Whodunit? (1982)

NOVEMBER 24, 2020


Someday I will watch an early '80s slasher, and then discover that it was the last one to come across. And then I will weep, because discovering things like Whodunit? (aka Island of Blood) more than makes up for the forgettable junk I watch in between. I seem to vaguely recall hearing about it before, but for some reason I had it pegged as a spoof slasher like Pandemonium (also released by Vinegar Syndrome this year) or Student Bodies. But no, while it has some humor this is definitely a straight up slasher, hitting the scene just a little too late to be among the storied Class of '81 but would fit comfortably with things like Final Exam or Home Sweet Home, i.e. only of any real use to the slasher faithful, where they were clearly just rushing to get the movie done and into theaters before audiences grew tired of such things.

How rushed, you may ask? Well there's one character who spends the entire movie on crutches due to a broken ankle, but it's not used in any meaningful way and barely even mentioned. And the reason for that is that the actress they hired happened to break her ankle for real a few days before shooting, and rather than recast or wait for her to get better, they just pressed on as if nothing happened. On the interviews with the cast, they all seem to be surprised that the film was ever even released, let alone worthy of a special edition blu-ray, and they also all note that they weren't paid, so if the movie itself didn't give off those mercenary vibes, the supplements clarify it for you.

Ironically, the longest interview is with the film's editor, who only speaks briefly about his work on it, choosing instead to spend the time discussing how he got into editing and how he ultimately worked in sound editing. This means that he does not mention how his work is one of the film's low points; there are a record number of awkward pauses between lines, some of which are probably the forced result of a lack of coverage, but others clearly could have been refined to sound more natural. This makes the first reel a bit harder to get into, because it's mostly dialogue here and while the characters are pretty fun, the would-be funny lines tend to fall flat due to the editing.

So it's a tough well at first, but once the killer starts making his way through the cast (and people are in turn talking less) it picks up considerably, and a few of the suspense scenes actually work pretty well, so thanks, editor! The mystery is a little clumsy since there is a twist reveal to serve, but the actual process of picking everyone off one by one plays out just fine. The hook is that everyone is getting killed based on the lyrics of a punk song called "Face to Face" that plays at least a dozen times in the film, which is pretty novel and sets it apart from the usual gimmick-free body count flick of its day. While the main chorus is just "Hurt me! Hurt me!" it will change to "Boil me!" or "Spear me!" or whatever just before someone's death (often heard via Walkman that has been strung up like a weird pendulum), and then that person will be boiled/speared/etc. Since you hear the lyric before the kill, it's kind of amusing that you know what the method of death will be without the killer even appearing with the weapon in his hand, so not only is the song catchy, it's also saving money on the production by doing some of the work normally done by a stuntman in costume, stalking the victim. The song does the stalking for them!

(This is a cut version, alas)

The plot itself is one that's been done a number of times, with a hilariously small cast and crew of a movie being picked off on the eve of production (these things never have actual crews, it seems. Just a director, a producer, and some kind of all purpose "crewman"), but it's basically incidental once things get going. The pace is actually pretty fast for such things; the killer offs one guy almost instantly upon arrival at the island (played by Steven Tash, the poor schmuck Venkman kept zapping in his first Ghostbusters scene, making his subjects two for two in this department!) and gets another every ten minutes or so, rather than make us wait through a half hour of blood-free action to get to the good stuff. It's not particularly gory, but the killer does boil one person and spray acid all over another, so what it lacks in blood it makes up for in goop (someone clearly saw Karen's death in Halloween II). And both heroes and villains like to use a gas-powered nailgun (one that can be shot like a real gun; a real one needs to be pressed against something to fire a nail but movies never seem to care about this fact), so that offers some interesting visuals.

With some tighter editing this could have been on the upper level of golden era slasher, but as is it's still a solid entry that gets the job done, offering a little weirdness (mostly courtesy of the dorky John, who gives off a Radish from Final Exam vibe), some howler dialogue ("Where do you live, a tree in Disneyland?") and, again, that catchy af song, which I guarantee you'll be singing long after the movie finishes. Vinegar Syndrome's disc is, I think, the first time it's been available since the VHS days, and they have tracked down a handful of its participants to talk - some of them even in the covid era. I note that because some outlets are using the virus as an excuse not to do things, so I appreciate that VS is still putting in the same effort for their discs as they always did (the supplements all have subtitles too, so yay!). And when it's to rescue a forgotten little gem like this, it's all the better!

What say you?


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