Evil Laugh (1988)
By: Sam Bowron on January 20, 2011  | 
Program Power (USA) | Region1, NTSC | 4:3 | English DD 1.0 | 87 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Dominick Brascia
Starring: Steven Baio, Tony Griffin, Kim McKamy, Jody Gibson
Screenplay: Steven Baio, Dominick Brascia
Country: USA
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The year was 1988. The great American slasher film was well in decline and little profit could be made from its tiring formula. With the exception of the occasional Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th sequel, the majority of major studios producing stalker flicks for the masses had well and truly dwindled, if not to the point of complete discontinuation. What was once a surefire cash cow for money-hungry producers had become the target of parent groups and satirical self parodies, ushering in a new era of political conservatism in America that would latter prove disastrous, not only to slasher films but to the horror genre as a whole.

Regardless of the diminishing market place, low-budget filmmakers remained as persistent as ever and the late 80s saw the release of several dead teenager movies, most of which have since disappeared into obscurity with the occasional minor gem garnering appreciation by completists. One such film is Dominick Brascia's Evil Laugh, a movie arguably caught somewhere between the realm of sincerity and send-up, although undeniably entertaining on both levels.

The setup is pretty standard stuff: a group of twenty-something medical students travel out to a remote location on the outskirts of town to help an old friend refurbish an abandoned orphanage. Prior to its closing the derelict building was once the scene of a horrific mass murder, a coincidence then that Jerry, the man set to reopen it, has recently gone missing. Despite the mystery of their absent pal and the foster home's grim history, the young nubiles waste no time engaging in their fair share of promiscuous activities - that is until an unknown assailant starts turning them all into remedial waste.

Right from the get-go Evil Laugh's freshman film stance and amateur production values are made glaringly obvious, immediately setting the viewer's expectational mindset back a few notches. The movie opens with one of the most inept murder set pieces ever committed to celluloid; everything from the hopscotch cinematography and jarring editing to the painfully embarrassing performances of those being slaughtered simultaneously contribute to a portrait of filmmaking inadequacy that continues for the remaining 80 minute running time. Granted director Dominick Brascia and budding producer (and star) Steven Baio were novices at the time, however the unskilled work on display is often so distracting that one's ability to surrender themselves to the lunacy often becomes just as impaired as the casts' eventual butchered anatomies.

With that said, there is a certain inherent attraction toward the nonsensical events that occur within Evil Laugh that, funnily enough, make it the cheesy camp classic that it is. At no point does the film ever take itself particularly seriously nor does it pretend to be anything more than a conventional slice 'n' dice scenario rife with enough cliché's to rival anything that went before it. What does set the film apart, however, is its self-referential attitude and (largely) intentional humor with regard to the absurdity of the group's predicament.

For example, Barney (played by Jerold Pearson) is a frustratingly goofy loner who, upon learning about the building's dark secrets, feverishly attempts to warn the rest of the group about their impending fates and on several occasions is even seen reading an old issue of Fangoria magazine. There are also numerous winking nods toward the genre that involve other characters commenting on their own stupidity during potentially dangerous situations, the delivery of which is arguably strained on purpose and generates a laugh as a result. The constant reiterating on behalf of the filmmakers about their awareness toward their own movie predates the same formula by which Kevin Williamson would abide by so religiously with his screenplay for the box office smash Scream almost a decade later.

It's not often you find a little hidden curiosity like Evil Laugh, as many slasher films released in the late 80s are for the most part disposable bores. And while the quality of the filmmaking isn't exactly on par with Citizen Kane, the movie's quirky intentions are admirable and more than enough to warrant a late rainy winter's night viewing.
For a film as hard to find as Evil Laugh is one would be hard pressed to expect anything more than a basic VHS transfer, and that's exactly what we get here. Micro distribution company Program Power have done little more than provide the movie with a simple 4:3 rendering to disc, thus the picture quality is understandably sub-par for the most part. Still, it's perfectly watchable given its age and the 16mm stock with which the film was shot.
A basic mono track, referred to on the cover art as 'Hi-Fi Stereo'. Once again, the audio presentation reflects what one would be accustomed on a standard two decades old-plus VHS.
Extra Features
Kudos to the DVD producers for providing a film like Evil Laugh with an uncharacteristically comprehensive array of bonus material - evidence of their belief in the movie's cult appeal. Included in the package is a reasonably entertaining audio commentary with director/co-writer Dominick Brascia and producer/co-writer Steven Baio who primarily discuss the troubles they faced in getting the film off the ground and the inherent struggles with learning the ins-and-outs of the business on the fly. There is also an informative interview (27mins) with the pair that goes into greater detail about how they financed the film and what has become of their careers since the release of their celluloid baby. The majority of the other features, including an electronic version of the original screenplay and numerous photo galleries, can be accessed via the disc's DVD-ROM capabilities. All in all it's a nifty little assortment.
The Verdict
For the casual horror fan, Evil Laugh will likely prove too naff to be worth even a second of your time. For the more enthusiastic among us, however, it's a peculiarly entertaining low-budgeter somewhat ahead of its time and more than willing to poke a little fun at the proverbial purist in all of us.
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