Friday, July 29, 2022

Census Bloodbath: 1985

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Can you believe we're actually finally past the halfway point of this project? It hasn't been easy, believe you me. But now that we've officially exited the first Golden Age of the slasher film, we're entering a particularly interesting period. According to accepted slasher wisdom, A Nightmare on Elm Street was the project that kicked the slasher back into high gear, with a new boost of supernatural inspiration driving the storylines. 

This is true, but it takes a little longer than average to make an effects-heavy movie like that, even a cheap, shitty one. As such, those films wouldn't really start showing up until a bit later, so the period between 1985 and 1986 felt more like the genre was drawing a deep breath before really going full throttle in 1987,  speeding directly into a Silver Age spurred on by the increasing popularity of direct-to-video and shot-on-video offerings.

What we're left with in 1985 doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Yes, we've got Friday the 13th revving back up after its first alleged "final chapter" and Elm Street 2 already cementing the franchise's long reign of terror over the back half of the '80s. Other than that however, it's a real grab bag of random holdouts that couldn't quite muster up the energy to make it to the market by 1984, when they were already past their sell-by date. 1985 saw 34 slashers in total, just 5 more than the previous year. It's a slim year when compared to former years and upcoming year, but that's still so goddamn many. Let's take a gander at what's coming down the pike, shall we?

Census Bloodbath: 1985
Movies in bold are films I have already reviewed at the time this post was published. Once I write each review, I will link to it from this page.

Too Scared to Scream (January 4)
Trapped by Fear/Atrapados en el miedo (March 15)
Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (March 22)
Blood Cult (May)
Eternal Evil (May 1)
Bloodstream (June 6)
Zombie Apocalypse/Cementerio del terror (July)
The Hills Have Eyes Part II (August)
Phenomena (August 2)
Formula for a Murder/7, Hyden Park: la casa maledetta (August 10)
Interface (September 11)
Hot Water/Junior (September 13)
Appointment With Fear (October 25)
Blood Tracks (November)
The Ripper (November)
Screamplay (November)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (November 1)
Nothing Underneath/Sotto il vestito niente (November 7)
Confessions of a Serial Killer (November 14)
Terror at London Bridge (November 22)
The Nail Gun Massacre (December)
Bits and Pieces (unknown)
Blue Murder (unknown)
Cheekh (unknown)
The Dark Power (unknown)
Haveli (unknown)
Horror House on Highway Five (unknown)
Murder Elite (unknown)
Murderlust (unknown)
The New York Centerfold Massacre (unknown)
Night Caller/Ping an ye (unknown)
Psycho Girls (unknown)
They Don't Cut the Grass Anymore (unknown)
Victims! (unknown)

Word Count: 480

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Census Bloodbath: 1984 Post Mortem

Phew! Somehow we've made it through another year of my project to watch and review every single slasher movie from the 1980s. With 1984 down for the count, we are now exactly halfway through this marathon! Here is my breakdown of the best and worst of the year that is now blissfully in the rearview mirror.

I watched a total of 28 slashers from 1984, as listed here. While there is always the chance that more research will unearth some ancient VHS tape that I missed while compiling this list, I have composed at least four rounds of intensive and exhaustive research over the years, so we can be reasonably certain I've picked up on all the ones that are at least available to the public in any real form. 

1984: Post Mortem

This is the part where I address the overall trends of the year, but 1984 is such a random grab bag it's pretty difficult to parse out. Really, all this points to is the fact that the slasher was dying an ignominious death by this point in the decade. Most of what we got was either rigorous formula films that were late to the party (like The Mutilator and Silent Madness) or bizarre attempts to graft the slasher onto another genre entirely (Evil Judgment, The Dark Side of Midnight, Disconnected, Blind Date).

We won't begin to see the effect that the release of Elm Street had on revitalizing the genre for some time, coming as it did right at the end of the year. Other than that, the only real "trend" here is the fact that, while the year lacked too many particular masterpieces, it also failed to scrape the bottom of the barrel, with most films turning out to be middling. While I wish there were more out-and-out great films here, at the very least this situation is certainly better than slogging through the muck of Z-grade video garbage for hours and hours.

The Five Best Slashers of 1984

#5 Innocent Prey

Innocent Prey was a real surprise! An Australian slasher starring iconic Halloween victim P.J. Soles, the film takes an approach that Alex Garland's Men is probably jealous of, detailing a woman's move to Australia to escape the memory of her abusive serial killer husband, only to find herself in the hands of an obsessive landlord. The first half is considerably superior to the second, but it's an excellent first half, full of intense scenes that ratchet up the sense of domestic terror.

The Initiation is part of the hallowed "sorority slasher" tradition, and while other entries may outshine it, it is gleefully bloody and tawdry, and boasts a delectable soap opera sensibility that is lent great gravity by the presence of Psycho star Vera Miles.

#3 Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night, Deadly Night is a bit of a nasty one, and far from what anyone might imagine when they hear "movie about a killer Santa." But the exploration of what makes a killer isn't entirely uninteresting, and the killings themselves are top shelf.

#2 Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is the platonic ideal of the 1980's slasher film. The dead meat teenagers' antics are engaging in an observational, John Hughes-y way, to just enough of a degree that you regret them being murdered, but not so much that you can't gaze in goggle-eyed awe at Tom Savini's excellent gore effects. It's sleazy, finding as many half-assed ways to get women to take their tops off, it's packed with incredible deaths, and it has two actors who would go on to be stars: Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover. It's not a perfect film, but it's a perfect slasher.

#1 A Nightmare on Elm Street

Well then, what could beat a perfect slasher? A perfect film, that's what! OK, "perfect" might be a strong word. Elm Street shows its seams in some of the acting, but as far as what is shown onscreen, it is both completely innovative and absolutely terrifying. Wes Craven's masterpiece brings us directly into contact with the stuff of nightmares, and deservedly changed the game by doing so.

The Five Worst Slashers of 1984

#5 Shadows Run Black

The epitome of "go girl, give us nothing." It's just an excuse to trot out naked breasts onscreen, with anemic kills and a nonexistent story. Even the pleasures of watching a young Kevin Costner slumming it pale in the face of how little he actually appears in the movie.

#4 Fatal Games

While the idea of Olympic hopefuls being murdered with their own equipment is a great organizing principle for a slasher, the execution here is pitifully bland. The kills are nondescript and while the movie is tolerable for the most part, it has the indecency to end on what is perhaps the worst trans killer plot twist in a subgenre that is replete with reprehensible examples of the same.

#3 Blood Theatre

An absolutely incompetent film, from audio recording to cinematography to acting and all the way down to foley. The "plot," which consists of three blank-faced teens wandering through an old theater, fails to be livened up with a heap of unoriginal kills, only one of which is visually interesting in any way.

#2 The Dark Side of Midnight

The reason this film isn't at #1 is the fact that it's ever so slightly on the right side of good-bad. It's an absolute bore, following a variety of mustachioed men sitting in offices discussing brutal slayings that the audience doesn't get to see. However, the lead character is an extremely obvious self-insert role for the director-star, positioning him as a cross between James Bond and Fabio, and I love the sheer audacity of the whole thing.

#1 Satan's Blade

Satan's Blade certainly tries to do something, folding a surprisingly adult drama into its bifurcated slasher plot. However, that's not enough to overcome the terrible acting and slew of boring stabbings.

1984 Body Count: 251 (including 9 decapitations and 13 slit throats)

This is an average of 8.96 kills per movie, a staggering number that is .71 higher than the previous leader, 1981. 

Highest Body Count: Zombie Island Massacre (19)

This is more a side effect of the movie having a cabal of killers than it actually being interesting in any real way.

Lowest Body Count: Calendar Girl Murders (3)

That's about what you can expect from a TV movie, though when you're grading on that scale it's a pretty solid body count, all told.

Five Best Kills

#5 The Weight Room, Silent Madness

Don't tell me you thought "woman hanging upside down having a rope attached to a barbell tied around her neck before the barbell is thrown out the window" wasn't going to make it. This is some Happy Birthday to Me-ass shit.

#4 Santa at the Urinal, Don't Open Till Christmas

What's a bit of holiday dick trauma among friends? The gag where a Santa's penis is cleaved from his pelvis, causing blood to spurt in the urinal, is in such delirious bad taste that it's irresistible.

#3 The Motel Bathroom, Innocent Prey

One of the most perfectly shot murder sequences of the year. It places you resolutely in the perspective of PJ Soles as she witnesses her husband's bloody secret. She thinks she's spying on him cheating on her in the bathroom as he has sex with a prostitute pressed up against the window, but she can spot him grabbing a straight razor in the mirror behind them, the bloody result of his actions being displayed when the woman's body drops into view in front of her. It's an excellent and chilling bit of deep focus composition that allows you to discover information at the exact second the character herself does, in a dastardly elliptical way.

#2 Doug's Shower, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

It was hard to choose just one from this movie, but that foley. Yowza.

#1 Tina's Bad Dream, A Nightmare on Elm Street

The murder that kicks of Elm Street is also the one that provided the shot of adrenaline into the arm of the slasher that kept it alive through the end of the decade. The surrealistic imagery of this kill (achieved with a marvelous in-camera effect) clashes with the perfectly visceral nature of the gashes that appear on her body. In addition to the sequence being a gorgeous display of pure terror, Rod's presence in the foreground highlights just how impotent the people Tina loves are in the face of this unknowable nocturnal enemy.

Best Decapitation: Silent Night, Deadly Night

Now that's just some Christmas fun. God bless us, every one.

Three Best Final Girls

#3 Janet, Evil Judgment

Canada was just really into positioning sex workers as slasher leads in the mid-'80s, and I am here for it!

#2 Cathy Willis, Innocent Prey

PJ Soles proves that she has the chops to go toe to toe with her Halloween co-star Jamie Lee Curtis in the Final Girl department. 

#1 Nancy Thompson, A Nightmare on Elm Street

Clever, driven, and only thwarted by the idiocy of those around her, Nancy is iconic for a reason. Also, the grey streak she acquires later is a look!

Three Worst Final Girls

#3 Pam, The Mutilator

Now, she's certainly not as annoying as the awful people who populate the film around her. But Pam takes the Uptight Virginal Survivor trope one step too far towards annoying, literally arranging a chore wheel for her friend group's beachside getaway.

#2 Jennifer, Blood Theatre

The vacant acting and poodle haircut aren't enough to distract anyone from how absolutely useless this Final Girl is at actually getting the job done.

#1 Kate, Don't Open Till Christmas

I guess I'm just mad at Kate for being withholding, because she keeps solving major segments of the mystery offscreen and only tells us about it later. Why, Kate?

Four Best Killers

#4 David, Blind Date

Did I only include him because he wears a Speedo in his final confrontation with our hero? Yes, yes I did. Picture unavailable, tragically. Buy the Blu-Ray.

#3 Pera Mitic, Strangler vs. Strangler

The Yugoslavian Norman Bates is an absolute riot, and his oddball energy does wonders toward buoying the film's comic tone throughout the runtime.

#2 Freddy Krueger, A Nightmare on Elm Street

Long before he became a villainous stand-up comedian, Freddy still played with his food. The way he relishes how terrifying he is just makes his inexplicable M.O. even creepier.

#1 Jason Voorhees, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Look, Freddy won Best Kill and Best Picture, rightfully, but you gotta hand it to the big lug. Jason is an iconic figure of the slasher genre, and he executes some of his best work here, along with gaining the iconic nick in the corner of his signature hockey mask.

Four Worst Killers

#4 The Cartel, Zombie Island Massacre

Even though the fact that the killer is a cartel seeking an undercover DEA agent is a wonderfully ludicrous twist, the faceless emissaries of said cartel just don't have any personality.

#3 Philip, Innocent Prey

The second killer in Innocent Prey can't help but suffer from diminishing returns. He's basically an Australian Phantom of the Opera with access to a Sliver's worth of hidden cameras, and it's goofy as hell.

#2 Howard Johns, Silent Madness

While the film ain't half bad, Silent Madness' weakest link is the look of the killer, who looks like he fell asleep while wearing his reading glasses on the beach and got a gnarly sunburn.

#1 Diane Paine, Fatal Games

We all know the '80s were transphobic, but having her voice suddenly get deeper when she reveals her identity is some evil Ace Ventura nonsense.

Handsomest Lad: Doug, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Look at those cheekbones! I'm jealous. I totally get why Jason would want to smoosh them against the shower wall.

Best Location: The Inititation

The massive, insular high rise mall has everything: A variety of locations for our Meat to be menaced within, an inherent sense of still being trapped in a single space, and just a super cool look that can't be denied.

Best Title: A Nightmare on Elm Street

OK, maybe I was kind of at a loss for solid contenders. However, I love the fact that the title here is foregrounding the suburban mundanity of the world it takes place in, highlighting the film's creeping insistence that the trappings of middle-class society can't save people from having their sins fall on their heads.

Three Best Costumes

#3 The Penis Suit, The Initiation 

Shantay, you stay.

#2 The Crop Top, A Nightmare on Elm Street

Look, the less we talk about Johnny Depp, the better. But a look is a look.

#1 I <3 My Dentist, Blind Date

Delightfully baffling. Do I love Blind Date? I think I might.

Best Poster: The Initiation

Such a good tagline! Such a good combination of incoherent images into something inherently menacing. Also this is probably the single movie poster that's easiest to read as someone masturbating, so there's that.

Best Tagline: The Mutilator

That's good shit, The Mutilator.

Best Song: "Beogradski Davitelj" Strangler vs. Strangler

The New Wave apparently hit Yugoslavia hard, and I'm so grateful for that. This song is actually genuinely quite good, like I'm not being ironic even a little bit.

Best Score: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Thank you Charles Bernstein for providing Freddy with his iconic cue, but also for coming up with creepy incidental music that would be equally at home in a Pet Shop Boys instrumental break.

Elite Champion Dialogue: “You've come to the right place. Or person. Or both." Day of the Reaper
Word Count: 2305

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Omega Woman

Year: 1984
Director: Simon Nuchtern
Cast: Belinda Montgomery, Solly Marx, David Greenan
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Plot: Silent Madness begins with the scariest of all horror movie plot developments: a clerical error. When homicidal maniac Howard Johns (Solly Marx, a stunt performer from Death Spa) is accidentally released from Manhattan's Cresthaven Hospital rather than the mild-mannered John Howard, he instantly returns to the scene of his famous sorority girl murders: Barrington, New Jersey. Dr. Joan Gilmore (Belinda Montgomery) decides to chase him down, because nobody at her hospital, especially the slimy maximum security wing director Dr. Kruger (Roderick Cook), seems to much care about the situation. She finds herself teaming up with local reporter Mark McGowan (David Greenan) to infiltrate the Delta Omega sorority and try to catch this killer once and for all, protecting the sorority girls including the prudish Jane (Katherine Kamhi of Sleepaway Camp), all while facing naysayers and nonbelievers like the lazy Sheriff Liggett (Sydney Lassick of Pandemonium and The Unseen) at every turn.

Analysis: I don't really understand why Silent Madness doesn't have a huge reputation, even within the slasher community. If nothing else, it's the only other slasher movie released in 3-D during the boom in the early '80s, other than Friday the 13th Part 3-D. It's also, after The Mutilator, the only other slasher I've ever heard of to be set explicitly during Fall Break. Those two factors should be enough to get Silent Madness circulating, even if the film wasn't good at all. And it's kind of good! Color me surprised!

Notice I didn't say great, however. It certainly has its faults both as a slasher and a 3-D film. For one thing, it lacks a clear organizing principle to guide the body count. For a film that is largely set in a sorority house, it spends far too little time establishing young co-eds and letting them get stabbed with sharp implements. Instead, it heavily weights scenes of hospital intrigue as Dr. Gilmore attempts to uncover a conspiracy, scenes that are dialogue rich and interest poor, especially considering how goddamn obvious it is that Dr. Kruger is lying, even on the page (there are multiple moments where he and another doctor trip over themselves trying to correct a blatant contradiction in their stories).

It also doesn't really make sense why they thought this film would be interesting in 3-D, as most of the kills aren't particularly geared to shine within that visual format. However, the 3-D of it all results in a variety of incredibly appealing deep focus compositions that show off the detailed production design. It's not an atmospheric movie by an stretch of the imagination. It's cheerily lit and full of bright colors that pop off the screen, even in 2-D. However, it not only visually legible (which is not a quality to overrate in a mid-80's slasher) but absolutely aesthetically pleasurable from top to bottom. The Americana designs of the buildings of Barrington are put to full use, and the interiors are excellent and lively spaces that the 3-D allows viewers to explore in full force.

The kills don't reflect the same level of care and attention that the rest of the film does, unfortunately. They're not very bloody (the MPAA crackdowns of previous years had really come to a fore here), they're frequently awkwardly framed (try as he might, Solly Marx does not nail a scene where he's asked to swing a sledge directly into the camera without breaking it), and in one of them, the 3-D effect is created by literally turning the midair axe into a cartoon. The killer is also pretty boring to behold, looking like nothing in the world other than a man who didn't apply enough sunscreen and fell asleep on the beach.

However, the third act Final Girl chase sequence has enough energy to allow the film to claw its way back toward being interesting. Belinda Montgomery is a low urgency runner at the best of times, but the sequences where she is trapped by the killer - and especially the moment where he is menacing her while she is at the bottom of a vertical air duct - are quite tense. There is also an added wrinkle in this sequence of having the threat come from multiple directions, as men from the institution have arrived to silence her right as the killer begins his rampage. 

Silent Madness is a hard movie to love, perhaps, but it's an even harder movie to hate. It's a perfectly charming slasher romp that is worth checking out if you haven't seen it, which you probably haven't, even if it can't quite earn the coveted title of "hidden gem."

Killer: Howard Johns (Solly Marx)
Final Girl: Dr. Joan Gilmore (Belinda Montgomery)
Best Kill: The most elaborate and thus most exciting kill involves Pam hanging upside down from a pull-up bar and having a rope attached to a weight tied around her neck, at which point the weight is tossed nonchalantly out the window. Ouchie.
Sign of the Times: One sorority girl dies while playing a Dragon's Lair stand-up video game.
Scariest Moment: After Virgil kicks Dr. Gilmore out of Ward L, he stares at her through the opaque glass of the ward door.
Weirdest Moment: In the morning, one of the sorority sisters pours a can of Coke on her cereal.
Champion Dialogue: "That worm would crawl his way back here if you dropped him on the far side of the Moon."
Body Count: 14
    1. Susan's Boyfriend is sledgehammered in the face.
    2. Susan has an axe thrown into her back.
    3. Barbara is crushed in a vise.
    4. Lorraine has her face blasted with steam.
    5. Flashback Sorority Sister #1 is shot between the boobs with a nail gun.
    6. Flashback Sorority Sister #2 is shot in the neck with a nail gun.
    7. Flashback Sorority Sister #3 is shot in the forehead with a nail gun.
    8. Flashback Sorority Sister #14 is shot in the back with a nail gun.
    9. Cheryl is stabbed in the back.
    10. Pam has a rope tied to her neck that is attached to a weight, which is thrown out the window.
    11. Jesse is drilled in the back of the head.
    12. Virgil is impaled in the chest with a crowbar.
    13. Mr. Hackler is stabbed in the back with an awl offscreen.
    14. Howard Johns is stabbed through the neck with a shard of mirror.
TL;DR: Silent Madness has its weaknesses, but it's a totally pleasant slasher that deserves more of a reputation than it has.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1096

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Mutilate Me, Daddy

Year: 1984
Director: Buddy Cooper
Cast: Matt Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock
Run Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

Plot: The Mutilator follows six bored college students on Fall Break deciding to visit the beachside condo owned by Big Ed (Jack Chatham). The group contains three couples: Ed Jr. (Matt Mitler), a horndog who loves bragging about all his father's hunting trophies perhaps as a blind for his obvious daddy issues, and Pam (Ruth Martinez), a Virgin Who Notices Things Are Slightly Off who just might have a chance at surviving this movie if you catch my drift; Ralph (Bill Hitchcock), a horndog and the resident prankster, and Sue (Connie Rogers), a living breathing woman; and Mike (Morey Lampley) a horndog who loves sex and in his spare time has sex, and Linda (Frances Raines of the same year's Disconnected), who gets along with Mike because they share a keen interest in sex.

Little do they know, but Big Ed harbors a grudge against his son for this one time when he was a kid and he accidentally shot his mother in the back on his father's birthday (it's a long story). He is lurking in the garage and ready to take the first opportunity to use his cornucopia of hunting equipment to turn these lithe young bodies into pincushions.

Analysis: When it comes to slasher films, there are classics like Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Psycho. You know, things even babies have heard of. But once you start to skim the surface of the genre, there is a whole B-tier of what you might call "in-the-know classics." Movies that have a huge reputation, even if it doesn't spread beyond the sphere of horror fans. Things like Sleepaway Camp or The Burning or Slaughter High. The Mutilator is the very last one of those films that I had yet to see, and it's entirely appropriate that it holds that distinction, because I now realize it is the last gasp of the slasher genre as it existed in the early '80s.

Just one month after the release of The Mutilator, A Nightmare on Elm Street would swoop in and resurrect the genre wholesale after it had begun to peter out in late 1983. This, plus the rise of video stores, would send the slasher careening into its Silver Age, but things look a lot different beyond that point, largely because of all the Freddy clones and more supernatural storylines that began popping up around every corner. The Mutilator doesn't know about this and is firmly looking back, planting its flag as a dyed-in-the-wool, meat and potatoes slasher. It has everything: the traumatic event from a decade ago, the annoying virgin who gets to live, the kids partying in an unwelcoming locale, the wide variety of edged weapons... It's even unusually tidy in its presentation of the formula, with an exceptionally easy to parse slate of meat divided evenly into three couples without many extra characters to fiddle around with.

That alone makes The Mutilator go down real smooth. This is a very good thing, because there is plenty to dislike about the film. It boasts a lot of the same flaws as the early classics it emulates, only with an even more threadbare approach to filmmaking. The "kids having fun" sequence, for one thing, is exhausting and spins its wheels for what feels like an entire evening presented in real time as the characters resolutely refuse to just go to bed and chase down their whims like a walk on the beach, a game of Blind Man's Bluff, a peculiar bit of foreplay involving bobbing up and down in a swimming pool that nearly rivals Madman for maddening horny aquatic nonsense, and - oh - maybe just a little more unpacking while we're at it. It doesn't help that this stretch of the film features the most Morey Lampley, and his wooden, booming line deliveries that sound like someone taught a hollow tree to speak and asked it to do an impression of Patrick Star.

The filmmaking is also aggressively mediocre, in ways that even Mr. Sean "just let that flashlight bob in the middle of the black screen for three minutes" S. Cunningham managed to avoid. They clearly learned how to build tension from an IKEA instruction manual, and the lack of mystery around the killer doesn't help. He's just this middle-aged white dude who is visible the whole time. Also, in a transparent effort to hide the seams in the effects, the filmmakers have rendered many of them completely illegible, either keeping the important information exactly out of frame, shredding it to pieces in editing, or drowning it in murky shadow sometimes to the point that even the weapon being used is difficult to parse. 

People will tell you that the film's most memorable kill is its nastiest one - in which a woman gets a giant fishing hook inserted where the sun don't shine. However, in addition to being immensely sleazy in a way the film doesn't really commit to elsewhere, it's one of the most befuddlingly presented sequences in the film, making it difficult to actually parse out what's going on other than the fact that it's fucking gross. Luckily, the other kills in the third act are as a whole cleaner, more legible, and more excitingly conceived (to contrast: the very first body count kill is a drowning that is 1) boring and 2) presented in needless slow motion).

There are kills that I think are better (see Best Kill below for more info, but I am a sucker for a pitchfork) and nasty moments that I think are more effective (see: the dream sequence involving multiple extremely graphic child murders), so that's nice at least. There are also only pleasures that come from the film's soundtrack, including the original song "Fall Break" which is the most lyrically inane and delightful piece of music this side of "The Best Times (Of Our Lives)" from Killer Party. There is also a genuinely terrific moment where the composer incorporates a minor key rendition of "Happy Birthday" to underscore a tragic sequence. 

So, all in all, it's a balance. While there was enough that was frustrating in The Mutilator to prevent me from declaring it a new all-time favorite, it was certainly a breath of fresh air in this run of particularly off-kilter slashers that we have been getting at this point in 1984.

Killer: Big Ed (Jack Chatham)
Final Girl: Pam (Ruth Martinez)
Best Kill: After Pam rams Big Ed into a wall of cinderblocks, she backs up the car to reveal that he has been halved as his torso bloodily separates from the rest of him.
Sign of the Times: I don't think a single person in this film escapes having a sweater wrapped around their shoulders at one point or another.
Scariest Moment: Ralph goes walking on the beach wearing shoes.
Weirdest Moment: At one point, Mike flirts with Linda by undressing her using a pair of pliers.
Champion Dialogue: "Lightning is not one of my favorite things."
Body Count: 7
    1. Ed's Mother is shot in the back.
    2. Linda is drowned in a swimming pool.
    3. Mike is has a running boat motor inserted into his gut.
    4. Cop has a fencepost jammed into his face and is then decapitated with a battle axe.
    5. Ralph is stabbed in the neck with a pitchfork.
    6. Sue is stabbed in the groin with a fishing gaff, then decapitated with a battle axe.
    7. Big Ed is slammed into a wall with a car, resulting in him being cut in half.
TL;DR: The Mutilator is reassuringly formulaic, though it only infrequently does much to earn that goodwill.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1284

Monday, July 25, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Christmas Stalking

Year: 1984
Director: Edmund Purdom
Cast: Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Caroline Munro
Run Time: 1 hour 26 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Plot: Don't Open Till Christmas takes place in London during the lead-up to Christmas day. By night, a killer is stalking the streets murdering people who dress like Santa Claus. On the case are Inspector Harris (Edmund Purdom of Pieces) and Detective Sergeant Powell (Mark Jones), though they might just be shown up by amateur sleuth Kate (Belinda Mayne), whose father was one of the first victims, and her boyfriend Cliff (Gerry Sundquist of the same year's Blind Date). Also on the case is Daily News reporter Giles (Alan Lake), who keeps getting under the feet of the Scotland Yard professionals.

Analysis: Even in a darker period for the slasher, producers couldn't resist getting those slay bells jingling.  In 1984, we got two entries in the hallowed subgenre of Christmas slashers, and Don't Open Till Christmas is rightfully the far less prominent title, behind Silent Night, Deadly Night. The film is from the same producers that brought us Pieces, and while it has every inch of that movie's general incoherence, it doesn't carry the same spark of charm that makes it a bad-good classic par excellence.

The film is narratively compromised to an almost violent degree, presenting a whodunit that lacks both viable suspects and a real sense of investigation. Most of the important facts of the case are discovered by Kate in offscreen moments that she then describes later, which robs the proceedings of any sense of fun. It doesn't fare much better as a formula slasher, failing to imbue any of the vast slate of victims with any sort of personality, batting away its Final Girl before the climactic third act chase scene, and making the fate of the killer frustratingly opaque rather than ambiguous in a "final shot of Halloween" kind of way. This may be a result of the fact that the movie changed hands between three different directors during production, and while I understand that, they could have just... not released the movie.

Fortunately, while the kills are disjointed, some of them do pack enough of a classic slasher punch to at least be entertaining to witness, and they come at a brisk enough frequency that the taste of the poorly lit and executed ones is washed out of your mouth almost immediately. It would take a person with more moral purity than I to complain about the fact that this movie contains an eyeball sliding out of its socket, a Rube Goldberg-esque car electrocution, a spear through the mouth, and a Santa getting his dick slashed off while he uses a urinal.

There are also some elements that are genuinely good, though those are much fewer and farther between. First off, the score incoporates a minor key rendition of "Jingle Bells" that works wonders to boost the holiday spirit of the story. There is also a general sense that the creators of the film saw the German krimi movies and decided they could make a Scotland Yard murder mystery even more hyperbolically British than those. The film also doesn't want for good locations (including a scene set in the basement of the Tower of London), though it does want for the lighting necessary to really make those locations pop and drive the atmosphere in a real way. Frankly, in general it's a piss ugly movie. If every frame of a film is meant to be a painting, the shots here look like they accidentally sat on a painting.

Don't Open Till Christmas is not exactly a miserable experience to sit through, but I could point you to a half dozen Christmas slashers that are far more worth your time, and that's just off the top of my head.

Killer: Giles (Alan Lake)
Final Girl: Sherry Graham (Kelly Baker), randomly. Her lack of overall importance to the story is indicated by the fact that she is credited as "Experience Girl."
Best Kill: A Santa has his face cleaved in twain backstage at a show and is sent onstage from beneath a trapdoor in the middle of the performance.
Sign of the Times: After rubbing up against a woman wearing a Santa coat, Cliff is worried they'll be mistaken for a couple of "gays" and get arrested.
Scariest Moment: A man comes to Sherry's peep show and begins to talk about his weird relationship with his mother, at which point he is revealed not to be the killer.
Weirdest Moment: The performance that was so cruelly interrupted by the arrival of a dead body was being put on by consummate slasher vixen Caroline Munro of Maniac, The Last Horror Film, and Slaughter High.
Champion Dialogue: "I am welcome everywhere. I am a member of society."
Body Count: 13
    1. Makeout Santa is stabbed in the chest.
    2. Makeout Woman is stabbed in the stomach.
    3. Daddy Santa is impaled through the back of the neck with a spear.
    4. Cigarette Santa is garroted with wire and has his face burned.
    5. Alley Santa is shot in the head.
    6. Peep Show Santa is stabbed in the neck.
    7. Drunk Santa is stabbed in the gut.
    8. Carnival Santa is kicked to death with a shoe that has a knife in it.
    9. Silly String Santa is cleavered in the face.
    10. Urinal Santa has his dick slashed off.
    11. Kate is stabbed in the gut.
    12. Powell is electrocuted by his car.
    13. Mom is pushed down the stairs.
    14. Ian Harris is exploded by a rigged music box.
TL;DR: Don't Open Till Christmas is incoherent and stupid, but it's mildly entertaining nevertheless.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 938

Friday, July 22, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Don't Fear The Reaper

 Tim Ritter
 Cathy O'Hanlon, Patrick Foster, Todd Nolf
Run Time:
 1 hour 15 minutes

Plot: Day of the Reaper alternates between two timelines: one where a group of young women in Sunnyvale, Florida are murdered by a mysterious assailant in a black face covering and an apron, and the other, thirteen months later, where the only survivor of that massacre must face off against the killer once again.

Analysis: Day of the Reaper feels like it was directed by a 16-year-old. Which is a real compliment, considering it was directed by a 15-year-old. That's right, Tim Ritter, flush with $1,000 earned from his job as a dishwasher, set out to shoot a slasher movie on super 8 with his friends. The fact that this exists and has any sort of distribution, however small, is a feat in and of itself. However, it's still a slasher movie directed by a 15-year-old. I was 15 once, and I'm sure you were too. While Ritter makes up in enthusiasm what he lacks in training, it's still not something one necessarily wants to sit through for a feature-length run time.

Of course it's shoddily made. That's what you sign up for when you sit down with Day of the Reaper. First and foremost, all the dialogue is delivered in staticky post-dubbed voiceover that only occasionally deigns to resemble the shapes the mouths onscreen are making, rendering it almost impossible to parse out what face each name belongs to. Also, there are over a dozen shots where you can clearly see the actors waiting for "action" to be called before springing into motion, and even in the ADR dialogue, they frequently stumble over and/or forget their lines.

At the very least, the kills are lovingly rendered in a cheap but generally effective way that many video slashers would be delivering in the coming years, even if the scenes that contain them are universally meandering and overlong.

Really, the true pleasure of experiencing Day of the Reaper, if there is indeed pleasure to be had, is watching a group of teenagers goof off and try to get away with making a movie. From the Rugrats-esque misunderstandings about how adult life works (everything about the character Don and his "real estate convention" is hilarious, as is the pearl necklace worn by one of the female characters) to the squeaky-voiced detective and doctor characters, there is a distinct charm to the proceedings that isn't present in shitty films made by talentless adults.

I wouldn't say I recommend this movie to anyone, but it does feel like something I would have a blast watching 10 years later if I had made it in high school, and some of that feeling does rub off vicariously. If you were a creative teen with a heart full of dreams that you had no idea how to carry out, this might also be the case for you. 

Killer: The Reaper (Todd Nolf)
Final Girl: Jennifer (Cathy O'Hanlon)
Best Kill: One of the girls (whose name I think is Cheryl, though that's one of the ones I'm shakier on) has her head sawed off, and it's clear the blood is being squirted out of the saw blade, which is very cute.
Sign of the Times: One of the girls is wearing a denim skirt and a pink Lacoste polo with the collar popped.
Scariest Moment: There's a totally OK shot from above showing Jennifer hiding while the killer stalks through the woods nearby.
Weirdest Moment: Dr. Block reveals that he has programmed his own murderer to be the savior of humanity. This one wears a white towel.
Champion Dialogue: “You've come to the right place. Or person. Or both."
Body Count: 10
    1. Orderly #1 is stabbed in the eye with a syringe.
    2. Orderly #2 has his throat slashed with a razor.
    3. Jill has her arm cut off to death.
    4. Julie is chopped in the neck with a machete.
    5. Cheryl(?) has her head sawed off.
    6. Don is stabbed to death.
    7. Don's Girlfriend is strangled.
    8. Detective Rosenberg is dismembered with an axe.
    9. Humanity's Savior is dismembered with an axe.
    10. The Reaper has his heart cut out and eaten.
TL;DR: Day of the Reaper must have been fun for the literal teenagers making it, but it is not equally fun to sit down and watch.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 724

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Who Do? You Do

 John Carter
 David Broadnax, Rita Jenrette, Tom Cantrell
Run Time:
 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Plot: Zombie Island Massacre follows a group of American tourists in the Caribbean who take a tour to the isolated island of Saint Marie. After witnessing a voodoo zombie ceremony, they find that their tour bus has been incapacitated. While they walk to a remote villa on the island to seek shelter, a mysterious killer who they believe to be the resurrected corpse they witnessed begins to stalk and murder them.

Analysis: Zombie Island Massacre was distributed by Troma, a company that pretty much only ever puts out a good movie if somebody's playing a prank on them. So, when their logo graced the opening credits of the film, I can't say that I anticipated much, and it turns out I was correct to have that reaction. However, the film was least a notch or two above my bottom of the barrel expectations.

For one thing, the project gets sleazy slasher cred thanks to the involvement of composer Harry Manfredini, whose shameless approach to ripping off his own music from Friday the 13th (which in and of itself was busy ripping off Psycho and Jaws) always lends an air of charm to a low budget slice 'n dice picture. For another, while the film has a severe lack of kill scenes that are in any way either bloody or effective (one decapitation depicts a machete knocking against the side of someone's neck, causing their head to go flying off), it sure has a whole hell of a lot of them. This is partially due to the fact that there are so many indistinguishable, terribly acted white people crammed into that tour bus, but part of it is due to the film's most curious twist on the slasher formula.

Abandon all hope to avoid spoilers, ye who enter here:

It turns out that the killer, who many of the tourists fully embrace as potentially being a zombie without a moment's hesitation, is actually a contingent of a Colombian drug cartel trying to suss out who in the tour group is an undercover DEA agent carrying their money. This is just the beginning of the wild swerves the final fifteen minutes of the plot begins to take, and it's an exhilarating roller coaster of nonsense that somewhat offsets the generally bland first hour of the film. While it lacks the verve and commitment of the finale, that first hour is at least also spiced up by the island setting, though that taste is undercut by a heavy helping of racial insensitivity, of course.

The wild plot also benefits from being played entirely straight, a concept that would soon be abandoned by Troma altogether in the coming years. At the end of the day, Zombie Island Massacre is still a bad movie, but at least it puts in the work to make itself a somewhat interesting movie, which is half the battle.

Killer: Like, a whole Colombian cartel
Final Girl: Sandy (Rita Jenrette)
Best Kill: The kill where Connie has a knife embedded in her face actually looks passable.
Sign of the Times: One of the guys has a kerchief tied around his neck every time he appears onscreen, like he's a character in a campfire story.
Scariest Moment: The corpse's fingernails start to grow in the middle of the voodoo ceremony.
Weirdest Moment: A grizzled hunter suddenly shows up and declares that his name is Eli Whitney.
Champion Dialogue: “It looks like a bird or a bear."
Body Count: 19; but don't be fooled into thinking that makes the movie interesting.
    1. Eddie is bludgeoned in the back of the head with a stick.
    2. Roy is killed offscreen.
    3. Donna is killed offscreen.
    4. Helen is drowned.
    5. Jerry is drowned.
    6. George is garroted with a noose.
    7. Ethel is killed offscreen.
    8. Barbie and
    9. Matt are impaled in a pit of spikes.
    10. Joe is decapitated with a machete.
    11. Man #1 is beaten with a stick.
    12. Man #2 is beaten with a stick.
    13. Spear Thrower #1 is shot in the head.
    14. Paul is speared in the gut.
    15. Spear Thrower #2 is shot in the gut.
    16. Eli Whitney is shot in the gut.
    17. Knife Thrower #1 is shot.
    18. Connie has a knife embedded in her face.
    19. Knife Thrower #2 is conked on the head.
TL;DR: Zombie Island Massacre is a low-grade body count picture that is briefly jazzed up by a wild series of plot twists.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 750