Review- Black Christmas (1974)

Review- Black Christmas (1974)

Whilst it’s widely thought that it was John Carpenter’s Halloween that initiated the slasher genre those who actually know anything about horror know that it was actually Bob Clark’s Black Christmas made in 1974. In fact, Clark and Carpenter worked together on a project after Black Christmas was made. Clark said to Carpenter that he no longer worked in horror but that he had had an idea for a horror film that was never realised. This would be based around the occasion of, you’ve guessed it, Halloween! Carpenter then later asked to use the idea for a film he was to due to work on and the rest is history. This isn’t to say that Carpenter ripped off Clark but this explains how The Babysitter Murders (the original idea for Halloween) suddenly morphed into the masterpiece we now know and love.

In fact, the opening shots of Black Christmas are similar to those of Halloween- the killer’s point of view camera shot. Halloween reveals who this person is (and it’s one hell of a reveal) but Black Christmas doesn’t. In fact, the killer isn’t revealed fully throughout the entire film which is the first reason that Black Christmas is so revolutionary.

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The story involves a group of female students on the night before they leave their sorority house to go home for the holidays. They start to receive very disturbing phone calls and things start to get dramatically worse soon after.

Another reason to love Black Christmas is that the extent of the killer’s mental instability is shown by the first girl he kills. She is suffocated and then placed in a rocking chair in the attic where the psycho is hiding out. Throughout the film we see him ranting and manically rocking her.

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Arguably some of the most disturbing sequences within the film are when the intruder calls the girls. They don’t know the calls are actually being made by the killer who’s in the attic within the same house. From the calls we come to learn that the person making them is called Billy and that he seems to be playing out incidents from his past, incidents rife with cruelty, abuse and possibly murder. Bob Clark used five different actors for the calls. These phone calls are some of the scariest, most disturbing and unsettling sequences I’ve ever seen in a horror film. They were even cut when the film was first released in the UK.

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Theres also the fact that Black Christmas was the first film to use the now established trope of a killer’s phone calls coming from inside the same house as their potential victim(s). This was years before When A Stranger Calls.

Another great thing about the film is the humour contained within the movie especially from Margot Kidder’s character, Barb. It’s amazing that such an unnerving film can still have genuinely funny interludes but without forsaking the movie’s tension.

But maybe thats because the film is extremely tense indeed. Theres a certain sense of doom to the proceedings that are depicted in the movie. A great example is where Olivia Hussey’s character Jess has just found out that the calls are coming from the sorority house, that Billy is ensconced within it but so are two of her friends (the audience knows otherwise as we saw them get dispatched earlier). On going upstairs (even though the police have phoned and demanded that she leave the house immediately) she enters one of the girl’s bedrooms to discover their dead bodies- and the killer looking at her through a crack in the door. This sequence is one of scariest in horror history.

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Add to this one of the most warped endings I’ve ever seen in a horror movie and you have a masterpiece.

Theres only two horror films with the ability to give me sleepless nights. One is The Exorcist, the other is Black Christmas. Essential.

5 out of 5 stars

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31 Days of Halloween- Day 17- Final Exam (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 17- Final Exam (1981)

A killer stalks a high school. And thats the plot.

This is a cookie cutter slasher film. The only interesting thing about this movie is it’s historical value as an atypical sub-genre piece. You get to see the sheer rubbish that was made to generate ticket sales and box office. Movies with no artistic merit or intelligence such as this were shot quickly in the wake of John Carpenter’s Halloween.

You could watch this to try and spot whats been stolen from other films. But don’t watch for it’s entertainment value as there is none.

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Theres also a scene where a masked gang mows down fellow students that feels massively inappropriate and just plain tasteless.

In the words of Simon Cowell this is ‘distinctly average’.

If you have masochistic tendencies and feel a need to watch this then please watch the excellent Good Bad Flicks video on YouTube which goes into the chaotic and shambolic production of this folly.

Avoid.

1 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- The Funhouse (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- The Funhouse (1981)

A double date decide to investigate a travelling carnival that has just come into town. After strolling around the different attractions they decide to hide overnight in the actual funhouse (like a ghost ride) which is on the grounds of the carnival.

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This film starts out so well with the carnival and the people who work there being shown as being utterly sinister and delightfully sleazy.

When the teens stow away in the funhouse they witness a murder following a paid for sexual tryst (seeing Sylvia Miles from Andy Warhol’s Heat give someone wearing a Frankenstein mask a handjob is worth the price of admission alone). When he prematurely ejaculates but isn’t given his money back (the quickest $100 she’s ever earned) he bumps her off.

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Just prior to the handjob from hell

But then, unfortunately, the film falls flat. Yes, the direction by Tobe Hooper is pretty good, the lighting and colour design make sure that the sets look amazing. But this can’t hide the fact that the script from here on in is badly lacking. There is also no characterisation and the teens might as well be robots. It’s a shame as earlier in the film the lead teen is shown at home with her parents who seem to not care about her whatsoever. Was this a sliver of social commentary from Hooper as to how he saw the American family at this time?

Also, when the Frankenstein mask disappears from the inbred freak (no doubt he would be labelled as ‘mentally and facially challenged’ today) who stalks the teens in most shots he just looks like a dude in a mask. Time had been spent on the look of the movie without a decent script being written or the killer being made to look convincing. All surface, no substance. This is such a shame.

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One mask replaces another

This film was shown in the UK with the MPAA pillaged version of My Bloody Valentine. The poster stated it was ‘the most terrifying 3 hours of your life’. Swap ‘terrifying’ for ‘distinctly average’ and you’re nearer the mark.

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The Funhouse ran into problems years later as part of the ‘Video Nasties’ furore in the UK. If anything shows how inept the police involved in this case were then this is it. Unless they were seizing horror films that had sub-par second halves, that is.

2/5 out of 5 stars.

Day 29- 31 Days of Halloween- Prom Night (1980)

Day 29- 31 Days of Halloween- Prom Night (1980)

A childrens game goes horribly wrong and a child falls backwards from the first floor window of an abandoned building and dies. The remaining kids vow to never tell anyone about what happened. Its now 7 years on and the children in the gang are preparing for their prom night. They one by one start to receive menacing phone calls…

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I first saw this and expected to see a C grade slasher movie- one of the many mediocre movies made in the wake of Halloween.

Boy, was I wrong! Theres loads to love about this movie. Firstly, Jamie Lee Curtis is in it. Shes such a great actress that if shes on the cast list you can expect a stunning performance. Not only is she another kick arse Final Girl but we also get to see her disco moves. She also has a great exchange with the school bitch. This features some fantastically camp lines (‘Its not who takes you to the prom. Its about who takes you home!’) Jamie wins and has the last word in this verbal volley naturally.

Another great feature of this film is that its actually very scary in the appropriate scenes. The killer ringing the teenagers one by one is a scene so threatening and jarring that its a sequence that is one of the scariest I’ve ever seen in any horror film. The simplicity of the scene (just a hand, a pencil, the school yearbook, the list of names and the phone) is extremely effective and downright chilling.

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The film is also brilliantly chilling as it touches on the subject of paedophilia- a local sex offender is known to the police and they think he is the reason for the dead little girl. They hound him to such a degree that he crashes his car which bursts into flames. The police had no evidence that it was him but hey, hes so disfigured that he now can’t commit anymore crimes and is placed in an asylum.

And there are the actual kills and the scenes they are contained within which are directed with aplomb. These are very tense and unnerving. OK so this certainly isn’t John Carpenter’s Halloween but these scenes are still very good for a slasher movie.

With Halloween being a major influence on this film there are also the atypical scenes of the female characters talking about, y’know, girls things- boys, hair, going to the prom etc etc. In fact in the book Blood Money it has been suggested that there were two types of advertising for this film- one that dwelt on the themes thought to be more appealing to a young female demographic (the disco music, the relationships and drama within the film) and one that dwelt on what was thought to appeal to the guys- namely the tension, suspense and kills.

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The film really does feel like a cross between Halloween, Carrie (the prom setting and the potential for carnage in this setting) and Saturday Night Fever- this film has disco stomps and a brilliant disco soundtrack that strangely provides a brilliant and sinister backdrop to the murders.

Another great feature is that of the character of Slick. Just like the bawdy British comedies of the 1970’s featured the most unlikely candidates for male eye-candy who somehow get the women, so does this film. Slick thinks hes a modern day babe magnet. I’ll leave it up to you to agree or disagree with his self perception.

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This movie also has one of the most hilarious characters in horror history- look out for Mr Sykes played by Robert Silverman (he would also appear in Scanners and Jason X). Is he the killer or a far too obvious red herring?

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Prom Night is far too good than a Halloween rip-off slasher movie deserves to be. If Halloween is A+ then Prom Night is B+

If you’re going to buy this film please look out for the Region 1 Blu ray from Synapse Films. The best transfer and bonus features I’ve ever seen for ANY Blu ray title. Stunning.

4 out of 5.

Scream – Day 27 – 31 Days of Halloween

Scream – Day 27 – 31 Days of Halloween

Yes we know the slasher film conventions. Instead of the most irritating characters to be committed to celluloid explain them to us how about integrate them into the script and make an intelligent horror classic. Instead of the mediocre franchise starter that this is.

Horror geek in a mask. Knife not needed. He’ll bore you to death.

Oh and if the film wasn’t bad enough Nick ‘Goth for Guardian readers’ is on the soundtrack.

Not Wes’ finest hour.

An hour and a half I’ll never get back.

1 out of 5

Going To Pieces – Day 23 – 31 Days of Halloween

Going To Pieces – Day 23 – 31 Days of Halloween

A documentary recalling the rise and fall and rise again of the slasher film genre.

Whilst the main players are here (John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Sean Cunningham) there aren’t any major revelations or anecdotes that haven’t been heard before.

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Also key works are omitted that had an influence on the genre- where is Blood Feast?

This doc is a good introduction to the genre for a beginner horror hound but is a bit old hat for more seasoned pros.

2 out of 5