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Social Commentary or Sleaze?

girlhouse 2014GIRLHOUSE

4 Stars  2014/18/101m

“Enjoy the show.”

Directors: Trevor Matthews & John Knautz / Writer: Nick Gordon / Cast: Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Slaine, Alice Hunter, Alyson Bath, Elysia Rotaru, Chasty Ballesteros, Wesley MacInnes, Erin Agostino, Nicole Fox, James Thomas.

Body Count: 15

Laughter Lines: “I’ve thought this through completely. I really don’t see how anything bad can happen.”


Sexy girls in a house decked out with cameras so guys can log on and crack one out. No! Don’t go! I know it sounds like two dozen other camcorder exploitation flicks with nothing to offer, but GirlHouse is, hugely to my surprise, a pretty solid slasher flick with some of the best production attributes this side of the millennium.

In 1988, two girls tease a tubby preteen and trick him into a one-sided game of show and tell, which ends with them laughing in his face about the size of his cock and sending him running away. A little later, the ringleader is ambushed as she cycles home down a back road and no amount of sorrys can save her from being thrown off the side of a bridge.

Just this five minute opener packs a punch absent in 90% of contemporary slasher films, evident from the effort going into building an atmosphere. Like the films of yore, the shots fragment all around the victim and we know something bad is going to leap out any second, just not from where… This simple approach, used all the time in the 80s, makes a lot of difference.

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Fast forward to the present, hard-up college girl Kylie needs money enough to agree to go and live at GirlHouse, the pornhub of the future, owned by gay Hefner-lite Gary Preston, who puts his girls up in a huge secluded mansion, location under wraps, where they’re filmed around the clock, performing little laptop shows, playing in the pool, the sauna, eating, watching TV… whatever.

One repeat customer is Loverboy, our grown up psychotic, who worships all the girls and is technically able enough to hack through the firewalls to send a photo of himself to Kylie. Her heart, however, is slowly being won over by old schoolmate Ben, who stumbles upon her online and is prompted by his Ed Sheeran-esque roommate to drive to her college and strike up a conversation.

After a girl evicted for her drug habit is permitted to stay in the house again, she finds Loverboy’s photo – not the most flattering – prints it, and sticks it up on a wall, where he eventually spies it in the background and, humiliated, loses his shit and stomps in the direction of GirlHouse.

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Before long, most the tech and security guys have been murdered (largely off-camera and always fully clothed) and Loverboy seizes control of the house functions, stalking the girls one by one while helpless patrons watch, including Ben and his roomie, who embark on Halloween: Resurrection-esque attempts to help remotely.

One girl has her fingers axed off, making it impossible for her to type in the address of the house to summon help; another is choked on a dildo; one locked in the sauna with the thermostat cranked up… What sets GirlHouse apart from the dreck that share its premise (Voyeur.com comes to mind), is the will of (most of) the girls not to just sit there naked and die: The sauna girl manages to bust out and runs straight for the pool; another thought dead waits for the killer to happen by and strikes out at him; and Kylie, when inevitably the last one alive, pulls all the feeds and lures the killer to the basement where she uses nightvision to fight back and then beats the crap out of him with a camera.

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If there’s a comment on the relationship between pornography and objectification, it’s either too vague or forgotten in a tide of blood. A quote from Ted Bundy kicks things off, though it later falls back on on cliches of sad, fat, drooling loners who hate women. That said, the menfolk prove to be the most dispensable, often blindsided and incapable when confronted with the killer. Or do the unwritten rules of voyeurism apply and the perception is that the audience don’t want to see the murders of men on screen and that it’s the girls who are to blame? Would Guyhouse work? It’s one of the oldest dilemmas to plague the genre. But the genders are equally represented when it comes to dead bodies by the end, and it’s Kylie who does all the hard work when push comes to stab.

Even if elements of the story have to cave to genre tropes to work, GirlHouse succeeds through production attributes alone, something most horror producers don’t even seem to consider, largely under the illusion that T&A and corn syrup splashed on a wall tick enough of the boxes.

Overlook the skeezier elements and there’s a solid gem lurking beneath.

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).

Equal opportunity objectification

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FRAT HOUSE MASSACRE

3 Stars  2008/116m

“Rush week at this college just got a lot more dangerous…”

Director/Writer: Alex Pucci / Writer: Draven Gonzalez / Cast: Jon Fleming, Rane Jameson, Niki Notarile, Chris Prangley, Lisa DiCicco, Andrew Giordano, Michael Galante, Ryan Ross, Adam Simon, Georgia Gladden, Bethany Taylor, Jim Ford.

Body Count: 28 (give or take)


This head-scratchingly odd indie film comes from the makers of Camp Daze. No, hey, don’t go – it’s nowhere near that bad!

Beginning in that wonderful year of my birth – 1978 – newly graduated high-schooler Bobby goes off to party with friends, only to end up in a coma after a car accident. His big bro, Sean, returns to college, where his Delta Iota Espilon (DIE, naturally) fraternity brothers take hazing new pledges to the extremes – they kill them.

Why? It’s never really addressed, it just is. But it begs the question: How do they replenish their numbers? The head of this sadistic snake is frat president Mark (Kerr Smith-a-like Fleming), who takes great pleasure in getting desperate freshmen to blow their own brains out or cut their own throats. Bodies are later devoured by pigs at a nearby farm.

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Sean’s guilt over his brother leads him to try and leave the frat, only to be murdered by his ‘brothers’. At the same time, Bobby awakes from his coma and, come the fall of 1979, goes off to the same college – revenge being the class he most looks forward to.

More dumb pledges are killed, Bobby gets angrier. And soon, members of the fraternity and some girlfriends begin dying ahead of a big disco party, which, we know, will see the killer go for gold.

While it all sounds run of the mill, like Camp DazeFrat House Massacre doesn’t exactly shy away from its homoerotic undertones: There’s T&A as usual, but also some frontal male nudity, lots of ass, and no shortage of hard bodied young men in nothing but tighty-whities. That said, nothing ‘gay’ happens in the film. The frat boys are a bunch of nasty misogynists, but scenes where one of them masturbates from the door whilst watching a couple have sex, and the so-close-they-might-kiss whispers in the ears Mark does to the pledges… It dances along the line, never crossing it, but flirting with the idea. Possibly an allegory for the American fraternity experience? Who knows, we don’t have them in Europe.

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The late-70s setting works well, not too far off the achievements of The House of the Devil in terms of look and feel, with all the clothing, disco tunes (courtesy of Claude Simonetti, no less), cars, and ornaments you could imagine. The only flaw is hair. Everyone’s hair gives them away as being ‘of the now’ (and Fleming’s eyebrows come to think of it).

Brutal and bloody, way too long (though I read there is a sub-100 minute cut), and confusing come the end with it’s supernatural plot device, but revenge is most certainly served, and the identity of the killer is not quite as cut n’ dried as predicted.

Blurbs-of-interest: Fleming and Taylor were both in Camp Daze; Jim Ford was in Knock Knock.

Fri-gay the 13th

Look closer… it’s a book, not a movie. Sad times indeed.

Summer camp slashings ensue as they have many, many times before… but never (as far as I know) at one of those ‘Corrective’ camps for gay teens, though there were a few in The Blood Season.

In Camp Carnage, Billy, an introverted suburbanite, is packed off to Camp Genesis by his parents after coming out to them in the summer of 1986. Run by Joan Ferguson-a-like Katherine Creevey, the boys are packed in together and mentored by a kindly priest and ex-gay counsellors.

Typical 80s hi-jinks follow with the usual heterosexual pairings reversed: Billy likes Neal, but so does Kyle. Jem likes Michaela, Michaela strives to remain straight etc… Meanwhile, those who venture into the woods (stray from the path of heterosexuality, as it were) soon meet nasty ends at the hands of a mystery killer.

A fluid read, I zipped through Camp Carnage over a few lunch breaks and, while the blades n’ whodunit subplotting was decent, the book shied away from commenting overtly on the operations of such an establishment, thus I didn’t root for the characters as much as I wanted.

Writers Cross and Winning twist the expected outcome in regards to the last ones standing, which is always brave, although in this case I’d have preferred them not to.

Bad prescription

DR. CHOPPER

1 Stars  2005/18/85m

“Another slice of life.”

Director: Lewis Schoenbrun / Writer: Ian Holt / Cast: Costas Mandylor, Ed Brigadier, Chelsey Crisp, Robert Adamson, Ashley McCarthy, Butch Hansen, Chase Hoyt, Deidre Kidwell, Sylvia Zabransky, Benjamin Keepers.

Body Count: 16

Laughter Lines: “I want you to meet someone… My. Inner. Bitch!”


Upon sitting down to watch Dr. Chopper the other day, I was struck by the number of bad omens in the air… It was muggy outside with a threat of thunder and there was laundry on the line; there was a trailer for Mr Halloween on the DVD; no sooner did the credits begin to lumber by, I began to feel like I was sliding down a slope towards a pit of hopelessness… Then ‘the acting’ began.

So it goes, in the mid-80s, super surgeon to the stars Dr Max Fielding and his sexy nurses cut parts off of nubile young folk in an effort to halt the aging process. Cops come, over act, Dr Chopper has ridden away. On his motorcycle. A chopper. Of course.

Twenty years later, moody college brat Nicholas learns of his late mother’s cabin in the boonies at Lake Tatonka (“A friendly place for happy people”) and is convinced by perky girlfriend Jessica to invite a gaggle of their friends up there for the weekend. Without having seen how crap the shack is. It turns out to be, quite literally, a one-room shed.

But before that, oh look, something there’s just not enough of in low-end slasher films, it’s the olde lesbian make-out scene. Seriously, let’s have one film – one - with a couple of hot guys making out.

Meanwhile, a po-faced Park Ranger played by Costas Mandylor, before he became a central player in the Saw movies, growls and moans about life while trying to induct/scare off a junior ranger. Love of his life died because he wasn’t a good chiropractor, apparently. I know… I was like, “Huh? You can die from chiropody?”

The uninteresting teenagers almost get run over by a grey-skinned old man on his chopper (Dr Chopper!!! Look out, teens!) but before that, a quintet of sorority girls on some hazing stunt in the woods are stabbed to death by the two nurses. This scene is bizarre: Two senior sorority chicks make them take their tops off (allowing bras to remain) and make them look for sticks while they smoke a spliff. Then the nurses come and do away with all of them in about 47 seconds and none of it is mentioned again.

Eventually, the Doc and his minions attack the cabin, sending the surviving kids on the run, they mow down one of the nurses (“that bitch is road pizza!”) but she returns later, apparently unscathed.

They’re captured, a completely unsurprising twist is revealed. Even the nominal heroine seems bored by it. Then she’s on the run, collides with Moody Ranger, and they fight off Dr Chopper together.

Plenty of blah around reversing and regenerating cells so “we can live foreeeeever!” is spat out during the exposition, although why the killer permanently wears his motorcycle goggles is never addressed, and the disfigurement of his nurses (who’ve barely aged in two decades – hey, maybe it does work!?) isn’t explained.

Imagine a film held together with a bunch of old band aids, all curled up at the edges, with bits of dirt and hair stuck to them. That’s Dr. Chopper. However, if you’re feeling fiendish and want to laugh at the entirety of a cheap production, then look no further: Fleeing victims run away from the lights of salvation into the woods; a guy’s ear is supposedly cut off, yet still clearly visible attached to the actor’s head…

In short, Dr. Chopper makes Dr. Giggles look like Dr. Zhivago.

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