Tag Archives: weird-ass twist

“This shit ain’t cool!”

final summer 2023


2 Stars  2023/83m

“In 1991, Camp Silverlake opened for the final time.”

Director/Writer: John Isberg

Cast: Jenna Kohn, Charlie Bauer, Wyatt Taber, Charlee Amacher, Myles Valentine, Jace Jamison, Ren Farbota, Ricardo Whitehead, Joi Hoffsommer, Thom Mathews.

Body Count: 11

Laughter Lines: “This whole thing just kinda feels like a horror movie; the whole let’s split up and search for the missing kid in the woods.”

Ode to Friday the 13th begins with a double murder at Camp Silverlake in 1986, then leaps five years where the accidental death of a child (named Mason!) during a nature hike is the final nail in the coffin of the camp’s fortunes, but also the lives of the counsellors.

As they prep to close down for good, a stalker in a skull hood begins axing them one by one. Is it the child’s distraught father, who happens to be a troubled ex-employee? The killer from ’86? Or someone else?

Ultimately, the killer’s identity is blaringly obvious, although Isberg attaches additional revelations and an evident tribute to the source material.

The kitten-weak maniac falls over a lot, drops his weapon (nobody ever picks it up despite ample opportunity), fails to finish off several of the counsellors, and cuts a particularly unthreatening figure.

final summer 2023

Elsewhere, there’s lots of wandering around in the dark with flashlights, a blue hue over everything, occasional references to Jason, and a couple of creepy shots here and there, but regrettably it’s too insubstantial. The film appears kneecapped by its budget, evidenced in a string off off-camera kills, slow, clunky fight scenes, and unresolved questions, such as who the killer in the prologue was. A post-credits scene hints at something, but it’s still all too murky.

Thom Mathews appears for a matter of minutes as the local Sheriff, and look out for the bizarre Tom Atkins ‘cameo’.

In the shadow of the rainbow

cruising 1980


4 Stars  1980/18/102m

“Al Pacino is cruising for a killer.”

Director/Writer: William Friedkin / Writer: Gerald Walker / Cast: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Richard Cox, Karen Allen, Don Scardino, Joe Spinell, Jay Acovone, Randy Jurgensen, James Remar, Ed O’Neill, William Russ, Powers Boothe, Gene Davis.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “C’mere. I wanna show you my night stick.”

How many 80s/90s films dealt with ye olde sexy police woman going undercover as a stripper/hooker/exotic dancer to weed out a serial killer? Tons. Literally, this was the plot to every third steamy late night cable thriller back in the day.

So it says quite a bit about social attitudes that inverting the template, inserting a male cop into a gay environment where he has to blend in – really blend in – resulted in critics mauling the film, protesting from gay rights groups concerned about the depictions in the film, and, to this day, fierce online debates about it all.

cruising 1980 shades

Friedkin’s bleak, grimy film takes place in ’79-’80 New York City, where the discovery of dismembered body parts in the Hudson River leads investigating detectives to trace victims to the seedy underground leather scene. Enter Pacino’s Steve Burns, selected by his superior given his physical similarity to several of the victims. Burns agrees (somewhat eagerly) to go undercover and infiltrate the community to try and lure the killer.

His girlfriend (Allen) is kept in the dark and, as Burns goes deeper into the clubs, bars, and general life, he finds himself torn in two directions. The leather-clad, silky voiced killer, meanwhile, continues slaying men in public park cruising grounds and a porno theater, often heard singing a little rhyme in a creepy tone. The cops begin focusing on a suspect who works in a steakhouse that has many of the same type of knife being used, and Burns hangs out with his sweet natured playwright neighbour, Ted.

cruising al pacino paul sorvino 1980

Friedkin deliberately fucks with us throughout, changing which actor plays the killer more than once in difference scenes to disorientate and confuse – at one point, an actor who played the killer then switches to be the next victim (although all are overdubbed by James Sutorius). Such is the interchangeability of the larger situation, the homogenic aesthetics of the scene, and the ambiguity around the film’s coda.

Cruising is a confronting vehicle, likely especially for heterosexual audiences in 1980, with the added discomfort of watching men casually and intimately touch the ‘straight’ lead. Gay men remain divided on it; at a time then gay rights were gaining a little bit of traction (just prior to the AIDS crisis), protestors saw the film (based on a novel and a series of genuine, unsolved murders) as a step back towards optics they were trying to distance themselves from: Predatory, sex-fuelled, vampire-esque lifestyles of hedonism that, by day, could be the guy at the store, at the gas station, waiting your table…

cruising 1980 al pacino

Around 40 minutes of footage was excised over around fifty submissions to the MPAA which, according to Friedkin, mostly consisted of X-rated antics captured at the clubs. It does feel like something is missing as we speed towards the end, but the is-it-or-isn’t-it note things end on is, it seems, likely intentional and plays into the is-he-or-isn’t-he nature of existing as a gay person in society, especially at that point.

But it is a slasher film? Hmm… like a leather daddy straddles his sub, Cruising can play around with versatility. More than enough is borrowed from stalk n’ slash antics for it to be of interest (oddly, the film it reminded me of most was Maniac, from which Joe Spinell plays a skeezy beat cop here). It’s probably too high-end, too polished, despite the filthy gutter it plays in, to qualify, but …why the hell not? Taste the rainbow.

cruising 1980 al pacino

Decidedly not for all audiences – gay or straight – relievingly non-judgmental about the counter culture it explores, and exquisitely shot. Have fun spotting all the before-they-were-famous faces: Ed O’Neill, Powers Boothe, James Remar, Burr DeBenning.

Blurbs-of-interest: Don Scardino was the lead in He Knows You’re Alone; Joe Spinell was also in The Last Horror Movie; James Remar was in The Surgeon; Gene Davis (the crossdressing informant, DaVinci) played the nudie killer in 10 to Midnight; Burr DeBenning was in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.

Embarrassing Bodies Bodies Bodies

bodies bodies bodies 2022


“This is not a safe space.”

1 Stars  2022/15/94m

Director: Halina Reijn / Writers: Sarah DeLappe, Kristen Roupenian / Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Myha’la Herrold, Rachel Sennott, Chase Sui Wonders, Pete Davidson, Lee Pace.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “And you know what? Your parents are Upper. Middle. Class.”

Somewhat ironically, I saw a TikTok skit where a group of TV producers pitched a Real Housewives-esque show called ‘Women Screaming at Each Other’. Beware spoilers spoilers spoilers.

A group of privileged young folks gather for a ‘Hurricane Party’ at the sprawling mansion owned by David’s family. To this comes the recently-done-with-rehab Sophie – David’s childhood best friend – and her new girlfriend, Bee.

Mid-drinks n’ drugs, the power goes out – crucially taking out with it the wifi – and the group elect to play the titular game (‘Murder in the Dark’ to most of us), warning newcomers Bee and Greg that it could get ugly. Accusations and arguments ensue, with Greg out first, then David, who storms off, only to appear a short while later outside the window, throat slashed.

bodies bodies bodies 2022

Those still awake – all the girls – suspect Greg and shit goes down, but they soon find out they’re wrong when another body turns up, leading to a total breakdown of the group, mucho name calling, backstabbing, and more death. When it’s just Sophie and Bee left, fighting each other, they stumble upon David’s phone, and on it a video showing him trying to record a TikTok of him sabring a champagne bottle and accidentally cutting his own throat.

The gag? There was no killer – just paranoia. This revelation comes literally seconds before the end and is, bluntly, way too little too late after 90 minutes of people walking around in the dark and little else.

bodies bodies bodies 2022

For a film written and directed by women, the core message stemming from all of this seems to be that girls are stupid and irrational. That the proximate cause of it all was a man’s stupidity might be the intended conclusion here, but once it’s over, it’s only the female characters who have been drawn as nasty backstabbers, all male characters are effectively absolved of responsibility due to their absences. The Slumber Party Massacre remake dealt with this much, much better.

It’s an overarching jab at Gen-Z networking; the four-way row that sees the girls screaming about being gaslit, triggered, emotionally abused – “I can’t believe you’re making this about you!” It’s the best scene, and if you’ve witnessed an online argument in the past five years, you’re going to hear most of the terms used here.

bodies bodies bodies 2022

An interview with director Reijn revealed that the crumbling of trust is activated by the loss of wifi, reducing the capabilities of the youngsters to otherwise function, a joke that ends the film, the last line of which is: “I have reception”.

Tech-addiction allegories notwithstanding, Bodies is just boring. Really fucking boring. A 30-minute anthology segment may have been the best showcase for such a slight, oh-was-that-it? punchline, but still too long exposure to the least likeable bunch of characters you’re ever likely to see on screen. I don’t know if there’s a genuine inability to write characters we might – gasp! – care about, or just a casual disinterest.

Lies we tell ourselves

haute tension 2003 high tension switchblade romanceHAUTE TENSION

4 Stars  2003/18/89m

“Hearts will bleed.”

A.k.a. High Tension (USA); Switchblade Romance (UK)

Director/Writer: Alexandre Aja / Writer: Gregory Levaseur / Cast: Cecile De France, Maïwenn, Philippe Nahon, Franck Khalfoun, Andre Finti, Oana Pellea.

Body Count: 6

Unavoidably huge spoilers.

A rare four-star review in Total Film first introduced me to Haute Tension, with its minimal release in September 2004. Four stars… for a slasher flick? Turned out the minimal release was so minimal I couldn’t find a screening, so had to wait for it to arrive on DVD. That first viewing was memorable, as the film well above and beyond my expectations when that review referred to it was ‘gory’ and it was fourteen years before I spun the disc again.

College girl Alex (Maïwenn) brings her BFF Marie (de France) home to the family farm for a study break, where big city distractions won’t get in their way in the middle of nowhere. Elsewhere, a greasy mechanic in the creepiest van this side of Jeepers Creepers skull-fucks a decapitated head, which he then lobs out into a field and goes on his way.

haute tension 2003

Marie meets Alex’s parents and little brother, and settles into the attic room, has a cigarette and watches Alex showering through the window, then goes upstairs to masturbate and listen to reggae. While she’s keeping her hands busy, the scary-ass van pulls up and the inhabitant rings the bell, rousing Alex’s father from his sleep and straight into the killer’s blade. The family dog is quickly dispatched (sad face, but at least it’s not shown) and the dad decapitated in a most unusual method with lots of arterial spray. Loads, in fact. When are you cutting away, Alexandre??

Marie hears the carnage and Alex’s mom attacked and has to hide when the creaky-booted wackadoo comes searching for her, and here the High Tension commences: Marie urgently makes the bed, hides her stuff, and wipes the sink to make the room look unoccupied then finds a place to hide away. Trying to find a phone, she witnesses the murder of the mom – again, ridiculously savage, and finds Alex has been chained and bound ready for abduction, left for a few minutes while the killer chases down the kid brother (mercifully off camera).

haute tension 2003

Still off the his radar, Marie ends up stuck in the van when she tries to liberate Alex, and driven off as a secret captive. The next round of High Tension occurs at a gas station where she escapes the van and plays cat and mouse in the shop, while the loon converses with the jittery night clerk (who knows she’s there). Marie hides again but this time screws herself over as the killer drives off with Alex, but without her. Unable to tell the cops where she even is, Marie takes the [dead] clerk’s car and chases the creepy-ass van further into the middle of nowhere, until he works out she’s there.

Final girl shoes on, High Tension Round 3 is Marie versus the killer in a grow house. At this point, those who criticise slasher films for bad decision making are probably happy that Marie doesn’t drop her weapon when she finally has the option to strike back, beating the fuck out of the killer until he ain’t ever getting up.

And then the twist cometh… Marie is the killer.

haute tension 2003 cecile de france

HOW? we caw, there’ve been multiple scenes where Marie’s been in the back of a moving van with Alex. And yet…

Watching the film back with foreknowledge of this actually unearths several clues: Marie talks about a dream she had where she was being chased by a madman, but felt she, too, was chasing herself; The seams of where Marie ends and her ‘other self’ takes over are sometimes apparent as well. She has no clue she is both people, so when she finally frees Alex, she has no clue why Alex immediately stabs her.

The misty motive is a partially-offensive obsessed-lesbian thing: Marie loves Alex and is crazy jealous that it’s not reciprocal.

Many have stated the twist entirely ruins Haute Tension and, to some degree, it is damaging. Much fuss has been made over the story similarity to the Dean Koontz novel Intensity (where no such twist exists), so it’s possible to see why Aja wanted to steer away from copying it entirely. I took it to be Marie’s version of events (in her head, at least), as the opening scene occurs in the aftermath of it all. It does undermine some of the amazing scenes, but really, who cares? Lots of horror movies stock weird twists, I think if the first two acts weren’t so good, nobody would be bothered. That Aja has created such an effective slasher experience has super-charged the negative reaction – better than indifference though, eh?

haute tension 2003

Gobs of gore likely also contribute to the admiration the film has garnered. Over a minute was cut to avoid a Stateside NC-17 rating, and the unedited version is relentlessly violent during the four on-screen murders, with tsunamis of bloodletting that is sometimes hard to take. Aja surfed this blood wave to helm US remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D.

A horror experience if ever there was. See it uncut and undubbed.

An Ex to Grind

murder weapon 1989


1.5 Stars  1989/81m

“Sex isn’t their only weapon…”

Director: David DeCoteau [as Ellen Cabot] / Writer: Ross A. Perron / Cast: Linnea Quigley, Karen Russell, Stephen Steward, Michael Jacobs Jr., Eric Freeman [as Damon Charles], Allen First, Rodger Burt, Richard J. Sebastian, Lyle Waggoner, Lenny Rose.

Body Count: 6

Laughter Lines: “Shit, I think I fucked him to death!”

Spoilers ensure. Beginning with a 10-minute dream sequence in which there is zero dialogue, Murder Weapon skips then to more extended scenes of sexy leads Quigley and Russell talking with asylum shrinks about ‘what happened’ to them. They’re then released and go back to their Beverly Hills lives as daughters of hitmen for the mob.

Pissed at the way they’ve been wronged by men for so long, the BFFs invite six ex-boyfriends over for a party. Beer flows, stories are shared, the girls hook up with some of the guys, tits, ass, shower scenes, murder.

The most notable aspect of Murder Weapon is that all of the victims are guys, a possible flip-reverse on DeCoteau’s part of the accepted conventions that low-end slasher films were all about punishment of bouncy young women. Or just a plot scribbled on the back of a beermat, who knows? It’s not like there’s a shortage of the other oft-criticised elements of skin, bad acting, stupid decision making…

murder weapon 1989

It matters not. This is one for completists and the eagle eyed will see Eric Freeman, he of the infamous “Garbage Day!” from Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, as one of the exes, credited here as Damon Charles and still packing a whole hunk of muscle under his tight shirt.

Guys are sledgehammered, bottled, shot, and in one bizarre moment the killer’s hand pretty much pushes its way through the back of a dude’s neck and out of his throat and tosses innards into his gaping mouth! Listen out for the awesome dialogue: “We need to think of a password…” / “Uh… condom.”

If there’s a twist here, I wasn’t privy to it. Linnea is the killer – but her friend isn’t? Then why invite all the evil exes over in the first place?? How is Linnea able to teleport to under the bed, don a glove, to kill that schmuck??? It’s DeCoteau, nuff said.

Blurbs-of-interest: Linnea can also be seen in Graduation Day, Silent Night Deadly Night, Jack-O, Kolobos, Spring Break Massacre, The Barn, and a cameo in Fatal Games.

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