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Men are from Mars, women are from crazy

unhinged-coverUNHINGED

3 Stars  1982/18/77m

“Violence beyond reason. Victims beyond help.”

Director: Don Gronquist / Writers: Don Gronquist & Reagan Ramsey / Cast: Laurel Munson, J.E. Penner, Sara Ansley, Virginia Settle, Barbara Lusch, John Morrison.

Body Count: 4

Dire-logue: “I’ll be sure to excuse myself when she breaks out the heroin.”


More of a low-key psycho thriller than an out n’ out slasher extravaganza, Unhinged has a reputation as a shitty, best-forgotten throwback to the cheapo post-Friday the 13th days of slasherama.

Teen girlfriends Terry, Nancy and Gloria are off to a rock festival when they crash their car in a rainstorm. Terry wakes up at the secluded mansion house residence of Marion Penrose and her infirm mother, who rattles around in a wheelchair, abusing Marion and going into unexplained trances at the dinner table when she becomes fascinated with the table condiments.

u1aEdith Penrose is a nasty old hag who hates men, and so Marion’s simple brother Carl is restricted to creeping around outside after dark or in the attic. With Gloria out for the count after the accident, only Terry and Nancy have to endure the rantings of the old lady, sit on the floor like children and play dominos while Marion tickles the ivory and feel generally wigged out by the whole thing.

…And who’s that eye belong to staring at the girls while they shower?

unhinged-2picsNancy elects to trek into town for help the next day and soon meets the sharp end of a giant sickle. It’s a cool, unexpected murder scene, pretty much out of the blue. One second the girl is climbing up an embankment, then next she’s being slashed at with the uber-scythe by an unidentified rainmacked psycho.

u4aBack at Penrose Towers, Terry tries to find out why Marion puts up with her mother’s shit and there are some loooooong scenes of dialogue, some more night-creeping with the creepy-eye putting in another appearance. Gloria is summarily done away with having hardly appeared in the film at all and Terry begins to grow increasingly suspicious. Needless to say, bodies are found, running and screaming ensues and Terry reprimands the culprit…or does she?

u3aHorrible mom-from-hell, creepy old house, extreme close-ups on a gorping eye – all very Psycho. The handyman is even called Norman Barnes! While there’s only a principal cast of four, it’s evident one of them must be the killer – but who? Could mandrist-mom be toddling free of her wheelchair? Is Carl more dangerous than simple? Or is Marion more repressed than we thought?

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The outcome isn’t entirely predictable, in fact it would be pretty clever if so many almanacs and reviews didn’t give it away as the film’s ‘selling point’. Unhinged‘s best asset is the constant sense of dread hanging over proceedings; there’s very little action or standardised horror staples on show, which will undoubtedly make it an endurance test for many viewers, but if you’re into curious C-movies that somehow made it on to the ‘Video Nasties List’ until 2004, then it could leave a bit of an impression.

Up to you!

FRIDAY THE 13TH – UNCUT

friday_the_thirteenthFRIDAY THE 13TH

5 Stars  1980/18/92m

“They were warned… They are doomed… And on Friday the 13th, nothing will save them.”

Director: Sean S. Cunningham / Writer: Victor Miller / Cast: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Jeannine Taylor, Kevin Bacon, Robbi Morgan, Mark Nelson, Peter Brouwer.

Body Count: 9

Dire-logue: “You’re doomed if you stay here! Go… Go!


Marvel at the unrivalled fab-ness of this film, in both pictorial (an adequate 13 screenshots) and rant form for the Final Girl film club!

Many have laughed heartily at my declaration that Friday the 13th is my Citizen Kane. Har-de-har-har they go, you’re kidding, you’re stupid, don’t you know anything about film etc… As it happens, I have a degree in film. We watched all sorts of arty French stuff. And still after three years of credibility, mise-en-scene, cinema verite, depth, focus, the disolve, Tarkovsky, Bergman and a whole host of -isms, a half million dollar slasher flick from New Jersey, 1980, still means more to me than nearly all that other stuff combined.

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Everyone should know the story of Friday the 13th: Camp Crystal Lake, shut since a double murder back in ’58, finally re-opens with a gaggle of teen counsellors and, on June 13th, a Friday, they find themselves picked off one by one by a mysterious killer, who uses a variety of cutting implements to slash, slit and skewer said counsellors until only one nice girl remains to face off with the shady maniac.

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So there it is, simple and straightforward. A direct cash-in on Halloween, gored-up and downgraded into an organic product of on-location filmmaking and yet it was immeasurably successful at the box office, enough to generate ten fuckin’ sequels, a TV series and enough hype to spark its 2009 remake, the quality of which remains to be seen this February 13th.

"You're two steps from Pacific Avenue and Skin City!"

“You’re two steps from Pacific Avenue and Skin City!”

Here in the UK, we’ve been lucky to have the unedited version on DVD for a while now as well as all manner of bootleg VHS copies floating around since the 80s. I first saw the original cut at a late night showing circa 1997. That seldom seen X-rated certificate appeared on screen and then 92 minutes of textbook teen terror. What was cut out is comparatively minimal, four scenes to be exact: the first present-day kill – a drippy throat slashing – is shown for longer, as is a pre-fame Kevin Bacon’s infamous spike-through-the-neck, the axe-to-the-face and the decapitation finale.

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Hoards of horror aficionados have overlooked Friday the 13th. The accusations of its innate cheapness cannot be denied, but compared to any made-for-video or DVD film of the post-Scream era, it’s a production masterpiece, with competent photography that nicely telegraphs foreclosing doom, a cabin-thrashing rainstorm and characters just a little too simple-minded to figure out that they perhaps shouldn’t go and find out what that weird noise is…

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Of course, in this day and age, everything  going on at Camp Crystal Lake looks dated and riddled with cliches – but Friday the 13th fuckin’ wrote those cliches! So Halloween came first, but you’ll find more of the subsequent slasher films copied Fridays homework and changed it to suit their own story.

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Everything about this film is perfect to me, trumped only by the increased professionalism of Part 2 (which also benefitted from a kick-ass final girl in Amy Steel), from the minute unease of seeing the creaky door to the bathrooms open and a booted foot stepping in, to the creeping shot of Marcie at the row of sinks, and Alice’s neverending attempts to escape from the clutches of one of cinema’s most surprising villains.

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Thank you, Friday the 13th, you truly have been life altering. I’d marry you if I could and father lots of baby 13ths!

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Blurbs-of-interest: Adrienne King and Betsy Palmer returned for brief cameos in the sequel and Palmer also appeared in The Fear: Resurrection; Kevin Bacon turned from victim to killer in sci-fi slasher Hollow Man twenty years later; producer Steve Miner directed Parts 2 & 3 and Halloween H20.

THE BURNING

THE BURNING

3.5 Stars  1981/18/87m

“Don’t look – he’ll see you. Don’t breathe – he’ll hear you. Don’t move – YOU’RE DEAD!”

Director: Tony Maylam / Writers: Peter Lawrence & Bob Weinstein / Cast: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Carrick Glenn, Carolyn Houlihan, Ned Eisenberg, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter, Lou David.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “This guy is burned so bad, he’s cooked – a fucking Big Mac – overdone!”


Don’t you love that title? Say it aloud in a booming movie voice: “The BURRRR-NING!” Say it to your friends! Get them saying it! We’ll start a chant!

1981 is the year as far as slasher movie saturation is concerned. Halloween and Friday the 13th had set the rules, Prom Night and Terror Train had proved there was profit to be made by following the same template. Plenty of other films had returned the goods in the interim, some of them shamelessly ripping off their forerunners. Rumour has it that a couple of budget production companies were vying for the rights to the so-called ‘Cropsy Legend’, a summer camp tale to roast marshmallows to. The winning bid eventually came from a group of individuals who would later found Miramax – Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The other production later became Madman.

So, it’s a summer camp slasher movie then… Been there, seen that. Twice in as many years, in fact. Still, all is not lost. The Burning goes for the jugular, almost literally. By design, it seems, it was purely intended to push the bar in terms of bloodshed as far as it would go.

As usual, things kick off with a past-event trauma that sees summer camp janitor Cropsy turn from litter picker and hedge trimmer to teen-picker-offer and finger-trimmer; he’s accidentally set alight when a juvenile prank goes awry. Five years later, he’s finally released from hospital, hideously scarred (and for the time being, unseen), and more than a little angry at all things summer campy, teenagey, and fun. Kinda like your common or garden grandparent.

The Burning forces itself in a few different directions to its most obvious inspiration. There aren’t just horny teen counsellors at Camp Stonewater, no siree, it’s in full swing with proper campers. Because of this, the characterisations are quite interesting, with cliques and pranks galore. There are a couple of sexy girls, the boys who chase them, the requisite bully, the gorky kids, some skinny, some fat, some speaking with strong accents and there’s Alfred. Alfred (above right) is the nerd who nobody likes, doesn’t want to be there, but likes to perv on the girls. Here, The Burning plays around with our expectations, leading us to believing that we’ve met and bonded with our final girl – then the bastards kill her off first!

Cropsy has returned, conveniently right after his story was told around the campfire and he’s got a big pair of pruning shears to hack, slash and skewer those who have taken leave from the safety of the main camp for a couple of nights in sleeping bags. One camper down, when dawn comes and the counsellors – Todd and Michelle – discover her absence, they’re also informed that all of the canoes have mysteriously floated away as well… Five campers are elected to paddle back to camp on a makeshift raft to fetch assistance. Needless to say, they don’t make it. What occurs is easily among the most notorious slasher movie demises ever. The rickety raft comes upon a lone canoe and, attempting to retrieve it, find it’s occupied by Cropsy, who offs all five of them in thirty seconds flat.

The first time I saw The Burning I was not expecting this and nearly fell off my chair in shock at the uber-violence on display – and that was a cut version! Seriously, it’s pretty intense, even if the effects – Tom Savini’s – look a little ropey here and there. Bones are hacked, torsos stabbed and a young Fisher Stevens’ fingers are cut back to stumps. It’s gross. Really gross. Bleeeccchhh!!11!1!1!!!

After some respite, some Brandy and some crack, I felt composed enough to return to the film. Counsellors Todd and Michelle are a bit worried about the raft’s apparent disappearance while nasty bully Glazer finally gets his way with sexy Sally, unwisely beyond screaming distance from the rest of the campers. Now, slasher films ain’t particularly intelligent at the best of times but a nice touch in the script of The Burning is that the sex between Glazer and Sally is bad. She tells him as much, he apologises, she says OK and agrees to go again. It’s when he runs off for a condom that Cropsy puts in an appearance, shiny shears in hand…

While Sally is last seen trying to hold off the shears of DEATH, Glazer is followed back towards her by the ever-curious Alfred, for reasons unknown – maybe he woke with morning glory and wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Instead of observing some spank bank material, Alfred watches while Glazer tries to wake a ‘sleeping’ Sally and gets those garden tools of doom right through the neck and is hoisted up and pinned to a nearby tree (below). Nice retribution for the camp asshole.

Alfred summons Todd who is duly clipped by the shears and rendered unconscious while Crospy goes for Alfred, resulting in a rather protracted and tedious chase through the woods to some random delapidated building in the middle of nowhere.

Elsewhere, the raft-of-salvation floats lazily back to the remaining campers who soon find it’s still got bits of their dead friends attached to it. Todd returns, hoping Alfred made it to safety, to witness the gruesome discovery and convince Michelle and the surviving campers – now traumatised beyond help in their pink dungarees and long socks – to use the raft-of-death to paddle back to camp for help.

Alfred is captured and trapped by Cropsy, who baits Todd into the gloominess of the inexplicably situated mine-thing for the big flamethrower-featuring showdown, where we get a look at the extent of the killer’s toasting and it transpires, flashback stylee, that Todd was one of the teens who caused THE BURNING (…use that voice again). After a struggle, Alfred frees himself and stabs Cropsy with his own shears, allowing Todd to embed an axe in his skull, resulting in a big spray of blood from his mouth.

The make-up for Cropsy is far beyond ridiculous. You might say he’d never be released from hospital in the first place, but, hey, this is the realm of the slasher movie and it’ll do what it wants. Things end with a new batch of campers hearing the story around the fire. Sequel? Nah, nobody’d survive that axe.

The Burning got cropped of most of its elaborate gore effects by the time it was released in the summer of ’81, incidentally one week after the startlingly similar Friday the 13th Part 2 was unleashed. Friday is far better and it’s sad to learn that Savini turned down that for this, but his work is the most intriguing thing about this little timekiller, which not only also features Jason Alexander – with a full head of hair, no less! – but also future Oscar-grabber Holly Hunter, both as campers, the latter with only about two lines of dialogue. If you can’t spot her, she’s Sophie, the one who shouts “hey Todd!” a moment before the raft-of-death discovery.

So why only a three-star rating? The Burning is distinctly lacking in something that makes the first two Fridays such great genre examples. Make no mistake, it’s a good film, one of the goriest on the list and surprisingly thoughtful at times. Perhaps it’s just too obvious that its primary concern is to make the audience cringe rather than root for the survivors? Or the Final Boy thing, which is a case of ‘Nice try…but no.’ There’s a cruel streak running through proceedings, borderline misogynistic, with the first camp victim singled out for a particularly spiteful demise, not to mention the luckless hooker who invites Cropsy upstairs after his release. Bizarrely, those responsible for his chargrilled condition were all boys… Maybe a kick-ass heroine would’ve bandaged some of these wounds. These minor complaints aside, it’s still essential viewing for genre aficionados.

**Edit** – I skimmed the DVD again and upped it to three-and-a-half stars, soft touch that I am.

It was finally released uncut on DVD in the UK in 2002 and the US in 2007, previously missing nine seconds of footage from various murder scenes.

Blurbs-of-interest: the editor Jack Sholder, directed both Alone in the Dark and Elm Street 2. Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman contributed the intense synthy score. Carrick Glenn (Sally) was in Girls Nite Out.

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