Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Halloween Havoc: HOUSEBOAT HORROR (1989)

Much like the Swedes, the Aussies ain't much for horror. They make excellent nail-biting thrillers, some of which court similar themes as the venerable horror film, but when it comes to pouring it straight-up, they do it with a trembling hand. Like the gin-soaked TV comedians of yesteryear, some times a trembling hand is all it takes to make for an entertaining evening. As one particular cemetery caretaker said in 1986, "some folks have a strange idea of a good time."

Relying on the tried and true "rock stars in peril" theme, the movie opens with three travelers driving to Lake Infinity (Lake Eildon) to work on a music video for the glam-rock band Young Rooney (not to be confused with the modern L.A. hipster band "Rooney"). The moderately annoying trio pick up a bubbly hitchhiker who is going to visit her boyfriend who is waiting for her at his campsite in the forest next to the lake. Next thing you know, our hitchhiker has found her camping sweetie covered in blood and is attacked by someone wielding a kuri machete. That's right, if Jason still haunts you, you're not alone!

After all parties converge on the lake, they board the houseboat and set to partying. Says one of the girls to one of the guys "the only thing you are going to get into me is booze!" Yep, that sounds exactly the way I remember my teenage camping trips.

Right away you know this is a rowdy bunch as the director, Evans (movie, TV and videogame veteran Alan Dale), decides to drive right next to his PA slash ambulatory bed warmer, on a two lane road while talking on massive cell phones that look like they were picked up at a military surplus store. Of course no band worth their salt is going to be out done by the director, no sir! Young Rooney, certainly act the first part of their name, with loud, over-the-top "wacky" hi-jinx such as a band member who makes the old "suckerface" on a glass window and later is pulled off the roof and falls into a chair. To show the verbal side of their tomfoolery, we get a quick insert of one side of a conversation: "...those guys are so mono-theistic, if Plato was there then, he would have said exactly what I did: 'the theory of relativity, the theory of forms, the continuum concept, Aldous Huxley is The Partridge Family, pan-dimensional!'" Uhhh... right. Well, you certainly can't accuse the script of being underwritten.

Of course no slasher movie worth its salt or otherwise is complete without a Prophet of Doom (aka "The Crazy Ralph"). Here the unnamed Ranger (Lewis Porter), in a righteous furor over the incredibly irritating, and not long for this world, ocker who has been hacking at trees with an axe for no reason other than he's "practicing!" If he was one of the band members his hacking would indeed be considered "practice". Says the Ranger, "I don't like to see the scenic wonderlands buggered up!" it's not just the trees, but he's not too happy about having film people down in these parts. As a decade or so ago, there was a terrible set fire in which a boy was badly burned, so they are definitely NOT to go to the northern part of the lake! Of course, as soon as the ranger leaves they bugger off for the northern part of the lake while the boys party like... well, wannbe rockstars... and the girls hang out in the living room playing Trivial Pursuit.

Those wild and crazy guys!

After arriving at the northern part of the lake things start kicking into a gear that I had no idea this movie possessed. One by two, our burned killer hacks and slashes his way through an amazing number of cast members with a jaw-dropping smorgasboard of shockingly professional gore effects. In addition to the feature film quality splatter, we get lots of amusingly odd moments. For instance there is the obligatory shooting-a-music-video scene in which Young Rooney totally rocking out while dressed like Ratt to a song that sounds like Dire Straights. There's a bit where a girl is taking a shower and suddenly the curtain whips back, there's a scream and we pull back to see it was another nude girl who just wanted to let her know that she's waiting to use the shower. Typical girl stuff. Speaking of random nudity, there's a scene where one of the band members is smoking something he rolled himself and sees a rather unattractive woman (a local stripper) glumly walking naked in and out of the lake. He looks at his roll-your-own and says "I've gotta stop smoking these mushrooms!" Pause. "This isn't a mushroom!" Draw your own conclusions, my friends, I'm fresh out of hypotheses.

In one bit they have yet another "homage" to a certain 1982 slasher film in which a couple of the crew discover an abandoned barn and... wait for it... say "what a great location!" before being killed off in separate areas of the barn. It's actually a pretty well executed sequence and I have to say, I've never seen anyone killed with horseshoes in a slasher film before. Another scene, in which a topless girl is stabbed repeatedly from under a bunk bed, is actually brutally effective because of the acting. The movie even boasts a plot convenience that involves throwing a brick cell phone in the lake, which is a serious cash outlay for an '80s shot-on-video horror flick. Seriously, watch a Donald Farmer or Jon McBride movie and tell me they anything close to that display of opulence. Hell these guys even do a burn-suit gag with a not-very-high fall! Sure the movie may have hambone acting and may be ridiculously over-written, but they show more ambition than a dozen of these SOV clunkers.

The late writer-director-producer Ollie Martin, a TV writer and DJ, whose dreamchild HOUSEBOAT HORROR was, was fired after three days by the executive producer Greg Petherick. TV director Kendal Flanagan was brought on board, so to speak, and apparently he is the one we can thank for delivering the goods in the second half of the movie. Also, the editor went and shot all the second unit work, leading to a rather patchy movie with seemingly random scenes spliced in here and there and a lack of cohesiveness in spite of lots of camera set-ups and a lot of script. Even so, this ends up way too entertaining and well made to even qualify for any "Worst Movie" award. Bad movie? Oh unquestionably, but the Christopher Lewis' and the Wally Koz's of this world have nothing to fear from HOUSEBOAT HORROR.

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