Category Archives: Christmas Movies

Black Christmas (1974)

black christmas 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s in the attic.

It’s Christmas time at the sorority house, but as the girls celebrate the season they continue to get harassing phone calls from a strange man who speaks in different and frightening voices. Unbeknownst to them the man has snuck into the attic of their house and the calls are coming in from another room. As the night progresses the girls begin to disappear forcing the lone survivor to fight off the killer by herself.

I have not seen the remake of this film and due to negative response that I have heard I don’t think I want to either. This review pertains to the original only. If you have seen the remake and disliked it you should still give this film a try.  Despite its low budget it is quite effective and it slowly builds up the tension in a nice compact style with a great twist ending.

Of course one of the things that make this movie so good is the humor. I loved Marian Waldman as the alcoholic house mother Mrs. McHenry who stashes bottles of whiskey in all sorts of goofy places. The vulgar Santa who swears even as the kids are sitting on his lap is a hoot and a nice precursor to Bad Santa, but my favorite is the poster of a sweet old lady giving the finger.

One of the best moments on the terror end is the part where the killer’s eyeball can be seen looking through a small crack in the doorway, which is memorable. The scene where the camera pans from each girl’s nervous and frightened face as they listen to the weird voices emanating from the phone receiver is very well done although it would have been even stronger had the Christmas music not have been playing in the background.

The performances are top rate and I liked the fact that the girls all have distinct personalities from one another. Margot Kidder as the vulgar and obnoxious sorority sister Barb is a scene stealer and I’d say this is the best performance of her career. I loved when she calls one of the more conservative members of the group a ‘professional virgin’, or has the audacity to call her own mother a ‘gold-plated whore’. The part where she gets a young kid drunk and even swears in front of him is also funny as is her conversation about a species of turtle that can have sex for three straight days without stopping. Yet through all of her outrageousness director Bob Clark still manages to create a three-dimensional character by showing her as also being lonely, moody, and suffering from asthma, which is good.

Olivia Hussey as Jess is terrific. She is poised, confident, intelligent, and sweet and the type of character the viewer can immediately connect with and care about. Her face has a wonderful fragility about it as well a natural beauty. The look of terror coming from her eyes seems genuine and the horror is made more effective because she responds to it in a believable and relatable way.

Keir Dullea is good as Jess’s high strung boyfriend Peter. I had to chuckle a bit seeing him here as it brought back memories of what playwright Noel Coward once said about him “Keir Dullea gone tomorrow”, which seemed to have some credence since he was starring in the masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey just a few years earlier and now delegated to a supporting role in a low budget horror film. I always felt that his reserved and emotionless delivery can work when given the right role and for the most part it clicks here despite the fact that he was pushing 40 at the time and not quite looking college age.

I read one review where the critic complained that he did not feel it was believable for a killer to be hiding in an attic and no one else in the house aware of it, but the house was a big old building and for me it seemed possible especially since it was only for a short period of time. Overall I felt this was a very plausible premise that is handled in a realistic fashion without all the glaring loopholes, which is one reason I continue to enjoy it no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

However, there are a few quibbles. One is the policeman who gets his throat slashed while sitting in an unmarked police car just outside of the sorority home. I would think a seasoned office would be able to spot someone sinking up on him while he is inside a car especially since it was otherwise not a busy street and since it was wintertime I think it would be highly doubtful that he would be sitting there with the driver’s side window rolled down. I also had to roll my eyes at the scene where Jess is trying to get out of the house as she is being chased by the killer and yet for some inexplicable reason the front door conveniently jams even though no had a problem with it before.

Bob Clark shows what a talented director he is and it is too bad his career and life was cut short in a car accident in 2007. It is one thing to have a big budget and access to all the state-of-the-art special effects, but it is another to make a memorable movie on a shoestring. Despite its low budget it doesn’t seem hampered by many of the limitations that other similar films suffer.

Some may prefer lots of gore, which this one has very little of, and a bigger-than-life monster or bad guy, but the reason this is a classic is because they go with the philosophy that less is more. Any self-respecting horror fan should see this film and most likely appreciate it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 11, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Clark

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Special Edition), Blu-ray

You Better Watch Out (1980)

you better watch out

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: This Santa isn’t jolly.

As a young boy Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) witnessed his mother being groped by Santa Claus, which was apparently his father in the disguise, but it nonetheless created a disturbing image in his mind that shattered the ideal he had for the mythical man. Years later as an adult working a thankless job at a toy factory Harry starts to believe he is Santa Claus and even spies on the neighborhood children to see which ones have been naughty or nice and keeps meticulous records on each. Then on Christmas Eve he dresses up as Santa and delivers presents to some needy kids at a hospital, but also comes into contact with a group of condescending people outside of a church who he then kills. This sends out a police alert where everyone in the city including the regular townspeople is on the hunt for him and Harry tries to avoid them while continuing to deliver his gifts.

For some reason this film never created the controversy of portraying Santa Claus as a killer like Silent Night Deadly Night did even though this film came out 4 years earlier.  Critic Leonard Maltin came down hard on that one in his book, but seemed to like this one, which is the whole reason I gave this one a chance 25 years ago, but I remember disliking it. Since this film has managed to inspire a small cult following I decided to give it another chance, but I didn’t like it any better.

Part of the problem is that it is very slow and plodding with the majority of the film focusing on Harry as he goes through the daily routines of his pointless and lonely life. Nothing that he does is compelling and sometimes it is even confusing. It is hard to call this a horror film even though that is what it is considered because there are really no scares at all and the gore is at an extreme minimum. Maggart gives a solid performance in the lead, but as my acting teacher in school once said a good actor cannot save a weak script, or as he put it ‘you can’t shine shit.’

There are only two killings and neither of them is effective. The killing done outside a church is captured in a choppy editing style with bloody special effects that look fake and it is carried out by Harry while using a toy ax, which seemed ludicrous. I also didn’t think it made a lot of sense for the victims to have such a snarky and sarcastic behavior especially when they were just coming out of a church service. What is worse is that when the victims are killed no one comes to their aid to see if they can save them they just stand on the church steps and stare at their lifeless bodies. An APB is also put out which is broadcast on the TV news stating that the killer escaped in a white van with Christmas sled painted on its side, which is distinct enough that somebody somewhere would have spotted it and yet Harry continues to drive around unheeded.

SPOILER ALERT!

The ending is the weakest part. For one thing some townspeople recognize Harry as being the killer Santa and chase him down through the neighborhood streets while carrying torches, but just where in this modern day and age are people going to find torches? Some fans of the film insist that this is homage to the film Frankenstein, but to be clever it still has to make sense and this doesn’t.  There is also the issue of when Harry drives his van off a bridge instead of going into the river below it instead flies off into the sky like Santa on his sled. Now, since the majority of the film was done from Harry’s perspective this might simply be his last delusional moment before he dies, but the film needed to confirm this and doesn’t, which makes it more annoying than anything.

Writer/director Lewis Jackson has stated in later interviews that he got the idea for this movie while smoking a joint and I think he was still smoking them when he made this thing. The majority of people come away from this thing feeling the same way about it that I did, but I know there are a few that insist it is ‘brilliant’ and if you are one them feel free to leave your comments below and let me know what it is you think I am missing because after two viewings I just don’t see it.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Alternate Title: Christmas Evil

Rated R

Director: Lewis Jackson

Studio: Edward R. Pressman Productions

Available: VHS, DVD (Special Edition and in 3D), Amazon Instant Video