Tag Archives: slasher films that aren’t supposed to be funny but are funny

Honor and obey

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POSSESSION: UNTIL DEATH DO YOU PART

1 Stars  1987/93m

Directors: Lloyd A. Simandl & Michael Mazo / Writers: Lyne J. Grantham & Lloyd A. Simandl / Cast: John Robert Johnston, Melissa Martin, Cat Williams, Leanne Jaheny, Samra Wolfin, April Alkins, Geraldine Farrell, Monica Marko, Rupert Grant, Shane Carlsson.

Body Count: 14

Laughter Lines: “There won’t be anybody up there – we’ll be ALL. BY. OURSELVES.”


Irredeemably boring T&A fare, notable only for starring the bitchy girl, Tamara, from Jason Takes Manhattan as the final girl.

She, Madeline (Sharlene Martin, credited here as Melissa), is abducted one night by a whiny-voiced, mother-fixated loon, Frankie, who takes girls home, forces them to dress in Mom’s clothes, and, if they’re not ‘nice’ enough, are murdered.

Madeline succeeds in escaping, but the police are almost completely apathetic, and it’s her gang of indistinguishably cloney gal-pals who suggest driving around to look for the guy, whom they run into almost straight away. Ill-prepared for this venture, they flee, cops intervene, Frankie escapes in a rowing boat WHICH EXPLODES WHEN SHOT AT.

An exploding wooden rowing boat.

Shortly thereafter, the girls – who might be escorts, it was unclear – go to a strip club and arrange for a couple of the suspiciously camp dancers to join them up at so-and-so’s uncle’s cabin in the woods for a bachelorette party.

Acting, hair, and fashion choices - about the only things you'll remember from Possession

Bad acting, hair, and fashion choices – about the only things you’ll remember from Possession

Predictably, Frankie ain’t dead and soon comes looking for Madeline once again, offing a couple of her friends who didn’t go on the trip, but hangs around long enough to hear an answerphone message that conveniently gives the full address of the cabin. Lord.

The girls party, make out with the gay strippers, Frankie comes along. That’s about all you need to know. It’s bodaciously unexciting, replete with clichés so dense you’d need a Humvee to plough through them: One girl goes off on her own to photograph trees! The car won’t start. The girl who had a bath conveniently never pulled the plug so the killer can drown her in it. It doesn’t stop.

Even when the killer’s presence is discovered, the last girls standing abandon the comparable fortitude of the cabin (which has a push-bar door!?) to run into the woods, where the killer, disabled by a speargun arrow while they flee, somehow teleports in front of them to jump out from behind a tree, and so they run BACK to the fucking cabin where there’s a gun!

Said woods are mysterious and wild, we know this because every time a character walks through them pan pipe music plays. This might mean something if the killer were a Native American rather than a camp-voiced suburban mama’s boy.

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Brimming over with protracted T&A scenes that go thusly: Girl has shower, girl lathers up own boobs for ages, girl dresses up in kinky clothes, girl is stabbed >>> Girl has bath, girl washes self, girl dresses and paints own nails, girl is drowned in bath she never bothered emptying >>> Girl has shower, girl soaps up boobs, girl’s throat is cut in shower. Somebody somewhere does not want women to exercise good hygiene, or worse, has some real issues with their gender, note when one young woman talks about a guy she met and her friend replies: “You were in a BAR?” Why the hell not? She’s young and vivacious, should she only be allowed in the kitchen or the convent?

A plodding, dullard of a feature with absolutely nothing to recommend it unless pastel fashions, awful hair, and naked chicks in the shower is enough. With fourteen bodies dropped, there’s hardly even any grue to speak of.

This is a film nobody need possess.

Blurb-of-interest: Director Simandl also helmed the equally barren Ripper 2: Letters from Within.

Valley of the (not so) Cheapjack Franchises: The Texas Chainsaw Remakes

Probably unpopularly, all of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre canon ranks as one of my least favourite series’ in horror. The 1974-1994 set (plus that godawful 2013 instalment) do next to nothing for me, but what of the Platinum Dunes/Michael Bay ‘re-imaginings’?

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THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE

3.5 Stars  2003/18/95m

“What you know about fear…doesn’t even come close.”

Director: Marcus Nispel / Writer: Scott Kosar / Cast: Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Erica Leerhsen, Jonathan Tucker, Mike Vogel, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Terrence Evans, Marietta Marich.

Body Count: 7


Michael Bay has much to answer for, and I imagine a mob of horror fans would crucify him for being the poster boy of the remake era, which was a quiet zone of horror filmmaking around 2003, until the announcement of a “re-imagining” of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Twelve years on, it’s an easy equation to comprehend. The 1974 film was notorious, banned in numerous countries, and had a name that is far more suggestive than any of the content. Sooner or later, someone was going to say “Enough with sequels! Remake it!”

Fortunately for me, I have no strong feelings towards the original. I first saw it at a midnight screening in the late 90s and it was a headache of a film. My friend turned to me halfway through and said: “This is probably the most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen.” I found it entertaining enough, but not the monstrosity we all expected (same with The Exorcist, which also lost its UK ban in the same time period), and nothing I really cared about seeing again.

Authentic 70s names: Erin, Andy, Pepper, Morgan, Kemper

Our authentic 70s characters: Erin, Andy, Pepper, Morgan, Kemper

The 2003 over-do remains traceably loyal to the ‘true’ story: A van of five teenagers, on their way back from Mexico and on to see Lynyrd Skynyrd, roll into a nightmare. Stopping to help out a girl walking down the road is the grave error they make, as she wastes little time in putting a pistol in her mouth. They find that summoning help is difficult and the locals seem less than fazed about their dilemma, one which they soon argue about: Leave the body and scram, or wait for help?

From here, the Dead Teenager conventions come into play: Two of the group go to the creepy house nearby where one vanishes, looking for him reveals Leatherface, who gives chase wielding the titular weapon. Toss in the imitation-Sheriff (inimitably played by R. Lee Ermey), who the kids wrongly trust, and they sink deeper into the nightmare.

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Before long it’s all down to off-the-marks final girl Erin (Biel), whose luck just keeps getting worse: Everybody she calls on for help is part of the extended family of loons, and she’s soon at their mercy until she manages to escape. From there, it’s abrasive cat and mouse scenes as Leatherface stalks her through the woods, an abandoned shack, eventually to the abattoir.

Whereas the old film pre-dated our understanding of killed-one-by-one plot structure, and is therefore only arguably a slasher film at all, there is no such uncertainty in the remake: We know Erin is going to be the last one standing, we know the others will be laid to waste (it’s just a case of picking the order in which they go), and we hope she’s able to exact a gruesome revenge on her captors.

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So everything works on a mechanical level, but the over-stylized look of the film begins to work against it after awhile, and the fact that Wrong Turn had been released just a few months earlier hoovers up much of the ‘originality’ of the ‘re-imagining': Dirt, grime, rednecks who don’t give a shit.

Everything is very dark and earthy, supposedly to give it an authentic look, but at times it goes too far, while it clashes with the youngsters, who aren’t convincingly ’70s kids’ at all, no matter if you deduct cellphones and brand names, the language they use and even their names are too contemporary to wash. Gunnar Hansen – the original Leatherface – pointed out that the film was shot at chest-level to keep Jessica Biel’s bust in the frame as much as possible, not to mention the moments where her white blouse gets very, very wet.

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Roger Ebert famously gave this film a rare no-stars, and his reasoning is valid enough, but it’s still a solid remake, not too entrenched in the cynicism which was to come with every other horror title they began stuffing through the machine. It’s just that they ‘re-imagined’ it with too little subtlety, so it’s more of a box-ticking exercise than a grafted horror experience.

Blame it for ushering in the dawn of the remake, but enjoy it for breaking out of the tame, studio-slick horror that was beginning to wane in the wake of Scream.

 *

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THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING

2 Stars 2006/18/92m

“Witness the birth of fear.”

Director: Jonathan Liebesman / Writers: Sheldon Turner & David J. Schow / Cast: Jordana Brewster, Matthew Bomer, Diora Baird, Taylor Handley, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Lee Tergesen, Terrence Evans, Marietta Marich, Kathy Lamkin, Cyia Batten, Lew Temple.

Body Count: 10


While I remember going to see this at the movies with my pal Earl, I don’t remember buying the DVD, but there it was on my shelf, possibly unwatched.

As the 2003 film ended the trail of horror left by Leatherface and the Hewitts, the only logical next step to cash-in on its success was to go back… back to “The Beginning”. Ish.

Starting with a very brief 1939-set intro that sees Thomas Hewitt born in a meat-packing factory, while the credits whirr, there are old sepia photos and doctor’s notes about his deformity and within minutes it’s 1969 and Tommy loses his job at the slaughterhouse when it’s closed down as the town dies (economically, it’s not chainsawed to pieces).

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He flips and kills the owner, leading to his clan intervening and ultimately shooting the local Sheriff (“the only law enforcement left”) and taking up cannibalism in the blink of an eye.

Elsewhere, a jeep of two couples heading to Austin where brothers Eric and Dean are going to enlist and be carted off to Vietnam, hurtles towards the Hewitt residence. With their girlfriends in tow for one last weekend of fun, it all goes to shit when they’re accosted by a motorcycling robber, hit a cow at high speed, and crash.

They believe they’re in luck when ‘the Sheriff’ turns up almost immediately, but when he guns down the would-be robber, something seems just a bit more than ‘off’. Eric’s girlfriend, Chrissie, was hurtled into the long grass in the crash and hides while her friends are assaulted and driven away to be tortured and eaten.

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The rest of the film is largely a re-tread (pre-tread?): Chrissie sneaks her way into the house to try and save them, but is too late and eventually ends up caught and invited to dinner, in a scene reminiscent of the 1974 film that was never ‘re-imagined’ into the remake. So samey is it, that she’s chased through the woods to the slaughterhouse for the finale! And, being that we know the Hewitts weren’t caught for a few more years, things don’t look good for anybody surviving this one.

Production values are high, as before, this time with Jonathan Liebesman’s slightly more grounded direction, but whatever appealed to me in 2006 has since gone: Watching the film in 2015 was a pure endurance test. On the one hand it brings nothing new to the table, a few explanations of character attributes aren’t reason enough to make a whole new movie, and it also made contact with, and crossed, my ‘line’.

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My ‘line’ exists where fun entertainment ends and cruelty begins. While the 2003 film wasn’t exactly doing cartwheels of joy, it was exhilarating without being stupidly violent; Here, the film practically revels in demonstrating how gross it is, with peeled off faces, blood rain, chainsaw vivisections… But not an ounce of a good time. A scene in which a dying character says they can no longer feel their limbs and are cold is upsetting, not exhilarating.

Plenty of people will say “well, that’s real horror” etc., but horror is like comedy – we all find different things acceptable or funny. A horror film without the re-equilibrium is just depressing, which is why the first one gets a pass and this doesn’t. There’s no element of mystery or surprise, and rooting for a survivor is futile – The Beginning is just killing for the sake of it.

The film skates over how quickly the family turns from struggling to evil, embracing their newfound cannibalism in what must be no longer than twenty-four hours, and the script makes Ermey the focal point over and above both Leatherface and the tormented teenagers, unable to realise that what made him so good before was moderation. He’s a one-liner away from Freddy Krueger levels of camp at times.

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In the much thinner plus column, Jordana Brewster is a solid heroine, slightly more believable than Jessica Biel was as a child of the time. She has an opportunity to escape without being detected, but is loyal that she goes back to try and save a friend she can hear screaming elsewhere. It’s that pivot scene that tells us a lot about her character – she’s admirably unselfish, regardless of the eventual cost.

A depressing experience in all, although better than the original sequels and the 2013 film, serving only to compound my resistance to this series as a whole: It’s just not very good.

Blurbs-of-interest: Erica Leerhsen was also in Wrong Turn 2 (ha!) and Lonely Joe; Terrence Evans was in The Pumpkin Karver; Diora Baird was in the even worse Stan Helsing; Lee Tergesen was in The Collection; Cyia Batten was in Killer Movie; Andrew Bryniarski was in The Curse of El Charro; Marcus Nispel directed the Friday the 13th remake; Jonathan Liebesman directed Darkness Falls.

In the event of an emergency, run to the nearest carousel

HOUSE OF DEATH

2.5 Stars 1981/18/89m

“He wants their bodies …in pieces.”

A.k.a. Death Screams

Director: David Nelson / Writer: Paul C. Elliott / Cast:  Susan Kiger, Martin Tucker, William T. Hicks, Jennifer Chase, Jody Kay, John Kohler, Andria Savio, Kurt Rector, Josh Gamble, Helene Tryon, Mary Fran Lyman, Hans Manship, Monica Boston, Mike Brown, Sharon Alley.

Body Count: 11

Laughter Lines: “If his brains were TNT he couldn’t muster a good fart!”


Beware thy spoilers

This junky, but okay Friday the 13th copy starts as all good slasher films should, with a young couple’s lovemaking interrupted by murder. In this instance, they’re somehow doing it on a motorcycle (!?) when some fiend comes along and, it seems in the dim lighting that plagues this production, strangles both with the same noose, before disposing of their bodies in the river.

The plunge of their corpses into water – in flicky slo-mo – is accompanied with an overwrought score that looks like a cheap attempt at a Bond movie credit sequence. Unlike most scratchy-string slasher scores (try saying that five times), it sounds like a whole orchestra was drafted in to provide music for House of Death.

Cut to Anywheresville, USA, where the locals are enjoying the carnival at the end of summer: Highschool coach Neil is sad to see two of his favourite students about to leave for college, shop girl Lilly is… well, not much really; dumpy Sheriff Avery is keeping law, and the usual gaggle of over-aged actors pretend to be the local teen contingent.

Coach Neil takes a shine to Lilly and asks her on a date, much to the chagrin of some random girl (I called her Headband Girl), who jealously covers his car in shaving foam and then wanders away from the crowds, only to be shot in the back with an arrow. She flees, seemingly running away from the carnival, to a disused carousel. Now, I know the first thing I’d do if wounded in such a way would be to seek out the nearest merry-go-round, so she’s clearly a smart girl. Or not, as once in the ‘safety’ of the carousel, it starts turning and someone is able to asphyxiate her with a plastic bag. She dies in about three seconds. See this former Ridiculous Scene O’ the Month here.

For what seems like weeks, we watch the over-aged teens on rides, on the bouncy castle, ferris wheel, in the funhouse… Eventually they decide tonight is right for an end-of-summer party near the lake. Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s slow son Casey flits about, adhering to Robert Downey Jr’s speech about ‘going full retard’ in Tropic Thunder. Naturally, he is a major suspect. Lilly is cajoled into attending the camp-out, hoping that Neil will also go. What kind of pot-smokin’, pre-marital-sex-having teens invite their teacher?

A touch of equal opportunity objectification: House of Death has it all!

After an hour, one of the group goes skinny dipping and the bodies of the two pre-credits victims (seen throughout the film floating downstream) collide with her, the killing can finally begin. The others, thinking she’s just left, go to the cemetery to tell ghost stories but get rained out, seeking shelter in an abandoned house. THE house. The one from the title. It finally debuts 73 minutes into the 89 minute film.

There are 16 minutes remaining to kill eight characters, subdue the loon, and roll the credits. Get a move on.

Unlike, say, The Final Terror, the killer does at least shift his ass into gear and swiftly does away with most of them, but it becomes a meta slasher flick, what should’ve been spread over at least 45 minutes is crammed into 14: There’s a beheading, a throat slashing, and one guy dies from both hands being chopped off. Last to go is the town slut, Ramona, who falls through a rotten staircase: As the others try to heave her free, she’s cut in half at the waist.

But wait… Wasn’t the killer outside the front door, literally ten seconds earlier? Yes, but House of Death isn’t bothered about such liberties… Hell, the fucking house only just bothered to show up.

With the good kids and Lilly left, the killer bursts forth and we get maybe ten seconds to work out who it is and why they did it. Lots has been made of the bad edit in this scene, and one earlier, which had us believe said character was dead, but on this viewing, I just about heard the name called out before the guy is taken down with a cut throat, tumble through a second storey glass window, and then an exploded head, courtesy of the just-in-time sheriff.

What gives, House of Death? Don’t ask me, and don’t look for answers in either of the available UK DVD releases, both are cut, despite what the boxes say, and both have been placed on the DVD out of order: For instance, rather than the reels going 1, 2, 3, 4, it goes 1, 2, 4, 3. If you’re a smart cookie, you could re-author it on to a new disc, otherwise just buy American.

“…And nobody had a fucking clue what had just happened.”

So it’s under-lit, badly chopped, and the slasher part of it only lasts a few minutes, but House of Death is similar in tone to Final Exam or The Slumber Party Massacre: it’s just pure stalk n’ slash silliness. Had the mystery element been amped up and the editor been a little harsher in the early scenes, it could be a minor cult classic.

Blurbs-of-interest: Several actors from this film were also in the coma-inducing Christian propaganda flick A Day of Judgment.

Pepsi will save the day!

THE NIGHT BRINGS CHARLIE

2.5 Stars  1990/76m

Director: Tom Logan / Writer: Bruce Carson / Cast: Kerry Knight, Joe Fishback, Aimie Tenalia, Monica Simmons, Chuck Whiting, David Carr, Moire Reagan.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “We were together in Saigon and I was the one who tried to piece him together after the chainsaw accident…”


Laughable but likeable Orlando-shot throwback, The Night Brings Charlie orbits around your common-or-garden small town – Pakoe – and the series of decapitation murders plaguing it. The new Sheriff (Knight) has no clue, and the M.E.’s dim-witted daughter Jenny seems to keep finding herself embroiled in it.

The sack-hooded, goggle-wearing killer stalks the town after dark, collecting the heads of nubile teens, unless they are protected by the magic of Pepsi. That’s right, a big-boobed girl taking a shower is about to lose her noggin when the can of Diet Pepsi she has falls into the tub and seemingly scares off the killer! Also check the number of times said soft drink’s logo appears in the background.

Playing out like a gored-up episode of Murder, She Wrote, there’s not much going on in the film: The dopey Sheriff figures things out while Jenny’s overprotective Dad worries, and eponymous suspect Charlie, the deformed local tree-trimmer whose chosen uniform happens to be an exact match for the killer’s, is hauled in for questioning… A mid-point “twist” is revealed with all the acting muscle of a dead jellyfish: The murderer confesses as if his crime is as serious as an unpaid parking ticket. I almost expected Angela Lansbury to appear and shake her head disapprovingly. At the performance if not the crime.

A few more schmucks die as Jenny takes on a dare to sneak into the barn where Charlie lives. Clearly too dense to bail when her friends don’t show up, instead of going home, Jenny goes to the barn anyway and comes faces to face with the killer. Showdown, chainsaw, various other farm implements (but surprisingly no cans of Pepsi to throw at the encroaching killer), open ending. Done.

In reality, The Night Brings Charlie sucks, but I was strangely fond of its 80s/90s-cusp colour scheme, the constant lullaby of cicadas, and an unconscious thirst for Pepsi. The Sheriff’s sarcastic receptionist provides a few snarky one-liners too. It’s about as memorable as a night in a Travelodge, but, equally, does its job adequately enough.

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.

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