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Hello people, welcome to the holiday season! Hanukkah is on its third light, I believe. Kwanzaa still has a few days before it kicks off. Diwali…well, has been over for a while (sorry). And, it’s Christmas Eve (for the next hour). I’ve unwrapped my gift, finally.

Booze, booze, and more booze!

That’s right. I’ve finally made it to the original, the first-born, Bob Clark’s 1974 Black Christmas. The chain-smoking, binge-drinking, constantly-swearing older sister that the other remakes watched in glazed envy and adoration at family gatherings.

She don’t give a wut

Let’s get right into this because Santa brought me just what I wanted – a horror classic.

Godspeed, unicorn…you’ll be in our hearts

The Plot:

As with the remakes, we have a sorority house getting ready for their holiday break. Without their knowledge, someone slips into their attic and begins stalking them from within. They begin getting obscene phone calls, which they first take as a sick prank.

After one of the women goes missing, her father and the other sorority sisters try to find her and who could be behind her disappearance. Tensions rise as one of the sisters drinks and pushes the crisis, while another one of the women is at a crossroads in her life and dealing with an emotionally unstable boyfriend.

While they try to uncover the truth, will they realize that they are not alone before it’s too late?

The Good:

The lighting is exceptional, especially when used emphasized certain aspects (the features of the house, the women, and the décor) and hide others (namely the killer). The use of shadow and light were so cleverly crafted; it shows the time and effort that went into the shots and their planning.

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The music and, maybe more importantly, the absence of music were also spot on. There were times that it would have been easy to put in cheap music to superficially heighten the effect of the scene, but not having it made it more memorable and suspenseful (especially the scene when Jess and Phyl were downstairs talking alone).  

And the most important thing – the characters had character. I could tell you about Jess, Barb, Phyl, Clare, and Mrs. Mac because they had something to tell. Barb may have been difficult to personally like, but she has clear motives and actions. You might not agree with Jess, but you understand her. So, when we got to the last girls, it was difficult to watch because we established a connection.

The Bad:

Maybe I’ve watched too many video nasties and splatter films, but I was surprised at how tame the death scenes were. Not that that’s intrinsically bad. I guess I was just was expecting more.

Brain Roll Juice:

That was also a bold choice

There’s a good amount of juice to roll that brain around in. Many reviewers have discussed at length about Jess and her firm decision to have an abortion as a very powerful statement, which it certainly is. It’s also super rare to find in a horror movie, especially a slasher movie. Women having agency over their bodies in an art-form where they often don’t is surprising. The sad note is that this is before the boom of the slasher genre in which the art-form (horror) created the tropes that this film didn’t participate in.  It seems like Bob Clark was trying to give women a voice, even in horror, before it was muddled into the annals of, well….

I watch it for the articles

But actually, I want to talk about character for one more second, or at least identity. Again, as this was fresh and free from the land of some of tropes that would come to be, it was refreshing to see that each girl was not just a Spice Girl-type representative. They had depth. They had character. Even the girl that was murdered first was still part of the story, the main story. She wasn’t just forgotten, not by the characters and not by the viewer.

Comparison and Bottom-Line:

It’s hard not to compare all three films, but I’m only human (mostly). Creating a remake is difficult because you often lose what made the first one so good. Sometimes even with the most precise planning and plotting, you just can’t create what was and replicate why it struck a nerve with people.

And however it happened, be it everything just falling into place and creating a Festivus miracle, the first movie worked and still works. The screams of Jess on the landing are just as heartbreaking. The fumbling of an old man trying to find his glasses just knocked off from a snowball, while waiting for a daughter who will never arrive, is still unnerving. Just as the ending is still effective and haunting.

These are the moments that will stay with us long after it’s over, not the incomprehensible snarky mess of 2006, and not the well-meaning but detached addition to the legacy in 2019. Real moments, real human emotions and empathy, felt between us.

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And isn’t that what the holidays are supposed to be about?  

Probably. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Also props for having a competent detective

When not ravaging through the wilds of Detroit with Jellybeans the Cat, J.M. Brannyk (a.k.a. Boxhuman) reviews mostly supernatural and slasher films from the 70's-90's and is dubiously HauntedMTL's Voice of Reason. Aside from writing, Brannyk dips into the podcasts, and is the composer of many of HauntedMTL's podcast themes.

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Movies n TV

Suburban Screams, A Killer Comes Home

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Episode two of John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams was more true crime than supernatural. It was the horrific, dark tale of a serial killer who escapes from jail and comes back to his hometown for revenge. And boy, does he find it.

The story

This story begins with a man coming out to his front porch to find a mysterious package wrapped in newspaper. He opens it to find a rotting, maggot-ridden head that he certainly didn’t order.

The head was placed there by a killer named Allan Legere. In 1986, Legere brutally murdered a couple in their homes during a robbery. For this, he was sentenced to life in prison.

However, he escaped from prison in May of 1989. Enraged at his old hometown, he returns there and starts a brutal killing rampage. He wants revenge on the people who wronged him. At least, the people he believes wronged him. Rather than focusing on the police who arrested him, or the judge and jury who convicted him, he decides to go after the journalists who reported on the case.

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Of course, he also murders a whole bunch of old ladies for some reason. And a priest.

Annette Holland in Suburban Screams.

Legere is still alive, and still in prison. But as he’s escaped once, many people believe he might do so again. And if he does, he’ll almost surely try to pick up right where he left off.

This tale is told from the point of view of the journalists, Rick MacLean and David Cadogan. Both men have been deeply impacted by this incident. They are still shaken. And still very, very angry.

What worked

This episode was far better than the first, right from the maggot-headed start. The gore was intense. The story was horrifying. And it’s made even more horrifying, knowing that it is, for the most part, true.

The thing that made this episode stand out is that it feels so much like several beloved horror stories. I would suggest that this story inspired John Carpenter’s Halloween, except that that movie came out in 1978. The events in this episode took place from 1986 to 1989.

To realize that a person could cause so much pain, and take so many lives, is possibly the scariest thing most of us can imagine. And while this story is, sadly, not unique, it is certainly worse than most.

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What didn’t work

After watching this episode, I can only really think of one complaint. There is a scene with the first victims, two elderly ladies. The first woman is home alone when someone begins hammering on her front door. We are meant to believe that it is the killer, but it ends up being her sister with a lovely salad. But if the two sisters lived together, why was she knocking to be let in? I can only believe that this is meant as misdirection to the point of being a jump scare. And this feels cheap. Especially when the rest of the episode was more on the level.

Is it True?

While I do think parts of this episode were, let’s say dramatized, I do think this happened. There are just too many facts that would be far too easy to look up. To my dismay, the part that is easiest to look up is the horrific deaths of many innocent people.

This was a much better episode than the one that preceded it. The story is compelling and frightening. It is well told, both from the survivors being interviewed and the actors recreating the moments of horrific history. I’m hoping that the rest of the season is more like this episode, and less like the first.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Suburban Screams, Kelly

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Launched in October of 2023, Suburban Screams is the latest project by acclaimed horror master John Carpenter. It’s a true crime/unsolved mystery series covering events that have terrified people living in, you guessed it, the suburbs.

The story

Our first episode, titled Kelly, is the story of two roommates named Dan and Joey. The actual Dan and Joey tell the story from their own perspective, interspersed with dramatic reenactments. This did feel very much like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.

One night when Dan and Joey have their girlfriends over, they decide to play with an Ouija board. Since they don’t have one, Dan makes one on a pizza box, complete with a planchette. This is, of course, when things go terribly wrong.

Still from Suburban Screams, Kelly.

Honestly, I have never heard anyone say, “I had a great time with that Ouija board, I’m really glad we did that.”

The couples make contact with a spirit named Kelly. This is very upsetting to Dan’s girlfriend May, as she had a cousin named Kelly who went missing and is presumed dead.

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Dan then finds himself haunted by Kelly. He throws up water, finds his kitchen chairs stacked on the table, and is followed around by a haunting song. Dan feels like he won’t find peace until he helps Kelly find peace.

What worked

There was a lot to enjoy in this first episode. Specifically, I loved the horror visuals. Dan’s vision was very creepy, as an example. And I loved the shots of the body floating down the river. These images were eerie and upsetting.

The storytelling from Dan and Joey was also well done. While I have my doubts about the validity of this story, these two men believe wholeheartedly in what they’re saying. I certainly believe that they experienced something disturbing. Either that or they are some fantastic actors.

What didn’t work

That being said, some things rubbed me the wrong way in this episode.

I’d like to start with the herbs Joey burned during the Ouija session. It looked like sage, or maybe sweetgrass.

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As some of you might know, I am a practicing witch. So I do feel the need to point out that if you want to open a door and invite spirits in, you probably don’t want to be burning sage or sweetgrass as those are going to negate any spiritual activity. This was for sure the action of someone who does not know what the hell they are doing. It just irritated me.

Also, maybe don’t throw open a door indiscriminately to the spirit world. Just saying.

I also didn’t love the acting by Ben Walton-Jones, who played Dan. While it wasn’t a terrible job, the character felt overacted. I don’t know how he had room for that pizza, since he was chewing the scenery most of the episode.

Honestly, this episode felt a little underproduced. When I saw John Carpenter’s name, I was expecting something with some real production value. Great acting, great effects, great music. None of those were in effect here. I’m not sure where their budget went, because it didn’t go to any of the things it should have.

Is it true?

So that brings us to the big question. Do I think this story is true?

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Well, it is verifiable that Kelly Lynn Fitzpatrick was a young woman who unfortunately was found dead in 1999 in Quebec. The rest of the story, so far as I can find, is up to speculation.

Do I believe someone could contact the dead on an Ouija board they made out of a pizza box? Yes, I do. Because Dan made it with his own hands it might have worked better than a store-bought board. But do I think he was haunted to this extent by the spirit of Kelly?

Well, I would say that I believe this about as much as I believe the story of the Amityville house. Something certainly happened here, but I am sure that the details shared in this episode of Suburban Screams are highly overblown.

In the end, while I did have fun watching this episode, this fun was tainted. I would have enjoyed it more if it was presented as a fictional story loosely based on real-life events. Because that is almost certainly what it was.

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Fallout, The Beginning

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We’ve now reached the end of Fallout, season one. As I mentioned during the last review, I was heartily concerned that this show, like so many others, was going to drop the ball at the finale and ruin an entire season.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. This episode was everything it needed to be and more.

Let’s discuss.

The story

We begin our story with Maximus returning to the Brotherhood of Steel compound. He has a head, which he is claiming is the real head of Wilzig.

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I don’t know why he thought that was going to work.

Of course, it doesn’t. The elder cleric is about to kill Maximus until Dane says that they hurt their foot.

Because of this, the Brotherhood is sent out to get the head. Or rather, what’s inside of it. They head to the city run by Moldaver. This happens to be the same place Lucy and The Ghoul are headed.

Still from Amazon Prime's Fallout.

There, Lucy does manage to find her father. What she ends up finding is so much more than she wanted to find.

What worked

The first thing I have to discuss is how seamlessly the storylines of the series combined.

Each of our four main characters has been on their own journey. Lucy is trying to save her father. Maximus wants to become a knight. The Ghoul wants to find his family. Norm wants to know what’s going on in Vault 31.

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I sure wasn’t expecting all of these stories to come together in the way that they did. And to preserve the ending, I don’t dare say more. I will only say that yes, all four stories tie in perfectly with one another. By the end, two characters end up having the very same goal.

As I hinted before, I did not see the twist ending coming.

Ella Purnell in Fallout.

Yes, we might have guessed some things from the last episode. We of course guessed that Lucy’s dad was involved in some nefarious and probably sci-fi way. But the way this story twists at the end is nothing short of serpent-like. Which is why I cannot go into too much detail here. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to experience it blind.

Finally, I can give the Fallout season finale the most important praise I can ever give a finale. It did its number one job, getting us excited for season two. We have answers, but now we have new and more exciting questions. And even better, we have a desire to see vengeance done.

What didn’t work

Now that the season is done, though, I can bring up something that bothered me through all eight episodes.

I don’t buy Lucy and Maximus’s relationship.

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Maybe because it’s rushed. Maybe because the two actors don’t have a lot of chemistry. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure even now either character could tell you a single thing about the other. There is just no spark between the two. So their love story feels tacked on. I honestly feel like their love story could have been removed from the show entirely and it would have no negative impact.

I also didn’t buy Dane’s confession. This is a minor spoiler, but it comes up early in the episode. Dane confesses that they hurt their foot so that they wouldn’t have to go into the wastelands.

And at first, I kept expecting Maximus to thank them later. I honestly thought that they were just lying to save Maximus’s life. But no, as it turns out, they were not.

But it just doesn’t make sense. The motivations don’t jive. I honestly think it would have been better for the story if they had lied to save Maximus’s life.

At least then there’d be one other Brother of Steel who had some nobility.

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In the end, this first season of Fallout was everything I could ask for. So far as I can tell, it was everything fans of the Fallout franchise could ask for. There wasn’t a bad episode in the bunch. Honestly, the only real complaint I had was that the season was so short.

I’ll be counting down the days to season two, and I hope you’ll be joining me then. Because war, war never changes.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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