Tag Archives: Slasher

CAPSULE: TOURIST TRAP (1979)

DIRECTED BY: David Schmoeller

FEATURING: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Tanya Roberts

PLOT: A group of teenagers have car trouble in the back country and find themselves stuck at a closed museum exhibiting creepy, realistic mannequins.

Still from Tourist Trap (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though it be an excellent cult horror classic, this one ranks in the bottom half when it comes to real weirdness. If 2013’s Evil Dead or 2012’s The Cabin In The Woods don’t make the list, what chance does Tourist Trap have? While it’s a memorable horror film, Freddy Kruger picks weirder things out of his teeth.

COMMENTS: Weird movie fans approaching Tourist Trap will have reason to get their hopes up when they see the director, David Schmoeller. He also directed Crawlspace (1986), which is one of the better examples of a cult horror classic and a decidedly offbeat production. And nothing says “you came to the right movie” like the opening music theme, which is a perfect blend of whimsy and dread. Soon we will encounter the ISO standard horror cliches: carloads of young folks, a flat tire, the creepy old rest stop in the middle of nowhere, and the first sacrificial lamb killed off in a sentient room full of laughing mannequins. Ten minutes in, you’ll swear you’re watching an Evil Dead installment, until you remember this was done two years before Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell first ventured into the Tennessee woods. However, by the halfway mark, after you’ve gotten a better map of this film’s universe, there will be no doubt in your mind that Crawlspace’s director made this. Unique villains are David Schmoeller’s forte.

So a carload of teenagers on some kind of outing stumble upon the “Lost Oasis,” a museum now long closed ever since the new highway went through. Stranded with the typical horror-movie car malady, the broke-down kids soon meet Mr. Slausen (horse opera vet Chuck Connors), who runs a decrepit museum of mannequins. Slausen is chock full of exposition about this creepy place, a locale that practically begs for Scooby-Doo and Shaggy to run around stumbling into the trap doors and secret passageways. As it is, the gang of kids do a knock-out job of being dim-witted horror movie teens, insisting on going skinny dipping in muddy ponds in the middle of nowhere, or splitting off alone from the group to inspect deserted houses at night—even after they’ve been warned—because they’re just so darned curious. To the movie’s credit, once we put all the pieces together and gotten to know our antagonist, we get a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. For a low budget flick with little to work with beyond old theater parts and department store fixtures, it wrings out every ounce of scare value from its limited arsenal.

Tourist Trap suffers from Trope Codifier syndrome, causing it not to age well even though it originated many of the characteristics we now view jadedly. We see it today as a derivative mad slasher flick, but that genre was just being born when this movie came out. The wayward teens might as well have numbers branded on their foreheads to show the order they’ll be picked off. The story is loaded with creepy atmosphere, but very thin on logic. Gosh, those mannequins sure seem life-like, as if their eyes follow you around… now you see where this is going. Tourist Trap is redeemed if you recall that it came out one year before Friday the 13th and just one year after Halloween. Dyed-in-the-wool horror/slasher fans will want to see this movie to check it off the must-see list, but weird fans will find little to hold their attention past the sheer offbeat charm of it all and the occasional hilarious one-liner. Make no mistake, you’ll at least get a shiver from the mannequins the next time you’re browsing in the department store at your local dusty, half-deserted mall, which just goes to show that Tourist Trap has done the job it set out to do.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Even though the pic couldn’t be dumber or more senseless, for some it might have some appeal because of its oddness.”–Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

This movie was made for Kindertrauma:

Tourist Trap

Crawlspace (also by David Schmoeller) review at Tenebrous Kate’s:

Crawlspace [1986]

LIST CANDIDATE: SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

DIRECTED BY: Robert Hiltzik

FEATURING: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields

PLOT: Eight years after her father and fraternal twin were killed there in a boating accident, introverted teen Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) returns to Camp Arawak alongside her protective cousin and adopted brother, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). Children and counselors alike bully the girl for her shyness, but those tormenters soon begin dying under bizarre circumstances. Meanwhile, Angela’s budding romance with a fellow camper awakens her dormant sexuality, and with it troubling memories of what truly happened eight years ago.

Still from Sleepaway Camp (1983)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: By incorporating a wistful portrayal of summer camp into the sleazy slasher mold, Sleepaway Camp offers a uniquely schizophrenic experience of a horror film. Furthermore, its plot ultimately explodes in an extremely violent and sexual metaphor of an ending, which remains controversial to this day.

COMMENTS: Riding on the coattails of Halloween and Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp neither invented the slasher genre nor the idea of the summer camp as a killing ground. Furthermore, Hiltzik’s film falls short of its predecessors through amateurish performances, disjointed storytelling, and deaths that are slightly more goofy than frightful. In the annals of ‘80s horror, Sleepaway Camp therefore seems less an original than a misbegotten child.

However, by combining the juvenility of his setting and main characters with the adult themes of a slasher, Hiltzik still produces a memorably off-kilter film. As visceral moments like the disfiguring of a pedophile crudely segue into mirthful scenes of camp life—such as Ricky pranking a nerd named Mozart—Sleepaway Camp embraces rather than hides its incoherence. In turn, Camp Arawak becomes an unreal place where the vulgar and innocent both exist, not in conflict, but as mismatched companions to each other. Sleepaway Camp’s lack of style thereby becomes its signature style, creating an unwieldy and dissonant tone that, in the end, perfectly reflects the troubled, divided mind of its killer.

That killer’s identity is now the stuff of legend, in a final twist that makes an already fractured story snap. Through that one last disturbing image, the film transcends its low budget and even lower quality to become a classic oddity among slasher fans. While Sleepaway Camp is not one of the best horror films out there, it continues to be one of the weirdest.

Shout! Factory’s recent “Sleepaway Camp Collector’s Edition” comes with an array of extras, two of which could qualify for a list of 366 Weird Special Features. The first is a short made by sleepawaycampmovies.com’s webmaster Jeffy Hayes starring Sleepaway Camp supporting actor Karen Fields, who murders a deadbeat dad and his girlfriend using, among other weapons, a turkey baster. The second is an uncomfortably earnest music video featuring the vocal talents of Jonathan Tiersten, the now middle-aged actor who played Ricky. As Tiersten somberly croons in an empty theater, and Fields wields a deadly curling iron in a nod to her famous role, one wonders if the two still haven’t gotten over their roles in Sleepaway Camp.

Joining those shorts are several bonuses that more directly relate to Sleepaway Camp, including an album of on-set photographs, multiple commentaries, and a 45-minute documentary about the making of the movie. Each of those extras show the person who loves Sleepaway Camp most may be its star; Felissa Rose beams nostalgically while recounting the friendships, drama, and fun she experienced during filming. Despite the presence of cameras and microphones, production stills of the teenage cast smiling in those idyllic woods and cabins suggest a summer to remember for decades to come.

CAPSULE: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Drew Goddard

FEATURING: Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Anna Hutchison, Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams

PLOT: Five college kids find themselves trapped inside an impossibly clichéd horror movie situation at the titular locale; if they somehow manage to survive the redneck zombies, they will still have to worry about the puppetmaster pulling the strings.


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Cabin in the Woods is a brilliantly deconstructed, offbeat horror movie exercise, but even with its squiggly plotline it remains a bit too normal and mainstream for us. But if you’re a horror movie fan, Cabin is the can’t miss event of the year.

COMMENTS: You’ve seen it before. That’s the point. Five young archetypes—the virginal girl, her slutty best friend, the jock, the shy regular guy, and the anti-establishment stoner comic relief guy head out to the cabin in the woods for a weekend of fornicating and imbibing heavily while playing “truth or dare.” Instead, they get chopped up into teen sausage by some hungry revenant whose slumber they’ve disturbed. If you’ve been watching horror movies in the last twenty years, you’ve also seen plenty of films where the kids trapped in the cabin are horror movie experts who know the rules of the game (this one, for example); so, when the jock says “we should split up” and the stoner looks at him incredulously and says in disbelief, “really?,” you’ve seen that before, too. That, too, is the point. In the self-aware horror movie subgenre The Cabin in the Woods is unique in that it doesn’t just parody slaughter flick conventions, it honors them at the same time—speculating about why it’s so crucial that the slutty girl takes off her top, why the chaste chick must outlive her, and about why the killings are so formulaic and so… ritualistic. To point out that Cabin is a genuine horror flick and not a simple parody of kill conventions isn’t to say that it isn’t as blackly comic as any horror-comedy to come down the pike in recent times. Every scare flick needs a crusty old gas station owner to act as Harbinger of Doom and give the kids an unheeded warning not to poke around at the old Miller (or wherever) place. Cabin gives us a Harbinger who’s crustier than the stuff that Freddy Krueger picks out of the corners of his eyes in the morning. And while he’s slyly amusing in his over-the-top tobacco-spitting spiel, Cabin brings him back for a hilarious pure-comedy cameo that shows how hard it is for a Harbinger to get out of character even when he’s not obliquely prophesying the death of college kids. I laughed as much at Cabin the Woods as I did at last year’s full-bore gore-comedy outing Tucker and Dale vs. Evil; but, despite its winking jokes and metafictional flirtations, Cabin works because its postmodern conceits are side dishes and not the main course. It serves us a genuine and very rare course of scares, with real stakes for characters who are not as cardboard as they first appear. Cabin also feeds us the freaky images we go to horror movies to see. The monster design is a big draw, even though the creatures are glimpsed fairly briefly. A scene of a slut making out with a stuffed wolf’s head is icily strange and erotic, there’s the ghost of a Japanese schoolgirl flitting about the edge of the plot, and the carnage of the third act is something I can guarantee you haven’t seen on film before. Cabin‘s only caveat is that it’s aimed squarely at those who are already fans of what Joe Bob Briggs used to refer to as “Spam in a cabin” movies; if you’re not familiar with the tropes, this pop-autopsy of the genre might not win you over. But good horror films are rare, and horror films with original concepts are even rarer; when you find a movie that has both, it’s worth the trek into those dark woods to check it out.

Though helmed by co-scriptwriter Drew Goddard, who acquits himself brilliantly in his first time in the director’s chair, Cabin is most notable as part of a huge year for co-writer/co-producer Joss Whedon, who will have two hit films playing in theaters simultaneously when his comic book blockbuster The Avengers debuts next week.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…starts in familiar territory, then gets delightfully strange… the most inventive cabin-in-the-woods picture since The Evil Dead and the canniest genre deconstruction since Scream.”–Christopher Orr, The Atlantic (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: INFERNO (1980)

DIRECTED BY: Dario Argento

FEATURING: Irene Miracle, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi, Alida Valli, Daria Nicolodi

PLOT:  The second in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, Inferno follows his masterpiece Suspiria. The earlier film is not referred to explicitly, and it’s not necessary to have seen Suspiria to enjoy Inferno—though it might get you in the mood.

Still from Inferno (1980)

Rose, a poet living in New York, buys an old book about the Three Mothers from a neighboring antiques dealer and after reading it begins to suspect that the basement in her apartment block is home to Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness, one of a trio of sisters who are the age old matrons of witchcraft.

After investigating a strange, flooded ballroom below the building, Rose and a neighbor are murdered by an anonymous, black gloved killer.

Rose’s brother Mark is a music student in Rome.  He receives a letter from his sister mentioning the Mothers and flies to New York to investigate.  The apartments she lives in are home to a small group of strange people, given to uttering premier league non-sequiturs, asking weird questions, and performing bizarre actions.

Mark explores the building, discovering the weird architectural features designed by the Mothers’ architect, Varelli, the one whose book kick-started the whole affair.  After a long ramble through tortuous crawlspace, Mark uncovers the lair of Mater Tenebrarum.  She reveals herself to be Death; the building burns to the ground; a dazed looking Mark wanders out unscathed; the end credits roll; you wonder what you’ve just witnessed.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  Its dream logic story line and stylized cinematography mark it out as weird, but Inferno really pales next to Suspiria. It features some wonderful scenes and startling images, but they’re too widely spaced out, and the film is marred by some wooden acting and inadvertently hilarious dialogue.

COMMENTS:   Inferno is a very enjoyable film, not always for the intended reasons.  The dialogue is so disjointed and at times downright bizarre as to be chucklesome. It also features the inconsistent acting and wooden delivery common to any number of giallos (understandable given the speed of some productions and the vagaries of international dubbing); after watching a number of giallos, you may come to view them as a feature rather than a flaw.

Inferno features a number of Argento trademarks: an oneiric story flow, driving soundtrack Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: INFERNO (1980)

CAPSULE: SMASH CUT (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Lee Demarbre

FEATURING: , Sasha Grey, Jesse Buck, Michael Berryman,

PLOT: An incompetent horror director discovers he can make realistic gore effects by killing

Still from Smash Cut (2009)

his critics and co-workers and using their severed body parts as special effects.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With Smash Cut, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter auteur Lee Demarbre pulls back the weirdness and takes a step towards the conventional (to the extent that a comedic tribute to Herschel Gordon Lewis’ cheesy gore films, featuring a main character who considers a dead stripper in the trunk of his car to be his muse, can be considered mainstream).  The results are, frankly, a little boring, though camp gorehounds might find some entertainment here.

COMMENTS:  The one sentence plot synopsis tells you all you need to know; there are very few story surprises as Smash Cut unspools.  You can figure out that the diabolical director starts to enjoy killing as his megalomania grows, finds it increasingly difficult to cover his tracks as the bodies pile up, and is eventually thwarted by the clean-cut young heroes.  Since we know what’s coming, it’s crucial that Smash Cut deliver on the gags (especially the weird gags), and unfortunately this is where the movie falls down on the job.  The best parts are the two films-within-the-film, perhaps because they push their deranged style to its limits and stay true to their own madness.  The first is director and future serial killer Abel Whitman’s trashterpiece Terror Toy, featuring a ragdoll clown murdering a busty psychiatrist with an ink pen and one of the worst “dangling eyeball” scenes you’ll ever witness.  The second featurette is a silent art film created as a mousetrap to try to play on the felonious filmmaker’s sense of guilt.  In between those two highlights are some interesting, mildly absurd touches—for example, a “suicide” by harpoon and a minor character who sets army men on fire—and a lot of deliberately unconvincing, campy gore effects (though the scene where Abel extracts eyeballs with a box cutter delivers a significant cringe factor).  The acting is inconsistent, which is not necessarily a problem in the overall spoofy enterprise, but Continue reading CAPSULE: SMASH CUT (2009)

OBSOLESCENCE (2011) & LETHAL OBSESSION (2010): THE POTENTIAL AND FAILURE OF INDEPENDENT FILM

Jakob Bilinski‘s last film, Shade of Grey (2009) was a well-crafted feature, compellingly approached, yet flawed by inexperienced acting in key roles.  Bilinski has returned to the short film format with Obsolescence (2011), having considerably improved his craftsmanship, first and foremost in the acting. That is beneficial, because Obsolescence turns out as Bilinski’s best effort to date.

The seed of the idea for this psychological science fiction was inspired by Bilinski’s wife, Mackenzie.  It was shot in L.A. on a minuscule budget with a two day shooting schedule and a meager cast of four.  Far more often than not, guerrilla film-making methods such as these only lead to an execrable experience, but Bilinski is a conceptual artist who molds his gem with intelligence and style.

“Better never to have met you in my dream than to wake and reach for hands that are not there.”–Otomo No Yakamochi.  This introductory quote aptly dissipates shortly before the opening view of an empyrean horizon, its composition dismantled by Bilinski’s feverish, frenzied camera—a sign of things to come.  Nick (Scott Ganyo) is bathed in a bucolic landscape, but the deceptive harmony fails to mask a twitch.

Still from ObsolescenceTess (Rosalind Rubin) is strapped to a chair in a desolate location.  She is being held hostage by Nick.  In lesser hands this would have been the predictable setup for an adolescent excuse to show a torture fest, but Bilinski and the superb Rubin invest kinetic, tense excitement into the conflict.  Nick has poisoned Tess.  Her salvation lies in information that Nick requires regarding the death of his wife, Annie (Jen Lilley).  Rubin hypnotically conveys fear, frustration, and futile effort as she witnesses humanity slipping away from her captor, who is engulfed in grief.  Nick’s ability to empathize trickles away like water into sewage.  He is more fascinated than compassionate when the poison begin to take hold of Tess.  Wracked with pain, Tess’ Continue reading OBSOLESCENCE (2011) & LETHAL OBSESSION (2010): THE POTENTIAL AND FAILURE OF INDEPENDENT FILM

CAPSULE: THE SILENT SCREAM [AKA SILENT SCREAM] (1980)

DIRECTED BY: Denny Harris

FEATURING, Rebecca Balding, , Yvonne De Carlo, Brad Reardon, Avery Schreiber

PLOT: College students rent rooms in a mysterious mansion by the beach only to find that the landlords are a tad invasive.

Still from Silent Sc4ream (1980)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Silent Scream is not a particularly weird movie.  Instead, it is a  dated relic of the “Unusual ’80’s” horror movie phenomenon.  The 1980’s produced a glut of highly conventional, large-draw slasher flicks such as Friday The 13th and the Halloween sequels.  The decade also produced a couple of dozen unusual and distinctive efforts such as Fade To Black, My Bloody Valentine, Grandma’s House, and Motel Hell.  Odd films like these dwell on a darker, more rarefied level, one that hasn’t been visited much in the intervening years.  Newly released on DVD after 29 years, The Silent Scream is a noteworthy entry in this later category of period horror.  Until last year it had been lost in the mysterious, silvery mists of screen-scream antiquity.

COMMENTS:  Barbara Steele stars as the villain in this dated ’80’s American-made shocker.  Good character development, strong performances, and relatively little gore distinguish this effort from the usual slasher fare.

Here’s the setup: Cute and saucy Scotty Parker (Balding) transferred to her university a couple of weeks late and missed out on the fun of bunking with a bunch of freaks she doesn’t know in the dorms.  Challenged to find accommodations, she gravitates toward the old Engels house, a foreboding, sea-side edifice.

The creepy Engels place is run—on behalf of his very reclusive MOTHER! (De Carlo)—by a wrapped-awfully-tight, real-life Milhouse Van Houten character named Brad (Reardon).  Brad harbors a wide variety of deeply seated personal issues.  (Hey, who’s that looking through my air vent?)  Three more hormonally bloated students sign rental agreements and the school year is off to a beer and bodily fluid saturated start.  For most of them, that is.  The fratboy/ Continue reading CAPSULE: THE SILENT SCREAM [AKA SILENT SCREAM] (1980)

52. SANTA SANGRE (1989)

AKA Holy Blood (literal translation)

“My mother is dead.  I had a terrible relationship with her.  She had many problems with my father, and she never caressed me.  So I didn’t have a mother who touched me.”–Alejandro Jodorowsky in La Constellation Jodorowsky

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Alejandro Jodorowsky

FEATURING: Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, , Sabrina Dennison, Guy Stockwell

PLOT:  Fenix, a young carnival boy is understandably traumatized when he sees his knife-thrower father cut off his mother’s arms in a domestic melee.  Years later, he lives an animalistic existence in a mental asylum, until one day he escapes when his armless mother calls to him from outside his cell window.  The two perform a stage act where the son serves as the arms of his mother; she dominates his every move offstage, makes him serve as her arms, and orders him to kill, repeatedly.

Still from Santa Sangre (1989)

BACKGROUND:

  • After completing The Holy Mountain in 1973, Jodorowsky planned to make an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel “Dune,” which fell through.  He did not direct again until 1980’s poorly regarded Tusk, a film over which he had little creative control and which he has since disowned.
  • Santa Sangre is supposedly inspired by the story of a real life Mexican serial killer (whose name is variously given as Gregorio Cárdenas or Gojo Cardinas).
  • Young Fenix and adult Fenix are played by Adan and Axel, Jodorowsky’s sons.
  • The MPAA originally rated Santa Sangre R for “bizarre, graphic violence;” when the NC-17 designation began in 1990, the film was reclassified to the more restictive rating for “extremely explicit violence.”
  • Empire Magazine’s combined readers/critics poll voted Santa Sangre the 476th best movie of all time.
  • Before making this film Jodorowsky had founded an unofficial school of psychotherapy called “psycho-magic”; one of the basic tenets of the theory is a belief in a “family unconscious.”
  • The mother’s given name—“Concha”—is slang for “vagina” in many Latin American countries, including Jodorowsky’s native Chile.
  • The movie is an Italian/Mexican co-production, and was co-written and co-produced by Claudio (brother of horror maestro Dario) Argento.
  • OBSCURE CONNECTION: Producer Rene Cardona, Jr., himself a prolific B-movie director, was the son of the Rene Cardona who directed El Santo movies and appeared in Brainiac.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The most representative images are any of the moments where Fenix stands behind his mother and acts as her hands, especially when he is wearing his long red plastic nails.  The most affecting sight, however, may be a dying elephant with blood trickling out of his trunk.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  You could argue that Santa Sangre isn’t that weird, but that


Original trailer for Santa Sangre (German)

would only be in comparison to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s previous films.  Although he does deliver Felliniesque carnivals, an elephant funeral, a cult that worships an armless girl, a hermaphrodite wrestler, and graveside hallucinations featuring zombie brides, the obscure auteur actually scales back his mystical obtuseness a tad in this psychedelic slasher movie.  The result is his most popular and accessible film—if anything by Jodorowsky can be considered accessible.

COMMENTS: In a way, Santa Sangre is Jodorowsky lite.  Compared to his hippie-era Continue reading 52. SANTA SANGRE (1989)