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Everybody knows

ikwydlsI KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER

4.5 Stars  1997/15/97m

“If you’re going to bury the truth, make sure it stays buried.”

Director: Jim Gillespie / Writers: Lois Duncan (novel), Kevin Williamson / Cast: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr., Anne Heche, Johnny Galecki, Bridgette Wilson, Muse Watson.

Body Count: 5

Dire-logue: “Come into the back seat, I’ll let you do things to me.”


I used to post on a horror forum that spewed bile at the mention of most slasher flicks made post-1989, in particular this film. It was hated. Hated with the fire of a thousand suns. “You’re not a true horror fan if you like it!” I was once told. Yeah, cheers for that. This was a few years back, mind. Now it’s kinda old school, the film the next generation of slasher kids’ll say was from the good ol’ days when characters were likeable, plots made sense and you could go to town and back, have dinner and see a movie for under a fiver.

Me, I always liked this one, and when it came out I’d already OD’d on the 80’s flicks, so I wasn’t being, like, totally obnoxious, dude. The 90’s clutch slasher flicks came out in my prime years, I was about twenty, studying film, teen horror was exploding all over again thanks to Scream (or so Scream would say). In the UK it had the oh-so sensible release date of December. Winter. Off through the drizzle and freezing wind to see a film full of gorgeous people set in the summer. Hmph.

Shot as a reaction to Scream‘s success, Last Summer was, once again, scripted by Kevin Williamson and based on the 1973 novel by Lois Duncan – who reportedly hates the movie and whose name does not appear on the opening credits – in which a quartet of teen friends guilty of a hit and run accident the previous year are tormented by creepy notes and psychological games. However, in the book nobody is murdered, hence Duncan’s hatred of the film, which turned her morality tale into a hack n’ slasher. That said, Last Summer is a tame film by any comparison, with little on-screen violence and characters with sensibilites absent in most of the genre examples that preceded it.

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Celebrating their last summer of “immature, adolescent decadence,” smalltown couples Julie and Ray and Barry and recently-crowned beauty queen Helen, head out to a local beach where they drink, fool around, relay urban legends about hook-handed killers and drive back to town along a windy coast road where they mow down a midnight pedestrian. In shock, the boys convince the girls that nobody would believe Ray was driving pisshead Barry’s car and they’d all go to prison. Helen catches on but Julie wants to go to the police. She is outvoted and they toss the body off a dock, but not before he proves he’s not quite dead…

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One year later, a now sullen, miserable Julie returns home from college and receives a note with the title of the movie written on it. It turns out that the hopes and dreams of all four of them have been dashed and she tracks down Helen working at her father’s store, under the supervision of her bitchy older sister Elsa (maybe she knows what they did last summer?); Barry is also back from college and still a prize prick and Ray has become a fisherman. They discuss the note, what it means, and decide that it’s from Max, another local fisherman who drove by on the night they had the accident. He might know what they did last summer too…

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Well, actually he doesn’t as five minutes after an altercation with Barry, Max gets a big-ass fishhook through the chin. Sensing that notes aren’t enough, the killer cranks the harrassment up a notch and runs down Barry with his own car. Forced to reconsider their situation, the group soon find that their tormentor really means business as he edges ever closer to consumating their one year anniversary – July 4th, another calendar date to avoid! Helen has her ever important hair cut off while she sleeps and Julie finds Max’s body stuffed in the trunk of her car.

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Psycho killers are anal about commemorative dates, they never miss an appointment and Captain Birdseye’s Evil Twin is no exception. As night falls, the killings begin… This is where I Know What You Did Last Summer kicks in and kicks ass, peaking with the supremo chase scene where he goes after Helen. It’s highly reminiscent of Wendy’s never ending marathon of fear from Prom Night (which, you’ll note, shares several overlapping story aspects); in her lovely dress, Helen kicks her way out of a squad car, runs, stumbles, hammers on the door of the department store while Elsa faffs with the keys, drops from a high window and staggers bear-footed through some backalleys… It’s a long, drawn out, but very well done scene.

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Once Helen and Barry have been done away with (along with a couple of extras who got in the killer’s way), Julie’s investigating leads her right into the killer’s trap. Or, as it’s called in the trade, a boat. The trawler-set finale is certainly different and Julie goes through all the usual final girl things, hearing out the killer, hiding, screaming lots, all the Jamie Lee-set industry standards. Things end another ‘one year later’ with a cool jump scene right out of a Friday the 13th.

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Buffy didn’t begin on UK TV until the end of 1997 and nobody really knew who Sarah Michelle Gellar was at that point; in hindsight it’s easy to question why she didn’t just kick ass! But it’s good to see a genre icon adopting different roles – hey, JLC never got to play the slutty cheerleader! Jennifer Love Hewitt (at the time in Party of Five with Neve Campbell) makes an interesting, if yet obvious heroine who shrieks effectively and does all the things we expect her to. The boys play their standard-issue boy parts well but are overshadowed by their female counterparts. I tell ya, horror is the only genre where this goes on! Oh, and some reverse perving…

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I can see why some purists don’t warm to this flick; it’s big budget and full of surface gloss and has a preference to build characters and work on dialogue rather than bloodshed in a genre that trades on minimal-everything (except skin). Perhaps they saw it as an insult to the films they held so dear…? There’s no exploitation here, no girls running around naked, marking a point where slasher films became appealing to both genders… The suckiest thing I can say about it is that the DVD has no extras… Not one. Who knows, it works for me just the same as My Bloody Valentine or Terror Train. Can’t I love both?

Blurbs-of-interest: Hewitt and Prinze returned for the cheeseball sequel; Gellar had a cameo in Scream 2; Anne Heche played Janet Leigh’s role in the 1998 Psycho remake. Jim Gillespie later directed D-Tox and the Williamson-scripted Venom. Several of the producers worked on reams of similar films in the same era, including Urban Legend.

If you’re not bored by midnight…

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PROM NIGHT

2 Stars  2008/15/86m

“A night to die for.”

Director: Nelson McCormick / Writer: J.S. Cardone / Cast: Brittany Snow, Johnathon Schaech, Idris Elba, Scott Porter, Jessica Stroup, Dana Davis, Collins Pennie, Kelly Blatz, James Ransone, Brianne Davis.

Body Count: 14


After it was name-checked by loveable horror geek Randy in Scream, rumours of a Prom Night remake circulated for a while before the film finally materialised in 2008. However, the phrase “PG-13″ had already reared its unwelcome head, a total no-no for any worthwhile slasher flick.

In spite of the name, this is hardly a remake at all and should have been called Prom Night V if not something totally different altogether. There’s more common ground with the hit and miss remake of When A Stranger Calls from 2006, in that both films are heavily geared towards an audience comprised of teenage girls who talk all the way through the film, punctuating screams with “oh my God, look at her dress!” and “she’s such a bitch, just like Stacey…you know Stacey? Oh wait, I’ve got a text!”

prom1Prom Night redux isn’t an entirely awful experience, more of a forgetable one. It’s a visit to a theme park that has no good rollercoasters or a zoo with only domestic animals. It’s a day out – just a really bland one you can’t be arsed to tell anyone about. The story is as simplistic as they come: teenager Donna comes home from a night out to find her ex-teacher murdering her family. She gets away and, three years later, her prom looms. Alas, Mr Fenton – who had an unexplained obsession with Donna – has broken out of his asylum and is on his way to claim her as his own.

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No disco fabness in Prom Night ’08…except maybe Urkel there

Donna and her pals are already at the dance by the time the local cops learn of Fenton’s escape and he, seemingly dressed as Forrest Gump, is already on scene at the Pacific Grand Hotel where the prom is being held. Well…is it a prom? Why is there a red carpet and paparazzi outside for a school dance? Why is everyone from Bridgeport High so uniformally beautiful and in their 20s? Amidst the girl characters bitching about who should be prom queen, during which the characters prove themselves incapable of exclaiming little more effective than “totally” and “oh my God” and wondering if they’ll ever see each other again (mwa-ha-haaaa), people keep going up to their suite and not coming back, or, in one case, Donna’s friend Lisa realises she saw Mr Fenton and runs off to tell her friend, not bothering to tell her boyfriend where she’s going or taking him with her… Guess what happens to her.

prom3Eventually, stalker and stalkee come face to face before she is saved by Elba’s one-note detective and they all go back for a dull finale back at Donna’s house and I wondered to myself why Fenton was ever so transfixed with her in the first place… Brittany Snow may be a pretty actress, no more so than bouncy gal-pals Davis and Stroup but essentially she’s a bit…boring. Even her jockstrap boyfriend Bobby is a cardboard cut out. This is one of many scripting errors made here, although it’s nothing compared to the casting faux pas of placing hunky Schaech to play the psycho. Mr Fenton, once shaven headed and faced, is probably the best looking maniac in horror history. Screw Donna, I’ll run away with the guy!

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Johnathon – you’re too hot for her

The fact that we know who the killer is from five minutes in also sucks. The paperthin mystery of the original Prom Night made for a fun diversion that’s entirely absent here. In fact there are no twists anywhere in sight. The producers have gone for the most inoffensive garb they can get away with calling a horror flick, although it’s hardly that, with victims who, when stabbed a dozen or so times, bleed approximately enough to fill a shot glass and then cease. Considering the bodycount skyrockets to almost thrice as many as the original, save for a blood spatter or two, the film is as dry as a piece of sandpaper stuck to a cactus in the desert.

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Uhh… Disregard

An inexplicable box office success, Prom Night is so commercially crass that it could well be included in a box set of ‘Essential Sleepover Movies’ featuring a free hairbrush and a Zac Efron poster. Worse still, its cash-catching mits assured the writer/director duo took on a remake of The Stepfather next and then, quite possibly, a PG-13 remake of Hell Night. Dark times.

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Blurbs-of-interest: scribe J.S. Cardone directed 1981 quasi-nasty The Slayer; Jessica Stroup was in The Hills Have Eyes II and Pray for Morning. Schaech had a small role in Laid to Rest and its sequel.

That’s a mighty big ‘THE’

thefinaldestination THE FINAL DESTINATION

2 Stars  2009/15/82m

“Rest in pieces.”

A.k.a. Final Destination 4

Director: David R. Ellis / Writer: Eric Bress / Cast: Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Haley Webb, Nick Zano, Mykelti Williamson, Krista Allen, Andrew Fiscella, Justin Welborn, Jackson Walker.

Body Count: 10 (+51)

Dire-logue: “Sorry for being blunt but… Your life’s in danger and I think you’re gonna die.”


Curtain down time for New Line’s death by…well, death franchise? The absence of a numerical suffix in favour of that big old ‘THE’ seems to suggest that the series is bowing out after nine years, four movies and half a dozen or so tie-in novels (one of which I almost had the chance to write…).

Alas, all good things come to an end. Arguably, all that was good in Final Destination-dom came to an end when the credits rolled at the end of the second movie as the third attempted a re-start with a new cast and tale of doom, only to shoot itself in the foot with an over-abundance of sadism for laughs. That said, it was still a decent flick, something that can’t be said for numero quatro, a 3D-ized experience so over-simplified that it looks as if the script were written by a group of thirteen-year-olds high on E numbers.

As per usual, things begin with a big accident and death en masse, this time occurring at a racetrack/speedway where quartet of youthful friends Nick, Lori, Janet and Hunt escape their grisly deaths after Nick has a premonition that an accident on the track will send all manner of car parts flying into the audience, sticking and squashing punters until the place begins to collapse on top of them. As in all the films, he who has the vision is last to die in it, conveniently allowing us to witness that oh-so-important order-of-death list… Along with the kids, a handful of other characters make it out for temporary further living, several of whom aren’t even allotted names that register: there’s “Racist” (as well as “Racist’s Wife”), “Cowboy” and, my favourite, “MILF/Samantha”.

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A creative sequence of credits that CGI-ify deaths from previous films intercepts while the audience laugh at the frankly comical ways the “characters” were done away with at the raceway and re-adjust their 3D specs for the onslaught. People begin to die in a variety of bizarre and/or ironic ways, always gorily, sometimes with humorous trimmings, although killing off the nice soccer mom was callous and cruel, especially as her two sons were annoying and in close proximity enough to have been done away with…

In between deaths, Nick has pop-up visions of what will kill the next victim. Lori and he try to convince their friends who, of course, take no notice. The only person who believes them is Mykelti Williamson’s security guard, a widower with an alcohol problem, making him the sole “character” with any - and I mean any - information given about his life. They intervene, save a life, think they’re safe, toast to it, realise they aren’t and it all ends very strangely with some sort of second premonition that, when thwarted, proves it was an entirely meaningless effects boaster designed to pad out the minimal running time.

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OK, so there’s stuff to laugh at, the car wash scene is clever and an ass is sucked out, plus there’s plenty of dire-logue: Nick tells Lori it feels as if there’s something in the room with him. Yes, Nick, your girlfriend. She’s right there, touching you… You’re talking to her. The set-ups to each death are amusing, albeit somewhat unrelaxed and rushed and the 3D supplies some additional goo to fly at the audience.

But why, in four films, has no one ever questioned what force opposes Death and dishes out these premonitions and further hints? Why has nobody tried a seance or gone to a spiritualist or a gypsy to try and break the curse? The original film may have toyed with pop-psychology theories of our mortality but with each film comes more cynicism, thanks in main to characters so underdeveloped they aren’t all afforded names, let alone backstories, parents, jobs and lives. They serve only to be cut to pieces by shrapnel.

In this sense, The Final Destination reminded me of the original Japanese Ju-On: The Grudge, a film pieced together by vignettes of the haunty-housey stuff. Instead now, we get unrelated people dying in entertaining ways punctuated by dull scenes of Nick, Lori and George talking about it. There’s no mourning, no sadness. Hell, after Hunt dies he’s never mentioned again!

At the end of it all, what sucks outweighs what’s fun, but how can you complain going into a film like this – what did I expect, Oscar-worthy acting and high drama? Well, GSCE-level acting and any drama would’ve sufficed. The CGI wasn’t that impressive, the usually creative deaths weren’t that creative and the script was pure crap. And yes, I could have done better. I imagine it’ll end up on my DVD shelf next to 1, 2 and 3 once it’s on sale in a couple of years but it’s time New Line laid this one to rest.

Blurbs-of-interest: Bobby Campo was later in Scream – The TV Series; Andrew Fiscella was in the Prom Night remake; Phil Austin, husband of the ‘MILF’ was in Chain Letter.

August Face-Off: Films we wish had psycho killers in them…

I go to the movies a lot, sometimes to see a good ol’ slasher flick but, alas, there aren’t enough of them about to fill the schedules. It’s not 1981 anymore… I like other genres too, a good comedy, thriller, even a happy-clappy musical is good for the soul – but there are times when I’m bored or I don’t like the cast and I just wish that Jason Voorhees had a cameo…

OCEAN’S ELEVEN

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Tagline: “They were having so much fun it was illegal – now…they must pay!”

Why it needs a psycho: Ugh…just the pretension of it all, “look at us, we’ve got the biggest stars ponsing around in suits acting so smart, wah wah wah!” Clooney and Damon, I don’t mind so much in their other roles but this heist was in need of a duffel bag full of blades.

What should happen: feeling the thieves have transgressed the accepted commandment of “thou shalt not steal”, one of Ocean’s Eleven decides the only way to stop the sin is to kill off the others one by one!

Who survives? Being that Julia Roberts is the only female cast member, technically she should be the heroine here, but maybe, to save us from the even worse sequels, they should all just die.

First-rate Fatality: a severed head spinning on a Roulette Wheel. Ideally Pitt’s.

*

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL

hsmTagline: “Singing… Dancing… Slashing!”

Why it needs a psycho: The merchandising is the main sin here, everywhere you look there’s High School Musical books, cards, games, clothes… I’m pretty sure I saw HSM toilet paper recently… And, oh God, all those primary colours! My eyes!

What should happen: Troy and Gabriella fall in love, sing songs, play basketball etc. and Sharpay’s jealousy brims over into a homicidal rage and she starts by offing their latch-on friends, turning those pearly-white grins into screams of fear!

Who survives? The dorky girl Kelsi and Sharpay have an Alice vs. Mrs Voorhees-style fight centre stage in the auditorium and Gabriella maims Sharpay, believing she has killed her…but no… Zac Efron, however, is gone.

First-rate Fatality: During a super-happy, mega-energy basketball song n’ dance, Sharpay scissors off Troy’s head and slam dunks it, bringing a decisive end to the song.

*

DISTURBIA

disturbiaTagline: “Everyone who lives next door to Shia LaBeouf becomes a killer…”

Why it needs a psycho: Shia LaBeouf is in it.

What should happen: Kale (!?) and his Mom move to a new house, Sarah Roemer lives next door. David Morse lives across the street and kills various extras and, it turns out, killed Shia’s dad in the prologue. Somehow. Despite not knowing who they were.

Who survives? Aaron Yoo and Shia’s Mom (as a favour to her).

First-rate Fatality: in-between takes, Shia hangs around trying to be noticed by fans, enraging David Morse, who, still in character, suffocates Shia with a facefull of Curly Kale in a twist of vege-centric irony.

*

AMERICAN PIE

americanpieTagline: “There’s something about your first time… It’s also your last!”

Why it needs a psycho: Great film it maybe, but it kick-started the endless parade of naff rip-offs. Also, these teens are all trying to get laid and we know what that means to your common-or-garden maniac killer…

What should happen: The Sherminator is pushed too far after he pisses his pants at the prom and crashes the after party at Stifler’s house, stalking and killing those caught with their pants down…

Who survives? Alyson Hannigan.

First-rate Fatality: after striking out with Alison, Jim tries it on with a handy apple pie, only Sherman has made a surprise filling of acid leading to penile meltdown.

*

CAMP ROCK

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Tagline: “Don’t fit in. Stand out. Then DIE!”

Why it needs a psycho: I’ve not seen this film but it looks like it wants to be High School Musical: The Next Generation, plus it’s set at a summer camp!

What should happen: a masked psycho discovers the Jonas Brothers’ claims of purity are ruses to bed the girls at camp, takes exception to this and decides to kill everybody.

Who survives? I dunno, some nice but dorky girl nobody talks to.

First-rate Fatality: The main Jonas Brother is subject to thrash metal blasted into his ears until we see a gooey headsplosion!

*

MEAN GIRLS

meangirlsTagline: “Where blood is pink and filled with glitter!”

Why it needs a psycho: The girls are mean, super mean. They should die. Well… any film that features a clip from Friday the 13th Part 2 earns some respect. Plus Rachel McAdams is great and Lacey Chabert attempted a slasher in the “hmmm”-worthy Black Christmas remake.

What should happen: a dorky girl who’s been made fun of one too many times and features prominently in the Burn Book decides to eliminate the Plastics and their respective boy-toys.

First-rate Fatality: lip gloss laced with acid.

*

Victor: despite wanting to see Shia LaBeouf’s grim demise on screen, I like the Camp Rock idea the best…

CHERRY FALLS

cherryfallsdvd3 Stars  2000/18/88m

“If you haven’t had it – you’ve had it!”

Director: Geoffrey Wright / Writer: Ken Selden / Cast: Brittany Murphy, Michael Biehn, Jay Mohr, Gabriel Mann, Candy Clark, Joe Inscoe, Rick Forrester, Natalie Ramsey, Michael Weston, Kristen Miller, Amanda Anka.

Body Count: 8

Dire-logue-cum-chant: “Hail, hail, Virgin High, drop your pants it’s fuck or die!”


Lose your innocence – or lose your life! Such are the themes of the umpteenth post-Scream slasher that in the USA it was denied a theatrical release at all and heavily cut. Shame it is too as the original script for Cherry Falls (freely available to read on the web) was surely going to be the most grotesque and interesting dead teenager flick of its era.

I hated the film when I first saw it back in August 2000 (it did pick up a cinema run in the UK), it looked unfinished and badly cut, with ill-fitting comic relief tossed into the salad. A while later I gave it another chance and changed my view, finding a good few charms amongst the dross, not least the subtle brilliance that is the very premise itself… Smalltown America is, this time, under attack from a disguised maniac who is targeting teenagers who’re still virgins, thus sparing the oversexed jocks and sluts who normally make up the victim spectrum in the genre.

cherry21Brittany Murphy makes for a unique heroine as Jody, daughter of the titular town’s sheriff (Biehn), who is investigating the murders of a teen couple in a lover’s lane and, soon after, of a girl slashed up in her own home. All three have the word ‘virgin’ carved into their thighs, a report which sparks a hormonal time bomb as the high school kids of town organise a ‘Pop Your Cherry’ party to cross themselves of the killer’s list. Jody is having problems of her own though, having previously turned down boyfriend Kenny’s advances, he dumps her, then wants her again, then dumps her again… The only person she feels she connects with his English teacher Mr Marliston.

cherry3 Jody is later attacked by the Cher-wigged killer and some prying, eavesdropping and investigating on her part unveils a twenty-five-year-old town secret involving a girl by the name of Loralee Sherman, who claimed she was raped by several members of the school football team, whom the town sided with and she disappeared. Unfortunately – but blindingly obvious to all watching it – Sheriff Marken was one of the assailants, along with the principal of Jody’s school… This learnt, it becomes immediately obvious who the killer will turn out to be and also why…

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Cherry Falls is an equally blessed and cursed production, which, on one hand has a great selling point, amazing tagline, and paints an (honest?) Americana of desensitized youth who care more about what the deaths of their classmates can do for their libidos than those lost lives. There’s an acely shot chase scene where Jody sprints as fast as she can from the approaching killer, eventually defeating him/her with a plastic shark! However, it sinks to new lows of spoon-feeding, the title for a start being the name of the town where all such madness occurs is notably situated in Virgin-ia. Additionally, all vulnerable teens are suitably mouthy about the state – or lack – of their sex lives and we genuinely want several of them to die – but they don’t, a meanstreak underscored by the nasty guy who spreads rumours about victim #3, thus getting her killed and not seeing the sharp edge of the axe himself.

But what I love most about Cherry Falls is all about the UK video box…

cherryIt looks like a relatively normal box, pushing some impressive press quotes… cherrycoverquote2

Uhh…I’m not sure it was supposed to be. Oh wait, it’s from The Sun.

cherrycoverquote1The Faculty meets American Pie!? What the hell in Cherry Falls is remotely similar to the events of The Faculty!? Teens under threat, high school – aliens??

And finally, to push the most hesitant purchaser over the edge, it’s the sheer generosity of the DVD extras… cherrydvdextras

4 minutes of B-Roll? 6 minutes of interviews? Where’s all the cut footage, where’s the frickin’ trailer!?

Elementally, Cherry Falls is nowt more than a good film with some unintentional laugh-out-loud moments (perhaps what The Sun thought was by design); our first clear look at the killer dressed as a woman, the close-up on the word ‘erected’ on the wall of the school… but this is a film that could actually benefit from a remake, or at the very least a director’s cut, which features the purported uber-grim demise of Annette by sliding down a pane of broken glass throat first!; the sex party castration and, dare I utter it, would we see any of the hoard of teens running from the party actually naked?

Blurbs-of-interest: Michael Biehn was in Bereavement; Kristen Miller was the final girl in The Pool; Natalie Ramsey was the final girl in Children of the Corn 666; Michael Weston was the final boy in Wishcraft; Keram Malicki-Sanchez (Timmy) was in Texas Chainsaw 3D.

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