Tag Archives: sorority

The House on Memory Lane

THE SLEEPER

3.5 Stars  2012/90m

“If I die before I wake…”

Director/Writer: Justin Russell / Cast: Brittany Belland, E. Ray Goodwin Jr., Jason Jay Crabtree, Jenna Fournier, Ali Ferda, Paul Moon, Elizabeth Lane, Riana Ballo, Eric Sarich, Jessica Cameron, Tiffany Arnold, Beverly Kristy, Aaron Russell, Joe Bob Briggs.

Body Count: 14


Will the 80s ever really leave us? It seems a lot of us are hanging on to the memories and the nostalgia, wishing for the simplicity of life as it was. Well, sort of. I was born in ’78 so the first half of the decade is largely a blank of nappies, playschool, and – shudder – church.

Justin Russell evidently loves the 80s too and was kind enough – hell, driven enough – to recreate a bit of it in The Sleeper, a film carefully tailored and calculated to look as if it’s a newly discovered slasher also-ran.

Just inhale that delectable artwork and the title credit. If that doesn’t scream “it’s 1981, bitches!” at you than what does?

Beginning with a curiously extraneous prologue set in 1979, a sorority girl is murdered (we assume, it’s not shown and never mentioned again) in her room by a hammer-toting maniac who creeps into the house. Two years later, it’s every horror buff’s favourite year, when it was simply too dangerous to go to college/camp/school/a party, and the girls at the Theta sorority host a little soiree to attract new pledges, including shy student Amy and her anti-Greek roomie Ava.

Over the next 24 hours or so, the house is plagued by creepy phonecalls. A whisper of a voice says the name of a sister and that she’ll be next. Subsequently, the girls disappear in that order: Cindy gets her head literally hammered in, Rebecca’s face is ripped away, and Stacy loses her head.

The police are summoned and start of a protection detail after Cindy’s boyfriend reports her missing, but it’s too feeble an operation to stop the wild-eyed loon, who now has his sights firmly set on Amy.

Sleeper-hammer-2

I know what you’re thinking. I thought it too: Black Christmas. Well, yeah, Russell borrows heavily from the quintessential pre-slasher slasher movie. But then, didn’t every other film in 1981 borrow heavily from something that came before it? Look at Final Exam aping Halloween. There are also echoes of He Knows You’re Alone at play and we see a poster for miserablist “character study” Don’t Go in the House on a wall in the background. This should be an aficionados dream.

In the pro column, Russell executes things with an almost flawless of-the-time look. The floaty POV shots and low-level angles that only show the killer’s black-booted feet slowly stalking the next victim would fool anybody into thinking that The Sleeper is an old 80s flick. The house and its decor are suitably dated and the shrill ring of the telephone reminded me of a time before touch-tone, cellulars and smart phones.

Perhaps where the film doesn’t succeed so much is with the actors. While the sub-$30,000 budget is used to great effect, the young actors didn’t necessarily convey the same flair as their genuine contemporaries of 1981 did: hairstyles are anodyne and fashions bland, so much so that they don’t scream 80s like many of the old films do. The sorority girls are far more preened and ‘modern’ than their sisters of yore. It renders the film indeterminable to the era it’s set in, as does the vernacular on show. Not that there was particular slang common to the early 80s bust, but again it’s diluted so that it isn’t obvious. A similar problem befell timewarp-slasher film Camp Daze, although the fact that that film was shit also depleted its effect.

Don’t let these mild blurring of edges discourage you from giving it a whirl, Russell conjures up some good tension. In fact, I’d go so far to say I was a little creeped out by a couple of scenes. Things peak with the excellently done lecture hall cat and mouse scene, which carries pleasant echoes of Wendy’s chase through the school in Prom Night.

The dismal IMDb rating of The Sleeper is reflective of a generation used to frenetic edits, silicone-clad babes and exposition from an audience who say they want retro slasher films and then moan when they get one. I would say that the film does play like one of the less ‘classic’ examples of the era to which it pertains, somewhat subtracting from its appeal in the grand scheme of things.

The Sleeper is a nice stroll down memory lane. But, as always with nostalgia, the memories are often better than the reality.

Oh, how we laughed. Then died.

Happy April Fool’s Day.

Have you woken up to a pie in the face? Been told some bizarre fact about someone that you naively took as gospel? Or did a group of your peers play a joke on you so damaging that at this very moment you’re sketching out ideas for a gruesome revenge scenario?

Hey, it happens! Just take a look at these five gags that went “a bit wrong”…

Kenny Hampson and The Corpse Lady of Terror Train (1980)

Why: Prank-loving med student Doc (a yet-to-be-semi-famous Hart Bochner) masterminds a cruel initiation gag on shy, magic loving dork, Kenny, to induct him into their fraternity.

The Joke: On the promise that if he ventures upstairs to the bedroom of a (frat?) house, Kenny will pop his cherry with campus hottie Alana (Jamie Lee Curtis), who’s only been clued in a little ways in the plot. She hides behind a veil and says things like “kiss me, Kenny,” while the skinny lad disrobes and climbs into bed with a figure whom he believes to be Alana. And Alana and her gal-pal Mitchy think it’s just a friend of Doc’s.

Instead, the girl in the bed is a dismembered corpse pilfered from a hospital morgue. Kenny almost gets down and dirty with it before she quite literally falls to pieces in his arms and then freaks out in some weird disco spinning motion that sees him entangled in a veil while his frat-brothers-to-never-be burst in and laugh and point.

The Revenge: Three years later, Kenny’s back from the mental hospital and he’s still understandably pissed and homicidal. Doc, Alana, and friends have boarded an excursion train to celebrate their graduation costume-party style and it’s not long before members of their clique start disappearing until only Alana is left to fight off Kenny…

The Learning: Pick your victim carefully. If he appears to be your typical introverted nerd, chances are he’s a raging ball of anti-populous fury who might snap if he’s rejected and ridiculed one more time.

Marty Rantzen and The Naked Shower Humiliation of Slaughter High (1986)

Why: Marty (Simon Scuddamore) is the requisite bookish nerd at Doddsville High (which looks suspiciously like Surrey, England), who annoys the wrong group of popular jocks and their bitchy girlfriends.

The Joke: In retaliation, they decide to play an April Fool’s prank on him by setting him up with campus hottie Carol (Caroline Munro) – seeing a theme? – only to find that after he strips naked in a shower stall, the curtain is ripped back and her group of friends are there with a camera and hose him down. On this occasion, the group are caught and given detention by the coach and so nasty leader Skip sets about resetting the scales and this ends up with Marty getting doused in acid that disfigures him.

The Revenge: Ten years later, the popular group receive invites to a bogus reunion party at the now abandoned school, where Marty – donning a suitably eerie jester mask – soon locks them in and unleashes a veritable cornucopia of fatal ‘jokes’ on them: Poisoned beer; an acid bath; electrified bed… until it’s just him and Carol left alone in the old school.

The Learning: Similar to Terror Train, hell hath no fury like a nerd scorned – or, in this case, scorched. And that groups of jocks are unbelievably stupid.

Cropsy the Janitor and The Wormy Skull in The Burning (1981)

Why: Mean-spirited summer camp custodian, Cropsy, ritually torments the kids of Camp Blackfoot. We don’t see any of this but it’s related later around a campfire. He used to freak them out with his oversized pair of pruning shears. Either way, the campers hate his ass.

The Joke: A group of teenage boys decide to get their own back on the Crospter by creeping him out, possibly in the hope of inducing some sort of coronary. One of them sneaks into his on-site shack and deposits an item at the foot of his bed before going back outside where the group begin tapping on the window. Gently at first and then louder until the man awakes and is greeted with the sight of a worm-infested skull with a candle inside it. Freaking as required, he spills the skull on to his sheets and is soon engulfed in flames. Turned into a “fucking Big Mac” with no hope of skin graphs restoring his appearance, he’s finally released from the hospital five years later and the only thing on his mind… is MURDER!

The Revenge: Crospy crashes another summer camp in the vicinity and stalks and kills various teen campers, using his trademark shit-scary shears to slice, dice and snip shrieking teens to death, including the memorable five-for-one raft scene.

Strangely, Cropsy’s revenge is of the scattergun approach. He targets campers. The particular group responsible get away Scot free (bar one who happens to be a counsellor at the new camp) and the unknowing, innocent, holidaymakers of Camp Stonewater become is hapless new prey.

The Learning: Think through your prank logically. Is there a chance it could go awry and end up maiming somebody? ‘Cos if it does, odds are they ain’t gonna be pleased about it. Also, some victims go so batshit crazy that they’ll take revenge of anyone they can…

The College Kids and The Fake Campus Massacre of Final Exam (1981)

Why: Why not? it seems. The brothers of “the wildest frat house on campus – yeeeaaaahhh!!!” decide to fake a fucking MASSACRE just so their lazy president can cheat on a test and keep his car.

The Joke: So, while a group of masked assailants “gun down” random students at the front of the school, walking bouffant, John, oh-so-cleverly marks his own test paper with the perfect score and hides it in the completed pile while everyone’s attention is focused on what’s happening outside.

The Revenge: Weirdly, in this case, the prank doesn’t affect the killer at all. Instead, it serves to prevent the local cops from taking seriously his arrival on campus when the bodies start piling up – fortunately those of Lazy John and a couple of his idiotic frat brothers included.

However, sucks to be one of the other poor schmucks stuck on campus with an anonymous, unmotivated psychopath.

The Learning: You might think your little joke is a victimless crime, but the joke’s on you if you need help further down the line and nobody believes you! At that point, you become the boy who cried wolf and, frankly, you deserve to be throttled with gym equipment.

The Frat Party and The Photo of the Creepy-Voiced Priest in Happy Hell Night (1991)

Why: Again, getting into the fraternity/sorority of your choice trumps all semblance of sense and rational thought in the American – or Canadian – college system. Fuck the consequences, I want in!

The Joke: Two pledges, cool, calm, collected Sonny (Franke Hughes) and his dorky friend whose name I’ve forgotten, are tasked with breaking into the local mental asylum and taking a photograph of imprisoned legendary Satanic priest, Zachary Malius, who had murdered several frat brothers 25 years earlier.

The Revenge: Of course, Malius escapes – after killing the dorky one – and heads straight back to the frat house where a big party has just finished, leaving a handful of amorous couples alone in the dark. One by one, they all get offed in various ways, each time left with a little fortune cookie style quip from the E.T.-voiced loon: “No TV! No sex! No way Sam Rockwell is ever gonna live down being in this!”

The Learning: A simple frat joke can still be a deadly one. Responsibility is key. In fact, Sonny almost does the right thing and considers the whole shebang an immature waste of time as it is. But when your dad is Darren McGavin, there’s a little bit of pressure applied to conform. So, suck it, horny teens!

* * *

There we have it, just SOME of the jokes that didn’t go as planned. Other notable examples include breaking into old buildings with bloody histories to steal ornaments n’ such, pretending to be dead, pretending to be alive, tricking your friends, scaring your parents/siblings/housemother…

The list is endless so stick with whoopee cushions and custard pies.

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Trade-a-Life III

Here we go again, playing God with the lives of hopeless slasher movie characters… As ever, contribute, criticise, shout n’ scream. Hell, it’s not like we can change any of it now…

Watch out for those ma-hoosive spoilers!

THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW

A double Trade to start off this time. The sorority girlies of the house on, y’know, the row (…assumedly of other sorority houses), were most definitely guilty of killing their acid-tongued housemother in a prank gone wrong and as such, they probably deserved what they got. Well, the ones who were in on the joke, for sure. Requisite nice girl Kate is the only one with a wise head on her shoulders but I was quite sad to see overgrown-child Morgan (Jodi Draigie) and ribbon-haired Jeanie (Robin Meloy) go out violently.

I’d have much preferred to see leading-bitch Vicki’s greasy man-toy (who supplied the very gun that was used in the gag-gone-bad) turn up willy-nilly and getting that creepy-ass walking stick through his head… Or there’s Kate’s dorky date-for-the-night Peter (Michael Kuhn), who is pretty much innocent in it all but could’ve been meanly killed off to add fire to Kate’s strikeback. He didn’t do much else that was interesting. May as well’ve died!

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES

This is a bit of a popular one as I’ve read a few times that people were sad to see Camp Forest Green counsellor Paula (Kerry Noonan) exit proceedings so brutally. Even the filmmakers seemed to think enough of her to give her an off-camera death (sort of). We see Jason burst into the room and the camera cuts to the exterior where a blood splash redecorates the window before Paula’s corpse is smashed through the glass. Yeah…still kinda mean for the nice girl whose only concern was the little kiddies.

Now, this was recently altered from a swap with surviving gal Megan (Jennifer Cooke) but it was pointed out that the kids at camp were far, far more deserving of Jason’s chop so it has come to pass that having failed to find a good group shot of all the kids at camp, I nominate about the only ones who get any lines of dialogue (bar the little girl who has a nightmare): Ty and Billy (played by brothers Justin and Tommy Nowell, one of whom later appeared in Sleepaway Camp II). They’re sarcastic and whingey for their cumulative two or three minutes on screen so they should die instead of Paula. Jason’s been far too liberal when it comes to kids in the past, he should’ve made an example of these two.

URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT

Urban Legends 2 is a strange little slasher flick but a pretty good one all the same: student/final girl Amy (Jennifer Morrison) finds her friends/crew being stalked n’ slashed one by one by a fencing-masked loon with some ridiculous motive up his sleeve (and it is really ridiculous). Strangely, not only she and her obligatory love interest are left at the end. Reese (Loretta Devine) is there, natch, but bizarrely two other random guys are left unscathed… Weird.

They’re red herrings, of course, but even once the killer is revealed they could’ve been done away with. Especially sleaze-merchant rich-boy Graham (Joey Joseph Lawrence), who hangs around on his phone to his producer daddy all day and commits the unforgivable sin of suggesting Amy should insert CGI gore into her film rather than old fashioned latex grue!

So, give him the chop and let’s save import-a-camera-guy Schorm ‘Simon’ Jabuscko (Marco Hofschneider), who turns up to help the gang out, makes their film look all nice and does it all with a sexy European accent – and is then gruesomely beaten to death with a lens.

And they let Blossom’s little brother live!?

Stock Background Characters 101: The Loyal Best Friend

In this feature, we examine the lesser beings of the slasher movie realm, which, if you’re making your own slasher film, could provide a good cast roster for you.

No killer or final girl profiles here, this is a celebration of those underlings who made the most of their fleeting flirtation with stardom. And usually died.

Let’s give it up for THE LOYAL BEST FRIEND

Overview: Every girl needs a best friend – or BFF as “today’s youth” may call it. Every Final Girl really needs a best friend, someone who can make her feel better about that guy she thinks is stalking her. Unfortunately, a true friend’s work is never done and she (or even he) will usually end up making the ultimate sacrifice and dying for friendship.

Linguistic Snapshot: “I know you’re having trouble with Bobby and, even though I don’t like him much and wanted to stay home tonight, I’ll come with you to the party at the old mill to support you. After all, we’re friends aren’t we?”

Styling: The Loyal Best Friend is often a diluted version of the Final Girl, only not was watchful and paranoid and is usually up for a good time, more so than her slightly introverted, awkward best pal. In the 90s, LBF was frequently the outgoing, outspoken, slightly less sensible one of the pair – look at Sidney’s gal pal Tatum in Scream as well as Helen in I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Hallmarks: Being the best friend to the Final Girl means that LBF is a lively, oft-carefree spirit who has a boyfriend that she has next to no troubles with compared to the Final Girl, who is either too shy for boys or is constantly being messed around by her man or pressured to put out.

LBF does not judge, she supports. And sometimes she is more than a single entity, as the little gaggles of friends in Prom Night and He Knows You’re Alone illustrate, although there will always be the one girl who is closer and more understanding of the heroine than the others. Not that it’ll help her much, although she’ll doubtlessly outlive the less important friend.

Downfall: Going where your friend goes when there’s a killer after her is a dangerous manoeuvre as those around her have a habit of dropping dead. Most people would be like, “fuck this shit, I’m off to Hawaii!” but not the Loyal Best Friend – she comes along, plays her part, and is thanked with a knife in the head.

Alternatively, it is her carefree nature that gets her into trouble. As the killer is clearly after the Final Girl, why should she be in any danger, right? Look again as Tatum or Heather’s faithful babysitter Julie in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare – both are there for their friend despite perhaps not quite believing in the threat of the killer and then…THWACK! Dead.

Genesis: Slasher films have almost always revolved around groups of happy young women, from the sorority house in Black Christmas to the trio of Annie, Lynda and Laurie in Halloween. There’s almost always been a dependable female character whom the Final Girl can share a heart to heart with when boyfriends, parents and all manner of other people let her down (or die), only to have this friend snatched away so cruelly, giving Laurie, or Jess, or Amy, or Sarah the final push towards violently striking back at the killer when said friend’s body falls out of the wardrobe.

The first all-boxes-ticked Loyal Best Friend was probably Patty from My Bloody Valentine. While best mate Sarah was torn between two suitors and didn’t want to involve herself in festivities, it was Patty who kept things upbeat, sticking by her side through the night and, heartbreakingly, becoming the last victim – getting a pick-axe in her belly right in front of Sarah.

There’s also Mitchy in Terror Train, best friend and roommate of heroine Alana, who protects her friend’s emotions at all costs but is let down by her own drunken antics and hedonistic ways!

Legacy: Unlike some other fad-characters of the genre, the doomed best friend has, ahem, ‘survived’ to continue into the millennium, albeit with a few tweaks along the way. In Bride of Chucky, she became a he, a gay he, no less, who helped out Final Girl Jade and was at least spared being murdered by a thirty-six inch plastic doll, instead getting run over by a truck!

Elsewhere, the best friend has turned out to be not so pally after all and reveals herself to be the master of deception – she’s the killer!!! All the back-patting, kind words and hugging that Natalie received from Brenda in Urban Legend was faked! She hates her and wants her dead in the ultimate betrayal. Hell, if you’re boyfriend turns out to be the psycho that’s bad enough, but you’re confidante?? Harsh, man, harsh.

So the scape for the supporting role as the ‘nearly-heroine’ or the girl-who-would-be-the-final-girl-if-the-final-girl-was-away-for-the-weekend is a vast playing field made up of the ghosts of hundreds of do-gooders who just wanted to be a good friend and make sure everyone had fun.

We salute your memory, Loyal Best Friend, for you were taken from us too soon!

Ungraded…the only thing worse than a fail

final-examFINAL EXAMINATION

2002/94m

“You fail. You die.”

Director: Fred Olen Ray [as Ed Raymond] / Writers: Sean O’Bannon & Kimberly A. Ray / Cast: Kari Wuhrer, Brent Huff, Debbie Rochon, Amy Lindsay, Richard Gabai, Robert Donovan, Jason Schnuit, Belinda Gavin, Winton Nicholson, Kalau Iwaoka, Kim Maddox.

Body Count: 7

Dire-logue: “Just spell my name right, it’s Shane with a C…” what!?

_______________________________________

A girl drives off the end of an unfinished bridge. Five years later, a cop busts a drug dealer and is then reassigned to Hawaii as a reward. In Hawaii, the sorority sisters from Big Island University have gathered for a reunion sponsored by a glamour magazine, which they are being photographed for by a wasted Rochon. Someone tries to murder them – failing, more often than not – reassigned dick and Kari Wuhrer (remembered by me as the “not J-Lo” female in Anaconda) investigate.

That’s Final Examination for you. It has nothing remotely to do with exams at all, bar the staggering two sorority victims found with test papers marked ‘Failed’ floating nearby. Instead, Fred Olen Ray’s (shoulda known!) dismal little flick is a thinly disguised softcore skin flick. The only examination present is the one the camera oversees while various starlets take showers or just walk around topless…

The cast look ridiculously bored and the police procedural plot (far outweighing any horror) is like a really boring episode of NCIS. There’s an equally insipid backstory unfurled to do with co-ed pregnancy, dirty tricks and cover ups that relate back to the dead chick and bitchy sorority alumnus Kristen – who doesn’t even die!

Ray overcompensates boredom with too many twists, none of which even flirt with being exciting. Turns out there are but three killers, all siblings of the dead girl and between them they manage to off a massive four people. Pathetic.

Chuck in a lieutenant named Hugh Janus and a scene where Kristen brandishes a gun several minutes before the killer busts through a door and attacks her friend. Does she shoot him? No. She hits him with the damn thing. The film finally ends with the dialogue “uh…yeah,” which appears to accurately sum up the opinion all involved likely have when asked about the film.

To spell it out for you in case you, like me, are hell bent on seeing ‘em all: Final Examination is not a good bad film, it’s really, really, REALLY boring, which is a far worse sin than simply being shit.

Blurbs-of-shame: Belinda Gavin was in Scarecrow. Ray also directed Scalps. Debbie Rochon has been in American Nightmare, Bleed, Blood Relic and Head Cheerleader, Dead Cheerleader.

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