Tag Archives: Halloween

Decade of the Afraid: the Best of the 00’s – Part 1

Can 1990 seriously be twenty years ago? I feel so old! Decrepit! Call me Grandpa Voorhees. OK, so no, time is time and we can’t change it etc etc…and I was only 11 when it turned from ’89 to ’90, leaving behind the funkiest decade.

Now we kiss goodbye to the 00’s (unless you’re a pedant who insists each new decade actually begins at the “01” year). A quick filter of an Excel spreadsheet informs me that I saw 225 slasher films shot between 2000 and 2009, so while most people do their ‘best of 2009′ lists, VeVo looks back at the best – and worst – of the last ten years. Take my hand, it could get self-referential!

Firstly, there were the SEQUELS to franchises from the 80s and 90s that just kept comin’ – or in some cases took forever…

scream3The most successful slasher franchise of the era bowed out in 2000 with Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Aquette finally shutting the door on years of being stalked by Ghostface in Scream 3. Although rumours abound of a resurgence in 2010, nothing is yet set in stone.

Also out for more was Urban Legends: Final Cut, Halloween: Resurrection, Seed of Chucky and overdue returns for Jason and Freddy in, respectively, Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason, which looked like it was going to usher in some miserable years of cut-n-shut head-to-headers, thankfully, in spite of its massive success, nobody saw fit to copy it.

We waited approximately five years for Return to return_to_sleepaway_campSleepaway Camp to get it’s DVD release and then all moaned that it wasn’t very good; and as the DVD box-set extravaganza began, studios dished up cheapo sequels to fill out cardboard space, among them Urban Legends: Bloody Mary and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, which proved that it is indeed possible to fuck a movie franchise up the arse and leave it in a violated mess in the corner.

mylittleeyeThe 00’s was also the decade of REALITY TV, kept afloat mostly (in the UK at least) by Big Brother, which stranded a dozen or so morons in a house without a psychopathic killer! Before long, slasher movie makers jumped on the bandwagon. Halloween: Resurrection came late to the party, cheapo exploitation fare such as Voyeur.com and Cruel World went for the lowest common denominator while arty stuff such as My Little Eye was so depressing that I’d rather have been forced to watch the shows proper than sit through it again…

Arguably – and this does spark “debate” (a.k.a. childish name-calling and tantrums) – the biggest thing to happen within the genre came around about 2003.

REMAKE AFTER REMAKE AFTER REMAKE

Surely it started out as something relatively innocent…:

Harried Writer: “I really don’t think we can write another one of these. What else is there to do?”

Exec: “Okay, well it’s been almost 30 years, no one will really care if we, uh, what’s the word I want to use?”

Harried Writer: “Remake?”

Exec: “Oh, no, no, no – I know – reimagine.”

Harried Writer: “That’s not a word.”

Exec: “Do it or get out.”tcm2003

And thus it came to pass. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was remadeimagined, soon after generating a sequel of its own, reinvigorating the losses made by the admittedly patchy 80s and 90s ventures and opening the floodgates for execs everywhere the pillage the catalogue of “people only remember the title”-style horror films.

I’ll admit that some worked out fine; I, for one, enjoyed the TCM redux and also Friday the 13th. The rest were made up of agreeable distractions that were fine so long as you didn’t compare them to their source material (Black Christmas, Sorority Row, House of Wax), some that slipped under the radar and others that should just burn in hell for all eternity. However you look at it, we were left with this:

remakesThe main ‘problem’ with a lot of these remakes – aside from the evidential lack of imagination infecting the industry – is that, in most cases, the nihilistic days of the early 80s horror scene are over, and in their place came a bunch of anodyne, inoffensive PG-13 rated films that barely register on the horror scale.

However, this was not true for all involved and another commonality of the decade was the sub-genre of TORTURE PORN!

From its original instalment in 2004, the Saw franchise has, like Friday the 13th back in the 80s, seen a new sequel every year. As of 2009, we’re up to Saw VI and a seventh appears on IMDb already for Halloween 2010. Not really slasher flicks, Saw and Hostel (plus its sequel), were cleverly plotted horror films with a lot of grue, death death death and crazy loons killing people in creative ways, often placing American tourists elsewhere on the globe where the locals have a few screws loose.

The Hills Have Eyes remake (plus its sequel – Dear God, how often will I have to type that?) flirted also in this darker than dark arena of extensive violence; Uwe Boll’s naff Seed and the Brazil-trip-gone-wrong saga Turistas and Wolf Creek were the closest relatives of the slasher film.

Extreme violence isn’t my thing; although some of these films were well plotted, nicely made yadda yadda, the public fascination with their forbidden horrors appeal seemed to have waned by the close of the decade.

In Part 2 (next week, alright?) – the rise of the genre in the Far East and VeVo’s best and worst slasher flicks of the decade.

December Duel: Har-De-Har-STAB!

Christmas is coming: time for joy and laughter and, if you’re me, horror films of death. But how to mix these things together and please the visiting familials? Oh yeah, the sub-sub-genre of the slasher parody.

Parody films are very hit and miss at the best of times (Airplane! excluded). And as slasher films largely unconciously parody themselves in the ornate crudness of their very situations, what’s left to take the piss out of?

Let’s dip our hands into the comical waters of slasher mickey-taking and see what we can dredge up from the bottom…

studentbodsSTUDENT BODIES 1981

The hilarious story: sexy teen couples at Lamab High are being laid to waste by a commentating maniac in squelchy boots. Can super-goody-two-shoes heroine Toby solve the mystery?

Funny stuff: things start well with an amusing When A Stranger Calls-type opening; death by paperclips; death by eggplant; half-funny fart gag; Toby’s overt final girlisms.

Unfunny stuff: pretty much everything else; the stupid twist-within-a-dream ending where they evidently took the audience to have a combined IQ of 19.

VV’s amusedness: 43% – “I’m laughing on the inside.”

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national-lampoons-class-reunionNATIONAL LAMPOON’S CLASS REUNION 1982

The hilarious story: the class of ’72 from Lizzie Borden High gather for their deca-reunion where the kid they played a Terror Train-type prank on is now a paper bag-masked psycho killer. Of the cast of twenty-five odd folks, he kills four. Four.

Funny stuff: Anne Ramsay is present as the school cook and there’s a recurring demonic possession joke that made my lip curl…

Unfunny stuff: there’s some real shit gags in this, it’s no wonder nobody’s ever heard of this one, National Lampoon tag or not! The lead guy was a wanker who I waiting to see die in a myriad of horrible griz. Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion is way better.

VV’s amusedness: 22% – “we are not amused.”

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pandemomiumPANDEMONIUM 1982

The hilarious story: Bambi’s cheerleader academy was shut down after a rash of cheericides in the 60s, including the ultimate shish-ka-bobbed spirit squad. Having decided to re-open “the old camp,” Bambi finds that her new class of students (three of them guys!) are being tormented by another cheericidal manaic! Only telekinetic cheer-wannabe Candy has the smarts (and power) to stop the madness…

Funny stuff: the cheerleaders are called Candy, Sandy, Mandy, Andy, Randy and Glenn. Glenn Dandy. The Carrie poking is amusing and the cast, featuring Carol Kane, Judge Reinhold, Debralee Scott, pre-PeeWee Paul Reubens and Eve Arden is great. It was originally to be called Thursday the 12th until Saturday the 14th came along but had sod all to do with Camp Crystal Lake.

Unfunny stuff: with any of-the-moment parody, it’s going to be dated as soon as it’s finished, so lots of it has little relevance 27 years down the line but, on the whole, Pandemonium holds up pretty well. “If I can’t be a cheerleader…no one can be a cheerleader!”

VV’s amusedness: 71% – “it was like this one time, at band cheerleader camp and it was so funny.”

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wackoWACKO 1983

The hilarious story: 13 years after seeing her older sister sliced and diced by the Halloween Prom Night Lawnmower Killer of Hitchcock High, virginal Mary Graves finds herself stalked by the very same killer as her own Halloween Prom approaches.

Funny stuff: One of the best lines in slasherdom when Mary’s mother receives a letter from the killer: “it’s Halloween, it’s Prom Night, there’s a psycho on the loose so don’t open the door, don’t answer the phone, don’t look in the attic, don’t go to the bathroom, don’t go into the ocean and don’t go into space ‘cos no one can hear you scream!”

Unfunny stuff: as with most of these things, the film spends too long trying to be relevant to the time period, which takes away from the slashing. ‘Wacky’ teachers and parents disappear and reappear frequently. George Kennedy getting a pie in the face for aping Hitchcock is the final ‘hilarious’ twist.

VV’s amusedness: 28% – “I smiled tolerantly and we parted.”

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scarymovieSCARY MOVIE 2000

The hilarious story: Six high school friends are stalked and tormented by a cloaked fiend who might just be the fisherman they ran over last Halloween, while a nosey reporter investigates the spree of killings that begins.

Funny stuff: if you watch this right after watching Scream, it’s funny. Any other time and you’re likely to tilt your head and squint your eyes trying to work out if you should laugh or not.  The Matrix and Blair Witch Project take-offs were funny at the time but the recreation of “the Jada Pinkett moment” from Scream 2 is the best part. The working title Scream if You Know What I Did Last Halloween was far better.

Unfunny stuff: the film wanes like a dying plant, eventually flopping flaccidly like a disappointing bedtime partner. Eww. And Marlon Wayans as Shorty – what the fuck is the point of his character? Talk about family favours!

I went on a date to see Scary Movie 2. We never spoke again.

VV’s amusedness: 55% – “you used to be funny but now you only make me cringe.”

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shriek-if-you-knowSHRIEK IF YOU KNOW WHAT I DID LAST FRIDAY THE 13TH 2000

The hilarious story: almost exactly the same as Scary Movie (with which this film was the competition but took too long to complete): the teens of – groan - Bulimia High are stalked by a killer who knows what they did last summer etc… Only here, the killer is so inept that the victims die from bee stings and coronaries before he can get his hands on them.

Funny stuff: the ‘Pop Up Video’ part near the end is actually funny. Coolio dies.

Unfunny stuff: fart jokes, erection jokes, gay jokes = all shit jokes. The lead character is called Dawson Deary. Pass me the razor blades…

VV’s amusedness: 24% – “oh look, it’s Funny’s cousin, Not Funny.”

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club_dreadCLUB DREAD 2004

The hilarious story: at Coconut Pete’s Costa Rican island resort (a sort of 18-30’s thing), a machete-toting killer is offing staff members, forcing those remaining to act ‘normally’. Is it the island’s mythical ‘Machete Phil?’

Funny stuff: Bill Paxton is great as Coconut Pete and there’s some good stalking and slashing sequences, the best of which involves a victim trying to get away in a golf buggy, eventually out-walked by the killer.

Unfunny stuff: The Broken Lizard comedy troupe evidently think they’re a lot funnier than they actually are, director Jay Chandrasekhar as queeny tennis boach Puttman is the best and Kevin Heffernan’s new-boy masseur makes a likeable hero but the others are just plain annoying. Clocking in at a whopping 113 minutes (the DVD version), Club Dread drags out some of its lame gags to the bitter end.

VV’s amusedness: 69% – “hi-de-hi-de-hi, ho-de-ho-de-ho, go go go to the holiday rock!”

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VICTOR: It can only be Pandemonium, the film with the crappest title but the least amount of crap gags.

HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE

heknows

3 Stars  1980/18/90m

“Every girl is frightened the night before her wedding. But this time…there’s good reason!”

Director: Armand Mastroianni / Writer: Scott Parker / Cast: Don Scardino, Caitlin O’ Heaney, Elizabeth Kemp, Lewis Arlt, Tom Rolfing, Patsy Pease, James Rebhorn, Tom Hanks, Dana Barron, Paul Gleason.

Body Count: 7 or 9 depending how you look at it…


A minor early entry in the stalker cycle, which flatters the legacy of Halloween by blatantly copying it right down to the tinkering piano score… Lazy for sure, but there’s more to He Knows You’re Alone than just recreations of other films. Some spoilers follow…

Beginning with a trick involving two young women watching a cheesy slasher film (which features Russell Todd from Friday the 13th Part 2), one girl ventures off to the bathroom and thinks she’s being followed. She leaves without washing her hands and tells her nonchalant friend she doesn’t like the film and wants to go, unaware of the man shuffling into the row behind, sitting down right behind her… As the on-screen killer sickles a victim to death, the sweaty-browed, wide-eyed man behind rams a knife through the back of the chair, killing dirty-hands. The rip-off score comes in and we follow a Police Squad flashing light to the scene…

hk1

It’s revealed that dirty-hands was soon due to be married, catching the attention of the mustached Detective Gamble, who is obsessed with the case. We then switch to a jolly bus trip with the killer, Ray, who flashes back to the time he crashed his ex-beau’s (we assume) wedding and knifed her before she could walk down the aisle. Her hubby to be? Gamble! Yup, there’s a bride-hating-killer on the loose!

hk2

Pretty Amy Jensen (O’Heaney), is another engaged girl who is actually having immense second thoughts about her upcoming wedding to her jerky fiancé Phil, who is off to celebrate his bachelor weekend and cheat on Amy. In some ways, Ray’s coincidental eavesdropping as his bus pulls in is a god-send as it will certainly make her re-think who she throws the bouquet to…

Ray, who operates without the disguise of a mask or any particular niche weapon, begins turning up in Amy’s life all over the show: he appears at windows, fairgrounds, the ice cream store, fixedly glaring at her and kills his spare time by stalking and slaying various luckless schmucks, starting with the dress-fitter and escalating to her gal-pals Joyce and Nancy.

Marvin excelled at the floating head trick...

Marvin impressed Amy with his floating head trick…

Inbetween stalkings, Amy’s perky ex-boyfriend Marvin turns up and begins begging her to marry him rather than Phil, aided by the recommendations of Nancy, Joyce and Amy’s kid sister, while Detective Gamble discovers that Amy is Ray’s next intended bride of butcherdom. We also meet Tom Hanks, who is Nancy’s date to the fairground where Amy is further tormented by her paranoia. He’s a psych major who prattles on about fear, horror films and rollercoasters while we think about his possible impending death…

hk10

Elliott ‘impressed’ Nancy by going on about the psychology of fear for aaaaaaages…

Alas, it’s not to be. ‘Elliott’ only appears in two scenes before Amy finally comes face to face with Ray, only after he’s cut off Nancy’s head and left it in the fishtank! The final half hour sees Amy escape to the morgue where Marvin works with both the killer and Gamble in hot pursuit. How will it end? Who will survive? Will Amy end up marrying Ray!?

hk7

He Knows You’re Alone is a tame affair with next to no blood or gore, instead opting for well-crafted stalking scenarios and lots of focus-pulling camera work as the killer appears and then disappears behind trees, crowds and people in the foreground. “Homages” to Halloween come thick and fast: Joyce and her married lover are killed similarly to Lynda and Bob in Carpenter’s film (“go fix the lights, I’ll stay here,” replacing “get me a beer.”), Nancy even resembles Jamie Lee Curtis, and the ever-silent Ray hops the roof of Amy’s car, smashing his fist through the driver side window to grope around for her…

hk6hk9

Things end curiously though; Gamble arrives but is entirely ineffectual and killed almost straight away, while the killer’s fate is only to be locked inside a room in the morgue! No exposition, no injuries bar a single gunshot wound. This makes the otherwise likeable Amy a tad useless as the final girl, her survival is far more incidental, strange considering that at one point she attempts to hide from the killer inside her own sweater… She’s simply the one who doesn’t die, allowing for a full-circle twist ending that’s kinda neat.

Amy uses her chameleon-like abilities to hide from the killer.

Amy uses her chameleon-like abilities to hide from the killer.

One of the few elements not Xeroxed from Halloween is the killer himself; as Ray, Tom Rolfing (who sadly died in 1990) is both too young and too handsome to be a dribbling maniac, having topped my Sexy Psychos list, it’s a similar crux to the wretched Prom Night “remake” where the supposed maniac just looks too regular, albeit here, Rolfing’s intense eyes and ability to execute one cold stare allegedly landed him the part. Needless to say, even out of place, he’s one of the best parts to this clunky stalker thriller, which will bore the pants of some but hopefully engage the genre aficionados and appreciators of low budget films shot with passion.

Blurbs-of-interest: O’Heaney had already trodden the slasher boards in 1976’s dire Savage Weekend (credited there as Kathleen Heaney); look out for Paul Gleason as Gamble’s detective buddy and, most interestingly, the script supervisor was Vera Dika, who wrote the great academic analysis of the genre formula, Games of Terror, in 1990.

What the Dickens!?

olivertwistedOLIVER TWISTED

3 Stars 1997/15/104m

“The family secret is out…”

Director: Dean Gates / Writer: G. Patrick Charuhas / Cast: Signe Kiesel, Jason McMahan, Brian Agmes, Karen Black, Erik Estrada, Dave Kramer, Dianne M. Grant, Heather Hageman, Manuel Guevara Jr.

Body Count: 9


With a title like that, I was expecting some psychotronic re-telling of the Dickens classic. Unfortunately though, we’re not treated to the gory demises of Fagan, the Artful Dodger or Oliver Twist (how annoying was that kid?) and instead it’s a modest Halloween copy from Florida.

Institutionalised plate-headed Oliver goes into a coma after being sunk by two anaesthetic darts after he murders two of the hospital staff. Refusing to take him back, he is instead sent to reside with his aunt and her two kids – one of whom is called Olivia. I think we all know where this is going…

“Livvy’s” bratty brother Jeff becomes obsessed with Oliver, who remains zonked out in the spare room while Livvy herself starts having odd premonitions of murders which, she believes, aren’t real. The mailman gets his hand chopped off with a machete when Oliver wakes up and goes walkabout and then two teen couples are invited over the celebrate Livvy’s birthday for no other purpose than to serve as thwacking material for Oliver.

Bargain basement productions values notwithstanding, there’s a good score and one neat scene that, albeit ripped off from Dressed to Kill, cranks the tension towards the finale. From the look of it though, this could well have been shot in the mid-80s with its drained colour and naive teenager-cum-blade-targets, Karen Black and freakin’ Erik Estrada (as mom and meddling doctor respectively). Neither of them have much to do and probably wish they were back on the set of Airport ’75

The blindingly obvious twist is nicely played out, although we’re never informed of the source of Livvy’s flashbacks to the baby in the tub, nor what happened to Oliver in the first place that landed him residence in the asylum… Even with these unexplained oddities, overlong running time and some dreadful hairstyles, it’s still more fun than sitting through the musical Oliver! any day…

Blurbs-of-interest: Karen Black can also be found in Some Guy Who Kills People, Children of the Corn IV, Out of the Dark, and Curse of the Forty-Niner.

CODA

coda

3.5 Stars  1987/15/96m

“When the music stops, the nightmare begins…”

A.k.a. Deadly Possession / Symphony of Evil

Director: Craig Lahiff / Writers: Craig Lahiff & Terry Jennings / Cast: Penny Cook, Arna-Maria Winchester, Liddy Clark, Olivia Hamnett, Patrick Frost.

Body Count: 5


An impressive minor Australian film originally made for a cinema release but ending up premiering on TV instead. A student of music at an exclusive conservatory is attacked in her apartment and thrown out of a window, surviving for the time being but later being murdered in her hospital bed before she can communicate vital clues to her would-be saviour and subsequent prime suspect.

Said suspects ex-wife – a classmate of the deceased – becomes entangled in the mystery and then obsessed with solving it, this finding herself next in line for stalkage as the maniac in a creepy plastic mask begins cropping up in her life. Because of its final televisual resting place, there’s not much grue here but many cues are taken from Halloween and it emulates some of those spookier moments to great effect, with the killer loitering outside the heroine’s room and stalking her and her friend at the opera!

A minimal cast roster confines all possible suspects and after the initial killing it’s a long time before the next murder but the length chase finale is excellent and confirms the film’s slasher movie ancestry, which it shies away from in the first two thirds in favour of character building and the Murder She Wrote-style sleuthing.

Coda (we’re told a musical term for the conclusion of a composition – la-de-da!) makes a lot of good use out of its intense classical soundtrack, from the metronome on the opening credits and is complimented further by lush photography and intelligent direction during the action scenes. About the only thing that prevents it from advancing further up the star-scale is the overlong mid-section and its preliminary reluctance to blend in with its generic habitat and consequential low body count, which could have been assisted by offing a couple of extra students halfway through.

Nevertheless, like its chosen musical accompaniment, this is a delicate and handsome piece of film.

Blurb-of-interest: Olivia Hamnett played Kate Peterson, the looney-tunes doctor, in Prisoner: Cell Block H.

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