Tag Archives: sorority

Stock Background Characters 101: The Loyal Best Friend

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.

Let’s give it up for THE LOYAL BEST FRIEND

Overview: Every girl needs a best friend – or BFF as “today’s youth” may call it. Every Final Girl really needs a best friend, someone who can make her feel better about that guy she thinks is stalking her. Unfortunately, a true friend’s work is never done and she (or even he) will usually end up making the ultimate sacrifice and dying for friendship.

Linguistic Snapshot: “I know you’re having trouble with Bobby and, even though I don’t like him much and wanted to stay home tonight, I’ll come with you to the party at the old mill to support you. After all, we’re friends aren’t we?”

Styling: The Loyal Best Friend is often a diluted version of the Final Girl, only not was watchful and paranoid and is usually up for a good time, more so than her slightly introverted, awkward best pal. In the 90s, LBF was frequently the outgoing, outspoken, slightly less sensible one of the pair – look at Sidney’s gal pal Tatum in Scream as well as Helen in I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Hallmarks: Being the best friend to the Final Girl means that LBF is a lively, oft-carefree spirit who has a boyfriend that she has next to no troubles with compared to the Final Girl, who is either too shy for boys or is constantly being messed around by her man or pressured to put out.

LBF does not judge, she supports. And sometimes she is more than a single entity, as the little gaggles of friends in Prom Night and He Knows You’re Alone illustrate, although there will always be the one girl who is closer and more understanding of the heroine than the others. Not that it’ll help her much, although she’ll doubtlessly outlive the less important friend.

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Downfall: Going where your friend goes when there’s a killer after her is a dangerous manoeuvre as those around her have a habit of dropping dead. Most people would be like, “fuck this shit, I’m off to Hawaii!” but not the Loyal Best Friend – she comes along, plays her part, and is thanked with a knife in the head.

Alternatively, it is her carefree nature that gets her into trouble. As the killer is clearly after the Final Girl, why should she be in any danger, right? Look again as Tatum or Heather’s faithful babysitter Julie in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare – both are there for their friend despite perhaps not quite believing in the threat of the killer and then…THWACK! Dead.

Genesis: Slasher films have almost always revolved around groups of happy young women, from the sorority house in Black Christmas to the trio of Annie, Lynda and Laurie in Halloween. There’s almost always been a dependable female character whom the Final Girl can share a heart to heart with when boyfriends, parents and all manner of other people let her down (or die), only to have this friend snatched away so cruelly, giving Laurie, or Jess, or Amy, or Sarah the final push towards violently striking back at the killer when said friend’s body falls out of the wardrobe.

The first all-boxes-ticked Loyal Best Friend was probably Patty from My Bloody Valentine. While best mate Sarah was torn between two suitors and didn’t want to involve herself in festivities, it was Patty who kept things upbeat, sticking by her side through the night and, heartbreakingly, becoming the last victim – getting a pick-axe in her belly right in front of Sarah.

There’s also Mitchy in Terror Train, best friend and roommate of heroine Alana, who protects her friend’s emotions at all costs but is let down by her own drunken antics and hedonistic ways!

Legacy: Unlike some other fad-characters of the genre, the doomed best friend has, ahem, ‘survived’ to continue into the millennium, albeit with a few tweaks along the way. In Bride of Chucky, she became a he, a gay he, no less, who helped out Final Girl Jade and was at least spared being murdered by a thirty-six inch plastic doll, instead getting run over by a truck!

Elsewhere, the best friend has turned out to be not so pally after all and reveals herself to be the master of deception – she’s the killer!!! All the back-patting, kind words and hugging that Natalie received from Brenda in Urban Legend was faked! She hates her and wants her dead in the ultimate betrayal. Hell, if you’re boyfriend turns out to be the psycho that’s bad enough, but you’re confidante?? Harsh, man, harsh.

So the scape for the supporting role as the ‘nearly-heroine’ or the girl-who-would-be-the-final-girl-if-the-final-girl-was-away-for-the-weekend is a vast playing field made up of the ghosts of hundreds of do-gooders who just wanted to be a good friend and make sure everyone had fun.

We salute your memory, Loyal Best Friend, for you were taken from us too soon!

Ungraded…the only thing worse than a fail

final-examFINAL EXAMINATION

1 Stars  2002/94m

“You fail. You die.”

Director: Fred Olen Ray [as Ed Raymond] / Writers: Sean O’Bannon & Kimberly A. Ray / Cast: Kari Wuhrer, Brent Huff, Debbie Rochon, Amy Lindsay, Richard Gabai, Robert Donovan, Jason Schnuit, Belinda Gavin, Winton Nicholson, Kalau Iwaoka, Kim Maddox.

Body Count: 7

Dire-logue: “Just spell my name right, it’s Shane with a C…” what!?


A girl drives off the end of an unfinished bridge. Five years later, a cop busts a drug dealer and is then reassigned to Hawaii as a reward. In Hawaii, the sorority sisters from Big Island University have gathered for a reunion sponsored by a glamour magazine, which they are being photographed for by a wasted Rochon. Someone tries to murder them – failing, more often than not – reassigned dick and Kari Wuhrer (remembered by me as the “not J-Lo” female in Anaconda) investigate.

That’s Final Examination for you. It has nothing remotely to do with exams at all, bar the staggering two sorority victims found with test papers marked ‘Failed’ floating nearby. Instead, Fred Olen Ray’s (shoulda known!) dismal little flick is a thinly disguised softcore skin flick. The only examination present is the one the camera oversees while various starlets take showers or just walk around topless…

The cast look ridiculously bored and the police procedural plot (far outweighing any horror) is like a really boring episode of NCIS. There’s an equally insipid backstory unfurled to do with co-ed pregnancy, dirty tricks and cover ups that relate back to the dead chick and bitchy sorority alumnus Kristen – who doesn’t even die!

Ray overcompensates boredom with too many twists, none of which even flirt with being exciting. Turns out there are but three killers, all siblings of the dead girl and between them they manage to off a massive four people. Pathetic.

Chuck in a lieutenant named Hugh Janus and a scene where Kristen brandishes a gun several minutes before the killer busts through a door and attacks her friend. Does she shoot him? No. She hits him with the damn thing. The film finally ends with the dialogue “uh…yeah,” which appears to accurately sum up the opinion all involved likely have when asked about the film.

To spell it out for you in case you, like me, are hell bent on seeing ‘em all: Final Examination is not a good bad film, it’s really, really, REALLY boring, which is a far worse sin than simply being shit.

Blurbs-of-shame: Belinda Gavin was in Scarecrow. Ray also directed Scalps. Debbie Rochon has been in American Nightmare, Bleed, Blood Relic and Head Cheerleader, Dead Cheerleader.

The First Cut is the Crappest

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1.5 Stars  1985/90m

“You just might get blood on you.”

Director: Christopher Lewis / Writers: Stuart Rosenthal & James Vance / Cast: Julie Andelman, Charles Ellis, James Vance, Bennie Lee McGowan, Josef Hardt, Fred Graves.

Body Count: 7

Dire-logue: “We do not need serial murderers on this campus.”


This film proudly states that it was the very first film made exclusively for home video. In real terms, it was the first time someone brandished a camcorder and squirted some ketchup at a wall while a wannabe starlet screamed in the background. All for less than $27,000!

As it is, Blood Cult is just another lame cash-in, that poses as a drama-documentary about a series of co-ed murders plaguing an Oklahoma college campus where the cleaver-toting killer steals random body parts and leaves behind small gold trinkets.

Aged local sheriff Ellis must try and figure out who’s behind it before the all-important elections. With the help of his librarian-slash-housemother daughter, Tina, and her repellent know-all boyfriend, our octogenarian hero discovers that evidence points in the direction of a cult made up of select locals who worship a DOG called Kaninus!

For the bad sound, sucky plotline, crappy acting and misogyny, there’s some cheesy recompense: the killer uses the decapitated head of one victim to beat her roommate with; severed fingers are found in a salad, and they had the audacity to call the sorority house where the first murder occurs Chi Omega!

The identity of the killer is also a surprise, although after the literal unmasking, the film ends without providing any further reference to the cult, its members or any what-happened-next material. The credits just roll. If you’re desperate enough to find out what happens, try the sequel, Revenge, for answers.

Obviously they had nothing better to do with another $27K. Give it to me! I could’ve left the camera on filming my lounge wall and provided a better 90 minutes’ entertainment.

Summary: the first shot on video film about a cult that worships dogs and some dodgy ketchup murders. You have been warned!

Blurb-of-interest: Julie Andelman was in Silent Scream.

Decade of the Afraid: the Best of the 00’s – Part 1

Can 1990 seriously be twenty years ago? I feel so old! Decrepit! Call me Grandpa Voorhees. OK, so no, time is time and we can’t change it etc etc…and I was only 11 when it turned from ’89 to ’90, leaving behind the funkiest decade.

Now we kiss goodbye to the 00’s (unless you’re a pedant who insists each new decade actually begins at the “01” year). A quick filter of an Excel spreadsheet informs me that I saw 225 slasher films shot between 2000 and 2009, so while most people do their ‘best of 2009′ lists, VeVo looks back at the best – and worst – of the last ten years. Take my hand, it could get self-referential!

Firstly, there were the SEQUELS to franchises from the 80s and 90s that just kept comin’ – or in some cases took forever…

scream3The most successful slasher franchise of the era bowed out in 2000 with Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Aquette finally shutting the door on years of being stalked by Ghostface in Scream 3. Although rumours abound of a resurgence in 2010, nothing is yet set in stone.

Also out for more was Urban Legends: Final Cut, Halloween: Resurrection, Seed of Chucky and overdue returns for Jason and Freddy in, respectively, Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason, which looked like it was going to usher in some miserable years of cut-n-shut head-to-headers, thankfully, in spite of its massive success, nobody saw fit to copy it.

We waited approximately five years for Return to return_to_sleepaway_campSleepaway Camp to get it’s DVD release and then all moaned that it wasn’t very good; and as the DVD box-set extravaganza began, studios dished up cheapo sequels to fill out cardboard space, among them Urban Legends: Bloody Mary and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, which proved that it is indeed possible to fuck a movie franchise up the arse and leave it in a violated mess in the corner.

mylittleeyeThe 00’s was also the decade of REALITY TV, kept afloat mostly (in the UK at least) by Big Brother, which stranded a dozen or so morons in a house without a psychopathic killer! Before long, slasher movie makers jumped on the bandwagon. Halloween: Resurrection came late to the party, cheapo exploitation fare such as Voyeur.com and Cruel World went for the lowest common denominator while arty stuff such as My Little Eye was so depressing that I’d rather have been forced to watch the shows proper than sit through it again…

Arguably – and this does spark “debate” (a.k.a. childish name-calling and tantrums) – the biggest thing to happen within the genre came around about 2003.

REMAKE AFTER REMAKE AFTER REMAKE

Surely it started out as something relatively innocent…:

Harried Writer: “I really don’t think we can write another one of these. What else is there to do?”

Exec: “Okay, well it’s been almost 30 years, no one will really care if we, uh, what’s the word I want to use?”

Harried Writer: “Remake?”

Exec: “Oh, no, no, no – I know – reimagine.”

Harried Writer: “That’s not a word.”

Exec: “Do it or get out.”tcm2003

And thus it came to pass. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was remadeimagined, soon after generating a sequel of its own, reinvigorating the losses made by the admittedly patchy 80s and 90s ventures and opening the floodgates for execs everywhere the pillage the catalogue of “people only remember the title”-style horror films.

I’ll admit that some worked out fine; I, for one, enjoyed the TCM redux and also Friday the 13th. The rest were made up of agreeable distractions that were fine so long as you didn’t compare them to their source material (Black Christmas, Sorority Row, House of Wax), some that slipped under the radar and others that should just burn in hell for all eternity. However you look at it, we were left with this:

remakesThe main ‘problem’ with a lot of these remakes – aside from the evidential lack of imagination infecting the industry – is that, in most cases, the nihilistic days of the early 80s horror scene are over, and in their place came a bunch of anodyne, inoffensive PG-13 rated films that barely register on the horror scale.

However, this was not true for all involved and another commonality of the decade was the sub-genre of TORTURE PORN!

From its original instalment in 2004, the Saw franchise has, like Friday the 13th back in the 80s, seen a new sequel every year. As of 2009, we’re up to Saw VI and a seventh appears on IMDb already for Halloween 2010. Not really slasher flicks, Saw and Hostel (plus its sequel), were cleverly plotted horror films with a lot of grue, death death death and crazy loons killing people in creative ways, often placing American tourists elsewhere on the globe where the locals have a few screws loose.

The Hills Have Eyes remake (plus its sequel – Dear God, how often will I have to type that?) flirted also in this darker than dark arena of extensive violence; Uwe Boll’s naff Seed and the Brazil-trip-gone-wrong saga Turistas and Wolf Creek were the closest relatives of the slasher film.

Extreme violence isn’t my thing; although some of these films were well plotted, nicely made yadda yadda, the public fascination with their forbidden horrors appeal seemed to have waned by the close of the decade.

In Part 2 (next week, alright?) – the rise of the genre in the Far East and VeVo’s best and worst slasher flicks of the decade.

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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