The horror returns! Week 2 of the Halloween horror movie binge is overflowing with films just right for the end-of-summer not-quite-fall weather of early September. The idea here is that Halloween is a perfect excuse to indulge in our favorite of film genres but why wait till October to begin? We will be posting reviews of all the fright flicks we watch leading up to Halloween in weekly articles such as this. You can check out the Week 1 reviews here.
This week Randy watched and reviews the horror anthology Fun Size Horror: Volume One, the kinetic zombie apocalypse flick Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, and goes slasher crazy with Sleepaway Camp I and II, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, and The Burning. Let us know what you thought of these movies, what horror flicks you've been watching, and/or any suggestions for us to watch in the upcoming weeks in the comments below, in the Facebook group, or on Twitter.
Fun Size Horror: Volume One (2015)
Watched September 12th, 2015.
Hulu. Many (if not all) of the 31 segments are submissions to the FunSizeHorror.com website. The segments vary widely in tone and production, from genuinely creepy to straight up silly, and amateur to pro. There are several excellent horror shorts sprinkled throughout with the best towards the end. A few very solid 4 and 5 star worthy shorts as well as many segments that are well executed and/or fun horror concepts. Then there are others.
One can't expect pure gold from an anthology film featuring 31 segments but the average quality of the shorts was low enough that I was, for a time, regretting this watch. I didn't know this was a collection of submissions and, whether it is right or not, would have actually been more forgiving in my initial feeling towards the film. Once the film hit a few standout portions I realized there was some fun to be had here. Had the producers of the film been a tad more selective this would have been a very enjoyable watch.
I don't want to outright trash any specific short because most are clearly low to no budget films by non-professionals. Though there are some professionals at work here as well. That is not what separates the good from the bad. There are several shorts that faltered a bit in terms of execution BUT totally succeeded because they featured an inventive concept or spirit of experimentation and creativity that was commendable. One of my absolute favorite segments was a very simple production but had the most well executed and effective jump scare that I have seen in a LONG time. It got me! This was NO lazy attempt at an easy scare either. It was important to the plot, well done, and establishes the horror that sticks with the rest of the segment.
The flip side to that, though, are the segments that felt like they had no real imagination behind them. Cliche can be fun but the worst here were just dull and uninspired. For the sake of the filmmakers that submitted some really excellent and fun segments I would like to give this a higher rating. Even some of the shorts that faltered on the production end are built on fun concepts that make them work. However, there are more lows than highs to this anthology so I've landed on 2 gift puppies out of 5.
Good Halloween watch? Knowing that this is a collection of (mostly) amateur short films and that you have to sit through many less-than-stellar segments to get to the good ones... should you decide to watch it... Yes! The opening credits is a VERY Halloween themed animated sequence and the shorts play out like a grab bag of various horror stories and themes.
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2015)
Watched September 13th, 2015.
Wyrmwood is a fun, kinetic, ridiculous, creative zombie film from Australia. A unique looking film with some very unique ideas, a thing in short supply in the zombie sub-genre. This first time director puts a low budget (partially funded by through two IndieGoGo campaigns) to good use with nice looking make-up fx, costumes and cleverly filming things around limitations while actually incorporating that into the style of the movie. Filmed over weekends and using many different cameras and setups they have tied it all together into a crazy, intense zombie flick.
With roots in zombie horror this movie rides more heavily on action and comedy. The tone is a little all over the place. It bounces between stark, heavy moments and comedy with far less grace than something like Shaun of the Dead... that might be an unfair comparison... but those heavy moments are few and never kills the enjoyment for me. Described as "Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead" it doesn't reach the greatness of those films but is pretty cool. I gave this 4 gassy zombies out of 5.
Good Halloween watch? For a reason I can't quite zero in on zombie flicks don't scream Halloween viewing to me. Perhaps the aforementioned over-saturation has made the zombie an "anytime snack" monster or the tendency to lean towards "plausible explanations" (i.e. virus) verse a strictly supernatural happening. When it comes down to it we are just using Halloween as an excuse to binge on some entertaining horror and while this favors action over chills it is an entertaining watch.
He Knows You're Alone (1980)
Watched September 13th, 2015.
YouTube one night. This film attempts to recreate the feel, hit the same beats, and straight up steal the music of John Carpenter's Halloween but fails. Except the music, it is an unabashed clone of the Halloween score though, of course, not nearly as good.
The killer and his motivations are revealed right off the bat so there is absolutely no mystery to him. He's just a guy. A crazy guy who likes to kill soon-to-be brides. This is no spoiler, it is revealed within the first few scenes of the movie. Looking further down this article you will note this is the first of many in what has become a slasher movie tear. What I found during this slasher binge is that it is not uncommon to know who the killer is in these movies. Where this fails compared to those is that this killer is, for lack of better description, totally bland. Worse yet is the "obsessed detective with a personal vendetta" trying to track this killer down.
A couple pros verse this film's many cons... The opening scene was rather inventive (apparently paid homage to in Scream 2) and the over-all direction is competent though never again reaches the heights of the movie's first kill... or even seems to try. The biggest reason to watch this plodding slasher is that it features Tom Hanks in his very first roll, though it is a small part. I give this 1 and a half absent fiancés out of 5.
Good Halloween watch? Just watch John Carpenter's Halloween instead.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Watched September 16th, 2015.
go watch it. It had been spoiled for me and if I'm sure one would enjoy it more not knowing but I had fun with it anyhow.
Like the previous movie on this list (and SO many slashers) it attempts to cash in on the success of the more well known slasher movies of the time. In this case, Friday the 13th. Like Friday the 13th this also seems to borrow, in the broadest sense, themes from Psycho as well. That may be a stretch here but it certainly plays on concepts that must have seemed rather shocking at the time.
While this isn't the most inventive of the genre it does have a bit of charm. Many of the "kills" are unmemorable but the main characters and their typical adolescent conflicts kept me interested in the plot. The characterization of the children and how they interact is arguably the most well written here when compared to the other summer camp movies on this list. Of course there are some serious leaps in logic made by the adult characters in favor of forwarding the plot. There is also some uncomfortably over-the-top sleaze that creeps in early on that had me worried but fortunately isn't taken very far.
The end is surely the driving force behind Sleepaway Camp remaining towards the top of the cult horror collective conscious. Knowing the twist definitely detracted from my viewing experience but I still found the movie engaging. Honestly, the twist is quite a leap, don't expect a some brilliant turn of the tables. It is not that kind of movie. It is, however, memorable and the execution of said twist is ridiculously (and unintentionally?) funny yet still creepy. I give this summer camp slasher 3 shaving cream while sleeping pranks out of 5.
Good Halloween watch? Despite my earlier stated logic for zombies not feeling like proper Halloween viewing I do think slashers, even non-super powered slashers, do. The other side of the equation here is if a summer camp movie feels out of season to you or not. I'd still say yes, good Halloween watch. Particularly if you are the kind of nutcase that starts watching "Halloween" movies in September, before fall, when the weather still hits upwards of 80 degrees F.
Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1987)
Watched September 17th, 2015.
currently available on Netflix) and to answer the 2nd question... fun. It takes the right approach and simply tries to have fun with itself and the genre in general.
Gone is the "who is the killer" mystery of the first film. We see the murderer take their first victim before the title card hits. Gone is the twist. The film attempts to drop some information towards the end that feels like it was suppose to be a twist but it was so obvious that I wouldn't call it such. If you've watched the first film you know the score going into this one. This film, as well as many similar slashers, suffers as a result but in the long run none of that is what Sleepaway Camp II is about.
Sleepaway Camp II is meta-slasher about fun, gore, and bewbs. Released four years after the first and with enough distance from the massive early 80s slasher craze that all the genre cliches and formulas were well established and the supreme masked maniac superstars had risen to the top. This film celebrates all of that and does so with a smile on it's face. Much like the killer as she offs one camper after another for "fornicating" and generally being "bad girls and boys".
Initially I was concerned by the cheesiness but the intended humor became more evident as it continued. It is a playful, winking kind of humor more than laugh out loud funny. A perfect example of what pulled me on board is a scene in which a couple of kids dress up as Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger to scare a group of girls in the woods. This is fun to see in a slasher movie but the real kick comes when (SPOILER-ish) the real killer shows up with a chainsaw and Leatherface-like mask. It also has one of the most over-the-top disgusting kills I've seen in one of these 80s flicks. Even that serves as a play on slasher movie kill one-upmanship.
Like many of the films it happily aligns itself with Sleepaway Camp II falls into many of the same troublesome trappings. This time around all the main characters are adults cast as the camp "kids" in order to facilitate more violent murders and reasons for nudity. Sure, there are kids running around and the first film had some suspiciously muscular, 20-something-looking "kids" but one of the things that stood out to me about the first was that the main characters were actually kids. That added a bit more tension. This is a common happening in horror movies (who wants to watch children get gutted in all manner of gruesome ways, anyhow?) but here the characters feel much more one-sided than the kids from the first film.
At the end of the day this is a fun drop in the large pool of slashers but suffers from the same faults as most others including an awkwardly unsatisfying conclusion which knocked my final rating down a half star. Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers comes in at 3 attractive relatives of famous actors and musicians out of 5.
Good Halloween watch? I would recommend this to horror fans as it is a fun watch. As for Halloween viewing I'll just refer you back to the answer on the Sleepaway Camp entry.
I couldn't find a SAFE FOR WORK trailer on YouTube (related note: this movie has LOTS of gratuitous nudity... BEWBS!) so I'll just leave this image here...
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Watched September 17th, 2015.
How has it taken me nine years to finally watch this film!? This is a brilliant ultra-meta mockumentary/slasher flick full of humor. Smartly written, every cliche commented on and every formula broken down to a well timed science. The film features "news clips" from Elm Street, Haddonfield, and Camp Crystal Lake establishing that Behind the Mask exists in a world where the "greats" are real.
The mythos is established, the group of two-dimensional would-be teen victims is selected, and now Leslie Vernon just needs to pull off the intricately planned murder spree to launch him into legend. He invites a crew to television news interns to document the never-before-seen secret world of slashers and their process. The juxtaposition of the documentary film following this seemingly normal, upbeat, charismatic guy as he lets the film crew in on all the clever trade secrets and the slasher film that shows how these techniques play out in a world that adheres to the slasher movie rules works so well.
Behind the Mask is an homage to the genre that deconstructs each convention and troupe in a delightfully entertaining way. It simultaneously pokes fun at and comments on the genre while never forgetting that it IS a part of that genre. A good pace, interesting central character, and unique spin on both the slasher and mockumentary genres made this a pleasantly entertaining surprise. There is a lot of fun to be had for the horror fan. I'd be curious if my rating of this would go up or down with a future watch but for now it rests at a solid 4 ahabs out of 5.
Good Halloween watch? I would say yes! This is a celebration of horror films that also remembers to be one itself with so many Easter eggs and nods that should delight a horror fan. This would feel right at home along any Halloween horror marathon you threw it into.
The Burning (1981)
Watched September 18th, 2015.
The Burning is a well-produced slasher that ticks nearly all the genre boxes. With a cast of then-unknowns like Brian Backer, Jason Alexander, and Fisher Stevens the acting is a notch above many other films of the same ilk and time. Holly Hunter is in it as well but I don't recall her having many (if any) lines. The banter between campers is fun at times but generally a little stiff and cheesy.
Our core group becomes stranded when the killings begin. It is a good set-up that actually inspired a feeling of dread and horror as oppose to the usual method of having kids picked off one by one in camp while everyone else is oblivious. I was totally on-board with this movie for the first two acts. Kills are bloody though not particularly inventive (the killer likes his sheers) with the exception of one of the most energetically brutal sequences of the genre. I don't want to spoil the surprise of it but it was so fast and furious that it felt out of sync with the typical "one kill every ten minutes" pacing these movies generally adhere to. It was refreshing!
Unfortunately the air gets taken out of the sails shortly after with a long, dull, tension-killing chase that leads to a disappointing resolution. While the majority of the film is well made and edited questionable production decisions and confusingly sloppy editing cause the film's climax to fall apart. In the end it is the kind of disappointment that accompanies a promising movie that goes bad which sometimes feels worse than an all around bad flick. There are a lot of merits to The Burning and is a fairly well regarded entry in the genre but ultimately left a bad taste in my mouth. I landed on 2 and a half Cropsy inspired madmen out of 5.
Good Halloween watch? Again, refer to the Sleepaway Camp answer. I would say that despite giving that film a higher rating this film may be better produced. If you are a slasher fan it is worth your time for all the young faced future notables and that awesome sequence I mentioned.
All the Halloween Horror movie reviews!
- Week 1 - Demons (1985), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), and Trick or Treat (1986).
- Week 2 - Fun Size Horror: Volume One (2015), Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2015), He Knows You're Alone (1980), Sleepaway Camp (1983), Sleepaway Camp II (1987), Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), and The Burning (1981).
- Week 3 - Madman (1982), The Final Terror (1983), Sleepaway Camp III (1989), and Cheerleader Camp (1988).
- Week 4 - Black Sunday (1960), The Hive (2015), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Deadly Friend (1986).
- Week 5 - Pontypool (2008) and It Follows (2014).
- Week 6 - Housebound (2014) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
- Week 7 - Grim Prairie Tales (1990), Escapes (1986), and Tales of Halloween (2015).
- Week 8 - 10 Essential Halloween Movies!