The Devil’s Candy 2015

For me heavy metal and horror have always been uneasy bed fellows. Metal may have embraced the imagery of horror since the early days with Black Sabbath named after Mario Bava’s classic movie but there’s always something a little camp and ridiculous about this musical genre. When it is inserted into a horror movie it stops the film from being scary and just becomes silly. Whenever metal started playing in the old Nightmare On Elm Street movies it undermined the terror rather than reenforced it. To be fair I am mostly talking about bands like Dokken so maybe it doesn’t count. Anyway, the point I’m making is that to get the two outsider genres to work in perfect sync is a form of alchemy that has yet to be created. Until The Devil’s Candy came along that is.

The Hellman family are a cute little family who move to some crazy cheap farm house in the middle of the Texas countryside. Of course the reason the  house is cheap is because two people died there: an old lady who fell down the stairs and her husband who killed himself as he couldn’t live without her. Of course we already know that this is bollocks. The opening scene shows that they had a son who is not the greatest at child-parent relations, who also might have the devil whispering to him in his ear. Never a good sign. It doesn’t help that the father of the family, Jesse, can also hear something whispering to him the moments he moves into the house.

So the dynamics seem to be set for how this story will play out, and by the end you can see that it does follow a classic story framing. However it doesn’t do quite what you think it will. This partly due to the well defined characters who are full of contradictions. Jesse, played with huge charisma by an unrecognisable Ethan Embry, may be a devoted and loving husband and father but he’s also a heavy rock artist who’s trying to embrace his commercial side to help pay for his family’s new home. Shiri Appleby as Astrid is the sensible one but she’ll kick back with a spliff from her husband to enjoy their life rather than just worry about it. Their teenage daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) is the best person on the planet – she shares her dad’s love of heavy metal but will pull him up if he is unkind or foolish. It’s their loving and lovable relationship that is the heart of the film, so when the shit hits the fan you are really rooting for them.

The shit that hits said fan is mostly in the form of hulking man child Ray Smilie (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who stumbles about, initially trying to drown out the voices in his head with a Flying V guitar and Marshall amp, but soon giving into their demands. These involve something awful with a saw and a suitcase. Smilie wears a bright red tracksuit with white piping so looks like a sick or drunk evil Santa Claus, but his large frame and barely able to focus gaze makes him terrifying rather than funny.

Look, I don’t really want to get into the ins and outs of what happens, The Devil’s Candy is only eighty minutes long so its probably best to let you discover its delights yourself. But let’s just say that the metal music works really well in the soundtrack. Jesse as some kind of ultra cool hard rock Jesus father shows that despite what the words and images of metal often suggest, it can also be a force for good. Also the metal and horror come together perfectly in the climax, rather than fighting against each other or making one or the other seem stupid.

One thing I can say is that director Sean Byrne is clearly a genius. We’re two film’s into his career and both this and The Loved Ones, whilst maybe not to everyone’s taste (what’s the matter with you?!!?!?), is a guy who really seems to know what he is doing. His two horrors are both visually strong (with a great understanding of cinematic storytelling) and hugely entertaining at the same time. Byrne does not seem to be a man in a great rush (this was completed in 2015 and has only just got released now, The Loved Ones took even longer) but maybe that’s not his fault. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.

I LOVED The Devil’s Candy. Despite its short running time it is packed with interesting ideas and incident. It also has brilliant characters that I was rooting for, even screaming out “noooooooo!” at one point. Plus it has a damned fine sense of what makes Heavy Metal the horror fan’s music of choice… and you can’t argue with that.

Twilight Zone: The Movie 1983

On paper the idea of two of the most successful directors (at the time) cherry picking two up and coming directors and the four of them revisiting their childhood memories of TV’s The Twilight Zone must have seemed like a great idea. Especially when those two directors were John Landis, having just made An American Werewolf In London and Trading Places, and Steven Spielberg who was coming off the most successful of all time, E.T. Yet somehow both of these mega talents fluffed it. Well Spielberg fluffed it, Landis sowed the seeds that would ultimately destroy his career in the most awful way. Thank god the two directors they picked for the other two segments of the Twilight Zone movie where Joe Dante and George Miller.

It is, it has to be said, a relief that the first story in the film is the John Landis one. Not only because it is easily the weakest one of the lot (that things can only get better after this) but because of the tragedy that happened whilst making this story. It hangs over the production like a ghost. The story concerns a loud mouth racist, bitter about having been passed over for promotion for a fellow, Jewish worker. He finds himself flipping through time to various racial atrocities in recent history, from being lynched by KKK members to being rounded up as a Jew in Nazi occupied France. If you did miss what happened behind the scenes, Landis made some ill advised judgements about safety whilst filming the story which resulted in the lead actor and two child actors being killed by an out of control helicopter (you can look up the footage up on Youtube but I would NOT recommend it). Vic Morrow was the lead actor and is the highlight of this story, playing the bigoted protagonist with wild-eyed conviction. Of course the story doesn’t have the ending which was indented for it as Morrow was not there to film it. It just kind of stops, the downbeat ending has him shut away in a train and shipped off to the gas chambers (the original ending which was meant to involve him rescuing two Vietnamese child prisoners). However even if things hadn’t gone so awfully wrong you have to wonder why on earth Landis chose this story in the first place. Its not to say it isn’t an interesting idea, or that it couldn’t have something to say about bigotry, but its simplistic, sledge hammer stuff – a racist learns how to not to be one. And whilst it does have time travel (for no explained reason) it just doesn’t feel particularly Twilight-Zoney. Plus if you’re going to start a big budget scifi anthology movie is this really the tone you want to start it with? With some white dude making racist slurs to half the audience and then the best they can come up with is a denouement where he is executed along with millions of Jews? Plus, and I’m not sorry to repeat myself, three people died making this.

Steven Spielberg’s story is up next and obviously fares much better in that everyone survives, but we’re still stuck with the same question – why would you choose something as bland as “Kick The Can” to represent you in the Twilight Zone movie. The story involves some wise old black man who visits old people’s homes and gives pensioners their wishes by turning them back into children. Actually you can see EXACTLY why Spielberg chose this. It plays into the man-child Peter Pan ideas that Spielberg was supposedly crazy about back in the day, until he was able to fully plummet this trope with his Hook movie – THAT sure put him off. Here though he is in full saccharine mode. Everything is so sweet and twee it makes you want to throw up. Its all so inoffensive it actually goes right round the other way and becomes offensive. Worst of all it is all so trivial and pointless. It doesn’t have any real insight into ageing – old people yearn for their youth, no shit Sherlock – and the acting is muggy and over the top. I’ll admit it is hard not to love Helen Shaw as Mrs. Dempsey who might be the cutest old person their has ever been, apart from my mum. At least this story is beautifully and cinematically shot, unlike Landis’s one which looked like a poor TV movie.

Things finally turn around at the half way mark when Joe Dante gets to take up the director reigns and deliver one of the classic Twilight Zone stories “It’s a Good Life”. When you think of the Twilight Zone there are certain stories that you know, and the one about the boy who can wish for anything is one of those. How did Landis and Spielberg not KNOW that  if people were wanting anything from their cinematic version of this anthology show it was to have the great stories retold in a big, beautiful way? I get the feeling that after all the stories were in the can, Spielberg must have sat down and had a look and realised he and Landis had fucked up. The last two stories are SO much better than the first two it is like Dante and Miller had been given totally different briefs. Its surely why the last two stories are the best – save the best til last huh?

Joe Dante was apparently picked by Spielberg because he thought Dante’s Jaws rip-off Piranha  was the best of all the Jaws rip-offs (he’s right) and this was a good move. The story of Michael, a ten year old who’s relatives all live in terror of him and his whims, is told with demented cartoon-like energy as the adults stagger about in fear of what the boy will do to them next. Its particularly good to see Kevin McCarthy from Invasion of the Body Snatchers in there as Uncle Walt, having to perform dreadful magic tricks involving giant mutant rabbits being pulled out of his top hat. The weird live action cartoon creatures which appear here are pretty revolutionary and they, along with the child-like (but not childish) macabre tone, are something Dante would revisit and refine over his career. Maybe this story is a little bit of a case of style over content but it’s a lot of fun all the same. Why couldn’t Landis and Spielberg have this sense of glee in their stories is beyond me. Any fun at all would have been nice.

They say save the best til last, and maybe by having the all-time classic Twilight Zone story Nightmare at 20, 000 feet George Miller had it easy, but the final story really is so much better than all of the ones that came before it. The original television episode had William Shatner ripping apart the scenery as a demented passenger convinced there is a gremlin on his plane, tearing apart the engines in a storm whilst everyone else thinks Shatner is a loon. Even watching that crusty old black and white story now has the power to thrill. Miller takes the same story and cranks it up to eleven. This time it is a perfectly cast John Lithgow who starts of paranoid and ends in an insane, mouth-frothing frenzy. Miller whips the tension up so masterfully and with so much dynamism that you can feel Lithgow’s deranged horror, as only he can see what is about to happen to the plane and all its passengers. It is a supremely exciting roller coaster of pure cinema boiled down to twenty minutes. There’s a small and annoying pig-tailed brat who perfectly reflects poor Lithgow’s mind: the more convinced  they are going to die the more annoying she gets, needling away at him like an irritating inch. At the same time the gremlin on the plane wing torments Lithgow by pulling apart the engines whilst laughing in his face/ Lithgow´s fragile state is being attacked from inside and out. It’s a fantastically thrilling climax.

Twilight Zone The Movie is definitely a mixed bag. Its the more established directors who let the thing down. The new guys they brought in were clearly hungrier and more willing to let their imaginations and technical skills run riot. Thank god Spielberg recognised this enough to finish the film on a high note.

 

The Love Witch 2016

Witches are all the rage at the moment, from The Conjuring to Don’t Knock Twice to, well, The Witch you can’t move for the amount of broomsticks, cauldrons and potions. What most of these films don’t seem to do is to portray witches in a very good light. Real witches of history were not hagged old crones having sex with the devil but women living alternative lifestyles, or sometimes just saying no to men, who were persecuted and executed because they didn’t fit in with what a patriarchal society expected of them. The current glut of genre fair doesn’t seem to acknowledge this, so it takes something as mad as The Love Witch to take it upon itself to exact witch-kind’s revenge. All in spectacular Technicolor.

That’s not to say that the witches are portrayed as particularly decent or kind here. Samantha Robinson stars as Elaine, a sultry vixen of a witch who, after terrible goings on in San Francisco, finds herself in Eureka, California looking for love and generally destroying everyone in her path. Elaine, you see, is addicted to love. All she wants is to meet Prince Charming and give him all the passion a man could ever want. Unfortunately, for Prince Charming, Elaine loves the ideal of love, rather than love itself. She easily seduces men with the most basic of flirtatious moves, together with her extraordinary beauty. However, being a witch, she feels the need to ensure their unquestioning devotion with the extra help of her home made love potions. These, unfortunately, soon makes the men paranoid, then furious and angry, before becoming pathetic crying babies who mostly kill themselves or just drop dead. Elaine is deeply disappointed in all this: the men have failed to live up to what she expected of them and the love she wanted from them. However she soon gets over it, often whilst the man is still alive, moving onto the next Prince Charming she sets her sights on.

Elaine might actually be a terrible witch, but she’s an even worse lover. She tells one foolish man that she is the ultimate male fantasy: beautiful, sexy, subservient and can make a cracking steak dinner. But Elaine is nothing of the sort. She makes a friend in Eureaka, Trish (the great Laura Waddell), who can’t understand why Elaine only wants to do everything to make her man happy. “Don’t you want to rise up against the patriarchy?” Trish asks. Really Elaine is doing just that: by giving the man what he thinks is his heart’s desire, she exposes him as weak and childish. Its only when she comes up against chisel jawed cop Gruff (Gian Keys) who’s secret view of all women is different and much colder than the other guys (the more he knows a woman the less attractive he finds them) does Elaine’s power start to unravel.

You might think this all sounds a bit dry and heavy but you could not be more wrong, because The Love Witch is not shot like a modern horror at all. No, it is filmed as if it is a very pretty 1960s melodrama. The colour and sets burst off the screen in vivid Technicolor – genuine film stock was used! The costumes and hairstyles seem to have come straight from Biba on Carnaby Street in swinging sixties London. The whole production looks fantastic with a wonderful attention to detail of time and place, with classic Mercedes driving on projected back drops and eyelashes large enough to blow people over. This period look is perfect… right up until you see modern cars in the background. At first you think this could be a mistake or a result of budget limitations. But then Trish drives a modern BMW and later pulls out a mobile phone. Its a wonderful conceit… the movie sucks you into this sixties dreamy love letter then snaps you straight back out of it with modern touches. It both undermines its period setting and reinforces it at the same time; The Love Witch might seem like it was made in the past, with its ludicrous production values and weird dream like qualities, but it is dealing with issues which are bang up to date, and the juxtaposition of the old and new imagery reinforces this.

The acting is also top notch. I watched some god awful movie the other day which was trying to recreate a B-movie feel with exaggerated performances. However the actors were clearly not up to the task and the whole thing came across as laboured and amateur. Not so in The Love Witch. The performances are often stilted and wooden but they are deliberate, they are clearly performed by actors who really can act and it works perfectly. Think about it: acting badly enough that you give a really good performance is no easy feat. It reminded me of Johnny Depp’s terrific turn in Ed Wood – so bad its good, but on purpose… terrific.

It’s not all technicolour perfection though: the film feels way too long at just over two hours. Obviously it has a deliberately slower pace which helps recreate the mood of the sixties era, but there are some scenes which just go on for far too long. These are mostly parts involving the extended witch clans in Eureka. There are far too many long ritual scenes which could have easily been cut out and would not have made the slightest difference to the story. In fact these scenes are mostly not even shot as well as the main chunk of the film, as if they weren’t sure what to do with them so feel even more surplus to requirements.

I wouldn’t let this put you off though. The Love Witch is a unique and clearly insane film: watching all its prime-colour melodrama is like dipping your mind into a sixties acid-tinged fever dream. On top of that it gives you something to think about: how love can be a destructive curse for both men and women, and how the witch, certainly in modern cinema, isn’t helping.

Don’t Go In The House 1979

In my review of Don’t Go In The Woods I asked, In a roundabout kind of way, how any conservative MP in their right mind could take such a film so seriously as to ban it. Don’t Go In the House, which was also on the Video Nasties list, is surely more the film they were thinking of.

A young man, whose mother burnt him as a child, lures women back to his place, hangs them up in his custom made steel, fireproof room and torches them with a flamethrower. Yey, fun. Unlike Don’t Go In The Woods with its crazy music and comedy bead-wearing killer, Don’t Go In The House is an incredibly bleak and sober movie. There are few laughs to be had as we follow Donny the Incinerator around in his mad, sad life. However, despite the grim subject matter, this film, once more, is not a piece of a shlock needing to be removed from public viewing but a clear homage to Psycho with its own, albeit limited, merits.

The Psycho influences are everywhere. Donny lives in a large, spooky house with his dead mother, although she is kept upstairs in the bedroom rather than the fruit cellar. Expanding on the mother/son relationship, we have flashbacks to Donny being tortured with naked flames as a child which have lead him to his psychotic state of mind now. There are weird old trinkets throughout the property. Donny himself is clearly a schizophrenic with his dead mother talking to him, but instead of dressing like her he has a handy fireproof outfit that he picked up from a clearly deeply irresponsible gun shop.

Where things differ from Psycho is that instead of following the (semi) innocent character of Marion Crane into murderous Norman Bates’s sick world, here we follow Donny as the main character. Considering how pathetic his life is, it makes you question do we want to know about Donny’s tragic existence? And in truth we probably don’t. It’s not like you can watch Don’t Go In The House and start rooting for Donny: “go on my son! Get another victim and cook her!” is, hopefully, not your response. If it is please seek immediate psychiatric help. No, mostly you just want someone to intervene and have him locked up before someone else is hurt.

This is probably what lead the film to end up in the Video Nasties list: the tone of relentless bleakness. It probably didn’t help itself by having been made in the seventies. Donny has a job, at an incinerating plant obviously, which has that gritty working man/blue collar feel to it that movies such as Rocky and, well, Blue Collar did. Life was hard for the working man and it would be just as easy to spend your spare time punching meat and people as it would losing your mind and killing women. However despite all the grimness, Don’t Go In The House is not a particularly violent film. The first woman is fairly graphically burnt in front of us, however the analogue fire effects probably were not particularly realistic then let alone now, so we rely on the terrible IDEA of what is happening rather than the execution of it. After her death the murders are cleverly shown after the fact, so the bodies build up but we aren’t subjected to the brutality of their demises.

If Don’t Go In The House is like any movie then it is William Lustig’s ultra sleazy Maniac. It shares the same madman’s perspective approach to the story. So much so that it has similar scenes of the crazy person talking to his victims and dressing up their corpses. It even has the same ending. Don’t Go In The House was made a year before Maniac but I don’t know if Lusting ripped it off so much as it was just a sign of the times. Maniac is the much better film though.

What this does have over Lustig’s film, however, is a lot of disco. The twist, if you could call it such a thing, is that about two thirds of the way through the movie, director Joseph Ellison clearly had had enough of all this misery and decided to liven things up. Donny has a John Travolta style makeover and ends up down the local discotheque. Things seem like it could work out for a little while but then Donny, instead of boogying with all the pretty girls all night long, blows it by setting fire to one of them instead. At least disco makes a triumphant, and deeply inappropriate, return over the end credits.

Don’t Go In The House is a weak made but odd, creepy and somewhat disturbing variation on the Psycho story. It isn’t a particularly comfortable watch but it does have something to say about child abuse and the damage it can cause in adulthood, which may, or may not, be something you want to see. Even if it’s not, don’t ban the thing.

Don’t Go In The Woods 1981

After watching Don’t Go In The Woods  I think the main question we have to ask about the whole Video Nasties debacle is this:

WHAT THE FUCK TORIES?!?!!?

I’m not saying that the-banned-for-many-years Don’t Go In The Woods isn’t gory, because it is. And I’m not saying that it isn’t occasionally offensive, because it is that too. But the gore is of the of the cheapest bucket of red paint variety, and it is only offensive in its stupidity. I realise that over time what was once shocking has become less so, but I cannot believe for a second that anyone who watched this movie back in 1981 was so mortified (or anything other than bemused) that they would call for it’s instant banning. Unless you were in a wheelchair I suppose (I’ll get to that). This leads me to the conclusion that no body bothered watching Don’t Go In The Woods before chucking it on the list.

Right from the beginning it is apparent that the film has some major issues with coverage. A bunch of teens, who I guess were meant to be actors but forgot to learn how to act, are sitting around a campfire being told about the legend of these, them, here woods where a killer lives preying on teens. At least I presume they are being told as you never see the person who is telling them. The camera never cuts to a reverse so you only see the reactions (including one girl staring straight at the lens) not the main character of the scene who is talking. This happens relentlessly throughout the film: a scene in a plane involving the sherif and a pilot. They have a very long (and repetitive) conversation but you never see anything of the pilot other than his back. I thought this was because his character was mysterious and would play a bigger part later. But no, we never see the pilot again…

More coverage madness ensues: a man is strangled to death by his camera bag strap, or is he? He just seems to lean forward for a bit making gurgling sounds. The next shot he is lying at the bottom of a cliff with his (very red) brains splattered all over some rocks. Sure, we can work out what has happened but maybe seeing the strap being thrown around his neck or him actually being pushed off the cliff would have help connect the visual dots.

This isn’t just a question of coverage though, the whole approach to editing and putting scenes or even shots in order seems beyond the film maker’s abilities. The main teen hero bloke of the movie (failing to grasp the importance of The Final Girl trope) frolics about in the water with two girls early on, but then in a later scene the same guy is standing on a cliff watching the girls and HIMSELF in the same water. Either he is having a flashback to happier times or there is some weird time travelling shit going on we, as the audience, are not privy to.

Hey, look this is all just the technical stuff. Don’t Go In The Woods fails in almost every other way too. In design, for example. The killer turns out to be some wild man who lives in the woods and wears beads on his face. There is no explanation as to why he likes the beads or if they mean anything. Certainly if it was to make him look scary then that didn’t work. If it was to add mystery then it could be deemed a success: the mystery being “Why are you wearing beads on your face?!?!” Also this wild man is actually quite small so when hero guy and his female friend return to the woods to get revenge or justice or what-have-you, it is like two healthy middle class folk murdering a little old tramp.

Nothing makes any sense though, and I’m not just talking about characters deciding to wander off by themselves level of sense here. I mean nothing the characters do at all makes the slightest sense:

  • The hero escapes with the girl after failing to defend himself against the tramp with a big stick, but then returns with just the girl and the same big stick to kill him. Why would this strategy work when it failed last time?
  • A couple called Cherry and Dick are having a romantic night in their campervan. But Dick’s idea of romance is stumble about like a drunken madman shouting “let me take care of it, Cherry, oh Cherry. Huuhh?” whilst looking at the floor. Who talks like that? And who has sex with someone clearly that mad?
  • “Its gonna be one of those summers” says a security guard as a girl rollerskates past him down the mountain. Who rollerskates down mountains? And how?
  • When hero bloke and girl escape they say a friend of theirs is still trapped up the mountain with the killer. The sherif notes that the hero might become “a bit irrational with guilt.” Then said sherif goes off for a hearty breakfast to think about that and other things – not to sort out the guys guilt by going to rescue the girl or catch the killer or any other sherif type things.

Its not just the weird behaviour which is demented, the sound is mad as birds too. The music, if you can call it that, mostly consists of bells, whistles and other odd noises. A rattle snake rattles for no reason throughout the film and at one point you can hear a train hoot its horn. When the story demands some suspense, for example when the hero and girl enter the killer’s cabin shouting at each other to be quiet, the soundtrack has the sound of someone randomly beating a steel bin. The only proper music is a kind of comedy slapstick number which plays over a guy struggling to move himself around in his wheelchair.  That’s the offensive bit of this video nasty – yeah take the piss out of the handicapped why don’t you! There is a theme tune though, when the film finally ends, with its weirdly downbeat and bleak coda, a chirpy little number pops up sounding like teddy bears picnic but singing about being chopped up into little pieces.

Worst of all, Don’t Go In The Woods might be called Don’t Go In The Woods but most of it is set on a mountain side with barely a wood in sight.

Its all complete nonsense. Certainly worth a watch just to see how not to make a movie. I thought this was going to be one of those one-shot director deals, where a bunch of friends decided to make a horror movie and then never made another film again. But no, this was director James Bryan’s eighth movie, and he would go on to make many more.  Maybe if the conservative government had watched this film they might have done something more useful than banning the film: banning Bryan from ever going near a film set again.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Kill It 2016

For anyone who liked action cinema in the eighties Dolph Lundgren will always have a special place in our hearts, even if he did kill Apollo Creed. An absolutely enormous specimen of humanity (especially standing opposite tiny little Sylvester Stallone) he may have started out as a spiky blonde killing machine but by the end of Rocky IV as he found respect for the Italian Stallion so we found respect for him.

Lundgren may have never have had the career of fellow European beefcakes Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean Claude Van Damme but even after the underrated (or overrated, it is hard to tell) stab at the big league Masters of the Universe, Lundgren has never stopped working. Looking at IMDb he has 84 credits to his name. Don’t Kill It maybe his latest vehicle to be released but he has nine movies coming up since completing this one. Nine. The guy never stops.

If anything Lundgren had grown into his looks as a B movie star. He may well be 59 but he still has the body of of a man half his age, and unlike some of his other peers he clearly hasn’t had any surgery so his face has a cool weathered look to it. I’m not saying he’s Clint Eastwood or anything but… okay I’m saying he’s a Swedish Clint Eastwood. Fuck it.

Don’t Kill It casts Dolph as a mean Southern demon hunting cowboy. He sleeps in his truck and has an unhealthy relationship with his modified, web-shooting shotgun. He also knows a thing or two about capturing demons, having done it since he was a lil’ boy with his pa. What’s great here is that Lundgren actually has a fairly decent stab at doing a southern accent which he just about pulls off. (Did Schwarzenegger ever try to do any accent other than his own?) Lundgren’s character is as old fashioned a trope as you can get, all one liners and fingers up to authority. His only nod to the modern world is the pipe he smokes is electronic, and even then he seems to smoke it in peoples faces to annoy them.

The twist of the tale is in the demon itself. It can possess anyone who has just killed the body it is currently possessing. Hence the one thing you can do is the title of the film: Don’t Kill It. This makes for a tricky situation if the demon turns up and started killing everyone else in the room.Fortunately nobody listens to Lundgren’s advice and we are subjected a huge amount of violence as the demon attacks people with axes, chainsaws or whatever is to hand and then gets shot by a local or a policeman, then possesses them and carries on the mayhem. If this was the real world here it would certainly be an argument for tighter gun control. So many Toms, Dicks and Harrys pull out their piece to down the killer demon that Lundgren can barely keep up with who the demon is inside next. Of course if this happened here in good old Blighty all this would be solved in about five minutes – a smack round the back of the head with a good old trusty truncheon and we’d have that demon doing bird in time for tea.

Lundgren is partnered with a female FBI agent who is cynical at first but is soon fighting alongside him and it occurred to me that what we have here is basically Lundgren Vs The Evil Dead rather than Ash. It even has a cabin in the woods that looks almost identical. Evil Dead nods are no bad thing. Especially when director Mike Mendez embraces so many practical gore effects. They are very much of the quick cut from live actor to rubber head exploding variety but what self regarding horror fan doesn’t love that? There are a few less successful visual effects but we can forgive them for that. This is horror action on a budget, they’re doing the best the can. The dialogue isn’t so great. There is far too much of it for one thing, although that’s not a big surprise in low budget film making. However, structurally the script is solid, building up to a decent and satisfying climax.

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Look, this isn’t a masterpiece, it’s a throwaway bit of Saturday night fun. But if you’ve always wanted Ivan Drago to do battle with the evil dead whilst smoking a pipe and doing his best to sound like he comes from Mississippi, then Don’t Kill It is the movie you’ve been waiting for.

Hell Night 1981

In the rush to cash in on the surprise box office success of Friday the 13th, slasher film makers seemed to forget one thing: why it was a hit in the first place. Perhaps it has been lost in the mist of time but I clearly remember when it came out back in 1980 (and I was far too young then to sneak into an X certificate film dammit). What everyone was talking about were the gory deaths and how realistic they looked. Let’s face facts it’s not like Friday the 13th was even in the same league as Halloween which had come out two years previously. It had neither the tension or the cinematic professionalism to match Carpenter’s classic. What it did have was an axe through the face, a guy being used as bow and arrow target practice and Kevin Bacon getting speared through the throat, seemingly in real time. It was a freak show, a carnival, a house of horrors and people flocked to see its grisly showmanship.

So a year later when the cinemas were ram-packed with slashers, as teens died silly nilly, moments after getting their clothes off, it was the promise of more of this macabre side show that got the audiences in. How disappointing it must have been for them to find the likes of Hell Night limply following the same old story but with little of the red stuff. As part of a sorority/ fraternity initiation four students must stay the night in Garth Manor where a decade before a crazy old man killed his mutant family and then himself. Obviously they are all doomed and there will be a final girl.

On the positive side that final girl is the one and only Linda Blair.

Blair had been thrown into the spotlight several years before hand as twelve year-old head spinner Regan in The Exorcist. It was a defining role she would never escape though often embrace. By the time of Hell Night she had shed off her childhood roles and was now, quite frankly, a full chested woman, which film makers here mercilessly exploit as she is strapped into a fancy dress costume that pushes her breasts to the fore. For these kind of film, the acting is variable at best, but Blair, being the consummate professional and by then an old hand at the age of 22, gives it her all and acts much better than the scripts deserves. I noticed on IMDb that The Razzies awarded her Worst Actress for her performance here, which is sad when she is clearly doing her best in a cheesy b-movie. It is also typical of The Razzies who come across as more like judgemental bullies rather than just gentle fun pokers of the industry.

The rest of the cast, to be judgmental, are pretty awful. It doesn’t help that the script tries to throw in a lot of jokes that the actors just aren’t up to delivering. There is an ongoing joke about a girl making out with a guy called Seth who she keeps calling Wes. When he says he has to go to the John, she says “Hey, I thought your name was Seth?” You can almost see the tumble weeds rolling past the screen. Another couple of students playing pranks on the main four comment about how the girl with them is a pain. “We should have left her behind.” “Why? Her behind is the best part. We should have kept her behind and left the rest of her.” That wouldn’t be a good joke in a Carry On movie.

Talking of Carry On movies, one of the characters seems to have fallen straight out of them. Denise, played by British Actress Suki Goodwin, spends the entire film in red and black stockings and suspenders and is constantly making double-entendres. There are various jokes about only lasting three strokes and finishing off and you can almost imagine her bursting into a Barbara Windsor style giggle. The only difference is that she claims to have taken loads of Quaaludes so is obviously tripping her fits off, until she reaches her untimely demise. Babs would never be caught dead doing such a thing. It’s a shame Denise does die (off camera) as she is almost entertaining at points. Or maybe it’s just the suspenders.

Hell Night is okay. There are certainly many worse slashers from this time. There’s some interesting diversions and a twist or two and it has a strong climax when Blair finally gets to do something other than scream and hide behind a big-haired man. However, the bulk of the film substitutes decent kills for far too much of characters walking around in the dark saying “hello is there anybody there?” Of course you need these scenes to build up the tension, and I’m sure they were fairly effective back in 1981 in American movie theatres packed with screaming teenagers. But these scenes of tension need to have a punchline, and in the horror films that came after Friday the 13th that punchline needed to be a good kill with some decent make up effects. Hell Night does not have enough of this. Most deaths are too quickly edited or boring to warrant the long build up. One of the few gore effects is clearly a woman lying under a bed sticking her head through a hole in the matress. See:

Its not as embarrassingly obvious as the similar effect in the toilet in The House On Sorority Row but its not far off and who the hell are they kidding anyway.

Saying all that, the most effective moment hardly involves any blood at all: Seth tries to escape by climbing over the high spiked gate of the manor – its wince-inducing as he tries not to get killed, not by the murderer but by his own drunken clumsiness.

Maybe Hell Night is fine after all. Maybe I’m just harking back to my own childish ways when the idea of a good horror movie was how gory it was, and how many pictures of said gore could it get inside the covers of Fangoria magazine. On the other hand, maybe not… if you’re a slasher movie from the early eighties spill blood or go home.