Supernatural Slasher Blues

Of all the subgenres of horror, slasher movies have the most conflicted relationship with the supernatural. Some of them make do without any supernatural elements whatsoever; others incorporate it in an ambiguous manner, like how in the original Halloween it isn’t clear whether Michael Myers is truly a supernaturally unstoppable force or merely possesses above average toughness.

And then, just sometimes, a slasher movie will go full supernatural, at which point the usual slasher stalk-and-slay dynamic changes comprehensively. A Nightmare On Elm Street might be the most famous example of that, alongside some of the more offbeat Halloween and Friday the 13th sequels: here’s some more obscure ones.

The Boogeyman

The opening, with the nighttime shot prowling around the exterior of the house set against a very John Carpenter-esque synthesiser soundtrack, is a transparent rip-off of Halloween. We even get a child killing someone in their household, just like Halloween! This time, however, there’s extenuating circumstances; young children Lacey (Natasha Sciano) and Willy (Jay Wright) are peeping on their mother (Gillian Gordon) starting to get it on with her boyfriend, who is never named in the movie and only credited as “the Lover” (Howard Grant). An annoyed Lover decides that an appropriate, proportionate response to this gagging and tying Willy to Willy’s bed. Lacey gets a big ol’ kitchen knife and frees Willy; Willy takes the knife and kills the Lover, which I guess in a way is freeing himself and Lacey.

Years later, and Lacey and Willy – now played by Suzanna Love and Nicholas Love respectively – are all grown up. Willy was traumatised by his childhood deeds, and has never spoken since the killing. Lacey is doing better; she’s married to local cop Jake (Ron James) and the pair have a child of their own, little Kevin (Raymond Boyden). Lacey’s family, along with Willy, live in the sprawling house of Aunt Helen (Felicite Morgan) and Uncle Earnest (Bill Rayburn), who took them in after the killing and have provided them with a loving home.

Continue reading “Supernatural Slasher Blues”

The Italian Alien Rip-Offs

As I’ve frequently highlighted here, somewhere in the transition from the 1970s to the 1980s Italian genre cinema lost its way; whereas previously it had produced an interesting mix of highbrow and schlock material, somewhere along the way a race to the bottom began, yielding a glut sloppy B-movies turfed out in a hurry, often for the sake of ripping off some more prominent, more successful movie. When Alien was a hit in 1979, it was inevitable that Italian producers would try to rip it off. Let’s take a look at two attempts, neither of which manage to capture the charm of the original movie.

Alien 2: On Earth

We open as journalists assemble to cover the the return of a mission to space, the capsule expected to splash down in the ocean. Meanwhile, caving expert Thelma Joyce (Belinda Mayne) hustles to a TV studio (which seems to be located inside an old cinema, based on the exterior shots), where the local station is going to interview her about her group’s explorations as a way of filling time until the astronauts show up. Thelma, during the interview, shows signs of illness; her husband Roy (Mark Rodin) explains that Thelma is telepathic and she sometimes has funny turns when significant things happen (in the same tone of voice you’d use to explain that someone has a mild allergy to cats).

After the interview Thelma drags Roy and, later, the rest of the caving team around town doing various weird errands – meeting some guy from a yacht who tells her to ignore her concerns, and then randomly yelling at a little girl at the beach for no reason. Well, perhaps she did have a precognitive reason – for after Thelma leaves, the child encounters something squamous and eldritch on the beach and disappears, and when her mother finds her she’s had her face ripped off (though apparently this leaves no bloodstains or trail of blood and she is still able to sit there sobbing like someone broke her favourite toy despite lacking any of the parts of the body which would allow you to cry).

Continue reading “The Italian Alien Rip-Offs”

Texas Barbecue, Louisiana Hospitality, and Suburban Spooks

Still shovelling that backlog! How about some Tobe Hooper movie reviews?

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Arguably as important a prototype for the slasher movie as Black Christmas and HalloweenThe Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of those movies which has infiltrated the public consciousness enough – through the controversy surrounding it, through the iconic poster featuring Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) doing what he does best, and through its bluntly direct title, that lots of people who haven’t seen it still confidently feel that they have a handle on what it’s about.

It is, however, substantially smarter than it’s given credit for. The events of the movie are shocking enough that it’s easy to forget the opening scene, in which following the sounds of digging in darkness and the occasional camera flash revealing rotting human remains we’re treated to a grisly diorama set up in a graveyard, with a radio news report talking about a spate of graverobbing. The radio report also focuses on other acts of spontaneous local violence which surely can’t all be down to the family’s antics. Between this and the shots of solar flares during the opening credits, we’re left wondering whether the heat of the Texas summer has kicked off something terrible.

Continue reading “Texas Barbecue, Louisiana Hospitality, and Suburban Spooks”

Romero’s Dead Manifesto

The history of zombies in horror cinema can be divided into two eras. There’s the period before Night of the Living Dead, in which the idea of the walking dead largely hinged on concepts appropriated from Haitian culture, with the deceased rising and taking actions under the direction of a magician like in White Zombie or Plague of the Zombies. Then there’s the period after Night of the Living Dead, when the concept was decoupled from its folkloric origins in favour of the newly-minted folklore of the zombie apocalypse.

Romero’s Dead movies effectively form three trilogies; there’s the first three which are the truly seminal work, then there’s the second three from the 2000s – Land of the DeadDiary of the Dead, and Survival of the Dead, which came about in a time when Romero had become so typecast as a director that he couldn’t get a non-zombie project off the ground and he leaned into it, thanks in part to the revival of the genre in the wake of 28 Days LaterShaun of the Dead, and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. Though Land of the Dead was pretty good and the other two had their moment, it’s safe to say the second trilogy is not what Romero’s legacy is largely built on – for that, you need to dig a bit deeper.

Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead more or less entirely changed the way zombies were depicted in cinema forever after, presenting a narrative which is simple enough to become archetypal but nuanced enough that there’s depth to it beyond the basic survival horror premise. Unfortunately, it’s been quite badly treated over the years in terms of home media releases or downloads as an upshot of a blunder by the original distributor causing the film to enter the public domain in the US.

Continue reading “Romero’s Dead Manifesto”

A Streak of Slashers

The American slasher movie boom, once it got rolling, ended up in a race to the bottom really very suddenly. After Black Christmas was a modest success, Halloween and Friday the 13th ended up becoming monsters, earning back some 100-200 times their budget in the cinemas. The combination of astonishingly cheap budgets and apparently low standards on the part of the audience meant that a lot of crap was produced by people jumping on the bandwagon.

For this article, I’m going to take a comically huge machete and chop out a cross-section of the genre to look at, illustrating its decline over the course of the 1980s. I’ll start with a pretty decent 1981 release (with some major problems) from early on in the craze, move on to a more amateurish effort blessed with some fun effects from 1984 from the mid-1980s, and end up with a trashfire which crept out straight-to-video in 1985 in Spain before it finally got a domestic release in the US in 1987.

Content warning time: this article is about slasher movies, also one of them was made by Harvey Weinstein, so obviously rape and murder are just a shot away this time around.

The Burning

Once upon a time at Camp Blackfoot, some of the kids decided to play a cruel prank on the caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David), who was a bit of a hate figure among them. Having obtained a spooky old worm-riddled skull and slipped some candles into its eye-sockets to make it extra scary, they crept into his bedroom, set the skull on the table next to him, and then crept out and banged on the window to wake him up.

Continue reading “A Streak of Slashers”

Lenzi’s Variable Focus

Umberto Lenzi’s career, like many Italian directors of his generation, would require him over the years to adapt to a range of different genres. Tending to work more towards the sleazier end of the spectrum, he’d happily turn out sword and sandal epics, spy movies, gialli, or whatever other flavour of schlock was in vogue at the time, though he also made some original contributions of his own – for instance, his Man From Deep River is considered to have kicked off the cannibal subgenre (and his later Cannibal Ferox is, alongside Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, held to be the point where people said “OK, enough of this, the ‘who can be grimmer’ competition is over and we have our tied winners”).

As with any Italian director from this era, the quality of his output varied widely. Lenzi seemed happy to pitch his movies at the level demanded by the genre he was working in – going a bit more sophisticated for giallo, a bit sleazier for zombie movies, and so on – and when Lenzi is truly phoning it in, the results are awful. (Ghosthouse is only worth watching in the Rifftrax version.) Here’s a brace of three of his movies which have had recent Blu-Ray releases to illustrate what I mean.

Spasmo

Despite its title sounding like the sort of playground insult that people should really know better than to use these days (it’s a perfectly legit Italian word which happens to sound terrible in English), Spasmo does in fact at least start off as one of the more clever giallos out there. A young man and his girlfriend ride their motorbike to a ruined cottage by the coast to get some privacy – though they’re not so concerned about privacy that they’re shy to ask a dark figure sat in a car a little way away from the cottage to light a cigarette for them. In the middle of their making out, they are interrupted by…

Continue reading “Lenzi’s Variable Focus”

The Clumsy World of Bruno Mattei

Back in the 1970s, Italian horror cinema tended to have a good reputation – the greats like Dario Argento were producing some of the most aesthetically interesting entries in the genre, the “giallo” trend paved the way for the modern slasher movie but always seemed to be a touch more thoughtful than Friday the 13th and its imitators, and even the B-grade material had at least some interesting ideas underpinning it.

Then in the late 1970s and early 1980s, things changes. Whilst you still had good, thoughtful directors producing good, thoughtful films, the industry shifted and a greater emphasis on producing cheap rip-offs of more popular films took hold. A few islands of arthouse horror remained, but they were increasingly threatened by the rising tide of exploitation trash.

One of the most infamous producers of terrible B-movie trash in this scene was Bruno Mattei. Often working closely with his regular scriptwriter Claudio Fragasso – who’d go on to direct Troll 2 – Mattei would leave a trail of cinematic wreckage behind him. Astonishingly, some of these managed to attain controversy – in particular, Hell of the Living Dead actually made the Department of Public Prosecutions’ video nasty list, though a failed prosecution led to it being removed from the most serious category. This can only be due to confusion between Hell of the Living Dead and one of the various zombie films it rips off – for it’s more of a “video clumsy”, a piece offensive not because of inappropriate content so much as incompetent delivery.

Hell of the Living Dead (AKA Zombie Creeping Flesh, AKA Virus)

At a mysterious chemical plant an experiment that is not really explained to the audience in any way is in progress. (At one point it’s referred to as “Operation Sweet Death”, which is hardly encouraging.) Some of the scientists are conducting checks in hazmat suits with large, flappy hoods which aren’t actually tucked in or secured in any way – as a result of which the suits are not in any way airtight, watertight, or capable of resisting… say… an out-of-control zombie rat that jumps into one of their suits and starts attacking one of them, or for that matter a massive leak of toxic gas when the scientist who’s been attacked falls over in a bloody mess.

Continue reading “The Clumsy World of Bruno Mattei”

Video Clumsy: Zombi Holocaust

So, you know how I talked about how Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters sets up the viewer to expect something along the lines of the then-thriving cannibal movie genre only to end up avoiding the racist tropes and conventions of that subgenre? Well, in making this 1981 release – one of the first knockoffs to try and mimic Zombie Flesh Eaters on the cheap -director Marino Girolami had absolutely no qualms about throwing in a bunch of cannibals to the mixture and treating them as every bit the cliched cartoon characters the worst entries in the cannibal movie subgenre present.

As with Flesh Eaters, the action starts out in New York City, where a hospital has been struggling with a spate of mutilations – dead bodies in the morgue have had parts removed for some unknown purpose. It isn’t long before the the culprit is discovered – Toran (Turam Quibo) one of the morgue attendants – and highly trained anthropologist-doctor Lori (Alexandra Della Colli) recognises Toran’s ritual tattoo as the sign of a cannibal tribe from an island in Indonesia, worshippers of the volcano god Kito. Dr. Peter Chandler (Ian McCulloch, fresh off Zombie Flesh Eaters), who appears to be some sort of multiclass doctor-cop-spy, reveals to Lori that this is just one of a string of similar incidents that have been happening across the US, each of which involving an immigrant from the selfsame island.

Peter and Lori end up leading an expedition to track down the tribe and work out what they’re up to. Luckily enough, Peter is on good terms with Dr. Obrero (Donald O’Brien), a world-famous surgeon who settled in the area some five or six years ago and who can help point them on the right direction and give them a guide in the form of Molotto (Dakar, another Zombie Flesh Eaters veteran). Little do they realise that the Kito cannibals are caught up in a war for survival against a horde of zombies – hideous creations of twisted medical science under the control of Dr. Obrero himself!

Continue reading “Video Clumsy: Zombi Holocaust”

Zombies At the Gates of Hell

After producing some well-received giallo pieces in the 1970s, Lucio Fulci’s standing as a horror director reached its peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s – elevated on the back of a horde of zombies. Brought in as a hired gun to direct Zombie Flesh Eaters, the movie turned out to be Fulci’s international breakthrough. He was able to use this new stature to produce his famed Gates of Hell trilogy was born – this being City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and The House By the Cemetery.

Every one of these ended up caught up in some level in the UK’s video nasty controversy – Zombie Flesh Eaters and The House By the Cemetery were on the Department of Public Prosecutions’ “Section 1” list of material successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, The Beyond was on the “Section 3” list of material which had not been successfully prosecuted in and of it self but which police could confiscate under a “less obscene” charge, whilst City of the Living Dead, whilst never on the official list, was sometimes seized by the police anyway since it was a Fulci movie and often lumped in with the others.

For this article I’m going to cover both the Gates of Hell trilogy and the movie which made the sequence possible.

Zombie Flesh Eaters

Though the franchise this kicked off is known as Zombie Flesh Eaters in the English-language market, it was promoted in its native Italy and some other markets as Zombi 2 – in other words, a supposed sequel to Dawn of the Dead, whose Italian cut was released under the name Zombi. This sleazy action on the part of the studio kicked off a naming mess tha’ts almost as controversial as the content of the film itself (and of the many films which tried to freeride on its infamous reputation).

Continue reading “Zombies At the Gates of Hell”

Video Clumsy: 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.

Continue reading “Video Clumsy: My Moan About “Madman””