Archive for the Slasher Movies Category

Transmissions to Earth: BAD DREAMS (1988)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2013, 80s Horror, Cult Leaders, Evil Doctors!, Ghosts!, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Madness, Religious Cults, Slasher Movies, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , on May 2, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH presents:

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BAD DREAMS (1988)
Movie review by L.L. Soares

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Like a lot of horror films from the 1980s, 1988’s BAD DREAMS feels like a missed opportunity. The first film by director Andrew Fleming (who went on to give us THE CRAFT, 1996, the Steve Coogan vehicle HAMLET 2, 2008, and episodes of TV shows like ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and FRANKLIN & BASH), it’s kind of a take on cults like the Manson Family and Jonestown. You would think with a name like BAD DREAMS it might venture a bit into Freddy Krueger territory, especially since Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) had been a horror movie hit just a few years before and was still fresh on everyone’s minds. But strangely, the title is misleading, since the killer here does not kill people in their dreams.

The leader of this particular cult is simply called Harris, and is played by the great Richard Lynch, who was in tons of movies since the 1970s, including such memorable ones as SCARECROW (1973), Larry Cohen’s classic GOD TOLD ME TO (1976), and his last appearance, in a small flashback as Reverend Hawthorne in Rob Zombie’s latest film THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013). (Sadly, Mr. Lynch died in 2012.)

We see Harris gathering his faithful in an old house on a hill, baptizing each member with gasoline before setting the house on fire. This is kind of (painfully) ironic, since actor Lynch really had set himself on fire in Central Park in 1967 during a bad LSD trip, and, after he became scarred during the accident, he was many directors’ go-to-guy to play various villains in horror films and in TV shows.

But back to the movie. Everyone in the cult dies in the fire, except for Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin, the striking actress who was also Edie Segewick in Oliver Stone’s THE DOORS, 1991, and whose first movie was A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, 1987, strangely enough) who gets saved from the flaming house, but spends the next 13 years in a coma.  When she wakes up, it’s a media circus. Not only is it a big deal she woke up after such a long time, but everyone wants to know what happened inside the cult house the night it exploded in flames. Unfortunately, poor Cynthia doesn’t remember anything about that night.

Her doctor, Dr. Berrisford (character actor Harris Yulin, who has been in over 100 movies including SCARFACE, 1983 and TRAINING DAY, 2001), tells Cynthia that she should see a psychitatrist, because after such a long coma, not only does she need physical therapy to get her motor skills back, she also needs to “heal her mind” and learn how to cope with life 13 years later (she was just a teenager when that fateful fire happened). So Cynthia is turned over to Dr.Berrisford’s assistant, Dr. Alex Karmen (Bruce Abbott, who you might remember as Dan in the Stuart Gordon classic RE-ANIMATOR, 1985), and becomes part of his group therapy sessions. Of course, this being the 80s, the therapy group is made up of various quirky oddballs, some of which are clearly meant to be funny – and aren’t. These include wisecracking Ralph (Dean Cameron, also in SUMMER SCHOOL, 1987, ROCKULA, 1990, where he also played a character named Ralph, and lots of TV shows, including ALF, 1989 – 1990); shy Lana (Elizabeth Daily, who was also in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, 2005 and has done tons of voices for cartoons); a tough-talking lady reporter who’s always smoking; a middle-aged couple that is obviously having an affair; and an annoying teenage black girl named Gilda (Damita Jo Freeman) who keeps saying cryptic things that make you wonder if she has a direct line to Harris. Sometimes, these people seem a little too over-the-top (it’s not like this movie was striving for realism, sadly).

At first, Cynthia only remembers the peace and love platitudes that cult leader Harris laid on them back in the day, but then she slowly remembers how the man eventually lost his mind and set fire to all his followers, and suddenly, she’s traumatized all over again. Even more traumatic is the fact that Harris keeps popping up when Cynthia least expects it (as she remembers him, and later as a burned-up version), first showing up in a crowded elevator (this makes her go bonkers), and then slowly killing off every member of the therapy group (by drowning, tossing one person out of a window, and throwing the middle-aged lovebirds into a giant fan). Cynthia tries to tell Dr. Karmen and anyone else who will listen that Harris is doing all these things, but no one believes her. There’s also a cop, Detective Wasserman (Sy Richardson, who might be best known as Lite in the cult classic, REPO MAN, 1984) who is very suspicious of Cynthia’s cult member past and is sure she is somehow responsible for the deaths.

Cult leader Harris appears to Cynthia both as she remembered him alive, and as this burned up version post-fire.

Cult leader Harris appears to Cynthia both as she remembered him alive, and as this burned up version post-fire.

The twist ending in this one is very disappointing, and doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering past events. But hell, at least it doesn’t end with Cynthia waking up from her coma at the end, and it being all a “bad dream” – which I was dreading from the get-go, considering the title. When we do get to the surprise revelation (which I won’t spoil here), we find out that this is a movie is kind of a letdown. If only they had just delved more into Harris and his cult, and given it more resonance, this could have been the beginning of a franchise of its own. But no such luck. Instead, things get wrapped up in a tidy (and completely underwhelming) bow by the end.

Rubin is good here as Cynthia. Abbott is a little stilted sometimes, but has a few good scenes as Dr. Karmen (especially a great scene where he imagines running over Dr. Berrisford with his car!) and Lynch is perfectly cast as the Jim Jones/Manson-esque Harris (but he needed more screen time!). The direction by first timer Fleming is okay, but nothing amazing, and the screenplay by Fleming and Steve E. de Souza (based on a story by Fleming, Michael Dick, P.J. Pettiette and Yuri Zeltser) has some good ideas, but never fully delivers on them (and imagine, it took all those guys to come up with this one!)

Not one of the 80s best horror films by any stretch, BAD DREAMS at least has some good moments. But man, it could have been so much better!

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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Geisha of Gore Review: BLACK RAT (2010)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Enigmatic Films, Foreign Films, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Killers, Revenge!, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , on April 30, 2013 by knifefighter

GEISHA OF GORE REVIEW: BLACK RAT (2010)
By Colleen Wanglund

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BLACK RAT (Kuronezumi) is a 2010 Japanese horror film written by Futoshi Fujita—whose only other writing credit is for a film titled KILL (2008)—and directed by Kenta Fukasaku, son of legendary director Kinji Fukasaku, known for such films as BATTLE ROYALE (2000), THE GREEN SLIME (1968), and the Japanese sequences of TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) (after the studio fired Akira Kurosawa for going way over budget). As a matter of fact, Kenta worked as an assistant to his father on BATTLE ROYALE and finished directing the sequel BATTLE ROYALE II (2003) after Kinji’s death.

Six high school friends each receive a text message telling them to meet in a classroom at their school at midnight.  The message comes from Asuka, who committed suicide a few months earlier.  Four of the teens arrive on time where they are greeted by a girl in a rat mask—the big kind that team mascots would wear.  The masked girl takes attendance and tells the teens there will be “tests” that they must pass in order to gain her forgiveness.  She communicates with them through the use of flash cards. Upon challenging her, the kids are presented with the bloody body of one of the friends who didn’t arrive to the meeting place on time.  He clearly was beaten to death.  “Rat Girl” then attacks the four kids in the classroom, sending them all scattering throughout the dark building. 

The rat girl catches up to one of the boys outside and tells him his test will be to stop her from scoring on a penalty kick on the soccer field.  The boy fails to stop the goal and is put out of his misery, to put it mildly.  One of the girls—a brainiac type—is strapped into a chair wired for electricity.  Her test is to score at least one hundred points in karaoke….which she fails to do.  As another of the friends arrives late to the party, the remaining boy and girl—a tough guy and his Lolita-styling girlfriend—face off in a dark hallway against “Rat Girl.”

The chronology of the film gets a bit skewered after a bit.  There are a myriad of flashback scenes showing how mean the teens were to Asuka.  Asuka had an idea for the school’s year-end festival.  She wants them all to do a variation on a dance they all learned as children that tells the story of seven little black rats who were friends (thus the reason for the mask).  Each one of the teens, we discover, is supposed to represent one of the little rats.  This is also why the girl is wearing the rat mask….to remind the friends of what they did to Asuka.  There are other scenes where the teens were supposed to meet to rehearse the dance but were goofing off, instead.  Asuka manages to smile and stay positive through all of the crap she gets from her supposed friends….though why they’re still her friends is anyone’s guess. There are a few interesting twists and we do eventually discover who the perpetrator behind the mask really is, although as with all good Asian horror, the identity of this person (or persons) is still a bit vague.

One thing that drew me to BLACK RAT is the fact that it is a slasher film…a genre sorely lacking in Asian cinema.  The best example of Asian slasher flicks is probably BLOODY REUNION (2006, South Korea), whose original title is TO SIR WITH LOVE, which makes no sense, but I digress.  BLOODY REUNION, directed by Lim Dae-wung, is a very good movie with some intense torture and death scenes, as well as some psychological terror.  It’s better than a lot of American slasher films.  BLACK RAT, on the other hand, tries to be a really good slasher flick—and it succeeds in some ways—but for the most part it falls short.

The film does a good job of insinuating violence without showing it, particularly with the death on the soccer field and the electrocution after the karaoke failure.  The focus here is on the psychological aspects of the horror.  What makes it effective is the viewer’s imagination making the deaths more gruesome than anything that could be shown on-screen, so it makes your heart race a little faster in anticipation of further horror.  Where BLACK RAT fails to deliver are two particular fight scenes that don’t ring true to me and are pretty much just filler—although one leads to a decent beating where again, the final kill blow is off-screen. 

The story ultimately falls flat, as well.  The film begins with Asuka’s suicide—a jump off the top of the school building—but nothing in the story that follows convinces me that these teens should or could be held responsible for her death.  Nothing they did could even be construed as bullying.  Yes, they were cruel, at times, but nothing to the degree that would convince me this chick was suicidal. And there is nothing else to make me believe that this girl had (or thought she had) reasons to kill herself. There is virtually no character development.  Am I supposed to feel empathy for Asuka and rally behind her, or whoever the rat girl is, in the quest for vengeance?  Am I supposed to feel sorry for the teens who are the objects of misplaced vengeance?  I don’t know because I’m never really given a chance to learn who these kids are.

On the other hand, I appreciated the fast pace of the film (minus the flashbacks).  The blood begins to flow very early on and the kills themselves are well-done.  The rat mask, which is mangled and bloody (Asuka wore it when she jumped) is quite creepy. The only SFX issue I had was a scene where a motorbike explodes.  It was a bad CGI job that was completely unbelievable in how it translated to film. 

Comparatively speaking, BLOODY REUNION gives a better and more original story effectively mixing slasher and psychological horror, and the characters are more fleshed out.  There’s also the subtext of mental illness and obsession that BLACK RAT doesn’t have.  BLACK RAT is not an original story and is full of clichés, which is fine, but it becomes so convoluted that whatever I found interesting can get lost.  I admit I’m a bit schizophrenic with BLACK RAT.  It’s not a film I would recommend to any hardcore slasher fan, but I still found it fascinating.  Even after everything I found wrong with it, I still don’t feel as though I wasted my time—and it’s a short 75 minutes. 

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund

The "rat girl" shows them a particularly disturbing flash card in BLACK RAT.

The “rat girl” shows them a particularly disturbing flash card in BLACK RAT.

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: GIRLS NITE OUT (1982)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, B-Movies, Grindhouse, Killers, Nick Cato Reviews, Psychos, Slasher Movies, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on March 7, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 61:
I’ll Take a Couple of Bear Claws, Please…
By Nick Cato

Girl's Nite Out poster Among the endless list of 80s slasher films is GIRLS NITE OUT (1982), a semi-dud that at least tried to be a bit different from the crowd. Tried to be. The above newspaper ad made it seem much more exploitative than it is, and did a fine job of luring high school sophomores like myself into the theater, which in this case was the (now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema.

A young man is found hanging at a sanitarium in his bathroom. When two gravediggers are digging his grave, they’re both attacked and buried. The film quickly had the crowd’s attention.

We’re then taken to a college where the basketball team has just won a championship game. The entire school is in a festive mood, and we learn the female students will be having a scavenger hunt the next day (because, you know, what better way to celebrate a sports victory than with an all-female scavenger hunt?). But of course the night of the game there’s a serious party, where everyone talks about the poor guy who is now at the local nuthouse for killing his girlfriend, unaware he has hung himself. Then the film takes a tedious nose-dive as the students fight like junior-high students over girlfriends and boyfriends and generally act like idiots for approximately 20 minutes (although it seemed like an hour).

After the party, the guy who is the team mascot is murdered in his dorm room, and the unseen assailant steals his bear costume. I need to pause (paws?) here to say that my friends and I laughed our butts off over this development and didn’t hear a word the police were saying when they came to investigate the next morning.

Later the next day, a local DJ starts giving clues as to where the scavenger hunt items are, and our goofy “college” students listen in on their small portable radios. Meanwhile, our mysterious killer customizes the bear suit by attaching serrated knives to a wood block then placing it where the claws should be (NOTE: this predated Freddy Krueger) and prepares to go on a rampage.

It takes a good half hour or more for the killings to begin, as GIRLS NITE OUT tried a bit too hard in its first section to make us sympathetic to these throw-away characters. There are also a few subplots that don’t amount to much, and although most of the kill scenes are dark, they are gory, but I just couldn’t help myself from giggling whenever the bear-suited killer shows up. Neither could the crowd.

Like most 80s slashers, there are suspects all over the place, and a couple of kill scenes are quite brutal (especially one poor lass who is ripped to pieces then left to die chained up in the shower). But again, whenever the bear-suited killer is seen, the face is just so silly-looking, it’s hard to take any of this seriously (and you can forget about any genuine tension).

In the “shock” ending, we discover the killer is the sister of the guy who hung himself at the beginning of the film. She is told by our hero cop that her brother is dead, but she claims he’s fine, and shows him his corpse in a freezer. Yep…it’s multiple personality time again, folks (sorry for the spoiler).

I guess the only people who will enjoy this are serious slasher completists and those with an unusual thing for bear costumes. The killer, played by Rutayna Alda, does a good enough job despite her non-threatening countenance (which she later used to her advantage the same year in AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982) and on soap operas like SANTA BARBARA and AS THE WORLD TURNS). Fans of cutie-pie Julia Montgomery (of the REVENGE OF THE NERDS films) might also want to take a look, as she’s the main star here.

In the end, the crowd seemed indifferent, I left still laughing over the idea of a slasher in a bear suit, and one of my friends’ hatred of the horror genre was strengthened.

GO TEAM!

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

Don’t go near the window…especially when a maniac in a bear suit is at large!

Don’t go near the window…especially when a maniac in a bear suit is at large!

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The Distracted Critic visits MADISON COUNTY (2011)

Posted in 2013, DVD Review, Horror, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, Psycho killer, Serial Killer flicks, Slasher Movies, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , on February 15, 2013 by knifefighter

MADISON COUNTY (2011)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

Madison-County

Oh, how I miss video stores. I miss popping in with an evening to kill and browsing the shelves of cover art, trying to determine from an artist’s rendering whether a film would be worth a rental or not. When the “box art” for MADISON COUNTY(2011) appeared on my Netflix Instant Watch menu, I immediately knew it was something I would’ve snagged off the VHS shelf back in the day.

The movie was written and directed by 22-year old Eric England, who starts out the film with a bold choice for an opening—a bloodied, scantily clad blonde in the bed of a blue pickup truck, her face distorted with terror. It reminds you instantly of the ending of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), giving you the subconscious impression that all the terror of that classic film has come before this. The driver of the truck brakes, and immediately the blonde climbs out and tries to escape. She calls for help to someone off-camera while the driver comes up behind her, knocks her out with a shovel, and throws her in the cab of the truck. As he drives off, the camera pans to a run-down house a few feet off the road, where a grinning old man sits on his rocker, enjoying the show as all this goes down.

Now we meet James and Will, excited about embarking on a trip once they pick up “the girls.” They’re off to Madison County to interview the author of a book about Damien Ewells, a serial killer who murdered 33 people. James has been corresponding with the author and is planning his school thesis on the case. Will is going along to take pictures. Presumably, “the girls” are going so “the boys” don’t get lonely. They arrive at Brooke’s house, and since Will is her boyfriend, he knocks. Brooke’s brother Kyle answers the door, glaring. He’s a coiled spring who we realize is ready to rip Will limb from limb. Brooke and Jenna finally come out of the house, and while they greet James and Will, Kyle climbs into James’s truck. Apparently, he’s decided he’s going with.

“Are you freakin’ kidding?” Will asks Brooke. “He hates me!”

Once within Madison County, they stop at a diner with gas pumps out front. The diner is jammed with creepy-looking townsfolk who stare at the newcomers. It’s a real TWILIGHT ZONE moment, as we realize that James’s car was the only one outside, so how did all these people get here? James manages to get directions to author David Randall’s place. After ignoring the POSTED: KEEP OUT sign and climbing over a gate at the end of the drive, they find the author’s home deserted. Confused, they try to decide what to do next. Kyle drives back to the diner, alone, to get further advice. James and Jenna stay at the house to wait while Will and Brooke set off down the path to check out the barn on the property.

With our heroes thus split up, it’s time to introduce Big Pig Head, so he can start shedding blood.

In this corner... weighing 190 pounds... Big Pig Head!

In this corner… weighing 190 pounds… Big Pig Head!

The actors do exactly as well as expected for a movie like this, with no one really standing out above the rest. They’re all relative newcomers, though Ace Marrero, who plays Kyle, has a role in England’s movie ROADSIDE (2012) while Matt Mercer, who plays Will, is appearing in England’s upcoming CONTRACTED (2013). Colley Bailey, who plays James, appeared in last year’s DONNER PASS. The girls, Joanna Sotomura as Brooke and Natalie Scheetz as Jenna are making their first feature film appearance.

Eric England’s direction is pretty advanced for a young person making his first feature film. He’s creative and chooses interesting shots, at one point framing the car in a bright red dust mote, sort of like a bull’s eye. At another point, Kyle is glaring at Will and a flash of light looks like a knife in Kyle’s hand. Possibly most interesting of all is how, except for one brief scene, he films the entire movie in broad daylight. Artistically, Eric might be a director to keep an eye on, especially with the two more films already on the way, ROADSIDE and CONTRACTED. As far as his writing, though, MADISON COUNTY ends up losing points.

Director Eric England is a newcomer to watch. Writer Eric England... he can only get better from here.

Director Eric England is a newcomer to watch. Writer Eric England… he can only get better from here.

There are at least three moments in the film where minor characters assure James, and therefore us, that “he’ll understand before it’s all over.” This is a point that’s made and re-made throughout the first three quarters of the movie, usually after a weird swerve in the plot that leaves us scratching our heads. When it’s all said and done, though, there are no answers to be found. There is no final revelation that makes the movie come together in a flash of understanding. The credits roll abruptly and leave us wondering what in the hell was going on, which really drained my enjoyment of the film.

It’s not that I don’t like movies that leave us with unanswered questions. I recently reviewed LOVELY MOLLY, which left more than a few. In that film, though, Eduardo Sanchez never promised that we would understand everything. In MADISON COUNTY, England goes out of his way to foreshadow that answers will be coming, but then he ignores these promises and leaves us feeling cheated. I’m going to chalk it up to a rookie mistake and hunt down ROADSIDE as soon as I can, to see if this was a fluke. In the end, though, I find it difficult to recommend MADISON COUNTY overall.

I give MADISON COUNTY one and a half stars, with no timeouts.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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Suburban Grindhouse Memories: HIDE AND GO SHRIEK! (1988)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2012, 80s Horror, Grindhouse, Horror, Kinky Killers, Nick Cato Reviews, Slasher Movies, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2012 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 58:
Generic, but FUN
By Nick Cato

The late 1980s were a semi-sad time for grindhouse aficionados. The VHS craze had left theaters a barren-wasteland for horror and exploitation film fans. But every once in a while something interesting was granted a theatrical release: 1988’s slickly-titled, late-to-the-game slasher outing HIDE AND GO SHREIK was one of them.

I took a solo-trip to the (now defunct) Fox Twin Theater around Thanksgiving of 1988, as most of my friends were either in college or passed out drunk somewhere by this stage of the game. Despite being opening night, the theater was relatively uncrowded. I noticed several other people my age (all guys) in attendance, and there was that certain “I hope this doesn’t suck” expectation on all their faces. Be it desperation or some act of otherworldly celluloid intervention, by the time the film had run a mere five minutes, the place was applauding and cheering on this low budget stalk-and-slash fest like we were at some kind of sporting event.

The “plot” here is simple: a bunch of high school graduates (who, of course, look 10 years older than high school graduates) decide to celebrate by having an overnight party at one of their father’s furniture stores (yes…you read that correctly). The humongous, multi-floored store features mostly beds, so I’m guessing this was one of the guy’s ideas. In fact, this place could easily have been called BED DEPOT. After some drinking and horsing around, someone suggests they play a game of hide and seek, and everyone agrees (I’m guessing alcohol clouded everyone’s judgment here). Naturally, there just happens to be someone else in the store who begins to kill those he finds. Most of the cast are typical big-haired 80s types, as well as your token nerd. (NOTE: we DO learn earlier that an ex-con is living in the building as one of the stock workers, so naturally he’s the prime suspect. You have to give the boss of this place a hand for helping out those trying to readjust to society. One scene of this guy cooking dinner had the audience laughing out loud…he really made those veggies his bitch!).

There are plenty of goofy sexual situations (none too graphic), so it’s safe to assume the director was as inspired as much by PORKY’S as he was FRIDAY THE 13th. One strip-tease seduction sequence is laughably bad, and one poor guy is insulted for not “lasting” long enough. There’s not much nudity but most of that can be blamed on the film’s poor lighting.

Then there are the kill scenes (which, after all, is the main reason to see a slasher film), but unfortunately about half of the teens survive the ordeal. Our killer does manage to off the few he catches in inventive ways (one is deep-sixed by a mannequin arm, and one poor girl loses her head via elevator in the most crowd-pleasing scene).

Like any classic low budget 80s slasher, HIDE AND GO SHREIK has its moments of confusion (the killer dresses in drag in one scene, then in S&M leather in the next) and the opening sequence of him raping and killing a hooker left everyone dumbfounded. I’m guessing they had to explain his craziness somehow? And despite its R-rating, the gore level is kind-of low and the language used by annoyed teens is laughable (perhaps the screenwriters had an aversion to profanity?). Either way, “teenagers” haven’t spoken this calmly since LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. There’s also an attempt at the killer blaming his actions on someone else, which leads to a showdown finale that has been done a zillion times before (it’s sort of like SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983).Sort of. Kind of. Trust me on this one).

With all this one has going against it, it’s hard to pin-point why it manages to work. Perhaps it’s the setting; what horny teenage guys wouldn’t want to spend the night in a huge bed warehouse with a bunch of cute babes? Or maybe it’s some genuine suspense seldom seen in films of this type: a few stalk scenes build solid tension and lead to gut-cringing murders (one girl has her head smashed into a sink, filmed from the bottom of a see-through prop!). There are also several shots of mannequins staring at you that bring TOURIST TRAP (1979)to mind and further increase the film’s spooky atmosphere. Either way, HIDE AND GO SHREIK is one of the last of the truly fun 80s slasher films, complete with a very latent gay theme and a rare appearance by the beautiful Annette Sinclair (Google her).

While this was released on VHS, an official DVD release is still eagerly awaited by we legions of the obscure…but ah, the memories.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

What’s a slasher without issues? HIDE AND GO SHRIEK’s has plenty!

 

Friday Night Knife Fights: PSYCHO vs. HALLOWEEN (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2012, 70s Horror, Alfred Hitchock Films, Classic Films, Friday Night Knife Fights, John Carpenter Films, Plot Twists, Psychos, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2012 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:  PSYCHO (1960) vs. HALLOWEEN (1978)
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Pete Dudar, Dan Keohane, and Paul McMahon

 (CONCLUSION)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome back folks, to the conclusion of this month’s FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS.  This installment will decide the winner of the battle of the iconic horror movies. It’s PSYCHO (1960) vs. HALLOWEEN (1978).

So, which one of these two is the better movie?  That’s what our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters assembled here tonight plan to find out. So far, HALLOWEEN leads 3 to 2. But this time, anything can happen.

 *****

Okay, it’s Round 6.  “Which director does a better job at the helm?  Alfred Hitchcock, or John Carpenter?”

NICK CATO:  Can I say that this is a stupid question?

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You can say whatever you want.

L.L. SOARES:  Someone has to say it.  It’s about time it’s someone other than me!

NICK CATO:  Okay, then.  STUPID question!

It’s Hitchcock. No one had created that type of suspense before he unleashed Bates on the world.  Carpenter doesn’t come close.

DAN KEOHANE:  I think it depends on what you want out of the movie.

L.L.SOARES:  What is this, a psychology class?  Pick a director!

DAN KEOHANE:  Easier said than done.  This is one question I can’t honestly answer one way or the other.

L.L. SOARES:  What—did you change your last name to Dudar?

PETE DUDAR:  Hey, stop giving me a hard time!

DAN KEOHANE:  Hitchcock is a master at the subtle, without getting boring doing it.  Sure, the first third of THE BIRDS (1963) is pretty dull before it rockets up to its intense level, but that’s the exception.

L.L. SOARES:  Hey, I love THE BIRDS! There’s not a dull moment in that movie. It’s called “building a story.”

MICHAEL ARRUDATHE BIRDS is overrated.

(L.L. SOARES punches a wall in disgust)

DAN KEOHANE:  Carpenter is just having a ball, and it shows in this film (and most of them). He’s got the fast-paced thrill ride down, without ever having to rely on over-the-top gore to cover his blemishes.

L.L SOARES:  So, you’re going with Carpenter?

DAN KEOHANE:  Nope.  I can’t decide.

(L.L. SOARES screams loudly)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  We are really having a hard time making up our minds today.

PETE DUDAR:  I told you this thing was impossible!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I have to admit, this is a very tough question.  Which director does a better job at the helm?  I don’t know.

L.L. SOARES:  Not you, too!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  This one needs examining.

Let’s start with Alfred Hitchcock.  In 1960, he’d been making successful movies since the 1930s, and really had just come off an amazing decade, the 1950s, where he became one of the most celebrated and popular movie directors of his time.  Needless to say, when he made PSYCHO, he was at the top of his game.  And with PSYCHO, Hitchcock doesn’t disappoint.  It’s one of his best efforts.

He does nearly everything right in PSYCHO.  You’ve got the infamous shower scene, the most famous sequence from the movie, but there’s so much more.  I love the sequence after the shower scene, when Norman Bates cleans up after his “mother’s” crime.  The end sequence where Vera Miles and John Gavin arrive at the motel is also memorable.

But you can make the argument that John Carpenter did an even better job at the helm of HALLOWEEN.  For starters, HALLOWEEN doesn’t have the same strong story PSYCHO has, and yet, it’s an incredibly scary movie, and most of the credit for this belongs to Carpenter.  The opening murder scene is a gem, shot from the point of view of the killer looking through a Halloween mask.  The whole sequence is superb, from the actual murder to the revelation that the killer is a little boy.

The scene near the end, where we believe Jamie Lee Curtis has killed Michael Myers, and he’s lying down “dead,” and Curtis is sitting in the foreground, exhausted, and it’s silent, and in this silence, Myers sits up, turns his head, and the music blasts, and we’re on our way again.  It’s a phenomenal scene.

And there are so many neat scenes where Myers appears like a phantom in and out of the shadows.  One second he’s there, the next, he’s not.  It’s a masterful job by John Carpenter.

You can’t take away what Hitchcock did with PSYCHO, but I’ve seen him better (NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959, Hitchcock’s previous film and arguably his most ambitious, includes many more of Hitchcock signature touches).  I know some people don’t consider HALLOWEEN to be Carpenter’s best work, but it’s up there.

L.L. SOARES: Of course it’s up there! Who doesn’t consider HALLOWEEN one of Carpenter’s best movies? That’s a ludicrous statement! HALLOWEEN is the movie that put Carpenter on the map and made him a household name.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Yes, I know that, and you know that, but there are some people who feel otherwise.  I know people who think THE THING is Carpenter’s best film, for instance.

L.L. SOARES: Hell, I think THE THING is his best film. But that doesn’t mean HALLOWEEN isn’t great, too. In many ways, HALLOWEEN is more iconic and important to horror movie history.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: PSYCHO has such a strong story, that even with a lesser director, the film may have been a hit.  I don’t think you can say the same for HALLOWEEN.  Without John Carpenter at the helm of HALLOWEEN, that movie just isn’t the same, and I doubt it would have been the classic it is today.

L.L. SOARES: You’re selling Hitchcock short! The story is so good it would have still turned out well without him?? But HITCHCOCK did make PSYCHO and nobody could have done it better. Why dismiss the guy because he did a great job? What kind of logic is that?

MICHAEL ARRUDA: I’m not dismissing him.  He did a terrific job.  I’m saying the story itself is so good, a lesser director could have made a decent film out of it, on the strength of its story. Terence Fisher, for example, Hammer Film’s best director—no Alfred Hitchcock, mind you, but a talented director all the same—could have made a very good film out of PSYCHO.

L.L. SOARES: Yeah, I’m sure he could have. But it wouldn’t be the same.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: So, after some thought, I’m going with John Carpenter on HALLOWEEN.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Sorry, Michael, but I just don’t see it that way.  I’m going with Hitchcock.

Hitchcock is regularly listed among the best directors of all time, while Carpenter is listed among the best “horror” directors.

As innovative and groundbreaking as HALLOWEEN was, it wasn’t Carpenter’s best work. He doesn’t really break with conventional filming techniques or storytelling rules. Hitchcock made tons more unorthodox and unexpected decisions in PSYCHO.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I don’t know about that.  I’m not taking anything away from Hitchcock’s work on PSYCHO, but I think Carpenter does break with conventional filming techniques in HALLOWEEN.  There are so many cool scenes in HALLOWEEN thanks to Carpenter’s direction, like Michael Myer’s mask appearing in the darkness where you see only the mask, or the aforementioned opening murder scene.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Good scenes, but Hitchcock’s work on PSYCHO is better.

L.L. SOARES: Look, this one is a no brainer. I love HALLOWEEN and I think it is among Carpenter’s best films. It is powerful, it triggers a great response, and it’s a director at the height of his powers. I am not going to say anything bad about Carpenter in this context. He did an amazing job.

But Alfred Hitchcock was one of the top five directors in the history of cinema. I just watched PSYCHO again recently, and it holds up very well. It’s atmospheric, powerful, and strongly acted. Hitchcock is just in another league when it comes to directors. He was an artist.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Okay, after six rounds it’s HALLOWEEN – 3, PSYCHO -3. We’re now neck and neck.

PETE DUDAR:This is getting exciting.

  *****

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  On to Round 7.  “Which film has done more for the genre?”

I’ll start by asking where would the genre be without PSYCHO?  While it’s technically not a horror film…

L.L. SOARES: Says, who?  It’s a goddamn horror film. A horror classic.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well, it is scary, and did an awful lot to make horror movies more mainstream.  It made them more adult.  Alfred Hitchcock was not a kid-friendly director.  Kids didn’t flock to see his films.  Adults did.  When he directed PSYCHO, he expanded horror’s audience.  In other words, a lot of the folks who went to see PSYCHO were not the same folks who would have gone to see FRANKENSTEIN or KING KONG.

L.L. SOARES: I complete disagree. People who love great movies would have gone to see all three of those.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  He also reinvented the conventions of the movies.  His lead actress is killed midway through the movie.  What’s up with that?  The “hero” Norman Bates, turns out to be the killer.  What’s up with that?

Where would the genre be without HALLOWEEN?  We wouldn’t have had to suffer through all those awful slasher movies had HALLOWEEN not been so successful.  So, maybe it’s hurt the genre!  Actually, I’m kidding.  It helped the genre because it made a ton of money, and it led to John Carpenter getting a lot of financing so he could make a lot of other cool movies!

I think they’ve both helped the genre, since they both established franchises and iconic characters, Norman Bates and Michael Myers.  Today, I think you hear more about HALLOWEEN than you do PSYCHO.  I think HALLOWEEN has done more for the horror genre directly because it’s a horror movie, pure and simple.  PSYCHO is really a mystery that has a lot of horror elements.

L.L. SOARES: Horror elements? That means it’s a damn HORROR MOVIE!

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Ever so slightly, I give the edge to HALLOWEEN.

DAN KEOHANE:  They both exploded the genre, but in their own respective decades.

Both were unique when they came out, and both got a somewhat apathetic audience’s pulse revved up, opening the door to more films and books.

Both of them equally helped the genre.

PAUL MCMAHON:  There was a very slow build of slasher movies after PSYCHO‘s release in 1960.

When HALLOWEEN came out in 1978 the slasher sub-genre really took off. PSYCHO may have kicked things off, but HALLOWEEN got them going.

HALLOWEEN.

L.L. SOARES: You people are high!

Without PSYCHO, there would be NO HALLOWEEN! While Michael Myers does have a supernatural component, he also started out as a little boy with psychological problems. No matter what he became, he began as a psychopath. Just because a movie is older doesn’t mean it’s less relevant. To be honest, the opposite is probably more true. PSYCHO was the pioneer, the trailblazer. It made the word “psycho” a part of our language. It made the serial killer film a mainstream genre.

HALLOWEEN is more the little engine that could. It was a small, low-budget movie that overcame its humble beginnings. I remember it was in theaters for over a year when it first came out. It seemed to stick around forever. It was a smash hit, as commercially important to the horror genre in its way as PSYCHO was.

But Michael is right in one respect. HALLOWEEN spawned as many horrible rip-offs as it did worthwhile horror descendants. It worked because Carpenter did it, but way too many bad directors proved that it wasn’t easily replicated.

They’re both great movies with different strengths, and I am still pissed off that you’re making us choose between them, because they’re both just as vital to the horror genre. But which one has done more for horror? The fact that there’s any debate baffles me. It’s PSYCHO. Period.

NICK CATO:  While HALLOWEEN paved the way for countless imitators in the 1980s slasher film uprising, PSYCHO (1960) was the model and is STILL imitated to this day.

I disagree with Michael and Paul, and I say PSYCHO has done more the genre.

L.L. SOARES: Now there’s a smart man!

MICHAEL ARRUDA: That means this round is a tie. Wow, this is going to be interesting.

It’s now time for the eighth and final round, and if one film should win this round unanimously, then that film scores a knockout and wins the entire bout, regardless of the score up until now.

And the final question is:  in your humble opinion, if you had to choose, which film, PSYCHO or HALLOWEEN, is the better movie?

PAUL MCMAHON:  PSYCHO.

Constructed better, stronger and with so many twists and turns that even today people viewing it for the first time are surprised by how it develops.  I’m going with PSYCHO.

PETE DUDAR:  PSYCHO was a groundbreaking masterpiece. Filmed in 1960, Hitchcock’s black-and-white adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel reminded post-war America and the baby-boom generation that crazy people were, in fact, our neighbors.

HALLOWEEN, on the other hand, is a whole other candy-apple. PSYCHO is loosely based on real-life killer Ed Gein. HALLOWEEN is the logical progression of an urban myth, one about the ‘babysitter killer.’

As I said earlier, in terms of story and characterization, PSYCHO wins, but in terms of longevity and ability to still deliver sheer terror, my vote goes to HALLOWEEN.

NICK CATO:  I’m not sure which film Pete just voted for.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Join the club.

NICK CATO:  Technically PSYCHO is the better film, but again, HALLOWEEN holds up better to repeated viewings and to me isn’t as slow moving. If I had a butcher knife pointed at my head I’d go with HALLOWEEN.

PETE DUDAR: So, it would take a butcher knife to your head for you to make a decision, and you guys are giving me grief!

L.L. SOARES: At least he’d be able to make a decision if forced to. If someone put a butcher knife to your head, it would just let out all the confetti and sawdust.

PETER DUDAR: No it wouldn’t (sticks out tongue)

L.L. SOARES:  I happen to have a butcher’s knife handy if you need help making a decision, Pete!

DAN KEOHANE:  No butcher’s knives needed here, although an axe might come in handy.

L.L. SOARES:  I have one of those too.  Right here under my seat.

DAN KEOHANE:  I’m sure you do.

Anyway, overall, for me, it’s PSYCHO.

But HALLOWEEN is a close second.  (smiles)

NICK CATO:  If anyone needs help making a decision, it’s Pete.

PETE DUDAR:  I stand by my answers.

L.L. SOARES:  What answers?  (Laughter)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I love both movies, but if I have to pick which one is better, without an axe to my head, I have to go with—  PSYCHO.

PSYCHO has the stronger story— it has an amazing story, while HALLOWEEN has just an average plot.  It has one of the best all-time performances in a genre film: Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates.  Bates is a much more interesting villain than Michael Myers.  It has a stronger cast.  While I like Jamie Lee Curtis a lot in HALLOWEEN, no one else in the cast really delivers a strong performance.

Sure, I think John Carpenter’s directing effort is second to none in HALLOWEEN, but Hitchcock is strong throughout.  Carpenter put HALLOWEEN on his back and carried it to the finish line.  Hitchcock didn’t need to carry the film all by his lonesome.

True, I prefer Carpenter’s music score over Bernard Herrmann’s score, but by percentage points.

I prefer HALLOWEEN on a lot of points, actually, but taken as a whole, especially because of its incredibly strong story, I find PSYCHO to be the better movie.

HALLOWEEN shows off John Carpenter’s directing talents, his music score, and a fine performance by Jamie Lee Curtis.

PSYCHO shows off Alfred Hitchock’s directing talents, Bernard Hermann’s music score, Anthony Perkins’ powerhouse performance as Norman Bates, strong performances by Janet Leigh and, in a supporting role, Martin Balsam, and a deep, resonating script by Joseph Stefano based upon a novel by Robert Bloch, a story credit that HALLOWEEN just doesn’t have.

The numbers favor PSYCHO, and so I’m going with PSYCHO.

L.L. SOARES:  Look, I already made my case. HALLOWEEN is above-average for a slasher film. It thrust John Carpenter into the public eye, and rightly so. It’s a classic of its kind. And I hate having to compare it, and I hate having to saying anything negative about it, because I do think it’s one of the best horror films ever made.

But it’s a no-brainer, folks. PSYCHO is the better movie. It’s close to being a perfect movie.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well, that’s it for Round 8, and PSYCHO has won the round.  I can’t say that it won unanimously, due to a couple of obscure answers, but that’s no matter.  The two movies were tied 3 ½ – 3 ½ going into the final round, and so the final tally is PSYCHO – 4 ½, HALLOWEEN – 3 ½.

The winner of tonight’s bout is PSYCHO!

But that certainly was a close one! I really had no idea what would happen until the last round. Which made this one a real nail-biter.

Thanks to everyone who participated. Thanks for making this FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHT a good one!

Good night everybody!

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© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Peter N. Dudar, Daniel G. Keohane and Paul McMahon

Screams Cut Short: THE SLEEPOVER (2012)

Posted in 2012, Gregory G. Kurczynski Columns, Screams Cut Short, Short Films, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , on October 24, 2012 by knifefighter

SCREAMS CUT SHORT:
THE SLEEPOVER (2012)
By Gregory G. Kurczynski

I love this time of year. The oppressive heat, humidity and hurricanes of summer give way to the crispness of fall and we begin to turn our attention to the greatest holiday on the calendar, Halloween. More importantly, the weeks leading up to October 31st bring us into the thick of the horror film festival scene and a bumper crop of new independent films to discover. With this in mind, it is only fitting that SCREAMS CUT SHORT takes some time for the next few columns to focus on some of these new efforts, starting with director Chris Cullari’s homage to the slasher genre, THE SLEEPOVER (2012).

The story begins innocently enough with two boys, Tom (Josh Feldman) and his new friend Eric (Gus Kamp), being checked on for a final goodnight by their babysitter, Rachel (Carolyn Jania), as they prepare for bed. Tom actually goes to bed, much to the chagrin of Eric whose idea of a sleepover involves less sleep and more firecrackers and surfing the web for pictures of naked girls. Eric continues to instigate, but Tom will have none of it, simply saying that it’s “not safe.”

Being the new kid in town, Eric is not aware that the town of Derry has been plagued for years by a masked serial killer known as “The Slasher.” This personification of evil can appear at any time and without warning, leading the good people of Derry to take such precautions as checking the closets and under the bed before lights out and requiring babysitters to be licensed and trained in hand-to-hand combat. Of course Eric isn’t buying a word of it, arguing angrily that “The Slasher” is nothing more than an invention of parents devised to scare kids into behaving and going to bed on time.

Who’s right? Is “The Slasher” real? If you’ve seen any number of horror films produced from 1977 onward, those questions aren’t hard to answer. But in its approximately six minute run time, THE SLEEPOVER certainly has a lot of fun doing so.

Tom (Josh Feldman) and Eric (Gus Kamp) get ready for bed in THE SLEEPOVER.

One thing that is clear after seeing this movie is that Cullari has an intimate understanding and knowledge of the slasher film, and he’s not afraid to use every cliché in his arsenal to throw at the audience. From ominous music cues climaxing in shocking stingers to camera setups designed to foreshadow what may or may not be lurking in the shadows, it’s all here. But Cullari turns these elements on their head in such a way that the final product seems fresh. He invites the audience to join him in poking respectful fun of the genre, but it’s never mean-spirited or self-referential. For fans of the genre, this movie is a reminder of why some of the greatest masked killer movies are so much fun.

But the most impressive element of THE SLEEPOVER is in the performances of Feldman and Kamp, the two young leads. These boys play against each other in a completely relaxed and funny manner that makes the viewer really believe the friendship. I’m sure that this is due in no small part from the dialogue written by Cullari and co-writer Jennifer Raite, but the actors make it real.

THE SLEEPOVER took the award for best super short film at this year’s Shriekfest Horror Film Festival,as well as being named Runner Up in the “Short Fuse” category at Fantastic Fest. These awards were richly deserved, and as it continues to make the festival rounds, I would highly recommend catching this one.

For additional information and news on upcoming screenings, you can visit the movie’s Facebook page here. Also, check out the trailer here.

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© Copyright 2012 by Gregory G. Kurczynski

This week’s spotlight is on:
THE SLEEPOVER (2012)
Directed by Chris Cullari
Written by Chris Cullari and Jennifer Raite