Sunday, December 10, 2017

December to Dismember: THE 12 DEATHS OF CHRISTMAS (2017)

As the multiple title cards tell us, in almost, in 1921 Belgrade, 12 days prior to Christmas, several children went missing in the local woods. One was found, but was a complete fruitcake who screamed "the witch!" before shuffling off the mortal coil. In 1992 it happened again, except the children were found with their throats cut. Now, it's happening again. Or maybe not as the actually plot of the film seems to contradict this narrative. Hoo boy! Why does Christmas have to be so painful? Not for the kids with the slit throats, but for us, your humble, underappreciated movie jerks.

The movie starts out promisingly enough with a bored 7 year old boy noticing that there is a line of candy leading through the church aisle right up to the front door. Unfortunately for him a black robed figure quickly snatches him through the door as soon as he has amassed a small nuclear arsenal of sweets. Now that's just mean.

Now, let's forget all that for a moment. Or two. Or really quite a very long time. Suddenly single mom Vanessa (Claire-Maria Fox) and her rather sullen 11 year old daughter Amy (Faye Goodwin) head out to spend Christmas with Amy's Grampa Alfie (Tony Manders). It seems that Amy's dad Wildon (Tom Bowen), who appears to be about 23 years old, has just taken off to go be with his even younger girlfriend Debbie (Dottie James). Naturally this leads to a plethora of earnest, heart-to-heart conversations that get more and more dramatic as the movie goes on (and on, and on).

Apparently the church swiping incident is not the only kid to disappear in the past couple of days and something must be done about it! When there are things that must be done about, humans will invariably create and join some sort of group of like-minded, sweaty, eye-rollers who do little more than bitch and fight with each other. Art imitates life here, with the group getting together and setting up a murder wall in the local church. Clearly you couldn't set it up at Starbucks. Seemingly headed up by Leslie (Michelle Archer), Grampa Alifie's estranged wife, Leslie and Alfie seem to have some dark secret in their past which leads us once again to teary, impassioned pleas from Vanessa to get Gramps to open up. Trust me, these scenes of emo excess go on forever.

Maybe your are starting to see what I'm getting at here. It it seems like writer/director/etc James Klass' goal in life is to make Lifetime-style family dramas with plenty of tear-stained emotional scenes of people speaking from the heart. Actually I probably am doing a disservice to Lifetime as we get some incredibly cliched moments when Dad suddenly shows up at the house with new squeeze for Christmas. This leads us to scenes with lines like "you traded me in for a newer model!" Ugh. Bet you're wondering what the hell happened to that hooded figure? Me too!

Actually the "witch", or Frau Perchta as the legends name her, pops up every now and then to quickly snatch some kid or just be seen kind of hanging out in the distance. To be fair, in the middle of the movie, she does attack the daughter of one of her killers and turns her into a crucified, internally-lit Christmas display. There is also some sort of subplot about a strange symbol that Amy draws in class that is somehow related to the witch. Unfortunately even though it is posted on the church board and is explicitly pointed out, we never find out what it has to do with anything. There's a lot of potential here, but the script definitely needs another polish. Or two. Or twelve.

It's not till the end of the movie where things suddenly get... odd. Up til now, we've had a competently shot-on-video family drama, that while completely tedious for someone who expected something in the realm of horror from something whose title starts out with "12 deaths", is at least in focus. Once into the final streach, the Witch (Tara MacGowran) does some horrible things like peeking in windows and painting "12" on Gramps' door for no explicable reason. Outside of the title, there are no twelve deaths to be found in this movie. She also tries to tempt Amy to come outside the house with a cat. You know the Witch is evil because the cat is hairless. Maybe it should have been called "ONE MIIIIIIILION DEATHS OF CHRISTMAS".

Deceptively marketed as MOTHER KRAMPUS here in the US, with the same cover artist and similar tag line, to tie in with Jason Hull's abysmal KRAMPUS movies, this has absolutely nothing to do with Krampus and actually has more in common with Freddy Kruger. Apparently the Witch was lynched by a mob of villagers who accused her of killing all the kids back in '92 (although the villagers clearly are the same age and have the same hair styles in the flashbacks). *Spoiler Alert* Of course the Witch was innocent of the crimes and was falsely accused by the real killer and has now returned to fulfill her curse on the killer and everyone who strung her up, back in ye olden days of Nirvana and princes who were apparently unaged in the land of Bel-Air. What does that have to do with 1921 Belgrave? Not a friggin' thing, as far as I can tell.

"Wait!" I hear you say "that's not much like Freddy Kruger!" Even if she does have a messed up face and campily licks an axe? What if she cuts off pieces of someone's skin using a gingerbread man cookie cutter? Not enough? What about if one of the people she kills, she decides to dress up like a giant Christmas turkey? No, seriously, that happens. Actually prior to that, the Witch stabs the girl in the neck with a candy cane, but after a little lie down, she's fine. No really, she's ok after having her artery punched through and losing about a quart of blood. This being a British movie, I'm surprised she wasn't cured by a cup of tea. Is there anything that a nice cuppa can't fix? In addition to the very few and very goofy deaths, Klass has the nerve to do a play on the tediously classic line from ALIENS (1986) and have Vanessa yell at the Witch before delivering the coup de grace, "get away from her, you witch!" Oh, it hurts! It hurts!

At first it seemed like we would be getting a well made, if low budget, Christmas horror story, but after quickly sliding into a morass of emo drama and throwing in some starkly contrasting cheeseball horror with very little of it thought through, it ends up being both annoying and unsatisfying. I'm not sure what Klass was thinking except maybe it was a way to sell some DVDs and get his foot in the door of the entertainment industry so that he could follow his passion for family drama. Nice box art though, even if it looks suspiciously like the art for Shout Factory's much anticipated SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT (1984) blu-ray.

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