We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.
Cody watches a low budget first feature and teachers still won't leave them kids alone.
DAY OF THE REAPER (1984)
Tim Ritter first picked up a camera and started making short films in 1978. After filming dozens of shorts over the next several years, in 1984 he decided it was time to shoot a feature. He and his producing partner got jobs washing dishes, raised a $1000 budget, then got to work on the film. A cast was assembled using high school drama students and personal friends, with even adult characters being played by teenagers. Ritter was a teenager himself, only about seventeen. The lead role went to fourteen-year-old Cathy O'Hanlon.
O'Hanlon plays Jennifer, a girl whose backstory is told in a nightmare flashback that makes up the bulk of the movie: Jennifer and her friends were out for a day of sunbathing and playing frisbee on the beach when a monsoon blew in. As they headed home, their car broke down, stranding them on a forest-lined road. After finding an old shack with human body parts strewn all around it, the girls were attacked by a woods-dwelling cannibal, The Reaper. They were able to subdue the Reaper and bring the police to the scene, with a Detective Rosenberg (Tim Ritter) informing them that the madman they captured is the prime suspect in the disappearance of one hundred people in the area over the last five years. If he was eating his victims, that explains why they weren't able to find any trace of them.
The Reaper was taken to a mental institution, and unfortunately it's the most ineptly run institution ever seen on film. The Reaper walked right out the door - still wearing his blood-soaked apron and having added a black hood to his outfit - and went right under the fence, no problem. He then began stalking and killing the girls one-by-one.
The Reaper ended up being caught again and taken to another mental institution, and the structure of the movie really gives it its own built-in sequel that works as bookends to the nightmare flashback. The Reaper, still being allowed to wear his hood and gloves thirteen months later, escapes while being transferred to his scheduled execution and goes after Jennifer to finish the job.
As the movie nears its end, Jennifer goes to a cemetery and is approached by a psychiatrist, who gives a strange, out-of-nowhere supernatural explanation for the Reaper. As he's going on, he asks her, "Do you know what I'm talking about at all?" I didn't.
The movie was filmed on silent Super 8, then transferred to video by taping the projected image out of a shoebox. The unintentionally funny dialogue was recorded on cassette (with one character dubbed by a twelve-year-old) and Ritter never could get it to sync up. For most scenes, the only sound in the film is the very cool synthesizer score by Sean Ruddy.
Ritter's first feature is a pastiche of his horror influences. The comparisons to Halloween are obvious, but he also drew inspiration from The Hills Have Eyes, The Evil Dead, the Friday the 13th sequels (the series was only up to The Final Chapter when this was made, but in a way Ritter somehow even predicted Jason Goes to Hell), the gore films of H.G. Lewis and the effects work of Tom Savini. There is a particularly great gore effect with a mutilated victim propped up in a motel room bathtub. The victim's severed hand is on the edge of the tub and as the shot pushes in, the hand twitches...
This film definitely has issues, there's no real world logic to it at all, and the picture quality isn't very good, yet I was totally fascinated by it. I'm familiar with this level of filmmaking, and it was cool to me to see a beginning filmmaker homaging his influences, things that I'm also a fan of, while he himself was right in the middle of an era of horror that I love. Despite all its problems, Ritter managed to kick off a good independent career with this. He was able to sell VHS and Beta copies to mom and pop video stores, at first stores local to him in Florida, then stores in New York and Los Angeles wanted copies as well. And Ritter was able to keep working on movies.
Day of the Reaper had a video re-release around 2002, which added a text commentary by Ritter to the bottom of the screen. It's an interesting read as Ritter describes the making of the movie, as well as amusing as he points out all of its faults.
With thanks to Matt, a.k.a. God of Thunder, and Tim Ritter.
CLASS OF 1999 II: THE SUBSTITUTE (1994)
Set two years after Mark L. Lester's futuristic 1990 film about teenage gang members battling out-of-control cyborg teachers, this sequel also goes under the appropriate title Class of 2001 in some territories.
All of the cyborgs - which had originally been designed as military BattleDroids - were believed to have been destroyed, but one detective on the case suspects that there may have been one more, left behind in a bunker. Now that remaining BattleDroid is loose, on an endless killing spree, and the detective thinks he may have finally caught up with it. The detective narrates his theories into a tape recorder in scenes interspersed through the first third of the film, accompanied by stock footage flashbacks to moments from the first movie.
There definitely is a man on a killing spree; John Bolen kills teachers, then takes their place as a substitute. If any students get unruly, he kills them after class. If someone suspects that there's something wrong about him being there, he kills them as well, then moves on to another school.
Arriving at a school where the student uniforms are prison-style orange jumpsuits, Bolen befriends teacher Jenna McKensie, who's being harrassed by gang members because she's set to testify against a teen who shot a fellow student. Wanting to protect someone who's doing the right thing, Bolen starts knocking off all the kids who threaten McKensie... and seems to develop a creepy crush on her in the process.
I also had a bit of a crush on actress Caitlin Dulany when I would watch this movie on cable in the mid-'90s. I found this to be a decent time killer back then, and still find it to be so.
While the first movie featured a hero named Cody, the sequel stars an actor who first gained popularity by playing a character named Cody. Sasha Mitchell plays John Bolen, and I was a fan of him in the '90s from his role as Cody Lambert on the TV show Step by Step. While he was playing that dimwitted goofball on TV, Mitchell was also kicking ass in direct-to-video action movies like this one and three Kickboxer sequels. If, like me until recently, you haven't seen Mitchell since the '90s, check out his appearance in this video. Guy's huge now, twice the man he used to be.
Class of 1999 II was directed by veteran stuntman Spiro Razatos. He appears to have been working with a very small budget, but there is a shot that stood out as quite impressive to me, a no-cut crane shot of a student being hanged from a flag pole. The screenplay was by Mark Sevi, who started off by writing eight direct-to-video sequels between 1992 and 1995: Relentless II, Class of 1999 II, Fast Getaway II, Ghoulies IV, Relentless IV, Scanner Cop II, Dream a Little Dream 2, and Excessive Force II. As a sequel-loving, fan fiction scripting youth, that sounded like a fantastic career to me.
Jay Burleson is currently attending the kickoff of Birmingham, AL's latest Sidewalk Scramble, so look for a special report from him soon!