Take Back the Knife: Horror films for the holiday season

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Take Back the Knife is a monthly column about women in horror by genre writer/director Stacie Ponder.

Ah, the holiday season — a time when one’s thoughts turn to eggnog and horror movies. Okay, it’s a time when my thoughts turn to eggnog and horror movies. Okay, so my thoughts are always on horror movies … but sometimes they’re not on eggnog, so perhaps that’s enough to make the holidays special. But this edition of Take Back the Knife isn’t about me, friends. It’s about you. And at last when you’ve opened your final present, stuffed in that last cookie, and made out with everyone under the mistletoe and you say to yourself, “You know, self, I think it’s high time for a snow-laden seasonal horror movie featuring a notable female character or two … but what, o what shall I watch?”, fear not … for I am here to help.

The Children (2008) — From The Bad Seed to Orphan to Bloody Birthday, I’m a big fan of the “killer kids” subgenre … so when this British flick came along, I was predisposed to dig it. I didn’t just dig it, however — I fell in love with it in all of its twisted glory. The L Word‘s Rachel Shelley stars in this disturbing, gruesome, and downright scary tale of creepy children ruining the Christmas holiday not with temper tantrums, but with evilness and murder.

The Shining (1980) — Jack Nicholson gets all the attention for his turn as ca-razy and homicidal innkeeper/writer Jack Torrance, but in my mind, it’s Shelley Duvall who brings home the gold as his wife Wendy. Sure, she snivels a bit … but then who wouldn’t if her husband was threatening to beat her to death with a baseball bat? I think anyone in that situation is entitled to more than a bit of sniveling.

Wendy’s stronger than she seems, though, and while she may be terrified and confused, she still defends herself and her son against her murderous husband and the ghostly inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel. If I were she, I would simply sit in the corner and cry. That’s right, I would — and I’m only a little bit ashamed about it.

Black Christmas (1974) — Please note the date — it’s 1974, which means I’m not talking about the horrendous 2006 remake of this classic horror film. I like to pretend that the remake doesn’t even exist, it’s so bad — please don’t make me do otherwise. Anyway, Black Christmas is indeed a classic of the genre because it’s well-crafted and GD scary.

There’s a killer tucked away in the rafters of a sorority house, and no one knows he’s there. One by one, he picks off the house members, who include a young Margot Kidder at her boozy, sexy best, and Olivia Hussey, who has such lovely hair that I want to eat it, even though I know that eating hair is not the best way to enjoy it.

Not only is this a superior horror movie (laced with some of the blackest black comedy you’ll find), it’s a reminder that there once was a time when actresses were allowed to be more than cardboard cutouts and female characters had a bit of depth, even in a slasher film. Want to dazzle your friends with trivia? Black Christmas was directed by Bob Clark, who also graced the world with a holiday classic of a decidedly different stripe: A Christmas Story.

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