Christmas Slay (2015)

Merry Christmas, dear reader! To celebrate the season, I’m giving you a review of what is in the running for the most thoroughly incompetent, wrong-headed, downright boring Christmas slasher movie it’s been our displeasure to watch. I’m going spoiler-crazy in this one, so if you’re remotely interested in watching it spoiler-free…then you’re an idiot. Seriously.

What passes for the movie’s only joke comes in the first few minutes, as a couple of British coppers (for this is a British effort) are radioing back to base – “Sierra Lima Alpha Yankee”. Slay! Like the title! Hahahahaha! So anyway, a guy dressed in a sort of beat up Santa outfit breaks into a house to kill the couple inside, but the silent alarm they have also summons the police. The two normal officers get their asses kicked, but then the rough-and-tumble sweary boss turns up and easily defeats the killer (who, aside from one word, stays mute throughout).

Even in these first few minutes, weird decision after weird decision assaults us. First up, the dead couple are sleeping with lit Christmas lights all over the top of their bed. Who does that? Turn them off! Then, as the killer is about to leave, he encounters a girl who asks “have you got any presents for me, Santa?” Reasons this is wrong:

  • She looks 14 years old and wouldn’t believe in Santa
  • This Santa has no beard
  • This Santa is drenched in blood and carrying a knife, also covered in blood

But this is just the first five minutes. We’ve got so much more stupidity to get through! “One year later”, and three women who I guessed were soft-porn stars but all appear to be actual working actors, are off to the Scottish highlands for a Christmas break. I mean, it doesn’t look even a little bit like Scotland, and in fact looks exactly like Bulgaria (which is where it was filmed), but let’s try and suspend our disbelief for a few more moments.

So, these three women, who all look sort of alike (fake-tanned, dark straight hair) although one of them is easily ten years older than the other two, even though all three are in relationships and would presumably have other places to be, have decided to spend Christmas together in a cabin in the middle of nowhere – although, when the director forgets to frame his shots right, you can see they’re in a moderately busy village.

At the same time, there’s a breakout in a nearby mental hospital, and out go two people – a lunatic who wears his pyjamas with one leg rolled up, and Santa from earlier. He hasn’t been taking his medication (I have to assume that people locked up for multiple murders are given a little more oversight than “none”), and when a Santa sent in to…cheer the patients up?…insults our friend, he gets a felt tip pen driven through his skull, allowing our friend to get his outfit back. Now, felt tip pens are significantly less strong than bone and this would never, ever happen, but this isn’t even the stupidest thing to happen in this five minutes.

Time. We see pyjama-man stood at the side of the road threatening the van with our three heroines in it…but then in the next scene we see him in the hospital, pre-escape. Any indication it’s a flashback (which would be confusing anyway, coming just after a “one year later”)? Of course not!

Place. One can assume, from the accents on display from everyone in the first scene, that the initial murders took place in the London area. But, for narrative convenience / to mask the filming location, the killer was transported to a mental hospital in the Scotland area?

After some of the most abysmal banter it’s ever been my misfortune to witness, Emma (Jessica Ann Bonner) emerges as the probable final girl – her boyfriend perhaps cheated on her with her best friend, she seems to have the faintest flickering of a personality, etc. Then the aforementioned best friend turns up, then all their boyfriends start turning up…to this cabin in the extremely remote Scottish highlands, remember.

It’s also at this point that we discover that, no matter how cold it gets, these women were hired to look good in underwear, and it’s them in underwear we’re going to get. Even when they go outside in the snow (!) one of them puts a coat on, but other than that they don’t even seem aware they brought other clothes with them.

One of the boyfriends is a pothead, and we’re treated to a scene of him making a joint, and it’s very clear he’d never made a joint in his life before. This scene, where he sort of builds his joint while his girlfriend lolls on the bed next to him, is perhaps the most tedious scene in the history of cinema, where almost literally nothing happens, for a solid five minutes.

Let’s talk about the killer. One might wonder if there’s some trauma in his past, some Christmas-based upset (much like “Silent Night, Deadly Night”) that causes the Santa outfit to bring out some homcidal tendencies in him. Nope. Well, there might be, it’s just that the movie never bothers telling us that, or indeed anything else, about his character. That he wanders through the woods til he finds some people to kill indicates he’s not got any geographical issues, either. Although more on that later.

Okay, now let’s talk about how horror movies are structured. At about the halfway point, we’ve established that the killer is on the loose and that some girls are in trouble. Two people could get involved – the cop from the beginning, who was set up like a leading man, or the chief doctor at the asylum, who’s upset that the murderers he was looking after have gotten loose. Do you think either of these people show up? Of course not! Well, the cop does, but again, more on him later.

Eventually, in the fashion we’ve come to expect, killer meets final girl, and final girl is victorious. Then it’s Christmas morning! As she sits there, surrounded by the corpses of her friends (not literally, that would be odd), the door to the lodge (complete with Bulgarian translation on it) opens and in walks her boyfriend! To say he’s not got much screen presence is a vast understatement, but that’s not really the issue. He swoops in to take charge of the situation, and they drive to the nearest police station to report all this murder – their phones didn’t work at any point of course, although you’d think a tourist spot with no cell service would at least have a landline. Wait, did I say they’d do something sensible? Of course they don’t! He drives her all the way back to London where she finally has a bath to wash the blood off her. From Scotland. Sat in a car, covered in blood. WHAT THE HELL

And finally, we come to the end. For absolutely no reason whatsoever, Emma is arrested for all the murders, and in a scene of such brain-buggering stupidity it’s hard for me to even believe I watched it, the last we see of her, she’s in that same Scottish asylum we saw people break out of at the beginning, angrily protesting her innocence. I would like to provide you with a little dialogue, courtesy of the same cool cop we saw at the beginning and his skinny female constable, both dressed exactly the same as they were a year ago.

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.”

Now, one would think that at least a few people would be able to vouch for the fact that Emma wasn’t a mental patient, just a young woman with a lot of make-up on; and equally that at least someone would be interested in the mass-murderer who actually did escape, at least as far as knowing what his gender was. But no. The final final scene, where the killer turns up in cool cop’s office, soaked in blood, having healed himself from the multiple axe blows to the head and the knife to the throat he got from Emma, and kills him (despite cool cop having dealt with him in hand-to-hand combat with embarrassing ease at the beginning) , is just another gem.

Now, I hope my words have gotten across just how utterly appalling this movie is. Dull, ugly, stupid, with terrible dialogue, awful special effects and crappy acting, with zero evidence that anyone involved in its making had the slightest idea what they were doing, it’s evidence that too many people have access to enough money and camera equipment to make movies. Or that there are too many outlets – I have Amazon Prime to thank for this (thank the heavens I didn’t pay any actual cash for it).

The one even slight smile comes from the name of the director, one Steve Davis. The Steve Davis that most British people know and love is the former snooker world champion and current snooker TV presenter / obscure music DJ; this Davis appears to be a former nightclub bouncer whose path to the movie business is a puzzler to me.

Please, please, please, avoid this movie, and merry Christmas!

Rating: all the thumbs down

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Christmas Movies: Santa’s Slay (2005)

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We hope you enjoyed our last season of Christmas-movie reviews – “Nixon And Hogan Smoke Christmas”, “Bikini Bloodbath Christmas”, and so on. while the pickings are possibly a little slimmer now (will we ever find a movie as entirely un-Christmassy as “Silent Night, Deadly Night 4” again?) we’ll endeavour to bring you the reviews of your holiday choices for the year, allowing you to make sensible entertainment decisions.

 

The only thing I knew about this before popping it on was that it starred Bill Goldberg. He started off as a professional American Football player, playing for the LA Rams and the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL before being forced to retire due to a serious muscle injury. Then he went into pro wrestling and from 1997 to 2001 and was probably the second-biggest star in the world (behind “Stone Cold” Steve Austin) – he wrestled a little longer after WCW folded in 2001, but moved away from that world and acted, hosted TV shows, and commentated on some MMA. As of this writing (December 2016) he’s a WWE wrestler again, but don’t expect it to last too long. He’s super-charismatic though, seems to have been smart with his money, and was always fun to watch. Thanks to the murky cinematic waters I swim in, I’ve seen a few of his movies (“Ready To Rumble”, “Half Past Dead 2”, and “The Longest Yard”) but how does he do in the “lead” role?

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Right from the off, “Santa’s Slay” wants to let you know they won’t be taking things seriously, at all. We’re introduced to a family slinging passive-aggressive insults at each other over a Christmas day, and it’s a list of weird and wonderful names – as well as former SNL star Chris Kattan, there’s Rebecca Gayheart, the great Fran Drescher and the even greater James Caan. Interrupting dinner by coming down the chimney is Santa! He slaughters this dysfunctional family with great glee, showing off a few of his pro wrestling moves as well as a few that might well have been banned, such as tearing off a limb. Caan manages to fire off some hilarious lines in his few minutes, including dismissing Kattan as “half a fag”, which while I don’t agree with the sentiment, thought was hilarious. I believe the joke is that everyone on screen is Jewish (including Goldberg himself, obviously, who would refuse to wrestle on Yom Kippur).

 

I thought this might’ve been a film-within-a-film, or a “20 years earlier”, but no, they just decided to get things going as soon as possible. Congratulations, movie! Congratulations, writer / director David Steiman! By the way, this is Steiman’s only movie in either capacity, and in fact his only other IMDB credits are as an assistant to Brett Ratner, so I’m sort of interested as to how he got this gig. Anyway.

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The weird references and jokes come thick and fast – for instance, the main guy’s name, a teenager called “Nicholas Yuleson”. Really? He’s wearing a hoodie for “SWNSDU” – South West North Dakota State University? – and their football team, the “Fighting Insurance Salesmen” (Americans have team nicknames like “The Fighting Irish” and so on). Santa just loves murder, and he makes sure to kill everyone in a different way because he must get bored easily, so folks get impaled and thrown and choked with wreaths and blown up and kicked through walls and all sorts.

 

There’s a plot of sorts, but it’s really just a bit of fun to hang the jokes and violence on. Santa is the result of a virgin birth, although via the Devil rather than God. He rampaged, until an angel challenged him to a curling match. If Santa lost, he’d have to be a nice guy and distribute presents for 1000 years – guess how long it’s been since that bet was made? So Nicholas and his Grandpa, who has an ancient Norse book of Santa legends, have to figure out a way to stop Santa from continuing his reign of terror.

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It’s a lot of fun, first and foremost. Goldberg will never win an Oscar, but he goes for the gusto with every line and fits the bill perfectly. As well as the aforementioned cast, there’s also Saul Rubinek as a deli owner, Robert Culp as Grandpa, Dave Thomas as the sleazy local Pastor, and Emilie de Ravin (“Lost”) as Nicholas’ co-worker / love interest. Nicholas himself (Douglas Smith) is…okay, I guess? A bit bland, but perhaps we need one sensible person in the sea of lunacy. It’s nice to see the occasionally blasé attitude to violent slaughter that the town has, and the way Santa goes about his business is always on the right side of camp.

 

I don’t have a ton of negative things to say about “Santa’s Slay”. Some of the special effects perhaps aren’t great (although I like the fact that Santa’s “reindeer” is really a buffalo) and it’s a rare movie that I wish was a little longer, as it’s barely 70 minutes before the credits kick in. For a first-time director (heck, an only-time director) it’s totally competently made, no glaring errors, no weird logic lapses – okay, not sure why Santa agreed to the bet the second time round, but whatever – and a very strong and quite unique sense of humour. If it can cut through the miserable weekend I had and put a smile on my face, then it’s got a lot going for it. It’s, gore and stupid one-liners aside, a pretty wholesome bit of Christmas fun.

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Definitely one for the “nice” list (can’t believe I’ve never made that joke about a Santa-themed movie before).

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Christmas Crush (2012)

Continuing the dubious pleasure of reviewing random festive Netflix movies, next up was Christmas Crush AKA Holiday High School Reunion. This is a made for TV movie which Netflix must have picked up as part of a package deal or something.

This is another of those films which just happens at Christmas rather than being about Christmas. Here, I think it fails the “Is this a Christmas film?” test in that it could be set at any other time of the year with minimal changes. Also, do people have school reunions at Christmas?

Let me stress at the outset that I only watched this film because I wanted to see something trashy and not too Christmassy (it was nearly midnight on Christmas Day: I was all Christmassed out) and in an effort to watch a broader spectrum of movies, I opted for the festive rom-com. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…

I actually enjoyed this movie. Far more than I thought I would, given there aren’t any lasers nor Cthonian evil.

The plot is a bit better than Netflix would have you believe. Netflix describes it as “Twentysomething Georgia pines for her old boyfriend and is thrilled to have a second chance at love when she attends their high school reunion.” That’s not strictly true. She dumped her old boyfriend because she thought he was cheating on her but because she never had any proof, she romanticises their together and seeks to reclaim the “best thing she ever had.”

Georgia Hunt (played by Rachel Boston, which IMDB tells me has consistently worked since 2002, despite never having seen her in anything else) was voted “Girl most likely to succeed” at her prom. At school, she was popular and talented (head cheerleader and award winning glee club singer). After school, she hasn’t really amounted to much in the following 10 years.

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Genuine chemistry!

I think that’s something we can all relate to. At school, there is a sense that the whole future is open to you but as time elapses, your options narrow and narrow until it’s almost like you are trapped in your chosen industry, paying off your loans toward the dream of homeownership (which is somewhat depressing as not paying someone else to live in their house is like the smallest of dreams). I mean, the trap isn’t actually real: at any time you could quit your job, sell your house and illegally emigrate to Australia. If you really wanted to.

But anyway, when Georgia hears about the reunion, she laments her life and romanticises her high school years. So obviously she decides to go and reconnect with her old high school boyfriend, Craig (played by Jon Prescott, who has also done quite a lot of work).

Once back in town, she bumps into her high school best friend, Ben (Jonathan Bennett, “that guy” who was in Mean Girls, Smallville and a load of other minor roles in TV and films). Georgia and Ben haven’t spoken in 10 years as he moved away and lost contact with everyone from high school.

It is clear from the outset that Ben was Duckie to her Andie at high school (Pretty In Pink) and moved away to forget about her. And if you have seen any films of this nature (Trojan War and Some Kind of Wonderful), you know how this movie is going to end…

Georgia ends up hanging out with her fellow former-cheerleader and glee club girlfriends, Tory, Katie and Heather (all attractive, relatively successful twentysomethings). Feeling somewhat inferior, she lies to them about her work (and if you have seen any amount of films, you know how that will play out too).

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After the initial set up, the film is largely about the reunion itself. Despite the fact that you know exactly where the plot is going at all times, there is an honesty underlying the film that I found very refreshing. I feel like that the writer had something to say but was tasked with making a charming rom-com, so any edge or point she was trying to make is buried amongst the schmaltz. Still, it is there if you pay any thought to it.

The performances of the principle players are very good (Rachel Boston and Jonathan Bennett especially so) and purely through the power of good acting, you are shown just why Georgia enjoyed her time at school so much (because she was hot and fun and doing the splits could get you the coveted role of head cheerleader and you got to date the captain of the football team, things which mean nothing in real life).

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Totally 18…

As an aside: all the high school roles are played by the adult actors and actresses, who have pigtails and fringes to make them look younger. It doesn’t really work but then again, this is a trashy TV movie, why do you care?

The more Georgia explores her past, the more she realises that she wasn’t remembering her time at school as well as she thought. Most of the memorable things she had done at school weren’t with the boyfriend she regrets breaking up with, they were with her best friend, Ben.

This then causes her to question everything, including her reasons for breaking up with Craig in the first place. Ultimately, Georgia realises that none of it matters and comes clean about her lack of success outside of school (which others at the reunion also relate to). And, spoiler alert, she realises that Ben was the one she should have dated.

The message is that the things we do, and the things we are, in high school don’t really mean anything. The captain of the football team might be a good quality at school but outside? Things like personality, interests and applicable skill sets are far more important outside of that fishpond.

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The world’s tamest fan dance about a Christmas tree you’ll ever see

Furthermore, it is easy to romanticise the past (take the very cringe-worthy dance routines the glee club won awards for 10 years ago but now look ridiculous), especially if your present is not that much fun.

The movie does a good job of remaining fun and light (if not exceptionally cheesy at times) but still having a valid and important message at its heart. As I said, this is a trashy TV movie but it was far more fun and far more interesting than it ought to be.

TLDR; “Strong performances from the principle players and decent writing elevate this trashy sounding TV movie into a worthwhile 1 hour something.

Black Christmas (2006)

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The years 2006 to 2010 represent the great horror re-making. Every franchise that money-grabbing scum producers could get their hands on was given a fresh coat of paint – so we had “Friday The 13th”, “Halloween”, “A Nightmare On Elm Street”, “My Bloody Valentine”, “April Fools Day”, “Children Of The Corn”, “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Day Of The Dead” and “Prom Night”, among others (“Dawn Of The Dead”, “Fright Night” and “Silent Night” coming just outside this period, too). It’s not surprising, given its strong cult fanbase, that the fantastic 1974 original “Black Christmas” would get the same treatment, but would it fare any better than the list above? (Hint: only “The Hills Have Eyes” is worth a damn).

 

The more I think about the original, the more I like it. The atmosphere is superb and the ambiguity of the ending was perfectly judged – director Bob Clark had to fight the studio to leave it that way. Perhaps the simplest thing to say about this 2006 version is that it feels like no-one gave enough of a damn about any aspect of it to fight for anything. Or, to get another stupid analogy out of the way, it feels like some drunk guy watched the movie and related the details to this one’s scriptwriter, who…had a severe head injury before he could start work.

Crystal Lowe (Lauren), Andrea Martin (Ms Mac), Lacy Chabert (Dana), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Heather) and Michelle Trachtenberg (Melissa) star in Glen Morgan's BLACK CHRISTMAS.

Crystal Lowe (Lauren), Andrea Martin (Ms Mac), Lacy Chabert (Dana), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Heather) and Michelle Trachtenberg (Melissa) 

Let’s see. From the very beginning, this movie assaults your intelligence. We see a hospital for the criminally insane, with a guy in a Santa outfit able to wander in because a door was accidentally lodged open with a carton of milk – justifying his presence, he says he was just in the childrens’ ward. Really? A hospital for the criminally insane with a childrens ‘ ward attached? Billy (the resident of this hospital we’re interested in) has fashioned a shiv from a candy cane, sucked to a precise point, killed a guard with it, killed Santa, stolen his outfit and escaped. There’s no way! I am prepared to bet every penny I’ve ever earned that it’s next-to-impossible to kill someone with a candy cane. And this is the smorgasbord of stupid they choose to start the movie with.

 

Unlike 1974’s, which expected its audience to be able to think, this just gives you everything right on a plate. Red herrings are introduced only to be found with their brains bashed in a few minutes later, and the twist is almost insultingly easy to spot. But anyway. The plot is very roughly the same as the original, with Christmas approaching, and a sorority house empty of all but the last handful of stragglers. In another similarity, they hired a decent group of young women – Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Katie Cassidy and Lacey Chabert are the main cast, but there’s also Andrea Martin, the only member of the original cast who wanted to return, as the house mother.

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Billy escapes and heads back to his old home, as every boring killer in every boring movie does – seriously, how played out is “killer escapes from psycho ward?” The dramatic tension, such as it is, revolves around murders being committed while Billy is still locked up, so who’s the murderer? Dun-Dun-DEEERRRRR it’s a stupid reveal, when it finally comes. Because the stuff from the 1974 version with the police and the telephone exchange (“the call is coming from inside the house!”) was exciting and interesting and people liked it, it’s been replaced with…nothing. Well, not quite nothing – we do get an extended bit of backstory for Billy, the escaped killer, talking about his family and how he was raped by their mother and is his own sister’s father, and so on. Just that nasty, pointless, bleak stuff that horror movies insert in place of a plot sometimes, although at least it wasn’t given to us in the form of a complete prequel! But other than that, we’re pretty much stuck in the sorority house throughout the movie, with a storm keeping the police busy elsewhere and everyone’s phones being out of juice or whatever.

 

Let’s talk red herrings and “the boyfriend”. You may remember Keir Dullea’s rather tightly strung performance as the pianist boyfriend who wanted Jess to marry him and give up her own hopes and dreams. Because, again, that’s a plot with some resonance to it, it’s been replaced by Kelli’s boyfriend, who’s a townie and far far too old for her (he was 30 at the time of filming, but looked 35, she’s supposed to be in her late teens), filming a sex tape with one of the other sorority girls. He’s never anything but suspicious from his first moment on screen, and he joins about half the cast in behaving in ways that make no sense, just so the movie can have a ton of red herrings. Is it the odd looking girl who shows up in one scene, hands over a glass unicorn (a murder weapon from the 1974 movie) as a present and then leaves? Is it the elder sister of one of the missing girls, who’s apparently a former member of the same sorority even though the house mother doesn’t remember her? No and no, and a lot more no’s as well.

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It became so bad towards the end that I wondered if, perhaps, it was a joke; as the two killers are burned to death, only to be put in bodybags and taken to the morgue, where they both miraculously revive. BORING! They’ve had a pretty easy time of it, though, as the entire cast has subscribed to the “quick, let’s split up!” method of surviving a slasher movie. And this is without a doubt a slasher, absolutely chock full of close-up gore effects and eyeballs being pulled out and so on. Because the most iconic image in the first  movie was the woman with a bag over her head, that now becomes the killer’s preferred method of dispatch, even when it makes no sense…you know, clueless garbage by people who are utterly afraid of having a single original thought.

 

Because you can visit it as easily as me, I try not to lean too hard on the IMDB trivia section, but there’s a gem in there. Mary Elizabeth Winstead apparently read message boards with people complaining about remaking such an iconic film and had a good old laugh about it. Oh, did you? If only you’d channelled some of that effort into making this film suck less, eh? Thanks Mary! Director Glen Morgan has also disowned it, due to interference from the Weinstein brothers, who wanted ever higher levels of gore. Now, Morgan’s career is pretty odd – he directed one movie before this, which was a flop, then this which was a huge flop, and then nothing (although he’s directing an episode of the new “X-Files” series). He’s presumably much happier as an executive producer of TV, although since working on the X-Files back in the 90s, he’s struggled to find a hit.

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It’s just such a pointless waste of a movie. The plot is dumb, and it’s an utterly forgettable / forgotten entry in the slasher revival sub-sub-genre. Watch the original and marvel at how it can be done properly, and let this one sink ever further into obscurity.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Black Christmas (1974)

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Part of why I enjoy doing this is to learn stuff at the same time as giving you, dear reader, a few interesting tidbits too. While I’d heard of “Black Christmas” before, it was pretty much exclusively as a proto-slasher, that occasionally some smug reviewer would say “well, actually Halloween wasn’t the first, blah blah blah”. I may be lazy, poor at checking details, and prone to crowbarring my own stupid theories into reviews, but I try very hard not to be smug, so with that in mind our Christmas season rolls around to this, and the discovery that it’s really nothing like your stereotypical slasher movie.

 

I think “Black Christmas” should join those select few movies which are great, and are set at Christmas without being about Christmas (“Die Hard”, all the Shane Black movies, if you’re feeling generous “Silent Night Deadly Night 2”). Our base of operations is a sorority house, with a few fairly big names of the future in early roles – Margot Kidder as sarcastic drunk Barb, and Olivia Hussey as Jess, the sensible heroine who provides this movie with a surprising amount of feminism. Keir Dullea, famous from “2001: A Space Odyssey”, shows up to play Jess’s douchebag boyfriend, and John Saxon’s a cop. Also, we nearly got Gilda Radner, but she got the “Saturday Night Live” job and had to pull out of this, so in the end we got Andrea Martin, who was also in 1973’s “Cannibal Girls”, which we really liked, before going on herself to a comedy career with “SCTV”.

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So, it’s Christmas, and the sorority is getting quieter as most of the girls have gone home to their families, until the end of the final party of the year, when their friendly neighbourhood heavy breather gives them a call. The phone calls are a masterpiece of sound-work, full of inhuman moans and screams and snippets of speech that sound like they’re coming from all sorts of different people, and they quite legitimately frighten the life out of the sorority girls (apart from Barb, who’s too permanently soused to be bothered by much of anything). Barb loses her patience with the caller, after he starts talking about rather sexual matters, and when she starts mocking him back, he says “I’m going to kill you all” and hangs up. Whether he makes good on his promise is a conundrum I shall leave unanswered, because I cannot recommend this film highly enough and want you to watch it.

 

Everything is slow and deliberate, with the phone calls, the murders, and the attempts to trace the calls all being given ample space to breathe. Bob Clark directed, and looking back at his career he made some really good movies (early in his career, admittedly) – “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things”, “A Christmas Story”, “Dead Of Night”…and “Porky’s”. Some of the shots are wonderful, especially the final journey through the house, and Clark deserves credit for fighting with the studio over the ending, rejecting their ideas in favour of the much better ambiguous ending we were left with.

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He also deserves credit for the portrayal of Jess. When her boyfriend says he’s dropping out of school and that they should get married, she says no because she has hopes and dreams of her own; also, she’s pregnant and decides to have an abortion. I can’t imagine a movie being made today where the heroine makes that decision and doesn’t get punished for it, so it feels weirdly modern, but a nice version of modern, not the right-wing hell we’re currently living through.

 

It’s also edited wonderfully. Dullea was only available for a week, and barely met any of the rest of the cast, but the way his scenes are placed throughout the movie makes him seem much more central than he was. The regular cuts back to the rocking chair, and what’s in the rocking chair, is some of the blackest humour imaginable – there’s some proper comedy too, like the scene at the kids’ Christmas party that the sorority organises. And even more credit, this time to the cinematographer Albert Dunk, who fashioned a harness so he could get some of those extremely creepy POV shots.

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So, really, I’ve not got anything bad to say about this movie. It’s slow, but actually the pace works in its favour as the fabric of the movie (script, acting, sets) is so strong that you’re not waiting for the next set piece. The murders happen largely off screen, but again when the movie is good you don’t need those shocks to keep the audience interested. It’s a whodunit without an obvious answer, and even goes as far as killing a 13 year old girl (off screen, naturally). How many movies made in 2015 would introduce a kid only to kill her off? Horror is a pretty conservative business these days, and even though the effects are better they’re often far gorier, they still feel more sanitized.

 

So, all in all, this is a very creepy, very good movie. I’m even looking forward to watching the modern remake, and they’re always rotten, so that tells you how much goodwill the original has built up. This could be my favourite Christmas horror movie yet, and if you get the chance give it a go.

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Rating: thumbs up

 

Christmas Evil (1980)

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BOOOOOOOOOO

 

YOU LIED, MOVIE

 

Have a quick glance at the poster above. Released in 1980, and they’re clearly desperate to make you think it’s a slasher film, as slashers were big business at the time. But it’s so much less than that! Yes, ISCFC readers, I’ve found a movie even worse than “Friday The 13th”…but it’s not worse in a fun way. Oh no, because that would have provided entertainment! Fun fact: this is John Waters’ favourite Christmas movie, which goes to show that even incredibly talented people can have rotten taste.

 

It’s 1947, and a couple of kids and their mother are watching Santa deliver the toys. A charming little scene, staged by the parents for the kids, but young Harry sneaks back down later and sees Santa on his knees, kissing the underwear-covered crotch of their mother. This extraordinarily un-erotic display apparently tips him over some sort of edge. It’s a classic horror setup.

 

Fast forward to the present day, and Harry (Brandon Maggart, who’s Fiona Apple’s father, trivia fans) has a Christmas themed apartment, sleeps in Santa pyjamas, etc. We know he’s not quite right because the sign says “55 days til Christmas”…oh, and because he goes to the roof of his building to spy on the neighbourhood kids. Turns out, ol’ Harry has a couple of gigantic books, one with “Good Boys and Girls 1980” on it, the other “Bad”, and he’s got the names of the kids in there, with the list of good / bad things they’ve done.

Feel the heat

Feel the heat

Now…if I was a book-binder, and some guy came in and asked me to make those books (because they’re clearly custom-made, and probably quite expensive) I’d be on the phone to the police right away. “Keep an eye on this one”, I’d say, but luckily for this movie they didn’t. Well, I say luckily. Do you see how desperate I am to not talk about “Christmas Evil”? Also, it might reasonably be expected that those lists mean he’s going to kill some kids at some point, which would at least be interesting, but no.

 

He works at a toy factory, making cheap plastic garbage – they filmed in a real toy factory, but none of the company’s presumably much better merchandise was featured – and although he’s been promoted from the shop floor, he’s still keenly interested in the toy process, talking about how good solidly built toys are, to his utterly uninterested co-workers. He’s got a brother (Jeffrey DeMunn, who many years later would play Dale in “The Walking Dead”) who thinks he’s pathetic, the other managers at the factory are scum, and other than that he’s got nothing.

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There’s a central flaw to this movie. Slasher films are from the perspective of the victims, usually, and they have an arc – the teens go from oblivious to scared to either dead or triumphant. It’s solid. But even for movies that are from the perspective of the “villain” – hell, if you want to be specific, even for Christmas themed horror movies that are from the perspective of the villain (“Silent Night, Deadly Night”) – it’s nice to have an arc. To see the descent into madness, how this affects people around them, then getting on to the actual horror part, at least gives the story some movement. This, on the other hand, clearly shows that Harry is crazy from the very beginning. He doesn’t change, particularly, so from the ten minute mark (when his peculiarity has been firmly established) you’re just waiting for something to happen. He doesn’t put on a full Santa outfit til the halfway point, I don’t think that qualifies as an arc.

 

Harry never commits. He steals toys from the factory to take to the kids at a hospital (the hospital his business is allegedly supporting in its fraudulent charity scheme, designed to force the employees to work for free and even give up their wages), so he’s a good guy, but he doesn’t do it til after he’s murdered three people. There’s no rhyme or reason to the things he does.

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It’s not a slasher film. It’s not even, really, a horror film. I guess, if you were being kind, you’d call it a psychological thriller, but it’s really just nothing. There’s a scene where you think he’s going to go and kill the main kid on his naughty list, but all he does is leave a sack full of dirt, addressed to him, on his doorstep. It’s a perfect summation of “Christmas Evil” – big expectations, then a sack of dirt. There’s a few scenes which are played for laughs – like when Harry tries to fit himself down a chimney, or the Santa lineup at the police station, but for every one of them there’s a terrible scene like the bit where the locals all get flaming torches and chase him through the streets. Clearly not supposed to be “real” (which fits in with the surreal ending) but there’s so little of it, and it makes so little sense, that you could be forgiven for wondering why on earth any of it was happening.

 

The ending is just abysmal, and given the character Harry was shown to be, the sort of “he was too good for this world” message we’re given by that last image is pathetic. One thing from Waters’ view of this film I did like is being Santa was like coming out as gay or trans – he felt like he had to hide who he really was until he could emerge to the world. While it’s an interesting reading, I’m 100% sure the director didn’t have that in mind at all.

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It seems like I’m in the minority for this movie, which has been given a beautiful new blu-ray release, chock full of special features, and is beloved by many of its reviewers. Some love the creepy atmosphere generated by Maggart’s central performance, and while it was pretty good, it was put in a movie that went nowhere, did nothing and made no sense, extremely poorly directed and written by a fellow called Lewis Jackson, whose sole previous credits are a couple of lost soft-core porno movies from the 70s, and who never worked in the industry again after this. Probably for the best.

 

Rating: thumbs down

The 12 Disasters of Christmas (2012)

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If you laugh at the information that “The 12 Days of Christmas”, first published in 1780 and probably not a lot older than that, is actually a thousand-year old Mayan prophecy about “that 2012 thing”, then this could be the film for you.

I don’t know whether it’s the case that SyFy has relaxed its rules on its original movies being funny on purpose, or whether their filmmakers have gotten better at hiding it, but “The 12 Disasters of Christmas” is funny as hell. I also want to hold my hands up and admit it took me 45 minutes of the film’s running time before I spotted the amazing array of Biblical names that are sort of plot-relevant – father and mother are Joseph and Mary, their daughter is Jacey (JC), the property developer is Kane, and the Mayor is Jude (there are plenty of others).

Plus it’s set in a town called Calvary! Joseph and Jacey have a discussion about how the big Megadeals store coming to town will force all the small businesses to shut down (a surprisingly accurate sentiment) and it’s a bad thing. We don’t have tons of time to think about this though, because Jacey’s grandmother hands her a magic ring and tells her she’s the chosen one…right before getting a spear of ice through the chest. It seems Calvary is the location of the end of the world, and only Jacey can stop it by collecting five magic rings which were, for some reason, buried round the town.

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This information is given to her by her Grandma’s old boyfriend (there’s a handy photo of them stood outside Machu Picchu), who runs the local rare book shop. He gets this from a real Mayan book, a thousand years old, detailing the prophecy in handy picture form. At this moment I thought “if that book was real and he sold it, he’d be able to buy the entire town. Heck, he’d be able to buy most of the state” but I’d already accepted the whole Christmas carol thing by that point so I was in til the bitter end.

Jacey and Joseph run round town trying to get the rings, while Kane tries to stop them. As he’s building the new Megadeals, we know he’s a bad guy, but he’s just a bit oily until the townspeople gather in the local church to avoid the various Mayan disasters (including, amazingly, a dome that covers the entire town and instantly shatters anything passing through it either way). Then, he seizes the book and decides that the best way to solve the problem would be to sacrifice Jacey – while standing in front of a giant white cross. For those of you keeping score, the main couple in this remain happily married throughout, which is really damaging my pet theory about the SyFy Channel and estranged couples.

This film is so much fun! It’s helped by its location – I presume they took over a pre-decorated town for a day or two to do the filming, because it looks great, and the beautiful mountain scenery helps too. The script from Rudy Thauberger (whose Twitter feed is hilarious, and is also responsible for “Independence Daysaster”, which we loved) is full of clever little bits, and there are some top-drawer little visual moments – like when a tornado sweeps through a Christmas tree lot, and sucks up a display of Santa and his reindeer, causing them to fly through the air in perfect fashion. The cast is absolutely stuffed with people you’ll recognise from other SyFy shows and films – or maybe that’s just me watching too much of this stuff. They’re decent too though.

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If you want a nice alternative Christmas movie this year, you could do a heck of a lot worse than this. No boring lull in the middle, nothing but bonkers prophecies and people getting offed in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. Oh, and the dog lives! Okay, you’re going to need to not take the film seriously too much, but if the filmmakers can manage that, you can too.

Rating: thumbs up