Monday 31 May 2021

Memorial Valley Massacre (1989)

Director: Robert C. Hughes
Writers: Robert C. Hughes and George Frances Skrow
Stars: John Kerry, Mark Mears, Lesa Lee, John Caso, William Smith and Cameron Mitchell

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

Given that you’re reading about Memorial Valley Massacre in a project about horror movies set on holidays, you might wonder why it isn’t called Memorial Day Massacre and I have exactly the same question. It is absolutely set on Memorial Day, but also in Memorial Valley, because the Memorial Day weekend is when the Memorial Valley Campground opens for the summer and it isn’t ready this year, for reasons that have nothing to do with COVID-19. We have no idea why Memorial Valley is called Memorial Valley but we do know that the movie was originally called Memorial Day because it still is in the end credits. There’s a poster online that still has that title too and the artwork on it is much better than for the film’s reissue titles like Valley of Death or Son of Sleepaway Camp. No, it has nothing to do with the Sleepaway Camp films, but little details like that don’t stop the unscrupulous. There are many other films called Memorial Day, of course, but none that seem to be close enough to this one, in subject or release date, to warrant a change.

My guess is that it changed when the filmmakers noticed that there was an actual Memorial Day Massacre and wanted to distance themselves from it. Reading up on it feels eerily like a contemporary news report but it actually happened in Chicago in 1937, when striking steel workers set off on a march to the Republic Steel Mill, only to be blocked by the Chicago police department. While the strikers were unarmed men and women, the police, “feeling threatened”, promptly opened fire, leaving ten dead. Forty others had bullet wounds and a hundred were beaten with clubs. Nine were permanently disabled and many had serious head injuries. No cop was ever prosecuted, of course, and the coroner’s jury called a verdict of “justifiable homicide”. News footage was suppressed. And, while I fully expect to see horror movies soon that are set during peaceful protests, that’s not what this is. This is clearly an eighties slasher movie as it follows many of the standard conventions, but it also sports an unusual killer and an even more unusual ending.

Sunday 9 May 2021

Mother’s Day (1980)

Director: Charles Kaufman
Writers: Charles Kaufman and Warren Leight
Stars: Holden McGuire, Billy Ray McQuade, Rose Ross, Nancy Henderickson, Deborah Luce and Tiana Pierce

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

At no moment in this film does anyone actually confirm that its events are taking place on Mother’s Day, making it something of a cheat for this project, but I have my reasons. For one, at no moment in this film does anyone say that its events aren’t taking place on Mother’s Day. For two, the subtext of the movie, which digs deep into consumerism and blindly rewarding mothers, regardless of whether they’re worthy or not, is perfect for a modern consumerist holiday like Mother’s Day. And, for three, while that bastion of low budget independent filmmaking, Troma Studios, produced this picture themselves, they also distributed a later homage in Father’s Day, which absolutely has ties to its titular holiday. In other words, if this film isn’t set on Mother’s Day, it ought to be, and, quite frankly, every consumerist holiday on the calendar should be commemorated in a film made by Troma. I’ll start a petition to have them tackle Valentine’s Day and Grandparents’ Day, Black Friday and Prime Day, and especially Singles Day.

If you don’t know Troma, I should introduce you. Troma Entertainment was founded in 1974 by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz and they specialise in making and distributing low budget movies. No, that’s not enough, because lots of companies do that; Troma do it in a very particular way. By low budget, I mean really low budget, to the degree that sometimes there’s no budget. Traditional attributes like the ability of actors to act or scripts to make sense are far from priorities, but the abilities to shock, scare and ick out are. Many of the most disgusting, most outrageous and most offensive movies ever shot were either made or distributed by Troma and the company would take those descriptions as compliments; they might even throw them onto their DVD covers as quotes, in luminous lime green over a splatter of diarrhoea. And, with that unwelcome image stuck in your brain, I’ll point out that this film, as disgusting, outrageous and offensive as it is, is surprisingly well made and worthy of much critical comment.

Saturday 1 May 2021

The Wicker Man (1973)

Director: Robin Hardy
Writer: Anthony Shaffer, loosely adapted from the novel Ritual by David Pinner
Stars: Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt and Christopher Lee

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

It’s a testament to the power of The Wicker Man that, however many horror movies you watch, it consistently stands alone. Frankly, that holds true even if you start dabbling in the vein that’s become known as British folk horror, epitomised by Witchfinder General, The Blood on Satan’s Claw and this picture, because the other two films there are period pieces, while this was contemporary to 1973. It’s remembered very well, with its two primary stars praising it highly. Christopher Lee, whose long and distinguished career was a busy one for almost seventy years, remembered it as his very best picture, above anything he did in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or James Bond. Edward Woodward, best known as TV’s Equalizer, described his lead role here as the best he ever played and called out the film’s ending as the best in film history. While received well at the time, it didn’t succeed wildly at the box office and had fallen into obscurity by the time Cinefantastique devoted an entire issue to the film in 1977, calling it “the Citizen Kane of horror movies”.

I had to choose it for this project because it’s inextricably entangled in pagan folklore and it ends on May Day, which long before its adoption in 1889 as International Workers’ Day, which would eventually lead to the iconic demonstrations of Soviet military might we saw during the Cold War, was a traditional spring holiday across most of Europe, dating back to Roman times and the festival of Flora. There are rituals in this picture that evoke Gaelic celebrations of Beltane, such as naked young women jumping over a sacred flame as part of their “divinity lessons”; they’re trying to get pregnant through parthenogenesis rather than sexual relations. Also here is a scene focused around a maypole but, unlike the family friendly version still celebrated in towns across England, this one is a phallic symbol, which Miss Rose teaches the girls of Summerisle is “venerated in religions such as ours.” In fact, there’s so much here that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s written a book about folklore to explain everything going on in The Wicker Man.