VIP’s of Slasherdom: Barb

The late Margot Kidder was the Lois Lane I grew up with: Husky voiced and inquisitive, although she was often there to be saved by Superman, there was always an air of agility about her that gave you the idea she was quite capable of saving herself if it came down to it.

Playing what could easily have been dumbed down to a standard bitchy girl role in Black Christmas, Barb is, well, barbed, but we get a little insight into her psychosis, the turbulent relationship with her mom, and her dependent relationship with alcohol…

margot kidder as barb in black christmas 1974

“Darling – you can’t rape a townie.”

Academia: Barb’s major goes unspecified, but she knows enough about the mating habits of certain species of turtle.

Kicks: Punking dim-witted public servants into oral-sex-affiliated phone numbers.

Why we love her: Barb may be problematic, but you gotta compare her to her goody-goody sorority sisters – she’s a wildcard of Stock Background Character 101 fusion: A prankster, the bitchy girl, a substance abuser (later: stoner), and in her more famous role, the snooping reporter. Plus she gets the best lines.

Psycho: P30

psycho iv the beginning


2.5 Stars  1990/18/93m

“You’ve met Norman. Now meet mother.”

Director: Mick Garris / Writer: Joseph Stefano / Cast: Anthony Perkins, Olivia Hussey, CCH Pounder, Henry Thomas, Donna Mitchell, Thomas Schuster, Warren Frost, Sharen Camille, Bobbi Evors.

Body Count: 4

Ignoring parts II and III (dumb, given that IV in the title!?), which he thought had become too dependent on slasher movie conventions, original scribe Joseph Stefano penned this made-for-TV final outing for Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, and the actor died two years later after his HIV diagnosis during filming.

Late night radio host CCH Pounder (loved her, where did she go??) is hosting a call-in show about matricide, and, listening from home on his birthday, Norman decides to call in with his two cents, identifying himself as Ed in a nod to the Ed Gein origins of the first movie.

This provides us with the platform to flashback across Norm’s life with dear old mom (Hussey), and the events that led to him poisoning her. In short, she was an insufferable cuck who seemed to enjoy trying to arouse him, then feigning disgust at the outcome. Her endless games reinforce his pent up frustrations and eventually lead to him killing her along with her asshole boyfriend.

psycho iv the beginning henry thomas oliivia hussey 1990

Throughout, the film ping-pongs with the present, where the radio hosts and crew are urgently trying to find out where Norman is these days, as it sounds like he’s planning to kill again, possibly his psyche ward wife, who is pregnant with his child. Norman, fearing the insanity will be inherited, isn’t sure he wants that out in the world.

The TV production values are fine, but the script is slack and the film becomes quite boring after an hour or so, with an especially drawn out ending. Perkins is dependable as ever, with a fine performance from Henry Thomas as his younger self, and Hussey an intriguing choice for the unhinged Norma, which is quite overwrought, but at least not dull. Probably a bit redundant in a world where the Bates Motel series exists.

psycho iv the beginning 1990 cch pounder

Blurbs-of-interest: Anthony Perkins was also in Destroyer; Olivia Hussey was Jess in Black Christmas, and is also in Ice Cream Man.

Just leave the asbestos there…

session 9


4 Stars  2001/15/96m

“Fear is a place.”

Director/Writer: Brad Anderson / Writer: Stephen Gevedon / Cast: Peter Mullan, David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Josh Lucas, Brendan Sexton III.

Body Count: 5

An asbestos removal crew takes a job at the abandoned Danver Memorial Hospital, hoping to clear the place in a week, prior to his renovation, in the hope of obtaining a generous bonus.

Spending a lot of time alone in the oppressive atmosphere of the former mental institution begins taking its toll on the men: Company owner Gordon is having difficulty adjusting to life as a new father; while Hank and Phil are still at loggerheads over the woman they both left; academic Mike is reconsidering law exams; and Gordon’s be-mulleted nephew provides the team with their inexperienced scapegoat. As work continues for long hours and tension mounts, one of them becomes obsessed with the archived interviews of a schizophrenic former patient and eventually cracks himself.

Session 9 isn’t your average stalk n’ slasher flick by any metric, and it’s only the tail end of things that it shows its hand as influenced the sub-genre. Director Anderson firmly places the accent of terror on the environment itself, rather than ejector-seat scares – some images really send a shudder up the spine in a not-dissimilar way to the more effective found footage horrors. Long, torch-lit corridors and flickering overhead lamps, creaks in the dark, and the dirty walls of the asylum’s interior all contribute to a feeling of desolation that would turn anyone insane.

It’s one of those watch-it-back-for-the-hints films, with subtle drops as to whom the killer is left all over. The material on the archived tapes is also positively compelling on its own. Even as the end credits begin, there’s certainly no clarification of the previous events, a strategy repeated later in the similarly-constructed but inferior Identity.

Not for all tastes, but fans of slow-burn horror should take a walk down these creepy hallways.

Bloke in a Cloak vs the Woke

black christmas 2019


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


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.

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