July 28, 2017


Vince Dreyser is an American living in Rome. He is, among other things, a private investigator and bodyguard to anyone with the cash to afford him. Vince has a chance meeting with an old friend, a chemical research scientist named Walter. Walter is off to be married in a few days time. The two friends, both on tight schedules, arrange a meet-up for later in the week. Only Walter never shows up. Shortly after, Vince catches word that Walter's traveling companions were found dead in an apparent car accident. Vince suspects foul play, a suspicion which proves to be all too correct. While nosing around, Vince is knocked unconscious by two thugs and left to die in a burning car.

Narrowly surviving the ordeal, Vince goes to work. He tracks down the mechanic who rented the car to Walter's traveling companions, beating the man mercilessly and threatening to set him on fire. The man gives him a name: Guido Salvatorelli. Vince tries setting Guido up, luring him out into the open at night to ambush him. Things go south however and Vince ends up in hot water with the local cops, men none too happy with an American shooting down an Italian, criminal or not, in the streets. The Police Commissioner, although weary of Vince's rough nosed tactics and penchant for shooting first and asking questions later, soon comes around to Vince's side. Men are being found dead all over the place, all of whom are connected in some way to Vince's missing friend.

Truth be told, DATE FOR A MURDER isn't really a giallo. It's more of a standard European action flick. Yes, there is a central mystery involving a string of murders and a few missing people, but the intent of the film is never to scare or even puzzle the brain. It's lightweight and airy, built around action set pieces rather than cold, spine tingling moments of suspense. But as the film is often referred to as a giallo, I thought it was worth a look and inclusion on the list, even if I don't personally feel that it belongs there. 

DATE FOR A MURDER was co-written by Fernando Di Leo, one of the great masters of the Italian poliziotteschi. It feels very much like a first draft for the harder edged crime thrillers Di Leo would craft in the future, films like MILANO CALIBRO 9 and THE BOSS. It's filled with macho men, high fashion women, rooftop fistfights and flying bullets. The first time we see Vince, he's practicing dodging rubber bullets in his hotel room. The next time we see him, he's seducing a pretty blonde. The poliziotteschi preferred their heroes to be Men with a capital M. Often cruel and rarely above using violence to prove a point, the heroes of the Italian crime thrillers were often quite difficult to sympathize with or even care for. They're brutes, hyper-masculine alpha males, with blood lusts and libidos cranked to 11.

Thankfully, Vince Dreyser is more Euro-spy than gun toting rampage beast. As played by veteran Italian character actor George Ardisson, Vince is a likeable chap, one with a serious romantic interest in Fidelia, the fashionable upper class and sharp witted daughter of a wealthy family. The moments between the two are rife with flirting and light comedy, perfect for transforming a hard-nosed P.I. with a gun into the kind of character you can actually root for as he's gunning down gangsters and fear for as he rushes headlong into danger. And there's plenty of danger afoot, too. There's a terrific chase and scuffle on a rooftop, more than a few shoot-outs and a fantastic, tense climax set in a meat packaging plant. The highlight of the film however is the fight between Vince and an elderly cripple, the latter riding about in a wheelchair constructed from an old motorcycle. Watching the cripple try to run over a staggered Vince, swerving back and forth inside a cramped office, sums this film up better than I could ever hope to do.

The final confrontation in DATE FOR A MURDER is a surprisingly emotional affair, as is the moment just before the closing credits. Over the course of the film's 105 minutes, I found myself liking Vince quite a bit and as a result, I found myself becoming more and more invested in his search for his missing friend. I liked the film a great deal, even if it didn't turn out to be the giallo I thought it was going to be. It's free from the cynical excesses and graphic brutality that ran rampant in the Italian crime thrillers of the 70s. It's enjoyable and lightweight, shot through with just the right flavor of humor. Is it suspenseful? Sometimes, but rarely. Is it nerve shredding? Barely. Is it really a giallo?

Well, I guess the jury is still out on that. For my money, no, it isn't. It's a crime thriller with just a pinch of yellow.

(Omicidio per appuntamento)

Director: Mino Guerrini
Writer: Fernando Di Leo, Mino Guerrini, Franco Enna
Starring: George Ardisson, Halina Zalewska, Gunther Stoll, Hans von Borsody, Mario Brego
Italy, West Germany; Discobolo Films, Parnass Film
1967, 105 minutes

Narrative Variety: Amateur Detective
Murderer(s): 1 Male
Murderer(s) Role: Friend
Murderer(s) Motive: Greed
Victims: Man (found dead), Man (found dead)
Murderer(s) Death: Shot to death

July 26, 2017


In a grand Italian villa, just shortly after 10 in the evening, a murder has been committed. Poor old John Prescott, the wealthy proprietor of an African diamond mine, has been found with his throat cut from ear to ear. Days later, his relatives gather in the villa to listen to an audio recording of John Prescott's will, joined by Prescott's most trusted business associate, his secretary Giacomo. We learn rather quickly why no one is in mourning. Prescott wasn't a kind man, nor was he especially loving to his family. In fact, it seems as if he hated every single one of them with a red hot passion. His will demonstrates this. Prescott's millions are to be divided in three, only payable after every man and woman in the room has spent a month living together in the villa. Then, after the 30 days have passed, the first three people to travel to Prescott's notary will be rewarded with one third of the inheritance. The not-so-subtle suggestion is quickly realized by Prescott's wormy nephew George. 

“It's a provocation to...”, George screams out. He doesn't even have to finish the sentence. Everyone knows full well what John Prescott's intentions were.

The other members of the party include George's flirtatious wife, Adriana, an ex-stripper who was courted aggressively by the now deceased Mr. Prescott, and Martha, Prescott's sister, forever mourning the death of her husband. There's Angela, Prescott's pretty blonde niece and her milquetoast husband Armando. Rounding out the Prescott family is John's giggling idiot son, Julian, a man-child who is always seen playing with knives. The only real outsider is Giacomo, a beefy, bitter man not at all sorry to see his old boss dead. Around these suspects orbits a police detective, the ever watchful Inspector Matt. He's here to find out who killed John Prescott. What he should really be worried about is who is willing to kill for John Prescott's millions.

And that's the driving force behind Angelo Dorigo's A… COME ASSASSINO. To be honest, I shouldn't be classifying this film as an Amateur Detective story, in part because the Detective in question is a professional. It's also because A… COME ASSASSINO is more BAY OF BLOOD than it is THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. It isn't a story with a single killer. It's a story practically littered with them. In the tally below, you'll only see two victims, but the film is stuffed full of dead bodies. See, no one actually cares who murdered John Prescott that night. They hated the man and he hated them in return. All anyone cares about is the money and it's that greed that sets the murderous mayhem in motion.

This is a film with many, many layers of deception going on all at once. We no sooner learn that Character A has been conspiring with Character B to frame Character C than we learn that Character B has been working with Character D to bring down Character A. It's an ever-shifting mass of bad intentions, ulterior motives and triple crosses. Of course, every character in this film is a horrible, despicable person so their eventual deaths don't exactly fill us with sadness, but there is a wonderful time to be had in watching these godawful creatures twist each other in murderous pretzels, only to have their greedy venom spit right back in their faces. It's such a joy to watch this all go down that I half forgot this was supposed to be a mystery rather than a glorious bit of cynical black comedy.

The solution to the puzzle of who killed John Prescott quite literally doesn't matter. It's just a MacGuffin, a bloody bit of plot to get this whole ball rolling downhill. What matters here is the whirlpool of immorality and greed, and the eventually drowning of all these disgusting characters in it. Taken as a tasty bit of hyper-cynical melodrama, the film works damn well. It has a brisk pace, the black and white cinematography is gorgeous (even though my copy of the film leaves MUCH to be desired), and the acting is all on point. Every actor, from Mary Arden to Sergio Ciani (aka Alan Steel aka the guy in all those awful Hercules movies), plays their part perfectly. They're just awful, terrible, horrible human beings.

But that's where I can see A… COME ASSASSINO losing much of it's audience. Because even though this is technically a giallo, there really isn't an awful lot of giallo in it. This is not a film that will appeal to murder mystery purists or even casual armchair detectives. Try as you might, you will not be able to piece together all the alibis, facts and lies in any kind of logical manner. Every character in this film is playing every other character in this film. It is lie after lie after lie for 70 straight minutes. So if you're looking for a puzzle to solve, stick with the jigsaw variety. But if you want a wonderful bit of immoral, blackly comedic melodrama full of backstabbings, rooftop brawls, shoot-outs and polite insults, A… COME ASSASSINO is a film to seek out. It's a great, entertaining ride.

(aka A… For Assassin)

Director: Angelo Dorigo
Writer: Sergio Bazzini, Roberto Natale, Ernesto Gastaldi
Starring: Sergio Ciani, Mary Arden, Ivano Davoli, Aiche Nana, Giovanna Galetti
Italy; Bival Film
1966, 76 minutes

Narrative Variety: Amateur Detective
Murderer(s): 1 Woman
Murderer(s) Role: Sister
Murderer(s) Motive: Revenge
Victims: Man (throat cut), Woman (stabbed to death)
Murderer(s) Death: N/A

July 19, 2017


WITCHTRAP is the film that killed my first VCR. I arrived home one Saturday afternoon, a bag full of tapes in my hand. My mom was going out with my aunts. My sister was busy with her boyfriend. My dad just wanted to be left alone. I had the run of the place. The living room belonged to me and me alone. So down I sat, hopefully for some great bared breasts and awe-inspiring spilled blood. I popped WITCHTRAP in the VCR and it roared to life. I reached the 20 mark of the film when suddenly the VCR made a horrible, mechanical noise, what I imagine an Autobot fart would sound like had Autobots possessed bowels and assholes. And then… nothing. The tape lodged itself deep inside the guts of my beloved VCR, strangling it to death.

And somehow this was all my fault.

I got yelled at quite a bit that day. Did I push the tape in too hard? Was I fucking around with it as it played, maybe dropping it or throwing it against the wall? Nope. I just put the damn tape in and was sitting there waiting for the inevitable display of nudity from Linnea Quigley when the damn thing just died. The video rental shop made my dad buy a replacement copy of the film. From the growls he made into the phone, it couldn’t have been cheap. We would have to wait a full two months before the repair shop called and informed us that we could pick my dearest friend from the hospital. Those two months were the longest two months of my life. 

I never did get around to finishing WITCHTRAP. I had never bothered to rent the film again. I’ve never been the superstitious type, but I feared what would happen if I rented it again and tried to watch it. Maybe this time it would catch fire instead of simply getting wrapped around the heads and pulling them out of place. But here I am today with a shiny, new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack copy of the movie. I decided to watch the DVD on my old laptop just to be safe.

Well, my old laptop survived the experience unscathed, but my brain cells sure didn’t. WITCHTRAP is an exceedingly stupid movie, horribly acted and written to boot. The plot is 45% The Haunting of Hill House, 5% GHOSTBUSTERS (no joke, there are ghost traps in this movie) and 50% bullshit. A group of special investigators spend the day in a supposedly haunted Gothic mansion in an attempt to prove the existence of evil spirits, all so the owner of the property can repackage the place into a haunted bed and breakfast tourist trap. The leader of the investigation is Dr. Agnes Goldberg, a spiritualist who is also, for no apparent reason, an atheist. Her husband, a mental medium, tags along, as does Whitney, a physical medium (and yes, the film explains the difference). Oh, and Linnea Quigley plays a video technician named Ginger whose sole job is to set up a single tripod, easily the best bit of casting in the entire film.

Then there’s the trio of security officers, one of whom is a skeptic with a bad attitude, a personality quirk that got him fired from the police force even though he’s apparently so damn good at his job that he can crack a 20+ year cold case in 8 weeks. They’ve been brought along to ensure the safety of the Scooby Gang, though I’m really not sure what good a gun would do against the ghost of an ex-serial killer warlock. But as there is a creepy, overweight peeping tom / groundskeeper wandering around, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Truth be told, there’s a bit more going on in WITCHTRAP than you might expect. There are discussions of reality, the nature of belief and even a brief debate on theodicy. There is a short conversation about evil and whether evil is a kind of metaphysical force or merely a product of human nature. There is talk of God and the devil and the afterlife, and all the other bits and pieces of discourse that might pop up in a film all about conflicting metaphysical points of view. Shame then that the dialogue doesn’t adequately address any of those topics, coming off as middle school banter rather than educated thought. It also doesn’t help that the actors are all stiff, their voices all dubbed by people who sound like they were just woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of their careers crashing and burning.

The dialogue in this film swings wildly, sometimes risible, often times atrocious, sometimes a bit racist, and often times damn near unintelligible. Every character is flat and lifeless, with motivations that change from scene to scene. According to IMDb, the screenplay for WITCHTRAP was completed in just six days and hot damn, does it show. The dialogue is so unbelievably stilted and devoid of nuance. If you took a foreign screenplay and sent it through Google Translate, this is how the dialogue would read. There isn’t a single line in this film that feels natural.

But then again, nothing in this film feels natural. Nothing even makes sense. I could fill three reviews with all the inconsistencies and unexplained shifts in motivation. I could fill the next paragraph without trying, just rambling off things that either make no sense or ruin the tonal consistency of the film. Here, watch me go.

Oh man, supernatural stuff is going down, better call the police. Oh no, we just found our friend dead in the bathroom, better keep ghost hunting. Oh no, we just found that one cop that we all hated dead in the bedroom, better get out of the house quick. Damn, the gate has been padlocked, I guess I won’t bother climbing that four foot wall right beside it. There’s a car speeding towards me!, better not try to move out of the way. Bullet hits the gas tank of a van, van doesn’t explode. Bullet misses the van entirely, van explodes. This urn is clearly the source of the warlock’s power, better just leave it on the mantle place. Oh no, someone stole the battery out of the car, better not just walk off the property. Phone’s dead!, sucks that we’re like a half mile from town. Behold! I’m an all-powerful Satanic warlock reborn in the flesh, guess I’ll just punch this guy to death. I’m an atheist, though I still believe in Satan. Man watches as a knife is magically thrown at him from halfway across the room, nah there’s gotta be a rational explanation for that.

This movie sucks.

I know a lot of people will watch WITCHTRAP and walk away thinking “wow, what great schlock!”. No, sir. This isn’t great schlock. This is what schlock looks like once the sell by date has passed. This is rotten schlock, schlock that needs to be thrown away. This movie could have been fun were it not for the fact that it is so damn incompetent. There is no pulse to it, just 90 minutes of boring bullshit and badly executed sight gags. Worse, about 70 of those minutes are shot in the day time so all attempts at atmosphere and spooks are for naught. You can’t be scared when the movie looks THIS bad. You can’t be entertained when every single line of dialogue sounds THIS bad. And no, you can’t make it all better by having Linnea Quigley strip down for a shower scene or include a shot of a man’s head exploding. You can’t wallpaper a turd.

July 14, 2017


The universe is full of mysteries, large and small. Is there anything beyond the material world? Was there anything before the Big Bang? The intricacies of quantum field theory, the explanation of abiogenesis, how Friends managed to stay on the air for 10 goddamn seasons… Some of the great mysteries of our time, maybe even unanswerable ones. I would like to add to that list of magnificent mysteries the following conundrum: why the hell are there so many horror movies about killer disembodied hands?

While I don't doubt that chirophobia is a real thing, I would imagine a great majority of people don't find themselves losing sleep over the idea that a disembodied hand might be lurking beneath their bed. It's a ludicrous idea. What could it possibly do to you besides poke you in the eye or clumsily fondle your genitals? Good luck strangling someone to death only using the muscles in your hand. Good luck tossing something heavy through the air without using your wrist. I can buy the idea of Thing being a useful addition to The Addams Family. He would pick up lightweight items like a phone receiver or a post card or two. He would even play chess with Gomez (and no, I don't know how a hand knows how to do any of that) from time to time. Easy enough, right? Small, lightweight game pieces? Well within the range of possibility. But when you ask me to believe that a disembodied hand can throttle a human being to death... Come on now. Even I have my limits.

But the disembodied killer hand of Alfredo Zacarias' DEMONOID isn't just a regular old hand. It's the Devil's Hand and as such, this bad boy can do all manner of things. It can shoot someone in the back. It can stow away on a train. It can crush heads and break bones, possess people's minds and bodies, honk car horns, and even seal and mail a package. And it does all of this while being not just the Devil's Hand, but the Devil's LEFT Hand. Now THAT is impressive.

So what about the movie this Devil's Hand stars in? How impressive is that? Welllllll

Meet Jennifer, a bubbling brook of unbridled optimism. And meet her husband Mark, a man who is one Tequila shot away from putting a gun in his mouth. Mark is having a hard time with his recently purchased Mexican oil mine. Not only has it been shut down for quite some time, Mark can't even find anyone willing to work there. It is, as these things always are in horror movies, considered “cursed” by the locals. In an effort to show the locals just how cursed this "cursed" mine is, Jennifer and Mark decide to do a bit of spelunking. They find ancient remnants of some mysterious cult and a metal relic, the same relic thought to contain the dreaded Devil's Hand.

Turns out, it does indeed contain a disembodied evil killer hand. Once unleashed, the Devil's Hand possesses Mark and Mark in turns forces every local he can find into the mine before blowing it up with a large amount of explosives. His job done, Mark flees Mexico and spends an unspecified amount of time gambling in Las Vegas. You can add “great at craps” to the list of things the Devil's Hand excels at. But being good at gambling in Las Vegas has a downside. Mark is kidnapped by two hustlers looking to learn the secrets of his success. Unfortunately, their threats anger Ol' Leftie so Mark murders the both of them. In a moment of clarity, Mark decides to end his relationship with the Devil's Hand. He douses himself with gasoline and POOF! up he goes in a ball of flames.

Jennifer finally manages to track Mark down only to find out that he's been burnt to a crisp. Fearing the Hand has made it's escape, Jennifer enlists the help of a priest, an old boxer named Father Cunningham. When they visit Mark's grave, they find it destroyed from within, as if the crispy corpse of Mark had dug it's way out. And yep, that's exactly what happened. The Devil's Hand clumsily walks Mark's corpse over to a cop car, severs itself from the body using the car door, and then waits patiently for a beat cop to return. When he does, the Devil's Hand goes into action, possessing the cop before driving off into the night.

And that is, more or less, how the entire film plays out. The Devil's Hand possesses someone then attacks Jennifer. Jennifer gives a modicum of resistance before giving up. The hand is severed, the cycle begins again. Apparently, the Devil's Hand is out for Jennifer specifically. No real reason for this plot development is given other than “she was the one who found it and brought it home” which is a great excuse for why a rescue dog won't stop licking your face, but not a great reason for why a disembodied hand won't stop trying to kill a woman.

But logical thought and narrative integrity is clearly not what DEMONOID is interested in. This is a movie in which a possessed cop storms a clinic, gun in hand, and matter-of-factly tells a doctor “you cut my hand off or I'll kill you”. The doctor, of course, complies, gets himself possessed by the Devil's Hand, and then goes on a rampage, leading to a long car chase with the police. Why exactly does any of this happen? Is the Devil's Hand, a body-hopping supernatural entity, really concerned with getting arrested? Does he have priors on his record? Maybe child support payments due? The Devil's Hand can clearly reanimate whole corpses so why is it suddenly concerned with not being shot by the cops? Given that this hand can seemingly do anything it damn well pleases, there really isn't a reason for any of this to be happening. This movie could have been 20 minutes long.

But if it were shorter, we wouldn't have time for the obvious and wholly annoying rip-off of THE EXORCIST. Father Cunningham, like Father Karras, likes to box. He has a struggle with his faith. The end scene involves someone pleading for the Devil's Hand to possess them instead of it's current victim. Of all the thousands upon thousands of movies DEMONOID could have chosen for rip-off material, it had to choose one of the most serious minded and realistically portrayed supernatural horror movies of all time. DEMONOID is neither of those two things.

So there is a tonal problem with this film. Hell, there are many problems with this film. Even at 80 minutes, it feels 20 minutes too long, primarily because it keeps going over the same ground again and again. The dialogue is laughably bad, the direction is lazy and the score is grating to say the least. Roy Jenson and Stuart Whitman are both bored to tears by the material and it shows in their performances. Thankfully, even though she's spewing horrible dialogue and having to act terrified of a plastic hand that's been taped to her hair, Samantha Eggar is on top of her game here, all bug eyes and histrionics. She at least gives the film a pulse.

And yeah, the Devil's Hand is great, even if the effects work is shoddy. I got a few laughs out of the film as a result. It isn't a painful experience to get through, but it isn't a great time either. It's mostly a bore, with precious little in the way of gore or nudity to help pass the time. It's the kind of movie that would benefit from commercial breaks. You could get up every five or six minutes, grab a bite to eat, take a piss, or throw a brick at a neighborhood kid. Maybe even have a shot or two of whiskey. And that's how I would recommend watching DEMONOID, piss faced drunk or in six minute chunks over the course of a few hours. Trust me, it won't hurt the experience. There's really nowhere to go but up.

July 12, 2017


Do you like your slasher films convoluted? If the answer is “yes”, you might get a few kicks out of SILENT MADNESS, a 1984 slasher film from director Simon Nuchtern, the guy often credited for putting the snuff in SNUFF. There are about four different story lines fighting for dominance in this film, all of them wildly different in both tone and pacing. The primary plot of the film involves a madman returning to his old stomping grounds, a nice sorority house at the Barrington College for Women. 17 years prior, the madman, Howard Johns, had committed a string of brutal nail gun murders, leaving half a dozen sorority girls dead in the boiler room of the building.

The second plot line involves a psychiatrist, Joan Gilmore, who works at the Cresthaven Mental Institution, Howard Johns' former residence. Gilmore discovers that it wasn't Howard Johns who was supposed to be released back into the wild but a harmless man named John Howard. In any ordinary universe, the institution would call the cops, have Howard Johns picked up, and everything would be back to normal. But in the universe of SILENT MADNESS, nothing of the sort happens. The head of the institution, Dr. Kruger, instead lies and claims that Johns died recently and was cremated. His co-director sends Joan on a weekend holiday while the rest of the hospital administration can figure out how to sweep this otherwise innocent clerical error under the rug. Why? I honestly have no idea, but I think it might have something to do with the odd, never explained experiments being conducted in the institution, the ones that involve the patients being placed into giant zip lock bags and force fed psychotropic drugs.

Then there's the romance story line. Joan, now playing amateur detective, meets and falls for a newspaper guy named Mark. He has an idea. Borrowing an old Omega sorority ring from his secretary, he has Joan masquerade as a sorority alum, giving her inside access to the building. Joan is convinced that Johns has made his return to the sorority home, but needs to understand the man a bit better to bolster her chances of bringing him back to the asylum. She talks with Mrs. Collins, the bitter, whore-hating house mother. She learns all about the murders and all about Mrs. Collins' poor, dead son, Francis.

And then comes the fourth bit of the story. After Joan has a close encounter with Johns in the sorority house boiler room (and after being blown off by the bloated town Sheriff a couple of times), Joan contacts Dr. Kruger at the institution. Although outwardly helpful, Kruger and Associates decide to end this drama once and for all. They send two orderlies, a couple of scuzzy sleazeballs named Virgil and Jesse, to kill both Johns and Joan.

All because of a simple clerical error.

So yeah, this film is stuffed full of shit, some of which is actually rather entertaining. The only problem is that it never quite gets the balancing act right. SILENT MADNESS is clearly and unmistakable modeled after HALLOWEEN. It has an escaped (well, kind of) madman returning to the scene of his past crimes with a psychiatrist hot on his tail. It even gives us stand-ins for Annie, Lynda and Laurie in Cheryl, Pam and Jane. But this is HALLOWEEN if Loomis was wayyy less motivated and was the unequivocal main character of the film. Aside from a few first act deaths, the majority of the slasher stuff is kept for the final 20 minutes, the same 20 minutes that details the orderlies and their attempts at murdering both Johns and Joan. So the emphasis during the entire second half is on an investigation into a question (has Johns returned to Barrington College?) that we already know the answer to. Waiting for the killings to start up again is quite the wait indeed.

And if the stuff involving the asylum cover-up made any sense, that might be more forgivable. There's an entire film in there somewhere. When we finally get to see what goes on behind the closed doors of Cresthaven, you can feel the film wanting to drift into the “medical conspiracy” lane of the exploitation highway. We only get a few brief minutes inside the secret areas. We see patients strapped to odd machines and struggling inside clear plastic bags. What the hell is going on here? Why are these patients being treated like this? Is there some connection between the treatment of these patients and the murderous behavior of Howard Johns? 

The answers to those questions are as follows: I have no idea, beats the shit outta me, and no. So what is the point of all of this? Again, I have no idea. It's just a MacGuffin really, but it's a remarkably interesting one and I kinda wish the film would have chopped out everything involving Gilmore's relationship with Mark the newspaper editor to give us some kind of insight into the madness going on inside the mad house. Because Mark just exists to hyper aggressively flirt with our lead and bark out commands to scared sorority girls. He's extraneous and ultimately completely useless. But nut jobs experimenting on nut jobs? Sign me up!

But for all my complaints about pacing and narrative continuity, I have to admit that I enjoyed my time watching SILENT MADNESS. It's a bonkers film, ambitious yet deeply flawed. The cast is great, especially the late Sydney Lassick as the fat, obnoxious Sheriff. A few SLEEPAWAY CAMP stars show up, like Katherine Kamhi and Paul DeAngelo. Joan is (somewhat) convincingly played by Belinda Montgomery, an actress best known for playing Doogie Howser's mom. And there's even an all-too brief cameo performance by one of my personal favorite 80s actresses, Elizabeth Kaitan, here playing a buxom skateboarder who has her lovely, wonderful head crushed in a mechanical vice.
Unfortunately, while the phrase “crushed by a mechanical vice” might perk you up a bit, the murders in SILENT MADNESS are mostly bloodless, largely off screen bits of mayhem, so if you're expecting FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER levels of gruesomeness, keep moving along. That isn't to say that the murder scenes are uninteresting. There's quite a bit of pleasure in watching someone get stabbed to death while playing a vintage Dragon's Lair arcade cabinet or in seeing the killer set a devious trap involving a light switch and a large electric drill. However, for pure, gory catharsis, SILENT MADNESS is undeniably a let down.

And so is the fact that SILENT MADNESS cannot be viewed as it was intended to be viewed. This was originally a 3D release and it must have been a nice sight to behold back in the day. Unlike FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART III, a 3D film content with just shoving a stick in our face every 20 or so minutes, SILENT MADNESS goes all out with a near constant barrage of thrown axes, outstretched hands and bloody crowbars being jammed in your face. Also hugely unfortunate is the fact that the only version of the film I could find is poorly (and I mean POORLY) cropped. There's an entire third act struggle that takes place off screen thanks to poor cropping. Every other dialogue scene had a character's head bifurcated in the frame and the overall look of the film is muddy and murky. While it isn't exactly a high octane thrill ride, the final chase of the film would greatly benefit from being seen in pristine widescreen. Not only would the action be, you know, visible, but the constantly shifting, Bava-esque color palette would probably be as visually arresting as Nuchtern intended it to be.

Alas, I had to make do with the copy I had at my disposal. But even though the 3D gimmick was nowhere to be found and the cropping always made me feel like I was missing out on something interesting in virtually every scene, I really did enjoy my time with SILENT MADNESS. It's charming, schizophrenic and unabashedly cheesy at times. It's just the right mix of homage, just the right flavor of inane. It might not be bloody or scary, but it has heart and it has a personality all its own. Now if only we could get a nice, restored 3D version of the film on Blu-ray. I'd buy it in an instant.

July 5, 2017


A reader asked me a simple question the other day. Why haven't I bothered to review the first FRIDAY THE 13TH film? I thought I did. I was sure of it. I looked through the entire blog roll and what do you know? No review to be found. In fact, there were three films from the franchise missing, not just the first. I thought I reviewed those, too. Turns out, I did review those film, just not on this site. I had reviewed the first film, JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY and the FRIDAY THE 13TH remake over at my old site, Films That Witness Madness. I started posting older reviews at a new(ish) review depository (which you can find a link for over in the sidebar), but as I have an attention span the size of a gnat's dick when it comes to blogging, those updates have not been anywhere close to regular. “Hey”, I thought, “I'll just re-post those three reviews and call it a day”. Franchise complete. All entries reviewed.

But they seem to have vanished from my site backup. Gone without a trace. And you know what that means, right? I have to talk about three more goddamn FRIDAY THE 13TH movies. Yay.

I am not however going to write full reviews for each of the three films. Instead, we're going to nail all three at once in as few words as possible, starting with 

FRIDAY THE 13TH, the film that truly began the slasher craze. And yes, I am well aware of HALLOWEEN and BLACK CHRISTMAS and PSYCHO and the dozens of other proto-slashers of the 1960s and 1970s, and yes, it is true that without HALLOWEEN there would be no FRIDAY THE 13TH, BUT it is far more true that without Paramount, more so than Sean Cunningham or John Carpenter, there would be no slasher craze of the 1980s.

HALLOWEEN was a massive success, but it wasn't a quick success. It was a steady one. After all, HALLOWEEN was an independent film, not a product released by a major studio. It's grosses grew steadily but slowly over many months. FRIDAY THE 13TH however was a sensation.

Sean Cunningham's film was an anomaly at the time, a grimy, gross slasher movie released by a studio whose past projects included THE GODFATHER and REAR WINDOW. Bloody trash slasher films were the purview of the drive-ins and grindhouses, almost entirely distributed by disreputable and dishonest film distributors out to make a few quick bucks. So when Paramount, a company whose trademark had long been an assurance of quality, decided to release a rough and tumble slasher film into thousands of theaters, backed by tens of thousands of dollars of advertising muscle… Well, it was a shock to many.

As was the film apparently, as FRIDAY THE 13TH went on to rake in millions during its theatrical release. Just like that, major studios began buying small slasher films, releasing them en masse into cinemas during the 1980s. We can congratulate HALLOWEEN and BLACK CHRISTMAS for proving the slasher film's worth as an artistic and entertaining endeavor. But proving the slasher film to be a major theatrical draw worth releasing to the public at large at their local multiplexes? Those congratulations need to be given to FRIDAY THE 13TH and Paramount Pictures.

And that's about all the history I care to indulge in. It's also as close as this film will get to me kissing its ass. Truth be told, I was never really a fan of FRIDAY THE 13TH. There are things I admire about the film, for sure. I appreciate the film's single mindedness. There are no artistic pretenses here, no clever uses of camera or sound. I admire the film's deliberateness. It's a slow paced film, one that doesn't feel the need to lay on the body count for entertainment purposes. The relatively small cast allows us to get to know the characters well and believe it or not, the characters in FRIDAY THE 13TH are actually worth knowing. It's clearly a film meant for adults and not teenagers. There are no giggling idiots or slobbering pussy hounds to be found here. It is perhaps one of the most pure slasher films around, made without consideration for the make-out crowd. You need an attention span to watch this film. You need patience. 

But there are plenty of things I dislike about the movie or, to be more precise, plenty of things I don't quite feel the love for. An example would be the special make up effects. With only a few exceptions, the characters in FRIDAY THE 13TH die off screen. Ned wanders into a cabin. Brenda stumbles off into the rain. Steve makes a stupid face by the camp sign. Jack heads off to find the generator. I understand what the filmmakers were attempting to do here, but it does render much of the film unimpressive. And for all the deaths this film contains, precious few are ever preceded by a chase, a fight or even a chance to move. The suspense angle at play here boils down to “when will this character die?” and I don't find that kind of suspense all that interesting. I prefer my suspense to be of the “will this character survive?” variety. There simply isn't anything interesting about the suspense on offer here.

The thing I love most about FRIDAY THE 13TH is also the thing I hate most about FRIDAY THE 13TH. Pamela Voorhess, the old Camp Crystal Lake cook turned grieving mother turned murderess. This film desperately needed an actor of Betsy Palmer's caliber. It needed someone to show up and sell it, to make us believe it, to make us feel really frightened. Palmer's performance does all that and more. She is a goddamn force of nature here, creepy and sympathetic in equal measure. I love her performance in this film. I love it, I love it, I love it. 

But fuck me if the introduction of Mrs. Voorhees isn't a lazy, shallow, cheap and ultimately insulting show of horrible writing. I watch a metric ton of giallo films. Few, if any, pull such a half-hearted trick. I hate the reveal. I hate the laziness of it. I cannot help but feel angry about it. Because FRIDAY THE 13TH is just as much of a mystery thriller as it is a straight forward horror film. It even includes at least one major red herring in good ol' Crazy Ralph. The film never does anything with that mystery. It casually drops a mention of a child drowning in the lake back in the 1950s in its first 10 minutes then expects people to connect the dots. But there are no dots to connect. Mrs. Voorhess isn't seen at all, let alone introduced into the narrative proper, until the final 30 minutes. I understand that not everyone shares my particular revulsion about this topic, but for me, the final reveal in FRIDAY THE 13TH leaves a terrible taste in my mouth.

Speaking of terrible... JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY.

What's there to say really? It's the HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS of the franchise. It's the FREDDY'S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE of the series. Did anyone really care about the origins of Jason Voorhees? Didn't we already establish that? Were our lives enriched by the Thorn cult? Did we gain any new appreciation for cinema by learning that Freddy was an abused child? Did we need ANY explanation for ANY of this? Michael is the Boogeyman, Freddy kills people in their dreams and Jason is a hillbilly zombie. That's all we need to know.

But JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY thinks we need more than that. I honestly can't blame the writers for going to extremes in order to keep the franchise interesting. JASON X might have an outlandish premise, but it's really no different than any other film in the franchise. Well, any film other than this one. JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY is as much of a FRIDAY THE 13TH film as TITANIC is an entry in the HELLRAISER franchise. It re-imagines the hockey masked killer as a body hopping slug-demon, an occult monstrosity that can only be killed by a member of his bloodline. As such, Jason (a killer who has been terrorizing the Crystal Lake area for well over two decades) is suddenly more Michael Myers than himself, hunting down his relatives in an attempt at rebirth. And he desperately needs to be reborn, as his old hulking body was blown to bits by FBI agents 15 minutes into the film. Now Jason is committing murder while wearing the slowly rotting bodies of pathologists, cops and talk show hosts.

JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY runs about 90 minutes. Jason, or at least the Jason we all know and love, is only on screen for about 10 of those 90 minutes. That was a major bummer back in 1993, as was its revisionist take on the source material. Thankfully, the film is actually quite a bit of fun, especially if you're willing to forget that it's a FRIDAY THE 13TH film. It's a parade of violence vacillating wildly between slasher goodness and gross out body horror. Jaws get knocked in, heads pop like balloons, a man melts into a pile of goo, and a wildly attractive (and very naked) woman gets vertically bifurcated by a tent spike. It's a 90 minute effects reel masquerading as a franchise film. If you're willing to overlook all the shitty attempts at mythology and world building (in other words, if you're willing to throw out 85% of the film), there's some good fun to be had here.

Which is more than can be said about the FRIDAY THE 13TH remake.

Look, the FRIDAY THE 13TH films are not about story. They're about selling a specific experience. No one (and I mean NO ONE) goes to see a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie for the characters or the narrative. They go for tits and on screen violence. The fact that the FRIDAY THE 13TH films were released yearly in the 1980s (well, except for 1983 and 1987) gives the illusion that these films are telling some long, intricate narrative. They're not. As evidence for that claim, I give you the 2009 remake of FRIDAY THE 13TH, a film that manages to remake the first three entries in the franchise all at once and in less than 100 minutes. But who cares, right? We don't care about narrative. We care about the FRIDAY THE 13TH experience. 

And this remake offers up that experience. You get the naked girls. You get the violence. You get the… well, you get an ATTEMPT at scares. It's all here, albeit a bit more puke green and baby shit brown than you might remember it looking. Now with that said, allow me to tell you why I hate Eli Roth, a man not involved with this film in any way, shape or form.

It's because Eli Roth thinks I'm an asshole. He thinks you're an asshole, too. The characters he populates his films with, the sneering, closeted racist, sexist mouth breathing personality vacuums... He doesn't just think you like those characters. He thinks you are like those characters. Well, I am not at all like those characters nor do I like those characters one goddamn bit. Watching an Eli Roth film is like having to spend time with every shit for brains jock and frat boy fuckhead I've ever met all at once. It's like locking me in a room with them after you've stapled megaphones to their faces. Eli Roth's films not only include torture, they ARE torture, the hyperbolic trash flicks of a fuccboi that never grew up.

This film is full of characters from Eli Roth films. FRIDAY THE 13TH the remake has, pound for pound, the worst assortment of assholes and dip shits in the entire franchise. Every single character is nails on a chalkboard. Every single moment spent with them is like an evening spent at the DMV. They're not funny. They're not charming. They're not even human. They're purely and simply evil, hands down the single worst cast of characters in any slasher film made in the 2000s.

And what's worse? How about the fact that watching these people die isn't fun at all. Marcus Nispel decided to take a more realistic approach with his installment. Gone are the bifurcations, the spear guns to the groin, the weed whackers to the chest. People are just outright stabbed to death in this film, usually in close up, usually accompanied by the whimpering cries of the obnoxious victim. There's no skill on display here either. Watch this film and count just how many times a character backs into Jason while wandering around in the dark. It happens endlessly. Wade backs into Jason. Bree backs into Jason. Chewie backs into Jason. Lawrence backs into Jason. Trent backs into Jason. And when they're not backing into Jason, he's just comes up behind them and stabs them anyway, like he does with Jenna and Officer Bracke. The deaths that don't involve stabbing someone in the back aren't much better either. Jason shoots some asshole with an arrow then stabs his girlfriend through the brain with a machete. The former would take Olympian precision and the latter is just an excuse to show Willa Ford's bad tit job one more time. The precredit sequence is the best thing this film has to offer (unless you got the hots for Jared Padalecki), a nice and compact 15 or so minute sequence with likeable characters and a genuine suspenseful atmosphere.

But nah, we don't need more of that. We need to learn that Jason has somehow built a series of tunnels underneath the old camp site (presumably by hand). Where did he learn how to install generators and electrical outlets, let alone set up lighting fixtures inside the tunnels? Do I care? Nope. I don't give one single shit about that just like I don't give one single shit about this film. It's terrible.

And that's where I will end this, once and for all. No more writing about the FRIDAY THE 13TH films. I'm done. Every single entry has now been, more or less, reviewed. I suppose I should give some kind of summary, maybe a few words about what I think of the franchise as a whole. 


I grew up with these movies. I know them like I know the backs of my own hands. They're a part of me and will be forever. Overall, I don't think they're very good, but I don't know whether that's an honest sort of opinion or merely a product of overexposure. I'm not exaggerating. I watched these movies over and over again when I was a kid. I can tell you the order of the deaths in each of the film, including the actor's names. There is a percentage of my brain devoted solely to the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise. Part of me will always love it, even the bad films, even the… well, not the remake. I just don't think we've aged well together. I think we fell out of love a long time ago. But these films are important. They belong to history now. Am I ever going to watch them with the same kind of joy that I had back in the mid 80s? No. Am I ever going to write about them again? Fuck no.

But they are what they are and the franchise is what it is. It's a mostly decent, sometimes good, sometimes godawful series of flicks that provided me with some great masturbation material and more than a few hearty laughs and shivers. So adios, my old friend Jason. May your days be long and your sequels endless. Now get off my fucking lawn.