Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Census Bloodbath: The Killer Wore Short Shorts

Year: 1985
Director: Jeff Hathcock
Cast: Ava Kauffman, Robert Axelrod, Lonny Withers 
Run Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

If I spot a release by Slasher // Video on the Blu-Ray shelf at Amoeba, I have to buy it sight unseen. Their releases aren't guaranteed gems (in fact, most of their films are terrible; see Killer Workout), but the preservation work they've done has helped this project tremendously. Unfortunately, despite the name, some of their films can be pretty borderline with their slasher-ness. Victims!, which is about a vanful of girls on a desert vacation, seemed like pure formula fodder, but oh if I could but count the ways that I was deeply wrong in my assumptions about the movie.

You'd also be forgiven for assuming this was a musical.

Victims! starts off well enough. And by well enough, I mean "a totally disconnecting string of thirty-second slasher kills perpetrated by a Norman Bates lookalike who is apprehended before the opening credits and never seen or heard from again." Then we cut to two men robbing a grocery store and beginning a trail of murderous terror as they make their way out to the desert. And wouldn't you know it, but four sexy girls are also making their way out to the very same desert for a little camping trip.

Now, here's where I normally list the characters' names and their single character traits, but I had a uniquely difficult time with Victims! As you might imagine, the characters are entirely indistinguishable from one another, but the audio was so muffled it was difficult to decipher anybody's name. I was not aided by the fact that the IMDb credits don't list any character names. So I shall be referring to the characters in the way the script presumably did - by the color of their bathing suit: Purple, Red, Green, and Orange.

I did hear the names Lisa and Debbie thrown about. And maybe Jem? Also one of them has a boyfriend who doesn't think she can handle herself in the wilderness, and Green has a mom who doesn't approve of her outfit. So the only things I know about them are how other people feel about them. You know, good writing!

And here's where things start to break bad. Once we have all our pieces assembled on the chessboard, it becomes very clear that this movie does not have slashing on its mind. It very quickly reveals itself to be a rape-revenge movie of the scuzziest kind.

Emphasis on the former with only a teensy bit of the latter.

Rape-revenge films, if created responsibly, can pack a real punch. Films like Revenge or The Last House on the Left have a lot to say about the way regular human beings can be forced into violence and its effect on their psyches. Victims! is not, shall we say, responsible. It is a deeply reprehensible plunge into the dark corners of the patriarchy, chock full of lines about how "they were asking for it the way they were dressed" and whatnot. It might as well be called Rape Culture: The Movie!

I think opening up a dialogue about the many justifications society, especially in the 80's, provided for rapists can be a useful thing to do. But the only reason this movie is actually about any of these topics is because it's indulging in those sentiments too far to be self aware of any sort of subtext it may have conjured up. Victims! is not meant to be useful. It is meant to be provocative and titillating and it's merely disgusting.

The film has already made its bed long before the true horror starts, with a string of scenes objectifying every female character, including ones we've never met and don't even receive names. The film will cut from a nude woman being stabbed to a girl taking a shower to a crotch shot of some aerobics. Victims! has one reason to exist, and it is not a reason that should endear itself to any socially aware human being on the planet.

Pictured: the appropriate response to somebody putting this movie on - evacuating the premises.

The film offers nothing to redeem itself beyond its central premise. The production value is low, even by the standards of shot-on-video offerings, boasting muddy visuals generously ladled with muddier sound. At least it's not packed with dialogue, so there's not a lot you need to attempt to parse out. 

I wish anything in the movie matched the manic, almost cheery energy of the opening credits, which are full of smashing zooms to crazed calliope music. Or even the opening kill of the movie proper, of a picnicking couple who seem to think that sprinting through the forest is the best foreplay. If it had continued in that vein, Victims! could have been a dumb, silly, but forgettable slasher film. Instead it's something totally different and rotten to the core. Never has the male gaze been so weaponized in an 80's horror movie and that is saying a freaking lot.

Killer: Eric and The Other One (Robert Axelrod, Lonny Withers)
Final Girl: Purple, Green, and Orange
Best Kill: He doesn't die, but the killer who isn't Eric gets his dick cut off with a knife, which will always give a film a point in my book.
Sign of the Times: The girls make a Steve Martin reference, talking about their "wild and crazy" road trip.
Scariest Moment: The girls pull into a gas station full of men who all stare at them lecherously.
Weirdest Moment:
Champion Dialogue: "Mother, I'm going to see other girls, we ALL have boobs!"
Body Count: 7; not including Red, who I super duper thought survived but is not featured in the closing interrogation scene so maybe she died in a rock slide and I didn't notice?
  1. Stripey Polo Girl gets axed in the head.
  2. Naked Woman is slashed with a cleaver.
  3. Campus Woman is stabbed in the back.
  4. Grocery Man is shot.
  5. Sunburned Mustache Dude is hit in the face with a shotgun.
  6. Eric is kicked off a cliff.
  7. Random Woman is shot in a flashback.
TL;DR: Victims! is a despicable film that could have been a terrifying indictment of the patriarchy but doesn't seem to notice its own potential.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1049