A tribute to some of the lesser-appreciated genre antagonists from the heyday of degenerate cinema…
By: Jimbo X
Freddy. Jason. Michael. Chucky. All one-name icons that pretty much define everything that made blood-and-guts cinema great for the better part of 15 years. Alas, while widely-recognized fictitious mass murderers like Leatherface, Norman Bates and Candyman continue to receive praise and aplomb, there is a whole host of other splatter and slasher movie antagonists that continue to be neglected, despite their hefty contributions to the genre. With Halloween right around the corner, I decided to take a look back at some of the greatest horror movie characters that aren’t as well known to the movie-going masses, and give their gory, gunky exploits a long-overdue tribute. Here’s to the unheralded psychotic movie killers of yesteryear -- at long last, somebody salutes your trailblazing cinematic carnage.
10.) Debbie, Curtis and Stephen in “Bloody Birthday”
Somehow, someway, this ingenious slasher flick from ‘81 eluded me for almost three decades. Sure, sure, we’ve seen psychosexual maniacs and vengeance-seeking ghouls en masse, but when was the last time you saw a splatter flick in which the antagonists were a trifecta of evil elementary schoolers?
Apparently made evil in the womb by a solar eclipse (really), the trio of grade schoolers all of a sudden turn into mini Michael Myers during a meteor shower or some shit. The immediately kill two kids making out in an open grave(!) then they beat the town sheriff to death with a baseball bat and SHOOT AND KILL THEIR TEACHER with a handgun. Oh, and its even funnier, because the name of the character is Viola Davis.
Without giving away the rest of the movie, these little bastards set a new bar for onscreen malevolence. They cleverly get everyone in town to think the one person who knows their secret is insane with a poison cake switcheroo at another kids birthday party, and later, one of the evil shits tries to mow her down with a sedan. Oh, and if that hasn’t sold you by now? All I can say are nine words: “hot, naked older sister” and “bow and arrow fu.”
09.) Ezra Cobb in “Deranged”
When a film is subtitled “Confessions of a Necrophile,” you know you’re in for a heaping helping of family-friendly fun. This 1974 Canadian proto-slasher has gone on to develop a sizable cult following, and for good reason -- its far and away the best movie ever made about Ed Gein, the real-life psychopath who inspired, among other cinema titans, Leatherface, Norman Bates and Hannibal Lector.
Right off the bat, you’re going to be mind-fucked a plenty, as the actor playing the Ed Gein stand in is Roberts Blossom -- a.k.a., the goddamn SHOVEL KILLER from the first “Home Alone” movie. By the halfway point of the movie, when he’s shooting fat women post-coitus and digging uo his mama’s corpse, I’m sure whatever vestiges of your childhood NOT murder/death/killed by Bill Cosby and Hulk Hogan will evaporate before your very eyes.
The thing that really makes the film work -- a rather weird one, with this bizarre narrative in which a reporter keeps breaking the fourth wall -- is Blossom’s versatile performance. At the beginning of the movie, you really feel sorry for the guy, who is just a borderline retarded rube grieving his mother’s death. But then, when he starts getting a hankering for human taxidermy, he transforms into one of the ghastliest movie fiends to ever hail from the Great White North. If you’re looking for a slasher movie performance that’s both deliciously campy and legitimately unnerving, few fright flick antagonists do it better than our boy Ezra.
08.) Fuad Ramses in “Blood Feast”
Herschell Gordon Lewis’s super-cheesy (albeit super-influential) 1963 splatter flick not only set the mold for the American slasher flick, it more or less gave us the prototype for Jason and Michael Myers via its Egypt-worshipping antagonist (and, uh, caterer) Fuad Ramses.
The premise of the pastel-hued, ultra-campy drive-in classic is rather straight-forward. To appease the goddess Ishtar, Mr. Ramses (played by a dude name Mal Arnold, who apparently -- and perhaps understandably -- never had another film credit to his name) decides to start butchering local women, taking individual body parts for use in some sort of abstruse blood rite. Despite the incredibly amateurish acting, the gore itself in the film remains top-tier; we’ve got stabbings and disembowelment galore, including some especially nasty eye gouging murders … and arguably the grossest tongue-removal scene in the history of the motion picture.
With his horrific grey dye job and over-the-top delivery, Mal’s Fuad is one of the greatest bad performances in any film EVER. Alas, his super-hammy job here definitely makes “Blood Feast” all the more entertaining as a genre flick -- and who could ever forget a set of eyebrows like those if they tried?
07.) Cropsy in “The Burning”
One of the first flicks ever produced by the Weinstein Brothers, “The Burning” is definitely one of the best slasher movies of the early 1980s, and for my money, a much, MUCH better “Camp Kill ‘Em All” flick than the first “Friday the 13th” foray.
So, there’s this pervy janitor at a summer camp named Cropsy (obviously, a reference to the old New Jersey folktale which, incidentally, seemed to inspire Jason Voorhees as well.) A bunch of asshole kids decide to exact revenge on him by scaring the poo-poo out of him, so they break into his shack and place a skull with candles in the eye sockets right in front of his bed. He wakes up, and of course, he starts freaking out. Unfortunately, he freaks out a little bit too much, and winds up incinerating the entire cabin with him in it. Somehow, despite having 98 percent of his body turned into a charcoal briquette, he managed to survive the accident … and now, he wants revenge.
I’ve see a lot of early ‘80s slasher mayhem in my day, but even as a release from the zenith of degenerate cinema, the stuff you see in “The Burning” is really, really over-the-top. To this day, the infamous “canoe” scene remains one of the greatest moments in American exploitation cinema history, and just WAIT until this Cropsy fella trades in his trademark gardening shears for a flamethrower. Hoo boy, do things get wacky in this one’s denoument…
06.) Matt Cordell in “Maniac Cop”
Now this is an idea that I think was way ahead of its time. If you were to anchor a slasher flick around a particular profession, what could be better than putting the mass killer in a policeman’s uniform? The very people sworn to protect us, now transformed into lasagna-faced vigilante zombies … what a concept, no?
The first film, which came out in 1988, gave us the origin story behind Matt Cordell, a tough as nails cop who wound up getting sent to Sing Sing on some sort of corruption charge. Naturally, the inmates there don’t take too kindly to po-po, so he gets murdered in the shower … or so, we initially assume. Thanks to some sort of voodoo/cosmological irony, Cordell is resurrected as a bloodthirsty demon, ready to clean up the streets (and cubicles of city hall) with glorious, homicidal rage.
Cordell returned in two sequels, including one where he tag-teamed with a serial rapist to break all the mass murderers out of a supermax and another where he tries to use some kind of black magic to turn a female cop on life support into the Bride of Maniac Cop. While the films, as a whole, are more miss than hit (despite having the greatest worst “rap” theme you’ve ever heard in your life) they definitely have their moments and now -- in the post-Eric Garner/Michael Brown era -- you really have to wonder why the series hasn’t been rebooted.
05.) Frank Zito in “Maniac”
When it comes to exploitation flick excellence, very few men can claim to have put on as memorable a performance as Joe Spinelli in William Lustig’s 1980 genre classic “Maniac.” His rousing portrayal of Frank Zito -- a low-life, super-scummy New Yorker with a bad habit of ripping the scalps off of hookers and aspiring photographers -- is one of the all-time classic degenerate cinema roles … and one that not even an illustrious thespian like Elijah Wood has been able to replicate.
While the character never really comes off as sympathetic, Spinelli -- who looks like a cross between Ron Jeremy, Andy Kaufman and a greasy meatball sub -- certainly makes the murderer understandable. Having experienced some horrific form of child abuse as a wee one, Zito grew up to have a thing for mannequins. And human hair. And taking human hair from unwilling victims to staple on his mannequins, because goddamn, is he ever the creeper.
All in all, this is probably the best non-Italian “giallo” film ever. Zito has plenty of opportunities to mug it up in front of the character, and he even gets to show a little non-psychotic tendencies in a romantic(!?!) subplot. Of course, the reason Zito makes the list is because of his gloriously violent predilections, and not his ability to dialogue with the womenfolk. If you like your movies with a high body count, goodness gracious, you’re in for a treat here -- just WAIT ‘til you get to the part with Tom Savini and an up-close shotgun blast; it’s utterly sublime.
04.) Sardu the Great and Ralphus in “Bloodsucking Freaks”
The tandem of Sardu the Great and Ralphus is one of the greatest in the annals (anals?) of exploitative horror. Forget Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole, these two fellows right here were, and still are, the absolute apex of buddy-slasher sleaze.
While the legendary “Bloodsucking Freaks” is really more of a grind house shock flick, it no doubt influenced a ton of slasher flicks later on. With their tongue-in-cheek delivery and morbid humor, the antagonists of the flick really paved the way for the more charismatic movie slashers, such as Freddy and Chucky. And rest assured, the shit they did in this movie was WAY sicker than anything their much more celebrated progeny enacted onscreen.
The central plot of the film, you may be wondering? Well, Sardu and his midget buddy operate this weird off, off, off, OFF Broadway theater that consists of really gross stuff, like women having their fingers sliced off and dudes getting their teeth kicked out by ballerinas. Unbeknownst to the audiences, of course, the two are actually running a secret white slavery ring, and all of the blood and guts on the stage is 100 percent authentic. The shameless misogyny is just off the charts on this one, ensuring you will never, EVER see it get a major theater re-release ever again. Thank you are well-adjusted as a filmgoer? Well, after watching Sardu and pals play chess with severed body parts and sip plasma out of cognizant victim skulls, you probably won’t be.
03.) Billy and Ricky in “Silent Night, Deadly Night”
There’s never been a greater slasher sibling combo than the antagonists/protagonists from the “Silent Night, Deadly Night” films. Granted, only the first movie was actually worth a shit, but even in some inconceivably terrible sequels, we still got some truly inspired slasher performances.
I don’t care what anyone says, the first “Silent Night” film from 1984 is a fucking fantastic movie, and that’s me not being a wiseacre for once. It was such a terrific fusion of exploitative sleaze and psychodrama, fueled by the bang-up performance of the dude playing Billy, a poor youngster who watched his parents get killed by a Santa impersonator, only to get beaten by sex-hating nuns in an orphanage and THEN forced to wear the Saint Nick costume at work. When he finally went off the deep end -- and boy, was it ever majestic -- it resulted in one of the greatest B-horror body counts of the 1980s, complete with a sequel hook dovetailing into two of the absolute WORST B-horror offerings of the decade.
While it makes sense that Ricky -- the younger brother of the killer from the first film -- would eventually pick up his sibling’s murderous pastime, the actor portraying the character REALLY hammed it up. By now, we’ve all seen the infamous “Garbage Day” clip, and frankly, that’s one of his more subdued moments from the movie. Alas, as the zenith of over-the-top crappy movie slasher performances, I reckon its worth high placement on this countdown -- especially considering the character transformed into a Bill Moseley-portrayed Frankenstein exposed-brain tissue robot monster in the very next sequel!
02.) Angela Franklin in “Night of the Demons”
Men tend to dominate the list of iconic horror movie characters, but the main antagonist from the underrated “Night of the Demons” flicks definitely deserves a seat at the big boys table. A suburban rich girl Goth turned soul-swallowing sex demon, Angela has haunted four films thus far, dispatching dumb ass teens and even stupider adults with the gusto and zeal of a head cheerleader -- a head cheerleader with a nasty penchant for ripping peoples’ heads off and turning them into amphibious zombie mutants, naturally.
The first “NOTD” flick was a great, super un-P.C. horror comedy, complete with one of the best twist endings of the decade (even if it had virtually nothing to do with the primary narrative of the film, but I digress.) Here, we first met Angela Franklin, your prototypical Valley Girl poseur Skinny Puppy fan, who is transformed into a beef jerky-faced demonic bride via a Satanic soul kiss from Linnea Quigley (aka, that one chick who danced topless and bottomless in the first “Return of the Living Dead” movie.) After dancing to Bauhaus backwards and eating a fat dude’s tongue, she spent the rest of the movie transforming party-goers at a mortuary(!?!) into the living dead one-by-one, ultimately getting the bad end of a homemade flamethrower in the flick’s rousing finale. Despite being apparently immolated at the end of that picture, she made her triumphant return in 1994’s “Night of the Demons 2,” where she took on an entire Catholic School practically by herself. Never seen it? Don’t worry folks -- I’ll be sure to give you a thorough review of the picture later this All Hallows Eve season.
We’ve already covered the third film here at IIIA, and while it sucked for the most part, there was no denying the appeal of lead actress Amelia Kinkaide, who has looked like three completely different people over the course of the trilogy. Over a ten-year period, she went from being a gross-looking anorexic nerd to being a hot and sultry Hispanic chick to being a frizzy-haired, well-curved seductress -- talk about range, no? (Also, she’s apparently the niece of Blanche from “Golden Girls” and has a psychic link to animals. No, seriously.) While she didn’t get the call-up for the 2010 remake, the role of Angela was nonetheless reprised, this time by Shannon Elisabeth of “American Pie” fame. Although a very respectable little movie, poor Shannon just couldn’t match the tour de force performances of Amelia -- the fact that she was stuck wearing make-up that made her look like Howie Mandel’s character in “Little Monsters” probably had something to do with that, I’d imagine.
01.) Angela Baker in “Sleepaway Camp”
How in the world can anybody else take the number one spot? Not only do I consider the post-op transsexual mass murderer from the four canon “Sleepaway Camp” flicks to be the most underrated cinema slasher ever, I consider her to be the absolute greatest slasher icon in the history of film. Yeah, Jason and Leatherface are cool and all, but are they as cool as Bruce Springsteen’s sister literally killing an entire summer camp under the cover of night for two full-blown sequels? That, I certainly doubt.
Introduced in 1983’s “Sleepaway Camp,” Angela Baker was revealed in the film’s infamous dénouement to not only be the unlikely murderer who had terrorized kids and counselors all summer long, but also a pre-pubescent boy masquerading as a female camper because her aunt was some kind of psychopath. While the idea of a 12 year old Caitlyn Jenner killing pervert chefs by boiling them alive in their own hot dog broth is neat, the sequels took the concept to an entirely different level, recasting the character as a 20-something Olive Oyl look-alike who secretly kills two summer camps worth of lodgers using car battery acid, scissors, firecrackers, lawnmowers and, in perhaps her most infamous kill, a most certainly unsanitary outhouse commode. It’s not just the fact that you had this 100-pound waif (once again, played by Bruce Springsteen’s REAL-LIFE sister) slaying bodybuilders and cheerleaders with unusual household items, it was how she did offed them. She isn’t just content with slaying two teenage troublemakers dressed up like Freddy and Jason, she has to take it the extra mile and dress up like Leatherface and do ‘em in with a buzz saw, and when it comes time to give a foul-mouthed gangsta’ what-for, she plays him a homemade rap cassette before stabbing him to death. Now THAT is the kind of self-reflexive, forward-thinking ingenuity we want to see out of our ruthless cinematic mass murderers; fictitious maniacs who dismember and decapitate with just as much panache as they do psychosis.
Interestingly enough, they brought back that same actress who played Angela in the very first film to reprise her role (sorta) in the long, long-delayed fourth “Sleepaway Camp” film. While that surprisingly underrated late ’00s horror flick did have some nice kills in it, nothing compares to the outside-the-box mayhem of the Pam Springsteen era. All of the movies in the vaunted series are worth catching, but I definitely suggest going out of your way to catch the second and third films, especially; when it comes to superlative B-movie slice-and-dice shenanigans, I don’t think there’s a finer one-two cinematic punch in existence.