Tag Archives: spunky final girl

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.

hn-gate-house

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…

hn4a

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…

hn8a

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.

hn9a

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.

hn-roof-jeff

Blurbs-of-interest: surprisingly, Blair never made another slasher film but Barton played Doug in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter; Jenny Neumann had already played the lead in Aussie theatre stalker StageFright. Several of the producers worked on other slasher flicks, including Halloween, and Chuck Russell directed A Nightmare On Elm Street 3.

URBAN LEGEND

URBAN LEGEND

5 Stars  1998/18/96m

“Just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it can’t.”

Director: Jamie Blanks / Writer: Silvio Horta / Cast: Alicia Witt, Jared Leto, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson, Loretta Devine, Robert Englund, Tara Reid, Michael Rosenbaum, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Danielle Harris, John Neville, Julian Richings.

Body Count: 9

Dire-logue: “It’s like someone out there’s taking all these stories and making them reality.”


Urban Legend, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Damn, there are too many, I’ll just type it all out.

February 2009 will mark the ten year anniversary of my first of six cinema viewings of UL, my hands-down favourite ‘post modern’ slasher pic. You don’t read a lot of praise for this little gem; it’s often cited as being nowt more than a second-rate Scream wannabe. While it’s undeniably in heavy debt to that film, UL goes to all the places I wanted Scream to go to but didn’t. Like what, you say?

ul1a

Well, it starts with, like, the coolest murder set-up. Natasha Gregson Wagner (what happened to her?) is driving along a lonely stretch of highway when she runs outta gas. She pulls up in this dank little filling station where a stammering Brad Dourif entices her out of her SUV and attacks her. Or does he? Tasha gets away and speeds off, leaving Brad’s call of “someone’s in the backseat!” to be swallowed by the wind. Half a click down the road, a shady figure emerges from said backseat and swipes of her head with a funky axe!

Yes, it’s a slasher film about those stories, the ones you tell around campfires, in the school playground or when you’re slacking off work and want to talk about something other than the X Factor. Conveniently, the group of college kids at the centre of the ensuing terror are taking a class in urban legends, taught at Pendleton University by Robert Englund, which should be enough to make anyone think twice about signing up…

ul2a

We meet our teens-of-terror. There’s campus journo-wannabe Paul (Leto), who’s super-ambitious. Ambitious enough to commit murder though? He’s our Gale Weathers stand-in. Brenda’s got the hots for Paul and says a lot of neo-bimbo things to get his attention. Damon (Jackson) is the peroxidified-prankster who’ll do anything for a gag or a shag… Parker and Sasha are the oversexed couple; he’s an aging frat boy and she runs a call-in radio show about sex things. Then there’s Natalie, our final girl elect, played by the fab ginger princess who is Alicia Witt. Natalie is conscientious and smart, she can look after herself and she’s an unconventional heroine, none of this ‘woe is me’ crap…although she does have a few secrets that might be relevant…

ul3a

ul4a

The murders continue with good pace, each of them revolving around Natalie in some way: her date, her goth roommate (Danielle Harris – nice to see her ten years on from Halloweens 4 & 5). Natalie is the only one to suspect that the Parka-coated killer is twisting urban legends into the murders, but everyone she goes to with her suspicions thinks up a reason to disuade her: suicide, prank, suspect already in custody yaddah yaddah…

Even Pam Grier-loving campus cop Reese (Loretta Devine, our Dewey stand-in) is sceptical… What’s a girl to do? Natalie part-convinces Paul to look into it, as it appears that the University’s own campus legend about a dorm massacre a quarter of a century earlier may also be more than just a myth…

ul5a

Grisly murders continue, all of them satisfying in their creativity without being excessively grotesque… There’s the psycho-under-the-car one, the Pop Rocks and soda one, another about flashing your headlights to cars driving around without theirs on and the wet dog in the microwave thing…

ul6a

Answers start to unfold eventually as Natalie confides her guilty secret to Brenda, that she knew the first victim and that they’d done something bad a few years earlier. Wouldn’t it just be so convenient if the reason that Natalie is always around for each killing is that it’s something to do with the ‘accident’ she was involved in? Hmm…time to assemble Fred, Daphne and Velma.

ul7a

In the final third, Blanks ups the ante on cliches-what-work. Now, most people moan and whinge about cliches, but that’s why we love these films, right? We’d be upset if the slutty girl didn’t die. Parker’s fraternity throws a costume party to commemorate the is-it-or-isn’t-it-true campus legend and Parka-man comes with an axe to grind. There’s a great chase scene when Sasha finally comes face to face with the killer with some nifty mini-stunts and great near misses, akin to the film’s production cuz I Know What You Did Last Summer, where Sarah Michelle Gellar – who incidentally was the first choice to play Sasha! – was accosted to the death by the psycho fisherman. It’s a great scene, let down like its contemporary by refusing to show the kill, but all is forgiven because everything’s so much fun!

ul8a

Action moves into the woods for a short while so that Natalie can discover a few things, cross a few suspects from her list, all the time jockeyed into position by a luckier-than-lucky killer, who’s surely got psychic abilities to be able to turn up in the right place at the right time every time!

We’re dragged back to campus for the finale, at which point the killer’s identity is revealed and this is the part where most people who didn’t like the film probably groaned aloud. Yes, it’s stupid and campy. No, the assailant probably couldn’t have possibly done most of the things they did. My God, that motive is cheesy! But hey, hell hath no fury, right? And that should spell out who it is if nothing else does!

ul10a

Ugly Betty scribe Horta adds enough humour to offset all the slashin’ and killin’, while Aussie helmer Blanks makes the best of the ultra-pristine university setting, even if he has too strong a penchant for strobe work and jump-cuts. It wouldn’t be easy to make a film like Urban Legend work; stringing together separate stories and making them all connect to the same group of people, perpetrated by one person is neo-impossible, hence the abject ridiculousness of it all.

I love the outcome, I love the killer’s soliliquy and I love the production quality. As it functions as a mystery, most people make their final judgement based on how satisfying the answers to their questions are. Somebody told me who the killer was before I saw the film so I was not let down by anything, if anything it set things up to make a majorly positive impression because it checked all my favourite boxes. Most of these things are down to the choice of Witt as Natalie, who wields a great scream, convinces as a college girl and makes the best face ever when it comes to facing off with the killer…

ul9a

Love. It. I want an ‘I Heart Urban LegendT-shirt. I’d wear it with pride alongside my Voorhees hockey top and Camp Crystal Lake Counselor shirt. The world might well be a better place if we all loved Urban Legend. No, really, it might!

Blurbs-of-interest: Loretta Devine was the only cast member to return for the largely-unrelated sequel, Final Cut, and the third film was all but an island, but still good. Rumours of a fourth come and go, it’d be nice if they did a ‘Return to Pendleton’ flick..! Gayheart and Jackson both make small appearances in Scream 2; Danielle Harris later turned up in Rob Zombie’s Halloween and its sequel and also Hatchet II, Blood Night, and ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2. Julian Richings (the creepy caretaker) was Three-Finger in Wrong Turn, and of course Englund and Dourif turn up all over the place in cameos and stuff. Jamie Blanks turned out Valentine three years later to even less positive reviews and a couple of other horror films more recently.

Scooby Don’t

THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II

3 Stars  1984/18/87m

“So you think you’re lucky to be alive…”

Director/Writer: Wes Craven / Cast: Kevin Blair, Tamara Stafford, Michael Berryman, John Bloom, Janus Blythe, Penny Johnson, John Laughlin, Willard Pugh, Colleen Riley, Peter Frechette, Robert Houston.

Body Count: 8


The old mind struggles but this may well have been the first slasher flick I ever saw, late night Bravo channel stuff with my dad and my sister in the early nineties and there are no two ways about it, this film sucks. It’s the epitome of cheesy, schlocky, teen-kill trash and once considered a contender for the all-time worst sequel. But I fracking love it!

Craven’s ’77 original pitted a whitebread family trapped in the middle of the desert against the hill-dwelling insurgents who wanted to pillage their number. It was a thought-out tale of families from opposite ends of the spectrum thrown together in an explosion of violence and screaming and scratching and biting and stuff, remade to malevolent excess by Alexandre Aja in 2006 and followed by an equally grisly sequel the following year.

Claiming he ‘needed the money’, Craven signed on to write and direct this sequel, reportedly shot in 1983 and not released until 1985. Evidently driving under the influence of Friday the 13th (even drafting in Harry Manfredini to sort out the score), Craven wrote a cast of teenagers into the equation to serve as knife, axe and machete fodder for the extended family of psychos. After a couple of flashbacks from Bobby, who made it through the events of the first one, we’re reintroduced to Ruby, the turncoat, who, with said headband-wearing teenies, embarks on a cross-desert bus trip with some miracle motocross fuel that will make them all rich and/or famous. I wasn’t really listening to the intricacies.

With bike-ridin’ trio Roy, Harry, Hulk (!) and mechanic Foster, there are their tag-along gals, Jane, Sue and blind psychic Cass, who we could tell is going to be the final girl even if we were blind. Rounding out the group is the best character to return from the original – Beast the dog, now sporting a yellow scarf, Littlist Hobo-style. Remember him? He saved the day before, chewing up the ankle of nasty hill psycho dude Pluto. No? Still hazy? Well, never fear – Beast can certainly remember as he barks us along into his very own flashback! No, really… The screen goes all wavy and blurs into old footage of his pro-middle class savagery.

The gang realises they forgot to account for the time zone difference and, in an effort not to be late for whatever it is they’re going to, they vote to cross a desert track, which soon disables their funky red bus and they end up at an “abandoned” ranch-cum-mine.

The biker dudes decide to rev off into the wilderness in search of gasoline while the others explore the locale and Cass passes time by using one of those embossed label maker things to stick a love message to Roy on his (bike) helmet and starts to ‘sense’ things. Bad things, of course. It would have been nice if she sensed it was a sanctuary for unloved donkies and waterbuffalo, but it’s not and she doesn’t. She senses…eeeeeevil.

hhe2-beast-ruby-pennyMaybe the eeeeevil that Cass senses is closer than she thinks… Maybe it’s her friend Sue! Maybe her psychic powers allow her to see that Sue is no other than Sherry Palmer, neo-first lady and scheming wife to President Palmer in 24!!! It’s all a cunning disguise, the headband, the lycra… That’s her below left, beneath Beast and Reaper, Penny Johnson a.k.a. Sherry Palmer in one of her earliest roles. I’m not sure what she’s doing with herself there but she didn’t get a great many close-ups in the film.

Disappointingly, it transpires that Sue is not the killer and the real trouble comes in the form of a duo of hill-eye-havers, Reaper and the not-so-dead Pluto. Ruby – arguably looking worse in her cosmo-80s wear than she did in her rags – comes clean and ‘fesses up to being the girl-in-the-story that was conveniently told on the bus and spouts the usual ‘we’re all in danger’ garb. Meanwhile, Harry is killed and Roy incapacitated by the killers, who, as darkness sets in, descend on the ranch and it’s dim-bulbed newcomers.

This is where the cliches come thick n’ fast, but they’re enjoyable cliches. Hills II is one of those slasher flicks with a bit of a sense of humour to it. The characters are shallow but likeable; we care about them in the sort of temporary way we care about people we meet by the pool on holiday and the way we cared about the counsellors of Camp Crystal Lake. They’re just fun loving kids doomed to fates worse than, uh, not dying.

Pluto and Ruby have a confronation that is intercepted by the springiness of Beast, who soon scares him away, while Reaper stalks and slays the others, who defy Ruby’s warnings and canter off for showers or private rendezvous until Reaper bear-hugs and throat-slashes them into the next realm.

While Beast licks Roy back into usefulness and helps him do away with Pluto once and for all, Cass discovers the bodies of her friends, identifying them with her fingers and then catawaling their names along with the odd “why!?” Reaper follows and she manages to escape long enough for Roy to save her and formulate a plan that puts an end to both Reaper and their miracle bike gas, so that they and Beast and can enjoy the hike back to civilisation.

Minimal bloodshed, strangely lucid killers, token blindness and a dog with the ability to recall events from eight years ago… The ingredients of tripe, surely, but I’d rather watch this entry than the original or either of the ‘re-imagined’ films. Wes Craven scripted the 2007 Hills Have Eyes II, which sadly opted not to replicate the story here and was only a notch above total suckiness.

Blurbs-of-interest: Kevin Blair (later Kevin Spirtas) was the hunky hero in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood; Michael Berryman was also in Craven’s Deadly Blessing, and Penny Dreadful and Mask Maker.

FINAL EXAM

FINAL EXAM

3 Stars  1981/87m

“Some may pass the test…God help the rest.”

Director/Writer: Jimmy Huston / Cast: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown, Deanna Robbins, Sherry Willis-Burch, John Fallon, Terry W. Farren, Timothy L. Raynor, Jerry Rushing.

Body Count: 11

First-rate Fatality: A garrotting by weight machine cables.

Dire-logue: “It’s happening! The psychopaths are here!”


Awww… Final Exam. It’s the slasher film equivalent of that dim-bulbed kid at school, who wasn’t very good at anything, but was always nice. Some chose to ridicule them, while others looked upon them with a mix of sympathy and fondness. Such is Jimmy Huston’s cutesy little clone of Halloween, anything but the darling of horror fans, but there’s no denying the love that some slasher aficionados have for it – me included.

Being a slug of a movie, ‘events’ begin with that staple fixture of teen horror: the double-slaying of a parking couple, who are entangled in some campus romance. Along comes a shady maniac who slices through their soft top and pulls the guy out of the driver’s seat and knifes him to death on the bonnet of the car, while his squealy never-to-be conquest watches in what the actress intended to look like terror. Her death is off-screen, but we know she bites it as the ‘action’ shifts to nearby Lanier College where the murder is reported by one of our central characters, Radish (see below).

exam2

So it’s the last few days of the semester and the campus is all but deserted. The remaining students are busy packing or studying for their finals, among them our pretty and likeable heroine Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi in her only role, like, ever), who has concerns over being boring in comparison to her bombshell roommate Lisa. Lisa, meanwhile, is carrying on with a married professor and intends to cram in one last ‘biology tutorial’ before she leaves to return to ‘the city’ (funny how they never mention which cities they come from in these flicks – see also Friday the 13th Part 2). Ditzy Janet (Sherry Willis-Burch who later turned up in fab Canadian possession slasher Killer Party) has been ‘pinned’ by frat pledge Gary, and takes this to mean they’re in love and have to spend every minute together, while he is being tormented by his frat brothers, neanderthalic Wildman and walking-bouffant president Mark, who want him to steal a test paper for them.

Last but by no means least is Radish, Courtney’s friend who rings so many bells on the gaydar that you’ll develop tinnitus. He’s short, he’s camp, and he minces around spouting factoids about the likes of Charles Whitman, a subject of which his knowledge serves him well when a black van cruises on to campus and opens fire. It turns out to be a prank, much to the chagrin of the local sheriff who later ignores an emergency call from Radish when the horror proper is discovered and we get to see him break into the gayest of gay sprints as he flounces off to warn Courtney.

exam3exam11

So anyway, exams are sat, test papers stolen, romances gabbed about and a slow-striding stranger appears behind bushes and watching students through doors and stuff. As darkness sets in, some sixty minutes after the initial double-killing, those foolish enough to be wandering the campus alone fall victim to a string of mostly off-screen deaths. The knife-toting nutter – alas, no mask – indiscriminately does away with Gary, Janet, Wildman, Mark, Lisa, and a couple of silent extras, until only Courtney is left. With an shot of Jamie Lee adrenalin, Courtney runs and hides from the rather dorky looking killer, culminating in a showdown at the campus tower before a satisfactory ‘yes, it’s over’ ending that leaves no room for Final Exam 2: You Fail.

The appeal of Final Exam for me lies in it’s purity. It’s cheap and cheesy, with no pretensions or gimmicks – straight down the line killer-kills-kids stuff. Its shortcomings around pace and lack of bloodshed are joined by the uninteresting killer. Strangely, there’s a possible motive crowbarred into an earlier conversation, when Courtney relays that a girl threw herself from the campus tower sometime previously because she didn’t get into her chosen sorority. There was I expecting a speech from her dad/brother/boyfriend about avenging the death but nothin’ comes out of this dude’s mouth at all until his final meeting with Courtney’s unleashed warrior princess – spoiled by the old UK video box (right).

Sadly, this is the type of film that will be forgotten in years to come, appearing on lists with a bunch of other also-rans with nothing to recommend it to the casual viewer. For the other twelve of us, Code Red are working on a DVD remaster due out across the pond in late September 2008! No news on any extras yet but the distributor managed to reunite some of the cast and crew (including Cecile and Joel Rice, who played the cult figure of Radish) so there’s hope on the horizon for good times with this one.

Yay!!!

Yay!!!

Blurbs-of-interest: Wanna know what happened to Lisa’s curly-haired professor-cum-lover? Apparently, the budget was such that some of the actors and bit-parters’ original raison d’etre’s had to be curtailed. Hopefully there’ll be a more thorough explanation on the DVD.

1 16 17 18