December 22, 2017


The trailer for Ray Di Zazzo’s 1988 slasher shit sandwich HOLLOW GATE namechecks HALLOWEEN right out of the gate. It’s clear that this was Di Zazzo’s attempt at matching Carpenter’s classic for shocks and thrills, even going so far as to give us a young child wearing a clown costume who grows up to be a murderer. That young child is Mark. The boy is celebrating Halloween with a bunch of his friends at a nice party his parents have thrown for him. Unfortunately, Mark’s dad is a bit of a dick and the party comes crashing down when little Mark proves useless at bobbing for apples. Enraged at his son’s pitiful chompers, the dad holds Mark’s head underwater, nearly drowning him before storming off.

A decade later, the bitter sting of a lousy Halloween party has exploded into near universal hatred for Mark. It seems like everyone in town hates his guts. A horny sleazeball and his hot to trot squeeze stop off at Mark’s place of employment, a gas station in the middle of nowhere. After enduring some verbal abuse and humiliation, Mark rigs their car to explode, watching impassively as the jerk and his girlfriend are immolated in the middle of the street.

Two years later, Mark harasses and attacks a pretty grocery store clerk, leading to his arrest, psychological evaluation and eventual release (for some reason, the girl didn’t press charges and the state doesn’t want to spend money on his incarceration). His parents long dead, Mark is handed over to his grandmother, an elderly lady who lives alone in a large estate known as Hollow Gate. Granny turns out to be more than a little naive, letting Mark out of his room one night. For her troubles, Mark rams a pair of scissors into her eye.

We then meet four idiots. There’s Al, the Lewis Skolnick lookalike, and his frumpy girlfriend Kim. Along for the ride are Billy, an asshole, and Mandy, Billy’s arm candy. “How does it feel to be alcohol legal?”, Billy asks his friends as they make their way to a Halloween party. This is meant to inform us that our quartet of 30-somethings are all celebrating their 21st birthdays (I think…). Our hip kids stop off in the middle of the day for some “submarine sandwiches” and “alcohol legal suds”. After scarfing down their grub, Kim excitedly points out that there’s a costume store across the street. If I were Kim, I would be far more excited to learn that they’ve driven straight into some time distortion field as the insert shot of the costume store was taken in the middle of the night while just 10 minutes ago it was barely afternoon in the restaurant.

Kim finds a gaudy purple wig that she really wants but can’t afford. The 'hilariously' stereotypical gay store manager offers the quartet a trade. He will give Kim the wig if they agree to deliver a few boxes of Halloween costumes to Hollow Gate. They agree and off they go to the slaughter, unaware that Mark placed that order himself as a trap.

As you can tell, HOLLOW GATE is absolutely front loaded with narrative. It takes 40 minutes for the group to run into Mark, which is approximately halfway through the film. With such a small cast, the remaining 30+ minutes feels like an eternity as Mark clumsily stalks and kills our band of idiots one by one. Lifting it’s central gimmick from FADE TO BLACK, Mark dons a different costume for each killing, starting with a Vietnam soldier (which gives him plenty of opportunities to talk about “the gooks”) before moving on to a lawman, an aristocrat, and finally a doctor. Not exactly the most creative costumes they could have chosen.

Wait. What I meant to say is that these final 30+ minutes are filled with nail biting suspense. Just try not to sweat as our characters spend whole scenes huddled in the bushes. Try not to hyperventilate as our characters spend five whole minutes running across an empty field one by one. I dare you not to look away as our characters rush to start the engine of a golf cart, a vehicle which would do fuck all to bolster their chances of survival as they know full and damn well that the entire estate is surrounded by a seven foot high, electrified fence.

I am of course being completely sarcastic. There is nothing tense or suspenseful about this film. Pound for pound, HOLLOW GATE is one of the dullest slasher films around. I can’t quite tell if the film was meant to be a straight forward horror film or some bit of campy horror humor. Certainly the filmmakers were trying to be funny when Mark unleashes a pair of 'ravenous' golden retrievers on our heroes, right? There has to be a reason why Di Zazzo allowed his leading man to deliver his lines at such a fevered pitch that he appears far more unstable than the killer, right? The fact that all our characters, including a pair of coppers, talk about “submarine sandwiches” as if they’re the pinnacle of world class cuisine or that a character stands still as a maniac driving a thresher inches ever closer to her in an otherwise empty field… I mean, this is all a joke, right?


Well, if it is, it ain’t funny. It sure as shit isn’t scary either. What it is is a borderline homophobic, slightly racist, and catatonically dull mess of a movie with a half hour of worthwhile material stretched out to damn near 80 minutes. Hardcore lovers of unintentional camp might be able to squeeze some enjoyment out of HOLLOW GATE, but everyone else should just keep on driving.

Oh, and that purple wig that gets everyone killed? Kim never even wears it. Bitch.

December 14, 2017


A precocious, telekinetic boy gives birth to a bloodthirsty monster in CAMERON’S CLOSET, a woefully under seen 1988 gem from director Armand Mastroianni. Cameron lives alone with his father, a research scientist eager to test the limits of his son’s remarkable telekinetic (and psychic) powers. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the various tests and training have given birth to a new ability, image projection. Simply put, if Cameron focuses strong enough, he can cause thought to take form.

Cameron’s latest creation, as it were, turns out to be a manifestation of some Mayan demon, a particularly nasty ghoulie that hides inside Cameron’s bedroom closet. The demonic rampage kicks off early with the demon decapitating Cameron’s father in a FINAL DESTINATION-esque, “easily written off by the cops as an accident” kind of way. The boy is shuttled off to live with his estranged mother and her asshole live-in boyfriend. Things don’t end well for this particular asshole. He’s flung through Cameron’s bedroom window one night. When the cops find him, they discover that his eyes have been burned out.

LAPD detective Sam and attractive psychologist Dr. Haley are both assigned to the case. Cameron bonds with both for easily understandable reasons. Dr. Haley is more motherly than his own biological mother and Sam actually treats the boy like a child, not a burden or a science experiment. But as the film goes along, more and more people turn up dead, and Sam has to face a particularly horrible truth, that the only solution to the blood bath is the 10 year old boy that accidentally started it, a child that is barely able to comprehend his own abilities. There is however an alternative solution, one that involves the unfortunate death of a child...

Watching CAMERON’S CLOSET today, I was struck by how familiar the film felt. In a lot of ways, it feels like a Greatest Hits package. There are more than a few similarities between this film and CHILD’S PLAY. The interplay between Cameron and his father reminded me a bit of Tina’s interactions with Dr. Crews, although far less antagonistic. The epic finale takes place in an alternate dimension that reminded me quite a bit of the Labyrinth from HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II. All of these films, by the way, were released in 1988. So while it’s tempting to think that maybe Mastroianni and his writer, Gary Brandner, were just lifting scenes from other films, I find that somewhat difficult to believe. I guess there was just something in the water back in 1988.

The film also contains a few nods to POLTERGEIST and one major nod to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. At one point, Cameron comes under attack by “the Deceptor”, the evil psychic embodiment of Mayan maliciousness. The demon drags the child up his bedroom wall and across the ceiling, a feat I assume was accomplished using the same tricks Craven and Co. used for the death of Tina. Hell, the film even has it’s victim threatened by blades. In Tina’s case, it was the claws of Freddy Kruger. Here, Cameron is inches away from the spinning blades of his ceiling fan.

Aside from a cheap rubber masked monster, all of the effects in the film are really well done. Carlo Rambaldi’s imaginative moments help give the film a good bit of visual oomph. It’s a shame that the rest of the film looks incredibly cheap and flat, like it was a made for TV movie rather than a theatrical release. The climactic battle between Sam and a psychically projected zombie takes place in a foam rubber cave that is one fog machine away from being a Bert I. Gordon set. Most of the budget must have went to pulling off the spectacular death scenes and all the psychic shenanigans. 
But cheap looks aside, CAMERON’S CLOSET really is a lot of fun. It takes itself pretty damn seriously, eschewing campy horror for a more grounded, personal approach. The characters are well drawn and likable, the drama has both stakes and a satisfying conclusion, and the scares are executed perfectly (although I doubt this movie is going to give anyone over the age of 10 nightmares). Were it not for the Harry Manfredini score, I would have no major complaints at all. I mean, let’s be honest. Manfredini has really only written one score in his entire life and that’s the score to FRIDAY THE 13TH. He’s been reprising that shit ever since.

December 9, 2017


You’re probably not going to believe this, but SLASH DANCE is a terrible movie. It opens like a direct-to-video BLOOD AND BLACK LACE knock-off, all mannequins, ornate bric-a-brac and gelled lighting. We’re inside some rundown arts theater. Our only companion is a ditzy, big haired blonde here to audition for some kind of dance performance. As no one seems to be around, the blonde puts on her headphones, dancing alone on stage. Then suddenly, GASP! SHOCK!, a dark figure emerges from the shadows. A short POV stalking sequence ends with the blonde lying dead on the floor, her throat slashed with a hand saw.

We cut to a pretty redhead sunbathing on the beach. Her lounging is interrupted by a very gay man flashing his penis. After insulting the flasher enough to chase him off, the redhead packs up her things and leaves. We see her again later, this time approaching two beefy women about scoring some illegal steroids. They’re willing to sell if she’s willing to buy. Unfortunately for our would-be drug dealers, this redhead isn’t just a pretty face. She’s a cop. A cartoonish brawl ensues.

Later, our red haired copper, Tori, has a meeting with her politically ambitious asshole of a boss, Edison (played by B-movie regular John Henry Richardson). This is where we learn that the world at large only thinks of Tori as a life support system for a pair of tits. Never mind the fact that Tori once went undercover, busting a psychopathic, homicidal nudie photographer before he could kill even more women. A few of her nudes leaked out to the world, causing Edison some undue stress, killing her reputation in the process. “Her tits are too nice to be a cop”, Edison says after Tori storms out of his office.

Thankfully, Tori has a chance to prove herself once again. Another aspiring dancer has gone missing. Tori and her partner devise a covert operation that involves our intrepid ginger posing as a would-be performer. But will she be able to stop the mad slasher before he kills yet another girl?

The better question would be, did writer/director James Shyman have any interest whatsoever in making a slasher film? Because SLASH DANCE isn’t much of a slasher movie at all. It has the requisite elements, the pretty women, the masked killer, and a handful of red herrings that include a desperate-for-cash owner, his mentally challenged (and possibly insane) little brother, a flirtatious and demanding director, and the penis flashing pervert who just so happens to work at the theater. It’s all there. But Shyman decides that instead of diving down the slasher hole, he’s going to make an attempt at a character drama.

Tori has had a shit childhood. Her sister overdosed at a party. Her mother committed suicide shortly after. Tori became a cop to right the wrongs of the world and hopefully one day find the man responsible for supplying her sister with the drugs that took her life. At various points in the film, we hear voice over narration relaying all these troubling events. The film has us believe that the killings will somehow be connected to Tori’s past trauma and that by solving the mystery, she will achieve some kind of closure.
But nope. The killings have absolutely nothing to do with Tori. They don’t even have much to do with anyone else in the film. The killer has their own past trauma, one that we only learn about when the murderer suddenly makes his appearance with about six minutes left to go in the film. That's right, Tori doesn’t even solve the mystery. The killer just shows up, takes off their mask and vomits exposition for two solid minutes.

And that’s probably the single biggest issue I have with the movie. Tori does literally fuck all in terms of solid investigation. Shyman decides to play a little game of wish fulfillment with his leading lady. She’s looked down upon at work, treated like a slut or a sex object by virtually every man she has contact with. But with the exception of the nut job little brother, the men at the dance company treat her rather well. She even gets along with her fellow dancers. A romance brews between Tori and Rupert, the schlubby director. He thinks she’s lovely and talented. He wants to take her to New York. I imagine for someone as put upon as Tori, the positive attention must feel wonderful.

But this is a goddamn slasher film, not a corny romance about people finding love in a shoddy dance company. So why do we spend more time watching five women practice the same five dance steps over and over, and so little time watching people die in horrible ways? What’s the point of having an undercover cop if they’re not going to do any real police work? Shyman could have just written a movie about an aspiring dancer who just so happens to stumble into a dangerous situation. There wouldn’t have been so much wasted time.

SLASH DANCE is a film with a major identity crisis. It has several violent moments, including a suicide. It contains a whiff of the revenge flick. It has a premise that all but guarantees sexploitation thrills. And yet the violence is infrequent and tame, the revenge aspects are just left hanging without resolution, and the bevy of dancing beauties never once disrobe or show more than an ankle or an exposed shoulder. But they sure do talk a lot about boyfriends and love affairs and money woes and unfulfilled dreams and issues at work. And that’s a big, big problem.

The title SLASH DANCE promises cheese and giggles. A slasher film promises scares and flesh wounds. This film sorely lacks all of those things. It’s like sitting on the couch with your mom as she watches some Lifetime drivel, eagerly flipping over to the horror flick playing on another channel every time she leaves the room. You only get a few moments before you have to click back to the lame, uninteresting melodrama. It’s a frustrating, tiring experience.

December 6, 2017


Six substitute teachers college students head off into the woods for a weekend of fun at a rickety, unfurnished shack cozy, romantic getaway spot. As they sit around a campfire, one of the group tells the others all about the “berserkers”, Viking barbarians decked out in masks made from bear snouts. They were the meanest of the mean, barely sane if at all, giant beasts of men who would spill gallons of blood on the battlefields. This turns out to be a remarkably apt tale to tell because there just so happens to be a berserker roaming the woods. He’s already claimed two victims, a kind, elderly couple celebrating their anniversary. Or maybe it was just a large bear that tore poor old Homer and Edna to pieces. After all, why would a Viking warrior be wandering through a modern day forest?

If you’re at all interested in the answer to that question, by all means, give the film a watch. Just be prepared for disappointment. Jef Richard’s 1987 disaster BERSERKER is a slasher film with only four victims, two of whom are killed within the first five minutes. Instead of typical slasher fun, we’re given an odd bit of quasi-supernatural mystery thriller. Are the killings the result of a temperamental brown bear or is there really a berserker lurking in the woods? The resulting film feels like a GRIZZLY rip-off that was retconned into a slasher film just to make the project marketable. The answer to that question is “both”. We get an unhappy bear AND a man possessed by the spirit of a Viking warrior. One or the other would have sufficed.

We do get the requisite nudity and the juicy (albeit poorly executed) murder set pieces, but any slasher appeal the film might have had is lost amid all the bad pacing, horrible characters and overall sloppy filmmaking. The film contains a few pop rock songs, all of which are played in their entirety over montages of vaguely homoerotic tomfoolery (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Our lead character is an insufferable brat, a 30-something man-child who bitches and moans about every little thing. He pitches a fit when the cabin he wanted turns out to be unavailable. He blasts his boombox while his friends are trying to sleep simply because he happens to be bored. It’s amazing he has any friends to begin with. The fact that he survives the film is a major slap in the face.

You know it’s bad when the only real positive I can think of is that the film actually takes place at night. Sure, the production couldn’t afford furniture to place inside the supposed awesome cabin these folks are headed to. Sure, the production couldn’t properly stage the climatic bear vs berserker fight, opting to intercut real bear footage with a man in a loose fitting, utterly unconvincing bear mascot costume. But they didn’t use a single day-for-night shot in the entire film. Kudos for that.

The only two non-college aged (read: in their 30s) characters are a local police officer, played by an actor who looks a bit like Hal Holbrook and moves at 1/4th the speed of a normal human being, and Pappy, the woodsman and caretaker of the retreat. Pappy is played by George ‘Buck’ Flower, a veteran character actor who usually turns in a solid, memorable performance. Here, playing a Norwegian, Flower can barely muster a convincing accent, often sounding more like the Swedish Chef than a Norwegian immigrant. All of this should have accumulated in a minor camp classic. So why is this film not fun at all?

It’s because BERSERKER is poorly made and woefully underwritten. Leaving aside the opening murder of the elderly couple, there isn’t a single drop of blood spilled until the 40 minute mark. After two of the women are messily dispatched, our remaining characters spend 15 whole minutes wandering through the woods. It’s like the writers didn’t have enough material to work with or just couldn’t think of anything for these people to do. The first half is spent sitting around, bickering, making out, and shooting the shit. It’s excusable. After all, it’s all set up. But that set up has to pay off and here, it simply doesn’t. Just when the film feels like it’s about to take flight, it peters out completely and never recovers.

There’s no large scale chase, no fight with the killer berserker, no chasing off the bear with sticks and stone. Just walking, tripping, bitching, walking, yelling, tripping, walking… The final five minutes of the film involves the grand reveal, the big moment when we finally find out who is possessed by the spirit of a Viking madman. Even this feels half thought out and lazy, raising far more questions about the underlying mythology of the film than it can even begin to answer. It’s an unsatisfying conclusion to an unsatisfying film, something I never thought I would say about a slasher movie in which a half naked, killer Viking takes on a gigantic brown bear in claw-to-claw combat.

Also, the poster for the film looks an awful lot like the poster for PINK FLOYD: THE WALL, doesn’t it? Kinda makes me wish they would have thrown in some musical numbers while they were at it.