Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Black Christmas Story (Bob Clark’s Christmases) Review

No, this is not a review of a sweet Blaxploitation Christmas movie.  (I wish)  It is instead a dual review of Bob Clarke’s two Christmas movies:

Black Christmas (1974)                   A Christmas Story (1983)
Directed by Bob Clark                      Directed by Bob Clark
98 mins. Color.                              93 mins. Color.
Special Edition DVD, Critical Mass    Warner Bros. big box VHS

Beware: Spoilers abound below.

At first glance, one may not see too much of a similarity between Black Christmas and A Christmas Story.  However, upon learning that Bob Clark had directed both, I knew immediately that I wanted to review them together.





A Christmas Story is one of my all-time favorite children’s Christmas movies.  The first time I saw it, I was probably around twelve or so and it was on an all day marathon on TBS on Christmas day at my aunt’s house.  I tuned in around the time that Ralphie is holding the nuts for The Old Man as he changes a flat tire.  Ralphie’s pronunciation of FUDGE in place of the F dash dash dash word had me hooked.  I fell in love.  The scene with Santa Claus was both terrifying and hilarious.  The characterizations of the brothers and their parents was so right on, it felt totally bizarre to connect to the depression era family.  It was a reprieve from football, which was being watched upstairs, and I found so much to connect to in Bob Clark’s vision of Christmas.  It is a brilliantly conceived period piece that captures childhood so brilliantly that it spans generations and time periods.




The first time I tried watching Black Christmas, it was on Netflix Instant last December and I thought I’d give it a try.  To be fair, at the time I was looking for a ridiculous slasher with lots of crazy kills that paid off right away.  As I have mentioned before, most things I watch on Netflix seem entirely disposable.  Something about not putting a physical copy of whatever I’m watching into a machine makes it feel like I’m channel surfing.  Because there is so much garbage on Netflix, it seems to lessen the quality of great movies as well.  My whole attention isn’t there and if I don’t get hooked in 15 minutes, I will turn to something else.  Clark’s Black Christmas unfortunately was a victim of that for me.  Now, after watching it with the intent of comparing it to my childhood favorite, I see that it’s amazingly well constructed.  The acting is phenomenal, and Clark gives time to each character.  It has been compared to Halloween (1978) (to which this came four years earlier), but I think it actually compares more to Peeping Tom (1960).  The POV shots here are incredibly innovative and it is often considered one of the first “slashers.”  

Clark supposedly agreed to do Black Christmas in order to get funding for A Christmas Story.  But, it was the success of Porky’s (1982) that gave him the freedom to work on his dream project.  At first glance, Black Christmas would seem to fit perfectly within 1980s cinema, as does Halloween.  The slasher genre probably being the primary reason.  Most often the credit given for the first slasher is Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, 1971, and is totally amazing.)  After watching it more closely, I believe Black Christmas has more akin to the meticulously paced films of the 1970s.  At it’s heart, it is a character story.  (Don’t get me wrong, it definitely draws from other horror films, even though Clark says he wasn’t that interested in horror film and hadn’t ever seen the POV shot before - I think this may be true, but it had most definitely been done before and done very well and very similarly: most obviously in the above mentioned Peeping Tom.)  It is about Jess (Olivia Hussey), Barb (Margot Kidder aka Lois Lane) and Phyl (Andrea Martin).  

Black Christmas starts with a POV shot of a creepy killer climbing up a trellis into the attic of  Jess, Barb and Phyl’s sorority house.  The ladies have been receiving creepy calls, and we witness this right away, as Barb calls in the other girls to listen to “The Moaner.”  The call is genuinely creepy.  It puts all the girls on edge.  One of the girls, Clare, goes upstairs to pack, as Christmas break is upon them and her dad will be there in the morning to pick her up.  While upstairs, the killer suffocates Clare with a garment bag and then drags her body up to the attic.

Jess, Barb and the rest continue on with their holiday festivities.  Jess is having some problems with her boyfriend, Peter (who is a weird semi-genius rageaholic pianist), Barb is a foul-mouthed alcoholic who will not be intimidated and Phyl is the scared but loyal friend.  When Clare’s father shows up the next day, the search begins.  Here, Clark does a wonderful job with the complicated characters he has to work with.  None of them (except Mrs. Mac, the house mother) are one-dimensional and their lives slowly unfold to the viewer.  

In the meantime, Mrs. Mac goes upstairs to find her missing cat and gets a giant hook at the end of a pulley swung her way, which proceeds to impale her face.

We find out that Jess is pregnant with Peter’s child, but wants an abortion.  Peter goes all whacko and sucks at his piano recital.  He smashes the piano up with a stanchion of some sort.  Those wild music geniuses, you know how they can be.

During the search for Clare, the body of a young girl is found in the park.  Barb gets all smashed and goes to sleep.  All the while, the house keeps getting really creepy calls, often in multiple voices.  The police come over to tap the phones.  In one of the films more amazing sequences, the phone tapper is running through a room full of phone lines trying to isolate the number the call is coming from.

The killer stabs Barb in the throat with a glass unicorn he finds in her room and then kills Phyl as she enters to find out what’s going on.  

Jess receives a call from the police, the call is coming from inside the house.  (The first time this gag was used.  Now it seems clich├ęd, but I’m still pretty spooked by that idea.)  Rather than run out of the house, Jess brandishes a stabbing implement from the fireplace and goes upstairs to get Barb and Phyl out.  Upon finding them both dead, she attempts her escape.  

It has a whodunit quality that draws in Lt. Fuller (John Saxon - Nightmare on Elm Street).  But, it’s so much smarter than that appears.  This is before the slasher craze and predicts all the things that would make later slashers successful.  But, beyond that, in a genius move Clark chooses to never show the killer’s face or divulge his identity.  Through his ramblings we find out his name is probably Billy, but little else is known.  His motives, outside of just being a psycho, are also unknown.  





A Christmas Story would seem to have little in common with this, but upon further reflection, Clark’s view of Christmas and more importantly, people, shine through.  

Ralphie is nine, and more than anything he wants a Red Ryder 200 shot Carbine Action Air Rifle.  Some people’s fathers are Catholics and others are Baptists, but Ralphie’s old man is an Oldsmobile Man who fights furnaces and can weave a tapestry of obscenity like no other.  His mother is a sweet and gentle woman who loves her children but is easily fed up with Ralphie’s antics.  Ralphie’s younger brother, Randy, is a helpless younger brother.  A Christmas Story is more an episodic view of childhood than straight-forward movie.  

Scenes of Ralphie being chased by the bully, Farkus, being present for one of his friends daring another to put his tongue to an ice-covered flag-pole, meeting Santa Claus and his father winning a major award put together something like a semblance of a whole, but moreso, is just a genuine view of being nine years old.

Similar to Black Christmas, here Clark is focused on depicting complicated and believable characters.  The Old Man is at one point a comical, impatient and harsh father, and in the next moment looks at his children with a gleam in his eye.  His mother is the silly housewife who just watches her husband read the newspaper, but in reality she hates the major award, cleverly finding a way to destroy it.  She shows her deep impatience with Ralphie as he whines during the Christmas parade and comforts him when she finds him fighting.  

Ralphie is both horrible friend and loving brother.  He abandons his friend Flick when he gets his tongue stuck to the flag-pole, not even telling the teacher where he is.  He blames his friend Schwartz for teaching him the F word, (when in fact he learned it from The Old Man, but doesn’t want to fess up to that) getting Schwartz a beating from his mother.  But, he also goes back for Randy when Randy tips over and can’t get up in his huge winter get-up.  





There are a number of moments that look or feel similar between the two films.  In Black Christmas, the killer’s voice on the phone is played by three different actors.  It is a terrifying barrage of voices and sounds.  When Ralphie blames Schwartz, his mother gets on the phone with Schwartz’s mother and the vocal patterns sound very similar to those in Black Christmas.  Likewise, all the POV shots with Santa Claus feel very similar to those in Black Christmas.  I remember being physically repulsed by Santa in that scene, and now I know why.  Clark feels that meeting Santa as a child is like being face to face with a murderer.

Set Yourself Up:

  • It's probably best to play this double feature with a bit of an intermission.
For Black Christmas, gather some friends, turn the lights low, and let the Bulleit flow.
Then follow up with A Christmas Story, pour some eggnog and order some chinese take-out.  Preferably something with Duck.

Trivia:



  • Black Christmas was a horrible failure when it was originally released in the states.  It was originally released under the title, Silent Night, Evil Night.  Years later, when NBC showed the film during prime time (under the title "Stranger in the House"), it was deemed 'too scary' for network television and was pulled off the air.  This gave it the notoriety it needed to find it’s following.
  • The Lone Ranger’s nephew did indeed ride a horse named Victor.  (What?!)
  • For A Christmas Story an elaborate fantasy sequence - in which Ralphie joins Flash Gordon to fight Ming the Merciless - was filmed but dropped from the final cut. 
The Hype:
You shouldn’t need to hype this double feature.  If you do, you might need some new friends and / or family.

The Goods:
Black Christmas: Critical Mass and Somerville House did a nice job with the release of the Black Christmas Special Edition.  They did a nice job with the re-mastering process, as the film looks and sounds great.  They brought Dan Duffin, superfan and creator of www.itsmebilly.com, on-board to help with the bringing together of the special features, which include two scenes never before seen, a documentary titled “The 12 Days of Black Christmas,” some interviews and a Q&A.
A Christmas Story:  The Warner Brothers Family Entertainment big box VHS of A Christmas Story is excellent.  The box may is most familiar as the way that Disney released all of its’ VHS.  However, this is great, as a giant out-of-focus Ralphie face dominates the front cover, with weird floating images surround him.  You get four pretty sweet trailers: a new Scooby Doo feature with a very forgettable name, Jack Frost (ASV favorite Michael Keaton!), The Iron Giant (ASV favorite Vin Diesel!), and The Animaniacs - Wacko’s Wish (Holiday musical).

All in all, I think if you can’t fit these two in before the Holidays, you will have sorely lacked in proper preparation.

-J. Moret






Monday, December 17, 2012

Box Art: HOME ALONE

For Today's Box Art, I present to you, the Popingo Video pre-viewed New Release from 20th Century Fox Video of Home Alone (1990).
"When Kevin's Family Left for Vacation, they Forgot One Minor Detail: Kevin!"


"Eight year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) has become the man of the house, overnight!  Accidentally left behind when his family rushes off on a Christmas vacation, Kevin gets busy decorating the house for the holidays.  But he's not decking the halls with tinsel and holly.  Two bumbling burglars are trying to break in, and Kevin's rigging a bewildering battery of booby traps to welcome them!
The all-star supporting cast includes Catherine O'Hara and John Heard as Kevin's parents, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as the burglars, and John Candy as the "Polka King of the Midwest."  Written and produced by John Hughes (Uncle Buck), this madcap slapstick adventure is one of the top three box-office hits of all time."

We will probably do a full review of this someday, as we grew up with it as the ultimate Christmas movie.  But, it felt right to include it this year.  My parents bought this from Popingo in Sioux Falls, SD as soon as it was for sale.  I watched it so much that the tape is now barely viewable.

That box art is super killer, though.  Kevin is doing that stupid I put my hands on my face and scream thing.  (wow.  That was a thing, wasn't it?)  Then, you've got Pesci and Stern as the Wet Bandits, creepily peering though the window.  And, on the back you get so dee Pesci's head on fire.  I always loved slapstick comedy.  I marvel at Keaton and Chaplin.   (I also still stop at America's Funniest Home Videos... people getting hurt gets me every time).  This movie captures that perfectly and then takes the violence another step.  In reality Kevin would have killed the Wet Bandits multiple times.  (An iron dropped down the laundry chute at that speed would have given  Stern traumatic brain injury at the very least).  The art doesn't quite capture that, but instead makes Kevin the hero.  In reality, all kids just loved the bandits and that creepy guy with the shovel.  So, we'll save that for another time.

- J.Moret

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review: SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 1 & 2

SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT
Tristar Pictures
85 Minutes (Uncut Version)
1984




SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT is a hard movie for me to review. Before my first viewing, I was expecting a very corny, light hearted, Christmas themed gore romp. I was expecting a 1980's version of SANTA'S SLAY.

I couldn't have been more wrong in my initial assessment. SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT (SNDN) does what so many slashers tried to do and inevitably failed to do. The film actually has a very guttural, real,  and brutal feel to it. . . at least the first forty-five minutes or so.

THE PLOT:

The movie starts out with a family in a car. They come across a skinny guy dressed as Santa stranded on the road. They stop, Santa indiscriminately murders the mother and father. Leaving toddler Billy and baby Ricky to fend for themselves on a cold Utah Christmas Eve.

This scene shocked me. The violence in the opening of the movie has a real 'punch to the gut' feel. Director Charles Sellier (better known as a TV producer) does a good enough job of building the family dynamic during the car ride, that when they're killed, you see the baby crying and Billy hiding in the ditch, it actually has impact. The feeling of this scene creates the basis of Billy's future psychological problems.

With that being said, the film progressively gets cornier and more of a popcorn slasher flick starts showing through little by little.

Billy is whisked away to a catholic orphanage. He draws pictures of decapitated reindeer. Billy starts showing signs of anger and rage during the holiday season. He goes totally apeshit when the nuns try to put him on Santa's lap (were they not told a phony Santa murdered his family?). Sister Margaret understands his plight, while Mother Superior punishes him at every turn. Billy gets caught peeping on some older orphans being "naughty" (making sweet, sweet, love). Mother Superior lashes Billy for being naughty. The movie than takes us ten years into the future.

Billy gets a job in a sweet toy store. Here we get to see tons of gnarly 80's toys (Snake Mountain from Masters of the Universe was the best). Once Billy settles into his job, we are treated to a montage. We get to see what a fine young man Billy has become. He works hard. Refuses to drink scotch when offered by his dirty, guido co-worker. He's obviously a stand up guy. When Christmas rolls around, the montage stops. He clams up when he sees pictures of Santa. When the guy in the store's Santa breaks his ankle and can't come in on Christmas Eve, stock boy Billy gets a promotion that puts him in the smelly, rented fat-suit of his arch-nemesis. Jolly old Saint Nick.

This is where the movie really loses any and all seriousness it once had. Billy becomes a crazy mindless Santa Hulk when he sees his pervy guido co-worker Andy, force himself on his crush Pamela. Billy flashes back to when his mother was killed and goes on a rampage that lasts for the remainder of the movie.

We see people hung by Christmas lights, thrown out of windows, and shot by a bow and arrow. . . It goes from slightly psychologically disturbing, to a FRIDAY THE 13TH clone. Except rather than being a slilent killer like Jason Voorhees, Billy prefaces the mutilation of all that lie in his path with a poorly delivered, "NAUGHTY!" or "PUNISH!" It's wonderful.

Most kills in this movie are completely random. Other than the co-workers Billy kills, all other bodies are just bystanders. Absolutely none of Billy's kills are central to the plot of the film whatsoever.

KILLER CLAUS:

Aside from being a slasher film that attempts to give the psychologically deranged killer a tangible reason for his actions, the controversy SNDN created was more notable. It was released by a major motion picture studio. Tristar Pictures became interested in B pictures around 1982. Low budget movies (especially in the horror genre) have historically been made for very little money and brought big box office business. Movies like HALLOWEEN and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE were made on a shoestring yet generated untold fortunes. SNDN was made for more than those movies. Tristar wanted in on that piece of the industry and SNDN was their first stab at it.

Tristar felt they had the formula right for a low budget blockbuster. Little did they know that placing a murderer in one of the most famous outfits in the universe would generate rage from the public. PTAs around the nation and other parents groups protested the film extensively.

Tristar felt the heat and pulled the movie about two weeks into it's theatrical run. The movie made it's budget back in the first three days of release. The movie would have made an absolute fortune had Tristar not totally wussed out . In fact, SNDN released the same weekend of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The first week, SNDN grossed more. The second week, after the protests and critical beating the film took, grosses dropped drastically, possibly paving the way for the success of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.

PARENTS JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND:

Concerned, protesting parents got the movie pulled. This movie was rated R. No one under 17 admitted. Just because the killer is wearing a Santa suit that makes it fair game for censor? YOUR KIDS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO WATCH IT. The content of the movie isn't the problem, the problem was marketing. The trailer tries it's hardest to avoid showing Billy, but gleefully shows an indistinguishable Santa figure impale people.



This movie isn't about being Santa being a killer. Billy is the killer. He just happens to be wearing a Santa suit. He wears his fear, hatred, pain, and dysfunction. Probably not easy to market that. . . but, marketing Santa as a murderer on network TV wasn't a good idea. The killer Santa gimmick had been done many times before (VAULT OF HORROR comics did it in 1953). It was just never advertised before.




SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT PART 2
Anchor Bay (DVD Release)
88 Minutes
1987

This is the greatest poster of all-time.


SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (SNDN2) sucks.  Over half the running time is Ricky (Billy from SNDL1's baby brother) narrating the story of why he's in a mental hospital. The footage he narrates is THE ENTIRE plot of the first film.

This movie was originally intended to be a re-cut of the first film (for some reason, another video reissue?). Director/Editor Lee Harry and Writer/Editor Joseph Earle we assigned the re-cut but asked whoever (I think it was IVE Video?) they were working for if they could turn it into a sequel.

The new scenes are really quite funny and for the most part are not very Christmas-centric. SNDL2 has gained some notoriety on youtube due to being such a off the wall corny movie:

It makes me wonder what a full, true sequel could have been.

But what we end up seeing is essentially a short version of the first movie with a new, VERY ridiculous rampage sequence tacked onto the end. While it's hilarious, it doesn't justify sitting through 60 minutes of a movie you may (or may not have) already seen.

This one can essentially be written of as an attempted money grab. However, It's worth fast forwarding to the new content, because it is just bonkers. Ricky (Eric Freeman) will make you chuckle. He certainly doesn't take things as seriously as his older brother did in the first movie. . . or at least he's conscious of how big of a psycho he is.

For anyone who does not know. There were three more movies in this series. Seriously. They'll have to wait until next year.

- M. McSlam

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale review

2010
Directed by Jalmari Helander
84 mins.  Color.
blu-ray released by Oscilloscope, 2010

I can't recommend this movie highly enough.  There have been a number of great movies in the past two years that capture childhood perfectly.  Super 8, I Wish, Moonrise Kingdom, and Beasts of the Southern Wild to just name a few.  This film should stand right up there with them.

The film opens with a very creepy old dude who has started a giant excavation on a mountaintop in the arctic tundra of Finland.  He claims it is a sacred grave.  Pietari is a young boy who is endlessly curious.  He lives with his father, who seems to have a herd of reindeer and be a butcher.  Along the lines of John Carpenter's The Thing, this is an all male cast.  A community made up of hearty cold weather survivalists.  In essence, this film is about fathers and sons. There is a great moment when Pietari enters the butcher area and his father Rauno keeps his eyes closed and tries to protect his son.

Rauno's entire reindeer herd is found grotesquely killed.  Children go missing.  Supplies are ransacked. Pietari and his friend go hunting for who or what might be responsible.

Helander does a beautiful job shooting this film.  The cold blues and blacks dominate.  The oranges and reds in the house and butcher shop feel like a small escape from the formidable cold only for small warm moments amidst father and son.  The cold seems to get into the very bones of the film.

Likewise, the monster makeup and effects are, for the most part, fantastic.  There is a fair amount of CG that is a bit distracting later on in the film, but for a film like this with this kind of budget I don't really see that as a major problem.  The cheap nature of it is even a bit charming.  Helander does a nice job of using practical effects and makeup when possible.

What really makes this film stand up on it's own is the performances.  The relationships among the men come across as completely natural.  Likewise, the concern and love for fathers and sons is convincingly heartfelt.  Most American horror seems to shy away from this dynamic.  It feels as though most young protagonists in American horror films are either alone, baby-sitting, have uninvolved parents or are horrible people themselves.  However, here the macho unapproachable male father is completely absent.  Pietari is a very strange kid.  He comes across as a sweet artsy kid, little understood by his gruff and tough father.  And yet, this plays like a fantasy of a young misunderstood kid.  Loved and accepted by his father.

The ending gets super goofy, but if taken in stride, is a wonderful Christmas tale indeed.

The Trivia:

  • Sadly, this is Helander's only feature film at this time.  Let's hope he gets some funding for whatever he decides to do next.
  • Made for around 2 million dollars.  Seems to have grossed about half of that that back in theaters.  Help them out.  Go buy this film.  

Set Yourself Up:

  • This plays at the Trylon Microcinema, for the second year in a row, on Monday December 17th and Tuesday December 18th at 7pm and 9pm.  You should try to catch it there if you can, as this is one to be relished with friends and strangers.
  • Before heading over to the Trylon, hit up some great winter food.  Maybe some reindeer meat?  A full stein of Koff, Karhu or some other dark Finnish beer.


The Goods:
If you can't make it to the Trylon, Oscilloscope has put out a great blu-ray release of the film.  It includes the two short prequels that inspired the feature, a making of, concept art, behind the scenes stuff, trailers and the 1964 classic, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), which is awesome.
You also get this quote on the back:
"Deliciously creepy.  Alongside Gremlins and The Nightmare Before Christmas, this audacious and unashamedly silly gift is an anti-holiday cult classic in the making." - Village Voice

-J.Moret






Monday, December 10, 2012

Box Art: CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS


For today's Box Art, I present VCI Entertainment's 2010 release of Bob Clark's Children Shouldn't play with Dead Things (1972)

"Your invited to Orville's coming out party!  It'll be a Scream!  ...Yours"



"Led by a mean-spirited director, Alan (Alan Ormsby), a theater troupe travels by boat to a small island graveyard for buried criminals.  Using a grimoire, Alan begins a seance to raise the dead.  The group finds more than they bargained for when the dead return from their graves, forcing the troupe to take refuge in an old abandoned caretaker's house.  Can they stay put until daylight against the undead onslaught, or do they flee into the pitch black night?  Will anyone survive?  ....Muhah hahahh!"

You may be wondering what this film has to do with the Holidays.  Well, nothing, really.  But, it is directed by Bob Clark, who directed Black Christmas and A Christmas Story, which I will be reviewing soon.

This movie is mostly remarkable because of the title.  Man, they just don't name stuff like that anymore.  Now, it would probably be titled, "Possession" or "Seance" or something.  Anyway, this film is very VERY weird.  The theater troupe hates each other and the dialogue is just them hating on each other for 45 mins.  There is an especially bizarre scene when the director has a wedding and marries one of the corpses.  Then, enter zombies.  From there on, it's basically trying to play off of Night of the Living Dead, which is no problem for me as that is one of my all time favorites.

VCI's 35th Anniversary Exhumed Edition is pretty great.  There is a commentary by Ormsby, Daly and Cronin, a tribute to Bob Clark, a Grindhouse Q & A, and interview with Ken Goch (real-life grave digger), a photo gallery, a few music videos by The Deadthings, trailers, etc...

-J. Moret

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out) Review

1980
Directed by Lewis Jackson
95 mins.  Color.
DVD, released by Synapse Films, 2006




Christmas Evil is such a strange, hybrid-genre film, I can see why the marketing is so terrible.  All the posters, descriptions, and trailers are misleading.  It gets lumped in with Silent Night, Deadly Night and Black Christmas, but I think that’s a problem.  Those are both great films, but this is not really a slasher film.  This is not a horror film.  This is a genuinely original psychological film more in the vein of George Romero’s Martin or Taxi Driver than Halloween.  That being said, it’s got some genuinely crazy awesome gore sequences and is extremely entertaining. 

Harry Stadling (brilliantly played by Brandon Maggert) is forever scarred when he decides to go downstairs on Christmas Eve to see the real Santa Claus and instead sees, what we presume is his dad, getting physical with his mom.  Not surprisingly, the kid is disturbed.  To be fair, that’s pretty messed up.  As a result Harry grows up overly obsessed with Christmas.  He keeps tabs on the neighborhood kids, spying on them with binoculars and writing them down in the good boys and girls book or the bad boys and girls book.
 Harry works at a toy manufacturing shop, Jolly Dream, and has recently been promoted to manager, where he is horribly sad that he no longer works directly with the toys.  His coworkers are douchebags and one of them fools Harry into working one of his shifts so that he can go out with his wife, but in reality he is going to the bar with his friends, which Harry sees in a later scene.  Harry’s bosses laugh at him for wanting to donate a lot of toys to the children at Willowy Springs (the horrible State Hospital).  

Harry becomes more and more agitated as he sees all these people not having the Christmas spirit.   On Christmas Eve, Harry has finally had enough.  He paints a sweet Santa sleigh on the side of his van and glues a white beard to his face, but then seems to immediately regret it, trying his best to tear it off.  Maggert here takes over the role completely with his eyes and shows the mad desperation growing within Harry.  He embraces the becoming of Santa.



From here, Harry steals toys from Jolly Dream to bring to the Hospital.  It’s really quite amazing how the tone of this movie continues to shift.  Harry’s generosity is genuinely touching.  This is the moment that every great Christmas movie is able to capture, the idea that the Christmas spirit is all about generosity.  And yet, it then changes quickly again as he parks his sleigh van outside his bosses’ church as they attend Midnight Mass.  As the parishioners exit the church, some yuppie bastards in their 20s notice Santa outside standing by his van.  They immediately approach him.   One of them says to him:

“Well, Santa, are you ready for a busy night?”
Harry responds, “I have something for you.”
The smarmy bastard replies, “Oh, what is it?  I have superlative taste.” (how outstanding is that?


Harry then stabs the yuppy in the eye with the gun of a toy soldier.  It’s super grotesque and incredible.  He sinks a hatchet into the other yuppie's head and then runs to his sleigh van to escape.  The gore effects are cheesy but awesome.  But, Jackson lets the camera linger on the leftover chaos.  What could just be a really sweet, and super funny, moment suddenly turns very dark.  I found myself laughing and then immediately getting quiet. 

Harry comes across a Christmas party and stops to watch through the window.  Harry’s sad eyes linger on the happy group, and then two men inside notice Harry and bring him inside.  Awkwardly, Harry enters the group, but is soon caught up in the excitement and after much merriment, Harry delivers an amazing monologue to the children at the party:


"And, I'll bring you something... horrible."

Harry is chased by mobs of people searching for the killer Santa Claus.  From there, Harry gets stuck in a chimney, has his revenge on his co-worker, gets choked out by his brother, and then punches his brother in the face.  With a great surprise ending, Jackson has provided us with what is fast becoming my favorite Christmas movie.

The Hype:  You shouldn’t need to do much convincing to get people to watch this with you.  But, if you do find there is some hesitation, you could just tell them, “It’s like A Miracle on 34th Street with Travis Bickle as Santa Claus.”

The Trivia:
  • This is, unfortunately, Lewis Jackson’s only film
  • Brandon Maggart is the father of Fiona Apple
  • Jackson didn’t like the title Christmas Evil, he always wanted and now considers the film to be called You Better Watch Out.  The studio forced the Christmas Evil title last minute.  He also states, “I have decided the ‘Evil’ of said title refers not to the character of Harry but Corporate America and its commercialization of the best intentions of Christmas (and every other goddamn thing in American culture.)”  

Set Yourself Up:
  • Cozy together loved ones or do it alone.
  • Bake a pan of Christmas cookies and pour yourself  a big jar of milk or egg nog.

The Goods:  Synapse Films did a fantastic Special Edition release in 2006.  It has two audio commentaries (one with John Waters?), the never before seen Director’s cut, story-boards, and a nice note from Jackson.  You also get a fun little comic from Rick Trembles Motion Picture Purgatory that basically gives a four panel run down of the film and, of course, the wonderful Synapse Films catalog.  
Unfortunately, the cover choice of the DVD isn’t very good and continues the tradition of mis-marketing the film.  But, you do get this quote on the front:

“The greatest Christmas movie ever made.” - Director John Waters (Hairspray, Pink Flamingos)

-J. Moret

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Box Art: The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)


Box Art: The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Sometimes movies aren’t as awesome as the box art and description they present.  Today, I offer The Star Wars Holiday Special.  A Spectacular Trip Into Outer Space!


“While en route to the Wookie home planet of Kashyyyk, the Millenium Falcon is pursued by Imperial Starships as Han Solo and Chawebacca attempt to arrive in time for the Life Day Celebration.  In anticipation, Chewie’s family prepares for this important holiday... until the Empire pays a visit!
The Star Wars Holiday Special is a two-hour variety spectacular that combines a dazzling array of visual effects, animation, action and musical performances.
Introduced for the first time are Chewbacca’s wife malla, father Ichy and son Lumpy.  Also included is a cartoon short featuring the debut of the notorious bounty hunter, Boba Fett.

Original Air Date: November 17, 1978
CBS Television Network”

I know pretty much every line of the original Star Wars trilogy.  Enter the Star Wars Holiday Special.  My brother bought me this sweet bootleg copy of this VHS a few years back.  Its ridiculous.  I’ve watched the first few minutes quite a few times now, and every time I get excited to put it in.  However, five minutes later when Lumpy starts singing I start cursing and take it out.  After seeing this, I should’ve known what George Lucas was capable of.

However, the box art is sweet.  This one is an amazing bootleg, with the artwork cheaply copied and then cut out and put in a big box.  

Included is a Kenner toy commercial from 1978!  I’ve actually never seen that, so I don’t know if it’s really on there or not.  

-J. Moret



Saturday, December 1, 2012

Review: DEATH NURSE

DEATH NURSE
Slasher Video (DVD Release)
60 Minutes, Unrated
1987





DEATH NURSE will shock you. It isn't scary. It isn't gory. It isn't chilling. It's bad. By bad, I mean easily one of the worst movies of all time. Sure, You've heard movies were bad before, but you haven't seen bad until you've seen DEATH NURSE.

So why would I be so excited to see it ? Because this is one of those rare bad movies that separates the "I think bad moviez R ironiclly hilaryuz LoLz" people from the hardcore. All other bad movies are the Pop Warner League. DEATH NURSE is the NFL with land mines on the sidelines.

Making a movie requires a lot of hard work. Regardless of budget. Every movie you have seen has a certain degree of planning, work, and dedication put into it. With DEATH NURSE, it's pretty clear that a lot of the leg work (and money) that goes into making a good film (or video) never happened.

THE PLOT:

Edith Mortley (Priscilla Alden) is a "nurse." Her brother is a "doctor." They run a clinic. They have arranged a plan with social services to care for people on the county's dime. They charge crazy amounts of money for the services they provide. These services include unnecessary surgeries performed with kitchen cutlery and pillow suffocation. After receiving these services, patients are buried in the back yard and the Mortleys continue to collect the county's cash. When a nosy social worker (played by Director Nick Millard's elderly mother) decides to check up on patients things get hairy.

I really don't want to taint the experience DEATH NURSE provides. But I will say you should get ready for a pillow fight. This movie has an unbelievable amount of padding. Padding is unneeded or lengthened scenes to increase the running time of the movie. Such scenes include digging holes, eating ice cream, feeding rats, eating pie, sleeping, showing clips from other movies, needlessly zooming in on people, pretending the cat is carrying around a dog's heart etc. Things that are never essential to the task at hand. Which for most movies is telling a coherent story.

UHHHHHH. WHAT?

Nick Millard is most well known for directing CRIMINALLY INSANE which is a bad movie in it's own right. At least it's coherent. It also stars Priscilla Alden (Edith Mortley). To extend the running time of DEATH NURSE, Millard actually shot a scene of Alden sleeping and uses the bloodiest scenes from CRIMINALLY INSANE as Edith's dreams. Is Edith supposed to be Crazy Fat Ethel from CRIMINALLY INSANE? Millard actually uses the same footage from CRIMINALLY INSANE 3 times! At least it's the part where Ethel/Edith tomahawks a dude's face with a meat cleaver.

Oh yeah, DEATH NURSE even shares the opening credits of CRIMINALLY INSANE. . .

Nick Millard enrolled the services of of friends and family. None of whom are technically actors. The film is less than 60 minutes long and about 30 of those minutes could be construed as padding. The set is someone's house. It was shot on production video (Beta). It would shock me if the production budget was over $1000.

SO. . . THIS. . . WAS RELEASED?

At this point I'm sure you're thinking, "This sounds like a shitty home movie I made in Sixth Grade." DEATH NURSE was actually released by Video City Productions on VHS in 1987. While I could go on one of those long rants about the video boom of the 1980s, I'll just say in the 1980s  if you had the means to make a movie and it was in the horror genre, someone would release it. The video market was packed to the brim with crap back then.

THE DVD:



DEATH NURSE may be one of the most cheaply and poorly made movies of all time. Though in recent years, has become quite expensive in the VHS Collector's market. Slasher Video has given those who choose to not spend $100 on a VHS tape a great alternative. The DVD is great and Slasher Video went above and beyond in the special features department. Here's the run down:

- Commentary with Director Nick Millard and actress/producer (and Nick Millard's wife) Irmi Millard

- Video Review with Paul from VHSCollector.com

- Remembering Priscilla Alden Featurette

- Shady Palms Waiting Room

- Death Nurse Q and A

- Photo Gallery

The special features have a much higher production quality than the movie itself. Even if you can't enjoy DEATH NURSE, the special features offer great insight into the mind of Director Nick Millard and the production of this piece of 80's video trash.



If you know what you are in for, DEATH NURSE is great fun. I honestly enjoyed my time watching DEATH NURSE. I actually found myself laughing out loud at several points. I'll put it bluntly; if you find a shirtless man pretending to be dead, being drug around on grass, then being sprayed in the face with a garden hose hilarious, I guarantee you will love this movie. If not, at least it's short.

Seriously. Go buy this movie: slashervideo.com. It's limited to 1,000 copies. So buy it and make your friends jealous when it's out of print. DEATH NURSE PART  II is also available.

- M. McSlam