Saturday, July 18, 2009

Body Count (Camping del Terrore) (1987)

In my book, I have a theory that a horror film can sometimes be summed up on its obscurity factor alone. Though I don't have many films on my list that actually prove that, I like to believe that it's fathomable. For example, my previous post for the ultra-obscure Last House on Dead End Street. Had never heard of it until a few years ago, never laid eyes on it until just the other night and though it didn't completely meet my expectations, it came pretty damn close. 
Body Count better known as the awesomely-alternately-titled Camping del Terrore

(Oh, come on, where have you heard of another horror film with a name that is cooler that that?), was one of those films that I'd heard about back in the day but never saw that it really existed. It was one of those that I'd heard about and read about but never really knew if it was a film that was actually in print, or one those that was mere hype. The reason I felt that way was because in all of my years as a horror aficionado, I had never seen, nor to this day have I seen, this film in print be it on VHS or DVD. So I did what every collector would do in this situation: Hit up Ebay. And of course, no luck. And if I did see it for sale, of course it went for silly money.

I posted a note on iMDB about this film and I got an email several weeks later from a fellow collector in the lovely state of New Jersey who told me that he would be happy to forward me a (legitimate) copy of the film to screen for this blog. Of course, I accepted and within about two week's time, I was sitting in front of my big screen television, popping this one in. I will forever hold the grudge against him that he didn't pass along a word of warning about this little ditty.

The plot is quite simple: A gang of college kids take a trip to the dark woods of Colorado during their Summer vacation to sort of "get away" from everything. While scouting the area, they run across a young hitchhiker named Ben who will lead them to his father's campsite out in the country. The place is located in the middle of nowhere and it appears at first glance to be the perfect place to spend the weekend. What these kids don't know is that the camp sort of has a "reputation" that involves an old local legend of a Shaman- half-man, half-beast. to believe, As they spent more time there they all realize one by one that the Shaman is indeed real and it's ready to kill them. Seems like a plot we can all relate to, right? Wow, I couldn't have been more wrong. If you know my taste in old-school horror, there is nothing I love more than to sit with some popcorn, a cold Pepsi and watch a stalk-and-slash film. As cookie-cutter as all stalk-and-slash films are (with the exception of a few hidden gems out there like Curtains and Maniac), I can easily overlook that minor flaw and give the film I'm screening the benefit of the doubt. But this one, sadly, was an exception to the rule.

First of all, the print I received was the darkest, murkiest thing I'd seen since Humongous, a film known for it's dark and almost completely unwatchable night footage. This was just as bad. Some of the death scenes occur at night and it was almost impossible to see what was going on. But that wasn't the most frustrating thing about this film. The pace is quite slow, the storyline wasn't able to keep my attention, but most of all: What a waste of David Hess! Every horror fan who has seen him in film like Last House on the Left or The House on the Edge of the Park knows and loves what this man can bring to a role. Forget Jason and Freddy, Krug was the man you loved to hate! There is brutal honesty when you put Hess in a role, especially as a villain. But to see him in one where he doesn't even play the bad guy? What the hell? I'm not used to seeing him as a passive father. But I digress. The only thing that was worse was knowing that this snoozer was directed by non-other than Cannibal Holocaust director Rugero Deotato who also helmed The House on the Edge of the Park. Let's not go there, shall we?

Long story short, the shaman does still exist (or does he?) and the kids get picked off one by one in bloody fashions blah-blah-blah. Usually in this genre of film there is always at least one thing that I can claim as a redeeming feature be it an actor who I can mark as the "eye candy" of the film (where in this case there was none), or a particular gore scene that caught my eye (where, also, in this case there was none). The only thing that came close was the film's final scene which left the view to decide if the shaman-beast in question really did exist. I can't go as far as to say that this is the worst slasher-in-the-words picture I've seen - that honor goes to The Prey - but it should have been a hell of a lot more than it was. For all the time I spent searching for this - no offense to Michael who was nice enough to send this film to me - there was absolutely no pay off. Unless you're a collector of Deodato's films or are a die-hard David Hess fan, there really is no point in seeking this one out solely on merit alone. As obscure and as hard to find as this film is, after seeing it, I've realized there's a reason...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Last House on Dead End Street (1977)

Hello everyone.

After a brief hiatus, I've decided to return to this little piece of horror hobbying after several months of silence. I've spent some time acquiring some more pieces to add to my collection and this first entry upon my return proves it.

In the horror realm of the seventies and eighties there are those few films who have such a reputation that now, so many years later, horror fans spend countless hours (and unbelievable amounts of money) to get their hands on them. I'd never heard of The Last House on Dead End Street until about a year or two ago when another collector let me in on this almost-forgotten film. I did some research and read about how some horror collectors remember this movie from their childhood and teen-age years, stowing away into the back room of mom and pop video stores and wishing to carry this piece home with them. I was surprised at the fondness of these reminiscences and how dear some people hold this film to their hearts - especially upon reading how rare this film is.

Upon my further research on this one, I found that this film touches one of the most taboo and, at the same time, fascinating horror subject matters: the snuff film. Before getting my hands on this one, I'd sat through the atrocity that is the Findlay mess known as Snuff. I won't get into that one, as I'll save it for it's complete review at a later time. But ever since I first heard of Snuff back in high school, I'd always have this morbid curiosity about the urban myth of the snuff film. Do they really exist? Are there people who make movies that come close and sell them passing them off as the real McCoy? How would you even begin to fathom creating something as horrific as a film where someones actual death would be portrayed on-screen? Is that legal? How would someone even get away with it? All these questions pushed me further and further until I sat in front of a little film called 8MM back in my mid-twenties. Again, not elaborating on that film itself, but that curiosity always stuck with me and sometimes, I'd stay up late at night just thinking about every facet of the subject. It wasn't the actual content that piqued my wanting to know more, it was the actual staging of it, the conception, the writing, the casting. How would it all be carried across? It would cause my heart to race in a way I'd never felt before as a horror fan. Sure, we all like to see how filmmakers are going to kill off the next victim and by which means the execution would take place. But something as mind-baffling as something real happening before your eyes...

I read about this one again some months ago and I began to search for it on-line. As amazing as this is going to sound, I was part of a bidding war on Ebay for a copy of this on VHS (one of the ultra-rare U.S. releases by Sun Video) in which - when I finally withdrew - the asking price for this, again, on VHS, had reached the hundred-dollar mark. And the bidding war was between myself and nine other people. What was so great about this film that had that many people wanting to get their hands on it?

Finally, about three weeks ago, I got an email from a friend, and fellow horror buff, who'd told me he'd gotten a hold of a special edition U.S. DVD release by Barrel Video. He oohed and aahed in delight about how he'd been in the bargain used bin over at the local specialty shop and had seen this just "lying there". He talked about it a little more and the more he spoke, the more intrigued I was. So, the other night, he was kind enough to bring it over and put it in. The following is a very concise review (as best as I can) based on what I've read/heard and what I actually saw:

First of all, according to iMDB, this film is completely pseudonymous - from the director to writer and the complete cast. Nobody who worked on this film used his or her real name in the credits. Just from that mere tidbit of trivia alone was enough to take my curiosity to its peak.

The film opens with a young man, Terry, fresh out of prison, coming back to an old college building in search of an old friend of his who happens to be a filmmaker. Those opening moments set the tone for the entire film. Eerie close-ups of concrete gargoyles, sinister low-fi music with the main character's thoughts echoing throughout, and best of all, terrible, terrible film stock that makes you know the film is going to be sleazy, And boy, does it reek. What transpires in the next hour or so is some of the most bizarre and memorable scenes I've ever witnessed on celluloid.

Terry wants to make snuff films and takes his pals - some of them former business associated - along for the ride to make some money and gain some notoriety. That's pretty much the jist of the film. But what his friends don't know is that they are going to be the cast of these films and that Terry has something set up for each one of them. There is an eeriness to the film that you can't ignore a sort of ominous feeling to the whole thing that tells you right off the bat that you're in for a unique ride. I don't want to give much away because if you're a true die-hard, I believe you should seek this out and see if you can get your hands on it somehow (If you're interested, email me). Terry and his gang of thugs (for lack of a better term) offs the friends one by one in the most brutal of ways, and you sit there and watch them die as the cameraman takes it all in. There are a few scenes that have to be seen to be believed, the kind of scenes that are so horrific that you want to turn away but can't because of how intense and how realistic it all looks. The death scenes are imaginative and you have to wonder what was going through the mind of Mr. Roger Watkins (who came forward just before his own demise in 2007 that he'd helmed the entire thing) at the time of this film's production.

Bottom line: yes, the movie is intense, especially during two memorable sequences. Yes, the movie is graphic. Yes, the movie is quite disturbing but not how I imagined it would be. First, the film takes about a half hour to forty-five minutes to get started, only because the film takes it time in introducing all the main players and the film sets them up pretty well, for being as low-budget as it is. And that's one of the aspects of the film that actually works in its favor. It reeks low budget, it screams trash and sleaze, but you know what? It actually does the film justice. Even the sorrid sex scenes scream vile filth in a classy manner, which is something that most films of that era can't get away with. There are plenty of inadequacies that this film carries, as does every film, but that's actually what helps it carry itself. It does not apologize for what it is. It does not try to be something it obviously isn't. There are no grey areas. You either end up loving it or panning it completely. It all depends on your point of view.

The only thing I particularly disliked about the film was its short running time of about 76 minutes, that's just over an hour. But, the wallop the last half hour has makes up for it completely, even going as far as to have the whole thing abruptly end and credits roll just after catching your breath after the final murder. I can honestly say that I've never seen anything like this before. This cements my theory of why the underground horror film never flourished during the late 70's and early 80's: People refused to accept this as cinema. People did not want to see this type of film and interpret it into an art form the way some of us horror buffs do. People want their Jasons and their Freddy Kreugers and their SAW films because most modern horror is all cookie-cutter, and people like those "safe" horror films, where they know they won't be subjected to anything more than a crazy masked killer stalking a bunch or horny teens. They are afraid of having their minds taken into a much deeper realm of terror, especially with the subject of the snuff film altogether.

I used to credit the Findlay piece of crap known as Snuff for igniting the urban legend of the snuff film. Boy, was I wrong. I now believe that Roger Watkins himself is the reason that these films, in theory, exist. I believe that because of his innovation and dark sense of humor that the snuff film was ever introduced into the mainstream. This picture didn't need hired picketers to stand outside New York grindhouses protesting the film's release to get attention. Without this film we wouldn't have had the semi-decent Spanish film Thesis. Without this film, we wouldn't have known what the big deal was when Charlie Sheen called the FBI after watching a Japanese film called Guinea Pig. Without LHODES, these bratty teenagers who think they know it all about horror cinema just because they've seen an Eli Roth film would have their Hostel or SAW. Without this films, true horror fans wouldn't have had the chance to descend into true horror madness. It's amazing to me how Snuff gained the fame and notoriety that it did for a few lousy minutes at the end of the film when Watkins was able to give us something even more graphic and his piece of work goes virtually unnoticed.

The true brilliance of this film is that it takes an Urban legend and uses it to its own advantage. It uses the mere idea of what could possibly exist in a true snuff film and capitalizes on it in a way that makes you wonder if somewhere in the most hidden parts of the world, something like this could really happen. Could I actually one day go into an underground video store and accidentally stumble on the "real thing" without knowing it? If you think about it long enough, it actually will make your stomach turn.

Go out and find this one. I know it will be hard to, but go out and hunt it down. It will change your viewpoint on the idea of the snuff film altogether and give you a new respect for underground horror cinema.

Here is the (particularly disturbing) trailer: