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Daily Double: Hayride vs. Hazard Jack

Merry Christmas you people! As I spent the day recuperating from the previous night’s work party and its 3am finish, while I wrapped up gifts and sipped alka-seltzer, I caught up on a couple of slasher films from my stack of to-be-watched.

My “gift” to you, therefore, is a double review of these undisputed classics*

Happy holidays!

*I dispute this

HAYRIDE

2 Stars  2012/18/90m

“Southern fried horror.”

A.k.a. Halloween Haunting (UK DVD); The Pitchfork Murders

Director/Writer: Terron R. Parsons / Cast: Richard Tyson, Jeremy D. Ivy, Sherri Eakin, Jeremy Sande, Corlandos Scott, Randy Hicks, Shannon Box.

Body Count: 23


“Sometimes something can happen that is so traumatic that it becomes a legend,” says Captain Morgan (Richard Tyson) around a campfire concerning the local legend of a crazed farmer who went ape and killed a load of people in the unending search for his runaway daughter…

Morgan runs the popular annual Haunted Hayride attraction at his farm in Alabama, where college boy Steven returns along with girlfriend Amanda to help out. Meanwhile, a recently apprehended serial killer has escaped from police custody a few miles away and appears to be axing, impaling, and pitchforking his way through randoms and the police who accost him.

Of course, we all know things will culminate on Halloween night when the hayride goes into action, Morgan’s extensive cast of actors and crew will provide ample fodder, and Steven and Amanda will be thrust into the center of things.

Well, this all happens in the usual way, although most of the killings are knife-in-the-back affairs or off camera completely, resulting in little bloodletting. When it is on screen, it’s a bit sloppy and amateurish to witness; a testament to Hayride as a whole unfortunately.

While the film is a bit of a dud in terms of production quality or originality, there are a couple of good scenes, namely when the killer attacks the hapless tourists with a chainsaw as they’re sat in the trailer, and a good performance from Ivy as Steven, channeling a youthful sounding (and looking) Matthew McConaughey (who is a Texan, I know).

<<< UK browsers be forewarned of the misleading artwork (check out that font!), this hockey masked chap is not the killer. Although, the maniac’s choice of face-wear is a burlap sack, so not entirely unworthy of Jason…

Hayride finally unleashes a twist that, while I didn’t predict, isn’t so out of the blue to throw you off. It’s ultimately too little too late, but handled well enough to elevate the overall experience a notch. Though, once the killer is reprimanded, the survivors share a kiss and a joke (!) and are ambushed by another survivor who’s freaking out over the seventeen murders that have just occurred. They’re response: “Calm down, we know.”

I don’t quite remember the “two dozen murders” the deputy announces (several of the 23 noted occur in a flashback), but Pitchfork dude was quite handy at snapping necks and skewering cops, it’s totally possible. Hayride 2 has since followed.

 

* * *

HAZARD JACK

   1.5 Stars  2013/15/80m

“Fear has a new name.”

Director: David Worth / Writers: David Worth & Doug Vandegrift / Cast: Amanda Maddox, Kevin Sporman, Alison Lani, Macauley Gray, Jason O’Neil Hudson, Aimee Bello, Zachary Meyer, Deanna Meske/Mandy Lane, Josh Jacques, Jeremy Ebenstein, Ashley Walsh, Daniel Rivera, Quincy Taylor, Will Harris.

Body Count: 10


Pretty much every Stock Background Character there ever was crops up in this cheapo quickie, in which an unlikely group of college friends descend on an abandoned hospital for a game of paintball.

Residing there already is a hulking veteran with PTSD who is susceptible to violent outbursts (of course, this occurs in slasherdom after all, where all mental illnesses are fatal to those around said individuals), loses his job in construction, and delights in torturing a woman he’s abducted.

The young folk come, banter, strip off (yawn), pick teams in anticipation of a midnight kick-off, and so spend the remaining hours having sex with each other and getting murdered by Hazard Jack. So no paintball at all.

Victims include two chesty blonde chicks (Barbie and Muffy!), two jock jerks, a gay couple who repeatedly mention they’re respectively Latino and Jewish, the black guy who wants to be a director and Asian girlfriend who wants to be his starlet, the normal (dull) couple, a dweeby voiced geek, and his new friend, suspect-lezzer, Stella. Somewhat surprisingly, the booby, sexy, jerky ones who disrobed are done in first: Nailgunned, cleavered, drilled, but in spite of the declaration on the box, it’s not that gory. In fact, I don’t remember this even happening:

The film begins pandering towards the non-PC: the Latino gay chap is burned alive in a church, the lesbian is ‘cured’ by sex with a man, and is thus allowed to survive intact. The message is depressingly clear: Lesbianism isn’t real and can be undone; gay men should be gruesomely slain.

Things wrap up all too quickly and nearly, leaving a whopping four survivors – the only ones afforded any semblance of depth, whereas their friends are just obsessed with sex (bar the gays, they remain fully clothed at all times). A bit of gusto as they fight back at the end comes too late to save it.

I normally hate quippy killers in slasher films, but this could’ve done with a few witty military puns from the loon as he dispatched the victims. As he is, masked, slow, and invincible in a sub-Jason manner, there’s just not that much-needed hook.

* * *

Not the merriest Christmas by any stretch, but where Hayride might lack the claret and nudity of Hazard Jack, the latter is just a litany of lazy, annoying cliches. Still, I plan on never watching either again, so it doesn’t matter.

Merry Christmas! xoxoxo

Football Fatale

VARSITY BLOOD

3 Stars  2014/15/84m

“School’s out forever.”

Director/Writer: Jake Helgren / Cast: Lexi Giovagnoli, Wesley Scott, Debbie Rochon, Chris Hlozek, Natalie Peyton, Melody Herron, Elyse Bigler, Blair Jackson, Jesse Ferraro, Payton Wood, Fabian Watkins, Kiarra Hogan, Taylor Moessinger, Manuel Chapa, Elle LaMont.

Body Count: 15

Laughter Lines: “Stop screwing with me and get in here and screw me already.”


Filmed in the same school as 1999 football-is-life flick Varsity Blues (and incidentally the high school of director Jake Helgren), this Texan ode to all things 80s-slasher follows a group of jocks and cheerleaders as they prepare for a private Halloween night shindig after a successful game.

It also happens to occur one year to the day since the principal’s daughter died in an alcohol-fueled mishap. Hmm, are you thinking what I’m thinking?

I was thinking about Moldova’s 2012 Eurovision entry. So probably not.

New girl-cum-cheerleading pro, Hannah (Lexi Geophysionomics), is under strict orders from Mom (Debbie Rochon) not to hang out with her sports pals, who are clearly colluding to keep the details of last year’s accident a big fat secret. But somebody knows… Somebody who dons the costume of the Hogeye Warriors’ mascot – a Native American Apache – and sets about laying the guilty teens to waste for their sins. And he’s nifty with a bow and arrow.

Requisite early-on murder aside, we wait until Hannah manages to convince Mom to let her go for a burger for the carnage to begin. Here, Helgren checks off some of the genre boxes: A scary farmhouse in the middle of nowhere (with no cellphone reception), horny teenagers, boobs, drugs, stupid rationales that ensure the group find reasons to KEEP GOING OUTSIDE!

While some viewers will doubtlessly want things to hurry up and get to the killin’, this section provided an engaging, almost celebratory look at Americana and the customs of small-town-high-school life before destroying it.

Who is the killer? We have a pretty good idea as to why he or she is doing what they are, but with an array of background suspects, Hannah is thrust into a real Scooby Doo of an unmasking. I didn’t guess correctly, but on the other hand I wasn’t blindsided either.

As a real love letter to all things slashtastic and 80s, Varsity Blood - just like its sister film Bloody Homecoming – harks back to the glory days, with a myriad of nods to Friday the 13th, Prom NightThe Prowler, and almost any other motive-driven teen slasher from 1981 (there was even House of Death vibe, albeit not as trippy).

While in the meta age we live in, where the pull of slasher films has reverted to their 1990s flatline status, it would be easy to poke fun at the dim-witted characters that populate Varsity Blood, there’s a sense of purity driving it that retains the kind of formula that is more often than not traded in for quippy, self-aware dialogue, torture porn, or parody in recent examples. It also helps that at least half the characters are far more likeable than the usual douchebags that dominate horror these days.

Some occasional wobbly acting notwithstanding (what 80s film would be complete without a line like “I thought I saw somebody watching us from behind those trees…”?), given that the production budget is a fraction of even Halloween‘s 1978 costs, the look of the film is pretty damn impressive.

It may not be difficult to predict the turns that VB makes, but therein lies its base appeal: It’s uncompromisingly a straight-up slasher film and pretends to be nothing else, and that’s what makes it a fun ride.

Blurbs-of-interest: Lexi Unpronounceable and Jesse Ferraro were both in Bloody Homecoming; Debbie Rochon’s low-budg. horror resume is extensive to say the least, including Bleed, Blood Relic, Head Cheerleader, Dead Cheerleader, and American Nightmare among others.

***SEE VEVO’S INTERVIEW WITH JAKE HELGREN***

“It’s not who you go with, honey, it’s who takes you home.”

I’m whoring myself again. BUY! BUY! BUY! (this, not me).

.

No, it’s not some novelization, more of an homage to the original Prom Night film written out of complete bewilderment of the remake, back in 2008, revised and updated in the last month to be eBook-i-fied.

The story is thus: A gunman opens fire on a service station forecourt (in Britain, gasp!) killing patrons left, right, and center, including several teenagers returning from a school field trip to France.

Four months later, as their final school dance approaches, several of the survivors receive cryptic messages that only studious nice girl Alfie takes seriously. When it becomes apparent the threat is very real, she races to the prom to try and warn the others, who are already being stalked and slain by a ski-masked killer with a grudge to settle.

This is a short affair, my urge to fatten it with character arcs and subplots was stomped by pure love for the revenge-at-the-prom opus.

Eyes peeled for summer camp-set follow up, The Blood Season, soon.

You can buy it in the US here, or in the UK here.

The 100 Greatest* Slasher Movies Part X: The Top 10

*According to me! Me, me, me! So expect to see some of your faves missing.

I’m both happy and sad to have reached the end of this mammoth task.

To reiterate the placings on this list, these 100 titles were picked from 631 slasher films I’ve seen over 20 odd years, so even to reach the ‘lower’ echelons of the chart means they’re awesome.

See full rundown of notes: #100-91

100. Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)
99. The Prowler (1981)
98. Tormented (2009)
97. Bloody Homecoming (2012)
96. Stagefright (1986)
95. He Knows You’re Alone (1980)
94. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
93. Intruder (1988)
92. Unhinged (1982)
91. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

#90-81

90. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
89. Madman (1981)
88. Child’s Play 2 (1990)
87. Camping Del Terrore (1986)
86. Final Exam (1981)
85. Club Dread (2002)
84. Boogeyman 2 (2007)
83. Wishcraft (2001)
82. Opera (1987)
81. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

#80-71

80. Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
79. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
78. 7eventy 5ive (2007)
77. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
(1985)
76. Scream 3 (2000)
75. My Super Psycho Sweet 16 (2009)
74. Hellbent (2004)
73. Death Bell (2008)
72. Maniac Cop (1988)
71. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

#70-61

70. Coda (1987)
69. The Funhouse (1981)
68. Some Guy Who Kills People (2012)
67. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
66. Bloody Bloody Bible Camp (2012)
65. Pandemonium (1982)
64. Bride of Chucky (1998)
63. The Pool (2001)
62. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
61. Venom (2005)

#60-51

60. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
59. Tenebrae (1982)
58. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
57. Killer Party (1986)
56. Fatal Games (1983)
55. Julia’s Eyes (2010)
54. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
53. Deadly Blessing (1981)
52. Sorority Row (2009)
51. Final Destination 5 (2011)

#50-41

50. The House on Sorority Row (1982)
49. Cold Prey III (2010)
48. Hot Fuzz (2007)
47. Psycho II (1983)
46. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
45. The Burning (1981)
44. Terror Train (1980)
43. Hollow Man (2000)
42. Session 9 (2001)
41. Anatomy (2000)

#40-31

40. Malevolence (2005)
39. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
38. Psycho Beach Party (2000)
37. Shredder (2001)
36. Flashback (1999)
35. Ripper: Letter from Hell (2001)
34. You’re Next (2011)
33. Scream 4 (2011)
32. Mask Maker (2010)
31. Cut (2000)

#30-21

30. Haute Tension (2003)
29. Wilderness (2006)
28. Final Destination 2 (2003)
27. Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)
26. Friday the 13th (2009)
25. Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)
24. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
23. A Bay of Blood (1971)
22. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
21. Prom Night (1980)

#20-11

20. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
19. Hell Night (1981)
18. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
17. April Fool’s Day (1986)
16. Wrong Turn (2003)
15. Cold Prey II (2008)
14. The Initiation (1983)
13. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
12. Scream (1996)
11. My Bloody Valentine (1981)

THE CRAWFORD TOP 10

10. Scream 2 (1997)

I know, I know… ‘Sequels suck’ might be the general theme of much of Scream 2, but in terms of everything I want out of a slasher film, this one brings it in droves, therefore making it just that tiny bit superior to the first in my eyes.

A couple of years after the Woodsboro murders, Sidney and Randy are at a handsome college when the premiere of the film-based-on-the-book-based-on-the-killings kickstarts a new series of slayings on and around campus. Dewey and Gale are on hand to posit theories, and Cotton Weary has been released from prison after his exoneration – but who is killing everyone and why?

Scream 2, like Final Destination 2, may lack the fresh originality of its predecessor, but sets the bar: Everything is that little bit more polished, the rules established, and the in-jokes more fitting. And for a film that clocks in just shy of 2 hours, it’s never boring (OK, that Greek-play scene maybe). By my decree, the best of its series.

Crowning moment: Sarah Michelle Gellar – surely THE icon of the era – is a sorority girl alone in the house when the weird calls begin…

9. Psycho (1960)

Where would we be without Psycho? Listen to some evangelists and they’d likely say in a better world, But fuck them. That Hitchcock was British means that the ‘American Slasher Film’ owes a lot to our fair shores. Anyway, Jane Leigh steals money on a whim, runs away from her life, but makes the fatal error of checking in off the beaten track at the Bates Motel, where she relaxes a little, has a sarnie with the manager, Norman, and takes a shower…

It just works. Considering how ‘small’ the plot is in correlation to the 104 minute (PAL!) runtime of the film, it’s completely engaging, flawlessly made, and one of the most important films in history. Just imagine if Hitch had been around to make an 80s slasher flick…

Crowning moment: THAT shower scene.

8: Final Destination (2000)

fd14

Average Joe high schooler Alex foresees a plane crash minutes before its departure and gets himself and a few classmates thrown off, only to see his vision come true shortly afterwards.

Later, as the seven surviving ejectees try to move on with their lives, a series of sinister accidents begin claiming them one by one, as if some supernatural dustpan and brush has come to sweep up the lost souls. Alex suspects that Death itself is balancing the books and now every surrounding object is capable of conspiring to take them out.

Comparing this film to its sequels reveals a stark contrast: The characters consider their own mortality, question greater forces controlling their fate, and radiate genuine emotions largely absent in the following movies, that just served up stupid characters to be annihilated, tits, and little to say on the fragility of life.

Crowning moment: The plane crash – at the time criticised for exploiting the huge similarities to the 1996 TWA800 disaster – is expertly realised and fucking terrifying.

7: Cold Prey (2006)

Norway might not carry much weight in international film production, but neigh-sayers be damned when it comes to this back-to-basics slasher that practically redefines the meaning of the word tension.

Five snowboarders drive into the mountains for a days’ shredding only for one to wipeout and break his leg. They take shelter in a closed-down ski-lodge and bed down for the night, only to realise that it already has an anti-social inhabitant who intends on shredding them.

While every trope gets a tick, Cold Prey executes them all the same kind of European style that put fellow Euro-slasher Haute Tension on this list: New landscapes, cultural difference, and language ‘freshen’ up the usual cliches and when it’s down to just the final girl versus the hulking killer, if you’re anything like me you’ll be yelling at your screen for her to run faster, hit harder, and avoid that swinging pick-axe.

Crowning moment: The first murder; brutal, necessary, but almost heartbreaking.

6: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The brilliant simplicity of “Stay awake or you’ll die” is 90% of Elm Street‘s excellence: A quartet of teenagers discover they’re each having bad dreams about a fire-scarred guy with ‘knives-for-fingers’ who wants to kill them. Only Nancy (Heather Langenkampenschwartzenberger) takes it remotely seriously and her probing begins to uncover a dreadful secret that her parents have been keeping from her.

Like Psycho, Freddy Krueger’s impact on pop culture was phenomenal. People who’d never even seen the films were fans in the 80s: Throw in rap videos, toys, a TV series and all those sequels, Elm Street merched its way into the annals of horror history.

But the original film shouldn’t be understated. Though some of the acting and effects work is quirky at best, some of the nightmare themes are petrifyingly familiar, and Nancy’s vain attempts to get anyone to believe she’s anything less than crazy are as frustrating to witness as they are for her character to endure. Perfect horror.

Crowning moment: Nancy’s mom eventually folds and tells her daughter the horrible truth. In a scene cut from the movie, a deceased sibling once existed, a powerful motivator that would’ve added an emotional punch.

5: Urban Legend (1998)

ul7a

The controversial entrant. Those familiar with Vegan Voorhees will know just how much I stan for this film. Those who aren’t are likely saying WTF!? Third-tier 90s horror it might be, but everything in Urban Legend is cheese-tastically great: The ludicrous plot, the identity of a killer who could never hope to pull it off (but does!), a serious actress as the final girl having to utter the line: “It’s like somebody out there is taking all these stories and making them reality!” without laughing…

So, college kids at a haughty North Eastern campus are being tormented by a Parka-clad killer who bases their murders on those friend-of-a-friend folklore tales. These coincide with their class on the subject, taught by Robert Englund. Everyone thinks it’s got to do with a 25-year-old massacre at the school, although the audience knows for sure that heroine Natalie’s nasty secret is a more likely candidate.

A game cast of semi-knowns occasionally look a bit embarrassed about the material, but it only adds to the appeal of Urban Legend‘s unmatched ridiculousness. Alicia Witt was an ambitious and awesome choice for the lead, and that climactic scene out-bitches Mean Girls tenfold. You can try to dissuade me, but you’ll never do it.

Crowning moment: Couple in a car in the woods, guy gets out to relieve himself, takes a while, the girl starts to hear scratching on the roof…

4. Black Christmas (1974)

Girls at a sorority house being plagued by a series of bizarre and unpleasant phone calls during the festive season are soon targeted by a mystery killer who has taken up residence in their attic. Police and a worried parent are thrown into the mix when a pretty co-ed disappears, while heroine Jess (Olivia Hussey) finds herself with a personal crisis that may or may not be related to what’s happening (and is something you’d never see taken so seriously in such a lowly genre these days).

Once pulled from a TV showing for being “too frightening”, Black Christmas did first a lot of what Halloween ultimately got credit for. But the two are evenly matched, this one focusing in on the characters at the centre of the carnage over and above the horror, most of which comes in one big hit towards the end.

Excellent performances from all, especially Margot Kidder as the vulgar alcohol-fancying Barb, and John Saxon as, you guessed it, a detective, giving him two entries in this Top 10.

Crowning moment: A festive choir of angelic-voiced kids serenade Jess with a chorus of O Come All Ye Faithful while a murder is occurring in an upstairs bedroom. Expertly done, twisted beauty.

3: Halloween (1978)

You thought it was going to win, right? Bitch, this is Vegan Voorhees, not Meat-eating Myers, so it’s bronze position for the most influential slasher film around. Why is it third? I would just rather watch the Top 2, that’s all. Nothing can be said to denigrate how fucking amazing Halloween is. I haven’t dared try and review it in case I screw up. It’s that important.

Nobody hasn’t seen it, but I’ll recycle the plot anyway: Boy murders sister on Halloween night. Fifteen years later, he breaks out of his institution and returns to the town of Haddonfield to do it again. And again. And again. His chosen targets are the friends of shy babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Only she is cautious enough to pay attention to some of the weird things happening during the school day. And when night falls…

What else is there to say? Astounding brilliant in every possible way: Creepy, scary, never for a moment boring. Only gorehounds might object to the general lack of grue.

Crowning moment: Laurie’s gradual increase of paranoia – who’s the guy across the street? in the car? behind the hedge?

2. Friday the 13th (1980)

Camp Crystal Lake has been closed for over twenty years after an unsolved double murder and recurrent bouts of bad luck every time anybody’s tried to re-open it. When a group of teenage counsellors arrive to set up shop, they’re stalked and slain by a shadowy psycho with an array of cutting implements and a grudge to settle.

I first saw Friday the 13th in the early hours of a June night back in the 90s. It changed everything. That first month or so after I watched it twice or three times a week, literally obsessed with its rustic, isolated, ambience and almost self-parodying nature. It’s a badly made film by most standards but the technical flaws only emphasize an underdog appeal: There’s nothing arty going on, it’s just distilled stalk n’ slash.

Because it’s a fairly simple-minded creature, Friday is an open target for all manner of criticisms. There’s nothing much to think about and it was already hugely predictable within months after the scores of clones, which merged parts of Halloween and this, to try and conquer.

I love it, I never get bored of it, and there’s only one other film I’d rather sit down watch…

Crowning moment: Kevin Bacon’s neck-skewering is an amazing moment, but I love the following scene of Marcie alone in the bathroom cabin as the camera slowly creeps its way ever closer…

The Greatest* Slasher Film of All Time

1. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Five years after the Camp Crystal Lake murders, a nearby counsellor training center is besieged by a masked maniac with a hard-on for slashing up horny teenagers, which happen to be in plentiful supply. Only wisened-up assistant leader Ginny (Amy Steel) has the smarts to escape from the psycho.

A few weeks after discovering Friday the 13th, I made it my mission to repeat the experience. Jason Lives and The New Blood had been shown on cable but weren’t quite up to it, I had low-ish expectations for the £5.99 budget label video cassette I picked up in Portsmouth’s HMV.

Achieving the near-impossible, Friday 2 takes everything awesome from the first film, polishes it until it shines, and then adds half a dozen ejector-seat jump scares and Amy fucking Steel. Amy fucking Steel is the heart of this movie, a final girl forged in horror heaven who proves to be more than a worthy adversary to the B-movie axe murderer named Jason, who was supposed to have died years earlier.

Like Urban Legend, this one ticks all the boxes: Campfire story, pot-smoking, over-sexed counsellors, floating POV-work, a convertible VW Beetle! It’s only flaw is that the excised footage of Carl Fullerton’s makeup work has never been restored, never more frustrating than in the two-for-one shish-ke-bob kill lifted from A Bay of Blood.

An assembly of tweaked-to-perfection genre staples: This is the number one, THE best slasher film out there – deal with it!

Crowning moment: Ginny runs from the killer into a room and closes the door. Hearing nothing, she slowly reaches for the part-open window behind her… Reaches… Reaches… Glass shatters, he outsmarted her! So begins an epic chase to the end.

*

Where the hell is…?

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) I don’t hate it. I just don’t like it very much. Nobody would be stupid enough to deny its influence on the genre, but it does little for me. In a Top 631, I expect to see it around the #300 mark.

Halloween II (1981) The dizzying heights of the original film would be a tough act for anyone to follow. Halloween II is a good film, no more, no less. Carpenter’s inserts near the start are the highlight, but an hour of folks-with-no-names-nor-distinguishing-characteristics being killed before a horror-weary looking Jamie Lee Curtis gets out of her hospital bed wasn’t enough. Chart position estimate: #150

Any other curious absences? Let me know and I’ll tell you why!

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