This is another one of those Zombie Club line-ups that just kind of got bigger with time. To start with I just had Prom Night which I had to bring to a Zombie Club as soon as possible, mainly because the flick is so well known and mainly because Jamie Lee Curtis is in it. Originally I was thinking of pairing it with that other late 70s/early 80s dodgy Jamie Lee movie Terror Train, until Hell Night fell in to my possession to herald the imminent arrival of Prom and Hell Night, which I was going imaginatively call Night Night.
Then, for whatever reason, these two slipped off the Zombie Club radar and both sat on my shelf gathering dust, like so many possible Zombie Club line-ups do. Trust me, I could rattle off dozens of possible Zombie Club line-ups that I’ve gone out and bought with the plan to show them next week, only then for something else to come up that’s way more vital we watch as soon as possible (invariably involving a lost Donald Pleasance, Franco Nero or George Kennedy low-budget classic) and I end up shelving these until a later date.
That’s what happened to these two until someone suggested doing a weekend, where we could go on a little longer, and April Fool’s Day had just arrived through the post. Bingo, Campus Killer Night was born, although I don’t know where that name come from because only Prom Night is actually set on a campus and that’s a High School so I don’t think that really counts anyway.
Tonight’s movie selection is bought to you by Jim with the help of Buffy, Muffy and Linda Blair’s corset.
April Fool's Day (1986)
Plot A group of nine college students staying at a friend's remote island mansion begin to fall victim to an unseen murderer over the April Fool's day weekend.
Jim So it's April Fool's Day back at the beginning of the 80s where everyone's wearing brightly coloured dangly jewellery or brightly coloured clothes of various hideous patterns ("I'd say 1984 judging by the thickness of those stripes." - Rawshark) and a group of college kids are jetting out to a remote island to spend the weekend with their strange college friend Muffy. As you'd expect it's all fun, games and hi-jinks until a dreadful accident on the ferry that's kind of their fault leaves one of the ferry hands hideously disfigured.
Undeterred, the assorted kids try to make the best of the weekend. We have: Chaz the mouthy cool guy with the cool tape recorder ("I like his tape recorder!" - Zomblee), who's shagging Nikki, the sexy but quite stroppy girl with crap tits. Then we have Hal the young republican who nicks all the cigars, Rob the curly haired poor man’s Kevin Bacon that has the hots for Tess, who’s the attractive blonde girlfriend type who survives for ages. Also we’ve got Skip, the guy with a chip on his shoulder about family money, who’s the cousin of Muffy, the young house owner who’s about 18 but dresses like an old lady. Plus there’s a blonde whose name I missed that is a bit touchy about baby noises, and someone called Brad, although I'm not sure who Brad was but Rawshark was adamant that "There's got to be someone called Brad in it...", so there you are.
Anyway, for a slasher movie there’s not much slashing, particularly in the first half, but that’s not as big a deal as you’d think because this isn’t your standard slasher fare, it’s actually a very decent film. Being April Fool’s Day the movie has a lot of gags in it, most of which are actually funny (the lights gag at bedtime had me rolling around), and then when they dry up, the deaths start which seems like a fair trade.
In fact I’m going to have to say April Fool’s Day is one of the most original slashers we’d ever seen and we all loved it, especially Rawshark who pointed out that "It's like a slasher movie that's unlike any other slasher movie because..." and then went on to explain why, which I can’t tell you because it would ruin the whole film for you. You’ll just have to watch it.
"They'll see the body just before she takes her top off."
Zomblee We were all hugely impressed with this gem from the mid 80s - I say it falls into that 'too good for the 80s' category, to sit alongside all those other movies that were, you know, too good for the 80s (when the deplorable fashion senses actually distract from the plot). Even from the beginning we were silenced by the level of cinematography and general production values on display - here at Zombie Club we really sit up and take notice when a movie shows real flair and professionalism because we watch so much of what could be described as 'shit'. "This is, like, really good!"
It all centres around quite a large group of "privileged, independent" youngsters who take a trip to visit their friend Muffy, who Rawshark took a shine to ("Is Muffy your type, Mike?" - Jim "I like Muffy" - Rawshark). Anyway, once they get there, it's all fun, games and April Fool’s gags everywhere before the dead bodies begin appearing and the movie begins to unravel beautifully.
If the production values in April Fool’s Day are top-notch, then all other aspects cannot be faulted. Really. It's that good. The cast are impeccable, and as Rawshark put it, they play "likeably dislikeable people" to perfection. We're laughing all the way with them, not at them (apart from those awful 80s jumpers). Rarely has this kind of teen acting in the horror genre been so deftly executed since The Burning, and you'll be pleased to recognise - as we were - some familiar faces amongst the young pranksters ("It's the guy from Back to the Future!" -Jim "Biff!" - thanks Rawshark).
I'm also not going to spoil the ending of this one for you, suffice to say not one of us saw it coming, despite experience and some amusingly wayward conjectures. Funny, intelligent and different, this little jack-in-the-box of a movie is a must for fans of quality horror.
"Bobby, don't go in there."
Rawshark Oh, April Fool’s Day, you big tease! I remember you, back in the day, sitting on my video store’s shelves with your enticing cover of a girl and her noose-like hair, but I never rented you. Then you came out on DVD and again I resisted your b-movie charms, but looking back now I’m quite glad, because otherwise we would never have had this great ‘surprise’ of a movie turn up at Zombie Club with none of us ever having seen it.
Laced with strong, yet subtle, humour right from the start (one of the girls fakely introduces herself on video camera as ”Mary O’Reilly O’Toole O’Shea”) and perfectly composed visuals, April Fool’s Day settled in very comfortably with us all, despite some of Jim’s dubious early observations - ”I hope we get to see the mannequin’s arsehole again”. Our teenage heroes all meet up on a ferry – bizarrely the guys all seem to have their flies undone – and fool around flirting until Buck ‘accidentally’ gets his eye gouged out whilst trying to dock on Muffy’s island (and no, that’s not a euphemism by the way).
Undeterred, the rest of the gang head to Muffy’s house to cook some food (”that was a brilliant sausage shot” - Jim), talk about sex and perform April Fool’s gags on each other including whoopee cushions, exploding cigars and wobbly-legged chairs. However, as this is a slasher film, it’s not long before they’re being picked off one by one and group morale starts to unravel faster than a loosely knitted scarf being torn apart by rabid Chihuahuas.
The true beauty about April Fool’s Day is that, rather like Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, the comedy aspect sits predominantly within the film, rather than taking it over completely, as in the case of something like Night of the Creeps. The result is a hugely enjoyable movie that feels at much at ease with humour as it does with tension, and therefore plays out as authentic and believable, all the way through to it’s ‘great reveal’. Wholeheartedly recommended, and that’s no April Fool.
“Please God, let it be Ding Dong”.
Director Fred Walton
Cast Jay Baker
Runtime 89 mins
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Prom Night (1980)
Plot A masked killer stalks four teens responsible for the accidental death of a child six years earlier at their high school's senior prom.
Rawshark After her first twin film successes of Halloween and The Fog, Jamie Lee Curtis jumped the John Carpenter ship and instead enlisted with Kim Hammond for Prom Night, although why she chose this extremely derivative film (”they might as well have called it Promoween!” - Zomblee) as her next career move is anyone’s guess.
Like Halloween, this film starts with a prelude featuring children, namely Wendy, Jude, Kelly and Nick who set about teasing and taunting poor girl Robin until she falls out of a window and dies. The kids, instead of reporting the accident, swear never to tell anyone about the incident and run away – the little scamps! Cut to six years later, and it is fast approaching Prom Night, but, wouldn’t you know it, the now grown-up teenagers all start receiving threatening phone calls. Add to the plot Leslie Neilson as a straight-playing high school principal plus an ineffectual cop (”He’s like a two-bit Loomis, none of the Pleasance about him” - Zomblee; ”Yeah, no screen-Pleasance” - Jim), and what we have is a fairly tepid and tame affair that seems happy to simply trundle along it’s cliché-laid rail tracks.
Things don’t get much better at the Prom either (”It’s all gone Saturday Night Fever” - Jim; ”More like Saturday Night Headcold” - Zomblee), with an awful song, called ‘Prom Night funnily enough and no nudity whatsoever. In fact it takes over an hour for the first kill to happen - an extremely disappointing throat slit with the camera choosing to close-up focus on the victim’s eyes instead of the gory grue us horror fans crave.
There are one or two good things about Prom Night, namely Robert (Scanner) Silverman as the ‘special’ caretaker, the fat kid with the joints and his shag wagon (”Shagon!” - Jim), and of course, the severed head at the King and Queen crowning, but in all honesty, they’re really not worth watching the whole film for. Quite why Hollywood are remaking this film is beyond me. Disappointing.
”Sheriff, you’re asking me to comment on a catatonic schizophrenic who was institutionalised six years ago”.
Jim With a successful movie like April Fool's Day starting the running, and with the traditional red vino flowing as smooth as silk, we all had high expectations for Prom Night. And why not? Jamie Lee, our scream queen from the nigh on perfect Halloween was back, and we also had Leslie Neilsen in a straight role as the Prinicipal, wearing "Bad 70s trousers, straight of the golf course!" (Zomblee). So how could anything go wrong?
Well, first off Neilsen has a voice over that's got a bizarre echo to it, and Rawshark's comment of "I can't stop thinking Police Squad!" is very true. Then we have Jamie Lee, massively underused, seeming to spend a lot of time wandering deserted school corridors "...As she clutches her folders to her bosom." (Rawshark). "She did that in Halloween." (Zomblee). And that's the real trick here, as Rawshark's mentioned in his bit, this baby has Halloween written all over it, although to be true there's a lot of Carrie in there as well.
Still, if you're going to rip off a recent smash hit, you might as well fill all the roles. The doctor with the huge glasses was a highlight ("Is this guy with the glasses some kind of two-bit Sam Loomis?" - Zomblee) but wasn't in it enough ("He should be popping up and going 'The Evil!' but in a two-bit kind of way." - Zomblee). Similarly the rest of the teen cast were a bit wooden and are extremely forgettable, except for the chick whose prom date picked her up with a car full of his drunk mates, which was one of the stand out scenes of the film. She was in Buck Rogers too ("Only for one episode though." - Zomblee)
"No one's been killed yet again, have they?", Rawshark pointed out at way past the halfway mark, and he's right the inherent lack of gore is a big let down, not really made up for by the wickedly cheesy dance floor decap at the end, although the ending did have some surprises. ("What happened to the ninja, did he electrocute himself?" - Rawshark)
Alright I admit it didn’t make much sense at the time, and I almost thought it was turning in to a whodunit, until it dawned on me that I’d talked all the way through the escaped mental patient scenes. Shame.
"Prom Night. It's going on all night."
Zomblee "There's a lot of phone calls in this film, Jesus Christ!", shouts Jim. And he's right, because Prom Night (Phone Night?) is one of those horror movies which features a menacing ring at every turn, in the tradition of Black Christmas, which of course influenced Halloween, which in turn led to movies just like this one. Well known in slasherlore and also for its place in Jamie Lee's scream queen canon, this is a pretty average affair, and perhaps more difficult to judge fairly when the shadow of Mr Carpenter's early finesse still looms strong.
In what is essentially a slow-burning slasher movie involving an escaped maniac and starring Jamie Lee which isn't called Halloween, the central characters are involved in a cruel tragedy as children, but now they're all grown up, ready for the senior prom, and receiving those nasty phone calls. As is fitting (excuse the pun) for an 80's Halloween rip-off, the clothing styles leave a lot to be desired - something a man like Jim never fails to notice, "Look how high waisted Jamie Lee's trousers are!" ( "Yeah, just like a matador's" - Rawshark). And yes, she still clutches the school books to her bosom just like in, you know, that other film.
In keeping with the tradition of brooding menace (i.e. a worrying lack of blood/gore/death/general unpleasantness during the first hour), this one struggles to mount any sense of palpable tension, instead opting to indulge in 80s stereotypes and high school banality. But I guess you have to cut them some slack - this was released in 1980, a time when lazy, cliché-hugging slashmongers were young and a whole decade of sequels, bad hair and even worse music lay ahead. Only not that far ahead if the latter half of Prom Night is anything to go by - is it just me or does that fucking song go on forever?
A couple of entertaining characters make the experience of Prom Night a little more enjoyable - 'Slick', the overweight, weed-smoking-ladies-man-with-mattress-in-his-van is great fun, and it was great to see David Cronenberg regular Robert A Silverman perfectly cast as the creepy janitor. And even though the final killing spree does show some flair (when "Lou lou-ses his head" - Rawshark), this is definitely one of the 'classics' well-deserving of its imminent facelift.
"I want you to double-check the whole area around the high school!"
Director Paul Lynch
Cast Leslie Nielsen
Jamie Lee Curtis
Runtime 90 mins
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Hell Night (1981)
Plot Four college pledges are forced to spend the night in a deserted old mansion where they get killed off one by one by the monstrous surviving members of a family massacre years earlier for trespassing on their living grounds.
Zomblee What we have here is a case of frat house slasher meets haunted house movie and although I'd love to tell you all it's a great horror formula, it isn't. And for very good reason. You see, Linda Blair managed to capitalise on her Exorcist success for quite a while post-1973 (I think she's still doing it), and while her cherubic looks worked perfectly for that role, she just looks, well, like a "chubbed out" (Jim) student in 1981, despite the fact that she's wearing what Jim thought were some hot "fuck me boots".
As part of their initiation four college pledges have to spend the night in a rather spooky old house called Garth Manor, where twelve years prior Raymond Garth murdered his wife and all his "mongoloid" children bar one, before hanging himself. The foursome split into two groups in a predictable 80s way before being spooked out by their peers, but then it all starts going horribly wrong and - you've guessed it - the surviving deformed son (who happens to be an ugly hulking giant) starts killing everyone.
Maybe if not viewed after two great 80's slasher movies, this would hold its own, or then again, maybe not. It's a huge bore, edited with awful pace and filled with cliché and stereotype stock slasher fodder: a virgin (Blair) and a bunch of hard-drinking, ‘lude-munching revellers ("Aw man I'd love to try quaaludes!" - Jim). The only vaguely original touch for me was the scene where Seth decides to steal all the guns from the "multi-levelled cop shop", taking the law into his own all-American hands to rescue Regan. I mean Marti.
Apparently Hell Night is full of suspenseful scenes but as you're no doubt aware, there's a fine line separating suspense and complete boredom. Young people endlessly exploring the darkness is usually the dullest and most insomnia-curing of affairs, and that's exactly what it is here ("It's just a lot of walking about, really" - Rawshark). This is less of a surprise knowing that director Tom DeSimone had a previous career directing dirty gay movies under the pseudonym Lancer Brooks, although I have to admit that this movie is actually a fraction better than such credentials would suggest.
"They call her Marti."
Rawshark Keg-drinking college President Peter Bennett ”really lives for Hell Night”. It’s the one night of the year where he gets to dress up in fancy costume and take four young college newbies to a 'haunted house’ where he can play tricks on them and laugh hard at how funny it all is. He really needs to get out more.
Dull as dodo’s droppings for the most part, Hell Night does at least feature a grown-up Linda Blair to take the mick out of as she ‘acts’ her way through the surrounding nonsense. The four teens (Jess, Seth, Marti and drug-taking Denise) who have agreed to spend the night in Garth Manor are soon joined by three others who are there to play pranks on them, but when ‘Tarzan Girl’ is dragged underground and decapitated, it seems that the Manor really is haunted by the ghoul of Raymond Garth. Well I never…
There’s something quite cool in the fact that all the characters in the film remain in fancy dress throughout, making it a little easier to remember who is who - Jeff’s Robin Hood outfit being the standout with Jim stating that he really liked ”the dude’s cape”. He also admired the blonde girl’s red and black underwear too, but for quite possibly different reasons. Yet, a film needs more than fancy dress to carry it through, and when it comes to plot, dialogue, acting, cinematography and music (especially music!), Hell Night is extremely lacking. Hell Night? Shmell Night more like.
”My name’s Seth and you’ve got yourself a date beach bunny”.
Jim "Irwin Yablen produced Halloween,” offered Zomblee at the start of this flick, with some glimmer of hope, ”I don't know if you knew that?" No, I didn’t actually, but that does sum up this movie in a nutshell.
Produce a successful movie (Halloween, obviously, not this turgid wonder) and then go bang out as many similar movies as you possibly can. Don’t worry about the script, cast, director, or any of that jazz, just get a good poster, a decent title and a ghoulish font to splash it on the screen with and you’re away. And a named genre star above the credits wouldn’t go amiss either.
So, it’s about Linda ‘Fat Cheeks’ Blair and a sorority prank that involves her, Robin Hood, Quaalude girl and the guy in the suit who I think was supposed to be a magician, staying the night in some creepy old house where some guy killed his whole deformed family a dozen years ago before offing himself. Only problem is, he didn’t do a very good job on killing the mute younger brother.
"I think there'll be loads of tits in this movie guys... There'd better be!" Zomblee gave us in the opening few minutes (well, it did look like a massive Mardi Gras at start, to be fair) but alas no, there are very few, and especially not Linda Blair’s. They are bunched up in a medieval milkmaid style corset which gives them decent lift, but exposed, no. That other girl gets naked at one point, the one who’s always smashed, dressed in Tarzan style jungle furs and all, but she dies soon after, dragged to her death by an ”Underground Tarzan cult?” (Rawshark) Alas no, but her outfit did brighten up what was and still is a really very dull movie. As did Robin Hood’s cape while we’re at it. And am I right in thinking that that sorority guy – the one who plays all the pranks on them the ghoulish sounds through the hidden speakers and all – is wearing a Mork from Mork & Mindy costume?
Anyway, cool outfits aside, Hell Night is a real stinker. Thank God it didn’t ’go on all night’ like Prom Night threatened to, that’s all I can say.
”Welcome to Garth Manor!”
Director Tom DeSimone
Cast Linda Blair
Vincent Van Patten
Runtime 101 mins
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So there you have it, three Zombie Club movies that we watched in the correct order for once.
April Fool’s Day was the surprise brilliant first movie with a twist that had all our jaws hitting the floor. Then came Prom Night which was fun for the disco and Jamie Lee’s dance routine, but it wasn’t actually that great (I hope the imminent remake keeps that disco theme song though). And finally we had Hell Night, with Linda Blair’s name above the credits. We should have known that was a bad sign.
Still, this did bring back recollections of National Lampoons: Class Reunion (mostly bought on by Prom Night actually) and a few clicks later it was in the post. Expect to see that at a Comedy College Horror Night soon, maybe even paired with the lost not-that-classic Student Bodies…
11th Oct 04 Someone’s Watching Me! is a very taut little thriller; inoffensive, well-directed, well-acted, engaging, creepy and most of all, it looks great. You can tell Carpenter is having so much fun with...