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 Méril), 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