The Video Nasties #96 – Night of the Demon (1980, James C Wasson)

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‘Something huge…like an elephant.’

We all come to the Video Nasties for different reasons. Some come to be shocked, others come for the sex and nudity. Some come for the catharsis, others for the thrill. And then there are those of us that just want to watch a yeti whip someone with their friend’s intestines.

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Welcome to Night Of The Demon. May I introduce you to Professor Nugent? Nugent (first name Ted?) is convalescing in a hospital bed after a university field trip went wrong and his students disappeared. Despite having had his face burnt completely off (as we shall see), he is able to recount the whole sorry tale for the benefit of the authorities. And what a tale it is!

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Nugent, who appears to be a Professor of Tall Tales and Nonsense, is giving his class on Bigfoot to a roomful of students. They are visibly shaken when he shows them some home movie footage of a family being attacked by a man in a monkey suit – Cannibal Holocaust this is not.

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We follow the hapless group trekking through some beautiful scenery in search of the elusive Bigfoot and try to unravel his annoyingly complex backstory. In what amounts to a sort of gore Greatest Hits, every time the gang stops, Nugent regales them with some ridiculous tale of slaughter, prompting a flashback within a flashback. These include a hunter having his arm torn off (with the blood pooling into the Bigfoot’s footprints, making for the film’s best shot), a couple of girl scouts holding knives being smashed together until they accidentally stab each other (just try and make sense of that one), and a terrifically un-erotic sex scene with the most bored-sounding orgasm ever captured on camera (‘Oooooh, aaaaaah, Oooooh, aaaaaah, Oooooh, aaaaaah, Oooooh, aaaaaah,’). You can level many criticisms at Night Of The Demon, but it’s never dull.

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The real crowd-pleaser is reserved for an unfortunate biker who died, ‘not far from here,’ according to Nugent. Indeed, despite our heroes supposedly being so deep into the woods that they cannot find their way home, we see a biker stop by the side of the road to take a piss. Guys, if the road is not far from here, then I’d venture that you’re not likely to be deep in Bigfoot country. Regardless, Bigfoot pops out of the bush that the unfortunate biker is peeing on and tears his penis clean off.

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It’s the blind leading the blind though, with Nugent’s students being just as knuckleheaded as he is. When the pole their boat was tied to goes missing, one dumdum suggests it was, ‘something huge…like an elephant!’ There’s also a blonde lady who has tagged along, because she ‘promised to cook and scrub if [they] let her come along.’ Nugent agrees, shouting, ‘After the dishes are done!’ at her like the rampant misogynist he clearly is. The jokes on him though, because later he tries to dig up a grave while kneeling down. Uh, Professor, I dunno, maybe you want to try standing up for that? I think it’d be a lot easier.

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The pace finally slackens for a hypnosis scene, but picks right back up in the last 20 minutes with Nugent and his morons trapped in a crazy lady’s cabin while Bigfoot tries to break in. There’s some decent atmosphere and creepy music here, and then it just goes utterly bonkers for an extended gore climax that takes place entirely in slow motion, like some kind of bastard love-child of Brian De Palma and Lucio Fulci.

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Speaking of bastard children, did I mention the scene where Bigfoot rapes a woman? No? Good, I’m trying not to.

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Anyway, Night Of The Demon is pure hokum, and can easily be recommended as such, though it’s best watched in a group, preferably while highly inebriated. The acting is mostly atrocious, the special effects veer from convincing to absurd, the plot is an embarrassment, but it’s one of those rare films where everything coalesces into a perfect storm of silliness.

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The Video Nasties #95 – Nightmare City (1980, Umberto Lenzi)

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‘It’s not the fault of science or technology, but of man!’

I know it doesn’t seem long since we watched Eaten Alive, but Nightmare City finds us back in the hands of Umberto Lenzi, this time tackling the zombie genre with his usual gormless aplomb.

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When roving reporter Hugo Stiglitz goes to the airport to interview a professor, a mysterious military plane lands and unleashes a horde of preposterous looking zombie-like creatures. But these ain’t your standard zombies, no sir. These putty-faced goofballs know how to run, fire machine guns and even fly planes and drive cars. Also, they seem to prefer drinking blood to eating flesh, but that’s probably because it’s an easier special effect to pull off.

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As far as openings go, we’re off to a flying start, aided immeasurably by Stelvio Cipriani’s pounding score, which almost out-Goblins Goblin! As the zombies rampage around, slitting people’s throats and generally running amok, Hugo – the master of the understatement –  mutters, ‘I don’t believe it.’ He’s one of the stiffest leading men I’ve ever seen, and has a head that would look exactly the same if you turned it upside down.

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He promptly legs it to the nearest tv station, where a synchronised dance show is being filmed. The zombies follow and the slaughter is broadcast live, including a nasty nipple slicing scene that feels kind of at odds with the generally campy tone of the movie.

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It’s worth noting that there doesn’t seem to be any female zombies, which probably explains why the pervy zombies are always tearing off ladies’ blouses before killing them.

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Some of the dialogue here is solid gold – ‘I feel like someone who’s waiting for the hatchet guy to chop off his head,’ says one hospital patient, refusing to explain just who or what this ‘hatchet guy’ is. The military are equally bonkers – ‘As for our combat plans, we’ll follow emergency plan H, and we’ll keep plan B in reserve,’ says the general, because we live in a world where plan H comes before plan B. And just what the hell was plan A? Don’t spill radioactive gas? That should just go without saying, General.

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His daughter is not much better. When told that there’s an emergency and that she must go to her father, she whines, ‘I have no intention of giving up my weekend,’ and drives off in her motorhome to sit by the side of a road having a picnic with her dweeb husband. Don’t worry – they both die.

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After a while, the film begins to run out of steam. It started with such a bang that it’s not able to build on that opening. The stakes never really raise as Hugo and his wife stumble from one location to the next, killing zombies then moving on. The problems of having such a strong opening! It does begin to recover some momentum during the ambitious climax that takes place in an abandoned fairground. Fans of Xbox 360 video game Left 4 Dead 2 will want to pay attention here, as Hugo and the missus run along the tracks of a roller coaster blasting fast-moving zombies running at them while waiting for a helicopter to arrive.

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And then just as things are getting really crazy and exciting, Lenzi goes and blows the whole thing by revealing it’s all been a big stupid fucking dream, the ultimate I-don’t-know-how-to-end-the-movie cop out. There’s the suggestion that the whole movie is about to play out again, as Hugo goes back to the airport and the same plane lands, but the screen freezes, leaving us all in great suspense. Wouldn’t it be great if some maniac could make a version of the film that jumps back to start at this point, creating an endless loop of Nightmare City? Wouldn’t it?

Wait, come back!

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The Video Nasties #94 – The Last Hunter (1980, Antonio Margheriti)

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‘Fucking mosquitoes. Goddamn jungle. Fucking war!’

The Last Hunter – despite its hopelessly generic title – is one of the most exciting movies you’ll find amongst the Nasties. Of course, it has the advantage of being an action/war movie, but it’s still more of a horror film than a lot of Nasties, and I don’t just mean in terms of ‘the horrors of war.’ The blood flows freely, limbs are routinely lost, eyes eaten by rats and a dangling corpse dangles its guts right in front of the camera – it’s like Lucio Fulci’s Apocalypse Now, except it’s actually Antonio Margheriti’s.

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It begins with a bar scene that seems to perfectly capture the existential ennui of the American soldiers in Vietnam, as they lay around smoking, drinking and losing their minds. Strippers strip, hookers hook and the whole thing feels convincingly seedy. We meet our hero, played by Mr Almost-James Bond himself, David Warbeck, who’s as handsome and debonair as ever, even when using his own vest to fight a pack of rats.

vlcsnap-2017-08-17-11h16m01s525.pngThere’s a stunning suicide (achieved with a mouthful of smoke and a fake gun with a torch attached to it) and then it all kicks off, Margheriti letting loose with a volley of explosions that would make Rambo green with envy. Somehow, the film maintains this pace for the next half hour, a parade of non-stop action and excitement. Margheriti succeeds in making the jungle seem a truly frightening, formidable place,  something so many directors have failed to do throughout those interminable cannibal movies.

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Warbeck tags along with a ragtag group of GIs, plus a comely reporter played by the Queen of the Nasties herself, Tisa Farrow, here looking authentically sweaty. Together they reach a military base hidden in a cave and things get a bit tiresome, with the usual crazy commander and rapey soldiers. It’s not long though before the VC invade the base and we get a frankly mental action scene set to a thumping disco track, with Warbeck stomping around with a flamethrower setting everyone on fire.

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By the time they reach the end of the mission, there’s a maddeningly pointless plot twist that will make you smile and some heavy-handed allegory about the futility of war. Did I say heavy-handed? Sorry, I meant HEAVY-HANDED – while a soldier dies screaming on a boat, a stray bullet hits the radio and somehow turns it on(!) to a station in which a presenter urges the men to put down their guns and come home. Then the radio catches fire and the boat and the soldier blow up. I dunno, I just can’t penetrate such obscure symbolism? WHAT CAN IT ALL MEAN?

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The Last Hunter is the sort of non-horror film that can easily be enjoyed by horror fans. A thrilling, blood-soaked romp, headlined by horror royalty like Warbeck, Farrow and the inimitable Bobby (Demons 1 & 2) Rhodes, it’s impossible not to have a good time with this one. Margheriti shows some serious action chops here, which Cannibal Apocalypse only really hinted at. I’d love to have seen a proper jungle-set cannibal movie by him – he really uses the jungle in a fun, claustrophobic way here. He also ends the film with one of the greatest final shots I have ever seen. Seriously! Spoilers ahead obviously, but Warbeck and Farrow escape to the helicopter. Warbeck decides to stay behind and die, and we get a shot from the helicopter flying away of him kneeling in the grass and throwing away his dog tags. Then, without any edits, there are four massive explosions right in front of him! It’s a wonder Warbeck lived, to be honest. I guess they must have cheated the angle or something, but I had to pick my jaw up off the floor when it happened.

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That is how you end a film. I wish there was a way for me to end this review by blowing the blog up in your hands – safely of course – but I’ll just have to settle for these words instead. But feel free to use your imagination!

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The Video Nasties #93 – Inferno (1980, Dario Argento)

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‘The only true mystery is that 

our very lives are governed by dead people.’

Classy is not a word I’d use to describe many of the Nasties, or many horror films in general for that matter. But it’s appropriate for Dario Argento’s majestic Inferno, the second part in his Three Mothers trilogy, following Suspiria and coming before La Terza Madre. Inferno is one of the most beautiful looking horror films ever made – the painterly compositions, the slightly soft look, the roving camera, the neon lighting – every frame is a wonder to behold.

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Trying to write a synopsis for a film like this is like trying to summarise a dream. Even more so than the violent fairy-tale that was Suspiria, Inferno does away with logic entirely and plunges the viewer into the same waking nightmare that it’s cast find themselves in. Critics of Argento’s films somehow find this to be a bad thing, and usually point to Suspiria and Inferno as the worst offenders, as if all films have to make perfect logical sense all the time. But if you’re willing (in the words of Dr Frank N. Furter) to give yourself over to absolute pleasure, then prepare to reap Inferno’s multiple rewards.

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Irene Miracle (one of the young girls from Late Night Trains) sort-of stars as Rose, who is trying to uncover the mystery of the building in which she lives. In the first 10 minutes she drops her brooch into a puddle, reaches in to retrieve it and finds herself swimming in a vast flooded ballroom, complete with rotting corpses. Later, a character visits a library, takes a wrong turn and finds herself in an alchemist’s dungeon, the mundane and the ordinary constantly giving way to reveal fantastical secrets lurking just below the surface.

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All this fancy highfaluting talk aside, Inferno earns its place on the Nasties thanks to some brilliantly choreographed murders. It’s nowhere near as graphic as some of its contemporaries, but there are plentiful stabbings, choppings and slicings, the highlight of which is an incredible, wordless sequence following Rose as she is chased by the slowest pursuer in cinema history through an increasingly baroque set until she is forced into a makeshift guillotine. It’s the very definition of pure cinema, using lighting and camerawork to convey mood and atmosphere and feeling.

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There’s also a great moment where, during one of the film’s few expository scenes, the camera gets bored and just wanders off, instead following the character’s voices as they travel along pipes and through walls.

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Inferno is Argento at the height of his powers, when nothing was too daring or too strange to try. In many ways it’s a low-key semi-remake of Suspiria, but I actually prefer the (slightly!) more subtle chills of Inferno. Either way, both are true classics of Italian horror and should be checked out. As for The Third Mother – it’s a ludicrous, high camp romp and adventurous/forgiving viewers will find plenty to enjoy in it. Just maybe don’t watch all three as part of a triple bill…

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The Video Nasties #92 – House on the Edge of the Park (1980, Ruggero Deodato)

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‘Are we gonna boogie?’

House On The Edge Of The Park feels like some kind of Video Nasty All-Stars. Behind that dreadful, unwieldy name we’ve got a movie from the director of Cannibal Holocaust and the stars of Last House On The Left and Cannibal Apocalypse/Cannibal Ferox. Despite this, the film falls well short of expectations.

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As is so often the case, it opens strongly with a sentimental ballad playing over a nighttime car ride, which ends in a brutal rape/murder from ol’ Krug himself, David Hess, playing another variation on his stock slimeball character. One year later – although it could be an hour later for all it matters – Alex (Hess) and his friend Ricky (Morghen) help a couple of rich jerks with their rich-jerk car and invite themselves along to their rich-jerk party. There, they begin to dance the night away, with Morghen’s crazed striptease prompting one guest to gasp, ‘Hot diggity!’.

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The score is pretty much wall-to-wall disco over these early scenes, giving the film a propulsive energy sorely lacking from the last hour, which is punctuated by long drawn out silences. Alex believes the yuppies invited them along to make fun of them, and so retaliates by taking charge, beating up the men and raping all the women.

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It’s a troubling, problematic movie with at least one scene where the rape victim seems to enjoy it, running her hands through Hess’ hair, passionately kissing him and even getting on top. Hess gives it his all as usual, going fully nude and spitting out his lines and pissing on rich folk while laughing like a pantomime dame.

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Honestly, he’s one of the few things worth watching, as the film devolves into one softcore fumbling after another. Things really take a savage turn when poor Cindy arrives at the door though. In scenes that are genuinely hard to watch, Hess strips her, humiliates her, then slices her breasts and thighs with a razor blade. It’s one of the most horrendous scenes in any Nasty, but Deodato somehow finds a way to make it even more appalling by intercutting it with a tender love scene between John Morghen and the woman he raped earlier!

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It’s a bewildering mess, but just wait – there’s a twist coming that is the cinematic equivalent of a giant forehead slap. You see, it turns out – give me a second, I’m trying to keep a straight face – it turns out that the whole thing was a setup. The girl murdered in the opening scene was one of the revelers’ sister, and somehow, a year later, they managed to trace the crime back to Hess. You would think that with a year to plan, they could have come up with a more accessible place to hide the gun.

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The twist raises an important question too – did anyone tell Cindy about the plan? Or did they just invite her round and neglect to mention that they were planning on shooting a rapist in the balls that evening? Because if they didn’t, then those are some poor friends. In fact, the whole thing was a total fucking disaster really. Four women sexually assaulted, one mutilated for life, and two men severely beaten and scarred. Maybe they should have just shot Hess when he walked in and saved themselves a lot of bother.

God, I wish they had.

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The Video Nasties #91 – Hell Prison (1980, Edoardo Mulargia)

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‘The world is putrid.’

Where would the Video Nasties be without jungles? At least Hell Prison isn’t another damn cannibal movie. Instead, it combines the aesthetics of the cannibal genre with the cheesy tropes of a woman in prison movie, to create a quite sensationally unpleasant movie, but one that occasionally transcends genre trappings.

Occasionally.

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Deep in a jungle somewhere, there exists a prison exclusively reserved for beautiful female criminals, lorded over by a sadistic prison warden (is there any other kind?) with a germ phobia. The inmates spend most of their time digging holes with spades, which is apparently very important work, though we never find out why.

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They need to ‘break through the swamp area,’ which is as close as we get to finding out what’s going on. It doesn’t matter. In between digging, the prisoners get up to the expected shenanigans; trying to escape, getting caught, being abused by guards, taking communal showers and having naked catfights. Eventually they convince the washed-up alcoholic doctor to help them escape, leading to an inevitably tragic conclusion.

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Hell Prison comes as quite a shock following Forest of Fear and Friday the 13th – this is a true Nasty, in every sense. The sex is frequent and as close to hardcore as you’re gonna find outside of porn. There’s clearly no faking going on in a couple of the scenes, including one rape scene that is more distressing than similar scenes in I Spit on Your Grave – it’s an absolute shocker that Hell Prison escaped prosecution.

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But the most jaw-dropping moment in the film is reserved for the moment when a guard is menacing a woman by holding a snake to her face. Without warning, she leans forward and bites the snakes head off, spitting it into another guard’s face. It’s extraordinary and repulsive at the same time, so I guess kudos for that you sick bastards.

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There’s even a genuinely scary sequence with a woman buried up to her neck in the ground, with a snake crawling towards her. Cut to a slow tracking shot past every cell, with the women arranged in stunning tableaus, praying for her. It’s one of those strangely moving moments that crop up in the Nasties from time to time, always where you least expect it.

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So an hour into Hell Prison and it’s a solid recommendation for the more adventurous viewer. Then the last half hour is the escape, and things get pretty uninteresting, turning into a jungle adventure the likes of which we’ve seen plenty of already. It’s so drawn out that at one point the film cuts away to a woman performing a naked scarf dance, which has nothing to do with anything. Exploitation filmmaking at its finest!

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‘The world is putrid,’ says Anthony Steffen as the likable doctor, but he could easily be describing Hell Prison too. Putrid is the word. Despite that, amongst the squalor and filth and sleaze, there’s some good stuff in here. Approach with caution, and if you feel threatened, don’t be afraid to lean forwards and bite its head off.

It’s the law of the jungle.

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The Video Nasties #90 – Friday the 13th (1980, Sean S Cunningham)

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‘They’re all dead. They’re all dead.’

I’ve seen Friday the 13th. You’ve seen Friday the 13th. Your mother has seen Friday the 13th. We all know it’s a slasher movie inspired by the success of Halloween, and that it’s Jason’s mum who’s the killer in this one, and that Kevin Bacon is in it, and that there’s a big shock ending that rips off Carrie. We know that it was followed by countless sequels and even more copycat movies, movies that felt more able to replicate the grimy thrills of Friday the 13th than they felt able to imitate the sedate classiness of Carpenter’s seminal film. We know that Tom Savini provided the dated but still cool gore effects. What else is there to add?

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Going by title alone, this is easily the best known Nasty, and up there with Halloween, The Exorcist and A Nightmare on Elm Street as the most famous horror movie title ever. Friday the 13th already has several books devoted to its production, so it should suffice to say that like most horror fans, I love it too. It’s a well-paced thrill ride, with a score that, whilst not as memorable as Halloween, plays a bigger part in the film’s success than it is often given credit for.

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One part this is not successful though is the mystery angle of the film. To all intents and purposes, Friday is a whodunit, and probably the worst whodunit ever made. I mean honestly, who could the killer possibly be? The list of suspects is small. Could it be Steve Christie, owner of the camp and wearer of denim cut-offs and a red neckerchief?

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No it couldn’t, because we see him at a diner during all the murders. Could it be Crazy Ralph? Possibly, but the cop says he dropped Ralph back home earlier that day, and Ralph is too obviously a red herring anyway. Could it be…well, that’s about it really. There are no other suspects, because we don’t even meet the killer until 75 minutes into the fucking movie.

That, my friends, is cheating.

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The fun of a whodunit is guessing who the killer is, but you have to at least seen the killer before their revelation for that to be effective. The mystery in Friday the 13th is so half-hearted and half-baked, you wonder why they even bothered. It’s a concession to an older style of horror movie – I guess the makers didn’t realise they were accidentally co-creating a whole new sub-genre of movie, where the identity of the killer didn’t matter so long as they were killing beautiful young people who wander around in thunderstorms in their underwear and play Strip Monopoly.

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But just how does one play Strip Monopoly? The rules, as given in the film, are as follows – ‘instead of paying rent you pay clothes.’ That’s it. Now, I hate Monopoly. It’s the most boring, long-winded game around, so I welcome any attempt to liven it up, particularly if nudity is involved. But it makes no sense! Bill is told to be banker – but why would you need a banker? There’s no money, it’s clothes, Brenda, like you just said! Later, when the door blows open, they scrabble about trying to catch all the money flying about, like it even matters. Guys, you’re playing for clothes. Forget the money. Why is this so hard to understand? Brenda also makes it perfectly clear that, ‘Community Chest can not give you your clothes back.’ No shit Brenda, I don’t think there’s a Community Chest card that says that. You know what? I think Brenda is making this up as she goes along. Well, her or the script-writer.

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Guys, we’ve all seen Friday the 13th. But you know what? There’s no harm in watching it again. Subsequent installments may have improved on the formula and lost the stupid mystery angle, but how many of the sequels had an extreme close up of a woman squeezing Kevin Bacon’s naked butt cheek?

The answer is none, gang. N-O-N-E none.

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