Tag Archives: christmas

Bob Gale’s Black Christmas

Bob Gale’s Black Christmas predates Carpenter’s Halloween by four years as the first slasher film, they both take place on a festive holiday night where a shadowy killer stalks people in quiet suburbia and they *both* open with an eerie POV tracking shot, and while Halloween is the more polished and notorious film, Black Christmas is definitely my favourite. Halloween opened up suburbia wide and had the boogeyman roam free in daylight while this one keeps it tight, dark and constrained to the shadows, attics and resoundingly atmospheric hallways of a giant Tudor mansion where a group of sorority sisters are celebrating Christmas. Extremely obscene phone calls herald the arrival of Billy, possibly the scariest slasher villain ever thanks to the hair raising voices on the other end of the line, provided by Canadian acting legend Nick Mancuso in one of his first gigs. Billy more or less kills like your average, well adjusted horror villain, but he vocalizes like a disturbed demon straight out of hell and it contributes to the freaky atmosphere so much. Olivia Hussey makes an absolutely gorgeous beauty of a scream queen as the proverbial ‘final girl’ Jess, her melodramatic, theatrical approach to the role only makes me love her more and gives the character flourish. Margot Kidder is hysterical in a lengthy cameo as another sorority sister with a huge potty mouth who seriously gets her Christmas drank on, as does curmudgeonly house mother Marian Waldman, who has an extended solo traipse through the dimly lit house that’s a fine example of physical comedy and inspired improv. Legendary John Saxon, who also headlined yet another iconic horror franchise, plays the intrepid police captain who tries to trace the calls and capture Billy, he always provides tough guy charisma. There is just so much to enjoy about this film; the quiet, ambient Yuletide stillness of the mansion in which you just know that even though no creature is stirring, not even a mouse, Billy is in there somewhere waiting and chuckling maniacally to himself, which makes my skin crawl to this day. The nervous score by Carl Zittrer includes objects like forks and combs tied to string instruments, giving them a warped, spooky timbre. The production design, or maybe it was simply a lucky find with the house as it was, is so beautifully mid 70’s and filled with colour, decorations, garish wallpaper, strange artwork and knick knacks, it feels lived in and authentic, as does the easy breezy camaraderie between the sorority sisters and the police banter, all part of a believable atmosphere. The lighting, or partial lack thereof, is something to behold, every few metres holds an army of shadows and murky artifices for Billy to hide in, and the camera drinks it all in slowly for maximum effect. I could go on all day about how much I love this film and what it means to me, but you get the idea. It’s everything a slasher should be and more: funny, morbidly scary, terminally weird at times, visually audacious, sexy, bizarre, festive and packed with atmosphere. Another interesting thing is that although this gathered the steam of a cult classic like other famous horror films, it never generated any sequels which makes it feel kind of special in the genre, like a sacred mile marker. Having said that, there is a remake out there that is absolute fucking festering garbage, it’s worth zero interest and only stands as en example of what not to do in service of a bona fide, enduring classic like this.

-Nate Hill

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B Movie Glory: Silent Night

Santa is an axe wielding mass murderer! In Silent Night he is anyway, a slick, excessively gory remake of an obscure 80’s slasher called Silent Night, Deadly Night, which I’ve still yet to see. This new version is a heavy handed, knowingly silly affair, as a small town Sheriff’s department races to find a heinous killer who dresses like the red guy and has been wantonly slaughtering townsfolk all morning. A timid deputy (Sin City’s Jaime King) is the front runner to head him off at the pass, joined by the cantankerous, mouthy Sheriff, played by a hammy Malcolm McDowell with attitude to spare. The murders are so over the top it seems like the filmmakers wanted to outdo each and every slasher film out there, an impossible task, but they throw Paint at the wall furiously anyway. Electrocution by Christmas lights, high powered flamethrower, a souped up stun gun used to skewer an annoying 14 year old chick, but my favourite has to be the naked stripper fed through a giant wood chipper in a scene that would have Fargo covering it’s eyes. That’s the kind of flick it is, sleazed out to the max, tongue firmly in it’s cheek and never too serious. Problem is, a few of the actors (I’m looking at you,

priest dude) take it way too far into camp territory and ruin whole sequences with their wannabe satirical blathering. McDowell gets the tone right though, and is a right treat as the world’s most sarcastic lawman. Donal Logue also fares well as a bad tempered grinch of a mall Santa who eventually tangles with the murderer in a fiery police station set piece. Maybe I was just tired, but when the origin of the killer is finally revealed, which I waited for the whole time, it seemed like kind of a confusing letdown, a bit less of a surprise than it should have been. Worth it for the kills and a couple entertaining performances, but ultimately not much.

-Nate Hill

CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

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There are more than a few sleazy stocking stuffers out there for those who prefer to take their holiday-themed cinema with a dash or two of unadulterated dementia, but few are as distinctive and genuinely unnerving as Lewis Jackson’s CHRISTMAS EVIL aka YOU BETTER WATCH OUT. Often (understandably) mistaken for a slasher pic and perhaps even better known for being championed by John Waters as the infamous trash connoisseur’s favorite Christmas movie, one might innocently stumble upon this gem and be pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be equally perceptive and perverted rather than simply the latter.

Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) saw mommy kissing Santa Claus once as a young boy and hasn’t been the same since; understandable, seeing as immediately following the incident, Harry runs up to the attic and cuts his hand on the glass from a broken snow globe. This fateful night gives way to an adulthood that could be described as unconventional at best and utterly unmanageable at worst. Harry finds it difficult to balance his public and private lives, working an often demoralizing position at a local toy factory by day and counting down the days until Christmas whenever he’s at home.

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This is soon proven to be far, far more than merely a vice for the deeply disturbed introvert. Harry seems to envision himself as Santa Claus in the flesh, and as such, he not only works hard to perfect his costume before the big night but also keeps detailed records of the good and bad kids on the block. It all gets to be more than a bit creepy real quick, and when Christmas Eve comes around, Harry has slipped out of reality and into the deepest depths of decline, completing his transformation into Saint Nick in order to spread holiday spirit far and wide. What begins as an odyssey built on good cheer soon descends into a bloodbath as Harry finds himself unable to cope with the general (adult) public’s apathy toward his favorite holiday, culminating in an intense closing act straight out of FRANKENSTEIN.

Jackson’s film is a decidedly peculiar one; imperfect, for sure, especially when indulging in the kind of grotesque theatrics that have led viewers to label it as a “slasher” film over the years. But when one considers genre trappings, it is perhaps the film’s ability to transcend them which makes it so genuinely bewildering. Above all else, this is a character study – a sad and scary one at that – and we’re trapped inside of Harry’s sick, delusional head for the entire duration. It’s so close to our waking reality (or at least up until the bat-shit insane finale), that there’s no shame in squirming when Jackson wants us to.

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Exploitation films – and even better, intimate studies of the fractured human psyche disguised as exploitation films – are undeniably at their best when supported by a great deal of talent both in front of and behind the camera, and this is where CHRISTMAS EVIL is at an advantage. The weight of Harry’s off-kilter world is one of intricate pleasures thanks to the gorgeous cinematography of Ricardo Avonovich (Murmur of the Heart, That Most Important Thing: Love, Missing), which renders the character’s madcap gift-giving and murder spree as previously internalized phantasmagoria and provides all that came before with the distinct savor of morbid normality. There’s also some clever editing on display throughout, and Jackson’s direction is both efficient and composed; only in a few brief moments do we get a glimpse of a film from a man who isn’t completely in control of his vision.

This mostly refers to the more visually horrific sequences, which include but are not limited to a toy soldier’s sword skewering a human eyeball (enough to make Lucio Fulci blush) and throat slashing by way of the golden star at the top of a Christmas tree. It could certainly be argued that these moments succeed in enhancing the film’s “weird” factor, which is already way off the charts to begin with, but in context they are not only abrupt but over-the-top in a way that would suggest they were hardly the first thing on Jackson’s mind. The conclusion to this macabre tale, in which Harry burdens his poor brother Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn) and his family while on the run from an angry mob, also feels slightly rushed. Luckily, the director’s heart is in the redemption of his dysfunctional misfit, and he finds the perfect way to cap it all off.

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While CHRISTMAS EVIL will hardly be everyone’s cup of spiked eggnog, it comes equipped with more than enough heart, humor, horror, and genuine pathos to hold its own even against the inevitable naysayers. It is a fine film with an ambitious concept, one that it does not always execute tastefully, but one that is nevertheless explored in a consistent, satisfactory manner. Maggart is so good here that you find yourself surrendering to his solitary psycho; as ugly as his actions may be, we know Harry only has the best intentions deep down, which in itself inspires quite the palatable moral dilemma. Jackson’s film may unabashedly deal heavily in steaming coal, and its exterior may at first appear to be a needlessly nasty one, but through its own unique cocktail of extremism and empathy it achieves a kind of strange humanity, one that allows it to thrive beyond the realm of mere curio. For all the talk of it being an anti-Christmas picture, it certainly does its best to keep the spirit alive in its own wacked-out way. Quite the exquisite feast of discomposure, and a terrifically twisted treat for all sorts of adventurous parties.

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Bad Santa 2: A Review by Nate Hill

  

The holiday season’s best role model for children and adults alike makes a triumphantly sleazy comeback in Bad Santa 2, and I can honestly say this is one of those rare anomalous occurrences where the sequel outdoes its predecessor in almost every way. Where the first film was scummy, this one is scummier, the profanity nearly tripled and all manner of disgusting debauchery and deplorable behaviour dialled way past what we’re used to. Now a lot of folks will claim overkill, but honestly what’s the point in making a film like this if you don’t go for broke and puke up every last little cuss word and anal joke that comes to mind, particularly when it’s the sequel we’re talking about here. Billy Bob Thornton reprises what feels like his signature role, a piss poor excuse for a human named Willie Stoke, lowlife alcoholic dirtbag safecracker who masquerades as a department store Santa to rob malls blind, along with his flippant midget partner Marcus (ebony Oompa Loompa Tony Cox). This year they’ve taken a pickaxe to rock bottom and sunk even lower, aiming for a children’s charity reputed to rake in the Yuletide dough. Willie gets a surprise visit from his Ma though, an equally bitter, reprehensible diesel dyke piece of work played by Kathy Bates. You gotta hand it to the Bates-ter; this could have easily been a glorified cameo amped up just for trailers, but no, she goes all in and the extra mile to create a truly rotten bitch who almost…almost makes Willie the slightest bit sympathetic. This is one dirty, dirty film, one that milks it’s R rating like a two dollar hooker’s teat, so much so that it garnered the coveted 18a rating here in Canadian theatres, a medal not given out too lightly these days by our alarmingly lenient government. Nothing is sacred here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way in a film called Bad Santa. Christina Hendricks shits all over her classy image as the head of the charity, a slut in prudes clothing who just can’t help but play it dirty with Willie. The aptly named Thurman Murman (Vancouver’s own Brett Kelly) also makes a return, his stairs even farther away from the attic as he gets older. Replace holiday cheer with delightfully deviant black comedy, and loads of it, and you get a nasty, hedonistic little stocking stuffer like this. Just tread lightly if you can’t handle this type of humour, because it will tear you a new one.

Ted Demme’s The Ref: A Review By Nate Hill

Ted Demme’s The Ref is one of my favourite holiday comedies of all time, one I re watch every and never tire of. It’s the most cheerful black comedy I can think of, while at the same time being one of the most cynical, acid tongued Christmas movies on record. In spite of this pissy tone, however, it still manages to elicit warm fuzzy feelings and make you care for its loveable, curmudgeonly characters. It’s also got a spitfire of a script, given wildly funny life by its star, the one and only Denis Leary. Leary, every the motor mouthed, nicotine fuelled teddy bear, is an actor who’s work is very dear to me. Many times when I was younger and wasn’t in the best place in my head, I’d watch various films of his, and his standup and he always put me in a better place. Here he plays short tempered cat burglar Gus, who is forced to lay low in a small town on Christmas Eve after being busted and nearly caught by a state of the art alarm system. He takes a middle aged couple hostage to hide out at their house, and goes from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis play the couple, who bicker endlessly and drive Gus up the wall by constantly being at each other’s throats and never shutting up. Spacey never comes up short in intense performances, whether dramatic or funny, and he owns the role, meeting Leary and Davis’s manic energy with his own verve. Davis, an underrated actress, pulls out all the stops an delivers like she always does as well. The three of them are left in the house to hash out their issues, criticize each other, fight, make constant jabs at character and all that other lovely Christmas-y stuff. The hilarity peaks when Spacey’s insufferable brother and his family show up for the most awkward Christmas dinner in history, as the trio tries to disguise the fact that they’re harbouring a criminal from the dimwitted clan, and Spacey’s tyrannical bitch of a mother (Glynis Johns). There’s balance to the stressful vibe, though, as Leary’s presence elevates every emotion from the couple and eventually turns things around, all expertly played by the actors for laughs both obvious and subtle. The excellent Raymond J. Barry is crusty delight as the mean spirited Sheriff, and there’s great work from J.K. Simmons, Christine Baranski, Arthur Nascarella, Vincent Pastore, Richard Bright, Adam LeFevre and B.D. Wong. A Christmas classic for me, for a number of reasons, and one of the funniest, overlooked holiday flicks out there.