Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hide and Go Shriek (1988) dir. Skip Schoolnik

Logline: A quartet of recently graduated teenage couples decide to bid adieu to high school by staying overnight in a furniture store and committing grievous acts of furniture-supported hanky panky. But when the couples begin to permanently disappear during a game of hide and go seek, those remaining begin to ponder whether or not the creepy ex-convict nightwatchman is more dangerous than he seems...

Crime in the Past: The crime here is twofold, though neither involves the sort of early trauma we're used to seeing as slasher audiences. First, we learn that ex-con nightwatchman Fred (Jeff Levine) was previously incarcerated for armed robbery, which sets him up nicely as our red herring, especially when we notice that the actual killer bears similar prison tattoos. However, this literal crime is not the figurative crime we're looking for: the actual crime is that of a broken heart. It seems that Fred's homosexual prison liaison only suited him when behind bars, and his rejection of his male lover on the outside left that lover hopelessly devoted without romantic reciprocation, driving him to derangement.

Bodycount: 7 souls plopped down onto soiled display mattresses for the last time.

Themes/Moral Code: Whether consciously or not, slasher films have always attacked what they deem to be "perversions" of the norm, but it's not often that one of them gets any more specific than railing against the actions of horny teenagers. Hide and Go Shriek, however, gets awfully specific when illuminating its perceived perversion by using its bloody mayhem to prop up a heteronormative worldview that vilifies homosexuality. This vilification is accomplished primarily through the revelation of the killer and his motive (discussed below), but also through the film's handling of a character who repents for his past homosexual leanings. While imprisoned due to an armed robbery conviction, creepy nightwatchman Fred carried on a happy relationship with his cellmate, Zack (Scott Kubay). Upon their release from prison, Zack attempted to get back into contact with Fred, whom he had seemingly grown to love. Fred was repulsed by the notion of reigniting their romance outside of prison, telling Zack that whatever was between them was merely a product of their shared situation. Fred's implication is that in the real world people are heterosexual, regardless of what they do behind locked cell doors. Fred's reasoning doesn't sit well with Zack, nor should it: it's total hooey.

What's interesting is that the film doesn't attempt to make us feel sympathy for the abandoned lover, but for the schmuck who denies his own sexuality and carries out the abandonment. When Fred lays out the preceding details in front of Zack and the surviving teens during the film's climax, he transforms, instantaneously, from a mute, creepy, grunting potential fiend into a poor, unfortunate soul who has been misled but is seeking forgiveness for his sexual transgressions. He's made into a sort of tragic hero and protector of our protagonists-- if only momentarily-- for rejecting his homosexual impulse while his spurned gay lover remains a frothing maniac. It's an unfortunate fact that even as late as 1988 homosexuals were being openly demonized in visible works of popular culture, with a work like Hide and Go Shriek contributing in its own less-than-subtle way by harmfully impressing into the minds of its young audience the notion that those folks who prefer their own sex are a breed of boogeymen indistinct from a Myers or a Voorhees.

Killer's Motivation: Zack kills the teens because he doesn't want anyone or anything to come between him and Fred, his former lover. The fact that the teens are merely occupying the same building as Fred and are in no way interfering in the rekindling of the prison lovers' relationship is irrelevant because Zack is certifiably insane. There's two ways of taking this: either Zack is a heterosexual man whose prison experience created his "unnatural" homosexual passion for Fred and thus drove him to insanity or Zack is a homosexual man who is "naturally" insane. The former interpretation could be supported by Zack's failed opening encounter with a female prostitute, while the latter could be supported by (in the movie's logic) his effeminate characteristics (like giggling!) and penchant for cross-dressing. Either explanation signals that the film is lacking a certain, shall we say, sophistication in its understanding of sexuality and gender. It's a little bit like director Skip Schoolnik and his writer Michael Kelly watched Glen or Glenda (1953) and mistook it for a horror movie.

Final Girl: Hide and Go Shriek ignores the slasher convention of having an innocent, virginal final girl as the massacre's lone survivor, which seems curious considering its otherwise conservative approach to morality. Instead, a whopping two out of the four couples survive the grisly events, but for no particular reason other than perhaps the heteronormative nature of their sexual encounters, which the film clearly favors. All of the film's teen women are topless and horny at one point or another and their deaths don't directly correspond to what they choose to do with their private parts in their spare time. The film does feature an (at least initially) virginal female, but when she performs a slinky striptease for her boyfriend (that she saw "in a porno movie," she tells him) before bedding him, we can feel confident in saying she doesn't quite fit the archetype. That the film allows her and her boyfriend to walk out alive is to its credit, despite its more troubling perspectives.

Evaluation: A mostly unmemorable late entry in the subgenre, Hide and Go Shriek nevertheless provides some small interest for slasher aficionados. Its dopey teens are fun enough to laugh at, its fixation on creepy mannequins is almost unnerving, and its gore is on par with some of the scrappy best that the subgenre has to offer (a glorious elevator decapitation is a highlight). And, as is the case with so many bottom of the barrel slashers, it's hard not to admire its thrift: the characters' near inaudible dialogue echoes in all scenes because of cheap sets and improperly placed boom mics, and-- best of all-- a sound-alike version of "Walk This Way" is used for a musical cue after a lame "Walk This Way" joke in order to avoid licensing fees. The film, like character Randy's $6 haircut, is far from stylish, but it won't leave you scarred with any serious pangs of 1980s flashback embarrassment. Director Skip Schoolnik remains active as a TV producer, but his only directing credits after this film are a handful of episodes of the Buffy spin-off Angel and the "true story" reenactment anthology guessing game Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction. Pair Hide and Go Shriek with Chopping Mall (1986) for a night of off-kilter slashers set in furniture stores.

2 comments:

  1. Even with rock bottom expectations, this was still a disappointing flick.

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    1. I watched TERROR ON TOUR shortly thereafter, so upon reflection I found cause to appreciate this one's simple (uh) *charms*. TERROR ON TOUR will do that to you.

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