Posts Tagged ‘Slasher’

31. Halloween 4 (1988)

Director: Dwight H. Little

Starring: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes, but his readers wouldn’t have it. So,  Doyle had to come up with an explanation as to why it had only appeared that Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, had apparently died together from a fall off a cliff. After the abysmal failure of “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” the late Moustapha Akkad was left with a similar task to Doyle’s. The final scene of “Halloween II” saw both the psychotic, knife-wielding killer Michael Myers and his ‘Holmes,’ Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), apparently burning to death in a gas fire explosion at  Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. Although Jamie Lee Curtis had given him an out by declining to return, Akkad was still left with the unenviable task of finding a way of explaining how his series’ other two main characters could have survived.

At the film’s beginning (which was originally to have included an introduction explaining what REALLY happened at the end of Film #2), we learn that neither Dr. Loomis nor Michael Myers had perished in the fire at the hospital. It is now ten years after that brutal night, and Michael is in heavy bandages and lies in a coma at Ridgemont Federal Sanitarium, from where he is being prepped for transfer to Smith’s Grove. The ambulance crew make the mistake of mentioning the existence of his niece, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), and Michael suddenly awakens and kills everyone in the ambulance.

Learning of the incident, a heavily scarred Dr. Loomis is quickly on the scene, where he and others find the ambulance lying on its side in a creek, twisted and blood-stained. Although the severity of the wreck makes it impossible to tell who’s who among the casualties, Dr. Loomis knows Michael is not among them. Despite the sheer implausibility of anyone suddenly waking from a decade-long coma with muscles that haven’t atrophied, this does make for a visually exciting beginning. Loomis knows Michael will be heading back to Haddonfield to hunt down his niece, and races to warn Sheriff Meeker (Beau Starr) to be ready for Myers’ impending arrival.

After locating Jamie and her older stepsister, Rachel (Ellie Cornell), Loomis and Meeker are horrified to discover that Michael has annihilated everyone inside the police station. It is at this time that a band of vigilantes from the local bar arrive on the scene and take it upon themselves to track down and kill Michael. This prompts the Sheriff to call for official police reinforcements, blockading Rachel, Jamie, Brady (Sasha Jenson) and Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont) inside the Meeker home. It isn’t long before Michael shows up at the house, killing a deputy, Kelly (pinning her to a wall by shoving a shotgun through her!) and then Brady, and chasing Rachel and Jamie up onto the roof in one of the film’s more memorable scenes.

Both of the girls eventually fall to the ground below, and Dr. Loomis escorts Jamie to the schoolhouse, trying unsuccessfully to subdue Michael. This leads to perhaps the most preposterous scene in the whole movie (and yes, that includes Michael awakening from his coma with full strength and the aforementioned shotgun impalement). The group of vigilantes arrive in their truck to take the girls out of town, and thus out of danger. But Michael has other ideas, hitching a ride on the truck unbeknownst to everyone. From there, he somehow manages to individually dispose of every single one of the vigilantes without the rest of them ever hearing a sound. Never mind that he makes a ton of noise accomplishing this feat. He eventually kills the driver, too, (and in the movie’s bloodiest scene of all) by ripping the man’s neck wide open. Eww.

Rachel takes control of the truck and rams right into Michael, knocking him senseless several feet away. Although she is told to stay in the truck, Jamie gets out anyway and touches hands with her uncle. Sheriff Meeker then arrives with the squad of deputies, who raise their guns just in time to keep Michael from stabbing his niece from behind, sending him crashing into an old mine shaft. No way he’s getting out of there, right? Hey, if he can survive getting freaking burned alive in a gas fire…!

Back at the Carruthers home, all seems quiet. Even Dr. Loomis, although injured from the battle at the schoolhouse, appears to be all right. Jamie’s stepmom decides to draw her a bath. Jamie is still wearing her Halloween costume, which looks strikingly similar to the one worn by her uncle the night he killed his older sister Judith in 1963. Sure enough, Jamie puts on her mask, grabs a pair of scissors from the next room, enters the bathroom and stabs her stepmom. The shrieking alarms Dr. Loomis, who races to find Jamie at the top of the stairs, covered in her stepmom’s blood, and still wielding the scissors. Mortified by the scene in front of him, Dr. Loomis instinctively pulls out his gun, intending to kill Jamie. Sheriff Meeker wrestles the gun from Loomis’s hand and spins around to look up at Jamie. Rachel and Jamie’s stepfather arrive just afterwards. Everyone is in shock. Loomis in particular is both horrified and saddened, crumpling to the floor and able only to utter the word “No!” over and over. It appears that Evil has been passed (rather than destroyed) from uncle to niece and that Innocence has been corrupted once again.

What would have otherwise been an okay, yet totally unnecessary sequel is made ten times better by its conclusion. No matter how many times I have personally seen it, that final image of 11 year-old Danielle Harris wearing the bloody Halloween clown costume and holding up the pair of scissors in striking position is hard to erase from my mind. I just wish the producers would have had the guts to run full steam with this ending into the next (inevitable) sequel, because I think then that “Halloween 5” could have had the potential to become the most terrifying film in the franchise, or at least the best of the sequels.

“Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” could have benefited from a little MORE restraint in the gore department, methinks. A couple of the deaths in this film are just plain ridiculous (in particular the previously mentioned Kelly Meeker). It’s Zombie Jason of the latter “Friday the 13th” sequels ridiculous. I also wish they could’ve gotten a more imposing mask for George Wilbur to wear in this film. Danielle Harris’s clown mask was scarier than that silly thing… even before the final shot! Still, a very decent entry in one of the greatest of all horror film series.

29. Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Director: Deborah Brock

Starring: Crystal Bernard, Patrick Lowe, Kimberly McArthur, Juliette Cummins, Heidi Kozak, Joel Hoffman, Scott Westmoreland, Atanis Ilitch

Usually, I have to look overseas to find a horror movie as ridiculous as this! Since “The Slumber Party Massacre” was released five years earlier, the slasher genre had been altered forever by the introduction (and subsequent popularity of) the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. I mention this, because the existence of that franchise is the only satisfactory explanation I can come up with to rationalize the complete left turn into absurdity that is made by “Slumber Party Massacre II.” I only wish it had sustained the madness throughout its scant 75 minute runtime.

Courtney Bates (Crystal Bernard), the youngest survivor from the first film, is now a young adult who is plagued by nightmares of her earlier traumatic experience. She’s in an all-girl rock band, whose music you would only pretend to enjoy if you were her boyfriend or were looking to date her. The band, which includes Sheila (Juliette Cummins), Sally (Heidi Kozak) and Amy (Kimberly McArthur), go to a condo owned by Sheila’s parents where they intend to have a slumber party for the weekend. Matt (Patrick Lowe) is invited to come watch the band play and get to know Courtney, while Sheila’s boyfriend T.J. (Joel Hoffmann) and his buddy Jeff (Scott Westmoreland) crash the party.

All the while, Courtney’s disturbing nightmares persist. The dreams include the sight of her sister, Valerie, in a mental institution, as well as a man dressed in black and wielding a guitar with a large drill bit attached to the neck. These dark visions start to spill over into the waking world, confusing Courtney, worrying her friends and annoying local police. Finally, the Driller Killer emerges into the real world by killing Matt right in front of Courtney. With song and dance, he kills each of Courtney’s friends one by one until just the two of them are left. Courtney wins the battle, fulfilling the Driller Killer’s wish for her to “Light My Fire” by setting him ablaze. That’s when the movie, which has already been weird enough, takes a turn for the utterly mystifying with an ending that appears to show that the whole movie has been one big fakeout dream. Courtney first wakes up in her condo bed with Matt (which would only have nullified part of the movie) before he transforms into the Driller Killer. She screams, only to find that it is she, not her sister, who is in a mental institution. I give up.

The only real reason to watch this movie is for Atanas Illitch, who plays the Driller Killer. Atanas Illitch, the son of Mike Illitch (owner of the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings, and owner/founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza), puts everything he’s got into the role, and what comes out is a terrifically hammy, 100% entertaining performance. Crystal Bernard is the only cast member to go on to anything of any real significance, starring on the hit 1990s TV sitcom “Wings,” but you probably wouldn’t have gauged that future success based on this movie. The sad thing about the Driller Killer is that the mayhem (and the awesomeness) doesn’t get underway until the film’s final 25 minutes. You’re left to either fast forward to that point, or suffer the first 50 minutes, which are excruciating apart from some female nudity. If you’re not into that, then yeah… it’s gonna be a chore to sit through, and all for a payoff that’s sorta/kinda worth it.

28. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Director: Amy Holden Jones

Starring: Michele Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villella, Debra Deliso, Andree Honore, Gina Mari, Jennifer Meyers

Unimpressed by horror movies with nuanced plots? Looking for something extremely lightweight? Have you ever wondered what a slasher movie written and directed by women would look like? “The Slumber Party Massacre” is your app for that. Made during the height of the slasher genre’s popularity, “The Slumber Party Massacre” was intended as a parody of the genre, but was filmed straight. As a result, this low-budget horror still contains some of the humor from the original script, yet is unburdened by standard things such as plot or character development.

Trish (Michele Michaels) is a high school students whose parents are going away for the weekend. This provides an opportunity for Trish and friends Kim (Debra Deliso), Diane (Gina Mari), and Jackie (Andree Honore) to get together for a slumber party. Trish also wants to invite Valerie (Robin Stille), the new girl in school, but is turned down when Valerie overhears Diane talking trash about her in the girls’ locker room. Meanwhile, a serial killer named Russ Thorn (Michael Villella) has escaped from prison, looking to add to the list of five murders for which he’d been serving time. His weapon of choice: a power drill. Quickly, he kills a telephone repair woman and appropriates her van, and then kills a female student who becomes locked in the school after going back for a textbook.

As night falls, the slumber party begins. Three boys, including Diane’s boyfriend, show up to join in. Instead of going to the party, Valerie, who lives next door, has elected to stay home and babysit her younger sister, Courtney (Jennifer Meyers). Their relationship seems to be a contentious one, full of squabbling and insults… so, your typical sibling rivalry. Courtney wants to be where the fun is, but Valerie says “no” to the party. It isn’t long before Russ Thorn shows up to crash the party, killing a neighbor who’d promised Trish’s mother he’d watch over the house. Thorn gets into Trish’s house via the garage door, which no one in the house seems to have a firm grasp on how to close properly. Diane and her boyfriend, who step out to the garage for a make out session, are next to die.

Inside the house, nothing yet seems to be amiss. While Trish is on the phone with her gym teacher (who is quite clearly no more than five years older than her students) discussing a recent baseball game, the others are waiting for the pizza guy to show up. When he does, the girls are horrified to see him collapse to the floor dead, with bloody holes drilled where his eyes ought to be. The coach overhears the screams, then calls Valerie to check on the situation before deciding it’s better if she goes there personally. No further calls to or from Trish’s house are possible, as Thorn has cut the phone line. Both of the remaining boys are killed outside the house.

Back inside, Thorn kills Jackie, causing Trish and Kim to barricade themselves upstairs. When Courtney takes it upon herself to go check out the party, Valerie follows her, hoping to find out if everything’s okay over there. Scared out of their minds at this point, Trish and Kim wonder if Valerie and the killer aren’t somehow in cahoots. Thorn breaks into the bedroom and attacks Trish and Kim, stealing Kim’s knife and stabbing her to death with it. Valerie and Courtney enter the house and discover Kim’s body stuffed inside the refrigerator. Courtney hides under the couch, while Valerie eludes Thorn by going down to the basement.

With Courtney still under the couch, Thorn switches places with the dead pizza guy under the sheet which the girls had placed over the body. Just then, the coach shows up, but Thorn gets the drop on her and kills her. Trish, who was nearby, stabs Thorn, but that just pisses him off. After taking her time choosing a weapon with which to arm herself, Valerie emerges from the basement to attack Thorn with a machete. The action spills outside near Trish’s family swimming pool. There, Valerie cuts off a piece of the drill bit from Thorn’s power drill before cutting off his left hand as he falls into the swimming pool. Believing the nightmare is over, Valerie and Trish hug. Suddenly, Thorn leaps out of the swimming pool, only to fall directly onto the machete, still being held tightly by Valerie.

“The Slumber Party Massacre” is cheap, and definitely looks it. But this is a slasher movie, and they work best when they appear rough around the edges in every respect. Kudos to actor Michael Villella, whose crazy eyes are the creepiest thing about this movie. The movie itself scores points by cutting through the BS and skipping right into the action. I do wonder what it would have looked like had the satirical nature of the original script been followed to the letter. But the end result is a movie that belongs as part of a horror marathon. There are certainly less interesting ways to spend 75 minutes of your time.

 

23. Hatchet II (2010)

Director: Adam Green

Starring: Danielle Harris, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, Parry Shen, Tom Holland, R.A. Mihailoff, A.J. Bowen, Alexis Peters, Ed Ackerman, David Foy, Colton Dunn, Rick McCallum

No mistake, “Hatchet” was a visual treat for all horror fans. But that abrupt ending still sticks in the mind. There needed to be more story! Fortunately, that’s where “Hatchet II” comes in handy. Besides continuing the plot, “Hatchet II” would also have to deal with the need to recast its returning lead character. Considering that the cast of the first film was filled with genre actors, it made perfect sense to add another one to the mix. So… back to it!

Picking up immediately where “Hatchet” left off, Marybeth Dunston (now played by Danielle Harris) narrowly escapes an attack from Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) and seeks refuge in a cabin occupied by Jack Cracker (John Carl Beuchler), the ‘prophet of doom’ from the first film. She is soon chased out of the cabin at gunpoint after divulging her surname. Jack tells her to seek out Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd). Soon after she leaves, Victor Crowley kills Jack Cracker by pulling out his intestines, using them to strangle him with such force that Jack is decapitated (all for comic effect, of course)!

When Marybeth goes to see Reverend Zombie, he tells her the tour boat she boarded was one of his. After learning her last name, Zombie also tells Marybeth that her father was one of the teenagers who accidentally set fire to the Crowley house, the incident which led to Victor’s accidental death (as detailed in the first film). It is also revealed that Victor was the product of an affair between his father, Thomas (Kane Hodder), and a nurse who was caring for Thomas’s dying wife.

Marybeth insists upon returning to the swamp to retrieve the bodies of her dead father and brother. Reverend Zombie agrees to take her, on one very specific condition: Marybeth must bring along a family member. It takes some doing, but Marybeth manages to persuade her uncle Bob (noted horror actor/writer/director Tom Holland) to accompany her. Reverend Zombie forms a posse with the promise of payment. He also lies to Justin (Parry Shen) about the fate of his twin brother Shawn.

Once in the swamp, the tour boat is located, and the group splits up to search for both Victor Crowley and the bodies of Marybeth’s family. Reverend Zombie tells Justin the identities of the three kids who started the fire that killed Victor Crowley: In addition to Marybeth’s father, Sampson, there also was his brother and Trent Graves (R.A. Mihailoff), the latter of whom is part of the posse which Zombie has brought to the swamp. The Reverend believes that Crowley’s soul can finally rest once he’s avenged himself upon each of his three former tormentors.

As the search for the bodies of Sampson and Ainsley Dunston carries on, Victor Crowley systematically kills off each member of the hunting party one-by-one in increasingly absurd ways. At this point, the only survivors left are Marybeth, Bob, Trent, Justin, and Revernd Zombie. Barricading themselves inside the Crowley cabin, they do not remain safe for long. Justin is killed first. In a futile attempt to save him, Bob accidentally lets Victor inside the cabin. Victor kills Trent first, and then tunrs his attention to Bob. Reverend Zombie grabs Marybeth and leaves, but not before locking Bob inside. Victor kills Bob rather easily. Marybeth is distraught, but Reverend Zombie stands victorious. The Reverend’s bubble is quickly burst when Marybeth tells him that her uncle died years ago, and that Bob is merely her father’s best friend.

A very much alive Victor Crowley emerges from the cabin and kills Reverend Zombie. Marybeth has seen enough. Using Victor’s own hatchet against him, Marybeth sinks it right into Victor’s forehead. Unsatisfied after he has fallen to the ground, Marybeth hits Victor over and over again with the hatchet until very little resembling a skull remains. She then walks off-screen as Victor’s body continues to twitch, returning with Reverend Zombie’s shotgun which she unloads into Victor’s exposed brains. As she does this, the movie abruptly ends.

In many ways, I find “Hatchet II” to be a sequel that surpasses the original. Once again, it’s the collection of horror icons as well as the copious amounts of blood and gore that make it all work. Although I miss Tamara Feldman as Marybeth, I’m a huge Danielle Harris fan, so having her on board for “Hatchet II” was a major selling point for me. I can’t imagine this movie without Danielle. There is, of course, a “Hatchet III,” but I’ve not seen that one yet and don’t currently have access to a copy, so a review of that film will have to wait for another time. As for “Hatchet II,” if you liked the first one (and I can’t see any reason why you shouldn’t), then Part II will give you everything you’re looking for.

22. Hatchet (2006)

Director: Adam Green

Starring: Joel David Moore, Tamara Feldman, Deon Richmond, Mercedes McNab, Parry Shen, Joleigh Fioreavanti, Joel Murray, Richard Riehle, Patrika Darbo, Joshua Leonard, Tony Todd, Robert Englund, Kane Hodder

Before Sylvester Stallone got a bunch of his buddies together for the “Expendables” series of action films, the horror genre had already conceived of “Hatchet,” a virtual who’s-who of genre actors made by horror fans for horror fans. Having much in common with the “Friday the 13th” series, “Hatchet” is never once meant to be taken seriously. It’s just a bloody, often hilarious way to spend 80 minutes of your time.

Sampson Dunston (Robert Englund) and son Ainsley (Joshua Leonard) are fishing in a Louisiana swamp when they are attacked and killed by a monstrous, unidentified assailant. The next day, during Mardi Gras, Ben (Joel David Moore) decides that the festivities aren’t his kind of thing and instead elects to go on a haunted swamp tour. Despite his better judgment, Ben’s best friend Marcus (Deon Richmond) decides to accompany him. Sadly, the tour has been closed due to negligence. The tour’s guide, Rev. Zombie (Tony Todd) recommends a similar tour down the street run by Shawn (Parry Shen), who neglects to tell his customers beforehand that he’s only done this once before. Marcus nearly leaves, but changes his mind when two amateur porn actresses, Misty (Mercedes McNab) and Jenna (Joleigh Fioreavanti) join the group. Also along for the ride are the girls’ director, Doug Shapiro (Joel Murray), and Jim and Shannon Permatteo (Richard Riehle and Patrika Darbo). The final guest on the boat ride to Hell is Marybeth Dunston (Tamara Feldman), sister of Ainsley and daughter of Sampson.

Along the way, a homeless man warns them not to go any further, but Shawn dismisses him entirely. Soon after, the boat hits a rock and starts to sink, forcing the passengers to continue on foot. During the tour, Shawn had been reading from a set of cards the legend of Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), a horribly deformed creature who once lived in this very swamp. But he’d apparently been getting several of his facts wrong, including the location of the Crowley home, as Marybeth corrects him at every turn.

Once it’s established that the crew is indeed stranded, Marybeth details the true legend of Victor Crowley. In an origin story which sounds (deliberately) similar to that of Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th,” Victor Crowley was a horribly disfigured child who was constantly tormented by kids his own age. As a result, his father kept him hidden away in the house in which they lived. The house accidentally caught on fire one night when a group of mean teenagers threw fireworks at it to scare Victor. His father tried to free Victor by breaking down the door with a hatchet, but accidentally killed his son by driving the hatchet into Victor’s head. His father later died of a broken heart. That would be the end of the story, except that the legend says that Victor is alive somehow, and one can still occasionally hear him calling out for his dead father.

The legend proves to be true, as Victor emerges from the house and kills both Jim and Shannon. Marybeth tries shooting Victor, but he just gets right back up. Shapiro, who has gone off on his own, is hunted down and killed by Victor. The others go looking for weapons. In the process, Marybeth discovers the corpses of her father and brother. Victor returns and kills Jenna and Shawn. While Ben goes looking for a gas can to set Victor on fire, Marybeth and Marcus try to lure him in while Misty stands as a lookout. Victor dismembers Misty off-screen, throwing the pieces at Ben. Ben discovers one can with gas left in it, which he throws onto Victor. Marybeth and Marcus set him ablaze. Unfortunately, at that precise moment, the heavens open up and it starts to rain.

The trio starts to run away, but Marcus is caught and killed. Victor pins Ben’s foot to the ground with a gate pole, which Ben and Marybeth then use to impale Victor. Seemingly escaping with their lives, Marybeth and Ben board her father’s boat. Marybeth is somehow pulled underwater. Nearly drowning, she spots Ben’s arm and grabs hold… but finds that the arm has been severed and is being held by Victor Crowley, who roars in Marybeth’s face as the movie abruptly ends…

Apart from the lame non-ending, “Hatchet” is at times over-the-top, but entertaining. Love slasher films of the 1980s? The people who made this movie do, too, and it shows. As bloody as “Friday the 13th Part VII” was supposed to be before the censors got to it, the real treat is seeing all the genre actors in one place: Robert Englund (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”), Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Kane Hodder (“Friday the 13th” Parts VII-X), Joshua Leonard (“The Blair Witch Project”), John Carl Buechler (director of “Friday the 13th Part VII”) and Mercedes McNab (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”).

The best way to experience “Hatchet” is to get a bunch of your friends together. For optimal viewing experience, it’s best to marathon this with the sequels. Doing this also makes certain that the ending that’s not really an ending won’t annoy you at all. If you’re not already a slasher fan, I don’t even know why you’d be reading this review, much less watching “Hatchet.”  Extremely stupid? Of course it is, but that’s exactly the point. If that’s you’re thing, “Hatchet” delivers.

19. Just Before Dawn (1981)

Director: Jeff Lieberman

Starring; Chris Lemmon, Gregg Henry, Deborah Benson, Ralph Seymour, Jamie Rose, Mike Kellin, George Kennedy

You know you’re in trouble with a movie advertised as being from the director of “Squirm,” a bad horror movie which became the subject of a very good episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Jeff Lieberman also wrote “The NeverEnding Story III,” one of the worst movies of the last quarter-century. With the bar set so incredibly low, it should come as some surprise that 1981’s “Just Before Dawn” is… inoffensive. As much of a predecessor of the “Wrong Turn” series as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Deliverance,” “Just Before Dawn” chooses the spooky woods of the Oregonian mountains as the setting for its violence.

A group of five friends drive by van up into the mountains. Along the way, they are met by forest ranger Roy McLean (George Kennedy), who tries his best to warn them against traveling any further up the mountain. They get similar, less coherent warnings from Ty (Mike Kellin), who appears more drunk than frightened (actually, being frightened is what led to him getting drunk). We know it’s because he’s already witnessed one murder. Of course, old man Ty “doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about,” so the group presses on. No need to worry about a thing. Even the large number of identical twins that the group notices shouldn’t register as alarming in any way. Once the group gets where they are going, they meet a timid young girl whose father doesn’t take kindly to outsiders messing around anywhere near his piece of land. Still, the group acts as though nothing is unusual… that is, until Megan (Jamie Rose) notices an unidentifiable hand touching her while she and Jonathan (Chris Lemmon) are skinny dipping.

The group splits up to go exploring, soon after which Jonathan encounters the girl again. She’s frightened, and Jonathan should be too. The killer makes his presence felt when Jonathan is crossing the rope bridge. The killer cuts it down, and prevents Jonathan from being able to climb back onto the ledge, causing him to fall and be carried away by the current. Unaware anything is wrong, Megan and Daniel (Ralph Seymour) come across a church. The killer shows up again. Without his glasses on, Daniel mistakes the killer for Jonathan, his brother. Daniel pays for his mistake with his life when the killer stabs him. Megan sees this and attempts to hide inside the church. This is when the movie reveals its big secret: There are two killers, and they are identical twins. Unfortunately for Megan, there is no way for her to combat both of the twins on her own, and she is killed.

This leaves the macho Warren (Gregg Henry) and the virginal Connie (Deborah Benson) as the only members of the camping group still alive. They start to worry when they can’t find the others. Eventually, Jonathan’s body washes up. Ty finds Roy and tells him about the twins, which prompts Roy to go looking for the campers on horseback. Warren, in an attempt to retrieve the car keys from Jonathan’s body, leaves Connie by herself. At this time, Connie is attacked and chased up a tree by one of the twins. She’s just about to be killed when Roy shows up and shoots the twin dead. He Connie and Warren to start packing. Shortly afterwards, the other twin attacks them. Warren is incapacitated by a combination of a stab wound and his own fear, while Connie is nearly bear-hugged to death. Freeing an arm, she kills the twin by ramming her fist down his throat, effectively choking him to death.

Even though the woodsy setting typically works in these kinds of movies, “Just Before Dawn” isn’t as visually engaging as it should be. I’m not sure who or what is at fault there. Still, the film is not without its pluses. Gregg Henry shows signs of the winning personality that would make him appealing in movies like “Body Double,” “Payback” and “Slither” (to name but a few). There’s also a decent score from Brad Fiedel, whom everyone knows as the guy who created the theme from “Terminator.”

You’ll see worse horror movies (and indeed I have just this month), but you can do better than “Just Before Dawn.” It’s not interesting enough to warrant the cult status it has achieved, and yet not bad enough to provide sufficient material for people to riff on it. If you’re looking to see as many early 1980s slasher films as you can find, it’s worth being able to say you’ve seen it. Otherwise, pick something else.

18. Vacancy (2007)

Director: Nimród Antal

Starring: Luke Wilson, Kate Beckinsale, Frank Whaley, Ethan Embry

You would think that, by now, horror movie characters would be wise enough never to stay the night in some cheap, middle-of-nowhere motel. They certainly had not as of 2007. “Psycho” will be foremost on most viewers minds when tuning in to watch “Vacancy.” But the comparisons both begin and end with the film’s setting. The actual plot of “Vacancy” plays out more like a home invasion angle, except that the home in question is the villains’ domain, and it’s up to the protagonists to figure out all of its little nooks and crannies.

David (Luke Wilson) and Amy Fox (Kate Beckinsale) are a estranged couple whose marriage has never recovered from the tragic loss of their son. Not even reaching the violent part of the story, and already the film is taking a downbeat tone. On their way back from some family get-together, their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere (i.e. where their cell phones are of no use). They had stopped at an auto repair garage, but the friendly mechanic (Ethan Embry) appears to have not found the car’s actual problem. Making their way back on foot, the Foxes decide to stay the night at the motel across the street from the garage. Immediately, they can hear a woman’s screams coming from the office, which the motel’s manager (Frank Whaley) insists are coming from the TV. The manager, who looks like a cross between Ned Flanders and Walter White, offers the honeymoon suite. But all that Amy and David really want is a place to get some sleep.

Once in their room, which is as disgusting as one can imagine, the couple is prevented from resting by someone in the adjacent room banging on the walls and the doors. The phone keeps ringing as well. Unwilling to put up with such harassment, David goes to the manager to inform him of the situation. At first, his story is met with confusion, as there are allegedly no other guests booked for the night, but the manager swears to look into it. No longer sleepy and bored out of his mind, David notices the stack of VHS tapes on top of the TV (which does not appear hooked up for cable channels). Each tape is unmarked, and contains on them scenes of unspeakable violence. Amy demands that the TV be turned off, but something about the tapes has caught David’s attention. It’s not the scenes of violence, but the location in which they are filmed… right inside the very room in which David and Amy are staying!

Finding cameras hidden throughout the room, they realize that their every move is being watched, and that they are the intended victims for the next snuff film. They try to run, but find men in masks waiting outside. Returning to the room, Amy attempts to distract the men while David bolts for the pay phone outside. But David quickly discovers that the phone is connected to the motel’s front office, and exits the booth just in time as the masked men crash into the booth with their car. With David now back in the room, they hear a truck pull up in the parking lot and try to get the driver’s attention. But David and Amy soon come to realize that the driver is a customer who is there to pick up copies of the videotapes. Realizing that they won’t find help from outside, David and Amy continue to work on a plan of escape. David starts to think about how the killers on the video seem to appear out of nowhere and figures out that they’ve been using a system of trapdoors. One of these tunnels up through their motel room’s bathroom floor.

Using the tunnels, David and Amy make their way over to the main office, where they find the manager’s surveillance system and a working phone. But they don’t get very far with the emergency call before they have to bail, leaving the phone off the hook, thus alerting the manager to their presence. He sends the masked men into the tunnels to go after them, forcing them to follow an alternative route. This leads them across the street to the garage, where they barricade the trapdoor with a heavy shelf. Just then, a sheriff’s deputy arrives in response to the emergency call. Asking the manager to allow him to inspect the motel rooms, the officer discovers what really goes on in this place, and that seals his fate. He tries to leave with David and Amy, but is killed, forcing the couple back to one of the rooms.

David has a plan which involves Amy hiding inside the ceiling, where she is forced to watch helplessly as David is stabbed moments after opening the door. The assailants, including the manager, film David as he appears to pass out from the pain. As morning arrives, Amy climbs down and commandeers the killers’ car. One of them jumps onto the roof. In an effort to fend him off, Amy crashes the car into one of the motel rooms. This not only kills the masked man on the roof but also crushes the one standing inside the room… who turns out to be the auto mechanic.

Running to the main office, Amy finds a gun, which had been David’s plan. She almost reaches it, but is attacked from behind by the irate manager. The manager has the upper hand, but he makes the mistake of tossing Amy right where the gun has landed on the ground. Amy picks it up and fires several times. The manager drops dead. Incredibly, David has survived the night, barely, and Amy stays with him as she waits for the police (whom she has just called for) to arrive.

“Vacancy” is a mostly unremarkable horror movie which is aided heavily by its talented, small cast. Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale are both likable no matter the quality of the film they participate in. Beckinsale has proven in the past that she is fully capable of playing strong female characters, which is why it comes as no surprise when Amy is able to fend for herself against her would-be attackers. Perhaps understated is Frank Whaley’s performance as the motel manager. Known mostly for goofy, weak characters, he also can play psychotic well enough. He’s no Anthony Perkins, but he makes for a creepy villain whose eventual death you cheer on.

The only thing stopping you from getting something out of watching “Vacancy” is the notion that this will all seem familiar. Indeed, “Vacancy” doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s rare these days for any horror film to touch on a subject which hasn’t been covered over and over (and over) again. It won’t do anything for motels that “Psycho” didn’t do first. If that doesn’t particularly bother you, and if you like one or all of the cast members involved, then “Vacancy” doesn’t have to work very hard to hook you.