Ten years ago, a couple were in a railway carriage travelling through Germany when things started growing amorous, or they did until the train entered a tunnel and a transvestite serial killer slaughtered them with a sickle. The family of little Jeanette heard about this on the radio, but thought they were safe enough in their country cottage, laughing and joking as it neared the girl's bedtime, unaware they were being watched by a lurking psychopath. Sure enough, he got in through an unlocked window and when Jeanette heard some commotion, she ran to her parents' bedroom and was witness to them being murdered - then the killer ran after her, she tried to open the front door and escape, but he caught up, sickle in hand, and...
From that arresting prologue, we are privy to the now-grown Jeanette's psychiatric sessions as she has spent the intervening years in a mental hospital, attempting to get over her trauma with professional help. Now it would seem she (played by Valerie Neihaus) is ready to re-enter the big, bad world, and her doctor (Erich Schleyer) endorses this with a few misgivings he is not ready to share with the woman herself, hoping for the best. Naturally, if you’ve ever seen, or even heard about, a movie that kicks off the way this one does, you can tell well in advance it's simply a matter of time before the violence will begin again, and sure enough there are strong hints that killer in the floral pattern summer dress is stalking her.
Flashback, or Flashback - Mörderische Ferien to give this its German title (meaning Murderous Holidays), was one of those slashers that broke like a wave over turn of the millennium cinema after Scream was the huge success, not only in north America but all over the globe. Some of these imitators were more inventive than others, and not all were from the United States: Belgium had Haute Tension, Britain had Tormented, and so on, but this was the main German offering (a few would put Anatomie in that bracket too, but this was more the real deal). Created mostly by the talent from nation’s television shows making a rare excursion to the big screen, it was not exactly an advancement for popular Germanic cinema in the same way Wes Craven's movie had been for America.
But then, did it really need to be? If anything, it made crafting a fairly basic slasher look easy, deceptively so considering not many at the time or since had the same basic sense of flair that director Michael Karen and his cast worked up for what was a pretty silly experience. It had a more interesting background than many of its peers, having been drawn from a script by Hammer stalwart Jimmy Sangster and polished up by Natalie Scharf for a contemporary European audience, which could be why the structure was stronger than its rivals, starting with a bang and then winding down to establish the premise, then giving us the measure of our obvious final girl Jeanette who has turned out to be a polite but nervous young lady. She gets a job as a French tutor for a group of students at a rural house, and then starts to worry.
Did she really see the man in the dress wielding that sickle standing in the middle of the road that night, or is her fraught with unease mind playing tricks? The answer to that was to treat the time honoured final girl in a manner that came across as a natural progression for a genre that even with the revitalisation was getting a little tired already, and though it was not unique to this, the trappings were so traditional it was possible it would play better for the more conservative fan who didn't like any of the nuttiness of Haute Tension and its approach to the twist. Flashback had a sense of humour in addition, which was quite funny if you had a strong tolerance for pitch black comedy that often featured gory special effects, with running jokes including appalling treatment of pets and a corpse that was apparently never found, and is still listening to his favourite song on a loop on his car stereo. Plus it had the best death by swimming pool scene since The Legacy. Overall, it wasn't going to reinvent the wheel, but if you appreciated a half-decent slasher, this fit the bill. Music by Siggi Mueller.