Victims!

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There are low-budget films, and then there are really low-budget films, and then there are ultra low-budget films. Today we are heading to that furthest end of the spectrum for another case of someone who just had this strong urge to make a movie. Writer/director Jeff Hathcock used his vacation time from Knottsberry Farm to make this grimey little piece of horror. It’s time for some terror in the desert with 1985’s Victims!

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The film begins with several gruesome, and seemingly disconnected murders. A young woman gets and axe to the face as she climbs the stairs, another woman is murdered as she lies naked in her bed, and another woman is knifed in the back by someone dressed as an old lady. It seems that two serial killers (Robert Axelrod and Lonny Withers) are terrorizing the area…and this is all before the opening credits roll. Once the movie kicks in, we get even more bloodshed. Worst of all is a particularly heinous sequence where a couple is attacked by the killers. They murder the guy and have their way with the girl before disposing of her, too.

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Now, at this point, the main story hasn’t even kicked in yet. That comes when we meet four attractive female college students who are heading off to the desert for the weekend for a geology field trip. This much to the chagrin of their protective parents and/or boyfriends. They stop at a gas station on their way out and, of course, are spotted by the killers. The girls then head out to the desert and set up camp. The next day, after a bit of skinny dipping, they encounter trouble when they find their campsite ransacked and their car disabled. Soon, the killers themselves show up and force the girls to do their twisted bidding. That is, until the girls are able to turn the tables.

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Now, when watching a horror movie, you kind of expect horrible things to happen. It’s kind of a given. This is one of those films that, let’s just say, goes a bit too far. I suppose it’s accurate to call it a slasher film, but all the so-called slashing happens in the first fifteen minutes or so of the film. What follows is more focused on assault, specifically sexual assault, and that just doesn’t make for a film that can be called an enjoyable experience. It’s one thing to depict such things, but the film seems to take a bit too much glee in doing so. I felt this even before I watched the bonus features on this DVD in which the director comments on how much he likes stories about women in jeopardy. I did have hope that the film was going to somewhat redeem itself by the end. The story starts to look like it’s going to become a revenge story. With such horrible things happening to these women I thought it had to. Nope! In fact, the ladies almost end up charged with being part of a gas station robbery as the film is coming to it’s close.

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Moving beyond the extreme nastiness of the story, the filmmaking techniques used to bring this story to the screen are rudimentary at best. There isn’t a shred of visual style, unless placing the action dead center in the frame counts. The visuals don’t even give us a good idea of the environment we’re in. I mean come on, we’re trapped in the desert with a couple of killers! A six-year old with a VHS camcorder could photograph the landscape and give us a better feeling of isolation and dread than what we get in this film.

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The film does have a number of unintentionally funny moments. I mentioned the scene where one of the killers commits a murder dressed as old woman…I didn’t mention that a good citizen then chases and fights with him. The sequence looks like it was pulled out of an episode of The Benny Hill Show. It may have actually played better had “Yakety Sax” been the background music. The gas station sequence, with an odd assortment of people gawking at the young free-spirited girls, is also awkwardly funny. Thing is, though, the memory of these stranger moments had pretty much left my mind shortly after watching the film. It’s kind of hard to remember the more light-hearted moments after sequences that take such delight in sexual assault in the desert.

I fully understand that desire deep down in the soul to make a movie. If that’s your dream, usually I would say, “you go for it, man!” Take that two week vacation from Knott’s Berry Farm and make your dream come true. But if your dreams look anything like Victims!, maybe you’re better off being the operator on the Pacific Scrambler.

Note: Victims! was recently released on DVD and BluRay by Olive Films and Slasher Video.  Thanks to them for letting us check out the film.

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