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Social Commentary or Sleaze?

girlhouse 2014GIRLHOUSE

4 Stars  2014/18/101m

“Enjoy the show.”

Directors: Trevor Matthews & John Knautz / Writer: Nick Gordon / Cast: Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Slaine, Alice Hunter, Alyson Bath, Elysia Rotaru, Chasty Ballesteros, Wesley MacInnes, Erin Agostino, Nicole Fox, James Thomas.

Body Count: 15

Laughter Lines: “I’ve thought this through completely. I really don’t see how anything bad can happen.”

Sexy girls in a house decked out with cameras so guys can log on and crack one out. No! Don’t go! I know it sounds like two dozen other camcorder exploitation flicks with nothing to offer, but GirlHouse is, hugely to my surprise, a pretty solid slasher flick with some of the best production attributes this side of the millennium.

In 1988, two girls tease a tubby preteen and trick him into a one-sided game of show and tell, which ends with them laughing in his face about the size of his cock and sending him running away. A little later, the ringleader is ambushed as she cycles home down a back road and no amount of sorrys can save her from being thrown off the side of a bridge.

Just this five minute opener packs a punch absent in 90% of contemporary slasher films, evident from the effort going into building an atmosphere. Like the films of yore, the shots fragment all around the victim and we know something bad is going to leap out any second, just not from where… This simple approach, used all the time in the 80s, makes a lot of difference.


Fast forward to the present, hard-up college girl Kylie needs money enough to agree to go and live at GirlHouse, the pornhub of the future, owned by gay Hefner-lite Gary Preston, who puts his girls up in a huge secluded mansion, location under wraps, where they’re filmed around the clock, performing little laptop shows, playing in the pool, the sauna, eating, watching TV… whatever.

One repeat customer is Loverboy, our grown up psychotic, who worships all the girls and is technically able enough to hack through the firewalls to send a photo of himself to Kylie. Her heart, however, is slowly being won over by old schoolmate Ben, who stumbles upon her online and is prompted by his Ed Sheeran-esque roommate to drive to her college and strike up a conversation.

After a girl evicted for her drug habit is permitted to stay in the house again, she finds Loverboy’s photo – not the most flattering – prints it, and sticks it up on a wall, where he eventually spies it in the background and, humiliated, loses his shit and stomps in the direction of GirlHouse.


Before long, most the tech and security guys have been murdered (largely off-camera and always fully clothed) and Loverboy seizes control of the house functions, stalking the girls one by one while helpless patrons watch, including Ben and his roomie, who embark on Halloween: Resurrection-esque attempts to help remotely.

One girl has her fingers axed off, making it impossible for her to type in the address of the house to summon help; another is choked on a dildo; one locked in the sauna with the thermostat cranked up… What sets GirlHouse apart from the dreck that share its premise (Voyeur.com comes to mind), is the will of (most of) the girls not to just sit there naked and die: The sauna girl manages to bust out and runs straight for the pool; another thought dead waits for the killer to happen by and strikes out at him; and Kylie, when inevitably the last one alive, pulls all the feeds and lures the killer to the basement where she uses nightvision to fight back and then beats the crap out of him with a camera.


If there’s a comment on the relationship between pornography and objectification, it’s either too vague or forgotten in a tide of blood. A quote from Ted Bundy kicks things off, though it later falls back on on cliches of sad, fat, drooling loners who hate women. That said, the menfolk prove to be the most dispensable, often blindsided and incapable when confronted with the killer. Or do the unwritten rules of voyeurism apply and the perception is that the audience don’t want to see the murders of men on screen and that it’s the girls who are to blame? Would Guyhouse work? It’s one of the oldest dilemmas to plague the genre. But the genders are equally represented when it comes to dead bodies by the end, and it’s Kylie who does all the hard work when push comes to stab.

Even if elements of the story have to cave to genre tropes to work, GirlHouse succeeds through production attributes alone, something most horror producers don’t even seem to consider, largely under the illusion that T&A and corn syrup splashed on a wall tick enough of the boxes.

Overlook the skeezier elements and there’s a solid gem lurking beneath.

Comedy > Drama > Slasher


3.5 Stars  2015/92m

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson / Writers: M.A. Fortin & Joshua John Miller / Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Adam DeVine, Alexander Ludwig, Thomas Middleditch, Alisa Shawkat, Nina Dobrev, Angela Trimbur, Tory N. Thompson, Chloe Bridges, Dan B. Norris.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “Ever since I was a little boy I’ve dreamed of being a final girl!”

There have been a lot of love letter films to the 80s slasher movie in recent years, just last week I had the pleasure of watching Lost After Dark for the first time, and now, a shucks-no (relatively) high-profile release!?

Yes and no. The Final Girls is less a slasher film, more a concept movie about a slasher film. Poster artwork aside, the love letter here is more of a mother/daughter variety than stoned kids going skinny dipping and getting their throats cut. Its closest relatives across the genre would be a lovechild of Camp Daze, Behind the Mask, and Tucker & Dale vs Evil. With a little bit of The Cabin in the Woods, Cut and Midnight Movie thrown in.

Amanda Cartwright is a struggling 40-something actress who can’t live down her part in seminal 1986 summer camp slasher Camp Bloodbath, a proxy for Friday the 13th if ever there was (complete with ki-ki-ki sound effects). After another audition where it was brought up, she is killed in a car accident that only her teenage daughter Max survives.

fg1Three years later, Max is convinced to attend a double-bill screening of Camp Bloodbath and its sequel by her friend Gertie’s franchise-obsessed stepbrother Duncan. When a fire breaks out in the theater and blocks the emergency exit, Max, Gertie, Duncan, Max’s crush Chris, and his self-absorbed ex Vicki escape by slashing open the screen and climbing through… into the film.

Stuck inside Camp Bloodbath affords Max more time with her late mother, or rather, the character Nancy she played in the film. Posing as additional camp counsellors, the group ride along and, initially, think about how they can return home, eventually settling on just hanging around the final girl character until the credits roll, unwisely thinking themselves outside of the killer’s scope.

Naturally, their presence alters the events of the film in a sort of Back to the Future way and Max goes all out to ensure that Nancy goes from bookish victim to the final girl, hoping to save her this time.

fg2Much internet chatter has been made over the fact that the film was passed with a PG-13 rating Stateside: It has minimal bloodletting and no boobs. It emerges that The Final Girls is less trying to be a slasher film than just using one as its catalyst for a story about a grieving girl. And that’s fine, it’s even affectionate and deep when it needs to be.

What this also means is that the apparent homage to the genre becomes a wade through shallow waters of clichés used in a gazillion sketch shows. The ‘love’ professed for slasher movies doesn’t go beyond standard ridicule, even a touch of disdain – but Friday the 13th wasn’t this badly scripted, acted, or obvious in its day, and isn’t viewed as such now, unless its by people who haven’t really researched the genre past its most famous titles. Camp Bloodbath has far more in common with the likes of Twisted Nightmare than any Jason venture.

fg3Complaints aside, there’s still a lot to like even if it means sucking up the piss-taking and viewing the film as a primary comedy, secondary drama, and down at the bottom of the stack, slasher flick. The present-day group’s immersion into the mid-80s setting provides some decent gags, from jock-archetype Kurt’s sexist jokes to dim-witted Tina trying to force an iPhone into a cassette deck. The comedic talents of Adam DeVine, Thomas Middleditch and Angela Trimbur each help to grease up the hard-to-swallow contrivances of the plot.

Best approached as a comedy with a slasher film backdrop: It lacks the insight of Behind the Mask but has the production unities we all wish Camp Daze had.

Blurb-of-interest: Angela Trimbur was in Halloween II (2009).

2015 Halloween Spectacular Part 3: Lost After Dark


3.5 Stars  2014/85m

“And you thought the 80s were dead…”

Director/Writer: Ian Kessner / Writer: Bo Ransdell / Cast: Elise Gatien, Kendra Leigh Timmins, Justin Kelly, Stephan James, Alexander Calvert, Eve Harlow, Lanie McAuley, Jesse Camacho, Robert Patrick, Mark Wiebe, Rick Rosenthal.

Body Count: 13

Laughter Lines: “I don’t wanna be eaten by a cannonball!”

House of the Devil, The Sleeper, and (slightly less notably) Frat House Massacre are all recent films that have gone all out to pass themselves off as sort of ‘lost gems’ of the 1980s. As a possible reaction to the tidal wave of glossy remakes in the 2000s, more than a few people were yearning for the simpler days of horror: No cellphones, big hair, bad fashion, straight-forward plotting.

In the latest back-to-basics slasher film, eight high-schoolers skip out on a dance, steal a schoolbus, and set off to the forest cabin owned by good girl Adrienne’s dad. Sucks to be them when the bus runs out of gas on a lonely road and the nearest house is inhabited by the last surviving member of a cannibalistic family.

After that, expeditions to look for gasoline, food, candles etc, are scuppered by the hungry loon, who succeeds in taking them out one by one by pick-axe, pitchfork, and various other deadly implements.

lad5Initially, Lost After Dark tries a little too hard to pass itself off as a product of 1984, with selected music, garments, cars, a Rubik’s Cube, and references to of-the-time TV shows and stuff coming from everywhere. Not to mention the characters are each named after directors and starlets from the creme of the 70s and 80s teen horror wagon. This becomes a little try-hard and distracting, but is soon forgotten once the action starts and, convincingly retro or not, offers up a few genuinely tense scenes – the best of which involving one character stuck in the basement with the killer.

A ‘missing reel’ gag also feels out of place, something more suited to a cheapo 70s grindhouse film than a mid-80s B-movie, although it later reveals itself to be nothing more than a cunning plot device.

Although eyebrow shaping, body types, tiny nuances of movement and speech can never be rewound sufficiently enough to totally fool the viewer, the bigger picture is good enough on its own, with elements of Hell Night and even House of Death at play, as well as the intended Camp Crystal Lake elements – a full moon, creepy woods, dark outbuildings.

lad-3picsLost After Dark provides a sandbox of slasher simplicity to play in, and makes some good shapes out of the clichés it has at hand, improving as it goes once we’re down to the one girl remaining (and the best choice for final girl duties). What I didn’t like was the back-filling exposition on behalf of Rick Rosenthal’s sheriff, once all the action was over. This would’ve worked better as a campfire tale or the olde stop-and-ask-directions-from-local exchange. A minor complaint.

There aren’t any complex plot twists, save for a little bit of active misdirection as to who will survive; It plays out like it could have come from the golden age of the genre, although any number of internet cry babies are quick to point out the lack of nudity, while singing from the rooftops how well acquainted they are with the genre, seemingly forgetting that boobs really weren’t in every 80s slasher film to begin with. Seems as though every horror fan thinks they can do better, yet cannibalizes the attempts of fellow horror fans who actually go and do it! Rant over.

lostafterdark1In order to enjoy any slasher film, it’s best to go in expecting little and be pleasantly surprised, which pays off in this case. By some margin the best “new” slasher film I’ve seen in some while.

Blurbs-of-interest: Robert Patrick was in D-Tox; Rick Rosenthal directed both Halloween II and Halloween: Resurrection.

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’?



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.


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.


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.


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.




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).


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.


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’.


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.


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.

Who you gonna call? Diana Prince!



3 Stars  1982/97m

“Hang up! Before HE comes to cut you off… DEAD.”

Director: Jerry Jameson / Writers: David E. Peckinpah & Stancil E.D. Johnson / Cast: Lynda Carter, Granville Van Dusen, Steve Forrest, Monte Markham, Harry Waters Jr., Joy Garrett, James Reynolds, Jerry Booth.

Body Count: 2

Laughter Lines: “The fanny-grabbers are out in force tonight!”

Woman Woman Lynda Carter shoulders much of the weight in this slasher-rooted TV thriller, in which she plays barmaid-cum-student Brianne (pronounced Brian), who takes a voluntary role at a crisis center hotline for sexy doc Justin (Van Dusen), where she is soon the target of a series of creepy calls.

Are the repeat calls related to the murder of a hooker close to where Brianne lives? On her own. In a big house. As they continue and the hissy voice gives her clues about a series of unsolved murders, Brianne becomes more and more curious and is soon channeling her inner Lois Lane to find out who it might be and why…

As anyone who’s seen more than a few such thrillers will know, it’s going to be somebody close to her – but who? The obvious choice is Justin, conveniently ‘away’ whenever there’s a call, or the bar owner she works for, his right-hand man, any of the random bit-parters?


Hotline is kinda like a slasher film that never gets started, which would be annoying if it weren’t as tightly scripted and well acted as it is. Lynda avoids spinning into Wonder Woman mode, but steps into the final girl shoes with suitable accomplishment and no need for her super lasso thingy.

If you fancy a break from counting bodies dropped but still want an of-the-era taut thriller, this is a great starting place.

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