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to all a goodnight 1980 dvdTO ALL A GOODNIGHT

3 Stars  1980/84m

“You’ll scream ’til dawn.”

Director: David Hess / Writer: Alex Rebar / Cast: Jennifer Runyon, Forrest Swanson, Linda Gentile, William Lauer, Judith Bridges, Katherine Herrington, Buck West, Sam Shawshak, Angela Bath, Denise Stearns, Soloman Trager, Jeff Butts, Bill Martins, Jay Rasumny.

Body Count: 15

Dire-logue: “God bless aeroplanes!”


I first kind-of saw To All A Goodnight on a dimly-lit NTSC VHS imported from the States in the 90s. Pre-DVD era, it was nearly impossible to get hold of, and strangely disappointing.

Beautifully restored to DVD, this was like a new experience completely, and thus deserved an updated review. SPOILERS ensue.

At the Calvin Finishing School for girls, ‘two Christmases ago’, a student falls to her death during what appears to be some sort of initiation, one of the tormentors wearing a plastic Santa mask.

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Now, as all but six girls go home for the holidays, a mystery killer has plans for them any anybody else who gets in his way: The quartet of college boys they’ve invited over for the weekend, who are literally jetting in for sex and beer.

Scheming leader Leia plans to drug housemother Mrs Jensen, forcing goody two-shoes Nancy (pre-Charles in Charge actress Runyon) to deliver the laced glass of milk. Conked out for the night, boys and girls flirt, pair off, and begin to get slain in the usual ways: A cut throat for the toffy English girl, rock to the head for a Hawaiian shirt guy…

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At one point the killer hides in a suit of armour and dispatches a couple midway through coitus with a crossbow and an axe. Nancy keeps getting cornered by the creepy handyman, Ralph, who tells her something evil is present and that she should pray. Geeky Alex loses his cherry to oversexed Melody.

Here, To All A Goodnight does something weird, it cuts to the next morning. Suddenly, the remaining five are at breakfast, the housemother doesn’t seem to question the arrival of the boys, and they go for a picnic without really thinking about the six people who have disappeared. When Nancy falls on to the body of Ralph, hidden in the brush, the cops are called. They posit that he was the only victim and they shouldn’t worry, but two officers are left at the house.

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Night falls – again – and the killing resumes: Couples re-configure, with Leia bedding one of the cops and Melody taking Leia’s boyfriend TJ, while Alex and Nancy worry and explore the house to ensure they’re safe. Axe in the face, knife in the back, garrotting, and most memorably two people are buzzed to death by the propellers of the plane!!

Wait though: The pilot was told to sleep with the plane, he’d been sat there all the previous night and all that day!?

Weirder still, Leia is spared the blade. Instead, she goes mad, descending into some weird Kate Bush-esque dancing around the house, singing to herself.

to all a goodnight 1980 leia judith bridges santa

The killer unmasks themself to be – gasp – Mrs Jensen! She blames the girls for the death of her daughter two years ago. She was working the day that it happened, there, she was the cook, Jason Girl should’ve been watched! Every minute! Yeah, it’s totally Mrs Voorhees 2.0, yet IMDb states this was released a good six months earlier? I think not.

There’s a decent second twist chucked in, but it only serves to compound how bizarre To All A Goodnight is: From the strange two-part structure with the respite-by-day, the weird characterisations and sub-Black Christmas atmos, mixed with dated looking shadows of knives-in-hand creeping against walls, performances so varied it looks like an acting workshop, and Runyon’s rather pathetic final girl, who may as well have been a five-year-old given her bunches, squeaky voice, and helpless damsel act.

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Interesting murder ideas and some production gloss make it worth a go; Bridges is fun as the odd Leia; this is one surreal Friday rip off, but an interesting one nonetheless.

Blurb-of-interest: Hess was in Camping Del Terrore; producer Sandy Cobe was also the force behind Home Sweet Home, Terror on Tour and Open House.

KILLER PARTY

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KILLER PARTY

3.5 Stars  1986/18/88m

“DEADicated to the class of ’86.”

A.k.a. Fool’s Night / The April Fool

Director: William Fruet / Writer: Barney Cohen / Cast: Elaine Wilkes, Sherry Willis-Burch, Joanna Johnson, Martin Hewitt, Ralph Seymour, Woody Brown, Alicia Fleer, Paul Bartel, Deborah Hancock, Terri Hawkes.

Body Count: 11

Direlogue: “…And now your yearly film on the dangers of hazing.”


It’s a real shame that lots of these old B-movies haven’t yet made it to international DVD distribution, that’s why there’re sod all screen shots of it here as I have no idea how to cull those from my love-worn VHS copy.

Killer Party is a curious little gem with few fans. Reportedly shot in 1984 and then shelved for two years before MGM cut out most of the bloodletting and gave it a minimal release, like most of the Canadian slasher films of this era, it’s a fun pic with likable characters and a good sense of humour mixed in with the horror, which, here concerns college gal-pals Phoebe, lovable nerd Viva and the hesitant Jennifer and their attempts to get into Sigma Alpha Pi – “the best sorority on campus”. Hi-jinks and pranks are to culminate in the girls’ acceptance at “goat night” (!?), which will be held at the requisite haunted frat house, where a lone gravestone sits in the overgrown yard for a brother who died in a hazing prank two decades earlier…

Murders begin to plague the campus and, once the party is in full swing, a psycho dressed as – of all things – a deep sea diver – stalks and slays those left in the ol’ house… This flimsy-sounding plot doesn’t do Killer Party much justice: from the double-fake opening, featuring a film-within-a-film-within-a-music-video (White Sister’s 80s-tastic April – which is available on iTunes), to the demonic possession outcome via Paul Bartel as a pompous lecturer and the kinda-sweet romance that develops between Jennifer and cute frat boy Blake, all panning out well thanks to well-written dialogue and a self-effacing sense of humour, most of it spoofing the ridiculousness of fraternity/sorority initiations (the goats-eye ceremony is great).

Veronica: “Phoebe…”

Phoebe: “Hi!”

Veronica: “Kitchen!”

Phoebe: “Bye…”

Working against the film is probably the cut n’ shut nature of the editing: most of the violence takes place in the last thirty minutes, much of it confused and disempowered by the removal of money shots and there are some characters who completely disappear from the film altogether. There’s also a curious heirarchy to the credits, with Martin Hewitt and Ralph Seymour getting first billing, despite their comparatively small roles compared to our plucky heroines. Ultimately, it’s this trio of spunky girls that makes Killer Party a real party flick with a few familiar faces to spot for genre aficionados and doesn’t have to stoop to dire cliches to make you laugh at it – although the credits’ song – which sounds like Bananarama suffering with avian influenza – leaves a lot to be desired. Any way you look at it, this film’s cool for being so un-cool and you should go and find a copy.

Blurbs-of-interest: Director Fruet helmed Funeral Home in 1980; writer Cohen scribed Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (which was directed by Joseph Zito – Bartel’s character is called Professor Zito); Sherry Willis-Burch played dippy Janet in Final Exam; Terri Hawkes later appeared in Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II; Ralph Seymour was in Just Before Dawn; Howard Busgang (the Bee Boy with specs) was Ed in Terror Train.

July Face-off: ‘Comedy’ porno slasher vs. ‘comedy’ porno slasher

Long ago, before I’d polluted my delicate mindset with the body count details of 496 slasher films, I was watching Caroline in the City, remember that? There was a scene I’ve always remembered where Caroline’s maneater gal-pal went to the video store where she encountered Matthew Perry in his Chandler persona. He made a big deal out of the store not having The Piano and said to her, as some kinda lame line, that he didn’t like all the guy movies with sex and violence and then queried maneater girl as to what she was renting. ‘Sorority House Massacre II,’ he reads and the scene ends in some other way I’ve now forgotten.

I always thought they’d made up that movie title. But no, when I got my first film almanac, there it was in print, together with its entirely unrelated predecessor. That book was a 1997 guide to video (them were the days) and twelve years have elapsed between the realisation that the film is, in fact, real and me seeing it.

CONTESTANT ONE

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1 Stars  1990/77m

“It’s cleavage vs. cleavers and the result is Delta Delta Deadly!”

A.k.a. Night Frenzy; Nighty Nightmare

Director: Jim Wynorski / Writers: James B. Rogers & Bob Sheridan / Cast: Robyn Harris, Melissa Moore, Stacia Zhivago, Michelle Verran, Dana Bentley, Jurgen Baum, Karen Chorak, Bridget Carney, Peter Spellos.

Body Count: 5

Dire-logue: “Oh my God, our clothes! They’re still upstairs!”


Five “teenage” girls purchase ‘the old Hockstatter place’ for their new sorority house and find out that the patriarch of the family murdered his wife and daughters there, which we are shown through flashbacks, which are actually murder sequences from The Slumber Party Massacre! The girls disrobe, have showers, we see all of them naked and then, one ill-advised seance later, one of them is possessed by the spirit of Clive Hockstatter and begins hooking the others to death. The girls, in their panic, believe the killer to be freaky neighbour Orville Ketchum, who intercedes, takes a lot of damage from knives, bullets and what have you but still survives.

CONTESTANT TWO

hardtodie21 Stars  1990/77m

A.k.a. Tower of Terror

Director: Jim Wynorski / Writers: Mark McGee & James B. Rogers / Cast: Robyn Harris, Lindsay Taylor, Debra Dare, Melissa Moore, Bridget Carney, Peter Spellos, Forrest J. Ackerman, Don Key.

Body Count: 7

Dire-logue: “I just wanna get my clothes on and get the hell out of here!”


Five young agency employees are sent to take inventory of Acme Lingerie’s stock in an office tower. When a parcel containing a strange box is mistakenly delivered to them, it unleashes the Hockstatter spirit, which takes control of one of them and the inevitable occurs. The girls find an arsenal of firearms in the tower and begin shooting the place up. In their panic, they believe the killer to be freaky janitor Orville Ketchum, who takes a lot of damage from crossfire but still survives.

OK, so how on earth do you decide which is the better film out of two films that are pretty much photocopies of one another, but, you know, when someone copies the copy over again it looks worse and worse… Arguably, there’s not much wrong with the production values in either. As they hail from the Roger Corman library, both take footage from The Slumber Party Massacre for their own foul use and have bad intercut footage of grainy lightning.

Quite who these films are aimed at is a mystery: in both, virtually all female characters appear – at the very least – topless, with gratuitous shower scenes and odd squidgy-rubber sound effects as they soap themselves. Nudity and slasher flicks are like conjoined twins and that’s fine so long as the filmmakers remember they’re supposed to be producing a horror film and don’t keep forcing the nude scenes, they should appear incidental like in the good ol’ days. 77 minutes of tits, rubbish gore effects and fucking Orville Ketchum (…it just isn’t funny) makes for a tedious experience in both cases. I think Sorority might have been slightly more tolerable and it was nice to see northern lass Harris as the final girl (if one could call her character such) in both films, still, both were crap I never want to have to sit through again.

WINNER: NEITHER!

THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW

houseonsororityrowTHE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW

3.5 Stars  1982/18/88m

A.k.a. House of Evil (UK video)

Director/Writer: Mark Rosman / Cast: Kathryn McNeil, Eileen Davidson, Lois Kelso Hunt, Christopher Lawrence, Harley Kozak, Janis Zido, Robin Meloy, Jodi Draigie, Ellen Dorsher.

Body Count: 9

Dire-logue: “Can’t you find another place to fuck?”


Brian DePalma’s former assistant wrote and directed this predicament slasher flick, which boasts a decent score and impressive visuals and has remained criminally underrated long enough for somebody to snap up the rights for the forthcoming 2009 remake, titled just Sorority Row.

hsr1Things begin in the misty blueness of 1961, June 19th to be exact, and the birth of a child in a house. Looks and sounds painful. Twenty-one years later, the house – now the sorority of the title – is being evacuated by seven graduating sisters; Liz, Stevie, Katherine, ditzy Morgan, straight-talkin’ Diane, little girl-like Jeanie and rich bitch Vicki. Their miserable housemother, Mrs Slater, wants them out ASAP but they need to stick around to throw a graduation party…

Nothing really ever happens on June 19th – it’s not famous for anything. I know this well as it’s my birthday too! Finally somebody made a slasher flick out of it!

hse2A watery altercation between Slater and Vicki makes the girl mad enough to plot a revenge prank to really sock it to the old beeyatch. Naturally, the prank goes askew and Mrs Slater is shot dead. The girls panic, fight, scream, cry and are eventually forced to hide the body in the unused pool when all the stuff for their party arrives. Guilt and paranoia take over as the sisters attempt to keep up their facade of all being well while the party rages on… But somebody is outside and has Mrs Slater’s iron cane and wants to insert it into those responsible for her untimely death – or is it Mrs S herself?

hsr3Well, no… We knew that really, didn’t we? But the girls don’t and they begin to fall victim to the cane-toting madman, her mentally unstable son, Eric, all the time remaining out of sight. Their party continues in the background when they come to realise Mrs Slater’s body has gone walkabout and they split to try to find her, find her, and then try to get rid of her again, electing to bury her beneath an open grave in a handy nearby cemetery…

hsr4Smart girl Katherine steps up as the reluctant heroine who wanted to call an ambulance right from the start. While Vicki leads the naive ones around trying to cover up their crime, Katherine investigates the mysterious room in the attic, avoids her dorky date and is the first to second guess the disappearances of her friends. Meanwhile, the killings continue, all carried out with the iron cane but largely bloodless and possibly cut down. Rosman reportedly didn’t want much on screen gore in the film and it doesn’t really require much to remain effective.

hsr5Things begin to wrap up with a crazy scientist, Katherine getting doped up, an eerie clown and lots of hallucinations. Rosman has gone for an almost surreal approach to his tale; from the unbelievable reaction the majority of girls have to the accident to their demises, some of which feature dizzying visuals of the pulsing corridor in the sorority house as Jeanie, dressed up like a six-year-old with ribbons in her hair, runs and stumbles before her savage death. At least half of the girls poll sympathy and it’s hard to watch them tortured, something that probably won’t be an issue in the remake, but this forms the essence of the horror so is just about forgivable.

hsr6It’s rare to see a slasher film so in touch with its medium that there’s obvious effort in making it look stunning, taking what worked in its ancestors and recycling it to better visual effect. There are flaws but not many and hopefully the film will be remastered and given the special edition treatment once the remake surfaces.

Ugh...get the plunger, Jeanie's blocked the toilet again

Ugh…get the plunger, Jeanie’s blocked the toilet again

HELL NIGHT

hellnight HELL NIGHT

4 Stars  1981/18/102m

“Pray for day.”

Director: Tom DeSimone / Writer: Randy Feldman / Cast: Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Vincent Van Patten, Kevin Brophy, Suki Goodwin, Jenny Neumann, Jimmy Sturtevant.

Body Count: 8

Dire-logue: “If you weren’t screamin’…and we weren’t screamin’…then somebody’s trying to mind-fuck us.”


In the cynical we-know-everything days of 2009, a film with a premise so simplistic as Hell Night is likely to be casually dismissed as ancient crap. It’s long and slow with a low body count – why bother? Because it’s one of the best slasher films going.

The Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity and its sister sorority are initiating four new pledges on their annual ‘Hell Night’. The costume party is over, we’ve met the primary cast of just seven young scholars, and we’re off to the unloved grounds of Garth Manor, where the Garth patriarch once slaughtered his entire family, save for ‘gorked out’ Andrew, who is said to still dwell within the creepy old mansion.

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Jeff, Denise, Seth and Marti are sequestered to the venue and instructed to stay in the house until dawn, when they will be let out. Once left alone by the upperclassmen, the quartet briefly explore and then pair off; Seth and Denise engage in overlong foreplay while Jeff and Marti go heart to heart and discuss their lives, the class system and various other things.

Outside, three of the senior collegiates – May, weasely Scott, and uber-prankster Peter – return to try and scare them with a range of pre-organised tricks. Ghosts appear, death-screams echo down the halls and a real killer begins stalking and slaying all those who intrude on his property! Andrew Garth lives! A few killings in, the murders are discovered and Seth manages to climb his way to freedom in a bid to summon help while Jeff and Marti look for a missing Denise and uncover the extent of the nightmare…

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Like the gothic candles that give a creepy glow to the setting, Hell Night is a real slow-burn affair. It’s nearly half an hour before the first killing and afterwards they’re spaced out to maximum tense-effect but it’s seldom boring. In the attention-deficit days we now live in, there’s no way something so relaxedly paced would ring the box office bell, but that’s the beauty of a film like Hell Night. In spite of being helmed by a noted porno director, there’s no nudity and very restrained bloodshed.

hn7aThe appeal is in the straight-forward telling of it all. It’s got classic creaky haunted house origins, aided no end by the period costumes worn by the characters, the candelabras and cobwebs, Nosferatu-influenced creeping shadows, all engineered into a (then) modern slasher narrative. Characters are also well drawn given that the entire thing is set on one night; Linda Blair, all grown up from playing Regan MacNeil, makes for an affable heroine in Marti, a mechanically gifted student. Her three companions range from misunderstood nice guy (Jeff), to surfer dude (Seth) and comical British partygirl (Denise), while the trio of pranksters have less to do. Why the two main guys are Jeff n’ Seth is something we’ll never know I guess…

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The emphasis on atmosphere is a strong selling point here; the house is creepy and the story just offbeat enough to be unsettling. “This was supposed to be a joke,” crows Marti when she and Jeff find time to reflect on the night’s events. All things considered, definitely not a film for all to enjoy. It has that nostalgic ‘this scared me as a kid’ quality going for it, something we’re unlikely to experience again. Karen Carpenter sang ‘Tryin’ To Get That Feeling Again’, Hell Night still maintains a big part of ‘that’ feeling.

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The bad news: a PG-13 remake, almost certainly similar to the dismal Prom Night redux, is due in 2010. Don’t expect any nostalgia there.

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Blurbs-of-interest: Blair made a return to the slasher film in 1988’s hilarious Grotesque;  Barton played Doug in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter; Jenny Neumann had already played the lead in Aussie theatre stalker Stage Fright. Several of the producers worked on other slasher flicks, including Halloween, and Chuck Russell directed A Nightmare On Elm Street 3.

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