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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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.

Halloween

The start of the slashers…Halloween_cover

I was surprised by how chilling I found this film. It’s so simple, almost beautifully so: a masked killer is hunting down a babysitter. There’s so little to it, but John Carpenter makes it work. He makes the babysitter a girl who we want to see survive, who we want to protect. He makes the masked killer into something that we know deep down is human, but gives the appearance of being something completely inhuman (the bogeyman the a frequent motif throughout the film). We never see his adult face- only that blank mask.

The one downside this film has is how formulaic it has become since it was made. Its simplicity could make it boring if you have seen a lot of other slashers first.

So onto what I thought was good:

-Having Michael never speak was a very good move. It further removes him from our understanding of humans

-The theme music. Seriously, that was so good at building tension plus whenever I hear it I now associate it with this film.

-The actress who played Laurie- she was so likeable, you couldn’t help but want to protect her.

-The opening scene. All it establishes is that Michael killed his own family and nothing else. Do we need to know anything else? Not really. After all, what says psychoticallly evil more than a little boy knifing his sister?

What was bad?

-Damn near nothing. I kind of think this is THE quintessential slasher. There may be others, but when you watch this there’s a feeling that this is the real deal. Sure, it may have become formulaic since but so what? To some people Alien has become formulaic (Alien, by the way is awesome).

Bravo suggested that the scene where Michael sits up after Laurie sent the kids out to go and get help was the scariest scene but I actually think that the scenes near the beginning where he’s stalking Laurie were way creepier. You keep seeing glimpses of him and then he vanishes (hence the bogeyman motif). Even so, the climax is fantastically done. I highly reccommend this one.

Alice, Sweet Alice

I think this is a film that deserves to be a bit more well known. It’s a murder mystery with a couple of very well done jump scares that also explores how one girl has been moulded by her family and, to an extent, ostracized from certain things because of it.

The film starts by showing us two sisters: Karen, the younger, and Alice, the elder. Karen is clearly favoured by her parents and those around her, while Alice is jealous and (understandably, considering the extent of the favouritism) withdrawn. Karen is about to receive her first communion when she is murdered and the rest of the film follows the  investigation of the murder which Alice- obviously- becomes a suspect.

While watching Alice, Sweet Alice I was very struck by the various  reasons (and there are many) for why Alice was so often ignored. If you’re of a psychological bent you may like watching simply to understand more about Alice herself. I was watching this with a friend who’s currently doing psychology and she thought that side of the film was pretty well done (though it invokes adults are useless all the time…)
How scary is it? Not massively. There are 2 scenes that, I will admit, did make me jump and they were very good. The first is the one bravo suggests as the scary movie moment, but personally I thought the second was scarier (it’s where Alice’s father is climbing up those stairs and the murderer attacks him). The film didn’t rely on jump scares- after all, it isn’t really horror. Instead it’s main focus is the relationships between the characters and the titular Alice. Though that mask and yellow raincoat combo is creepy. I reccommend Alice, Sweet Alice- if you enjoy a slasher film, you’ll probably like this one even though it doesn’t follow the normal slasher formula.

Peeping Tom

In the 60s this film was really dumped on by the critics in the UK. I can sort of see why- some of it is almost uncomfortable to watch now, so what it must have been like then I’ve no idea.

Peeping Tom is the story of a young man called Mark, scarred by years of psychological abuse by his father, committing a series of murders which he captures on film. It’s heartbreaking in places. Mark is a character you start out being creeped out by (the opening sequence of the film is his murder of a prostute) but gradually you start to feel for him.

I think that’s what disturbed the critics; we want to think of murderers as inhuman monsters but Peeping Tom doesn’t let us think that. It shows us Mark’s life, his shyness, his cautiousness as he develops a relationship with a girl called Helen and it does it so intimately that you are forced to see him as something devastatingly human. It also puts us behind the camera for the murders. You see what the cameraman (and therefore the murderer) sees, again making an intimate experience for the viewer. Then of course you have the subject matter of the film: ultimately, it’s about watching films. Now, if that doesn’t make you feel a bit uncomfortable then I’ll have to direct you to Audition’s vomit scene.

Modern critics are much more favourable. Roger Ebert lists it in his great movies column, it has been suggested as the 18th greatest British film of all time and it is generally considered a masterpiece. I feel for Powell- having a film destroy your career then become a kind of cult phenonemon 30 years later must be one of the most irritating things ever.

So what did I think of Peeping Tom? I thought it was very good- it’s definitely a complex film, and I think if I watch it again I’ll find something else to comment on. about it. Karlheinz Böhm’s performance as Mark is truly excellent and well worth watching the film for. Powell’s direction is great too- it’s such a shame that this film basically destroyed his career, but it’s definitely one worth being remembered for.

In conclusion: highly reccomended.