Southern Fried Slasher: THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (AIP 1976)


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In 1946, the town of Texarkana, on the Texas-Arkansas border, was rocked by a series of brutal attacks on its citizens from February to May that left five people dead and three seriously wounded. The psycho, who wore what seemed to be a white pillowcase with eyeholes cut in it, caused quite a panic among the townsfolk, and the local and national press had a field day sensationalizing the gruesome events. The case was dubbed “The Texas Moonlight Murders”, and the mysterious maniac “The Phantom Killer”. Famed Texas Ranger M.T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullus was brought in to lead the investigation and rounded up a few suspects, but no one was ever formally charged with the grisly crimes. To this day, the case has never officially been solved.

Forty years later, Texarkana native Charles B. Pierce produced, directed, and costarred in THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, a film based on those…

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The Prey’s The Thing: THE PROWLER (Sandhurst Films 1981)


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While flipping through the channels late one Saturday night, I came across a title called THE PROWLER. It was not a remake of the 1951 film noirdirected by Ida Lupino and starring Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes, but a slasher shocker with a couple of noir icons in the cast, namely Lawrence Tierney and Farley Granger. Intrigued by this, I decided what the hell, let’s give it a watch! And though Tierney and Granger are in it, their screen time is limited, and I discovered the real star of this film is makeup/special effects wizard Tom Savini.

The plot is your basic “psycho-killer on the loose terrorizing coeds” retread, but the backstory was enough to hook me. We begin with newsreel footage of the troops returning home from WWII in 1945, and a graduation dance at a California college. Pretty young Rosemary Chapman, who wrote her soldier boy…

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Horror Film Review: The Funhouse (dir by Tobe Hooper)


1980’s The Funhouse opens with an almost shot-for-shot recreation of the famous shower scene from Psycho, with Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) getting attacked in the shower by a masked, knife-wielding maniac.

The only difference is that there’s no shrieking violins, there’s no blood, and the knife is quickly revealed to be a fake.  It turns out that the “killer” is actually Amy’s younger brother, Joey (Shawn Carson).  Joey loves horror movies.  In fact, he’s pretty much the perfect stand-in for The Funhouse‘s intended audience.  Joey was just playing a rather mean-spirited prank but now, as a result, Amy snaps that she’s not going to take him to the carnival.

Of course, Amy isn’t supposed to be going to the carnival either.  Her parents have strictly forbidden it.  Everyone knows that traveling carnivals are dangerous and, at the last town the carnival visited, two teenagers disappeared!  There’s no proof that the carnival has anything to do with those disappearances, of course.  But still…

Amy does exactly what I would have done in her situation.  She tells her parents that she’s going over to a friend’s house and then she goes to the carnival anyway!  Accompanying her is her boyfriend Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), who is so cool that he has a name like Buzz.  Also along for the ride: Amy’s best friend, Liz (Largo Woodruff), and her boyfriend, Richie (Miles Chapin).  Richie’s kind of a loser but that’s to be expected.  Every group needs at least one idiot who can do something stupid that gets everyone else killed.  We all know how that works.

The carnival turns out to be just as sleazy as Amy’s parents thought it would be.  There’s a fake psychic (Sylvia Miles).  There’s a magician who dresses like Dracula.  There’s a barker (Kevin Conway), whose deep voice is constantly heard in the background.  And, of course, there’s a funhouse!  Still, everyone’s having a good time.  Either that or they’re all just stoned.

For his part, Joey sneaks out of the house and goes to the carnival himself.  He doesn’t have quite as much fun as Amy.  In fact, his experience is pretty scary.  Weird carnival people keep yelling at him.  He keeps getting lost.  Still, things could be worse.  By the time his parents arrive to pick Joey up, Amy and her friends are all trapped in the funhouse.  They’re being pursued by the barker and his deformed son (Wayne Doba).  Needless to say, it’s all pretty much Richie’s fault.

Richie.  What a dumbass.

With its teenage victims and its lengthy chase scenes, The Funhouse is often dismissed as just being another early 80s slasher film.  However, The Funhouse is actually a fairly clever, entertaining, and occasionally even witty horror film.  Much like director Tobe Hooper’s best-known film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Funhouse gets its scares by convincing audiences that they’re actually seeing more than they are.  Hooper emphasizes atmosphere and performances over gore.  While The Funhouse has its share of jump scares, it mostly succeeds by convincing us that anyone could die at any moment.  It’s an intense film, with excellent performances from both Elizabeth Berridge and Kevin Conway.

After kickstaring the slasher genre with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper used The Funhouse to poke a little fun at it.  From the opening shower scene to the electrifying finale, Hooper plays with the genre-savvy expectations of the audiences.  Our four victims even do the smart thing for once — they try to all stay together.  Needless to say, that doesn’t work out too well.

The Funhouse is an entertaining thrill ride and, seen today, it’s more evidence that Tobe Hooper deserved better than he got from the film industry.

 

 

Happy Friday the 13th from The Shattered Lens!


Well, as Val already made clear with today’s music video of the day, it’s Friday the 13th!

(As I type this, I’m currently in my underwear and sitting in a wilderness cabin.  If I here any strange noises outside, I’m going to grab a flashlight with a failing battery and go outside to investigate without putting on pants or letting anyone know that I’m leaving.  I honor the traditions of this day.)

And you know what?  It’s an even better Friday the 13th than usual because … IT’S OCTOBER!

I think this is the first time, since we started this site and our annual horrorthons, that we’ve had a Friday the 13th in October.  It seems like today would be the perfect day to review every single film in the Friday the 13th franchise but … I ALREADY DID!

Back in 2012, I reviewed every Friday the 13th film.  It was one of the first “review series” that I ever did and I’m still quite proud of how it went.

Check out the reviews:

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th Part 2

Friday the 13th Part 3D

Friday the 13th The Final Chapter

Friday the 13th A New Beginning

Friday the 13th Jason Lives

Friday the 13th The New Blood

Friday the 13th Jason Takes Manhattan

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday

Jason X

Jason vs. Freddy (or Freddy vs. Jason, depending on whose side your own)

Friday the 13th (the reboot)

In Conclusion: 10 Final Thoughts on the Friday the 13th franchise

Read and enjoy and have a great Friday the 13th!

Horror Film Review: Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (dir by Dominique Othenin-Girard)


Oh … dammit.

Hi everyone!  We are currently in the process of our annual horrorthon here at the Shattered Lens so I thought it would be a good idea if me and some of my fellow writers reviewed all of the Halloween films!  Arleigh already reviewed the original Halloween back in 2010 and I took a look at the first sequel in 2012.  So, it just made perfect sense to me that we go ahead and take a look at the rest of the films in the series!

Yesterday, Case reviewed Halloween 4 and, later, he’ll be taking a look at Resurrection and H20.  Jedadiah Leland is taking look at Halloween 6 tomorrow.  So, that leaves me with … *sigh* Halloween 5.

BLEH!

Before we dive into the crapfest that was Halloween 5, let’s take a look at the trailer!  It’ll be fun!

The trailer’s actually fairly effective.  I have to wonder how many people, way back in 1989, were fooled into seeing this film as a result of this trailer?  I imagine probably more than who are willing to admit it.  Paying money to see Halloween 5 doesn’t seem like something anyone would want to brag about.

Halloween 5 is the one that has the dumb cops.  Now, I know that every Halloween film seems to feature at least a few dumb cops but the ones in Halloween 5 are really dumb.  And they get their own theme music!  That’s right — whenever these two dumb cops show up on screen, comedic circus music plays.  Needless to say, it’s woefully out of place in a horror movie.  I read that this was apparently meant to be an homage to the dumb cops from the original Last House On the Left.  This despite the fact that … EVERYONE HATED THE DUMB COPS IN LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!!!  Even Wes Craven later said that the dumb cops were a mistake!  If you’re going to rip off (or pay homage) to another movie, don’t pay homage to the part that sucked!

Anyway, you may remember that Halloween 4 ended with Jamie (Danielle Harris) attacking her mother and holding a knife.  Uh-oh, looks like Jamie’s going to be a murderer!  Well, no — that would have been too interesting.  Halloween 5 finds Jamie being committed to a mental hospital for a year while Michael Myers (Don Shanks) is in a coma.  Michael eventually comes out of his coma and starts stalking Jamie all over again.

Once again, Dr. Loomis (a depressingly frail Donald Pleasence) is one of the few people who realizes that Michael is still alive and once again, nobody is willing to listen to him.  Here’s the thing: Dr. Loomis may be kinda crazy and yes, all the scars are kinda disturbing but he’s been right every single freaking time in the past.  I understand that the people of Haddonfield are kind of in denial about Michael but this is just getting ridiculous.

Rachel Carrathurs (Ellie Cornell) returns for this movie but she gets killed early on.  Apparently, she was killed so that the audience would know that anyone could be killed and that nobody was safe but Rachel was such a strong character and Ellie Cornell did such a good job playing her in the previous film that you really feel her absence in Halloween 5.  Her death leaves a void that the film fails to adequately fill.  Add to that, if you insist on killing a kickass character like Rachel, at least give her a memorable death scene.  Don’t just have her blithely wandering around the house half-naked until she suddenly gets stabbed, as if she was just some generic slasher victim and not the lead of the previous movie.

With Rachel dead, it now falls to her amazingly annoying best friend, Tina (Wendy Kaplan), to serve as Jamie’s protector.  Tina is hyperactive and talkative and quirky and blah blah blah.  Basically, she’s like that person who is really annoying but since you’ve known her since the third grade, you feel obligated to hang out with her.

It all leads to another big Halloween party and few rather bloodless deaths.  It’s all pretty boring, to be honest.  There is one good scene where Michael chases Jamie in a car (the headlights cutting through the darkness create a wonderfully eerie effect) but, otherwise, it’s depressingly generic.

In the end, Michael is captured and put in a jail cell.  Fortunately, a mysterious man in black shows up and breaks him out.  Gee, I wonder what that’s about?

Halloween 5 is undoubtedly the worst of the Halloween films.

Bleh!

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The TSL’s Grindhouse: April Fool’s Day (dir by Fred Walton)


(Because of the nature of the 1986 pseudo-slasher film, April Fool’s Day, it’s impossible to really talk about the film without talking about the film’s ending.  As a result, this review will have spoilers.  The ending will be revealed.  The entire plot will be spoiled.  Do not read on if that’s going to be an issue for you.)

(Did you read the warning above?)

If not for the way that the film ends, April Fool’s Day would probably be a forgotten film.  It’s a slasher film that doesn’t feature much blood, sex, or any particularly flamboyant kills (though there’s a good reason for that).  Compared to most low-budget slasher films from the mid-80s, April Fool’s Day does have a surprisingly charismatic and likable cast but it’s rare that anyone watches a holiday-themed slasher film for the acting.  Up until the final ten minutes or so, April Fool’s Day is professionally done but somewhat generic…

But then you hit that ending and it totally changes the whole film.  It’s not a perfect ending.  In many ways, it’s probably one the most imperfect endings that I’ve ever seen.  It requires a massive suspension of disbelief.  It makes no logical sense. But dammit, I love it.  Almost despite itself, it’s a great ending and it confirms that April Fool’s Day is meant to be a satire and not a straight horror film.

For the first 80 minutes or so, April Fool’s Day plays out like the 100th variation on And Then There Were None.  Heiress Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman, giving a wonderfully odd performance) invites a group of college friends to her island mansion.  They arrives on April Fool’s Day and they spend the first night dealing with Muffy’s strange sense of humor.  (Actually, Muffy and I both find the same things funny but I’ve been told that I have a strange sense of humor so, therefore, I assume that Muffy must have one too.)  Harvey, who prefers to be called Hal (Jay Baker), smokes an exploding cigar and discovers his bedroom has been decorated with newspaper articles about a car accident that he was involved in.  Jock Arch Cummings (Thomas F. Wilson) finds steroids hidden away in a medicine cabinet.  Nikki (Deborah Goodrich) comes across handcuffs in a dresser.  Nan (Leah Pinset), a serious-minded drama student, hears a baby crying in the distance and is reminded of her abortion, something that she believes that only Muffy knows about.

The next day, Muffy is now wandering around in a daze and her brother, Skip (Griffin O’Neal), has vanished.  Kit (Amy Steel, playing a similar role to her character in Friday the 13th Part Two) and Rob (Ken Olandt) think that they see Skip’s decaying body floating under the boathouse.  As the day progresses, Arch and Nan vanish and later turn up at the bottom of a well.  Harvey is found hanging from a rope.  Chaz (Clayton Rohner) is castrated and, while we’re not quite sure what exactly happens to Nikki, we do see that it involves a large puddle of blood.  Kit and Rob discover Muffy’s head in the basement and realize that they are being stalked by Muffy’s crazy twin, Buffy.

(Deborah Foreman is great in both of the roles.  As Muffy, she delivers all of her lines with just a hint of sarcasm and constantly seems to be silently laughing at a private joke that only she understands.  And when she’s Buffy — well, she’s totally batshit crazy.)

Being pursued by a knife-wielding Buffy, Kit runs through the mansion and finds herself in the drawing room.  And who is waiting for her but all of Buffy’s victims?  No, they’re not dead!  Instead, they’re alive and they’re all in a very good mood.  And Buffy is not Buffy.  She’s Muffy and she’s been Muffy all along.

That’s right, it’s all a huge elaborate joke!  Muffy does spend a few minutes explaining how the whole weekend was a dry run for her plan to turn her estate into a resort, one that will offer a weekend of fake horror.  But, ultimately, it all comes down to the entire movie being an elaborate joke.  I know, just from perusing some of the comments at the imdb, that there are some horror fans who hate the ending of April’s Fool’s Day.   But, really, that’s the only “honest” way that a film like April Fool’s Day could end.  If the movie was called Thanksgiving, I could understand being upset.  But this is an April Fool’s Day movie!  It has to be a joke.

Of course, if you think about it too much, the ending makes no sense.  Muffy specifically states the no one was in on the joke until the last minute.  Whenever one of her friends would wander off on their own, Muffy would grab them, explain the joke, and get them to play along.  When you consider the size of the island and where, at various points, the victims are in relation to the other characters, Muffy must be a very fast explainer, as well as being very persuasive.  (As well, Harvey brings a gun with him to island.  Muffy jokes about nearly getting shot by him but imagine if he had been successful?)  Even if you accept that all of the friends — even Arch and Harvey, who are both kinda dumbasses — would be able to play along without screwing things up, you have to wonder why Muffy thought it would be a good idea to use dark secrets from everyone’s past.

If you search far enough online, you can find all sorts of rumors about the film that April Fool’s Day was originally meant to be.  In the finished film, Skip is a bit of a cipher but, in the original script, he was a much more complex character.  While Muffy was busy playing her elaborate prank, Skip was planning on killing Muffy and claiming their parent’s inheritance for himself.  The crying baby, the drugs, the incriminating newspaper articles; all of them were originally meant to be the work of Skip.  While Skip’s subplot was dropped, the dark secrets of the past were not.  As a result, Muffy comes across as being a lot more cruel than was originally intended.

Originally, the film was also meant to end with Skip killing Muffy but the ending was apparently changed at the last-minute.  (Reports differ on whether or not the original ending was ever filmed.)  Instead, the film now ends with Muffy stumbling into her bedroom, playing with a jack-in-the-box, and then getting a knife drawn across her throat by Nan.  It’s just another elaborate practical joke and, once Muffy realizes that she’s not dying, Nan gives her a quick kiss and smiles enigmatically.

(A lot of imdb commenters — mostly males — have read a lot into that kiss, obsessing on a subtext that really isn’t there.  As opposed to being the homage to Blue Is The Warmest Colour that many commenters appear to believe it to be, it’s really just a friendly kiss, a way of saying, “I got you.”  Sorry, guys, that’s all there is to it.)

It’s an ending that would never be done today.  Today, all horror films have to end with the promise of a sequel.  Muffy might still get away with pulling an elaborate prank but Nan would definitely have killed her at the end of the film.  Her little smile would have said, “Wait for the sequel.”  And the modern version of that ending definitely would not be as effective.  In fact, it would be so expected that it would be damn near infuriating.  Instead, the ending of April Fool’s Day is good-natured and likable, which is appropriate because April Fool’s Day is a surprisingly good-natured and likable film.

After Nan’s final joke, April Fool’s Day ends with a song.  And here it is!  Enjoy and I hope everyone had a great April Fool’s Day!

 

The Daily Grindhouse: The Lashman (dir by Cameron McCasland)


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It’s been a while since I’ve down a Daily Grindhouse review here on the Shattered Lens and shame on me for that!  Fortunately, I recently saw a film called The Lashman, a film that may have been released in 2014 but which serves as a tribute to the low-budget, wilderness slasher spectaculars that played at so many grindhouse and drive-in theaters in the 70s and 80s.  After watching the film, I knew that I had seen the perfect film with which to relaunch this feature.

The Lashman was directed by Cameron McCasland and filmed in Kentucky.  As I’ve said many times in the past, I love local horror films.  These are films that are made on location, outside of Hollywood and which often utilize local talent, both behind and in front of the camera.  Along with reminding us that no one location has a monopoly on American filmmaking talent, these locally made horror films also feel a lot more authentic than the slick, “mainstream” films coming out of Hollywood.  This is horror taking place in the real world, as opposed to on a sound stage.  “Authenticity,” that belief that what you’re watching could happen just as easily to you as it could to the people onscreen, is one of the keys of effective horror cinema.  If you can’t relate to the fear of the characters or believe that the film’s threat — no matter how outlandish — might just happen to be waiting for you in the shadows, then the film is not going to work.  Grindhouse horror films, with their rough edges and their cast of often unfamiliar faces, worked precisely because they felt authentic.

I think this especially true for slasher films.  As unfairly critically reviled as they may be, the slasher film is based on a horror that we can all relate to.  We all know that there are disturbed people out there.  We all secretly suspect that we’re more vulnerable, both mentally and physically, than we like to pretend we are.  And, as much as we like to shout back at the screen and complain about how slasher movie victims are always doing something stupid, we all know that we have no idea how we would react if we ever found ourselves in the same situation.  Most of us secretly know that we’d never survive a slasher film.  I know I wouldn’t.  I’d be the girl wandering around outside in her underwear, saying, “This isn’t funny!,” and then spraining my ankle as soon as I tried to run away.

The Lashman is a throwback to those old grindhouse slasher films, a loving homage to films that may have never been critically embraced but which remain undeniably effective.  The film’s story is simple.  Five students spend the weekend at a cabin in the woods.  Lashman, who is rumored to be the malevolent spirit of a man killed over 100 years before, shows up.  People die.

Our five students are all traditional slasher movie victims.  In fact, they share the same basic relationships as the five victims from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  There’s two couples, Stacy (Stacy Dixon) and Billy (David Vaughn) and Daniel (Jeremy Jones) and Jan (Kaylee Williams) and then there’s Stacy’s awkward misfit of a brother, Bobby (Shawn C. Phillips).  (Much like poor wheelchair-bound Franklin from Texas Chainsaw, Bobby spends a lot of time complaining.)

Out of the cast, Shawn Phillips is the one who I immediately recognized because he’s appeared in several low-budget and undeniably fun horror films, with Ghost Shark being a personal favorite.  However, all five of the main cast members do a good job.  I’m jealous of the screaming abilities of Stacy Dixon and Kaylee Williams and David Vaughn made for a good “nice guy” hero.  However, special mention has to be made of Jeremy Jones.  One of the unwritten rules of the slasher genre is that one of your main victims has to be a totally obnoxious jerk and Jeremy Jones deserves a lot of credit for the total commitment that he shows to that role.

The Lashman is a film that will best be appreciated by those who know their horror movies and who can appreciate that McCasland has essentially crafted this film to be a valentine to the entire genre.  Everything about the film — from the beautifully shot opening where two anonymous teens fall victim while the moon beautifully glows down on a lake to the final chase through the woods between the Lashman and his suddenly partially undressed final prey — feels like a tribute to the classic grindhouse horror films of the past.

Finally, as I wrap up this review, allow me to share just a few more thoughts:

This film was produced by Red Headed Revolution Pictures.  As a redhead, I appreciated that.  It was also co-produced by Lee Vervoort, who was one of the directors on Volumes of Blood.

The token crazy old man character (every slasher film has one and nobody ever listens to him when he attempts to warn them) is played by an actor named Larry Underwood, who is a horror host (under the name Dr. Gangrene) and a Rondo-winning horror blogger.  (That said, I should admit that the main reason that I initially smiled when I saw his name in the credits is because I just started reading Stephen King’s The Stand.)

Director Cameron McCasland has a cameo appearance in the film and is credited as playing Handsome Bartender.

The end credits declare, “A good cast is worth repeating!”  If you’ve seen any the great Universal films from the 30s and 40s, you will immediately recognize the phrase.  When I was a kid and I would watch any of the old monster movies, I always loved seeing that “a good cast is worth repeating!”  In a weird way, it always made me feel happy for the cast.