Junior, directed by Jim Hanley, 1985

This film's VHS cover references Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and features a crazed chainsaw-wielding redneck. But don't be fooled: this packaging is a complete bait and switch for the film inside. Junior barely even qualifies as a horror flick (although I'm not sure what genre I'd place it in).

The plot is this: two former prostitutes get out of jail, steal a car from their abusive pimp, then decide to buy and renovate a junked-out small-town marina. The redneck locals and the sheriff try to run them off, but a few kindhearted citizens help them stand their ground.

At first, the titular Junior is just one of the redneck locals, but the others soon drop by the wayside and we get scene after scene of Junior asking permission from his mother (a dude in drag) to mess with the girls. Those scenes are intercut with meandering "sexy" fixing-up-the-marina sequences. Nothing much happens for most of the movie... things just lumber along until Junior FINALLY shows up with a chainsaw during the last few minutes of the film.

If the character of Junior was interesting or menacing (he's just annoying) or if the girls had any discernible charisma (they're just vapid 80's big-hair chicks) or if the film was tense or scary in the least (it isn't) then there'd perhaps be something I could recommend. As it is, I was glad to see it end.

Pranks (aka The Dorm That Dripped Blood), directed by Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow, 1982

Although the film is better known as The Dorm That Dripped Blood, the version I saw used the Pranks title-card. Unfortunately, the complete lack of pranks in the film means that the title makes little sense. Even more unfortunately, the version I saw (a) featured a dark & muddled video and audio track, and (b) was edited to eliminate a lot of the gore. All of which to say is that there were several strikes against the film from the get-go, and there really wasn't much to the film (other than a pretty incredible score and a few scenes with the always likeable Daphne Zuniga) to pull it into the "worthwhile" territory.

The basic premise is that a small group of teens stay behind in a dorm during Christmas holiday to either convert it to apartments or prepare it for demolition. Neither makes much sense, but I never heard for sure in the film, and I've seen it explained both ways online. In any event, they're there in the dorm, and there's a few random creepy people also hanging around campus. Every now and again one of the kids (or random creepy people) gets killed off in a way that sounds interesting on paper (spiked baseball bat, run over by car, drowned in giant boiling vat of liquid, etc.) but - other than a scene in a bathroom where the killer forces a drill into the back of his victim's head - lacks any sort of excitement or tension.

The final reveal of the killer's identity is a yawn. There's so few people involved in the first place that - once you eliminate the obvious red herrings - there's not many left to choose from. And the killer's stated motivations (which are delivered in a series of clunky end-of-film monologues) are completely unimaginative.

I know I'm railing on this movie quite a bit. I didn't actively hate it. I just wasn't interested in it beyond the first - say - five or ten minutes.

Whodunit (aka Island of Blood), directed by William T. Naud, 1982

I recently bought this movie on VHS, and am fairly certain that it has never been released on DVD. It's a weird slasher flick about a group of film students and musicians who go to an island to shoot some sort of inspirational rock opera. At one point the director tells the cast "Not everyone is an exploiter, or sex maniac, or thief, or murderer. And that's the point we're going to make with this film."

As you might expect, once the film starts shooting, the actors and musicians start getting killed off. The killer has an unique MO: he carries around a Walkman and prefaces his kills by playing a song from a cassette tape that describes the way the victim is about to die. So, for example, he might play a song about "burning with desire" before dousing someone with gasoline and setting them on fire. It's a cool concept.

In the film's best sequence, the killer manages to super-heat a swimming pool. He then tosses a teen into the pool, boiling him to death. Pretty wicked.

Overall, even though too many of the kills take place off screen, I enjoyed Whodunit, and appreciated its interesting premise. It's easily the best of the three films mentioned in this article.
categories Features, Horror