slasher movie

Wicked Wednesday: Twisted Nightmare (1987)

I want to preface this week’s “chat” with a disclaimer: I did not watch this entire movie. There has only been one other time where I couldn’t finish watching something for this blog.

Now. I went into Twisted Nightmare with the best of intentions. For one, can you believe that it’s nearly already August? I’ve lasted nearly all summer without watching a single summer camp slasher! It’s a damn travesty.

So armed with the goal to watch a new-to-me slasher, I began perusing people’s lists of “Best Summer Camp Slashers”. Most of the lists were very standard unless you’ve been living under a very large rock or are very new to the genre.

But Twisted Nightmare stood out to me. Supposedly derivative of the iconic Friday the 13th, I was still willing to give the movie a try.

Turns out, what I got instead of a fun summer slasher was an incredibly dull and racist pile of sludge.

A group of friends all gather together at a campground after being invited for a free stay. There are a lot of people who join so it’s pretty difficult to keep everyone straight. All the white people look like carbon copies of each other. Oh, other than that dude with the serious moustache.

Anyway, there’s a barn. People keep going into the barn and getting killed. It has something to do with someone’s brother dying mysteriously by spontaneously combusting.

Because there are SO many people in this movie, it’s essentially a bunch of scenes of people getting killed off. That’s fine, but it’s usually nice to have a bit of story in between. Also, the death scenes are particularly fun. So if you like watching slashers for their inventive kills, you won’t find that here.

Then we get into the Indigenous burial grounds and “medicine man” nonsense. This is our explanation as to why weird shit is happening. Is the stereotype of its time? Sure. But no matter what the era, it’s pretty lazy writing. With that ‘explanation’ I promptly turned off my TV and am refusing to watch the rest.

Is it fair to review a movie when you haven’t watched the entire thing? No. Probably not. But I also don’t think it’s fair to waste my precious brain cells and time on this silliness.

Don’t get me wrong, I love 80s slashers. Many of them are problematic in various ways. It’s okay to enjoy something as long as you can see and acknowledge its flaws. But if you’re going to be racist and boring and lazy, well, that’s three strikes against you.

To end things on a high note, I rewatched Dario Argento’s Opera this past weekend. That’s a fabulous film. It was also released in 1987, but it’s worlds away from Twisted Nightmare. There’s so much drama and tension in Opera. Watch Opera! 

Wicked Wednesday: Ghostkeeper (1981)

Ghostkeeper is weird. And I mean that in a good way.

It’s commonly classified as a slasher, but it’s sleeker in many ways. It’s one part The Shining and another part rooted in First Nations Algonquian folklore. It’s cheap, but it’s beautiful. It’s strange, and it’s actually kind of wonderful.

Initially, the atmosphere of the movie reminded me of Bloody New Year and Bill Rebane films like The Capture of Big Foot and The Game. This probably swayed me into thinking this was going to be of the same calibre because of that. And in some ways Ghostkeeper is because of similar eras and (presumably) budget constraints.

And it does start out on a familiar path: A group of friends leave their cosy lodge to go snowmobiling. They meet a Harbinger of Doom, who warns them to go back before an incoming storm.

Jenny appreciates the warning and insists that her boyfriend Marty heads back. But ol’ Marty has a thing for Chrissy, their pal from the lodge, and would much rather impress her by going off trail.

The three take a trail through some private property, leading them to a seemingly abandoned lodge. When they enter, though, they discover that it is warm. Despite the warm welcome, they realise that no guests had checked into the hotel for nearly five years.

When the storm does arrive, the kids settle in for the night with a bottle of wine by the fire. Their night quickly takes a turn when Marty bumps into a woman in the kitchen. While initially hostile towards them, Jenny is able to calm the woman down and convince her to let them stay in the lodge for the night.

That night, things take even more of an odd turn. Chrissy is nearly drown in her bath by the woman’s son, Danny. He drags her into the basement where there is a cell of ice blocks. She’s wed to a windigo, which is in the form of a man. Jenny and Marty are too busy to notice at first, as they argue about Jenny’s increasing paranoia.

The following morning, Marty and Jenny realise that the snowmobiles are not working. They also cannot find Chrissy. While Marty tries to repair the snowmobiles, Jenny searches for their friend. Instead she finds the older woman, who is evasive about Chrissy.

The woman drugs Jenny, who wakes up conveniently next to a book about Native American folklore. She reads about the windigo and links it to the murders from the surrounding area.

As she tries to return to the main part of the hotel, she is confronted by Danny. She tries to escape, but their scuffle leads to Danny’s death.

With Danny’s death, Marty begins to act strangely. He declares he won’t help Jenny, that she cannot escape being a murderer. He eventually leaves her to trudge off into the snow by himself.

Left all alone, Jenny tries to defend herself. She shoots the woman, but soon discovers that the deaths of the woman, Marty and Danny only spell out her own damnation.

It’s a perfect little movie for a snowy night in. The scenes are stunning, set in the snowy Canadian Rockies. The acting is also above-par, particularly Riva Spier as Jenny and Georgie Collins as the older woman (the titular Ghostkeeper).

Occasionally it’s easy to jump to conclusions from early scenes. It would have been very easy to turn it off, believing it to be another run-of-the-mill slasher. But Ghostkeeper has a bit more magic to it that sets it apart from others. Granted, I would have liked if the film dived deeper into it’s lore. It rarely takes the time to flesh out its story, instead focusing more on the movements of characters.

Maybe it’s because I was taken by surprise, but I think this Canadian gem is well worth the watch.

Wicked Wednesday: Final Exam (1981)

It has come to a point in my life where I’ve asked myself, “Have I watched too many 80s slasher movies?” After watching Final Exam, I’m leaning towards “yes”.

There is nothing wrong with this movie. It’s not even the straw to break the camel’s back. But at some point during the course of these 90 minutes, I realised I’m a bit over the formula.

While one of the earlier Halloween knock-offs, Final Exam easily fits into the slasher mold. A group of students at Lanier College are preparing for their final exams of the school year.

During a chemistry exam, a fraternity stage a mass shooting ‘prank’. The frat boys involved receive no punishment when their coach steps in to help them against the sheriff. It’s ok, though, as the real joke will be on them.

Afterwards, one of the frat’s pledges, Gary, is asked to break into a professor’s office and steal the exam. He does so quite easily, but is then hazed by his potential brothers. He’s tied to a tree in his underpants, freezing in the cold. After an age, he’s finally released – by a motiveless killer.

After Gary’s death, his fellow frat brothers are killed off, as are the nerds and girlfriends. None of the deaths are particularly interesting or gruesome. The death in the gym reminds me of a very tame version of Killer Workout or Fatal Games (both of which were much more fun and memorable) – but was easily the best bit of this movie.

Then we reach our final girl: Courtney. We don’t know anything about her other than she’s insecure because her roommate is really confident. Courtney finds everyone on the campus is murdered, and the sheriff sure as hell isn’t about to arrive and help. She’s eventually chased throughout the school and escapes to the top of the school’s clock tower.

During the ensuing scuffle, the killer falls from a height, seemingly dead. When Courtney attempts to escape past time, he grabs her – forcing her to stab him ’til he’s real dead.

There’s never a backstory given to the killer, only that he killed at another university before attacking Lanier College. In some ways, I could see where this angle could really work. It’s why I love Black Christmas. But mystery doesn’t have to mean boring.

Perhaps I need a long break from the genre. Or next time only seek out something with a very serious reputation (whether that be good or bad).

Final Exam is by no means bad. It certainly tries to do something a little different with its frat-boy shenanigans. (Though those have, unfortunately, aged very poorly.) Personally, I didn’t care about any of the characters other than the nerdy Radish. They weren’t likeable or dis-likeable enough. And if you aren’t cheering or mourning the deaths, what’s the point?

This all being said – I’m always a sucker for an 80s slasher movie. I’ll probably be here again next week with another one…

Wicked Wednesday: Urban Legend (1998)

For years I was intrigued by Urban Legend but was always warned away by anyone who had ever watched it. “It’s terrible,” they said, and I listened. So in its own say, Urban Legend had become its own urban legend for me.

And you’ll never believe how disappointed I was when I finally watched this 90s slasher and came to the realization that it is neither terrible nor a hidden gem. It’s…pretty much every 90s teen horror film that followed in the wake of Scream.

Where Scream brought new life to tired horror movie tropes, Urban Legend tries to intensify the fear of popular urban legends.

And in fairness, it does start on a good note: the infamous “killer in the backseat”. This is my least favourite (meaning favourite) of all urban legends because it feeds on my greatest fears. Poor Michelle doesn’t understand that she’s about to get a starring role in the tale.

While driving one day, college student Michelle runs out of gas and stops at a gas station. The attendant tells her to go inside the building. When she’s inside, she believes he’s attacking her and she run away. Unbeknownst to her, the attendant was trying to warn her about the person in her back seat. The hooded figure promptly chops off her head with an ax.

On the campus of Pendleton University, the news of Michelle’s death is broken by journalism student Paul (Jared Leto). His papers with the article are pulled, though, considering he’s claiming there’s a madman out to get them.

One of the students to hear Paul’s news is Natalie. Despite being quiet about it, it’s revealed that she was a good friend with Michelle. Her friend’s death gets to her, but she keeps their relationship a secret.

But her glum attitude is noticed by her friend, Damon (Joshua Jackson). He tries to “cheer” Natalie up by taking her into the woods and attempting to get it on with her. Natalie rejects his advances, so Damon heads into the woods to take a piss. While out alone, a hooded figure in a parka fights him and puts a noose around his neck. He’s hung when Natalie panics and tries to drive off with his car, which has been tied to the noose.

When she returns to campus, Natalie realises that no one believes her that Damon is dead. Thanks to a convenient course she’s taking on urban legends, Natalie concludes that both Damon and Natalie’s murders are based on the familiar stories. No one believes her. Even her urban legend-loving pal Brenda.

Soon the murders get out of control. Natalie’s roommate is killed while she’s in the room. It’s somehow deemed a suicide. Apparently autopsies don’t exist in this cinematic universe. Or the ability to choke yourself to death exists.

Natalie and Paul team up when he eventually comes to believe in her theory. They go to question their Professor Wexler (Robert Englund), who they discover is the only survivor of a massacre at their school 25 years earlier. Somehow a major massacre happened there and was successfully covered up – only to survive in legend. That’s a thing.

Inside Wexler’s office, they discover a parka and an ax. That’s seemingly murder solved. Only of course not because no killer is that lazy. Even a movie one.

In the build up to the Massacre Day frat party (no idea what it’s really called), Natalie becomes uneasy. She admits to Brenda that she knew Michelle. Years before, they killed a boy in a car accident. Only Michelle covered up the manslaughter and got away scot-free.

In true slasher-movie style, everyone else is killed off during the party. Bodies are discovered and teens freak out. Paul, Natalie and Brenda flee the school. While stopping for gas, Natalie and Brenda discover Professor Wexler’s corpse in Paul’s trunk. They flee and are separated.

Natalie eventually returns to the university and finds the corpses of all the victims. It’s then revealed that Brenda was killer. The girlfriend of the dead boy, murdered by Natalie and Michelle (well, by accident).

Paul and Natalie work together to defeat Brenda. And they believe they succeed after shooting her, getting into an accident, and catapulting her body into a river. That works for offing most people…right?

After all these years of being warned away, I guess I expected a bit…more. Either something truly horrible or really campy. But it’s honestly one of the most whelming movies I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly watchable, though, and I think that counts for quite a bit. It would have been more fun to build up the lore and eliminate more useless side characters.

It tries, but Urban Legend is certainly no Scream. And it’s impossible to not make similarities between the two. One is just much more clever than the other.

Also. For getting top billing, Leto doesn’t do much here. Alicia Witt carries the whole damn thing as Natalie. Popular names be damned! Gersten was great. Rebecca Gayheart (playing Brenda) was equally great at balancing innocent and absolutely batshit crazy.

Wicked Wednesday: Cry_Wolf (2005)

I have an admission to make: I enjoy reading the last page of books. If a story is too suspenseful or there’s a character I really like, I need to know if they survive or who the killer is.

Considering the amount of mysteries and thrillers I read, this probably makes me a bad person. But that being said, I also think I’m pretty good at guessing a killer before I look at the last page of a book.

That being said, it takes no super sleuth to untangle the ‘mystery’ of Cry Wolf.

Last week, I went on a (minor) rant to my co-workers about how I don’t really care for the aesthetic of 00’s films. I hate the eyebrows, the low-rise jeans, the editing… But I decided I wanted to eat my words and watch an entertaining teen horror romp. When I read the words “boarding school” and “secrets” in the synopsis, I was immediately convinced I needed to watch Cry Wolf.

Cry Wolf is set at the fancy Westlake Preparatory Academy, home to the children of the elite. Joining their ranks is the English Owen. Upon his arrival, he bumps into Dodger, a girl he immediately takes a liking to. She explains to Owen that there is an assembly on about a townie who has gone missing after “screwing the wrong guy”.

Later that night, Owen’s new roommate, Tom, invites him to sneak out and meet his friends at a chapel, including Dodger. She tells Own the rules of a game called Cry Wolf. She, the shepherd, chooses someone to be a wolf and the rest of the “sheep” must discover who the wolf in the group is until one by one they’re picked off.

After playing their game, Dodger later suggests that the group play a bigger version of the game. One that involves the entire school. Together, the kids invent a serial killer. He’s The Wolf. He carries a hunting knife, wears an orange ski mask and camo jacket, and travels from campus to campus killing people. Dodger also suggests that the kids pretend that the missing girl (who was earlier discovered in the woods, killed by a gunshot wound) was the first victim.

Owen sends off the first email and the story takes off like wildfire.

Later, Owen gets an instant message from The Wolf. The messages are threatening, and he begins to suspect the Dodger, Tom and the rest of their friends.

The ‘pranks’ begin to get more bizarre. Tom and Owen find a bloody body piercing. Their room is ransacked. Randal goes missing.

Then one day, Tom goes to his journalism class and a hunting knife falls out of his bag. His teacher, Mr Walker (played by the very studious Jon Bon Jovi), takes Tom away to get expelled or whatever. But Tom manages to stop Mr Walker with one thing: the knowledge that Mr Walker is having an affair with Dodger. The boy had previously seen the two making out in Mr Walker’s office.

But his ‘friends’ begin to distrust him. He skips the Halloween dance, and is later pranked into believing that The Wolf is after him. He and Mercedes (who chases Owen dressed like The Wolf) get into trouble, as do the rest of the group.

The friends are all forced to stay at school over the weekend. But considering it’s a boarding school, I’m not sure why this is such a drag.

Owen gathers the gang together at the chapel, where they begin to admit to their deeds. But this somehow, according to Dodger, makes Owen seem guilty. The others turn on him.

While at the chapel, Mercedes’ boyfriend calls her and they hear her being attacked over the phone. And the one-by-one the kids are seemingly killed off.

Owen gets a call from Dodger who tells him about the gun in Mr Walker’s office. He goes to get it, but is caught by Mr Walker. The two begin to scuffle, and Owen ends up shooting Mr Walker in the chest.

And it’s seemingly all over.

It’s revealed that none of the kids had actually died. They were all (mostly) in on a prank to get back at Owen and Mercedes. Again, this seems pretty steep but whatever. Owen ends up not getting murder charges when his father reveals that Mr Walker was in a relationship with the townie that was killed.

It’s also revealed that Mr Walker had other damning evidence against him. And while it’s seemingly “that’s that”, the film throws in a final twist.

But…it’s not really much of a twist.

Unfortunately, the film is very heavy-handed on the foreshadowing. It makes guessing who the real mastermind easy to spot by a mile away. I almost had hoped that the the obvious suspect wasn’t guilty. But instead we get the very obvious ending. And for me, it made the movie really difficult to enjoy.

I loved the aspects of the children playing horrible pranks on each other. Something about a bunch of rich kids being jerks and getting their comeuppance makes me feel weirdly satisfied.

And while this isn’t typically a type of film I enjoy, I do think that Cry Wolf had its moments. It’s laughably outdated thanks to its technology, but if you can see beyond that (and it’s terribly predictable plot), it’s an alright way to spend 90 minutes of your night.