Dead of Winter? Dead On Arrival

Struggling actress Katie McGovern (Mary Steenburgen) is hired by retired psychiatrist/polar bear hunter Dr. Lewis (Jan Rubeš) to replace Julia Rose (also played by Steenburgen) – the lead actress on an independent film that the wealthy doctor is somehow connected to (presumably as a financial backer). Katie is told that Rose stormed off the set, leaving the production high and dry and desperately in need of someone who resembles her closely enough to finish off her scenes – but before she heads up to the main set in Canada, she has to visit Lewis’ snowbound estate in upstate New York to film some preliminary scenes.

Of course, as the audience we know a little bit more than Katie; most importantly, we saw the prologue sequence in which Rose, travelling incognito, seems to be involved in some sort of shady deal involving the transfer of a large sum of cash, only to be murdered. As it turns out, Dr. Lewis is playing a very long and curious game with the powerful Evelyn Rose, Julie’s sister (also played by Steenburgen), and has brought Katie into the conflict as a pawn in order to trick Evelyn into thinking Julie is still alive. This leaves Katie in danger both from Evelyn and the forces that killed off Julie in the first place, and Dr. Lewis himself, who sees her only as a tool to be used for this specific purpose and then… well, who knows?

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My Moan About “Madman”

In a moonlit forest, on the last night of summer camp, the kids and staff (who, in a move which doesn’t speak well for the camp’s commercial viability, outnumber the kids) sit about a campfire and tell spooky stories. The owner of the camp tells a tale of an old abandoned house nearby – a house haunted by an insatiable axe murderer who was mutilated and hanged by the locals years ago but who escaped death and still stalks the woods to this day, a killer who is inspired to undertake yet another spree whenever someone speaks his name above a whisper, an unstoppable engine of death who looks like an off-brand version of Iron Maiden’s mascot if he put on a bunch of weight and grew a beard – a stalker named Madman Marz.

Naturally, one of the kids takes it on himself to scream “Madman Marz” at the top of his voice and lob a rock through Marz’s house’s window.

Urban legends like Madman Marz are ten-a-penny, of course – more or less every campsite has them, and I remember being creeped out by a very similar story when I went to Scout camp as a kid because I was kind of a wimpy boy and hadn’t watched any of the Friday the 13th movies. There’s a particular area of New York where the local campsite killer urban legend refers to a certain “Cropsey”, who was supposed to haunt an abandoned mental hospital; fairly recently the documentary Cropsey explored the possibility that this particular iteration of the legend might have been inspired by the activities of a real life child kidnapper and alleged murderer from the area named Andre Rand.

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The Devil’s Dagger!

Two women rob a bank and murder some bank tellers pointlessly before escaping to a cabin in a woodland ski resort; they don’t last the night before one of them has shot the other so that they don’t have to share the money, only for the betrayer to get stabbed in the back by an unseen figure who stacks the bodies on the stairs under a strange symbol scrawled on the wall with blood.

The next day, two separate groups of holidaymakers arrive at the resort. One of them, a group of women who don’t seem to have much of a background or motivation beyond being on the prowl for dudeflesh, takes the cabin the murders took place in; another, two husband-and-wife pairs celebrating one of the husbands (Tony) passing the bar exam, takes the neighbouring cabin. Both groups are regaled with stories of a mountain man who long ago called on the dark spirits of the hills for a weapon to use against those encroaching on his land – a certain blade, which drove the bearer to kill his enemies and his family alike. Supposedly, he rests at the bottom of the local lake, occasionally rising to kill again.

As the gents spend their time ignoring their wives, cultivating their bromance, and hanging out with the ladies next door, the wives spend their time being ignored, and the women in the murder cabin try to have a fun holiday despite being in a murder cabin, the police keep their investigation into the killings going. Eventually, the plot has to start again… right?

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Not the Thanksgiving Turkey I Expected

In a world where nobody wears a bra and everyone makes sure you can tell they aren’t wearing a bra, single mother Maddy Simmons (Louise Lasser) and her boyfriend (Bill Cakmis) go along to a drive-in performance of an R-rated horror movie – with Maddy’s twin 11-years-ish-old sons, Terry and Todd, sleeping in the back. In the middle of the movie, the twins wake up and Terry finds himself a nice, sharp axe, hacks up a dude in another car, and then hands over the axe to Todd and smears him with blood to frame him. Ten years later, at Thanksgiving dinner Maddy announces that she’s gotten engaged to new squeeze Brad King (William Fuller), manager of the Shadow Wood lakeside housing development where they live, and receives the news that Todd (played as an adult by Mark Soper) has escaped from the special school they sent him to – but not before regaining his memories of that night and telling his therapist, Doctor Berman, the truth about the events.

Well, Terry (also played as an adult by Mark) isn’t having any of that, and he’s decided that a good old-fashioned killing spree is just what’s called for: after all, the more over-the-top, gruesome killings he can pull off tonight and pin on Todd, the longer Todd will be put away for and the better chance Terry will have of getting away with the original murder. With Todd making his way home and much confusion between the twins ensuing, the scene is set for a sort of slasher movie take on The Comedy of Errors. Can Todd get anyone to believe him – and can Terry really get away with his terrible scheme? Will everyone keep their cool, or will someone end up losing their temper and flying into a… Blood Rage?

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Blessed With a Plot Twist, Cursed With the Main Plot

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Out somewhere in the vast American countryside is a little farming community where the agrarian Hittites – a religious commune with a similar distaste for modern technology and dress sense to the Amish, but with substantially stricter internal rules – live next door to neighbours of a far more conventional and modern bent.

Caught between the two communities are Martha and Jim Schmidt (Maren Jensen and Douglas Barr). Jim is the son of Hittite leader Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine), and inherited from his family the farm and farmhouse called Our Blessing. But he is no longer with the Hittites; the first of the sect to go to the big city (Los Angeles, in this case) to get an education, he learned worldly ways and met and married Martha, an outsider, and brought her back as his wife. That was more than enough to get him expelled by Isaiah – causing greatly conflicted feelings in John (Jeff East), Jim’s brother who stayed at home and remains a devout Hittite.

One day, a nasty incident – I hesitate to call it an accident when there’s so much implication there isn’t – happens in the barn, killing Jim. Martha is pregnant with Jim’s child, and reaches out for support – both to her neighbour Louisa Stohler (Lois Nettleton) and Louisa’s daughter Faith (Lisa Hartman) and to a pair of her old college pals, Lana Marcus (Sharon Stone) and Vicky Anderson (Susan Buckner). Martha wants to at least stick around on the farm until Jim’s child is born, but has to contend with various troubles, the most obvious being the hostility of the Hittites. Isaiah makes it clear that he’ll gladly buy Our Blessing from her at a very generous price – with the unspoken corollary that she go far away back to the big city – but she refuses; tension also arises from Vicky and John being very obviously attracted to each other.

And then there’s William Gluntz (Michael Berryman – perhaps most famous as the iconic lead cannibal from The Hills Have Eyes). William, who won’t stop pestering Faith (who, for her part, exhibits a decidedly unusual view of the world through her painting – one more appropriate to a macabre surrealist than the unsophisticated farm girl she appears to be). William, from whom Martha first hears the word “Incubus” – denoting some evil force that the Hittites regard Martha and much of the outside world to be under the influence of. William, who can’t seem to leave the Our Blessing farm alone. William… whose stabbed corpse is discovered hanging in Our Blessing’s barn, under circumstances which make it clear that someone or something is out to terrorise Martha and her friends. Just what are we dealing with here – a slasher with a grudge against Martha, someone out to hurt both her and her quasi-Anabaptist neighbours, or something outright supernatural?

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George Eastman: Absurd Anthropophage

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Among the various movies added to the so-called “video nasty” list in the UK in the 1980s, few have as as much in common as Anthropophagous and Absurd. Both are projects by expert trash merchant Joe D’Amato, and both have George Eastman in almost identical costuming. And both are incredibly grim, though in mildly different ways…

Trigger warnings would be appropriate at this point: both of these involve cannibalism and murder, one involves violence against a pregnant woman, one involves violence against a disabled person.

Anthropophagous

As with many of the video nasties, this one was released under a whole swathe of different titles; the print 88 Films seems to have used to prepare this high-definition rerelease actually has the title “The Savage Island” appear during the opening scenes. The film kicks off with a young German couple exploring a delightful Greek island, with a lovely old village and decent beaches. As the man sunbathes, the woman spots a boat sitting apparently abandoned just off the beach. She swims over there, only to be shocked by what she finds therein – the occupant being the eponymous anthropophage, who after slaying her makes short work of her blissfully unaware friend.

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Freddy Kreuger’s Forgotten Elder Brother

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Kay Church (Sarah Kendall) is a painter who draws heavily on her dreams for inspiration (the end results being reminiscent of Magritte and his latter-day imitators), and who has a major show coming up. Kay’s mental health has often been rather fragile, and her husband David (Alan McRae) has become deeply worried about her well-being, so he’s arranged a special vacation in a friend’s holiday home on an otherwise-abandoned island just off the coast of Georgia (the US State, not the country). It’s just him, Kay, Kay’s brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and Eric’s wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook)…

…Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. There’s a storm coming in, and worse besides – for Kay’s recurring dream of being stalked by a hideous creature through an opulent house has left her feeling decidedly familiar with the island. For it’s the island she sees in her dreams, where the killings take place – and soon the killings start in real life. Has the monster that has haunted Kay’s dreams for as long as she can remember stepped out into the waking world?

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