[review by Justin Kerswell]
After watching this it might be tempting to guess why this backwoods slasher has sat unreleased on the shelves for a couple of years. Whilst not awful, this thoroughly demented piece of work hammers the viewer repeatedly over the head for 90 minutes, and then leaves them feeling like they have brain damage afterwards! Possibly not a selling point (unless you're particularly masochistic). At time of writing this, the UK has been 'lucky' enough to get a DVD release ahead of what I presume will be an upcoming US one.
SIMON SAYS is clearly intended as a throwback to the halcyon days of the early 80s, where near a whole generation was sliced and diced whilst doing naked star jumps in the great outdoors. Like a legion of films from that golden age, a group of teens heads off into the woods for a little r&r, a little t&a, and some panning for gold in their VW camper van. As usual, they are all model beautiful – don't you just sometimes hanker for a slasher flick peopled by munters and hatchet faced harridans? Anyway, the group – supposedly college friends (although none of them particularly seem to like each other) – is made up of the sensible Kate (Margo Harshman), her meat-head jock boyfriend Riff (Artie Baxter), brassy blonde Vicky (Carrie Finklea), her Valley Girl Asian friend Ashley (Kelly Vitz), and the archetypical stoner Zack (Greg Cipes). Because of a damaged sign, the group stop off at a grave site, mistaking it for a camp site. There they see a ghostly apparition of a woman on horseback (as you do) and then bump into two yokel locals who give them meaningful stares, telling them to go back the way they came. The group say they are after the Heathers camp ground, “Ah, where the murders happened ...” say the yokels with a knowing and boss-eyed look.
Before the friends head on their way they stop off a seemingly deserted town, where the only sign of life is dusty convenience store and gas station, which is run by twitchy brothers Simon and Stanley (both played by Crispin Glover chewing scenery like he hasn't eaten for a month and now has a ravenous hunger for cheese!). Displaying an uncanny sensitivity, Riff calls Simon a “'tard” after he seems a little slow. Taking umbrage at the suggestion that he's not all there upstairs, Simon vanishes into the back room only for his equally demented brother to appear quickly afterwards. Getting increasingly freaked out, the group grab a couple of bottles of Jack Daniels and high tail it out of there, but not before Kate realises that she and the brothers appear to have some kind of psychic connection (again, as you do). An outstanding scene at the beginning shows a home movie where two toddlers (presumably Simon and Stanley) wearing what looks like Elvis wigs (!) play fight, with one of them braining the other. Although it remains unexplained why, Kate dreams this.
Leaving town, the group fail to pick up a hitch-hiker (who, like in a similar scene in Crispin Glover's other (and better) slasher flick, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)) meets a sticky end, this time at the end of a pickaxe on the end of a rope. They find themselves what appears to be a tranquil camping spot by a river, and settle down to what teens do best. Only, soon their plans are interrupted by some very deadly games indeed ...
Perhaps one of the major problems with SIMON SAYS is that it could have done with a whodunit angle. The only mysteries here are unanswered ones (Who was the ghostly girl on the horse? What was behind the psychic connection? What were the scriptwriters smoking when they wrote this?). The audience is under no illusion that the brothers (or perhaps just one of the brothers) is behind the bloodshed. An early flashback shows one of the them (played by teenagers with false noses!) try and kill the other with a grisly contraption whilst out camping with their parents (the father played by Glover's real life Dad), this leads to both parents being murdered by one of the twins after they get stoned. Glover as both Simon and Stanley is so larger than life as the pickaxe obsessed nutters that, whilst initially a joy to watch, his performance eventually becomes grating as there is no respite from the eye rolling, scenery chewing and thick backwoods Southern vocal assault. A little down time might of helped, as it's like listening to the radio cranked up to ten for 90 minutes.
Bizarrely for the subgenre, SIMON SAYS is the first horror movie for veteran director William Dear (probably best known for the family comedy BIGFOOT AND THE HENDERSONS (1987)). Even more bizarre, the 63 year old has made a slasher flick so over-the-top and generally wigged out that you'd be convinced it was the product of a drug fiend more than half his age. Certainly, SIMON SAYS references old school slasher movies more than once. As I mentioned before, Glover met a grisly end at the hands of Jason Voorhees. Another nod to the FRIDAY series is the ten minute section where a group of paint-ballers (just like those in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES (1986)) are killed off in quick succession in an effort to bump up the body count. But perhaps the film that it most seems to resemble is strangely enough THE FINAL TERROR (1981), another slasher flick where complex traps are set for the unwary and the killer lurks dressed as a bush! It also has a similarly whacked out sensibility as that other recent bad trip slasher, THE TRIPPER (2007).
Clearly, SIMON SAYS isn't meant to be taken seriously. Like many of today's slasher movies, it takes advantage of relaxed censorship and revels in gory excess, with a head split with a cleaver, a teen consumed by fire in loving close-up, bodily dismemberment by flying contraptions and plenty of bodies whacked with pickaxes. The film takes pickaxe mayhem to a whole new level, with dozens flying through the forest, set off by tripwires or from traps operated by Glover (like a demented captain of a WW2 sub). It's like HOUSE OF THE FLYING DAGGERS (2004) meets MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)!
At least it's a nice try at something different within the confines of the subgenre, but it's a timely reminder that different doesn't always mean better. I dare say, SIMON SAYS could probably be a raucously good time if you're loaded, but sober it's one big headache.
female:5 / male:8
1) Male stabbed in gut with knife
2) Female slashed to death
3) Male hit with pick axe
4) Female hit with pick axe and dismembered
5) Male has legs chopped off
6) Male dismembered with trap
7) Male dismembered with trap
8) Male gets axe through chest
9) Male stabbed in the back and impaled
10) Female smashed into windscreen
11) Male gets pick axe to chest
12) Female hanged
13) Male burnt to death