‘Twas the Season…

…for lots of screaming and running around aimlessly, before dying horribly (and I’m not talking about the Boxing Day sales).

In the run up to Christmas, when sensible people we’re getting into the spirit of the thing by watching It’s a Wonderful Life (yet again) and the latest iteration of A Christmas Carol I made do with a couple of horror classics, because that’s how I roll.

Friday the 13th (1980)

To my shame I’d never actually seen this seminal slasher movie before, though the way in which its tropes have been incorporated into the subgenre made it all seem very familiar.

The plot is about as basic as it can get. Umpteen years after it was closed when a child was drowned, Camp Crystal Lake is reopening, but on a wet and windy night somebody starts to murder the camp counsellors. And they continue to do so until the inevitable reveal and triumph of the final girl.

This was the film that launched the career of Jason Voorhees, though as I’m sure everyone knows, the machete wielding, hockey mask wearing hulk is not the bad guy. As I said, the plot is pretty basic – we know that x number of people will be killed, with the pleasure invested in the thrill of seeing elaborate deaths enacted on celluloid, the mystery of who is doing the killing and why, and rooting for the sole survivor. There’s not a lot to be said about all this. In the popular parlance, it pretty much does what it says on the tin, with believable characters and a tense atmosphere, as the idyllic summer promise of  the day turns into the terror of night without end. Acting honours go to Betsy Palmer as the barking mad Mrs Voorhees, while the rest of the cast do their best to die with feeling. I got rather niggled by the final girl, who put the killer down not once, not twice, but four times, and each time ran off allowing the killer to get back on their feet and carry on with their homicidal ambitions, instead of sensibly tying them up or breaking their legs with a tire iron to render further pursuit impossible. Yes, violence is a bad thing, but there are limits. All in all, I enjoyed it rather more than not and there’s another box ticked on my horror genre checklist.

Black Christmas (1974)

Another seminal slasher, and the better movie in my opinion, in that it not only horrifies with messy deaths but also genuinely creeps out the viewer.

It’s Christmas and the female members of a sorority house are terrorised by an anonymous caller, who then escalates into bloody murder, the contrast between what’s going on in the house and the festive air outside adding an extra frisson. Superficially it’s just another monster in human form crossing names off his kill list, with the requisite nasty deaths and red herrings, but by letting the killer use technology (the phone) to stalk his victims and having him hide inside the house (one of the most chilling moments in the film is when a young woman is told the obscene phone calls are coming from within the house, a ploy 1471 has made redundant I guess) it hits home, praying on our fears of having our space violated, of betrayal by those closest to us and the objects we rely on to expand our world. It also scores points by never revealing the killer’s identity or neatly wrapping his motives up in an explanation of sorts as happened with Mrs Voorhees – this monster simply exists, an elemental force beyond reason, and though it now reeks of cliché the open ending introduces a disturbing note of ambiguity. Add to that sterling performances from all involved, especially Margot Kidder, who as the foul mouthed house mother is a long way from her Lois Lane role, and Olivia Hussey as a vulnerable but determined final girl, plus some memorable tableaux of death, and you have a seriously good horror movie that fires on all cylinders, subverting the Christmas spirit into something unremittingly dark and bleak.

So, which film do you guys prefer?

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