Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
Dec 1st, 2004

Serial Slayer

Directed by Mark Tapio Kines
Written by Mark Tapio Kines
79 mins

Lions Gate has been responsible for an awful lot of garbage in its day. Longtime readers can probably tick off the number of films from Lions Gate on two hands and a few dozen feet that I've personally lambasted and exposed for the mindless dreck, patently offensive, and utterly juvenile piles of steaming cinematic dung they are.

"Serial Slayer", sent to me by the director on a DVD so fresh that it came bearing its original title--"Claustrophobia"--on the DVD load screen, is that rarest of rarities.

It's an excellent movie from Lions Gate.

But this discrepancy in titles is a prime example of what's wrong with Lions Gate. They took a seriously high-quality movie like "Claustrophobia," decided that the title wasn't going to play in Peoria for one truly baffling reason or another, and slapped on a cookie-cutter title in its place.

My guess is that Lions Gate's typical movie targets idiot fifteen year olds who crave boobs and blood in their movies, not necessarily in that order, and figured they'd be better off to have the movie scream "Slasher flick right here!" than "Hey, take a look at this well-thought-out suspense title."

So what we have here is the story of the Crossbow Killer, a serial killer with truly unorthodox methods, who is stalking a fairly affluent suburban-type area called Piedmont, which is within striking distance of Oakland and Los Angeles. Among the folks trying to live their lives around the rash of murders are Grace, Gina and Lauren, three co-workers who've, for reasons that frankly escape me, decided to embark on a weekend-long slumber party.

Which is just a smidge trite on the surface--we've all seen the serial killer invading the sleepover dozens of times before. Of course, we haven't seen it done without a collection of buxom cheerleaders, or twentysomething sorority sisters, or young plastically-augmented women playing teenagers running around, which lends a sorely needed note of originality to the proceedings.

"Serial Slayer" also gives us the Crossbow Killer, a serial killer so utterly unorthodox that he sneaks up on the elderly, at nine in the morning, and empties fifty-pound pistol crossbows into their backs all without anyone even noticing. No one has ever done this before, and it's a true surprise. Note also the integration of news events--the D.C. snipers, for example--seamlessly into the narrative.

The cast also pulls off some truly fantastic scenes in "Serial Slayer." Let's face it, folks...this movie basically has a cast of five: Gina, Grace, Lauren, whoever's doing the walking on the roof sound effects, and everybody else. They do an incredible job of ramping up the random terror in the movie as utilities suddenly die off, and so do the delivery guys.

"Serial Slayer" does one thing really well. It takes the single most hackneyed premise on the face of the earth--three girls having a sleepover that gets invaded by a serial killer--and makes it one of the scariest, most suspenseful movies released from Lions Gate ever.

Finally, at long last, Lions Gate has a reason to be proud of one of its releases.

I had heard that some people were complaining about the lighting in "Serial Slayer," and these complaints aren't without merit. Several scenes in "Serial Slayer" are so poorly lit as to be impossible to view. It's some of the worst lighting I've seen since "Van Helsing," and you couldn't even watch half of that movie unless you were in a room as dark as the void of space.

But this is truly a minor complaint when stacked alongside the numerous high-quality aspects of "Serial Slayer."

On a far stranger note, some of us (me included!) might wonder why these three act like the Powerpuff Girls. The comparison is actually rather apt. Stop and think about it, while you watch. Lauren is our Blossom, the slightly bossy leader type. Grace is our Bubbles, sometimes shy, sometimes chipper, occasionally whiny type. Gina is our ass-kicking Buttercup.

I can't believe it, but it's not too far from the truth--"Serial Slayer" really can be called "Powerpuff Girls Versus The Evil Serial Killer."

The ending is excellently crafted--the juxtaposition of fight sequences and long, exasperating waits makes for a suspenseful blend. Plus, the last thirty seconds are wonderfully scary. Trust me.

The special features really don't exist yet--there's talk of some previews and subtitling, but not on the disk I received. The disk I got my hands on was so new it didn't even have Lions Gate's standard icon on the menu screen that you click on to access the previews. I've yet to see a Lions Gate title that didn't feature this icon, so we can pretty much count on it showing up at some point.

All in all, despite a truly hackneyed premise and unusual scripting, "Serial Slayer" manages to deliver a frightening little package that'll have you jumping at every creak in your house for a couple nights after you finish watching. This is probably the truest standard of the scary movie--will it scare you after you watch?

Lions Gate has finally managed to deliver a good movie for once.

Slaughter Studios

Directed by Brian Katkin
90 min

A brief editorial message before I begin this column.

Roger Corman: For the love of God and cinema, retire.


You were never that good to begin with and time has not improved your work. I find your work to be comparable to receiving a root canal from a topless dentist. Lots of jiggling, but even so, very unpleasant.

Thank you.

We begin this truly awful schlockfest with a montage of poorly produced black-and-white films followed by a poorly produced Quentin Tarantino lookalike describing the first horror movie he ever saw and how it made him want to be a filmmaker. We immediately segue into a poorly produced Dom DeLuise lookalike producing a poorly produced black-and-white gangster film in which one of the characters actually dies as our director, Roman Grocer, screams that "no one dies like that in a Roman Grocer film!"

Which makes it all the more ironic that he actually DID die.

This film was the last produced at Slaughter Studios, where our Tarantino lookalike hatches a plan--to produce his OWN film in the nine hours before Slaughter is demolished.

His magnum opus? "Naughty Sex Kittens Versus the Giant Preying Mantis." Which, ironically, is a fair description of Roger Corman's ENTIRE BODY OF WORK. Mostly naked women taking on some kind of monster or monsters. The monster is either a man in poor costume or a giant puppet.

The lone challenge to the production of this cultural phenomenon in the making is one security guard who makes his rounds five minutes before every hour. Meaning that the party needs to shoot this in fifty-five minute increments. And the party themselves is a pretty big hindrance. Everyone is at best an amateur, and at worst, have a number of emotional and mental problems.

"Naughty Sex Kittens" is populated by idiots, divas, mental cases, and obsessive personalities. Oh, and this one chick who's pathologically into the guy who died in the last film Slaughter Studios ever produced.

To distract us from the true awfulness of the film, the "sex kittens" get into costume--essentially, lingerie. Okay,'ve bought yourself some time with every male reviewer on earth. The ladies, however, are sharpening their ballpoints and are ready to turn you into a pincushion. Better do SOMETHING...and quick.

Roger's tactic?

To pray every single reviewer who takes on Slaughter Studios is either a straight guy or a lesbian.

The one thing you can say for Roger is that once he decides on a tactic, he will ride it like Dr. Strangelove rode the falling nuke. He will ride it into the very heart of Hell. Thus, every fifteen, twenty minutes, give or take, Roger throws out another scene involving nude or nearly nude women. Shower scenes, lesbian love scenes, lesbian SHOWER love call it. Chances are, unless you're a total pervert, Roger's got it in here.

And I've got to give Roger a little credit. The comedic segments of the film, unintentional or otherwise, are very well done. For instance, one of our characters is going over his lines backstage, and frequently repeated "Run! There's something behind you!" in a variety of voice patterns. And then, we discover that there IS actually something behind him. Ironic, no?

Irony is obviously Roger's lone joke, and thus he plays it up like no tomorrow, infusing it into nearly every comedic bit he lets fly.

But, these minor comedic plusses are scarcely enough to overcome a string of minuses the size of buildings. Minuses like marginal acting, poor scripting, and the sheer bottom-plumbing depth of the low-budgetness. Everything about this movie screams low-budget. This is the kind of movie that makes you wonder, what was the choice here? Payroll for the actors, or Chinese food for the crew? If you've ever want to see a dummy stuffed with fake blood die horribly, then Slaughter Studios is just the place to do it. The death scenes are horrible, and not just because of the gore factor. They are simply POORLY DONE. They start with a shot of the actor/actress, the murder implement coming at the camera, and in that instant they've obviously yelled: "Cut! Bring in the dummy!" Hardly a seamless operation...when you can see the zipper on the monster costume, you know it's badly done.

The ending is a roaring preposterousness, making the innocuous secondary throwaway character the KILLER.

Slaughter Studios is the kind of movie that makes me wonder why the cinema was even invented if it was going to crap out to THIS tripe. I reiterate my earlier editorial...Roger Corman, out of the film business NOW, please.