Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Body Count (1987)

Hey look, I think I see the 1980s.

Slasher films are like comfort food. They aren't good for you but you know exactly what you're going to get. I picked up this particular slasher because of director Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust) and although it's known under the titles The Eleventh Commandment and Camping Del Terrore, Body Count is probably the most accurate. It's a transparent attempt to appeal to the American market but it was pretty late in the game to be cashing in on slasher mania. People were already tiring of the formula and the Friday the 13th series had lapsed into winking self-parody. Still, I was hoping Deodato could put a twist in the slasher formula by cross-pollinating it with the stylised violence and absurd exploitation that makes Italian horror so much fun.

As the film begins John Steiner (Cobra Mission) appears as a doctor with nothing better to do but hang out at high school basketball games and examine teenage athletes. Kind of suspicious behaviour now that I think about it. His daughter (who looks about 30) heads out into the woods with her boyfriend for sexytimes, and during a post-coital walk in the woods she gets knifed by a mysterious killer known as "The Shaman". He may look like a guy in a crappy Halloween mask but he's well-prepared, bringing along a matching curly wig so he can fool her boyfriend and then knife him too. Now that's planning ahead.

Cutting to fifteen years later, a group of obnoxious teens are on an aimless road trip through Colorado in an RV. There is Tony the cool one, Tracy the Southern belle, Sissy the slutty blonde with huge hair, Carol the forgettable-one-who-will-probably-become-the-Final-Girl and Sidney, a particularly annoying variation on the fat prankster archetype (ie the Shelley). Along the way they pick up Ben Ritchie, a friendly young chap who is returning home after military service. He insists that they head out to his family's nearby campsite, the stalking ground of the Shaman. This comes as an unwelcome surprise to his father Robert Ritchie (David Hess) who has long since closed the campsite and has already had to deal with a trio of outdoorsy teens who have decided to camp here too (Sharon, Scott and Dave, no fucking way am I writing out all the actor credits for all this slasher spam, go check imdb if you're interested).

Scott and Sharon are the first to go, killed while on a kayaking/rock climbing expedition. Scott is pushed off a cliff with such force that by the time he hits the ground his hair has changed length and colour. Sharon runs aimlessly into the woods and is knifed by the killer too. Scott actually shows up later in the film, somehow stumbling back to camp and then lapsing into a coma. Nobody seems particularly disturbed by this development, or the fact that Sharon is missing, and their debauchery continues unabated.

They partake in many fun outdoor activities, such as tooling around on a dirt bike and doing outdoor aerobics. They take great delight in renovating the local shower block so the girls can have a legitimate place to strip off all their clothing, and once it's in working order the girls avail themselves of it at every opportunity. I think there's about six boobs on display in total, eight if you count the fat guy who strips naked at one point. Gradually the teens are picked off one by one and act even more stupid than usual. After one girl's boyfriend is killed she inexplicably runs upstairs and lies on the bed, just so they could rip off Kevin Bacon's arrow-through-the-throat kill in Friday the 13th. Hell, if you're going to rip off Tom Savini effects you'd better be able to cut the mustard and these guys aren't even close.

Turns out that Ben witnessed the original murders those many years ago, and since then his father Robert has become obsessed with the Shaman. Robert's is so consumed by his obsession that it's driven his wife Julia (Mimsy Farmer) into the arms of the sheriff (Charles Napier). I hope the sheriff a better lover than he is a cop, because he seems way more interested in boning her in the woodshed (not a euphemism) than finding the increasing number of missing campers. Since David Hess is contractually obliged to rape or kill at least one woman per film, Robert finds out about the affair and tries to strangle her, but she clocks him on the head and locks his body in the woodshed. It kind of gets complicated with some mistaken identity, but in the end a not-quite-dead Robert kills Julia, locks Carol (who witnessed the crime) in the woodshed and escapes into the woods.

It takes way too long for Carol to realise that there might be something in the woodshed to help her cut her way out, and by the time she chainsaws her way through the door she discovers she is the Final Girl. She and Dave confront the killer and the sheriff finally does something useful by gunning down the killer at the last minute. There have been many hints to suggest that Robert is the killer (not the least of which being that he's played by David Hess who is, as usual, awesome at playing an unhinged nutbag) so it's obvious that it's someone else. The identity of the killer is not much of a surprise but it still leaves several murders unsolved, which the sheriff attributes to the curse of the Shaman. Colorado's finest, ladies and gentlemen.

Much of the film was actually shot in Colorado, so it looks pretty good and there is some decent cinematography. It has some interesting character actors (Ivan Rassimov also makes a brief appearance) and a great soundtrack courtesy of Claudio Simonetti from Goblin, but it's dragged down by an overwhelming sense of familiarity. It's at it's best when it breaks from the slasher mould, such as a surreal nightmare sequence involving severed legs, heads in jars and Fulci-esque showers of maggots. Unfortunately that isn't very often. If you're after 30 year old teens doffing their tops and getting knifed in short order you'll walk away satisfied, but don't let Deodato's name fool you into thinking it's anything other than a generic slasher pic. And in case you're wondering, the body count is 12.

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