Murder House Goes to Camp

american horror story 1984

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: 1984

2.5 Stars  2019/377m

Created by: Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk / Cast: Emma Roberts, Billie Lourd, Leslie Grossman, Cody Fern, Matthew Morrison, Gus Kenworthy, John Carroll Lynch, Angelica Ross, Zach Villa, DeRon Horton, Lily Rabe, Dylan McDermott, Mitch Pileggi, Lou Taylor Pucci.

Body Count: 66-ish

Laughter Lines: “Girls are red, boys are blue. Don’t try to make purple.”


Before being mercifully put out of its (and our) misery, Ryan Murphy’s earlier attempt at a slasher TV show, Scream Queenswas slated to have a season set at a summer camp. However, people ran faster from it than celebrities from a Trump endorsement proposition, and it never came to be. Big spoilers.

In all likelihood, many of those ideas were exported to the far more wide-reaching American Horror Story, for its ninth season. While I only saw the first three seasons of the anthology series before I moved abroad, I heard it was starting to struggle after a while. I picked up at Apocalypse (the eighth year), which I found fine in its own batshit crazy way, and hoped for a good slasher-based yarn in 1984, to be set at a summer camp. YAY.

american horror story 1984

While far from the sledgehammer-to-the-screen inviting disaster that was Scream Queens, 1984 is nevertheless something of a chaotic mess, that plays out like the ideas tank was empty after just a few episodes and so the writers just began tacking on ‘the other massacre’ that occurred even before the previous other one. But wouldn’t someone have already mentioned that?? Apparently not.

In 1970, the janitor at Camp Redwood, CA, slices up the inhabitants of a cabin. Known as Mr Jingles, the loon is put away and the camp is re-opened fourteen years later by the sole survivor, questionably unhinged puritan, Margaret (Grossman). Due to the camp’s rep around those parts, she can only attract a few counsellors, in the shape of a group of friends from LA: wannabe actor Xavier, failed athlete Chet, nice-guy orderly Ray, aerobic instructor Montana, and newbie Brooke (Emma Roberts not doing her acid-tongued schtick for a change), who agrees to go at the last minute, when she’s attacked in her apartment by the Nightstalker serial killer, Richard Ramirez, who swears he’ll track her down. They’re joined there by the activities director Trevor, Nurse Rita, Chef Bertie, and a delirious hippie they accidentally ran over nearby.

american horror story 1984

Being 1984, the entirety of the backdrop is swimming in big hair, spandex, and people saying ‘rad’ a lot. Of course, Mr Jingles escapes his institute on the same day and heads back to camp, arriving at the same time as Richard Ramirez, and the bloodbath is underway pretty damn quickly, with a few intermittent flashbacks to the questionable lives of the counsellors, who have been engaged in hazing accidents, steroid abuse, and wedding day murder-suicides.

That all of this occurred in the first episode, I was concerned 1984 would run out of creative kills and Ghostbusters jokes too soon. The first five episodes are set almost entirely during that first night, and it’s clear (all too soon) that there’s a supernatural element at work, as people who die seem to reappear alive and well. Anyone who remembers the first season, Murder House, will recall that those who haunt said abode died there, and are forever stuck within its walls. Well, Camp Redwood is the same: You die there, you’re stuck there. Although later rules around not being able to leave the camp were thwarted in the very first episode when the hippie character was on the road outside…

american horror story 1984

Things fast forward to 1989 as Brooke, sent down for the murders, faces her death sentence, while Margaret – revealed to be the real culprit – tries to capitalise on her ownership of the place by holding a music festival there with the intention of killing everyone who comes to it (Kajagoogoo are the unfortunate first arrivals). Mr Jingles is forced to abandon martial bliss to return to Redwood to clear his name and end the horror for good. Brooke comes back (after the strangest roller-rink scene, which allegedly makes five years in prison all better). Ramirez comes back. Another killer turns up too.

While things wrap up neatly at the end of episode nine, it couldn’t feel more obvious that whomever was running this show gave up to some degree. Somewhere in the middle, it’s revealed that there was another massacre at the camp in 1950, when Mr Jingles’ mom went berserk after her other son died in the lake, but this goes curiously unmentioned by anyone up to this point. Then, the ‘thirty years later’ arc at the end, Emma Roberts appears absolutely unaltered, with a throwaway line about fillers to excuse the fact a woman who should be in her 50s looks exactly the same as she did in her 20s. Honestly, there’s literally no ageing makeup in sight.

american horror story 1984

Billie Lourd gives a good speech about women being blamed for the violent crimes perpetrated by men, which would be an awesome summary if the sequence of events in 1984 didn’t trace back to the rage of a woman, who then convinces another woman to embark on a killing spree and frame a man for it.

OK enough moaning. There is some fun stuff here, most of it early on in the more Friday the 13th-ey episodes: Brooke’s frantic chase through the camp, the payphone ominously ringing outside in the storm, Shocker‘s Mitch Pileggi as the clinic warden, and the Halloween homage with the lunatics running amok. Trademark bitchy-dialogue from Ryan Murphy’s favourite actresses is somewhat reigned in, but there are some cute gags throughout: “What do people think of the 80s? Did Judd Nelson ever get his Oscar?”

american horror story 1984

In a meta-way, 1984 showcases over nine episodes the kind of deranged chop-and-change effect that killed the at-the-start awesome Glee, when it seemed that those writing the show had a much lower boredom threshold than anybody watching it, so flipped around romantic partners, character motivations, and allegiances on an almost weekly basis. Here, the frenetic “let’s add another killer!”, “let’s add another massacre!” goes way beyond even the worst written slasher films of the 1980s.

Blurbs-of-interest: Roberts and Lourd were in Scream Queens; Roberts was also in Scream 4.

Where’s Buffy when you need her?

the slayer 1981

THE SLAYER

3 Stars  1982/18/86m

“Is it a nightmare? Or is it… The Slayer?”

A.k.a. Nightmare Island

Director/Writer: J.S. Cardone / Writer: William R. Ewing / Cast: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, Alan McRae, Michael Holmes.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “You’re spending too much time alone on these islands. What you need is a companion… A woman! …Or maybe a dog.”


I hated The Slayer when I first saw a dingy old VHS copy in 1999. It was cut, it was slow, it annoyed me. In the intervening years I was always perplexed by the love some people had for it, but continued avoiding a re-watch …until last month and now, look, three stars woo!

Perhaps if it had done a little better at the box office (an edited version ran as a double header with Scalps), there would have been more than a little credit pushed in its direction for it’s proto-Nightmare on Elm Street tendencies, as we’re dealing with a monster that’s dreamed into existence when kooky artist Kay, who dreams and paints the bloody futures of herself, her husband, her brother and his wife.

the slayer 1982 alan mcrae

Taking up an offer of a week at a remote beach house on an uninhabited isle (“it’s surrounded by water!” gorps one of them) from a work friend, the two couples fly in and hike to the sexy homestead. Eric just wants to fish; Brooke wants to sunbathe; and David is worried about Kay’s mental well being. Sucks to be him when he goes to investigate ye olde strange noise coming from the basement and ends up with his head stuck at the center of storm shelter doors, in the film’s most creative demise.

The rest of runtime is dedicated the others looking for him, then trying to summon rescue before they are fishing-lined and pitchforked to death in effectively gruesome ways. The FX work is actually some of the best of its era and were the budget further north, perhaps this could’ve been something of a mini-classic, with nice photography, an unsettlingly secluded locus, and decent performances from the small cast.

the slayer 1982 carol kottenbrook

Those looking for Friday the 13th-type thrills should be warned that this one really takes the concept of slow burn and runs with it slowly. Well, walks with it. Or crawls on all fours with it. Whatever, it’s a slowie.

Blurb-of-interest: J.S. Cardone wrote the Prom Night and Stepfather remakes.

Pay to be Prey

haunt 2019

HAUNT

3.5 Stars  2019/93m

“Some monsters are real.”

Directors/Writers: Scott Beck & Bryan Woods / Cast: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn Alisa McClain, Andrew Caldwell, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford.

Body Count: 9


The Halloween attraction-gone-homicidal thing has graced us before in the low-end forms of Dark WalkerHauntedWeen, and 2018’s theatrically released Hell Fest, where patrons question just how realistic the scares unfolding in front of them are, until the masked ‘actors’ are bearing down on them, wielding some kind of sharp implement.

Four college girls meet up with a couple of guys and the six of them end up looking for what promises to be the most extreme of haunted house experiences at a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. Downbeat Harper (Stevens) is trying to shake off the experiences of her controlling boyfriend, and the abusive household she grew up in. Nice guy Nathan is into her, and the other four aren’t given a whole lot beyond their names and costumes.

haunt 2019

Having been forced to give up their phones and sign a waiver, the kids are locked inside and begin to work their way through various unsettling passages and traps, watching a witch pull a girl out in a body bag and then skewer her – but it’s all just a stunt right? No, obvs, one of the girls soon disappears and another is injured, prompting the others to begin to question the authenticity of what’s befallen them, and thus split up to find help and/or an exit.

When a ‘helpful’ staff member steps in, the group begins to hope they’re going to escape, but they’re further separated from one another, with the masked staff members hunting them down. We stick largely with Harper as she’s forced into a situation reminiscent of her childhood trauma – one that naturally threatens to freeze her up – and then turn the traps on the assailants with satisfying recompense.

haunt 2019

Eli Roth produced this compact little gem, which carries some echoes of his Hostel flicks, and has some cool sub-Saw trap concepts, but surprisingly holds back on going all out with the gore. A downside is the appearance of that overly familiar bound/gagged-friend-in-a-mask-pushed-into-the-heroine’s-way thing, which is irksome. Things, however, finish with a gratifying bad-ass Home Alone gag that wraps everything up without the requisite threat-is-still-out-there twist for a welcome change.

Hairy Macho Bullshit

tenebrae 1982

TENEBRAE

3.5 Stars  1982/18/107m

“…Terror beyond belief.”

A.k.a. Unsane

Director/Writer: Dario Argento / Cast: Anthony Franciosa, Dario Nicolodi, Giuliano Gemma, John Saxon, John Steiner, Veronica Lario, Carola Stagnaro, Marino Mase, Lara Wendel.

Body Count: 12

Laughter Lines: “Male heroes… with their hairy, macho bullshit.”


My favourite of Argento’s more slasher-tilted films, reportedly written on the back of his own experience with a stalker.

Franciosa is famed American writer, Peter Neal, who is promoting his latest novel, Tenebrae, in Rome, with help from his kitschy agent Saxon, his personal assistant Anne, and a young intern.

No sooner does he step off the plane than a series gruesome razorblade murders commences, each one based on incidents from the titular book. Peter takes along his young protege to investigate and potential suspect and the mystery thickens to the point where it’s entirely possible that there are several independent killers at work.

The giallo touches are played to the hilt, with archetypal Argento camera work, and the black-gloved maniac creeping around off camera. Memorable moments include a sticky severing of an arm via axe blow, and a gory end to the eventual killer thanks to a pointy piece of modern art.

tenebrae 1982

As usual, beautiful young women are the primary targets for the razor-flashing loon, who cuts and slashes his way through several semi-clad babes, one of whom is a journalist known to Peter, who states that his work is sexist and that women are portrayed only as victims. Her murder, therefore, seems more than a little mean-spirited and a possible dig at feminists who have voiced concerns over Argento’s earlier output.

The slight distractions swept aside, this one is up there.

Blurbs-of-interest: Argento’s other slashy exploits include Deep Red, PhenomenaSleeplessTrauma, and Opera. Of these, his one-time wife Daria is in Phenomena and Opera; John Saxon was in A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s and 3, plus Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and also Black ChristmasWelcome to Spring BreakThe Baby Doll Murders; John Steiner was later in Camping Del Terrore.

We don’t need another hero

brightburn 2019

BRIGHTBURN

3.5 Stars  2019/18/87m

“He’s not here to save the world.”

Director: David Yarovesky / Writers: Brian Gunn & Mark Gunn / Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Gregory Alan Williams, Becky Wahlstrom, Emmie Hunter, Annie Humphrey.

Body Count: 6 (+268)


I was over superhero movies about twelve minutes into the first Avengers film. Overwrought FX-dependant three-hour epics; all this DC vs Marvel bollocks; online cry babies whining about liberal agendas every time a female character isn’t a cowering wreck; reboot after reboot after reboot; TV spin-offs; “we’re going darker”; a gazillion heroes nobody outside of the comic book store ever heard of… JUST. FUCK. OFF.

…Except X-Men. You can stay.

The news that Brightburn would be an anti-hero flick barely registered with me (I mean, how many times have various directors declared they’re making ‘more than just another superhero movie’?), until my good pal Ross caught the international cut in Amsterdam and informed me it was pretty much a slasher flick. Yes. Finally.

brightburn 2019 jackson a. dunn

International cut, you say? Why, yes. The BBFC indicated the original version would warrant an 18 certificate, so the distributor pre-cut some of the grue and language to snag a more audience friendly 15. And on DVD? The cut version, unless you have 4K SuperMegaDVD, the only place the original has been made available.

Never fear, it’s still quite grisly as we enter the world of the Breyer family: Dad Kyle, Mom Tori, and 12-year-old Brandon, who fell to earth inside a spaceship a decade earlier and was taken in by the childless couple and raised as any other regular human kid on their farm in the town of Brightburn. Around his birthday, the ship, secured in a locked section of the barn, begins glowing and calling out to Brandon, telling him to do things. Baaaad things.

brightburn 2019 eye glass

And so, as Kyle and Tori mistake his sudden mood changes for the dreaded onset of puberty, Brandon discovers his powers by killing a lawnmower, breaking the hand of the only girl who (up until then) was nice to him, and then going after her mom after he’s suspended from school over the incident. So it goes, anyone who doesn’t fold to Brandon’s will finds themselves on the lethal end of his significant superhero abilities. There’s a particularly effective scene with his uncle in his truck, which results in a sticky lost mandible. Ouch. This scene, and the shard of glass in the eye, were trimmed for the UK cut.

Eventually, Kyle and Tori begin to suspect their lil baby is the one responsible, after all he pretty much leaves his initials at every kill scene. But how do you kill Superman? They know virtually nothing of where he came from and it’s not like Brandon’s been clued in. This question kind of hangs over Brightburn in a difficult way: Whereas the tiresome opus of the standard superhero flick has the gifted one up against a villain until one of them is defeated and the humans saved, here there is no other super to pit Brandon against, it’s one big pre-teen tantrum that a time-out won’t solve.

brightburn 2019 matt jones

Harking back to the not-dissimilar Chronicle, it works fine as an – ugh – ‘origin story’ and had the film done better at the box office, a sequel or two would be guaranteed. As it stands, producer James Gunn has said it’s ‘been discussed’, but this seems like a niche within a juggernaut of a genre where anything less than world dominating success is seen as a failure, so who knows?

As a standalone, it feels a little short, and like a couple of scenes have been missed: Brandon is hinted at as being a victim of bullies in school, but this is never again touched upon. Some more low-level vengeance incidents building his sinister silhouette might well have done the trick, rather than his pretty much overnight transformation from good kid to little super-psycho.

brightburn 2019

A good film, not boring, but maybe just a little lacking in depth in places, and still way better than the prospect of the probable Infinity War reboot we’re getting in 2028.

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