Horror Movie Odyssey: Day 8 - Black Christmas (1974)

Disclaimer: I am sick as hell and half loopy from cough medicine so what follows may or may not be entirely decipherable.

Black Christmas is a slasher movie that was made four years before John Carpenter released Halloween and set a foundation for the genre. In 1974, a film about a crazy person knocking off an entire sorority was probably still a pretty fresh idea and I respect that they were doing something different here. The age of this movie goes a long way towards absolving it of its flaws - well, one flaw remains: “The Prowler” as he is credited, has got to be the least competent murderer ever.

Not Everyone Can be an Astronaut

The prowler’s first attempts at being all prowlery come in the form of obscene phone calls. When he hits up the ladies of Delta Alpha Kappa so that he can relay his modestly scary sexual inclinations, they actually gather around the phone to listen before bullying him off of the line. Fission Mailed. Later phone calls devolve into Timmy impressions from South Park and what I think are supposed to be spoken word dramatizations of conversations he once held with his mother.

Fish in a Barrel

As fictional sororities go, Delta Alpha Kappa is pretty mundane. The only real point of interest for these girls is they are all clearly suffering from some kind of mass narcolepsy. In a world where Jack Bauer can fight terrorists for 24 consecutive hours, these ladies can’t keep their goddamn eyes open for more than a few hours at a time. With a killer that is so unimpressive, the only tension in the movie is derived from the race to knock off these characters before they just head on upstairs to pass out of their own accord. Can he get to the sick girl before she passes out from her cough medicine? How about the girl that had too much to drink? Even the big ambiguous ending involves the final girl sleeping peacefully with the fucking killer still in the house. He might as well be stalking a coma ward.

Murder for Fun and Profit

From a historical perspective, this movie is pretty interesting. It may not be all that effective when compared to its contemporaries, but at least the people involved had the foresight to realize that watching a series of paper cutouts get stabbed to death can be fun and interesting. Had they not elected to make their killer a perpetually hyperventilating schizophrenic man-child, this film could be remembered with the kind of admiration typically reserved for Halloween.

Horror Movie Odyssey: Day 7 - Dead Snow

People often argue that zombies are scary because they are just friends and neighbors who have been forced back from the dead. Yesterday you were waiving to them in the driveway, and today you are braining them with a wrench because they tried to tear some flesh from your arm. There is no animus involved on their part, they simply need to eat you because they have had their operating instructions reset. Zombies, when done right, manage to conjure a potent mix of fear and pity, and they frankly become far less affecting when they were murderous assholes before they died.

Sometimes Less is Less

The story of Dead Snow goes something like this: A group of med school kids head up to a cabin in the mountains for Easter and are attacked by Nazi Zombies. That is it. That is the whole setup. That they don't work the zombie Easter angle into any resurrection jokes is a total missed opportunity. By not spending a bunch of time on the premise, the filmmakers are able to concentrate on accomplishing two things: First, they want you to know that they really really like Sam Raimi. Characters talk about Sam Raimi movies and wear shirts from those movies even before the movie morphs into a full on knockoff of his work. Second, they want to write their own nerd personas into the film. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the slightly chubby cinephile is the only guy on the trip to get a little action (from the hot chick no less). This is the equivalent of me writing a story where the socially retarded English major has to save the world.

This is My Boomstick

There is no denying that Dead Snow’s mix of red viscera and pristine snow is undeniably striking. The only visual flaw is the zombie makeup which makes all of the Nazis look like they just escaped from a burn ward. The real problem with Dead Snow is that the ideas they start with aren’t all that great. They try to go all Evil Dead but run out of gags before the halfway point. There are seriously are more intestine gags in this film than you can count on a single hand. When fake Ash starts wielding a chainsaw and then loses his arm, it becomes abundantly clear that these guys are on autopilot.

Horror Movie Odyssey: Day 6 - Stagefright

Alicia is a bit down on her luck. She is barely scraping by as an actress and a role in some sleazy stage production is her only chance to make rent this month. Worse yet, she managed to twist her ankle and everybody knows that ankles are very important for acting. One night she decides to duck out of rehearsal and head down to the local mental institution to have her ankle checked out because “psychiatrists are doctors too!” The shrink is happy to grope her leg for a while, but he can’t do a whole lot so she eventually heads back to work with a deranged murderer in her back seat.

The killer’s first victim is the poor costume lady clearly signaling his contempt for the working class. After her body is discovered, things go a bit sideways. The director feels that the entire play should now be reworked to feature the real life murderer who just killed his employee (literally 5 minutes ago). What could be better than a show about a real killer who actually killed a member of the production, right? I mean, who wouldn’t want to go see that masterpiece? At no point during the formulation of this master plan does anyone actually bother to check and see whether the killer left or not. As a result, the rest of the cast becomes locked in the theater with him and forced to fight for their lives.

Michael Soavi was Argento’s protege for a time and Stagefright has many qualities that made Argento’s stuff so good. Part of it it is the way that the dub never quite matches up with the performance. And part of it are the soundtracks that leave these movies end up feeling like 90 minute Whitesnake videos. The rock music is hilarious and starts blasting at the weirdest moments. For example, nothing calls for bad ass guitar licks quite like walking down the hallway to your own dressing room. BRRAAWWR!!! The killer also wears an over sized owl mask and everyone knows that owls are the most hardcore of all birds.

If the film has one fatal flaw, it is that the killer is never given any real motivation. Why does he kill people? Because he is a fucking crazy person, that’s why. He is so crazy that merely killing folks isn’t enough. He has to go and pose them and sit around chilling out to butt metal and petting this cat named Lucifer that hangs around the place for no particular reason. So. Goddamn. Metal.

Horror Movie Odyssey: Day 5 - The Crazies (2010)

I can’t for the life of me figure out why a person would want to remake the Crazies. The original is notable for exactly one reason - it was directed by George A. Romero, who made the Dead trilogy over a span of thirty years and a ton of complete garbage in between. It looked like it was made for nothing and stacked with “actors” who always seemed confused and possibly hungry. My guess is that the production was probably only able to fund the food trailer on alternating days.

You're Doing it Wrong

It is universally understood that remakes have one very specific aim. They want to take something that you have fond memories of, ruin it, and then feed it back to you in exchange for your money. This is a time honored tradition so my question is who was sitting around crossing their fingers for a Crazies remake? What hot demo were they hoping to tap with this movie. Perhaps whoever owned the rights to the original and saw how much money “The Hills Have Eyes” pulled in and it triggered some Pavlovian response whereby the producer couldn’t stop drooling until he “made a few calls?”

Sarah Palin Approved

The film opens with shots of the small town sheriff driving through corn fields on the way to a baseball game. This opening is completely key to the experience because it sets expectations. It lets you know that you have been transported to the “Real America” that politicians love to talk about. The fine people of Ogden Marsh are down to earth folks who want nothing to do with your decadent city bullshit. They even licensed a Johnny Cash song for the opener just to really drive the point home.

Crazy Good (see what I did there?)

Frankly, after the opener, there isn’t a whole lot to pick apart or make fun of. The movie is just too freaking good. It’s like the people in charge of this remake were actually concerned with it’s quality. Unbelievable. Once Trixie (the chemical weapon) is introduced to the town via a crashed military aircraft, all hell breaks loose. The town people that you met earlier are reintroduced as monsters that clearly retain a measure of their personality. For instance the pack of rednecks who were hunting out of season return near the end to hunt people.

Horror Movie Odyssey: Day 4 - Audition

My write up of Friday VII yesterday left me with some mixed feelings. Sure the movie was great, but reading the description, I feel like I gave the impression that the film is basically just 90 minutes of fun-loving lady murder. The entire thing seemed a tad misogynistic so today I wanted to mix things up a bit and let the fairer sex have their day in the sun. No film makes the case for female empowerment quite like Audition.

False Advertising

Takashi Miike is kind of a crazy person. Notable for both his prolific catalog (Audition was one of seven films he directed in 1999), and the fact that his movies have a tendency to be grueling exercises in cinematic excess (Ichi the Killer has a guy getting deep fried on hooks). The DVD case certainly lets you know what you are in for, check out this thing:

Awesome right? Hot chick, bloody wire, fun times! What could possibly go wrong?

Ovaries. Yeah, you read that right.

This movie is two hours long and the first 100 minutes is all build up. Shigeharu’s wife dies, and after being lonely for a long stretch, he takes his son’s advice and tries to “get back out there.” The problem, of course, is that he is naive, middle aged, and more than a little lazy. He actually says outright that he “doesn’t know much about ovaries.” Okay. His friend helps him out by staging a fake round of auditions so he can check out a bunch of ladies and determine which one he wants to pursue: Cute outgoing girl? Nah. Straight laced business lady? Nah. Slightly skanky chick? Not so much. Clearly unstable lady that scares the shit out of absolutely everybody she encounters? Sure, why the hell not?

This Chick is Crazy

His friends know that this chick is crazy, the audience knows that this chick is crazy. What is wrong with him? Doesn’t he like his own feet?!

When Sally Dissected Harry

The whole sort-of cute, sort-of creepifying story is just building to the last 15 minutes where absolutely everything goes haywire. There is this whirlwind of nightmarish imagery and highlights include: child abuse, vomit eating, eyeball acupuncture and the number one stunner - foot amputation. There is no doubt a potent feminist metaphor to be found but... goddamn!


Horror Movie Odyssey: Day 3 - Friday the 13th Part VII

Previously On... Camp Crystal Lake

It has been a few years since I sat down to watch a Friday film and I had completely forgotten about the dumb opening montage that they insist on playing at the start of each film. I don’t need a five minute clip parade just so you can explain why Jason is chained to the bottom of Crystal Lake. We’re cool. Seriously.

Carrie Vs. Jason

After six Friday films, Jason had pretty much established that he does not take shit from teenagers. So how do you create tension? Who, you ask, can possibly give Jason a run for his money? Boom - psychic teenager. That sound you just heard was your mind being blown. What good is your over-sized machete when the blond girl can freaking mind-flay you? Tina Shepard is so hardcore that she murdered her own father after he bought her the Tenderheart Care Bear when she had clearly expressed her desire for the Funshine Care Bear. She is such a formidable enemy that the director gave Jason an upgrade. He is now an 8 foot tall monster. No, seriously, an actual monster. He has demon teeth and an evil yellow spine that protrudes from his jumpsuit.

Doctor Crews is an Asshole

That is not a strong enough statement. Here: He greatest asshole ever committed to celluloid. A veritable amalgam of every asshole you have ever met in your entire life. He is so out of control that not even the newly deceased are free from his dickery. When he stumbles across a dead body, he actually picks up the bloody murder weapon and points it menacingly at the dead guy’s face. What an asshole.

Jason Vorhees Cares Deeply About the Environment

Every victim of Jason has one thing in common: they are fucking up his lake. What stops the pothead from unleashing his heinous carbon footprint? Murder. Teens having sex in the van that gets 12 mpg tops? Murder. Naked girl in the lake that disturbs the lake turtle breeding hours? Murder. He is such a conservationist that he drags the girl from the lake after killing her. Waste not, want not. He was raised right. He may throw blood on you for wearing fur, but at least it will be your own blood.

Best. Death. Ever.

Twenty five minutes into the movie, Jason takes a girl in her sleeping bag and beats her to death against a tree. In any other film, this would be the ultimate kill. Jason will not be denied however, and actually manages to kill a poor girl with her own novelty party horn. I can't be certain, but a quick search at the Party Planet website leads me to believe that it may have been a Colorful Foil Party Horn, available in packs of 24 for the very reasonable price of $6.99..


Horror Movie Odyssey: Day 2 - "The Ruins"

The plan is 31 horror movies in 31 days. Two days and two posts means apathy can officially suck it.

The Ruins

The Ruins is essentially a movie about plants that want to kill you. Other stuff may happen, but the plants are always in the background plotting your demise.. Occasionally they are sneaky, often they are.. more direct. The movie begins as so many horror films do, with a group of naive twenty-somethings traveling to a foreign country only to discover that they probably should have vacationed at the Great Lakes or something.

Scott B. Smith is a Nerd Baller

I have nothing but respect for a guy who writes an amazing book like “A Simple Plan” and then jumps directly to a book / film about evil flesh eating plants. Apparently, he had film rights for “The Ruins” sold before the book was even out so it is conceivable that investors thought “The Ruins” would be about the destruction of world landmarks.

Loincloth Count: Zero

Through some standard plot devices (five teens.. at a rave.. on an island...), our group of slightly hungover explorers decide to visit a secret Mayan temple that does not appear on any maps. They find this super secret temple via a map provided by the brother of Mathias, one of the leads (?!). Upon arriving and making physical contact with the vines that grow on the the surface of the temple, some very angry locals show up and force them up onto the temple itself where they must remain or be shot (arrowed?) to death. The nice thing is that the locals aren’t your standard tribal archetypes. It would have been easy to go all “Cannibal Holocaust” and paint the temple folks as crazy cannibals or something but they thankfully resist. Once the nature of the vines is revealed, motivations become clear.

Clever Girl

I wont give away all the the tricks employed by the vines but I will say that they range from hilarious to grotesque. The icky side is undoubtedly where they have the most success because the practical effects in this movie are amazing. The characters engage in a variety of hunting-knife-surgical-procedures which are incredibly squirm inducing. The CG scenes where vines attempt to reach and touch somebody are perhaps less convincing.

This is The Way The World Ends

The ending to this movie is dumb. The DVD offers a variety of alternate endings and, predictably, they picked the least effective one. Even so, "The Ruins" was pretty fun. I might not be as good as the book, but what is?

Horror Movie Odyssey: Day 1 - Hellraiser

Uncle Pinhead

The Hellraiser series is perhaps the most notable horror franchise to which I have had zero exposure. I grew up with Freddy, Jason and Michael but the somewhat unfortunately named “Pinhead” had been, until now, relegated to the role of slightly creepy uncle nobody wants to acknowledge. The entire thing just seemed a bit too “hesh” for my tastes. Pinhead and the rest of the cenobites seemed like they could pass as a metal head’s completely rad trapper keeper doodles. Anyway, October is for horror movies and I figured I should kick off with something a bit different. Nothing says different quite like sadomasochistic demons.

For Cenobites, Sexy Fun Time Does Not Include Sex or Fun

Pinhead explains at some point in the film that the cenobites are “explorers in the further reaches of experience” or something equally cryptic. This would be super cool if he and his posse weren’t clad head to toe in S&M gear. It is basically him, the slightly androgynous chick (kind of hot I admit), the fat guy with tiny glasses (could be ripped from the World Series of Poker) and the Nemesis from Resident Evil 3. I hate to say it but this is kind of a sorry group. Hell’s “Breakfast Club” if you will. I see those four walking out of a Hot Topic and odds are I grab for my camera phone before I run in terror. They are joined by some weird creature that looks like a cross between a Silent Hill dog and the “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” banana. I hate to be completely dismissive, because I think that Clive Barker is pretty much a genius (Mister B. Gone is really great), but this movie clearly lacks the impact it once enjoyed.

But Hey, Thanks For Not Being a Teen Morality Play

The people in this movie are completely despicable assholes and they exist in a world where people age beyond 25 years. It is nice to watch a horror movie from the eighties that isn’t limited to a group of teens being impaled in the order that they have sex or smoke pot. The movie opens with a sexually depraved nobody looking for the next high, and ends with the skinning of the slightly goofy and entirely oblivious father. The middle consists of a psycho bitch and a string of adulterous no-names. It feels like a movie seventies or two-thousandsies in that respect. Clive Barker explores morality as it applies to adults and clearly doesn’t have shit to say on the subject of premarital sex. Refreshing.

What Was With the Cricket Eating Homeless Guy / Hell-Dragon?

Seriously, what the fuck was that? I have no idea.

Paging Pascal Laugier!

After watching Hellraiser, I fully understand why the producers were so keen to hire Laugier for a remake. Martyrs has a lot in common with Hellraiser thematically and it prominently features a character without skin.