Sunday, October 10, 2010

Halloween Havoc: TERROR AT TENKILLER (1986)

Back in 1976 one of the first video cassette labels was brought to life by one Bill F. Blair. Oklahoma based VCI Entertainment released a slew of obscure, often low-budget or no-budget, films on to the video market and in the mid ‘80s were responsible for essentially creating the DTV market though his United Entertainment Pictures label. United Entertainment was a company Blair founded as an offshoot of his company United Pictures; an outfit that rented films and projectors for non-theatrical purposes (schools, libraries, hospitals, etc). In the mid-‘80s Blair realized that the demand for horror movies on video was so high that he could take a mere $27,000 and parlay it into a shot-on-video horror movie that he would release on video via his own label. BLOOD CULT (1985) was hugely successful and paved the way for future endeavors that included buying the rights to films that he was not actively involved in making, such as THE LAST SLUMBER PARTY (1980?) which he released in 1987. While there’s a lot to admire about the Blair’s entrepreneurial spirit and his desire to release great and not-so-great little films that would otherwise be lost to history, there is one sniggling little detail that presents a bit of a problem. The movies that bear his producer credit were terrible. Some really, really terrible. Case in point, TERROR AT TENKILLER.

Directed by Ken Meyer, an entertainment lawyer who clearly thought that making a movie wasn’t all that hard, the premise has two college girls headed down to a lake in a town so small that they only have one diner that seats about a dozen and is not even open for dinner. Matter of fact, I’m not sure there even is a town since the only thing we see of it is a road-sign pointing ahead and reading “Gore”. Lyin’ sonsabitches. There is definitely no gore to be found going forward. Anyway, apparently there has been a disappearance (which we see in the pre-credit sequence), but nobody is terribly concerned about it. There is actually mention of a sheriff, but for some bizarre reason, the writer didn't feel like that was an important character to figure into the story. Err, I mean “story”. Seriously, no sheriff? What kinda cheap-ass flick is this? You gotta have a sheriff! At the very least you can have a surprise ending showing the sheriff to be the killer! Oh wait, they already revealed who the killer is in the pre-credit sequence. So, no point in having a sheriff after all. Once by the lake the girls talk about an abusive boyfriend, go swimming, talk on the phone, talk about guys, take naps, talk on the phone, talk about relationships, read books, talk on the phone, talk about the lake, walk to the lake, sit by the lake, talk about how beautiful the (stock footage of) the lake is, did I mention talk on the phone? Jeezus! Shut the hell up already! A couple of people are killed, but you will be so bored shitless that the clumsy attempts at shocks will just add to the irritation factor. I think a more appropriate title would be TEDIUM AT FEWKILLER.

Produced independently in Blair’s home state of Oklahoma, Blair picked it up and released it in between his infamous, highly publicized SOV slasher film THE RIPPER (1985) starring Tom Savini and REVENGE (1986), his surprisingly (at one point) obscure sequel to BLOOD CULT. While it maintains the price tag that keeps it in line with Blair’s other offerings, it really has almost nothing to offer outside of excruciating boredom. The film starts out with a pre-credit sequence in which the killer is shown grabbing a girl and slashing her throat in Savini-esque fashion (complete with cut-away to a shot of the moon) while synth strings and piano warble in the back ground. Cut to a college a swimming pool and subsequent shower scene! Unfortunately the shower scene just hints at what our busty leading lady Leslie (Stacy Logan) has to offer and is rudely interrupted by her loud, pushy friend Jana (Michelle Merchant), who is almost just as abusive as Leslie’s jackasstic boyfriend Josh (Ken Meyer who shows that in spite of the awfulness of this movie, he is definitely better at directing than acting). Interestingly this movie was written by a female so the women are all reasonably level headed, though they do not make the best decisions about men. All of the male characters are abusers, letches, psycho killers, or all of the above! Remind me again what the opposite of “misogyny” is? Oh, yeah, right... “normal.”

Once on the road, the girls talk about how there are going to be hot guys in the less-than-one-horse town (which reminds me of the time one of my sous-chefs was convinced there were going to be hot chicks at the Boy Scout Camp he was going to spend the summer cooking at). And they drive. And they talk. And they drive… Once in town the visit the diner where they get jobs, they talk to Charlie. Hi Charlie! Then the walk to the lake and discuss it’s beauty:
Leslie: “It’s so nice.”
Jana: “It’s great.”
Leslie: “Isn’t it nice?”
Jana: “Yeah, it’s great.”
Are you ready to kill yourself yet? Don’t get comfy, there are more golden rays of brilliance where that came from!

The local muffin of studdage.
Once at the lake Mrs. Meyer decides that since we’ve suffered through 25 minutes of this stinker, it’s time for much needed plot exposition... thank Christ! Ok, so what is the deal with the friggin’ lake already? Apparently Jana would come up to this lake with her dad and Dad would tell her a story about how the lake got it’s name. The name comes from a beautiful Indian maiden who’s sister was kidnapped and savaged by another tribe. She got her revenge by killing ten of their best warriors, picking them off, one by one (cue ominous music). The last one she killed by dragging him to the bottom of the lake where they both drowned. “That’s not true, is it?” asks Leslie. To which Jana replies “nah, Dad just told me that because I was afraid of swimming.” What?! Dammit, if I hadn’t seen who the killer was in the pre-credit sequence, I’d be hoping for some sort of zombie Indian girl to rise out of the lake and… ok, ok, I can’t even think like that. Let’s get on with it.

Later the boat rental guy, Preacher (Dale Buckmaster) spies on the girls and Tor attacks him and cuts off his arms, in one of the three scenes in the film that sport any special effects. Tor throws them in the basement of the house in an attempt to provide a weak shock moment at the end of the film when Leslie is trying to hide from Tor.

After getting a cryptic message on their answering machine, you’d think that the plot would kick into gear and stuff would start going down with a vengeance. And you’d be wrong. Unless you were talking about more conversations! Yes, more phone call scenes, a picknick bench conversation about how Tor should come over for a beer (I guess since he’s the ONLY guy in town, that makes him an eligible bachelor), how Josh is a nutter, but he loves her and blah, blah, blah… Ok, now we will get something happening! Nope. Now Jana has a long walk out to the lake (more stock footage of the lake). Jana swims in the lake, Jana sits by the lake, Jana looks at the lake, Jana naps by the lake. Cue more soft music and stock footage of lake. If you ever said to yourself, “I’m in the mood for a horror movie that will help me get some sleep” this is exactly what you’ve been looking for.


Tor shows up at the house in shorts that no man outside of a St. Patrick’s day parade should ever be caught wearing and asks for a beer. Jana flirts with Tor. Tor acts creepy. Jana flirts some more. Leslie reads “The Stand” at the diner and has a phone conversation with Josh. Jana decides that since she has a man over, she needs to wash her hair in the sink. Thoroughly. For a really, really long time. Tor finally must have had enough of this worthless time filler and pulls the strings on Jana’s bikini top and you think “hey! Gratuitous nudity will wake me up!”, but no, we cut to an insert shot of a knife entering plastic flesh while Jana sounds rather concerned and tells Tor to “stop it!” Yep, I'm sure that's the first thing to say after someone stabs a sharp knife into my vertebrae.

There's your gore, enjoy.
The rest of the film is Josh travelling to the lake, Leslie running through the woods from Tor for an eternity and ending up right back where she started for no reason and finding Josh dead (so much for that character!). Leslie plays dead and Tor rows all the bodies out to the middle of the lake. Leslie takes this opportunity to hop out of the boat and swim for safety (she was swimming in a pool at the beginning of the film, remember? Clever, eh? Yeah, no, not so much), while we find that Tor doesn’t know how to swim and sinks like a stone. Of course now that he’s dead and Leslie is safe (in the voice over she actually explains how her swimming saved her, just in case the monotony of the film bludgeoned your short-term memory)... so naturally he pops back up for the credit roll.

Ugh! While some of Blair’s projects are pretty entertaining with the right expectations and mindset, TERROR AT TENKILLER is probably one of the most uninspired, uninteresting slasher films I have ever had to sit through. It offers little other than excruciatingly dull conversations that have not only no bearing on any sort of “plot” but are just tedious filler to pad what would be an insipid half-hour to a full 88 minutes. This is what happens when you let entertainment lawyers direct films. Let this be a lesson to the world.

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