Wednesday, December 26, 2012

December to Dismember: SANTA CLAWS (1996)

I am almost 100% certain that the epitaph on John Russo’s tombstone is going to read, “Hey, don’t forget I co-wrote the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD!”  It is his claim to fame and he is still riding it to this day.  When Russo and George Romero split in the early 1970s (after the second collaboration THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA [1971]), it became pretty apparently who the more talented filmmaker was. Both men stayed in Pennsylvania and went the independent route – Romero blossomed into an illustrious horror director with 1970s classics such as THE CRAZIES (1973), MARTIN (1976) and DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), while Russo made THE BOOBY HATCH (1976). ‘Nuff said.  Yet Russo kept right on trying.  He maintained a busy horror fiction career alongside more directorial efforts such as MIDNIGHT (1981) and HEARTSTOPPER (1991), all the while reminding everyone “I co-wrote the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD” at conventions (where he would hock dirt from the original NOTLD cemetery).

Perhaps all that time spent at horror conventions helped him come up with the idea of launching the magazine Scream Queens Illustrated in 1993.  Under the sound business model of “sex sells,” the publication highlighted the bevy of horror hotties whose claim to fame is stepping before a camera and screaming.  With Playboy-on-a-budget style layouts, the bi-monthly publication seemingly catered to the virginal horror geek loser stereotype.  With business busting, Russo decided to once again use his filmmaking “skills” to create some companion pieces to his print fodder.  The resulting films from this era were SCREAM QUEENS’ NAKED CHRISTMAS (1996) and today's review subject SANTA CLAWS (1996).

Now I’m open to giving every film a chance, but when something offers me a shot like this within the first minute, I know that I’m going to be in for a rough ride.

Yes, nothing says fun movie like a flabby, middle-aged man with skin as white as frozen chicken topless with a hot lady. The offending above shot is what young Wayne sees on Christmas Eve.  Even worse, it is his mom in bed with his uncle after his father passed away, so the kid has no recourse but to shoot them dead (understandable).

Years later, we get a glimpse of Scream Queen Illustrated headquarters as a local news channel is interviewing producer Bruce Brunswick (Karl Hardman; yes, NOTLD’s Mr. Cooper).  He’s proud to announce that they have started filming SCREAM QUEENS’ NAKED CHRISTMAS (how meta!) and the lead is top scream queen Raven Quinn (Debbie Rochon).  Raven proves she is no dumb bimbo by explaining she has a degree in zoology.  But the scream queen grind pays the bills and she is having a tough time with her husband Eric (John Mowod), a nudie photographer, while trying to raise their two daughters.  Such is the life of a in demand Scream Queen/zoologist.

Even this dummy is creeped out by Wayne!
We now meet the grown up Wayne (Grant Cramer), who just happens to be Raven Quinn’s biggest fan?  How big?  The man ordered an un-lifelike bust of her to make as the centerpiece of his Raven Quinn shrine (which he makes sure to mention contains original props from her feature THE HOODED CLAW). You know he is nuts because he literally wrings his hands while saying, “I’m your biggest fan.”  Meanwhile, Raven is still dealing with her marriage woes. She picks up her kids from their grandmother (Marilyn Eastman; yup, another NOTLD alum) and gets bitched out for having such a horrible career. Okay, let me get this straight, getting nude before the camera (Raven) equals inappropriate, but being the nudie photographer (Eric) is perfectly okay?  Whatever, grandma! To make matters worse, Eric is off at a hotel in Akron, Ohio with some other scream queen to do a photo shoot for a few days.  What!?! When do these shoots (with a one man crew, no less) take a few days?  And who the hell goes to Akron to do anything? Such are the mysteries of Mr. Russo’s screenplay.

Poor put upon Raven must deal with the two kids on her own. Thankfully, she has help from her neighbor.  A local teacher named…wait for it…Wayne!  Dah-dah-dahhhhhhh!  Yes, her no. 1 fan proves his status by living right next door to her. Of course, Raven has no idea this guy is a true fanatic and tells him all about her latest scream queen project.  “Basically an excuse for a bunch of horny guys to watch naked women” is how she explains it.  For some reason the idea of anyone else looking at his nekkid precious is enough to drive poor Wayne over the edge.  He decides the best recourse is to start offing people with his garden claw.  I mean, when he is not busy babysitting Raven’s kids.  After offing a scream queen (who doesn’t scream too well) and the producer, he goes completely nutzo and buys a Santa Claus suit, spray paints it black and heads to the studio to take care of Raven during her shoot.  Gee, I wonder if wayward husband Eric will save the day.

Looks like these kids took in a John Russo flick:

About the only clever thing about this movie is the title that playfully puns old St. Nick’s name. But SANTA CLAWS will immediately evoke something much better in your brain than a guy in a Santa suit and black mask carrying around a garden tool.  Hell, even the Shock-o-Rama DVD cover (see above) to “celebrate” the 10th anniversary (ha!) offers a better monster.  We want Santa tearing people apart with actual claws!  Damn, Russo, why didn’t you even try?

"Hmm, I wonder what that Wayne guy is up to?"
The craziest thing about this is Russo has a pretty lengthy bibliography, but he apparently couldn’t be bothered to come up with anything inventive here.  I don’t think he realized how close to home he hit when he wrote the line about Raven’s films being nothing but stroking material for horny fans.  This has segments of completely naked ladies dancing for minutes on end, to the point of becoming boring.  And if you thought his writing was lackluster, wait until you see the direction. Russo is the kind of guy who feels it is perfectly normal to film a murderer disposing of bodies in broad daylight in the middle of a snowy day.  Would a killer ever be that dumb? The only thing less obviously would be if his van had a “Serial Killer on Board” magnet stuck to the side of it.  Russo's script is full of such nonsensical bits like this.  I died when Eric rushes to the studio he works for to save his wife and is told by a PA that "I need to see some ID" after being buzzed in.  This is just moments after the killer walked in the same door without having to be buzzed in!  Do they only do security every other visitor?  Even better, Eric calmly pulls out his ID and then grumbles "I even work here" after the guy lets him pass.

It is a shame because the “horror geek stalks scream queen” scenario actually has a lot of potential (especially if you’ve ever been to a horror convention).  I’ll confess that despite having over 200 credits to her name, Debbie Rochon has only graced my TV a few times.  She is a decent actress, but I could only imagine the whole time how much better this would be had it starred Linnea Quigley, Maria Ford or Brinke Stevens.  You know, a real scream queen who has probably dealt with these issues.  And I also imagined how it would be directed by someone like Jim Wynorski or, hell, even Bill Hinzman, who acts as the DP here and has a small role. Flesheater could have brought this sucker alive!  Basically, the whole time I was wishing for a better movie and that is not a good thing. So, once again, my theory of any film featuring a naked middle-aged man in the first minute is never going to be good is confirmed. Damn you, laws of cinematic truths!

1 Reactions:

  1. I wish I would have read this before watching SANTA CLAWS the other night. Naked chicks have never been more boring. I have no doubt Wynorski could have made this one work.


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