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Monday, December 31, 2012

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) Horror Christmas

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) - So this will be the last of the Christmas themed horror films covered this December. If there is one thing I have learned this month it is that Christmas is traumatizing to a lot of people. This final entry is the much ballyhooed film from the 80s that had parents up in arms. Imagine Santa on an advertisement for a movie with an axe in his hand. How Shocking! I can't say I remember this one, it came out a couple years after I graduated high school and I think I was living in Jamaica Plain (Boston) and if the is one thing about JP it has no movie theaters. I would have to travel if I was going out to the movies and with all the drugs and alcohol abuse of my youth I can't remember a single trip to the movies. This film was remade this year and titled Silent Night. I watched that version also but I will save that review for next year. It was pretty much the same film in principle but instead of learning of the trauma of poor Billy you find out he was the killer just at the end of the film. Also the focus in that film shifts from the killer Billy and how he got to that point to the cops trying to stop him. It is a quality horror film relying on great gore effects to make up for the lack of background on the killer. The predecessor is what I am here to talk about today though. It is all about the events leading up to Billy flipping out and killing.
   Billy,  traumatized as a boy when his family was killed by a man in a Santa suit on Christmas Eve grows to be a big strong young man. Through his childhood living at an orphanage the harsh Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) reenforced his trauma. The good Sister Margaret tries to get him the help he needs but can not do enough. When a young man working at a local toy store Billie has a mental break when he is forced to play Santa Claus for the store setting off a killing streak. Dressed in his Santa costume Billie moves through the town and punishes those he sees as naughty.
  First off let me say things have changed since this movie was made. The opening scene is of a family traveling through a countryside, Jimmy Chapman, his wife Ellie, little Billy at age 5 and little infant Ricky, Billy's brother. They are driving in a big old station wagon in 1971 and not one person is wearing a seat belt. Billy is in the middle of the back seat asking about Santa Claus and could he stay up to see him. The beauty of the scene though is when the pan to the front seat and Mom is holding the infant in her arm. No baby seats here, just Mom holding baby Ricky. Now I remember the 1970's and I have to say this scene is pretty accurate. I remember many days driving with my Mom and sisters in our station wagon. Me and my sisters all laying in the very back of the wagon playing games. It was so common to just move about the car. Lucky for us we never had the bad luck this family has though.
  They head out to visit Ellie's Dad who is a patient at the Utah Mental Facility. He seems pretty comatose just staring off into space while the family tries to engage him. The family leave little Billy with the old man while they go off to talk to the doctor. This is another strange happening. This is a mental institution and they leave a 5 year old alone with a patient. Immediately after the adults leave Gramps shows us he was just faking and looks right at the poor little boy and says, "Santa only brings presents to them thats been good all year, to them that haven't been naughty. All the other ones, all the naughty ones he punishes. What about you boy? You been good all year?  Scary as shit to a little boy, poor little Billy has to shake his no to Grandpa, so the old man continues to terrify. "You see Sants tonight boy you better run. You better run for your life." So we have the first foreshadowing of the horrors that are to come for this family. The first incident with Grampa does save little Billy's life though because when the family is driving home everything changes.
 Little does the family know there is a killer Santa on the streets. When the creep robs a gas station he kills the cashier when the cashier went for his weapon, but the director  Charles E Sellier Jr. makes a point of showing the guy as heartless. Killer Santa finishes his kill with a bullet in the brain. Now he just happens to flag down the Chapmans while they are driving home. They try to drive out of the situation but he shoots killing Jim. Billy runs from the car and hides in a ditch where he can still see the car. I guess Grampa's advice really saved his ass. Unfortunately he watches as Santa pulls his Mom from the car with intention to rape? Ripping her shirt open so that for years any time poor Billy sees a woman on her back with exposed breasts he flashes back to this scene. When Mom struggled Santa killer slits her throat and so the trauma for Billy the murder of his Mother and Father are burned into his being.
  This film takes its time to make sure we see that Billy does not recover from this incident either. We join him four years later living in a Catholic orphanage. He when asked to think about Christmas only thinks of death, and since a religious Christian organization is running the place they can't get enough of the holiday. Forced to participate little Billy is not doing so well. He has a healthy fear of Santa Clause and a negative state during the holiday. Considering his passed this makes total sense and you would think his care givers would be cautious around him this time of year.  Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick) notices his struggles and how each year it gets harder and harder for him. She advocates in his behalf but Mother Superior is a believer in facing your fear and continues to re-traumatized the poor kid by making him participate in everything including sitting on Santa's lap.
  We flash forward having established Billy's deterioration around the holiday and rejoin the story when he is eighteen years old. He gets a job with the help of sister Margaret at a local toy store working for Mr. Simms (Britt Leach). He works in the back room with lazy coworker Andy (Randy Stumpf) and has taken a fancy to female coworker Pamela (Toni Nero). All seems to be going well and then the holiday season arrives. Now next to the North Pole the worst place to work if you hate Christmas has to be a toy store. Poor Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) now a big strong young man, but he gets depressed and his work suffers as the holiday closes in. When asked to play Santa after the first guy is injured he does it but is not the jolly old soul we all know and love. It is the first step in his downfall.
  When the shift comes it is at the drink filled Christmas party the store has on Christmas Eve. Billy already far down the road  to crazy sees the lovely Pamela being roughly groped by his jerk off coworker Andy and all hell breaks loose in his head. He knows now like his old grampa told him as Santa the naughty must be punished. His killing spree is everyone he works with and then he heads back to the orphanage where he grew up. At the same time Sister Margaret is trying to find him with the help of the police. The practical effects are good in this film but the one tone acting of Wilson as the killer is a bit off putting. Like so many slashers the killer eludes the police long enough to do some serious damage to the community but in the end he must go down. I have to say I liked the bit in the film where the police shoot down the deaf preacher dressed as Santa at the orphanage. Poor guy just could not hear the cop yelling at him. This film is also great in that it sets up a whole troupe of kids to be the next Santa killer as they all are traumatized and re-traumatized in this film.
Rating (5.9) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Children (2008) Revisited Horror Christmas

The Children (2008) - REVISITED! As a virus infects the children of a couple families having Christmas together the sick children get pretty evil and begin to kill the adults. I noticed the  character's relationships a bit more this time through. The visiting family of Mother Elaine (Eva Birthistle) has a young adult daughter Casey (Hannah Tointon) and a young boy, Paulie (William Howes) who I have to say is a real Mama's boy, from an earlier relationship, Her husband Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore) also has a child from a previous relationship a little girl named Miranda (Eva Sayer). It is obviously not the perfect nuclear family but they seem to be making it work. This is to contrast Elaine's sister Chloe (Rachel Shelley) who has a sucessful husband Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield) and two children Leah (Rafiella Brooks) and Nicky (Jake Hathaway). The dynamics between the sisters is some what interesting as sister relationships are in real life. The younger, Elaine seems a bit put off by her more successful older sister. She seems to have the perfect house and husband. They are both already retired in their forties after selling a company. They live in a large beautiful house and Chloe is portrayed as a know it all when it comes to raising children. There is the conflict between couples about permissive upbringing versus strict rules based child rearing. Robbie is a tall successful and handsome man who now spends his days investing his money and living a life of leisure. He is the cool uncle but really comes across a bit creepy when he interacts with the Casey. There is also the dynamic of how unsuccessful Jonah is, he is a schemer trying to hit it big. It is revealed that he has been scammed in the past and is not great at choosing his opportunities. He is hoping to sell some Chinese medicine scheme to Robbie but gets cut off each time. It all works to create a tension that is wonderfully under the surface of the weekend.
Then there is the fundamental disbelief the parents have when the harm starts. Of course as a parent there is no way you are going to think your child is trying to kill you. This movie co-ops the fear that behind the innocent faces there is evil waiting to strike. The underlying tension also comes to the surface also which is really well done. It makes it difficult for the parents and Casey as the adults to join together to deal with the situation. In fact the parents can never think that the children are responsible for acts of violence. Where most of the damage at first happens when adults are isolated from one another it the makes then think each other are negligent for the apparent accidents that are happening.
When I think of evil children the movie that comes to mind is "Children of the Corn". It is a more overt film with the theme being right out there from the beginning. The children killing the adults of the town is one of the first scenes and you know from the start what will happen. In The Children" The process is slower and the immediate danger is not there, but the threat grows as more of the kids get infected. The film is effective at not letting the parents catch on too quickly and even though the Casey seems onto the games of the kids. Being the younger than the parents but older than the children she is not really listened to by the adults when she knows something is wrong. In fact she is seen as not helping enough early on and then becomes distrusted as the possible killer later.
There are not too many ways this plot can go so.  What it does is builds a series of mishaps to the adults who think that negligence and accidents are to blame. Then as more evidence that it is the children comes to the fore they start to turn on each other. The children on the other hand use their relationships with their parents to do the maximum damage. It becomes a fight for the parents to deal with a threat from the most innocent beings they know.
During the film you wonder what the hell, why are the police and ambulance not responding. It in the end can be cleverly explained though.  There is also a great twist between Elaine and Jonah that I did not see coming. It really is a cold blooded change that fits one of the characters pretty well. When the last couple of survivors try to get away what will they be running to? You will have to watch it to find out. There is this one final scene that the staging of I have to say I don't really like. You come across the a situation and you are in the protected inside of a car. Do you ever leave that safety to check a scene out? I say no! but over and over again in horror film it is necessary for the tension to have someone get out of the car and investigate something.
Writers Paul Andrew Williams and Tom Shankland (who also directed) do a good job making this a believable story and the horror of parents being attacked and having to defend themselves against there children is chilling. The directing was sharp enough to build a believable survival story. There is that one thing though, when is it when the people are in a car and see what looks like a dangerous scene, one or both of them have to get out of the car to investigate? I can see early in a film but late in a movie when the characters already know there is a ton of danger. Watching this film for a second time I was impressed with the construction of the characters and the blocking of the incidents so that the reactions of the adults were somewhat believable. In the end I think I liked this film more on a second viewing. If there is one drawback I would critique it on is one of the characters totally seems to give up at one point even though fighting would not be that hard. I just hate that in a character.
Rating (6.6) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jack Frost (1997) Horror Snowman

Jack Frost (1997) - In the credits to this film we have an uncle scaring his nephew by telling a story about a killer named Jack (Scott MacDonald). It really is quite a horrible list of things this creep does before he gets caught. It was also a freak traffic stop that got him caught too. A small time sheriff Sam, (Christopher Allport) in Snomonton captured him and he was convicted of his crimes and set to get the death penalty. Jack swears he will get the sheriff and his family somehow but it seems unlikely. This is where our story begins, as Jack Frost is being transported to his execution they just happen to be passing through the town he was caught in. It is a dark and stormy night as they say and the snow is really coming down. The driver is doing all he can to stay on the road. Little do the drivers of the criminal transport know but Jack in the rear has over powered the guard and is free from his shackles. At the same time a truck coming the other direction swerves into the lane causing both trucks to crash. This truck carrying a acid that has been changed on the molecular level come spraying out all over Jack Frost and his body appears to melt into the snow.  Then the snow moves and we realized that Jack has become one with the snow.
   Sam has been haunted by the capture of Jack Frost since it happened. Through flashbacks we see how the capture happened almost by accident and then we see Sam still looking over some of the stuff connected to the case. Jack during his trial made a point to say that he would find a way to get back at the sheriff and pretty much this is the plot of the movie except that Jack is now a killer snowman. It is too soon for that, the cops think that Jack Frost died in the crash and so at first in the film they are just going about there business, and unfortunately for them it just happens to be the yearly snowman building contest. Here is something about this film that really struck me odd. The film starts with this big snowstorm with the crash and then everything is about the winter festival. BUT the shots around the town show that there is almost no snow on the ground. There is a patch here and there but really after that first shot there should be a foot all around the town.
  Now without any mystery the entire premise for this film is explained. An FBI guy, Agent Manners (Stephen Mendel) and the geneticist who designed the acid, Stone (Rob LaBelle) head to the town because the acid is designed to fuse with the material it comes in contact with somehow and where it was on a psychopathic killer it seems to have absorbed the personality of Jack Frost. Now Stone thinks this is amazing news since to him it means that there is a soul, which is transferable. Too everyone else though it means there is a psycho snowman on the loose seeking revenge in the very town where he wants to get that revenge.
So let the killing begin, the first is done off screen when old man Harper while sitting in his frozen yard on his rocker has his neck snapped. The find him head back frozen solid the next day. They know it is a murder but never really question why he was sitting outside in the cold? Then there are the Metzners, Jake (Jack Lindine) our second victim who has an axe handle shoved down his throat. Shoved yes but the logistics of how without it coming out the back of his head are a bit fuzzy. Maybe if his head was all the way back like he was swallowing a sword it could happen but as you can see in the image that is not the case. His ditzy wife Sally (Kelly Jean Peters) is next getting the Christmas decorations treatment, and teenage daughter Jill (Shannon Elizabeth) who has the strangest death of all. She is having a connection with her boyfriend and sees the tub full of water, and figuring he got it ready for her, after just blow drying her hair she gets in. Lo and behold Jack Frost can change from snow to water in an instant so it looks like Jill has really gotten into him literally.
  Have I mentioned that this is really a bad movie? There are so many poorly written one liners for the snowman to make that it is embarrassing, writers Michael Cooney and Jeremy Paige should have taken more time with the script to tighten their lame zingers up. Okay so its hard and they gave it a try. As I was starting work on this review I saw one of the lovely people I follow on twitter had finished writing about this film.
Ann Hale wrote this piece up at Pop-Break where she talks about the lack of logic this film has. I really can't agree with her more. So much of the how the snowman works in the world just does not seem very well thought out. Or more to the point he can do what he needs to do to get at his next victim, change to water slide under a door and then freeze up again, etc. It is really not well thought out and thus the idea that he can be damaged by heat (blow dryers) is equally silly. 
  As the plot plays out it comes down to the town trying to defend themselves from the creature and they do come up with a method but boy what a coincidence that Sam manages to push Jack out the right window at just the right time. Oh fuck I am not even going to pretend that this movie was fun. It was more than a bit annoying and lacked the writing chops to be campy. So let me end saying there is no way I am recommending this one.
Rating (2.9) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Black Christmas (1974) Horror Christmas

Black Christmas (1974) - What is this, a horror movie where you never see the killer? That is the unique approach taken by Black Christmas. There are a lot of shadows, and flashes of eye balls or hands plus a lot of point of view (POV) of the killer but he/she is never revealed. It seem that the killer is male but it is never revealed.  How the film pulls this off is... well it really doesn't pull it off, the lack of closure leaves the viewer feeling a bit cheated if you ask me. Also leaving you cheated is the incredible but true fact that there is absolutely no back story for the killer. I watched the extra features and director Bob Clark did think they were doing something unique, well it is unique but I am not sure it really works. Roy Moore wrote the screenplay and barely worked again after that and I think you can see why.
 I don't recall this film as a child, I would have been 11 when it came out but since we were too poor to attend the movies, I probably missed most things. Nothing, the film opens with the POV of the killer showing up at the sorority house and climbing a trellis to get in an attic window. I guess the killer has randomly chosen this house as the next place to stalk. Later we learn there has been a killing in town and that currently a thirteen year old girl is missing. Still this does nothing to establish anything other than our voyeuristic fascination as the killer moves around the house spying on the occupants. It is a tough sell, the killer when he chatters sounds crazy as shit and you would think there is a story there. Sometimes on the phone there seems to be more than one voice, one male and one female but without a reveal that just stays a mystery
Inside a gathering at the sorority house with girls and their guys hanging out having a good time. We establish characters, Jess (Olivia Hussey) who is having troubles with her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea), he is not at the party because he has a concert for his professors at the music conservatory. Its a lot of stress and we see with a phone call she has with him that there is something not right between them that she won't reveal on the phone. Clare (Lynne Griffin) and Chris (Art Hindle) are a couple, and she wonders what her parents will think of him. Barb (Margot Kidder) is a bit of a college alcoholic, loud and boisterous she can be the life of the party of the reason it breaks up. There are a couple of particularly nasty bits she does that show the flaws of her character, early in the film she and all the rest of the girls have gathered around the phone because the prank caller has called. Someone mentions that a couple weeks ago a local girl was raped in the area, and Barb says "Come, on everyone knows you can't rape a local. " This comment really directed at poor Clare who is an actual local attending the college. It is very mean spirited alcohol aided vitriol.  Phyl (Andrea Martin) is there also and the house mother Mrs Mac (Marian Waldman), a woman whose drinking problems have progressed to the point she has bottles hidden all over the house. The other thing we establish at the party is that there has been a prank caller repeatedly calling the house. This is interesting because since it ends up being the killer and has been going on for a while we know the killer has targeted the house well before the events in the film happen.
  The film plays out at a leisurely pace although the first kill happens rather quickly. Clare is up in her room packing and hears sounds in her closet. Thinking that Chris may be playing tricks on her or one of the other girls she creeps over asking "Is anybody there?" as she closes in on the closet we get a POV of the killer as he/she wraps Clare's head in plastic and suffocates her. Then we see the shadow of the killer as Clare's body is taken up into the attic and placed in a rocking chair in the single attic window, head covered in plastic dead. We come back to this image again and again in the film. In fact anyone paying attention outside would see poor Clare when they looked up at that window, but off course nobody does.
  Things get bumped up a notch when Clare's father comes to take her home but she is not at the meeting place. Clare is now noticed to be missing the girls in the house head to the local police station to see if they can get some help. While there they learn that there is a missing 13 year old girl in town. I think the introduction of the police is that they are bungling small time group and by the end of the film you really get to see how poor they are at doing their jobs. They do get involved with the sorority house though and do their best to solve the disappearance they really are inept.
  The primary story line between Jess and Peter is that she is pregnant right at the time that he is preparing for his performance. Since it is 1974 the choices Jess have are discussed on screen with her initially not wanting to tell Peter and just going to have an abortion. She decides he should know though and his immediate response is that they should forgo the lives and dreams they have had up to this point and get married. Jess is not in that particular headset and is more inclined to have an abortion. She does not want to trade her life hopes and dreams because of an accident with a man she does not want to marry. I thought the scenes where they discuss the issue are emotional and honest with realistic reactions and conversation. The topic of how sexual miscalculations put at risk all of the plans of those involved and the dilemma when one person may not want the marriage solution society implies in those situations. Besides being a stage for a discussion between a woman's right to choose and the inherent distaste for the procedure it was a way to make Peter seem angry. So when suspects are being bantered about by the police his name had to come up. The audience can wonder about him but never seriously, the characters in the film though definitely see him with skeptical eyes. They also have the poor guy get this news right before his big performance which he has been practicing for night and day. The added pressure sure did not help as he blows his big moment. Trashing the piano so that the police see he is a loose cannon does not make him seem any less suspicious to the police.
  As the killer gets more victims it is Jess who ends up in the house for the climax. A phone tap makes it so the police can call and tell her the call is coming from the other phone in the house. Things get crazy from there with the classic finding of the friends dead. Jess is our final girl and the police arrive well after the action is over. Of course the audience also does not really see all the action which is a real disappointment. The police headed by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon) and the ending are truly dreadful, it would seem they have no procedures at all in their department. The film ends with them leaving the house and then us hearing the killer chattering about upstairs. They did not even search the house! I know they thought that the killer was already taken care of but since two people are still missing wouldn't you still search the place top to bottom. I guess those bodies up in the attic are going to have to start stinking before they are found.
  Over all I was a very disappointed with this film. In most of the movies so far, even the bad ones there is some kind of back story about why the killer is the killer. What are his motivations and usually it has something to do with Santa fucking someone, or a relative being killed on Christmas. Here though nothing, just a psychopath engaged in a killing spree. No one knows why and it seems no one cares either. There was nothing wrong with the characters reactions to the situation and the film overall was not poorly constructed. It just was missing the killer story, not to mention the killer is never really seen. There is the strangeness of the phone voices sometimes sounding male and sometimes female but it just is not enough to keep the tension. The acting is fine if a bit cartoonish at times. Mrs Mac in particular is more of a caricature then a character. Don't get me wrong there is something here, Hussey was great as Jesse and Kidder plays mean drunk really well. Over all though I could have skipped this film and been alright with that, it is really middle of the road horror.
Rating (4.7) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bikini Bloodbath Christmas (2009) Horror Christmas

Bikini Bloodbath Christmas (2009) - So we have made it to the third installment of this micro-budget film series. Let me take a minute to reflect on how I have viewed them so far. Since each has basically the same story a group of hot girls and some guy characters end up at a party where they are attacked by a killer named The Chef. There is a lot of running and screaming, gags, tits and self referential humor and pretty good music. The thing is I had two very different reviews of the first two films. I stated I loved watching the cheesy fun of the films but in Bikini Bloodbath only rated the film 1.1 of a possible 10. I was sure that although a sit amused and entertained there is only a very small audience that will view it that way. The satire will totally be lost on most and so I rated the film not how much I liked it but by how well done of a movie I thought it was taking into account the audience that may see it after reading my review. I believe this was a mistake mostly because the hundred or so readers I get in a week can pretty much tell from the right up what this film is and don't need me filtering for them.  So in my review of Bikini Bloodbath Carwash I just wrote about the experience for me and that film got a high recommended rating of 5.6.
 With the holiday season I am now covering the next in the series Bikini Bloodbath Christmas and it really is more of the same.
  The opening credits of the butcher cleaving liver and creating packages with the credits on them was cool but how freaking long did that go on. They really could have fast forwarded a bit on that. We open with a series of people waking up from nightmares, the lead Jenny and her friend Sharon (Niki Ruben) pop up in bed after Jenny has a nightmare about The Chef, the killer they both have survived in the two prior movies. Although the characters have survived the actresses have changed. The original Jenny was played by Leah Ford, but in the final two films by Rachael Robbins. The character Sharon has been played by three different actresses, Anna-Karin Eskilsson, Natalie LaSpina and now in Christmas, Niki Rubin. Sharon has the unfortunate ongoing gag in the films of being insulted about her weight repeatedly. Not that any of the actresses have weight issues but that is what makes it a gag. The waking from a nightmare, scene is repeated with a couple other characters from the film for comic and shocking effect. The one with Gena Davis (Phil Hall) is shocking but this is a Christmas movie after all so lets keep the Christ in Christmas.
  The storyline is this There are two stores that share a courtyard, the Snotlocker, which is where Jenny, Sharon and there friends work. It is like Newbury comics if it was also a head shop. It is run by Mrs Johnson the English sister of the Miss Johnson (Debbie Rochon) from Bikini Bloodbath Carwash, The Mrs. is played in drag by Dick Boland. Next door is the Underground Deli run by Gena Davis which has a group of "foreign" girls working there headed by William Defoe (Margaret Rose Champagne). They have dueling Santa Claus displays where people can come and sit on Santa's lap outside their respective stores and apparently have some tension about the courts use. At one point there is a Santa fight between the two. How does any of this tie into the main plot which will include killing and running and screaming?
  Well if you have seen either of the first two movies then you know the killer is the Chef and he went after Jenny in a big way. Being the survivor of the films she is a bit traumatized by it so the mean William Defoe challenges her to meet at the Chef's grave at night. That way we get the killer back in the picture. Now the only thing missing is a party, and wouldn't it figure that the duel holiday party of the two shops will be held that night at Miss Johnson's house. Why miss John's house, because her sister is watching it while she is in the hospital of course. We visited the hospital with Jenny and Mrs. Johnson and see her in a coma, apparently from having her intestines ripped out in the second film.
  The film follows the tried and true formula of raising the killer from the dead and him showing up at the party and killing most of the guests. Many of the gags in the first two films are reprised for us in this movie. Mostly though there are lots of flashbacks to the first two films, and they just happen to be the flashbacks to women without clothes. Yes this third film goes out of its way to work in almost every boob shot from each of the first two films. As if that was not enough the beautiful women in this film also expose themselves on multiple occasions and everyone works in bikinis. Like I said in each of my last two reviews, I find the ridiculous slasher satire hilarious and really like these films. They are not for most people but are a fun sidebar from the horror I normally cover on this blog.
  This film although following a pattern established in the first two films has its own personality and a wonderful twist at the end. There are decent practical effects in the kills, again the music is good and there is another cameo by Lloyd Kaufman which include special effects.
Rating (5.0) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Santa's Slay (2005) Horror Christmas

Santa's Slay (2005) - There is a new myth when it comes to virgin births and you have to suspend disbelief for this in order to accept the story in Santa's Slay. There were actually two virgin conception in the history of man, the first was God and Mary and the offspring Jesus. The second was Satan and the virgin Erica who had the child Santa (Bill Goldberg).
  For a thousand years on Christmas eve Santa the demon would slay and slay, so much so that an Angel decided to intervene. Taking the form of an old man he challenges Santa to a contest. If Santa wins Satan gets the Angel's soul to be tortured in hell for eternity by his Father, but if the Angel wins for a thousand years Santa instead of causing death and destruction, he will be a force of good. The challenge is curling, sliding a stone as close to a hole in the ice without going in. Santa goes first and slides his stone right up to the edge. The Angel then slides his just enough to bump the first stone into the hole while leaving his own at the edge. So the Angel wins and humans get to build the myth of Santa as a jolly old man bringing presents to all the good boys and girls. A thousand years of real torment for the demon Santa who has to remain out of character.
  Slide forward a thousand years in time and the contract is coming to an end. Santa is returning to the town of Hell township, there is some clever reason why it is happening here but I don't remember what it is. We are introduced to our lead characters, Nicolas (Douglas Smith) a good local kid who lives with his forgetful and lock obsessed grandfather (Robert Culp). He has a close friend who will be the love interest for the story Mary "Mac" Mackenzie (Emilie de Ravin), they work together at the local Jewish Deli run by Mr. Green (Saul Rubinek) who has more Christmas spirit than his customers. Nick is always a bit down this time of year because his family does not celebrate the holiday but his wanna be girlfriend tries many times to cheer him up. The turn is too easily figured out because of the rendering of some mixed in cartoons that explain the myth in the story. They make the character of the Angel look way too much like one of the characters in the film thus giving away the turn. When Santa is after our lead couple there is sooo many poor one liners by Goldberg, that it is almost embarrassing. Still the movie has a likable personality  and never takes itself too seriously.
  What this movie is for the most part is a collections of amusing kill scenes, from the very first with the dysfunctional family sitting down for dinner. A collection of cameos from Rebecca Gayheart, Chris Kattan, James Caan and Fran Drescher make a funny start as Santa arrives and kills all. It is a hilarious opening probably the best part of the movie. Well also the outtakes where the scene is played out in a variety of ways and the bloopers. Other kill scenes include the cursing rude local old lady who he forces off the road, more amusing because of the shock value of watching and old lady be so foul mouthed than any other reason. Killing of the cops in the town Santa is free to roam without anyone contesting him. Killing the deli owner with a menorah by stabbing it through his neck.  He slays his way through the town and ends up chasing our leads around the town too. Most of this is amusing if predictable all the way through the climax where the Angel and Santa have a second face off and another curling challenge. This is a light hearted and fun little film that is nothing but tongue in cheek. So rent it and watch without a lot of expectations and it will be fun.
Rating (5.7) 5.0 and up are recommended some just more recommended than others.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) Horror Christmas

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) - This is a very cool film, not sure if I would call it a horror film but it certainly straddles the line between horror and fantasy. It is the story centered around the Krampus myth come to life in the cold of northern Finland. Krampus would give gifts to nice children but put naughty ones in a sack and carry them away. It was interesting that Krampus came and snatched up bad children on December 5th, a date that recently came up in the film Sint (2010). In this myth Krampus is a demonic looking creature with horns, not the nice Santa with red and white outfit we all know and love.
 Originally a short made in 2003 it is a story of hunters who go out hunting each year. Not for reindeer or any other animal but for a Father Christmas, it is an amusing and fun men on the hunt story. The three hunters shoot darts into a fat naked guy and then track him down. After capturing him they clean him up and then train him to be a Santa Claus. When the training is done the Santa is boxed up and shipped out around the world.
  The idea was expanded in 2005 with a safety instruction video, it tells the staff who are  supposed to make sure the shipped Santa got to its destination. The story told shows the hunting party that was called in after a poorly boxed Santa escaped and killed the warehouse workers. In this story we first get to see the very young and cute Pietari. The rules for the Father Christmas are simple enough and shown through amusing demonstrations.
1. No loud noises.
2. No aggressive behavior towards them.
3. Play dead if attacked.
4. No smoking around Father Christmas, they hate smokers.
5. No alcohol and cursing they sense it and kill you.
 So basically you have to be good because they will know if you are naughty or nice. Once a Father Christmas tastes human flesh they are insatiable and will have to be put down. It is a sad cautionary tale and really adds to the myth that was created in the first short film.
And so we come to the final idea the feature length film Rare Exports.
  The opening scene sets us up. It is 24 days until Christmas and a drilling team is frantically working drilling a hole in Korvatunturi mountain. The head of drilling is telling his boss, Riley (Per Christian Ellefsen) of how they found sawdust and ice deep inside the mountain.We learn that in the old days people would store ice in caves surrounded by saw dust. So the team has found what they are looking for deep in the mountain and now their job is to dig it up. As we pan outside to see the drill area we see that two little kids are watching the men from behind some boxes. Pietari (Onni Tommila) the younger one seems to know that these men are looking to find Krampus deep in the mountain and he is scared. The older boy Juuso does not really believe but the legend is that the people of the area trapped the mythical being under this mountain and it is where he was supposed to stay. Riley though wants to reach his life long dream of finding Santa Claus.
  Pietari is really our main character, a little kid really maybe nine or ten years old. Still young enough to have a stuffed animal he drags around but in his culture old enough to attend his first reindeer roundup. He believes the Krampus myth and knowing that there are men up on the mountain where he is buried has him nervous. Of course no one else sees it his way.  During the opening credits we see him doing research on the real story of Santa Claus. He is just a little kid and the adults are more focused on the deer round up. It is the time of the year where they collect the meat that will bring them the most income and provide food for the winter. So while his Father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) builds a bear pit (illegal in Finland) to deal with a wolf problem he has been having, Pietari tries to secure his room from the threat of the mythical creature. He is a delightful age, young Pietari is straddling the age where you stop believing but still holding on to his childhood innocence. The home life he leads in the frosty cold of northern Finland is not easy and some scene time is spent to show that his Father is a recent widow struggling to live while still giving the young child a full life. He fails at it in he is not a cook so his attempts to cook gingerbread cookies or Christmas dinner are failures.
  After a disastrous round up where they find 30 carcasses of deer slaughtered and rotting. They think wolves which is a horrible turn of events for the small isolated community. There entire winter centers around the deer round up; meat for the winter and sales for cash. The hole the boys cut into the fence when they spied on the drilling team is a key piece to Rauno thinking the drilling crew are some responsibility. They drive up the mountain to confront the crew but find the installation empty and a giant whole in the mountain. Pietari and Juuso are too afraid to say what they did. The film looks like it is a showdown between the miners and the locals but very quickly it takes a strange turn.
 Caught in the bear trap is a man, dead on the spikes who looks an awful lot like Santa Claus. Rauno tends to the body bringing it into his butchering area. Does he call the cops, or dispose of the body? This discussion with his friends is cut short when Pietari comes in and the man on the slab comes to life. His nose twitching as he smells the child now it is a matter of who this person is not what to do with the body. The man is mute and as he heals they can not seem to communicate with him at all. It seems he only responds to two things, eating gingerbread cookies and children.
  The mystery of the town gets larger when all the children disappear overnight, stranger yet when all the appliances that create heat vanish too, stoves, heaters even blow dryers all go missing.The adults try to talk with the Santa but to no avail, he seems really animal like, scary in his silent way. It is the horror of the movie how you can really feel the menace beneath the behavior of the old man. Pietaro is terrified and knows something is totally wrong. While the men try to get some kind of conversation from the Santa, Pietari calls all his classmates to discover they have all gone missing.The men make a plan to sell the Santa to Riley figuring this is who he was after when he dug the hole in the mountain. They call him to make the exchange but while they are involved Pietari makes a very scary discovery. This is the time in the movie where it takes a most wonderful turn. I will not go into it here because watching this wonderful tale should be exactly what all of you readers should be doing.
  After the big turn in the film we quickly move to a pretty fantastic finish. Pietari gets to be a hero and comes of age in a few short scenes. The children's disappearances and the missing heaters are all explained in this great finish. This really is a fine winter tale worth the time to watch and read. Although a bit unfocused for very short time it is a tale of a little boy leaving childhood behind and becoming a man. The ending that plays back into the short films is a nice touch. So find this Christmas tale you will not be sorry you did.
Rating (7.9) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Santa Claus (1959) Christmas

Santa Claus (1959) This film is not really a horror movie but since it had the devil in it I had it on my watch list. Apparently a classic Mexican Christmas movie it is something many people watched all through their childhoods. Since I am really only covering Christmas Horror I will right this review ass if this was a horror film.
  Deep in space a malevolent being watches over the planet earth. Confined to his prison for all but one day a year this being is watching and making lists of potential targets. He is Santa Claus (Jose Elias Moreno) living in his crystal prison waiting for his time to return to earth. He is not alone there in his prison, no he has taken many child slaves. Forced into stereotypical grouping by point of origin they are forced to sing for the evil being, an insulting caricature of their society. Then they are forced work tirelessly building trinkets for this man to use to bribe other children in a massive behavior modification plan.
He watches the earth through his giant telescope waiting for December 24th, the one day a year he is allowed to leave his prison, fly to the earth and break into house after house putting his plans into action.
Hidden from him in the hot lava filled interior of the earth is Pitch (Jose Luis Aguirre Trotsky), who against all odds tries throughout the movie to keep children from falling under the spell of Santa. Portrayed as a devil in the film which is really just propaganda for the "Jolly" one. He tries his best to get some kids to ignore the brainwashing and live their own lives. Santa who can see pitch when he comes to the surface is infuriated that anyone is upsetting his plans to have all children behave as he wishes. These three boys who resist Santa are shown as bad because they refuse to be brainwashed and with the help of Pitch may come out of this with their wills intact. Also shown is Lupita (Lupita Quezadas) born to a poor Mexican family all she wants is a toy doll. Her Mother who has already grown up under Santa's influence wants her to be a good girl. This means you have nothing but if you behave in accordance to a strict set of rules and wish very hard maybe the arbitrary Santa will throw a trinket your way. Her Mother (Nora Veryan) knows for all her platitudes to the wonders of Christmas that really the poor often receive nothing. You would think for all the magic Santa has he could help Lupita's father find work, but know helping people is not his game. Getting everyone to act one way, his way is what it is all about.
  The third character is the rich boy named Billy (Antonio Diaz Conde hijo) who because he has all the toys and trinkets he wants can't easily be pulled into the Santa scheme. Santa has to get him believing that his parents are too inattentive and should spend every minute with him. When this does not seem to work Santa on Christmas eve actually has to intervene with the parents themselves. He drugs them with a cocktail to make them do as he wishes and that way can get Billy into his army of followers.
  On the 24th of December Santa flies to the planet and starts the long process of bribing the children of the world. He is armed with a sleeping powder created by the imprisoned Merlin the magician that when blown into the air puts anyone to sleep so Santa can have his way. On top of this his has a key that unlocks any door making his breaking and entering all the more easy. Sometimes though he still likes to slide into a house through the chimney although it is unclear in the film why he would have to when in possession of a magical key. The last tool of his trade is a magic flower that  when sniffed makes the smeller invisible. This way he can very easily escape detection.
  Pitch works tirelessly through the night to foil Santa's brainwashing attempts but armed with only ideas he is hard pressed to fight against the magically armed fat man. He tries though and is foiled at every turn. This is what most of the film focuses on. Santa pushing his "everyone behave how I want you too." and I will bribe you with toys, countered by Pitch trying to convince people they are being brainwashed. Like in so many horror movies the end is inevitable with little Lupita being lost in the end with doll in hand she joins the troops of Santa. The three boys who help Pitch are scorned and receive coal in their stockings, but at least retain their free will.
  Pitch for his part does everything he can to keep Santa away from kids, heating door locks and even trying to steal Santa's slay but the beast is too strong for him. He tries to get the people of the city to notice him, but help from Merlin keeps the battle a draw and we will have to deal with the voyeuristic pedophile again in the future.
Overall this film was pretty horrible, preachy and condescending to anyone who did not fit the Santa message it was hard to watch. Portraying Pitch as a devil was a theatrical choice that I found heavy handed. The moralizing about what good behavior is was too much for me. Even the one hope I had for little Lupita was squashed, she was bought off for a bit with a doll but her situation was left dire. No food and no work for her parents will quickly show her that a toy can't be eaten. So the red suited beast gets her behavior in line but does nothing to improve her situation, figures.
Rating (2.6) 5.0 and up are recommended, some just more recommended than others.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984) Horror Christmas

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984) - A bit of a mess of a movie from the incomparable Dick Randall, it is a Christmas slasher film hoping to ride the coattails of the some what successful Pieces (1982) but had problems right from the start. The director and Actor Edmund Purdom only took the role because he was also given the directors role. Unfortunately he was not particularly successful at the directing part; So Producer Dick Randall had screen writer Derek Ford assist him. This still did not work so they were both scrapped from that role and Editor Ray Selfe and Writer Alan Birkinshaw co directed a film that was already a mess. Too tame for a Randall film they rewrote a good portion of the script adding in some very gruesome kills. They also inserted the strange stage performance from the lovely Caroline Munro near the end of the film. It is more noted for seeming completely alien to the film more than any performance Munro gave. When all was said and done the film really is a strange combination of parts. Some solid eighties synth  music by Des Dolan accompany some very tense and wonderful stalking scene. But the film is riddled with strange plot twist and dialog and the very violent deaths that sometimes come out of no where and end too quickly.
  The quick and dirty plot seems to encompass the film, a maniac is loose and is going around killing anyone dressed as Santa. The New Scotland yard is reeling from the events and the pressure to solve the case falls on Inspector Ian Harris (Purdom). That sums up the basic plot but boy, it is so much more than that. The masked killer has these crazy brown eyes just like many of the male characters in the film so guessing who the murderer is will be tough. Also hooded so no hair color is ever seen makes it that much harder. There are some people to consider though.
  The first obvious red herring is Cliff Boyd (Gerry Sundquist), the boyfriend of Kate Briosky (Belinda Mayne). They have the misfortune of watching Kate's Father (Laurence Harrington) be speared through the face while performing as Santa at a night club. Cliff who pan handles with Kate, playing the flute for his income is low on cash and could be in line for some inheritance if Kate ever calls the damn lawyer back. Because everything early on gears towards him as a suspect he can't be the killer. It is a bit ham handed how fast and hard the script points the finger at him. When you make someone obviously the killer the audience can generally figure out it is a dead end. A dead end even though the writers worked to have reasons to suspect this character. You have to know that money is not the motivating factor for this killer, everything points towards a psychopath just because of the brutality of the crimes.
  Then there is reporter Giles (Alan Lake) who shows up spouting cryptic things about Inspector Harris. He thinks Sgt. Powell (Mark Jones) could more easily solve the case  and get a promotion. He is strange and brown eyed and very definitely could be a suspect. Not to the characters in the film he is barely in it. Its just that the scenes he is in his personality is so strong and slightly off that he is definitely to be considered. The character of Giles really does not get fleshed out until the end of the film and by that time you are probably just wishing the film is over. He does have those crazy brown eyes though.
 As the film goes on even Inspector Harris becomes a suspect, well at least for the audience. He shows signs of cracking under the pressure to solve the case. He off camera is being berated by his higher ups and seems to become dour thinking he is going to be fired. When it becomes known that his last name is not Harris and that secretly he has been visiting the Parklands Mental Institute he is suddenly a real possibility. What is he doing at Parklands? Was he once a patient?
Hell, all of this leading towards the real killer is so clumsily done that it is frustrating to watch. Really its just a couple of scenes that are really done well in this film and those and the added elaborate fast murders make it interesting at all. The first kill scene in the very beginning of the film although not original is classic Giallo slasher type scene. A guy dressed as Santa comes into an abandoned alley to meet his woman. They go to the car they have thee and start to make out in the back seat. We get a point of view of the killer as he closes in on the car. The sound is the breathing through what must be a mask. He circles the car and annoys the man inside who thinks he is a voyeur. The man gets out and confronts our unseen killer. The killer's hand stabs out a long blade into the abdomen of the Santa. The woman screams and panics trying to get out the far side of the car. Through the killers eyes we watch her trapped in the alley looking desperately for a way past the killer. She backs against the wall of the alley and the killer again lashes out killing her.
 The other longer, and maybe too long scene to note is the cat and mouse between the killer and a drunk Santa who realizes his plight and flees into a the London Dungeon wax museum. There is quite a suspenseful scene before he fails to escape.Also in the scene is the poor woman working there, played by Paula Meadows who has an interesting career in real life as an erotic artist by the name Lynn Paula Russell
  There is a wide variety of Santa damage being done in this movie. Most are sudden and violent and gruesome, spear through the head, Long knife stabbing, burned in a fire, shot through the head, stabbed through the neck, it really is quite an amazing collection of deaths they added into this film. Overall though the film fails to really tell a consistent story, with Kate sort of becoming an investigator on her own and Harris suspended and a suspect in Kate's mind. It all gets so strange at the end with the revelation of who the killer is and his absolutely strange behavior.
  Similar to Christmas Evil (1980) The trauma that set the killer off totally has to do with an event on Christmas involving Santa and sex and in this case the death of his Mother. Walking in on Dad dressed as Santa, having sex with a blonde hottie is too much for the kid and his Mom to take. Unfortunately Mom falls down the stairs and dies forever setting Santa in the kids head as someone to hate. The very last scene too is unexpected but considering how strange the whole thing is it is not unreasonable.
I can't really say this is a film you should seek out unless the practical gore effects are your main interest. Even if that is the case they are things you have probably scene before. It is a remarkably underwhelming film and You can totally understand why the violent brutal attacks were added. If they had put this film out without them it would be a plodding psychological thriller.  So no recommendation will be made here.
Rating (3.2) 5.0 and up are recommended Some more recommended than others.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Saint (2010) Horror Christmas

Saint (2010) - original title "Sint"  "Your Parents have told you that he doesn't exist" Maybe something was lost in the translation but I thought they told us he does exist. Of course thatg is the happy Santa here in USA. This Movie's Christmas gift giver has a whole different scene over in Amsterdam and giving gifts ain't it. The legend as seen through the first scenes is that Saint Niklas is the head of a band of pirates. We see their ship in the harbor near a small village. He riding his horse and carrying his crosier he leads his men into the village, Amsterdam 1492. The people of the village have left out goods for him to collect but he is there for more than provisions. His men slide down chimneys of locked houses and knock in door. They pillage and kill and most of all steal children to take to Spain. I don't know why Spain? its just part of the story. Accept it so we can move on please. In the scene we are watching the villages rise up and fight back. They set the ship on fire and it seems that the bishop and his men perish. Still they didn't get the kids off the boat so...hmm. The curse that now comes from this has to do with the date of the uprising. It is said on any December 5th that falls on the full moon brings back Saint Niklas (Huub Stapel) and he and his men (called"Black Peters" because of the soot from sliding down chimneys) takes his revenge on Amsterdam.
  Its December 5th 1968 and its a full moon. Four kids stand around their wooden shoes by the stove chanting a Saint Nick poem. Mom and Dad are busily preparing for Christmas and it is a very nice scene. The pigs out in the barn are making a lot of noise though so Dad send the oldest boy Goert (Neils van den Berg) out to check on them. On his way back he see old Saint Nick on his horse and on his roof, unfortunately for Goert his whole family has been murdered. I am normally put off by two establishing time periods in a row but here it works, the first showing the antagonist and establishing the revenge curse. The second establishing the trauma of the protagonist setting up his motivation for the modern day story.
  Our Main characters are Frank (Egbert Jan Weeber) and Lisa (Caro Lenssen)are in the same class in high school. Permissive sexual attitudes are on display when the secret Santa gift giving includes many dildos. Boy I guess things have changed since I was in high school. Poor Frank get his gift a Dear John letter from his now former girlfriend Sophie (Escha Tanihati) who kicks him to the curb with a poem and a box full of his things. Some things apparently never change.  It appears that Frank had sex with another girl and Sophie found out. Little does she and her friend Natasha (Madelief Blanken) know that Lisa is the girl Frank cheated with. The three are friends and their dialog is very interesting as they walk home after class. This background is to establish that Frank and Lisa are in "Like" and there is an interest between the two. Also a conversation about it being December 5th and a full moon lets the characters do a modern retelling of the legend of Saint Niklas. The other character development is to bring us back in touch with Goert (Bert Luppes) who is a cop for the Amsterdam Police department. This is the first December 5th full moon since his family was slaughtered and he is trying to convince a strangely reluctant police chief to do more to protect the city. Goert has prepared a detailed report of what to expect but it is apparent from the reactions of the other cops that no one takes him seriously.
  We come back to Sophie who is an unwed Mother? (Maybe it could be a little brother?) We see that although an atheist she is not safe from harm from the Saint. In an effective scary scene we start off the movie proper. It is a shame that she has to die too soon.
  With the players in place all we have to do is wait for sundown and the arrival of the esteemed Saint. Frank who is dressed as he for the Christmas celebrations heads our with his black face painted friends for a night on the town. The party they are supposed to get to seems impossible to find even with a GPS. A bit of commentary on the endless nature of construction of Amsterdam's streets leads them to an encounter with the real Saint Nick. It is a good thing about this film, there is a tongue and cheat social commentary running through the film that is interesting and effective. Light and on the fringes it does not beat you over the head but it is present throughout.
  The run in with Saint Nick and his boys highlights another important part of the film, it is not afraid to use gore. Both of Franks friends are killed in this encounter and Frank while escaping some some pretty gruesome damage to the Black Peters. These effects are great including cutting one in half at the waste. As he drives away from the bad guys he is surrounded by cops responding to the ruckus and since the arm of a pirate is still attached to the door of his car, and he is wearing a Saint Niklas outfit he is mistaken for the killer and arrested. Complicating his plight is that Sophie is dead and little Timmy missing and since she so publicly broke up with him that very day he really looks rather guilty.
  All of this action and scary fun is mixed with the story of Goert as he tries to kill the immortal Saint. His story arc that intersects with Frank is to blow the bastard up on his ship ending the plague of deaths. This is no easy task though and before the end there is some scary scenes and action to be had. The best bit is Saint Nick showing up at a pediatric ward of a hospital. The kids react with such excitement before the terror sets in. It is a nice scene and one of the failings of the film is that there was not more of that. The scares that are in the film are great and I found myself wanting more of them. Instead we get a giant CGI set piece of the cops chasing Saint Nick as they speed through the streets of Amsterdam he rides across the rooftops of the city. When he finally comes crashing down, oh I loved the twitching arm it ends up just a way to bring Frank and Goert together and set up the climax sequence.
  Mixed in with the action are these little bits about the city government. The first thing I thought watching it was if the Saint and his men came back every December 5th when the moon is full that boy that's a lot of killing over time. Since the first time the event happened was 1492 it leaves a lot of dates that could be visiting days. How does nobody know this is happening. How many full moon December 5ths have there been in that time period? I could not let that go so I investigated so and was disappointed to find out that the dates used in the movie were not full moon dates. Since they were establishing characters I get why but still. Recent Dec. 5th dates with a full moon wwere in 1949, 1987, and 2006. The next two though are pretty far out in 2063 and then 2082. Enough of this side track though, even with the dates used in the movie there is no way that December 5th body counts would have gone unnoticed. Lucky for us writer / director Dick Maas explains it as a cover up.
  The final plan to do away with Nick is also not particularly well thought out by the characters. It is a decent idea but the line establishing the destruction of the ship Niklas arrives in and his death are not really established. So even when the climax happens you are left wondering, at least for a bit, if it will do the trick. Set up for a sequel in 2063 I am looking forward to seeing.
  I really enjoyed the film it had humor and at times was scary, decent action pieces although some of the CGI was a bit suspect. When all is said and done this was a fun Christmas movie to watch.
Rating (6.5) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others.