Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Census Bloodbath: Xenophobia

Year: 1980
Director: Greyson Clark
Cast: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Tarah Nutter
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Part of the reason we're going back to 1980 to scoop up extra movies is that some films slipped through my net before I refined my criteria for what does or doesn't qualify as a slasher film. Without Warning, which is about an alien invasion (well, kinda), just didn't seem to fit the bill at first. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized how uncannily it does follow the slasher formula, even considering that this should be pretty well impossible for a film that came out just three months after Friday the 13th

We've got a Crazy Ralph and everything!

Without Warning has a lot of slasher royalty behind it, as well. Generally the doddering, inbred kind of royalty, but it was shot by Dean Cundey, so that's nice. At the helm here is Greyson Clark, the director behind my fourth least favorite slasher of 1982, Wacko! There's also an Alone in the Dark pre-reunion going on here, teaming Jack Palance with Martin Landau because apparently they were just doing whatever script scribbled on a napkin was shoved in front of them in the early 80's. Anyway, I digress. Let's cover the plot, insofar as there is one (Another slasher trope! I've said this exact sentence dozens of times!).

A hunter (Cameron Mitchell of The DemonBlood LinkTrapped AliveTerror NightDeadly Prey, and Memorial Valley Massacre) and his son Randy (Darby Hinton of Wacko) are killed out in the woods (as played by California dry brush) by what can only be described as extraterrestrial ninja stars. They're basically little frisbees that look like sand dollars with little fanged sucker mouths that attach themselves to your skin via little tubes and start sucking out your insides. They also take down a comic relief Scoutmaster (Larry Storch of Sweet 16) before four horny teens come careening in with their camper van. Now that's more like it!

These teens are the Horny Sex Couple Beth (Lynn The) and Tom (David Caruso, who I certainly didn't expect to see mucking about in the slasher trenches, and boy what a twink he was 41 years ago) and the Sweet Couple Sandy (Tarah Nutter) and Greg (Christopher S. Nelson). The horny teens are dispatched almost instantly and Greg and Sandy are sent running through the woods and into town, where they encounter the Man Who Cried Alien, Sarge (Landau) and reunite with their harbinger, creepy gas station attendant Joe Taylor (Palance). They do eventually discover that there is a humanoid alien  (Kevin Peter Hall, who would go on to greater glory playing an alien in a little film called Predator) throwing these sand dollars around to murder people for.... reasons, and he's hiding the bodies in... a shed. Spooky!

It really sends a shiver down the spine, dunnit?

If there's one thing I've learned from a long and intensive study of slasher movie posters, it's that if the cool-looking monster or alien is shown in detail, then you're only gonna get to see it onscreen for twenty seconds max. I'm looking at you, The Slayer and The Incubus. If a film has enough of the monster that it wants to keep it a secret to surprise the audience, then that's when you end up with a subtle poster like Alien. So at least I didn't come into Without Warning with any illusions about this alien menace.

Ultimately, the design of the alien once we see it (once in a flash under a swinging lamp, the remaining 1 and a half scenes largely in shadow) is a pretty good, if uninspired variation on the Greys. The sucker discs look a little shoddier (when they're sucking their victims dry they're covered in what is unmistakably ketchup and mustard), but they're at least fun B-movie images if you suspend your disbelief off a cliff. Unfortunately, this hot-dog-esque M.O. is the only way people are killed in the movie, so it wears thin long before the gags peter out. 

But isn't it nice that at one frame of the movie looks like this?

Although the effects bringing the sci-fi elements to life are very 80's, the rest is an extremely effective pastiche of an average 50's B-picture. In that nothing happens for 80 minutes. Greg and Sandy run through empty woods interminably, then sit in a bar during a power outage that I'm pretty sure was engineered because they didn't budget for that many lights. The filmmakers seem to have come to the conclusion that the cheapest special effect is human beings grousing at each other in the dark. And the pacing of the kills is terribly poor (another slasher trope executed with aplomb), with most of the kills happening in the first two reels to leave plenty of time for wandering past some scrub. 

Palance and Landau don't liven up the proceedings, barely showing a shadow of even the screen presence they display in Alone in the Dark. But then again it's hard to breathe life into a character when you're asked to spout dialogue like "Alien! Alieeeeen! ALIEN!" The only performer who is doing anything remotely interesting is Larry Storch, in an unfathomable turn as a Scoutmaster who warns the boys against picking up rattlesnakes because they "carry germs" and tries to light his cigarette by holding it against a rock and striking it with flint. He is carted in from a completely different movie and carted back out more or less immediately. 

All in all, despite its mild B-science fiction charms, Without Warning presents us with almost nothing to recommend itself. It's a dreadfully tedious motion picture experience that wastes every ounce of talent spent on it (and once you get past those two veteran actors and Dean Cundey, that well is already shallow as hell). This kind of film is why I'm glad to mostly be free of 1980. It doesn't have the vigorous excesses of the later 80's, but it's not sober or serious like the late 70's, so it's really just a waste of time all around.

Killer: Alien (Kevin Peter Hall)
Final Girl: Sandy (Tarah Nutter)
Best Kill: They're legitimately all the same, but the death of the Scoutmaster has the ooziest gooiest blood splatter, so I'll pick that one.
Sign of the Times: Greg has to use a dial to turn on his windshield wipers.
Scariest Moment: Martin Landau points his fun at Greg and starts yammering about how the aliens are all his fault.
Weirdest Moment: In the spooky gas station, the gang discovers an upside-down baseball cap in which a rat is snuggled with its litter of babies.
Champion Dialogue: "I saw something outside that bar I've never seen before, and I have no desire to see it again."
Body Count: 9
  1. Hunter gets suckered.
  2. Randy gets suckered.
  3. Scoutmaster gets suckered.
  4. Beth gets suckered offscreen.
  5. Tom gets suckered offscreen.
  6. Greg gets suckered.
  7. Sarge gets suckered.
  8. Joe Taylor and
  9. Alien die in an explosion.
TL;DR: Without Warning is a dire sci-fi B-movie that wandered its way out of the 50's and got itself some decent special effects that are hardly used.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1211

Monday, September 13, 2021

Census Bloodbath: No, This Is Patrick

Year: 1980
Director: Mario Landi
Cast: Sacha Pitoëff, Sacha Pitoëff, Mariangela Giordano
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

Oh, Italian horror rip-offs. The fun never ends with you. Remember back in the day when Bay of Blood was advertised as a sequel to The Last House on the Left, a movie that didn't exist when Bay originally came out? Or how Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 is a "sequel" to Dawn of the Dead that doesn't even spare a thought to the fact that a sequel to that film couldn't possibly depict the beginning of a zombie apocalypse?  Among such storied company, Patrick Still Lives is actually a venerable pillar of honesty in advertising.

Allegedly a sequel to the 1978 Ozploitation classic Patrick, this film is more of a remake, but at least it has the decency to be about a telekinetic boy named Patrick. 

By the standards of Italian horror "sequel" continuity, Patrick Still Lives might as well be The Avengers.

So let's get ourselves acquainted with Patrick (Gianni Dei, who we'll meet again in 1987's Delitti). The film's abrupt beginning shows Patrick on a roadside with a man who is presumably his father, Dr. Herschel (Sacha Pitoëff). A bottle gets thrown from a car and smacks him on the head, sending him into a coma. Cut to years later, and Dr. Herschel has assembled a ragtag group of people at a health spa in a remote Italian villa. We don't find this out till later, but the plot is obvious from the beginning so I'll spoil it: everyone has been brought here under threat of blackmail, and they are all suspected of being the bottle-thrower. Patrick may be in a coma still, but he's hooked up to the brains of three other coma patients and his telekinetic wrath causes the guests to perish one by one in spooky supernatural ways.

The guests in question are Davis (Paolo Giusti), a Tig Notaro lookalike and the son of an important banker who was involved in an accident that killed several people; Peter Suniak (John Benedy), who is a drug addict; minister Lyndon Cough (Franco Silva), who is a corrupt parliamentary minister; and Peter and Lyndon's partners Stella Randolph (Mariangela Giordano) and Sheril Cough (Carmen Russo), whose crimes would seem to be that they like to have sex.

Women, am I right?

I don't know what circle of hell I've stumbled into where all the slashers I encounter are basically just softcore pornos now, but Patrick Still Lives at least lies much more staunchly on the "slasher" side of the line than either Killing of the Flesh or Momentos de Prazer e Agonia. And curiously, though the film is obsessed with showing naked flesh (this is the type of movie where people might casually just pop a boob out at dinner, and all the women sleep naked, putting on robes when they get up - robes that do nothing to cover their nipples or vaginas), there isn't actually any sex, unless you count Patrick's bizarre telekinetic tryst with sexy blonde staff member Lidya Grant (Andrea Belfiore).

The first half of Patrick Still Lives - where the characters wander around either being naked, engaging in sub-giallo nonsense drama with lots of slapping, or both - is beyond repair. If you really want to see boobs that bad in 2021, there are much easier ways to do that than bootlegging a stupid Italian slasher from 40 years ago. It's only once the killings begin in earnest that things get interesting. 

"Interesting" unfortunately isn't synonymous with "good." The murder setpieces in Patrick Still Lives are a challenging lot to grapple with. I will lead with the fact that the special effects bringing them to life are uniformly superb for the time, and the movie's endless variations on gruesome kills are shockingly ahead of their time for a pre-Friday the 13th motion picture (technically it debuted in Italy a week after Friday, but they were produced contemporaneously is what I'm saying).

I know you actually don't care about the specifics, but I do. You don't watch slashers almost exclusively for eight years and not get a little in your head about it.

Every kill in Patrick Still Lives is brutal, but there are only two that perfectly ride the line between intense and entertaining: a man who gets a wicked metal hook jammed through his lower jaw, and a woman who is slowly, methodically, decapitated by a car window. Then there's the medium level: the first and final body count kills (where a man dies in a pool of boiling water and a woman is mauled by dogs) aren't particularly visually dynamic, even if the effects for both are above par for similar scenes in other movies of the time. The absolute lowest tier is the pair of kills that just involve poison, which don't require interesting special effects.

OK, enough beating around the bush. There's one kill here that is... challenging. Typically what I look for in a slasher movie kill is a unique premise and convincing, over-the-top special effects. This kill certainly has that, but it takes the sexual violence that simmers beneath the entire motion picture and pitches it right the hell up to 11. For the un-squeamish, here's what happens: A woman is skewered with a spit, which enters through her vagina and comes out through her mouth. It's certainly well-realized, probably the most impressive effect in the entire film. But coming at the end of a dozen scenes of cavalier exploitation and objectification, it's impossible to not feel icky about it. I'm not one for the censorship of art, especially exploitation and pornography (assuming they were created with properly consenting performers), but a conscientious viewer must come to this scene with a very particular mindset that I don't find myself capable of.

Even setting aside that particular scene, the impressive effects don't quite make up for the hour and change spent wandering around the villa with its desperately uninteresting characters while listening to a score that sounds like a Goblin tribute band covering the Exorcist theme. It's not an altogether unwatchable slice of giallo sexploitation, and it has some amusing campy moments (ie. Dr. Herschel tries to write off Lyndon's clearly boiled skin as a side effect of alcoholism), but at the end of the day I'd just rather watch Patrick, you know?

Killer: Patrick (Sacha Pitoëff)
Final Girl: Lidya Grant (Andrea Belfiore)
Best Kill: I'd have to say the car window to the neck, which is brutal in its ceaseless repetitive slamming and convincing geysers of blood.
Sign of the Times: Well, there really was only a tiny window of time in which anyone could have made a sequel to Patrick.
Scariest Moment: A hypnotically hornified Lidya licks the metal post of Patrick's bed. Think of the germs!
Weirdest Moment: Stella discovers Davis' mutilated body and to calm herself down, she wets her breasts at a nearby fountain.
Champion Dialogue: "I usually bang women, not whisky bottles."
Body Count: 8; not including the 3 unnamed host bodies fueling Patrick's telekinesis, who presumably die during the third act when he drains their energy.
  1. Lyndon Cough is boiled in a swimming pool.
  2. Davis is hung from a hook by the bottom of his chin.
  3. Stella Cough is skewered on a spit via the vagina.
  4. Sheril Randolph is decapitated by a car window.
  5. Peter Suniak is poisoned with carbon monoxide.
  6. Brad is electrocuted.
  7. Meg is mauled by German shepherds.
  8. Dr. Herschel is stabbed in the heart with a hypodermic needle.
TL;DR: Patrick Still Lives is a rather rote erotic giallo until it briefly becomes a very good gore picture.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1278

Friday, September 10, 2021

Census Bloodbath: Run Of Tamil

Year: 1980
Director: Balu Mahendra
Cast: Prathap Pothen, Shobha, Malasia Bhaskar
Run Time: 2 hours

There is a slight issue I come across sometimes in my journey to watch every single slasher movie released during the 80's: foreign countries like to make movies too, and sometimes if you want to watch a slasher released in a language you don't speak over 40 years ago, you have to take what you can get. And sometimes subtitles aren't a part of that package. So it's entirely possible that the screenwriter of the Indian Tamil-language film Moodu Pani (AKA The Mist) is the next Shakespeare. We're not here to review the story today, we're here to look at the 1980 porto-slasher as a purely cinematic and visual object, which is kind of the point anyway, wouldn't you say?

...This still might not be the best movie to do that with.

Moodu Pani is another "hero killer" movie, like that same year's Maniac, centering around the psychology of its twisted protagonist Chandru (Prathap Pothen). Chandru hates women because his dad cheated on his mom, as far as I can tell. I will give that motivation the benefit of the doubt that maybe it's given more layers in the actual dialogue. But, knowing the state of the slasher film in this period, it probably doesn't. Anyway, he either is a taxi driver or frequently poses as a taxi driver (because he also works on a film set at one point, though never again), and he visualizes many of the women in his car as his dad's mistress and attempts to strangle them. There's also a woman who spends a full hour of the movie sitting on a porch chatting, and he's in love with her for some reason so he kidnaps her, leading to a prolonged series of escape attempts. 

To be fair, I would probably be just about as confused about the plot if I could understand everything.

The film would probably be much more successful at delivering any kind of atmosphere if its killer wasn't one of the most milquetoast screen presences in the history of cinema. Pothen plays Chandru like a stammering geek, and while I understand this approach is meant to highlight the vastness of the evil living inside him, the (infrequent) killings are staged in a way that highlights their artificiality and don't pack the visceral punch of something like Maniac. That said, I could at least understand a woman initially trusting Chandru, rather than Joe Spinell's Frank in Maniac.

There are only two moments where Chandru seems like an interesting cinematic figure in any way, and both of them use the same technique to heighten the fright. Chandru seems to get stuck on a single phrase, begging a character for something he wants, repeating the same words over and over and over in an increasingly shrill plea. It's an outward expression of how he gets stuck inside an obsession and compulsively must act out his urges no matter what anybody around him thinks.

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to cut this review a little shorter than I prefer, because there's literally nothing else about Moodu Pani to talk about. Other than the novelty of being made in India, which has a gorgeous landscape and architectural tradition, the film has absolutely zilch to look at. It's understandably low budget, considering it doesn't even have the backing of the Bollywood machine, which wasn't as flush with cash in 1980 as it is now. But there isn't even a single angle the camera takes that makes a choice beyond merely staging the action in the center of the frame, lit with even, sanitized sitcom brightness. 

It also does the thing that some Indian musicals do where they only justify shoehorning in music numbers during diegetic performance moments, which limits the fantastical inspiration that they usually are capable of exhibiting. While Moodu Pani has a performance or two, it couldn't really be classified as a musical in the way that the Hindi slasher entry from 1980 - Saboot - could. This prevents the film from wasting even more time, because those numbers wouldn't have been any good, but as such it lacks even the basic spark of joy that something like Saboot's swoony romantic number during a search for the corpse of the singing woman's father.

Killer: Chandru (Prathap Pothen)
Final Girl: Blue Shirtdress Girl, who if I had to guess based on who gets top billing is probably Rekha (Shobha)
Best Kill: Pass. But if I had to choose, as my article word count demands, I suppose the first strangling, which is rendered amusing by the fact that the lady's hands somehow end up super bloody despite her not being stabbed.
Sign of the Times: Chandru is rocking the mustache, clear glasses, ring tee vibe.
Scariest Moment: In one scene, a character is talking to Chandru but their voice is drowned out by a screeching in his own head.
Weirdest Moment: Again, maybe I'm misinterpreting events, but Chandru appears to solicit a prostitute via a six-year-old pimp.
Champion Dialogue: N/A
Body Count: 2
    1. Yellow Sari Woman is strangled.
    2. Brown Dress Woman is strangled.
TL;DR: Moodu Pani is a movie I didn't get to experience in full due to a lack of subtitles, but I don't think it would have made much difference in me finding it aggressively bland.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 899

Monday, August 30, 2021

Census Bloodbath: Blood Pink

Year: 1980
Director: Naosuke Kurosawa
Cast: Erina Miyai, Keijirô Shiga, Yôko Azusa
Run Time: 1 hour 8 minutes

Through the course of this project, we have encountered the ever-elastic slasher film tradition melding with all different kinds of subgenres, from Italian cannibal film to Lifetime movie women's picture to National Lampoon laugh-em-up to Bollywood musical. And while the average slasher film is always in danger of fully crossing the line into softcore, 1980's applies the formula Zoom In: Sex Apartments somewhere that was probably inevitable: the Japanese pinku eiga or "pink films."

I am far from an expert in pink films, and the definition is wider or narrower depending on who you ask, but in essence this subgenre was a set of largely independent softcore and exploitation films that were popular in Japan from the mid-1960's through the 80's. In fact, Zoom In is technically part of a larger franchise (though every movie in the series was completely unrelated, and all the other ones were called Zoom Up), even if it's the only one to take this particular giallo-inspired tack.

It's not surprising that the giallo eventually got roped in, considering the constant unmotivated sex scenes in that genre. All you have to do to make a pinku into a giallo is add some black gloves.

Of course, being a pinku, the plot of Zoom In: Sex Apartments is wildly fucked up. While her biker husband is away at a race, housewife Saeko (Erina Miyai) is raped by a mysterious assailant while on a bike ride. Also, a serial rapist and murderer is stalking the grounds outside her apartment complex, assaulting women and setting them on fire.

This all rattles her, understandably, but doesn't prevent her from striking up an affair with Takaya Nakabayashi (Keijirô Shiga) the ex-boyfriend she abandoned five years ago, who has just returned from America. And also having some chillout sex with her best friend, shopkeeper Sachi (Yôko Azusa) and Sachi's husband Keigo (Ren Seidô). "Sex" meaning lots of boobs flapping around and extensive licking of every body part that isn't an internal organ, including almost no full frontal nudity.

What do you think this is, a PORNO?

I've really had to assess my relationship with rape in cinema since starting this project (something poor naïve freshman-in-college Brennan had no idea he'd brought upon himself when he started this project). I could - and might - write a whole thesis about it at some point, but I'll boil it down to what is necessary for this review. My subjective response to rape in film, even the healthy and normal rape fantasies presented in some porn and exploitation films, is negative. I can accept its existence, but I'm not going to like it. That said, Zoom In: Sex Apartments is relatively responsible with what it depicts and what it doesn't in rape scenes, shading more toward the relative visual subtlety of something like Eyes of a Stranger or Revenge

The same can not be said for the sexual violence involved in the kills themselves, which is effectively harrowing, but extremely questionable (although less questionable than the centerpiece kill in Patrick Still Lives, which unfortunately isn't saying much). The bottom line is, even though this isn't a film I would recommend to begin with, any viewer must approach with extreme discretion and a very firm grip on their own philosophies around and reactions to such material.

Thankfully, the film backloads its most consensual material, where it settles into a groove of what I like to call "erotic camp," in which the film seems to take place in an off-kilter, through-the-looking-glass world where sex is always around the next corner and literally any stimulus can make somebody horny (including, in one especially memorable moment, the spontaneous combustion of a pregnant lady).

Never show this woman 28 Days Later.

Also, weirdly, of the softcore slashers I've covered recently, Zoom In actually has the most focus on its slasher subplot than any of them. It's not particularly good (the killer drops his case of evidence and it explodes all over the floor no fewer than six times), but at least it's committed to what it's doing! And this film came early enough that it owes more to the films of Dario Argento than those of Sean S. Cunningham, leading to some truly beautiful camera compositions in the narrative moments.

The design of the no man's land of arid dirt and garbage around the apartment complex creates a spectacularly alienating setting, and there are at least five shots that I'd call "beautiful" without hesitation. My favorite is a shot of Saeko's eye reflected in her open compact, which has fallen in the dirt, but here's another memorable one:

This aesthetic instinct comes to the fore most prominently in the final ten minutes, when Saeko descends into a pyschosexual phantasmagoria of madness where her erotic desires leave trails of flame behind her, culminating in a hallucinogenic sex scene with a pair of Takayas in a burning-down room. It doesn't make a lick of sense, but hey, neither does Suspiria.

The aesthetic is unfortunately the only interesting thing in the movie, however. I was toying with giving this a score that was one point higher, but then I remembered that a sex murder movie where the sex is either alarming or boring and the murder is either alarming or offscreen probably isn't worth rewarding.

Killer: Takaya Nakabayashi (Keijirô Shiga)
Final Girl: Saeko (Erina Miyai)
Best Kill: None of these kills are pleasant to watch, but during the murder of the Piano Sensei, there is a cool aesthetic moment of hands punching through the paper panels of a shoji sliding door.
Sign of the Times: One of the girls swans about in a pair of skintight pink leggings and a shiny silver jacket.
Scariest Moment: Saeko's attacker runs a piano hammer down her face, threatening to pierce her with it.
Weirdest Moment: A young woman who witnesses one of the murders at the local dump starts to eat food out of the garbage like it's popcorn while she's watching.

Champion Dialogue: "Take a good look! I'm a killer rapist now!"
Body Count: 6; and I'm including Takaya, even though the ending - which is most likely a fantasy - isn't exactly clear about him.
  1. Schoolgirl is burned alive via the crotch.
  2. Jungle Gym Girl is murdered offscreen.
  3. Piano Sensei is shoved into a trash incinerator.
  4. Garbage Girl and
  5. Takaya fall to their deaths from the roof.
  6. Pregnant Lady spontaneously combusts in what may be a dream but isn't really presented as such.
TL;DR: Zoom In: Sex Apartments is a particularly tasteless sex murder movie, but it has an unusual commitment to interesting imagery in its narrative moments.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1124

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Census Bloodbath: Run Of The Mill

Year: 1980
Director: Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay
Cast: Navin Nischol, Vidya Sinha, Kaajal Kiran
Run Time: 2 hours 12 minutes

Well, hello there 1980. Now that we're done covering all the films of 1983, I figured the time was ripe to swing back around and catch somme films that I missed in my first pass of slasher research way back in 2013. I have now completed my second and third (hopefully final) pass at that research, so I've discovered a whopping 18 films from '80, '81, and '82 that I missed in my initial investigation, and thus we need to swoop back and cover. A lot of those films are foreign titles that slipped past some America-centric lists I was starting with, and the very first one we're here to cover, Saboot (AKA The Evidence),  is indeed an entry from the grand old land of Bollywood!

This does of course mean that there are some musical numbers in this one, and I truly think pretty much every slasher could be improved with the addition of musical numbers.

Being a pre-Friday the 13th slasher film, and one from the Bollywood sphere that is more interested in drama and romance anyway, Saboot is a very unique hybrid with a particularly labyrinthine plot. I'm gonna try to get us through just the basics as quickly as possible.

Asha (Vidya Sinha), is married to Vikas (no actor listed in English credits), who dies in plane crash. Then her father Dharamdas (no actor listed) is murdered by Dhanraj (Prem Chopra), the man who wants to buy Vikas' mill, but was turned down after taken out a massive loan. His accomplices are the sexy singer Rita (Padma Khanna), former mill manager Ashok Gupta (Narendra Nath), and former secretary Manmohan Saxena (Roopesh Kumar). 

Naturally they begin to die one by one after witnessing what appears to be the undead corpse of Dharamdas, which is being investigated by Inspector Anand (Navin Nischol) - Vikas' childhood best friend, who is currently deep in the process of falling in love with Asha's sister Kajaal (Kaajal Kiran). Comedy cops Constable Dukhiram (Rajendranath Malhotra) and Constable Sukhiram (Paintal) are also on the scene to help in no way whatsoever. Ajit Roy (Om Shivpuri), who is either the sisters' uncle, or one of the many elder men respectfully called uncle, is the main suspect, and he doesn't do much in the way of clearing up that suspicion. 

Not that Anand is noticing much of anything that isn't Kajaal.

Now I will be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about Bollywood cinema before 2000. I don't have a lot of context for what the industry may have looked like outside of this particular film at the time, but from what I understand, Saboot is structured pretty traditionally and is a teensy bit more low budget, but by what degree I couldn't begin to guess. But what I do know is slasher films, and Saboot is certainly doing something interesting even if it isn't particularly focused on being one.

The kills themselves aren't particularly well-executed (it's a lot of the "blood splatters on the wall" type cutaways), but the thing is that they all take place in some pretty great setpieces. We start from the murder on the train car, peak at a victim in a falling elevator (sure, it's no Damien: Omen II, but you gotta love a falling elevator kill), but don't drop too far when that one is followed by a death in a frozen storage facility full of Stonehenge-like blocks of ice that turn everything into a prismatic funhouse. 

There are even some moments that are - dare I say it - kind of spooky! It's not a scary movie (maybe 1 in 100 slasher films actually are), but there is effective macabre imagery left and right, largely as the image of Dharamdas's corpse - which is basically just a zombie mask over bloody clothes - is tastefully abstracted by shadow and lightning or viewed through a kaleidoscopic block of ice. There are also some effective nightmare sequences involving a shower head spraying blood, and a severed head under a tea tray.

This is not a picture of anything I'm describing, but it turns out that still frames from a 40-year-old Bollywood horror movie aren't just littered around Google.

So that's the horror part. But we're dealing with Bollywood here, so there's a lot more to talk about. 

Saboot is also an action film. This is another area that has its major flaws (notice how every attacker has their move blocked, then stands perfectly still waiting for the counterattack), but is saved by superlative Bollywood flair. These scenes come out of absolutely nowhere, but anytime your horror-slasher can be livened up by the hero beating up four purse-stealing vagabonds out of nowhere is a good scene.

Saboot is also a comedy. This is the thing it is worst at being, at least across the oceans of cultural standards, personal tastes, and shifting values across time that bring it to me. Comic relief cops are standard in cinema across eras and all over the world, and while Constables Dukhiram and Sukhiram aren't any worse than, say, the ones in The Last House on the Left or Halloween 5, they're certainly not characters I want to spend any time with. Take the joke where Dukhiram offers to cook for Anand. He opens a tray and a live chicken comes flying out. Get it? Isn't he so bad at cooking? It's just not to my taste.

Saboot is also a musical. I've already stated I love the insertion of musical numbers pretty much anywhere, though the ones this film has to offer are pretty anemic. This is the first Bollywood musical I've seen where I haven't wanted to add at least one of the songs to my iTunes library. The one big choreographed production number involves the constables and thus sucks, and the rest is mostly scattered love ballads where the lovers in question smile wanly at one another from across negative space (although one such number is staged in a spooky misty forest while they're searching for the hidden grave of her father, so that's... well it's something).

Saboot is a lot of things, but it doesn't really have the budget to achieve one of them perfectly, let alone all of them. For instance, this is a movie where time wantonly slips from day to night like our characters are a bunch of Billy Pilgrims unstuck in time. At least some of the mistakes fit in with the heightened Bollywood storytelling style: ie. a scene of a lawyer stepping into frame three different times in three consecutive cuts is certainly on purpose and it is terrific, and thus the scenes with random blue or red tint that is probably an accident feel of a piece with it. It's certainly interesting to watch, but with the typical 2 hour plus run time of Bollywood, it's just not fun enough to sit with it quite that long.

Killer: Ajit Roy (Om Shivpuri), though most of the body count deaths are accidental
Final Girl: Kaajal (Kaajal Kiran), I guess - it doesn't really apply here
Best Kill: I can't help it, I love me an elevator kill.
Sign of the Times: While mixing a drink at home, Manmohan sings "Venus," but not the one by Bananarama because it didn't exist yet.
Scariest Moment: The shriveled corpse of Dharamdas appears outside the elevator grate as Manmohan is going downstairs.
Weirdest Moment: Constable Dukhiram goes investigating in the rain while wearing a pair of goggles with little windshield wipers on them.
Champion Dialogue: "Rosy, my darling, my chicken pieces..."
Body Count: 5
    1. Dharamdas is stabbed in the gut and then slashed with a cane sword.
    2. Manmohan is killed in a falling elevator.
    3. Rita is killed offscreen.
    4. Ashok Gupta is attacked by birds and falls onto his own pickaxe.
    5. Dhanraj is shot in the head.
TL;DR: Saboot is attempting to be a lot of things, but doesn't really have the budget to achieve any of them.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1349

Monday, August 23, 2021

Census Bloodbath: 1983 Post Mortem

So here we are at the end of another year of Census Bloodbath. It's been quite a journey to get here, and I would especially like to thank you all for bearing with me during the period of pandemic/job stress where I was unable to write for *checks watch* seven months.

The thing about agreeing to watch all the slasher movies from the 1980's is that there is no definitive resource handily listing them all. So before we dive in, I leave you all with the caveat that some dusty VHS from 1983 might be discovered in a cave somewhere and I'll have to go back and watch it at some point. In fact, my previous post mortems are all about to be amended as I spend the next several weeks going back around the horn to catch up with some slashers that escaped my detection in my first round of research. But I've tightened up my research and selection process considerably and can say with 95% certainty that we've covered every slasher that fits my criteria from the year of our Lord 1983.

So without any further ado, let's spill the guts of '83 and discuss the best and worst the slasher genre had to offer four years in!

1983: Post Mortem

Wow, the slasher genre was especially terrible in 1983, wasn't it? I'm sure I'll be regretting these words once I dive into the direct-to-video hell of the late 80's, but something just feels off about most of these entries. The MPAA crackdown on the genre was in full swing, and the decline that began in 1982 (after the glut of films from the first two years of the decade) sharply dropped to rock bottom. Plus, not one of the big 80's slasher franchises poked its head out during 1983. In fact, the only films here that have any sort of legacy outside of this year is the decades-later Psycho II, Boogeyman II (which literally nobody asked for, and it was mostly footage from The Boogeyman anyway), The House on Sorority Row which got a remake in 2009, and Sleepaway Camp, which would birth itself an anemic quadrilogy, all told.

While I stand by my top 5, the group as a whole is not an altogether inspiring bunch. There are a couple of interesting trends I've noticed cropping up as the decade marches on, however. 

Interesting doesn't always mean "good." The rise of anti-queer sentiment that would dominate the Reagan era can be neatly tracked through films where queer people are either killers or killed, like Sleepaway Camp, Hanging Heart, A Blade in the Dark, Psycho II (if only because of its continued legacy of transphobia), and Momentos de Prazer e Agonia. At least American Nightmare had a queer character (go Dolly!) who they treated with a modicum of respect. Weirdly, Double Exposure, one of the most misogynistic movies in a misogynistic genre has the only gay character that is pretty much unimpeachable. Oh, and also we were pretty keen to be racist against Native Americans this year as well, if Scalps and Sweet 16 have anything to say about it.

In exchange for the vigorous homophobia, we at least also got a glut of films willing to depict bare male flesh hither and thither, so at least there's that. And one absolute positive (though the movies mostly range from unremarkable to unwatchable) is that the world was starting to come together around the slasher, and we got our first entries in the genre from a lot of new territories including Belgium (The Antwerp Killer), Austria (Angst), Sweden (Blödaren), France (Ogroff), England (The Last Night), and Brazil (Momentos de Prazer e Agonia). It's a small world, after all.

The Five Best Slashers of 1983

#5 Deadly Lessons

I feel like there's always at least one TV movie waiting in the wings of every Census Bloodbath year to be absolutely delightful. Sure, the kills pretty much have to be either bloodless or offscreen, but that's kind of what we were getting in the theatrical entries around this time anyway. And Deadly Lessons brings a jam-packed cast (Ally Sheedy! Nancy Cartwright! Bill Paxton! Larry Wilcox! Donna Reed!) to a delightful soapy story of the murderous goings-on at a girls' school where everyone is a red herring and did I mention Donna Reed is there?!

#4 10 to Midnight

10 to Midnight is a bizarre hybrid of the action-thriller and the slasher, much like the previous year's Silent Rage, only instead of Chuck Norris we get a sleepwalking Charles Bronson. I know I'm not exactly selling it, but that combination of subgenres makes this a hotbed of the weirdest impulses of mid-80's filmmaking, and the film is full of odd fillips and weird blind alleys that couldn't have existed outside 1983. Oh, and did I mention the killer is a hot dude who runs around naked? Yeah, I love this movie.

#3 Psycho II

Richard Franklin's Hitchcockian masterpiece Road Games from 1981 got him the gig to helm the long-awaited [sic] sequel to Psycho, and he's such a mastermind he actually made it good, which is something literally nobody could have expected from a sequel to a horror classic that only exists to capitalize on the popularity of the cheap rip-off films it inspired.

#2 Sleepaway Camp

Sleepaway Camp has a complicated history with its queer audiences, but it's nevertheless a schlocktacular camp-fest with creative kills, a dynamic storyline, the backbone to actually murder children, and also James Earl Jones' dad is there! 

#1 The House on Sorority Row

Not only is The House on Sorority Row the best slasher of 1983, it's one of the best slashers of the entire damn decade. The gore isn't quite there, save in one or two key moments, but it's a deliciously high-strung tightrope act of tension, as a group of sorority girls must hide the grisly remains of their house mother during a party. It's a splendid splash of Hitchcockian terror that actually does it better than the explicitly Hitchcock-themed movie at #3, features my new favorite 80's band 4 Out of 5 Doctors in an extended live music performance, and dumps you into a psychotropic nightmare sequence in the third act. What's not to like?

The Five Worst Slashers of 1983

#5 The Antwerp Killer

The Antwerp Killer is under an hour long, and yet it felt like it took a year off my life. It's a haphazard collection of shots that only intermittently cohere into actual scenes.

#4 Blödaren

Blödaren might be more coherent than The Antwerp Killer, but that coherence is in service of one of the most boring, rote slasher films ever conceived. The later, rinse, repeat approach to the body count has never been more tedious than when these Swedish rockers wander into house after house with identical "creepy" production design, then peel off one by one to be murdered without sharing a character trait among them.

#3 Mountaintop Motel Massacre

I do love a "madwoman tears through people in an isolated setting" film, but the kills are so deeply noncommittal and poorly executed that it drains all the energy out of this supremely boring collection of half-assed tropes.

#2 Killing of the Flesh

This movie is far more interested in depicting its characters having sex than having anyone murder anyone else. This giant cast is ripe for some And Then There Were None mayhem, and yet almost none of them die. They do have lots and lots of boring sex though.

#1 A Night to Dismember

To be fair, A Night to Dismember is assembled from the footage that remained after a disgruntled film technician destroyed most of the reels. To be unfair, they shouldn't have asked anybody to watch it. 

1983 Body Count: 234 (8 decapitations and 6 slit throats)

That's an average of 7.5 per movie, which is about on par with every year we've done so far (except 1981, which broke the needle at 8.25).

Highest Body Count: 18 (Boogeyman II), although 8 are flashbacks to the original film, so if we're counting contiguous kills, then the number is 17 (Skullduggery).

Lowest Body Count: 3 (Angst, The Antwerp Killer)

Angst justifies its low body count by being absolutely bone-chilling. The Antwerp Killer... does not.

Five Best Kills

#5 The Triple Sex Kebab (Skullduggery)

There's literally nothing good about Skullduggery, so of course this fun kill has to be compromised by the fact that it begins as a threat of sexual assault, but the one-upping of Friday the 13th Part 2 and Bay of Blood's sex kebab must be respected.

#4 The Floating Coffin (Frightmare)

I'm gonna be honest. This one pretty much only made it because there is a major dearth of good gory deaths this year. But a girl being slammed repeatedly by a giant floating coffin being used as a battering ram is at least something you're not gonna get anywhere else.

#3 The Vanity Kill (A Blade in the Dark)

This kill has a lot of skin-crawling beats and moments of terror, but it begins with the woman's hand being pinioned to a counter with a kitchen knife, and watching her struggle and strain against the blade while her hand threatens to split in half is... disturbing.

#2 Ruining Miles' Smile (Psycho II)

One point for including a famous actress in her past-her-prime era so she was willing to do pretty much anything. Another point for the fucking incredible image you see above you.

#1 The Fountain Drop (Mausoleum)

Mausoleum was a mostly fun early entry in the supernatural slasher realm, and this kill where a man is telekinetically dropped off a balcony and onto a mall fountain is the most fun it has with its outré gory style.

Best Decapitation: The House on Sorority Row

A severed head is only as good as the receptacle it's dispensed into, and a toilet is such a wonderfully perverse place for it.

Three Best Final Girls

#3 Louise (American Nightmare)

American Nightmare is a film that astonishingly treats sex workers (and queer characters) like human beings, and Louise manages to be a stock "stripper with a heart of gold" character who proves that the two qualities aren't mutually exclusive. She doesn't need to stop being a stripper in order to prove her worth as a human, and I just think that's neat.

#2 Marci Burke (Sweet 16)

Dana Kimmell, who had her first turn as a Final Girl in the previous year's Friday the 13th Part 3-D, puts on the hat again as the Nancy Drew-esque teen sleuth who's out to crack the case. I've chosen to find the slathering of rouge they use to make her look like a pre-teen delightful.

#1 Stefanie Aggiston (Deadly Lessons)

OK, maybe 1983 didn't have much in the way of Final Girls, but it did have its share of Nancy Drews! Unfortunately the film drops the whodunit angle for the third act, but Stephanie and her team of gal pals drive a lot of the fun of the first two acts with their Scooby Doo Gang antics.

Three Worst Final Girls

#3 Jun (Sketch)

This one is really just about wasted potential. Sketch might have been actually great if they had made Jun the protagonist and focused on her separating her post-traumatic hallucinations from the reality of being stalked by a killer. But instead the film focuses on her husband, a bunch of rowdy annoying teens, and shoves her offscreen for the entire third act, not even depicting the attack that hospitalizes her, which should have been the crux of the film.

#2 Marília (Momentos de Prazer e Agonia)

Marília is much too busy helping her ladyfriends shower to notice that there's a killer around. That's what you get for being the Final Girl in a softcore slasher.

#1 Christie Parson (Mortuary)

Prazer e Agonia might actually be a softcore slasher, but Mortuary gives it a run for its money, because all it asks it Final Girl to do is wander around in a gauzy nightgown. She isn't even an active player in the third act. In fact, she is presumed dead until about 15 seconds before the end of the film. What an absolute botch job.

Four Best Killers

#4 The Killer (Sledgehammer)

Sledghammer is a ridiculous bad movie, but that mask though! And the killer's impossibly tall stature gives him a leg up (literally) in being imposing in spite of everything around him.

#3 Conrad Radzoff (Frightmare)

Another place where Frightmare wouldn't have been included if its peers were any better, but hey! Can't go wrong with an undead Vincent Price knockoff hamming it up in a giant manor house.

#2 Norman Bates (Psycho II)

Even though [SPOILERS] he's not the killer for the bulk of the murders in the movie, you can't turn away one of the big guns!

#1 Warren Stacy (10 to Midnight)

He's naked while he kills. How many times do I have to tell you this before you understand?!

Four Worst Killers

#4 The Samurai (Blood Beat)

This incredible traditional samurai outfit would have easily landed its killer on the "best" list if he wasn't constantly surrounded by wobbly wobbly 80's light effects that made it impossible to gaze upon his glory.

#3 Elliot Scott (Hanging Heart)

This killer is Too Gay To Function, as in, he's a homosexual so he must be psychotic, obviously. Whee.

#2 Adam (Skullduggery)

You know that fun thing where you based your entire incoherent anti-D&D propaganda slasher around a charisma black hole? Yeah, don't do that again.

#1 The Bleeder (Blödaren)

The Bleeder has no real backstory (at least not a good one), no real mystery, and really just looks like a rejected Chris Elliott character running around bumping off Swedish rockers.

Handsomest Lad: Barry Wyatt, Hanging Heart

Hanging Heart might ultimately be homophobic in its messaging, but much in the way of old biblical epics that could show all manner of debauchery as long as the people doing it were punished in the end, we get so much delicious homoeroticism to contend with before the ultimate sucker punch.

Handsomest Lass: Lynda Day George, Mortuary

(Right) You just gotta love a woman who is only seen at bedtime and sporting a full soap opera face of makeup.

Best Location: The London Bridge, Olivia

Olivia was shot both at the actual London Bridge and the London Bridge replica in Lake Havasu City, and the magic of location really does lend a sheen of elegance that the movie certainly doesn't deserve.

Best Title: A Night to Dismember

C'mon. It's cute!

Three Best Costumes

#3 The Jingle Bell Legwarmers (Blödaren)

Hot tip: When you're running from a killer, maybe take off the legwarmers with the jingle bells sewn in, so he can't hear your every step.

#2 Baseball "Uniforms" (Sleepaway Camp)

No comment.

#1 The Hag Mask (Curtains)

It's an iconic image for a reason. A splendid outfit that goes with everything, but especially a wickedly curved blade.

Best Poster: The House on Sorority Row

Sure, it looks like a romance novel cover and doesn't sell the content of the movie at all, but I love the misty lusciousness of it, and it should never be ignored when a horror poster is dominated by a color that isn't black.

Best Song: "Melissa" Sweet 16

OK, "best" is a strong word. But that part one minute in where Frank Sparks starts crooning "MelissAAAAAAAAAA!" like his throat is going to slide out of his mouth and strangle itself, it's impossible not to sing along.

Best Score: Olivia

The score for Olivia isn't available anywhere, and there aren't even any clips to share that feature it. But alas, it is quite good if you're willing to commit to sitting through all 85 mediocre minutes of it. Jerry Goldsmith's son Joel was the composer here, and he delivers a Carpenterian score that defies logic and the laws of physics, because instead of ripping off Halloween (1978) like all the other slashers out there, he seems to be ripping off Halloween (2018). It's full of aching, droning lamentations and lush orchestral moments that really make you want to call the film "atmospheric" even if nothing else in it is delivering on that level.

Elite Champion Dialogue: "Without people, there wouldn't be... anybody." (Boogeyman II)
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