Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Santa Claus is coming
to town
Ho,  ho, holy fuck!...... It’s taken me some time to get to this rather infamous little killer Santa title but it dropped through my post box this morning just in time for me to give it a viewing and to offer up this written review. Sorry it’s not a video review but I’m away from my computer for the next week and my humble laptop is unlikely to be able to handle video editing. But anyway.
Killer Santa movies aren’t exactly a rarity, I reviewed the very enjoyable Christmas Evil last year and this year it’s time for what is probably one of the most notorious of the slightly bizarre sub-genre.
Your insults only make me stronger!
Silent Night, Deadly Night as many will know caused a huge shit storm to be whipped up by the morally indignant in the US causing the film to be withdrawn for some time by it’s distributors and initiating a mental meltdown of several notable critics and Mickey Rooney. Yup, enough said there, I shan’t elaborate any further on the controversy here other than to note that on its return the following year the film proudly bragged about its war wounds from the battle, as well it should. I love it when the negative hype has the reverse effect on censorship. The protests and hysteria are well documented and it’s outright hilarious to hear Siskel and Ebert sticking the boot in with their usual slasher hating rhetoric. They may have been critical icons but they were just as susceptible to loosing their critical faculties as the Daily Mails film critics are when faced with something a little tasteless.
And this isn't the Mail for a change

Since tasteless is what I specialise in lets have a look at this naughty little number.....

The first thing that seems to strike home about Silent Night, Deadly Night is it does take a very much more straight faced approach than a film like this would be expected to. Don’t get me wrong it does have moments of humour, some of it very dark, other times, like the Christmas Party being opened to a cry of ‘Lets get shitfaced!’ are very lighthearted but there are occasions to indulge in a guilty snicker or two along the way however the overall tone of the film leans towards the meaner side of attitudes as is demonstrated in scenes like when Billy’s parents are murdered by an astoundingly overzealous killer Santa. This scene is pretty uncomfortable to sit through despite its slightly ludicrous circumstance. The sexual side to the violence, something that will be a fairly strong theme throughout the film, does feel somewhere between rather sleazy and Gratuitous though in some respects it does belong considering how much of a component of the killer this stuff is.
Dream on Santa boy!
And this is the thing. Silent Night, Deadly Night is not a film that should be written off as being simply another bog standard slasher and this is because it really takes time out to set up the killer. We follow the formative events such as his Granddads creepy mind games with him and the subsequent (and a little too convenient) attack by the Santa-suit clad arsehole. Then there’s Christmas in the orphanage run by the nasty disciplinarian nun who reinforces his fear of and reaction to Santa and sexual behaviour and years later his breakdown at the Christmas party after having to not only witness his crush get hit on by his piece of crap co-worker but also having had to spend his entire day traumatised by being made to dress up as his worst nightmare. While it’s all a bit episodic, propelled by extremes of convenience and a bit of a clusterfuck of circumstance, stupidity(by the characters) and paranoia (from Billy) it is quite extraordinary the length this film goes to to build a sequence of events that makes him what he is. This does build an empathy with the killer though that is very quickly dampened when he loses his shit at the office party killing the deserving and commendable along side each other. 

Witness the worst Robin Hood costume ever!
This is also the point that the film goes into overdrive though this is a hefty chunk of the run-time in at near 40 minutes of a film that is only just over twice that and it’s not like its been an uneventful ride up until now. His first kill seems justifiable, after all the guy  was attempting rape and the memory was brought back to the fore, but when he turns on his crush and then his boss who have looked out for him up until this point then we can’t really be on board and he’s now become an irredeemable evil guy.  His choice of victims from this point is a random selection. Billy kills starts off with an unforgiveable crime...... He offs Linnea Quigley. This does not ingratiate me towards him. Back in the film world Billy is killing very much at random for perceived naughty behaviour and given Linnea Quigley is around then it’s not a stretch for any imagination to realise that it’s sex and nudity that flips his Santa lid this time and before we know it  Ms Quigley gets nailed... to the wall....with the horn, that’s animal horns... damn it it’s Linnea Quigley, innuendo is unavoidable, I’m sorry.
Joking aside, this is really another time when we can’t like Billy, and this is something that the film plays with quite often, juggling our sympathy with Billy with the desire to see him stopped. One minute he’s slashing up perfectly innocent folks then he’s decapitating bullies, then he’s turning up at the orphanage, he is a killer with a very unreliable compass and after dispatching the young couple he has one of those desperately uncomfortable film moments where he is in the position of menacing a young child, something that he first does when working as the store Santa.  What is more interesting though is how the other characters react to the fact that there is a killer Santa running around and paranoia kicks in when it comes to dealing with what should be a familiar and friendly character. Of course there is the inevitable near misses and friendly fire which is bizarre when you think of Santa being gunned down by the police. It’s funny in a rather dark way, the paranoia and fear that Billy has it passed on to everyone else including the policemen, to the point that they are prepared to shoot any Santa they find....
Open season on Santa!
 ...... I take it back, it’s not necessarily so funny, it’s actually unintentionally satirical on today’s  police profiling. By the end of the film there is mostly satisfaction though one character that probably should have been topped off survives, much to my annoyance.Some have seen more satire in the film than I have. For me Silent Night, Deadly Night is a pretty straight forward film in terms of what its doing but it does do it really very well. It is of course some way short of greatness but it does have conviction and is genuinely uncomfortable in all the right places, occasionally it’s even rather disturbing. For a movie that has a premise that so easily can become silly Silent Night, Deadly Night is very determined to ditch the comedy and get serious when it feels it necessary and that’s where it manages to succeed where others have failed. It spends time developing the important character to a point where he is more than simply a monster like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees is for instance but what it truly excels at is presenting the Santa myth  from a very dark point of view, after all there are many reasons why Santa can be seen to be incredibly creepy and this film keys into those ideas, such as him punishing the naughty and having his house breaking activities have a more sinister spin. With the central performance by Robert Brian Wilson there is a sense of his escalating breakdown and his threatening the squirming, crying girl at the store does feel desperately uncomfortable, as does his later crazed rampage on occasions. The occasional humourous moments such as the bullies demise do keep things from getting too heavy which makes this one of those few occasions where comic relief is pitched at just the right level, thank god.
Not all the performances are particularly strong but overall this film doesn’t exactly suffer too badly at any point from the performances which at worst get a bit shaky but not offensively bad.  It’s thoughtfully directed, playful as well as being in your face and bothers to give us insight into the murderous maniac for once. I’ve never seen the sequels and frankly given what I have read and seen of them they rather seem to divert from how this one is in many ways particularly in their tone so maybe that’s for the best. The original is a worthwhile film and deservedly has a loyal core of fans, and it’s an interesting and worthy alternative to the usual Christmas movie choice for slasher fans.
The making of a future Tory MP

Friday, 29 March 2013

S3: The Black Room

Welcome to Section 3, home to the near nasties, those trashy little gems that made the DPP squirm in anticipation. This episode I have for you a film that once again re-jigs the vampire myth as a room with an unusual view goes up for rent. Ambiguous relationships, filthy fantasies and blood draining weirdos all cram themselves into the abode of ill repute as we take an ill advised stay in... The Black Room.

Unique and exotic.... The Black Room
Larry is a family man, though his love life is being slowly killed off by a lack of passion brought on by a long marriage, a mundane life and two attention demanding kids. His solution is to spice up his sex life by renting an exotic room out of town and bringing young women there to have sex with then telling his wife about them, claiming they're just fantasies. He settles for a rather unusual room known as the Black room which is rented out by Jason who suffers from a blood disorder, and his sister Bridget. They are very accommodating to his needs, setting the room up with wine and candles, but the cost of the room is so much higher than Larry realises. To add to troubles, Larry's wife has found out that the fantasies are significantly more real than she thought and now she wants a bit of black room time. Now at risk of losing their easy supply of blood doners Jason and Bridget have some tricks up their sleeves in order to keep the supply running.

Friendly Landlords at the Black Room
The Black Room is a slightly convoluted tale. This isn't because its a particularly complicated story it's just that the story throws in a couple of things that for some reason don't quite seem to gel together at first.
Primarily there is the storyline of the cheating husband who hires the black room and then tell his wife about his activities under the pretence of them being nothing more than fantasies he's dreamt up....... and it works fantastically, until she accidentally finds out the truth and pays the room a visit herself. The other part of the story is that of the landlords of the Black Room, Jason and Bridget, an odd couple who stretch the boundaries of a brother/sister relationship while entertaining the visitors to the Black Room, right before draining them of their blood. Each side of the story is fairly nuanced particularly that of the relationship between Larry and Robin. Where it would be very easy for the writing to take the high moral ground and entirely vilify Larry for his behaviour, it actually takes time to explore the subject from a surprisingly remote stance. His behaviour is of course shown as being largely selfish and this is particularly demonstrated by his reaction to seeing his wife in the black room later but the fact still remains that he clearly loves his wife and family.
While on the surface his behaviour would be regarded as destructive it seems in his case, and his wife's as well, that the acts are actually having some beneficial effects on their lives. This is not of course to say that it's exactly something that is advocated, it's simply part of what is the overall picture the film is painting. The Black Room presents us with two very different aspects of a sex life in comparison, Larry and Robins domestic situation gives us the very mundane and any marital bliss is sabotaged by the bratty cock blocking kids who are seriously obnoxious. The film doesn't quite go so far as to condemn the kids specifically in any way but it sure as hell shows the effect kids can have in a relationship. On top of this Larry and Robin have been married a long time and familiarity has caused stagnation. Larry's remedy for this, as extreme and morally dubious as it is, certainly fires up the relationship to a high degree, possibly saving the marriage. If this was the be all of the film then it may be a rather ridiculous stance to take. This is where Jason and Bridget come in. This couple are a rather extreme couple. Not only do they have a particularly odd relationship, devoid of sex itself but none the less sexual in other regards, they have some rather exotic tastes. First off there is the voyeurism. Jason takes photo's and is clearly sexually excited by the process, particularly when it comes to seeing his sister in action. Then of course there is the contrivance of the vampirism that he goes through.

The vampire myth has often been equated to sexual metaphore and here is no exception, in fact its quite overt. Jason really gets off on the transfer of bodily fluids, as do the victims it seems. There is an undeniable and in fact rather perverse sexual aspect to the bad guys here. Jason and Bridgets relationship, though not sexual in the traditional sense, is very much so terms of how they interact with each other and their reactions to situations. They, as it turns out, are every bit as dysfunctional as those who visit the black room. Their sexual experiences are entirely by proxy, there is always distance. Jason gets off on the voyeuristic activity of photography, he even takes erotic pictures of his sister and enjoys it every bit as much as he does watching his tenants. This is just one of several incestuous traits they display.
But as overtly sexual as they are they are also very removed from the recognisable sexual act for the most part. When Bridget has sex with Larry she seems to realise this but for the most part their sexual experience, in whatever form, is removed from the physical aspects of the act. Even the vampire acts are done at a distance with the blood being drawn from the victim by a machine and delivered to Jason who sits a fair distance from the unwilling donor though the reactions of both the victim and Jason are quite clearly sexual. In a nod to the traditional vampire it's worth noting the twin pronged device used to penetrate the neck, it's similarity to the fangs of a vampire are rather marked.

The upshot of all this is that we have two couples that are opposite ends of the sexual spectrum. Larry and Robin are the conventional couple with a non existent sex life. Jason and Bridget on the other hand are the rather extreme in their sexual tastes however they too have no sex life. The common ground is the Black Room where both parties get to indulge their fantasies. The thing is that it's also a place where sex and its consequences become dangerously ambiguous. For Larry and Robin its the place that at first seems to save, then nearly destroys their marriage and lives. For Jason in particular his sex life, in familiar, physical terms, exists only in this room which he can only enjoy voyeuristicaly.  The penetrative and for lack of a more subtle description, the fluid exchange for him exists in the form of his murderous acts. It's no less sexual for him, it's as vital an act as sex is for anyone, and the black Room is simply the common ground, a place that provides and fuels their sexual experiences, that salvages their lives in one way or another, where the mundane and the extreme can meet and mutually benefit to a degree but ultimately sex and sexual behaviour of this kind becomes the all consuming monster in whatever guise it comes in.
The Black Room is a very surprising movie. It takes on some socially difficult positions and it's handling of the character Larry in particular is rather fascinating. The sexual politics that are explored here are done so with a unusual lack of judgement on the characters themselves and while it does draw some conclusions, some of which can seem questionable, the story does dive into the discussion with a refreshing lack of criticism of the people involved concentrating rather than the issues themselves. The device of having Jason being a vampire of sorts is a great example of how to use traditional movie monsters in a thoughtful and effective fashion. The Black Room does occasionally fall into cliché, and nearly all of the time it's related to Jason and Bridget who come across as insanely off kilter and overplayed. A slightly played down characterisation of these characters may have elevated this film further, but it is all a part of the strangely surreal world that the film puts forward and as such although I felt they were played too large, it's not entirely out of place with the films more eccentric elements.

What is particularly strong about the film though is how it separates sex from love with regards to Larry's behaviour whilst also acknowledging how important it is in a relationship as is demonstrated by the reinvigouration of their love life by the fantasies that Larry brings back.  Robins behaviour on finding out about Larry's cheating is rather interesting and the progression from that point does provide a moral stand on the situation regarding the Black Room activities, though again it's not judgemental about it.

The Black Room is overall a rather good film, it takes a very different approach to its subject and subtext and while it could be seen as being a bit slow it really doesn't seem to waste any time. The characters are all rather interesting and atmosphere of the dawning horror of what's going on is built up rather effectively. It's all rather strikingly bizarre and attention grabbing, certainly a film that's worth catching however you can. Credit goes to the directors for taking an interesting idea and being able to go with some fairly juicy horror scenes without letting that element dominate over what is an interesting story with many facets. On top of this there is are the performances that although the bad guys can be a bit hammy from time to time it is all round rather well done and certainly does the characters justice. Unfortunately The Black Room doesn't have a dvd release which is a real shame considering that this is a film that really deserves an audience.