Transferable Skills

switch killer 2005

SWITCH KILLER

2 Stars  2005/18/84m

“She’s a cut above the rest.”

A.k.a. Transamerican Killer

Director/Writer: Mack Hail / Writer: Jim Mills / Cast: Cara Jo Basso, Bishop Mann, Monique Chachere, Susan Blonsky, Alixandra Agar, Christina Anderson, Amy Desta, James Tamis.

Body Count: 10

Laughter Lines: “You gonna tell me you don’t wanna take a stab at this body?”


Poor Jamie (Basso) flees LA and her abusive boyfriend for the bright lights of Vegas, wherre she finds word as a pole dancer and falls in love with another woman. Six months later, boyfriend turns up looking for her, but his obsession has spilled over to the point where he’d had a sex change in order to try and win her back!

In the meantime, he/she stabs anybody who stands between them, mostly her topless colleagues and a few witless partygoers, all taking place on New Year’s Eve.

There’s little more going on than back to back setups for each kill in this cheap looking video flick from the director of Mr Ice Cream Man, which was a pretty weird film itself. Insubstantial writing also results in end credits that grind on for sixteen minutes as they recall the highlights of the film and some behind the scenes footage nobody wanted.

Hail has a good knowledge of the genre and he’s able to polish the film enough to make it passably entertaining, but it walks a thin line between exploitation and downright misogyny and transphobia, with overlong sequences of lap dancers in faux-lesbian acts in a sleazy club.

Blurb-of-whatever: Mack Hail had a role in Carnage Road.

Making Friends

may 2002 artwork angela bettis

MAY

3.5 Stars  2002/18/90m

“If you can’t find a friend…make one.”

Director/Writer: Lucky McKee / Cast: Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto, Anna Faris, James Duval, Nichole Hiltz, Merle Kennedy, Kevin Gage.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “When I left for vacation, my dog had four legs. When I came back… now… she only has three.”


With her lazy eye and pirate-style eyepatch, little May has no friends, so her mother’s advice at her empty birthday party – “If you can’t find a friend – make one!” – comes with a handmade doll named Susie, who permanently resides in a glass case, to be May’s best friend.

Grown up May works in a veterinary surgery and catches the attention of amateur horror film creator Adam (Sisto), who “likes weird”. But when May becomes a bit too weird for his liking, he avoids her like the plague, leaving her open to the affections of her dippy gay co-worker Polly (the always fun Faris), who donates her beloved cat to May for company. When Polly’s interest is refocused on another girl and May accidentally kills the cat, things begin to crumble and eventually splatter to rock bottom when Susie the doll is pulled to pieces by a bunch of blind kids she volunteers with.

Sadder than ever, May ends up walking around her apartment, petting the dead cat and smoking Adam’s cigarettes and tries to attract a new friend, who she ends up killing when he discovers the dead cat in the freezer and calls her a freak. Snared by the idea of literally making a new friend to replace Susie, she visits Polly on Halloween to collect her ‘beautiful neck’, the legs from Polly’s new girlfriend, and finally Adam’s ‘perfect hands’.

may 2002 angela bettis

Bettis had recently played Carrie in the TV adaptation of the Stephen King book and extends upon the nuances of that character here, a girl similarly emotionally isolated. We generally feel for May as she drifts from her happy childhood into an entirely confounding adulthood; Her joy at receiving corrective contact lenses is sweet; Her heartbreak when she overhears Adam and his friends calling her a lunatic.

McKee hits the right notes, making her more human and sociable the more insane she becomes to the point of her premeditated scalpel murders, dissections, and sewing-together of her friend – who she affectionately names Amy. May echoes the sleazy gorefest that is Pieces only insofar as the killer creates a companion, but for entirely different reasons, making it the best Frankensteiny slasher to date.

Blurbs-of-interest: Bettis was later in Scar and the Toolbox Murders remake; Jeremy Sisto was in Wrong Turn; Anna Faris was in Scary Movie and Lovers Lane; James Duval was in The Clown at Midnight and Cornered!; Kevin Gage was in Laid to Rest.

Love is pain

prom night iii last kiss 1989PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS

3.5 Stars  1990/18/96m

“Alex thinks he’s died and gone to heaven. He’s half right.”

Directors: Ron Oliver & Peter Simpson / Writer: Ron Oliver / Cast: Tim Conlon, Cyndy Preston, Courtney Taylor, David Stratton, Jeremy Ratchford, Dylan Neal, Brock Simpson, Juno Mills Cockell.

Body Count: 9

Laughter Lines: “Experts agree his psychotic killing spree could be the result of bad dietary habits, rock n’ roll lyrics, and too many horror movies.”


Despite being as far removed from the original 1980 film as humanly possible, this second outing for prom queen from hell Mary Lou Maloney (now played by Taylor) actually ranks as a witty and often hilarious Elm Street Xerox.

After escaping from hell once again, Mary Lou sets her sights on high school Mr Average Alex Grey, who complains to his brainiac girlfriend, Sarah, that he’s average height, with average shoe size, and will most likely live on a street named after a tree (Elm Street, perhaps?) This feeling is compounded by his guidance counsellor telling him he’ll never get into med school.

But then it’s a case of Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart. Or rather, goodbye various staff and students, as she goes to the zany place of psycho in love and begins offing anybody who threatens his success of their deranged love affair. Krueger-inspired sequences include killer ice creams, a blender in the mouth, exploding pacemaker, a battery acid bath, and the football toss from hell.

prom night 3 1990

As ever in these man-falls-for-demon-woman opuses, Alex eventually realises Mary Lou’s predilection for murder is a road to hell and tries to rid himself of her and get back with Sarah, but ML won’t give up easily and sets about framing Alex for murder after bodies buried on the football field are unearthed, and turning up everywhere to remind him of her power.

It wouldn’t be a Prom Night without a prom, though it’s almost an afterthought as Alex breaks out (and kidnaps a cop played by series-regular Brock Simpson) to rescue Sarah, which culminates in both of them taking on Mary Lou in hell. Out to save her man, Sarah encounters zombies, and the jukebox from hell, which fires 45s at lethal speed.

The incidental music from the original creeps in during one scene, which provides a brief echo of the central death-at-the-prom motif as a victim-to-be totters naively away from supervision to investigate a strange sound.

prom night 3 1990

The Last Kiss succeeds where the previous film faltered with a mix of sarcastic and goofball comedy, Conlon’s appealing Bruce Campbell-esque charisma, a good dose of 50s nostalgia and tunes, and the establishment of Mary Lou as a fitting female counterpart to Freddy. The film went to video outside of Canada and the storyline was abandoned for a return to slasher fundamentals for Prom Night IV two years later, but by the 90s things were looking bad even for Freddy, so it’s likely for the best they laid Mary Lou to rest hereafter.

Blurb-of-interest: Courtney Taylor was in 1999 cheapo flick Camp Blood.

“In my day children didn’t suspect their grandparents of being serial killers!”

grandmother's house 1988

GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE

2 Stars  1988/86m

“She’ll spoil you to death.”

Director: Peter Rader / Writers: Peter Jensen & Gayle Jensen / Cast: Eric Foster, Kim Valentine, Len Lesser, Ida Lee, Brinke Stevens, Michael Robinson, R.J. Walker, Craig Yerman, Angela O’Neill.

Body Count: 4

Laughter Lines: “If I had a sister like that, I’d boff her.”


After their single father dies, teen siblings Lynn and David are shipped off to live with their grandparents on their Florida farm, where things aren’t quite what they seem…

David is quick to suspect Grandma and Grandpa are murdering people. A dead guy is pulled out of the lake. Brinke Stevens keeps appearing in the background, staring lots. What the fuck is going on?

This weird, sluggish production from 80s exploitation rockstar producer Nico Mastorakis has glimpses of creativity and some mild chills, but never really goes far enough with its concept. The mid-point twist is telegraphed with way too much clarity, as in “oh, I know what’s about to happen!” but it segues into a decent long chase. Although they do that stupid film thing of running from a truck in a straight line. In an orchard. With fuckloads of trees.

Elsewhere, opportunities to kill extra characters are missed. Lynn in harassed by a guy at the swimming pool, who I took to be retarded, who manhandles her into a kiss and pervs constantly. Later, however, she’s on some weird driving lesson-cum-date with him. He doesn’t die. Annoying teens come over for a gathering, they also don’t die, but one of them is Angela O’Neill, final girl from Sorority House Massacre. Ooh.

grandmother's house 1988

A contrived thing with a firework rocket thingy is strange, and the ultimate climax before the film just sorta stops dead. Points for electing a boy as the curious investigator for a change, but this film rattles on like one of your grandma’s stories about a time before you were born…

Blurbs-of-interest: Horror queen Stevens was also in The Slumber Party MassacreFatal GamesJack-OAmerican NightmareBleedBlood ReaperCheerleader Massacre, and Sigma Die!

Valley of the Mid-Range Franchises: The Stepfather

For a long time I didn’t really consider The Stepfather movies to be slasher flicks: Slightly too-highbrow (the first one, at least) and more in common with the rush of late-80s demented family member/one night stand/roommate/nanny thrillers.

However, the titular character does kill his way through the three movies, laying to waste those who disrupt his vision of familial bliss. That the films are less about a string of victims and more focused on the facade created by the stepfather is relevant, but they’re cool films so let’s love them anyway…

the stepfather 1987THE STEPFATHER

3.5 Stars  1987/18/85m

“Jerry Blake loves taking care of the family. Any family.”

Director: Joseph Ruben / Writers: Carolyn Lefcourt, Brian Garfield & Donald E. Westlake / Cast: Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack, Stephen Shellen, Charles Lanyer, Stephen E. Miller.

Body Count: 4

Laughter Lines: (to the grieving sibling of a murder victim) “Why don’t you get on with the rest of your life and forget about it?”


As the product of a family where the parents have stayed together for over 40 years, I don’t have much insight into what it’s like to grow up with a single parent and have a prospective new partner enter the scene, disrupting the routine that you likely cling on to in the wake of a divorce or loss.

I can only imagine what it must be like to have someone try to be your new best friend, especially if they glow with a plastic Ward Cleaver aura, one that feels so forced that, in the wake of films like this, you’d automatically suspect them of having some literal skeletons in their closet.

For Stephanie Maine (then-burgeoning scream queen Jill Schoelen), this is a nightmare come true as, after her father’s death, her mother has remarried Jerry Blake – smilin’ family guy, realtor, doting dad, unhinged psychopath. Beyond the expected issues of coping with her loss, Stephanie gets expelled from school and blames all of her problems on Jerry and his transparent attempts to reach her: The usual ‘champ’, ‘slugger’ platitudes, buying her a puppy etc…

step1-2

Of course, we know better having seen ‘Jerry’ dramatically alter his appearance and walk out on his slain previous family in the prologue, slipping effortlessly into a new life.

At a party hosted by the family, Stephanie gets a glimpse of Jerry’s hidden persona as he throws an anger hissy in the basement where he thinks he’s out of sight. Over hearing the tale of the still uncaptured family-slayer, Stephanie begins to believe Jerry is that guy.

Like the thrillers that came in its wake, a large midsection of The Stepfather concerns Jerry thwarting Stephanie’s attempts to out him, while mother Susan looks on, thinking all is rosy. He also finds time to murder Steph’s shrink and mocking up an accident, the event that eventually brings them closer, that is until he flips about her kissing her crush on the doorstep.

stepfather 1987 jill schoelen

Jerry finally decides enough is enough and begins sculpting a new life in preparation for getting shot of Susan and Stephanie and starting anew elsewhere, but unfortunately for him, not only does he confuse his identities, but the brother of his last wife has been busy tracking him down and is about to show up with a gun in hand. Things shunt into slasher gear when Stephanie is attacked and has to save herself.

O’Quinn’s commitment to what could easily have been a campy, over-hammed role as Dad is what carries both this and the sequel beyond the contrivances of the plot (more pertinent in the follow-up). His natural intensity, later seen in Lost, and a talent for balancing his below-the-surface psychotic tendencies with the outward guy-next-door charm is genuinely unsettling – the way he posits “maybe they disappointed him?” as a possible motive for the murders is chilling – and a series of glares serves to remind the viewer that we know a lot more than his family and friends.

stepfather 1987 terry o'quinn

The many stares of the Stepfather

For her part, Schoelen oozes likeability – as she did in all her horror roles – and rises to the challenge of final girl-dom with aplomb, using broken mirror shards and sledges to her advantage. The only weird thing about it is that, despite being in her early twenties during production, her brief topless shower moment seems wrong as her character is said to be fifteen. It’s buoyed in a way by some frontal nudity of O’Quinn, courtesy of a reflection in a mirror, but still seems weird.

A fine film, albeit with a narrative that’s been aped too many times to reap its rightful returns, but it seems over a little too soon and, I think, could work well in mini-series format if they ever wanted to resurrect it. Oh wait, they did…

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stepfather ii make room for daddy

STEPFATHER II

3 Stars  1989/18/88m

A.k.a. Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy

“Tonight – Daddy’s coming home to slice more than just the cake!”

Director: Jeff Burr / Writer: John Auerbach / Cast: Terry O’Quinn, Meg Foster, Caroline Williams, Jonathan Brandis, Henry Brown, Mitchell Laurance.

Body Count: 5


Having miraculously survived the wounds inflicted on him at the end of the first film, Jerry is now locked up in an institution in Puget Sound, where the new doctor, Dr Danvers, is keen to help him and find out his real identity – but we know Jerry will have other plans.

After winning the doc’s trust, he dispatches him and a security guard before making his escape and rocking up in a Los Angeles suburb ‘for the family’ where he sets himself up as Dr Gene Clifford, a therapist specialising in familial stuff.

Before long, Gene is involved with local divorcee Carol and her sad son Todd. While he disappears her ex husband forever into a compactor, Carol’s friend Matty (Williams) begins to suspect the good doctor is not all he seems, using her access as local mail handler to find out that the actual Gene Clifford is not only dead, but was also black.

stepfather 2 terry o'quinn

Of course, Jerry/Gene isn’t going to let anybody ruin his plans for suburban family bliss and engineers her out of the picture so he can hurry up and wed Carol. A violent climax at the aborted wedding ramps things up the camp-o-meter a fair way, but, as before, O’Quinn’s performance always teeters on the brink.

The infamous Weinstein’s insisted on more gore for this follow-up, which O’Quinn flat out refused to participate in, which explains some of the insert-shots of various pools of blood etc, moving the property closer to a sort of Freddy-down-the-block slasher series, which probably explains why the leading man opted out of returning for any more rounds.

Either way, Meg Foster’s eyes are still the scariest thing in this film.

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stepfather III

STEPFATHER III

3 Stars  1992/18/106m

A.k.a. Stepfather 3: Father’s Day

Director: Guy Magar / Writers: GM & Marc B. Ray / Cast: Robert Wightman, Priscilla Barnes, Season Hubley, David Tom, John Ingle, Dennis Paladino, Stephen Mendel, Mario Roccozzo.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “Maybe he’s not who he says he is?” / “Yeah, well with any luck maybe he’s Kevin Costner or Tom Cruise?”


Terry O’Quinn’s (wise) decision to not return to the series, probably for fear of being typecast, means that this third and very final entry required the biggest convolution of all: Plastic surgery.

That’s right, fresh from escaping from the same institution again, Family Guy gets back-alley surgery from a greasy, chain-smoking dude who then gets his throat cut with a surgical saw for his trouble.

Nine months later, ‘Keith Grant’ is the new guy in the small town of Deerview, working at the plant nursery, volunteering to dress up as the Easter Bunny at a church fete, and hunting for a new mother-child combo to call his own. Although, Stepfather III smells like it’s trying to create some kind of mystery as to who it is who’s had surgery, but entirely fails to disguise it in any way.

stepfather 3

Said schmuckette is Christine (Barnes), amicably divorced and with wheelchair-bound son Andy, whose condition is psychosomatic (so we all know he’ll rise up outta that thing at the perfect moment). After three dates, Keith and Christine are married, but detective-mad Andy is suspicious of his new stepfather.

The perfect family illusion Keith has been desperate for begins to shatter when Andy goes to stay with his father for awhile, leading psychodad to begin courting another single mom, Jennifer, and hatching plans to get rid of Christine, but abandons them when Andy comes back earlier than planned.

Andy, meanwhile, becomes convinced Keith is Jerry Blake/Gene/whoever else, and recruits Father Brennan to help him prove it, but of course those who get in the way end up shoveled to death, raked, or driven off the road.

A woodchipper-tastic finale brings forth the moment when Andy finally lifts his feet from the wheelchair, accompanied by some rousing superhero music, and he’s forced to finish ‘dad’ off with some ferocity, ensuring there’s no amount of plastic surgery that can resurrect the Stepfather for Part 4.

stepfather 3

The video sequel needs to be trimmed along with Keith’s plants, clocking in about 15 minutes longer than necessary, but Wightman does fine in O’Quinn’s big shoes, though the script leans towards tacky elements here and there and Christine is the most naive of the Stepfather’s victims to date. In fact, all through the series women are made to look a bit dumb, eager to get married ASAP despite knowing fuck all about this man, and it’s down to the children to strike the final blow at the end. Hope they use those guilt coupons wisely going forward.

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THE STEPFATHERthe stepfather remake 2009

2009/15/101m  2 Stars

“Daddy’s home.”

Director: Nelson McCormick / Writer: J.S. Cardone / Cast: Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Amber Heard, Sherry Stringfield, Paige Turco, Jon Tenney.

Body Count: 7


I saw this once ages ago and can’t remember much about it, beyond the fatal error of switching out the final girl to a final boy, a guy from a military background, no less – where’s the fear for our hero(ine) in that?

At the time it was just the latest in the factory line of people-remember-this-title-so-let’s-remake-it churn-outs, written by Cardone, who had also penned the risible Prom Night upchuck (directed by McCormick) and, back in ’81, The Slayer. O’Quinn was reportedly offered a cameo and sensibly said no. Sela Ward has an utterly thankless role as the new wife and Amber Heard spends most of the running time in a bikini, highlighting just how little thought went into this watered-down PG-13 retread.

No.

* * *

So, a quality series in terms of production values. O’Quinn was definitely the high point and the conservative/anti-conservative subtext of the whole thing is interesting even today, with all this “I like tradition,” rhetoric Steppie likes the spout.

As a slasher series, it’s definitely low-key, with far more emphasis on the character’s manipulative psychosis over a blade-wielding maniac chasing skimpy babes, which is refreshing in a way. Remember it next time you’re messaged on Tinder.

stepfather 2009

Blurbs-of-interest: Jill Schoelen was also in Cutting ClassThe Phantom of the OperaPopcorn, and When a Stranger Calls Back; Stephen Shellen was also in American Gothic; Stephen E. Miller was in Funeral Home and Matinee; Jeff Burr directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Night of the Scarecrow; Caroline Williams had final girl duties in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and was also in Hatchet III; Guy Magar later directed Children of the Corn: Revelation; Priscilla Barnes was in The Back Lot Murders; David Tom was in Dead Scared; Stephen Mendel was in Jack Frost; Amber Heard was the title character in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.

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