Sunday, December 24, 2017

Black Christmas (2006)

I'll never underplay how much I love the original Black Christmas, so when this remake was announced, I was not interested in the slightest. To the point of being offended that they were even bothering to try. I turned my nose up at the mere thought of it for years.

I am now older and wiser (well, older at least, etc etc) and realise that boycotting for these reasons - especially 11 years later! - is pointless , because y'know what? Sometimes remakes are all right.

That's a good word to describe this movie: alright. It's an interesting watch for fans of the original, and it's certainly got gore aplenty (which is a complicated aspect, as I'll explain later) but it never becomes anything more than an explicit and un-scary rehash of a classic.

Let's break it down...

The Good:
  • An actress who played one of the 1974 sorority girls plays the 2006 house mother.
Andrea Martin was Phyllis in Black Christmas (1974).

  • There's a moment where the sound of Billy slurping down prison food is overlapped with the slurping of a couple making out in a car.
  • Visually, it looks great, drenched mostly in a colour palette lifted straight from Christmas lights.
  • There's a really awesome shot that pushes through the branches of a Christmas tree, to reveal Billy lurking behind it. Really well done.

  • Someone dies by having a giant icicle fall on their head.
  • In amongst some pretty pedestrian eye violence, there's a moment that made me say "oh, jesus" 👀
  • This shot:

The Bad:
  • The drunk/lush character is truly awful. Even without comparing her to Margot Kidder's Barb, she's the worst.

  • I have never enjoyed Lacey Chabert in anything.
  • This is an incredibly early 2000's version of this story...
  • ...Meaning almost all of the cast are sarcastic ad-campaign-pretty sorority girls (did anyone else have trouble telling them apart?).
  • ...And cell phones are EVERYWHERE. I want to watch this again and do a shot every time someone is shown with a flip phone. #motorolarazrlife
  • It's light on suspense, heavy on jump scares and splatter (the studio demanded extreme gore: the director didn't want that. Always a winning recipe - see below).
  • Billy's backstory is told - often through clumsy exposition - in full. It's really messed up, which is pretty cool, but it also eradicates any sense of a terrifying unknown threat.
Oh, and he's yellow.

  • Being a sorority house, they hammer away at the sisterhood thing like mad, but it never really sticks. There's no sense of love or bond between this group of women, despite their insistence otherwise.
  • Billy is obsessed with ripping eyes out?! The one thing they don't explain about him.

You see, this movie doesn't make it easy to sit back and attempt to judge it on its own merits. Even though there's a lot added to the story, there are just too many things either lifted straight from, or heavily nodding towards Black Christmas (1974). I honestly tried to take it at face value, but it ultimately suffered from my knowing the original so well.

It's not worth actively avoiding, but considering its roots, it's an unremarkable, predictable stalk and slash.

The making of Black Christmas (2006) and what happened afterward, seems complicated and rather sad. Apparently director Glen Morgan was good friends with Bob Clark (director of the original) and had him come aboard as an executive producer, remaining on set for shooting. Clark saw the finished product before his death, and even though IMDb doesn't state what he thought of it, this interview suggests he was at least very happy with the backstory elements that were introduced here.

However, as mentioned above, the extreme gore was a matter of some dispute between Morgan and producer Bob Weinstein. Bizarrely, the film was marketed using multiple shots that weren't - and were never going to be - included in the final film. Morgan reportedly stated he stayed attached to protect as much as he could about the original idea, but Weinstein "urinated" all over the movie, trying to cash in on the torture porn craze. The end result is what we see today. Morgan never made another film after this one :(

A damn shame, all of it. I wonder what the intended film would have been like?

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

For the past few years I've been meaning to get hold of Silent Night, Deadly Night. My collection is sadly lacking in Christmas-themed horror and this always seems to be doing the rounds with my horror friends and acquaintances.

(Black Christmas is the only spooky xmas movie I know well, so if you have any suggestions I am excited to hear them!).

Silent Night, Deadly Night was more or less what I was expecting:
  • that immediately greasy, scuzzy feel of an 80s horror movie
  • a fair amount of boobs
  • some pretty creative/amusing kills
  • optimistic setting up for a sequel - I didn't even know there was one sequel to this - turns out there are FOUR more SNDN films!

This film gives a very comprehensive lead-up to exactly why the killer has the motivation he does. We don't just see Billy at the moment his life completely derailed (the day he witnessed his parents assaulted and murdered by a guy dressed as Santa); we see the mid-point of his journey, too. And maybe if he'd been shown some human decency, care and love, he might have grown up to be faintly okay. Unfortunately for him, he's at a home for orphans run by a sadistic bitch of a Mother Superior.

In wonderful, classic 80s horror style, some superb groundwork is laid to monumentally fuck Billy up. This nun will have none of Billy's troubled past, and instead beats and berates him into submission. She thinks she is molding this poor kid into behaving (not that he is ever shown as being actually naughty), when really she is creating a perfect, messed up monster.

When we finally cut to Billy as a man, one of the nuns is getting him a job in a local toy shop. We're treated to a jarring musical montage of him successfully getting along in his new employment, that is... until the day comes that he's asked to dress as Santa. Already sweaty and freaking out, his true trigger moment comes when he witnesses his shithead coworker raping the girl Billy has a crush on. He kills him, obviously, and when she reacts (understandably) hysterical at this, he kills her too!

And so we continue with Billy making his way through workplaces and households, killing as he goes, and murmuring "naughty..." and "punish..." as he does so(!). The apparently one good nun in the orphanage is onto him though, and so are the police. This creates a fantastic narrative twist of innocent Santas all over town paying the price for Billy's homicidal tendencies.

Stand-out kills - and surely everyone's favourites who've seen this - are Denise (Linnea Quigley) being impaled on the antlers of a mounted deer head, and Billy decapitating a sledder as he comes down a hill.

This is a so-dumb-it's-kind-of-great movie. It may well become a fun yearly tradition to put on and giggle at it by the light of the xmas tree.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Baskin (2015)

Bathed in beautiful blues and reds, with an often pounding heartbeat of a soundtrack, Baskin is a nightmarish 1hr37min. You may well breathe a sigh of relief once it's done.

Directed by Can Evrenol as his first feature, this is the long-form version of his short film of the same name, describing the same events. Here's the Netflix blurb:
"A group of tough Turkish lawmen answer a call from a remote town and stumble into a gory Black Mass that appears to be occurring literally in Hell."

The intensity of that is well-deserved. As they venture further down into the darkness of the sub-levels of an abandoned building, these cops discover rooms of abhorrent acts, torture, mutilation, and satanic rituals.

Time for these men skips and loops, too, so along with some mind-bending and batshit encounters, we're forced to question too what is real, or what is happening when.

Initially with only their torchlight to guide them, we see slices of horrors before being able to take in the full tableau. Catching glimpses of incredibly fucked up shit is arguably worse, because your brain fills in the gaps.

Oh that's what she's doing!

And then comes the point where you're able to see everything that's happening, and you wish for the darkness and ignorance again.

Some horror films become more than simply "horrific"; those that use their imagery in such a way that it becomes a deeper level of offensive or taboo-breaking. Not just the subject matter, but the way it's presented. I found Baskin to be such a film. I'm not in the least bit religious, but there were things in this that disturbed me more than normal horror fare. The vibe of this film is evil. Its intensity and the blood-drenched, religious forward-motion of the characters reminded me of Martyrs (a film I like, but have never been able to watch more than once).

It's an understatement to say that Baskin is not for the squeamish, or the easily shocked. It's beautiful to look at, but what you are looking at is... well, deeply fucked up, a lot of the time! This is a serial killer's fever dream.

Streaming on Netflix at time of writing...

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Blood Lands / White Settlers (2014)

As much as it pains me not to like a film with Pollyanna McIntosh in it, I have to say this one was a miss for me.

It just made me want to watch Eden Lake again... which is some feat, considering how grim Eden Lake is (but in a good way). A married couple threatened by locals in a remote area hasn't got any more horrifying since, in my opinion.

Theoretically, The Blood Lands (or White Settlers, if you prefer, though neither name really suits it, to be honest) has the makings of something great: masks, home invasion, pursuits through woodland, yet another - my third this month! - Achilles Tendon injury...! But the chemistry between the leads was lacking as much as the tension over their fates.

It sucks, but with the high concentration of films I'm watching this month, I'd have no time left at all if I were to dwell too much on the ones that don't ring my bell. This isn't an all-out "avoid!", but more an "I was disappointed but open to hear a counter-argument if you have one". 

On Netflix now! :P

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Cabin Fever (2002) & Hostel (2005)

Do you like Eli Roth? I can't make up my mind. I kind of accidentally watched two of his films back-to-back the other night.

Both Cabin Fever and Hostel show us a group of friends way out of their element, far from home and under threat. Both are satisfyingly (and practically, effects speaking) gory and gross, and both were strong enough in premise and critical/audience reception to have spawned sequels and remakes. Let's take a little look at them...

Even though I've never considered myself an Eli Roth "fan" as such, I remember having an appreciation for his work. Sure, it's a little immature, but it comes from a love of the genre, right?

Hostel's Natalya (Barbara Nedeljakova)

To focus first on the women in these films (because that's where my representation interests lay most heavily), I have to give Roth his due; there's an evolution from the standard "helpless and topless" female characters. Natalya (above) is actually by far the most interesting character in Hostel: she's presented in more than one dimension and has something approaching a character arc! Natalya begins as a sexually liberated hook-up, and progresses through lure to full on traitor, with her appearance following the disintegration of her morality. More thought went into that than I remembered, to be honest.

Cabin Fever has another strong brunette in Marcy (Cerina Vincent). She is comfortable with her sexuality (which I guess in these films amounts to "is willing to get naked" but I'm not judging - women like sex!) and she's also brave and capable.

She's also the bum in this Texas Chainsaw Massacre homage shot!

Female representation is, surprisingly, not as poor as I recalled. There are still ample scenes of sex (centred on the male experience, of course) and boobs, but at least we have characters who are ultimately more than their body parts. They are somewhat multi-faceted personalities, not just a walking pair of tits.

Male characters... don't fare so well. Let's just say that the most striking thing on this rewatch was the reminder that early 2000's Roth sure did a fine line in absolute douchebags. From Bert (James DeBello, below left) in Cabin Fever to all three male leads in Hostel, if you ever feel an inexplicable need to hear characters call one another "fag" and "gay" repeatedly, then you're in luck, I guess?!

Cabin Fever's Jeff (Joey Kern, above right) experiences the best/worst reward for his selfish arseholeness, in another horror homage moment at the film's climax. Having saved himself from infection by abandoning his friends, he staggers out of his hiding place and back to the cabin. In a less shocking but still cool nod to hero Ben's fate in Night of the Living Dead, he's promptly shot and killed by police.

In terms of gore, I feel like it's kind of redundant to comment on at this point. Hostel shows us so much realistic violence that it was rolled into the whole "torture porn" debate. Cabin Fever too, is stomach-churningly gruesome (the shaving scene!) but comes under less fire due to the intent; sick shit is happening to these kids, but it's not directly at the hands of others gaining pleasure from it. In Hostel, people are deliberately captured, sold, sat down and tortured. It all looks very real.

To some this is too much, it's a step too far to show such extreme pain with no real message behind it. Personally, I use the "torture porn" label as a way to know what the movie is about, and gauge if I'm in the mood for it, but it's not a deal breaker by any means. Experiencing the pushing of boundaries is all part of being a horror fan, for me. And if the characters are set up the right way, well, I want to see those kills. Not everything has to have a message!

And if we're talking sick stuff, I'll take this opportunity to say that I've a real soft spot for films that use sexual arousal and infection as an interchangeable/confused notion. The scene with Paul (teen Jo crush Rider Strong) and Karen (Jordan Ladd) in bed, where he's trying to initiate something and moves his hand under the sheets, only to take it out a minute later covered in blood and goo...

Contracted plays with this too, when the main character passes on her virus to a lover and her putrefying pussy is mistaken for being wet from sexual arousal. It's so sick, it's a little questionable if you think about it too much... but I kind of love it.

Both of these are on US Netflix at time of writing, and worth revisiting if it's been a while since you've seen them and are happy to take them for what they are. Roth certainly knows what works for an uncomplicated and few-holds-barred horror movie, and he clearly loves being part of the genre. The cringey homophobic language is hard to stomach, and no one is going to fault you if that in itself means a hard pass to revisit them. Honestly though, they were not quite as "from a mind of a ten year old boy" as my memory had me believe. I'm not sure how comfortable I am admitting I was pleasantly surprised by how much I still enjoyed them.

It must be said though that the director cameo in Cabin Fever is one of the worst I've ever seen.

Edited to add: Ugh EVERYONE IS TRASH. So I checked rotten apples and even though nothing comes up there, this interview (the gross stuff is in number 3) is troubling. It's no real surprise, and that in itself is a shame.

*shrug* It's your call but there's probably as good or better shit to be watching without thinly-veiled homophobia, made by a sexist douchebag.

Last edit on Feb 1, 2019.

Friday, October 20, 2017

blood + guts + shopping

Feeling pretty great about my spooky purchases lately. Got this amazing Creature From The Black Lagoon inspired collar from interro bang bang and my new "Blood & Guts" pin from Negamidas.

The The Thing hand pin is from Negamidas, too! 🖤

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Raw (2016)

We're looking at my favourite so far this October. I really loved Raw. Tell me, what's not to love about an awkward, coming-of-age drama with some cannibalism thrown in?

Justine (Garance Marillier) is following in family footsteps by attending a prestigious veterinary university. Her parents met there, and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) already goes there. Justine's got a lot to live up to; but for this quiet, "average" (her word) girl, that doesn't initially appear to be too much of a problem. 

That is, until "rush week" gets underway, where Justine and her fellow rookies are put through some fairly intense initiation ceremonies. She's nervous but doesn't falter, not until there's one involving eating raw meat. All of her family are strict vegetarians, she says, she can't do it. But under threat of being outcast this early on in her student career and with pressure from Alexia, she caves.

At first, her only reaction is a really nasty skin allergy that appears almost overnight. She visits the nurse who diagnoses it - and then lights a cigarette right there in the examination room, gotta love the French! - and gives Justine some cream.

But the sense of something being off... of feeling itchy and not right deep down in her skin doesn't go away. And gradually, tiny moment built wonderfully upon tiny moment, Justine starts to realise with growing fascination and horror, just what it is she's yearning for.

WHERE do I start with this? It looks beautiful.

Everything looks beautiful. And it has big wide shots with nothing happening in them for a couple of beats, until a little car or a little person appears on the edge or the horizon. This is something, for some reason, I absolutely adore in films - and even replicate in my own photography, a lot of the time.

That this was written and directed by a woman (Julia Ducournau) comes as no surprise. Justine and Alexia are interesting, human, flawed, and beautiful characters. They bicker like sisters do, but they make up quickly like sisters do. Alexia tries to guide Justine and open up her worldview, but also protect her at the same time. It's such a lovely, real relationship.

Including a blackly comic home waxing scene.

Much of Raw's dark comedy comes from the bond between these two, and it's the subtle moments of humour, along with a fantastic performance from Marillier, that coat the plot in a warmth you aren't expecting.

Additionally, can I get three cheers for the normalisation of female body hair, please!

This would make a great companion for Teeth for a double bill, I think (and both are on US Netflix now, at time of writing!). With its depiction of a young woman discovering herself, both in a normal sense, ie: being of Justine's age where she's suddenly thrust into this un-parented world of boys and parties - and this playing out alongside the more extreme, fantastical changes the young woman is noticing in her body, too.

A shy, weird, late-bloomer who's simultaneously terrified of her urges and wanting desperately to indulge them. Justine even fucks her roommate to try and calm the storm boiling inside her. It doesn't work.

It never gets old when female sexuality is represented as well as this in horror. There's so much power in it and it's a monumental task to try and understand that power. Adding something gruesome on top of an already pretty fucking scary time is just the cherry on top of the sundae.

Cannot recommend this one enough.

Bonus: It has one of my favourite Blood Red Shoes songs on the soundtrack, as well as some pretty amazing other stuff to check out.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Pet Sematary (1989)

Having always shied away from watching this due to obvious concerns of dead/dying animals, tonight I was feeling brave and ventured forth. I was happy to see that there's minimal animal trauma - maybe even less than a normal horror movie!

Directed by Mary Lambert - a woman! Shouldn't be a cause for celebration, but it still is! - this was originally meant to be a Romero flick. Due to delays in filming George had to split on the project, so Lambert stepped in as director of this little beauty, based off of Stephen King's own screenplay.

Fact: Mary Lambert also directed Madonna's "Like A Prayer" video 🙏🏻

Quick Pet Sematary plot summary for anyone such as myself who honestly was clueless about it: A happy family of four (dad Louis, mum Rachel, young daughter Ellie and toddler son Gage) move into an idyllic house in the Maine countryside. The place is lovely - apart from the fact it's directly next to a road that Mack trucks come speeding down with alarming regularity.

They have an old man neighbour across the way, Jud Crendell (Fred Gwynne: Herman Munster!) who helpfully explains to the family that the path they see going into the woods from their backyard leads to a "Pet Sematary" (the sign is misspelled, hence the title is too). The place is pretty cool looking, and being there results in some pondering on death and loss - much to the annoyance of Rachel (Denise Crosby).

She wants to shelter her kids from the subject of death. Seems healthy! Though she does have her reasons...

In any case, when Rachel and the children are visiting her parents for Thanksgiving, the family cat, "Church" - short for Winston Churchill - a gorgeous Russian Blue, gets run over. To spare Ellie the pain of losing her beloved pet, Jud leads Louis through the Pet Sematary and up a hill, emerging at a Native American burial site. 

For reasons not made wholly clear, Jud encourages the burial of the dead moggy here, even though he knows from personal experience that this soil has "sour" resurrection properties.

Louis is like "yeah, right" and then "holy shit!" when Church actually does come back, but this kitty isn't happy and spends the rest of the film hissing with glowy eyes. He's not the cat he was.

So you see where this is going. Young children, speeding trucks, an ancient Indian burial ground? Yup, Church isn't the only being brought back to life during this runtime. But as Jud later says, "the person you put up there ain't the person who comes back...", and as tempting as it is to try and reclaim a lost loved one rather than deal with that loss... "sometimes dead is better."

Things get a lot "better" before the end credits.

Negotiating child death in a film is not easy, and Pet Sematary does it pretty excellently all while still giving the audience gasp-worthy moments. We don't see the accident, but we are shown a bloody little shoe. Similarly, we only ever get glimpses of Gage's tiny corpse, never a full on look at it. This builds the tension to when we actually see him again.

And Gage is completely adorable in life, so even though it's not a shock he dies; it is sad. When he returns... well, he's an adorable little monster.

An adorable little KILLING MACHINE monster.

Favourite moment alert: When his doctor father injects his neck to "put him back to sleep" - father's words, creepy much? - in an amazing scene (below), and he toddles off whimpering "no fair!". It's... it's perfect.

I haven't even mentioned Ellie's psychic abilities, Rachel's nightmarish sister, or Victor Pascow, the ghost jogger acting as a kind of spirit guide to the family. 

He first encounters Louis right before dying, and then continues to manifest throughout, offering warnings and handy advice, such as proper name pronunciation and tips on hiring a rental car!

My verdict on this film? Way less animal death than the name would suggest and a satisfyingly sad tale to boot. I wish I hadn't taken so long to see it!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

I'm stuttering in October's film-review-repeat rhythm, so even though I have technically written about this movie before (I saw it way back during its initial release) I still wanted to jot down a few things that I didn't mention previously, to grease the review wheels, if you will.

Ted Raimi is in this... He's not only in it, he's killed in it - and his eyes pop out!

Back in '08 I said one bad CGI moment stuck out, but the rest was sound. Obviously nearly ten years on the CGI splatter appears less seamless, but the gore (a nice mix of computer generated and practical) remains solid and startling. 

It's not relentless, but when it does come it comes HARD. Eye violence; tooth violence; fingernail violence... check!

Some people be hating on the title of this film, but I think it's perfect. Why, particularly in a genre like this, do we always have to be subtle? And if creator Clive Barker himself thought it was good enough, then who are we to argue.

I find something really comforting about the thought of old gods/beings ruling a city without our knowledge. Is that weird?

They're Watching (2016)

Apparently the makers of this don't classify it as a horror. I CAN BELIEVE IT. 

I was 48mins in when I decided not to waste any more time on it. What doesn't make sense is that it appears to be marketed as one. Not fair, guys.


Friday, October 13, 2017

The Prowler (1981)

There's so much to love about the look of the killer in Joseph Zito's The Prowler. It was the artwork that initially caught my eye; so greasy-looking, so 80s!

(I was later to learn the reason behind the sheen on everything is because this is taken from an actual shot in the film, where a woman is being killed in the pool, so everything's wet).

Anyway, the exploitation-y artwork; the WW2 uniform; the startling, no face = no humanity look of the Prowler himself... 

Something SO unsettling about his darkness against the pink of the walls!

...I was INTO this film about a mysterious military-clad figure, stalking and slashing its way through a graduation party. I was excited to watch it.

So I don't know if it was the wine I'd had, or the film itself's fault... or maybe a combination of both, but when I did watch it, I very nearly fell asleep. A couple of times.

To put it bluntly, the problem with The Prowler is the downtime between kills. There's no tension, and not too much in the way of engaging plot development either. It's all pretty boring until we see him starting to stalk another victim, and then things start to get interesting.

And the kills themselves? Coming courtesy of Tom Savini, they are by far the best thing to come out of this. Knives plunge into neck meat, eyes roll back to white, heads explode...! They are chilling, and they are incredibly impressive for 1981.

Bless you, Tom, and all of the work you have blessed this genre with. We're lucky to have you!

In conclusion: if you can make it through the slumps, the death scenes are worth sticking around for. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Collector (2009)

WHAT IF Kevin McAllister grew up to be a psychopathic murderer? Ever thought about that?

Wearing its Se7en and Saw franchise inspiration on its sleeve, The Collector is a nasty little story of home invasion, traps and torture.

Ex-con handyman Arkin (Josh Stewart) is desperate to pay a debt, so he decides to break into a mansion he's been working on. Assuming the worst part of the night would be cracking the safe, he's shocked to discover himself trapped inside with the family and a mysterious masked man who's rigged the place with murderous devices.

I was just thinking the other day how I'd not seen anything I'd class as "torture porn" in a while. Not lamenting the fact, to be clear, just thinking how I tend to gravitate away from stuff like that these days. Well... The Collector probably falls into this category.

There's a lot of squirm-in-your-seat moments, from razor blades and fish hooks to bear traps and barbed wire, and while some may delight in the game of "let's see how nasty this death is", this path may be one too well-trodden for some.

Written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan and directed by Dunstan also, this was originally meant to be a prequel to Saw. Even though the idea was declined, the sample script they submitted was enough to get them the gig writing Saw parts 4, 5, & 6 after Leigh Whannell left the franchise. 

It makes complete sense that the messed up minds that imagine the Rube Goldberg torture devices from the Saw films also pieced this house of horrors together.

And as grim as most of the deaths are, the most unsettling aspect of The Collector has to be the man himself.

We all know there's not much scarier than a mask, and his is a nightmare dreamed up from a gimp mask and a melted trash bag. With just staring eyes and gaping mouth left for us to focus on, this look was definitely chosen for maximum creep factor.

Home invasion movies are some of the most spine-chilling in horror, and even if this one is too bombastic to truly make a normal person feel at risk (seriously, you have to be ready to suspend hefty disbelief at how much time and good fortune it took to set all those traps AND have them work as intended), it's still a good time watching from between your fingers as the victims stagger from one booby-trap to the next.

Apart from the dog and cat death, that is :(

There's a sequel, The Collection, released in 2012 that I'll be keeping an eye out for. If the Google image results are anything to go by, it really turns up the volume!