By the third movie, the Scream franchise went mega meta, with its characters on the set of a movie being made based on their experiences in the previous Scream installments. This concept opened the floodgates for slashers about horror movies being made, about lost horror movies, about wannabe actors, and about the movie industry. For instance there was Cut (my blog here), which was released the same year as Scream 3. There were also these five.
DEEP IN THE WOODS (2000)
French film Deep in the Woods plays off the classic “Little Red Riding Hood” story right from the start, with a woman reading the fairy tale to a child (that we can’t see) in a warm cozy room with a blazing fireplace. So you know something horrible is about to happen….
Next, five actors—two guys and three girls (two of them a lesbian couple)—arrive at the castle of an old man in a wheelchair to put on a performance of “Little Red Riding Hood” for his grandson. Meanwhile, news reports are alerting the public to a rapist/serial killer on the loose in the woods.
Not surprisingly, everyone in this castle is weird, and some odd fellow shows up, claiming to be a detective searching for the serial killer. The cold, stark look of the castle adds to the atmosphere, as does the creepy wolf statue on the main staircase. The vibe of the entire film is Euro horror perfection.
The actors settle in to their rooms, and since this is a creepy castle, naturally they’re secretly being watched as they have sex. And speaking of sex, the old man has a hard-on for the pretty boy blond in the group, making some blatantly suggestive comments to him.
Deep in the Woods is a slow burner that builds up tension, but once the idiot actors head out into the woods (notably eerie woods with an unnervingly parallel formation of thin trees), we get a bit of Evil Dead camerawork and then the kills begin. By far the highlight of the film, they are stylish, brutal, and a tad bizarre—sort of a nod to masters of Euro horror like Dario Argento.
The American slasher element comes in the form of the killer’s big bad wolf mask. The only downside of this one is the confusing denouement.
CUT THROAT (2002)
In Cut Throat, a director and writer are making a horror movie that they hope will be the next Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer (seriously, they say that). When their star is killed on set, the director’s ex-girlfriend is cast in the role.
This entire movie consists of characters walking around dark rooms in the studio and treating each other to one bogus scare after another, which leads to more shrill screaming than I’d care to hear even in a horror movie. While there are several dead bodies, we never see the kills.
While the detective investigating the murders doesn’t bother to shut down the shoot, the main girl starts playing Nancy Drew…by walking around the studio, getting spooked by bogus scares, and screaming. She gets cozy with the writer and he helps her investigate, which again involves walking around the studio, bogus scares, and screaming. This is an example of how bad the bogus scares are: Writer and main girl are talking. They part ways, writer turns and takes a few steps with camera following him…JOLT ORCHESTRAL STAB! It’s the main girl putting a hand on his shoulder because she wanted to tell him something else.
Eventually, we reach the one (sort of) unique moment in Cut Throat. The main girl and writer decide they should both dress up as the killer and…roam the studio bogus scaring each other!
Of course the real killer shows up to add confusion and suspense, we get the totally predictable reveal of the killer’s identity, then we get another little twist to sort of make up for how obvious the reveal was.
CUTTING ROOM (2006)
Cutting Room doesn’t try to be anything more than it is—a low budget slasher spoofing the movie industry.
Big wigs at a movie studio are trying to put together a horror film. Among them are 80s queen E.G. Daily and veteran actor Richard T. Jones, who was most recently in the cast of American Horror Story: Hotel. They’re pressuring their young staff writer to complete a script, and even though he regularly daydreams about horror movie situations, he’s struggling to come up with a horror movie plot.
While this is a totally comic, in-your-face farce, a majority of the humor relies on the cast bantering around a table in an office, a setup that loses its charm fast. Also, as if mirroring the problem the staff writer character is having, the film is seriously lacking in plot beyond them sitting around the table and learning that those involved in their movie project are disappearing, causing even more problems for the production.
Cutting Room is totally saved by the wickedly fun kill scenes, which are pretty much the only times we’re taken away from that damn table. They are campy, scary, gory, and cast in vivid neon colors right out of the 80s. Just be warned that the final reveal of the killer is practically an afterthought. On the bright side, it isn’t revealed around that table.
MIDNIGHT MOVIE (2008)
The title Midnight Movie is a self-proclamation of sorts, because this is all about the cheesy popcorn film fun. Kids get slaughtered in a movie theater when the killer from the film they’re watching comes into reality…and they all end up as part of his film! Yep, this one had The Final Girls beat by quite a few years. Note that this film was released in two versions. After its original release on DVD and Blu-ray, apparently more money was thrown the director’s way to beef up some of the scenes, so he did just that. The film was released only on DVD in this version, known as “The Killer Cut.” It runs about 2 minutes longer, and is basically comprised of a few re-shot and re-edited scenes, some added CGI effects, plus a few additional scenes, but overall, they are virtually the same movie.
After an intro scene involving a movie director locked away in a mental institution, we’re brought right to the movie theater where one of his old horror films is being screened. We meet a pretty typical cast of characters, with our main girl being an employee at the theater. Her little brother shows up, but she insists he go home because he’s too young to be there. Which of course means he’s totally going to figure out a way to stay.
The film rolls and the audience jeers it because it is black and white. But they soon become captivated because the killer on screen is hacking up one of their friends! They think it’s some brilliant trick, but not for long. The freaky, tall and lanky masked dude from the movie, who uses a big corkscrew as his weapon, is loose in the theater. Let the screwing begin!
Midnight Movie delivers gory kills, cheap thrills, and a silly subplot about the main girl and her little brother’s abusive past giving them the strength to take on the killer in a final battle inside his movie. It also scores points for featuring a cool killer worthy of a franchise, and a main girl deserving of b-movie scream queen status. Rebekah Brandes’ filmography includes Slaughter Party, Curse of Pirate Death, Evil Ever After, Grim Reaper, Succubus: Hell-Bent, Nothing Left to Fear, and April Apocalypse.
THE HILLS RUN RED (2009)
It took director Dave Parker, who brought us the low budget zombie film The Dead Hate the Living!, almost ten years to do another horror film. The wait paid off, because The Hills Run Red is my favorite film in this batch—and virtually bridges the gap between the “after Scream” slasher decade and the 2011 release of Scream 4!
The intro scene alone lets us know we’re in for some good gore, with a kid sitting at a mirror cutting off all his facial skin with a scissor. EEK! It’s so gruesome good I’ll let the cliché use of the song “Mockingbird” go.
Next, thanks to an awesome throwback trailer being watched by the main character (Ted Hilgenbrink of Lost Boys: The Tribe and Amusement), we learn of a 1982 slasher film that was pulled from theaters because it was excessively violent. Since then, the film, all the actors, and the director have disappeared (the director being played by veteran actor William Sadler of Demon Knight and loads of other horror flicks over the years).
Our horror-loving main guy (he even watches the original House on Haunted Hill) decides to try to find the film. Yes, in this day and age, apparently no one else has attempted to, because it doesn’t take long for our main guy to hunt down the director’s daughter—blonde bombshell Sophie Monk. She agrees to take him and his group of friends to her old house in the woods to find the film. Uh-oh.
Soon after they arrive, out pops our masked killer…Babyface!
He makes mincemeat of numerous victims (the uber bloody and brutal kills rule), there are chases galore, there’s some light torture porn, and the main guy finally gets to not only see the long lost film, but pretty much be a part of it.