One of the things I love so much about the horror genre is just how many sub-sections there are to it. I mean, if you were so inclined or just in the mood, you could focus your movie viewing leisure time specifically to the supernatural, or to zombies, or perhaps werewolves & vampires, or monsters (oh my)! But for me, I personally like to get seasonal with my horror movies. And so with summer officially upon us, this is the time of year I break out all of my favorite (and obscure) summer slasher horror! We figured we’d give you 6 recommendations so you could get into the summer slasher spirit as well; some of which are well known, some obscure and some recent ones that just warrant another look in the off chance you missed ‘em upon their initial release. The 'Friday The 13th' films are a given, so you won’t find those on this particular list, but let’s see if you guys have seen any of these other following picks.
Just Before Dawn (1981) – For some reason I thought 'Just Before Dawn' was one of the first films by director Jeff Leiberman, but it turns out he made this “slasher in the woods” flick after his cult classic features films 'Blue Sunshine' and 'Squirm.' But regardless of where it falls on his filmography chronologically, it’s one of the few rarely seen early 80’s "slashers" that I like recommending to people. Why? It’s pretty standard, traditional slasher fodder. A group of campers go out into the woods to check out a piece of property and get fair warning from Roy McLean (played by good ol’ George Kennedy) not to go out there in those woods. What’s the scoop? There’s a killer out there, of course! But what sets this movie apart from the other crop of similar themed movies of that era is the minimalistic approach. The killer doesn’t wear a mask, yet he falls in line somewhere between Jason Voorhees and Leatherface. Picture Leatherface without his trademark mask and it’s what you’ve got here. Also, there’s barely any score and the majority of the film takes place during the day, so the brightly lit scenes coupled with the lack of any real music or noise only adds to the movie’s overall creepiness. And the kids are all fairly likable, including a very young Gregg Henry. There’s also a fun little twist regarding the mayhem causing killer, but I’ll leave it up to you guys to discover on your own. This one’s worth seeking out and is a nice little warm up for the summer slasher season.
Return To Sleepaway Camp (2008) – Yes, there are 3 other 'Sleepaway Camp' movies before this and I imagine your natural inclination is to head straight for the first (and best) film of the series. But 'Return To Sleepaway Camp,' while technically the 4th film in the franchise, is the only true direct sequel to the original which brings back writer/director Robert Hiltzik, actors Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten and Paul DeAngelo. Also added to this wacky mix are Vincent Pastore (best known for his role as Big Pussy on HBO's 'The Sopranos') and Isaac Hayes (in his last film role) playing the Chef. (Get it? He played Chef on 'South Park?') All I can say about this movie is it’s an absolutely vile piece of cinematic trash… and I love every second of it! If you want to see teenagers, and I mean actual young teenagers, not adult actors trying to pass for teens being extremely loud, horrible and profane while doing terrible things to each other, then this sleazy little sequel should be right up your alley. And while on first viewing I found the acting and behavior of these kids to be appalling, I was reminded by Icons Of Fright co-creator Mike C. that the original 'Sleepaway Camp' was no different, except for the fact that it had a slightly better more traditional orchestrated score. (That always makes a movie feel better than it actually is.) Alan (Michael Gibney in his one & only lead performance) makes for an odd protagonist. He’s a slob of a human being that picks on all the younger kids, yet also gets bullied by his contemporaries, as well as by one of the British camp counselors Randy (Brye Cooper) who seems to encourage the boy’s mockery. The only person who seems to show any kind of sympathy for Alan is Petey (Kate Simses), another one of the camp counselors. But that doesn’t really matter, because someone is running around killing people at the summer camp and it’s either Alan, or the long lost Angela from the original 'Sleepaway Camp.' Your best bet for this one is to get a group of friends together, self-inebriate and prepare to laugh at the despicable nature of these characters and cheer for a few of the over the top kills.
The Burning (1981) – Of all the titles on this recommendation list, 'The Burning' is probably the most well-known, and with good reason! It’s one of the first productions from the infamous Weinstein Brothers, it features killer practical FX gags courtesy of Tom Savini, the cast consists of a huge group of familiar faces in some of their first ever film rolls such as Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens & Holly Hunter, and last but certainly not least, the fine folks over at Scream Factory have just given the film a Criterion style special edition on Blu-Ray, which quite frankly looks fantastic. It starts out with a "camp fire story-esque" origin for Cropsy (Lou David), the camp caretaker whom the kids accidentally set on fire during a prank gone wrong. Well, OK, maybe it’s not so accidental; they just really don’t like him. Years later, the deformed Cropsy is released from the hospital and immediately goes back to the camp… errr… I mean, he picks up a hooker in NYC for a random kill first, and then goes back to the camp. Anyways, he eventually sets his sights on a new crop of teenagers at his former camp stomping grounds & unleashes unholy hell on them with a pair of garden shears. While the movie might be slow for your modern horror audience, the things that stand out are the very likable and seemingly innocent kids (there’s a reason they all became big stars) and of course, the bloody FX of Tom Savini at a time when he was at his absolute peek of gory excellence.
Madman (1982) – Ah yes, one of my personal favorites. Partially for nostalgic reasons, but also because it was made in Long Island where I'm from and hence it made it feel all the more real. Made around the same time as 'The Burning,' 'Madman' is the traditional camp fire ghost tale. The story of a man who went bonkers and chopped his wife & kids up with an axe only to be strung up & killed by the townspeople seeking a little vigilante justice. Rumor has it, Madman Marz is still in those woods and if you call his name out loud enough, he’ll come and get ya! But that doesn’t stop this particular group of kids and counselors from staying at the nearby camp. And again, while more modern audiences might find the build up a little too on the slow side, I think it’s all worth it for when our title character finally does emerge from the shadows! There’s just something creepy & cool about good ol’ Madman Marz. For whatever reason, I’m surprised this early 80’s one-off never got a sequel, but at least you can enjoy the original on DVD. Grab a group of friends, roast a few marshmallows and prepare to marvel at some cool kills, in particular a decapitation by car hood!
The Tripper (2006) – Any day now, this one is going to develop a mass cult following. It’s the directorial debut of actor David Arquette (who also plays a small role), it boasts an all-star cast including Jaime King ('Mother's Day,' 'My Bloody Valentine 3D'), Lukas Haas, Thomas Jane ('The Mist'), Jason Mewes ('Clerks') and Balthazar Getty ('Feast'); and it features an axe-wielding maniac dressed up as former president Ronald Regan!? The movie takes place at a huge music festival being put on by a sleazy event promoter (played with much profanity laced glee by Paul Ruebens, yes, Pee Wee Herman himself) out in the woods. Christopher Nelson dons the mask of "the gipper" and hacks & slashes his way through an eclectic group of teens & hippies. It’s pretty crazy, a lot of fun, boasts a tremendous amount of humor and is a pretty solid directorial debut from Arquette. Would love to see him tackle another horror flick!
The Hills Run Red (2009) – Any chance I get to mention the vastly underrated 'The Hills Run Red,' I'll take it! And not only is this a bad-ass flick from director Dave Parker ('The Dead Hate The Living'), but it’s easily one of my favorite slashers of the last decade. Bold words? Look no further than that visage of the films' iconic looking killer Babyface, who wears a mask that looks like a corroded porcelain baby doll face held together on his face with barbed wire. (Ouch!) And while this isn’t the traditional "campers go out into the woods" style story, it’s a similar enough set-up to consider it a "summer slasher." A group of young documentarians are scouring the woods that served as the shooting locations for the rarely seen long lost horror movie 'The Hills Run Red.' They figure with the only known actress (Sophie Monk) from the film in tow and a little luck, perhaps they can find clues that will lead them to the director of 'Hills.' What they don’t count on is that the legend of Babyface, the films' killer is real and the maniac is still out there in those woods. Because there are plenty of surprising twists and turns to the conventional summer slasher formula along the way and Babyface is easily one of the coolest looking movie maniacs, that makes this one of the best "slasher" in recent memory.
How many of the above have you seen? And what summer "slashers" due you watch during the summer season?