New Year’s Evil, 1980

You know how everyone has one genre they’ll pretty much always watch? Some folks will watch every blockbuster summer movie. Some folks will watch any screwball comedy. I’m sure there’s even people who watch Maid In Manhattan every time it’s on TV (which is CONSTANTLY, amirite?). For me, it’s slashers (and film noir). Any time, any place, any decade – even bloodless 90’s slashers. I’m partial to the 70’s and 80’s, but if someone’s chasing someone else with a knife (or an axe, or a chainsaw, or a sickle), regardless of quality, I will see that story through. What can I say, slashers and I go way back to high school, and like Michael Myers, high school love never dies. New-years-evilThis brings me to New Year’s Evil, a firmly middle-of-the-road offering from the 70’s/80’s slasher boom. The popularity of Halloween opened the calendar for a horror film for nearly every holiday, each executed with varying degrees of success. I think Ash Wednesday and Yom Kippur remain open, and incidentally, I’ve always wanted to write an Easter horror called THE EGGSECUTIONER. Terror Train may be the higher caliber New Years film, but New Year’s Evil is not without abundant low grade charms.

New Year’s Evil has a moderately novel concept – a psycho who calling himself “Evil” (“Not bad. Eeeeeeeevvvill.”)  dials into a – wait for it – a Midnight Special-like live telecast which is counting down the top “new wave” songs of the year – saying that he will kill one naughty girl for each of the time zones. He tells this, by the way, to immaculately coiffed and awesomely named BLAZE (Fonzie’s girl Roz Kelly), who greets this disturbing news by removing her spiked dog collar, as one does when receiving upsetting news, and contacting the police, while remaining on air and introducing a slew of second-rate 80’s rock bands.new-years-evil-3

Who is Evil and why isn’t he killing anyone in the Alaskan or Hawaiian-Aleutian time zones? Well, we know the answer to the first question – he’s Kip Niven, easily the best part of the picture, playing an unmasked killer who we actually spend a fair bit of time with, and the answer to the second question, well geez, he’s only one guy trying to deal with New Year’s Eve traffic, give him a break. Since he has an hour between murders, it isn’t exactly suspenseful, but it’s amusing watching him dress up in disguises (moustache Hollywood guy is my favorite), romance a nurse in an insane asylum, cart around a boombox to record the murders, and smother a girl with a bag of weed. (Weed kills, you guys. Obviously.) newyearsevil3

The twist at the end is borrowed and the score rips off a number of well-known slashers (the Friday the 13th ah-ah-ah-ahs specifically), but if you’re looking for a thick slice of 80’s cheese, you could do a lot worse.  The hair! The music (New Year’s Evil has a SIGNATURE SONG)! Blaze’s would-be soap star son! The nylons-and-lipstick scene!  Even Evil’s misogynistic rant about why he went on the killing spree is pretty benign and hilarious, which he delivers dressed in his finest costume – a spiffy white tracksuit.

An AnotherNightIn approved way to ring in a trashtastic New Year!

Black Christmas, 1974

You guys, it’s 2015. HAPPY NEW YEAR. Hope you had a pleasant new years day! Mine was pretty busy, what with all of that laying around in a satin romper and long socks drinking tea and eating a sizeable number of rice cakes with peanut butter while listening to that Songza playlist 70’s Slow Dance. Kind of my favorite thing right now. While I was busy trying to decide whether “Beth” is a good song (it’s like the lowest stakes, least-powerful power ballad, doesn’t that count for something?), I figured I might as well talk about something I unequivocally love about the 70’s, which is of course, BLACK CHRISTMAS.

indexThere isn’t much I can say about Black Christmas that hasn’t already been said – it’s a template, it’s brilliant, it’s a hell of a movie, they have a booze wreath,  it’s kind of seminal – which is why I’ve decided to just give a list which is as follows. This is by no means exhaustive, obviously pretty much everything in Black Christmas is awesome.

THINGS THAT ARE AWESOME ABOUT BLACK CHRISTMAS

BLACKXMAS0161. The Billy cam is super malevolent.

Of course we’re all aware of the POV Serial Killer movie shot – it’s always effective, even in terrible movies. Being watched is never going to be not scary (I’m intentionally leaving that double negative in), but in Black Christmas, Billy’s POV is noticeably unsteady and off-kilter. The young Michael Myers POV in Halloween is iconic and embodies the bland nature of the stabbing of Judith Myers. The point of view of a blank-faced child killer is chilling, but you just can’t beat the down-home shock of an out-of-control psycho on Christmas.

BLACKXMAS0652. Margot Kidder

What a gift to 70’s horror Margot was. Fresh off of De Palma’s Sisters, she’d go on to appear in Amityville Horror and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (whatever, I liked it). Her role as Barb in Black Christmas is one of her best loved horror roles. Whether she’s telling off boring old Claire or ruining Christmas dinner by discussing turtle sex or trying to get minors to drink alcohol or spelling fellatio, she’s consistently a joy to watch.

BLACKXMAS0873. The phonecalls.

Black Christmas just turned 40. Let’s face it – a lot of things that are 40 years old don’t quite hold up. Captain and Tenille’s marriage. Paul Anka’s “You’re Having My Baby” (you guys, that shit was number 1. I like Paul Anka but that song’s terrible). (Try as I might to come up with a film example, it’s difficult, 1974 was a  golden year for film). Anyway, Billy’s phonecalls to the girls are still as shocking, bizarre, and terrifying as ever. Not to mention infectious. The fellow and I can’t sit through Black Christmas without wailing “LIKE HAVING A WART REMOVED” or “WHAT YOUR MOTHER AND I MUST KNOW IS” at least a few times. And as many voices as Billy uses on the phonecalls, there is only one phrase he says in a regular speaking voice – “I’m going to kill you.” Goddamn right, Billy. Goddamn right.

BLACKXMAS0644. Claire’s Dad’s  (James Edmond) Concern Face

I don’t know, I just like it.

BLACKXMAS0665. When Keir Dullea destroys the piano. Keir Dullea in general.

First things first Keir Dullea, as Jess’ dickish pianist boyfriend Peter has his work cut out for him – he’s a jerkface, he doesn’t respect her choices, he’s selfish, and rather than that slimy green cable-knit turtleneck sweater he might as well be wearing a shirt that says I’M A PSYCHO KILLER. He also happens to be innocent, so, in the end, the world lost a mediocre classical piano player. Anyway, when he beats the piano to death to vent frustrations, he echos the dissonant piano-banging in the score, both explicitly (he’s capable of physical violence) and subliminally reinforcing to us, that he’s guilty. And if that wasn’t enough to convince us, that checkered blazer is fucking sleazy. See, that’s just good film-making.

BLACKXMAS0136. That Christmas tree is terrifying.

BLACKXMAS0827. The Canadian-ness.

As a horror fan first and a Canadian second, I have a soft spot for the the low budget horror films of the 70’s and 80’s that were shot in the Great White North. See, the 70s and 80s were a good time to make movies in Canada – a tax law called the Capital Cost Allowance made it so investors in Canadian-made films could defer taxes until the movie started turning a profit. A pile of classics were made here – some set in Canada, but many trying to pass Canada off for somewhere else (New England was a popular choice). Black Christmas is ambiguous about where exactly it’s supposed to be, but retains some charming Canadiana – there’s hockey, Art Hindle charmingly talks about taking Claire “oot” (we don’t actually talk like that except for when we do), and the two fellows who come to the door, enthusiastically offering to help the girls and then bragging excitedly about being included in a police investigation which is off-putting in its friendliness. Screenwriter Roy Moore is also Canadian, basing the script on a series of murders in Quebec.

BLACKXMAS1158. THE PHONECALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE/The Unicorn Death

There’s a reason the urban legend of The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs has endured – it’s really, really scary. In my babysitting days, I’d be up late with my knapsack of mostly horror videotapes and scare myself with the very idea that someone might be upstairs.  It’s horror at its cleanest and most pure – you’re at home where you feel safe. And someone else, a stranger, is there too. Give that some honest consideration and try not to piss yourself.

I haven’t spent a ton of time with the deaths in Black Christmas because they’re all universally great, but the hyper-stylized, death by glass unicorn scene never gets old. As a unicorn enthusiast, it’s a home run.

BLACKXMAS1139. When Jess goes back upstairs

When Jess goes back upstairs in an attempt to save her friends – this is not an act of stupidity to move the carnage forward. This is an act of bravery. Also, and rather unlike the virginal final girls to follow, Jess is not only a thinking, feeling, sexual being who wears a wooden crucifix around her neck, Jess is getting an abortion. She has plans in life and no one’s going to change her mind – she has autonomy over her body  AND she’s a goddamn hero. Party on, Jess.

BLACKXMAS13310. No resolution

So Black Chrismas ’06, right? What a festering shit bucket of a movie that was. Literally, Black Christmas ’06, you had one job, and managed to avoid the essence of what made the original so great. (Billy likes to kill sorority girls because really bad jaundice and incest. SNORE.)  In the end, we can speculate about who Billy and Agnes are, but we don’t truly know. And in the meantime, we leave Jess alone in the house with the killer after beating the wrong guy to death in the basement. The phone rings and rings, and we’re left with the grim realization that people die. Horrible things happen, and evil doesn’t take a holiday. John Saxon can’t help us, and neither can Santa Claus. A black Christmas indeed.

I forgot to mention the eye and the fact that Billy’s a screamer when he chases after Jess, but whatever, there’s ten things and I spot a glass of sparkling wine with my name on it.

Silent Night, Bloody Night, 1972

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If there’s anything low-budget shocker Silent Night, Bloody Night proves with certainty, it’s that the bulk of the scares are so strong that Bob Clark cribbed many of them for his 1974 opus Black Christmas, and that there’s no place like home for the holidays.

Possibly the earliest modern Christmas slasher (excepting of course that Tales from the Crypt segment with Joan Collins – maybe I’ll get to that slice of holiday cheer next year) poor Silent Night, Bloody Night has been wasting away on public domain for years, which means you can pull up a comfy chair, spike your eggnog and enjoy it right now:

(By the way, if you’d like to see a better version, there is a not-bad restoration from Film Chest. Personally, SNBN has my vote for a big Anchor Bay re-release)

In case you didn’t just watch it, here’s the synopsis which will contain spoilers:

It’s Christmas time, and super suave lawyer guy (Patrick O’Neal, PS.) and his Jane Birkinesque ‘assistant’ arrive at the old Butler mansion (a Death House, if one of the alternate titles is to be believed) with the intent to sell it on behalf of the grandson of the ex-owner (who set himself on fire, no big deal). They meet the town’s council, and intend to stay the night in the house. What should’ve been an extramarital copulation in musty sheets that haven’t been changed in years turns into quite a stylish and brutal axe murder. And it’s a felling axe, which are used specifically to cut down trees, which reminds me of Christmas trees, so you’d be hard pressed to find a more festive axe-ing. Silent-night-Bloody-Night-BloodUp ’til now there’s been some marvelous killer POV tracking shots, but roundabout now is when you’re really going to want to take out your Bob Clark bingo card.

The killer then starts making whispery phone calls to the town council, introducing himself, chillingly, as “Marianne” and coercing the phone operator to visit the Butler mansion. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Butler, the grandson in questions meets up with the daughter of the mayor (cult favorite and Warhol superstar Mary Woronov) and they set out to find out what’s going on with the missing sheriff. Everyone more or less ends up at Butler Mansion eventually.

silent-night-bloody-night-butler-house[1]At the Butler Mansion, we’re treated to some major revelations (maybe there’s a reason Jeffrey has such strong facial features) in the form of a sepia toned Grand Guignol flashback made all the more effective with public domain degeneration. During Butler House’s mental institution days, Grandpa Butler set all of the crazies loose to parade down the walkway, Night of the Living Dead style, in order to crash a fancy Christmas party the resident doctors were having. Well, they didn’t so much crash the party as much as they brutally murdered the doctors and stole their booze. Keep an eye out for more Warhol superstars – Candy Darling and Ondine both make appearances.

silentbloo19Later, a misunderstanding ends in gunfire and we learn the true identity of Marianne – a person from the past, just looking to be with his daughter for Christmas and also to terrorize everyone who’s ever wronged his family. As one does.

Of note is Silent Night, Bloody Night’s use of the revenge motive, a device that would become tired and rote in later slashers. While many lesser slashers spend a couple of minutes revealing the traumatic event that led so-and-so to stalk cheerleaders, SNBN really earns its revenge motive, crafting a respectable mystery laden with scandalous small town secrets.

As far as 70’s drive-in cheapies go, Silent Night, Bloody Night has a lot of unexpected suspense, directorial skill, and style. Obviously, it’s not without its issues, there’s some stiff performances and the long-winded, freeze-framed expository parts aren’t exactly filmic, but nitpicking a film like SNBN seems feeble when the foundation is so strong. While Billy would go on to make terrifying, lewd, and schizophrenic calls in Black Christmas two years later, Marianne’s calm, cold whisper is frightening in its focus. Director Theodore Gershuny’s point of view shots are uncomfortably long. Part of what makes that initial axe murder so – ( I hesitate to say rewarding, but if you’re cool with me calling an axe murder ‘festive’ I don’t see how that would be out of line) rewarding is how long we’ve anticipated it. By that point, the gore clips are just gravy. It’s always a treat when a public domain film with a misleading cover such as this:

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NOTE: Do not be upset when this young lady does not appear in the film. However, John Carradine is definitely in this film, so you have that to look forward to.

…ends up being so atmospheric and inevitably influential. Not to say Gershuny invented the slasher wheel, but dude had some impeccable influences, and Silent Night, Bloody Night sets an undeniable bar for all that followed. For all of its quirks, SNBN is relentlessly effective and certainly deserves a spot in the canon of early slashers that would go on to shape a subgenre.

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