If you’re not bored by midnight…

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PROM NIGHT

2 Stars  2008/15/86m

“A night to die for.”

Director: Nelson McCormick / Writer: J.S. Cardone / Cast: Brittany Snow, Johnathon Schaech, Idris Elba, Scott Porter, Jessica Stroup, Dana Davis, Collins Pennie, Kelly Blatz, James Ransone, Brianne Davis.

Body Count: 14


After it was name-checked by loveable horror geek Randy in Scream, rumours of a Prom Night remake circulated for a while before the film finally materialised in 2008. However, the phrase “PG-13″ had already reared its unwelcome head, a total no-no for any worthwhile slasher flick.

In spite of the name, this is hardly a remake at all and should have been called Prom Night V if not something totally different altogether. There’s more common ground with the hit and miss remake of When A Stranger Calls from 2006, in that both films are heavily geared towards an audience comprised of teenage girls who talk all the way through the film, punctuating screams with “oh my God, look at her dress!” and “she’s such a bitch, just like Stacey…you know Stacey? Oh wait, I’ve got a text!”

prom1Prom Night redux isn’t an entirely awful experience, more of a forgetable one. It’s a visit to a theme park that has no good rollercoasters or a zoo with only domestic animals. It’s a day out – just a really bland one you can’t be arsed to tell anyone about. The story is as simplistic as they come: teenager Donna comes home from a night out to find her ex-teacher murdering her family. She gets away and, three years later, her prom looms. Alas, Mr Fenton – who had an unexplained obsession with Donna – has broken out of his asylum and is on his way to claim her as his own.

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No disco fabness in Prom Night ’08…except maybe Urkel there

Donna and her pals are already at the dance by the time the local cops learn of Fenton’s escape and he, seemingly dressed as Forrest Gump, is already on scene at the Pacific Grand Hotel where the prom is being held. Well…is it a prom? Why is there a red carpet and paparazzi outside for a school dance? Why is everyone from Bridgeport High so uniformally beautiful and in their 20s? Amidst the girl characters bitching about who should be prom queen, during which the characters prove themselves incapable of exclaiming little more effective than “totally” and “oh my God” and wondering if they’ll ever see each other again (mwa-ha-haaaa), people keep going up to their suite and not coming back, or, in one case, Donna’s friend Lisa realises she saw Mr Fenton and runs off to tell her friend, not bothering to tell her boyfriend where she’s going or taking him with her… Guess what happens to her.

prom3Eventually, stalker and stalkee come face to face before she is saved by Elba’s one-note detective and they all go back for a dull finale back at Donna’s house and I wondered to myself why Fenton was ever so transfixed with her in the first place… Brittany Snow may be a pretty actress, no more so than bouncy gal-pals Davis and Stroup but essentially she’s a bit…boring. Even her jockstrap boyfriend Bobby is a cardboard cut out. This is one of many scripting errors made here, although it’s nothing compared to the casting faux pas of placing hunky Schaech to play the psycho. Mr Fenton, once shaven headed and faced, is probably the best looking maniac in horror history. Screw Donna, I’ll run away with the guy!

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Johnathon – you’re too hot for her

The fact that we know who the killer is from five minutes in also sucks. The paperthin mystery of the original Prom Night made for a fun diversion that’s entirely absent here. In fact there are no twists anywhere in sight. The producers have gone for the most inoffensive garb they can get away with calling a horror flick, although it’s hardly that, with victims who, when stabbed a dozen or so times, bleed approximately enough to fill a shot glass and then cease. Considering the bodycount skyrockets to almost thrice as many as the original, save for a blood spatter or two, the film is as dry as a piece of sandpaper stuck to a cactus in the desert.

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Uhh… Disregard

An inexplicable box office success, Prom Night is so commercially crass that it could well be included in a box set of ‘Essential Sleepover Movies’ featuring a free hairbrush and a Zac Efron poster. Worse still, its cash-catching mits assured the writer/director duo took on a remake of The Stepfather next and then, quite possibly, a PG-13 remake of Hell Night. Dark times.

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Blurbs-of-interest: scribe J.S. Cardone directed 1981 quasi-nasty The Slayer; Jessica Stroup was in The Hills Have Eyes II and Pray for Morning. Schaech had a small role in Laid to Rest and its sequel.

That’s a mighty big ‘THE’

thefinaldestination THE FINAL DESTINATION

2 Stars  2009/15/82m

“Rest in pieces.”

A.k.a. Final Destination 4

Director: David R. Ellis / Writer: Eric Bress / Cast: Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Haley Webb, Nick Zano, Mykelti Williamson, Krista Allen, Andrew Fiscella, Justin Welborn, Jackson Walker.

Body Count: 10 (+51)

Dire-logue: “Sorry for being blunt but… Your life’s in danger and I think you’re gonna die.”


Curtain down time for New Line’s death by…well, death franchise? The absence of a numerical suffix in favour of that big old ‘THE’ seems to suggest that the series is bowing out after nine years, four movies and half a dozen or so tie-in novels (one of which I almost had the chance to write…).

Alas, all good things come to an end. Arguably, all that was good in Final Destination-dom came to an end when the credits rolled at the end of the second movie as the third attempted a re-start with a new cast and tale of doom, only to shoot itself in the foot with an over-abundance of sadism for laughs. That said, it was still a decent flick, something that can’t be said for numero quatro, a 3D-ized experience so over-simplified that it looks as if the script were written by a group of thirteen-year-olds high on E numbers.

As per usual, things begin with a big accident and death en masse, this time occurring at a racetrack/speedway where quartet of youthful friends Nick, Lori, Janet and Hunt escape their grisly deaths after Nick has a premonition that an accident on the track will send all manner of car parts flying into the audience, sticking and squashing punters until the place begins to collapse on top of them. As in all the films, he who has the vision is last to die in it, conveniently allowing us to witness that oh-so-important order-of-death list… Along with the kids, a handful of other characters make it out for temporary further living, several of whom aren’t even allotted names that register: there’s “Racist” (as well as “Racist’s Wife”), “Cowboy” and, my favourite, “MILF/Samantha”.

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A creative sequence of credits that CGI-ify deaths from previous films intercepts while the audience laugh at the frankly comical ways the “characters” were done away with at the raceway and re-adjust their 3D specs for the onslaught. People begin to die in a variety of bizarre and/or ironic ways, always gorily, sometimes with humorous trimmings, although killing off the nice soccer mom was callous and cruel, especially as her two sons were annoying and in close proximity enough to have been done away with…

In between deaths, Nick has pop-up visions of what will kill the next victim. Lori and he try to convince their friends who, of course, take no notice. The only person who believes them is Mykelti Williamson’s security guard, a widower with an alcohol problem, making him the sole “character” with any - and I mean any - information given about his life. They intervene, save a life, think they’re safe, toast to it, realise they aren’t and it all ends very strangely with some sort of second premonition that, when thwarted, proves it was an entirely meaningless effects boaster designed to pad out the minimal running time.

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OK, so there’s stuff to laugh at, the car wash scene is clever and an ass is sucked out, plus there’s plenty of dire-logue: Nick tells Lori it feels as if there’s something in the room with him. Yes, Nick, your girlfriend. She’s right there, touching you… You’re talking to her. The set-ups to each death are amusing, albeit somewhat unrelaxed and rushed and the 3D supplies some additional goo to fly at the audience.

But why, in four films, has no one ever questioned what force opposes Death and dishes out these premonitions and further hints? Why has nobody tried a seance or gone to a spiritualist or a gypsy to try and break the curse? The original film may have toyed with pop-psychology theories of our mortality but with each film comes more cynicism, thanks in main to characters so underdeveloped they aren’t all afforded names, let alone backstories, parents, jobs and lives. They serve only to be cut to pieces by shrapnel.

In this sense, The Final Destination reminded me of the original Japanese Ju-On: The Grudge, a film pieced together by vignettes of the haunty-housey stuff. Instead now, we get unrelated people dying in entertaining ways punctuated by dull scenes of Nick, Lori and George talking about it. There’s no mourning, no sadness. Hell, after Hunt dies he’s never mentioned again!

At the end of it all, what sucks outweighs what’s fun, but how can you complain going into a film like this – what did I expect, Oscar-worthy acting and high drama? Well, GSCE-level acting and any drama would’ve sufficed. The CGI wasn’t that impressive, the usually creative deaths weren’t that creative and the script was pure crap. And yes, I could have done better. I imagine it’ll end up on my DVD shelf next to 1, 2 and 3 once it’s on sale in a couple of years but it’s time New Line laid this one to rest.

Blurbs-of-interest: Bobby Campo was later in Scream – The TV Series; Andrew Fiscella was in the Prom Night remake; Phil Austin, husband of the ‘MILF’ was in Chain Letter.

MADMAN

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3 Stars  1981/18/88m

“They thought they were alone.”

A.k.a. Madman Marz / Campfire Tale / The Legend Lives

Director/Writer: Joe Giannone / Cast: Alexis Dubin, Tony Fish, Harriett Bass, Seth Jones, Jan Claire, Alex Murphy, Jimmy Steele, Carl Fredericks, Michael Sullivan, Paul Ehlers.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: (into the night) “No Marz! Do not listen – we mean you no harm!”


It would be all too easy to say: “that Madman, you know the one, that’s a rip-off of Friday the 13th that is!” then take our pitchforks and torches and burn it out. This was an early one for me, a film I just had to see after reading the words “summer”, “camp” and “slasher” in The Splatter Movie Guide. It took a good few months to track down a copy in the hazy days of VHS when uncertificated slasher flicks were rarer than UFO sightings. In fact, so difficult was this film to locate (along with Graduation Day, its sibling quarry at the time), I placed a TransAtlantic call to the Director’s Guild of America to try and contact the director, only to be told he was not a member… Eventually, a Free-Ad located both films a few miles down the road thanks to a handy collector! Glee of this magnitude ensues:

madman4Initially, I was unimpressed with this kind of hackneyed wannabe but, as time and experience has shown me that there are worse things a plenty set to celluloid, Madman has earned an out-of-the-way place in my heart for its ornate creepiness, thanks in large part to its ornate crud-ness. Of course, now everything ever photographed in the history of everything is on DVD, I can no longer wear that badge I had made that said “I saw Madman while it was still a rare, out of print, properly unrated C-movie.”

As were most of the best first wave of slasher films, Madman was shot back in 1981 and originally planned to use the well-worn campfire story of ‘Crospy, the killer janitor’ but, having learnt that a certain other summer camp slasher was using that story, was rescripted into what it now is. Set entirely on one night, a factor which adds to its unsettling aura, we begin with the requisite scene I never tire of in the genre: the campfire story.

madman1Well, it’s more of a campfire song, as head counsellor at a camp for ‘gifted kids’ (of whom there are but six) T.P. sings the intro to the tale of Madman Marz, a farmer who axed his wife and kids to death and was hanged by the townsfolk, only to have disappeared come daybreak. The woods are his, leave him be, says camp owner Max – if you say his name above a whisper…he’ll come for you. The kids and their Crystal Lake-reject counsellors (of whom there are but six) play scared yadda yadda until cocky teen Jimmy decides to scream and yell that Marz should come and get him. Biiiiiig mistake, my fluffy-haired friend.

As it’s the last night of camp, the kids are put to bed and the counsellors chatter and go off for sex, including a 70’s porn-lite hot tub scene between T.P. and his Squaw of choice, Betsy. What they don’t know is that Jimmy saw a shadow in the trees and went off to explore the forest, happening upon the run down Marz household just a click or two away… When his absence is finally noted and Max is off in town chugging beers, T.P. opts to go looking for him, unaware that the drunkard camp chef has already been slashed to death.

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Madman‘s midriff becomes a bit of a drag, truth be told, and relies too heavily on the cliche of one counsellor going out into the woods to look for the one who disappeared looking for the one who disappeared before that one et cetera… Of course, we know better and witness T.P. hanged and his neck broken (all thanks to the arrogance of having a monogrammed belt-buckle). Dave then found him and got his head chopped off. Then Stacy finds him and is decapitated by the hood of the camp truck.

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Eventually, Betsy has the sense to dispatch two of the remaining counsellors to go looking for them. “It’s just a final night joke,” they merrily assume and enter the woods and split up to look for them. It’s this golden scene that leads into the most memorable aspect of the film: Ellie. Frizzy-haired Ellie is the feeble girl who hysterically screams a lot but doesn’t help much. Amidst all the horror unfolding around her, she always looks like she’s smiling…

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“I’ve won the lottery!”

When her boyfriend is yanked out of the cab (and she sits there doing nothing, eventually reaching out once his feet are disappearing), Ellie runs squealing back to camp and can’t find Betsy anywhere – but Marz finds her! A drawn-out cat n’ mouse opus unfurls as the dunagree-wearin’ backwoodsman knocks down doors to get to her and she hides in a fridge. Yes, a fridge. A refrigerator. A cool box. Foolishly, she hobbles out and towards the open door where a big-ass axe is waiting for her and, even in death, she still looks overjoyed about it.

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“…of DEATH!!”

Betsy eventually stumbles upon the carnage and tries to escape with the kids in the bus, opting to go back and get Jimmy, who still hasn’t returned and her final quest leads her to the ol’ Marz homestead and the grisly contents of its basement. I’ll not give away the ending but it’s safe to say they expected to do a sequel that never came to be.

madman11In terms of plotting, Madman does nothing we don’t expect it to (save, perhaps, for some circumstances at the end) but this ain’t always a bad thing: sometimes you just want a straight up coffee without having to go through the rigmarole of it being tall, skinny or a mocca-locca-wocca-chino or whatever. The late Giannone directs competently (and strangely this was his only feature) and makes the necessary scenes appropriately scary by distorting the killer’s features or keeping his head out of shot. Madman also boasts an organic, primal scare factor that the happy, bouncy scapes of Crystal Lake and Camp Stonewater don’t even have. The camp looks real, a bit run down and we only ever see it in the dark, helped by the fact that the film was shot in the winter months. There’s no need for a rainstorm here, we feel the cold from the characters’ trudges into the trees, all wrapped up warm, longing for the sanctuary of the open fire back at the cabin.

You can’t have everything though; when you take receipt of the goods, there’s still the annoying packing material to get through and the cheapness of the production sometimes goes against it, as does the abundance of cliched contrivances: that golden rule of Thou Shalt Not Walk Slowly Backwards is transgressed many a time here.

Some have complained that the cast roster isn’t exactly littered with the silicone-chested beauties of the post-MTV generation and hunky Ryan Phillippe-lite men, though this is merely a distraction, as the axe-swinging horror that ensues isn’t likely to discriminate based on aesthetic appeal, although several of the ‘teen counsellors’ do look like they’ve got a cupboard full of “You’re 30!” mugs, Alexis Dubin included, who is actually Gaylen Ross from Dawn of the Dead, and turned 31 in 1981. Very few of the players have appeared in anything significant since – but who cares – they were in Madman!

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Not a personal favourite, but definitely worthy of the sub-cult following it has harvested over the years and an essential flick for lovers of summer camp slaughterthons, it would make a good double bill with backwoods-brother Friday the 13th Part 2. And there’s still Ellie, of course…

KILLER PARTY

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KILLER PARTY

3.5 Stars  1986/18/88m

“DEADicated to the class of ’86.”

A.k.a. Fool’s Night / The April Fool

Director: William Fruet / Writer: Barney Cohen / Cast: Elaine Wilkes, Sherry Willis-Burch, Joanna Johnson, Martin Hewitt, Ralph Seymour, Woody Brown, Alicia Fleer, Paul Bartel, Deborah Hancock, Terri Hawkes.

Body Count: 11

Direlogue: “…And now your yearly film on the dangers of hazing.”


It’s a real shame that lots of these old B-movies haven’t yet made it to international DVD distribution, that’s why there’re sod all screen shots of it here as I have no idea how to cull those from my love-worn VHS copy.

Killer Party is a curious little gem with few fans. Reportedly shot in 1984 and then shelved for two years before MGM cut out most of the bloodletting and gave it a minimal release, like most of the Canadian slasher films of this era, it’s a fun pic with likable characters and a good sense of humour mixed in with the horror, which, here concerns college gal-pals Phoebe, lovable nerd Viva and the hesitant Jennifer and their attempts to get into Sigma Alpha Pi – “the best sorority on campus”. Hi-jinks and pranks are to culminate in the girls’ acceptance at “goat night” (!?), which will be held at the requisite haunted frat house, where a lone gravestone sits in the overgrown yard for a brother who died in a hazing prank two decades earlier…

Murders begin to plague the campus and, once the party is in full swing, a psycho dressed as – of all things – a deep sea diver – stalks and slays those left in the ol’ house… This flimsy-sounding plot doesn’t do Killer Party much justice: from the double-fake opening, featuring a film-within-a-film-within-a-music-video (White Sister’s 80s-tastic April – which is available on iTunes), to the demonic possession outcome via Paul Bartel as a pompous lecturer and the kinda-sweet romance that develops between Jennifer and cute frat boy Blake, all panning out well thanks to well-written dialogue and a self-effacing sense of humour, most of it spoofing the ridiculousness of fraternity/sorority initiations (the goats-eye ceremony is great).

Veronica: “Phoebe…”

Phoebe: “Hi!”

Veronica: “Kitchen!”

Phoebe: “Bye…”

Working against the film is probably the cut n’ shut nature of the editing: most of the violence takes place in the last thirty minutes, much of it confused and disempowered by the removal of money shots and there are some characters who completely disappear from the film altogether. There’s also a curious heirarchy to the credits, with Martin Hewitt and Ralph Seymour getting first billing, despite their comparatively small roles compared to our plucky heroines. Ultimately, it’s this trio of spunky girls that makes Killer Party a real party flick with a few familiar faces to spot for genre aficionados and doesn’t have to stoop to dire cliches to make you laugh at it – although the credits’ song – which sounds like Bananarama suffering with avian influenza – leaves a lot to be desired. Any way you look at it, this film’s cool for being so un-cool and you should go and find a copy.

Blurbs-of-interest: Director Fruet helmed Funeral Home in 1980; writer Cohen scribed Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (which was directed by Joseph Zito – Bartel’s character is called Professor Zito); Sherry Willis-Burch played dippy Janet in Final Exam; Terri Hawkes later appeared in Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II; Ralph Seymour was in Just Before Dawn; Howard Busgang (the Bee Boy with specs) was Ed in Terror Train.

KNOCK KNOCK

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1.5 Stars  2006/18/90m

“Answering the door will never be the same again!”

Director/Writer: Joe Ariola / Cast: Kim Taggart, Antonio Mastrantonio, Joli Julianna, Sal Sirchia, Lou Savarese, Anthony Palidino, Matt Fraley, Misty Meeler, Jim Ford, Chris Bashinelli, Kat Casteneda, Matt Lish.

Body Count: 9


Another cheap DVD flick with nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before and a thousand times better… The teens of a small New York township are being punk’d by a masked killer who crafts each kill on their father’s occupation in revenge for the prank that maimed him X number of years earlier…

Grizzled ex-NYPD cop Mike Soato (Mastrantonio, no relation to Mary Elizabeth it seems…) swaggers in with the intention of getting to know his estranged granddaughter and steps on the (female) lead detective’s feet when deciding to ‘help’ with the investigation until they learn to work together. Also known as, she shuts her mouth and becomes completely subservient to his ‘cop wisdom’, which includes such epiphanous insights as “I don’t believe in coincidence!” and a whole lunch tray full of similar cop movie cliches.

But then, that’s all Knock Knock is, a factory line of seen-it-all-befores with particulary horrendous acting from all involved, the usual teen exploits and exploitations (shower scene included), rubbery gore effects and a remarkably annoying character in Soato, who talks with an exaggerated Noo Yawk accent and needs a decent haircut. Cut n’ dried cheapness sinks this one from five minutes in.

Blurbs-of-interest: Jim Ford was in Frat House Massacre.

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