Terror Tuesday: Horror A-to-Z: Underrated/Forgotten Slashers
So without further ado…
Notable for being the first New Line Cinema production (they had previously only distributed independently produced films) as well as the feature debut of future Nightmare on Elm St 2 helmer Jack Sholder, this underrated flick boasts one of the best casts ever assembled for an early 80s slasher. In addition to Donald Pleasence (playing a variation on Dr. Loomis, albeit one that’s full blown crazy), you get two future Oscar winners: Martin Landau and Jack Palance. The emphasis is on suspense more than kills, though there are a few, including a hilarious mailman attack. Bonus points for the strange, somewhat chilling ending.
Featuring the most ludicrous explanation for a killer in movie history (being born during a lunar eclipse), this classless killer kid movie features not one, not two, but THREE murderous little brats who decimate a good chunk of the town’s population. Sadly, most people remember it simply as “The movie where you can see Downtown Julie Brown naked”, and not, as I do, “The movie where a kid beats her dad with a shovel and then tells her mom he fell down.”
It’s no secret that some of the best modern horror movies come from countries that are not America, and this is no exception. Titled Fritt Vilt in its native land, this Norwegian flick is remarkably straight forward; the type of slasher film that was supposedly never going to get made again after Scream deconstructed the genre. But that’s precisely what I love about it – there’s no bullshit, no winking, just a straight up (and quite good) slasher movie. The sequel’s pretty great too; a shame no one has released it in Region 1 yet (you can get an all region copy via Amazon, however).
Released in 1992, long after non-sequel slasher films had been largely banished direct to video, this one boasts one of the biggest body counts of the era (close to 20; even Jason only hit that number once or twice), early performances by Holly Marie Combs and Angel’s Glenn Quinn, and at least 200% more Larry Drake than anyone deserves. His non-stop puns are hit or miss (“Time to do what doctors do best!” is my favorite), but you have to admire the movie’s almost non-stop action and surprisingly sympathetic motive for the title character (who is NOT a dentist, an oft-made mistake – there is a movie called The Dentist and it kind of sucks).
Evil Things (2009)
Sadly this hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet, though it has played at a few festivals. Boldly combining the “found footage” genre with a straight up “5 kids going off to have a party” slasher film, it is understandably a bit slow, but the final act is chilling, and the “why are they still filming?” problem, inherent to all of these things, isn’t as logic-straining as usual (i.e. Cloverfield). Hopefully 2011 will produce some good news for writer/director Dominic Perez. Keep tabs on its status at the official site!
Halloween has influenced more slasher films than any other, but it’s usually closer to ripoff than genuine homage. Frayed is the exception – while some of the plot is familiar (escaped mental patient, for example), it’s very much its own film; borrowing more from Halloween’s style (low body count, suspense and atmosphere over bloody carnage) rather than its story. It runs a bit long, but it’s one of the best indie slasher films I’ve seen in years. Also: a rare good killer clown movie that doesn’t involve outer space.
The power of a crowd! When I watched this one at home I was pretty bored, but when I saw it again at a revival theater, I realized it had that je ne sais quoi that turns its faults into selling points, such as the ridiculous plot, terrible dialogue, and nonsensical red herrings. Plus, any movie with Christopher George is automatically worth a look. Bonus: contains the rare instance of a slasher killer done in by his own OCD tendency to prop his victim’s corpses around a house for the Final Girl to find later.
Yes, yes, it’s the first movie to feature Tom Hanks (and also Dana Barron, the original Audrey Griswold!). But it’s also a fairly novel entry, in that it seems to be a side-quel to some unseen slasher movie. Early on, all of the male characters go off to a cabin in the woods for the weekend, which is pretty much the plot of 90% of all horror movies. Except we never see them again, and the movie takes place in boring suburbia with all the females. I also like how the film’s final line probably will take you a few seconds to piece together, so it basically gives you the motive during its end credits. P.S. Besides Hanks and Barron, look out for “that guy” regular James Rebhorn as a scummy professor, as well as Don Scardino, best known for Squirm back then and for directing 30 Rock now.
Three words: Shirtless Clu Gulager. Need I say more? OK, how about “Young Daphne Zuniga”? Now I got your attention. This isn’t a particularly good movie, but it’s one of the… odder of the era (OK, the word I should use is clumsy), in that it’s set in a mall that’s actually a store that looks like a library, has an out of nowhere twist that would require advanced special effects to pull off properly, and features Vera Miles saying “He’d forget his head if it wasn’t attached”, about a character who had just died but was not beheaded. So it’s non-ironic irony, I guess. But it’s the only slasher I can think of that begins with a little girl killing her mom’s boyfriend (which leads to the death of her actual father), so there’s something.
The movie is about a killer with a pumpkin for a head. So it makes up for Pumpkinhead’s misleading title, but otherwise it’s pretty forgettable. HOWEVER, the DVD contains the single greatest commentary track in history, where writer Fred Olen Ray begins making fun of the movie, which angers director Steve Latshaw, who storms out in anger. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard “You specifically stated you would not make any reference to the shit pickle comment!” Latshaw has gone on to write a whole bunch of B-movie nonsense, including Command Performance, a Die Hard ripoff set at a concert, with Dolph Lundgren (as the band’s drummer!) in the McClane role.
I had really low expectations for this one, so maybe it’s not as good as I remember, but it’s definitely one of the better whodunits to come along since Scream, which is to say I was not able to guess the killer. There are a lot of characters and possible motives are given from each, but the script doesn’t make the common mistake of killing everyone off too soon and allowing us to guess the killer by process of elimination. Also, even though a reality show is the backdrop, it’s refreshingly light on humor and meta-bullshit. And it’s the only movie on this list with Nestor “Bat-Manuel” Carbonell, so there.
Not a very memorable movie, but it’s worth a look to see Anna Faris in her first leading role, a year before she’d mock this sort of stuff in Scary Movie. Thus it’s also the first movie where you could say “Well, it was lousy, but at least it had Anna Faris.” That’s her bread and butter, and it all began here!
Not to be confused with the Kirstie Alley/John Larroquette vehicle (or the low budget Lance Henriksen flick, or the Vincent Price movie…), this is a delightfully nutty American/Italian production from 1981, featuring three killers (one of whom is a dog) and some really bizarre deaf kids. The plot is similar to (the same year’s) Happy Birthday To Me, but this is the better film, because it’s shorter and has a stereotypical Japanese repairman. Also one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes in movie history, when a teacher is in the middle of a one on one session with a deaf child and is summoned via a PA system. She just gets up and leaves without telling the kid why she’s suddenly abandoning him! He can’t hear the PA, ya jerk!
New Year’s Evil (1981)
This one’s good enough to write a whole article about!
As I mentioned earlier, lots of slasher movies borrow heavily from Halloween, but this one takes it to a whole new level. Rob Zombie’s Halloween stole less from Carpenter; even the score is recycled. But it’s got one up on the real deal – it’s set in the Midwest (like Halloween), and actually filmed in the Midwest (Carpenter used Pasadena and West Hollywood locations for Illinois). Random trivia: writer/actor/editor/director/producer Christopher Reynolds was allegedly a PA on Poltergeist.
Before you die, you need to experience this batshit masterpiece in a theater. There is no greater sound in the world than the collective “WHAT?” that will involuntarily utter from the mouths of every audience member when a guy comes out of nowhere and begins kung fu-attacking a woman for no reason, only for another guy to come out and explain “It’s OK, it’s just my kung fu instructor.” And Paul Smith (Bluto!) gives the greatest stink-eye in motion picture history. An inarguable classic; if nothing else you will learn how to properly hide a chainsaw from a victim when sharing a tiny (and fake) elevator.
The Letter Q: N/A! I looked for a good hour or so. Maybe there’s some foreign title that begins with a Q? Eh, just watch Quantum Of Solace again – it’s not as bad as you think.
Since birth (or at least, since before I was old enough to know), I have suffered from Anosmia, which is the inability to smell. So this movie, featuring a killer that had a horrible odor, was one of the rare times I could feel good about my problem – the characters spend most of the movie covering their noses and what not, whereas I’d be like “I have no problem here.” At least until I died. There’s a sequel that’s basically a remake (and even has a character with Anosmia!), so you can go either way – this one has Michael Ironside though.
(aka SL8N8) (2006)
As with Cold Prey, this is a foreign slasher (Dutch) made by folks who never got the memo that a modern slasher has to have hip characters who have seen slasher movies. It cribs a bit from My Bloody Valentine and gets a bit too busy (it’s also a ghost film, and folks get possessed), but it’s surprisingly brutal, and I liked the confined/single location element (I’ve had my fill of slashers set in the woods or suburban neighborhoods).
I mentioned this one in my Home, Sweet Home piece, but it bears repeating: this is a slasher movie where the killer is a regular sized turkey. I cannot stress that enough.
Probably the most well known movie on the list, since it had a giant (and profitable) theatrical release and features performances by Eva Mendes and House MD’s Jennifer Morrison, plus everyone’s favorite asshole, Hart “Ellis From Die Hard” Bochner. But it’s also widely panned, and I don’t quite get why – it’s a wonderfully goofy slasher movie, with intentionally nonsensical red herrings and the hands down stupidest killer motive in slasher history; a subtle parody on such movies but with a few decent kills to spare (love the bathroom/window/glass sequence early on). It’s also the directorial debut/swan song of John Ottman, best known as the editor/composer of several Bryan Singer films (the only one he DIDN’T, in fact, was X-Men, presumably because he was making this. Ouch.).
After Scream, there were a lot of slasher movies, but none followed the time honored tradition of the original wave of slashers and set itself on a holiday. Enter Valentine, which asked us to believe that ladies like Denise Richards and Marley Shelton would have trouble finding a date on February 14th, as well as that a gawky McLovin-looking kid could grow up to be David Boreanaz. To make up for its rather giant suspensions of disbelief, however, director Jamie Blanks brings on a lot of crowd-pleasing - he kills Katherine Heigl off almost immediately (yay!) and saves its most brutal murder for Richards, in her first film since The World Is Not Enough. You can’t tell me you didn’t want to see her get impaled with a power drill after watching that movie! Note – the ending of the film is an intentional homage to fellow A-Z lister Alone In The Dark.
Rather than try to defend this movie with words (it’s not really that great, though it’s surprisingly gory and features one of the more novel excuses for its characters to be in the middle of nowhere), I ask you to look at the following screenshot and THEN try to tell me this movie’s not worth your time:
OK I’m cheating here, I actually haven’t seen this one, and it’s better known as Hospital Massacre (X-Ray is its international title). But as it is from Cannon (Golan and Globus) and is also a holiday slasher (Valentine’s Day), I’m sure I’ll enjoy it when I finally see it. And there’s nothing else for X unless I count Xtro, and that’s for “Horror A-Z: Batshit Alien Movies With Incestuous Undertones”.
Better known as Christmas Evil, this is an oddly depressing “Killer Santa” movie that’s low on kills, but high on John Waters’ favorite films list, so I guess it evens out. And it features the creepiest/pimp-iest reporter in movie history. Worth a look, and you gotta love the fairy-tale ending. The DVD features something I wish more special editions would include – notes from the test screening!
To truly understand the full range of slasher movies, you have to suffer through an Ulli Lommel flick or two. Really, this is no worse or better than his other movies (he even has another Zodiac one called Curse of the Zodiac), so any of his titles (post The Boogeyman, which actually isn’t THAT bad, at least compared to this shit) will do – but it’s his only “Z” movie and I had nothing else. I guess Zodiac is technically underrated since there are some folks who will claim it’s NOT Fincher’s best film (they are wrong), but no, if I’ve had to suffer through 5-6 Lommel movies in my life, you can get through one.
Most of these are still available on DVD, though some you might need to hunt down (New Year’s Evil, for example, was never released on disc, but is available through Netflix Instant as of this writing). I wouldn’t expect anyone to enjoy them all (especially considering I myself don’t), but if you enjoy the big classics (Halloween, Friday the 13th, Scream) or just enjoy seeing dudes in masks killing folks with a variety of objects, this list will definitely provide a few movies you’ll want to add to your collection.
P.S. Hopefully this will be the first of a few columns in the “A-Z” vein, where I list appropriate titles for whatever category for each letter of the alphabet, minus Q which will probably only come up if I do “Best Low Budget Monster Movies Set In New York” or maybe “Stephen King TV Projects”. In fact, if you’re a filmmaker, your goal for thisyear should be to make a movie starting with Q. Preferably a good one.
Brian Collins has watched more horror movies than anyone you know. Every day he watches a new one; find out what that does to a man by reading his site Horror Movie A Day.