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Comedy > Drama > Slasher

fg4THE FINAL GIRLS

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).

Quite a long review of Freddy vs Jason

fvjdvdFREDDY VS JASON

3 Stars  2003/18/93m

“Even a killer has something to fear.”

Director: Ronny Yu / Writers: David S. Goyer, Damian Shannon & Mark Swift / Cast: Robert Englund, Monica Keena, Kelly Rowland, Jason Ritter, Ken Kirzinger, Christopher George Marquette, Brendan Fletcher, Lochlyn Munro, Katharine Isabelle, Kyle Labine, David Kopp, Jesse Hutch, Paula Shaw, Tom Butler.

Body Count: at least 24

Laughter Lines: “I’ve got some good advice for you. Coffee. Make friends with it.”


I’m just gonna say it: Jason came first, his name should be first. New Line, Schmyoo Line.

The concept of Freddy Krueger facing off against Jason Voorhees was every fanboy’s dream back in the 80s when it was first pitched. Though I always considered Jason vs Michael Myers as a more viable outing, as both exist in the ‘real’ world.

Back in 1988 when the concept was first suggested, squabbles between Schmyoo Line and Paramount knocked it on the head and, instead, Jason was pit against a telekinetic teenager in the seventh Friday, The New Blood, to ever-profitable but diminishing box office receipts, while Freddy hit his peak offing the remaining Elm Street kids in the then-ridiculously-successful fourth Elm Street outing, The Dream Child.

fvj-freddyAs the decade ended and people got bored of the same-old-same-old, Schmyoo Line purchased the rights to the Jason franchise and everybody supposed this would be the time the two would finally meet. But like a romance doomed to fail, it was still not meant to be, and, instead, Schmyoo Line ended both series in 1991 and 93 respectively, although Jason Goes to Hell was polished off with the coda of a razor-fingered glove dragging the hockey mask into the earth, suggesting anything was still possible.

In the 90s, when Freddy’s sire Wes Craven re-invented the slasher wheel with Scream, the idea was floated again. Although Michael Myers was rejuvenated along self-referential lines in 1998, audiences seemed to be more into earth-bound concepts of regular people going nuts and killing a bunch of folk, as witnessed by the you-upset-me motives across the Scream / I Know What You Did Last Summer / Urban Legend spectrum of loons. No room for dream demons and unkillable mama’s boys.

fvj-cornfield-stonersOnce again, the genre petered out thanks to the olde logjam effect, including the ill-conceived and ill-received attempt to put Jason is space for his tenth venture (eighth, if we’re going to be pedantic), which opened in 2002. However, something good clearly had come from all this (if anyone knows what it was, please write me), because in 2003 the fifteen-year-old idea only went into motherfucking production!

How? We squawked, how will Freddy and Jason exist in the same realm? From the gazillions of spec-scripts ranging from a cult that worships Jason to characters like Tommy Jarvis and Alice Johnson returning, the eventual choice was an impressively simple proposition…

fvj-freddy-markPeter Jackson – that Peter Jackson – offered up a script for 1991’s Freddy’s Dead in which the disempowered Krueger wasn’t scary enough to haunt anybody’s dreams and so teens sought him out in their slumber to kick his ass. Part of the concept held up; in FvJ Freddy has indeed been successfully banished by the residents of Springwood thanks to a concoction of Hypnocil-doping the teen population and never mentioning his name, so no fear can spread = no bad dreams = no deaths.

Irked by this resolution, Freddy engineers a plan of his own and, posing as Mrs Voorhees, resurrects the undead Jason, sending him off to Springwood to cause a bit of mayhem that will, he hopes, instil a near fear into the teen populace that will allow him to return and slash anew.

fvj-2picsThis all goes well until Jason continues killing anybody and everybody, and Freddy realises he needs to be removed from the picture. Caught in the middle of the mess is the usual group of mostly-doomed teens: Doe-eyed Lori, who lives at 1428 Elm Street, her BFF Kia (Rowland, of RnB shriekers Destiny’s Child), Lori’s until-recently institutionalized beau Will, and a few others who matter less, although special mention should go to their drug n’ booze loving friend, Gibb (Isabelle, fresh out of Ginger Snaps).

Freddy manipulates his way into destroying the town’s stockpile of Hypnocil that the kids make a bid for, and tranqs Jason in order to penetrate his dreams. The teens take Jason’s zonked body off to Camp Crystal Lake in the hope of bringing Freddy across to the real world (the same way Nancy did in the original that nobody thought of in any of the sequels) where they will hopefully occupy each other and leave Springwood alone.

fvj-trey-markThe final third of the films descends into WWE anarchy, with the two going at each other for what seems like an eternity of machete slashes, razor stabs, impalings, limb-removal, and even decapitation. It’s liberally bloody, increasingly wearisome, and 100% stupid.

While the film wisely adopts to parody itself before anyone else can, thanks largely to Ronny Yu’s direction after his mini-miracle with Bride of Chucky, it’s dumb even by slasher movie standards: Dialogue is persistently overwrought to explain what we can see occurring on screen as if the audience is going to be too mentally challenged to comprehend for themselves…

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Not quite Laurie, Annie, and Lynda, but the FvJ girls are appealing leads

Example: The first teen to encounter Freddy in a dream gets away unscathed and has to utter the lines “I’m alright! I’m OK!” followed by Freddy saying “Not strong enough yet…” Yeah. We kinda realised that. Later, the depleting teen posse look up Hypnocil online to see what it does. The screen we’re shown says ‘Suppress your dreams’ in big letters, yet the character reading from the screen mentions this last, after a load of inconsequential gobbledegook, despite the fact it’s written in huge font in front of everyone!

IQ-assumptions notwithstanding, the film works best before the two face off. Although Freddy only succeeds in slashing one victim for the whole movie, the dream sequences are good, as are the early murders dealt out by Jason, and the Scooby Doo meeting (and van!) the teens use was amusing. There are countless nods to earlier films in both series (something Halloween completely opted out of), with Westin Hills Psych Hospital back after the Dream Warriors, young Jason is seen with a sack put over his head by nasty campers, although Camp Crystal Lake seen as an untouched 50s relic was strange considering all of the films were set from 1979 onwards.

fvj-dockUltimately entertaining and operating as promised, not to mention phenomenally successful, outperforming all previous installments in both franchises combined. What Freddy vs Jason lacks in subtlety and scares (virtually everything), it makes up for in enthusiasm and loyalty to both sets of earlier films, wherever possible.

Blurbs-of-interest: Robert Englund’s other slasher flicks include Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Heartstopper, Hatchet, The Phantom of the Opera, and Urban Legend; Katharine Isabelle was in Bones and See No Evil 2; Jesse Hutch was also in The Tooth Fairy; Ken Kirzinger was a stuntman in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, and acted in Wrong Turn 2, and Stan Helsing (as the Jason rip-off, ‘Mason’); Lochlyn Munro was also in The Tooth Fairy, Scary Movie, and Hack! (with Kane Hodder).

Enthusiasm Wasteland

angela-graf-2

Sleepaway-Camp-IIIa

SLEEPAWAY CAMP III: TEENAGE WASTELAND

3 Stars  1989/18/76m

“She’s back to slash last year’s record.”

A.k.a. Nightmare Vacation III

Director: Michael A. Simpson / Writer: Fritz Gordon / Cast: Pamela Springsteen, Tracy Griffith, Cliff Brand, Mark Oliver, Michael J. Pollard, Sandra Dorsey, Haynes Brooke, Kim Wall, Daryl Wilcher, Kyle Holman, Jill Terashita, Kashina Kessler, Randi Layne, Chung Yen Tsay, Jarrett Beal, Sonya Maddox, Stacie Lambert.

Body Count: 16

Laughter Lines: “Seems like every time I go to camp, somebody loses their head.”


Shot back-to-back with Unhappy Campers and then released a year after, there’s a distinct change in tone, even from the same six-week filming window, as if everyone was so tired they’d started to give up caring and just wanted to be sent home.

One year after her massacre at Camp Rolling Hills, puritanical transsexual (surely a paradox!?) summer camp enthusiast Angela Baker kills and replaces a girl headed to Camp New Horizons, an ‘experiment in sharing’, which puts six inner city kids with six suburbanites – all at the same campsite.

Naturally, before long these stereotypes begin getting on Angela’s wick and she resolves to ‘weed out the bad’ once again. This time around, there’s a nasty racist girl, gang members, a vandal, a bondage-loving wannabe politician, plus the usual parade of girls willing to take their tops off on film – one of whom we are supposed to believe is interested in having it away with Michael J. Pollard’s camp leader. Weirdaway Camp.

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The spanner in Angela’s plan is the cop father of one of her earlier victims has stepped up as counsellor. Split into three groups, Angela rapidly does away with her comrades before moving on to the next team, claiming she’s been asked to trade places with somebody else.

While Springsteen is her usual appealing self (albeit with a sorrowful blow-out), it looks as if Unhappy Campers took the lion’s share of the budget, and FX work this time has borne the brunt of the cutbacks: Several victims are killed with a stick, and large parts of the grislier murders were either cut or occurred off camera, leaving the film barren of its predecessor’s gory humour.

Melanie Griffith’s sister Tracy plays the nominal final girl, but even she has little to do. In a film the same length as the last one with as many characters, there’s precious little time on screen for a lot of them, this time all named after The Brady Bunch kids (if you’re rich) or West Side Story (if you’re poor). Jill Terashita stands out as wasted-too-soon goth Arab.

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Entertaining at its best, shitty and badly acted at its worst, at 76 minutes (PAL) at least it’s short.

Blurb-of-interest: Pollard was also in American Gothic.

Sleepaway the 13th

CAMP DREAD

3 Stars  2014/18/90m

“Pitch your tent, dig your grave.”

Director/Writer: B. Harrison Smith / Cast: Eric Roberts, Felissa Rose, Nicole Cinaglia, Joe Raffa, Alexander Mandell, Montana Marks, Ashley Sumner, Gnomi Gre, Dave Raphaely, Angel Valerio, Brian Gallagher, Danielle Harris, Angel Sanchez, Kyle Patrick Brennan.

Body Count: 14

Laughter Lines: “We all know that work dried up for you after three shit films and you got tired of stalkers sending you come-stained fan letters.”


Ignore that cover and that tagline: There were no tents anywhere in this production. It’s pure summer camp goodness through n’ through!

In spite of a dismal 3.8 rating on IMDb, some clunky editing, and titles that look like they were typed out on an early Spectrum computer, Camp Dread is actually a pretty good, high-slaughter count apparent homage to Sleepaway Camp (with touches of Friday the 13th; witness a character named Adrienne) – filmed at a camp that looks suspiciously like Camp Arawak, and featuring Felissa Rose in a central role!

So it goes, washed up actor Eric Roberts plays washed up director Julian Barrett, who found fame in the 80s with the Summer Camp series of cheap slasher films, which starred Rachel Steele (Rose), but relations became bad between those involved and the series stalled to its end.

Now, with the chance to direct a remake, Julian presents a group of legally-tangled young folks (all over 21!)  with the chance to win $1million if they attend the old camp from the film for counselling sessions with actress-turned-therapist Rachel. They’ll be filmed for the duration on CCTV cameras and the will be ‘killed’ by production assistants. The last one standing walks away with the cash.

Of course, the ‘killings’ are less eliminations, more genuine slayings, with arrows in the eye, poisoned sandwiches, and being beaten to death with a false leg atop the options… Has one of the jittery contestants snapped? Is Julian behind it all?

Rachel soon becomes suspicious as the disappearances mount up, and discovers in-depth profiles on all the kids, some of whom have quite violent histories.

Numbers continue to dwindle until the usual nice couple are left, though at this point Camp Dread elects to reveal its apparent ‘twist’, which the seasoned viewer will see coming. It’s obnoxiously juvenile and quite annoying, pulling the rug of probability out from beneath itself, piling twist upon twist on top of everything until it goes beyond a stretch of credibility to a full blown bolt across the line.

Still, when it comes to making me happy, you can rarely go wrong with a summer camp slasher film: Most of the palatable elements are in place, the characters not too objectionable, the locus quaint and used wisely, and the murders mercifully CG-free and bloody without being excessive.

Danielle Harris, despite her star billing, appears for all of five minutes as the local Sheriff, but Felissa is in it for the long haul and is, as expected, awesome.

Blurbs-of-interest: Eric Roberts was also in Groupie; Felissa Rose was Angela in Sleepaway Camp and Return to…; Danielle Harris began her impressive slasher movie career in Halloween‘s 4 & 5, Rob Zombie’s remake and its sequel, Urban Legend, Hatchet’s II & III, Blood Night, and ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2.

Les mis

STAGE FRIGHT

2 Stars  2014/89m

“Sing your heart out!”

Director/Writer: Jerome Sable / Cast: Allie MacDonald, Meat Loaf Aday, Minnie Driver, Douglas Smith, Brandon Uranowitz, Kent Nolan, Thomas Alderson, Ephraim Ellis, Melanie Leishman, James McGowan.

Body Count: 7*

Laughter Lines: “What Japanese tradition involves covering your face all in white?” / “Bukkake!”


The third (possibly fourth) slasher film called Stage Fright, the concept for this alone virtually had my spraying my shorts with anticipation: A killer stalking a musical theater summer camp! A MUSICAL THEATER SUMMER CAMP! If you want nothing more than to see the Glee kids to die, this might go some way to quenching that bloodthirst.

Alas, similarly aroused reader, I was repeatedly reminded of the title of my favourite Skunk Anansie song. Squander. Whenever Skin wails “why squander, squander, squander, squaaaaaan-derrrrr?” I shall forever be reminded of this fucked up opportunity.

Things begin curiously like The Clown at Midnight, with stage queen Minnie Driver moidered in the dressing room by a masked assailant after a performance of The Haunting of the Opera. Her two young children, Buddy and Camilla, and lover Roger (Meat Loaf) survive her.

A decade later, Meat Loaf’s Summer Camp for Musical Theater Roger’s summer camp, Center Stage, attracts a bus full of excitable teens who sing about their arrival, being themselves etc: “I’m gay, but not in that waaaay” vs “I don’t get hard at T&A”. It’s chucklesome, but the tune isn’t memorable enough to have you humming it all day.

Camilla and Buddy, kitchen workers at the camp, want to move on with their lives, but then the season’s choice production turns out to be a Japanese-themed take on The Haunting of the Opera, and Camilla – looking like Mary Elizabeth Winstead – cannot resist following in her mother’s footsteps, ultimately winning a share of the lead role, with bitchy contender Liz.

A good 40 minutes of rehearsal wastes the chance of building any characters up: We learn few names, even less about the main players, and the killer barely registers, occasionally seen toiling in his subterranean dungeon, wallpapered with headshots that enrage him. Eventually, he pops up and kills somebody the day before opening night, sparking hysteria until Meat Loaf sings a song about the show having to go on.

Campers are convinced and Camilla takes to the stage while the killer begins eliminating various cast members and crew in the wings, but this is all occurs in about ten to fifteen minutes, is devoid of any stalking thrills or much bloodletting, and yields to a protracted unmasking ceremony where the obvious lunatic goes through the usual spiel of motive, all the while the stage show is crumbling…

First off, I don’t hate musicals. I’m by no means a fan, but I find them inoffensive. And Glee was good for about half a season. Meat Loaf, I love. Summer camp movies, I really love. So why does this fall on its ass so hard?

Simply put, it can’t seem to decide which of the two genres it wants to be more: The musical side of it frequently crosses into cringeworthy with no major ensemble dance pieces or memorable songs that drive the plot rather than reflect it; the horror side of it is stuck firmly in second gear.

A mix of 2003 musical theater camp movie Camp and Sleepaway Camp is how it should feel, but too much time is lost on third-tier plots like the sleazy teen director trying to get into Camilla’s pants, or the repetitive rehearsal montage. The characters were boring archetypes, the killer’s identity plainly obvious, and the tacked-on “X years later” prologue completely superfluous.

I’m depressed at how off target this ended up. Now I’m off to put that song on repeat till I feel better.

Blurbs-of-interest: Meat Loaf was in Wishcraft; Douglas Smith was in Santa’s Slay.

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