother, who tells her of her family ties.

One last gripe: why knock off the Massacre part of the title?

 

Perhaps we’re entering into a new phase of horror. Instead of the pointless remakes, will Texas Chainsaw kick off a fad where sequels are made to films which are thirty and forty years old in an attempt to appease both fans of the original and introduce them to a younger audience? Actually, I doubt it. Texas Chainsaw is dire. Even younger genre fans will smell the foul stench of death a mile away. Leatherface is an old man now and it’s about time he was retired permanently. Texas Chainsaw is such a wasted opportunity to kick off a real series of linked sequels and reboot the legend of the Sawyer family for a new generation.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Girls Nite Out (1982)

Girls Nite Out (1982)A group of college students celebrating a basketball victory are about to take part in the radio station’s annual scavenger hunt. Unbeknownst to them, a lunatic from the local asylum has escaped and kills the student who is the university’s bear mascot before stealing the costume. As the students embark on a night of fun and frolics, they fall victim one-by-one to the killer.

 

Girls Nite Out is a little known slasher from the early 80s. There’s usually a good reason for that and within fifteen minutes of this, you’ll know exactly what. Someone forgot to preview the film before release because otherwise they’d have realised just how slow and pointless the opening half an hour is. The film introduces far too many student characters in a short space of time and expects us to remember who they all are later on. In fact I’d swear a whole load of new characters were drafted in when they get involved with the scavenger hunt. Whilst I’m all for a bit of character development, this opening salvo goes on way too long. Goofing around, drinking, smoking and splitting up with each other seem to be the only things these college kids do. They’ve got relationships worse than some of the infamous soap operas.

You’d think that all of this character build-up to actually lead somewhere later in the film but you’d be wrong. With too many characters in the film, some of them get side-lined for too long. Others come into the fray who appeared to be minor players earlier on. Even with this characterisation put to the sword, you’d hope that with an abundance of drunken students staggering around campus, that the body count would be significantly high. Sadly, not even half of these characters are killed off. It just gets me as to why so much time is spent developing them all and setting them up for the chop. But hey, the party scene needs a lot of people dancing and drinking and having fun.

After what must be the longest sorority party scene on film, the killer finally starts cutting down the cast about forty minutes in when the scavenger hunt begins. Pity that no one really seems to bother with the hunt save for a couple of girls. The rest of the characters continue about their business like nothing is going on. Considering the scavenger hunt was supposed to be the big central event where everything kicked off, it’s a let-down to see how little focus there is on it. But let-downs are common in a film which runs the slasher gauntlet but fails to provide even the most miniscule amount of nudity. For an early 80s slasher, this is unusual.

Even during the second half of the film, there’s still too much goofiness surrounding the more serious slash. This isn’t meant to be a spoof so the amount of time the screenplay spends on having the characters talking wacky or doing crazy student things is just mind-blowing. The thing with Girls Nite Out is that once this silliness calms down and the film spends time on its horror elements, it’s a pretty effective shocker. It’s no Halloween for sure and it’s as derivative as hell but there are some good jumps, a few moments of tension and an atmosphere which slowly gets worse and worse as the killer strikes. Lighting is spot on and there’s some decent stalk scenes which crank up the heart a few beats.

The bear costume sounds like a daft idea for a killer but it’s actually handled fairly reasonably here, as the killer modifies the hands with knives, turning it into some sort of hairy Freddy Kruger prototype in the process! Even though these are only knives, the weapons and the manner in which they are used, seem novel and original. The costume looks comical but this is perfect material for a slasher film, adding a nice element of creepiness to proceedings. Some of the kill scenes are fairly brutal too, though not so much to do with the physical violence on display but of the misogynistic malice shown by the killer, shouting “whore, slut, bitch” as he slices his way through the cast. Don’t worry though, as the film progresses the kills get bloodier and bloodier. You’ll get little of the way of eye-pops or decapitations or even more standard axes in the head and a lot of kills do happen off-screen but those that are seen are reasonable.

Only notable cast member Hal Holbrook completely phones in his performance as the campus security guard with a link between the killer’s original spree and the current one. I guess the majority of the budget went on paying royalties to the artists whose songs are played on the radio station (there’s lots of famous ones too). The rest of the interchangeable cast fall into usual stereotypes (jocks, nerds, etc.) but they don’t follow the standard character arcs. The nice and wholesome pretty girl who looks to be getting set up as the ‘Final Girl’ doesn’t face off with the killer and spends most of the film drinking and having sex. Her boyfriend, Teddy, who could be called a ‘Final Boy’ even though that is a huge stretch, doesn’t cover himself in glory, cheating on her and being a general asshole throughout the film. But the film never plays true to form across a number of tropes and even ends abruptly, finishing on one of the most random and confusing endings to a slasher ever. After Girls Nite Out finishes, you’ll wonder whether what you had just seen was genius or incompetence. There is seemingly no resolution and the revealing of the killer is totally out of leftfield.

 

Girls Nite Out is one for the slasher purist only and even then it’s a bit of a slog to get to anything remotely genre-worthy. The novelty of the killer’s costume may be worth a shout and the pop soundtrack keeps things flowing very 80s, if nothing else. But this is sporadically entertaining and instantly forgettable.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

House of Wax (2005)

House of Wax (2005)

Hunted.Murdered.Displayed.

A group of teenagers are on a road trip to watch the most important football game of the year. On the way, they run into a detour which forces them to stop and camp for the night so that they can finish the trip the day after. After an encounter with a mysterious truck-driving local and finding that one of the cars has been damaged, two of the group accept a lift from a local to the nearest town so that they can get a replacement part and be on their way. The town’s central attraction is a now-defunct wax museum and after exploring it and seeing how realistic the dummies are, the pair soon realise that there is something more sinister to the town than meets the eye. They must find a way to escape before they become the next permanent exhibits.

 

Having had previous success with remakes of other 50s classics such as House on Haunted Hill and Thir13n Ghosts, Dark Castle Entertainment saw that there was potential to revisit further older properties and so turned their attention to House of Wax, immortalised in 1953 by a barmy Vincent Price and a novel 3D production. The resulting horror film borrows more heavily from cult late 70s horror Tourist Trap and the 80s slasher than it does the Vincent Price original but that’s not a bad thing. Playing more like a traditional teenage body count flick where a mentally-deficient psychopath stalks and kills a variety of young adults, House of Wax delivers far, far more than I had envisioned it would. In fact, I’m not ashamed to say that I really enjoyed it.

House of Wax features the traditional set-up: a bunch of teenagers on a road trip end up in the middle of nowhere and fall victim to a weirdo wearing a mask. There’s nothing new to see here. But story was never the strength of the slasher film and so once the inevitable exposition has taken place and the characters fall into the path of the killer, then that’s where these films begin to earn their money. House of Wax does that in earnest. But it does take a little while to get there. The character development and introductions take too long and even then there are some characters we know very little about. Stick with it though because once they arrive at the house of wax, then it steps up a couple of notches.

The two main reasons that this works as well as it does is the production design and the kills. First of all the stylish production design. The house of wax is a really unsettling, creepy place which is made entirely of wax and is populated by the wax-encased bodies of previous victims (thus cementing the link with the original). It does its job perfectly well and isn’t over-used. In fact, the whole wax angle is really played up here as a pivotal component to the plot, leading to the finale which involves fire and lots of CGI. The wax models are unnerving and, better yet, we get to see the waxing process completed in all of its horrific delight. Watch as one unsuspecting teen is strapped to a table and subjected to a tortuous process which is a one-way ticket to becoming the next attraction. You’ll think twice before the next time you’re in Madame Tussauds!

This leads me on to the kills. House of Wax doesn’t hold back on the gore and the brutality where many a recent horror flick has shied away from. There’s nothing played for laughs – it’s all mean-spirited where pain and suffering is the name of the game. In many respects, House of Wax borrow this nastiness from Saw a year earlier, with its depictions of carnage bordering on the realistic. Case in the point: the aforementioned ‘waxing’ scene. But there’s lots of other stuff including Achilles tendons being snipped, fingers cut off, decapitations and much more. Perhaps the film’s sickliest moment comes at the literal hands of a road kill pit, the thought of which just makes me nauseous. It’s this sense that something even more disturbing is just around the corner which keeps the film going.

With all of this eye-candy comes a host of the usual young suspects in the cast, many of whom were plucked from American TV shows. There are two notable actresses though. The first is the star, Elisha Cuthbert, more famous across the world for her Penelope Pitstop-style escapades in 24 as Jack Bauer’s eternally-suffering daughter. Cuthbert got a lot of unfair stick for her portrayal of the character which was down the script writers rather than her ability. She’s a decent actress and gets to show off a little of that here with a solid performance as the ‘Final Girl.’ A lot was made about Paris Hilton starring in this too and a lot of knives were sharpened ready to savage her. I’m not her biggest fan and I opt not to give her the airtime that her publicity craves because I have no interest in her as a person. I don’t hate her, just think that she is irrelevant. However I will stick up for her here in saying that she is by no means the worst part of the film. Her character is one-dimensional, her lines are limited and her glorious demise in the film was much-publicised before release. But she’s alright in the role. Without her paparazzi baggage, you wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at her being in this.

 

At times it can appear that House of Wax is more style over substance (and I’m looking at you, finale) but underneath the glossy surface is a gloriously nasty slasher which delivers the goods. The slasher material feels fresh, the wax elements are played to perfection and the cast do decent jobs of making it all seem believable. Highly underrated but maybe in ten years, we’ll look back on this in guilty pleasure fondness the way that we look back at some of the 80s slashers now.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Axe Giant (2013)

Axe Giant (2013)

This Tall Tale is Murder

A group of young adults serving their sentence at a first-time offenders’ boot camp discover that the legend of the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan is real but is much more horrifying than they could have ever imagined when they disturb the grave of his treasured blue ox.

 

Ah American folklore. Fresh off watching two films about the mysterious Bunnyman and his antics, I’ve now stumbled upon a film about another character from legend, this time more rooted in history than the more recent floppy-eared fiend. Paul Bunyan, a giant lumberjack from American folklore, has been the subject of various literary works, musical pieces and commercial productions and now finds his way into horror films. Though I’m sure the same Paul Bunyan who featured in a number of children’s stories is a far cry from this axe-wielding brute with a face only a mother could love.

I thought I’d seen the start of Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunya before but then I realised I had: whenever a film has introduced its main characters as juvenile offenders having to serve some sort of rehabilitation programme/community service (see Grizzly Park, See No Evil, etc.) then it follows the same “roll call” scene which basically provides us with all of the character depth that they are going to have. One supporting character even asks the duty officer “is this necessary?” when he reads out their names and past crimes. As a member of the very limited target audience, I can say no it isn’t as I’ve seen this film before and know which characters are supposed to be the slut, token black guy, jock and so forth. But we get spoon fed it anyway just in case you weren’t sure! The set-up is quick and painless and the character development brief and merciful yet it still takes the film ages to get going.

Despite the title giving away massive clues as to what sort of threat these characters are going to face, it is quite happy to shield the brute from us for as long as possible. You’ll get glimpses of him and, for one unlucky bear, more than a glimpse. I kind of figured that the director and writers would have gone in for the kill early and given us the money shots from the start, such is the norm for these type of films now. Gone are the days of directors crafting the monster before the final reveal (Jaws anyone?) and whilst I’m arguing in favour of films following Axe Giant’s path by holding back a little, it just seems silly to do it when the POSTER SHOWS US THE MONSTER! Paul Bunyan is given some back story and it’s too daft to take seriously (the disease he contracts sure has lots of side effects!) but provides token flashbacks for more gore and shenanigans, including the brutal dispatch of Dan ‘Grizzly Adams’ Haggerty.

Funnily enough, Axe Giant wins pretty much all of its star rating with the practical effects it uses for the giant. Think back to the 50s with The Amazing Colossal Man and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and you’ll get a sense of how this effect is rendered. It’s a guy in make-up who has been superimposed onto a number of sets courtesy of some green screen work (rather that than some dodgy CGI giant like the dreadful Ogre). Though the two techniques don’t mesh together well, the fact that it’s an actual actor gives the giant a real physical presence. Credit must go to effects man Robert Kurtzman’s Creature Corps for designing the make-up, ‘borrowing’ the demented, inbred hillbilly look from the Victor Crowley character from the Hatchet films to create a rather large, aggressive beast who has sculpted himself an axe just as big and powerful as he is.

But the practical effects stop there and that’s a big disappointment as the blood and guts is mainly CGI from there on it. Limbs chopped off, characters sliced into half and other nastiness involving the axe is all brought to life with the ‘wonders’ of CGI. It looks awful – so artificial and ‘clean’ if there is a word best to describe them. Some of the kills could have looked amazing if they had gone down the old school route but instead they’ve taken the quicker, cheaper CGI route and ruined some potentially-awesome moments. And whilst Bunyan looks good on his own, as soon as he starts appearing in front of green screens, the CGI falls apart. This is not a good film to watch for cutting edge special effects. The team have tried to punch above their weight but sometimes knowing where you stand is better. When the effects provoke laughter rather than fear or tension, you know something is wrong.

Joe Estevez, young brother of Martin Sheen and uncle of Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, gets one of the top billed roles. Sadly, Joe, unlike his older brother, has not had the glittering film career and has been appearing in low rent rubbish like this for years, no doubt using his name to make his way. Joe sounds like Martin a lot so close your eyes in a few scenes, pretend it is him and kid yourselves into thinking this is some glossy production. Grizzly Adams aside, there’s no one else that stands out in the cast. Most of the young cast are so anonymous that it’s a wonder they even bothered reading the script. Replace the actors with the same ethnic disposition and you’d be hard-pressed to notice the change. But hey, some of them meet their match at the hands of a giant axe!

 

Axe Giant is a film about a giant, killer lumberjack that turns into a giant lumbering mess of bad writing, laughable special effects and general boredom. It’s almost as if the writers thought of the crazy central premise and then struggled to really pad it out, opting to use the tried-and-tested slasher formula in the end. The result is a film which had potential to be a silly time-waster in the right hands but from the man who brought us Crocodile 2: Death Roll and Planet Raptor, I expected nothing and was rightly given it.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆