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.

BC_1.png

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.

MV5BYWE1ZDRhYjQtYjNlZi00ZjI2LTgyZDEtZjBkM2FmYjVmMWJhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDIyMjQzMQ@@._V1_

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.

black-christmas-featured-pic

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.

black-xmas-eye-edit

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

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.

MV5BMjkwMGQzNWMtZjRkNS00M2VkLThkMTQtMDJkM2ExOGFkMDc4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1396,1000_AL_.jpeg

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.

product_detail_3162030205001_3595965740001_826663135909

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.

M8DFUNH EC001
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.

2012-10-28-funhouse_monster

funhouse-4
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.

630504786968231_mainphotos

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…

p1

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.

1410205000_4

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.

Prom Night 1

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.

prom-night-1980-slick-sheldon-rybowski

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?

MBDPRNI EC001

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.

tumblr_inline_n8705silan1qjrnyj

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

Halloween 2 (1981) – Day 15- 31 Days of Halloween

Halloween 2 (1981) – Day 15- 31 Days of Halloween

It takes a great big set of balls to make a sequel to a film that is recognised as a classic. One such film is Halloween. Is the sequel any good?

Well, yes it is actually. There are many things to love.

One such thing is that the film carries on straight after the events from the first film. Laurie is taken to hospital and Michael Myers follows her. This is audacious in the extreme. It also means that the feel and look of the original need to be similar to the iconic original. And whilst Carpenter isn’t directing this time (he co-wrote the film with partner Debra Hill and co-scored with Alan Howarth), new boy Rick Rosenthal does a pretty good job. It feels for the most part like the first film but that doesn’t mean that its as good. But if Halloween is A+ then Halloween 2 is B+.

ad-newspaper-halloween-ii-1981-canada
Original press ad

The hospital provides the perfect setting for the terror to continue. Yes, there aren’t many people in the building but its a small local hospital. Stop nitpicking, horror geeks. The setting also means that Michael can use medical implements to kill with- ironic when these instruments are intended to save lives rather than shorten them. Hence, Michael’s weapon of choice is a scalpel. In other scenes he also uses syringes (inserted into eyeballs!) and a therapy pool is turned up to boiling and a nurse is dunked underwater until her face receives the face-peel from hell whilst drowning at the same time. This scene was severely cut in the UK video release. In its uncut glory it really is something to behold.

halloween_2_collectors_edition_32
A new use for a syringe

In fact, the murders in this film are a lot nastier and more graphic than in the original. When Halloween 2 was made the slasher genre it inspired was in full swing. This film had something to prove and so the murders are very nasty indeed. Its like the makers of Halloween 2 were trying to show that they were still head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. And they succeed whilst doing so with artistic aplomb.

tumblr_ob94o9tnhv1rr8qsxo1_500
The murders in Halloween 2 are more graphic than the original

There also seems to be a grittiness and cynicism underlying the film that is both endearing and entertaining to watch. Examples of this jaded mentality are peppered throughout the movie. A child is admitted with a razor blade embedded in his mouth which alludes to the ‘razor blade in the candy’ urban legend. A female reporter tells a colleague when reporting Myers’ bloodbath from the first film ‘You need the parents’ permission to get a statement. If you can’t get it then get a statement anyway!’ The nurse who deals with the child bleeding from his mouth shows no compassion at all and gets the child and his mother to wait whilst the child suffers. The security guard Mr Garrett is seen reading a comic book instead of doing his job properly. Hence he doesn’t see Myers on his CCTV monitors. The doctor who treats Laurie’s injuries from the first film was at the same party as her parents and is actually drunk on the job. These quirks make Halloween 2 much better than its competitors. Whilst this isn’t George A Romero level social commentary this film isn’t as vacuous as many slasher imitators and still has astute observations to make.

halloweenii1981-02
Razorblade in the candy

But there are a few (but not many) examples of the film pandering or conforming to slasher movie conventions. One such is the scene in which Mr Garrett goes to investigate a break in. There is the cliched cat scare and also a door being opened to have lots of boxes fall onto the rotund night watchman. Whilst this all happens as a build up to Michael finishing off this character these events would never have happened in the original film. In fact, wasn’t there a cat scare in Friday the 13th Part 2? Thats more the kind of thing to find in that franchise than the Halloween films.

Also, the nudity and sexual references are ramped up in this film. Hence there are more titties and the irritating character of Bud singing a really unfunny dirty version of Amazing Grace. I cheered when he was killed by Michael in such a non-descript way. His vile character deserved no more than this.

Within this film is the revelation that Michael is actually Laurie’s brother. Hence why Myers wants to kill her- hes killed one sister, hes come back for the other. This plot detail doesn’t feel forced and gives the film the truly chilling dream sequence that Laurie has- including seeing an evil looking Michael in his asylum.

adam_gunn
Laurie’s flashback of Michael in the asylum

Theres also appearances of other characters from the first film. Annie appears as a corpse (!) and Laurie’s crush Ben Tramer is killed by when running from a gun wielding Dr Loomis (more of that cynicism). Freud would have a field day with the Myers costume that Tramer is wearing. Was this the film being really clever by suggesting a kind of subconscious incestuous desire between Laurie and Michael or was it just being really stupid by having Ben coincidentally wear the exact same costume as Michael? The examination of the teeth of Ben Tramer’s charred body fully depicts the sequel’s mentality- where the original used the economy and anonymity of shadowplay and genius framing this film presents the horror in full sight with all of the lights on, warts and all. Nothing is hidden, on any level.

images
Halloween 2- horror with the lights on

On the whole the film feels similar to the original and pulls off, for the most part, the impossible. Jamie Lee Curtis is as kickass as ever as Laurie (check out the big chase scene- its edge of the seat brilliant) and Donald Pleasance is also excellent (even though some of his dialogue lapses into camp. ‘I’ve been trick or treated to death!’ says a neighbour to which Loomis replies ‘You don’t know what death is!’ I stifled a laugh).

The score is a progression of the original score. Where the original was piano led with a smuttering of synth, this score is all synth with the original songs elaborated upon by Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Its a great soundtrack even though, like the film itself, it isn’t as great as the original. The score for this film was named one of the best soundtracks of all time by Empire Magazine.

halloweenii30thanniversary
The remastered and expanded soundtrack

This film is great fun. Its as good as a sequel to a masterpiece could be. Which is the highest praise possible. Judging by the other Halloween movies featuring Myers, this could have been a lot worse.

4 out of 5

Friday the 13th (1980)- Day 3- 30 Days of Halloween

Friday the 13th (1980)- Day 3- 30 Days of Halloween

Being the first of the popular horror franchise the successful formula hadn’t been established yet. Hence this film contains certain elements that we don’t find in the other films.

We have quirky characters at a diner, the funny sheriff and likeable teens whose characters are fully fleshed out. We don’t wish for them to be slaughtered horrifically like with the other films.

An interesting aspect to this film is that we don’t know who the killer is. Its well established in the sequels that all of the bloody deeds are down to Jason, you know, that guy in the hockey mask. But within this first film all of the killings are from the point of view of the killer. This film feels like an American giallo- a bloodthirsty whodunnit in the tradition of the hardboiled and gory novels/films from Italy.

friday-the-13th-axe-to-the-face
Got any Aspirin?

The killer is of course Pamela Voorhees who is avenging the negligent death of her son Jason who drowned in Crystal Lake decades before. She is portrayed by Betsy Palmer, an actress who up until that point had played all American girl next door types. This role was a massive departure from this and is so manic, extreme and unrelenting that I can’t think of a more warped portrayal in all of the horror movies I’ve ever seen. She is batshit crazy and does an exemplary job. Witness the fight on the beach in which at one point she gets up and is so terrifying that she resembles one of the Ray Harryhausen skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts. Otherworldly and utterly chilling.

A massive twist was that the killer is a woman and so we plunge head first into the issue of one of the last taboos- a woman supposedly with a maternal instinct being able to be a serial killer. In fact its her twisted take on maternal instinct which is why shes carrying out all of these murders.

betsy-palmer
Maternal instinct runs rampant. Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees

The film is photographed beautifully. Yes, its never going to occupy the space reserved for Halloween, Psycho or The Exorcist in the horror stakes but its still a great cinematic feat that will continue to frighten the bejesus out of generations of people to come.

3 and a half out of 5

screen-shot-2015-05-31-at-9-53-38-pm