Body Count (1986)
"The woods are alive with the sound of screaming"
A group of teenagers roaming around Colorado in their RV pick up hitchhiker Ben, who offers them a place to stay at his parents’ campsite as a way of thanks. However, the group are unaware that fifteen years earlier, a murderous Native American shaman killed a pair of teenagers on his land and Ben’s father is convinced he is still prowling the woods.
Italy’s answer to Friday the 13th, Body Count is an apt title if ever there was one for a slasher film which ratchets up the kills as much as this one. It’s a routine campground slasher which I’d hoped would put more of a European flavour to the usual American trappings but rather plays out in exactly the same way as one would expect, just with plenty of extra Parmesan. By 1986, the slasher formula had been entirely played out, with the entire cycle of serious slashers followed up by themed holiday slashers and then finally the self-aware/spoof slashers all being done to death. That never stopped the Italians though, who were always late to the party and constantly tried to jump on horror bandwagons that had already long-gone in the US.
With no overlong build-up or messing around, Body Count gets straight down to butchering work and keeps a fast pace going, spreading plenty of kills over it’s running time (I counted thirteen, although one is left ambiguous) without worrying too much about characters or overarching story. It’s very much a case of getting the victims all assembled as efficiently and quickly as possible and then unleashing the shaman upon them, many times before I’d even worked out who was who. The copy available for streaming on Prime was quite dark and so its difficult to see who is being attacked from time-to-time. To be fair, it matters little when the characters are this sketchy and there’s little to no plot – people like me are just here to see the shaman get down to work.
Director Ruggero Deodato, most infamous for grisly exploitation flick Cannibal Holocaust and notorious revenge flick The House on the Edge of the Park, helms this one so you would expect a tsunami of violence, blood and guts. Whilst the murders are graphic in comparison to a lot of other slashers, you would not expect Deodato to hold back as much as he does here. The kills are fairly routine, most copied from its American counterparts (you can spot the Kevin Bacon kill from Friday the 13th coming a mile away) and with little real suspense or tension to build up. The characters don’t seem to notice that their group of friends is dwindling one-by-one and even when they find themselves in dangerous situations, they do the most stupid things. Said ‘Kevin Bacon kill moment’ involves one character opting to run upstairs in an abandoned house and lie on a bed rather than fleeing out of the front door to go and get help. There is sticking to the formula and then there’s lazy writing. Surely it wouldn’t be too hard for the writers to give her character some degree of brain power so they could set up a kill, rather than do what they do here. It’s repeated throughout the film – characters do the most insane things at the wrong times. Or the killer comes up with the most ‘out of nowhere moments’ purely so the script can set up the next kill. Either scrap the kill at this point or find writers who can come up with these things. Thankfully, the writers at least know that nudity is a key ingredient to a successful slasher flick and the script throws almost all of its female cast into the shower at some point of the film.
Deodato’s old buddy David Hess is given an extended role as the slightly-deranged father (when was Hess ever anything less than deranged in this type of horror flick?) to add a potential red herring into the mix. Clearly along for a nice Italian holiday, American character actor Charles Napier pops up in a trademark authority role, this time as a police officer rather than an army officer. As for the rest of the cast, it’s mainly your usual array of Italian actors with bad dub jobs imposed over the top. The problem with Body Count, in fact the majority of Italian horrors pretending to be set in the US, is that the dialogue is cringy beyond belief, as the middle-aged Italian writers think they know what teenage Americans sound like. I’ve had the same issue with Nightmare Beach, another Italian slasher set in America, and watched in the same sitting as Body Count. These ‘teenagers’ couldn’t be anymore square if they tried.
Composer Claudio Simonetti has always been one of my favourite Italian maestros, responsible for some rocking soundtracks to the likes of Demons as a solo artist but more famously as the keyboardist for Goblin, the progressive rock group who scored such massive Italian horror hits as Suspiria. Simonetti works miracles again with some excellent music that would have befitted a far superior film and certainly adds something extra to the ambiance and vibe.
Body Count is by no means the worst slasher film out there but given the director’s resume, this should have been bloodier and messier if not more competently made. With so many clichés, you wonder where the director was just slumming by this point or whether he thought he was making something different. Either way, Body Count is for die-hard slash fans only.
Director(s): Ruggero Deodato
Writer(s): Alessandro Capone (screenplay), Luca D'Alisera (screenplay), Sheila Goldberg (screenplay)
Actor(s): Bruce Penhall, Mimsy Farmer, David Hess, Luisa Maneri, Nicola Farron, Andrew Lederer
Duration: 83 mins