Monday, January 02, 2017


Christmas may or may not have come early this year. Hard to say with these pagan holidays. But one thing I can tell you with certainty is that my annual Best/Worst list will most definitely be late.

Don't thank me, thank Marty and Jim. I've seen every other 2016 movie I need or want to see by now, except for year-end stragglers Silence and Paterson. Since these two films only received limited NY/LA releases pre-January 1st and I'm in neither city at the moment, I'll just have to wait like every other flyover state schmo. Leave it to two of my favorite NYC-centric filmmakers to pull the ultimate East Coast-West Coast holiday cock block.

Hopefully, I will have seen both by the time the Golden Globes roll around, the weekend after at the latest. In the meantime, here are some quick takes on films I DID catch over the holidays (with handy Xmas tree star ratings). As you will quickly gather, I kinda went on a Killer Santa Claus spree...

CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980) - Lewis Jackson πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

This is the first movie (I'm aware of) to truly capitalize on the homicidal Kris Kringle angle. I'm sure you've heard the tune "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." But have you heard the one that goes "I Caught Santa Pearl-Diving Mommy"? If you have, then you know it's a recipe for instant childhood trauma, a lifetime of Freudian intrigue. Young Harry grows up to be an unrepentant voyeur but also one who likes to peep while wearing the infamous red and white suit. Pretty soon, he's added a switchblade to the mix and is making fast business of his Naughty List. Though not the most outrageous killer Santa offering out there, Christmas Evil (aka Better Watch Out) does boast one cringe-inducing eye gouge by nutcracker and a nifty sleigh-ride-by-way-of-white-creep-van ending. Check out the heavy metal-infused trailer here. If you're Santa himself, check it twice. 

Edmund Purdom πŸŽ„πŸŽ„1/2

This holiday entry from across the Pond flips the script on the usual killer St. Nick agenda. Instead of a deranged Santa taking out victims, the perp this time is a disgruntled London reporter knocking off men and women during the holidays who happen to be dressed in Santa suits. Could someone hire this chap to cover next year's NYC SantaCon perhaps? It's not much of a Christmas surprise when we later learn the guy has some serious Yuletide triggers stemming from catching Mommy and Daddy playing Secret Santa when he was a tot. Regardless, the peepshow murder scene is a doozy and, dare I say, nearly DePalma-worthy. Plus, the singing cameo by Caroline Munro of Starcrash fame is a very welcome gift. Take a peek here at some of what's under Xmas's tree.

Charles Sellier πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„1/2

Christmas Evil may have gotten there first, but SNDN Part 1 definitely got there grindhouse best. So many creative kills to behold! Death by axe, bow and arrow, strangulation by Christmas lights, decapitation while sledding, Linnea Quigley from Return of the Living Dead disemboweled atop a mounted deer head. This sick Santa's list of wrongs just goes on and on. As if these scenes weren't gift enough for '80s slasher fans, it's also a goldmine for nostalgia collectors. The toy store where demented Billy Chapman works is stocked to the rafters with original edition Star Wars, Matchbox and Smurf playsets. Better than that, there's a Krull board game!!!

The inciting childhood holiday trauma here is the most gruesome one yet. Young Billy doesn't just catch Mommy kissing Claus (i.e., Daddy in a red suit). He witnesses a drunken Father Xmas carjack his family's station wagon and brutalize both his mother and father on the side of the road. Naturally, Billy grows up to have a great big seasonal chip on his shoulder. Luckily, he's got a baby brother to share some of the psychic burden, as we find out in the inevitable sequel...

Lee Harry πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

SNDN Part 2 is notorious for being one of the most egregious sequel "cheats" in movie history. The first half of the movie (a full 40 minutes) is just footage from the first movie repurposed as an extended sanitarium flashback through the eyes of Billy's little bro, Ricky. It seems as if the producers gave us a great big lump of borrowed coal in our stockings...until Ricky starts to tell his own tale. "Garbage Day!!" Bring on the internet memes. Though Ricky only has a scant 40 minutes to wreak havoc on that most sacred of holidays, boy, does he make the best of them. Nun murders, umbrella slayings, electrocution by jumper cable. The subsequent "memeification" of his misdeeds is due in no small part to the actor who plays Ricky (Eric Freeman), a great big Christmas ham of a man who really commits full-throttle to an acting style that could be politely termed Total Wiseau. Whoever said sequels (even sequel "cheats") had to suck never meet Ricky Caldwell. He's got a present for you!

BETTER WATCH OUT! (1989) - Monte Hellman πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

I hadn't planned on going any further down the road of diminishing returns with the SNDN franchise...until I saw that, to my surprise, one of my old favorite '70s directors Monte Hellman (Two Lane Blacktop, The Shooting, Ride the Whirlwind) directed the third entry. If you've seen any of the aforementioned films, you won't be surprised to learn that Part 3 is SLOOOOWER than the other two. It's also less outrageous. Unfortunately Eric Freeman was pulled from the roster, and now Ricky is a semi-lobotomized Frankenstein played by a different actor. What's left of his brain sloshes around in a fish bowl atop his head. Needless to say, when he escapes the nuthouse and goes on a rampage it's a lot less energetic. The protagonist this time is a blind girl with ESP who can tap psychically into Ricky's murderous memories/impulses. But the highlight is another actress...a young Laura Harring from Mulholland Drive in her first screen role. Also, her first bathtub scene.

ELVES (1989) - Jeffrey Mandel πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

Sure, you've seen Will Ferrell in Elf a zillion times. But have you seen its plural late '80s precursor Elves? You know, the one with Grizzly Adams (Dan Haggerty) as an ex-cop turned shopping mall Santa who stumbles onto a fiendish Neo-Nazi plot to raise a Fourth Reich through the bodies of half-human/half-elf hybrids? Oy! Siring a master race has never been so complicated! This direct-to-VHS holiday treat is just as batshit entertaining as it sounds. It also features one of the better foul-mouthed kid brother performances of all time. Sample the spiked egg nog here.

GAME OVER (1989) - RenΓ© Manzor πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

Let's face it, Christmas is really a kiddie holiday, so there should be at least children's movie on the docket. Given my distaste for most things Disney, the closest I came was this resourceful child in peril action-horror thriller also known by the cumbersome title 3615 code PΓ¨re NoΓ«l. Imagine a French Home Alone directed by Luc Besson or Jean-Pierre Jeunet wherein Macaulay Culkin's Kevin is also Macaulay Culkin's Richie Rich. He has a serious Rambo fetish, lives in a mansion decked with booby traps and all the latest computerized security systems late '80s money can buy. He has a ailing diabetic grandfather to protect and a 50-room house to defend. His attacker is much stealthier than knuckleheads Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. It's a vagrant lunatic Santa Claus out to steal his cookies. Though uncommonly dark for a kid's flick, Game Over is a fun holiday ride, featuring a ton of energetic camerawork and a nifty Bonnie Tyler end credit song. Forget Home Alone-- this one came first and came smarter. A perfect gift for the precocious, genius child who has everything in your family.

NEW YEAR'S EVIL (1980) - Emmet Alston πŸŽ„1/2

My Holiday Horrors marathon began with some Christmas Evil. Only appropriate that it come to a end with that of the New Year's variety. Unfortunately, the grindhouse champagne here is rather flat. The setup has promise: A madman has made a NYE resolution to murder a different person in each of the four U.S. time zones as the clock strikes 12 across the country. His reluctant accomplice is an NYE countdown call-in talk show host played by Roz Kelly (Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days). Think Dick Clark but in a slinky red vinyl skirt. The Eastern and Central Standard Time murders are pretty diverting-- a psychiatric nurse goes on an ill-advised blind date and Louisa Moritz from Cuckoo's Nest and Under the Rainbow gets choked to death with a plastic marijuana bag. By the time we hit Mountain and Pacific Standard Time, the premise has already worn thin. There's a small twist as to the killer's true identity and an overreaching "son of" stinger ending to set up a sequel that, thankfully, never materialized.

Happy 2017, folks. Hopefully, your NYE was more invigorating than mine. We're stuck with a Twitter-obsessed narcissist d-bag in elected office and, with any luck, the new year  holds something more in store for us all than abject horror or nuclear annihilation. At the very least, we should get some new Twin Peaks out of the whole deal.

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