John Saxon Night was a long time coming. When first suggested by Jim some months ago it was clear that this was going to be a personal highlight for me. But let’s face it - if it weren’t for his role as Roper in Enter the Dragon, we would probably not feel so inclined to celebrate his b-movie career. “Same old Roper…”
Cannibal Apocalypse had always intrigued, in that a) it starred the Saxon, and b) it was a non-jungle-set cannibal flick. I was hoping that would mean there would be no animal cruelty involved and I’m happy to say there were no such needless authentic executions in this great 1980 cheese-fest. I’m not trying to be ‘right-on’ here – that shit just isn’t necessary. It’s sick.
Second on the evenings bill is Bob Clark’s Black Christmas from 1974. Highly respected for being the most significant precursor to Halloween, Clark’s film stars a whole host of familiar faces from that era, most notably the great Margot Kidder who we all remember most for playing Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Having read nothing but praise for this film for the 15 years since I first watched it, I was dying to get my hands on this one-of-a-kind piece of 70’s gold once again.
Pressing the ‘Begin Munching’ button on the Cannibal Apocalypse DVD menu….now.
Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)
Plot 3 army buddies get bitten by cannibal soldiers while in Vietnam, then return to the US with a hunger for human flesh. Their bite is contagious and turns others into cannibals. A rather amusing detective leads the hunt for the meat hungry vets.
Zomblee Cheap Italian rubbish? Well, yes. But this one’s different. John Saxon is in it. An Italian film set in America, it comes off as an American 70’s cop movie with terrible dubbing and even more terrible dialogue, more indicative of a standard Italian splatfest.
Saxon walks around with a constant very worried about something look on his face for pretty much the duration of the film. He’s troubled ex-Vietnam soldier / gym enthusiast, and likes an opportunity to walk about without one of his skin-tight polo-neck jumpers. For a man of his age he’s in damn fine shape, and by hell he’s going to show it off.
Cannibal Apocalypse has terrible acting and an awful script but its great. It really is a shining example of one of those movies that’s so bad its good. The performances are hilarious – check out Wallace Wilkinson as Captain McCoy, raised on the book of movie cop clichés and dressed in standard issue detective hat and coat - and he’s got a temper - “No good cock-sucking son-of-a-bitch!” The soundtrack is just hilariously inappropriate most of the time - some kind of hybrid between Shaft, Magnum, Charlies Angels and Quincy, thus it doesn’t really fit when Saxon are battling against the pesky Vietcong in the jungle. But that’s a plus point. With appropriate music the film would be not much easier to take seriously. It’s so ludicrous that its beyond redemption – that’s why it works.
“Ashes to ashes, shit to shit.”
Jim Just like Zomblee before me, I too hold John Saxon in very high regard. I mean, how many actors can say they've acted alongside Bruce Lee and Margot Kidder, have been in a proper rock-em-sock-em Italian cannibal video nasty (ahem - set in New York) and then been asked to step out of retirement for a cameo in a Quentin Tarantino movie, eh? Not many. Probably no one else, as it goes, which just goes to show what an on screen legend this guy is.
And Mr Saxon's B-movie royalty credentials are obvious from the opening reel of Cannibal Apocalypse. In the 'Nam flashback intro, John doesn't bother with the 'move from cover to cover' tactic favoured by all the other soldiers - oh no - he just walks straight towards the vietcong, shoulders wide, head held high and guns-ablazing. Sadly, most of his platoon get wasted in this encounter but that’s war for you – it’s a shame none of them thought about just standing behind John. That’s what I’d do.
It’s later on when John goes to the mall where his mate is holed up surrounded by a load of unconvincing police extras, that he is truly treated with the respect he deserves. It's like he's Moses - the sea of extras part before him obediently. He finds the comedy police chief and mutters some line about knowing the nut case in the war and probably being able to talk him out, but that's not what he's really saying. What he's really saying is...
"Hi, I'm John Saxon, I'm here to save the day."
And he does, sort of. Cannibal Apocalypse is a load of old monkey nuts, but if you like the occasional slice of 70s cheese ball cop cannibal splat nonsense, you can’t go much wrong with this baby. I myself went straight out the next day, joined a gym and bought a couple of skin-tight polo neck jumpers. Yeah.
"You'll go straight to hell if you don't stop acting like a hussy!"
Rawshark I’d tried for years to get hold of this ‘Cannibal’ flick, seeing as it was on the Video Nasties banned list an’ all, so thank God we now have the Internet to get hold of underrated low-budget gems such as this.
Cannibal Apocalypse is unlike most Video Nasty bargain basement movies (and cheap Italian rip-offs for that matter) in that it is put together in a jolly little way, and contains enough original moments and inspired ideas to compensate for the duff dialogue and stilted acting. The story rattles along at a pace, and if you can excuse the obvious cheap production (Vietnam looks like someone’s overgrown back garden) you can also settle back to enjoy spasms of quite-well-done gore including a shotgun blast complete with torso hole and a great tongue ripping moment.
Saxon phones (sorry!) in his performance as the ‘dazed’ Vietnam hero turned killer and his casual insouciance seems to work, but the real treat is cop Wallace Wilkinson who plays it all with a great ‘why did this have to happen to me today’ resigned manner. The real interesting thing though is the humans turned cannibals themselves, who are portrayed as some sort of hybrid between cannibals, vampires (the affliction is spread by blood) and intelligent zombies. I actually found it kind of unnerving watching the group of seemingly sane and intelligent ‘monsters’ working together whilst on the run in the sewer system.
Having said all that though, it does turn silly at regular moments and if you’re not a rabid horror fan, the chances are you won’t get too much out of it (guest Renato left during the film to go shopping and Matt just said “It’s shit!”). But hey, like Zomblee said, Cannibal movies without the animal mutilations can be quite fun. Oh, and a great ‘more-to-come’ ending too.
“It’s time to shit or get off the pot.”
Director Antonio Margheriti
Cast John Saxon
Cinzia De Carolis
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Black Christmas (1974)
Plot An obscene caller terrorises girls in a sorority house at Christmas, then begins murdering them
Zomblee The slasher film. First Mario Bava did it with Bay of Blood. Then Bob Clark with Black Christmas, the latter being the real thing. Black Christmas is a mini-masterpiece, a low budget classic which has endured 30 years without losing its power to scare. Clark uses his cast extremely well and everyone does an ok job at acting out the story. Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder are both looking great in their roles and we feel a sense of belonging in this sorority house. The house exudes creepiness and is itself a character in the film as a whole, in a similar way to the house in Halloween, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, etc.
The narrative is imbued with some great (and unexpected!) comedy moments during the first half, like when Mr Harrison gets smacked in the face with a snowball – where the fuck did that come from? “Rewind! We gotta see that again!” It’s a curious comic device that Clark has sewn into the film but it totally works, setting it apart from inferior slasher flicks with their totally misfired attempts at humour. Marian Waldman (who can also be seen playing the horny heifer Maureen Selby in the brilliant Deranged) as Mrs. MacHenry is superb as the closet wino with all her bottles stashed in secret locations around the house. Her sneaky drinking escapades will put a smile on your face until the smile is rubbed of by the most disturbingly obscene phonecalls you’ve ever heard.
Atmospheric and chilling, Black Christmas more than delivers the goods in impeccable 70’s style. With minimal blood or gore, it instead preys upon our psychological fears…
…and John Saxon is in it.
“Suck my juicy cock!”
Jim It's true, Black Christmas has to be considered a landmark in horror cinema. If you compare the whole opening sequence of Black Christmas and that of Halloween you'll see many similarities, namely the killer’s eye view shot (which I thought Halloween pioneered – not so), the creepy house and the heavy breathing. It's a little too close for comfort actually, and it's made me question just how original Halloween was after all.
But Black Christmas doesn't try to be the balls-out slasher that Halloween is, instead it opts for telling a much more modest tale. It’s essentially a creepy horror house story which happens to stumble upon some of the bog standard horror clichés, but before the cliché rule book was actually written. I found myself nodding knowingly on several occasions as I mentally tracked where that idea had been used again, or where that plot device had been revisited more recently.
So, if Halloween is the birth of the modern slasher, Black Christmas is the glint in the milkman’s eye. I liked Black Christmas (man, it has some shocking dirty phone call dialogue) but I doubt I’d watch it very often – I prefer the more polished efforts that followed a few years later. As templates go, however, it’s hard to knock – credit where credit is due.
It’s a shame then that John Saxon doesn’t get more screen time, but I guess you can’t have everything. What is cool is spotting the occasional actor who teamed up with Bob Clark again a few years later in Porkys, but that's another story...
"Yeah, i've been looking forward to this for 3 weeks, bitch!"
Rawshark There are very few films that manage to combine scenes of genuine terror and tension with so many naturally ‘laugh-out-loud’ moments, but Black Christmas is one of those films, and is one of the best horror/comedy films I have ever seen. Not horror/comedy in the slap-dash scrappy-happy slapstick style of say, Scary Movie, but one where the humour is thoughtful and cleverly played and actually adds to ever-increasing threat of the unknown killer.
The woman hiding alcohol all over the house, the snowball in Mr-Frowny-Man’s face, the gentle pan across the several portraits of an unknown old lady as she flips us the bird, and most hilariously of all the pay-off to the dirty phone number (“Fellatio 20880”) as Detective Saxon struggles to stop laughing at the naivety of his own police team (“I know, it’s something dirty, ain’t it”) are perfect examples of the character-enhancing humour contained within.
Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby first worked on Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things and then made Dead of Night (Deathdream, The Veteran etc - review) together before Ormsby went off to make Deranged - review. The pedigree is plain to see in Bob Clark's Black Christmas and you get the feeling going into any scene that practically anything can happen, and it’s so refreshing to see that in a film, let alone one that is 30 years old.
Hats off to all the cast as well, Margot Kidder nails her own personality to a tee, Saxon is as sturdy as ever, James Edmond shines as Frowny-Man Mr Harrison, and Olivia Hussey is simply lovely as Jessica in what is probably her best ever role. With a great cast, classy direction, and an inspired script Black Christmas really is that landmark film (albeit with strangely ambiguous ending), and it’s no surprise that a remake is currently in pre-production (see earlier news story) by the producer of Ginger Snaps Back no less, which is a little worrying.
“Ho, Ho, Ho, shit.”
Director Bob Clark
Cast Olivia Hussey
Runtime 98 mins
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So there you have it. Bargain night at Zombie Club with two John Saxon classics. Cannibal Apocalypse really has to be seen to be believed and its obvious from the above that both Rawshark and myself had been waiting a long time to see this ‘cannibal’ flick. If you want advice, just go ahead and buy it from Amazon because you get it at a bargain price and you also get a great documentary on the extras menu. If I may offer further advice, drink some alcohol before, during and after - it will help make it a more entertaining experience.
Black Christmas was more than any of us were expecting. Tense, creepy, gore-free films are few and far between at Zombie Club but this was such a chilling breath of fresh air. Its place in the history of the horror / slasher film alone makes it more than just a curiosity. There are so many reasons why every horror fan should own this DVD. Buy it, save it for Christmas night, and while everyone else is in the other room watching the television premiere of some standard Hollywood drivel, treat yourself to a private screening. Oh, and you may need those new underpants you got for Christmas.
Coming soon It's time for the Waxwork and Waxwork II - Lost in Time double feature. Apparently, these are two forgotten comedy horror 'classics' from the late 80s. Or so Jim says...