Wicked Wendesday

Wicked Wednesday: Black Christmas (2006)

Every year I put off watching this. I have no idea what possessed me to watch it this year, but it was 100% an absolute mistake.

Remakes are tricky. They have a bad reputation at this moment in time when the market is saturated with them, but there are many remakes that are incredibly successful. Anything from The Thing and yes even the 2013 Evil Dead are great movies, even sometimes (in the case of The Thing) vastly improving on the original.

Making a successful remake, though, is hard. It needs to stand on its own two feet without being too dissimilar where it only exists to rip off a name, and it needs to be original in its own right.

The 2006 Black Christmas is a cynical money-grab that can kiss my Christmas ass. Even with Bob Clark’s name attached and Andrea Martin’s role as the house mother couldn’t save this sinking ship.

This remake is pretty standard fair when it comes to the plot. If you have seen the original, imagine that but stripped down to its bare bones. The film attempts to add some originality by adding a back story for Billy.

Unfortunately, this is the film’s biggest faux pas. One of the original’s strengths is that we really have no idea what “Billy” wants or why he’s doing what he’s doing. It’s the feeding of small facts throughout the film that makes it unknown feel large and terrifying.

Like many remakes, Black Christmas is trying to create a story about characters that we just don’t care about. Actually, you had me caring about Billy and his father until the father gets killed. The story just gets daft from there – and not even in a fun House on Sorority Row way.

There was a fairly decent cast here, that could have made something convincing if given the right material. Mary Elizabeth Winstead in particular has proved time and time again she has the chops for horror, but she’s entirely forgettable (though I really don’t blame her). But by focusing so much on Billy and his story, it takes away from the time that could be invested in making us care about the Sorority sisters. It’s pretty difficult to care about any of them. They most exist to just be bodies (but I guess this is a slasher after all).

Ultimately, I am incredibly biased. The 1974 Black Christmas is not only my favourite Christmas horror movie, but it’s one of my favourite movies ever. It preys upon all my fears and has some incredibly real horrible moments.

This remake attempts to capture those same moments, but it always falls short. The visuals of Billy’s eyes watching the girls is so terrifying in the original and here it just feels…perverted. I guess both are meant to be that way, but one is much more effective than the other.

Added ‘twists’ are pretty obvious and, again, just not that impressive.

So “in summary”: Black Christmas 2006 is overly-long. It’s tired and cliched. And it’s very, very, very boring. Skip this and just rewatch the original. Not that you probably needed any convincing otherwise.

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Wicked Wednesday: Bad Ben (2016)

I have a good friend who loves to dig through the depths of Amazon Prime’s horror movie selection. Over drinks, he enjoys telling me of the strangest ones he’s seen or even the ones with the oddest-sound scenarios. Does he enjoy any of these movies? Probably not. Does he ever listen to my recommendations for good films that he will enjoy? Never.

But easily the most intriguing film series he told me about is Bad Ben. Now this is a movie that you tell your friends about.

Bad Ben follows Tom Riley (literally the only actor in the movie) after he purchases a house from a sheriff’s sale. He has put all his life savings into the house so that he can flip it and sell it at a profit.

When he arrives at the house, he discovers that a lot of valuable furniture has been left behind. What he also notices is that several security cameras have been set up throughout the house. He beings to play with the system and eventually learns how to work it.

Thus Tom’s story begins to unfold in both his camera footage and the security cameras.

As with many of these found footage movies, poor Tom begins to mess with things he shouldn’t. He throws away the religious items. Desecrates a grave.

So Tom messes with things, and things begin to mess with Tom. It starts with the furniture moving. Then it’s noises in the basement and attic plus a horrible smell.

With a bit of sleuthing, Tom finds out that the previous owners were murdered in the home. It’s from there that he begins to unravel the truth behind the grave in his backyard and what sinister things are really happening in the house.

Bad Ben was solely acted, filmed and directed by Nigel Bach. If you’re not into Nigel’s character Tom, chances are you probably won’t care about this movie at all. But I quite liked Tom. He isn’t likable, per se, but like all of my favourite found footage films, he felt like a real person. And if the people feel real, the eeriness of the haunting will feel real too.

Sure, you are ultimately watching a guy who dresses like my dad walking around his house doing things my dad would like to do (ie mowing the lawn). And you have to suspend belief a little bit. I mean he talks aloud to himself all the time. But this movie is still really watchable.

I love the story behind this film. I love that it was Nigel doing this all on his own (with some help, I’m sure). It’s basically what we’ve all wanted to do: make our own damn movie. It’s pretty easy to feel cynical about big budget films. A lot of the times they really feel soulless. It felt really good to watch something that had a creator that was obviously passionate about what he was doing – and was clearly enjoying the hell out of it.

Bad Ben is weird. Bad Ben is wonderful. And it has absolutely won my heart.

Wicked Wednesday: Home Sweet Home (1981)

Last year, I had the, er, pleasure of watching Blood Freak for a Thanksgiving-tinted horror movie. It was a bizarre tale in what happens when you take too many drugs (or rather are drug tested on).

That movie was absolutely nuts but kind of fun. So this year I thought I’d test my luck again with the Thanksgiving Day-set Home Sweet Home. Weirdly, this is also about a drug-fuelled maniac but there are no feathers or genetic mutations involved.

Kill Jay Jones is an escaped mental patient who killed his parents. There’s nothing else that you’ll learn about him, and this is apparently not very relevant any way. He hits an old lady with his stolen station wagon and heads on out to a ranch in the isolated countryside.

The ranch is owned by record company owner Harold. He, his girlfriend and his children live together there with a tenant, Scott. For Thanksgiving, Harold brings the family and friends around for a meal.

But things soon go wrong with the power is shut off, and the group discover that there is NO WINE. So the group split off: Harold’s girlfriend Linda and her friend go for wine, Harold goes for more gas for the generator.

Of course ol’ Jay gets to this lot first and kills them. But first not without long, meandering scenes like the women getting lost, then pulled over by police. Or Harold siphoning gas from Jay’s stolen station wagon.

The rest of the guests are also picked off one-by-one in relatively unimaginative ways. Plus by the time they all sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, the night is so dark I can’t make anything out.

One of the more interesting characters is “Mistake” – Harold’s Kiss Army son (who looks rather like Monkey from The Adicts). He carries around a guitar and portable amp just so he can harass people. In a rather strange scene, one woman, Maria, is taken by Jay by knifepoint. Mistake follows, pleading for her to be kept safe. The dumbass doesn’t take the guitar off, though. Which, I don’t know, if in a life-or-death situation I’d say fuck the guitar and use it as a weapon to wield against the GIANT ESCAPED MURDERER.

But he gets electrocuted later so I guess it’s fine?

Anyway, the last third of the film is really rather boring. The whole thing is boring, but this third is relatively more boring. Scott and his girlfriend, along with a little girl named Angel, hole up inside the house. Scott walks around the house a bit and sits back down to hug the girls. Then he gets back up and walks around again to sit back down.

This is truly some incredible and suspenseful stuff here.

But really, the movie suffers too much from being so dark. Thankfully the final scene is during the morning hours. That way I can actually see what’s happening. Not that’s really worth it. You could probably guess the ending with your eyes closed anyway.

It must be pretty difficult to make a Thanksgiving horror movie. The best ‘movie’ to capture the ambiance is probably Eli Roth’s fake trailer for Thanksgiving in Grindhouse. That at least has scenes with turkey in it. I’m not sure if this one did. Mostly because I couldn’t make anything out on the screen.

So to call this a ‘Thanksgiving horror movie’ is probably being really loose with the term. It’s just set on Thanksgiving. And they cook…sometimes. But there’s really no mood or atmosphere and it’s just terrible boring…

Which, actually, was a lot like the Thanksgivings from my childhood. So I stand corrected.

Wicked Wednesday: Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare (2010)

My quest for mindlessness movies seems to be continuing into this week. That’s not to say that cartoons are always mindless, but Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare really is.

The gang go to Camp Little Moose when Fred insists that they all be counselors there. When they arrive at his old camp, they discover that the children are all gone after the appearance of “The Woodsman”, a tall man with an axe (go figure).

But the gang decide to stay with head counselor Burt and the three children that arrive by bus that night. Fred tries to make the most of it by sending the kids to Big Moose Lake, a superior body of water on the other side of a dam.

While enjoying the water, Scooby discovers an underwater town. But before he can explore he’s attacked by the Fishman, another character based off a campfire story at Camp Little Moose.

After being chased by the Fishman, the local ranger suggests that the gang pack up and close the camp. They don’t, otherwise it would be a rather short mystery.

One of the counselors from the camp at Big Moose Lake, Jessica, decides to help out Fred and the others from Camp Little Moose. She tells them that strange things have been happening at her camp too. Gear has gone missing, including an RV and sonar equipment. The group decides to split up: one to explore where the missing RV went and the other to the scuba dive in the lake.

The scuba group explore the water and are attacked by the Fishman. They all manage to escape, and one of the campers finds dynamite inside an underwater cave.

The other group head into a canyon, where the discover the RV has been disguised to blend in with the canyon walls. Inside the RV, Velma finds a sonar map of the bottom of the lake. But before they can head home, they are chased by a Specter, yet another campfire story.

After the excitement of the day, one of the campers, nerdy Deacon, leaves camp to supposedly go home. The rest of the gang go to a nearby museum on local history to learn more about the map they saw.

At the museum, they learn that the underwater buildings make up what once was Moose Creek. The town was home to a notorious gangster, who supposedly buried his loot in the town. The dam was built and the town was eventually flooded (’cause that’s a thing), leaving the loot at the bottom of the lake somewhere.

They’re also told that the gangster told his cellmate where the loot was hidden. A note Velma reads from the museum tells them how to find it: something about a summer solstice and the light on a steeple.

They head back to the camp and find that it’s trashed. Though there isn’t too much time to feel bad about it. The dam is blown up, causing the lower ground, Camp Little Moose, to be flooded. The gang and the campers manage to escape, then proceed to explore the now-revealed Moose Creek.

It’s revealed that Deacon (!?) is actually Babyface Boretti, the former cellamate of the gangster. How in the fucking world no one noticed that a GROWN MAN was not a child is beyond me. I guess it’s one of those Clark Kent sort of deals.

Anyway, they discover the treasure. Rebuild the camp to combine both camps. Hooray. And Christ did it feel like it took a long time to get to this inevitable conclusion.

I mean, Scooby-Doo movies have never been watertight with its plots, but this one really takes a few leaps of logic. The culprit is actually pretty stupid – I still don’t really understand how it’s remotely plausible (and yes, I have reminded myself that this is a children’s cartoon).

Ultimately, though, the story is just not compelling enough to make up an 80 minute-long movie. It gets pretty repetitive and boring. This is all pretty standard fair. Definitely not one of the best.

Wicked Wednesday: Deadtime Stories (1986)

I spent went felt like an absolute age trying to pick out this week’s film. I wanted something complete stupid and mindless. And as soon as I saw Deadtime Stories, I knew I had found the perfect thing.

This anthology movie is a weird one. A young boy is being babysat by his uncle (why is never explained), and the young boy demands a bedtime story before he can do to sleep.

His uncle begrudgingly begins to tell him the story about a fisherman’s son who has to live with two witches when he runs out of options. They drag him around to help create the spell to raise their sister from the dead.

He eventually must seduce a girl so that they can sacrifice her life. But the son falls for the girl and turns against the sisters. While the story has a traditionally happy ending, the uncle changes it to one of death just to please his nephew.

The last two stories are significantly better. The first sort of looks like the fairy tale bits from Troll 2. But the latter take on a much more watchable Troma vibe.

Story number two is a twist on Little Red Riding Hood. Rachel is a sexually frustrated teenager. She also likes to go running. Are these things related? Maybe.

One evening, Rachel is sent off to get her grandmother’s meds and deliver them to her. She bumps into a rather wolfish man while at the pharmacy and the two accidentally switch prescriptions.

The man attempts to go track down the grandmother, but she refuses to answer the door. Rachel, who still hasn’t delivered the goods to gran, is too busy losing her virginity to her boring boyfriend. Eventually, the man turns into a werewolf without his meds. He kills grandma, and he kills Rachel’s boyfriend too.

The werewolf is eventually killed, but not before it can turn grandma into a werewolf as well. “What big teeth you have!”

The third bedtime story is easily the best. It’s zany and beyond stupid. In Goldi Lox and the three Baers, two members of the Baer family escape from a mental asylum with the help of Mama Baer. After avoiding the police, they agree to return to their usual hideout to lay low. But when they arrive, the discover that the Goldi Lox is already.

Lox is also an escapee. She’s also a serial killer with telepathic powers (because of course). While the Baers are initially upset with her presence, they agree to let her stay. The family soon learn that having Lox around is a great asset to their lifestyle.

It’s totally loony, but it’s great in a very over-the-top sort of way. And it certainly takes many leaps of logic to actually believe.

In the end, when the uncle finished his stories, the little boy is attacked by a puppet monster in his room. A bit of a weak payoff in the end, considering it’s difficult to even understand what the puppet it meant to be doing.

But you don’t exactly go into a movie like Deadtime Stories and expect really high quality. It’s a weird sort of film that made my evening just that bit more enjoyable.

Wicked Wednesday: The Witch in the Window (2018)

Horror is having a bit of a moment, isn’t it? More than ever, the stories of ghosts and maniacs are becoming popular, in large part due to the fact that they feel so relevant. One of the best themes in many contemporary horror films is family. You’ll see it in The Babadook, Hereditary, and the new Halloween film. And that trend continues in the beautiful and subtle The Witch in the Window.

Simon and his son, Finn, head out to the Vermont countryside where Simon is supposedly flipping an old farmhouse. Finn has been banished from his home with his mother in the city after doing something not-quite explicitly said on the internet. Their relationship has been both strained and distant, which is mostly due to Simon’s long absences from his son’s life.

The father-son duo get off to a rocky start. Finn, for one, is resistant to help restore the house with his father. He also claims the toys his father got out of storage are “childish”, and he talks back with some very colourful language.

Simon brings out the local electrician and neighbour, Louis, who tells him that the line had been clipped. After Simon expresses his dismay, Louis takes the opportunity to tell the story of the woman who used to live in the house. She wasn’t very well liked, often called a witch because she loved horrible things happening to people. Both her husband and son died in a suspicious accident.

Louis’ story unsettles Simon and Finn, but they both try to blow it off. But things begin to go “wrong” in the house. Much of the slow build-up consists of searching for the witch, Lydia, who seems to be lurking in every scene.

When the father and son realise Lydia’s ghost is really haunting them, Simon must step up as a father and take care of his son.

The Witch in the Window really takes a sad turn at the end, but it’s not exploitative. Rather, it feels open-ended enough to encourage a bit of thought.

This movie is certainly blurs the genre lines. Any one looking for an all-out ghost thriller won’t find it here. The story is very subtle and character-driven. But it’s so well done. Over the span the movie, I really came to care about Simon and Finn a lot.

Horror movies can churn out disposable characters, but occasionally, it feels really good to invest in someone.

Wicked Wednesday: Hell House LLC (2015)

Hell House LLC was a bit of a surprise for me. I’ve noticed the cover and read the synopsis a few times over the years. I think I’ve even started watching it at one point, but never have made it more than five minutes in.

But this is really a found-footage gem. It really has all the things I hate in life: haunted houses (the paid attraction kind) and clowns. Throw in some blood and subtle imagery and you have me DEAD.

The film is a mockumentary in some ways – mixing footage with interviews, YouTube videos and still photos. The documentary aims to find out one thing: what happened in the Abaddon Hotel on October 8, 2009?

A group of young entrepreneurs, who own and run Hell House, travel together to a small town in New York state.

Together they aim to put together a haunted house to top anything they’ve done in previous years. Though the group soon realise that the Abaddon Hotel is maybe a bit more than it appears.

As they set up throughout the weeks, tensions run high, and more and more strange and horrible things begin to happen.

Ultimately, it’s revealed what happened on the night of October 8th, using the footage the Hell House group filmed themselves. It takes all the fun out of it to give anything more away.

Like most contemporary horror films, Hell House LLC fails to stick the landing. After so much build-up, the ending is a tiny bit lame. I think that may be mostly to the fact that nothing is very well explained. Just over the line of leaving too much unexplained. Viewers like the fear of the unknown, but it is helpful to have a little bit of context.

But beyond it’s cliched third act, Hell House LLC is one of the first films in a long time that actually manage to terrify me.

Like a good found footage movie, it draws the views in by being believable. The cast all look like people you know, and their terror feels real.

I know I didn’t sleep very well the night after watching this, and that is what I like in a horror film.

If you’re looking for a very Halloween movie to watch building up to the 31st, I recommend this highly. It has the right vibes and will (hopefully) scare all of those bejesuses out of you.