Monday, October 19, 2020

Census Bloodbath: Twin-sanity

Year: 1982
Director: Alberto De Martino
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Penelope Milford, Geraldine Fitzgerald 
Run Time: 1 hour 38 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Blood Link is an early 80's slasher made by Italians, which a stone cold horror scholar could have sniffed out just from the poster, which borrows heavily from the poster for the same year's The New York Ripper, and by borrows heavily I mean wholesale steals the entire image except for Michael Moriarty's face shoved in there at the bottom. That kind of brazen thievery bears the distinct markings of the Italian horror producers of the late 20th century (the same group of people who, you might remember, advertised Twitch of the Death Nerve as The Last House on the Left Part 2 even though it came out several years before Last House).

You can also tell from the fact that every female character takes her top off at some point in the movie.

In Blood Link, Dr. Craig Mannings (Michael Moriarty) is living his best life, building an experimental therapy practice with his girlfriend who he refuses to marry, Dr. Julie Warren (Penelope Milford). Unfortunately this revolutionary new therapy (which involves electrocuting people through acupuncture needles - neat!) has unlocked a part of his brain and he can now occasionally see through the eyes of his long-lost conjoined twin brother Keith (Michael Moriarty). Wouldn't you know it, but this twin is a bit evil, and has been wandering around Germany murdering women for who knows how long.

He heads off to Europe to see if he can't drag his twin back to the states to get help, but becomes mixed up in his twin's evil schemes, because having the same face as somebody who has been murdering people in broad daylight is a little bit of a liability. He arrives just as a case of mistaken identity has thrown Keith into the path of Craig's former patient, prizefighter Bud Waldo (Cameron Mitchell of Memorial Valley Massacre, Terror Night, Without Warning, Blood and Black Lace, Silent Scream, and The Demon, phew) and his daughter Christine (Sarah Langenfeld).

Plus we get a whole bunch of shots straight out of The Parent Trap.

Blood Link very clearly wants to be an elegant early-70's style giallo like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, but it's missing one key element: Dario Argento. His early work was just as nasty-minded and misogynistic as this movie is, but he at least presented it with style and panache. Alberto De Martino wouldn't know panache if it sprayed blood all over his fish tank. 

Sure, he gets a few cracks in at some pretty shots (it's very nice whenever the camera peers up into the mirrored ceiling of a prostitute's room, and there's one solid shot of the aforementioned fish tank lighting up an artfully arranged corpse), and Ennio Morricone's lush score makes a solid effort to class up the proceedings (minus the moments when the titular blood link is activated, which just sounds like a telegram coming in). But Blood Link is just plain nasty - cruel and gross in all the wrong ways.

I'm not saying that the slasher genre isn't built on the backbone of objectifying then murdering women, but rarely has that approach been so cut and dry, converting the already unsubtle subtext of phallic knife slayings into out-and-out text with clunky dialogue about Keith's impotence that it tries to gussy up with lots and lots of pointless philosophizing about twins. It has nothing to say, it just knows it needs to fill up the scenes between uncomfortable rapey menacing of women with something.

It's not scary other than when you're contemplating who out in the world would actually find this entertaining (the climax of the movie is a rape scene in a park, which should show you how little interest this has in really being a psychological horror film), and it's certainly not fun. It's just... unpleasant.

Meanwhile, Michael Moriarty continues to fuck his way across Europe like a regular Robert Langdon.

It doesn't even have the decency to at least spruce up the murder scenes with fun special effects. No, just a lot of grunting and stabbing in the back, and moving right along. And Michael Moriarty does not provide a fun presence to spend 100 minutes with. He might be playing two characters, but he's giving about half a performance between them. Every line spoken by Craig is spoken in a miserable monotone like Ross saying "hi..." in the pilot episode of Friends, and Keith is mostly performed the same except for the random moments where he becomes Jim Carrey as the Grinch.

This is exploitation filmmaking at its most bare bones. It's not quite pornography, not quite horror, not worth your time. It definitely makes sense why they didn't even bother making Blood Link its own poster. I don't want you to mistake me as saying this is one of the worst slasher films I've ever seen - it's not even in the bottom 100 - but it certainly gave me no pleasure to watch. It's largely competent at putting images on the screen and presents its tawdry narrative with clarity, so it's at least above par for an entry this deep into any Census Bloodbath year.

Killer: Keith Mannings (Michael Moriarty)
Final Girl: Julie Warren (Penelope Milford), but only as an afterthought
Best Kill: The reveal of how the twins' parents died, which shows them having sex in a garage for some reason and being hilariously crushed by a speeding truck.
Sign of the Times: We just can't stop calling people with creepy messages on those courtesy telephones at the airport, can we?
Scariest Moment: When training with Bud, Keith starts to get more and more violent and intense.
Weirdest Moment: One other thing the twins have in common is that they like to stir jam into their coffee.
Champion Dialogue: "Breakfast in bed is a disgusting luxury. I love it."
Body Count: 9
  1. Cougar is stabbed in the back.
  2. Prostitute #1 has her head smashed through a window.
  3. Bud Waldo has a heart attack while being beaten to death.
  4. Christine is stabbed to death.
  5. Prostitute #2 is stabbed in the back.
  6. Smuggler is stabbed in the chest.
  7. Keith (or was it Craig? cue dramatic music) is stabbed in the back.
  8. Mom and
  9. Dad are crushed with a truck in flashback.
TL;DR: Blood Link is trying to be something better than it is, and it is failing.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1080

Friday, October 16, 2020

Cardboard Science: The Tin Man

Year: 1958
Director: Eugène Lourié 
Cast: John Baragrey, Mala Powers, Otto Kruger
Run Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Now, I'm sure you're sick of hearing about slasher movies by this point in the month, so why don't we give ourselves a bit of a palate cleanser with our 7th Annual Great Switcheroo with Hunter Allen of Kinemalogue. Once again, as we have every October since 2014, I have assigned him three 80's slashers (reviews forthcoming, keep an eye out) and he has assigned me three 50's science fiction movies. I am always eager to explore the wet and wild world of humanity's terrible fear of scientific progress (and also aliens), so I thought I'd launch into the project starting with the film I knew absolutely nothing about beforehand: 1958's The Colossus of New York.

The one thing that the 80's slasher and the 50's sci fi really have in common being that you absolutely cannot trust the poster to describe anything you are about to witness in the movie.

Even for a low budget B-picture, The Colossus of New York has an astoundingly small cast. We mostly deal with the family of humanitarian inventor Dr. Jeremy Spensser, whose heat-sensing detector device and frost-resistant produce strains are on the verge of ending world hunger and have earned him an International Peace Prize, to boot. I guess Nobel refused to have their name attached to a movie about a robot with laser eyes. But we'll get to that. When returning home from the prize ceremony with his wife Anne (Mala Powers) and son Billy (Charles Herbert of The Fly), he is struck by a speeding truck.

Not wanting to have his huge genius science brain go to waste, his father William (Otto Kruger of Dracula's Daughter), a talented brain surgeon, ropes in his reluctant brother Henry (John Baragrey), who is already moving in on Anne, to help him create a robot body in which to implant Jeremy's brain. Of course, stripped of his human vessel and the divine spark of life, his brain lacks empathy and turns inhuman, deciding that world hunger can only be ended by murdering a bunch of people, going on a laser-eye murder spree throughout what we'll be extremely generous and call New York.

Oh, also the robot looks like this, because they did not consult a woman once during this whole process. Or maybe he secretly hates his son?

OK, so let's get down to brass tacks. The Colossus really isn't much of a colossus. Sure, he's a big ol' robot, but there are definitely NBA players taller than him. He's not knocking down buildings Godzilla-style. Not that there are any buildings to speak of anyway, considering that the only outdoor set is a matte painting riverfront. So no, the film completely and utterly fails to live up to the promise delivered by the poster, but we were at least prepared this time!

And here's the thing. From my seven year experience with these films, I was fully expecting an hour of talking about brains and the Divine Spark and ten minutes of Colossus rampage before credits. Blissfully, even though the Colossus could certainly be more colossal, we do get a whole hell of a lot of him throughout. And folks, he is fucking terrifying to behold. Whatever impulse led Jeremy's father to craft him as a cross between Boris Karloff's Frankenstein and Vision from the Marvel movies draped in Obi Wan Kenobi robes was certainly a misguided one, but it provides many a tingle up the spine.

The creature design is just so dazzlingly weird. His light panel eyes glow with the crackle of an electric furnace, a roiling storm cloud behind his face, which is so loud that it sometimes threatens to drown out the droning, faraway voice that echoes from his slack mechanical mouth. It's uncanny and really highlights how truly inhuman this character has been forced to become.

Robby the Robot this ain't.

Beyond the antagonist design, I can't say I cared for too much about this movie though. We're obligated to spend a lot of time with the various other figures of the Spensser family, and none of them really do much to catch the eye, and their philosophizing about the Soul vs the Body is a shade too Christian-y for me to really sink my teeth into as a solid theme. Really the only thing in any way interesting about the family scenes is how poorly any moment with Billy has aged.

I'm not talking about the stiff, shrill child acting. I mean the fact that every grown man seems to have a moment with Billy that would make even the densest screenwriter in 2020 think, "hey, maybe there's something wrong here." Maybe Billy's robot father shouldn't tell him to "push harder" on the lever meant to shut him off, which is located within the folds of his robe? Maybe he shouldn't approach him from the shadows of a forest and promise that he'll get a reward if he's good? Maybe Henry shouldn't come home saying he has a surprise for Billy, making him search through Henry's pockets to find it? Perchance?!

I guess we can put that in as a another win for the "horror" column though. And really, as thin as almost everything in the movie is (including that beautiful little slip of a run time), it wrings so much genuine dread from its central character that you don't even miss that he's not stomping around climbing buildings like King Kong. Mostly. 

That which is indistinguishable from magic:

  • Before the brain is implanted in the Colossus, William has set up a complex, futuristic scientific system to keep the brain alive and communicate with it using... a typewriter. 
  • Billy is devastated when his father interrupts the industrial film presenting footage of factory machinery and demands to see "the machine that can work like a man!", because TikTok wasn't invented yet so I guess there wasn't anything else to capture his attention. Poor thing.
  • A policeman trying to stop the Colossus' rampage does the hilarious bad actor move of swinging his gun down through the air before shooting, like he's using a tomahawk.

The morality of the past, in the future!:

  • Henry flirts with Anne by saying he'll make sure she stays busy whether she likes it or not. How thoughtful?
  • The press has gathered at the airport to document Jeremy's return from the prize ceremony, because apparently it was a slow news decade.

Sensawunda:

  • Not only was Colossus written by a female screenwriter, Thelma Moss née Schnee, that very same female screenwriter then went on to become a famous parapsychologist, helming the parapsychology department at UCLA, back in a time when that would have even been a thing.

TL;DR: The Colossus of New York has an eerie creature design that tips it just over the edge into enjoyable.
Rating: 6/10
Word Counter: 1150

Cardboard Science on Popcorn Culture
2014: Invaders from Mars (1953) The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Them! (1954)
2015: The Giant Claw (1957) It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)
2016: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Godzilla (1954) The Beginning of the End (1957)
2017: It Conquered the World (1958) I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) Forbidden Planet (1956)
2018: The Fly (1958) Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman (1958) Fiend without a Face (1958)
2019: Mysterious Island (1961) Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
2020: The Colossus of New York (1958)

Census Bloodbath on Kinemalogue
2014: My Bloody Valentine (1981) Pieces (1982) The Burning (1981)
2015: Terror Train (1980) The House on Sorority Row (1983) Killer Party (1986)
2016: The Initiation (1984) Chopping Mall (1986) I, Madman  (1989)
2017: Slumber Party Massacre (1982) Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987) Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
2018: The Prowler (1981) Slumber Party Massacre II (1987) Death Spa (1989)
2019: Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge (1989) Psycho III (1986) StageFright: Aquarius (1987)
2020: 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Census Bloodbath: Low Down Dirty Tricks

Year: 1982
Director: Gary Graver
Cast: Jacqueline Giroux, Peter Jason, Chris Graver
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I think covering The Clairvoyant yesterday lured me into a false sense of security RE: awesome slasher movie posters. That movie both had an incredible poster and turned out to be a largely incredible movie, which I should REMEMBER is almost never the case. Enter Trick or Treats. Take a gander at that key art up there and you should have an idea of what a trainwreck we're in for.

This is why we can't have nice things!

Trick or Treats takes place on Halloween night. Linda (Jacqueline Giroux) has plans to attend opening night of her boyfriend Brett's (Golden Globe nominee Steve Railsback, who we'll revisit later this month in 1982's Deadly Games and later... whenever in 1986's The Wind) play. The play in question, which stars the extremely white Brett, is Othello. He's playing Othello. In case you're not a Shakespeare scholar, Othello is Black. Thank every god in every religion Steve Railsbeck is not in blackface, but it's still... a choice. Also what kind of crowd a whitewashed performance of Othello gets on Halloween night is beyond me. Anyway...

She can't attend the play because the Agency calls her with a last minute babysitting gig. She must care for a young magic-obsessed boy named Christopher (Chris Graver, who - wouldn't you know it - is the director's son) whose parents are going to a last minute Halloween party in Las Vegas. The parents being Richard Adams (David Carradine, of David Carradine), a lascivious weirdo who flirts with Linda and unzips her shirt, and Joan O'Keefe (Carrie Snodgress), who had her previous husband committed to an insane asylum so she could get his house and his millions.

Turns out that husband is one Malcolm O'Keefe (Peter Jason), who has designs on escaping the asylum and returning to his rightful home tonight!

Whether or not Christopher is the son of Malcolm or Richard is left ENTIRELY unclear. But don't worry. It's not the only thing.

Trick or Treats opens on Joan surprising her husband with a visit from the authorities, who have come to put him in a straitjacket and cart him away. This scene is strangely prolonged, as Malcolm fights against the men, climbing trees, kicking them into the pool, and wrestling away from them any way he can. It's uncanny and strange in the way it goes on too long, but the way the film just sits with it really drove home the visceral, unpleasant nature of the moment. Unfortunately, every other scene in the movie is also prolonged and unpleasant, but to less effect.

And really, there are only three types of scene that the film cycles through ad nauseam until the boring final ten minutes of Malcolm chasing Linda around the house, thinking she's Joan (presumably because the lighting in the movie is so bad he couldn't tell).

The first type of scene is a woman interacting with a man who seems about twelve seconds away from a full-on sexual assault. This unnamed California town is apparently crawling with predators, who will latch onto any woman or man dressed as a woman (Malcolm spends a great deal of the movie in a stolen nurse's uniform - where he got the wig is anybody's guess) and lasciviously come on to her until she escapes his clutches. This is also true of any teenager and even Christopher in certain scenes.

The worst offender is Richard Adams, whose leering come-on I already detailed above. The discomfort is not eased by the fact that David Carradine is giving an immensely odd, aloof performance. He drifts around the screen in random directions, stretching languorous pauses between words. He knows how much better he is than the material, and there's a perpetual wicked glint in his eye of the knowledge that he can get away with performing any damn way he wants, because who is Gary Graver to tell David Carradine no?

And honestly I respect how much he palpably dislikes being in this film, because it makes me feel less alone for finding it a grueling experience.

The second type of scene is the wacky hijinks of Malcolm attempting to make his way home, which shoehorn in a lunatic attempt at comedy that must be seen to be despised. The third type, which forms the bulk of the movie's run time, is of Christopher pulling a prank on Linda with his magic equipment, including at least three instances of faking his own death. This little stinker really puts her through the wringer, not letting up for a single second he's onscreen, trading incessantly between ruthless pranking and acid-tongued quips performed like the kid from The Babadook's acting coach was Rob Zombie.

If the goal of the film was to put us in Linda's headspace of experiencing an intensely irritating child for hours on end, it succeeded. It's a frightful thing to experience, and the movie resolutely refuses to behave like a good slasher and break up the gloom with fun murder sequences. In fact, nobody even dies in the movie until the third act. Only one murder is perpetrated by the killer himself, and it's so poorly lit and edited that it's not even super clear what happened. It's even less of a slasher movie than the same year's Hotline, and in that movie the killer took down literally zero people on screen.

It's clear from the tropes it's drawing upon and the structure it sets up that Trick or Treats thinks it's a slasher and dearly wants to be one, but it's actually just a prolonged, rejected submission to America's Funniest Home Videos. The shoddy, easily distracted script sees to that. Characters just vanish (we never see Christopher's parents again) or keep cropping up without playing important roles in the narrative (we spend a lot of time with Bret for a character who only interacts with Linda over the phone). Hell, the movie can't even keep track of what pet the O'Keefes have! Joan reminds Linda to feed the dog. We never see a dog in the ensuing 90 minutes, but we do get a cat scare.

Focus? She's not home right now.

Trick or Treats is a bottom-of-the-barrel slasher movie, and this is coming from someone who has devoted his life to probing every last splintery inch of that barrel. Literally the only redeeming quality of the film is the fun New Wave song that opens and closes the story ("Help is On the Way" by Horizon, which I can find nowhere on the Internet). OK, maybe that's not true. I do also like the increasingly angry way that Linda deals with the trick or treaters coming to the door, eventually just tossing candy at them and slamming the door. That was cathartic.

But Trick or Treats is a slasher-comedy film that is neither interested in making us scream nor making us laugh. It is, however, interested in having us sit down with Linda as she tells the entire "Boy Who Cried Wolf" story from start to finish uninterrupted. What a brutal, unrelenting, punishing, slog. I almost gave it a 1/10, an honor that has until now been reserved only for the worst slasher movie ever inflicted upon polite society.

But I changed my mind for two reasons. First, bad as it is, Trick or Treats is nowhere near the black hole of irradiated garbage that is The Outing. Second, there's a scene where an editor friend of Linda's agrees to drop off her acting reel because the O'Keefes' house is right by her hairdresser, where she was headed anyway, and I had a fun five minutes imagining what scenarios could have brought her to a salon past midnight on Halloween. Good times.

Killer: Malcolm O'Keefe (Peter Jason)
Final Girl: Linda (Jacqueline Giroux)
Best Kill: As if there even were any to speak of.
Sign of the Times: It cost 35 cents to ride the bus.
Scariest Moment: The part about 80 minutes in when I realize nobody else was going to be murdered onscreen.
Weirdest Moment: Two asylum inmates who think they're Antony and Cleopatra are caught having sex in the men's ward.
Champion Dialogue: "Amigos! A me goes!"
Body Count: 3; and that's reeeally a stretch
  1. Andrea is killed with a knife... somehow.
  2. Malcolm is guillotined.
  3. Linda is presumed stabbed about half a second after the end of the movie.
TL;DR: Trick or Treats is an abysmal slog that doesn't even attempt to embrace the tropes of the slasher genre, let alone resemble an actual narrative motion picture in any way.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1448

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Census Bloodbath: Second Sight

Year: 1982
Director: Armand Mastroianni
Cast: Perry King, Norman Parker, Elizabeth Kemp
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

You know I'm a sucker for a good slasher movie poster, and The Clairvoyant's key art has style to spare. Those disembodied hands that uncannily fail to match the position of the eyes, the deliciously unnecessary ellipses (the most overused and yet endearing slasher tagline trope), and the self-indulgence of just throwing a second tagline on there for flavor were almost too much for me. Now I've certainly learned that a poster doesn't necessarily reflect the content of the movie (see: literally my entire review of The Incubus), but The Clairvoyant had another ace up its sleeve: director Armand Mastroianni.

If you're asking "who?" you're not alone. But I'm not about to ignore the man who made my #5 favorite slasher film of 1980: He Knows You're Alone. That film was a naked Halloween rip-off, but it had an unusually classy approach, engaging characters, and the first feature film appearance by Tom Hanks. So given that director with two more years of experience under his belt, I can't say I wasn't intrigued.

But also maybe I AM a little bit just a big sucker for posters still.

In The Clairvoyant, originally released as The Killing Hour, Virna Nightbourne (Elizabeth Kemp, also of He Knows You're Alone) - who has the name of a Dark Shadows character - is an automatic drawer. This means she goes into a trance and allows her hand to draw for her, creating images of the near future. Unfortunately these images are all of murder most foul, starting with the body of a handcuffed woman (Olivia Negron) that washes up in the New York City harbor. As a killer begins rampaging through town, always using a pair of handcuffs in his elaborate setpiece murders, she interacts with two very different men also on the trail of the killer.

First there's Detective Larry Weeks (Norman Parker), who moonlights as a terrible comedian who does terrible impressions. Then we have the handsome and conniving TV journalist Paul 'Mac' McCormack (Perry King), who is drumming up drama around the killings to boost his ratings, using information he got from Weeks in exchange for a shot at auditioning for his channel's visiting bigwig. They also both fall immediately in love with Virna, because when there's a dame connected to a string of killings, everybody working with her is single.

That's how it works, folks!

The Clairvoyant commits a cardinal sin of slasher films: it focuses more on the cops chasing the killer rather than either the killer or the victims. It hurts extra bad this time because the always creepy requisite romantic plotline is made even more so by the fact that he's both a cop on her case and a comedian, which is a stomach-churning kind of person to say yes to a first date with. But, like a lot of the best slashers in this vein, The Clairvoyant packs itself to the gills with material that is well worth sitting through the dull procedural parts.

Take the opening kill. A man is swimming alone in an indoor pool when all of a sudden the lights go off. As he swims to the edge, he is dragged underwater, his ankle handcuffed to a lower rung of the pool ladder. He tries to swim up for air, but the handcuffs hold him fast mere inches from the surface of the water. His quiet struggle (this is underscored by muffled underwater sound design) is broken up with shots of his hands splashing uselessly above the surface, and shots of Virna drawing this very death, her pencil scratching loudly across her sketchpad. It's a chilling scene, simultaneously gonzo and stately. The sheer terror of the situation is jaw-dropping, but the presentation of it is elegant and artful, and it's a hell of a way to start your movie.

And unlike its contemporary The Slayer, The Clairvoyant has more than one great kill to offer. The pacing of the body count is a little more slack than I'd like it to be, leaving us a good 45-minute gaping swath of time without another kill, but the second you start to itch for one, you get a shot of adrenaline in the form of another playful, wild murder setpiece. The film using its handcuff conceit to its fullest extent, constantly delivering something fresh and new and totally unnerving.

And featuring a weirdly high proportion of shirtless men, not that I'm complaining.

The Clairvoyant is also more than just the sum of its kills. It's an extremely well-mounted picture, starting with the way its lush orchestral score pulls back at the perfect moments to drown intense scenes in quiet, simmering soundscapes rather than huge blares of "This is scary! Aaah!". The onyl place this doesn't exactly work is the final chase sequence, which goes on long enough that the sheer amount of quiet begins to just be frustrating and put a damper on the drama, but everywhere else it's excellent. It's well-shot too, the camera always finding its moment to hit you with a strong close-up, or dolly zoom the background so subtly it takes a moment to notice what it's doing.

The plot is also generally satisfying, serving up at least one major twist that brings a tingle to the spine. Sadly the final twist as to the identity of the killer is easy enough to guess (so much so that I'm not even hiding it in my breakdown below), because the investigation never bothers to throw any red herrings our way. But all in all it's a thrilling watch from start to finish.

I'm giving this film a solid rating, but I'd rate it even higher if not for a couple flaws on top of the ones I've already mentioned. One big irritant is that Virna - the title character, let me remind you - plays second or even third fiddle to the men in the movie, not even ebing properly introduced until about 20 minutes in. It's a huge shame, because Elizabeth Kemp is delivering a rock solid performance, and her chemistry with her roommate Muriel (played by Barbara Quinn, who you might know as Anxious Tunnel Person in Jaws 3-D) is warm and irresistible.

But that's not a flaw that would sink a movie as strong as this. The following is a flaw that might, though. The Clairvoyant has some pretty problematic elements that might be hard to swallow for certain viewers. For instance, the completely unnecessary scene where a Latino suspect is shot by the cops in front of his mother. Yeah, that wasn't a pleasant one. Or the extended rape scene that is slowly revealed in flashback as the cops solve the mystery of the murdered woman. At least this scene has the delicacy to be presented as a horrifying, abominable act (a tone one should not necessarily expect from an 80's slasher film), but it's extremely hard to watch. The latter scene I find more forgivable in a horror film (we're here to be presented with images that shock and disgust us) even though it challenged me and likely will challenge other viewers. But the former is an unnecessary plot detour in a movie that's already aching to have a solid five minutes cut from its run time. It's especially difficult to watch in the political climate of 2020, which is not The Clairvoyant's fault, but I don't see a reading where it adds to the movie in any meaningful way.

As it all shakes out, though, The Clairvoyant is still the kind of stunning, surprising movie that I put in the work on this project to find. I wish I could recommend it more wholeheartedly, but even with its flaws it's still an exhilarating find. It's not often at this point that an 80's slasher film can have me slack-jawed in awe, and this flick accomplished that not once but thrice.

Killer: Paul 'Mac' McCormack (Perry King)
Final Girl: Virna Nightbourne (Elizabeth Kemp)
Best Kill: It's actually hard to choose, for once. I'm gonna go with Muriel being handcuffed to the wheel of a car with a brick on the gas pedal, for pure adrenaline-pumping terror.
Sign of the Times: Doing a Woody Allen impression didn't make Virna run away from Detective Weeks screaming in terror.
Scariest Moment: The opening kill is intercut with one of Virna's pictures, underscored by the scratch-scratch of her rapid pencil movements.
Weirdest Moment: We spend a good minute and a half listening to the comedian who's performing before Weeks, and I couldn't detect a single joke but the audience was laughing their asses off.
Champion Dialogue: "I'm as pure as a baby's ass."
Body Count: 7
  1. Burt Johnson is handcuffed to a pool ladder and drowned.
  2. Jim Dearden is handcuffed to metal and electrocuted.
  3. Teddy Gallagher is handcuffed and crushed by a falling elevator.
  4. Willie Gonzalez is shot.
  5. Muriel is handcuffed to the wheel of a speeding car that launches into the river.
  6. Betty Mercer is smothered with a pillow in flashback.
  7. Paul McCormack is dropped off a roof.
TL;DR: The Clairvoyant is not as easy to love as the director's previous slasher gem, but it's still an astonishing thrill ride.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1551

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Census Bloodbath: Your Party Could Not Be Reached

Year: 1982
Director: Jerry Jameson
Cast: Lynda Carter, Steve Forrest, Granville Van Dusen
Run Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

1982 seems to be shaping up to be the year of the slasher film masquerading as a "women's picture" drama, foreshadowing the future of, oh, the entire output of Lifetime. Fantasies was a middle-aged romance with a bit of soap opera star murder thrown in, Exposed to Danger exposed us to the inner turmoil to a woman attempting to regain a regular life after being falsely accused of the death of her father, and Visiting Hours was an unusually keen psychological portrait of an outspoken feminist pacifist. Those are three of my favorite slashers of the year so far, so today's topic - Hotline, a CBS TV movie - has some big shoes to fill.

Big, sensible shoes.

In Hotline, Brianne O'Neill (Lynda Carter, of all people) - pronounced "Brian" - is a jack of all trades. She takes art classes, assists her disabled boss Kyle Durham (Monte Markham), the former stunt double to fading movie star Tom Hunter (Steve Forrest), and tends bar at Kyle's four nights a week. When she deescalates a potentially violent sexual advance from a customer, she attracts the notice of Justin Price (Granville Van Dusen), a psychiatrist who could use her help at the West Side Hotline, an emotional support call center he operates in the area. His character never comes to much, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Harry Waters Jr., Marvin Berry from Back to the Future himself, also makes his debut as the lead at the call center.

She takes the job, and almost immediately receives a call from a creepy man who claims to be a murderer and gives her sinister rhyming clues to his identity and past misdeeds. When the body of a woman is discovered on a nearby beach, she realizes that this killer ain't a kidder, and begins to investigate his claims while receiving increasingly threatening phone calls.

(Spoilers abound for the remainder of this review, by the way) 

The thing that concerned me immediately, and then persistently throughout Hotline is that it's really not a slasher movie. It has all the hallmarks of a slasher (and in fact takes its plot wholecloth from the grubby 1980 Don't Answer the Phone), but it just... doesn't have the body count. All the murders committed by our killer have taken place before the events of the movie and don't occur onscreen, even in bloodless, demure, made-for-TV sort of ways. I have grave misgivings about even including this film in Census Bloodbath, but I did include it for several reasons.

First, I didn't want to have wasted my time watching this one. That's probably the biggest motive. Second, the movie and its particular plot quite clearly wouldn't exist without the dozens of slasher movies flooding the market for the previous two years. Third, it was reviewed on The Hysteria Lives, one of my most trusted slasher sites, and a major resource I used in originally building out my To Watch list. There just isn't any murder other than the eventual death of the killer himself.

Unfortunately, what we're left with really doesn't pass muster regardless. The burgeoning romance between Brianne and Justin is shunted offscreen almost as much as the murder - the steamiest thing we get to see is a hot tub scene where he... kisses her on the forehead. I knew I was watching a movie made for network television so I couldn't expect too much of the taboo material, but I frankly don't see the point in barely even hinting at it.

Although they do get to bring to life an intimate couples moment that really resonated with me, when she steals his pillow once he gets out of bed. 

On top of that, the murder investigation frankly isn't even that interesting. Brianne gets most of her information offscreen, and there aren't much in the way of red herrings. They begin to suspect that Tom is the killer, because the killings all occured in places where he traveled to throughout the years, but they offer up the option that it might also be Kyle because they're inseparable. And guess what? It's one of them! Shocking! Hotline doesn't so much twist and turn as gently switchback down the slope toward its destination.

At least the phone calls that Brianne receives are legitimately skin-crawling. They obviously can't resort to the power of the uncanny coarse language used in something like Black Christmas, but there's something about the sinister singsong tone the killer uses that is disturbing in and of itself. And even if the script can't find the energy to really let her work her backstory, Carter knows how to throw herself into the role physically, bringing the final chase scene to electrifying life. Plus, you know I love the deliciously homoerotic undertones of the eventual killer reveal. Actually, come to think of it, it's entirely possible that Quentin Tarantino had this movie, specifically Tom and Kyle, in his head when he was writing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Really, the most interesting thing the movie has going for it is the random amount of star power it has gathered around it. Obviously there's Lynda Carter, who does a great job as a damsel in distress with fringed sleeves, a capable woman whose terror is just barely starting to show hairline cracks in her strong demeanor. But the writer David E. Peckinpah is the nephew of respected filmmaker Sam Peckinpah, appearing in the role of Leo (a character I don't remember) is Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, and the film was shot by Matthew F. Leonetti, who just in that year alone shot Fast Times at Ridgmont High and Poltergeist. Certainly this is the least of his efforts, seeing as Hotline includes both a shot of the camera panning past the front of a plane sitting on the tarmac to give the impression that it's taking off, and a scene in an elevator where the frame wobbles every time they stop on a floor.

I didn't hate watching Hotline, I was merely disappointed by it. It squanders its potential to be anything like its sister films, even Fantasies which was itself a television movie for ABC. It wasn't a complete bore to watch, but it offers the bare minimum of what it could possibly have to give, like a corporate CEO donating to Black Lives Matter.

Killer: Kyle Durham (Monte Markham)
Final Girl: Brianne O'Neill (Lynda Carter)
Sign of the Times: Brianne gets paged at the airport because she has a call on the courtesy telephone.
Scariest Moment: Justin breaks into Brianne's home... in order to tell her that somebody else broke into her home?
Weirdest Moment: A gay British sales clerk (who I now suspect to be Julian Fellowes) is selling Brianne a device to record phone calls, which he demonstrates by prank calling some random stranger and telling him, "darling, I'll be home late tonight."
Champion Dialogue: "I think there's a full moon tonight. The fanny grabbers are out in force."
Body Count: 1; though she investigates four murders that took place before the events of the movie.
  1. Kyle is shot with a harpoon gun.
TL;DR: Hotline is a wholly mediocre movie that doesn't hurt to watch, but it hardly brings pleasure.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1228

Monday, October 12, 2020

Census Bloodbath: We All Go A Little Bland Sometimes


Year: 1982
Director: Don Gronquist
Cast: Laurel Munson, Janet Penner, Sara Ansley
Run Time: 1 hour 19 minutes

For once I don't have to open a review contrasting how awesome the poster is with how terrible the movie is! Though that said, I do think the little reaper guy is pretty adorable. He's having such a great time swinging that scythe around! Truly if you love what you do, you won't work a day in your life. And I also love what I do, even if it leads me to watching films like 1982's Unhinged, a movie so bland that when the British censorship board looked at it and considered giving it the dubious honor of becoming a Video Nasty (which they bestowed to plenty of movies that aren't worth watching), they shrugged and said "nah."


If your slasher movie wasn't nasty enough to offend the British in the early 80's, you made it wrong! Literally they would ban films without even watching them just for having certain words in the title.

Unhinged follows three indistinguishable young women, Terry (Laurel Munson), Nancy (Sara Ansley), and Gloria (Barbara Lusch), on their way to a far flung music festival when a torrential downpour leads them to crash into a ditch. They wake up in the stately rural manor of Marion Penrose (Janet Penner), having been brought there by the handyman Norman (John Morrison). If those names didn't clue you in to the fact that this is riffing on Psycho, the fact that Marion has a controlling, prudish, invalid mother (Virginia Settle) lurking about sure will.

The girls are forced to wait at the house until the storm settles, and things become creepier and creepier. Terry hears heavy breathing in the middle of the night, and starts itching to really explore that shed Marion forbade her to enter... Also there's a scythe-wielding maniac loose on the property, but she'll learn that soon enough.


Although in a film that clocks in under 80 minutes, literally everything in the movie happens soon enough.

While I wouldn't go out of my way to say that Unhinged is particularly bad, there's not a lot here to help it stand out. Even by the standards of the 80's, this came far too late for anybody to be particularly interested in a lousy Psycho rip-off. That sub-subgenre had its place in 1980, with films like Silent Scream, Don't Go in the House, and obviously Dressed to Kill, but 1982? This was a different world. "Come On Eileen" was already out, for crying out loud!

It doesn't assemble any of the Psycho elements properly anyway. The mother-daughter dynamic isn't transgressive enough, the one element of the mother's story we come to understand (she abhors men and hates the mere mention of one) is inconsistent (why exactly has Norman been hanging around the house all this time, then?) and the obligatory transphobic ending doesn't even clearly deliver in what way it's supposed to be transphobic. I at least want to know why I'm mad, people! 

If it can't stand out amidst such a meager pack of films (which also includes Funeral Home and Mother's Day, if you're counting), it certainly can't stand out among the slasher genre as a whole. The girls all perform with identical hollow expressions and flat trancelike deliveries except when they're allowed to scream, which finally gives them a little personality. There is some nudity, but it's so weirdly and haphazardly expressed that I don't see how even people who delight in exploitation of the female form would be able to maintain interest. And the body count is sadly low, necessarily so considering the small cast.


For most of whom this is their only credit, I can't imagine why.

The few kills there are are likewise disappointing. With one major exception (an axe to the face that gives us the one good gore effect the filmmakers have to offer), they are edited with the vision of "Psycho, only worse." We don't see weapons making contact with bodies, only girls writhing around with artfully placed Karo syrup smears on their faces. This works when it's 1960 and you're Alfred Hitchcock. But this is 1982, and director Don Gronquist is barely even Don Gronquist, let alone Hitchcock. 

As far as good elements go... Well, there are some pretty neat helicopter shots of the girls driving, which bely a budget slightly higher than I might have imagined this movie to have. And honestly all in all I didn't hate Unhinged. It's engaging at the absolute lowest level, like a television commercial or a traffic sign. You don't necessarily regret reading "Peoria - 60 miles," but it hasn't added to your life in any way (unless you're going to Peoria, which I guess in this metaphor represents a keen desire to watch women sit in comfy love seats).

Killer: Marion Penrose (Janet Penner)
Final Girl: Terry Morgan (Laurel Munson)
Best Kill: There's only one real option, but it's a goodun. The axe directly to the face would be a standout even in a much better movie.
Sign of the Times: That luscious, glorious score that feels like rejected incidental music from Tron.
Scariest Moment: Nancy steps out of bed and cuts her foot on a tooth that just happens to be lying on the floor.
Weirdest Moment: Gloria gets the worst injuries in the accident and is confined to her room, so we don't see her for a full hour of the movie. When Terry finally goes to her room, I expected her to find a corpse, but no. Gloria was just chilling in there and the movie just kind of forgot to remind us about it.
Champion Dialogue: "I'll be sure to excuse myself when she breaks out the heroin."
Body Count: 4

  1. Nancy is slashed with a scythe.
  2. Gloria gets a hand axe buried in her head.
  3. Carl is shot in the eye.
  4. Terry is cleavered to death.

TL;DR: Unhinged is a rote Psycho ripoff with nothing to particularly recommend it.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1004

Friday, October 9, 2020

Census Bloodbath: The Game Of Death

Year: 1982
Director: Scott Mansfield
Cast: Alexandra Morgan, Jo Ann Harris, Sam Groom
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

No, I'm not going to open another one of these reviews lusting after how spectacular the poster for an 80's slasher movie is. No way. Not gonna do it. So, um... Deadly Games (not to be confused with the 1989 French home invasion film Dial Code Santa Claus, which was released under the same title) is... actually you know what, there's almost no information out there about where the film came from or why it exists, and there's certainly no evidence in the film to answer the latter question. So let's get right into it!


That poster's real cool though, innit?

So. Deadly Games. After Linda (Alexandra Morgan) is menaced in her home by a masked man and falls out a window to hear death, her music journalist sister Clarissa Jane Louise Lawrence (Jo Ann Harris) AKA Keegan comes to town. She is reunited with some old friends and frenemies, including waitress Mary (Denise Galik of Don't Answer the Phone) and her diner owner husband Joe (Dick Butkus, a name created to give playground bullies so many options that their brains melt right out of their ears). She begins a romance with cop Roger Lane (Sam Groom), whose best friend is injured Nam veteran Billy Owens (Steve Railsback of the same year's Trick or Treats among other things you're more likely to have heard of), who skulks around the local abandoned movie theater watching old monster movies and playing a monster-themed board game.

You'd think, given the title, that the board game has a huge part to play with the killings by a ski mask-clad maniac that strike this small town, but you would be wrong.


You would also be wrong to assume that a movie with a poster that awesome couldn't be bad.

I guess I should start with what Deadly Games gets right, because that's a pretty quick conversation. Well, it's actually quite good at jump scares, especially for a slasher movie of this budget and vintage. The killer is always lurking in the the corner of the shadowy frame (very shadowy if you watch a bad VHS rip like I did) that you least expect, grabbing at our victims in sudden jolts of shock. Unfortunately the kills that follow are unfailingly bland. I don't think there's even a drop of blood present in this entire movie, and not one creative weapon spices up the slew of bog standard drownings, strangulations, and whatnot. I might feel like a sociopath for writing a sentence like that, but it's true, dammit! A slasher at this budget level can't dream of having effective gore, so it needs to spice the kills up with literally any amount of imagination. Why not go with the "game" motif the film so obviously could and should have been built around? Shoot spiked dice at people or something, I don't know.

It's probably telling that the one paragraph that contains a compliment about something other than the poster devolved so quickly.

Deadly Games fails as a slasher movie in pretty much every way. Literally every character looks alike so you're too busy asking yourself "Is that Carol? Or Chrissie? Ruby? Was there even a Ruby?" to actually care about whether or not they live or die. And the body count is just pathetic, taking a severe dip after a pair of opening kills, briefly flirting with becoming a cheesy romantic comedy more than anything else.


Complete with a cheesy "Beauty and the Beast" esque love ballad over a montage.

No, not an effective slasher. But it's the things that make Deadly Games an ineffective film that are the most interesting. Remember the kinds of movies I make myself watch on any given day so you can let the full gravity of the statement I'm about to make really sink in: This is one of the most incoherent films I've ever seen.

Deadly Games puts on a good show at first, arranging genre tropes in such a way that it almost disguises itself as a normal movie, albeit with some jags into weirdness like the fact that Linda stands on the front porch of her house topless and massaging her own breasts but then puts on a shirt when she needs to go inside to answer the phone. Or the endless circuitous conversations about people we'll literally never see onscreen (the cavalcade of names making it even more impossible to tell who is onscreen at any given time) filled with lines that are almost, but not quite, like things actual people in a small town might say.

It's at the halfway point that this facade crumbles away, and Keegan emerges from her cocoon of bland competence and performs the rest of the film like she's a drunk baby. She babbles to herself in high pitched voices, performs entire scenes as multiple characters all interacting with one another, and laughs and claps gleefully at every boring thing she, Roger, and Billy get up to. Her truly bizarre energy permeates the rest of the film, and suddenly every character is going off on unmotivated Tennessee Williams monologue rants, or casually pointing guns at their wives over the dinner table, or saying lines of dialogue like (and I quote) "rag mops with towels on their head don't normally go out until at least March or April."

This all culminates in a finale that feels like every other scene was accidentally cut out. Characters just sort of arrive places, knowing things we never saw them learn, and rushing the film to its dramatic [sic] conclusion with literal seconds to spare. It is pure chaos, and while it was somewhat fascinating to watch unfold, it certainly doesn't equal a good movie in any sense of the word.

Killer: Roger Lane (Sam Groom)
Final Girl: Clarissa Jane Louise 'Keegan' Lawrence (Jo Ann Harris)
Best Kill:  Chris is buried alive in a setpiece that is neat first because it's lit well enough for you to actually see it.
Sign of the Times: There is a long conversation about the women's husbands maybe having "homosexual tendencies."
Scariest Moment: Keegan rushes to answer the telephone in the dark and when she reaches for it she discovers that a man is sitting on her bed by the phone.
Weirdest Moment: One of the gals hanging at the diner orders a low cal burger plate with a side order of spaghetti and a Tab. You know, as one does.
Champion Dialogue: "I haven't told anyone my name in ten years..."
Body Count: 5

  1. Linda falls out a window.
  2. Annie is drowned in a pool.
  3. Carol (?) is strangled.
  4. Chris is buried alive.
  5. Billy is shot.

TL;DR: Deadly Games is a completely incoherent mess that manages to disguise itself as an only slightly incoherent movie for about half the runtime.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1156

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Census Bloodbath: Cannes You Dig It?

Year: 1982
Director: David Winters
Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Judd Hamilton
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I don't know what I was expecting when I sat down with The Last Horror Film. Maybe I was expecting The Last Horror Movie, which is a totally different film from the early 2000's. It certainly wasn't something good, given the introduction from Lloyd Kaufman before my copy of the movie that informed me that this was distributed by Troma Entertainment. But whatever it was I was expecting, it didn't come to pass when all of a sudden splayed across the screen was a surreal meta-horror that reteamed the leads from Maniac in footage shot guerrilla-style at the actual Cannes Film Festival in 1981.

It's like Escape from Tomorrow, but not pretentious and unbearable!

So. Vinny (Joe Spinell, of the aforementioned Maniac and also Cruising, so he's never not been sweaty in 80's slasher movies). He's a cab driver with dreams of becoming a big shot Hollywood director, so he saves his money and buys a ticket to Cannes, where he stalks movie star Jana Bates (Caroline Munro, who spun her appearances in Maniac and The Last Horror Film into a mini scream queen run that also included Slaughter High and Don't Open Till Christmas - and whose hair in this movie looks like a skunk got electrocuted on her head), who is there for the premiere of her new movie, titled (and I'm not kidding) "Scream". The people who prevent him from accessing her all meet mysterious deaths at the business end of a variety of sharp instruments. 

Spoilers: He does eventually kidnap her and force her to unwillingly play a part in a Dracula movie he has outfitted in a French castle, and if the directing doesn't work out, he might just have a future in set design.

There's a lot going on with The Last Horror Film, which is good news because the plot is the barest thread of gossamer. First off is the sheer pleasure of getting to visit Cannes in 1981 around the edges of this silly slasher movie. The beauty of this style of filmmaking comes both in its inherent realism and the fact that if you ignore what's going on in the middle of the frame, it might as well be documentary footage of a bygone era. This is aided by the inclusion of the ripped-from-the-headlines real events of John Lennon's recent murder by a fan and John Hinckley Jr.'s attempt to assassinate the president to impress Jodie Foster, both of which foreshadow the film's plot bluntly but effectively.

Second off is the soundtrack! After a ripping opening with Depeche Mode's "Photographic" (which probably cost more than the cast's salaries combined), we get a glorious arrangement of pastiches of every popular early 80's genre provided, weirdly, by Jesse Frederick, the guy who wrote the theme songs for Full HouseFamily Matters, and Step by Step. Speaking of the astonishing pedigree of the filmmakers, this was directed by David Winters, whose career took him from playing A-Rab in West Side Story to being the choreographer of The Star Wars Holiday Special to producing Killer Workout, so don't say people can never change.

Third off? There's a vein of surrealism that runs through this film and is absolutely captivating. Joe Spinell takes his work from Maniac and pitches it to the rafters in a series of bizarre fantasy sequences where he envisions an alter ego who's a slick film director and constantly mocks him. Sound and image seem to slip past each other and blur together in these fantasies, which get more and more bizarre, at one point showing Spinell as a stripper onstage in a bra and panties, which is one of the most special sights that cinema has ever given me.

Whatever is happening here is a close second.

The Last Horror Film is like Maniac tried to market itself as a warm and fuzzy comedy and got lost somewhere along the way. It's bizarre, surprisingly effective (Spinell's intensity sweats out of him, and it's glorious to witness), and the kills are even decent! There's no work at the level of Maniac's Tom Savini (which could hardly be expected from anybody who's not... Tom Savini), but there's a gag where a severed head splashes into a bathtub that I can't describe any other way than delightful. And while a lot of the other in-film kills are in silhouette or shadow (there are a couple more intense ones displayed in movies screening at the lightly fictionalized Cannes - in real life none of the French people would give half a shit about these shitty horror pictures), the actors sell the intensity well enough that they still hit a nerve. 

My experience with this movie was wholly engrossing and entertaining in a way that I never thought could have happened this deep into 1982. It's far too weird to have penetrated far beyond the 80's in the public imagination, sadly, but it's exactly the kind of semi-precious gem I created this project in order to stumble across. It's no masterpiece of the form, certainly, but it's going for the brass ring. It only gets a finger on it, but it still sticks the landing, and who could blame it for that?

Killer: Bret Bates (Glenn Jacobson)
Final Girl: Jana Bates (Caroline Munro)
Best Kill: Suzanne's death itself is by gunshot, which is not, what you want from a slasher movie, but afterward she falls from the roof of a building and smashes her head open like a watermelon. So, y'know. Pretty cool.
Sign of the Times: Literally every movie poster displayed in the Cannes footage (The French Lieutenant's Woman! Polyester! For Your Eyes Only!).
Scariest Moment: Vinnie bursts through the window of Jana's bathroom while she's showering.
Weirdest Moment: When a kid is looking up at an airplane with a banner hanging from it, he drops a piece of cake between the breasts of a topless sunbathing woman.
Champion Dialogue: "Every side of your face is the best side."
Body Count: 6; although numbers 1 and 3 take place in films within the film, which in and of itself is in another film, so why split hairs?
  1. Hot Tub Blonde is electrocuted in a pool.
  2. Martin is axed in the back.
  3. Alley Man is slashed and his guts are ripped out.
  4. Stanley is stabbed.
  5. Suzanne is shot.
  6. Bret is chainsawed.
TL;DR: The Last Horror Film is thin, but only in plot, and who really needs one of those in a slasher anyway?
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1100

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Census Bloodbath: Beauty School Escapee

Year: 1982
Director: Alan J. Levi
Cast: Donna Wilkes, Richard Jaeckel, Frankie Avalon
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

The slasher genre has featured plenty of celebrities in its time, but it usually only intersects with stars at either end of their career. Big shot celebrities like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Johnny Depp got their start in the slasher genre before moving onto bigger, occasionally better things. And then we get to the other end, where older stars like Farley Granger, Ernest Borgnine, Hal Holbrook, Rod Steiger, and Lauren Bacall show up to collect a paycheck once Hollywood isn't knocking down their door.

Even knowing this, let me tell you that seeing Frankie Avalon's name in the credits here is like getting a bucket of cold water dumped on your head. Sure, the timing was right. Even though he's best known these days for his cameo in Grease, the reason he was invited was because he was a venerable icon who could give that 1950's-set movie its retro cred rather than because he was a hot ticket name in 1978. But still.

He's as shocked as I am.

So here's what we're dealing with. When Paul Foley (Frankie Avalon) was a child, his father killed his adulterous mother and then himself, right after crafting his son a wooden instrument that is called a flute by every character but is pretty clearly an ocarina. His father only ever taught him one song (the lullaby "Go to Sleep Little Baby") and now that he's a grown man that's still all he can play. Oh, he's also in an insane asylum for unclear reasons. Probably because he's Pure Evil, because he escapes and immediately starts murdering everybody in his path.

One of those unlucky people in his path is Marion (Donna Wilkes of Schizoid), a high school student who is in a leg brace following a car accident caused by her alcoholic father Frank (Richard Jaeckel), who has only become more indolent and abusive since then, harassing her at every moment and turning every minute conversation into a harangue about defending her virginity from her fisherman boyfriend Joey (William Kirby Cullen). She and Joey are planning to run away to Portland, Oregon but before that things are getting more and more difficult. After a receiving a blood transfusion sourced from the local asylum, she is having terrible nightmares where she witnesses Paul's murders, and when he begins to stalk her around town, she's having a hard time separating dreams and reality.

"That can't be Frankie Avalon, I must be dreaming!"

Blood Song had the budget for both Frankie Avalon and a third act showdown in an operating sawmill, so I'm going to go ahead and assume there was some money behind it, but it looks like a typical microbudget slasher and certainly has the poster of one, so I bet it wasn't much. There's a lot of chintzy work here, especially with the awkward push-in close-ups on her eye that tunnel out into flashes of the killer's actions.  Or the electronic score that sounds like two cats fucking on a synth keyboard. Or the kills that aren't particularly bloody, though they do get a lot of use out of their axe wound prosthetic. But within those pretty tight parameters, Blood Song is actually extraordinarily competent. We're full of surprises today!

The film succeeds in a lot of areas where its peers fail. Beginning with the fact that it actually manages to drum up a little tension every now and again. Sure, the scenes that openly ape Halloween are just surfing in John Carpenter's wake, but there's one scene in particular with a hitchhiker that keeps you constantly on your toes whether Paul is going to profess his love or brutally murder her, sustaining that tension for a good two or three minutes. That's two or three minutes more tension than anything that something like - say - Blood Lake could deliver.

And despite the killer's motive being absolute dumb movie horseshit (His dad killed himself so now he's a murderer who kills anyone who makes fun of his flute? Psychologically sound, for sure), his calling card of snatches of flute music drifting along the wind is actually quite something. I do wish they did something more fully fleshed-out with Marion's psychic connection to the killer, but let's not ask too much of Blood Song.

Let's just sit here and nurse the fact that I can still enjoy anything in this marathon 180 films deep.

And while we're on the subject, I actually quite like Marion, especially the scenes where we're just hanging out with her and her friends. There's something surprising and satisfying about watching a young woman dealing with a physical disability that makes her vulnerable to the killer, yet who is well-liked, sexually active, and driven to survive by any means possible. A Hollywood studio would never have made that call for the character in 1982.

And this may be faint praise, but I promise it's not damning: the climactic chase sequence is lit properly. That is a luxury you can rarely expect from a slasher movie of this budget and vintage. But in every shot of the heroine running from the killer in the dark, you can see every facial expression, locked door, and improvised weapon that you need to see. It's not just a smudgy black screen with random flecks of color muddily swimming around. I could cry! Also there's a shot that's even kind of beautiful, of a forklift bearing a pallet of wood boards being knocked into a body of water, the machine sinking as the lightweight wood floats up and breaches the surface of the water.

I don't think Blood Song is a movie I would recommend to literally anyone. It just doesn't do enough beyond the exact baseline of not sucking. But coming from someone who is dangerously deep in the weeds on this subgenre, the care and skill put into making it was a real breath of fresh air. It's like a well-built chair. You might not rave about it to your friends, but you've sat in enough uncomfortable chairs to quietly appreciate the craftsmanship.

Killer: Paul Foley (Frankie Avalon)
Final Girl: Marion (Donna Wilkes)
Best Kill: Marion's dad's death, both because he deserves it and Paul really goes to town on him, axing his chest, face, and knee with some showstopping (for the budget) special effects.
Sign of the Times: I don't know what the hell this guy's problem is, but I know I'm more scared of him than the killer.

Scariest Moment: Literally any time Marion's dad speaks.
Weirdest Moment: The film opens with a Tennyson quote for some unfathomable reason.
Champion Dialogue: "I've got a hangover that would make King Kong climb a wall."
Body Count: 9; not including Joey, who is presumably killed offscreen before the final shot.
  1. Wife and
  2. Lover are shot.
  3. Jack shoots himself.
  4. Orderly is strangled.
  5. Driver is axed in the face.
  6. Hitchhiker is garroted with a necklace.
  7. Cathy is killed offscreen.
  8. Frank is axed to death.
  9. Bill is crushed with a forklift.
TL;DR: Blood Song is surprisingly a totally passable obscure weirdo slasher effort.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1208