Savini Splatter Fest!!!

Love him or hate him, no one can deny how incredibly important and influential Tom Savini’s work has been to the horror genre. After already turning heads with his effects work in classics like “Deathdream,” “Deranged,” and “Dawn Of The Dead,” Tom Savini became a fucking legend by creating the incredible death scenes for Sean Cunningham’s “Friday The 13th.”

 Make no mistake about it kiddies: although “Halloween” may have came first by a few years, “Friday The 13th” was THE slasher flick that inspired a flood of imitations and single handedly kicked off the 80’s slasher craze. Eager producers were more than willing to spill some blood in order to carve up a bit of success at the box office, and Tom Savini was the man they called to get the job done right.

After the incredible success of “Friday The 13th,” Tom worked a number of other classic 80’s slasher flicks. In some cases Savini’s effects were the real stars of these movies, and his name was proudly plastered all over the posters, sometimes in bigger letters than any of the actors!

This edition of BRAIN HAMMER’S PICKS FROM THE CRYPT features three of my all time favorite 80’s slasher flicks with eye popping and mind blowing special effects from the legendary Tom Savini.

LET THE BLOODSHED BEGIN!!!

 

MANIAC (1980)

The late great Joe Spinell (“Rocky,” “The Godfather”) commands the screen as Frank Zito, a deranged serial killer who prowls the streets of the big apple looking for beautiful women to rip the life out of. Frank was the end result of childhood of brutal child abuse. His beautiful mother Carmen tormented his young mind and savaged his body, leaving him with both emotional and physical scars. Despite this abuse Frank loved his mother with all of his heart and when she was taken from Frank when he was very young in an auto accident he never fully recovered.

His adult mind becomes lost in a sea of voices. He harbors a deep resentment for women, in particular the ones the ones that sit and smile and say “yes miss, no miss, not now miss, whatever you say miss?” In Frank’s defense – it really is enough to drive a man crazy. Frank defends himself with a shotgun and hunts for tasty game after dark. His male victims are just random joes caught with their pants down and are quickly disposed of with strangulation or a face full of lead. Frank Zito is a ladies man. The women are treated to more torturous ways of slaughter and are routinely strangled, shot, stabbed, and scalped.

The scalps are very important to Frank. He brings them home to his creepy looking apartment and nails them to the heads of mannequins that he uses for sex. Frank also dabbles in the arts. He works as a painter, abstracts mostly, some stilllifes, landscapes, that sort of thing. As an artist, Frank lives by the philosophy that things change, people die, but in a picture or painting they are yours forever. The mannequins are Frank’s supreme creation, and he captures the beautiful young women so that they may be his forever.

That’s why Frank has such a fancy for fancy girls and their fancy dresses and lipstick, laughing and dancing. He has to stop them because they don’t know when to stop. He warned them not to go out tonight. They can lock their windows and doors, but they can’t lock the madman out of their minds. The voices in Frank’s head implore him to be careful and always warn him that he could be taken away for doing the things he’s doing. This doesn’t stop Frank from stalking and slaying as many women as possible.

Frank’s already busy life becomes even more complicated when he takes a stroll in the park one day and winds up being photographed by a stunning young fashionista named Anna D’Atoni. (Caroline Munro of “Slaughter High” fame!) Frank tracks Anna down and the two hit it off in a big way. Despite possessing an appearance that could be politely described as “creepy looking” or perhaps “weird and greasy,” Frank charms the pants off of Anna and takes her out to dinner at a restaurant over in Jersey called Clams Casino. Great Italian food. Frank later attends one of Anna’s exclusive fashion shoots. This allows Frank the opportunity to tap his toes to the funky sounds of Don Armando and the 2nd Avenue Rhumba Band’s sizzling number “Goin’ To A Showdown.” It also gives Frank to the perfect chance to follow a model named Rita home and stick a large knife in her chest because she knew. Rita Knew.

Frank’s third and final date with Anna sadly didn’t go nearly as well. A nighttime visit to the graveyard to pay respects to the beautiful Carmen Zito sounds like a perfect date, but Frank loses control of his emotions at the gravesite. Overcome with the feeling of emptiness and loss, Frank desperately reaches out at for woman now closest to his heart and attacks Anna. Scared and confused, Anna lashes back with a shovel and gives Frank a terrible cut on his arm. Losing blood and the final shreds of his sanity, Frank lamely retreats to the comforts of his apartment. But the worst for Frank has yet to come. His many female companions now have revenge on their minds and decide to take matters, and Frank’s head into their own hands.

MANIAC is one of my all time favorite flicks. I recall having nightmares about a guy jumping up on the hood of my parent’s car and shooting us after watching Bill Lustig’s fucking masterpiece of sleazy splatter as a wee impressionable Brain Hammer. Tom Savini’s gore effects in this flick are some of the sickest stuff he’s ever done, and that is really saying something. The graphic scalpings, skewerings, and shotgun shenanigans vividly displayed in this flick caused many stomachs to turn when it was first released. Even Stephen King admitted to have been disgusted by it. In his 1981 book “Danse Macabre” he refers to the classic whore scalping scene as “well-nigh impossible to watch.”

This infamous and controversial flick really set a new standard for other 80’s flicks to follow in terms of grit and grue. Few slashers or exploitation flicks can come close when it comes to possessing a suffocatingly disturbing, perverse, and violent atmosphere. “Maniac” is a brutal film that is clearly “love it or hate it” material and more than a few critics hated the film. Some self righteous cunts in California even took it upon themselves to paint over beautiful billboards with the classic Joe Spinell crotch shot artwork. Some newspapers refused to run ads, or even list the title of the film. Despite, or more likely because of this controversy the film was very successful. Joe Spinell was right, it wasn’t just a horror picture, it was a HAPPENING.

I really can’t say enough great things about Joe’s performance in this flick. “Maniac” was Joe’s baby. Joe Spinell wrote both the story and screenplay and co-produced the film. His performance is completely over the top, but is also really disturbing because it comes across as real. “Maniac” is a genuinely chilling film because there have been more than a few real life Frank Zitos in the world. Joe Spinell was one of the first people to accurately portray a demented serial killer and really delve deep into the twisted mind state and background of the character. He carries the whole movie. You spend every second with the killer and there’s no attempts to make sympathetic characters out of the victims. It’s to Joe’s credit that every scene in “Maniac” is riveting. I’m a huge fan of Joe Spinell, I even have the Tony Gazzo action figure. It’s a shame he left us so soon, I would have loved to see him starring in more movies.

Bill Lustig did a great job here directing his first non-porno flick. “Maniac” was made on a very small budget but still looks and sounds fantastic. Bill later went on to direct a string of cult classics, including “Vigilante” and the Bruce Campbell/Robert Z’Dar epic “Maniac Cop.” I consider “Maniac” to be Bill’s true masterpiece, and I’m not alone on that one. This flick has quite the cult following. Frank Zito is known to prowl around the net, and even has his own facebook profile.

Bill Lustig’s Blue Underground recently re released MANIAC on dvd. This is a must own dvd that includes a wealth of bonus features including audio commentary from Bill Lustig and Tom Savini, a 49 minute documentary on Joe Spinell, a radio interview with Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro, trailers, still gallery, and a “Gallery Of Outrage” consisting of the film’s many bad reviews. If you don’t have this in your collection you suck.

 

THE BURNING (1981)

A mischievous group of young campers assemble under the cover of darkness and prepare the biggest number that Camp Blackfoot has ever seen. The kids plan to scare the shit out of a cruel and sadistic summer camp caretaker named Cropsy. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the bizarre prank involving a rotting skull and candles backfires in a big way and Cropsy’s bedding catches on fire. The flames ignite a can of gasoline and in seconds Cropsy’s shack is engulfed. Tragically, Cropsy wasn’t familiar with the “stop, drop, and roll” concept and ran around screaming while trying to make his way into the nearby lake.

Cropsy survives the fire, but is very badly burned. He looks so bad that hospital orderlies describe him as “a fucking Big Mac, well done.” Five years of unsuccessful skin graphs leave Cropsy horribly disfigured and more than a little pissed off. Once he finally regains his strength he leaves the hospital with a burning hatred raging in his mind. Cropsy makes one final attempt at regaining his humanity by hiding his burns and picking up a hooker, and the whore’s eventual repulsion and rejection of Cropsy is enough to make him snap and shove a pair of scissors into her abdomen.

Now completely deranged, Cropsy grabs his trusty pruning shears and returns to Camp Blackfoot to have his revenge. As Cropsy prowls around the camp, we are introduced to a number of campers including the wisecracking and porn peddling Dave (Jason Alexander from “Seinfeld”), fast talking ladies man Eddy (Ned Eisenberg, who stole the show in “Moving Violations”), shy and misunderstood Alfred (Brian Backer, who later proved in “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” that he could play a geek with the best of them), junior jerk off champion Woodstock (Fisher Stevens from “Short Circuit”), a menacing meat head named Glazer (Larry Joshua), and Glazer’s incredibly hot virgin girlfriend Sally (Carrick Glen, who also appeared in the Brain Hammer approved slasher clas-sick “Girl’s Nite Out!”).

Cropsy bides his time until a large group of campers and two counselors leave the camp for an overnight canoe trip. Cropsy tags along for the ride and when night falls the bloodshed begins. Not in the least bit concerned about who he kills, Cropsy makes mincemeat out of any unhappy camper that crosses his path. This legend of terror isn’t just a campfire story anymore. The pain is all too real to Cropsy, and he uses his wicked shears to hack life and limbs away from those who enjoy a normal existence. Don’t look, he’ll see you. Don’t breathe, he’ll hear you. Don’t move…YOU’RE DEAD!

I consider THE BURNING to be a true masterpiece of 80’s horror. It was written by Harvey Wienstein shortly before “Friday The 13th” turned the world of horror on it’s ear and was released just afterwards in time to cash in on the booming slasher market. This is one of the very best slasher films set in a summer camp. Only “Sleepaway Camp” rivals this film when it comes to capturing the madcap spirit of camp. A lot of time is spent getting to know the characters, and I think it ultimately adds to the impact of the film. The kids are all sympathetic characters, which makes their wholesale slaughter at the hands of Cropsy even more potent. It also gives us a chance to enjoy an extended shower scene with Carrick Glen and her beautiful soapy chicken breasts.

Tom Savini’s gory special effects were the major selling point of the film. Tom already had a well deserved reputation as a wizard of gore thanks to his fantastic work on films like “Dawn Of The Dead” and “Friday The 13th.” Interestingly, Savini turned down a lucrative offer to do the effects for Steve Miner’s “Friday The 13th Part II” and chose to work on “The Burning” instead. Tom Savini has created many incredible effects over the years, but “The Burning” perhaps more than any other film is the best showcase for his brilliant work.

The multiple stabbings, slicings, skewerings, and shearings are about as bloody and over the top as anything ever splashed upon the screen. The incredible “raft massacre” scene is the highlight of the film and is the stuff of legend. Much credit must also be given to director Tony Maylam, as well as editor Jack Sholder (“Alone In The Dark”) for knowing how to use these special effects to their fullest potential in the film. The numerous death scenes are tightly edited for maximum impact. The effects are spectacular and still look great today. All around, “The Burning” is an 80’s slasher flick that more than stands the test of time.

It’s well known that “The Burning” is one of the all time great slasher flicks. Sadly, for far too long a decent looking, uncut print of “The Burning” was something of a “holy grail” for slasher completists. The original R rated vhs releases, and most of the region 2 dvd releases were all heavily edited and therefore worthless. Several years ago I paid $25 for a murky looking bootleg vhs copy of the uncut Japanese print – and thought it was quite a bargain. Looking back I could kick myself for such a foolish purchase, especially when I watch the beautiful looking remastered dvd print of “The Burning” that MGM officially released in September of 2007.

After several years of having this one tucked up their ass, MGM went the extra mile with this dvd release. First of all, they were wise enough to present the UNCUT version of THE BURNING with all of the juicy splatter intact. The dvd features beautiful picture quality and is much clearer looking than any previous release. Best of all, we get several brand new bonus features – including a 17 minute Tom Savini special effects featurette entitled “Blood N’ Fire,” a commentary track with director Tony Maylam, a photo gallery, and the theatrical trailer. After years of anticipation, this dvd release wound up being well worth the wait. No respectable horror collection is complete without this.

 

THE PROWLER (1981)

1945. A young soldier returns home to the States from the brutality of WWII and is greeted by a “Dear John” letter from his best gal, Rosemary. The sudden heartbreak causes the soldier to snap and go insane. His response to having his heart ripped out is donning his combat fatigues and crashing Rosemary’s college graduation dance. Armed with a pitchfork, the silent prowler crashes a gazebo grope fest that Rosemary was enjoying with her new boyfriend and swiftly impales the young lovers. As a final gesture of contempt, the killer leaves a rose on their bloody corpses. This violent death left the small town of Avalon Bay shocked and horrified, and Rosemary’s killer was never identified or captured.

After 35 long years of silence, the town attempts to bury the memories of the brutal murders once and for all and decide to finally have another graduation dance. As the preparations for the dance are underway the Sheriff (Farley Granger) catches wind of a report about a killer that robbed a store in a nearby town and cut up a young victim before stealing their car. Despite the fact this maniac could be heading for Avalon Bay, the Sheriff seems more interested in leaving town for his weekend fishing trip. The Sheriff leaves his young deputy Mark (Christopher Goutman) in charge of keeping the town safe. Mark has a pretty young love interest named Pam (Vicky Dawson), and the two make plans to keep an eye on each other during the dance.

As the sexy sorority sluts put on their war paint and prepare for the evening’s festivities, Rosemary’s killer also prepares himself for a night of action. After donning his old combat uniform the madman breaks his trusty pitchfork out of storage and also grabs his bayonet and shotgun. Obviously still holding a lethal grudge against happy young lovers, the prowler sneaks into the girls dormitory and begins an all out assault. The first victim has a bayonet violently rammed through his skull. This unfortunate lad’s girlfriend is showering at the time, and the killer proceeds to give her a breast exam with his pitchfork. Pam almost becomes the next victim when she discovers the prowler in the stairwell, but she barely manages to run away and tell Mark that someone was chasing her.

Blissfully unaware that a psycho killer is lurking in their midst, Mark and Pam then wonder around the campus looking for someone pulling a bizarre prank. As they slowly begin to uncover the deadly secrets of Avalon Bay, the prowler strikes again and slits the throat of a young girl taking a swim. A teacher goes looking for the missing girl and gets a bayonet in the neck for her efforts. Mark and Pam eventually wind up frozen with fear inside a large house owned by the creepy old man that runs the school (the late great Lawrence Tierney!) and have a mind blowing final battle with Rosemary’s killer.

“The Prowler” has to be considered one of the most bloodthirsty slashers ever made. The eye popping special effects from Tom Savini steal the show and make this essential viewing for gorehounds. There’s a spectacular exploding head shot that rivals anything seen in “Dawn Of The Dead” or “Maniac.” The bayonet head stabbing is especially brutal, and the way the actor’s eyes pop out as the blade works it’s way through his skull never ceases to give me chills. All of the deaths in this movie are gory as hell and help “The Prowler” stand out in the pack of slasher flicks that were flooding the market at the time.

The always reliable Joesph Zito directed and did a great job. He later went on to direct “Friday The 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter” based on the strength of his work on “The Prowler.” The film has a distinctly polished feel and is much classier looking than some of the other slashers of the time period. The extended opening set in 1945 was done quite quite effectively on a very small budget. The photography by Raul Lomas and the score by Richard Einhorn also go a long way in helping the film capture a superior atmosphere.

The low budget only really hurt the film when it came time for distribution. Sadly, there wasn’t enough money available to properly market the film or get it in enough theaters to make a profit. As a result, the film quickly slipped into semi-obscurity. Too bad really, because this is clearly one of the best slasher flicks. It somehow manages to be both superior in terms of glossy production value and flesh ripping carnage. The best of both worlds.

For many years, a good looking uncut copy of  THE PROWLER was hard to come by. In 2002 the fine folks at Blue Underground did horror fans a big favor by releasing a dvd of “The Prowler” that is completely uncut and uncensored. It also includes nifty bonus features such as an audio commentary with Joseph Zito and Tom Savini, and Tom Savini’s behind the scenes gore footage. BUY IT!

 

KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!

 

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One Response to “Savini Splatter Fest!!!”

  1. Davesplatter Says:

    Great reviews Hammer. Your detailed descriptions and facts remind me why I worshipped these films in the first place. Glad to see your still at it. Tear it up big guy.

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