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The Burning - A long thank you

After the anger receded from the horrible viewing of He Knows You're Alone, we had to go back to an overlooked classic: The Burning.  It did the trick.  Again this is another slasher from the mold of Halloween, but this one definitely has more of a Friday The 13th feeling - it's another summer camp slasher film.  Released in 1981 along with:

 It's easy to see why this wasn't the blockbuster success it may have been.  There are a lot of hidden gems here, we get a script by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, Jason Alexander's first role, a young gangly Fisher Stevens (Hackers and Super Mario Brothers), a brief Holly Hunter, music by Rick Wakeman of Yes, and the always impressive Tom Savini creating some of his greatest effects.  It seems as though the only one that didn't go on to greatness was the films director Tony Maylam.  With the films re-release a few years ago a cult following was finally borne, but this is still an incredible gem to behold on your way to becoming a slasher film aficionado.

Granted the film's killer has the absolute worst name of any villain  and has been made fun of in terrible reiterations of Sleepaway Camp, but don't let his name fool you.  He is a burn victim with only revenge on his mind - huh, kinda predates a certain other villain with a much cooler name.  He is Cropsy.  Let that sink in.  According to folklore, a killer by the name of Cropsey has terrorized summer camps in upstate New York since 1977.  Our Cropsy on the other hand was a summer camp caretaker that wasn't liked by the kids. But, since we never hear his side of the story we maintain that the prank that lead to his 'burning,' wasn't in the least warranted.  Maybe we have sympathy for him since one of the fathers here at CineNiche is actually a camp grounds caretaker.  Nevertheless, Cropsy is a victim.

The terrible teenagers of Camp Blackfoot decide to teach him a lesson one night in the form of a prank.  From the looks of the shack that Cropsy lives in, he's underpaid and with hard liquor strewn about the room his life decisions have taken their toll on him.  Just because he drowns his sorrows and keeps an unfulfilling job doesn't warrant what comes next.  The teens have garnished a human skull with maggots worms and candles to frighten him, but the question we have is where did they get that skull?  In reading others impressions of this film they state it's a fake skull - which in reality it is but in the film is it supposed to be real or fake?  It looks real, so it just shows these kids are psychopaths.  They place the disgusting skull on his makeshift nightstand, light the candles, and wake him up.  Scared to pieces he knocks the thing on to his alcohol soaked bedsheets and in trying to get out from under them a random gas can ignites and he's engulfed by flames.  He gets out of his shack screaming in agony, well the stunt double with the huge padded suit gets out and the ADR gives us his shriek, and falls into the lake.  This is our preamble to the horrors ahead as all Slasher films seal themselves to in one way or another.

We are given a voice over explanation of Cropsy's condition while in the hospital saying the skin grafting didn't work, lucky to be alive, shouldn't blame anyone speech and then he's released.  This is years later and his hatred has only grown.  Once out of the hospital he visits a working woman, which is understandable, and when she can't even accept his now grotesque face he returns to camp.  Now maybe his fate would have been different if the whore would have accepted him, probably not, but something to think about.

While in Cropsy's POV phase of watching the new campers he realizes the same mischievous behavior occurring and he is committed to his revenge.  The campers are all stereotyped dorks and jocks, but not as shallow or wooden as they are in other summer camp films.  Jason Alexander get a lot of good dorky jokes in, the kids are bullied by Glazer (Larry Joshua of Fast Times At Ridgemont High), and their hormones force them into perverted peeping toms but not as bad as the teens in Porky's.  The kids except for Glazer and the counselor that helped in Cropsy's torment, don't deserve to be killed.  Most of them don't get laid and some are even pre-hormonal.

This leads us to the all-bets-are-off murders that ensue.  There is no rhyme or reason to the kids he impales with garden sheers - he is blind vengeance and served ice cold.  The best kill scene is reserved for late in the game and we're going to spoil it for you.  The old adage of safety in numbers is destroyed, when Cropsy springs up from a canoe and kills five campers at once in one of the best slasher scenes of the eighties.

You will never guess how they kill the burn victim - they burn him again, and actually it is the counselor responsible for his vendetta that sets him on fire the second time.  This is wrong on so many levels, and while the Weinstiens probably weren't shooting for something so bleak, they achieved it through context.  We would like to thank this forgotten celluloid for all its hard work and ability to rip-off Jason Vorhees while still creating something original and timeless, we apprechiate it.

Rating: V/V

He Knows You're Alone

Or He Knows You're Copying.  Normally this would be unfair, because all of the slasher films of the eighties copied from the formula laid out very plainly by John Carpenter's Halloween.  Even Halloween was an homage to Italian Giallo films by Mario Bava and Dario Argento, but he took those somewhat complex plotlines and cut them down to the bare essentials.  Ironically enough, the slasher films that followed the wake of Halloween couldn't simplify enough and became more complex in trying to render a killer.

Lets put some slashers in order here, we'll start off at Halloween and work our way to He Knows You're Alone released in September of 1980..

Each of these films copied the prototype but did not replicate it.  He Knows features an unmasked killer whose motivation is killing brides to be, which sounds completely different from Halloween and as far as plot and quality goes, it is.  Scenes are blatantly stolen here such as: Laurie Strode backing into Michael in the house of horrors, then fleeing while Michael stalks after her and closes in while she desperately tries to get back into the Doyle house.  In He Knows, Amy our 'final girl' finds her friend Nancy's head in a fish tank and backs into Ray Carlton (our killer).  She then flees the house with Ray closing in.  She tries desperately to get into her own car, then desperately to get it started with Ray nearly cutting into her.  When she gets the car moving, Ray continuously stabs the windshield with a bendable plastic knife - which would be funny if it wasn't so sad.  The music that plays over this 'suspenseful scene' is nearly an exact duplicate of Carpenter's score - using that single strike of the keys that resonates fear and pierces you.  Here the score doesn't match up to the fumbled intensity that tries to be scary.  This can be said about the entire film.

There is one saving grace to this clumsily executed rip-off and that is a small role played by Tom Hanks.  This was as we've researched his first part and he gives us a self referential monologue on fear and catharsis especially in relation to horror films.

Unless you're like us and obsessively need to see every slasher film, we don't recommend this one.

Here is the one good scene in the film:

Rating: I/V

Jack Brooks Monster Slayer

This may be the shortest review of any film on CineNiche, and it's out of spite.  Maybe not spite, but definitely to teach Jon Knautz a lesson.  We wanted to love Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer.  It had been sitting on the unwatched shelf for nine months, just waiting for that right moment to indulge in an Evil Dead type of horror comedy.  Finally, the day came - it was the right time - you know cosmos aligned and all that.  Final summation: This is the longest 85 minute film you will ever see.  It's not bad, far from it.  The main problem with Jack Brooks is they didn't have content to fill the running time so a lot of details that are not needed are included.  Here's a main example: Professor Gordon Crowly (Robert England) is possessed and ends up walking out his second story window and we cut to the next day.  Crowly wakes up with no clue how he got there and sees his hands are covered in dirt.  He turns around to see a hole that has started to be dug, so he continues digging till he finds a box.  He hooks the box to his car and drags it up, and then carries the box to the basement before opening it.  Believe me this is a near six minute sequence for no reason.  Cut to the chase.  Not that we're an ADD kids of the information overload generation that has no patients, we just want drawn out scenes when there is a meaning to them.  The whole film is plagued by this idea that every detail must be shown as if the audience has no concept of the logic of an edit.

The title tells us this is a film about a monster slayer and we have a decent characterization of Jack Brooks becoming that man, but it didn't take 3/4 of the film to get him there - because the said monsters show up in the last 15-20 minutes when the film is good.  We want to back off a bit from ripping this apart because there is merit here.  This is a first feature for Jon Knautz, to which we grant him the pratfalls of editing inexperience, because in the end what makes this film good or worthy is that Knautz did not use CGI.  At no point in this film are there digital special effects, and maybe that is why he saves it for the end because we all know that it takes much longer for the organic process than the digital one.  Even though we didn't get everything we wanted out of Jack Brooks, we're still going to see his next film The Shrine and eventually the sequel to Jack Brooks.

Ed Wood said it best: "Next time I'll do better."

Rating: II/V

Fiend Without A Face - Great Atomic Fun

I've heard of some people that will only watch Criterion Collection films, which would brand them the ultimate in cinephile snobs - but little do they realize it harms their street cred because that would mean they hold films like Armeggedon and The Rock to be true cinematic classics as well. It doesn't matter what studio puts out a film, whether it's Janus or Lions Gate if it's good its good.  I will admit for some older classics I am a bit faster to track them down if they have the Criterion seal of approval, because overall they choose socially relevant films.

This leads us to Arthur Crabtree's 1958 SciFi classic Fiend Without A Face.  Here's a film with such an original premise and wonderful use of early gore that its hard to complain about a few wooden actors and monologue driven script.  These fiends, from the beginning are invisible creatures that attach themselves to you and suck out your brain and spinal cord.  We watch the actors struggle as if they were choking, and each one is left with a face mangled by terror.  The townspeople blame the nearby nuclear power plant, or a renegade G.I., but nobody could imagine the true 'fiend.'

Fiend was a British production filmed in Canada. When it was released in the UK, the British Board of Film Censors gave the film an X rating, even after forcing Crabtree to make several cuts.  We don't know exactly why the X was given but in 1958 it was probably due to the graphic nature in which the fiends died and the near apocalypse it caused the town.

The graphic deaths and the fact that the town is destroyed are reasons that make this film brilliant.  Especially up against the other atomic age films of the time: Donovan's Brain (1953), Them! (1954), Godzilla (1954), Creature With The Atom Brain (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957), The H-Man (1958), and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) to name a few, Fiend delivers something extra.  You do not see these creatures until the end of the film and when you do, they are actually done with stunning stop-motion detail.  Its all more terrifying when you learn their origin: human thought.  A scientist has studied telekinesis over a lifetime and spent his time experimenting with creating something organic strictly by thinking it into existence.  He failed again and again, until the nuclear power plant opened and he was able to use the power to magnify his experiments till one day he had created something tangible from an idea.  The fiends existed yet they were invisible because they didn't have enough power to become corporal - that is until they develop an intelligence from sucking brains and decide to go straight to the plant.  Once visible, the film picks up pace.  While some moments fighting and killing the fiends look a little fake by todays standards overall the design of the brain + spinal cord creature looks pretty awesome.

Giving away the ending is necessary to impart the films final message - if thought created creatures start sucking your townspeople dry and you have a nuclear power plant nearby that provides them with the power they need to survive just take a tip from Major Cummings: blow up the nuclear power plant.  That's right, you will see the thought creatures die before your very eyes.

Rating III/V This film was very enjoyable and may be the only atomic 50's film that features great gore and semi-nihilism it's not for everyone - but look out a remake is on the horizon (not kidding)

Harry Brown The New Paul Kersey

Watch Michael Cain as Paul Kersey in Death Wish VI: Pensioner’s Revenge.  The similarities between Harry Brown and Paul Kersey are endless: both have war time backgrounds and through the loss of someone close to them and no help from the police, decided to take the law into their own hands and become vigilantes for blood justice.  The biggest difference between Harry and all of the Death Wish films is that we care about him.  Charles Bronson couldn’t emote even if you slowly ripped every appendage from his body.  He made a career of being a masculine stoic.  If my wife was murdered, then a few years later my catatonic daughter and house keeper were raped beaten and murdered, and even later my best friend during the war was killed by a gang of thugs – I might shed a tear or two.

Harry is older than Paul was and suffers from emphysema.  He has lost his wife child and friend and he mourns – we watch this man break down.  He is all alone in a world that he no longer recognizes, and with all of his pain and no one to comfort him he turns to vengeance – and what a lovely escalation of violence it is.

After killing a teen in self-defense, Harry sets out to buy a gun.  He is led into a dilapidated warehouse filled with marijuana and junkie scum – who’ve just finished shooting up, raping, and videotaping an addict girl who’s overdosing from her fix.  Harry gives the junkies three opportunities to call an ambulance for the girl, and when they don’t comply all hell breaks loose.  This is as good as vengeance films get.

The current rumor from IMDB is that Sylvester Stallone is slated to direct and star in the remake of Death Wish - - what a terrible economy we live in that allows any remake to get a green light.

Rating IV/V not a perfect score due to its lack of originality in the cop-out-for-justice subplot.