So when Director/Producer/writer and screenplay writer (and probably a dozen other jobs) of The Lashman, Cameron McCasland, sent me a super-duper secret link to the finally completed film (It's taken four long, often turbulent years) you can safely say that I was about as excited as excited could be. Not only would I be able to be one of the honoured few to see a movie far earlier than most, It would also provide me with the chance to test Cameron's bold challenge to me in his previous interview that I would come out of the end of it saying " I don't really dig slasher films, but I love Lashman".
Well, we shall see Cameron, me old chum. We shall see.
The summation of the plot will be rather brief, due to my oft-repeated dislike for reviewers who insist on giving away the nuances of plot - even when they think they are being clever. If you haven't read my rants before about those spoiler spreading fools then you're one of the lucky ones.
The Lashman begins with five school friends heading off on a weekend excursion into the hills for a weekend of fishing, swimming and campfire tales near their cabin retreat. For the group, it's the chance for one final celebration before they have to go their separate ways to college and whatever different paths their lives will take them. Of course, there is a crate or two of beer to help the weekend along. And Mustard, lots of Mustard.
Soon after arrival at their secluded (of course) cabin, the friends are sharing a scary campfire tale about a local urban-myth. He is simply referred to as 'The Lashman - a man from many years past who was treated pretty badly by the local populace and now whose spirit magically wanders the hills seeking violent and bloody revenge on those that wronged him....or even those who haven't wronged him. He isn't particular.
However, little do they realise that a harmless campfire tale of revenge and murder is going to become very real for them and turn into their own worst bloody nightmares!
THE VERDICT - Well there are a lot of positives........
Now I know what you're thinking : a group of horny and drunk teenagers, probably consisting of the likeable and the jerk ..... a secluded cabin in the woods....... campfire tales....... urban legends ......... slashing and blood soaked revenge........ It all sounds like a very familiar plot device that's been done a thousand times. It is exactly that, however The Lashman has one (well actually it has a few, but more of them in a moment) important factor in it's favour, which is that this movie is very, very good.
McCasland has made it clear from day one that he was never never intending to reinvent the wheel in making this type of movie. In fact, it was the polar opposite. What he set out to do from the outset was to take many of the familiar themes from the slasher movie's heyday, which was essentially the the late 1970's and early 1980's, produce a 21st century homage, and with it manufacture a modern variation to a genre that has suffered greatly since the period of that hey day. In this he succeeds completely.
In its original incarnation , the slasher movie began almost as thing of horror beauty; Halloween, Friday the 13th, Maniac et al were original and fresh - They were Elvis Presley in 1958, before life in the Army sucked any vestige of originality out of him.
However it wasn't long before the slasher sub-genre entered it's Elvis in Las Vegas period when it became overblown and in danger of choking on its own bloated cliches of ever more ridiculous methods of murder, plot gimmicks and witty one-liners from killers and ever-ludicrous sequels that had long since stopped being scary. As Cameron accurately said in his interview "...at a certain point they really kind of stopped being scary, and no really cared about the characters (the campers) as much as they cared about the guy in the mask." I couldn't agree more. Quite simply, slasher movies stopped scaring the living crap out of us.
This is the movie's first success, because in The Lashman, we are given time to get to know the characters, because time is spent during the first part of the film to provide an element of texture and dimension to the personalities of the group. We may not like them all, but we feel as if we have got to know them a little, flaws and all. And this is what makes their fate all the more chilling during the final third of the film where proceedings take a major turn for the worst in a series of chillingly effective gruesome encounters.
The fact that the characters are given to chance to move away from the 2 dimensional parody of later slashers is helped by a strong acting ensemble in this movie - the main players are excellent, especially in the violent and blood-soaked confrontations.
Billy (David Vaughan) is the leader, a likable jock, but troubled in how he should proceed in his relationship with Stacy (Stacey Dixon). Stacy herself contradicts the standard slasher image as a cliched dumb blonde by showing maturity in how she cares for her socially inept brother, Bobby (Shawn C. Phillips). Even the requisite jerk of any slasher-to- be group, in this case Daniel (Jeremy Jones), whilst being suitably obnoxious in his general behaviour towards the others, still has a modicum of likableness. One scene where he is being chastised by the sensational Kaylee Williams as his girlfriend, Jan is particularly funny.
It also helps that the two women, Stacey Dixon and Kaylee Williams are drop-dead deliciously gorgeous - if you would pardon the pun.
Intermixed between some simply exceptional opening and closing credits the film for the most part looks crisp and easy on the eye with some lovely camerawork and cinematography. The movie sounds wonderful too with a fabulous soundtrack composed by Thomas Berdinski who has perfectly captured the essence of what a good horror soundtrack should sound like.
I'd like a copy of this please, Thomas....
The daddy of all indie horror, Halloween, showed how integral the soundtrack can be in adding another element, indeed almost another character, to the effect of a movie, yet for some reason many contemporary slasher movies have ignored this. I may well be asking Thomas for a copy of the soundtrack, I think it's that good.
A couple of negatives........
Whilst The Lashman may be very good - it's not perfect. The quality of acting of the main ensemble cast isn't quite matched by the quality of some of the supporting actors, which on occasion tends to be a little uneven. It wouldn't be fair of me to highlight any one in particular, suffice to say that one or two of the supporting performances are less than convincing.
There are a few issues I have with the unevenness with the sound quality occasionally during film with occasional 'jolts and fades' taking place, particularly during the transition between a few of the scenes. Though it does have to be said that the sound quality during the raw intensity of the violent scenes are faultless.
These minor quibbles detract only slightly from ones enjoyment of what is a remarkable debut feature from Cameron McCasland. He and the rest of the team have managed to take a well known formula, used that knowledge to their advantage and make something that feels like a throwback to the classic era of the slasher before all the sequels and trips into space made them simply a pale parody of themselves.
The Lashman is set for a world premiere Saturday April 19th 2014 at the 13th Annual Full Moon Horror Film Festival In Nashville. Members of the cast and crew will be on hand for a Q&A following the screening.
Cameron McCasland is currently booking dates on the festival circuit for the movie, and setting out for a touring roadshow. For more information on the premiere screening please visit http://www.fullmooninc.net/
You can find the Lashman on facebook at facebook.com/lashmanmovie or on twitter @LashmanFilm
All that it leaves me to say about this marvellous movie is......“Stay out of the woods! Lashman getchya!”