This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Black Christmas (1974)

"I don't think you should provoke somebody like that, Barb."
"Oh listen, this guy is minor league. In the city, I get two of those a day."
"Well maybe. But you know that town girl was raped a couple of weeks ago."
"Darling, you can't rape a townie."
-Clare Harrison and Barb Coard.

As this is the holiday season, the Agony Booth recently posted a review of the infamous slasher film Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). This film became instantly notorious upon its release because of its depiction of a Santa Claus-suit-wearing serial killer. The TV spots for the film (which, the review states, were aired during prime time when children are still watching TV) were pulled after just one week, and any cinema showing the film was picketed.
Upon seeing the film for myself years later, I was not surprised to find that it was just as dumb as the many other slasher films that came out during the 1980s. However, I must add that I did not feel that it damaged the image of the holiday season the way many parents said it did. Granted, having the TV spots air at a time when young children are watching TV was not a smart move, but the film itself, when all is said and done, is just dumb fluff and nothing more. If anything positive can be said about the film, it's that it's not as awful as Valentine (2001), which (and I know this is saying a lot) is my choice for the worst slasher film ever, but that's a story for another time.
But the idea of a scary film set during the holiday season can be good, as this gem from 1974 (first released in the U.S. under the title Silent Night, Evil Night) proved. Die hard horror fans know Black Christmas as the film which was the predecessor to Halloween (1978) and, yes, some of the camera angles and the way the film's killer stalks his victims are reminiscent of what we'd later see in that film. One can also see the influence of this film in Wes Craven's Scream (1996), even though the film itself, unlike other slashers, is never mentioned in that picture.
This story focuses on a group of college girls who are terrorized by an unknown stranger in their sorority house during the holidays.
One of them, Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey) is pregnant, but wants an abortion, which upsets her boyfriend Peter Smythe (Keir Dullea). But Jess and her sorority sisters must also contend with harassing phone calls. Her friend Barb Coard (Margot Kidder) basically scoffs at the unknown caller, prompting the presumed man to reply:
"I'm going to kill you!"
Soon, the sisters and their house mother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) begin falling victim to the caller until Jess is the last one standing. The film ends with her killing Peter, thinking he's the killer, but the ending ends with a haunting tone with the suggestion that the killer is still on the loose.
Unlike future slashers, the police here, led by Lt. Kenneth Fuller (John Saxon, who would play a similar role in 1984's classic slasher film A Nightmare on Elm Street) are actually presented as competent.
The killer's taunts over the phone are quite nerve-wracking, and the killings themselves are jolting without being overdone. The final scene of Jess sedated and resting alone in her darkened bedroom also puts the viewer on edge.
Not surprisingly, the film's following over the years led to a stupid, needlessly gory remake in 2006. Like Silent Night, Deadly Night, that film was picketed (it premiered on Christmas Day), but, like other unsuccessful remakes, it makes one appreciate the original more.
The original's director, Bob Clark (who produced the Christmas remake), would go on to even greater success with the sex comedy Porky's (1982) and the beloved, family-friendly comedy classic A Christmas Story (1983), both of which would become quite influential themselves, before his tragic death in a car crash in 2007.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Shakedown (1988)

"Happy is the fleeting hope of youth."
"Who said that?"
"Me. I'm gonna take the streets, Richie."
"Good for you, counselor. Me, too."
-Roland Dalton and Richie Marks.

If any film cliché could be called 'old before it was new,' it is that of having two detectives being 'forced' to work together and then becoming friendly by film's end (although second place on that list would certainly be the guy who pines for a hot girl without realizing that his devoted friend, who's a hot girl herself, is a better match for him).

While some films that have this cliché, such as Lethal Weapon (1987), were very successful, others, such as The Presidio (1988) do nothing new with that point.

One reason I enjoyed Shakedown is that it doesn't waste our time with the two heroes becoming friendly because they already are when the film opens.

Our heroes in this case are public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) and narcotics cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliott). Dalton is defending crack dealer Michael Jones (Richard Brooks) who is accused of murdering a NY police officer. Jones claims the killing was in self defense, which prompts Dalton to go to Marks, who is the only cop Dalton trusts, and see what he can find out.

As fate would have it, the prosecuting attorney in Dalton's case is his former lover Susan Cantrell (Patricia Charbonneau). Dalton soon resumes his affair with her despite the fact that he's engaged.

One of the funniest moments is when we first meet Marks, who spends his nights at a movie theater. There is also a thrilling moment when Marks chases a suspect onto a roller coaster, which is soon derailed.

Dramatically speaking, this film doesn't break any new ground (corrupt police are a film cliché in themselves), but it's fun watching pros like Weller and Elliott share the screen. One could call their characters two sides of one person, with Dalton being the legal side and Marks being the action side.