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 14, 2019

Cheap Plug Dept.: CAMP DEATH III IN 2D (2018) attempts world record

Happy Valentine's Day! What better way to celebrate than to spread love and affection? Last Halloween, we reviewed the indie horror-comedy effort CAMP DEATH III IN 2D (2018) and were shocked by how much we enjoyed it. Hell, some might say we even loved it, but romance and marriage between man and film is still outlawed in the United States. Director Matt Frame led his dedicated cast and crew on wild journey to create the craziest damn spoof of FRIDAY THE 13TH films known to man. As the film's trailer boldly declared, "This film is about as subtle as a rock to the face." So as the film prepares for its February 15th launch on streaming services, that trademarked subtlety is back with a new promotion. Frame has created what have to be the world's fastest and longest trailers for a film, running 500 milliseconds and  7 hours, 20 minutes, 1 second, respectively. The production company has submitted them to Guinness World Records, not doubt creating one very happy record checker and one very angry record checker. Both are below if you choose to tempt your fate.

World's Fastest Movie Trailer:

 World's Longest Movie Trailer:


Friday, December 28, 2018

December to Dismember: SECRET SANTA (2018)

Yes, I know I already talked about a movie called SECRET SANTA (2015), but since videomakers are now scraping the bottom of the title barrel just as much as we are scraping the Christmas horror barrel, we have yet another one. This one however is quite different, for many reasons, but mainly because this is the latest movie from once hyped filmmaker Adam Marcus. Adam Marcus, as I'm sure you remember, was the guy who in 1992 was making horror fans go batshit over his new effects-laden entry in the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, JASON GOES TO HELL (1993). Budgeted at approximately $2.5 million, it pulled in $7.5 million on opening weekend. This may not sound like much in today's market of studio blockbusters that frequently pull in 100 times that number in a world-wide grosses, but no matter what your budget is, pulling in almost 3 times that amount on opening weekend qualifies it as a hit. It grossed over $15 million world wide, which isn't fantastic, but it was very successful on video and it should be pointed out, this was the early '90s. A time where even the alleged fanbase was turning their noses up at "horror" films, preferring movies marketed as "thrillers" or (ugh) "a thinking-man's horror film". I seriously wanted to slap the shit out of pretentious fanboys who claimed that everything they liked was a "thinking man's horror film".

People can, and will continue to, debate the merits of JASON GOES TO HELL, but one thing is for sure, writer-director Marcus should have gone on to other big (for the era) things. Yet in between now and then, he has directed a low-budget DTV romantic comedy, a low-budget theatrical Val Kilmer thriller and wrote the script to the abysmal quasi-sequel TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013). SECRET SANTA is his return to horror directing, so you would think that it must be a damn sight better than miserable crap like RED CHRISTMAS (2016), right? Right?! Oh sweet baby jeezus, what have I done to deserve this lump of coal? Actually that's not fair. At least coal can serve a purpose if you set it on fire.

The shot-on-digital movie opens by introducing us to a variety of worthless jerks who are driving to one of the family's vacation homes (in Big Bear, CA) to celebrate Christmas. Neurotic Uncle Carter (Curtis Fortier) and stuttering son Kyle (Drew Lynch) are in one car, spastic stepson Jackson (Nathan Hedrick) and stripper girlfriend Jacqueline (Michelle Renee Allaire) are in another. We know this movie is going to be painful, not because the driving sequences are done in parked cars with CGI road signs and tree reflections in the windows, but because Jackson is getting a blowjob while shouting Christmas carols and screaming things like "Christmas makes me so hard!" If there was any sort of god, this character would die in a car accident before even making it to the house. Unfortunately god is the only one who is dead and we have to put up with this frothing-at-the-mouth approach to acting for another 85 freaking minutes.

There's also April (A. Leslie Kies - not to be confused with The Leslie Kies), the good, mentally stable daughter who we are supposed to relate to, and her boyfriend Ty (Michael Rady) who is a lawyer who is trying to get in good with April's rich tycoon dad Leonard (John Gilbert). Then there is the fat, unattractive sister Penny (Ryan Leigh Seaton), who resents all of these assholes and listens to death metal. I thought that this would be the character I could relate to, but no. She is also a completely selfish, obnoxious, infantile asshole and her "punk" attitude is betrayed by her festive Christmas sweater.

At the house everyone is greeted by the super-WASPy, foul-mouthed mother, Shari (Debra Sullivan) and Aunt Carol (Pat Destro), who are cut from pretty much the same affected, face-lifted cloth. Vile harpies who never have a kind word, unless it is hiding a venomous cut-down. Just like in real life! Shari, in addition to being sneering and hostile, takes credit for Christmas dinner in spite of the fact that she has (predominantly) black caterers and servers who she refers to as "the help". The catering chef (Freddy John James) gets into the Christmas spirit by being snippy and passive aggressive to the woman who is giving them a paycheck. This is pushing the boundaries of my suspension of disbelief. In reality he would have just rolled with it and then he and the rest of the crew would have bitched about her over drinks after the gig.

In an attempt to make some sort of a homicidal version of THE REF (1994), with its realistic hatred and venom that the family has for each other, the bulk of the first half of the movie is these horrible people just saying the most crass things Marcus can think up. Things boil to a head (™ Will Wilson) while they play a strange version of Secret Santa at the dinner table. Penny, who is allergic to turkey, gets tickets for a tour of Europe. As we find out, she was denied this very same thing as a teen when someone didn't tell her that the meatballs they were serving at school had turkey in them. This someone turns out to be April, who is teary and apologetic, but only serves to inflame the already caustic tensions, leading to a verbal assault on Dad, who decides that the best course of action is to stab Uncle Carter in the throat with a fork. This leads to an all-out brawl with Jackson turning up the crazy to 12. That's two higher.

For some reason the caterers get involved, instead of sensibly packing up and leaving, and they all manage to lock Dad and Jackson in a room with Uncle Carter's corpse.
Caterer: "Why is the lock on the outside of the door?"
Mom: "It was the children's room."
Caterer: "Yeaaaaaah?"
Mom: "Sometimes children shouldn't be heard or seen."
That joke would have actually been funnier if Marcus hadn't felt the need to spell things out. This joke could have been sold with just the first two lines and a facial expression. Did I just critique the comedy? Sorry, I forgot what kind of movie I was watching.

So obviously Marcus has some childhood issues he's still working on. While I can kind of relate to some of these "unsupportive" family woes, it doesn't mean I want to spend 85 minutes watching a hyperbolic version of it. Shouted lines like "every growing boy needs some black dick!", I'm sure will appeal to 13 year olds who like to scream verbal assaults during marathon "Call of Duty" sessions. That is, unless you are one of Marcus' friends, such as Alan Jones, Kim Newman and various horror blogs that you've probably never heard of. The SECRET SANTA website is filled with pull-quotes extolling incredible accolades of "brilliant", "smart", "savvy" and "genius". All I can say is, Marcus must be one hell of a cool guy to hang out with to get that kind of knob-gobbling from at least two people who are fairly well respected movie nerds. I strongly suspect that the others were the kind of peeps who write enthusiastic reviews in exchange for free discs.

Suddenly the family members start becoming even more loud and obnoxious (it honestly didn't seem possible), while each one says "is it hot in here?" before turning homicidal, and ultimately quite blistery. This leads to folks trying to escape, but not being able to find keys (they've been hidden) or phones (they got punch spilled on them) and Jackson and Leo have escaped the room to hunt them all down as they all go nuts and run around trying to kill each other. It would seem like it would be a relief to have some cliched slasher action finally, but it's not. Nathan Hedrick is so completely over the top in the "normal" scenes, that once his character Jackson becomes a killer, he has to crank it up so loud that it makes the killer in DREAM STALKER (1991) seem as subtle as Laurence Olivier. Not only does he do the whole gleefully licking-the-blood-off-the-weapon thing and shouts "don't run away, I just want to fuck you to death!", but he also grabs a severed head, shoves it in his crotch and yells "it's not gay if they're dead!" This joke brings a new meaning to the phrase "low hanging fruit".

Adding insult to injury, Marcus even lifts a classic moment from John Carpenter's THE THING (1982), in which Penny is tied to a chair and says "I know you've been through a lot tonight, but I'd rather not spend the rest of the winter tied to this fucking chair!" Fuck you Adam Marcus. I know you are going to claim that it's "a tip of the hat", but it's not. Seriously, fuck off. He also seems to think that anti-semantic rants are hilarious and we have quite a few here with diatribes about "jew money spewing" from someone's "cunt" and so forth. Of course, he completely wimps out on making any racist/phobic "jokes" about blacks and gays (or really anyone else except an obvious joke about the stripper being a post-op transgender). If there is anything Marcus should have learned from decades of SOUTH PARK it is that if you are going to do "offensive" comedy, you need to insult everyone. If you start picking and choosing which ethnicity or minorities to say hateful things about, that makes you not a comedian, but a bigot. I don't need to watch a movie for that. I can go on Twitter, turn on Fox News or listen to the Orange Clown who keeps vomiting all over my TV set.

Ultimately we find out that the punch was spiked by someone, even though that someone became blatantly obvious in the first half hour. Bizarrely, Marcus' script is so hastily written that he needs to a few insert a silent, black and white clips during the end credits to explain what the actual plot was about. The thing that is making people crazy is literally explained in a single shot of some text that someone wrote on a piece of paper. That is not "genius", that's sloppy. Also sloppy is the camerawork. Sure there are some well composed shots for a hand-held shot-on-digital kind of thing, but Marcus seems to have kept his camera on autofocus leading to blurry shots and shots that snap in and out of focus when the camera gets confused as to which plane of focus to focus on. Either that or the cameraman was drunk. Either way it's not something that should be coming from someone who worked in the studio system at one time.

I actually had some hope that this would be a little more slick and well conceived than most of the low-rent shot-on-video dreck that passes for Christmas horror movies. It had not only the guy who made JASON GOES TO HELL, but it is co-produced by the legendary ex-K in KNB, Bob Kurtzman, who was also responsible for what one would assume would be stellar effects work. What I should have payed attention to is the fact that as of this writing, the movie has only played festivals and been released on DVD in the UK. Considering what makes it onto American video shelves (both physical and virtual), it should tell you something. Even Kurtzman can't save this one as his make-up services are few (squirting CGI blood is the order of the day here) and not very impressive. The biggest gag is a head that is severed with a shovel (yes, lifted from 1985's RE-ANIMATOR) and the prop head is the kind of quality that you'd expect from a no-budget digital horror movie, but not from someone with such an impressive pedigree. Now excuse me while I cross some names off of my "nice" list. Clearly Krampus still needs to visit a few more people this year.

Monday, December 24, 2018

December to Dismember: MERCY CHRISTMAS (2017)

Warning: The following review contains spoilers.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the blog, poor reviewers were having a slog. Actually, I feel quite guilty about this. While Tom is having his synapses singed by the like of every low-rent Krampus feature known to man and RED CHRISTMAS (2016), I’ve had two entertaining movies this season. First was the enjoyable horror-comedy MASSACRE ON AISLE 12 (2016) and now I have the equally enjoyable horror-comedy MERCY CHRISTMAS (2017). Going 2 for 4 so far for me is considered a great success. Either the Movie Gods felt I needed a reprieve after enduring ONCE UPON A TIME AT CHRISTMAS (2017) and ELVES (2018) - a film so bad it rocketed into my top 5 worst films of all time - or Tom has been very naughty this past year and is being punished accordingly. Probably a bit of both.

MERCY CHRISTMAS wastes no time grabbing the viewers attention as it opens with a bald guy waking up in a room covered with blood and screaming for help. Cut to two days earlier where said bald man is introduced as Michael Briskett (Steven Hubbell), a milquetoast corporate numbers man who loves Christmas. While everyone is enjoying the company Christmas party, Briskett is in his cramped office finishing up his workload for the boss, Mr. Robillard (Cole Gleason). The boss shows up and is impressed, but not impressed enough to accept Michael’s invitation to his Christmas party. What he does do is mention he has more financial reports and he wants them by the day after Christmas. “Turn the geek’s speak into people speak,” he says before bolting on his hapless employee. Instead of a white Christmas, Michael is going to see one in the red and black.

We then cut to a series of kidnappings done by a hulking hooded guy. He kidnaps Katherine (Whitney Nielsen), a bartender; Eddie (D.J. Hale), a guy scalping tickets on the street; and an old man eating a bowl of Jello. Busy night as the guy throws them all into the back of the truck. We jump back to Michael in his office as Mr. Robillard’s secretary, Cindy (Casey O'Keefe), drops off the reports. Looks like Michael is going to have a rather somber holiday as the next day no one shows up to his Christmas party. However, he gets a surprise knock at the door as Cindy shows up and mentions she spotted the invite on his desk the night before. Amazingly, the two hit it off thanks to their love of all things Christmas. When Michael mentions his mother spends her Christmases away from him (“My mom goes on a cruise...kind of a gift to herself every year.”), Cindy invites him to spend the holiday with her family. Now why the attractive Cindy has taken an interest in the rather rotund Michael is a mystery. That is unless you have a dark sensibility or have seen Anthony Perkins’ LUCKY STIFF (1988).

Driving up to her family’s place, Cindy mentions they’ll be spending Christmas Eve with her father, grandmother and two brothers. Once at the house, we meet patriarch Abe (David Rupprecht), Granny (Gwen Van Dam), brother Bart (Ryan Boyd) and surprise guest Phillip (Joseph Keane), a former beau of Cindy’s who works with her father. Strained romances aside, they seem like a lovely bunch and sit down for a nice delicious meal of ribs. The yuletide spirit is overflowing and the food is chow-down delicious. It is the living embodiment of Michael’s Christmas dream, but it is about to turn into a Christmas nightmare. You see, the second brother Andy shows up right when Michael is about to give a toast and he is Michael’s boss. But eating dinner with his bossy boss is the least of his worries as the eggnog is spiked with more than Jack Daniels this year. Michael zonks out and wakes up tied up in the basement with the other three kidnapped folks. If you haven’t guessed it already, the family likes their Christmas dinner Hannibal Lecter style and Briskett is what is one the menu.

Apparently expanding off of a 2010 short film that also starred Hubbell, MERCY CHRISTMAS comes from director Ryan Nelson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Beth Levy Nelson. While many might see the cannibal twist coming (hell, they ruin that surprise on one of their posters with the tagline “Dinner is served” over a bound Hubbell), their screenplay still delivers a pitch black horror-comedy with some surprises in it. One of the funniest aspects is how the family is like any arguing brood during the holidays except that they are cannibals. At one point, Andy is upset that Bart has invited his finance Denise (Dakota Shepard) to join them for Christmas dinner because she is a police dispatcher and could expose their lifestyle. The two men have a heated argument about it, the only difference with a normal family is they are arguing while cutting up Phillip’s corpse. It is also hilarious to see and hear David Rupprecht, the former host of the ‘90s game show SUPERMARKET SWEEP, as the father who loves to banter about basketball while cauterizing someone’s wounds with a home iron. Unlike most low budget horror features, everyone in the cast is great in their respective roles. The two standouts are Hubbell as our lead and Hale as one of the other trapped victims. Both men perfectly balance between drama and comedy. I particularly liked this rapidfire exchange when they are planning a way to escape.

Eddie: Mike, what’s the upstairs like?
Michael: It’s pretty nice. It’s all done up for the holidays.
Eddie: I didn’t ask for a travel report, bitch! Are there windows?

Their dynamic together works great and that is perfect for the finale which sees Eddie literally has Michael’s back. In one of the Nelson’s most absurd (and funnier) ideas, Michael straps the now legless Eddie to his back and they slip out of the house. But once they realize these people need to be stopped, they soldier back in and become a four armed,, make that two legged ass kicking machine. I should also commend the filmmakers for not skimping on the Xmas details. Yes, it is another shot-in-Los Angeles affair, so we won’t be getting snow but they don’t use that as an excuse to not fling as much festive flair on the screen. From Michael’s Christmas sweaters to Christmas lights galore, it helps set the mood just right. And for a low budget film, they pulled off one of the most impressive things I’ve seen this year. When Eddie eventually becomes legless, I was absolutely convinced Hale was a real life amputee. Turns out he isn’t and it was done with some very impressive computer digital work. Clocking in at a breezy 80 minutes, MERCY CHRISTMAS ended up being a pleasant and entertaining surprise.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

December to Dismember: RED CHRISTMAS (2016)

I realize that it is traditional for us here at VJ to be beaten to a bloody pulp by awful movies during the Christmas season, but we always have a glimmer of hope that maybe, perhaps, possibly this year, one will actually turn out to be... I dunno, good. I mean, it could happen, right? Yeah, just like it could happen where that one person in your family won't get drunk and start yelling expletives at selected other members of your family, like they do every year. You can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which gets full first. Once again, my child-like innocence  is shattered like a Panzer tank running over a tree ornament and adding insult to injury, this time the Aussies are to blame.

Opening with a slow-mo, sad strings-laden, right-wing protest of an abortion clinic, a some random, sad-faced dude with a rosary fishes a live, almost full-term aborted baby out of a paint bucket that has been callously shoved into a corner by a nurse's foot. Once he has saved the baby (without any one of a dozen people noticing), he blows the place up while the soundtrack has news bytes of reporters commenting on the awful clinic. Don't you hate starting a movie and 10 minutes in wondering if you should just do yourself a favor and just go do laundry instead?

Picking up years later, single mother of four (who can apparently afford a massive estate house), mostly grown, but definitely not adult, kids, Diane (Dee Wallace), is planning a lavish Christmas celebration for the family. We have son Jerry (Gerard Odwyer), an autistic young man who is obsessed with Shakespeare; daughter Suzy (Sarah Bishop) who is married to a priest, Peter (David Collins); pregnant daughter Ginny (Janis McGavin) and her man-child husband, or boyfriend, Scott (Bjorn Stewart); adopted daughter and pretentious modern artist Hope (Deelia Meriel) and uhhhh, some dude named Joe (Geoff Morrell). We never find out who the hell Joe is - maybe he is an uncle since he's the only other American, aside from Wallace, in the cast of Australians. Maybe it doesn't really matter because you will learn to hate them all.

Possibly echoing first time feature writer/director Craig Anderson's own personal issues, family members can't even manage to stay civil to each other long enough to get their asses in seats. After pregnant Ginny snipes at infertile Suzy about her inability to get knocked up, Ginny and Scott take off to the laundry room to have loud sex, which nobody really seems to mind, except for priest Peter, who tries to get a good eyeful through the keyhole much to everyone's amusement. Yeah, this family is not only unlikable, they aren't even human.

In the middle of a massive tantrum session where the rotten brats are yelling at mom about how mad they are that she's selling the house and taking a vacation, a shambling, slow-talking bulk wrapped in bandages and wearing a black, hooded cloak, knocks on the the door. It's Christmas, so in spite of the fact that he is weird, smells of urine and claims that he wears the bandages to "keep his skin on", they sit him right down in the middle of their family issues. Honestly, I feel kind of sorry for this underprivileged shlub having to put up with these entitled jerks. After giving him a Christmas gift of a mason jar filled with peanuts in the shell, they find out that his name is Cletus and that all he wants to do is to read a letter he wrote to his mother. We are now at about the 25 minute mark and if you still give a crap what happens next, you are a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

The very long, rambling letter tells of Cletus' love for his mother who disposed of him at birth and included enough unsavory details for this group of assclowns to literally throw him out of the house and turn on Diane, who clearly had a secret that she kept from them all these years. Brother, if you thought there was family drama going down before, just wait for the freak-out now. Yes, Cletus is in fact Diane's aborted Down's Syndrome baby from the beginning of the movie. Her excuse is that her husband was dying and she didn't want to bring another baby into the world. Why she decided to wait until right before giving birth to have him dumped in a bucket, we don't know. What we do know is that daughters who have big screaming matches with their mothers, complete with slapped faces, promptly all go hang out in bed together. As far as I know, this is true.

After some random shots of Cletus wandering around wailing about his mother, we get right back to Bitch Central. Ginny and Scott, feeling self-satisfied after their obnoxious liaison, go outside to smoke some pot, which again, bothers nobody, not even Diane. Ok, even assuming you are a progressive, ex-hippy type that somehow managed to become rich and never turned into a conservative nutbag, your daughter is pregnant! Jeezus, maybe if you laid the smack down on 'em every once in a while, I wouldn't be so desperate to see them all horribly murdered. Sadly, the murders are "horrible", just not in the way you would like them to be.

So now, after all this mama drama, you'd think that would be enough and we could get on with the mindless killing. And you'd be almost right. Craig Anderson isn't letting you off the hook that easily though, he's got more personal issues to work out and by god, you will be a witness to them! Dinner is served in slo-motion with emotional strings on the soundtrack (seriously) and lots of fighting and arguing. Following a mind-numbingly extended argument over whether certain left-overs should be refrigerated or not (yes, pies topped with meringue need to go in the fridge - it's raw egg whites, you morons!), Cletus splits Hope in half while she is looking at the remains of Cletus' Christmas gift on the lawn. Don't get excited, you don't see too much other than a quick flash of CGI. Anderson decides instead to focus on a bare foot artfully laying artfully next to the jar of peanuts, rather than investing his pennies into some practical effects work. Laying by Hope's unseen body is a page ripped from a bible. A page from the Bible has about a dozen passages on it, but for some reason Diane and Joe know exactly which passage the killer meant for them to read. In the middle of a panic attack over the presumably grisly death of a girl, they immediately find and read aloud, "when justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous, but terror to evildoers." Maybe Cletus had a hi-lighter marker on him and outlined the passage off camera, before leaving it next to the body.

Hope's death leads to a lot of screaming, running around and, yes, the dreaded shaky-cam. C'mon now, the shaky-cam is like found footage and blue tinting. Even in 2016, aren't we all totally the fuck over that? This is actually how the rest of the movie plays out. The idiots in the house keep on finding reasons to leave the house and promptly get themselves killed in boring ways. At one point Cletus manages to teleport into the house to kill one person in a room and then teleports out again so that he can wait for morons to leave the house again! At one point Diane sees him trying to climb up a trellis to get in a window. Her solution to that problem is to take the shotgun that they have lying around and blow his head off. Ha! I kid, I kid. No, her solution is to ignore the shotgun and run out side and use (I am not making this up) a boat anchor with attached chain to break all of the mansions many, many trellis'. The boat anchor is significant, not because they have an attached boat house (they are land-locked) or maybe a nautical theme (they have bear traps as decorations), nope it's just there because when Diane semi-aborted Cletus, she had a anchor necklace in her hand. Yep, seriously, that's it. Are you feeling my pain yet?

Like seemingly every goddamn indy horror flick these days, RED CHRISTMAS was the darling of many horror websites and blogs. That is until everyone actually saw it. Then it got ditched like Kevin Hart's Twitter feed. It is possible to make a horror movie set entirely in a house, it's been done many, many times before, but it takes more than just having a bunch of people be completely obnoxious. If you aren't capable of writing some decent characters and dialogue, no problem. Throw in an evil book, an evil doll, an evil puzzle box, an evil ghost, a homicidal offspring who is being kept under lock and key, the reanimated remains of an evil scientist's experiment in cobbling together body parts, something! Anything! I can be around actual people who are jerks any day of the week, why would I want to watch a movie about them?

Even worse, the pathetic attempts at heart tugging tragedy are grueling to sit through. At one point Jerry overhears Cletus telling Peter about how he was aborted because he was autistic. This causes Jerry to cry and confront his mother with the shotgun screaming and crying about whether she really loves him or would have preferred to have him aborted. To paraphrase the Bard, "what piece of work is this movie". Ironically, as much a I found this crap unbearable, Jerry's obsession with Shakespeare would have made for an interesting, possibly even enjoyable, character in a totally different movie. As would the (fumbling) attempt to make a Shakespearean slasher film. They are the few halfway decent ideas that this movie has to offer, and are just discarded, like (if this movie is to be believed) all the fully formed babies at an abortion clinic.

Amazingly, Craig Anderson has tried to pretend that this film has no sociopolitical message and that his ham-fisted scenes of completely unrealistic, insensitive depictions of abortion clinics that fall right in line with right-wing fanaticism, is completely incidental and unintentional. Pull the other one Craig, it plays Jingle Bells. Anderson has had a little bit of a career producing Australian TV shows and short films, which clearly hasn't lent him the skills to make a low-budget horror movie. It also hasn't lent him the skills to even interview veteran genre actor Dee Wallace. The entire interview is actually out of focus and even with an apology tacked on, it's pretty damn embarrassing.

As if the script wasn't bad enough, the shaky-cam and hacksaw editing make it difficult to even tell what is happening at times. There is a scene where someone is hit by Cletus who is driving away from the house in what I am assuming is one of their cars. Because of the camera and editing, we have no idea who that person was until later when we see one of the cast limping! The kills are poorly executed as well. There is a scene where Peter has a long prayer session with Cletus before stabbing him with a knife. This, understandably, irritates the hell out of Cletus so he throws Peter up on the kitchen counter and pushes his head on to a spinning blender blade until Peter's CGI eyes go all googly and jets of blood shoot out of his eye sockets. That's pretty much the most graphic effect too, aside from a cop who suddenly and inexplicably, finds himself with a bear trap over his head, snapped tight around his neck, which sprays blood everywhere but for some reason doesn't prevent him from doing a lot of screaming. Presumably in an effort to avoid "unnecessary" expense, in one scene a girl is bloodlessly CGI stabbed through the head with an umbrella, we cut to a shot of the top of the umbrella opening up, popping loose some pink bits in the corner of the frame. Not even a reveal shot of the corpse. Maybe Dee Wallace's fee was the price we pay for this. Not that it matters anyway. There is zero fun to be had here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

December to Dismember: MASSACRE ON AISLE 12 (2016)

Dang, it was starting to look like a black Christmas as we were 0 for 4 in terms of recent holiday horrors. Straight trash like ELVES and MOTHER KRAMPUS 2: SLAY RIDE had us curled up in the corner of our respective homes, frantically rocking and repeating over and over “it’s only a terrible’s only a terrible movie…” But these digital potholes actually served a purpose. Much like a car needs recalibration and alignment after rough roads, these films helped us course correct and see the road more clearly. Sure we were still swerving all over the place, but we at least could now appreciate a section of the road where the folks actually put some effort. And so the low budget horror-comedy MASSACRE ON AISLE 12 shines in our glazed eyes by actually giving a damn.

The film opens with affable Dave (Michael Buonomo) showing up for his first day at Mr. Beaver's Hardware Store. As he enters the break room, Dave sees a report on the television about an armored car robbery that was done by the Santa’s Hat bandits. Obviously this will be important information. Dave is shown the ropes by assistant manager Jack (Chad Ridgely), who is introduced smashing a baseball bat against a vending machine to get his beloved fritter. “This vending machine is like my ex-wife. Took all my money and didn’t give me any pie,” Jack remarks. That will let you know the level this film is playing at. Dave is quickly introduced to a cavalcade of goofy characters that include pill popping Tara (Melissa Saint-Amand); Black Jack (Aikido Burgess), the surly black guy always writing in his notebook; Otto (Jim Klock), the nutzo war veteran; Mr. Kipper (Doug Burch), the manager who always wants to measure Dave’s inseam; Pharms (Mike Capozzi), the resident drug dealer who creates marijuana strain in the attic; and the store Santa (William Mark McCullough) and his scantily-clad assistant Barbie (Amber Jean).

It is Christmas Eve so things are pretty dead...and they are about to get deader. While four guys are trying to move a rather heavy box, they unlock it and find a dead guy inside. Not only is he dead, but he is holding onto bag filled with tens of thousands of dollars. Obviously he is one of the robbers, but no one knows how he got in there. Or do they? With lots of dollars at stake, the situation devolves into chaos rather quickly. Jack thinks they should keep and split the money, while Black Jack thinks they should notify the authorities. The disagreement ends with Black Jack punching White Jack, which pushes the latter over the edge. He breaks all of their cell phones (in a nice move by the writers they have the manager demand they are in his office while working), smokes some of Pharms’ tainted stash, and barricades all of the doors.

The events go south (souther?) almost immediately while the group is voting about what to do with the money. Jack returns with a crossbow and accidentally shoots Otto with it. This starts of a funny recurring gag where everyone accidentally smashes, beats, stabs and maims the helpless Otto throughout the film. Proving he is on the naughty list, Santa grabs the crossbow and orders Barbie to grab the loot. Unfortunately for him, a dye pack explodes in his face and sends him back to get impaled on some gardening equipment. Others start dropping like flies as Barbie gets electrocuted and Pharms gets shot dead after Mr. Kipper absconds with the bag and tries to escape through the ventilation shafts. Dave, Tara and Black Jack reluctantly team up to find and stop Mr. Kipper all the while the deranged Jack is stalking everyone because he wants the money and his revenge too.

Jeez, why is it easier for me to write 2000 words about a film I hated versus one I enjoyed? Shot in Georgia, MASSACRE ON AISLE 12 was a pleasant surprise. Now let me preface that by saying this is a low budget feature, so anyone expecting something on the technical level of a Hollywood Will Ferrell comedy will be sorely disappointed. Actually, this is quite different than a Ferrell comedy because it is actually funny. The credited writers are co-lead Ridgely and A.J. Via and they fill the script with funny, if often crude, jokes. I’m sure they watched BAD SANTA (2003) a bit as there are lots of “fucks” thrown about and nearly every stereotype is thrown out there. The funniest joke, however, for me was probably the cleanest one. It arrived toward the end where Mr. Kipper is about to be crushed by an elevator by Jack.

Jack: Bye, Mr. Kipper. Merry Christmas!
Mr. Kipper (whispering): There’s something you should know.
Jack: Yes?
Mr. Kipper: Corporate prefers you say “Happy holidays!”

So, yeah, that gag alone gets a thumbs up from me. Yeah, I’m easy, but it is hard not to be after the previous films you reviewed had people who couldn’t even remember their lines to deliver properly. The cast here is game and I can’t think of a bad one in the bunch. My personal favorites were Aikido Burgess as Black Jack and Ridgely as Psycho Jack. Ridgely reminds me of a combo of Bill Moseley and Mark Metcalf and is actually really funny in the role. I also appreciate that Ridgely and Via actually put some clever twists in their screenplay. The film resolves the “how did this dead guy get here” mystery rather easily and has a clever bit at the end showing the events might happen to a new group. If the film has any flaw, it is that co-directors Jim Klock and William Mark McCullough didn’t have a proper budget to pull it off fully. The hardware location is far from the antiseptic aisle presented on the DVD cover. I imagined how cool this would have been if the location looked like one of those sprawling big chain stores after hours. Also, the filmmaking style isn’t as zany as it could have been. If it had the wild early Sam Raimi/Peter Jackson/Alex Winter style, it could have been a hands down Christmas classic. In the end though MASSACRE ON AISLE 12 was amusing enough to be the lone (so far) light on our 2018 journey through Christmas films. The cast and filmmakers were game and you can appreciate the effort. Sometimes all it takes are the little things like a fun plot and a camera operator who knows how to keep things in focus. Like I said, I’m easy.