Evil Laugh (1986) ****  Recommended for seekers after camp horror obscurities only, this is a self-conscious C-or-D-level production that prefigures Scream in its overt allusion to slasher conventions and should please fans of outrageous low 80s culture.  The latter kicks into play from the start with the amiably pitiful dialogue, bouncy pop music, tacky pranks, and, most notably, a silly butt-wiggling house renovation montage as a group of medical students ready an old house to be reopened as a foster home.  The house, unfortunately, has a sordid history involving a child-slaughtering maniac, and the blood starts hitting the fan as the shallow studs and babes are picked off one-by-one by a mysterious masked mutilator.

For all its cheap ridiculousness, Evil Laugh somehow manages at the same time, perhaps precisely on account of its shoddiness and the mundaneness of the setting and interiors, to evoke an unsavory sense of low-intensity menace, as if an unhealthy mindset really lurks behind the proceedings.  There’s also a theme of male sexual insecurity and mock-homosexual horseplay that gives Evil Laugh an uneasy tension.  It never flinches from showing a shirtless, sculpted man’s physique or an instance of gay ass-grabbery supposedly resulting from mistaken identity.  A wimpy, whimpering real estate agent is bullied by his frumpy wife, who rejects his half-hearted sexual advances.  And why do ostensibly macho men think nothing of wearing a dog collar, a leopard-print robe, or ugly swimming trunks with a rainbow-colored stripe splashed across the front?   These are only a few of Evil Laugh‘s many mysteries and invitations to repeat viewing.

Directed (and furnished with the titular chuckle) by Dominick Brascia, who plays the slob who gets dismembered with an axe in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, Evil Laugh makes proud reference to its horror pedigree at the helm and its pair of celebrity relatives in the more or less attractive and likable cast: Steven Baio (brother of Scott) and Tony Griffin (son of Merv).  Also in the cast is adult actress Ashlyn Gere, here credited under her real name, and “Hollywood Super Madam” Babydol Gibson in a believable bimbo role.  Johnny Venocur, whose name strikes awe into the heart of anyone who has seen Savage Streets, has a brief but memorable part as a bumbling aspirant to law enforcement, and also stands in as the masked murderer in more than one scene (though the culprit, when revealed, is actually someone else).  Evil Laugh is a little film that, flaws notwithstanding, ultimately succeeds in winning over its audience by virtue of the goofy commitment of its cast and the sense of contagious fun it conveys.

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