Director: David Slade
I’ve never read the original ’30 Days of Night’ comic, but the main hook is brilliant: what happens when vampires invade a small northern town just as a month of wintry darkness and isolation descends? This is a story that was made for film. Director David Slade (working with Steve Niles, the comic’s writer) has crafted an interesting, tense, and claustrophobic horror film filled with strong performances and some good shock and gore.
Slade takes his time with the set-up of the film, different narrative elements gradually building together piece by piece, helping to develop the characters and establish the setting. When the main thrust of the action does begin, it seems inevitable and inescapable. This film reminded me a lot of John Carpenter’s The Thing: both concern remote frozen settlements under attack by otherworldly beings and both deal with isolation and claustrophobia. However, The Thing deals mostly with paranoia (never knowing if the man standing next to you is really human), whereas 30 Days deals more with interpersonal relations under strain.
Technically, the film looks really interesting. Slade has an excellent eye for visuals and he crafts several genuinely frightening and tense sequences. The film’s (relatively) low budget lets it down at certain points, however: some of the establishing shots of the town are a littlle amateurish and there is obvious use of CG and miniatures. Those are minor quibbles, however, and generally the visuals are quite good. There are several continuity holes, however, perhaps remnants of deleted scenes or altered sequences. They aren’t really noticeable and actually help add to the disorientation created during the attack on the town.
The performances are all above average, with Josh Hartnett settling nicely into his new position of leading man. As well, following from his previous work in Hostage, Ben Foster seems eager to establish himself as the go-to guy for playing crazy bastards. His characterisation in 30 Days is borderline over-the-top but it seems to work.
It’s nice to see a straight-forward vampire film that manages to bring a fresh approach to an often tired genre. I’m not sure if the types of vampires seen in 30 Days are as revolutionary as everyone seems to believe, but I personally enjoyed them, all black eyes and gaping teeth, practically shark-like.
30 Days of Night shows that interesting films can be made from interesting comics and that horror films are made all the better by good writing and excellent direction.Colin Le Sueur
Director: Jonathan Levine
I have to admit, slasher films are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. Watching horror films as a teen, slashers always seemed to provide the right mix of gore, sex and shocks my still-developing mind craved. When I began to study films, I felt secretly justified to discover how surprisingly complex the slasher film can be. When it comes to slasher films, even the worst of the worst have some interesting psychological quirk that usually make viewings bearable. Thankfully, there are still excellent slasher films being made these days and even some that manage to do something new.
Although this film is clearly in the slasher genre, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane never feels like a typical slasher film. The structure and pacing fits the established pattern but director Levine manages to keep things feeling fresh with interesting visuals and a terrific soundtrack. The look of this film is polished but not over-produced (a hard balance to find) and there’s enough good gore to please the genre fans without becoming gratuitous.
Amber Heard plays the title role fairly well with a good mix of girl-next-door and object of desire. The others do a decent job, with no-one particularly bad or good. As supporting characters they serve their roles well, increasing tension and threat as they’re systematically killed off around the main character.
This film helps to bring a little spark back to the fading slasher genre, a new take on an old story. Though not as revolutionary as some believe, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is entertaining, scary and sexy and makes me love the slasher genre even more.Colin Le Sueur
Hong Kong 1998
Director: Wilson Yip
For the most part, nobody does zombie movies like the Americans. Sure, Lucio Fulci gave us some good Italian in the 1970s/80s and Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead showed that the British know the genre well, but American George Romero is the undisputed king of zombies: always has been, always will be. That said, Bio Zombie from Hong Kong is a helluva lot of fun, even if heavily influenced by Romero’s earlier films. This is a film that wears its references openly. Half Dawn of the Dead, half House of the Dead videogame (which the characters play in the movie), Bio-Zombie at some points transforms into a live videogame, with powerups and on-screen displays.
Bio-Zombie is too funny to be straight horror. Like similar zombie comedies (such as Return of the Living Dead, Braindead, and the afore-mentioned Shaun of the Dead), the emphasis is clearly on the comedy rather than the horror. In fact, the zombies sometimes seem almost an afterthought, as if they wandered into a zany comedy.
Though very low-budget (one of the symptoms of the zombie infection seems to be a covering in flour, for instance), the effects are pretty good and the film itself is well-made, with quick editing and interesting camera angles. The acting is good as well, for the most part; the film even manages to garner sympathy for an obsessed stalker zombie, a tough task in any movie.
Bio-Zombie is a fun distraction, clever and with some good laughs. Though not a classic, it’s worth a look for fans of the genres, both zombie and Hong Kong cinema.Colin Le Sueur
Director: Glen Morgan
I’ve got to say, up front, that I’m a big fan of the original Black Christmas from 1974, a creepy, smart slasher film way ahead of its time. When I heard Wong/Morgan (from the Final Destination film series and, farther back, the X-Files and Millennium TV series) were helming the remake, I thought it had potential to be a decent updating of a now-classic though little-known film. Unfortunately, Black Christmas 2006 isn’t nearly as effective as the original and comes off as more than a little strange.
Part of the power and tension of the original film is that you never see the killer… at all. One of the first slasher films to employ the POV device (where you see through the killer’s eyes), Black Christmas 1974 was frightening and decidedly voyeuristic. With the remake, director Morgan discards that device and makes the killer a fully-realised onscreen character (even fleshing out his background and tragic family history). This change thwarts the tone of the original, further separating the audience from the killer’s perspective. Ironically, even through making the killer a more rounded, three-dimensional character (to a certain extent), Black Christmas 2006 is a less realistic film than the original. Perhaps the studio felt that audiences in 2006 wouldn’t accept a POV killer rather than an onscreen one, or perhaps Morgan thought he could bring something new to the story. Unfortunately, this choice damages the tone of the film and helps to further weaken the creepy atmosphere.
There’s no shortage of shock and gore in Black Christmas (no surprise the trailer for Hostel Part 2 was screened beforehand). I was honestly surprised by the amount of visceral and graphic violence in the film (pleasantly surprised, as I’m a bit of a gorehound). This film isn’t afraid to be ruthless (something refreshing in the Hollywood horror genre) and many people will squirm uncomfortably in their seats through certain sequences. This gore factor is strangely contrasted with an almost camp edge to the script and storyline. The dichotomy is a little weird and I can honestly see Black Christmas becoming a minor cult film in the near future. Even with the camp elements, there are some genuinely creepy moments that will stay with you after you leave the cinema.
The acting is a little ‘all over the place.’ Some standouts are Kristen Cloke (a much underrated character actress) and Andrea Martin (one of the stars of the original, here playing the house mom lush). However, most of the other actresses are interchangeable and forgettable (as in most teen slasher pics).
Though an interesting update of the original film, I can’t totally recommend Black Christmas. I think it’s a film I’ll like more on repeated viewings, but other people won’t be so forgiving. The muddled tone, questionable acting and often disturbing content make the 2006 version of Black Christmas very strange indeed. In any case, I’d recommend you seek out the original version for a creepier experience and the remake if you like your horror a little more camp.Colin Le Sueur