Director: Richard Ciupka (Jonathan Stryker was later credited for the job)
Year of release: 1983
Country of origin: Canada
Running time: 89 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: The ultimate nightmare
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Esteemed director Jonathan Stryker is looking for an actress to play the lead role in his upcoming production Audra. He earmarks a lady by name of Samantha for the title role of Audra, a character who evidently is somewhat unhinged. As such Stryker cooks up the idea of having Samantha committed to a mental asylum so that she can learn and appreciate first hand how mentally ill people carry themselves and thus be better prepared to play the role once work on the project begins. Having fooled the staff into thinking she is insane Samantha is committed but she soon finds life in the asylum increasingly difficult and draining. The situation is made far worse once it comes to light that Stryker seems to have abandoned her to her misery and is instead considering other actresses for the role.
Styker sends out a casting call for women to attend an audition stretching over several days held at his isolated mansion in the snowy wilderness. Six women answer the call. Before the auditions can properly begin however Samantha surprises Stryker by turning up herself after having escaped the mental institution. Understandably she is furious at Stryker for leaving her locked away and resentful towards the other women who are going after the role she feels she was promised. Soon after bodies start piling up at the hands of someone dressed as a witch/hag. It appears that someone is so intent on bagging the Audra role they are willing to kill whoever may step in their way.
Good points: The story is quite original and not the typical slasher fare. It does have holes here and there but I'd say it is a case of the good outweighing the bad with the mental institution near the beginning and later Stryker's mansion creating a creepy atmosphere of foreboding. The acting aspect of things and the auditions are a novel excuse to lure our victims to an isolated location so I felt storywise it was a cool concept.
As hinted at in the previous point there is a moody creepy atmosphere running through the film which enables it to be pretty scary at times. This is helped along no end by the doll of a little girl used to good effect early on which is disconcerting indeed and the mask of the killer which is best described as an ugly old woman. The mask I'd go as far to say is one of the most creepy the genre has ever seen and is worth the price of admission alone. As brilliant as the mask looks the mere fact of it being of a female visage is enough to be a plus point all by itself seeing as this is something we very rarely see.
There are a couple of good kills on display as well most notably the famous ice skating scene taking place on a frozen lake and surrounding woodland. Towards the end there is another good one which is tension filled and drawn out over a long chase sequence.
The ending was well done I thought and came as a little bit of a surprise to me. I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the film but it did catch me off guard a little so was a pretty satisfying twist.
Bad Points: The film went through a very troubled shooting and production process with the original director Ciupka initially thinking he was going to be able to shoot a arthouse drama mystery type film only to find out later once work was underway that the studio in fact wanted a more straight forward slasher to capitalise on the craze at the time. This eventually led to Ciupka walking out and the producer having to take over with many of the latter scenes in the film being shot much later than the early ones.
There was also trouble with the lead actress who was changed for someone else during production which added to the trouble. As such things come across as a bit messy and sloppy looking at times with things towards the end in particular seeming rushed. Some things are confusing and not explained very well or just badly edited. For example is seems overly cruel, harsh and unrealistic that Stryker would just abandon poor Samantha inside the asylum after she showed such commitment to the role in going in there in the first place. Her escape also isn't explained very well with her seemingly getting help from a friend who isn't seen again. Also there is a really bad looking scene where Styker falls out of a high story window but instead of landing on the ground outside he somehow manages to land back inside the mansion on the ground floor. That in particular just looks bizarre and should never have been included.
There is very little gore in the film which will come as a disappointment for those that like to see more brutal graphic murders. They do make up for it by putting more emphasis on tension and atmosphere but still a little more of the red stuff would have been welcome.
I thought that the film skimped a bit on character development for some of the actresses. There were one or two that we barely saw up until their death scenes. Speaking of which several of these were very rushed or even happened off camera. I felt that caretaker Michael and the dancing actress Laurian could have done with much more effort being put into their deaths and indeed their scenes in general. I've read though that there are quite a few scenes that were shot but never used in the end product that would have fleshed things out much more including among them a proper death scene for Michael.
Verdict: Despite it feeling sloppy and disjointed at times I really enjoyed the film and found it to be a different enough slasher than most to linger long in the memory. It's a shame it went through such a difficult production with things being edited and deleted right left and center as otherwise it probably would have been even better. A seven out of ten would probably be a fair score given some of the troubles but for the great mask alone I'm going to bump it up to an eight!
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Amanda: Killed before she gets to the audition. Stabbed after a bad dream involving the doll.
2) Christie: Throat cut with a sickle after a chase in the woods following a skating session. Head is cut off and left in the toilet for Brooke to find later.
3) Laurian: She is surprised while practicing a dance and is stabbed from behind. Her body is found later by Tara hanging up.
4) Jonathan: Falls out of a window after having been shot by Samantha.
5) Brooke: Shot at the same time as Jonathan Stryker by Samantha.
6) Michael. An off camera death. We just see his body in the pool though e last saw him alive driving a snowmobile.
7) Tara: Pulled backwards into a vent to her death after a long chase sequence.
8) Samantha: stabbed inthe kitchen by Patti after Patti reveals she was the one behind the mask.