I watched Gurozuka on my brand new Fandor subscription. Fandor has an interesting collection of horror films, many of which I’ve never seen before, and I’m hoping I’ll like their offerings better than I liked Gurozuka. This is the first Japanese slasher flick I have ever seen and it features a few wrinkles on the slasher trope. All the characters are female and the movie contains no sexual element or even subtext.

A newly reformed high school film club returns to the cabin in the woods where the previous high school film club made a movie named Gurozuka. One student died during the making of this film and another was institutionalized. The grainy footage – recovered by Maki, the head of the film club – is spooky, featuring a Noh-mask wearing figure wielding a meat cleaver.

There are seven girls, six students and their teacher. The trouble starts when Natsuki –queen bee and aspiring model – quits the production when she learns that Maki and Ai – who organized this little jaunt in the woods – are planning on making a horror movie. Natsuki isn’t nice about quitting, but you can’t blame her for feeling misled. After that, the bad mojo comes fast: stolen food, poison mushrooms and a Noh-mask wearing killer with a meat cleaver. One similarity Gurozuka shares with American slasher flicks is its brain-dead characters, as the girls are too busy bickering and sniping to notice the killer in their midst.

I cannot say I liked Gurozuka. I didn’t guess the identity of the killer, but on the other hand I didn’t care about the identity of the killer. The idea that the student film is cursed, filling whoever watches it with the urge to kill and perhaps reenact the events of the movie, is an interesting idea that is never fully explored. Too bad.

Here are a few things I liked about Gurozuka: the Noh mask killer was freaky. A few scenes scared me, and the video footage was effective. I think my problem with this movie has to do with the fact that I didn’t like any of the characters. I’m not crazy about movies whose main attraction is rooting for all the annoying people to die. Gurozuka doesn’t even get that right, as most of the deaths occur off-screen. The Final Girl twist at the end is intriguing, but not enough to save this movie.

What Have You Done to Solange?


What Have You Done to Solange is one of those movies that you used to see being sold at horror conventions on grainy videotape. This is a giallo, an Italian/West German (?!?!) thriller/mystery/horror film. It is dubbed, and the dubbing seemed good to me. To my knowledge What Have You Done to Solange has never been widely released in the United States, and it took me about ten minutes to figure out why.

Enrico teaches at a Catholic girls’ school (college?) in London. A handsome Italian, he’s like a peacock strutting amidst a flock of peahens. Enrico rents a swinging bachelor’s flat even though he’s married and is having an affair with Elizabeth, one of his students. Later in the movie Enrico seems proud that their relationship is ‘pure,’ even though he spends all his time onscreen pressuring her to have sex.

Enrico and Elizabeth are on a boat on the river when Elizabeth witnesses a murder. The killer wears a long black frock and might be a priest. He or she seems to be targeting students at Enrico’s school, which already employs two sexual predators (Enrico and the teacher who peeks at the girls in the shower). By the way, the school’s dean gives Enrico’s relationship an unofficial thumb’s up.

Enrico is what passes for the hero in What Have You Done to Solange, which is this movie’s first big problem (out of three). Things might have been different back in 1974, but today a guy like Enrico would be in jail. At the very least, he is an unsympathetic character. After a nasty twist halfway through the movie, he’s not even vital to the plot.

What Have You Done to Solange contains a lot of symbolism – a white cat, four red apples wrapped in white paper, pins, a red towel – none of which is subtle. The murders are extremely brutal, and the misogyny of this movie is pretty in your face (the second problem). There’s no secret code. According to the makers of this film the girls do evil things like go to parties and do drugs and date and even have sex, and thus bring retribution on themselves.

The third problem with What Have You Done to Solange is that it doesn’t work as a mystery. In Dario Argento’s Deep Red you can figure out or at least guess the identity of the killer. That’s impossible here, because the writers don’t play fair. Solange is the key to the mystery, and she isn’t even mentioned until the movie is half over. If you are a fan of giallo, What Have You Done to Solange might be of interest; if not, don’t bother.

Deep Red

Deep Red is a Giallo, an Italian horror/thriller/mystery directed by Dario Argento. Despite Deep Red’s availability in the video stores of the early 80’s, this is yet another movie I missed. As a kid I subsisted on a diet of American slasher flicks like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and thus missed a lot of great horror movies.

The plot: famed psychic Amanda Righetti witnesses a murder in front of a packed auditorium. The catch: the murder occurred decades ago, and the killer is in the audience. Amanda doesn’t seem bothered by that second fact, which is a big mistake. Cut to Marcus and his drunken buddy Carlo, who are hanging outside a bar. Marcus witnesses Amanda’s murder through her apartment window.

Marcus rushes into the psychic’s apartment and finds her body; too bad she didn’t foresee her own death. When the police arrive he tells them he thinks the murderer took one of the many creepy paintings hanging on the walls. Feisty reporter Gianna pastes Marcus’ face all over the front page of the newspaper with the headline EYEWITNESS TO MURDER. This turns out to be yet another big mistake. Later that night Marcus is in his den when we see bits of plaster fall on his piano. The killer is walking on the roof. And then a children’s song starts to play. It’s an eerie, creepy scene, one of many in this gem.

The kiddy song leads to an urban legend about a murder house that turns out to be true. Marcus follows the killer’s trail because – really, I have no clue why. There are a lot of things in this movie that don’t make any sense. Unlike Argento’s masterful Suspiria, Deep Red has a plot, but boy oh boy do the characters do some stupid shit.

Marcus finds the murder house, which has been deserted for years. The realtor’s daughter likes to impale lizards and is a future candidate for the Tanz Academy if I ever saw one. In the house Marcus finds a child’s drawing buried beneath the plaster depicting a brutal murder. In the meantime the killer has been busy. Will Marcus be the next victim?

The body count of Deep Red isn’t high, but Argento makes every death count. Highly choreographed, these murders are works of art. The other thing that impressed me about Deep Red is the ending. I figured out the part about the painting because I have access to the rewind and pause button, so I thought I had the murderer pegged. I was wrong.

Highly recommended!

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon isn’t a horror movie. It’s a comedy that tries to deconstruct the slasher film with mixed results, which may be why I never heard of it. Or maybe I’m behind the times.

A nobody who wants to be somebody, Leslie Mancuso decides to co-opt the legend of deranged person Leslie Vernon. Leslie wants to be a serial-killer superstar and have his name spoken in the same whispers reserved for Freddy, Jason and Michael. Even though most real-life serial killers are borderline imbeciles incapable of forming relationships, Leslie is a charming guy. A meticulous planner who knows all the tropes, Leslie does cardio, reads books about magic tricks and escape artists and focuses his breathing to the point where he can seem dead.

He doesn’t hire a publicist but does the next best thing. Meet Taylor Gentry, who is making a documentary about Leslie Vernon. Taylor’s a wannabe also, which might explain why she tags along as Leslie stalks, terrorizes and kills people. Seeing Leslie and Taylor chat about his plans for mass-murder, it’s obvious they have a real bond. Their relationship is the most interesting element of Behind the Mask, and the way the filmmakers handle it is a real lost opportunity. I didn’t like the twist, but others may love it.

We get the behind-the-scenes stuff before Behind the Mask morphs into a quasi-slasher movie. The characters that don’t get the joke are quickly disposed of. As per usual, all IQs drop twenty points. Watching Taylor fumble for the axe in the shed, I recall Leslie telling her hours earlier how he’d sabotaged the axe in the shed. I guess it’s easy for me, sitting in my living room.

Bottom line: Behind the Mask is a good movie, but Scream did the same thing better. There are lots of in-jokes. Robert Englund makes a cameo as Donald Sutherland – er, Doc Halloran. We also meet Leslie’s serial killer mentor, Eugene. I don’t know who Eugene is based on and I’ve seen a lot of horror movies, so if someone could tell me I’d appreciate it. Leslie looks like a big chicken in his slasher outfit, but I don’t know if that was done on purpose or not.