fbpx

Tag: Black Christmas

Editorials

The Greatest Horror Villain of Each Decade

March 18, 2020
horror-movie-villains-collage [Source: shnakebite91 Wordpress]

Horror cinema has many iconic villains and today we’ll be counting down 10 of the greatest merchants of menace. I will choose a single villain from each decade, look at a bit of the villain’s background and how they managed to traumatize audiences who watched their films. So, let’s get spooky.

1920s: Count Orlok – Nosferatu (1922)

Originally made as a Dracula stand-in, Count Orlok has become a great villain in his own right. With actor Max Schreck’s towering frame, creeping shadow, sharp teeth, and keen unblinking eyes Orlok has become an instantly recognizable cinematic predator that has lasted almost a century. Not even Stoker’s estate could prevent him from becoming a cinematic nightmare.

Count Orlok one of Cinema's greatest early horror villains from Nosferatu (1922) [Source: PopHorror]
Count Orlok one of Cinema’s greatest early horror villains from Nosferatu (1922) [Source: PopHorror]

1930s: Frankenstein’s Monster – Frankenstein (1931)

The archetypal mad scientist creation. The monster isn’t necessarily evil but because of continual abuse and a lack of moral guidance, he begins violently lashing out at the world. Frankenstein’s Monster has a legendary look courtesy of makeup artist Jack Pierce. And thanks to Boris Karloff’s animalistic performance, which makes the character threatening and sympathetic, Frankenstein’s Monster has been cemented as one of horror’s most tragic monsters.

Frankenstein's Monster prowling through the woods in Frankenstein (1931) [Source: Movie Monster Wiki - Fandom]
Frankenstein’s Monster prowling through the woods in Frankenstein (1931) [Source: Movie Monster Wiki – Fandom]

1940s: The Wolf Man – The Wolf Man (1941)

Like Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man garners great sympathy because of host Larry Talbot’s (Lon Chaney Jr’s) inability to control the monster within him. But unlike Frankenstein the Wolf Man is vicious. Murdering innocent people and leaving Larry to deal with the consequences. With Jack Pierce’s brilliant makeup making the monster the midpoint between man and beast, the Wolf Man is an iconic example of the darkness in all men.

One of cinema's most iconic werewolves. The Wolf Man (1941) [Source: Fiction Machine]
One of cinema’s most iconic werewolves. The Wolf Man (1941) [Source: Fiction Machine]

1950s: Godzilla – Godzilla Series

Cinema’s biggest monster. Starring in 35 films since 1954 Godzilla is a Japanese icon. He’s a prehistoric monster awakened by hydrogen bomb testing and was created as a symbol for the destructive powers of the atomic age, though lately, he has become a metaphor for nature striking back at humanity. He’s the embodiment of destruction and for 66 years he’s shown that for all our advances annihilation is never far away.

Godzilla, the King of the Monsters. Gojira (1954)
Godzilla, the King of the Monsters. Gojira (1954) [Source: USA Today]

1960s: Norman Bates – Psycho (1960)

The grandfather of all slasher villains. While seemingly normal, Norman hides another personality that forces him to kill anyone who threatens the illusion that his mother is still alive. Thanks to Anthony Perkins’ understated performance and Alfred Hitchcock’s direction Norman Bates (based on murderer Ed Gein) terrified audiences by showing that even the quiet good-looking boy next door could turn out to be a murderer.

Norman Bates and his mother in Psycho (1960)
Norman Bates and his mother in Psycho (1960) [Source: Bloody Disgusting]

1970s: The Caller – Black Christmas (1974)

Black Christmas‘ sorority house killer remains perhaps horror’s most terrifying villain. Because nothing about him is explained. His victims are random. The only insights we get into him are his disjointed, threatening ramblings. And his appearance, voice; name remain a mystery. Inspired by the urban legend of “the babysitter and the man upstairsthe Caller embodies the fear that you’re never safe. Even in your own home.

The mysterious killer from Black Christmas (1974)
The mysterious killer from Black Christmas (1974) [Source: The Dead Meat Wiki Fandom]

1980s: Freddy Krueger – The Nightmare on Elm Street Series

The burnt, razor glove wielding, Christmas sweater and fedora sporting dream killer has been scaring viewers since his 1984 debut. Inspired by stories about young people suddenly dying in their sleep and brought to life in skin-crawling fashion by Robert Englund, Krueger takes sadistic pleasure in twisting his victim’s dreams into nightmares. And the sheer glee he takes in his cruelty is what makes him cinema’s most iconic bogeyman.

The Springwood Slasher from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The Springwood Slasher from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) [Source: NME.com]

1990s: Candyman – Candyman Series

Originally, Daniel Robitaille, Candyman became a vengeful spirit after he was killed over a 19th-century interracial love affair. His hand was mutilated, his body smothered in honey and he was stung to death by bees. Now he kills anyone who dares say his name five times in a mirror. With his imposing figure, hooked hand and Tony Todd’s intimidating voice, Candyman is a true terror titan.

The urban legend Candyman (1992)
The urban legend Candyman (1992) [Source: The Clive Barker Podcast]

2000s: Jigsaw – Saw Series

Jigsaw is the horror villain of the 2000s. Embodying post 9/11 anxieties about the morality of torture Jigsaw, aka John Cramer managed to carve out a gruesome legacy for himself. His use of ironic traps to reform/eradicate those who he believes don’t appreciate life, Tobin Bell’s commanding voice and his animatronic mascot made him the face of torture horror. And his legacy has continued through multiple accomplices and successors.

Jigsaw and his iconic billy puppet mask
Jigsaw and his iconic billy puppet mask [Source: Screen Rant]

2010s: It/Pennywise – It (2017)

Stephen King’s iconic horror creation made a huge impact with Its 2017 reimagining. The creature that haunts Derry, Maine can change into many forms that will give anyone nightmares. His most recognizable form is Pennywise The Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) whose smile hides a desire to devour children. It exploits our fear of the unknown and attacks the sanctity of childhood innocence all at once. Making It the perfect modern horror villain.

Pennywise tormenting children in It (2017)
Pennywise tormenting children in It (2017) [Source: Entertainment Weekly]

So ends my list of horrors 10 best villains. Which horror villains did I miss? Let me know in the comments.

Also Read: 7 Reasons Characters Die In Horror Films

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Reviews

Review: Black Christmas (2019) [Spoilers]

December 20, 2019
Black Christmas 2019 (Source: We Live Entertainment)

The original 1974 Black Christmas about a group of sorority girls being stalked by a serial killer over the Christmas break was not only a forerunner of the slasher craze but also gained a lot of praise over the years for its well-characterised female leads and subtle pro-feminist message regarding issues like pro-choice and female agency. And with feminist issues still being prominent in modern culture, it’s only natural that a new generation would want to tell their interpretation of Black Christmas. However, this remake had a lot of difficulties to overcome.  

Not only is the original film highly influential and beloved by many horror fans; the first Black Christmas remake from 2006 was a critical and box office disappointment. Potentially inviting unfavourable comparisons and minimal box office appeal. The film also had a disastrous marketing campaign, with a trailer that seemed to reveal the movie’s twist. But with the acclaimed Sophia Takal directing and stars like Imogen Poots and Cary Elwes attached could Black Christmas (2019) prove itself and step out of the shadow of its beloved and derided brethren? Let’s see.

The Story

Everyone at Hawthorne College is heading home for the holidays but the women of the MKE sorority have other plans. Riley (Imogen Poots) is still recovering from a harrowing sexual assault incident. Aggravated by her uncharged attacker returning to campus. Kris (Aleyse Shannon) is continuing to fight for the removal of Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes). And all their other sorority sisters are helping out with a charitable dinner. But they soon realize something evil is lurking in the college grounds.

As some of the sisters go missing, others receive threatening messages and hooded figures stalk the grounds it becomes clear that someone wants these girls dead. As the women race to find out who their attackers are and what their motives are, the bonds between them grow stronger and they eventually resolve to take the fight to their abusers.

What Did I Like?

Firstly, I really like how the new movie updated the originals feminist undercurrent by incorporating issues relating to the modern female experience in the story – both overtly and subtly. Such as the threat of rape culture, toxic masculinity, and the empowerment of the #MeToo movement. Also, instead of copying the original’s plot, this film weaves these thematic threads and some of the iconography of the original (the faceless killer, some of the weapons and the setting) into something more akin to cult horror than a slasher film. Which yields some inventive and interesting results.

Imogen Poots’ also gives a great performance as Riley. Poots is an often-underappreciated actress, but her portrayal of the mental and emotional torture that Riley has gone through is sensitive, understated and incredibly touching. She’s very likeable in the role and despite problems regarding her lines, which we will discuss later, Poots remains untouchable. Easily putting this film above the 2006 version, as this movie has at least one likeable character.

Lastly, the film looks and sounds gorgeous. The lighting perfectly captures the feel of a Christmas horror film with festive reds and greens brightening the frame. Inventive long shots are also used to create suspense (pay attention Exorcist 3 fans). And the score by Will and Brooke Blair is very effective. Creating a nicely tense and eery atmosphere that compliments the gothic tones of the story and its setting. Unfortunately, the movie’s positives are cancelled out by several problems.

What Did I not like?

The biggest problem is the script. This movie’s dialogue is abysmal. Every line continually beats the movie’s message over your head. Obviously, themes are important, and many films use characters to articulate certain points of view (Jess filled this role in the original). But this must be balanced by subtle dialogue. To get the point across without becoming preachy. The original excelled at this. This film’s lines are so cartoonishly written it becomes laughable.

The film also suffers from weak plotting and characterisation. The original had proactive characters, with varied, likeable personalities, who always had something to do; because we cared about them and always knew where the killer was, there was a sense of danger propelling the narrative. The characters in Black Christmas (2019) lack agency and personality. Most are just mouthpieces who spend their time doing little of relevance; while a few scenes have a tense presentation, there’s no overarching tension on a character or plot level to keep the audience invested. Just a lot of cheap jump scares.

Then there’s the third act. Which introduces a supernatural element out of nowhere, undermining the grounded conflict and relevant social commentary and transforming into a silly action movie. With new plot elements being added that have no explanation (the other sorority houses) or serve no purpose (using objects to track down students despite the villains already knowing where the main characters live). Leaving the movie an unfocused mess.

Finally, every actor (besides Poots) delivers a terrible performance. All the evil male characters are over the top to the point of parody. The worst offender is Cary Elwes, whose turn is so pantomime villain it becomes insulting that our leads never figure out his intentions. But the film plays elements like the music and lighting completely straight. As though these people are meant to be scary. Which is incredibly jarring. The good men also fail to endear themselves because they’re just too dull. The women don’t fare any better with most being flat and forgettable. Except for Aleyse Shannon, whose performance is so smug and self-satisfied that she becomes instantly annoying.

Verdict

Despite a good central performance from Imogen Poots, some gorgeous, occasionally inventive cinematography, a creepy score; the inventive updating of the themes and story of the original Black Christmas, which easily puts it above the first remake in terms of quality, Black Christmas (2019) is a chore to sit through.

This is thanks to a completely inept script full of preachy dialogue that hammers the movie’s themes home with no subtlety. Coupled with a thin plot that gives no agency or arcs to its characters. Disastrous and annoying performances and a third act that destroys everything the prior movie was building towards.

At the end of the day, Black Christmas (2019) is a movie whose message takes priority over its filmmaking. But when a movie has little to offer besides that it quickly becomes boring. Even to people who agree with said message. It wants to be game-changing like the original but completely lacks any understanding of what made the original film work. After 45 years the original still remains unbeaten.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

Black Christmas (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Alternative Christmas Movies

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Reviews

Retro Review: Black Christmas (1974)

January 2, 2019

And so, Christmas has come and gone. But with everyone still celebrating I am going to use this opportunity to review my favorite Christmas film. A film I watch every year and one of my all-time favorites. But this one contains very little holiday cheer. In fact, as the trailer said, after Black Christmas, those traditions will never be the same again. So, while everyone is partying, I will be listening with dread for every creak on the stairs. Today I look at Bob Clarks, festive slasher classic, Black Christmas [Minor Spoilers Ahead].

The Story

The ladies of Pi Cappa Sig are getting ready for the Christmas holidays, but someone keeps making prank phone calls to the house, setting the girls on edge. But what they don’t know is that the caller is actually hiding in their attic. When he kills sorority sister Clare, the rest of the ladies try to find her. The police also begin investigating the case due to a link with another missing girl. But with everyone battling their own demons and the killer so close, will the girls escape before it’s too late?

What did I like?

It’s hard to review one of your all-time favorite films. Not only do you have to justify why this movie deserves credit as a favorite, but you also must be professional and not gush just because you personally love the film. I say this to give the following review context and state that I tried my best to not be biased.

The main reason I always return to Black Christmas is for the expert way it builds tension and atmosphere. Jump scares aren’t used every few minutes to keep the audience awake. This is a slow burner that uses the Hitchcockian technique of letting us know more than the characters. We know the killer is in the house long before our leads do, so we are constantly on edge. Hoping the ladies realize before another is killed. But it also never drags. From the beginning we are placed in a paranoid state of excitement as we watch the killer break into the house and skulk around upstairs. And Carl Zittrer’s score, though used sparingly, sends chills down the spine due to the angular and off kilter sounds he uses. Making any scene with the killer near, very uncomfortable. So, we are always nervous about what is coming. Lastly, the film remembers a key ingredient that other horror films forget.

It takes time to develop its characters, so we care about them and don’t want them to die. Unlike many slasher films that would later adapt its techniques, the characters in Black Christmas are not simple archetypes. And have multiple layers to them. Jess (Olivia Hussey) is a great lead because she is driven and flawed but never unlikable. Facing a pregnancy, Jess wants an abortion because she still has things she wants to do with her life. This causes her boyfriend, Peter (Kier Dullea) to become angry. He believes she is being selfish and as the film progresses, he becomes more unstable. Giving him ample motive in the characters eyes to be the killer. But you, slowly realize, all he wants is a family, giving him a reason for his madness.

The supporting characters are also quite nuanced. Barb (Margot Kidder), the groups bitchy alpha is shown to have family troubles that impact her emotionally and even blames herself for Clare’s disappearance. Phil (Andrea Martin), although looking like the stereotypical nerd, is just a regular person who acts as a voice of reason for the other characters and she provides some of the most endearingly personal moments in the film. Other greats include the humorous Lieutenant Fuller (John Saxon), Sergeant Nash (Douglas McGrath) and Mrs. Mack (Marian Waldman), the house mother. Each character is humanized, and all the performances feel real. Consequently, it becomes easy to invest in them and harder to watch when the killer begins prowling again.

Another reason this film succeeds as a horror film is how it handles its killer. The killer is very much grounded in reality. But what makes him scary is that nothing about him is explained. We never get a reason for why he chose this sorority to attack. And the only insight we get into him are the insane ramblings that we are privy to while he hides in the attic and what he says over the phone. But even that could be lies to scare the girls or the products of a damaged mind. The fact that nothing about him is certain makes him even more terrifying.

The story also features great use of symbolism. The abortion aspect acts as both a reference to the Roe Vs Wade case and ties into the Christmas theme. The idea of birth and family is at the heart of the Christmas tradition. But this film shows that the traditional family way of life is fading. Many of the girls would rather spend time with each other than their families and the unwillingness to accept this is what drives Peter, and arguably the killer, to the depths of despair. But importantly, without reading into it, the film still works as a well told crime story. The characters act in realistic ways, that never contradict their personalities. And everyone is given motivation for their actions, but never are they obviously spelled out for the audience.

What I do not like?

There are things that many may not like about this film. For example, the story has several large contrivances. These include the fact that the police never check the attic for the missing girl and Barb’s false nightmare scare.

Many may also feel the films comedy does not gel with the rest of the film. Because such serious subject matter is juxtaposed with jokes about mating turtles, some may feel the tone is inconsistent.  

Lastly, because of all the films that took inspiration from this movie, the film may lack the bite it had when it was originally released for modern audiences.

But these aspects never detract from the overall experience and in several ways, enrich the experience. The extra comedy makes the characters feel more real. The contrivances are either never big enough to dwell on or draw attention to and enrich other aspects of the story. And although modern audiences may recognize a lot of the film from other places, it is gratifying as a piece of history to see the origins of these clichés and how they are supposed to be used.

Verdict

Some may find certain aspects of the film dated, contrived or perhaps out of place. But Black Christmas (1974) remains a fine example of how to make an engaging and chilling horror film. Relying on suspense, character, mystery and telling an engaging story rather than viscera, jump scares and shock value. It’s a film that, for me, has aged like a fine wine and every time I revisit it during the holidays I always find something new to appreciate and love about it.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

And so that wraps up my Christmas reviews. I hope you enjoyed them and that you have all had a Merry Christmas. Hopefully, these reviews have given you some new films to add to your Christmas rotation. I will be returning in the new year with more retro reviews, so, for now, I wish you all a Happy New Year.