Day 5- 31 Days of Halloween- Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Day 5- 31 Days of Halloween- Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Small town vigilantes wrongly accuse a mentally challenged man of attacking and killing a little girl. It turns out he didn’t attack her but saved her from a neighbour’s vicious dog. The vigilantes find this out just after killing the innocent man who is disguised as a scarecrow. Oops. When the local courts offer no justice, the vigilantes start getting bumped off one by one.

This is actually a TV movie and is a cracker. It built up a cult following amongst horror fans and is one of the best horror TV movies ever made.

The film feels authentic and depicts the bloodthirsty lynchmob really well. We see during the course of the film that these people are the true simpletons of the piece. We also see that a group of people who are desperate for violence and maybe more don’t need any justification for it. Its also interesting that the members of the lynch mob are all depicted as being fine upstanding members of the community (the postman, mechanic, farmer etc) whilst being completely hellbent on inflicting their lawless brand of ‘justice’ on someone whos just a bit different.

This film has a great cast that is like a whos who for horror fans. As well as Larry Drake from Tales From The Crypt, Charles Durning who amongst other things was in When a Stranger Calls, John Houseman from the original Hills Have Eyes and Ed Call who played Glen’s (Johnny Depp) father in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The tension in certain scenes is built up to nailbiting levels and the direction and screenplay are top notch. This is the perfect example of a TV movie that was so great that it transcended its medium and was given a VHS and DVD release. And deservedly so. This is brilliant.

dark-night-2

4 out of 5.

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- The Nanny (1965)

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- The Nanny (1965)

_poster7_the_nanny_blu-ray_poster_

What a cracking film to start my 31 Days of Halloween with.

This is a British film which stars Bette Davis as a nanny for a family living in London in which a young boy has been sent away for supposedly killing his sister. The boy is due to be released after two years and return to his family home and under Ms Davis’ supervision.

The boy vehemently protests his innocence and insists that instead it was the nanny who committed the terrible deed. Is he right? Or is the nanny indeed guilty?

_poster2_the_nanny_blu-ray_poster_

Theres already the almost unspeakable taboo of a child killing another child within this film which gives the film a grittiness right from the get go. The household in question is steeped in gothic tension even though it is in fact light and airy. No Baby Jane mansion here.

Theres also the stifling formality of English life at this time. There are so many manners and formalities at play that are overwhelmingly suffocating and claustrophobic.

Within the film there is also a delicious generation gap which underlines this and presents a tangible ‘Old vs new’ scenario. The boy in question, Joey forges a friendship with a 14 year old girl who lives in the same building. She dresses like a hip 60s girl, all white lipstick and black eyeliner. When we see within her bedroom Joey gazes up at a Beatles mobile she has hanging from the ceiling and at one point we see her reclining on her bed reading a copy of the girls magazine Jackie which has a pin up of Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones on its back cover.

_poster6_the_nanny_blu-ray_poster_

Beautifully acted (especially Ms Davis of course, whose character has a pair of the ugliest eyebrows ever captured on film) and elegantly directed, this is one of Hammer’s finest films.

Of course this would only have been made with Ms Davis if Hollywood wasn’t casting the very best stars of yesteryear anymore. Every cloud has a silver lining. What was Hollywood’s loss was very much Hammer’s gain.

My Life With Jason Voorhees

My Life With Jason Voorhees

I feel like I’ve grown up with the Friday the 13th movies. Jason and his lovingly psychotic mother feel like friends to me. Through the many twists and turns of life they have remained a constant. Even if that constant is stalk, kill, repeat. Yet it would seem that the British board of Film Classification (BBFC) didn’t share my love of this misunderstood film hero. Watching the films when they were first released on video in Britain was a frustrating experience.

My first foray into the series was when I watched Part 3 which had just been released on video. I saw a poster for the film in the window of my local corner shop/off licence which would rent out any film to any person of any age (because of this I had a great relationship with them). Originally shot in 3D I watched it on video in 2D and cut by the BBFC but its brilliance still shone through. Jason acquired his trademark hockey mask and was dispatching of irritating teens in ingenious and brilliant ways. All was right with the world. I was 12 years old and already obsessed with Jason.

e_cover

A little later Part 4: The Final Chapter was released in which Jason meets his maker and is killed off for good (yeah right!). I rented this at a video store near my friends house so that we could watch it together. We both loved it. The film loses the somewhat camp tone of Part 3 and gets down to the serious business of murders committed in the nastiest ways possible. However there was the issue of walking home in the dark after watching the film. I hadn’t figured on how scary the film would be. One whiff of a hockey mask wearing psycho and I’d actually become catatonic. My friends Dad gallantly offered to walk me home. Not cool- but I’m still alive.

Again as with the previous film, this entry was cut by the BBFC. As this film was more serious in tone and because make-up legend Tom Savini was back onboard the kills really were something to behold. Even with the more graphic killings being trimmed by the censors or cut out altogether (no machete slide!) the film was still very nasty indeed. Which is how a horror movie should be.

_57

What I didn’t realise at the time was that the release of Parts 3 and 4 were actually delayed by their video company CIC. They were due to be unleashed earlier but by then the video Nasties furore had taken hold. CIC Video must have foreseen that if Mary Whitehouse had been introduced to Jason in his hockey mask at this time there would be a good chance that she would have made him and the movies that he appeared in the main focus of her puritanical destruction of other people’s fun. Jason would have been represented as Public Enemy Number 1. Jason is so iconic and terrifying in his hockey mask that Old Maid Whitehouse would have thought all of her Christmases had come at once. Great publicity but not so great if the films were banned. CIC even went so far as to issue a statement saying that in the current climate they would wait to release further Friday the 13th films. Very wise.

friday-the-13th-part-3-friday-the-13th-22142062-550-395
Almost the poster boy for the Video Nasties furore. Instead Herr Whitehouse aimed her sights on The Evil Dead and Driller Killer.

Whilst in 1987 things were seeming to settle down regarding horror videos a new version of the original film was released by Warners. Longer gore scenes and completely uncut, the previous version had been the cut US version which was released as a sell through video in 1983. The uncut version that was released on rental VHS the year before had been seized by the police and so Warners used the cut US version instead. This may also explain CIC’s decision to delay the release of the film’s sequels until Mrs Whitehouse and her cronies found something else to try and ban. This was possibly the only good reason for Warners having distribution rights of the original film in CIC’s eyes.

ft13th1
The cut precert video
b75753a4300927a757c60b8155e75bf3
The uncut 1987 release

I then went and sought out the first two films. I devoured both Parts 1 and 2 and loved them unreservedly. The first was like some kind of whodunnit- like an American giallo film that was bloodfilled and only revealed the killer at the end. And boy, what a reveal! Betsy Palmer goes the extra five miles in her role as Pamela Voorhees and is one of the best performances in horror history. The second film introduced Jason to the world- sack over his head with only one eyehole as a tip of the hat to The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Friday Part 2 was an amazing film and nasty as hell. Machete to the face anyone?! I also loved the equally nasty and ominous video artwork- an electric blue outline of an anonymous malevalent figure carrying an axe against a black background.

friday-the-13th-part-2-pre-cert

CIC Video then got down to the task in hand- releasing the new Friday the 13th installments uninterrupted. Watching the CIC ident before watching the movies became a forewarning that we were in for a treat.

When I first heard that the next film would be called A New Beginning I imagined a TV movie style affair with family members of past victims coming together, sitting on chairs in a circle and consoling each other whilst sharing memories, hands held, about their dead loved ones. I still think my idea for the movie is better than the actual end product.  It was a departure not just because the killer wasn’t Jason but the feel of the film is different from that of the first four. It felt more stylised and slick- a Friday the 13th that was trying to capture the attention of the MTV demographic. Gone was the innocence of the first four that appealed to the Fangoria reading audience.You got the impression that the series was now trying to appeal to the wider teenage moviegoers who would be happier going to see the latest John Hughes fare.

tumblr_o7w5wvhipu1sg4rj8o1_1280

Years later I’ve warmed to this film- kinda. Just as many Halloween fans hated Halloween 3: Season of the Witch there are also many who love this. Being a fan of the runt of a franchise’s litter makes it’s fans who actually like it more passionate and extol its virtues even louder. Apprently this is Quentin Tarantino’s favourite entry. Which says so much…

I stole a standee for this film from my local video store at the time. Just sayin’. Whilst this has been lost in the sands of time there are pictures on the internet still of this valuable artefact.

Part 6 rightfully saw the resurrection of Jason with a great homage to Frankenstein and an even better homage to James Bond in it’s title sequence. The film is still as gruesome as ever but the humour, early examples of metacinema and title song by Alice Cooper (Paramount must have been feeling generous) make this an entry that makes changes to what came before but doesn’t stray far enough away to alienate fans like they had with Part 5. Whilst this film is a fan favourite this film will never be one of my favourites in the series.

friday-the-13th-part-vi-jason-lives-13620l

Part 7 in my opinion is so much better than the just OK Part 6. Its basically Carrie (named Tina in the movie) vs Jason- and it works really well. Kane Hodder really did feel like the ultimate Jason as he brought a physicality to Jason that the previous actors hadn’t really mastered. He also had a great way of making the kills look as brutal as possible but whilst being delivered with a flourish. Its within this film that bizarrely enough Jason uses a lot of gardening impliments to kill his victims. A nice touch- objects intended to make the lives of the normal folk being used to kill them instead.

I had high hopes for Part 8 which was called Jason Takes Manhattan. I used to get a glossy film magazine imported from America at this time called Premiere and they carried a feature on the filming of the movie. My appetite was well and truly whetted.

s-l1600

However when I came to see the film I was left thinking ‘What the fuck was that?!’ Only the last third of the film was based in New York (*cough* CANADA! *cough*) whilst the rest of the film takes place on a boat. And the worst ending of the whole franchise- Jason is melted in toxic waste to become a boy again. And not even the hydrocephalic child Jason who is seen in the first film. Don’t you just hate it when a director makes a franchise entry but doesn’t even bother watching the original film or any of the films in the series?! My opinion of this film was changed at a screening I attended about 20 years after first seeing the film. But as they say, more about that later…

ari-lehman-400x400
Jason- Part 1
jason-8
Jason at the end of part 8. ‘I’m making a franchise entry but haven’t seen the other films!!!’ Jackass.

Next followed the terrible Jason Goes To Hell : The Final Friday. After an inspired first ten minutes this film falls flat on its face. Jason’s evil soul inhabits different characters in the film so that they commit murders for him. Its Part 5 all over again but with different people acting as a surrogate Jason and a supernatural element thrown in for good measure. Not what I wanted from a Friday the 13th movie.  The rights for the franchise had just been bought by New Line Cinema resulting in a very cheesey Freddy Krueger’s glove cameo in the movie.

jgthcomics
These comics are better than the actual movie they’re based on

In 1997 I had the priviledge of seeing Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D at a cinema. The National Film Theatre is probably the most highly esteemed cinema in the UK as its the official cinema of the British Film Institute. It was showing a series of films in their original 3D. The cinema would be packed with Friday 13th fans and also cineastes who who normally be watching the work of some highfalutin auteur.

10258637_10207510211089359_1098249783300915977_n
If proof be needed

The cinema snobs laughed at the ending of Part 2 which acts as a recap for Part 3. This prologue was of course filmed in 2D. I thought that these purveyors of fine film might ruin the whole film watching experience for me by laughing at the whole film. But then the impossible happened- the 3D kicked in and everyone howled with delight. The 3D process used on this film is amazing! The filmmakers really went all out with what the audience member sees when watching the film and expolits the 3D medium to its fullest. As soon as the titles started ever single person in the sold out cinema crowd started gasping, laughing and screaming.

f13-3-00

This lasted until the end credits. People were leaving the theatre smiling and commenting on how brilliant the film had been. This is probably the best cinemagoing experience I’ve ever sat through. The NFT repeated the screening the year after and I dutifully attended. The experience was just as brilliant.

It was then several years before there was another Friday 13th movie. Maybe the stench of Jason Goes To Hell lingered on. Jason X arrived in 2001. It was basically Jason In Space and worked brilliantly! I went to see the film three times on its initial release. The filmmakers obviously knew the demographics they were aiming for- the fans of the series, sci fi fans and geeks who were inro Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lexx, Deep Space Nine and their ilk. The kills were graphic, the film was great in its use of atmosphere and tongue was firmly in cheek. This could have failed miserably but it didn’t. It worked wonderfully. And their was even a David Cronenberg cameo.

jason-x-645x370
Uber Jason. A badass gets an upgrade

Jason X continues to be derided by many franchise fans. But the Friday fans who like the film do so with real passion just like with Part 5.

It was also around this time that I got to see what I had been missing out on. All previous cuts to the films by the BBFC were suddenly waived meaning that the film would now be completely uncut. I had seen a screening of The Final Chapter uncut by accident when it was shown on Sky Movies a few years before this. They could show films uncut even when they were still cut on video. Bizarre logic there. I was unaware of the proper ending to the film and actually screamed in both horror and glee at unexpectedly seeing the notorious ‘machete slide’ scene for the first time. It was poetry in motion.

Now that all cuts were waived I started to buy the films for the first time on DVD. The transfers were amazing and showed that in fact the films looked beautiful when presented in their correct aspect ratios and in pristine prints. I was so glad that finally common sense prevailed and we could see what the Tory Government and Herr Thatcher hadn’t allowed us to before.

486037f40a6fc20a905441e65db44830

I knew Freddy vs Jason would be terrible. And I was right. I lasted about 20 minutes before I left the cinema. I desperately wanted to see Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child beng slaughtered (any music fan would) but just couldn’t hold on. I’ve since seen the scene I was trying to stay in my seat for. The fact that Kelly’s character calls Freddy a ‘faggot’ just makes me applaud my decision to leave anymore. It was Hollywood crap which held nothing for true Friday fans. Whats more Jason wasn’t played by the brilliant Kane Hodder. No dice.

The remake of Friday the 13th was inevitable. Even though it wasn’t a straight remake of the first film. Why waste a whole film on a mystery killer like the original when you can just jump to what the studio thought everyone wanted- Jason. The film was better than I thought it would be and was genuinely scary and innovative. Jason was portrayed as a kind of survivalist which was interesting and a nice twist.

In 2012 was a very special event that I travelled all the way over from Leeds (where I was now living) to London for. At the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square they were showing the first 8 Friday the 13th films in a row. This would take 16 hours and start at 18:30 and then finish at 08:30 the following day. The event itself was more than awesome. In the queue waiting for the cinema to open was someone that the cinema had employed to dress up as Jason resplendent with machete. Nice touch.

The cinema had managed to get most of the original 35mm prints of the films and so they had their original old school BBFC X certificate cards before the actual films. Between each film there was a break of 15 mins in which people could go outside and have a cigarette, grab a can of Red Bull to try and stay awake or just stay seated to be entertained by all manner of old trailers. I only fell asleep during Part 5 (thats telling!) and got to reappraise Part 8. Its a pretty good movie- great humour and I had forgot about the scene with the boxer. The crowd roared when they saw it.

When I eventually left the cinema I thought I was Jason Voorhees as sleep deprivation kicked in and I wondered off in search of breakfast. What an amazing event and a wish on my wish list was well and truly fulfiled.

Theres a great account of the marathon here.

My life with Jason Voorhees has been an incredible journey. From the days of cut VHS tapes through to uncut DVDs and finally through to the films looking betting than ever on Blu ray. Growing up with these films means that watching them holds so many memories as I can trace back to when I first watched them on ther initial releases. Whilst Paramount Pictures might be embarrassed by them and horror snobs may sneer and deride them they’re clearly missing out on a brilliant and very evocative franchise.

But Mr Meathook Cinema- what are your Top 10 Friday the 13th movies? Thanks for asking dear reader. It just so happens that I’ve made a video answering your question. It contains trailers, rare TV spots, my favourite kills and a scene that was shot but not used. You’ll find it here.

Also check out the reviews of the series by two of my favourite YouTube channels- Drumdums and The Cinema Snob.

Stay safe campers.

Burial Ground – Day 12 – 31 Days of Halloween

Burial Ground – Day 12 – 31 Days of Halloween

Zombies, gore and guts. Oh and spaghetti.


Whats noticable about this film is the incest subplot involving the effeminate manchild character called Michael played by Peter Bark. I didn’t know about this when I first watched the film. Its now seered into my mind for better or worse. This film is for titmunchers of all persuasions.
3 out of 5

 

Wake in Fright- Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween

Wake in Fright- Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween

A young schoolteacher trues to escape small town Australia and reach Sydney…but gets waylayed in the darkest possible way.

This is an amazing examination of small town madness, the unspoken madness of such a life and the brutality and destruction undertaken by men.

Its also an amazing portrayal of cabin fever being caused by nothing but huge open spaces.

The film features another insane petformamce by Donald Pleasance who is in top form. If this doesn’t act of enough of a recommendation then I don’t know what will. 

The kangaroo hunting scenes are strangely beautiful just like the rest of the film. The outback has rarely looked so gorgeous on film. However, what goes on there means that this is far from a 70s tourist board film.


The rediscovery of this film and its subsequent restoration restores my faith in humanity. This film is too important and brilliant to be left unseen and decaying in a basement somewhere. This movie would make a great double bill with Nic Roeg’s Walkabout.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre- 31 Days of Halloween- Day 1

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre- 31 Days of Halloween- Day 1

I first saw this classic when I was a late teen and studying for my A-levels in college in 1994. My friend taped this for me on the same tape as Last House on the Left. With it being copied from a copy the picture and audio were crappy but somehow this added to the experience of watching a film that at that time was banned in the UK.

Watching the film for the first time was a confusing experience. I knew that it was a powerful film regarding the horror aspect of the movie but I wasn’t expecting the humour that the film contained. It truly is gallows humour but its there loud and clear. ‘Look what your brother did to the door!’ barks the old man. ‘Get back in that kitchen!’ he then barks to Leatherface in a bizarre twist on the maternal role of the extended family.

I also wasn’t prepared for the surreal content I was seeing. The end dinner scene with Sally tied down to an armchair that literally had arms. The frantic shots of her eyes and indeed the veins in her eyes along with the buzzcut music that made up part of the soundtrack.

10682990
The eyes have it- Sally’s hysteria

It took me a while for my brain to process and comprehend these components. I then came to grips with the films intention- these elements were like an E.C. Comics publication. If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was one of those comics then there would be a lurid illustration of a terrified Sally on the front cover strapped down to the chair during the dinner scene with face shots of the ghoulish cast of The Old Man, The Hitchhiker and Leatherface buried in a side panel.

marilyn-burns-texas-chainsaw
The armchair dinner scene

Indeed, Tobe Hooper has acknowledged the influence of E.C. Comics on the film’s vision. ‘I started reading [EC comics] when I was about seven,’ he told Cinefantastique in 1977, ‘I loved them … Since I started reading these comics when I was young and impressionable, their overall feeling stayed with me. I’d say they were the single most important influence on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’.

tales_from_the_crypt_24
An example of an E.C. Comic- gaudy, surreal and terrifying in equal measures

The film’s beginning is a well paced introduction to the film’s upcoming events. With hindsight, whilst the build up to the first kill is well paced and crammed full of significant events you realise that this reletively gentle when compared with whats to come. The full horror of the ‘Saturn in Retrograde’ will be discovered at full pelt soon enough. The asking for directions to the old house resplendent with the old drunk/seer sat in a tyre on the ground, the encounter with the garage owner and the humour of the car window screen washer, picking up the hitchhiker and the first interaction with a member of the family, the rundown old Hardesty house with the spiders in the corner of one of the rooms, the old creek that has dried up long ago…most horror films would love these kind of events, visions and plot elements. The audience is already engaged and fascinated.

But then The Texas Chain Saw Massacre isn’t any horror film. With the character of Kirk entering the cannibal’s house a shocking chain reaction of carnage, insanity and psychosis begins. These elements are turned up to 11 and don’t drop down again for the rest of the film’s duration. This film has murder on its mind and will do everything to satisfy this need.

This movie is a physical, mental and emotional assault on the senses not just for the characters but also for the audience. The teens learn this on entering the cannibal’s house. But its not just the teens who have their senses assaulted. So does Leatherface. Hes just as confused, scared and freaked out by these strangers invading his home. But its the teens who are truly powerless and suffer the most. The dinner scene in which Leatherface starts pawing Sally’s hair but then invades her personal space by sticking his made-up dead skin mask into her face is intrusive, disgusting and violating. Tobe Hooper knows this and so turns this into a POV shot so that the audience gets to fully comprehend what the lead character is enduring at this time.

to-serve-man-is-a-cookbook
In your face. The invasion of personal space and assault on Sally and the audience’s senses

At this point Sally starts gnarling, growling and crying as something emotionally primeval is brought to the surface. Its here that I’d like to celebrate the Marilyn Burns’ performance. Every time I watch this film her acting leaves me breathless. This feat has to be seen to be believed (like the film itself) as she portrays disbelief, terror, resilience and ultimately insanity. I realise that these are just words and do nothing to fully encapsulate this performance. How good is her portrayal of someone steered towards madness? Compare the end of this movie in which the bloodied, bruised and battered Sally is now being safely driven away in the back of a pickup truck to Dana Kimmell’s attempt at trying to portray insanity at the end of Friday the 13th Part 3. One is masterful, the other is half hearted and utterly unconvincing. The bad emphasises the brilliant.

1410845
Insanity lived rather than acted. The greatest performance in horror history?

In fact, whilst most horror movies dream of one great performance that goes the extra mile, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has at least five. Burns’ performance is one. The performances of the actors portraying Leatherface, The Hitchhiker, The Old Man and Grandpa all pull out the stops and are batshit crazy and brilliant for it.

Another major reason why I love this film is because no backstory or explanation is given for the family or the events depicted herein. There are clues- the gruesome sculptures made of bones and body parts in the family home (taken from the real life case of serial killer Ed Gein on which the film is loosely based) suggest previous victims, conquests and adventures. The talk of family members being employed by the
local slaughterhouse and being the best at their job also suggests part of the family’s history (and their possible unemployment- the Hitchiker says that the airgun used to kill the animals ”is no good. It puts people out of jobs…”). The Old Man has a garage business as ‘he takes no pleasure in killin’ ” as is later disclosed in the later dinner scene. But there is no clear history given for the family or the events that the film depicts. This lends a massive sense of mystery to the film and gets the audience something to think about long after the film has ended. Explanation would kill this film as it would kill nearly all of the great examples of any genre. I just wish the filmmakers who inflict remakes on the world would take heed of this fact.

aa469413930d9404a6b96b205c013b31
‘Say (head) cheese!’ A family snapshot. No backstory, all the better for it

On closing this review I’d just like to speak about the availability of this film on home media. I watched the film for this review on Dark Sky’s 4K blu ray. I’ve never seen the film look or sound so brilliant. I never expected this film to get such a loving restoration treatment- but it has and for that I’m eternally grateful. This film certainly deserves it. This release is a far cry from the first time I saw the film on a grainy fifth generation VHS copy.

If you’re a horror fan and haven’t seen this then you can’t call yourself a true fan of the genre. If you’re a fan of film in general the same applies. Let this film get under your skin (pun not intended). Your life will be better for it.

Hanging On The Telephone

Hanging On The Telephone

The telephone has always held sinister connotations for me. I grew up in a time before mobile phones, when everyone had a landline and telephone systems were positively archaic. This primitive system meant that calls couldn’t be traced easily. This was perfect for every nutjob, crank or serial killer to call you. And this happened to people a lot! These kind of calls were a regular occurrence in our neighbourhood and indeed everywhere.

I also remember reading as a kid an article in Reader’s Digest about how everyday and seemingly innocuous appliances had traumatic effects on a few unfortunate select people. One involved a woman who always went into panic on hearing a telephone ring. This was because on answering the phone years before at her home she could hear her kidnapped husband being tortured.

Its interesting how this phenomenon of different kinds of telephone terror manifests itself in the horror films of the time. This is a further example of art imitating life and vice versa.

One prime example of telephone trauma in the horror genre occurs in the film Black Christmas. This film is seen as a forerunner of the slasher film as it was made in 1974 and concerns a group of sorority girls who are bumped off one by one in the sorority house they are having a party in before they all leave the next day for Christmas.

olivia-hussey-in-black-christmas

Prior to this they receive a series of threatening and disturbing phone calls from the killer. In fact to call these calls disturbing is a massive understatement. These calls are so horrific that in the original UK cinema release of the film these calls were cut out of the film. Heres one example.

Another great example of the telephone used to get use is in the masterpiece Halloween by director John Carpenter.

Carpenter lovingly depicts a quintessential small town in America called Haddonfield in Illinois. Everything seems to be completely normal here in an almost Norman Rockwell type way. However the town holds a dark secret. Years before an 8 year old boy called Michael Myers killed his sister Judith with a butcher knife. And on Halloween in 1978 he has escaped and is returning home. And not to go trick or treating.

sxru7n

The telephone establishes the normality painted by Carpenter regarding the town. Teenage girls call their friends to gossip and idle away the time. They also call their boyfriends like the character Annie does. Whilst their conversation turns to carnal delights the threat posed by the returning killer is unseen by Annie as she too busy planning an evening of hide the salami to notice the pale faced boogeyman who lurks at windows and to the side of open doors.

Here Carpenter subverts the quintessential everyday activity of calling a friend  or boyfriend. Just as the character Dr Sam Loomis (who presided over Myers during his time in a mental asylum and is now in hot pursuit of him) chillingly tells the town sheriff ‘death has come to your little town’. After this the viewer sees how the idyllic small town charm of atypical Haddonfield is once again about to be shattered and the viewer is made privy to this. The spectator can see the killer lurking behind Annie as she in engrossed in her phone conversation. We are watching the prelude to a massacre whilst the characters are blissfully unaware.

halloween-1978-phone

The telephone later becomes an actual tool of murder later on in the film. As Lynda’s boyfriend has begun to act very strange indeed whilst dressed in a sheet like a ghost on reentering their bedroom she calls her friend Laurie. What she doesn’t know is that the person (or should that be entity) hidden from view is actually Myers. Just as she is about to speak to her friend she is strangled with the telephone cord. Laurie interprets this as at first a joke (she had received a call earlier from Annie which she had misinterpreted as an obscene call when all she could hear was chewing) but then decides to investigate further and heads on over to the house opposite where the call has come from thinking that this is another gag by Annie. Here the telephone has directly led to a characters murder by being used as a weapon and has also led another character to curiously enter the house where the murder has just taken place. Two birds, one stone. Almost. Heres Lynda’s demise. ‘See anything you like?!’

When A Stranger Calls was released shortly after Halloween and is based on the ultimate telephone based urban legend- a young babysitter receives a series of blood curdling obscene phone calls that get worse as the night progresses. She calls the police who try and fail to trace the calls to a precise location. As the teenager is close to becoming catatonic with fear she receives one more phone call. It isn’t the nutter whos been making her night of babysitting almost intolerable. Its the police. And they are calling to say that they have discovered that the calls are coming from inside the house!

when-a-stranger-calls-1

Whilst this plot device seems cliched these days, back in 1979 this was still pretty fresh as a film plot twist. It was handled by director Fred Walton with noticeable aplomb as the scene builds and builds with palbable tension which eventually erupts into one of the most tense scenes in horror history. In this clip the killer elaborates what he wants with his victim. And the result is utterly chilling.

This scene is interesting as the police are shown as condescending and just a little bit stupid. The fact that they don’t take the victim seriously only adds to the tension. The fact that they can’t trace the call quickly also gives the killer another advantage. The killer has a plan and is in complete control. He uses the telephone as an instrument with which to first destroy his victim emotionally and psychologically and then finish her off when he comes down the stairs. Two out of three isn’t bad.

The filmmakers knew that the ‘calls are coming from inside the house’ was so well known amongst American teenagers that they even used this plot device as central to the films advertising. They reckoned if audiences knew what was a major part of the film they’d flock to see the film rather than thinking that a huge plot twist was being divulged and stay away in droves. The filmmakers were right as the film was a huge success and rightly so. Heres a TV spot for the film.

Whilst this film seems to revolve around the scenes involving the telephone there is plenty more to love it. Its not just the first and last scenes that are remarkable. The killer is played with unhinged brilliance by Tony Beckley who passed away just after the films release. Watch the scene in which his character stands naked in a public restroom and gazes into the mirror. This is one of those performances which really does go the extra five miles. Unhinged, psychotic and utterly brilliant.

when-a-stranger-calls-1979-tony-beckley-mirror

Watch also the performance of esteemed actress Colleen Dewhurst as the barfly who has more than a passing air of Bette Davis about her. After witnessing a bar room brawl she remarks ‘I ask myself why I still come to this dump!’ This film is a treat from start to finish and is a masterclass in tension both in the direction and the acting. High five to the location scout too- those shots of the tunnel being built which are part of Tracey’s walk home are so striking and beautiful.

tony-beckley-and-colleen-dewhurst-in-ro%cc%88sten-inifra%cc%8an-1979

A slasher movie that was made in the wake of Halloween was Prom Night (1980). This film features the great Jamie Lee Curtis and whilst not being as brilliant as Halloween its still an amazing movie. The film is like a heady mix of Carrie, Saturday Night Fever (or should that be Roller Boogie) and yes, Halloween.

prom-night-1980-killers-list

There is a sequence in this film that is truly nightmarish as the killer (who could it be?!) calls each of the teenage characters who are preparing for that nights prom. The killer is in a sparse room with just a telephone, a list of each of the kids he wants to call and some gritty mood lighting. Add to this a stern and truly frightening music piece for this scene and you have one of the most unsettling scenes I’ve ever seen in a horror film. Part of this scene is in one of the film’s tv spots.

1982 spawned a low key and little known oddity in the shape of Murder By Phone (aka Bells). A phone can actually kill people just by them answering it. A madman has perfected a certain frequency that can actually kill people just by listening to it. This movie is camp but also a prime slice of cansploitation that looks great and is played straight. Yes, it was never going to win any Academy Awards for that year but thats a mark of excellence, right?

3486258010_633883baae

The kills in this film are really something to experience and here they are.

As the 80s progressed telephone companies began to invest more in being able to track where a call was coming from. A major device used by horror movie directors was now gone. I actually learnt about how phone calls could now be traced from personal experience.  It was 1987 and I was 12 years old. Whenever my father went out at night (which was a lot as he had just divorced our mother and was going through a second adolescence if you will) my brother and I surrounded by his friends would scour the local paper for ads placed by readers. We’d then ring the unlucky people with (what we thought were) hilarious results. An example would be people who had placed an ad about a pet that was missing.

Me: ‘Hi. Have you lost a dog?’

Person who placed the ad: ‘Yes I have.’

Me: ‘Is he an Alsatian?’

Ad owner: ‘Yes it is.’

Me: ‘Does he have a red collar?’

Ad owner (now getting excited) ‘Yes he does!’

Me: ‘And he’s called Rover?’

Ad owner (now beside themselves with joy): ‘Yes! Have you seen him?!’

Me: ‘Yes! He tasted lovely’

And this point I’d slam down the phone. Myself, my brother and all of his friends would dissolve into laughter.

I was on a Saturday afternoon not long after that my father spoke to my brother and I. Someone from British Telecom had called. They had traced dozens of prank calls to our number and would be monitoring the phone line for the foreseeable future. If the abusive phone calls continued then they would ban us from having a phone line. We had been rumbled. My father bought a phone lock (we had one of those bright red telephones with a dial where the lock would be fitted) and used it whenever he wasn’t in the house.

952fe4164b1b89b8d6d5cf7ccc63a59c

Leave it to fellow lunatic John Waters to revive the nuisance call on film. His film Serial Mom contains a sequence in which loving mother and psychopath Beverly Sutphin calls a neighbour, Dottie Hinckley who she hates for being domestically inferior in her eyes. Waters rightly captures the mixture of hatred, dark humour and distress involved to making nuisance calls and receiving them. This is probably the most infamous scene within an already impeccable movie. This scene is like a lovingly sick tribute to the art of the malicious phone call. I understand your love, John.

There have been other horror films about obscene phone calls that were made in recent years but most feel contrived and somehow unauthentic. I prefer the horror films involving telephone terrorism which were made when the threat of such an intrusive and foul act was still a reality for many people.

I’ll ask you again- have you checked the children?!