Sunday, 15 March 2020

THE HUNT

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND BAFFLEMENT

It's always nice when films try and do something a little different. I mean, I don't mind movies that dance familiar steps if they're danced well enough, but there is mileage to be gained from a new idea, or just an unexpected variation on the old one. Sadly, it does still have to make sense and in the case of this film's specific reversal on a very old and well-known theme, it doesn't actually hang together once you think about it.

The very old melody being played in The Hunt goes all the way back to The Most Dangerous Game and The Hounds Of Zaroff - rich bastards target poor slobs for sport, peasant rather than pheasant. A miscellaneous gathering of apparent randoms wake up in woodland and are almost immediately machine-gunned from a bunker further up the hill - but why? Turns out that this time the concept is given a political spin: it's left vs right, yeehaw rednecks vs wet lefty liberals, Reps vs Dems (though the parties and major figures are never actually named). Inevitably, the few survivors quickly realise they're going to have to man up very quickly...

The reversal, and the film's main problem, is that the predators are the smug lefty types and the victims are the rightwingers, which puts you in the position of rooting against the woker-than-woke and for the Magahatters. If one has to go back to that famous bit of Nietzsche - "he who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster" - in the process of slaughtering a handful of "deplorables" the supposed nice guys actually end up as even more reprehensibly evil than their prey; throwing away the moral high ground by stooping to their level with a sneering "see how YOU like it". (Even then, the film cops out when it comes to actually having an overtly pro-Trump victor.)

The other reason I wrestled at length with the movie was that I wasn't sure how much of it was supposed to be a comedy. And I think I've concluded that it is substantially conceived as satirical, with most of the lefties portrayed as an insufferably right-on bunch of sitcom handwringing liberals worrying about misgendering, cultural appropriation and the high sugar content of soda, which only reminded me of that recent Tracey Ullman "Woke Support Group" sketch. That comedic tone sits strangely with the graphic eyeballs-and-entrails gore as well as the political aspects, making us wonder how seriously we're supposed to be taking this, and whether the makers know how seriously we're supposed to be taking this.

On the plus side, the early stages set up a few likely potential survivors before gleefully splattering them, leaving us unsure who to empathise with, and the final confrontation between the Last Woman Standing (Betty Gilpin) and the Number One Villain (Hilary Swank) is pleasingly vicious and violent. Postponed from its original release last August because of yet more mass shootings, it carries a bit of controversy with it but in the end it's absolutely nothing to get excited about, even while watching it. John Woo's Hard Target managed it all, social comment as well as crunchy violence, so much better.

**

Monday, 9 March 2020

3 FROM HELL

CONTAINS SPOILERS, VULGARITY AND MODERATE DESPAIR

Is it really surprising that 3 From Hell is an intolerable bore? The third part in Rob Zombie's trilogy after the tedious House Of 1000 Corpses and the crushingly repugnant The Devil's Rejects turns out to just more of the same: a Mom's Basement Manson wank fantasy that, at fifty five years old, Zombie really should have grown out of my now. It's every bit as obnoxious as the first two - possibly made slightly worse by the fact that Zombie has clearly realised he's got nothing else to do but get the band back together Ten Years Later to just dance the same steps again, to relive the past glories that weren't glorious then and certainly aren't now.

3 From Hell's main riff is on Mickey and Mallory Knox as the Natural Born Arseholes end up in jail having miraculously all survived the bullet frenzy at the end of Rejects. Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) escapes and, with the help of a previously unmentioned brother Winslow Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake), plan to spring Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) and go back to doing what they usually do - meaningless slaughter of pretty much everyone they meet.

Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) is only in it briefly because Haig was too ill to do the whole film - you could wonder why most of the Family are named after Groucho Marx characters when the new brother Coltrane sounds like a yuppie dickhead from a mid-80s Bratpack comedy, but that would suggest a level of interest that the film doesn't justify. Zombie's weird belief that these worthless vermin are cool, exciting and funny characters whose adventures make for cool, exciting and funny movies (despite the evidence to the contrary in the first two films) remains unfounded. They're not folk heroes, they're not rebels, they're not colourfully crazy, they're not fascinating in any way and the less time I have to spend with them, the better.

So why bite into the rotting apple again? Zombie's other, non-Firefly movies have largely been terrible - 31 is awful, Halloween II is awful, Halloween is mostly awful except for the bits where he's pretending to be John Carpenter - and it's not as if the third part in the trilogy was going to suddenly skew into different and more rewarding territory. But there's always the possibility, there's always the hope. Lurking in the shrieking, nihilistic nonsense of Zombie's back catalogue is The Lords Of Salem which isn't great but it is different, odd and suggests that he might be capable of something better. 3 From Hell, however, suggests more clearly that he isn't, and most likely never will be again. Garbage throughout.

*

Saturday, 7 March 2020

DARK ENCOUNTER

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND CONFESSIONS

I admit it: way back in the mists of time, I used to have a passing interest in UFOs. I wasn't an obsessive or anything, but I did feel it was at least possible that Earth had been, and still was, visited by beings from other worlds for reasons utterly unfathomable to mere humans. This was around the time of the alleged alien autopsy video, Mulder and Scully, and the tinfoil hat brigade building huge Geocities websites to expose all the Area 51 conspiracies and decode the crop circles that always appeared about an hour after closing time. We even had a talk from the bloke from the Ministry Of Defence once night. The Truth Was Out There. Except that it wasn't: once you've sat watching slow-motion replays of wobbly night-vision footage of green blobs hovering somewhere over Mexico City, and overheard a couple of earnest Trekkies theorising that the reason the blobs disappeared into the sub-VHS murk was because the alien ships had activated their cloaking devices, it suddenly all seemed very silly. I never went back.

Still, I'm a sucker for a good alien movie: not so much the full-on CGI destructo porn of something like Battle: Los Angeles or Independence Day, more the mysterious presence in the woods like Fire In The Sky. Dark Encounter happily plays more on that smaller scale: individuals rather than continents. Exactly a year after an eight-year-old girl vanished without trace, her family are assailed by a series of bright lights, noises, objects moving, electrical disturbances and creatures Not Of This Earth in the basement - and half the family similarly vanishing. Were these creatures involved in the child's disappearance? Is there a reason for this latest visitation?

Set in Pennsylvania but shot in Yorkshire with a mostly British cast playing American, Dark Encounter's central setpiece is a terrific extended home (rather than planetary) invasion sequence for which writer-director Carl Strathie breaks out the huge beams of fiery orange and icy blue lights shining through curtains and blinds, giving the whole thing the feel of the similar sequences in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. This is easily the best scene in the movie and there are moments when it definitely hits that Spielbergian sense of awe (it's a pity the score isn't up to John Williams though), but the trouble is that the rest of the movie isn't that interesting. Moreover, the reasons for the mysterious beings' presence and interference is just plain nonsense: if they've gone to all this trouble for this, why not for all other instances? If they're so wise and benevolent, why do they terrorise people with bright lights and abductions? (This last question could also be asked of Close Encounters, of course.)

Result: the more you think about it the less sense it makes - was it a dream? Were they really aliens? One whizzy special effects moment (similar to the final shot of Men In Black) and the superb siege/invasion sequence aside, the film doesn't really hang together well enough, you don't really care and by the end you're just bemused by the silliness. The good doesn't entirely outweigh the not so good, but at its best it's interesting and thrilling enough to scrape through.

***

Saturday, 22 February 2020

THE GALLOWS: ACT II

HELLO, HELLO, HERE WE ARE AGAIN, SPOILERS

Again, again, again. And not just because it's a sequel - we were all saying "again, again, again" to the first one because even then the most diehard admirers of the form were getting fed up with the overfamiliar tropes of the found footage style being dragged out again, again, again and The Gallows added nothing to the menu fifteen years after the first wave of sub-Blair Witch cheapies. A further four years on and the format finally seems to be on the wane (at least to judge from the Sainsbury's racks which at one time were heaving with the damnable things): this ditches the dullards-filming-themselves idea after the opening sequence and opts for "normal" filmmaking.

But the reason we're still saying "again, again, again" in spite of the abandonment of first-person camcorder wobblivision, is that The Gallows: Act II falls squarely in that modern school of fairly light horror, ticking off a whole different set of boxes on a no-longer new and exciting checklist. Much of it has the feel of Happy Death Day, Truth Or Dare, Countdown or Friend Request, though the film it feels most similar to is actually the not-any-good Slender Man: youngsters summon up a ghost after finding stuff online and bad stuff happens. In this instance the ghostly hangman is summoned by reading from a play which was cursed following the accidental death of an actor on the titular gallows (and which was being unwisely restaged in the first film)...

So this one doesn't do anything new or startling, but it does go through the paces pretty competently and far better than the previous one. There are several extended scenes of can't-look-must-look creepiness in which something might be lurking in the darkness, under those sheets, in that closet... which are well staged with the jolts nicely timed in the relative quiet and darkness (though it does prompt the usual question about why people don't turn the lights on in their own homes). And it does at least try and expand its mythology rather than simply repeat the existing plot with new victims, including one returning character from before. Neither terrible nor great, it does its familiar thing decently enough on the multiplex popcorn-jumper level (and works acceptably well on home viewing in a darkened room) and is far from the worst thing you'll ever see.

***

Saturday, 15 February 2020

WRONG TURN VI: LAST RESORT

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND OH, THAT'S GOING TO HURT

Yes, they made a sixth one. If it generally seems to be unavailable or unreleased, that's because it was withdrawn after a court case over the unaccountable use of an onscreen photograph of a genuine missing person from County Wexford (sadly, she was subsequently found dead), and presumably 20th Century Fox just decided to let the movie, and the series, quietly disappear rather than re-edit and reissue (the UK DVD I saw does include the offending photograph). Wrong Turn was never in the front rank of horror franchises anyway and they probably guessed that it had run its course and no-one would really care that much if Wrong Turn 7 and 8 never showed up. In fact the series had oscillated wildly in quality: the original was a grimly nasty Texas Chain Saw Massacre cousin mainly notably for Eliza Dushku's tight vest; Joe Lynch's sequel was equally nasty but funny as well, and Declan O'Brien's followup was actually a bit rubbish and I don't understand why I gave it three stars at the time. O'Brien then returned for Part 4, a surprisingly decent prequel, and stayed on for the cheap and dull Part 5 (with Doug Bradley) which really should have wound the thing up.

In the event Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is a perfectly decent if mean-spirited and occasionally very nasty slasher with a high body count and a lot of sleazy depravity, as pretty much every female character except the old biddy near the start gets naked. Failed Wall Street investor Danny thinks his luck has changed when he inherits a massive spa hotel deep in the West Virginia woodlands: his girlfriend Katie and their assorted friends (whose money Danny lost in his brief banking career) seem right behind him. But One Eye, Saw Tooth and Three Finger are out there in the woods as well, merrily killing stray bikers are sheriffs...

Incest, cannibalism, dismemberment and decapitation ensue, with the dubious kill highlight probably being the classic firehose-up-the-rectum routine. It's glum and not much fun outside of the gore scenes; some plot strands are left hanging (such as the pervy webcam left in the bedroom in the hope of recording some hot porn action), and Danny has no real reason not to just sell the place and pay off his debts rather than trying to run it himself - the alleged connections to the family he never knew never feels like enough justification. Still, you get a healthy string of vicious death scenes and some horrendous bad taste; certainly not enough to make it a lost classic but there are sufficient grossouts and bad taste laughs for a Friday night; I enjoyed it more than I expected.

***

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

LEPRECHAUN RETURNS

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS, NOT THAT IT MATTERS

Following the lead of the 2018 Halloween, which positioned itself as a Forty Years Later sequel to the original Carpenter film and pretended all those sequels with Danielle Harris and Busta Rhymes never happened, this latest instalment of the not-even-a-good-idea-at-the-time horror comedy franchise is actually Leprechaun 2, rewriting genre history to get rid of Leprechaun In The Hood and Leprechaun In Vegas and Leprechaun Goes To Sainsburys. For whatever reason, they couldn't get Jennifer Aniston back, so the film reduces her character to a post-mortem voiceover by somebody else and focusses instead on her daughter going back to the same old house Twenty Five Years Later for very flimsy reasons.

Except it's not the same old house: it's now being put together as a green, carbon-neutral eco-project by local students, with solar panels, a well, goats and specially designed gardens. Unfortunately, said students are the usual teen horror mixture of hateful halfwitted hotties and despicable sex-and-beer fratboy morons, leaving you on the side of the newly resurrected Leprechaun (now played by Linden Porco instead of Warwick Davis who has apparently backed away from horror films now) as he hacks his way through them, nowhere near swiftly enough, looking for his gold...

But despite all the welcome lashings of gore and gloop, and effects work that looks more physical that digital, Leprechaun Returns really isn't very good. The Oirish rhyming couplets gimmick only goes so far, all the characters are either tiresome or actively unpleasant, and the film seems to fall into that horror comedy chasm between graphically horrible and verbally stupid: there seems to be very little cleverness or wit involved. I gave up on the original series ten minutes into the first Hood, and while 2014's Leprechaun: Origins is a substantial step up from Leprechaun 4: In Space, this is several steps further down and absolutely not worth watching. Shot in South Africa.

*

Sunday, 9 February 2020

UNDERWATER

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Glug, glug, glug... These things always go in cycles so it's hardly surprising that sooner or later someone would resurrect the marine base horror movie: just like Alien except on the sea bed instead of outer space. They could just as easily have been set in moonbases or space cargo freighters: bickering crews, lots of corridors and airlocks, clunky protective suits and flashing warning signs. But the fact is if you're old enough to remember James Cameron's The Abyss, you can probably remember the knockoffs floating in its wake, the most notable being Leviathan and Deep Star Six and thirty years later we really haven't moved on very much.

Underwater is pure monster hokum: seven miles down at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, following some violent unspecified quake, the hull integrity drops to a worrying 70% on a massive gas drilling rig, and a handful of survivors have to make their way across the sea bed, in near-total darkness and with limited oxygen, to another station hopefully equipped with escape pods. But they are not alone down there, and that wasn't a natural earthquake...

Kristen Stewart has close-cropped hair and wears glasses because she's an engineer, but she also gets to wander round in her pants because it's essentially the Ripley role from Alien and we all remember Sigourney Weaver's last-reel strip to her frankly ridiculously tiny skimpies. (Hilariously, the given reason for everyone going down to their undies is that their legs won't fit in the massive pressure suits.) Sadly Underwater doesn't have the depth (sorry) or the complexity of Alien: it's a simple A-to-B trek while avoiding the numerous gribbley monsters and the one absolutely massive gribbley monster, which is allegedly something out of HP Lovecraft.

It looks nice (Bojan Bazelli's photography is terrific), except for the overly if justifiably murky exteriors, but what's really surprising is that there's nothing very surprising about it. It plays pretty much as you'd expect as you're watching it and it doesn't do anything out of its very limited comfort zone. It's also a little difficult to accept the seriousness of the blueprints flashing on screen under the opening credits when they don't even spell "buoyancy" correctly. Still, I have a soft spot for SF base movies, whether Martian or marine, and even when they're not doing anything that startling I'm happy enough when the familiar paces are walked through with reasonable efficiency. But sadly Underwater doesn't have very much more to offer than efficiency.

**

Thursday, 6 February 2020

THE GRUDGE

CONTAINS SPOILERS YET AGAIN

Again. Never has the line "this is never going to end" been more pointed. This is now the fourth Grudge film in English, never mind the Japanese Ju-On originals (and the Ring/Grudge crossover Sadako Vs Kayako), and there seems less chance of stopping filmmakers returning to the totally scorched earth of Grudge movies than stopping the unstoppable hauntings themselves.

Actually, this latest stab isn't too bad, and gains some points for ambition even if it doesn't entirely succeed. For a start, it's better than the first two English-language films (which original director Takaski Shimizu helmed, under the production hand of Sam Raimi) and certainly better than the dull third one which went straight to video anyway. It looks great, with a solid cast of grownups playing grownups and no teenage halfwits with their shirts off, and the timeline flits back-and-forth between three separate hauntings in the same Pennsylvania house - a house so notoriously evil that the lead investigator (Demian Bichir) won't even set foot inside it when a horribly mangled body is found in a car wreck... Is 44 Reyburn Drive actually possessed by the now overly familiar Ju-On ghosts from the Tokyo-set prologue?

Much of The Grudge 2020 takes place in the dark, with several people wandering round the house in the middle of the night and mysteriously not switching the lights on. Lin Shaye turns up, which is always good news: post-Insidious she's as much a talisman of the B-horror as Robert Englund or Lance Henriksen (and when is someone going to put all three of them in the same film?). Maybe it's because I saw it at about eleven o'clock at night in my local Vue (and then had to walk home to my dark and empty flat) that I found myself looking away from the screen several times so I didn't see the scary faces that lurched, almost randomly, out of the background behind single mother and rookie cop Andrea Riseborough.

It's not great: after all, it is a Grudge movie and the franchise has already established that the ghosts cannot be stopped, so it is just another series of agreeably messy deaths from a permanent and undefeatable menace, peppered with the expected occasional Boo! popcorn jolts. It's clearly trying to be something a little bit better than that, and trying to do something interesting with a frankly knackered horror idea, with its non-chronological structure and attempts at an atmosphere of morbid dread. It's perfectly decent on its reboot-of-a-remake level of unoriginality, and I quite enjoyed it enough even through the mist of seen-this-all-before.

***

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

THE TURNING

CONTAINS SPOILERS, THOUGH IT'S AN OLD ENOUGH AND FAMILIAR ENOUGH STORY, YOU REALLY SHOULD KNOW IT BY NOW

Go watch The Innocents by Jack Clayton instead. That's the best advice one can give regarding this absolute botch job of Henry James' The Turn Of The Screw: track down the 1961 version that's infinitely scarier, infinitely creepier, impeccably crafted and shot: when I saw it a few years ago it genuinely had me hiding behind my sofa. (Hell, track down Michael Winner's trashy prequel The Nightcomers.) By comparison this latest remake is nonsensical, dull, annoying uninteresting throughout and has not one but two endings, neither of which work and neither of which make any rational sense. It's a pity because there are moments when it almost looks like it might be trying to turn into something better, but then messes it up and turns into something substantially worse. Throw in a loathsome brat for whom no amount of blunt force trauma with a chair leg would be considered unreasonable, and 2020 is off to a spectacularly poor start.

Kate (Mackenzie Davis) is the new governess hired to tutor young Flora in a colossal old mansion on a remote Maine estate about the size of Shropshire. Initially things don't go too well, with spooky mannequins, strange noises in the night and a frosty housekeeper making it clear that Kate is not wholly welcome. Nevertheless, she perseveres, until Flora's Damien-in-training older brother Miles turns up unexpectedly. But what happened to the previous governess? Or the live-in riding teacher (???) Peter Quint? Is the house haunted?

The Turning makes you jump a few times with Boo! scares and spiders, but any second division footballer can do that. The wandering around in the dark and the antics of the insufferable Miles quickly get very wearing, and the final stretch abandons its ending and dissolves into incomprehensible nonsense that might be supernatural or might all be in Kate's increasingly hysterical mind, assuming that you still care at this point. (The reason why she returns to the house, having decided to quit, is just silly.) The sudden, abrupt arrival of the closing credits almost suggests a proper ending was never shot and the released version is cobbled together from whatever footage was available. Either way, The Turning is an afternoon thoroughly wasted. Go watch The Innocents by Jack Clayton instead.

*

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

LIST: THE WORST FILMS OF 2019

I probably dodged a lot of bullets in 2019 by seeing fewer films than usual. Still picked up a few flesh wounds though...

[5] SERENITY
All-star reality-bending nonsense whose final twist is a throw-something-at-the-TV-in-disgust moment that would have been only slightly less stupid if Matthew McConaughey had suddenly woken up and It Had All Been A Dream.

[4] ONCE UPON A TIME IN LONDON
London gangster non-epic that wants to be Goodfellas and absolutely isn't. Every single one of the unloveable, unlikeable, deeply unsympathetic and charmless characters can go die in a skip. It's tiresome, it's tedious, and it goes on for ever.

[3] IN FABRIC
Peter Strickland continues to make films that I don't like, or at the very least don't get. As far as cursed red dress movies go, this isn't as good as Tobe Hooper's I'm Dangerous Tonight, and that was piffle. This is arty toss of the worst kind.

[2] NIGHT HUNTER
What possessed Henry Cavill, after three Superman movies and a high-profile villain turn in the last Mission Impossible, to play a slobby cop-on-the-edge in a sleazy abduction psycho thriller with a crashingly obvious twist? Money? Ben Kingsley, Alexandra Daddario and Stanley Tucci also need to look deep into their souls and ask why.

[1] CRUCIBLE OF THE VAMPIRE
Borderline unwatchable amateur-night horror that underwhelms on all fronts, mysteriously granted a (probably tiny) cinema release before its rightful home on Tesco's bargain racks and selected branches of Cash Converters. With Neil Morrissey.

Dishonourable mentions: High Life, Lords Of Chaos, Tales From The Lodge, Midway, Hustlers.

LIST: THE BEST FILMS OF 2019

This is a much shorter list than usual. For various reasons I haven't seen anywhere near as many new movies this year - only 93 of the films that got a theatrical release in 2019, and not all of them in cinemas anyway - so I'm restricting myself to a Top Five rather than the traditional Ten and including a bunch of movies that are only there because there's not a lot to pick from. Maybe 2020 will be better.

As usual, this only includes films given a theatrical release in 2019 according to the FDA's website; films shown only at FrightFest (such as Feedback, The Drone and Rabid) don't count; films released in 2018 that I didn't see until 2019 (such as Aquaman) don't count. They do count if they were shown in regular cinemas in 2019 but I missed them and caught up with them on DVD later.

[5] SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK
Creepy, thoroughly engaging, visually striking and some terrific monster designs; one of my favourite horror movies of the year and a FrightFest highpoint. More of this sort of thing please.

[4] FAST & FURIOUS: HOBBS & SHAW
I laughed a lot: Johnson and Statham's alpha banter is hilarious throughout and the film delivers on the full-throttle slam-bang idiocy we've come to expect from the F+F franchise. The action hit of the year for me.

[3] LE MANS '66
More car stuff, but more measured, more character-based, with gorgeous period production design and the best racetrack action since Rush, and Bale is terrific. Could have done with ten minutes lopped off the end, though; it should have concluded with the victory.

[2] STAN AND OLLIE
The first film I saw in cinemas this year and it never moved far from the top of the list: joyous, perfect leads, impeccably done.

[1] ONE CUT OF THE DEAD
The Noises Off of zombie cinema is an absolute gem. Not just for its astonishing 45-minute single-take opening of a terrible zombie film, but the behind-the-scenes joy at seeing all the jokes fall into place to explain how and why it was so terrible. An exhilarating work of meta genius.

A few honourable mentions: Official Secrets, Destroyer, Zombieland: Double Tap, Happy Death Day 2U (shut up, I liked it), Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, Toy Story 4, 21 Bridges.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

BLACK CHRISTMAS / BLACK CHRISTMAS / BLACK CHRISTMAS

CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS

Really? Another Black Christmas? Well, yes, although it's actually nothing to do with either the 1974 film or the 2006 remake, just an entirely unrelated story given a familiar title - and if I'd known that before, I probably wouldn't have bothered rewatching those two earlier films in preparation.

Bob Clark's Black Christmas is probably the first teen slasher movie proper, dating from 1974 (the same year as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it predates Halloween by four years and the first Friday The 13th by six) and certainly one that boasts a lot of what would later be the over-familiar tropes and cliches of scores of cheap teenkill quickies. It's just coming up to Christmas and most of the college housemates are either planning to leave for the holidays or staying over in the sorority house, but it's not long before People Start Disappearing. Does it have anything to do with the Obscene Phone Calls? Are the calls actually Coming From Inside The House? Is there Something Spooky In The Attic?

This is the third of Bob Clark's horror films, after Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things and the rather good Dead Of Night, and I was never much of a fan of it but at least it's cruel and nasty. By later slasher standards it's actually quite restrained, concentrating on quiet atmosphere rather than loud shock, and with some respectable names in the cast including Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder among the girls, Keir Dullea as a ludicrously creepy boyfriend and obvious suspect, and the great John Saxon as the cop on the case. It's not actually much fun (though the later payoff to Kidder's fellatio prank is hilarious), generally playing things pretty serious, responsible and grown-up rather than going for the traditional sex-and-booze teenage co-ed antics.

Oddly, the 1974 film still carries an 18 certificate, probably for its aggressive use of the C-word in the obscene phone calls. By contrast, Glen Morgan's 2006 Black Christmas gets away with a mere 15 despite racking up much more gore, violence, sleaze and depravity, with incest, cannibalism and gouged eyeballs sprinkled on top, to perversely satisfying levels. It takes Billy and Agnes, two random names included in the first film's threatening phone calls, develops them into a complete backstory and shuffles them into all the first film's tropes, along with Maniac Escapes From Local Asylum, Douchebag Boyfriend's Secret Sex Tape, The Killer's POV Of Girl In Shower and a final rendition of The Killer Isn't Dead After All. This, frankly is much more fun on a dumb popcorn level even though it's far sillier, has too many characters getting offed and is as stuffed with cliches and familiar moments as it is; I have always had a soft spot for it that I'll accept it doesn't entirely deserve.

Sophia Takal's 2019 horror Black Christmas is [1] nothing to do with Black Christmas 1974, [2] nothing to do with Black Christmas 2006, and [3] pants. Dispensing entirely with Billy and Agnes, it's a clunky hashtag drama with nonsensical supernatural overtones and a plot that makes even less sense than the 2006 film. Again it's the last week before Christmas break at the upmarket and very expensive Nathaniel Hawthorne College (named for its occultist and colossally misogynist founder) where sexual assault victim Imogen Poots and her sorority sisters find themselves up against the elitist sexual predator fraternity possessed by the undead spirit of Hawthorne. Cue hooded cult members wielding crossbows, insufficient splatter due to the demands of the PG13 rating, and fierce arguments of sexual (and to a lesser extent racial) politics between #MeToo and #NotAllMen so clumsily shoehorned into it that it sometimes feels less a horror movie with a contemporary and relevant subtext, than a preachy feminist drama with a few killings dotted through it - a pity, since the opening stalk-and-slash sequence is actually quite nicely done.

This one is bland and soft, a crustless lettuce sandwich of a film, and its villains are so obviously the chiselled male models of Alpha Alpha Alpha that it's almost surprising that that's exactly who they are, and the climactic free-for-all is just a mess. I wanted to like it (obviously; why wouldn't I?) but aside from a few nicely handled moments it's entirely unremarkable and hardly worth the hassle of going to the cinema for; DVD is really its natural home. Disappointing.

**
***
**