MARCH 2, 2012
A buddy of mine had a fun idea for a slasher film that would be presented as a "lost" entry from the early 80s slasher glut, which isn't as far-fetched as you may think when you consider that Bloody Movie (aka Terror Night) was made in 1987 but went unreleased until 2004 (!), despite the presence of a few B-movie icons (Cameron Mitchell, Dan Haggerty, even Alan Hale Jr!). It was also allegedly co-directed by none other than Andre De Toth, who helmed the original House Of Wax - you'd think this would be an easy movie to market, if nothing else.
I say allegedly because his name doesn't appear in the credits as such; he is merely special thanked. Being that it would have been his first directing effort in almost 20 years at this point, I find it kind of suspect. But as you'd expect, the DVD is pretty bare-bones (and full frame! Ugh), and it doesn't have a Wikipedia page or anything, so without REAL research (looking through old issues of "Fangoria", I guess) I'll have to take the word of the IMDb that he co-directed alongside (credited) director Nick Marino. Who am I to doubt that an Oscar nominated, half blind 75 year old would come out of retirement to co-direct a junky slasher movie and not take credit?
Actually, I considered that perhaps he just directed the old movies seen in the movie's kill scenes (I'll explain in a bit) but they seem to be from the 20s, and De Toth's directorial career began in 1939, so that doesn't work. A few of the movies have been identified (The Thief of Baghdad, The Gaucho, etc), and they are American productions, whereas De Toth's early films were made in his native Hungary. In short, I spent way too much time trying to figure this out.
Anyway, the gimmick of the film is that our killer is a has-been who dresses up as his old movie characters when he kills our usual group of partying idiot teens. But we also see the footage from those films intercut with the kill scenes, which is interesting at first but gets kind of obnoxious by the hour mark - we get it! It would have been more fun to keep the audience in the dark for a while - we see a cowboy kill someone, then a bandit, then a samurai, etc, then in the 3rd act the surviving teens discover the old films and they (we) realize what has been going on. Instead the gimmick is pretty obvious from the start (we even see the poster in the kill scenes), so it gets a bit repetitive.
It also wrecks any chance of the scare scenes being, uh, scary - the tension is constantly being broken by grainy, sepia-toned silent film clips. So the killer will appear, and then we see footage of an action scene from the movies (all Douglas Fairbanks/Errol Flynn type adventures), and then they cut back to a few seconds before the killing blow. There's very few chase or stalking scenes - all of that is replaced with the movie clips. Props for originality, I guess, but I wish De Toth and/or Marino had gone about the gimmick in a less obtrusive way.
Otherwise it's a pretty standard slasher; enjoyable to a degree but nothing spectacular. The characters fit neatly into their stereotypes, and die in the order you'd expect. Bill Butler's character is the closest to an exception - he's the nerdy guy who knows about movies and such (at one point he even explains why they stopped printing film on nitrate) - these characters usually die pretty quickly, but since there's no other real hero, he makes it all the way to the final reel, before (spoiler) being impaled, much to my delight. He's not a bad actor, but in real life Butler has been a disruptive presence at at least two horror-centric events, so I find much delight in his multiple on-screen deaths. Don't be a dick, kids!
Speaking of his final moments, the ending of this movie is really weird. Our killer is suddenly much more verbose than he's been throughout the movie, and (spoiler, again) he kills the Final Girl before wandering off into the streets. We watch him walk down a street and turn a corner and then the credits roll - there's no payoff for this lengthy sequence. Plus the climax occurs a night or two later at a different location, so it feels very tacked on, as if they intended the movie to end at the mansion but it was too short, so they had to add more to pad it out to 80 minutes or so.
One thing I liked throughout were the surprisingly graphic deaths. In 1987 the MPAA was getting pretty ridiculous, so most slashers of the time weren't even trying to do anything interesting for the death scenes. But this offers a decapitation, a guy being ripped in half, impalings... good stuff! Even the makeup FX themselves are pretty good, so it's a rare case of quantity AND quality for the era. It also helps make up for the fact that everything leading up to the deaths is clunky and lacking any suspense. More often than not the killer just sort of shuffles into the scene without fanfare, so at least the payoff evens things out.
Not sure if the DVD is "rare"; I'm not too familiar with the distributor (RetroMedia), and again I've never even heard of the movie so I wouldn't expect to find it on too many store shelves. Slasher completists should definitely seek it out, but otherwise it's one of those films where the most memorable aspects are either detrimental to the film itself or have nothing to do with what is on screen.
What say you?