Canadian

Black Christmas (1974)

black-christmas

As it is Christmas this week I thought I would review a suitably festive film and settled on Black Christmas. It opens at a very 70s Christmas party in a sorority house which handily introduces all the main characters of the film with the four sorority girls, various boyfriends and their house mother, all seen from the point of view of the killer who makes his (or her?) way up into the attic. Recently the girls have been receiving prank phone calls which escalate throughout the film, the main question I have is why haven’t they reported these phone calls before? Living in the sorority house over Christmas are Barb (Margot Kidder, Superman), a troubled girl with a drinking problem, Phyllis (Andrea Martin, SCTV), who apart from her frizzy hair and glasses is pretty non-descript, Jess (Olivia Hussey, It), the main character and Clare (Lynne Griffin, Dream House), a quiet ‘good’ girl who is the first victim. Along with the young women is Mrs. Mac, played by Marian Waldman (Phobia) the house mother who seems to permanently have a hat on and hides sherry around the house, including in the toilet cistern.

Whilst packing to go home, we see Clare suffocated from the point of view of the killer and her body hidden in the attic, but it takes over a day or so after her father turning up for people to realise that something is wrong. Despite organising a huge search party for Clare in the park nobody thinks to look in the attic, even though her body is put facing out the window! Black Christmas has all the clichés associated with slasher films including the jarring sound track, with the exception of the virgin dying first (see Scream for the serial killer “rules”).  None of the characters are particularly likeable and all react to things in really inexplicable ways, for example when worried about their friend Barb gives the telephone number of the house as beginning with the code FE for fellatio…

Disappointingly, Black Christmas is not very Christmassy, whilst it takes place at the start of the Christmas break, this seems coincidental, I was expecting with the title for Christmas to be integral, maybe the killer dressed as Santa or something. The resolution is both predictable and unsatisfactory and not worth the 90 minutes beforehand. Only watch if you are desperate for a (slightly) festive horror film.

Rating: 2/5

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With this slightly lack-lustre film I wish you all a very merry Christmas!

merry xmas

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Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs

Martyrs is essentially a film with three acts centred around two young women, Lucie and Anna, played by Mylène Jampanoï (Hereafter, The Chinese Botanist’s Daughters ) and Morjana Alaoui (Rock the Casbah, Special Forces) respectively. The film opens with a young Lucie’s  escape from an abandoned warehouse where she is being abused. Put into a children’s home, Lucie refuses to communicate with the authorities but forms a close an enduring friendship with her roommate, Anna. The film then skips forwards fifteen years where we see Lucie break into an ordinary family’s home and kill them all with a shot gun, however the pile of corpses are not Lucie’s only problem, she is plagued by an emaciated, scarred woman (think Gollum but way more scary) who attacks her repeatedly. Needing help, she calls her life-long friend Anna who rushes to her aid, cleaning her wounds and disposing of the bodies. It turns out that the family was not as ordinary as on first appearances and Lucie is sure the parents are the people who kidnapped and tortured her fifteen years previously. This is essentially the first act dealing with the ramifications of Lucie’s actions and the mysterious woman, ghost, monster or in Lucie’s psyche.

The catalyst of the second act is Anna’s discovery that the mother is still alive and the deterioration of Lucie’s behaviour and focusses more on the relationship between the two girls. Anna begins to doubt that the parents are those responsible for Lucie’s torture, after all it has been fifteen years and she only had a newspaper clipping to go on. Discovering Anna’s doubts, Lucie brutally kills the mother with a sledge hammer in graphic details, the most unnerving and effective part is the dull thuds as the hammer lands in the woman’s skull before killing herself. Anna is distraught but the next morning, thanks to large chunks taken out of the wall by Lucie’s sledge hammer, discovers an underground complex with the same chair-chains-bucket combination from Lucie’s past. What I didn’t understand was the size and professional look of this chamber, for example it went not just one but two storeys underground and featured poster-sized illuminated photos of people close to death in extreme circumstances. Surely anything of this size and quality would have cost a fortune and required a serious team of builders.

The third and final part of the film I’m not going to ruin the surprise here, but it is a cracker of an ending that I didn’t see coming. It takes the film from an average psychological thriller to the next level. Whilst at the start Martyrs reminded me strongly of another French film released at the same time, Switchblade Romance (released in the US as High Tension),writer and director Pascal Laugier (The Tall Man, House of Voices) pushes the idea to its limits, ramping the tension throughout the film. I think Martyrs is an excellent, if not necessarily enjoyable film that will stay with me for a long time.

Rating: 5/5 (although very different from the last film, The Bat, which also got full marks!)

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Grave Encounters 2 (2012)

GraveEncounters2

I have been meaning to watch Grave Encounters 2 for a while after enjoying the first film. The second film leads on directly from the first, so in order to understand it you really need to have watched the first film. Grave Encounters (2011) follows a film crew for a TV programme headed by Lance Preston who lock themselves inside a haunted asylum. Things go from bad to worse and the whole crew disappear.

Grave Encounters 2 follows Alex, played by Richard Harmon (Continuum) one of the 20million fans who have viewed the first film on YouTube and a film student. After starting a project based on Grave Encounters, queue lots of poor “student” acting, Alex becomes obsessed with proving that the first film is true. The first part of the film is setting the scene and I feel goes on too long with several unnecessary scenes including Alex meeting Lance’s mother which adds nothing to the story.

Finally the film crew get to the asylum after a tip-off from the anonymous blogger DeathAwaits666 who agrees to meet them there and prove that Grave Encounters is true. Upon breaking into the asylum, Alex and his friends are stood up by the blogger but decide to try to contact the spirits using a handy Ouija board (why would anyone ever thing this would be a good idea?) and surprise, surprise,  DeathAwaits666 is actually a demonic entity in the asylum. Now things start to heat up and all hell breaks loose with several evil spirits including a creepy little girl and a long limbed humanoid figure. The actual asylum is up to its old business in the first film with moving walls separating and trapping the group.

Unexpectedly the group run into Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) who has been trapped in the asylum for nine years which has understandably sent him insane. This is where the film gets weird and becomes a film in its own right rather than an imitation of the first film. In his incarceration Lance has discovered a giant red free-standing door, not the most subtle of things which he believes to be the only way out. To get around the fact that we are running out of characters to hold the camera, the asylum now takes it on itself with floating camcorders.

Whilst it is nice to see some progression from the first film, The Vicious Brothers, aka Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, I think it goes off the wall a bit and definitely primes the way for another sequel which is one of my least favourite trends in modern horror films. Grave Encounters 2 is an average film and better than many sequels but isn’t as good as the original.

Rating: 4/5

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13 Ghosts (1960 and 2001)

13 ghosts

The 2001 remake directed by Steve Beck (Ghost Ship) bears very little resemblance to the 1960 original by William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler) other than there is a house haunted by twelve ghosts left to the central family by a creepy uncle with an obsession with the occult.

In the original, the house is left by Dr. Plato Zorba to his nephew and family; Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods), his wife Hilda (Rosemary DeCamp) and their two children Medea (Jo Morrow) a flirty young woman or indeterminate age, and Buck (Charles Herbert) a ghost obsessed ten year old.  In the 2001 remake, the names are changed, the creepy uncle becomes Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham) and the nephew and family now consists of Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) and his two children Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts), Mrs. Kriticos having died in a house fire six months previously. In both films the family are having financial problems and the offer of a large house seems too good to be true (and it turns out is!)

In both there are two other characters (not counting the ghosts) common to both films, the lawyer after the hidden fortune – Benjamin Rush (Martin Milner) and Benjamin Moss (JR Bourne) in the 1960 and 2001 films respectively, and the housekeeper/nanny who changes from the inherited housekeeper ‘witch’ played by Margaret Hamilton (the wicked witch of the west in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz) to a nanny with an attitude played by Rah Digga. In the remake there are several additional characters including the psychic Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) and ghost hunter Kalina Oretzia (Embeth Davidtz).

In the 2001 film the house is a work of art, a giant glass jigsaw of sliding walls that release ghosts from the basement and in one memorable scene, cuts the lawyer in half. The house is controlled from a secret room at the top of the house from which the ghosts are released one by one by pulling levers on what looks like a giant old fashioned cash register. At the centre of this house, which turns out to be a machine is a series of concentric rings that begin to rotate from the centre as the film progresses. In contrast, the original house is the usual sprawling mansion and the only remarkable thing is a descending canopy on a bed that was used to smother people.

One thing the two films do have in common is that the ghosts can only be observed through a special pair of glasses. In the original this was used to great effect with Illusion-O, in which a ghost viewer being handed out to audience members featuring a blue and a red cellophane sections. To emulate the ghost viewer I used a handy pair of old fashioned 3D glasses but it is possible to view the film without it. William Castle appears at the start of the film and explains that when the screen turns blue (from the usual black and white) that, if you believe in ghosts to look through the red and if you don’t, to look through the blue section. The ghosts are shown in red with the rest of the scene in blue. The red filter intensifies the ghosts and the blue filter ‘removed’ them. It was very entertaining to play ghost-no-ghost by closing the relevant eye for each filter.

The ghosts in the two films are very different and play a greater role in the film’s plot in the remake. In the original the ghosts consist of four burning ghosts and a cartwheel of fire, a chef and his murdered wife and in-laws and a headless lion tamer and lion. In the remake the twelve ghosts make up the black zodiac and each has a back story. The ghosts range from the first born son (a child dressed as a cowboy with an arrow through his forehead) to the torn prince (a 1950’s jock with a baseball bat) to psychotic killers known as The Jackal and the Juggernaut.

These two films are both good films in their own right but I would not call the later film a remake of the 1960 film, rather that it was inspired by it. Neither film are particularly scary, but have different factors recommending them, the Illusion-O in the 1960 version and the amazing set design in the 2001 version.