Brutal Backwoods Butchery!!!

Gory greetings! Your old pal Brain Hammer is back from the grave with another batch of BRAIN HAMMER’S PICKS FROM THE CRYPT! This time around I’m heading back to nature and throwing the spotlight on a terrible trio of criminally underrated backwoods bloodbaths.

LET THE BLOODSHED BEGIN!!!

 

RITUALS (1977)

Five middle aged doctors in matching yellow hats plan a backwoods getaway for a little much needed r&r. This vacation will also test the limits of the crabby & flabby doctor’s endurance. They are dropped off by seaplane in the middle of nowhere and left to their own devices for the following seven days. The week will be highlighted with an eighty mile hike to the isolated spot where the plane will be waiting.

On the first evening in the woods the doctors (Harry, Mitzi, DJ, Abel, and Martin) stay up all night getting drunk and having arguments about their professional ethics. Harry (Hal Holbrook) and Mitzi (Lawrence Dane) bicker over how long Harry lets his patients suffer on the operating table before finally pulling the plug on them. Then they begin drunkenly bragging and chanting about being doctors and do their best Frankenstein impressions to mock dying patients. Unfortunately for everyone involved, someone is watching and listening in the woods and doesn’t find the doctor’s antics amusing.

The next morning the doctors wake up and discover their boots are missing. The immediately know something is very wrong and blame roaming theives or “boot freaks.” DJ was the only one who brought an extra pair of boots, and he goes wondering off to find a hydroelectric dam they had spotted on the map earlier. The remaining doctors stay put and spend the night. They awaken to find a macabre work of art in front of their tents. The same creep who stole their boots returned in the night and left behind a dead deer covered with snakes. The men are horrified, even more so when they see that the macabre work of art bears resemblance to the international cross and snake symbol for doctors.

Boots or no boots, the shaken doctors then decide to head towards the dam looking for DJ. Before they can make much progress somone throws an angry beehive at them and sends them running for lives into the water. Fatty doctor Abel makes the fatal mistake of diving in headfirst and smashes his head on a rock. The gentle boob then drowns before the others can save him. Martin finds DJ’s rope stung up across the river and tries to make the trek across, but steps on a waiting beartrap for his efforts. Once again, the creeper is one step ahead of them.

Harry and Mitzi then have to carry Martin around on a homemade stetcher as they try to make their way to safety. The creeper starts leaving clues to his identity, including a brutal set of Army x-rays dating back to 1945. The doctors now understand that whoever is after them obviously has a burning hatred for doctors and a thirst for revenge. They struggle to keep their heads together but the stress of carrying around their fallen comrade begins wearing them down. Mitzi is left in charge of keeping watch the following night but falls asleep. The next morning they discover the severed head of their buddy Abel on a stick. (Fuck “Wolf Creek!” This was the ORIGINAL “head on a stick” flick!) Harry at that point goes completely insane and chucks the head on a stick off a cliff like a lollipop javelin!

Mitzi is reduced to a blubbering imbecile who can’t stop crying and screaming. Harry on the other hand begins a transformation into a hardened warrior. He also carries most of load hauling around Martin. When they finally make it to the dam they discover it had abandoned years before. Their friend DJ is waiting for them, but he’s tied to a chair and almost dead from bloodloss. This time around Harry is quick to pull the plug on a suffering friend and puts DJ out of his misery. Mitzi is completely disgusted by this and runs off screaming like a woman. Harry then makes another tough decision and decides to leave Martin behind to die instead trying to carry him by himself.

Harry takes shelter in the first cabin he can find. Unfortunately, that cabin belongs to the creeper and his older brother. Harry puts the blast on the old man and then has a wild run in with the creeper that leaves him with a gushing femoral artery. Harry is forced to cauterize the wound by pouring gunpowder into it and lighting it on fire. (“Rambo III” ripped that off big time!) The final excruciating scenes feature a fiery showdown between the Harry and the creeper highlighted with Mitzi being roasted alive! Can Harry finally pull the plug on the creeper? If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise!

RITUALS (a.k.a. “The Creeper”) was shot in 1976 but didn’t see an American release until 1978. The film got mixed reviews (the acting was always praised) but was often dismissed as a Canadian knock of “Deliverance.” The film has gone on to earn a cult following over the years and uncut copies of the film are coveted by collectors. The reason this one is considered such a classic is because it combines some incredibly beautiful wilderness locations and genuinely gruesome and unsettling violence. The film ramps up the tension until the final scenes, which are especially brutal. The highlight of the film is undoubtedly the head on a stick shot, but the cauterization and burning scenes are also jaw droppers. For a 70’s horror flick this is some truly gruesome, realistic violence.

The other reasons this film is a superior backwoods bloodbath are the acting and the story. As you would expect from a film with Hal Holbrook in the lead, the acting in this movie is excellent. Hilariously, there’s a shot of Hal in this flick that was actually used for the cover of his 1979 soft rock album “On The Road To Soft Gold.” You can’t make stuff like that up folks! The rest of the cast are also top notch. There is a lot of genuine tension between Hal & Lawrence Dane in this one. The way they bicker towards the end of the film feels very real. The story stands out for being exceptionally brutal, but also orignal. The killer’s hatred of doctors and macabre motivation for rural revenge is unique, and it also comes across as real. I also like the fact that a lot of the story isn’t spelled out for you right away, and that you get to experience the film on deeper levels when you watch it again knowing the killer’s motivations.

RITUALS is a great flick, and it really needs a proper dvd release. You can currently find the edited tv version of the film (under the title “The Creeper”) in one of those cheap-o “horror collections” from Mill Creek. The uncut version of the film is making the rounds on the internet. You can usually find it for cheap on ebay or ioffer. It’s well worth seeking out a copy. This a fantastic flick that deserves a larger audience!

 

JUST BEFORE DAWN (1981)

Two drunks named Ty & Vechel take a break from deer hunting deep in the woods to check out an abandoned church. Ty (the same dude who played that wrinkled old dick Mel in “Sleepaway Camp!”) begins preaching the gospel of drunken excess before turning his eyes towards the heavens and catching a glimpse a of large man staring back down at him through a hole in the roof. Ty stumbles outside to see who this guy is and watches in horror as his pickup truck rolls downhill and crashes in flames. Vechel turns around and comes face to face with a grotesque looking mountain man who gives him an impromptu circumcision with a saw. Run for your life. The nightmare has begun.

It will find you in the hour when dream and reality merge. The last desperate moment of darkness. Just before dawn. That’s when a group of five young people traveling in a Winnebago make their way towards a mountain vacation. The isolated mountain location promises nothing but 4000 feet of granite, water, and wood, and the kids hope to become a part of the mountain and find its soul. A chubby forest ranger played by George Kennedy stops the group before they reach the mountain and gives them the standard “you kids have been warned” prophet of doom speech.

They were warned. But they did not understand the warning. Then the kids have a wild run in with Ty, who is still on the run from the beginning of the film. Ty tries in vain to convince the kids to turn around and leave while they still can but they dismiss him as a drunken retard. The drunken retard has the last laugh though when he sees his nephew’s killer jump on top of the Winnebago as it pulls away. They came to the mountain for adventure and escape. What they found was a trial which only the strongest could survive.

How could they know that beneath the awesome beauty of nature lay violence, danger, and death? How could they know the heat of their bodies was the magnet that would draw the terror to them? When darkness falls the girls let their hair down and boogie down in the moonlight. The fun is short lived when a local yokel named Pa Logan shows up and blasts the kids’ boom box with his shotgun. Pa brings along his haggard looking wife Ma and their batshit insane daughter Merry Cat. The family again tries to warn the kids that they are all doomed, and Pa tells them if they don’t leave they will “raise the devil.” For the THIRD time in as many days, they were warned… but again they did not understand the warning. They stubbornly decide to stay put and finish their vacation. The days of leisure turn into nights of terror when the killer returns. Just before dawn… they will cry out. Just before dawn… they will struggle to escape. Just before dawn… the demon lives! If only they could die in their sleep!

I am a huge fan of this flick. I think JUST BEFORE DAWN is one of the most underrated 80’s slasher flicks. It’s also one of the very best “hicks in the sticks flicks” ever made. The film was shot on location at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon and it features some of the most impressive outdoor scenery in horror history. It’s amazing how director Jeff Lieberman can create such a raw claustrophobic atmosphere inside such a lush and vast natural setting. What’s unique about this one is the way it combines the beauty of nature and the ugliness of violence. It’s also better acted than your average backwoods slasher flick. The two lead actresses are fantastic. Deborah Benson in particular really stands out with an amazing transformation into an ass kicking horror heroine.

I really dig the killer in this one. There’s a bit of a twist of course which I don’t want to spoil, but for the most part the killer is just a big fat ugly redneck. I like that there is no real explanation for who the killer is and why the murders are happening. If you choose to dig deeper into the film you might find some subtext about religion and find a connection between the abandoned church and the “demon” killer. The kids could also represent the “evil” of the big city which threatens to invade the god fearing mountain community. The real focus here is civilization versus barbarism. Our heroine has to become as savage as the killers in order to survive. It’s all a bit more interesting than a guy in a hockey mask randomly killing people, but for some reason flicks like “Just Before Dawn” are often dismissed as inferior imitations. The 80’s slasher market was overcrowded, and even in 1981 a superior flick like this could get overlooked.

Shriek Show released a two disc special edition dvd of JUST BEFORE DAWN that was hit & miss. There was only one real negative, but it was a big one! The opening death scene was trimmed and missing some gore footage. Other than that, the print was intact. It’s a little soft looking, but it was watchable. The positives outweigh the negatives of course. The two disc release includes a fantastic hour plus featurette titled “Just Before Dawn: Lions, Tigers, And Inbred Twins” that includes interviews with the cast and crew. Other bonus features include director’s commentary, photo gallery, and the kick ass theatrical trailers. (which I extensively ripped off for this review!) Fans of 80’s slasher flicks need to have this in their collections.

 

HUMONGOUS (1982)

It all began with a brutal rape after a drunken bash in Ontario; doesn’t it always? A young woman named Irma is raped by a sweaty fellow who promises to give the “old maid” what she has been missing. This evil act is promptly avenged with violent bestial death when a wild pack of security dogs rip the rapist to pieces, but the seeds of evil were planted deep and a hideous birth is the end result. Irma then hides her deformed monster son on a deserted island protected by the same wild dogs. The island stays deserted over the years because the little monster’s toys were once girls and boys.

Flash forward thirty years: Momma is long since dead, and baby Humongous is now all grown up and free to play. Also playing in the water nearby are a gaggle of teenage imbeciles, including good looking blonde leader Eric and his good natured love interest Sandy. Also along for the boat ride are a geeky chick with glasses named Carla, a hothead with a mullet named Nick, and a chick with huge tits named Donna. The party rages until Nick gets shitfaced and grabs a shotgun. Then a violent power struggle ensues, and a child’s toy boat is lit on fire… at least I think that’s what I just saw. That was a seriously cheap looking effect!

The kids and Bob the boat captain wind up washed up on the island of the Humongous. Nick goes looking for the old lady who supposedly lives on the island and gets chased around by the last remaining wild dog for his efforts. Things then go from bad to worse when Nick lands in a bear trap and then meets Junior. Eric and Sandy eventually wonder off looking for clues. Donna in the meantime makes great use of her massive tits by using them both as a blueberry basket and a blanket. Eric and Sandy discover the always conveniently located photo book full of back story, and then the monster’s basement shrine to momma filled with rotting corpses. When they try to warn the others it’s already too late. Massive malformed hands crush skulls like grapes. Necks are swiftly snapped and fresh bodies are stashed away for later consumption. A fiery deathtrap proves useless. It’s loose…it’s angry…and it’s getting hungry!

HUMONGOUS is one of those rare horror flicks that manages to kick ass despite the fact that the print is pitch black and most likely edited. Most of the death scenes occur in murky darkness and what little you can make out seems trimmed. Despite these fatal flaws, the film is still a kick ass slasher flick with unbeatable atmosphere and violence. Director Paul Lynch had previously struck slasher gold with “Prom Night,” and once again he proves himself very capable of helming a superior slasher. The story is nasty from start to finish, and there is pretty much zero chance any of the kids will survive.

The monster is a rather unique slasher killer. His closest living relatives would probably be the deformed freaks in “Hell Night.” “Humongous” is somewhat tame in the blood and guts department, but it’s questionable how much footage was scissored for release. You never get a really good look at the monster: only a few select shots of his deformed face, hands, and body. The monster is not the star of the show here. The focus instead goes to the kids and trying to make them sympathetic body count fodder. It’s something of a suspense thriller occasionally punctuated with slasher violence, but unlike “Prom Night” and the majority of other 80’s slasher flicks, in “Humongous” there is no element of revenge motivating the killings. This is man versus beast in a struggle for survival.

Sadly, this flick has not had a proper dvd release yet. It’s making the rounds on the internet, but beware of edited prints beings sold as “uncut.” You can tell right away if you have an edited print by watching the opening rape scene. If the scene seems a bit short, it’s edited. If you get several sweaty closeups of the rapist’s face while he pumps away you actually have the UNCUT version. All versions I’ve seen, uncut or otherwise are pitch black. Some are dark to the point of being almost unwatchable. The night scenes become old time radio serials. HUMONGOUS is yet another clas-sick horror flick that needs a special edition dvd release. I’d love to “see” this one for the first time!

 

 

KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!

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One Response to “Brutal Backwoods Butchery!!!”

  1. Catastrophoea Says:

    I believe you have single-handedly made me wanna see Just Before Dawn. I’ve been convinced out of it by other folks and other reviews over th’ years, but yer review just sealed th’ deal for me. I gotta go hunt it down now.

    I’m gonna add Humungous to my search list, as well, as that looks to be some gory ridiculousness, right there. (What can I say, I’m a sucker for misshapen monsters lurking on quasi-abandoned islands.)

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