Thursday, January 31, 2008

No "Last Girl" in House of Death

I had a stack of free DVDs before me. I get them because I'm eligible to vote for the SAG Awards. I began watching 3:10 to Yuma. I removed it after 5 minutes. I'll watch it another time.

Why watch some brand new, big-budget Hollywood studio release, when I can instead watch House of Death, a crappy, ultra-low budget 1981 slasher film that I'd only seen twice before?

And House of Death is as crappy as they come. I mean that in a good way (i.e., many, if not all, hardcore horror fans will be forgiving of its weak points, and still find things to enjoy). I did.

The film was shot in North Carolina, with a cast of unknowns (of which my favorite was "Sara", one of the earlier victims and played by Sharon Alley). It opens with a young couple killed while having sex. (How original is that?) Then there's nothing much for the next 40 minutes. Just "exposition" as we follow high school grads, soon to attend college, enjoying a last minute romp at a county fair. Lots of vapid chatter about sex and drugs and such.

Then Sara is killed. Only, this being a horror film, nobody notices that she's missing.

Well, these kids meet that night at a graveyard to share ghost stories. Another girl is killed, but again, nobody notices. Only one story is told before it starts to rain. The kids all run into an abandoned shack.

I guess this is the "house of death" of the film's title. It better be, because by now there's only about 10 - 15 minutes left in the film. And the body count has barely begun.

As if our slasher has suddenly realized the film's about to end, he suddenly starts kliing in earnest. Lots of dead kids, with the usual pointless clich├ęs. (When some kids go looking for their friend, they find him dead and hanging upside down -- why do so many slashers hang their victims' bodies upside down?)

The remaining three kids return to the shack, our slasher coming after them. He breaks in and we see that it's... (I won't spoil it, but the identity of the killer is as arbitrary a "surprise" as in most slasher films). Anyway, he's killed by police before he can finish his job.

Three kids -- count 'em, three! -- survive. Two girls and a guy. Yes, one of the survivors was the requisite Good Girl. She should also have been the Last Girl. Unfortunately, our lazy slasher waited so long to get started, the film ran out before he could finish his craft.

And he was a pathetic-looking slasher indeed, once we saw him. Weak and mortal. Not at all the "uberpsycho" (my coinage) that is Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees.

So add House of Death to those other slasher films I recently blogged about, the ones that are missing a Last Girl. Films such as Hide and Go Shriek and Splatter University. The more you examine horror's slasher subgenre, the more you realize that while a Last Girl was a common element, she was by no means universal.

House of Death was produced at E.O. studios, a North Carolina production house that was founded by Earl Owensby. Esquire did a story on him some 25 years ago, painting him as some sort of southern Roger Corman. Owensby also did A Day of Judgment and (I think) he may have been involved with Final Exam, though that film was shot in South Carolina.

Final Exam also has a pretty piss-poor looking slasher. Just some guy in a green army jacket, who doesn't look very tough.

I also recently re-watched The Prey, about a superhuman killer, his body burned long ago in a forest fire, who goes around killing campers. This film has been criticized for being padded with scenes of stock footage of nature, but I suppose that could be justified (i.e., the "theme" of this slasher film is that Nature is predatory, beast "preying" upon beast).

Hey, that fits with the title, no?

The Prey was distributed by Roger Corman's company, and features a cast of unknowns. It's not to be confused with English filmmaker Norman J. Warren's Prey (aka Alien Prey).

Prey is not among Warren's better work. His two best films are Inseminoid (aka Horror Planet) and the Suspiria-inspired Terror (a personal favorite, which I must have seen a dozen or so times over the last 25 years).

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