This is the third film from director Ruggero Deodato to be featured in the Italian Horrorshow, after the unforgettable pair of Cannibal Holocaust and Jungle Holocaust. Both of those films were impressive in their storytelling and shocking visuals. Deodato must have had enough of cannibals after that, and instead turned his talents to an American-style slasher/cabin in the woods flick.
Written by many people, including Italian cinema stalwarts Sheila Goldberg and Dardano Sacchetti, Body Count tells the story of two groups of youths that are brought together by chance, to be chased around a derelict campground by a masked killer. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with horror flicks will have seen this plot, or something damned close, once or twice. This being the fifteenth year of the Horrorshow, on top of a lifetime of watching horror flicks, I figured there would be nothing all that special about this flick.
There isn’t. But, as stated many times in many different ways on Missile Test, originality is not a prerequisite for making a good movie. I mean, a silent movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2011. Surely, a good slasher flick was still possible in 1986.
The film opens with an introductory double murder, as these things sometimes do. The killings were witnessed by young Ben Ritchie (Fabio Vox), and he grows into adulthood convinced that a native shaman terrorizes the woods around his home. Cut to the present day, and Ben is all grown up (now played by Nicola Farron), headed home on leave from the Marine Corps. He hitches a ride with some youths in an RV, and suggests they go to his parents’ to stay, as they own a campground.
Meanwhile, another truck full of youths finds their way to the campground, and our ensemble is almost complete. What’s left are Ben’s parents, Robert and Julia (David Hess and Mimsy Farmer); and the county sheriff, Charlie (Charles Napier).
The camp is not a welcoming place. Robert seems to have lost a bit of his sanity. He shut down the camp business, and peppered the property with lethal booby traps, supposedly to capture or kill the mysterious shaman that wreaked havoc oh so many years before. He’s also hoping to catch a stray, in the form of Sheriff Charlie, who has been sneaking onto the property for years to carry on an affair with Julia. Charlie really does seem to love Julia, begging her to leave Robert every time they are together.
That drama might seem out of place in a film about a slasher who preys on the young, but it’s well-done, and the only character development we get in this flick, so be it.
Mere minutes after the main cast is gathered together at the campground, the killing starts. The bad guy uses gravity and sharp objects as his main weapons. Meanwhile, everyone is blissfully unaware, for days, that anything is amiss. I’m not exaggerating. For example, of the three characters who arrived in the truck — Scott, Sharon, and Dave (Sven Kruger, Elena Pompei, and Bruce Penhall) — only Dave is left after a day or so and he never seems concerned that his friends are missing. He’s still laughing it up with everyone still alive at the camp, sure that his friends are just out on a hike or something, and not stuffed into a cubby hole in an abandoned shack.
It isn’t until the final act when characters begin to realize the danger they are in. And then Deodato throws some curveballs, with the tension in the love triangle blowing up. This b-plot is part tragedy, part comedy of errors, and makes the film more sophisticated than many other slashers. It’s rare to see the b-plot not only contribute so well to a film, but rack up its own body count.
Despite cramming a lot into this movie, Body Count never feels rushed, nor does it feel like there were missed opportunities. The clueless attitudes of the youths until the final act is silly, but not a deal breaker.
As with many slashers, because the plot is so thin, much of the heavy lifting was done by the cast. They weren’t the best, but still up to the challenge of being bloody fodder for an audience’s ghoulish cravings. The best acting came from the older, established professionals in the cast. What fell flat on occasion were attempts at humor, or lazy stereotyping. Sidney (Andrew J. Lederer) takes the prize as the most annoying character, but then Lederer goes all out for one scene in particular, and all is forgiven.
Deeper meaning isn’t anywhere to be found in Body Count. The reveal is expected, and it makes movie sense, but the aim of this film appears to be nothing more than making a cheap slasher flick, and pocketing some cash. It follows well-established slasher tropes, only straying for the love triangle with the old folks. It’s decent, but also anonymous. There are plenty of other slasher flicks out there that stand out, whether it be by excessive amounts of blood and/or nudity, or because of an outrageous killer and the story behind them. Body Count has little of that. What it did have was a competent filmmaker at the helm. It’s a good movie for deep dives, like watching a month’s worth of Italian horror flicks, for example.