đź’” My Bloody Valentine đź’”

My Bloody Valentine1981, Canada, 90m, 93m (unrated version). Director: George Milhalka. Streaming: MGM+ via Roku, Pluto TV

My Bloody Valentine 2009, Canada/US, 101m. Director: Patrick Lussier. Streaming: Tubi

MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) The small mining town of Valentine Bluffs is putting together a grand February 14 celebration, the first in twenty years. The annual Valentine’s Day dance was permanently axed after 1960, when an explosion trapped five miners underground—one of whom, Harry Warden, went completely berserk and killed and ate his fellow survivors. Warden was sent to an asylum but escaped and—with pick ax in hand—butchered the town’s fat cats, who were too busy enjoying themselves at the Valentine’s party to assemble a rescue team for the buried miners. The present day resurrection of the town’s Valentine’s activities sparks a new series of murders, forcing the sheriff to cancel the big romantic event. That doesn’t stop a group of miners and their girlfriends from doing a bit of partying in the mine tunnels, the perfect location for a Valentine’s Day massacre when Harry Warden apparently returns to the scene of the crime. My Bloody Valentine is a compendium of the slasher sub-genre’s tried-and-true formulas, right down to the final battle pitting the remaining teens against the masked killer. And it all works, with a lot of the credit going to director George Mihalka’s eye for likable characters and suspenseful set pieces, including the climactic underground cat-and-mouse chase. Juicy kills and some actual scares help to make My Bloody Valentine a winner. B+

MY BLOODY VALENTINE (2009) After surviving a tunnel collapse, miner Harry Warden goes bananas and whacks his fellow survivors on the noggin with a pick ax. Warden escapes custody and goes on a mass killing spree—with a body count slightly less than the Iraq War—before being shot by police and running off into the night. The victims who eluded Harry’s wrath have been trying to live normal lives in the years following the massacre, but the upcoming sale of the town’s mine by the owner’s son (Jensen Ackles) ignites a new bloodbath in the form of the apparently still alive Harry Warden. The violence quota is definitely higher in this remake, with plenty of people ending up with their chest cavities opened and their hearts missing. The characters aren’t as memorable as in the 1981 film, but the gimmick here is the use of 3D cameras and the (literally) eye-popping make-up FX that shoot off the screen—and presumably into the audience’s laps. In that regard, My Blood Valentine ’09 delivers the goods in bucketloads of splatter. It overstays its welcome and gets a little too busy with a needless subplot, but hardcore slasher (and remake) fans shouldn’t find that a deterrent. B

Please listen to The Video Verdict’s episode on My Bloody Valentine! You can find it on Spotify!

Splatter University Part II: More ’80s Campus Slashers

Fatal Pulse1988, US, 87m. Director: Anthony J. Christopher. Streaming: YouTube

Hell High1987, US, 84m. Director: Douglas Grossman. Streaming: Arrow

The Initiation 1984, US, 97m. Director: Larry Stewart, Peter Crane. Streaming: Arrow, Tubi

Return to Horror High 1987, US, 95m. Director: Bill Froehlich. Streaming: Tubi

FATAL PULSE (1988) When a sorority babe from AOK House (no, seriously) is strangled with her own lingerie by a psycho in black gloves, all the students finger the victim’s dimwitted boyfriend, Jeff (Ken Roberts). Jeff is too busy trying to rekindle a relationship with his ex to notice police swarming the sorority house and is told by his friend (Steven Henry) of the murder. Fellow AOK housemate, Cassie (Cindra Skotzko), mourns for her fallen sister while her friends ignore the murder and go on with their jazzercising and partying. But it’s too late, as a second sorority student has her throat slashed. Jeff tries to be the hero and sets up a trap for Ernie (Joe Estevez, Martin Sheen’s bro), the house handyman and obvious red herring. The plan fails and Jeff once again becomes the prime suspect. Why nobody seems suspicious about moody Prof. Cauldwell (Alex Courtney), who practically has “mad slasher” stamped on his forehead, is a testament to the writer’s lack of understanding the basic principles of suspenseful storytelling. Two more sorority sisters are butchered before the predictable ending reveals the killer’s identity and the incurable disease that triggered the massacre. The title is ironic as Fatal Pulse is about as lifeless as a slasher movie can get—the viewer can’t even rely on the subgenre’s tried-and-true splatter for a little excitement. The only thing audiences can expect from Fatal Pulse is a quick way to fall asleep. D

HELL HIGH (1987) (AKA: Real Trouble) A high-strung little girl playing with dolls in some backwoods swamp spies on a couple of teens inside a makeshift passion pit. When the woman rejects the man’s advances he breaks one of the little girl’s dolls in frustration. In retaliation, the kid tosses a bucket of mud at the man while he’s driving away and crashes his motorcycle, impaling him and his girlfriend on a bed of spikes. Eighteen years later, that girl is now high-strung high school teacher, Miss Storm (Maureen Mooney), who after berating one of her students in front of the class becomes a target for a group of troublemakers. The teens pull a Carrie-like prank on Miss Storm, but instead of pig’s blood they douse her in mud—the sight of which sends Miss Storm into a frenzy until she completely snaps and enacts bloody revenge. It might feature typical slasher movie tropes, but Hell High feels more like a demented version of a John Hughes film—I Spit on Your Breakfast Club? The characters are more fleshed out than you’d find in a splatter flick, and the actors are good and feel like actual high schoolers. The film gets points for going to dark places most teen body count movies don’t—especially in the eighties—and builds to a bleak but genuine ending. One of Joe Bob Brigg’s favorites; worthy of discovery. B

THE INITIATION (1984) Sorority pledge Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga) suffers from a recurring nightmare in which—after she sees her parents having sex as a child—she stabs her father before he’s attacked by a strange man. Do I sense a little Freudism here? Kelly also agonizes from a form of amnesia, which coincidentally began around the age Kelly is in her nightmare. Her overprotective mother (Vera Miles) tells Kelly her illness is the result of a fall from a tree when she was nine. But it doesn’t take Freud to sense a disturbing family secret lingering in the screenplay. Does it have anything to do with the escaped killer from the local sanitarium who’s targeted Kelly and her pledge sisters? The Initiation is a well-produced slasher that’s saddled with a needless amount of melodrama—it doesn’t come to a surprise to learn the film was written by Charlies Pratt, Jr, who at the time was a staff writer on General Hospital. The movie’s “soap opera” tactics often overshadow the production, giving the film a ludicrously overblown feel that doesn’t gel with the rest of the story. But once The Initiation settles into its basic stalk-n-slash plot it delivers plenty of sanguinary action, including the decapitation of genre favorite, Clu Gulager. B

RETURN TO HORROR HIGH (1987) The flaky production crew of a cheap horror movie (life imitating art?) making a film about the “real-life” exploits of the Crippen High slasher run into more than just financial woes when the escaped killer returns to the scene of the crime. Setting up shop in the abandoned school’s gymnasium, the crew is bossed around by their sleazoid producer (Alex Rocco) while the actors make life hell for their young director (Scott Jacoby), including the movie’s lead who quits after landing a role on a television series—this is ironic since the actor is played by George Clooney. Bodies start dropping (or, in some cases, bouncing) as the masked maniac whittles down the cast and crew. This is intermixed with flashbacks of the original murders, which are woven into the film-within-the-film’s “making-of” structure. Return to Horror High is first and foremost a parody of eighties slasher flicks, which ends up being its downfall since the movie is never very funny. Ultimately, it’s really just a mediocre slasher that never lives up to its own inspirations. The Brady Bunch‘s Maureen McCormick gets a few laughs as a police officer turned on by blood. C

Splatter University: A Short Guide to ’80s Campus Slashers

The Dorm That Dripped Blood1982, US, 88m. Director: Stephen Carpenter, Jeffrey Obrow. Streaming: N/A

The House on Sorority Row1982, US, 91m. Director: Mark Rosman. Streaming: AMC/Prime, Shudder, Tubi

Sorority House Massacre1986, US, 74m. Director: Carol Frank. Streaming: Tubi

Splatter University1984, US, 78m. Director: Richard W. Haines. Streaming: N/A

THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1982) (AKA: Death Dorm, Pranks) Several members of a student co-op stay behind during the Christmas break to ready the building for demolition. A hooded killer sees this as the perfect opportunity to bump off the teens, one by one, in particularly brutal fashion. An unsuspecting passerby gets his brains bashed in with a nail-embedded baseball bat, while another has a hole put into the back of his skull with a power drill. The prime suspect is a mysterious transient who’s been seen roaming the campus, but any savvy viewer will spot the slasher movie “red herring” motif. Friday the 13th was the obvious inspiration for this low-budget splatter flick, as its characters, isolated setting, and Savini-like gore FX are all very reminiscent of that classic, which isn’t a bad thing. The teens are likable enough, the pacing is adequate, and the murders are juicy. In the end, the movie can’t distinguish itself from the rest of the campus-themed slashers of the time, but if you like your feathered-haired student body extra-bloodied, you’ll enjoy The Dorm That Dripped Blood. Originally released in the UK as Pranks, where it was selected as one of the notorious “video nasties”—a sign of quality for many a gorehound. B

THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1982) A group of sorority pals are denied a graduation party by mean old house mother, Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt). That’s because the party is planned for June 19—a date revealed to the viewer, via prologue, as that of Mrs. Slater’s 1961 delivery of a stillborn baby. In retaliation, the sorority women pull a prank which results in Mrs. Slater’s accidental death. They quickly dispose of the body and continue on with their party. The bad news is that someone creeping around the sorority attic was witness to the crime and subsequently commits a series of revenge killings. Could all of this slaughter have something to do with the supposedly dead child from twenty years earlier? A textbook example of an early eighties slasher, highlighted by colorful characters, energetic actors, and a Pino Donaggio-esque score by Charles Band. A slick production that for most of its runtime engages the viewer—until its tried-and-true cat-and-mouse finale, pitting virginal Final Girl Kate McNeil against the slasher, here decked out in a creepy clown costume. A somewhat lackluster conclusion kills some of the buzz, but not much. B

SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE (1986) The death of Beth’s aunt triggers a series of strange dreams and hallucinations—visions that include the figure of a man with a knife. Meanwhile, over at the local mental asylum, a patient named Bobby (John C. Russell) becomes violently agitated, escapes, and, knife in hand, heads to the UCLA sorority house where Beth (Angela O’Neill) and her classmates are staying over spring break. The plot parallels Halloween in more ways than one, but Sorority House Massacre deserves more credit than being labeled just another rip-off. The writers obviously put time and care into the structure of the screenplay and have created a thoughtful story that’s more concerned with intelligent, sympathetic characters than with mindless splatter. That said, the movie does have its share of gory kills, which are skillfully intermixed with moments of actual suspense. Only one of those silly it’s-only-a-dream surprise endings stains an otherwise good little movie. B

SPLATTER UNIVERSITY (1984) A schizophrenic psychopath named Grayham is locked up in the city mental hospital. After knifing his doctor in the crotch and slitting his throat, Grayham steals the doc’s clothes and escapes. Three years later, a young teacher at St. Trinian’s College is fatally stabbed by an unseen assailant. Grad student Julie (Francine Forbes) takes over the position, but it’s not her class subject—Marx’s Aspects of Alienation—that makes the student body gradually dwindle. It’s the killer, who strikes again and again. Julie’s new beau (and fellow teacher) becomes Prime Suspect No. 1—especially after Julie and her friend do a little Scooby-Doo snooping and discover newspaper clippings of the recent slashings in his house. But viewers will most likely be eyeing the obvious culprit: the wheelchair-bound dean (Dick Biel) who’s actually—surprise, surprise!—Grayham. Although released in 1984, Splatter University was obviously filmed years earlier (maybe the week after Friday the 13th opened). The make-up effects are chintzy but convincing—a bathroom stall disemboweling is quite gruesome—and the script lacks the slightest shred of mystery and suspense. If you like your slashers fast, cheap, and bloody, believe me—you can do a lot worse. C+

To be continued…

Existential Slashers: Disconnected, Last House on Dead End Street, and More

Dark Sanity1982, US, 85m. Director: Martin Green. Streaming: FilmRise, YouTube

Disconnected – 1984, US, 84m. Director: Gorman Bechard. Streaming: Tubi

The Last House on Dead End Street1973, US, 78m. Director: Roger Watkins. Streaming: Tubi

The Slayer1982, US, 89m. Director: J.S. Cardone. Streaming: Tubi

DARK SANITY (1982) (AKA: Straight Jacket) One-time Hollywood golden boy Aldo Ray slums it in this goes-nowhere “thriller.” Married couple Al and Karen move into a new house in Southern California, where Karen (Kory Clark) immediately senses danger. Al (Chuck Jamison) dismisses his wife’s jitters and reminds her of her unsavory past as an alcoholic—this hilariously overwrought moment of melodrama is followed by Al stepping out for a beer. Whatta husband! Soon after, Karen begins having vivid premonitions of a decapitation murder in the house. Being the jerk he is, Al berates Karen about her visions and believes she’s back on the sauce. Karen (who’s not exactly the warmest character) later bumps into an ex-cop (Ray) who years earlier had similar visions while investigating a decapitation killing in the same house—the head of that victim was never found. There’s also a dimwitted gardener running around with an extra large pair of shears. In the end, Karen ends up being about as sympathetic as the sofa you stub your toe on in the middle of the night. The premonition subplot never amounts to anything except a cheap form of exposition, the drama having about as much of an impact as a kindergarten production of Lucy Goosey. The acting is on the same level as an Ed Wood flick; Ray stumbles over his lines—and the musical score sounds like it was taken from a 1950s western. For the bad movie connoisseur, Dark Sanity is a must-see. For everybody else it’s a must-not. D, or B, depending on your preference.

DISCONNECTED (1984) Connecticut’s own one-man show, Gorman Bechard, wrote, directed, edited, and shot this interesting slasher as his first feature—and while the results aren’t anything to write home about, the film is a showcase for Bechard as a talented independent filmmaker. Video store owner Alicia (Frances Sherman) starts receiving disturbing phone calls. At first she brushes them off as the work of a heavy-breather, but Alicia’s sanity soon begins to slip when she has vivid nightmares of her bitchy twin sister (also Sherman) and ex-boyfriend trying to kill her. Fortunately for Alicia, the handsome Franklin (Mark Walker) helps take her mind off the recent troubles—unfortunately, Franklin is a psychopathic necrophiliac responsible for a string of murders in the area. In the end, Alicia escapes death but becomes disconnected from the world, slowly descending into Catherine Deneuve territory, á la Repulsion. The viewer also can’t help feel disconnected from the story and the uneven structure of blurred reality vs. splatter flick. Sherman is likable, and at least two-thirds of Disconnected are engaging, but it’s not enough to recommend to non-Gorman fans. A warm-up to Bechard’s video semi-classic, Psychos in Love. C+

THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (1973) (AKA: The Fun House) Greasy ex-con Terry (director Roger Watkins) becomes disillusioned with society and forms a group of equally scuzzy losers to make cheap porn movies aimed at the bourgeoisie. The problem is sex is no longer a selling point, leading Terry and his merry band of Susan Atkins-like followers to commit atrocious acts of violence and murder on film. An ugly, nihilistic movie that’s not the brainless gore job you’d think, but a semi-intelligent view of humanity at its worst. According to Watkins, Last House on Dead End Street was partially inspired by the Manson family and Watkins’s overall bafflement with the political and economical situations of the time. Brutal and unpleasant, but not without its merits. Recommended only for the adventurous viewer. Unreleased commercially until 1977. B

THE SLAYER (1982) Moody artist Kay (Sarah Kendall) is having nightmares—not just random nightmares, but ones featuring a snarling beast with sharp claws. Kay’s husband (who’s a complete dolt) and her friends help her forget her woes by spiriting Kay off to an isolated island for a week of relaxation. Once they arrive, the always-miserable Kay immediately begins pouting, while her husband (Alan McRae) ignores her scowling, and Kay’s best friend (Carol Kottenbrook) complains. Kay later believes a nearby rundown theater house is the same building she’s been painting back home. Her ever-supportive husband dismisses her, but the wiser viewer will know this is some heavy-duty foreshadowing. Kay continues to mope and have more nightmares, while a local fisherman’s brains are bashed in by a mystery killer. The killer then sets their eyes on Kay and her friends, who are whittled down (not quickly enough) with an assortment of sharp objects. Could the slasher be Kay’s dream demon? It doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to figure it out—which raises the question of why the filmmakers decided to try creating a mystery in the transparent screenplay. The characters are too obtuse to care about, the pacing slow, and the gore effects cheap and unconvincing. There’s an elaborate impalement by pitchfork, but by that point in the film you’ll be far from impressed. Director J.S. Cardone would go on to helm the much more entertaining Shadowzone. C

Summer BBQ: A Short Guide to Cannibal Slashers

For a review of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) please click on the titles!

ANTHROPOPHAGUS (1980) The population of a small island off the coast of Athens declines substantially after its newest resident, psychotic killer Klaus Wortmann (George Eastman), arrives and devours most of the islanders. You see, Klaus’s sanity completely cracked when he and his family were lost at sea—an experience Klaus survived by eating the flesh of his dead son and wife. Sometime later, a boatload of vacationers are directed to the island by an American (Tisa Farrow) and end up getting hacked to pieces (literally) by the cannibal. The acting and writing are all subpar, but it’s the splatter that matters in a movie like this, and Anthropophagus delivers in true Italian fashion. Such is the case when the madman rips out the fetus of a woman and takes a bite of the entrails, a gruesome detail that lent the film notoriety upon its release—but the scene was removed from most prints, including the original American release dubbed The Grim Reaper. Director Joe D’Amato (a.k.a. Aristide Massaccesi, also the co-writer) builds a feeling of menace throughout the movie, with excellent use of atmospheric, old-school gothic lighting and some actual suspense towards the end—in a weird twist of fate, the killer’s slow stalking speed makes him appear even creepier. A worthy entry in the Italian-cannibal-gore sweepstakes that was followed a year later by a semi-sequel, Absurd. B+

LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990) As the film opens, our heroine drives down a dusty patch of backwoods Texas road and passes a sign which reads, “Don’t mess with Texas.” Wiser words were never written within the context of a horror movie. The woman in question, Michelle (Kate Hodge)—a pacifist who can’t stomach the sight of roadkill—turns off the main highway and runs smack into Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff) and his shiny chainsaw, which is nearly as big as he is. Returning to the gruesome nature of the original, Chainsaw Massacre III ignores the events of the satirical Part 2 and acts as a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 film. Leatherface lives with a new family of demented cannibals—they mostly refer to Bubba as “Junior,” suggesting this different set of characters are extended family from those in the first movie. Grandpa is long dead, but that doesn’t stop the family’s little girl (Jennifer Banko) from feeding his desiccated body the blood collected from victims. Not many liked this third Chainsaw outing when it was originally released. True, it lacks the suspense and intelligence of its predecessors. But I think Texas Chainsaw III is a decent entry in the series and offers good acting, a couple of scares, and a lightening-quick pace. Dawn of the Dead‘s Ken Foree is excellent as a survivalist who steps in and gives the Leatherface clan a taste of their own medicine, so to speak. B

LUNCHMEAT (1987) This backwoods meat movie must have been made by people who just really love The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; its story, characters, and motivations are all similar to that 1974 classic in more ways than one. A family of sadistic cannibals—who make the cast of Duck Dynasty seem classy by comparison—make ends meet by selling their “leftovers” to a nearby burger joint. When the redneck family isn’t engaging in entrepreneurialism, mean ol’ Paw is beating his oafish son (who growls like a dog) while the other brothers act as if they’re auditioning for a revival of Three Stooges. Fortunately for the family, a carload of California yuppies runs smack into their lair, ensuring a well-stocked pantry for the coming winter. Luckily for the viewer, none of this zero-budget production is to be taken seriously; Lunchmeat is an obvious parody of its Texas Chainsaw inspirations and even offers several laughs throughout. The movie is also quite gruesome, with some particularly gnarly FX thrown in for good measure. The story runs out of ideas about 40 minutes in, which is a shame since the movie is 88 minutes. C+

MOTEL HELL (1980) Fifties western star Rory Calhoun is Vincent Smith, a seemingly gentle farmer who also runs the adjacent Motel Hello with his younger sister, Ida (Nancy Parsons). In between praising the Lord and helping strangers out of traffic accidents in the middle of the night, Farmer Vincent smokes his own meats, which he sells to the tourists—tourists?!—who happen by his backwoods business. The secret ingredient to his meat recipe is, of course, humans. Vincent’s victims are an assortment of unsavory individuals—mostly bikers and punk rockers—whom Vincent keeps alive for a short while by performing Dr. Moreau-style vocal cord removal, then burying them up to their necks until the meat is prime for pickin’. Taking a cue from Piranha, Motel Hell is more of a parody of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (with a splash of Sweeney Todd), and wisely so. The touches of black comedy give the film a sense of originality that many of the seventies meat movies didn’t have, with the exception of maybe Terror at Red Wolf Inn. That’s not to say Motel Hell isn’t also an effective horror movie, because it is, especially during its buzz-fueled chainsaw-fight climax. In a way, Motel Hell is a homage to a bygone era of horror films, and predicted the impending revival of the splatter movie. And remember: It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent Fritters! B+

TERROR AT RED WOLF INN (1972) Happy-go-lucky college student Regina (Linda Gillen)—who’s got a poster of Jean-Paul Belmondo in her chic hippy dorm—believes she’s won a weekend getaway at a bed and breakfast-type hostelry called The Red Wolf Inn. Along with two other women, Regina arrives at the country inn and immediately takes a liking to the owners’ handsome but child-like grandson (John Neilson), unaware that his grandparents (fifties sci-fi/horror vet Arthur Space and The Waltons‘ Mary Jackson) are actually cannibalistic psychos—and Regina is next on the menu. This well-acted little oddity predates Texas Chainsaw Massacre with its “meat movie” overtones, although Terror at Red Wolf Inn is less about the gruesome and is sprinkled with black humor—a scene of Regina and her fellow companions unknowingly chowing down on human meat to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” is particularly amusing. The original title, The Folks at Red Wolf Inn, is much better. The end credits are a delight, with most of the cast listed under “main course, á la carte.” B

THREE ON A MEATHOOK (1972) A bleach-blonde, California-tanned sexpot and her three equally buxom gal pals find themselves stranded in some Kentucky backwoods while on a weekend excursion. It doesn’t come as any surprise to the viewer when the four are brutally butchered while spending the night in a strange farmhouse occupied by seemingly good-natured Billy (James Carroll Pickett), who’s repeatedly told by his suspiciously foreshadowing father, “You know how you get around women, son.” But is Billy really responsible for the heinous crimes? This Ed Gein/Psycho-influenced shocker predates Texas Chainsaw Massacre by two years and delivers plenty of bloody delights for the gore enthusiast. Pickett’s Norman Bates-ish performance is good, it’s all competently directed by William Girdler (Grizzly), and it has more character development than you’d expect from a film with such a sensational title (which won’t make sense until the last five minutes). B

WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END (2007) Contrived sequel/remake about the return of the backwoods cannibalistic inbred clan from the superior 2003 movie—this time there are about ten hillbilly cannibals versus the original three from the first film. I guess backwoods cannibalistic inbred families breed much faster than non-cannibalistic inbred families? A group of self-centered douchebags filming the pilot for a reality television show in the wilds of West Virginia are set upon by the murderous, deformed cannibal family, who this time all look like Tweedledum and Tweedledee by way of Ren & Stimpy. The assortment of macho jerks and bimbo TV contestants are deservedly splattered down to size—one woman is split down the middle with an ax, her guts spilling onto the ground as the left and right sides of her body separate. It all comes to a gore-drenched head in a showdown between the remaining contestants and what’s left of the cannibal family, many of which were bumped off Rambo-style by the TV show’s ex-military mastermind (Henry Rollins). The gore delivers, but the film itself is too gimmicky and cheap to amount to much. C

Summer Camp Slashers Part 2: Cheerleader Camp and Sleepaway Camp

This post contains spoilers!

Summer camp has long been a traditional place for deformed, masked killers to do their slicing ‘n’ dicing. Thanks to Friday the 13th, the slasher film found a home away from home, an isolated location where there would be 1) plenty of nubile young people roaming the area, 2) separation from any sort of protective adult authorities, 3) forest terrain in which the mysterious killer could massacre a handful of pretty, bikini-clad cheerleaders and their horny boyfriends without anyone catching wise—until it’s too late.

One of the most (in)famous summer camp slashers is undoubtedly 1983’s Sleepaway Camp. Several years after witnessing her father’s death in a boating accident, mentally damaged teenager, Angela (Felissa Rose)—now living with her kooky aunt (Desiree Gould)—is, along with her cousin, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten), sent to Camp Arawak for a summer of fun and sun. Once there, Angela is introduced to an assortment of characters: Judy (Karen Fields), the camp tramp; Meg (Katherine Kamhi), the eternal sourpuss; Paul (Christopher Collet), the love interest; Mel (Mike Kellin), the camp owner; and Artie (Owen Hughes), the cook-slash-pervert.

Most of these lively characters exist to make the severely shy Angela’s time at camp a living hell, especially the bitchy duo of Judy and Meg. But when those who are mean to Angela—which seems to be just about everyone—begin turning up mangled and dead, all fingers point to Ricky, Angela’s protector. It’s no surprise to anyone reading this that the assailant is Angela, who’s actually a boy named Peter, a secret revealed in the film’s shocking twist ending: Angela, standing butt-naked on the moonlit lake shore, bloody knife in one hand, a decapitated head in the other. . . dick and balls out. The shot has become the stuff of slasher movie legend. (Interesting tidbit: Sleepaway Camp might be the only ’80s slasher to feature exclusively all-male nudity.)

Sleepaway Camp is in a category by itself. It took a theme Friday the 13th introduced—a killer at summer camp— which SC mirrors, but elevates it to the level of absurdist masterpiece. No other slasher flick of the time period captures the wonderfully ostentatious essence of the pure, unadulterated ’80s like Sleepaway Camp. The movie doesn’t try to be another Friday, yet it’s obviously aware of the footsteps its following. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime work of genius that can’t be replicated. Director and writer, Robert Hiltzik, wisely handed over the Felissa-less Sleepaway Camps 2 and 3 to Michael A. Simpson and Michael Hitchcock, possibly with the realization that he wouldn’t be able to top himself—and he didn’t. Hiltzik returned in 2008 to direct the “official” sequel, Return to Sleepaway Camp, which is, despite Rose’s participation, an unfortunate failure.

Coming on the tail end of the Golden Age of slashers is 1988’s Cheerleader Camp. Set at an isolated, pom-pom-waving getaway called Camp Hurrah, a competition for the upcoming state finals is interrupted by the apparent suicide of popular Suzy (Krista Pflanzer), which is followed by a series of murders. Could the killer be Pop (George Flower), the creepy camp custodian? Or maybe Pam (Teri Weigel), the jealous, booby-flashing Queen Bee? There’s also Brent (Leif Garrett), the horny cheer coach whose advances were turned down by Suzy hours before her death. But what about Alison (Betsy Russell), the nightmare-plagued, emotionally fragile protagonist who just happens to be Brent’s girlfriend?

The story crescendos during the crowning of the Camp Queen when bodies start piling up, including amateur videographer, Timmy (Travis McKenna), whose disemboweling is recorded over his homemade porn. The major red herring is Brent, but the killer is actually Cory (Lucinda Dickey, Ninja III: The Domination), the dowdy team mascot who, in the final scene, frames Alison for the murders before donning a cheerleader uniform and breaking into a cheer, asking the audience to, “Give me a C-O-R-Y!”

Filmed as Bloody Pom-Poms, Cheerleader Camp is a cheesy good time. Never taking itself seriously, the movie functions as a whodunit, all the while being playfully humorous—this is a flick that knows it’s silly. All the characters are fun and likable, and the plot moves quickly. Russell (Saw III-V) makes a sympathetic leading lady, and McKenna is a lovable horn-dog. It’s not going to be remembered in the annals of slasher movie history, but for us hardcore ’80s slasher aficionados, Cheerleader Camp is a cheerfully trashy delight. Cheerleader Camp: B Sleepaway Camp: A

Please check out Part 1 of Summer Camp Slashers

And, let’s not forget the Sleepaway Camp sequels…

SLEEPAWAY CAMP 2: UNHAPPY CAMPERS (1988) The years after the massacre at Camp Arawak have been enlightening for Angela, a.k.a. Peter Baker, the 14-year-old who killed all those who made his/her life hell at camp. Having seen the errors of her ways, Angela is now more of a Puritan killer, bumping off teenagers who indulge in swearing, drinking, fornicating, drug-taking, and generally bad behavior. Moments after cutting out a girl’s tongue, Angela cheerfully tells someone, “There’s plenty of good kids. You’ve just got to weed out the bad!” Having had gender reassignment surgery and using the surname Johnson, Angela is now a counselor at Camp Rolling Hills, where the usual assortment of foul-mouthed campers become fodder for Angela’s array of weapons, including knives, drills, battery acid, and a guitar string she uses to garrote a poor girl who talks too much. Tonally different from Sleepaway Camp, Unhappy Campers is a straightforward parody of ’80s slasher movies—and of itself—right down to its jokey, self-referential nature; in order to give Angela a scare, two boys dress up as Freddy and Jason, but end up on the wrong side of Angela’s Leatherface-inspired chainsaw. And it all works extremely well, offering plenty of laughs and some juicy deaths. The cast is first-rate, with RenĂ©e Estevez (Emilio’s sis) a sympathetic Final Girl, but kudos goes to Pamela Springsteen (Bruce’s sis), whose adult Angela is both likable and nasty. B+

SLEEPAWAY CAMP 3: TEENAGE WASTELAND (1989) Having “slummed it” in the year following her bloody escape at Camp Rolling Hills, Angela (Pamela Springsteen), runs over a city girl on her way to camp with a Mack 10. The eternal moralist, Angela impersonates the dead girl and immediately goes to work eliminating those she feels are a bad influence, including a drug-taking news reporter to whom Angela gives a gram of Ajax while informing the TV correspondent, “It’ll really clean your pipes!” The camp in question is an experimental program mixing inner city and suburban teens, operated by a stingy layabout (Sandra Dorsey) and her lecherous husband (Michael J. Pollard), whose fling with one of the camping bimbos sends Angela into a tizzy—so she mutilates him with a tree branch. One of horror cinema’s most prolific serial killers, Angela wipes out the entire cast until a showdown with Last Woman Standing, Tracy Griffith, sends Angela off in an ambulance. Even more of a comedy than Part 2, Teenage Wasteland doesn’t contain the magic of its predecessors—the exhausting back-to-back shooting of this film with Sleepaway Camp 2 results in a clear disintegration in quality—with a majority of the characters being too imbecilic to care about. Most of the gore FX were trimmed, making the death scenes less enticing than Angela’s post-kill quips, the best of which comes after she rips the arms off an S&M enthusiast who plans on running for office: “Thank God there’ll be one less idiot in politics.” B

Slasher Month: Don’t Go into Those Woods, 80s Style!

THE FINAL TERROR (1983) Unfairly criticized slasher/Deliverance hybrid about a group of twenty-something forest rangers who run up against a homicidal mountain man while on a weekend training excursion in the woods. Utilizing Oregon’s Redwood National Forest setting to its advantage, the movie creates a genuine feel of isolation, especially in the second half when the story shifts gears from a Friday the 13th wannabe to a survival-of-the-fittest adventure thriller. While mostly carbon copies from slashers past, the characters are sympathetic and smart, and the cast believable, especially a young Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos) as a hotheaded mechanic who may be hiding a secret. Filmed in 1981, this was shelved for two years because of distribution problems and finally got a limited release in late ’83 thanks to rising stars Daryl Hannah and Rachel Ward. The Final Terror isn’t the best slasher you’ll ever see, but it’s far from the worst. B

HUMONGOUS (1982) Offbeat and misunderstood slasher about a boatload of empty-headed teens who get shipwrecked on a woodsy island. In typical horror fashion, the kids are eventually picked off by a heavy-breathing killer who turns out to be the deformed, mentally disturbed son – I wonder where they got that idea from? – of the island’s owner who died years earlier. This is actually decent stuff, with a fair amount of suspense mixed in with the cat-and-mouse scenario. While charismatic, Final Girl Janet Julian lacks the energy needed to carry this type of movie, but she’s aided by Paul (Prom Night) Lynch’s good direction and suspenseful set-ups. Not perfect in any way, Humongous is still worth viewing and demands a hi-def re-release. B

THE FOREST (1982) A bonkers woodsy terrain-set slasher that was probably filmed the weekend after Friday the 13th was released. Two couples taking a weekend camping excursion in the Sequoia National Park bump into a cannibalistic woodsman, who’s haunted by the ghosts of his family that he murdered years earlier! Although amateur to the core and silly as heck, The Forest gets points for trying to be somewhat different than most of the era’s hack-and-slashes; the corny premise is charming, and the moments of black humor welcoming. But it isn’t long until the movie begins to run out of steam – and plot – and we’re left with a paper-thin story in which one of the campers is repeatedly told by the killer’s ghost children, “Daddy’s gone hunting!” A weak but marginally entertaining B-movie that has the second bill in a Double Feature written all over it. C+

Slasher Month: Intruder, Mountaintop Motel Massacre, and The Toolbox Murders

MOUNTAINTOP MOTEL MASSACRE (1983) Crazy old Evelyn (Anna Chappell), recently released from an institution, is trying to live a normal life with her teen daughter deep within the Louisiana bayou at the Mountaintop Motel. After she discovers the young girl practicing witchcraft, Evelyn accidentally kills her in a fit of rage, snaps, and goes on a rampage, murdering the motel’s patrons with poisonous snakes and other instruments of death. This strange slasher has good atmosphere (its rainstorm-night setting and camp-like cabins remind of Friday the 13th) and likable characters, and although Evelyn is just a Norman Bates clone, Chappell sells it with a subtle performance. Mountaintop might be too slowly paced for some, but this is decent stuff and not the cheap exploitation flick its title would suggest. B

THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1978) A seminal piece of sleazy ’70s exploitation, this cheap quickie features a Los Angeles apartment complex targeted by a sadistic murderer who uses hammers, screwdrivers, and nail guns to kill his mostly female victims. When the police don’t take a teenage girl’s disappearance seriously, her older brother (Nicolas Beauvy), who believes she was kidnapped by the killer, takes it upon himself to find her. As with most slasher movies that carry notoriety, Toolbox Murders is better than its reputation suggests, but that’s not to say it’s good, either; the story is hackneyed and the middle half drags considerably. But, it’s watchable hokum, contains a wacky performance by Cameron Mitchell, and features a fairly taut final 10 minutes. C+

INTRUDER (1989) A great bookend to the 1980s slasher cycle, this energized splatterfest is written by Tarantino’s future producer, Lawrence Bender. Closing time for a rowdy group of supermarket employees turns into a nightmare when a madman breaks in and begins hacking them to pieces. Is the culprit the obsessed ex-boyfriend of cute cashier, Jennifer (Elizabeth Cox), who earlier made threats against several of her coworkers? Although the plot is routine and textbook of the subgenre, Intruder fires on most cylinders because of an excellent cast, punchy characters, and terrific direction by Scott Spiegel (co-writer of Evil Dead II). While slow to start, this picks up speed and tension, skillfully structured to build to a slam-bang finale pitting Final Girl Jennifer against the maniac. A worthy entry in the late ’80s slasher cannon and featuring some superb KNB FX work. B+

Slasher Month – Italian Style!

DEEP RED (1975) The quintessential Italian slasher, this terrific murder mystery put Dario Argento on the map and took the giallo to new, respected heights. After witnessing the brutal murder of a renowned psychic (Macha MĂ©ril), who earlier foresaw her own death, a jazz pianist (David Hemmings) becomes obsessed with finding the killer, and is subsequently pursued by the murderer, putting himself and others in danger. Soaking in Argento’s flamboyant style, Deep Red works on multiple levels and delivers a totally unique slasher/thriller that transcends the genre; with its complex storyline and well-rounded characters, including themes of self-loathing and post-traumatic stress, the film isn’t a disposable bloodbath, but a thoughtful and intelligent piece of psychological horror. It also features some suspenseful moments that would make Hitchcock proud. A

THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982) The pinnacle of Lucio Fulci’s American-filmed bloodbaths, The New York Ripper is perhaps the perfect Eurotrash slasher. Set against the sleazy backdrop of early ’80s New York City, NY Ripper spins the gleefully ludicrous tale of a duck-voiced maniac carving up the local female population with a straight razor, steak knife, and, in one of the film’s more notorious scenes, a broken bottle. The killer, in between their brutal escapades, calls up friends of the victims and taunts them with a hilariously awful Donald Duck impression! No, I’m not kidding. Your typical hard-boiled detective (Jack Hedley) becomes obsessed with finding the deranged Disney slasher, especially after his spunky hooker girlfriend is turned into mincemeat. Gaudy, gory, and campy as hell, NY Ripper is in a category by itself: dark, violent, and batshit goofy, it’s a movie that has its fingers in many genre pies – including comedy! – but mostly hovers between the giallo detective story and gory horror. It simply never ceases to be spectacularly absurd, and highly enjoyable. B+

NIGHTMARE BEACH (1989) “Welcome to Spring Break. The annual migration of the idiot.” Those wise words are spoken within the first ten minutes of Nightmare Beach, a surprisingly witty, full throttle, Italian-grade cheesefest filmed in Florida. In the wake of the electric chair execution of gang leader Diablo, arrested for the murder of a young woman, a leather-clad killer begins bumping off the babes and jocks of Manatee Beach by using a motorcycle rigged to cook its victims alive. Has Diablo risen from the dead, or is the real killer still at large? A good cast (John Saxon, Michael Parks, Lance LeGault), likable characters, a punchy attitude, and some gooey make-up FX – including a poor beach bunny’s melting face in a fireball – make Nightmare Beach a nice surprise, even when it’s not always working. One of the few ’80s Euro-slashers made Stateside that actually feels American-made. Director/writer Harry Kirkpatrick is actually Umberto Lenzi. B

Slasher Month: Alice Sweet Alice, The Chill Factor, and Night School

ALICE, SWEET ALICE (1976) A wonderful mix of domestic drama, slasher flick, and overall hysteria. The death of nine-year-old Karen (Brooke Shields) at her first communion kicks off a string of brutal murders within a Catholic community by someone in a yellow raincoat and mask. The locals point their fingers at Karen’s jealous sister, Alice (Paula E. Sheppard), but when the murders continue after Alice is placed in an institution for troubled children, the search continues for the knife-wielding maniac. Influenced by Dario Argento and Don’t Look Now, Alice is both insightful and shocking, seamlessly mixing its religious symbolism, well-written characters, and 1961 period setting into its suspenseful and gory kill sequences. A must-see pre-Halloween slasher. B+

THE CHILL FACTOR (1993) No, not that Cuba Gooding, Jr. action comedy, but a dumb hybrid of The Exorcist and Friday the 13th which, despite some shortcomings, is marginally entertaining. A group of friends seeking shelter after a snowmobile accident in a remote patch of woods hole up in an abandoned summer camp that was once operated by a Satanic cult. After they discover and play with a spirit board, it unleashes a shadowy, demonic figure that slowly possesses one of them and kills the rest one-by-one. This has some good moments – the icicle-through-the-eye bit is a highlight – and its snowy landscape lends the movie a genuinely chilly feel, but a lack of energy, and emotionless, mundane characters, dampen a lot of potential impact, especially when the pacing speeds up towards the end. The crap-o music sounds like it was rejected from the pilot of Beverly Hills, 90210. Funniest scene: in response to her friend’s open bone fracture, “It’s probably not as bad as it looks!” C+

NIGHT SCHOOL (1981) Boston-set slasher whodunit about a killer clad in a motorcycle helmet who’s cutting off the heads of the student body at a private, all-female college. Suspects include the pompous anthropology professor (Drew Snyder), who specializes in the study of ancient head-hunting practices (hardy har!); the creeper bus boy (Bill McCann), who’s got eyes for the professor’s pretty assistant (Rachel Ward); and the moody homicide detective (Leonard Mann). Slickly made and nicely paced, Night School isn’t great, but it’s entertaining, well acted, and has a sense of humor, especially in a playful scene that runs like a game of “Guess Where the Decapitated Head Is?” Modern viewers might be more wise to the killer’s identity, but that shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying this modest effort. Look for a hockey mask in the background of a suspect’s bedroom. B