Monthly Archives: December 2011
New Year’s Evil 1980
Directed by: Emmett Alston
Starring: Kip Niven, Roz Kelly, Chris Wallace
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
New Years Eve being the day that it is, it’s surprising that there are not as many slashers on that date as there are on Christmas for example. Terror Train is set on the 31st of December, but it sacrifices use of the day as a real gimmick for its train setting, which is understandable. So basically, it’s left up to this early entry to carry the torch for New Year’s slasher fans.
It was brought to the screen by Yoraham Globus and Menahem Golan who between them have produced well over 150 films. The cousins moved to LA in 1979 and took over the independent studio, Cannon Films. Their output of mid-budgeted motion pictures were always cash-ins on lucrative trends, moving from martial arts (¡Viva American Ninja! The Dudikoff classic I watched a million times as a kid) to out-and-out action and most recently drama back in their native Israel. As they had a keen eye for what’s hot at the box office, they obviously have a couple of slashers under their belts, including, Hospital Massacre and this little beauty, which was an early band wagon jumper.
Released at the peak of the slasher craze, New Year’s Evil is no clone of Halloween. It boasts an intriguing concept, which works to make the most of its calendar date. The self-proclaimed ‘lady of rock’, Diane Sullivan is hosting a punk TV show, which offers a separate countdown to the big moment for each US time zone. Viewers are invited to phone in for requests as the bands play, but the first call she receives is from a mysterious stranger called, ‘Evil’. He threatens that on each strike of 12, he will kill someone and his final victim he promises will be the host herself. As the bodies pile up, it’s left up to the Police to prevent a New Years massacre…
With a characterised loony who is on-screen from the first minute, a great method for building suspense as the minutes tick away to the murderous countdown and a high budget to make the most of its surroundings, New Year’s Evil didn’t look like it could fail. The problem is that it has the pace of a dead snail and feels like it was rushed through production at the same kind of break neck speed that these actors disappeared in to cinema obscurity. It was a good idea that has been put together with no real thought about the best way to convey it, so what we’re left with is an ugly mess.
Like going to a New Year’s party at a train spotting convention, the film is lifeless and dull. There’s almost no stalking and very little slashing, so my eyes felt heavy on the 55 minute mark and I nodded off, having to watch the rest in the morning to write this review. The killer seduces his first couple of victims and then whisks them somewhere to murder them off-screen, so there’s zero build up or scares. He has an awesome mask that he barely uses, which is a disappointment and he never builds any sense of fear or an ominous presence. Future Playboy bunny and unbelievably cute chick Teri Copley does escape his clutches and hot foots it in to the night, but despite giving pursuit the sequence still feels too lackadaisical to generate tension. There’s a twist at the end that you’d have to be unconscious not to guess and the fact that our ‘heroine’ is shown to be so self-absorbed that she pays no attention to her son, means that there is no one to root for.
I was thinking that if I had the money, I would give this film a remake. I would use the gimmick about the different time zones, make the calls creepier like say, Black Christmas, and keep the killer off-screen or masked. I would re-write the twist so that it hints at who it was here, but make it someone else (I know who, can’t say without ruining this one) and utilize the mask that the killer wears only twice, in every single scene. The reason I say this is because there were plenty of good ideas that I could see, but through lame direction and a lack of spark, it ends up being totally forgettable. There’s only a single ok scene, where the cops find two bloodied corpses strategically located and it’s a one-off moment of effective grimness. Aside from that though it’s utter crappola all the way through; right up to the cheesy and totally expected ending. The director would return to the slasher genre much later with the equally bad (but kind of fun) Demonwarp.
Don’t get me wrong there’s plenty of cheese and the odd unintentionally hilarious moment, but as a slasher movie New Year’s Evil is a total flop. I guess you could get hammered and watch this on New Years Eve and have a laugh, but I think that it’s more likely that (like me) you will be asleep on the hour mark. The potential for a remake is here, but on second thoughts, if I had the money It wouldn’t be me doing it. With those kinds of funds I’d be on a Bahamas beach in my Arsenal shorts surrounded by a bevy of beauties and as far away from New Year’s Evil as possible… (Just don’t tell the Mrs…)
Well What can I say, Happy New Year to you all and 2012 is going to be massive! Let’s hope all (or some) of our dreams come a tad closer to fruition. I wonder what there will be in terms of slasher movies? Halloween was 1978, Scream 1996 so we are due another genre re-birth soon, so maybe it’ll happen in 2012
All the best from me and see you all next year!!!!!
Bits and Pieces 1985
Directed by: Leland Thomas
Starring: Suzanna Smith, Brian Burt, Tally Chanel
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s an interesting job reviewing slasher movies. Despite how it may look, I don’t only spend my spare time watching cruddy horror films and I’m actually a big fan of cinema in general. My favourite directors are Luis Buñeal, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar and I love the writing skills of Charlie Kaufman. The reason I’m telling you this is because a different form of ratings apply to me between slasher and ‘normal’ flicks.
Allow me to explain what I mean. Ok let’s take a well known movie; – let’s say Casino with DeNiro and Pesci for example. Now I would give that a three star rating, but on a SLASH above, I gave Killer Workout exactly the same. How could that be? Well because I have taken in to account the target audience and intended results. If I sit down to enjoy a big budget motion picture with an Oscar worthy cast, I expect a different kind of sensation than if I watch a David Prior cheese marathon. So in effect, a three star slasher is different to a three star top box office hit – catch my drift? As much as I love seeing a method actor wrap himself in a portrayal (Rourke, Norton and Brando are my favourites), I equally find haven in an ‘unknown’ trying to be convincing with his one and only shot.
So with that cleared up, we turn our attention to Bits and Pieces; a trash extravaganza that is as far removed from Scorsese as an episode of Sesame Street. Maybe, even further…
Note – I had to try to put in a killing, but most of them involve nudity, so this is the best I could do – but it is intercut with some non-murder plot stuff
Police have been finding dismembered corpses of young females around the city. It seems there’s a psychopathic killer on the loose. The maniac in question kidnaps women, dresses them in wigs and then kills them in his grimy bedroom. Unbeknownst to him though, he has left a possible witness. Will he be able to silence her before the police track him down?
I have recently learned that director Leland Thomas went on to teach filmmaking years after the release of Bits and Pieces and he uses this as an example of how not to make a movie. He informs his classes in part about the production before finally showing them the feature in its entirety. The producers put together the funds with the simple intention of cashing in on the slasher craze and were very vocal on what they felt was needed to make it a success. Apparently the final version omitted the majority of John Naulin’s gore effects, because the decision makers got cold feet about the explicit violence. As it is unavailable on DVD and very hard to track down any information on, it’s difficult to see exactly how much was removed. From what I have learned though, it does seem that it was jinxed by development woes.
The film itself is best described as a remake of 1980’s Maniac; especially in the way it gives the killer a lot of screen time and the viewer a chance to see the reasons why he has become so unhinged. The influences are most evident in the psycho’s obsession with his mother and the mannequin that he keeps stored in his apartment. Pieces is nowhere near as good though and lacks Lustig’s stylish direction, Tom Savini’s remarkable gore effects and even the twisted presence of a Joe Spinnell type actor. There are a few of this kind of slasher flick that differentiate themselves from the masked assassin synopsis that the genre is most renowned for. Others that include a characterisation for their bogeyman include, Skinner, Murderlust and Mardi Gras Massacre. It’s a much harder task to make a monster with a personality and dialogue creepy, but when handled correctly, the results can be genuinely effective.
Bits and Pieces is not one of those though that could be described as ‘effective’ however, and it’s pretty bad in all departments. It spends a long time developing its characters, but they are so badly acted that I felt like throwing my sock at the screen. The two leads enter different realms of awful dramatics, which are each as laughable as the other. Detective Lieutenant Carter must be on Temazepam as he has no awareness of human emotion and mutters in the same drab tone no matter what the situation. Then we have Rosie; our big-haired bleach-blonde final girl. Now she screams and cries and overacts at every given opportunity, but again it’s so rubbish that you just want to cringe. There’s tonnes of padding, which sees those same ‘stars’ falling in love and heading out to the beach a few hours after they have first met (!), but it looks drawn out and laborious because we have zero connection with anyone on the screen.
A slasher this low grade will always provide some campy comedic moments to lift the mood and there are a few here courtesy of the dim-witted script. At one point the police find a decapitated head in a dumpster and an officer tells our leading detective on the investigation that they have a positive ID on the killer’s number plate. If you’re expecting an immediate reaction, like putting out an urgent APB or for him to break from his tranquiliser-induced trance at least for a second, you’re out of luck. His only response is, ‘Ok great. I’m going home!’ I also liked the moment during the longest, least passionate ‘make out’ scene ever, when they finally begin to kiss and then suddenly, the girl starts crying. Whether it be intentional or not (I would say definitely not) it has a great sense of comic timing. It’s almost as if you can feel the thwarted lover’s frustration and him thinking, “Do you have to start the tears now, for gawd’s sake?! I was just about to get it on!!!” The use of musical accompaniment and effects here is also pretty funny. The score sounds like it was put together on a toddler’s keyboard and every now and then they chuck in peculiar sci-fi noises for no obvious reason in the strangest of places.
Some of the victims are abducted from outside a male strip bar and we get to see a couple of the bare chested, heavily oiled studs (although one of them is painfully anorexic looking) performing. I suddenly felt like I guess all slasherettes must feel when they have to sit through endless mounds of boobies in these flicks, so it was a moment of table turning from the crew behind this piece. The killer lumbers about in his shirt and tie, trying to be scary, but comes across as a bit of a wuss; and most of the gore that the producers left in was penniless. I did, however want to see this through to the end and despite teetering on the brink of tedium, it kept me interested.
Things pick up somewhat towards the final pay off and the last scene is quite lurid and mean spirited. It’s touching on torture porn more than slasher, but unsettling all the same. Aside from that, there’s not much here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere, but if you fancy a poor man’s Maniac then you can give this a look. There’s quite a bit of nudity, one really cute chick as a victim and some cheesy moments too. Don’t pay the extortionate video prices, but if it gets a DVD release, it may take your fancy. I give it one and a half stars, so not quite the slasher equivalent of Gigli, but more like Righteous Kill.
Final Girl √√
Black Christmas 1974
Directed by: Bob Clark
Starring: Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Lynne Griffin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Long before Jamie Blanks turned popular urban legends into a theme for his routine slasher, Urban Legend; director Bob Clark took one of the most vigorously touted of those fables and created a genre staple that would become the forerunner of the stalk and slash cycle. Comparisons can obviously be drawn between this and Halloween, including notorious but unconfirmed reports that Carpenter’s film was in fact based upon an un-produced concept that Clark had earlier initiated as a sequel to this 1974 sleeper. Both efforts certainly have a lot in common with one another, including two excellent steady-cam openings, which put the viewer in the killer’s shoes as he enters his ‘soon to be’ scene of a crime. On the ‘making of’ feature for the 25th anniversary of Halloween, perhaps one commentator is fairly unjust when he states that it was that movie alone that started the excessive use of point of view shots that are so often imitated in horror cinema ever since. Black Christmas was equally as effective with its application of first person cinematography and even though Carpenter had already endorsed the technique in an earlier short from his University days, he was most definitely influenced by what he saw here.
The story concerns a group of sorority sisters that are preparing for their Christmas celebrations in a remote house. They have been receiving bizarre and anonymous calls from what sounds like a group of insane people, although no one takes them seriously at first, believing that they’re just a typical prank from a few of the local town boys. However fears are ignited when one of the students, Claire (Lynne Griffin), doesn’t arrive to meet her father on time and is reported missing. Later a child is found butchered in the park, whilst the loony continues his demented ringing and terrorising the young women. Before long Lieutenant Fuller (John Saxon) realises that there may be a link in the occurrences and asks Jess (Olivia Hussey) to remain close to her phone so that he can trace the line when the lunatic next rings. But will there be anyone left alive when that happens?
Even though this movie is neither graphic, gratuitous nor particularly exploitive by today’s standards, it remains one of the most disturbing and chilling slasher movies ever made. Perhaps as mysteriously alluring as the exploits of Michael Myers and certainly far more alarming than any of its endless imitations could ever hope to be, the killer here simply oozes fear factor. It’s not by the use of the typical methods that have become somewhat old-hat in more recent efforts either. For example, this assassin doesn’t wear a mask, probably doesn’t possess any super-human attributes and may only be threatening towards the female of our species. But his enigmatic ranting and crazy excessive skips between multiple personalities that are portrayed superbly over phone calls, effortlessly allow him to become one of the creepiest wackos ever seen on film. Never has a telephone been implemented as a tool for creating fear so efficiently. There’s something really unsettling as this Jekyll and Hyde argues with his demented alter ego(s). In the midst of his outbursts, he changes his pitch from that of a high female to a deep and aggressive male and then back again, in a manner of pure and unadulterated insanity that really sticks in your throat. He perhaps reaches the most blood-curdling moment when he drops the wacky persona to adopt a civil yet curt voice and mutter once,`I’m going to kill you’. This proves to be the one and only direct threat that he makes in the whole movie.
Where as Michael Myers’ success was brought about by the mystery that surrounded the little that we knew of the true motivations of his character, a similar method has been used here. I won’t write too much in case that you haven’t already seen the film, but the script does a great job of maintaining a mysterious bogeyman. Bob Clark’s talents as a horror director certainly reached their peak with Black Christmas. Helped excessively by some great cinematography and neatly planned lighting effects that often evade the more recent slasher movies, he proved his worth as a genre legend. He used some creative methods to keep the killer obscured from view, whilst not forgetting the fundamental silhouette and shadow play. I am sure that the quality of his work here gave him the springboard to the latter success that he would find in other areas of cinema. If you do predict the twists in the plot, then it’s only because they have be copied so many times since this hit the shelves that they now feel second nature to any slasher fan. It’s important to remember that this was one of the first to use those elements and you must also note how perfectly this holds up against the majority of attempts that have been released up to three decades after.
Some brilliant actors whom themselves would make their own slight impressions on the genre (Margot Kidder: The Clown at Midnight, Lynne Griffin: Curtains and John Saxon: Nightmare Beach and The Babydoll Murders) offer support to a competent lead in Olivia Hussey. Aside from a couple of weak moments she carried the majority of the picture extremely well. Kudos also to the actor(s) that performed the terrorising calls, because their effort to sound as deranged as humanly possible gave the film one of the scariest ingredients of the cycle. We cannot forget to mention Roy Moore and Bob Clark’s dialogue; because without it, the movie certainly would not have been so fearfully memorable.
The slasher genre has gained a reputation over the years for being somewhat over populated by incompetent/amateur filmmakers. But efforts like this, Halloween and House on Sorority Row prove that the category is a necessary ingredient to cinema history when it’s handled properly. This has recently been re-released on DVD with minimal extras but maximum value for money and really does warrant a purchase. There’s not a lot more to be said to convince you, this is a true cult-classic and your collection is poorer without a copy. Maybe next time you are bothered by a crank caller, you’ll be a little more cautious as to how you handle the situation…
Final Girl √√√
Home For The Holidays 1972
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Starring: Sally Field, Jill Haworth, Julie Harris
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
What we are gonna do here is go back, way waaay back. Back before Messrs Carpenter and Clark had ‘invented’ the slasher genre…
I was speaking recently to a screenwriter by email who I won’t name right now, because I am going to do a feature on one of his unreleased films at some point in the new year. Anyway, he had scripted (and co-directed) a few slasher flicks during the eighties and I asked him if he was a personal fan of the style or whether it had just been work for him at that time. He told me that he has always had a love for horror flicks and slashers in particular, but the only thing that frustrates him is that everyone seems to think that it all started with Halloween and Black Christmas. He said that this took credit away from the numerous earlier ventures that were equally as good (sometimes better). I do see his point and agree half-heartedly, but I guess the reason why people turn to those two films so regularly is because they actually cemented the trademarks for a new sub genre. They were so popular and so critically well received that it would have been impossible not to use them as reference points. Granted, neither of those could be considered as the first stalk and slash entries, but what they did was take a style of picture that hadn’t yet really been classified and give it definition. They placed the cherry on top, for want of a better way of putting it…
Now Home for the Holidays plays so closely to the rulebook (which hadn’t yet been written) that if you had told me that it had been shot in 1982 and I hadn’t recognised any of the actors involved with the picture, I probably wouldn’t have known any different. This one has it all from a goodie final girl to a hooded killer with a pitchfork.
A father calls back his four estranged daughters for Christmas as he believes that his wife is slowly poisoning him to death and he wants them to get rid of her. Almost as soon as they arrive, it begins frantically raining and they become stranded in the creepy house. Before long a killer in a rain mac begins slaughtering them one by one. Can any of them get out alive?
I’m tempted to say now that they don’t make them like they used to, but I am in fear of sounding a bit older than my thirty years would call for. Home for the Holidays is a stylish, suspenseful treat and it’s a perfect Christmas scary movie. In all honesty, I watched this whilst suffering from a nasty dose of man flu. I felt quite tired, run-down and at first I found it hard to pay attention. This was by no means the fault of the feature, it’s just that it was early in the morning and I wanted to read the news, make myself a cup of tea and the usual palaver. Once the plot got in full swing however, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen and the ending had me on the edge of my seat. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen it all before in other slasher movies, but somehow the fact that this pre-dates the overkill period means that you never can be sure of the rules that it abides by – if any. The twist at the end may not be mind blowing, but it’s the strength of the performances that add depth to the mystery.
Aaron Spelling was the executive producer and the initial plan was that this be shot for Television exposure only, but it later saw a second lease of life on VHS. As it wasn’t intended for cinematic audiences, it spends a lot of time with the characters and in lesser hands could have become tedious and over-talky. But TV director John Llewellyn Moxey builds a truly sinister environment and the constant battering of the rain and thunderstorms creates not only a foreboding atmosphere, but some great jump scares. It’s a tight script from Joseph Stefano of Psycho fame, but it’s the casting department that should really take a bow. The daughters are all clichés; one an alcoholic, one promiscuous, the baby faced goodie and the elderly superior who seems to be the most dependable. But they are so brilliantly conveyed that they never allow the story to feel unrealistic or banal. Sally Field is fantastic and charming as the trusting final girl, whilst Jill Haworth’s exceptional beauty demands a viewing on its own. Julie Harris was also very classy as the ‘is she or isn’t she’ wife and they even managed to get Walter Brennan to play the father!
There’s not much of a body count and we only really get to see the killer stalking on a couple of occasions, but still this is a wonderfully crafted and skilfully shot thriller that deserves to be seen this Xmas. It may not be quite as good as Black Christmas, but the truth is, it’s not lagging that far behind…
Final Girl √√√√
A Very Slash-Happy Christmas to you all!!! I hope that you are enjoying the countdown to the big day with all the festive slashers. I’ve saved the best until last!
I launched this blog to reach out to those of you, who like me, have a love for this often mocked but thoroughly enjoyable type of film. However when I put it online, I never dreamed how many readers it would get and last month alone the site had just over 6,700 visits! That’s immense, so thanks so much for taking the time to look. The plan is to carry on digging out the rarest of the rare and the more well known and post an opinion every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. I have noticed that I have been focussing more on the older entries, but I will soon start adding reviews of the likes of Fright Flick, Demons Never Die and Porn Shoot Massacre. It’s just getting time to watch them.
Thanks to all of you and have a very very very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2012. Time flies so fast, so let’s make the most of it!
All my Love Luisito Joaquín González
Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas 1984
Directed by: Edmund Purdom
Starring: Edmund Purdom, Kelly Baker, Alan Lake
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Don’t open ’till Christmas was the middle of the three slasher flicks from the short-lived Dick Randall/Steve Minasian production partnership and by far the most bizarre. Most of it was shot in August 1982, but after various creative disagreements, it was shelved, whilst extra footage was filmed and then spliced together some two years later.
After three potentials rejected the script, it was set to be the debut of Edmund Purdom in the director’s chair, but he soon realised that he was way above his head and so handed the steering wheel over to the story’s writer, Derek Ford. Ford managed a number of scenes, but was soon fired from the project, so Randall drafted in someone who had experience of taking over the hot seat in a jumbled production, namely Ray Selfe. He was also given the unenviable job of editing the footage and making some kind of cinematic sense out of the misguided work of three separate visions, which was an incredibly difficult task. He was joined by Alan Birkinshaw who at that time had just wrapped up filming on eighties cult feature Killer’s Moon and to add more confusion, he also shot some parts and dabbled with the story. Many scenes failed to make the final cut and it is perhaps credit to Selfe that he managed to put enough together to get the film released.
Randall’s previous production, Pieces, had been a relatively successful entry and the mission statement here was most definitely to aim for more of the same. Make no bones about it, this is pure slasher by the numbers and has been given a Christmas gimmick for the chance of a big festive audience and a longer life expectancy. But what this flick does do differently is instead of having a maniac in a Santa suit killing off people, which had already been done, they turned it around to give us a masked psycho killing guys wearing that distinctive clothing.
After a Father Christmas is killed during a fancy dress party, the victim’s daughter and her boyfriend get involved in the investigation. They believe that the Police aren’t doing all they can with the mystery and before long, the killer begins to target them. With only hours remaining until the big day and Santas dropping like flies, who will be able to solve the mystery?
You know what? Don’t open ’till Christmas plays like it was the result of a few opposing personalities that had thrown contrasting ideas in to a saucepan and hoped for the best. Hold on a minute; that’s exactly what happened! Ok, so seriously, this one is a bit like singing the words of Living’ on a Prayer over the backing track of Sweet Child o Mine at a karaoke bash. Before I was informed about its production woes, I just assumed that it was a poorly paced and rushed released mess, but now I know about what happened, it’s easy to see the reasons why it’s such a patchwork. Characters pop up here and there without any real structure and some scenes, like the hilarious twist revealing phone call between Kate Briosky and the housekeeper were definitely added in a lazy attempt to string the plot together. George Dugdale, the director of Slaughter High and the hubby of Caroline Munro, was involved in this project and got his wife to turn up for a cameo in an obvious attempt to add some experience to the cast. She is on screen for two minutes tops (singing an awful disco oddity) and then disappears completely, almost as quickly as the story loses focus. It all starts very well, with three murders in ten minutes, but from then on the momentum just vanishes and the fun comes to a screeching halt. It’s hard to tell what was in the original concept and what wasn’t, but the film is something of an enigma. It spends ages building up a possible final girl, only to brutally slaughter her and bring on a substitute who doesn’t fit the traditional characteristics about half way through. I guess that Randall took the real reasons that an interesting venture fell apart to the grave with him in 1996.
Christmas plays host to the worst chase sequence anywhere ever. The location is immense (The London Dungeon no less), the killer has an outstanding guise, but it’s just so poorly handled that it is far more comedic than it is suspenseful. In fact, despite boasting a huge body count, none of the killings are creepy, even though they most definitely have the potential to be just that. The movie does its best to keep you guessing and the unmasking scene is ok, but to be honest, the whole thing is such a crack handed knot that it could have been anyone. Hell, it could have been you!
The film aims to come across as sleazy and therefore sacrifices the fun factor that’s usually abundant in eighties slashers. One overweight Santa gets castrated in a grimy urinal whilst another gets his face burned off on a grill for roasting chestnuts. The gore effects by Peter Litton are surprisingly good, but got the movie in a hell of a lot of trouble with UK censors and I was only able to see the full version because I picked it up in Spain. It also has a rather haunting score; a kind of eerie take on Jingle Bells, which if used properly could have set a macabre environment. I also thought that the various masks that the killer used were pretty cool, especially the one in the picture below. Whether it was intentional or not, the atmosphere conveyed here is one of depression and the film, much like Scrooge, ignores any attempts at festive spirit, which means it is definitely not one that I could recommend to be watched this time of the year.
By far the worst of Randall’s eighties output, it gives the viewer as much of a headache as I’m sure that it gave the people involved in the concept. I like seeing London as a backdrop and lines such as, “Get away, go on clear off!” in a Bermondsey tone were amusing, but I can’t find much here to warrant a purchase. The grammatical mistake on the title card (dont instead of don’t) is only the start of the incompetence and the film never escapes its clutches thereafter.
Not one of the merriest decorations on the ceiling, you would be better to deck the halls with Black Christmas and Silent Night Deadly Night instead.
Final Girl √
Deadly Little Christmas 2009
Directed by: Novin Shakiba
Starring: Felissa Rose, Monique La Barr, Noa Geller
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I used to think when I was watching all these slasher features that the directors must have been massive genre fans. In my youthful foolishness, I really believed that they had been as much inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween as I had been and were paying homage through their own attempt at creating something similar. The reality is nowhere near as romantic though and the truth is that money was the domineering factor behind the production of most releases during the cycle’s heyday. Studios looked at the minimal budget of those hits and the income that they generated and rolled out any director that was willing to work for an agreeable rate. There are very few entries that have been made by people with a respect or true love for the sub-genre, which I guess is human nature. Money always comes first.
But, this one could be slightly different. There’s been a bit of a lull in the popularity of slashers for the past few years, so there are better cinematic avenues for a quick turn of cash. Deadly Little Christmas has a great cover with a tag line that says, ‘First there was Halloween, then Friday the 13th. Now the scariest day of them all’. It was shot in 2009 and I couldn’t help thinking that Novin Shakiba could be a guy just like me. Someone who grew up watching and loving these pictures and now he finally got the chance to make his own tribute to them.
It kicks off fifteen years ago in familiar territory with the murder of an adulterous father and his mistress with a blade on Christmas day. A kid walks outside with the knife in his hand and we are treated to a very similar shot to the one from the opening of Halloween and an almost identical score (just played in a slightly different key). Go to modern day and we learn that he has been in an asylum for the past fifteen years and has become mute. You know what’s coming next, right? He breaks out the day before Xmas and heads back to the town where his family reside…
There have been so many DTV quickies released since 1996 that even most true category enthusiasts don’t bother with them and focus more of their attention on the rarities from the eighties. I must admit that even I have trouble sitting through films like Doll Killer and its numerous bottom shelf sharing counterparts, but every now and then you can come across one that makes the hunt worthwhile.
Deadly Little Christmas certainly looks cheap and shows obvious signs of being rolled out on the lowest imaginable budget. This is most evident in its choice of location for the majority of the action, which is a community hall; probably the one most local to producer David Sterling’s house. Now Sterling has a bigger list of B-movie titles under his belt than Ron Jeremy has porn appearances, but some of them are so obscure that they’re not listed on most film sites. I have spoken to directors that have worked with him and been told that he sticks to the tightest of budgets, once not fronting a measly $20 for a prop that was essential to the story. I was also informed that he had managed a shoot that had finished some five minutes under the required runtime, so he decided to chuck in a lesbian sex scene that had no coherence to the story whatsoever. There is of course a market for this kind of thing, but it’s not one that particularly interests me.
As you can imagine and being that slasher movies are relatively simple to manufacture, he has been involved in quite a few and many of them are the worst kind. Deadly Little Christmas is another of that ilk, which only separates itself by having the right ideas, but nowhere near enough of what’s needed to realise them. Shakiba is ambitious with his method of allowing his plot to dictate the flow of the movie, but it is hampered by awful performances and a notably weak script. There’s a twist that was hinted at a number of times and therefore given away far too early, which means that it is everything but a shock when finally revealed.
Between all the lame drawn out dialogue there are a handful of lamer murders. One of them is hilarious as the actor shakes for about fifteen seconds after being stabbed in the ear (you can see it above). The weapon of choice seems to be a retractable blade and the effects mount to a few litres of red stuff and little else. The lack of budget is reflected in the killer’s guise and there’s nothing intimidating about a hooded top and dime store mask. They went for the age old slasher chestnut of lining up all the corpses around a table for the conclusion, but any atmosphere that could have been built soon vanishes when it results in a shouting match between the remaining cast members, which plays more like a let’s see who can be the least convincing competition. Felissa Rose has been in numerous budget flicks (including Sleepaway Camp), but is really bad and unconvincing here. All of the characters lack charm and allure and most scenes are over written and the point could have been conveyed much quicker. This means that the movie feels tired very early on in the runtime and fails to maintain intrigue.
I think that Novin Shakiba is a fan of the category and it can be seen by the amount that he borrows from Halloween that he wasn’t just in this one for the pay-cheque. But his good ideas don’t stand out because they have been surrounded by poor production values and rancid dramatics. How much of this is the fault of the director himself is questionable. But for whatever reason, there is nothing to raise this one above the rest of Sterling’s back catalogue and it is sadly yet another DTV throwaway; albeit one with a Christmas theme.
Final Girl √
Silent Night Deadly Night 1984
aka Noche de Paz Noche De Muerte
Directed by: Charles E Sellier Jr
Starring: Lilyan Chauvin, Robert Brian Wilson, Toni Nero
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I find generational changes in acceptance really interesting. What will life be like for my kids in twenty years? Whilst it was ok during the eighties in the UK for popular comedies like, Love Thy Neighbour and Only Fools and Horses to use slurs that would nowadays be considered so racist that they would cause riots in multi-cultural Britain, the sight of a teenager getting killed by the cheesiest effect imaginable caused a censorship outcry back then. Present day, most of those same films have been released uncut, but some sections of the PC Brigade will jump on you for so much as singing Merry Christmas too loudly in case you offend someone. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the common sense that the general public are fine with and it’s only those that are light years away from working class communities that dream up such rubbish.
Silent Night Deadly Night was a victim of the eighties political correct massacre. After TV spots that showed the featured bad Santa wielding an axe, the campaigners that were starving for a reason to rebel against something – anything, went absolutely mad. So much so that they picketed the cinemas upon its release, which eventually led to TriStar Pictures pulling it after a few days. It had taken more on its opening weekend than A Nightmare on Elm Street, which goes some way to showing how much its marketing had captured the imagination of audiences. The news of its controversial withdrawal gave the film much more publicity than it would have ever gained if it had just been left alone to become a collector’s item for slasher enthusiasts and guess what? Children would have still believed in St Nick and loved Christmas.
Roger Ebert was characteristically at the forefront of the criticism of the film’s synopsis, but Leonard Martin’s comment of ‘…what’s next, the Easter Bunny as a child molester?’ was pure bandwagon jumping on his part. How do I know? Well he gave the similarly plotted Christmas Evil an extremely favourable review and called it ‘…a sleeper with cult status possibilities’ just four years earlier. Go figure…
After witnessing his parents murdered by a robber dressed in a Santa suit, Billy and his brother are sent to a Catholic orphanage. Only one of his carers seems to realise that he is still suffering from the effects of the things he saw at such a young age, but she is powerless in her plea to get him some help. The Mother Superior instead constantly punishes him for his lack of festive spirit and subjects him to regular beatings. Ten years later, he is given a job at the local toy store and seems to have put his demons behind him. A can of worms is opened when the shopkeeper, unaware of his history, asks him to stand in as Father Christmas in full bright red Yuletide get-up. This sends Billy over the edge and he sets out on a killing spree, still disguised as St. Nick.
Silent Night Deadly Night was the last non franchise slasher movie to get backed by a major studio and for some followers the genre ended with this piece. Vera Dika in her book, Games of Terror, states clearly that the ‘stalk and slasher’ started with Halloween and closed just after this hit cinemas six years later. The trappings of the category are things that not everyone sees the same way and are dependent on individual opinion, but although I may stand alone in saying that Final Destination is not a slasher movie, I think that most will disagree with her in saying that anything produced after 1984 has to be classed as anything other. If you can seriously tell me that Dead Girls, Intruder or Hide and Go Shriek are not slasher flicks, then we could have a debate that I am not going to back down from.
This however has no identity issues and is a genre entry in anyone’s book. The high production values give it a chance to really make the most of its concept and it benefits no end from some effective performances and crisp visuals. Robert Brian Wilson was solid as the troubled Billy and cinema vet Lilyan Chauvin was scary as hell as the sinister Mother Superior. This differentiates itself from most of its brethren by offering an in-depth account of the bogeyman’s motives and it spends time developing a back story. You could be forgiven for feeling sympathy after such an unfortunate life of hardship, but the film opts to move the focus away from his plight as he begins his murderous rampage and on to more typical slasher ingredients.
In its uncut format, the killings are rampant and satisfying and I especially liked the antler impalement of a young (and topless) Linnea Quigley. There’s an ingenious decapitation of a teen on a sledge and the maniac’s chanting of the word,’Punishment’ as he murders each victim removes any mean-spirit and gives the film a more cheesy, fun kind of tone. He racks up quite a body count when he’s out on road and every murder is shown in gory detail. There are two parts that must have really, REALLY peeved the hordes of placard waving do gooders that set up the pickets around multiplexes. The first is when Billy hands a blood stained Stanley knife as a gift to a cute little girl who thinks he’s the real Santa (at first it looks like he’s going to stab her!). Then shortly after, a deaf Catholic Priest, who is dressed as Father Christmas and mistaken for our loony of the title, gets gunned down in front of a group of children. Catholicism gets a hard time throughout this picture, but you know what? I am Catholic, but I have a sense of humour and can take things with a pinch of salt when I know that they’re not intended to seriously offend. Why they got so upset about a cheesy eighties slasher is anyone’s guess. Too many people with too little to do and too much time on their hands if you ask me.
The movie is very authentic in the way that it depicts Christmas. A few characters mutter sentences like, ‘ I can’t wait until it’s all over’, which is a more realistic way of how some people look at the expense and stress involved with this time of year. It’s something that you would never see in typical Hollywood exaggerated visions of everyone holding hands and counting the hours, which is unreal in modern times. The script aims for black comedy in many places and on occasion successfully delivers. Charles E Sellier Jr directs comfortably and builds a few well crafted shocks, especially with the Granddad’s speech and the ruthless murder of Billy’s parents. There’s no real suspense, but at least there are no failed attempts, which leads me to believe that the modus operandi was more to rely on gore and outrageous imagery.
Nowhere near as bad as the majority of its genre colleagues that it shares its calendar date with, Silent Night Deadly Night is a treat for slasher fans that are looking for a fast paced festive movie with enough of everything in its stocking
There are many turkeys that you can watch on the big day, but do yourself a favour and go for the one that is well roasted with the best seasoning… And if you can’t find Black Christmas, then give this one a whirl…Tastes all the much better with an alcoholic beverage and a good sense of humour (something the numbskulls on the picket line clearly didn’t have).
Final Girl √