Posts Tagged ‘Sleepaway Camp’

My Top 10 Favorite Slasher Films of All Time

October 5, 2010

With Halloween just around the corner, I’ve decided to compile a list of my all time favorite films from my all time favorite sub genre of horror: the slasher film. From the inspirations drawn from the Italian Giallo genre, the slasher film exploded in the late 70s and early 80s. The year 1981 gave birth to hundreds of cheaply made slashers and each one of them made money. The simple formula of a crazed killer stalking and killing a group of unsuspecting teenagers one by one has been probably the most successful form of American horror next to the zombie film. It was a direct product of a cynical era still trying to come to terms with sexual freedom and the women’s movement. Some call the films puritanical rage against feminism and the casual sex and drug use of the late 60s and early 70s. Whatever it was that caused this pop culture phenomenon, I regard the slasher genre as one of the most honest and pure forms of horror ever created. To this day Hollywood continues to churn out slasher films for new generations of teenagers to enjoy. They are a rite of passage for young lovers and a good excuse to cling on to somebody in the dark. This is a list of my all time favorites…

1. HALLOWEEN (1978)

This is the undisputed classic that was such a huge success, it created a flood of copycats trying to cash in on its low budget money making magic, and it is the main reason the slasher genre was born. It is also the template for all slasher films to follow: Deranged, masked killer escapes on the anniversary of committing a horrible crime and kills every horny, pot smoking teenager he comes across. The “survivor” girl is a prudish, all American type who must confront the maniac one on one. This is also the first slasher to create an unstoppable killer who simply will not die, so he can return again in sequel after sequel. It is also the first of many “holiday” theme slasher films, taking the best of them for its own and creating the most iconic killer ever created, Michael Myers. Everything about this one is perfect. John Carpenter’s brilliant direction combined with Dean Cundey’s incredible steadicam photography, the erie opening theme music and Jamie Lee Curtis’ beautiful portrayal of Laurie Strode add up to greatness. This film also has the amazing Donald Pleasance as the greatest adversarial psychiatrist ever born. As Sam Loomis, he is the Captain Ahab to the boogeyman’s Moby Dick. This film is a genre definer.

Best sequel: HALLOWEEN II (1981)

2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

HALLOWEEN may have been the slasher film to start the wave of imitations, but John Carpenter himself was obviously inspired by this, the first holiday themed slasher film ever made. Although its inspirations are more Giallo than anything else, this is the movie that started it all. A crazed maniac has broken into a sorority house that’s emptying out for the Christmas holiday. He delivers frightening obscene phone calls to the few girls remaining and then starts killing them off one by one. The creepiest thing about this movie is the fact that you are never aware of who and why the killer is doing what he’s doing. Several red herrings are tossed around, but in the end the lunatic is still loose and never revealed. This is probably one of the most chilling and creepiest slashers ever made. If Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN is the Father of the genre, BLACK CHRISTMAS is the Grandfather.

3. MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)

Another great entry in the holiday slasher formula. This one concerns an escaped madman named Harry Warden, who has returned to the town of Valentine’s Bluff on you guessed it, Valentine’s Day, to extract some vengeance on the towns people who left him in an collapsed mine shaft for way too long. Or is it really Harry Warden? There’s a romantic love triangle at work in this grimy, working class slasher that really changes the game in a very interesting way. The final reveal and ending scene are one of the most chilling I’ve ever witnessed.

4. THE BURNING

The “summer camp” slasher is another wonderful byproduct of the genre and a direct result of the success of the original FRIDAY THE 13th. THE BURNING stands out for many reasons. First, it was written and produced by the Weinstein brothers and industry mogul Brad Grey. Second, it features first time performances by Jason Alexander (with hair), Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. Third, it breaks from the standard slasher formula in several unique ways: There is a mass group murder in which the horribly burned killer Cropsey chops up a raft full of kids with a pair of gardening sheers. Also, the “survival” girl prototype is abandoned for a “survival” boy. The gore effects by maestro Tom Savini are top notch and there is a pervasive theme of sleaze, voyeurism and aggressive male sexuality that makes this one a little grimier than the others.

5. THE PROWLER (1981)

THE PROWLER is another one of those slashers that fucks around with the spurned lover concept. This one opens with a WWII G.I. jilted in a Dear John letter who returns home with a vengeance. After killing his disloyal love and her new beau with a pitchfork, the movie jumps decades ahead to a dance thrown at the same sight as the previous murders. This movie is a total balls out slasher with some of the goriest and most creative kills ever produced by SFX master, Tom Savini. It also has a scary ass ending that’ll make you jump out of your seat with fright.

6. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

Wes Craven really changed the game with this awesomely entertaining and atmospheric slasher that totally twists the genre in a unique way by inventing a killer who’s already dead and can only kill you in your dreams. Sooner or later we all have to sleep and that’s when the iconic Freddy Krueger gets you with his glove made of knives. The first one is still the most serious and the most scary.

Best sequel: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS

7. FRIDAY THE 13th (1980)

This one owes just as much to Mario Bava’s Giallo classic TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (A.K.A BAY OF BLOOD) as it does to HALLOWEEN. The first of the “summer camp” slashers, it is also the first to really amp up the inventive and violent kill scenes. Tom Savini creates one brutal murder after another, as a mysterious killer starts offing a group of counsellors trying to open a closed camp. This is the first of one of the longest running slasher series ever made and the introduction to the iconic Jason Vorhees.

Best sequel: FRIDAY THE 13th PART 4: THE FINAL CHAPTER

8. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

There is a perverse joy I get from this film about a crazy orphan who dresses up like Santa Claus and butchers folks with an ax at Christmas time. A child is severely traumatized by watching a criminal dressed like Ole Saint Nick kill his father and mother (after raping her). He grows up to be a psycho who loses his shit at the holidays and starts offing the locals. The movie is cheaply made in Utah and features some of the cheesiest acting since TROLL 2, but there is something so delightfully WRONG about the movie, I just can’t help but love it to death. B-movie hottie Linnea Quigley impaled on a pair of deer antlers while topless and wearing a pair of Daisy Duke’s has to be seen to be believed. This movie was picketed by angry parents upon its initial release for degrading the holiday. Just another reason to love it.

Best sequel: SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 2

9. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1984)

If you’ve never seen SLEEPAWAY CAMP before, you haven’t lived a full and complete life. It is one of the craziest, weirdest, most off center summer camp slashers ever conceived. People are killed with boiling pots of water, beehives and a hot curling iron. The acting is unnerving at times. The overall ambience of the film is like David Lynch on model glue. And the ending! My god, the fucking insanity that is the ending must be seen with your own eyes, which you will need to wash out with powerful industrial chemicals afterwards. Only the 1980’s could produce a film this warped and fun to watch.

Best sequel: THE RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP

10. SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1984)

What happens when a feminist writes a slasher movie and it’s directed by another female? SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE is what happens, bitches! This film works as a parody of the genre, while at times it also appears to be playing it somewhat straight. The result is a hilarious send up of all the slasher standards that have come before it. A group of high school girls throw a slumber party and an uninvited guest shows up and starts killing them. The maniac is a very average looking guy clad from head to toe in denim and sporting a large drill that is used more than once as an obvious phallic symbol. The movie is what Eli Roth’s THANKSGIVING trailer was. A very funny take on a worn formula.

Best sequel: SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE 3

Hope you enjoyed my Slasher Top 10. If I get a chance, I’ll do a list of the rarest and most seldom seen slashers of all time soon. Nerd out!

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SLEEPAWAY CAMP and the “…TURN TO”!

October 13, 2009

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WARNING! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ONE GIGANTIC SPOILER!

Back in 1983, one of the weirdest, cheesiest, funniest and downright craziest slasher films ever created was released on an unsuspecting world. It was called SLEEPAWAY CAMP and if you’ve never seen it before, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU WAITNG FOR? It’s incredible!

The first time I saw it was back in my teenage years. My girlfriend at the time and I were at the local video store looking for a good horror movie to rent. As we scanned the aisles I stopped upon the box for SLEEPAWAY CAMP, which I had noticed many times before and had made a mental note to give it a shot. The artwork was really awesome, with the sneaker impaled with a bloody knife and the kid’s frightened letter home. It was way too intriguing to pass up, so we took it back to her parents house, popped it into the VCR and watched it with all the lights turned off in the basement. We were expecting something along the lines of a simple FRIDAY THE 13TH rip-off, that would be good for a few harmless scares and would be easy to make out to. Well, we got a lot more than we bargained for.

Last Thursday night in L.A., the Cinefamily held a double feature screening of SLEEPAWAY CAMP (the director’s own 35mm print was flown in from New Jersey) and it’s most recent sequel, RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP (2008) to kick off their slasher series, that will be going on every Thursday night, all month long. I was joined by the lovely GRAE DRAKE and GARIANA ABEYTA of THE POPCORN MAFIA and good old KATHY ZONIS, who was their cameragirl at last years COMIC-CON. She was the only one in our group who hadn’t seen SLEEPAWAY before and watching her reactions to it was priceless.

What is it like? If DAVID LYNCH’S brain were transplanted into the head of a low budget filmmaker from New Jersey back in the early 80’s, he would have made SLEEPAWAY CAMP. It’s a film that is not really well made at all, but manages to entertain as well as genuinely creep out the audience. Over the years it has built up a huge following of fans, whom speak of the film with great admiration. Much of this can be attributed to one of the most notorious and shocking “shock” endings ever filmed. But there are many other reasons to love SLEEPAWAY CAMP:

Angela and Ricky are ready to have lots of fun at Camp Arawak.

Angela and Ricky are ready to have lots of fun at Camp Arawak.

The most awesome pairing of two guys wearing shorts ever!

The most awesome pairing of two guys wearing shorts ever!

The most tweaked out performance I've ever seen belongs to this lady, who plays Angela's mom.

The most tweaked out performance I've ever seen belongs to this lady, who plays Angela's mom.

There are more half shirts and short shorts than any film in history and that's if you just count the guys.

There are more half shirts and short shorts than any film in history and that's if you just count the guys.

Lots of unconventional "kills" in this movie. When was the last time you saw someone use a beehive to murder somebody?

Lots of unconventional "kills" in this movie. When was the last time you saw someone use a beehive to murder somebody?

Camp owner Mel pays for his cheapness and dating underage girls with an arrow to the throat.

Camp owner Mel pays for his cheapness and dating underage girls with an arrow to the throat.

This image will be burned into your mind's eye for eternity after witnessing it fully.

This image will be burned into your mind's eye for eternity after witnessing it fully.

The film opens with a horrible boating accident that occurs at Camp Arawak, which judging from everyone’s “Joisey” accent, is located somewhere in upstate New York or perhaps in the garden state itself. Flash forward to five years later and the surviving child of the accident, Angela has been adopted by a crazy lady, who ties string to her fingers and has a few bizarre ideas about parenting as well. She sends Angela (FELISSA ROSE) and her new brother Ricky (JONATHON TIERSTEN) to the exact same place where Angela watched her dad get chopped up by a motor boat, Camp Arawak. As a result of the accident, Angela doesn’t speak very much, which makes her the target of all the camp bullies and the pedophile cook. One by one, they all meet a grisly end at the hands of a mysterious killer who’s stalking the camp. The highly creative murders range from being burned by a pot of boiling corn on the cob to having a beehive dropped in your lap while on the can. Normally, after the first murder, the camp would be closed and the children sent home. But Camp Arawak is run by a very cheap middle aged man named Mel (MIKE KELLIN), who keeps the murders under wraps, convinces the local sheriff (who sports the most obvious fake mustache ever) that they are all accidents and plans a rendezvous with Meg (an underage counselor). The bodies continue to pile up and the final “reveal” of the killer is something that is so absolutely insane, it blows the mind! If you’ve never seen it before and want to be surprised when you do, don’t look at the next photo because it’s an enormous spoiler!

HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!! SHE'S GOT A DICK!!!

HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!! SHE'S GOT A DICK!!!

I wonder if  ROBERT HILTZIK, the writer and director of SLEEPAWAY CAMP, ever realized how truly crazy the movie he was making is. There are so many weird characters in this film, it’s almost like the TWIN PEAKS of slasher movies. The overall tone has a pervasive feeling of cruelty and an undercurrent of weird sexuality that made me glad I never went to camp as a kid. Also, there has never been such an amazing collection of bad 80’s fashions ever featured in one film. Lots of half shirts and short shorts and that’s just what the guys are wearing!

After SLEEPAWAY there was a short break and when we came back, we were treated to a special screening of the long awaited followup film (the 4th official sequel. 5th if you count another unreleased sequel) RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP or “…TURN TO” as the cast and crew referred to it. You see, it just so happens that our good friend KATHY ZONIS is friends with one of the actresses from “…TURN TO”, JACKIE TOHN and she invited her to the screening. My friend BRIAN COLLINS, who has an awesome website called HORROR MOVIE A DAY, conducted a very funny, impromptu interview with her before the screening.

JACKIE TOHN is interviewed by BRIAN COLLINS about her work on "...TURN TO".

JACKIE TOHN is interviewed by BRIAN COLLINS about her work on "...TURN TO".

We enjoyed watching her die so much, we tried to kill her again outside the theatre.

We enjoyed watching her die so much, we tried to kill her again outside the theatre.

The "...TURN TO"!

The "...TURN TO"!

She talked about how seriously the returning director ROBERT HILTZIK took the production and how the cast took it the opposite way. She’s no stranger to working with shlocky filmmakers, considering she worked with UWE BOLL on the horror film POSTAL, which I still have to see. Her performance in this movie is really good and I almost didn’t want to see her die in it. Almost. I’ve actually seen “…TURN TO” before, when it was released on DVD from MAGNET. She said it was shot in 2003, but it just came out last year. I thought it was fun then, but watching it with an audience and a live “heckler” commentary from one of the stars was fantastic. At one point during the movie, Jackie was perplexed by her hairdo in the film and screamed out at the screen, “WHY DO I LOOK LIKE THAT!?”. It was a riot! She had never seen the film all the way through and afterwards she told us that it was a blast for her to watch with everyone. She even received huge applause after her death in the movie, which involved her head being wrapped up in barbed wire. Awesome!

Although “…TURN TO” is not quite the cultural zeitgeist nugget that the original is, it’s still a great deal of fun to watch. The plot involves another summer at the notorious camp, which is now called Camp Manabe ( Man-a- be, get it? Jackie told us that the director was very proud of himself for coming up with that one). This one centers on an obnoxious, disgusting fat kid named Alan, who’s viciously picked on by everyone. Once again, there’s a killer on the loose and nobody can figure out who it is. PAUL DeANGELO returns as Ronnie, the counselor from the original who only wears tank tops and the shortest shorts ever. He is joined by VINCENT PASTORE (Big Pussy from THE SOPRANOS) and ISSAC HAYES in a cameo as the “chef”. OH!

 Meet Alan, the obnoxious fat kid who lights his farts on fire.

Meet Alan, the obnoxious fat kid who lights his farts on fire.

The babes of "...TURN TO"! That's JACKIE TOHN on the far right.

The babes of "...TURN TO"! That's JACKIE TOHN on the far right.

Big Pussy and a "familiar" looking cop, who uses one of those cancer throat things to communicate.

Big Pussy and a "familiar" looking cop, who uses one of those cancer throat things to communicate.

ANGELA'S BACK!!! HOLY FUCK!!!

ANGELA'S BACK!!! HOLY FUCK!!!

The thing that I like the most about “…TURN TO” is that the cruelty from the original is back and has even been amplified to a higher level than before. Every character in the movie seems like they are on the brink of completely losing control. The Alan character is so horribly treated by his peers you would almost feel sorry for him, if he wasn’t such an unsympathetic freak. One moment I found to be particularly funny and cruel features Alan screaming in agony at the sight of a dead frog he loved, that was skinned alive by bullies. BRIAN COLLINS turned to me during that scene and said, “This is one of the meanest horror movies ever made”, in which I concurred.

It was a great time and the slasher retrospective will be going on every Thursday night, all month long at the Cinefamily. This Thursday is a triple feature of three high school slashers that include SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE, GRADUATION DAY and REDEEMER: SON OF SATAN. See you there.