Throughout the years, the horror genre has provided many aspiring directors with their passport to silver screen immortality. George Romero brought the deceased back to near-life in Night of The Living Dead, Sam Raimi made the DEAD just plain-old EVIL in his censorious-defying 1981 opus, and Don Coscarelli turned them into cross-dimensional jawas in the startling Phantasm. Within the spaces between these somewhat supernatural flights of fear, there lurked another kind of horror...one which existed in the more familiar day-to-day world that surrounds each and every one of us. A horror that hid its grotesque visage under a chilling white mask, and favored razor-sharp culinary utensils over the dark forces of the other side. A horror known, with good reason, as the slasher. It's hard now to imagine a time before the slasher movie applied its relentless grip around the clammy throats of the cinema-going public, before Michael Myers stalked Jamie Lee Curtis around the fictitious Midwestern town of Haddonfield, Illinois on that cold Halloween night, and Jason Voorhees trod a similar path in the insanely successful Friday 13th series. The slasher genre has made an indelible mark on the landscape of cinema, a mark which looks unlikely to fade into obscurity any time soon.
Which brings us on to Tony Jopia's Deadtime, a British independent which lays it's cornerstone neatly between the aforementioned sub-genres. With a modest-at-best budget and a great deal of fan-boy verve, Deadtime tells the story of a has-been rock band - the appropriately named Love Meets Murder - who seek to claw back the riches of the big time by literally imprisoning themselves within a dilapidated underground studio for an entire weekend in order to create their "magnum opus", whilst a masked killer, who playfully sports the boiler suit of the previously mentioned Myers and the hessian headgear of Batman Begins' Scarecrow, systematically reduces their numbers one by one - a narrative contrivance amusingly reminiscent of William Castle's playful The House On Haunted Hill (1959), wherein a clutch of characters are similarly incarcerated alongside a murderous presence, in their own similar quest for fortune and glory. In that sense, Deadtime's tongue-in-cheek referentiality is spot-on, exceptionally playful and should please genre spotters no end (Check out the masked POV technique employed in the first slaying, and you'll know which 1978 classic these guys grew up watching!), while the more accomplished gore-hounds should find avid fulfillment in the movie's ever escalating, computer-enhanced, comic-book executions, three of which will probably make you feel far less safe around musical instruments from now on.
The movie's weakest link is its script - Deadtime is a somewhat overcrowded piece, populated by a plethora of thin-as-tissue paper characterizations; and there's barely an amiable personality in sight, which radically attenuates the viewer's sense of panic and tension, since there's nobody to especially root for. It would appear that the movie's scribe, Stephen Bishop, lives under the assumption that all rock and roll legends are two-dimensional, coke-snorting clichés, devoid of both logic and individuality. You know the type - they stray apart from one another when safety in numbers is the answer, and favor the throes of sexual delight over the seemingly less important factor of survival! The depth of character on display here is (perhaps intentionally) more akin to Channel 4's early 80s show The Comic Strip Presents than to anything remotely close to the real world of Rock and Roll...Perhaps somebody should've introduced Mr. Bishop to Richard Loncraine's barnstorming mock rock biopic Slade In Flame (1975), prior to his inking the quill.
Several of the newcomer cast fight valiantly against this knotted grain though, and almost succeed in turning the tide of what they have been given. Alex Hanly brings just the right mix of vixen-like sexuality and credible vulnerability to the roll of Katie, all the while drawing comparisons to the sultry Lisa Stansfield, whilst Carl Colman (as Jimmy) does his best with the everyman viewer-conduit character...the suit working alongside the band. Laurence Saunders is also enjoyable as Zack, the staple Jack Nicholson hot-head type, complete with demonic eyes, slicked back hair, a similar sounding name, and venom in his grin. Acute Nicholson/horror fans will probably raise a smile as he references a certain poem about little pigs. Tragically, though, the most amusing, and unique, character in the piece is instantly and ill-advisedly side-lined after the movie's opening sequence - the camp, potentially scene-stealing Rupert, played by John R. Walker. It's hard not to think that his integration into the central section of the film would've afforded the picture a far more dynamic tone, injecting the disarming humor that slasher movies so desperately need in order to truly register their death blows.
And so, on to the pace and look of the film. Whilst following the low-budget rule of a single location, Deadtime does a reasonable job of creating a claustrophobic sense of dread within its small confines, and from a lighting point of view is serviceable enough, albeit occasionally inconsistent - certain moments are beautifully back-lit, and spill their shadows across the walls with a mise en scene worthy of the greatest film noir, while others have the subtlety of a set of headlights burning the viewer's retina from ten yards away. An early music video sequence is probably the most accomplished and industry-standard moment of the entire film from a textural point of view, and proves that director Jopia has an impressive feel for the MTV aesthetic. In addition, the song featured in the sequence, "I Owe You Nothing", features - on a lyrical level, at least - a cleverly cryptic explanation for the slayings, which displays a faultless harmony between the movie's images and music. Having said that, there are a few occasions when the movie's musical score contradicts the scene at hand, resulting in a mild lack of the aforementioned convergence with its overly antagonistic synth strings and foreboding pedals...kind of like listening to John Williams' Jaws score during a marriage proposal, or Black Lace's Agadoo at your favorite Grandmother's funeral. Sometimes, silence really is golden! Mr. Jopia also tends to falter somewhat during the movie's sparse action sequences, with the film's final hand-to-hand confrontations coming across as two-dimensional, unimaginative and criminally under-edited. It would seem that our have-a-go director would benefit greatly from a heart-to-heart with James Cameron or George Miller, or - at the very least - from a screening of one of their movie marathons. This is only a minor quibble, however, as the joy of Deadtime rests in its black-humored dispatch of knife fodder and the inevitable lead up to each character's appointment with the grim reaper of Rock and Roll - something which, it has to be said, the director handles confidently; and it's in this area - if you cast aside your sense of reality, and prepare for post-pub Friday night mate-time viewing - that Deadtime should deliver a DEAD good TIME indeed.
Oh, and for the record Mr. Jopia, you're right...An American Hot Plate IS wrong!