Category Archives: Slasher

Death Spa 1989

I understand that there is a never ending desire for a good idea in Hollywood. And that that good idea will hopefully sell tickets by the bucketful. This is why an article in the New Yorker can become a A-List feature or a dance trend can become the next Step Up or Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Even a silly face on a phone text can be turned into The Emoji Movie. This must have been going through some deranged producer’s mind when they figured that the keep-fit trend of the early eighties needed some kind of filmic representation. They came up with Perfect. It was not perfect. John Travolta starred as a Rolling Stone journalist investigating Jamie Lee Curtis’ perfect gym addicted body. The film producers whispered in their stars’ ears the word ¨Oscar¨ but the only awards they went on to get that year were a bunch of Raspberries. Travolta didn’t act for another four years.

So after that folly it really is flummoxing as to why, oh indeed why, someone thought that what people really wanted to see,  after not giving a monkey’s about a big budget health freak studio movie, was a horror movie set in a gym where the building itself was the killer. This wasn´t even still at a time when keep-fit was particularly popular. Even 1985‘s Perfect was considered jumping on a bandwagon that had long since left (Jane Fonda’s incredibly successful workout tapes came out in 1981).

I don’t know why this is even bothering me. The film is called Death Spa. It is already doomed to an eternity of ridiculousness.

The film (for it is indeed a film, with a beginning, middle and end) begins with a crane shot of the gym in question. As the camera tilts down on the gaudy neon sign that reads Perfect Body Health Spa a number of the letters explode making it now read “d    eath Spa”. Amazing. A couple of things immediately spring to mind. Firstly, if we’re talking exploding neon signs and cameras on cranes then the film obviously had more money to spend than it undoubtedly deserved. And secondly, this gag is as clever as the film is ever going to get.

In fact Death Spa is quite well shot. Okay that´s not true. It’s been photographed with some thought. Unfortunately all those thoughts are terrible ones. The eighties did like its bright and garish colours and this movie embraces the yellows, pinks and royal blues with aplomb, especially with the excessive use of colour gels to light every scene in the most eye-gouging way possible. When computer rooms aren´t being lit like Margaret Thatcher’s knickers we are subjected to extensive dance scenes. Men in leg warmers and tiny tight shorts prance and leap about like they are auditioning for The Kids of Fame. Everyone gurns at the camera as if they are in a pop promo for Duran Duran rather than a horror movie. The opening, er, I’m going to call it a set piece but that´s being generous,  has the bouffant haired Laura dancing around the gym. She kicks and spins seemingly for the camera crew (she’s looking directly at the camera throughout) although she’s meant to be alone there. Once this musical number reaches its climax Laura jumps into the steam room, which is an odd thing to do after a sweaty work out,  and is promptly burnt to near death by chlorine sprayed out of the ceiling.

You better get used to this because their is a lot of death by spray in Death Spa. Whether its the sauna, showers or just a rouge hot water pipe people will die horribly and repetitively from this deadly health club. Mostly women, usually naked.

After Laura’s near fatal assault, two cops show up to investigate what the hell is going on. A woman was nearly killed from the burns she received and the best these police can come up with is this:

Sargent Stone: Does this suggest anything to you, Lieutenant?
Lieutenant Fletcher: Yes. I’ll have to ask my wife to start smoking in bed.

Tumble-weeds from hell can’t even be bothered to blow past.

These police are particularly incompetent. When they first arrive the manager, understandably suspicious as neither of them dress like cops, asks to see their badges. The male cop tries to pull out hisbadge but it gets caught in his long detective style rain coat, that’s fine says the manager without it even seeing it, the other cop doesn’t even try to show hers.

Anyway the main problem is that these sleuths are the moat tragically inept police LA can offer. The case is thus: the health spa is fully automated and run by one of those fancy lights and bleeping computers that only existed in movies back in the eighties.  But then various staff and members are being mutilated and murdered by faults in the machine. But no, says David, the architect and wizz behind this mechanised body trainer, there is no way in hell the machine could ever make a mistake. It would have to be reprogrammed to do that and the only person who has the access and knowledge to do such a thing is David himself.  Ergo it must be David who is doing it. He’s basically admitted it in his opening scene. However the cops don’t buy it. He’s suspicious yes, and he is the brother of Michael the manager’s dead wife and blames him for her death and wants him to fail because of it. So he’s got motivation. Still not enough for the force, its too obvious.

But it IS him! He barely even tries to hide it. He even pops round to see the now blind Laura to torment her whilst Michael is out. Okay yes, he is possessed by his dead sister Catherine (who is also his twin, natch*) who is probably more into the killing than he is, but there’s no red herring here. David is the murderer.

Talking of blind Laura there is an amazing sex scene involving her and Michael. And when I say amazing I mean awful. Michael has just brought her back to his gaff after the hospital and her eyes are bandaged with the hugest pads you can imagine and she is clearly in some pain. So to cheer her up Michael decides to cook her some asparagus and slowly dangle it into her mouth in the same way Mickey Rourke got Kim Basinger all hot and bothered with those jalapeños and honey in 9 1/2 Weeks. Its even lit all sexy like. But LAURA IS BLIND. She’s almost certainly suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and even if she isn’t,  she has dirty great big bandages covering her eyes. No Asparagus,  no matter how well cooked it is,  can be a turn on when youve just been blinded with chlorine by an insane killer steam room.

Add to that as she can’t see her other senses have probably been heightened so her urine is going to smell even more disgusting than normal after eating asparagus. Also Michael makes multiple comments about how good she looks and nice it is to see her. Rub it in that she´s blind why don´t you,  you mullet-headed monster.

Anyway, more gym related death ensues. One woman who walks around the place in her bra and knickers (I belong to the Easy Gym on Oxford Street and it may be called easy but I have never seen a woman walking around in her underwear there) finds her self in a dark corner of the spa and is garrotted by a pipe of some nature. A chap is split in two by a computerised chest expander and I´m not even sure what you need the computer for in that scenario. Then a member looks in a mirror and the mirror cracks then explodes blowing her up in the process. None of these deaths makes any sense but its all topped by what happens to Lieutenant Fletcher with the police badge problem.

Towards the end of the film the weird shit really hits the fan. After multiple deaths, instead of closing the gym down to find out what is going on or just close it down for good for health and safety reasons, Michael decides instead to hold a great big party. Obviously the doors lock themselves Carrie-style and the whole place goes up in flames taking as many people as it can with it. Meanwhile David and/or Catherine is wandering around like a ghost or a Psycho wannabe (its never made clear which) dealing out dumb death left, right and centre. Poor old Fletcher gets it the worse. The walk in freezer behind the bar bursts open and icy air sucks the unsuspecting copper in. You´d think this would be a good thing as everyone else is burning to death in the inferno outside. However no. Fletcher is attacked by frozen kippers which leap at him and tear his throat out.

I know the old saying goes that no one sets out to make a bad movie but really? At what point do you not realise that killing one of your main characters with a frozen fish is a terrible idea?

Fortunately, the cast are well up to this nonsense. The actor playing Michael it seems was cast because he used to actually BE a manager of a health spa, rather than, say, an actor. There´s a dreadful English man who brings shame to our entire nation with his performance, and evil Catherine was so bad that they had to redub her with someone else´s voice. Obviously the dubbing is shockingly out of sync.

The most famous cast member at the time was Merritt Butrick who played Captain Kirk´s son in Star Trek´s 2 and 3. When that´s the biggest star you can muster you can tell that you´re script sucks even without having to read the title. Even Butrick is pretty lousy in it but then he was close to death when the film was being made (the poor guy died of AIDS in March of 1989) so maybe he had his mind on things other than whether he was possessed by his evil dead twin sister or not.

The script doesn´t help anyone at all with some risible dialogue like:

¨I´ve known some real pricks but you´re the king. Take it as a compliment.¨ I´m not sure Daniel Day-Lewis could make that line work.

Or when Catherine floats into the computer room the staff member guarding it is turned on when she takes off her dressing gown to reveal a very unrevealing nightie. ¨Mmm…¨ he says. ¨Nice arms¨.

Catherine is not impressed by this compliment and sucks his face off.

Don´t be fooled into thinking this is some wild gorefest though, a lot of the killings are difficult to see and poorly executed anyway, often hidden by bad wigs. The final shot is of a bloody and mangled dime-store wigged Catherine lying on the floor of the gym swearing revenge before her one remaining eyeball,  that is clearly a ping pong ball, explodes all over the lino.

Look, to be honest apart from all the endlessly stupid deaths, fire and David/Catherine´s nice arms this actually looked like it was quite a good party. There was an endless supply of booze, lots of people, all in leotards and if you liked terrible bass-slapping eighties music then you were laughing. More importantly Dawn of the Dead´s Ken Foree was there and I bet he could tell a story or two.

That party looked ace. And I bet it was more fun to film than it was to watch Death Spa. Despite what fun it sounds like above, it took me five goes to get through it all. I suffered through Death Spa so you don’t have to. And I don’t feel any healthier for it.

*I’m always seeing this “natch” word and had no idea what it meant. I looked it up, natch is short for naturally. I will never use it again.

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Happy Death Day 2017

The eighties brought about the high concept movie with such nonsense as Schwarzenegger and Delete Vito as Twins or Eddie Murphy saving the world and The Golden Child or Tom Cruise making a Cocktail* ( obviously the stakes varied wildly from concept to concept). A lot of these films don’t stand up to much critical evaluation nowadays because as the idea was so strong, the film makers didn’t feel that you needed a proper script to back up their amazing selling point. The best example of this is probably Look Who’s Talking. It’s high concept was a baby can talk and sounds like an old man, well, Bruce Willis which is the same thing. Oh, how we laughed when washed up has-been John Travolta (but soon to return to mega stardom before becoming a washed up old has-been again) shared a joke about a woman’s breasts with said baby – “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” “Mmm…” replied Baby Willis, “lunch”. This was before we realised that this was the only joke in the entire movie.

The ultimate high concept movie surely had to be Groundhog Day: Bill Murray is destined to repeat the same day over and over again until he learns some life lessons. The difference between this high concept movie and the rest of them was that the script bothered to not only fully exploit it’s terrific idea to the full, but also add enough heart and soul to the proceedings that it became an instant classic. It’s no wonder it never got ripped off or repeated much. It was so perfect the first time round there was no point in trying to better it.

Jump forward twenty odd years later where nothing is sacred any more and there have now been three additional versions of Groundhog Day: a sci-fi blockbuster (Edge of Tomorrow) a Netflix comedy with a man always waking up naked (Naked, shite) and a slasher movie from Blumhouse… which is surprisingly not shite. In fact its really rather good…

Things, seemingly, do not start well. You know one of the classic tropes of the slasher is the cheerleader archetypal bitch character whom all the girls hate and all the guys want to hate but also fancy? Yeah well she is the lead character, bizarrely names Tree and played with gumption by Jessica Rothe. No one wants to watch a movie where that kind of character is the one you’re meant to support. Tree, waking up in bed with a hangover and a sweet lad called Carter that she treats like a piece of dirt on someone else’s shoe, is not some one you will like.

Fortunately, just like all of these mean girls in horror movies it isn’t long before she is dispatched by a masked killer. Phew. But then she wakes up again with the hangover and and again with sweet Carter. The day plays out much the same and,  whilst avoiding the previous grisly fate, it ain´t long before she buys the big one again. Hey, we’ve all seen Groundhog Day, you know the drill.

What makes Happy Death Day work so well is threefold – well apart from being excellently shot, directed and edited, which almost goes without saying with a Blumhouse production – they really know how to stretch a meagre budget. Anyway…

1) The who done it? mystery is surprisingly compelling. So even if you were to think that there were one too many “days” (and you’d be mad to as each death is often a surprise and certainly a joy… if you can call death joyful) then the question as to who the hell is murdering Tree over and over is a good one. Unusually I managed to guess who it was and I’m usually as thick as a pig about such things. May (who is far smarter than me) on the other hand didn’t see it coming at all so I was just lucky I guess.

2) It’s a funny, and fun film. Let’s face it, the idea of waking up on the same day again and again is prime comedy material and Happy Death Day knows this (unlike Naked sadly). So there are a lot of moments for Tree can exploit her knowledge for comedy effect. Also Tree may be a nasty piece of work but by heck she’s a funny nasty piece of work.

3) The characters, whilst often being clichés (the sweet dude, the gay jock and of course our bitchy heroine) are really well defined and performed.  Carter, played by Israel Boussard, really is a sweet, charming guy who Tree is lucky to have met. And Tree herself is just the best. Sure we hate her nasty persona in a Barbie body at the beginning of the film, but she grows as a human being as her repeated days progress, to the point where by the end she’s become the final girl you want to win, to beat the baby-masked psycho.

I think it was director George Roy Hill (who made Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid amongst others) who said that ¨if you have a good script and a good cast then the film virtually makes itself.¨** Now that is in no way to diminish director Christopher Landon or any of the rest of the crew but the three points above do fall directly under Hill’s quote. Sure Happy Death Day has taken the Groundhog Day template, but it has run with it using slasher tropes to create a fun and thrilling  horror screenplay with a cast and characters you can support and get behind, even if you do find yourself rooting for someone called Tree…

* Cocktail was, weirdly, was one of my later mother’s two favourite films. The other was Pretty In Pink because she had a rather big crush on Andrew McCarthy. I never found out if she also fancied Tom Cruise. Or maybe I did and blocked it out.

** I can´t find that quote anywhere so I might have made it up.

Prevenge 2016

 

It’s hard out there for actors. I know we all think of the Hollywood stars swanning about in their luxury trailers with personal trainers as best mates, but that is a tiny decimal point of a percentage of thespians. The rest of them are caught in a relentless series of auditions, or no auditions and pressure to give up their dreams for a real job.

It must be even more galling to make a film (Sightseers) that is a critical hit, a commercial one (well… for Britain anyway) and everyone to say how amazing you are in it, only to find yourself back on the unemployment pile. This must be even worse if you are there because you have committed the cardinal sin of being a pregnant woman.

This is where, it seems, the great Alice Lowe found herself. By all accounts she couldn’t get a single role due to her pregnancy. I guess she, like everyone else, has to pay the bills. So pregnant or not, she needed some work, even more so if she’s having a baby. But with no work forthcoming she took the only logical step and wrote a film for herself to perform in. It’s much like when Sylvester Stallone took it into his own hands to make Rocky to star in, but instead of an uplifting working class guy makes good, in Prevenge we have heavily pregnant and probably bonkers woman gets revenge on the killers of the father of her child. Okay, unlike Rocky, Prevenge is far too leftfield to win any Oscars. But it is extremely good.

Lowe plays Ruth, a clearly disturbed and pregnant woman whose partner has died in a supposed climbing accident. Ruth believes that it was no accident at all, and that the rest of the group purposefully cut the rope that lead to his untimely death. The reason she believes this is because her unborn fetus is telling her so. A sweaty, creepy little voice talks to her from her swollen belly, directing her to exact this vengeance on its father’s murderers. Whilst Ruth is (probably) mad as a hatter – veering between unstably shaking and being a cold killer at a moment’s notice, she is also a great actor herself. She assumes various personalities to trap her victims before bloodily dispatching them. Each of these murders are like little vignettes. Lowe as Ruth becomes multiple characters created to gain the trust of her intended victims so she can isolate them before finishing them off. This technique of storytelling is incredibly clever in such a small, low budget movie: it keeps the story entertaining with each new character driving the plot moving forward. Most slasher movies that take the point of view of the murderer (rather than the victims) tend to be incredibly morbid and depressing affairs – Prevenge is quite the opposite. It’s frequently hilarious and never less than enjoyable, albeit in a tense and disturbing manner.

At the time of watching it I thought that the effects were pretty good for a low budget British production, especially the pregnant belly effect. But good god, that’s no effect! That’s Alice Lowe being eight months pregnant throughout the shoot. No wonder it looks so real, it is! Even more remarkable is the fact that Lowe also directed the film. Now I’ve directed a few shorts in my time and as brilliant and rewarding as it is, directing is also one of the most all consuming and stress inducing things a human can go through… except probably being pregnant. How Lowe managed this feat is beyond me. Even getting a coherent finished movie would be a big enough leap as it is, the fact that Prevenge is genuinely great is even more mind boggling.

A little bit of research into the making of the film shows that Lowe shot it over eight days with three extra days for pick ups. This is about the length of time Asylum spend on their tragic shark movies, but this is a whole different league. Lowe clearly worked within very defined rules to make her movie. As she is also the star she didn’t have to worry about getting her lead actor on set everyday. As the rest of the cast only appear for a few scenes at a time I guess she had each actor perform on each of the main days shoots (there are seven potential victims and a midwife) so she was able to get great character actors like Kate Dickie (Red Road, The Witch, Prometheus) as well as Gemma Whelan from Game of Thrones (in the funniest scene of the film). The different characters and locations give the film a bigger sense of scale than it really is. It’s also a lesson on how to make the most out of very limited resources. Most f all it’s an inspiration to all aspiring filmmakers.

It’s also a lot just a lot of fun. Lowe is such a likeable performer that even in her most disturbed moments you are rooting for her to get her prevenge (surely a word bound to enter the Oxford English Dictionary before the year is out). However with the creepy unborn baby talking to her from her belly (like a twisted version of the talking dog in Summer of Sam) the film manages to stride over the twin problems of being funny but also dark and bleak. As what we really are dealing with here is a character with a severely damaged personality (or multiple personalities?) it’s a miracle that Prevenge works on one level as a straight horror, let alone as a character piece, a comedy, a psychological thriller and more. It’s even more of a miracle that such a fine film could be made so quickly but so well under such circumstances. Let’s hope Lowe now gets plenty of work offers, pregnant or otherwise.

 

Leatherface 2017

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was widely criticized at the time of its release for being too far removed from the original film. Not only was there hardly any killing (outside the opening sequence) but it also seemed to be embracing other genres: it mostly play for laughs and seemed to be trying for a bit of romance between Leatherface and his hostage, Stretch. But maybe Tobe Hooper had the right idea – was it ever possible to recreate the perfection that was the first film?

Certainly the pile of sequels, prequels and remakes suggest not. Making the same story over and over again just lessened the impact. So when it came to making an origin story for how Leatherface came into being, doing something other than a bunch of teens show up at the Sawyer house and getting massacred wasn’t such a bad idea, depending on what that other idea was…

Don’t hold your breath people.

Actually you would probably be dead if you had been holding your breath for this film. This was filmed a long while ago and then either sat on a shelf or went for reshoots. It doesn’t show it though. Unlike some recent messed up movies (cough, cough The Mummy) it is a well made and coherent piece of movie making. I wonder if this is down to directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury who made the masterful Inside and the wonderfully mad Livid. They are the main reasons any sensible horror fan would want to see Leatherface (outside just generally hoping against hope that there is still another good Texas Chainsaw movie to be made) and they do a good job as far it goes. The film looks nice, it’s relatively well paced and all the acting is way up above what you would expect for this kind of thing.

There’s one problem though, and it’s massive.

We begin with Ma Sawyer (played by a surprisingly restrained-for-her Lili Taylor) and her inbred family around the old dinner table. It’s the youngest child’s birthday so she gives him a chainsaw for his birthday and tells young Jed to chop up the chap they have tied to a chair. Presumably he is going to be the main course. After some shenanigans with a sheriff’s daughter Jed ends up in a mental asylum and we cut to ten years later. Now a bunch of patients escape the asylum and race across Texas with a nurse as hostage. As all of the mentalists have had their names changed we don’t know which one was once Jed and will become Leatherface, and that is basically the story.

The trouble with this is that it’s SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT.

Let’s ignore the fact that out of the potential Leathefaces, one is a girl, one so mouthy and obnoxious that he will almost certainly die first and a big hulk of a mute just screams red herring so loud we are left with one other character who must be it. So no mystery there then. The main problem is that whoever it is won’t act like Leatherface until the end of the movie, so you end up with a film about a character who isn’t that character. It’s just head-banging-against-wall dumb.

To mix things up a bit the girl and one of the men embark on a killing spree like a low rent Natural Born Killers but without that film’s wit and charm. I am being sarcastic here: I hate Natural Born Killers. Okay, without that film’s pseudo intellectualism and pretension. Yeah, that will do. Also there’s another bit of romance, this time between the kidnapped nurse and the other escapee who isn’t a giant mute, but this is almost as ridiculous as the one between Leatherface and Stretch in Part 2 but without the laughs. I mean I’m all for a bit of Stockholm Syndrome but these two potential lovebirds stretch all sense of reality.

There’s also an incredibly idiotic bit near the end when whoever-it-is is wounded in the face so his mother puts a leather harness around his head to hold the wounds in place. So he quite literally has a leather face. I almost knocked myself out I slapped my forehead so hard.

There is gore aplenty. I remember back in the eighties when as a blood thirsty teenager I craved a horror movie with a good splattering of blood and guts. This was especially tricky as the censorship board was snip happy with their scissors. I still like a decent, gory death in horror movies now, but the violence in Leatherface is somehow just depressing. Victims are sawn open, smashed through windows and have their heads caved in, all in lurid detail. But it’s all so miserable. There’s no showmanship to the violence, it just has a realism that is repellent rather than thrilling. Maybe it’s just me…

On the positive side… nah… forget it, I ain’t got one. It’s a really bad story, and as a prequel it means you know pretty much where it will end up, and it’s not worth the journey. And, you know… Leatherface with a leather face… Christ that’s stupid.

 

Don’t Hang Up 2016

Pranksters are a staple of the horror genre. As most monsters and/or serial killer will need a bunch of teens to butcher then those teens better have some kind of character trait. You can have the jock, the nerd, the slutty girl and of course someone who likes nothing more than pulling hilarious pranks on the rest of the gang. And when I say hilarious I mean not funny in the slightest. The good thing about these fool makers is that they are often the first to be garrotted, beheaded or disemboweled by Jason Voorhees or whoever. The audience are happy to see these imbeciles die because they are annoying and their pranks are annoying too.

So making a film purely about pranksters is both a good idea and a terrible one. On the one hand no one else has made a horror movie like this, but on the other we have endure more and seemingly endless “jokes” at other people’s expense. Of course that is the point: we’re not meant to like these guys, but a whole movie with them front and centre? It might be too much.

Brady and Sam are the jesters in question. Despite both looking like male models who could be out getting laid relentlessly, they spend their sad spare time making prank calls to unsuspecting good folk and tell them that their home is being invaded or that their wives have been killed in a car crash. Laugh out loud stuff like that. Problems arise when they get a return phone call and the creepily voiced person (who sounds just like the killer in Scream) calls up and starts to turn the tables on them.

Damien Mace and Alexis Wajsbrot (how come all directors seem to work in twos nowadays?) do a damn fine job of shooting what is essentially a film entirely set in one location. We get some interesting camera moves rolling around Sam’s house like a budget version of David Fincher’s Panic Room. It helps set up the geography of the location which is important because there is a lot of going in and out of doors later on in the film and I really wouldn’t know what was going on without it.

Or maybe I wouldn’t have cared. Obviously Don’t Hang Up wants these characters to get their just desserts (or does it?) however I wouldn’t have minded at least one person to root for. Brady and Sam are the very embodiment of the word “pratts” and having to tolerate their winy existence for an hour and a half was more than most audiences deserve. There is a girlfriend who shows up but even she is pretty unsympathetic. Maybe this is harking back to the bad old days of the Saw movies where everyone was awful and they all got what they deserved but I’m not in any rush to return to that scenario.

Or maybe it’s just me. The film is very well made, the lads who play the two main characters are good actors (which could not always be said about the pranksters in the Friday the 13th movies) and the ending is at least satisfying.

More so than the ending of this review certainly…

 

Prom Night 1980 Vs Prom Night 2008

When it comes to remakes probably the best approach is to take a movie that was kind of shit in the first place and remake that. Then the only way is up: there weren’t that many fans in the first place* so the hate will be limited, and if the orignal was garbage but there was an inkling of a good story there you can use that as a starting point and make a better film.

Well that’s the theory. Or you could do as the producers of the Prom Night remake did: just take the title and setting and make a different film all together, albeit one that is equally as bad as the original.

Let’s face facts though, when you think of the best of the slashers from the early eighties, even when you limit it to the slashers with dates/holidays in their titles, Prom Night is not the first film that springs to mind. The reasons for this are multiple but the main ones are that it takes way too long for any slashing to begin and it is deeply dull leading up to said slashing. Actually its not exactly heart racing when the killing finally does happen but at least Jamie Lee Curtis is in it.

Why, exactly, is Jamie Lee Curtis in Prom Night? Obviously Curtis had yet to break away from the Scream Queen label she had helped to create two years earlier in Halloween, so you could see why she was popping up in the likes of The Fog and Terror Train but at least they were decent films with good scripts and directors. Prom Night is dull as watching the British Parliament TV channel on a Friday morning when the chambers are empty because everyone’s still at the commons bar drinking cheap booze and having fisticuffs.Before anything interesting happens we have to spend a lot of time with Curtis and her friends stumbling around high school being boring. There is an opening of the I Know What You Did Last Summer variety when a bunch of children accidentally kill a girl in an abandoned house. This will obviously will lead to the revenge killing spree but it’s not hugely exciting or original stuff. And Curtis has to wade through all this acting like a teenager whilst looking far to old to be in school. She dresses like she has a job in New York City so sticks out from the rest of the cast even more. Its like she said, I’ll do this film but only if I can stress my mature side by wearing modern office fashion.

What Prom Night does ask of its audience is to guess who-done-it, even before anyone starts doing it.  There are multiple potential murderers from disgruntled parents to escaped lunatics and, to give Prom Night it’s due, I did not guess who the killer would be. This killer had a certain style – if you can call an all in black number with a black sparkly sequinned balaclava stylish. The sparkles are a particularly odd choice as I’ve never found the shimmering mermaid look particularly scary or threatening. It must be something to do with discotheque because there is a lot of disco here. The prom night itself is basically one big homage to Saturday Night Fever, from the light up floor tiles to Curtis spinning around the dance floor whilst staring at the camera. In fact Curtis does get to show of some pretty decent dance moves. Maybe she took the role with promises of horror themed choreography, if so then it was a job well done… Unlike the killings themselves which again like so many of the other Friday the 13th rip-offs, fails to deliver on what made that film so successful in the first place.

What we have got, and the disco is just one part of this, is a lot of padding. There are numerous scenes of characters preparing for the prom, we spend far too much time with various red herrings which are a total waste of time and there is a Carrie-style sub plot that literally gets cut off halfway through and goes nowhere. Oh, and Leslie Nielsen is in here (as the head liner no less) but is only in it for about five minutes. This was pre- Airplane and Naked Gun times where he was actually a dramatic actor, but such is his presence that we expect him to say something funny or do something stupid. In fact I laughed several times at him when I wasn’t meant to. Even staring at his dead child was somehow a comedy moment. Poor Nielsen: his early career has forever been retrospectively turned into a farce.

There’s also plenty of time for dubious chat. Curtis is struggling with a prom dress in her bedroom when she turns to see her brother standing at the doorway. “Are you going to get over here and help me, or are you just going to leer?” She asks. “Well I am your brother so I think I’ll just leer,” he replies. Say what now? What is going on here? Why is he perving over his sister or have I just mistaken what leer means. Or maybe the script writers have mistaken it’s definition?  Later, a horny male character is trying to get laid. He says to the girl he is basically forcing himself on when she tries to pull away “if you don’t, I know plenty who will!” This seems to seal the deal for her, not to run away screaming but to say oh okay and relent to some almost certainly bad sex.

All this padding is clearly necessitated by film makers who don’t have enough faith in the slasher story. Admittedly this is because it is slim stuff: masked killer turns up and kills a bunch of youths is essentially your lot for all these films, but by filling the rest of your plot with unnecessary guff makes you slasher less interesting not more. Halloween understood this: it kept the story to the bare minimum – there was character development (to an extent) but it was all either in service to the main plot or happened whilst Michael was watching his victims. Prom Night mostly ignores that it is even a slasher for an hour before we even get to the Prom Night of the title, let alone any of the slashing.

So obviously ripe for a remake. However if anything the 2008 version of Prom Night is loathed even more than the original. This is a shame as it does the opposite of the 1981: after a brief and tense prologue the film starts on the night of the prom with the heroine, Brittany Snow, being picked up to get to the event where all her friends will, and do, die. There´s no hanging up decorations or choosing outfits, its straight to the main event of death.

Proms have clearly changed in the 27 years between the two films. Back in the old days all the proms seemed to be held in the sports hall with some tacky decoration to make the room into some sort of Doctor Who-set version of an underwater palace. By the noughties, and I guess prior to the bank crash, all these kids were having their prom in the fancy ballroom of some upmarket hotel in the heart of down town Los Angeles.

What has not changed is using the same escaped killer trope from one of the sub-plots of the previous film and, indeed, Halloween. This forfeits the who-done-it plotting of the original but unlike Michael Myers this killer is just some ex-model looking chap who´s weak attempt to follow his serial killing forefathers is to disguise himself with a baseball cap. He also manages to get himself a room in the hotel where the prom is going on and much of the film involves the victims mistakenly going into his room so he can kill them with his big knife. He´s a pretty lazy murderer really, he only chases one girl besides Snow, most of the time he just kicks back and, presumably, work his way through the mini bar until the next idiot victim shows up.

At lease having the killer there and killing from the start of the film solves the originals main problem – pace. Prom Night ´08 races along at a breakneck speed and is entertaining enough whilst its going on, even if it doesn´t have anything new to add to the genre. Also without the who-done-it story there’s no room for a Leslie Nelson cameo, which would have livened up things no end.

The remake does, however, break the one cardinal rule of slasher movies – the final girl has to learn to have some grit. Brittany Snow, who has proven herself an able actor in more challenging stuff than this, only gets to play the victim. She is in fear of the guy who killed her family in the prologue the whole way through the film. She barely gets to do any running away, she mostly cowers under beds or in cupboards and screams a lot. This is no way for the final girl to act. Well it is for most of the movie, but at some point she is meant to dig in deep, find her survivor’s instinct and fight back with an axe, shotgun or booby-trapped floor lamp. Instead Snow kicks the killer once whilst scrambling along the floor and that seems like an accident.

It’s left for the investing detective to work out what is going on and rescue the girl, which is not right I tell you! On the positive side said detective is played by Idris Elba, clearly looking for something to fill his time what with The Wire coming to an end. He probably did it before the final season in the hiatus to kill sometime. He certainly didn’t do it because of the great dialogue or interesting character development because there isn’t anyway. Maybe they paid him well.

Actually I would have thought everyone got paid well, because they spend $20 million dollars on this thing. Twenty. Million. On a slasher, with no stars, big set pieces or visual effects. Someone was having a laugh, all the way to the bank I reckon. Especially as this is about as generic a slasher movie as you could get but without the who-done-it of the original to keep you guessing or a final girl you can root for. Yeah I know I just said earlier that Halloween‘s genius was how simple and stripped down its plot was, and essentially this remake does the same but it doesn’t have an embodiment of evil in a William Shatner mask scaring you to death, it has the embodiment of Elite modelling agency look silly in a cap.

In the battle of original verses remake I’m afraid the losers are both versions, and me for sitting through them. Both had their pluses; the original had disco and the remake was short. Maybe if you combined the two you might have a good yet brief disco slasher. Sadly twenty eight years stand between them,so unless they’re going to make a third version  combining those elements and a Leslie Nielsen cameo before he dies** then please: no more Prom Nights thank you.

 

*Even the worst things in the world have fans. There are a lot of people who like the slasher Madman even though it has no redeeming features at all. And I had an (adult) friend who used to be really into Rolf Harris. I say used to be…

** Apparently he died seven years ago. I missed that. Thanks Leslie for making us laugh, even if it wasn´t intentional.

A clear winner on the poster front though. The original is strong and well designed with the shard of mirror (the killers weapon of choice – let´s hope his gloves are thick enough) showing one of the victims, the killers eyes staring into your soul. Its certainly better than the film, or indeed the 2008 poster which is one of the least interesting and laziest horror posters ever created.

House of Wax 2005

Mainstream horror was in the doldrums come the mid noughties. Between the so called torture porn movies (which had about one idea) between them and the endless remakes the studios put out it seemed like our favourite genre had reached a point of creative bankruptcy. By the time it came to digging back far enough in the libraries to remake the Vincent Price classic House of Wax expectations were pretty much at rock bottom. So much so that the fact that it was a remake didn’t seem to be a selling point at all. Surely the whole idea of a remake was that its familiar name would bring a new audience into the cinemas? Instead Warner Brothers had so little faith in their own brand that the main selling point for the 2005 film was “come and see Paris Hilton die horribly”.

Yes, in a desperate piece of stunt casting, socialite and gossip rag-haunting stick insect Paris Hilton is cast as a sex crazed party goer. It shouldn’t be a big stretch for Hilton but sadly she fails to be convincing in the slightest. I’m not sure why she was such a selling point, people who liked her wouldn’t see a horror movie and those that didn’t like her would do anything to avoid even more Hilton (she was everywhere in 2005) so wouldn’t go and see House of Wax either. Not that she is in it that much, which is a relief, but she’s arguably the worst part of the film.

The other main problem is that House of Wax 2005 has abandoned pretty much everything from the original film bar the title and the wax museum setting and instead gone for, and please stop me if you’ve heard this before, the five friends break down in the middle of nowhere plot. This story is so familiar and done with such little variation from the basic formula that it really brings the whole first third of the film down. There’s even a local hick who could be on vacation with Tucker and Dale. It’s a turgid affair that even the decent cast (other than Hilton) can’t bring to life. Its weird to think that Warner Brothers coughed up $30 million dollars for this nonsense.

Fortunately there is some hope. The prologue is a dazzlingly detailed montage of close ups of some horrific childhood involving good and bad (or more likely mad) twin toddlers at the breakfast table and some poor parenting decisions. It suggests that director Jaume Collet-Serra knows what he’s doing even if he is nobbled by the by-the-numbers set up. That promise pays off in the second and third acts of the movie when we finally reach the House of Wax and the town that it is located in. Wax models have always been creepy and ones which encase real life bodies are more so. Collet-Serra exploits this well, putting across the horror of being encased in hot wax as well as the nightmare of having your flesh torn off as your friends try to rescue you from your candle based entombment.

The twin villains of the film are also pretty good too and its nice that they have a counter part in having a brother and sister who are twins on the victims’ side – although this is never explored as well as it could be. Actually a lot of the more interesting aspects of the characters and back story are garbled through as things rush onto the next wax-based imagery. But even if the script is a little undercooked at least the film does what it says on the tin: literally there is a whole house made of nothing but wax.

Its this house which provides the show stopping moment of the film, as the climatic battle involves the main characters running around the house as it melts into a blubbery mess around them. This scene is a fantastic mix of excellent practical effects and mostly good digital ones as people sink through floors and tear their way through melting walls. Two characters even climb out of through the museum’s front wall with its name on it; so they actually climb through the title of the film. Add into that that as all the wax melts all the previous victims of the evil twins are revealed, and you have some fantastic horror imagery that is as impressive as anything you’ll see in genre cinema. Its a shame that all the good stuff only really happens at the very end but at least it leaves an impression.

Unlike Paris Hilton who leaves no discernible impression at all, although lets give credit where credit is due – the marketing people where right: she does die horribly.

She doesn’t, however, get turned into a wax model like in the poster below and then melted in the big bonfire at the end. This is unlike her acting career which disappeared like that cheap wax that doesn’t drip, it just evaporates into the air as if it had never existed in the first place.