It’s 70’s Slashers week!
The horror sub genre of Slashers may have exploded in the 1980’s, but they actually got their start in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s Italian Giallo Crime Films — which would be the grand inspiration for American Slasher Films soon to come.
Slashers are pretty formulaic:
a) Have a mostly unseen killer until the end.
b) I-camera is employed (seeing from the killer’s vantage).
c) Sex, Booze and Drugs usually mean you are a goner.
d) Usually only one lonely girl survivor.
First up, a movie I just recently “discovered” myself and love. The 1973 cult Italian Horror Film…
TORSO (1973) (a.k.a. CARNAL VIOLENCE)
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Produced by: Carlo Ponti
Screenplay by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Sergio Martino
Story by: Sergio Martino
Starring: Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont
Luc Merenda, John Richardson
Released: January 4, 1973
A string of appalling lust murders shocks the University of Perugia as a sadistic serial killer strangles to death beautiful college girls with a red and black scarf.
Someone is strangling coeds in Perugia. The only clue is that the killer owns a red and black scarf, and police are stumped. American exchange student Jane and her friends decide to take a break from classes by going up to Danielle’s uncle’s villa in the country. Unfortunately the killer decides to follow, and the women begin suffering a rapid attrition problem.
Between 1971 and 1973 Sergio Martino directed a series of five astonishingly good horror-thrillers. In fact, it could convincingly be argued that in those years Martino was the premier Italian director in this genre. Torso is the final film in this sequence and while it may possibly be the best of the five it still remains an excellent entry in the giallo sub-genre.
The story revolves around a group of young college women who are terrorised by an unknown black-gloved killer. The girls themselves are, of course, gorgeous. Most of them seem to spend quite a lot of time lying around semi-naked as well. So from an erotic point of view this is a film that doesn’t exactly mess about. In terms of its violence it’s probably not as nasty as its reputation suggests although there is the famous hack-saw sequence that is admittedly quite grim albeit not especially graphic. There are several individual stalk and slash scenes, the best of which is a sequence in the woods. This part is very atmospheric, helped also by the effective music. Its scenes like this one and the saw idea that make this one feel like a precursor to the slasher films that would follow a few years later. But the best thing about Torso is its final third. In this part lead actress Suzy Kendall is trapped in a villa with the killer at work in the same house but unaware of her presence. This extended, deadly game of cat and mouse is really expertly handled by Martino and is one of the most suspenseful sequences in the giallo genre. It is ultimately what defines this film.
DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973)
Directed by: S. F. Brownrigg
Produced by: S. F. Brownrigg, Walter L. Krusz
Written by: Tim Pope
Starring: Bill McGhee, Rosie Holotik
Anne MacAdams, Gene Ross
Hugh Feagin, Camilla Carr
Released: September 1973
Charlotte Beale (April 1972 Playboy cover girl Rosie Holotik), a young psychiatric nurse, arrives at the lonesome and isolated Stephens Sanitarium to work, only to learn that Dr. Stephens was murdered by one of the patients and his successor, Dr. Geraldine Masters, is not very eager to take on new staff. Charlotte finds her job maddeningly hard as the patients torment and harass her at every turn, and she soon learns why Dr. Masters is so eager to keep outsiders out.
The unusual treatment practices of the Asylum involves allowing patients to roam free around the hospital, allowing them to express their repressed inhibitions to cure their madness. The patients are a truly frightening gathering. One girl shuffles around with a doll she believes is her baby and if you offend her you’ll die; another believes himself to be a judge, constantly preaching courtroom jargon; there’s a nymphomaniac wanting love from anyone and lunges at all men; and finally an ex-Vietnam vet watching over the premises, assuring nobody escapes. Soon, poor Charlotte realizes that all is not as it should be and a sense of unease creeps over her. Will she solve the mystery of the Sanitarium before she too is driven insane?
Good suspenseful little movie, and the only thing really wrong with the movie is it’s ultra-low budget.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Directed by: Bob Clark
Produced by: Bob Clark
Written by: A. Roy Moore
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea
Margot Kidder, John Saxon
Released: October 11, 1974
The first real foray into American Slasher Horror…and it’s 100% Canadian!
Sorority Girls staying behind for Christmas Break are being terrorized by maniacal and disturbed prank phone calls. Soon, the girls begin fearing more than just those calls as some start to go missing.
Great cast! Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, Jon Saxon, Andrea Martin. And stellar direction by Bob Clark — the same guy that directed Porky’s (1980) and A Christmas Story (1983). Talk about leaving your mark!
ALICE, SWEET ALICE (1976) a.k.a HOLY TERROR
Directed by: Alfred Sole
Produced by: Richard K. Rosenberg, Alfred Sole
Written by: Rosemary Ritvo, Alfred Sole
Starring: Linda Miller, Paula Sheppard, Lillian Roth
Alphonso DeNoble, Brooke Shields
Released: November 13, 1976
Alice, Sweet Alice (a.k.a. Holy Terror or First Communion) tells the tale of the title character, Alice, a bad seed teenage girl with a severe mean streak who ends up becoming a suspect in the brutal murder of her younger sister (Brooke Shields) at the latter’s first communion. The Police, as well as Alice’s father, race to solve the case as the bodies start piling up.
This movie is vintage, and strangely resembles the slashers that will follow several years later throughout the 1980’s. This American flick is very similar in tone to many of the Giallo films that we’re coming out of Italy in the early 1970’s. Starring a young Brooke Shields, and riding the Catholic Horror wave that flooded the theatres in the 70’s, Alice Sweet Alice is not a bad little horror pic.
The movie is worth a viewing, if only to catch a gander at the creepy fat landlord and the kooky old Italian lady that takes the religious sacrament of First Communion waaay too seriously.
The movie was originally released in 1976 at the Chicago International Film Festival as Communion, and then retitled as Alice Sweet Alice for its theatrical release in 1978. After Brooke Shields became a big star in 1979, the movie was re-released yet again in 1981 under the title Holy Terror and had Shields at the centre of all the marketing — despite the fact that she’s only in the film for about 10 minutes.
Whatever the title, see the movie –but just in case — be sure you head straight to confession afterwards!
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976)
Directed by: Charles B. Pierce
Produced by: Charles B. Pierce, Samuel Z. Arkoff
Written by: Earl E. Smith
Starring: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine
Narrated by: Vern Stierman
Released: December 24, 1976
The movie is a fictionalized drama of actual accounts in 1946. The residents of the town of Texarkana, Texas should be celebrating the return of their boys from WWII, but a mysterious hooded killer is stalking victims by night, murdering them in horrendous ways, and completely befuddling the local police force.
Ben Johnson leads a Texarkana manhunt for a hooded serial killer. Approximately every three weeks in 1946, random killings occurred, mostly in lovers lanes. The film has excellent post WW2 atmosphere, and is only weakened by voice overs, and some”Barney Fife” type humor that fails completely. The attacks are sometimes depicted rather darkly, but the hooded killer who does not speak, is memorable. One does sense a feeling of dread among the townsfolk throughout, and the police frustration is also well documented. Sometimes less is best, as is the case with “The Town That Dreaded Sundown”. With no idea of who the masked menace is, his motivation, or as the open ended conclusion speculates, is he still out there, ones imagination is left to wonder.
The 2015 Remake wasn’t bad either.
THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1978)
Directed by: Dennis Donnelly
Produced by: Tony DiDio
Screenplay by: Ann Kindberg, Robert Easter
Story by: Robert Easter
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Pamelyn Ferdin
Released: February 17, 1978
A ski-masked maniac kills apartment complex tenants with the contents of a toolbox.
“The Toolbox Murders” follows a series of killings in a Los Angeles apartment complex, which culminate in the kidnapping of a 15-year-old girl, Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin) who resides there with her family. From thereon, police attempt to unravel the crimes with the assistance of the building owner (Cameron Mitchell) and his employee nephew (Wesley Eure).
While it has been often written off as cheap exploitation fodder, “The Toolbox Murders” is something of a minor unsung achievement, especially when you examine the context. It was made and released pre-John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, and while it definitely riffs on “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” it does deserve some credit for being an early adopter of the slasher mould. The main criticism of the film (not unwarranted) is that it makes the shift from slasher flick to police procedural at the midway point, which is a bit jarring on a tonal level. The last half of the film mainly focuses on young Laurie being tied to a bed and subject to the religious ramblings of the villain.
This issue aside, where “Toolbox” excels is in its elaborate, effective death sequences, and moody cinematography. The film is shot remarkably well by Gary Graver, and the murders–most of which occur in a slam-bang succession in the first 30 minutes–are effective and disturbing. The locations make for ’70s overload, full of furnishings and styles that evoke “The Brady Bunch,” but there is a seedy L.A. aesthetic to the film that gives it a gritty and sometimes unpleasant edge. Some moments, particularly the surreal, foggy flashbacks that help explain the killer’s motive, predate similar sequences in Paul Lynch’s “Prom Night,” released two years later.
“The Toolbox Murders” is an underrated entry in the slasher film canon. While it does make a downshift in pace and tone in the latter half, it remains a nasty, hard-edged odyssey through the shiftier characters of ’70s Los Angeles.
Directed by: John Carpenter
Produced by: Debra Hill
Screenplay by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis
P. J. Soles, Nancy Loomis
Music by: John Carpenter
Released: October 25, 1978
Fifteen years after murdering his sister on Halloween night 1963, Michael Myers escapes from a mental hospital and returns to the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois to kill again.
Set in Haddonfield, Illinois, the story of Halloween begins on the titular night in 1963 where we witness the 6-years old Michael Myers stabbing his older sister to death with a kitchen knife. The plot then jumps 15 years in the span of which Myers remained silent in a mental hospital he was confined to, only to escape from the facility and returns to his hometown to kill some more.
Co-written & directed by John Carpenter, whose innate ability to churn out quality pictures from mere scraps of filmmaking elements has earned him a place amongst world cinema’s most influential filmmakers, Halloween is one of the finest works of his career that presents the director in complete control of his craft, and the way he sets the pace & eerie tone from the beginning is a delight to watch.
Carpenter creates an uncanny mood during the title sequence only which has nothing but a jack-o-lantern on the black screen, accompanied by the now iconic score, and follows it up with an expertly shot prologue which instantly brings the audience into the story. The script is equally impressive for the character of Michael Myers is handled with extreme care, and the writers leave no stone unturned to show him as an unstoppable force of evil. Halloween features a budget-friendly cast in Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis & Nick Castle. The film marks Curtis’ acting debut and she does a great job as Laurie; a high-school student who’s continuously stalked by Myers throughout the movie. Pleasence is in as Myers’ psychiatrist and the only person who knows what this homicidal maniac is capable of as stated in this quote:
“I met him, 15 years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding in even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this… six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and… the blackest eyes – the Devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up, because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”
And then this one:
“I-I-I watched him for fifteen years, sitting in a room, staring at a wall; not seeing the wall, looking past the wall; looking at this night, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off. Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now, you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it.”
Possibly the most influential of all slasher films, John Carpenter’s Halloween is the reason why this particular subgenre of horror even exists in the first place. Although it wasn’t the first of its kind, it certainly was the game-changer for almost every other slasher flick that followed this low-budget indie horror only ended up imitating the formula that this classic originated.
Its success opened the doors for the sub genre of Horror Slasher which proliferated the 1980’s including a multitude of Halloween sequels and a few remakes in 2007 and 2018 respectively.
TOURIST TRAP (1979)
Directed by: David Schmoeller
Produced by: Charles Band, J. Larry Carroll
Written by: David Schmoeller, J. Larry Carroll
Starring: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones
Jon Van Ness, Robin Sherwood, Tanya Roberts,
Dawn Jeffory, Keith McDermott
Released: March 14, 1979
My good friend Christina and I have been doing some ‘distance viewing’ together late at night watching some great (and some not so great) horror movies together. We text and chat while we watch and it adds a bit of fun to the viewing. With that said, last night we watched a real hidden gem. Tourist Trap (1979) – starring Chuck Connors (TV’s Rifleman from the 1950’s) and a very young, very very sexy Tanya Roberts (Sheena, That 70’s Show).
1979’s Tourist Trap is a clever, unique B thriller that stands out as one of the best of it’s kind. A group of young travelling friends are stranded at a secluded lonely roadside wax museum. They find that the owner’s mannequins are a little too life-like for comfort, and they are being stalked by a masked assailant who uses his telekenetic powers to control the mannequins.
While the film has hints of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre given the era it was made, Tourist Trap actually feels more like a House of Wax type film. In fact, it’s a better House of Wax than 2005’s “House of Wax”, but not as much a House of Wax as 1953’s classic “House of Wax”.
Veteran actor Chuck Connors is the best of the film’s decent cast. And 1979 Tanya Roberts in a halter top for the whole movie? Yes please. A number of the film’s sequences are quite memorable. For horror and thriller fans alike, Tourist Trap is an unforgettable must-see film. Catch it for free on TUBI.
DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE (1979)
Directed by: Joseph Ellison
Produced by: Ellen Hammill
Screenplay by: Ellen Hammill, Joe Masefield, Joseph Ellison
Story by: Joe Masefield
Starring: Dan Grimaldi
Released: November 1979
In much the same vein as Psycho almost 20 years prior, Don’t Go In The House contends with Donny, a man who goes of his rocker when his abusive mother suddenly dies leaving him alone in a big house. As he slips further and further into his psychosis, the man lures innocent and suspecting women back to his home where he incapacitates them. The women awaken naked and strung up in a strange metal room that Donny has built in the house. One by one each of the helpless victims are blow torched by Donny and burned to death, a method of pain that Donny is reliving from his childhood when his mother used to discipline him by placing his arms over and open flame. Donny collects the charred remains of the women, as well as his mother’s burnt corpse, and dresses them all up and seats them together in a closed off room upstairs. Concerned by his increasing weirdness, Donny’s one work friend Bobby and a Priest try to help Donny in their own ways — unaware of the atrocious murders he has committed.
First off, this movie certainly wasn’t up for any Acting Oscars. But that detractor slowly subsided as the movie progressed. Mostly because the kill sequences, and scenes with the voices in Donny’s head, were actually done quite well. Don’t Go In The House plays out like a “bridge” between the carnage films of the 1970s (ala The Hills Have Eyes) and the soon-to-explode-onto-the-pop-culture-scene slasher trend of the 1980s. Donny is an interesting and complex character. Timid, meek, and squirrelly at work and out in public. In his home, however, he is calculating, unwavering and unflinching in his brutal execution of his victims all the while succumbing to the mad voices in his head.
Although the film feels as though it has been lost through the annals of time (I’d never heard of it until very recently), it still plays out well by today’s standards and the movie is really not too bad — if you can get past the horrible acting. Given that most films of the era had killers stalking their prey with knives and machete’s, the unique concept of an oven room and immolated victims may be just the ingredient in this recipe to set it apart from any contemporary clones. If you can get your hands on a copy, I recommend a viewing of this movie to any horror fan.
SAVAGE WEEKEND (1980) (but filmed in 1976)
Directed by: David Paulsen
Produced by: Alvin L. Fast
Written by: David Paulsen
Starring: Christopher Allport, James Doerr
Marilyn Hamlin, Caitlin O’Heaney, David Gale
Devin Goldenberg, Jeffrey Pomerantz,
Filmed in 1976
Released: November 14, 1980
Several couples head upstate to the country to watch a boat being built. Unfortunately they are stalked by a murderer behind a ghoulish mask. Savage Weekend is quite an interesting movie. It’s intriguing because, while it looks like many of the countless slice and dice flicks that made up the slasher cycle, it was in fact made some time before these films became popularised and clichéd. It displays some facets that would go on to constitute the classic style slasher film, yet it was made in 1976 and only released three years later in the wake of the huge success of Halloween (1978). It seems to clearly have been a movie somewhat ahead of its time in this respect. Its story is one that would go on to become fairly standard in this sub-genre. A group of rich urban friends travel to a remote location for from R&R, before long a masked psychopath begins picking them off.
Notably, the characters here are adults, in this respect it deviates from the later slasher template which focused almost exclusively on teenagers. One thing these adults do have in common with their teenage descendants, however, is that they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time having sex. In fact Savage Weekend is pretty ram packed with abundant nudity. On the other hand, it also spends an unusually long time on the plot set-up, with a reasonable amount of character development before the killer finally kicks into action. Maybe it spends a little too long on the build-up in fairness, as it does feel at times that the movie could do with a little more thrills and suspense but in the final half hour, the bloody action is certainly ramped up.
If you can overlook the moments of despair, there’s enough material in this low-budget shocker to make it worthwhile. And while the climax descends into little more than a killing spree, it’s energetic, gruesome and the plot twists satisfying.
**Hope You Enjoy these Groovy 70’s slasher flicks!**