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Harry Manfredini “Friday The 13th”
The eighties slasher will always hold a special place in Keeper’s bloody beating heart. It’s where I earned my stripes as a film aficionado and many of my favorite movies from the epoch bear its mantle. Thus, in my infinite wisdom, I have compiled a thirteen-strong shortlist of the highlights of this thriving decade. This rundown will not take into account sequels, hence the decision not to include Rick Rosenthal’s masterful Halloween II or Joseph Zito’s similarly notable Friday The 13th Part VI: The Final Chapter.
After much deliberation I have decided to refrain from paying reverence to Wes Craven’s enigmatic dream weaver Freddy Kruger. This is neither an oversight or an act of defiance by Keeper; simply a decision that A Nightmare on Elm Street not quite fit this particular criteria. Besides, we all know Fred by now; how much can really be gleaned by sucking that crispy cock any further? A nod of the fedora to Kruger then, but ultimately no dice on this occasion. Call it remuneration for pummeling us with an increasingly impotent following franchise, Chuck Russell’s companion piece third installment Dream Warriors clearly absolved from blame.
Jean-Claude Lord’s impressive Visiting Hours misses out on account of being more of a thriller; while other notable omissions would be Richard Ciupka’s stylish Curtains, Paul Lynch’s mildly overrated Prom Night, Juan Piquer Simón’s ludicrously entertaining Pieces, Tom DeSimone’s atmospheric Hell Night, Amy Holden Jones’ tongue-in-cheek Slumber Party Massacre, Robert Hiltzik’s somewhat goofy Sleepaway Camp, and Toshiharu Ikeda’s downright unhinged splatter fest Evil Dead Trap, all of which fail to make the cut by a hair’s breadth.
An honorary scream also goes out to Mats Helge’s Blood Tracks and Ruggero Deodato’s Body Count, both of which get by effortlessly on nostalgic charm alone, and Fred Olen Ray’s vicious Scalps which is belied only by a non-existent budget. Notable pretenders aside, what we are left with are thirteen stellar reasons for donning those rose-tinted spectacles, culminating in the slasher benchmark against which all should be measured.
Arriving at the tail-end of the decade, Scott Spiegel’s bargain basement bloodbath enlists the likes of both Sam & Ted Raimi and, in a dispensable cameo, Bruce Campbell, and never takes itself too seriously despite its cast playing it straight. What it lacks in substance it makes up for with panache; particularly with the unpandering kills which truly push the envelope. The vertical buzz saw head slice came under intense scrutiny from the censors and remains one of the decade’s most audacious dispatches. Intruder aka Night Crew: The Final Checkout may be some way from the pinnacle of eighties slasher but it represents the best value for money.
Fred Walton’s cunning audience-friendly slasher-lite makes it onto this list by the seat of its pants. In truth, this one trick pony shares more in common with Ten Little Indians than Friday the 13th and plays out more like a whodunnit. Almost devoid of grue with clear reasoning, the intention here is to stymie its addressee and Walton is no Agatha Christie. Despite its evident shortfalls, it is one of the better made examples of genre turned somewhat on its head and is nothing if not stylishly observed.
Virtually entirely obscure, this forgotten 1983 oddity by Andrew Davis boasts a cast which includes Rachel Ward, Daryl Hannah, and a spirited Joe Pantolanio. Quite unlike any other film from its time, it chooses to remain ambiguous for most of its running time and doesn’t exactly cram in the kills during the interim. However, despite never really going for the throat, it isn’t afraid to tinker with the formula and Davis makes up for any shortcomings by having the cojones to operate against the grail.
Speaking of atmosphere, Mark Rosman’s 1983 effort has it in abundance. It’s fruitless attempting not to become mildly entranced by House of Evil aka The House on Sorority Row, particularly during its excellent final third. The killer here remains ambiguous right up to a late reveal then, just as we await its descent into cat-and-mouse, it really turns on the style. If your illogical fear list stretches to clowns then the harlequin here will have you sworn off circuses for life. With regards to the grue, it has its moments, the most poignant being a decapitated head which just won’t flush. As far as remakes are concerned and, let’s face it, there have been a few rattlers, Stewart Hendler’s Sorority Row is a solid seven and worthy of a second glance.
This little known Canadian slasher from J. Lee Thompson is the victor in one category and that is for boastful cover art. In truth, I’ve seen many more bizarre murders than the six in Happy Birthday To Me but you can’t blame Thompson for trying his luck, considering the early eighties VHS boom. There is admittedly a fair degree of invention, particularly with two of the six, meanwhile it is because of Virginia Wainwright that I will never allow an acquaintance to feed me from a kebab skewer. It’s a shame its artwork continues to define it as beneath any infrequent grue lays the bones of a solid thriller with a wicked twist and tension to spare.
Jack Sholder’s Alone in the Dark is perhaps the most overlooked of all these slasher gemstones. It also offers the closest that we get to any insight into the minds of our psychopath(s). When the three-for-one deal comprises Donald Pleasence, Jack Palance, and a ludicrously unsettling Martin Landau, you really couldn’t be in better company. Always more of a film than a movie and, considering the personnel, that could only ever be a distinct positive. Taut, darkly comic, understated and quite simply marvelous; it’s time to break that duck Grueheads. I may go back and watch it again myself come to think of it. Top drawer, particularly the stellar water-bed scene with a distractingly bone-shattering outcome.
Jeff Lieberman’s backwoods nightmare is now dotingly regarded and quite rightly so. Completely dissimilar to every other film on this list as most of the killing occurs during daylight hours. Thankfully, a creeping tension complemented by Dean & Joel King’s opulent cinematography serve it remarkably well. The twin-spurred assault comes courtesy of a pair of lunkhead lumberjacks played by the same actor. The body count may be meager, pace sedate, and kills reasonably bloodless, but Deborah Benson gives a spirited performance as Constance and Lieberman’s unsettling film has matured nicely with age.
It’s great to see the Italians populating this list, especially given that Mario Bava’s Twitch of The Death Nerve is largely responsible for starting the boom in the first place, almost a decade before the words Jason Voorhees meant a thing. Michelle Soavi’s Stagefright gets so much right, relocating its terror to a theatrical setting and gifting its audience an excruciatingly tense final act which ties things together quite brilliantly in the process. Amongst our owl-faced killer’s chosen tools of dispatch are a chainsaw, a drill, and a pick axe. Soavi’s piece is a real one-off, single-handedly proving the Italians’ understanding of what makes a great slasher flick.
Joe Giannone’s underrated marvel boasts undoubtedly the most fascinating premise of any of his eighties counterparts. Bathed in a daunting blue hue, Madman Marz cuts an ominous figure and makes the short lives of a group of affable councillors downright misery as he plays the role of haughty librarian and slaughters them in a variety of increasingly spiteful ways. Perhaps its most audacious feat was its unconventional closing shot which audiences did not see coming in the slightest. Much better than it was ever given credit for, Madman is a must-see for fans of eighties slasher.
Joseph Zito’s mean-spirited nasty may not have excelled in every area and a flagging second act relies far too heavy on drawn-out tension but thankfully our jilted G.I. has already done more than enough to justify his existence prior to that point. What truly sets The Prowler apart from its stable mates is the grue which, in my opinion, still holds up to this day as the best practical FX work I have ever had the pleasure of watching through separated fingers. The sultan of splatter Tom Savini provides some of the most ingenious and lingering kills ever committed to celluloid and it’s tough picking a darling but the swimming pool throat slice in particular has an exhalation out of Keeper even now, none more so than when an air bubble forces its way through the victim’s exposed jugular as her lifeless cadaver slumps sub-aqua.
The originator right? Not even close but Sean S. Cunningham’s American template admittedly kick-started the whole movement so, for that, I shall remain ever thankful. It reminds audiences how much fun we can have at the expense of cookie-cutter teens and, again, Savini’s make-up is totally up to snuff. Most notable is Kevin Bacon’s bedtime skewering, shot from two different vantages for opposing sides of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, it is well paced, suspenseful, and brimming with reasons to still cherish it dotingly over three decades on, regardless of increasingly wasteful sequels and tepid remakes.
The old romantic in George Mihalka got the better of him in 1981 when he allowed his spiteful slasher to be neutered for cinemas. It worked and My Bloody Valentine pulled in pretty convincing box-office receipts but left Keeper feeling a little hard done-by with regards to its glaring omission of bankable grue. It was almost thirty years before the six minutes of misplaced archive footage was finally reinstated and we can now enjoy Harry Warden’s love letter antithesis for just how utterly mean-spirited it actually is. Time has been remarkably kind and the legend lives on thanks to Patrick Lussier’s playful reboot.
Rick Wakeman The Burning
There isn’t a doubt in my mind when placing Tony Maylam’s The Burning at the slasher summit. It’s that man Savini again; fashioning kills so unremitting that it found itself chastised by the censors and placed on the notorious video nasty list for its troubles. The raft scene is the stuff legends are made from and, to this day, remains the crowning glory of all things slasher. However, the real reason why this shines so brightly is that it adapts a completely different approach to storytelling than so many of its contemporaries by providing characters we actually feel inclined to root for. Its summer camp setting is well utilized and its authenticity assists The Burning in fighting off all-comers.
Cropsy is within his rights to be disgruntled, not least by the third degree burns he suffers at the hands of those petulant teens, but because the Weinstein brothers are still too pussy to put their money where their mouths are and reconvene his story. Granted, this failed to pull in the viewing figures until much later on and is still regarded as a cinematic flop, insane when you consider that test audiences lapped it up. But it represents the crème de la crème of eighties slasher and, come to think of it, slasher…period! Beg, borrow, steal if necessary…just watch The Burning at any cost!
All hail Cropsy then; those garden shears offer sound reasoning against pitching up your tent amongst Mother Nature’s green grass. Jason Voorhees may have been responsible for empowering slasher to become self-dependent but it was our embittered caretaker who offered to buck the fast-forming trend and provide the genre’s true finest hour. I trust I have paid reverence where it’s due but, should you be of opposing opinion, then feel free to state your approval in the comments box at the very foot of this article. If there is one thing about Keeper that has become abundantly clear by now then it should be that there is nothing I love more than to engage in mass debate. Come as you are Grueheads and there’s little that makes my dick more rigid than constructive discussion. However, diss my man Cropsy and I may just see fit to set him on you.