Bloke in a Cloak vs the Woke

black christmas 2019

BLACK CHRISTMAS

2.5 Stars  2019/15/92m

“Slay, girls.”

Director/Writer: Sophia Takal / Writer: April Wolfe / Cast: Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue, Brittany O’Grady, Caleb Eberhardt, Cary Elwes, Simon Mead, Madeleine Adams, Ben Black, Ryan McIntyre.

Body Count: ~25


Hey, remember that episode of Buffy where she and Cordelia were invited to a frat party where the brothers tried to feed them to snake-thing that lived under the house? If you ever wanted that loosely converted into a movie, here you are! Spoooilers.

The trailer for this second ‘remake’ of the 1974 later-appreciated classic was one of those that gave the entire effing plot away, so little was left to surprise and shock, bar the fact that Blumhouse cut out most of the bloodletting to drop the rating to a wider-net brandishing PG-13 to ‘empower’ young female viewers. The result is that you can’t actually tell what’s happened to some characters.

Even to call it a remake is a stretch, as beyond a campus and seasonal setting coinciding with some murders, there’s almost nothing that relates to Bob Clark’s film here: Yes, the house cat is named Claudette, and an address is given 1974-something-street. Creepy phone calls are swapped out for wanky DMs that the sorority sisters assume are from angry frat boys they humiliated at a talent show.

black christmas 2019 imogen poots

Riley (Poots, from 28 Weeks Later) was date-raped by the president of Hawthorne College’s founder fraternity. Nobody believed her, case dismissed. As the campus thins out for Christmas break, girls who protested in any way seem to be disappearing, meeting nasty ends from a cloaked and mask maniac. A song n’ dance routine that calls out the previous incident might be the provoking factor, or the fact that Elwes’ British professor has a petition out against him for not teaching anything other than books written by white men, or was it the school founder’s bust being removed due to his shady past…

Black Christmas ’19 is being referred to online as a ‘woke’ film, i.e. one that expresses a certain strain of political correctness. While the first was an exercise in the unsettling, the second a trashy gorefest, the third comes as a barely disguised comment on gender issues brought up in a post-#MeToo society.

black christmas 2019

One of, if not the favourite thing about slasher films for me has been that the sole survivor was always a girl. I loved this from the word go. Assumed weak, but ultimately way stronger than not only the boys around her, but also the (usually) male aggressor, she rises up and kicks ass. In BC19, this motif is multiplied, ruined by the trailer, once the single killer is exposed as an entire frat house full of killers, the surviving sisters mobilise and fight back with Buffy-like readiness, succeeding despite the fact that the boys apparently have superhuman strength provided by the statue of the founder. Yeah, things get supernatural.

Up to the mid-point reveal, BC19 is a decent slasher flick, albeit a rather flat one. The characters are definitely sketched deeper than the 2006 version, where they all appeared to hate one another and just fire off bitchy remarks. Here, their sisterhood is pivotal to the not-so-subtextual subtext. Unfortunately, there’s just no subtlety to any of it: Women good, men evil, and that’s pretty much it. The sole not-damned man is presented as a powerless nerd (albeit a likeable one).

black christmas 2019

Not being a cisgender straight white guy, I didn’t mind this hammering home of the message; perhaps Takal’s intent was to make it entirely obvious, to upset the apple cart and get people talking leaving no doubt as to the message? This would be fine if Black Christmas were a great film in spite of it, but it’s just not. It looks okay, and there’s a tense scene in the middle where the girls try to find a working phone to call for help, but the finale packs no real punch (again, blame the trailer!) and it ends all too abruptly afterwards with no real feeling of victory.

A really odd film with no reason to be associated to the original. They could’ve gone for You Better Watch Out or Silent Night Deadly Night for all it matters.

The Bollywood Slasher Movie That Wasn’t

hide & seek 2010

HIDE & SEEK

2 Stars  2010/96m

“Friendship will never be the same again…”

Director: Shawn Arranha / Writers: Apoorva Lakhia, Surech Nair, Ritesh Batra, Raj Vasant / Cast: Purab H. Kohli, Amruta Patki, Ayaz Khan, Arjan Bajwa, Samir Kochhar, Mrinalini Sharma.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “Kill me. That’s what I want this Christmas. I want to die.”


This Hindi I Know What You Did Last Summer clone is short on choreographed dance numbers and bloodletting, but has an innocence about it that is kind of endearing, plus a pretty good chase scene at the halfway point.

Twelve years ago, teen friends Om, Jyotika, Abhi, Jaideep, Imran, and Gunita were involved in some sort of accident because of an argument over a fucking snowglobe. We don’t know what happened, but intermittent flashbacks show us there was likely a shooting.

After he’s released from an institution, Om reunites with Jyotika, and they all start receiving texts, letters, etc. that say ‘Caught You’, alluding to the game of hide and seek that started their evening of terror. They’re each abducted and wake up in an abandoned shopping mall where a Santa-clad loon informs them via videolink they need to play the game or face deadly consequences.

They split up and hide, but things are thwarted and if Santa isn’t after them, they’re after each other. Ultimately, only two of the group are killed by the masked maniac, the rest shoot each other for various reasons, including  ‘I raped you because I love you’, and we find out the full extent of the past crime, which leads to an unexpected but not entirely original twist, that saves the film from one-star-city, but fails to compensate for the basic lack of thrills up to that point.

Essentially, it’s a slasher film without any slashing, so is something of a dead loss.

Seed of Alexa

child's play 2019

CHILD’S PLAY

3.5 Stars  2019/15/87m

“Time to play.”

Director: Lars Klevberg / Writer: Tyler Burton Smith / Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, David Lewis, Ty Consiglio, Beatrice Kitsos, Carlease Burke, Marlon Kazadi, Tim Matheson, Mark Hamill (voice).

Body Count: 8+

Laughter Lines: “Can I just point out that this is how every robot apocalypse scenario begins?”


Despite being about the only major horror franchise that’s stuck neatly to its story arc over seven films, it was only a matter of time before someone remade Child’s Play. It’s Hollywood, nothing is sacred. Jaws is swimming scared.

In defiance of the odds though, the 2019 re-tooling actually launches the series into quite a different direction that the possessed doll that cuts his way through many an adult, cussing merrily as he goes. While not able to necessarily co-exist with its former self in the way, say, the 2009 Star Wars movie did, it’s not like watching somebody overhaul the original and make it all meta n’ shit, it’s a new story with a similar looking doll who goes by the same name and slashes up folks. Thassit.

At a sweatshop factory in Vietnam, a beleaguered worker is fired by his boss, told to complete the Buddi doll he’s working on and GTFO. In a fit of rage, the employee disables the violence and language parameters (curiously all displayed in English on his screen) then throws himself out of a window.

child's lay 2019 buddi chucky

Some time later, the doll is returned to Zed Mart as defective, and young mom Karen decides to gift it to her lonely 13-year-old son Andy, lest it end up in landfill somewhere. Nonplussed by the doll-for-kids, Andy nevertheless plays along and finds that Chucky’s screwy A.I. is quite capable and entertaining: Like a faithful friend, he listens and interacts – his only mission, to ensure Andy’s happiness.

As is the case in all robots-will-destroy-us yarns, Chucky takes everything Andy says literally, starting by trying to choke the family cat after it scratches him. Then when Andy wishes that his mom’s asshole boyfriend Shane would just go away forever, and souped up on the data gathered from witnessing watching Andy and his (human) friends LOL along to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Chucky deduces violently killing Shane will lead to Andy’s happiness. All the while, Chucky becomes weirder and more attached to Andy, replaying the sounds of the tortured cat at night, and appearing in all sorts of unexpected places, eyes eerily glowing.

child's play 2019 buddi chucky

After a gruesome lawnmower death, Andy and pals are left to try and dispose of some body parts, which inadvertently end up on the shelf of the apartment down the hall where the mother of the requisite cop lives. Chucky is disabled and thrown down the garbage chute, only to be picked up by the building’s perverse custodian, who thinks there’s money to be made from the doll on eBay and so restores it.

More killings occur, and the unveiling of the Buddi 2 range at Zed Mart serves at the battleground for the final showdown, where Chucky’s ability to sync with other devices provides an army of psychotic toys to reap carnage on the midnight shoppers, such as drones with razor sharp propellers and creepy Teddy Ruxpin-like bears that lethally bite patrons.

child's play 2019 chucky buddi

All of the canon films in the Child’s Play series are, to me, decent. The quality is remarkably consistent throughout, with none being awesome nor dogshit. So I’m not too precious about this, though I feared it might’ve been watered down PG-13 stuff given the Stranger Things-stylings chatter that preceded its release. Thus, I was surprised when it turned out to be pretty fucking gory in places, and curiously restrained in others: The lawnmower and table-saw denouements are a gruesome riot, whereas the big finale came across quite dry in comparison.

This would be just fine as a sort of ‘what if’ companion piece to the other films. There’s no real need for a sequel here, I mean, what direction would you even go with? It’s literally a film about a faulty appliance. Return it for an exchange or refund.

Bug Off.

phenomena 1984

PHENOMENA

2 Stars  1984/18/106m

“Jennifer has a few million close friends. She’s going to need them ALL.”

Also known as: Creepers

Director/Writer: Dario Argento / Writer: Franco Ferrini / Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, Donald Pleasence, Patrick Beachau, Dalila De Lazzaro, Federica Mastroianni, Fiore Argento.

Body Count: 7


My least favourite Argento outing casts Labyrinth‘s Jennifer Connelly as a slightly obnoxious daughter of a Hollywood star, who is sent to a Swiss boarding school, where the prerequisite mystery killer has been spiriting away the young girls.

Ousted because of her connections, Jennifer is also tormented by the other girls when they learn that she has the ability to control insects using her mind. With the help of Pleasence’s entomologist and his trained monkey (!?), she attempts to identify the killer before she becomes the next victim.

As well as this bizarre plot, Phenomena has a habit of changing its mind every few scenes and not bothering to explain itself. The killer’s motive is never revealed there’s a glut of unresolved plotlines and inconsistencies. The usual lush score that grace Dario’s pics has been replaced by nauseating hard rock from the lies of Iron Maiden and Motorhead, thus unbalancing the atmosphere built up by the typically perfect photography.

This may well have been written as it was being filmed, as so many elements turn up in the finale that weren’t even hinted at beforehand, and the psychic-insect thing proves virtually ancillary for the most part. Connelly does the best she can with her jumbled character, but this is a surprisingly weak flick given the talent at work.

Blurbs-of-interest: Argento’s other slashy outings include TenebraeTraumaSleepless, Deep Red, and Opera. Of these, his one-time wife Daria was in Tenebrae and Opera; Donald Pleasence was, of course, Doc Loomis in five of the first six Halloween movies, and also appeared in Alone in the Dark.

Murder House Goes to Camp

american horror story 1984

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: 1984

2.5 Stars  2019/377m

Created by: Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk / Cast: Emma Roberts, Billie Lourd, Leslie Grossman, Cody Fern, Matthew Morrison, Gus Kenworthy, John Carroll Lynch, Angelica Ross, Zach Villa, DeRon Horton, Lily Rabe, Dylan McDermott, Mitch Pileggi, Lou Taylor Pucci.

Body Count: 66-ish

Laughter Lines: “Girls are red, boys are blue. Don’t try to make purple.”


Before being mercifully put out of its (and our) misery, Ryan Murphy’s earlier attempt at a slasher TV show, Scream Queenswas slated to have a season set at a summer camp. However, people ran faster from it than celebrities from a Trump endorsement proposition, and it never came to be. Big spoilers.

In all likelihood, many of those ideas were exported to the far more wide-reaching American Horror Story, for its ninth season. While I only saw the first three seasons of the anthology series before I moved abroad, I heard it was starting to struggle after a while. I picked up at Apocalypse (the eighth year), which I found fine in its own batshit crazy way, and hoped for a good slasher-based yarn in 1984, to be set at a summer camp. YAY.

american horror story 1984

While far from the sledgehammer-to-the-screen inviting disaster that was Scream Queens, 1984 is nevertheless something of a chaotic mess, that plays out like the ideas tank was empty after just a few episodes and so the writers just began tacking on ‘the other massacre’ that occurred even before the previous other one. But wouldn’t someone have already mentioned that?? Apparently not.

In 1970, the janitor at Camp Redwood, CA, slices up the inhabitants of a cabin. Known as Mr Jingles, the loon is put away and the camp is re-opened fourteen years later by the sole survivor, questionably unhinged puritan, Margaret (Grossman). Due to the camp’s rep around those parts, she can only attract a few counsellors, in the shape of a group of friends from LA: wannabe actor Xavier, failed athlete Chet, nice-guy orderly Ray, aerobic instructor Montana, and newbie Brooke (Emma Roberts not doing her acid-tongued schtick for a change), who agrees to go at the last minute, when she’s attacked in her apartment by the Nightstalker serial killer, Richard Ramirez, who swears he’ll track her down. They’re joined there by the activities director Trevor, Nurse Rita, Chef Bertie, and a delirious hippie they accidentally ran over nearby.

american horror story 1984

Being 1984, the entirety of the backdrop is swimming in big hair, spandex, and people saying ‘rad’ a lot. Of course, Mr Jingles escapes his institute on the same day and heads back to camp, arriving at the same time as Richard Ramirez, and the bloodbath is underway pretty damn quickly, with a few intermittent flashbacks to the questionable lives of the counsellors, who have been engaged in hazing accidents, steroid abuse, and wedding day murder-suicides.

That all of this occurred in the first episode, I was concerned 1984 would run out of creative kills and Ghostbusters jokes too soon. The first five episodes are set almost entirely during that first night, and it’s clear (all too soon) that there’s a supernatural element at work, as people who die seem to reappear alive and well. Anyone who remembers the first season, Murder House, will recall that those who haunt said abode died there, and are forever stuck within its walls. Well, Camp Redwood is the same: You die there, you’re stuck there. Although later rules around not being able to leave the camp were thwarted in the very first episode when the hippie character was on the road outside…

american horror story 1984

Things fast forward to 1989 as Brooke, sent down for the murders, faces her death sentence, while Margaret – revealed to be the real culprit – tries to capitalise on her ownership of the place by holding a music festival there with the intention of killing everyone who comes to it (Kajagoogoo are the unfortunate first arrivals). Mr Jingles is forced to abandon martial bliss to return to Redwood to clear his name and end the horror for good. Brooke comes back (after the strangest roller-rink scene, which allegedly makes five years in prison all better). Ramirez comes back. Another killer turns up too.

While things wrap up neatly at the end of episode nine, it couldn’t feel more obvious that whomever was running this show gave up to some degree. Somewhere in the middle, it’s revealed that there was another massacre at the camp in 1950, when Mr Jingles’ mom went berserk after her other son died in the lake, but this goes curiously unmentioned by anyone up to this point. Then, the ‘thirty years later’ arc at the end, Emma Roberts appears absolutely unaltered, with a throwaway line about fillers to excuse the fact a woman who should be in her 50s looks exactly the same as she did in her 20s. Honestly, there’s literally no ageing makeup in sight.

american horror story 1984

Billie Lourd gives a good speech about women being blamed for the violent crimes perpetrated by men, which would be an awesome summary if the sequence of events in 1984 didn’t trace back to the rage of a woman, who then convinces another woman to embark on a killing spree and frame a man for it.

OK enough moaning. There is some fun stuff here, most of it early on in the more Friday the 13th-ey episodes: Brooke’s frantic chase through the camp, the payphone ominously ringing outside in the storm, Shocker‘s Mitch Pileggi as the clinic warden, and the Halloween homage with the lunatics running amok. Trademark bitchy-dialogue from Ryan Murphy’s favourite actresses is somewhat reigned in, but there are some cute gags throughout: “What do people think of the 80s? Did Judd Nelson ever get his Oscar?”

american horror story 1984

In a meta-way, 1984 showcases over nine episodes the kind of deranged chop-and-change effect that killed the at-the-start awesome Glee, when it seemed that those writing the show had a much lower boredom threshold than anybody watching it, so flipped around romantic partners, character motivations, and allegiances on an almost weekly basis. Here, the frenetic “let’s add another killer!”, “let’s add another massacre!” goes way beyond even the worst written slasher films of the 1980s.

Blurbs-of-interest: Roberts and Lourd were in Scream Queens; Roberts was also in Scream 4.

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