10 to Midnight (1983)
It didn’t take long for the conventions of the slasher movie to trickle down into other genres. Considering that gritty crime stories, action movies, and horror probably all share the same audience, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that movies like this or the similarly themed “Cobra” (which features an entire cult of brutal knife-nuts) cropped up pretty quickly. “10 to Midnight” is basically “Dirty Harry” multiplied by itself. The hero is even more uncompromisingly conservative. The villain is even more crazy and vicious. The movie is even sleazier.
Charles Bronson had kind of an odd career path. He was a work-a-day character actor for a long time, grabbing a couple of decent roles here and there, before “Death Wish” happened and completely solidified his career. From that point on, he played the exact same role in each movie, a stern-faced enforcer of old-fashion ethics who strikes back against an ineffective society by taking the law into his own hands, preferably by popping a punk or two. Bronson’s performance is actually a little more involved then usual. He’s playing the same character he always does, of course, but he actually seems to have an iota of emotional investment in the material, as opposed to his usual stone-faced determination.
Gene Davis gives a really bizarre performance as the killer. His dialogue is often spoken stiltedly. The guy acts like a whiny, petulant child half of the time. He puts on a fake Spanish accent, has a giant picture of himself in a karate gi on his wall, hits on women in the most uncomfortable way imaginable, and never gives Bronson or the audience doubts that he’s anything but a complete creep and a total psychopath. The movie is so blatant that his murderous rage stems from oppressed, twisted sexuality that Bronson even says as much almost immediately. (Most movies would be content with simply implying that the killer’s knife is his dick, instead of out-right saying as much.) This all leads to the movie’s main gimmick, which is that the villain does all his stalking and slashing completely in the buff. There is so much bare man-ass in this movie, and almost as much wobbling wang. His targets are exclusively young, female, busty, and usually naked. Fucking, showering, or undressing is often interrupted only by brutal stabbings. The movie’s tidal wave of misogyny peaks with the Richard Speck-inspired finale, where the killer massacres an apartment full of nurses.
Despite a decent Bronson performance, enough slashing to satisfy the gorehound, and an intense finale, “10 to Midnight” is just a bit too mean-spirited and ugly to be enjoyable. It’s free of eighties camp. (6/10)
To the Devil a Daughter (1976)
What an inauspicious way for Hammer Studios to go out. “To the Devil a Daughter” wound up being their final film production. The studio finally broke with its period settings to make a modern story of demonic influence, obviously an attempt to jump on the Devil stories trend that was popular in the mid-seventies. The results are unfortunately droll. The story essentially boils down to an occult writer (Richard Widmark) and a Satanist priest (Christopher Lee) battling for control of an innocent young girl (Nastassja Kinski), who is destined to be the Earthly avatar of the demon Astaroth. However, Widmark and Lee never even come face-to-face until the end of the movie. Lee spends the majority of the run time staring off-screen, while people in other rooms get murdered or burst into to flames or, in the film’s highest camp moment, a glowing image of Lee’s face appears above a window. Scratch that. The movie’s campiest moment is the Satanic ritual where the symbol of Astaroth, a golden statue doing a split on an inverted cross, is moved suggestively over Kinski’s prone body, while an orgy breaks out around her, including Christopher Lee’s naked ass. (Thanks for that one, movie.)
Widmark proves to be an overly literary, uninvolving protagonist. He spends large portions of the film talking on the phone or looking at a book. Lee actually does an okay job as another villain. It’s certainly a more involved performance then his last few go-arounds as Dracula, but his character doesn’t have much to do. Kinski would bloom into perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world in a few years (And does some gratuitous full frontal here. Not a complaint) but her performance is a bit on the sleepy side.
The film ends on an almost hilariously anti-climatic note. Lee has captured Kinski and is ready to transfer the demon’s spirit into her body, the altar surrounded by a magic circle of protective blood. Widmark walks up to him, the two argue over confusing mythology for a while, Widmark throws a small rock at Lee’s head, picks up the girl, and walks off. That’s it. And I thought Lee getting killed by a magic bush in “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” was an undignified death scene.
When “To the Devil a Daughter’ isn’t being boring, it’s being overly icky, like the extended sequence of the demonic baby (which looks like a bloody bear fetus) performing cunnilingus on an all too willing Kinski. The movie also wastes a great supporting cast, including Denholm Elliot and Honor Blackman. The movie is all the more disappointing since it wound up being the original Hammer Studio’s final offering. (4/10)
How to be a Serial Killer (2008)
Kind of like “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” if “Henry” was a comedy. It has a similar story, of a veteran serial killer taking on an apprentice and teaching him the modes of murders. The big difference is that Mike is an up-beat can-do kind of guy, who uses serial killing to make the world a better place, while his student Bart is willing but kind of reluctant.
One of the really interesting aspects of the film is there are “instructional,” inspirational speaker style interludes with Mike, done in the style of a late night infomercial, often commenting on or reinforcing the plot. Even odder insertions are documentary style interviews with many of the supporting characters. You’d think these out-of-stories moments would disrupt the story’s pace but, surprisingly, they don’t. Instead, they reinforce the wryly comical tone.
Midway through the film, a major supporting character is killed off, rather unexpectedly and off-screen. In a sequence somewhat reminiscent of “American Psycho,” Mike, in order to cover up one witness, ends up having to kill every single person in his apartment complex. After this sudden story move, the movie is never quite as amusing as it was before. Most of this is forgiven once the conclusion, which is blatantly sympathetic to our serial killer, comes around. I really didn’t have a lot of expectations for “How to be a Serial Killer” but it’s pretty clever. (7/10)
After reading a review on Kindertrauma, I decided to give this film a look, one I probably wouldn’t have check out otherwise. “Scissors” is a mess, but it’s hysterical, high-camp tone makes it an entertaining mess. Sharon Stone plays a repressed, doll-collecting, emotionally disturbed 26-year old virgin. (Take a moment to stifle your laughter.) After being assaulted by a red-bearded man in an elevator, and fending him off with a pair of scissors, she takes comfort in the arms of her neighbor, a gentle, kind of nerdy soap actor played by Steven Railsback. Sadly, the neighbor has got a creepy, paraplegic twin brother, also played by Railsback. In the first few minutes of the film, Stone has her butt patted by an overly friendly shop owner and, from that point on, the movie goes to great lengths to point out Stone’s sexual repression. Her relationship with the good brother and her fear, paranoia, and antagonistic relationship with the creepy brother dominates the first 45 minutes of the film. Despite so much attention being paid to it, this subplot turns out to be nothing but a red harring, building up to nothing, and never quite gets resolved.
Almost half way over with does the movie actually get to its point, with Stone locked in a strange apartment, with a dead body, a talking raven, bolted down furniture, a miniature version of the city that has a pre-recorded message over it, and televisions that play back her memories. It doesn’t take long for her to go completely nuts. If you pay attention to which actors get billing, it won’t be hard to figure out who’s really behind all of this.
Stone’s performance is wide-eyed, shrill, and becomes increasingly hysterical as the movie goes on. Railsback hams it up as the creepy brother while Ronny Cox sleepwalks through a supporting role. The score is as bombastic as anything else in the movie, but its main theme is actually a bit on the creepy side. The film’s lurid set design is colorful and interesting. Though it seems to take a long time to get there, the ironic ending is pretty amusing. “Scissors” certainly isn’t a good film but I don’t regret watching it. It’s not quite like anything else you’ll see. (6/10)