Tuesday, December 31, 2019

December to Dismember: DISMEMBERING CHRISTMAS (2015)

As December draws to a close, it's important to think about the way your life has been blessed by the Fates. To relax in front of a roaring electric space heater and watch life-affirming movies that bring you closer to your friends and loved ones. So why am I doing this shit? Actually, in a way, nothing brings people closer together than mutual suffering, so a slew of insufferable Christmas horror films fits perfectly. That said, I feel I should bring this up once again: We are actually hoping for diamonds in the rough. We would really like to get a low-budget movie that actually has something going for it. It's not like we go off and watch recent Bruce Willis and Steven Seagal movies. That's just fucking crazy.

Running true to form, DISMEMBERING CHRISTMAS is like an old joke. Tell me if you've heard this one: A group of kids meet at a house to celebrate Christmas, drink heavily, say a lot of stupid crap and finally get picked off one by one by a killer that nobody sees or hears, even though he/she/it is in the same freakin' house with them. Yeah, I know, El Diablo's in the details, but trust me, the details ain't cutting it.

Starting with a black-clad killer sneaking into a kitchen in which a man is busy playing with tinsel, the killer unwraps a Christmas present (yes, while standing behind the guy who is completely unaware that someone else is two feet away from him) which turns out to be a hunting knife engraved with the name "Mark", leading to an off-screen stabbing and the killer washing the knife and re-wrapping it. This will be important later... or not.

After getting some pointless banter between a couple of high-school kids, Travis (Austin Bosley) and Lauren (Shannon McInnis), driving through the snow, they meet up with Justin (Johnathon Krautkramer) and Mark (Baker Chase Powell), a trust-fund kid who's father owns the mansion-like, snow-bound cabin that they are (ahem) dying to party in. Once they stand around and talk for a bit (we discover that Mark has a fake ID that he used to buy alcohol), they move inside to meet Justin's maybe-girlfriend Sam (Nina Kova), Justin's step-sister Emma (Leah Wiseman) and Mark's girlfriend Katie (Danielle Doetsch). This is all spelled out as they stand around the kitchen talking about nothing important. This is going to hurt, isn't it?

While getting the booze out of the car (another riveting and important scene), Mark and friends meet their neighbor Joan (Marla Van Lanen) who lives a mile down the road. She's kind of kooky, which is evidenced by the fact that she takes a snapshot of them with only her fingers. After a lot more talking and the introduction of yet another friend, Clair-Bear (Jennifer Lenius), Emma and Sam walk and talk about hooking Sam up with Justin, they meet up with another sketchy neighbor, Frank (Scott Seagren) who tells them that they can't stay in that house! They have to leave! THEY CAN'T STAY THERE! Why? Because tomorrow is Christmas eve! After continuing to drag out this dreary attempt at a Crazy Ralph "you're doomed!" scene, we finally find out that it's because "there were murders here". Ok, so that makes total sense now. Once there has been a murder in a house, no one can ever stay in that house again. Ever. Apparently a woman murdered her family on Christmas eve and was found "screaming nonsense in the basement". So can we guess who the killer is going to be already?

Of course, no by-the-numbers slasher movie is complete without a red Solo cup party scene. This cliche is doubled down on with a almost nudity-free drunken strip poker scene. I say "almost" because what we do get is man ass. Well, technically, boy ass. The only thing amusing about this is the fact that the credits show that the actor who is supposedly showing off his pasty cheeks is actually using a body double. I think that actually may be a first for a no-budget slasher movie. This partying sequence goes on for nearly 3 minutes with the camera simulating their drunkenness by rotating around the table where they are sitting enough times to make even those without any history of motion sickness feel queasy. On the other hand, there are a couple of moments where the first and last time feature director Austin Bosley does try to get some atmospheric camera-work. There's only so much you can dim the lights in a low-budget digital production, but Bosley manages a few low-light sequences and a good amount of camera movement, prowling up staircases and dollying around corners. Of course a lot of my good will is lost when the automatic exposure dims and returns in a shot and it's just left in because doing extra takes is like work and stuff.

When Travis and Lauren go outside (in their pajamas), we finally get an appearance by the killer, who slices open Travis' guts (he quickly turns around so that we don't see that he is simply pressing some offal against his shirt) with what appears to be a gift wrapped hockey stick. Could it be a gift stolen from the house along with the knife in the beginning? Is the killer just self-gifting? Who knows? We never will. I'm kind of amazed that these movies can't even be bothered to do the oldest low-rent trick in the book, and insert a close-up shot of a fake torso being stabbed or gutted or whatever. Adding to the laziness, when the kids wake up and notice that Travis and Lauren are gone, they just blow it off saying that they just took off at dawn... even though they left all of their clothes and personal effects in their room? Sure, whatever.

From there, it's more scenes of high-school kids talking about boys, girls and vomiting, interspersed with a killer in what appears to be a bulky road-worker's suit and a cheap Leatherface mask, sneaking around the house killing off the kids in shockingly unexciting scenes of non-horror. The best scene (and I use that word loosely) is when Clair-Bear and Mark are standing and talking in the snow and mid conversation Mark says “I've got an idea” and runs off into the woods leaving the Clair just standing there and try to fix up a rather pathetic snowman. We cut back to Mark and he’s whooping and laughing while sledding down a hill. So he doesn’t even say “hey, would you like to go sledding?” Nope just takes off. After cutting back and forth, the killer somehow sneaks up on the girl, hides behind the snowman that she is looking at and kills her with a large candy cane, while somehow simultaneously setting up a tripwire to decapitate the sledding dude. Yeah, that was the best bit. It completely lifted an iconic moment from SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT (1984), but at least they created an effect, rather than just have everything happen off screen. Of course, the effect is barely seen as it consists of a quick flash of what we presume is a severed head flying after what appears to be a decapitated body. We also get scenes that don't seem to make any sense at all, such as when Emma is freaked out by a picture of some guy smiling and holding a dog, there's a sound of a dog yelp on the soundtrack and she starts laughing. In her next scene, she also faints after seeing something, though we are never shown what it is. Did anybody actually watch this during the editing process?

(Obligatory spoiler warning) As it turns out, the killer is Joan, the crazy lady that lives down the road and obviously not Frank, who ends up a corpse, because we all know that's what happens to the Crazy Ralph character. Joan has the final girl, Sam, tied up and is shouting stuff about her being her daughter, which has nothing to do with anything else in the movie, but was covered by the bit of earlier dialogue where Frank stated the the killer was "screaming nonsense." So this denouement doesn't actually have to explain anything! Damn kids! Back in my day, bad slasher movies at least came up with a pat and cliched explanation for the killer's homicidal impulses. You know, terrorized by campers, ignored by counselors, witnessing mommy kissing Santa Claus. Not here. She's just nuts. Oh, and that knife that got rewrapped in the beginning? We find out that it was a gift to Mark from his dad, but that doesn't matter at all, except maybe to imply that the stabee in the opening scene was the dad (we are never told who that was). But again, that doesn't matter at all either.

Starting life as a Kickstarter campaign, according to the IMDb, the script was originally a spec script for a FRIDAY THE 13TH sequel. So basically writers (yes, there are two) Steve Goltz and Kevin Sommerfield sat at a kitchen table and said "wouldn't it be awesome if we could like do a Jason sequel?" Even if the F13 rights weren't actually held up in litigation and even if this wasn't a Kickstarter movie, there is no way in hell this would even be considered, much less read, by any studio brass. The only thing that this has that F13 fans have been wanting for years is snow. That's it. Creepy score? Nope. Nekkid girls? Nope. Creative kills? Nope. Special effects? Not really. Cool looking killer? Definitely not. There are some nice sound effects of wind whistling through trees, and the musical cues by Dylan Curzon, while not exactly Henry Mancini, are better than average for this level of filmmaking.

Literally the first thing we see on the screen telegraphs the misery that is in store. It's a title card reading "Slasher Studios". First off, that's the kind of studio name you'd fantasize about in Junior High, second there is no studio, it's an Airbnb. After gathering $11,000 off of Kickstarter, $1500 of it went for the rental of this house, which is really the only money on the screen. Supposedly $1000 was ear-marked for effects, but damned if I can see anything that would have cost more than a couple hundred. Even worse, for a "studio" that talks a big game and actually gathered what they claim to be a $25,000 total budget, the audio level has not been equalized from scene to scene, much less shot to shot! One shot will have people talking too quietly to hear and you'll be forced to crank up the volume, so that the next shot will have a response that is loud enough to piss off the neighbors. Someone on Facebook recently said that a focus puller's job is hard; if you do your job right, nobody cares, screw up once and you are an incompetent asshole. This movie suddenly made me realize how obvious it should be that you need to normalize the audio through the duration of the movie. How could they watch this and say "Yep, nailed it! Ok everybody, group high-five"?

Unfortunately, as the season sinks despondently to a close, it's starting to look like that Santa royally stiffed us. The Christmas miracle of a half-way decent Christmas horror movie wasn't under the tree this year. There's always next year, I guess. Til then we will have to console ourselves with a stack of unwatched David Heavener movies. That should give you some idea of how rough this year was.

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