Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer of Slash: Capsule Reviews, Part 2

In case you haven't noticed yet, I changed my header and the font for the blog. Why? Well, I figured since I was doing a summer series on horror films I would appropriately change the color scheme of the blog's title (not to mention find a more appropriate picture, but I promise once summer is over Hugo will return…perhaps in a new picture! Exciting, I know.) for the next few months. I also added an "archive" on the sidebar there to the left where you can see all of the films I've reviewed for my Summer of Slash series.  As I continue my push to watch as many horror movies as possible in preparation for the Wonders in the Dark horror countdown here are some more capsule reviews where I take a look at the satirical (?) The Slumber Party Massacre, the Australian monster pic Rogue, and two slashers from Canada in Prom Night and Terror Train. Reviews come after the jump…

The Slumber Party Massacre A rather ordinary slasher film that runs at a tolerable 77 minutes actually has some nice touches for such a low budget affair. Slashers always get points in my book when they don't hide the identity of the killer (who we see within the first few minutes of the film) and when the action takes place during the day (part of what made Carpenter's Halloween so effective). The opening 10-15 minutes is actually pretty decent (sans a terrible basketball game the girls play, and the required gratuitous nudity in the subsequent locker room scene) for this type of movie as the killer (with a big ass drill) stalks his prey during the day and right in front of other people. Now, that either makes him the dumbest criminal in the world (especially when he disposes his first body in a dumpster right next to where his van is parked!) or really smart because he's getting away with the drilling holes in people's heads in broad daylight and a mere 100 feet from the school he's picking off girls from! Now that takes balls (to the film's, ahem, credit there is a creepy scene as students walk by the dumpster with a corpse in it as the we get a high angle shot showing semi off-putting scene). The film then ventures into your typical slasher territory as night falls and the girls have a slumber party…and well…you know what happens. I will say that there was one inspired scene during all of the ordinariness: a character watches a horror movie on TV as a woman is being stalked and eventually stabbed to death. This is cross cut with a male running from the killer outside the dorm and being stabbed in the same fashion. It's an interesting piece of editing (whoa, what did I just say!) in an otherwise banal film.

What makes the editing of that scene even more intriguing is when one stops to consider that this film was written (Rita Mae Brown) and directed (Amy Jones) by women. Are they riffing on the material, or merely perpetuating gender roles in slasher films (that particular issue was a big to-do around the time this film was released in 1982)? What's even more interesting about this piece of exploitative trash is when you consider that Brown was a feminist activist, which tends to shed a different light on the film; however, I still have to wonder what she thought of all the gratuitous nudity and violence towards women in the film…even if she did write it. Again, was this supposed to be a joke, a parody of slasher clichés? I don't know if the film is that smart, or even aspires to be, but I found this piece of news interesting: Brown has basically written (or I should what was filmed of what she wrote) a generic slasher that contains a checklist of all the elements that would piss off feminists in regards to horror films. Sure the Final Girl gets out alive, and sure the killer's weapon is a drill – a euphemism for the deadliness of the penis as the killer utters lines like "you know you want it" when referring to the drill, and at the end the filmmakers make it a point to show the Final Girl cutting the drill in half – but please, there's nothing here to suggest that this isn't just another lame slasher relying on the same old tired tropes. The only thing that kept The Slumber Party Massacre tolerable (the film contains a number of blasé false scares, a horrendously soggy middle where literally nothing happens, and lame death scenes) was that it only lasted a mere 77 minutes. This is the epitome of one of those films that sat on the back end of triple feature. Even it was intended as a joke it's still a pass.

Prom Night Boring, if not essential, Canadian slasher that is another example of Friday the 13th
not being the film to set the trend for slashers, just the trend for making money off of the genre. Prom Night contains every trope that would become tired and cliché, yet clearly aspires to be more than just your generic Friday the 13thtype stalk and slash gore fest. For starters the film is more interested in establishing its mystery. Characters don't start getting knocked off until well into 2/3 of the film's running time, and even then the action is rather boring and generic as a killer (whose identity really isn't that much of a mystery) goes around offing teenagers who were the catalysts at a young age for a girl falling to her death. There's nothing really more to say about Prom Night. It's one of the most cookie-cutter of the slashers, but really, that's only because hindsight makes it so. Prom Night, like the other major Canadian slashers (Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine) were responsible for creating a lot of the tropes that became so cookie-cutter. The film's director almost certainly agrees, though, that Prom Night was just a so-so film saved by the presence of Jaime Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielson (he credits the film's box office success with Curtis' presence). They certainly bring an air of credibility to the story, but the film's mystery is un-engaging and the look of the film (not to mention the non-stop presence of disco music at the end) is too tame to be visually arresting. It's an interesting slasher solely for its historic place in the subgenre as the first real film to cash in on the success of Friday the 13th (despite being made at the same time the film was released just months after).

Rogue Greg McLean's follow up to Wolf Creek is a fun, tense monster movie that is heavy on atmosphere. A tourist group (filled with all of your expected horror movie character types) explore the outback in a boat headed-up by tour guide Kate Ryan (Radha Mitchell), but as they drift off course into the territorial grounds of a pissed off croc, the tour group fights throughout the night to stay alive. McLean's film is a seemingly rudimentary horror film where things go bump in the night, and the real horror is in the unseen. However, like McLean did with Wolf Creek, there is an amazing amount of tension for a "nature vs. man" type horror film (based on a true story, of course). This is due to two key aspects of the film: one is the cast. Like McLean's previous film he gives more than enough time for his cast to develop their characters and make us care about their plight. Here we have a pre-Avatar Sam Worthington and a post-"Alias" Michael Vartan, both giving some depth to what could have been nothing more than generic horror character types. The addition of Mitchell as the tour guide also gives the film a sense of depth as these actors know to do more than merely scream, swear, and grunt. These characters are thoughtful in their execution of how to get out of their situation (being stranded after the croc capsizes their boat) alive. The other thing Rogue has going for it is McLean's competence as filmmaker. McLean has a real understanding of how to frame a shot, how long to hold it, and when to just let the mood be the most terrifying thing about the scene (there aren't copious amounts of blood, here, which was a pleasant surprise). McLean's understanding of how to shoot a scene creates a beautiful opening as he establishes the beauty of the Outback (much like he did in Wolf Creek), and then by the end McLean films the night scenes with just enough clarity so that we can see what's going on, but still feel like we're out there in the dark not knowing where or when the croc will show up. We feel the uneasiness of the characters in these night scenes because of the way McLean shoots the film. It seems like a small thing, but so often with horror films directors don't know how to light their night scenes. Overall Rogue is a throwaway horror film, and I mean that as a compliment as I think McLean was trying to go for something like the Ozploitation films of the 70's and 80's (some of this film made me think of Razorback, a film I just reviewed last week). I've never been too keen on these "true stories" where people face adversity in the water, but Rogue is pretty decent at establishing its characters and ratcheting up the tension at just the right moments so the film doesn't feel like a repetitious cycle of croc attacks. It's a fun, harmless little horror movie, and it clearly establishes McLean as someone who is not just a one hit wonder, but a horror director to seriously keep an eye on.

Terror Train Another Canadian slasher movie that is essentially Prom Night on a train as we have a group of people paying for the crimes of a prank gone horribly wrong. Oh, and we have Jamie Lee Curtis popping up again. The film, directed by Roger Spottiswoode (longtime Sam Peckinpah editor and director of the brilliant, masterful farce Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot), and shot by John Ascot (who worked with Kubrick on The Shining) is actually pretty decent looking and does a good enough job of maintaining some tension throughout. However, the film is so one-note (much like Prom Night) that even though it barely runs over 90 minutes, it's tedious because it goes from being a lark (I mean magic is one of the driving forces behind the movie, complete with a cameo performance by David Copperfield) and rather cheesy, to being a seriously viscous slasher during its final 30 minutes. The change of tone didn't bother me so much as the final half-hour actually made Terror Train more interesting than it had any right to be, but the whole idea of the killer hiding behind costumes, and the failed attempts to develop these characters (there's a lot of dialogue for a slasher film as I think they were trying to make a legit mystery, but it just came off as boring padding) adds about 17 minutes (there are countless moments where conductor Ben Johnson checks and re-checks on people he thinks are dead) of film that could have been trimmed. This trimming of the fat could have made the movie a nice little slasher in an interesting location (the train does lend itself to some creepy set designs) and would have focused more on Curtis' great performance. I liked her here more than I did in the boring Prom Night because Terror Train actually gives her a bit of a challenge as the Final Girl, and boy does she ever kick ass at the end of this movie. It's fun to watch. Terror Train isn't the most original slasher (like Prom Night it's obvious who the killer is the whole time, despite the film's incessant need to hide their identity until the final "shock" ending), and its pacing is terrible, but it's still a pretty fun experience…and helluva a lot better made than Prom Night.


  1. I haven't seen any of these, but I'm enjoying the capsules of all these obscure slashers and low-budget horror duds. And I love the new banner; I got quite a shock when I opened the site to see that!!

  2. "...the brilliant, masterful farce Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot..."

    I've never actually seen it, so I'm not being snarky when I ask, are you being facetious in your description?

  3. Nice write-ups on ROGUE and TERROR TRAIN. I loved the former (for all the reasons you stated so eloquently) and enjoyed the latter for what it was - a low budget Canuxploitation horror film. Loved the masked killer bit where multiple disguises were used. I thought that was a pretty nifty variation.

  4. Ed:

    Thanks! I was hoping the new banner would shock some people. One question: At home I use a PC and the Blog's title shows up in red, at work I use a Mac and the title of the blog is blue. What color is it when you see it?

    I guess anyone can answer this question.

    I'm glad you're enjoying these reviews. I know not all of my readers enjoy the horror genre as much as I do, but the Wonders in the Dark poll gave me a good enough excuse to go ahead and pull the trigger on a horror theme for the summer.

  5. Tony:

    Oh, I'm being really, really facetious. I should have made that clearer, though, as I wondered when I wrote that if people would think I was being serious, hehe. Thanks for checking these out!

  6. J.D.:

    Yeah, Terror Train has its moments, and yes, the costume idea is pretty cool and creepy at times, but overall I felt that the filmmakers need to constantly go back to the costume motif really dragged the film down (I'm thinking of the scene where the conductor thinks someone is dead in the bathroom, then when they look again we're led to believe it was a prank when it was so obviously the killer in the costume...), but I guess that's what they were going for since they did shell out some money for David Copperfield. Misdirection and illusion was going to be the name of the game, yet the film did such a horrible job of making us believe that someone else was killing the college students besides the most obvious person. Oh, well...it's a mere slasher, and I shouldn't have too high of expectations, hehe.

    Oh...and yes, Rogue was quite good. I can't wait to see what McLean does next.

  7. Its a bit ironic that both Hooper and Mc Lean chose to focus their second film around a giant Crocodile.

  8. Bryce:

    Nice connection there. I wasn't even aware of that, but that is an interesting parallel. I just looked up Eaten Alive on IMDB and realized I need to see that ASAP as it has one of my favorite Exploitation actors in it, Mel Ferrer!

  9. The only one I've seen here is Terror Train, but I remember actually enjoying it quite a bit. It is what it is of course, a mere slasher, as you've said, but I had fun with it. If I recall correctly, the New Years theme and costumes do go a long way towards giving the film a pretty unique and interesting atmosphere.

    I have to say though, I've only seen it once, some years back when I was still a teen and heavily into horror movies, so my fond memories could be deceiving me. I'd be inclined to think that I'd agree with your take here Kevin, were I to give it another watch these days. I think this one will stay on the shelf for the moment, heh.

  10. TERROR TRAIN is a decent little thriller, but it's all that David Copperfield padding that just makes me love the film as a nice piece of cheese. It's like if Micheal Bay found a way to get David Blaine in one of his bad horror remakes...

    And the disco music sure was rampant in those early 80's horror movies, wasn't it. That's pretty much all I remember about PROM NIGHT (besides Leslie Nielson).

    SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE is always an interesting film to look at, from the whole feminist perspective. I'm not sure if you had already done more research into the writer and director's views on the film circa the 2000's, but I'd be curious to see what they say now as to their mindset when making it.

    Just finished watching LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN. Good old Fulci...

  11. Oh, and I still hold it against Stallone for sullying Estelle Getty's career with STOP, OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT. At least we'll always have Golden Girls to remember her by.

    Which makes me wonder -- worse movie with wacky cop duos: STOP, OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT, COP AND A HALF, or K9 (I guess I could throw in TURNER AND HOOCH as well?)

  12. Drew:

    Yeah, Terror Train has its moments, but its so bogged down by the magic stuff that I didn't really appreciate how creepy the costume stuff really was. It was only towards the end where there is an obvious shift in tone that I started noticing how creepy the costume effect was. These 80's slashers are such mysteries in how they would go from goofy lark to viscous horror film in a matter of minutes.

    Thanks, Drew, for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  13. Troy:

    Turner and Hooch (which I think was directed by Spootiswoode, also)! Duh.

    I need to watch that Fulci. I have Don't Torture a Duckling waiting to go right now. Have you seen Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes yet? That's my favorite Fulci giallo.

    The best part about Terror Train and Prom Night was Tieryn came home for lunch on consecutive days, which just happened to be days I was watching those movies. She snickered and rolled her eyes at Prom Night (who could blame her?) and the following day when I was watching Terror Train she noticed the disco, the goofy magic stuff, and Jamie Lee Curtis and wondered why I was watching the same movie again. Hehe. I of course had to explain to her the, uh, nuances of such slashers, and that they were in fact different movies.

  14. "Prom Night" is fun to watch if for no other reason then to see the killer play defense on the hard wood. Just thinking about that makes me chuckle.

    these capsule reviews are indeed fun, I pray your readers can get a capsule review of either 'Cheerleader Camp' or 'Slugs' to prompt a few to seek them out.

    I really can not wait to see the WitD lists.

    Oh and my mac shows a headline in (blood) red.

  15. Jamie:

    I have Cheerleader Camp and Slugs on my viewing list. Expect reviews before the summer is over. I'm glad to see that your Mac is showing the right color. For some reason the one I use here at work (viewing it on Firefox, mind you) shows the title in blue. Odd.

    Thanks as always for stopping by and commenting. I too can't wait to see the lists.

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