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!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December to Dismember: TALES FROM THE GRAVE 2: HAPPY HOLIDAYS (2005)

While compiling our preliminary list of Christmas horror titles, we knew things were going to be grim. After all, we’ve covered the “normal” staples in the past (the SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT sequels) and reviewing classics like BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) or CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980) would offer little insight. We knew we would have to dig deep and, let’s be honest, it was going to be brutal. Looking over our selections, one called out to me. It beckoned my bleak soul. Yes, it was the crappiest looking one. You see, I was immediately drawn to a shot-on-video anthology as I’ve loved anthologies since I was a kid and first saw CREEPSHOW (1982). Who cares if it is shot-on-video? An anthology is usually good for a at least one cool segment, right? A seven dollar eBay purchase later, I was good to go and worked TALES FROM THE GRAVE 2: HAPPY HOLIDAYS into my life. Goddammit!

I should have known I was in trouble the moment the video opens with a wannabe HBO TALES FROM THE CRYPT opening as the camera dashes around a graveyard (in daylight!) toward vault door. Those poor folks buried under the tombstones are about to find out death wasn’t their last indignity. Inside the tomb is a Crypt Keeper-wannabe (labeled the “Old Crone” in the end credits) who conjures up tales from her crystal ball. Full disclosure: My DVD has part one on it, but I figured I could swing part two without watching that; so I’m not sure this character is returning. Anyway, the backlit-to-hell host offers us five stories where “each victim is the creator of their own demise.” Oh, so it is like Since it carries the subtitle HAPPY HOLIDAYS, it is safe to tell you all of the stories centered around a holiday.

Now due to bravery (or stupidity) I made sure to watch the first four segments and not just skip to the Christmas themed one. After all, I need to get into the film’s groove. So I’ll give you a quick rundown of the other four entries: “Love Bites” centers on Valentine’s Day and a nerdy guy who thinks he is a vampire; “Luck of the Irish” is about St. Patrick’s Day and a guy in Ireland hoping to catch a leprechaun; “Trick or Treat” focuses on some teens who resurrect a mummy on Halloween; and “Meat the Family” is a Thanksgiving set story about a guy going to meet his girlfriend’s family. This all leads to “Angel,” the fifth and final story set on Christmas Eve.

The story begins with Angel (Shana Bempechat) and Sean (Amir Navison) driving to her parent’s house for the Christmas holiday. As cinematic law dictates, anyone driving to relatives on the holidays has to be arguing and these two do that a lot. Sean feels he doesn’t measure up to her dad’s standards because he doesn’t have money and is nothing but a “lousy teacher.” Hey, if you are a bad teacher, I’d hold it against you too. Haha. After they argue for five minutes straight, they make up and then get into a car crash (which means the crew shakes the camera). A certified Chicago city folk, our lovebirds are completely helpless out here in the wild go looking for a house. They stumble upon a brightly lit up abode and knock on the door. Grandma Patton (Eugenia Care) answers and lets them in to meet Grandpa Patton (Dan Henderson) and mentally challenged Leroy (Paul Howard). B-movie logic dictates they don’t have a phone, but Grandpa offers to drive them into town in the morning. Naturally, something is amiss in this scenario and I’m not talking about the filmmakers insistence that the leads never ask to clean their wounds. Yup, this family is suspect because they have a big Christmas tree. “Now why would anyone want a tree that fucking big,” muses Sean. Sitting down to a big family dinner, our leads can’t help but wonder why Leroy is so anxious to decorate the tree and later Sean spots a phone on the wall. Something is wrong with this family for sure. Well, I’ll spoil it for you: Yes, the old folks are killers and decorate their big ass tree with the severed limbs of their victims. They kill Sean and Angel and then put her head on the top of the tree. Get it? She’s the angel at the top of the tree. I got nothing.

Now we’ve reviewed a lot of crap these past two weeks, but this is a whole new level of bad. TALES FROM THE GRAVE 2 is a terrible film tornado, storming onto our blog and blowing those other movies to bits. I never knew how good we had it until this film assaulted my DVD player. SANTA CLAUS VS. THE ZOMBIES? THE ELF? Come back! I didn’t mean all those terrible things I said about you. I know I’ve used this before in my writing, but this is beyond terrible. You know bottom of the barrel? Pick up that barrel, dig deep into the ground for about ten days and that is where you will unearth TALES FROM THE GRAVE 2. Believe it or not, I am actually familiar with director/co-writer/producer Stephanie Beaton. You see she was Detective Lutz in three of the legendary WITCHCRAFT sequels. Those acting turns were obviously her best work, which should let you know how freakin’ terrible TALES FROM THE GRAVE 2 is.

I honestly don’t know how someone can pool their resources together to make a movie (not an easy feat) and yet make something so shockingly mundane. Every scenario is so by the numbers that it almost feels wrong not posting this on National Mathematics Day (all credit to Tom for that line). I mean, the Thanksgiving segment is called “Meat the Family” and has a girl taking her boyfriend to meet her family for the first time. Can you guess the twist? Each segment is the equivalent of sitting 10-15 minutes while your uncle tells you a joke you know the punchline to the second he starts. Who sits around and conjures up such stories thinking they are going to surprise anyone? This was Beaton’s fourth (and last) film. She debuted with the first TALES FROM THE GRAVE (2003) and co-starred in her first three films, but isn’t in this one. Think about that - she opted not to be in front of the camera this go-around, so she had more time to focus on the filmmaking. I can’t. I just can’t. A holiday themed anthology is a fantastic idea. A holiday themed anthology from one of the co-stars of three WITCHCRAFT sequels is a terrible one. The only enjoyment you can possibly derive from this “film” is that I suffered through it. Avoid as much as a Christmas fruitcake.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

December to Dismember: THE 12 DEATHS OF CHRISTMAS (2017)

As the multiple title cards tell us, in almost, in 1921 Belgrade, 12 days prior to Christmas, several children went missing in the local woods. One was found, but was a complete fruitcake who screamed "the witch!" before shuffling off the mortal coil. In 1992 it happened again, except the children were found with their throats cut. Now, it's happening again. Or maybe not as the actually plot of the film seems to contradict this narrative. Hoo boy! Why does Christmas have to be so painful? Not for the kids with the slit throats, but for us, your humble, underappreciated movie jerks.

The movie starts out promisingly enough with a bored 7 year old boy noticing that there is a line of candy leading through the church aisle right up to the front door. Unfortunately for him a black robed figure quickly snatches him through the door as soon as he has amassed a small nuclear arsenal of sweets. Now that's just mean.

Now, let's forget all that for a moment. Or two. Or really quite a very long time. Suddenly single mom Vanessa (Claire-Maria Fox) and her rather sullen 11 year old daughter Amy (Faye Goodwin) head out to spend Christmas with Amy's Grampa Alfie (Tony Manders). It seems that Amy's dad Wildon (Tom Bowen), who appears to be about 23 years old, has just taken off to go be with his even younger girlfriend Debbie (Dottie James). Naturally this leads to a plethora of earnest, heart-to-heart conversations that get more and more dramatic as the movie goes on (and on, and on).

Apparently the church swiping incident is not the only kid to disappear in the past couple of days and something must be done about it! When there are things that must be done about, humans will invariably create and join some sort of group of like-minded, sweaty, eye-rollers who do little more than bitch and fight with each other. Art imitates life here, with the group getting together and setting up a murder wall in the local church. Clearly you couldn't set it up at Starbucks. Seemingly headed up by Leslie (Michelle Archer), Grampa Alifie's estranged wife, Leslie and Alfie seem to have some dark secret in their past which leads us once again to teary, impassioned pleas from Vanessa to get Gramps to open up. Trust me, these scenes of emo excess go on forever.

Maybe your are starting to see what I'm getting at here. It it seems like writer/director/etc James Klass' goal in life is to make Lifetime-style family dramas with plenty of tear-stained emotional scenes of people speaking from the heart. Actually I probably am doing a disservice to Lifetime as we get some incredibly cliched moments when Dad suddenly shows up at the house with new squeeze for Christmas. This leads us to scenes with lines like "you traded me in for a newer model!" Ugh. Bet you're wondering what the hell happened to that hooded figure? Me too!

Actually the "witch", or Frau Perchta as the legends name her, pops up every now and then to quickly snatch some kid or just be seen kind of hanging out in the distance. To be fair, in the middle of the movie, she does attack the daughter of one of her killers and turns her into a crucified, internally-lit Christmas display. There is also some sort of subplot about a strange symbol that Amy draws in class that is somehow related to the witch. Unfortunately even though it is posted on the church board and is explicitly pointed out, we never find out what it has to do with anything. There's a lot of potential here, but the script definitely needs another polish. Or two. Or twelve.

It's not till the end of the movie where things suddenly get... odd. Up til now, we've had a competently shot-on-video family drama, that while completely tedious for someone who expected something in the realm of horror from something whose title starts out with "12 deaths", is at least in focus. Once into the final streach, the Witch (Tara MacGowran) does some horrible things like peeking in windows and painting "12" on Gramps' door for no explicable reason. Outside of the title, there are no twelve deaths to be found in this movie. She also tries to tempt Amy to come outside the house with a cat. You know the Witch is evil because the cat is hairless. Maybe it should have been called "ONE MIIIIIIILION DEATHS OF CHRISTMAS".

Deceptively marketed as MOTHER KRAMPUS here in the US, with the same cover artist and similar tag line, to tie in with Jason Hull's abysmal KRAMPUS movies, this has absolutely nothing to do with Krampus and actually has more in common with Freddy Kruger. Apparently the Witch was lynched by a mob of villagers who accused her of killing all the kids back in '92 (although the villagers clearly are the same age and have the same hair styles in the flashbacks). *Spoiler Alert* Of course the Witch was innocent of the crimes and was falsely accused by the real killer and has now returned to fulfill her curse on the killer and everyone who strung her up, back in ye olden days of Nirvana and princes who were apparently unaged in the land of Bel-Air. What does that have to do with 1921 Belgrave? Not a friggin' thing, as far as I can tell.

"Wait!" I hear you say "that's not much like Freddy Kruger!" Even if she does have a messed up face and campily licks an axe? What if she cuts off pieces of someone's skin using a gingerbread man cookie cutter? Not enough? What about if one of the people she kills, she decides to dress up like a giant Christmas turkey? No, seriously, that happens. Actually prior to that, the Witch stabs the girl in the neck with a candy cane, but after a little lie down, she's fine. No really, she's ok after having her artery punched through and losing about a quart of blood. This being a British movie, I'm surprised she wasn't cured by a cup of tea. Is there anything that a nice cuppa can't fix? In addition to the very few and very goofy deaths, Klass has the nerve to do a play on the tediously classic line from ALIENS (1986) and have Vanessa yell at the Witch before delivering the coup de grace, "get away from her, you witch!" Oh, it hurts! It hurts!

At first it seemed like we would be getting a well made, if low budget, Christmas horror story, but after quickly sliding into a morass of emo drama and throwing in some starkly contrasting cheeseball horror with very little of it thought through, it ends up being both annoying and unsatisfying. I'm not sure what Klass was thinking except maybe it was a way to sell some DVDs and get his foot in the door of the entertainment industry so that he could follow his passion for family drama. Nice box art though, even if it looks suspiciously like the art for Shout Factory's much anticipated SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT (1984) blu-ray.

Friday, December 8, 2017

December to Dismember: THE ELF (2017)

First off, I want everyone reading this review to look to the left and take in that amazing artwork. Kudos to the graphic designer who made that. It is colorful and vibrant. Most of all, it caught my eye when I stopped at a Redbox outside a grocery store. You did your job, mystery designer, and you did it incredibly well. Feeling the sense of adventure I had in my video store youth (and also feeling a tinge of guilt that Tom was suffering through all these modern Xmas horrors), I clicked the “rent” button, swiped my credit card, and soon had the disc in my hand. Damn you, mystery designer, damn you!

THE ELF opens with a short prologue of an old toymaker seemingly making his latest toy. But there is a twist as it is revealed he is actually sewing up the lips of a dead child. He has a naughty list on his table and something enters his home. Whatever it is, it scares him to death and his list is snatched by something with a monster hand. If you are hoping this is explained later, sorry. Cut to the present day where Nick (Gabriel Miller) and Victoria (Natassia Halabi) are checking out a antique toy store he has inherited. And by checking out, I mean cheeeeeeeeeeeeecking out. Lots of long shots of them looking at stuff. Victoria finds a photo album filled with photos of people holding the same toy (we never get a close up of the pics as apparently that was too much work) and a inventory book that is empty. Nick wanders into the back and finds a trunk that has inscribed on it “Whoever accepts this gift will be the soul of its contents.” Shit, better open that right away. Inside he finds an evil looking elf doll holding a knife and a naughty list.

Also inside are instructions that the owner can remove one name from the naughty list and Nick gets a occult seal magically burned into his left arm. Probably enough red flags to get Nick to leave the little figure behind.

Driving home we learn that our lead couple has issues. Victoria asks Nick if he wants to marry her (just like real life) and this results in an argument (just like real life!) that she has never met anyone from his family. Along the way home Nick stops for a one car accident and the driver (a dead ringer for Burt Young) is acting all weird. The logic of this movie dictates Nick just leaves and Victoria says, “What was that? Let’s not talk about it.” Sounds about right. The couple arrive at their newly inherited home (17 minutes in and it still hasn’t been establish who bequeathed all this stuff) and Nick is freaked out when he sees the elf on the shelf. And by freaks out I mean he stares wide-eyed at it for a long time. You see, Nick has an issue with Christmas. Victoria settles this by stuffing the thing in the trash. Nick goes to a take a shower and promptly freaks out when he has a flashback. Seems when he was a kid something really bad went down at a Christmas party at his house. Got to give the filmmakers credit here, the flashback is well done and the best part of the movie thanks to some surreal imagery (like a white Xmas tree in the middle of a lake at night) and staging (everyone at the part stands still as a young Nick walks through them).

With our lead struggling mentally, it is probably not best that Victoria has secretly invited her entire extended family to surprise Nick, offering the elf six new victims. Even worse it is Christmas Eve and a big storm is coming so everyone is stuck. First to get offed are grandpa and grandma after good ol’ granddad gets a hankering for some good ol’ USA liquor and not of that “Greenland shit.” The elf catches them in their car and kills them. Nick and Jeremiah (Joseph Daniel Ellis), Victoria’s brother, head out into the storm to find them. We actually get an interesting twist here as Jeremiah beats up Nick and tells him to call off his relationship with the sister. You see, the family doesn’t approve of Nick (for reasons I’ll explain in a sec). Of course, before Jeremiah can finish his pummeling, he is killed by the elf. Yay, elf? Back at the house, Victoria’s dad John (Lassiter Holmes) tells her he did some research on Nick and it turns out he is a survivor of the “Christmas Eve Massacre” from a few decades back. Turns out a bunch of party guests and Nick’s dad were killed and only Nick and his mother, who is now in a mental institution, survived. Just as dad finishes his plea, Nick pops back in rambling about a killer elf doll. And here we go!

Damn, did I already curse the poster designer? Okay, guess it is time to pile onto writer-director Justin Price. The script he has provided THE ELF has such a wrong headed logic that it is baffling. Very early on I knew something was off when I realized he hadn’t even established such basic tenants as character relations. Even funnier are muddled moments like the idea that a family that knows about Nick’s psychotic past would all show up for a surprise party all smiles. Later, when they reveal the truth to Victoria, her mother says, “We just didn’t know how to tell you all this.” Apparently neither did Price. To compound the shoddy screenplay problems even more, there is actually an interesting scenario that could be exploited within Price’s work that is totally avoided. Nick’s mental state could have the stock victims wondering if he was really the killer. Or, even better, maybe it could be his now crazy mother? You know, keep the audience guessing. Nope, the only sense of mystery you will get from this script is how did it get made. I’d excuse it as a novice filmmaker misstep, but according to the IMDb this is Price’s twelfth directorial effort. Goddamn, dude.

The script’s unsteadiness extends to Price’s direction as well. Hey, at least he is consistent. As an example, we’ll showcase the scene where Victoria’s mother is attacked by the elf. No joke, she enters a room and the elf slices her achilles tendon. She collapses to the floor and starts crawling around and looking for what did this to her. What is the one thing she doesn’t do? SCREAM! You know, shout something like, “Help me! I’m being attacked!” seeing as she is in a house with other people. Nope, getting attacked requires complete complicity from the victim. This might be the most egregious victim reaction I’ve ever seen in a horror film. Hell, maybe her vocal chords are in her ankle? Even worse, she finds Victoria’s cell phone when her friend Sky calls. She whispers that they are being attacked by someone and Sky’s first reaction isn’t to say, “Let me call the police right now.” Nope, she answers with the much more important, “Okay...what does he look like?” Sweet Jesus! Then again, I shouldn’t expect much from a filmmaker who has a scene where Christmas carolers show up, the dad opens the door as they are singing, and they cut to an establishing shot of the house where they aren’t there (to compound this error, when the elf attacks the group, he does make sure to have a shot of them outside standing there). Of course, we’re easy folks here so some bad ass elf attacks would put Price’s piece on our “Nice” list. Nope. Just choppily shot action scenes with minimal blood. Is there anything positive to say about THE ELF? Well, it was shot in Texas but Price didn’t use that excuse to be lazy and not show a winter storm. Yes, he actually makes an effort to create a snowy landscape. Also, the design of the elf is kind of cool (not as cool as the poster though, dammit!). If only it had been featured in a better movie. In closing, we suggest leaving THE ELF on the shelf (or in the Redbox machine).

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

December to Dismember: KRAMPUS UNLEASHED (2016)

It seems like only yesterday when the old-world legends of the anti-Santa, Krampus, were almost completely unknown to Americans. If ever there was a great idea for a horror movie, it's a big, horned beast that punishes people for being bad, or in the case of the movies, just being alive, during the Christmas holiday. If this sudden burst of interest had happened 30 years ago we would have had movies crammed into the newly minted multiplexes by major studios and indy production companies with some reasonably big low budgets. Now, in the days of studio domination, the tent-pole obsession, and reports of $100,000,000 in weekend box office receipts being deemed a "flop", all we get is some schmuck who talked some townies into throwing in some cash on his shot-on-video, direct to DVD, horror flick that desperately tries to be a drama with some horror thrown in, or desperately tries to be a nod-and-wink movie that attempts to cover up their incompetence by making an intentionally "stupid" movie. Grim days indeed.

A couple years ago we covered a couple of Krampus "films" and shockingly one of them, KRAMPUS (2015), actually made it into American cinemas, the others, not so much (for a rundown of the history of Krampus, check out our review of KRAMPUS: THE CHRISTMAS DEVIL [2015]). One of the movies that didn't make the cut was KRAMPUS: THE RECKONING (2015). It was so awful that I couldn't even bring myself to talk about it. Not only was it just gruelingly dull, but it was lazy, with the title creature rendered in clunky, cheap CGI. Written, produced, directed, etc., by Philly native Robert Conway, who has been plugging away at poverty-stricken SOV horror films since 2004. You'd think after 11 years he would have got something right. Knowing this, I put on my game face and steeled myself for his latest effort, KRAMPUS UNLEASHED.

Opening in 1898 (we know it's the wild west because everybody has a Texas accent), a group of surprisingly well groomed cowboy types are on the hunt for the legendary outlaw Erik Klaus' cursed treasure stash. Apparently they have narrowed their search to the top of a hill and after digging a hole they find a very small box containing a rather large black stone. Unfortunately for them, the stone has something to do with summoning Krampus and everyone is quickly dispatched by a large, shambling - hey, wait, is that practical effects I see?! While I'm not sure why Krampus has a blue face and the box art blatantly lies like a dog, Conway immediately garners my good will by not only offering a real dude in a rubber Krampus suit, but disemboweling and a few other assorted acts of mayhem in legit latex and kayro glory! See? I'm not so hard to please.

Cut to present day, in the middle of the Arizona highway, after credits that include an astonishingly awful rendition of "Let it Snow", that I'm pretty sure was done by the same kind of guy who thinks he's pretty awesome whistling "Jingle Bells" in the freezer section of the local supermarket. On the road, we have a family of annoying people, headed up by dad Will (Tim Sauer), who talk about how much they don't like their relatives driving out to a ranch house in the middle of nowhere for Christmas dinner. Great, so already we know that this is going to get irritating really quick. Also on the road is an even more annoying family, headed up by David (Daniel Link), who stop for gas and run into a couple of local yokels who are on the hunt for Bigfoot. This is much to the amusement of David's obnoxious son Troy (Taylor Buckley), who records them with his cell phone and exclaims that it's going to "go viral". Oh man, not even 19 minutes in and already I can feel my good-will fading fast.

Once everybody gathers at the ranch house, we get a bunch of annoying people, being annoying during Christmas. Seriously, one of the reasons I watch movies during the holidays is so that I don't have to think about annoying family get-togethers. One of the exciting things they decide to do is go panning for gold in the local creek, as one is want to do over the holidays, and Will's son Tommy (Bryson Holl) finds no gold, but does find a large black rock - the Krampus stone! Meanwhile local cop Dan (Dujhan Brown) is checking up on ex-girlfriend Bonnie (Amelia Brantley) and generally being a creep in the nicest possible way. Oh, and Troy leaves a cigarette next to the Krampus stone, so that apparently summons him. Well, not like he appears right next to the rock, but sort of within several miles of the general vicinity. Ok, we are 30 minutes in and I've lost all of my tidings of joy.

I think the subplot involving the rednecks hunting Bigfoot is supposed to be the comic relief with lines like "Darwin was like a thousand years ago!" and an exchange that I still don't understand in which one says "I guess you are right" and the other replies "no man, I am right!" Uhhh, what? Fortunately for everyone involved, Krampus shows up out of nowhere and kills them.

Not content with just the yokels, Krampus then stops by Bonnie's place and literally tears her boyfriend in half, leaving both halves of the body on the ground loosely connected by random bits of entrails. My interest is suddenly revived. Bonnie unloads a shotgun into Krampus and seeing it has no effect, runs over to the ranch house where she tells everyone that her boyfriend has been attacked and killed! To which Grandma Henderson says "Bonnie, why are you dressed in your bathrobe?" Ah, a relic of the old days, back when you were expected to dress respectably before running over to the neighbor's house to report the grisly murder of your significant other.

With IQs like this swimming in the family gene pool, it's no wonder that the men folk decide that upon hearing this news, they should... do what? Bolt all the doors and windows to keep the families safe? Nope! They decide the best plan of action on hearing that there is a bestial killer on the loose is to "go out and take a look"! Naturally they find what they are looking for and Krampus tears them limb from limb with blood and body parts flying everywhere. David manages to run back to the house and tell everyone that Will and Dale are dead but with the same gene pool in effect, Nana and Will's pregnant wife Alice (Linda Cushma) decide to take 11 year old Tommy out to go look for the guys! "Hey, everyone has been ripped apart! Ok, grab the kid, let's take a look." Makes perfect sense. Of course this leads to Nana and Alice being slaughtered by Krampus while Tommy runs back to the house in a state of high perturbedness.

The remaining family decide to take it to the road and run into a grey-haired retiree named Coop (Kerry Keepers), who just so happens to be one of the men in the prologue. A (20-something year old) man who according to the movie was about 15, which would make him about 134 years old! C'mon people, it's fucking basic math! But I digress. Of course, ol' Coop knows everything about Krampus and comes up with a way to kill it. As expected, since we are in hillbilly country, this involves dynamite.

While I haven't seen Robert Conway's other movies leading up to this, aside from KRAMPUS: THE RECKONING, I expect this is probably the pinnacle of his career. I can't really say that this is a movie worth watching, but after KRAMPUS: THE RECKONING and both KRAMPUS: THE CHRISTMAS DEVIL movies, I will say that you could definitely do worse. Sure, the directing is flat, the acting is on the level of a community playhouse and the plot is sloppy and unfocused after a promising, if budget starved, opening, but it does deliver genuine latex splatter the likes of which I haven't seen in a low-rent DTV flick in a long time. This is something that the aforementioned movies couldn't be bothered to do, and I guess that's as much of recommendation as you are going to get.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December to Dismember: SANTA CLAUS VS. THE ZOMBIES (2010)

Remember when you were a kid how exciting Christmas morning was? How you couldn’t wait to open all those cool presents you knew you were getting, but you also had to open the “standard” stuff like a toothbrush and clothes. Don’t get me wrong. As an adult I appreciate everything I receive, but as a kid you couldn’t wait to tear open the latest STAR WARS toy. But first you had to deal with stuff like tan corduroy pants. SANTA CLAUS VS. THE ZOMBIES is the cinematic equivalent of tan corduroy pants.

The film opens with Phil (Claude Miles) and Jen (Alex Del Monacco) expecting company for Christmas dinner. Attendees include Jen’s daughter Randy (Kayla Perkins) and boyfriend Todd (John Cory Stringer), Jen’s parents Dick and Dora, and Phil’s daughter Cass (Cassidy Rae Owens). The latter is a bit of a troublemaker as she is delivered home by the school principal after causing an explosion in science class (remember this!). While everyone is in the kitchen, Todd turns on the radio and a news bulletin mentions people nationwide are having reactions to the diet drug dopatrihydrozine (remember this!). Also, nerdy Phil gets a new carburetor for his car project and goes with Cass to work on it (remember this!). Jen apparently takes Christmas VERY seriously as she has hired a Santa Claus (Billy W. Blackwell) and three elves to hang out in the family home for pictures. Either these people are really weird...or my family has been doing Xmas wrong for a long time.

Anyway, tensions erupt over the evening when Dick casually mentions he bought Phil’s little computer repair business and wants to install Todd as the manager. Phil naturally freaks out and throws his in-laws out (it’s a Christmas miracle!). While at the front door, Dick and Dora are attacked by a random dead dude and it is on. Yup, the “carb crave killer pill” has been turning folks into the undead. A horde of zombies descend upon the house and all hell breaks loose until Santa falls out the front door and the zombies stop attacking because they “recognize” him. He is brought back into the house and everything is boarded up (naturally, shown offscreen). Later, Dave (Dave Haney) - one of the elves who thinks he is a real elf - theorizes that Santa must be the real Santa because, uh, yeah. When a zombie breaks into the house, Santa finally discovers his (snow)balls and takes the thing out. Hey, maybe he is the real deal.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Lucius T. Moore (Tony Armstrong) is holed up in his bunker getting updated on the worldwide crisis. He is told an estimated 30 million people in the United States are now brain dead husks of flesh who only act on their base instincts. Soooooo, how is this any different from normal America? General Dornan (Reaper M. Jones, if that is your real name) has set up the Z.E.N. (Zombie Eradication and Neutralization) Force and advocates the nuclear option to handle the undead problem. All of this changes when the Emergency Broadcast Network (apparently run by one guy in a small room) gets in touch with Phil via his ham radio. When informed Santa Claus is among the group, the President decides to rescue them to lift America’s morale (“What better Christmas gift to give the American people than rescuing Santa and his elves?”). Jesus, don’t let Trump ever hear of this plan. Dornan has other ideas and targets missiles meant to eradicate the zombies to Phil’s house because, well, fuck Santa, right? Actually, the dubious General is planning a coup because that is what dubious Generals do in times of war.

Things at Phil’s household haven’t been going too well either. Todd turned zombie and bit Randy, who also quickly turns and gets her mother. Thankfully, just as this zombie duo is about to attack Santa and Cass a bomb hits the house, making Santa think he really does have magical powers. Hey, isn’t this film called SANTA CLAUS VS. THE ZOMBIES? Any chance we can get some of that action going on? While the President handles the coup attempt, Phil’s crew head in the garage to fix his truck and use his daughter’s brains to construct a zombie cannon. Aren’t you glad I asked you to remember all that stuff earlier in the review? The President - whose daughter is playing with a "pet" zombie - tells them to make it to the high school for a helicopter rescue. Will this ragtag crew make it? And will Santa ever fight some zombies?

Born in the bowels of Kentucky, SANTA CLAUS VS. THE ZOMBIES comes from the mind of writer-director George Bonilla. His name actually sounded familiar to me and, amazingly, I had seen his first directing efforts in the shot-on-video horror anthology PIECES OF DARKNESS (1989). He did two segments in that and I was so impressed I deemed it “totally worthless unless you want to see late 80s Tennessee captured on video” in my IMDb review. Well going across state lines (, witness protection?) apparently doesn’t help as Bonilla’s low budget effort from 21 years later is just as bad. Now don’t get me wrong - just because something is low budget doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and well made. Hell, look at A CADAVER CHRISTMAS (2011) that I reviewed a few years back. That was tons of fun and exploited a great idea to its fullest potential. This film has the germ of a great idea but fails on every level to get the most out of it. Seriously, close your eyes and imagine a zany movie done in a Sam Raimi style with a Santa Claus running around bashing zombies. That would be awesome, right? Well, now close your eyes and imagine a film where Santa doesn’t start taking on zombies until the 92 minute mark of a 99 minute movie. And that action basically involves Santa shooting some zombies in the butt with his super-cannon gun and then kicking one in the nuts. Anybody going in with visions of ass-kicking Santa in their head will be sorely disappointed.

Like I said, there is the seed of a great film here. Unfortunately it wasn’t within Bonilla’s grasp. At one point the President says of the rescue efforts: “I want something...anything...good to come from this.” You and me both, pal. Bonilla’s handling of the execution is so poor that I almost started to feel sorry for him. Who sets a movie in the dead of winter, yet captures trees in full bloom in the background? Sure, they filter on some computer snowflakes and whistling wind sounds during the (few) outdoor scenes, but failing to capture the winter mood is a big no-no-no. Of course, we are talking about a filmmaker who does a bombing scene with no explosions. Also, the including of the subplot with the President and his war-hungry General drags the film down. Bonilla obviously has seen DR. STRANGELOVE (1964) but it is hard to pull off that kind of Kubrick-ian parody of war room dynamics when you have actors straight out of Kentucky community theater. All I wanted for Christmas is a simple movie my brain dreamed up when I saw the (admittedly) great title - bad ass Santa wandering around with a baseball bat, flamethrower, machete, shotgun or something and taking it to the zombie masses. Instead I got a movie filled with scenes like the one where Santa cries to the EBN guy about not fitting in with his family and their dry cleaning business. Yes, really. There is also a subversive and visceral joy to be culled from a diet drug gone awry plot. Think BODY MELT (1993). Imagine people suddenly foaming at the mouth as they turn into zombies. Nope, none of that here. Just standard ol’ “slap on some grease paint” on 99% of the zombies appearing. Hell, this movie is so damn cheap that they make a big plot point about fixing Phil’s car to get to the rescue point...and they never show the car once! All that said, I hate to end on such a negative note so let me point out the one genuine moment I got a chuckle out of this film. When the President is being briefed on how all the digital communications are down, he suggests going to an analog signal. One underling responds they can’t and says, “We told everyone to get rid of their analog sets. It wasn’t green enough.” That is the one silver lining on these tan corduroys.

Friday, December 1, 2017

December to Dismember: KRAMPUS 2: THE DEVIL RETURNS (2016)

 As you may have the unfortunate luck to remember, two years we talked about a few Krampus movies and leading off the much exploitable Mass of Christ was Jason Hull's shot-on-video, mind-dullingly incompetent KRAMPUS: THE CHRISTMAS DEVIL (2013). It was by far the most brutally tedious chores to sit through that I have endured in a long, long time. And I sat through DRACULA: LIVE FROM TRANSYLVANIA (1989). Well, I say that, but KRAMPUS: THE RECKONING (2015) was so bad that it didn't even get reviewed. And if you know us at all, you know that is bad.

Apparently ITN made enough money off of suckers digging though Walmart bargain bins that three years later we have been blessed with a follow-up that has no idea where it's going. Oh, and this write-up will be full of spoilers, but really, I'm doing you a favor. If you read this, you won't have to watch it.

Opening with a scene in which a couple of jackass kids are busting up an unoccupied house, after finding beer just sitting out on the counter (!), the titular devil apparently takes offence at the fat kid spray painting "Mary X-Mas" on the wall and promptly... well, does nothing because we fade to black and get a lengthy title sequence. So lengthy, in fact, that the opening and ending credits comprise almost 10 minutes of the scant 80 minute running time. I'd say that was a good thing, but the movie portion is 70 minutes that goes on so long that it makes BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017) seem like a sizzle reel.

Once again, it is a White (trash) Christmas in whatever town this is supposed to be and our biker-bearded Santa (Paul Ferm) is working the local mall or portrait studio and having bratty teenagers sit on his lap and ask for videogames. Santa is apparently one of those progressive tough-love types and says that the kid should give his thumbs a rest. After yanking on his beard, in a bizarre reference to MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), and calling him a phony, the kid goes down on Santa's naughty list. And you know what that means! It means that eventually, when the screenwriters (yes, there are two) get around to it, Krampus is going to bag his ghetto ass! As it turns out, literally.

Apparently, in the time between films, the town has been in an uproar over the constant disappearance of children that the police have been at a loss to explain. This Christmas handfuls of people are rioting around the police station making things so bad that, yes, they have no choice but to bring back ex-officer Jeremy Duffin (A.J. Leslie). You may unfortunately remember that Jeremy's daughter was taken by Krampus leaving him an obsessed, frequently out of focus, suicidal cop who tracks down the Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber of the Bon Noel.

During the years after he quit the force, Jeremy has grown hair and a beard, setting the scene for the "back in business" sequence where he is convinced to go after Krampus and Santa (who, again, is working in a public place) because they found his daughter's cheap-ass bracelet dangling off of a bush. This could only mean one thing! She's still alive and Jeremy must shave off all his hair while muttering to himself in the mirror, for a very, very long time.

Ironically considering the title, but not so if you've actually seen the first movie, Krampus barely even figures into the plot and could have been left out entirely. Mainly he wanders around looking like a yuletide homeless guy (when you can actually see him!), peeking in windows and pissing off The Clause who reads him the riot act about his "rouge bullshit", straying off the list. These two knuckleheads hang out at an abandoned house outside of town where they keep all the kids that they have napped. Some are in cages, while some are just sitting on the floor, within easy reach of the door to freedom, just waiting for Santa and Krampus to return to dish out some whippings. Fuck it, these kids are idiots and don't deserve to escape.

Just when you have come to grips with the tedium, director and co-writer Hull decides that he's bored with these characters (possibly more so than the viewer) and decides that he wants to make an entirely different movie about a biker guy named Stuart (R.A. Mihailoff) who may be some sort of gang boss, or maybe not, we are never told. What is explained is that, in the last movie, Stuart's brother (the short, skinny home-invader who looks nothing like Mihailoff) was shot by Jeremy, so now he must have his revenge! Why has he waited three years to wreak his wrath on a guy who lives in the same freaking town? Who knows? But he does, and his master plan is to send a couple of guys and his apparently stripper girlfriend, Natasha (Melantha Blackthorne), out to a bar that is the hang out of the entire police force, to kidnap him and take him to the old abandoned house outside of town. Can you see where this is going? Yeah, after a while it'll get there.

Of course these geniuses, once in the bar, realize that trying to kidnap a cop in the middle of a thriving bar filled with cops, may not have been the best possible strategy. This leads to a female cop (Tiffani Fest) chasing down Natasha and engaging in the most embarrassingly clumsy cat-fight ever staged. Yay? It also features the most idiotic dialogue of the movie (which is saying something) during this ho down - err, I mean, throw down. Says Natasha "my mom always told me to fuck what you kill!" I'll leave you to make sense of that on your own.

During the arrest in the bar, one of the perps drops his car keys which leads to Jeremy finding a cell phone in the car with the address of the abandoned house that he was supposed to be taken to on it. If this was a real movie from the '70s or '80s they would have just had a car-chase that lead there and none of this contortionist scriptwriting. Wait, wasn't this supposed to be a Krampus movie?

Arriving at the abandoned house Jeremy is promptly knocked out and tied to a satanic alter while a topless girl in a plague mask humps him and carves an infinity symbol in his chest. After waking up, we find out that not only was it not a dream, but the girl who is doing the humping is his daughter! What? Wait, what?! This culminates with a slow-mo shoot out between the white trash guys and the, uhhh, white trash guys, that is so poorly staged and doesn't even bother to splatter any blood on the victim of a shotgun blast to the chest. Maybe Maihailoff's paycheck dipped into the squib and fake blood budget... or Jason Hull is just the laziest motherfucker ever.

After everyone except Jeremy is dead, Santa blames him for ruining his family life by shooting his daughter and the infinity symbol is representative of the fact that "this will never end". I may have started weeping in despair at this point. I really, really wanted it to end. Santa and the Krampmas gimp wander off leaving Jeremy tied to a chair and the audience dreading another sequel. No, really, that's it. You're welcome.

Brother, if anyone deserves to be on the Naughty List it's Jason Hull. He actually manages to make a Christmas horror film that is barely Christmas and almost not at all horror the second time out. It seems like he realized that nobody would pay for the pathetic cops vs biker film that he wanted to make, so he stuffed in a few scenes of Santa and Krampus and called it KRAMPUS 2. Not that the original was much better, but it did feature a little more of the X-mas villains, so I guess that's... good, maybe?

You know the old joke that goes "at least it's in focus"? Unlike the first one, I can finally say that (mostly) about this one. Yes, Hull has learned how to focus his video camera, or at least do retakes when his shots are blatantly blurry and in that respect he has grown as a film - uhhh, I mean videomaker. This time the sound levels aren't equalized. While one scene is fine, the next is will be so quiet that you have to crank up the volume to hear the dialogue and then wonder why the hell you bothered. In addition to that, he still can't write, choreograph, or really any of the other things that typically go into a writer/director's job. There are people out there who start off in video who you want to see grow as a filmmaker. Unfortunately I don't have enough time in my life to see Jason Hull grow into a competent filmmaker and neither does he.