Campy Eighties Horrors
by Kristin Battestella
Heads will roll for this camp trio of eighties horrors featuring ice skating killers, devilish passengers, dingoes, divas, and feathered hair. Neato. Rad.
Curtains – An actress attacks orderlies and ends up wearing a straight jacket in this 1983 slasher – but the squeaking wheelchair, crazy humming, cackling patients, and drab hospital stay are merely research to play the perfect wild haired madwoman. Unfortunately, the sleepless hysterics don't impress her director as he auditions new, supple talent. This interesting but rocky premise keeps restarting with hollow introductions, struggling comediennes, angry agent phone calls, and the drive to the spooky mansion auditions while our diva escapes off screen. Despite gory stabbings and creepy dolls, dream shocks and an otherwise well done stalking of an ingenue in the bath and a bedroom attack are just foreplay fake outs. At times the screen is dark or the picture jumps, and it's tough to tell who is who beyond the dancer, figure skater, or slut tropes, which are more for specific kills rather than character development. Some of the menace is slow to get going, even laughable – don't just stand there, make like the wind and skate away from the killer! – and the tone is uneven between the all out slasher and the inside the actresses' heads psychological chills. Radio storm reports, line rehearsals, and steamy hot tubs better set the scene, and we learn more about the ladies once they ask each other who would casting couch, jump through hoops, or kill for this role. A few make friends and respect the more experienced stars among them, but others are cold, dismissive, or eavesdrop for their gain. Arguments said to be scenes from the play made to sound so real add interesting meta on what is reality versus performance amid snowy perils, giant boomboxes, troublesome cassettes, ghoulish masks, and a cutthroat sickle. The Method sessions say don't think, do, be ugly, put on the repulsive mantle for the face is simply another mask while brief lez be friends moments are a nervous rehearsal on vulnerability and forgetting one's sex – leading to calling out the director and pointing fingers as one by one the ladies disappear thanks to fun house mazes, water dripping suspense, and great, heady shocks when we get them. Is the killer among the auditionees? The finale may be too swift and doesn't really run with its surprise, probably because of the behind the scenes delays and production turmoil. However, quick and easy slices, up close or penetrating attacks, and elaborate chases make good use of the theatrical props, lighting, and fatal reveals for a unique slasher spin.
Night Train to Terror – God and Satan are passengers on a speeding train destined to crash at dawn, framing this 1985 anthology with immediate temptations versus eternal betterment debates and a hysterical eighties rock video party in the next cabin car complete with neon headbands, feathered hair, off the shoulder baggy shirts with wide belts, and every other terrible eighties faux pas you can imagine. They're obviously not playing the instruments in these dated segues, but Lucifer admits the music is crappy amid the padded hospital rooms, electric shock treatments, and naked bottle blondes strapped to the table in “The Case of Harry Billings.” This First segment adds hypnosis, hymns, and hatchets to the medical horrors, forgiving the confusing lookalike women and hodgepodge origin of these tales from other unfinished pictures with atmospheric chases, screams, organ harvesting, and poisoned cocktails. Is the victim deserving of heaven and the killer a one way trip to hell? The train porter keeps track of the ticket book as the Second story “The Case of Greta Connors” offers neon lights, carnival rides, and underground western themed smut as the titular ingenue two times her sugar daddy. The narration could have been spoken dialogue and some of the killer bug effects are downright goofy, but gothic castles, spooky storms, and fatal games raise the stakes. Innate stinger suspense, electric chair dares, and Kung Fu thugs wearing bandannas add further midnight macabre – this isn't meant to be taken seriously and embraces the rough around the edges hokey horror. The sound is also poor, but there's vintage slow motion break dancing! “The Case of Claire Hansen” Finale brings the religious parable full circle with trigger happy Nazis, vengeful old men, skeptical televangelists, a satanic apprentice with a killer quota, and the righteous who would stop him. Yes, this is messy. The seventies anthology films are polished, fearful classics in comparison to this yuppie house of horrors fast track. However, a cool scene, the scary mood, and the laughable fun of it all grabs viewer attention perfectly for a zany drinking game or Halloween movie marathon.
Road Games – Stacy Keach (Mike Hammer) and Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween) get right to the big rigs, radio chatter, hitchhikers, meat factories, seedy hotels, and nude strangulations in this 1981 Australian trek complete with rival green vans, dingoes in peril, and ominous coolers in the backseat. Classical music, harmonicas, idle word games, and poetry quotes pepper the boredom of the open road alongside mocking others on the highway – the packed station wagon, a nagging wife passenger, bratty kids in the backseat, and naughty newlyweds. Radio reports about a killer on the loose add to the shattered windows, jamming on the brakes, squealing tires, and suspicious shortcuts while our van man dumps unusual garbage and digs holes in the middle of the Outback. Interesting rear view mirror angles and well done rear projection make up for some of the talkativeness, for all speculation about our mystery driver has to be out loud because we have so few characters amid the cliff side hazards and chases through the brush. Does he have sex with his female victims before he kills them and chops them up? Is this just a bemusing puzzle to occupy the time or is the sleepless sleuthing and overactive imagination getting the best of our truck driver? Down Under road signs, truck stops, and country locales accent the arcade games, cigarette machines, and patchy phone calls to the clueless police as the engines rev up with dangerous high speed chases, motorcycles, decoys, and abductions. Lightning strikes, rainbows, sunsets, headlights, and car alarms set off the tense zooms as the cops accuse our heart on his sleeve driver – and the suspicious banging in the back of his over weight haul. This isn't full on horror as some audiences may expect, but hanging pork and red lighting do a lot with very little. Perilous curves and speeding accidents bring the race right into the city streets with alley traps, crushing vehicles, and a tasty fun finish.