THE EIGHTIES STILL SCREAM: A VHS RETROSPECTIVE PART 2 – HIDE AND GO SHRIEK!!

VHS1Whenever I think back on the ’80s and how fantastic the decade truly was, some of my favorite reveries to indulge in are the ones of me as a kid walking up and down video stores and their endless rows of videocassettes and pickup up box after box, wishing that I was old enough to open my own membership, rent a VCR and take a stack of movies home with me. Slasher films were my biggest curiosity during my teen years and it’s something that has remained with me for years after. Even though, at the time, I was still much too young to be sitting in front of them, I did what I needed to do to cultivate this weird and unexplainable passion I had for anything horror. Whenever I had the opportunity to tag along to the video store with my folks, I made a habit of picking up every single slasher film’s box on every single shelf, staring at the artwork and reading the captions on the back over and over again. Every supermarket, convenience and department store where we lived at the time had video rental sections of different sizes and I memorized every title that each one of them carried. I liked that though Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had their places on display shelves almost everywhere I went, not every store carried Squirm, Shock Waves or Mother’s Day. You could walk down to the Circle K on the corner any time and easily pick up any of the Evil Dead or A Nightmare on Elm Street films, but at times you had to go across town, or in some cases, a neighboring city to find an outlet that had Curtains, Mausoleum or Class Reunion Massacre available to rent. There were also those stores that (either knowingly or naively) specialized in and showcased a particular sub-genre. I remember a particular local grocery chain that was the only one in the area to carry a vast number of the wonderful big box Continental Video releases (Nightmare, Terror on Tape, The Return of the Alien’s Deadly Spawn), while another was known for being the only one to carry the entire Faces of Death series. One grocery store location in particular was where a treasure trove of anything and everything slasher could be found. If you wanted a sorority house or backwoods slasher, it was there. If you were in the mood for a slasher with a holiday theme, they had it. If you were seriously jonesing for a low budget teen stalk-and-slash film of sub-par quality and didn’t mind it being a complete rip-off of a familiar well-known franchise entry, they definitely carried it. This small supermarket’s little, but impressive, video rental department is where I would lay eyes on the box for 1987’s Hide and Go Shriek for the very first time.
I love an 80’s horror film with a cool title and/or tagline and this one was rad enough to actually have both: Close your eyes. Count to Ten. And Run for your Life. That line combined with the minimalist yet curiously intriguing artwork was enough for me to grab the box, clutch it against my chest and wish upon a star for the ripe and fantastic age of eighteen, which, sadly, was still three years away. A few weeks later I would walk into the local Video Stop with my father and gush to the point of calling out for a mop and bucket when I saw a pristine laserdisc copy of this slasher gem resting against the white wire display and I knew at that moment that I had to find a way to get my hands on it. That wouldn’t happen until several months later in the fall of 1990 when Jason, my best friend at the time, and I gave his older brother Josh our combined allowances and convinced him to rent it for us to watch. I snuck out of my parent’s house after the sun went down the night he picket it up, carefully and quietly maneuvered through the orchard of grapefruit trees that separated our homes and sat down excitedly in the small, tattered lavender recliner in their living room and waited for Jason to pop it into the VCR.
I have to admit that when the film ended and the credits rolled approximately 88 minutes later, there was a bitter and horrible taste in my then-fifteen year-old mouth left behind by this ghastly, putrid film that was nothing like Sleepaway Camp or Friday the 13th – Part 2 and it left me lamenting the moment I ever laid eyes on it. We took it out of the video player and had Jason’s brother Josh immediately return it to the place to whence it came never to speak of it again. Keep in mind, though, that my palette for everything slasher was just getting its sea legs so I still wasn’t in the mindframe to actually take into consideration the film as a whole and not just point out the things I disagreed with before walking away. I quickly dismissed the film entirely and went on to forget that it even existed until just after the arrival of the new millennium. I had just begun the pastime of full-time horror collecting and while browsing through an on-line auction site one afternoon, I came across Hide and Go Shriek just after securing a copy of The Mutilator and instantly remembered how much I had loathed it and recalling how I felt sitting in that recliner when the tape came out of Jason’s videocassette recorder. Just before saying good-bye to it for a second time, I started to think to myself that after having spent the last decade and a half filling my head with slasher knowledge and after having recently sampled the best in Italian and other foreign horror delicacies that maybe it was time to give this one a another chance. I nabbed myself that VHS copy that was up for bids and sat in front of it several weeks later with an open mind and a different attitude. Mind you, I hadn’t seen it in almost twelve years. Could it still be as bad as I remembered it?
The film opens up with a panning across a city skyline that takes us into a large, abandoned building where we find a man dressed in a suit and tie applying blush to his cheek, mascara to his eyelashes and a splash of bright pink color to his full, masculine lips. Getting into his car, he drives out to what I can only assume is the local prostitution row to pick up a hooker whom he violates and stabs all within a matter of seconds, leaving her alone in the dark and dank alleyway, blood flowing from her now lifeless body. Once the opening title and credits commence, we are introduced to a group of young friends – John (the handsome rich stud), Bonnie (the beauty), Randy (the prankster jock), Kim (the plain Jane), Judy (the girl with “experience”), David (the obnoxious prep), and Shawn and Melissa (the timid virgins) who have all just graduated from high school and have decided to have a celebratory get-together/slumber party at a large furniture store downtown owned by John’s father. When they arrive in their shiny, maroon minivan (?), John and Shawn are quickly met by pierced, tattooed and slick-haired creep Fred whom John states is a new employee his father hired recently. We soon find out that not only is John’s father unaware that the kids have stowed away and are now locked inside the building, but also that Fred is an ex-con, much to the chagrin of John’s father’s business partner, Vince, and that Fred lives on the property unbeknownst to the kids who are ready to get their party on now that the store is closed for the night.
After a good while of predictable 80’s dialogue (most of it delivered by Randy), an obligatory shot of them lifting their beers into the air, a pair of cheap scares and a tour of the entire three-level store, Kim suggests that the group engage in an innocent game of hide-and-go-seek. When her idea backfires and the group forces her to be ‘it’, they spread out throughout the store and the fun begins. While some of them play along and actually go and find places to hide, the others take advantage of the situation and use it to engage in some ‘naughty time’, including John and Bonnie who waste no time in pulling out the cleverly-hidden champagne and shamelessly shedding their clothes for a slap-and-tickle session in one of the store’s huge display beds. If that in itself isn’t creepy enough, we find here as they play hide-the-wienerschnitzel that a dark figure wearing what appears to be a fedora is watching them in the shadows. When Kim soon finds them naked under the sheets, she tags them, now making the horny couple the new hunters. But, what none of them are aware of is that whoever is watching them has chained up the exits, locking them in from the inside. What basically follows is an And Then There Were None meets Friday the 13th of sorts within a multi-level warehouse. Even though I’m now a big fan of this film, I have to point out that the most overwhelming snag in its execution is that what comprises the first half of the story is really slow and full of really bad acting. While sometimes this can be used to a film’s advantage, here it takes quite the opposite effect and works against it. The first kill doesn’t even take place until the thirty-minute mark and the script totally takes one of the principal cardinal rules of the slasher genre and unexpectedly turns it on its head by having the lovelorn, inexperienced virgins horribly perish before everyone else. What? The horny ones always die first! No fair! This possibly can’t be how this very late entry into the 80’s slasher cycle is going to behave, right? You really can’t dare alter the strict blueprint that every 80’s horror film must follow to the letter and expect to come out with something watchable, much less memorable! Pay close attention to the film and you’ll notice another slasher rule broken and altered at the film’s close.
Once the 48-minute mark is reached and the leader of the pack is confronted and bloodily knocked off by the ominous figure stalking them one by one (damn you, Fred!), the film takes a surprising detour and immediately becomes a very tense and suspenseful cat-and-mouse game. Borrowing heavily from atmospheric elements found in the beloved Tourist Trap (the abundance of creepy and out-of-place mannequins at every turn, them sitting on beds, leaning up against walls and later used as weapons), this ended up adding a bit of originality to what could have been a really bland production as from recalling from memory every furniture store I have ever stepped foot into, I’ve never ever seen a department store mannequin in any of them. To amp the creep factor up a few notches, whoever is stalking them uses the clothing of the person he’s just killed to fool the others into thinking that they’re still alive. But when you do the math, the only other person that could be in the building with them is Fred. But, is Fred really a closeted cross-dresser? The same guy with the really macho snake tattoo on his hand was dressing himself up as a girl? When the kids finally discover that they’re trapped with no way out, one of the sequences that stands out toward the end is when they all run to the front of the store and begin screaming at a homeless bagman across the street in hopes of getting his attention. Because the windows are so thick and well-built, not even David’s attempt to break them down with a thick display table works. The camera shot from across the street showing the kids jumping up and down screaming hysterically for help provides a very eerie moment in the film that brings the viewer to realize the grim reality that the kids are in fact, doomed. We know they’re pleading for help, but nobody else does. The acting even changes at this point from immature, badly delivered one-liners and lame sex jokes to a group of kids who are genuinely terrified for their lives. It’s also here where we slowly begin to realize that there’s a good chance it’s not our buddy Fred who’s been causing the entire after-hours ruckus in the store. So then who is it?
At the hour and fourteen minute mark, both the story and the entire film take a nosedive that you never see coming. A twist so bizarre and so out of left field shows its face that will not only make your jaw drop but will cause you to involuntarily mouth – or scream, depending on how hard it hits you – that all-too familiar interjection that begins with the letter “W” and ends with the letter “K”. With that said, here lies the brilliance of the film as a whole and the reason why it stands out for me as one of the most underrated teen stalk-and-slash films of the late 80’s. Above all else, the film gives no indication whatsoever in plot nor characterization of what’s coming, therefore making the grand reveal that much more shocking and unexpected. The climax is so over the top and wonderfully absurd that it completely makes up for the film’s weak first forty minutes. For a brief while after we find out just who was behind all the mayhem and bloodshed, the film becomes dramatic and emotional and we as the viewer are moved to feel sympathy not only for each of the victims, but the guilty party as well. What could be a completely disposable ending that could easily be tagged and dismissed as a “cop out” ends up being one clamoring to be taken seriously. As far as the film’s closing shot is concerned, I will refrain from specifics and only state that it’s been done a hundred times and you’ve seen it before. But, because of the impact of the scene that precedes it, the possible frustration any horror aficionado would experience due to how overly familiar it is – as any experienced slasher buff could name at least five films that use this same ending – is completely bypassed and the viewer is left to ponder on the possibility of what follows while staring at the credits until they fade to black.
Simply put, I hated this movie when I watched it as a teenager and never thought I would ever sit through it a second time, much less write about it this many years later. Though the film honestly doesn’t encompass the overall feeling of a typical 80’s slasher, aside from the obvious fashion and the fact that we pretty much get to see every single cast member showing major skin at some point in the film, this one is definitely worth taking a look at. The film does embody some great moments of suspense and tension and if you can get past the first half hour or so, you’ll find that Skip Schoolnik’s directorial debut – after having previously worked on editing Halloween II and who would go on to produce episodes of The Walking Dead – is one that warrants multiple views and deserves a place in every horror fan’s collection. Previously only available on VHS by New Star Video and never before available on DVD in the United States, rumor has it that Code Red is about to put this out for the first time on Blu-Ray format. With most of the film taking place among the dark corridors of Fine Furniture, the VHS is dark and murky at times and I am excited to get this into my collection and to see how it looks and sounds in high-definition. This is one of those films from my youth in which I’m glad I didn’t banish to the realms of obscurity in my mind as every time I watch it, I’m reminded how great life was back then and just how much I’d give just to be able to back and visit, even if it’s just for a day.

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