(In French, On Cable TV, July 2018) Perhaps the most noteworthy detail about Black Christmas is the date at which it was produced—1974, four years before Halloween (to which it has a clear kinship) would popularize exactly the kind of film that Black Christmas is both in subject matter, attitude and technique. Some of the filmmaking is limited by its low budget, but most of it reflects almost shot-for-shot the kind of films that slasher horror filmmakers would churn out for years after John Carpenter’s success. A made-in-Canada success story, Black Christmas does feel in advance of its time, although it certainly does not escape from its own subgenre. This being said, there are performances here by Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea and a young Andrea Martin, plus an energetic directing style from Bob Clark. Unusually (and unsatisfyingly) enough, the film does not reveal the identity of the killer nor punish him, reinforcing its futility. Alas, the flip side of anticipating the slasher subgenre is that it can and does feel like more of the same … which doesn’t help if you don’t like the kind of movie that it launched.
(On Cable TV, July 2017) Not all haunted house movies are created equal, and despite The Amityville Horror’s reputation, it ranks toward the low end of the scale. Part of it has to do with its familiarity: The haunted-house story has become a cliché at this point, and The Amityville Horror doesn’t renew much along the way, what with its hallucinations, Catholic curses, familiar plot points (save the dog!) and rather long duration time. James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger all do good work, but the subject matter is just tired—even more so if you’re not inclined to give any credence to the “based on real events” claim that surrounds the film. A few period details are intriguing (such as the acceptance of the paranormal by a supporting character) but much of it just feels dull, and some of the most promising material (the black ooze, for instance) don’t seem to pay off meaningfully. I used to think that the 2005 remake wasn’t very good, but it turns out that the original isn’t really good either.
(Second viewing, On DVD, May 2017) I’m old enough to actually have memories of the promotional material for Superman II (including, if I’m not confabulating, a View-Master disc about the movie) but revisiting the film much later is like seeing it for the first time. The way it is tied to the first film is impressive—although even a quick look at the fascinating making of the movie reveals that it was nearly all shot at the same time as the first one, then largely reshot when Richard Lester took over Richard Donner as a director. Compared to the first film, Superman II does seem a bit less serious and more overtly comic: However, this may make the sequel more even toned than the first film. (But not entirely, as there are a number of gruesome deaths in the film, such as the one of the astronauts, that are almost immediately glossed over.) The inclusion of super-powered villains makes for good spectacle, especially once the film gets down to its showy New York City street fight—with plenty of blatant product placement! The movie does have a few high notes along the way: the de-powering of Superman doesn’t last long nor mean much, but it’s a nice thought and does mark a high point in the Superman/Lois Lane romance. This being said, there are enough plot holes and dumb choices left and right to baffle anyone. Never mind the trips to/from the supposedly isolated Fortress of Solitude, the regrettable exclusion of Miss Teschmacher from much of the story (although literally jettisoning the Ned Beatty character was the wise choice), the abundance of material for the whole “Superman is a Shmuck” thesis or the suddenly ludicrous “Cellophane shield” superpower. Christopher Reeves is once again very good both as Superman and Clark Kent, while Margot Kidder does seem even more comfortable as Lois Lane. Gene Hackman is welcome as Lex Luthor (arguably better here than in the original) while Terrence Stamp is memorable as the British-accented Zod. Superman II, like its predecessor, is now almost charming in its period blockbuster aesthetics—it’s got grand ambitions, but the special effects are often primitive considering the technology of the time and it doesn’t quite have full control over its tone given the various hands that interfered with its production. Still, it’s got a heart and a certain faux-naïve earnestness. If you’ve seen and enjoyed the first one, the second is mandatory viewing.
(Second viewing, On DVD, May 2017) Ah, there it is—Superman, the granddaddy of the superhero genre. Has it aged well? Not really, but perhaps better than you’d think. Structurally, Superman doesn’t do anything truly different from countless other superhero origin stories—although it does take its own sweet time to get there, and even includes sequel-setup elements in the prologue (I had to pop open the DVD tray and double-check that I hadn’t accidentally inserted Superman II in the player, because I honestly did not remember Zod being part of the first film). What works is that, at times, the script does try to reach for something beyond the silly humour and into drama—either the missing-parent subplot, or romantic hijinks. That does keep the movie afloat now far better than the slapdash humour of much of the rest of the film. Nowadays, though, the script has serious tonal issues in-between its serious protagonist and silly antagonists: Gene Hackman is rather good as Lex Luthor, and I can’t say enough nice things about Valerie Perrine as Miss Teschmacher, but Ned Beatty is insupportable as a henchman too dumb for words, let alone supporting a so-called genius of crime. But so goes Superman, torn in-between actual artistic ambitions for its characters and a reluctance to see comic-book origins as anything but a big joke. Other issues abound. The ever-popular “Superman is a schmuck” theory is bolstered by more than a few sequences, while the ending sequence (with Superman going back in time) is still worth a disbelieving groan. On the other hand—and this is an important point—Superman manages to float above its worst flaws by virtue of honesty. It believes in its own protagonist and it does try to explore what it means to be Superman. It tries to ground itself in-between its flights of fancy, and the seventies period details now looks deliciously retro rather than dated. It also helps that, beyond Margot Kidder being good as Lois Lane, Christopher Reeves is fantastic both as Clark Kent and Superman—his performance as one is unlike the other: far more than making us “believe that a man can fly”, Superman’s greatest achievement is making us believe in the difference between superhero and alter ego. Director Richard Donner had enough experience to do justice to the script using what was available at the time—while the film’s special effects now look amateurish, they still make their point even today. Superman is still a big grab-bag of various qualities and problems, but it can still be watched with some pleasure today. If nothing else, it’s not gratuitously dour or dark like some of the latter representation of the character, and I believe that it will endure decently because of that uplifting tone. Cue the theme music…