Color, 1986, 91 mins. 24 sec.
Directed by Dominick Brascia
Starring Ashlyn Gere, Steven Baio, Johnny Venokur, Karyn O'Bryan, Tony Griffin, Jody Gibson, Jerold Pearson, Myles O'Brien
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Lucky 13 (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), WMM (DVD) (Germany R0 PAL)
The slasher boom may have been subsiding at record speed after 1985 as far as major studios were concerned, but indie filmmakers clearly didn't get the memo since plenty of eccentric regional curios were still going straight to VHS well into the end of the decade. One of the goofiest of these was Evil Laugh, a Southern California production with a lot of oddball charm to make up for the fact that it's never even remotely scary. The concept is your basic "kids alone in a house get killed over the weekend" setup, but the execution is anything but normal including a prank sex scene you really have to see to believe. Produced, co-written by, and starring Steven Baio (brother of Scott), it's also packed with ridiculous pop music and even boasts an over-the-top, impractical microwave kill later duplicated in the Last House on the Left remake.
An abandoned two-story house in the hills is chosen by a realtor to accommodate a group of med students who have volunteered to spend a few days refurbishing the place for a potential sale. "Miles away from anyone," it clearly has some downsides when a chortling killer strikes and rips out our poor realtor's heart before the main titles even start. Enter the gang of jocks, slobs, and snobs, including future adult film star Ashlyn Gere (here during her Creepazoids period as "Kim McKamy") and Baio, who get to shake their booties while they clean, make comments about previous horror movies, and try to hook up any time they can slip away for a few minutes. Eventually they find out that the building was once a home for foster children where an unspeakable tragedy occurred, one that seems to be destined to repeat itself with a killer lurking in their midst.
Clearly not intended to be taken seriously, Evil Laugh boasts a few splashes of gore here and there (most added by the producers to make the film easier to market) but mostly has silly fun with its premise right down to the amusing twist coda riffing on how slasher movies almost always ended by that time (along with a hit tip to The Funhouse). The cast all prove to be good sports and are clearly having fun, while director Dominick Brascia (who also helmed Hard Rock Nightmare and appeared in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, which gets a Fangoria-related nod here) delivers equally opportunity exposure for the women and men in the cast. (Ironically, Gere is the only one who gets a body double.)
Barely run on any projectors in the U.S., Evil Laugh turned up on VHS with little fanfare in 1988 from Celebrity Home Entertainment, who normally handled more wholesome cartoon family fare as well as the infamous Time of the Apes. (Where's that Blu-ray?) Eventually an old master was recycled for a DVD from Lucky 13, but the 2023 Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray is the one to beat thanks to a new 2K restoration from "extremely rare" 16mm film elements. It looks quite good given the film's modest history, retaining the original film grain and looking much more detailed than before. As an opening disclaimer notes, some of the brief gore bits were added to the film later and no longer exist on anything but SD video, so that's what you get for a few seconds here and there. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 English mono track is also solid and comes with English SDH subtitles. A new audio commentary by the slasher-savvy quartet from The Hysteria Continues offers a balance between good-humored appreciation and factual information including the nods to other films, the backgrounds of many of the participants, the state of the subgenre at the time, and the delights of musical improv housecleaning. The feature-length "The Joy of Laughter: Making Evil Laugh" (77m32s) brings together Baio, actors Jerold Pearson, Karyn O'Bryan and Tom Shell, director of photography/second unit director Steef Sealy, first assistant director Eric Brown, associate producers Joe Barnard and James Daurio, make-up effects artist David Cohen and assistant to the producer/casting assistant/actor Johnny Venokur for an in-depth account of the making of the film including the very low budget, the casting process, the bond between the two main Italian-American participants, the low-key release, the good rapport with the director, and the execution of the kill scenes. Also included is a hefty gallery of behind-the-scenes photos showing some very cheerful actors during the more memorable sequences.
Reviewed on February 25, 2023.