Amer (2009)

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Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani

Staring Cassandra Forêt

90 Minutes

France and Belgium 

Amer is a 2009 Belgian-French co-production which comes to us from the husband and wife director team of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. Though often named as one of the forerunners of the “neo-giallo” movement which has emerged in recent years, the film plays not like a tribute to the 70s proto-slasher movement and more like the best of Argento and Bava filtered through a nightmarish acid trip. What I really commend Cattet and Forzani for doing here is taking their melting pot of influences and using them to create something truly fresh, showing off their talents as film makers in the process. For all intents and purposes, Amer represents an avant garde approach to genre film-making; from its unconventional narrative structure, suffocating sound design, and absolute minimum of dialogue throughout the running time.

Amer unfolds across three parts which chronicle the sexual development of a young woman, Ana, on the French Rivera. The first part, set during her childhood, is a series of nightmarish set-pieces which plays like a tribute to the ‘Drop of Water’ segment of Mario Bava’s ‘Black Sabbath’, in which she attempts to steal an antique pocket watch from the fingers of her grandfathers corpse. This sequence culminates with her walking in on her parents having sex, which then shifts into the second part of the film. Here, a teenage Ana visits the local village, and her blossoming femininity attracts the attentions of the local males. In the final, and most conventionally Giallo, of the three parts, an older Ana returns to her childhood home from the first segment, where she is stalked by a switch-blade wielding killer.

Whilst I have no doubt that Cattet and Forzani have the skills to make a more traditional horror flim, and a highly entertaining one at that, what they have opted for here is a damn sight more memorable for bearing little resemblance to any other film in the genre. It isn’t for everyone. Those who prefer a more conventional approach to Horror might be put off by the slow pace, the near total lack of dialogue, and the ambiguity presented in every shot. However, for those more inclined, the combination of these elements with some gorgeous cinematography, the beautiful French locations, and a soundtrack combing some choice cuts from Morricone, Nicolai, and Cipriani, combine to create a world that is as haunting as is beautiful.

Everywhere Ana goes men are starring at her, and the film creates the impression someone could leap out and attack her at any moment. The film does a fantastic job at putting at making us identify with Ana, feeling the vulnerability of the female form in a suffocatingly male dominated world, a theme that bubbles underneath the surface of just about every Giallo and Slasher film ever made. In distilling the genre down to such a minimalistic form, Cattet and Forzani get at the beating heart of the uneasy relationship Horror continues to have with female sexuality, and craft a vivid fever of sexual awakening which is as beautiful as it is mind-bending. The result is what might have happened if Argento in the early 70’s had crossed over from the Grindhouse into full Arthouse, or maybe if Stanley Kubrick had been a genre film maker in Italy at the same time.

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Alien 2: On Earth

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aka Alien Terror, Strangers

Directed by Ciro Ippolito

Starring Belinda Mayne 

92 Minutes

Italy

Alien 2: On Earth is an unofficial Italian sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 film ‘Alien’. Making an unofficial sequel to a big American hit was a popular practice with jobbing Italian directors of the late 70’s and 80’s. Lucio Fulci produced a follow up to Dawn of the Dead with his Zombi 2 (its name indicative of the original Dawn’s Italian title), and Bruno Mattei  gave us his version of Terminator 2, beating James Cameron to the punch by 2 years. Alien 2 was directed by Ciro Ippolito, an obscure director not known for his Horror, Alien 2 represents his sole sanguine tinged opus.

As the world awaits the return of a crew of astronauts (I assume this is supposed to be the Nostromo even though this film takes place in the 1970s and Alien took place in the place in the far future but whatever), a young woman named Thelma (Belinda Mane) appears on TV talk show to discuss caves. The film attempts to make a connection between these two disparate plot points by establishing that Thelma is a psychic and experiences a painful hallucination , which I think is supposed to have been caused by the return of the spacecraft to Earth (?). We learn that the spacecraft returned without its occupants, and there after get great a scene in which a little girl discovers an Alien object on a beach and is then discovered by her mother with her face ripped off (in general Italian Horror is far less shy about showing children being killed than Hollywood). Thelma and her husband Roy (played by future director Michele Sovai) meet up with their friends for a exhibition to explore a cave, and the film from this point follows the group being pursued by the alien force through said cave.

If you were expecting Xenomorphs you’re going to be disappointed, but Alien 2 nevertheless manages to conjure up an interesting villain. We never really get to fully see the Aliens,  but they seem to resemble a red bloody mass perturbing with tentacles. Sometimes it is portrayed with shots of its own point of view, in  with most of the screen is taken up by a mass of pulsating tentacles (as seen in the poster above). The film makes full use of the fear of the unknown by never giving us a full view of the creature, and is a good example of the filmmakers making use of their limitations, as it is unlikely that on a low budget production like this they would have been able to construct a full creature, yet alone one to compete with H.R. Giger’s monstrosity. In spite of its low budget, Alien 2 also manages to shine in its gore department. After a slow start, the second half of the film takes a gleefully grisly turn. Forget a chestburster, this film features a face burster scene! This seeming attempt to up the ante of their Hollywood inspirations and make them seem tame by comparison is part of what makes these low budget Italian shockers so appealing.

Where Alien 2 falls down in comparison to its Hollywood original however, it in the departments of plot, performance and pacing. Starting the film out with a TV report on a spacecraft returning to earth and then following that up with a story about a group of people exploring a cave was an odd decision, and its never really explained how the Aliens managed to populate the cave. The characters are all exceptionally dull, even more so than you would expect in a film like this, and I really can’t say anything about anything about any of them. However, whereas these first two points are sort of per the course for a film like this, Alien 2 really suffers from its poor pacing. This is one of those films that is dragged out with needlessly long scenes of people doing regular stuff like backing out of their front drives, a personal pet hate of mine (if you’re going to include scenes like these just make the bloody film shorter!). Overall though, I’d still recommend Alien 2. Just don’t go into it expecting Xenomorphs or non stop action.

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

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Directed by S. Craig Zahler

Starring Kurt Russel, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons and Richard Jenkins

132 minutes

USA

Recent years have seen a Western revival of sorts going on. The massive success of the Coen Brothers’ True Grit re-imagining and Tarantino’s rambunctious Django Unchained seems to have spurned this on, with everyone from the big studios to indie productions throwing their cowboy hat into the ring. Results have varied from the Seth McFarlene’s dire excuse for a genre spoof, A Million Ways to Die in the West, to John Maclean’s awesome directorial debut Slow West. Just like with the indie Horror bomb in recent years, new talent has been coming up with ways to make a genre nearly as old as cinema itself feel fresh, as today’s film demonstrates.

Bone Tomahawk is the brainchild of seasoned writer – first time director S. Craig Zahler. Its story is as classic a tale as one could be imagine. On a frontier town in the 1890s, a man and woman are kidnapped by couple of strangers in town, leading to a posse of four men to ride out to rescue them. So far, so John Ford, but Bone Tomahawk is no Channel 5 mid afternoon film. Without giving too much away, the  aforementioned strangers in town are not bandits or Indians, but cannibals. Bone Tomahawk is just as much a Horror Film as it is a Western, and is a supreme example of genre mash-up that doesn’t feel forced or gimmicky.

A great deal of Bone Tomahawk feels minimalist. There’s very little music. Like, any great Horror or Western, it has a slow build up. We spend a lot of time getting to know the characters, and all of them are well defined with great personalities brought to life by the brilliant cast. Snake Plissken himself, Kurt Russel, is as bad ass as he’s ever been as Sheriff Franklin Hunt. Richard Jenkins provides great comic relief as the decrepit, motor-mouth deputy Chicory (a memorable moment sees him randomly debating on the logistics of a flea circus after a particularly violent display of bloodshed). Matthew Fox plays the slimy gentleman gunslinger John Brooder, who considers himself superior to the other men because “smart men don’t get married”. Rounding out the posse is Patrick Wilson as Arthur O’Dowey, a man refusing to let a little thing like a a broken get in the way of him riding out to rescue his beloved wife. And Lilli Simmons is no mere damsel in distress as Samantha O’Dowey, a woman unafraid to berate her would be – rescuers for some of their more questionable decisions.

The slow pace of Bone Tomahawk might put off some viewers. This is a film that takes its time, letting the viewer get to know the characters and the world, which just makes the second half of the film all the more terrifying. In the final act, Bone Tomahawk feels like the characters from a John Ford Western have entered into a torture porn film. The violence is extremely brutal, and no one is safe. Characters who might consider sacred cows in a standard western are fair game here. An equal parts engaging and grisly debut, I look forward to seeing what Zahler will follow this with.

Man From Deep River (1972)

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aka The Man from the Deep River, Deep River Savages, Sacrifice! 

Directed by Umberto Lenzi    

Starring Ivan Rassimov, Me Me Lai

93 minutes

Italy

Umberto Lenzi’s 1972 Man From Deep River, is often listed in the same breath as other Italian cannibal films such as Cannibal Holocaust or Cannibal Ferox, but the film isn’t really like those at all. As the film which kick-started the whole cannibal trend, Man From Deep River suffers form early installment weirdness, in that it is essentially a story of ones man’s journey into a tribe on the border between Thailand and Burma, and from there becomes a combination of a showcase of the tribes customs and rituals and a love story. It is much more influenced by Mondo movies and the 1970 western A Man Called Horse (hence the similar title), which featured a white man who became integrated into a tribe. What little cannibalism is featured, is done by a tribe who themselves are feared by the tribe that is the films main focus, and it is not lingered on or indulged in as it would be in later films in the cannibal genre.

The dreamy Ivan Rassimov is our star as the British photographer John Bradley, on business in the Thai area to photograph the local culture and customs. He gets into a bit of trouble in a bar brawl and subsequently makes it to the Bangkok border where he has made plans to travel down river to get some shots, but it isn’t long before he finds himself at the mercy of a native tribe who believe him to a fish-person. John is subsequently subjected to a series of humiliating tortures, but along the way he and the tribe start to become more understanding towards one another. He befriends the sole English speaker in the tribe, a missionary child left their years before, and develops a romantic interest towards the beautiful Maraya, played by Me Me Lai.

Man From Deep River differs drastically in tone and style from the cannibal films that would follow in its wake. Lenzi imbues the film with a sense of fun and adventure that is a million miles away from the coitus and carnage mentality of the later films. The lush cinematography of Riccardo Pallotini and sweeping orchestral score from Daniele Patucchi do nothing to foreshadow the scuzzy ambiance and porno synth score of Lenzi’s later Cannibal Ferox. From the lively opening scenes in Bangkok you know you’re in for an adventure, the shots of the local culture and landmarks have a real travelogue feeling. This aesthetic can be put down the influence of Italian Mondo movies, faux documentary pieces which liked to contrast beautifully shot footage of exotic locales with footage of violent and bizarre local customs (often times staged). The intention here seems to have been to bring the Mondo sensibility to an adventure story, and the film really benefits from its this more subdued approach when compared to some later ‘cannibal’ films which go straight for the jugular.

That’s not to say that Man From Deep River doesn’t have its fair share of irreversible mutilations and unspeakable tortures. The North American poster highlights one of these, as John is suspended in a bizarre bondage contraption which spins around on the spot as the natives fire darts onto spots on his body that have been painted on. This delirious sequence is one of the films most memorable images, and it seems obvious why they decided to highlight it on the poster artwork. Of course, it would be amiss to talk about this film without mentioning the animal cruelty which plagues so many of these Italian cannibal pictures. Thankfully the version I saw had a lot of it cut out, but I didn’t get off lightly, witnessing a goats throat being cut and monkey brains being eaten. These scenes are another hold over from the Mondo mentality of film-making, where directors would go to extra lengths to capture the most shocking and brutal scenes. Arguably the removal of these scenes robs the film of some of its “Raw power” but that’s a never ending debate which I won’t get into here.

Man From Deep River is essential viewing for fans of Italian exploitation, for representing a turning point in the country’s genre film making in the early 70’s. However, if you go into it expecting a gut munching-fest a a la Cannibal Holocaust you might be disappointed. Go into it expecting an adventure from beautiful 70’s Bangkok, down the river and into the jungle, I guarantee you’ll enjoy what you see.

Nest of Vipers (1969)

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AKA Night of the Serpent,  Nest of Vipers – Ringo Kill     

Directed by Giulio Petroni 

Starring Luke Askew, Luigi Pistilli and Magda Knopka

106 Minutes

Italy

This is an interesting little Spaghetti Western from Giulio Petroni, the director of Death Rides a Horse (1967). Lieutenant Hernandez (Luigi Pistilli) is the commander of a faction of troops stationed in a small village during the Mexican revolution. Together with a group of the town’s outcats, they hatch the plan to rob orphan Manuel (Luciano Casamonica) of inheritance. Harnandez  gets in contact with his old friend, the revolutionary Pancho (Benito Stefanelli), who sets up for Luke (Luke Askew) to be the one to kill Manuel. Luke is an alcoholic former gunslinger with a traumatic past, who somehow has xy5gGz4M.640x360.0come into the care of Pancho and his revolutionary. Flashbacks reveal that he once killed a child by accident, so when he discovers that the person he was sent out to kill is a child, he is forced to confront his demons head end as he gets his act back together and goes after the conspirators.

Just like Petroni’s terrific Death Rides a Horse, the movie starts off with terrifically atmospheric scene in the pouring rain, as one of the conspirators accidentally murders a dispatcher. However, familiatires to that prior film don’t really extent beyond that opening scene (Petroni is known for having really strong opening scenes in his Westerns, such as the  one in A Sky Full of Stars for a Roof which several critics described as one of the best in the whole Spaghetti Western genre). Nest of Vipers plays out much more like a political thriller in some ways, with not much gunplay for the first half of the film and lots of scenes of the conspirators meeting to discuss their plot to snatch the inheritance (the titular ‘Nest of Vipers’ I guess). They’re all good characters though, especially the always welcome Luigi Pistilli as the slimy Hernandez. The fact that all these characters are planning to murder a child just makes then that  much more delightfully hateable.

The real stand out however and what made the movie so interesting for me however, was our hero Luke, played by the american actor Luke Askew. Annoyingly he doesn’t turn up until about a good 20 minutes into the movie, but when he does he really makes an impression for being a completely unique Spaghetti Western hero. Self loathing, alcoholic and with a traumatic past, that while told through the traditional Spaghetti Western flashbacks, is different to  other characters in the genre as here it is his own fault for the trauma he deals with. Characters like Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West and Bill in Death Rides A Horse experienced flashbacks that signified their life was ruined when the villains killed Picture-2-1024x450members of their family, but here Luke ruined his own life through his own foolish pride. It’s extremely rare for the protagonist of any film to have committed such a repugnant action as the murder of a child, but still I found myself rooting for Luke when he realized that he had been sent to kill a child and saw it as a chance at redemption. The scene were he sees the innocent Manuel for the first time and it is intercut with his flashback is a extremely effective moment and demonstrates the character Luke as the films biggest strength.

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Nest of Vipers is an overlooked entry in the Spaghetti Western cannon. Petroni directs with style and the plot has enough substance and character to hold your attention for the just under two hour running time. Check it out if you’re a fan of this genre.

Nest of Vipers is available on a region free DVD from Wild East in the USA which also includes Tails You Lose.

Top 10 Albums of 2015

For my last post of the year I’m going to do something a bit different to what I normally do here on Torn From The Tomb, and list my top 10 favourite albums of 2015. Until now I haven’t dedicated any posts to my other passion in life aside from films; music. Music and cinema are to me like food and water; you need both. However, having a similar taste in films as someone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to like the same types of music too. There is so much music out there, and what’s good and what’s bad isn’t as black and white as it is with film. For example, whilst almost everybody can agree that Adam Sandler’s ‘The Ridiculous Six’ is a terrible film, with music some may regard Lady Gaga as an important and highly entertaining pop culture treasure, others might not be able to even tolerate her or her music. Personally, though I like to claim I listen to all styles of music, and usually more of the metal head persuasion, so that’s my list will generally reflect. Though I’ve found it’s pretty common for lovers of cult horror cinema etc. to have this same taste, some of my regular readers possibly won’t find this article very interesting. If you don’t, that’s fine! I’ll be back with a new eurocult review sometime in the new year, but for now, here’s my top 10 albums of 2015.

10. Slayer – Repentless

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Pretty much everyone in the metal world knows a new Slayer album isn’t going to be anything groundbreaking, but this time around the expectations were lower. Their first album since the death of guitarist Jeff Hanneman, the general feeling was that Slayer was never going to be the same again, a feeling made even worse by the unamicle departure of human drum machine Dave Lombardo and the return of Paul Bostaph, who played on some of the bands lesser regarded albums. Thankfully, while the end result is no Reign In Blood , its definitely thrash, and so Slayer! Exodus axe man Gary Holt proves to be a worthy stand-in for Hanneman, holding his own on tracks like ‘Take Control’ and ‘Chasing Death’, which have the breakneck speed and catchiness which make traditional Thrash Metal so fun.

Best Tracks – ‘Take Control’ , ‘Chasing Death’ , ‘Piano Wire’

9. Danzig – Skeletons

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Here’s an album that everyone seems to hate, and I can’t really put my finger on exactly why. Danzig’s long delayed collection of covers, ranging from songs by Elvis Presley, Black Sabbath and ZZ Top, boosts a sloppy production and raw sound that admittedly may be off putting. Personally I didn’t mind this very much, the sheer power of Glenn Danzig’s voice still shining at 60 years old on songs like ‘Satan’ and ‘saved the best til last’ closing ballad ‘Crying in the Rain’.

Best Tracks – ‘Satan’, ‘Lord of the Thighs’, ‘Crying in the Rain’

8. Soulfly – Archangel

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The legendary Max Cavalera’s unique brand of music might be best termed ‘Metal comfort food’. Always catchy and accessible but never sacrificing speed or heaviness in the process. His passion for his genre has never been more clear than on album opener ‘We Sold Our Souls To Metal’, a hardcore punk styled expression of unity for all metal heads around the world. The rest of the album utilizes exotic sounds and biblical themes to great effect, with sonically dense songs like ‘Sodomites’ and ‘Bethlehem’s Blood’. Admittedly it dips a bit in the second half, but nevertheless Archangel demonstrates the work of an veteran metalhead still at the top of his game after 30 years.

Best Tracks – ‘We Sold Our Souls To Metal’, ‘Sodomites’, ‘Live Life Hard’

7. Goblin Rebirth – Goblin Rebirth

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Goblin Rebirth, is one of many, many projects to have resulted from Italian Prog rock and Horror movie score legends Goblin’s numerous line ups through the years. This one features the original bands rhythm section, Fabio Pignatelli and Agostino Marangolo. Goblin themselves also released a new album this year, ‘Four of a Kind’, but I found Goblin Rebirth to much more dynamic and listenable. Not only does it have style with catchy and atmospheric snyths, but also substance, with its linear notes explaining the story of the titular Goblin’s ‘rebirth’ that the instrumental songs are meant to reflect.

Best Tracks – ‘Requiem For X’, ‘Book of Skulls’, ‘Forest’

6. Gruesome – Savage Land

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Never before has the old adage that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ rang more true. Gruesome are a band that exists for no other reason than to recreate the sound of the early Death records, Death being probably the most influential and legendary band in the Death Metal genre, whose sole constant member Chuck Schuldiner passed away in 2001. With so much pretension in the Extreme Metal world these days a release which wallows in cliches as much as this actually feels like a breath of fresh air. There’s also the fact that these guys sound SO much like Death. Like scarily similar. Usually I would highlight some stand out tracks but here the whole album is an essentially sounds like outtakes from Death’s ‘Leprosy’, one of my favorite albums of all time. Now if only bands come could come along who could as successfully emulate the sound of early Slayer and Metallica records.

Best Tracks – ‘Savage Land’, ‘Trapped In Hell’, ‘Gruesome’

5. Faith No More – Sol Invictus

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The absolute mad men have returned. A full 18 (!!!!) years after their previous album Faith No More have given this glorious collection of demented Rock N’ Roll which defies any genre labeling. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait as long for more from this truly unique band.

Best Tracks – ‘Sunny Side Up’, ‘Black Friday’, ‘From The Dead’

4. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

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It’s definitely been the year of Eddie. Not only did Bruce Dickinson give cancer the middle finger, but in the same year Maiden unleashed the longest and most ambitious album of their 30 year plus career. After 5 year break from the studio the band sound utterly revitalized, and songs like jaw dropping opener ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ can easily stand alongside anything from their 80’s heyday.

Best Tracks – ‘If Eternity Should Fail’, ‘The Great Unknown’ , ‘Empire of the Clouds’

3. The Black Dahlia Murder – Abysmal

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I LOVE this band. The Black Dahlia Murder’s sublime brand of Melodic Death Metal, descended from Carcass and At The Gates, has made them one of the most successful and relevant bands in extreme music today. Rippers like ‘Receipt’ and ‘Threat Level No.3’ give an incredible cathartic release, and songs like John Carpenter inspired ‘The Fog’ prove they can do slower material as well.

Best Tracks – ‘Receipt’, ‘Threat Level No.3’, ‘The Fog’

2. Lucifer – Lucifer I

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Every once in awhile you discover a new band and it feels like you’ve discovered Jesus. That’s what Lucifer was like for me. I never listened to front woman Johanna Sadonis’s previous band, The Oath, but Lucifer really made a big impact on me. Their doomy Sabbath inspired music has a haunting, almost magical quality to it, and Sadonis’ ethereal vocals have led me to consider her the Beauty to Ozzy’s Beast.

Best Tracks – ‘Purple Pyramid’, ‘Izarael’, ‘Morning Star’

1. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction

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This fucking band. The misanthropic, melody tinged death-grind sound of Cattle Decapitation was another instance in which discovering new music felt like a divine revelation. Those put off by the bands vegan stand point should know this; these guys will make you see they know exactly what they’re talking about. They hate humans and want everyone to know it, and it’s pretty impressive. The Anthropocene Extinction deals principally with man’s destructive influence on our planet’s environment, and it’s a sad, apocalyptic funeral dirge, a soundtrack for the end of the world.

Best Tracks – ‘The Prophets of Loss’, ‘Plaugeborne’, ‘Pacific Grim’

That’s it for 2015. Everyone have a safe and Happy New Year. Here’s to another year of good times and awesome cinema!

 

Black Christmas (1974) and Christmas Evil (1980)

 

1974’s Black Christmas is often acknowledged as an important film in the Horror Genre for being one of the earliest examples of the Slasher sub-genre and an influence on John Carpenter’s Halloween which would define the genre. It was independently produced and directed by Canadian Bob Clark, who astonishingly enough went on to direct another, very different Christmas film, 1983’s A Christmas Story. Early in his career he made low budget horror films such as Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, but went on to direct massively successful films such as the frat comedy Porky’s and the aforementioned A Christmas Story. His later career saw him making low budget and poorly received children’s films such as The Karate Dog and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. This makes him probably the only director in history to have had films on both the IMDB Top 250 and Bottom 100. He was tragically killed in car crash in 2007.

Black Christmas follows a group of college girls who are stalked and murdered during the Christmas season by a killer hiding in their sorority house. He makes obscene phone calls and and he creeps about the place in POV shots. The influence on Halloween is obvious in these shots, and the way that Clark shoots the sorority house from a distance with Gothic lighting is similar to Carpenter’s shooting of house in his film. The influence of the Bates residence in Hitchcock’s Psycho on both films should not be forgotten. The film surprisingly features a number of well known actors in the cast, not big A listers, but distinguished enough to be known to film fans. Keir Dullea, best know for playing David Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey, appears here as our leading man. It’s a little surreal to see someone who worked with Kubrick on such a legendary film appear in a sleazy Grindhouse flick like this. Olivia Hussey is our leading lady and final girl, best known for Romeo and Juliet, but her performance here is unmemorable and I have to say I much preferred Margot Kidder, best known for Lois Lane in the 70’s Superman movies. Her character is just so enjoyable, swearing and drinking and not taking any crap from the killer when he’s on the phone. Sadly she’s killed off half way through and we are left with the much less fun Hussey, who maybe wasn’t that comfortable appearing in a film like this. Special mention must go to the always enjoyable John Saxon, known for his role in Enter The Dragon and appearing in countless B and Horror movies.

For horror fans Black Christmas should be an essential movie, not just because it’s an important one, but also because it’s enjoyable in it’s own right. Clark directs the film with style and suspense that lifts it above standard grindhouse fare and makes it obvious why it was so influential to Carpenter and others. There’s also a remake, made in 2006, but I haven’t seen it.

Something that dawned on me whilst I was watching Black Christmas was that the Christmas setting itself was largely inconsequential. There’s one scene near the beginning where one of the characters is working as a Santa Claus, but overall the film could have taken place at any time of year with the same story (though the original script was apparently based on a series of murders that occurred over Christmas in Quebec). One film that really takes the Christmas season and runs with its horror film potentials however, is 1980’s Christmas Evil, also known as You Better Watch Out and Terror In Toyland. The film was directed by Lewis Jackson, who has never made another film since, and stars Brandon Maggart, who the same year appeared in Brian DePalma’s Dressed To Kill and since has worked mainly in Television. However the most well known face in the cast to a modern audience will be Jeffrey DeMunn who recently had a recurring role in The Walking Dead.

Brandon plays a man named Harry Stadling. This guy takes Christmas spirit deadly seriously. In the opening scene, we see how as a young boy he witnessed Santa, or what we presume was his dad dressed up as Santa, sexually groping his mother. This obviously had a damning effect on his psyche and as we flash forward to the present day we see how he has taken it upon himself to become the next true Santa, he sleeps in the costume, and his flat is covered in Christmas toys and decorations. He spies on the children in his neighborhood to see it they’ve been bad or good and writes their names in his “Bad Boys & Girls” book. Like I said, this is a man who takes Christmas spirit seriously. As the film goes on, his mental state deteriorates. We see how he works a lowly job at a local toy factory and clashes with his superiors, who are more concerned with profit than giving children a good Christmas. Harry sets off on a “roaring rampage of revenge” against those he feels have poisoned the spirit of Christmas.

Christmas Evil is less of a slasher film and more a psychological character study, a sort of Christmas Taxi Driver. Viewers can symphasise with Harry because what he wants is ultimately pure and admirable. The guy wants to be Santa Claus and give kids who deserve it a good Christmas, and most of the adult characters around him are so horrible we can actually see his point of view despite him plainly being as mad as a hatter. I actually found myself cheering when he started to take down the suits. The film ultimately doesn’t feature much that much gore or violence, like I said, it’s more psychological than slasher, and it has an ending that leaves you thinking, “what the hell just happened?”. I highly recommend all cult film and horror fans check Christmas Evil out, even more so than Black Christmas, simply because it’s so off the wall and entertaining in its concept. The film is well directed by Jackson, who really gives us a sense of Harry’s isolation, and it’s a shame he hasn’t gone on to direct any other films. Brandon Maggart also does a good job at selling the lead (though some of the other performances leave a lot to be desired). Christmas Evil might be the ultimate cult Christmas film, and deserves to be a yearly tradition for people who enjoy this sort of thing. You go in expecting a sleazy Christmas slasher film, but get a whole lot more than you bargained for.

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Oh and incidentally, a very Merry Christmas to all at you at home from Torn From The Tomb!