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Stock Background Characters 101: Holy Vessels

In this feature, we examine the lesser beings of the slasher movie realm, which, if you’re making your own slasher film, could provide a good cast roster for you.

No killer or final girl profiles here, this is a celebration of those underlings who made the most of their fleeting flirtation with stardom. And usually died.

Now, cross yourself and say your prayers, because today belongs to the HOLY VESSELS!

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Overview: The humble slasher movie may not have loads to say on the subject of religion, it leaves that to the likes of The Omen and The Exorcist, but wherever there’s fundamentalist belief, there’s almost certainly horror and thus the leaders of religion. In slasher territory, it’s usually priests and nuns, and they can be nice or they can be agents of eeeeeevil.

Linguistic Snapshot: “My child, God has chosen to punish you. For the killer and his phallic weapon are what he hath sent to cleanse you of your sinful ways. Now here, drink this holy water before you BURN IN HELL!”

Styling: There’s really not much fashion variation in the church; Gok Wan would have a tantrum. Nuns don the usual habit, while priests have cloaks and collars but can at least do something with their hair: Murderous Father Jonas of Prom Night IV has a ponytail grown from years of being locked up in the depths of the church. Evil-child preacher Isaac from Children of the Corn rocks one of those old-tyme circular hats that sits like a black halo. A black halo of evil.

Hallmarks: Depending on whether the religious vessel is evil or not, hallmarks are unusually variable. For instance, Silent Night, Deadly Night‘s Mother Superior is not a villain per se, though it is she who undoubtedly plays a massive part in driving the killer’s rage come Christmas time, thanks to her strict ways and over zealous handing out of punishments for ‘naughty’ kids. There are the helpful Sisters of Christ from beyond the grave, guilt-ridden Catholic priests with secrets the Church cannot fix, cannibal satanic priests, water-bound ghost-nuns, and wannabe-hip homo-repressed fathers.

Downfall: Again, the fate of a holy vessel depends on their relationship to the victims. If they are killing them then the usual rules apply, if they are trying to save them then often they will die trying, see Father Reilly in The Boogey Man, who gets a torso full of kitchen knives as he faces down the mirror-demon thingy, and in non-slasher terms, Father Malone in The Fog, who sacrifices himself out of guilt.

Other holy vessels who serve to annoy or get in the way of the rest of the cast are summarily done in as any other victim: Ricky finally achieves what his brother never could by axing Mother Superior in Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (though why she is now scarred and the absence of her strong accent remains a mystery), and a dead prom queen-possessed teen shoves a crucifix down the throat of the guilt-ridden priest in Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II.

Father Cummings in Bloody Bloody Bible Camp gets a visit from Jesus – or Ron Jeremy – that saves him from the grave in order to save the remaining members of his flock from the psychotic killer ‘nun’.

Genesis: Religious folk have been appearing in slasher films for a long time in roles of differing significance. Alfred Sole’s anti-Catholicism flick Alice, Sweet Alice in 1976 had a zealot in a creepy plastic doll mask going on a minor killing spree, culminating in a church showdown; Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing featured a sub-Amish community of hyper-religious folks and a mystery-killer operating in the locale, and a Loomis-aping priest tracked a psycho loon in Absurd.

Legacy: Unlike many of our other Stock Backgrounders, there’s been little change in the representation of holy folk in the genre. There are as many well-meaning ones as there are psychos: Maureen in Psycho III was a fallen nun who accidentally caused the death of another sister and was banished from the convent, only to end up at the Bates Motel where a worse fate awaited her; the ghost of Amanda Krueger whispered advice in Craig Wasson’s ear about defeating her evil undead son once and for all in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and returned as a younger version of herself in the fifth film.

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A particularly creepy killer priest stalked college kids and some of his old comrades in Happy Hell Night, outdone twenty years later by the axe-swinging nun who terrorised the Happy Days Bloody Bloody Bible Camp (although it was set in 1984, so theoretically before Malius’ little spree), and the ghost of a nun took revenge on some old Catholic schoolgirls in…uh, The Nun. Or did she? Check out the accompanying Twist of Fury for this film’s risible revelation.

Plenty of other killers have used religion as a motive, the loon in The Majorettes, for example, who believes he is ‘purifying’ the ‘slutty’ girls of a high school cheerleadering squad.

And who could write about nuns in horror without taking a moment to recognise Jessica Lange’s Sister Jude from ‘American Horror Story’ – possibly the best nun in screen history?

Conclusions: Religion can be good or bad. I’m not a fan of it, but it certainly jazzes up some horror films when needs be. What I’d really like to see is a film with a transsexual nun. No idea why, just think it’d be awesome.

"No, sister... we were fucking."

“No, sister… we were fucking.”

D3ath 8y Numb3rs

I recently marked my 600th slasher movie with the odd Irish quickie Stitches.

Thus, what better time to recap some of the other landmark films that only a geek with too much time on his hands would keep.

#555
The made-up area code in so many movies and, considering the film it corresponds to, kinda freaky…

fd5-poster2Final Destination 5 (2011)

So #555 was the fifth film in a franchise about freaky coincidences… Sing that Twilight Zone theme for this is just such a creepy occurrence. Creepier still, the film is odds on the best sequel out of the lot.

#500

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Sorority Row (2009)

A rare straight-up slasher film that got a theatrical release in the UK was a nice treat for my 500th flick, and Sorority Row was an absolute blast from start to finish!

#400

The Tooth Fairy (2005)

My backpacking trip to Asia in 2006-07 reaped dozens of DVDs that still haven’t received a UK release more than half a decade later. Fortuitously, The Tooth Fairy was one of the more entertaining ones.

#300

Club Dread (2004)

Yet another likeable landmark; Broken Lizard’s only really fun film takes a stab at slasher cliches and Club 18-30 culture. Bill Paxton is superfun as Coconut Pete.

#200

My Little Eye (2002)

Though I got to see this on the big screen, as with FD5 and Sorority Row, I didn’t think a whole lot of it. A slow, ill-thought out sort of slasher Big Brother, which is riddled with more holes than Bonnie & Clyde’s car.

#111

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Fatal Games (1983)

Why? 111 is a cool number. I *HEART* this unloved old school flick, which is like Graduation Day was shot with a glitter cannon: A javelin-toting killer, lesbianism, transsexuals, buck naked midnight chase around an empty school. It has everything.

#100

Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge (1989)

The first big landmark was this oddball Valley-Girl-Comedy-Slasher-Flick with some fairly well known cast members. It’s cheap, but it’s entertaining.

#1

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A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Recently crowned best threequel; I was petrified when I first saw this at a camp with several other (younger!) kids one rainy afternoon around 1990. But it’s unquestionably awesome.

#700 coming in about… 2-3 years.

Sequel Showdown: 4s, Fours, and IVs

In the last round, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 was crowned best three-quel, and so now logically we move on to Part 4s…

Where are Wrong Turn 4 and Psycho IV you ask? They will be appearing the prequel edition in the future, so don’t be sad, they’ll get their moment. Or not, as neither is likely to win, are they!?

Onwards!

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1984-1991

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter; A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master; Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers; Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil

Teenage Death Camp Massacre Part IV: Revenge of the Overlong and Quite Unnecessary Suffix Title. OK, I’ve always felt Friday 4 was a tad overrated. Yes, it’s gory. Yes, there’s lots of sex and nudity. No, there’s not much character development or plot. The best thing in it is actually the little Jason Megamix that opens the film. Elm Street 4 - the “MTV Nightmare” – is one of my favourites from that series, but it pales in comparison to Halloween 4, which went all out to be suspenseful and just a little bit more thoughtful than its cohorts. Prom Night IV is in-name only, with tenuous links to its predecessors – but it’s alright.

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1994-2003

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation; Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering; Bride of Chucky; Cheerleader Massacre

Despite being a fairly uninteresting horror-icon, Chucky wins this round against quite pitiful competition from the worst Texas Chainsaw instalment so far (yes, even the new one was better), a plain boring Children of the Corn insert, and the is-it-isn’t-it fourth Slumber Party Massacre flick.

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2003-2011

Saw IV; Return to Sleepaway Camp; The Final Destination; Scream 4

Why is Saw here, you squawk? Eleven is a prime number so I had to crowbar in another sequel to balance things up. Even so, I remember it being a bit of a dullard. Scream 4 runs off with the trophy with ease; though I’m quite fond of Return to Sleepaway CampThe Final Destination was bitterly disappointing.

The Finalists

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The longer they go on, the worse they seem to get, one could say. But let’s shut up and be thankful that THIRTEEN slasher franchises (I didn’t forget you, Psycho and Wrong Turn) made it to a fourth movie.

Now, let’s choose a winner…

  • Bride of Chucky‘s out first. It’s easily the most entertaining Child’s Play entry, but the whole series is just a bit annoying in it’s we-know-we’re-taking-the-piss demeanor. I like it, I don’t love it.
  • Scream 4, on the other hand, may have been hugely divisive when it came to audience reception, but the nostalgic value of going back to Woodsboro was a nice shot in the arm, as was the amusing opening scene extravaganza and the killer’s bitchy exposition.

So, the winner of this not-so-thrilling round of the contest is Mickey himself…

The slasher debut of now-genre-fixture Danielle Harris is a low-key event to say the least; it’s neither gory, booby, or high-octane. In many ways it’s a slasher film on a sedative; slow and occasionally plodding, but nevertheless faithful to the original outing and incredibly well made.

You may have noticed that the winners so far have come from the three big franchises… That’s a bit annoying really, but if these other schmucks can’t bring it, what are we to do?

Buckle up for those Part 5’s next month.

Belated gift

SILENT NIGHT

3 Stars  2012/94m

“He knows who’s been naughty.”

Director: / Writer: / Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Jaime King, Donal Logue, Ellen Wong, Brendan Fehr, Rick Skene, Andrew Cecon, Curtis Moore, Courtney-Jane White, Erik Berg, Tom Anniko, John B. Lowe, Cortney Palm, Adriana O’Neil, Lisa Marie, Mike O’Brien.

Body Count: 17

Dire-logue: “What you think this is, Glee?”


A mooted remake of parent-upsetting 80s B-movie Silent Night, Deadly Night had been on the card for some time, and at the tail end of ’12 it finally arrived. Week 2 of 2013 if you’re me.

While it could just as easily pass for another sequel rather than a cover version, Silent Night maintains the core elements of the original film and its shoddy sequels: Killer Santa lays unpleasant folks to waste with mucho seasonal mirth.

Here, the small Wisconsin town of Cryer is the stomping ground for the Saint Nick-clad loon, who kicks things off by electrocuting a poor chump with tree lights, and then heads into town for some much needed Scrooge-pruning.

Among those on the naughty list are a group of amateur pornographers, a corrupt reverend, some horny un-festive teenagers, and – surprisingly – a bratty fourteen-year-old girl, who is killed quite brutally early on, possibly as an attempt to renew the ‘controversial’ elements of the 1984 original film.

Picking up the pieces in Santa’s wake is undecided deputy Aubrey, who is recently bereaved and can’t stand up to the pissy demands of Sheriff Cooper (McDowell, camper than tinsel). He wants to keep quiet about the growing body count so’s not to disrupt the annual Santa parade, where, naturally, there’ll be five-hundred blokes dressed the same.

Silent Night tosses aside any trace of the orphanage prelude to Billy’s rampage from before, heading straight into the killing field and revealing everything about the killer as almost an after thought once the violence is over. It’s not a bad reveal, though I was left wondering just how Santa knew who to kill and where to find them.

The film is a bit of an empty vessel, loud and in your face but insubstantial otherwise. It has just as much in common with the more recent Santa’s Slay as it does the film it’s allegedly a remake of. The deer-antlers impalement returns, as does the looney sub-catatonic grandpa, as well as an allusion to the infamous “Garbage day!” moment from Part 2, but otherwise we’re skiing on fresh bloody snow. The gore is indeed gory, more than enough to please claret lovers, who will surely love the sight of a topless babe being fed into a woodchipper and there’s also a squishy axe to the face for a light-fingered teen.

The Grinch in all this gooey delight is the film’s attitude to Christmas itself: Fair enough, the film is set in a town suffering the loss of its major industry (echoes of My Bloody Valentine) and Psycho Santa is only after the nasty folk, but there’s a definite lack of Christmas spirit to offset the misery, leaving only snarky dialogue, less than pleasant characters, and bloodletting. It doesn’t feel Christmassy like the films it apes – even if they also ended in a stack of cadavers.

Logue is largely wasted as a Santa with a bad attitude, but King manages to keep a straight face as the put-upon heroine and Ellen Wong (from Scott Pilgrim) is a nice diversion in her rather marginalised role, and McDowell simply chews his way through every scene, relishing the assholery of his character.

Fun, but fleeting and slight – like most things about Christmas, really, with that sort of plastic won’t-last-till-January feel to it.

Blurbs-of-interest: McDowell played Dr Loomis and Rob Zombie’s Halloween re-dos and was also in The Surgeon; Jaime King was in My Bloody Valentine 3D and The Tripper; Lisa Marie was in Sleepy Hollow.

Sequel Showdown: 3s, Threes, and IIIs

So in the 2s, Twos, and IIs list last month, Friday the 13th Part 2 beat off (not like that – ew!) all the competition to be crowned best #2 slasher sequel.

Twos-ville is a crowded suburb, but numbers dwindle a little for the Threes…

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1982-1988

Friday the 13th Part III; Halloween III: Season of the Witch; Psycho III;
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
; Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland

So, which is the best of the first crop? Elm Street 3 - the first slasher film I ever saw – gets my vote, followed by Psycho and Friday, with the dismal Halloween III coming in last.

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1989-1991

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss; Silent Night Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out!; Slumber Party Massacre III; Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III; Child’s Play 3

A difficult era for the genre, not a lot of high-profile original material was released after circa-1987; the three big franchises even wound down as box office numbers crumbled… I digress, Prom Night III is my favoured entry here; though Slumber and Child’s Play are decent, TCM - a franchise I’ve never been wild about – doesn’t live up to the “most controversial film ever made” blurb of its poster, and the less said about Silent Night III the better.

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1992-2004

Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence; Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest;
Scream 3; Urban Legends: Bloody Mary; Scarecrow Gone Wild

A far-reaching group here, showing how few franchises got to numero tres at this time… Scream 3 clearly kicks the asses of the rest, though I quite enjoyed UL3. The rest are kinda sucky.

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2006-2009

Final Destination 3; The Graveyard; I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer; Boogeyman 3; Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead

Another easy one; FD3 cleans up against uber-feeble competition from what’s technically Bloody Murder 3, and truly horrid entries in the Last Summer and Wrong Turn canons.

The Finalists

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This could be a bit too easy…

Prom Night III is funny, but derivative of it’s neighbour here, Elm Street. Being a finalist at all should be gratifying enough for it and everybody involved. Congrats to you all, but you’re not winning.

I used to love Scream 3 more when I first saw it, but repeated viewings have scrutinised some of its evident problems. It’s still fun, but there’s a boredom emanating from the returning players, all of whom look like they’d rather be doing something else, as did Kevin Williamson, it seemed, who barely contributed a damn thing. And then they aaaall came crawling back a decade later…

Final Destination 3 largely re-booted to the original template, but did so with far more venom and disregard for its characters, who are done away with far more viciously than in any of the other entries in the series.

Thus, the winner is…

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*

Clearly the best threequel in the slasher realm; they got everything right in this one (though it drags a little towards the end): The vein puppet, Jennifer’s “big break in TV”, and an overall great concept make Freddy the deserved winner.

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