On this week’s episode of the podcast, I’m celebrating a quintet of women horror directors whose work has blown me away recently. I’m talking Chelsea Stardust, Nia DaCosta, Danishka Esterhazy, Leigh Janiak and Jackie Kong!
Throughout the episode, I mentioned the following episodes:
Hi there cats and kittens, this week’s episode of The High Five podcast gets hep with a quintet of musicals from the 1980s that have roots going back to the 1950s! We have Happy Days and Grease to thank for these, plus the eventual power that kids who grew up in that older decade had in the latter one! This one was a real wild trip, but I had a gas putting it together!
Oh and if you want to list to the Spotify playlist I put together based on some of these films’ soundtracks, check it out!
Here’s a few cool pieces of Little Shop Of Horrors art too!
Here’s the funny thing about trying to tackle a big movie-watching project like this starting in September: the movies appearing on streaming change wildly when October finally hits. So, when it came to watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, I wound up running into a few problems. It wasn’t streaming anywhere for free, so I figured I’d buy a copy. The Blu-ray I grabbed on Amazon wound up not playing on my player, so I rolled over to FYE and got a DVD copy. This doesn’t sound like an epic journey, per se, but it took about a week! And now that movie’s streaming on both Hulu and Amazon Video.
This particular five pack of films all came out in 1986 and 1987 and features only one franchise kick-off accompanied by four part 2s. Only one of those sequels features the original director returning and only one could avoid the label of “bonkers” in my opinion. Let’s jump in.
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.
I haven’t been as excited about a lower level slasher box set like the Slumber Party Massacre Collection from Shout Factory since earlier this decade when I heard about the upcoming Sleepaway Camp set, which I bought so fast I got the blood Red Cross version before it got yanked for legal reasons.
It’s funny because at the local video store where I really cut my teeth on horror, the SLC movies were the shelf above the SPM flicks. With covers like you see to your left and a suggestive title, 16 and 17 year old me was all over the first two SPM movies after getting over the initial embarrassment of renting them. I watched the first two (can’t remember if Family Video had the third one at the time) and considered the second movie one of the worst I’d ever seen. As very long time readers might remember, I reviewed SPM 2 two years ago when talking about the then-most recent Manly Movie Night. So, this review will cover the first and third movies in these ultra-weird series as well as the commentary for the second flick. Let’s jump in.
I think watching the first movie again was the first time since that initial viewing, but I still remembered a lot of the bits: the cat scare, the scene in the gym, the creepy neighbor, the garment bag gag (freaking genius) and the killer’s Canadian tuxedo outfit. You can check out the NSFW trailer here.
The story follows a group of girls trying to have a sleepover which keeps getting interrupted by boys and an escaped maniac picking people off one by one with a drill (mostly). The movie gets a bad rap for being sexist or whatever, but it was written and directed by a woman, plus the young ladies in this movie fair far better than the boys. The movie’s also a lot of fun, well acted (none of these kids make me want to punch them in the face), suspenseful, funny and with its fair share of gory kills. Oh, I forgot to mention, the new girl in school lives next door to the party house and she spends a lot of time with her younger sister who seems like a tomboy at first, but turns out to be a Playgirl enjoying character with plenty of good lines. The sisterly relationship was fantastic.
Word has it that the movie was written as a satire but filmed straight which might explain a few scenes like why the girls are reading the newspaper during a sleepover and why one of them not only eats a slice of pizza that the dead pizza boy brought into the house (by falling forward) but also left the box on his chest. These bits really cracked me up as did the one with the girl in the fridge. My only real problem with the movie comes at the end when the Final Girl brandishes what looks like a safari sword that’s not just sharp, but sharp enough to cut through bone AND metal. But hey, whatever, after being pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the movie (and not just for the T&A) a few question marks didn’t bother me too much.
The second SPM might be one of the weirdest, out of nowhere sequels I’ve ever seen that actually has legit ties back to the original (Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 is pretty far up on that list too). See, the younger of the two neighbor girls is now a teenager who is played by the lovely Crystal Bernard as opposed to the girl in the first one who looked like Richie Cunningham’s sister Joanie. Anyway, she’s having some crazy dreams but doesn’t let that stop her from going on a vacation with her friends to a condo where their all girl rock band can practice. The dreams get worse and right after getting in bed with a guy, the new driller killer pops out of her head and starts killing people with that bitchin’ BC Rich drill guitar. The killer comes off as if Freddy Krueger just got back from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, speaking almost entirely in rock quotes, wearing leather and even doing a little dance number. It’s this level of ridiculousness that made me think this movie was one of the worst I’d ever seen. Mind you, I hadn’t seen a lot of movies back then, and definitely not Troll 2. The movie got lots of groans at Manly Movie Night, but I actually really enjoyed watching it while listening to the commentary (each movie in this set has a commentary by the way).
The commentary has the director, one of the slumber partiers and a few people who worked behind the scenes. There’s a lot of calling out where things were shot and talk of how they didn’t have permits to shoot a lot of things, but you also hear how some of the special effects worked and, most importantly, more of an explanation of the story. The filmmakers explained that the trauma that Bernard’s character suffered when she was younger were wreaking havoc on her psyche now, creating this weird character who didn’t want her hooking up with some guy. Once the sex stuff actually comes into the play, bam, it’s out there in reality. I’m not saying it’s this amazing piece of psychologically profound, but hearing where the creators were coming from was definitely interesting and shed new light on the proceedings, making me want to give it another view at some point in the future.
The third installment in the series left me pretty bored and annoyed though. First off, the group of characters this time around just don’t seem fun or interesting. They’re kind of vapid assholes with bad actors portraying them, which doesn’t help matters. The other problem is that, while the movie doesn’t have any direct connection to the first two that I noticed, it does borrow/steal a lot of the elements: the killer kills with a drill (though not all the time), a garment bag is utilized, there’s an unnecessary and awkward dance scene (both more awkward and unnecessary than the one in 2) and my least favorite horror trope, jerky cops who think the kids are lying. Hell, there’s even a closet scene that can’t help but be compared to the classic one in the original Halloween. Number one rule for horror movies: don’t steal the most iconic scenes in the best horror movies of all time.
Anyway, there’s an overly complicated origin story behind the killer who was seemingly molested by his cop uncle which drove him to meet up with the girl having the party and kill everyone inside. He starts screaming in a high pitched voice and being more annoying than scary. Just. Plain. Boring. In addition to being filled with slap-worthy characters, scenes from other movies and an awful killer, the plot is foreshadowed really heavy handedly. You’ve got one girl telling a guy about the swordfish in the basement. He gets REALLY excited and asks her to show it to him. I was immediately questioning why this dork was so excited about seeing a fish. Turns out it’s in the basement which lead to a kiss, but more “importantly” the girl explaining that there’s all kinds of scuba equipment in the house like a harpoon (GUESS WHAT COMES INTO PLAY LATER!!!). Ugh, it was so forced and awful.
Hmm, positive thoughts, positive thoughts? Oh, I didn’t see the killer’s identity coming, though it was pretty clear that it wasn’t the two “obvious” creeps (one of whom looks a lot like Kurt Cobain). I was also surprised to see so many girls make it to the last few minutes of the movie. Aside from that, though, the third SPM movie follows the strong tradition of 90s entries in franchises completely sucking. The only reason I’d watch this again was with some friends and beer or to watch it with the commentary on. Overall, the set is definitely worth it!