Greaserial Mom

psycho beach party 2000

PSYCHO BEACH PARTY

4 Stars  2000/15/89m

“Party till you drop. Dead.”

Director: Robert Lee King / Writer: Charles Busch / Cast: Lauren Ambrose, Thomas Gibson, Nicholas Brendon, Kimberley Davies, Charles Busch, Danni Wheeler, Beth Broderick, Matt Keeslar, Amy Adams, Jenica Bergere, Nick Cornish, Andrew Levitas, Buddy Quaid, Kathleen Robertson, Nathan Bexton.

Body Count: 6

Laughter Lines: “In the past I’ve had little use for you head shrinks: Ink-blot tests, ‘I hate my mother’ and all that crap.”


Possibly the only slasher film based on an off-Broadway stage show, enter this one at your own risk, for you’ll either love it or proclaim it’s the worst thing y’ever did see.

Lauren Ambrose, who would shortly after land the role of Claire in Six Feet Under, plays Florence, a plucky smalltown girl who, in the summer of 1962, just wants to learn to surf and hang out with the boys, rather than do boring girly things, like her love-rival Marvel Ann (a pre-stardom Amy Adams). She falls in with a crowd of cool kids in Malibu, led by legendary surfer Kanaka, his protege Starcat (Nick Brendon from Buffy), and their pals, who have names like Yo-Yo and Provoloney and exhibit barely repressed homosexual urges. They reluctantly allow Florence to learn with them, and dub her Chicklet.

psycho beach party 2000 lauren ambrose

Chicklet, however, has multiple personalities, the most powerful of which goes by the name of Ann Bowman, a fearless dominatrix, who may or may not be the mystery fiend who’s been murdering kids with physical imperfections around the area lately: A girl with a cleft lip is killed at the drive-in, one of the surf gang with a skin condition is hacked to pieces, the toxic chick in the wheelchair is beheaded…

Investigating is Captain Monica Stark (played by show’s writer Charles Busch), who notices the action is centered around the surf crowd, and B-movie actress Bettina Barnes, who is hiding out from Hollywood in a beach house, where ‘something bad’ happened, until she is awarded better film roles.

psycho beach party 2000

As kids turn up dead, the surf gang throw themselves a Luau, which includes a great dance-off between groups over a Los Straitjackets jam. Chicklet confides in her dorky friend Berdine that she’s concerned she has schizophrenia, which means she’s either capable of being the Butcher of Malibu Beach, or a target for them. The killer is quite obvious in retrospect, though I was having such a ball with the entire affair it caught me out.

That this was issued on an LGBT film label is relevant; it’s only a slasher flick further down the ladder of homages, waaaay below the campy love letter to goofy 60s surf movies, dripping in their homoeroticism, marrying that with B&W movie schtick, and then finally the slasher trimmings. Think Grease meets Serial Mom, which reminds me I’d love to see a 50s/60s set slasher film one day – Bobby Sox, Hotrods, and a psycho killer.

The cast look like they’re all having a whale of a time, with Ambrose’s comic timing the icing on the cake. Fabaroonie.

psycho beach party 2000 lauren ambrose

“Don’t bet on it, darlings!”

Blurbs-of-interest: Matt Keeslar was in Scream 3; Andrew Levitas was in Hellbent; Nathan Bexton was in Basement Jack.

“…And do I dream again?”

opera 1987

OPERA

3.5 Stars  1987/18/103m

“Obsession. Murder. Madness.”

A.k.a. Terror at the Opera (UK)

Director/Writer: Dario Argento / Writer: Franco Ferrini / Cast: Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, Dario Nicoladi, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, William McNamara, Michele Soavi.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “A maniac is after me. I need your advice on what to do.”


In the days before DVD, this one was a bitch to find. Before he realised his version of The Phantom of the Opera, Dario Argento created this giallo homage to it, allegedly also inspired some way by Michele Soavi’s Stagefright, which pitted a group of stage actors against a savage killer in an unsettlingly creepy bird mask. Soavi makes a cameo here as the detective with a bit of chest pain.

Cristina Marsillach is young opera hopeful Betty, who finds herself thrust into the spotlight when the Diva of Verdi’s Macbeth is hit by a car and suffers a broken leg. No sooner does the ingenue begin her run in the role than a psychotic hooded killer begins creeping up on her, tying her up and taping needles under eyes to force her to watch as he shreds through her friends and colleagues. Could this turn of events relate to Betty’s recurring dream about her dead opera-singer mom? Yeah, probs.

opera 1987

Argento’s trademark excesses rule the roost, with lush photography and an intense score to accompany the requisite gruesome murders: One victim gets speared through the chin, another has her neck cut open with scissors, eyes are pecked out by birds, and there’s a stunning slow motion bullet through the eye. As with some of the other Italian blood feasts though, the one-dimensional characters and contrived plotting devices make things get a bit stupid, even by slasher movie standards. Knowing that the killer always creeps up on her, Betty continually wanders off on her own, while other characters linger too long and too close over the supposedly unconscious killer, or state they’ll “be safe here” when it’s clear they really won’t…

As one of Argento’s most successful releases though, if you can suspended your more superego-biased senses for 103 minutes, there’s a lot to lap up here, most of it coated in a thick gloop of grue.

Blurbs-of-interest: Argento’s other more slashery films include Deep RedPhenomenaTenebraeSleepless, and Trauma. Of those, his one-time wife Daria can also be seen in Phenomena and Tenebrae; Michele Soavi directed Stagefright and acted in A Blade in the Dark and has a small appearance as the motorcycle victim in Absurd.

VIP’s of Slasherdom: Barb

The late Margot Kidder was the Lois Lane I grew up with: Husky voiced and inquisitive, although she was often there to be saved by Superman, there was always an air of agility about her that gave you the idea she was quite capable of saving herself if it came down to it.

Playing what could easily have been dumbed down to a standard bitchy girl role in Black Christmas, Barb is, well, barbed, but we get a little insight into her psychosis, the turbulent relationship with her mom, and her dependent relationship with alcohol…

margot kidder as barb in black christmas 1974

“Darling – you can’t rape a townie.”

Academia: Barb’s major goes unspecified, but she knows enough about the mating habits of certain species of turtle.

Kicks: Punking dim-witted public servants into oral-sex-affiliated phone numbers.

Why we love her: Barb may be problematic, but you gotta compare her to her goody-goody sorority sisters – she’s a wildcard of Stock Background Character 101 fusion: A prankster, the bitchy girl, a substance abuser (later: stoner), and in her more famous role, the snooping reporter. Plus she gets the best lines.

Psycho: P30

psycho iv the beginning

PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING

2.5 Stars  1990/18/93m

“You’ve met Norman. Now meet mother.”

Director: Mick Garris / Writer: Joseph Stefano / Cast: Anthony Perkins, Olivia Hussey, CCH Pounder, Henry Thomas, Donna Mitchell, Thomas Schuster, Warren Frost, Sharen Camille, Bobbi Evors.

Body Count: 4


Ignoring parts II and III (dumb, given that IV in the title!?), which he thought had become too dependent on slasher movie conventions, original scribe Joseph Stefano penned this made-for-TV final outing for Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, and the actor died two years later after his HIV diagnosis during filming.

Late night radio host CCH Pounder (loved her, where did she go??) is hosting a call-in show about matricide, and, listening from home on his birthday, Norman decides to call in with his two cents, identifying himself as Ed in a nod to the Ed Gein origins of the first movie.

This provides us with the platform to flashback across Norm’s life with dear old mom (Hussey), and the events that led to him poisoning her. In short, she was an insufferable cuck who seemed to enjoy trying to arouse him, then feigning disgust at the outcome. Her endless games reinforce his pent up frustrations and eventually lead to him killing her along with her asshole boyfriend.

psycho iv the beginning henry thomas oliivia hussey 1990

Throughout, the film ping-pongs with the present, where the radio hosts and crew are urgently trying to find out where Norman is these days, as it sounds like he’s planning to kill again, possibly his psyche ward wife, who is pregnant with his child. Norman, fearing the insanity will be inherited, isn’t sure he wants that out in the world.

The TV production values are fine, but the script is slack and the film becomes quite boring after an hour or so, with an especially drawn out ending. Perkins is dependable as ever, with a fine performance from Henry Thomas as his younger self, and Hussey an intriguing choice for the unhinged Norma, which is quite overwrought, but at least not dull. Probably a bit redundant in a world where the Bates Motel series exists.

psycho iv the beginning 1990 cch pounder

Blurbs-of-interest: Anthony Perkins was also in Destroyer; Olivia Hussey was Jess in Black Christmas, and is also in Ice Cream Man.

Just leave the asbestos there…

session 9

SESSION 9

4 Stars  2001/15/96m

“Fear is a place.”

Director/Writer: Brad Anderson / Writer: Stephen Gevedon / Cast: Peter Mullan, David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Josh Lucas, Brendan Sexton III.

Body Count: 5


An asbestos removal crew takes a job at the abandoned Danver Memorial Hospital, hoping to clear the place in a week, prior to his renovation, in the hope of obtaining a generous bonus.

Spending a lot of time alone in the oppressive atmosphere of the former mental institution begins taking its toll on the men: Company owner Gordon is having difficulty adjusting to life as a new father; while Hank and Phil are still at loggerheads over the woman they both left; academic Mike is reconsidering law exams; and Gordon’s be-mulleted nephew provides the team with their inexperienced scapegoat. As work continues for long hours and tension mounts, one of them becomes obsessed with the archived interviews of a schizophrenic former patient and eventually cracks himself.

Session 9 isn’t your average stalk n’ slasher flick by any metric, and it’s only the tail end of things that it shows its hand as influenced the sub-genre. Director Anderson firmly places the accent of terror on the environment itself, rather than ejector-seat scares – some images really send a shudder up the spine in a not-dissimilar way to the more effective found footage horrors. Long, torch-lit corridors and flickering overhead lamps, creaks in the dark, and the dirty walls of the asylum’s interior all contribute to a feeling of desolation that would turn anyone insane.

It’s one of those watch-it-back-for-the-hints films, with subtle drops as to whom the killer is left all over. The material on the archived tapes is also positively compelling on its own. Even as the end credits begin, there’s certainly no clarification of the previous events, a strategy repeated later in the similarly-constructed but inferior Identity.

Not for all tastes, but fans of slow-burn horror should take a walk down these creepy hallways.

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