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!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Newsploitation: Bringing F/X to Life!

We’re going to be doing a bit of a cheat today as I’m highlighting a film series that has two anniversaries a few years apart. Cheating, however, is totally okay when you are talking about the F/X film series as the lead character, Roland “Rollie” Tyler, is a Hollywood effects whiz known for a clever sleight of hand (and more). Yes, the highly entertaining F/X (1986) and F/X 2 (1991) are celebrating their 30th and 25th anniversaries, respectively.

F/X is a fascinating movie for many reasons. First, the script was written by two relative unknowns; Gregory Fleeman was a struggling actor making his writing debut and Robert T. Megginson was a industry vet as an editor and had also made the odd music industry parody PELVIS (1977). According to the New York Times, they originally wrote the screenplay as a possible TV movie, but the premise was attractive enough that it ended up at Orion Pictures. Another fascinating aspect is the storyline focusing on a Hollywood effects man who must use his wits to escape the mob and government after being hired to fake a death. Finally, it is the first U.S. theatrical vehicle for Australian actor Bryan Brown. Brown was already well know in his native country for films such as MONEY MOVERS (1978) and BREAKER MORANT (1980) and had caught the eye of U.S. viewers in a supporting role in THE THORNBIRDS (1983) mini-series. Playing opposite Brown’s Tyler character is Brian Dennehy as NYC cop Leo McCarthy. Both men would have a great onscreen chemistry.

F/X was directed by Robert Mandel, but he was actually not the first person signed on to make the film. In August 1984, it was announced in Variety that Roger Spottiswoode would start shooting the film in October of that year. The Canadian-born helmer had recently done UNDER FIRE (1983) for Orion. However, by March 1985, Spottiswoode was no longer listed as director and relative newcomer Mandel had taken over the directing. While the IMDb will list F/X as Mandel’s first theatrical feature, he had actually already shot the Michael Keaton vehicle TOUCH AND GO (1986) in the summer of 1984 but it didn’t get released until after F/X in August 1986. Orion got F/X to U.S. theaters on February 7, 1986. The film did debut in 5th place with a haul of $3,240,695. The interesting thing is the film only dropped a fraction (7%) in its second weekend and stuck around for a couple of months to earn a total U.S. take of $20,603,715. While it was certainly no blockbuster, the film did rather well for something headlined by a relatively unknown lead. Orion folks would later say that the film tested through the roof, but they had a very hard time coming up with how to market the picture (the U.S. theatrical poster is a bland B&W shot of half of Brown’s face) and that the title F/X was confusing to many people (they tried to correct this by adding a subtle “Murder by Illusion” in other territories).


While not setting the box office on fire, F/X did well enough and, despite its odd title, found a larger audience on home video. While Orion would have huge hits with DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990) and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), when they greenlit the sequel F/X 2 they were in the midst of some major bombs. The behind the scenes players on the further adventures of Rollie and Leo were interesting to genre fans. Australian Richard Franklin, who had done the impressive ROAD GAMES (1981) and PSYCHO II (1983), was hired as director (oddly, while reading an old Fangoria about F/X, the very next article in the issue was about Franklin’s LINK [1986]). The screenplay was written by Bill Condon, who genre fans would know for STRANGE BEHAVIOR (1981) and STRANGE INVADERS (1983); it should be noted that the copyright database also lists one Lee Reynolds (ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD [1986]) as a co-writer, but Condon is only credited on the final film. F/X 2 proved that audiences did indeed get its title when it hit theaters on May 10, 1991 (yes, now you see my cheat as this anniversary is a few months away). Not sure the marketing folks got it together though as the U.S. poster is again an abomination (hey, at least they had two faces and a gun this time). Regardless, the film opened in 1st place this time around with a take of $5,455,058 on its way to a total of $21,082,165 at the U.S. box office.

The concept proved popular enough that five years later (what’s with the five years between F/X projects?) the syndicated F/X: THE SERIES came along in 1996. The series ran for two seasons and had Aussie Cameron Daddo as Rollie and Kevin Dobson as Leo (the character was replaced with a female co-lead in the second season). So, yes, the F/X concept had finally come full circle - originally written as a possible TV pilot, it became a successful movie series that eventually became a TV show. Hollywood is weird.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Newsploitation: Poppin' up that POPCORN (1991)

It is weird to me to be writing up a 25th anniversary of a film that feels like it just came out a few years back. When I was a kid, Fangoria did a 20th anniversary celebration of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and twenty years to my young mind seems like ages ago. Now I hear a film like POPCORN is 25 years old and it freaks me out. Yes, kids, getting old is weird. Anyway, February 1, 2016 marks the two-and-a-half decades anniversary of the U.S. theatrical release of POPCORN.

That the film got a nationwide theatrical release at all is pretty amazing given the behind-the-scenes chaos of the film’s production. POPCORN certainly had fans salivating when news broke of its impending production as it was a reunion of filmmakers Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby. The duo met in school in Florida and created a unique partnership in the early ‘70s with a trio of horror flicks - CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972), DERANGED (1974) and DEATHDREAM (1974). Creating three films now considered horror classics in a few years? Not too bad. Their careers went in different directions after these films; Clark went on to bigger success with BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), MURDER BY DECREE (1979), PORKY’S (1981), and A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983), while Ormsby had an incredibly eclectic screenwriting career including MY BODYGUARD (1980) and the CAT PEOPLE (1982) remake. They did reunite in a non-horror capacity with PORKY’S II: THE NEXT DAY (1983) which had Clark as director and Ormsby as co-writer (yes, Clark released a PORKY’S sequel and A CHRISTMAS STORY in the same calendar year, incredible!).

According to what Clark told Fangoria at the time of POPCORN’s release, the horror reunion came about when DEAD THINGS co-producer Gary Goch came to him with a screenplay for what would eventually become POPCORN. He liked the idea and passed it along to Ormsby to rewrite and thought it would make a nice directing vehicle for his friend (Ormsby had previously directed the lost-but-recently-discovered MURDER ON THE EMERALD SEAS [1974] and co-directed DERANGED). The eventual “phantom of the movie theater” scenario shaped up nicely and the filming began in Kingston, Jamaica in October 1989. Unfortunately, Ormsby’s version was much darker than what the financiers were expecting and Orsmby ended up leaving the production after a few weeks of filming (apparently the only remaining footage in the film of his are the retro films within the film). Another casualty was lead actress April O’Neill (HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS [1989]), who was replaced by budding scream queen Jill Schoelen (THE STEPFATHER [1987]). Clark mentioned to Fangoria that they approached three veteran horror directors who passed on the project and that he even shot a few days before PORKY’S actor Mark Herrier stepped in as director. Despite all this work to salvage the film, Clark also eventually had his name removed from the final film while Ormbsy is credited for his screenplay as “Tod Hackett.”

Rare Variety production listing with 
Orsmby credited as both co-director and writer:

Originally aiming for a fall 1990 theatrical release, POPCORN was eventually put out a few months later in February 1991 by new indie distributor Studio Three Film Corporation. The company surprisingly got the film into over 1,000 theaters and the good news was it ended up being the highest debuting new release that weekend. The bad news is it still only came in 8th place at the box office with a haul of $2,563,365. Hey, at least it did better that Buena Vista’s RUN (1991) with Patrick Dempsey. POPCORN quickly disappeared from theaters with a small haul of just $4,205,00. Studio Three had only one other theatrical release before folding, the drama-romance RICH GIRL (1991) in May 1991 starring Jill Schoelen. Damn, did her dad own this company? Anyway, POPCORN eventually found its audience on video and developed a true cult following. It holds a special place in my heart as it was the second R-rated feature I drove myself to alone to see in the theater (for my eventual biography you will write, the first one was WARLOCK [1991]). The film’s cult has only grown over the years; so much so that a special edition DVD/Bluray of the film is coming from Synapse Films sometime in the near future.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Newsploitation: Burt Reynolds Goes Two-for-Two on Xmas

Merry Christmas! It seems only appropriate on the day that celebrates the birth of our Lord that we post about Burt Reynolds. Acting since the 1950s, Reynolds became a bonafide worldwide star in the early 1970s with films such as DELIVERANCE (1972), SHAMUS (1973), WHITE LIGHTNING (1973), and THE LONGEST YARD (1974). Reynolds was so in demand at that time that in 1975 he accomplished a feat few screen actors have ever achieved - he had two films from two separate studios open on the same day...and both were hits! Yes, today we celebrate the box office birthdays of HUSTLE and LUCKY LADY, both of which came out forty years ago on Christmas 1975. 

HUSTLE was the first to go before cameras, starting in November 1974 and re-uniting Reynolds with his YARD helmer Robert Aldrich and co-star Eddie Albert. It is a cop thriller, the first police flick for Burt since FUZZ (1972) a few years previous. Like FUZZ with Racquel Welch, this paired up Reynolds with a international hottie in Catherine Deneuve. The supporting cast is a who’s who of great actors including Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson, Eileen Brennen, and Paul Winfield. Principal photography was completed in early February 1975. Reynolds spent some time off after the film to consider his next project. Haha, just kidding. The dude launched into filming LUCKY LADY for director Stanley Donan that same month.

Reynolds had signed on to LADY right around the time HUSTLE started filming and it was a 1930s set comedy-drama about some booze runners in the Prohibition era. Jeez, can you hear this project been greenlit after THE STING (1973) nabbed 7 Oscars in April 1974? In fact, Donan was already hoping to ride THE STING’s success as he announced in February 1974 that he was seeking Paul Newman for the lead role. Later Warren Beatty was tossed around as possibly Newman’s co-star. But casting the males leads was tough, even though LADY was scheduled to originally begin filming in October 1974 in Europe with Liza Minelli already secured for the female lead. As mentioned before Reynolds was snagged in November 1974, but his filming of HUSTLE pushed LADY’s production back into 1975. His male co-lead was initially George Segal, who was also signed around the same time in late 1974. Segal, however, wouldn’t last long on the project and exited in early 1975. In a pinch, Donan and 20th Century Fox reached out to Gene Hackman. Hackman took the job because, as he has often said in interviews since, he would have been a fool to turn down the amount of money offered to him (reportedly $1 million dollars). LADY shot in Mexico and Fox announced the wrapping of principal photography in Variety in July 1975.

Hackman autographed pic to Burt recently sold at auction that reads 
"I generally only have one finger down my throat but this picture needs 4."

Now the race was on - Paramount was handling HUSTLE and Fox was ushering out LUCKY LADY. And, as mentioned before, they both were aiming for Burt fanatics’ wallets on Christmas Day (HUSTLE did open in L.A. on December 17). Surprisingly, LUCKY LADY was the bigger hit of the two, bringing in $12.69 million in U.S. rentals (roughly a haul of $25 million at the U.S. box office). That is surprising as in the 40 years since LADY has become the more obscure of the two (thanks mostly to Fox refusing to put the film on VHS in the ensuing decades). HUSTLE did almost as well, hustling up $10.39 million in rentals (roughly $20 million). Accordingly, both films placed in the top 20 of the year’s box office hits. Amazingly, Reynolds had another big hit with W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS (1975) earlier that year in May. 1975: It was a good time to be Burt.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

December to Dismember: A CADAVER CHRISTMAS (2011)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Video Junkie house, not a creature was stirring, not even a computer mouse. While Tom has keep the lights on by burning lots of Christmas movie coal, I’ve slacked on my end. It is due to a combination of lack of Xmas cheer and the fact we’ve burned through a lot of bad holiday flicks over the years (FEEDERS 2 [1998], I’m looking at you). Video Santa obviously felt some twinge of sadness at my feeble state and decided to reward me. Instead of getting another lump of shot-on-video coal in my stocking, I got an honest-to-goodness surprise present in A CADAVER CHRISTMAS.

Kicking off with the simplest premise, CADAVER opens with Eddie (Ben Hopkins) serving his lone customer Tom (Hanlon Smith-Dorsey) in his bar on Christmas Eve. Trouble falls into their lap when a bloodied janitor (Dan Hale) stumbles into the bar (how many times have I heard that joke?) and asks for the restroom. Eddie is justifiably alarmed and calls in the local law enforcement in Sam (Yosh Hayashi). Arriving on the scene, Sam encounters a series of living cadavers in the parking lot and decides the best course of action is to haul everyone - including his recent perv arrestee (Andrew Harvey) - to Mt. Peacemore University to get to the bottom of this (Sam has his own reasons for this peculiar action, which I won’t spoil). Through a series of flashbacks, the janitor tells of how he was working late in an old building that houses the lab of Professor Hildencress when he was suddenly attacked by the reanimated dead. Trapped in the magnetically locked building, the group must now figure out how to survive the attacks of these shuffling zombies. Er, sorry, cadavers.

I actually bought CADAVER last Xmas season with the intention of reviewing it then but my laziness kept me from meeting such a tight deadline of 31 days. The film flew into my radar when I was looking for Christmas themed horror films and I saw the trailer on Youtube. Full disclosure - it was one of those trailers done up in the faux grindhouse style with fake scratch lines and cheesy narration, which I normally loath. But something about the film transcended that; director Joe Zerull displayed a inventive visual style akin to a young Sam Raimi (RIP) and Peter Jackson (RIP) and it had a kicking, John Carpenter-esque score. Most impressive of all, there were jokes in the trailer that were actually funny. Not in the standard “haha, we’re making a bad movie” winking manner, but in an actual “we set this up and followed it through” manner. So, I bought the DVD, let it age like fine wine for a year and finally gave it a spin. And, honestly, I’m glad I did.

Yes, you read that right, I actually liked a recent, low budget horror/comedy zombie film, a genre beaten to slow death in the last decade. Shot in the wilds of Iowa, CADAVER sets itself aside from the horde with a funny script and several hilarious lead performances. One of the great things about films like BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) and EVIL DEAD 2 (1987) is that the filmmakers inserted comedy (mostly through cocksure lead characters) but never let the events fall into parody. Zerull and company were obviously inspired by those films (look for nods to both in the film) and expertly walk that fine line in a script concocted by Zerull, Hale and Smith-Dorsey. There are some great scenes that get punctuated by some genuinely funny lines (“He stabbed Eddie in the neck with a desk!”) and some visual gags that actually made me laugh.

Credit should also be given to Hale (who also produced as Daniel Rairdin-Hale) for his committed performance as the janitor. He really holds the events together and everyone feeds off his energy (it should come as no surprise that several of the actors are trained theatre professionals). If you do end up purchasing the DVD, do yourself a favor and watch the half hour “making of” documentary that chronicles how this film went from a 48 Hour Film Project to a two-week shoot to something that spanned two years. And marvel at how everyone on the small crew wore several hats. For example, Hale was not only the lead, but also doing the makeup effects. So not only did he have to keep his character’s thought process straight, but also had to keep continuity on his constantly bloodied face (spoiler: they do an amazing job). The behind-the-scenes is a true testament to the commitment these guys had for their little horror film and will remind you of something a young guy named Sam Raimi (RIP again) and his crew did in the wilds of Tennessee in the late ‘70s. In fact, the only misstep I can find with CADAVER is the aforementioned fake film scratches added to the movie. I know it is the hip thing to do in the post-GRINDHOUSE (2007) world, but CADAVER didn’t need it at all as it can boldly stand on its own two feet. The film ends with a coda promising more adventures from the janitor and I certainly hope to see him mopping up more monsters in the future.

Friday, December 11, 2015

December to Dismember: A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY (2015)

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear? Not one, but two great Christmas horror movies in just this one year!

You know how every year you sit around the yule log, trying to avoid going into epileptic seizures from the Christmas lights and wishing that Santa would bring you a Canadian tax shelter horror movie like back in the '80s? What? Am I the only one? Regardless, those wishes have come true this year. Not only do we get a big budget Charles Band movie with KRAMPUS (2015), but now we have a slickly produced, and much more subversive, anthology from the jolly old elves with the Canadian government.

Three interwoven tales comprise this anthology with the wrap-around "host" of Christmas-lovin' DJ Dangerous Dan (played to perfection by William Shatner in a surprisingly nice hairpiece). Dangerous Dan is hosting a string of Christmas carols while rambling about how great the Season is while spiking his egg nog with some Christmas spirits. He is also dealing with a bitter and angry weatherman Stormin' Norman (George Buza), who is going down to the local mall to cover some local color, but isn't terribly happy about it.

On Christmas eve, we three teens (who are not very wise), decide to investigate the brutal, ritualistic murder that took place at a boarding school one year ago to the day. After watching a secret police video that shows an officer Peters (Adrian Holmes) doing a walk-through of the crime scene, complete with a crucified male corpse, a hanging female and a cryptic bible passage written in blood on the wall. Since the video was taken Peters has been on leave and the trio decide that they need to sneak in and make an investigative video talking about the still unsolved crime. As it turns out, the school was once a catholic nunnery that took in girls who got pregnant out of wedlock. One notorious case was of a girl who died a horrible death after attempting an abortion. After stumbling across what appears to be Joe Spinell's idea of a nativity scene, comprised of crudely made-up mannequins, the group find themselves locked in and slowly starting to go mad. Or is it a malevolent spirit of Christmas trying to manipulate them?

Meanwhile, that same night, officer Peters, his wife Kim (Oluniké Adeliyi) and son Will (Orion John) decide to go out to the woodside and poach a Christmas tree (hey, you can poach animals, why not trees?). Presumably this is due to the fact that Dad has been out of work for a year after hearing voices at last year's crime scene.

While the folks cut down a tree, 8 year old Will hides in a hollow tree trunk and when he comes out, he seems... different. The first clue is that Will is really grumpy. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Christmas dinner consists of spaghetti and meatballs. Seriously, who does that? Oh yeah, the cop who has been out of work because he lost some of his marbles at a crime scene. Fair enough. As the evening goes on things get worse. Will stabs dad in the hand with a fork and checks out mom while she showers (ok, all at once - eeeeeewwww!). Out of nowhere Kim gets a call from a strange old man who tells her that her son is not her son and that things are about to get worse if she doesn't bring the boy back to the grove. Thinking the guy is a fruit cake (yeah, yeah, boo!), it takes some seriously bloody shit for her to start believing that the old codger might be right.

Also meanwhile on that same night, a family of entitled, upper-middle class assholes lead by dad Taylor (Jeff Clarke), head out in a snowstorm to make a four hour trek to visit his estranged aunt Edna (Corinne Conley is excellent old age make-up), who nobody likes. She of course reciprocates this sentiment and is not thrilled to see them show up on her doorstep. Once inside, 12 year old brat Duncan (Percy Hynes-White) intentionally smashes a figurine of Krampus, which causes them to get kicked out of the house where they discover what happens to bad families on Christmas.

Running throughout these intertwined tales is a tale about Santa (George Buza) who is having a problem with the elves. Seems there is an infection spreading throughout the north pole turning happy little elves into demonic imps who refuse to eat cookies and instead want to nosh on flesh. And who can blame them? Santa is remarkably well marbled. Santa has had just about enough of this crap and, with staff in hand, finds himself engaged in a bloody battle to not only rid the workshop of the possessed workers, but save his own skin too. This culminates with a kischy, but not too over the top battle with Krampus himself. So yes, the cover does not lie, in case you were wondering. This also leads to a great twist ending, but I'm trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible. The camerawork and sets for this story in particular are very stylish and surprising for a DTV movie, and even more surprising is that this entry was directed by by Steven Hoban, who has been known for producing, not directing, genre films such as the well-received sci-fi / horror drama SPLICE (2009).

With three different directors (Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan), five writers and stories that overlap characters, things are kept far more interesting than they would have been if they were all padded out to separate films. Matter of fact I'm really surprised that they weren't made into separate films because considering the DTV stuff that's been coming out these days, seemingly even the thinnest of premises can be stretched out to feature length. Because the stories are intertwined, that means that, aside from driving Shane Bitterling crazy, you get all of the endings to all of the stories in the last 20 minutes or so of the film. This mechanic is particularly satisfying as if one of the stories has a weak ending. If you don't like one, there are still three others and one of them, again no spoilers, is pretty damn awesome.

CHRISTMAS HORROR is surprisingly good for a direct to video genre release, particularly when lesser films (how many PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies have their been?) get full, nationwide releases here in the US. Fortunately CHRISTMAS HORROR received publicity that money can't buy. Walmart, in an effort to appeal to their trailer-trash base, would only carry the movie if it were called "A HOLIDAY HORROR STORY". That's right, fearful of the folks who would be furious about a movie that defiles the baby Jesus' fictional birthday, they ironically perpetuated the alleged War on Christmas by replacing the offending word in the title, substituting another word that would give Fox anchors aneurysms. Of course the people who buy horror videos don't give a crap about any of that political rhetoric and mercilessly derided Walmart's fumbling attempt at censorship. The big upside of this is that maybe the extra sales will spur on more quality indy films from Canada Film Capitol. And more drunk Shatner. Definitely more drunk Shatner.

While one story feels like an episode of AMERICAN HORROR STORY, it makes up for its few faults with solid, straight-faced performances from all concerned, plus stand-out performances by George Buza and William Shanter, who is genuinely funny as Dangerous Dan, whose only real danger is embarassing himself on live radio. Stay tuned when the credits roll, as we get some extra footage of Dan attempting to respond to listener calls into the station.

Perhaps my expectations were extra low due to KRAMPUS THE CHRISTMAS DEVIL (2013), but the nice production values, solid acting and lots of practical effects (and Shatner) won me over. Maybe I wasn't so naughty this year after all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

December to Dismember: KRAMPUS (2015)

Joy to the world, the Krampus has come! Well, sort of.

Back in 2007, Michael Dougherty's Halloween anthology movie TRICK 'R TREAT quietly slipped in under the radar and became something of a cult favorite - and I am using the term "cult" as it was intended, not as a substitution for the word "exploitation". Dougherty's enthusiasm for the genre was tempered with solid performances and a clever script mechanic that has a set of the anthology stories and a wrap-around that are interwoven, instead of being isolated into separate sections and at separate times. Things happen that seem like non-sequiturs, and later you find out how they tie into the story. It was gory, darkly humorous, well acted and unpretentious. It feels like the movie that Anthony Hickox's WAXWORK (1988) should have been.

Aside from a couple of mediocre graphic novel tie-ins with both TRICK 'R TREAT and KRAMPUS, many reports of the off again, on again sequel TRICK 'R TREAT 2, Dogherty has done a whole lot of nothing for the past 7 years (does a FEARnet short count?), but finally returns with a Krampus movie! Well, sort of.

Playing out like a mash-up of GREMLINS (1984), INVADERS FROM MARS (1986), CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989) and a big budget version of DEMONIC TOYS (1992), the story is this time told in a linear fashion (much to Shane Bitterling's relief). An upper-middle class level-headed, loving family (I was going to say "normal", but realized that was a contradiction) in which 12 year old Max (Emjay Anthony) still believes in Santa. With only a couple more days until Christmas, he hurriedly scribbles off a letter to Santa, but doesn't get a chance to mail it before his trailer-trash relatives descend on his house bringing with them a whole mess of passive and overt aggression.

At dinner one of Uncle Howard's (David Koechner) daughters taunts Max by stealing and reading his letter to Santa causing a fight to break out at the dinner table. So upset by this and the rest of the family bullshit, Max rips up his letter and throws it out into the night. No sooner than the wind whips away the bits of paper, than a blizzard hits town killing the electricity, gas and phone service. After his sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) fails to return after attempting to go see her boyfriend down the block, the miss-matched family members begin to realize that something is seriously wrong. Something that alcohol can't fix.

While Max's unbelievably sweet German omi (Krista Stadler) seems preoccupied, perhaps even a little obsessed with tending the fire, we find out that she has been harboring a dark Christmas secret for these many years. When she was a child, Christmas became so awful that she gave up hope of being happy and threw her Santa doll on to the fire wishing that her parents would disappear. That night a blizzard hit the town and a massive, horned devil wearing chains and bells came and took her parents away. Shortly after divulging the details of her secret, evil elves and toys descend on the house picking people off one by one.

As much as KRAMPUS is not the follow-up to TRICK 'R TREAT that people were hoping for from Dougherty, it is a solidly played and slickly executed little film. Koechner plays his patented bombastic asshole and even the kids nail their parts. The thing that really hurts the film for someone who enjoyed TRICK 'R TREAT is that it is feels like a Spielburg production that went missing in the '80s. On the one hand this is a good thing because the film is played completely straight and the bits of humor that are in the film come from the characters and situations and not the filmmakers winking and pointing out that they are making a stupid movie and don't take it seriously. It also doesn't flop to the opposite end of the spectrum and play out with exaggerated emotions and over-long sequences dwelling on people crying in anguish (what I like to call "crying porn"). It also is not over-produced. The CGI is used appropriately with only one obviously computer generated sequence. These things, without question, put this movie heads above the usual horror fodder that hits multiplex screens these days.

Unfortunately, after enjoyably setting the stage, the film fumbles the horror element. The PG-13 rating is probably the softest PG-13 film in recent years. If this had been released with a PG rating in the early to mid '80s, it would have been a relatively soft PG. If you are expecting the dark, bloody antics of TRICK 'R TREAT you will not be with KRAMPUS. The horror elements are not scary to an adult, but to an 8 year-old audience, it's probably right on target, which is fine because this is definitely aiming for "dark family movie" territory much like GREMLINS did.

Annoyingly the title character is barely even in the movie. You get quick glimpses of him through-out the film, but it is his minions that do all of the dirty work. While the minions (and the big K himself) are mostly practical effects, they tend to look like Japanese noh masks with no articulation at all. They are cool to look at, but by the end of the movie, they start looking like people in costumes. On the other hand, at least we don't have scenes of Kramps roaring into the camera with CGI spittle flying everywhere.

While personally I prefer THE REF to A CHRISTMAS STORY when it comes to subversive Christmas movies, KRAMPUS is a great little film if you are out to see a big budget PUPPET MASTER (1989), but it could have been edgier.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

December to Dismember: KRAMPUS THE CHRISTMAS DEVIL (2013)

Since we all know that Christmas is actually a pagan holiday and not Christian at all... Wait, let me rephrase that. Since we all, who are not members of the Republican party, know that Christmas is actually a pagan holiday and not Christian, it only makes sense that there is more to the myth than just a jolly old bearded fat guy. Matter of fact he was never really a fat guy until he came to the New World and, from what I understand, ordered his first combo meal.

The origins of the holiday had no patron saint at all. It was a Roman festival called Saturnalia, that allowed all manner of harm to people or inanimate objects to run free without penalty of law. Frequently this entailed heavy drinking, eating, sexual indulgence (consensual or otherwise), and culminated in ritual human sacrifice in the belief that this would purge the evils from the rest of the year. Even worse, people were encouraged to sing naked in the streets (presumably after the heavy drinking). When Christianity began it's campaign of opiating the masses, the festival underwent a name change to Christmas and decided to arbitrarily attribute Jesus' birthday to it, but was unsuccessful in changing the behavior of the celebrants. In the 1600s Christmas was actually outlawed by the Puritans, as they knew damn well Christmas had nothing to do with Christ. Be sure to remember that the next time you hear some assnugget bitch about Starbucks cups.

Several hundred years after the Christian revision of the holiday, a Turkish Saint was thrown into the mix, in another attempt to change the nature of the holiday. Be good all year and Saint Nicholas will bring you some fruit. Hmmm, get hammered, eat too much and screw everything that moves for two weeks, or get a fruit-basket on one day. Tough call. Because lawmaker Sir Issac Newton decreed that any action requires an equal and opposite reaction, we know that Christ must have an anti-Christ. Or as Butthead said, "you need stuff that sucks to have stuff that's cool". So we have St. Nicholas who gives edible prezzies to the good little kids, but in parts of the German-speaking world (where else?) the anti-Santa is Krampus. Originating in the 1600s, Krampus is a horned demon with cloven hooves and long tongue who whips naughty children with birch branches and throws them into a basket worn on his back to take them to hell, or in some cases to be drowned. I bet there were some really well behaved kids in Vienna. No wonder Freud got his start there. While Krampus was popular through as late as the 1950s, his popularity fell away during our modern times... until now.

A whole host of Krampus movies have descended upon our allegedly enlightened civilization this year, but the first modern attempt at a feature-length Krampus movie, aside from the appearance in the excellent RARE EXPORTS (2010), was released two years earlier.

Fair Warning: I know this is going to sound like entertaining cheese, but I assure you it is not. Really not. Because of this, I am spoiling the shit out of it.

Opening in 1983 a little boy is slowly dragged off to a hole in the ice where a figure in a Santa hoodie dumps the kid in the icy water and promptly wanders off, not noticing that the kid simply hops out of the water and goes home.

Flash forward to present day, where the little boy is now police detective Jeremy Duffin (A.J. Leslie), aka "Duff" (as in the beer?), who is all keyed up about a rash of child disappearances.

Working on his own time in a special missing persons room that all good cops have, Duff has discovered that the disappearances are not just local, but have been happening all over the world every 10 years. Of course his captain (Richard Goteri) is more concerned about another kid that has reported missing this morning. So urgent is this that Duff jumps on it, by putting together his team of AMERICAN CHOPPER rejects that night at a bar, so that they can go out in the morning to look for the kid. Remember this is urgent so we want to get started while the trail is fresh... a full day later! Basically Duff's planning consists of telling the guys to only have two beers, then going home and hitting a bottle of whiskey while looking at his missing chidren's posters. Oh and because he is supposed to be a rich guy who is only a cop because he loves the job, he drinks the good stuff - Gentleman Jack. Yeah, I too thought that was the shit too, back when I was a teenager.

With planning like that how can this search fail? A team of three guys, no dragnet, no dogs, no back up. Oh, and they are all dressed in black, but to help them camoflauge themselves against the bright, white field of snow, they wear big snow-camo shirts under their flack jackets. Oh jeeze, where did they go? It's like they are invisible. Uhhh, yeah. So while trudging through a small patch of snow suddenly they see a dude in a robe with long hair who simply turns around and walks away as soon as the boys start shooting. He then shows up out of nowhere, promptly kills one by stepping on his face and takes the other two to his lair. Yes, Krampus has a lair. It's not a bad lair, as lairs go, I mean he's got plenty of books to pass the time and what appears to be an exotic dancer (Angelina Leigh) chained up for when he gets tired of reading.

Krampus talks like a Speak & Spell fronting for a '90s death metal band and realizes that Duff is the little kid that got away from him 20 years ago. Before he gets a chance to kill him, Santa (Paul Ferm) arrives. Or at least I think it's Santa. It must be some sort of pre-christian Santa as I have never seen one in modern times that has a goatee and raccoon eyes from wearing sunglasses. Santa decides that there is more important matters to attend to, because Duff's daughter is actually a serial killer who has been the cause of the missing children. WHAT?! Yep, after a long lecture to a little boy in a wooden cage, Santa says "if you ever do anything like this agian, HE is going to terminate your life!" and lets them go.

So this is when the Krampus action is going to kick into gear, right? Kramps is obviously going to settle his vendetta with Duff and capture the killer kid, right? Right? Right? Nope! Now Duff heads over to his favorite bar, where he gets his ass kicked by a bunch of cops who are mad at him for getting the other two guys killed because he had a hunch back at the office (ah, POLICE SQUAD, how I miss you). Though, I guess they never realized that the fact that the two cops were killed proves that his hunch was correct and maybe they should have gone with him. While this is going on, an ex-con child-rapist, Brian Hatt (Bill Oberst Jr.), has seen one too many home invasion movies and with his white-trash friends, one of whom is so much of a badass, he hasn't had time to finish the tribal tattoo on his arm, holds Duff's wife Rebecca (Erica Soto) hostage while he noisily eats cookies and drinks milk in her face. Forget waterboarding, this shit is torture! One of his buddies goes upstairs to rape the teenage daughter. This must be the first time he's done it because he decides the best way to go about it is to, I am not making this up, lie down on the floor in front of her!

Of course Duff arrives to save the day asking his wife "did they hurt you" to which she responds "no" simply because she hasn't seen the finished cut of the movie. Kramps arrives late to the party, strangles Hatt with his hands, strangles Rebecca with his chains, grabs the daughter and roll credits. No seriously that's it. Oh except we still need to pad out the running time some more, so let's do a blooper reel in the end credits. Note that I didn't say "with" the end credits, because we need to pad out even the padding! Interspersed with the slowly appearing credits are some outtakes that I'm sure were hilarious if you were one of the guys in the movie, but otherwise are random bits of unamusing nonsense. The highlight being when Leslie stumbles during a take and then turns it into a breakdancing routine. Uhhh, yeah.

This movie is essentially a weekend, back yard, shot on video affair that puffs itself up to be like a real movie with great poster art and lots of pretentious titles, like putting "A Jason Hull Film" in the opening credits. In addition to production values that are outclassed by the Zapruder film or any modern wedding video, writer/director Jason Hull can barely even figure out how to stretch the meager content to a feature running time. Did I mention relentless padding? The drawn-out opening sequence is interspersed with credits managing to rack up an impressive eight minutes of your life. Hull lets some scenes go on way past the cut-away point by encouraging his actors to repeat simple lines, presumably in order to lengthen the scene. Nearly every scene has someone saying something like "Understand? Do you understand? Understand? Understand?" or "Get him! Get the fucker! I want you get him! Get him!" It's like having your teeth cleaned at the dentist - at first it is tolerable, but after a while you just want a mouth to shut.

In addition Hull eschews cut-aways in favor of the amateur favorite fade-outs and fade-ins. Some of these fades are so long that I expect a commercial hawking Burl Ives albums to start up at any minute. The cynic in me wonders if the long periods of black between scenes is simply another way to pad the movie, but after sitting through the umpteenth out of focus sequence, I realize that it's just sloppy incompetence. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but if you are shooting on video you have no excuse for leaving in out of focus shots, or in one case, an entire scene!

Of course having this effort professionally distributed and purchased by the unsuspecting masses (Amazon is actually sold out at the moment) means that we've all been very naughty and Krampus is giving us something horrible next year. A sequel. We must have been really naughty to deserve such punishment.