Black Christmas

220px-Black_christmas_movie_posterThis film was… chilling.

It’s the story of a sorority house where a killer (the film gives us the name Billy but we don’t know much else about him) is hiding in the attic and picking the residents of the house off one by one. The girls also receive creepy phone calls which range from Billy’s heaving breathing and moaning, to Billy shrieking and repeating earlier conversations the characters had back at them.

If I’m going to draw comparisons to another film on this list then I’ll make it Halloween. As I said in my review of Halloween I found the parts where Michael was standing behind Laurie then suddenly not there anymore scary. It’s that feeling of oh-shit-is-someone-behind-me? then turning around and nobody’s there. Black Christmas, for me at least, preyed on something similar. You hear a noise in the house and have to wonder: is it just a random creak, or is it some lunatic who has been hiding out in the attic? (I am, by the way, choosing to comfort myself with the knowledge that we do not have an attic that anyone could hide in) The way the killer sneaks around- you never see much of him, either- was really, well, scary. If Halloween is going to make me nervous to turn around while walking down a street in broad daylight then Black Christmas is going to make me suspicious of every teeny-tiny noise I hear in my home.

So what are the characters like?

Jess, the main girl, is very likeable though I’m not too sure about her boyfriend, Peter. In the film she has fallen pregnant and wants an abortion while he tries to stop her. I’m hoping it’s just values dissonance but I was getting emotionally abusive vibes off of Peter. Jess is the person who receives most of Billy’s phone calls and is the girl who takes charge of the situation as the film wears on. One of the things this film did really well was that it got me to want Jess to survive which made the climax very effective.

There were three other girls in the house who were actually named. One called Barb who just irritated me, one who I liked but whose name I can’t remember (which annoys me because I liked her) and the girl who is killed first- she’s the one you can see in the picture. There was also the house mother, a Mrs Mac who hides bottles of what I think is gin around the house. Oh, and a cat who Billy imitates to lead people astray. These characters all die in tense scenes that are very well done.

Bravo thinks that the scariest moment is when the first girl is killed with what looks to me like cling film (I’m not sure/can’t remember what you call it in the US) and yes, that bit is very tense. The girl is shown as so sweet and innocent and, in comparison to her housemates, still very childlike which makes you want to protect her. It’s done in a way that makes you want to shout turn around! Get out of there! except of course she doesn’t and you see her die in such a horrible way. One thing that made it really sad for me is that her corpse isn’t found until the very end. Throughout the film the characters are searching for her and you know where she is and where they should look.

There’s a later scene around the climax where Jess is trying to escape from Billy and you just see his eye through a crack in the door- that made me jump and was very effective and we saw part of him without seeing much at all. It just hammers home that we know nothing about this guy; we don’t know why he’s doing these things and we know nohing of his past. Hell, we don’t even know if we should be calling him Billy.

I really reccommend this one. It deserves more recognition because it is a good slasher with some good scares, good performances from its actors and is just generally chilling. If you want a Christmas film that’s a bit out of the box then give this one a go.

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The Last House on the Left

Damn chickens.last-house-on-the-left-dvd-cover

For a rape/revenge film I really doubt that’s what I’m supposed to have got out of this…

But seriously. Damn chickens.

Why am I focusing on chickens? Because Wes Craven felt the need to ruin the pacing of this film by interjecting scenes that are actually starting to become tense or disturbing with scenes of two idiot cops getting into wacky hijinks (at one point including chickens). I think he was going for mood whiplash that would make the violent scenes seem even worse but it actually kinda fails. Whenever you start to feel tense or scared for the poor girls you get these two idiots thrown at you and the tension is gone.

As with any rape/revenge film the plot is pretty obvious: scenes of rape followed by the revenge. In the case of the Last House on the Left two girls (Mari and Phyllis) are raped then violently murdered by a group comprising two escaped convicts, one woman (who is described as animalistic) and one junkie who is manipulated by his need for that next fix (he’s the unwilling member of the group). By a twist of fate the group end up at the house of the parents of Mari who find out what they did and proceed to exact their revenge.

Throughout all of this we keep being subjected to scenes of the cops I mentioned earlier. As well as being incredibly annoying and killing the pacing they are also pretty much the reason why neither of the girls survive.

I did not particularly care for this one, mainly because of them and not just because they annoyed the hell out of me, but also because I felt that the build up to the revenge was poorly executed.

I will explain by comparing the Last House on the Left to another (and dare I say it slightly more controversial?) rape/revenge film Day of the Woman (or I Spit on Your Grave, but I prefer the original title) which I personally think was both scarier and far more well done.

Rape is, I think we can all agree, one of the most horrific acts that humans can do to one another. Day of the Woman forces us to watch a gruellingly long scene in which a woman is gang raped that feels terrifyingly like a snuff film. It does not feature any cutaways to comic relief and there is no soundtrack other than one of the rapists playing a harmonica. It is not easy to watch and nor is it meant to be.

By comparison the scenes in the Last House on the Left are easy to watch because we keep having those fucking cutaways. At points where it might be more effective to just keep going, having it all just build and build and build so that it becomes unbearable for the audience, it goes to comic relief. Ignoring the fact that I think shoving comic relief into a rape scene is highly innappropriate- bordering on offensive- I just don’t understand what it was meant to acheive. If you’re trying to use the mood whiplash to heighten the disturbing nature of the violence then, well a) you failed and b) you don’t really need to. In one scene Phyllis (one of the girls) is forced to wet herself by the attackers- do you really need anything to make that more disturbing? Do you honestly think that isn’t horrifying enough in itself?

Now for the revenge portion of the film.

In the Last House on the Left the parents overhear the killers talking about killing their daughter and they then find her corpse (the murder was committed pretty much next to their house).They then proceed to exact revenge. My complaint here is that there was very little transition; the parents go from just normal parents to willing to do just about nything in the blink of an eye. All we’d need would be one small scene, but no, it jumps from them finding Mari’s corpse to them setting the details of their vengeance in place.

Contrast to Day of the Woman where we see Jennifer preparing herself for what it is she’s about to do and a scene where she goes to church to beg God’s forgiveness. I get that this part of the Last House on the Left is all in one night but everything they do was clearly planned between the two of them- can’t we see just something to set it up?

Otherwise the revenge part is pretty solid. We don’t get the cops shoved in our faces (and they arrive at the house around six hours too late- I completely get why the parents take the law into their own hands considering the incompetancy here. They might actually be doing it because these cops are so stupid that they’d lose them again. Really the parents taking revenge becomes the sensible option) the methods they use to get the revenge are at least plausible and the acting- which has been wooden to hammy in the rest of the film- is half decent.

So with that lot out of the way onto the scary moment according to bravo.

They think it’s the part where Phyllis is murdered but I disagree. As I mentioned earlier there is a scene in which the attackers force Phyllis to wet herself. They do this by threatening Mari, saying that they will cut her if she doesn’t. Not only is that disturbing in how demeaning it is to the character, but the performance that the girl who plays Phyllis gives is excellent. She actually pissed herself for that scene. While the rest of the actors in this film can be a bit shaky, Mari and Phyllis are both great. Apparently the actors playng the two escaped convicts threatened to actually rape the girls if their performances weren’t good enough (yeah, not cool guys) which is why I’m so disappointed at how the scenes in which they are abused and assaulted were treated. I’m not saying that I want to be watching these characters get treated that way, I’m saying that if you are going to include that in your plot do so respectfully and I don’t think adding comic relief is respectful. Yes, having to watch the scenes is difficult, but it is meant to be. This is rape, people, you’re not supposed to like it.

Do I reccommend this one…. ehhh? Not really? I think that in the rape/revenge genre there are better ones out there, honestly. As you can tell I preferred Day of the Woman. I think it did what it did well and certainly did it better than the Last House on the Left. This film is Wes Craven’s debut and you do get the feeling that he was still learning the ropes as far as writing horror goes (the direction was decent, I’ll give him that, though I don’t think that the enforced method acting on the girls was ok).

So there you have it.