Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention, but sadly never returned to these type of flicks. They’re femme fatales and final girls whose sexy stars shined only briefly, not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…



This installment of Cult Classic Cuties, goes back to it’s usual format and focuses on an actress who starred in only one horror flick in her two decade long acting career and it is a cult classic for sure! Leah Ayres worked steadily in movies and TV for almost twenty years, between 1979 and 1998, yet starred in only one horror flick, The Burning! In Tony Maylam’s summer camp set slasher, drunken camp caretaker Cropsy is pranked by some teens and when it goes horribly awry, he’s critically burned and disfigured. Five years later, Cropsy returns to the area for revenge and stalks the occupants of Camp Stonewater, where the lovely and feisty Michelle is a counselor!

(You can read my full review for The Burning by clicking the highlighted titles or on the poster below)



As sexy, camp counselor Michelle…

Campfire stories may prove all too true when Cropsey targets Camp Stonewater.

Maybe the only peaceful sleep Michelle gets after a vengeful killer stalks the camp!

Michelle gets the heads up that a killer is on the loose!

Can the brave and feisty Michelle bring help in time?

Leah Ayres, now Leah Kalish, still keeps busy with a family and working with Yoga and fitness for kids by creating health oriented videos and programing for children. We will always remember her for her feisty and brave Michelle from her one cult classic horror, The Burning! A Cult Classic Cutie for sure!

Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here for the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!

-MonsterZero NJ


From Frights To Fun: The Evolution Of 80s Horror


From Frights To Fun: The Evolution Of 80s Horror

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to my full reviews of the films referenced here!)

To me, the 80s is one of the best decades ever for horror flicks…with the 70s following right behind it. Sure, every decade since films started being made has it’s classics from 1922’s Nosfeatu to 2007’s Trick ‘r’ Treat, but in terms of sheer proliferation and the number of classics that came out of it, the 80s was an amazing time to be a horror movie fan and I am glad I was in my theater seat for it all the way. And as I have said before, it was a time where low-budget B horrors could still be seen in a theater, where they belong and a time I will always cherish. I will also admit there was a lot of garbage to sift through to get to the gold, but even those had their entertainment value, especially when you and your friends were sitting in your seats giving those lesser efforts the old MST3K treatment, years before that show even existed…and that classic show is also a product of the 80s, might I add. But the one thing I also find striking about 80s horror is a distinct tonal shift in the style of horror flicks as the decade wore on that can only be appreciated now as we look back in nostalgia. Darker and more somber slashers became flicks that were lighter in tone, more colorful and with far more of a sense of fun about themselves. Let’s take a look…

John Carpenter’s Halloween may not have been the first slasher, but it is the film whose success started the early 80s slasher trend as studios and indie filmmakers realized you could make a lot of money on a shoestring budget. The early 80s cinemas became filled with films that followed the slasher formula with the stories being set on or around a special event or time, such as the prom in Prom Night, or college hazing as in Hell Night, or a fateful day like Friday The 13th. And then, within that setting, having a group of young high school or college co-eds being stalked and cut down by a killer with a grudge, till one feisty young girl…or sometimes a couple…is left to fend off our killer. For the most part these films took themselves very seriously and had a somber mood and moderate pace with the violence level being anywhere from fairly tame, like in thrillers like Terror Train or over-the-top gory as in Willaim Lustig’s Maniac or Charles Kaufman’s Mother’s Day…though, let’s not forget that some of the gorier entries where a result of the success of George Romero’s ultra-violent Dawn Of The Dead which started it’s own trend of extremely violent horrors that predominately came out of Italy and was spearheaded by filmmakers like Lucio Fulci. There were some rare instances where a director had a more humorous approach like Joe Dante’s The Howling or An American Werewolf in London, but horror/comedy is nothing new and the early 80s horror films predominately followed a more serious direction at this point in time.

Monster movies like The Boogens or Without Warning or supernatural horrors like The Fog and  The Boogeyman also followed the slasher format with victims being isolated and killed off one by one, leaving a frightened heroine to fend for herself with the occasional surviving love interest to help her survive. And for the first two or three years of the decade, theaters where inundated with such horrors to the delight of screaming fans. And we got many a classic horror flick out of it. But like any trend, such as the 70s possession flick trend inspired by The Exorcist, these things run their course. But not only did 80s horror start to open up with more supernatural themed flicks like the A Nightmare On Elm Street films, that cleverly added an incorporeal villain and surreal elements to the slasher formula, but the films started to reflect the overall buoyant mood of the 80s with brighter cinematography, more humorous tones and even began to reference and acknowledge past films and filmmakers. The first ‘inside’ reference I can remember was Sam Raimi’s subtle shout-out to Wes Craven by having a The Hills Have Eyes poster displayed in the basement of the old cabin in 1981’s The Evil Dead…to which Craven responded by having Heather Langenkamp watching Evil Dead on TV in the first Elm St movie. In terms of the lighter tone, the first time I noticed it was back in 1982 with Friday The 13th Part 3. When I saw it at my beloved Oritani Theater, I was kind of taken back by it all. The film had a very colorful production design, had a lot more humor than the first two installments…including characters that seemed to be there just for comic relief…and seemed to almost be having fun with the fact that we’ve been through this twice before. Jason went from a creepy, deformed backwoodsman to a hulking comic-bookish monster complete with iconic hockey mask. The film’s trademark kills were a bit more elaborate and far-fetched, as if the filmmakers were getting a bit playful with Jason’s M.O. The tone shift seemed to be starting, but without knowing what was to come in following years, I was simply disappointed with the flick and had no idea the trend would continue.

And the shift did continue with the advent of Freddy Krueger who was creepy at first, but quickly became a wisecracking, demonic gremlin that pulled people into his dream world for elaborate and outrageously gimmick-laden fates. The movies were far more fun than scary, but these films at least were more creative and imaginative than the simple stalk and kill films that came before them, though I missed the intensity and the serious tone of films like The Prowler. Flicks also started to jokingly reference their inspirations, like 1986’s Night Of The Creeps which names every character after a horror film director of that era like “Chris Romero”, “Cynthia Cronenberg” and James Carpenter-Hooper”. We also got MTV inspired films like the music filled and music video styled Return Of The Living Dead, the classic The Lost Boys, as well as, the neon-lit Vamp. Those films were far more entertaining than they were frightening as The Lost Boys even has a touch of Spielberg in it’s over-all tone…reminding us of the stark example of what happened when Carpenter’s grim and gory extraterrestrial The Thing went up against Spielberg’s bug eyed visitor from E.T. in 1982No better an example of the start of audience change of taste in the 80s than was the beating Carpenter’s now classic sci-fi/horror got from critics and at the box office…though, I saw it at least three times in a theater!

The trend continued with even lighter and more humor-laced films as we headed toward the 90s with flicks such as Waxwork, Chopping Mall and Night Of The Demons which were loaded with as many laughs as they were scares and gore. The MTV generation was being fed films that were faster paced, brightly colored and took themselves far less seriously as the arrival of music video and the end of the Cold War had created an era that was a bit more overindulgent and the films of the day reflected this. Even somewhat more serious horror like 1988s Intruder and the 1985 classic The Re-Animator still openly had a good time with their premises and occasionally winked at the audience, which films now acknowledged were sitting there and were familiar with the type of flick they are seeing. Earlier 80s films rarely acknowledged that they were a movie and that there was a horror savvy audience watching, but the second half of the decade was filled with movies that referenced those earlier films and were quite aware of themselves and who their audience was. They played to that audience instead of simply telling their scary story. And at this point Freddy Krueger was turning girls into giant cockroaches and Jason was a zombie battling telekinetic teenagers. Even the old school boogiemen had traded in their scares for more outrageous and silly story lines with each installment, as almost every horror hit became a franchise. Michael Myers also returned in 1988 to now stalk his young niece…why not his second cousin too? Needless to say by the time 1990 rolled around, horror had become burnt out and silly until horror master Wes Craven would revive it as pop-culture-reference filled heavy nostalgia with a bite in Scream… but that is another story.

Another aspect of the shift that may not have been as noticeable to the average audience, but was very noticeable to film buffs was in how these films were now being made and how they looked. By 1985 the home video market was in full swing. I should know, I worked at a Palmer Video back then. Direct to VHS films were starting to appear due to the cost effectiveness of not having to produce film prints for theater showings. And a lot of the horror films of the later decade were being made with the home video market in mind. Even some of the ones that got theatrical releases lacked that theatrical look. Gone were the cinematic visuals and widescreen presentations. Flicks like Witchboard and Waxwork had the look and feel of a TV movie and were filmed in the more TV screen friendly 1:85 format. Only some of the big studio releases and films by veterans like Carpenter and Craven maintained that theatrical look in their visual styles and still looked like a movie made for theaters. A disappointment to those who find the film’s visuals as important as their story and content. And another example of how drastically movies changed from 1980 to 1990.

Whatever the course the horror films of the 80s took, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for these movies, good or bad. Whether it be the more serious chillers of the early years, or the reference heavy, lighter toned flicks that came later on, it was a decade when I came of age and was most influenced by movies and was still a time where a low budget flick like Galaxy Of Terror or Final Exam could see the inside of an audience filled theater. And not only was I proudly there to see it, but will never forget it. And now, decades later, many a night when my social calendar is empty, I can be found in a darkened living room, on the couch, with some of my favorite brews, reliving those days long gone, but never…ever…forgotten!

… and one of the reasons I now share my passion for those movies with all of you!

-MonsterZero NJ


The Oritani Theater: 300 Main St. Hackensack N.J Photo from the Mitchell Dvoskin collection




now playing

double feature_F13P6_F13P7


My revisiting the Friday The 13th sequels continues.  The sixth and seventh installments fit nicely together as not only do they connect, as most of the Friday films do, but, both were efforts to breath new life into the series whose popularity was starting to wane. Part 6 brings back Jason, but has a lighter tone and a more supernatural edge to it and part 7 tries to shake things up by pitting the homicidal juggernaut against a Carrie-like telekinetic girl. While both wandered from the straight-forward horror tone of most of the previous entries, they did provide an entertainment factor of their own…




Friday The 13th Part 6 set out to fix the wrong direction taken by Part 5 and brought back Jason to the series. But it also brought the lightest tone of the series so far with many scenes played for laughs and a more supernatural element, as Jason is now basically a zombie being brought back from the dead…and quite by accident. But despite the far less serious tone, Jason Lives is actually a fun entry that might disappoint hardcore fans, but was entertaining on it’s own.

The story picks up with Tommy Jarvis (now Thom Mathews) still haunted by Jason and deciding that destroying his corpse (which is interesting as Part 5 claimed he was cremated) would put his fear to rest. He journeys to the grave site with bud Allen (Welcome Back Kotter’s Ron Palillo) who helps him dig up the killer’s body. In an angry fit, Tommy rips off part of the fence and stabs the corpse repeatedly leaving the metal fence post in Jason’s heart. But, a storm is brewing and the post is struck by lightening and like Mary Shelley’s monster, Jason rises from the grave and murders Allen. Uh oh! Now having revived the very fiend he set out to destroy, Tommy runs to Sheriff Garris (David Kagen) of Forest Green…actually a renamed Crystal Lake trying to escape it’s infamy…to warn about Jason’s return and, is thrown in jail by the sheriff who thinks he’s crazy. The sheriff’s daughter Megan (an adorable Jennifer Cooke) takes a shine to Tommy and this brings good news and bad news for the distraught young man…the good news is Megan believes him and wants to help him, the bad news is, she is head counselor at the new Forest Green campsite and a certain revived someone is on his way home, leaving a trail of bodies as he goes. Can Tommy escape the hard-nosed sheriff and save the camp filled with nubile counselors who just welcomed a pack of young children?…or, will they all be lambs to the slaughter?

As written and directed by Tom McLoughlin, Jason Lives may not be the intense return to gory horror that this series began as, but is actually a lot of fun despite being fairly void of tension and scares. There are a lot of clever touches and McLoughlin adds a supernatural element as Tommy feels the only way to stop Jason is return his body to the watery grave he originally came from, not to mention that he was revived as a zombie by lightening right out of an old-fashioned horror flick. There are a lot of chases and while the kills are bloody, they are fairly tame compared to some of the earlier installments. Most of the proceedings are done with a humorous touch or for outright laughs, but it is never insulting, nor does it make a joke out of the material. McLoughlin is having fun and giving the series a lighter entry, which is welcome as it does freshen things up a bit, though surely disappointing the real hardcore fan base. The director still manages to have some intensity and excitement and, to be honest, it may not be the horror we wanted, but it is a good time.

The cast are especially lively and seem to be having a ball with their roles. Mathews plays it straight as the hero trying to convince others they are in danger from a boogeyman most think is an urban legend. Cooke is adorable and hot as the sexy but strong-willed sheriff’s daughter, who isn’t afraid to rebel against her dad and break a few laws herself to piss him off. Kagen overdoes it a bit as the jerk of a sheriff, but the character is a jerk, so it works. The supporting cast, including 80s film hottie Darcy DeMoss, all give the characters some spunk and liveliness which obviously helps you to like them and gives their fates impact. The added mix of having little kids in the camp this time also adds a new element to play with, as one little girl keeps seeing ‘a monster’ at her cabin window…and of course they all think it’s a figment of her imagination. Ha!… joke’s on them!

All in all, this is an entertaining entry that has fun with the traditions of the series and of the horror genre in general from it’s mock James Bond credits sequence featuring Jason, to poor Tommy taking the blame for the killer’s foul deeds and somehow trying to return Jason to wince he came. It’s not perfect, obviously the lighter tone keeps one from taking the proceedings too seriously and thus it neuters the threat and fear factor quite a bit and even with some new touches, we have seen most of it all before. But it is still a refreshingly fun entry and it has a good time with and not pokes fun at the series. It also made Friday The 13th feel like Friday The 13th again and even Harry Manfredini has a little fun adding touches of Berloiz’s Symphonie Fantastique to his classic score giving this colorful entry a slightly more gothic feel. A great horror?…no. A good time…definitely. I also like this entry a lot because it is the most ’80s’ of the series with a number of heavy metal songs on the soundtrack…including three by legendary rocker Alice Cooper…and the clothes and hairstyles were at the height of 80s ridiculousness. Fun!

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: Jason was actually played by two different people in this film. First by Dan Bradley, then when producers decided they didn’t quite like how he looked in the part, he was replaced by C.J. Graham. Scenes featuring both men are in the completed film. Also, director Tom McLoughlin got to ‘kill’ his own wife Nancy in the movie as she plays one of Jason’s first victims.

3 hockey masks

friday 13 original rating


friday the 13th part 7



With series box office and interest still on the decline, Friday The 13th Part 7  tried to shake things up, and in doing so, threw all attempts at keeping the series even remotely grounded out the window, by having Jason go up against a young girl with telekinetic powers. It was basically Jason v.s. Carrie and, to be honest, I liked the audacity of it and since Jason was already an invincible zombie, a psychically powerful, cute blonde wasn’t exactly going to make it any less far-fetched.

The story has troubled teen Tina Shepard (Lar Park Lincoln) returning to a house on Crystal Lake (or is it still Forrest Green?) with her mother (Susan Blu) and her shady psychiatrist (Terry Kiser). Tina has a telekinetic ability that arises when emotionally distressed and years earlier during an argument between her parents, she lashed out at her father who was drunk and hit her mother and causes the dock he’s on to collapse, drowning her dad in the depths of the lake. To this day she is traumatized by guilt, but it is her powerful mind that the scheming Dr. Crews (Kiser) is after, not a cure to her woes. Across from their house is another filled with rowdy teens, there for a surprise party, including handsome Nick (Kevin Spirtas) who takes a liking to Tina. But after one of her sessions with the doctor, a distraught Tina rushes to the docks and tries to raise her father from the depths, but unfortunately raises Mr. Voorhees instead, who is still chained at the lake bottom, put there by Tommy Jarvis in Part 6. Oops! Now freed from his watery grave Jason begins to stalk and kill the party goers and pursue Tina and the members of her house, but this final girl has some weapons of her own and the slaughter can only lead to a showdown pitting telekinetic powers against undying rage…and garden tools. Who will win…if anyone?

This was one of my favorites of the series when I first saw it, although I found it wasn’t quite as fun as I had remembered it upon my recent revisit. This entry is directed by make-up FX man John Carl Buechler (the original Troll) and while he does a competent job, this particular flick, with it’s outlandish premise, could have used a more lively and colorful touch such as graced the previous Friday flick. Buechler returns to a dead serious tone and takes the material equally serious, but this is a film about a zombie serial killer battling a telekinetic teenager after all and begged for someone to take the story and run with it, Roger Corman style. I appreciate Buechler trying to give the series some of it’s dramatic strength back, but the story just doesn’t really live up to it potential with the deadpan approach. The climactic showdown between Tina and Jason is the only time the film has a bit of fun with it’s premise, but even that could have been a bit more creative…though it does have a few amusingly absurd moments. Despite that Buechler’s team did the make-up FX, the kills are very routine and we, for the most part, only see the aftereffects of Jason’s handiwork. Also, Jason’s ability to find completely random power tools is getting out of hand at this point and also betrays the more serious tone of the film. That and the formula is just basically getting tiresome at this point, too, another reason they just should have had a good time with the story instead of trying to recapture past gory glory.

The cast are OK. Lincoln is a brooding and troubled teen and does that fine. Kizer is a bit hammy as her psychiatrist with a personal agenda, but as the secondary villain, it works well. At least Kizer got the tone of the material and had a little fun with it. Spirtas is a handsome and adequate hero, but doesn’t have a real strong presence to make him really endearing and the rest of the secondary characters/victims are equally attractive and adequate as Jason fodder. And speaking of our iconic killer, fan favorite Kane Hodder would make the first of four appearances as Jason and cement his status as the quintessential Jason performer and Buechler’s look would become the favorite of Jason’s incarnations with it’s thick chains around the fiend’s neck evoking the Frankenstein monster. I still like this entry to a good degree, but it just wasn’t quite as fun as it certainly could have been and not as much a good time as I remembered it. Still one of the better entries, but not as high on the list as it was in 1988 when I first saw it.

3 hockey masks

friday 13 original rating




now playing

double feature_F13P3_F13TFC


As I’ve stated previously, I have been revisiting a lot of 80s horror flicks recently, especially some of the more infamous slashers and have set my sights on revisiting the Friday The 13th sequels. While I’m not the biggest fan of this series, apart from the first film, I have found my revisit has some nice added 80s nostalgia to them and that is adding a lot of fun to this horror series…plus some of these installments bring back memories of long gone theaters and fun evenings with friends. The third and fourth installments fit nicely together as they not only take place right after each other, but Jason now gains his hockey mask and fully becomes the character we all know…

FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3 (1982)

Friday The 13th Part 3 is a slight improvement over Part 2 ,but still a mixed bag, though it does hold some nostalgic importance to me as it was another film seen at my cherished Oritani theater in Hackensack, N.J. Released during the 80s 3D revival, sparked by Comin’ At Ya, the film was made and released in 3D and is filled with objects being thrust at the camera. This is just plain distracting when watched in 2D and wasn’t that great in pre-digital 3D either. The film opens the story formula up somewhat with this chapter being set at a lake house and not a summer camp. This installment has pretty Chris Higgins (super cute Dana Kimmell) returning with friends for a getaway at her family’s house on Crystal Lake, where 2 years earlier she survived an attack in the woods by a deformed man…hmmm, who could that be? It’s no stretch to guess that soon Chris’ friends and anyone else in the vicinity of the house, start to be dispatched in gory ways by that same deformed man.

Steven Miner directed again and this time he does get a little intensity going, especially in the last act which is an extended chase with Chris going all final girl with Jason. The film does start out with a bit slower pace and takes a while to get going, but the last act does kick into gear. Having twice the budget than the last film, it shows with a slightly larger scale and more elaborate stunts. Miner also directs with a bit more of a humorous touch in this installment, too, which works both for and against it. It gives it a bit different tone, but also keeps the first and second acts a bit light till Jason really gets going and things get serious. It does kinda take the edge off of the impact of the kills and atmosphere, till the final half hour when the intensity kicks in. This is, however, also the film where Jason (the late Richard Brooker) not only gained his iconic hockey mask and look, but was also portrayed as the bigger and stronger adversary that he remained throughout the series. He has a lot more of an imposing persona and more of his trademark relentlessness here than in Part 2. The kills are a little bloodier, too, but still not as gory as Part 1 and some of them are a little silly, such as a character bringing a spear gun to a house on a lake.

The cast are again fine with Kimmel being a favorite of the sequels’ final girls. She is not only adorable, but makes a good damsel who is also feisty and resourceful and fights back with intensity. The rest of the characters are a little more colorful than usual, including a three person biker gang and two hippie stoners. The young, attractive actors give these characters some added life, so they are more likable and a bit less cliche’ than in the previous entry.

Overall, this is an entertaining enough entry. It still can’t touch the first movie, but was on fairly equal footing with the sequel it followed. It also was fun enough to keep one interested in the series and awaiting the next adventure of Mr. Voorhees…which would be one of his best.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA:  There is a scene where the pretty Debbie (Tracie Savage) is reading an issue of Fangoria and opens the page to a Godzilla article. That is a nod from director Steve Miner who was planning to make an American Godzilla movie in 3D back in the 80s, well over a decade before the Roland Emmerich disaster. The film obviously never got made. Too bad. It sounded better than what we got in 98.

UPDATE 2/8/2015: After a lot of deliberation and checking of release dates, I have come to believe that “Friday The 13th part 3 in 3D” may very well have been the last film I saw at my beloved Oritani Theater. If correct, Friday 8/13/1982 is the last time I was at this great theater and special place…and this, the final film I watched in it’s halls. -MZNJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) hockey masks

friday 13 original rating






Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter is one of my favorites of the sequels and the one that comes closest to matching the original. The film saw not only a return to the more serious tone and atmosphere of the original film, but with the return of Tom Savini to the make-up FX duties, also brought back the more intense and graphic kills and gore.

This entry opens right where Part 3 left off with Jason (stuntman Ted White) and his victims carted off to the morgue from the Higgins place only to have Jason revive and escape, but not before gruesomely murdering two horny hospital employees. We then switch to two houses deep in the woods near Crystal Lake, one occupied by single mother Mrs. Jarvis (Joan Freeman) and her daughter Trish (Kimberly Beck) and young son Tommy (Corey Feldman), the other occupied by a group of partying youths on a make-out and drinking getaway. A certain someone has returned home to his stomping grounds and now has targeted both young partiers and innocent family alike. Will any of them survive his relentless rage?

This installment brought in The Prowler director Joseph Zito and he brings the suspense, atmosphere and intensity to the proceedings that made that 1981 slasher one of the more entertaining of the time period. He comes very close to providing an equal to the original Friday with what was supposed to be Jason’s final film. The kills are brutal, as well, and with Savini’s return, the make-up FX are quite inventive and gory. Zito leaves some of the lighter humor that appeared in Part 3 behind and it keeps the atmosphere taunt and foreboding, as it should be. The film also added an interesting plot element in the character of Rob (Erich Anderson), who at first seems like a hunter/camper, but turns out to be the vengeful brother of a girl murdered by Jason (Sandra played by Marta Kober from Part 2) and he is now stalking the lethal serial killer with the intent of ending his reign of terror. One of the film’s few faults is the confrontation between these two could have been a bit more epic. The character of young Tommy (Feldman) being a bit of a geek/make-up artist also adds a fun twist to the proceedings.

As for the rest of the characters, this bunch are a lot livelier then most of the generic victims and with the inclusion of Crispin Glover in one of his most ‘normal’ roles as a shy teen and 80s movie fixture Judy Aronson as a one of the babes, we get a nice group of likable, horny teens to fall under Jason’s varied weapons. It gives their deaths impact because we like them and the young cast give them life and personality. Also stars Hell Night’s Peter Barton as one of the party goers who meets Jason’s wrath and the score is one again by Harry Manfredini.

A really good entry in the series and by far the best of the sequels.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: There is a small mistake here in this installment. When driving past a graveyard, they spot Mrs. Voorhees’ tombstone which has her date of death being 1979. But, as we all know, she actually died on Friday June 13th, 1980 by having her head removed by final girl Alice in the original Friday The 13th.

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) hockey masks

friday 13 1980 rating





now playing

double featurePROW_BUR


I have been revisiting a lot of 80s horror flicks recently, especially some of the more infamous slashers from that time so, in the spirit of my look back at one of my favorite eras of horror, I decided to make this week’s double feature a bloody fun double bill of two 1981 slasher cult classics, The Prowler and The Burning which not only both feature the traditional elements we come to expect from these movies, but both have their gory demises courtesy of master make-up FX man Tom Savini! Enjoy the bloody fun…


This 1981 slasher opens up in 1945 as soldiers are coming home from the war and we hear a young woman reading a ‘dear John’ break-up letter, intended for a boyfriend away on duty. We cut to Avalon Bay which is having it’s annual college graduation dance and a young couple leave the dance for a romantic walk. Their romance is cut short by someone dressed as a combat-ready soldier, who promptly runs the embracing couple through with a pitch fork, leaving a rose in the female victim’s hand. We then pick our story up in 1980 where the Avalon Bay Graduation Dance is being revived after having been halted 35 years earlier by the father of the murdered girl, Major Chatham (Lawrence Tierney). Someone is reviving another activity from that night, as a killer dressed in military gear descends on the partying co-eds with bayonet and pitchfork and starts leaving a bloody trail of bodies and roses behind. Can sweet Pam (Vicky Dawson) and her deputy boyfriend Mark (Christopher Goutman) stop this deranged killer, or will they join his list of victims?

Directed by Joseph Zito, who is mostly known for directing the fourth Friday The 13th flick and two of Chuck Norris’ biggest hits Missing In Action and Invasion U.S.A., this bloody slasher follows the 80s slasher format very well. We get a bunch of nubile young intended victims being stalked by an unbalanced killer with a grudge, who is dispatching them in gruesome and versatile fashion. We also get a pretty young heroine to serve as our ‘final girl’ and the doomed slutty girls who’ll show us their boobs! Zito also manages to serve up some suspense and some tension, too. He’s not the most stylish director, but his directing here is far less by-the-numbers than his Norris action flicks. And there is some decent cinematography from frequent Zito D.O.P. João Fernandes. The horror genre seems to suit Zito better than his generic action movies. The film has some atmosphere, a touch of Scooby-Doo-ish mystery and it is an entertaining 90 minutes of horror that represents the era well. It’s not perfect, we really aren’t given enough suspects, or red herrings, to make it really interesting, though when we do get the big reveal, it is still kind of a surprise. We never really get to know the victims all that well, so most of their deaths have little impact other than Tom Savini’s still effective gore FX.

The cast are fine, even though we only really get to know Pam and Mark. Actors Dawson and Goutman make them likable enough. The rest are generic horny college kids, who are there to be victims and they serve that purpose well. Vet Tierney doesn’t get to have any lines, despite the film implying he’s a suspect, so not sure why they even hired a name actor for the part.

In conclusion, The Prowler is still one of the better slashers of this era. Maybe not in the same league as Halloween, or the original Friday The 13th, but it is a solid enough slasher and is a fun and nostalgic sample of the type of film made in the early 80s before films like Evil Dead, ScannersRe-Animator and A Nightmare On Elm Street took horror in new directions. A fun, gory example of what made 80s slashers fun. Extra credit for filming in my home stomping ground of New Jersey!

Rated a solid 3 (out of 4) pitchforks!

prowler rating


WARNING: this trailer does show a lot of plot elements…




The Burning is another infamous slasher of the early 80s mostly because of Tom Savini’s graphic gore effects and the problems his work caused the film when it was released. It’s release was also limited, even in the US and thus the film, especially uncut, became sought after by the horror/gore crowd. The film is also renown for being the first appearances of Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander and Fisher Stevens before they all went on to find fame in there perspective careers and it was one of the Weinstein’s first productions as Mirimax Pictures as well, before going on to become two of the biggest producers and one of the biggest companies in the business. But, does it stand up to it’s reputation? Yes and no.

The Burning starts out in 1976 at Camp Blackfoot where, in slasher era tradition, a group of campers are plotting to pull a prank on the mean and creepy caretaker named Cropsey. The prank goes terribly wrong and Cropsey is burned horribly and hospitalized. We then jump forward to 1981 where the deformed Cropsey is released from the hospital and now dressed completely in black, goes and finds a prostitute whom he promptly butchers when she becomes frightened upon seeing his face. We then arrive at Camp Stonewater which is across the lake from Camp Blackfoot, which was closed after the accident. We see that a figure dressed in black is stalking the campground carrying a pair of garden shears…wonder who that could be? Before you can say ‘Jason Voorhees’ the black clad figure is slaughtering the nubile young campers in quite gruesome fashion with his sharp garden tool. Has Cropsey returned to exact revenge for the prank gone awry and will any of the unsuspecting campers survive?

As directed by Tony Maylam, this notorious slasher flick is actually very by-the-numbers and very slow paced. After Cropsey kills the hooker, it’s almost 40 minutes before he strikes again and the film is only 90 minutes long. There is a lot of time spent with our various campers and councilors, which would be fine on a character development level if any of them were all that interesting. The characters are all fairly generic, the bully Glazer (Larry Joshua… most recognized as the sleazy wrestling event promoter in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man), the harried nerd Alfred (Brian Backer), the wise-ass David (Jason Alexander) and the good looking counselors (Brian Matthews and Leah Ayres) who are in a relationship and too busy to notice campers are disappearing in droves till it is too late. The time spent with them before the killing starts is for the routine camp movie hi-jinx and doesn’t really help to endear us to any of them. Once Cropsey goes into kill mode with his trusty shears, it’s still fairly by-the-numbers and it’s up to make-up FX master Savini to do in young campers in gruesomely effective fashion. Most notable is a sequence on a raft where Crospey takes out half the campers in a few deft swings and chops of his favorite weapon. It’s a good scene and one that this film is famous for. Savini earned his paycheck and reputation as the gore FX are top notch. There is some atmosphere, though some of that is due to Rick Wakeman’s spooky score. The film deviates from the slasher formula a little and seems to focus on Alfred giving us a ‘final boy’ this time instead of the usual female who fights back, though he is not the only survivor, so even this classification is thin.

The cast are pretty wooden for the most part, though Alexander does give us a glimpse of what made him famous almost a decade later on Seinfeld. Backer is fine as Alfred, but he is a textbook 80s movie nerd, a role he would play to perfection in the classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High a year later. As for Ayres and Matthews, they make an attractive couple and are fine as the leads, but they never really rise above their stereotype parts. The rest are just killer fodder and/or there to show their boobs.

So, in conclusion, Tom Savini’s excellent work and the novelty of first time appearances by actors who would become famous aside, The Burning is a slow moving and paced slasher that follows the formula only to deviate slightly with the sex of it’s focal character…though, to be honest, the film never really focuses on a lead character till the last act. That and it robs us of an element of mystery and a big reveal by having our killer’s identity known from the very start. As films of this era go, it’s worth checking out and does have some 80s nostalgia added to it now, but doesn’t quite live up to it’s reputation, as much as, solidifies Savini’s. Worth a look for Savini’s contributions and to amuse one’s self at some of the acting debuts, but it’s not one of the strongest representations of it’s era. Include it as part of a double feature as we have suggested here and you can have some nostalgic fun with it along with your other flicks of choice.

2 and 1/2 garden shears!

burning rating