Review : Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night, Deadly Night is a slasher directed by Charles E. Sallier Jr and released in 1984. Depicting Santa Claus as a mass murderer, the film was very controversial upon release. The promotional campaign focused heavily on the killer being dressed as Santa. The result was negative reviews, angry crowds and ultimately censorship (the film was pulled off theaters a week after its release). Siskel & Ebert went as far as listing the names of the film crew and telling them “shame on you”. Well, shame on narrow-minded people because Silent Night, Deadly Night is a fantastic slasher !

On Christmas Eve, young Billy witnesses the murder of both his parents at the hands of a criminal dressed as Santa. Billy is sent to a Catholic orphanage with his little brother, Ricky, where he suffers years of abuse from the Mother Superior who believes the only way of helping Billy cope with his trauma is strict discipline. Ten years later, Billy finally seems to be leading a decent life, having found a job in a local toy store. However, when the Christmas season starts, Billy’s demons resurface and the young man goes on a killing spree, dressed as Santa and determined to punish the naughty !

Don’t be fooled by the killer Santa gimmick because Silent Night, Deadly Night is an excellent slasher ! The film gives a quick and effective portrait of the Chapman family. In a few minutes, it is quite apparent that this is a happy family, with loving parents and nice children. When the murders occur, you are already emotionally involved with our main character. The first act of the film focuses on Billy’s abuse during the time he spends at the orphanage. This is highly effective at not only explaining Billy’s mindset and behaviour but also at making the viewer care for this character whose life has been miserable since that traumatizing Christmas night. Billy is not a typical slasher killer in the sense that he isn’t a crazed psychopath but rather a victim whose psychosis has been nurished by an abusive environment. Instead of helping the young boy cope with the brutal death of his parents, all the adults around him try and repress his memory of that dreadful night. In distress, Billy acts out but rather than trying to understand his behaviour and provide help, all his actions are met with punishments. Spending so much time developping the character’s story is what makes the film different from a lot of slashers : it is a well-written tale and is not boring for one second.

When Billy has to dress up as Santa as part of his job, his mind cannot take it anymore and when he witnesses a co-worker being sexually assaulted, his psychosis comes back in full force. The rest of the film follows Billy as he goes on a killing spree to punish people he considers naughty. Silent Night, Deadly Night takes its time in developping a great story but doesn’t let that aspect diminish the slasher side of the film, which is, after all, the main event. Watching Santa Billy kill his victims in various ways is extremely fun from start to end. The kills are very creative and some of the best include a woman being impaled on antlers and a teen decapitated while sliding on a sleigh.

The acting is also very good, especially from Robert Brian Wilson, who plays Billy as an adult. He conveys emotion without the need for words and is great at showing the character’s internal struggle. In most slashers, the viewers is rooting for the killer mainly due to unlikable victims designed to be killed one by one. Here, the viewer ends up caring about Billy because of his sad story and all the unjustified abuse he had to endure during his childhood.

Silent Night, Deadly Night has a well-written story which is well developped while still being a great and entertaining slasher. The main appeal of the film is definitely its killer in a Santa outfit and what you will get in the end is not only an awesome slasher but also an overall great film.

Advertisements

Review : The Burning (1981) / Madman (1982)

The Burning and Madman have one major common element : both films are based on the story of Cropsey, an urban legend about a boogeyman, popular at summer camps in New Jersey. Both slashers were in production at the same time and some elements of Madman were altered due to the similarities with The Burning, which would be released earlier. For instance, the name of the killer was changed to Madman Marz while the killer in The Burning is named Cropsy, like in the original material (minus a letter). While the production aspect of both films is interesting, let’s see which one is the best of the two, using seven points of comparison to determine each film’s strengths and weaknesses !

presentation1

The Burning is a very enjoyable slasher. While it has similarities with Friday The 13th, I didn’t feel like I was watching a rip-off at any time during the film. When an ill-advised prank misfires, summer camp caretaker Cropsy is committed to hospital with hideous burns. Released after five years, hospital officials warn him not to blame the young campers who caused his disfigurement. But no sooner is Cropsy back on the streets than he’s headed back to camp with a rusty pair of shears in hand, determined to exact his bloody revenge (Source : Arrow Video). The strength of The Burning is its characters which are portrayed in a very realistic manner and are very likable therefore the viewer is affected by their demise (and is not rooting for the killer like in the majority of slashers). I also want to note that the acting from the entire cast was very solid. The practical effects are good but Cropsy’s make-up is extremely disappointing, especially being the work of Tom Savini. I’ll go as far as stating that it does look very bad. Despite taking place in the most unoriginal of places (a summer camp), the director manages to show different locations and all are put to good use (especially the lake and the barn). The Burning is simply a great slasher which should not be regarded as a simple Friday rip-off. I highly recommend it and will conclude by (probably) shocking many readers : I enjoyed The Burning more than the first Friday The 13Th film.

Madman is a typical slasher but there is one major factor that renders it worth watching : it has good cinematography. Gather around the campfire, and hearthe tale of Madman Marz – an ill-tempered farmer who, one dark night, chopped up his wife and two children into pieces. When the locals learned of his heinous crimes, they exacted revenge – sinking an axe into his head and hanging him from a nearby tree. But the next day, Marz’s body was gone…Thus the camp counsellor finishes his tale, closing with the warning never to say Marz’s name above a whisper, lest the hideously-deformed farmer comes looking for them. Naturally, the first thing that one of the young campers does is calls out Marz’s name – precipitating a terrifying night of murder, mayhem and sexy Jacuzzi vignettes (Source : Arrow Video). The film takes place at night and the result is great. Madman is very well-shot, has a nice blue lighting throughout…and has the right amount of gore to satisfy any slasher enthusiast ! It has a good variety of kills and a very nice score. But while it has tension, it does feel slow-paced and some shots are longer than they should be. The acting was very bad, there is no character development (they are barely introduced) and the actor portraying Marz didn’t do a good job, in my opinion. Madman is a good entertaining slasher but has too many weaknesses.

While Madman has good cinematography, a good score and better kills, The Burning is still more entertaining with its lot of good characters and smart use of a typical slasher location.

presentation1b

Review : High Tension (2003)

High Tension, released in 2003, was directed by Alexandre Aja who is famous for being the director of The Hills Have Eyes remake. The film is about two girls, Alex and Marie, who are about to spend the week-end at Alex’s parents’. The house is isolated and located in the countryside, near a cornfield. What starts as a peaceful week-end quickly turns into a nightmare when a sadistic killer targets them.

I cannot avoid starting this review by bluntly announcing that I hate almost everything about this film. I usually enjoy Alexandre Aja’s work but High Tension was an immense disappointment. I don’t recall hating a movie so strongly. I have seen my fair share of bad movies but High Tension is, while not a bad film, an atrocious experience. I will give my general opinion on High Tension and end this review with some spoilers to detail why I disliked the film so much.

High Tension is a failed attempt at emulating the thrills of better slashers. Though Aja’s love for the great classics of the genre is apparent, the film is a mediocre hommage to them. While movies like Friday The 13Th get away with kills that defy the laws of nature, High Tension doesn’t because they simply take you out of a movie you struggle to get interested in to begin with. The kills are unoriginal, but what is even worse is the perpetrator of those kills. The killer has no charisma and is simply a fat, sweaty and gross redneck. A slasher with a boring antagonist…brilliant.

The acting is also atrocious, especially from Cecile De France, and the poorly written dialogue doesn’t help. But my main issue with the film is that it is illogical and plain dishonest. A lot of scenes make no sense, are irrelevant and unnecessary and the twist at the end renders the entire film useless and meaningless. I advise you stop reading here if you have not seen High Tension as I’m about to reveal major plot points so I will conclude this paragraph by recommending not to waste your time with this film.

I will not underline the film’s homophobia nor its attempt at brutal imagery (the film is not particularly extreme but tries hard to shock the viewer). I simply want to give my thoughts on the most stupid and illogical twist I have ever witnessed. So, as you know if you’ve seen High Tension, Marie is the real killer and the redneck simply the physical representation of her psychotic tendencies. This is simply impossible and yet not what bothers me the most. The reason why I strongly dislike the film is because the twist only means one thing : the movie spent more than an hour lying to the viewer. No, the movie is not smart and did not intelligently trick the viewer. Nothing in the film can justify or explain that twist. Here’s a few examples of what remains unanswered (and simply impossible to rationally explain) : How can Marie drive a truck and be in the back with Alex at the same time ? How can she inflict such injuries on herself ? How can she drive a truck (with Alex in the back) and chase said truck in a sports car at the same time ?

Some scenes earlier in the film also feel irrelevant. For instance, one of the first scenes shows the redneck pleasuring himself with a severed head before throwing it out the truck’s window. This is another proof that the film is dishonest : how can we witness what a character is doing, all by himself, with nobody else near him, if he doesn’t exist outside of Marie’s mind ? Not only is there no indication throughout the film to suggest the redneck doesn’t exist but there are numerous scenes that point towards him being real thus, once again, making the twist illogical and impossible. And finally, one scene perfectly sums up the director’s intention : the scene where Marie is masturbating. This scene brings nothing to the story or the character and its only purpose is to show a girl pleasuring herself. The real intention was to show that Marie has feelings for her friend but it is bady handled. I found the scene where Marie watches Alex take a shower much more efficient in that regard.

The entire film tries to shock the viewer but never suceeds and the result is a film that is not only mediocre from a lot of different aspects but also makes no sense. High Tension is not an extreme film, it is simply dishonest.

Review : Toolbox Murders (2004)

Toolbox Murders, directed by Tobe Hooper and released in 2004, is a remake of the movie of the same name from 1978.

Nell and Steven, a young married couple, move into an apartment building who used to be a hotel house for actors. When renovations start, suspicious murders take place. Nell soon discovers that evil forces may be responsible for the residents’ gruesome murders.

Toolbox Murders has a heavy Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe. The image is very grainy which gives Toolbox Murders an old school look. Through the entire film, I felt like Tobe Hooper was trapped in his own trademark style (at this point, I have to confess a fact that will certainly make you raise an eyebrow : I greatly dislike The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

The characters were mostly over-the –top and purely designed to be killed. Nell, the main character, made some questionnable decisions. She is scared of her own shadow and yet goes looking for danger which felt out-of-character. The scenario also seemed ridiculous at times, especially with the addition of black magic. Halfway through the movie, the tone changes from a serious slasher to a silly gore-fest.

However, despite not bringing anything new to the genre, Toolbox Murders was still an entertaining slasher. I especially enjoyed the variety of the kills and the weapons used. The killer uses a different weapon for each murder which added to the entertainment value as none of the kills are boring or repetitive.

I did enjoy Toolbox Murders, it was a good slasher but after watching it, the only thing I really want is to find and watch the original.

Review : Hatchet 3 (2013)

Hatchet 3 was released in 2013 and is the first film in the series that was not directed by Adam Green, who wrote and produced it. The movie once again starts where the previous one ended. After showing up in a police station covered in blood, Marybeth is incarcerated while the police and a SWAT team venture into the swamp to pick up the pieces. They are, of course, greeted by Victor Crowley as the massacre continues !

While Hatchet 3 is fast-paced and fun, it is not as good as the first two movies in the franchise. Yet, it is action-packed, full of energy and as bloody as expected. The editing of the kills is very well done and full of rhythm and energy. I also really enjoyed that they brought back Parry Shen once more to play yet another character. Danielle Harris reprises her role as Marybeth and is still excellent in this final installment joined by new cast members like Derek Mears.

Some might argue that this third film utilizes the exact same recipe as the first two but it works and is still efficient and fun. It does have a different tone than Hatchet 2, spending less time on Victor Crowley’s backstory to focus on the action and the gore. Crowley is still played by Kane Hodder who is simply amazing at bringing this monster to life. No one can express emotions and agressivity through layers of make-up like he does.

To conclude, I recommend Hatchet 3 which is a good conclusion to the franchise. It is more action-oriented than its predecessors but remains just as gory and fun.

 

 

 

Review : Hatchet 2 (2010)

Hatchet 2, directed by Adam Green and released in 2010 is the first sequel to the excellent Hatchet in which Danielle Harris is now portraying Marybeth.

Hatchet 2 starts right where the first movie ended. Marybeth is the only survivor of the massacre that took place the previous night at the hands of Victor Crowley, the disfigured monster haunting the swamp. Marybeth manages to escape and goes back in town to find Reverend Zombie, the owner of the tour boat company, seeking his help to finally kill Victor Crowley and retrieve the bodies of her father and brother, murdered by Crowley some time before the events of the first film. They venture into the haunted swamp once again, this time with a group of local hunters.

Hatchet 2 is not the kind of sequel which simply regurgitates its predecessor without adding anything new. It expands the story established in the first installment and explores the characters’ backstory. In that regard, Hatchet 2 is a worthy and necessary sequel. I especially liked the fact that we are given a lot more details about Victor Crowley’s origins. Though a bit silly, it does give sense to the motives of the monster’s killing spree and is actually a touching story of a father who loved and cared for his son despite his deformity.

Hatchet 2 feels a bit more like a low-budget slasher in comparison to the first movie but it adds a certain degree of reality and brutality to an already gruesome gorefest. And like its predecessor, Hatchet 2 is full of humour and is a great horror comedy.

Finally, though Tamara Feldman did a good job in Hatchet, casting Danielle Harris was an excellent choice. She was born to play horror movie characters, and has been ever since she was a child, running from Michael Myers in Halloween 4 ! She is definitely one of the best at portraying badass female characters in horror movies.

If you enjoyed the first movie, I highly recommend Hatchet 2 as it is just as good and provides more insight into Victor Crowley’s story while remaining gory and funny.

Review : Hatchet (2006)

Hatchet, directed by Adam Green and released in 2006 is a delightful throwback to the 80’s slashers the majority of us horror fans enjoy so much. The story of Hatchet takes place in New Orleans. A swamp is supposedly haunted by Victor Crowley, a deformed monster who was accidently killed as a child. A group of tourists goes on a boat tour and quickly finds out that the local legend is true.

Hatchet has all the ingredients of the classic slashers, including a redneck warning the characters they are going to die. The movie is very enjoyable, full of over-the-top gore and dark humour. The swamp is a great location for a horror movie and the entire cast gives good performances. The characters are annoying enough so their deaths are satisfying but not too annoying to make them unlikable.

The plot is simple but satisfying and Victor Crowley is a great horror icon. Kane Hodder has the physicality and charisma to bring such characters to life and it was also a nice touch to have him play Victor’s father as well.

Adam Green’s love for the genre is very apparent in the film and using practical effects made this comedic slasher an even more enjoyable gorefest. It is an homage to slashers such as Friday The 13Th and the kills are really inventive.

Hatchet is a both a great slasher and a fun comedy which I highly recommend for any horror fan.