Harper’s Island – Episode 1

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Body Count: 2

Now this is something you don’t see every day month year ever, a TV slasher series. Messiah kinda dipped its toes into the water, but Harper’s Island appears to be – on the evidence of the first episode – an out n’ out stalk-a-slash-a-hack-a-kill-a-thon.

OK, so episode one, entitled Whap, wasn’t actually that engaging, but it was adequate enough to beckon me back like some strange noise I heard coming from the shed one rainy night…

The titular island is reportedly 37 miles off the coast of Seattle where some dude killed a dozen or so people a few years earlier. It’s also the place where loved-up younguns Henry (guy who played, uh…Henry in Ugly Betty) and Trish (Katie Cassidy from the Black Christmas “remake”) want to get married and so invite their respective family and friends for the occasion, which looks like it’s going to take more than a couple of days. Good luck getting time off work.

Amongst the attendees is Abby (Elaine Cassidy – who reminds me of Maddy from Friday the 13th Part VII), whose mom was one of the murder victims and who hasn’t returned to Harper’s Island since. Read: the final girl. She’s Henry’s friend from childhood. Trish’s family are mega-super-rich and her Dad (Richard Burgi) doesn’t seem happy about her betrothment (!?) to former yacht-scrubber Henry and might have plans to ensure the wedding never happens.

Never mind mate, someone’s already trimming the guest list – bwa-ha-haaaa!!! Yes, the uncle who never shows is strapped to the propeller shaft beneath the boat that takes the group to the cursed isle and so goes head first into the blades as they launch – and of course, on a boat taking some forty people out to sea, not one person looks over the stern and says “ew, Cindy, like where did that blood come from?”

Various characters are introduced, who range from witless guests, family, a creepy-ass kid, evident red herrings, island dwellers who all know about Abby and one totally off-screen serial killer who dispenses with another poor schmuck before the end of the episode. It’s frankly too soon to guess who or even why, but you can bet your ass it’s something to do with the murders of olde and the rich family. We shall see… uh, unless it gets cancelled as Stateside it’s already been shifted to a rubbish weekend night slot. However, as all thirteen episodes have been shot, hopefully it’ll play out.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2

friday2aFRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2

5 Stars  1981/18/84m

“The bodycount continues…”

Director: Steve Miner / Writer: Ron Kurz / Cast: Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Marta Kober, Bill Randolph, Tom McBride, Lauren-Marie Taylor, Kirsten Baker, Russell Todd, Stu Charno, Walt Gorney, Steve Daskawicz.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “Axes, knives, saws – they can all be dangerous…”


This is a big one. For me, the best slasher movie in existence. Prepare thyself, I may become emotional…

So, after the mega box office ring-a-ding-ding that Friday the 13th made during the summer of 1980, ’twas not a surprise that a sequel was rushed into production. The budget went up, the script stayed almost exactly the same and cinema’s most prolific mass murderer was born. Ja. Son. Voor. Hees.

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Storywise, we begin pre-credits on the street outside the home of sole survivor Alice (Adrienne King returning), where a creepy pair o’ legs skulks through puddles towards her abode… Upstairs on the bed, Alice has a convenient flashback dream that recaps the end of the first film (complete with blurry screen), Mrs Voorhees’ insane revenge plot and her subsequent beheading la-de-dah… Soon after Alice awakes, she grabs the world’s shortest shower and gets scared by her cat before finding Mrs V’s severed head in the refrigerator and getting an ice-pick in the temple. Cut to credits.

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We learn that it’s been “five long years” since the Camp Crystal Lake massacre and a counsellor training center nearby opens up to a bunch of nubile teens, all flirtation and pranks. Head counsellor Paul (Furey) tries to keep things together, all the while carrying on with his assistant Ginny (the legend of Amy Steel). Second assistant Ted is the uber-geek, then there are the main trainees: Vickie, Scott, Terry, Sandra, Jeff and wheelchair-bound Mark…

The legend of Camp Crystal Lake is told around the campfire by Paul, who mentions that little Jason’s body was never found and it is said he killed Alice and that now he stalks the forest, ready to avenge his mother’s death! A great little scene, is this, my very first memory of anything Friday the 13th related when I caught it on TV in Florida around Halloween ’89 (when I was 11 and nervy).

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While the youngsters continue to amble around the area exercising little caution, Crazy Ralph returns for no particular reason other than to supply Jason with a mid-point kill. He wears exactly the same outfit as he did five years before and learns the hard way that perving on Ginny and Paul is a fatal error.

The next day, Sandra and Jeff opt to hike into the woods and explore Camp Crystal Lake, but are intercepted by a toupee-haired cop, who duly becomes another victim. Their punishment for getting caught is to stay behind that night while everyone else goes out for one last night on the town, save for the other four we all knew would die… Terry goes skinny-dipping, Jeff and Mark have an arm-wrestling contest and a shady figure who we’ve not yet had a good look at appears in the camp.

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One by one, the teens are offed in a variety of now textbook MO’s, with excellent make up effects courtesy of Carl Fullerton, most of which got cut before release due to the MPAA’s clampdown on gore flicks. Said material has never been seen beyond a few stills – right there, look…look down! Nevertheless, these missing scenes do not rob the film of its pure stalk n’ slash integrity, B-movie spookiness and sense of the filmmakers really putting effort into making a quality horrorfest. Jason himself finally appears beyond the lower-body shots. There was no hockey mask back in ’81, but that burlap sack is pretty damn scary in a banjo-strummin’ backwoods hick sorta way!

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Then there are the ejector seat moments, executed with perfect timing, the kind of things most films screw up by telegraphing the shocks too early with fragmented shots rather than the long, lingering scenarios here as Ginny becomes the last one standing after she and Paul return to camp early. The stringy high-note that refuses to let up as she holds the door closed in the bathroom, unsure whether or not she should move towards the open window…

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And Amy Steel. The odds-on favourite heroine of the entire series plays psych-major Ginny perfectly, a mix of vulnerability and agility, she has sex with Paul and still survives the nightmare, screams amazingly and gives Jason a better run for his money than all of the ensuing final girls of later films combined. Her final showdown with Jason at his woodland shack is great, as is the extra value shock ending and the question mark that hangs over the fate of another character…

There’s absolutely nothing dull about Friday the 13th Part 2, it has everything I want in a slasher film: competent production, likeable characters, great heroine, liberal body count and good use of the camp setting. I love it and always will.

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Blurbs-of-interest: Amy took the final girl role again in April Fool’s Day; Marta Kober had a cameo as the pizza girl in Slumber Party Massacre III; Russell Todd had previously appeared fleetingly in He Knows You’re Alone; Lauren-Marie Taylor played Sheila in Girls Nite Out; Steve Dash (Jason) has a small role in Alone in the Dark; Walt Gorney supplied the prologue voiceover at the beginning of Friday VII. Steve Miner directed the next Friday film and also Halloween H20.

THE WISHER

thewisherTHE WISHER

1.5 Stars  2002/15/83m

“Cut to your worst nightmare.”

A.k.a. Spliced

Director: Gavin Wilding / Writer: Ellen Cook / Cast: Liane Balaban, Ron Silver, Drew Lachey, Siri Baruc, Melissa Repka, Kara Genaro.

Body Count: 4


Mary is a high-schooler obsessed with horror movies and often wakes up outside the front of her house after a nightmare – the best of which opens the film and involves a birthday cake with a rather gory filling. Mmmm.

Her shrink (Silver) blames horror films, as does her Dad. Forbidden from seeing another scary movie by her Pop, Mary sneaks out to see The Wisher – a budget slasher flick that has been at the top of the box office for weeks (check out the cinema where it’s playing on several screens whilst Halloween: Resurrection is only on one!) and is rumoured to be the grisliest horror flick going. After chucking up dinner at the movie, Mary’s life is worsened when her dad is killed in a car accident on his way to pull her out of the theater. We know it’s a bit more suss than ‘just a car crash’ though, don’t we, eh?

Nobody believes the guilt-ridden teen when she says there’s someone following her, someone made-up like the film’s titular character, granting her wishes in a twisted way, e.g. Mary wants her friend to shut up and the chick’s tongue is cut out by the maniac, who wears Freddy-like gloves with shards of glass on the fingertips.

Good concept, but the film plods on without enough stab and drip and by the end only two characters are dead, and the killer unsuccessfullygoes after Mary and her friends before sa so-called ‘twist’ right out of the equally rubbish Wishmaster comes into play and saves the day. The heroine has supposedly seen everything going in the horror realm, yet she falls for the oldest cliches in the book and can’t figure out who the killer is. Especially dumb as the perp virtually wears a T-shirt with ‘I Am the Killer! Ask Me How!’ printed on it.

The film wins a few bonus points for poking fun at the whole ‘violence in cinema’ issue with hardly a drop of subtlety, it’s too bad the screenwriter didn’t devote as much enthusiasm in knocking off some of the annoying cas members and making it more decisively a stalk n’ slash opus. Cool tagline though.

Blurbs-of-interest: Liane Balaban was in the Maniac remake. Ron Silver was also in Silent Rage. Gavin Wilding directed Christina’s House.

DANGEROUS GAME

dangerousgame2aDANGEROUS GAME

3 Stars  1988/18/87m

“When a crazed cop goes shopping for terror…”

Director: Stephen Hopkins / Writers: Michael Ralph, Peter West, Stephen Hopkins & John Ezrine / Cast: Marcus Graham, Miles Buchanan, Steven Grives, Kathryn Walker, Sandie Lillington, John Polson.

Body Count: 1…uh??


A super-rarity within its own genre: the slasher film that isn’t. Sort of. April Fool’s Day kinda meets the criteria, and the godawful Granny. But what of little known Australian export Dangerous Game, eh? Yeah, what of it!

Grives is an unhinged cop sporting a dire Irish accent and is conveniently named Murphy. For kicks, he likes to torment his former superior’s son and, when his penchant lands him suspended, he goes a little wacky and stalks said kid and four others to a department store they’ve broken into for a dare with the intent of pinning a B&E on them and regaining his position.

When he accidentally kills one of the kids, his id proposes he kill the other four and burn down the joint to save his own ass. However, rounding them up isn’t so easy and they fight back with veritable gusto. Where Dangerous Game deviates is when we learn that Murphy’s conscience won’t allow him to kill them and he ends up being the one hunted.

Much is borrowed from the likes of Hide and Go Shriek and The Initiation by way of Maniac Cop, but proudly showing off its Australian-ness with some truly horrendous fashion errors (braces and a yellow shirt – ugh!) and hairstyles. Despite the body count of one, there’s a slasher stamp all over this, with tense chase scenes and well written characters who react convincingly to the death of their friend. Killer cop Murphy even attempts to resuscitate his victim and reasons that the youngsters haven’t experienced enough horror in their lives (clothing choices aside). An intriguing diversion from the usual formula from the director of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.

CUTTING CLASS

ccdvdaCUTTING CLASS

3 Stars  1989/18/88m

“Some people would kill to fit in.”

Director: Rospo Pallenberg / Writers: Steve Slavkin & Bill Butler / Cast: Donovan Leitch, Jill Schoelen, Brad Pitt, Martin Mull, Roddy McDowall, Brenda Lynn Klemme, Mark Barnet, Eric Boles, Dirk Blocker, Nancy Fish, Robert Glaudini, Robert Machray.

Body Count: 7

Direlogue: “I’m gonna change my IQ…is 300 too high?”


When you consider that bona fide masterpiece Heathers was made in 1989, it’s difficult to look at its ‘lesser’ contemporaries without making a direct comparison. In a head-to-head, Cutting Class would surely lose, but then, I don’t think any other teen film from that year would best Heathers

So it’s a slasher film with comic trimmings set at Wurleigh High School, where student Brian Woods returns from five years away in the looney bin, where he was sent for cutting the brakes on his father’s car. Fatally so.

Brian attempts to rekindle his relationship with best bud Dwight, who’s keen on anything but, while his girlfriend Paula can’t help but notice the way Brian…leers in her direction a lot. Behold, in true Final Girl stylee (all credit to her), the many stares of Brian:

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This minor in-any-other-film-it-would-be-romantic quirk aside, there’s a homicidal shadow looming over the school as teachers and students fall victim to a lurking mystery killer, who’s inventive enough to utilise pottery kilns and  photocopiers as well as the usual axes and knives to do away with his prey. There are some convenient suspects in the arsey janitor (“I’m the only teacher you’ll remember!”), Roddy McDowall’s pervy principal who enjoys nothing more than letching over Paula and, of course, Brian himself, who is naturally blamed when the vice-principal is photocopied to death…

cc11aAs things trundle on, it becomes clear that the killer is one of two people – Brian or Dwight. So cast heartthrobs Donovan Leitch or Brad Pitt it is! Would it be too obvious if Brian was indeed the psycho rather than Dwight’s basketball ace? It depends how you look at it. Dwight is an asshole, the type of jock-character we want to see dead in any other stalk n’ slasher.

cc-brad-jillPaula, on the other hand, is not only the archetypal nice girl heroine, cheerleader, comfortable virgin and straight-A student, but she’s also played by the fabulous Jill Schoelen, the lesser-known Jamie Lee Curtis of the later 80’s horror circuit.

Paula’s also the daughter of the local District Attorney (Mull) who put Brian away and was the first victim, shot with a bow and arrow on his duck-hunting trip. He actually doesn’t die there and then and we return to the running gag of his attempts to raise the alarm and get to safety…

Things kick into a more entertaining gear once the killer is revealed via a mathematical equation, no less and the memorable one-liners start firing… The fleeing victims’ failed attempt to outsmart the maniac using chemistry is met with a “nice try though” from him and he later asks Paula to “feel his tingle” as she’s pushed to the limit of using violence when running away proves futile.

cc8aCutting Class is a prime example of everything late-80’s, from the quirky music, to the fashions, the hair, and the cars. It’s fun for a once-over, however it unfortunately wasn’t remastered for the DVD release and looks grainy and cheap, with limited and amateur looking blood-letting, exposing its budgetary and creative constraints, in spite of some real names on the cast roster and an indecisive streak that renders it unable to decide between needing John Hughes or John Carpenter! Give it a try.

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Blurbs-of-interest: Jill Schoelen did a few halfway decent horror films, including The StepfatherPopcorn, The Phantom of the Opera (with Robert Englund) and When A Stranger Calls Back before disappearing from the screen for a long, long time. Nancy Fish was also in Dr Giggles; Dirk Blocker was also in Night of the Scarecrow.

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