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Before Wolf Creek, there was…

HOUSEBOAT HORROR

1 Stars  1989/79m

“Something is about to happen on Lake Infinity.”

Directors: Kendall Flannigan & Ollie Martin / Writer: Ollie Martin / Cast: Alan Dale, Christine Jeston, Craig Alexander, Des ‘Animal’ McKenna, Gavin Wood, John Michael Howson, Louise Siversen, Peppie D’or, Steve Whittacker, Julia Tompson.

Body Count: 13

Laughter Lines: “You watch it – or I’ll kick you where your mother never kissed you!”


Back in 1989, Britain was in the midst of its obsession with Australian soap operas: Neighbours was at the top of the tree, while Home & Away perched a few branches below. I preferred Sons & Daughters - so many Mafia-like plots within a small cast, poisonous snakes in the safe, shark attacks… it had it all.

Thus, when sitting down with Houseboat Horror recently, that nostalgic era of Scott and Charlene, Helen Daniels, Madge and Harold, Bouncer the dog, and Ramsay Street – surely built on crossing Ley Lines for all its bad luck – came a-floodin’ back. So much so as Alan Dale, who played Jim Robinson in Neighbours for years, was somehow roped into appearing in the floating turd that is this movie. Ants may elect to make a houseboat out of said turd and the cycle begineth again.

A crappy rock n’ roll band and a film crew head out to Lake Infinity to shoot a music video. Naturally, the lake was the scene of a tragic fire (or some murders, I’ve already forgotten) X-years earlier. A newspaper tells us a child was horrifically burned. See where the course has been set? So laboured is this point, that early on when the group stops at a gas station, one of the attendants turns to the other and says: “Brings back memories over those movie killings a few years back…” and the world’s most obvious this-sounds-creepy synthesiser note is struck.

The group hire three ugly-ass houseboats and, after a day of fooling about with the really shitty band, are stalked and slain by a shadowy chap who lurks in the trees a lot. People are sliced with his machete, axed in the head, shot with spearguns, and even killed by a horseshoe in the eyes.

There’s very little more to say about Houseboat Horror. It’s cheap, it’s brimming with Aussie sayings of yore (people referred to as ‘dags’ who might’ve ‘shot through’) and it’s dated by an appearance of the world’s largest cell phone, which Alan Dale says into: “The two-way doesn’t work so if you want to talk to me you’ll have to do it on this walkabout phone thing.”

Some gory dispatchments and the mild distraction of different accents and vernacular highlight an otherwise awful vessel (ho ho ho) before it sinks under its own weight of crap.

Blurb-of-interest: John Michael Howson was in the 1980 Aussie horror Stage Fright.

The 100 Greatest* Slasher Movies Part VII: #40-31

*According to me. Me, me, me! So don’t be surprised to discover some classics are missing.

See #100-91 // #90-81 // #80-71 // #70-61 // #60-51 // #50-41

40: Malevolence (2005)

Slow, brooding, and with a low body count. Normally the stuff I hate in a slasher film, but Stevan Mena pulls off a minor miracle here: The Bodycount Art Film. A botched bank robbery sends a gang of criminals and their mother/daughter hostages to a dilapidated farmhouse inhabited by a bag-masked psycho who may or may not be the local boy who disappeared in the 80s. Tsuyoshi Kimoto’s pristine photography paints a bleak Americana and is the brightest jewel on display. Forget the shoddy prequel, Bereavement though.

Crowning moment: One of the fugitives goes to ‘look around’ outside the house. In the dark. Alone. Behind her, we see the killer lurking in the peripherals. Pure stalker stuff and excellently done.

39: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Likely an unpopular addition, this Halloween sequel was one of the first I saw and, while it was hampered by production nightmares, it holds together quite well, and captures the ‘Hallowe’en atmos’ better than all of those that’ve followed. Michael Myers reappears in Haddonfield six years after disappearing with his niece, who has just had a baby, and now he wants it back and will kill all who stand in his way, including pre-stardom Paul Rudd, as the grown-up Tommy Wallace.

Crowning moment: “There’s someone else in the room! He’s right behind you!”

38: Psycho Beach Party (2000)

A screen adaptation of a campy stage musical (!), Lauren Ambrose is a plucky 50s teenager with multiple personalities who just wants to surf with all the hunky beach boys. But who is murdering folks with varied impairments? The surf kids, a B-movie actress, and a strangely butch female police chief are all trying to find out. One of those slashers-on-the-side affairs adorned with some recognisable faces.

Crowning moment: The Lu’au dance-off that makes the choreography of Grease look second-rate.

37: Shredder (2001)

Teenagers staying at a cabin on an out-of-bounds mountain are done in by a snowboarder-hating killer. While Iced may have been there and done that, Shredder is a cute, relentlessly likeable little slice of paradise, stocked with interesting characters who you, for a post-2000 film, surprisingly don’t hate.

Crowning moment: The recurring gag of a hanged snowboarder going around and around on the chairlift all day.

36: Flashback (1999)

Germany’s response to Scream is a ludicrous farce that is inexplicably awesome at the same time. As a young girl, Jeanette witnessed the brutal slaying of her parents (and dog) by a dress-wearing maniac. X years later, she lands a job teaching French to a trio of rich siblings while their parents are away and the killings soon begin again. While things don’t necessarily tie together come the reveal, and the dubbing on the DVD is horrific, Flashback contains enough carnage to make Jason proud. Though I can’t say I’m a fan of all the domestic pet slashery.

Crowning moment: The ‘past event’ trauma (pictured), the camera keeps with that sickle as the killer moves in on young Jeanette as she tries to reach the key suspended on a hook above the door.

35. Ripper: Letter from Hell (2001)

College students majoring in criminology are being stalked and slain by a lunatic recreating the murders of Jack the Ripper, right down to the placing of each and every stab wound. About halfway through it turns stupid (they decide going to a cabin in the woods is the best course of action) and the ending is clouded by ambiguity – in accord with the real life crimes – but Ripper can at least boast polished production, gruesome slayings (including Kelly Brook, above), and decent acting, even if it does grind on for nearly two hours.

Crowning moment: Though Jack the Ripper never killed anybody that way, a couple tumble on to a log saw conveyor they cannot escape from and look doomed to plunge face first into twin buzz saws.

34: You’re Next (2011)

Home invasion movies were briefly ‘a thing’ and they don’t come with much more ballistic action than You’re Next: A family reunion (again, in a house in the middle of nowhere) is crashed by a team of masked assassins and the besieged Davison clan have to do all they can not to die. What neither they, nor the killers, counted on was one of the guest’s innate survivalist training…

Crowning moment: I saw this at a horror festival and the blender-on-the-head moment got the biggest cheer for a reason.

33: Scream 4 (2011)

Arquette, Campbell, and Cox were all back to check in with Woodsboro a decade after the events of Scream 3: Sidney is in town promoting her self-help book, while Gale is trying to write one, and teenagers around town are falling victim to a new Ghostface-clad killer who is well-versed on the remake and reboot culture of Hollywood. The pairing of Williamson and Craven elicited mixed reviews – due mainly to the slack middle third – but the self-awareness is fully intact and the blood free-flowing.

Crowning moment: The pre-title slaughter, arguably defined by Scream and copied by everyone else, now reclaimed with chucklesome flair.

32: Mask Maker (2010)

I’ve long held the view that if you carefully selected the best parts of other slasher films and sewed them together, you’d have one awesome film: Mask Maker is it. College kids renovating an old farmhouse accidentally resurrect the undead psychopath who once dwelled there and has a penchant for slicing off people’s faces and wearing them over his own deformed features. Almost every scene is a recreation of moments from every killer-with-a-blade pic since Psycho but done very well.

Crowning moment: Final girl Jen steps into the heroine’s shoes with veritable gusto and gives the killer a real run for his money.

31: Cut (2000)

As Flashback was Germany’s answer to Scream, so Cut is Australia’s. Seems that anyone who tries to complete cheesy unfinished slasher flick Hot Blooded ends up dead. But this urban myth doesn’t stop a team of film students from hiring Molly Ringwald’s bratty actress and giving it the old college try. Expectedly, the curse strikes again and the film crew are soon being laid to waste by a wackadoo dressed as the on-screen killer. Dry Aussie humour failed to resonate for most and the film has an unfairly bad reputation.

Crowning moment: Tiny superstar Kylie Minogue’s cameo as a tyrannical film director.

The 100 Greatest* Slasher Movies Part IV: #70-61

*According to me. Me, me, me. So there’re bound to be a few of your faves missing…

To provide some context, this batch all scored around 7 out of 10.

See #100 – 91 here
#90 – 81 here
#80 – 71 here

70: Coda (1987)

A music student at an exclusive conservatory is murdered and her classmate becomes hell bent on solving the mystery, thus making herself the next target of the masked killer. This Australian TV thriller comes equipped with a lush classical soundtrack and spooky Halloweenie stalking sequences, plus one of the actresses was in Prisoner: Cell Block H. Also known as Deadly Possession or Symphony of Evil.

Crowning moment: Remember when you were young (or in my case well into my 30s) and you ran along with a shopping trolley and rolled across the parking lot? In Coda, the killer does that down a corridor brandishing a sharp weapon.

69: The Funhouse (1981)

Tobe Hooper’s Halloween-inspired creeper follows two teenage couples when they dare themselves to spend the night in the funhouse of a travelling carnival, only to discover that the Frankenstein-masked attendant of the ride is a mongoloid who wants to kill them all! Surprisingly scary and in terms of the horror-at-the-carnival sub-sub-genre, it’s unbeaten.

Crowning moment: Jittery final girl Amy spots her Dad outside, picking up her traumatised kid brother, and shrieks for her life but is muted by the cooling fans between them.

68: Some Guy Who Kills People (2012)

Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan) is a simple-living malt shop worker not long out of an institution when the gang of bullies who pushed him to the edge years earlier begin showing up dead all over town. Meanwhile, he acquaints himself with his estranged daughter, but even she becomes suspicious… How can he balance fatherhood with killing folks? A rare thing: A slasher flick with a big, soppy heart.

Crowning moment: Ken has an amusingly clunky date with Lucy Davis and tries to stick up for his daughter to humiliating avail.

67: Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

Crazy Jason is still killing kids up at Crystal Lake, this time a gaggle of vacationing friends fall foul of the maniac and he finds his trademark hockey mask for the first time – and all in 3D! Crap acting is buffered its camp appeal and some awesome demises, including the infamous ‘eyeball pop’.

Crowning moment: Jason follows shrieky final girl Chris (Dana Kimmell) into the barn for the epic final showdown, consisting of several take-downs that prove ultimately un-fatal.

66: Bloody Bloody Bible Camp (2012)

In 1977, horndog teenagers at a Bible Camp were laid to waste by homicidal nun, Sister Mary Chopper. Seven years later, another van load of religious teens stop by and the killings begin again. Friday the 13th collides with elements of Sleepaway Camp, lots of crude, sometimes stupid gags, and Ron Jeremy appears as Jesus.

Crowning moment: The opening kill-fest set in ’77, including doggy-style with a decapitated camper.

65: Pandemonium (1982)

Probably the most fun slasher parody (Scary Movie will not be gracing us with its presence): Bambi’s Cheerleading Camp reopens after it was plagued by unsolved murders and attracts six new recruits (Candy, Mandy, Randy, Andy, Sandy, and Glenn) who are soon the targets of the returning killer. Most of the jokes were hugely outdated by the end of the 80s, but it’s way better than Wacko, Student Bodies, and Class Reunion. Carol Kane plays the telekinetic final girl, and Judge Reinhold and Paul ‘Pee Wee’ Reubens appear in early roles.

Crowning moment: A toss up between the cheerleader shish-ka-bob that starts the film off or death by super-charged toothbrush.

64: Bride of Chucky (1998)

The dead and buried Child’s Play franchise was sparked back to life by this post-Scream reboot that pushed the comedy in front of the killing (in the wake of the falsified bad rep the previous film had in the UK) and paired Chucky with Jennifer Tilly’s excellent Tiffany doll, who is almost as homicidally motivated as he is.

Crowning moment: Either when Chuck n’ Tiff take out John Ritter’s slimy, crooked cop, or the moment they succumb to their carnal desires after offing a couple with the help of an over-the-bed mirror (“Honey, I’m all rubber!”).

63: The Pool (2001)

The private graduation party of a popular high school clique is foiled by the arrival of a masked and machete-swinging psycho. A joint venture of several European countries (shot in Prague) gives this one some cultural flavour and characters of varying nationalities. Though the identity of the killer was a bit naffly obvious. Future megastars James McAvoy and Isla Fisher are among those skewered.

Crowning moment: Easily the [pictured] waterslide kill, as a boobular babe slides towards a splash pool containing her lover’s corpse and notices a machete pierce the bottom of the chute and slides uncontrollably, legs akimbo, towards it. As my friend Kerry commented upon seeing the aftermath: “It looks like the period from hell!”

62: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

At the time, Elm Street 4 was a phenomenal box office hit, keying into the MTV generation and cranking up Freddy’s one-liners – and thus beginning the decline of his character as remotely frightening – he gets rid of the surviving Elm Street children and moves on to their friends, using the dream-joining power of dreary new heroine Alice.

Crowning moment: Freddy focuses in on Debbie’s (Brooke Theiss) bug-phobia, first letting her arms fall off before turning her into a roach. Eww.

61: Venom (2005)

Kevin Williamson produced, and I Know What You Did Last Summer‘s Joe Gillespie directed this swamp-set slasher in which a mechanic is bitten by snakes belonging to a voodoo-priestess and possessed by the souls of various killers. He sets about slaying a bunch of local teenagers who stand in between him and the surviving granddaughter of the voodoo chick.

Crowning moment: Unpleasant teen Bijou Phillips is caught stealing from the killer’s cash register, gets trapped under a car, and is sand-blasted to death.

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Toothache

DARKNESS FALLS

3 Stars  2003/15/82m

“An eye for an eye. Your life for a tooth.”

Director: Jonathan Liebesman / Writers: Joe Harris, John Fasano & James Vanderbilt / Cast: Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield, Lee Cormie, Grant Piro, Sullivan Stapleton, Steve Mouzakis, Rebecca McCauley, Peter Curtin, Kestie Morassi, Jenny Lovell, John Stanton.

Body Count: 12

Laughter Lines: “All this over a fucking tooth!?”


Given that tagline, you’d be forgiven for thinking Darkness Falls might be a comedy (should’ve stuck with the far more pithy ‘Evil Rises’). Well, there are parts to laugh at, but this is one po-faced PG-13 profit monster from down under; it raked in almost $50million on the back of an $11million budget.

Yes, it’s a body count horror film about The Tooth Fairy. THE TOOTH FAIRY! Rather than go into details around the origins of such a figure, we get an real quick ADD-aware intro about local woman Mathilda Dixon, who lived in the eponymous town 150 years earlier. Affectionately known as The Tooth Fairy by the kids, whom she gave a gold coin in exchange for lost teeth, until the day some kids disappeared and she – a burn victim who was confined to the shadows – was blamed and hanged “in the light” (that last bit is apparently important). Turns out the kids were fine and dandy, the town was wrong, and covered up their faux pas, as these appropriately named townships always do.

Zoom forward to the almost-present and young Kyle Walsh loses the last of his baby teeth, which he puts under the pillow to be collected. But local legend says that if you see The Tooth Fairy, she’ll kill you. He sees her and escapes, alerting his mom who does the usual “it’s okay, darling” routine until she catches a glimpse in the mirror and is clawed to death.

Zoom forward again and adult Kyle (the late Kley – who somewhat ironically died in his sleep) is summoned back to town by childhood crush Caitlin (Caulfield, who was the always hilarious Anya in Buffy). Her ickle brother Michael is exhibiting the same weird behaviour Kyle claimed was present at the death of his mother: “She’ll get me!” etc. and will not go anywhere dark.

The Tooth Fairy/Mathilda still has it in for Kyle and does all she can to finish him off, killing rednecks, Caitlin’s man-friend, some nurses, and cops, while the trio of characters afforded any personality/names are on the run from her flying fiendishness by staying in the light at all times. Even when all lights fail. And torches. Car engines. You name it, it breaks.

The villain is shown a little too much and resembles the trio of flying witches in Disney film Hocus Pocus, but in accordance with the teen-sucking rating, shots of anything deemed remotely scary are fleeting and that old bugger shaky-cam syndrome is in full force.

A lighthouse finale lends itself to the predictable CG-heavy outcome and the expected “but she still exists!” threat is not, for once, obliged in the outro, which I suspect was added to fatten the 72 minute run time (the credits roll for a full ten, though to the rockin’ tune of Vixtroa’s excellent Gunboat).

Darkness Falls is bloodless, entirely predictable, and riddled with cavities. But be damned, I like it! High-end production values help, as do some effective shots and stuntwork and fairly tense chase scenes. The producers insisted they were deliberately trying not to make a slasher film but that’s what they’ve have, albeit a variant more along the lines of Jeepers Creepers than, say, Terror Train, but there’s an after school popcorn feel to it that warms my cockles. Eww.

As the concept of a killer Tooth Fairy is yet to be perfected, you can also try the far more obviously titled The Tooth Fairy, which is more of your straight-up slasher flick.

Blurbs-of-interest: Liebesman directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning; Kestie Morassi (the younger nurse) was one of the doomed backpackers in Wolf Creek.

“Why won’t you just fucking die?”

Not quite Trade-a-Life, but there are some films where somebody should cark it, and then doesn’t. Here are a few of them:

Scott from Bloodmoon (1989)

Set at the posh Winchester private school, you can bet your life that there would be no shortage of utter pricks flouncing about, and in the slasher movie realm, these horrible individuals should meet a grisly end. Not so in Bloodmoon, where ringleader of the twats, Scott, is not only having sex with the wife of a teacher (who turns out to be the killer), but is cruel to people, starts fights, gets by on being rich, and DOESN’T DIE! even when caught by the killer in bed with his missus! He just lets him go and shoots her instead. One of those movies where girls are done in on all sides but boys can act like total assholes and get away with it.

*

Crissy from Prom Night (2008)

Queen Bee from Whatever High is hellbent on being crowned Prom Queen, but her dream is thwarted by the arrival of a loony killer who’s after boring final girl Donna. What’s more infuriating for her is that before she evacuates, she rips open the envelope to find one of her nicer rivals was to be crowned instead. Said nicer rival has been slashed to ribbons elsewhere while schemey, Mean Girl-lite Crissy strides out of there intact. Boo.

*

Tracy from Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

As they went on, the Elm Street films became less and less concerned with horror and more about cameos and tie-in merchandise. Such is the case in what was, at the time, the supposed last hurrah for Freddy Krueger, as he slashed his way through some teens from a halfway house after they venture into Springwood. There’s already a nominal final girl in Maggie (Lisa Zane), who turns out be to connected to Freddy, and Yaphet Kotto is around too, but why spare Tracy? The other victims – all boys – number a paltry three and the film really could’ve benefitted from another decent scene. Her survival is pretty pointless in a genre where it’s all about body count.

*

Dr Reynolds / Pervy Teacher from Final Exam (1981)

According to myth, Dr Reynolds was to be offed in the script, but the budget was so tight they had to cut the scene. Instead, we’re left with a situation echoing that of Bloodmoon where the girl is punished with death after engaging in an affair with her married teacher and he lives to lecture another day!

*

Paul from Halloween (1978)

What does Paul look like? Whoever he is, he was lucky to escape the same fate that ended Laurie’s crush on Ben Tramer. But wouldn’t it have been cool if El Jerko come to the Wallace house looking for Annie after she never turned up to collect him? Did he just forget about it and go out with his buddies? This is the solitary plus point that Rob Zombie’s version of the film gets; Paul did come over and he did run into Michael Myers and he did die.

*

There’s nothing wrong or uncreative about playing the the fates of characters; in fact I’d encourage the makers of slasher films not to be predictable with who does or doesn’t buy the farm, but these guys, they really should’ve been found skewered in a corner somewhere as they kinda deserved it…

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