The 2018 Slasher Franchise Project – In The Beginning

I’ve officially kicked off this year’s attempt at tackling The Great Slasher Franchise Project. Feel free to read the whole post, but if you don’t here’s the gist. For the second year in a row, I’m watching a whole mess of slasher franchises in the order they were released. Since I watched most of the biggies last year, this one is filled with a wide range of films ranging in release from 1974 all the way up to last year. To see the full list, check out the Google Docs spreadsheet I made and click on the 2018 tab at the bottom.

I got the ball rolling and started with what will mostly likely remain the best film of the bunch, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released in 1974. To my surprise, I’ve never written about this film specifically here on UM. That stems from the fact that I don’t actually watch it that often and also don’t know what I might add to the conversation when it comes to one of the most loved and effective horror films of all time.

Here are some quick thoughts about the film. Marilyn Burns put it all out on the field with this gut-wrenching performance. Franklin might be the most unlikable character in film history. I wonder if the film would hit for a younger audience with some of its more arch characters. I remembered the suffocating chainsaw sounds in the last third of the film, but was impressed with that additions when she met the old man. It’s interesting that there are no living females in this family. Jim Siedow’s turn as Old Man from kindly helper to bat-shit bonkers is chilling. With all due respect to Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface, Edwin Neal’s Hitchhiker might be the scariest/craziest character in the film. Why doesn’t the truck driver haul ass out of there?

As it happens, I then jumped six years until 1980 where I encountered Paul Lynch’s Prom Night starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen a few years before he fully dove into the wonderful world of slapstick. This is another film that I’ve never written about her on the site before, but only because I saw it for the first time a few years before starting UM. I actually remember renting a really bad VHS copy with my buddy Rickey when we were roommates, but not much else about the film.

It turns out that, even when I’ve got a clean-looking version to watch on Amazon Video, it’s still a bit of a hard film to follow. This one’s about a group of kids playing a super creepy game where one of them’s a killer that tragically ends when a young girl falls out the window of an abandoned building. We then jump ahead to these kids in high school getting ready for the prom and falling prey to a masked killer. There are a few shots that clearly state which teen was which kid, but I was muddled on how JLC’s character fit in.

Having just watched TCM, I thought it was interesting that the kids’ “kill” chant takes on a similar feel as Leatherface’s chainsaw, wherein both felt anxious and suffocating. There’s also a motif of going out of windows that both films share, though with different results. Of course, the two films that Prom Night gets compared to the most are Carrie and Halloween. I feel like the former comparisons simply stem from the longstanding difficulties of being in high school, while the latter is actually used to throw people off the scent of what’s really going on as there’s an escaped killer on the loose who might be the one responsible for the current swath of killings even if that wouldn’t make much sense given the prank phone calls and year book pictures being cut out and taped up in lockers. 

While not my favorite slasher, I do consider this one to be a solid entry in the genre. The escaped killer stuff felt tacked-on, but then again, one of the few memories I had of the film actually revolved around the killer’s identity. I also think it did a nice job of understanding the tropes of the still relatively young genre and playing with them, while also delivering on what fans wanted. 

My travels then took me to 1982 where I became reacquainted with Amy Holden Jones’ Slumber Party Massacre. I actually wrote about this one a whopping 8 years ago when the DVD box set came out and had a lot of the same thoughts then as I did this time around (I guess I’m getting consistent in my old age).

The plot here’s pretty basic. A madman by the name of Russ Thorn just broke out and has decided to go on a rampage that coincides with a group of high school girls sleeping over at a friends’ house together. Calamity ensues.

A lot of the “problems” with this film — too many fake-outs in the the first third, the gonzo killer, the nods to other movies and the seemingly endless failed attempts to take out the killer — stem from the fact that it was actually written as a parody, but shot like a straight-ahead horror film. I had to remind myself of that when I would get a little bored here and there.

Actually, the more I think about it, the fact that Thorn — a guy who dresses not unlike Michael Myers and uses a power tool like Leatherface, but doesn’t bother with a mask — is just going nuts on whoever he can find is pretty enjoyable. When you think about it, he could have been caught at any moment. Unlike Myers, he’s not calculating. He’s not wearing a mask on Halloween, he’s just running around a school knocking off whoever he can get his hands on. He also shares Myers’ flair for the dramatic at times and you even get to watch him set up for a surprise kill which is something I can’t remember seeing in another slasher flick. Upon further reflection, his chaotic nature makes him even scarier, but I had to think on it a bit.

That brings us to the our November 1983 release, and one of my all-time favorite bug-nutty movies: Sleepaway Camp. Yes, I’ve waxed rhapsodic on this one already, but did have a few more thoughts on this Robert Hiltzik-helmed project.

If you’re not familiar, Sleepaway Camp revolves around a young girl named Angela who lived through the death of her father and sibling during a childhood boating accident. She moved in with her aunt and cousin and now, years later, the awkward young woman accompanies her cuz to a summer camp chockablock full of absolute scumbags who start getting killed in horrible, but still deserving ways.

What really struck me this time around is just how terrible the women in this film are treated, for the most part, both by lecherous or greedy men as well as other females. I’m sure I noticed those bits and pieces before, but this time they turned into a tapestry exemplifying all of the crap women have to deal with in the world and it bummed me out. I’d imagine this one’s trigger warning central and should probably be avoided. Still, I find it so odd and boasting a surprisingly deep context thanks to a few scenes here and there, that I like coming back to every few years or so.

Finally I moved to November of 1984 Silent Night, Deadly Night, which I wrote about here. Fun fact: I wound up taking possession of the Wizard library copy of the first two films in this series. Well, maybe that’s only fun for me.

Anyway, this time around, I found this one difficult to watch. Billy goes through so much terrible shit that you want to be on his side, but once he snaps, there’s very little defending him as he starts killing indiscriminately. At that point, I realized that, instead of trying to present a sympathetic character, this film and director Charles E Sellier, Jr. seem more interested in presenting a holiday-themed blueprint for creating a madman. That’s not generally the kind of film I’m interested in watching, but I will probably keep coming back to this film for the toy store scenes along. Where else can you see Mickey Mouse, the Smurfs, Star Wars characters and two wildly out of place and super creepy inflatable purple Easter bunnies all in one film?

With the first five films of the project in the bag, I’m not sure I’ve found any mind-blowing coincidences or connections. All of these films are about mentally unbalanced people preying on young people or said young people developing their own murderous tendencies. They all seem to lack parental oversight, forcing the young people to fend for themselves. All five also kicked off franchises that had healthy enough lives throughout the decade to keep them going and even lead to remakes in three out of five cases. We’re still fairly early on in the genre and will jump ahead to the latter half of the decade with the next batch which kicks off with our first sequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Now I just need to get my hands on a copy! And it’ll only get more wild from there.

Halloween Scene: Ten Notable Movies That Scared This Jaded Horror Fan

I’ve seen a lot of horror movies since I started getting into the genre around the age of 16. Like a lot of horror fans, I feel like I’ve become somewhat jaded over the years. Once you see enough of these things, you can see the Matrix a little bit and know when a scare is coming — if you can tell the difference between an impending jump scare and a legit one, you’ve got the super scardar. And yet, there are still the scenes that scared us when we started out and even though they’re fewer and farther between these days, the new films that still give us the willies or come out of nowhere to spook us. I figured with Halloween still in the air — and inspired by awesome horror blogger Stacie Ponder doing something similar over on her excellent Final Girl blog — I’d run down the ten movies that scared me over the years. I’m sure there’s more out there in the world, but these are the ones that came to mind, either because they entered my life at just the right time, scared me for a moment or created an atmosphere that still ooks me out to this day. So, in no particular order, here’s the ten movies the still spook me in no particular order. Consider yourself warned, spoilers abound after the jump!

Continue reading Halloween Scene: Ten Notable Movies That Scared This Jaded Horror Fan

Halloween Scene: Sleepaway Camp III (1990) & Return To Sleepaway Camp (2008)

In 2002 I was home from college working at the Bagel Place with my friend Shannon, the one who originally told me about Sleepaway Camp (as I mentioned yesterday). While working one day I made a joke about there being a Sleepaway Camp box set in the works with all three movies. It seemed like a ridiculous thing to say because who cared about these movies but me and her? Literally the next day I looked at the weekly Best Buy ad and, much to my shock, I saw that there was indeed a box set with all the movies, plus a disc of footage they shot of a proposed fourth movie that ran out of money. I bought it when it came out the next Tuesday, which meant that I got the one with the red cross on it and not the cleaned up one after the Red Cross sued. I’m pretty sure that was the first DVD set I bought and definitely the first horror one. As it turned out, the footage for the fourth movie was boring and repetitive, they included every scrap of film they shot, so you have like four takes of a girl running through the woods one after the other. It’s not very interesting.

In fact, neither is Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, unfortunately. I was shocked to read the other day that SC 2 and 3 were actually filmed back to back because Angela looks much older in 3 (maybe it’s that awful haircut). The story also just feels so much shittier, the characters even more one dimensional and a basic plot set up that feels exactly like that. Basic.

Here’s the deal, even though the events of the last movie only occurred a year ago (remember, every single camper and councilor was murdered) an older couple bought the camp, renamed it and decided on a theme: mixing rich suburban kids with poor urban kids in the woods! Meanwhile, in New York City, Angela kills one of the urban girls who looks very much like her (read: same awful hair, somewhat similar build) with a stolen garbage truck so she can take her place at the camp. Once all the good and bad kids are at the camp, they very conveniently split up. The horny old guy owner takes one group, the lazy woman take another and a third councilor, a cop, takes the last group and they all go to different places in the woods which are apparently far enough away from each other that one group can hear the other’s screams. By the way, the cop supposedly was one of the guys who arrested Angela in the first movie, his son was the Final Girl’s boyfriend in the second movie and now he’s got this desire to help kids not get killed…or something. It turns out that every single camper and the old couple all have some murder-worthy fault in Angela’s mind. The kills are a mix of good and bad. The ones where she runs the girl up the flagpole and drops her is pretty cool as is the one with the lawnmower, but those are the only two coming to mind and I just watched it.

Aside from those few fun kills, the movie just kept bugging the crap out of me. Angela and the other kids all seemed way too hammy and I didn’t care about anyone. The characters in the previous movie felt much more real and enjoyable, but not so this time around. Even the Final Girl wasn’t nearly as interested this time around. She was just so flat and boring and I should like her because she’s from Ohio, but I just didn’t care anymore. They gave her a little interesting bit of a twist at the end when she revealed to the dude who just helped save her life and who also wants to move from LA to Ohio to be with her that she has a boyfriend. That’s some cold shit.

I had two other problems with the movie that the movie tries to answer. First off, like I said before, Angela looks way older than a high school student. Many characters mention this and Angela comes up with a jokey explanation. My other problem is that no one knows what Angela looks like. She killed all these people last year, was in an institution for a while, yet no one knows what she looks like? The cop says her records were closed after she turned 18, but that doesn’t sound right to me. If I reopened an old murder camp, I wouldn’t let anyone who even remotely matches the description on my camp. Oh well, moving on.

I first watched Return To Sleepaway Camp, which was shot in 2003, but didn’t come out until 2008, with Rickey at my inlaws house over the Thanksgiving weekend a couple years back. My memories of that weekend, where we watched a boatload of horror movies are great and I remember being impressed with the movie. Watching it again a few years later, I still liked it, but man, this is one mean movie. Original writer and director Robert Hiltzik came back to the series he created with a sequel that ignores SC 2 and 3 completely. In this case, Angela has been locked up since the murders, but she’s not forgotten especially by Ronnie (one of the many returning characters from the first flick) who’s a junior partner to Vincent Pastore’s camp owner. The story really focuses on Alan, the camp’s whipping boy who seems to be getting crazier and crazier the more he’s picked on. Unlike Angela in the first movie, though, Alan’s not exactly a sympathetic character. In fact, he’s just as big of an asshole as everyone else. I was immediately not on his side because they introduce him as an asshole and then try to make him a victim, which doesn’t really work.

Soon enough, bad things start happening to Alan’s enemies, which draws our suspicion towards him especially after Picket Fences‘ Adam Wiley gets pumped full of gasoline and exploded with a cigarette. Ronnie starts thinking something’s up and brings up Angela to the funny looking cop who’s been hanging around lately. As more and more of Alan’s enemies get killed and our kind of sort of Final Girl Karen (Alan’s crush) almost gets killed, the tension gets ratcheted up until the final scene when SPOILER it’s revealed that Angela is actually the cop with the too-big nose using the external voice box. My biggest problem with the ending is that it ends on the reveal but doesn’t do anything with it. Ronnie’s standing there with Ricky (yes, the kid from the first movie has grown up to become a much worse actor) and another girl to see the reveal and then it’s over. I wanted to see Ronnie tackle her and maybe Ricky try to stop her, but nope, nothing happens. Game over.

The tag on the DVD box is “Kids can be so mean,” and damn if that’s not true. This movie has a kid skinning live frogs and throwing them at his step brother. But, the kills are pretty great, though the inclusion of some lame looking CGI is not appreciated (especially in the aforementioned explosion scene). On smaller horror movies like this practical is always better and I read that in the time between shooting and the movie coming out, the CG stuff was added. Not a good call. Aside from that, though, you’ve got a lot of assholes getting killed in various ways: explosions, nail bed, barbed wire neck tie and the like. The creative kills really help the movie. What I think hurts the movie, though, is the character of Alan. They really fumbled by making him such a punchable ass. You hate this kid from the minute he’s on screen and then you’re supposed to feel bad for him when he awkwardly fumbles after the hottest girl at camp? Come on. Wash your shirt, change your clothes and stop being a jackass and then I might care. I get that we’re supposed to think he’s capable of murder, but when you spend an entire movie hoping to see someone get killed for sucking and then he’s not even the bad guy, it takes something out of the movie.

All in all, I liked this movie, though it had it’s problems (oh, also, no nudity, I’m sure some of you were wondering about that) the gonzo kills put it in the plus column for me, which makes this series 3 out of 4 as far as me liking them, which is pretty good for a horror series. 75% goodness, not bad.

Halloween Scene: Sleepaway Camp (1983) & Sleepaway Camp II (1988)

I have a very fond, yet weird memory of the first time I saw Sleepaway Camp. In high school, my friend Shannon had another group of friends and they watched the movie. She told me it was super weird and crazy, but also sported one of the most disturbing endings around. Soon after, I rented the flick from Family Video (they used to have two VHS rentals for a buck, so I could get a ton at once) and watched it at around 3AM in my room, alone. The movie was a pretty good camp slasher flick with some really big mind screws, but the ending came out of nowhere and completely surprised me. More on that in a bit.

The movie opens with a man swimming with his son and daughter in a lake until an out of control boat runs into them, killing the father and son. From there we skip ahead to the girl’s early teen years. She’s living with her ultra-weird aunt and her cousin Ricky. Angela’s really shy, but her aunt is sending the kids off to camp (it’s Angela’s first time, but Ricky’s been there a lot, not really sure what the reason for that is). Anyway, at camp, the quiet Angela is nearly silent and awkward, picked on by other kids and almost molested by the camp’s cook but also starts having a little thing going with Ricky’s friend. Meanwhile, the people who mess with Angela start dying. The movie doesn’t really lean too hard into one direction or another with suspects, going so far as to offer up other crazy people like councilor Meg who has an irrational hatred for Angela and Mozart, the other picked on kid who has a knife. But really, who else would go after the people that specifically messed with Angela.

Last time I watched SC with my buddy Rickey, I didn’t like it as much, but this time around, I found myself digging the movie again. It’s probably better than the majority of the F13 sequels and actually features a camp with campers and the whole thing. I also really dig that the kids act like real people. Pranks are pulled, curses are thrown around and insults hurled. This is how kids are, sometimes they’re dicks. I was also impressed with the effects, especially when the ultra creepy chimo cook gets boiling water splashed all over him. You can actually see the wounds pulsing! Good work. It’s not a perfect movie, though, especially if you like to think logically. Once they discover something’s up and people are being killed, the camp doesn’t lock down and start calling parents. Sure they consolidate some bunks, but they still have the little kids head out into the woods for a trip (most of them get axed to death because they threw sand at Angela) and they allow the older kids to keep wandering around and sneaking out. It’s a bit ridiculous.

Okay, so back to that ending. SPOILERS if you care. As it turns out, the girl in the beginning of the movie didn’t survive, the boy did. He got sent to live with his crazy aunt, but the aunt already had a boy, so she made Angela grow up as a little girl. At the end of the movie councilor Ronnie (who looks like one of the old bosses at Wizard) and another girl come up to the beach where Angela’s holding the boy and stroking his head, but it turns out she’s cut his head off. Then she stands up and you see that her body’s all hairy and she has a penis. He face turns into this crazy death mask and the screen freezes, then tints green for the credits. When I first watched this, like I said, I was alone and I couldn’t find my damn remote, so I had to watch that damn green face for way longer than I wanted to. It wasn’t nearly as scary on another viewing, but it did remind me of when it did, which was kind of fun.

There are three things that stuck with me about Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers from the first watching: the cover with the Jason mask and Freddy glove, the fact that Bruce Springsteen’s sister Pamela starred in it and that SPOILER Angela straight-up murdered every single camper, councilor and anyone else at the camp.

Overall, the story of SC 2 doesn’t make a ton of sense. After the events of the first movie, Angela went into a loonie bin where she received treatment and even a surgery. Now she’s a councilor at a camp, but starts murdering anyone who is bad in even the most limited sense of the word. Why would someone who was emotionally terrorized at a camp want to return to one? Who would hire a murderer who killed people at a camp to be a councilor? Why is Angela all of a sudden such a moral person? Before she only killed people who wronged her (even in a remote way, remember the sand throwing children?). I know I’m putting too much thought into this. What you’re really wondering is “how are the kills and are there boobs?” Pretty good and yes.

Since nearly everyone at the camp is kind of asshole, it’s not super bothersome to see them die, but there are a few I didn’t want to see die, especially the Final Girl who is really cute and likeable. Sure, it’s very obvious she’s the FG, but I liked her and the dude she was falling for.

Overall, I can’t say that SC 2 is a GOOD movie, but I think it’s a fun movie. Forget the logic gaps, there’s plenty of kills, some funny moments and enough background characters I liked to get me through it, something I can’t say about the 3rd movie, which I’ll talk about tomorrow. There’s definitely some nostalgia mixed in there as I rented this one after seeing the first one and dug it back then. I’ve said this before, but a lot of times, it’s the order that you see things in and not necessarily the quality of them. I definitely have more fond memories of this movie than I do most of the Friday sequels, but that’s just me. More on the other movies and my history with them tomorrow!

Halloween Scene: Going To Pieces (2006)

Are you guys psyched? It’s almost October and you know what that means? Hundreds and hundreds of horror movie reviews on blogs just like this one. After a brief sabbatical from horror, I’m back in the game myself as any regular reader might have noticed. So much so, that I’ve actually got a list on my computer with all the backed-up reviews I want to do. One such movie is Going To Pieces: The Rise And Fall Of The Slasher Film (note to NetBox users, it’s missing the “Going To Pieces” title in the beginning, but, as far as I know, it’s still on there). Holy crap, this is a great movie.

I haven’t seen too many documentaries about horror, in fact, I haven’t seen too many docs on the whole, but that’s for another day. What I loved about this movie is that it doesn’t just cover the obvious like Halloween and Friday the 13th. You also get fairly long segments from the likes of Jeff Katz (a dude I got to interview before being bounced from Wizard, who was rad) and the girl who starred in Sleepaway Camp on movies like Sleepaway Camp and Slumber Party Massacre. These are the weird slasher flicks that I cut my horror teeth on back at the Family Video in Toledo and it’s cool to see other people talking about them with such gusto.

You also get a look at horror luminaries like John Carpenter and Wes Craven today, which is interesting. One problem I had with the movie is that they didn’t show who each person was on a regular basis. So, seeing as how I was working on the computer part of the time and have a generally crappy memory, I had no idea who the tall man sporting sunglasses and long white hair was until the very end, and it turned out to be Carpenter.

Like I said, though, I loved this movie and it is an absolute must for slasher fans. I was even jazzed to find out that movies I have only seen recently like Graduation Day, The Burning, April Fool’s Day & My Bloody Valentine. It’s also a great way to check out new movies to add to your “to see” list, though beware of spoilers. Now I gotta check out Happy Birthday To Me! Thanks Going To Pieces!