Tuesday, December 1, 2020

December to Dismember: AXEMAS (2017) / AXEMAS 2: BLOOD SLAY (2018)

[by William S. Wilson]

Deck the video aisles with films of folly 
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la 'Tis the season to be… 

Oh man, it definitely ain’t the season to be jolly. I’m sure we can all agree that 2020 has been an absolutely brutal year. And what better way to continue the suffering than to do our 8th year of coverage of bad Christmas horror movies? Turns out the world may have ground to a halt, but terrible Xmas films will keep on acomin’ to our TV sets. Seriously, if you are reading this, we hope you and those close to you are doing well. And we hope that our tiny series of self flagellations offer a small respite from the horrors of the real world. And what better way to start than a film series called AXEMAS? The two-film series actually came onto our radar last year, but we had commitment issues with buying them. Things changed this year thanks to the tubular power of TubiTV and we decided to get our AXEMAS on. 

The first film opens with a burglar cutting his way into a unit at Chapman Storage. He hears a sound and immediately says, “It’s my spot tonight. Come back later.” Damn, I had no idea thieves had such a strong code of work ethics. Unfortunately for him, this isn’t a fellow thief but an axe-wielding guy in a Santa Claus suit. He gets butchered (offscreen, naturally). Cut to David (Dillon Weishuhn, gesundheit!) as he wraps up his shift at the storage facility. Imbued with the holiday spirit, he has invited five friends to come party with him in the locked-down facility from 11pm until 5am. Yes, nothing says fun like hanging out in a cold building with metal walls and concrete floors. Showing up for the festivities are David’s girlfriend Sarah (Ashley Campbell), Chuck (Nathan Scott) and Liz (Lindsey Cruz), and Lee (Mikey O’Brien) and Linnea (Kamiko Kawada). You know these guys are serious partiers as they brought beer and sleeping bags. When they get into the building, Liz comments how it is “not very Christmas-y.” You sure her name isn’t Karen? 

Unfortunately for them, the deranged Santa (John Seymore) is holed up in his storage unit that is overflowing with Christmas decorations and he doesn’t take kindly to strangers. Wait...why is this dude here? Believe it or not, we’ll have an answer to that in a bit. Per horror movie law, the first to go are the black couple Chuck and Liz as he gets an axe to the head (Santa: “I forgot to say head’s up!”) and she gets smashed with a big rock used for holding doors open (Santa: “Wanna get stoned?”). The others hear the commotion and assume it is wild sex. Naturally, Lee and Linnea go to investigate and simultaneously get run through with a pipe (Santa: “Welcome to the North Pole.”). Now I am not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure those puns are a crime against humanity and punishable by death. This leaves David and Sarah and she soon finds out why this killer Kris Kringle is prancing about. SPOILERS FOR AXEMAS TWIST Turns out this guy is named Nick and is David’s brother. Apparently the Christmas-obsessed brothers do this every year. END SPOILERS Sarah is now our final girl as she runs through the maze-like storage facility. At one point she stops to scream, “Why? Why are you doing this?” Weird, I asked myself the same thing. It all wraps up very quickly as Nick kills David in a fit of jealous rage and then Sarah decapitates Nick and says, “Merry fuckin’ axemas!” The end! Now we move on to...

Like all good horror sequels, AXEMAS 2 picks up a year later. Unlike most sequels, it opens with an angry dad throwing away a Christmas tree in a rage. He gets grabbed by a new killer Santa and we get perhaps my favorite dialogue I’ve heard in 2020. 

Man: “What the fuck? Get the fuck off me, mutherfucker!” 
Santa: “Every kid deserves Christmas!” 
Man: “Not my kids. They’re little shits.” 
Santa: “And whose fault is that?” 
Man: “Ask my ex-wife!” 

I seriously love how this guy went from “get the fuck off me” to bashing his ex in like three seconds. Dude has more issues than a magazine stand. Anyway, for his trouble he gets impaled on the very Christmas tree he was throwing away while Santa mutters a line about him getting the point. Yup, this is an AXEMAS film alright. 

We pick up the film proper with Sarah suffering PTSD (Post Traumatic Santa Disorder) from the aftermath of the massacre. Turns out the bodies of David and Nick went missing and the cops considered Sarah the main suspect but didn’t charge her due to lack of evidence. To make matters worse, Sarah is having visions of a ghost David from time to time. She confides this in her friend Laura (Donna Hamblin), who offers some sage advice on how to get her life back together. Medication? Therapy? Nope! Re-entering the dating scene. Even Sarah realizes how silly this is by saying, “I really don’t want to meet another psycho.” Psychos in the dating scene? Pshaw! Understandably, she is afraid of the same thing happening again and uses the DIE HARD film series as proof. Seriously! She relents to Laura’s wishes and opts to go meet a nice guy in a bookstore. Now here is a moment where I legit died because they cut to this shot… 

I'm pretty sure the only guy she is going to run into there is Tom looking for cheap Guy N. Smith novels. HA! She literally runs into Eric (Ben Stobber) and despite the huge red flag of him buying A Christmas Carol, she agrees to go out to dinner with him. Talking about the chance encounter later with Laura, Sarah says, “It feels like I’ve known him forever.” At dinner Eric reveals he recognized her from news reports and that she is a strong woman. This sentiment is powerful enough for her to request to go back to his place. WAITER, CHECK PLEASE! Man, I’m starting to think the scariest thing about these films is Sarah’s choices regarding the men in her life. As Eric mixes some cocktails, Sarah flips through a family photo album and spots David and Nick (dressed in his bloody Santa get up, no less!). Yup, turns out Sarah putting her toe back in the dating pool was a bad idea as Eric is the middle brother. 

Eric knocks Sarah out and drives her to - where else? - the storage facility. There he meets up with the new deranged Santa, who is his uncle Kris (Drew Marvick). “Really,” Sarah says sacastically. While Kris goes to retrieve some gasoline, Eric delights in telling Sarah how he is going to kill her for his brothers but suddenly gets a crowbar to the brain from a random girl. This results in my favorite line of the series as Sarah says, “Thank you. Who are you?” Turns out she is homeless Tara (Tommie Vegas) and she is living in a unit with her boyfriend James (Nicholas Jackman). Kris discovers his dead nephew and, like everyone else in his bloodline, goes into a revenge rage. He quickly kills James and Tara, leaving Sarah to once again run through the maze-like storage facility. “How can the same thing happen to the same girl twice?” cries Sarah in a nod to DIE HARD 2 (1990). Funny, I was thinking the same thing about myself watching these back-to-back. Now a grizzled vet in final girl status, Sarah gets her axemas on to confront Kris in a fiery conclusion. The end (again)! 

Video Junkie insider info: Originally I was planning to review the recent remake BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019), but I actually quit it before hitting the half hour mark due to its mix of pretentiousness and tediousness. So these super low budget shorts might have received a boost by not being terrible sacks of Christmas coal. Honestly, I had fun with the AXEMAS films, but I should caution this enjoyment manifests only after eight years of watching Christmas junk (and I’m a professional by now). The fact that they combined come in under an hour probably helped too. Running 25 and 33 minutes respectively, AXEMAS and AXEMAS 2 are the brainchild of writer-director John Ward and filmed in the wilds of Las Vegas. The first film is the rougher of the two, feeling more like a film a group of friends might make on the weekend. That said, Ward uses the storage unit location well and even attempts to establish some Christmas red-and-green color schemes. However, it is the sequel where things really started to come together for me. In the second go-around, Ward ups the self awareness factor. The aforementioned DIE HARD references establish that early on and the back-and-forth banter between characters is genuinely funny at points. He also ups the production values several notches. Like all low budget horror films, it is a mixed bag acting-wise. Ashley Campbell is good as the lead and really seems to get into the role by the second film. In terms of killer Santas, I liked both John Seymore and Drew Marvick in their respective roles. But I’d have to give the nod to Marvick as he has some great delivery, like when he tells Eric he forgot the gasoline because he wanted to make a dramatic entrance. Also, the man has a killer beard and some of the most enviable hair. Right before he goes up in smoke his character says, “There might be a third.” True enough, Ward and his team are currently crowdfunding for AXEMAS 3 and AXEMAS 4. I have a sneaking suspicion where they will go with part 3’s twist (hint: watch for a certain book in part 2). Hell, if they get made they might have a full movie by the end of it. I’m guessing Ward will keep going until he has used every last Christmas pun imaginable. Here’s one for free: You sleigh me!

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