Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

December to Dismember: GOOD TIDINGS (2016)

On this final day of 2017, we close out our look at uncovered Christmas horror with another solid flick. After some of the most brutal independent horror assaulted our retinas, the Movie Gods decided to give us a reprieve. Nothing sums up this battle of good and bad better than this quote from painter Bob Ross: “Absolutely have to have dark in order to have light. Gotta have opposites - dark and light, light and’s like in life, gotta have a little sadness once in a while so you know when the good times come.” Amazingly, Tom and I got these gifts at roughly the same time. While he was watching the entertaining ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015), I was taking in GOOD TIDINGS (2016). 

The UK was a particularly disappointing destination for us this month. After all, this is where one of the all-time classic Christmas horrors (the Santa segment from the original TALES FROM THE CRYPT [1972]) came from. Surely the Englishmen would do their country proud again. Well, with THE 12 DEATHS OF CHRISTMAS (2017) and CHRISTMAS SLAY (2015) as examples, they were not only doing their homeland a disservice, they were regressing the sub-genre they practically created. Thankfully Stuart W. Bedford swooped in at the last minute to bring us GOOD TIDINGS and remind us there is still some hope in the Limeys.

The film wastes little time setting things into motion as it opens with a drunk half-dressed as Santa stumbling toward his car. He is surrounded by three men with bandaged faces in hospital gowns and quickly loses his head...literally. The nutter trio pop the trunk of his car and find some Santa costumes with some of the most nightmare inducing masks. The plot proper begins with homeless Jon (Jonny Hirst) running into equally homeless Sam Baker (Alan Mulhall) while digging through a dumpster on Christmas day. While Sam fully admits he doesn’t trust easily, he takes Jon to a local homeless shelter/squat in an old courthouse run by Mona (Julia Walsh) and Paul (Garry McMahon). Of course the down-on-their-luck folks are all good hearted types, from the gruff-but-good-hearted Sam to recovering heroin addict Roxy (Claire Crossland). Naturally, Sam has a backstory and the former military man tells Roxy about how his life fell apart after his young daughter was kidnapped.

Danger soon rears its head(s) as the three killer Kris Kringles - who have been tooling around in the car they stole - arrive at the homeless shelter. Armed with an axe, machete and sharp candy cane (as any child can attest, the world’s most dangerous weapon), the trio lock up the main exit and sets a series of booby traps all over the building. Their timing couldn’t have been worse as Sam just brought up a phonograph from the basement and was going to play some happy Christmas music for an impromptu celebration. Cue massacre montage! (I’d probably prefer being killed than being forced to listen to Christmas music.) While the background hobos get sliced ‘n diced, our main characters split off into groups. Mona, Paul and Sam seek shelter in some cells, but see their problems compounded when Paul’s heart begins to go on him. Meanwhile, Roxy and Jon couple up and try to hide from the killers. The psycho Santas soon start capturing folks and, as movie logic dictates, the war-weary Sam must soon unleash his primitive self to fight back. As he says, “Sometimes a single man in the right position can be as effective as an army.”

Making his feature film debut, director/co-writer Bedford impresses with a film that is played completely straight. In lesser hands, this would have tried to be “retro” with film scratches added in post (my biggest gripe with genre cinema today). Obviously inspired by the cinematic works of John Carpenter, this could easily be called ASSAULT ON HOMELESS SHELTER 13 as it mirrors that “people trapped by anonymous killers” scenario pretty well. What I love here is that Bedford leaves the identity of the killers a complete mystery. Outside of their hospital outfits in the opening scene, there is virtually no backstory. Are they just escaped lunatics? Or is their a deeper connection to Sam? One scene might suggest that when one mentions Sam by name to Jon (in the only line of dialogue spoken by the killers). It is obviously an intentional (and brave) decision by Bedford and co-scripters Giovanni Gentile and Stu Jopia (who play two of the Santas). It is in the little details like this where Bedford shines. Another good example is when Roxy is helping Sam with his wounds and notices the scars all over his arms. A lesser film would have him launch into a monologue about his time in the service, but this just allows one tiny feature to do the “talking” for the audience.

Bedford also obviously studied Carpenter’s use of the widescreen format as there is some impressive staging. Not that he is implicitly copying Carpenter’s style as Bedford has his own shining moments. I particularly liked a scene where Mona and Paul try to get his medicine. They are confronted by one of the killer Santas and he just stands there and points his machete to tell them to go back to where they were hiding. He then follows them and the sounds of an attack are heard on the soundtrack as the camera holds on the empty room.

There is also a great scene where one of the Santas forces Mona and Roxy to pass a present back and forth. As they unwrap the layers (inside is Mona’s husband’s pill bottle), the tension gets greater and greater as the killer grows increasingly agitated.

Bedford’s handling is reinforced by a great score by Liam W. Ashcroft (who also played the third Santa). Ashcroft takes some Christmas standards and puts a nice sinister twist on them. For a low budget effort, the acting is great by nearly the entire cast. The cast for the homeless look appropriately downtrodden and Mulhall is a great casting choice for the lead. He certainly projects the weariness of the character and I was a bit shocked he only had a few shorts (including a couple by Bedford) to his credit. The three Santas also are given distinct “personalities” so you can tell them apart. If I had any complaint about the film, I thought the attack scenes could have used some more umph, for lack of a better term. Either it is the staging or the sound effects, but they don’t really pack the punch that they should. The big assault on the homeless folks around the 20 minute mark is a good example. For whatever reason, the tension isn’t really maxed out here and the attack just begins. That, however, is a minor quibble as GOOD TIDINGS (2016) is a welcome deviation from what has been a month of brutal viewings. Thankfully, like Bob Ross said, we can now appreciate the goodness thanks to bad times. The really really bad, soul crushing times. Happy new year!

Friday, December 29, 2017

December to Dismember: ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

After nearly a solid month of Xmas stinkers, you can hardly blame us for feeling like Bob Crachit on a bender, and wanting to kick Tiny Tim's crutches out from under him. Fortunately for us, we have been visited by some SOV ghosts that may not have driven us down MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), but more like Miracle on Ice (1980). Bruised but victorious against all odds. Yes, that's right, we have finally found something to like about modern Christmas movies (I say "we" because Will got one too). It ain't much, but I'll take it.

We open with a bunch of obnoxious kids wrecking someone's Santa mannequin on their front lawn. A pair of bare feet pad up, the owner of which is unseen, grabs the Santa mask used in the display and a random pair of hedge clippers that are, for no apparent reason, stuck in the lawn right next to the mannequin. So, someone left a mask and a sharp garden tool next to each other? Out in the open? Don't these people watch horror movies? That is straight up irresponsible.

Next thing we know, Santa is making some front-door visits (fuck all that sneaking in the chimney shit) to a variety of neighbors in the 'hood. And when I say "variety", I mean there are a lot of chesty women between the ages of 25 and 30 in this part of town. Maybe there's a strip-club somewhere down the block. The first stop gets a white trash mom and 8 year old son out of  (the same) bed to answer the door. After seeing Santa on the doorstep, the son promptly falls asleep on the sofa and mom finding nobody on the doorstep goes to take a shower. Both perfectly normal reactions. This gives our Santa the opportunity to use his brand spankin' new shears on mom in the shower. Ala PSYCHO, right? No, more like ala Franco, as he stabs her in the boob for starters. Santa's got issues.

Enter Rachel (Ashley Mary Nunes), a young woman who has dropped by the 'hood to visit her sailor-mouthed, hard-drinking, wheel-chair bound grandma who ends up coming off less like Betty White and more like an ex-biker skag. Rachel's other reason for visiting is to help her over-enthusiastic neighbor, Mrs. Garrett (Melynda Kiring) decorate her already Christmas overkill house. Little do they know that Mrs. Garrett has got some extra nuts in her fruitcake as Mrs. G carries on heated conversations with the various mannequins she has dressed up in festive Christmas garb and, as the girls discover, has another one in her bed!

We also get a hot lesbian couple who, just like in real life, apparently love the color purple and novelizations of old horror movies. Then there is straight couple who are about to bang a gong until the girl asks if the guy wants to get "adventurous". At this point I was afraid that large rubber novelties would be making an appearance, but no, she just wants to cuff his hands to the bed. Whee! Adventure! This of course give her the opportunity to leave the room so that Santa can come in and snip off his bouche de noel. For those keeping score at home, this makes a total of two weencapitations. Don't worry, this will all make sense if you watch the movie. As does the shot of Santa swiping a vibrator after impaling a showering hottie. Isn't that what we all want to do on Christmas? Come to think of it, people seem to do a lot of nocturnal showering in this neighborhood.

Rachel grabs a couple of her over-privileged (and young, and busty) friends, Sarah (Danica Riner) and Gia (Natalie Montera) to help her decorate Mrs. G's house while Mrs. G heads out on a date, which she assures them is strictly platonic. Hmmmm... wait a minute... is this a - what's it called? A "plot"? I've heard about those, but you'd never know it from what we've been watching this month. Yep, something creepy is going on with Mrs. G. She once had a daughter who nobody knows what happened to, and a husband who apparently has been in the slams for the past 15 years. What happened to the daughter? Why did the husband end up in prison? All of this comes together in an admittedly derivative, but surprisingly well thought out, climax and finale.

Written and directed by Todd Nunes, this appears to be Todd Nunes' second "feature" made with family and friends (Ashley Mary Nunes is his sister). It also appears to be the only one that has been released. For a semi-first timer, Nunes manages to impress. In Santa's spree around the 'burb, it feels a bit like yet another Santa stalker with some randomly strung together attacks. While fairly gory, they clearly are trying to stay within the realm of an '80s slasher movie. That said, when we get into the second half of the movie, we start getting a some stylish camerawork, effective nighttime lighting and is able to overcome some of the residual video look to create some impressive atmosphere. It's pretty amazing as this is the opposite of what usually happens with these low-renters.

While most of the acting is of what you'd expect from a low-level SOV DTV entry film, there are two stand-outs. Melynda Kiring, who plays Mrs. Garrett, may be a little over the top at times, but is nicely effective. Then we get side character, Cody (Jason Ray Schumacher), Rachel's whiny ex-boyfriend who keeps popping up and annoys the audience just as much as it annoys Rachel. (slight spoiler) In an irritating cliche, he is needed to help rescue Rachel at the end, even though it is totally unnecessary and having Rachel save herself from the psycho Santa would have been much more satisfying.

ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE, like CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD (2012), though different in tone, is another example of a movie that, in another day and age, really could have had a solid indy production, shot on film with quality actors, and become something of a cult classic. While Nunes definitely has some growing to do as a filmmaker, this one still gets more than enough right to make me look forward to his next movie. Reportedly just starting pre-production, the movie is titled DEATH WARD 13, which co-stars the one and only Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, which should be interesting in and of itself. It seems a bit ambitious, and a bit over-done, with a '70s mental hospital setting, but hopefully it will be a step up in production value with another solid story. In the end, with these SOV DTV flicks, you really can't really ask for much more than that.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

December to Dismember: YOU BETTER WATCH OUT! (2013)

Well, Christmas 2017 has come and gone. We hope you all got what you wanted and that it was a joyous occasion. And to all my Canadians out there, happy Boxing Day! Of course our gift to you was the resurrection of our December to Dismember reviews. So far this month we threw out nine reviews and that is more than the last year alone. Unfortunately, the score was one good movie out of those nine. Well, I’m certainly not about to break precedent with YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

Not to be confused with the latest horror darling BETTER WATCH OUT (2016), this is a horror anthology from (according to the IMDb) “the dark and twisted imaginations of Jay Byrne and Michael Welch.” I stumbled upon this title while looking for Xmas horror fodder and figured I’d give it as a present to myself while placing an order on Amazon. Spoiler: I must really hate myself. Hey, I braved TALES FROM THE GRAVE 2: HAPPY HOLIDAYS (2005) so I can do this. So I sat down on Christmas night to take this one in. Another spoiler: I’m a fuckin’ idiot.

The plot centers on three friends (Rich, Steve and Lori) gathering at Rich’s house before a big Thanksgiving reunion party to tell each other scary stories they wrote. Wait...Thanksgiving? But this film is called YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!, which implies it is about Christmas. Ah, the twisted imaginations of Byrne and Welch have decided this will be a holiday themed horror. Jeez, did these guys see TALES FROM THE GRAVE 2 and think, “We can do better than this!” So what we get are stories about Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s. Before dissecting the Christmas entry, I’ll quickly sum up the first and third entries. Rich’s story is “All Hallow’s Eve” and focuses on two scumbag drug dealers who beat up a kid who doesn’t have their money. They decided to seek refuge in a creepy looking house, where they encounter some paranormal activity before being killed by a guy in a plaid shirt. Lori’s story is “Auld Lang Syne” and centers on Old Man New Year living his final days of the calendar year in New England with a bitchy landlord. He is pissed he is going to be replaced, but soon finds out blood gives him youth again.

The middle story is the one we’ll examine for its Christmas content. It belongs to Steve and is twistedly and imaginatively titled “Here Comes Santa Claus.” This opens with a priest (Tony Medeiros) being enlisted by the Catholic Church to do a hit for them. It seems the church is pissed that Christmas has become too commercial with less of an emphasis on Christ and it is one man’s fault. Yup, the priest is hired to snuff out Santa Claus. “The power of Christ compels you to be creative,” barks the church head on how to snag ol’ Saint Nick. Creative he is as he hires a prostitute to seduce Santa (co-creator Michael Welch) when he shows up at a house. We then get assaulted with some bad Christmas sex puns as she tries to suck on Santa’s “candy cane” and begs him to “put that Yule log in my nice, warm fire place.” The offer of something for free other than milk and cookies stuns the jolly one for enough time to allow the priest to emerge from a room and shoot Santa in the head. For good measure he also pays the prostitute by shooting her. Hey, that isn’t very Christian-like.

Anyway, our holy hitman is now taxed with getting rid of Santa’s body and this proves to be a rather difficult task. Santa wakes up while being dragged out and gets a cleaver in the head for his troubles. While being dragged in the snow to be buried he arises again and gets stabbed a whole bunch of times. Thrown into a car trunk, Santa is driven out to the woods and buried. He still isn’t dead though and appears before the hitman’s car. He drives into him (at a tire screeching 5 miles-per-hour) and then proceeds to run over him several times. Naturally, Santa pops to life again (haha, take that, Jesus!) and is shot a bunch more times. The killer then says screw it and leaves Santa’s body in the woods before heading back to the church to get his payment. While at home with his loot, Santa reappears again and explains he can’t die because the energy of the world’s belief in him keeps him alive. So it is like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM 34th STREET. Realizing the game is up, the hitman puts his gun in his mouth and shoots himself to end the pain (I’m envious). The segment ends with Santa putting the Catholic Church on his Naughty List.

Filmed in the wilds of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, YOU BETTER WATCH OUT! is another one of those indie horror efforts where you think more “how did this happen?” versus “how cool was that?” The wrap around makes little impact with the bad acting, terrible dialogue and lack of impactful twist (spoiler: the three storytellers are eventually killed by the plaid shirt guy from the first story). That said, I can lay praise where it is due and I think there are kernels of decent stories in the New Year’s and Christmas episodes. The New Year’s one, in particular, has a well thought out idea (the Old Year being jealous of the incoming New Year) but is never fully realized. This one is shot...err, presented in black & white, so you know it is serious. Alas, it is the Christmas episode we are concerned with here and I’d say it is the best of the bunch. Is it good? By conventional standards, no. But like I said there is a germ of a good idea in there. It is actually quite subversive with the idea that the Catholic Church would be pissed off at Santa Claus stealing their holiday clout. And the idea of Santa coming back jolly (and increasingly bloodied) again and again after being killed is hilarious and Welch is a decent Santa Claus. Unfortunately, it isn’t handled with the kind of panache it requires. Imagining it in the hands of someone like a mid-90s Alex de la Iglesia and you have a winner. As presented it is just kind of there. I will give the filmmakers props for actually filming in snow and trying to get a Christmas feeling in this segment. I also liked when Santa opens the priest’s briefcase with his payment (“I’ve always wondered what the going rate for killing me is.”) and finds it full of communion wafers. Oddly, in this segment only the filmmakers do comic book descriptive panels similar to CREEPSHOW (1982), but abandon it in the other segments. The DVD cover art (see above) is also great and caught my eye, but it created scenarios in my mind that were more exciting. In fact, I think the most entertainment I got from YOU BETTER WATCH OUT! was seeing the only review written on it on the IMDb was by one of the co-directors, Jay (Jason) Byrne. Not only does he pretend he isn’t the co-director, but he also gives his own film an 8 out of 10. See! Even he wasn’t totally impressed.

Friday, December 22, 2017

December to Dismember: CHRISTMAS CRUELTY! (2013)

This, without question, is my lump of coal for the season. It's the perfect storm of crap. A shitnado, if you will. Lots of stuff happens, none of it good. Shot on video by a couple of Norwegian yutz's (Magne Steinsvoll and Per-Ingvar Tomren), CHRISTMAS CRUELTY! (originally titled HOLY CHRISTMAS! which was apparently too subtle for English speaking audiences) is pretty much the bottom of the yuletide barrel for so many reasons and it lives up to its title.

After an opening sequence in which a fat, middle-aged accountant is shown going about the labors of a home invasion with as much enthusiasm as a tax audit. He rapes the mother in front of the rest of the family and then decides "might as well start with the smallest first" and uses a circular saw on a screaming baby. Cue title sequence of young people ordering drinks, drinking, a band playing. And titles, and more titles. Holy fuckmas is there a movie here or is it just all titles?

Finally we get the movie proper rolling and I immediately wish we hadn't. A group of 20 somethings are hanging out in a bar with a band playing... still. Cue lots of drink ordering, band listening and 20-somethings being jackasses. There is the wheelchair-bound Per-Ingvar (co-director Per-Ingvar Tomren), and his abusive best friend, a long-haired metal guy, Magne (co-director Magne Steinsvoll). To be fair, Magne is abusive to everyone, because that's so metal, right? His dialogue consists mainly of randomly strung together swear words that thirteen-year-olds would probably find edgy and hilarious. He calls Per-Ingvar's mulled wine "weak cunt brew [that] tastes like seagull cum." I really don't want to know how he knows that. Then there is the girl, Eline (Eline Aasheim), who is far too nice to put up with all the abuse that gets heaped on her. Is this the cruelty, you ask? Nope, the cruelty is watching these idjits do nothing and enduring at least a dozen music montages (not even joking) for 60 minutes. Seriously. They sit around the apartment for a while, then they get the idea to make Krampus masks, then they go jump-scaring people in the streets while wearing said masks. Like the dialogue, I'm guessing these scenes of them running around being dill-holes in public are all improvised. But hey, it's all set to music, so it's all good right? Ugh.

After yet another long, pointless sequence, this one involving buying a Christmas tree with Magne letting out a stream of random obscenities on the salesman (metal!), the trio arrive back at the apartment to celebrate Christmas by getting completely hammered (set to music!) and passing out. That's it, that's the celebration. Sitting around getting drunk, listening to Magne's cussing and falling/dancing around in yet another music video sequence. Seriously, it's like fucking nails on a chalkboard with these music sequences. The music is from Magne's real-life band (which is definitely not metal) and that's great and all, but if you want to make music videos so badly that you make a "horror" movie that has more music video sequences than horror, why not go make some music videos in the first place!? Fuuuuuuuuuck.

Interspersed with this grueling monotony, we get snippets of our killer hanging out at the office (where a co-worker drones on at him with insignificant babble for, like, ever), where he has a novelty toilet coffee mug and a JAWS mouse pad. He takes a break from this to masturbate over dating sites - set to melancholy music, of course. Then we see him at home where he has rock stickers all over his filing cabinet as well as other genre movie stuff. This is one of those pet peeve things that hipsters will no doubt be in complete denial of. This psycho schlub is not going to be worshiping PULP FICTION (1994)! This is just the movie makers trying to impress the gullible by shouting "look how cool we are by putting all this movie shit in the sets!" And by "sets", I mean some dude's house. Adding insult to injury, the directors seem to thinking that by doing a randomly timed, rapid series of jump/smash cuts during these sequences is going to somehow heighten the sense of crazy. It doesn't, what it is, is really fucking annoying. I had to take my eyes off of the screen a couple times because it was causing eye-strain. Literally, this movie hurt my eyes.

The trio wake up hung over and to make matters worse, our fat, middle-aged guy decides they are the perfect homebodies to invade while dressed in a Santa suit (complete with the Santa mask from 2012's SILENT NIGHT). It's hardly the welcome relief that it sounds as our St. Nick slayer, who acts like he's bored with the routine, slowly tortures and kills them all with deadly seriousness. So intent on pushing this into a grimy subversive area of '70s roughies that the Santa killer stabs Eline in the crotch with a kitchen knife before raping her to the point where she begs for him to stop, at which point he stabs her in the chest, twisting the knife for a while. Yeah, I get it. They are trying to evoke the nastiness of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and other sadistic '70s cult classics, but it feels like I'm watching some kids trying to be nasty, completely clashes with the "comedy" hour that we just endured and even worse, it's done with all the enthusiasm of cleaning a toilet.

In a clumsy attempt to throw some humor into the grim, drawn out killings, we get a lengthy scene of Santa trying to take a pee (and trying, and trying) before turning around a severed head that was "watching him" and then finally he pees (and pees, and pees). There's also a scene (set to music!) of Santa taking a break from smashing in faces and cutting off arms, to make a sandwich before going on to the arduous task of chainsawing the legs off of the cripple. Of course this is after a long sequence showing Santa (in the mask) buying the chainsaw with his victim's debit card. This also gets a music sequence complete with post-card-esque sunrise shot.

While the acting is about as rank amateur as you can get, the script is mostly ad-libs and the directing is basically pointing a video camera at people, the gore effects are surprisingly top-notch. Not that I really cared by the time that point rolled around, but in one scene we have a guy get his face smashed in with a hammer, a surprisingly well-crafted effect for what is clearly a zero-budget movie.

Not that the effects save the movie at all (fucking music montages!), but at least someone associated with this crap has some talent. As much as I may have made the movie sound endurable, it's not. I'd just like to point out that this is coming from the guy (me) who has willingly sat through Andreas Schnaas movies, some of them more than once. Remember that it has about an hour of utter bullshit and music video sequences before you get to the killing and even then they manage to throw in yet another crapload of music sequences before finally crawling to the end credits. Bah humbug, indeed.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December to Dismember: CHRISTMAS SLAY (2015)

Tom recently dipped his toe across the pond with THE 12 DEATHS OF CHRISTMAS (2017), so I guess I have to be brave enough. Not to be confused with SANTA’S SLAY (2005) - which is easily the best killer Santa movie starring Bill Goldberg - CHRISTMAS SLAY is another in the long line of “homicidal maniac in a Santa suit” slashers with the only difference from our other cinematic tortures is the ineptness comes at us with charming British accents. Cheerio, old chap!

The film opens with a family (father, mother, young daughter) celebrating on Christmas Eve. When they hit the hay, a deranged killer (Frank Jakeman) in a Santa suit breaks in. How do we know he is deranged? He sits down and slices himself a piece of their cake! Have you ever seen such madness? He then heads upstairs and kills mom and dad (dad is violently stabbed while mom just sleeps through it; yeah, it is one of those kind of movies). The cops arrive thanks to a silent alarm (always the best kind of alarm for a vulnerable family in the middle of nowhere) and quickly blast the killer to hell. Hahaha, just kidding. This is England where they are still civilized and politely-yet-sternly tell him “get down on the floor now.” After a bit of a scuffle (that would have made him extra dead in the U.S.), he is taken into custody. Just think, the slay from the next 80 minutes could never have happened if some good ol’ American cops got to the scene first.

Cut to a year later and three girlfriends - Emma (Jessica Ann Bonner), Beccy (Dani Thompson), and Sarah (Lydia Kay) - are heading to Scotland for some winter fun. Things are tough for Emma as she found her boyfriend Ryan in bed with her best friend. He says they were just pissed (drunk for you non-Brits), but she ain’t having it and the three ladies decide it is girls’ weekend as they get dropped off at an isolated cabin. On the way back the van driver hears on the radio about a breakout over several patients at the Moorview mental institution the day previous. Wait...what breakout? In his infinite wisdom, writer-director Steve Davis decides to show the breakout AFTER it is mentioned. We meet nurse Chloe (Laura Ellen Wilson), who runs into our killer, Simon Carter, in the hallway of this psych ward. You see, in Europe if you slaughter an entire family you only get the nut house. Over here in the U.S. you get a fanclub and Wikipedia page. Simon proves he still isn’t on the level when he stabs a fellow patient in the head with a bunch of pens and steals his Santa suit before escaping. No need to guess where he is going as the director has already told us.

Back at the bungalow, the girls are preparing to get wild by decorating a Christmas tree and roasting marshmallows. Whoa, calm down, girls, just calm down. Trouble arrives in a slight form as Chloe shows up. You see, she was the best friend that Emma’s boyfriend was in bed with. Drama! Trouble also arrives in a slightly bigger form as boyfriends John and Paul also show up (Ringo and George apparently not invited). Trouble then arrives in its biggest form as Simon eventually shows up with an axe. We just have to assume he followed Chloe here, but obviously it doesn’t matter (to both the director and the audience). Chloe is the first to get killed when she goes out to get some firewood. One of the boys goes out to find her and he also gets slayed. This gives Simon his first chance to show his holiday horror decorating flair as he sneaks into the house and puts Chloe’s severed head in the toilet. Let’s just say master horror planners like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees aren’t impressed. Hell, Billy from SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) mounted Linnea Quigley on a deer rack on his first killing spree. Simon, you ain’t no Billy. Not that you would care as all this action happens offscreen. Why? Because we need to have the amazing 5 minutes long scene where John fills his tiny joint and ponders the wonders of marijuana. Naturally, when John finally makes it to the john and sees the severed head, he freaks out and pounds his palms against his forehead while mumbling. The girls decide the best course of action is to get to higher ground for some good cell phone reception. Not to call the cops, they just want to chance their Facebook status to “It’s complicated.”

The tagline on the DVD cover for this is “You better watch out. You better not cry.” Guess what? I
didn’t watch out and as a result I cried a lot. Now I’m not blaming the film outright, but after I saw it I was very sick for three days and felt like I was gonna puke (“That was probably the new STAR WARS that made you sick,” said Tom). You have to wonder what writer-director Steve Davis has going on in that (egg)noggin of his. Stalk-and-slash movies don’t require the highest level of brain function, but some basic logic does apply. For example, let’s look at the scene where the women decide to leave the house to head to higher ground. They were settling in for the night so the characters were in t-shirts, bras and short shorts. Price has them all leave the house to go out into the cold dressed like this. Now, mind you, they are not being chased at all at this point and they are inside a house (insert Donald Moffat in THE THING voice) FILLED WITH THEIR FUCKING WARM CLOTHES! Now I’ve seen characters do some dumb stuff in horror movies, but I’ve never seen them choose to avoid weather conditions by choice. Weird.

The end is even more bizarre as Emma becomes the final girl and chops Simon to death with his axe. Ryan, the boyfriend savior, shows up the next morning and does what anyone would do and immediately takes her to the hospital and calls the police. Hahahaha, just kidding. He takes her to her apartment so she can have a bath. The police show up and arrest her because of all the dead bodies back at the cabin. Wait, I thought she killed Simon. Well, his body is gone and they just assume she was the escaped looney. No, I’m not kidding. This is an actual dialogue exchange in the film:

Constable: “They picked up that escaped patient from Moorview a few hours ago. The one that killed all those students up in the highlands.”
Sergeant: “That is good news. Where’d they find him?”
Constable: “It wasn’t a him, it was a her.”
Sergeant: “A her? You sure about that?”
Constable: “Yeah, positive. They found her prints everywhere.”

I can’t even begin to unpack all the dumb in those five lines. Now I’ve heard about British folks being bumbling, but this might take the crumpet. Hmmm, did a hulking killer escape or was it a tiny girl? Eh, same thing. Can’t tell ‘em apart, guv’ner. Jeez, remind me never to get caught up in a mass murder in England. It is boneheaded directorial decision one after the next. Viewers might wonder what makes Simon tick. You could infer he has a Christmas tragedy in his past by the way he freaks out in the asylum when he sees a fellow patient in a Santa get up. Nope. Working such simple exposition in some throwaway dialogue is just too damn demanding for Price. A shame as Jakeman is an imposing actor and seems to have some range to maybe pull it off. Of course Simon lives and the door is left open for CHRISTMAS SLAY 2. Thankfully, no one has entered that yet.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

December to Dismember: CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD (2012)

Christ, I am so over zombies. If you went back in time and told my teenage self that in the future zombies would become so mainstream that I'd be sick to fucking death of them, I'd kick your ass right through the doors of the funny farm. Having thoroughly braced myself for the worst in Christmas horrors and oh, jeezus, a zombie one no less, it feels more than a little weird to end up with something that is really not all that bad. Even, I might say, enjoyable! I know! What the hell is going on here?

On Christmas Eve slacker husband and father Calvin (Damian Maffei) has procrastinated on putting up the outside Christmas decorations until literally the last minute. His well-meaning, but pestering wife Ella (Kasey Lansdale), all gussied up in what appears to be a sexy mall-Santa's helper outfit, is upset that the decorations aren't up and wants Calvin to go out right now to go buy them. She doesn't indicate where exactly Calvin should buy them, at night, on Christmas Eve, but that's not her problem! Her problem is that their five year old daughter Tina (Madeline Brassell) is being cheated out of having the perfect Christmas, like ever! Am I supposed to sympathize with either of these bums? Fiiiiine, I'll try.

While Calvin is trying to nap on the sofa (at night, on Christmas Eve), his girls witness some colored flashing lights in the sky. When he wakes up he finds that his wife and daughter are sprawled out on the floor dead. With the phones not working (we seem to be in an era that only has land-lines), he steps outside and what to his wondering eyes should appear? His entire neighborhood is littered with corpses. Yep, the apocalypse happened and lazy-ass Calvin missed the whole damn thing. So what's a man in the middle of the apocalypse do? He cries, of course. Jeezus guy, butch up, have a beer, blow something up, do donuts in the police station parking lot, something!

When his neighbor Ray (Adam Coats) stops by, covered in blood (and a ludicrous Christmas costume), he swears that Tina bit him, just to prove him right, Ella takes this cue to pop up all zombized (zombieized?) and sinks her choppers into Ray as well, causing him to shout "goddammit, your whole family bit me!" Wait, did I blink and suddenly find myself watching a very special episode of STAN AGAINST EVIL?

All of a sudden CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD (ahem) comes to life with some snappy dialogue and a crafty sense of humor. This shouldn't be much of a surprise as legendary scribe Joe R. Lansdale wrote the short story of the same name. Adapted for the (small) screen by his own spawn Keith Landsale, we finally have a shot-on-video, amateur acted, low-renter that is actually well written, through no fault of its own. Are we in opposite land? I mean, I go to the local multiplex and see movies with good acting and lousy scripts and now I'm all turned around. Ok, who spiked my egg nog? This is not how it's supposed to go.

Joe's other spawn, Kasey, her character fortunately dies almost immediately so we don't have to suffer through her savage attempts at acting. Well, sort of. Calvin, unable to bring himself to shoot her in the head, decides to keep her chained up on the porch and feeds her dog food out of a dog bowl, because... he, uhhh, loves her so much? Amazingly, Kasey can't even really handle the chores of being a zombie and kind of acts like a dog. Sort of a zombie dog. Or a sorority chick who really can't handle her magic mushrooms. This would be fine except this movie being about as neopotismal as the White House, Kasey is also allowed to perform several saccharine pop-country tunes that blare over the soundtrack once in a while and pretty much made me want to slam candy canes in my ear drums to make it stop. Fortunately for me and my ear drums, I have a mute button. Use as necessary.

After deciding to light up his place of work and play constant Christmas music over the radio, Calvin also babbles messages to anyone who is listening. Being a man, he is assuming that there are hot girls somewhere who will hear his blubbering self-pity and come running to give him some sloppy holiday cheer in the middle of August. Instead he gets George (Brad Maule). A beer-bellied ex-garbage man who wears a uniform with a name tag that reads "Kathy". They become friends, because they really don't have any options, and eventually get mixed up with a cult of zombie worshipers run by the Reverend Mac (Chet Williamson) who has escaped from the local loony bin and set up a "church" in a rodeo arena with the rest of the inmates as his "flock".

I am genuinely amazed, and a bit saddened, that this couldn't get a decent budget and better actors. This could have easily played in the cinemas of the past if it had been shot on film with a better cast. It's not a tent-pole franchise starter, so there's no way it could happen today, but if anyone in Hollywood had any sense (they don't), they could have turned this into a minor hit. Fer chrissakes, we still have THE WALKING DEAD as popular as ever and we even got a good Krampus movie in theaters a couple years back. This, with a little cash, could have easily been another BUBBA HO-TEP (2002), at the very least.

Lansdale's characteristic humor is channeled through George, and while the lines are still funny, there are some hiccups that apparently did not deserve another take. George says of the zombies, that music "holds their attention like a naked lady in church". Not the greatest line ever written as it rips-off classic Southern witticisms like "sweating like a whore in church", but in the context of a SOV beater, it's definitely chuckle worthy. Too bad veteran TV actor Brad Maule stumbles over the line, wrecking the delivery, and director T.L. Lankford said "fuckit, we'll just leave it in." Of course, Lankford is probably best known for writing and co-producing a few Fred Olen Ray and Rick Sloane movies, so yeah, mystery solved.

On the acting front, most are unknowns, possibly friends of the Lansdale family, though Damian Maffei has appeared in a few things including a bit part in Andreas Schnass' NICOS THE IMPALER (2003) and the lead in Jay Woelfel's CLOSED FOR THE SEASON (2010), however it's first timer Chet Williamson's Reverend Mac who easily steals the show with his boisterous Texas wing-nut preacher shtick. This character also proves that this is a Lansdale flick. I mean, Lansdale is the guy who managed to squeeze a Western-themed episode (complete with Jonah Hexx) into BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1995). I can trust Lansdale to figure out how to stuff a Western-theme into The Little Mermaid on Ice, if given half the chance.

As disconcerting as it is to see good writing go hand in severed hand with stiff acting and digital video, you could do a lot worse this Christmas. I know I have.

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