Category Archives: Slasher/Gore

Hide and Go Shriek (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer in a warehouse.

Despite the film’s corny title this has rated well with users on IMDB, so I approached it with interest, but whatever it was that they were getting out of it I didn’t. The very basic premise deals with a group of teens who spend the night in a furniture warehouse to party. They play a game of hide-and-seek and soon one-by-one start disappearing only to later turn up dead. The elusive killer puts on the clothing of the last person that he’s killed and some start to believe that he may be Fred (Jeff Levine) the new security guard who is also an ex-con.

The approach is derivative and stays locked in the basic slasher film construct even though by the late ‘80s that formula was wearing thin and getting tweaked heavily by most other horror films that were being released at the same time making this one seem laughable contrived right from the get-go. The characters also reek of excessive ‘80’s fashions while having personalities that lack any distinction.

It was shot in an abandoned L.A. warehouse, but the filmmakers don’t take enough advantage of their setting and seem to only film things occurring in small areas of the place instead of trying to capture the entire inside of the building with long shots and bird’s eye views. The interiors are also quite shadowy and sometimes not easy to completely follow the action. One character, in an effort to look ‘cool’, wears dark glasses almost the whole time even though it takes place at night in an already darkened place making him seem crazier than the psycho killer.

The film has some unintentionally funny moments particularly the overreacting of the teens when they find their dead friend’s bodies especially their revulsion when one young woman (Annette Sinclair), who was tied up on top of a loft elevator, gets decapitated when the elevator goes up and her severed head comes crashing to the floor. I also got a kick at how they rip off the arms and legs from the mannequins to use as weapons, which seems absurd as they are made of plastic, don’t weigh much and would be very ineffective in any type of ‘battle’. I also liked the part where the teens, now locked inside the warehouse, madly pound on a storefront window to get someone’s attention, while a homeless guy, played by the film’s screenwriter Michael Elliot, merely waves back at them.

The ultimate identity of the killer is somewhat creative and actually even plausible, but his ability to wear the clothes of each of his victims makes no sense since all the teens have different body types so most of the outfits would not have fit. The film needed a killer with a distinct appearance and not just some shadowy figure lurking in the background like here, which is neither scary nor interesting.

If you enjoy original, quality cinema then this film is not for you. However, if you like cheesy, cardboard schlock with all sorts of clichés thrown in then this will be a perfect night of entertainment.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Skip Schoolnik

Studio: New Star Entertainment

Available: DVD (B/2), Blu-ray

Fatal Games (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Javelins can be deadly.

Student athletes with promising futures are suddenly turning up dead at the hands of a mysterious killer who pierces their bodies with a javelin that he is able to expertly throw from a far distance. Authorities fear that time is running out as more of them are killed and no witnesses or clues to identify the culprit.

Many consider this to be a rip-off of Graduation Day and while both films aren’t very good this one at least starts out better. I enjoyed the lighthearted comedy used at the beginning and how a formal dinner meeting turns into a big food fight and then a group tug-of-war. The film also keeps it realistic by showing the athletes actually training and conditioning.

In fact it really doesn’t start to go downhill until it reverts into a horror movie mode and dwells almost religiously in all the formulaic clichés seen in every other ‘80s slasher flick. The killings aren’t as novel as they sound and eventually become quite redundant. They are also lightly sprinkled in-between long, drawn out dramatic segments dealing with the characters relationship struggles and pressures to perform until you almost forget that this is supposed to be a slasher film at all. Most ‘80’s horror movies will have boring extraneous dialogue at the start to help create ‘character development’, but once the killings get going they will usually drop the other stuff and stick just to the scares while also picking up the pace, but this one just keeps the stale drama going, which along with its synthesized music score gives it a very amateurish quality.

The acting by the young cast isn’t as bad as the adult actors who speak like people under a trance. The film’s director Michael Elliot who plays a doctor who secretly gives them team members some ‘retardation shots’ (no joke that’s what they call it) and the movie’s screenwriter Christopher Mankiewicz who plays the coach give the two worst performances in the movie. Even Sally Kirkland, who plays the team trainer is bad and seems to be playing down to the level of the material.

The female cast is attractive and there is an abundance of nudity including one segment where the killer chases a fully nude Angela Bennett down the darkened hallways of the school. However, the film’s cute and perky star, Lynn Banashek, was too shy to take off her clothes and so in the scene where she gets a rub down by Kirkland scream queen Linnea Quigley was used as her body double.

The identity of the killer was a bit of a surprise and something I hadn’t expected and I’m pretty good about guessing these things, so in that regard it’s kind of original, but it’s still not worth sitting through as everything else is by-the-numbers.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: March 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Elliot

Studio: Impact Films

Available: VHS

Curtains (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review A very deadly audition.

Well-known movie director Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon) is producing a new film and aging actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Eggar) presumes she’ll get the starring role like with all of his other productions, but this time Stryker has a catch. He tells her that to prepare for the part she must commit herself to a mental institution to better understand the character she is to play. The desperate Samantha agrees, but then realizes Jonathan has no intention of getting her out once she is inside, so she escapes and seeks revenge at Jonathan’s secluded wintertime mansion where he is auditioning six younger actresses for the role. Now suddenly everyone starts dying off at the bloody hands of a masked assailant. Is the killer Samantha in disguise, or could it be one of the other actresses willing to kill in order to get the part?

The film starts out okay. I liked that we are shown a brief background to these actresses before they get to the mansion, which helps make them seem more like real people and less like caricatures. The mansion where the action takes place has an interesting exterior/interior and I loved the pristine winter time landscape, but that is pretty much where the good points end.

The narrative is horribly disjointed and most likely a result of a lot of rewrites and reshoots that had the production shelved for up to three years before it was finally released. The opening sequence done inside the asylum is clichéd to the extreme and makes the film come off as a complete campfeast. The idea that someone would intentional try to get themselves committed simply to get a movie role is stupid and overall there are no scares or frights at all.

The killings are mechanical and unimaginative. I couldn’t understand how this killer was able to sneak up on people and literally magically appear at the most in opportune times. For instance a victim, played by Lesleh Donaldson, manages to escape the clutches of the bad guy and proceeds to make more distance between her and him by running through a snow capped forest. She briefly stops to catch her breath by a random tree and wouldn’t you know that’s the one tree that the killer is hiding behind.  Another segment has a victim (Anne Ditchburn) dancing by herself in a big empty room where the killer somehow sneaks up right behind her, which I would argue couldn’t happen. Everyone has a sense when someone else starts getting too close to them, especially in a room devoid of anyone else, and she would’ve detected the killer’s presence long before he got right behind her.

The ending in which the killer chases the final victim through an array of old stage props inside the mansion’s basement gets overly prolonged. The young women end up looking too much alike, so it was hard to have any empathy for them because they weren’t distinctive enough and the story would’ve worked better had it taken the concept of Dead of Winter where just one woman goes to the isolated place for the audition and thus allow the viewer to create more of a connection to the protagonist.

The only bright spot is Eggar. Her starring movie roles from the ‘60s and early ‘70s were now long gone and much like the actress she portrays was forced to take cheap low budget horror offers to remain busy, but she still gives it a 110% effort. What impressed me was how different her character was from any of her others. In those earlier films she was mainly a young, sensitive and idealistic woman, but here she is cold, conniving and bitter proving that she must be a great actress if she is able to play such opposite personalities in the same convincing way. It’s just unfortunate that the filmmakers didn’t share that same type of professionalism as the sloppy execution destroys any potential that it may have had.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Guza Jr.

Studio: Norstar Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

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 investigation leads nowhere, which makes 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 orchestral 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 to, 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