Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Summer of Slash: Capsule Reviews


Every year I do this Summer of Slash series, I watch more than I end up writing about. This is mostly because I only want to write about the slasher films that I either enjoy enough to write more than two paragraphs on or lend themselves to be written about. And let’s be honest, taking the entire slasher subgenre into consideration, there aren’t too many that fit that criteria. A lot of the movies I watch for this summer series lend themselves better to the capsule format than the essay, so I figured rather than just scraping the notes I had written for these films, I would just present to you a very rough paragraph or two for each film in capsule format. It’s safe to say that the bulk of the movies that get capsule reviews fall into that “for slasher fans only” category. Enjoy.

Bloody Birthday

One of the funnier “killer kids” movies (yeah, that felt weird typing that), Ed Hunt’s Bloody Birthday isn’t as good as other “killer kids” movies like Who Can Kill a Child? but is more akin to something like the equally sleazy and goofy Devil Times Five. Bloody Birthday is about three kids that born at the same time during a total eclipse on June 9, 1970. Because of this, they grow up to be soulless killing machines at the age of 10! Seriously, there’s some mumbo-jumbo in there about how the sun and the moon block Saturn, throwing everything eschew, and that’s really the kind of explanation one would expect from a movie of this ilk. Hunt’s film checks off all of the boxes of a 1981 slasher film (namely gratuitous nudity) and revels in its general nastiness surrounding 10 year-old kids. Bloody Birthday is nothing to take too seriously or get too worked up about, but it’s a lot of fun if you’re in the right mood and with the right people.

Hatchet II

As annoying smug and self-aware as Adam Green’s first film, Hatchet II continues the “saga” of Victor Crowley (which, credit where due, that’s a pretty great name) who is still hanging out in the New Orleans swamp killing tourists. Adam Green’s heart may be in the right place by wanting the Hatchet films to feel like the slashers of the ‘80s, but his films come off as too aware that he’s doing that very thing. Instead of of just making his films in that style, he peppers Hatchet II with the kind of characters that are too self-aware (thanks Kevin Williamson!) about the situation they’re in. I didn’t care for Hatchet II at all, and the only thing that kept me from turning it off was Tony Todd’s return performance as Reverend Zombie, Danielle Harris as the Final Girl (even though I couldn’t stop thinking of her as the little girl from The Last Boy Scout and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead), and the tangible gore effects — a plus for a horror film made in the era of CGI-blood splattering. I should have listened to my better judgment and skipped this one altogether. But alas, I’m a glutton for punishment, and God help me when Hatchet III shows up on Netflix Instant because I’ll probably watch it.


Pete Walker’s Schizo makes it clear with its title that it is indebted to Hitchcock’s Psycho (there’s even a shower scene), but as is the case with most of Walker’s films, to see it as nothing more than merely a knock-off is not to see it as a Pete Walker film (something that more people should acquaint themselves with). Schizo is one of Walker’s lesser films, but a lesser Walker is better than the majority of exploitation horror cinema from the ‘70s. The film stars Lynne Frederick (most famous for being the former Mrs. Peter Sellers) as terrorized ice skater Samantha, who, during the week of her wedding, is stalked by a strange, disapproving older man named William Haskin (Jack Watson). And how do we know this? Because it’s a Pete Walker film, and Schizo opens with Haskin opening up a newspaper only to read the headling “ICE QUEEN TO WED” followed by a zoom into his crazed eyes so that we know that he’s a SCHIZO~! and then, in case we really weren’t sure, he packs a big ass knife and boards a train to “visit” Samantha.

Walker has never been one for subtlety, and Haskin’s performance, in particular, reflects this and is quite enjoyable. However, despite what its title may suggest, Schizo is actually fairly restrained as it kind of surprised me with its more straight-ahead thriller/giallo approach. Rather than reveling in its exploitative nature a la The House of Whipcord or Frightmare, Walker employs a more languid pace, which may be off-putting for fans of the slasher. The film is certainly back-loaded as a lot of the slashings don’t occur until halfway through the film. Walker pulls influences from Hitch, sure, but he’s also channeling Argento’s Deep Red (there are bits with mediums and all kinds of talk of pseud0-science). But it all still feels very Walker-y. There’s a beautiful griminess to it found in Walker’s best films (even though I didn’t care for it all that much, Frightmare certainly excels at what I’m talking about here), and Schizo, although not his best, has traces of this with its setting and use of psychedelic camera tricks . The film also has a nice little twist at the end that goes down a lot easier than the nihilistic ending to Frightmare. Recommended.

Nightmares Stage Fright 11

In typical Halloween wannabe fashion, Nightmares begins with a flashback to 1963 where a little girl wakes up in the middle of the night to see her mom having sex with some random guy. Flash forward a few weeks, and the same girl is in the backseat of a car while her mom drives. Another random dude is in the front seat with his hand up the mom’s dress. The girl doesn’t like this (and in true exploitation movie fashion is told to shut up), screams, causing mom to wreck the car and die. Thus is out setup for what is truly one of the most atrocious of the Halloween knockoffs. The rest of the film concerns itself with the little girl, grown up now, as an aspiring actress who is having some issues on the anniversary of her mother’s death. The killer is never in doubt in this one—and that’s not a problem in a movie like this as long as the style holds up—and so we just move from one sleazy setpiece to the next. And boy is this movie sleazy. Made in Australia and referred to as “Ozploitation,” Nightmares was directed by notorious Ozploitation filmmaker John Lamond, who was kind of notorious in exploitation circles for his films Australia After Dark and The ABC of Love and Sex: Australia Style. And those tendencies towards the gratuitous and exploitative show themselves in countless scenes of Nightmares where we get a ripoff of the the Halloween Steadicam POV shot while people run around, scream, and have their breasts sliced up. The film also has one of the truly awful scores of any horror movie I’ve seen; it just bludgeons you for the film’s entire runtime. Nightmares doesn’t even fall into that so-bad-it’s-good category. It’s just bad.


  1. I've actually seen half of these 4 entries and agree with you whole-heatedly; BLOODY BIRTHDAY is an absolute hoot(er) and, to me, one of the funnier films from its era (plus the box cover is iconic to anyone like you or I from our generation). SCHIZO is decent trash even if lower Walker. I've actually lined up a few of his films to revisit or see for the first time for my yearly October Horror Halloween binge.

    Keep up the marvelous work.