A love letter from Glen Echo

behind the mask the rise of leslie vernon 2006

BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON

4 Stars  2006/15/87m

“Freddy, Jason, Michael. We all need someone to look up to.”

Director/Writer: Scott Glosserman / Writer: David J. Stieve / Cast: Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Robert Englund, Scott Wilson, Zelda Rubinstein, Bridgett Newton, Kate Lang Johnson, Ben Pace, Britain Spellings.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “Act normal… it’s the opposite of what you’re doing right now.”


Seen by hardly anybody upon its theatrical release, this genial little film follows a three-person documentary team who have been granted access to follow budding psycho killer Leslie Vernon in the weeks leading up to his big night of teen-slayage at an old farm in the Anywhere USA town of Glen Echo.

Taylor (Goethals, who was one of Macaulay Culkin’s big sisters in Home Alone) is the reporter, while Doug and Todd handle the visual and audio. Leading in with nods to the infamous murder sprees in Crystal Lake, NJ, Haddonfield, IL, and Springwood, OH, the filmmakers meet an amiable, chatty, handsome chap in Leslie, who is more than happy to have them document his preparation, including copious amounts of cardio to be able to keep up with fleeing teens, rigging the old farmhouse for the power to trip out, windows that won’t open, tree branches pre-sawn to prevent escape, etc.

behind the mask the rise of leslie vernon 2006

Leslie introduces Taylor to his mentor, retired psycho Eugene and his perky wife, and takes the crew along to explain how he has chosen his ‘survivor girl’, virginal bookworm Kelly, who intends to go to the party at the old farm with some sexy young friends. Leslie goes so far as to comment on the type of victims he prefers – stoners who are usually too disoriented to run at any speed are “good for getting your numbers up”. The entire film barely misses a trick.

In addition to selecting his final girl, Leslie is thrilled to attract the attention of his own ‘Ahab’, Loomis-type psychiatrist Doc Halloran, a very dry Robert Englund, who is clearly relishing every second.

behind the mask the rise of leslie vernon 2006 robert englund

Elsewhere, Leslie guides Taylor around the rest of the farm, taking time to explain that, all being well, Kelly should eventually find the tool shed and arm herself with a big, hard axe: “She’s arming herself… with cock,” he says, stepping into psychoanalysis of the phallic weaponry, then the birth canal-like road to salvation when she comes through the trees of the orchard for their final showdown.

As the time draws nigh, Leslie becomes concerned that his companions might thwart his plans, accusing them of looking like they can’t just stand by and let it happen, which is when Behind the Mask switches from being a documentary to being a slasher film, forcing Taylor, Doug, and Todd into the narrative and putting them in harms way along with the gaggle of teens, who may not all be as cut n’ dried as Leslie led Taylor to believe…

behind the mask the rise of leslie vernon 2006

Here, several critics accused the film of falling victim to the tropes it previously parodied, but up until this juncture, Glosserman and Stieve never opted to decry the rules of the genre, merely explain them in a comical way. Whereas Scary Movie and its various contemporaries could reasonably be accused of looking down on slasher films in a snarky way, Behind the Mask is merely looking at them, admiring them even, never throwing any accusations their way.

A few budgetary restrictions have an impact here and there, and it’s never clear what happens to Zelda Rubinstein’s character, but these are minimal flaws at best, and they don’t cost the film much. As it is, a criminally neglected gem, certainly one of the best slasher flicks of the 2000s and in need of the in-limbo sequel that’s been on the cards ever since the credits began to roll. This deserves an audience. A big one.

behind the mask the rise of leslie vernon 2006 angela goethals

Blurbs-of-interest: Robert Englund appeared as Freddy Krueger in eight of the nine Nightmare on Elm Street movies, plus HatchetHeartstopperThe Phantom of the Opera, and Urban Legend; Kane Hodder is the homeowner at 1428 Elm Street; Zelda Rubinstein was in Wishcraft.

“His name was Johann…”

camp death iii in 2d 2018CAMP DEATH III IN 2D

2.5 Stars  2018/85m

“The most horrible good movie ever!”

Director/Writer: Matt Frame / Cast: Dave Peniuk, Angela Galanopoulos, Darren Andrichuk, Emma Docker, Chris Allen, Starslie Waschuk, Terry Mullett, Cynthia Chalmers, Gerald Varga, Hans Potter, Katherine Alpen, Andrea Bang, Niall King, Jason Asuncion.

Body Count: 18

Laughter Lines: “First the murders, then that whole Jewish angle that didn’t work!”


80s homages are everywhere right now, from Stranger Things to Summer of 84, and the slasher movie has been no exception. This parody recalls the likes of Student BodiesPandemonium, and National Lampoon’s Class Reunion. And like those movies, it’s catered to a particular taste.

For a lot of its 85-minute runtime, Camp Death III in 2D plays out like a Benny Hill skit, with characters zipping all over the place at increased walking pace. Though I grew tired of this long before the end, fortunately the production qualities of this $35,000 CAD movie are comparably high and there are just about enough decent gags for a once over, but, as with any parody, an equal distribution of terrible ones as well.

camp death iii in 2d 2018

Camp Crystal Meph is being reopened three years after the last in a never ending series of murders courtesy of Johann Van Damme, the off-the-shelf masked loon with Mommy issues. Hopeless optimist Todd Boogjumper has opted to open it to a group of outcasts and misfits, much to the chagrin of his ever-furious profanity-spouting uncle Melvin.

Naturally, Johann rocks up and begins eliminating the campers stabbing them, burning them, or, in one pretty funny scene, using a toaster to bombard them with slices of cooked bread. Some campers are dumb enough to accidentally off themselves or each other as well.

camp death iii in 2d 2018

Most of the cast members are listed as coming up with ‘story ideas’, which lends to the uneven comedy throughout – it’s more like a series of skits by a comedy troupe loosely strung together by occurring at the same location, and not all jokes relate to Friday the 13th lore or basic slasher movies clichés. By the end things have gotten really wacky, with a Santa costume, a talking head on a drone, and the most annoying thing ever – a microphone too close to an amplifier.

Entirely down to any individual sense of humour but worth a once over.

Being’s believin’

slashdanceSLASHDANCE

1.5 Stars  1989/84m

“Save the last dance… for hell!”

Director/Writer: James Shyman / Cast: Cindy Maranne, James Carrol Jordan, Joel Von Ornsteiner, Jay Richardson, William Kerr, Queen Kong, Kelle Favara, Jackson Daniels, Vinece Lee, Janice Patterson, Shari Blum, Susan Kaye Deemer, Cynthia Cheston, John Bluto.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “The way you girls shake your bodies all day, what do you expect?”


There are no feminist welders-by-day, dancers-by-night in this bizarre as fuck LA cheapo, which could be played as an intra-office guide about how male employees shouldn’t treat their female counterparts. But this was a product of the 80s, so nobody cared.

A girl with Tiffany-lite hair and lots of day-glo spandex turns up at an old Hollywood theater for a dance audition. Nobody appears to be there so she starts warming up anyway, as we watch a black-cloaked fiend creep around nearby wielding a saw. She does a pirouette and spins throat-first into the saw.

Sexy lady cop Tori Raines busts a couple of bag-lady robbers (one with questionable stick-on eyebrows that he removes in lieu of an intended sexual assault!?), two comic female wrestler-types selling steroids, and lands an undercover gig trying to find out what happens to pirouette-girl and a country singer/dancer who also went to audition and got herself strangled.

slashdance 1989

She masquerades as a dancer practicing for an upcoming revue show and tries to find clues. There’s the famous director, the almost-broke theater owner and his mentally challenged brother (from an era where he was likely just given a script that said “act all spastic” and so this buff young guy eats live goldfish and murmurs a lot with no explanation for his impressive guns). Tori and the other dancers do endless – endless - 5,6,7,8 steps: Step, toe, hip, step, look, turn, heel, step, toe, sass… It takes up approximately 77 minutes of the 84 minute runtime.

In spite of that awesome title, there’s practically zero slash to Slashdance. None of the other dancers are killed at all. Tori meets the killer with like six minutes to go, finds the bodies of the whopping two victims in that same window of time, bests the killer and the film just ends with silent credits.

slashdance 1989

The most interesting facet of the production is how casually chauvinistic it all is: Tori’s fellow detective has left his wife and kids and wants to go out with her. She tells him no, go back to the family. And he just keeps on asking incessantly. Her Captain talks about her being a decent pair of tits and won’t take her seriously because she’s, y’know, a woman - she’s also never dressed in anything but sexy evening wear or her dance garb. Curiously though, given that cover art, there’s no nudity in the movie, just the never ending close ups of thrusting and gyrating pelvises in lycra. It’s like that Eric Prydz video’s mom.

Somewhat wisely opting to (try and) be funny rather than po-faced, the slasher aspects are still very much an afterthought, with a particularly crappy killer, whose identity is obvious, and too many characters who would die in any other film but survive this intact. If you think you can do it, watch it back to back with 1992’s Last Dance.

Blurbs-of-interest: James Shyman also directed Hollywood’s New Blood; Jay Richardson was in The Newlydeads.

Halloween Special: Mischief Night vs Mischief Night

Happy Halloween! So there were two movies named Mischief Night that came along in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Are they the same? Is one better? What the fuck is Mischief Night?

Let us see… (spooooilers!)

mischief night 2013

MISCHIEF NIGHT

3 Stars  2013/15/83m

“Don’t open the door.”

Director/Writer: Richard Schenkman / Writers: Jesse Baget & Eric D. Wilkinson / Cast: Noell Coet, David Hugh Kelly, Iam Bamberg, Stephanie Erb, Ally Walker, Erica Leerhsen, Charlie O’Connell, Richard Riehle, Adam C. Edwards.

Body Count: 7

Laughter Lines: “You go hide in the closet while I check it out.”


Mischief Night 1.0 begins with Erica Leerhsen and Charlie O’Connell (Jerry’s lil bro) as a couple conducting extra-marital naughtiness with one another when they become suspicious somebody else is in the house. It’s Mischief Night – the night before Halloween – so they foolishly write it off as douche teens getting their jollies. Of course, it’s a psycho in a yellow rainmack and creepy mask – not a far cry from Alice, Sweet Alice - who offs them in good time.

Emily Walton has psychosomatic blindness ever since her mother’s death in a car accident nine years earlier. Her shrink thinks she can get past it but she’s reluctant to relive the crash, focusing instead on getting her dad to allow her to go skiing with her boyfriend Jimmy at the weekend. When dad has a date, Emily stays home alone and before long yellow-rainmack has entered the house and quietly stalks her.

mischief night 2014

The majority of the film is a cat and mouse affair as Emily makes her way around the unfamiliar house – one or two people show up to get murdered (a particularly brutal knife through the chin stands out) – and when Jimmy turns up, he always seems to find a reason to leave a minute before rainmack man shows up again.

The film excels when Emily (and some others) totters around with the killer inches away, despite previously attempting to establish her other senses are honed, which is reasserted for the climax, where she can hear a near whisper through the floor. Things tie themselves in a knot come the very end where, of course, her eyesight begins to return at just the right moment.

However, while the outcome of the killer not being anybody we’ve seen before and just doing it “because it’s Mischief Night” might be some notion of “real” horror, it also plays out like they built a mystery they had no intention of resolving, so there’s a sense of being cheated out of a decent resolution.

mischief night 2013

Coet makes an appealing heroine and acts the part well, but the film wastes a few opportunities to up the bodycount and perhaps have a few more scenes away from the house. Think that old Madeline Stowe thriller Blink crossed with the car-o-phobic girl-stuck-in-car slasher flick Penny Dreadful.

Blurbs-of-interest: Erica Leerhsen was in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Wrong Turn 2, and Lonely Joe; Charlie O’Connell was in Devil’s Prey; Richard Riehle was in HatchetThe Watermen, and Texas Chainsaw 3D.

*

MISCHIEF NIGHTmischief night 2014

3.5 Stars

A.k.a. Devil’s Night (UK DVD)

“All’s fair in blood and gore.”

Director/Writer: Travis Baker / Cast: Brooke Anne Smith, Marc Valera, Nikki Limo, Matt Angel, Malcolm McDowell, Jordan Levy.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “I was always the kid that talked to strangers took candy from old men.”


The difference between this Mischief Night (actually shot in 2010 and only renamed on the UK DVD box, not the film itself) is that if you went into it blindly expecting another girl-alone-in-house slasher flick, you’d likely become confused or annoyed some 30 minutes in, despite the nice photography and lush score. Fortuitously, I read in advance to expect something different and, well, admittedly I was sighing internally for a while there.

A car rolls up in a stock middle class suburb and the driver changes clothes and dons a mask and begins to stalk the neighbourhood. It’s Mischief Night, so we track a trio of supremely stabbable boys as they throw garbage everywhere, pelt a jogger with eggs, and generally behave like dickwads. They meet their match in teen babysitter Kaylie, who hoses them down before they can attack the house where she’s working.

It’s quickly established that she’s disaffected and apparently pines for the affections of classmate Graham, who’s apparently only interested in her BFF Daphne. When Daphne comes over, she’s slashed to death by the intruder, who then attacks Kaylie. She puts up an admirable Sidney Prescott fight and he’s put off by the fact she’s not remotely scared of him. Instead they talk a bit, then go out and create some mischief of their own, before getting drunk and having sex.

mischief night 2014

Is there some Stockholm Syndrome at work? Yes… and also no. Who is playing who? This film has a lot of talky scenes, but is actually full of good dialogue and excellently acted by leads Smith and Valera, each of them wounded by the circumstances of their existence and trying to find a way to reset the balance. It’s the kind of content you’d more expect to find in a thriller novel or even a stage play, but my attitude to the film had by this point done a 180.

There’s a twist I half saw coming, but it’s handled a lot better than I expected it would be. And for those grimacing at the prospect, there still is some slasher movie goodness to be found – the three asshole kids do return and do get what they deserve – and the film ends with a sort of ‘if only’ bittersweetness and then several minutes of Malcolm McDowell’s various outtakes (he appears for all of five minutes in the film proper, as a kooky neighbour).

mischief night 2014

It’s difficult to try and recommend this as a slasher film, but its nearest relatives would be something along the lines of Last Girl Standing and maybe Behind the Mask but without the laughs. A difficult film to pin down, but an interesting one if nothing else.

Blurbs-of-interest: Nikki Limo was in Smiley; Matt Angel was in My Super Psycho Sweet 16 and its first sequel; Malcolm McDowell can be found in The SurgeonSilent Night, and both of Rob Zombie’s Halloweens.

*

So which Mischief Night reigns supreme? Given that the only real similarity is that they revolve around a girl alone in a house, it’s not an easy pick, but the 2014 film is definitely the one I’ll remember for longer.

Kills in America

the strangers prey at night 2018

THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT

3.5 Stars  2018/15/86m

“Let us prey.”

Director: Johannes Roberts / Writers: Bryan Bertino & Ben Katai / Cast: Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman, Damian Maffei, Emma Bellomy, Lea Enslin.

Body Count: 8


Spoilers ahoy. I wasn’t that hyped over The Strangers in 2008, having already seen the far superior Them. It’s still a decent film, with some good creepy visuals, but re-watching it recently it felt like it was treading water for the most of its running time, with an unrelenting hard-on for shots of characters in the foreground, entirely unaware of the masked fiend quietly stalking them over their shoulder.

After a decade-long wait, the sequel came along dripping with the recent trend for 80s nostalgia, as a trailer blasting Tiffany’s iconic I Think We’re Alone Now warned us. Sadly, the song is swapped out in the end for Air Supply’s almost as awesome Making Love Out of Nothin’ at All. Elsewhere, there’s death to the sounds of Kim Wilde and Bonnie Tyler. Seemingly the strangers’ preferred radio station is Magic FM.

A family road-tripping their way to transport wayward teen daughter, Kinsey, to boarding school after a series of infractions stop off at the trailer park owned by a relative for the night. There’s no sign of Uncle Marv and, as summer is over, the place is empty …but then there’s a knock at the door.

the strangers prey at night 2018 christina hendricks bailee madison

Prey at Night wastes little time in getting to the horror, trashing the slow-burn and prolonged menace and stalking scenes, instead just getting on with the killing. Before long it’s up to Kinsey and her all-American baseball lovin’ big-bro Luke to make a stand.

There are some great scenes: Skylight escape and swimming pool fight ranking as the best, and assumed plans for The Strangers 3 are surely scuppered with the siblings’ successful counter strikes, proving fatal in moments that made me holler “YES!!!” as the masked fiends get a taste of their own medicine.

The film was divisive, with some bemoaning it’s side-step from home invasion to out-and-out slasher, but the first movie had little repeat-viewing quality for me, given that the hair-raising scenes are all it trades on, and once you know it’s got a downbeat ending, why bother riding that carousel again?

The inescapable tropes of slasherdom mean that we get the slightly annoying indestructible killer scenes (and a sequence borrowing heavily from a certain Texan film), and it took me a while to warm up to Kinsey as the final girl figure, but she gets there by the time she’s been fed through the shredder a few times.

the strangers prey at night 2018 lewis pullman

Prospects for The Strangers 3: We *HEART* the 90s with a La Bouche and Haddaway soundtrack? Not good, but I’d definitely be up for another one of this calibre.

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