“Columbus: The Revenge” opens in typical 1980s slasher movie fashion: a killer’s POV of two teens kissing on one of the town’s Columbus Day floats. Very quickly, they’re undressed and having sex. Soon enough, the unseen assailant is close enough to strike, impaling both of them with a thick, wooden pole. The teens die, looking into each others’ eyes, never seeing their attacker. Director Mikhail Bogrov films the scene with fluidity and calculation, lingering on a shot of the two lovers, still intertwined and twitching, before enveloping the bodies in blackness and splashing the titles across the screen. It’s a startling open, but the film is unable to sustain the momentum.
Mark Gregson (Paul Thoms) is in charge of this year’s Columbus Day Parade. Mark lives in the town where Christopher Columbus first landed (named Columbus Hollow in this film for some reason) and Columbus Day is a big deal. As Mark arrives at the warehouse where the floats are held, he passes a large group of Native American protesters, their signs proclaiming Columbus Day an “unfit holiday” and “the devil’s day.” Mark shrugs them off and heads inside, where he stumbles upon the two dead bodies of his teen volunteers.
Benjamin Peterson swears he has a good relationship with his mother, but judging from his 1964 directorial debut “Mother May I?”, you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking he was lying. The film follows Thomas Cline’s deranged Bruce as he stalks the streets of Los Angeles, strangling and bludgeoning any woman he sees wearing a particular heart-shaped necklace. Cline would later go on to play the hero in the Holiday Horrors trilogy, but here he’s pure evil, scowling and grimacing as he lurches through alleys and sneaks up behind women. As Bruce curls his fingers around their supple necks, he says, “Mother, may I have your necklace?”
Jerry Skwiski, one part of the creative duo behind “Dreidel of Dread” and “The Twelve Slays of Christmas,” set out on his own to craft another holiday-themed horror flick and what he came up with was the 1996 Liberation Films release “Cinco de Murder.” Despite Skwiski’s termination of his original contract with the production company, Liberations Films president Mel Gammill liked Skwiski’s idea for “Murder” and wanted to see what Skwiski could do behind the camera as well.
Though it’s Skwiski’s first directorial effort, “Murder” shows a bit of polish. It seems like he might have picked up a few techniques from former partner Clark Bernstein because he handles himself fairly well, lending the film a stylish flair for a slasher film. It also doesn’t hurt that he stacked the film with young, attractive actors, including James Renfroe (still a few years from his role in “May Day“) and Missy Daniels (fresh off the success of her swimsuit calendar).
The film follows a group of friends celebrating Cinco de Mayo in the most debauched way possible, with massive amounts of drinking and nudity involved, as is to be expected in a film like this. Another expected and welcome element are the graphic violent murders that begin before even the film’s opening credits roll. The first two kills are effective and bloody and set up the vibe of the film very well.
Filmmaker Patrick Dawson had already made two successful studio-financed comedies (“The Dragon Boys” and “Ben Cleveland and The Baker Initiative”) before striking out on his own to make the melodramatic “May Day.” After seeing the film, it makes one wish he’d stayed with formulaic comedies, because drama is not Dawson’s forte.
The film follows the labor revolt of a group of workers at a factory in Detroit. James Renfroe portrays Troy, a metal worker, who leads the revolt. Renfroe, who’d worked with Dawson on “Dragon Boys,” is completely wrong for the role, walking around with a smirk plastered on his face. It works for comedies, but in a drama, it seems wholly out of place and almost inappropriate.
In the bizarre short “The Groundhog’s Shadow,” there’s a sequence where the titular groundhog encounters a rabbit. This scene is quick and then both creatures are off on their respective journeys. In Randy Wolff’s dark, uncomfortable “The Rabbit’s Foot,” we see where that rabbit was coming from and where it was going.
Whereas “Groundhog” focused on man’s environmental impacts on the world around the groundhog, “Rabbit” is a purely psychedelic experience with a touch of religion thrown in for good measure. The film begins with a crudely-animated segment where the viewer finds themselves flying through a dark sky as stars streak by. The darkness falls away as the ground rushes closer and we enter a hole. The film then switches to live action and we meet our rabbit protagonist. He hops from the hole and scurries through a field and into a forest. As he enters the forest, we see more crude animation, with snakes slithering up tress and towering creatures with glowing yellow eyes trudging through the brush. There’s no explanation for this and the rabbit continues on his path through the forest.
Horror films have long been used as a metaphor for societal issues, the most notable example being the parody of mindless consumerism in “The Dead Don’t Take Checks.” Environmental activist and director John Klimer sought to make his own kind of “message horror” film regarding the environment and how out disregard for keeping the planet clean and healthy will ultimately be our downfall. That film was “The Plant,” released on Earth Day 1987.
“The Plant” begins with a group of protesters rallying outside of a chemical factory, smoke billowing from the stacks and darkening the skies. The group’s leader, Mark (Mark Berman), churns up the crowd’s anger at the pollution and someone from the crowd hurls a rock through the factory’s window. Security guards trudge in and the crowd disperses.
Minor silent film actor Rudolph “Rudy” Robbins was first discovered while working in the Tennyson Big Top Circus as part of the trapeze group, the Golden Flyers. He served as the group’s leader, executing impressive aerial stunts and making audiences laugh with his off-the-cuff jokes. During one of these performances, film producer Martin Cray was in attendance and immediately approached Robbins to see if he was interested in performing stunts in Cray’s movies. Robbins was getting close to the end of his contract with Tennyson and jumped at the chance to move to Hollywood.
At first, Robbins enjoyed his stunt work duties, but longed for more time in front of the camera. After the seventh film had wrapped, he approached Cray and asked him for a starring role. The producer inexplicably agreed to give him a shot with a romantic comedy called “The Fool.” Many speculate that Cray and Robbins had entered into a bizarre relationship and this was Cray’s way of placating Robbins, to keep him from exposing Cray. In the film, Robbins played Henry, a man who spots a woman in the city square and is immediately smitten with her. He then spends the rest of the film trying to catch up with her to introduce himself, only to get into many various predicaments along the way.