Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Janie (1970)

Directed by:
Jack Bravman

A truly strange combo of erotica and horror, this uses both narration and a confessional between the titular character and her much older lover to tell the story of a young girl's warped adventures through suburbia on a bright, sunny autumn day. Blonde high schooler Janie (Mary Jane Carpenter) isn't quite right in the head. For starters, she's been skipping school a lot. And she doesn't get along with anyone at her school. No one really understands her. She loves the fall season because everything is dying and thinks to herself "People trust you because you're young, pretty and innocent... and because they want to get their hands on you." Janie plans to play hooky with her naive and impressionable sort-of girlfriend Carol, who she doesn't like at all but thinks she can easily manipulate. The two decide to go swimming and hitch a ride from a young man whom Janie tells can make love to her friend and then have her when he's done. The guy pulls over, Janie convinces Carol to just do it and then proceedings to run over both of them with the guy's car while they make love in the grass. And this apparently turns her on a lot since she can't help but start touching herself immediately afterward. She steals their money and takes the car for a joyride.

Deciding she still wants to go swimming, Janie goes to some stranger's home and uses their pool without asking. The owner ("Richard Jennings" / Michael Findlay) follows her out onto a pier to confront her about it, but she strips off her top, then stabs him in the back and pushes him into the water. Janie decides she not done quite yet: "After all, three murders isn't very much for an enterprising girl like you." Thankfully she's able to hitch a ride from a wealthy, black-clad lesbian, who brings her back to her apartment. There, Janie takes a bath and then joins the woman in bed, where she slices her up with a razor and then pleasures herself in bed next to the corpse. When she makes a quick pit stop at home she spies on her drunken stepfather slapping around his mistress and accusing her of stealing money, which turns her on again. All the while, Janie keeps fantacizing about being reuinted with her lover Jack, whom she's supposed to meet up with later that day. She catches a flight and goes to his home where she gets into it with his bitchy girlfriend Roberta (Roberta "Molke" / Findlay), who keeps calling her a "teenage tramp." After strangling her with a belt and hiding the body in the bathtub, we find out the true identity of Janie's lover. And that certainly explains a few things!

Light on plot and heavy on nudity, this sexploitation sickie provides more structural and visual interest than anything else. Photography director "Anna Riva" (Roberta Findlay) does her darndest to try to liven things up; contributing some strange yet often imaginative camerawork. There are 360 degree spins through the treetops, vaseline smeared lens shots which focus all of the action in the middle and blur the outside edges and the camera bobbing in front of faces and tilting. Sadly, the only avaiable print (distributed on VHS by by Alpha Blue Archives) is in wretched shape, is far too bright, full of scratches and has terrible audio, which makes the good elements (including the photography and numerous nude scenes provided by the very attractive leading lady) harder to appreciate. The editing is sometimes pretty interesting, particularly in Janie's rapid fire recollections of her crimes, and some of the narration is well-written, bordering on poetic at times.

Director / producer Jack Bravman went on to make ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE (1986) and NIGHT OF THE DRIBBLER (1990), both of which are absolutely terrible.


Slumber Party Massacre, The (1982)

... aka: Don't Open the Door
... aka: Overnight Murders, The
... aka: Sleepless Nights
... aka: Slumber Party
... aka: Slumber Party Murders, The

Directed by:
Amy Holden Jones

Delivering blood, nudity and laughs aplenty, this slasher staple (which was critically ridiculed upon release but became a hit, anyway) is really one of the most enjoyable of its type. It began as a parody of what Roger Ebert refers to as 'dead teenager' films, and was based on a screenplay by well-known feminist author Rita Mae Brown. Apparently much was changed from the original script (leading Brown to disown the entire project), but if her original intent was to make light of the 80s slasher film, I might actually prefer the approach the filmmakers eventually took instead. Labored parody movies like STUDENT BODIES (1981), SATURDAY THE 14TH (1981) and the more-recent SCARY MOVIE series just don't appeal much to me. I typically prefer my horror-comedies to be, first and foremost, horror films. Comedy is fine, but I typically don't like it when the laughs take center stage, the horror is short-changed and the whole film becomes one big joke. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. HARD TO DIE (1990), which specifically references the Slumber Party and Sorority House slasher titles, takes things to such a hilariously absurd level that it works wonderfully as an exploitation movie spoof. Some directors are able to balance the two genres. It doesn't happen too often. With Slumber, we get a pretty straight forward, well-made slasher film. The laughs scattered throughout are just an added bonus.

With her parents away for the entire weekend, nice girl Trish (Michelle Michaels) invites three members of her basketball team; Kimberly (Debra Deliso), Jackie (Andree Honore) and the snobby Diane (Gina Mari), over for pizza, margaritas and "Maui Wowwie" (weed) at an all-night slumber party. Meanwhile, escaped mass murderer Russ Thorn (Michael Villela) is lurking around their high school. He makes short work of a telephone repair lady, as well as Linda (prolific Scream Queen Brinke Stevens in her feature film debut), who has the misfortune of getting locked inside the school with the psycho, then stalks one of the girls to Trish's home and begins using his portable electric drill and other sharp things to kill everyone off. Trish's pretty next door neighbor Valerie (Robin Stille) - the new girl in town who just got snubbed by Diane earlier that day - and her bratty kid sister Courtney (Jennifer Meyers) end up getting in the middle of things, as do Neil (Joseph Alan Johnson) and Jeff (David Millbern), a couple of guys who decide to crash the party. Throw in the girls' basketball coach, a neighbor who lurks around outside at night with a meat cleaver killing snails (!) and a couple of others and you've got a sufficient body count.

Though the cast consists primarily of amateurs, the actors perform with the type of energy needed to ensure their thinly-drawn characters possess at least some basic appeal and they aren't nearly as obnoxious as what you'll usually find in slasher flicks. It's skillfully made as far as these things go and many of the comedy elements are indeed funny. My favorite bit is when the coach arrives home and gets a scare when a drill comes through her front door. Oops, it's only her friend installing her peep hole (!) Another amusing bit is when the killer - having already gouged the eyes out of the delivery boy - shows up at the door with pizzas and, when asked "What's the damage?" says "Six... so far." It is little touches of humor like these that put this a notch above other similar efforts. And they never crowd out the horror content. There's plenty of killing, drilling and stabbing, a decapitation, a hand hacked off and more. The subtext of a psycho running around "drilling" barely-dressed young women (expanded upon in both SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II and SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III) doesn't really require further comment.

Seeing how each time this film and its sequels has been issued on DVD they've quickly gone out of print (and would sometimes later go for hundreds of dollars on ebay), the film clearly has a bigger cult following than it's usually given credit for. The original VHS was distributed by Embassy, the first DVD issuing came in 2001 by Concorde / New Horizons and in 2010, the film and its two sequels (each with commentary tracks) were released on the same set by Shout! Factory. The set also included the hour-long retrospective documentary SLEEPLESS NIGHTS: REVISITING THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRES, which was put together by series fan Jason Paul Collum, who also made the very good Scream Queen doc SOMETHING TO SCREAM ABOUT (2003).

Roger Corman was the uncredited executive producer. Scenes from HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1976) are seen on a TV set and edited in with one of the murder scenes. The co-producer and assistant director was Aaron Lipstadt (who also plays the pizza man), who'd go on to direct the underrated ANDROID (1982) starring Klaus Kinski. Carol Frank, assistant to the director, would go on to make SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE (1986) and Stephen Herek, apprentice editor, would go on to make CRITTERS (1986).

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