Saturday, October 31, 2020

Census Bloodbath: 1982 Post Mortem

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1982: Post Mortem
UPDATE 4/21/2022: I have since viewed an additional 5 films from 1982 that escaped my initial round of research. The body count numbers have been updated to reflect this. Had I seen them before I made this list, both Basket Case and Till Death Do Us Part would have been contenders for the #4 and #5 best slashers of the year.

Well, here we are! The end of the 1982 section of Census Bloodbath. This has taken a little longer to get to than one may have hoped (we finished 1981 a cool four years ago), but I'm really trying to buckle down and see if I can't finish this whole thing before it becomes a decade old.

The biggest sense of the year as a whole that I've gleaned from working through it is the feeling that the genre was already preparing to wind down, branching off in a million different directions as producers struggled to find a place for the slasher after such a banner year as 1981. I presume that's how we got a slew of supernatural thrillers (The Slayer, Superstition, The Forest, Ghostkeeper, Blood Song, The Clairvoyant, and Blood Link to name a few) before those became truly in vogue in the post-Elm Street period. We also saw the first entries from new territories like Brazil (Shock: Evil Entertainment), Hong Kong (He Lives by Night), Taiwan (Exposed to Danger), and Mexico (The Icebox Killer).

The sub-subgenre I was most excited to pick up on in 1982 was what I dubbed the "women's picture slasher," slasher stories with female heroines at the helm that were more than just plain old Final Girls. They dealt with traditional women's issues (be it domestic or in the workplace) in the style of a Lifetime movie, but with a lot more murder. I'd like to believe this was a response to the outright misogyny the genre had displayed up until this point, but it's probably just because a lot of them were TV movies, and those tend to focus on the female demographic a lot more. Nevertheless, I'm grateful that films like Fantasies, Exposed to Danger, Hotline, The Seduction, Visiting Hours, and Early Frost were put out into the market, even if I'm only a particular fan of about half of them.

As I've started to notice while this project goes on, there's no way for me to ever fully claim to be done with a year. After I'm finished somebody may unearth some long-lost film reels that I'll have to hunt down after the fact, or a film that originally didn't end up on any of my resource lists will suddenly be reappraised as a slasher movie. That has already happened with 1980 and 1981, and I'll be adding some posthumous reviews to those years, probably once I finish 1989 and can swing back around the horn towards the end of... 2022, at a conservative estimate.

And I also haven't even seen every movie on my original list. The following titles have proven impossible for me to hunt down using all my Internet powers. They are either floating around on VHS somewhere that I can't access, or maybe just lost to time: El Cepo/The Icebox Killer, Till Death Do Us Part, and Devil Returns. If you happen to know a reputable source where I can get my hands on a copy of these movies - physical or digital - drop me a line, won't you? But for now we're as finished as we can possibly be. And hey, 48 films is nothing to shake a stick at.

The Five Best Slashers of 1982

#5 The Clairvoyant

The reason this film isn't even higher is because of the two extremely problematic scenes I highlight in my review, as well as its focus on an annoying cop who does terrible impressions. But nevertheless, Armand Mastroianni's followup to the excellent He Knows You're Alone (which was #5 on my 1980 list, one more and he gets a free pizza) creates a chilling atmosphere of unusual classiness, which breaks out in some alarming, exhilarating bursts of violence that all use the same element (a pair of handcuffs) to increasingly baroque and exciting effect.

#4 Superstition

Even though it has absolutely nothing to do with superstitions of any kind, Superstition does have everything to do with an ancient witch ghost fucking up a bunch of people in wild, entertaining ways. 

#3 Exposed to Danger

Exposed to Danger is unlike any other slasher I've ever seen (except for the final 15 minutes, which are exactly like Friday the 13th). Part meditative seaside character study about a woman released from wrongful imprisonment and trying to rebuild her life, part out-there stalker movie that involves a child eating a spring roll filled with shards of glass, this film pulls no punches.

#2 The Slumber Party Massacre

An absolutely magical slasher perfect for slumber parties. It's a pared-down, elemental story that delights with the wacky vestiges of its original parodic script and feminist subtext (the word "phallic" was invented for this movie).

#1 Visiting Hours

For once the awesome poster belies a high quality movie! Visiting Hours can be hard to watch, but that's because it's not content to merely represent misogyny like any old slasher. It's inherently about it, throwing a feminist pacifist into a whirlwind of violent misogyny in a series of genuinely scary sequences. Featuring a stacked cast including Oscar winner Lee Grant, William Shatner, Michael Ironside, and a nurse character who's an implied lesbian! Hooray!

The Five Worst Slashers of 1982

#5 Death Screams

Nothing happens for twenty minutes, and then nothing happens for fifty minutes, and then the kills are either offscreen or so choppily edited they make no sense. What is there to like?

#4 Wacko

Terrible horror movie parodies that shove in a million pop culture reference in place of jokes didn't start with the Scary Movie franchise, let me tell you what.

#3 Boardinghouse

It's bad because it's a boring movie with characters that are basically anthropomorphic sex dolls who don't even have the decency to be murdered. But it's worse because it's clearly the writer-director-star-probably-caterer's exercise in hiring himself a bevy of girlfriends for a couple weeks under the guise of making a movie.

#2 National Lampoon's Class Reunion

Just when you thought there couldn't be a worse 1982 horror parody than Wacko. John Hughes' first script shows absolutely nothing of the crowd-pleaser he would become. It's bereft of anything remotely resembling comedy, and barely seems to notice that it's parodying the slasher genre because the kills are little delicate wisps of nothing.

#1 Trick or Treats

An underlit, tedious exercise in tormenting an already irritating character with an atomically irritating child that doesn't even have the decency to provide a solid body count.

1982 Body Count: 401 (16 decapitations and 11 slit throats)

That brings us to an average of 7.57 per movie. That's actually the lowest average so far, but I think we can blame the sheer number of movies that hit us this time around, rather than a lack of trying.

Highest Body Count: 17 (The Scorpion with Two Tails)

See? That average shoulda been way higher! Despite the body count, a lot of deaths come in a single gunfight so it's still not exactly a satisfying slasher, sadly.

Lowest Body Count: 1 (Hotline)

You know I'm still mad about watching this in the first place.

Five Best Kills

#5 The Alley (He Lives by Night)

This Hong Kong slasher film could easily be accused of ripping of Argento's Tenebrae if it hadn't actually come out first. But there's certainly heaps of Argento inspiration to spare in this scene where a woman in an alley full of hanging sheets is slashed then strangled with a fishnet stocking. The fabric tangles her up, preventing her escape, her fear peeking through in gashes in the cloth that start to stain crimson with spreading blood. It's a high energy, manic piece that's stunningly beautiful and quite a way to open a movie.

#4 Repainting (Tenebrae)

Speak of the devil. Argento himself steps in with an almost Monty Python-esque scene of a woman getting her arm severed, spraying a crisp white wall with a dazzling arc of red blood like an interior decorator gone mad.

#3 The Car (The Clairvoyant)

The killer in The Clairvoyant uses a pair of handcuffs as his calling card, and the use of that same element over and over could easily become boring. It never does, when the kills are as high octane as the one where a woman wakes up cuffed to the wheel of a car with a brick on the gas, desperately attempting to steer with her wrists while the car does donuts in a warehouse before crashing out a window and into the river. It's a playful, energetic scene that is also incredibly harrowing and intense to witness.

#2 Phone-splosion (Murder by Phone)

Now, this one is pure cotton candy fun. The killer in Murder by Phone has invented a device that explodes telephone handsets (conveniently the victims always have huge panes of glass behind them to crash into), but it's hard to beat the opening tone-setting kill where a young woman in a subway station is held immobile by a high pitched signal and begins to shakes violently and bleed from the eyes before being launched backwards into an escalator in a plume of smoke. It's the perfect blend of campy 80's high concept mayhem and startling, uncanny imagery.

#1 The Trapdoor (The Slayer)

(only watch until 4:40 on that clip by the way, as if you needed my prompting)

The Slayer is a movie that probably would have gotten a 3/10 or a 4/10, but this scene alone, at about the halfway point, makes it a full 6/10. It turns a standard spooky attic scene into a gleeful fount of gore and shocking intensity, utilizing the attic trapdoor in a way I've never seen before in the hundreds of these movies that I've consumed.

Best Decapitation: Superstition

You know what's better than a regular severed head? A severed head in a microwave that explodes.

Three Best Final Girls

#3 Carla Webber (Fantasies)

A female soap opera showrunner is a character we've never seen in this type of movie before, and likely never will again. Suzanne Pleshette breathes immensely likeable, earthy life into this can-do, inspiring female role model who kicks ass and makes a great show despite everyone starring in it dropping like flies around her.

#2 Deborah Balin (Visiting Hours)

Deborah is a staunch feminist, so much so that it draws the attention of the killer upon her, and though she is challenged in her pacifistic beliefs, her belief in the humanity and dignity of women is unshaken, and added to by her own heroic actions.

#1 Trish, Courtney, and Valerie (The Slumber Party Massacre)

The second most obvious vestige of this film's original intent as a feminist parody of the slasher genre is the sheer preponderance of Final Girls, teaming up to chop the killer's drill in half (gee, what could that represent, I wonder) and generally be badass as a team of united women

Three Worst Final Girls

#3 Jamie Douglas (The Seduction)

This was back before our girl Morgan Fairchild discovered camp, and as such it's a tediously hollow character study with hardly a body count to hang its hat on. 

#2 Joan Barnard (The Scorpion with Two Tails)

Even with the revelation that she bears ancient supernatural powers, she can't do anything other than shriek, faint, and wait for a man to show up and move the plot along.

#1 Clarissa Jane Louise 'Keegan' Lawrence (Deadly Games)

Keegan starts off innocently enough, being vaguely capable at settling things following her sister's untimely death, but her sudden transformation at the two-thirds mark into a drunk baby who is only capable of wiggling around, doing terrible impressions, and laughing uproariously at nothing is both inscrutable and extremely irritating.

Four Best Killers

#4 Paul Foley (Blood Song)

OK, OK, the killer himself isn't that interesting, but he's played by Frankie Freaking Avalon! That out-of-the-box stunt casting is worth all the credit in the world.

#3 The New York Ripper (The New York Ripper)

"Serial killer who quacks like Donald Duck" seems like a candidate for the "worst" list, but it's actually pretty chilling.

#2 Aunt Cheryl (Night Warning)

We love a madwoman around these here parts, and Aunt Cheryl is equal parts creepily incestuous, grande dame insane, and live wire compelling to watch.

#1 Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th Part 3: 3-D)

This is Jason's second nomination and second win, following his mother Pamela's appearance on the charts in 1980. I've managed to ignore this mediocre Friday sequel so far on the list, but you can't just ignore the film that gave Jason his iconic hockey mask, or the incredible, intimidating physical work that Richard Brooker is doing in this entry.

Four Worst Killers

#4 Harold (Hospital Massacre)

"I'm not Harry, I'm HAROLD," is the most milquetoast slasher killer reveal since the dude in New Year's Evil just kind of showed up looking like a Little League coach.

#3 Madman Marz (Madman)

You suffer right away from being based on the Cropsey legend when the superior adaptation The Burning is just sitting right there. He's poorly lit most of the time he's onscreen performing kills that aren't particularly interesting, especially when they're competing with such epically bonkers scenes as the counselor who hides in a fridge, or the hilarious hot tub sex scene.

#2 Marion (Unhinged)

First, because the killer reveal is improperly shot and written so it makes no sense. Second, because whatever is the case, it's definitely transphobic.

#1 Daddy (The Forest)

I'm not saying I wouldn't be afraid of this man if I ran into him in a dark alley, but he looks more like a beer-swilling football dad gone to seed than a psycho killer roving the woods.

Handsomest Lad: John Jarratt (Next of Kin)

Maybe this strikes me the most more for its comparison with his later role as the grizzled killer in 2005's Wolf Creek, but who am I to question my instincts?

Handsomest Lass: Linda Hamilton (Tag: The Assassination Game)

Two years before The Terminator would make her a star (and Children of the Corn would... not do a lot to help), Linda Hamilton is fresh-faced and stunning in a femme fatale role in this truly bizarre neo-noir about a deadly game of tag on a college campus

Best Location: Cannes, The Last Horror Film

The Last Horror Film was shot guerrilla style during the 1981 Cannes Film Festival, and while the plot is fun on its own, the magic comes from the glamorous on-the-ground look at a film festival it's likely none of us will ever get to go to in person.

Best Title: The Dorm That Dripped Blood

What could be more simple or evocative? It gets extra points for being mentioned in Randy's "college movie" monologue in Scream 2.

Three Best Costumes

#3 Black Boots (Shock: Evil Entertainment)

This one is maybe more interesting on paper than in practice, but I dig the fact that this Brazilian take on the slasher utilizes a black-booted killer in an interesting echo of the Italian black-gloved killer. I don't know what this says about either culture, but it's cool!

#2 Mountie Uniform (Pandemonium)

Pandemonium is the only one of the four slasher parodies of 1982 that gets anything remotely correct. It even goes a little further than that, goofing on the fact that a lot of the best slasher movies are Canadian productions masquerading as American, which is why the cop investigating the killer is dressed as a Canadian mountie. This is what it looks like when a screenwriter actually does their research, cough cough John Hughes!

#1 The Dancing Bear (Girls Nite Out)

I was hesitant to include this under "best killers" because the motive and dialogue of the killer is too bleakly misogynistic, but this is still one hell of a campy-ass outfit that I adore, fitting a mascot bear costume with four edged razor claws, two years before Freddy Krueger would perfect the method.

Best Poster: The Incubus

OK, we all secretly know that Visiting Hours has the best poster (in fact, it's hanging up in my bedroom, looming over me as I type this). But we've talked about that movie enough. And The Incubus almost redeems its abject terribleness with this incredible The Thing-esque design that makes it seem like a sci-fi pulp novel from the 70's rather than a disturbingly rapey John Cassavetes slasher with a good monster for seven seconds.

Best Song: "Midnight" Quintessence (Midnight)

This comes from the Last House on the Left school of juxtaposing hideous violence with peaceful folky music rather than my usual go-to of "there's a party scene with an awesome band," a category which almost had Wacko in the lead, for the record. But this song has been on replay on my iTunes more often than I'd like to admit. It's a surprisingly pleasant melodic tune that is one of the few redeeming factors in a movie I more or less hated.

Best Score: Tenebrae

I really wanted to award the disco theme from Friday the 13th Part 3-D, but not only is Tenebrae the best slasher score of 1982, it's one of the best film scores period. It's dominated by a rattling vocoder hook that earworms its way directly into your bones, standing on its own as a piece of instrumental music as well as perfectly complementing the vivid, often surreal imagery the film delivers.

Elite Champion Dialogue: "The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a water bed at the same time." (Pieces)

Although, even though it doesn't read quite as well on paper, you know the real Champion Dialogue from Pieces is...

Word Count: 2944

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Cardboard Science: They See Me Rodan, They Hatin'

Our third and final entry in the Great Switcheroo with Hunter Allen at Kinemalogue!

Year: 1956
Director: Ishirô Honda
Cast: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Akihiko Hirata
Run Time: 1 hour 14 minutes

Hunter has been spectacularly kind to me this year in general. We've covered all the bases that most interest me in the world of 50's science fiction. An obscure forgotten work, a title mentioned in "Science Fiction, Double Feature," and now a daikaiju eiga, which roughly translated means "Japanese monster knocks shit down." Specifically, today we're here to talk about Rodan, the fourth kaiju movie from Ishirô Honda, the director and co-writer of the original Godzilla, which has been one of my favorite films from the annals of Cardboard Science.

I'm just cool that way, loving Godzilla is just more proof that my opinion is always very unique and special and different from everyone else's.

Rodan opens in a small Japanese mining town, where miners are dying at a rapid rate in one of the pits, scuppering initial suspicions that Goro (Rinsaku Ogata), a miner with a temper problem, killed one of his rivals. As the staff begins to pare down, the protagonists emerge, or at least the human beings who we can most reasonably call protagonists in a genre that always becomes largely disinterested in humans by the third act: engineer Shigeru Kawamura (Kenji Sahara) and Goro's distraught sister Kiyo (Yumi Shirakawa). They are in love, and isn't that nice for them. Moving on.

H-bomb testing and maybe global warming has caused tectonic plates to shift, creating the perfect environment for some long-buried eggs to hatch, unleashing giant dragonfly larvae upon the town that cause general mayhem until an enormous cave-in releases a much bigger problem: the enormous flying beast Rodan, who takes to the skies to cause havoc on the Eastern seaboard. The mining crew and the Japanese military scramble to find ways to contain the monstrous Pteranadon.

But not before it smashes up a Japanese cityscape or two.

So here's the thing. Not only is Godzilla a kick-ass monster movie, it's a profound and harrowing reflection on a nation bearing the literal and metaphorical fallout of the nuclear bomb. Rodan is... not that. And it's not trying to be! Almost certainly the three Godzilla movies Honda made before helming Rodan got that out of his system. He's just here to have fun, content with the barest scrapings of environmental subtext.

He largely succeeds too, though Rodan is fun in a much different way than Godzilla, and that way doesn't resonate with me quite the same. Rodan is a flying beast, so the warfare has largely moved from the ground to the air, with fighter pilots squaring off against the monster in dogfights that would be familiar to any fan of World War II cinema. Think Red Tails, but with a creature that can create sonic booms with its wings. Military cinema in general fails to please me, so foregounding that element over a dude in a suit stomping through a miniature Tokyo was naturally going to lose me a bit.

Objective reviewing doesn't actually exist, folks!

And while nobody comes to a Japanese kaiju movie to be bowled over by realism, some of the drawbacks to Rodan's special effects are too glaring to not come at a bit of a price. Having a completely airborne monster poses more of a challenge, and his rubbery wings (which barely flap, and somehow make a hilarious jet engine noise) don't seem to be lifting him so much as the string in his back. Convincing flying is always hard to pull off, and they certainly didn't have the resources to do so in 1956. But there's a reason the scenes with the giant larvae are more fun. They're tactile and the actors can actually interact with them, because their many moving parts (which create an unnerving, unceasing motion) are operated like a Chinese parade dragon rather than a dangling puppet.

All this is not to say I didn't enjoy the mayhem Rodan brings to the table. Especially in the scene where he smashes up a port city, this is where the detail in set dressing really comes out to play. Cars and trains are knocked into buildings, all the tiles are blown off a roof, and  a bunch of other physical, practical destruction redeem any faults the airplay might have. Honestly everything practical here is pretty satisfying, including the cave-in early on.

The human storylines falter a lot in the lead-up to the monster battle (Shigeru's amnesia is a wholly unneeded soap opera twist that comes from nowhere, and the romantic subplot fails to stick the landing), but I did enjoy the first act that is less special effects, more ominous dread. Whether its a cut to the bloody helmet of a pilot who perishes by an unseen force, or the grim vision of corpses floating in the flooded mine, Rodan certainly packs in the atmosphere when it can't afford to be showing nonstop monster shenanigans (although I dearly wish they hadn't included the element of Rodan's unseen attacks on Beijing and Manila, because if you're going to mention them, why not show them?).

And there's another tip of the hat toward a more serious tone with the grand finale, which is a strangely downbeat and lingering reflection on the tragedy of the great monster's destruction. But all in all Rodan just wants to goof around, and it does so with reasonable verve and vigor, even if Rodan the monster is hardly as compelling a central figure as some other kaiju I could name.

That which is indistinguishable from magic:

  • Ooooh, those remote control toy tanks fighting Rodan sure are precious!
  • Apparently Rodan can grow from a hatchling - albeit a large one - to a beast with a 270 foot wingspan in about half a day. That must be a HARSH puberty.

The morality of the past, in the future!:

  • I like the romance subplot only insofar as the people involved are very pretty, because otherwise this is the blandest, chastest nonsense any side of the pond.


  • I truly don't know why they included a second Rodan if all they're gonna do is shout, "it's a second Rodan!" and then also burn it up with lava, no sweat.

TL;DR: Rodan is a satisfying kaiju picture, though one that lacks the emotional punch or effects wizardry that the director is capable of.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1076

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Census Bloodbath: Island Crime

Year: 1982
Director: Bill Naud
Cast: Marie-Alise Recasner, Rick Dean, Ron Gardner
Run Time: 1 hour 22 minutes

I never thought I'd get to see Island of Blood. AKA Whodunit?. AKA Scared Alive, for some reason. I've being doing my slasher research and gathering information on where to source these movies since early 2013, and Island of Blood has been one that resolutely refused to appear on home media, streaming, thrifting, or even in my crystal ball after a sizable blood sacrifice. There almost certainly will be movies I have to skip over in this project due to lack of availability, and I thought this would be the first one. Enter Tubi. The streaming service has finally answered my prayer because they stream the most random shit, and included in that junk pile was, would you believe it, Island of Blood.

Usually when you have to put this much work into merely watching a film, there's a reason you weren't able to find it. I have been disappointed at the end of many a hunt, even for a film with as cool a poster as this one. So you can imagine my surprise when Island of Blood was... wholly acceptable!

Remember we're grading on a scale.

Island of Blood is like if somebody mashed up Curtains and The Slayer with a little bit of Terror on Tour, though it's a rare person who has that exact frame of reference, so I should probably still go through the plot. A group of young people has just arrived on a secluded island for the filming of a "positive" motion picture about "up up" people who are putting on a rock concert to save their high school. Director Franklin Phlegm (Ron Gardner) and producer Steve Faith (Terence Goodman) are running rehearsals while they wait for the crew to arrive, but a killer has taken it upon themselves to do a bit of a casting cull: murdering the people on the island one by one according to the lyrics of a truly terrible original 80's rock song that is constantly playing on the killer's Walkman.

But first let's Meet the Meat! There's star of the show Betty Jean AKA "BJ (Bari Suber), a girl whose older husband died leaving her his fortune, which she has used to buy her way into the movie despite an extreme lack of talent; Taylor (Gary Phillips), a doom and gloom guitarist who is convinced the world is going to end in a nuclear holocaust any day now; Donna (Marie-Alise Recasner) the token person of color who can't stop talking about being from Detroit, though she does provide us with the sterling insult "you fishface honky"; Rick (Richard Helm), a dumb jock who takes off his shirt in a blissfully long sequence; Jim (Rick Dean), one of BJ's hired helpers, and a clearly unhinged anarchist from square one; Lyn (Jeanine Marie), a dancer who's on crutches and very angry about it; and John (Jim Piper, an ADR voice on Dr. Giggles, and that's pretty much the only pedigree we get here), the condescending lead of the movie, cast even though he very clearly should be playing a pimply nerd.

Is the killer one of them? Or perhaps disgruntled island caretaker Bert (Jared McVay)?

Stay tuned to find out, because I truly don't mind spoiling this movie! I consider it a service because the third act is pretty incoherent, so SOMEONE needed to parse it all out.

Maybe it's just that I've just seen one dozen too many low budget slasher movies that are infinitely worse than this, but I actually enjoyed Island of Blood quite a bit. It has its flaws (don't worry, we'll get to them), but it succeeds more than it fails. First off, I can't say I expected anything in this film to be a Hollywood satire, let alone a pretty amusing one. In particular, BJ's rehearsal scenes with the director are a fierce battle of egos as she contends with his truly awful dialogue (one line includes the phrase "guys and gals" both at the beginning and the end) and he tries not to burst into a rage at her terrible flat acting and her complete misunderstanding of her talent ("Was that too much emotion? Should I give it less?"). There's also a bit of fun to be had with the sociopathic pursuit of success that allows the characters to justify why they keep working on this dumb movie even though half the cast is six feet under.

The score is also pretty decent, swinging between atonal Law & Order clunks and clangs to obvious cheeky Psycho riffs to a hilariously jaunty funeral dirge played on a synth.

Then there are the kills, which are totally fine! They're within the daffy, unrealistic range you might expect, but they're at least trying! Even the kills that are offscreen aren't trying to hide anything - we get to see the aftermath a little bit later, so they're not just hiding the death to avoid having to create a special effect.   And I do like the framing device of the Walkman playing a lyric of the song on repeat to portend the manner of the next victim's death, though I do wish we had a chance early on to hear the whole song in advance so we might have a bit of anticipation as to what fate will befall everyone. Also there's literally no motivation for the kills to be presented this way, but hey. I'd rather have a framing device than not have one, y'know?

It's also not a horribly executed whodunit. Just a pretty badly executed one. We spend far too much time on the Jim red herring that we the audience don't get to cast too much suspicion on anybody else, but there are plenty of delicious parlor room scenes with people throwing accusations one way or another.

Does this screenshot have much to do with what I just wrote? No. Is it visible? Not really. Is it the only other screenshot I could find? Bingo.

Even with all that qualified praise, shockingly this film has flaws. The beginning and end are more than incoherent (it starts with a death by shooting - not what you want from a slasher - and we never find out who the victim is or how they relate to literally anything), to the point that at first I was neither completely sure how many people died nor who the killer was (except that he looked good shirtless, but not Rick good). Plus, the cat & mouse scenes of people wandering through dark rooms in the final twenty minutes leave something to be desired. Like anything interesting. And for a long time the kills are just jammed in between random scenes, like bad softcore scenes shoehorned into a late night film to make it more marketable. 

But really, at the end of the day, if you're looking for a goofy dumb slasher and have a high tolerance for low budget acting and lighting, look no further than Island of Blood. Its bizarre cinematic instincts are beyond compelling, from the fully clothed sex scene ("it's chilly!") to the character picking up a common power tool and exclaiming "it fires nails like a gun!" to the fact that this movie is framed and shot for the first hour like the killer might actually just be a sentient Walkman. Remember that I am providing this recommendation with a grain of salt the size of Pluto. But it was a blissful reprieve from the bottom-of-the-barrel slasher sludge that usually populates the segment of my 1982 list that we've reached - the alphabetical list at the end containing all the films that are so obscure they don't even have release date information on IMDb beyond the year.

Killer: Steve (Terence Goodman)
Final Girl: BJ (Bari Suber)
Best Kill: The "get bunked" moment (with thanks to the Kill by Kill podcast for the phrase) where a man gets stabbed through his mattress with a knife that is wickedly big.
Sign of the Times: There is an Evil Real Estate Broker, and if that wasn't enough, his outfit certainly is.

Scariest Moment: Right before Rick's death, the camera keeps cutting to a bunch of roses shaking in the wind. It happened so many times, I was sure something was going to happen with these goddamn roses. Nothing does, but it's very unsettling.
Weirdest Moment: Taylor makes fun of Jim using a Mickey Mouse impression, then hits him in the gut with the neck of his guitar.
Champion Dialogue: "It's weird being on an island!"
Body Count: 11
  1. Swimmer is shot.
  2. BJ's Assistant is boiled alive in a swimming pool.
  3. Clown is stabbed in the head with a spear. (I assume this clown is Taylor, because he doesn't show up again afterward, but for the life of me I can't figure out why he'd be in the basement dressed as a clown.)
  4. Donna has acid poured into her shower.
  5. Mr. Phlegm is stabbed in the gut through his mattress.
  6. Rick is dismembered with a chainsaw.
  7. John is decapitated.
  8. Lyn is shot with a nail gun.
  9. Jim is shot with a nail gun.
  10. Bert is stabbed in the back.
  11. Steve is shot.
TL;DR: Island of Blood is a cheapie, occasionally incomprehensible slasher, but dammit I had a good time.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1560

Census Bloodbath: Peter, Paul, And Bury

Year: 1982
Director: This is the only Australian film to have no credited director, so we'll honor that weird fact
Cast:  Diana McLean, Jon Blake, Janet Kingsbury 
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

It is the accepted wisdom of the slasher cognoscenti that if a slasher movie comes from Canada, more often than not it's going to be superior to its American counterparts. But even though the slasher movie was primarily a North American phenomenon, countries across the globe weighed in with their own takes on the genre. And where do they fit in?

In the English-speaking world, Australia seems to have taken third place in terms of quantity, having already released Nightmares, Lady Stay Dead, Road GamesNext of Kin, and Strange Behavior before the 1982 premiere of today's film, Early Frost. But as far as quality goes, I haven't been able to get a bead on it. We're all over the map, quite literally, but at the very least this one isn't at the bottom of the list.

Though the dearth of exciting screenshots doesn't exactly speak well to its staying power.

Of all these Australian entries, Early Frost is certainly the least slasher-y so far, even though the body count is a good five times that of Road Games. Sure, people are dying at a pretty decent clip, starting with a drowned body discovered in Blacktown by private investigator Mike Hayes (Guy Doleman) during a divorce case. But we're mostly here to focus on alcoholic housewife Val Meadows (Diana McLean), who has two kids - 20-year-old Peter (Jon Blake) and pre-teen Joey (Daniel Cumerford) - though she'd much rather spend time with her adulterous lover Paul Sloane (Kit Taylor, who we'll catch up with later in 1987's Cassandra and 1989's Innocent Prey), whose divorce investigation is the one that turned up that body in the first place.

A series of strange accidents befall her, leading her to believe that somebody is trying to kill her. The mounting body count would certainly lend credence to that theory. Though, weirdly, she doesn't seem that interested when her best friend Peg (Janet Kingsbury) and her son (David Franklin) begin to uncover clues that point to her being the next victim. Could she be the killer?

Spoiler alert: No, she's not the killer, just an incredibly inconsistent person.

The parts of Early Frost that want to function as a character study are its biggest liability. Val Meadows is not an interesting or layered figure. She's a vindictive, sour person, and the flashbacks we see just serve to prove that she was vindictive and sour in the past too. We don't investigate why she is the way that she is or where her horrible detestation for her own sons came from. This is no The Babadook. And the movie doesn't even think to ask the question of why Peg would want to hang out with this woman for even one second (although it's clear Peg was never a priority because 20 minutes before the end the script forgets she ever existed).

As I've revealed during past entries in the surprisingly robust "women's picture slasher" run of 1982, I am unerringly compelled toward domestic tales starring female characters, so I can't say I had a terrible time watching this. But it doesn't do itself any favors. And I'm not asking that Val be made "likable," I just want to understand her beyond the surface level thrills we get here while she's clearly spinning out.

At lest that surface level is semi-fun to gaze upon. Early Frost isn't in the game of providing gruesome, creative slasher movie deaths with plenty of sharp implements, but the kills still have an unusual level of tension and surprise. Because the movie splits its time between family drama and slasher killings, it's easy to be lulled into a false sense of genre security. You are lulled by the quiet tensions simmering beneath the surface of a family and then all of a sudden someone is being jabbed in the butt with a syringe, having their face jammed full of glass shards in a terrible fall, or drowning horribly. 

It certainly keeps you on your toes.

There's also some admittedly irrelevant material that I had fun with, like the soundtrack that is wall to wall Australian pastiches of the most popular music genres at the time (mostly composed by Mike Harvey). There's an effervescent, bouncy quality to the soundscape. And while I also know I'm an easy lay for an original song from a slasher movie, a lot of what we got from 1982 movies was proto-metal that I didn't really care for, so this is for sure a standout.

And it's even quite pretty to watch on occasion, especially in a scene where Val is in the foreground lit by the flashing red neon light of a motel sign while Paul undresses on the bed behind her. Unfortunately the plot starts off a little muddy and things never get clearer from there. I honestly couldn't tell you exactly what happened in the final ten minutes. This is partly to do with the low-lit scene not really surviving the VHS transfer, but it's also due to Early Frost's peculiar indifference to actually engaging with its murder plot in any real way (for instance, we learn that the killer is targeting all the women from a group photo, but we never learn why, or even any backstory as to where or when the photo was taken).

It's certainly not the worst movie I've watched for this project. Hell, it's not even a bad movie. It's just muddled and disappointing, not actively unwatchable. So hooray? Still doesn't make me want to ever see it again.

Killer: Honestly I'm a little unclear but most likely Joey Meadows (Daniel Cumerford)
Final Girl: I guess Peter Meadows (Jon Blake)
Best Kill: Mr. Hayes' car doesn't just explode, it full on Michael Bays the shit out of him.
Sign of the Times: The newspapers describe the events of the movie as the discovery of the body of "an attractive middle-aged widow." Maybe this is wishful thinking, but I'd hope that obituaries in 2020 aren't quite so horny for dead women.
Scariest Moment: Whenever the killer is watching potential victims, shots from their POV are scored with an extremely loud Darth Vader-esque breathing effect that sounds really tinny, strange, and off-putting.
Weirdest Moment: Val asks Peter for a birthday kiss in the middle of his party, and there's an extreme close-up on her glistening lips.
Champion Dialogue: "I don't care if you drink yourself to a standstill."
Body Count: 6

  1. Mrs. Sloane is drowned offscreen.
  2. Worker is knocked off a ladder by a rolling cart and falls through a glass display case.
  3. Mrs. Jobling is injected with air and has an embolism.
  4. Mr. Hayes dies in a car explosion.
  5. John Meadows drowns in a flashback.
  6. Val is shot with a harpoon gun.

TL;DR: Early Frost isn't a particularly good psychological thriller, but it's enjoyable enough to watch and the kills are just the right kind of bananas.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1183

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Census Bloodbath: The Mind of a Married Woman

Year: 1982
Director: Martin Green
Cast: Aldo Ray, Kory Clark, Chuck Jamison
Run Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

OK, I have a bone to pick with my slasher resources. I can be very lenient with what counts as a slasher movie. I'm perfectly happy to include Road Games, which only has one onscreen death, because it is about the pursuit of an active serial killer. And I hesitantly embraced Hotline, even though the killer commits zero murders during the time frame of the film, for similar reasons. But 1982's Dark Sanity is really testing my patience. What imaginary line does a film have to cross become a slasher? If it has an axe-wielding murderer, a plummy reveal of their identity, and a severed head, but not a single human being dies onscreen during the events of the film, what the hell is it?

I'm very tempted to say "not a slasher," but again I'd rather err on the side of including it so I didn't just waste 88 minutes of my time.

Dark Sanity, also known as Straight Jacket, tells the tale of Karen Nichols (Kory Clark), a woman who has just been released from the hospital after her alcoholism triggered violent psychic visions that she had repressed since she was a child. She has been off the sauce for 9 months and she and her husband Al (Chuck Jamison) have moved to L.A. for a fresh start.

Unfortunately, as she slowly learns from her neighbor Madge (no actress listed on the extremely sparse IMDb listing, sadly, because her character reminded me of Mona from I, Madman, everyone's favorite earthy lady), the creepy gardener Benny (no actor listed, though he looks uncannily like Scott Adsit from 30 Rock), and local ex-cop Larry Craig (Aldo Ray, the only person in this movie there's chance you've heard of), their new house is the site of a dreadful murder. Lucy Duncan was decapitated and nobody has ever been able to find the head! The police apprehended their son, but Larry has also been having psychic visions and enlists Karen to help him discover the true identity of the murderer.

These visions are... not stylish.

As I may have mentioned, Dark Sanity challenges the very reason we're gathered hear to talk about it. If it's not a slasher movie, it doesn't deserve space on this feature. For the most part it just isn't. It's a gaslighting story about a woman who has been told for years by doctors and her husband that her clairvoyance is a mental illness, who has taken to believing them. I like a domestic psychological drama, even if the execution is dogshit, so I guess that's good news on both counts, because this is neither a slasher nor a well-made movie. And yet there are those elements I mentioned above. 

Although the only thing we could conceivably call a body count kill (Mrs. Duncan's death is only seen in choppy visions of the aftermath, the killer gleefully bearing her severed head) is of a cat, there is ever so slightly enough drawing on the tropes of the slasher genre in the final ten minutes as well as the material with the creepy groundskeeper red herring. I can maybe appreciate that it is structured almost like When a Stranger Calls, bookended by slasher moments rather than being a true blue all-out slasher. 

Even if the movie fails at giving me what I need, I'm at the very least not at a loss as to Champion Dialogue options. Almost every single line in the film is a trite cliche but altered in some ineffable way, like it was run through a shoddy translation service before being handed to the actors. "I'll mash you like a bug on a windshield." "Hello, police department?" My absolute favorite being the weirdly erotic "Don't let the door slam against your ass on the way out!"

No? Just Me? Alrighty then.

But whatever type of movie Dark Sanity is, it's a quite poor one. The sound design is truly out of hand, with random tiny actions exploding from the speakers like a gunshot and foley work so misguided that a hissing snake sounds exactly like my phone vibrating (I actually had to check if I was getting a call). And at no point in the movie does any character actually act like a human being: Karen imagines that an empty closet is full of clothes and screams like a banshee. Al's boss's wife goes on and on about how much she loves Jack Benny, who died a full six years before this film came out. The movie itself makes decisions just like one of its characters, when 15 minutes before the end it cuts to a three minute scene of Benny shooting the shit with a random bartender we've never met before.

Also obviously the acting is sub-par. Aldo Ray is sleepwalking through the part, though he seems to think he's in a soap opera which is amusing. And everybody else ranges from unremarkable to flat-out abysmal. Al's boss in particular has completely hollow eyes that always fail to match whatever rigor mortis facial expression he attempts to pull.

The actual act of sitting through Dark Sanity wasn't entirely excruciating, because the best moments had that domestic chiller quality I enjoy, and the worst moments are generally amusing in their inanity. But would I recommend it to a single human being? Of course not! The reason I do this project is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and this is definitely all chaff.

Killer: Madge
Final Girl: Karen Nichols (Kory Clark)
Best Kill: The flashback sequence is barely even a kill, but it's the only human death, and honestly the severed head prop is actually halfway decent.
Sign of the Times: I'm having a hard time choosing between the fact that a beer cost fifty cents, or that Madge had to hang up a phone call while watching her soap opera because she couldn't just pause the television.
Scariest Moment: When Al gets fired and comes home to drunkenly scream at Karen and try to force feed her whiskey, it is genuinely affecting and tense.
Weirdest Moment: Madge comes in to show Karen a new workout, which is literally just pushups but with terrible form.
Champion Dialogue: "Your missus is just fine as frog's fur."
Body Count: 2; but then again, not really

  1. Lucy Duncan is beheaded in flashback.
  2. Ezekiel the cat is beheaded offscreen.

TL;DR: Dark Sanity is not a slasher film, and while it's got a certain unique charm, it's also not a GOOD film.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1105