The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: ‘Don’t Panic’ (1988)

Posted by Damon Swindall - July 25th 2012 @ 2:34 pm

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!

VHS cover of Don't Panic

And we continue with “Don’t” month in July for Horror Movie Night. This week’s film is Mexican, full of white (or whiteish) people, some nods to earlier slashers like A Nightmare on Elm Street, and overflowing with the ridiculous. Basically a match made in heaven for HMN viewers. Mexican director Rubén Galindo, Jr., who previously made the living dead flick Zombie Apocalypse, is the visionary behind Don’t Panic. What his actual vision was still remains up for interpretation.

On Michael’s (Jon Michael Bischof) seventeenth birthday he is given the gift of a Ouija Board by his best friend Tony. They gather around candlelight and contact a spirit that seems to do little of anything…just like anytime anyone has ever used a Ouija Board in the past. Soon after it seems that something was really unleashed. Michael begins to have premonitions of killings where he is astrally projected into the body of the killer, leaving him blind in his own surroundings and seeing only death. Could he be doing this, or is there something else possessing him? And wouldn’t you know it, all this occurs right as he finds a girl he really likes. Who would do this to him?

In your best Church Lady voice, say it with me – could it be, Satan?

Whenever I see the a Ouija Board as the source of possession in a film, I wonder if there is some sort of crazy Christian agenda at work. You know, tools of the devil and all. I remember from my stints of Sunday School and youth groups as a child how terrified people were over such items. That and Dungeons and Dragons – but that’s something for an entirely different post. I know it has been an instrumental prop in many a horror film, The Exorcist for example, but it’s always been a bit ridiculous to me. Pretty sure I rolled my eyes when they brought it out within the first few minutes of the film. Then, of course, I remembered this was going to be a late 80s slasher and all was forgiven. As if anything in these films makes complete sense or can be taken too seriously.

Once I settled down into watching the film I was quite happy with what I saw. Much like its American brethren, it’s nice to see that Mexican slashers hit all the same highs, lows, and laughs.

"Do you believe in Satan?!"

With the highs we get to see some interesting kills carried out as our hero freaks out in what he thinks is a dream state, of course everyone else just thinks he’s crazy. While he’s trying to sleep, he’s awakened with visions of his friends and schoolmates getting stabbed to death in their bedrooms. Once he even finds this vision in a hospital where he rides to on his bike in his pajamas (more on that awesome topic later!) only to fail and see another of his friends bite the dust. Between the stabbings and throat slicing things are kept interesting by the lovely atmospheric score by Pedro Plascencia. It’s everything you want out of 80s horror and I wish there was an album released somewhere, but sadly my limited searching has turned up nothing.

The lows of the film comes from some drawn out scenes of romance between Michael and his new lady. It all just feels super forced and unnecessary to have so much of it. Just over ten minutes in there is a rather lengthy first date montage that sees the couple traipsing all over the city. Sure, it’s funny, as is their lovemaking scene, but is it really needed?

I’m going to go ahead and answer that with a “kinda”.

If it wasn’t for the horrible love story we wouldn’t have one of the funniest running plot lines in the film. When Michael goes to Tony to ask his advice on what to do with this girl he tells a tale about “the magic rose”. If he gives her such a thing, Tony cliams, as long as love exists between them it will never wither. Just what a girl wants after one pseudo-date with a guy, everlasting love. Well, maybe a high school girl. This is brought up a few more times in the film and it caused quite a bit of laughter each time. I really hoped that after it’s mentioned again at the end of the film that the credit song would be Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose”. Of course it wasn’t (partly because it hadn’t been written yet) but it would have been fucking awesome!

This rose nonsense isn’t even close to the best thing about the film. I wondered why Brian labeled this as Pajama Night on the list of this year’s films, but it’s hard to miss. Our hero – remember, he’s seventeen years old – wears dinosaur PJ’s to bed! I’m not talking about just pajama pants with a dino print, or a matching button up nightshirt to go along with it, but the style of sleepwear we all had as kids and stopped wearing before puberty hit. The only thing that would’ve made it better is if they had feet and it was a one-piece, preferably with a backdoor. Between his after dark wardrobe and his blonde perm you it’s like Galindo was daring you to take this kid seriously.

Dino PJ's!

It appears this classic film is currently unavailable on DVD in the States. Not sure how easy it will be to find, though it was released on a double disc with Demon Rat by BCI/Eclipse a few years back. It’s really worth a watch if a copy ever falls into your lap. Fun foreign slasher with more hot dino PJ action than you could ever imagine.

Until next week – heed this film’s warning and Don’t Panic, because it’s a good one.

Body Count: 7
First Death: 18:22
Best Death: Sword through the Jaw
Number of “Magic Rose” Moments: 3
Length of First Date Montage: 2:17

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-7/18/12: Don’t Go In the House (1980)
-7/25/12: Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) Christmas in July!
-8/1/12: Dr. Giggles (1992)
-8/8/12: Berserker: The Nordic Curse (1987)


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