Tag Archives: death on campus

Films for a slow day…

rush week 1989RUSH WEEK

2 Stars  1989/18/92m

“There’s a killer on the campus!”

Director: Bob Bralver / Writers: Russell V. Manzatt & Michael W. Leighton / Cast: Pamela Ludwig, Dean Hamilton, Roy Thinnes, Don Grant, Courtney Gebhart, John Donovan, Todd Eric Andrews, Laura Burkett, Toni Lee, Dominick Brascia, Kathleen Kinmont, Gregg Allman.

Body Count: 5


You won’t be rushing to recommend this relatively bloodless hashing of the slasher and detective genres, made for the teen audience, which features a campus Scream-like killer who brings purification to young ladies who pose for naughty photographs to pay their college costs.

Pamela Ludwig is a student reporter piecing together the mystery, and Kathleen Kinmont has a minimal role as the first victim. Unfortunately, Rush Week takes things too slowly and never really escapes its own pitfalls long enough to build adequate amounts of tension and when the action finally does kick in it’s too little too late. Still, it should keep you guessing for at least a few minutes (despite wasting the opportunity for quite a good twist that would make it even more like Scream) even if the box makes it sound ten times more interesting than it really is.

Blurbs-of-interest: Kathleen Kinmont was in Halloween 4; Dominick Brascia was Joey in Friday the 13th Part V and also directed Evil Laugh.

Good girl gone bad

promnight2HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II

2.5 Stars  1987/18/93m

“You can’t keep a bad girl down.”

A.k.a. The Haunting of Hamilton High

Director: Bruce Pittman / Writer: Ron Oliver / Cast: Michael Ironside, Wendy Lyon, Justin Louis, Lisa Schrage, Richard Monette, Terri Hawkes, Beverley Hendry, Brock Simpson, Beth Gondek.

Body Count: 6

Laughter Lines: “I tell you guys, she’s possessed: Linda Blairsville.”


Hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart goes the old song, and it’s quite apt in this case.

High school moniker aside, there’s nothing that links this Elm Street-snorting film with the 1980 revenge slasher, giving credence to the notion that it was originally intended to be a standalone affair.

Prom night. 1957. Hamilton High. Free n’ easy Mary Lou Maloney is caught by her date getting it on with another guy. Her jilted beau intends to humiliate her once she is crowned Queen of the Prom, but ends up setting her on fire in front of the whole school.

Thirty years later, mousy goody two shoes and prom queen hopeful Vicki (Lyon) unleashes Mary Lou’s vengeful spirit, which begins to turn her crazy in an attempt at full on possession to have the moment of prom glory she was robbed of. And, naturally, both of Mary Lou’s suitors have grown up to be the high school principal and the local priest respectively.

marylou1Meanwhile, Vicki’s friends slowly – very slowly – begin to fall victim to Mary Lou’s magical tantrums, including a girl squashed by lockers, electrocution via the most 80s of 80s school computers, and impalement by falling decor.

The Canadian 80s qualities shine through in a cheesy, endearing way, with plenty of day-glo, florescent lights, and beyond horrific fashion choices, underscored by one of Vicki’s friends telling her her fifties look is a crime against fashion. By this point, Mary Lou has somehow sucked her through a blackboard and possessed her completely – she makes out with her dad, throws her puritan mother through a door, and walks totally naked around the changing rooms stalking a friend in a weird pseudo lesbianic scene, fitfully culminating in the big prom finale that manages to channel both Carrie and Elm Street 2, as Mary Lou’s charred corpse literally busts its way out of Vicki.

marylou2Overall, the film goes through the motions of any possession opus, tossing in a handful of demises, crucially failing to ‘properly’ do away with the stock bitchy girl, who is summarily killed by a rod that falls from the ceiling at the dance, but at least it has some decent FX work and an interesting villain. Prom Night III: The Last Kiss sees the return of Mary Lou and wisely ups the laughs, resulting in a better film experience.

Blurbs-of-interest: Terri Hawkes was in Killer Party; Michael Ironside’s other slasher credits include Visiting Hours, American Nightmare, Children of the Corn: Revelation, Fallen Angels, and Reeker; Brock Simpson appears in all four Prom Night films in different roles.

A good day to die

ghost danceTHE GHOST DANCE

3 Stars  1980/93m

“When you disturb the dead you must pay the price.”

Director/Writer: Peter F. Buffa / Writer: Robert M. Sutton / Cast: Julie Amato, Victor Mohica, Henry Bal, Frank Sotonoma Salsedo, James Andronica, Patricia Alice Albrecht, Deloris Maaske.

Body Count: 9


Native American lore fascinates me, so this obscure flick from the early days of stalk n’ slash was high up on my must-find list for a few years. Would it outdo Fred Olen Ray’s clunky Scalps? Or would I need to consult a shaman to rid myself of its memory?

At this point, 679 slasher films along, any film that’s hard to find is likely to be so for one reason: It’s shit and there’s no demand for it.

Fortunately, The Ghost Dance is something of a lost gem. The tale is rote horror: White people – don’t go digging up sacred burial grounds belonging to the local Native Americans in Arizona, even if you get permission.

Pissed off by this desecration, local Aranjo rants to his mother that he’s going to even the score, ruins the dig (although the quality was so murky I couldn’t tell how), and runs off to a cave to perform a ritual that sees the spirit of the unearthed corpse possess him and turn him into a supernaturally gifted killer with a to-do list of anthropologists at the local university…

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There’s a slashed throat, a girl is savaged by a (possessed?) dog, and a horny couple screwing the night away in a museum are skewered and impaled respectively. Dr Kay Foster (Amato) begins seeing and hearing weird things. Her N.A. boyfriend Tom Eagle keeps shrugging off theories that something spooky is going on, and her colleague Paul isn’t really into the idea either.

The Ghost Dance is a slow moving critter, possibly deliberately reminiscent of the peace one associates with Native American culture, but it’s not boring. There’s a craftsmanship at play over and above many of its contemporaries, evident in the slow tracking shots down creepy dark corridors of the museum, interesting sets, and above average acting.

It’s also not tacky or cheesy. Sure, there are some unavoidable 80s traits on show, but nothing laugh out loud bad, which is quite remarkable for a body count horror film of this era.

gd2So why The Ghost Dance has remained so rare is something of a mystery in itself. It’s far better produced than its has a right to be, features enough splashes of grue and an interesting idea not often used in horror, but apparently has never received any type of release after its initial appearance on video in the early 80s.

It could do with a decent remastering onto DVD. Maybe it carries a terrible, terrible curse.

Killer Cop Out

scream-queens-1338SCREAM QUEENS

1.5 Stars  2015/585m

“Pretty evil.”

Cast: Emma Roberts, Skyler Samuels, Lea Michele, Jamie Lee Curtis, Abigail Breslin, Billie Lourd, Glen Powell, Keke Palmer, Diego Boneta, Oliver Hudson, Nasim Pedrad, Niecy Nash, Nick Jonas, Breezy Eslin, Lucient Laviscount, Jeanna Han, Ariana Grande.

Body Count: 21

Laughter Lines: “This school could survive a few serial killings but I don’t think this university could survive losing me.”


Necessary spoilers follow.

The generally accepted path for a slasher story to take is that young, lively characters are introduced and over the course of the tale we watch them get stalked and slain by a vengeful mystery killer. Unless you happen to be Ryan Murphy. If you’re Ryan Murphy you create a set of obnoxious, nasty, bitchy girls as the centrepiece of your little slasher universe while the audience enjoys the anticipation of watching them die later. And you kill precisely none of them.

For all the masses of hype Scream Queens threw up all around itself like a bulimic sorority girl – Nick Jonas! Ariana Grande! Random fashion blogger girl! – after 13 loooong weeks of enduring little more than a parade of acid-tongued put-downs, the series fizzled out with a damp squib of a finale that was akin to promising a child an Xbox 360 for Christmas and giving them a box with some cat shit in it.

sq3I watched Glee for awhile and, for awhile, it was fun. Pristine acapella arrangements of great songs that slowly began to morph into bland, straight-up cover versions, just as Scream Queens might have begun its life in script-form as an ode to all things stalk n’ slashy. I know Murphy is at the very least capable of decent horror scribblings thanks to the early seasons of American Horror Story and his dealings with The Town That Dreaded Sundown. But for all the “I was obsessed with slasher films” rhetoric, you’d think he watched Sorority Row and half of a Halloween sequel and thought “I can do that.”

Emma Roberts leads the cast as the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority president, Chanel Oberlin, no more than a retread of her role as a bitchy actress in American Horror Story: Coven. She spends much of her screentime calling her sisters sluts, whores, or gashes, making borderline racist comments and reminding us how rich she is. This type of character is supposed to die. The inexplicable supposition that gay men adore this type of high-society, entitled thing has always eluded me, but Murphy and co. aren’t able to write interesting ‘nice’ folks anyway.

Twenty years (never nineteen, never twenty-one) after a girl dies during childbirth at the  sorority, the hardass Dean (Jamie Lee Curtis, a bright spot) goes to war with Chanel and alters the charter to allow anybody to pledge the house, leaving them with just a handful of misfits rather than the usual tide of label-loving, anorexic, bitches who hate everybody. Said group includes Lea Michele’s back-brace wearing weirdo, a candle vlogger, another girl known as Predatory Lez for several episodes, plus the cut-n-dried homespun heroine, Grace.

sq1Coinciding with this, a psychotic killer wearing the school’s mascot uniform – a Red Devil – begins targeting all those associated with the sorority. The ensuing twelve episodes should play along the mystery theme as Grace tries to solve the mystery while Murphy would skewer slasher tropes and rapid fire bitchy girl dialogue. It worked for the aforementioned Sorority Row because they bothered to KILL Leah Pipes, but, save for a few decent lines, it doesn’t work here.

With a murder-count of 20, the show notches up zero heart-pounding chase sequences. There are a few splashes of gore here and there but most of the kills are supposed to be funny rather than horrific. That nearly all the victims are ancillary characters and not the vile, entitled main roster is just salt in the bloody wound.

Were the project to be edited down to a 90-minute film, most of the top-tier cast members wouldn’t even feature as the central clique of bitchy girls spend more time commenting on fashion, body image, boyfriend prospects, or plotting against one another. By the eleventh episode, there have been at least three attempts to murder the person they suspect is the killer. There’s so little going on upstairs in this show that it’s forced to recycle the same material just to fill out its half-season quota.

scream-queens-jamie-lee-curtisEventually, several different characters are revealed to have committed murder at one point or another, at least two of them get away with it, while the production pinky-swore that there would only be four characters left standing for the say-it-ain’t-so summer camp set season two, there are in fact ten. It reeks of Murphy et al being too afraid to lose their cast members in case, god forbid, a second season is greenlit. It’s a slasher story, fucking grow a pair and kill someone other than the pizza guy, the replacement mascot, or any other one-episode arc extras!

Even the ‘good guys’ are made up of bland, barely drawn out bores who are too serious and not worth rooting for. Niecy Nash’s hopeless security guard rocks the boat with the best lines but is still marginalised and written as a dimwitted moron; Curtis chews up the barbed dialogue, easily outperforming her co-stars in the laughter stakes; and there’s a very good soundtrack to prop things up. Here though, the positives abruptly end.

How a so-called slasher tale could be so wimpy and gutless is a testament to some atrocious decision making. It’s like Jason restricting himself to murdering hitchhikers and rednecks around Crystal Lake but never bothering to hunt down the pot-smoking, sex-having camp counsellors!

This makes Scream – The TV Series look like Scream – the movie.

scream-queens-red-devilBlurbs-of-interest: JLC’s slasher credentials go from Halloween, Halloween II, Prom Night, Terror Train, Road Games, in the early years up to Halloween H20 and Halloween: Resurrection more recently; Emma Roberts was in Scream 4; Oliver Hudson was in the Black Christmas remake; Steven Culp made a brief appearance in the same episode as Jason Goes to Hell was name checked (incorrectly, I might add).

Murder, She Wrote: The Prep School Years

deadlylessonsDEADLY LESSONS

2.5 Stars  1983/94m

“Kiss the girls and make them sigh. Hunt them down and watch them die.”

Director: William Wiard / Writer: Jennifer A. Miller / Cast: Donna Reed, Larry Wilcox, Diane Franklin, Ally Sheedy, David Ackroyd, Renée Jones, Bill Paxton, Vicki Kriegler, Nancy Cartwright, Deena Freeman, Sally Klein, Donald Hotton.

Body Count: 3

Laughter Lines: “If we get caught we’re dead… Sorry, poor choice of words.”


Look. At. That. Cast. Bill Paxton! Ally Sheedy! Diane Franklin! Sissy from Jason Lives! The future voice of Bart Simpson! Deadly Lessons is the TV movie that just gives, gives, gives!

The first words uttered tell us all we need to know: “I’ve never been to a boarding school before, but this is one of the best schools in the country and they’re giving me a free scholarship! I just hope the other girls like me!”

These come from Stephanie (Franklin) to her cab driver as they approach the prestigious Starkwater Hall prep, where she’s joining the summer session early along with a small group of other girls who need to buck up their ideas.

dl2

Ally Sheedy, Vicki Kriegler, and Diane Franklin go corpse spotting

No sooner does Stephanie arrive, than one of bitchy girls is found drowned in the lake. Everyone says it’s an accident bar local detective Russ Kemper, who doesn’t take kindly to headmistress Miss Wade’s insistence that the school is not damaged by bad press.

Stephanie, meanwhile, begins to play detective, thanks in part to her obsession with a Clue-esque boardgame called Evidence. Suspects include the horse riding teacher, the stable boy (Paxton), other teachers, the requisite creepy handyman, plus all the girls who hated the victim, and victim No. 2…

There’s not a spot of blood to be seen in all of Deadly Lessons, it really is as if we’re watching Jessica Fletcher’s youthful memoirs for all the red herrings, questionable performances, and absence of violence. All that was missing was that judgmental shake of the head thing she did after the killer freely admitted how and why they did it – although in this case, the mystery is not so easy to solve.

dl5

A pre-Simpsons Nancy Cartwright and pre-Jason Renée Jones

Without a doubt, the primary appeal is in the cast, from Sheedy’s pre-Breakfast Club rich girl, to Nancy Cartwright’s (Bart!!) unwanted over-eater, though you wonder how many highlight it on their respective resumes. This could be shown on TV any Saturday afternoon and cause zero offense. An interesting one time affair, but not a class you’d want to repeat.

No home video release (beyond a German one under the name High School Killer) has surfaced, hence the significant lack of artwork.

Blurbs-of-interest: Paxton was also in Night Warning, Mortuary, and later Club Dread; Jones was perky camp counsellor Sissy in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.

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