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English Countrycide

THE-SHADOW-OF-DEATH-VHSTHE SHADOW OF DEATH

3 Stars  2012/81m

Director/Writer: Gav Chuckie Steel / Cast: Corinna Jane, Sophia Disgrace, Jane West, Dan Carter Hope, Dan Bone, Charlie Bore, John Brown, Martin Penrose.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “I don’t wanna panic you girls, but I think something really dodgy is going on in these woods – maybe even devil worshipping doggers!”


The English countryside: green rolling hills, trees older than Lionel Blair, robed-psychotics swinging blades at hapless hikers, buggered bikers (not literally), and annihilated nature lovers.

The words “shot”, “on”, and “video” together in a sentence usually result in my soul crying. In fact, not so long ago I decided to give up on any camcorder bloodfests as there weren’t any good ones. Ever. Such might’ve been the case of The Shadow of Death, Gav Steel’s micro-budgeted ode to all things slashy but transplanted from the usual back roads of America to the delightful woods of England. Farnham, to be precise.

First and foremost, it needs to be pointed out and then triple-underscored that this film is edited properly. I mean, like, properly. There’s none of the slapdash I-used-Windows-Movie-Maker quality to the cut. Were this shot on film, it would look big-screen worthy. Composition of photography is also energetic and interesting.

It’s also been decked out with decent sound and a thought-out score, which, again circumvents the usual production pitfalls that so many of these productions fall into and die miserably into.

sod-2

To the story then… Over-pierced stoner Nancy wants some weed and contacts her ex, Dan, to hook her up. As he’s also out, he calls a dealer, who has tottered off to Devil’s Jump in the local woods with a bong. Nancy convinces her roommates, peacekeeper Debra and computer-nerd and plausible lesbian Jamie, to go along with them.

Meanwhile, a Rolodex of randoms who have also ventured into the woods are meeting grisly ends at the hands of the mystery loon, who has no qualms about slicing eyeballs, chopping off limbs, or knocking binoculars through eyes.

The quartet of hash-hunters soon lose their way and settle inside an old shack until the rain passes, telling scary stories until they start to venture out for various reasons and robe-man finds them. Elsewhere, a partially-sane, wannabe policeman, calling himself Supercop Craven of the Special Police, is investigating an abandoned car and happens upon the severed head of an early victim.

cop

What’s evident from watching the film is that the people who made it genuinely cared about not creating another lazy slasher title. The budget may hamper efforts to go all out and the midriff in the shack begins to drag but the effects work is especially well done, with some neat ideas for offing the pick n’ mix of victims.

One guy suffers death-by-bong while a wouldbe good Samaritan finds cycling a particular difficulty after one arm is hacked off, and there’s a cool machete in the face. None of this sounds particularly amazing on the page, but none of it looks crap either. It’s bloody – but not stupid.

The film is infused with references to horror films a-plenty; Dan wears an Evil Dead t-shirt and names of pubs and locales have a brain-teasing familiarity to them – and is it a coincidence the girls are called Nancy and Jamie?

cabin

No film is without its flaws and The Shadow of Death is certainly no exception. In a similar way to The Sleeper (which, coincidentally also featured retro “VHS” artwork), which I reviewed the other week, there’s a flatness to some of the characterisations, which prevents any real bonding between viewer and threatened girl/boy/supercop. While Debra is evidently going to be the one to watch from early on, the styling of the film and its orbit of Planet Parody kept me at arms length with rooting for her survival the way that Amy Steel or Jamie Lee Curtis evoked.

It’s a minor complaint in a first effort and not one that should put anybody off, least of all the people who produced it from graduating to the next project, which, if as carefully constructed as this was, can only be better. Therefore, while you’ll never see me dolling out 3.5 stars to any old shot on video crap, I get the feeling people could be looking back on this in a decade or so as the beginnings of something…

Cold Prey-garism

BLOOD RUNS COLD

2 Stars  2011/15/74m

“Hell just froze over.”

Director: Sonny Laguna / Writers: Laguna, David Liljeblad & Tommy Wiklund / Cast: Hanna Oldenburg, Patrick Saxe, Andreas Rylander, Elin Hugoson, Ralf Beck, David Liljeblad.

Body Count: 6


Sweden: Land of Volvo, saunas, ABBA, and Roxette. Norway: Land of herring, fjords, and famously coming last in Eurovision countless times.

Sweden shouldn’t really be jealous. But then Norway got Cold Prey – hands down the best slasher, neigh – best horror - film in a long time. Sweden was all like “yeah we can do that.”

So out came Blood Runs Cold, shot on a minuscule budget of about $5,000, and boasting a plot staggering similar to Sweden’s next-door neighbour’s celluloid prize possession.

Winona, a singer of some such, drives into the snow-covered turf of her old town for a couple of months away from the stress put on her by her manager. Unfortunately for her, she gets the wrong house and beds down in a twee, but dilapidated shack of a place.

She drives into town and runs into an old boyfriend and invites him and a couple of his friends back to the house to party. This is where Blood Runs Cold trades in some of its admittedly impressive style for some dumb ass character behaviour… It seems the house has no bathroom as people keep going outside to piss and one of them sees a figure in the upstairs window but doesn’t bother telling the others about it. The other guy finds that Winona’s van has been tampered with, picks up a torn out spark plug, tosses it into the snow and doesn’t bother telling the others about it.

Before sun up, all three of the invitees have been murdered and eaten by the hooded, goggled freak living in a series of secret rooms and caves beneath the house. Winona assumes they just went home and, upon finding a large paddle of blood on the living room floor, simply cleans it up and goes about her day as if it meant nothing…

“This film is snot what I signed on for.”

When it’s just Winona and the loon – who appears to be deaf, blind and made of dust!? – all dialogue is gone and as he hangs her up to serve up some chick-meat, she escapes, he catches her, she escapes, he catches her and so on until the credits suddenly spring up out of nowhere, several minutes earlier than the box promised!

There’s some good looking photography on parade and the house geography supplies a few good hidey-holes for Winona to crawl around (could’ve provided some Kleenex for her Heather Donahue moment too, I guess) but even at 74 minutes this drags and isn’t nearly a quarter as tense as Cold Prey.

Curiously recorded in English – which also seems to inhibit the acting – with a higher wad of cash at their disposal, this could’ve been much better but seems lazily written with an almost purposely dumb cast and a stack of unanswered questions, not least of all who the dude at the beginning is?

More almost but not-quite slasher flicks

Another handful of horrors that hang out by the dance floor where all the slasher flicks are partying and flirt with them, trying to blend even though they don’t really fit in… See the last lot here.

DEAD SILENCE 2007

“From the makers of Saw” came this seriously underrated and unsuccessful scare flick, in which young couple Ryan Kwanten (later in True Blood) and Laura Regan (from My Little Eye) receive a creepy ventriloquist’s doll in the mail that somehow kills her, sending him back to their hometown of Raven’s Faire, a town apparently cursed by the ghost of Mary Shaw, subject of an Elm Street-like nursery rhyme that states if you encounter her in your dreams, don’t scream or you’ll lose your tongue, just as Regan did.

Kwanten’s investigations, hampered by greasy detective – and ex-New Kid on the Block – Donnie Wahlberg, seem to generate a fresh wave of creepy deaths and there’s one helluva twist at the end that I was totally blind to!

Why it’s not a slasher flick really: it’s a ghost story with a body count really, shades of Darkness Falls as well as Krueger-town (there was an additional murder in the deleted scenes) creep in, but not enough to swap sub-genres and they’re not likely to make a sequel…

DONKEY PUNCH 2008

Three northern gals holidaying in Mallorca hook up with a quartet of private school guys crewing on a luxury yacht and decide to party on the boat. Sex and drugs dominate and one of the guys decides to test a sexual urban legend – the Donkey Punch – which backfires, killing one of the girls. The boys vote to throw her overboard and say she fell and when the girls refuse to go along with it, a series of intensified confronations and misunderstandings lead to a second accidental death, then escalate to murder…

Why it’s not a slasher flick really: most of the deaths are accidents (including a neat outboard demise) and one person commits suicide. There’s a final girl of sorts but this is totally a Brit-grit situation flick.

HOUSE OF 9 2005

Another UK export; in this cut-price Battle Royale, nine strangers are abducted and wake up in a locked down house and informed that when only one remains alive, they will exit with £5million. Dennis Hopper is an Irish priest with a dodgy accent, Kelly Brook a shy dancer, Chardonnay from Footballer’s Wives a socialite, a rapper, an American detective, married couple and so on…

They argue about the situation until it leads to accidental death and murder, whittling down numbers until only one remains and exits. Cue semi-clever twist.

Why it’s not a slasher flick really: as with Donkey Punch, it’s all situational, there’s no one killer offing everybody one by one.

THE LAMP 1987

I love this cheesecake 80s horror film about a killer genie – or Djinn – which inhabits ye olde lamp that dim-witted, dungaree-wearing heroine Alex rubs when it arrives at her father’s museum. A field trip, a dumb teen idea to spend the night there (in a fucking museum…), Djinn-possession and the teens, some staff members and a couple of meathead racists find themselves done in in a variety of proto-Final Destination ways, some of which are suitably gruesome and clever, let down only by bargain basement effects work and a Djinn that looks like a Kinder Egg toy.

Why it’s not a slasher flick really: it’s a close one: there’s a lot in common with the likes of The Initiation and any number of collegiate prank slasher flicks but in the end it varies itself out of the equation.

THE UGLY 1997

A defence psychologist appointed to reassess a murderer, who proceeds to fill her in on his traumatic childhood and the slayings that followed. Despite warnings from the creepy institution doctor the shrink is soon sucked into his tragic tale of a nasty mother, school bullies and his one friend. All the blood on show is like black motor oil from a bunch of extras who are slashed up with a straight razor. Things go all Se7en with a downbeat twist ending, but it’s typically arty in the Australasian way.

Why it’s not a slasher flick really: a serial killer flick with grisly murders peppered throughout; no busloads of dense teenangers here.

Don’t go in the house. Or the basement. Or the cemetery. Just leave.

THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY

2 Stars  1981/18/82m

Director: Lucio Fulci / Writers: Fulci, Elisa Livia Briganti, Dardano Sacchetti & Giorgio Mariuzzo / Cast: Katherine MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander.

Body Count: 6

Dire-logue: “Ann, mommy says you’re not dead… Is that true?”


Cooool title and cooool poster. For me though, that’s where the coooolness ends.

It’s Italian, it’s dubbed badly, it’s Fulci, it wants to be The Shining, it makes next to no sense. As far as I could tell, the Boyle family – professor dad, squealy jittery mom, and blond moppet Bob – are moved into the old Freudstein house. By a cemetery. Two teens were killed there in the prologue so we know more than the Boyle clan already.

Little Bob is friends with a girl, Mae, who it seems nobody else can see. She says cryptic things and tells him not to go in the house etc… Meanwhile, Realtors and babysitters drop by and whomever is loitering in the seemingly unlockable basement totters in and kills them horribly. There’s some weird shit going on with the childminder, who resembles a mannequin we see randomly decapitated earlier on, stares a lot, and cleans up massive pools of blood that nobody questions.

Much ado is made about the experiments of Dr Freudstein but it was both boring and incoherent, made worse by the absolutely atrocious dubbing, for which it seems that Bob was voiced by a thirtysomething woman whose scream could shatter all the glass in a church.

Being an Italian horror flick, the gory violence is almost exclusively angled at women and the end comes shackled to a twist that isn’t at all comprehensible. According to Fulci, it’s something to do with the relationship between the children, but I read theories on time travel, limbo n’ all sortsa crap. And the zombie-monster-killer thing regenerates his cells by killing folks. Or something. There was a vile poo-like substance dripping from him when he was stabbed.

There are comparisons with Amityville and The Shining (which Fulci thinks is crap) but it’s more of a crumbling slasher flick with supernatural factors. The fact that they go unexplained lends to the creepiness of the film, as it did in the likes of Ghosthouse and I’m probably the only viewer who didn’t hate the kid with a fiery passion from hell. I actually thought he was quite sweet – nothing like the obnoxious back-talking brats they’d put in the role these days.

Is it a classic? Shrug. I laughed at it a bit. A couple of sequences were well done – Bob trying to escape from the basement. But I’m not a fan of crazy, haphazard all-over-the-place horror (wait ’til we get around to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) so I won’t lose any sleep if I never see it again.

Blurb-of-interest: Frezza (the kid) had a bit part in A Blade in the Dark.

Where’s your head at? Oh, it’s over there on the floor

BASEMENT JACK

3 Stars  2009/18/93m

“Evil has a new address…Yours!”

Director: Michael Shelton / Writer: Brian Patrick O’Toole / Cast: Eric Peter-Kaiser, Sam Skoryna, Michele Morrow, M. Steven Felty, Tiffany Shepis, Billy Morrison, Noel G, Lynn Lowry, Nathan Bexton.

Body Count: 23

Dire-logue: “The psychologist entered into evidence a bunch of slasher movies, claiming media saturation prejudiced his right to a fair trial.”


11 years ago, the cops caught young psycho slasher Jack Riley, who went from town to town hacking up families with a machete during thunderstorms, after he failed to get his last victim, Karen.

Now, he’s been released thanks to an easy sentence and is picking up where he left off, amid flashbacks to his troubled youth when his out-of-her-tree mom used to electrocute him for reasons the script doesn’t really go into much.

Karen teams up with luckless rookie cop Chris to try and suss out his next move, while his superiors bark orders and ignore what she knows about the case in favour of the usual errors cops make in these flicks.

Meanwhile, Jack hangs out in basements of various homes and offs the family members who wander around carelessly. In this film though, the victims are pretty much cameos, they’re rarely allotted more than a few lines of derivative dialogue before getting skewered with Jack’s blade.

Eventually, he winds his way to the cop shop to raise the body count significantly and what was acceptable slasher film stuff goes a bit CGI-crazy with an unlikely double-scalping with one swipe of a machete, the lopping off of an arm and a disembowelment. Is he after Karen, ticking off an outstanding name from his list? Who knows, but she keeps getting in the way.

With a higher than usual budget for this kind of fare, Basement Jack is a lot better than it looks, with decent production attributes to its name and an interesting angle for the killer to act more like a serial murderer than a cut-up-everything-in-sight 24-hour sorta guy. However, it gets a bit dumb the longer it goes on and there’s an annoying thing occurring with a background character.

A once over affair but not a bad one. Tiffany Shepis turns up as one of the cops in a marginal but effective role.

Blurbs-of-interest: Shepis was also in Home Sick, Bloody Murder 2, Dead Scared, Scarecrow and has a cameo in Detour; Nathan Bexton was in Psycho Beach Party.

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