Tag Archives: Canuck

It’s my party and you’ll die if I want you to

hbtmcoverHAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME

3.5 Stars  1981/15/106m

“Six of the most bizarre murders you’ll ever see.”

Director: J. Lee Thompson / Writers: John Beaird, Timothy Bond, Peter Jobin & John C.W. Saxton / Cast: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Sharon Acker, Frances Hyland, Tracy Bregman, Lisa Langlois, Jack Blum, Matt Craven, Lenore Zann, David Eisner, Richard Rebiere, Lesleh Donaldson, Michel Rene LaBelle.

Body Count: 9

Dire-logue: “Murder…then suicide. Now they’ll all know just crazy little [SPOILER] really was!”


One of the first genre films I saw on the back of reading Vera Dika’s Games of Terror book, which provided a deep formula analysis of nine early slasher films. This Canadian entry into the burgeoning trend is a comparatively lush entry for its time. Using experienced director J. Lee Thompson and starring Glenn Ford, Happy Birthday to Me used these advantages as wisely as possible.

hbtm11The result of these impressive involvements is a mixed bag. On the one had, this is one handsome devil of a horror film, with well crafted photography and characters drawn beyond the airhead regulars associated with sharp-object wielding killers. The Yin to this Yang is that it thinks above its station to some degree, attempting to spread its wings beyond the boundaries of what the audience most probably expected back in the day.

Melissa Sue Anderson, breaking free of her Little House on the Prairie character with veritable gusto, is Virginia Wainwright, member of the preppy Crawford Academy’s ‘Top Ten’, the creme of the crop in terms of popularity, although why some of these twats are held in such high esteem is a mystery the film chooses not to deal with.

Virginia is new to the school and has some issues regarding amnesia and the death of her mother in recent history, one of the plot elements that is gradually unfurled throughout events, which follow the unidentified killer doing away with members of the Crawford Top Ten in black-gloved giallo style. To Virginia and pals, they’ve just taken off for reasons unknown…

hbtm2Ford is her shrink, trying to help her recall the deep-rooted trauma that plagues her and suss out the connection with the disappearances. Suffice to say, it’s all tied up together for the Scooby Doo reveal at the end.

There’s a lot of good stuff going on inbetween the more unfitting moments of the film; the killer – who appears for the first few murders dressed in a sinister black costume – executes the spoilt teens in some inventive ways, including death by motorcycle wheel, barbell weights and shish-kebab. Midway through proceedings we’re shown the killer’s face, which is a pretty damning indictment – but you just know that there are further tricks up the sleeves of this one…

hbtm3Interplay between the teenage characters also provides an interesting distraction from the trivial prank and sex-centric shenanigans that occur in your basic Friday the 13th wannabe. The Crawford kids have got rich parents and therefore their attitudes to the welfare of their missing buddies is intoxicated with a competitive venom: they swap lovers and stab each other in the back (not literally, quite yet) and evoke little sympathy from the viewer. Even Virginia is a flawed heroine, almost as unlikeable as the others from time to time. Alas, not all of them appear to be in danger… Hmmm.

Okay, so Dika’s book gave away the identity of the killer before I’d seen the film so the twist wasn’t a shock to me. On the road to the finale, which is fated to occur on Virginia’s birthday, we learn about the death of her mother, which evidently plays a large part in why the killer is doing what he or she is. Flashback scenes thus far have shown us a grisly close-up of Virginia’s post-accident brain surgery (including an icky brain-swell) but now we find out why. The scene is a sad one as Virginia is alone at her own birthday party, social death for any child, for sure! This results in a we’ll-show-them reaction from her jar-tapping mother and, well, you’ll see for yourself…

hbtm7The ending to it all is a great scene: Virginia gets her party and those who snubbed her before will definitely show up this time. Confusion follows before the naff reveal, which is laughably realised but credited with a nice little exposition from the killer before the final twist is played out. The motive will be familiar to those of us who saw a certain genre revival flick some 15 years later, where it was slightly more credibly realised, though not as much fun.

In spite of its high(er) budget, there are some curious oversights in Happy Birthday to Me‘s continuity: the car that falls into the river, the body found in the bath – clear one second, bloody the next, the extensive damage sustained by Greg’s car that miraculously disappears five seconds later… Whether any of this stuff is supposedly attributable to Virginia’s damaged memory is unclear.

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Nothing good can come of this scenario…

The DVD release for this film has garnered much complaint for switching the gorgeous score for a cheesy disco number at the start. The Region 2 disc has the original soundtrack on the German audio selection but Syreeta’s haunting end credits song is intact on both versions.

Blurbs-of-interest: Lawrence Dane later appeared in Bride of Chucky; Lesleh Donaldson was also in fellow Canuck slashers Curtains and Funeral Home; both David Eisner and Lisa Langlois were in Phobia; Lenore Zann was in fellow Canuck slashers American Nightmare and Visiting Hours. Thompson directed 10 to Midnight two years after. I love the Canadian casting love-ins!

Nightmares on Cliche Street

heartstopperHEARTSTOPPER

2 Stars  2006/18/85m

“Each beat may be your last.”

Director: Bob Keen / Cast: Vlady Pildysh & Warren P. Sonoda / Cast: Meredith Henderson, James Binkley, Nathaniel Stephenson, Robert Englund, Laura De Carteret, Michael Cram, Lori Hallier, Scott Gibson.

Body Count: 19

Dire-logue: “Get back here you Christ-infected bitch! When I’m inside you I’ll make you hell’s slut!”


Check out that Dire-logue! This film gains 75% of its stars from that alone.

The execution by electric chair of psychopathic killer Jonathan Chambers (Binkley) coincides with the suicide attempt of depressed high-schooler Sara (Henderson), whom everyone is calling a slut for the usual schoolastic reasons. i.e. none.

Chambers’ corpse and an injured Sara are both taken to a dilapidated hospital in the same ambulance after it nearly runs Sara over, where the loon is unaccountably resurrected and begins a heart-gouging kill spree in the hunt for Sara, whose body he needs to be reborn into. Or something.

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Robert Englund appears as the arresting sheriff but doesn’t make it far through the film – well, enough to appear on the DVD box as if he’s the star. Mucho killage ensues while Sara’s mom (Lori Hallier from My Bloody Valentine) visits and gives her daughter sod-all sympathy.

Alas, a big body count does not a good film make and at least two thirds of the film are made up of the whittled down group of survivors hobbling up and down corridors, looking for hiding places, and performing a fucking blood transfusion in the dark with the aide of one nurse. Sara and Chambers eventually face off, there’s a handy tornado and a final scream moment that neither confirms nor denies any ongoing threat.

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Plenty of arterial spray on show, including an operating theatre massacre where Chambers manages to do in half a dozen people in about two minutes. It’s one of those stupid scenes where there are approximately seven or eight people who could gang up on the lone killer and instead just cower next to small pieces of furniture instead.

The seriousness with which everything is played is what stalls the motor at the end.

Blurbs-of-Robert Englund: 8 appearances as Freddy aside, he can also be seen in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Hatchet, The Phantom of the Opera (1989) and Urban Legend.

February Fracas: Hearts Will Bleed

One day I’m going to make a slasher movie calendar, which suggests films to watch on any given day. Naturally, there’ll be times in the year when killers aren’t up to much. August is looking good. But for the time being, here we are on February 13th, our hands forced by society to pick out over-priced pieces of folded card with a stupid message of “love” on the front of it.

Psshh! What can a card tell my beau that I can’t? You remind me of puppies and candy?

Anyway, for those of you who are crow-barred into feeling depressed at this time of year – whether or not you’re happily single, how else are your attached friends going to make you feel miserable and unloved – here are some personal ads to ease the pain. Choose carefully…

mbvName: Axel

Age: 29

Occupation: psychotic miner

Message: traditional sorta guy WLTM budding Canadian twentysomethings for heart-removal surgery with pick-axe in non-clinical surroundings. Leather/S&M interest helpful. Quirky SOH essential! Please bring own bodily organs and replacement arm.

Ideal Date: romantic stroll around the idyllic town of Valentine Bluffs, perhaps meander down into the old mines and see what action’s going on down deep.

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xrayName: Harry

Age: 29

Occupation: phony doctor

Message: Hunky Israeli with a far out SOH WLTM unconvincingly naive childhood sweetheart for revenge scheme involving equally unconvincing urgent surgery requirements – all because of a screwed up Valentine’s card.

Ideal Date: we find the most under-populated hospital in Israel the “Continental United States” and see what fun can be had running around finding decapitated heads in candy boxes!

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valentine-box-cover1Name: Jeremy Melton

Age: 9

Occupation: reformed school nerd

Message: I used to be a 70 pound weakling at Junior High, now I’m a six-foot plus uber-hunk of angelic proportions; sensitive yet masculine; slight drinking and nosebleed problem I’m working on.

Ideal Date: my heart really only belongs to Buffy Kate, but until we can be together I’ll send a nice card, turn up unexpectedly, sometimes with roses, sometimes with a powerdrill or a scalpel. Either way, we’ll have a good time!

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mybloodyvalentine3dName: Tom Hanniger

Age: 1

Occupation: I’ve been “away”.

Message: VGL ex-miner with guilt-laden past seeks to hook-up with high school sweetheart again. Failing that, I’m happy to kill everyone around her until alternate choices are null and void.

Ideal Date: your new husband is dead; your childminder is dead; hell, you’re child might as well join that club. Then it’s just you and me…you and me…you and me and Harry Warden.

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VeVo’s advice: stay single and be happy with it.

The Day the Laughter Failed to Live, Let Alone Die. Miserably.

stanhelsingSTAN HELSING: A PARODY

1 Stars  2009/18/87m

“The most feared monsters in cinematic history have met their match…”

Director/Writer: Bo Zenga / Cast: Steve Howey, Diora Baird, Kenan Thompson, Desi Lydic, Ben Cotton, Ken Kirzinger, Leslie Nielsen.

Body Count: 1

Dire-logue: “I’d give my right arm to be ambidextrous.”


When it came out in 2000, Total Film magazine gave Scary Movie four stars! AND they said a sequel would be great. Thanks, TF, look whatcha did!

Stan Helsing is ‘from the brother-in-law’s former roommate’s dog’s previous owner of the executive producer’ of Scary Movie; that alone should be enough to secure an indictment. It stars Howey as your standard issue movie slacker-cum-stoner, Stan, who works in the videostore Schlockbuster. Are you laughing yet? On Halloween, Stan is charged with delivering some “videos” (which are, in fact, DVDs) to his boss’s mother’s house before he can party with his bud Teddy, ex-girlfriend Nadine and Teddy’s dim-witted date Mia (see Dire-logue). After they get lost, get shot at by gas station hippies and pick up a psychotic hitcher, the gang end up at Stormy Night Estates, where a fire raged ten years back, as explained by Leslie Nielsen’s waitress. Waitress. Yes, he’s in drag.

Stormy Night Estates is tormented by ‘monsters’, who are in fact crap parody renderings of famous movie villains, such as Needlehead, Fweddy, Lucky the doll, Pleatherface, Mason, and Michael Crier. Fuck. Off. Several onlookers think Stan is a descendant of Van Helsing and he and his friends spend 80 minutes running from shit joke to shit joke until they’re forced into a karaoke contest against the monsters, who perform a stupid version of YMCA.

OK, questions: why is Michael Jewish? Why is Fweddy done up like some late-80s rapper? Why is there but one murder of a non-important extra? Who green-lit this movie? It really is a train wreck of a film, made only worse when I learned that ‘Mason’ (Jesus wept…) was played by Ken Kirzinger, who played Jason – yes, Jason – in Freddy vs. Jason. Nothing in this film even flirts with being funny. Hell, it doesn’t enter the club where funny is out having a good time. It’s refused entry, kicked in the ass by security and told never to darken their doors again!

Enough with these shitty parodies, Airplane! was 30 years ago.

Blurbs-of-shame: Diora Baird was in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning; Ben Cotton was in Harper’s Island and Scar 3D, and The Tooth Fairy; Leslie Nielsen was, of course, Principal Hammond in Prom Night; Kirzinger was also in Wrong Turn 2. As well as being part to blame for Scary Movie, Zenga was also an exec producer on Turistas.

Remake Rumble: And may all your Christmases be Black…

Less a Face-off, more a comparative analysis between the original and its – ugh – remake/reimagining/reboot/whatever (…delete as applicable), some I liked, some I loathed and some I somehow preferred to the original!

blackchristmas5 Stars  1974/18/98m

“If this picture doesn’t make your skin crawl…it’s on TOO TIGHT.”

A.k.a. Silent Night, Evil Night / Stranger in the House (TV)

Director: Bob Clark / Writer: Roy Moore / Cast: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Andrea Martin, Marian Waldman, James Edmond, Douglas McGrath, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin, Michael Rapport.

Body Count: 6

Dire-logue: “Darling…you can’t rape a townie.”


Outside of the horror buff realm, as far as most people are concerned, Halloween is wholly responsible for taking what Psycho had and turning it into what Friday the 13th was. Of course there’s no point arguing this, there are about a gazillion possible films and filmmakers whose auteur style may have influenced the later films that finally chiselled the slasher movie shaped cookie-cutter into place, but in terms of the North American market, one film that was so cruelly overlooked for many a season was Bob Clark’s ’74 masterpiece (and it truly is), Black Christmas

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A simple paragraph of the synopsis might fool you into believing this flick could’ve been made anytime in the 80s and called something like Christmas Co-Ed Sorority of Blood or something: the girls on Belmont Street are being tormented by bizarre and random phonecalls, in which one or more voices scream obscenities and threaten to kill them. Some think it’s a frat joke, others are unnerved. Unbeknownst to the residents of the sorority, the calls are being made from the attic where a mystery stalker is hiding, sneaking down to commit murders before each new call.

At the centre of it all is Jess (Hussey), who is melancholy having found out she is pregnant, much to the joy of her highly-strung boyfriend Peter, but Jess has decided on an abortion. Her friend Phyl (Martin) is understanding; Barb (Kidder) is more often than not drunk and housemother Mrs Mac is too busy hiding her own alcoholism. After their friend Claire disappears, the police are finally involved and tap the house phone to see if they can figure out a connection between the calls and the vanishing…

black christmas 1974 margot kidder olivia hussey andrea martin lynne griffin

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*2006/15/81m  3 Stars

“Let the slay ride begin.”

Director/Writer: Glen Morgan / Cast: Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Andrea Martin, Oliver Hudson, Kristen Cloke, Lacey Chabert, Crystal Lowe, Robert Mann, Dean Friss.

Body Count: 17

Dire-logue: “I’m really not okay with any of this. I mean – buying a present for a serial killer?”


In the sad-eyed days of “let’s remake everything,” nothing is sacred and so it was no surprise that the 2006 emergence of this film, “from the makers of Final Destination,” took everything that was engaging and scary about the original and over-explained it all to the point of rendering everything the exact opposite of scary.

The Delta Alpha Kappa sorority house was once the home of the Lenz family who, we learn through flashbacks, were dysfunctional and abusive: mom gave birth to Billy, whose skin was yellow for no apparent reason and a few years later she and her boyfriend murdered her husband and buried him under the house. Some years after that, she became pregnant with Billy’s child-sister, a girl called Agnes, who Billy attacked some Christmases later, pulling out one of her eyes and murdering mom and step-dad in the process before being carted off to the looney toons bin.

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Billy breaks out on Christmas Eve and returns to the sorority to kill all those who live there who are, of course, numerous nubile college girls, far greater in number than in the original. As disappearances graduate to decapitations and eye-plucked slayings, the girls and their housemother, Ms Mac (played by Andrea Martin from the original), find all escape attempts thwarted and eventually have to fight back…

* * *

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So, there’s no real competition of merits here – the original film is leagues ahead of the remake in almost every department (save for body count and bloodletting); but it’s interesting to take a look at the two side by side (as I did over the last few days in fits and starts).

Black Christmas ’74 is a slow burner; an intensely creepy affair with an accent on performances, characterisation and the general cloud of dread that hovers above Belmont Street after the disappearance of sweet-natured Claire Harrison (Griffin). Her sorority gal-pals do all they can to try and aid her helpless father in finding out what’s happened to her, all the while dealing with their own problems – Jess’s pregnancy, Barb’s alcohol abuse and Phyl’s seasonal cold. When the cops finally connect the dots and discover the killer has been in the house all along, only Jess remains, forced to decide between walking out the front door to safety or going back for her friends.

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This decision is at the core of Black Christmas ’06, which gets straight in on the action with a girl – also named Clair (sans ‘e’) – ‘disappearing’. In fact, she’s murdered before the actress playing her gets to utter a single word! Out with the slow burn, in for the kills! Set entirely on one night (bar flashbacks), and condensed down to a fleeting 81 minutes, the girls start dropping like fumigated flies; along with the flashback victims, staff at the institute from where Billy escapes… The cops have no presence here until it’s all over: the girls are stuck at the house, believing the killer to be outside. They receive precisely two vaguely obscene calls and spend the rest of their time bitching at each other before having their eyeballs ripped out.

Perhaps it could be read as a cultural or social experiment: the ’74 girls are all there for one another (even Barb), almost always polite and drawn as real people, whereas their modern day counterparts hardly get along at all, make snide comments, refuse to join in with festivities and largely think only of saving their own skin. Only Kelli is deemed worthy of survival; she has a fraction more of a ‘story’ than the other girls – something about coming from a small family – and is the first one to refuse to leave without finding their missing friends.

black christmas 2006 katie cassidy

Even the lesser roles in BC ’74 are rewarding, from the guy who directs Mr Harrison to the sorority to dim-witted Sergeant Nash, who falls for Barb’s Fellatio-phone-exchange gag without ever realising what it means! Claire’s worried dad is also well drawn, from his initial concerns over the type of influence the sorority environment has over his daughter to his keeling over with shock at the end.

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Because the original film pre-dated the accepted conventions of the genre it helped usher in, there’s no standardised finale for Black Christmas ’74; Jess does not meet the killer for more than a few seconds and never sees his face. In the update, Kelli, along with Clair’s older sister Leigh (Cloke) and her wayward boyfriend Kyle confront the killer together and there’s a drawn out struggle that continues once the survivors are transferred to hospital. However, Kelli’s gusto as the final girl is flawed by her lack of presence: she doesn’t ‘stand out’ like Jamie Lee Curtis or Amy Steel – she’s merely the one who’s still alive at the end, more a fault of the violence-obsessed script than Katie Cassidy’s fine performance.

The first film is infamous for its open ending. In fact most slasher movies attempt an infamous parting word but most pale when compared to the we’ll-just-never-know imprint left by the unresolved mystery of the film. BC 2006 attempted to overcompensate for this by fully describing the killer’s (Billy) upbringing, his psychosis and then showing him repeatedly throughout the film before revealing that an obvious second killer is his incestual sister-daughter Agnes (curiously played by a bloke), their names decided upon from the only names uttered by the caller from the original film. Many fans have pondered the backstory based on what was said down the phone by the lunatic and, it seems, Glen Morgan has decided to take it all literally.

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Coming from “the makers of Final Destination” means that there are a lot of joins between the two: items and objects fall into doorways and prevent security gates from closing, strategically placed icicles fatally skewer unwitting victims and there are even a few cast members carried over. It’s too easy to be cynical about the remake age destroying what horror could be squeezed out of some situations but, as usual, cellphones don’t work efficiently, the police can’t get to the house for two hours and far more time is spent casually observing product placement than building tension of likeable characters we don’t want to see dead. Maybe that’s what you get from having sixteen producers, as well as a choice of alternate endings and cuts that vary from region to region (the UK version had a completely different finale).

The best way to view the remake of Black Christmas is to detach any thoughts of it actually being a remake: you’ll only be angry with it. On its own, the newer film is a fun slasher flick that, while never boring, has next to no credibility but a good cast roster of familiar faces and a great defibrillator denouement. The 1974 film is neo-perfect, a scary story on film if ever there were; great characters that we care about (remember that, when we used to care about slasher film kids?), Margot Kidder, John Saxon and Olivia Hussey too; one of most intensely delicate murder scenes ever witnessed (we’re talkin’ ’bout the kids choir soundtracking a killing occurring elsewhere in the house) and a premonition of slashers’ future…?

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The many blurbs-of-interest: 1974: Olivia Hussey had a cameo in Ice Cream Man; Margot Kidder was in The Clown at Midnight; John Saxon was later in A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s 1 and 3, Tenebrae, Welcome to Spring Break and The Baby Doll Murders; Marian Waldman was also in Phobia; Lynne Griffin was in Curtains. 2006: Katie Cassidy was also in remakes of When a Stranger Calls and A Nightmare on Elm Street and also TV-slasherama Harper’s Island; Kristen Cloke was in the original Final Destination; Crystal Lowe was in Children of the Corn: Revelation, Final Destination 3 and Wrong Turn 2; Mary Elizabeth Winstead was also in Final Destination 3 and Tarantino’s botched wannabe-slasher Death Proof; Lacey Chabert later had the lead role in shoddy SyFy flick Scarecrow; Oliver Hudson was in Scream Queens; Director Morgan and producer James Wong were involved in the first and third FD films. Bob Clark was executive producer on the remake.

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