[review by JA Kerswell]
|There's a cross dressing killer on the loose in FLASHBACK - the first hint that the film originated from an older script by Jimmy Sangster.
Somewhat erroneously credited to Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster, FLASHBACK is a quirky, if uneven, German post-SCREAM (1996) slasher whodunit. A young woman is discharged from an asylum after witnessing her parents’ murders when she was a child but fears that the killer has returned to finish the job. Glossy and beautifully shot in the stunning Bavarian Alps, the film veers wildly between slasher thriller territory and broad Germanic farce - which makes for a rather uneven, albeit often entertaining, viewing experience.
Jeanette (Valerie Niehaus) is under the care of her doctor Martin (Erich Schleyer) at a psychiatric facility. He is trying to get her to remember what happened after she witnessed the murders of her parents by a cross-dressing lunatic who had been on a killing spree with a hand sickle. Jeanette can’t - or won’t - remember and says that she just wants to forget it all and lead a normal life. Martin agrees that he thinks that she is ready to rejoin society and arranges for her to become the live-in French tutor to three teenagers at the remote alpine estate of a friend of his.
Siblings Leon (Xaver Hutter), Melissa (Alexandra Nedel) and Lissy (Simone Hanselmann) are at first miffed that their father has upset their summer plans, but appear to quickly warm to Jeanette when they realise that she is not much older than they are. With their father away, their baroque house is run by a disproving housekeeper (Elke Sommer) - who warns Jeanette that the teenagers are no good. Jeanette ignores her and further bonds with her charges and grows especially close to Leon.
|Popular 60s and 70s Euro star Elke Sommer appears as the grumpy housekeeper Frau Lust - with Valerie Niehaus in the background.
However, Jeanette becomes unnerved by a mysterious presence in a nearby barn and more so when she sees what appears to be her parents’ killer holding a sickle standing in the middle of the road. However, supposedly no one else sees this mysterious figure despite it nearly causing an accident. As Jeanette becomes increasingly worried for her safety, and that of her students, new murders begin to plague the verdant mountainsides as ‘the sound of murder’ rings out across the meadows …
FLASHBACK at times seems like two movies sewn together Frankenstein-style - partly because in a way it was. On one hand, you have a semi-serious - and sometimes quite gory in its uncut version - popcorn thriller akin to SCREAM and the North American films that followed such as I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997) and URBAN LEGEND (1998). Then the central whodunit mystery and the teasing about how robust Jeanette’s sanity is are reminiscent of 1960s post-PSYCHO (1960) proto-slashers. Hardly a surprise given Sangster’s involvement, as he wrote such variations as SCREAM OF FEAR (1961), MANIAC (1963) and NIGHTMARE (1964) - to name a few. He even directed the gialloesque FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1972) for Hammer Studios. Although he’s listed as a screenwriter on this, the truth is that the film was adapted from an undated unproduced script of his - which may also explain the cross-dresser as killer angle that might have seemed somewhat problematic even by the year 2000. Presumably, the modern post-SCREAM additions were added by the other credited writer Natalie Scharf. Scharf, incidentally, spent her childhood living next to a psychiatric hospital which her father ran. Presumably, that hospital didn’t have people dressed as characters from STAR WARS (1977) as FLASHBACK does!
|Unlucky teens played by Xaver Hutter, Alexandra Neldel and Simone Hanselmann are targetted by the killer in Michael Karen's slasher FLASHBACK.
On the other hand, the film flip-flops between a conventional slasher thriller adapted for a modern teenage audience and comedic flourishes that dispense the clever wordplay of Kevin Williamson and at times tip into broad farce. Whilst Jeanette’s search for the truth and many of the horror elements are played straight, touches such as the zany police duo and the snowplough that vomits forth body parts complete with comedy sound effects just doesn’t quite gel. Some of the humour works, such as the murder victim dead in his car listening to love songs - who remains undiscovered even by the end of the movie. There is even a nice touch where the characters go to watch THE RELIC (1999) at a cinema and Leon quips to an uneasy Jeanette that horror films “… are really popular now.”However, where films such as SCREAM succeeded was that the humour complimented the horror/thriller elements without pulling you out of the story. Unfortunately that largely isn’t the case here.
Much like its North American counterparts, many of the young cast came from TV soaps or other youth-orientated small-screen fare. No stranger to Euro-cult and horror, a frumpy Elke Sommer has fun as the wonderfully - and somewhat ironically - named Frau Lust. Having appeared in everything from BARON BLOOD (1972) to LISA AND THE DEVIL (1973) the fact that her character spends so much time on a ski lift telegraphs that something bad will happen on it - and it does. Allegra Curtis - the half-sister of Jamie Lee Curtis - appears in the prologue of the movie as Jeanette’s mother.
ANATOMY - another German post-SCREAM slasher that was released the same year - was a big hit on domestic screens. Whereas, FLASHBACK more-or-less went up in a puff of smoke and was released directly to home video in most other markets (including a hilarious English dub that wouldn’t have sounded out-of-place in a 70’s Euro cult movie, which is the only English-friendly option at the time of writing).
FLASHBACK looks great and there’s fun to be had here, but the humour might leave non-German audiences wishing they’d put it back on the shelf.
female: 4 / male: 7
1) Male seen dead with throat cut
2) Female killed with hand sickle (off screen)
3) Male seen dead with throat cut
4) Female has throat cut with hand sickle
5) Male has head punctured with hand sickle
6) Female killed with hand sickle (off screen)
7) Male stabbed in the neck with hand sickle
8) Male run through with a pitchfork
9) Male stabbed repeatedly with a knife
10) Female slashed with hand sickle and drowns
11) Male stabbed in the crotch and chest with hand sickle
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