FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jan 26, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: DRIVE-IN MASSACRE (1976)

I know what you're thinking! "Am I living in a cuckoo clock? Why is this post titled Chilling Classics Cthursday when today is clearly Cfriday? What kind of nonsense is this? Who does she think she's fooling? Or is it only Cthursday and I have somehow gained a day? Or lost a day? I don't even know what's happening anymore. Am I really me? Are any of us really any of us? Am I dead? If so, wow, I can't believe I'm reading Final Girl in heaven. It really seems more like a hell thing."

Well, I am sorry for triggering an existential time crisis. You are still alive (I assume), as am I (I'm pretty sure). It is indeed Cfriday. But reader, I was unable to post on Cthursday because the GD hamster wheel that powers my internet exploded a few days ago, stranding me in a ditch alongside the Information Superhighway for far too long. Not only did this cause me to fall behind on my stories (aka Real Housewives), it also meant that the world had to wait for my positively scintillating thoughts on Drive-In Massacre (1976).

But as of today I'm jacked back into the system, baby! So here we are, another week, another massacre. But did I dig this week's massacre-flavored flick as much as I did Memorial Valley Massacre? Read on to find out!

No, I didn't.

Mind, that is not to say that the cinematography in the film's opening moments weren't breathtaking to behold. 

While my earliest thoughts were "oh dear, this is truly going to be a slog," things (sort of) quickly heated up with the shockingly graphic murders of a young couple at the drive-in. The dude gets his head cut right off with a sword, and then the gal gets poked through the neck. The effects, while unsurprisingly amateurish, were likely made better-looking by the dogshit picture quality. Regardless, it was bloody and explicit and unexpected and I gasped, clutching my pearls as if I'd just seen someone's bare ankle.

I sat up straighter, feeling chastened that perhaps I'd underestimated Drive-In Massacre. But sadly, it wasn't long before I was slumped again as the movie shifted from grindhouse-y slasher to something that wanted to be more of a police procedural but was ultimately an exercise in tedium. 

Two cops show up at the scene of the crime and start interviewing people in great detail. In fact, interview scenes take up so much of the film's scant 73-minute runtime that 1) 73 minutes feels like 73 hours, and 2) it should maybe have been called Drive-In Interviews. First we meet the misanthropic manager, who hates his co-workers, his life, his paying customers, and probably you and me as well. "A couple-a horny kids got themselves chopped up by some kook. So what?" he says. I'll say this much for the bastard, his ice-cold black heart lurks beneath some baller looks. His impeccable fashion sense even came through on this Mill Creek transfer.

His outfits bowled me over even more when I got a load of the screencaps from the Severin Blu-ray. You know, when I could actually see stuff. 

I can't believe this is on Blu-ray! I don't know who out there is buying Drive-In Massacre at boutique Blu-ray prices, but more power to 'em I guess. Of course, I do wonder how much of a disservice it is (to the movies, to myself) to watch the awful CHILLLING CLASSICS versions...? But isn't that the whole point of this exercise? Hmm I'd better get on with things, I feel another existential crisis coming on.

The cops also talk to the drive-in's resident "half-wit" employee who knows most of the comings and the goings of the place and fills us in on some history: The drive-in was built on the former site of an Indian burial ground a carnival. The half-wit was a sword-swallower at said carnival. The owner of the carnival, who now owns the drive-in, is not in the movie but we're told he has an extensive sword collection. And the nattily-dressed manager? He used to be a knife-thrower at the carnival. So you see, anyone could be the sword-wielding killer.

Despite the double homicide by a maniac who is still on the loose, business at the drive-in continues apace. Sure enough, the next night another couple is killed as they make out. They're impaled together on a sword. That's right, dually-impaled lovers: A Bay of Blood, Friday the 13th Part 2, and Drive-In Massacre. Three of a kind!

The half-wit tells the cops that he saw the drive-in's resident peeping tom lurking about the couple's car before they were shish kebabbed. They manage to track him down and I love that this man has truly made "peeping tom" his lifestyle, what with his nudie mag decor. "I just wanted to beat my meat," he says, denying he was at the scene with murder on his mind.

The public is still not deterred by all of the killing, and yes, there is another killing, but this time it's off-screen. I have to say, there are seriously diminishing returns after that first dazzling head chop. Any steam this thing had--which wasn't much to being with--has long since dissipated by this point. We're treated to a scene of the recently-fired half-wit wandering around another carnival as we hear earlier lines repeated.

Then there's a long non-sequitur sequence in a warehouse, involving some random dude with a machete who's holding a young girl hostage. It all just kept getting messier and more convoluted, to the point that I doubt anyone in the movie had any idea what was going on. 

When the cops learn that the machete-wielding man isn't the killer, they assume it's actually the nattily-dressed manager for some reason. So they head to the drive-in to nab him, but the half-wit got there first and killed the manager in anger over his firing. At least that's what I think happened. The picture quality was so cruddy, I couldn't make out whatever it is they were shocked to find in the projection booth.

They open a door and find the half-wit's body (I think?), and then there's a text wrap-up.

But as Drive-In Massacre began with a shock, so it ends as the fourth wall shatters in our faces: There's the sound of the film flapping as the end of the reel hits, and a voiceover tells us that there is a killer in the theater...

It was actually kind of a cool (or fun at least) way to end the movie, one that was likely kind of neat if you actually saw this dreck at the drive-in. There's other stuff, too, lurking under the film's dullness that could have made it a weirdo...well, not a classic, certainly, but perhaps something approaching the Great Value found in massacres à la Nail Gun or Class Reunion. Lines of dialogue are flubbed and started over. One of the detectives goes undercover in full drag as the other detective's "wife" as they hope to catch the killer during a movie. I'm all about the aesthetics of the theater concession stand and carnival settings. And again, the drive-in manager's wardrobe, which exclusively comprises blazers over turtlenecks, is *chefs kiss* perfection.

An additional curio about Drive-In Massacre: it was co-written by George "Buck" Flower, who also appears uncredited as the warehouse machete dude. Flower, of course, was in seemingly every single movie and TV show ever made, including the John Carpenter films Escape from New York and They Live. Some of his notable characters include Bum, Vagrant, Tramp, Beggar, Drunk, and Gambler Drunk.

It's all those elements and undeniable charms that I will undoubtedly remember fondly a few years from now, prompting the desire to give Drive-In Massacre another go. Let's hope that the desire triggers yet another time crisis, wherein I skip it altogether.

Jan 18, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: MEMORIAL VALLEY MASSACRE (1988)

Hot dog, there's just somethin' about video store slasher trash that sets my heart (and my pants-heart) ablaze! I don't mean the familiar franchise fare, nor do I mean the familiar franchiseless fare. I'm talking about the D-tier stuff, the movies that you rent when you've rented everything else already. You pick up a copy of Terror at Tenkiller (1987) or Fatal Games (1984) or, oh I don't know, say, Memorial Valley Massacre (1988), give its sun-faded box the once-over, and present it to your partner-in-browsing with a shrug that says "This?" They respond with a shrug that says "I guess," and you go on your merry way to have what is a grand ol' time. Your results, of course, may vary. But my time with Memorial Valley Massacre? While I did not have the pleasure of nabbing it from the bottom shelf at a video store, I can say that my time with it was grand ol' indeed. 

If the horror movie 50-pack has a king, that king is undoubtedly Cameron Mitchell (last seen 'round stately Final Girl Manor during the most recent SHOCKtober, in Silent Scream). In a career that spanned a half-century, he appeared in...well, pretty much everything. This includes A+ mega-watt starpower epics that you can't believe never won any Academy Awards (The Swarm, obviously), episodes of television shows that could rightly be called the pinnacle of the medium (Mrs Columbo, obviously), to countless horror messterpieces that occupy much of the real estate in a collection like Chilling Classics. I wonder how many more times we will get to bask in the work of Mr Mitchell over the course of 2024 as I make my way through all 50 movies?

Side note: Did you know that The Swarm actually was nominated for a single Oscar? No, the dead child with oversized novelty lollipop did not earn a nom, sadly. But somehow the costume design did? How is this possible? No one even dressed up as a bee!

Anyway. On another sad note, Cameron Mitchell is only in, like, the first 90 seconds of Memorial Valley Massacre. It's a real bummer. On a happy note, however, he comes off like the love child of a wild night of passion between Ted Knight and Bert Remsen, which means he is the man of my dreams! Now you see why 90 seconds is not nearly enough time with him.

Mitchell is Allen Sangster, a developer who has big ideas about Memorial Valley. With plans for shopping areas, a ski resort, and more, the area will eventually become "the Poconos of the west" according to me. But for now, those are merely plans and wishes. On this day--on this Memorial Day--Sangster is opening the Memorial Valley Campground. There's still no running water, there have been workplace accidents, and a dead dog was found stuffed down a well, but no matter! The campground must open! The parade festival must go on! Yes, when there was one set of footprints, the Mayor of Amity Island was carrying him.

As Sangster drives away from the film and our hearts, the campers flood in to Memorial Valley. This kind of slasher movie--that is to say, one with tame violence, shitty gore, zero tension, and under-zero scares--is made or broken on the watchability of characters that are not likely to survive until the end credits roll. Blood Lake had Li'l Tony. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning had...well, everyone in it. I can tell you now that Memorial Valley Massacre is one of the most delightful terrible slasher flicks thanks to the folks who pull up an RV or a hatchback or whatever to the campground in the hopes of partying, doing it, or simply getting away from it all. If I may, allow me to introduce some of them, including...

The chubby, fey man-child Byron and his weird, doting parents. Byron gives big Francis from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure vibes. He loves to steal and all he wants to do is tear around the campground on his ATV. All of this is illegal, but Byron doesn't care about the laws of man. He makes his own rules, living life as it was meant to be lived, fast and reckless.

Next up, the least intimidating biker gang of all time. They are so vanilla that they make Fox, Loco, and Ali of Friday the 13th: Part III look like actual Hell's Angels. That said, they don't care if there's no water at the campground because they will wash their hair with beer instead, which is cool.

Here we have the patented slasher movie horny teens, who can never manage to figure out a partner-combination and actually have sex, to which I say: just be a throuple already. They are also the best examples showing why the Converse Outlet Store was thanked in Memorial Valley Massacre's credits. 

And finally my favorite, one Gloria "Pepper" Mintz (get it?), who looks like Diane Ladd in Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore but sounds less like Flo and more like Rogue from X-Men: The Animated Series, liberally sprinkling "sugah" throughout her dialogue.

The killer is quickly revealed to be a full ooka-ooka backwoods caveman (complete with jacked-up Spirit Halloween teeth) who backflips off a tree branch to take his place amongst the other ooka-ooka backwoods caveman killers from slashers like Rituals, The Final Terror, and Don't Go in the Woods...Alone.

We see Ooka-Ooka being gentle with other creatures of the forest; He's not a savage, he was merely pushed to savagery by all the people and the encroaching and the such, you see. 

There's a complicated backstory to how Ooka-Ooka got there in the first place, involving a kidnapping gone awry. His father, it turns out, is Head Ranger at the campground. In fact, he only took the job at the campground so he could put his "expert tracking skills" to use and find his son. He searched the area for 17 years with no luck until opening weekend, when two separate groups of people found Ooka-Ooka's cave within, like, a half hour. To Memorial Valley Massacre's credit, characters in the film also wonder at this.

Like most of us, Memorial Valley Massacre suffers from a saggy middle. People walk back and forth between the woods and the campground, carrying shotguns and rifles as they search for the bear they're sure is responsible for the deaths. But we know the truth! And soon enough they do, too, as Ooka-Ooka goes HAM in the last fifteen minutes or so. It's not explicit or convincing in any way, but it's super enjoyable.

The film's early running is also enjoyable as we meet characters like the ones I've pictured above as well as some I didn't, such as "Wife With Snakes." The tone, from the weird music to the weird dialogue will have you wondering if this is actually a comedy so much that if you are like me, you will write "is this a comedy?" in your notes. It's just, to bring it back to a movie I mentioned earlier, the New Beginning effect. It's not a comedy per se, but it's also not a serious affair, at least where the characters are concerned. 

Again, your results may vary, but me? I loved this. Needed more Cameron Mitchell, obviously, but I am willing to overlook that and its many other faults. I only have stars in my eyes and rubber teeth in my mouth for Memorial Valley Massacre.

Note! All of these screencaps were yoinked from YouTube, where you can watch when I presume is the print from the recent Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray, the film's first on-disc release. (Yes, apparently Vinegar Syndrome is doing the lawd's work and bringing many a Chilling Classic to the hi-def age.) But rest assured, I watched it on my cruddy 50-pack DVD, which is certainly a transfer of the VHS. I just thought...why should faithful Final Girl readers suffer though terrible image quality if they don't have to? See? I care!

Jan 11, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1973)

Not too long ago, I found myself digging around some nooks and crannies (hot, but not a euphemism) and unearthed myself a treasure from the naughty aughties: my Chilling Classics 50-movie pack, straight from theee esteemèd Mill Creek Entertainment.

Is she not a thing of beauty? She sure is. So many movies! So many fonts! 

So many Ls in the typo on the DVD sleeves!

Then again, is it a typo? Was it intentional? Does the extra L mean it's extra chilling? I guess we'll find out.

Actually, I've already found out what the extra L means, as I've seen many, many of these movies since the day this multi-pack descended from the heavens and landed in my lap. It stands for LOUSY QUALITY. Mind you, I'm not talking about the films themselves, necessarily. Some of my very favorite horror movies are in this 50-pack, and this 50-pack was the way I was introduced to them. I'm referring to the prints within this cardboard vault because boy, they are indeed lousy. It's shocking, I know. The idea of 50 movies plopped onto a mere 12 discs screams high-quality! But no. Mill Creek is the self-proclaimed "leader in value entertainment," making no claim to providing anything beyond dogshit transfers and the worst edits of films in existence. Ya pays yuh money, ya takes yuh chances. That's how we did it in the multi-pack days, kids. We were reckless. Some might say foolish. Mill creek would call us RECKLLLESS and FOOLLLISH. I don't know where I'm going with this.

Anyway. Finding this box o' gems (I use that term loosely, mostly) was a rather fortuitous event with which to kick off another new year. Having recently finished re-reading Into the Wild, I'd been thinking to myself "Hmm, mayhaps I should strive to undergo more adventures in 2024." Not long after that thought, I saw the "50" on the cover it triggered a memory wherein I remembered that there are roughly 50 weeks in a year. You see where I'm going with this? That's right. I gave it away in the post title: Chilling Classics Cthursdays. 

Every week throughout the year I'll tackle another of these movies as ordained by RNGesus. That is to say, I've numbered each of them and a random number generator will choose the fare each week. Kicking it off is a little something I'd never seen before, Hannah, Queen of Vampires...but as, again, Mill Creek only provides the finest cuts of film with the best, most original titles, herein it's called Crypt of the Living Dead. It's from 1973! It's got Andrew Prine! Not a bad way to kick off Chilling Classics Cthursdays if you ask me, and by reading this you kind of did.

Let me just say right up front that while that poster is cool, it's pretty misleading. Anyone looking for a scantily-clad babe caught right in the middle of some kind of Animorph situation is going to be disappointed. 

Also let me say right up front that this print is pure Mill Creek FOOLLLERY. The picture quality is atrocious, the audio is so bad and garbled that most scenes sound like two Charlie Brown teachers conversing with each other, and there's what seems to be a wayward pube trapped in the corner of the frame for longer than I personally feel comfortable with. But hey: Ya pays yuh money, ya takes yuh chances!

Lady, that pube is making fools of us both

Crypt of the Living Dead starts out with some Black Sunday vibes as a fellow walks through a crypt on a dark and stormy night--there are slow pans over a cobweb-covered cover a sarcophagus and everything. There's some type of be-robed, Satanic-esque priest lurking about, as well as a scruffy-looking weirdo, and before you know it, the fellow is strangled and then smushed under the sarcophagus.

Enter one Andrew Prine, majestically, in a suit and on a boat, to retrieve and bury the body of his father.

Yes, his father was the smushed fellow in the crypt. He was an archaeologist studying...stuff...on the island, which is home to a bunch of legends and superstitious folk. It seems that the sarcophagus contains the body of a woman purported to be a vampire queen, sealed away 700 years ago. Her name was (is?) Hannah, which...doesn't strike me as a particularly intimidating vampire name. This is not a slight on any Hannahs who may be reading this! It's just...I don't know. "Ahh! It's the Vampire Queen Hannah!" doesn't really work for me, that's all. Again, no offense; "Ahh! It's the Vampire Queen Stacie!" would be even worse. You can't just have Vampire Queen Regular Name, you know? You need a Carmilla. Or a Bludmilla. Maybe a Lady Mortadella. Hmm, maybe the -lla is the key to it sounding cool? ("Don't you mean the -llla?" -- Mill Creek) Vampire queen Hannalla--now see, that would work.

At any rate, in order to get to his father's smushed body, Andrew Prine needs to move the sarcophagus. To move the sarcophagus, the lid needs to come off. The hardy, seafaring locals that give me Dagon vibes warn against this, as it will release (sigh) Hannah. Andrew Prine, a Scully on an island full of Mulders, goes ahead with the plan anyway, telling them all that there will be naught in that stony tomb but a pile of bones and dust. It's been 700 years, after all. But guess what, fools! Hannah is intact and hot, looking like she just settled down for a nap minutes ago.

As she's not fully awake yet, she only has the power to transform into a fart cloud and a wolf. When she's a wolf, she can only attack other animals. Which she does! The blood helps her wake. It's pretty bog standard stuff, really.

Besides Andrew Prine, there are two other foreign interlopers here on what the locals call Vampire Island. (No, they're not a particularly creative bunch.) There's Peter, who is writing an historical fiction novel and, in what is not at all a twist because we saw his face as plain as day at the start of the movie, is the priest/monk dude who was there when the smush-ening happened. And there's Peter's sister Mary, who is the island's teacher because she feels like it. No, Peter and Mary do not have a brother Paul, so don't get excited, hippies!

Peter, No Paul, and Mary

The scruffy weirdo, who was responsible for the smush-ening, is a bit like Hannah's Renfield, I suppose. It's not really explained. But he absconds with Mary one night for some reason, but he's thwarted by Andrew Prine, who pulls off a scarf that was covering half of scruffy weirdo's face. Mary goes "Eww," and the scruffy weirdo screams and runs away, his feelings presumably hurt real bad. After this, Mary and Andrew Prine fall in love.

Crypt of the Living Dead runs into a bit of a pacing problem as Hannah's tomb is opened early on and then she just sort of lies there for a long time as Andrew Prine tells everyone they're wrong about the vampires and an old blind man, the island's Crazy Ralph, plays his accordion and foists garlic on people.

Once Hannah is finally up and about, she wreaks mild, slow-motion havoc. She walks around slowly (the girl could really learn a thing or two from Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees about walking with purpose) and stares at people.

Sometimes she cross-fades into a wolf. Other times, when cornered by townsfolk, she just

It's hard to see her as a real threat or a real...well, anything really, because she never speaks a word. Not a word! I don't need a whole blah blah villain monologue or anything, but this 700-year old, freshly-reanimated vampire queen is just sort of there, and that just sort of stinks.

There is one shot that would probably be cool if I could actually see it, which is Hannah walking down a hallway in her vampire gown. I'm a sucker for a long shot of diaphanous gown or, in a pinch, a robe down a hallway! Messiah of Evil, Dominique, One Dark Night...I don't care what movie it's in, it's one of my favorite gothic-ish stock horror movie  set-ups.

If you squint really hard, you can almost see what I'm talking about

Okay yes, at the eleventh hour she does finally show off her fangs when she bites Peter, who is into it because he wants to be immortal and serve her. I get it!

Eventually Andrew Prine and Hannah face off in the cemetery in the pre-dawn hours and boy oh boy, it's majestic! 

I assume, because you can't see shit!

Again, squint and maybe you'll see something

Hannah catches on fire, goes over a cliff, and...well, let's just say that that whole five minutes was the best part of the movie. I legitimately loved it, it was wild! Even the rest of Crypt of the Living Dead: this is not a beloved film or a hidden gem, I don't think, but despite my tone in this post I enjoyed this. It's super formulaic and often glacially slow. I'd say the characters were paper-thin, but I'm not entirely sure they even count as characters, exactly. The whole "old-ass evil lady returns to life" has been done to much better effect elsewhere plenty of times over. 

But I'll watch any Andrew Prine movie any time. A cobweb-covered sarcophagus you say? Sign me up. Seaside horror? Yes please. That Hannah-on-fire climax? Fuck yeah! Count me in, Crypt of the Living Dead

Still, the film leaves one with many unanswered questions. As Andrew Prine and Mary leave Vampire Island, who will teach the children? To that end, what the fuck is the deal with Vampire Island? Before Hannah was awakened, Mary was literally the only woman there. Given these "one woman and a shit ton of men" demographics, perhaps Vampire Island should be renamed Smurf Island?

The biggest question I had, however, was why the cardboard sleeve for this said that Crypt of the Living Dead was in color. When the film began, I wondered if my eyesight was failing, or if Mill Creek lied. After all, the cardboard sleeve also said that Peter and Andrew Prine were vying for Mary's affection, which is not true. Well! When the movie was over, I did some computer hacking and found out that what the fuck YES, this movie is supposed to be in color! Imagine, if you will, when I saw the screencaps from the recent Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray release. Yes, imagine my face, as I will imagine your face when you see the screencaps now!

Can you believe it? Look at this shit side by side!

Sakes alive. Lush colors! The correct aspect ratio! Edges! Contrast! Nary a wayward pube in sight!

Oh well. That's Mill Creek, baby! Ya pays yuh money, ya takes yuh chances.

While I was jacked into the system, I also discovered that there isn't much info about this movie out there, not even on that Vinegar Syndrome release, probably because no one cares. It was a joint American-Spanish production, filmed on a Turkish island--beyond the cast and crew lists, that's all we've got. Do I care enough to watch it again, all cleaned up and in color, as it was meant to be seen? Probably not. But was my time with it the perfect way to kick off Chilling Classics Cthursday? Probably yes!