Scream Queens

HELLBENT

3.5 Stars  2004/15/81m

“When the night belongs to the devil, the party goes to hell.”

Director/Writer: Paul Etheredge-Ouzts / Cast: Dylan Fergus, Bryan Kirkwood, Andrew Levitas, Matt Phillips, Samuel Phillips, Hank Harris.

Body Count: 5

Dire-logue: “Wouldnt you wanna kill us? C’mon, we’re fucking fabulous!”


Gay men seem to really like slasher flicks. Weird huh? It’s true! Seriously. While we’re known for being ‘vanguards of all that’s camp’, most folk would equate slice n’ dice teen horror with its chiefly adolescent heterosexual male target audience, hence all the tits n’ stuff.

But think about it for a mo (har-de-har-har) and you might see why. Final Girls are intrinsic to the genre, strong girls who ‘don’t belong’ in the norms of society. Often, she’s the part-outsider, a factor which aids her in seeing and subduing the maniac who’s been laying her dim-witted friends to waste while they screw each other in the woods or the abandoned cabin.

P’haps we benders identify with her. Or maybe the killer? He’s an outsider too and he likes to rid the world of stereotypical teens who, we can arguably assume, are so self-absorbed that they’re everything-phobic. Jocks, bitchy cheerleaders, not historical Friends of Friends of Dorothy in the slasher realm.

Endless rantable theories aside, Hellbent is one of two existing queer slasher flicks around. The other one is lez-fest Make a Wish, in which girl-lovin’ girls go camping, get laid, get knocked off. Hellbent is a slicker affair, pulling focus on a quartet of Californian goodtime boys, out to party at a Halloween carnival, only to be stalked by a buffed up maniac, dressed as the devil and equipped with a sickle that most would think was a harmless costume shop toy…

hellbent-2-pics2

Things begin with the requisite double murder of shagging couple…in car…parked by the woods…after dark. But, of course, here it’s two handsome guys who’re caught doing naughty things.

We meet our Final Boy, John Barrowman-alike Eddie, an all-round nice guy working for the cops, possibly hoping to be one. He’s held back for a reason that later becomes cringingly evident in a scenario never before seen in a slasher pic! He and his three buddies; pill-popping sex addict Chaz (cowboy-gay), his younger brother Joey, the shy newcomer to things (S&M gay), and Drag Queen for-the-night party dude Tobey (uh…Drag Queen gay). They fill archetypal victim and gay roles, neither as responsible nor watchful as Eddie.

Once the carnival gets swingin’, the killer turns up, having previously spied the quartet at the site of his previous slaying when they stop for a looky-loo. Meanwhile, Eddie encounters James Dean-wannabe biker boy Jake, tempting and sexy, just what Eddie needs. Now, the killer is no puritanical Reverend or member of the Phelps church, he’s a gym-pumped Adonis in a horned Devil mask who appears in the shadows, in the dimness of the forest or the strobe lights across the dance floor. Sticking to the genre rules like flypaper, Eddie is attacked by the killer but is too late to save his friends, who are either off their heads on pills or simply off their heads. Period.

The executions are dripping with claret, albeit computer generated grue, they’re still quite brutal. But then if you’re going to collect gay-heads then it’s not going to be something Kim & Aggie would approve of when it comes to mess-management. Unless you’re Dexter.

Things are capped off when the killer visits Eddie’s home to crash his intended kinky consummation with Jake – featuring handcuffs! Severed heads fall out of cupboards, sickle blades pierce flimsy apartment doors. There’s a whole lot of Halloween to it.

As the gay loveletter to John Carpenter’s flick, Hellbent is effective and fun but lacking in queer-soul that gives homo dramas like The Broken Hearts Club depth, like helmer/scribe Etheredge-Ouzts was too busy trying to make the film blend in with its straight bretheren to bother making sure it was wearing its Pride flag on its sleeveless muscle shirt. It’s a thin line so I may as well perch on the fence over the issue and be thankful there were no morality-play allusions. I’m shutting the hell(bent) up now.

Blurbs-of-interest: Andrew Levitas (Chaz) played Provoloney in Psycho Beach Party. Executive producer Joseph Wolf (who died in 2005) was also involved in the productions of Halloween II, Hell Night, Fade to Black and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

BLOOD LAKE

BLOOD LAKE

1 Stars  1987/82m

“A quick dip in the lake turns into a blood bath of horror.”

Director: Tim Boggs / Writers: Doug Barry & Tim Boggs / Cast: Doug Barry, Angela Darter, Mike Kaufman, Andrea Adams, Travis Krasser, Christie Willoughby, Michael Darter, Darren Waters, Tiny Frazier.

Body Count: 5


More regional shot-on-video shite that looks like its entire budget was used to hire a ski-boat that a sextet of teens (two of whom are younger siblings of about thirteen) play with during a weekend break on post-apocalyptic vacation area of choice, Cedar Lake, where they are menaced by a plodding, overweight Dom DeLuise look-a-like (bad hat included!), who’s pissed off because he wants the cabin to himself. Nothing happens for the first 45 minutes and, when it finally does, it’s all crap, backed with a dire thrash metal soundtrack and miniscule body count that spares most of the annoying cast. The bizarre final twist – credited to God – isn’t funny either. Gimme Crystal Lake any day. Bugger off, Blood Lake!

MEMORIAL DAY

MEMORIAL DAY

1.5 Stars  1999/18/79m

A.k.a. Memorial Day Killer - UK DVD

“Beers. Burgers. Bloodshed. Gonna be a long weekend…”

Director: Christopher Alender / Writer: Marcos Gabriel / Cast: Therese Fretwell, Marcos Gabriel, Andrew Williams, Erin Gallagher, Jasmine Trice, Derek Nieves, Adam Sterrit.

Body Count: 9


A boy drowned in Memorial Lake. Three years later, his sister Rachel and her friends return there for a weekend getaway in one of the cabins by the water. Sound familiar? Mrs Voorhees would sue.

This special needs slasher gained slight notoreity for being one of the first digital features, but it’s so damned cheap and grainy it doesn’t matter one bit. It’s strictly amateur night all round, with acting that rivals a GCSE drama production and has a killer in a mask that not only appears to be made of crate paper, but is also shaped like a hockey mask!

A so-so twist prevents things from being totally risible but it’s a case of too damn little, too damn late. One trip down memory lane not worth taking.

Scooby Don’t

THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II

3 Stars  1984/18/87m

“So you think you’re lucky to be alive…”

Director/Writer: Wes Craven / Cast: Kevin Blair, Tamara Stafford, Michael Berryman, John Bloom, Janus Blythe, Penny Johnson, John Laughlin, Willard Pugh, Colleen Riley, Peter Frechette, Robert Houston.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “What’s the big deal about taking a little shortcut?”


The old mind struggles but this may well have been the first slasher flick I ever saw, late night Bravo channel stuff with my dad and my sister in the early nineties and there are no two ways about it, this film sucks. It’s the epitome of cheesy, schlocky, teen-kill trash and once considered a contender for the all-time worst sequel. But I fracking love it!

Craven’s ’77 original pitted a whitebread family trapped in the middle of the desert against the hill-dwelling insurgents who wanted to pillage their number. It was a thought-out tale of families from opposite ends of the spectrum thrown together in an explosion of violence and screaming and scratching and biting and stuff, remade to malevolent excess by Alexandre Aja in 2006 and followed by an equally grisly sequel the following year.

Claiming he ‘needed the money’, Craven signed on to write and direct this sequel, reportedly shot in 1983 and not released until 1985. Evidently driving under the influence of Friday the 13th (even drafting in Harry Manfredini to sort out the score), Craven wrote a cast of teenagers into the equation to serve as knife, axe and machete fodder for the extended family of psychos. After a couple of flashbacks from Bobby, who made it through the events of the first one, we’re reintroduced to Ruby, the turncoat, who, with said headband-wearing teenies, embarks on a cross-desert bus trip with some miracle motocross fuel that will make them all rich and/or famous. I wasn’t really listening to the intricacies.

With bike-ridin’ trio Roy, Harry, Hulk (!) and mechanic Foster, there are their tag-along gals, Jane, Sue and blind psychic Cass, who we could tell is going to be the final girl even if we were blind. Rounding out the group is the best character to return from the original – Beast the dog, now sporting a yellow scarf, Littlest Hobo-style. Remember him? He saved the day before, chewing up the ankle of nasty hill psycho dude Pluto. No? Still hazy? Well, never fear – Beast can certainly remember as he barks us along into his very own flashback! No, really… The screen goes all wavy and blurs into old footage of his pro-middle class savagery.

The gang realises they forgot to account for the time zone difference and, in an effort not to be late for whatever it is they’re going to, they vote to cross a desert track, which soon disables their funky red bus and they end up at an “abandoned” ranch-cum-mine.

The biker dudes decide to rev off into the wilderness in search of gasoline while the others explore the locale and Cass passes time by using one of those embossed label maker things to stick a love message to Roy on his (bike) helmet and starts to ‘sense’ things. Bad things, of course. It would have been nice if she sensed it was a sanctuary for unloved donkies and waterbuffalo, but it’s not and she doesn’t. She senses…eeeeeevil.

hhe2-beast-ruby-pennyMaybe the eeeeevil that Cass senses is closer than she thinks… Maybe it’s her friend Sue! Maybe her psychic powers allow her to see that Sue is no other than Sherry Palmer, neo-first lady and scheming wife to President Palmer in 24!!! It’s all a cunning disguise, the headband, the lycra… That’s her below left, beneath Beast and Ruby, Penny Johnson a.k.a. Sherry Palmer in one of her earliest roles. I’m not sure what she’s doing with herself there but she didn’t get a great many close-ups in the film.

Disappointingly, it transpires that Sue is not the killer and the real trouble comes in the form of a duo of hill-eye-havers, Reaper and the not-so-dead Pluto. Ruby – arguably looking worse in her cosmo-80s wear than she did in her rags – comes clean and ‘fesses up to being the girl-in-the-story that was conveniently told on the bus and spouts the usual ‘we’re all in danger’ garb. Meanwhile, Harry is killed and Roy incapacitated by the killers, who, as darkness sets in, descend on the ranch and it’s dim-bulbed newcomers.

This is where the cliches come thick n’ fast, but they’re enjoyable cliches. Hills II is one of those slasher flicks with a bit of a sense of humour to it. The characters are shallow but likeable; we care about them in the sort of temporary way we care about people we meet by the pool on holiday and the way we cared about the counsellors of Camp Crystal Lake. They’re just fun loving kids doomed to fates worse than, uh, not dying.

Pluto and Ruby have a confronation that is intercepted by the springiness of Beast, who soon scares him away, while Reaper stalks and slays the others, who defy Ruby’s warnings and canter off for showers or private rendezvous until Reaper bear-hugs and throat-slashes them into the next realm.

While Beast licks Roy back into usefulness and helps him do away with Pluto once and for all, Cass discovers the bodies of her friends, identifying them with her fingers and then catawaling their names along with the odd “why!?” Reaper follows and she manages to escape long enough for Roy to save her and formulate a plan that puts an end to both Reaper and their miracle bike gas, so that they and Beast and can enjoy the hike back to civilisation.

Minimal bloodshed, strangely lucid killers, token blindness and a dog with the ability to recall events from eight years ago… The ingredients of tripe, surely, but I’d rather watch this entry than the original or either of the ‘re-imagined’ films. Wes Craven scripted the 2007 Hills Have Eyes II, which sadly opted not to replicate the story here and was only a notch above total suckiness.

Blurbs-of-interest: Kevin Blair (later Kevin Spirtas) was the hunky hero in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood; Michael Berryman was also in Craven’s Deadly Blessing, and Penny Dreadful and Mask Maker.

THE BURNING

THE BURNING

3.5 Stars  1981/18/87m

“Don’t look – he’ll see you. Don’t breathe – he’ll hear you. Don’t move – YOU’RE DEAD!”

Director: Tony Maylam / Writers: Peter Lawrence & Bob Weinstein / Cast: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Carrick Glenn, Carolyn Houlihan, Ned Eisenberg, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter, Lou David.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “This guy is burned so bad, he’s cooked – a fucking Big Mac – overdone!”


Don’t you love that title? Say it aloud in a booming movie voice: “The BURRRR-NING!” Say it to your friends! Get them saying it! We’ll start a chant!

1981 is the year as far as slasher movie saturation is concerned. Halloween and Friday the 13th had set the rules, Prom Night and Terror Train had proved there was profit to be made by following the same template. Plenty of other films had returned the goods in the interim, some of them shamelessly ripping off their forerunners. Rumour has it that a couple of budget production companies were vying for the rights to the so-called ‘Cropsy Legend’, a summer camp tale to roast marshmallows to. The winning bid eventually came from a group of individuals who would later found Miramax – Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The other production later became Madman.

So, it’s a summer camp slasher movie then… Been there, seen that. Twice in as many years, in fact. Still, all is not lost. The Burning goes for the jugular, almost literally. By design, it seems, it was purely intended to push the bar in terms of bloodshed as far as it would go.

As usual, things kick off with a past-event trauma that sees summer camp janitor Cropsy turn from litter picker and hedge trimmer to teen-picker-offer and finger-trimmer; he’s accidentally set alight when a juvenile prank goes awry. Five years later, he’s finally released from hospital, hideously scarred (and for the time being, unseen), and more than a little angry at all things summer campy, teenagey, and fun. Kinda like your common or garden grandparent.

The Burning forces itself in a few different directions to its most obvious inspiration. There aren’t just horny teen counsellors at Camp Stonewater, no siree, it’s in full swing with proper campers. Because of this, the characterisations are quite interesting, with cliques and pranks galore. There are a couple of sexy girls, the boys who chase them, the requisite bully, the gorky kids, some skinny, some fat, some speaking with strong accents and there’s Alfred. Alfred (above right) is the nerd who nobody likes, doesn’t want to be there, but likes to perv on the girls. Here, The Burning plays around with our expectations, leading us to believing that we’ve met and bonded with our final girl – then the bastards kill her off first!

Cropsy has returned, conveniently right after his story was told around the campfire and he’s got a big pair of pruning shears to hack, slash and skewer those who have taken leave from the safety of the main camp for a couple of nights in sleeping bags. One camper down, when dawn comes and the counsellors – Todd and Michelle – discover her absence, they’re also informed that all of the canoes have mysteriously floated away as well… Five campers are elected to paddle back to camp on a makeshift raft to fetch assistance. Needless to say, they don’t make it. What occurs is easily among the most notorious slasher movie demises ever. The rickety raft comes upon a lone canoe and, attempting to retrieve it, find it’s occupied by Cropsy, who offs all five of them in thirty seconds flat.

The first time I saw The Burning I was not expecting this and nearly fell off my chair in shock at the uber-violence on display – and that was a cut version! Seriously, it’s pretty intense, even if the effects – Tom Savini’s – look a little ropey here and there. Bones are hacked, torsos stabbed and a young Fisher Stevens’ fingers are cut back to stumps. It’s gross. Really gross. Bleeeccchhh!!11!1!1!!!

After some respite, some Brandy and some crack, I felt composed enough to return to the film. Counsellors Todd and Michelle are a bit worried about the raft’s apparent disappearance while nasty bully Glazer finally gets his way with sexy Sally, unwisely beyond screaming distance from the rest of the campers. Now, slasher films ain’t particularly intelligent at the best of times but a nice touch in the script of The Burning is that the sex between Glazer and Sally is bad. She tells him as much, he apologises, she says OK and agrees to go again. It’s when he runs off for a condom that Cropsy puts in an appearance, shiny shears in hand…

While Sally is last seen trying to hold off the shears of DEATH, Glazer is followed back towards her by the ever-curious Alfred, for reasons unknown – maybe he woke with morning glory and wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Instead of observing some spank bank material, Alfred watches while Glazer tries to wake a ‘sleeping’ Sally and gets those garden tools of doom right through the neck and is hoisted up and pinned to a nearby tree (below). Nice retribution for the camp asshole.

Alfred summons Todd who is duly clipped by the shears and rendered unconscious while Crospy goes for Alfred, resulting in a rather protracted and tedious chase through the woods to some random delapidated building in the middle of nowhere.

Elsewhere, the raft-of-salvation floats lazily back to the remaining campers who soon find it’s still got bits of their dead friends attached to it. Todd returns, hoping Alfred made it to safety, to witness the gruesome discovery and convince Michelle and the surviving campers – now traumatised beyond help in their pink dungarees and long socks – to use the raft-of-death to paddle back to camp for help.

Alfred is captured and trapped by Cropsy, who baits Todd into the gloominess of the inexplicably situated mine-thing for the big flamethrower-featuring showdown, where we get a look at the extent of the killer’s toasting and it transpires, flashback stylee, that Todd was one of the teens who caused THE BURNING (…use that voice again). After a struggle, Alfred frees himself and stabs Cropsy with his own shears, allowing Todd to embed an axe in his skull, resulting in a big spray of blood from his mouth.

The make-up for Cropsy is far beyond ridiculous. You might say he’d never be released from hospital in the first place, but, hey, this is the realm of the slasher movie and it’ll do what it wants. Things end with a new batch of campers hearing the story around the fire. Sequel? Nah, nobody’d survive that axe.

The Burning got cropped of most of its elaborate gore effects by the time it was released in the summer of ’81, incidentally one week after the startlingly similar Friday the 13th Part 2 was unleashed. Friday is far better and it’s sad to learn that Savini turned down that for this, but his work is the most intriguing thing about this little timekiller, which not only also features Jason Alexander – with a full head of hair, no less! – but also future Oscar-grabber Holly Hunter, both as campers, the latter with only about two lines of dialogue. If you can’t spot her, she’s Sophie, the one who shouts “hey Todd!” a moment before the raft-of-death discovery.

So why only a three-star rating? The Burning is distinctly lacking in something that makes the first two Fridays such great genre examples. Make no mistake, it’s a good film, one of the goriest on the list and surprisingly thoughtful at times. Perhaps it’s just too obvious that its primary concern is to make the audience cringe rather than root for the survivors? Or the Final Boy thing, which is a case of ‘Nice try…but no.’ There’s a cruel streak running through proceedings, borderline misogynistic, with the first camp victim singled out for a particularly spiteful demise, not to mention the luckless hooker who invites Cropsy upstairs after his release. Bizarrely, those responsible for his chargrilled condition were all boys… Maybe a kick-ass heroine would’ve bandaged some of these wounds. These minor complaints aside, it’s still essential viewing for genre aficionados.

**Edit** – I skimmed the DVD again and upped it to three-and-a-half stars, soft touch that I am.

It was finally released uncut on DVD in the UK in 2002 and the US in 2007, previously missing nine seconds of footage from various murder scenes.

Blurbs-of-interest: the editor Jack Sholder, directed both Alone in the Dark and Elm Street 2. Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman contributed the intense synthy score. Carrick Glenn (Sally) was in Girls Nite Out.

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