“You piss me off!”

fall down dead 2007FALL DOWN DEAD

2 Stars  2007/94m

“Seven strangers. Trapped. Hunted. Carved.”

Director: Jon Keeyes / Writer: Roy Sallows / Cast: Dominique Swain, Muhmet Günsür, Udo Kier, David Carradine, R. Keith Harris, Monica Dean, Austin James, Karine Darrah.

Body Count: 8


In 2006-07 I went backpacking around Asia for six months and, with a lot of time on buses, waiting at train stations etc., devoured an awful lotta books, trading them in at backpacker stops and hostels. I was particularly into James Patterson’s Alex Cross series at the time, finishing a book in about three days usually.

However, anyone who has read this series will surely attest that the awesome beginnings of Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls soon descended into my-first-psycho-thriller crap Double Cross and The Big Bad Wolf. (Mary Mary was the last one I got any mileage out of).

Anyway, the serial-murder-by-numbers nonsense this once great series has become is like a blueprint for Fall Down Dead, a film so dated I could swear somebody found an unsold giallo script from 1978 in a drawer and filmed it without bothering to bring it up to date.

The Picasso Killer is busy slashing up the women of some nameless big city, which is also victim to recurring power outages. He removes parts of their skin or whatever and uses it in his art, blah blah blah. One night, forward-thinking waitress Christie is assaulted by a homeless guy and does what all victims should: She runs into a dark alley.

fall down dead 2007

There, she finds a woman dying of razor wounds and is accosted by the Picasso Killer, eventually getting a security guard at the Hitchcock Building to let her in. A couple of detectives show up just as another blackout occurs, knocking out the phones and lights, essentially locking them in, plus a couple of office workers having after-hours nudie time, and a cleaner, inside the building. With the killer. On Christmas Eve.

Fall Down Dead is one of those late night cable affairs where you can pick out who will die and in what order from the moment they grace the screen. Somehow it made it to a theatrical release in certain parts of the world! Areas where they still think Patterson is anything but a marketing brand in the guise of a serious writer, I guess.

Suffice to say, Picasso slashes or shoots (aww…) his way through everyone who isn’t Christie or the down-on-his-luck cop until it’s a cat and mouse game.

Kier’s accent and would’ve-been-scary-pre-Lecter performance saves things from total meltdown, but just about everything else should warrant a title change to Fail Down Dead: Swain, who began her career in the title role of Lolita, and then Face/Off, is cookie-cutter single-mom-working-as-waitress stuff, but the script is so steeped in its mandated view of gender politics that she can’t fire a gun and needs a man to save her at every turn.

fall down dead 2007

The other characters are just as contrived, from the troubled cop, to the happy cop, the Latino cleaner who clutches her rosary beads and whines instead of kicking the killer in the balls and running for it, David Carradine’s crotchety nightwatchman, and the sex-couple with as much depth as a petrie dish. They also come complete with Captain Obvious dialogue: “I can’t believe the power went off – now I have to walk down all those flights of stairs.”

Kier’s theatrics towards the end are amusing (“You piss me off!” he growls when Christie won’t just surrender and let him slash to to ribbons), but sadly even he can’t resuscitate this lost cause.

Blurbs-of-interest: Kier was also in Pray for Morning and (apparently, but I didn’t notice) Rob Zombie’s Halloween plus The Editor; Carradine was in Children of the Corn VDetention, and Trick or Treats; Jon Keeyes also directed American Nightmare.

He Who Walks Behind the Ever Changing Story

children of the corn 7 revelationCHILDREN OF THE CORN: REVELATION

2 Stars  2001/15/79m

“The all-new terror-filled chapter!”

A.k.a. Children of the Corn 7

Director: Guy Magar / Writer: S.J. Smith / Cast: Claudette Mink, Kyle Cassie, Michael Ironside, Troy Yorke, Crystal Lowe, Michael Rogers, Taylor Hobbs, Jeff Ballard, Sean Smith.

Body Count: 7

Laughter Lines: “I do not believe that your grandmother was abducted by a group of hyper-religious kids.”


When people level criticisms at the canon-issues in Friday the 13th or Halloween, point them in the direction of Children of the Corn, a film series with more identity issues than a Trump immigration manifest.

I do wonder if Stephen King has sat down with all the sequels and stared in disbelief that his short story has ushered in such a long-running franchise.

In this seventh installment, Claudette Mink is pretty much Little Red Riding Hood, as she rocks up at the dilapidated apartment complex looking for her missing Grandma, who suddenly became religious after years of atheism. The area is littered with creepy ass children – well, the same two for the most part – who glare as she walks by and eventually come around murdering the other eccentric residents of the condos.

Ironside bit-parts it as a scarred priest who fleetingly namechecks the much-missed Gatlin and He Who Walks Behind the Rows as the force responsible for the mass-suicide of a kiddie-cult on the same sport sixty years earlier – guess which missing geriatric was the sole survivor?

children of the corn revelation

Good visuals and a few creepy set-ups early on are impressive, but as ever with this series, it stalls to a flat, fizzle of an ending and then just sort of stops, leaving the obligatory couple of survivors who won’t turn up again in the next one (2011’s really bad Genesis). The rest is the usual rural looking kids with Biblical names, their leader, disbelieving authority figures, and random corn left all over the shop.

Blurbs-of-interest: Claudette Mink was also in Return to Cabin by the Lake and Harper’s Island; Michael Ironside was also in American Nightmare (1981), Fallen AngelsHello Mary Lou: Prom Night IIReeker, and Visiting Hours; Crystal Lowe was later in Final Destination 3Black Christmas, and Wrong Turn 2; Guy Magar directed Stepfather III.

COTC: C20

children of the corn 666 isacc's returnCHILDREN OF THE CORN 666: ISAAC’S RETURN

2 Stars  1999/18/79m

Director: Kari Skogland / Writers: Tim Sulka & John Franklin / Cast: Nancy Allen, Natalie Ramsey, John Franklin, Paul Popowich, Alex Koromzay, Stacy Keach, John Patrick White, Sydney Bennet.

Body Count: 8


I wouldn’t blame you if you thought there were 665 other Corn movies before this one. Certainly feels that way.

There’s a few ‘names’ in what seems like it was intended to be the Halloween H20 moment for the ever-goalpost-moving Children of the Corn series, which has gone through more metamorphoses than Kim Kardashian’s butt.

Teen Hannah (Ramsey) drives her banged-up old convertible to Gatlin to find her mother, Rachel, a member of the first-incarnation of the cult (she was the girl who attacked Burt and Vicky with the sickle at the end). On route she picks up a creepy preacher guy who literally disappears from the passenger seat after quoting a few cryptic Bible verses.

She locates the local hospice to research her adoption history, some oddballs, is nearly run off the road, and has recurring visions of corn, dead birds, and a shadowy figure.

Meanwhile, original preacher Isaac (looking like Jonathan from Buffy) wakes from his nineteen-year coma intent of providing safe passage for another prophecy about first born this, sacred birthright that, which will entail his son getting it on with Hannah to create something or other that was lost into a web of confusing dialogue.

In spite of the title suffix, Franklin doesn’t get that much screentime and achieves very little. He Who Walks Behind the Rows puts in an appearance (finally!), and there’s some gooey slayings, but the body count only gets going with minutes left on the clock.

children of the corn 666 isaac's return

Director Skogland overhauls the general look of the series, giving Gatlin a dusty, ghost town appearance and pours on the visual grit thick, with a washed-out colourless look to proceedings. It just makes it a bit emo and boring, with no real group of set-upon protagonists beyond Ramsey, who carries most of the film capably enough, propped up by Allen and Keach.

The big twist arrived undercooked and is done with in minutes and considering the roots of the series, there’s hardly a child in sight, and those we do see are just skipping about in the corn not bothering anyone.

If this was an attempt to springboard the series back into cinemas, gotta wonder if there was much of a demand for that in the first place, but COTC 666 adds very little to an already clogged and dizzy franchise, compounded by the next one having even less in common with this arc.

Blurbs-of-interest: Natalie Ramsey was Brittany Murphy’s friend in Cherry Falls; Stacy Keach was in The Hollow.

Are slasher films misogynistic?

I don’t love slasher films because I’m a gorehound – quite the opposite in fact. I love them because I like to see people survive against the odds, because I love it when a ‘weak’ opponent manages to find in themself the strength and ferocity to turn the tables on their attacker.

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a while now and, after reading some academic film theory of late (plus struggling with non-review ideas for the site), thought I may as well just go for it.

Way back in 1997 when I started my film degree, there was almost nothing to read on slasher films. Games of Terror and Men, Women & Chain Saws were it, both academic texts, both well written, both by female critics.

This last point matters because both texts erred towards the intonation carried over into the mere mention of the sub-genre in other books as ‘women-hating’, ‘anti-feminist’, and ‘misogynistic’.

The common assumption of how a slasher film goes down: Young women menaced by a phallic weapon at the hands of a male aggressor.

The common assumption of how any slasher film goes down: Young women menaced by a phallic weapon at the hands of a male aggressor.

Games of Terror is about the formula far above and beyond gender ins and outs, but touches on it occasionally. In Men, Women & Chain Saws (hereafter MWC) Carol Clover pretty much tells porkies to illustrate her point, beginning with a meta-description of a slasher film that says a killer picks of ‘mostly female victims’, before using a bunch of films for reference where male victims outnumber females. Duh.

Still, numbers aren’t everything. The main point made in MWC is that terror is ‘gendered feminine’ and that can’t really be denied. Think back to almost every piece of slasher movie artwork commissioned, be in a quad poster, VHS cover, or DVD redesign, the recurrent theme is of a babe in peril, sometimes partially dressed, often screaming as a shadow/blade/pair of straddled legs threaten her.

girls-in-peril-covers

Various girls-in-peril artwork, often featuring a phallic penetrative blade at the hands of a male aggressor.

This is evidenced in the mention of slasher films in other entertainment: In an episode of Will & Grace, a male character proclaims he feels “like a sorority girl in a bad slasher film”; in Sister Sister, girls at a slumber party watch a movie and narrate: “Freddy’s going after the girl.” Even in Scream 2 Jade Pinkett’s (super annoying) character states that Stab will be about “dumbass white girls getting cut the fuck up.” The popular myth of the genre appears to be that the slasher film is almost entirely about the torture of teenage girls.

The films lean heavily on the prolonged torment of their female characters – from the ‘quick scream and chop’ murders, the long chases down dark halls or alleys, to the final girl’s initial reluctance to fight back. To pin it down – how often do we see male characters tormented in the same way?

A large majority of slasher films are about a killer chasing girls, who happens to kill boys who get in the way: Sorority House Massacre, for example, is an exercise in babes in peril: The killer wants only to kill girls who resemble (to him) his sisters, the male victims (who incidentally outnumber females 5 to 3) just happen to cross his path and must be eliminated.

mask maker

Boys scream and flee too

My argument would be that the expanded terror afforded to teenage girls in slasher films is in part ‘made equal’ by the greater number of male victims over all. 697 films in, male fatalities outnumber the fairer sex 61% against 39% with only 20.5% of films featuring more murdered women than men.

I raised this on a blog to which the author responded with a surly comment that the fact men ‘also’ die doesn’t detract from the misogyny at work and that slasher films serve to play to male fantasies of women being cut up. If so, why have male victims at all, let alone more male victims? I don’t for a second believe that Terror Train‘s singular off-screen female homicide out of TEN murders plays into any such nonsense, same goes for Happy Birthday to Me, and the two-vs-six body count in Hell Night. Do dead men matter less?

The point was compacted by the fact that in their essay, the writer didn’t namecheck or reference a single post-Halloween slasher film. Not one. Dressed to Kill, some 70s proto-slashers, and giallo films do not your point make. If I’d handed in an academic essay on film without citations, no matter how well written, I’d have failed. It’s baseless, anecdotal at best.

7eventy 5ive

That said, critics would often state that the way in which women – particularly attractive teenage girls – are killed tips the balance. Despite box office receipts for Halloween and Friday the 13th showing 55% of under-17s were girls, most teen-horror is still written, produced, and directed by straight men, and thus the inextricable link between slasher films and T&A has never died out – look no further than IMDb boards for hordes of complaints when a slasher film doesn’t feature any nudity.

Clover made a point of stating that boys die because they make mistakes, whereas girls are murdered because they are girls. While this might resonate in low-end exploitation films where the killer targets only females and a male happens to get in his way, early plot-driven slasher films heavily leant on mystery angles where the killer targeted a specific group of young people, always mixed gender. The boys in Terror Train die because of their prank against the killer; boys in Friday the 13th are doomed as much as their girlfriends because the killer is hellbent on obliterating them all; same goes for Graduation DayHell NightMy Bloody Valentine… Errors in what dark room they should or shouldn’t enter aside, nobody in these films is killed ‘because of their gender’.

The boys and girls of Camp Crystal Lake: Equally doomed

The boys and girls of Camp Crystal Lake: Equal opportunity doom

The sequences leading up to the murder of a female character is usually more drawn out than that of her male friends. One might say that the quick from-behind hijacking of boys in slasher films is to prevent a physical retaliation less likely to occur when a girl is stalked. This could also feed into the lack of instances across the board of a male in terror: Weak men scream (see Trent in the Friday reboot) and run away; ‘real’ men stay and fight (see Julius in Jason Takes Manhattan) even if they almost always fail. The myth that is upheld is that when it comes to fight or flight, men will choose the former, women the latter.

Taking the Friday films as an example, in the oft-seen sequence where a couple’s sex is interrupted, most of the time the boy will leave the girl to get ice, beer, investigate a noise, and be killed first, usually quickly. This leaves the girl alone in the house/cabin with the killer, the scene slows down, the photography fragments, framing her from a variety of angles to confuse the viewer into wondering where he will pounce from, while she takes a shower, calls out for the boy, or flees having stumbled across his body.

In the 2009 remake of My Bloody Valentine, this was cranked up to a scene where the male half of a recent tryst dresses and leaves, while the female follows him, completely naked, and is then pursued by the killer after the man is suddenly offed with a pickaxe. His death is swift, over in a second, while she is subjected to being accosted, stark naked, screaming, hiding, hopelessly trying to defend herself.

my bloody valentine betsy rue naked

Naked, tormented victim in My Bloody Valentine (2009)

Then there are the films where female characters are punished for ‘sins’ that pale in comparison to those of their male contemporaries, who are spared: Valentine begins with three girls refusing to dance with a dorky boy, while a fourth accuses him of attacking her so that a group of boys pour punch over him, strip him to his underwear and kick the crap out of him. Years later, the girls are stalked and slashed, the boys seemingly forgotten. The same thing applies in My Super Psycho Sweet 16, where several jocks beat up the dorky friend of the heroine, but only the ringleader is killed, whereas the friends of the bitchy girl are beyond redemption, even when one of them expresses remorse for the way they’ve treated the final girl, and all are summarily murdered.

In Girls Nite Out cheerleaders on a scavenger hunt are slashed by a killer who roars “Slut! Bitch! Whore!” while a roster of extremely annoying frat boys, the nominal hero of whom cheats on his girlfriend, escape the blades. That the killer turns out to be female may be a half-hearted effort to side-step the misogyny in play as a woman judging the promiscuity of other women rather than a man. The Prowler is another early film where the killer targets girls, after his ego is bruised by being dumped 35 years earlier. The three male victims (out of seven) killed are either attacked from behind without even seeing the killer or shot out of the blue.

Few films have tried to flip this trend: The Slumber Party Massacre may have been meddled with during production, but some of the initial missive come through – the boys die quickly, shrieking and thrashing as they’re stabbed or drilled, while the girls pool their resources and strike back with ferocity, figuratively castrating the killer by lopping the end of his phallic drill-bit, playing up to the notion that the male killers are impotent men incapable of sexually pleasing a partner, so opting to stab her over and over with a phallic weapon in a grotesque perversion of the sexual act.

The ending of The Slumber Party Massacre is an excellent celebration of oestrogenic fury as the trio of final girls retaliate, and still the film was eventually pushed out with a ‘traditional’ emphasis on the babes-in-peril angle:

slumber party massacre cover 1982

Equating violence with sex doesn’t come much more obvious than that.

Later on in the cycle, the tropes began to be parodied. In Cut (2000) the tyrannical director yells at the actor playing the killer for forgetting to cut open a victim’s blouse before slashing her throat; the slasher film being made in Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is also run by a producer who wants girls for “tits and a scream”.

The Scream movies have often been cited for portrayals of strong women. However, it’s worth noting that in those movies, the stalking element is exclusively geared towards girls – the Halliwell Film Guide even summarised the plot of the original as “a killer is murdering girls” in spite of the fact that more males die. In each Scream however, the opening scene shows a young woman (or women) being tormented by the killer. Her male companion is usually killed off quickly. The third film flipped it and the male character’s death was more protracted, and the fourth opted for a clever joke of an opening with two fake-outs before the real double-murder, ultimately amassing five deaths of young women. This is a series that may push Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers to pound on their male aggressors, but is pivoted by men who are always attacked either from behind or with no time to act, and girls who run and scream before they’re killed.

Double final girl power in Scream 2, offsetting the run and hide nature of other female victims in the series

Double final girl power in Scream 2, offsetting the prolonged torment of other female victims in the series

More recently, in the 2015 indie pic Bastard, all relevant roles are taken by women: The killer, final girl, and her would-be saviour. This is a film where the only on-screen murders are of men.

Conclusively, there’s no way to call it. There are exceptions to every rule the slasher universe has ever thrown out: Protracted male chase scenes occur in Mask Maker and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, but they lack the fear on behalf of the viewer for the fate of the victim. Do we care more about the girls than the boys? Read a few IMDb boards and you’d think anything but.

The back and forth could go on and on, but given that the slasher realm offers meaty leading roles for women, I’d say that trumps most accusations of misogyny. It’s got to be far more empowering to watch Jamie Lee Curtis, Amy Steel, Heather Langenkamp, or Neve Campbell fight off a killer with ferocious gusto than see them playing the wife or girlfriend of a guy who has all the adventures in any other genre.

Personally, a slasher film without screaming girls running about is usually a bad one, but I tend to get tetchy when the motif is repeated more than once per film, or when asshole guys are given a free pass while their much nicer girlfriends are brutally slain (see Honeymoon HorrorBerserker, even the recent Most Likely to Die). The best genre examples levelled it out: Kill some boys, kill some girls, but always leave one girl to save the day.

So are they misogynistic? I’d say largely – intentionally – no, but some certainly have their moments.

Mortu- no wait… Funeral Home!

funeral home 1980

FUNERAL HOME

2 Stars  1980/93m

A.k.a. Cries in the Night

“Some things never rest in peace.”

Director: William Fruet / Writer: Ida Nelson / Cast: Kay Hawtry, Lesleh Donaldson, Barry Morse, Dean Garbett, Stephen Miller, Alfred Humphries, Peggy Mahon, Harvey Atkin, Jack Van Evera.

Body Count: 4


Excuse me if I confuse this with Mortuary

Psycho rip-offs don’t come much more blatant than this tame Canadian stalker, an early film for William Fruet, who later directed several episodes of the Friday the 13th TV series, as well as underrated campus horror Killer Party.

Goodie-goodie teen Heather (Donaldson) goes to visit Grandma for the summer and help her out at her guesthouse, previously a funeral parlour occupied by the grandmother and her late husband. Heather thinks she can hear voices coming from the cellar, where she has been forbidden to ever go.

When a businessman and his mistress check in but refuse to leave when asked, their car (with them inside) is shunted into a local quarry by a mystery truck. Then Mr Davis is murdered after confessing he’s in the area looking for his missing wife, who was reportedly having an affair with the late undertaker, who also disappeared some time earlier. Heather becomes more and more paranoid that there is somebody living under the house and eventually, spurned on by her love interest, snoops where she shouldn’t…

Material lifted from Hitchcock’s masterpiece is prevalent: the location, the cellar, even the killer’s twisted logic when eventually revealed and it’s clear that it was made primarily in response to Halloween rather than Friday the 13th. Unfortunately, slack pacing for the first two thirds makes it a bit of a chore to sit through, although it’s nice to see a few faces from other genre films dotted amongst the minimal cast.

Blurbs-of-interest: Lesleh Donaldson was also in Curtains and Happy Birthday to Me; Jack van Evera and Alf Humphries were both in My Bloody Valentine; Harvey Atkin was in Visiting Hours; Stephen Miller was in Matinee and The Stepfather.

1 2 3 4 167