Color, 1987, 90m.
Directed by Skip Schoolnik
Starring Bunky Jones, Brittain Frye, Annette Sinclair, George Thomas, Donna Blatron, Scott Fults
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Beyond (DVD) (Australia R4 PAL)
The slasher film was definitely in a steep decline by the time this L.A.-shot cash-in rolled out in 1987. The major studios had thrown in the towel on stalk-and-slash fare (and, for the most part, horror movies in general) with a few indie stragglers like Cheerleader Camp, Open House, and Terror at Tenkiller offering wildly disparate attempts at keeping the bloody torch flickering. This sole feature film outing for director Skip Schoolnik (one of the editors on Halloween II and now busy on American TV shows) is of primary interest as part of that weird sub-subgenre, the shopping mall slasher, which is slightly more robust than you’d think, and for its outrageously tacky and ugly climatic reveal that commits all the offenses unfairly lobbed at the more complicated Cruising.
After the obligatory psycho prologue in which a makeup-wearing man attacks a prostitute, our story involves a brainless gaggle of eight teenagers bound for an ill-advised overnight graduation party at a big furniture store. The father of one of the kids owns the business, which makes it a prime location for some illicit boozing and making out with a little game of hide and seek included to justify the title. Of course, there’s also a maniac on the premises who decides to bump them off one by one with the added gimmick of dressing up in each victim’s clothing after each kill.
Definitely odd and memorable in its own low-key, twisted way, this one is pretty sparing with the gore but does deliver a nasty handful of moments along the way. Despite the harsh sunlight seen in outdoor scenes, it doesn’t really feel like a Los Angeles film for the most part; the arty, druggy atmosphere has an almost European feel most of the time, and the climax really goes into surreal territory with cavernous storage areas and dozens of mannequins giving the proceedings an uncanny feeling that sets this apart slightly from the usual slasher fare. None of the actors really gets to stand out much, though Bunky Jones does a credible job as the (more or less) main girl; the film also tweaks the formula a bit by not devolving into the usual final girl chase routine, so don’t bother taking bets on who will survive all the way to the end.
Despite the lack of really excessive bloodshed (though it isn't in short supply either), this film was inexplicably issued in both R-rated and unrated versions on VHS by New Star (with an unrated laserdisc from Image Entertainment around the same time). The only difference is a slightly longer take of the elevator beheading scene (the main giveaway of the involvement of Screaming Mad George in the special effects), whose film elements have apparently disappeared at some point over the years. Interestingly, the marketing made it look more like a woman-in-peril thriller than a slasher film, which was understandable given the direction of the marketplace at the time.
The 2016 Blu-ray release from Code Red marks the film’s first return to North American home video in ages, and it looks okay given the intentionally dark, rough appearance of the film itself with many scenes shot in very low lighting. Colors look appropriately blazing and borderline hypnotic at times, especially those gaudy reds, and detail levels notch up a few levels higher than that ancient video transfer we’ve been stuck with for so long. This represents the standard R-rated theatrical cut, though the (very) slightly extended unrated scene is included as a bonus from a vastly inferior VHS source. The DTS-HD MA English audio sounds rough at times with some crackling and hiss cropping up (apparently this is the only element left), but it is what it is. Extras include the trailer and new interviews with Schoolnik (20 mins.), producer Dimitri Villard (12 mins.), and actor Jeff Levine (5 mins.), with various stories covering the less than ideal script, the cut-up antics on the set, the issues with nudity (of which there's a pretty fair amount), the use of skateboards for dollies, and plenty more. Definitely an amusing ride for slasher fanatics and a fascinating snapshot of where it was all headed at the end of its most famous decade.