During the heyday of slashers in the early 1980’s, countries around the world were eager to cash in on the boom. International production companies did everything within their power (and budget) to disguise their film’s country of origin, sometimes actually doing the extra paperwork, hopping on a plane, and shooting on location in the good old US-of-A.
Though Italy’s gialli had influenced the slasher, Italians weren’t immune to the lure the potential boxoffice its American cousin offered, and they jumped on the bandwagon with gusto. Taking advantage of the natural and dramatic scenery found in Colorado, Italian filmmaker Ruggero Deodato took the hop-on-the-plane option, and shot his 1987 slasher Body Count (aka Camping del terrore) in the U.S.
Deodato had made a name for himself in Italy with poliziotti (police thrillers like his Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man), cannibal gore epics (Cannibal Holocaust), and action films (Cut and Run). With this typically genre-diverse CV, it’s no wonder that Deodato decided to try his hand at an American-style slasher, and so Body Count was born.
Its cast is a cult movie fan’s dream; Mimsy (The Perfume of the Lady in Black, Autopsy) Farmer, David (Last House on the Left) Hess, Ivan (All the Colors of the Dark, Spasmo) Rassimov, Charles (Supervixens, The Silence of the Lambs) Napier, and John (Tenebrae, Shock, Caligula) Steiner lead a handful of lesser-known Italian and American twenty-somethings. Hess, Rassimov, Steiner and Farmer had all worked with Deodato before; Hess in The House on the Edge of the Park, Rassimov in Jungle Holocaust and The Raiders of Atlantis, Steiner in Wave of Lust, Cut and Run, and The Lone Runner, and Farmer in The Concorde Affair. Here, they’re more or less underused support for the main action that goes something like this:
Hess and Farmer’s son, who witnessed a double murder when he was a child, returns home after a stint in the military. En route he gets a lift from an RV full of obnoxious party-hungry campers and their accompanying SUV full of outdoorsy types whom he invites to stay at Mom and Dad’s deserted campsite (also the site of the aforementioned murders). Mom and Dad aren’t too thrilled with the arrival of the strangers, perhaps because they’ve got enough problems to deal with; Mom is having an affair with a local cop (Napier), and Dad is obsessively hunting for the Shaman that he blames for the murders. Suddenly, someone starts slashing through the assembled campers. Could it be someone seeking revenge? The killer continuing the original killing spree? Or is it the Shaman, called into action because the camp is built on a Native American burial ground (seriously)?
Chances are that, even if you haven’t seen Body Count, you may still be familiar with its iconic poster image. It’s been used frequently on websites, book covers and in other slasher-related media such as J.A. Kerswell’s essential resource book Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Movie Uncut. This image and some negative reviews are really all I had to go by until I finally saw this MIA-on-DVD slasher. And you know what? I was entertained for its full 90-minute running time.
As a fan of slasher movies, I enjoyed its mostly annoying stock characters, its stalk-and-kill scenes, the killer’s creepy mask, its 80’s atmosphere, its attempts to play by Slasher conventions. As a fan of Euro-cult flicks, I enjoyed its cast of familiar and well-loved faces, it sometimes wonky re-recorded dialogue, its score by Dario Argento favourite Claudio Simonetti that really works about 50% of the time, its red herrings that go nowhere along with subplots that just disappear, and most of all, its Italian twist on the Slasher genre. What’s not to love about a slasher movie that has its characters/victims-to-be clean up an out of use campground shower for the sole purpose of luring them there later to get naked and then dead, one by one? Pure slasher gold.
My only beef with Body Count is that, coming this late in the game, its effects are not nearly as ghastly as they should be. Seven years earlier, Friday the 13th raised the stakes in the effects department as soon as poor Annie’s throat received the ear-to-ear treatment thanks to Tom Savini. Take a look at the faux American Slasher Stage Fright (aka Deliria) to see what Deodato’s fellow countryman Michele Soavi was up to at the same time (both flicks were released in1987).
While Body Count is an admittedly minor entry in the Slasher sub-genre, it’s a diverting way to spend your horror movie minutes, depending of course, on how long you can stand the annoying campers. Rather than telling yourself “It’s only a movie. Only a movie”, my advice is to keep repeating, “It’s only a matter of minutes before Loudmouth A gets the axe. Only a matter of minutes.” Now that you’re prepared, all those in favour of heading to Mom & Dad’s deserted campground, the line forms behind me.