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Pant-Soiling Scenes #8: HALLOWEEN

When I first saw Halloween at a tender young age of about 12, it was this particular shot that simultaneously wigged me out and aroused my senses (not in that way – filth!) to the pleasures of fear.

The lovely Laurie and pals are trundling home from school when that creepy guy she’s been seeing all over the show turns up yet again, just staring…

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The simplicity of the effect is what makes it so damn scary. After all, it’s just a guy in the middle distance. No machete dripping in blood, no psychotic gestures. Carpenter mastered the art of the unsettling here without any tricks, just pure, undiluted paranoia. Ace moment.

“Pain can be fun.”

trainTRAIN

2 Stars  2008/18/91m

“You’re in for one hell of a ride.”

Director/Writer: Gideon Raff / Cast: Thora Birch, Gideon Emery, Kavan Reece, Derek Magyar, Gloria Votsis, Konya Ruseva, Valentin Ganev, Todd Jensen, Vladimir Vladiminov.

Body Count: 10

Dire-logue: “Screw you, you un-circumsized little fuck!”


Bored of torture porn? Sick of Hostel and Turistas? Me too! Let’s throw ‘em on the next train to Eastern Europe! Oh bugger, American college teen alert…

Train was originally slated to be a remake of Terror Train, with Thora Birch donning Jamie Lee Curtis’ role. Fortunately, the idea was derailed and the film became independent of such comparisons, bar the choo-choo setting. Thora is part of an American college wrestling team on a tour of Europe. In the unspecified country of their most recent match, she and four others sneak out to a party, thus missing their connecting train in the morning.

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Their retentive coach is offered a ride on another train, which they merrily skip aboard. Something ain’t right about this loco though, which we soon learn is actually a sort of mobile donor clinic, taking people in need of black market operations out into the country and taking advantage of dopey lost tourists, who get sliced up carefully for some organ harvesting…

The conductor, a Bond-villain type lady doctor and some hulking goons are all in on it, picking off the kids one by one for some eyeball-plucking, spine-severing, penis-chopping and leg-hacking before carrying out the operations in the onboard clinic! Yes, there’ surgery taking place on a rickety ol’ train. We’re later expected to believe that the recipient of an eye-transplant could recover within a day!

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Birch’s reluctant girl-wrestler Alex is predictably the last one standing and must try to save the day and herself, while her boyfriend, coaches and pals are cut up whilst still alive, save for the other girl, who is instead ‘given away’ as a bribe to some horny soldiers and, presumably, left in Europe to be repeatedly raped.

Hostel had some gross parts, which made me cringe. Part II upped the ante somewhat. Turistas was tamer, but a bit crap. Train trumps all three in terms of gruesome bloodletting: while the on-screen gore is carried out only against male characters, there were one or two moments where I looked away (…plus I was trying to eat a sandwich) and I actually placed my hands over my eyes at least once! It’s quite sick and pushes the boundaries of acceptable entertainment.

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Fortunately, Alex’s revenge on the fiends is quite delicious, as she takes on towering goons and is challenged over her morals! Birch looks disinterested for the most part though, with little to do but sneak around and hide. Her co-stars’ roles pale by contrast as they fulfill their obligations as pieces of meat to be hacked up and defiled in other ways. The set of villains are interesting enough but you can’t help but feel that these films are sponsored by some stay-in-America tourism foundation. Maybe it has a mantra like; “leave our borders and you will DIE!!”

POPCORN

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3.5 Stars  1991/15/87m

“Buy a bag, go home in a box.”

Director: Mark Herrier / Writers: Mitchell Smith & Tod Hackett / Cast: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace-Stone, Derek Rydall, Malcolm Danare, Elliott Hurst, Ivette Soler, Freddie Marie Simpson, Kelly Jo Minter, Karen Witter, Ray Walston, Tony Roberts.

Body Count: 5

Dire-logue: “Tina should start eating more, she looks like shit.”


The ever lovely Schoelen discovers that her recurring nightmare is actually part of an old horror film called The Possessor. Meanwhile, her fading film class decide to hold an all-night festival of B-movies to raise some funds to keep things afloat but find themselves set upon by a hideously burned figure, believed to be the director of the old film, who died in a fire at the same theatre years earlier, taking with him several cult followers. That’s a lot of useful coincidences.

Expectedly, the group are stalked and killed, albeit in reduced numbers and in ways that aren’t a stones throw from co-burn victim Freddy Krueger’s teen-tamperings. Alas, the mystery killer’s identity is revealed a bit too soon after only knocking off a handful of victims in the process. Schoelen – who replaced original actress Amy O’Neill – is her useful alluring self. Popcorn was one of her final films before she withdrew from the film world in 1995.

While the film is entertaining once, it’s not a great outing for Jill and also several of her co-stars who are wasted in minor roles. The late Villard is good as dorky student Toby and the trio of films selected for the festival (presented in Smell-O-Vision with a giant mosquito and various other fourth-dimension tricks) provide an amusing backdrop.

(Surprisingly) shot in Jamaica, Popcorn performed dismally at the box office as the genre bottomed-out into the early 90s. Treat it like public transport, enjoy the ride and then leave it behind.

Blurbs-of-interest: Jill co-starred with Robert Englund in the slasher version of The Phantom of the Opera and was also in Cutting Class, When A Stranger Calls Back and The Stepfather. Dee Whatever-She’s-Called-This-Week was also in Scar (not the Angela Bettis one), Dead End Road and the Halloween remake; Kelly Jo Minter was in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5; Derek Rydall played the lead in Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge; Karen Witter was in Out of the Dark.

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…

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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.

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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.

“Jason” lives

fridaythe13th5FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING

3.5 Stars  1985/18/87m

“If Jason still haunts you… You’re not alone.”

Director: Danny Steinmann / Writers: David Cohen, Martin Kitrosser & Danny Steinmann / Cast: Melanie Kinnaman, John Shepherd, Shavar Ross, Richard Young, Marco St. John, Corey Feldman, Carol Locatell, Jerry Pavlon, Juliette Cummins, Tiffany Helm, John Robert Dixon, Debisue Voorhees, Vernon Washington, Tom Morga.

Body Count: 22


The parallel universe in which Friday the 13th exists is a place where ones build, height and entire facial structure can change over a single day, and where knowledge of current events is so minimal that folks vacation in the same spot where dozens of murders have taken place a matter of hours earlier. Time jumps along at a merry old pace as well, as shown here. Boy-hero of The Final Chapter Tommy Jarvis sprouts from a weedy 12-year-old into a super-buff teen of no determinable age, but I’d guess between 16 and 18 – and only one year in real time since his last outing!

A New Beginning is just that (unless you count the presence of old characters); Tommy is carted off to the Pinehurst Institute for troubled teens with bad hair:

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Naturally, Pinehurst is in the middle of the woods (pine, I guess), affording many a place for a masked, unhinged psycho to stalk mentally unstable kids.

No sooner does Tommy arrive then a particularly angry resident embeds an axe into the back of a porky fellow inmate. Shortly after, locals begin falling victim to a psycho killer: An utterly surreal couple of leather-clad boys are first, then the requisite horny couple, local rednecks, and eventually the Pinehurst kids.

Is it Jason, who Tommy seems to keep seeing all over the show? The Sheriff seems to think so too, much to the chagrin of the dreadful actor who plays the mayor.

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Murders continue and when only staff member Pam and cook’s grandson Reggie remain, the killer is revealed to be the hockey masked, machete bearing legend that is JV. Can Tommy save them and stop his arch-enemy all over again? And here comes the spoiler

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No.

Because it’s not Jason, just some schmuck donning a hockey mask (complete with different design), taking revenge on Pinehurst and all who dwell there for the axe-murder…of his son!!!

This is flawed for many reasons: if Dad was so local, why was there no relationship between them? Porky’s killer was already arrested and carted off – why kill everyone but the assailant? Why have a random photo of yourself in your wallet? Oh right, in case the audience are so fucking stupid they can’t put it together.

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A New Beginning is commonly known as the worst of the Friday crop; which is a fair assessment on some levels – it’s one of the laziest films, with a body count so stupidly high (including dream sequences) that the killer virtually teleports his way around town, perfecting the chess game of slasher movie killers’ ability to always be hiding behind the right tree or picking the right bedroom to stalk a victim into…

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According to the wonderful Crystal Lake Memories book, ex-porno director Steinmann’s intense paranoid moodswings made for a tense set and some questionable sequences: Are the leather boys supposed to be gay? One of them does get a phallic road flare rammed into his mouth… There’s a vicious streak to some of the homicidal dénouements, which personify abject cruelty as the troubled teens are brutally wasted without any care for their individual stories. They’re just wastable problem kids.

As with most of the earlier instalments, the MPAA insisted on several cuts, with the BBFC advising further shots removed.

It also has the worst score out of all the movies, a swirling attack of strings that belongs in a made-for-TV hurricane movie.

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In the ‘for’ arena, Friday V showed a jump forward in terms of production quality; much of the grainy, underlit scenes of The Final Chapter have been replaced by clearer visuals. The pure 80s-ness of it all is irresistibly amusing and Kinnaman makes for a gutsy heroine with the help of Ross, of Diff’rent Strokes, and Shepherd is suitably traumatised as Tommy, even if he only utters about 20 words the whole 87 minutes.

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Probably the cheesiest Jason venture (in spite of his absence) but definitely a fun ride if you don’t care about that minor fact.

Blurbs-of-interest: Juliette Cummins appeared in Deadly Dreams, Slumber Party Massacre II and Psycho III; Debisue Voorhees was in Innocent Prey and Appointment with Fear; Tiffany Helm is the daughter of Brooke Bundy, who was in A Nightmare on Elm Streets 3 and 4; Dominick Brascia was in Rush Week and directed Evil Laugh; Mark Venturini (Victor) was in Mikey in 1992. Bob DeSimone (Billy) is the brother of Tom DeSimone, who directed Hell Night. Danny Steinmann directed The Unseen under the pseudonym Peter Foleg.

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