Posts Tagged ‘Sleepaway Camp

29
Jul
18

(NSFW) Just Before Dawn (1981): Rise and Die

just before dawn

a Primal Root written review

“There’s nothing out there but God’s little creatures, more scared of you than you are of them.” – Warren, Just Before Dawn

Tales of backwoods hicks slaughtering city folks is as old as the hills themselves. Freshly showered kids in their L.L. Bean disco survival boots, shaved vaginas and cans of Pringles head off to hike and pitch their tents fully exposed in the elements and figure, oh yeah, nothing’s going to happen to me out here among the trees, wildlife and lack of of immediate assistance from someone who knows what the Hell they’re doing. From The Hills Have Eyes, to House of 1,000 Corpses, to Deliverance, Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; white-bread, Nike wearing, pink, privileged idiots with six figure incomes load up their campers and right into certain death despite there nearly ALWAYS being some old coot standing by the side of the rarely traversed, nearly grown over dirt road saying the same old speech “You’re doomed if you stay the night up that road!”

And what do those idiots do? Crank up the Def Leppard and rush forward into painful, bloody oblivion. It’s an old yarn always looking for an invigorating new take, or at least a competent hand to at the very least, make it interesting.

Enter the forgotten 1981 backwoods camping slasher gem, JUST BEFORE DAWN, and film that I’d heard a few people mention in decades past, but never in the same sentence as well worn genre fare. Upon finally getting a chance to watch it, I was not only blown blown away by how solid it was, but I would put it among my all time favorite slasher films of this backwoods sub-genre.

JustBeforeDawn1

Our pre-credit inciting incident takes place in a rotten, weather worn church where two older hikers are joking around and acting like goofballs trying to make one another laugh as they wonder through this holy relic. By the way, one of these old hikers is none other than Mike Kellin who played Mel, the owner of Camp Arawak in another excellent summer slasher film, Sleepaway Camp from 1983. When one man notices a freakish inbred redneck peering through a hole in th church’s roof and eerily backlit by the sun, he steps out slowly from the church, and in a real dick move, doesn’t mention it to his friend who is too busy being a comedian to notice. Well, as you might imagine, the man left in the church ends up getting possibly the most brutal death in the film and has a massive, multi-pronged machete stuck though his pee hole and right out his poop chute. And the film doesn’t cut away once this happens, oh no, we see the poor hikers horrified, pained reaction to suddenly find his cock and balls forcibly filleted in half and probably shoved right out his own asshole. He reached behind himself to feel the machete blade sticking right out through his jeans…it’s a nightmarish moment and one where the viewer cannot help but imagine the unfathomable agony that bastard must be experiencing as he slowly begins to bleed to death amongst the pews of stink, mildew encrusted old church.  This poor bastard’s bud, Ty, who just left him to die, runs off into the woods and down the side of the mountain with the giant, massively overweight bloodthirsty mountain man in hot pursuit.

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From left to right: Constance, Jonathan, Daniel, Megan & Warren. Who will survive and who will inherit the R.V.?

 

We are then immediately introduced to our core group of young folks headed up the side of the mountain in their camper to spend a long weekend hiking, skinny dipping, and mellowing out in the woods. There’s the fun loving couple Jonathan (Chris Lemmon, son of Jack Lemmon) and Megan (Jamie Rose, from Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town and a billion TV Shows), the nerdy photographer who didn’t bring a date and will probably be spending the majority of the trip, when not taking photos, masturbating into the bushes, Daniel (Ralph Seymour from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Killer Party, Meatballs part II) and our main course couple, our blonde alpha male and guy steering the RV, Warren (played by none other than Greg Henry who starred in James Gunn’s Slither and Guardians of the Galaxy flicks) and his worry wart, uptight, girlfriend, Constance (Deborah Benson from 1941, 2 Days in the Valley).  On their way up, they are warned by none other than the late, great, George Kennedy as Roy McLean, an old timer plant doctor and horse whisperer who knows there’s something terrible up in them mountains. Not only that, but the kids bust the shit out of a deer with the R.V., and run into Ty, who at some point came across a massive jug of whiskey as he was fleeing for his life, drank three quarters of it, and slurrily begged the kids to take him down the mountain before he is turned into a dick and ass kabob by some horrifying fat fucks in the woods. The kids leave him some food and head up the mountain, as they go, Ty watches as the Mountain Man hops from a nearby tree onto the back of the camper to pursue more nubile and fuckable victims.  Ty laughs his ass of and continues stumbling down the mountain.

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Soon our rag tag group of fresh faced youths have set up camp, hiked behind waterfalls, and noticed some peculiar whistling coming from the woods…the crew even noticed a young woman singing beautifully down by a stream, when they approach her, the girl goes running into the woods. All these strange omens mean little to the young folks as they starts letting loose. The most notable is Constance, who ditches her waist high khakis and long sleeve denims short, and slips on some tight fitting daisy dukes that let her butt cheeks hang out and the ties her button down shirt up to expose her mid-drift and tease at the subtle breasts bouncing around underneath. It’s a transformation that doesn’t go unnoticed by her camping buddies and seems to coincide with the five friends descending deeper into the woods, as if she is becoming a bit more wild herself. She even paints her toenails while sitting on a long. It’s cute, it’s hot, and it’s a little weird, but you know me, I’m down with weird female transformations, especially the wild and sexy kind.

just_before_dawn_deborah_benson_1981

 

Before long, the kids find themselves down at the base of the waterfall where Jonathan and Megan decide to go skinny dipping and fool around a little bit while the other’s make breakfast. It’s all fun and games as Megan splashes water around and giggles while Jonathan goes under water, gropes her and floats up pretending to be dead, but soon the scene becomes one of the creepiest in the damn film, as we see one of the filthy, gigantic mountain men descend into the water in the background and go under… Jonathan dips under the water again and vanishes. Megan, assuming Jonathan is playing around, continues to giggle and call out to him. That’s when a filthy big old pair of hands start groping at her above and under water. She assumes Jonathan is playing around and getting frisky and it is really uncomfortable as these hands slide across her skin, and are most certainly poking ad probing some intimate places just below our field of vision. Soon, Jonathan surfaces and walks out of the water at the shore line and waves at Megan as she is being molested. As expected, she begins screaming and running out of the water. It’s a truly freakish moment brimming with suspense and unease, we know what these nasty backwoods killers are capable off and how perverse their methods of dispatch can be. The terror of the moment is only made right by the sight of Megan’s lovely body running out of the water, sopping wet, nekkid, running and beautiful. The moment was absolutely horrifying, but he coming out of the water surrounded by the lush forest sure makes you contemplate the beauty of nature.

just before

Now, what blows my mind, is the next time we see these kids they’re dancing all sexy like by fire light RIGHT AFTER THIS INCIDENT! Let me tell you, if my wife or anyone I was comping with came to me hysterically crying about being molested, I’d be loading up the camper and booking it down the side of the mountain. But even Megan seems to have gotten overt her trauma in no time and is clapping her ass cheeks on Daniel the nerd boy’s wang doodle like it’s Spring Break at Panama City Beach. Everyone is gyrating the love bits and shaking their money makes when a three piece family of rednecks (Papa, Mama, and the little singing girl from earlier)  bash the fuck out of their radio, emerge from the darkened woods and are now the THIRD people to warn these kids that they’re going to die.  You kids are “Gonna wake up THE DEVILS!”  Time to load up the camper and head to civilization right?

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Of course, the kids don’t listen, and the next day decide to go messing around in the woods in separate groups which leads to some of the most horrifying and suspenseful shit in the movie, with each murder being set up masterfully and pulled off with maximum suspense, which is not exactly the hallmark of the slasher genre. Nine times out of ten I find myself bored to pieces as someone is walking down a dark corridor, or walking around the woods calling out for a friend. But Just Before Dawn knows exactly what TO show us and what NOT TO show us in order to actually give us that sense of dread, or knowledge that something terrible is occurring. What’s also impressive is that the film doesn’t rely on gore effects to sell it’s shocks and scares, instead leaning on it’s actors to make us feel the fear, the pain, the struggle they’re in, which, again to my amazement, the cast fully delivers. Not only do they create characters we believe and genuinely like, but the film take the time to let the actors deliver what they need to in order to bring the audience with them into the horror they’re going through. Also, the score composed by Brad Fiedel is far eerier than most genre entries ever get and creates a nightmarish atmosphere of solitude and doom.

Jeff Lieberman wrote and directed this lean, mean, fucking slasher film which relies on subtlety, allowing the terror to build, and once the shit hits the fan, doesn’t shy away from laying it on us with harrowing set pieces, nail biting suspense and making us witness to some nasty fates. Lieberman’s a name I never hear mentioned when it comes to cult horror film makers, but the brother directed another fantastic down home horror fest, 1976’s Squirm, the LSD shock fest Blu Sunshine in 1977 and even directed the vastly underrated Halloween horror film, Satan’s Little Helper. Also, looking at his IMDB page, the guy directed a documentary about the mysterious death of boxing legend Sonny Liston and wrote, of all thing, The NeverEnding Story part II… Huh…

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Just Before Dawn is a slasher film that NEEDS to be recognized and HAS to be seen by fans of the genre. It’s a standout among a genre that was just at the beginning of going stale, even as early as 1981. Lieberman and company made a flick that pulls no punches and creates a real nightmare scenario. The killers themselves are a little goofy when you finally get a good look at them, but the actors trying to escape from them do a damn good job of selling their menace, even when the killer’s goofy unibrow and giant beer bellies, do not. The final battle at base camp is fucking astounding and in it’s execution, and in it’s final moments, just before dawn, we see a new dawn and the final transformation. It has to be seen to be believed.

I award Just Before Dawn FIVE OUT OF FIVE Dumpster Nuggets.

You have got to see this sucker!

Stay Trashy!

-Root

25
Jun
13

Sleepaway Camp (1983): The Importance of Boating Safety

Sleepaway-Camp-Poster

a Primal Root written review

There are certain movie watching experiences I”ll never forget; the first time I laid eyes on Jessica Rabbit at the Grand 10 Theater in Winter Haven Florida,  witnessing Tim Burton’s darkly imaginative take on the after life in ‘Beetlejuice’,  and witnessing the adorable mogwai after their pupal-stage lay siege to Mrs. Peltzer’s kitchen before being blown to bits in her microwave. Yes, there are some moments that stay with you forever.

‘Sleepaway Camp’ is one of those films. Loaded like a revolver during a game of Russian roulette, Sleepaway Camp delivers some pretty disturbing jolts as the trigger clicks through some nasty slasher movie shocks and then, at the very end, the movie’s hammer makes contact with the story’s primer and sends a bullet of shock so mind blowing it left a deep seated scar I carry with me to this very day. I can remember renting ‘Sleepaway Camp’ from a local Mom & Pop video store in Fort Pierce Florida back in the late mid to late 90’s and expecting a tongue in cheek, not so serious slasher film.  And it just about has you fooled with it’s opening sequence involving a young father, his two young children(a little boy and girl the same age) and a ludicrous motor boating accident leaving two of the three dead in the water.  I;m still not exactly sure if this sequence is being played for laughs on purpose or not, but the dead pan reactions to the horror that’s unfolding coupled with one teenage girl who witnessed the accident’s hysterical cries for help makes it hard to interpret any other way.

Or maybe I was, and still am,  a cynical kind of kid.

Then again, I had grown accustom to watching these kid of slasher movies with pretty sizable groups of my childhood and teenage buddies, which kind of imbued us with the power to laugh and make fun of the horrors shown to us in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of impunity. Nine times out of ten, the horror was goofy, not very scary or shocking,  and wasn’t tapped into the true stuff of nightmares.   Hell, a lot of the time the movies seemed to make fun of themselves.  However you slice it, I was not prepared for what ‘Sleepaway Camp’ had in store for me.

sleepaway camp John-Dunn

Kid after my own heart.

Like the original Evil Dead, I watched Sleepaway Camp by myself, in a pitch black living room at about two in the morning so the movie’s horror had no filter. No peanut gallery to help soften the blow. It was just me, who started out chuckling at a poorly staged, but somewhat surreal opening inciting incident which introduced us to sweet, naive and incredibly quiet Angela  and her cousin, the cool kid with serious anger management issues and a potty mouth to match, Ricky.  Angela is the one child who survived the tragic boating accident who killed both her father and sibling. These two tweenagers are being packed up and shipped off to Camp Arawak by the slightly comical, slightly unnerving Aunt Martha. Again, this scene can be taken as bizarrely comical or somewhat creepy. There is something off here, something wrong with this family dynamic.

Desiree Gould as Aunt Martha, can you say "Red Flag"?

Desiree Gould as Aunt Martha, can you say “Red Flag”?

Ricky, who is no stranger to Camp Arawak, has taken it upon himself to be Angela’s caretaker and protector, as this is her very first year and she clearly has some deep seated issues we as an audience are not exactly privy to.  As the kids arrive at camp we are immediately introduced to the cooking staff who gather on the lawn an watch as all the children stream off the buses  and run towards some undisclosed location.  Do kids ever run off the bus when they get to camp as it is illustrated here and in countless other summer camp movies? Where the Hell are they going? Anyhoo, of course, the cooking staff is headed by a slimy,  beefy, blonde and bearded pedophile named Artie, who ogles the little girls running by and affectionately explains to his fellow staff members that where he comes from they call these little objects of his carnal lust “baldies”. His cohorts just laugh it off as good matured child rape humor, but something about the way he chews on that stick and leers at the little girls in their tiny jogging shorts tells us this man’s intentions might not be to tickle his staff, but to tickle his pickle in a very tiny pickle jar.  *shudders*

As you might guess, he makes his first move on tiny, silent, Angela who he is asked to give ice cream to. He takes her in a back room and asks her “see anything you like?” as he saunters towards her, unbuckling his belt and drooling like a dog staring at a bag of “Beggin’ Strips”.  Angela simply stares at Pedo Man as Ricky takes this moment to rush in, grab her hand and get her out of corn hole alley! Snidley Rapist screams at them that he will kill them…and then begins making the tallest pot of boiled corn on the cob ever conceived which, thanks to an unseen assailant, he ends up soaking in at it’s peak boiling point as retribution for almost raping a pre-teen child. It;s a fitting, yet undeniably painful, fate for such a slimy child fucker. The last we see of him he is being rolled off on a gurney and covered head to toe in gauze. Thankfully, there is a police detective nearby to explain that every nerve in his body must be on fire and that he is probably experiencing the worst pain that could ever be imagined.  Why, thank you, detective!

Hard Boiled Pedophile. Well, that's one method of reform.

Hard Boiled Pedophile. Well, that’s one method of reform.

There are enough scumbags and assholes employed and/or attending Camp Arawak to give any concerned parent pause. Actually, you know, there’s an equal distribution between mentally deranged employees, cocksucking teenage boys, cont faced teenage girls, and sweet folks genuinely looking for a good time and not trying to harm anyone.  Sleepaway Camp is smartly designed in the “whodunnit” format and there is a pretty good list of suspects to choose from, although it gets whittled down pretty damn quickly as asshole after asshole ends up meeting his or her maker in grisly and imaginative fashions.  The one thing they all have in common? They were all dicks to Angela. Which just about everyone seems to be, so there’s quite a big pool of victims to chop into meaty, bloody, bits for the audience’s pleasure.

Karen Fields as Judy plays one of all time great cunt faces of cinema! At least she's got a way with words.

Karen Fields as Judy plays one of all time great cunt faces of cinema! At least she’s got a way with words.

One of the most memorable, and one of my favorite characters in the movie, is Camp Arawak’s resident uber bitch, Judy. Judy is played by a well developed actress, Karen Fields, who was a good bit older than the rest of her pre-teen cohorts. It pays off though! Because this lady turns in one of the hands down BEST over the top performances in the annals of horror. The way she mugs through infinitely quotable lines such as  ” She’s a real carpenter’s dream! Flat as board and needs a screw!” and makes it her mission to turn Angela’s summer camp experience into a living Hell. In fact, Judy even gets a jerkola camp counselor by the name of Meg to assist her in that unholy mission, and in one depressing scene, even pick Angela up and throw her in the lake to drown, I guess, seeing as Angela can’t swim.

By the grace of pure rage these two villains get what’s coming to them. Meg gets sliced open in the shower and Judy receives a perverse  death that is left almost completly to the audience’s imagination as our killer knocks the bitch out with a well placed right cross, lays her out, spreads her legs and then…in shadow, lowers a piping hot curling iron down towards her…well…down towards her area. The curling iron is opened up, lowerd and the unmistakable sound of sizzling flesh is heard as Judy’s muffled screams of agony fill the air and she raises the “hand of desperation” in the air before succumbing to the deadly hot curling iron, which we can only assume, was shoved up her love cavern. Personally, I imagine the super hot and girthy portion went up the HOOHA and the clippy part of the machine got inserted into the pooper zone.

A police officer is shocked and horrified after witnessing the aftermath of the Judy Curling Iron Massacre. It was so disturbing  his mustache transformed into sculpting putty.

A police officer is shocked and horrified after witnessing the aftermath of the Judy Curling Iron Massacre. It was so disturbing his mustache was transformed into sculpting putty.

By films end, just about every major player who “had it coming” has received his or her just deserts which sets up a final rendezvous with Angela and her little love interest Paul down by the lake.  As the police and camp counselors begin discovering bodies of various victims in age ranging from 6 to 87  strewn all over camp with arrows through their throats, churned into coleslaw in their sleeping bags, or impaled through the vajayjay with curling irons, Angela suggests she and Paul get nekkid lake side…which sets up one of the most mind shatteringly brilliant twist endings in the history of horror cinema. Certainly in the slasher sub-genre. Hell, M. Night, Shyamalan has nothing on the end of Sleepaway Camp.

****SPOILERS, MOTHER FUCKER, SPOILERS!****

As two counselors approach Angela on that darkened lake shore, we can barely make out the shape of Angela sitting on the sand, Indian style, with Paul’s head in her lap. The counselors call out to her, Angela rises, Paul’s decapitated head rolls to the ground and there Angela stands. Naked. Growling and inhuman growl, face frozen in a terrible wide eyed, open mouthed face of total insanity and…what’s that dangling between her legs? That a set of cock and balls.  Turns out it was the little girl who died in the boating accident, and her brother survived to be taken in by his Aunt Martha. But aunt Martha, being the unhinged woman that she is, already had her son Ricky and decided she would rather have a girl…and so she dressed this boy up as a girl, treated her like one, and for all intent and purposes transformed her into Angela. Angela was killing all these people not only to protect her/his secret, but out of sexual confusion/frustration.

****END OF SPOILERS! YOU ARE SAFE!****

There I sat in the darkened, empty living room as the end credits began to roll over Sleepaway Camp. I couldn’t move, I was so shocked and disturbed by the finales revelations. I was used to the sting in the tail ending by this point thanks to ‘Carrie’, ‘Friday the 13th’, etc. but ‘Sleepaway Camp’ packs much more than a simple jump scare. The final five minutes of Sleepaway Camp and the chill it sent down my spine that night, the chill that revisits me every time I watch it, are what transform this film from passably good slasher movie to a bonafide cult classic. This flick is packing the goods.

What the fuck is happening here?

Made you look!

It’s honestly one of the most shocking and clever twists I’ve ever witnessed. And just when they reveal this the movie ends while you try to catch your breath and wrap your mind around the reveal. Christ, just telling you about the ending is giving me goose flesh.  Sleepaway Camp follows the summer camp slasher flick formula pretty damn closely, but what sets it apart is how natural these kids and their interactions with one another are. It’s casual, honest, and it gives the proceedings a bit more credibility than other slashers who follow the summer camp formula. Hell, even the majority of the campers are PLAYED by kids. and aren’t played half badly either.

The story isn’t exactly ground breaking, but due to the film’s twist, going back and rewatching ‘Sleepaway Camp’ viewers see things totally differently and can detect every single moment that is setting off the killer and prompting the murders. Everything takes on a new meaning as soon as you know who the killer is and what their motivation was. Sleepaway Camp stands as one of the very best of the Summer Camp slasher films of the 1980’s. If I were being totally honest, I might just confess I enjoy ‘Sleepaway Camp’ more than I do either ‘Friday the 13th’ or ‘The Burning’. It’s a well done piece of summer camp slasher Trash Cinema and one I HIGHLY recommend everyone see at least one. And after you’ve finished watching it, you may want to go back and just watch it one more time, for your own sanity’s sake.

Perverse, darkly comical and quite unsettling, The Primal Root can’t help but give Sleepaway Camp 5 out of 5 Dumpster Nuggets.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

Family circus was REALLY funny this morning.

Family circus was REALLY funny this morning.




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