Thursday, September 30, 2010

VALHALLA RISING (2009) - in the kingdom of the blind, it is the hollow man with one eye that survives as the palaces of man crumble into dust

There are no eyes here in this hollow valley of dying stars. We avoid speech gathered on this beach, sightless unless the eyes reappear as the perpetual star. Of death's twilight kingdom, only the empty man can hope to enter.

In the beginning, there was only man and nature. Religion was but a result of the mythic relationship between earth and it's human denizens, and not an inflexible system imposed in spite of reality. Lo and behold, Christian man came bearing crosses, declaring the Vikings as pagans, as well as any others who refused to accept this "modern" structure. These heathens were driven to the fringes of the earth, the "other" who were declared to be against god.

Valhalla, the Viking equivalent to heaven, awaits for those brave enough in battle. Ironically, One Eye is a great warrior inching forward along this road to a glorious afterlife, while remaining completely unaware of this destiny. He is a slave who lives in a wooden cage, his sole reason for existing is to fight other men to the death. He enters battle because he has no other choice, achieving greatness on the battlefield purely as a means to survival.

His lone brush with humanity comes in the form of a boy who feeds him. One Eye finally gains his freedom by destroying his captors, and takes the boy along on a quest without a map. The boy states that he wishes to go home, but One Eye, a mute, has no such stated goal. An existential anti-hero in it's purest state, he initially exists only to survive, and not for any extrinsic goal or higher moral purpose. However, he does develop a respect for the boy, the lone bastion of humanity glimmering amidst this unforgiving wasteland, and aims to protect him. He is also haunted by blood red visions of his future, and this prods him further along this path to nowhere, a spiritual quest of hate and violence.

A small army of cross bearers invite One Eye and the boy along for a crusade, a reconquering of Jerusalem. They agree, not because they concur with this idealistic cause, but because they seek to escape the remnants of a life in shackles. All they have known are cages imposed by other men, so the freedom of a wide open unknown beckons them. They head out on ship, through a great fog. The Christian crusaders curse their luck, believing their heroic journey has been quickly usurped by a curse manifesting itself through the elements. A soldier blames the boy for this supposed curse, and attempts to attack him in his sleep, but One Eye quickly retaliates, stabbing him and throwing his corpse overboard. Superstitious zealotry, it would seem, is no match against a wayward soul with nothing to lose.

They end up in America, a far cry from Jerusalem. This wild land proves both mesmerizing and brooding. Corpses lay on scaffolding so they can gain access to the heavens, a most barbaric ritual through the eyes of the Christian soldiers. The crusaders trudge onward undeterred, as god no doubt works in mysterious ways. Jerusalem or not, they aim to convert this heathen land, despite being enveloped by failure and certain death. One Eye maintains no such directive from god. Instead, he follows the rumblings of mother earth, her beautiful songs and piercing screams. Curiously, this wordless savage becomes inspired to create a monument of rocks. Meanwhile, the Christian soldiers succumb to death and folly. When all is said and done, and all ideological considerations are but eroded memories, One Eye's pile of stones towers above all, a tangible result of a mind free from pretension and idealism. This unlikely monument remains steady despite the rhythm of the earth, her beauty and murder knowing not of man's purpose, nor the passage of time.

Friday, September 17, 2010

SKULLDUGGERY (1983) - a role playing game becomes a conduit for evil, instead of the usual nerds arguing about how to best handle an orc invasion

 Here is the amazing opening credits theme song, which approximates what might happen if Jethro Tull and The Shaggs jammed together on a “hey kids, D & D will turn you crazy and stuff” tune. 

Laugh at our friends up north if you must (Montreal notwithstanding). Chide those Canuckleheads and their Labatts Blue and their hockey pucks and their drunken goofball antics and their Degrassi-fueled dreams and that “aboot” nonsense. However, against all odds, they stand mighty as the sole proprietors behind the Dungeons and Dragons-sploitation slasher subgenre (a one film genre, but a genre nevertheless).  A riff on Mazes and Monsters (although it may have been made first, but wasn’t released until 1983), Skullduggery takes a “brain gone schizo from role playing games” plot, applies a slasher template, and then runs it through a fractured mind obsessed with symbolism (I'm referring to the director, of course). 

Other countries (the U.S.A., for example) simply never had the balls to follow up with a D&D slasher entry of their own, so thorough was Canada’s dominance in this particular subgenre that to even enter into competition was simply foolish, a surefire opportunity for embarrassment and defeat. If life is a series of Olympic trials, best not even show up if you’re not seriously competing for a gold medal.  

Both Tom Hanks (the star of Mazes and Monsters and some other stuff) and Adam, the hero in Skullduggery, go crazy playing an RPG and come to believe that they are actually their respective game characters. The difference is, Adam is governed by his dungeon master, taking cues like Son of Sam took cues from his dog. Instead of a heroic quest, his dungeon master pits him against innocent women, whom he presents as evil witches or soldiers of Satan or what have you, only interested in “draining his powers” or other destructive affronts against the male species. Thankfully, he spares his lovely and talented costar, incredibly played by Mazes and Monsters co-star Wendy Crewson, who broke free from the narrowest early career typecasting short of Jennifer Rubin (of Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and Bad Dreams) to have a long and varied career. Meanwhile, the guy who plays Adam, the stilted somnambulist hero, had a small role in Terror Train and little else, perhaps because he is a shitty shitty shitty shitty actor. 

For those that don’t know, the dungeon master is the ringleader and referee of D&D, making judgement calls about the quest, and making sure all rules are enforced, lest the game becomes a farce and nerd rage takes over. Speaking of which, the rules for this particular variation confuse me. Mazes and Monsters (the game within the film) was basically a ripoff of Dungeons and Dragons, with the name changed to avoid legal hassles, as the story was also loosely based on a real case where some kid supposedly went crazy. 

However, the game in Skullduggery is a whole other kettle of geeky fish (yes, they’re wearing little taped glasses). Unlike D&D, it revolves around a game board that has a cardboard castle sitting in the middle. Adam wants to play as a warlock, and creates his character by rolling stats. However, the whole point of role playing games is that you have a character that you keep using for each new adventure, building him/her along the way. Anyway, he roles a 7 for charisma, and Wendy comments “that’s the highest score I’ve ever seen!”, as if he has just accomplished some feat. However, it was clearly just a random roll of a die, and since there are no seven sided dice, it must have been less than the maximum amount (maybe he rolled a seven on an eight sided die). I guess they just jotted down some random gaming dialogue without ever working out any rule logistics. So, it vaguely resembles D&D, but is psychotically askew and opaque, just like most everything else in the film. 

So, why the heck would his dungeon master want Adam to kill random women? The long winded answer to this question begins in the prologue set in medieval times (not the restaurant, although it rocks). An evil satanist places a curse on a distant relative of Adam, a king named Adam, played by the same actor to hammer home the point. His evil witch sidekick is a precursor to Wendy, I guess (she plays both characters), yet the modern day Wendy is the one good natured character in the film. Whatever. She presents king Adam with two apples, one of them filled with poison, and asks him to choose. He chooses poorly and falls limp, and the witch also sticks him with a poisoned needle, on top of the earlier satanic curse. I guess satanists like to be as thorough as possible. The astute viewer may also notice an Adam and Eve painting, a jester puppet, and a death tarot card within the frame, which are reoccurring motifs throughout the film (and not just motifs either; they literally just show up out of nowhere). 

I know you are probably already confused, but I will trudge forward undeterred. The movie periodically cuts away to a mysterious figure putting together an Adam and Eve jigsaw puzzle. There is also an annoying magician that pops in from time to time, as well as a “Dr. Evel” that throws a costume party (I’ll get to that later). It turns out that every single one of these assholes are different forms of the same evil character, the satanic warlock from the prologue, all conniving to control our hero as a puppet for the purpose of murdering women. 

So, you see, “Evel” (not the dude in the jump suit driving his car over cliffs and stuff, although that dude rocks) controls Adam, the "first man", to destroy various incarnations of Eve, who was responsible for introducing evil into the Garden of Eden by eating that stupid apple. What results is the most obtuse misogyny in the history of cinema. I guess we’re supposed to believe that Adam is being tricked into revenge, under control of a spell by the very force that the original victim (Eve) unknowingly unleashed. 
Since Adam ends up destroying Evel in the end, are we to believe that Eve is also just another victim of this evil force, but by the hands of Adam, who is simply a puppet? That men hate women because of some long instituted religious fantasy? I have no fucking idea. Either way, it’s unique as a sleazy, woman hating variation on the most hoary of biblical metaphors. 

So, Adam and Wendy work together at a costume store when they’re not playing the game with several buddies. When they aren't doing that, they are the costume department for a talent show at the local junior college. To juice up the excitement, we get to see these various acts. For example, there’s the reoccurring magician asshole who performs on stage, causing a rose to bleed. Yeah, it’s really magical that you took a rose that squirts water and filled it with fake blood instead. Asshole. 

There is also a renaissance type play, a traditional Italian dance, and an Adam and Eve play (of course). The renaissance play is particularly mind blowing. Here we have awkward and inept Canadian actors attempting to seem less Canadian (so Americans won’t be creeped out by their foreignness) while playing characters who are terrible actors, unable to convey a medieval character (presumably British, although it’s hard to tell). I sense the 4th wall crumbling, with a 5th wall being erected from the rubble. 

The structure of the film is slow, random, and fractured, and not to mention nonsensical. Not only is Skullduggery nonsensical as a whole, it is filled with individual nonsensical touches, which in turn allows it to fall together logically, in a reverse sort of a way. There is the jester doll that appears in nearly every scene, which I guess is supposed to be symbolize that jesters are unfunny assholes that are really creepy when they suddenly pop up for no reason. Near the end, when a SWAT team descends upon Adam, they see the jester lynched from the ceiling. It disappears and immediately reappears inside of a walking suit of armor before being shot to death. I hate jesters, and I really hate characters that need to magically appear in every scene for no reason, and especially characters that are not governed by any rules or logic. 

There’s also a reoccurring rabbit motif, which may also tie into the bible, what with Easter and stuff, but I admittedly don’t know shit about Christianity. There’s also a guy wearing a gray jumpsuit who repeatedly walks into frame, mostly unnoticed by the other characters. In what has to be the strangest use of symbolism in cinema history, he has a tic tac toe game on the back of his suit, and every time he pops in, another space fills up on the game board. Near the end, the board is finally filled, with a line drawn through for victory, but not for three X’s or O’s in a row. 

I guess this is supposed to convey to the audience that the director doesn’t play by the rules, or that life is governed by a set of arbitrary restrictions. Who the hell knows. I guess the film is ultimately a stream of symbolic gestures, constantly referring to itself. By the way, I lied about the film coming together in any sort of logical fashion. I guess the film turned my brain into mush, and at this point, my standards for what constitutes “logic” have been mostly obliterated. 

Equally strange are the death scenes. There is the scene where Adam dresses as a knight and attempts to murder the super hot chick playing Eve, but narrowly misses twice, while she remains oblivious. However, she dies during the performance of a supposed heart attack, after Adam imagines that she was suffocated by a python; a bit phallic, me thinks. He then visits a fortune teller, stabbing her after she pulls out the death tarot card (as in the opening); her death is also ruled a heart attack (?!?). He later stalks a nurse through a hospital, and this scene is interrupted twice by a guy in a gorilla suit smoking a cigar (?!?!), ending with him injecting her with poison. When several doctors find the body, they immediately diagnose it as another heart attack (?!?), and we hear on the radio that police think that there is a local heart attack epidemic, but they are doing further tests to see if in fact a serial killer was responsible. 

I guess it’s lucky for Adam that every female death in town is immediately chalked up to cardiac arrest, despite one victim in particular suffering a deep stab wound, her blood gushing out near a dagger covered in his fingerprints. Me thinks the local police station could use a forensics department, or at least a doctor on staff that has a vague idea of how the human body works. 

Upon immediately fleeing the nurse crime scene, Adam is hit on by another nurse, and she drags him to her apartment for some hot nursey action. Also, the dead nurse was having sex with a patient right before she was murdered. Maybe the movie is trying to present all women as whores, minus Wendy Crewson, who declines several men who keep hitting on her in lecherous fashion. Admittedly, when I see hot and horny nurses, I can’t help but think I need to get sick more often. 

Well, Adam isn’t into nurses for some ungodly reason, and instead attacks her, pulling a convenient scythe off the wall. He chases her into a graveyard (note to chicks: do not run into a cemetery when fleeing a psychotic), and she immediately pounds on a church door for help, hoping that Jesus or the holy ghost or whoever will save her (or maybe just a regular person). Instead, a fake Liberace is playing the organ, smiling as if to mock her. Maybe he’s just a really flamboyant priest who is too involved with his dandy fop music to notice a woman screaming and pounding on the glass. 
Either way, Adam magically turns into a knight and stabs the nurse with a sword that he magically produces out of thin air. This was all just a fulfillment of Adam’s quest to murder an evil sorceress, but, in reality, he ended up snuffing out a poor innocent soul, a slutty nurse who just wanted to make the world feel a little better. 

There is also a scene where Adam, working at the costume store, is helping a tasty lady find the right costume for a party. He convinces her to try on a medieval dress, and she appears to be getting turned on, as Adam’s stilted monotone deliver apparently turns every woman into a raging harlot. For some reason, she starts stabbing a dummy (?!?), and then Adam pops into frame wearing a bunny costume (?!?). He stabs her in return, grabbing her invitation to Dr. Evel’s costume party, which was all part of the dungeon master’s next quest for Adam. 

Adam shows up at the party carrying a bunch of costumes. He changes into one of the costumes, waits for a woman to hit on him, and then murders her in predictably obtuse fashion. There’s a roller skating girl (Starr Andreeff of Ghoulies II and Out of the Dark), whom he chops up and roasts in the oven. A randy ballerina seduces Adam by offering him a sip of ceremonial blood, and they head down to the basement for some puerile pirouettes. He doesn’t end up boinking her, just as he doesn’t boink any of these women that hit on him (which is all of them except for Wendy). Maybe he’s impotent, and this murder spree is his way of punishing these whores through a different form of penetration, and the whole D&D quest/curse stuff is just his way of subconsciously justifying this murder spree. Why not. 

Either way, he sprays pipe steam in her face for some reason, and she magically turns into a plastic skull (?!?). He then puts on a full suit of armor, and a Hawaiian chick then hits on him, saying “get me a can opener” (he he). Two guys who look like extras from Cruising immediately try and rape her, and Adam impales all three with a spear. I guess he was trying to only spear her, and the two rapists just got in the way. He also chases another girl around before stabbing her through a door, but she ends up surviving. My guess is that she won't be attending any parties in the future being thrown by a Dr. Evel, or a Captain Satan, or a Dr. Acula, or any other similarly suspicious sounding host. 

The next murder is the strangest of all. Adam finally dresses up as the warlock, his game character, and takes another woman through a fluorescent doorway while a nearby cross flares up. Some guy shoots an air bow and arrow (it’s like an air guitar, but a bow and arrow, if you follow) at the jester doll hanging on the wall, and the doll falls limp and starts bleeding. You’d think this would finally kill off this jester fucker, but no. The entire party is watching and waiting for Adam, but he escapes, and they notice that he has drowned the girl in a fluorescent fish tank, along with the jester (who still isn’t dead). 

Someone immediately calls the police, but they don’t show up until the next morning. They try to arrest a dirty hippie (who carries a copy of the Wall Street Journal stuffed in his pants), as his hands are covered in ketchup for some reason. It’s nice to see that the local bacon brigade is on the ball. Dr. Evel explains to them that Adam was responsible, and a SWAT team descends upon the costume store for a final showdown of sorts. 

With Adam arrested I guess, the gaming group plays one last game with him in spirit to honor his memory, symbolized by placing the suit of armor he wore in a chair. I don’t understand how an empty suit of armor can play a role playing game, but maybe I lack imagination. Sure enough, they put several dice in the armored glove and simulate a roll. 

All of a sudden, the empty armor stabs the dungeon master, who reverts back to Dr. Evel with his middle finger extended (one last jerkoff move). Adam was a devoted servant of “Evel” up until his last breath, even killing off SWAT teamers in his quest. So, in his ghostly state, I guess he finally realized that he was being played for a fool. However, I don’t think this Adam guy should get a pass. At some point, you gotta question why some force is using a nonsensical role playing game as a conduit for you to kill innocent women. Maybe it sounds like a great idea at face value in your fractured state, but I think a little self-awareness and self-examination would go a long away into keying you that something isn't kosher in Denmark.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

TRICK OR TREAT (1986) - if it's too loud, you're too old, and if you're too old, you probably don't understand the angst of youth

Here is the opening, to the tune of "Stand Up", which is a song about standing up for yourself. Sometimes poetry is of the more direct variety.

Trick or Treat set the standard heavy metal treatises, and hath not since been usurped. One can conjure up an avalanche of complicated verbiage to describe the sociological implications of metal, but Trick or Treat renders this unnecessary. Instead, it presents the eternal struggle between dorky headbanger and a society both cold and dehumanising, rendering it through cinematic myth, while difficult ideas are clarified in visceral terms.

The film presents two overlapping modes, a clashing of fantasy and reality. One is a realistic story of a mulleted high school loser (Skippy from Family Ties), beaten down emotionally and otherwise by your standard jock bullies while pining for the hand of his dream brunette, a seemingly unattainable symbol of potential happiness. The other “mode” involves Skippy initiating a Faustian pact with the spirit of his dead hero, rebellious hard rocker Sammi Curr, through a possessed LP. Riffalicious supernatural shenanigans that ensue.

Definitive portraits of a particular faction of society are often best portrayed through unadorned realism. However, heavy metal is itself a fantastical metaphor for life. When Skippy rocks along to a Manowar record, joining forces with the band to decapitate a hydra (that’s all eight heads before victory is claimed), inner Skippy demons are vanquished along the way. It was Rob Halford who said that “metal is power”, and by proxy, empowering. One gets the impression that Rob struggled with being very very gay as a youngster, teased and marginalized, and his monumental musical career was a way of overcoming and conquering, quite ironically through the most masculine of musical genres (on the surface, anyway). Skippy has zero self confidence, and certainly no power, and all of this screechy fist pumping noise keeps him alive and moving forward. The prominent “reality” of heavy metal is of the internal variety.

The movie sucks us into the main character’s struggle through spot on performances and sad sack empathy, and this is supplemented with some stellar rock montages and individual scenes that stand out as headbangingly righteous, not to mention the “must own” groin pummeling soundtrack, courtesy of Fastway.

Take, for example, the scene where Skippy finally grows a pair and decides to fight back, knocking a lunch tray into the head bully’s lap. His crew chases Skippy through school, set to the tune of ass rocker “Get Tough” (it’s a song about toughening up, and an apropos selection if I may say so). At one point, Skip impedes their progress with a mop bucket, and one dude goes sliding into a stairwell in ripsnorting fashion. The scene eventually ends with Skippy having outwitted these jocktard hooligans, fooling them into thinking he’s hiding behind a particular door. The head bully grabs a fire extinguisher, kicks the door open, and unloads, only to find that it’s actually the teacher’s lounge, and that they are in fact spraying teachers attempting to enjoy a cup of shitty coffee and a bagel. That's a shitload of demerits right there.

There’s also the scene where a tape of the possessed record finds it’s way into the walkman of the super hot girlfriend of the lead bully (chicks dig assholes, after all). She relaxes in the back seat of car and listens to the music, and the spirit of metal oozes out of her headphones and start molesting her as she falls asleep. Naturally, this green spirit turns into a goblin of sorts, which sticks it’s tongue in her general direction. While not socially acceptable (nor should it be), there are a strain of rivetheads that consider the gentle rape of a passed out chick to be all part of the rock n’ roll “game”. El Duce quantified this phenomenon with the song “Sleep Bandits”, and dubbing his band (The Mentors, of course) “rape rock”. Similarly, there’s also the fact that any female that crowd surfs at a concert will get molested to some extent.

The evil girlfriend (Elise Richards) also happens to be as hot as satan shooting a fireball into stream of lava (although Skippy’s object of desire, Lisa Orgolini, is no slouch either), with some amazing eyebrows to boot. This is Elise’s definitive role, and she also as a small part in Valet Girls (1987), and possibly W.A.S.P.’s video for "Love Machine" (and that’s the extent of her film career, unfortunately). I haven’t been able to verify it, but I think it’s her at the 2:07 mark, convincingly portraying a slutty nurse. So, as if she wasn’t marriage worthy enough already, she rips her nurse outfit off in a W.A.S.P. video (allegedly). Lord all mighty. Speaking of which, every single nurse that show up in a rock video (or in a porno) is a total slut. You never see helpful nurses curing ailments with medication. Part of the big rock n’ roll fantasy is that sexy time with a nurse will cure any ailment known to man, whether common cold or bone marrow cancer.

Gene Simmons has a cameo as the local radio DJ, and, more amusingly, Ozzy Osbourne is featured as a preacher that goes on television to complain about the evil of rock lyrics, “rock pornography” as they call it. At one point, he shows up on T.V. ans starts bitching in front of zombie Sammi Curr, so Sammi sticks his finger through the T.V. and wipes away the image, while Ozzy screams in pain. Apart from the hilarious irony of Ozzy ranting against evil rock lyrics (and the general hilarity of Ozzy speaking about anything, for that matter), there’s the out of left field way that he is dispatched. Most of us don’t have the power to destroy idiot blowhards like that through a television, but we can still smack them over the head with a hard rockin’ record, maybe Yes’ Yessongs LP. I know, it’s not exactly heavy metal, but it’s a 3 record set with a gatefold sleeve, and therefore, heavier in the sense of the physical damage it can cause.

Most awesome of all is the Halloween concert at Skippy’s high school, where dead Sammi Curr returns to rock the shit out of the gym. The crowd is into it instead of being horrified, just as with Rocktober Blood. Heavy metal crowds don’t get nervous when dead people start playing a set, they just assume it to be all part of the show (it’s some kind of zombie spectacle). Sammi struts and pirouettes his way through the song “Trick or Treat” (fitting, I know), his “moves” impressing with athleticism and vague homosexual overtones. He then picks up his guitar to squeal out a solo, and starts shooting lasers at the crowd. The students are still rocking along for a small while, until they realize that these are in fact real guitar lasers and not merely the cosmetic variety. However, when some dude headbanging in the front row gets zapped and turned to dust, another guy behind him, wearing a skull mask, doesn’t run for his life. Instead, he sees this as an opportunity to finally get right up to the stage, and rushes forward pumping his devil horns. I guess the threat of being annihilated is all part of the fun.

This scene is clearly in the mode of Carrie, another great film about a high school outcast unleashing a destructive maelstrom against those that hath wronged them. One such victim in this case happens to be Charles Martin Smith, Toad from American Graffiti, who also happens to be the director (he’s the teacher that wears the Groucho glasses as a Halloween costume). One gets the impression that Mr. Smith knew what it was liked to be picked on in high school (like a less gay version of Rob Halford, I guess), and was more interested in the nerd angle of the story than creating a shock horror film. Although an odd choice on the surface, he seems to really understand this “nerd against the world” dynamic, and how heavy metal (at least in the 80’s) speaks to it’s audience through fantasy. Many parents, church groups, and retard politicians assumed that heavy metal lyrics told stories that represented the reality of the fans, demonology and strippers and what have you. If they would only employ some intellectual honesty, and open their heart to a film like Trick or Treat, they might actually learn that even seemingly idiotic art is still a human means of coping with reality.

Friday, September 10, 2010

LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990) - the saw is still family, and power tools are still dangerous in the hands of inbreds

here is the teaser for TCM III, back in the glory days when trailers didn't have to have anything whatsoever to do with the film

My original encounter with Leatherface was viewing the incredible teaser trailer in the theater as a young, popcorn huffing degenerate. It shows some hefty fella peering into a lake, and we see a souped up, stainless steel chainsaw come straight out. The mysterious hand of a lady tosses the saw into the hands of the dude standing there, and lightning strikes the chainsaw, infusing this already massive weapon with vague electrical powers. He turns around and the camera zooms into his face, and, lo and behold, it’s Mr. Leatherface (I guess I should’ve seen that coming). This is, of course, an appropriation of the lady in the lake sequence in Excalibur. It's a wonderfully exciting teaser, albeit ludicrous and nonsensical, and everything the movie is not: balls laced with class.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is probably my favorite horror film of all time. I’m not even going to bother extolling it’s virtues, except to quote Joe Bob Briggs: “the saw is king”. Although flawed, TCM2 is an interesting, over the top comedic variation of the original. However, TCM III had most of it’s violent content removed in the script and editing stages, and suffered heavily as a result. The film may have worked as a tame thriller rehash of the original if it was constructed as such wire to wire. However, it seemed like it was conceived as an ultraviolent reinvigoration of the franchise, and the scene hacking not only destroyed the effectiveness and tone of the film, but also the editing and the narrative. The result is, for all intensive purposes, a dumb T.V. movie of the week version of the original.

However, this jumbled script and editing process does yield a wonderfully ludicrous dues ex machina ending, accidental as it may be. Local survivalist Ken Foree gets:

1. Run over by a truck.
2. Pummeled by Leatherface.
3. Cut in half with a chainsaw.
4. Hit in the back of the head with a sledgehammer.

Yet, he saves the day with nary a scratch. I guess Ken ain’t fucking around when he’s coming with that survivalism stuff. It could also be that Ken died in the original cut, but intimated the test audience enough for them to complain about the ending on those preview cards, insisting that he live to be the hero. Since the spineless suits are deathly afraid of preview cards (let alone Ken Foree), the ending was changed appropriately, logic be damned.

A similar fate befell Jaws the Revenge with the Mario Van Peebles character. He clearly gets eaten by the shark, yet at the very end of the movie, he pops out of the ocean right on cue (actually a big swimming pool with a sky background), a bit haggard but alive and intact. Supposedly, the ending was changed when a preview audience complained about Mario dying, as they had grown to like the character and his shitty Jamaican accent. Thanks morons. You managed to make Jaws the Revenge even more retarded than it already was.

Kevin Pollak once told a story about Barry Levinson when they were working on Avalon. Apparently, the studio suits insisted on doing audience previews, but Barry refused. To make his case, he showed them a card from a preview of Rain Man, a smash hit and best picture winner, mind you. Referring to the Dustin Hoffman character, an audience member wrote “so…why didn’t the little guy just snap out of it?”. Let’s just say that Avalon got to theaters without any preview screenings. You know, movies would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking audience.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Here is a list of my favorite horror movies, one per director or series, and in no particular order. All apologies to Night of the Living Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Night of the Demons, amongst many other movies that begin with the word "night":
  1. The Shining (1980)
  2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
  3. The Woman in Black (1989)
  4. Halloween (1978)
  5. Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter (1984)
  6. Suspiria (1977)
  7. The Hunger (1983)
  8. Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981)
  9. Sisters (1973)
  10. The Innocents (1961)
  11. Black Sabbath (1963)
  12. Kwaidan (1964)
  13. Shiver of the Vampires (1971)
  14. Eyes Without a Face (1960)
  15. The Last House on Dead End Street (1977)
  16. Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973)
  17. Veneno para las Hadas (1984)
  18. The Seventh Victim (1943)
  19. Repulsion (1965)
  20. Black Christmas (1974)
P.S. This list was inspired by Stace Ponder over at the Final Girl blog. She wants to know this information for some reason...I smell deviant conspiracy.

ROCKTOBER BLOOD (1984) - when a metal concert includes actual murders on stage, it just makes you wanna headbang even harder

Here's the opening performance. My favorite part is when he screams like a cat being run over with a lawnmower.

Admittedly, Rocktober Blood is a title that perplexes me. Either it’s referring to A. a rock version of “October blood”, or B. blood being spilled during “rocktober”. Maybe it’s a play on “oktoberfest”, or maybe rocktober is an awesome heavy metal festival based around Halloween, and the “blood” part portends a horrific twist on this fun celebration. Perhaps I should just shut up and rock with my cock out, or whatever it is that the kids do nowadays.

Well, the band Rocktober Blood is laying it down at the recording studio (well, that question was somewhat answered pretty quickly), and the lead singer (Billy) is belting out some righteous power metal (“I’m Back”). He then runs off for a booty call (at four in the morning), as that is how rockers celebrate after they've layed down a scorching track. He leaves Lynn, the smoking hot brunette vocalist, alone to do harmony for their smash hit “Rainbow Eyes”. She quickly gets bored with her “art” and decides to hit the jacuzzi, showing off her other talents.

Billy quickly returns (he must be one of those “wham bam thank you” guys), this time wearing those reflective sunglasses. This is accompanied by a running visual motif where the light flares the lens to portend evil. It's rare that a low budget heavy metal horror movie would bother with such borderline artistic accoutrements. Well, for some reason, he kills off the other two people in the studio, and then sits at the control board and plays his performance backwards. He then pulls a knife on Lynn and slices through her shirt, phallically running the blade across her chest, telling her “I’m gonna show you what a rock n’ roll whore is all about!”. I guess these “whores” are supposed to enjoy being molested by sharp objects. Rebellious rock music sure can get kinky sometimes.

Well, it’s now two years later at the “Rocktober Blood tour press party”, and some metal dude is breakdancing with a monster mask on (it’s one of those crossover deals). A fake MTV veejay (Rick Righteous) wearing a sportcoat with the sleeves rolled up (of course), proclaims “I wanna get drunk and I wanna get laid” and also snorts some coke. God damn the eighties were fantastic. He explains that Billy was executed one year prior for killing 25 people two years ago (although we only saw two of these murders). I’m glad to see that an execution was pushed through instead of lingering for twenty years plus. Lynn is finally the lead singer of the band, renamed “Head Mistress”, which is mostly the real band Sorcery (they wrote and performed most of the music too). Her version of “Rainbow Eyes” explodes through the speakers, and everyone is rocking out without a care in the world, a sea of big hair and leather and spandex. God damn, cocaine must’ve been awesome.

Well, Billy shows up wearing a creepy mask and annoys Lynn, coming back from the grave to ruin her spandex coke party. Thinking she might be losing her marbles, she escapes to a studio in the woods to get away. She tries to get one with nature, but she can hear Billy’s cackling and the “I’m Back” song wafting from the trees, so she runs back to the studio to do some aerobics with her two friends (?). This proves relaxing for her, and also proves relaxing to audience members that enjoy sweaty spandex action. His “ghost” then crank calls her (that’s the kind of shit I would do if I was a ghost), cackling further and telling her “I want your hot steaming pussy blood all over my face!”. I guess that “Prince Albert in the can” stuff is old fashioned.

Billy, ever the devious malcontent, hides underwater in a boiling jacuzzi, waiting for one of the girls to get close in order to drag her under. Billy hides her body, and Lynn later gets naked again before trying to get in the jacuzzi (if you’re gonna keep going to the well, that’s the one you wanna to go to), but it’s mysteriously turned off, so, thankfully, she takes a bath instead. We get a close up of her ass, intercut with the other girl getting chopped up, her body shoved into a trunk. It may not be classy, but at least it’s awesome. Billy, wearing poseur Kiss makeup, chases Lynn around for a while. Her manager shows up (Nigel Benjamin, briefly the vocalist for Mott the Hoople, one of the best bands ever IMO) and frightens her, and she accidentally grazes his shoulder with a knife.

Well, Lynn is working out the kinks of her stage show while she debates with her crew whether or not Billy is stalking her, if she’s crazy, etc. She complains to the roadie that the stage coffin isn’t opening properly. We would hate for it to get stuck like the pod from This is Spinal Tap, because people will consider it silly at that point. She decides to dig up his grave to prove that the coffin is empty, but in her hysterics, she imagines that there’s a zombie lying there. In reality, however, Billy’s body is resting in the coffin, a class room anatomy skeleton wearing a red bandana. It’s nice to see that the state was okay with executing Billy while he was wearing his Axl Rose bandana. That is fucking metal right there.

So, all is right with the world, and they set up the big concert, pumping fog onto the stage and getting the neon fluorescents warmed up. Lynn erects her giant hair, and puts on her red leather pants, multiple cosmetic belts, and fuck me boots (I’m not sure what the technical term is, but you get the idea). Unfortunately, Billy shows up to ruin everything, sticking a hot iron against a blonde’s throat, which kills her instantly. Billy finally explains that he is actually Billy’s twin brother John, and he’s the one that actually committed the murders, and Billy took the fall. John was upset that he wrote all of the songs, yet Billy got all of the credit, so he killed twenty five people. I guess that makes sense.

So begins the amazing concert finale, which somehow manages to rock balls and be balls out concurrently. There’s the copious fog, the lights, and, best of all, five hot chicks wearing torn white dresses, chained to the stage. John (the fake Billy) is on lead vocal wearing a demon mask, singing “Killer on the Loose”. He stabs two girls with the mike stand and pulls out unidentified organs from each. He then decapitates another girl and throws her head into the crowd. Awesome. Keep in mind that this shit is FOR REAL. Well, sort of.

Lynn then pops out of a coffin dazed, but somehow gets tricked into thinking that every thing is ok. She rocks out on Rainbow Eyes as originally planned, while standing on what looks to be a moon crater, but it’s hard to tell with all of that fucking fog everywhere. Meanwhile, nobody seems to notice that there are three dead girls on stage missing organs and/or heads. Oh well, everyone is too busy ass rocking into oblivion, I guess. Fake Billy takes his mask off and starts pumping out “I’m Back” again. A dead serial killer is rocking with his balls out, and the rivetheads in the crowd are eating this shit up. Brilliantly, the handcuffing keeps the head roadie from attacking John with the only weapon at his disposal, an electrified Les Paul (I mean a Les Paul that will somehow electrocute you if touched). Lynn manages to escape, and fake Billy gets smashed over his head, but all this does is amp up his caterwauling. The audience still just excepts this as part of the show, a dead guy coming back from the grave to rip out girl’s organs on stage before getting smashed by a magical guitar. That there is a god damn rock n’ roll show.

Well, finally piecing things together, an important lesson emerges: don’t ever take sole credit for your homicidal twin brother’s ass rock compositions. Use the dual credit, that’s what it’s there for. In retrospect, the lyrics to the song “I’m Back” were a sure case of rifftastic foreshadowing, laying this drama out with stunning clarity. Now, I know what you’re thinking…riffs don’t have shadows. Look, lets stop it with the logical analyzation. Just pump your fists and play along. After all, metal health will drive you mad. I have no idea what the hell that means, but, then again…who gives a shit. Just...BANG YOUR HEAD!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

THE UNSEEN (1980) - looks like Flounder is floundering as a post grad

here is a surprisingly effective trailer for the film, considering how long the long version feels

College hazing rituals are often remembered as being adventurous fun by those who managed to survive, but the fact remains that they can occasionally destroy lives. A pledge might be forced to run through Sea World wearing panties on his head, and, not being able to see where he is going, he accidentally falls into the shark tank. These pledge rituals that cause physical damage are the ones that usually get singled out, but unfortunately, no one ever talks about the mental damage that can result by such humiliating escapades (not to mention homoerotic).

An excellent example of a college student’s life destroyed by hazing is front and center in The Unseen. Here we have Flounder from Animal House, who suffered through much humiliation in his attempt to join a frat. Had he been part of a club that actually supported him and allowed his natural abilities to bloom, helping Flounder to flourish as it were, he might have graduated and gone on to great things, possibly as a great (though ironic) seafood chef. Instead, he has since become a psychotic mongoloid chained in the basement of a creepy house. Admittedly, he is a big reason why the house is so creepy, but still.

So, Barbara Bach is a reporter that tries to get a room at a fake Swedish village (it’s sorta like a Chinatown for Swedes) with two other females, but somebody screwed up the reservations at the fake Swedish hotel (the hotel is real, it’s svenkiness is not). They are forced to find whatever lodging is available, so they ask a creepy museum owner (aren’t they always) if he knows where they could find a room, and he agrees to hold them up at his own house. Frankly, I’m surprised these three hot chicks don’t immediately run for the hills. I guess they’re both desperate and professional, what with a deadline looming for a story about the Swedish village (the public apparently must be immediately informed of the various goings on there-in). Also, exploitation cinema would be a lot less interesting if hot chicks refused to explore decrepit houses.

The museum owner (Ernest) lives with his sad bastard of a wife (Virginia). She mopes in a chair while Ernest tip toes around, trying to catch these ladies in various states of undress. We get some spectacular nudity when the saucer eyed blonde takes a bath. I guess it’s readily apparent why he agreed to let these girls rent a room free of charge (this was pre-internet, after all). The other two girls leave to do their reporting, and she goes to sleep wearing a nightie (I guess she’s just a friend along for the ride). Shockingly, she gets pulled through the grating in the room, intercut with footage of a chicken being beheaded. I guess this shows how the heartless meat industry is akin to the slaughter of hot innocent chicks (they’re both “chicks”, after all). While final girl Barbara frolics with some dude, the other girl heads back to the house and suffers the same fate. This sets up the third act, where Barbara looks for her missing comrades in the basement, and instead finds the dude from Animal House wearing a diaper. Let’s just say that the plot is not one of those layered/interwoven/interlocking deals.

The film is basically Silent Scream’s inferior cousin (which I previously reviewed), with both films having been released the same year. Basically, several people stay in a creepy house, while a mysterious figure hidden deep within in it’s bowels stalks them. In turn, these films are slasher-esque variations on Crawlspace (1972) and Bad Ronald, both made for T.V. movies about black sheep (not literally) hiding in a house. Unfortunately, the main psychological conflict of the home owners doesn’t really prove interesting, as it never rises above them being sad and twitchy (respectively) about the 300 lb. secret in the basement. Also, Flounder doesn’t roam through the bowels of the house, through secret passages or anything. He just sits in the basement, so the suspense is completely minimal, unlike Silent Scream, which does strongly operate on the suspense level, taking it’s cues from Psycho.
There are two somewhat creepy scenes, the first murder and Bach’s search before finding Flounder, but the whole thing feels like a thirty minute horror episode stretched out. There is an air of oddness about the film, but also a lack of atmosphere and thrills. So, even though I ask that we become sympathetic towards Flounder and his ilk, those lives destroyed by fraternities, once he has become a mongoloid, he is mostly no longer interesting. You’re a stalker now, big boy, no matter how you got here, so just shut up and do your job. Also, please stop wearing a diaper. You’re a college graduate now, and that shit is upsetting.

THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2 (1985) - to quote Rockwell, "somebody's watching me"

here's a rad music video from our friend Rockwell that has nothing to do with anything

The opening crawl explains that the film is based on fact. What “facts” are we talking about here? Oh yeah, the fact that The Hills Have Eyes made a shit load of money, and the fact that the producers want to cash in circa mid 1980’s. That’s the extent of journalistic standards for an exploitation film. The text also proclaims that “the hills still have eyes". How fucking convenient.

Bobby from the first film is sitting down with a psychiatrist, still haunted by flashbacks from The Hills Have Eyes part 1. He’s particularly nervous this week, as him and his friends are planning to enter a dirt bike race in the desert, somewhere near where the original massacre took place. Now that’s a fucking plot. Watching the film, you might become curious that it's filled with flashbacks from the first film, on top of the expository dialogue and screen crawl that explained the plot of part one. This is all obviously a way to pad the film, as the links between the two are mostly cosmetic.

So, I hope you like movies where characters say “you know, this reminds me of a scene from a previous film!”, and clips from a superior movie come rushing forth. While it’s easy to claim hackery at this device, I have to give props to one particularly brilliant use flashback; that is, when even the dog has his own flashback scene. After all, here is a character carried over from the first film, and he has his own unique perspective on what took place, although coincidentally his flashback looks exactly the same as footage from part one. The horrors that transpired in the desert must have been pretty intense to still be traumatizing a dog eight years later. Unfortunately, dog psychiatry wasn’t really prevalent back then like it is now. “How was your childhood?” - ”Ruff!” - “We’re gonna have to send you back to the pound if you don’t shape up” – “Ruff you!”

Well, some chick’s alarm goes off, one of those electro robot clocks. It’s 2010, and I still don’t have one of those things. She was just that cutting edge at the time, I guess. Some dude on a motorcycle wearing a creepy mask pops over and invades her bedroom, but it’s just a false scare. These teens love putting on masks and jumping out at their friends, all done with an annoying “wacky” energy. The couple consists of Kevin Blair (resident studmuffin, later of Friday the 13th VII and several of the Subspecies films) and a hot blind chick named Cass, played by Tamara Stafford. This was (I think) her first and last starring role, so it's reasonable to conclude that this film killed her career. Maybe she’s really blind, and we all know how Hollywood hates the deformed. She’s a statuesque beauty-next-door with flowing locks, rocking the fashion with an autumnal sweater, tight pink jeans, and a scarf. Watching the film for the third time (sad, I know), I just noticed that the token black chick is Penny Johnson, most famous (in my mind) from her role as Beverly on The Larry Sanders Show. Here, she wears a ridiculous headband with some terrible hair, looking like an afro that was deflated like a tire. Here are clips of Rip Torn from the show, as there are no "best of Beverly" comps on Youtube.

Turns out that Bobby decides to stay home (I guess the actor was above starring in the entire film, or maybe he’s a pussy). However, as a supposed continuation of the plot of the first film, Ruby, the daughter of the cannibal family, is now a modern urban preppy. She joins the troupe on their trip, and is therefore forced to go back into the desert where she once lived, but as a normal person instead of a cannibal. I’m sure glad she was rehabilitated enough to be able to create this riveting dramatic conflict.

Well, this group of knuckleheads drive their bus into the desert, driven by the token goofball, who is unspeakably annoying. Their quest to enter into a dirt bike race hits a snag when they manage to forget about daylight savings time. “I can’t believe we all forgot about daylight savings time!”, Ruby points out. You’d think Cass’ super robot alarm clock would have fucking accounted for that. On top of that, they realize that they've been reading the map upside down the whole time. I guess all of the words being in upside down gibberish instead of English didn’t set off any alarms. They also develop some bus trouble along the way. All of these fateful coincidences result in the group ending up in the middle of the desert with no race in sight, in exactly the same spot where the first film took place. Sometimes lady luck is on her period, and you end up rolling snake eyes.

So, these teens explore this decrepit mining town and race their bikes around in order to pass the time. Of course, the cannibal family returns to attack these teens, even including Pluto (Michael Berryman), who died in the first film. I guess you had to bring Berryman back to please the fans, logic be damned. The first to bite the dust, thank god, is the goofball, who narrowly misses a spike trap before being crushed by a foam boulder (I knew he was a pussy). Poor Penny gets thrown through a window and awesomely gets her throat slit by a machete (I mean poor for Penny and great for the audience).

By far the best aspect of the film is final girl Cassie roaming blind through this creepy ghost town while being stalked, in sort of a decrepit version of Wait Until Dark. Her scenes are well photographed (with a wandering wide angle lens), as she stumbles around this strange location, unable to see the obvious slasher setup in front of her nose. I don’t know why a blind girl would ride out to the desert to watch a dirt bike race, but it does lend itself to some suspenseful scenes. I also really like the Harry Manfredini score, even though it’s a reworking of his earlier scores (Friday the 13th and Swamp Thing, it sounds like). After all, Bernard Herrmann ripped off his own Vertigo score for his work on Obsession, and that proved lovely as well.

Apparently, Wes Craven only made the film because he was desperate for money. While the direction is worthy of Craven to an extent, the script (solely credited to him) is ridiculous beyond belief, so much so that it is hard to believe he really wrote it. I guess it was written around the stock footage to save money, and that’s a big part of the problem, but the plot is dumb and inexplicable, even by the standards of mid 80’s slasher trash. Having said that, it’s still better than Music of the Heart, which I’m sure worked wonders opening the eyes of heartless bureaucrats keeping violins away from inner city kids. However, this safe plot is no competition to the utter mind bending audacity to pad a film with dog flashbacks.

Monday, September 6, 2010

THE FOREST (1982) - if you find trees dramatically exhilarating, this is the movie for you

here is the video trailer for this anti-opus about two couples whose exciting quest down a hiking trail is interrupted by creepy jerks that pop out of nowhere

The film opens with a couple hiking through the forest, and we get the classic line: “the bears are more afraid of us than we are of them”. Really? Have you ever seen Grizzly Man? Let me ask you this: if you were a bear, would you be super afraid of some middle aged white guy? I rest my case. Of course, the couple gets sliced into rustic human fillet, rendering this bear business moot, and the scene is filmed in a loving appropriation of Friday the 13th (even using a similar shot of the knife before it dices away).

You might be thinking that this is headed exactly where every functional viewer thinks it is, but you’d be completely wrong. For starters, the victims are middle aged, instead of teenagers. Secondly, the score starts off as a classy combo of moog and sax; sort of elevator music for trees. I can say with certainty that no saxophones are found in the entirety of the first two Friday the 13th films. Also, the film keeps cutting to the woman’s extremely concerned reaction, as she actively searches for the source of the mysterious noises. Most Friday the 13th victims are only mildly curious about mysterious noises.

The innovations don’t stop there, folks. In fact, the rest of the film is mainly a ghost story of sorts, albeit with a stalking killer annoying a group of four adult campers. I know I’ve spoiled it already, but, circa 1982, this was a very clever trick to pull on an audience. It’s sort of like if Kiss came out, played Love Gun, and then pulled off their clothes and make up, to reveal Steely Dan underneath. Wait a second…that means a naked Steely Dan is standing there on stage. Holy Christ.

Not only is the opening solid, but the ghost element is strangely effective. It consists of a mother, daughter, and son triumvirate. The mother is the evil one, but the young siblings are cute as a button, despite having recently kicked the bucket. They keep popping up to talk to the campers in creepily straight forward fashion. They explain that their father killed their naughty mother, and that he is stalking the campers for food. The creepiest part is that they calmly explain that they both committed suicide because “life was too sad” (solid reason as any to off yourself, I guess). I didn’t even realize that 9-year-olds committed suicide. I guess you learn something new every day/week. They insist that death is indeed superior to life, that they can now freely wander around the forest and creep out everyone and everything (even the badgers). They no longer have to worry about food and disease and self esteem, or whatever it is that normal people are concerned about. Also, their voices are soaked in reverb with a pinch of tremolo, which I guess is all part of this mortal trade off.

A flashback humorously explains why daddy killed mommy. She’s lying in bed with another man when he comes home. She nonchalantly tells him that the naked man is a repairman, acting as if she’s done nothing wrong. She also locked the kids in the closet in the very same bedroom. Of course, the father kills her (who can blame him, I guess), and he gets his ass kicked by the repairman (who was actually a repairman after all). He then runs off to live in a cave in the middle of the forest, away from the suspicious ire of the local investigative baconheads. Lately, he resorts to hunting humans for meat, for reasons that are unclear. He doesn’t seem like he’s become a cannibal mongoloid or anything. He’s just an annoying middle aged slob who’s hungry, and decides to hunt humans instead of the usual animals he was previously living off of, just to be a jerk, I guess. Maybe cannibalism is indeed a natural progression of cabin fever. Either way, he is a most annoying “villain”, coming off as an nonthreatening greasy neighbor most of the time. Even the ghost kids, who claim allegiance to him in opposition to their mother, turn on him during his quest to eat the campers.

Well, apart from the cute dead kids and the opening scene, the movie is basically a boring piece of shit. The main characters are all lifeless and uninteresting, and much of the run time is devoted to them rattling on about whatever boring shit pops into their heads, along with shots of trees and even a bunch of traffic padding on the drive over. The supernatural plot is simple but still confusing, with three separate potential villains with vague motives. Also, the real villain is not used in any suspenseful way (again, apart from the opening).

On top of everything else, there is the brutal score, careening from the woodsy elevator stuff mentioned earlier to “suspenseful” music that sounds like an angry synth bird yelling at a crying robot. If that wasn’t enough, there are original songs composed for the film, including “The Dark Side of the Forest”. If the forest is really filled with this kind of horrific musak, I’ll be staying home, thank you. Besides, those bears are bad news.

Now don’t get lost
Or you’ll have to pay the cost
As many have died
In the dark side of the forest
-"Dark Side of the Forest", as sung by Forresty Croondoggle, who used the song as a springboard to a career as a sanitation worker for one of those forest preserve gift shops that sell tree-themed trinkets that no one will ever buy.

THE FINAL TERROR (1983) - nature is already a vast expanse filled with horrors, and It's unfair that local inbreds insist on piling on

here is the entire film on Youtube (aka Carnivore), albeit in quality that suffers in comparison to even my ancient worn out Vestron VHS

When Brit John Boorman traversed into the raging rapids of the American south, along with Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, and that dude that was in Stroker Ace, he wrought a masterpiece about a group of friends enveloped by the savage maw of unfettered nature. Real men doing real things and really getting in over their heads. It’s rather unfortunate that the film has been reduced in popular culture to a freak show featuring Ned Beatty getting unceremoniously porked against his will (supplemented with some banjo noodling), and not a modern myth of man vs. nature.

Another often overlooked effect of the film is the mostly unheralded ripoffs that followed (apart from the excellent and reasonably well known Southern Comfort). Surprisingly, this is a subgenre replete with quality. There’s Hunter’s Blood, and Rituals, and Just Before Dawn (which I previously reviewed), all effective and well made elaborations on John Boorman’s classic. Another one lost in the shuffle is The Final Terror, which dares to ask the question “what if the characters from a Friday the 13th movie were dropped into a Deliverance ripoff?” Finally, a movie that goes out on a limb, falls out of the tree, and lands on a trap built by a handy redneck.

The film opens up with a sweet intro murder, like you might find in a typical slasher, as a teen couple falls prey to a mysterious trap killer in the forest preserve. A busload of camper victims roll in, driven along by creepy redneck bus driver Joe Pantoliano (Joey Pants to his friends and colleagues). This ragtag gaggle of hick food includes free spirit Darryl Hannah, resident studmuffin Adrian Zmed, pledge pin pontificator Mark Metcalf, and, of course, Rachel Ward. Rachel seems a little out of place amongst a group of young rustic Americans, but she is smoking hot, so who the hell cares. They start singing Three Blind Mice to pass the time during the bus ride (this must predate Walkman technology), and we hear a report on the radio about missing couples and so forth. Joe mentions a friend of his being killed in the forest several years prior, and they also drive by a mental institution. It would be pretty funny if, after all of these warning signs, they all get eaten by bears. Either way, they are WAY too many potential hazards for me to feel comfortable about this situation.

They get a nice campfire going, roasting marshmallows till they get nice and ashy. Of course, a dude chimes with a campfire story (something about campfires always inspire these campfire stories for some reason), telling a story about a 14-year-old girl who was raped by her lumberjack uncle. She ended up having a son (inbred alert!), and later ended up in a mental institution. Nineteen years later, her child rescues her from the nuthouse and into the safe sanctuary of the nearby preserve. Of course, this story ends in a jump scare, to relieve the audience’s tension by giving off the impression that the story was just a fun way to scare the shit out of innocent people.

Zmed, rocking the red bandana like Axl Rose (although this predates Guns and Roses, so it's probably more accurate to say that Axl rocked a headband like the dude from Grease 2), hears about a vast garden of marijuana lying beyond the trees, and goes hunting for dope. The next morning, Zmed is mysteriously missing, so the campers decide to split up and search for him (naturally). They ominously find the bandana minus the Zmedster, but continue to search anyway. Mark Metcalf (of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” video and other iconic achievements) decides to take a break and have sex with his girlfriend in a stream. Some mysterious humanoid goes after a naked Metcalf with a curved blade. Maybe it’s Bigfoot, and he’s offended by gratuitous nudity. Who can say really.

Several from the group happen upon a rundown house and explore it’s decrepit interior. They find a freshly decapitated animal head in a cabinet (maybe a wolf), so they hightail it the fuck out. The group gets around another campfire later that night, wondering what happened to Zmed, Mark, and his girlfriend. Maybe they eloped together as some sort of permanent menage a trois. They are creepily engulfed by a vast expanse of blue mist, pumping up the atmosphere quotient. This movie would really benefit from a blu-ray presentation. Hell, I’d take a letterboxed laserdisc at this point. They go to sleep, but something vaguely furry hovers over Rachel as she dreams some hot chick fantasy. I don't know what this entails exactly, but I doubt Rachel dreams about the same stuff I do (like showing up at high school wearing my pants on my head). She wakes up and screams, and Zmed shows up all of a sudden. I guess he found the weed, smoked up, and fell asleep for 24 hours. Who says pot doesn’t lower your self motivation.

At this point, everyone dresses up in army camouflage, running around the forest in military operation style a la Southern Comfort. They got the fatigues, the face paint, the steel helmets, and the proverbial cherry on top; sticking a leaf on your head. I took these guys for a bunch of city slickers in over their heads, but they quickly transformed into a forest commando unit of sorts. Impressively, they came prepared in case a war happened to break out in the middle of the woods.

Well, they inflate a raft, grab some oars (they were carrying all of this shit in their backpacks too), and head downstream to escape the horrors of the forest (drawing further comparisons to Deliverance). Awesomely, Metcalf’s dead girlfriend falls out of the trees and onto the raft (boy, the killer timed that shit just right), and they bury her before moving along. They finally get back to the bus, but it has been sabotaged (of course), so they decide to stay the night inside. Unfortunately, the beast or whatever crashes through the windows, and so begins the final chase through a dark forest, as the campers run around, trying to avoid traps while engaged in some cat and mouse antics with the killer. They again transform back into commandos, except for Zmed, who rocks the red bandana with the blue beret (I guess he's taking the opposite route, blinding the enemy with bright colors), and they are anything but helpless victims, as they're on the attack as well. There is also an awesome twist ending that I didn’t see coming, but then again, I’m perpetually stuck in a half conscious haze.

The Final Terror is short on plot and long on atmosphere, although much of it is rendered a dark muddle on the inferior versions that are currently available. It treads the line between slasher and Deliverance ripoff, but the proactive characters (most of whom survive) pushes this slightly more into nature survival territory. Remember, it’s not a slasher film if most everyone lives, just as it isn't a survivalist tale if everyone dies. It’s sorta like how a kamikaze pilot isn’t really a kamikaze pilot if he survives. At that point, he’s just some fuck up that flies a plane.