Category Archives: Slasher/Gore

The Arousers (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10       

4-Word Review: He suffers from impotence.

Eddie (Tab Hunter) is a good-looking high school athletic coach who is a magnet to the young southern California women that inhabit the area. Unfortunately Eddie cannot perform in bed and the stress and shame that he feels because of this causes him to murder the women that he attracts.

The original title for this film was Sweet Kill, which I liked better, but because it did not make any money at the box office it got reissued as The Arousers, with nude scenes of voluptuous women added in, which doesn’t really improve it. The film is indeed pretty slow, but I still found it strangely captivating. The story has a real-time approach with more emphasis on seeing the characters as real people than on the chills or shocks. Charles Bernstein’s acoustic musical score is excellent and helps build the tension by being soft at the beginning to the point of barely being detected and then becoming increasingly more present as the film progresses.

Hunter’s excellent performance is not only the best of his career, but one of the better psycho’s in horror film history. The way his eyes glare with evil is impressive and the film makes attempts to show the character’s frustration at suffering from inner shame and not just a one-dimensional killer.

It’s great that the film brings out an important social issue, which at the time was still quite taboo and not at all talked about. Unfortunately the story makes no attempt to explain the cause. Impotence can be caused by many different factors, so the character didn’t necessarily need to be pinpointed with one, but more of a background would’ve helped the viewer understand his inner demons better.

The killings themselves aren’t interesting and the story is too one-sided as we see everything from the killer’s perspective where the tension would’ve been heightened had there been a side-story dealing with a police investigator on his trail. The ending offers no payoff outside of seeing Hunter give off a menacing scowl that rivals Jack Nicholson’s from The Shining. The movie also offers a glimpse of Angus Scrimm, who later became famous for playing The Tall Man in Phantasm, in his film debut.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Alternate Title: Sweet Kill

Released: May 15, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Hanson

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD

The Final Terror (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in the woods.

A group of young forest rangers go camping out in the woods only to find themselves quietly stalked by a menacing presence. When some of them go missing and then turn up dead they become convinced that it was caused by Eggar (Joe Pantoliano) a member of the group who was kicked-out for his anti-social behavior, but the killer may actually be more evasive than they thought and somehow able to track them down no matter where they try to go.

The film takes a different approach to most other ‘80s horror flicks in that it emphasizes the tension instead of the shocks or gore, which might’ve worked had the story been better plotted and the characters more rounded. As it is though it comes off like a weak rip-off to Deliverance and nothing more.

The characters are less cardboard here, but the viewer is still forced to slog through a lot of formulaic stuff that seems to have to appear any scary movie dealing with campers including the tacky ghost story told around a campfire, which in this case is even cornier than usual. The opening sequence, which was filmed later after the rest of the movie had already been shot and done by a different director, is completely pointless and should’ve been discarded.

The biggest issue I had though with the movie is that you barely ever see the killer. In fact out of its entire runtime you probably only see the killer’s figure for less than a minute. When you do spot him he comes off looking like a giant human-sized fur ball made by Stan and Marty Kroft for one of their Kroft Superstars show.

The acting is okay and much of the cast went on to have distinguished careers including Daryl Hannah and Rachel Ward who both look beautiful and should’ve been given more to do. Since this was filmed in 1981 it is technically Adrian Zmed’s film debut who manages to do a pretty good howl.

The music, which was inspired by Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ has a good funky beat and the killer’s ultimate demise is well shot, but overall it’s rather lame with not enough to distinguish it from slew of other slasher films already out there. I also thought the title was stupid. Just exactly what is so final about this terror? It never gets explained or addressed and was apparently just tacked on once they found a distributor 2 years after it was already shot. The original working title was ‘Bump in the Night’, which would’ve been better.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Andrew Davis

Studio: Aquarius Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video 

Night School (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: They lose their heads.

All across the city of Boston young women are being attacked by a leather clad helmet wearing motorcyclist who hacks off their heads and then discards them in provocative places. Lt. Judd Austin (Leonard Mann) is on the case, but is finding few clues. Since the majority of the victims are coeds attending a local college he decides to interview the anthropology professor (Drew Snyder) who has been known to have affairs with many of them, which places him high on the suspect list as well as the fact that his studies deal with ancient tribal rituals of decapitations.

This is more of a police drama than an actual horror film as a lot of time gets spent on Mann interviewing suspects and tackling potential leads. Unfortunately he’s no Columbo as his personality is quite bland and his investigating leads nowhere making the majority of the movie plodding and uneventful.

Rachel Ward, in her film debut, is the best thing about the movie and helps elevate it somewhat with her effective performance. Director Ken Hughes attempts to add some style to it with a more orchestral sounding score and a nice backdrop of Boston’s older neighborhoods, which is good, but the script lacks punch. The special effects are not realistic and cut away before much is seen. Certain scenes like when a woman gets attacked behind a closed door and the viewer is left to hear the strange noises that she makes comes off more as unintentionally funny than horrifying.

The ultimate identity of the killer is somewhat creative although with 20 minutes to go I had already figured it out. The twist that comes after it I had also caught on too, so there really aren’t many surprises here for the observant viewer in what is yet just another would-be ‘80s slasher wanna-be that adds little to the already overcrowded genre.

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My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 11, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ken Hughes

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Don’t Go in the House (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He burns his victims.

Donny (Dan Grimaldi) is a grown son living at home with his mother (Ruth Dardick) and suffering from the nightmares of his childhood where she would routinely burn his arms on an open flame every time he misbehaved. When she dies he decides to use his new found freedom to pick-up women at random, bring them back to his place and then burn them to death with his blow torch. Afterwards he dresses the corpses up, puts them into a bedroom where he routinely visits them and has ‘conversations’.

The film uses its low budget to great effect by becoming a grainy, starkly realized journey into a madman’s mind. The large, rundown 21-bedroom home that Donny lives in and has now become the Strauss Mansion Museum in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey offers a terrific backdrop. The decayed, rundown interior becomes a motif to Donny’s deteriorating mind. The faded color matches the grim subject matter and even the sound, which has a constant popping noise like it was taken from a corrupted tape, gives off an eerie feeling like listening to muffled dialogue from a secret, underground source. The cold, gray, wintery landscape adds even more to the bleak ambience.

Director Joseph Ellison seems intent on forcing the viewer to get inside the killer’s head and understanding things from his point-of-view. Instead of having a robotic, evil killing machine we get an overgrown man-child, so tormented from his upbringing that he is unable to know right-from-wrong and burns his victims under a misguided notion that it is somehow ‘cleansing’ them from their sins. The surreal dream done along a lonely beach in which Donny sees his victims come back to life and who drag him down a hole is well captured with just the right amount of atmosphere that easily makes it the best moment in the movie.

Some viewers have found the scene where Donny burns a woman alive inside a metal room while she dangles from a rope to be ‘repugnant’ and ‘going too far’ and has helped the movie achieve a notorious reputation. The scene though is really not all that graphic. We never see the victim actually burned just the lighted blow torch coming towards the screen and then it cuts away. The masks worn by the burn victims isn’t any different from those worn by dead decomposed bodies in other films, so it’s really more what’s implied that upsets some people than what is actually shown.

The film’s only real drawback is that it is much too similar to William Lustig’s Maniac that starred Joe Spinell and came out at around the same time. Both film’s deal with killer’s that have a severe mother complex, hear voices inside their heads, dress the bodies of their victims up, store them in their homes, have ‘conversations’ with them and even harbors visions of them coming back to life to seek revenge. The similarities between the two movies are so striking that they come off like a carbon copy to the other, which seriously hurts the tension because you feel like you’ve seen it all before.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Ellison

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The House on Sorority Row (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: House mother harbors secret.

Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt) is a crabby house mother of a college sorority who tends to be quite terse and controlling to the girls that she oversees. When she catches Vicki (Eileen Davidson) having sex with her boyfriend she punctures the water bed that they are on, which causes Vicki to seek an elaborate revenge in the form of a practical joke. The joke though goes awry leading to the accidental death of Mrs. Slater. The sorority members hide her body, but then it disappears while the girls start to get picked-off one-by-one by a mysterious assailant.

This is far more stylishly directed than the usual horror film and this becomes quite apparent right from the start. I loved the opening flashback sequence, which is tinted in blue-and-white and a crane shot done over the opening credits. There is also a tracking shot that goes down the hallway of the sorority house that nicely captures the energy and ambience of the first day of moving in. The soundtrack, which uses the music of the London Symphony Orchestra, is another plus.

The acting is better than in most low budget horror films. Some will point to the line delivered by actress Jodi Draigie “How do we know she is alive” as being the single worst line reading in the history of cinema, which it could be, but overall the performances are decent particularly by Davidson. The only exception is Hunt as the house mother. She certainly has the face of a crabby old lady, but her delivery is very monotone and comes off like it was dubbed. Later I read in an interview with director Mark Rosman where this was indeed the case as they felt her actual voice was too high pitched, but why replace it with one that is even worse.

The use of Mrs. Slater’s walking cane as a murder weapon seemed ridiculous. The idea that this thing could be so sharp that it could cut through walls and people’s skulls with one swing made it seem more like an ax. The pressure of it continually cutting through hard surfaces, and then subsequently being removed so it could be used again, would most likely have broken the thing in half. The fact that she had used it for many years would’ve worn it down to more of a dull and smooth surface and not that of a steely, razor sharpness. There is also a scene where the cane is taken away from Mrs. Slater and she is able to walk briskly and without any noticeable limp, which means she didn’t even need it in the first place.

The killings aren’t scary, jolting or imaginative and seemed almost like they were an afterthought. Many times if you blink you’ll miss when they happen. The first killing where Mrs. Slater’s cane goes through a man’s skull looks glaringly amateurish as it is quite obvious that the victim is a mannequin.

I did like the shot of a victim’s head in a toilet, but even this has issues because we don’t know what happened to the rest of her body. If the killer is walking around with a bloody headless corpse that would cause a lot of attention and the dripping blood would create a trail that would lead right to him.

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Spoiler Alert!

This film has managed to garner a strong cult following, but I’m really not sure why. The more it went on the more bored I became with it. I was also irritated with the ending as we are never shown the identity of the killer. It is strongly implied who it is, but we never see his face unmasked. The original ending had police removing dead bodies from a pool and when they overturn the one wearing a clown suit it is revealed to be Katherine, the killer’s final victim, but this was rejected as being too downbeat even though I would’ve liked it better.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 21, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Rosman

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

976-Evil (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nerd becomes demon possessed.

Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) is a socially challenged high school loser living at home with his religious fanatic mother (Sandy Dennis) and longing to one day become as cool as his neighbor Spike (Patrick O’Bryan) who gets all the hot chicks. Then one day Hoax calls a phone number that promises to supply him with his daily horoscope but instead gives him demonic powers that allow him to get revenge on all of his bullies.

This is the first of only two theatrical features that actor Robert Englund has directed and the visual results are impressive. I enjoyed the set pieces that have a garish over-the-top quality to them and helps give the film a comic book-like look. Although the gore is limited I did find some of the other special effects to be cool including the final sequence where Hoax’s home turns into the gateway to hell.

The script has a lot of in-jokes, which keeps the proceedings on an amusing level, but it takes too long for the actual plot to get going.  The nerd-on-revenge theme has been done a million times before and ultimately makes this film come off as clichéd and derivative.

Having Hoax’s looks change into resembling a demon backfires as it reminded me too much of the Freddy Kreuger character particularly with the long fingernails on one of his hands and his deep voice, which even  starts to crack  Freddy-like one-liners. Whether this was intentional is open to debate, but it does drive home how uninspired this film ends up despite an opening that showed promise.

The best thing it is the presence of Dennis who plays an extension of the wacky, eccentric character that she did in a classic episode of the 80’s version of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’. The only difference is that there her character owned even more cats and spoke in a more bizarre way, but the variety of wigs that she wears here makes up for it. Also what happens to her corpse after she is killed is the film’s most shocking moment.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 24, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Englund

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Offerings (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mute killer sends gifts.

As a child John Radley (Richard A. Busewell), who is mute, gets bullied by the neighborhood kids and the only one that befriends him is Gretchen (Loretta Leigh Bowman). Years later after he escapes from the mental institution, where he resides for killing his emotionally abusive mother (Rayette Potts), he returns to the same town while taking revenge on those kids who are now teens by hacking up their bodies and then packaging their body parts into little ‘gifts’ that he sends to Gretchen as a token of the ‘love’ that he feels for her.

Making a successful low budget horror movie requires one to pretty much follow the same formula as Sam Raimi did with The Evil Dead, which is to emphasize the gore, special effects and atmosphere while keeping the pace fast and cerebral. This movie unfortunately proceeds in the exact opposite direction with scenes that go on too long and dialogue that is extraneous. If you cut out all the needless footage and just kept the moments that actually helped propel the story you’d be left with literally only 8 minutes of its otherwise 94 minute runtime.

The murders are few and far between and its cheesy soundtrack is a complete rip-off of Halloween’s. Watching a guy getting his head squeezed inside a vice is the only killing worth catching and even this one isn’t all that great and as it’s seen via a shadow on the wall with apparently a watermelon used in place of an actual head. The film’s humor is equally sporadic and not enough to save what comes off as just another mechanical slasher retread.

There are problems with the killer a well as he’s barely seen and never says anything, which ultimately makes him quite transparent. How he is able to climb an electric fence without being electrocuted or get shot at and still keep walking is never explained. The fact that he has a severely deformed face and moves like a zombie would easily attract other people’s attention and they would report his whereabouts to the police who most likely would have the guy apprehended before he was even a few minutes outside of the mental hospital’s grounds.

There is also a scene where Gretchen and her friend Kacy (Elizabeth Greene) watch a horror movie on TV and they make fun of how ‘dumb’ the victims are in their attempts to escape from their killer even though these women end up doing many of the same stupid things. If you’re going to mock other movies then you better make sure your film is an improvement, which this isn’t.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Christopher Reynolds

Studio: Arista Films

Available: DVD

The Beast Within (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen turns into monster.

On the night of their honeymoon Eli and Caroline (Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch) become stranded on the side of a road. Eli goes for help while Caroline remains in the car only to end up getting raped by a mysterious beast that escapes from a nearby farmhouse. 17 years later Michael (Paul Clemens), who became the product of that ugly incident, begins to show signs of erratic behavior that doctors are unable to find the cause to. Eli and Caroline decide to go back to Nioba, Mississippi where the assault took place in order to find out who it was that raped her and see if he or his family may have any genetic abnormalities that Michael may have inherited. However, before they can do anything Michael’s condition worsens and he changes into a monstrous, homicidal maniac that resembles the spirit of an abused child that had long ago been buried away by the townspeople.

One of the pluses to this film is its supporting cast that is filled with B-movie regulars who do their best to liven up the proceedings with their eccentric characterizations. Logan Ramsey is a lot fun as the town’s newspaper editor and in some ways proves even more entertaining as a corpse. R.G. Armstrong is good as the town’s physician and I especially liked his squeeze toy. Luke Askew has a few choice moments as an embalmer and Don Gordon, who wears a wig, has a solid bit near the end as a corrupt judge.  John Dennis Johnston as an overprotective father and L.Q. Jones as the sheriff help round it out.

Unfortunately the three leads are boring although I was amused at how much Besch resembles actress Eleanor Parker who was star Clemen’s mother in real-life. Clemens though as an actor is weak and looks too creepy from the beginning especially his eyes which make his transformation into a monster less dramatic and would’ve worked better had he had more of a clean-cut blonde, blue-eyed look.

Tom Holland’s script tries to cover every type of horror niche by treating the viewer to elements of southern gothic, ghost stories, possession, monsters, slashers and gore, which may sound interesting, but eventually becomes overplayed. There are also some loopholes to it that doesn’t quite make sense and the rape segment shouldn’t have been shown right away, but instead used as a flashback later on. Also, Michael is described by his father as being ‘normal kid’ who never showed any signs of odd behavior, but it would’ve been more vivid had we seen him as a regular teen instead of it starting out with him already acting strangely.

The transformation scene in which Michael turns into a grotesque looking creature might actually make you sick to your stomach, but it’s impressive. This was the first film to use air bladders, which were made up of condoms that were connected to air hoses that were put underneath the actor’s face casting and then inflated to give the appearance of the skin ‘bubbling’, which is pretty cool and worth checking out for this scene alone, which is by far the best moment in the movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Phillippe Mora

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Open House (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Selling homes is murder.

Real Estate agents throughout southern California are turning up dead and no one has a clue as to who’s doing it. Then late night radio talk show host Dr. David Kelley (Joseph Bottoms) starts getting calls from a man who identifies himself as being the killer. David and the police try to track the man’s calls before David’s girlfriend Lisa (Adrienne Barbeau), who just so happens to be a real estate agent herself, becomes the killer’s next victim.

By the late ‘80s slasher films were starting to become more like dark comedies with some of them even being outright parodies, which is what I initially thought this one was going to be. There are some comical touches at the beginning before it completely devolves into the tired old slasher film cliché. No scares or tension and a storyline that plods along at a snail’s pace. The identity of the killer and his backstory is lame and the film’s generic synthesized sounding music score is not a good fit for a horror movie.

Barbeau, who is the former wife of horror director John Carpenter and has done alright starring in films from this genre before, gets stuck with some really bland material here and has little to work with. Apparently she only took the part to help pay for her son’s tuition. Bottoms, whose career never blossomed like his older brother’s, was clearly on the down slide when he took this one and his presence adds nothing.

There’s one good murder involving the killer hacking off the fingers of one of his victim’s with a shot showing the fingers wiggling on the floor before the killer, for whatever reason, puts them into his pocket. The camera also stays locked on the victim’s dead bodies longer than what is usual including having it focus on a dead woman’s corpse hanging by its neck from a rope for what seems like several minutes. I might even give it a point for being the first horror film that has a killer who wears dentures and at one point he even takes them out, but overall this thing lacks imagination or inspiration. It was directed by Jag Mundhra who went on to do a lot of Bollywood films and I don’t think he had a true passion or interest in horror movies as his direction is quite mechanical and the overall production falls agonizingly flat.

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My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 35Mintues

Rated R

Director: Jag Mundhra

Studio: Intercontinental Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

Final Exam (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer stalks college campus.

A killer (Timothy L. Raynor) is on the loose and stalking a North Carolina college campus. No one knows why he is doing it or who he is, but the body count keeps rising. It’s up to Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi) and her friend Radish (Joel S. Rice) to try and stop him before it’s too late.

I’ll start off with a few of the things that I liked about the movie, which helped set it apart from other slasher films and if it weren’t for the stupid ending I would’ve given it more points. The fact that it takes place on an actual college campus and we are able to see all aspects of it including the dorms, the classrooms and even its cafeteria is a big plus. Too many slasher films have a supposed campus setting, but it never looks like one while this film managed to give me a nostalgic feeling about my own college days and the cast are at the right age group to play the students.

The dialogue between the characters is more amped up here than in the usual ‘80s horror film. This was intentional as writer/director Jimmy Huston wanted more emphasis placed on the characterizations than the gore. Although much of what is conversed about is extraneous and does not help progress the plot it still made the characters seem more human and less like a cardboard caricature.

I was also surprised with a scene involving a group of students pretending to be masked gunmen carrying out a mass shooting on the campus. It later turns out to be a fraternity stunt, but it made the film seem ahead-of-its-time and even prophetic especially with the way the Radish character talks about Charles Whitman and others like him who indiscriminately kills large groups of people for no reason. It was also interesting to see how the characters responded once they found out it was only a joke. Many of the students laugh it off while these days most would be traumatized and when the police respond to the call of a shooting only one officer arrives while today it would’ve been an entire SWAT team.

Spoiler Warning!

The scenes involving the killer are where the film falls apart. For one thing he seems to have superhuman strength even though he doesn’t look to have gargantuan sized muscles. The opening segment has him standing on a car hood as the vehicle is moving and somehow lifting another male body out of the driver’s seat and through the roof with only one hand, which I don’t think would be possible. Also, when he lifts the driver out of the car it stops, which should’ve been enough for the killer, who is still standing on the car hood, to lose his balance and fall down, but he doesn’t.

My biggest gripe though is that we are never given any explanation for why he kills or even any clue to his identity, which makes sitting through this generic thing seem all the more pointless. Granted sometimes the backstories to the killer’s motives can be hooky and fans of this film consider it ‘refreshing’ that this one didn’t have one, but in reality everyone that lives on this planet has a backstory and the characters in movies are supposed to represent real people, so an explanation of some kind is still necessary. If it was just a random killing by a stranger with no connection to the school at the very least give the killer a name, which could’ve been done by the police in the denouncement when they came to survey the crime scene.

It’s quite possible that the filmmakers intended this to be a random killing spree due to the earlier scenes involving the fake mass shootings, which could be considered foreshadowing and Radish’s continual conversations involving the topic of shooters killing people for no reason, which is fine. However, this idea doesn’t completely hold up because there is a segment where Radish finds some dead bodies in a locker room and then runs back to his friend Courtney’s dorm room for help, but the killer is already there waiting for him, which means he would’ve had to have known that these two were friends and which specific dorm room Radish would go back to and thus negating the idea that the killer was just a random stranger.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: June 5, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jimmy Huston

Studio: Motion Picture Marketing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray