Directed by: Antti Kiuru and 6 more
Starring: Andres Pass, Aatto Paasonen, Ville Lähde
Review by Luis Joaquín González
My recent posts of Mexican and Spanish films such as Chacal, Masacre and Atrapados en el Miedo went down really well with my readers, so continuing along the linguistic thread, I thought I’d review this Finnish slasher from the year 2000. Shot by (a record?) 7 directors, I found this 27 minute short whilst on vacation in Estonia. I have literally no information about its production, but I’ll say that it’s the first addition from Finland that I’ve come across.
A group of young males decide to meet up for a drink over Christmas. Whilst the ground is covered with snow outside, blood begins to spurt because a psychopathic stranger dressed as St Nick begins brutally slashing through the revellers. Can they stop him in their tracks?
With so many entries that I still have left to review to complete the largest online slasher A-Z, I am guilty of overlooking the countless ‘shorts’ that people have recommended.The three that I did cover, Death O’Lantern, The Hook of Woodland Heights and Friday the 13th:Halloween Night were posted more for their obscurity than anything else and I guess the same could be said about Murhapukki. What we have here is an immensely enjoyable seasonal slash-fest and despite being cheaply put-together, I found loads to appreciate.
The film kicks off with a killer in a Santa suit stealing a car from an unfortunate individual. An OTT tone is set almost immediately when the assailant chops off the hand of his intended victim and then runs him down with the automobile that he just stole. Whilst the effects are the bare minimum of believable gore, it was fun to see spraying crimson and gruesome violence so early on in the picture. From then on, we are introduced to a group of guys that are gathered in two or three homes across a snow-laden landscape. As you can imagine, twenty-seven minutes allows almost no time for character development, but the plot is rapped around a typical ‘revenge for a past event’ core that unravels as more victims are dispatched.
I guess that the reason that I enjoyed Murhapukki is because it breaks the mould by not bothering with smart-ass ‘know it all’ characters or vomit inducingly blatant ‘homages’ to genre classics. Instead it includes a handful of recognisable elements, but doesn’t portray them with the mission of proving to the audience that the screenwriter(s) are knowledgeable of the greatest hits of the category. Our psycho Santa, for example, cuts up photos of his victims after murdering them -(due to identical clothing and hair, they look to have been taken the same day?!?) -, which we saw in Prom Night/Fatal Games and Graduation Day amongst others. There’s a Carpenter-alike shot of a bread knife on a kitchen table that disappears in the next instant when the camera returns to the focal point. We even get an effective Argento-esque ‘the maniac’s behind you’ moment that’s set-up in a bathroom mirror. We could say of course that these are tributes to the trademarks, but they’re conveyed more subtlety and not with the recent methodology of ‘let’s see who can include the most references to the eighties’, which has been done to death.
In a 27 minute runtime, the directors managed to pack in tonnes of bloody murders and a handful of chase sequences that meant that I was entertained all the way through the admittedly short runtime. One of the pursuits built impressive tension as the camera switched from POV to fixed-angles and the snowy landscape single-handedly mushroomed the underscore of isolation. Whilst the continuity is laughable (one guy gets a machete in the hand, but is fine moments later) and the acting is non-existent, I thought Murhapukki achieved a good-time slasher vibe admirably.
I often wonder when watching low budget entries, how so many can struggle to take a relatively simple formula and not have a ball with it. Pukki could act as a lesson to up and coming filmmakers that getting too mixed-up in parody and conceitedness is unnecessary. I could criticise the dramatics or flimsy plot, but there’s really no need to. Instead, I got more than I was expecting. Cheesy bloody deaths, amusing inebriated ‘gangsters’, a creepy score and a Santa-suited slayer in glasses… Are you really ready…?
Dismembering Christmas 2015
Directed by: Austin Bosley
Starring: Nina Kova, Johnathon Krautkramer, Leah Wiseman
Review by Donny Ybarra (Brother’s Grim)
Oh, the weather outside is frightful. But the terror is sooo delightful! It’s getting cold outside now and snuggling up with your lovey and popping in some classic horror movies is the perfect way to spend your chilly evenings. As a rabid slasher fan, the Christmas Holiday has contributed to those chilly evenings by the fire with gifting some great horror films from the 70’s and 80’s. Some standouts like; To All A Goodnight, Home for the Holidays, Silent Night Deadly Night, Elves and the ultimate classic, Black Christmas (and I love the remake too, don’t judge me!), are always a fun watch. So what does a slasher movie called ‘Dismembering Christmas’ have to offer for the “old school” slasher fans? Plenty. Just don’t expect “the next big gimmick”. There is no found footage, no cgi and absolutely no convoluted twist. It’s golden age slasher horror for fans, made by fans.
Kicking the film off was a pretty awesome cameo from co-writer/executive producer Kevin Sommerfield, I thought it was a great scene and really set the tone for the film. You may have seen his other Slasher Studious film, Don’t Go to the Reunion (2013). The aforementioned plays more to the post-Scream crowd, here Dismembering Christmas plays it straight to the body count films from the 80’s. Now, after a bloody start, we are introduced to eight friends that are traveling to stay in a cabin for the Christmas Holiday, unbeknownst to them there was a few murders years ago and somebody wants to make sure they remember this holiday….cue horror synth!
The cast shines, some more than others, and when the survivor/survivors emerge you get some truly kickass scenes. But it wasn’t the cast that sold me as much as it was the setting. The most exciting aspect about this film was the chilly snowy setting. Here, you have the cabin out in the sticks with nothing but snow for miles, this already isolates the viewers and sets up a nice dynamic later for some great chase scenes. Speaking of chase scenes, this movie had some great stalk and chase, major thumbs up. From running through treacherous terrain, to having to maneuver through the interiors of the cabin, the hide and seek with this killer was highly effective. Also, there were some really nice pov shots of the interiors of the cabin and the decorations, I immediately thought of Black Christmas as “Billy” made his way throughout the house. The dark reds and hunter greens reflecting the walls and interiors were highly effective in adding class without overproduction. Lots of small details like that elevate this film where others fall flat.
Now, on to the slasher, my favorite part of the film. This killer sports a wicked mask, it kind of reminded me of an interpretation of “Boo Hag” from Canadian Folklore, pale with long dark hair. Armed with a very interesting blade, this slasher gave good KILL. The kills ranged from stabbings to decapitations, to a very fun “wreath kill”. Goltz and Sommerfield know what their fans want, practical creative deaths, giving this film a pretty decent body count. There is a set piece towards the end where our final character discovers the lair of the killer, this was a nice addition to developing the motivations for the killer.
On to the negatives, which mirror my one complaint with Don’t Go to the Reunion, the runtime for the movie. This movie was short, at about an hour and seven minutes of content, I would have loved for about 10 more minutes. But this is a minor complaint, and if anything it shows just how much I enjoyed this movie. Despite the shorter runtime, having to not suffer through filler is much welcome, so more run time does not always equal better movie either. I’m excited for what slasher studious has planned for the future, I would love to see them tackle a camp inspired horror, something like an expanded version of Slasher Studious short film Teddy (2011), if you haven’t seen I suggest you watch immediately! Pick this one up now!
Psycho Santa 2003
Directed by: Peter Kier
Starring: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Can you believe that it’s almost Xmas already? Time just flies by. I am guessing that you’ve all got something slasher-tastic planned for the festive period. As per a SLASH above tradition, I wanted to post a few Christmassy entries, but thus far I could only locate this obscurity that I picked up a while back. I may be able to squeeze in one more before the big day, but as it stands this is your lot unfortunately 😦 Psycho Santa was released on a double DVD with Satan Claus, a movie so tough to sit through that I’ve postponed its review until next year when I’ll hopefully have built enough courage and will-power to try again. Despite the quality (or therefore lack of) of Claus, I was confident that this picture may deliver a shiny present that we’ll be excited about unwrapping.
On the long drive to a party, a boyfriend decides to share with his partner his knowledge of a psychopathic Santa that has stalked the local region for over a year. He tells her three separate urban legends about the maniac, who dressed from head to toe in the guise of St. Nick, is said to lurk amongst the woodland. We are soon about to learn if he is speaking the truth…
Ok, so for ten minutes, I really thought that we were in for something special. It began with a stalking sequence through a junk yard that incorporated some intelligent editing and interesting camera angles that were generally well conveyed. We then get to meet the two characters that will narrate us through the three stories and the plot becomes something of an anthology, with each segment further developing the background of our antagonist. The first on the list involves a pair of young women that have planned to have an Xmas slumber party at a remote cabin. They turn up to find that their friend isn’t around, but notice some of her presents under a tree and believe that she must’ve gone for a wander. Chick #1 is a voluptuous brunette that steals every shot with a cheeky grin and a plunging neckline, whilst her friend is not so attractive, ten-years older and has more piercings than a junkie’s arm. One of them decides to have a shower, leaving the other to head out and search for their missing amiga. Logic dictates which of them is the correct choice for a lengthy full-frontal nudity sequence, but already by this point, logic had gone into hiding along with the MIA girl.
What follows from there feels like an eternity of absolute nothingness. I am reminded of the time that I pulled a chica in a London bar that looked, from the impression of her tight-fitting top, to have boobs that would rival Kim Kardasian’s. After getting her back to a hotel, I quickly learned (she confessed actually) a lesson that will stay with me until the day that I shift off this mortal coil. Padding, in almost all walks of life, is criminal. So the girls drink vodka and dance whilst an ominous someone looks on through POV in a scene that could have been clipped by at least five minutes. The photography had been good, the scoring had built tension, but the net result was a humongous mound of asbestos-laden boredom. Finally the door bursts open and I was convinced that all would be salvaged by us seeing a couple of gruesome slashings. Instead we cut back to the storyteller who, in the most flat and boring way possible, TELLS US how they were brutally killed. Eh?
Anyway, we skip on to the next anthology ‘installment’, which involves the least tense burglary in the history of crime. The filmmakers throw us a smart gimmick by giving us a blind homeowner (with a bikini-body?) that almost catches the robbers in the act. I guess that the sequence may have worked if it had been conveyed with an ounce of common sense, but it took me a while to even realise that the young lady in question had defective vision. After she has been dealt with, the invaders find a locked basement that houses our psycho Santa. He slaughters one of them (off screen) and again we have to be told what happened to the other by our narrator. The bogeyman’s escape and subsequent stabbing of a hapless St Nick leads to the third and final story of the picture.
Now this one, perhaps more than any other, really sums up all that’s wrong with Psycho Santa. A brother and sister, that are driving through some remote woodland, pull over after suffering some convenient problems with their automobile. They get out and begin to walk… and walk… and walk… and walk…. And then, walk some more, until eventually they come across our nut job who proceeds to (not) kill them. I mean, what the hell? Is this the mad slasher with the heart of gold or something? Now don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of murders in this movie that I didn’t mention (including a young kid), but the majority of the runtime is outrageously tedious filler. Scenes that should have been twenty-seconds long are stretched to five-minutes and to be honest you wouldn’t miss anything if you just fast forwarded through them. Much like my experience with the girl with the stuffed brassiere that I told you about earlier, padding to this extent is a total rip-off and no one likes a cheater.
Psycho Santa was directed by a guy by the name of Peter Keir and his billing was the most intriguing thing about the picture. You see, Keir has a couple of credits on the IMDB and two of them are films that were scored by Steve Sessions, the director of Torment. This got me thinking, did Sessions, exasperated by the poor quality of this film, use that name as a pseudonym? I tried finding some info about Keir on the net but came up with nothing at all. This leads me to believe that Sessions, a capable director, was pressured into padding out this film by an external influence. Perhaps the producers gave him a short shooting schedule and a runtime that needed to be fulfilled…? He then watched the net result and released it under an alias. I wouldn’t blame him
Whilst it’s tough to know for sure if my hypothesis is true, it would explain the inclusion of some deft visuals and a superb score, which I know Sessions has the ability to provide. Unfortunately there just wasn’t enough of either to overcome the disjointed and mind-numbing mid-section. We are promised a conclusion that we never get and all that we’re left with is a bloated boat that sinks after ten minutes and never bobs back out of the depths. Avoid it like you would a potential partner with suspiciously stuffed undergarments…
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl √
Silent Night Bloody Night 2013
Directed by: James Plumb
Starring: Philip Harvey, Victor Ptak, Alan Humphries
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Merry Christmas to all my readers!!! So the film featured in my last review, Silent Night, was a VERY loose re-imaging of Silent Night Deadly Night from 1984. It was in fact so loose that if I hadn’t had read the press pack that came with the pre-screener, I would have thought that it was just a stand alone feature. Silent Night Bloody Night: The Homecoming however didn’t even bother to get creative. It’s an almost word-for-word duplicate of a film of the same title that was made some forty-years earlier. The original Silent Night Bloody Night boasted an intriguing concept, a uniquely gothic tone and some solid performances. This British back garden rehash is as much of a tribute to that cult classic as would be a One Direction cover of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. In fact, it may even be worse…
Christmas Eve 2012, Jeffrey Butler returns to a small town after finally deciding to sell the house that had been left to him in the will of his Grandfather. William Butler had burned to death in mysterious circumstances twenty-five years ago and it has been vacant ever since. Three key figures from the local community, including the town Mayor, have mixed feelings on letting the property go on the market and want to purchase it for themselves. To make matters worse, a serial killer that has broken out of the local asylum decides to take refuge in the dilapidated abode. Before long, the maniac begins systematically slaughtering the locals, but what could all these events have in common with one another?
I would hate to play group poker with director James Plumb on my team. Here’s a guy who doesn’t hold anything back… even for a second. I knew from the moment that a Mark 4 Ford Transit (in production from the years 2000 – 2006) turned up in a prologue dated 1987 that I was in for a gruelling seventy-eight minutes. They even scribbled over the number plate with a whiteboard marker in a pathetic attempt to cover up the fact. Continuity, anyone?
So anyway, the plot gets rolling and they manage to achieve the almost impossible task of making what was a slightly complex but logical story seem like it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Did screenwriter Andrew Jones find an online copy of the original script written in Imperial Aramaic and run it through Google translate before submitting it as his final draft? For the first thirty minutes, I had no idea who was the protagonist, what was going on or why I should care about anything at all. Strangers walk on to the screen and say a few lines before getting killed in sequences that may have been edited by Wallace ‘Wally’ Karue from See No Evil, Hear No Evil. I could write a thousand words about the way that scenes look to have been chopped together on a freeware version of Windows Live Movie Maker, but the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered and so I can’t either. One couple got dispatched with an axe rather bloodily whilst underlining the have sex and die rule for the second time in fifteen-minutes. It was a shocking waste of circus potential though, because the nameless female is the only person in the history of sexual relations that can get down to it whilst keeping all of her clothes on. How cool is that? Maybe it had something to do with the size of his hatchet? Boom Boom.
Forty minutes in to the original Silent Night Bloody Night, we had spent that time establishing a group of suspicious, shady characters in a smartly convoluted plot. In this dumb and pointless reboot, I wasn’t interested In anyone or anything that I was seeing, except I was wondering who would be foolish enough to pay the bill for a phone in an abandoned house. Our maniac killer uses said tel to ring and, ahem, ‘terrorise’ his intended prey in the same kind of ways that were so scary the last time that this story was told. The difference back then was that the actor playing the psycho’s voice was stern and terrifying, whilst Adrienne King shows how rusty she is here by sounding like an amateur dramatics group cast her off after the first audition. I am not sure about you, but I don’t enjoy paying a premium price to watch awful dramatics. I’m also not the biggest fan of flat, lazy camera angles, cardboard characters, an awful score and a noughties registration Ford Transit being teleported back to 1987 for the opening scene. I did however like the security guard at the mental hospital. Anyone that drinks Red Stripe beer and watches Night of the Living Dead whilst working with the criminally insane is a legend in my eyes.
It’s hard to find much positive to say about Silent Night Bloody Night: The Homecoming, but there were a few things that I liked. James Plumb seemed to save all of his minimal directorial ability for the final chase sequence and it went really well up until we saw that dreaded Ford Transit again. (In case you forgot, it’s the one that was used in the prologue from twenty-five years earlier). I guess that you could say that the killer’s guise was decent and there’s a fairly large body count, but it’s not enough to warrant you tracking this down. Yes it’s low budget and yes it’s good that people still want to make slasher films, but I just felt that it was offensive to the classic that it attempts halfheartedly to rehash.
The most talented person in this production was the one that put together the box-art. He/she made it look like a free vodka for eternity gift voucher and that’s just irresistible. If you, like me, are on a mission to see every single slasher movie, then make sure that you borrow your friend’s copy and save yourself a miserable Christmas of regretting wasting your wonga.
Final Girl √
Silent Night 2012
Directed by: Stephen C. Miller
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Jaime King, Donal Logue
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
On a SLASH above, I often analyse the stats of my visits and around this time of year, the traffic that I get on certain pages is astronomical. I guess that you’ve already worked out that those are the reviews for Home Sick, Black Christmas, To All a Goodnight, Don’t Open ’till Christmas, Home for the Holidays et al. The logic in making a festive slasher is undeniable. I mean, it’s natural that people think, ‘Hey it’s Christmas, let’s watch a themed horror movie’ and so there’s cash to be made for ambitious producers. Santa pickaxing teenagers is the perfect visual present for the advent calendar countdown.
But would such a feature truly offer the same level of entertainment in the middle of spring?
I think about this, because for me, there’s a certain stigma about watching an Xmas themed horror flick at any other time of the year. They lose their charm somewhat. I wanted to have some reviews ready to post earlier for Xmas, but I just couldn’t motivate myself to sit down and put one of them on. As soon as I read my six year-old daughter’s letter to St Nick in early December however, I was ready to rock and roll…
On Christmas Eve in a small Midwestern town, the police search for a killer Santa Claus who is picking off citizens in secluded places. As the bodies begin to pile up, it seems certain that it’s someone who knows the local inhabitants…
So I heard that Silent Night is a semi-remake of Silent Night Deadly Night. I also have no idea what semi-remake means, but after watching, I can say that it’s more of a total re-imaging. We’ve got a killer in the guise of St Nick and a few minor references (including a rehash of one of the killings), but aside from that there’s very little else that you’d recognise. The good news is that the film doesn’t need to borrow from anywhere, because as far as Christmas entries go, it’s one of the best by a country mile.
Slasher movies were as popular as bell-bottom slacks in 2012, so I was over the moon when I found out that this was being developed on a good budget. What we ended up with was proof that there’s still life in the aging recipe if you do it the right way. Steven C Miller -who had previously given us the underrated TV Movie, Scream of the Banshee – does a wonderful job in the hot seat and delivers us a juggernaut of slasher fun that rips and roars it’s way through a slick runtime of thrills.
He doesn’t hang around to introduce audacious killings as the film’s vocal point. Our maniac is on screen from the opening minute and he doesn’t stay away for long thereafter. We are treated to goo by the bucket load, including a gruesome scene where a girl is dismembered and then pushed into a timber cutter. Although her screams of pain are disturbing, the film avoids being too mean-spirited by giving us a reason to dislike the victims before their demise. We also get a head split with an axe, lopped off fingers and a couple of frantic chase scenes before the inevitable money shot. Even if the script looks to be set up like a standard slasher, it works so that we never really know what could happen next and there’s a fine blend of tension in the unravelling of the Police investigation.
I was impressed by the way that the plot breaks the unwritten slasher code with its revelation of the psychopath’s identity, but it all made sense in the end. Jamie King’s Aubrey Bradimore is a tough, likeable and brave heroine that reminds of the ones of old and she delivers by far the best performance of the pack. McDowell is hammy as hell as the sheriff, but he gets the job done and overall the dramatics are suitable for the content. Screenwriter Jayson Rotwell deserves a thumbs up for some memorable dialogue and if lines such as, ‘Don’t put Avocado on the burger’ can’t grab your attention then you’re surely not in tune with the overall mood. Donal Logue, who plays one of the key suspects, gets a strong scene with King in which he talks about why so many people go crazy around the festive period. He highlights that Christmas has become more of a blue-chip marketing tool than a religious celebration and it’s an interesting point that caught my attention.
The final showdown is set-up in an Argento-esque haze of red lights and sprinklers that creates an impressive tone of isolation. Even if the heroine gets a convenient route to escape (she just happened to land next to a loaded weapon), the suspense that surrounds the outcome means that we can easily forgive a bit of unlikely fortune for the good guys. It climaxes with a chance that we haven’t seen the final chapter in this story and let’s keep our fingers crossed that there is still belief amongst financiers that this is a franchise that has legs.
I seriously can’t give Silent Night any higher praise than saying that it’s a perfect tribute to the pictures of old. I was left wanting more and I’m hopeful that there will be other projects in the pipeline that can follow this example.
Slasher films of late seem to have forgotten that they ought to be gory, outrageous and fun. Miller’s entry is the perfect example of these three elements and for that it deserves to be seen. There was criticism that it didn’t bring anything new to the table, but with so many failed attempts at updating the template, I for one was just relieved to see things done the right way.
Final Girl √√√√
To All A Goodnight 1980
Directed by: David Hess
Starring: Jennifer Runyon, Forest Swanson, Linda Gentile
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
So 11 more sleeps to the big day! I am already stocking up on Vodka. My Mrs always nags at me for even having one beer (so I get shouted at all weekend), but she promised that I can have a drink during the festive period… Of course, she doesn’t realise that it’s like given a cat the key to the dairy and saying you can have one lick of milk 😉 As she is Polish, I am Spanish and we live in UK, we get to celebrate Wigila (the 24th), the big X (25th) and el Día de Reyes on the 6th of Jan. That’s an awful lot of alcohol haha – Anyway, I have set up some slasher action for the period and this entry is intriguing and collectible for two significant reasons. Número uno: It was the first slasher movie to include a Santa-suited psycho, before Silent Night-Deadly Night, Psycho Santa and Christmas Season Massacre et al took it beyond cool and into the realms of ‘please go invent something new’. Número dos: it was the directorial debut of David Hess – a man who was to the horror genre what Johan Cryuff was to football.
You’d most likely be surprised by Hess’ hugely impressive contributions to show business and the things that he achieved prior to his acting exploits. His professional career began as a singer-songwriter for the small label Shalimar Music in 1957. He penned ‘All Shook Up’ for The King shortly after and the song became a massive hit. In fact, it was just recently voted as one of the top 20 all time rockabilly classics.
Throughout the months that followed, Hess would see Conway Twitty, Andy Williams, Sal Mineo and Pat Boone take his tracks to the top end of the charts, before he settled for a career behind the scenes as head A&R man for Mercury Records. In 1972 his fortunes continued to improve when he was offered the lead role in Wes Craven’s cult classic ‘The Last House on the Left’. He gave such a nasty and memorable performance that would allow him to continue to play tormented characters in movies such as Autostop, Rosso Sangue and Ruggero Deodato’s Bodycount.
By the time 1980 came around, he was ready to broaden his horizons in the film industry and so he took to the director’s chair for this cheap and cheesy festive shocker.
The opening scene is conveyed so rapidly that it felt like my finger had brushed the FF button and it had remained playing on >>32. It is Christmas vacation at the Calvin Finishing School for girls and the co-eds are celebrating by chasing one female around the dormitory. She heads out onto the balcony, trips over a bizarrely placed plant pot and takes a tumble to the concrete floor below. We can only presume that the girl died, although we’re never given an explanation to the scene. We don’t even know who any of these characters are?
Two years later, Xmas; and a large amount of the youngsters are going home. A few eager chicks decide to hang around and prepare for their own on-site celebrations. The gang of fun-loving ladies includes a curvaceous man-eater called Melody (Linda Gentile), who spends her time being swapped among the guys like a football card. There’s a suspiciously accented English girl named Trisha (Angela Bath), and a traditional inadvertent comic relief character, Leia (Judith Bridges). Finally we meet the Jamie Lee Curtis-lite goody-two-shoes sure-to-be heroine by the name of Nancy (Jennifer Runyon). Their house is run by Ruth Jensen (Katherine Herrington) and Trina Ronsoni (Judy Hess), who judging by that surname must be related to the director – maybe his wife? She also shows a brilliant knack for comic timing, by quipping at one point, “I’ll stop off on my way back. That is if the grim reaper doesn’t come calling”. Like, really???
Anyway, Christmas alone for the girls wouldn’t be much fun, so they literally fly in a gang of randy would-be bed-sharers including a stereotypical geek, Alex (Forest Swanson). It doesn’t take long for the masked Santa-suited slasher to turn up and begin cutting his way through the revellers. He then buries their bodies in the backyard with the professionalism and speed of a gang of landscape gardeners. So who will survive this Christmas Massacre?
To all a Good Night isn’t as bad as its hideous reputation would lead you to believe. In fact it’s actually fairly watchable in a so bad it’s good kind of way. What makes it perhaps rise above its amateurism in the filmmaking department is the hilarity of some of the dialogue, which seems to have been written on a notepad at a Russian vodka buffet. For example, Trisha bumps in to the maniac in a secluded spot of the garden and goofs in her comical sub-Brit accent, “Oh Tom, take that bloody mask off and take me to bed!” She gets what she rightly deserves. It’s also worth noting that on planet eye test, all the guys here are captivated by the extremely dumb and slightly scary Leia. They then defy logic by completely ignoring the smart and decent Nancy. Leia, the aforementioned flat chested redhead, also provides most of the nudity, while the shapely Melody remains fully clothed throughout? Not being content with constantly ripping off her clothes, Leia also goes nuts towards the conclusion of the movie and spends the final third of the runtime singing and ballet dancing round the corpses of her chums. The killer, obviously realising that she’s a slice of cheese, bap and a burger short of a cheeseburger, doesn’t even give her the dignity of putting her out of her misery!
Mark Shostrum’s gore effects may well be the most spectacular ever filmed. We’ll never know if that’s true however, because the picture is just too dark. Day for night filters are used without any other form of lighting, and at times the lack of clear vision ruins the movie. The only good killing that I remember featured the maniac dressed in a suit of armour and it was thankfully filmed inside the house, so the lighting was at least passable.
Despite losing about six of their colleagues in the first thirty minutes, the remaining victims fail to acknowledge that there is a maniac stalking the campus. Instead they continue to mouth inept comments when each morning’s roll-call shows another disappearance, such as, “They must have gone to bed.” Even when the heavily-mutilated body of Ralph the albino gardener is discovered, they still refuse to accept that a maniac might be trying to cut down the guest list for their Xmas party. The utter stupidity of the youngsters destroys any sympathy for their eminent demise.
On the plus side, there is a humongous body count and as I said, it’s fairly amusing in an inadvertent kind of way. Whilst an abundance of time makes many slashers seem dated, in many ways, To All a Goodnight is helped by its age. The campy charm makes this one-star movie worthy of the two that I’ve given it below. It’s another fine example of intolerable rubbish-ness being salvaged by 80s ‘did they really’ nostalgia.
Unfortunately, Hess passed away two-years ago, but before he did, he said that filmmaking was something that he’d like to try again, although he admitted that he had neither the time nor the cash flow to apply such focus. It is a shame that he never got round to it, because modern slashers lack the goofy charm of this one.
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 √√√√
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 like me. In the foolishness of my youth, 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 a stalk and slasher. The reality is nowhere near as romantic though and the truth is that money was the domineering factor behind the production of most entries during the cycle’s heyday. Studios were impressed by the minimal spend that was poured into the creation of teenie kill films and the revenue that they generated, so they would pick up cheap scripts and any director that was willing to work at an agreeable rate. It’s a shame that nowadays I see clearly that there are so few pictures that were developed out of a true love or respect for the sub-genre, which somewhat destroys the romance that I fostered whilst growing up. Like most avenues of life, money was the key source of motivation behind the slasher boom :(.
In fairness, when I picked up the cover of Deadly Little Christmas, I immediately thought that it may be slightly different. There’s been a bit of a lull in the popularity of slashers for the past couple of years, mainly because there now exists other cinematic avenues that generate equal amounts of quick cash. Taglines such as, ‘First there was Halloween, then Friday the 13th. Now the scariest day of them all’ though generally hint at a movie that has been made to satisfy a fanboy’s dream of emulating the pictures of old. It was shot in 2009 and I couldn’t help thinking that Novin Shakiba could be a lover of our favourite category. He may have grown 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 entries 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 amount 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 allure and most scenes are over written, which means that they lead to flat angles that fail 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. Still, 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 √