Saturday, December 27, 2014

December to Dismember: ONE HELL OF A CHRISTMAS (2002)

Back in the early 2000s when DVD and horror were booming, the horror bible Fangoria teamed up with MTI/Bedford Entertainment to dust off their Fangoria Films label.  One of the imprints earliest releases was the Danish film ANGEL OF THE NIGHT (1998).  The debut feature of Chile-born director Shaky González, it was a pretty slick looking vampire film.  It apparently performed well enough for the group that they opted to pick up his second feature, ONE HELL OF A CHRISTMAS (2002).  A kind of EVIL DEAD, HELLRAISER, and PHANTASM wannabe mash up, this sophomore feature saw Shaky on shaky ground (haha!) as he actually regressed and shot this one on video with a budget that won’t get you too excited for something that sounds cool.

The film opens with its HELLRAISER nod in the prologue as Arab merchant Ibrahim (Zlatko Buric) purchases a mysterious box for a man merely described as The Englishman (Pat Kelman).  Promised inside is “a whole lot of magic” and that comes in the form of a single black claw.  This gives us a price negotiation that would make AMERICAN PICKERS proud ($5,000 offered, $20,000 countered, $8,000 offered, $15,000 countered, sold!).  Hey, you can’t expect the guy to pay retail, right?  After the opening credits, we then meet the film’s lead in Carlitos (Tolo Montana), who is just getting out of the joint on a two-year stint.  When being given his personal items, Carlitos checks his wallet and the guard informs him he won’t find any money in there.  Carlitos whips out a picture of his son and says, “This kid is my gold.”  Whoooo, boy, hold on to your seats.  Once outside the prison fences, he finds his friend Mikey (Thure Lindhardt) has forgotten to pick him up.  So he hitchhikes into town, leaves Mikey an angry message, and heads to their old favorite diner.  Amazingly, Mikey has left a cell phone with a waitress there to give to Carlitos when he arrives.  Huh?  How would he even know he would be there? If you haven’t guessed, this film has major scripting problems.  Carlitos calls his buddy and they plan to meet back at his place later.  Heading home in a taxi, our lead just happens to spot his ex-wife and son outside a toy store, where the kid begs for a Cowboy Jack and Wolfie doll.  Carlitos sneaks in after they leave and buys them for him.  Hey, can this movie kick its horror plot into gear now?

So where exactly is Mikey?  He is at the shipyard to score some dope off Ibrahim. All hell breaks loose while Mikey is there as the Englishman shows up demanding the claw back.  Ibrahim objects by saying, “I satisfied three women and you want it back?”  So this claw is like Viagra? Before the Englishman can object, a mysterious man in black (Erik Holmey) shows up and starts ripping off heads. Naturally, the claw soon ends up at the feet of the hiding Mikey and he splits with it.  After all, supernaturally enhanced boners are worth a painful death.  Meanwhile, Carlitos has gotten back to his place and calls his ex-wife so he can talk to his son.  Of course, she treats him like trash and this sends him (and the viewer) to drinking Jack Daniels.  Hey, can this movie please kick its horror plot into gear now?

Drunk as a skunk, our ex-con’s night gets worse when Mikey finally shows up and tells him about the claw and its power. Mikey relays he got the claw and then, via flashback, tells how he snorted some black powder from the claw and then manhandled three baddies looking for Mikey to repay a loan a few hours ago. “This claw is going to make us rich,” Mikey declares before they both start snorting lines of the black powder (off a DVD copy of Gonzalez’s earlier ANGEL OF THE NIGHT, how meta!).  Cranked up on black marching powder, their only recourse is to call a hooker, who Carlitos promptly kills during a blowjob.  Stumbling out of their blur, the two men bury the dead girl’s body in the backyard before Mikey heads off for some important business, leaving Carlitos in charge of the claw.  What is Mikey’s important business?  He is screwing Carlitos’ ex-wife.  Hey, can this movie please, please, pleaaaaaase kick its horror plot into gear now?

My pleas are finally heard as we get the one hell of a Christmas plot kicking in around the 50 minute mark.  Alone in the house, Carlitos grows increasingly paranoid at every thunder crack.  His suspicion is warranted though as a spirit escapes from the claw and enters into the dead body of the hooker buried in the back yard.  Before you can say “I’ll swallow your soul” she is semi-alive and kicking…literally.  Yes, she somehow has kung fu skills now and proceeds to thump Carlitos until he puts a meat cleaver into her forehead.  The spirit departs her body and enters into the 3-foot tall Wolfie stuffed animal. It then proceeds to attack Carlitos before saying, “Join us.”  *long sigh*  When he throws the doll into the wall, the spirit transfers into a Cowboy Jack poster and soon an undead gunslinger is chasing him around the house for a shootout.  Naturally, this all comes to a head as the stranger comes to the house looking for his claw back and takes Carlitos to hell.

Man, I am pretty sure if you look up “missed opportunity” in the dictionary you will find a pic of this film’s poster. Everyone wants to root for a guy named Shaky González, because, dammit, his name is Shaky González.  Sadly, his sophomore feature is too much of a mess to be considered worth recommending.  Partially lensed in the U.S. but mostly shot in Denmark, ONE HELL OF A CHRISTMAS has promise in the last thirty or so minutes. Unfortunately, there is still the hour preceding it.  González is failed by his screenwriter who seems intent on doing a lame Tarantino or Rodriguez petty criminal wannabe scenario for the first sixty minutes.  Who was González’s screenwriter?  Some dude named Shaky González!  Yes, Shaky the director is undermined by Shaky the screenwriter.  If you missed my subtle pleas in the paragraphs above, I was dying for the film’s horror plot to kick in.  Instead, the audience has to endure 3600 seconds of painful family and friend drama with characters they don’t really care about.  This is doubly disappointing because the last thirty minutes displays some truly creative stuff.  There are some nice makeup FX and some inspired touches (like the animated Cowboy Jack coming to life and the journey to hell through a toilet) that warrant a better movie.  The technical aspects don’t help either as the video-cinematography is muddy.  Had this been given a few more script passes and shot on film, ONE HELL OF A CHRISTMAS could have been a Xmas surprise.  As is, it is a big ol’ lump of coal with perhaps something of a little value inside.

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