Thursday, 31 December 2015

Christmassacre Five - Silent Night (2012)

After how much I raved and said I loved the original Silent Night, Deadly Night you would think I'd watch the remake with higher expectations than I normally would for a modern slasher film, that I might review it in comparison to the original rather than letting it stand on it's own merits. And while I can't say I have never done this when watching a remake, I can say I watched 2012's Silent Night without comparing it too much to the original because in reality this is an in name only remake, new plot, new characters and only passing references to the original. This could easily have been called Silent Night, Deadly Night 6: Malcolm McDowell Saves Christmas, actually it might be better to watch it with the mind set of it been the fifth sequel. So yeah, as a remake Silent Night doesn’t work as it has the barest in common with the original, but as a film on it's own right is it good? Maybe, is it fun? Hell Yeah!

This time around we follow the cops of a small town as they try to track down a man going round killing people dressed in a Santa suit, targeting sinners such as pornographers, bitchy kids and perverts.

First off I must say this film looks great with some scenes really wonderfully shot including the opening and the first out door kill, the latter including some wonderful shots and angles (it is also probably the best kill in the film so I won't spoil it here). Colour was used well, especially in the final battle in the police station where rooms are bathed in either red or green light.

Jamie King plays an enjoyable lead as cop Aubrey Bradimore, but it's Malcolm McDowell I love in this film as Sheriff James Cooper, you might find some of his cheesy dialogue eye rolling at time but that was part of the fun for me, he's clearly having a blast here spouting these often ridiculous lines. Donal Logue also has a small role as an arse-hole mall Santa and is just wonderful, he isn't in the film enough.

Our killer Santa has a good look, particularly the creepy rubber mask he wears, though I'm on the fence weather or not I think we should have seen his eyes through it, I think it might have been scarier if they had just been solid black voids like on the poster. Most the kills are your standard sharp blade's been inserted into squishy humans, nothing wrong with that of course, though there are a couple more creative ones, such as the first death, the porn actress's and of course the remake of the famous antler impalement from the original. Speaking of the deaths the effects are good, yeah there are a couple of CG kills that are probably not that bad but they do tend to stand out more because the practical ones look so good and are very gruesome.

There are a couple things I'm unsure about, it implies the killer lives in the town and while this may be true it's never confirmed as it also hints that he may travel around. Though him living in the town does explain how he knew who to kill, yeah the pervy priest and adulterous cop would have been easy for him to find out about but some of the others it would only really make seance if he lived there. But this is a small nit-pick and never stopped me enjoying the film as I watched.

There are a hand full of references to the original, they remake the creepy granddad scene, have a character say 'garbage day' (in reference to the infamous scene from the second film) and as I said before do the antlers kill. While these are fun most seem to just be a token effort and mostly could be removed from the film without affecting it at all, but they are fun nods and I'm glad they are there.

This won't be a film to everyones taste, it is far from perfect and I'm sure you could pick apart plenty of holes in it, but if you can just kick back and enjoy it for what it is, a fun pice of slasher escapism, you'll have a blast. It also teaches a valuable lesson...

'Never bring a flamethrower to a gun fight.'

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmassacre Four – Black X-Mas (2006)

Now remake's always have a hard time, it seems that no matter what they do there will be a number of people who hate them on principal, or complain that they changed too much from the original or just did the same thing so whats the point? While I like to judge every film on its own merits it can be hard with remakes because that comparison to the original will still be there in the back of your mind. My personal preference is for a remake to go in its own direction, take the premise for the original and pay homage to it but try to tell the story in a new way or look at it from a new angle, and 2006's Black X-Mas is an example of doing this well.

The original Black Christmas followed the girls of a sorority house as they are picked off one by one by a serial killer, the remake follows the same premise (albeit over one night instead of a few days) but unlike the original that told us nothing about the killer other than his presumed name Billy this film spends much of it's runtime to his backstory, a very creepy back story too. I really like this as it really feels like we are looking at the other side of a coin and is a unique spin on the story.

In a nice bit of casting Andrea Martin, who was one of the sorority girls in the original plays house mother Barbara MacHenry in the remake, and she is just the start of a great cast including Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Hudson, Crystal Lowe, Lacey Chabert and Kristen Cloke. All of which are great and play very well off each other and they feel like real people.

Though reception was initially mixed when it first came out the film has slowly started to become more popular over the years, and I'm glad of that. Though many still hate it I personally think this is a great horror film and a great remake.

One thing I don't think even the people who dislike this film can deny is that it is beautiful, every shot uses colour to great effect from the soft blues to the bright reds, the Christmas lights that decorate both the inside and outside of the house, and even the log fire that bathes the room in warm yellow.  Joe Dante once said there are two types of colour films, ones that happen to be in colour and 'colour films', that use colour to help tell the story, this is a 'colour film' and really stands out from the dozens of horror films these days that stick to grey, blue and otherwise dull colours.

Now it's worth mentioning that I watched this on the UK DVD which is a different cut to what America and some other places got, there are lists you can find online such as at detailing the differences. But by far the biggest change is the ending, my DVD included all four alternative endings but my favourite and the one I wish they had used is the mobile phone ending, which I have read was the original intended ending, it's the least action oriented one and ends the film on more of a chill up the spine moment which appeals to me so much more.

It is important to note that the film didn't turn out exactly the way director Glen Morgan intended due to producer and studio interference that forced him to add some more gore and jump scares to the film, and while they don't detract from the film in any major way they do in places feel unnecessary. But by far the biggest way the studio screwed him over was by filming some extra trailer only scenes without him knowing, they made the film look more like a non stop thrill ride than the slower horror film it was. Naturally as soon as the film was out word of mouth spread that scenes from the trailer such as a girl been trapped under ice or Lacey Chabert been dragged into a thresher weren’t in the film, how the studio ever thought this kind of stunt would work is beyond me.

Despite studio interference the film still turned out great and is well worth your time to check out, it's a different beast to the original but is highly enjoyable and does enough different that you won't feel like you have watched the same film twice.  Check this one out.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Christmassacre Three – Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night, Deadly Night was perhaps the most controversial slasher film in 80's America, it never did see a cinema or video release here in the UK until 2009 but we had our own share of film controversy with the Video Nasties. The thing about the Video Nasties is a lot of them are bad films and if it was not for the controversy surrounding them they would probably have been forgotten. Is this the same case for Silent Night, Deadly Night? Well I'm glad to say it is not, in fact this might be one of the best slasher film's I've seen.

Unlike most slashers we don't follow the soon to become victims of a mass killer, instead we see the life of the slasher and the events that drive him to kill. One Christmas Eve Billy Chapman (Jonathan Best) get's freaked out by his grandfather (Will Hare) who tells him Santa Clause punishes children who haven't been good one-hundred percent of the year, Billy been a normal kid knows he has been naughts sometimes so starts to dread Santa coming, despite his parents (Tara Buckman and Jeff Hansen) protests that his grandpa was wrong. That same night he witnesses a criminal in a Santa outfit (Charles Dierkop) kill his father and attempt to rape his mother before killing her too, leaving just Billy and his baby brother Richy alive. From here we detail Billy's live as he grown up in a orphanage run by an evil Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvi), the kind of woman who is so set in her methods of raising and punishing the children she doesn’t even see the damage she is causing to Billy’s mind. Also forcing him to sit on Santa's lap despite knowing what he lived through really helped mess him up, in other words the blood of what he will do latter in life is on this woman’s hands!

Despite all this Billy seems to grow into a nice young man, at least this is how he appears on the outside, getting a job in a toy store he does well until Christmas comes around and he is made to fill in for the stores Santa on Christmas Eve, he finally snaps after seeing the attempted rape of his crush, flashing back to his parents deaths. And so he sets out to punish the naughty.

What I find most interesting about this film is its format, sure I've seen other slasher films that show the killers backstory but this is the first one I know of that actually follows the killers story for most of the film, it isn't until the third act that focus switches to the police hunting Billy. We really get a sense of what he has gone through and most of the film is dedicated to his character development, he really is a sympathetic character, we can't blame him for what he does as we know the trauma he went through and that he never got the help he needed.

The latter half of the film detailing the rampage is great two, it's set up so we'll go to a scene with new characters only for Billy to burst in and kill them, yeah we don't get to see much about these characters except some are bullier and others like to screw on pool tables but it really feels like these a scenes right out of another slasher, like you could have made an alternative film to this where we follow these characters but know nothing about Billy. This is Billy's story so he is the focus so we don't need to know as much about these other characters but if you are a fan of slashers like me you already have an idea what they are like.  Though I did feel that having Billy repeat 'Punish!' over and over sounded a little silly, at least to me.

I also have to say some of the kills here are pretty creative, yes we have our standard axe swings to the gut and hammer blows to the head but by far the most iconic of the film is when the lovely Linnea Quigley is impaled on the antlers of a mounted deer head, giving a whole new meaning to horny teenager. Even when a guy is thrown out a window it's a bit more creative when we see massive shards of glass sticking out of him. The blood and gore effects in the film, it must be said, are very good.

Other than Linnea Quigley there are probably few actors you will recognise here, but thats not to say any of the cast were bad, though some of the smaller roles and the kids at the orphanage may not be the best acting, the main cast give good performances throughout, especially Lilyan Chauvin as the Mother Superior who really sells her part, you just want to reach into the screen and deck this woman!

This is one of the slasher classics, though I'm sure I don't need to tell any of you that, if you haven't see this one I highly recommend it.  The film also sets it self up nicely for a sequel, how did that go?  Well, maybe we'll talk about it another time.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Out Now - Krampus

Now this is a film I went into with high hopes after seeing director/writer Michael Dougherty's previous feature film Trick 'r Treat for the first time earlier this year and falling absolutely in love with it. So when I heard his second film was to be based on the legendary character Krampus I knew I had to see it as soon as I could.

The plot follow's a family as they get together for Christmas, but it is a less than fun arrangement as young Max (Emjay Anthony) and his sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owee) don’t get on with his cousins; twins Stevie and Jordan (Lolo Owen and Queenie Samuel) and Howie Jr. (Maverick Flack). While their parents Tom and Sarah (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) seem to have a rocky relationship with their aunt Linda (Allison Tolman) and uncle Howard (David Koechner) as well. At dinner Stevie and Jordan steal his letter to Santa and read it aloud, leading to a fight and Max storming off, though his dad tries to comfort him he rips up his letter and throws it out his window. This act seems to bring on a massive snowstorm that cuts power to the entire town. From here we follow the family as they try to survive the snowstorm and eventually the coming of Krampus and his minions.

At first I was somewhat worried, when the aunt and uncles family arrived as I thought I would hate these people, the father Howard was a gun nut survivalist, his twin daughters super bullies and so on, and while maybe not so much for his kids the script and actors did a good job making sure the adults weren’t just one note characters, sisters Sarah and Linda have some great scenes where they reminisce about the past while Tom and Howard start to gain some respect for each other and even start to like each other, or at least dislike each other less, and all these interactions feel genuine. It is hard to say who my favourite character is, I was very fond of Omi (the german word for grandmother) Max's grandmother and Tom's mother played by Krista Stadler, but in the end I think I have to go with Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) who is wonderfully blunt, abrasive and drunk, and kind of a bad ass when she gets her turn and is probably the funniest character in the film.

Another highlight of the film is the monsters, from the trailers you'll have seen the living gingerbread men but they are just the first of what is a number of demented Christmas themed creatures. It is also fantastic to see that, with the exception of the gingerbread men, the monsters are practical and I have to applaud the prop department and puppeteers that brought these creatures to life. And though I always choose practical over CGI I have to say the gingerbread men were cute as hell and looked great, there is also a CG animated sequence mind way through the film where Omi tell us what she knows about Krampus and it is wonderful with a heavily stylised aesthetic.

I also have to mention the great opening scene where we see a Black Friday like shopping spree with people pushing each other and fighting, shop employees hiding up ladders to avoid the onslaught of ravenous customers and even some been taken down by security and tasered, all in beautifully shot slow-motion to the sound of Bing Crosby's 'It Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas'. It's fantastic to say the least, in fact the whole film looks good, Dougherty is really developing his own style through his films and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

I honestly can't recommend this one enough, the film is scary, funny and pure enjoyment from start to finish, it's up there with Gremlins as a great Christmas horror comedy and one I'm sure I'll revisit every year.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Out Now - Victor Frankenstein

When I first saw the trailers for this film I was excited, it looked like a cool take on the Frankenstein story starting two actors I like a lot; Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy. When the first lot of reviews came in they were pretty poor, at least the US critics while in the UK it has been getting more favourable write up's. So I ended up going in not sure what to expect, I could end up hating it or loving it, and I'm happy to say that it's the latter.

So this film is a retelling of the Frankenstein story from the point of view of his sidekick Igor, this time around he isn't a poorly educated assistant to the mad Doctor but an equal partner and friend. This is one of the best part's of the film as Daniel Radcliffe's Igor and James McAvoy's Frankenstein play off each other fantastically and the friendship between these characters as well as the mutual respect they have for each other really shines through, something even the poor reviews seem to agree on. One scene that stands out is when Frankenstein shows Igor an early experiment, and while impressed Igor points out a mistake the Doctor made, many films would have had the Doctor be angry but instead he is over joyed to see that Igor was intelligent enough to spot it.

These version's of the characters are a bit different to what we have come to expect, McAvoy's Frankenstein is a mad eccentric medical student, loud, full of energy and possibly drunk, often neglecting his studies in favour of his own experiments. He is a man that seems to find the mundane life of those around him boring and is completely obsessed with his work, but there is depth to him as we learn his backstory and why he feels he must create life. Igor, a character who for decades has been modelled on Fritz from the 1931 film is a very different character here, though he starts off as a circus clown once he teams up with Frankenstein it's revealed he is not hunchback, a fluid build up in his back has giving him the appearance of one, something the Doctor treats right away. Igor is also very intelligent, having self taught himself about anatomy and the human body from books and it's a demonstration of his knowledge that drawn Frankenstein to him. Both leads play their parts well, playing off each other fantastically and are a joy to watch.

The rest of the cast is on fine form too with Jessica Brown Findlay as Igor's love interest Lorelei, Freddie Fox as fellow medical student Finnegan, and Andrew Scott as a Scotland Yard Inspector who wants to bring Frankenstein down as he believes his creations are the devils work. Charles Dance and Mark Gatiss also have small roles in the film.  You can tell everyone was just having a blast on set.

Another thing I love about this film is its production design, from the circus where Frankenstein first meets Igor to the fantastic almost steam-punk looking lab sets, this film has a great look and I was especially impressed with the grimy streets of early nineteenth century London, which could of looked grey and boring but instead bursted from the screen with large colourful billboards and crowds of people everywhere you look. I'm a big fan of the ascetics of this time period and they look fantastic here.

The plot is where my opinion on the film wavers a bit, while there is a lot to like and some great ideas such as showing us Frankenstein's early creations, there are a few bits that I feel could have been improved on. The film opens showing up Igor's life in the circus where he is treated very badly by almost everyone around him, I enjoyed these scenes but they are over very quickly as he meets Frankenstein and escapes about ten minutes into the film. I would have enjoyed more time spent here especially in relation to Lorelei, whom he tells us through narration is the only person at the circus to be kind to him, but we don't really see this and it's not until later in the film when they meet up again that she has any substantial dialogue. There is also a character who takes a villainous turn latter in the film that pushes the plot forward briefly but doesn’t amount to much in the end, though perhaps it didn't need to. But to be fair these are small issues I have with what is a very fun film.

The film also contains references to may other Frankenstein films, such as the Universal films and even Young Frankenstein gets a nod, screen writer Max Landis is clearly a fan of this story and wanted to work that love into this script.  There is also some clear inspiration taken from Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes but this film is still its own beast.

I must admit when I came out the cinema I was so so on the film and wasn't sure if I would recommend it or not, but thinking back the stuff I liked far outweighs the stuff I didn't and I had a lot of fun watching this one. So yes I do recommend this film, it's good fun, a dark campy film with a slick style and seance of humour.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Christmassacre Two - Christmas Evil (1980)

It all started on Christmas Eve 1947, the day Harry Stadling found out that there is no Santa Clause.

Thirty-three years latter and Harry works at a toy factory, the perfect job for him as he has decided to become Santa Claus himself and bring back the magic of Christmas.  He plans to deliver toys to nice children on Christmas Eve but of course to know who's been nice and who's been naughty means he has to spy on the kids in his neighbourhood. And so begins the simple, yet brilliant premise of Christmas Evil, showing how creepy it would be for a regular person to take on the duties of Santa Clause.

The 1980 film was originally titled You Better Watch Out (the title that comes up on my copy of the DVD, though the box has the Christmas Evil title), it was written and directed by Lewis Jackson and stares Brandon Maggart as Harry, Jeffrey DeMunn as his brother Philip and Dianne Hull as Philips wife Jackie.

A third alternative title for the film is Terror in Toyland, possibly due to the film Babe's in Toyland playing on a TV at one point.

After the opening we see Harry's life and that he seems totally obsessed with Christmas, he sleeps in a Santa outfit, his apartment is decorated all year round and he even practeces his 'Ho Ho Ho' in front of the mirror. His job at the toy factory is less than fulfilling as Harry clearly is a man who started off wanting to bring joy to children only to find out it's a world of business, that his bosses only care about the profit, even their promises to donate toys to a local children’s hospital fall empty when Harry sees it's nothing but a PR stunt with no care as to weather there will be enough toys for all.

Christmas Eve arrives and Harry puts on his suit and gets in his van (he's already painted a sleigh on the side) to set out bringing good will to his fellow man, he steals a load of toys from the factory and gives them to the children’s hospital, breaks into homes and leaves gifts for the good children, and leaves bags full of dirt for the naughty ones (which makes more seance than coal if you think about it, you can sell coal). Sure he's breaking and entering but he genially doesn’t seem to want to cause any harm, that is until he waits outside a Church where he knows his bosses from the toy factory are attending evening mass. When it end's they come out but three other church goers come up first and start to make fun of him, needless to say it doesn’t end well when Harry pulls out his candy cain coloured hatchet.  Hard to say weather this is what he planned for his bosses but it's a fair bet he was planning some sort of punishment.

The film leaves no doubt that Harry is suffering from mental issues, it's hard to tell latter on weather or not he even remembers the murders, and he is genuinely shocked and confused when people turn on him. He doesn’t understand why, people always say they want Christmas to be less commercial and more the season of good cheer, he's brought that to them so why are they rejecting it?

Harry is a sympathetic character to a degree, someone who just wants to do good in a world that seems to reject that notion, though his kills are mostly premeditated he genuinely thinks he is doing right, punishing the naughty while rewarding the good. His acts may not be justifiable, but he doesn't seem to know that what he is doing is wrong, you can emphasise with him, even if his actions horrify you.

Out of the main cast you would probably recognise Jeffrey DeMunn best especially after his role of Dale Horvath in The Walking Dead, but you may also notice Patricia Richardson in a small early role ten years before she would become much better known as Jill Taylor in the sitcom Home Improvement.

This is a great film, the first half is all build up to Harry going out as Santa and when it finally happens you never guess where the film is going and it has some decent subtle commentary on the commercialisation of Christmas. A great festive horror film that is sadly not as well known as it should be.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Christmassacre One - Black Christmas (1974)

There are many discussions horror fans such as myself will have about our favourite genera, and some questions will come up again and again, one of the most prevalent examples of this I have seen is; 'What was the first slasher film?'

I asked some people this and surprisingly no one said Halloween or Friday the 13th, answers I have heard before and quite often.  I have also heard some people suggest the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None/Ten Little Indians as well as its 1945 film adaptation as been the first slasher.

Of course a lot of people named the classics such as Psycho, Peeping Tom and 1941's The Leopard Man, some Italian films such as Torso and Bay of Blood were also said with Blood and Black lace been the most popular suggestion.  Of course The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was said, but by far the film that most people said they considered Bob Clark's 'Black Christmas' to be the first.

And I must say I agree, though the 1974 film was predated by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre by two months it's Black Christmas that I feel has more in common with the conventions of the slasher genera.  The film was a hit making over four million dollars, and though at the time reception was mixed from critics it has later been reevaluated and give much more positive reviews as well as developing a strong cult following. A following it very much deserves because Black Christmas is a masterful suspense tale that left my heart drumming against my rib cage by the time it was over.

The film was written by A. Roy Moore based on a real string of murders with obvious inspiration taken from the urban legend of 'The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs'.

We open on a great shot of the house at night with the carol Silent Night playing as the cast's names come up, there is something wonderfully atmospheric about this and though there is little snow to be seen the bear trees and Christmas lights give you the feeling of a cold winters night.

The story centres around a girls sorority house after they have broken up for the Christmas holidays, opening on a party the girls are throwing with their housemother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman). At the same time and all in POV we see a stranger clime up the side of the house and into the attic, he proceeds to phone the house (they have two lines, a private one for the housemother and another for the girls). This isn't the first time he has called as the girls have already nicknames him the Moaner as that what he proceeds to do down the phone, one girl, Barb (Margot Kidder) provokes him leading to him replying that “I'm going to kill you!”. Barb along with some other girls don't take him seriously thinking it's just a prank, while the others find the calls frightening especially since a collage girl was raped recently. One girl, Clare (Lynne Griffin) argues with Barb about how she provoked him, eventually Clare storming off to her room, once up there she hears a noise coming from her wardrobe, believing it to he the house cat she goes to investigate but is attacked by the Moaner who suffocates her by wrapping her head in clear plastic before placing her body in a rocking chair, a picture that has become the iconic image of the film and was the picture used for the poster.

Clare's body isn't found and the girls assume she left early, most the rest of the girls leave as well leaving only Mrs. Mac, Barb, Jess (Olivia Hussey) and Phyl (Andrea Martin), the characters we will follow for the rest of the film along with boyfriends Peter (Keir Dullea), Chris (Art Hindle), Clare's father (James Edmond) and Lt. Fuller (John Saxon).

The film is a slow burn to say the least and may not appeal to those with a preference for faster paced horror, but to someone like me who loves a slow build up this film is a treat. It starts off with more comical moments, such as Mrs. Mac seemingly having a bottle of licker hidden in ever room or Barb tricking a police man into writing 'fellatio' as part of the house phone number, but these moments fade out as the film goes on to transform into some of the most suspenseful cinema I've seen in a long time, especially the last thirty minutes or so.

One scene in particular stands out for having me on the edge of my seat, when after finally reporting the strange calls to the police they install a trace on the girls phone, so that when the Moaner rings again the police can listen in and track where the number is coming from. Now unlike today where it is all digital and tracking the caller could be done on a single computer here it's a massive room with stuff... okay I don't really understand how it works but trust me when I say it is a fantastic scene that really makes you hold your breath as the girls try to keep him on the line.

Another thing this film does so well is character, everyone in the film feels real, like these really are girls you would meet on campus.  As always I don't want to give too much away but I will say my favourite characters are Mrs. Mac who is genuinely funny but not in an out of place way and Barb who's kind of a jerk but I'd love to go drinking with. I enjoyed all the characters to be honest I don't feel there was a weak link, you'll no doubt recolonise some of the cast such as Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey and the always awesome John Saxon.

I really dig this film and it has set the bar high for the series of festive horrors I have lined up this December. I shouldn't have to tell you to check this one out, it's a classic for a reason and well deserved of it's place in slasher and horror history.

Merry Christmassacre

Hey everyone, sorry for the month long gap since my last post on here but November was kind of a crazy month for me,  but I'm back and with a special present for you all.  Each Thursday in December you will get a new review of a festive horror film in a series of posts I call Christmassacre.

So look out later today for 1974's Black Christmas, and check back each Thursday for these lovely holiday frights;

10th Christmas Evil (1980)

17th Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

24th Black X-Mas (2006)

31st Silent Night (2012)