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!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

This Bud's for You: WE ARE ANGELS: FINALLY WE FLY (1997)

When we last left off with convicts-turned-fake-priests Father Orso (Bud Spencer) and Father Zach (Philip Michael Thomas) they were sitting down for a feast in the tiny village of San Rolando. As the second episode begins, they have settled down and decided to help the people. They are planting flowers, offering sound spiritual advice, and content with their newfound status as religious figures. Ha, just kidding. Zach is ogling nekkid girls down at the waterfall (including his main object of desire, Lupita) and Orso is thinking of ways to get out of this hell. The opportunity arrives when their superior Father Campana (Renato Scarpa) entrusts them to take village-made pots ‘n stuff into the city to cash in with a Campana’s contact in the city. Unfortunately, the deaf-and-dumb Father Raphael is tagging along for the ride up river on the riverboat owned by McQuade (Alfie Wise). No worries, Orso thinks, they’ll just ditch him after they get the money for the trinkets.

Once in the city they head to visit Don Medina (Marc Macaulay, the Sheriff from the SWAMP THING TV series), who runs Medina Ecological Center. Oh damn, if ‘80s and ‘90s movies have taught me anything, any white dude running an “ecological center” is totally putting toxins in the water. After receiving a cold shoulder, Orso and Zach squeeze Medina to pay top dollar for the items, resulting in $4,000 cool dollars to fund their escape into Panama. However, Medina isn’t on the up-and-up and gets his muscle to get the money back by demanding 100% unloading fees. This results in a funny scene where Spencer tells them that is fine, but they have to pay him for getting off the boat and using my air fees. The baddies don’t agree, so you know what the means. Head thumpin’ time courtesy of Sir Bud! With the money back in their grasp, they get some fancy duds and colored drinks. Always the letch, Zach asks a pretty waitress what she is doing tonight and she replies, “I’m committing suicide.” When he asks her about the next night, she says, “The same.”

Looking to make their escape via plane, the duo head to visit Sagreste (Max Herbrechter), a old prison friend of Zach’s who now works as a mechanic. He has a cessna plane for them, but needs $10,000 to get it into running (flying?) shape. They give him a $2,000 deposit and try to figure a way to get the rest of the money. Orso soon sees “divine providence” in the form of a local casino and they head in to scam the place with a pair of loaded dice. Unfortunately, Don Medina also owns this casino and doesn’t take kindly to losing more money to the duo. His thugs attack them in the parking lot, leaving them penniless and back in the last place they want to be - the village. Campana makes them give confession and, instead of condemning them, he suggests they go rob the casino holdings when it is going to the bank. What happened to that “turn the other cheek” stuff? “The Devil must be caught by his horns,” argues Campana. Hey, I’m down. By the way, if you think this “we have money/we don’t have money” stuff is getting out of hand, just wait.

Orso and Zach case the armored car heading to the bank, but when they burst in with their guns the place is empty. The go to the back and find everyone is being held hostage by...Napoleon Duarte (Kabir Bedi) and his revolutionaries. Viva la revolucion and holy episode continuity crossover! Duarte recognizes Orso and Zach as the men who helped him escape prison, so he thinks they are there to support the revolution. However, our faux friars ain’t having it and steal the armored truck with Medina’s right hand man, Escobar, in the back with the money handcuffed to his wrist. They guy gives up the loot rather quickly when they build a fire around the truck. Unfortunately, when they get back to Sagreste he has left a note that he is in the hospital. Not looking to board McQuade’s boat with a cool million while it is being searched, the resourceful Zach hides the briefcase in a Medina shipping container. Can you see where this is going? Yup, it is a race to find the case while both Duarte and Medina are popping up at every turn.

Sorry if that summary is a bit too detailed, but there really is a lot going on in this episode. It seems like every ten minutes the leads are gaining and losing their fortunes. But it makes for a fun, WHAT’S UP, DOC? (1972) style series of twists and turns. This one is a bit lighter on the action (sadly, no car stunts) but makes up for it with a big brawl at a warehouse at the end; watch for a totally random bit where Macaulay suddenly whips out some really impressive martial arts moves. With all the plot dynamics laid out in episode one, the series starts to find its groove with the comedy and characters here. Spencer is his usual Spencerific self and Thomas quickly grows on you as the guy who hits on every female in sight. Another recurring character is McQuade, the Scottish ship captain who is so Scottish he plays bagpipes when he pulls into port. As established in episode one, McQuade is always demanding money for every little thing. Just watch him here as he stares intently at the bills when Orso and Zach first recover their money. Another funny bit has Father Torment - a masochist who loves the act of religious contrition via pain - wondering if the missing Orso and Zach are being tortured by bad guys and mentions how he would gladly take their place. LOL! Another thing I really enjoyed about the ending of this episode is how Orso and Zach are finally rich and buy tickets to escape to Miami. Decked out in their flashy new duds, they get to the check in counter and are asked for their papers. “Details,” grumbles Zach. It is a good hook to make sure you tune into the next episode, which I guess I’ll do. Oh, also, just in case you were worried, it is revealed quickly at the end that in addition to being a crime lord that Medina also has been releasing toxic chemicals into the local water supply. Whew! I was scared for a minute there I’d have to contact the Movie Cliche Police. Crisis avoided.

Monday, February 5, 2018

This Bud's for You: WE ARE ANGELS: TWO FACE JAIL (1997)

As some of you may remember, a few years before the sad loss of the less immortal than I imagined European superstar Bud Spencer, we covered both of the DETECTIVE EXTRA LARGE (1992) series' of TV movies. It was Bud Spencer's first pairing with MIAMI VICE (1984-1990) star Philip Michael Thomas, who was oddly replaced in the second series, simply titled EXTRA LARGE (1993), by Michael Winslow of POLICE ACADEMY (1984-1989) fame. After EXTRA LARGE, Bud Spencer made the top-notch, in-spirit Trinity sequel THE FIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1994) before being reunited with Thomas for a new series, WE ARE ANGELS.

Moving from the presumably more expensive shooting location of Miami to the more budget-friendly confines of rural Costa Rica, Bob (Bud Spencer) and Joe (Philip Michael Thomas) are a couple of inmates in a grimy South American prison. Bob is in good with the guards for some unexplained reason who slip him cigars when the evil Captain Delgado (David Hess, clearly having a wonderful time hamming it up as the prison warden) isn't looking. Joe's method is madness, pretending to be a nut-case "rapper". Though he tends to sing rather than rap. Presumably this is the crime for which he was incarcerated.

A revolutionary group, lead by Napoleon Duarte (Kabir Bedi, Kamal's henchman in 1983's OCTOPUSSY) storms the prison and utterly fails to do anything but make a mess and gets himself slammed up with Bob. This annoys Bob to no end because he has an escape plan all set up and no wild-eyed rebel is going to keep him from bustin' loose! Adding insult to injury, Joe is apparently smarter than he acts. He's hip to Bob's jailbreak and tags along for the ride. After taking leave of Duarte, Bob and Joe decide that the best way to hide from the cops is by jumping a couple of monks who are headed to a small village for a stop-over before heading to the monastery. Of course the cops are completely fooled by this charade, but the other monks in the village are a bit suspicious. A black American monk from Rome in South America? What's suspicious about that? When the monks ask the padres about Rome, Joe says to Bob, "you know where Rome is don't you?" To which Bob replies "oh yeah, it's a suburb of the Vatican."

After getting to know the villagers more than they ever wanted to, Father Orso (Bob/Bud) and Father Zachariah (Joe/PMT) discover that young girls from the village keep disappearing when they venture out into the city. Just like American television, Italian television seems to have the same pining for the simplicity of country life. Cities are rife with evil, villages are sweet and wholesome. Actually this is a good thing because it gives Bob and Joe - err, I mean Orso and Zachariah - err, whoever, the opportunity to stumble across a criminal organization run out of a strip club by Mr. Madre. Wouldn't you know it, Captain Delgado is also part of the kidnap/drug syndicate as is the village shaman Quesada (Michael Berryman) who is the one doing all of the actual kidnapping. This gives us the viewer some much needed action with fight scenes, a car stunt and best of all, Bud Spencer delivering a knuckle sandwich to Michael Berryman's unfortunate mug.

Directed by Ruggero Deodato, a man infamous for his spate of gory jungle cannibal outings of the '70s and '80s, including the nastiest of them all CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), this mild-mannered series starts off by spending most of its 90 minute running time setting up the characters. Sometimes it feels like Deodato is a little lost doing an amiable comedy outing, but then again, he has another five movies to pick up the pace. On the other hand, the episode is surprisingly well shot with lots of split focus photography and genuinely nice looking shot composition adding some quality production value.

The jokes are pretty low-key with things like Bob getting excited about having arrived on the day of a village feast until he is informed that on fiesta days the monks take a vow of fasting. But there are plenty of laughs to be had, plus a few unintentionally funny moments. One of these has Joe attracting parishioners to the church by playing a rousing Southern Baptist-style gospel number on the organ (that has clearly been replaced with another song on the soundtrack), which is so rousing that it has the deaf priest dancing in the aisles! Apparently Bob and Joe really can work miracles.

As VJ co-conspirator William Wilson pointed out, writers  Lorenzo De Luca, Ruggero Deodato and Sandro Moretti use Neil Jordan's 1989 remake of WE'RE NO ANGELS starring Sean Penn and Robert De Niro as a springboard for Bud and PMT's adventures. In NO ANGELS, two cons escape the slams and take it on the lam disguised as priests. Same here, except here we have a touch of THE DEFIANT ONES (1958) thrown in as well as Bob and Joe are shackled to each other and on the run, like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, except, well, funnier. Tony Curtis should be so lucky as to draw comparison to the mighty Bud Spencer. As Hill and Spencer fans well know, there were a substantial amount of imitators, the best known being Michael Colby and Paul L. Smith's pairing for several movies including one titled WE ARE NO ANGELS (1975). It doesn't have anything to do with this series, but is an interesting side note.

Promising the likes of Richard Lynch and Erik Estrada, the opening title sequence sports another memorable little theme tune, sung by none other than Spencer himself. This means I'm going to be spending the next month humming it in the shower every morning.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

December to Dismember: GOOD TIDINGS (2016)

On this final day of 2017, we close out our look at uncovered Christmas horror with another solid flick. After some of the most brutal independent horror assaulted our retinas, the Movie Gods decided to give us a reprieve. Nothing sums up this battle of good and bad better than this quote from painter Bob Ross: “Absolutely have to have dark in order to have light. Gotta have opposites - dark and light, light and’s like in life, gotta have a little sadness once in a while so you know when the good times come.” Amazingly, Tom and I got these gifts at roughly the same time. While he was watching the entertaining ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015), I was taking in GOOD TIDINGS (2016). 

The UK was a particularly disappointing destination for us this month. After all, this is where one of the all-time classic Christmas horrors (the Santa segment from the original TALES FROM THE CRYPT [1972]) came from. Surely the Englishmen would do their country proud again. Well, with THE 12 DEATHS OF CHRISTMAS (2017) and CHRISTMAS SLAY (2015) as examples, they were not only doing their homeland a disservice, they were regressing the sub-genre they practically created. Thankfully Stuart W. Bedford swooped in at the last minute to bring us GOOD TIDINGS and remind us there is still some hope in the Limeys.

The film wastes little time setting things into motion as it opens with a drunk half-dressed as Santa stumbling toward his car. He is surrounded by three men with bandaged faces in hospital gowns and quickly loses his head...literally. The nutter trio pop the trunk of his car and find some Santa costumes with some of the most nightmare inducing masks. The plot proper begins with homeless Jon (Jonny Hirst) running into equally homeless Sam Baker (Alan Mulhall) while digging through a dumpster on Christmas day. While Sam fully admits he doesn’t trust easily, he takes Jon to a local homeless shelter/squat in an old courthouse run by Mona (Julia Walsh) and Paul (Garry McMahon). Of course the down-on-their-luck folks are all good hearted types, from the gruff-but-good-hearted Sam to recovering heroin addict Roxy (Claire Crossland). Naturally, Sam has a backstory and the former military man tells Roxy about how his life fell apart after his young daughter was kidnapped.

Danger soon rears its head(s) as the three killer Kris Kringles - who have been tooling around in the car they stole - arrive at the homeless shelter. Armed with an axe, machete and sharp candy cane (as any child can attest, the world’s most dangerous weapon), the trio lock up the main exit and sets a series of booby traps all over the building. Their timing couldn’t have been worse as Sam just brought up a phonograph from the basement and was going to play some happy Christmas music for an impromptu celebration. Cue massacre montage! (I’d probably prefer being killed than being forced to listen to Christmas music.) While the background hobos get sliced ‘n diced, our main characters split off into groups. Mona, Paul and Sam seek shelter in some cells, but see their problems compounded when Paul’s heart begins to go on him. Meanwhile, Roxy and Jon couple up and try to hide from the killers. The psycho Santas soon start capturing folks and, as movie logic dictates, the war-weary Sam must soon unleash his primitive self to fight back. As he says, “Sometimes a single man in the right position can be as effective as an army.”

Making his feature film debut, director/co-writer Bedford impresses with a film that is played completely straight. In lesser hands, this would have tried to be “retro” with film scratches added in post (my biggest gripe with genre cinema today). Obviously inspired by the cinematic works of John Carpenter, this could easily be called ASSAULT ON HOMELESS SHELTER 13 as it mirrors that “people trapped by anonymous killers” scenario pretty well. What I love here is that Bedford leaves the identity of the killers a complete mystery. Outside of their hospital outfits in the opening scene, there is virtually no backstory. Are they just escaped lunatics? Or is their a deeper connection to Sam? One scene might suggest that when one mentions Sam by name to Jon (in the only line of dialogue spoken by the killers). It is obviously an intentional (and brave) decision by Bedford and co-scripters Giovanni Gentile and Stu Jopia (who play two of the Santas). It is in the little details like this where Bedford shines. Another good example is when Roxy is helping Sam with his wounds and notices the scars all over his arms. A lesser film would have him launch into a monologue about his time in the service, but this just allows one tiny feature to do the “talking” for the audience.

Bedford also obviously studied Carpenter’s use of the widescreen format as there is some impressive staging. Not that he is implicitly copying Carpenter’s style as Bedford has his own shining moments. I particularly liked a scene where Mona and Paul try to get his medicine. They are confronted by one of the killer Santas and he just stands there and points his machete to tell them to go back to where they were hiding. He then follows them and the sounds of an attack are heard on the soundtrack as the camera holds on the empty room.

There is also a great scene where one of the Santas forces Mona and Roxy to pass a present back and forth. As they unwrap the layers (inside is Mona’s husband’s pill bottle), the tension gets greater and greater as the killer grows increasingly agitated.

Bedford’s handling is reinforced by a great score by Liam W. Ashcroft (who also played the third Santa). Ashcroft takes some Christmas standards and puts a nice sinister twist on them. For a low budget effort, the acting is great by nearly the entire cast. The cast for the homeless look appropriately downtrodden and Mulhall is a great casting choice for the lead. He certainly projects the weariness of the character and I was a bit shocked he only had a few shorts (including a couple by Bedford) to his credit. The three Santas also are given distinct “personalities” so you can tell them apart. If I had any complaint about the film, I thought the attack scenes could have used some more umph, for lack of a better term. Either it is the staging or the sound effects, but they don’t really pack the punch that they should. The big assault on the homeless folks around the 20 minute mark is a good example. For whatever reason, the tension isn’t really maxed out here and the attack just begins. That, however, is a minor quibble as GOOD TIDINGS (2016) is a welcome deviation from what has been a month of brutal viewings. Thankfully, like Bob Ross said, we can now appreciate the goodness thanks to bad times. The really really bad, soul crushing times. Happy new year!

Friday, December 29, 2017

December to Dismember: ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

After nearly a solid month of Xmas stinkers, you can hardly blame us for feeling like Bob Crachit on a bender, and wanting to kick Tiny Tim's crutches out from under him. Fortunately for us, we have been visited by some SOV ghosts that may not have driven us down MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), but more like Miracle on Ice (1980). Bruised but victorious against all odds. Yes, that's right, we have finally found something to like about modern Christmas movies (I say "we" because Will got one too). It ain't much, but I'll take it.

We open with a bunch of obnoxious kids wrecking someone's Santa mannequin on their front lawn. A pair of bare feet pad up, the owner of which is unseen, grabs the Santa mask used in the display and a random pair of hedge clippers that are, for no apparent reason, stuck in the lawn right next to the mannequin. So, someone left a mask and a sharp garden tool next to each other? Out in the open? Don't these people watch horror movies? That is straight up irresponsible.

Next thing we know, Santa is making some front-door visits (fuck all that sneaking in the chimney shit) to a variety of neighbors in the 'hood. And when I say "variety", I mean there are a lot of chesty women between the ages of 25 and 30 in this part of town. Maybe there's a strip-club somewhere down the block. The first stop gets a white trash mom and 8 year old son out of  (the same) bed to answer the door. After seeing Santa on the doorstep, the son promptly falls asleep on the sofa and mom finding nobody on the doorstep goes to take a shower. Both perfectly normal reactions. This gives our Santa the opportunity to use his brand spankin' new shears on mom in the shower. Ala PSYCHO, right? No, more like ala Franco, as he stabs her in the boob for starters. Santa's got issues.

Enter Rachel (Ashley Mary Nunes), a young woman who has dropped by the 'hood to visit her sailor-mouthed, hard-drinking, wheel-chair bound grandma who ends up coming off less like Betty White and more like an ex-biker skag. Rachel's other reason for visiting is to help her over-enthusiastic neighbor, Mrs. Garrett (Melynda Kiring) decorate her already Christmas overkill house. Little do they know that Mrs. Garrett has got some extra nuts in her fruitcake as Mrs. G carries on heated conversations with the various mannequins she has dressed up in festive Christmas garb and, as the girls discover, has another one in her bed!

We also get a hot lesbian couple who, just like in real life, apparently love the color purple and novelizations of old horror movies. Then there is straight couple who are about to bang a gong until the girl asks if the guy wants to get "adventurous". At this point I was afraid that large rubber novelties would be making an appearance, but no, she just wants to cuff his hands to the bed. Whee! Adventure! This of course give her the opportunity to leave the room so that Santa can come in and snip off his bouche de noel. For those keeping score at home, this makes a total of two weencapitations. Don't worry, this will all make sense if you watch the movie. As does the shot of Santa swiping a vibrator after impaling a showering hottie. Isn't that what we all want to do on Christmas? Come to think of it, people seem to do a lot of nocturnal showering in this neighborhood.

Rachel grabs a couple of her over-privileged (and young, and busty) friends, Sarah (Danica Riner) and Gia (Natalie Montera) to help her decorate Mrs. G's house while Mrs. G heads out on a date, which she assures them is strictly platonic. Hmmmm... wait a minute... is this a - what's it called? A "plot"? I've heard about those, but you'd never know it from what we've been watching this month. Yep, something creepy is going on with Mrs. G. She once had a daughter who nobody knows what happened to, and a husband who apparently has been in the slams for the past 15 years. What happened to the daughter? Why did the husband end up in prison? All of this comes together in an admittedly derivative, but surprisingly well thought out, climax and finale.

Written and directed by Todd Nunes, this appears to be Todd Nunes' second "feature" made with family and friends (Ashley Mary Nunes is his sister). It also appears to be the only one that has been released. For a semi-first timer, Nunes manages to impress. In Santa's spree around the 'burb, it feels a bit like yet another Santa stalker with some randomly strung together attacks. While fairly gory, they clearly are trying to stay within the realm of an '80s slasher movie. That said, when we get into the second half of the movie, we start getting a some stylish camerawork, effective nighttime lighting and is able to overcome some of the residual video look to create some impressive atmosphere. It's pretty amazing as this is the opposite of what usually happens with these low-renters.

While most of the acting is of what you'd expect from a low-level SOV DTV entry film, there are two stand-outs. Melynda Kiring, who plays Mrs. Garrett, may be a little over the top at times, but is nicely effective. Then we get side character, Cody (Jason Ray Schumacher), Rachel's whiny ex-boyfriend who keeps popping up and annoys the audience just as much as it annoys Rachel. (slight spoiler) In an irritating cliche, he is needed to help rescue Rachel at the end, even though it is totally unnecessary and having Rachel save herself from the psycho Santa would have been much more satisfying.

ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE, like CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD (2012), though different in tone, is another example of a movie that, in another day and age, really could have had a solid indy production, shot on film with quality actors, and become something of a cult classic. While Nunes definitely has some growing to do as a filmmaker, this one still gets more than enough right to make me look forward to his next movie. Reportedly just starting pre-production, the movie is titled DEATH WARD 13, which co-stars the one and only Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, which should be interesting in and of itself. It seems a bit ambitious, and a bit over-done, with a '70s mental hospital setting, but hopefully it will be a step up in production value with another solid story. In the end, with these SOV DTV flicks, you really can't really ask for much more than that.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

December to Dismember: YOU BETTER WATCH OUT! (2013)

Well, Christmas 2017 has come and gone. We hope you all got what you wanted and that it was a joyous occasion. And to all my Canadians out there, happy Boxing Day! Of course our gift to you was the resurrection of our December to Dismember reviews. So far this month we threw out nine reviews and that is more than the last year alone. Unfortunately, the score was one good movie out of those nine. Well, I’m certainly not about to break precedent with YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

Not to be confused with the latest horror darling BETTER WATCH OUT (2016), this is a horror anthology from (according to the IMDb) “the dark and twisted imaginations of Jay Byrne and Michael Welch.” I stumbled upon this title while looking for Xmas horror fodder and figured I’d give it as a present to myself while placing an order on Amazon. Spoiler: I must really hate myself. Hey, I braved TALES FROM THE GRAVE 2: HAPPY HOLIDAYS (2005) so I can do this. So I sat down on Christmas night to take this one in. Another spoiler: I’m a fuckin’ idiot.

The plot centers on three friends (Rich, Steve and Lori) gathering at Rich’s house before a big Thanksgiving reunion party to tell each other scary stories they wrote. Wait...Thanksgiving? But this film is called YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!, which implies it is about Christmas. Ah, the twisted imaginations of Byrne and Welch have decided this will be a holiday themed horror. Jeez, did these guys see TALES FROM THE GRAVE 2 and think, “We can do better than this!” So what we get are stories about Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s. Before dissecting the Christmas entry, I’ll quickly sum up the first and third entries. Rich’s story is “All Hallow’s Eve” and focuses on two scumbag drug dealers who beat up a kid who doesn’t have their money. They decided to seek refuge in a creepy looking house, where they encounter some paranormal activity before being killed by a guy in a plaid shirt. Lori’s story is “Auld Lang Syne” and centers on Old Man New Year living his final days of the calendar year in New England with a bitchy landlord. He is pissed he is going to be replaced, but soon finds out blood gives him youth again.

The middle story is the one we’ll examine for its Christmas content. It belongs to Steve and is twistedly and imaginatively titled “Here Comes Santa Claus.” This opens with a priest (Tony Medeiros) being enlisted by the Catholic Church to do a hit for them. It seems the church is pissed that Christmas has become too commercial with less of an emphasis on Christ and it is one man’s fault. Yup, the priest is hired to snuff out Santa Claus. “The power of Christ compels you to be creative,” barks the church head on how to snag ol’ Saint Nick. Creative he is as he hires a prostitute to seduce Santa (co-creator Michael Welch) when he shows up at a house. We then get assaulted with some bad Christmas sex puns as she tries to suck on Santa’s “candy cane” and begs him to “put that Yule log in my nice, warm fire place.” The offer of something for free other than milk and cookies stuns the jolly one for enough time to allow the priest to emerge from a room and shoot Santa in the head. For good measure he also pays the prostitute by shooting her. Hey, that isn’t very Christian-like.

Anyway, our holy hitman is now taxed with getting rid of Santa’s body and this proves to be a rather difficult task. Santa wakes up while being dragged out and gets a cleaver in the head for his troubles. While being dragged in the snow to be buried he arises again and gets stabbed a whole bunch of times. Thrown into a car trunk, Santa is driven out to the woods and buried. He still isn’t dead though and appears before the hitman’s car. He drives into him (at a tire screeching 5 miles-per-hour) and then proceeds to run over him several times. Naturally, Santa pops to life again (haha, take that, Jesus!) and is shot a bunch more times. The killer then says screw it and leaves Santa’s body in the woods before heading back to the church to get his payment. While at home with his loot, Santa reappears again and explains he can’t die because the energy of the world’s belief in him keeps him alive. So it is like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM 34th STREET. Realizing the game is up, the hitman puts his gun in his mouth and shoots himself to end the pain (I’m envious). The segment ends with Santa putting the Catholic Church on his Naughty List.

Filmed in the wilds of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, YOU BETTER WATCH OUT! is another one of those indie horror efforts where you think more “how did this happen?” versus “how cool was that?” The wrap around makes little impact with the bad acting, terrible dialogue and lack of impactful twist (spoiler: the three storytellers are eventually killed by the plaid shirt guy from the first story). That said, I can lay praise where it is due and I think there are kernels of decent stories in the New Year’s and Christmas episodes. The New Year’s one, in particular, has a well thought out idea (the Old Year being jealous of the incoming New Year) but is never fully realized. This one is shot...err, presented in black & white, so you know it is serious. Alas, it is the Christmas episode we are concerned with here and I’d say it is the best of the bunch. Is it good? By conventional standards, no. But like I said there is a germ of a good idea in there. It is actually quite subversive with the idea that the Catholic Church would be pissed off at Santa Claus stealing their holiday clout. And the idea of Santa coming back jolly (and increasingly bloodied) again and again after being killed is hilarious and Welch is a decent Santa Claus. Unfortunately, it isn’t handled with the kind of panache it requires. Imagining it in the hands of someone like a mid-90s Alex de la Iglesia and you have a winner. As presented it is just kind of there. I will give the filmmakers props for actually filming in snow and trying to get a Christmas feeling in this segment. I also liked when Santa opens the priest’s briefcase with his payment (“I’ve always wondered what the going rate for killing me is.”) and finds it full of communion wafers. Oddly, in this segment only the filmmakers do comic book descriptive panels similar to CREEPSHOW (1982), but abandon it in the other segments. The DVD cover art (see above) is also great and caught my eye, but it created scenarios in my mind that were more exciting. In fact, I think the most entertainment I got from YOU BETTER WATCH OUT! was seeing the only review written on it on the IMDb was by one of the co-directors, Jay (Jason) Byrne. Not only does he pretend he isn’t the co-director, but he also gives his own film an 8 out of 10. See! Even he wasn’t totally impressed.

Friday, December 22, 2017

December to Dismember: CHRISTMAS CRUELTY! (2013)

This, without question, is my lump of coal for the season. It's the perfect storm of crap. A shitnado, if you will. Lots of stuff happens, none of it good. Shot on video by a couple of Norwegian yutz's (Magne Steinsvoll and Per-Ingvar Tomren), CHRISTMAS CRUELTY! (originally titled HOLY CHRISTMAS! which was apparently too subtle for English speaking audiences) is pretty much the bottom of the yuletide barrel for so many reasons and it lives up to its title.

After an opening sequence in which a fat, middle-aged accountant is shown going about the labors of a home invasion with as much enthusiasm as a tax audit. He rapes the mother in front of the rest of the family and then decides "might as well start with the smallest first" and uses a circular saw on a screaming baby. Cue title sequence of young people ordering drinks, drinking, a band playing. And titles, and more titles. Holy fuckmas is there a movie here or is it just all titles?

Finally we get the movie proper rolling and I immediately wish we hadn't. A group of 20 somethings are hanging out in a bar with a band playing... still. Cue lots of drink ordering, band listening and 20-somethings being jackasses. There is the wheelchair-bound Per-Ingvar (co-director Per-Ingvar Tomren), and his abusive best friend, a long-haired metal guy, Magne (co-director Magne Steinsvoll). To be fair, Magne is abusive to everyone, because that's so metal, right? His dialogue consists mainly of randomly strung together swear words that thirteen-year-olds would probably find edgy and hilarious. He calls Per-Ingvar's mulled wine "weak cunt brew [that] tastes like seagull cum." I really don't want to know how he knows that. Then there is the girl, Eline (Eline Aasheim), who is far too nice to put up with all the abuse that gets heaped on her. Is this the cruelty, you ask? Nope, the cruelty is watching these idjits do nothing and enduring at least a dozen music montages (not even joking) for 60 minutes. Seriously. They sit around the apartment for a while, then they get the idea to make Krampus masks, then they go jump-scaring people in the streets while wearing said masks. Like the dialogue, I'm guessing these scenes of them running around being dill-holes in public are all improvised. But hey, it's all set to music, so it's all good right? Ugh.

After yet another long, pointless sequence, this one involving buying a Christmas tree with Magne letting out a stream of random obscenities on the salesman (metal!), the trio arrive back at the apartment to celebrate Christmas by getting completely hammered (set to music!) and passing out. That's it, that's the celebration. Sitting around getting drunk, listening to Magne's cussing and falling/dancing around in yet another music video sequence. Seriously, it's like fucking nails on a chalkboard with these music sequences. The music is from Magne's real-life band (which is definitely not metal) and that's great and all, but if you want to make music videos so badly that you make a "horror" movie that has more music video sequences than horror, why not go make some music videos in the first place!? Fuuuuuuuuuck.

Interspersed with this grueling monotony, we get snippets of our killer hanging out at the office (where a co-worker drones on at him with insignificant babble for, like, ever), where he has a novelty toilet coffee mug and a JAWS mouse pad. He takes a break from this to masturbate over dating sites - set to melancholy music, of course. Then we see him at home where he has rock stickers all over his filing cabinet as well as other genre movie stuff. This is one of those pet peeve things that hipsters will no doubt be in complete denial of. This psycho schlub is not going to be worshiping PULP FICTION (1994)! This is just the movie makers trying to impress the gullible by shouting "look how cool we are by putting all this movie shit in the sets!" And by "sets", I mean some dude's house. Adding insult to injury, the directors seem to thinking that by doing a randomly timed, rapid series of jump/smash cuts during these sequences is going to somehow heighten the sense of crazy. It doesn't, what it is, is really fucking annoying. I had to take my eyes off of the screen a couple times because it was causing eye-strain. Literally, this movie hurt my eyes.

The trio wake up hung over and to make matters worse, our fat, middle-aged guy decides they are the perfect homebodies to invade while dressed in a Santa suit (complete with the Santa mask from 2012's SILENT NIGHT). It's hardly the welcome relief that it sounds as our St. Nick slayer, who acts like he's bored with the routine, slowly tortures and kills them all with deadly seriousness. So intent on pushing this into a grimy subversive area of '70s roughies that the Santa killer stabs Eline in the crotch with a kitchen knife before raping her to the point where she begs for him to stop, at which point he stabs her in the chest, twisting the knife for a while. Yeah, I get it. They are trying to evoke the nastiness of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and other sadistic '70s cult classics, but it feels like I'm watching some kids trying to be nasty, completely clashes with the "comedy" hour that we just endured and even worse, it's done with all the enthusiasm of cleaning a toilet.

In a clumsy attempt to throw some humor into the grim, drawn out killings, we get a lengthy scene of Santa trying to take a pee (and trying, and trying) before turning around a severed head that was "watching him" and then finally he pees (and pees, and pees). There's also a scene (set to music!) of Santa taking a break from smashing in faces and cutting off arms, to make a sandwich before going on to the arduous task of chainsawing the legs off of the cripple. Of course this is after a long sequence showing Santa (in the mask) buying the chainsaw with his victim's debit card. This also gets a music sequence complete with post-card-esque sunrise shot.

While the acting is about as rank amateur as you can get, the script is mostly ad-libs and the directing is basically pointing a video camera at people, the gore effects are surprisingly top-notch. Not that I really cared by the time that point rolled around, but in one scene we have a guy get his face smashed in with a hammer, a surprisingly well-crafted effect for what is clearly a zero-budget movie.

Not that the effects save the movie at all (fucking music montages!), but at least someone associated with this crap has some talent. As much as I may have made the movie sound endurable, it's not. I'd just like to point out that this is coming from the guy (me) who has willingly sat through Andreas Schnaas movies, some of them more than once. Remember that it has about an hour of utter bullshit and music video sequences before you get to the killing and even then they manage to throw in yet another crapload of music sequences before finally crawling to the end credits. Bah humbug, indeed.