True ABCs of Death: M is for Massacre

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Suggested Audio Candy:

 

[1] The Prodigy “Funky Shit”

[2] Diana DeWitt “Hard Act to Follow”

 

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Every horror fan loves a good massacre. It denotes blood-letting on a grand scale, an epic wipeout with very little in the way of survivors. Just the word in your title is enough to scream grue-fest and we owe this largely to one film. One grimy little seventies exploitation flick wore the name proudly and has since gone on to become one of the most talked about movies in the past forty years. Indeed, any subsequent massacres have drawn unfavorable comparisons with this cinematic behemoth. When Tobe Hooper unleashed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on an ill-prepared audiences way back in 1974; he crafted a benchmark for all to aspire to. It taught us that going off track was not advisable and invited us round for dinner, where we sat strapped in like Marilyn Burns, pleading for our very lives while Gramps attempted to get a handle on that wretched hammer. To this day it has not been bettered and, to my knowledge, no other film can lodge itself so far under your skin so effortlessly.

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John Rambo had already gained ample experience on how to start a massacre by the time Sylvester Stallone resurrected his franchise in 2008. We had already baulked as the bronzed one-man battalion took on the entire Afghan army with no more than a bow and arrow so I guess we should have known what to expect. More of the same? Hell yes. Much more. Rambo was more than the throwaway action flick it was labelled as critics came down hard, labelling it exploitative trash of the lowest order. Did it deserve such a mantle? Again, hell yes it did. However, that’s not to say that it wasn’t also every horror fan’s wet dream the moment John commandeered that mounted gun and emptied its contents on the incoming Burmese infantry.

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Stallone never receives sufficient plaudits for doing exactly as the fans requested and peeling back the ring pull on an almighty can of ass whoop. The resulting massacre may have lacked the emotional clout of the Omaha beach mauling from Saving Private Ryan or the Spartans’ furious rearguard from 300, but it certainly served up the splatter with no shortage of spiteful relish. It wasn’t an isolated incident either; when Rambo wasn’t popping heads like an excited child at a coconut shy, he was filling in the blanks by ripping out throats and carving open abdomens. High art it may not have been but never before has a film done so much of what was stated on the tin.

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How can I possibly speak of massacre without making mention of James Cameron’s Aliens and, in particular, the breathtaking moment that the xenomorphs finally made themselves known. In one fell swoop our cast was effectively halved and larger than life characters such as Private Frost and cigar-chomping Sarge Apone, were subtracted from the equation without a sniff of hospitality. It was here that Cameron’s film negated to follow Ridley Scott’s template any further and made its own luck. Watching this scene for the very first time is the equivalent of a hedgehog making a freeway dash only to discover halfway across that the bell has tolled on rush hour.

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Dietrich was first to be nabbed as the walls literally burst into life, the callously named Frost was given a crispy coating and sent plummeting to his death, lesser personalities such as Crowe and Wierzbowski were promptly provided their early baths courtesy of a stray frag, and just as we began to get our head around the carnage our beloved Sarge was incubated and left to gestate alongside Dietrich. At this point, I remember thinking things couldn’t get any worse, but alas Vasquez’s right hand man Drake was then snuffed out ceremoniously within sniffing distance of Vasquez’ man-sweat and evac, falling foul to a wayward spray of alien spunk and making the mistake of swallowing over spitting. Apone on the other hand, never got to finish his Cuban.

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While in outer space, I simply have to mention Camp Crystal Lake’s crankiest camper, Jason Voorhees. This malevolent momma’s boy was determined to ramp up the body count at any given opportunity and often gifted us slaughter in more than simply single servings. In Friday The 13th Part 2 he shamelessly pilfered from Italian master Mario Bava as he speared Sandra and Jeff to their bedstead mid-coitus. By Jason Lives he learned how to top his own tally as he engaged in a spot of mostly harmless paintball. However, this three-way decapitation still left the juggernaut dissatisfied. Enter James Isaac’s Jason X, and what better way to play homage to Cameron’s interstellar behemoth Aliens than by dismantling a whole company of grunts in the time it took them to speak their first and only lines of dialogue.

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Unlike Aliens, we had been supplied scant reason to invest in these pawns and knew only too well in advance that they were mere lambs to the slaughter. But you give Voorhees a machete, a little room to maneuver, and a few shadowy recesses to slink about in, and he will fill your platter with splatter in no time. Within minutes the grubs had been decimated and the last man standing was likable head honcho Sergeant Brodski. He was gifted a tad longer to state his annoyance and afforded the time for one last rousing line of verse as he prepared to join Apone in the sin bin. “It’s gonna take more than a poke in the ribs to put down this old dog” was followed swiftly by “Yeah, that oughta do it” as the blade was relocated in a more terminal locale. Brodski was one tough bastard for sure and, despite it appearing that he met his business end at the hands of Jason’s chopper, there was still enough bite in his bark to go one more round with the man-mountain. A space dance ensued and he bowed out like any good sarge would. With a one-way Foxtrot.

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Peter Jackson was no stranger to splatter in the early years and built his reputation on spilling body parts at every gifted opportunity. By 1992 he decided it was high time that he let his beast off the leash and Braindead set a new high for unabashed carnage. Lionel may have appeared to be your average schlep, tied to his execrable mother’s apron strings, and lacking the minerals to stand up for what he believed in. But true love changed that once Paquita Maria Sanchez came into play and suddenly he possessed the strength of a hundred oxen (and his trusty tanked-up lawnmower to boot).

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His wasn’t an unsolicitated massacre as he had been forced to watch on helplessly as his beloved mom Vera steadily succumbed to a bite from a Sumatran rat-monkey, decomposing before his tearful eyes, digesting Paquita’s dog, fraternizing with the local clergyman, and giving us sound reason never again to consume porridge. By the conclusion, Lionel’s final nerve had been compromised and the soirée entered full swing. Dozens upon dozens of marauding zombies were on the receiving end of his mower blades, advancing without due care and attention as only a zombie can do, and swiftly being obliterated by his tool of mass annihilation. I had the distinct pleasure of watching Jackson’s audacious splatter extravaganza on the silver screen and, by the time he revved his beast for the final time, there wasn’t a dash of silver to be discerned. But plentiful red.

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Alexandre Aja’s 2010 Piranha reboot got far more right than wrong and this particular spring break made a vacation in Amity seem like a far wiser proposition. Imagine Jaws, if you will, broken up into thousands upon thousands of mini Jaws, and my guess is that even Quint would take a rain check. Lake Victoria’s annual beach party was already in full swing and the wet T-shirt competition was about to reach its round robin stage when these frenzied freshwater feeders decided it was high time they whetted their appetites. However, they hadn’t banked on one man and that cat was Ving Rhames. While all around him were both losing their heads and bikini bottoms, Deputy Fallon was busy grabbing the nearest outboard motor, and shredding as many of these nibblers as was inhumanly possible, before finally succumbing to their overbearing quantity. However, you can’t keep a good Rhames down and he returned for John Gulager’s Piranha 3DD two years later. I suspect he wishes he hadn’t bothered.

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Believe it or not, there were massacres on an even more all-encompassing scale than even mass piranha panic. One such example of cataclysmic carnage gone global was Thom Eberhardt’s 1984 lo-sci-fi classic, Night of The Comet. The entire population of the free world were obliterated by the tail of a comet, broken down into neat piles of ruby dust, and left to scatter under a blood-red sky. The exception to this rule were Regina and Samantha, two lucky ladies concealed by steel at the point of impact and with the whole world seemingly at their feet. Meanwhile anybody unfortunate enough to receive partial exposure to the rays were turned into vicious flesh-eating zombies just to keep things spicy.

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I have one helluva lot of love for Eberhardt’s wonderfully quintessential genre effort. Largely paying homage to the B-Movies of the fifties and sixties, it worked also on the level of parody. The leads (Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney) with their bodacious bubblegum eighties pop-culture chic, were well written and played and it predated 28 Days Later by nigh-on twenty years. Obscurities like this were the reason growing up in the eighties was such a blast, and I urge you to seek it out as a rainy day delight and perhaps go out and purchase a steel treehouse while you’re at it.

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The commencement of Children of The Corn provided a stark warning of the perils of not adhering to contraceptive methods and I would imagine prophylactic sales doubled after folk watched Isaac, Malachi and their merry band of pre-pubic pilgrims wipe out an entire diner. This was pre-ASBO, and the petulant scamps of the title slaughtered all in attendance as they awaited their morning mocha. Alas, the blood-letting wasn’t sufficient for these malignant munchkins as they forced us to endure sequel after sequel after sequel after reboot. Dizzyingly so. The less said about any of them, the better.

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Not looking to court controversy but I believe that George A. Romero’s Day of The Dead represented the very apex of his zombie game. As with any good massacre worth its salt, his was located at the tail-end of his story. Up until then, the military were getting the better of the scientists, and it appeared as though sheer brute would win the day. That is until one of their own, the disillusioned Miguel, decided that enough is enough and took the cargo elevator up to ground level, releasing the decomposing dogs. It was all about the pay-off with Day of The Dead, we were suitably riled up by mankind’s refusal to pitch together in a crisis for too long and thus, once the zombies found their way inside and made themselves at home, we couldn’t help but root for them.

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Hilariously, as the lift descended into the mine, one straggler was overcome with excitement and stepped off too soon for a little dark pratfall to lull us into a false sense of security. Then…BLAMMO! Restraint left the building and who better to spark the bloody revolution than Tom Savini? This cantankerous swine just couldn’t help himself; having started his pilgrimage as a combat photographer in Vietnam, he evidently witnessed some massacres of his own. Therefore, as Rhodes and his men were set upon in no uncertain terms, we just knew that something special was afoot. Romero made the most of the fact that the whole video nasty debacle was far behind him at this point and Bub’s boys made absolute mince meat of the remaining soldiers in a matter of five grue-laden minutes of sheer schlocky brilliance.

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Heads were removed, eyes gouged out, and intestines subtracted and feasted upon. The wonderfully bolshy Private Steel was granted the nearest we would get to a hero’s send off, and as for the nefarious Captain Rhodes…well let’s just say that the best was left until last on this occasion. As Bub saluted his opposite number and that door swung wide open to reveal an ocean of flailing fester limbs; the words “holy cow bladders” sprang to mind as we knew it wasn’t destined to end well for him. True to form he was pulled taut like a rubber glove and divided he fell. Our new BFF Bub was disinterested in the inevitable chow down and left the buffet to his famished brethren, shuffling off to prepare himself a quick Alfresco. Meanwhile the captain was forced to endure his lower torso being dragged away from him and we felt instantly remunerated for the fact that he snuffed out John Amplas without prior warning. What goes around evidently comes around.

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In the eighties the term massacre became bolted onto every low-budget slasher out there with Slumber Parties and Sorority Houses misleadingly suggesting some sort of riot. In fact, their body counts were fairly low but the addition of that word at the end of their titles was enough to raise a certain level of interest. They weren’t bad flicks per se and provided perfect beer-with-buddies Saturday night schlock, but were hardly the massacres pledged. There simply isn’t any bone-fide definition for what constitutes as a massacre, it’s a grey area. For Keeper, the truest massacre is one which pulls the rug from beneath your feet and leaves the tang of carbon in your larynx. Power-driven Texan cutting tools aren’t requisite, but they damned well help.

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Click here to read M is for Mirrors

 

The Forgotten Acres of Mass

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As I have already mentioned, many films have worn the massacre mantle over the years and precious few of them haven’t sucked like Brittany Spears on a second date. I love me nothing more than good old-fashioned movie poster and have decided to round-up the rabble for a slide show of various massacres throughout my tenure. From Nailguns to Jackhammers, they’re all here in one massive mass massacre free-for-all. Please bear in mind that all that glitters isn’t necessarily golden or even copper, sit back, and enjoy the carnage.

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GREY KEEPER FRAME

5 Comments

  1. One of my all time favorite massacre movies, Night of the Comet, oh I love it and when they go to the radio station and the bathroom scene, I remember biting my nails!! I love the 80’s. I really want to watch it again now!! LOL. Thank you keeper!! XOXO

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