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A review of the DVD from 'Beyond Terror', available for £7. This is the same as the old Vipco release, and like all Vipco releases of old video nasties, the picture quality is appalling, especially in the darker scenes. It's also presented in 4:3 aspect ratio, which may or may not be how it was intended. It is, at least, uncut. Sadly, this seems to be the only version available anywhere at the moment. There are no extras.
This is a fairly bland slasher film which was banned as one of the video nasties in the UK in the 1980s (the film was made in 1982). It's not a particularly impressive film, but does have a few nice ideas (and may have partly inspired one of the most famous 80s horror movies).
Two couples head out to a deserted island for a vacation. One of the women, Kay, is highly strung and suffers from creepy nightmares. Soon enough, her nightmares seem to start coming true, as someone - or something - starts picking the holidaymakers off.
There are several big problems with this film, but the main one is that there are really only four characters, plus a surly red herring pilot. A good slasher film needs more than that to give it a decent body count, and another couple on the vacation would have helped immensely. The film does give us a totally unrelated fisherman getting murdered close to the start, presumably to tide us over until the main cast start getting whacked, but he's never mentioned or alluded to again, and his body is never even discovered by the others.
It strays from the slasher formula by having the characters be professionals in their 30s rather than sexy, sexy teens. Because there are so few of them, the film is able to take the time to give them characters and a bit of backstory. Unfortunately, I found myself hating each and every one of them within about ten minutes (especially Eric, the one who's obsessed with fishing). Kay, the nervous one, is constantly being told to cheer up and enjoy her holiday, even though she's clearly terrified of the island, which, of course, she has dreamed about. She's also an artist, so we get the hoary old cliché of her finding a building that she had previously painted... even though she's never seen it in real life. This isn't a terrible idea, but it's been done before so many times that it seems lazy.
The interesting idea is that Kay's dreams are coming true, especially when she hints that she believes that her dreams are actually causing the deaths in some way. This isn't really explored as fully as it might be, and it isn't until the end that we get a good look at the thing that's killing everyone (it's impressive, but oddly only onscreen for about a second). But it's a nice horror idea, and of course one that was picked up and developed rather more fully in Nightmare on Elm Street a few years later. The extremely predictable ending wins points for going above and beyond the expected twist, but the characters haven't been drawn with enough skill for it to have quite the tragic impact it should.
Apart from that nightmarish novelty, which isn't used as much as you'd expect, the film follows fairly generic slasher film beats. Expect a lot of prowling, exterior shots of the house where the characters are based, especially night time shots. There are plenty of false scares, usually involving creaking or banging doors, and as is often the case, once those have been revealed as 'safe', the real scare jumps out and hits you. It would actually be scarier if we didn't see the death of the fisherman early on, as that primes us to expect a pretty normal stalk-and-slash story, which is what this turns into. Without it, the build-up would be creepier and less predictable. Any suspense in the sequences where characters are about to meet their doom is dissipated by the sequences lasting much too long. This is probably a symptom of having too few characters - there has to be a lot of padding as there isn't a lot of story.
The only really atypical thing, apart from the characters' ages, is that the incidental music is unexpectedly lush orchestral stuff. By the early 80s John Carpenter-style synth music was the order of the day for horror movies. The music isn't terrible, but it doesn't really complement what we're seeing very well.
The production values scream 'TV movie' at us (perhaps accentuated by the aspect ratio on the DVD). If there wasn't a nude shower scene in the first few minutes, you'd really not expect anything strong at all. The killings aren't too bad, although the first one is absurdly contrived. The grisliest thing in it might be the fisherman, who before his murder is seen gutting dead fish in dirty close-up. The film was probably on the nasties list because one murder features blood on breasts, which seems to have been one of the automatic qualifying criteria for a film being banned. It was deemed to be 'sexual violence' by the powers that be, and it is probably the anatomical detail that is dwelt on most out of all the murders.
None of the cast were familiar, and they deliver oddly bland performances, even in the more hysterical scenes. It's the kind of film where characters are always dropping little facts about each other into their conversation for the benefit of the audience. For instance, Eric's wife decides to start an argument about their vacation, complaining at length about Kay's mental health problems and Eric's fishing obsession just as they're about to set off. This is obviously stupid - any such arguments would realistically have happened weeks previously - but is the only way the filmmakers could figure out to get that information across.
This is another film I'd never have even heard of if it hadn't been banned, and I'd certainly never have bothered about seeing it. It just goes to show, as always, that banning films only makes them cool. Even when they're pretty bland, as this one is.
The film itself might be just about worth seeing if you like early 80s slasher films, but the DVD is of such low quality that I can't recommend it.