Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Heinous for the Holidays: 35-16 FATHER CHRISTMAS CODE (1989)

I rambled a little bit about subversive Christmas movies, but I think this one might be the actually the most subversive of the lot. Fun, dark and surprisingly edgy French film that I think may have been aimed at the family crowd. I say, "I think" because there is so much in this movie that would absolutely horrify American parents (who flipped out over something as innocuous as PARANORMAN), that at times I wonder what the target demographic actually was. Of course, these are the French we're talking about, so they probably felt it would be character building for their kids to be exposed to the darker side of Christmas. Good for them.

Ten year-old Thomas (Alain Lalanne), son of single mom toy store tycoon, is left alone in the mansion on Christmas to mind after grandpa and the dog while mom takes care of business on the holiday. Thomas, like all boys of that name, is a suuuu-per genius and can fix cars, write computer programs, dresses up like Schwarzenegger from COMMANDO (1985) and plays war-games around the mansion with his dog. Mom, to make sure he goes to bed by himself, tells Thomas on the phone that "you mustn't try to see Santa or he will turn into an ogre!" Uhhh, thanks mom, I'll sleep just fine now.

After his friend tells him that Santa isn't real, Thomas decides to prove him wrong, hops on a BBS (the precursor of the internets) and chats with someone who claims to be Santa. Thomas may be a genius, but damn that boy ain't too smart! Of course this Santa is deranged lunatic using a public pay-phone style PC (the future!). After craftily finding out where Thomas lives, enters the house through the chimney with soft lights and tinkling Christmas music and stabs Thomas' dog in the throat, in front on the boy. Holy crap! This movie just stuck it's thumb in Christmas' eye! Thomas gears up for war and a cat and mouse "game" through the mansion is on.

This stylish, subversive outing is almost a bullet list of how not to make an American film. The film opens with a snow-globe containing the Eiffel tower being crushed under a tire while Christmas music tinkles in the background - imagine if that had been the Statue of Liberty. In TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 13, sure, no problem. In a family Christmas movie? Yahoo movie reviewers would be screaming "pinko socialists" before the end of the first reel. The single mom as a successful, wealthy business magnate? Yeah, right! Never happen in Hollywood. Single moms are usually on the poverty line, or maybe working for the man, but are always struggling, waiting for the right guy, and they never put the job before their adorable child, who probably has some sort of medical affliction. Family pet stabbed in the throat by Santa Claus on Christmas? In a family movie? Never, ever, ever happen. Ever. A ten year old using a dead policeman's firearm to shoot someone? No way. At one point Thomas is stabbed, complete with blood gushing from the wound and during a surprisingly intense sequence, Thomas must avoid Santa while trying to find some insulin for his diabetic grandfather who is on the verge of death and trapped inside a suit of armor. Not exactly the wacky holiday hijinx you'd expect from a Christmas movie.

Director RenĂ© Manzor started his career with THE PASSAGE (1986), an attempt to re-invigorate Alain Delon's career, before descending down into the American and French television abyss. I wonder if even Manzor knew exactly what he was going for in this film, alternating between a pre-teen DIE HARD send-up (Thomas is barefoot during the entire event braving broken glass and snow) and a twisted home-invasion horror film. It feels difficult to navigate at times with wide swings in emotion taking place on a regular basis. One thing is for sure, it is definitely not a fluffy, feel-good Christmas comedy that would inspire merchandising for years to come... Not, at least, until Hollywood got a hold of it.

Hey! What is Nick Kitley doing in this movie?
There are no two ways about it; Chris Columbus and John Huges blatantly ripped this flick off for HOME ALONE (1990). Of course they scrubbed and sanitized every single square inch of this concept until it glistened like tinsel on a Macy's tree and was completely safe for American consumption. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the numbers in the title are the French information. In the US we could dial 411 for information, in France you would dial 3516. I guess that's why the title was changed where ever it was released. So, awkward title and a very non-Fox and Friends idea of the Yuletide, and it's no surprise that it has never seen the light of day in the US. It's a shame a genre-friendly DVD purveyors haven't picked this up, it will definitely be part of my annual Christmas movie rotation.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Listomania: Will's End of 2012 Listocolypse


A great philosopher once said, “2012 is gonna be hell” but it was alright for my movie viewings.  My total was 344, up from last year's total of 308. I’m trying to make a concerted effort to watch stuff I’ve never seen before and think I did alright.  283 were films I had never seen before and 61 were revisits.  Of course, we know folks who were getting in 600+ viewings in a year, so I feel like a slacker.

First film seen in 2012: THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957)
Last film seen in 2012: POPATOPOLIS (2009)
Films seen in theaters: 10 (same as last year)
Best film seen theatrically: LOOPER (2012)
Worst film seen theatrically: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
IMAX viewings: 2 (PROMETHEUS & THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN)
Double features in theaters: 0
Biggest surprises in 2012: FANGS (1974) and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012)
Biggest disappointment in 2012: KILL LIST (2011)
Oldest film seen: SH! THE OCTOPUS (1937)

Video Junkie Moment of the Year:

I know I will sound redundant, but I’m still an extremely proud papa of the “Never Got Made” series.  This year I made a more concerted effort to contact filmmakers and ask them about the projects that got away.  Mid-way through the year I had an absolutely astonishing breakthrough on one of them.  I haven’t even posted it yet, but it was such a rewarding experience that I thought, “This is really worth doing.”  Especially since every magazine I offered this work to rejected my stuff.  2013 will have some fantastic new entries, I promise.

Video Junkie “What were we thinking?” Moment of the Year: 

Every time I do a framegrab nowadays, my wrist will twinge with pain.  I did the comparison of the theatrical and TV versions of TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976) and grabbed over 60 shots to highlight the differences.  It proved to be a popular post (who knew the movie had so many fans?) that I decided to test my limits and finally do the EARTHQUAKE (1974) comparison I’d been planning for years.  I took even more framegrabs there; to the point I shaved a few years off my life.  I actually had a third one planned (Chris Poggiali from Temple of Schlock hooked me up with the TV version of THE CONCORDE…AIRPORT ’79) but that proved to be even more complex so I put it on the back burner for a while.

Most in one month:
October: 39
Least in one month:
July: 23

Films watched more than once:
-EARTHQUAKE (1974) - twice
-TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976) - twice
-RUBY (1977) - twice
-THE CONCORDE...AIRPORT '79 (1979) - twice
-COURIER OF DEATH (1984) - twice
-DR. STRAIN, THE BODY SNATCHER (1991) - twice
-FOXFUR (2012) - three times

Directors most watched (individual films):

-Nick Millard (6)
-Anders Nilsson (5) - the Swedish Johan Falk movies
-Shusake Kaneko (4) - GAMERA trilogy & a GODZILLA film
-William Malone (4)
-Takao Okawara (4) - GODZILLA films

Best films that I saw for the first time in 2012:

-CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT (1968)
-THE OUTFIT (1973)
-FANGS (1974)
-HARRY AND TONTO (1974)
-TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976)
-DEMON SEED (1977)
-CROSSTALK (1982)
-THE SCARECROW (1982)
-THE QUIET EARTH (1985)
-TEN & VENUS (1991)
-THE ROLY POLY MAN (1994)
-THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS (2011)
-WIN WIN (2011)

Worst films that I saw for the first time in 2012:

-SILVER BEARS (1978)
-QUINTET (1979)
-NECROPOLIS (1987)
-PLUTONIUM BABY (1987)
-IN THE NAME OF THE KING II (2011)
-REC 3 (2011)

Best “the kind of cinema I live for” I saw for the first time in 2012:

-SH! THE OCTOPUS (1937)
-THE INSTRUCTOR (1983)
-DEADRINGER (1985)
-BEYOND THE 7TH DOOR (1987)
-BLOOD HANDS (1987)
-CURSE OF THE BLUE LIGHTS (1988)
-DRUG RUNNERS (1988)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Listomania: Thomas' 2012 End of Year Brain Drain

Damn, what a year! Personally it was a complete trainwreck for me with events that I hope I will never, ever have to repeat again in my lifetime and would not wish on anyone. On the plus side, the economy seems to be picking up and best of all, independent film seems to slowly be returning to its roots, spawning movies driven by creativity and passion, rather than cynical compendiums of cliches and empty promises. Don't get me wrong, they're still out there en masse, but with films like UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012), which by all rights, should have been released theatrically, and THALE (2012) raising the bar for DTV and SOV movies, I see great things on the horizon.

Total Movies Watched:
303 (that is 62 missed opportunities!), of course that doesn't factor in Scandinavian crime novels read. Although I can't even use books as an excuse with Mary McKee throwing around crazy-ass shit like THE DEATH OF THE FUHRER!

Total Theatrical Movies:
3 (two more than last year!)

PROMETHEUS (2012): Completely overblown, badly written, embarrassingly acted mess that pretends to toy with the audience over whether it is or is not a prequel to ALIEN (1979), when in fact, it has no clue. The apologists claim that it's visually stunning, and that is absolutely true, but this is Ridley Scott. That's what he does. Even when dealing in marginal product (say, 1987s SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME), the visuals are always arresting. Arresting visuals doth not an awesome movie make, quoth The Bard. It does make for a nice Imax 3D viewing experience, but then again, it sure would have been nice to have something closer to a complete package. The most interesting thing about it post-release is that it apparently was to be a much more ummmm, "down to earth" project with a reinvented chest-burster and human-to-alien transformations, which would have not only been cooler to see, but would have made a lot more sense in the context of the story. Too bad all concerned seemed to get high on their own fumes and decided to aim for more pretentious goals.

THE AVENGERS (2012): Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the film. I saw it in Imax 3D and had a good time, but... really? Was it that amazing? Peeps be goin' batshit on this flick, fo' realz! The bar was definitely raised in the CGI department, but greatest movie ever? I dunno about that. It was fun, but the aliens looked like they were stolen out of a Michael Bay film and the only thing that was ever cool about Hawkeye was his whiskers, and they decided to drop those since presumably Jeremy Renner can't grow them. On the other hand, I really wish Whedon had directed THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN or the new SUPERMAN flick which looks stunningly pretentious. I gotta hand it to Joss, he turned in a good time, and honestly I truly do appreciate him giving us a close-up of Scarlett Johansson's marvelous tush in 3D on a 30 foot high screen.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981): It's RAIDERS! It's in our modern, scaled-down version of IMAX! Restored print? Nope! But we do get a new font for the titles. Then again, does it really need to be remastered and all hi-def? Nope. It's still a great movie that would never be made the same way today. Matter of fact, we can see what it would be like if it was made today. It's called INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Yeah, I had to go there, didn't I?

The First Film of 2012:
FROM NOON TIL THREE (1976): Oh my lawrd, Charlie, what the hell are you doing? I guess there's a reason this Charles Bronson western has been hard to come by for so many years. Man, this is rough stuff. A group of bankrobbers find themselves short a horse, so odd man out Graham (yes, Bronson's character is a Graham) must stay at a remote mansion inhabited by a young widow (Jill Ireland, of course), named Amanda. The gang is going to return for him at 3pm, so from noon-til-three the two become romantically entangled in what is supposed to be a charming, amusing way (it's not). The whole thing takes a bizarre turn when the gang is caught, Graham is presumed dead and Amanda becomes world famous for her highly embellished dramatization of her love for a bank robber. I'd really like to give it props for going completely off the rails in a direction I never saw coming (she doesn't recognize him, but recognizes his penis - whaaa?), but the fact is that this is just a painfully bad movie that was only greenlit because of the star-power behind it. If you've worked your way through everything else or you've ever wanted to see Charlie in a tux doing some ballroom dancing... err, this is for you.

The Last Film of 2012:
35-16 FATHER CHRISTMAS CODE (1989): Fun, dark and somewhat edgy French film that I think may have been aimed at the family crowd. I say, "I think" because there is so much in this movie that would absolutely horrify wimpy American parents (who flipped out over something as innocuous as PARANORMAN), that at times I wonder what the target demographic actually was. Of course, these are the French we're talking about, so they probably felt it would be good for their kids to embrace the darker side of Christmas. Good for them. Chris Columbus and John Huges blatantly ripped this flick off for HOME ALONE (1990). Of course they scrubbed and sanitized every single square inch of this concept until it glistened in the Christmas sun and was completely safe for American consumption. It's no surprise that it has never seen the light of day in the US. Review forthcoming.

The Biggest Surprise of 2012:
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012): This completely whacked, hallucinogen-fueled, bare-knuckle re-working of APOCALYPSE NOW blew my freakin' mind. Even the red-band trailer doesn't prepare you for the brutal, bloody left-field insanity that John Hyams blows in your face at 250 miles an hour.

The Biggest Disappointment of 2012: Tie!

THE HOLE (2009): Damn, Joe Dante, what happened? A family moves into a new house that has a deep, dark secret in the basement: A trap-door covered hole that is locked down and clearly not meant to be opened. Of course the kids just have to open it and as it turns out, the hole contains fear itself. Dante does a beautiful job setting up the story with some great touches, such as a nutty Bruce Dern as the former house owner who is now terrified of the dark. Sadly, as soon as the characters fears come to life they are neither scary or unique. I realize that this is supposed to be safe for ankle biters, but the drunken/abusive father segment is painfully cliched and delivers that lame '80s stereotype of guys with long hair being evil. Hey Joe? You used to have long hair, buddy. But digressions on coiffures not withstanding, the film starts on a very high note, and plummets quickly after the halfway mark. Even so, it's surprising that this never got released in the US.

SLEEPWALKER (2000): Easily the best videocamera thriller ever, well, at least for the first 80 minutes. This completely crushed me. I couldn't believe how brilliant this film was using a format that usually is the kiss of death. Then the twist end hit. You bastards.

Oldest Film Seen in 2012:
THE DRUMS OF FU MANCHU (1940): Lightning-fast paced, action packed and very politically incorrect serialization of Sax Rohmer's novel about the master criminal Fu Manchu. Here he is being pursued by Nayland Smith in Los Angeles (!). I've never seen so many giant, hulking Asians with European features. Tons of fun and seriously, Schwarzenegger and Stallone got nothin' on the body counts racked up here. More on Fu later in the month.

Most Movies Watched in One Month:
An almost Aaron Christensen-esque total of 46 in August. Runner up: 42 in October.

Least Movies Watched in One Month:
12 in November. Damn those night shifts!

Top 10 Favorite First Time Viewings in 2012:
This is simply a list of movies that I saw for the first time in 2012 that became instant favorites. There were so many that I had to pare down the list to just the top 10 most memorable.

The Johan Falk Trilogy - ZERO TOLERANCE (1999) / EXECUTIVE PROTECTION (2001) / THE THIRD WAVE (2003): Unquestionably the best police action thrillers of the past two decades. The story arc over three films won't even hit you until you are into the second film, when you will suddenly realize that you are knee-deep in a masterpiece.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008): An amazingly effective, disturbing and complex Swedish horror film that never hits a wrong note. Deserving of every accolade it's gotten and undeserving of the mindless, soulless Hollywood remake. If you were like me and procrastinated because of all the hype, don't put it off any longer.

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012): Again, this should be everyone's must see list. Unless they are the kind of person that runs off to the theater for the latest Tom Cruise movie.

WELCOME TO THE GREAT ADVENTURE OF KENNY STARFIGHTER - KENNY BEGINS (2009): Great Swedish sci-fi comedy that runs a lot like a live-action Pixar film. Kenny ain't the brightest cloud in the nebula, but yearns to be a Galaxy Hero - mainly due to the fact that he doesn't want to get into the family business of hair dressing. While attempting to ticket a speeding Winnebago  Kenny's ship hits a black hole and crash lands on Earth and meets up with a couple of teens, one of whom has touched a crystal that has given him a perfectly healthy body and mind. That crystal, as it turns out, is the one thing that wheel chair-bound mega-brained Rutger Oversmart needs to rule the cosmos and he's a bit cranky that it has already been used. To fight off Kenny and steal the boy, Oversmart brings in his trio of assassins (sort of a spoof on the Three Storms), Earth, Wind and Fire (Wind has a fan for a head). Sure some of the jokes misfire pretty badly (Kenny in a dare-off with his brother drinks shampoo), but most of them are very clever and the production itself is fantastic, feeling like a satire of '80s PG-rated sci-fi flicks such as THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984). This was actually a tie for Favorite Comedy with RONAL THE BARBARIAN (2010).

ANGEL OF DESTRUCTION (1994): Quite possibly the finest example of '90s DTV trash action epicness from the master of the craft, Cirio H. Santiago. Ok, how do I even synopsize this? A trashy pop-star that is sort of like a SF strip club show meets Madonna on a budget is being stalked by psycho militia dude. A badass female cop (Charlie Spradling) attempts to guard her body, but only ends up getting killed, so her sister (Maria Ford in fine form) is now hell bent on some violent revenge. Hoooooly crap! Wall to wall sleaze and violent action plus some of the most hilarious bits of bad movie awesomeness this side of... well, another Cirio H. Santiago movie. Includes an instantly classic scene in which Ford kicks serious ass all over a house being over-run by killers wearing nothing but a thong. Ford that is, not the killers. A masterpiece of trash cinema.

THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS (2011): Just in case anyone missed me gushing about the unparalleled awesomeness of this indy production from Andrew Leman and Sean Branney last year, I'm going to mention it again, since technically I didn't see it until early January. One of the best, if not the best, H.P. Lovecraft adaptation.

KAMEN RIDER - THE NEXT (2007): Everything you could ever possibly want from a tokusatsu flick, much less a Kamen Rider movie. None of this crappy TV show video toaster FX and cheap action. This is the real deal. Big action, choreographed fights, massive explosions, twisted monsters, bloody horror, evil curses, crazy motorcycle stunts and even... nekkid boobs! Yes, that's right, one of Kamen Rider's nemeses actually has a topless scene (while still wearing her helmet). Am I a total nerd if I think that is totally hot? Sure there's some dopey tween romance thrown in, but that's about 1% of the total package. Review forthcoming.

THALE (2012): Maybe not as stunning as WHISPERER, but a captivating little film that deserves a lot of praise for overcoming the limitations of the digital video format.

FLODDER (1986): Quintessential '80s Dutch comedy from the venerable Dick Maas about the haves vs. the have-nots that fits right in place next to American classics such as CADDYSHACK (1980). The Flodder's, a low-class family of slobs, is used as a social experiment (one that we've had in America since this film came out). If you take them out of the slums and move them into an upscale neighborhood, perhaps they will become cultured, contributing members of society. Of course the Flodder's rain total havoc and chaos down on the posh new neighborhood, skewering social prejudices with both keen wit and crass shock value. It doesn't sound like much, but it is done with such a deft hand, a genuinely hilarious script and great production values, that it like CADDYSHACK transcends it's humble concept. Plus, we get one of the most massive-scale destruction/fire sets I have ever seen on film. I can't even imagine how long it must have taken to set up an entire subdivision so that it could be destroyed and set on fire all at once. Oh, and keep your beverages safely on a coaster when Danish Playboy Playmate Tatjana Simic is on screen or severe bobbleage may occur. Just sayin'.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy 2013th!

No big speeches here, but we here at VJ would like to wish you and yours the best of new years. We will soon be commencing with the obligatory year end wrap up - hey, we're fashionably late, ok? - and I promise there will be no mention of Oscars, Tom Hanks, or the insufferable idiots that are currently patting themselves on the back for plagiarizing all of their ideas from other movies and turning them into tedious tween fodder.

Thanks to everyone who actually reads our stuff, it's nice to know that there are still people out there who appreciate the finer points of drive-in movies, grindhouse sleaze and direct to video slasher films.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

December to Dismember: SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 4 & 5 (1990 / 1991)

I know Christmas was like, SO last year, but we are still full of the Yultide sprit... well, we're full of something anyway. So here is our final installment of this year's December to Dismember!

SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 4 - INITIATION (1990):

Back in the day this seemed like such mediocre DTV fodder that didn't even bother to have anything to do with the Santa slayer trilogy that it followed. Now, that seems like a really fine decision and makes for what I feel is a far better viewing experience.

While screwing her co-worker in a hotel room, wannabe journalist Kim (Neif Hunter) sees news coverage of an apparent suicide, in which a woman, on fire from the waist down, jumps to her death from a building. Deciding that this could be her big break and feeling some sort of weird kinship, Kim tackles the story in spite of her boss (Reggie Bannister) feeling that she is more valuable as a maker of coffee. This leads her into down the path to what might be madness, with bug infestations, weird faces in ordinary objects, a coven of lesbians, giant worms, murder and madness.

There are some really great little bits that most low-rent DTV sequels wouldn't even bother with shooting, such as the scene in which Kim questions the local Chinese butcher, who is caked in blood and struggling to maintain broken English. While asking him questions, she struggles with a candy machine. The butcher gives it a chop with his hand and scoops out all the candies. After offending Kim by gleefully commenting that the dead girl might have been a hooker, she walks away and is about to eat the candies when she notices they are covered in half-dried blood. They could have easily just made it a scene with Kim asking the butcher questions, but Yuzna actually takes the time to set up these neat little moments that add so much to something that could have easily been a major misfire.

Like the TALES FROM THE CRYPT sequels that came along after DEMON KNIGHT (1995), this obviously was derived from an unrelated script that simply had the SNDN brand slapped on top. Even the connection to Christmas is completely reliant on a Christmas tree being shoe-horned into a couple of scenes and Clint Howard flicking on the TV, which happens to be showing the opening nightmare scene from SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT III (1989). Twenty years ago this seemed like a cheap ploy to get video renters to part with their cash on a movie that would otherwise probably not even be made. That may still be true to a point, but that sting of deception removed from the equation, this is actually a really well made film that doesn't pander to expectations and really pushes the creepy, weird, paranoid atmosphere. Add Screaming Mad George's signature effects work and Clint Howard spouting lines like "Awwww, no fucking cheese!" when he finds a half eaten hamburger covered in ants, and you have something that is better now than it was 20 years ago.



SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 5 - THE TOY MAKER (1991):

I can't really fault Brian Yuzna from backing off of the whole santa-slasher thing for his sequels. Not to flog a dead santa, but PART 2 was the cheapest, dullest and I'd say most cynical piece of crap, but Anchor Bay seems to have stolen that demerit for their "remake". Did I mention how much PART 2 sucks? Revisiting it after having not seen it since it came out on video in '89 brought the complete lack of fun all back. For the next sequel SNDN III took the concept to a completely ludicrous place (I would say that I would love to be a fly on the wall for those script meetings, except they probably didn't have any), so where to go now? Skip the Santa, but lets still focus on Christmas and turn it into a twisted reworking of... wait!

Sorry, I have to say this - MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

Where was I? Oh yeah, a twisted reworking of Pinocchio! No seriously. An old fashioned toy maker named Joe Petto (played by a frantic Mickey Rooney, no less) has fallen on hard times and in between slugging back whiskey, he slugs his son Pino (Brian Bremer), who seems to be a bit touched in the head. At the same time a loner in a motel room has been buying Joe's toys and turning them into little killing machines, or is he? Things start getting creepy when Pino takes a shine to one of Joe's last customers, single mom Sarah (Jane Higginson) and takes to stalking her, culminating with a truly twisted final sequence where we discover that Pino is not quite who we think he is and has a homicidal Oedipal complex in spite of a lack of genitalia.

Ok, so maybe the first half hour is pretty dry and the toy killings should have been scarier and gorier (the first one initiates a car crash another is simply jet-powered roller skates), it feels at times a bit like Charles Band should be lurking somewhere behind the camera. On the other hand you have Rooney absolutely shredding the scenery, obviously relishing his role as a sweaty, maniacal drunk who beats his son and keeps him in a basement. You also have Clint Howard, who is always welcome and the smokin' hot Neif Hunter returning as Kim (damn, she should just lock herself in the house around the holidays). Screaming Mad George's effects may be a little bit more low key than usual here, but again, that last 20 minutes is a doozie. I grant you that Brian Yuzna has been an embarrassment to himself and others since the mid-1990s (I like to pretend that 2000s FAUST and 2003s BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR never existed), but dismissing these sequels off hand is doing them a disservice. On the whole THE TOY MAKER may not be as good as INITIATION, but both films are well worth a revisit.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

December to Dismember: SILENT NIGHT (2012)

This review was originally supposed to be up in time for Christmas, but didn’t make it.  That’s okay because we’re breaking all the rules here at Video Junkie.  So you’re getting a December review in January.  Why did I miss my own deadline?  Well, it is a combination of utter laziness and SILENT NIGHT being the biggest lump of coal/shit you can ever imagine. This movie pissed me off so much that I started beating my kids…and I don’t have any kids!  So that means I was basically punching myself in the nuts for watching this utterly cynical and completely useless remake.

You know you’re in trouble right off the bat when non-talent Steven C. Miller opens his film with a SAW-tinged torture bit.  A killer Santa has a chick tied up and the guy she was cheating on her husband with wrapped in a bunch of Christmas lights in the basement. The guy pleads for his life but then realizes he isn’t dealing with his lover’s husband but some real “sick fuck.”  He comes to this realization a moment before being electrocuted.  And we are off!  Cut to Deputy Aubrey Bradimore (Jamie King) waking up lonely in bed.  You see it has been a year since she lost her hubby John and she is feeling down.  Not so understanding is Sheriff Cooper (Malcolm McDowell), who demands she come in today, Christmas Eve of all days, because another deputy has gone missing (the guy from the opening).  It is a big day for this sleepy Wisconsin town because they are having their annual parade of Santas, where seemingly every man in town dresses up like ol’ St. Nick. Oh lawd, here we go.

So Aubrey swallows her hurt and gets into work. It is here that director Miller and screenwriter Jayson Rothwell offer up a stunning succession of scenes that showcase they just don’t care or live in a world completely populated by caricatures.  Aubrey runs up on the Mayor, who has a slutty daughter, Tiffany (Courtney-Jane White), who tells him to fuck off; we get a bratty tween who slaps her mother’s heart medication (!) out of her hands, demands to go to the mall and screams, “Fuck church! I want my new LV today” at her (she gets killed right after this); we get perv Reverend Madeley (Curtis Moore) coming onto Aubrey; and we get a belligerent Santa (Donal Logue) who likes to be mean to bratty kids and keeps a journal about Santa Claus.  Can you see how badass this movie is?  I’m willing to bet Miller sat in meetings and said, “We’re gonna fuck this holiday up.” And we’re just getting started with this bad boy attitude as now we have the first direct scene from the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984).  Oh, did you forget this is a remake? Randomly shoehorned in is a scene where Dennis (Erik Berg) is visiting his catatonic Grandpa at an old folks’ home.  He mentions he is dating Tiffany and says to his Grandfather, “I’m boning her pretty regularly now” (yes, really) as he steals money from his wallet. Apparently a screenplay scenario this bad is enough to get Grandpa to snap out of his trance and he delivers the “Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year” dialogue. *sigh*

Meanwhile, the cops have discovered the dead bodies from the opening in the Myers place…er, sorry…an abandoned house.  On the other side of town Tiffany is visiting some cokeheads doing a Suicide Girls-style shoot in a seedy motel. Seriously, fuck off.  After she leaves, the killer Santa shows up and offs everyone including throwing the topless girl into a wood chipper.  Aubrey suspects former mill worker Stein Karsson (Mike O’Brien) is the killer because 1. she’s never seen him before and 2. he is wearing work boots similar to the prints left on the scene.  She confronts him at a bar and he tells her a story he heard about a guy dressed as Santa who torched his wife and her lover with a flamethrower back in the day (a cynical working in of this real life Santa killer).  But it turns out Stein is just the local cocaine dealer, Mr. Snow.  Jesus, let me wrap this up.  Aubrey begins doubting her policing skills and calls her former cop dad, who says, “This isn’t the first time a Bradimore had to bring down a bad Santa” (more on that in a bit).  A whole bunch of people get killed in the last half hour (including a pathetic recreation of Linnea Quigley’s deer antler death from the original) as the cops run around looking for the right Santa and – MAGICALLY -- the cop doubting their skills saves the day.  Cue end credits with shitty metal version of “Silent Night.”

It is almost fitting that this flick ends with a really crappy cover of a Christmas carol because that pretty much encapsulates this film – an attempt to take something well known and make it hard, dude.  Now horror historians won’t be crowning the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT as an all-time great.  But I will!  It isn’t the best Christmas horror movie, but it is certainly my favorite.  I mean, it is infinitely quotable, has plenty of Christmas spirit, is highly exploitative (to the point of creating massive controversy) and, believe it or not, has some pretty damning commentary on a number of issues (yes, really).  The fact that this remake mostly focuses on the exploitation factor should let you know how concerned the filmmakers were with making a good movie.  This is a group that openly created something so contemptuous that they wanted people to get upset by it.  It doesn’t work that way and has all the power of a kid with a Mohawk saying “fuck the system” while manning the register at Hot Topic.

Of course, we’re dealing with some nitwits who think everyone will be blown away by their final twist.  If you don’t want it spoiled, stop reading now.  Turns out the Santa killer is the grown up son of the flamethrower toting Santa from that flashback story.  And who just happened to gun his daddy down?  Why it was Aubrey’s dad (hence his aforementioned “bad Santa” line). Okay, let me get this straight – a guy is killing people on Christmas Eve and not a single damn person in the town seems to remember that Mr. Bradimore once shot and killed a guy dressed as Santa on Christmas Eve a few decades ago? Yeah, I guess Aubrey is right and her detective skills really, really suck.  Instead of going “hey, remember that case a few years ago” the cops run around chasing every red herring in the town.  Furthermore, if the guy is out for revenge, why is he killing all of the naughty people and sending them lumps of coal?  And how does he even know they are naughty?  I mean, when he kills the little girl, how did he know she was being a bitch to her mom beforehand?  The original film had a very simple storyline – Billy snaps, sees people doing things he deems naughty and kills them.  They couldn’t even follow this simple set up.  Of course, one has to wonder why this was even called a remake.  Outside of two scenes (and a “garbage day” reference; groooooan), this has nothing to do with the original.  Is Anchor Bay cynical enough to believe that calling it a remake will do enough to bolster a few more sales of the original?  Seeing as they just re-released the original in time for the remake to hit the streets, I’d say so.  They figured slap together a film with a killer Santa, throw in a horror fave (does McDowell ever say no?) and profit.  To quote the store owner being held up by Santa in the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT: “I see not all of it is phony sentiment.  Some of it is genuine greed.”

Saturday, December 29, 2012

December to Dismember: SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT III (1989)

Monte Hellman. Worked with Roger Corman, Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, Johnathan Demme, Warren Oates, Jack Nicholson. Director of captivating, character-driven films such as THE SHOOTING and TWO-LANE BLACKTOP and this direct to video slasher sequel. Cue needle skipping off the record.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) is widely acknowledged as the apex of hyper-controversial, highly entertaining slasher trash film-making with (for the time) a shocking amount of graphic gore, the likes of which the FRIDAY THE 13th series couldn't even consider trying to pull off due to Jack Valenti's permanent stink-eye. Likewise SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987) is widely acknowledged as the nadir of cheap, shoddy sequels that are simply using the popularity of the original to make some quick cash. Granted all sequels are, to some extent, using the popularity of the original, but actually have a well-conceived story to tell of their own. Sequels such as PSYCHO II (1984) continue the storyline in a fresh way without besmirching the memory of the original, where as BOOGEYMAN II (1983)... well, that's a horror of a different kind. This sequel, however, is off in its own little doped-up world of odd.

Starting straight in the middle of a nightmare sequence, a sweet tween named Laura (Samantha Scully) is stalked through white hallways by a menacing, knife-wielding Santa and a guy with what appears to be a savory jello mold on his head. Laura wakes up in a sleep research lab only to remember that she is blind and is doing a seemingly ethically unsound experiment where one Dr. Newbury (Richard Beymer) has her hooked up to one Ricky Caldwell (Bill Mosley). Yes, that Ricky Caldwell.

Apparently after being shot (six times?) to death at the end of PART 2, Ricky went into a coma, was put on life-support. His brain was reconstructed by Newbury, who defends his actions by saying that he is saving lives but actually has some sort of agenda (insert evil laugh here). Newbury's brain reconstruction involves a see-through glass dome over Ricky's brain, complete with plenty of Kool-aide in case it gets thirsty (I'm just speculating on that last part). Newbury believes that Laura is psychic and has been using her to psychically connect to Ricky in his coma via several machines that go "bing". Since this is the holiday season, they need to break away from their experiments so that Laura can go celebrate Christmas with her grandparents in Piru. No, not Peru, but Piru, CA. As in "yes, we have oranges", "population: less than 1000" (at the time) and "film permits are really cheap here". Laura, who is one sassy blind chick - working blue with a variety of bad jokes including one about masturbation, heads out to Piru with her meathead brother (Eric DaRe) and his girlfriend (Laura Harring). They are, of course, completely fucked. Because they will soon have a serial killer after them? No. Because Laura decides the best way to get to Piru during the holidays is by taking the 101 freeway. Talk about the blind leading the freakin' stupid! Even Little Red Riding Hood knew to take a shortcut to Grandma's house to avoid traffic. At least, Stan Freberg said she did.

How does that Terry Jones song go?
Never be rude to a killer?
Meanwhile in the hospital, a local Rx Renta-Santa gets smashed on a non-regulation bottle of hooch and wanders through the halls until he accidentally (or conveniently) stumbles into Ricky's room. Apparently too drunk to notice that a '50s flying saucer has crashed into this guy's head and is rife with opportunity for a wisecrack, he goes the more obvious route saying "Hey vegetable! Who's your favorite singer? Perry Coma?" Doesn't he know psychotic killers have absolutely zero tolerance for bad jokes? Even less if they are dead or otherwise incapacitated. Sure enough, this snaps Ricky out of his stupor and snaps Santa right into the next life. Now that Ricky is free to stumble about the premises, what is on his mind? Yes, a plexi-glass dome is true, but no, the answer we were looking for is "Laura". Yep, Ricky is now obsessed with finding Laura in Piru, which shouldn't be too hard, if he doesn't get lost in the oranges. Of course this means that he too is going to take a road-trip leaving a trail of carved up bodies for the cops to follow. A word to the wise: if you are going to pick up a hitchhiker, don't pick up Chop Top, and if you do, don't tell him that you hate Christmas because of the ugly sweaters. Come to think of it, if you ever see Bill Mosley, you should probably just start running.


Hot on his trail is top cop Lt. Connely (Robert Culp) who, with the help of the Doc, must figure out where Laura is headed. The Doc suggests that it might be Piru, but then is flummoxed by the fact that Piru is so large that she could be anywhere! How to narrow it down? The doc mentions that Linda said something about Grandma giving her oranges (Really? In Piru?), so she must be at an orange grower's! Ok, let's index all of the orange growers in Ventura County until we find some connection. Real policework in action. Yeah, Ricky's got all night to waste these chumps.

Of course Ricky gets to Grandma's house before Laura and a game of cat and one blind mice begins, with a special twist that feels less December 25th and more like October 31st.

Mmmm... someone had sausages for dinner!

I expect that noses will start to wrinkle as soon as I say it, but I find this entry pretty damn enjoyable. Not a masterpiece deserving of Monte Hellman's credit, but it is completely absurd (which is a plus for me) and let's face it, after revisiting PART 2, by comparison this has the artistic depth and complexity of Hieronymus Bosch. Upping the entertainment factor, there is an amazing amount of oddball stuff going on in this movie, leading to all sorts of questions. Such as... Why do people keep handing Laura glasses of water? Does being blind make you dehydrated? How did Ricky get shot in the snow and end up in a hospital in Southern California?  Since when do hospitals have synch sound on their security cameras? Do gas station attendants really put their phone-sex partners on hold to help a guy with a towel wrapped around his head? If you go to your grandmother's house for Christmas and she is missing, is having sex in her bathtub really the first thing you should do? If you are blind, know that something is seriously wrong and people are missing is getting your likker on the best choice of action? And seriously, why does Grandma have a completely random gift "from Santa" that isn't for anybody except a random stranger?

So many questions, so few answers, but that's it's what makes this movie so much more than it seems to be at first glance. Sure they could have used just a touch more gore. Sure they could have done some really weird and interesting stuff with some of the groundwork they laid out. For instance, Ricky can telepathically "see" what Laura is seeing. I know, it's been done before. The catch here is - Laura is blind! WtF? Inspite of it's faults, or maybe because of them, this might actually be the best SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT sequel... so far.

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!