Nothing beats truth in advertising, and one could always leave it to the Italians to hop aboard a boat without any wind left in its tattered sails. This is the mid-‘80s so of course we’re talking about slashers, and in particular Body Count (1986), famed director Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust)’s fun and loopy take on backwoods horror.
Given a very limited release in the U.S. in October, Body Count was rolled out to the rest of the world the following year, mainly on videocassette. Immediately dismissed as a Friday the 13th knockoff (which it certainly is) five years too late (ditto), time has nevertheless been kind to a film with no agenda other than kill, baby, kill. The title is more than apropos; Body Count is the generic yellow labeled can at the horror store that tastes better than it has any right to.
That’s definitely the Italian influence; while the basic set up and story are strictly pro forma, the masked devil is in every detail – whereas an American slasher would zig, Body Count decidedly zags, creating an entertaining diversion for those looking to fill in their ‘80s card.
Have you heard the one about the young couple that heads out to the woods for some alone time, only to be maliciously slaughtered by a killer in a witches’ mask? And how the legend of the shaman haunts the area, killing anyone who dares enter his sacred native ground? No? How about fifteen years later when a group of college students head to the same resort, and meet their demise at the hands of the same shaman, or someone pretending to be him?
So it’s basically a woodsy slasher, B division even for the sub-genre; there’s no Paramount coin floating around, nor a Savini to be found. But Deodato offers up a translation that puts just enough of a unique spin to make the trip worthwhile, even amongst familiar trappings.
For starters, we have Charles Napier (Wacko) as the local fuzz who’s been having a decades long affair with store proprietor Mimsy Farmer (Autopsy) much to the chagrin of her husband, David Hess (Last House on the Left). Well, he doesn’t know exactly, but suspects; their son Ben caught them when he was a child, but she told him if he told his father the shaman would kill her. So naturally Ben keeps the secret, but as he’s the one leading his college friends back to the salacious scene of the crime, it’s only a matter of time before the past comes crashing down around them.
So, among the massacre of the college kids, we have a love triangle that may or may not be connected to the Shaman slayings, previous and present. I’ll never tell. Well, I might if I knew; Deodato throws so much at the screen in a screwball way that when the pine needles settle, I’m not even sure who did what. Okay, I know who did some of the what, but not all of it. Maybe I just need a laydown.
But this is a large part of the charm of Body Count; not content with just having a shaman legend return from the grave, Deodato in true Italian style throws in a mystery that sort of makes sense if you’re willing to give in to the insanity, of which there is no short supply.
Nor does he skimp on the bloodshed, thank god; there are a lot of slashers from the era that couldn’t pull off effects due to budget and/or imaginative constraints. Not so here – hatchets to the head, limb lopping, death by tent knife and hollow log, plus good old fashioned bludgeoning are on the menu – as Deodato brings on a team of folks, including Roberto Pace (Zombie Holocaust), to add a little European flavor to the mix.
But it’s more than just groovy gore that propels Body Count; the dialogue and dubbing (by a mix of American and Italian actors) is terrible yet terribly amusing, the plot dares you to offer close inspection, and the performances range from eager to roof-blowing (bless Hess). You may start out thinking about Jason and Cropsey, but by the end you’ll definitely be Team Shaman.
Or maybe you won’t. Not everyone gloms to the Euro style on display; some prefer their inane words and deeds wrapped in bland Americana (I’ll take both, thanks). But I’ll just say this – after watching enough slashers to choke an inebriated moose, Body Count is not only fresher than it has any right to be, it’s more fun than most of the also-rans of the day. I guess there was a little wind left in the sails after all.
Body Count is available on Amazon Prime.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: THE CRAWLING EYE (1958)