Pet Sematary (1989)

0

From one King to another. Upon finding this in a local Big W for $5, my first thoughts were “Is it in widescreen?” and “Is it in 5.1?” to which both of those questions were answered in the affirmative. But surely, a film starring Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) with a feature song by The Ramones (as well as a cameo by Stephen King himself) can’t be too bad, right?

The Creeds have just moved into a new house in the countryside. Their house is perfect, except for two things: the trucks that drive noisily on the road outside, and the mysterious cemetary in the woods behind the house labelled “Pet Sematary”…

I like Stephen King’s work, but I don’t understand, well, what happened: King wrote and published Pet Sematary in 1983, and six years later he sat down to write the screenplay for a movie based on his book. There isn’t anything wrong with the story, dialogue, it’s that scenes, especially earlier on, jump, and some things happen without reason.

The acting, with the exception of Gwynne, is quite poor, laughable in a few situations. Dale Midkiff seems to be in a haze throughout the film, Denise Crosby is actually good, but tries her best with the material she’s been given and ends up looking like she doesn’t know where to go. The kids, are of course, kids, although Miko Hughes, especially later on in the film, is creepy. The direction by Mary Lambert, a female director hovering around horror films should be noted, however she just ended up with a B-grade, at times non-sensical muddle of a movie.

The concept, of having more time with those who have passed on, is of course universal, and something everyone can relate to on one level or another. However, the supernatural aspects surrounding the concept seem half-baked, and we never really get into the head of Louis Creed, the main character played by Midkiff. It is obvious chunks of the book were sliced out to make the book into a movie, however in doing that, the film has actually suffered. Instead of taking the book, and moulding the story into a suitable story for the screen, King has edited the book and given the edit to the actors and crew, at least, is seems like that. Believe you me, I don’t like criticising King but I thought he did a poor job of constructing a screenplay. Add to that middle-of-the-road acting, and a zombie cat (it’s not as awesome as it sounds), Pet Sematary is a poor excuse for a book adaptation, and a poor excuse for a horror movie in general. In fact, it might just be the goofiest horror movie I’ve seen yet. Two skulls.

Audio:
For a cheap DVD, the 5.1 track was quite good. Obviously, the roar of trucks driving past were quite loud, and the laughing of Gage, the son during one of the final sequences, comes out of the rear speakers giving a frightening jolt to the viewer. For a twenty-one year old film, it sounded quite impressive. Three-and-a-half skulls.

Video:
Alas, the video aspect is not as impressive as the audio aspect of the disc. Yes, I understand it’s an old film but my qualms lie with the encoding of the film. Many times I noticed blocking artefacts, taking me out of the film. The rest of the picture was fine, but slightly blurry. It did the job, but it wasn’t the best picture I’ve seen on DVD. Two stars.

Features.
No features are provided on the disc besides subtitles. No skulls.

Overall:
With Pet Sematary, Stephen King proves that while playing a priest at a funeral may be awesome, he should probably stick to writing novels. However, his screenplay is not the only problem. Riddled with mediocre, sometimes laughable acting, and odd horror and cheap non-frightening scares, Pet Sematary is a poor film, but may entertain yourself and some of your friends with it’s B-grade atmosphere. Two skulls.

It (1990)

1

Despite the fact that this blog is named after a Stephen King book, I have not read said book. I am only half-way through Under the Dome, have The Skeleton Crew, Firestarter and Duma Key somewhere, and have only seen Stand by Me, Carrie and The Mist in their entirety (all of which are fantastic films), but I wouldn’t call myself a Stephen King fanatic; a fan, yes, but not a fanatic. I like his work, and the impact he’s had on horror as a genre as well as the general impact in literature itself, but I don’t know every detail about every story he’s written nor every aspect about his life. Add to that a fear of clowns I brought with me when I was born, and It is right up my alley.

The Losers Club, a group of seven children in Derry, Maine, bond together over visions of a demonic clown named Pennywise that is haunting all of them. Together they decide to end it, but it escapes and they make a pact to join back together should it ever return. Thirty years later, it is killing children again, and The Lucky Seven need to band together once more to bring It down.

It isn’t difficult to make clowns scary; they’re inherently frightening to begin with. Tim Curry, however, being put into the shoes of Pennywise the Clown is pure genius. You can hardly tell it’s him – the make-up is astonishing, especially at the end of part one. However, Curry doesn’t play Pennywise as straight-forward monster – there are ideas and reasons behind what he’s doing. His delivery of “Yes, Georgie, they all float.” will send shivers down my spine for years to come.

The performances of all the adults is great – some border on the melodramatic, but that’s fine. However, it’s the children, playing younger versions of the adults’ characters, that truly shine, also adding to the fact that part one is simply better and more engaging than part two, due to this fact. The story somehow works better within the confines of childhood than adulthood – in fact, I would edit out the adult scenes and just leave in the children’s scenes and market it as a horror movie for kids, because children love taking charge within a film or television show.

The film itself is a great piece of two-nighter epic television. Not once did I feel bored, nor did the pace ever feel like it was dragging along at snail-like speed. To supply a great, involving story and frightening imagery in a television program in mid-1990 must have broken down some kind of barriers. It should be required viewing for all horror movie fans!

At three hours and spread across two sides, It is a masterpiece of television production. Having not read the book, I’m in no position whatsoever to say if it was faithful or not to the novel, but in the end that isn’t actually important, as the film needs to stand on its own two feet. With a few instances of melodrama and cheese, It breaks through and delivers a masterful fright and engaging story about friendship and promise. Four skulls.

Audio:
The only audio track supplied is an English 2.0 track. Seeing as this was produced in 1990, and as a television film no less, this is no gripe. The dialogue is clear and the music creepy. There isn’t much to say about the audio, other than it gets the job done. Three skulls.

Video:
It has one of the better DVD presentations I’ve seen in my entire couch-potato career of watching films and television shows. Sure, it’s an old program, and is riddled with quite a lot of film artefacts (as well as a few instances of digital artefacts such as blocking), but it looks pretty good. I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase a Blu-Ray edition of the film in the future. Three-and-a-half skulls.

Features:
Only one major extra is provided, along with a useless “Cast and Crew” listing (isn’t that what the end credits are for?) Three skulls.

  • Audio Commentary
  • with director Tommy Lee Wallace and actors Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid, John Ritter and Richard Thomas is not what is usually my cup of tea. It’s edited together from sessions Wallace held, Thomas held, and a group session of Christopher, Reid and Ritter. However, it’s entertaining thanks to the actors as well as informative thanks to Wallace. Amazingly, I lasted the entire three-hour track with no thoughts about turning it off. It was nice to listen to a few of the people involved in making the film reminisce warmly about making the film as well as talk about the friendships towards one another, whether or not they knew of Stephen King, choices made in regards to setpieces, as well as complimenting their colleagues from people such as Olivia Hussey to all the children actors. A great listen.

Overall:
It just knocked my socks off and came out of the blue. I’ve had the DVD sitting in my collection for a while but never got around to viewing it simply because of time constraints (as well as a freakin’ scary clown on the cover). It’s a wonderful film, and eerie and creepy with a nightmare-inducing performance from Tim Curry. Unfortunately the extras are a bit lacking, but the audio commentary is a great listen for fans of the film and will feel like you’re watching the film with your friends, your friends who starred in it, talking you through the production. I hope a future Blu-Ray release will have the film uncut as one film as well as some retrospective interviews with cast and crew, King’s thoughts on the film and a “In Loving Memory” for John Ritter and Jonathan Brandis, who both passed away in 2003. An exceptional movie with an exceptional cast and great, emotional story. Three-and-a-half skulls.

Psycho (1960)

3

Psycho (1960)The Film: Rare is it that a film becomes so popular, that even those who have never seen it know what you’re talking about. Mention “Norman Bates” or hear that iconic Herrmann score, you know it’s from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

I had caught bits of the film on television a few years ago, and never got around to viewing it. I had, however, seen Gus van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake made in 1998, and I can only remember the ending (and a car going into a tar pit). However, when the chance to own the film on Blu-Ray hi-def, in a Steelbook came, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from one of her boss’ clients one Friday afternoon and on the drive, she stops at Bates Motel for a rest and to catch herself. It is here she meets a kind young man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), owner of the motel. He seems kind enough, but his mother has other ideas…

Quite possibly the earliest slasher film, and definitely one that was ballsy for its time, Psycho is a film that younger, modern-day viewers may eschew, but it should be required viewing for anyone that considers him or herself a horror aficionado. It balances character, horror, good and evil, death, and nobody in this film is perfect. One of our main characters steals $40,000, another has a split personality and murders people in that personality. It’s quite a jarring change from something like The Wasp Woman, which was a B-movie made by cult hero Roger Corman the year before. Years ahead of its time, Psycho was and is a film about right and wrong in the simplest sense, and even saying “we all go a little crazy sometimes”.

This reviewer cannot continue without mentioning, in detail, Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. He absolutely shines, full-stop. He’s charming, sympathetic, and vulnerable, but he is evidently hiding something – but what is it? Perkins towers over everybody else in the film and should, too, be required viewing for all aspiring actors. It’s not only his performance: symbolism oozes from the film, especially with the character of Bates – observe a stuffed owl, posed as if ready to grab small prey in its claws sitting behind Norman Bates as he talks casually with Marion Crane – a subliminal warning of what is to come.

While not as shocking as it was in 1960, Psycho is here to stay, and should be on all shelves belonging to fans of horror and fans of cinema in general. Four skulls.

Audio:
Presented in mono 2.0 and remixed Dolby 5.1, there’s nothing terribly groundbreaking to get excited about here. The mono 2.0 did me well enough, but there is a featurette about remixing the sound into 5.1 (more on that later). However, it is clear and crisp. There is no white noise from something like tape, and it does sound quite nice, even in mono 2.0. Three-and-a-half skulls.

Video:
A perfect image, even for a black-and-white film is presented on this Blu-Ray disc. Filling up the entire widescreen, grain is noticeable in quite a few scenes, as well as some film artefacts such as scratches, but it adds to the charm of the film. This reviewer will not be complaining about the image. I wouldn’t use it as a demo disc to show off my equipment, but for a film that’s fifty years old, it’s pretty damn good. Five skulls.

Special Features:
Accompanying the film are extras mostly ported from previous DVD releases, it is, however, quite a lot to get through with a lot of information given to the viewer, but due to most features being ported from previous DVD releases, not everything is in high definition, which is a shame, especially for the image galleries. Three skulls.

  • Audio commentary with Stephen Rebello, author of “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”. Rebello does have a few quiet spots during the film, but when he speaks he always speaks entertainingly, and always has something worth saying, as well as relating to the scene playing as he is speaking, mentioning symbolism, stories from the cast revolving around a scene, etc. It reminded me of the commentaries on the Universal Monster Movie commentaries done by the film historian likes of Rudy Behlmer.
  • The Making of Psycho is a ninety-minute feature with interviews with cast and crew of the film talking about Mr. Hitchcock, what working on Psycho was like, problems during production. It contains many small facts that you can also find in the commentary and in the booklet provided, but provides some informative entertainment nonetheless.
  • In The Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy is a twenty-five minute piece examining how Alfred Hitchcock has influenced all kinds of film-makers from Steven Spielberg to Martin Scorsese to Guillermo del Toro.
  • Hitchcock/Truffaut is a fifteen minute interview between Hitchcock and French film-maker François Truffaut talking about Psycho, how much Truffaut disliked the book on which the film is based, as well as Truffaut questioning specific choices Hitchcock made during production.
  • Newsreel Footage: The Release of Psycho is a puff piece, advertising gone insane, constantly making the viewer aware of the fact nobody will be seated after a showing of Psycho begins to stop ruining the illusion for all involved. This short piece proves that Hitchcock didn’t just make movies – he made experiences and was an absolute showman, making sure audiences saw his films under circumstances Hitchcock wanted.
  • The Shower Scene With and Without Music is a short feature, which basically shows you how effective Bernard Herrmann’s score was to the film, and especially to the infamous shower scene. It doesn’t work well without the music, although you may think it would…
  • Shower Sequence Storyboard by Saul Bass is a motion slideshow of storyboard created for the shower sequence by Saul Bass, who also designed the opening titles for Psycho. It’s just the storyboards – it would have been nice to have a side-by-side comparison with the storyboards and final film.
  • Psycho Sound, quite possibly misprinted on the back of the case as Remastering Psycho, is a short featurette on the remixing of the soundtrack from a mono soundtrack into a 5.1 soundtrack.
  • Next is motion slideshows: The Psycho Archives, an assortment of images from production, Posters and Psycho Ads, showing the advertising for the film, Lobby Cards, showing the cards cinemas would have had on display during Psycho‘s initial theatrical run, Behind the Scenes Photographs and Publicity Stills. All are presented as video slideshows in standard definition, which is a shame, because seeing images like those of the lobby cards in high definition would have been a real treat.
  • Theatrical Trailer and Theatrical Rerelease Trailers are exactly what they are called. The theatrical trailer is a good six minutes of Alfred Hitchcock guiding the audience through Bates Motel and Bates’ house, giving a lighthearted perspective on advertising the film, while the rerelease trailers are short trailers edited from the theatrical trailer criticising the television cut of Psycho.
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “Lamb to the Slaughter” is an episode of Alfred Hitchcock’s Twilight Zone-esque show with a story written by Roald Dahl about a pregnant woman who murders her husband who is about to leave her and covers up her tracks, all with a wondrous mix of Hitchcock black humour and Roald Dahl’s black humour. One must ask the relevance this is to Psycho, or whether it is just an advertisement for the series on DVD.
  • Also contained in the case is a small booklet with a brief history of the production and the film’s legacy.

Overall:
I’m sure many Hitchcock fans already have their hands on some iteration of Psycho, but if you’re absolutely psycho about Psycho, this release is pretty poor in the features department. For a fiftieth anniversary edition, you’d think Universal would put more effort into making the whole package a bit more special, but if you can get your hands on this Steelbook, do so. However, for those that just want to watch the movie, pick any version of this up, it’s amazing. The image is beautiful, the story great, and Anthony Perkins deserves another mention for his fantastic and pitch-perfect performance. Four skulls.

Halloween II (2009) [Unrated Director’s Cut]

0

As anyone who has read my review of Rob Zombie’s Halloween, you might know that I was immediately open to it and generally liked it basically because it was different. It wasn’t a shot-for-shot remake, but it was also a bit messy. The first half was certainly very good; Zombie’s chronicling of Michael Myers’ life stuck in institution was well explored ground and written very well, but then the second half feels like a push-pull between something like Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho to Zombie’s interpretation of the original material, which is where the first film fell a bit flat. However, with the “Unrated Director’s Cut” of Halloween II, Zombie goes in a different direction yet again, and it feels like Zombie’s finally made Halloween his own.

It’s been two years since the psychotic events of October 31st in Haddonfield, Illinois, and Laurie Strode is a mess. She’s living with Annie Brackett, who used to be her best friend, but animosity has grown since the Halloween incident. She’s having bizarre visions and a revelation in the new tell-all book by Samuel Loomis catapults her into events that will finally bring a close to the Michael Myers’ rampage.

From the get-go, this isn’t your typical horror film. It doesn’t even seem like a horror film. Sure, there are deaths, stabbings, and freaky visions, but it plays out more like a drama that used horror as its basis. It’s one of the smartest moves ever made in a horror sequel. Rob Zombie is the thinking horror fan’s director, he won’t do a retreading of material, he won’t rehash ideas, he’ll keep going in different directions, and I never cease being interested in what he has to say within his films.

Scout-Taylor Compton provides a fantastic performance as Laurie Strode and really makes Strode her own; the scenes involving Strode and Margot Kidder’s psychiatrist are of a particular note, showing Strode spiralling out of control and Kidder’s psychiatrist trying to work out how to help this poor girl.

Strode is having psychotic visions, and it is one of these visions that is probably my favourite parts of the film involving lots of profanity, almost silent movie-esque looks and a glass coffin which works very well, it’s a scene that has a great impact and is visually pleasing, despite the amount of profanity being thrown at the camera.

Of particular positive notes is the inclusion of home video footage of Danielle Harris as a young Annie Brackett. The Halloween fan will know Harris played Jamie Lloyd, the niece of Michael Myers and daughter of Laurie Strode in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, and there is a poignancy of showing this footage with Harris’ history in Haddonfield. It’s quite moving actually, which leads me to Brad Dourif.

In the first film, Brad Dourif played Annie’s father, Sheriff Brackett, and it wasn’t terribly memorable. It was cool as Dourif is the voice of another horror icon, Chucky the Good Guy Doll from the Child’s Play films, but other than that, there wasn’t anything stand-out about him in Zombie’s Halloween. He completely breaks out in Halloween II, showing a father falling to pieces, and bringing such a reality to his character and such sympathy, making Brackett my favourite character in Halloween II, and is probably the best performance Dourif has ever given on screen. It’s positively fantastic, and words can’t describe how amazing his performance is…you need to see it.

The Blu-Ray disc provides a great picture and sound, loud and threatening, just the way I like it. The image has changed from the cinemascope 2:35:1 of the first film to a normal widescreen image that helps bring across the raw energy the film oozes out of every grainy pore it owns. It’s a faithful representation and helps communicate the raw energy of the film well.

Deleted and alternate scenes are included which aren’t much to write home to mum about, they provide interesting but unnecessary alternative takes of different scenes. What would have been better is the inclusion of the theatrical cut. Audition footage is provided of some newcomers. While interesting to watch, is there a need for it? Do Rob Zombie/Halloween fans demand audition footage of as-yet-unknown actors? Of note is Chase Vanek, replacing Daeg Faerch as Young Michael Myers due to a growth spurt. Vanek provides a good substitute but didn’t seem as gloomy as Faerch was. Make-up test footage is also included, which, too, is interesting, but hardly necessary. A blooper reel is included which probably made me smile once or twice.

There is a fictitious band made for this film named Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures, and about nine minutes of music video is provided, intercutting black-and-white typical “music video shoot” footage with the scene in the film with sprinklings of old horror films and cartoons. They’re all the same and not my cup of tea.

Unce Seymour Coffin’s Stand Up Routines. This guy is also in the club scenes and isn’t funny, but does some jokes that may make you smile, but providing unused footage of unfunny stand-up routines for entertainment is redundant. I didn’t even make it past one minute of it. The whole joke in the film is that this guy is funny because he isn’t funny. Providing 5-10 minutes of unfunny material will keep hitting the nail on the head but eventually bore the hammer into the skull and then eventually into the brain matter, providing a painful experience. My thoughts go out to all who watch this in its entirety.

Finally is the audio commentary from Rob Zombie. Zombie is always great to listen to; he’s intelligible and explains certain ideas, cuts, and things become even more clear. He’s a great guy and while he does fall into the audio-commentary no-no of describing what is on-screen, he balances that out by explaining the ideas behind the scene or a story behind the scene, which is alright. He’s insightful company and worth checking out for Zombie fans.

The disc is highly recommended for Zombie fans and for fans of horror in general. This isn’t your typical horror film, not is it your typical Halloween film. But I liked that; it’s refreshing and visually outstanding and has some fantastic ideas. I challenge all who saw the theatrical cut and hated it to watch this fantastic, albeit somewhat slow director’s cut, and try not to change their minds.

The inclusion of the theatrical cut would have made for some nice analyses, and the inclusion of Captain Clegg music videos and Seymour Coffins’ stand up routines are unnecessary waste of precious data space. A faithful reproduction of the image and audio provides the film with a great visceral experience. I could have loved it more, but I loved it more than I expected to. Four skulls.

Bioshock 2 (Xbox 360)

0

NOTE: There is no review of the multiplayer portion of the game.

He’s nicer than the other Daddies…

To judge Irrational Games’ Bioshock as mere by-the-books shooter would be a horrible disservice to everyone involved in the making of the game. It was a refreshing, unique, deep and moral game, filled with mesmerising graphics and textures, a creepy and atmospheric soundtrack, and some memorable characters that could haunt your nightmares, as well as an adaptive storyline and gameplay. So, naturally, I had a feeling of unease when I had heard that, yes, there was a sequel being made, but – by someone else. Of course, Bioshock has stayed in the 2K family (Irrational Games was known as 2K Boston and 2K Australia at time of Bioshock’s release); but its sequel went to 2K Marin (who developed the PS3 version of the original game).

2K Marin have not failed Andrew Ryan.

Continue reading

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

0

Happy Valentines Day!

I had never heard of My Bloody Valentine until I had seen the trailer of the 3D remake, and even then, it wasn’t until a week prior to the film’s release did I actually see the original film, but it blew my socks off.

In the tight-knit mining town of Valentine’s Bluff, everyone is getting ready for its first Valentine’s Day dance in many, many years. However, a local loon, who is also the bartender, warns the teens about a legend, many years ago, where the sole survivor of a mine explosion came back after recovery and went on a ravenous rampage of revenge on the town of Valentine’s Bluff. The teens however, choose to disbelieve this legend, and it will be their undoing, as more and more people are turning up dead on the day where love should be all around…

When you view the original My Bloody Valentine, one thing immediately strikes you: this isn’t your by-the-books slasher movie; it has something, that famous je ne sais quoi that you can’t really put your finger on, no matter how much you try…until you watch the deleted footage.

This effective Canadian gem came out in at the height of the slasher boom of the early eighties, following in the path of the classic Halloween. However, out of all imitators, My Bloody Valentine stands out above all the rest, but, of course, it’s one of those that never grew into a never-ending franchise that has that one film that alludes to the ending of a slasher character, but perhaps that was for the best?

There’s hardly anything wrong with this, and I will go so far to say that if John Carpenter’s Halloween didn’t exist, George Mihalka would be a far better known name for his Valentine’s Day slasher masterpiece.

The Blu-Ray, released by Lionsgate (having bought DVD rights from Paramount) have released the film with the much-awaited deleted footage that has hardly seen the light of day, and while Lionsgate can toot their horn about the inclusion of the sought-after footage, it dramatically changes the way you watch the film, and it’s quite bizarre how a few more minutes of footage can morph the film into something completey different.

The footage, despite what people are saying, is crystal clear. It’s just old. The deleted footage has wear and tear of being mistreated or general storage and at first watching I loved it. It gave the film a true grindhouse kind of quality. However, watching the footage again, on its own, I think the film without the deleted footage works a lot better, whereas if you watch the film with the deleted footage integrated into it, not only does it look like a grindhouse movie, but it also feels like a grindhouse movie. The violence, make-up and gore is in true exploitation fashion, and did, in fact, remind me of the inferior Friday the 13th’s and their respective out-there and consistent, violent kills, effectively giving you two very different versions of the film.

Two other extras, besides a theatrical trailer for My Bloody Valentine and preview for other Lionsgate titles, are presented. First is Bloodlust: My Bloody Valentine and the Rise of the Slasher Film, gives a short and, at first, entertaining look at the slasher films post-Halloween, involving interviews from some cast and crew of this slasher classic, but then takes a right-turn into a full-blown advertisement for Lionsgate’s 3D remake, which I didn’t like – not one bit (it’s pathetic, really).  The second extra is called Bloodlines: An “Interactive” Horror Film History. It is, in fact, called that, but interactive is in inverted commas because it seems like it was taken from an early-90s webpage. There’s nothing interactive about it at all. It’s simply right arrow, left arrow, enter button. It’s a text history, and, whilst comprehensive, unless you’re sitting right up in front of your television, it should prove to be a difficult read.

Watch the original version first, without the deleted scenes, it’s a classic of the genre. Harry Warden is one of my favourite slashers, but Lionsgate haven’t treated him like they should have with a passable but could-have-been-better Blu-Ray presentation. Also, at the end of the day, when you pop the disc into your player, what version do you want to watch? The version that most of us have fallen in love with, that has that je ne sais quoi that most slashers don’t have, or the traditional, by-the-slasher-books version? Three-and-a-half for the whole thing. Too bad the film is tarnished by a sub-par Blu-Ray presentation.

Black Christmas (1974)

0

51pPDkCDumL._SS500_I was pretty excited to receive this in the mail after seeing the sub-par remake, but was unsure if it would be the blueprint of the remake (like the original and remake of Psycho, both the same, shot-for-shot), or whether this would be more in the vein of John Carpenter’s Halloween – I truly didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, that’s probably the best attitude.

A sorority house over Christmas is experiencing obscene phone calls, and what few inhabitants of Pi Kappa Sig are left over the holiday break are experiencing troubling events after one of the sisters disappears without a trace.

I’m pretty sure this is my first Bob Clark film. I’ve never seen A Christmas Story, and just having a glance at his IMDb page, I’ve only seen Porky’s and Baby Geniuses (in my youth, I swear). A truly diverse director ranging from horror to comedy to children’s films, that’s a sign of true talent (even if the children’s film sucks). Four years before Michael Myers escaped Smith’s Grove, Billy terrorised Pi Kappa Sig on one fateful Christmas holiday.

From the get-go, I was hooked. I love any movie that is overtly old, and this was extremely 70s (check out Gene Shallit look-a-like just about 5-10 minutes in), and simple fact everything was handled in such a seventies manner (of course) made it so much more enjoyable to me.

The thing that stood out about Black Christmas was two things – it’s not filled with scares every five seconds. It’s scares are drawn out and are more creepier than full-on “scary”. This is the smartest form of horror convention, letting fear seep itself under your skin instead of giving you an outright jump every five minutes, which we all know: gets very old, very fast. The second thing that stood out to me was, while the film is set around Christmas, and Christmas stuff is in the background of every shot, the film is not horrendously Christmassy, unlike its remake, rampant with Christmas lights everywhere and warm, glowing colours despite the remake’s ugly nature.

The thing that also stands out about this film is all the characters are individualistic, there are no cookie-cut characters we’ve come to expect in horror films, even as far back as the early 80s, when Jason’s mum was getting her teen murder on. The sorority house mother is an alcoholic, hiding bottles everywhere, sometimes comically, but nearly every time we see her, she is looking for or has a bottle of alcohol in her hand pushed against her lips. All the sisters are very individual and different from each other, giving a fresh quality to the interplay between the characters, helping it feel real.

Props must be given to Olivia Hussey. She’s a fantastic “final girl” and portrays her character, Jess Bradford, in an extremely likeable way. She’s a headstrong and confident young woman and more ambitious and realistic (in terms of dealing with situations) than her boyfriend, Peter Smythe (played by Keir Dullea). She brings such bravado to the character, and I actually found her character fantastic to watch. This is the seventies, and beginnings of the second wave of feminism, and having this character, who had brains, beauty, and courage, must have been such a step out of the norm for a film, and for a horror film as well, where, more often than not, the hero would be a man and the woman would be the damsel-in-distress. When you have such a likeable character on which the film centres, you’ve got your audience hooked.

The ending is ambiguous and but I certainly have my theory about it (and it’s not about who the killer is). The phone ringing throughout the credits gives me a horrible idea that Jess Bradford, sleeping, with no-one attending at her side, gave me the idea about the actual fate of the final girl. However, you’d have to make up your own mind when you see it.

The Blu-Ray presentation is fair, but nothing extraordinary. The picture, as you may know by now, is the kind of picture I love looking at. Grainy, while being very clear representation of the film, as well as film artefact-a-plenty, made me a very happy bloke. The film was just fantastic to look at. The soundtrack was cool (I heard something, I can’t quite remember, in a speaker right near my ear, that freaked me out something chronic), but wasn’t a thorough workout for the speakers.

The effects are simple, and most you can tell were produced on a small budget, and almost amateur. There are two scenes presented with different soundtracks that were never before released, and both were a bit pointless. Subtle differences in muffled soundtrack does not an interesting Blu-Ray extra make. The 12 Days of Black Christmas is a non-linear documentary providing some insight into the production of the film, and is very by-the-books, but still worth a watch for those who want to get into the story behind the story. Three twenty-minute interviews with Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and Art Hindle are presented, and are essentially extended, uncut versions of the snippets used in The 12 Days of Black Christmas, but still worth a watch to hear the questions coming from three very different people’s mouths and hearing their opinion on everything involving the film. Midnight Q&A is provided, twenty minutes, roughly, of Bob Clark, John Saxon and Carl Zittrer (the film’s composer) answering questions after a screening. Very amateur but worth a watch, though it would have been better to actually be sitting in the audience more than watching a recording of it. Two trailers are presented: English and French, and watch-worthy if you want to observe how trailers were done back in the good ol’ days.

While the slasher was at its infancy four years before Halloween, and my absolute love for John Carpenter’s film still reigning supreme, Black Christmas is an older and more slow and more creepy film than most slashers. The characters are well thought out and the way they’re dealing with situations was handled very realistically, much to my surprise. I would choose this when I’m in the mood for a slasher over one of the Friday the 13th films, and maybe over Halloween, and I will definitely get this out every Christmas before Santa comes. A new holiday tradition begins this year! Just make sure when you look under your tree, there isn’t a present that reads “FROM: Me, Billy”. Four skulls (purely for the film).

4