Slice and Dunce: ‘Eyes of the Chameleon’ & ‘Killer Yacht Party’

Though its origins can be traced back to the exploitation era – including everything from Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast to Michael Findlay’s Flesh trilogy – and the seminal ’70s horror title (Black Christmas, Halloween), the slasher film really came into its own in the 1980s. With Friday the 13th proving a simple “killer on the loose” conceit could mean big bucks at the box office, every studio decided to sell splatter. From then on, it was a cavalcade of marketable slice and dice. Everyone, from deranged gardeners to vengeful mothers, became the new movie monster, lethal implement (or implements) in hand and a bevy of debauched underage victims at the ready. All that was needed was a healthy dose of MPAA disorienting blood and a high enough body count, and the audience arrived in droves.

Of course, for many in the nu-terror geek club fanbase, this is all they have ever known – scary movie wise. From direct to video dreck to wise revisions ala Scream, the current crop of fright fans – and outsider filmmakers – don’t dabble in ghosts or the supernatural. They leave the paranormal for TV investigators and Satan for their legendary rock gods. Instead, the contemporary fear monger believes the slasher film is still a viable format, and constantly forces it upon an already weary viewership. This is particularly true of two new titles from Troma – Killer Yacht Party and Eyes of the Chameleon. The former makes no bones about being nothing more than a talking, tepid exercise in murder by numbers. The latter tries to be a bit more esoteric, but comes up short as well. And both highlight how limited the purview is for those still delivering the post-millennial shivers.

Killer Yacht Party (dir. Piotr Uzarowicz)

Iowa farm girl Lacy moves to Los Angeles to try her hand at being a songwriter. Sharing an apartment with slutbag roomie Lacy, she spends a lot of time going to clubs and staring at men. When both end up invited to a party aboard a yacht, the latter can’t say “No.” Sadly, it turns out that the boat was the scene, several years back, of a grisly murder and now legend has it that a ghost roams the galley ways, murdering anyone who dares enter its domain. It promises to be a splattery soiree.

Originally known as Dead in the Water, this flaccid fright flick should have been renamed Dead in the Theater. This is one incredibly chatty creepshow, the characters incapable of having a single interaction without reams and reams of pointless dialogue filling up the spaces. Now, if these conversations were meant as foreshadowing or a means of accentuating the dread, that would be fine. But writers April Wright and Alex Silver don’t understand the difference between show and tell. Instead of letting director Piotr Uzarowicz infer and suggest things with his camera, the screenplay consistently spills the beans. This means there is little tension, even less suspense, and a desire to get things over with, not settle in and see who the killer really turns out to be.

That’s not to say that Uzarowiz is acquitted for his pale participation. Having an entire boat to work with, you’d think this director could come up with some inventive or intriguing set-ups. Instead, we get people standing by a bar, people standing by the water’s edge, people standing near hallway doors, and people standing in stairwells. There’s no sense of scope, no differentiation between the nautical backdrop and a collection of mock-ups on a modest soundstage. With irritating characters that never shut up, no real rooting interest, a lame premise (even lamer payoff), and mediocre kills that prove that F/X had a smaller budget than craft services, Killer Yacht Party is bad. Instead of sailing away on its scares, it sinks.

Eyes of the Chameleon (dir. Ron Aktins)

Sara is a cynical young woman who hates her dead end life as a lower end Las Vegas bartender. She drinks. She does drugs. She sleeps around and shows her disdain for everything on her Goth gal persona. Oddly enough, a run in with the occult and the sudden deaths of those around her turn our heroine from depressed to debauched. As she explores her heightened wanton ways, more and more of her pals meet grisly, gruesome deaths…with Sara as the prime suspect.

You have to say this for Eyes of the Chameleon – what it lacks in production value, it sure makes up for in directorial flair. Ron Aktins, a favorite among homemade horror fans, uses style and a splash of gore to try and salvage what is basically a combination of hedonism and hackwork. There’s an attempted level of psychological complexity here based around the title, our lead, and a horrific pre-credits sequence, but Profondo Rosso this isn’t. Instead, what Aktins tries to accomplish with star Ann Teal’s script (yes, this is one of those cases where the actress scripts herself…sigh) is a near miracle. He’s not just making a silk purse out of a struggling, sloppy mess. He’s trying to add pizzazz and power to what is basically a mangled Marilyn Manson wet dream.

Unless you last name is Hitchcock, Cronenberg, Argento, or DePalma, you’re not going to pull off a small scale thriller. It just doesn’t work. Even the addition of ’80s level slice and dice doesn’t help since the mandates of the genre have the viewer scouring the fringes for indications of the killer’s ID. The whole “is she or isn’t she” angle also fails to fully resonate, since the majority of the movie is taken up with telling us it isn’t and the opening casts a preemptive pall over the rest of the movie. Because of the strength of said scene, we keep wondering why it is important. Granted, Atkins does manage to maneuver around the various no budget elements he has to work with and the gore, while plentiful, is not the most potent or professional. In the always complicated realm of featured vehicles, Eyes of the Chameleon doesn’t come up short. It basically fails to come up with much of anything.

PopMatters is moving to a new hosting company to resolve our tech issues. Thanks for your patience.
PopMatters is moving to a new hosting company to resolve our tech issues. Thanks for your patience.