Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Splatter University


*


Splatter University uses the basic tenets of the slasher film. There’s the escaped lunatic who murdered a doctor in his mental institution, taking his clothes, and getting out of the hospital holding him. You have the teacher at a university murdered for no apparent reason (“It seems to me if you’re going to kill someone, you’d at least know them real well.”), stabbed right in the heart, bleeding like a stuck pig. She bleeds out, and cut to a new teacher, fresh out of college herself, landing the same position (considered cursed by the students). Will she be next?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Slasher Series Banner for 2015


A key scene in Slaughter High (1986), when the group realize they're in for a night of hell if they can't get out of the building.

After Midnight


 **½
 
Unremarkable but decent anthology horror film has the wraparound story featuring a rather creepy "Psychology of Fear" professor, Edward Derek (Ramy Zada) offering a gathering to students in his class if they are interested in experiencing "real fear". He was going to have a unique class for the semester at the college of the film, but when he literally causes a jock to piss his pants (a diabolical gun experiment that *would not* be allowed in the schools today), Ed is told to dispense with the shenanigans.


So some of the kids from his class gather at his home, and hence offered are tales which make up this late 80s omnibus.


On the night of his birthday, Kevin (Marc McClure) agrees to take his wife on a "midnight ride". Well, sufficed to say, the car's tire flattens and the only place nearby is an old dark house [natch]. Five people were murdered in the infamous house, but Kevin's wife, Joan (Nadine Van Der Velde), scoffs at it as old wive's tales, nothing more or less. Kevin is genuinely nervous and afraid to go to the house and ask for help, while Joan encourages him to do so. What awaits them as there's a light that was on and eventually goes off?










This one uses the twist of "when you play around with someone's emotions and present a scenario where it appears a person loved is in danger unfortunate circumstances could arise from the surprise". Joan is pressed into the window of the house, with Kevin soon following in after her. When she goes missing, and Kevin has a hard time finding her, soon seeing some other "eerie" figure perhaps about to harm her (with her screams justifiably concerning him), he takes action, not realizing what all this is. A bloodless (but I found it quite hilarious in how much of a prop it looked) decapitation results. Ed gets jaws dropped to the floor after sharing this with his class. Nothing at all extraordinary about "Old Dark House", as it essentially Kevin looking for his wife, finding her in the worst possible way.


A student offers the second tale about four teenage girls (Judie Aronson, the delectable babe from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter; Penelope Sudrow, the "Welcome to Primetime Bitch" asylum victim in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors"; Tracy Wells of the television show Mr. Belvedere; Monique Salcido) who are "on the town", hoping to get into a club. Once denied of that, they get lost in the warehouse district of their city, encounter a filthy, sleazy street thug (Luis Contreras, who made a home in these kind of human wretch roles), and must outwit and flee the scuzzball's snarling Great Dane mutts. Imagine ferocious guard dogs with only one thing in mind: destroying human girls.








This isn't too shabby as it does unleash the dogs on one of the girls who is unable to outrun them. The car runs out of gas [natch], leaving them to run through alleys and dark, smoggy streets on foot while the ferocious dogs follow in hot pursuit. Aronson (who I think is the most attractive Friday gal of the franchise) is easy on the eyes while the Contreras (even though just representing the old street scum cliche) stereotype offers momentary skin-crawling.  I think this does the "night of hell" bit rather well, as the girls, not in their territory, must be resourceful in order to survive. "A Night on the Town" pits pretty girls against bloodthirsty killer canines...for me that is not all bad.


Pamela Adlon (I think fans of the comedian Louis CK's show will know her, and she voiced Bobby Hill on the popular Fox series, King of the Hill) is Cheryl, the friend of the spooky Allison (Jillian McWhirter), who I will elaborate more on in a few. Cheryl is the "I love being scared" friend, who seems excited about Ed's class, while Allison has deep reservations about her own involvement in the whole deal. Cheryl has her own story to tell.







Cheryl's story is "All Night Operator" starring the delightful Marg Helgenberger (CSI) as a telephone operator at a dying company, working the night shift when she receives a number of calls from psychopathic strangler Alan Rosenberg (who she married the very year of this movie). He doesn't like to be lied to and when she tells him she hadn't talked to a woman Rosenberg is obsessed with, he takes it not-so-well. Because he has been keeping watch for the woman of his obsessions outside in a phone booth not far from the hotel she currently resides, he knows Marg has been lying to him. So after disposing of her, Rosenberg sets his sights on Marg. Calling her boss, and informing the security guard does little to stop Rosenberg who is determined to visit upon his quarry a violence meted he feels she deserves. A broken leg, on crutches, Rosenberg soon in the building, Marg will try to use her brains to keep from being his next victim. This an old fashioned thriller; the 80s had plenty of these, for sure. It has all the elements of a real corker. I couldn't help but think of John Carpenter's "Someone is Watching Me" while viewing "All Night Operator" as a model in that movie was being stalked, with little to help her escape the guy pursuing her, it seemed. The final moment is a doozy. Rosenberg is in an atypical role here, but he does well with the stereotype he's given. He is your garden variety, bug-eyed creep, with a cold, demanding voice, and posits a stern presence that essays to us that he means business. Carries a slasher feel to it.


"Allison's Story" is the name of the wraparound that forms the anthology. If you have seen what I consider (as does many others) the quintessential anthology film, "Dead of Night", the wraparound has Mervyn Johns (Bob Cratchet in one of the all times greats, A Christmas Carol, playing opposite Alistair Sims) as a haunted lead protagonist who feels like something is off or about to happen. He can't put his finger on it. The final minutes of Dead of Night has all the tales presented in the film converging upon him, as he is among those characters talked about in each story. This happens in similar fashion to Allision in After Midnight. She has her own tale to tell, but when Ed presses her to share, she isn't quite ready. She feels like something will happen, and those involved in her tale are the students and professor.



I think it's safe to say that "After Midnight" is not "Dead of Night". Its stories aren't all that bad (if not all that spectacular), but the wraparound is a mess that doesn't quite cohesively blend Allison within the tales told throughout like "Dead of Night" did with Johns. While the latter was masterfully weaved together in impressive form, the former is cobbled bits without uniform. I appreciate its attempt as a homage to "Dead of Night" though, even if it doesn't succeed. Harryhausen might be proud of the ax-wielding skeleton of Ed after he's burnt alive while chopping up a jock student who was seeking revenge on him. The severed heads aren't all that convincing but Cheryl's talking head isn't all that bad. Allison is not a really thrilling or interesting character. I'm thinking it is the choice in the lead actress. Her look is right but her cold, dead-pan delivery leaves much to be desired. While Johns has a quality of harbinger of doom about him, as if he is the tool in something ominous ahead, Allison is an aloof weirdo with little personality.



Zada is framed and lighted to calculate on specific lunatic expressions. As if he were an escaped nutso from an asylum who happened to have a few degrees that landed him the Psych 102 class, Zada gets plenty of time up close and personal as he makes sure to widen his eyes and speak in a manner most foul. Similarly, Rosenberg is framed and performs almost identical to Zada. The photography is often quite cool...like when the lightning strikes and shows the jock holding an ax nearby the window of Zada's house as it rains. Quite professionally shot, with decent production value, this anthology is a MGM property, and it can be found quite easily. I remember seeing it showing up on IFC occasionally when they were showing a lot of horror and had a Grindhouse night on their schedule. I have seen better and worse than After Midnight, but fans of horror anthologies might find some value in this.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A fun start...


A fun start to the Summer slasher series for me, and I think I chose correctly with this film as a beginning. Starting late in June, I needed a film that wasn't quite set entirely during the school year or at the end, considering May is long gone. A couple years ago, I started too early, but done so because Prom Night (1980) was the key film in the slasher series. This year, I will certainly factor in a slasher movie or two, I imagine, set during the school year, but I hope to add an eclectic bunch of movies to the slate in 2015.


I think some of us, as teens (and, yes, adults), had (or, yes, have) "fantasy posters" we'd love to hang on a wall. I loved specific box arts when I come across them, and this for Slaughter High (1986) was definitely one of them. Before I finish up with closing comments on the film, I wanted to pay homage to the poster that caught my attention at Down's Video as a kid. I would go into this specific store which has two shelf aisles chock full of horror VHS. Slaughter High was a fave I would eye. I have this review I have start/stopped over the last few months that I'll eventually drop for Dead Pit which to me rivals Slaughter High as one of my personal faves. I'd like to have both in my collection, but DP never made it (I would love to pick up the Code Red edition, though) unfortunately. Any horror collector, avid or picky, has those few they have always wanted in their library. I'm glad I got a chance to add Slaughter High to mine. Now if I could just have the poster to hang on the ole wall.

This isn't Marty McFly we're talking about...

Further thoughts of the film

  •  I seem to complain about the Manfredini score, but with it so identifiable to the decade that is the 80s, it seems fitting for a slasher film like Slaughter High. When Caroline Munroe spends forever running from Mary throughout the whole damn school (the director gets a ton of mileage out of the location, as there isn’t a room, stairwell, or hall she doesn’t run through, down, or into), the score seems to fit it like a glove because every Friday the 13th film has it.

  • You know how characters make stupid decisions, and we always complain about it towards the screen. Munroe makes two critical doofus decisions that left me aghast. She has a bat, right? She takes a good two or three swings and drops the fucking bat right at his legs, walking away! And then, when Marty pursues her again, she has a javelin in her possession, and instead of using that to make sure he’s good and dead, she drops it down to him from a floor above!
  • Dream logic is often used in horror films. I couldn’t help but recall Student Bodies (1981), of all movies, when the ending took place. So Marty gets his revenge, but before the guy could even properly celebrate, the ghoulish spirits of those he killed throughout the film rise from a foggy mist in the “class reunion” room to further haunt him.
  • Dream logic can get you off the hook when there’s the viewer accusation of “bungled continuity”. When the killer can be so many places and do so much while those he kills have no prayer of surviving. He turns up, and victims are shit out of luck.
  • The sex scene is rather hilarious, I thought. Joe’s squeeze just doesn’t prefer to be serviced after he’s done with his “machines”, and the beefy Frankie is just who she desires. But look out for that electrified bed post because it stings…or is that fries? At least Frankie went out with a bang. The electrocution sure is a stunner as the poor girl’s head blackens and her mouth clinches. And she lights up like a Christmas tree, too. Joey gets to go out in ironic fashion…what better way to hit the bricks than a tractor, with spinning blade, dropped right on you? 
  • These death sequences have a bite to them, I thought. They are so impactful because the one killing has a lot of rage behind them. Even within the annals of dream logic, I could just picture Marty fantasizing within his make-believe world how gruesome the students who ruined his life would die. The more horrible, the better.
  • The ending was kind of a downer. Marty getting even seemed to be a win for all those nerds out there that so desperately wanted to see their bullying jock/pretty people tormenters suffer. How many nerds probably dreamed, whether or intentional or not, of their tormenters enduring some sort of serious punishment?

  • The characters are slasher regulars. The weed smokers, jocks, head babe, and practical jokers: a gleeful bunch of pricks who lived to pick on the likes of a Marty Retzen. Poor Marty gets dragged across the skuzzy bathroom floor while naked. He was hosed and recorded while naked. He is hung upside down, with his face stuffed down in a commode. Good grief, what did this kid do to these jerks?

And the Scarecrow Summer Slasher Series begins....

I was dwelling on what the first film for my Summer Slasher series would be, and I couldn't think of a better start than Slaughter High (1986). Right as the slasher genre was vomiting out the films right and left hoping to capitalize on the successes of the past, Slaughter High was just one of many. It has remained on the lips of slasher fans, though. You go through that check list, eventually a mark goes next to Slaughter High.


  • I had forgotten how cruel the film is to Marty (Simon Scuddamore), the teenage "nerd" (he was almost thirty when he acted in this!). The teens who torment Marty might not have meant for the horror that eventually befalls the poor guy to happen exactly as it does, but they sure had their fair share of responsibility in it. The acid to the face and when he touches that hot pipe...Jeebuz!
  • Asking us to believe the cast is a bunch of teenage cutups is requesting us to swallow a lot, but the opening sequence is primarily about fifteen or so minutes. After that, it is like ten years later. 
  • One thing I noticed was that composer Harry Manfredini just can't summon up a score that doesn't cry out fucking "Friday the 13th". But the high school, all in ruins and abandoned, is my kind of setting for a slasher / horror show.
  • Having a location like the old high school, left to collect dust and rats, is all dark and filthy, halls that make turns into other halls, rooms which are empty and black, perfect for anyone to leap out from them. Not only can you scare somebody but kill their ass, too. As Marty in his awesome court jester mask does.

  • You know I noticed that even pieces of music from House (1986) makes its way into Slaughter High.
  • There is a lot of full frontal nudity here. Marty is the victim as his naked body, that schlong wagging, is exposed to the April Fools Day pranksters. The nasty acid bath has the female victim has her fully exposed bush right out there as her cries from the agony of what her flesh is experiencing with all the burn exploits Marty's handiwork.

The Dark Stormy Night: After Midnight (1989)














While I think the film is merely okay (I have a write-up for the film forthcoming), I do think there’s some good stuff in “After Midnight” (1989). The preparation for the storytelling at the professor’s house, for example, is lit to exploit that old mainstay: the dark, stormy night. The thunder and lightning pick up, and soon the rain. The students gather at their rather creepy professor’s home to swap tales that bring a gulp to the throat (well, supposedly. I guess it all depends on whether or not this film’s tales will do that for you. Time will tell). The lighting is so that it hues faces and establishes the ominous confines of a man with a presence quite sinister. That’s the point of Jim and Ken Wheat’s casting of Ramy Zada. He is supposed to look and act like someone who could slit your throat and smile afterward. While I didn’t think much of Jillian McWhirter as the lead with a “bad feeling”, she does share this odd attachment with Zada that is palpable. She has a secret that she can’t put a finger on while he has the agenda of seeing those in his attendance scared. Perhaps they will have something that converges at the end, illuminated slightly when gathered in his home. It is an air of mystery that the film does through a dance of visual cues and lighting.

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