Tag Archives: weird-ass twist

Christmas. In August.

secret santa 2015

SECRET SANTA

2.5 Stars  2015/78m

“Open a box. Leave in a bag.”

Director/Writer: Mikey McMurran / Cast: Annette Wozniak, Geoff Almond, Keegan Chambers, Brent Baird, Nicole Kawalez, Tony Nash, Matthew Chisholm, Astrida Auza, Alexandra Simpson.

Body Count: 11

Laughter Lines: “You seem like a good person, please don’t do this.” / “On the contrary, I’m a psychopathic killer… with a knack for body dismemberment.”


I should take a certain amount of responsibility for this picture as I donated to the Kickstarter campaign that funded it. Look, my name is in the credits!:

secret santa 2015

Anyway, shot for a mere $6,000 CAD and garnished with that grainy 80s VHS look (but still including iPhones n’ shit…), Secret Santa is another of those back-to-basics productions.

A group of students taking some pre-Christmas holidays exams gather together for a festive party and, during the titular exchange, unwrap an array of weaponry ranging from a meatcleaver, through garden shears, hairdryer, and electric carving knife. “I didn’t get you that!” they caw, and we’ve already figured out that each gift represents the method of dispatch for its recipient.

Even at 78 minutes, it takes some time to get to the party, via the obligatory opening murder (the girl who takes a shower, obvs), exam stress, heroine Nicole’s guilt over how she’s earning money to pay her student debts, her boyfriend cheating with the nominal easy-lay, and some bizarre subplot about one of them being on drugs or something? I honestly didn’t understand his deal.

secret santa 2015

Secret Santa dances a line between adding comical lines and references and outright parody. A couple of moments are genuinely good, like the killer attempting to toss the hairdryer into a bath but the cord coming out of the socket, and the two-hour exposition from the killer, once unmasked.

The identity of the fiend is the ace up the sleeve here, although in many ways it makes next to no sense and signposts the departure from horror to comedy, but there’s something almost genial about the reveal, which reminded me of Slaughter Studios.

Hopefully the film will shift enough to finance a future, higher-budgeted project, because there’s definitely a talent at play there.

The goings-on at this camp would scare Jason away

sleepaway camp 1983

SLEEPAWAY CAMP

3 Stars  1983/18/84m

“You won’t be coming home.”

A.k.a. Nightmare Vacation (original UK release)

Director/Writer: Robert Hiltzik / Cast: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Christopher Collet, Paul DeAngelo, Mike Kellin, Karen Fields, Katherine Kamhi, John E. Dunn, Desiree Gould, Susan Glaze, Owen Hughes, Robert Earl Jones.

Body Count: 11

Laughter Lines: “She’s a carpenter’s dream – flat as a board and needs a good screw!”


Queer goings-on abound in this strange little cult classic with an ending so iconically deranged it completely overshadows the shortcomings of the preceding 82 minutes. Spoilers follow.

A man and his two kids are sailing on a lake when an out of control ski-boat plows into them, killing father and child. This scene sets up a few of Sleepaway Camp‘s weirdnesses: Overlong shots, Noo-Yawk accents, and over-acting. Check out the waterskier girl’s caterwauling moment.

sleepaway camp 1983

“OHMYGOD somebody PLEASE help the people PLEASE!”

Eight years later (yay! not five or ten!) the surviving sibling Angela and her cousin Ricky are sent off to Camp Arawak for the summer by Ricky’s kooky mother. She, like ski-girl, is something to behold, but a classic character nonetheless. Ricky has been before and happily reintegrates with old friends – bar sour-faced camp bitch Judy – but Angela barely says a word (in fact she doesn’t speak until 31 minutes in) and finds it hard to fit in.

Aunt Martha sleepaway camp 1983

“‘Return to Sleepaway Camp’? No, that wouldn’t do at all.”

It doesn’t help that the campers of Arawak are about 23% assholes who rejoice in mocking Angela one way or another. She’s almost raped by the pedophiley cook, waterbombed by the macho-swagger boys, thrown in the lake by her nasty dorm counsellor, and generally tormented verbally by most of the others.

So who is behind the series of bizarre accidents that begin to plague the camp? Said cook is scalded by a huge vat of boiling water; a boy is drowned beneath a canoe; another has his bathroom break interrupted by a wasp’s nest being thrown through the window… Later there’s death by curling-tongs amidst the more standard knife-in-the-back and arrow-in-the-neck.

sleepaway camp 1983

sleepaway camp 1983

The camp owner wants to keep it all under wraps and writes the first few fatalities off as accidents, much to the chagrin of his staff, but begins to suspect Ricky as the deaths continue. Why the whole place wasn’t closed after the first death is a real mystery.

Anyway, things culminate with a bit of a spree and the killer’s identity is revealed in the unforgettable final few frames, partnered nicely with a flashback to fill in the blanks. Most review books give it away and if you, like me, happened to see the sequels first, well then all is ruined.

Sleepaway Camp is a bit of a one-trick pony in this sense. It’s a bit of a chore of a film to reach the famed ending, peppered with some really strange elements and moments that don’t make a whole lot of sense, giving the impression that Hiltzik was so focused on his reveal that he back-pedalled a bit to fatten up his picture with a few extra bodies (when and why are the kids who go on the camping trip hacked up?), the strange flashback of two men embracing in bed together, which is a strange thing to be crowbarred in, especially in the less-than-tolerant early 80s.

sleepaway camp 1983 gay

Is Sleepaway Camp a gay movie? -shrug- I honestly don’t know where I stand with it. There’s nothing particularly pro or anti-gay going on. That the killer turns out to be a reluctant transgender teenager and possibly had a gay dad seems a bit of a lazy ‘queer things are deadly’ resolve, but the fact the film ends as soon as we’re informed what’s been going on, there’s thankfully nobody around to go “Well, yes, all non-cisgender people are homicidal killers, aren’t they?” Add to this the errant homoeroticism of many-a-boy in short-shorts that leave little to the imagination, crop-tops, and going skinny dipping together and, well, hmmm…

sleepaway camp 1983 fashion

The Sleepaway Camp Fashion Show

sleepaway camp 1983

Oh…

sleepaway camp 1983

OH.

The scattergun effect of Sleepaway Camp is its biggest foe. Who is the main character here? The crowded supporting cast are largely indistinguishable from one another, though that may accurately reflect life at camp with so many groups and cliques. Victims are sorted pretty much by who is nasty to Angela, so the nice counsellors and campers are (mostly) spared.

There’s still mucho 80s goodness (read: badness) to lap up, from the horrific fashion outings, Judy’s t-shirt with her own name on it, Meg spelling out her monosyllabic name in case anyone was in doubt, and Ricky’s unrelenting stream of profanities: Cocksucker, fucking pussies, chickenshit, asshole etc. The kid could work at any branch of Sports Direct.

And also the many stares of Angela*:

the many stares of Angela sleepaway camp 1983

I can’t ever seem to settle on an opinion on this film, whereas the 1988 sequels are a much easier pill to gulp down. It has enough decent content to entertain, with some ambitious photography here and there, and a good idea at its core. Were the world not so politically correct now, I’d nominate this as a prime candidate for a remake… but you know that final shot would never be permitted!

*Yes, I asked Stacie Ponder’s permission to re-use this term.

Blurbs-of-interest: Rose, Tiersten, and DeAngelo all came back twenty years later for Return to Sleepaway Camp; Rose was later in fellow summer camp slasher Camp Dread; Katherine Kamhi was a sub-final girl in Silent Madness; Mike Kellin was also in Just Before Dawn.

“In my day children didn’t suspect their grandparents of being serial killers!”

grandmother's house 1988

GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE

2 Stars  1988/86m

“She’ll spoil you to death.”

Director: Peter Rader / Writers: Peter Jensen & Gayle Jensen / Cast: Eric Foster, Kim Valentine, Len Lesser, Ida Lee, Brinke Stevens, Michael Robinson, R.J. Walker, Craig Yerman, Angela O’Neill.

Body Count: 4

Laughter Lines: “If I had a sister like that, I’d boff her.”


After their single father dies, teen siblings Lynn and David are shipped off to live with their grandparents on their Florida farm, where things aren’t quite what they seem…

David is quick to suspect Grandma and Grandpa are murdering people. A dead guy is pulled out of the lake. Brinke Stevens keeps appearing in the background, staring lots. What the fuck is going on?

This weird, sluggish production from 80s exploitation rockstar producer Nico Mastorakis has glimpses of creativity and some mild chills, but never really goes far enough with its concept. The mid-point twist is telegraphed with way too much clarity, as in “oh, I know what’s about to happen!” but it segues into a decent long chase. Although they do that stupid film thing of running from a truck in a straight line. In an orchard. With fuckloads of trees.

Elsewhere, opportunities to kill extra characters are missed. Lynn in harassed by a guy at the swimming pool, who I took to be retarded, who manhandles her into a kiss and pervs constantly. Later, however, she’s on some weird driving lesson-cum-date with him. He doesn’t die. Annoying teens come over for a gathering, they also don’t die, but one of them is Angela O’Neill, final girl from Sorority House Massacre. Ooh.

grandmother's house 1988

A contrived thing with a firework rocket thingy is strange, and the ultimate climax before the film just sorta stops dead. Points for electing a boy as the curious investigator for a change, but this film rattles on like one of your grandma’s stories about a time before you were born…

Blurbs-of-interest: Horror queen Stevens was also in The Slumber Party MassacreFatal GamesJack-OAmerican NightmareBleedBlood ReaperCheerleader Massacre, and Sigma Die!

COTC: C20

children of the corn 666 isacc's returnCHILDREN OF THE CORN 666: ISAAC’S RETURN

2 Stars  1999/18/79m

Director: Kari Skogland / Writers: Tim Sulka & John Franklin / Cast: Nancy Allen, Natalie Ramsey, John Franklin, Paul Popowich, Alex Koromzay, Stacy Keach, John Patrick White, Sydney Bennet.

Body Count: 8


I wouldn’t blame you if you thought there were 665 other Corn movies before this one. Certainly feels that way.

There’s a few ‘names’ in what seems like it was intended to be the Halloween H20 moment for the ever-goalpost-moving Children of the Corn series, which has gone through more metamorphoses than Kim Kardashian’s butt.

Teen Hannah (Ramsey) drives her banged-up old convertible to Gatlin to find her mother, Rachel, a member of the first-incarnation of the cult (she was the girl who attacked Burt and Vicky with the sickle at the end). On route she picks up a creepy preacher guy who literally disappears from the passenger seat after quoting a few cryptic Bible verses.

She locates the local hospice to research her adoption history, some oddballs, is nearly run off the road, and has recurring visions of corn, dead birds, and a shadowy figure.

Meanwhile, original preacher Isaac (looking like Jonathan from Buffy) wakes from his nineteen-year coma intent of providing safe passage for another prophecy about first born this, sacred birthright that, which will entail his son getting it on with Hannah to create something or other that was lost into a web of confusing dialogue.

In spite of the title suffix, Franklin doesn’t get that much screentime and achieves very little. He Who Walks Behind the Rows puts in an appearance (finally!), and there’s some gooey slayings, but the body count only gets going with minutes left on the clock.

children of the corn 666 isaac's return

Director Skogland overhauls the general look of the series, giving Gatlin a dusty, ghost town appearance and pours on the visual grit thick, with a washed-out colourless look to proceedings. It just makes it a bit emo and boring, with no real group of set-upon protagonists beyond Ramsey, who carries most of the film capably enough, propped up by Allen and Keach.

The big twist arrived undercooked and is done with in minutes and considering the roots of the series, there’s hardly a child in sight, and those we do see are just skipping about in the corn not bothering anyone.

If this was an attempt to springboard the series back into cinemas, gotta wonder if there was much of a demand for that in the first place, but COTC 666 adds very little to an already clogged and dizzy franchise, compounded by the next one having even less in common with this arc.

Blurbs-of-interest: Natalie Ramsey was Brittany Murphy’s friend in Cherry Falls; Stacy Keach was in The Hollow.

It certainly felt like a whole day

a day of judgment 1981 box

A DAY OF JUDGMENT

1 Stars  1981/15/97m

“The night HE came to collect his own.”

A.k.a. Stormbringer

Director: C.D.H. Reynolds / Writer: Tom McIntyre / Cast: William T. Hicks, Harris Bloodworth, Brownlee Davis, Jerry Rushing, Toby Wallace, Inga Dennis, Larry Sprinkle, Helen Tryon, Careyanne Sutton, Charles Reynolds.

Body Count: 9

Laughter Lines: “If you’re going to kill me, give me time to pray!”


This plodding oddity is notable only for being one of very few period slasher films, being set in a small Southern town in the 1920s, where, after what feels like hours of boring, dull scenes of dialogue, a mysterious cloaked figure has come to lay to waste the nasty folk.

Beginning with the departure of the local Reverend, who laments he has failed to make the local people change their sinful ways, very slowly and boringly we’re introduced to the various characters in town:

  • Greedy, fat bank manager who won’t give anybody debt extensions
  • Nasty old lady who hates children and poisons their pet goat
  • Cheating spouse of department store owner
  • Scheming ambitious boyfriend of said spouse
  • Angry alcoholic man
  • Man who wants his own parents committed for their estate
  • Some solicitor or something?
  • A rotund, but fair Sheriff

It takes almost 40 minutes for the first of these unpleasant reprobates to be taken out, dragged into the earth by creepy hands that spring from the soil. Then some guy shoots himself because fat bank manager tries to foreclose on his farm. Another guy dies during a fight and his wife and her lover cover it up by making it look like a car accident.

a day of judgment 1981

It’s all really confusing and boring. Why aren’t they being slashed up by the cloak-dude?

Some double-crossing crap is revealed, I zoned out. More people are being shot than sickled.

The score sounds like Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

My God, 97 minutes has never felt so long. This is worse than church.

SHIT A BRICK AND FUCK ME WITH IT – THE TWIST IS THAT IT WAS ALL A DREAM.

This isn’t a slasher movie its a Christian propaganda tale of A Christmas Carol proportions. The film even ends with the Ten Commandments scrolling up!

Blurbs-of-boredom: Jerry Rushing was the coach in Final Exam; Helen Tryon, William T. Hicks, and Larry Sprinkle were in House of Death.

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