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Faster, higher, stronger, scarier.


So: Olympics. Sport. Horror films and sport. Sporting horror films. What have we got? Well, not many, truth be told. Perhaps there’s not enough crossover between the audiences. Horror fans are the loners, the freaks and geeks, the ones who want to do their own thing instead of being part of the team and ‘doing their best’ within a system of arbitrary rules and restrictions. Hands up everyone who was picked last in games lessons at school. Did it always come down to you and the kid in the wheelchair? And did your heart sink every time the team captain whose turn it was said 'We’ll have Ironside'? Welcome to my world.

      So: sport/horror crossovers. There’s Yuda Yamaguchi’s Battlefield Baseball, a live-action manga adaptation which mixes martial arts with violent horror and high school sports rivalry. According to Wikipedia 'The amount of actual baseball in the film is fairly light. There are many scenes involving bats and balls, however.' So that’s all right then. So far as I can tell, this 2003 feature starring Tak Sakaguchi (from Versus, which was co-written by Yamaguchi) never had a UK release but there was a 2005 US disc.

      Yamaguchi and Sakaguchi have recently reteamed for a follow-up, Deadball, which did have a UK release a couple of months ago. In this one, Sakaguchi’s character is sentenced to prison where he is forced to participate in a deadly and violent baseball contest against other young offender institutions. This one has Nazis in it too - yet another in the current resurgence (see June’s blog) - including a sadistic warder called Ilsa!

      The USA produced its own baseball horror movie in 1998, an idiotic and awful slasher called The Catcher directed by Guy Crawford and Yvette Hoffman. In this one, a little league player beats his father to death with a baseball bat in the prologue. Then, 17 years later, a series of unpleasant and violent (and baseball related) murders take place in a baseball stadium, over a single evening. Has ‘Babe’ Voorhees returned to wreak his revenge on whoever happens to be walking past at the time? Softcore star Monique Parent is in this but keeps her clothes on and the ubiquitous Joe Estevez turns up as the ghost of the kid’s father. The creative deaths include one poor guy who is killed by having a baseball bat shoved where the sun don’t shine. And that doesn’t mean Cleveland.

      Baseball as a topic encapsulates one of the problems with sport/horror crossovers, which is that the USA, your biggest market, generally plays different sports to most of the rest of the world. We have rugby, they have American football. We have Formula 1, they have NASCAR. I had an American girlfriend once and one of her room-mates asked me if people played hockey in England. I always enjoyed hockey at school and Britain had not long won a bronze at the Olympics in the sport, I informed her. "Oh,” she said, "are there many ice stadiums in England?” Resisting the temptation to explain how to form a Greek plural, I had instead to explain that what they (and the Canadians) call ‘hockey’ is actually ice hockey, which is like real hockey (which she had never heard of) but played on ice.

      Which brings us briefly to Jersey Devil, a 2011 feature directed by someone called John Casala and starring no-one you’ve ever heard of (the lead actor once played ‘Jury Member 1’ in an episode of Law and Order). The fact that the only - mark, the only - description of this film anywhere is a one-line synopsis on its IMDB listing suggests it has probably not been released yet. Still: "A pro hockey player's murder after a championship season leaves the sports world in shock” is the plot of this ‘horror/sport/thriller’ film. A quick mention too of Teen Wolf - the original 1985 movie with Michael J Fox - which features improved basketball skills among the main character’s lycanthropic qualities. And although it’s more love story than horror, there is a version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame set among high school American football players. It’s called The Halfback of Notre Dame. Seriously. Except of course the Yanks pronounce it ‘Noe-truh Daim’. A passing mention also forWolfpack, a much-remaindered 1988 film which repeatedly looks like it’s about a lycanthropic American football team. It’s not, it’s about a neo-Nazi American football team. You can’t win ‘em all.

     I’m not including wrestling in this jog through sporting horror, partly because it’s not really a sport (except the Olympic Greco-Roman kind) and partly because we already covered that extensively back in May. And as for kickboxing: although there are many low-budget horror films featuring kickboxing, I’ve never met anyone in real life who does kickboxing - except people who make low-budget films about it. And frankly we’d be here all day if I started listing kung fu films with monsters and black magic, wouldn’t we?

      Ten-pin bowling - now there’s a sport. The only sport at which I ever represented my school. Myself and three other spanners were the school’s D-team, making up the numbers at a county tournament to a round 50. We came 49th and we were ecstatic. We didn’t care that the team we beat were all disabled - that was our moment of victory. Incidentally, I’m off to watch the Paralympics in a couple of weeks and I’m wondering whether someone from that 50th-place team will be competing there, sticking it to me from the track. Or maybe the kid who always got picked before me is now a wheelchair basketball star.

      Anyway, the greatest horror/bowling crossover movie is without doubt David DeCoteau’s 1988 classic Sorority Babes in the SlimeballBowl-O-Rama. There was a vogue in the late ‘80s for tongue-twisting B-movie titles like that, although if you can find the very rare original British rental VHS tape, that’s just called The Imp. The plot doesn’t actually have that much to do with bowling, truth be told, but it is set in a bowling alley. Three pledges at a college sorority house must, as part of their initiation into the sisterhood, break into the bowling alley and steal a trophy. They are accompanied by three frat boys who were found sneaking around the sorority, trying to get the usual peak at girls in their undies.

      Long story short, the trophy gets broken and turns out to be some ancient thing containing a demonic imp which, now set free, proceeds to stalk the helpless kids around the place until they start fighting back. DeCoteau was (and indeed still is) a master at this sort of cheesy fun of course and has been pumping them out for years, although in today’s more enlightened times he no longer has to pander to those who want to see young ladies with no tops on and can instead make the sort of films he wants to see: about young men with no tops on. Sorority Babes’ main selling point was that the three actual sorority babes were played by the great triumvirate of 1980s ‘scream queens’: Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer. Although all three were a bit old for college at the time. Stevens (who famously has a degree in marine biology) was 34 when the film was shot and the other two were both 29.

      B-movie experts will tell you (or look up on Wikipedia, then tell you) that the trio’s only other appearance together was DeCoteau’sNightmare Sisters, the previous year. Real B-movie experts will spot that Wikipedia needs updating because Dave recently got the gang back together - looking older but no less hot - for a feature entitled 1313: Cougar Cult. Like all of DeCoteau’s 1313 series of films, it also features some muscular young men with an aversion to shirts. Something for everyone - although we seem to be drifting away from that whole ‘sport’ thing I was trying to write about.

     Ten-pin bowling also featured in Gutterballs, a 2008 Canadian slasher directed by Ryan Nicholson. Described by various sources as a ‘comedy’, this cheerful gagfest starts with a brutal gang-rape in an after-hours bowling alley - oh how we larfed - and then proceeds to standard slasher territory in the same venue on another night as those responsible, and anyone they know, are murdered in brutal, bowling-themed ways. I’m sure you can think up a few potential methods that the killer could employ if you spent an hour in the pub, as the film-makers seem to have done.

     Everything’s been very American so far, hasn’t it? But would you believe that there’s a horror movie about cricket? In 2008, Australian husband and wife team Doug Turner and Stacey Edmonds made I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer, a film so deliberately unappealing to the American market that it probably sold a negative number of copies in the USA. Still, who cares? Makes a lovely change from bowling, baseball and silly pretend rugby, doesn’t it? The plot is... oh come on, you can guess the plot. Cricket-loving kid bullied 20 years ago comes back after two decades to wreak revenge using assorted cricket equipment, like sharpened stumps. It’s not particularly funny and not particularly scary, as so often happens when someone sets out to make a novelty-themed slasher and thinks the novelty itself will somehow automatically generate plot and gags. Still, we must give it props for being its own subgenre. I doubt if another horror/cricket movie will be along any time soon.

      If you think cricket is an unlikely theme for a horror movie, how about snooker? In 1985 no-one knew quite what to make of Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire although the film has subsequently picked up something of a cult following, partly on account of its surprisingly good songs. Yes, it’s the world’s only sport-horror-musical, something I completely forgot about when I was writing the March blog. Sorry. At the time, snooker was huge, largely because the BBC was still running its series Pot Black which had been invented in 1969 solely because the Beeb was moving to colour broadcasting and needed a TV show where colour was important.

      The original screenplay by Trevor Preston (creator of Ace of Wands and sometime Sweeney scripter) was loosely based on a notorious match between reigning champion Ray Reardon and young challenger Jimmy White. Reardon was a Pot Black regular whose distinct widow’s peak had earned him the nickname ‘the Vampire’. In the film, Alun Armstrong plays the champ, known as ‘the Green Baize Vampire’ who actually likes to dress as a bloodsucker and might, it is strongly suggested, actually have some supernatural powers. Phil ‘Park Life’ Daniels is the kid who thinks he can take on the Green Baize Vampire and the film was directed, reportedly with a Brechtian influence, by Alan Clarke, more used to powerful social dramas like Scum.

      Most of the sports discussed so far aren’t part of the Olympics but there are a couple of genuine track-and-field-inspired slashers out there. Graduation Day was a 1981 Troma movie although it wasn’t produced by Lloyd Kaufman so was presumably a pick-up. College running star dies, possibly through being pushed too hard, then someone starts offing the other members of the track team. Directed by Herb Freed, whose other films are even more obscure than this one, Graduation Day is one of those generic 1980s slashers where the sole point of interest is spotting ‘before they were famous’ faces. In this case you’ve got a very young Linnea Quigley and legendary Wheel of Fortunehostess Vanna White.

      Finally there’s 1984’s Fatal Games, the only film directed by Michael Elliott. It’s that same old hackneyed plot again but this time based around the javelin, which at least is a good weapon and doesn’t require modification to kill someone. This was actually released in the Netherlands as Olympic Nightmare, a title which you would be unlikely to get away with today!

                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                                

 

MJ Simpson has been writing since he found out which end of a pencil makes a mark. After editing sci-fan club mags he spent three years on the staff of SFX and helped to launch Total Film before switching to freelance work for Fangoria, Shivers, Video Watchdog, DeathRay and other cult movie magazines. He has a number of scripts in development and has been working on his third book, a biography of 'Bride of Frankenstein' Elsa Lanchester, for a very long time, but he promises to have it finished soon (-ish). Mike lives in Leicester with his wife, Mrs S, and his young son, TF Simpson. By day he edits the university's website and in the evenings he edits MJSimpson.co.uk. He should probably get out more.