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TRICK OR TREATS

1 Stars  1982/92m

“…when Halloween night stopped being fun!”

Director/Writer: Gary Graver / Cast: Jackelyn Giroux, Peter Jason, Chris Graver, Carrie Snodgress, David Carradine, Stave Railsback, Jillian Kesner, Paul Bartel.

Body Count: 3 (!)

Laughter Lines: “These horror movies… they make me scared to drive home alone at night!”


“When Halloween night stopped being fun,” goes the tagline. Darn tootin’. Short of falling ass-first on a running power drill, I can’t think of a less fun way to spend Halloween night, or any other given night, than watching Trick or Treats.

Carrie Snodgress gets her husband carted off to an institution in the opening scene. Why? No clue, ToT doesn’t care about in-filling its plot holes. The scene is slapstick heavy, with two orderlies struggling with the flailing hubby, who tries to climb a tree at one point to escape. They all end up falling in the pool. The only thing missing was a table of cream pies.

‘Several years later’, struggling actress-cum-babysitter Linda (Giroux) accepts a Halloween night job to look after the couple’s horrible, horrible son, while Mom and her new squeeze (Carradine), head off to a party. Meanwhile, Hubby has broken out of the institute disguised as a female nurse, and is heading home to murder his wife and anyone else who gets in his way and nobody else.

Yeah that’s right, this is the slasher movie without any slashing. Hubby punches out a security guard rather than stabs him, threatens a couple of homeless guys (one of whom is horror-fixture Bartel), and eventually mistakenly kills a random blonde chick whom he mistakes for his wife.

This might sound okay, but nothing remotely resembling a threat of violence happens for well over an hour into the 92 minute film. Until then, it’s a never ending cycle of the bratty kid playing a prank on Linda, that she always falls for, and some trick or treaters coming to the door. Again. And again. And again. Until death. Your death. From boredom.

With just 15 minutes remaining, Hubby finally catches up with Linda, thinking her to be Carrie Snodgress, and chases her a bit. Although the film is so darkly turned out you may as well close your eyes and rest for all the good they’ll do you open.

A fittingly annoying twist for a fittingly annoying child in the world’s most disappointing ‘slasher’ film is the shitty icing on this cake. A cake made of the shittiest shit one might dredge up from a shit-filled canal in Shitsville, Tennessee.

Blurbs-of-interest: Carradine was in Children of the Corn VDetention (2010), and Fall Down Dead; Steve Railsback was in Deadly Games and Slash; Paul Bartel was in Killer Party. Graver later directed the equally awful Moon in Scorpio.

Stock Background Characters 101: Token Lesbians

In this feature, we examine the lesser beings of the slasher movie realm, which, if you’re making your own slasher film, could provide a good cast roster for you.

No killer or final girl profiles here, this is a celebration of those underlings who made the most of their fleeting flirtation with stardom. And usually died.

No power tools, plaid shirts, or cropped hair in sight as we enter the fantasy world of the
TOKEN LESBIANS

Overview: Even in ‘liberal Hollywood’, there’s still only one type of gay woman (other than Ellen DeGeneres): The porn type. So in an obvious slide towards exploitation filmmaking, it should surprise nobody that the lesser quality low-rent slasher film would need to pad out its running time by pandering to its assumed hetero-male audience. This has recently been achieved by adding a couple of hot young girls to make out with one another.

Linguistic Snapshot: “Oh, we would have a threesome with you if we were into guys, but we’re only into each other… Though you’re more than welcome to watch, sexy boy.” *giggle*

Styling: With few exceptions, slasher movie lesbians are just like any other scantily clad female cast member. This lends itself well to the fantasized “all that’s missing is my cock” outlook most of these scenes are striving for. Thus, ‘lesbians’ (or girls ‘just going through a phase’) are ultra-fem, with long flowing hair, delicate nails, and killer racks. On occasion you might see a more butch example, but it’s a surefire bet she won’t be in a sexual situation, will be aggressive, and will thus die as she’s of no use in any fantasy.

Hallmarks: Every now and then, one of the lesbians (never both) will become the final girl. For the rest, it’s nothing but nymphette behaviour alongside other regular character traits, they stand out only in their choice of bedfellow and everything else is a through-the-motions affair. On occasion, one of the lesbians will be a little closer to the butch stereotype, though still conventionally beautiful, just with a bandana and some bad language or something.

Downfall: After we’ve watched them strip off, make out, and, occasionally, do other things, our lesbian couple have little else to offer and will die just like their friends. But at least there’s nothing grimly ironic in their deaths at least, no dildo-impalement or ‘corrective’ procedure involving a bigoted psychopath.

lesbians

Genesis: The earliest lesbian representation in the genre appears to be the neo-heroine of Class Reunion Massacre (1976), who outlasts most of her heterosexual (and one effeminate gay fella) buddies, but still dies at the end because she is “a sinner” along with the other victims. Shadows Run Black featured an unattractive, overweight lesbian – about the only victim not to disrobe – who isn’t even afforded the on-camera death the prettier, straight girls get.

Legacy: After 2000, it was no longer taboo to adorn cheap horror films with girl-on-girl (but never guy-on-guy) action, though any given film’s budget would equate to what was shown: Urban Legends: Final Cut featured Eva Mendes as ‘the suspicious lesbian’, because, of course, non-normative sexuality means that where there are secrets, there are homicidal tendencies. She keeps her kit on. French indie Deep in the Woods elected one half of its lesbian couple as final girl, while Haute Tension twisted the dynamic around and cast short-haired Cecile de France first as the heroine and then, in a last minute revelation, a dangerously psychotic looney-lezzer who slashes her way through the family of the girl she’s in love with.

Elsewhere, girls making out cropped up in The Butcher, Curse of El Charro, Voyeur.com, Bikini Girls on Ice, Hatchet, Dark Harvest, and going much further in Wrong Turn 4. Weirder still is Switch Killer, where a girl flees her abusive boyfriend and falls in love with a woman, only for the boyfriend to turn after a SEX CHANGE and stalk her! Curse of Chucky featured a sordid love affair between a married mom and her daughter’s au pair.

The psychotic schizoid lesbian from Haute Tension

It’s worth noting the presence of lesbian slasher flick Make a Wish – retitled Lesbian Psycho on a later release – which was directed by a gay filmmaker, and so the orientations of the characters is more incidental, despite the presence of a few nudie scenes.

Conclusions: Are we witnessing a progression in social attitudes or just skeezy exploitation? In most cases it’s probably the latter. A majority of the titles where girl-on-girl material occurs is at the cheaper end of the spectrum, where filmmakers with next to no imagination are simply doing what they think the audience wants. It’s worth noting that gay couples of either gender fail to turn up in any of the three major franchises.

I do wonder what actual lesbians might make of it all. They’re effectively being included, albeit in a cookie-cutter manner, though it’s clear it’s purely for the benefit of a straight male demographic, which is why gay men are rarely shown in any other capacity other than enfeebled Nancy-boys. But then are heterosexual teen characters any more realistic? The more recent the film, the more uniformally beautiful and buff the cast will be: Fat or unattractive actors are also marginalized.

So, in slasherama it pretty much sucks to be anyone bar the final girl, because you’ll just be a dumbed down stereotype. Sad times.

The right track

TERROR TRAIN

4 Stars  1980/18/93m

“The boys and girls of Sigma Phi. Some will live. Some will die.”

Director: Roger Spottiswoode / Writer: T.Y. Drake / Cast: Ben Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield, Sandee Currie, Derek MacKinnon, Timothy Webber, Anthony Sherwood, Howard Busgang, Greg Swanson, Joy Boushel, D.D. Winters.

Body Count: 10

Laughter Lines: “Alana, you’re always walking out on my parties… This time, you can’t!”


One of the few slasher movies to have gone into production between Halloween and the release Friday the 13th, thus taking most of its cues from the former, most notably casting Jamie Lee Curtis in her third slasher flick (she came straight from Prom Night to this), and having an older famous actor to pivot the billing.

It’s pre-Friday status means that Terror Train isn’t as cliched as subsequent genre entries that upped the grue. Curtis is Alana, who is roped into a frat prank on shy freshman Kenny Hampson (MacKinnon), that turns out to be tricking him into believing he’s going to bed her, only for him to climb into bed with a dismembered corpse borrowed from a morgue by the joke’s selfish architect Doc (Bochner). Kenny understandably loses his shit.

Three years and an opening credits sequence later, the graduating class throw themselves a costume party aboard a chartered train, under the watch of wise conductor Ben Johnson. Unbeknownst to them, Kenny Hampson is back and still angry. He kills each of the responsible students and then dons their costume, starting off in a creepy Groucho Marx mask, then the Creature from the Black Lagoon, a witch…

tt-masks

Along with the vengeful Kenny, Alana is also still pissed about the prank, having not been filled in on the finer details (i.e. that it was a corpse) and is dismayed to learn that she has been fooled into attending the party. Her nice-guy boyfriend Mo is struggling to balance his friendship with Doc and relationship with her, and who hired the moody magician (David Copperfield, the, like,totally real magician) who’s come along?

The Conductor is first to discover the murders just as Doc has a coincidental tragedy of his own: The train is stopped and the guests alerted, at which point Alana figures out that the victims were all in on the nasty prank and that she and Doc are next…

Once it’s down to Alana and the killer, Terror Train shunts gear into cat-and-mouse overdrive as she’s accosted up and down the unpopulated areas of the train by the masked maniac. She fights back, thinks she’s killed him, he continues to bounce back. But if we know who it is, why all the masks?

I first learnt of Terror Train via Vera Dika’s book Games of Terror, which sadly gave away the big twist, but it’s awesomely done nevertheless and if I didn’t already know of it, I wouldn’t have seen it coming.

Watching the film post-genre heights highlights a lot of dumb behaviour, even Jamie Lee repeatedly wanders off by herself without a chaperone. It’s also low on bloodshed and nudity, erring more towards Hitchcockian suspense and character interactions than stalk-n-slash. But don’t let that put you off, Terror Train means business.

There’s also a curious homoerotic subtext at play. Doc tells Mo that if Alana dumps him: “You’ve still got me – I mean it!” An interesting little footnote amidst the carnage.

I once read a film almanac that called Terror Train “the best slasher movie made in the 80s” and, although I have others I prefer, in terms of overall quality, it’s not far off.

A planned remake in 2008 was quasi-aborted, renamed just Train, and took a different track (ho ho ho!) as a Hostel rip-off.

Blurbs-of-interest: Sandee Currie was later in Curtains (as Sandra Warren); Joy Boushel was in Humongous; Hart Bochner was a film professor in Urban Legends: Final Cut; Howard Busgang had a small role in Killer Party; D.D. Winters found a career at Prince’s protege, ‘Vanity’.

The 100 Greatest* Slasher Movies Part VI: #50-41

According to me! Me, me, me! So don’t be surprised to find a few ‘classics’ missing.

See: #100-91 here // #90-81 here // #80-71 here // #70-61 here // #60-51 here

50: The House on Sorority Row (1982)

Seven college girls play one final prank on their strict housemother before they leave, which culminates in her accidental death. While they spend the day of their graduation party trying to cover up the crime, housemom’s psychotic son, secretly squirreled away in the attic until now, takes matters of revenge into his own hands using Mom’s iron walking cane. Understated, but tense, bloody, and even a little bit heartbreaking.

Crowning moment: Scaredy-cat Jeanie’s frantic chase through the empty upstairs of the house.

49: Cold Prey III (2010)

As the film industry is obsessed with trilogies, and with no way to undo that very final ending of Cold Prey II, it’s prequelville for the third (and so far final) film, which winds back the clock to 1988 and a group of youthful campers stalked through the Norwegian wilderness by the burgeoning killer.

Crowning moment: Fleeing teens find an empty house and take refuge in a hidey-hole under the floor, but they have to venture out sooner or later…

48: Hot Fuzz (2007)

“Should Hot Fuzz even be here!?” you may caw, but while primarily an action comedy, the subplot of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s follow up to Shaun of the Dead concerns a cloaked mystery killer doing away with the less favourable residents of the small English town of Sandford, where Pegg’s by-the-book bobby is the only one who thinks the deaths are anything more than accidents.

Crowning moment: Middle-English archetypes – all cucumber sandwiches and deerhunters – brandishing all manner of firearms during a shootout in the quaint village square.

47: Psycho II (1983)

The courts think that 22 years in prison has ‘fixed’ Norman Bates and release him back to his old home, with a job at the local diner. However, some people are less than satisfied with this resolution and, when murders and disappearances begin again, he is naturally the primary suspect. But nothing is ever what it seems at the Bates Motel… is it?

Crowning moment: The magnificent crane shot that floats from Norman, trapped in an attic room, to an aerial of two teenage lovers sneaking into the basement below. Even Hitchcock would’ve been dumbfounded by the pristine composition.

46: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

On one hand, this film is to blame for the glut of Hollywood horror remakes that polluted the 2000s, on the other it refused to compromise on the brutality of the story, while dipping it in glitter with slick production polish. Not being a fan of the original at all (sulk now, you won’t be seeing it appear later), and it hurts me to ‘yay’ anything with the Michael Bay stamp on it, but this is legitimately awesome.

Crowning moment: Jessica Biel and minor scream queen Eric Leerhsen are attacked in a mortally-wounded van by Leatherface, who has no problem tipping it over and going at it with his favoured weapon.

45: The Burning (1981)

Part Friday the 13th clone, part urban legend, part nihilistic gorefest: Five years after being burned beyond recognition in a joke-gone-wrong, a summer camp janitor decides to reap his revenge by pruning the kids at an upstate New York camp with a scarily huge pair of shears. A veritable dictionary of before-they-were-famous actors, look out for Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander, and Fisher Stevens amongst others.

Crowning moment: The grisly raft-attack is shocking, but the first murder is practically quivering with tension as a skinny dipper finds her clothes have been scattered about the woods…

44: Terror Train (1980)

The motivation of choice for 80s slasher movie killers was the prank gone awry… Here, a shy frat boy returns three years after a misfired gag put him in a hospital to punish those responsible as they celebrate their graduation aboard a chartered train. While you know who the killer is, there’s still an excellent mystery element at play as to just who the killer might be dressed as at any moment… And then there’s who it was all along!

Crowning moment: The maniac finally gets Jamie Lee Curtis alone in a drawn-out, tension brimming chase scene through the abandoned cars of the train.

43: Hollow Man (2000)

Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi/slasher sees arrogant scientist Kevin Bacon perfect a process that can turn animals invisible. Lacking governmental permission to move on to human trials, he takes the stuff himself. Successful though it is, the failure to get his visibility back slowly drives him insane and he embarks on a killing spree, targeting his team. Amazing FX underscore this one.

Crowning moment: Hollow Man’s first venture outside since his invisifying, and the two kids who ‘see’ him in a traffic jam.

42: Session 9 (2001)

A team of asbestos removal workmen take a job at an old mental hospital with a dodgy past. While dealing with their own issues, the venue takes its toll on each of them psychologically, and one becomes obsessed with the audio tapes of a schizophrenic former inmate. And then it’s not so long before they begin dying…

Crowning moment: Josh Lucas’ hunger for purported riches takes him back to the hospital after hours to look for riches… but there’s somebody already there…

41: Anatomy (2000)

Franka Potente is the new girl at an exclusive German medical school, where she begins to suspect something that would not adhere to the Hippocratic Oath is going on. When a recently-alive classmate appears on the slab in front of her, she begins to investigate and uncovers a bizarre sect operating at the school and taking their pick of students to experiment on.

Crowning moment: A girl flees her boyfriend’s murder with a needle-jab to the leg, which slowly freezes up her muscles until she collapses and seizes up. The killer tells her if she can crawl to a doorway inches ahead of her he’ll give her the antidote… will she? (No).

“You want fame? Well fame costs.”

“If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of…”

THE FINAL TERROR

2 Stars  1981/18/80m

A.k.a. Campsite Massacre; Bump in the Night; The Forest Primeval

Director: Andrew Davis / Writers: Jon George, Neill Hicks & Ronald Shusett / Cast: John Friedrich, Adrian Zmed, Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Joe Pantoliano, Ernest Harden Jr., Akosua Busia, Lewis Smith, Mark Metcalf, Cindy Harrell.

Body Count: 6


“And this is where you start paying… in crappy B-movies.”

Missed opportunities… life is full of them, mocking you and rubbing your face in it wherever possible, like the time I prioritized the supermarket over smoking at someone’s house, or the botched assassination attempt on George W. Bush.

Whodathunk a 1981 slasher film with a cast roster and director to die for would cop out and end up with nothing to die for? Or, rather, next to no one dying.

This cheapo Deliverance by-way-of Friday the 13th wannabe was produced by B-movie legend Samuel Z. Arkoff, who put a sextet of forest ranger dudes in the forest with four girlfriends on a camping trip and have them hunted by a crazed sub-human predator.

It should be awesome, with Friedrich’s gorked-out, half-stoned drawl, Hannah and Ward (who were rising stars by the time it was released in 1983), and a killer with a penchant for setting traps made of big logs and/or spring-loaded tin can lids that slash fleeing bimbos to ribbons.

And yet, eighty minutes has scarcely felt so long. Only three of the ten campers are killed and what bloodletting there is was scissored out of the UK video release (unless you’re ‘fortunate’ enough to have the release under the title Campsite Massacre), rendering the film even more dull than it would’ve been in its original incarnation.

A couple of good siege and chase scenes come too late to lift the spirits and once the killer’s identity is established, it’s not explained how or why they were even there or were doing what they were… Well acted, but when what matters most in a body count flick (bodies!) is all but absent, who cares?

Blurbs-of-interest: Rachel Ward was also in Night School; Mark Metcalf was in Playback and was the head vampire in the first season of Buffy.

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