Category Archives: Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises

Valley of the (not so) Cheapjack Franchises: The Texas Chainsaw Remakes

Probably unpopularly, all of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre canon ranks as one of my least favourite series’ in horror. The 1974-1994 set (plus that godawful 2013 instalment) do next to nothing for me, but what of the Platinum Dunes/Michael Bay ‘re-imaginings’?

tcm-2003

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE

3.5 Stars  2003/18/95m

“What you know about fear…doesn’t even come close.”

Director: Marcus Nispel / Writer: Scott Kosar / Cast: Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Erica Leerhsen, Jonathan Tucker, Mike Vogel, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Terrence Evans, Marietta Marich.

Body Count: 7


Michael Bay has much to answer for, and I imagine a mob of horror fans would crucify him for being the poster boy of the remake era, which was a quiet zone of horror filmmaking around 2003, until the announcement of a “re-imagining” of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Twelve years on, it’s an easy equation to comprehend. The 1974 film was notorious, banned in numerous countries, and had a name that is far more suggestive than any of the content. Sooner or later, someone was going to say “Enough with sequels! Remake it!”

Fortunately for me, I have no strong feelings towards the original. I first saw it at a midnight screening in the late 90s and it was a headache of a film. My friend turned to me halfway through and said: “This is probably the most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen.” I found it entertaining enough, but not the monstrosity we all expected (same with The Exorcist, which also lost its UK ban in the same time period), and nothing I really cared about seeing again.

Authentic 70s names: Erin, Andy, Pepper, Morgan, Kemper

Our authentic 70s characters: Erin, Andy, Pepper, Morgan, Kemper

The 2003 over-do remains traceably loyal to the ‘true’ story: A van of five teenagers, on their way back from Mexico and on to see Lynyrd Skynyrd, roll into a nightmare. Stopping to help out a girl walking down the road is the grave error they make, as she wastes little time in putting a pistol in her mouth. They find that summoning help is difficult and the locals seem less than fazed about their dilemma, one which they soon argue about: Leave the body and scram, or wait for help?

From here, the Dead Teenager conventions come into play: Two of the group go to the creepy house nearby where one vanishes, looking for him reveals Leatherface, who gives chase wielding the titular weapon. Toss in the imitation-Sheriff (inimitably played by R. Lee Ermey), who the kids wrongly trust, and they sink deeper into the nightmare.

tcm-house

Before long it’s all down to off-the-marks final girl Erin (Biel), whose luck just keeps getting worse: Everybody she calls on for help is part of the extended family of loons, and she’s soon at their mercy until she manages to escape. From there, it’s abrasive cat and mouse scenes as Leatherface stalks her through the woods, an abandoned shack, eventually to the abattoir.

Whereas the old film pre-dated our understanding of killed-one-by-one plot structure, and is therefore only arguably a slasher film at all, there is no such uncertainty in the remake: We know Erin is going to be the last one standing, we know the others will be laid to waste (it’s just a case of picking the order in which they go), and we hope she’s able to exact a gruesome revenge on her captors.

tcm-van-attack

So everything works on a mechanical level, but the over-stylized look of the film begins to work against it after awhile, and the fact that Wrong Turn had been released just a few months earlier hoovers up much of the ‘originality’ of the ‘re-imagining': Dirt, grime, rednecks who don’t give a shit.

Everything is very dark and earthy, supposedly to give it an authentic look, but at times it goes too far, while it clashes with the youngsters, who aren’t convincingly ’70s kids’ at all, no matter if you deduct cellphones and brand names, the language they use and even their names are too contemporary to wash. Gunnar Hansen – the original Leatherface – pointed out that the film was shot at chest-level to keep Jessica Biel’s bust in the frame as much as possible, not to mention the moments where her white blouse gets very, very wet.

tcm-women

Roger Ebert famously gave this film a rare no-stars, and his reasoning is valid enough, but it’s still a solid remake, not too entrenched in the cynicism which was to come with every other horror title they began stuffing through the machine. It’s just that they ‘re-imagined’ it with too little subtlety, so it’s more of a box-ticking exercise than a grafted horror experience.

Blame it for ushering in the dawn of the remake, but enjoy it for breaking out of the tame, studio-slick horror that was beginning to wane in the wake of Scream.

 *

texas_chainsaw_massacre_the_beginning_xlg

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING

2 Stars 2006/18/92m

“Witness the birth of fear.”

Director: Jonathan Liebesman / Writers: Sheldon Turner & David J. Schow / Cast: Jordana Brewster, Matthew Bomer, Diora Baird, Taylor Handley, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Lee Tergesen, Terrence Evans, Marietta Marich, Kathy Lamkin, Cyia Batten, Lew Temple.

Body Count: 10


While I remember going to see this at the movies with my pal Earl, I don’t remember buying the DVD, but there it was on my shelf, possibly unwatched.

As the 2003 film ended the trail of horror left by Leatherface and the Hewitts, the only logical next step to cash-in on its success was to go back… back to “The Beginning”. Ish.

Starting with a very brief 1939-set intro that sees Thomas Hewitt born in a meat-packing factory, while the credits whirr, there are old sepia photos and doctor’s notes about his deformity and within minutes it’s 1969 and Tommy loses his job at the slaughterhouse when it’s closed down as the town dies (economically, it’s not chainsawed to pieces).

tcmb-5

He flips and kills the owner, leading to his clan intervening and ultimately shooting the local Sheriff (“the only law enforcement left”) and taking up cannibalism in the blink of an eye.

Elsewhere, a jeep of two couples heading to Austin where brothers Eric and Dean are going to enlist and be carted off to Vietnam, hurtles towards the Hewitt residence. With their girlfriends in tow for one last weekend of fun, it all goes to shit when they’re accosted by a motorcycling robber, hit a cow at high speed, and crash.

They believe they’re in luck when ‘the Sheriff’ turns up almost immediately, but when he guns down the would-be robber, something seems just a bit more than ‘off’. Eric’s girlfriend, Chrissie, was hurtled into the long grass in the crash and hides while her friends are assaulted and driven away to be tortured and eaten.

tcmb-7

The rest of the film is largely a re-tread (pre-tread?): Chrissie sneaks her way into the house to try and save them, but is too late and eventually ends up caught and invited to dinner, in a scene reminiscent of the 1974 film that was never ‘re-imagined’ into the remake. So samey is it, that she’s chased through the woods to the slaughterhouse for the finale! And, being that we know the Hewitts weren’t caught for a few more years, things don’t look good for anybody surviving this one.

Production values are high, as before, this time with Jonathan Liebesman’s slightly more grounded direction, but whatever appealed to me in 2006 has since gone: Watching the film in 2015 was a pure endurance test. On the one hand it brings nothing new to the table, a few explanations of character attributes aren’t reason enough to make a whole new movie, and it also made contact with, and crossed, my ‘line’.

tcmb-4

My ‘line’ exists where fun entertainment ends and cruelty begins. While the 2003 film wasn’t exactly doing cartwheels of joy, it was exhilarating without being stupidly violent; Here, the film practically revels in demonstrating how gross it is, with peeled off faces, blood rain, chainsaw vivisections… But not an ounce of a good time. A scene in which a dying character says they can no longer feel their limbs and are cold is upsetting, not exhilarating.

Plenty of people will say “well, that’s real horror” etc., but horror is like comedy – we all find different things acceptable or funny. A horror film without the re-equilibrium is just depressing, which is why the first one gets a pass and this doesn’t. There’s no element of mystery or surprise, and rooting for a survivor is futile – The Beginning is just killing for the sake of it.

The film skates over how quickly the family turns from struggling to evil, embracing their newfound cannibalism in what must be no longer than twenty-four hours, and the script makes Ermey the focal point over and above both Leatherface and the tormented teenagers, unable to realise that what made him so good before was moderation. He’s a one-liner away from Freddy Krueger levels of camp at times.

tcmb-3

In the much thinner plus column, Jordana Brewster is a solid heroine, slightly more believable than Jessica Biel was as a child of the time. She has an opportunity to escape without being detected, but is loyal that she goes back to try and save a friend she can hear screaming elsewhere. It’s that pivot scene that tells us a lot about her character – she’s admirably unselfish, regardless of the eventual cost.

A depressing experience in all, although better than the original sequels and the 2013 film, serving only to compound my resistance to this series as a whole: It’s just not very good.

Blurbs-of-interest: Erica Leerhsen was also in Wrong Turn 2 (ha!) and Lonely Joe; Terrence Evans was in The Pumpkin Karver; Diora Baird was in the even worse Stan Helsing; Lee Tergesen was in The Collection; Cyia Batten was in Killer Movie; Andrew Bryniarski was in The Curse of El Charro; Marcus Nispel directed the Friday the 13th remake; Jonathan Liebesman directed Darkness Falls.

Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises: CABIN BY THE LAKE

WTF – Judd Nelson’s own slasher movie series!? Well, nearly… He got to do two of them. For TV.

CABIN BY THE LAKE

3 Stars  2000/91m

“Most writers bring their characters to life. He brings his to death.”

Director: Po Chih Leong / Writer: C. David Stephens / Cast: Judd Nelson, Hedy Burress, Michael Weatherly, Susan Gibney, Bernie Coulson, Colleen Wheeler, Cam Cronin, Bob Dawson, G. Patrick Currie, Daniella Evangelista.

Body Count: 7

Dire-logue: “[The director’s] thinking of changing the title.” / “I was thinking of taking a higher road…” / “It’s a dead teenager movie!”

RETURN TO CABIN BY THE LAKE

2.5 Stars  2001/15/86m

“Stanley’s back. Some director’s live for their work. He kills for it.”

Director: Po Chih Leong / Writer: Jeffrey Reddick / Cast: Judd Nelson, Dahlia Salem, Brian Krause, Andrew Moxham, Natasha Wilson, J.R. Bourne, Claudette Mink, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Daniella Evangelista.

Body Count: 3


Judd Nelson, one time poster boy of The Brat Pack in the 1980s, is Stanley Caldwell, a rather dry-witted screenwriter who is penning a script for a teen slasher film and enjoys tormenting the expectations of his pushy agent, Regan, and the prissy director, Logan.

In order to research his grim tale, Stanley has taken to abducting young women from Los Angeles, imprisoning them in his lakeside cabin for days while he makes notes on their failing psychoses and eventually weighting them and drowning them in the lake.

The local cops pin up new missing persons’ posters and thank their lucky stars it’s all happening in the city and not in their dozy town, which extraneously houses a small film community, including a trio of special effects techs. During a dive to test some new camera work, down comes a new weight with most recent victim Mallory (Burress) tied to it.

They, along with a pre-NCIS Michael Weatherly as the requisite handsome deputy, rescue the girl and create a mold of her face with cameras in the eyes to put in place of her body for the killer’s return to ‘tend his garden’ of drowned princesses.

The plan fails, Stanley somehow manages to abduct Mallory a second time while other people work out some obvious clues and come to the rescue, tying Stanley in place of his chosen victim.

While it only functions as a slasher film for some parts and doesn’t show even a splash of blood, Cabin by the Lake isn’t a totally lost cause. Nelson, who had already played an unhinged psycho killer in Relentless back in the 80s, makes for an interesting maniac, while Burress takes the final girl role in her stride.

In Return to…, Stanley’s back (and carrying a bit more weight), last seen at the end of the first film lunching with a new agent and sporting a bad wig, and his crimes are now being made into the film he was writing both literally and figuratively. Production is hampered by an egotistical director, bimbette actresses willing to sleep their way to the best roles, and a mob of protesters led by the brother of one of Stanley’s victims.

He mingles in the background for a while and eventually offs enough bystanders to become the new director. He takes pity on the downtrodden screenwriter (Salem) and soon wins her favour until her research uncovers more than he wanted her to know.

It’s deja vu as far as most of the story goes, with standard in-jokes around making a slasher film based on ‘true events’ that bring back flashes of Cut, Scream 3 and Urban Legends: Final Cut, to name but a few of the many other films that have toyed with the same premise.

Possibly even tamer than the first one, this could almost be a family movie, cheapened by some naff looking slo-mo and the inconsequential he’s-still-out-there ending, but, again Nelson’s manipulative charm and array of bizarre disguises rescue this one from drowning as well. Curiously only this one ever made it to DVD in the UK.

You could do worse than this pair of after-school-esque films, probably perfect for a 12-year-old’s sleepover but as Stanley’s agent advises, it could do with a few decapitated heads and chopped off limbs.

Blurbs-of-interest: Judd Nelson was later in The Caretaker; Hedy Burress was in Valentine; Emmanuelle Vaugier and Daniella Evangelista were both in Ripper: Letter from Hell, and Vaugier was also in The Fear: Resurrection; producer Neil H. Moritz also produced the I Know What You Did Last Summer films and the first to Urban Legends.

Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises: SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE

I defy anyone not to find some enjoyment in The Slumber Party Massacre. It’s about the most fun you can have with the overcooked conventions of the slasher film: nubile girls gathered away from adult supervision and a psycho killer boring holes into them with a big phallic powerdrill.

But as a franchise, how does it pan out? One word: Cheap.

THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE

3.5 Stars  1982/18/77m

A.k.a. Sleepless Nights; Slumber Party Murders (original UK video)

“Close your eyes for a second…and sleep forever.”

Director: Amy Holden Jones / Writer: Rita Mae Brown / Cast: Michele Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villella, Debra DeLiso, Andree Honore, Gina Mari, Jennifer Meyers, Joseph Alan Johnson, David Millbern, Jim Boyce, Pamela Roylance, Brinke Stevens, Ryan Kennedy.

Body Count: 12

Dire-logue: “What do you have against Valerie anyway?” / “Nothing…she drinks too much milk.”


Once upon a time, feminists thought slasher movies were a bit offensive to women. There was a lot of woman-as-victim artwork and a fair wad of female naked flesh on show (although it’s worth noting that only 21% of the 553 slasher flicks I’ve seen have more female then male victims).

It wouldn’t be long, therefore, before somebody attempted to reverse the trend and, not so much make a slasher flick for girls, but one that bends the unwritten rules concerning femininity and lunatic killers. The Slumber Party Massacre was originally scripted under the name Sleepless Nights by bisexual feminist author Rita Mae Brown as a parody that was altered by Roger Corman’s production company, who attempted to film it straight, which resulted in an oddly endearing little film with a lot of intentional (and unintentional) humour.

Eighteen-year-old Trish is left alone for the weekend by her folks and decides to invite the girls from her basketball team over. Unknown to her – or she did know and just didn’t give a shit – a homicidal loon has escaped from the local institute blah-de-blah-blah and turns up at her school where he offs a couple of poor maidens who’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, one of whom is Brinke Stevens in her first ‘major’ role.

Kim, Jackie and Diane come over, as do some horny boys, but new-girl Valerie (who conveniently lives across the street) turned Trish down when she overheard Diane dissing her in the locker room. Girl shoulda hit that beyatch up high. Or something.

The driller killer, a fellow of all of five-seven in a denim ensemble, soon appears with his portable power drill and begins doing in the nosy neighbour, and members of the group who venture outside for the usual contrived reasons. Eventually, the killer makes his presence known and attempts to raise help are foiled until Valerie and her precocious little sister Courtney come over to check things out and the remaining girls pool their resources and counter attack the psycho.

The Slumber Party Massacre is nothing special in terms of its look or pastiche-style approach to the genre: it’s a very downmarket production, albeit one that’s pieced together competently enough and acted no worse than anything else from the same era.

The light-hearted playfulness and shallow subtext of the film is what sells it: the pizza delivery scene is gold and when Valerie finally takes on the gnome-like killer, she does so by first hacking off the end of his big, hard…drill. I mean, look at the poster art, a man straddling four cute girls with the drill bit pointed erect in their direction!? It doesn’t get much more phallocentric.

SPM was about the only film before Scream to allow more than one teenage girl to make it out intact. Previously – and in most films that came afterwards – several guys could be left standing but only ever one girl, possibly part of the issue to which feminists took umbrage, as it was common for such a girl to be one who embodied ‘traditional female’ attributes – despite the fact she always kicked ass at the end!

It’s lucky Valerie comes to the rescue, she can operate all manner of powertools of her own (see this Ridiculous scene o’ the month) and swing her machete with vigour. But the other surviving girls lend a hand too.

There’s some decent camera work, interesting kills and plenty of dark humour (the fridge bit is the epitome of awesome) and it never outstays its welcome at a lean 77 minutes. The killer is almost entirely unfrightening but therein lies the appeal of The Slumber Party Massacre, it’s idiotic amusement with more heart than most of its contemporaries.

*

SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II

1987/76m  1.5 Stars

A.k.a. Don’t Let Go

Director/Writer: Deborah Brock / Cast: Crystal Bernard, Kimberly McArthur, Juliette Cummins, Heidi Kozak, Atanas Ilitch, Patrick Lowe, Joel Hoffman, Scott Westmoreland, Cynthia Eilbacher, Jennifer Rhodes.

Body Count: 8

Dire-logue: “Maybe, just maybe… there is a psycho running around here.”


The Bangles. Remember the Bangles? Pop-rock quartet of the mid-80s who sang about shit Mondays, fire that won’t die and walking around like you’re from the middle east? They were cool – imagine if they did a slasher movie where they were terrorised by Elvis. A shit slasher film where they were terrorised by Elvis.

Slumber Party Massacre II allegedly picks up five years after the first film. Valerie’s bratty little sis Courtney is now 17 and a member of an all-girl pop-rock quartet of the mid-80s not called the Bangles. In fact, I don’t think they ever let on what the band is called. Let’s refer to them as the Snap-Ons after those cool braceletty things of said era.

Courtney still has nightmares about that night, but in her dreams the driller killer is no longer pint-sized loon Russ Thorn but the ghost of a 50s rocker whose drillbit extends from the neck of his guitar who is about as scary as Jimmy Ray with a Black and Decker. You remember Jimmy Ray, don’t you?

Despite omens to the contrary, Courtney thinks it’s a good idea to go off with the Snap-Ons for a weekend at Sheila’s parents’ new condo. Her love interest Matt will be there and a couple of other dickhead guys who’re more interested in getting in the girls’ panties than their elevator-brand of melodic rock-pop. Actually, the second song they do isn’t so bad, though it comes after a long montage of girly dancing and topless pillowfights.

SPM II becomes just another Elm Street rip-off before long. Courtney’s dreams seem to spill over into reality – even one where’s she’s in a bubble bath and spooky shit begins to happen; her friend Sally’s zit also morphs into a super-gross pimple-from-hell and bursts all over her. Yuck.

The driller killer manages to cross over from her dreams and start turning holes in her friends, who, up until now, have pretty much laughed off her rantings as “taking too many diet pills, dude!” Sucks to them, then, as they each feel the sharp end of the guitar-o-drill.

Now shit gets really weird: it becomes a musical. A fucking musical. Possibly the first of its kind (and I’ve sat through Sssshhh… and Kucch to Hai). So, the teens begin to flee, the killer able to appear wherever the nearest smoke-machine has been wheeled in, laugh, drill ‘em, say something unfunny and blow kisses at Courtney, then stops to sing a rock n’ roll song or two. How long would the 76 minute film be without this crap and a never ending chase through a half-built condo? Things aren’t helped by a twist that makes no sense whatsoever.

Ultimately, it’s always nice to see a couple of familiar slasher movie faces; Juliette Cummins was Robin in Friday the 13th Part V and Heidi Kozak was Sandra in Part VII, but the cheapness of the project, annoying stabs at being funny and the randomness of it all (common in late-80s slashers) shoot drill it in the foot.

If you were to televise a talent contest of slasher movie killers, I think all the driller killers would fare badly. We’ve had the garden gnome un-forebodingness of Russ Thorn and his B*Witched-esque denim wardrobe, and now Teen Angel gone bad with a shitty guitar and shittier songs. Surely the next film will feature a truly unnerving bad guy…?

*

SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III

3 Stars  1990/87m

“It’s driller time…and this bit’s for you!”

Director: Sally Mattison / Writer: Catherine Cyran / Cast: Keely Christian, Brittain Frye, Maria Claire, Brandi Burkett, Maria Ford, David Lawrence, Hope Marie Carlton, David Krieger, David Greenlee, Lulu Wilson, Garon Grigsby, M.K. Harris, Devon Jenkin, Marta Kober, Yan Birch.

Body Count: 12

Dire-logue: “You don’t just kill someone who’s lying there!”


It doesn’t.

In terms of production quality, this is probably the best of the original ‘trilogy’. If these films were being shot now, SPM III would likely be classed as a ‘reboot’. With nowt to do with the first two films, things kick off again with a new group of gal-pals in California.

Main chick Jackie is the host of the party this time as she’s going to be moving away with her parents, much to the disappointment of her friends. With the folks away scouting at new homes, Jackie invites Diane, Maria, Janine, Susie, Juliette and Sarah over for a girlie night in. Sarah never shows up because a drill-toting ‘mystery’ killer was waiting for her in the backseat of her car.

The biggest disappointment in the film is the killer’s identity, not because of who it is but the fact that both the back of the box and the trailer make no attempt to disguise it, yet the film goes almost an hour before revealing who it is. In the meantime, there are suspects in Jackie’s uber-strange neighbour, who she finds in her house when she comes home from the beach. Then there’s the weird guy who was spying on them at said beach. He’s lurking too.

Several boyfriends crash the party and the killing soon begins. Isn’t it strange how all three of the films (and to a lesser extent the ‘fourth’ one too) trade on the USP of scantily clad girls being drilled, yet in all of them there are almost as many boys around, none of whom ever survive the carnage. Why aren’t they on the DVD covers in their skivvies, eh? No, really…why?

SPM III unfolds in generic style but does so interestingly enough without compromising itself. It’s a pure slasher flick, with every box ticked:

  • There’s plenty of victims
  • There’s plenty of suspects
  • There’s a trademark weapon
  • There’s a lot of tits

What else could you want, other than a modicum of intelligence. The fact that this is the only film to take itself completely seriously undermines a lot of what happens. The girls are shockingly reluctant to fight back (it’s 1990 girls, not 1920), allowing more of them than is necessary to get drilled to death. Fortunately, it takes more cues from the original when they finally band together with admirable ferocity and gang up on the actually rather weedy looking loon, who has some shitty contrived motive about being impotent and/or molested – quite possibly by the rockabilly dream driller from SPM II.

Despite being ‘of the 90s’ – when the genre truly collapsed until Scream - things look very dated and 80s. The girls dance around their living room in a variety of memorable fashion ensembles. The cast – the best of all the films in terms of ‘known’ faces – features a couple of Playboy girls while several of the others look too similar with their bobbed hair. In fact, the professional glamour models look a million miles away from the rather ordinary girls who do most of the acting. Susie has an appealing Winona Ryder quality about her. Maria attempts to use pop-psychology and sex to calm the killer down…

OK so it’s a rubbish film on most levels but hardcore slasher nuts will doubtlessly derive some joy from its predictable elements, not to mention death by vibrator and another by for sale sign. Good piece o’ banter: “Gimme that poker.” / “Jackie, you’re not going down there.” / “Besides, they’re tongs.”

Look out for Marta Kober – Sandra from Friday the 13th Part 2 - as the pizza delivery girl.

*

THE CHEERLEADER MASSACRE

2003/18/92m  2.5 Stars

A.k.a. Slumber Party Massacre IV

Director: Jim Wynorski / Writer: Lenny Juliano / Cast: Tamie Sheffield, Charity Rahmer, Erin Byron, Lunk Johnson, E. Eddie Edwards, GiGi Enreta, Elizabeth Short, Tylo Tyler, Brad Beck, Summer Williams, Brinke Stevens.

Body Count: 13

Dire-logue: “I knew today was gonna suck when we got those stale donuts.”


Gotta love the opening cliche: no less than 29 seconds in, a girl in a tent hears a strange noise and sends her boyfriend outside to investigate.

So, is this the fourth film in the series or not? Hmm, who knows. It’s the only one not directed by a woman so maybe not. Wynorski directed Sorority House Massacre 2, which notoriously included flashbacks to the original SPM and had fuck all to do with the first SHM.

Here, not only does he use flashbacks from that film again but also goads in genre queen Brinke Stevens as Linda, who supposedly died near the start of the very first film but apparently, y’know, didn’t.Again, he weirdly alters the names of the original characters. She was called Diane, not Ginger! The killer is no longer called Russ Thorn but now Jeremiah McPherson (WHAT?) and the victims were all in their forties. Huh, you say? Yeah – huh?

Ignoring this shit, the film pulls focus on a busload of cheerleaders, their coach, drivers, and two random guys who are there for no clear reason. Stranded in a ‘snowstorm’ (which we never see), they take shelter at a mountain cabin while the local cops look for McPherson and a shady killer off the pom-pom girls and their entourage one by one…

Like his other films, Wynorski crams Cheerleader Massacre full of unnecessary and downright aggravating nudity and graphic sex. At one point the bus driver begins telling a ghost story, which is dramatised for us, that ends up with three chicks naked in a hot tub and licking chocolate sauce off each other!

Much sex, shower scenes and off-screen kills later, the murderer reveals who they are and the final girlies fight back as per the other SPM‘s. Strangely, the screenwriter wisely chooses his heroines, avoiding the usual nice-girl-with-dead-mom route and opting instead for the bitchy girl and the short-fused coach.

So, not as bad as the write-ups but not up to the standards of the films it alludes to following. Well, it’s better than SPM II I guess.

Some strange things: a snowstorm is due, so why is one hiker wearing nothing but a crop-top and short-shorts? Why is the sky so blue and the trees so green? And if the power was cut, why are the lights so obviously on for Ms Hendricks’ shower scene? Oh right, stupid question!

Blurbs-of-interest: SPM: Debra DeLiso was the heroine in Iced, which also featured Joseph Alan Johnson (who wrote it) and he was also in Berserker; SPM II: Juliette Cummins was also in Psycho III and Deadly Dreams; Joel Hoffman was in Aerobicide; SPM III Brittain Frye was in Hide and Go Shriek; Devon Jenkin was in Twisted Nightmare. A 2008 no-budget garbage flick called Spring Break Massacre claims to be an homage.




Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises: SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT

This is about as high-budget as Valley of the… is going to get, parts 1 to 3 of the Silent Night, Deadly Night five-piece franchise. Part 4: Initiation (a.k.a. Bugs) is not a slasher film and Part 5: The Toy Maker, allegedly belongs alongside Halloween III in the kill-kids-with-toys subset.

So, une, deux and trois… Yule be sorry!

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT

3.5 Stars  1984/18/85m

“You’ve made it through Halloween, now try and survive Christmas.”

Director: Charles E. Sellier Jr. / Writer: Michael Hickey / Cast: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Robert Brian Wilson, H.E.D. Redford, Toni Nero, Britt Leach, Nancy Borgenicht, Randy Stumpf, Linnea Quigley, Leo Geter, Will Hare, Danny Wagner, Tara Buckman, Jeff Hansen, Jonathon Best.

Body Count: 13

Dire-logue: “Children, listen to me. I know that you’re very upset and I understand. But I want you to stop that moping. We’re gonna sing.”


There’s no such thing as bud publicity, they say. Well, rewind your mind back to Utah, circa Christmas ’84 and the release of this Santa-slasher certainly whipped up a shit-storm of angry parents who picketed and protested after TV commercials showed a scary Santa and a couple of kids cried. What does this teach us as a society? That it’s alright to deceive your own child by leading them to believe a magical old man visits each and every house in one night to leave presents before unveiling the lie a few years later but said lie cannot be exposed via a film for non-children…

OK, so the producers were stupid to include the killer Santa in the ads or play them too early in the day – but if parents are allowing their kids to be raised by the idiot box then they surely must take some responsibility if they want to continue spinning their ‘inoffensive’ lie.

While the film suffered from the backlash and was withdrawn, Silent Night gained cult status enough in the later years and is now freely available in all its uncut glory. Suck on that, puritans!

Billy didn’t just love Farrah Fawcett…he wanted to BE her

Anyway, the film itself – gadzooks it’s a sleazy little number! A nuclear Mom-Pop-two-kids family go and visit Grandpa at the rest home and he tells little Billy that Santa is evil and likes to punish and if you see him – run, little Billy, run to the salt flats! Unfortunately, Billy’s new-found Santa-phobia is compacted when an actual real life killer Santa shoots dad, rapes mom and slashes her throat and tries to kill him too.

Traumatic past-event in the can, we’d normally skip forward to the adult years where something triggers Billy’s psycho-spree but, instead, Silent Night somewhat refreshingly opts to build on Billy’s to-be-fucked-up mental state as he and baby bro Ricky grow up at an orphanage overseen by an immensely strict Mother Superior (Chauvin – who is all kinds of awesome evil). Mama Soop delights in punishing bad kids and forcing Billy to sit on Santa’s lap at the annual Christmas party, which doesn’t end well.

Another ten years later, Billy has grown into a tall, athletic teen (Wilson) who is found a job at a toy store by kindly Sister Margaret (McCormick) and a montage of happy smiling Billy working takes us to the festive season where he has to stand in for the in-store Santa and his psychosis unravels and he massacres his ‘naughty’ co-workers before going off on a murder spree, ‘punishing’ a pair of teen lovers and a nasty bully on route back to the orphanage to get even with the now-wheelchair bound nasty nun.

It’s reputation aside, Silent Night is actually a lot better than most other yuletide slasher movies (Black Christmas excepted, of course), it’s examination of the killer’s state of mind far more thought out than your common-or-garden wronged-nerd looney toon and the ensuing slay-fest is pure Friday the 13th, with grisly demises by fairy lights, bow and arrow and notably Linnea Quigley being impaled on a pair of deer antlers! The sweaty Wilson does it all with an impish sneer that would make even Jason envious.

The climax, however, appears rushed and doesn’t exactly pan out as you’d expect, although an indignant Mother Superior continues to chew up the scenery with her delivery and the kids at the orphanage are nothing short of adorable – though the poor angels were probably traumatised by seeing no less than two Santa’s gunned down before their eyes within minutes of each other…

The two-on-one DVD (with Part 2 on the flip) incorporates the restored cut footage with a little more gore and flesh.

* * *

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2

1987/89m  2.5 Stars

“Prayers won’t save you in the silent part of this night…”

Director: Lee Harry / Writers: Lee Harry, Joseph H. Earle, Dennis Patterson & Lawrence Appelbaum / Cast: Eric Freeman, James L. Newman, Elizabeth Kaitan [as Cayton], Jean Miller, Darrell Guilbeau, Kenneth Brian James, Frank Novak, Randy Baughman.

Body Count: 13

Dire-logue: “You tend to get paranoid when everyone around you gets dead.”


GARBAGE DAY!!! If nothing else, this bizarro sequel will be remembered for the almost viral status of those two words, which the killer shouts at some poor bit-parter who is gunned down whilst taking out the trash. It’s truly something that needs to be seen to be appreciated.

Often hailed as the worst in the series, Silent Night Part 2 began life as a project for the producers, who were asked to re-cut the events of the first film in an attempt to regain some of the revenue lost after all the moral guardians succeeded in eradicating it from theaters. Merging the footage with new film creates an awkward situation: the entire first half is made up of ‘flashbacks’ to Part 1 interspersed with scenes of Billy’s now as-traumatised little brother Ricky (Freeman), who tells his story to shrink Newman.

Some 40 minutes in, after we’re done recapping the events of the first film, little Ricky grows up with a fear of red things and Christmas and a low-tolerance for people who act like assholes, such as violent loan sharks, cinema blabbermouths, his girlfriend’s ex and, finally, a random selection of poor ‘burb dwellers who get shot down before the now immensely beefed-up Ricky is caught and carted off to the asylum, but that won’t stop him from going after the wheelchair-bound Mother Superior. Who is no longer played by Lilyan Chauvin. And is now hideously scarred. And no longer has her accent.

There’s far less Christmas-themed carnage this time around though, Ricky’s serial killing career doesn’t much relate beyond providing additional victims, who are killed by jumper cables in the mouth, being repeatedly run over and, most memorably, impaling someone with an umbrella, which then opens.

The DVD commentary from director Lee Harry, writer Joe Earle and actor James Newman only confirms that not too much on this project was taken seriously, although it’s worth noting that there’s a peppering of decently composed shots amidst the trash, which is plentiful as Freeman gleefully over acts with intense eyebrow acrobatics and a hilariously wicked laugh. This and some other (intentionally?) funny bits coupled with the unforgettable “garbage day!” moment, Part 2 is a weird viewing experience but nevertheless an entertaining one.

* * *

SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT III: BETTER WATCH OUT!

2 Stars  1989/90m

“When your nightmare ends, the real terror begins.”

Director: Monte Hellman / Writers: Steven Gaydos & Carlos Lazlo / Cast: Samantha Scully, Bill Moseley, Robert Culp, Richard Beymer, Eric Da Re, Laura Herring, Elizabeth Hoffman.

Body Count: 8


The final slasher flick of the series is stock late-80s stuff in which the comatose Ricky is revived to deck the halls with blood n’ guts thanks to his inexplicable psychic link with blind heroine Scully. Of course, when awake it is she he begins to stalk, doing away with hangers-on as he goes.

Not much to celebrate this Christmas, but it’s kind of satisfying to know that the moaning, whinging parents’ groups didn’t totally get their way as the series grinds on – although the distinct lack of Santa is disappointing. Instead, Ricky (now played by genre icon Moseley) wanders around sans clobber with a plexi-glass bowl on his head filled with fluid.

There’s some bloodshed to lap up and a variety of subtle jokes but it’s just not as fun as the first two. I saw it years and years ago just the once and have hazy memories of the psychic Grandma (extent of ability: “the phone’s gonna ring.”) and heroine’s brother’s girlfriend saying; “Chris tells me you’re psychic?” / “He tells me you give good head.” But that’s it for entertainment.

Santa’s coming! …For you!!!

Overall blurbs-of-interest: Robert Culp was in another Santa slasher, Santa’s Slay; Leo Geter was in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers; Elizabeth Kaitan was Robin in Friday the 13th Part VII and was a bit-parter in Silent Madness; Britt Leach was in Night Warning; Leonard Mann was in Night School; Bill Moseley turns up in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and the 2013 sequel, Home Sick and Blood Night; Linnea Quigley’s other slasher credits include Graduation Day, Kolobos, Jack-OSpring Break Massacre and a shower scene in Fatal Games.

Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises: HORROR 101

More cheapo “chills” at the expense of my time and money exploring the films that I only advise you to avoid – this time I stroll down the memory lane populated by the dismally boring Horror 101 and it’s sensationally titled sequel, Horror 102, which came to me some time ago in a double pack with a freebie third film called Museum of the Dead.

horror101

HORROR 101

1 Stars  2000/89m

Director: James Glenn Dudelson / Writers: Valorie Connally, Jenny McPhee & Daniel Miller / Cast: Bo Derek, Justin Urich, Josh Holland, Lisa Gordon, Brigitta Dau, Paityn James, Michael Moon, Scott Rinker, Jason Wolk.

Body Count: uh…


A weird one for VeVo as Horror 101 is one of those sonofabitch films that merely pretends it’s a slasher film, revealing that it’s some PG-13 film club production shot in four hours when it’s already too late!

To be truthful, I can’t remember much about Horror 101 other than the wake of anger I was left treading water in once my DVD player kind of spat the disc out in disgust. I don’t keep notes on non-slasher films so I’ll try and sum it up for you in as detailed a manner as I can:

Film class stays after hours for some seminar on horror. Or the emotion of fear. They have made some films of their own. Nobody likes one of the guys who is outcasty and therefore suspicious. Bo Derek is their teacher. They all begin wandering off to investigate strange noises or look for whomever wandered off to investigate a strange noise three minutes earlier.

BUT, people aren’t stabbed or sliced – they just vanish into thin air until a grandiose twist is unveiled. But it sucks. It really sucks and I stared slack-jawed at the screen asking some higher force why it was that somebody would every create this abortion of horror.

Weirdly, outcasty guy was played by Justin Urich, who also appeared in this film called Serial Killing 101, which also turned out not to be a slasher film despite pretending to be one also. That strangeness aside, play hookie and skip class.

*

horror102HORROR 102: ENDGAME

 2004/89m  1.5 Stars

“Winner kills all.”

Director/Writer: Ana Clavell / Cast: Melissa Frederick, Anna Lerbom, Jeremy Aldridge, Simon Zonatto, Michael Moon, Christopher Hawkins, Shasa Dabner, Lukas Langer, Joshua Allen Heck.

Body Count: 8

Dire-logue: “What are you gonna do, marinate me?”


Yes, it’s better – by half a star. But that’s only because it’s enough of a slasher flick to count. So don’t skip out merrily thinking you’ll be entertained by repeated viewings.

This time, a group of mixed students have agreed to take part in a psychology experiment as an act of atonement for a variety of campus misdemeanours. They’re to spend an unspecified amount of time in the closed down Bellepark Asylum, where they’re duly stalked and slain by a hooded killer. I only noticed then typing out the cast roster that one of the actors from 101 returned to a different role.

While the most measly of measly margins better than 101, it’s nevertheless an endurance test: murders are largely off-camera or shot in such a way as to restrict the bloodshed in order to pass for a PG-13 rating again and there’s some nonsensical gibberish about hauntings and LSD trips thanks to laced-bread!

Characters are the usual hodge-podge of genre stereotypes and, at one point, one of them takes charge and tells everyone to stay together before announcing he’s going to check on somebody else alone… What aids the film in the end is the twist, which is not as predictable as it initially seems but it’d still need a goddamn miracle to scrape even a complete second star.

1 2