Monday, April 17, 2006

Black Christmas

I had never heard of this movie before seeing Bravo's "100 Scariest Movie Moments." Olvia Hussey - who stars as Jess - told a story about meeting Steve Martin and him telling her that Black Christmas was his favorite film and he saw it 27 times. After seeing a few highlights, I was very curious to see it. It's been at the top of my Netflix queue for about 4 months. This is a true cult classic, and for good reason. This preceded most of the slasher films, and is one of the great ones, because it's terribly scary without being bloody.

It's a classic slasher setup. A bunch of girls are staying at their sorority house over Christmas and a maniac gets into the house and kills them one by one. And in true horror movie fashion, the first death is the most memorable. The first girl to be killed - in a shocking departure from horror cliches - is the virtuous virgin. There's also an element of the "obscene phone call" setup which would later be used to great effect in When a Stranger Calls.

This is a really great scary movie. Perhaps something that greatly adds to its creepiness is the fact that you never see the killer. You never know who it is, or why he's killing people, and he's never caught. That's extremely unsettling and disturbing, and I think it makes it more successful.

This movie is being remade with Michelle Trachtenberg. I'm not sure why. Remakes, as a rule, are inferior, and horror remakes are more so. They should really just re-release the original. The tag line is so right - "If this movie doesn't make your skin crawl ... it's on too tight!" *shudders* Quite.

A Clockwork Orange

The first shot of this film always scares the bejoodles out of me. There's something so bone-chilling about that expression on Malcolm McDowell's face - head down, looking up. I've seen this flick a couple of times - once on the big screen in London when it was re-released there in 2000. Despite not being a horror movie, it's one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. I can't even hear the song "Singin' In the Rain" (unless I'm watching the movie of the same name, of course) without seeing Alex and his "droogs" terrorizing that man and his wife. I think the real achievement in the performance is that, even though Alex is so incredibly nasty, you end up feeling sorry for him.

If you're not familiar with this one, you should be it's set in Britain some time in the future. Alex is part of a group of young men who spend their evenings beating and raping anyone who crosses their path. Alex tries to assert his authority, but the other gang members beat him up and leave him for dead. He ends up going to prison and volunteers to be part of a behavioral experiment that will get him an early release. The experiement is little more than torture, and when he is released into society again he is virtually helpless. One of Stanley Kubrick's finest films, IMO - a highly stylized movie of ideas (scary, disturbing ideas, but ideas). Never has a guy drinking a glass of milk been creepier.

Joyeux Noël

I wish this had been out where I could see it closer to Christmas, but it's powerful nonetheless. I'd heard the story about the cease fire between the German, English (actually Scottish, according to the film), and French troops on Christmas 1914, during World War I. The film elaborates quite a bit on the story, but it makes for a good movie. What struck me the most about this movie is how up close and personal war used to be. Perhaps that is what made the cease fire possible in the first place.

The portrait of the night itself is incredibly poignant, as one would expect it to be. The songs, the mass, soldiers sharing wine and pictures of their wives and children. But even more poignant is the aftermath. The soldiers are accused of treason. The priest who performed what he called "the most important mass of my life" was sent home, criticized by the bishop who proceeds to tell the troops the men they shared drinks and exchanged addresses with were not children of God. Upon first hearing this story, I wondered how it ultimately ended. The film suggests that the men were forever changed and had not the heart to continue fighting these men that they now knew as human beings with common goals and struggles. But the war, of course, would not be stopped.

There's not much actual "war" in this war movie, but it's only fitting, since it is about a moment of peace. It's an amazing story, even if much of the film version is likely fabricated. And perhaps best of all is the wonderful music, particularly the "Fraternizers' Hymn." Truly wonderful.