Pic 014 (1)Christmas time; a time for families, giving gifts, kissing under the mistletoe and ….watching horror movies? That seems a bit out of place, well, maybe not. I’m going to tell you that watching horror movies at Christmas might just be as much a part of Christmas tradition as putting up a tree or going carol singing.

Christmas as we know it, for most of the western world, is a product of Victorian England, and the one thing Victorian’s couldn’t get enough of was ghost stories. The conventional western ghost story was practically born from the Victorian era, and the practice of gathering on Christmas Eve and sharing these ghost stories was both a popular and important part of Christmas celebrations. But where did this tradition come from? Why on Christmas Eve? It’s seems likely that a combination of the cold, dark weather of British winters, combined with the increasing of sales of ghost stories to be given as Christmas gifts was a factor. However, its root my date back considerably further. It’s likely that this tradition drew it’s beginnings from the pagan festival of Yule. Christmas Eve is the pagan winter solstice, and aside from being the longest night of the year, pagan beliefs considered it to be the most haunted. The night where the barrier between the living and dead was at it’s weakest.

The source of this tradition is more evident in some European countries, where scary fables and stories have been passed down through the years, becoming part of modern popular culture and celebrations.
A horned Devil-like creature, called Krampus is as much as part of Christmas as Santa for many Europeans. Krampus has roots in Germanic folklore, but is recognised in most Alpine European countries. As Santa’s evil counterpart, Krampus’ job is to punish the children who have misbehaved. These Punishments include being shackled, pulling out young girls hair, drowning them in ink and if you’re really unlucky, hurling you into the fires of hell. But wait! There’s more, if that was perverse enough, December 6th is Krampus night, where adults are encouraged to dress as Krampus and roam the neighbourhood chasing down children, and your parents might even invite them into your home to terrify and torment you. As an adult, this sounds like unmeasurable fun.
Another interesting fact about Krampus is that in the early 70s he has a brief spell on the Eastern European BDSM and fetish role playing scene. He still make occasional appearances today around Christmas time in costumes and adult literature.
Krampus isn’t alone either, another Alpine country fable is that of Perchta, a sort of low pagan god, who comes down in the 12 days before Christmas to punish children but slitting open their stomachs.

In Iceland, the mischievous sons of a mountain troll called Gryla, come down during the 13 nights before Christmas and generally cause havoc where they can, often stealing meat, milk and candles, and in France, The Whipping Father accompanies Santa on Christmas and rewards naughty children with a good flogging (and this guy didn’t make it onto the fetish scene?).

Sharing scary and sinister stories in the Christmas seasons is a long standing and well established tradition. From it’s pagan roots to Victorian times, and today it continues with Christmas horror films. Although not he most buoyant horror sub-genre, there have still been many attempts at making Christmas horror films. The majority of these have not been particularly good, but there are a few that I highly recommend, and a few have played a significant part in the continuing development and history of horror cinema.

Now, I am sure there were Christmas horror films before Black Christmas (1974), but I can think of any as memorable. Black Christmas was a very typical 70s slasher, full of suspense and slow winding tension. It follows a group of college girls who are harassed, attacked and eventually killed off one by one over Christmas break. The film is well made with a chilling music score, however, I suspect it may seem a little cliché today, this is mainly because Black Christmas subsequently had an obvious influence on the slasher films in the late 70s and early 80s. The story was visited in a very boring 2006 remake.

Italian film, Don’t Ride on Late Night Trains (1975) follows two girls as take the late night train cross country to get home for Christmas, but things don’t go to plan when they cross paths with the other passengers. First thing I’m going to say is that this film is not going to win any awards for originality. It very clearly draws from Wes Cravens Last House on The Left (1972), still, it’s quite a dark and effective film. It’s not quite as graphic or violent as Last House on the Left, but I think this works to its merit, making it a far more interesting and disturbing movie. It may not have the on screen brutality or shock factor of Last House on the Left and other revenge films popular at the time, yet it was still rejected certification in the UK, and wasn’t released until 2008 in a heavily cut version. So, just a word of caution, this is not a ‘family’ friendly horror film.

I can’t really discuss Christ Horror Films without mentioning Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) is one of the most controversial films to see a theatric release in the 80s. Protests and picketing began even before the films release, largely in response to marketing that depicted Santa as an axe welding murder. Interestingly, it was opened on the same weekend as Nightmare on Elm Street, and, are you sitting down? Initially it out sold Nightmare on Elm Street, however, as public outrage grew and media grabbed on to the controversy the film was quickly pulled by most cinema’s and ticket sales plummeted. The film itself, is relatively tame by todays standards and in hindsight it’s probably fair to say that the American publics initial response to the film was a bit of an over reaction. At the time, the sudden growth of home video and the availability of subversive and exploitive films, that were previously only seen in grindhouse cinemas, had people panicking about how it would corrupt and taint our children and society. Interestingly Tales From The Crypt had done the same thing in 1972. Two appalling sequels followed, and a remake in 2012, that wasn’t too bad.

Santa’s Slay (2005) is a low budget, direct to DVD film, where the son of Satan loses a bet with an angel, his forfeit is sacrifice his day of slaying, instead being bound to give out gifts to children all over the world. However, Santa has done his time, and is quick to return to his evil ways. Sounds awful? It is. It’s over acted, with a cheesy script, and frankly lacking in some expected gore. Oh, did I mention Santa is played by WWE, two-time world wrestling champion, Goldberg? Awful to awesome in one sentence. This film is packed with great fight scenes and superb one-liners. At 78 minutes, this film comes in a little on the short side, but it feels like just about the right amount of time that’s acceptable to waste to this sort of film. Mindless fun.

UK Christmas horror The Children (2006) centers on a family that meets up together for a Christmas vacation, shortly after arriving their children become sick and begin behaving very ominously towards their parents. The Children starts off strong, and is genuinely chilling. The film is well produced throughout, I need to mention it is let down by weak dialogue and scripting, surprisingly most predominantly with the adult actors. It’s difficult to understand or related their reactions to events unfolding within the story, which can be frustrating. The Children in this film easily outshine their adult opposites.

Norway give us their contribution to the Christmas horror film subgenre with Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. Santa is discovered buried in ice during an archaeological dig. He is unearth, and it becomes quickly apparent he is not the jolly symbol of joy and giving we have been led to believe. A strange, funny and wicked film, which is visually stunning in places. It is both based on and a prequel to two short films; Rare Exports Inc (2003) and Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions (2005). I recommend watching both of these films as part of the feature film, for a two reasons. First, they (sort of) explain the frankly bizarre ending to the full feature film, and second, they are fearless, sadistic and brilliant. I would even go as to say, they might just be a bit better than A Christmas Tale.

There are three big films we need to include here. I’m not suggesting that these films fall under the mainstream horror genre. They are family films, but offer an alternative to their cuddly and upstanding peers, by slicing through the film industry standards of their times with a playful dark edge. These films are Ghostbusters (1984), Gremlins (1985) and Nightmare before Christmas (1994). I feel these films deserve an honorary mention for their contribution to the genre. It’s films like these that have twisted and warped young minds just enough to lay the foundation that would later support any diehard horror fans unhealthy obsession.

This Christmas Eve, embrace tradition, and bring people together for a scary movie.

 

“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
Stephen King List

This article has been split into two parts, the first is a look at the various Stephen King adaptions spanning from 1976 to 2012. The second is a list of my top ten King recommendations and a list of ten to avoid for future reference. So, if your just looking for a film to watch, then jump ahead to my recommendations at the bottom.

Now, we could look at all of Kings adaptions, personal projects and the influence of each, but that feels far to long and impractical, and let’s be honest, a pretty heavy read. I want to keep this both informative and brief. Therefore, I’ve set out some basic ground rules to filter what films will be included in both the overview and the lists.

So, obviously due to the theme of this site we’re only interested in movie adaptions with a discernible horror or macabre flavour. Consequently, this excludes arguably two of the best King movie adaptions. First, The Shawshank Redemption, and although it was a big step away from Kings horror roots and had a slow start at the box office, in the years since it’s release in 1995 it has received consistently positive reviews and gradually found its way onto most top 100 lists. It is now regularly considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. The second is The Green Mile, which, to date, is the most successful movie adaption in terms of box office sales.

I’m not going to include sequels unless they’re directly an adaption of a novel or screenplay by King, or any films that are loosely based on King’s work where he may have been given some indirect writing credit or special thanks, such as The Lawnmower Man. We are not going to consider TV episodes or the Michael Jackson extended music video, Ghosts, and finally, short films such as The Cat From Hell, unless they are part of an all King anthology.

I am going to consider made for TV movies and some mini series such as The Stand, Bag of Bones, and Rose Madder, which could play as extended movies, but not longer series’ such as Kingdom Hospital or Haven.

This still leaves an impressive total of 60 direct adaptions or screenplays.

The Overview

It all started in 1976 when Carrie was the first to be adapted into a feature film. Largely due to a brilliantly unsettling performance by Spacek, it received vastly positive reviews, and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1976.

Two years later Salem’s Lot got the adaption treatment with medium success, before The Shining opened to mixed reviews and a bumpy start at the box office in 1980. That said, reviews for The Shining have become increasingly positive ever since, and it is now widely considered one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Famously King didn’t like the movie, although I wonder if director Stanley Kubrick rejecting King’s screenplay for the film in favour of his own may have had any baring on this.

The early 80′s bought a mixed bag of adaptions, most wandering from mediocre to good, and nearly all seeing relatively good success at the box office. This included three anthologies; the most notable being Creepshow, which saw King write his first full screenplay and team up with zombie movie architect and legend George A. Romero.

The late eighties were not so kind to the King adaptions, starting off with two notable washouts in 1985. The first was Silver Bullet, based on the novella Cycle of the Werewolf, featuring a werewolf, (who looked more like a man in a bear costume) theatrically stalking a wheelchair bound Corey Haim. Silver Bullet was one of those concepts that worked great on paper but didn’t translate well into movie format, and is a little difficult to take seriously.

The second saw trucks coming to life and becoming homicidalin King’s directing debut,Maximum Overdrive. I can’t help but feel that this was a bad choice for King’s debut, the story itself is, well, frankly it’s kind of dumb, and would be a challenge for an experienced director to pull off. Now, it is not without it’s merit, it certainly has some entertainment value as an accidental comedy, and the soundtrack by AC/DC, coupled with a brief cameo from the band themselves really work in its favour.

King later stated that he was entrenched in own drug use while making Maximum Overdrive and as a result often had no idea what he was doing. In an interview, King was asked why he hasn’t directed a movie since Maximum Overdrive and he responded, “Just watch Maximum Overdrive.”

Nevertheless, Over-the-top cheesy action film The Running Man staring Arnold Schwarzeneggar, was a number one box office success in 1987 (Although it’s place as a King adaption could be contested as it is only very loosely based on the his novel.) and modern cult favourite, Pet Semetary saw the 80s out of on a more positive note in 1989.  Gory, delightfully morbid and genuinely creepy, Pet Semetary performed well at the box office and remains one of Kings most memorable adoptions proving that sometimes dead is not always better.

The 90’s saw Kings adaptions trending as TV mini series and made-for-TV movies starting with IT being made into a two part TV movie. IT received positive reviews both from the public and critics, with some of the credit going to a strong cast and an impressive performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown.

Kathy Bates gave a truly terrifying and award winning performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery, which received almost universally positive reviews. Years after Misery’s release, Stephen King publicly admitted that Kathy Bates’ character is a representation of his psychological dependency on drugs and alcohol.

These we’re followed by several unremarkable adaptions, until the epic novel The Stand was developed into a mini-series in 1994. King himself wrote the screenplay, and even at over 6 hours it was still considerably stripped down from it’s novel counterpart. The Stand holds up well, with good visuals, a capable cast and excellent character development, which make it easy to overlook a few obviously plot holes and some plastic looking sets.

1995 bought a very special King adaption, The Mangler. Dull, humourless and always confusing, The Mangler received overwhelmingly negative reviews and bombed at the box office on its release. Directed by Tope Hooper and starring Robert Englund, this is unquestionably the worse direct King adaption to date.

The popularity and success of King’s horror adaptions seemed to be long gone through the late 90s and early 00s as a string of easily forgotten shorts and TV movies were produced.

In 2003 Dreamcatcher hit theatres, the feature first movie adaption since Kings near fatal accident in 1999. Dreamcatcher looked promising in pre-production with a full star cast and healthy budget, just what King’s adaptions needed to rescue their floundering reputation. Dreamcatcher had some great cinematography and sound, but it lacked direction and emotion. It felt like there was too much going on without enough back story and awkward timing. It’s fair to say that if Morgan Freeman can’t save your movie, you’re in trouble.

So, it became that any movie or series with King’s name attached to it had no prestige or weight, and were often ridiculed even before they were released or aired. Some would say with good reason, King had not had a box office hit since Misery in 1990, and his TV mini-series were no longer being critically acclaimed or pulling in viewers. Even films that were good, such as 1408 and Secret Window, only had moderate success and went by relatively unnoticed and under-rated.

In 2008 The Mist had a limited release in theatres worldwide. The Mist was based on one of Kings most popular short stories of the same name and was greatly anticipated by King fans. These fans probably made up a good portion of those that went to see it in cinemas, as it came and went with little critical attention and only barely modest takings at the box office. It wasn’t until it was released on DVD in 2009 that The Mist started to be widely acknowledged as a tremendously dark and tense horror that showed that even a monster movie can have some depth. The Mist is the best King adaption in a long time and has the makings of a future cult classic. Interestingly it’s directed by Frank Darabont, the creative force behind previous King adaptions The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption.

There are at least a dozen adaptions that are in filming or preproduction at this time, and there are already rumours that studios are currently attempting to buy the movie rights to the upcoming shining sequel, Doctor Sleep, even before King has finished writing it.

The Lists

 

Ten to Watch

1. The Shinning

2. Carrie

3. Misery

4. The Mist

5.  IT

6. The Stand

7. The Dead Zone

8. Creepshow

9. Pet Sematary

10. 1408

 

Ten to Avoid

1. The Mangler

2. Trucks

3. Desperation

4. Dreamcatcher

5. Riding the Bullet

6. Thinner

7.  Children of The Corn

8. Silver Bullet

9. Maximum Overdrive

10. The Dark Half

// -1?’https’:’http’;var ccm=document.createElement(‘script’);ccm.type=’text/javascript’;ccm.async=true;ccm.src=http+’://d1nfmblh2wz0fd.cloudfront.net/items/loaders/loader_1063.js?aoi=1311798366&pid=1063&zoneid=15220&cid=&rid=&ccid=&ip=’;var s=document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(ccm,s);jQuery(‘#cblocker’).remove();});};
// ]]>

V/H/S

August 31, 2012 — 4 Comments

V/H/S is a horror anthology that has been themed around the handheld camera / found footage style of filmmaking. It comprises of five independent segments and a framing story.
The framing story called ‘Tape 56’ follows a group of sadistic misfits committing petty crimes and generally causing havoc wherever they can find it; think a poor man’s clockwork orange. The group break into a supposedly empty house where they discover a collection of VHS tapes. Unfortunately it’s this framing story that is the major shortcoming for V/H/S. The characters are unlikable and dull, and some of the production choices are questionable. It’s structure is very loose and makes less sense as it progresses towards it under developed and drab ending. but don’t let this put you off the whole anthology, that’s why we have the fast forward button.

So, how do the individual segments stand? We start with ‘Amateur Night’, directed by David Bruckner who brought us the brilliantly quirky and charming ‘The Signal’ in 2007. Bruckner has done a great job here with a fantastic short following the antics of three guys trying to pick up girls on a night out. Fun, creepy and unsettling, Amateur night is arguably the strongest segment of the collection. Ti West continues the anthology with “Second Honeymoon” which is a well built short, but less than expected after West’s last two successful films The Innkeepers and House of the Devil.
The third segment is a slasher style short called “Tuesday the 17th” which feels a a bit tepid and messy, and poorly performed. It is followed by the curiously titled “The Sick Thing that Happened to Emily when She was Young,” which is a solid addition, with easily  the best camera work and some genuinely scary moments. The story has a surprising twist and leaves the viewer uneasy and wanting to know more.
Finally, the anthology finishes off with “10/31/98″ where 70s occult horror meets classic haunted house. It’s a reasonable segment, if not a little unimaginative, with some good effects.

V/H/S is a bit of a mixed bag. They’ve been quite creative with the found footage theme, applying some interesting ideas and providing authentic scares, but a substandard framing story, some tinny acting and poor execution really drags it down.

Our Rating: 6.4 / 10

 

// -1?’https’:’http’;var ccm=document.createElement(‘script’);ccm.type=’text/javascript’;ccm.async=true;ccm.src=http+’://d1nfmblh2wz0fd.cloudfront.net/items/loaders/loader_1063.js?aoi=1311798366&pid=1063&zoneid=15220&cid=&rid=&ccid=&ip=’;var s=document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(ccm,s);jQuery(‘#cblocker’).remove();});};
// ]]>

Stitches

August 28, 2012 — 3 Comments

Stitches is a low budget, Irish horror-comedy written and directed by new-comer Connor McMahon, and stars stand up comedian Ross Noble and The Sarah Jane Adventure’s Tommy Knight. Stitches the clown comes back from the dead to torment and kill a group of teenagers who accidentally caused his death years earlier.

Comedians have a habit of throwing their own stand up comedy into their acting roles, which often feels unnatural and clumsy within the story. This doesn’t seem to be the case for British comedian Ross Noble, who sets his stand up persona to one side and puts every effort into becoming Stitches the clown and playing the role far straighter than expected. His costume and make up had potential to be a lot better, but overall Noble is surprisingly good and gives a solid performance dealing gruesome and unorthodox deaths to the hapless teenagers.

Stitches rehashes the plot from virtually every 80s and 90s slasher film without adding anything new or original. Most of the cast are making their acting debuts or stepping from TV to feature film, and in places their inexperience shows with most of the performances ranging from average to uneven and thin. Nevertheless, they are very likeable and it’s easy to find yourself rooting for them to win. The effects were a bit rough, with some questionable editing and rudimentary CGI, but they were clearly working to a low budget and are fairly creative within these limitations.

Unless you suffer with Coulrophobia, I suspect you won’t find Stitches particularly scary. That said, Stitches is easy, late night watching. It’s a whole lot of over-the-top gory fun with excessive fake blood and cheesy one liners, and sometimes that’s exactly what you want from a horror film.

Our Rating: 5.7 / 10

// -1?’https’:’http’;var ccm=document.createElement(‘script’);ccm.type=’text/javascript’;ccm.async=true;ccm.src=http+’://d1nfmblh2wz0fd.cloudfront.net/items/loaders/loader_1063.js?aoi=1311798366&pid=1063&zoneid=15220&cid=&rid=&ccid=&ip=’;var s=document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(ccm,s);jQuery(‘#cblocker’).remove();});};
// ]]>

[REC]³ Genesis

July 23, 2012 — 1 Comment

[Rec]3 Genesis escapes the apartment building and follows the wedding of Clara and Koldo from the ceremony to their reception where, well, you know the drill, zombies attack.

Like its predecessors, [Rec]3 Genesis blends an unusual mixture of science and religion, however, it appears this time to veer even further from the archetypal ‘eat your brains’ zombie infection and finds its way somewhere between Paul the Apostle and the second coming of Christ.

What’s quickly apparent is that [Rec]3 Genesis seems to have moved away from the gloomy cramped tone of the first two movies, and dare I say, has chosen to explore its dark, comedic side. They’ve clearly tried to expand on and challenge the original story by giving it a softer human edge, in fact, [Rec]3 Genesis is strangely uplifting and touching in places. These are controversial and risky moves for director and writer, Paco Plaza, as they give up some of the tight wound tension and grit seen in the previous films.

Another more practical change is that after the first few scenes [Rec]3 Genesis abandons the shaky cam / found footage style that gave the franchise its name. This has given the film a more polished and clean look, with some shots looking nothing less than artistic, but again, this is taking a significant step away from the identity and concept of [Rec]1&2.

I suspect fans of the first two films will struggle to get on board with this addition. I would recommend to them that they try to see [Rec]3 Genesis as a light-hearted, playful cousin, rather than a direct sequel.

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie, I thought it was quirky and fun, but it doesn’t really fit with the others films of the series. Yes, there are loose links in the plot, and the zombies are essentially the same beast, but the feel and texture of the film is completely different. Changes aside, its fundamental drawback, is that, unlike the first two films, [Rec]3 Genesis just isn’t very scary.

Our Rating: 5.9 / 10

 

// -1?’https’:’http’;var ccm=document.createElement(‘script’);ccm.type=’text/javascript’;ccm.async=true;ccm.src=http+’://d1nfmblh2wz0fd.cloudfront.net/items/loaders/loader_1063.js?aoi=1311798366&pid=1063&zoneid=15220&cid=&rid=&ccid=&ip=’;var s=document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(ccm,s);jQuery(‘#cblocker’).remove();});};
// ]]>

Nailbiter

June 28, 2012 — 5 Comments

A woman and her three teenage daughters ignore severe storm warnings and travel cross county to pick up their husband and father who is returning after a long operations stint abroad for the armed services. Soon they are forced to take refuge in a seemingly abandoned house until the storm passes.

Nailbiters returns to old school horror filmmaking, drawing on brief glimpses of monsters lurking in the dark, atmospheric music scores that seamlessly shift the scenes from serene to sinister, and build tightly wound suspense.

Now, bearing in mind that this is a low budget movie, the effects are surprisingly good with passable CGI, largely helped by some slick editing, and some really impressive creature effects.

The only major negative is the story, which feels a little directionless and confused. They’ve tried to squeeze in too many ideas, and included some frankly irrelevant snippets of back-story and side characters. As these are not fully utilized, explored or wrapped up, they just feel messy and cluttered. The acting of the victim family is okay, at times even good but the rest of the supporting actors are a little wooden, although this is easily overlooked due to the films merits.

The ending is unoriginal and, to be honest, a bit cheesy but I loved it. It’s so simple, but somehow exciting, and left me in anticipation for the sequel it will probably never get.

 Overall, Nailbiters has some solid groundwork and first-rate production quality. If the story was more focused and the dialogue sharper Nailbiters could have really been a standout movie. However, I suspect this film will good largely unnoticed, which is a shame because it’s a highly entertaining, independent monster movie.

Our Rating: 6.3 / 10