Saturday, July 17, 2021

Trapped at Boarding School (1983)

... aka: Attrap-1980

Directed by:
Heini Grünbaum

Denmark's very first slasher film? Possibly. Though I'm not entirely sure about that claim, it is currently the earliest one to show up on an IMDb horror title search. A teenage boy (Michael Andersen) is being harassed by a trio of punk bullies (Allan Teisen, Lars Svensson and Jakob Nyborg) at his boarding school. They steal his toboggan, throw rocks through his window, blow cigarette smoke in his face, steal his money, throw his bag over a fence, punch him in the stomach, knock him to the ground and do other not-so-nice things. Hell, the poor kid can't even take a piss in peace, as they barge in, beat him up and knock him out by bashing his head against the sink. Anyone who attempts to help the terrorized teen gets beaten up themselves so it looks like a pretty hopeless situation all the way around. Except... this kid is a big horror movie fan with a special affinity for Fredag den 13. (FRIDAY THE 13TH), so, like the rest of us horror nuts, he's seen his fair share of depictions of blood revenge. After one too many beatings, the kid finally snaps, steals a horror mask from a classmate taking a shower, gets his hands on a hatchet and gets to work teaching the bullies a lesson.

This entirely amateur effort, which never saw any kind of official home video release (the "world premiere" occurred in 2012 on Youtube), was shot on Super 8 with no sound. Technically-speaking, nearly everything about it is terrible. However, seeing how this was made for next to nothing by a 16-year-old director, it proves to be rather fascinating all the same.

The most interesting aspect is seeing what was popular overseas at the time and what was appealing to genre fans and possibly influencing independent European filmmakers at the dawn of the VHS era. And that turns out to be the exact same stuff that was influencing North American genre films at the time: namely Halloween and the aforementioned Friday the 13th. This steals most of its music from Carpenter's film, while prominently featuring the Danish Friday poster (which shows a bloody axe lying on a bed instead of the campers inside the killer's silhouette like the U. S. poster) as a reference point for the teen's revenge. Other posters seen on walls include Mad Max 2 / The Road Warrior and Escape from New York.

The plot is minimal, the acting is nearly nonexistent and the lighting is awful throughout but this is sometimes fairly imaginative and even slightly (probably accidentally!) experimental in regards to the editing and camerawork. While most of it seems sloppy, there's the odd occasion where it actually does work. There's a lot of killer POV camerawork like any good slasher film and some minor gore effects of hatchet wounds spurting blood. Nothing to write home about here, but it at least manages to tell a coherent story and is an interesting, amusing little time capsule coming from a country not known for their classic genre output.

The original cut of this was 45 minutes but the director re-edited it to the currently-released 25 minute version, which is basically just 20 minutes with credits and some other trivia / information thrown in afterward. Grünbaum made a number of other short subjects in the 80s and returned with the feature-length slasher flick Flænset / Shredded in 2000.


Killer in Every Corner, A (1974) (TV)

... aka: Thriller: A Killer in Every Corner

Directed by:
Malcolm Taylor

Professor Marcus Carnaby (Patrick Magee) is such a brilliant criminal psychiatrist he's in the running to receive the next Nobel Prize in his field. However, just because you're intelligent, accomplished and world famous doesn't mean you can't also be self-involved, unscrupulous and career-driven to the point of being downright evil. At his secluded country mansion, Carnaby has been experimenting with controlled conditioning; think Pavlov's drooling dogs, only Carnaby is more interested in applying similar techniques to human beings. And instead having people salivate over the prospect of food, Carnaby is more interested in being able to control his mentally-imbalanced subject's murderous impulses given the proper stimuli. In this instance, the stimuli to induce the urge to kill is a loud alarm bell, while the sound of a serene classical music piece releases one from their desire to murder.

Up to this point, Carnaby has mostly been experimenting with three men; all of whom came to him with criminal histories and severe mental problems. Two of them also work for him as hired help when they aren't being subjected to his various "physiology of violence" experiments. There's chauffeur / servant Boz (Don Henderson) and secretary / librarian George Thibedon (Max Wall), who's actually Jorg Kesselheim, an escaped Bavarian mass murderer. While Boz can be temporarily hypnotized into doing Carnaby's bidding with sound cues, both he and George / Jorg also require daily shots of a secret serum to keep their murderous impulses in check.

As he's been known to do once a year, Carnaby has invited three university psychology students over for a week-long "seminar" at his mansion. On the train ride over, the three are unable to determine why they of all people were singled out of thousands of students. There's Sylvia Dee (Joanna Pettet), a pretty blonde American who's in her final year of studies, Tim Hunter (Peter Settelen), a British junior and wants to teach and Helga Muller (Petra Markham), a German interested in social work who's just a freshman. Later, all three discover the only thing that really links them is that none of them have parents. Upon arriving at the mansion, they meet fellow guest Michael Slattery (Eric Flynn), a journalist interested in penning a biography on Carnaby. It's a difficult task seeing how the professor is known for being unsociable and reclusive.

The mansion comes complete with a laboratory on the top floor where a third man named Martin Aldridge is kept in a padded cell. He's monitored by some kind of computer system that keeps track of his brain waves as he indulges in the act of murder. The good professor isn't above just tossing a random, naive college student like Tim into the cell so he can have data to study as Aldridge kills him. As for Helga, she's the perfect specimen to test out ole sex predator George. If she can survive five minutes alone with him without being attacked, then success! However, experiments aren't always foolproof and overconfidence in one's abilities can leave the door wide open for, say, an underling test subject to come right in and take advantage of the situation.

Episode #5 of the fourth season of Thriller is, sadly, a bit of a disappointment. The premise is pretty good but most of the plot twists are predictable, there's a weak attempt to emulate Wait Until Dark's famous jump scare, the finale is sloppy and it's then capped off with an irritating non-ending. However, the actors are at least able to keep it all afloat. While Pettet is a decent leading lady and Henderson and Wall are both very good in their roles, this is Magee's show all the way as is usually the case when he's given a large enough role. The Tony-winning Irish theater actor supposedly had little interest in film and TV work, nor was he a fan of the genre he ended up being typecast in, and did these just for the money. However, none of that ever seems to come through in his actual performances, he always excels at these smarmy, seedy bad guy roles and appears to enjoy playing them even if he was actually indifferent about it.

As with all of these episodes, this was scripted by Brian Clemens. Pettet was later re-used in another entry titled A Midsummer Nightmare (1975), while director Taylor went on to make the later Murder Motel (1975) episode. This was released as a standalone video feature here in the U. S. by ThrillerVideo in the mid-80s and is now very easy to find on DVD box sets and streaming platforms.

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