12th February 2019
Horror’s not just for Halloween. Whether religious holiday, annual celebration, or greetings card piffle, a day of festivities is all it takes for grisliness to commence. Miles Hamer grabs his diary.
Date: Valentine’s Day
What: The greetings card industry’s annual shame ‘n’ stalk fest for angry loners everywhere. And for everyone else, the day of panic-bought petrol station flowers.
Films: Top of the pile is easily the rightly-celebrated My Bloody Valentine (1981). Vicious, pacey, and as Canadian as a moose in maple syrup, its gas mask disguise is one of the genre’s best this side of a hockey goal. The mining pit-set slasher makes ingenious use of both its location and holiday, in which a former annual Valentine’s dance is resurrected for the first time since the last one got a bit, well, murdery. Inevitably inspired a noughties remake. But in 3D. Because 3D.
There’s also Hospital Massacre (1981). The prologue sees pretty but pretty nasty schoolgirl Susan spurn the simple offer of a Valentine’s card from creepy admirer Harold. His immediate response? Hang her best friend. Suppose it was five decades too early to simply block her on Twitter, eh? Frankly, it’s the horror movie equivalent of leaving the 59p sticker on the back of the card.
Date-based anthology horror Holidays (2016), starts with a fairly decent stab at some Valentine’s gore. Featuring bullying, unrequited love, and a shocking slab of satisfying nastiness, it’s an efficient and pithy way to celebrate the season if you’re partner’s nagging you to hurry up the horror and get some tepid Jennifer Aniston romcom on instead.
Date: April Fools Day
What: The international day of guffawing like an absolute berk at trivial spur-of-the-moment lies (“Hey Sandra – your hair’s on fire! APRIL FOOL!”), April 1st has fast become the day of unbearable office pranksters. At least, until midday, after which time the joke’s on them, Daddio.
Films: No one thought to explain the midday rule to Muffy St. John however, lead character in 1986’s prank extraordinaire, April Fool’s Day. Her ruse lasts days, the festive idiot. Still, it’s clear that the film’s hoax is actually on the audience, the cinematic equivalent of a Whoopee Cushion placed firmly under the fee-paying public’s collective butt.
Its remake? A really bad joke.
What: A bit religion, a bit Pagan, and a hell of a lot of chocolate, Easter is something pretty much everyone can celebrate one way or another (diabetic atheists notwithstanding).
Films: Easter’s a holiday packed to the sickbag with ready-made iconography - bunnies, eggs, resurrection and the like – so it’s perhaps a little surprising then that horror hasn’t farmed its potential as much as you might reasonably suspect.
Spanish killer yarn Atrocious (2011) - which comes with a ready-made review title for lazy film critics - probably comes closest, but it’s merely set at Easter, rather than a full-blooded celebration of all things egg.
To the micro-budget indie market then, which has seen a slew of rampaging rabbit slashers: Kottentail (2007), Easter Casket (2013), Easter Bunny Bloodbath (2010), Bunnyman (2011), Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill! (2006). It’s as if they’re breeding like, well, killer rabbit movies. With the quality a little – shall we say, underwhelming - it’s little wonder that Hollywood has looked over its shoulder and passed by the chance to throw some bucks at a homicidal Bugs.
Date: Mother’s Day
What: For all the agonising birth and child rearing, you’d think our beloved mammas might have earned more than an annual card and a cuppa in bed, eh?
Films: From the people who brought you Night of the Naked Dead, Mother’s Day Massacre (2007), is a decibel-shattering blast of grungy gristle. Hardly Psycho, but nevertheless a spirited attempt at a Mom-based gorefest. Unfortunately, it’s a screeching and obnoxious blast of WTF, and its hysteria tries rather than entertains.
Exploitation “classic” Mother’s Day (1980) is on slightly more traditional ground (assuming said ground has been dug up, desecrated, then walloped with a sex toy). Charlie Kaufman’s infamous torture flick concerns backwoods hillbillies and their merciless dominatrix matriarch. It’s a grimy trudge of rape and sadism, its ugly stench wafting from every frame.
Hmm, perhaps get her some nice flowers instead?
Date: Father’s Day
What: Yup, Dads also demand a day every year to cover their balls in glory (that’s a metaphorical kind of glory. We hope).
Film: Just one entry - a hot bucket of guts from those theatrical masters of the delicate understatement, Troma. Featuring the studio’s typical inanity, Father’s Day is as aggressively silly as the studio gets, with bullets, boobs, and blood smeared liberally across the screen. Pops might prefer a gently sedate 70’s Bond movie for all we know, but this odd quest to avenge a Dad-murdering psychopath sure satisfies that need for some wonky hi-octane squelch. Hell, it’d make a better present than a pair of driving gloves.
Date: Independence Day
What: July 4th is the date America got their constitutional shit together, laying the calendar ground for endless annual barbecues, fireworks, and parades. And, of course, horrid bloody murder. USA! USA! USA!
Films: First up, flag burners beware, it’s Uncle Sam (1996), a smorgasbord of Stateside, complete with a flag-hatted madman beating traitors to death until they’re red, white and even more red. Isaac Hayes plays the hero, so it’s kind of like everyone’s being saved by South Park’s Chef.
Possibly best of all is the perfectly serviceable The Evil in Us (2016), some cabin-based carnage that makes a (somewhat clumsy) statement about its date, rather than it serving as the primary catalyst. And that statement is: give the USA enough fabricated threats, and it’ll vote in any chest-swelling lunatic with the caustic promise to make things great again. Hmm, hang on…
Date: Prom Night
What: American high school girls in ball gowns narrowly avoid a fingerbanging from their tuxedo-clad contemporaries.
Films: There are only two franchises worth giving a corsage about based around this High School tradition. The Jamie Lee-starring Prom Night (1980) might boast Leslie Nielsen on the dancefloor, but it’s slightly underwhelming. Hey, at least that encapsulates succinctly the faint disappointment of the night itself.
She might have the moves, but Jamie Lee is second place to cinema’s most notorious Prom Queen, Carrie. Stephen King’s debut novel so far clocks up three adaptations of varying quality over four decades. All culminate in the bullied blood-soaked antihero using her Jedi mind powers for very, very bad things. In the 1976 original, the menstruating marauder’s massacre is as shocking as any fashion faux-pas the film might unwittingly commit.
The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)? Just. Don’t.
What: America’s full dress rehearsal for Christmas. (Dunno really, it’s as baffling as their insistence on putting the month before the date.)
Films: Aside from Eli Roth’s tantalising trailer for the non-existent Thanksgiving as part of Grindhouse (2007), the only real “worthy” contender for the holiday crown is the homicidal turkey series, ThanksKilling (2008). The foul-beaked fowl is one shockingly lethal gobbler who takes no prisoners. In all honesty though, it’s, well, a bit of a turkey. And frankly, can get stuffed.
Films: Horror has been making sure no one has a holly jolly yuletide for decades now; the genre serving up more Christmas killers than the season knows what to do with. As such, boiling it down to the festive essentials leaves such tinsel-decked terrors such as To All a Good Night (1980), Gremlins (1984), and Don’t Open till Christmas (1984) by the wayside, but by the holiest of holies, everyone simply must watch Black Christmas (1974). With snow-capped festive charm and chills by the chimney-load, not watching it every December would feel like kicking Santa in the nuts. Celebrate its brilliance by making it an annual part of your unhappy holidays.
Date: New Year’s Eve
What: The overcrowded countdown that no one will admit to hating.
Films: In horror, partying away like it’s your very last night on earth often means that it probably is. New Year’s Evil (1980) sums up the night perfectly – sweaty revellers, terrible music, and deeply silly fancy dress. The eponymous killer (yes, ‘Evil’) commits to the occasion, attempting murder by midnight in all five of the USA’s time zones. This seems something of an improbability without use of a TARDIS or at the very least, a private jet. It’s a grubby, sloppy watch at best, and the bands – seemingly wandered off the set of Driller Killer – are mute button-reachingly awful.
Terror Train (1980) fares a little better. Roger Spottiswoode’s choo choo chiller uses the classic trope of a mean-spirited prank victim systematically slaughter everyone involved in the original wind-up on the anniversary date of the deed – December 31st.
With its brutality, Jamie Lee Curtis and a bona fide magician (David Copperfield, looking even more out of his depth here than when he was dating Claudia Schiffer), Terror Train shunts New Year’s Evil to a side railings with ease.