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.

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.

Nightmare on Elm Street

Ah, Freddy Kreuger: a good contender for the title of ultimate horror villain.freddy_krueger

Even before I had heard of the film I could recognise his glove.

The story for this film is great. Teenagers keep dying in their sleep- turns out they’re being haunted by a dead guy (explicitly said to be a murderer, hinted to be a child molester) who is slashing them to bits. The only way to beat him is to stay awake and, as the film shows us, that is more easily said than done…

The effects are pretty good. I’m on the team of practical over CGI and these beat CGI hands down. Like when Freddy seems to come through the wall- that was pretty creepy (creepier and scarier than when Tina gets slashed up in her sleep. Sorry Bravo, I’m disagreeing with you again).

I thought that the part where Nancy was fighting Freddy was kinda cheesy, though. It’s a bit difficult to take a supposedly scary film seriously if it seems to have turned into Home Alone (I would take Nancy over that kid anytime, however). That’s my biggest complaint about this one- the rest of it’s solid. The ending’s good, the tone is consistent. Rob Englund is fantastic as Freddy.

For me this was a fun horror film rather than a genuinely frightening one, but then again I only seem to get scared by a very specific genre of horror films (damn you Japan!). I do honestly reccommend it, though, for a goofy night in. If you get sacred then great, if you don’t you’re still gonna have a good time.

Shallow Grave

Christopher Ecclestone is my favourite Doctor so far. He played the character as someone on the edge of madness and at times in his run we saw him fall the wrong way. I think this is the performance that really showcased how well heshallow grave can play that kind of part.

Shallow Grave is the story of three flatmates (who are really unlikeable people) who take on a fourth flatmate. The new guy dies and leaves them with a suitcase full of money. They get rid of his body in a scene that is both really well done and actually quite disturbing (the scene bravo chose as scariest, though I’m of the opinion that the drug dealers later on in the film are scarier) and have to deal with various consequences of this act.

First things first: this is a film where the asshole protagonist thing is actually done well (take note horror writers/directors who do this badly). All three of the flatmates are horrible people. While we are being introduced to them early on in the film we see them interview potential flatmates and bully most of them (this does come back to bite them on the ass later). So how does the director get it to work? Easy. They aren’t flat characters. Here’s a quick tip for anyone who wants to make a film with an asshole protagonist: make them seem like an actual person. Shallow Grave got that right which is why it worked, cause here’s the thing a lot of directors and writers seem to forget at the moment- if they don’t seem like actual people we won’t give a shit when the scary stuff starts. Seeing Chris Ecclestone’s character go off the deep end in this is scary because we see it all happen to someone who seems real.

The build up to the scene where they dispose of the body is really well done, too, as we see the reactions of the characters developing and their reluctance to do the deed is really believable. Of course none of them want to saw off a dead man’s hands, but someone has to do it and the disgust at having to watch it is well portrayed. The emotional consequences for the characters afterwards is believable and it’s interesting to think about how you would react in that situation. Would you desecrate the corspe of someone who is (essentially) a stranger for money?

Ewan McGregor and Kerry Fox are also fantastic. There’s a wonderful moment later on in the film when their characters trying to decide if they should go up into the attic and they clearly very afraid of what they’ll find which draws the audience into that, too.

So, if you haven’t guessed already from what I’ve written above this is one that I highly reccommend this one. It isn’t necessarily scary per se- the horror is too subtle for jump scares and there wasn’t any gore to speak of, though in the later parts of the film there are some very tense moments. It’s thoughtful as well, without whacking you over the head with it. Definitely give it a watch.

The Evil Dead

Er… what the fuck did I just watch? No, seriously. It’s like someone went “Ok, we need to make the ultimate horror film. Here’s our checklist: gore, some kind of rape, creepy isolated cabin, ancient artefact of doom, possession, creepy eyes/make up/voices and general insanity. Oh, and dismemberment. We can’t leave that one out.” then they went off and made it.

Actually, that probably is how it got made.

Don’tget me wrong, I can really see why it’s a classic. There’s something wonderful about it, even if I was sitting there going “wtf?” during the tree rape scene and when that girl was shrieking in the cellar.

Anyway, I think this is probably the film that perfected the cabin in the woods formula. A group of friends accidentally raise the dead and then have to kill each other off in increasingly violent ways when they get possessed. Plus there’s a chainsaw.

There’s a heck of a lot of gore and yet it’s somehow not torture porn. It’s like the effects people went “wahooo! Bring on the fake blood!!” (actually, that probably is what happened…) It just joyously sprays blood and whatever else all over the place.

Do I like it? No, not really. A few bits did genuinely creep me out,  like when Linda was singing “We’re gonna get you…” and I can definitely see why some people do like it. As films with dismemberment, rape and gore go it is a fun one to watch and it doesn’t assault you with how horrible the characters are. It’s worth a watch but if you don’t like gore then don’t bother.

 

Edit.

This film has since grown on me and it is now a favourite. I did see the remake/new sequel in the cinema and had a blast. No it’s not as good as the original but I thought it was pretty decent as an entry into the series. Pkus the imaginative use of duct tape was great.

Alien and Aliens

Ok, I will admit that I’m kinda biased with these two. Alien is one of my favourite films. It got me tensed up, got me scared for the characters and let’s face it- how can you not love the xenomorph?

Do I really need to give a quick summary? John Hurt gets a thing on his face, explodes and the alien hunts down the crew, leaving only one of them alive at the end (and the cat).

Alien has everything I love in a film: good, well acted characters; a story with extra layers to it that avoids being pretentious (Alien gives us an exploration of rape, particularly of men) and an aesthetic that only adds to the film as a whole. In my opinion the scariest part of Alien wasn’t necessarily the chestbursting sequence. I found Dallas climbing through the vents with the alien much scarier, but the chestburster is probably the more memorable bit for most.

Aliens is a damn good sequel, too. In it Ripley (the only survivor of the first film) returns to the planet where the alien came from and we meet the alien Queen. Where Alien was very mch a gothic horror-sci fi crossover, Aliens is a action film. Both films have great effects and it’s just a shame that the series had to get so ridiculous after these two (though Alien Resurrection will always make me laugh). I actually agree with bravo on the scariest moment this time- Newt and Ripley getting trapped in the infirmary really had me on edge.

So, yeah. Loved both of these films, would happily reccommend them to anyone (plus they both have some pretty scary bits).

On Audition

Oh, Japan. You have given the world many, many things: tentacle hentai, Ringu, Pokemon, sushi and countless bizarre videos on youtube.

kiri kiri kiri kiri…

But you have also given us the director Takashi Miike.

For those not in the know, Miike is a director of often disturbing films. Apparently Audition is one of the nicer ones, which makes me really worry about what the fuck is going on in his other ones.

In Audition we see a lonely widower hold a fake audition to try and find the perfect woman. He does, except she isn’t as perfect as he had first thought.

For the first 35 minutes we get a nice little rom com and isn’t it nice? A lonely guy has found a nice girl who seems to need comforting. He’ll do that and bring her out her shell, she’ll help him get past the death of his wife and they’ll live happily every after.

Yea, that doesn’t happen. Asami (the girl) gets a character establishing moment of staring at the phone, waiting for our hero to call, while a sack rolls around groaning in the background.

It gets worse from there.

The last 20 minutes are quite easily some of the most uncomfortable minutes I have ever sat through in a film. Not only do we have a scene where the guy from the sack is fed vomit (I had to look away for that) but we also have a scene that’ll make you check you still have 2 feet for quite a while after.

I do not normally like torture in films. I think it’s because in a lot of horror today it’s a cheap gimmick- rather than trying to scare, they try to sicken. They use shocking images that we aren’t affected by because we don’t give a shit about the characters (No, liking to party is not a good enough personality trait!). Audition is not like that in its torture scene. The torture is done so well and so carefully that I, well like it isn’t the right word (because I don’t really), but I preferred it infinitely to the likes of Hostel. Asami’s weapons of choice are so delicate. The acupncture needles, the piano wire, and she goes about it in such a way that you never feel a break in her character. She never stops being sweet and beautiful even while she says “kiri kiri kiri” in a sort of creepy singsong voice.

Audition is also a really interesting social commentary. It’s a kind of deconstruction of what the ideal woman is in Japanese culture. The direction is excellent- the use of colour to indicate Aoyama’s descent into Asami’s creepy world was very well done.

So what can I say? Miike, you might be trying to put us all in therapy, but kudos to you for trying to make sure we’re in therapy for something decent. This film is not nice. You will not enjoy it (if you do then I’m kinda worried) but it is a good film. Definitely reccomended.