Tag Archives: 90s horror month

Die mittelmäßigen film

SCHOOL’S OUT

2.5 Stars  1999/94m

“This class is dying to graduate.”

Director: Robert Sigl / Writer: Kal Meyer / Cast: Katharina Wackernagel, Niels Bruno Schmidt, Marlene Meyer-Dunker, Nils Nellessen, Rita Lengyel, Urs Remond, Sandra Leonhard, Enie van de Maiglockjes, Raphael Vogt.

Body Count: 7

Laughter Lines: “Wine in a plastic class is like a blowjob with a condom.”


The native title of this German made-for-TV stalker flick translates as Scream! For I Will Kill You!, which clues us in on where many of its ideas came from.

At their high school graduation party, a quintet of teen friends concoct some spider-themed pranks for their teachers as a sort of final goodbye treat for themselves. Nina and Tom are having relationship troubles; Anne is worried she may have contracted AIDS, and Philip and Eva just want to party! But what happened to Jessica? Why didn’t she ever turn up? Could it have something to do with the escape of a psychopathic killer from an institution eleven years after he stabbed several women with a huge pair of scissors… Scissors very similar to the pair Eva bought along with her to aid the group’s prank setup?

Before long, the kids are being stalked and skewered by a masked maniac in a harlequin costume, replete with requisite snippers. The first hour of this slickly pieced-together number is involving and nostalgic for early 80s campus slashers. However, once good-girl Nina is safe and sound in the arms of her detective uncle, the wheels begin to work loose as she and fellow survivor Philip try to suss out what really happened, a curiosity which takes them back to school and forces them into a deadly confrontation.

While its TV origins may be responsible for the tame quotient of grue, School’s Out is still better than many American features that have gotten wider international exposure, making it a worth a look for genre masochists.

Followed by a sequel: Dead Island: School’s Out 2.

Out with the old

OFFICE KILLER

2.5 Stars  1996/15/80m

“Working here can be murder.”

Director: Cindy Sherman / Writers: Elise MacAdam & Tom Kalin / Cast: Carol Kane, Molly Ringwald, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Barbara Sukowa, Michael Imperioli, David Thornton, Mike Hodge, Alice Drummond.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “Kim! Go home… Go to unemployment… Just leave!”


1996 was the year Scream came out, the film that redefined, like, everything. Peering over the fence at that party like a sad, uninvited, neighbour kid, was Office Killer, an obscure little flick still sporting last season’s fashions and casting last decade’s names. Spoilers ensue!

Carol Kane is perfect as meek, measly copy editor (my job!!) Dorine who, when learning that the staff in her office will be downsized, decides to do some downsizing of her own, bumping off colleagues and storing them in her basement, where she plays ‘happy office’. Life’s frustrations are punctuated by her Mrs Bates-esque mother (Drummond).

Slickly made, but too slow-moving for such a short film: Dorine is interesting enough as the repressed psycho, and who doesn’t just LOVE the idea of Molly Ringwald as the bitchy, foul-mouthed co-worker who ends up being the only survivor? Jeanne Tripplehorn (game subject of a Whatever Happened To…?) is the ‘nice’ one who learns too much about her object of sympathy…

Oddest moment surely has to be Dorine murdering two cookie-selling girl scouts!

Blurbs-of-interest: Kane was the final girl in Pandemonium; Molly Ringwald appeared in Cut.

The 100 Greatest* Slasher Movies Part IX: #20-11

*According to me! Me, me, me! So don’t be surprised to find a few curious omissions…

#100-91 // #90-81 // #80-71 // #70-61 // #60-51 // #50-41 // #40-31 // #30-21

20: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

In many ways the pinnacle of the Elm Street franchise, as well as the first proper horror movie I ever saw (religious parents). Wes Craven returned to help scribe Nancy’s return to the throng after the disappointing returns from the change of direction in Freddy’s Revenge (which I maintain is still a cool film). Nance comes back as an intern at a psyche ward inhabited by a bunch of Krueger-plagued teens. While the final act may falter, the first two acts represent some of the most imaginative stuff around and, for the era, progressive FX work, featuring what are likely to be some of the fan-favourite demises for the beleaguered teens…

Crowning moment: Although both the ‘vein-puppet’ and the TV-room death register high on the amazing-kill-o-meter, I’ve got to say the DVD extra of spandex-metal band Dokken’s squealy Dream Warriors music video is something else and MUST be seen.

19. Hell Night (1981)

Irwin Yablans confidently declared that Hell Night would be bigger than Halloween! However, by the time it’s summer ’81 release rolled around, log-jam and fatigue had set in and nobody really cared… Anyway, Linda Blair and collegiate pals are dared to spend one night in the gloomy Garth Manor to finalise their pledge to a fraternity/sorority combo. Alas, the legends of its ‘haunting’ by a crazed killer turn out to be true…

Check out its rendering in Lego!

Crowning moment: Once Blair’s Marti is the last girl standing, she shifts gears into heroine-overdrive and the killer’s denouement is something to behold.

18: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

Outside of horror circles, this sharp docu-satire is barely known, which is upsetting when you think about how much money Scary Movie probably made… A film crew follow Glen Echo resident Leslie Vernon as he builds up to a massacre he’s planning at an old farmhouse. From selecting his ‘survivor girl’, to dodging his ‘Ahab’ (Robert freakin’ Englund!), Leslie explains how it will all unfold, even taking a moment to discuss phallic weaponry and psychoanalysis of the heroine’s successful survival. Fucking fantastic stuff.

Crowning moment: My favourite moment will give too much away, but let’s just say the pivot point where the cameras are put down as the killing gets real is very nicely done.

17: April Fool’s Day (1986)

Privileged heiress Muffy St. John invites a group of college pals to her island home for Spring Break. They quote Boswell, play AFD jokes and start getting hunted down one by one. Or do they? While largely bloodless, April Fool’s Day is populated by a good cast of nice characters and is better directed and acted than most. I once read a genre guide that gave this film a zero, proclaiming it a cheat, while Return to Horror High received full marks. Riiiiight.

Crowning moment: Scooby Doo-style mystery solving puts Amy Steel alone in a room with a seemingly PTSD-suffering Muffy, who has a few strange things to say…

16: Wrong Turn (2003)

On a West Virginian backroad, a group of campers are stranded after a car accident and find themselves to be the prey of a trio of cannibalistic inbreds. They note the similarity of their situation to Deliverance so critics didn’t have to (but still did). What ensues is a taut chase through unknown terrain with ever depleting numbers as each and every escape plan is foiled by the psychos.

Crowning moment: The fleeing campers come across a forest clearing filled with blood-stained cars. A rare sad moment in a horror film as Elisa Dushku questions how they’ve been getting away with it.

15: Cold Prey II (2008)

Surviving snowboarder Jannicke is saved and moved to a local hospital where the local cops also bring the bodies of her dead friends and that of the Fjellmannen (killer). He, of course, isn’t quite dead, and embarks on a new spree through the corridors of the hospital, forcing Jannicke to go through it aaaaall again. Yeah, it’s pretty much Halloween II but a gazillion times more interesting. Sequels don’t come much more cohesive and committed, even getting all of the original cast back to play their own corpses.

Crowning moment: Jannicke says fuck it and decides to turn the tables and become the hunter, leading to an awesome showdown.

14: The Initiation (1983)

Sorority pledge Kelly (Daphne Zuniga) has long been plagued by a recurring nightmare. Her new college professor is interested in what it means and begins unraveling a family secret. Meanwhile, Kelly and pals break into a Houston shopping mall as their hazing prank. Unluckily for them, ‘someone’ has broken out of an asylum and is hell bent on killing everybody… Complex plotting (for a slasher film) with a mystery element that, for once, isn’t astoundingly obvious.

Crowning moment: The all-too-short confrontation between Kelly and the killer. Kitsch as they come but awesome all the same.

13: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Horror purists condemned this po-faced response to Scream but 17 years on it’s something of a minor classic (the title alone is epic), stocked with era-famous talent. Two teen couples are involved in a hit and run they they cover up; One year later they begin receiving notes and threats pertaining to their crime and, on the July 4th anniversary, a hook-wielding maniac begins stalking and killing them.

Crowning moment: Quite fittingly, as the film is essentially Prom Night all over again (despite being based on a book written in 1973), there’s a long, drawn out chase, this time featuring Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar.

12: Scream (1996)

Gasp! Not in the Top 10!? Don’t cry just yet. This genre-redefining film is awesome. Awesome. Kevin Williamson did for his characters what audiences had been doing for years – he clued them in. Before Scream, characters in slasher flicks existed like they’d never seen one (with one or two notable exceptions). Teamed with Craven, and right on the back of his series-redefining New Nightmare, they took the best parts of other films to create this satire of the whole enchilada. A party sits around watching Halloween, the ‘rules’ of horror are noted, and yet they still die. Essential viewing for any horror fan.

Crowning moment: The opening 12 minutes, yeah, it’s a total rip-off of When A Stranger Calls, but Drew Barrymore throws herself into the victim-role with unmatchable intensity.

11: My Bloody Valentine (1981)

By this point in the first cycle of stalk n’ slash, no calendar holiday was safe from the swinging blades of a deranged psychopath. Valentine’s Day was soon nabbed in this Canadian slice of sadism in which a spooky Scooby Doo-like miner pick-axes residents of the town of Valentine Bluffs, twentysomething years after “The Murders!” a private party lures him back and a trip into the mine ends up with bodies lying everywhere. The 2009 uncut release improves things tenfold with the MPAA cuts restored.

Crowning moment: Death by shower head.

Slasher Shakespeare

When quizzed on my favourite slasher films recently, I was gawked at for citing Urban Legend. Later that week I watched it and, as it always has, it reignited my love for it. Thus, when one might ask “Urban Legend, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” I can answer like so… Oh, mind those dastardly spoilers, now!

1. The Artwork

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Still one of my favourite movie posters, and easily the best of the 90s crop: The cracked glass, the negative paper cuttings, the lighting, the eye… It’s perfect. Perfect, I proclaim.

2.The Beginning

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Albeit shamelssly ripped off from Scream (which itself was a complete theft from When a Stranger Calls), the ‘classic’ killer in the back seat legend sets things up awesomely as Natasha Gregson Wagner unfortunately becames the real life proclamation of Bonnie Tyler’s seminal “every now and then I fall apart” lyric she happens to be singing as the movie loon rises up behind her.

Can you swing an axe inside a car? Doubtful, but this is just the first of Urban Legend‘s many fab anomalies.

3. Natalie’s moral center

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At the movies when I first watched the film way back in 1999, the turning point to perfection came early on when Natalie (Alicia Witt – my kinda lady) challenged campus journo Paul on his story, reminding him that it was somebody’s life. Witt’s acting skills, effortlessly dwarfing those around her, make her an exceptional final girl.

4. Rent-a-Cop Reese

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Campus head of security Reese (Loretta Devine – almost 50-years-old when she made this!) is a sassy, Pam Grier-obsessed backgrounder who’s more important than she initially appears and was the only character to return for the sequel.

5. Killer wardrobe

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The loon in Urban Legend wears a creepy fur-lined Parka coat – the kind kids in Grange Hill wore in the 70s. Considering who it turns out to be, that hood can pack a lot down AND disguise the fiend’s face admirably.

6. …that everyone else wears

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On no less than THREE occasions is the very same design of jacket used as as a fake-out. Everyone seems to wear it, from professors, to the janitor, even girls on the swim team – despite the sunny conditions outside.

This is an undeniably stupid plot aspect in a film with so much stock in passing off coincidences as something else, I think using it once would’ve been enough.

7. Laughter Lines and It’s-About-Time Lines

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Even a super-talent like Witt could never deliver the line “It’s like somebody out there is taking all these stories and making them reality,” convincingly. It’s awful dialogue, matched later by a few other aural faux pas’ such as two girls bonding over a love triangle minutes after the killer has axed one of their friends to death…

However, this is buoyed by Natalie’s for once honest answer to the recurrent slasher movie question: “Are you OK?” On two occasions is she asked this and, on both, simply replies: “No.”

8. Danielle Harris as the skanky roommate

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Once she was cute little Jamie Lloyd, ever on the run from her derange uncle in Halloween‘s 4 and 5; once she sat across the aisle from me at the world premiere of Hatchet II. But in between horror fame, Danielle Harris chews up this small, rather thankless role, as Natalie’s goth roommate, Tosh, who seems to do nothing but cruise chatrooms looking for a shag.

9. Contrived ways of getting events to accommodate the legends

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The major obstacle in Urban Legend - both writing it and watching it – must be the method to tie all the murders together. It leans heavily on characters doing the right things at the right time for the killer to be able to exploit their actions: What if Damon didn’t get out of the car for a piss? What if Natalie hadn’t walked in on Tosh having sex before? It renders the entire film a crock in terms of reality, but, again it must be stressed that’s there’s never really been a real world slasher movie event – gun massacres don’t count – so it has to be stupid to work.

 10. Killer casting

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While leads Jared Leto and Alicia Witt never became huge stars, they’re admirably propped up by a roster f familiar faces from various other films and TV shows of the era: Joshua Jackson makes the most of his small role as the peroxide-domed prankster Damon; future famous-for-being-drunk girl Tara Reid as Sasha, the borderline slut (but she’s not unpleasant); and who wouldn’t want to go to a class taught by Freddy Krueger!?

11. A long, drawn out chase scene

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While it may not reach the dizzy heights of the chase scenes in Prom Night or I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend was savvy enough to know that nothing can get audiences going like a damsel being accosted by the killer. In this case, it’s Sasha (Tara Reid) who is stalked around the campus radio station by the axe-toting loon, apparently recreating “the one about the murder live on air” alluded to by some bit-parter in an earlier scene.

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The scene wraps beautifully with Natalie arriving too late to help her friend, who has locked herself in a room on a higher floor and smacks futilely against the window. Note the filmmakers error here: The killer simply opens the previously locked door and comes in, THEN after axing Sasha to death, we see absolutely no blood on the weapon’s blade.

11. A car chase – albeit quite a slow one

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There’s been horror, comedy, romance, and now action! Once Natalie’s on the run again, she’s picked up by the grumpy janitor and, of course, there are no other cars on the road when the killer reappears to make yet another legend reality!

12. Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening

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Tossing EVERY cliche into the bag once more, those Parka jackets and everyone who owns them prove their worth when the night brings a massive thunderstorm that Natalie finds herself running through on more than one occasion. Still, putting the final girl through the wringer is nothing new…

13. Gotcha!

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If you can read Latin, you’ll have already been informed by the college’s motto that ‘the best friend did it’. A friend of mine let it slip before it came out so there was sadly no surprise element, although Brenda’s deranged eyes and oversized shaggy perm soon outweigh the stupidity by their sheer awesomeness.

14. The Exposition

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The Scream-era had no want for motiveless loons killing because they just do, 90s slasher films had to have a killer with a proper reason behind their killing spree. Anybody remotely familiar with how these films work would’ve pegged the real motivation earlier on when Natalie confides in Brenda her terrible secret… The girl-on-girl scene is a catty-dialogue lover’s wet dream and although there’s NO WAY IN HELL a skinny girl could ever hoist up a grown man, survive being shot and falling out of a third floor window, she’s freakin’ awesome and proof that hell certainly hath no fury…

15. Brenda’s lizard face of death

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 16. The significantly “less Hollywoody” new cast

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Where the class of Pendleton University featured a uniformally beautiful group of friends, at nearby ‘Ashton’, the new class is a little less… shall we say… ‘conventional’. Though I do want the blond guy’s long hair and her glasses.

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So there you have it, next time I ask myself “Urban Legend, how do I love thee, let me count the ways,” I can say with some certainty that I love it in at least sixteen different ways. Out.

10 final girls we love

Vegan Voorhees LOVES a good final girl. I’ve read people attempt to remove the need for a final girl in a slasher film over the years (“women are only good for dying” etc). These people are stupid. A slasher film without a final girl or a killer is almost always crap.

So, anyway, here – in no particular order – are ten of VeVo’s favourite horror heroines:

Molly Nagel (Renée Estevez)

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)

Cutesy camper Molly is pretty much the only good girl at Camp Rolling Hills, under the watch of puritanical/homicidal/transsexual camp counsellor Angela, who rather indiscriminately “sends home” all of those who don’t act like a good young person should. Molly’s fate is left a bit up in the air, but from a throwaway line of dialogue in the third movie, it seems like she didn’t make it : (

There’s nothing particularly outstanding about Molly as a character: she adheres to all the assembly line clichés of the role in her goody-two-shoes way, but Estevez is winsome in the part.

Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals)

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

Plucky reporter Taylor and her crew of two follow burgeoning mass murderer Leslie Vernon, who intends to rid the archetypal small town of Glen Echo of its surplus teenage population. However, he’s been leading the crew a merry ride by pretending he’s already picked his “survivor girl”, but it turns out he intended to face off with Taylor all along.

Her realisation of her placement as the final girl is something of a great moment in Leslie Vernon, and Taylor takes to the task with veritable gusto, besting Les in classic FG stylee.

Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt)

Urban Legend (1998)

Secretive Natalie is the numero uno target of the Parka-clad killer who’s stalking the campus of Pendleton University, offing her friends in inventive fashions. While she is naive enough to believe that it’s all something to do with a murder spree that occurred there twenty-five years earlier, deep down she must know that the bad thing she once did has come back to bite her in the ass!

Some people considered Alicia Witt miscast for the role, but her ‘bad fit’ is why she’s such a great final girl. Instead of the usual bubbly blonde chick or moody brunette ‘with issues’, Natalie is a booksmart, guilt-laden character who is eventually forced to shoot her best friend.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis)

Halloween (1978)

The original final girl, Laurie Strode survived the murder sprees of Michael Myers on three separate occasions. But everyone remembers her best as the babysitter from heaven in John Carpenter’s original flick. Laurie is comprised of all the elements that make the final girl: she’s watchful, ever so slightly paranoid, virtuous, shy, and genuine.

Curtis played the lead role in other slasher films, but she never again scaled the heights of empathy that Laurie evoked as WE joined her in terror as she ran, hid, and eventually fought back.

Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

In Carol Clover’s book Men, Women & Chain Saws, she calls Nancy the ‘grittiest’ of the final girls. Wes Craven wrote his heroine as more reactive than most (something that follows through into the Scream movies); as her friends fall victim to dream stalker Freddy Krueger, Nancy resolves to take the fight to him. She purposefully goes looking for him in her dreams and, when she figures out how she can kick his ass, rigs several traps using household items, and unleashes it all upon her would-be killer.

The can’t-sleep motif at the centre of the Elm Street opus helps characterise Nancy as a great final girl: her folks believe she’s crazy, the doctors think she’s crazy, and even she begins to question her own sanity after more than seven days without sleep. But her paranoia wins through and Nancy emerges as the only survivor.

To emphasise just how good she is, watch the 2010 remake for Rooney Mara’s bad cover version.

Ginny Field (Amy Steel)

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Assistant camp counsellor trainer and child psyche major Ginny meets all the functions of the standard final girl and blows most the competition out of the water. Ginny ‘senses’ the presence of something not quite right about the camp and is the only one who takes the threat of “a Jason” seriously. She crawls through windows, hides under bunks, wets her pants in fear, and finally uses her child psychology skills to fool Jason into thinking she’s mommy.

It’s difficult to list exactly what about Amy Steel is so appealing. Essentially, she does very little that her sisters-in-terror don’t. Her performance is neither racked with emotion or personal loss, but she simply seems to fit the mold almost perfectly, doing all the things we want her to do and coming out the other side with her life intact. She’s plucky without being annoying, tough without it seeming unlikely, and smart without being cocky.

Erin (Jessica Biel)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Michael Bay’s remake of Tobe Hooper’s landmark classic (which I’m not all that fond of), changed the leading lady from shrieking victim into a can-do ladette with growing star Jessica Biel convincing enough as a reformed juvie-hall probie whose road trip through Texas in 1973 becomes a nightmare of epic proportions.

Is it likely girls would have acted this way forty years ago? Maybe not, but TCM barely reflects the era it’s set in anyway. The characterisations are sketchy and malleable to the 2003 audience, which means that Erin pretty much steps through a time warp from modern post-Ripley female warrior ideals to do battle with Leatherface and family. But she’s appealing nevertheless. I was toing and froing between her or Eliza Dushku in Wrong Turn, but I think Erin just about has it.

Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey)

Black Christmas (1974)

Sensible and ever so slightly moody Jess turns out to be the final girl in the pre-everything scare-a-thon that is Black Christmas. Secretly pregnant by her highly strung boyfriend and concerned about the disappearance of a sorority sister and the stream of obscene phone calls their sorority house keeps receiving, Jess is under a fair bit of pressure from several angles.

Olivia Hussey was quite a big name when she made this film, but as it predates the conventions of the genre by some years, her eventual uprising as the heroine isn’t the cliché it would be now. Jess isn’t the ‘nicest’ girl in the group, she’s evidently not a virgin, and doesn’t want to compromise over the planned abortion of the child. In short, this kind of girl would NEVER be the heroine if the film were made these days. Still, these points only serve to define her character as realistic (as are most of those in this one) and so she becomes a good, ‘outside the box’ final girl in a similar way to Natalie in Urban Legend.

Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi)

Final Exam (1981)

In this tame post-Halloween campus-slasher, the killer stalking a group of college kids has no apparent motive and, in a reflection of this randomness, the nominal heroine, Courtney, becomes so by a similar lottery-of-gloom. Unlike many of her kin in this list, there’s not much to know about her: She’s the nice, conventionally pretty girl who constantly seems to be providing an ear for her friends’ various problems, whilst worrying about exams and wondering if she has a weak personality.

Eventually, all those extroverts who don’t care about their own personalities are knife-fodder and Courtney ends up running for her life around a deserted campus, until she is forced to fight back and, literally, get her hands dirty. Very dirty. In this straight-forward film, it’s nice to have an equally straight-forward character outlasting everyone else.

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell)

Scream 1-4 (1996-2011)

Last but by no means least, the final girl who just keeps getting put through the ringer. If you were Sidney Prescott, you’d be quite pallid of character and wear lots of dark coloured, sensible clothes too. Her mom was raped and murdered, first boyfriend turns out to be the one who did it, then he tries to kill her, then his MOTHER tries to kill her, then her mystery half-brother confesses to have been playing puppetmaster all along. Then, when she’s had a decade of rest, her own cousin tries to kill her!

Blood runs thicker than water, and Sidney’s sure seen more of it than most. But she copes, she fights and she survives every time despite tremendous odds against her: One final girl against a total of seven different psycho killers. I was never that keen on her in the first movie, she seemed too obvious, but as more and more of her buddies flatlined, she became gradually more mysterious and put-upon, which made me like her more. Plus she’s stuck it out and done four movies, more than anyone else in the same predicament.

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