SLASHER MONTH: Destroyer, Final Exam, Hatchet, and Silent Madness!

DESTROYER (1988) d: Robert Kirk. c: Anthony Perkins, Deborah Foreman, Clayton Rohner, Lyle Alzado, Tobias Anderson, Lannie Garrett. A muscle-bound mass murderer (Alzado), executed 18 months earlier, seemingly comes back from the dead and stalks a group of filmmakers making a women-in-prison flick in the now-abandoned jailhouse where Alzado was put to death. This pre-Shocker slasher is better made then it deserves to be and has a good cast – Perkins, Foreman, and Rohner are all in fine form – but stiff direction, slow pacing, and cut-rate gore FX keep the movie from being terribly interesting. C

FINAL EXAM (1981) d: Jimmy Huston. c: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, Ralph Brown, DeAnna Robins, Sherry Willis-Burch, Timothy L. Raynor. On the last day before Spring Break, the remaining students of Lanier College are terrorized by a knife-happy killer (Raynor) who stalks his victims in a black van. This is a textbook example of an ’80s slasher flick, complete with a killer who stays in the shadows, the disbelieving sheriff, the opening murder sequence, and a cast of teens that now seem like a cliché, including the nerd, the bimbo, and frat jock, and the virginal good girl. Heavily inspired by Halloween, Final Exam can’t hold a candle to that classic; its pacing is often too slow and the killer is presented rather lifelessly. But there is stuff for the hardcore slasher fan to enjoy, including a student (Rice) who’s obsessed with serial killers and horror movies – a prelude to Randy from Scream, perhaps? A solid final 20 minutes helps the overall positive effect of the film. B

HATCHET (2006) d: Adam Green. c: Kane Hodder, Joel David Moore, Deon Richmond, Amara Zaragoza, Richard Riehle, Mercedes McNab. A spirited, and appropriately gory, homage to ‘80s splatter, this low-budgeter has more verve and energy than most “bigger” Hollywood movies. When their tour boat sinks in the middle of the New Orleans swamp, a group of tourists are stalked and slaughtered by the hideously deformed bayou legend, Victory Crowley (Hodder), with veteran actor, Riehle, as a poor victim who gets literally ripped in half. One of the best independent horror flicks of the 2000s, Hatchet is funny, fast-paced, and features a spate of wonderfully inventive make-up FX that will please any gorehound. Look for cameos by Robert Englund, Joshua Leonard, and Tony Todd. B+

SILENT MADNESS (1984) d: Simon Nuchtern. c: Belinda Montgomery, Viveca Lindfors, David Greenan, Sydney Lassick, Rodrick Cook, Solly Marx. A man (Marx) diagnosed as criminally insane is accidentally released as the result of human error and immediately goes back to the sorority house where he massacred several students 20 years earlier to do some more slicing and dicing. Talkier than the typical slasher of the time, and featuring a cockamamie subplot involving two bumbling hospital orderlies-turned-assassins, this is better made than you’d think and has a good cast, including spunky final girl Montgomery, and a couple of impressive kills, some of which look great in the original 3-D version. A silly but watchable time passer. B

SUNDANCE 22: Horror Movie Round-Up

FRESH d: Mimi Cave. c: Sebastian Stan, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Jojo T. Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Andrea Bang. Online dating can be a drag, especially for Noa (Edgar-Jones), a bright, likable young woman who’s about to give up on romance until she meets dashing Dr. Steve (Stan). At the skepticism of her best friend (Gibbs), Noa believes she’s met her Prince Charming, that is until he takes her on a mysterious woodsy getaway where he reveals to her the truth about his intentions. Just like Noa, the less you know about Steve (and the overall film) the better. Fresh is a twisted and surprising take on the horror genre, which injects both humor and genuinely unnerving situations into its witty screenplay; this is one of the few horror comedies of recent years to make you laugh and cringe within a matter of seconds. The cast works well together, with Stan standing out in a performance that manages to break him away from his Winter Soldier superhero persona. My only complaints: the nearly two hour runtime feels too long and the intense climax ends too abruptly. B

MASTER d: Mariama Diallo. c: Regina Hall, Zoe Renee, Amber Gray, Talia Balsam, Ella Hunt, Bruce Altman. The new schoolmaster (Hall) and a freshman (Renee), both African American women, of a prestigious, but predominately white, university begin to experience creepy activity around the school while also dealing with oppression and racism. After Jasmine (Renee) discovers the land was once the site of witch trials and executions, rumors begin to circulate that her living quarters are haunted by a malevolent spirit that torments the room’s occupants until death. Is Jasmine the next target of a malignant entity, or is she just the victim of bigotry and student pranks? An ambiguous chiller using ghosts as a metaphor for racism, self-loathing, and identity, Master is well-written and spends time on its characters, building a good amount of tension. Although it lacks the “boo” moments of more traditional haunted house movies, and some of the side characters seem to exist solely to create drama, this is a decent, atmospheric film with several elements taken right out of Suspiria, and good performances from Hall and Renee. B

NANNY d: Nikyatu Jusu. c: Anna Diop, Sinqua Walls, Morgan Spector, Michelle Monaghan, Rose Decker. Making a new life for herself in New York City, immigrant Aisha (Diop) begins working as a nanny for a wealthy family, desperately trying to save money in order to bring her child over from Africa. Her close relationship with the daughter (Decker) of the family causes feelings of guilt and remorse, and soon Aisha’s mental stability starts to crumble as she experiences visions (or are they?) of a serpent-like being that toys with her buried past. Unlike Master, Nanny unsuccessfully weaves horror movie elements into its psychological metaphors. There are interesting ideas floating around, but they’re never fleshed out or feel relevant enough to the story; they feel more like window dressing for a film that doesn’t exist. Also, to classify Nanny as a horror movie is a leap – a non-horror horror movie? Diop gives a well-rounded performance as Aisha, but it’s not enough to recommend this well-intended, but ho-hum, film. C

PIGGY d: Carlota Pereda. c: Laura Galán, Carmen Machi, Julián Valcárcel, Fernando Degado-Hierro, José Pastor. Hoping to escape the heat and her bullying schoolmates, overweight teen, Sara (Galán), takes a trip to the local pool but becomes witness to the abduction of said bullies by a sadistic killer. Out of desperation and revenge, Sara shrugs off the kidnapping and allows the killer to escape, an act that sets off a chain reaction of violence and, in the killer, creates a connection with Sara. A clever take on the serial killer movie, Piggy has several tricks up its sleeve and keeps you anchored into its sticky situations for most of the runtime. Unfortunately the film abandons its perverse set-up with a cop-out ending that results in a more conventional “happy” conclusion, sadly ruining the build-up it created. C+

RESURRECTION d: Andrew Semens. c: Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Grace Kaufman, Angela Wong Carbone. Hall gives a first-rate performance in this second-rate psycho-thriller about a single mother (Hall) whose past comes back to haunt her in the form of an obsessed sociopath (Roth) who once held her emotionally captive as a teenager. The film starts out well, but ditches its stride when Hall’s character becomes more and more unhinged, creating an almost unsympathetic caricature of the person we had come to know earlier. There are a few intense moments, but the ending is both frustrating and vague, and doesn’t justify having spent an hour and a half with these characters. C

SOMETHING IN THE DIRT d: Justin Beson, Aaron Moorehead. c: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorehead. Masters of making long-winded sci-fi/horror melodramas, Benson and Moorehead (The Endless) have delivered another “mind-bending” opus that, according to the Sundance Film Festival’s movie catalog, is their indie homage to Poltergeist. When a mysterious glass orb begins levitating on its own in his new apartment, an ex-con (Benson) and his unemployed neighbor (Moorehead) decide to make a documentary about the apparently supernatural phenomena in order to make some money, plunging themselves into an even more bizarre predicament than they bargained for. As with their other films, Something in the Dirt has interesting ideas floating around but they are never fully realized, with endless scenes of characters sitting around and talking about theories and pontificating on what could be happening. Sometimes actions speak louder than words, especially in a movie dealing with an overly complicated plot; if you’re going to have characters spitting out scientific theories you need to validate that with coherent action, but that never happens. There’s something very unfortunate about a dumb movie that thinks it’s smart. C

SPEAK NO EVIL d: Christian Tafdrup. c: Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van Huêt, Karina Smulders, Liva Forsberg, Marius Damslev. Trying to place itself alongside the psychologically intense thrillers of Michael Haneke, Speak No Evil is an example of a wannabe horror film that seems to have been made by filmmakers who are embarrassed to admit they want to make a horror movie. When a Dutch family befriends another family while on vacation in Tuscany, they quickly make a close connection, but as sinister truths are slowly revealed they begin to question their friendship. While there are elements to this film that can be classified as horror, the screenplay is trying to be something else and never commits to a solidified idea. The characters come off as cartoonishly passive and allow horrible things to happen to themselves for no reason. A holocaust metaphor, perhaps? A cold and empty movie with vapid characters and predictable twists, this has about as much to say as a Police Academy movie, but without the entertainment value. D

YOU WON’T BE ALONE d: Goran Stolevski. c: Anamaria Marinca, Sara Klimoska, Noomi Rapace, Alice Englert, Félix Maritaud. Fresh blood is pumped into the folk horror subgenre with this artsy piece of filmmaking. In a 19th century European mountain village, a newborn girl, Nevena, is cursed by a spiteful, shapeshifting witch (Marinca) who, 16 years later, takes the young woman (Klimoska) under her wing. When Nevena can’t adjust to life as an outcast demon, she tries to adjust to normality by taking the physical forms of others, including a mother (Rapace) and a male farmer (Maritaud), all with disastrous results. Those expecting a traditional witch-oriented movie in the vein of The Conjuring will be disappointed in You Won’t Be Alone‘s subtle approach to the material. Narrated and told exclusively through the eyes of Nevena, the film is at its center a character study; in many ways it’s a coming-of-age tale that just happens to be about a witch in the 19th century. Although the film often gets swallowed by its overly artistic theatrics, the story is so rich and rewarding you won’t care. B

WATCHER d: Chloe Okuno. c: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman, Madalina Anea. After settling into a new life in Bucharest with her Romanian husband (Glusman), Julia (Monroe), a young American, begins to suspect she’s being followed by someone in the midst of a series of local serial murders. Is Julia next on the killer’s list, or is she just overwhelmed with trying to adjust to a new environment and culture? A surprisingly good little film, this is reminiscent of the paranoia thrillers of the ’60s and ’70s, and has several intense moments that would make Polanski and De Palma proud. Monroe (It Follows) gives a terrific performance, and her character is sympathetic, headstrong, and most importantly, a fighter. A slow burn that builds to a crackerjack climax. B+

REVIEWS: Gags the Clown, Jade, The Most Dangerous Game, and Repossessed

GAGS THE CLOWN (2018) d: Adam Krause. c: Lauren Ashley Carter, Aaron Christensen, Evan Gamble, Tracy Perez. A horror-comedy that’s neither scary nor funny, this desperately wants to be both a parody of fake news and the found footage subgenre but comes off as nothing more than an amateurish and stale wannabe for the attention-needy YouTube generation. A small town becomes the newest social media hotspot thanks to repeated sightings of a sinister clown and his mysterious intentions. Insufferable characters, bad acting, and disjointed storytelling make this a chore to sit through, even for the hardcore FF fan. F

JADE (1995) d: William Friedkin. c: David Caruso, Linda Fiorentino, Chazz Palminteri, Richard Crenna, Michael Biehn, Donna Murphy. Entertaining but empty entry in the ’90s erotic thriller sweepstakes about the murder of a high-profile millionaire, the prime suspect being his much younger psychologist lover (Fiorentino) who just happens to have a rocky romantic past with the lead detective on the case (Caruso). Essentially just rehashing the flashy elements that made Basic Instinct work, this is well directed by Friedkin and has a couple of good twists, but lacks the substance and, most importantly, the suspense – not to mention any “must see” moments – of its predecessor. C+

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) d: Ernest B. Schoedsack. c: Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks, Robert Armstrong, Noble Johnson. The only survivor (McCrea) of an island shipwreck takes shelter inside the large estate of a mysterious Count (Banks) where there are two other survivors of an earlier boat disaster. When members of their party begin to disappear McCrea discovers Banks deliberately sunk their ships and is hunting them for sport. An RKO classic, this atmospheric chiller is surprisingly gruesome for its time (don’t miss the dreaded Trophy Room!) and has the gothic look and feel of an early Universal Monster movie. The cast is good and the script suspenseful. B+

REPOSSESSED (1990) d: Bob Logan. c: Linda Blair, Leslie Nielsen, Ned Beatty, Anthony Starke, Thom Sharp. Years after she was under the influence of the Devil, a housewife (Linda Blair) again becomes possessed and requires the help of the retired priest (Leslie Nielsen) who exorcised her, but not before her demonic activities are displayed on TV by Jim and Tammy Faye wannabes. A harmless Exorcist spoof in the vein of Airplane! made legitimate by Blair’s good spirited involvement and her surprisingly good comedic timing with Nielsen. While many of the jokes fall flat a surprising amount gain serious chuckles, but be warned: if nonstop boob gags and constant split pea soup vomit isn’t your thing you’ll wanna avoid this one. B

SLASHER MONTH: Midnight, Night of the Demon, Prom Night ’08, and Terror Train!

MIDNIGHT (1982) d: John A. Russo. c: Lawrence Tierney, Melanie Verlin, John Hall, C. Anthony Jackson, David Marchick, John Amplas. After nearly getting raped by her stepfather (Tierney), a teenage girl (Verlin) hitches a ride with two men heading to Florida and ends up getting kidnapped by a family of backwoods, blood-drinking satanists and their murderous henchmen. Adapted from his own book, Russo’s film is a mix of conventional slasher and offbeat country horror, with several elements reminding of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The acting is all fairly competent and the make-up FX by Tom Savini are better than you’d get for such a low budget production. A rushed ending and lack of character motivations damper an otherwise fun little flick. The original song, “Midnight Again,” is a hoot! B

NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1983) d: James C. Wasson. c: Michael Cutt, Shannon Cooper, Robert Collings, Jodi Lazarus, Melanie Graham. The spirit of Ed Wood was alive and well when this cornball splatter flick was made in late 1979. A group of anthropology students venture into the wilderness to investigate a series of unexplained killings that could be the work of Bigfoot and, naturally, run afoul the hairy beast, but not before the big guy rips the limbs off of several unlucky campers. Perhaps the only Bigfoot slasher movie in existence, Night of the Demon doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is and delivers a fun, albeit extremely goofy, gore-a-thon. Keep in mind: if you require a shred of good acting or intelligence in your films this is probably not for you. Watch out for the scene where a poor motorcyclist gets his dick yanked off while peeing in some bushes! Must be seen to be disbelieved. B

PROM NIGHT (2008) d: Nelson McCormick. c: Brittany Snow, Johnathon Schaech, Idris Elba, Dana Davis, Scott Porter, Jessica Stroup, James Ransone. Colorless remake of the classic Jamie Lee Curtis original about a teenage girl (Snow) who, during her senior prom, is terrorized by the deranged stalker (a miscast Schaech) who slaughtered her entire family a year earlier. A bloodless bore, this is chock-full of one-dimensional characters and inane dialogue, even by slasher standards. The plot is paper-thin, the killer’s motivations non-existent (we’re never informed why Schaech became maniacally obsessed with someone as banal and meaningless as Snow’s character), and the direction aimless – McCormick also helmed the equally sluggish Stepfather remake. Only Elba, as a hard-boiled detective, pumps any life into the DOA screenplay. D

TERROR TRAIN (1980) d: Roger Spottiswoode. c: Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, Timothy Webber, Sandee Currie, David Copperfield, Derek McKinnon. Atmospheric but dry slasher mystery about a graduating class being stalked by a masked killer during a New Year’s Eve costume party on an all-night train ride. Do the murders have something to do with an embarrassing prank gone wrong three years earlier? After a slow first half filled with too many uninteresting characters and subplots the movie kicks into gear and delivers a well-paced, well-acted thriller with a couple of clever plot twists. As always Curtis is sympathetic and gives the movie a professional feel, as does the slick direction from future Hollywood helmer Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies), especially during the climax. B

SLASHER Spotlight: SCREAM 1-4

SCREAM (1996) d: Wes Craven. c: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Skeet Ulrich, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, Drew Barrymore. Scream is the movie that revived the horror genre at a time when it had stalled with endless direct-to-video sequels. This smart little flick was a love letter to the fans that grew up on ’80s horror, and wisely injected its knowledge of the era into its story. When a teenager (Barrymore) and her boyfriend are viciously slaughtered, a small town is plunged into panic as a masked killer begins picking off high schoolers who all had a connection to the first victims. Does final girl, Sidney (Campbell), and her traumatic past have anything to do with the crimes? Both funny and scary, the movie works mostly thanks to its likable cast and relatable characters – for some of us, we were these characters. From its intense opening to its surprise ending, Scream is a landmark slasher movie, because it both spoofs and respects its subject matter, something later films would fail to understand. A

SCREAM 2 (1997) d: Wes Craven. c: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Timothy Olyphant, Elise Neal, Liev Schreiber, Laurie Metcalf. The first sequel picks up two years after the events of the first film, with Campbell and Kennedy attending college and once again targeted by a killer who, this time, is copying the murders from Part 1. Surprisingly this sequel managed to bring fresh ideas to the table. Not only doesn’t it regurgitate the first movie, it steps up the suspense, especially during a terrific car crash sequence that ends in a white-knuckle getaway. It runs a bit long and a lot of the characters feel like they were created just to be red herrings, but this is still a worthy sequel and with one of the best killer reveals in the series. B+

SCREAM 3 (2000) d: Wes Craven. c: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Parker Posey, Liev Schreiber, Patrick Dempsey, Scott, Foley, Emily Mortimer, Lance Henrisken. Another copycat killer begins picking off the cast and crew of the third movie (“Stab 3“) based on the events of the first two Screams, dragging past survivors Campbell, Cox, and Arquette into the limelight. Although this meta-take lacks the wit and suspense of its predecessors (Kevin Williamson didn’t return and was replaced by Ehren Kruger as writer), Scream 3 is unfairly named the black sheep of the series; the new characters aren’t as sympathetic or punchy as the three leads, and there’s a muddled retcon revealed in the final act. However, this is an entertaining (and often hilarious) and harmless threequel. Posey steals all of her scenes as an attention-needy actor portraying Cox’s bitchy journalist. B

SCREAM 4 (2011) d: Wes Craven. c: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Marley Shelton, Rory Culkin, Anthony Anderson. Ten years after the bloodbath that would leave her and her friends celebrities, Sidney (Campbell) returns to her hometown – the original scene of the crimes – to promote a book about her experiences, coming face-to-face with yet another Ghost Face maniac. Kevin Williamson returns as writer (apparently Ehren Kruger was brought in for rewrites) and the story is given a somewhat refreshing makeover after Scream 3 failed to live up to expectations, resulting in a movie that feels more like it belongs in the Scream cannon. Campbell, Cox, and Panettiere, as a new version of Randy, are good, but Roberts as Sidney’s cousin is completely lifeless. The screenplay is a bit too concerned with trying to get back to the roots of the series, sometimes coming off as a shell of itself, and with a rather listless explanation for the murders, resulting in a lackluster climax. Still, this is an undeniably entertaining entry and proved the series still had life in it. B

SLASHER MONTH: Death Screams, The Funhouse, House of Wax, and The Hitcher!

DEATH SCREAMS (1982) d: David Nelson. c: Susan Kiger, Jennifer Chase, Martin Tucker, Jody Kay, Andria Savio, William T. Hicks. Offbeat southern slasher about a small North Carolina town stalked by a killer during the final days of summer and who targets a group of high school friends. Does orphaned shop girl, Lily’s (Kiger), past have something to do with the murders? Agatha Christie was said to be the inspiration for this gory whodunit, and it’s better written and acted than you’d think, featuring a surprisingly good cast and a wonderful sense of humor injected throughout. Some might be put off by the lack of plot – it’s slim even for a slasher flick – and most of the splatter is saved for the final 15 minutes, yet this has plenty of charm to spare and, at times, feels like an early H. G. Lewis movie by the way of John Waters. AKA House of Death. B

THE FUNHOUSE (1981) d: Tobe Hooper. c: Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Kevin Conway, Miles Chapin, Largo Woodruff, William Finley. Hooper followed up Salem’s Lot with this terrific chiller about four friends who decide to spend the night inside a traveling carnival funhouse and are subsequently terrorized by a mutated carny who lives in the basement. As with most of his films Hooper spends time on well-written characters and building tension, and here creates an otherworldly, unsettling atmosphere. The characters are likable and feel genuine, the carnival environment is a character unto itself, and John Beal’s operatic musical score gives the movie another dimension. Finley steals it as a drunken second-rate magician. B+

THE HITCHER (1986) d: Robert Harmon. c: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeffrey DeMunn. A young man (Howell) driving through a desert town picks up a hitchhiker (Hauer), unaware he’s a psychopathic killer. When Howell escapes his clutches, Hauer obsessively stalks and frames the teen for a series of murders. Fast-paced and often exciting, this has good performances, especially Hauer, and direction from Harmon. Unfortunately the entire foundation of the screenplay (by Eric Red) is built exclusively on a series of unbelievable plot twists and conveniences, ridding the film of any sort of logic until it nearly collapses on itself like a house of cards. C+

HOUSE OF WAX (2005) d: Jaume Collet-Serra. c: Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, Paris Hilton, Brian Van Holt. Taking only a basic element from the classic Vincent Price film and transforming it into a slick slasher movie, this polished revamp is flawed by harmless fun. A group of friends on their way to a football game get stranded in a remote town where the only living soul seems to be a gas station attendant (Van Holt) who may have a connection with the local wax museum. This gets points for not being yet another post-Scream clone and having more of an imagination than many of the slashers from the early 2000s, and while it takes a bit too long to get going it ultimately delivers, especially during the crackerjack climax. The cast is good with Cuthbert and Murray portraying sympathetic siblings, while Hilton displays a sense of self-referential humor by playing a pampered rich girl who can’t escape her pervy friend’s videocamera. B

REVIEWS: American Gothic, Monsieur Verdoux, and Witchfinder General

AMERICAN GOTHIC (1987) When their propeller plane is forced to make an emergency landing, a group of friends find themselves stranded on a remote island in the pacific northwest that’s home to a religious zealot (Steiger), his wife (De Carlo), and their demented children, middle aged adults who dress and act like kids. A slow-burn that starts off feeling like a typical slasher flick but transforms into an oddball but amusing mishmash of family drama and cult chiller, and ultimately becomes a satisfying revenge thriller, highlighted by a terrific Wright as “12-year-old” Fanny. B d: John Hough. c: Rod Steiger, Yvonne De Carlo, Janet Wright, Sarah Torgov, Michael J. Pollard, Mark Erickson, Mark Lindsay Chapman, William Hootkins

MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947) In order to support his wheelchair-bound wife and child after getting laid off, a bank clerk (Chaplin) marries several wealthy women and murders them for their money. A terrific black comedy written and director by star Chaplin and filled with wonderful set pieces and genuine hilarity, including the scene where Caplin tries, and fails, to murder ditzy wife Raye in a rowboat. The film was undoubtably ahead of its time in its use of blending comedy and horror, as well as moments of surprising compassion, but audiences weren’t ready to see the Tramp as a serial killer and the film was panned upon its initial release. This has since become a classic, and deservedly so. B+ d: Charles Chaplin. c: Charles Chaplin, Mady Correll, Robert Lewis, Martha Raye, Marilyn Nash

WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968) During the English Civil War in 1654, a young soldier (Ogilvy) seeks revenge against the infamous Matthew Hopkins (Price), a dreaded witch-finder who raped his wife (Hilary Heath) and murdered her uncle he branded a satanist. One of the defining European horror films of the ’60s, this handsome production was one of the first of the “folk horror” subgenre and delivers a powerful tale of crippled morality and a first-rate, dramatic performance from the usually scene-chewing Price. The ending rings both bleak and honest. B d: Michael Reeves. c: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Heath, Robert Russell, Rupert Davies

SLASHER MONTH: Death Valley, Prom Night II, and More!

DEATH VALLEY (1982) In an era when Hollywood was trying to cash in on the slasher boom, Universal released this gem about an 8-year-old boy (Billingsley, A Christmas Story) who, while on vacation with his divorced mother (Hicks) and her boyfriend (Le Mat), stumbles upon the aftermath of a murder and is subsequently pursued by the killer (McHattie). A good change of pace with brainless teens replaced by a smart child protagonist and his sympathetic single mom (an element later borrowed in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), this gets big points for concentrating more on characters and suspense, and in doing so creates a good little movie. The cast is excellent, including Billingsley in his film debut. B+ d: Dick Richards. c: Peter Billingsley, Catherine Hicks, Stephen McHattie, Paul Le Mat, Wilford Brimley

EYEBALL (1975) Shades of Argento are cast over this flamboyant Italian slasher from Euro-exploitation auteur Lenzi, about a group of American tourists in Barcelona being stalked by a killer who enjoys cutting out the left eyeball from each victim. As with many giallos of the ’70s, this functions as a whodunit, and for most of its running time works well enough with colorful, if unsympathetic, characters and several juicy murders. The pacing sometimes lags and the screenplay gets too caught up in its melodramatic subplots, but it’s never dull, offers some beautiful Spanish countryside locations, and the identity of the killer is genuinely surprising. Apparently this is one of Tarantino’s favorites. Bd: Umberto Lenzi. c: Martine Brochard, John Richardson, Ines Pellegrini, Andrés Mejuto

HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II (1987) Jettisoning the story from the 1980 Prom Night, Part 2 spins a new tale about the vengeful ghost of bad girl, Mary Lou (Schrage), who in 1957 died as the result of a prank gone awry, just after being crowned prom queen. Things get complicated when nice girl, Vicki (Lyon), becomes possessed by Mary Lou and starts doing the prom queen’s deadly bidding. Although Hello Mary Lou relies a bit too heavily on its Nightmare on Elm Street inspirations, this is a much better movie than its reputation suggests, with some extremely imaginative set pieces, including a chalkboard that turns into a swirling pool of black water, and a nice sense of humor (“It’s Linda Blairsville!”). It also has a good cast, including Ferreira (Saw IV) and Ironside (Scanners), and a climax that could give Carrie a run for its money. Worth a re-look. B d: Bruce Pittman. c: Wendy Lyon, Louis Ferreira, Michael Ironside, Lisa Schrage, Richard Monette

MANIAC (1980) The infamous shocker starring Spinell as serial killer Frank Zito, a man with a serious mother fixation who goes around the streets of Manhattan hacking up prostitutes and models, scalping them, and using their hair to dress the mannequins he keeps at home for company. Lustig directs the film with a grittier eye than most slasher movies of the time, creating a heavy, claustrophobic atmosphere that more “important” films (i.e., Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) would later rip off. Spinell’s off-the-wall performance and Savini’s ultra-realistic FX work (including the ultimate gunshot gag) make this a sleazy classic. B+ d: William Lustig. c: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munroe, Abigail Clayton, Tom Savini

SLASHER MONTH: Cold Prey II, New Year’s Evil, and More!

COLD PREY II (2008) Good sequel to the Norwegian original picks up immediately where the first movie left off with final girl Jannicke (Berdal) being transported to a nearby hospital, along with the body of the pick-ax swinging mountain man who killed her friends, and who isn’t as dead as he appears. Although this lacks the suspense of its predecessor it delivers plenty of bloody mayhem at a fast pace, and a slam-bang finale that any of the Friday the 13ths would be envious of. B d: Mats Stenberg. c: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik, Fridtjov Såheim, Johanna Mørck

HAPPY HELL NIGHT (1992) When a couple of frat pledges break into a mental hospital as part of a hell night prank they accidentally let loose a psychopathic madman who, 25 years earlier, slaughtered several students from the same fraternity. A surprisingly spirited flick, this seems like a run-of-the-mill slasher but benefits from good direction and a likable cast, including McGavin as a former frat brother who may have something to do with the past event. Lukewarm make-up FX and slightly sluggish pacing hurt, but a good atmosphere and a sense of humor help. Blink and you’ll miss contributions from CSI‘s Jorja Fox and Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell. Bd: Brian Owens. c: Charles Cragin, Nick Gregory, Frank John Hughes, Darin McGavin

NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980) The host (Kelly) of a televised New Year’s Eve rock special is terrorized by a series of phone calls from a killer (Niven) who’s murdering women at the stroke of midnight from each time zone. There’s a good idea somewhere in this post-Halloween slasher but it’s unfortunately lost in unimaginative direction and unexciting characters. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have its moments, the highlights being Moritz as a flakey party-goer into “transcendental meditation” and when Niven, disguised as a priest, hides out at a drive-in showing cheap horror movies. Entertaining, but only just. C+ d: Emmett Alston. c: Roz Kelly, Kip Niven, Chris Wallace, Grant Cramer, Louisa Moritz

SLEDGEHAMMER (1983) Rock bottom slasher shot on video about a group of idiotic friends being butchered in an abandoned farmhouse by someone with a sledgehammer. Could it be the now-adult boy who, ten years earlier, killed his abusive mother and her lover in that house with the same weapon? A super-lame Friday the 13th wannabe from beginning to end, with an endless use of slow-motion that makes the 87-minute flick feel like three hours. Not even the graphic violence (which is foiled in extremely low-rent make-up) can save this eye sore bore fest. Dd: David A. Prior. c: Ted Prior, John Eastman, Linda McGill