Friday, July 24, 2009

Hide and Go Shriek (1988)

The end of the eighties brought the downward spiral of the slasher film.

There were alot of factors that contributed to this: Maybe many of the low budget studios that were churning these out were finally seeing that their fruits were no longer profitable? Maybe there was a growing lack of un-interest in these types of films and studios didn't see the need to give out out hordes of cash to have less-than-Hollywood movie makers churn these out by the dozen? I have always wanted to know what really caused the fall of the slasher film by the time the greatest decade in history came to a close. But, if you paid any attention, some films were made at the end of this golden era that surpassed many of its predecessors in both style and content.

I'm walking through the isles of the H-E-B grocery store on Old Highway 83 in Weslaco, Texas. It's a hot Saturday during the summer of 1989 and I'm heading to the front of the store to where the videos were all lined up nicely in a attempt to get away from my parents for a while. The Dream Academy's "Life In A Northern Town" is playing above me on the muzak and I'm walking like I'm a big 'ol badass just because I'm sporting a pair of hand-me-down British Knights. You know what's even funnier? I can hear you, the reader, laughing to yourself as you read that last sentence. Not because you're laughing at me, but because you probably did the exact same thing back then. At any rate, this particular store introduced me to slasher favorites Sleepaway Camp, Terror Vision and The Last House on the Left. But the box on the left (in VHS form, mind you) brings back the fondest memories of that store.

I remember picking it up and being fascinated by the film's clever title. That's one thing that - sadly - I'm a sucker for. A clever title, a warning that the footage contained in the video you're distributing is "too shocking for theatrical release" and you've pretty much have got me sold. About a year or two later, this film disappeared off the shelf of this store and then, the store disappeared altogether in favor of a much larger store with a larger video rental area that was propped on the other side of the city. Sadly, I don't remember seeing this title again until 1999, when a Brownsville, Texas mom and pop video rental that still charged for memberships had this on its horror roster. One night, my then significant other and I were browsing the shelves and I picked this one up, eager for him to take it home for me. He instantly shot me down, stating that my love for eighties horror was "childish and unbecoming of me" and that was that: The movie was going to be left there on the shelf just as I'd found it. Not that it really mattered, but I had this feeling that I was never going to see this particular title in print ever again. And I didn't see it again, until 2006 when I snagged a copy up on ebay and finally added it to my collection. I 'oohed' and 'ahhed' when I finally held it in my hands again and unless you are like myself, a die hard slasher buff with fond memories of the days of the mom and pop video store, you wouldn't even to begin to understand my happiness as I popped it into the my third of six Videocassette Recorders that I own and sat back to watch. After years of waiting, this was the night.

Before I begin with the film's actual review, let me say that when you boast on your cover that you are similar to Friday the 13th and Halloween, you're really not setting your viewers up for much. Well, it's not fair that you're tell your viewers exactly what to expect. If you are a non-horror fan, or at least not a fan enough to seek out slasher obscurities such as this, you would pretty much, without even thinking about it, instantly classify the film as another run-of-the-mill slasher. I mean everyone has seen Friday the 13th and Halloween so why would your little film be any different than those two blockbusters and definers of the genre in those days? But I digress. The film opens up with a group of teens who have just graduated from high school and who are going to celebrate their new-found freedom in the annals of a furniture store belonging to the parents of John Robbins, the obvious jock and leader of the group. As they sneak in and the store closes, all hell begins to break loose as the kids are picked off one by one by an unseen killer. Seriously, this is pretty much Friday the 13th in a furniture store. But, don't dismiss the film just yet.

The film oozes eighties charm from the very beginning. The clothes, the hairstyles, the way the kids interact with each other - the music. It's wonderful in its own right and not to sound cheesy, but it reminds me of when I was a kid and when times were just much more simpler. While on the surface the film seems to appear just like the rest of them - which in reality, it is with a few exceptions - you've got to take the whole "furniture store" bit into consideration. Since this film, there has never been another horror film set in a furniture store so just for that, the film gets an instant twenty points. The (obvious) lackluster gore that could have made the film that much better is compensated with some genuine moments of suspense and terror that you don't find in many movies of that time period. The mood is sometimes very claustrophobic (the scene in the bathroom!!) and very tense in some parts and that's what makes this one stand out. If you just shut up and give the film a chance, you will end up liking it and wonder why it didn't have much more of a following back then. All the actors are "eye candy" (especially extreme hottie Sean Kanan) and they're presented to us as a group of honest kids who were just trying to have some fun and do nobody harm.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, let us discuss the film's extremely bizarre and even more unexpected plot twist:

Shit, even I didn't see that train wreck coming.

I won't give it away but I will go on record that this is one of the most bizarre and out-of-left-field endings I've ever seen. Four Words: Gay Romance Gone Bad. That's all I will say. I sat there with my mouth agape, jaw almost hitting the floor at the weirdness of how the whole plot took the exit off the highway and didn't bother to come back. It was about as strange as the ending of Sleepaway Camp minus the nudity, of course. As strange as this "revelation" is at the film's close, it gave the film a trademark of its own, which is something that 80's films were all about at one point: Who could give the audience something they'd never seen before and let me tell you, even I as a horror aficionado would have never expected what transpired during the last ten minutes. And for that bizarreness alone it gets two thumbs up. It's ends up being one of those slasher films that flew under the the radar during its theatrical run and got its audience on video. If you see this one lying around on VHS (as there hasn't been an official U.S. DVD release - and there may never be one), grab it and check it out. It's worth looking at once. The VHS claims to be "unrated" but I didn't see anything over the top that I hadn't seen in other films. But overall, the film is great in its own ways and at some points manages to top some of its competitors and counterparts of that time period.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Stage Fright (Deliria) (1987)

I don't care what anyone says, I love Italian giallo films and will defend them tooth and nail. I don't know why, but I will. Since the very first time I sat in front of a little film known as Suspiria, my taste for giallo only grown more and more and the years went by. There's just something about the way they are crafted, the way they are executed, and there's something about how bizarre and out of left field they can sometimes be. The Italian giallo holds no bars when it comes to gore and suspense and just on that factor alone, they can completely redeem themselves for the inane and generally strange story lines that they can sometimes present.

I heard of this film for the very first time through a friend who was also a horror collector. He was surprised that I'd never heard of it and told me that it was one of the best Italian horror films he would ever lay eyes on. Of course, I don't take confessions like that too seriously. I've been duped into watching what turns out to be celluloid shit just because someone recommended it to me. With my peaking curiosity of Italian films - at this particular time, I hadn't seen too many and wasn't educated as I am now - I decided to look this one up and see how it would match up with my tastes. When it comes to Italian horror cinema, I always give the film in question the benefit of the doubt and make my own decisions, trying hard to rely on the advice of anyone or the advice of anything I read on line.

I finally came across this film in DVD form about three years ago at a local mom and pop where I was living at the time and instantly wasted no time in picking it up and taking it home with me. I loved the cover artwork and when I read that Anchor Bay had released it, I knew instantly that this was going to be something I'd never forget. And boy was I right.

Young, nubile thespians are rehearsing a play about a owl-masked killer on the loose when one of the leading ladies hurts herself and has to be driven to the local hospital. But, the local hospital isn't your run-of-the-mill hospital, it's a mental hospital. A very prominent and famous killer is being held there and he escapes and hides in the girls' car. As they go back to the auditorium, he sneaks in, locks them all in and picks them off one by one. And what a ride! I don't usually gush about horror like this but this one is a total diamond amongst all the trash you and I have learned to watch and love. On it's own, it stands out. It's stylized, it's gritty, and it's downright gorgeous. I don't want to give much of the action away, not because I don't think it's worthy to be mentioned, but if you haven't seen this, please go out and look for it. There is a real style to the whole thing that Michele Soavi (the Dario Argento progote who would go on to direct Cemetery Man) impressively brings to the screen. Camera shots, panning, lighting, angles, it all works in this film. And don't get me started on the brilliance of the actors.

Usually in these types of films, the acting is either sub-par or just absent altogether. Sometimes it's so out there that it goes over your head. But the cast in this film bring about an honesty that can't be ignored. From David Brandon's performance as Peter, the director, to the most random performance by Italian horror-character-actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice - as a homosexual. Enough said. The atmosphere of the film is also pretty darn creepy and it works on a variety of levels. Everything is set up in a manner that it falls into place when it needs to, leaving no plot holes and leaving nothing unexplained. The film does contain some legitimate scares and some moments are enough to make you jump out of your seat. With it being sometimes cookie-cutter as far as the methods that the killer stalks the victims, there is a way that Soavi presents them that surpass most slasher moments. Once the killer finds his way into the building and locks the group inside, hiding the key, and once the director (and his promoter/producer) find out that one of their own has been murdered, everything is fair game. The lewdness of the two as they use the murder of a fellow crew member to capitalize on the play's potential success is a plot twist that ultimately backfires on them, but just the idea of it is pretty messed up. The director makes the work overtime, pushing them to their limits, telling them how much money they can make and how famous and popular they will be. But once they begin to disappear, the plans fall through.

I'm having a hard time trying not to give some of the best moments of the film away. This is one that should be sought out at all costs. The version I first viewed was the Anchor Bay uncut DVD which was later re-released by Blue Underground (which I own). Both versions are exactly the same, menus, disc and all. I also own the very-heavily edited U.S. VHS version released by Imperial Entertainment. I purchased the BU DVD for less than ten dollars so please do yourself the favor and go out and get this one. The film's haunting scene where the "final girl" has to re-count the victims who have been gorily placed on stage is one of the best ever. The film's final moment is a bit tacky and everyone has done it before, but I was able to look past it and this film instantly became one of my top favorites of all time. I can watch it again and again and never get tired of it - that's how great it is. You will have a great time being scared by this one. I guarantee it.

I apologize that I didn't go into detail much about this one. It's that good that I want everyone to go out and look for it and make up your own mind about it. Here is the trailer if you haven't seen it already - This is one of all time faves. and for good reason.

Kill Her! Kill Her!!!!!!!!