Review Date: October 20, 2013
Released by: Lucky 13
Release date: March 25, 2001
MSRP: $48.95 (but just over $5.00 today on sites like Amazon)
Full frame 1.33:1
There are a few phases in any slasher fan's journey. You start with a film or two that brings you into the genre -- usually something with mainstream crossover like Scream
or Friday the 13th
. Then you start mining the sequels to the indelible classics of the genre to find out for yourself how Jason was able to fly to space or how Michael became possessed by a Celtic cult. It should then be at this point where you're hooked, tracking down all the cult favorites that may not have had a sequel but are still well regarded today -- your Madman
s, My Bloody Valentine
s, The Burning
s, Happy Birthday to Me
s. You get that far, life is good, but then you try to swim out further and the eater becomes treacherous. After that movies are harder to find (many for good reason). You've got some gems from other countries, like Next of Kin
from Australia or American Nightmare
in, well, not America, Canada. You've got forgotten oddities like Disconnected
or Open House
. And then low budget direct-to-video crap like Phantom Brother
and Blood Frenzy
. It's often tough to sort through the clutter, but luckily there are many brave men out there who have done just that and have lived to tell the tale on message boards or websites like this one or Hysteria Lives.
Today in my bit of slasher philanthropy I offer Evil Laugh
. The most interesting thing about this one is the fact that the annoying, chubby retarded kid from Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning
who got axed over a chocolate bar actually made another movie. Not only was he credited as an actor here, but Dominick Brascia also directed and co-wrote Evil Laugh
as well. Given that bit of trivia, it's probably no surprise that his writing partner was Scott Baio's brother and one of the actresses was the biggest pimp in LA. Hollywood is a strange place. Thankfully DVD distributor Lucky 13 has been game to preserve such footnotes such as this and the squealing slasher Slaughterhouse. Described in the box as "Friday the 13th
meets The Big Chill
", how could you not be intrigued? Good for a laugh or Joey's evil revenge on the audience? Let's take tenancy and find out.
A group of medical students of different disciplines decide to embark on a summer project of restoring an old orphanage. There's not much time for kidding around though, as a masked killer still lurks within the building's SoCal walls. First it's the delivery boy who gets it, then it's Jerry (Gary Hays
), who was supposed to be leading this whole pilgrimage with his friends. He wanted to stop by early, but instead he made a quick visit with death! Meanwhile, a shirtless Italian Johnny (Steven Baio
), his Fangoria-loving buddy Barney (Jerold Pearson
, Remote Control
) and an even more shirtless jock, Mark (Myles O’Brien
), find themselves with a flat tire on an interstate. As fate would have it, the girl's group of easy blonde Tina (Jody “Babydol” Gibson
, who employed Heidi Fleiss and over 300 other girls under the table for Hollywood’s exclusive escort service) and conservative (ding ding ding if you guessed Final Girl) Connie (as Kim McKamy
, but better known today as porn actress Ashlyn Gere
) is also stranded, this time with an engine that won't start. Proving that car cliches come in threes, the last couple, yuppies Betty (Karyn O’Bryan
) and Sammy (Tony Griffin
, son of famous producer Merv) had to stop because the girl was car sick. Isn't anyone just casually late anymore?
Everyone eventually makes it to the home, but with Jerry still MIA, the group decides to do what any group would do in a potentially dangerous situation: dance, have sex and engage in some form of cheesy 80s montage. Connie then tells the group of the haunted origins of the residence, how ten years ago it was an orphanage but suddenly shut down after a terrible turn of events with the for-hire 18-year-old custodian, Martin. He treated the kids terribly, and as a result three of the kids tried to say that he had molested them. Martin went to trial, and his father was so devastated by the accusation that he hung himself before the innocent verdict was found. Tormented by the loss of his father, Martin went nuts, slitting the throats of the three boys and then lighting the place on fire, presumably with himself inside. Martin’s body was never found, but his legend remained, and the house has been out of commission ever since. Thanks to enterprising real estate agent Mr. Burns (Howard Weiss
, one of the film’s investors) and his cynical wife
Sadie (Susan Grant
), it’s back on the market and ready for new victims…err, tenants.
As the tenants continue to engage in college-minded hijinks like S&M role playing and poolside pranks, Martin, or at least someone inspired by the laughing killer, starts offing the group one by one. By machete, by axe, by microwave, bye bye. It’s going to take Connie’s composure and Barney’s knowledge of horror film clichés to try to outwit the killer and make sure that evil laugh they hear is not their last.
Shot on 16mm over one week, Evil Laugh
has that low rent not-quite-Hollywood look of similar slashers of the time like Offerings
and Sorority House Massacre
. What sets it apart is the humor, or at least the film's attempt at such. There are several puns and attempts at quick wit that don't really work because the amateur actors play up each moment like it's an emphatic punch line. What works a little better, especially today since Scream
has validated such an approach, is the idea that one of the twentysomethings is already privy to the trappings of the genre. The doofus Barney tries to warn the clueless bunch (and remember, these guys are med students!) of the things not to do, but even still when they start finding their friends dead they still don't listen. I wouldn't call it an influence for Scream
or even a precursor though, because it's more a way the horror fan filmmakers can put themselves in the picture rather than actually using the meta-knowledge to say anything fresh. Barney's presence allows the climax and resolve to go in directions different than your average slasher at the time, but it could have been so much more.
Likewise, the origin story for Martin shows great promise, and from the commentary included on this disc the filmmakers understand the appeal of those great urban legend tales, but the delivery of the story is poor and not enough is done with the concept. They try to encapsulate the campfire story like in Friday the 13th, Part 2
, with Connie recalling the tragedy beside a fireplace, but the overall delivery feels forced. Martin’s story is spread out over two lengthy monologues, each one read with such conviction by Connie that you’d swear she was the killer (or at least doing a dramatic piece for her acting class). The laugh, done by the director, is about as annoying as his Joey character from Friday 5
and by the time the Mrs. Voorhees ending comes along, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed. While the filmmakers say it was a conscious choice not to show any of the flashback footage in order to heighten the suspense, the film feels flatter without any real invocation of Martin, be it in the past or today. It’s a ghost story without any ghosts.
The kills in this film similarly show promise but never quite elevate themselves to anything but some effects guys with air pumps. Some of the kills, like the head in the microwave nuke or severed heart in a bowl scene, show originality and a sense of dramatic timing, they can’t escape the cheap effects that come with a film that was so quickly rushed. The majority of the deaths show a knife going into a body and then a cut to a knife through a body with blood seeping out. Rudimentary, home video kind of effects. The DVD advertises a “complete, uncut film”, but there sure wasn’t much to cut in the first place.
With zero gore, little style and a plot that borrows way too much from Friday the 13th
(and Joey makes sure his cameo in A New Beginning
is remembered by featuring it on the cover of Barney's issue of Fangoria), Evil Laugh
is a pretty minor footnote in a genre that was already on ice by 1988 (or 1986 depending on some reports). Even the same year's Iced
was less on ice than this. But, it's tough to hate on a film where you can see the filmmakers try their best with the resources they had available. And with all the loving nods to the genre, you can’t help but bellow "one of usssss!" Slasher fans in search for something off the beaten path will still have a little fun here, and there's enough eighties cheese to sustain healthy bones (some of the nudity might help with that too).
Lucky 13 presents Evil Laugh
in the open matte 1.33:1 in which the 16mm film was shot. The transfer used is pretty clean given the circumstances, and runs at a relatively high bitrate throughout. Unfortunately, the transfer is very soft, with faces and edges always a slight blur. Colors are dull and occasionally smear, like in the foliage in the night footage outside. It is better than VHS, for sure, mainly because of the cleanliness of the print and the fact that there are no video aberrations or tracking issues. Good enough, I guess, but DVD (and HD beyond that) has come a long way since this was released in 2001.
Audio in the film is listed as “Hi-Fi Stereo” on the back of the box in case you were wondering if this was an older film or transfer. It’s actually a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, and it sounds about as polished as the video. It’s often shrill, with the higher frequencies crackling during louder or more chaotic moments. Hiss can be heard lightly throughout, and oftentimes you can hear the 16mm camera rolling during the shots as well. Everything is audible, though, and for films of this age and obscurity, that’s the toughest part.
Watching this DVD sure is a time warp, not just because of the eighties stylings in the film, but more because of the dated, old-school menu and picture structure of these early DVDs. This one has the old Macintosh and Windows logos plastered on the menus, and when you hit play on a disc instead of playing you get a menu with a cheesy horror font asking you if you want to play the film or select a specific scene. There are also a couple still “credits” pages as well listing the people who authored the disc. There are even some ROM-only supplements…something that never really took off. For a film quaintly released in the early days of the medium, though, there’s a decent amount of extras here for fans of the film.
First up is a commentary with Director Dominick Brascia and Actor/Producer Steven Baio. The two get along great and remember each and every shot from this 7-day shoot as if it were yesterday. The two do not hold back on any information, whether it’s about the irony of Kim McKamy not wanting to do nude scenes or how they feel about the camera work or decisions for some scenes. For fans of the film, there is a ton of behind-the-scenes stories shared here, moreso than with most commentaries. For those only moderately interested in the film, these two can sometimes come off a bit pompous or self-important when talking about all their Hitchcockian motivations behind shots or scenes or when they start critiquing their craft as filmmakers. Calling the film “revolutionary” certainly is a stretch, too. They seem like very nice guys though, and are worth a listen if you ever wanted to know how all these little low budget slashers were made back in the day.
The pair of Brascia and Baio return for a joint video interview that runs 27:45, and while they do go over a number of points they discuss in the commentary, there are some really great bits about the nature of the business here that aren’t spoken of in the commentary. Most interesting is how the pair could have received a three picture deal from Vestron had they licensed the film to them, but instead they took money up front from another deal and were hard pressed to make any films since. They are candid with challenges they had making the film, the thrill of seeing it on the big screen, and people’s reactions since, and overall an informative supplement.
There is a small gallery of production and behind-the-scenes photos also included on the video disc that can alternatively be downloaded on a PDF through the ROM folder included when inserted into a computer. The gallery is pretty brief and not all that interesting, and the “one sheets and video packaging key art” as well as the “press kits, reviews and newspaper clippings” cited as extras on the back of the DVD are nowhere to be found on this disc. The on-set screenplay is also included as a ROM extra, and it’s great to see since it still has all the markup from the script supervisor and provides an interesting window into how the film was shot and how it evolved from word to the screen. Not a bad little assortment of extras for a film that you don’t hear much about.
Proving how low budget the Lucky 13 label is, the inside of the cover insert has the full cover and art for their other slasher release, Slaughterhouse
. At least if you don’t like Evil Laugh
you can turn the cover inside out and make people think you own a better slasher movie.
follows in that great tradition of old VHS movies, where the cover is much more satiating than the film itself. It’s a low budget piece of camp that tries for humor and a bit of post-modern wit, but it’s more a film of good intentions than it is good fun. It’s probably most fondly remembered today for its microwave murder and its self-aware Fangoria-reading character, so if those kind of things appeal to you, Evil Laugh
might not make you guffaw but it’ll give you a few smiles. The image and sound are acceptable but only a mild step up from VHS, but the extras are more like LaserDisc with clunky navigational design but worthwhile behind-the-scenes content. For slasher fans like me who need another hit, this is about as satisfying as a nicotine patch; for others, enrolling in Night School
or throwing a Killer Party
is the better bet.
Movie - C-
Image Quality - C-
Sound - C-
Supplements - B
- Running time - 1 hour, 27 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 2.0
- Commentary with Director Dominick Brascia and Actor Steven Baio
- Interview with Director Dominick Brascia and Actor Steven Baio
- Still gallery (also available on DVD-ROM)
- Original Screenplay (DVD-ROM only)