Monday, October 31, 2016

The Night HE Came Home

Year: 2009
Director: Rob Zombie
Cast: Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane, Malcolm McDowell
Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Trick or treat, mother f**kers! It may have taken a year longer than it was supposed to, but my All Hallow’s Eve present for you all is the final entry in our Halloween marathon! To be completely honest, I would have gotten to it sooner, but I’ve seen Rob Zombie’s Halloween II before and knew better than to approach it unarmed. It took me so long to psychologically prepare that it was almost the next October, so I decided to save it up to use as an endcap to my all-too brief Exorcist marathon.

[EN: For the record, this review is of the Director’s Cut, which seems to be the version that’s most readily available these days.]

So, Halloween II. Back in the days when a remake could actually get a theatrical sequel, not that it happened much anyway. The only one I can recall is the prequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, and then a handful of DTV follow-ups to Fright Night and I Spit On Your Grave for some reason. I can see why Rob Zombie’s Halloween was one of the lucky few. As shrill and mean-spirited as it is, it struck a chord with the edgier youth demographic. It’s popular with a small but rabid group, and it’s the prerogative of the Akkad family to keep pumping these films out as long as there are wallets to receive them. But boy do I wish they hadn’t made Halloween II, because that story had nowhere to go and it does exactly that.

At least there’s no Ken Foree diarrhea scene.

In Halloween II, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is living with the only other survivor of the Michal Myers (Tyler Mane) rampage two years ago – Annie (Danielle Harris) – and her dad, Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif). Still dealing with the trauma of that fateful Halloween night and newly reeling from the revelation in fame-hungry Dr. Loomis’ (Malcolm McDowell) tell-all book that she’s Michael Myers’ sister, Laurie goes through life vaulting between the equally pleasant poles of Nasal Shouting and Complete Emotional Breakdown. 

She’s plagued by nightmares, and of course Michael picks this moment to show up again, emerging from the backwoods looking beardy, filthy, and uncannily like Rob Zombie himself. He wreaks havoc by killing her new friends whose names I didn’t bother to learn, as well as some amusingly random townsfolk. So yeah, Michael is haunted by visions of his mom (Sheri Moon Zombie), who’s convincing him to kill people, kidnap his sister, and also hang with a dream horse, because hey- Rob Zombie had to fit his wife in there somewhere, I guess.

And she needed an excuse to dress like she was going to a Fleetwood Mac concert.

One thing I will say about Halloween II is that it improves greatly upon its predecessor, though that bar is so low you could crawl over it. But in attempting to craft his twisted new mythology for the Myers siblings, Zombie finally lets go of the alit vestiges of John Carpenter’s property, freeing himself from slavishly copying the original film, only with more Annoying. The unsettlingly brutal kills are toned down, as is the lewd clowning of every single character. In fact, everything is toned down, because Halloween II is barely a movie.

Once you get through the 25-minute dream sequence that opens the movie (it’s supposed to be jarring, but it’s mostly just an excuse to replace exposition with chase sequences and give Octavia Spencer one of her final sassy Black Coworker roles before she starred in The Help – this scene is so obviously not trying that her character is actually named “Octavia”), you’re stuck on a rockabilly merry-go-round for an hour, cycling endlessly between any of these three scenes:

1) Dr. Loomis is a giant, throbbing asshole to his publicist while on tour for his book, simultaneously adding nothing to the narrative and demolishing his character from the ground up.
2) Laurie Strode shrieks/cries/vomits at/on her friends/therapist/self.
3) Somebody around town does vulgar, despicable things for 2 ½ minutes, then Michael Myers teleports in and murders them.

The actual plot, insofar as this shattered pile of unfathomable motivations can be called a “plot,” doesn’t kick in until the final 20 minutes. It’s actually pretty reminiscent of the dire Halloween 5, down to the detail that the characters go to a pointless barn dance in the beginning of Act 3, only to lazily drift over to the true location of the finale. And then it’s just… over.

I guess I should thank it for not sticking around.

Although Halloween II is less grating overall than Halloween 2007, that doesn’t mean Zombie’s not up to his usual “Tobe Hooper turned up to 11” tricks. Every single cluttered, dingy set either looks like a punk club’s bathroom or an episode of Atlanta Trailer Park Hoarders. And every single character is an unlikeable fountain of vitriol, whether they’re facing a serial killer or eating pizza at the kitchen table. People in Halloween II don’t talk. They either shout or they whine or they die. There’s no in between, no calm before the storm. Everything is just storm.

It certainly doesn’t help that the ensemble has less of a grip on the material this time around. Harris and Taylor-Compton can’t find the shreds of humanity they clung to in their roles last time, because there aren’t any. And Malcolm McDowell is completely wasted in a role that violates continuity to resurrect him, only to have him do nothing useful at all (to be fair, that’s  pretty much what they did with Donald Pleasance the last three times). Then there’s Sheri Moon Zombie, who talks to her onscreen son like he’s a girlfriend she ran into a Starbucks. Even the infallible Brad Dourif can’t find his footing and serves up a huge tray of ham during a supposedly heartfelt moment.

While I could go on and on about the obvious metaphors, the mask that makes Myers look like Sideshow Bob, or the ultimate violation of the character by having him speak, and any number of vicious complaints, let’s end the review on an uncharacteristically positive note, shall we? Rob Zombie really does know how to shoot moonlit streets at night, and Halloween II is chock full of beautiful suburban imagery with pristine, almost elegant lighting. So that’s nice, I guess. It certainly helps in making this sequel much more bearable It’s undoubtedly a bad movie, but its bisected narrative helps it fly by and the jagged tonal edges are at least sanded down a little bit. ¡Viva Halloween II!

Killer: Michael Myers (Tyler Mane)
Final Girl: Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton)
Best Kill: Michael Myers dies, meaning we won’t have to deal with this incarnation of him anymore.
Sign of the Times: The fact that this remake sequel even exists is a pretty clear sign it’s the 2000’s.
Scariest Moment: After a car crash, a paramedic spits blood from his mouth and shouts the F word for approximately five minutes, and you realize this is how the movie is gonna be the whole time.
Weirdest Moment: Weird Al Yankovic has a cameo in this movie
Champion Dialogue: “Bad taste is the petrol that drives the American dream.”
Body Count: 19
  1. Coroner Hooks dies in a car crash.
  2. Gary Scott is decapitated with a glass shard.
  3. Nurse Octavia is stabbed to death.
  4. Nurse has her eyes gouged out offscreen.
  5. Buddy is axed in the back.
  6. Floyd is impaled on antlers.
  7. Sherman is stabbed to death.
  8. Jazlean is stabbed to death. 
  9. Howard has his face stamped in.
  10. Lou has his head smashed into a wall.
  11. Misty Dawn is repeatedly mashed into a glass case.
  12. Wolfie is stabbed in the back.
  13. Harley is strangled.
  14. Deputy Neale has his neck snapped.
  15. Annie is stabbed to death.
  16. Mya is stabbed in the stomach.
  17. Becks is thrown through a windshield.
  18. Dr. Loomis is stabbed in the gut.
  19. Michael Myers is shot to death.
TL;DR: Halloween II is boring, vulgar, and mishandled, but at least it's better than the last one.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1366
Reviews In This Series
Halloween (Carpenter, 1978)
Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Wallace, 1982)
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Little, 1988)
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (Othenin-Girard, 1989)
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Chappelle, 1995)
Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (Miner, 1998)
Halloween: Resurrection (Rosenthal, 2002)
Halloween (Zombie, 2007)
Halloween II (Zombie, 2009)
Halloween (Green, 2018)
Halloween Kills (Green, 2021)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Devil You Know

Year: 2005
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Gabriel Mann, Clara Bellar
Run Time: 1 hour 57 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Now here’s the moment I’ve been waiting for! It was hard to get through that Exorcist: The Beginning review with a straight face, because I knew this twist was waiting in the wings. As many film nerds probably know, but I was secretly hoping you didn’t, The Beginning isn’t just one movie. It’s the top of a massive iceberg that reveals the lunatic depths of the Hollywood system.

You see, the Renny Harlin film actually began its life as an Exorcist prequel set in Africa and starring Stellan Skarsgård as Father Merrin. So far, so good, but get this: It was originally directed by Paul Schrader (the Taxi Driver and Raging Bull screenwriter who went on to direct such illustrious masterworks as The Canyons), but when he turned in his completed cut to the studio, they recoiled like a vampire at a garlic factory. Where was the blood they wanted? What was this (urp) psychological drama that was unspooling before their very eyes? Instead of scrapping the project, they kept the leading, setting, and basic plot as well as some choice selections from the original footage, hired a sexier supporting cast, ladled heaps of CGI carnage onto the project, and breathed a sigh of relief.

Then, when The Beginning T-boned the box office and began hemorrhaging money, they gave Schrader a pittance to complete his effects, and quietly released his original cut as Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist nine months later, hoping nobody would notice. And that’s how we got one of the most fascinating sets of films in Hollywood history. Where else will you find an example of two directors approaching the exact same material to make two completely different movies? It’s an exciting experiment in auteur theory: how did these two men apply their own personalities and artistic desires to the film? We almost never get the opportunity to compare and contrast directorial style like this, and it’s only incidental that the films both kinda suck.

Come on, you had to have expected that at this point.

I thought the plot section might be a breeze, highlighting a couple differences from The Beginning’s plot an calling it a day, but Dominion is such a fundamentally separate entity that I’ll have to start from scratch. Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) is a lapsed priest, having begun to doubt his faith after surviving the atrocities of the Nazi regime in Holland. Already the film is more coherent, presenting – wonder of wonders – a complete scene and using it to inform the character’s motivations later on. That may seem like screenwriting 101, but we’re dealing with Renny Harlin here.

Anyway, Merrin is now an archaeologist working at a dig uncovering a buried church in an African valley. Instead of the spooky, torchlit Indiana Jones funhouse of The Beginning, it’s a bright, clean building that’s eerie for why it’s there, not how it looks. Point Dominion. Opening the church seems to once again (or rather, once before) have unleashed an ancient evil upon the valley, targeting the innocent missionary Father Francis (Gabriel Mann), the camp doctor Rachel (Clara Bellar, who The Beginning recast with an actress more willing to wear low-cut tops), and especially Cheche (Billy Crawford), a wild, deformed boy who the villagers believe to be cursed, who Rachel is attempting to rehabilitate.

Quite literally, all hell breaks loose, as tensions erupt between the British soldiers and African tribesmen, a series of grisly murders rock the community, and Cheche’s accelerated healing turns out to be the result of a demon who challenges everything Merrin believes in.

Or rather, doesn’t believe in.

What Paul Schrader has delivered here is certainly worth closer examination. Although Dominion is only a truly great film when viewed in comparison to the maelstrom we call Exorcist: The Beginning, the psychological and philosophical concepts developed in the script are worthy of inclusion in the grand scheme of this disproportionately heady horror franchise. But the same could be said of Exorcist II: The Heretic, and look where that got us. Good ideas do not a good movie make, especially in the horror genre.

Dominion’s first priority is to provoke thought, not to scare us, but it does neither particularly well. Part of the blame can be shifted to the sawn-off post-production budget, a limp affair that resulted in a pack of CGI hyenas so lamentably ill-rendered that they’re essentially just one big pixel each. But the leading cause of the film’s total inability to translate from script to screen is the acting. I don’t know if this speaks to Schrader’s facility with his performers or if Renny Harlin’s casting director made the right call, but the ensemble here is uniformly unimpressive.

Skarsgård is a bit forgettable in both movies because Young Father Merrin is a bland character no matter who spices the broth, but he’s by far the best asset of the cast. Clara Bellar graces the screen with the delicacy and emotional resonance of a cheese sandwich, Gabriel Mann chews the scenery so thoroughly that it has to be inspected for termites, and the various extras called upon to recite dialogue are gloriously abysmal. The man tasked with playing a Nazi psychopath is so clearly uncomfortable with his role that he speaks like he’s giving a museum tour, and the crowd he torments are hardly any better, their bored utterances completely undermining the riveting tension captured in the dialogue.

“Holocaust? Oh, that seems pretty bad, huh?”

This tin of ham they call a cast strangles the script, which really does have some memorable moments. As tensions rise and people fall victim to the evil blossoming in the hearts of man, some truly shocking stuff goes down, stuff which Renny Harlin would cherry pick and toss into the barrel of The Beginning without actually considering if they fit into his version of the story (spoiler alert: they don’t). And although the climactic exorcism is probably the weakest of the entire series (discounting The Heretic, which didn’t f**king have one), it at least finally abandons the pretense that these scenes are anything but a poorly disguised conduit for theological pontification.

So. Dominion is a more coherent film than Exorcist: The Beginning. Which isn’t really a fair metric, considering that Salvador Dalí has made more coherent films than Exorcist: The Beginning. With the same script and a different director (a third director – could you even imagine? What if Hollywood stopped everything and only made Exorcist prequels from now on?), Dominion could have been a good, even great film. But as it stands, it’s just a rather interesting footnote in a long-running series of flops.

TL;DR: Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist is a better film that its jagged clone, but it's still a weak entry in an even weaker franchise.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1153
Reviews In This Series
The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973)
Exorcist II: The Heretic (Boorman, 1977)
The Exorcist III (Blatty, 1990)
Exorcist: The Beginning (Harlin, 2004)
Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (Schrader, 2005)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cardboard Science: Patience, Young Grasshopper

Year: 1957
Director: Bert I. Gordon
Cast: Peter Graves, Peggie Castle, Morris Ankrum
Run Time: 1 hour 16 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/A

For our third Cardboard Science review in this Halloween crossover with Hunter Allen over at Kinemalogue, he couldn’t have picked a better title: Beginning of the End. And by “title,” I’m literally referring to the name of the movie, because for once this crossover is actually concluding on time, in the month of October. Bust out the ticker tape! I’m so proud. He could have picked a better movie, but Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Godzilla were so solid, I would have even been happy if the last movie was Rob Zombie’s Halloween. And – to be honest – while Beginning of the End is a bit of cliché waffle, it’s not half bad as a sugary slice of vintage entertainment.

But hopefully not TOO sugary, or it’ll attract bugs. 

In Beginning of the End, intrepid reporter Audrey Aimes (Peggie Castle) hits a road block on the way to a story. A literal road block. The national guard is preventing entry to Ludlow, Illinois as the town has been mysteriously leveled overnight, the entire population having vanished. She investigates the local agricultural research center to see if they caused it because Science is Bad, and teams up with the handsome entomologist Dr. Ed Wainwright (Peter Graves), whereupon they discover that giant, irradiated locusts are rampaging through the countryside. They must race to find a solution for this modern plague before the military drops a bomb on Chicago.

You know, as you do.

Beginning of the End is a thoroughly typical 50’s B-movie. Two patriotic civilians stand up to defend their country, badly composited creatures emerge from behind things on the horizon, and the strong female character is calmly tossed into a corner to twiddle her thumbs when the going gets tough. Been there, done that. 

And what it does, it doesn’t do especially well. Giant insects were done better in Them!, a flirtatious couple solving a deadly mystery was done better in the first half of The Giant Claw, and radioactive subtext was already perfectly crystallized in Godzilla. Nevertheless, these tropes are put to work to create a reasonably fun exercise in goofy sci-fi. The living definition of “well, that escalated quickly,” Beginning of the End careens from its gonzo opening sequence (a classic make-out point sequence is interrupted by ten feet of mandibular death) to a town being destroyed (the military arrives less than 3 minutes in, a record time) to grasshoppers swarming the South side of Chicago, and it has a deliciously bonkers good time doing it.

As always, the best effects sequences are left to the imagination, ousted by the budget, and when they do arrive they’re pretty damn shoddy, even on the sliding scale of 50’s B-movies. But the flick, from schlock maestro Bert I. Gordon, is nonetheless resolutely charming. It pulls you in on the level of pure cheese (for the dozen locusts killed during the climax, they endlessly reuse one of three shots), but it does have a little to offer for the non-ironic viewer.

As if there were such a thing. This is 2016, for crying out loud.

I’m thinking particularly of a scene where Our Hero is experimenting on a captured locust, trying to find the right frequency to lure its brethren to their doom. As the clock starts ticking down, he tries higher and higher pitches, the warbling siren getting more and more agitated, producing the same feeling in the viewer. It’s a truly effective bit of mood creation, and a wonderfully intense scene.

And I must admit, when the locusts interact with miniatures of buildings and city streets, the mostly spotty effects are quite convincing. That really helps increase the credibility of the insects as an actual threat, because their guileless, limpid grasshopper eyes are hardly menacing. Does this aid the feeble metaphor of America being visited with a modern plague in response to Science’s hubris? Hell no, especially considering that it lauds the very man who caused the problem in the first place, albeit inadvertently. But at least they work in any capacity.

Beginning of the End winds up being mostly forgettable thanks to its paper-thin characters, which are bland even by the standards of Cardboard Science (our leads don’t even kiss at the end, because in order to have a romantic subplot, you need to have any sort of chemistry with at least one character trait between them). But it’s certainly a trip down cinema’s memory lane that I didn’t mind taking. If the other two flicks we covered this month were like Steven Spielberg epics, Beginning of the End was at least a solid Peter Berg.

That which is indistinguishable from magic:
  • Science only takes place in labs with bubbling beakers and test tubes, I don’t care whether you’re studying bugs or clouds or psychology.
  • They make such a huge deal in the first act about grasshoppers perishing without access to food that you’ think it would be an actual plot point.
The morality of the past, in the future!:
  • Audrey gives her word that she will hold off on reporting the story, so the General immediately lets her into a Top Secret meeting. I suppose it’s not like she could Tweet what was going on, but that’s quite a level of trust.
  • One of the characters is a deaf-mute, which is first used as a source of tension as a terrified Audrey desperately attempts to understand why he’s not listening to her, after which point he becomes a quaint little sidekick, treated with the same cutesy head-patting as a dog in a bow tie. The 50’s, everyone!
  • I love the assertion in 50’s movies that every building, no matter how confidential the work done inside, announces itself with a huge white sign.
  • I’m pretty sure you don’t retract a military order with the phrase “mission cancelled.”
TL;DR: Beginning of the End is a typical but charming 50's B-picture.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1008
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)

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)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Census Bloodbath: 1981 Post Mortem

If you're new to Census Bloodbath, click here.

1981: Post Mortem

That’s a wrap on 1981 slashers! Another Census Bloodbath year has come and gone, and it only took a decade or so for me to finish it. Things have been rough, you guys. But you know what that means? It’s time for another sweet, sweet post-mortem post, dissecting the best and worst that the year had to offer!

1981 is typically hailed as the Golden Year for slasher films, and it’s certainly true that the relatively high quality batch (everything is relative when you’re talking slashers) this year cemented in the format of what we’d be seeing at least until 1984, the end of the first wave of the slasher subgenre.

The fast-tracked Friday the 13th Part 2 opened the floodgates for dozens of quickie sequels, including Halloween II later that very year. And holiday horror was still going strong, adding Valentine’s Day, graduation day, and birthdays (in two separate entries) onto the Calendar of Dread. We even get our first parody of the genre, indicating that the formula was already well understood by audiences at the time.

And it looks like we’re finally seeing the last dregs of the seedy grindhouse genre get swept down the drain, with sparse, rapey entries like Eyes of a Stranger and Lady Stay Dead hammering the last nails into that sub-subgenres coffin.

The really weird thing about 1981 is that the MPAA was already starting to crack down on the excessive gore that came to define the slasher genre but was never particularly prevalent thanks to censors. Only The Burning, The Prowler, Absurd, and Halloween II feature a plethora of outré, bloody kills, wheras the rest of the genre was mostly content with typical bloodless knifings. The genre had yet to become desperate, so there wasn’t a ton of creativity required.

Although, in true Part 2 fashion, 1981 features a much higher body count than 1980. The body counts of individual films still haven’t risen to truly extravagant levels (the average is about 9 per film), but it’s a promising uptick for a bright, bloody future.

UPDATE 4/21/2022: I have since viewed an additional 8 films from 1981 that escaped my initial round of research. The body count numbers have been updated to reflect this. Had I seen it before I made this list, Wolf/Srigala most likely would have edged out The Demon as the #5 worst slasher of the year.

The Five Best Slashers of 1981

#5 Halloween II

It’s not as classy as the original Halloween, but when else has a trashy slashfest been given this type of budget, and ace cinematographer Dean Cundey to boot? The flick is riddled with flaws (C’mon, Jamie Lee, get out of bed! And get a wig that doesn’t look like you pulled bristles off a broom and glued them to your skull!), but it’s slick, sleazy, and gleefully gory. Plus it feature three distinct deaths by explosion. What more could a fella want?

Read my original review here.

#4 Happy Birthday to Me

The poster advertises “six of the most bizarre murders you’ll ever see” and for once the movie delivers. This Canadian gem is as cornball as it gets, but its raucous, creative kills and Scooby Doo mystery elements make it one for the history books.

Read my original review here.

#3 Night School

Oh, Night School. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve rhapsodized about Night School, I’d be reimbursed for the dismayingly high price of the DVD. The new Census Bloodbath slasher that I’ve rewatched the most since checking it out (in fact, it’s the only one I’ve rewatched), Night School is a delightfully sleazy tale with a terrific faceless killer, engaging human characters, and a playful sense of humor that relies on the audience’s knowledge of the genre to subvert expectations time and time again. The only reason it’s not number one on this list is that it’s a wee bit too classy and focused on police procedural to earn standing as a bona fide slasher.

Read my original review here.

#2 Road Games

I knew that I couldn’t go wrong popping in a Jamie Lee Curtis horror movie, but I never could have expected what I got. The few kills are terribly chaste and Curtis retreats offscreen for 50% of the runtime, but instead of ruining the film, it opens it up to become perhaps the best Hitchcockian thriller of the 1980’s. Stacy Keach is dazzling as an affable man slowly losing his composure over the course of a long road trip, and the device of tucking the already overfamiliar serial killer plot inside a series of highway games is pure genius.

Read my original review here.

#1 My Bloody Valentine

I hate to lead with a standard, but My Bloody Valentine still has name value despite not being attached to a sprawling franchise for a reason. It has a playful killer in an iconic costume, an unparalleled sense of place, and (in the Unrated Cut) a heaping helping of some of the best, bloodiest kills on the market. Usually when a killer mostly dispatches teens with the same weapon, in this case a pickaxe, things can get a little monotonous. That surely ain’t so in MBV, which sparkles with relentless creativity. My heart belongs to the dearly departed of Valentine Bluffs.

Read my original review here.

The Five Worst Slashers of 1981

#5 The Demon

The reason The Demon sucks so hard is that there’s so much potential to be good. But an awesome Final Girl sequence and a genuinely sweet romance can’t overcome The Demon’s murky, tension-free killings and general incoherence.

Read my original review here.

#4 Don't Go in the Woods... Alone!

More proof that a fun title and poster generally reflect that more thought was put into the marketing than the film itself, as they desperately tried to figure out how to sell this cheap, overstuffed, but underwritten monstrosity.

Read my original review here.

#3 Absurd

Although it’s purportedly a sequel to 1980’s Anthropophagus, Absurd is that film’s complete antithesis: an incoherent, plodding Italian programmer that lives up to tis title.

Read my original review here.

#2  A Day of Judgment

Despite a concept that could have been fun with a better director, A Day of Judgment is a moralistic slog with too few deaths and too many ugly, hateful characters.

Read my original review here.

#1 The Outing

The Outing
is the cinematic equivalent of bleeding out just slow enough that your body keeps producing enough blood to keep you alive. It’s dull, excruciatingly painful, and all you wish for is to be put out of your misery. Then, when it’s all over, you get a profound sense of something having been physically taken from you. Something that you’ll never get back.

Read my original review here.

1981 Body Count: 329 1/2 (20 decapitations and 14 slit throats)

That's an average of 8.04 per movie!

Highest Body Count: Student Bodies (15 1/2), unless you don't count flies dying, in which case it's tied with Don't Go in the Woods... Alone! (15)

Lowest Body Count: Road Games (2)

Five Best Kills

#5 The Worm Turns (Evilspeak)

As a movie, Evilspeak doesn’t have a lot to offer, but as a three minute clip on YouTube, the bonkers final scene where Clint Howard goes full Lucifer and mows down a dozen people with an ancient sword and a ravenous herd of pigs, before Temple of Dooming a dude by ripping his still-beating heart right the hell out of his chest, it’s perfection. It’s an explosion of beautiful 80’s horror excess, the military school equivalent of Carrie’s prom rampage.

Read my original review here.

#4 Ben Tramer (Halloween II)

The fact that this sequel needlessly exterminates the boy Jamie Lee Curtis had a crush on in the original is so hilariously nasty that it would earn a slot on this list just for that. But they had to go ahead and run him down with a car that then explodes. In a slasher movie! What a beautiful, beautiful moment.

#3 Raft Massacre (The Burning)

The scene that cemented The Burning as one of Britain’s notorious Video Nasties, the ruthless, out-of-the-blue scene showcases Tom Savini’s tireless efforts toward decreasing the population of American summer camps.

Read my original review here.

#2 Fisting Fatality (Just Before Dawn)

I didn’t really enjoy the stultifying Just Before Dawn, but it earns the right to exist on the strength of its Final Girl’s ruthless execution of the hulking backwoods mutant killer by shoving her entire fist down his throat like she’s unclogging a drain.

Read my original review here.

#1 Lockjaw (The Prowler)

The single best death in the film that showcased gore maestro Tom Savini’s best work, this stabbing through the skull is a masterpiece of moving parts and attention to detail that is so remarkably grotesque that it’s almost not even fun to watch. Good work, my man. It’s superb enough to make me want to watch the film again despite the third act being dull as watching paint grow.

Read my original review here.

Best Decapitation: Eyes of a Stranger

It might be a total lift from He Knows You’re Alone, but I do love me a severed head in a fish tank. And hey! That’s our third Tom Savini kill! The guy’s a beast.

Read my original review here.

Three Best Final Girls

#3 Mary (The Demon) and Jenny Nolan (Lady Stay Dead)

I’ve paired these two because they both unfortunately provide a reason, in at least one scene, to watch two otherwise irredeemable slashers. Mary goes all Nancy Thompson with an incredible bathroom booby trap, and while Jenny melts into a useless puddle once a man shows up, she puts up a hell of a fight with a fireplace rod, a pot of boiling water, and a rake. Now that’s a recipe for slasher goodness!

Read my original review of Lady Stay Dead here.

#2 Marti Gaines (Hell Night)

This Final Girl selection is twofold. First, it’s Linda Blair in a slasher movie. Come on! Second, she’s the only Final Girl I’ve ever seen who actually fixes that classic horror movie broken-down car. Now there's an idea!

Read my original review here.

#1 Ginny (Friday the 13th Part 2)

A Final Girl who’s actually allowed to be smart the entire time, this Child Psychology major is also a badass, using everything at her disposal to stay alive, whether it be a chainsaw, a pitchfork, or just her wits and a dead woman’s sweater.

Read my original review here.

Three Worst Final Girls

#3 Pam MacDonald (The Prowler)

This has more to do with The Prowler’s terrible third act than the Final Girl herself, but Pam MacDonald seems almost actively opposed to achieving her goals, stumbling into precarious situations and not even having the guts to dispatch the killer herself.

#2 Hitch (Road Games)

OK, OK, I know it’s sacrilege to put Jamie Lee Curtis in this category. The character and the performance are both great, but Hitch is just a useless damsel in distress when the going gets tough, spending the entire third act locked in a trunk. She doesn’t even get a stab in edgewise!

#1 Courtney (Final Exam)

I know it’s finals week, as the title implies, but as her friends are picked off one by one, literally all Courtney does is sit in her dorm studying. It’s not exactly a dynamic character arc. She could at least have stabbed the killer with a pencil or something.

Read my original review here.

Four Best Killers

#4 The Kids (Bloody Birthday)

Killer kids can be tough to pull off, and I wouldn’t be caught dead saying Bloody Birthday is “scary,” but the three remorseless kids at the center of this killing spree are delightfully macabre, treating bloody murder like a playground game.

Read my original review here.

#3 The Scarecrow (Dark Night of the Scarecrow)

As a TV movie slasher, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is hobbled in the gore department, but it makes up for it with a spectacularly eerie, folkloric villain: the lurking scarecrow as a portent of imminent doom.

Read my original review here.

#2 Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th Part 2)

You gotta pay respect to the classics, man! Even though he hasn’t yet donned his iconic hockey mask, Jason shines in his deadly first outing, even if he’s mostly just ripping off Twitch of the Death Nerve.

#1 The Prowler (The Prowler)

Everything about the murders in The Prowler is terrific enough to redeem the awful third act, including the killer. His faceless, militaristic visage provides an inscrutable and threatening menace that goes a long way. He’s like a toy soldier come to sadistic life.

Four Worst Killers

#4 A Day of Judgment

This killer is so personality-free, he doesn’t even have a name! Although his righteous slaying of sinners isn’t too far off from the average slasher villain, he’s mostly content to step back and let his victims kill each other in increasingly bloodless ways.

#3  The Breather (Student Bodies)

Although The Breather has a killer first scene (no pun intended, not that Student Bodies would mind), he quickly devolves into a brutally over-the-top running gag of phlegmatic whispering that’s far more irritating than amusing. He is where the films lets loose and pumps out its most sophomoric, idiotic gags.

Read my original review here.

#2 Final Exam

It’s OK for psycho killer not to have a backstory. But good god, at least give him a mask so he doesn’t just look like an angry gym teacher stalking around campus.

#1 The Outing

Does this one even count? The Outing doesn’t have a killer, only an offscreen presence that isn’t even revealed after they shoot it to death. Presumably it’s a ghost cowboy because the movie is hella weird in addition to being boring, but this whole shebang is utter garbage.

Handsomest Lad: Michael Biehn (The Fan)

I love me some vintage Michael Biehn, and he looks great even before his more, rugged, macho love interest role in James Cameron’s Terminator.

Read my original review here.

Handsomest Lass: Sharon Stone (Deadly Blessing)

I love that Sharon Stone has Wes Craven to thank for kick-starting her career. And she certainly looks luminous, even with a big fuzzy spider falling into her mouth.

Read my original review here.

Best Location: The Funhouse (The Funhouse)

It’s all in the title, man. Although Tobe Hooper’s 80’s output was questionable at best, in titles like The Funhouse and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, he proved that he has a way with spooky, over-the-top set design.

Read my original review here.

Best Title: The House Where Death Lives

I mean, come on. Nothing else even comes close to touching this one. Unfortunately, this surprisingly decent mystery slasher was saddled with the boring alternate title Delusion for most of its release, which I’m convinced is the reason it never found an audience.

Read my original review here.

Three Best Costumes

#3 Bald Mask (Strange Behavior)

Strange Behavior is a lot of things (surprisingly realistic small-town drama, a tightly scripted 50’s pastiche), but it’s certainly not a generic slasher. Hence we get this creepy-ass mask that would land any killer in the Top 4, but tragically it’s only used in one scene before it’s discarded for a new, even weirder idea.

Read my original review here.

#2 "No" Button (Student Bodies)

One of the best gags in the slasher parody, the escalating series of pro-chastity buttons the Final Girl wears are a highly amusing jab at the already well-worn trope that only virgins survive horror movies.

#1 Mistake (Home Sweet Home)

Mistake is the character’s name, but it’s also an apt description of his clothing choices. This Kiss wannabe might have been redeemed by a sweet moment with his little sister, but he deserves everything he got, just for his crimes against fashion.

Read my original review here.

Best Poster: Eyes of a Stranger

Normally, I’d say that a post-grindhouse rape-murder thriller like Eyes of a Stranger doesn’t deserve such a mysteriously classy poster, but I actually really dug the flick. The rape is offscreen and its two heroines kick ass, so I didn’t really mind it all. And this is such a gorgeous, lovely design that I swear, I wouldn’t mind hanging it in my apartment.

Best Song: "Everybody Wants to be a Winner" Graduation Day

No matter how hard an 80’s slasher tries to be scary, it’s almost always undone by its score, and the bracingly twee sporting anthem “Everybody Wants to be a Winner” is the crème de la crap mood-ruiner in a year with some very stiff competition.

Read my original review here.

Best Score: Bloody Moon

Did I pick this score because of its absurd, twanging Frankie Avalon guitar riffs that briefly convert random scenes of a German slasher film into a soapy teen beach tragedy? Hell yeah, I did.

Read my original review here.

Elite Champion Dialogue: “She won’t drink anything. She hates to go to the bathroom.” (Home Sweet Home)
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