Director: John Howard & Justin Simmonds
Year of release: 1986
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 62-72 minutes (conflicting information)
DVD/Blu ray: DVD only
Taglines: "He's looking for Linda...and that could be anybody", "The most gut wrenching movie of all time" and "The blood flows deeper and deeper and deeper".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: An obscure shot on video slasher from the mid-eighties, Spine tells the story of mentally unbalanced Lawrence Ashton as he goes about committing a number of grisly murders. Obsessed with a woman from his past called Linda, our killer is intent on targeting the cities nurses and hogtying them before exposing their spine in a murderous switchblade frenzy.
As the unhinged Ashton goes about stalking fresh prey the local police force do their utmost to get to the bottom of the situation. With little to go on however they initially struggle to make much progress.
Things ultimately come to a head after Ashton traps two nurses inside their lavish home. As the police close in it’s here that the true significance of Linda is revealed.
Good points: *As often seems to be the case with these type of really obscure low budget slashers the music is probably the most commendable thing I can pick out as a positive. It isn’t anything special but it establishes the mood rather well in particular when Ashton is on the prowl. I’d say this ticks the right boxes when it comes to suspense music.
*I was quite surprised to see a computer put to use so prominently during the police procedural scenes. Seeing that this was shot in 1984 (but released in 86 I think) I wasn’t expecting to see a computer at all so it was sort of a nice surprise. It actually turns out to be pivotal in the dim witted cops making a breakthrough as well so plays a key role.
Edge of the Axe which came out a few years later probably much more famously features a computer but here Spine beats that slasher to the punch with an even more primitive machine.
It raises a little bit of a smile to see how old fashioned and outdated the computer looks compared to the technology of today.
*The excitement picks up a bit in the last twenty minutes or so during which time Ashton has the two central nurse characters trapped inside a property. It’s here as well that the motivations for the killer are revealed and we are able to delve in to his backstory to some degree. It’s not as fleshed out as it could be but it’s at least something that an effort was made to give us some kind of background for Ashton.
Regarding Ashton it’s also around time that a facial disfigurement (normally hidden with sunglasses) is briefly revealed so that added an extra layer to things in this final third or so of the film as well.
Bad Points: *Although he is eventually revealed to have a credible enough back story unfortunately Lawrence Ashton fails to deliver in pretty much every other area. As such he makes for a very weak villain. Firstly and most obviously he just looks dreadful with no effort at all having been made to give him any kind of costume or remotely intimidating aspects to his appearance. Clad in aviator sunglasses and an ugly pink shirt Ashton completely fails to look even the least bit scary. This isn’t helped by a bad hairdo and beard.
To top it off when he starts talking towards the end he comes across as very whiney and reminded me of a little boy. Perhaps this could have been creepy if handled correctly but here it just adds to how lame the killer seems.
*Clocking in at between 60 to 70 minutes Spine has a short running time but despite this it still manages to be boring for large periods. This is largely down to a lack of action outside of the latter part of the film with the capture of the two nurses. Prior to this though it didn’t hold my interest very well and I don’t think there were enough murders. Spine was definitely in need of a higher body count as it only features three deaths in the entire film. I think the implication was that Ashton had maybe killed quite a few other nurses prior to the film beginning but that doesn’t do much for us the viewer.
Due to the small budget and the inexperience of the directors at the time in working on a horror picture the special effects are also virtually non-existent. It’s one of those deals where we just see the aftermath of a posed body.
*The sound quality on the DVD isn’t very good throughout and as such I found it difficult to catch everything that was being said. This issue was particularly noticeable during the police scenes.
*Spoilers in these next points: On a few occasions it felt to me as if the plot were missing something. Early on for example a nurse gets in touch with lead girl Carrie from the bus station claiming to have just arrived in town. From the conversation it seems the pair met previously while on vacation. I got the impression from the way she was acting that the girl calling from the bus station was in trouble of some kind as if she is perhaps on the run from an abusive partner or something. She really seems in a panic in any case. Carrie invites her into her home but once she comes to collect her they drop this angle completely with the other girl now acting normal.
It also seemed weird that this girl would call Carrie up out of the blue anyway and seeing that there seemed to be no reason for it that tied in with the rest of the plot they might as well as just have had them as two normal friends that lived together.
After the death of the second nurse who was also a friend of Carrie’s I didn’t understand why the cops kept pestering Carrie about the situation while she was at work. It wasn’t as if Carrie was with the victim when she was attacked/abducted or whatever by Ashton nor was she even the last person to see her alive so it made no sense for the cops to think she would be able to help. They kept asking her if she remembered anything though as if she had seen the killer and then developed amnesia or something. Most odd!
Towards the end it also is not revealed how the cops knew to stake out the garage where Ashton ultimately meets his demise. In the DVD extras however they do highlight this to be fair saying they intended to shoot an extra scene where someone notices his car by the property but for whatever reason they weren’t able to include that in the final product.
*Big spoiler: Though the end parts of the film are the better parts they are marred by a ridiculous twist in which much of what we had witnessed during this section is revealed to be a dream. It’s a deflating revelation that only serves to undermine what had been the film’s most exciting scenes.
Verdict: Spine is considered to be among the more rare of the eighties slashers and unfortunately after viewing it it’s easy to see why is faded into obscurity. The issues are plain for all to see and are mainly attributed to the atrocious looking killer and all around dull and boring nature of the story. A unneeded and useless twist towards the end doesn’t help.
A couple of better qualities in some decent music and effort made with the killers backstory just about drag it out of the very bottom of the barrel territory but it’s still one best avoided.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Nurse #1: Killed at the very start, hog tied and then stabbed in the back multiple times.
2)Nurse #2: Ashton forces his way into her apartment and kills her in the same manner as #1.
3)Lawrence Ashton: Shot inside garage by police detective.
Note: The woman attacked by Ashton in the hospital/surgery basement area was later said to have survived so I’m not counting her.