The Prowler (1981)

The Prowler (1981) movie poster

director  Joseph Zito
viewed: 07/26/2018

The more I delve into classic slashers, the more I realize that most of my previous “back in the day” experience was tied to the  bigger franchises, rather than the one-offs and unique individual films. It’s another argument against corporate franchises, in my book. No matter the individual qualities, these one-off slashers have something unique about them.

Absolutely, The Prowler (1981) shines brightest around the FX work of Tom Savini. Seriously vivid viscera and evisceration.

But there is definitely more than gore to The Prowler. Director Joseph Zito and cinematographer João Fernandes effect some amazing sequences. That swimming pool death scene might well be the most aesthetically beautiful death in the genre.

I also liked the some of the little bits and pieces, like the hilarious scene with the fat hick cop pretending to check on the sheriff, while really just goofing off.

Nice stuff.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) movie poster

director Joseph Zito
viewed: 12/20/2016

If you think about it, it’s kind of clever to have The Final Chapter before the halfway point of your film series.  Like the makers of the Friday the 13th movies, I guess I had no idea when they’d finally think that the series was totally bankrupt and out of breath.  I wasn’t even sure.  Had I seen this one?

Turns out I had.

It’s easy to see why it’s popular with some fans. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter has a good cast, not just young Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman, but other familiar faces like Lawrence Monoson or Bruce Mahler.  And behind the scenes Tom Savini.  It also features the strange addendum of watching old porn movie reels.

Director Joseph Zito keeps the pace popping along, sometimes making some of the kills a little perfunctory even.

That final kill, that effect is pretty slick.  And that final shot of evil Corey Feldman.  Most memorable moments from episode 4, The Final Chapter.

Effects (1978)

Effects (1978) DVD cover

director Dusty Nelson
viewed: 12/11/2016

Effects is a curious, ambitious meta-thriller made in 1978 but not released until 2005.  Not exactly “art house” material, Effects features embedded film-within-a-film motifs that play out as the interior film is captured by a crew, detailing a murder, playing with narrative and levels of reality.  Because beyond those two levels, there is yet another level at which a “snuff” film is being made.

For a film that never got released in its day, it’s a polished and complex work.  Sure it’s not exactly your typical slasher or thriller, but god knows the quantity of much worse films that found their way into movie houses or video players.

It features some notable character actors, including a young Tom Savini before he was entirely dedicated to visual effects.  And it stems from a Pittsburgh-oriented independent filmmaking cadre, which sounds interesting (apparently the DVD has a documentary that delves into this — wasn’t available on Fandor.  Would be interesting.)

How many other lost (or hidden) films exist out there?  Probably most won’t come to the level of quality and creativity that Effects strove for, if only partially achieved.  Definitely interesting.

The Burning (1981)

The Burning (1981) movie poster

director Tony Maylam
viewed: 10/24/2015

Who knew that The Burning, a solid slasher from the true heyday of the genre, was the first big feature film for the Miramax boys Harvey and Bob Weinstein?  And rather than hunting for films already made or talent already in development, the story emanated right from their heads, Bob even co-screen credit.

When the drunken camp handyman gets horribly burned by a prank gone awry, he somehow manages to survive his injuries, break loose upon New York City (briefly) and then take out his vengeance on all the campers he can get his trimming shears on.  That’s about all the story you need in a movie like this.

Loosely based on the Staten Island urban legend of Cropsey (given its due in the 2009 documentary of the same name), The Burning also features such unusual early roles for the likes of Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens, and Brian Backer (the latter of Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1981) fame).  On top of all that, the gory FX are crafted by the ever-invented Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead (1978), Maniac (1980) & Friday the 13th (1980), to name but a few).

The early 1980’s are crowded with summer camp slashers, but this is indeed another one that should not be overlooked.  Its connections and competitors have their merits but The Burning is a very competent flick, featuring some good gore moments courtesy of Savini, some gratuitous nudity courtesy of the period, and some good character courtesy of all involved.

Creepshow (1982)

Creepshow (1982) movie poster

director George A. Romero
viewed: 06/13/2015

After watching Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990) a couple weeks back with my daughter, I thought that the kids might enjoy my favorite of these anthology horror films of my era, George A. Romero’s 1982 Creepshow.  I’ve long had a soft spot for Creepshow.  My best friend of the time and I were into comic books and we’d read the Creepshow comic book/graphic novel, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, several times over in bookstores and comic shops prior to seeing the film.

I had even regaled my kids with the story of how my friend and I went to see the movie and, sitting next to me, my friend said, “Right here, here’s when the hand bursts out of the grave!” followed by a shriek of his own, still pent up despite knowing what was going to happen.  I’ve often fondly remembered that moment.

Steeped heavily in the lurid tones and aesthetics of EC Comics, Creepshow is a wonderful paean to the scary, super-dark horror comics that it emulates.  Clara really enjoyed the way that some scenes shifted to drawings and comic panels, or even multiple scenes played in comic panels, echoing the comic book from which the stories meant to arise.

Creepshow features a great cast, the likes of Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nielsen, E.G. Marshall, and a young Ted Danson.  It also features some awesome traditional FX from master Tom Savini.  It’s pretty darned entertaining.

I’ve always been partial to the 4th story in the set, “The Crate”, in which a long shelved primate with huge teeth is discovered in a box under a university science department’s stairs, and kills with hungry aplomb when he’s finally given freedom.  I think I had more mixed feelings about each installment, but now, decades since I last saw the film, I think the whole thing is just peachy.  In fact, I liked it so much I’m even considering checking out Creepshow 2 (1987), which I never did see (and think isn’t supposed to be nearly so good.)

Friday the 13th (1980)

Friday the 13th (1980) movie poster

director Sean S. Cunningham
viewed: 05/31/2013

Funny thing about Friday the 13th, which went from slasher movie to slasher movie franchise by releasing nearly a movie per year throughout the 1980’s, is that though it also spawned an iconic image of the “slasher” (hockey mask and all), it doesn’t begin to feature a hockey mask and in this film, the eventual icon, Jason Voorhees, isn’t even the killer.  It’s his mom, all along.

Oh right, spoiler alert.

Actually, I think that when I first saw Friday the 13th whenever it was, on cable no doubt, the twist at the end was quite surprising.  Now it’s just a bit of a funny quirk.  Though the movie’s soundtrack, by Harry Manfredini, yanks a number of screeching violins from Bernard Herrmann’s classic and influential Psycho (1960), which with the reverse of the mommy killing for the son, sort of makes sense.  Manfredini added in the “ch-ch-ch-ch” element, which earned its own level of creepiness for those about to be skewered.

It’s quite a decent film, actually.

A few weeks ago, I got tipped over into going back and watching “the slasher film”, by stumbling onto My Bloody Valentine (1981) and I’ve decided to venture down into the genre in a more earnest way.  Initially, I was going to try to go chronologically, which is why I queued up Bob Clarke’s Black Christmas (1974), but for some reason, I decided to jump ahead to Friday the 13th.  I think as a teen, I thought that the first two were pretty good.  We’ll see because I’ve queued up Part 2 for a coming showing.

Camp Crystal Lake in the film isn’t actually the Camp Crystal Lake of my childhood.  The film was shot in New Jersey, not Florida.  This is a well-embedded misperception perhaps engendered in an outright lack of information.

It does indeed feature a very young Kevin Bacon, who gets a very sharp arrow through his throat.

It’s a film that probably helped define the genre, not yet doomed to cliche and lack of imagination.  It’s a key thing, I think, that these first, influential films were actually quite good and somewhat original.  I recall a sense of cynicism in myself by 1982 when the third film was released in 3-D, thinking that it was a sign of the waning imagination of the series.  Third films seemed to be coming out in 3-D, like Jaws 3-D (1983).  I didn’t know the term “jumping the shark” back then but it’s sort of the kind of thought I would have considered.  But indeed, it started as a quite effective thriller, efficient, surprising, and well-crafted.  Not what a lot of critics said at the time.

Maniac

Maniac (1980) movie poster

(1980) director William Lustig
viewed: 12/17/2011

Maniac is not your average slasher film.  It opens with a scene that might suggest otherwise.  A couple on the beach, sleeping out overnight, get stabbed and scalped by a faceless killer.

However, the film isn’t about a faceless killer.  It’s about Frank Zito, a mixture of David Berkowitz and Norman Bates, with a predilection for scalping women and sleeping with mannequins.  He’s played by character actor Joe Spinell, who also co-wrote the script.  And the film is about the killer.  The only other people who show up are either victims or potential victims.  We don’t have a heroine who we follow throughout, hoping she gets away.  We don’t have a cop or anyone hunting him down.  We just have this overweight, blue collar, middle aged schlub of a killer, rife with Mommy issues.

In a sense, it’s a very realistic portrayal of a serial killer, someone who can appear “normal” on the outside, but is driven by whatever demons.  For Zito, his mother was a tramp who abused him and died in a tragic accident when he was still a child. He’s all about the abandonment issues and carries on dialogues with his mother and his imaginary girlfriends.  He’s almost sympathetic.  More just pathetic, but it’s quite a contrast to the faceless, voiceless, personality-less maniacs who menaced the slasher genre.

The film also features some pretty effective gore.  Special effects master, Tom Savini, pulls off some gruesome scalps and even has his own head shotgun-blasted in one of the film’s signature scenes.

It comes from director William Lustig, he of Maniac Cop (1988) fame.  And Maniac Cop 2 (1990).  And Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1993).  I guess he likes the word “maniac”.

Maniac is an oddity.  Not a bad oddity, just unusual.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) movie poster

(1986) dir. Tobe Hooper
viewed: 08/17/02

Thirteen years after the original, Tobe Hooper did what most people should never do: messed with a classic. Even if it was his classic.

I recall seeing this film on video, probably not long after its initial release. I remembered that it wasn’t very good. Apparently, I remembered correctly.

This film seems to be a response to the midnight movie culture that grew up around the original. All the characters are more hyperbolic, more purely comical, reinterpreted, if you will. Things seem to be played much more for laughs. In fact, it struck me that the cannibal family began to resemble the Marx Brothers, with the mute Harpo-like Leatherface, the manic Zeppo-like “Chop Top”, the mile-a-minute verbalizer and ringmaster “Cook” is almost Groucho-like. Of course, with a lot of gruesome perversity thrown in.

The film is shot mostly on sets, very unlike the original which used its rural Texas landscape to add an amount of “realism” to its happenings. The detachment from any natural, recognizable location suggests that this film is far more pure fantasy than the first, another significant departure in intent.

There is also much more explicit gore and “special effects”, which the original didn’t rely on as much.

Though there are many departures from the original, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 drifts into a similar narrative finale, a culminating “dinner” scene, which seems more an homage to the original than anything.

Dennis Hopper shows up as a ranting “hero”, clearly as crazy as the cannibals that he hopes to slaughter, toting his own set of chainsaws in holsters like a wild west sheriff. This film was interestingly released in 1986, the same year that Hopper appeared in Blue Velvet and The River’s Edge, which were both a part of a big resurgence for his career, I believe.

Tobe Hooper never has regained the “magic” of his original film, though he did produce a few other interesting films such as Poltergeist (1982) and Lifeforce (1985), though Poltergeist is far more a Steven Spielberg film than a Tobe Hooper film, one might say.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is not a good film, especially when compared with its predecessor. But it is not totally lacking in entertainment value. It’s probably best watched as a black comedy.