The Killing Fields

children of the corn 1984

CHILDREN OF THE CORN

3.5 Stars  1984/18/94m

“…And a child shall lead them.”

Director: Fritz Kiersch / Writers: Stephen King & George Goldsmith / Cast: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, R.G. Armstrong, John Franklin, Courtney Gains, Robby Kiger, AnnaMarie McEvoy, Julie Maddalena.

Body Count: 14

Laughter Lines: “Is he dead?” / “I think so!” / “Then why are we still running?”


Stephen King adaptations are notoriously hit or miss. For every Carrie or The Shining there’s a Langoliers or Carrie remake. It’s weird to think, given how many of his tales have been put to screen, that none have ground on as long as the Children of the Corn franchise, currently at a whopping ten instalments, including that wretched TV re-do of the origin story.

What is it about this series that keeps the increasingly unrelated sequels coming? You’ll get nothing but a huge shrug from me. Some of them are enjoyable (2 and 5 spring to mind) and some are akin to anaesthetic-free root canal surgery. But as with most horror series, the first one is, well, not head and shoulders above the rest, let’s say the least offensive. Helps that it made over $14m from a $1.3m budget (of which King reportedly took a good $500k).

children of the corn 1984

On a Sunday morning in the small farming community of Gatlin, Nebraska, all the kids go apeshit and murder the adults. Does this lead to a non-stop party town? No, if anything it becomes even more stick-up-its-ass religious, as everyone under nineteen follows the nonsensical cult BS of self-proclaimed messenger of God, Isaac (a suitably creepy Franklin, who was a good casting choice). The corn-god they worship – He Who Walks Behind the Rows – speaks “only” to Isaac but, unlike most cults, doesn’t say he can sleep with all the girls but no one else can. Actually, it only seems to say kill the adults.

children of the corn 1984 linda hamilton peter horton

Cruising by on their way to Seattle are Burt and Vicky (Horton and Hamilton), a young-ish couple in a stalled relationship: She wants wedding bells, he wants career options. While bickering as they do, they don’t see a boy totter into the road and subsequently mow him down with their car. Fortunately for their conscience, his throat had already been slashed by somebody moments earlier. They seek help from a garage and are told by the crotchety old mechanic (the only adult spared in an effort to keep outsiders away) to go into the town of Hemingford for help as nobody in nearby Gatlin will be of any help.

children of the corn 1984 john franklin isaac courtney gains malachai

Fate has other plans and every intersection points only towards Gatlin so they give up fighting it and roll into town, where they soon discover an apparent lack of parental supervision, only aggressive teenagers. The only exceptions appear to be siblings Job and Sarah, who are immune to HWWBTR’s influence. Burt goes off to find help, while Vicky stays with Sarah – who can draw the future!!! – until she is abducted by a group of kids, led by sour-faced head enforcer and shouter of ‘outlandeeeer!’ a lot, Malachai (Gains), for sacrifice. Rescue mission, defeat the baddies, escape, blah blah blah.

children of the corn 1984

I can’t really pinpoint the appeal of Children of the Corn. It’s almost universally loathed (including by King, whose screenplay was re-written by Goldsmith), makes little sense, and lacks any sort of resolute climax, and what there is was drastically changed from the original story. Acting from the younger thespians is occasionally bumpy, though Gains and Franklin – as the in-need-of-a-slap Isaac – are effective and carry most of the weight – their bitchy arguments are also pretty funny. It could be the whole 80s-ness of it, the lack of explanation native to a lot of King’s writing, the Omen-lite choral music, or the supernatural variance on expected clichés – I mean, is it really a slasher flick? No, but it shares enough turf and visual motifs to kind of be included on the fringes – with shoulders-down shots of creeping loons closing in on unsuspecting victims, holding implements of destruction, boots slowly stalking from behind things…

children of the corn 1984 linda hamilton

My family are evangelicals so the whole anti-religion subtext is pertinent. There’s also the fact that Isaac looks and acts almost exactly like someone I couldn’t stand from years ago. Punchable. I wouldn’t be against a high-end remake of this – the 2009 attempt was a headache in every aspect – and I guess they’d cast a bunch of GAP Kids models, but for now I guess they’ll just keep on churning out the cheaper and cheaper looking sequels.

Blurbs-of-interest: Peter Horton was in Fade to Black; Franklin resumed the role of Isaac in Part 666; Gains was in The Landlady.

[Insert slack-jawed emoji]

scream 1981 a.k.a the outing

SCREAM

0.5 Stars  1981/18/79m

“No one ever returns from this phantom town of TERROR!”

A.k.a. The Outing

Director/Writer: Byron Quisenberry / Cast: Pepper Martin, Hank Worden, Ethan Wayne, Woody Strode, Joe Allaine, Joseph Alvarado, Ann Bronston, Julie Marine, Cynthia Faria, Nancy St. Marie, Alvy Moore, Bob MacGonigal, Bobby Diamond, John Nowak.

Body Count: 7

Laughter Lines: “He wouldn’t have enough sense to shit if his mother didn’t call him every day and remind him.”


“No one ever returns,” the tagline promises – uh… yes they do. Half of the cast, in fact.

Ten rafters and their guides find themselves trapped for a couple of nights in an abandoned town that resembles a low-end theme park attraction. Ten minutes in, they’re already wandering around aimlessly in the dark and being killed by an off-camera presence that is never revealed. An hour and several corpses later, some fog rolls in, followed by a guy on a horse and his dog; he tells them he used to be a sailor and then leaves again!

One of the few… ‘defining’ (?) aspects of Scream is that the cast are adults rather than teenagers and all of the victims are male. The age makes no difference though, in fact seemingly making them less intelligent, as they fail to notice missing people and walk off on their own for reasons such as fetching a beer from a separate building. “I’ll be fine!” One character is attacked by a reanimated corpse BUT DOESN’T TELL ANYONE ABOUT IT!

Stir in the crappy daytime-TV saxophone score, horrible characters, dismal acting from some semi-known (John Wayne’s son is in this) and you have one of the worst films in the history of moving pictures. Critics who mauled Friday the 13th should rent this.

Blurb-of-shame: Pepper Martin was later in the only marginally better Return to Horror High.

Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises: Stripped To Kill

stripped to kill 1987

STRIPPED TO KILL

2.5 Stars  1987/18/87m

“A maniac is killing strippers. Detective Cody has one weapon to stop him… Her body.”

Director/Writer: Katt Shea Ruben / Writer: Andy Ruben / Cast: Kay Lenz, Greg Evigan, Norman Fell, Pia Kamakahi, Peter Scranton, Diana Bellamy, Tracey Crowder, Debbie Nassar, Lucia Lexington, Carlye Byron, Athena Worthey, Michelle Foreman.

Body Count: 6

Laughter Lines: “I’ve never seen any body jack off a snake before!” / “She’s stressed – I’m giving her a massage.”


The concept of an attractive female cop going undercover as a stripper to smoke out a killer of dancing girls sounds as old as the hills in 2019, but Stripped to Kill was possibly the first film to make use of the cliche. Minor spoilers follow (though the trailer totally gives away who it is anyway).

Reportedly, female director (!) Katt Shea (who played the toilet victim in the previous year’s Psycho III) wanted to explore the artistry of exotic dancers more so than just ogle them – as most of the subsequent films with the very same plot did – and so there’s more character depth going on here than in, say, Slashdance or PrettyKill, with various girls struggling with drugs, ageing, as well as the voyeurs who come to throw bills their way.

When Detective Cody (Lenz) literally runs into a stripper being murdered, she and hunky partner (Evigan) concoct an undercover mission for her: She enters a stripping contest and is given the job of the dead girl at the Rock Bottom club while she investigates the murder and the disappearance of another girl.

stripped to kill 1987

Could it be headphone-wearing weirdo Mr Pockets, who’s always giving the girls paper flowers? Frustrated owner Ray (Fell, of Three’s Company!)? Or someone closer to home? Hmm… Stripped to Kill blunders along a bit lifelessly for the most part, with few stalk n’ slash sequences, but is elevated by the camp-as-tits final act, which shares a fair whack in common with a few other notorious slasher flicks as well as a total lack of political correctness – let’s just say if you wanted The Further Adventures of Kenny Hampson, here it is.

Shea’s attempts to humanize the girls is 50/50 successful – a scene that infers they all look out for one another is nice if fleeting. Star Kay Lenz later complained about the sleazier aspects in the final cut, which pushed the focus to tits and immolation. Watch out for the sarcastic receptionist, Shirl.

*

STRIPPED TO KILL II: LIVE GIRLSstripped to kill ii live girls 1989

1 Stars  1989/78m

Director/Writer: Katt Shea Ruben / Cast: Maria Ford, Eb Lottimer, Karen Mayo Chandler, Marjean Holden, Birke Tan, Debra Lamb, Lisa Glaser, Tommy Ruben.

Body Count: 5


Making its predecessor look like Dressed to Kill, It’s difficult to get your head around this hot mess being written and directed by the same team as the first one, which, while no masterpiece, at least looked decent. Director Katt Shea wrote as she went, with no clear direction, and thus Live Girls is the wretched product.

LA stripper Shady (Ford) has crazy 80s-music-video dreams with lots of dancing that end with vampire-esque razor-mouth kisses, all of which preclude the murders of the other strippers from her club who cameo in each dream.

Limping detective, Sgt. Decker tries to find the killer, falls in love with Shady, and, well that’s pretty much it. It takes forever for more murders to occur and, gasp, it’s the one with the British accent! Who knew!? She loves Shady too, or something. A real damp squib of an effort which, even at 78 minutes, feels like it robs you of an entire day to sit through.

Blurbs-of-interest: Maria Ford was in Slumber Party Massacre III; Karen Mayo Chandler was in Out of the Dark.

Scrapings

As Vegan Voorhees winds down to its inevitable end, excluding anything incoming, there are only 39 titles left on my list to review, so in between the various responsibilities of life that close in like the walls of a trap from Saw MCMXVII, I found an opportunity to knock a few on the head that I don’t have a whole lot to say about…

*

little erin merryweather 2005

LITTLE ERIN MERRYWEATHER

3 Stars  2005/15/81m

“A flash of red… then thump you’re dead.”

Director / Writer: David Morwick / Cast: Vigdis Anholt, David Morwick, Elizabeth Callahan, Brandon Johnson, Marcus Bonnee, Frank Ridley, William Mahoney, Heather Little.

Body Count: 5


At first glance, Little Erin Merryweather sounds like a few hundred other slasher films: A killer with a thing about Little Red Riding Hood is gutting students around a college campus. But wait… this time all of the victims are boys and the killer is an unhinged female. Even the stock virginal final girl has been switcheroo’d to a guy. While role-reversals have been tried several times in horror, here the angle is relatively played down by the staging. A trio of college boys form a little Scooby gang with their psych professor when the murders begin to cut closer to home.

Meanwhile, shy, dorky Peter develops a crush on library worker, Erin, who has a penchant for laying frat boys to waste and replacing their intestines with rocks, as per the original fairytale. Why she does this is never that clear, but there’s some backstory around child abuse that causes Erin to view boys as wolves.

Director and scribbler Morwick (who also plays Peter) has created his film delicately enough to ensure there’s a realistic edge to the players without forgetting the goosebump contingent, which is realised perfectly in the final library scene, which practically redefines the concept of tension.

Why only three stars? Well, it’s a little too short, a little tame, and, despite its comparable youth, looks like it could’ve been shot in the first half of the 90s. Trivial grumbles aside, this is one for those who enjoyed Malevolence (ironically also featuring actor Brandon Johnson) and aren’t bothered by a lack of grue.

*

MOTOR HOME MASSACRmotor home massacre 2005E

1 Stars  2005/91m

“The road ends here.”

Director/Writer: Allen Wilbanks / Cast: Shan Holleman, Nelson Bonilla, Justin Geer, Tanya Fraser, Breanne Ashley, Greg Corbett, Nichole Crisp, Todd Herring, Lane Morlote, Diana Picallo, West Cummings, Jason Von Stein.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “Last time this thing was on the road, Michael Jackson was cool.”


Seven teens embark on a doomed camping trip in this strange comic-slasher, which is about as clunky as the gears on a Winnebago. Sabrina wants to get over a break-up; sleazy Roger wants to help her achieve that; dorky Benji wants a girlfriend, and the other two couples just want sex, sex, and more sex.

After the requisite double murder that opens the film (and is shown again later when the kids are given the requisite warning about Black Creek Park by the requisite store clerk), it takes nearly an hour before they even reach the campsite, befriend a girl who is also trying to escape a bad break-up, and play crappy pranks on one another.

The slaughter eventually gets underway to decidedly underwhelming effect, while the acting gradually slides down an already slippery slope once the killer is unmasked. One amusing scene where Sabrina and Benji attempt to untie themselves is not enough to save this one, which is about as agitating as a trip in an RV with six annoying people.

*

leatherface texas chainsaw massacre III 1990

LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III

2 Stars  1989/18/78m

“There’s roadkill all over Texas.”

Director: Jeff Burr / Writer: David J. Schow / Cast: Kate Hodge, Ken Foree, Viggo Mortensen, William Butler, R.A. Mihailoff, Toni Hudson, Joe Unger, Tom Everett.

Body Count: 6

Laughter Lines: “What the hell is wrong with you – why don’t you leave us alone?” / “We’re hungry.” / “Never heard of pizza?”


I’ve never been much of a fan of the Texas Chainsaw franchise, a perspective reiterated by this shoddy third entry, which was much toyed with in the editing suite, resulting in a scrappy, hard to follow story, that pairs it ‘nicely’ with Kim Henkel’s ‘true sequel’, The Next Generation - which is even more punishing.

California teens Hodge and Butler are driving across Texas to Florida when they stop at the wrong garage and are tricked into taking a route that passes by the home of Leatherface and his new clan, including future Lord of the Rings fixture Mortensen as a slick psycho. The unfortunate youngsters end up getting into a car accident with Ken Foree’s survivalist and are chased through the woods for a while before California Boy is killed and California Girl is taken prisoner back at the ranch, until she escapes for revenge blah blah blah.

The first half of the pic is fine, with a nice set up and great camerawork, but once our chainsaw-toting anti-hero enters the frame, things begin to fall apart with sloppy edits and evident gore cuts, leaving the fates of several characters entirely ambiguous, although there’s some interesting harking back to the original, with Toni Hudson’s increasingly primal last survivor of a previous group who passed by providing an interesting, though too-short distraction.

Watch for the scene where Leatherface goes up against a Speak n’ Spell and loses several times over.

Blurbs-of-interest: Viggo Mortensen was in Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake; Ken Foree was also in Halloween (2007) and Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge; Jeff Burr also directed Night of the Scarecrow and Stepfather III.

*

the grim reaper 1980

THE GRIM REAPER

1.5 Stars  1980/18/82m

“It’s not the fear that tears you apart. It’s him.”

A.k.a. AnthropophagousMan BeastThe Savage Island

Director: Joe D’Amato / Writers: Louis Montefiori & Aristide Massaccessi / Cast: Tisa Farrow, Saverio Vallone, Zora Kerova, Margaret Donnelly, George Eastman, Mark Bodin, Serena Grandi, Bob Larsen.

Body Count: 12


Tisa Farrow – Mia’s sister – is an au pair to an English family vacationing on a remote Greek island. She hitches a ride to shore on a yacht chartered by a group of yuppies only to find the entire place is deserted, thanks to a cannibalistic psycho. Only one mystery woman and the blind daughter of Tisa’s employers are left alive.

A confusing vehicle to say the least, undecided whether it wants to connect itself to the hordes of 70s cannibal exploitation movies, or Halloween, kind of acting as a double agent between the two genres, which is a minor point of interest.

The killer is also able to slaughter swimmers from underwater in an opening act that looks like a cheap regional Jaws rip-off. He chews out the throats of other victims, even chomping on the fetus of one pregnant woman in a scene cut from several prints.

Despite the implied gore, the film is lit so poorly it’s impossible to tell what’s going on for most of it and the rushed, inconsequential climactic chase scene only houses a couple of novelty shocks, but doesn’t do enough to sideline the boring nature of it all. Absurd is the sort-of sequel, for which Eastman returned, and is much better.

*

zombie island massacre 1984

ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE

2 Stars  1983/18/85m

“Have a fun-filled vacation! Toe-tapping machete head dances! Glamorous zombie-style cosmetic surgery! Fabulous air-conditioned tiger pits!”

Director: John N. Carter / Writers: Logan O’Neill & William Stoddard / Cast: Rita Jenrette, David Broadnax, Tom Cantrell, Diane Clayre Holub, George Peters, Ian McMilian, Ralph Monaco, Debbie Ewing, Christopher Ferris, Kristina Wetzel, Emmett Murphy, Harriet Rawlings, Dennis Stephenson, Tom Fitzsimmons, Deborah Jason, Trevor Reid.

Body Count: 18


Fans of zombie movies have cited this as a waste of time on several occasions, thanks to its misleading… well, everything. The only zombie is a questionable one seen during a voodoo cultural show put on for a group of American tourists on a Caribbean island. After finding their bus immobilised, they hike to a local house, but there’s a leaf-disguised (!) killer knocking them off one by one.

So the title is a cheat and the production qualities are lousy, but this cheapo flick was still shot on location and, at the end, presents us with a plot twist not commonly seen, involving drug money and undercover investigations – though it has little to do with the murder spree, which are largely off-screen or tame, save for an impressively executed decapitation.

Former Washington-wife Jenrette is the chest-blessed heroine, something the film capitlises on as it opens with an overlong exploration of her in the shower. Most of her supporting cast are largely undeveloped couples on vacation, only there to bite the bullet at some point. A fair effort for completists, but don’t go out of your way to find it.

Blurb-of-interest: Harry Manfredini contributed the score, which is little more than a rehash of his Friday the 13th signature sounds.

 

The Final Girls Behind the Mask of the Cabin in the Woods… Part II

you might be the killer 2018

YOU MIGHT BE THE KILLER

4 Stars  2018/88m

“It’s summer camp, what did you expect?”

Director/Writer: Brett Simmons / Writers: Thomas B. Vitale, Covis Berzoyne / Cast: Fran Kranz, Alyson Hannigan, Brittany S. Hall, Jenna Harvey, Bryan Price, Patrick Reginald Walker, Isaiah LaBorde.

Body Count: 11

Laughter Lines: “Do you party? Drugs? Alcohol?? Caffeine??”


For those who thought Behind the Mask was good, but not sticky enough when it came to the stab-n-drip act, here’s a companion piece that’d make a good viewing buddy along with The Cabin in the Woods for a great night’s horror, featuring Fran Kranz, who played stoner Marty in the latter. A touch of Tucker and Dale and a dollop of The Final Girls is sprinkled in and voila! Minor spoilers ensue.

Kranz is Sam, enthusiastic head counsellor at Camp Clear Vista, who runs bloodied through the woods and barricades himself in a cabin and calls… Alyson Hannigan. No Willow super powers available, as she is Chuck, comic book store employee and walking horror culture almanac who would likely give Randy Meeks a run for his money and a raging hard-on for her.

you might be the killer 2018 fran kranz

Chuck (“exposition is my middle name!”) is well-versed in how ‘these situations’ play out so asks Sam to describe the killer: “Ugly, ugly dude,” “Freddy ugly, or Matt Cordell ugly?” See? Flashing back to a couple of days earlier and greeting the new counsellors, then on to the grue, Chuck is quick to deduce a few things and put it to Sam: “Are you sure you’re not the killer?”

YMBTK unfolds in an interesting non-linear way, two-thirds of the way through the wooden-masked loon’s murder spree, and Sam stays on the line with Chuck to try and remember what happened earlier in the night that led to this point and if he is, in fact, the maniac. (He is).

you might be the killer 2018

Well… sort of. Further down the road in the backlog of reveals, Sam tells a story to the new counsellors about a cursed woodman who went mad and killed some folks and is buried somewhere nearby. One of the group unearths the wooden mask and puts it on Sam’s face as a joke, which bonds to him and transplants its evil, complete with whispering ‘ki-ki-ki’ sounds that’d make Jason’s ears prick up. It’s the mask that’s evil, not Sam, who protests his innocence as best he can, especially as it seems the last few teens standing are coming to make a pre-emptive strike.

Chuck sums it up best when she says: “Woah, wait a minute, so you’re saying you knew all along that your family’s campground had this creepy history with the evil mask? Not to sound like a broken record, but why the hell did you put that mask on!?”

you might be the killer 2018 alyson hannigan

The murder scene flashbacks get shit done. Seriously, those of us climbing the walls waiting for another Friday the 13th to go back to camp can exhale in afterglow as, not only does the killer resemble early Jason, but the setting ticks all the boxes. These aren’t crappy shacks or tents from fourth-tier Camp Blood-a-likes, Clear Vista is a summer camp, complete with kitchens, a pool, toolshed – everywhere you’d expect someone fleeing Jason to go is found here. Sam hacks, chops, beheads, behands, and drowns the counsellors using a gnarly blade with ‘gator jaws affixed to it.

Despite his resistance to allow the mask to control him, Chuck lamentably advises that he’s gradually painting himself into a corner in terms of his survival: “I think it’s only gonna get worse. I think you’re probably gonna die. I’m sorry, Sam, it’s just… that’s how these things seem to go. On a bright side though, in a lot of these cases the killer comes back in a couple of years, you know, lightning strikes their grave and they’re back from the dead!” Come the end, it’s Sam versus good girl, Jamie, and a couple of not entirely shocking twists, but as Chuck points out, the opus can only end one way.

you might be the killer 2018

Genial observations from Hannigan’s character – who never actually shares a scene with Kranz – and all manner of winks and nods to other films (you can’t miss the Mask Maker poster!) make this a delicious dessert for hardcore slasher fans and probably entertaining enough for casual horror bods. Flaws are few, though the counsellor roster are largely undeveloped beyond the point of names for the majority, but this goes beyond the missive to some degree. And I can’t say I love the title, but what else would you call it?

Are they any other ways to skewer the conventions? Probably one or two (I skimmed over a contender but the production values were so dire I couldn’t embrace the masochism), but few will shine as brightly and merrily as this.

you might be the killer 2018

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