- Male Hiker is killed offscreen.
- Female Hiker is killed offscreen.
- Maria is killed offscreen.
- Eva is killed offscreen.
- Nulle is killed offscreen.
- Axet is killed offscreen.
Friday, July 30, 2021
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
- Cathy is strangled with pantyhose.
- Joanne is strangled with pantyhose.
- Guard is strangled in a dream.
- David is shot.
Monday, July 26, 2021
- Rita has her throat slit.
- Clive is impaled on a prop sword.
- Dave is garroted with a rope.
- Sue is choked with Gary's bicep.
- Eileen is shot.
- Jill is stabbed to death.
- Trevor is shot.
- Robert is shot in the head.
- Mike is hanged.
- Gary is shot repeatedly and stabbed in the heart.
Friday, July 23, 2021
Champion Dialogue: "They're communicating with the souls of the dead, and other stuff."
Body Count: 5
- Christie's Dad is hit in the head several times with a bat.
- Josh is impaled with an embalming gun.
- Eve is stabbed to death.
- Hank is impaled with an embalming gun.
- Paul is axed in the back.
Word Count: 1012
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
- Old Man is stabbed in the throat with an arrowhead by his own possessed hand.
- Louise has her throat slashed.
- Ben has the back of his head tomahawked off.
- Ellen is shot with arrows.
- Randy is shot in the head.
- Kershaw is decapitated.
- Professor gets an arrow jammed in his face.
Monday, July 19, 2021
Director: Norman Thaddeus Vane
Cast: Ferdy Mayne, Luca Bercovici, Nita Talbot
Run Time: 1 hour 26 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
So what has Troma dragged past our doorstep this week? Good news! It's passable crap! Frightmare AKA The Horror Star follows the final days of Vincent Price-esque aging B-movie star Conrad Radzoff (Ferdy Mayne). On his way out, he murders a couple directors who have gotten on his nerves, but the fun doesn't truly begin until after the funeral. His mausoleum is robbed by the young folks at the local community college's Horror Film Society, which somehow has the funding to live in a giant Gothic mansion off campus. They spend the night partying with the corpse Weekend at Bernie's style and being generally terrible, until Conrad's widow uses a medium to resurrect his corpse, at which moment he exacts gruesome revenge. The missing corpse is also being investigated by a Detective (Chuck Mitchell of Don't Answer the Phone, but he's better known for playing the title character in Porky's) who moves the plot in exactly zero ways.
Even by the standards of the slasher genre, the characters on the chopping block are bland and undistinguishable. The ones that stand out are Meg (Jennifer Starrett), because she is the Obvious Final Girl who isn't so sure they should be partying with a dead man; Saint (Luca Bercovici, who was the screenwriter for Ghoulies and Rockula), because he is named Saint and also is Meg's boyfriend; and Stu, because he is played by Jeffrey Combs, who would rise 80's horror royalty after his role in Re-Animator the following year (rumor has it he was cast because they needed a brunette to match the severed head they were using).
Basically, this film was created on the same model that would Troma would later use to produce the mediocre Girls School Screamers: a big mansion, a group of co-eds (mostly female), and just enough supernatural mayhem to separate it from even more basic slashers. The only considerable difference between these two movies is that in its extended prologue, Frightmare actually spends time with a character who's over the age of 25, as Conrad struts and preens his way through a mini Theatre of Blood remake.
As an exercise in running characters through the slasher formula with little embellishment, it's totally watchable, though there are several dozen mediocre slashers I would rather throw on before pulling this one off the shelf. The kills are at least varied and in ample supply, even though only 3 of them really exert themselves as any sort of special effects spectacle. We do unfortunately get a lot of the undead Conrad holding his hands up to his temples and bugging his eyes out while something vaguely telekinetic happens to his victim, which is disappointing. We have a physical killer wandering around, so why not just have him stabbing people with corkscrews and whatnot? It's not hard!
The space between the blandly functional kills is where they really get you, though. Even with its tight run time, there's a lot of flab on Frightmare. Especially before it commits to being a body count picture in earnest, we're just stuck hanging out with an undifferentiated mass of white people who are all equally unpleasant and think it's the height of comedy to flirt with a corpse.
There are a couple times that Frightmare nods toward the campy classic it might have been (especially when we spend time with anybody connected to Conrad's home life, which seems utterly bonkers), but largely it is content to go through the motions and not suck harder than it needs to. Except for the cinematography, which sucks hard all the way through. As you can see in the screenshot above, anything that's bright enough to cause glare will create a constellation of hazy glow that obscures anything around it (I liked cinematographer Joel King's work better in a film I liked worse, 1981's Just Before Dawn).
The best I can say about Frightmare is that it indeed does everything it needs to do to be a slasher movie. If you've seen everything there is to see and you're on the constant hunt for more material, this one will arrange those impulses in your brain in the right order. I understand if "it's not entirely unsatisfying" isn't exactly selling you on Frightmare, but that was never my intention anyway.
Killer: Conrad Radzoff (Ferdy Mayne)
Final Girl: Meg (Jennifer Starrett)
Best Kill: In the film's single best effect, Eve is menaced by a floating coffin chasing her down the stairs before it smashes her body like a battering ram.
Sign of the Times: Conrad's mausoleum is marked with a tacky flashing neon star.
Scariest Moment: Conrad's mouth emits a horrible prolonged screech when he corners Saint in an embalming room.
Weirdest Moment: Apparently the ghost of Conrad gave his widow the phone number of the film society's mansion.
Champion Dialogue: "Good night, sweet prince of ham."
Body Count: 9; not including an additional 18 victims implied to have been murdered by Conrad prior to the beginning of the film.
- Director is pushed off a railing.
- Wolfgang is smothered with a pillow.
- Oscar has his tongue pulled out.
- Donna is set on fire with telekinesis.
- Bobo is killed with poison gas.
- Eve is bashed with a floating coffin.
- Stu is decapitated with a sword.
- Saint is cremated.
- Mrs. Rohmer has a wad of money shoved into her mouth.
TL;DR: Frightmare is a paint-by-numbers slasher that is satisfying, but at the minimum possible level.
Word Count: 1051
Friday, July 16, 2021
Director: Lamberto Bava
Cast: Andrea Occhipinti, Anny Papa, Fabiola Toledo
Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
So, I may have built up A Blade in the Dark too much in my own head for a very ridiculous reason. Back when I was first researching Census Bloodbath, oh, eight years ago or so (Jesus Christ), I learned that this film with a pretty cool poster came out on my birthday in 1983. I bought the DVD pretty soon after that, and it has been sitting on my shelf gathering dust, waiting for the day to come to actually crack it open. Well, that day is today, and I was untenably excited to come full circle on this film.
Now, don't get me wrong. I pretty much knew what I was getting myself into. I've already had some experience with Lamberto Bava (the son of prolific horror maestro Mario Bava), with his promising but lackluster Delirium: Photos of Gloria from 1987. So when A Blade in the Dark turned out to be a bit of a dud, it's not like a piece of my soul had been ripped away. It was just mildly disappointing, although at the very least it's less of a dud than Delirium.
A Blade in the Dark follows the exploits of film composer Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti of The New York Ripper), who is holing up in an enormous villa rented to him by Ted (Michele Soavi, Bava's assistant at the time who would go on to direct the excellent StageFright: Aquarius) while he works on the score for the thriller A Story of a Murder, which is being directed by Sandra (Anny Papa of Sweets from a Stranger, which we'll cover down in 1987). Incidentally, it's really cool that there is representation of women in filmmaking here, even though her presence is certainly borne from the impulse to have as many sexy ladies around as possible.
Before too long, some of the other sexy women who drop by for no particular reason go missing (we know they're being murdered by a woman with a shadowy face, but he doesn't), and he realizes that something mysterious is happening with the villa, perhaps having something to do with the former tenant Linda.
A Blade in the Dark is essentially a tug of war between visually satisfying filmmaking and really stupid everything else. And "everything else" is the winner. However, when the film's aesthetic perks up (which occurs almost exclusively during its kills), it's pretty damn impressive. The murder setpieces are glorious, reveling in their own brutality and refusing to end, just rubbing your face in madness and visual splendor, sending a shiver up your spine with the slow click of a box cutter being readied to slice or startling you with a grotesque close-up.
You could splice any three minutes of murderous mayhem from this film, and anyone with a bit of a gorehound streak would immediately want to check out the rest of the movie. Don't let them. This is a mistake. For one thing, these moments are doled out with hellish slowness. Of the six murders in the film, four are crammed into a short period at the end of this film that the overlords of Hell decided should be 108 minutes long.
Some of the moments that fill space between kills (this was originally designed as a four-part TV miniseries with a murder at the end of each episode, and it shoooooooows) are at least amusing in a "holy shit, what were they thinking?" kind of way. The English language dialogue is tortured to within an inch of its life, and especially in any scene where Bruno first meets a new woman, completely off-kilter. Here are some choice cuts that didn't make the Champion Dialogue slot:
"Bruno, it's me, I'm Julia, your girl."
"I adore musicians, they're really great in bed. How are you in the feathers?"
"I have to say you're very perspicacious, because that's exactly what I was thinking."
Unfortunately, the movie thinks it will excite us if it spends its time watching Bruno slowly march down one dark hallway after another (after watching 195 slasher movies, the thrill of a hallway pales, I'm sorry to report). And when he's not doing that, he's sitting to his piano to play the one theme he wrote over and over again while he rewatches the one scene they shot for the film-within-a-film over and over and over and over and over. In fact, when we finally watch the much ballyhooed final reel of the film, which the director wants to keep a secret and which may hold the clue to the killer's identity, it's just that exact same scene with two seconds of extra footage.
Likewise, when the script turns its attention from resplendent absurdities to the actual plot, it's dishwater dull. It is extremely clear what the ultimate twist will be, and all the obvious red herrings (including a weirdo groundskeeper with a murder scrapbook - it's never the weirdo groundskeeper with a murder scrapbook). Here's a hint for guessing the ending of an 80's slasher movie: If there's an opportunity for the killer reveal to go down a transphobic route, it will take it.
Yup, the killer is a man dressed as a woman (complete with a vigorously ill-researched and offensive psychological explanation for his murderousness). I'm too exhausted by this trope to even muster much steam about it at the moment, especially considering that if you want to watch an actually interesting transphobic slasher from 1983, Sleepaway Camp is just sitting right there.
Killer: Linda AKA Ted (Michele Soavi)
Final Girl: Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti)
Best Kill: Angela's murder is brutal as all get out (see below for full details), but the clincher is that it begins with her hand being impaled with a knife, trapping it to the counter. As she struggles, the knife slowly splits her hand down the middle, and damn if that didn't make me curl up into a little ball.
Sign of the Times: Bruno says he won't have time for Ted to come listen to him play, but he can record him a cassette!
Scariest Moment: The killer attempts to stab Katia with a box cutter while she hides in a narrow space protected by chain link. The chain link prevents the box cutter from fitting all the way through, but it waves millimeters from her face.
Weirdest Moment: When investigating, Sandra and Bruno find a trunk full of tennis balls in the basement.
Champion Dialogue: "Is it possible you're such a vacant nerd? Your satisfaction is to sit like a frog in the sun?"
Body Count: 6
- Katia is stabbed in the gut and the throat.
- Angela is smothered with a plastic bag, has her head slammed into the counter, and has her throat slit.
- Giovanni is hit in the head with a wrench.
- Sandra is garroted with a film strip.
- Julia is impaled through the black with a blade that really didn't seem that long when the killer was holding it just a second ago.
- Linda is stabbed in the gut.
TL;DR: A Blade in the Dark is yet another pretty but underwhelming giallo clone from Lamberto Bava.
Word Count: 1241
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Director: Andrew Davis
Cast: John Friedrich, Adrian Zmed, Ernest Harden Jr.
Run Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Considering how long I've been doing this project, the criteria for something to be a Big Title is pretty low at this point. But nevertheless, The Final Terror is one of them. It's a movie that is constantly brought up in the same conversation as classic "youngsters in the woods" slashers like Friday the 13th and The Burning. Now, I'm no fool. 1981's Just Before Dawn is often brought up in those same conversations, and I was massively underwhelmed by that movie. But when you're staring down the barrel of a bunch of movies that were shot on video and nobody's ever heard of, you'll grasp at any straw sticking out of the dung pile.
So yes, I was excited to check out The Final Terror.
We do need a plot to get these particular youngsters into these particular woods, so here it is. A crew of forest rangers from Redwood County have decided to go camping out at Mill Creek with a group of civilian girls for a vacation filled with sexy shenanigans and outdoorsmanship. They are driven there by Eggar (Joe Pantoliano!), who has been roped into being their chauffeur despite the fact that he's not invited to actually camp with them, he hates them all, and they all hate him.
The campers all display a staggeringly varied set of vivid and layered personalities. There's Mike (Mark Metcalf, the father from the "We're Not Gonna Take It" music video and also he was in Animal House or whatever), who's kind of the ringleader; Melanie (Cindy Harrell), who is his girlfriend; Nathaniel (Ernest Harden Jr.), who is Black; Vanessa (Akosua Busia, who only had to wait a couple years to get out of the slasher muck when she appeared in The Color Purple), who is also Black and miraculously not automatically coupled up with Nathaniel; Windy (Daryl Hannah, like, the Daryl Hannah), who has beaded braids like she just got back from a Caribbean vacation; Zorich (John Friedrich), who is just a little psychotic and obsessed with survivalism; Marco (Adrian Zmed), who isn't part of the ranger crew and is kind of a third wheel; Margaret (Rachel Ward of Night School) who is a girl who exists; and Boone (Lewis Smith), who is a guy who exists, or at least that's what the credits tell me.
The campfire story that inevitably turns out to be true and right behind you holding a knife is this: years ago, in these very woods, a woman was molested by her uncle and had a kid after being institutionalized. Now she lurks around the woods defending her territory.
One thing that I never expected was a film that I would like even less than Just Before Dawn, but life loves to throw us curveballs. The Final Terror is a top-down failure on every level I can think of, which is shocking considering the sheer amount of qualified people with actual careers that have gathered to make this film (in addition to the cast full of familiar faces, I haven't yet mentioned director Andrew Davis - of The Fugitive! - or producer Samuel Z. Arkoff - of The Amityville Horror, Dressed to Kill, It Conquered the World, and so on).
Let's take a look at the acting first. Joe Pantoliano doesn't embarrass himself, though his character is assembled from nothing but scraps of manic, contradictory doggerel. But everyone else ranges from bland to shrill, and no higher. Strangely, the reliably vacant Rachel Ward gives one of the best performances here, perhaps because at least two other cast members also share her "dead-eyed and inexplicably British" performance style and both of them are worse.
Also failing us is the score, the main theme of which was inspired by Billy Idol's "White Wedding" (this is not a joke), except for when it randomly wings a naked Friday the 13th rip-off into the mix in one random moment. As is the cinematography, which will rouse itself occasionally with a fun, capable camera move or canted angle, but mostly just struggles to distinguish the outlines of the poorly lit characters from the poorly lit trees surrounding them.
The thing that is super special about the slasher genre is that it can survive all kinds of flaws as long as it throws in some creative kills with half-decent blood. Guess what The Final Terror doesn't have? I don't even know where to start with the list of ways this film fails as a slasher, but here goes. (SPOILERS abound for the rest of the review)
Of the giant victim pool this film provides for us, which comfortably sits at 9, only three of them die. Three. We get to spend time with six whole characters who neither separate themselves as distinct personalities nor have the decency to expire and rid us of the burden of having to deal with them. The film is so anemic with kills that they had to do reshoot to shove two more random deaths in the intro, or else people wouldn't have known it was a slasher at all. Plus, there's a handful of scenes that promise to lead to kills, then inexplicably pull back at the last moment. Indeed, the character Marco gets two of these scenes, the first when he vanishes after being abandoned in the middle of the woods on the first night, and the second when he is unsuccessfully garroted with a rope.
The kills we do get commit the two worst sins of slasher murders: most of them take place offscreen, and the ones that don't are very nonspecific (ie. knife slashes somewhere, blood smears everywhere, nobody is sure what actually happened). Instead of these campers being picked off one by one, we're just forced to watch them bicker with one another in survivalist scenarios as the men become increasingly less shirtless the further we get into the run time (the opening scenes were promising a Girls Nite Out level of unmotivated barechested men, which would have knocked the movie up the scale at least one extra point).
The experience of watching The Final Terror is more akin to sitting through a barely tolerated acquaintance's Instagram stories about their camping trip than a bona fide slasher film. At least the film accurately recreated a survival scenario, given the way my note taking quickly devolved into stuff like, "It's been 80 minutes, no sign of anything interesting."
Killer: Eggar (Joe Pantoliano) and his mom (Anthony Maccario)
Final Girl: Pretty much everyone
Best Kill: The only kill that is in any way inventive, even if there aren't any actual gore effects involved, is the moment where Lori springs a trap that sends two tree branches covered in sharp tin can lids flying into her face.
Sign of the Times: The film was shot in 1981, but shelved until 1983, when producers decided they had to capitalize on the rising star of... Adrian Zmed.
Scariest Moment: The campers are hiding in the bus when the killer starts smashing the windows from the outside with an axe.
Weirdest Moment: The killer dresses Melanie in a cute little Steve Irwin hat before throwing her body onto the raft with the other campers.
Champion Dialogue: "What the hell do you think they're gonna do out there in the woods with girls, huh? Pray?!"
Body Count: 7
- Jimmy has his throat slit (probably) offscreen.
- Lori is hit with that classic branch/tin can lid trap offscreen.
- Mike is macheted in the back mid-coitus.
- Melanie is killed offscreen.
- Zorich has his ankle hooked by a blade and falls to his death.
- Eggar is beaten to death.
- Eggar's Mom is impaled on a spiky log trap.
TL;DR: The Final Terror is a movie seemingly tailored to draw out your disappointment for as excruciatingly long as possible.
Word Count: 1357
Monday, July 12, 2021
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Cast: Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens
Run Time: 1 hour 41 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
In the mid-80's, the slasher genre had ensconced itself so securely in the cinema firmament that just about every genre had to get in on the fun and throw a knife-wielding maniac into the mix. An early adopter of this practice was another genre that was pumping out movies like there was no tomorrow: action. We'd already seen a genetically modified maniac thriller grafted onto a Chuck Norris "romantic" actioner with Silent Rage in 1982, but you know a trend has legs when The Cannon Group tosses their hat into the ring.
The iconic shlock production company, then under the loving care of producers Golan and Globus, had already produced a half dozen slashers by the time 10 to Midnight came out in 1983, but this would be the first time they mixed their action peanut butter with their horror chocolate. They paired a fresh-off-Death Wish 2 Charles Bronson with Happy Birthday to Me director J. Lee Thompson and hoped they could make magic.
Where should I even begin? I suppose with Charles Bronson, who's as close to a protagonist as this movie gets, even though he's offscreen as much as humanly possible. He plays one Leo Kessler, a hard-nosed cop who is irritated by his new erudite yuppie partner Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens, who had his turn as a stalker killer in the execrable The Seduction). You can probably guess where this is going, and you would be wrong, because if they made this a buddy cop movie, they'd have to get Bronson out of his trailer.
We also get the privilege of following the exploits of Warren Stacy (Gene Davis, of The Hitcher and Cruising, so his homoerotic cinema bingo card is pretty complete), an absolute creepo incel who aggressively flirts with women and flies into a murderous knife-happy rage when they quite reasonably reject him. He has now set his sights on Laurie Kessler (Lisa Eilbacher), who has the supreme misfortune of being the progeny of Leo. Paul and her develop a little bit of a flirtation because it's not an 80's action movie if a cop isn't overstepping ethical boundaries with a case. Now we have all the pieces in place, watch them run around! Oh, and when Warren is killing people, he walks around completely naked.
10 to Midnight is an odd duck. If you take a step back and look at the thing, it's really not successful as either a slasher or an action film. On the one hand, you have a series of kills that are largely concentrated in the beginning and ending (the second act has a pace that is murderous, and not in the good way) and all follow the same M.O.: A little bit of stalkin', a lot of stabbin', and home before dinner gets cold. On the other, you have an action film that doesn't depict much action. The cops walk around and ask people questions and file reports, but they hardly break a sweat. You'd hardly even know it was trying to be an action flick if not for the parts where the cop who plants evidence and wants to act outside the law is meant to be the hero of the movie.
And though Charles Bronson could hardly be blamed for not giving this particular project much respect, he's not phoning in his performance. He's telegramming it. What we're seeing onscreen isn't Bronson in any meaningful sense of the word. It's the flesh his consciousness usually occupies, but the true Bronson is somewhere sunny and warm where he doesn't have to recite dialogue at a naked man. Every line is delivered in a flat monotone, except for the ones where he randomly injects some excitement by emphasizing the wrong syllables ("he was on mor-PHINE").
- Dale is stabbed.
- Betty is stabbed in the gut.
- Karen is stabbed.
- Blonde Roommate is stabbed.
- Shower Roommate is stabbed in the gut.
- Bunny is stabbed offscreen.
- Warren Stacy is shot in the head.