Tis the season of almost Christmas. The pumpkins are finally packed away (boo), it’s socially acceptable for Christmas music, and I’ve already been to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
A Christmas staple in my family is always A Christmas Story. No matter how many times he’s seen it, it’s still one of the few films that makes my dad laugh. So Bob Clark is a bit of a legend with us. Black Christmas is in my top five favourite horror movies ever.
Incidentally, the theatre troupe leader is played by Alan Ormsby, who directed another top favourite of mine, Deranged. Also included is Deranged co-director Jeff Gillen who, as you can guess, plays Jeff.
To keep things simple, this is one of those films in which every character is simply called by their real first names. My favourite kind (saves time on rewinding credits or scanning awful IMDB pages).
So Alan (Ormsby) is the leader of a theatre company that he loves to torture. The titular children are the other company members. Alan’s grand idea of fun is dragging the company to an island that is mostly made up of the graves of deranged criminals. There are many new graves that Alan thinks will be plenty of fun to dig up.
Alan in his very over-the-top Ed Wood hippie impersonation drags the crew to an “abandoned” cabin on the island. He tells them that a caretaker had once murdered his whole family before being sent down to an asylum, and the most recent one hung himself in a room upstairs.
This is total crap. The poor caretaker is tied up to a tree with a corpse.
Crazy, wide-eyed Anya is a rather ominous creature telling everyone that “something is going to happen tonight.” And of course you believe her because 1.) She’s totally nuts and 2.) movie title. Plus she should be pretty freaked out because a Sgt Kabukiman seems to be lurking around in the woods.
Just before midnight (the perfect time for summoning says Alan), the company head out to the graveyard to watch their awful boss try and cast a spell that will call forth the dead from their graves. They promptly stand around the grave of poor Orville, who died in 1971. For some reason, the men go alone with Alan’s plan and dig up the grave.
Rightly so, some of the members are pretty pissed off with the situation they’ve been forced into. But when they threaten to go, Alan reminds them that he can take their jobs away and that they’re crap at acting.
Lo and behold, there are two fake zombies, and they totally scare the crap out of everyone (or literally, someone pisses their pants). Alan’s henchmen are two other company members in make-up and masks. Remember that poor caretaker? He’s still palling around with the real Orville by the tree.
Alan’s spell is a total bust, but he does get to say the best line of the movie (“Satan, you phoney”), so that’s something. Company member Val (or Cher, in a fabulous red get-up) calls upon the powers of acting and throws a bit of voodoo and Satan-worshiping around herself. But whatever she does seems to impress Satan as he apparently agrees to raise the dead. One of the older corpses is seen briefly moving.
But the group don’t notice yet, and head back to the cabin bar the two dudes in their ghoul costumes, who are sentenced to putting things back the way they were. Alan shoulders the corpse of Orville and decides its time for some real fun.
There’s a mock wedding, a bit of casual conversation. Enough to make half the company distressed, particularly Anya, who begins to panic and apologise to the corpse. Though it’s a bit too late.
The ghouls rise, kill off the two idiots in the graveyard and the poor caretaker, then head to the cabin.
At this point, it’s pretty clear that the filmmakers wanted to rip-off Night of the Living Dead and they don’t make it subtle. The nods to the best-ever zombie film are pretty cute. One of the actresses emulates Barbara’s panicked face. There’s the recreation of a man being choked by a ghoul’s arm when it shoots through the window. They even throw in the “you distract them and we’ll get to the (insert escape vehicle here)”.
The latter is what begins the slow demise of the group. Everyone hurries to get help, get to the boat, get out and they all die. Even though Alan tries his best counter-spell (which seems to work), the group are chased and consumed. But seeing Alan getting his just desserts in that yellow cape is pretty damn satisfying.
Watching the zombies crawl onto the boat that the children arrived in is pretty unsettling and eerie. Feels good to watch a quality zombie movie again.
But yes, the film does lag a little at times. And yes it’s poorly lit, but CSPWDT is quiet good. It would have to do a lot to live up to the other works of those involved, but not everything can be the best. For a humorous, yet chilling film, this is really a great one to pick.