31 Days of Horror: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

silent night deadly night

Halloween (1978) was such a huge success that it essentially ignited the 1980s slasher craze and spawned a whole slew of holiday-themed knock-offs. Naturally, it didn’t take too long for someone to make a Christmas-themed slasher. Although, if you want to get technical, Black Christmas (1974) was the first Christmas-themed slasher and it came out four years before Halloween hit theaters (though it is now considered a classic of the genre, Black Christmas was a bit of a dud at the box-office which is why Halloween gets all the accolades for kicking off the slasher crazy).

While I am clearly still a horror fan, I am less and less interested in the gore aspects of the genre. As a younger lad, I used to seek out the most controversial, the most gore-soaked films I could find. Fans of horror often talk about the kills in the films. We look for how many people are violently murdered and hope for interesting ways in which they reach their demise. There is a whole psychological essay one could write about why we like this stuff (from the thrill of being scared to the technical aspects of filming the stunts and practical aspects of created gore) but I’ll leave that to someone else.

As I get older I find the violence less interesting, but still enjoy the thrill of being scared, the filmmaking techniques, and the more suspenseful aspects of the genre. A good horror film can create a mood, an eeriness that I still find quite wonderful.

Silent Night, Deadly Night is a nasty piece of work. The plot begins with a young boy who watches his father and mother get murdered by a man in a Santa suit. He’s sent to a strict Catholic orphanage where the sadistic Mother Superior beats him for the simplest of errors. When he’s all grown up he’s sent into a long killing spree over one Christmas holiday.

While there is plenty of violence, it isn’t that much more than I’ve seen in a million other slashers. It is a very low budget film and that actually gives it a bit of charm. But I think what made me rather hate this film is that there are no heroes. There was no one to root for. Now I have no problem with anti-heroes, and I don’t think every film needs to have a full-fledged hero or a white knight. I am completely down with ambiguous morality in a film.

But with a film like this, where we follow a boy as he gets traumatized as a boy and then turns into a crazed killer but we never really get to know him, or anybody else. Anti-heroes like Tony Soprano or Walter White, both are terrible humans, but they are also incredibly charismatic. We get to know them throughout their respective television series. They aren’t people we’d root for in real life, but within the context of the series, we are interested in the plights.

The main character in this film is just generic. We never spend enough time with him to really care about what is happening to him psychologically. And so when he starts to kill it is just nameless slaughter.

31 Days of Horror: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

return of michael myers

When Halloween 3: Season of the Witch underperformed both at the box office and with critical reception the idea of an anthology series based around the holiday disappeared. Fans and producers alike clamored for the return of Michael Myers and with this film they got him. He would never again be missing from the franchise for good or for ill.

We begin ten years after the events of Halloween: 2. Good old Mike has been in a coma all that time, resting quietly at a federal sanitarium. For reasons that go unexplained the powers that be have decided to transfer him back to Smith’s Grove the sanitarium, he escaped from all those years ago. The two idiot paramedics that are transporting him not only don’t bother strapping the villain down but discuss how he’s still got one living relative in Haddonville. Naturally, this pulls Michael Myers out of his coma and on another killing rampage on Halloween.

The surviving relative is Jamie, Laurie Strode’s young daughter who is now living with an adopted family (in this film Laurie died in a car crash sometime previous). 

Michael is back, having survived the fire from Halloween 2. Ditto Dr. Loomis. 

In a lot of ways, this film acts as a return to course. Fans hated Part III, the film seems to say, so we’ll do everything that made the first two films so popular and nothing else. Then we’ll turn it up a notch or two. There is a Strode family but this time the girl is even younger. It has Dr. Loomis but he’s acting even crazier than before. And of course, it has Michael Myers who is ready to kill even more people.

It more or less works. It doesn’t have nearly the originality or style as the first one, but it gets the job done.

31 Days of Horror: Halloween III: Season of the Witch

season of the witch

Halloween Ends, the third and final film in David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy came out this weekend. Since I’m not likely to see it in theaters I thought it would be fun to return to the original set of films. I’ve seen the original Halloween (1978) many times and I watched Halloween II (1981) a few weeks ago so this time I hit up Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). I probably would have watched that one anyway because the early chatter on Halloween Ends is that it steals a lot from this film.

For those not in the know, the Halloween franchise is a bit weird. The original was written and directed by John Carpenter (with a little help from Debra Hill). It was a huge success and essentially created the 1980s slasher craze. Carpenter had no interest in a sequel but pressures from the studio (and presumably big sacks of cash) helped persuade him to write Halloween II. Both follow a young Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in a breakout performance) being followed by a psychopathic killer named Michael Myers.

When part II was a success more pressure and more bags of money came into play but Carpenter put his foot down this time. He didn’t want to be a part of another sequel. Eventually, he agreed that there could be a sequel but there would be no Laurie Strode or Michael Myers. They could do an anthology series with each film being based on the general concept of the Halloween holiday is scary.

From this Halloween III: Season of the Witch was born. It has nothing at all to do with the original two films. In fact, the original movie is apparently a film inside the world of Season of the Witch as we see advertisements for it and actual clips from the film on the television within this movie. Initially, audiences hated part III. So much so that the anthology idea was scrapped after its release and part IV brought back Michael Myers and prominently displayed the in the posters and even called it The Return of Michael Myers. I watched that one recently as well, so I’ll talk about it in another post. But for now, let’s actually get to Season of the Witch.

An old man collapses at a gas station and is taken to the local hospital. He mutters something sinister and passes out. Later another man dressed in a nice suit and tie crushes the old man’s skull with his bare hands. Then he walks to his car and sets himself on fire.

The old man’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) talks to Dan (Tom Atkins) the doctor on call, about what happened. They begin to investigate which takes them to the sleepy town of Santa Mira, CA where the Silver Shamrock headquarters is. It seems that was the last place the old went to before winding up dead. There they find a conspiracy involving killer robots and Halloween masks that turn your head into buts, snakes, and other creepy crawlers.

Neither Neklkin nor Atkins give what you’d call a great performance, but they are serviceable. The story isn’t great and it is a big pile of 1980s cheese, but I kind of love it. The concept of a novel holiday company being run by an evil genius with supernatural tendencies is kind of awesome. It shouldn’t work, but it totally does.

It is interesting that initial audiences hated this film, but in recent years it has been reconsidered and it now has a very large fan base. I can see how filmgoers coming to the theater in 1982 expecting another violent romp with Michael Myers would have seen this and come out scratching their heads. But now it seems like such a bold move by the filmmakers. In a world drenched in sequels, prequels, and reimaginings, where the MCU has created an unstoppable universe where every film and TV show plays off one another, it is almost impossible to imagine a film like this getting released today. That alone is pretty cool. I wonder what people would think of it now had it been released on its own, without any ties to the Halloween franchise. Would audiences than have been more receptive? Would it now be a forgotten classic? Who knows? But I’m glad it exists.

31 Days Of Horror: Ready or Not (2019)

ready or not

Every once in a while you find a film that just hits your sweet spot. It might not be a perfect film, but it is a perfect film for you. Ready or Not is that type of film for me. It is difficult to talk about the film without giving away some vital plot points so if you are the type of person who wants to go into a film completely fresh (and I do recommend that – though since even a basic synopsis of this film gives it away that will be difficult) then stop reading now.

Grace (Samara Weaving) is set to marry Alex (Mark O’Brien). His family is rich, strange, and probably psychotic. On their wedding night, Alex tells Grace that at the stroke of midnight she must play a game. What type of game? Well, she’ll get to choose it, but probably checkers or chess or something silly like that.

The family gathers in a room full of old weapons and a big table. The patriarch (Henry Czerny) tells them of how an ancestor made a deal with a man (or possibly the devil) on a boat and ever since the family’s fortunes have increased and will continue to do so as long as they keep this tradition. Whenever a new member is added to the family he/she must pick a card and play a game. Simple as that.

Grace draws the wrong card. It says “Hide and Seek,” which means she must hide and the family must seek (and kill) her. Some of the family seem reluctant to play, while others (like the demented aunt, gleefully played by Nicky Guadagni) are excited by the hunt. Everybody agrees to play because if they don’t kill Alex then the entire family will die horrible deaths by the time the sun rises.

The movie smartly plays this rather ridiculous (and yet still entirely awesome) story seriously which gives it some real stakes and makes us care bout Grace’s plight, but not so seriously that it becomes overwrought. The action is well done with the violence coming quickly, sometimes surprisingly, and often quite hilariously. The tension is built well and there is some pitch-perfect black comedy.

I’ve seen Samara Weaving in a few things and I’ve always enjoyed her performances (she’s really quite great in Mayhem), I hope she gets all the stardom she wants. She’s fantastic in this balancing fear, action, and dry comedy perfectly well.

This really is a film made for me. I love good horror comedies, and this is a great horror comedy.

31 Days of Horror: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Miss Osbourne (1981)


I’ve recently watched several adaptations of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story and this is by far the strangest and most interesting, and not just because it is much more explicit in its violence and sex than the other films were even allowed to be.

Director Walerian Borowczyk seems to understand that we all know the story already and he uses that familiarity to flip the table on it. Excepting a short, shocking introduction the entire film takes place in a house, Dr. Jekyll’s house. He’s having a party celebrating his engagement with Miss Osbourne. The cream of society is there. An elderly woman plays piano while a young girl does a ballerina dance.

It is a nice party. Until it isn’t. Udo Kier plays Hyde as an ID unleashed. While the other adaptations I’ve seen merely hint at his sexuality Borowczyk allows him to go all in. That dancing girl? Hyde rapes her to death. He does the same to a man-servant. His giant, red member is exposed as the music does a horror sting. He commits violence with glee. But it is not just Hyde who is unleashed. When he ties up a stodgy Colonel, the old man’s daughter pulls down her top and lifts up her skirt. She literally begs Hyde to have his way with her while her father watches. Somehow by watching Hyde live out his every fantasy she’s able to toss off all the shackles of respectability and repression.

Though Hyde has raped and murdered several people, the men deem it necessary to not only lock the women up in their rooms but to drug them so that they will sleep through the night. Somehow it is better for them to not be frightened by the ordeal than to stay awake and be able to fight for their lives. Victorian mores must be kept up, even when life and death is literally on the line.

The film gives us a very little story. We watch the guests come in and sign the engagement book. They have dinner and there is a sprinkling of conversation about Dr. Jekyll and his theories of transcendental science. There is the dance and then the rest of the film is Hyde unleashing his own brand of hell.

Borowczyk and cinematographer Noël Véry shoot the film with soft lighting and a soft focus giving it a dreamlike (or nightmarish) feel. It is very beautiful looking even when extreme acts of violence are happening. The score is very modern as well, filled with droning sounds that only add to the nightmare.

It is not a film for the faint of heart. It is very strange, and pretty extreme at times. It was fascinating to me to watch it having just seen a few of the older versions of the story which is maybe why I kind of loved it.

Breakheart Pass (1975)

breakheart pass

I very much like Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries. I have recently come to love westerns. I’ve always dug a good movie set on a train. I ought to have been a fan of Breakheart Pass, a murder mystery/western set on a train starring Charles Bronson. Sadly, I found it a rather tepid affair. You can read my review here.

The Sheik (1921)

the shief bluray

While I am a great lover of old movies I’ve only recently begun dipping my toe into the silent era. I gotta admit I still struggle to watch some of those films. They often contain some great visuals, but without audible dialogue, and often mismatched music, my mind tends to wander. But the more I watch the more I’m able to follow along.

The Shiek stars Rudolph Valentino who was a huge star at the time. It is a bit outdated by today’s standards but is still a pretty entertaining watch. My review is over at Cinema Sentries.

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1956)

incredible shrinking man

I am a complete and utter sucker for movies in which people shrink down to tiny sizes. I just love the effects of giant-sized everyday objects. The Criterion Collection recently released this cinematic adaptation of a Richard Matheson story and it has tons of fantastic special effects involving a little man up against big objects (and critters). My review can be read here.

The Cheat (1931)

the cheat bluray

Not all classic films are true “classics” if you catch my meaning. Case in point is this Tallulah Bankhead film which is rather dull to watch. It does have some great Pre-Code moments – sexual innuendo, human branding and attempted rape – but that still can’t save it from being an utter bore. Here’s my full review.