[review by JA Kerswell]
|There's cheescake of every variety in THE 13TH ALLEY.|
You know what? It’s much more fun to review a bad movie than a mediocre one. THE 13TH ALLEY was theatrically released on a limited run in the United States but remains utterly obscure today. A group of college students find themselves locked in a bowling alley overnight with a killer dressed in a medieval costume and carrying a battle axe. Featuring ridiculous dialogue, eye candy of both sexes, voodoo hypnotism, strip bowling, random sound effects, credits that look like they were done on a ZX Spectrum and a soundtrack lifted from a 1940s thriller serial, this is oddly entertaining precisely because of its shortcomings. A pastiche of late 80s/early 90s direct-to-video slasher movies or just a plain bad movie? It’s anyone’s guess.
Justin (Robert Thomas Stetson) is the manager of Zodos Bowling & Beyond bowling emporium. He exploits his position to invite some friends to raid the bar and indulge in some late-night bowling - which regularly turns to the strip kind. Along for the night are two blond friends Ashley (Shayne Lamas) and Lisa (Amelia Jackson-Gray) - who say things like: “If you are so over him, why were you under him last Saturday?” “Doh. Tequila!” Also along is the morose Tara (who the girls say they just found in the arcade). Two of Justin’s friends - Matt (Randy Wayne) and Drew (Michael Talasaz) - are the horndogs with their tongues hanging out. They all keep their clothes on long enough for Justin to tell them of a massacre that happened there. He says: “Back in the 80s, three kids were murdered right here on this very spot.” “Their heads were cut off and used for bowling balls.” All this happened in the 13th Alley where they currently are - and he said the killer left a note saying he would be back. The group are shocked when a severed head rolls off the bowling ball machine - only it turns out to be a prop head that Justin has made at his sfx class. However, Tara continues to freak out and someone points out it might be a sore point as her father had chopped off his boss's head!
The next day, the group go about their business - but someone is playing gory pranks on them. They regroup the next night at Zodos and this time invite the Voodoo-practicing Kitty (Jessica Alexander) along to replace Tara. Only this time, a real severed head turns up in the bowling ball machine and the panicked group discover all the doors are locked and they are trapped inside with a killer with an over-sized medieval battle helmet …
|Ashley (Shayne Lamas) and Justin (Robert Thomas Stetson) hide from the killer in THE 13TH ALLEY.|
Watching THE 13TH ALLEY I got real BIKINI ISLAND (1991) and THE LAST DANCE (1992) vibes. The cast seems to be mostly in the know how ludicrous the film is, but everyone plays things just about straight. Although it’s hard to understand how anyone could deliver lines such as “This is going to be a great fucking pizza!”, “What is that thingy!” and “That’s a large bit of wood you’ve got there” with a straight face. Another enthuses “This looks delicious!” whilst fondling a bottle of Southern Comfort. Situations in the film go beyond absurd, such as when Ashley finds her dog mutilated in the woods only to find him actually alive and sat in her car - without questioning how he got there. A couple stop hiding from the killer to flirt and make out, as you do. It’s the kind of bowling alley that has its own industrial drill set up in back and where an employee ignores complaints about blood and matted hair on one of the alleys and offers punters another spot instead of investigating. Although the group can’t get out of the bowling alley, the security guard and handyman seem to be able to come and go as they please! It also goes without saying that a severed head is used as a bowling ball at one point. It is the kind of film where one actress keeps looking at the camera desperately hoping this is her ticket to Hollywood (spoiler alert: it wasn’t).
Write/director Bobb Hopkins - who was knocking 60 when he made this - also stars as a stoic night security guard who disapproves of the nocturnal activities. Also working nights - for some reason - is handyman, religious fanatic and ex-priest Hal (Robert Carradine). Hopkins had previously directed the also little-seen thriller 3 BELOW (2005) with Ernest Borgnine. He started his career in acting with appearances in such 70s TV staples as CHIPS and FANTASY ISLAND. THE 13TH ALLEY was his last directorial effort to date. Carradine - the son of horror star John Carradine and best known for REVENGE OF THE NERDS (1984) - camps it up here as the main red herring. Shayne Lamas - the daughter of actor Lorenzo Lamas - is very watchable and has fun with the role of Ashley.
|Heads roll in Bobb Hopkins' slasher where the lines between bad movie and intentional comedy are blurred.|
As I mentioned, THE 13TH ALLEY actually got a limited cinema release to 72 screens - and even got a red carpet premiere at a cinema in Columbus, GA, which was attended by cast and crew. It actually also got some press coverage beyond the premiere. The amazingly named Damond Fudge (!) said in The Des Moines Register: “It’s finally here, everybody. The absolute WORST movie of the year!” On the flip side. G.W. Clift, in the Manhattan Mercury, said it was a "pleasant cinematic surprise”. He noted that the film was “… obviously modelled on the cheapest old horror movies” and although it didn’t appear to be playing for laughs “… audiences will be pleased by nostalgic campiness.”
The only online presence the film now has is a defunct MySpace page. THE 13TH ALLEY - despite its brief moment of attention in cinemas - only received a DVD release from the distributors’ own website. 2008 seemed to be the year for bowling alley set slashers, with Ryan Nicholson’s grating GUTTERBALLS coming out the same year.
It is difficult to know where the knowing campiness ends and bad movie begins - and that’s why I’m being generous with an extra half point. Viewer mileage may vary depending on your tolerance for cinematic cheese. THE 13TH ALLEY won’t bowl you over, but it is an interesting curio that is ripe for rediscovery as a cult movie.
female: 3 / male: 5
1) Male's decapitated head rolls out of bowling machine
2) Female's severed head found
3) Female stabbed in the stomach
4) Male whacked in the chest with an axe
5) Male has his head drilled
6) Male hit in the chest with an axe
7) Female dismembered (off screen)
8) Male decapitated (off screen)
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