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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.

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.

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

Dahmer, Lionel

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Most true crime content includes a dramatic courtroom scene. Two dashing lawyers face off, defending their clients no matter how gruesome their crimes were.

While there was a courtroom scene, it wasn’t exactly what I expected. It’s something that, again, I don’t think I’ve seen before. 

Let’s discuss. 

As the title would suggest, most of this episode was from Lionel Dahmer’s point of view. And Lionel, it should go without saying, is not in a great place right now. His son, who he loves, is in a hell of a lot of trouble. And Lionel is doing his best to make this whole mess not his fault.

Richard Jenkins and Molly Ringwald in Dahmer.

The fault, as far as he’s concerned, lies with Joyce. It should be no surprise to anyone that Joyce doesn’t agree. She’s been doing her best to distance herself as much as possible from her oldest son and former husband as possible. 

This doesn’t work, as reporters find and hound her just the same. 

With Jeff in jail, an angry population doesn’t have anyone to turn their anger on, except Jeff’s family. And they are all getting harassed. Jeff’s grandma, suffering from dementia, is having her home raided by the police. People are coming forward, claiming to be Jeff’s friends from childhood. We know that’s a like, Jeff didn’t have any friends. Accusations are flying against Lionel, that he sexually abused Jeff when he was a little boy. 

All in all, it’s hard to not feel bad for the Dahmers. Yeah, they were bad parents. They made some pretty serious mistakes. But honestly, no more than lots of parents. And most people don’t go on cannibalistic murder sprees. 

Now, to the court scene. Honestly, this was so hard to watch. 

Dahmer’s attorney tried to convince him that he can plead insanity like Ed Gein. On the off chance you don’t know who Ed Gein is, he’s the notorious serial killer who inspired both Norman Bates and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He killed women who resembled his mother, cut them up, and did stuff to them. And yes, just like it says in this episode when he was caught he sold himself out for an apple pie with a slice of cheddar cheese on top.

Gein spent the rest of his life in a mental ward, and Lionel would like to see the same for Jeff. It’s hard to argue with him.

But that argument fails. And before sentencing, the families of the victims are allowed to speak.

They have a lot to say. 

This is what I meant when I said the courtroom scenes were unusual. We saw non of the actual trial, it was hopped right over. This is normally a dramatic moment in true crime shows. Instead, we see the impact that these murders had. Dahmer’s actions destroyed his family. He destroyed the families of the people he killed. 

DAvid Barrera, Matthew Alan and Scott Michael Morgan in Dahmer.

There is so much collateral damage when a life is lost. And that, I think, is what this episode is truly about. The extensive, heartbreaking collateral damage of Jeff Dahmer. 

With Dahmer sentenced to fifteen life sentences, I’m honestly not sure how we still have two episodes to go. One I could understand, but two seems a bit much. I’m hoping that the creators have some additional chapters of the story that we haven’t yet explored. 

I guess we’ll have to see. 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

“The Menu” Gives Us A Bloody Good Time

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Writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy have outdone themselves with the plot of “The Menu.” Spoilers ahead!

The Plot

Yes, chef!

Tyler and Margot are attending a high-class restaurant located on a remote island for the meal of a lifetime. This meal comes at a steep cost: thousands of dollars ($1,250 a plate to be exact) as well as possibly your life. Those who attend the dinner at Hawthorne are the type who frequently ask: “Do you know who I am?”

Chef Julian does not care who you are, and after years of serving the privileged elite, he has had enough. Julian commands his chefs and the room with a loud clap, his chefs answering him in tandem with a bone-chilling “yes, chef.” Ralph Fiennes as Julian gives a shiveringly scary performance. Julian commands the space as well as everyone in it and Ralph Fiennes is dastardly, dark, and daunting.

Chef Julian’s sidekick is creepy herself, doing his bidding just as the other chefs do. Female subservience is addressed through this side character as well as sous chef Catherine, who created one of the courses that is served to the guests.

This course is introduced by Catherine telling the story of how Chef Julian tried to have sexual relations with her. When she denied him, he refused to look at her in the eye anymore. Before Catherine serves her dish, she stabs Julian with scissors in the thigh, getting revenge for his behavior. Julian acts none the wiser, pulling the scissors from his thigh before serving the diners the hunk of meat with the same kind of scissors plunged into it.

Everyone obeys Chef Julian except for Margot. Women and men in the room accept that this is their last night alive, not protesting too hard or trying to escape. Margot is the only fighter. Perhaps this is why she escapes.

The Verdict

In a world where we have seen a rise in slasher films, The Menu lives in a place between darkly satirical horror and a slasher film.

The Menu is whip smart, remarking on our class system, displaying those who can afford a $1,250 a plate meal on a remote island against the thought of the character of Margot. Margot is revealed halfway through the film to have been a sex worker, hired by Tyler to attend the dinner. His girlfriend, the original intended guest, had broken up with him and Tyler knew that there was never a table for one at Hawthorne.

Tyler knew everyone would die at the meal, yet still involved Margot, an innocent bystander who turns out to be the only one that makes it out alive. Chef Julian does this as it is clear he believes Tyler tainted his final menu experience by not bringing the guest who RSVP’d.

Tyler gets what is coming to him in the end. He comments on each course in mostly negative ways and snaps photos (which was expressly forbidden). Chef Julian asks Tyler to make him a meal since he knows so much more than anyone about cuisine. When Tyler’s meal doesn’t live up to Chef’s expectations, he is killed.

Margot is juxtaposed with the famous and rich at the dinner who can afford such an experience while she is being paid to attend. The film remarks on the lavish actions of the rich in the movie versus those who may not know where their next meal will come from.

Final Thoughts

The food that the film shows is gorgeous and conceptual, Chef Julian giving backstory to each dish. The film is the darkest version of Hell’s Kitchen I’ve ever seen. As a foodie and a horror lover, this film touched on all my favorite genres. It was deep, had something to say, and screamed it at the top of its lungs.

I respect the filmmakers and writers of this movie as it was compelling, engrossing, and kept me guessing, all while remarking on important social themes.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Dahmer, Cassandra

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Episode seven of Netflix’s Dahmer brings the spotlight, finally, to the hero of our story. Glenda Cleveland. 

Glenda was Jeff’s neighbor. And honestly, I can’t think of a worse neighbor. A horrific stench is always coming from his apartment. He has people over, and they make a lot of noise. 

While they’re dying. 

Niecy Nash in Dahmer

If you’ll recall episode one of Dahmer ended with all of his neighbors, including Glenda, being forced to leave their homes. The whole building was declared a crime scene. They’re not given any place to go, of course. 

Everyone’s got a few thousand dollars socked away for an unexpected motel stay, right? 

Fortunately, Glenda was able to get a motel room. And that’s where she is when Reverend Jesse Jackson finds her. 

Glenda pours out her story to Reverend Jackson. The rest of the episode consists of her dark and troubling encounters with Dahmer. 

The most compelling scene, I think, is when Dahmer brings Glenda a sandwich. He’s being evicted, and he knows it’s because she’s been complaining about the smells coming out of his apartment. 

He tries to pour on his little boy charm. He tells her that he got his apartment cleaned, just for her. He brings her a pulled meat sandwich as a present. 

Notice I don’t say pulled pork, because I’m fairly sure it was human meat. Or, it was just drugged.

Or both. 

This episode just hummed with tension and rage. I was so happy to see Reverend Jackson tear into the police in the most polite way possible. I hated seeing what Glenda went through. And even though I know she lives through this horrific encounter, I held my breath the entire time she was alone with Jeff. 

Dahmer is certainly not afraid to jump back and forth between the past and present. But they are careful to never do it in such a way that I felt lost. And I honestly think this was the best way to do it. 

The reason for this is that it adds a level of suspense that Dahmer might have lacked without it. Suspense is something that true crime stories can lack. Especially well-known ones. We have heard this story before. We know how it ends. But in presenting the tale this way, first from one point of view and then another, it reveals sides of it that we may not have seen before. 

Glenda Cleveland, from the trial of Jeff Dahmer.

I loved seeing the story from Glenda’s point of view. She was brave, determined, and selfless. She had every right to be furious at the way the police dismissed her concerns for years. And yet she continued to handle everything professionally. She never stopped trying to help people, even when no one else seemed to care. And for that, she is a true hero. 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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