Friday, April 6, 2012

Another RETROGRADE REVIEW Joint...

The top ten leading men of romantic comedy [21-3-2011]


Just kidding.

Tonight's post has required me to delve into the sullied, sordid and rather misogynistic corner of cinema known as slasher movies. 

I'll admit to ambivalent feelings about this genre. Most of these films are terrible. Apart from HALLOWEEN, I've seen very few of these movies which manage to be entertaining, let alone scary.

Here I present for your pleasure, a collection of the more reputable members of this most debauched of horror fraternities.

The Intruder, INTRUDER

INTRUDER is actually a really good movie. I don't usually like slasher movies unless they bring something to the table beyond new ways for skewering dumb teenagers, but this one is a bit different. For one, there are no killings for the first 30 minutes. For another, the location is a small town supermarket after hours, which I always thought was a good location for a suspense picture. Finally, this is a slasher movie in which you actually care about the characters.

Yeah, so they are a bunch of stereotypes, but just like THE BREAKFAST CLUB, these are well-fleshed out stereotypes, likably performed and with their own little quirks and idiosyncrasies. 

Which brings me to the titular figure of the film.

I won't spoil it for you. It's better if you don't know, but I can safely say hearing this character's explanation for massacring the night crew is so inane it has to be heard to be believed, and sums up the screwy appeal of this late period (1989) genre piece.

The Voice in the fog, MIDNIGHT LACE

Okay so MIDNIGHT LACE technically isn't a slasher movie. I don't care. It involves a mad man stalking a beautiful woman -  that's enough for me.

For the majority of the running time, this figure remains merely a cheerful voice in the London fog, gleefully teasing the heroine with his homicidal intentions.I haven't named who the villain is, but even if I told you it does not detract from the sheer creepiness this maniac delivers.

Proving that the less you see, the more you fear, the unseen antagonist of MIDNIGHT LACE is a truly unsettling presence and the unique attraction of this underrated gem from the pre-PSYCHO era of Hollywood thrillers.

The Prowler, THE PROWLER

As I mentioned previously, I don't like formula slashers. But I have a soft spot when it comes to Joseph Zito's 1981 cheapie. Maybe its the period setting. Maybe it's the eerie atmosphere of the small town. Mostly I think it's because of the simple, iconic image of the film's villain stalking through a darkened house after the film's terrified heroine.

A damaged WW2 veteran spurned by the girl he left behind, the Prowler decides he doesn't like the local kids enjoying the first graduation dance in thirty years and decides to voice his disapproval by organizing a massive letter-writing campaign to the school board. I wish that was the case, but this option never occurs to this deranged ex-GI. His solution is to wipe out the graduating class, perhaps reasoning that with no graduating class there will be no dance. Give that genius a promotion, Sergeant!

This movie would have been so much better if it had made more of the character's military background, but as is it's still a creepy little number featuring some very realistic effects work courtesy of maestro makeup man Tom Savini. Released in New Zealand under the more banal moniker ROSEMARY'S KILLER.

Melissa Graps, KILL, BABY, KILL

It's only a little girl with a bouncing ball yet it still freaks me out.

A totally out of left field choice for the embodiment of evil (later ripped off by the likes of Fellini and Scorsese), but totally effective nevertheless, this ghostly figure puts the chill in Mario Bava's dreamlike chiller. Accompanied by a creepy nursery rhyme theme of tinkling bells and childish giggles, she terrorizes the inhabitants of a small village, seemingly able to appear and disappear wherever and whenever she desires. 

The fact Melissa is actually played by a boy makes it all the more disturbing...

Harry Warden, MY BLOODY VALENTINE

This is one mad bastard, in all senses of the word. In both the original and the remake, he is a miner driven to a homicidal killing spree (who in turn provides the motive for others to take up his mantle).

Like the Prowler, the iconography of the Miner's costume is an inspired choice. With his amplified breathing and gas mask, Warden looks more machine than man, working his way through the cast like a well-oiled... uh, machine. 

Taking the original into account, he is also the only Canadian on this list. Talk about a pointless piece of trivia, eh?

Billy, BLACK CHRISTMAS

Bob Clark's yuletide creepshow pre-dates HALLOWEEN by a good few years, and proves to be one of the best unsung horror films of the early Seventies.

Billy, the film's unseen tormentor, is a breath of fresh air compared with the indistinguishable masked killers which usually pass as the villains of slasher films. In a master stroke, Billy's identity and motives remain totally in the dark. Stripped of all context, Billy is a complete enigma to both the characters and the audience. And he's all the more terrifying for it.

Initially tormenting the occupants of a sorority house with bizarre, lewd phone calls, he moves on to infiltrate the house, turning it into his own private killing ground. The fact that the sorority sisters remain completely ignorant to the fact that he is hiding in the attic the entire film only adds to the tension.

Even when the cavalry arrives to save the day (in the figure of B-movie icon John Saxon), the wrong man is killed and Billy is free to return to make another phone call to the lonely girl below... 

Blank...face?, BLOOD & BLACK LACE

Making his second appearance in this post, Mario Bava shows he knows how to make a memorable antagonist with the faceless, slouch-hatted killer of this classy fashion house-set giallo.* 

The Blank is actually two killers sharing a disguise, but his modus operandi remains the same, using outrageously ghoulish methods (bladed gloves, heating grates) for disfiguring the vain, narcissistic models who constitute the film's unsympathetic protagonists. 

Ironically, in contrast to these bimbos and the straight-laced cops who fail to solve the mystery, the Blank has the most interesting personality of the entire cast. Not to mention that mask is friggin' awesome.

Stuntman Mike, DEATH PROOF

A lot of people hate this movie. They say it is slow, boring and overly talky. These are valid criticisms,  but whether you like the film or not, there is no missing the fact that Tarantino has, once again, demonstrated his special knack for creating memorable antagonists. Stuntman Mike McCabe is rather unique for the villain of a slasher film.

He's got dialogue. He has better hair than the leading lady (or ladies). He cries like a little girl when he's hurt. And he's played by Kurt Russell. And unlike the others on this list, I dare say you'll shed a tear for the old bastard when he gets his ass blitzed at the climax.

*giallo refers to a sub-genre of Italian thrillers from the 60s and 70s which featured beautiful women, black gloved killers and overly complex mystery plots



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