Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Leave a comment

sleepaway

Where do I begin? Probably where most people do—the ending. The finale of Sleepaway Camp is crazier than Andy Dick on bath salts, and accounts for about 90 percent of the mystique that surrounds this camp-killer relic. There is also fun to be had watching an amazing time capsule of hideous ’80s hair and clothes. One kid wears an Asia (the band) T-shirt!

Though not a particularly gory movie, the kills are inventive, and writer-director Robert Hiltzig (a film student at the time) somehow sustains enough tension with his amateur freak-show cast to carry us through to the aforementioned ending. Which, in case I didn’t make myself clear, is the stuff of afternoons whiled away on the psychiatrist’s couch.

Introverted Angela (Felissa Rose) and her boisterous cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) are shipped off to Camp Arawak, a substandard bucolic retreat for horny teens. (Much of the discomfort encountered in Sleepaway Camp comes from virtually all the campers behaving like hormonal nitwits, which wouldn’t be so bad, except that most of actors look like they’re 12, tops. Ewww.)

Since she’s the quiet type, Angela naturally gets picked on by her bitchy bunkmates, but does successfully attract the attention of Paul (Christopher Collett), a nice boy, whom she soon finds in a compromising lip-lock with her chief tormentor, Judy (Karen Fields, who, in her own bored, flirty way, is the film’s real monster). A series of deadly “accidents” ensue, as one camper drowns and another gets stung to death by bees.

Let’s meet the staff! Counselor Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo) is an Italian body builder who ambles about in horrifying shorty shorts; the cook (Owen Hughes) is a brazen sexual predator, and Mel, the cigar-smoking, hopelessly middle-aged camp director (Mike Kellin, who’s been in about a zillion movies since 1950) is a man increasingly worried about the camp’s financial bottom line, once the corpses start piling up. However, he’s not so worried that he can’t find time to make indecent proposals to Meg (Katherine Kamhi), a counselor that apparently craves the attention of old homely men in knee socks.

My suspicion here is that Hiltzig, a novice filmmaker, caught some Ed Wood juju in a jar. Somehow, through a combination of luck, desperation, and naive audacity, he made a cheap, traumatic slasher flick that people still talk about. The ending, anyway.

Sleepaway Camp inspired a bunch of sequels, but I can’t speak to their quality.

Advertisements

Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (2013)

Leave a comment

MV5BNDYyNDY4NDk3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzg4NDA2MDE@._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_

Will you think the less of me if I heap modest praise on Axe Giant? Hell, I don’t care. I’m obviously going soft in the head, but this movie never promises more than it can deliver. I am aware that the CGI effects are one notch above cable access and the acting ranges from horrible to hilariously hammy. Even so, director/cowriter Gary Jones has devised what amounts to an intriguingly twisted tall tale that’s awash in guts and gore.

Nutshell: Five snotty adolescent offenders are transported to the Middle of Nowhere Mountains (filmed on location in Ohio, Michigan and California) under the supervision of Sgt. Hoke (Tom Downey), a militaristic asshole who probably has an autographed picture of R. Lee Ermey next to his bed.

Hoke’s mission, to kick their criminal asses toward responsibility, is interrupted by the arrival of the legendary Paul Bunyan, who has an axe to grind (see what I did there?) with whomever has desecrated the final resting place of his beloved buddy, Babe the Blue Ox. The cast is soon whittled down to a paltry few, including Meeks (Joe Estevez, from the famous Estevez/Sheen clan) a mad mountain man who has a soft spot in his heart for the rampaging giant. Given such a juicy part, Estevez hams it up like a butcher with a prize pig and a shiny new cleaver.

The giant’s origin is explained by way of an 1894 backstory that stars old Grizzly Adams himself, Dan Haggerty (who has not aged well). Here, Bunyan turns out to be a massive man-child with  a ridiculously long lifespan and a talent for felling trees, and bears a slight resemblance to a Tolkien troll. The sympathetic brute even inspires a catchy Seeger-esque (Pete, not Bob) ballad that accompanies the credits, sung by Hick’ry Hawkins! You’ve got to admit, an effort was made.

It’s 90 minutes of jolly crapola, but Axe Giant is at least adequately paced, as the titular lumberjack stays pretty busy making bloody cordwood out of the supporting cast. It’s got a few laughs and even a brief nude scene. Folks, you could do a lot worse.

I do feel I must point out one recurring motif that left me befuddled. The giant is apparently stealthy! Have you ever heard of such a thing? He’s constantly sneaking up on his victims and getting the jump on them. You’d think the approach of a 20-foot dude would ring a few alarm bells, but these soon-to-be kindling campers are self-absorbed to the point of oblivion. Perhaps since he spent his life in the woods, Bunyan has learned to tread lightly?

Blood Runs Cold (2011)

Leave a comment

MV5BMTUyMzE3ODg0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTE1ODI1OQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_

Based on the description, I thought this might be some annoyingly clever musical crossover, since its rather featureless lead character Winona (Hanna Oldenburg) is supposedly a successful pop singer. To my relief, she doesn’t sing a note. She’s far too busy trying to elude the zombie-cannibal-miner-hillbilly freak that’s intent on having her over for a snack (if you know what I mean).

Blood Runs Cold is filmed somewhere near Stockholm, pretending to be North Carolina—which also accounts for the mercurial accents on display. Winona (not a Judd) must four-wheel her way through several miles of frozen tundra to a remote house near her hometown that has been rented by her manager. (Note: If this guy was my manager, and he stuck me way-the-hell-out in some snowbound hick town without my entourage, he’d soon be nut-punched).

Winona (not a Judd) finds her crummy dump of a house, settles in and drives to a nearby tavern where she stumbles over her high school sweetheart Richard (Patrick Saxe) and his friends Carl (Andrea Wylander) and Liz (Elin Hugoson). She invites them all back to her crummy dump (lots of time spent driving around in Arctic conditions just adds to its zero-budget, WTF charm) where they fall prey to a multifaceted maniac (David Liljeblad—who also serves as producer and co-writer) with a penchant for pickax perforation. He falls a bit short of frightening, but I would have appreciated two minutes of backstory on where this colorful killer came from.

With Blood Runs Cold, director Sonny Laguna gives us a fascinatingly unadorned minimalist study in the field of hack-and-stack. Not one dime of this film’s budget was spent on set dressing, wardrobe, or the cast; it’s all earmarked for blood, guts, and decapitation. And if you ask me, that’s money well spent.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Leave a comment

MV5BMTQyOTQwMzAwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjEzMzYwMw@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_

The real title of this Yuletide bloodbath should have been Billy Never Had a Chance. I mean, come on! Here’s a kid who’s already been spooked by his evil/senile grandpa into being afraid of Santa Claus, who then watches his parents get slaughtered by a stickup man dressed as St. Nick. Then he’s shipped off to an orphanage where a cruel Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) beats him for watching a couple engage in sexual congress (in an orphanage?) and then forces him to sit on Santa’s lap. He’s not even 10 years old yet! How the hell did they think he was going to turn out? Our cookie-cutter approach to mental illness is so lame.

Fast-forward 10 years and Billy the ticking time bomb (Robert Brian Wilson) is now a handsome, strapping young man—with a job in a toy store. Yeah, what with his mom and dad getting iced by Santa and all, he probably should have reviewed his career options a bit more thoughtfully, but I guess he needed the money for a new bike or something. Inevitably, Christmas rolls around and Billy’s nerves are a trifle frayed, as visions of the holly jolly fiend bombard his every waking moment. And for the piece de resistance, his drunken store manager (Brit Leach) makes poor Billy pull Santa Claus duty for the legions of snotty moppets that descend on the store like locusts on Christmas Eve. Like I said, he never had a chance. Hell, I’d have gone on a killing spree for having to entertain the brats, even without Billy’s tragic backstory.

Yes, it’s a ham-fisted and lurid psychodrama with plot developments you can see coming from miles away, but director Charles Sellier made sure that Silent Night, Deadly Night doesn’t scrimp on the spectacle essentials (i.e., blood and boobs). And in its painfully obvious effort to illustrate why this traumatized kid becomes an axe-wielding killer, we are forced to relive those horrible formative years right alongside Billy—which is far and away the most horrifying aspect of the movie. Suck it, Mother Superior!

Let’s face it: You really can’t miss with an evil, murderous Santa Claus. Maybe they should have called it Portrait of Santa as a Young Maniac.

Grim (1995)

Leave a comment

MV5BODUzMDk5NjUyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjkzODQyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_

Since when does a movie made in the 90s look like a movie made in the 70s? When it’s made in England, pretending to be Virginia! It certainly helps explain the abundance of denim jackets in this thing, that’s for sure.

Nutshell: Rob (Emmanuel Xuereb—he’s good in anything!) is a mining expert inspecting a series of tunnels and caves under a housing in development in “Virginia” (actually, Coleford, Gloucestershire) where folks have been disappearing. He and a bunch of concerned homeowners go spelunking into the bowels of the earth and are set upon by a magic troll-like being who can walk through walls.

The creature (Peter Tregloan) is the best thing about this SPoS—a toothy brute who bites and kills some of his victims, while others are imprisoned, presumably to be scarfed at a future date. By the way, the monster is initially summoned by some bored New Age suburbanites playing with a homemade Ouija board.

Grim is an idiotic film, but it’s the right kind of idiotic, as writer-director Paul Matthews leaves plenty of lengthy silences in the script so viewers can hurl snarky comments with impunity (a perfect movie for MST3K-style riffing). The story also gets increasingly (and I would argue “winningly”) bizarre, contains a decent amount of bloodletting, and leads to a WTF finale, with a minor character helplessly snared in a completely FUBAR situation. Grim is an amusing time-waster with an OK monster—nothing more, nothing less.

Shallow Ground (2004)

Leave a comment

MV5BMTQ3MTc3NDk4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjUyMDgyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR15,0,214,317_

A screwy mish-mash of elements somehow makes for a modestly entertaining melange of mayhem. Even though the overall execution is just slightly north of made-for-TV and the performances indicate that the actors were given perhaps an hour to familiarize themselves with the script, Shallow Ground managed to keep me engaged. Never underestimate the value of abundant gore and the occasional unclothed actress, I suppose.

The story reveals itself in very haphazard, what-the-hell fashion, as if a team of lemurs was busily typing out new scenes even as the cameras commenced rolling. In a middle-of-nowhere rural community called Shallow Valley, a tiny police department is in the midst of disbanding when a naked young man (Rocky Marquette) covered in blood makes an unwelcome appearance. Apparently, the townspeople are packing up after the completion of a nearby dam (don’t ask why, they just are), and Sheriff Jack Shepherd (a gaunt, haunted, and inexplicably Irish Timothy V. Murphy), still tormented by an unsolved murder from a year before, has to deal with a new string of deaths that are somehow connected to the presence of the mysterious blood-splattered adolescent.

The conclusion of Shallow Ground is clumsy and confused as writer-director Sheldon Wilson, another enthusiastic Sam Raimi acolyte, requests that the viewer obligingly stitch together several disparate story lines: the accidental death of a local man and his daughter during the dam’s construction, the subsequent disappearances of several people connected with the dam project, a crooked deputy (Stan Kirsch) who murders a drug dealer in a nearby large city (huh?), and a vengeful hausfrau (Patty McCormack from The Bad Seed!) with an axe to grind. It doesn’t coalesce in any meaningful way, but in this case the sum of Shallow Ground‘s grisly parts are (barely) enough to sustain us to the hastily constructed finale. You will have questions. For me, it was why is the incidental tension music so shitty and stupidly applied?

Hatchet II (2010)

1 Comment

MV5BMTM1OTI5MzQxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjUwMjg4Mw@@._V1_SX214_

There’s no need to fret if you haven’t seen the first installment in writer-director Adam Green’s Hatchet opus. The burgeoning schlockmeister is generous enough to replay the origin of the “Bayou Butcher” Victor Crowley, a monstrous swamp-dwelling child cursed by his own mother who dies while giving birth. (Hey Ma, this is what happens when you opt for home delivery—and your home is in a goddamn swamp!) The deformed kid is raised by his father, dies (I guess), accidentally killed by a blow from papa’s axe, and now it’s his alarmingly corporeal ghost that runs amok in the Louisiana bayou, artfully dismembering intruders. Was all of this backstory really necessary?

Marybeth (Danielle Harris) is the lone survivor from the first Hatchet movie, and for some reason, she wants to return to the swamp to retrieve the mutilated corpses of her family members that got chopped into kindling last time around. Really? That’s the best motivation she can come up with? Enlisting the aid of voodoo charlatan Reverend Zombie (the reliably nefarious Tony Todd) she puts a greasy white-trash posse together to salvage the remains and hopefully dispatch Crowley (Kane Hodder) into the afterlife on a more permanent basis.

Adam Green is a filmmaker of limited abilities and funds, so he wisely concentrates on the gruesome details in Hatchet II. A hunter gets his jaw torn off leaving his tongue lolling ludicrously. Another victim is bifurcated and while still alive, gets rudely yanked out of his skin by the spinal column. This is why we we’re here. There’s no story, no character development, no life lessons; just plenty of splatter. Crowley, a fairly rote creation, is a Southern-fried Jason Vorhees sans mask, dressed for an audition on Hee-Haw. Is he a vengeful ghost? Is he an unkillable thing? Don’t worry about it. Just savor the carnage. Green sends sufficient cannon fodder to foolishly confront the beast and the body count is more than respectable, while old pro Tony Todd chews the scenery with relish. Reason enough, I say.

Older Entries