The Video Nasties #116 – Frozen Scream (1981, Frank Roach)

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‘Immortality? Why would anyone wanna live

in a world like this?’

Not me! Jesus Christ, Frozen Scream. This is a tough one, because the film is just a big muddled nonsense. The dialogue is frequently indecipherable, and the story slips in and out of dream sequences and flashbacks that are indistinguishable from the rest of the movie.

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It’s mostly about two doctors who are trying to create a form of immortality by freezing people with a serum and turning them into zombies – at least I think that’s what they’re trying to do. Unfortunately, most of the expository dialogue is delivered by our star and producer Renee Harmon, who has a Teutonic accent so thick she may as well be speaking Klingon. To make matters worse, oftentimes during dialogue scenes a voiceover narrator will also start talking, while the other scene plays out! Both soundtracks are audible, so the confusion is tenfold. As a final slap in the face, the voiceover adds nothing to the story. I can only assume that the initial cut was so stupefyingly boring, the producers felt they had to jazz it up somehow. As the film already only ran 75 minutes (watch ‘em crawl by!) they couldn’t cut anything out, and so just hired some jackass to yak on about the similarities of life and love (they both end, apparently.) It does add one great laugh though – just after one of Harmon’s impenetrable monologues, the voiceover intones, ‘A pretty bad acting job, I’d say.’ Hey man, we can at least agree on that!

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Another chuckle can be found during the rock ’n’ roll dance party the cast attends (I’m unsure if it’s a flashback or present day or dream sequence). The band plays Rock Around the Clock, but to avoid a potential lawsuit they change the lyrics to being about potatoes instead, which is a solution more creative than anything presented in this film.

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The thing is, I don’t care about bad acting, bad special effects, no story, whatever. None of that is necessarily a barrier to my enjoyment of a movie. But my issue with the acting here is that everyone just seems so utterly, utterly bored, and their boredom is contagious. I’ve read positive reviews of this film that praise the ‘drugged out’ acting quality, and it’s true. However, their drug of choice appears to be ketamine, and 75 minutes of people reading their lines in a flat monotone quickly takes it’s toll on a viewer.

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This is truly one of the odd ducks on the Nasties list. It’s quite mind-boggling how anyone could think this film, with it’s occasional splashes of blood and blink and you’ll miss it nudity, would be liable to deprave and corrupt.

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But I’d like to end on something positive, and give props to the amusing hooded skeleton dream near the start, which led me to believe I might be watching a better movie. Alas, ’twas not to be, so I’ll leave you with this immortal exchange of dialogue, one of the few where I could make out every word –

‘I’m not gonna let your little guilt trip spoil this project!’

‘I’m not going to guilt…I’m going to Hell!’

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The Video Nasties #115 – Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981, Steve Miner)

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‘That’s my good boy. That’s a good boy. That’s my Jason.’

If you ignore the first fifteen minutes of Friday the 13th Part 2, then you are left with an almost perfect distillations of the slasher movie formula – seventy-three minutes that pack in just enough character development, scares, nudity and murders to satisfy even the most jaded slasher enthusiast. Sadly, seventy-three minutes is apparently not an acceptable runtime for a movie, and so Friday is front loaded with some serious filler.

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We begin with a full six minutes of flashbacks to the original film (which only came out the year before!) before seven minutes of new footage showing what has become of Alice, the survivor of the last movie. It’s an interesting idea, and one that director Steve Miner would explore in more depth (but to equally dismal results) in Halloween H20, but the execution here is entirely bungled and the whole scene is rather pointless. It’s shot like a wannabe Brian De Palma  film, all fluid tracking shots and long takes, but Miner gives us nothing to look at, like when Alice gets undressed and the camera stays outside giving us a thirty second shot of an empty bed. If the whole film had followed Alice’s journey then it would make more sense, but instead she’s quickly murdered and the whole scene simply throws up loads of questions that will never be answered, such as; how did Jason find Alice? The phonebook? And how did he get all the way from Camp Crystal Lake to her house? Did he catch the bus? Maybe hitch-hike? Did he drive, and if so did Michael Myers give him lessons? Was he wearing that sack over his head the whole time? Was he carrying his mother’s head or did he have it in a knapsack? When did he learn to use the phone? And why oh why does he bother to take the kettle of the boil after he’s killed Alice? Did he intend to pour himself a nice cuppa before figuring out how the hell to get home? Why would Miner even include that shot, it’s so fucking ridiculous to see.

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I’ll be honest, anytime I ever watch this film (and I often do) I skip right past the opening credits, because the whole opening is a total bust. But once the film properly starts, the entertainment is non-stop. The action is set at a counsellor training camp that was right next to Camp Crystal Lake, run by boorish oaf Paul, who tells the counsellors that, ‘contrary to what everyone hears, bears are dangerous.’ Now I’m no survivalist expert, but I could have told you that. Paul also advises the women to ‘keep clean during your menstrual cycle,’ and later on indulges in some drink-driving, so he’s just an all-round asshole. Luckily his girlfriend is Ginny, one of my favourite slasher movie Final Girls, a tough, resourceful lady who can handle a chainsaw and take part in gratuitous lingerie shots. Ginny is a child psychologist, which gives us the classic moment when she wonders if Jason could still be loose in the woods, like ‘a frightened retard.’ Is that your medical opinion, doc?

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There’s lots of fun, likeable characters here, particularly Mark and Vickie. The Video Nasties don’t have a great track record for characters with physical disabilities (Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone) but here Mark is in a wheelchair but is still a strong, handsome guy that Vickie wants to get with. After some appalling flirting, the two are about to hook up, so Vickie goes to her cabin to prepare. This involves putting on some chunky knitwear and changing out of her black panties into some brown ones. Brown!

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I like Vickie, but she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. She goes to look for Mark, and the first place she looks is up the stairs. Oh Vickie, maybe stick to the ground floor, yeah?

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Special mention also has to go to Sandra, perhaps the worst actress in any of the Nasties, and I mean that. Just listen to her line readings as she tries to convince her boyfriend Jeff to go to the old camp, which are somehow whiny and monotonously flat at the same time.

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Eventually we are left with Ginny versus Jason in the final showdown, but it’s a bit of a disappointment. Jason is more of a bumbling, slapstick buffoon here, falling down hills, getting kicked in the testicles and at one point jumping at Ginny but mistiming it and missing her completely. The best is when he stands on a stool but it breaks and he falls flat on his arse. The whole chase has a crazy Looney Tunes quality to it that I love. Friday the 13th Part 2 may not be the best of the franchise (Take a bow Part 4), but it’s one of the most purely enjoyable films on the Nasties.

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The Video Nasties #114 – Final Exam (1981, Jimmy Huston)

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‘It’s happening…the psychopaths are here!’

Final Exam is a delightful coming of age movie set on the last day of high school. Our colourful cast of characters includes nerdy Radish, (smart mouth and obsessed with serial killers) and Courtney, the shy girl he has a crush on. Courtney badly needs some product in her hair, but not as badly as chief jock Mark, who’s hair looks like a bird’s nest that fell from a tree and landed on his head. And let’s not forget Wildman, the campus asshole who’s really not as bad as he seems. Sure, he knocks Radish’s books out his hands, but everyone laughs like it’s just a bit of good-natured fun.

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Wildman lives up to his name by pulling probably the stupidest prank in history – a staged high school shooting. This would probably not be okay today, but in 1981, things were different. Then there’s Gary – oh sweet, silly Gary – who falls in love with bubble brained Janet and faces a cruel hazing from Wildman and the rest of the fraternity. Yup, student life in Final Exam is jam-packed with crazy hi-jinks. Then, with thirty minutes to go, it turns into the slasher movie you thought you were getting.

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Final Exam is often ridiculed as being one of the low points of the whole slasher cycle, but in the right frame of mind I think it’s one of the most fun. Okay, so apart from an opening double murder, there’s no slashing for nearly an hour, but that never hurt Halloween, did it? Maybe Halloween is not a good reference point.

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I can totally understand why slasher purists dislike this movie, up to a point. The characters are generally very likeable, to the point where I was genuinely sad to see some of them die, and it’s not often I can look someone in the eye and make that claim. I mean come on, Radish even has a Toolbox Murders poster on his bedroom wall. If Radish was real, he would totally be reading this blog. Hi Radish!

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This is not to say that the film fails as a slasher though. The opening kill is weird and impressive, with the killer dragging some jerk out of his car and stabbing him repeatedly, while the camera pans over his corpse to focus on his girlfriend’s screaming face.

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Let’s talk about the killer. Wearing jeans and with a terrible bowl haircut, we never find out who he is, which is unusual, but it doesn’t bother me in the least. Why should it? There’s a dropped line about a sorority pledge who killed herself the year before, so if the lack of backstory annoys you, just pretend that the killer is her brother, seeking revenge. Feel better now?

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Anyway, the killings continue, and there’s an occasionally artful shot to liven things up, like a slow pan out from Gary and his dumb tree, or Wildman alone in the gym lit only by a scoreboard. My favourite moment has to be when the killer jumps out of a dustbin to make a kill. How long had he been in there waiting for someone to walk past? Dude, you need better hiding places. Or does he? It worked, after all. Maybe I would just make a terrible killer, hiding under beds and behind curtains when I should be lurking in a bin.

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The final chase scene is surprisingly exciting, and everything falls into place with a remarkably fortuitous arrival of a peripheral character armed with a bow and arrow. In any other film, it would be a forehead slapping moment, but in the context of Final Exam, you’re just like, ‘yeah, it totally makes sense that the coach turns up at the school in the middle of the night, drunk and armed.’ Among the run of generic early 80s slasher movies, Final Exam stands out by doing everything wrong, but in the right way. And that’s surely better than doing everything right but in the wrong way, no?

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The Video Nasties #113 – Evilspeak (1981, Eric Weston)

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‘Coopersmith…what the devil do you think you’re doing?’

And here we are back in major studio territory, the unlikely culprits this time being Warner Bros. Unlike the same year’s The Funhouse though, Evilspeak was successfully prosecuted, no doubt due to its much higher level of gory violence and the famous woman being eaten in the shower by pigs scene, which would no doubt have inspired copycat violence in pigs all across the land. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Evilspeak is, at its core, an American High School movie, even if the setting is actually a military academy. Like all great high school movies, it opens with a Satanic black mass during the Spanish Inquisition. There’s a surprising lack of Satanic panic amongst the Nasties, but Evilspeak tries to make up for that in its first few minutes by having disgraced priest Lorenzo Esteban decapitate a topless woman in the name of the Dark Lord. It’s a suitably dramatic moment, scored to the kind of sub-Jerry Goldsmith chanting that was de rigueur for all Satanic movies after The Omen, and is amusingly match-cut with a football being kicked in the present day. In the first of many direct rip-offs of Carrie, we are introduced to put-upon Stanley Coopersmith losing the football match for his team, much to the consternation of the rest of the military jocks at the academy.

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Coopersmith is an orphan and is only at the academy because of some welfare law, and is bullied for his lack of parents. His projects are sabotaged, he has his trousers pulled down in front of girls and he’s nicknamed Cooperdick, which is odd because surely Coopershit is a better pun?

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The problem is, Coopersmith is so pathetic that it’s hard to root for him. Unlike Carrie White, who was the victim of two devastating pranks that bookended the film, Coopersmith suffers constant humiliations at the hands of his tormentors and does nothing about it for the first 80 minutes of the movie! It’s like Fight For Your Life all over again. It’s hard to root for such a hopelessly passive character, and it’s not helped by the casting of Clint Howard, brother of Oscar winner Ron and star of tv’s Gentle Ben, who is a singularly unlikeable onscreen presence. It’s hard to go wrong with a bullying/revenge film, but by the end even I wanted to slap some sense into Coopershit (see? It’s a much better nickname).

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The film gets going properly when Coopersmith discovers a hidden area beneath a chapel, where Lorenzo Esteban himself had once performed his dark rituals. Using what seems to be an early version of Google translate, Coopersmith realises the book can be used to call forth Satan himself. He feeds the data into a computer, replete with fabulous 80s computer graphics. Esteban even has his own death metal logo, with his name written across a flashing red pentagram.

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Coopersmith tries to perform the ritual, but needs human blood, and so rather than get proactive about it, he does nothing except wait for his cute lil’ puppy to be slaughtered. By the way, that puppy looks pretty unhappy throughout the film, particularly when some asshole holds a live flame rather close to it. Not cool, Evilspeak. Not cool.

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There are some creepy scenes every now and again, particularly the first post-ritual scene where Coopersmith is menaced by mask-wearing bullies, but the emphasis is on Coopersmith being bullied over and over again. There’s the afore-mentioned brief detour when a nosy secretary gets eaten by pigs in her bathroom, and then it’s back to some swimwear-clad lovelies in the Miss Heavy Artillery contest.

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Eventually, like some kind of 80s John Wick, Coopersmith is spurred into action by the death of his puppy. He murders his superior by somehow throwing him twenty feet in the air onto a spiked chandelier and drinks his blood, causing the computer to turn into Anton LaVey’s screensaver and Lorenzo Esteban to return. Well, about time, there’s only 10 minutes left of the film!

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Thankfully, those last 10 minutes are pure gold, with Coopersmith flying around that chapel (those wires he’s hanging from all too visible thanks to the magic of Blu-Ray) lopping off heads with wild abandon, in one of those climaxes that makes the entire film preceding it totally worthwhile. It’s crazy, gory and wild, and I just wish that the film had been paced a bit better and distributed some of these shocks a bit more evenly.

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The Video Nasties #112 – The Evil Dead (1981, Sam Raimi)

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‘We can’t bury Shelly…she’s a friend of ours.’

Well, is there anything left to say about Sam Raimi’s low budget horror masterpiece? Stephen King called it a ‘black rainbow of horror,’ which is such a good description that I’m tempted to just quote that and move on to the next film. The Evil Dead has now entered the mainstream, and is currently the only Nasty to have spawned a hit tv show, Ash vs The Evil Dead. Sam Raimi has gone on to direct major Hollywood blockbusters, Bruce Campbell has become a beloved cult figure – even people who know nothing about horror have heard of the film. But whether you’re watching it for the first time or the fortieth time, none of the above matters, because The Evil Dead is quite simply a perfect horror film.

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Due to the comic nature of its sequels, The Evil Dead is often seen retrospectively as a comedy/horror. However, unintentional laughs are few and far between, and intentional ones almost non-existent. In fact, the first 20 minutes are some of the creepiest in any Nasty. The eerie Autumnal landscape, the quiet ambience of the phenomenal Joseph LoDuca score, the amateur but effective performances combine in a perfect storm of understated horror. The almost silent drive towards through the woods, with the cabin looming ominously in the distance, is perhaps the scariest part of the film.

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Despite its reputation, the film commits fully to building suspense for the first half. It’s over 40 minutes until the first real gush of blood, though before that we have a rather spectacularly ill-judged rape scene, where the rapist is, of course, a tree. It’s out of place for a film that deals exclusively in a sort of comic book fantasy violence, and Raimi has said that he regrets its inclusion. The problem is that it’s so well shot, and the effects so oddly realistic that the scene is pretty disturbing, when it could so easily have been a ridiculous joke.

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Speaking of jokes, there are some laugh out loud moments throughout, like Bruce Campbell getting stuck under a plywood bookcase not once but twice, and the stabbing of Shelly that leads to the longest scream in cinema history.

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It’s all just part of the rich tapestry of horror that is The Evil Dead. The second half is one long gore gag, shot with a flair for visually inventive camera work that leaves every other Nasty in the dust. Critical consensus seems to be that Evil Dead II is the best of the series, being one of the definitive examples of the horror-comedy. That may be, but I’ve always preferred my horror cheap, nasty and played straight, and The Evil Dead ticks all my boxes. If you’re a horror fan, you’ve probably already seen it, but if you’ve not, then I am jealous of you, because you get to see it for the first time.

You lucky bastard.

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The Video Nasties #111 – Don’t Go In the Woods…Alone (1981, James Bryan)

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‘The most feared animal in the woods is man.’

Don’t Go In The Woods has a poor reputation, which is not entirely unfounded, though usually based on an incorrect assumption. Many reviewers deride the film for being silly and laughable – so bad it’s good is the boring default stance most seem to fall into, which is ignoring the fact that the film is clearly a comedy and meant to be funny. Of course, that raises a whole new set of problems, because the intentional comedy is piss-poor at best. It’s not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly has an undeniable lopsided charm.

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The plot, which is so thin it’s almost non-existent, concerns a deranged mountain man stalking the mountains of Utah, murdering all who cross his path. That’s it guys. Luckily, this particular mountain is positively teeming with idiots just waiting to be stabbed, and the film becomes a kind of montage of violent deaths rendered incomprehensible by choppy editing. The film opens with a young woman being chased through the woods. It’s an exciting opening, but the film cuts away midway through and never returns to her, a move that is indicative of the sheer incompetence of much of the movie – the volume of the dialogue fluctuates wildly between scenes, the camera struggles to find focus, and there’s one stupid moment where our leads, four campers, settle down for the night in their sleeping bags. Suddenly, the mountain man attacks, stabbing into the sleeping bag, where we discover that we’re actually looking at a completely different set of campers who we’ve never met before!

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The score sounds like someone kicking an empty barrel and sawing a block of wood,  there’s a woman in the woods painting a landscape, though the painting she’s working on does not even remotely resemble the landscape she’s looking at.

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Having said all that, it’s impossible to stay mad at Don’t Go In The Woods…Alone. It’s never boring, because you’re never more than five minutes away from some obnoxious asshole being murdered. Special mention goes to the pair of tourists, who have some of my favourite terrible dialogue in the movie – ‘Dale? Dale? Dale? Dale? Dale? Dale, where are you? Dale? Dale, wait for me!’ His name is Dale, by the way. Perhaps you missed it. It’s also worth mentioning the stunning scenery, which occasionally syncs up with the score to create moments of eerie beauty.

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Most of the verbal gags are pretty forgettable (‘He’s an ornithologist.’ ‘Is that a fact? Talks just like anyone else,’) but some of the visual ones are mildly amusing, if I’m being charitable. There’s a guy who spends the second half of the movie pushing his way up the mountain in a wheelchair, only to reach the top and have his head chopped off. It’s hardly side-splitting stuff, but as perhaps the only intentionally funny Nasty, it’s a pleasant change of pace, even if the comedy is played too broad for my tastes. The best moment is when our ostensible hero accidentally stabs and kills a man thinking he was the killer, then keeps profusely apologising to him. A bit late, pal, he’s dead!

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The last 20 minutes are the best in the movie. There’s a genuinely unexpected death of the camper I expected to be the Final Girl, and it’s the best and most savage in the movie. There’s no money for special effects, but they don’t stint on the blood here, and it’s surely this scene that got the film in trouble in the first place.

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Eventually, the campers defeat the mountain man, hacking him to death with a machete and a big stick, but there’s a twist – there’s a toddler that he had kidnapped earlier, and we see it alone in the woods, chopping at the ground with an axe, the suggestion being that it will grow up to follow in the footsteps of the killer. Of course, it’s a baby alone in the woods, so will probably be eaten by wolves or bears or something long before that ever comes to pass.

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Finally, the film ends in time honoured fashion with a theme song, the lyrics of which I shall now reproduce in full. If you want to sing along, then it’s done to the tune of Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

Don’t go out in the woods tonight you probably will be thrilled

Don’t go out in the woods tonight you probably will be killed

There’s a friendly beast who lurks about

And likes to feast, you won’t get out

Without being killed and chopped up in little pieces.

Guys, what the fuck just happened?

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The Video Nasties #110 – Dead Kids (1981, Michael Laughlin)

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‘You been doing experiments on fat girls up here?’

It’s somewhat ironic that Dead Kids should follow Dead and Buried, as the two films share some similarities. Both films are slow burn mysteries about sinister experiments in a small town, and both feature a hypodermic needle being inserted into an eyeball. Dead Kids initially seems to be the quirkier of the two, with its oddball dialogue and idiosyncratic characters. Unfortunately, it fails to maintain the tone after the first twenty minutes or so, instead becoming a tiresomely mainstream endeavour.

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It’s one of those movies that seems conspicuously out of place among films like Faces of Death and I Spit on Your Grave. There’s plenty of talent in front of and behind the camera, from future Oscar winner Bill Condon to past Oscar winner Louise Fletcher, and an excellent though sparsely used score by Tangerine Dream, but Dead Kids never really takes off. Originally titled Strange Behavior (a much better title, if only because you don’t want the phrase Dead Kids being part of your internet search history), it feels like a very well made tv movie. Everything is fully competent, but there’s no spark.

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The kills are underwhelming and pretty much glossed over, apart from one fun one in and around a bathroom, where suspense is actually allowed to build for once. But even then, the murders lack impact, with the killer feebly waving a knife in someone’s general direction, almost as if the production didn’t have a prop knife and instead had to use a real blade. Most of the film consists of people sitting around talking, and by the time the laughable climax rolls around the entire movie has flatlined.

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Dead Kids is passable early 80s fare, and at least it puts a slightly different spin on the already stagnating slasher genre, but for fans who look for a bit more weirdness in their movies, it won’t cut the mustard.

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The only scene that held my interest was an early party scene, where the teenagers dress up in costumes and perform a synchronised dance to Lou Christie’s classic track Lightning Strikes like they’ve just wandered in from the set of Footloose. It’s the only truly unique and unexpected bit in the movie, and everything that follows is simply standing in the long shadow of this moment.

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