Let’s take look back at some of those fabled ‘lost’ slasher movies from the subgenre’s Golden Age – where teenagers were set to be mauled at THE MALL, more were to be RIPPED SHREDS, no one turned up for THE GRADUATION PARTY, Wayne Newton nearly stalked LOVER’S LANE, Liberace was mooted to go nutzoid as a killer gay clown and much more rumour, gossip and perhaps some solid leads to real-life lost slasher movies …
The early 1980s horror/slasher boom is well known – but what isn’t so well remembered was its rapid bust. As quickly as the onslaught started, the subgenre – outside of the emerging franchises – started to rapidly burn itself out. Simply put, attracted by the hopes of big profits for little investment and no reliance on star names, every producer in Hollywood (not to mention, Texas, Ohio and everywhere else for that matter) was attracted to the splatter-for-cash bandwagon. Whilst many turned a profit, the market got so oversaturated that – before the advent of video as a mass market – many genre and subgenre films sat on the shelf for up to two, three or more years before they secured theatrical distribution.
The other effect of this ‘gore rush and bust’ was that a good number of slasher films were announced – sometimes started (and, perhaps, tantalisingly finished) – but never saw the light of day. At the time, in 1980 it was reported that 84 horror movies were shot in North America and Canada – that rose to 110 in 1981. However, in 1982 140 horror films were announced but only 45 were made. As Starburst Magazine pithily noted: “Producers are no longer cutting teenage throats or heads. They’re cutting their projects.”
Here are some of those projects …
MURDER AT THE DISCO DOWN (1979)
DARK WATER (1979/80)
THE CELLAR (1980)
LOVERS LANE (1981)
THE LAKE (1981)
THE LOUISIANA SWAMP MURDERS (1981/82)
THE MALL (1981)
THE GRADUATION PARTY (1981)
11 O’CLOCK (1981)
PEEPING TOM (1981)
NIGHTMARE WEEKEND (1981)
HORROR MOVIE (1981)
BLIND DATE (1982)
RIPPED TO SHREDS (1981/82)
PSYCHO II: THE RETURN OF NORMAN (1981/82)
REFLECTION OF HORROR (1981/1982/1983)
HARD COVER (1982)
LORD OF THE HARVEST (1982)
MERRY CHRISTMAS (1982)
HIDE AND GO KILL (1983)
SILENT DEATH (1983)
MANIAC 2 (1983)
BLOOD FEAST 2 / GORE FEAST (1983)
MURDER AT THE DISCO DOWN (1979)
Before PROM NIGHT (1980) (which Jamie Lee Curtis once dismissively called “disco death”) and after the then recent SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977), er, fever, another killer was due to hunt the dancefloor. Little is known about this project. There is no copyright record of a film under this name, but the film was announced in Variety Magazine in May of 1979 (which probably meant it was looking for financial backers at Cannes Film Festival). The advert listed it as a “Matt Cimber Production”. Cimber was the one-time husband of ill-fated blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield and the man behind such solid exploitation fayre as THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976). He was visually inactive in the late 1970s, at the time MURDER AT THE DISCO DOWN was mooted – but returned with a couple of Pia Zadora clunkers in 1982 (BUTTERFLY and FAKE-OUT).
The promotional artwork shows a pair of menacing eyes looking down at the naked body of a woman silhouetted on an illuminated disco dancefloor. Which, visually, at least hints that the film was going to be a cash-in on both the disco and the slasher craze. It lists it as ”Louise E. Steinberg presents” – but whoever she was is lost to the mists of time as is MURDER AT THE DISCO DOWN. The project presumably failed to find enough backers at Cannes (surprisingly so given its 1979 date), so the beat was sadly snuffed out at the Disco Down.
That is until, as a fun aside, MURDER AT THE DISCO DOWN inspired a Turkish dance act, called ‘Hey Douglas’, to record a mini album in 2014 of the same name – utilising the unmade project’s artwork. You can hear it on Bandcamp.
DARK WATER (1979/1980)
This UK-lensed slasher short (it has a running time of just 28 minutes) would have been shown as the pre-feature film (as was common practice at British cinemas back then) – it has been unseen since.
The synopsis sounds intriguing: “In order to enjoy a romantic private swim together, Jo and Eddie hide when their local swimming pool is closing for the evening. But unknown to them, a killer is on the loose - and in the building with them.”Halliwells Film Guide also gives this: “A girl locked in a swimming pool is terrorized by a mad killer. Agreeably watchable thriller full of shadows and shocks.”
The young couple were played by stars-to-be Phil Davis (who had then wrapped QUADROPHENIA (1979) and went onto films including ALIEN 3 (1992)) and Gwyneth Strong (best remembered as Cassandra Trotter in the Brit TV comedy ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES).
The BBFC website lists the film as being from 1979 – with a AA certificate (which meant that no one under 14 would have been admitted).
A couple of British horror shorts (with definite slasher movie nods) from the late 1970s are available to view on YouTube: PANIC (1978) (a young woman menaced by a serial killer she gives a lift to) and THE DUMB WAITER (1979) (strongly influenced by the slasher films from the United States at the time; another young woman battles a psychopath as he tries to break into her flat).
THE CELLAR (1980)
It is not known if this was going to be a slasher movie, but a couple of people involved suggest it might well have been …
In the October 1980 edition of Box Office Magazine, it was announced: “Boon Collins of Wild Rose Films Ltd. Is off to Toronto for five weeks of shooting on “The Cellar”, a $1.5 million thriller, on which he is the writer/director.” Collins was one of the co-writers of the screenplay for William Asher’s slasher NIGHT WARNING (aka BUTCHER BAKER, NIGHTMARE MAKER) (1981) – which had started filming in September 1980. He also went on to be behind such slasher fare as SLEEPOVER NIGHTMARE (2005) (where partygoers are menaced by an escaped mental patient). Box Office listed Irwin Yablans – executive producer of HALLOWEEN (1978) and FADE TO BLACK (1980) – as executive producer of THE CELLAR. FADE TO BLACK had filmed in early 1980. His next project, the slasher HELL NIGHT (1981) began filming in late November 1980 (which he followed with HALLOWEEN II (1981) and THE SEDUCTION (1982)). If you ignore his non-slasher output at the time (ROLLER BOOGIE and NOCTURNA (both 1979)) – and given Collin’s involvement with NIGHT WARNING, it seems reasonable to ponder that THE CELLAR would have had some slasher leanings. However, the project vanished without a trace.
Whilst the UK horror film industry was in quick decline after the boom of the 1970s, I always wondered why – arguably bar Pete Walker – no one had tried to make a British slasher movie? As it happens, one very nearly happened …
Michael Armstrong was no stranger to the subgenre. His HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR (1969 – which was actually written as THE DARK in 1960) was an influential proto-slasher – which, despite its name, helped set the template of isolating a group of teens and having a mad killer bumping them off one-by-one. So, Armstrong was a natural candidate for a slasher movie during its late 70s and early 80s heyday. Certainly, producers Clive Parsons and Davina Belling thought so and asked him to write a “Halloween-type movie” in 1980. In 1982, Armstrong told Starburst Magazine: “I had seen all the recent horror movies and realised that the only difference in them is the environment. It was always a microcosm of people, and a killer, in a holiday camp, or a school, or on a train – so I thought of what hadn’t been used as that sort of device, and I came up with an orphanage.” Starburst reported: “What Armstrong wrote was a totally formula picture and as nothing happened with the story outline he submitted, he shelved it until now.”
The original intention to make a UK-based slasher movie based on the success of films such as FRIDAY THE 13TH or TERROR TRAIN (both 1980) didn’t materialise – and it seemed that Armstrong had changed tack by 1982: “Orphanage will be strong and uncompromising stuff I promise you that. I’ve changed it all – it is no longer Scum meets Psycho. The killer is just a figure, he really isn’t that important and it will be told from the children’s point of view. I have every intention of coming back – let’s face it, I did what they’re all doing now – then. Now I’m coming back and just wait till you see what with.”
Needless to say, neither incarnation of ORPHANAGE materialised. However, even as recently as 2017 Armstrong was threatening to finally direct it. Although, that too, seems to have fallen by the wayside (with the film’s website now defunct).
However, to get an idea of what might have been check out his gory short DREAM HOUSE (1980) – where a woman sees visions of a knife-wielding maniac butchering a family after moving into a new house. DREAM HOUSE had been commissioned by Stanley Long of Alpha films as a support to the UK cinema release of THE EXTERMINATOR. DREAM HOUSE found an eventual home as one of the three stories in the British horror anthology SCREAMTIME (1983). (Thanks to our friends at Alone in the Dark: A Century of Stalk and Slash for alerting me ORPHANAGE’s existence – or lack of!)
LOVERS LANE (1981)
Obviously, not to be confused with the 1999 post-SCREAM slasher (starring a pre-fame Anna Farris), the announcement for LOVER’S LANE first appeared in Box Office Magazine in October of 1980 as an upcoming production from Cannon Films. This was a busy time for the Golan-Globus trash powerhouse, who had felt confident enough in the burgeoning success of their exploitation and horror library to take out six full pages advertising upcoming titles and boasting current successes. Featured titles included X-RAY (aka HOSPITAL MASSACRE), which was listed as to star Jill St. John (who was eventually replaced by Playboy playmate Barbi Benton). Also NEW YEAR’S EVIL (advertised here as for U.S. national release December 19, 1980 - just in time for, yes, New Year’s). Another page boasted of the box office success of Cannon’s then just released SCHIZOID - which was listed as grossing over $4 million in its first month of release (over $12 million in today’s money). The bottom half of that page announced a title called LOVER’S LANE featuring a silhouetted image of a man holding a knife looming over car with a necking couple inside. Given its company, it seems that this was going to be another slasher schlockbuster title for Cannon.
Some years ago, I had seen an almost identical advert from around the same time in an issue of Variety. It had, obviously, peaked my interest but I could find no additional information. But, after recently stumbling across this advert in Box Office Magazine (and subsequent listings repeatedly detailing it being prepped for a spring 1981 release), it reignited my interest and I decided to dig a little deeper.
One thing above all others is striking - its proposed star. Being from the UK, the name Wayne Newton meant little. However, I soon discovered he WAS a ‘name’ - and indeed, he had many: ‘The Midnight Idol’, ‘Mr. Las Vegas’ and ‘Mr. Entertainment’. Newton was one of the best-known entertainers in Las Vegas (by 1994 he had performed over 25,000 solo shows in the neon city). In 1980, he was in his early forties and enjoyed his last top 40 hit: Years (a cover of Barbara Mandrell’s country music No1 from the previous year). Mr. Las Vegas in a slasher? Whatever next? Liberace as the RHINESTONE RIPPER? Stranger things had happened. Indeed, only a few years later Frankie Avalon would chase teenage Donna Wilkes around with a hatchet in BLOOD SONG (1982). Jack Jones had battled a scythe-wielding killer in a hag mask in Pete Walker’s THE COMEBACK (1978). And even a pre-fame David Bowie was considered for a role in the 1969 proto-slasher THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR. So would Newton really have been such a strange choice playing against type? Newton had been a familiar face on the small screen since the 1960s. And he is still acting today, appearing as recently as SHARKNADO 4: The 4TH AWAKENS (2016) and PUPPY LOVE (2018).
|Las Vegas superstar Wayne Newton relished the chance to play a psycho in LOVER'S LANE ...|
The screenplay and story for LOVER’S LANE was credited to Hal Landers and Robert Benedict. Landers was also due to produce and is possibly best remembered as producer for the first two DEATH WISH movies (1974 and 1982 respectively); along with fellow producer Bobby Roberts. I could find no other credits for Benedict. Emmet Alston was listed as director. Alston did direct Cannon’s NEW YEAR’S EVIL, but was also listed in Box Office Magazine as an early candidate for the then upcoming Cannon slasher X-RAY (which was eventually directed by Boaz Davidson). Alston’s next listed directorial credit wasn’t until 1986’s NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA (he was also credited as the writer of HUNTER’s BLOOD the same year). Unsurprisingly, executive producers were listed as Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.
It was perhaps surprising, in a time when dates and locations were used as a, er, hook for many a slasher, that Lover’s Lane (and especially the urban legend of ‘The Hook’) had not already been utilised. In some small way it had, in the adaptation of real life events in THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976). Indeed, the urban legend was so well ingrained into the North American consciousness that ahead-of-his-time director Armand Mastroianni had worked it into his neat proto post-modern film-within-a-film prologue in HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE (1980). A similar scene was played for straight in 1981’s FINAL EXAM. It was clear that Lover’s Lane was ripe for the cinematic plucking.
But what of the time when LOVER’S LANE was in pre-production? One of the common misconceptions about the slasher boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s was that it was just that - a sustained boom. Christian Williams in The Washington Post exclaimed: “This Autumn of 1980 will be remembered in Hollywood as the season when horror movies, those unspeakable celluloid things, cracked out of their pods en mase to gorge anew on the wallets of American filmgoers.” It was a veritable slasher gold rush and fertile ground for fledgling slasher projects, but as with any boom it’s tricky to know when it will bust. Even as early as the release of TERROR TRAIN in October of that year, major studios - who measured the success of a picture against the joint HALLOWEEN (1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) box office juggernaughts - expressed disappointment with their returns. Even genre barometer Roger Corman cancelled a horror film and said the market would be oversaturated by spring the following year. Williams exclaimed with some small amount of glee: “So it's a hello-goodbye to the biggest glut of nightmare movies in film history.” However, it wasn’t time to write off the subgenre just yet. Filmways said that a third of the 150 scripts they received each month were still for horror films. Avco-Embassy said the number of similar proposals was “uncountable”.
In November 1980, whilst the Washington Post declared the decline of the horror movie’s fortunes, it admitted that LOVER’S LANE (among others) would soon join the likes of FRIDAY THE 13TH and PROM NIGHT (also 1980) in “throbbing like abscessed teeth in the gaping maws of the nation's multiplex theaters”. Curiously, and perhaps hinting at production troubles, even as late as March 1981 LOVER’S LANE was still being announced (around the time it was originally due for release). The, ahem, ever reliable World Weekly News stated: “Las Vegas heartthrob Wayne Newton wants to be a movie superstar. The entertainer has signed on to play a nutsty murderer in ‘Lover’s Lane’” (although the same issue detailed how Faye Dunaway was supposedly being haunted by the vengeful ghost of Joan Crawford on the set of MOMMIE DEAREST. Perhaps she had seen the rushes!).
Whilst the advert for LOVER’S LANE in both Variety and Box Office Magazine offers the tantalising possibility that there is a real bone fide lost slasher it is worth considering their nature and purpose. They were trade adverts not really intended for the public and were a mixture of bragging, bravado and shopping for investors. Indeed, stars and directors often changed from those detailed in these ads - and, in many cases, the films never made it in front of the camera at all for lack of backing, change in a genre’s popularity or some other reason. Or, if they did, as in the case of THE SPACE VAMPIRES (slated here for a Christmas 1981 release) it was eventually made by Cannon as LIFEFORCE by Tobe Hooper and released in 1985. The advertising feature lists at least one other potential horror film that wasn’t made called HARVEST OF FEAR. However, for months Box Office Magazine repeatedly listed LOVER’S LANE as coming soon for a spring 1981 release. Then a double page advert in Variety ballyhooed it would have its world premiere at Cannes in May that year. Given Cannon was boasting of the financial success of SCHIZOID why would LOVER’S LANE not end up being produced?
Despite the murmurings that the teen slasher boom was almost over shortly after it started, independent producers still scrambled to make them in the hope that some of that blood-splattered gold would rub off. After all, they were relatively cheap to make and profit was still likely even without major studio pick ups. However, that led to another problem: a glut of independent productions and finite space in theatres. This meant that a good number of slashers sat on the shelf; some for a number of years. But, could it be possible that LOVER’S LANE was made but never released? Was LOVER’S LANE a real lost slasher?
The US copyright office does detail an entry for a 1981 screenplay for a film called LOVER’S LANE. However, the original story was by Richard D. Aldrich with an original screen play and story adaptation by Dan Stevens (with an aka of BITTER SWEET COMPULSION). So, a different film - but maybe another lost slasher?
Sadly, the truth is that reels of Cannon’s LOVER’S LANE celluloid are not lying waiting to be discovered in some long-forgotten, dusty corner. In truth, the cameras never rolled. The film fell through after NBC ran a story in 1980 that linked Newton to organised crime and spooked investors. This came to light after Newton sued the network in 1986 for defamation. The article confirmed that Newton had hoped to portray a psychotic killer in the film. Billy Fine - a Hollywood film distributor who had put out such films as I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) and PENITENTIARY II (1982) and was executive producer on NEW YEAR’S EVIL - testified in the case he couldn’t take the chance after the NBC broadcast and stated: “We had a very conservative group of investors, and image-wise we didn't want any problems or hassles, they wanted a clean deal.” Presumably the idea of Wayne Newton donning a fedora and carving up teens met with their approval whilst the whiff of alleged criminal activity frightened them off. Newton won the case and was awarded $19.2 million in damages (although that figure was later overturned at appeal).
In 1986, Fine said he now had his own money and would love to make the film with Newton. But by that time the slasher bandwagon had long left town and Lover’s Lane was safe from knife-wielding maniacs for a few years yet ...
THE LAKE (1981)
This short film (it has a running time of just 33 minutes) was shot in 35mm and would have been shown as the pre-feature film (as was common practice at British cinemas back then). With just a cast of two listed (Julie Peasgood and Gene Foad) The British Film Catalogue gives this short synopsis: “Couple picnic by house haunted by man who killed his family.” The production date is listed as either 1977 or 1978 – but IMDB lists the film with a 1981 date (which suggests that this was when it was on release).
THE LAKE was directed as Lindsay Vickers (also listed as Lindsey Vickers), who apparently filmed this after a project called PREY (not the Norman J Warren film) failed to happen. Quite how this measured up to fellow slasher movies of the time I don’t know (although it has been compared as a UK take to US fayre such as FRIDAY THE 13TH by those lucky enough to have seen it). It is listed as having an AA certificate – which meant no one under 14 would have been allowed to watch it. Which suggests that it didn’t match US films with their levels of grue, but sadly – like many short horror films from the time – it remains M.I.A.
THE LOUISIANA SWAMP MURDERS (1981/82)
The year before FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1982) slashed across screens in eye-popping three dimensions, another film was being prepped for production. And this tale of a killer stalking the Louisiana swamps was also going to be in 3D.
The jury is still out as to whether it was destined to be a slasher movie, as such, but the scant details that can be found certainly suggest it was being moulded by the success of the likes of HALLOWEEN (1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) – and a whole slew of other slashers that flooded cinemas in their bloody wake.
In late 1981, THE LOUISIANA SWAMP MURDERS was touted as one of the “… many 3D films being prepared in the wake of the success of Comin’ at Ya!” (the Italy/Spain/USA co-production that was put out in the US by Filmways Pictures in June 1981 – who also distributed THE BURNING the same year). THE LOUISIANA SWAMP MURDERS was a project of producer Brud Talbot – who, according to Fangoria, had hit 3D pay-dirt with COMIN’ AT YA! (although, curiously, he is not listed in the credits for the film on IMDB). He was reported to be working in conjunction with King-Hitzig Productions – who had produced WOLFEN earlier in 1981. Rupert Hitzig went on to co-produce JAWS 3-3D in 1983.
Interestingly, before Gene Siskel had more-or-less invented the term “slasher movie” (or as he first called them “mad slasher movies” when attacking FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 in June 1981), the fledgling subgenre was described a number of ways – but often as “terror pics”. Talbot described THE LOUISIANA SWAMP MURDERS to Fangoria as a “terror film rather than a horror film.” He continued: “[the] … main difference between a horror and terror is that horror is used for pure shock value whereas with terror you manipulate the audience. Psycho was terror. … We are dealing with things that are real and manipulating them in situations that are real and very uncomfortable.”
Bill Bukowski, the inventor of the OPTIMAX III 3D process, that was to be used in the film, poured some scorn on whether the film would be a pure slasher. In an interview with Global Video Guide (circa 1982/1983) he said of his next project: “It will be with Alan King and Rupert Hitzig in the swamps of Louisiana, a psychological terror film ala "Psycho" rather than "Friday The 13th", called "The Louisiana Swamp Murders". It has a $3.5 million budget and will use 3D effects judiciously. There'll be lots of sound, music, art direction and alligators as well. It'll be beautiful going through the swamps. A dozen special 3D effects are worth 25 indiscriminate ones.” Of course, not many film makers would admit to making a slasher film – God forbid! – but those Hitchcockian pretensions were often forgotten by the time the first teenage head rolled …
THE LOUISIANA SWAMP MURDERS was pegged to be directed by Rick Rosenthal (who had just completed duties on HALLOWEEN II – which proved to be the biggest slasher hit of 1981). However, it seemed that nobody told Rosenthal! He said in early 1982: “I keep reading that I’m going to do it … but nobody called me. I think we can forget about Louisiana Swamp Murders for a while. I don’t even know if I would do it if it became a serious project.”
Talbot said the film “… will rely a great deal on suspense and mystery in the context of an unknown killer on the loose in Bayou county.” Atypically, the film was also going to make use of another type of killer: “Fearsome alligators will also be another menacing element. … Kind of innocent bystanders, but they do kill. In other words, they are utilized in the story by the killer.” It was the use of these big scaly critters that may have been the ultimate reason the film never got made. The film was originally meant to start shooting in December 1981 (and screen tests for actors took place – including actress P.T. Horn who appeared briefly in JAWS 3-3D (1983)), but since alligators hibernate the winter the projected starting date was bumped to March 1982 – when they woke up!
Talbot said that THE LOUISIANA SWAMP MURDERS would eschew the gimmicky everything-bar-the-kitchen sink 3D approach of COMIN’ AT YA!. He said: “We may use the off-screen effect maybe eight times in the entire picture. … We’ll use the clarity of depth of field in bringing you into the story and getting you totally involved in the story, the characters, the relationships and the red herrings. … And when the images do come off the screen, the audience will jump right out of their seats.” Talbot also said that 3D system would have been the most advanced one yet envisaged – with 12 focal lengths (as opposed to COMIN’ AT YA!’s four). “It allows us to bring the image off the screen right up to your nose and keep it there.”, he enthused.
Fangoria reported in 1982 that THE LOUISIANA SWAMP MURDERS was still being touted amongst other titles – especially horror ones – as part of 1982’s 3D boom. In July 1982, it was announced that the project had officially changed its name to BAYOU. It was reported at the same time that King-Hitzig Productions was close to folding – something that Alan King and Rupert Hitzig denied. But, it’s worth noting their production company didn’t turn anything to fruition beyond WOLFEN in 1981. And, as the years went by, so did eventually the 3D craze of the early 1980s. Brud Talbot appeared as an actor in several films in the early-mid 1960s and co-directed the 1973 horror/comedy THE CASE OF THE SMILING STIFFS (1973) with none other than Sean Cunningham – the director of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Sadly, he passed away in 1986 at just age 48. But the story of THE LOUISIANA SWAMP MURDERS – or BAYOU – doesn’t quite end there …
Director Bill Condon not only wrote the 1981 quasi-slasher STRANGE BEHAVIOUR he also played the first victim. He went on to direct CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH (1995) and hit critical pay-dirt with the James Whale biopic GODS AND MONSTERS (1998) – but he made his debut with SISTER, SISTER in 1987. SISTER, SISTER was made from a revised script of – yes, THE LOUISIANA SWAMP MURDERS. The film, which starred Jennifer Jason Leigh (who, herself, debuted in slasher movie EYES OF A STRANGER (1981)) and Eric Stoltz – seemed to have little to do with what was originally announced, but kept its locale. Whilst the film fizzled rather than sizzled at the box office, there was some drama in the courtroom when the filmmakers were accused of plagiarism of a 1972 screenplay – later renamed SLEEP TIGHT, LITTLE SISTER. The filmmakers successfully argued that SISTER, SISTER was actually based on THE LOUISIANA SWAMP MURDERS – which was based on a screenplay written in the 1970s by Ginny Cerrella and Leon Bing (although copyright records go back as far as 1969 perhaps suggesting the project was originally conceived as a Southern Gothic piece along the lines of HUSH… HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964) or DEAR DEAD DELILAH (1972).
Whether, both of these titles are one and the same is probably now lost to the mists of time – as is the version that would have popped off screens and scared moviegoers back in the early 1980s. Sleeping alligators, restrained 3D and pretensions to making a ‘serious’ thriller perhaps killed THE LOUISIANA SWAMP MURDERS stone dead (surely a cheesy slasher would have made the box offices zing in 1982 – as it did with FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III?). Either way, not all’s lost – if you want to see killer gators working with a crazed killer we’ll always have Tobe Hopper’s EATEN ALIVE (aka DEATH TRAP) (1976).
THE MALL (1981)
Pre-dating THE INITIATION (1983), CHOPPING MALL (1986) and PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE (1989) was THE MALL. Announced with some ballyhoo at Cannes in 1981 this Hemdale to-be-produced slasher was promoted as being very much cut from the same cloth as FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Its promotional artwork showed a knife poking out of a jagged hole in a shopping bag (the tagline being “shopping at the mall is murder”).
Scant plot details reported by Starburst Magazine suggested that the story concerned a group of teenagers partying at a mall after everyone else has gone home at night. They are subsequently picked off one-by-one by a deranged killer who has made the mall his home; who has recently escaped from an asylum after killing his parents when he was a child. At the time, director George Cosmatos enthusiastically described why he thought this concept would hit a nerve with global audiences: “The mall background is so similar worldwide that I expect moviegoers from Bangkok to Kyoto to Helsinki to Naples to be equally familiar with such complexes and thus to experience the same kind of shocks and terror from the action drama they will be watching. The setting will be like another actor in the picture.”
Cosmatos, who went on to direct RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II in 1985, boasted such set pieces as a murder in the lingerie department and another where a teen is decapitated in a bowling alley. He also promised innovative camera tricks to “… get in on my characters atmosphere, and thus create further frightening visual experience.”
Hemdale - who would hit pay-dirt a few years later with THE TERMINATOR (1984) - had distributed the New Zealand lensed semi slasher STRANGE BEHAVIOIUR (aka DEAD KIDS) that year. However, neither this nor their other quasi slasher project THE GRADUATION PARTY (Paul Lynch’s mooted follow up to the previous year’s PROM NIGHT (1980), which had Maniac’s Joe Spinell hunting marooned teenagers on a deserted island) came to light - presumably after failing to secure full funding at the festival. However, Starburst Magazine did state that THE MALL was “currently before cameras” (although, seemingly contradictorily, it also stated that the role of the killer had not yet been cast). If any footage was shot (principal photography was due to commence on June 15th - a month after Cannes), it’s sadly never seen the light of day.
THE GRADUATION PARTY (1981)
Mooted to be Paul Lynch’s follow-up to PROM NIGHT (1980), his slasher hit of the year before with Jamie Lee Curtis. The premise of this sounded great: marooned teenagers menaced on a remote island by none other than Joe Spinell (who was at the time was also a hot horror property after MANIAC (1980)).
Actors Kathy McCallen (EVILSPEAK (1981)) and Sandy Christopher had already been cast and the film – from Hemdale – was touted at Cannes 1981 as going into production in June that year. Starburst Magazine called it: “Prom Night meets The Island in a Blue Lagoon” as part of their Cannes report. They elaborated on the plot: “[the teenagers] … survive a seaplane crash en-route to a weekend prom party on a private island retreat. They end up very wet on a desert isle, where soon enough Joe Spinell, with his new Cannes tan, and John Quaid (from Clint Eastwood's Any Which Way You Can) arrive as a pair of tequila-drunk drug-dealers who set about raping and torturing the kids. They kill one, as well.” Joe Spinell was at Cannes shooting – guerrilla-style – David Winters’ slasher with Caroline Munro THE LAST HORROR FILM (which utilised the film festival at as a glamourous – and free – back drop). Very possibly he helped promote THE GRADUATION PARTY whilst he was there. Co-producer for the film was Dan Grodnik who was executive producer on TERROR TRAIN (1980).
Starburst reported (presumably mistakenly) that THE GRADUATION PARTY had already started filming to avoid an upcoming director’s strike. They also said that it had the best poster at Cannes after CREEPSHOW (1982) with the familiar sounding tagline: “The lucky ones weren’t invited”. They also mentioned that Hemdale had accidentally stated in promotional materials that it was being directed by David – not Paul – Lynch!
Whether any footage of THE GRADUATION PARTY was ever shot by Paul Lynch is unknown, but like its Hemdale slasher stablemate THE MALL nothing saw the light-of-day (very possibly because not securing enough interest at Cannes in advanced sales). However, what we do know was that Paul Lynch shot HUMONGOUS next (although not for Hemdale) – sans Spinell, McCallen and Christopher – which shared its remote island setting with a more typical slasher storyline. To add one further mystery, HUMONGOUS (under its original spelling HUMUNGUS) was already being talked as Paul Lynch’s next $1.5 million budgeted project – back in 1980 …
Thanks to our friends at Alone in the Dark: A Century of Stalk and Slash it has been uncovered that the film was eventually made and released in 1985 as OUT OF CONTROL (without Paul Lynch or Hemdale’s involvement).
Scant details exist about this project – or even if it was intended as a slasher movie (although it is certainly possible). Starburst Magazine reported that the moneymen behind David Cronenberg’s early movies (Pierre David, Victor Silnicki and Claude Heroux of Filmplan International) were so happy with writer Brian Taggert and director Jean-Claude Lord’s slasher VISITING HOURS (filmed as THE FRIGHT and released in 1982) that they had already financed their next project: 11 O’CLOCK. The film was listed in Canadian publications as ‘in negotiation’ in the summer of 1981 but doesn’t appear to have gone much further than that.
PEEPING TOM (1981)
Fresh off making the strikingly odd and graphic THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE (1981) Polish director Walerian Borowczyk was announced as remaking Michael Powell’s seminal proto-slasher PEEPING TOM (1960). Quite what this unique director would have made of the source material at the height of the slasher boom is anyone’s guess – especially as the project failed to materialise.
NIGHTMARE WEEKEND (1981)
NOT the film released in 1986 (filmed in 1984) about a female scientist who turns three girls into monsters. No, this was reported as in development in the pages of Fangoria back in 1981 - from New World Pictures. The playful synopsis: “This time it’s a maniac who likes killing people with a sharp hook. … It seems that there are several neat twists with this one. With a butcher knife left in the kitchen, the killer is murdered before the opening credits. To make things more interesting, he returns as a zombie-of-sorts and continues to find and kill young, nubile teenagers who are out for a late-night party.”
Roger Corman wasn’t anti riding the slasher bandwagon, as seen in the next year’s SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982), but it seems that NIGHTMARE WEEKEND never got beyond planning stages.
HORROR MOVIE (1981)
This Australian film was listed as in production (as opposed to pre-production) in the trade journal The Cinema Papers in its May/June 1981 issue. The plot certainly sounded like it was intended as a slasher movie: “A psychopath, enthralled by horror films, emulates what he sees on the screen. The dramatic climax is a night of horror at a drive-in cinema.” What is especially intriguing about this entry is the fact that the coverage lists everything from its budget ($500,000) to its length (90 minutes) to director (Maurice Murphy) to cast (Drew Forsythe as Vincent and six other roles – including the debut role for actress Joy Smithers) to production company (Universal Entertainment) to even the caterers and where the film was mixed! However, this film is not listed on IMDB.
The same issue of The Cinema Papers lists another film GOOSE FLESH as being in production – with the exact same cast and crew – but with a slightly different synopsis: “A spoof on horror films past and present”. The website Tabula Rasa, under their ‘Killer Koala’ list of Australian horror movies has this entry: “Horror Movie (Maurice Murphy, 1981) aka Goose Flesh. PC: Universal Entertainment Corporation. A spoof in which a psychopath re-plays events depicted in various horror films.” What is odd is that HORROR MOVIE sounds like a straight slasher flick – whereas GOOSE FLESH was intended as a parody. So which was it? Well, director Maurice Murphy claimed in Famous Monsters Magazine (189) that they were two different films – with HORROR MOVIE “soon-to-be-completed” and GOOSE FLESH up next. “They’d make a really good double bill at a drive-in”, he claimed.
The mystery doesn’t end there. None of the principal cast and crew are listed as being involved with either movie on IMDB. So, given that it was listed as in production – and with all those details – does at least one of them exist and if so is it sat on a shelf somewhere unreleased? Well, the truth lies somewhere in-between …
HORROR MOVIE exists. At least part of it does – or did. Filming was halted for reasons undisclosed after nine days. Nine days is sufficient time to get a lot of footage in the can (and some on-set stills showed what looked like a film akin to FADE TO BLACK (1980) with what is presumably the killer taking on the guise of famous horror movie villains such as Count Dracula). In the November/December 1981 edition of The Cinema Papers, Murphy said that despite the shutdown he hoped filming would resume quickly. He also expanded on both HORROR MOVIE and GOOSE FLESH. Originally, he wanted to just do another comedy (coming off the hit FATTY FINN (1980). “I then began to wonder at the kind of challenge it would be for me to stop making it funny. … I am intrigued that some people find horror films horrific and others think them funny. One group will believe in it and go shiver, shiver, while another group will laugh all the way through. I am hoping our film isn’t going to be one people laugh at.“ The director was especially interested in using actors known for their comedic roles in a straight horror film: “It is a shame nobody has thought of using comedians to do a horror film before, because comedy is so close to being grotesque.” The comedic GOOSE FLESH was set to be filmed – some reports say concurrently – with the same cast and similar plot. In essence, Murphy was intending to lampoon his own movie: “What would happen if I made a parody of a film which I had shot myself? It’s not a bad idea, really.”
The films were independently financed – with some backing from The Australian Film Commission. Murphy had argued that, for financial success: “… what audiences want is last year’s American success.” He was, of course, talking about the slasher movie boom – although he was said it would have a unique Australian spin: “If I try and make a carbon copy of Friday the 13th, the critics would probably say how boring it was.” Sadly, neither critics nor audiences got to judge HORROR MOVIE nor GOOSE FLESH as production never restarted.
BLIND DATE (1982)
Seemingly, not the Nico Mastorakis shocker from 1984. This eyeball mangler was reportedly in "... the vein of My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th". Greg Cannom - who provided sfx work on CURTAINS (1983) and a good number of other movies - seems to have been already hard at work on this movie. But it doesn't appear on IMDB. In an interview with Fangoria Magazine, Cannom elaborated: “Effects include an eye slitting similar to the one done in The Sentinel by Dick Smith. “Dick has been very helpful to me with this effect,” says Cannom. “I asked for his help and he has been just great. There are other eye-related atrocities, too, hence the title. Another gruesome effect to look forward to is a new twist on Hitchcock’s shower sequence in Psycho. Only this time it won’t be water that comes from the faucet, but acid. It’s Cannom’s job to create the effect believably.”
Intriguingly, the way Cannom discusses the movie it sounds as if sfx work was under way. Copyright records show that a movie under the title of BLIND DATE was registered in both 1980 (including a fifth draft registered in May of that year) and 1982. However, there appears to be no other information available.
RIPPED TO SHREDS (1981/82)
In October 1980, it was reported by Box Office Magazine that Seymour Borde and Associates had acquired rights to a slasher called RIPPED TO SHREDS with a screenplay by Michael Johnson – and the film would begin filming in December by Raich Productions.
However, a year later, in October 1981, Fangoria reported that Donald F. Glut – after completing the script for ULTRAMAN – would take up the directorial reigns on the delayed project. Glut was quoted as saying: “I was a little hesitant at first, it being another man-with-a-knife story, but there are a few things that serve to make this one unique.” Not least of all the plan was to make it in 3D! Glut recalled to Videojunkie.org “Ripped to Shreds was a standard slasher movie. I don’t remember what the plot was. I think there was a lot of teenagers getting killed or something like that. It ended actually with the girl being the hero, which was kind of a nice twist.” Is that a twist?!
Seymour Borde had been the executive producer on 1979’s SUMMER CAMP. He was keen to get a slice of the slasher movie action, but – although it was again listed as being prepped for summer 1983 Starburst Magazine said that the film was “requiring final funding” – RIPPED TO SHREDS never materialised.
PSYCHO II: THE RETURN OF NORMAN (1981/82)
Before Richard Franklin made the official sequel to the Granddaddy of all slasher flicks in 1983, the media was abuzz with chatter about an earlier attempt to bring Norman back to the Bates Motel – and this time with Jamie Lee Curtis!
An outfit called The Picture Striking Company (headed by Gary Travis and Michael January) had planned their own unofficial sequel called THE RETURN OF NORMAN (which had scandalised the LA press due to the fact that the rights remained with Universal Studios and Robert Bloch, the author of the novel PSYCHO, was hopping mad about the idea – especially as he had penned his own sequel that was about to be published). The $9 million project was announced in August of 1981 – with Doc Erickson producing – to begin shooting in early 1982. Reportedly they had reached out to Anthony Perkins (who they said was keen) and Vera Miles – as well as offering Jamie Lee Curtis the role of Lila’s daughter (of course her mother in real life Janet Leigh had portrayed the iconic and ill-fated Marion Crane). Travis and January admitted that Curtis had called the role “dumb” (she was mooted to die not in a shower but in a hot tub – how 1982!). But they suggested she was not totally opposed to being involved. Travis and January were also hoping to woo back Martin Balsam (despite him dying in the first film) as Norman’s shrink – failing that they had their eyes on Donald Pleasence. In the proposed screenplay Miles’ character buys the now abandoned Bates Motel, hoping to rid the memory of her sisters’ brutal murder by Norman – who has coincidentally just escaped a mental institution (ala Michael Myers).
Universal Pictures (who owned the property outright) quickly lawyered up – which, in turn, inadvertently kick-start the actual sequel we eventually saw after they were surprised by the obvious interest in the project. Other reports suggest that none of the original cast were interested in Travis and January’s version (probably once they got wind of Universal’s displeasure and subsequent desire to make their own official sequel). It was reported that they re-wrote the screenplay to replace any copyright infringing elements and retitled it THE RETURN OF THE PSYCHO. Although a PSYCHO sequel made at the height of the slasher movie boom sounded intriguing, this version ultimately came to nothing.
REFLECTION OF HORROR (1981/1982/1983)
Possibly aka THE MIRRORMAN (or THE MIRROR MAN) this one sounded like a cross between those two early 80s favourites: the monster and the slasher movie. A script exists (from Nance Crawford-Olson and Daniel Symmes) from 1981 and the film was storyboarded in 1983. It concerns a series of bloody murders and the only link is that a mirror exists at each crime scene – where a monster from a different dimension pops through and kills its victim! The climactic scenes were due to be filmed in a mirror room at a funhouse. Like many movies on this list it was due to be in 3D. And like many films on this list it didn’t get made.
HARD COVER (1982)
Absolutely no details about this one, bar that Famous Monsters Magazine said it was an upcoming horror production – with the succinct description: “psycho-killer”. I, MADMAN (1988) was released in some territories as HARDCOVER, but it is unknown if there’s any connection.
LORD OF THE HARVEST (1982)
Would you believe Liberace as a gay killer clown in a movie directed by Tobe Hooper? Well, it was allegedly on the cards in the early 1980s! Famous Monsters Magazine (187) gave the scantest of tantalising details: “Liberace will play a grisly mass murder (sic) in LORD OF THE HARVEST! Tobe (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, FUNHOUSE) Hooper will be directing the feature, which is based on a true story.” … The details just got more bizarre as the media reported that HARVEST OF FEAR would be a bio-pic of sorts of none other than John Wayne Gacy!
Although the mind boggles at the thought of Liberace going full nutzoid in Pogo the Clown makeup, the project was publicly nixed by the flamboyant star himself in July 1982. Several newspapers reported: “Liberace mad? Yes, he is. In fact, Lee and his long-time manager were thinking of suing every single one of us ink-stained wretches who fell for the charming rumor that he might play a homosexual murderer in a future film for director Tobe Hooper. … Liberace says he would never do such a role. His manager says he’d never let him. Both say that no such proposition has come their way in any case, and they hope it never does.”
Quite where the rumour came from is unknown. Hooper didn’t make a John Wayne Gacy movie and Liberace kept his image intact. One last detail that’s interesting is that Dennis Hopper’s character in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986) has the line: “I'm the Lord of the Harvest!” A Hooper in-joke? Just imagine what could have been: Liberace vs. Leatherface!
MERRY CHRISTMAS (1982)
Zero details about this one bar a brief mention in Fangoria of upcoming 3D horror films and the promise it was to be a “Yuletide terror romp”.
HIDE AND GO KILL (1983)
Very little is known about this project, bar it was also going to be in 3D for a projected summer 1983 release and was attributed to Randall Larsen. Larsen was credited as a 3D consultant on PARASITE (1982) and METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN (1983). There is no firm evidence that this was going to be a slasher – although the title certainly sounds like one. To confuse matters, Robert Voskanian’s zombie movie THE CHILD (1977) was in re-release to screens around this time using this exact same name. Add to that, Ed Hunt’s killer kid slasher BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981) was also released with this alternative title in some territories. The 3D HIDE AND GO KILL never saw the light of day.
SILENT DEATH (1983)
Unlike many films on this list, this film WAS made – and was shown for one week at a cinema (and has been M.I.A ever since)!
SILENT DEATH was shot in May and June of 1982 in Elizabeth, Union and Freehold, New Jersey by director Vaughn Christion. One of the very few people to actually see the movie was Gore Gazette’s Rick Sullivan during its week-long run at the Paramount Theater in Newark, New Jersey on February 18th 1983. He said: "An almost unwatchable slasher/black exploitation/police drama about a masked assailant who is carving up members of an organized crime ring with a straight razor." He called it “… a 69 minute sub-Z abomination … [with] … constantly out of focus camera, inaudible sound and cheesy looking orange blood.”
More details emerged in a recent Strublog blog titled In Search of Newark’s Great Lost Grindhouse Auteur: The Vaughn Christion Story, which is well worth a read. In an interview with Christion it details how the director was working at the Paramount Theatre and enquired how he could get a film shown there. He was told that if it was in 35mm there was a good chance that it would be. So, SILENT DEATH was born (blown up from 16mm to 35mm) – and the cinema manager was good to his word. Christion hints that a few Mom-n-Pop stores also got videos copies of the film in New Jersey, but no copy has yet surfaced.
MANIAC 2 (1983)
Whilst promoting THE LAST HORROR FILM at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982, director David Winters and star Joe Spinell tried to drum up interest in a sequel to William Lustig’s 1980 slasher hit MANIAC (despite Spinell’s messy demise at the end of that film). No word of Lustig’s involvement (or even knowledge), nor any plot details; the project didn’t get past the breakfast buffet. But, in typical ballyhoo, THE LAST HORROR FILM was released in some territories as a direct sequel to MANIAC – as MANIAC 2: LOVE TO KILL. In 1986, Buddy Giovinazzo – director of the notorious COMBAT SHOCK (1984) – made the short MANIAC 2: MR ROBBIE (shot to promote the funding of a feature that never happened due to Spinell’s death in 1989).
BLOOD FEAST 2 / GORE FEAST (1983)
A belated sequel to Herschell Gordon Lewis’ seminal gore opus BLOOD FEAST (1963) was very much on the cards at the height of the slasher movie boom. Supposedly, the script that was floating around veerd more to comedy, but would have likely borrowed from the at-the-time popular subgenre as well. In a letter to Fangoria, Eric Caidin and Jimmy Lee Maslon, of Epics International, said that the project was “going very well” and had been in touch with Lewis on a “regular basis”. They also threw some shade at director Fred Olen Ray, who, had discussed doing the project himself (in, you guessed it, 3D) – but didn’t have the rights. Lewis confirmed that Caidin and Maslon had the rights and he had been asked to direct – but he said it was all dependent on financing. Which presumably never came through. Lewis also discussed two horror projects he was involved in at the time: GORE FEAST and an undisclosed title. GORE FEAST might have been more of a slasher movie, with the promise of: “… about a dozen murders filmed in Los Angeles, [and …] a dozen murders in New York.” Would-be producer Johnny legend said of the project: “It’s not so much a who-dunnit as a what-the-hell-is-goin’-on. … You’ve never seen so many random murders with no feasible explanation. And that’s what’ll keep you on the edge of your seat.” None of the three productions came to fruition at the time, but BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL YOU CAN EAT did emerge with Lewis at the reigns almost 20 years later in 2002 (with no less than 12 producers!).
Thank you for reading! If you have any tips/leads on these or any other lost slashers from the Golden Age (1978-1984) drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, if you've enjoyed this article, please consider a donation to help keep Hysteria Lives! alive! Donate now with Paypal.