Maniac Cop (1988)

Law and disorder collide as a belligerent bobby paints the New York streets red, with only horror icons Bruce Campbell and Tom Atkins in his way.

Paper-thin plotting (it was written in 10 days), hilariously obvious stunt doubles and horrific prosthetics are all part of the cheesy charm, while the picture’s been dusted down nicely for this hi-def re-issue.

Shame, though, that Campbell’s absent from the extras – although we do get a 20-minute chat with Atkins, plus writer/producer Larry Cohen explaining why this schlock favourite is actually a social commentary. 3/5

Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil (2010)

Scary Movie, eat your bloody heart out – Tucker and Dale are here to show you how horror movie spoofs should really be done. Hacking apart slasher conventions with palpable (and palpitating) glee, Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil is a loving tribute made by slasher fans for slasher fans.

When a group of pretty college kids go on a trip to the woods (no, really, stay with it), they’re creeped out by a pair of sinister-looking hillbillies. Except Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are just regular Joes with their own everyday problems – which are only worsened when said college kids keep stumbling upon ingenious ways of accidentally offing themselves. Naturally, Tucker and Dale are the prime suspects.

As gory as a dinner party massacre and as sharp as Freddy’s fingerblades, it’s hard to believe that Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil is director Eli Craig’s first time behind the camera. It’s to his credit, then, that the film’s punchline plot retains much of its power to thrill throughout. Shot like a straight-faced horror, Tucker And Dale brings both the splatter and the giggles as wrong-place-wrong-time hilarity piles up in a big squelchy heap.

Much hinges on the pairing of Tudyk and Labine as the titular misunderstoods, and both knock it out of the park in roles that could have been little more than conduits for post-modern cleverness. Together, they give lived-in, endearing performances that stop the blood-splattered good times from ever tripping into lousy Scary Movie pastiche.

The only place that T&D stumbles is in its final stretch, when it attempts to bring things home by mixing in an out-there twist with a chivalrous endeavor on Dale’s part to save final girl Allison (Katrina Bowden, pitch perfect) from the clutches of a real-life serial killer. It’s here, during a Bondian confrontation that feels like part of another spoof, that T&D loses its initial innocent charm.

Still, a movie that features Tudyk doing a laugh-out-loud impression of Leatherface is easy to love, and T&D is just that – an instant horror favourite that has a brain in its skull and a tongue in its cheek. About as much fun as you can have watching college co-eds get variously impaled, diced and set on fire. 4/5

Scream 4 (2011)

One of the most intriguing things about the Scream Trilogy was that it managed (for a while, anyway) to remain just that: a trilogy. Even if Scream 3 failed to match the stalk-and-kill thrills of its pithy predecessors, director Wes Craven and co stuck to their word and left their franchise as a three-film curio – something even Indiana Jones failed to do. Which makes the belated and somewhat unnecessary Scream 4 (or Scre4m) an interesting proposition: both depressingly inevitable but also undeniably curiosity-baiting. Where can they go from here?

Well, back to the beginning, of course. Notably, Scream 4 represents the first time original director Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, alongside the key battle-scarred trio of Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox, have all worked together since Scream 2. It’s 10 years later in Screamland, and survivor Sidney Prescott (Campbell) is returning to Woodsboro on the first lap of her book tour. There, she finds Ghostface already waiting for her – along with a new cast of nubile young victims, among them Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her snarky friend Kirby (Hayden Panettiere).

With Williamson wielding the pen again, the chatter here is as sharp as ever, and Williamson has even rustled up a fun reason for Scream 4 to exist post-trilogy, pegging his chills and spills on the movie’s enticing tagline – ‘new decade, new rules.’ Hacking apart reboots and remakes with the same geeky glee that the original trilogy revelled in (then it was slashers, sequels and trilogies), Scream 4 is never lacking for anything to say. (Its reboot leanings also explain that Scre4m title – this is partway between a reboot and a sequel.)

But that’s exactly Scream 4’s problem; it’s talky and fun, but packed full of ideas that are never put into action. For all its natter of new rules, it cleaves disappointingly to the old ones – characters do dumber than dumb things, certain people are near indestructible and the phone-call-hack-and-slash routine is on rinse and repeat. It’s not hard to believe reports of last minute script changes (courtesy of Scream 3 scribe Ehren Kruger – yes, really).

Worst of all is the treatment of the original trio, who have a mere handful of scenes together, making their presence almost entirely redundant. Gale goes rogue but ends up quickly out of action, Sidney sits about her cousin’s big creepy house and, worst of all, Dewey races around town in his police car like he’s in a really long episode of The Dukes Of Hazzard. Compare the treatment of Sidney, Gale and Dewey in Scream 4 with the treatment of Laurie Strode in the similarly late-hatched sequel Halloween: H20, and you can’t help but see the former as lacking.

The disappointment doesn’t stop there. Scream 4 is also crucially lacking in the high-octane thrills we expect of the franchise. Though a Stab-A-Thon sequence adds buckets of self-referential zing, there’s nothing here to match the pant-wetting tension of Scream 2’s cop car scene or Gale and Dewey’s sound booth confrontation. The only kill that even comes close to originality is a bloody bedroom brawl that goes to a surprisingly dark, gory place.

Thank heavens, then, for a genuinely shocking climax that effectively pulls the rug out from under our feet. Scream 4 has the best twist since the franchise’s first outing, with an interesting killer whose expected monologue is equal parts terse, timely and terrifying. The unmasking also segues into one of the series’ most out-there scenes – a room-destroying frenzy of manic desperation that I couldn’t possibly spoil here.

In its final 15 minutes, Scream 4 becomes the brave, edgy thriller it’s been straining to be all along. Not to be too harsh on the fourquel – it’s packed full of likable characters and some zippy dialogue (“What’s a four letter word for courage?” asks one cop. “Guts,” answers another, mere minutes before a spectacularly gory death scene). Both Campbell and Cox do fantastic work with limited material (Cox in particular delivers a few well-placed F-bombs), while the feted opening scene is twisted enough even if it fails to break the mould. Though it ends on a high, Scream 4 eventually succumbs to its talk of redundant reboots by becoming disappointingly redundant itself. 3/5

Final Destination 5

If the measure of a good horror movie is its ability to cling to you even as you leave the cinema, Final Destination 5 is somewhere at the high end of the chart. After the screening of this fifth filmic dance with death, this writer had to brave crushing central London crowds, plunging escalators and barrelling tube trains just to get home – and that horrible feeling of “What if?” haunted me all the way to the (supposed) safety of my front door.

What if the tube doors malfunctioned? What if the escalator started eating limbs? Final Destination 5, like its predecessors, excels at playing with that creeping paranoia, heightening our awareness of the lethal potential of so many everyday objects and places. Like, for instance, suspension bridges – which just so happens to be the scene of this movie’s central disaster.

It’s the series’ biggest and most ambitious yet, not only factoring in massive amounts of real and CGI carnage, but also 3D – here smartly engaged to amplify the in-yer-face horror. People plummet great heights, get impaled on spiky things and generally perish in horribly inventive ways – which, of course, is this franchise’s bread and butter.

Caught in the centre of the chaos is Sam (Nicholas D’Agosta), this entry’s resident premonition-haver. While he’s on his way to a team building weekend with his co-workers, Sam forsees their icky fates as a suspension bridge collapses and drags everybody to their deaths. Duly avoiding the catastrophe, Sam saves his on-off girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) and a handful of their co-workers – only to find, as a creepy corner tells him, “death doesn’t like to be cheated.”

That premise sounds familiar because it is. We’ve had four movies before this that all played with the same concept. However, FD5 knows it can’t just tread water, and it’s to its credit that the film attempts to stir a few new ideas into the blender. Among them is the suggestion that taking a life could save your own – something that comes into play for FD5’s standout final 20 minutes.

While that new twist does freshen the franchise somewhat, FD5 is still constricted by the formula it’s expected to follow. Thankfully, that formula includes the requisite OTT death scenes, and the filmmakers aren’t wanting for new ideas here. The series of gooey, gory demises they create are as unpredictable and full-on as ever.

It’s essentially business as usual then, but FD5 should be commended as the fifth entry in a franchise that is still thinking on its toes. The film’s stunning opening credits are a masterpiece in themselves (they elicited a cheer at my screening), while an effortlessly creepy but under-used Tony Todd makes a welcome return after skipping episodes three (for which he merely provided a voiceover) and four.

Most impressive, though, is a jigsaw-piece ending that ties together some surprisingly subtle visual gags purpose built for franchise fans. It’s a climax that seriously boosts FD5’s IQ count, and proves there are just as many brains behind the scenes as balls. FD5, then, is a fun thrill-ride with its thinking cap on – but it’s hard not to consider this the perfect place to jump off. 3/5

Best & Worst: Friends Movies

Best: Scream (1996)

The Friend: Courteney Cox

The Movie: What started out as a quickie horror script scribbled in mere days by Kevin Williamson (because he needed to pay the rent) quickly turned into one of the most profitable scare-flicks of the ‘90s.

Boasting a wit as sharp as the knives used by the slash-happy Ghostface, Scream all but introduced horror to post-modernism (after director Wes Craven gave it a stab with New Nightmare) and inspired a string of mildly diverting copycats.

As catty news reporter Gale Weathers, Cox revels in shrugging off the cosy sitcom aura of Friends and bares her fangs as a snippy busybody who’ll do anything to get the scoop on a breaking story. Yep, she’s an absolute scream.

Prom Night (1980)

Events-themed horrors were a big deal in the ‘80s, as both Friday The 13th and April Fool’s Day can attest. Coming before either of them, but after the trend-setting Black Christmas and Halloween, was Prom Night, a now-dated slasher flick that honourably attempted to turn a sugary sweet occasion into a bloodbath of terror.

Slasher fans will already know what to expect from Prom Night thanks to more recent horror fare (say, I Know What You Did Last Summer) pilfering great portions of its plot and freshening them up for a turn of the century audience. We begin in 1974, when 10-year-old stutterer Robin Hammond is accidentally killed by four older bullies when a prank goes wrong.

Fast forward six years, and her taunters are now 18-year-old high school seniors. Preparing for their prom, they’ve all but forgotten the incident from their childhood – until they receive threatening phone calls on the anniversary of Robin’s death. One person who definitely hasn’t forgotten is Robin’s sister Kim (Jamie Lee Curtis), whose family is still feeling the loss. Meanwhile, the lunatic who was wrongfully accused of Robin’s murder has escaped incarceration…

There’s a lot going on in Prom Night, with madmen on the loose, inept cops flapping around, and teenagers gripped in complicated relationships. Sadly, the film’s not really that bothered about exploring things like Kim’s boyfriend’s guilt issues (he was one of the kids responsible for Robin’s death), and poor Leslie Nieslen (here playing both Kim’s father and the school’s principal) is robbed of any decent screen time.

Still, relegating many of its stalk ‘n’ slash scenes to its final 30 minutes is a bold decision, suggesting that Prom Night is a slasher with loftier ambitions than many of the horrors that would follow it. Spending its first hour establishing characters and red herrings, Prom wants to be a hard-hitting teen mystery. It’s a shame, then, that when the chase scenes/kills finally arrive, they’re too drawn-out, repetitive and dull to really gather any momentum (even if the mirror shard is an inventive weapon).

The fact of the matter is Prom Night has dated, and is spectacularly rooted in the ‘80s. If it isn’t horrendous dresses, it’s horrendous hair ‘dos. “Let’s show her what we can do,” Jamie Lee Curtis huffs when her beau’s catty ex walks in, then launches into a ridiculously camp, five-minute-long dance routine (on a multi-coloured dance-floor) that would cause even the High School Musical kids to blush.

That frothy moment is actually one of the film’s highlights, though, with much of Prom Night’s running time given over to those silly double bluffs and police officers speaking in voiceover to themselves (a trick that’s straining for film noir gravitas). Shamefully, Eddie Benton’s snippy, bitchy Wendy is basically on a leash throughout, and Curtis’ sort-of heroine is a giggly flirt who doesn’t really get to do much (apart from dance).

Of course, Prom Night probably looks all the weaker now because many of its key elements have been re-done (and better) in a string of contemporary movies. Those learned slasher viewers will spot and dismiss the red herrings no problem, while the identity of the killer is pretty much a slam dunk the second you see the ‘Six Years Later’ cue card.

Any redeeming features, then? Well, there’s some very natty editing that enlivens the film’s pace while giving weight to some of the more dramatic moments, and a rolling-head kill is both Prom Night’s funniest and goriest set-piece. If it’s event horror movies you’re after, though, best stick with Halloween. 2/5

The Burning (1981)

“Man, this guy is so burned, he’s cooked! A fucking Big Mac, overdone!” So much for hospital staff sensitivity, that being how an orderly describes the poor burn victim he’s treating at the beginning of this pleasingly typical ‘80s slasher.

Said victim is Cropsy, a mercilessly mean caretaker at Camp Blackfoot who’s set aflame when a prank played by mischievous young campers goes horribly wrong. Burnt to a crisp, it takes Cropsy (wow, that very nearly is ‘Crispy’) five years to leave the hospital he’s recovering in. And when he’s out, he’s got just one thing on his mind. No, not a Happy Meal – revenge.

So far so slasher, but The Burning isn’t quite as cynical as all that. Made just one year after the first Friday The 13th, it’s a blatant cash-in that somehow manages to remain entertaining and inventive. What’s most interesting about The Burning is that it shows us just how early the ‘killer in the woods’ formula was boiled down to its bare essentials. Taking the slasher rules set up in Friday The 13th, The Burning streamlines them into a concentrate that will end up being used by every forest-y slasher thereafter.

We all know those rules. The girls are frigid, giggly teases, the boys randy as dogs in heat. There’s female flesh galore, and the ‘girls who have sex die’ mantra is deployed in full-force (though a few poor girls who tease and don’t put out are tarred with the same bloody brush). Meanwhile the deaths are grisly, graphic and bloody, carried out by a killer wielding a massive pair of gardening shears (this wasn’t branded a ‘video nasty’ for nothing).

What sets The Burning apart from other hack-and-slash murderthons, though, is the time it takes to set things up. After the initial prank-gone-awry, and a brilliantly atmospheric introductory stalk-and-slash, things settle down into effective boo-scare territory. When the slashing finally begins in earnest, it has impact – not least thanks to Tom Savini’s no-holds-barred gore work.

Savvy modern horror audiences won’t have any trouble figuring out who lives and dies (or spotting the slasher steals, such as the Halloween killer POV pinch), but that’s all part of the fun. If your Friday The 13th box set is worn out, The Burning provides a refreshing respite. 3/5

It’s…

If I’d been more organised, I’d probably have been able to rustle up a seriously awesome post dedicated to that most long-ish of slasher franchises, Friday The 13th. Sadly, it was not to be. But I still want to celebrate this most troublesome of un/lucky days, if only because the original F13 was one of the first slashers I ever saw – and it’s still got a sizeable place in the meat locker I call a heart.

Taking up more space in said meat locker is Friday The 13th Part 2 – and not just for the fact that it debuts an adult, sack-wearing Jason Voorhees (not to mention that amazingly creepy shot of him in the background jogging up to an unsuspecting victim, and also the fact that he has a bruised thumb nail… I always liked that detail).

Part 2 is top of the pile because it features the franchise’s best heroine; Ginny, aka Amy Steel. I’m sure any F13 fan worth their weight in blood (or… yeah…) will agree that Ginny’s the franchise’s stand-out Final Girl.

So, really, this is just going to be a celebration of Steel and everything she brought to the F13 franchise. First up, a quote from the lady herself (courtesy of Crystal Lake Memories):

“I was living in Florida, and a friend of mine wanted me to come to this modelling agency with her, and they took me on, then up to New York. I was about 19 or 20. It was early and fast and fun. I did a lot of commercials, then I got the audition for Part 2. It was big.

“It was out there. I was doing this job in the Poconos and they said, ‘You’re up for the role in Friday the 13th.’ And I was like, ‘Come on!’ I had to show up at the audition and pretend I was walking through the woods, screaming. And it was total typecasting – the outdoorsy, strong girl with blonde hair. And when I got it, it was great. It’s nice to be wanted in any capacity, and Friday the 13th was cool. I just said, ‘It’s sequel time!’”

Thank God Ms Steel could see through the typecasting. Far from being a pathetic, whining little victim, her Ginny is resourceful, smart and isn’t going down without a hair-pulling brawl. Even when she’s cornered by Jason, she’s sharp enough to resort to a little role play, slipping into Mrs Voorhees’ crusty old jumper and tapping into Jason’s warped psyche.  

Really, the other Friday The 13th chicks don’t stand a chance in her shadow. And it’s a small blessing that Steel didn’t return for a slash-happy pre-credits cameo in Part 3, as Adrienne King did with Part 2.

So here’s to Amy Steel, and happy Friday the 13th, y’all!

Sorority Row (2009)

Hold up, that’s not fair game, surely. Sorority chicks in a slasher flick? A serial killer could pick off a dozen in a three minute ad break. But then, this is a post-Buffy age… Updating the original ‘80s House On Sorority Row, this contemporary stab ratchets up the bitch factor, and boasts Carrie Fisher brandishing a rifle. (Oh, yes.)

After a botched prank staged by the sisters of Theta Pi, one of their own is killed. The clever gals decide to cover up the crime, but before you can sneeze ‘I know what you did last summer’, they are each being hacked up by a masked menace with a pimped-out tyre iron. Hysterically snarky, Sorority Row is nothing new, but has its blood-spattered heart in the right place, with a nifty, Halloween-nodding reverse-chase scene, and newcomer Leah Pipes as a gloriously snippy ice queen. A slasher for the Gossip Girl intifada.

Via Total Film