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‘Silent Scream’: This little-known horror gem led to the explosion of slasher films in the 1980s
10.27.2017
09:43 am
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Silent Scream poster
 
Silent Scream is noteworthy as being one of the first slasher films, though it’s largely been forgotten. Made by an aspiring director, Silent Scream was a troubled production, but the film was ultimately a commercial success, leading to the rise of slashers in the early ‘80s. It’s also quite good.

Silent Scream was a project conceived by Denny Harris, a first-time filmmaker. Harris was an award-winning director of commercials and wanted to branch out into motion pictures. He created his own production company, and working on a low budget, Harris shot his horror movie in the summer of 1977. Once it was complete, Harris came to the conclusion that film needed an overhaul and brought in two screenwriters, brothers Ken and Jim Wheat. The Wheats had the crazy idea that Harris re-shoot most of the picture. Though seemingly an extreme approach, the director/financier actually agreed it was the best option.
 
Victoria
 
With the Wheat’s new script in hand, filming resumed in March 1978. A number of veteran actors were brought into the fold, including Yvonne De Carlo, best known today as the matriarch on The Munsters, and Barbara Steele, who first gained fame as the lead in the Italian horror classic, Black Sunday (1960). One of a handful of actors to appear in both versions of the film is Rebecca Balding, who had previously worked in TV. Balding plays the central role of “Scotty Parker.” The character is an early example of a “final girl”, sharing some of the same traits, including an androgynous name and appearance. There’s debate in film circles over whether the “final girl” is meant to appeal to young males or young females (or both), but in this case, the Wheat brothers have stated that the “Scotty” character was designed to attract female audiences. They believed—as do others within the movie industry—that when a male/female couple have decided to go the movies, the picture they end up seeing is usually selected by the female partner.
 
Rebecca Balding as Scotty
 
Much of the film takes place at a creepy house on the hill—an actual Victorian home in Los Angeles, part of what is known as the “Smith Estate.”
 
Smith Estate house
 
Harris spent $450,000 on the first version of the picture, with only 15% or so of the initial footage shot making it into the finished product. There were further delays before it was ever shown on the big screen.
 
Poster
 
Considering the issues this production had, Silent Scream is a surprisingly good psychological horror film. The plot concerns a group of a young people living in a boarding house, which is owned by a secretive family. As would become standard in slasher films, the young people are offed, one by one, by a mysterious killer using a large knife. There’s blood spilled, for sure, but there’s not much in the way of gore here. Highly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s proto-slasher Psycho (1960), Silent Scream is suspenseful and well-acted, and the Wheats’ murder mystery keeps the audience guessing. Composer Roger Kellaway went big with the score, recalling Bernard Hermann’s work in Psycho and Cape Fear. The spooky dwelling, which evokes the Bates residence, adds to the “haunted house” vibe.
 
Cobwebs
 
Harris proved himself to be more than capable as a filmmaker, and there’s one scene, in particular, in which his skills behind the camera are on full display. As one of the boarders is murdered in the basement of the house, two others are having sex upstairs, with Harris intercutting the simultaneous acts to great effect. It’s both the highlight of the film and a highpoint in slasher cinema.

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Bart Bealmear
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10.27.2017
09:43 am
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The Mutilator: Long-lost 80s slasher rediscovered, returns bloodier than ever
04.08.2016
10:08 am
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“By sword, by pick, by axe, bye bye,” reads the tagline from The Mutilator‘s poster art which was ubiquitous in every mom-and-pop video store’s horror section in the mid-1980s. Anyone who grew up as a horror fan in the VHS era who hadn’t seen the bloody 1985 gorefest, had at least surely seen the video box artwork. You couldn’t really miss the menacing gaffe that threatens to disembowel four teenagers hanging by hooks just above that title that leaves absolutely no doubt as to the film’s content: this is a movie about a guy that mutilates people. If you’ve seen the unrated version (the film was originally released in “R” and “unrated” versions on VHS and betamax), you know the film delivers the goods.

As a teenage Fangoria-subscribing gore-hound, The Mutilator was one of my favorites of the slasher genre. As a low-budget film, it’s “got a lot of heart.” In what initially seems like a dragging ramp-up, screen-time is actually taken to develop likable characters with unique personalities—not simply establish machete fodder. Once we get to know and care about those characters, the killer wastes no time in dispatching with them in various grisly ways. One particular scene, in fact, is so over-the-top that I’m left wondering to this day how they were able to get away with it in 1985. Then again, it might be even more difficult to get away with something like it in today’s current culture of outrage. This scene, involving a gaffe and a woman’s hoo-ha, remains the most talked-about and notorious scene in The Mutilator. It’s a rough watch, not for the faint-of-heart.
 

Miss, you don’t want to know what comes next.
 
The Mutilator was shot in coastal North Carolina by Buddy Cooper, a first-time director with a cobbled-together crew of locals and American University film students. Though some reviews have described the production as “amateurish,” I’ve always felt that there was a vibe to this film indicating that everyone involved had a blast with what they were doing. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s always stuck with me: the actors’ performances, while not always perfect, are nonetheless engaging and fun. The special effects created by make-up wizard Mark Shostrom (later of From Beyond, Evil Dead 2, A Nightmare of Elm Street 3) elevate The Mutilator to a higher tier of splatterdom than your typical ‘80s Halloween and Friday the 13th clones. The murder pieces are original and the ending is totally nuts.

An interview with Buddy Cooper, director of ‘The Mutilator,’ after the jump…

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Posted by Christopher Bickel
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04.08.2016
10:08 am
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‘Black Christmas’: The groundbreaking 1974 slasher film that paved the way for ‘Halloween’
12.25.2015
09:03 am
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Black Christmas
 
In 1974, Bob Clark’s Canadian horror film, Black Christmas, was released. At the time, it was the highest grossing made-in-Canada film ever. It didn’t do as well in the U.S., but made enough of an impact to get the attention of writer/director John Carpenter. Black Christmas is now regarded as a pioneering slasher film, having a major influence on Carpenter’s Halloween (1978).
 
Black Christmas title card
 
Black Christmas begins at a sorority house Christmas party. Outside, an unseen figure approaches, entering the house through an attic window. Soon the phone rings and the girls are greeted with a disturbing obscene call from “Billy,” who babbles about a childhood tragedy involving his sister that he was responsible for. Later, one of the girls returns to her room and is suffocated by the intruder, who then brings the body to the attic.
 
Dead girl in the attic
 
Meanwhile, one of the sorority sisters, Jess, tells her boyfriend, Peter, that she is pregnant. When she tells him she plans to have an abortion, he becomes upset, telling her in somewhat of a threatening manner that she will be “sorry” if she goes through with terminating the pregnancy.

Eventually, the police are on the hunt for both the missing girl (no one realizes she’s been murdered) and to identify this “Billy,” who continues to call the house. The cops suspect Peter may be responsible for the calls, as does Jess, though she covers for her boyfriend. As the holiday season progresses, more undetected killings take place inside the house, until Jess discovers two of the bodies. She’s then chased through the house by the killer, though she doesn’t lay eyes on him. As she hides in the basement, a concerned Peter approaches—is he the murderer?
 
Black Christmas lobby card
 
Director Clark was surely influenced by Italian giallo films. A giallo usually features a shadowy, unseen killer, who murders his victims with a knife. Giallos also include camera angles meant to be from the killer’s point-of-view, which Clark incorporated into Black Christmas, The technique was also used by Carpenter in Halloween and became a standard component of slasher films. But unlike the giallo and many future slashers, the murder scenes in Black Christmas are neither gory nor are they explicit. It also lacks the sexualized violence that would become so associated with the slasher film. Instead, Clark used good ol’ fashioned mystery and suspense, as well as the alarming dialogue from “Billy,” to create the appropriate atmosphere.

Both Psycho (1960) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) are commonly cited as forerunners of the slasher film, though neither feature all the essential elements of the horror sub-genre—a single, mysterious killer terrorizes and murders, one-by-one, a group of mostly young people, ending with a “Final Girl”—but Black Christmas has all of those components. As does Halloween.
 
Jess on the phone
Jess, the “Final Girl.”

Both are also set around a holiday or day of cultural significance, an element that would become common in slasher films after the success of Halloween (see My Bloody Valentine, April Fool’s Day, the Friday the 13th series, etc.)

Around 1977, Bob Clark and John Carpenter talked about doing a film together. Carpenter asked if Clark would be willing to do a sequel to Black Christmas. Clark told Carpenter:

No, I don’t intend to, I’m not here to make horror films, I’m using horror films to get myself established. If I was going to do one, though, I would do a movie a year later where the killer escapes from an asylum on Halloween, and I would call it “Halloween.”


 
Halloween
 
Bob Clark died tragically in 2007, when he and his son were involved in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. His son was also killed in the accident. Clark is best known today for having directed two wildly different films, the holiday classic, A Christmas Story (1983), and the maligned and misunderstood (it’s better than you think), Porky’s (1981), the success of which inadvertently helped spawn another kind of motion picture: the raunchy teen sex comedy.

After the jump, hear some of the disturbing ‘Black Christmas’ soundtrack…

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Posted by Bart Bealmear
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12.25.2015
09:03 am
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‘It’s not cranberry sauce!’: Thanksgiving-themed ‘80s slasher film is gory good fun
11.26.2015
09:59 am
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Blood Rage
 
As Dangerous Minds readers surely know, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez incorporated fake movie trailers into their brilliant 2007 collaboration, Grindhouse. These previews for exploitation films that didn’t exist were made to resemble the type seen at grindhouse cinemas in the 1960s-1980s. One of the trailers was made by actor/director Eli Roth, most famous for the violent and controversial Hostel films, which have been labeled by some critics as “torture porn.” For his Grindhouse trailer, Roth came up with the delightfully deranged, Thanksgiving, which both celebrated and poked fun at the crop of holiday-themed slasher films that arrived after the major success of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978).

My friend Jeff, who plays the killer pilgrim [in Thanksgiving]—we grew up in Massachusetts, we were huge slasher movie fans and every November we were waiting for the Thanksgiving slasher movie. We had the whole movie worked out: A kid who’s in love with a turkey and then his father killed it and then he killed his family and went away to a mental institution and came back and took revenge on the town.

 
Thanksgiving
 
As it turns out, there were at least two ‘80s horror films based around Thanksgiving, 1981’s Home Sweet Home, and 1987’s Nightmare at Shadow Woods (a/k/a Blood Rage). The latter has been given the deluxe, Blu-ray treatment, and will be released by Arrow Films on December 15th.
 
Blood Rage
 
The film opens at a drive-in in 1974. Eight-year-old twin boys, Terry and Todd, witness a teenage couple having sex in a car. While Todd is content to leer at the teens, Terry pushes his brother aside so he can bludgeon the two with an ax.
 
Ouch!
Ouch! The carnage in ‘Blood Rage’ is just beginning. 

Terry blames it all on Todd, who’s understandably in shock and can’t defend himself. Fast forward ten years, and we are informed via an awkward voice-over (I initially thought the commentary track had accidentally been engaged) that Todd has been institutionalized. Terry, on the other hand, has been going about a normal life.

Louise Lasser, star of iconic ‘70s TV series, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, plays Maddy, Todd and Terry’s loving mother. As the family is sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, Maddy is informed that Todd has escaped from the mental institution. From this point on, it’s both alarming and amusing to watch Lasser’s character go progressively bonkers, as Maddy hits the bottle and becomes increasingly unglued. 
 
Need a hand?
Need a hand? Maddy loses her shit.

As for Terry, Todd’s escape has stirred the wild beast in him, and he goes on a joyous killing spree, mutilating friends and neighbors in the process.
 
It's not cranberry sauce
“It’s not cranberry sauce.”

Naturally, everyone thinks Todd is responsible. Meanwhile, man child Todd has indeed returned home, and the two brothers face off in a totally disturbing (yet still kinda funny) finale, which also involves Lasser’s Maddy and her shattered mental state.

Little-known actress Julie Gordon plays Terry’s girlfriend, Karen. Gordon’s only appeared in a handful of films, so it was a cool surprise to see her onscreen here (she’s the female lead in one of my all-time favorite ‘80s movies, Super Fuzz). In Blood Rage, she has the coveted role of “Final Girl.”
 
Julie Gordon
 
The production wrapped in 1983, but the film didn’t see wide release until 1987 when it came out under the title, Nightmare at Shadow Woods. The violence was toned-down for the theatrical release, with some additional footage added. For the Blu-ray, Arrow Video has included three versions of the film: the restored, uncensored cut of Blood Rage, which was released on VHS; a restored Nightmare at Shadow Woods; plus a new composite edit.
 
Nightmare at Shadow Woods
 
In addition to the holiday theme, like many horror flicks from the period it borrows liberally from Halloween. But even John Carpenter was influenced by other movies for Halloween, and was heavily swayed by the groundbreaking holiday slasher, Black Christmas (1974).
 
Spanish poster
Spanish poster for ‘Black Christmas.’

Though Blood Rage is low on fright (we know who the killer is early on and almost always see him coming), the film more than makes up for it with heavy doses of gleeful butchery.
 
He lost his head
 
If you like your ‘80s horror movies goofy and able to induce flashbacks from the era—the hair, the fashion, the video games—you’ll dig Blood Rage.
 
Good times
 
It’s really too bad Eli Roth didn’t see this one back in the day. He surely would’ve enjoyed this silly slice of slasher cinema.
 
Bloody popcorn
 
Of course it’s never too late for Roth or anyone else to check out film—and there’s no time like the present. You can pre-order the Blood Rage Blu-ray/DVD combo, which includes tons of extras, on MVD or Amazon. In the meantime, check out the NSFW preview below.

Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Happy Thanksgiving
 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Slasher sweaters: The perfect gift for the psychopath in your life

Posted by Bart Bealmear
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11.26.2015
09:59 am
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