Saturday, 22 December 2012

Xmas Special: Grey Christmas

Yay, Christmas! Last year, I raised holiday spirits throughout the world with my classic Killer Santas post, which took a look at murderous Kris Kringles. With this year, of course there was no comeptition as to what to write abou. Why, take a page from Dangermouse's playbook and mix up the darkest Beatles and lightest Jay-Z's of Christmas movies. It looks as though this Christmas will be very white here in Christmas, so we'll go through this chronologically.

White Christmas (1954)
Director: Michael Curtiz

This is a classic Christmas tale by none other than by the director of Casablanca! It's one of those musicals that is based on a pre-existing song everyone knows and tells the story as to why there's special power and meaning within it. In this case it's of course the titular Yuletime clambake (the movie's exact phrase) that's rather touchingly covered by Crosby in the beginning, and again rather cheesily in the final scene by the whole cast.

Captain Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) is a WWII soldier that aims to boost the morales of their fellow brothers-in-arms by arranging a Christmas song concert. This act is soon shot down by his commanding officer. Soon after, private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) saves his life at the expense of a broken arm. Wallace asks if there's anything he could do for Davis. As it happens, Davis saw his concert and has written a number of songs for a duo to sing. When V Day comes, and the war ends, the duo becomes a successful song and dance -act, touring the United States.

The entertainers meet a sister act, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen). Davis wants to play the match-maker, but Wallace is a bit wary of their charms. The both pairs are booked into the same hotel for a Christmas show, Vermont Inn. The lodge is about to be demolished, and since their old war General is the current owner, they all agree to raise the money to keep the hotel opened.

This film certainly has some of that old-time charm that's hard to imitate. The colors, sets and acting talents are very old-fashined but still quite stylish. That being said, the romantic comedy angle runs along quite familiar tracks and raise few smiles any more. Most of the songs are also pretty forgettable. The film is salvaged by the charisma and talent of the leading actors, and the charms and talent of the leading ladies. It's not one of the most obvious Christmas classics, since it has plenty of un-Christmas related material thrown in, but it's well worth a look anyhow.


Black Christmas (1974)
Director: Bob Clarke

Bob Clarke's original Christmas horror movie is a clear inspiration to John Carpenter's Halloween, from the killer's POW shots to the ominous holiday set-up. It has plenty of innovative ideas and good scenes, but the problem is that they don't really band together to be a tight enough whole.

It should be tight enough to not be able to breathe.

A sorority house is emptying up as the girl students leave off for the holidays. Only a few young women stay to spend Christmas there. Shown to the audience, a deranged murderer is staying at the attic of the house, spying on its occupants. While lounging around in the sorority house, the girls start to get ominous phone calls that sound a bit weird to come from a sheer pervert.

Unknown to most, Jess (Olivia Hussey) is pregnant to her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea). She wants to get an abortion, yet he is adamantly against the idea. Meanwhile, the local police Lt. Fuller (John Saxon) investigates the death of a 13-year-old runaway and starts to get more and more worried that the sorority girls might be the next victims.

The film is very patchy. Especially the extended comedy segments are very dated just dire. The film dwells so long on a rookie cop spelling the name of a captured hooker F-E-L-L-A-T-I-O, that the audience dies of boredom before the punchline. Even Carry On films would be ashamed of that scene.

No! No! No Fellatio jokes!

Clarke forgets tension building to extended periods, but doesn't offer much in place, and can't pick up on where he left off.The opening is very effective an puts the audience into the right mood, but waiting for the next thing to happen is direly long. The killer lurks the whole movie in the attic, while tensions build between characters downstairs. At the risk of spoiling a little, in the end, he still kind of lingers on. The idea of evil remaining is nice, but in this case the missing out on any closure doesn't help when it feels like nothing much had happened anyway.  At least several characters resolve their differences.  

You better not fight, you'd better watch out...

★★ 1/2

Black Christmas (2006)
Director: Glen Morgan

Horror remakes with minimum effort are a plague nowadays, and usually not even worth a glance, let alone 90 minutes of precious time. Since the original Black Christmas is so dull seen by modern eyes, it would be at last one where an update potentially has the chance for improvement. Well, the modern version certainly isn't better, but it isn't completely worthless, either. That is, if one happens to like Friday the 13th sequels where there is little interest in characters or plot, but heavily on how gorily people can be offed.

The modern Black Christmas has a very similar story in that it also features a killer preying on girl students spending their Christmas at the sorority house. But this time, the murdered has a more detailed history, not to mention a skin condition that makes him look like That Yellow Bastard segment from Sin City. He is Billy Lentz, a maniac that killed his whole family in the early 80's. Now, he's escaped from the local lunatic asylum and arriving back home to Christmas. While he doesn't like the girls inhabiting his beloved house, at the same time he has an obsession on family, and wants to make the girls parts of his new family.

Writer-director Glen Morgan can't build tension worth shit. The first half of the movie is simply horrendous, giving a needlessly detailed back-story to the serial killer on the loose, and having seemingly endless discussions between its bland main characters. All the charisma and interesting characteristics of the original BC have been surgically removed from the girls, but this time around there are plenty of more of them, and no focus on the police.

Things take a turn for the better when a deranged killer starts baking Christmas cookies made from human flesh. From there on, the film takes a firm tongue-in scene twist. The paper-thin characters turn into paper maché, since otherwise the kills would make absolutely no sense. Thus, an icicle falling from the roof can pierce an adult's head, a skate thrown at a close range can split a head into two, and people can be impaled on a Christmas tree. This stupidity carries the rest of the movie somewhat funnily, even if there are no signs of any originality at any point of this thing. All in all this really contains little anything that wouldn't be available elsewhere more entertainingly. Best stick to your old-school slashers for the holidays then, kiddies.


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