Often criticised as simply a rip-off the more famous slashers of its time, Sleepaway Camp is far away from this and instead evolves into one of the most energetic and inventive horrors slasher has ever given us. There’s a raw, savage quality to Hiltzik’s film which is impossible to tear away from. He’s well aware of the film’s narrative relations in how the premise mimics the setting of Friday the 13th and how one of the death’s draws memory back to Psycho, but Hiltzik uses these influences intelligently, instead turning in a film which pushes on a lot more issues and human emotions than you’d anticipate.
Sleepaway Camp challenges conceptions of gender, the naivety of youth and the bullying ever present in films like these which really separates it from other slashers. It’s dark and misleading at times in where the narrative will culminate, but Hiltzik is directly focused on addressing all those above issues with an explosiveness rarely seen elsewhere. It just feels even more emphatic once the ending rolls around, but when all this is considered, it’s not all that shocking at all.
Much of this power is owed to how Hiltzik directs his camera. There’s the familar sinister movement of an unknown killer and the choice of cuts in the film’s most memorable moments. Some call for a range of quick cuts, others call for Sleepaway Camp to simply hover over the locale and engage the audience through atmosphere and suspense. That’s powerful to me.
It may seem obvious, but that’s one of the reasons Sleepaway Camp works as well as it does. Hiltzik is aware of every simplistic or inventive decision he makes, always adapting his ideas to what the sequence demands. When the credits have rolled and the horror of its ending has engulfed the viewer, you realise the sheer brilliance of Hiltzik’s action. It’s one of the finest works of slasher cinema about.
There are inevitable comparisons to the recent Girlhood, in how both Sciamma’s film and Divines both depict the poor inhabitants of its French locale and their struggle to escape into something more. The legendary La Haine even comes into memory here as another example, but there’s still something very special about what Benyamina achieves within Divines which I absolutely adored.
It’s a film aware of its rough edges and the trials of its characters through their unglamorous existence, but there’s always this flirtation and fantasy towards something better which gives it a nice kick. A notable example being Dounia and Maimouna’s Ferrari roleplay which is shot with a real creative swivel, giving the film more energy and enthusiasm.
From then on, Divines establishes itself with an identity we’ve seen explored before – selling drugs and appeasing the local kingpin, Dounia’s own love interest, and troubles at home with her alcoholic and promiscuous mother – but there’s always this insatiable enthusiasm and interest to anything the film says which relegates the importance of a lot of its familiarity seen in its narrative components.
You could even argue some of the film’s subplots aren’t fully realised, but I’d defend this theory with the suggestion they’re more than likely obstacles for Dounia to tackle as she goes through adolescence. This suggestion shows dividends in Divines final moments, as we witness our heroine distraught by what she’s been through already and the tragedy suffered hits home in the most explosive manner possible.
A wonderful, frenetic, memorable work of cinema, which deserves more attention. I look forward to see what Benyamina comes up with next.
In terms of biopic, Jackie succeeds because it manages to identify an iconic and unforgettable moment in American history without ever feeling like a lecture on the subject. But its success in terms of character assessment is where Pablo Larrain’s study of widowed first lady Jackie Kennedy makes its mark. Larrain manages to represent the strain on Jackie’s existence in what is the toughest week of her life, utilising the camera to absolute precision with the most uncomfortable close-ups on her face, detailing the immense stress and grief facing her at this time. Natalie Portman, in the role, is astonishing. The way her emotions are presented and the trauma seen within every expression provides even more trauma for the viewer witnessing it. It’s impossible to pull away from the dignity of Portman’s performance, the courage within her work to unleash every trait of acting and make it feel as pure and human as possible. I’m struggling to find another performance to compare it to, it’s that impressive. The writing is also excellent, but another element of Jackie which helps intensify the film’s traumatising atmosphere is Mica Levi’s score. It’s unbelievable.
One of the more supreme and underrated examples of non-franchise slasher cinema there is, Tony Maylam’s film is keenly indebted to the legacy of its clear inspiration in Friday the 13th. The Burning manages to explore similar narrative themes seen with Cunningham’s genre classic, and a lot of its criticism can be attributed to its similarities and a lack of intelligence in formulating its own real identity, but that couldn’t be further from the truth because Maylam’s film simply uses the Friday the 13th formula as a blueprint to shape something very different entirely. Sequences throughout will lead you to believe it’s another forgettable entry in a never-ending line of slasher films from the 1980’s, but The Burningincorporates elements I could never have expected. The way the killer stalks, how the camera presents him and the way Maylam elicits music queues as someone is about to be slaughtered evokes a mood more familiar with a lot of Dario Argento’s Giallo pictures. The killer is also shown dressed in all black to drive home the homage even further. It makes for a very unsettling atmosphere, and while the finale reverts back to more familiar slasher territory in a rather underwhelming manner, there’s no doubting this is a work of horror worthy of more discussion.
There’s so much here that it’s absolutely unbelievable The People Under the Stairsisn’t talked about more alongside Wes Craven’s many other iconic works of horror. In a way, I appreciate its lesser familiarity with viewers – despite its positive reception – due to just the sheer audacity of ideas and thematic concepts Craven indulges his audience with, making it a hard challenge to efficiently label this under one title with one sole identity. The People Under the Stairs is perhaps best described as an effective funhouse horror utilising the excitement factor and use of a tense locale to drive a nerve-shredding atmosphere, but it also appropriately uses concepts more familiar with the thriller genre in home invasion movies to ramp up the tension even more, pressuring its viewers into an atmosphere which is hard to escape. There’s even an underlying examination of the zombie film if you consider it definitively. The other monumental success of this film is how it manages to incorporate a goofy and careless attitude, which conflicts with the savage brutality of what really The People Under the Stairs is clearly more focused on. I shouldn’t be surprised, though, considering this is the same director who helped ignite the 80’s slasher film with A Nightmare on Elm Street and then reestablished several times through New Nightmare and the Scream series. Wes Craven truly was a legendary filmmaker.
A bizarre work not akin to any other entry in the Halloween series, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II takes on a more spiritual edge, evaluating not only the terror caused by Michael Myers’ savage murders but more the effect its had on all its characters, with Laurie’s deconstruction the most pivotal element seen here. There’s such a dark, chilling, brooding atmosphere luring over every frame of Zombie’s work which helps to add appropriately to the mystery behind his character we were unfamiliar with before Zombie portrayed it in his remake, boosting an even greater degree of fear than Zombie achieved previously. I’m a big admirer of his first remake, but I will admit it’s a work more in line with the gore induced structure than a narrative which aims to build tension upon tension. Here, Halloween IIleans more to the greater side in tune with manifesting tension, yet still produces a vibe which is always effective. The use of the white horse and Myers’ dead mother throughout adds further evidence to the claim of this being one of the most underrated horrors of the century thus far.
Barely resembling its label as a sequel to The Exorcist, writer turned director William Peter Blatty crafts his film as more of a singular vision of a tale whereby its individuality proves to be its greatest strength. For much of its first half, The Exorcist III plays out as an aimless mystery thriller of the original’s own Lieutenant Kinderman’s search for The Gemini killer, which for a time is far from fascinating or creative. It’s the film’s second half, though, which really ignites a fire I found impossible to extinguish. Blatty throws so many explosives at the viewer it’s a challenge to not at least appreciate the sheer insanity of what he’s giving to us. Sequences here forcefully link it to the original and the disturbing nature of many of Brad Dourif’s sequences and the reappearance of a certain Father Damien Karras even have an atmosphere resembling something with David Lynch’s (Lost Highway, specifically) name attached. If anything, the uneven disorder of the first half is the perfect spoiler for all the orchestrated lunacy of its latter half.