Tag Archives: after they were famous

Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises: Stripped To Kill

stripped to kill 1987


2.5 Stars  1987/18/87m

“A maniac is killing strippers. Detective Cody has one weapon to stop him… Her body.”

Director/Writer: Katt Shea Ruben / Writer: Andy Ruben / Cast: Kay Lenz, Greg Evigan, Norman Fell, Pia Kamakahi, Peter Scranton, Diana Bellamy, Tracey Crowder, Debbie Nassar, Lucia Lexington, Carlye Byron, Athena Worthey, Michelle Foreman.

Body Count: 6

Laughter Lines: “I’ve never seen any body jack off a snake before!” / “She’s stressed – I’m giving her a massage.”

The concept of an attractive female cop going undercover as a stripper to smoke out a killer of dancing girls sounds as old as the hills in 2019, but Stripped to Kill was possibly the first film to make use of the cliche. Minor spoilers follow (though the trailer totally gives away who it is anyway).

Reportedly, female director (!) Katt Shea (who played the toilet victim in the previous year’s Psycho III) wanted to explore the artistry of exotic dancers more so than just ogle them – as most of the subsequent films with the very same plot did – and so there’s more character depth going on here than in, say, Slashdance or PrettyKill, with various girls struggling with drugs, ageing, as well as the voyeurs who come to throw bills their way.

When Detective Cody (Lenz) literally runs into a stripper being murdered, she and hunky partner (Evigan) concoct an undercover mission for her: She enters a stripping contest and is given the job of the dead girl at the Rock Bottom club while she investigates the murder and the disappearance of another girl.

stripped to kill 1987

Could it be headphone-wearing weirdo Mr Pockets, who’s always giving the girls paper flowers? Frustrated owner Ray (Fell, of Three’s Company!)? Or someone closer to home? Hmm… Stripped to Kill blunders along a bit lifelessly for the most part, with few stalk n’ slash sequences, but is elevated by the camp-as-tits final act, which shares a fair whack in common with a few other notorious slasher flicks as well as a total lack of political correctness – let’s just say if you wanted The Further Adventures of Kenny Hampson, here it is.

Shea’s attempts to humanize the girls is 50/50 successful – a scene that infers they all look out for one another is nice if fleeting. Star Kay Lenz later complained about the sleazier aspects in the final cut, which pushed the focus to tits and immolation. Watch out for the sarcastic receptionist, Shirl.


STRIPPED TO KILL II: LIVE GIRLSstripped to kill ii live girls 1989

1 Stars  1989/78m

Director/Writer: Katt Shea Ruben / Cast: Maria Ford, Eb Lottimer, Karen Mayo Chandler, Marjean Holden, Birke Tan, Debra Lamb, Lisa Glaser, Tommy Ruben.

Body Count: 5

Making its predecessor look like Dressed to Kill, It’s difficult to get your head around this hot mess being written and directed by the same team as the first one, which, while no masterpiece, at least looked decent. Director Katt Shea wrote as she went, with no clear direction, and thus Live Girls is the wretched product.

LA stripper Shady (Ford) has crazy 80s-music-video dreams with lots of dancing that end with vampire-esque razor-mouth kisses, all of which preclude the murders of the other strippers from her club who cameo in each dream.

Limping detective, Sgt. Decker tries to find the killer, falls in love with Shady, and, well that’s pretty much it. It takes forever for more murders to occur and, gasp, it’s the one with the British accent! Who knew!? She loves Shady too, or something. A real damp squib of an effort which, even at 78 minutes, feels like it robs you of an entire day to sit through.

Blurbs-of-interest: Maria Ford was in Slumber Party Massacre III; Karen Mayo Chandler was in Out of the Dark.

Remake Rumble: Don’t Call the Super

Less a Face-off, more a comparative analysis between the original and its – ugh – remake/reimagining/reboot/whatever (…delete as applicable), some I liked, some I loathed and some I somehow preferred to the original!


toolbox murders 1978


1.5 Stars  1978/18/91m

“Bit by bit… he carved a nightmare!”

Director: Dennis Donnelly / Writers: Neva Friedman, Robert Easter, Ann Kindberg / Cast: Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin, Wesley Eure, Nicolas Beauvy, Tim Donnelly, Aneta Corsaut.

Body Count: 8

Laughter Lines: “Come here you dirty fornicator!”

This depressingly bleak pre-Halloween effort follows a ski-masked, humming maniac, who offs several women in a close-knit apartment block before kidnapping a 15-year-old he believes is the reincarnation of his dead daughter. As it predates the flood of low-budget slash flicks by a few years, the narrative seems a bit out of whack seeing it after so many template slashers.

The first thirty minutes or so is entirely comprised of the back-to-back murders of a series of pretty young women, some of whom have absolutely no lines, they’re present simply to look good, disrobe, in one case take a bath in full make-up, masturbate, and then become the resting place for the killer’s drill/hammer/screwdriver. The killer is soon after identified as the owner of the complex (Mitchell), while his kidnapping victim’s older brother tries to solve the mystery with the help of his friend – the killer’s nephew – who gets a clue and quickly becomes as unwound as his uncle, which provides a passable twist before the end title card informs us that the film was based on true events.

toolbox murders 1978

The main problem here is pacing; with nearly all the slaughter out of the way in the first third, the film reverses the tension effect and it wades through a thick swamp of extended tedium to the okay finale, by which point you’re likely to be lapsing into a coma or masturbating in the bath.

Renowned for its UK banning in 1982, like most of the Video Nasty culprits it’s notorious reputation isn’t warranted and the film is much more boring than it is gory.


TOOLBOX MURDERStoolbox murders 2003

3.5 Stars  2003/15/91m

“If you lived here, you’d be dead by now.”

Director: Tobe Hooper / Writers: Jace Anderson & Adam Gierasch / Cast: Angela Bettis, Brent Roam, Juliet Landau, Rance Howard, Adam Gierasch, Greg Travis, Marco Rodriguez, Sara Downing, Chris Doyle.

Body Count: 8

One in a million this: A remake that far outdoes the original material. In a twist of irony, the same year that his Texas Chain Saw Massacre genre staple is remade big budget stylee by Hollywood, Tobe Hooper chooses to drag drab 70s sleazefest The Toolbox Murders into the millennium, albeit on a much less grand scale than the ‘re-imagining’ of his most famous film.

This remake is pretty much trading on its notorious title and wisely steers itself in a different direction from the trashy original. Keeping the setting of an apartment block – this time undergoing a lengthy renovation project – thus providing cheap lodgings for numerous Hollywood hopefuls and youthful victims for a ski-masked killer who leaps out of doorways and from behind objects to bludgeon and drill starlets to death.

New resident Angela Bettis becomes suspicious of the extraneous sounds and missing cohabitants so decides to investigate for herself, uncovering some hidden truths surrounding the history of the structure. She also puts herself in the path of the lunatic killer, eventually facing off with him while would-be rescuers fall by the wayside with various tools sticking out of them.

toolbox murders 2003

Toolbox Murders reasserts Hooper’s talent for cranking up the scares, gratefully negating memories of his feeble efforts in the years since Poltergeist (straight to video fodder Crocodile was also written by Anderson and Gierasch). He delivers several ejector-seat jump moments courtesy of avoiding the usual slasher pitfalls, and opting for catching the viewer in their off-guard moments between tension building. The final product also benefits from a good cast playing a variety of oddball characters from the stock creepy maintenance guy to the failing actors inhabiting several apartments via Juliet Landau’s sweet fitness freak, and Rance Howard as an ageing ex-actor who’s lived in the place since 1947 and might just know a little bit more about what’s going on than he’s letting on.

But its Bettis who turns in the most interesting performance as the not-entirely sympathetic heroine, giving her a dimension not always visible in central characters. All in all an overtly impressive improvement on a deservedly forgotten B-movie. Followed by a sequel in 2013.

Blurbs-of-interest: Cameron Mitchell was also in The DemonSilent Scream, Valley of Death, Trapped Alive and Jack-O; Angela Bettis was also in May and Scar; Juliet Landau was in Hack!; Sara Downing was in Wishcraft; Christopher Doyle was one of the cops in Scream 2; Tobe Hooper directed the first two TCM movies and The Funhouse.

Wish Upon A Bull’s Cock

wishcraft 2001WISHCRAFT

3.5 Stars  2001/18/98m

“Be careful what you wish for.”

Director: Danny Graves / Writer: Larry Katz / Cast: Michael Weston, Alexandra Holden, A.J. Buckley, Huntley Ritter, Austin Pendleton, Michael Aday, Charlie Talbert, Sara Downing, Evan Jones, Sam McMurray, Zelda Rubinstein.

Body Count: 7

The rare feel-good slasher flick. This whimsical little fantasy presents high school geek Brett Bumpers (Weston) with an enchanted bull’s dick that promises to grant the recipient three wishes, courtesy of an anonymous sender.

Naturally, as any straight teenage boy would, Brett wishes for popular cheerleader Samantha to go to an upcoming school dance with him. Bing! It happens. However, in a world of equals and opposites, classmates of his begin falling victim to a cloaked, skull-masked psycho. Jerk jocks and babes with ‘tude are showing up decapitated, bowled-to-death, and hanged while Meat Loaf’s homicide detective – yes, really – tries to work out who’s doing it.

wishcraft 2001 michael weston

Brett, meanwhile, ups the ante and wishes Samantha to fall in love with him. Bing! It happens. Although this time, it angers her quarterback boyfriend Cody, and drives a wedge between Brett and his best bud Howie, who informs him that the love isn’t real if Samantha is just under a mystical spell. As Brett tries to ignore all the “she’s with him!?” stares in school, the killings continue.

Eventually, Brett decides to do the right thing and undo his previous wish, but is thwarted when Cody and pals turn up to beat the shit out of him, instead encountering the killer, who has come to finish up and reveal their identity to Brett – and also scold him for wasting his wishes the way he has – in a fun exposition scene. Although by this point their identity is kinda obvious.

wishcraft 2001

Wishcraft is something of an anomaly in the world of teen horror, with a slasher plot playing as the backdrop to standard teen comedy/romance, rather than the other way around. There’s a great scene where Howie appropriates the totem and wishes to become a Tommy Lee-level bad-ass, only for it to fail completely.

In spite of this direction, it stands out thanks to nicely realised characters, and a lightheartedness seldom seen in the vicinity of a bodycount. That the nasty bullies are all boys is a welcome change to the occasionally uncomfortable ‘blame girls’ perspective a significant amount of teen slashers choose.

Slasher addicts may feel shortchanged by the rather low-level horror antics, but after several hundred films, this at least has something to remember it by.

wishcraft 2001 alexandra holden michael weston

Blurbs-of-interest: Michael Weston was in Cherry Falls; Meat Loaf (Aday) was later in ropey musical slasher movie Stage Fright; Sara Dorwning was in the Toolbox Murders remake; Zelda Rubinstein was in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

Hatchet: H10

victor crowley hatchet 4 2017


3 Stars  2017/18/80m

A.k.a. Hatchet 4

“Return to his swamp.”

Director/Writer: Adam Green / Cast: Parry Shen, Kane Hodder, Laura Ortiz, Dave Sheridan, Krystal Joy Brown, Felissa Rose, Brian Quinn, Tiffany Shepis, Chase Williamson, Katie Booth, Tyler Mane, Danielle Harris.

Body Count: 16

Laughter Lines: “The guy’s so full of shit, he could open a shit restaurant with… shit.”

The Hatchet series and I aren’t the best of buddies: The first one was so-so, the second one an enjoyable improvement (not least because I was sat just a few feet from the leading cast members and Adam Green where it was screened), and the less said about the third one the better. So, it was with considerable hesitance I approached the ten year anniversary one, a sort of H20 for much-abused Parry Shen, who, with Kane Hodder, is the only cast member to grace all four instalments.

Adam Green always seems to be bursting with enthusiasm whenever I’ve seen him interviewed at various FrightFest thingies, so I’d hate to not like his output. Fortunately, Victor Crowley is quite possibly the best of the series so far. That’s not to say j’adored every single one of the 80 minutes, but it certainly struck the best balance between grue and LOL moments, which give it an endearing appeal. Its three predecessors had it too, but the wit is sharper this time around.

victor crowley 2017 parry shen krystal joy brown hatchet 4

Andrew Yong (Shen) was the only survivor of the Honey Island Swamp massacre of 2007 (his paramedic role in the third one) and has cashed in where possible and written a book about his experiences. Naturally, various conspiracists think he was the killer and that Victor Crowley is just the same old legend it always was. After appearing on the daytime talk show hosted by his bitchy ex-wife Sabrina (Brown), his walking pharmacy publicist Kathleen (the ever-adorbs Felissa Rose) convinces him to say yes to the offer of $1million to fly over the swamp while they film is reaction to returning there.

Anyone who’s seen Jurassic Park III will know what’s going to happen. The plane crashes, killing some of those aboard, and stranding the rest right in the spot where Crowley prowled and, thanks to a young filmmaker, is resurrected after the voodoo curse that brought him back before is inadvertently recited via a YouTube clip on someone’s phone.

victor crowley 2017 felissa rose

The remainder of Victor Crowley is a dilemma flick where those stuck inside the slowly sinking fuselage try to work out their escape route without being on the receiving end of an axe, belt-sander (“somebody actually left a belt-sander out here for ten years!”), or their own hand being inserted up their… well, you’ll see. Each and every contrivance gets its own gag to play off the myriad of convenient turns that most slasher flicks take, showcasing Green’s considerable comic timing as a writer (learned from Holliston, no doubt); the film drips with as many jokes as it does body parts and Green is clearly having a ball attending to each and every facet – though the male nudity to equal out the usual T&A excesses was a choice.

Where to go from here? Given the mid-credits scene, we could well be seeing a fifth film before too long, but how many more horror faces can Green possibly knock off? Here we see Tyler Mane, Tiffany Shepis, and Felissa Rose in peril, joining the ranks of Robert Englund, Tony Todd, Caroline Williams, Zach Galligan, John Carl Buechler, Derek Mears, and Josh Leonard. Coming early to the (probable) wave of reunited scream queens and killers a la Halloween is a smart move – perhaps Tobin Bell, Heather Donahue, and some Saw or Final Destination cast members next time?

victor crowley 2017 laura ortiz kane hodder hatchet 4

Blurbs-of-interest: Parry Shen and Tiffany Shepis were both in Dead Scared; Shepis was also in Basement JackBloody Murder 2Scarecrow, and Home Sick; Dave Sheridan was in Scary Movie; Felissa Rose was Angela in the original Sleepaway Camp and its third sequel, and also was in Camp Dread (with Danielle Harris); Tyler Mane was Michael Myers in both of Rob Zombie’s Halloween films; Danielle Harris was in Halloween‘s 4 and 5, plus both Rob Zombie films, Blood NightChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2See No Evil 2Urban Legend, and was an extra in The Town That Dreaded Sundown; Kane Hodder was Jason in Friday the 13th‘s 710, and appears in Children of the Corn VBehind the Mask, and Hack!; Joe Lynch who directed Wrong Turn 2, cameos as one of the pilots (the other is Adam Green).

Don’t go near The Black Trees!

scalps 1983


2 Stars  1983/18/79m

“They came out of the grave… To get REVENGE!”

Director/Writer: Fred Olen Ray / Cast: Jo Ann Robinson, Roger Maycock, Frank McDonald, Richard Hench, Barbara Magnusson, Carol Sue Flockhart, Kirk Alyn, Carroll Borland, Forrest J. Ackerman.

Body Count: 6

Laughter Lines: “Defiling the graves of the dead will only anger their souls!”

Shot for a measly $15,000, possibly surfing the Native American horror trailblazed by Poltergeist, this early Fred Olen Ray flick was re-tooled by the studio and edited into a bit of a nonsensical mess, which frankly drags along at a snail’s pace before the horror begins.

Six students go ahead of their professor to an archeological dig. Actually, I think it was four students and two bitchy, vacuous girlfriends. They’re warned by an ageing Native American man they encounter at a gas station against digging around The Black Trees, a burial area that’s sacred and dangerous to outsiders. But, being a bunch of entitled white folks, they say fuck it and dig there anyway.

scalps 1983

The spirit of Black Crow is soon unleashed and one of the group possessed so that he slowly morphs into a Native American monster (or wears a cheapo rubber mask) and goes after the others: Scalping (only one), bashing the brains out of, and shooting arrows into, while goo-girl DJ squeals that they’ve disturbed forces they shouldn’t have.

Scalps is a bad movie by any standard. Shot via several different cameras that give it a choppy look, with day-for-night scenes and a really fuzzy night-for-night scene that lend to it the feel of a snuff movie (the fact that many of the actors never did another film also giving a kind of credence to that), but really it’s just the cheapness of it all.

scalps 1983

However, as Ray comments on the DVD interview, there is something about Scalps that’s unsettling, an uncomfortable factor that makes it… not scary per se, just creepy, which is something of an unintentional byproduct of the low-end production values, most notable during the truck murder and the slightly too real rape. The gore FX is also quite well done, a decapitation that harks back to Mrs Voorhees’ grim end and the solitary scalping is pretty gross.

Things end with the promise of Scalps II, which never came to be. Possibly a good thing. The Ghost Dance did it all better.

Blurb-of-interest: Ray later directed Final Examination.

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