Boarderline

LONG TIME DEAD

3.5 Stars  2002/15/90m

Director: Marcus Adams / Writers: Marcus Adams, Eitan Arussi, Chris Baker, Daniel Bronzite, Andy Day, James Gay-Rees / Cast: Alec Newman, Marsha Thomason, Joe Absolom, James Hillier, Lukas Haas, Lara Belmont, Mel Raido, Melanie Gutteridge, Tom Bell, Michael Feast.

Body Count: 10


Ouija boards…evil ancestors of Monopoly and Cluedo. Everybody knows someone who’s friend Claire dabbled and then went mental. Scary stories are almost as common as people who say sod all happened.

Having learned nothing from Linda Blair’s experiences and probably never even having heard of the fab homage to 80s hair-don’ts that is Witchboard, eight London students discussing the most exhilerating things they’ve gotten up to decide to try a little seance for kicks with a homemade Ouija. When the message from the other side is a less than encouraging ‘All Die’, one of them breaks the pre-assigned rule of removing his finger from the glass while the cross-plains call is still in progress…

According to the spiritually-learned Lucy, the Djinn – as it identifies itself – is now locked on their side of the divide. It quickly does away with one of them and subsequently begins offing the rest, leaving scorch marks on each victim, because it’s… a fire demon!

What!?

No, really, it is.

ltd-seance2Anyway, the group sink into a depression, which, in true Brit-grit style, is nicely realised by the less-than-pristine set pieces and hints at the respective lifestyles of the characters; open to drugs, chronic smokers, short-fused and untrustworthy. This is one thing that distinguishes British horror from American and it’s used to good effect in Long Time Dead, although it could be a turn-off to others, an overused cliche thanks to the rinse n’ repeat tactics of the Guy Ritchie brethren.

Take it or leave it… none of the kids here are particularly sympathetic. Liam, bereaved boyfriend of the first victim, is set up as the moral centre for viewer identification, possibly due to the hallucinations that bother him during the seance, which we know are going to play a part down the line. His buddies Rob, Webster, Joe and Spence round out the largely indistinguishable guy cast, while Lucy, Stella and Annie are apparently best friends who barely have any scenes together.

The middle section of things is a deathfest, as the group learns what they can from creepy landlord Becker – who has a convenient fascination with the occult, from the camcorder footage token American Webster (the cute mouse that is Lukas Haas) made and finding melted plastic bottles around the homestead. All of this does them no good, they just keep on expiring at an alarming rate…

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With half the cast annihilated at the scorchy hands of the fire demon (…phnarr!!), it becomes clear that the fiend has possessed one of their number to do its bidding. Liam, meanwhile, finds out some home truths to do with his flashbacks that might aide him in stopping the chaos. We’ve seen more than three teen-horror films and therefore know better and when the other survivors return to the original spot to perform a banashing, it aligns the required planets of horror for the grand unmasking-slash-showdown. The identity of possessed schmuck houses few surprises – the posters and DVD cover all but give it away. Here, Long Time Dead begins to flap around like a landed fish until it staggers drunkenly towards the predictable final shock.

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ltd-blood-on-floor2Ultimately an interesting genre flick; there’ve been plenty of possession-based slasher flicks and the added niche of ornate Britishness elevates Long Time Dead a notch above what it could have been, were it a straight-up stalk n’ slash opus. Temptations to ape American conventions do more harm than good, especially when it comes to the string-rich score, which sounds outdated and plain wrong in a film that visually trades on student-class squalor and apathetic youths in the shit. The Ouija Board angle is a good sell and wouldn’t prompt many to try one for themselves, it’s simply a shame it turns out to be a bit of a ghost train with no more than a few dirty sheets alongside the track…

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Blurbs-of-interest: Thomason and Haas were reunited for David Arquette’s The Tripper in 2007 and she was in a few episodes of ‘Lost’ as well. James Hillier was in StagKnight.

Whodunit? No, really, who???

RIPPER: LETTER FROM HELL

4 Stars  2001/18/110m

“Jack’s back…”

Director: John E. Eyres / Writers: John Curtis, Evan Tylor & Pat Bermel / Cast: A.J. Cook, Bruce Payne, Ryan Northcott, Claire Keim, Jurgen Prochnow, Derek Hamilton, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Daniella Evangellista, Kelly Brook, Courtenay J. Stevens.

Body Count: 12

Dire-logue: “For the second time in a few years, people are being murdered around you and you don’t think there’s a connection?”


Looking at the DVD cover for Ripper, it’s plain to see where it’s got some of its ideas from. That old triangle formation of pretty cast members up for the chop from another merciless killer. Mwa-ha-ha-haaaa…

Brit Director Eyres gave us the pitiful Goodnight, God Bless back in ’87 but his eye for what makes a decent body count flick has doubtlessly improved in the 14 year gap between that tripe and this impressive looking Canadian export, which owes as much to Urban Legend as it does to the story of Jack the Ripper.

We begin with a blonde girl running through the rain, finding her friends dead – nailed to trees; covered in a mountain of soil (!?) – and watch her swim to a nearby yacht where more bodies are found and one unlucky gal gets sucked into the propeller (pictured). Ouch.

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Blonde girl – Molly – ultimately survives and we leap five years into the future and rejoin her, now a red-head and full of attitude, at a college where she is studying criminology under Professor Marshall Kane (Bruce Payne), currently learning about serial killers. During a lecture we get to the meet the meat in the form of Molly’s student colleagues. There’s prissy French girl Chantelle, wannabe-lothario Eddie, stuttering, frowny Aaron, and a few less interesting ones. Then there’s Kelly Brook as the (who knew) oversexed chick with in a short skirt, Marisa.

At a costume party-slash-rave in some delapidated city building, Marisa is chased and murdered before being flung through a window for all to see. Eyres makes the most of this debut murder (excluding the stuff at the beginning), as it occurs quite some way into the film. Marisa is first suspended upside down out of a window several stories from the ground and then hoisted back in by the killer who proceeds to knife her to death while her blood drips on to a starlet dancing on the floor below. We also get a few of those cool screaming-face-reflected-in-the-blade shots.

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Back at school, everyone’s talking about what happened at the party. Which is to be expected, I suppose. Some of the students in Molly’s study group want to investigate on their own despite her preference to steer clear. It’s already been established that Molly is a bit of a cow. She’s pretty damn aggressive, doing a goth-chick thing that slowly dissipates over the course of the film. Her attitude is one of Rippers shortcomings, evidently an attempt to give things a ‘gritty’ feel by having her wear dogtags and reside in a graffiti-walled shithole. One must wonder what she’s doing at such a pompous university with all her inoffensive, pastel-wearing classmates. A.J. Cook later played the psychic girl who predicted the freeway crash in Final Destination 2, so we know she can be a nice girl too.

When another of the group is murdered in a stylish road-rage manner, Molly connects the dots and puts it to the Professor (and the class and Jurgen Prochnow’s apple-chomping detective) that the killer is copying Jack the Ripper’s M.O., right down to the number and location of stab and slash wounds on the victims.

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Stupidness soon ensues after a third murder (coupled with some weird hallucinations) and the remaining four teens feel it’s wise to go, with the Professor, to his cabin in the middle of the woods where there is no phone reception or shortage of cutting implements to hand. It must be noted at this point nobody has proposed why their particular study group is being targeted…

The inevitable soon unravels and nasty ends await Eddie, Chantelle and Aaron (who has followed them). The latter two endure falling into a logging conveyor which drags them into enough deadly saw blades to make Leatherface squeamish. So it’s between Molly, her love interest Jason and Professor Kane. Having worked out that the initials of the group correspond to those of the Ripper victims, they’re all concerned that they may be next.

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Ripper suddenly stalls once the remaining characters enter the rain-soaked woods. The identity of the killer – and whoever slaughtered Molly’s friends five years before – is revealed, and then unrevealed, and then sort of revealed again. In short, there are maybe three twists that overlap in the last few minutes, each negating the previous one. According to the commentary, Eyres didn’t get the end he wanted, so it’s debatable whether the close we’re left with is a comment on The Ripper’s true identity, something that will remain cloaked in mystery forever.

Ultimately Ripper is a handsome, engaging film that sadly loses its way in the last ten minutes. It runs too long and takes itself too seriously but is leagues ahead of the usual straight-to-DVD shelf filler in terms of its production values and core ideas alone. The gore is plentiful and, watching it yesterday, I noticed for the first time a fleeting shot of the poor sod’s head meeting with the saw blades during the gruesome logging mill scene. I wasn’t keen on all the violence against women stuff that came through good n’ strong, it’s something I still find a bit uncomfortable, not helped in this case by one of the least likeable final girl’s going. There’s also the killer’s copy-the-killer schtick that Molly latches on to – did Jack the Ripper use a jeep to mow down any of the Whitechapel hookers? Hmm… Not sure he had access to a saw mill either. It’s a slightly pretentious, wannabe slasher par intelligentsia, followed by a really rubbish sequel a couple of years later.

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Blurbs-of-interest: Three of the actresses – Cook, Vaugier and Evangellista – appeared in various Wishmaster sequels. Vaugier crops up in The Fear: Resurrection too. Chantelle’s accent is actually real, contrary to what some IMDb critics assumed. Derek Hamilton was in Taboo. If you’re feeling masochistic, check out the more-or-less unrelated sequel.

GRADUATION DAY

GRADUATION DAY

3 Stars  1981/18/92m

“The class of ’81 is running out of time!”

Director/Writer: Herb Freed / Cast: Christopher George, Patch MacKenzie, E. Danny Murphy, Michael Pataki, E.J. Peaker, Richard Balin, Carmen Argenziano, Virgil Frye, Beverly Dixon, Hal Bokar, Linnea Quigley, Denise Cheshire, Billy Hufsey, Tim Hintnaus, Carl Rey, Linda Shayne, Karen Abbott, Vanna White.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “You have lovely eyes. My sister had eyes like yours. She’s dead now.”


Back in 1996 I read a book called Games of Terror, one of only a few theoretical insights into stalker movies (as they were dubbed by the writer) and of the films briefed, I found all but Graduation Day within a couple of months – bearing in mind this is long before DVD back-catalogues. Hell, it was before DVD! Six gruelling months of trying to bag a copy, a local collector sold me his VHS tape for £9 (along with Madman) and I merrily skipped home for the premiere.

Graduation Day is one of those ‘meh’ films. Probably due to overexposure to lost classics of the period (Prom Night, Happy Birthday to Me, Terror Train), or possibly the fact that the film is just a bit crud, finding things to like about it is a bit difficult.

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Proceedings begin in the usual way, with a past event trauma that spurs on the killer at a later date and gives him something to talk to the final girl about. In this instance, over the groove-tastic disco stomper that plays through the credits, a female track runner – Laura – sprints to glory before falling down dead. We’re later told this is down to a blood clot, but everybody else blames the track coach for pushing her too hard.

A couple of months later, Laura’s military ass-kickin’ big sis Anne returns from abroad to collect a special graduation award in the dead girl’s memory. Meanwhile, a black-gloved killer is stalking and slaying the other members of the track team, clocking in all murders at just thirty seconds, the same amount of time it took Laura to win her death race. First to go is big-headphones jogging girl (throat slashing), followed by moody gymnastical-girl (sword through the neck)…

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In between kills, our killer stops by his gym locker and draws a big red cross over the face of the most recent victim, working his way across the picture from left to right.

At this time, some other, less important characters (suspects!) are introduced. There’s Delores, played by bad movie fixture Linnea Quigley, who will do anything to pass her music class, including seducing the face-like-a-slapped-arse teacher. There’s also an affair going on between the principal and his secretary, which contributes nothing to the slashathon we’re anticipating. Leery campus cop MacGregor likes to clamp down on the dope smokin’ students and creep around in the trees and the despised track mentor Coach Michaels, whom everybody blames for the accident. Lastly, is Laura’s grieving boyfriend, Kevin, who is all sensitivity and broodiness. Hmmm…

grad7<<< That’s Anne. Anne is our final girl, although she looks a bit like a final drag queen, don’t you think? That’s a lot of makeup for a military recruit. Gasp! Maybe she’s hiding something!!

I digress… While the boring characters talk about graduation ceremonies n’ shit, the killer offs a few more budding athletes. The third murder is truly that old classic of homicide: the football with the sword protruding from it. That’s an American football, by the way, and Mr Killer tosses it back to its owner who catches it sharp-end first. Watch in awe as the sword-ball spins in slo-mo through the air, defying all laws of gravity and credence as it goes! There’s some time out for a song about graduation and a roller-disco that boasts a seven minute nu-wave rock song while another couple of kids are chased and murdered outside. Although decapitation may be preferential to skating in circles and listening to Felony’s ‘Gangster Rock’ 12″ extended rollerboogie remix. Actually, when I re-watched the film recently, I noticed that they actually sing the song three times on loop.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate the interesting look that Felony employ:

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Fedora’s, lip-gloss, mascara and those double-guitar things. Yikes.

Morning comes and brings with it news of the missing teenagers, but the principal is more concerned with the logistics of the day and ignores it. A couple more deaths ensue and then a couple of squealy girls (one of them played by Wheel of Fortune letter-turner Vanna White; below) discover the body of moody gymnastical girl stuffed in a locker and blame falls on Coach Michaels, who’s just been given the boot over the whole Laura thing.

Vanna (right) as disco-clad squealy girl

Vanna (right) as disco-clad squealy girl

A right kerfuffle ensues and the killer’s identity is finally revealed, much to the surprise of nobody except the cast members and Anne is soon thrown into direct combat, which allows more corpses to swing out on doors, severed heads to be found on crash mats and the like…

Graduation Day is one mess of a film. There’s some nifty speed-cut edits thrown in but some simple shots are completed screwed up with demented high-speed zooming. It’s the film they should remake but probably never will. Amidst the bad scripting, some horrible acting and diabolical pacing problems, there are remnants of a good tale here, it’s just tangled up by the crowded supporting cast, many of whom aren’t required at all. If you wondered about the blonde girl who disappears early on without explanation (Diana), the actress was fired and replaced by Quigley for refusing to disrobe on screen.

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Director and scribe Herb Freed appeared in the 2006 documentary Going to Pieces to add a few tidbits about his film – the fact that he’s now a Rabbi may indicate he’s moved on. And if you’re wondering why I was so generous with my rating, I’m trying to justify the six months spent looking for the damn thing.

I want to be this person's best friend

I want to be this person’s best friend

Blurbs-of-interest: The make-up effects here were all courtesy of a woman (!), Jill Rockow, who later worked on Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and Boogeyman 2. Editor Martin Jay Sadoff worked on Friday the 13th‘s Part III and VII. Christopher George was in both Mortuary and Pieces. Michael Pataki appears as Dr Hoffman in Halloween 4. Carmen Argenziano was Dr Mendrakis in When a Stranger Calls and later turned up in Identity. George and Quigley turn up all over the place. Denise Cheshire, who played moody gymnastical-girl (or Sally), was the swimming double for the famous shark attack victim Chrissie Watkins at the beginning of Jaws.

SAVAGE LUST

deadly-manorSAVAGE LUST

2 Stars  1989/18/86m

“A classic horror story.”

A.k.a. Deadly Manor

Director/Writer: Jose Larraz / Cast: Kathleen Patane, Greg Rhodes, Liz Hitchler, Jerry Kernion, Mark Irish, Clark Tufts, Claudia Franjul, William Russell, Jennifer Delora.

Body Count: 13

Dire-logue: “What’s next, Uncle Fester on the patio?”


Six teenagers embarking on a camping trip stop to pick up a hitchhiker who informs them they are off course and, when a heavy rainstorm sets in, they take shelter in a remote manor house that appears to abandoned. Closer inspection reveals that yesterday’s paper has been left out and the wreck of a car has been mounted in the garden. As night falls and the group wander aimlessly around the house, they are killed by an off-screen figure who might well have some answers concerning all the black and white photos of the same solemn woman that adorn every wall in the joint.

This clunky rarity is best viewed tongue-in-cheek as you will find it impossible to take lines like ‘a horn doesn’t just beep by itself’ seriously. Nearly a solid hour of crappy dialogue torments until the butcherin’ starts (bar an off-camera taster earlier on). Though shot in ’89, the film has not aged well and could easily be mistaken for something some ten years older, emphasised by the characters’ total lack of sense. The girls all say things like ‘maybe we shouldn’t be here’ and the boys reply ‘chill out, babe, there’s nothing here that can hurt us…’ Asking for it.

Allowably, there are a couple of creepy shots thrown in amongst the junk, but when the killer’s opening gambit to the final girl is a perky; ‘yes, it’s me!’ before even removing their mask, one must wonder who the script was approved by. When the heroine replies: ‘you’re insane – you’ve created all this madness in your head!’ you get your answer.

FINAL EXAM

FINAL EXAM

3 Stars  1981/87m

“Some may pass the test…God help the rest.”

Director/Writer: Jimmy Huston / Cast: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown, Deanna Robbins, Sherry Willis-Burch, John Fallon, Terry W. Farren, Timothy L. Raynor, Jerry Rushing.

Body Count: 11

First-rate Fatality: A garrotting by weight machine cables.

Dire-logue: “It’s happening! The psychopaths are here!”


Awww… Final Exam. It’s the slasher film equivalent of that dim-bulbed kid at school, who wasn’t very good at anything, but was always nice. Some chose to ridicule them, while others looked upon them with a mix of sympathy and fondness. Such is Jimmy Huston’s cutesy little clone of Halloween, anything but the darling of horror fans, but there’s no denying the love that some slasher aficionados have for it – me included.

Being a slug of a movie, ‘events’ begin with that staple fixture of teen horror: the double-slaying of a parking couple, who are entangled in some campus romance. Along comes a shady maniac who slices through their soft top and pulls the guy out of the driver’s seat and knifes him to death on the bonnet of the car, while his squealy never-to-be conquest watches in what the actress intended to look like terror. Her death is off-screen, but we know she bites it as the ‘action’ shifts to nearby Lanier College where the murder is reported by one of our central characters, Radish (see below).

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So it’s the last few days of the semester and the campus is all but deserted. The remaining students are busy packing or studying for their finals, among them our pretty and likeable heroine Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi in her only role, like, ever), who has concerns over being boring in comparison to her bombshell roommate Lisa. Lisa, meanwhile, is carrying on with a married professor and intends to cram in one last ‘biology tutorial’ before she leaves to return to ‘the city’ (funny how they never mention which cities they come from in these flicks – see also Friday the 13th Part 2). Ditzy Janet (Sherry Willis-Burch who later turned up in fab Canadian possession slasher Killer Party) has been ‘pinned’ by frat pledge Gary, and takes this to mean they’re in love and have to spend every minute together, while he is being tormented by his frat brothers, neanderthalic Wildman and walking-bouffant president Mark, who want him to steal a test paper for them.

Last but by no means least is Radish, Courtney’s friend who rings so many bells on the gaydar that you’ll develop tinnitus. He’s short, he’s camp, and he minces around spouting factoids about the likes of Charles Whitman, a subject of which his knowledge serves him well when a black van cruises on to campus and opens fire. It turns out to be a prank, much to the chagrin of the local sheriff who later ignores an emergency call from Radish when the horror proper is discovered and we get to see him break into the gayest of gay sprints as he flounces off to warn Courtney.

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So anyway, exams are sat, test papers stolen, romances gabbed about and a slow-striding stranger appears behind bushes and watching students through doors and stuff. As darkness sets in, some sixty minutes after the initial double-killing, those foolish enough to be wandering the campus alone fall victim to a string of mostly off-screen deaths. The knife-toting nutter – alas, no mask – indiscriminately does away with Gary, Janet, Wildman, Mark, Lisa, and a couple of silent extras, until only Courtney is left. With an shot of Jamie Lee adrenalin, Courtney runs and hides from the rather dorky looking killer, culminating in a showdown at the campus tower before a satisfactory ‘yes, it’s over’ ending that leaves no room for Final Exam 2: You Fail.

The appeal of Final Exam for me lies in it’s purity. It’s cheap and cheesy, with no pretensions or gimmicks – straight down the line killer-kills-kids stuff. Its shortcomings around pace and lack of bloodshed are joined by the uninteresting killer. Strangely, there’s a possible motive crowbarred into an earlier conversation, when Courtney relays that a girl threw herself from the campus tower sometime previously because she didn’t get into her chosen sorority. There was I expecting a speech from her dad/brother/boyfriend about avenging the death but nothin’ comes out of this dude’s mouth at all until his final meeting with Courtney’s unleashed warrior princess – spoiled by the old UK video box (right).

Sadly, this is the type of film that will be forgotten in years to come, appearing on lists with a bunch of other also-rans with nothing to recommend it to the casual viewer. For the other twelve of us, Code Red are working on a DVD remaster due out across the pond in late September 2008! No news on any extras yet but the distributor managed to reunite some of the cast and crew (including Cecile and Joel Rice, who played the cult figure of Radish) so there’s hope on the horizon for good times with this one.

Yay!!!

Yay!!!

Blurbs-of-interest: Wanna know what happened to Lisa’s curly-haired professor-cum-lover? Apparently, the budget was such that some of the actors and bit-parters’ original raison d’etre’s had to be curtailed. Hopefully there’ll be a more thorough explanation on the DVD. Jerry Rushing – the coach – was also in the coma-inducing A Day of Judgment.

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