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!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

December to Dismember: SHELVED (2016)

If you are reading this, please send help. You see, I think Video Junkie head honcho Tom is trying to kill me. “Paranoia,” you say, but allow me to tell you my tale. While preparing this year’s “December to Dismember” titles, I thought I was in the clear when it came to elf mayhem. I’d earned my combat stripes the past two years with THE ELF (2017) and its sequel ELVES (2018), two bottom-of-the-egg-nog-barrel Christmas horrors from Uncork’d Entertainment. They were so bad that I developed PTSDVD (Post Traumatic Shitty DVD) and flinched every time I heard a wine bottle open. So imagine my surprise and glee when I found out Uncork’d had no elf on the shelf this year. Life was looking up, but then I got an email from Tom that ominously said “ALL YOU!!” and had a link to SHELVED (2016). “Ah, it is on Amazon Prime and I don’t have that. I’m in the clear,” I naively thought to myself. Then Tom tells me he found me a copy. Like I said, the man is homicidal. 

SHELVED opens with little Alice Montgomery (Kenley Mead) writing a letter to Santa Claus. Hopefully she is asking to be extricated from her mom Janet (Sarah Bertz Thomas), who mentions early on that Alice “needs to learn early about shrinking her carbon footprint.” Uh, I think that line is intended to be comedic. Dad Daren (Denny Crum) arrives home late with a surprise that he bought for Alice for Christmas. When his car broke down outside of an antique store, he went inside to ask for some help and became enamored with an elf on the shelf doll that the owner refuses to sell for any price. Hey, at least we now know screenwriter Lindsey LaForest has seen GREMLINS (1984). Undeterred Daren plunks down a $100 bill while the ornery store owner says, “You don’t want that doll, sir. I’m telling you. It’s your funeral, buddy.” with all the passion of someone ordering a value meal at Burger King. Now before you get all excited thinking we might have some cool miniature villain, know the filmmakers just took a standard old elf on the shelf and resculpted the head. The bad news? Their attempt at making it look scary ends up making it look like Buddy Hackett. 

The parents’ bright idea is to hide the elf all over the house to make Alice think it is alive. The bad news is that it is already alive and starts terrorizing the family on the first night. His shocking act of terror? Spreading toothpaste all over the bathroom! Have you ever seen such horror? Naturally, the parents are freaked out because they believe Alice did it and think this immediately warrants a meeting with child psychologist Dr. Bailey (Matthew Kimura). The elf wreaks havoc for a second night by - gasp! - driving a Barbie car around and pooping on some organic cookies. We finally get some elf extermination when a nosey neighbor (who has never been seen or introduced before this bit) brings a package into the empty house and decides to snoop for something to eat. The elf grabs a carrot, says, “Beta Carotene is good for your eye” and stabs her in the eye. Again, before you get too excited, allow me to offer this evidence to deflate any expectations.

Now is where things get messy (messier?) as we get a montage of several scenes showing Janet smoking, Dean cheating with his secretary, and Dr. Bailey researching as the elf offers the following monologue:

“Holy spirits wrapped in gold and bright blue, fruit flies and nuts in their cakes put on their shoe. (I think that is what he says!) On to the Christmas season they do, all the while their facade is so see through. With compulsions and fidelity and pride that runneth do, the temptation is to linger and find trouble to get into. Peacefully they slumber away the world they are deaf to. More victims, me think, I will bloom.”

Wait, why is he talking like a leprechaun? Also, I feel like I need therapy from Dr. Bailey for just transcribing that? The doc doesn’t do the sane thing like warning Janet by phone. He just creeps around in his car, before banging on the front door and screaming at the babysitter Stacey (Jaime Evans) to not touch the elf. His bedside manner is rough, his curbside manner is even worse. Of course the babysitter doesn’t heed the warning and instead invites over her wannabe gangsta white boyfriend. Jeez, didn’t we just see this in HOLIDAY HELL (2019)? Anyway, the boyfriend dry humps the elf (!) and the elf stabs him with a big pencil and then drills into the babysitter’s ankle. This bit actually had me howling as the babysitter doesn’t scream for help or try to escape, but just kind of calmly walks upstairs into the bathroom and slowly wraps an Ace bandage over her foot. Not surprising for someone so slow to react, she is strangled by the elf with a loofah on a string before being stabbed (in some of the worst CGI since ELVES). Oddly, when the mom comes home from a night out with a friend, she isn’t a bit concerned the babysitter is not there.

Jeez, you’d think I’d want to speed this up and get it the pain over with faster. Dr. Bailey eventually shows up at Daren’s office Christmas party (!) and tells him the story of the evil elf. Turns out he was once a stellar elf named Sgt. Gumdrop that Santa singled out as an excellent example of, uh, elf-ness. This pissed off the other elves and they beat Gumdrop with bars of soap so it snapped his mind. No, I’m not kidding, the film has a spoof of FULL METAL JACKET (1987). I’d appreciate this more if I wasn’t in so much pain from the rest of the film. Anyway, the dad decides to return the elf but finds the antique shop closed with a note saying he was now the possessor of the elf. So, naturally, he leaves the elf in the woods. This results in the one line that actually made me laugh during the film. When Daren tells Janet he left the elf in the woods, she replies, “Daren, that’s littering! I won’t have it. He’ll never decompose.” Not to be deterred, the elf hitchhikes back to the house to kill some more because, uh, yeah.

So, is Tom trying to kill me? Text 1 for “yes” or 2 for “hell yes!” Filmed in the wilds of Ohio on a reportedly $7,000 budget, SHELVED has the distinction of being made before the aforementioned THE ELF (2017) and ELVES (2018). I’d like to think the makers of those saw SHELVED and were like, “Dude, we can totally do something like that!” The problem is they failed just as hard. To be fair, I have to leave THE ELF out of this as it is semi-competent and coherent at times. So the battle for the biggest piece of Christmas “cinema” coal is down to SHELVED verus ELVES. Amazingly, this has all of the negatives as ELVES such as out-of-focus camerawork, terrible framing, horrid sound recording, flubbed lines, and scenes that make absolutely no sense. Director Michael Cullen II has an uncanny ability to let scenes unfold in a manner where you have no idea what is happening and edits them in an even more confusing manner. It is the kind of film where a doctor gets a scribbled drawing by a kid and somehow connects it a legend. The kind of film where people always talk to inanimate objects, but rarely have normal conversations with other humans. The kind of film where the elf drives over someone and they insert a sound that sounds like celery being broken. I want to give SHELVED the nod as the worst because there is actually a bit during the finale (that is parodying THE EXORCIST!) where you can hear someone stifle a laugh off camera. Then again, that unintentional bit aside, this is aiming to be a comedy and ELVES was dead serious. How can I declare a winner? I guess it is a draw and effigies of both films need to be burned worldwide. As of December 2019, I will be the lone IMDb review on this bastard and I’ll admit I felt a bit of camaraderie when a random kid threatens to blow the elf with a firecracker and says, “I am going to burn your bastard little ass.” But then I see it has five reviews on Amazon Prime and realize I am not alone in the cold, cruel world. I’ll leave it to my boy Brad Miller’s one star, one-sentence review that pretty much sums it all up and probably gave me the biggest laugh associated with this film.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

December to Dismember: HOLIDAY HELL (2019)

Anthology films have a rich history dating back to the earliest days of cinema when theatrical films of a more or less standardized length became the norm. The earliest example, that can be found on video (to my knowledge), is probably the 1924 German film WAXWORKS in which a wax museum owner hires a writer to create historically inaccurate stories to go with his historically inaccurate sculptures. This was later remade (or ripped off) as the well known 1988 Anthony Hickox anthology film WAXWORK. Through the years there have been stabs at anthologies outside of the horror genre, with crime, drama and comedy all popping up, but horror became a mainstay during the '70s. That decade was the apex of the horror anthology with a slew of great and not so great films, many from Hammer Studios rival Amicus. 1972 alone produced two stone-cold classics in TALES FROM THE CRYPT and ASYLUM, both Amicus. One of the things that makes the anthology so much fun is that you get three or more stories for the price of one. More importantly, if one of the stories is a dud, you have the opportunity to get your money's worth with the others. That's the way I look at it. It's a practical, risk averse format. Well, in theory anyway. These days we get anthologies that are a cheaply made mish-mash collection of short films that can't be sold any other way. The most egregious of these even go so far as to cram 20 or so very short shorts into one sad package. Fortunately for me, this is not one of those. Unfortunately for me, it's a damn far cry from the surprisingly good A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY (2015).

Opening with a wrap-around story that is set in an incredibly brightly lit creepy antiques shop (the items are sort of creepy, the shop is, sadly, not). We get a set-up that is undoubtedly lifted straight out of FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES (1987-1990), with Uncle Jack, err, I mean Thaddeus Rosemont (Jeffrey Combs), trying to close up his shop for the night. He is in a hurry, though we never find out why, but he decides to stay late to help a young woman, Amilia (Meagan Karimi-Naser) pick out a suitably gothic Christmas gift for her sister. Thad tells her that every gruesome item in the shop has a story behind it and the story is what makes them special. In spite of the fact that he is trying to close up, Amilia takes her time looking around before finally asking about a few things. You know where this is going. That is going to tell her some presumably scary stories. If only. The first thing Amilia asks about is a white Noh-style mask with black cracks painted on it, which leads us to our first story.

DOLLFACE: A group of annoying college kids (maybe they are supposed to be high school, who knows?) show up at a suburban tract home that is supposedly haunted. It is the former home of Ken and Barb Doll (*groan*). Worst Legend Ever has it, Barb butchered her husband and son on Valentine's Day. The daughter ended up in the loony bin and we never hear what happened to Barb, because... this legend sucks. Jock-douche type Jon (Jordan Nancarrow) alleges that the home has not been lived in since the murders some 15 years ago, in spite of the fact that it is completely dust-free, in good repair and has no evidence of pest infestation. So it's like a magic, self-cleaning, haunted tract house. Oh please. Stop. I can't take the terror. No. Please.

The kids are there to par-tay, which pretty much consists of pairing off and going to other parts of the house where they are killed off camera by someone wearing the mask that we saw in the shop and screaming "pretty!" Oddly, none of the other people inside the house can hear any of their screams. To pad things out we get bits of dialogue like when the deaf-mute, Julie (Cami Ottman), is being set up with some guy who will show up later. To sell the, err, blind date, her friend Chyna (Charnie Dondrea) tells her she needs to get laid and that she "heard he has a really nice peeeeeeenis!" I would love to tie Martin "Cinema" Scorsese to a chair and force him to watch this crap. I'll give you something to cry about!

I guess Julie has an excuse for why she doesn't hear people screaming in a single family house, given that she's a deaf mute. I was thinking for a moment that her character was a deaf-mute because the writer wanted to be inclusive and have someone with a disability as a final girl. Hahaha! Eh, no. It's so that they can make an easy joke about how when she finds a body, she opens her mouth to scream and there's nothing but silence. I'd accuse them of ripping off that exact same joke from MURDER BY DEATH (1976), but I doubt they've ever heard of it. (Spoilers start as of now) As it turns out, Chyna is the unknown sister of the crazy Doll daughter who has apparently escaped the nuthouse so that the pair can get revenge on the kids who made fun of them. Apparently there were a lot of nice kids in the neighborhood because there is only a handful to kill. At one point one of the obligatory mean girls says "this is the lamest party evaaaar." You bet your Boone's Farm, gurl.

Back at the shop, Thad decides that what this girl needs is a Hasidic jew marionette! Yep, next up is THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE DREIDEL: When the super-jewish parents (who can't be bothered to wear yarmulkes) of a 9 year old kid, Kevin (Forrest Campbell), head out on a business trip, they leave him with a Hanukkah gift that will keep him occupied while they are away - an old puppet that was made by a Rabbi in Germany. Even worse, they are leaving him with snotty babysitter Lisa (Amber Stonebraker) who has been using her position as babysitter to case the "mansion" that is supposedly loaded with valuables. Never mind that it appears to be a virtually empty demo home for yet another tract house. Kevin overhears her calling her ghetto boyfriend, Trey (Brian Sutherland), to set up the robbery while he is, unbeknownst to her, getting blown by another girl. For the record this is the second, and not final, fellatio gag in the movie. Like any 9 year old, Kevin panics and decides to read an ancient scroll written in Hebrew that was in the box with the puppet. It's like how in movies all Asians know martial arts - all Jews can read ancient Hebrew. Before you can say "Charles Band is going to sue", the puppet comes to life and well, just sort of nods his head. Ooooo, Scary!

While Lisa is pulling out plates that came off of a Bed, Bath and Beyond sale table, she reads the back and says "made in England 1895. Jackpooooot!" Uhh, never mind that real maker's marks never give a date of manufacture. Hey this is a horror movie, who is going to know about dumb stuff like that? (Spoiler alert) The puppet (off camera) scares Lisa who grabs a knife and goes looking for Kevin, but accidentally stabs Trey in the neck as he walks through the door. After much, much more of Lisa's yelling about how she is going to kill the kid, the puppet's hand is seen slicing a piece of clay - err, I mean, the back of Lisa's foot and she falls down the stairs, dead. If anyone is thinking they are going to be getting some REVENGE OF TULON action here, they are in for a bitter disappointment. Even the lowest points of the PUPPET MASTER series outshine this short. Yes, that's right, even the AXIS entries.

Once again, Amilia is just not sold and Thad figures if she doesn't want a Jewish marionette, then surely she must want a filthy, bloodstained Santa suit! I mean, who wouldn't? And so begins CHRISTMAS CARNAGE: Overweight, spineless executive for a pharmaceutical company, Chris (Joel Murray), has been on the wagon for a year after an inappropriate, drunken incident at last year's office Christmas party. He's been passed over for a promotion and goes home to a younger wife who hates his guts (or lack there of), won't have sex with him and tells him what a loser he is for not getting the promotion. Chris' current assignment is to sell some powerful anti-dementia pills, that got the boss totally stoned ("best time I've had since college," he says). Additionally, Chris is roped into doing the Santa thing again this year and promises things won't end up the same way. Of course we can see right where this is headed. Chris spots his wife heading into the back room for a special package delivery with the guy who got his promotion. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Christmas song that plays in the background on repeat, "Have a Happy Christmas" by Geoff Hurley, is so awful that would make Paul McCartney's gratingly insipid "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time" seem like a welcome relief. Anyone would snap under these conditions.

Pissed off at life, the universe and everything, Chris decides he's going to drink a shit-load of likker and chew on some of those new anti-dementia pills. This, of course, (spoiler I guess, but not really) sets him off to steal a sackful of tools (and oddly, a bottle of booze) from a hardware store so that he can return to the Christmas party and kill everyone while making puns that would cause Freddy Kruger to face-palm... with his knife hand. He calls one girl a "buzzkill" and throws a circular sawblade in her head, he uses the old "let me axe you something" and "get ahead" for a decapitation. Oddly, when he plants a garden tool in a girl's face, he doesn't make a "ho" joke. How could the writers miss that one? The kills are mostly off camera, but the producers did throw down some pennies for a severed hand, so there's that. Oh and if you are expecting a twist here, forget it. This and HAND both can't be bothered to do anything but the obvious. That said, at least Joel Murray is a competent actor, making this the best of the lot. Don't get excited. It's not saying much.

For some reason Amelia isn't interested in the Santa suit, which Thad makes all the more appealing by telling her it was given to him by a morgue attendant. Thaddeus then notices that Amelia is wearing a ring that looks like it came out of a box of Cracker Jacks. Proclaiming it "beeeeyoooooteeful", he tries to get her to give it up, but she's got a story of her own. Cue ROOM TO LET: A teenage girl, Anna (McKenna Ralston), decides to move to a small rural town and start a new life. She rents a room in a farm house from the somewhat overdressed older woman Lavinia (Lisa Carswell) who is married to a younger comb-over creepster Robert. While in town trying to get a job, she discovers that her new employer's daughter is trying to warn her of something, but can't because her tongue has been cut out. After returning home she decides to bring up the disturbing issue with "Vini" and Robert. No, not the girl, but the fact that there don't seem to be any Christmas decorations around town (remember this is a holiday movie), to which she is told that "Christmas isn't a really big holiday around these parts". Or maybe it's because the moviemakers were shooting on the streets without permits. Nah, it's creative genius, I'm sure.

Eventually (spoilers ahead!) we discover that the town are members of a cult who worship "The Goddess" (they couldn't even steal something from Lovecraft?). Since Vini and Robert have not been able to have kids, they, with a few friends, sacrifice Anna in order to get Vini pregnant. I really have to question the life of a celestial deity. Why would you take time away from the world to focus in on a small group of people who want you to make one woman pregnant if they kill another. I'm pretty sure The Goddess would be like "they want to kill each other to get their wishes granted? Huh." and go back to watching NetFlix. (Big, but uninteresting, spoilers) As it turns out, Amelia is the daughter of Vini (couldn't see that coming) and twin sister of a girl that Thad killed so that he could steal her matching ring, which apparently he completely forgot about. Now Amelia with the help of her hilariously '90s Marilyn Manson fan friends, is going to bring her back to life in his shop, so she can have her off-screen revenge. The end.

Distributed by what is still the bane of my holiday viewing, Uncork'd Entertainment (the unscrupulous bastards who suckered in the gullible with 2018's MOTHER KRAMPUS 2, which featured precisely zero Krampi, maternal or otherwise), the DVD sports another eye-grabbing cover which is like wrapping a broken toy in gold leaf. Writers (Jeff Ferrell and Jeff Vigil) who also direct two of the episodes, careen wildly from the sub-juvenile to not even barely adequate. Granted this makes it a step up from DEADLY LITTLE CHRISTMAS (2009), but those steps start very low. The staging likewise varies wildly, but never manages to elevate itself above its Uncork'd brethren. ROOM TO LET is on the verge of being acceptable, in spite of being derivative and obvious, but is really sabotaged by Jeffrey Arrington's Robert, who lays on the smug maliciousness with a trowel and has a face that looks like it was made to be punched.

Poor Jeffrey Combs, as usual, is putting his all into yet another gotta-keep-the-lights-on role. Combs, whose career has unfortunately dwindled to the point of TV guest roles and quickly forgotten VOD fodder. While NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: RE-ANIMATION (2011) was another cash-strapped and clumsy production, it offered Combs (and co-star Andrew Divoff) the rare opportunity to have far more than the scenery to chew on, with a surprising, even shocking, amount of character interaction and depth. Sure it was a junkfood movie, but Combs and Divoff used it as an actor's workshop. I'm sure that they wrote or rewrote all of the dialogue themselves. If only more amateur productions were that smart. Unfortunately HOLIDAY HELL is another throwaway part that Combs tries to inject with energy and nuance, but is betrayed by the perfunctory, juvenile script, a cheap, lazy set and overlit cinematography. Not to mention his bland co-star.

It's also worth noting that TV regular, and famous brother-having, actor Joel Murray helps elevate things for a moment before the script brings everything back down to a grade school level. I am not in any way saying Joel is a master thespian, but he instantly upstages the other community theater actors that he is working with. It's almost a bad thing to have Combs and Murray in here as it makes you think of how much better it could be if everything were upgraded to their level. And by better, I mean not quite as terrible.

Here we are in a renaissance of mainstreaming of horror that, after a pathetic demise in the 1990s, has slowly grown to encompass everything from movies, TV shows, and video games to backpacks, sneakers and greeting cards. Yet somehow, like a faded starlet who has turned to the bottle in a fleabag hotel, the once great horror anthology is forced to slum in shot-on-video, no-budget movies made to scrape the dollars out of suckers wallets in Walmart sale bins. It is a sad state of affairs. One which this movie does absolutely nothing to alleviate. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to rob a hardware store and get a fresh bottle.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

December to Dismember: SANTA JAWS (2018)

Confession time: I have never seen a single minute of a SHARKNADO flick. Yes, strange, I know. With my taste for B-movie buffets, you’d think I would have been all over those but they have all escaped me. In fact, nearly all of the six million SyFy originals about killer sharks have eluded me. Never seen one of the MEGA SHARK films, never seen SHARKTOPUS battle anything, and somehow missed TWO-HEADED SHARK ATTACK (I hear they are up to six-heads now!). So I guess if I was going to lose my SyFy Channel shark virginity, I better do it with something memorable. And, lordy, if something called SANTA JAWS (2018) doesn’t tick that box, nothing will.

The film opens with a young lady being held hostage on a pier by a deranged Santa Claus. We know he is deranged because he has “Feliz Navidad” tattooed on his forearms. Our male hero arrives to save this damsel-in-distress and the two men exchange a series of Christmas-filled one-liners that are so cheesy, I thought I was reading our blog for a second. Example:

Evil Santa: “You gonna shoot me like a naughty little boy? Or fight me like a man?”
Hero: “No sugar cookies for you. You’re going to eat your words!”

Jeez, did a teenager write this? Actually, yes. In a clever little twist, this opening is the work of Cody (Reid Miller), who is finishing up his comic book titled “Santa Jaws” with his friend Steve (Hawn Tran). Of course, drawing comics is just a part of his chaotic life as Christmas time in Port City, Louisiana sees him pulled in several directions. His parents hold an annual Christmas dinner at their restaurant and Cody is looking forward to hitting up the comic shop Christmas party. Oh, and he has a crush on the new girl Jena (Courtney Lauren Cummings) who has moved in across the street. His Xmas cheer turns to gloom rather quickly though when he gets in trouble for a cartoon sketch mocking his principal that went viral and is promptly grounded. Stupid internet! Brooding in his room that night, he finds a gift from his grandfather (Ritchie Montgomery) and discovers it to be a fancy looking pen in a case inscribed with German on it. Now if cinema has taught me anything it is that anything with German writing on the outside of it is bad news. Sehr schlechte Nachrichten, if I do say so myself.

Indeed, it does turn out to be very bad news as the magical pen brings whatever its user draws to life. Unfortunately for Cody, he just finished a sketch of his Santa Jaws, a great white shark with a Santa hat stuck on its dorsal fin. One green glow under the lake later and Santa Jaws is alive in the real world and ready to chomp on some Christmas chum. Now how or why grandpa had this pen is never explored and I’m sure that is because the film is called SANTA JAWS. You can’t think too deep with that title. Because it came from the comic book, it adheres to the rules of that comic; namely, Santa Jaws is attracted to anything Christmas related. Cody finds that out in a bad way the next morning when he is fishing with grandpa. The old man accidentally knocks his thermos of eggnog into the water and is promptly eaten by our titular beast. I’m guessing the wonky CGI on display here is up (or down) to SyFy’s standards. Naturally, no one believes Cody when he tells them grandpa was eaten by a great white shark with red eyes that glow like Rudolph’s nose, so he has to take the battle to the beast.

To paraphrase that Katy Perry song, I watched a movie called SANTA JAWS and I liked it. Well, I kinda liked it. Honestly, when you are watching something called SANTA JAWS, you need to accept it on those terms (after you have finished questioning your life choices, of course). To the film’s credit, it is a pretty inoffensive flick with a good sense of fun and adventure about it. The screenplay by Jake Kiernan - which may or may not be a pseudonym since it is his only IMDb credit - delivers enough Christmas spirit and the Santa Jaws concept is actually better developed than one would expect. For example, at one point they use Christmas balls to lure the shark in. The shark chews them up and suddenly sports some red and green teeth. Anyone who has stepped on a Christmas ball barefoot knows how terrifying that is. Later Cody tries to end the shark by using the magic pen to draw it impaled by a big candy cane, but it ends up becoming a horn used to impale victims. Just a little bit of creativity like that goes a long way for me. There was also a funny subplot about the comic book store owner stealing the pen and drawing himself that beautiful Russian girlfriend he bragged about.

Director Misty Talley has obviously swam deep in these waters before as the previous three years she delivered - deep breath - SHARK ISLAND (2015), OZARK SHARKS (2016), and MISSISSIPPI RIVER SHARKS (2017). That is a pretty jaw(s)dropping resume. She handles it all efficiently and gets good performances out of the ensemble cast (I noticed Jim Klock, who was funny in MASSACRE ON AISLE 12 (2016); Jesus, I’m recognizing no budget stars now!). If there is any downside to the film, it is probably that it would have been so much better if it had a budget to fully pull off the concept. For example, the end has everyone teaming up TREMORS-style to try to defeat the beast. But it really is just them launching some turkeys into the water at a local pier. If they had the budget, a boat chase would have been awesome. Also, the gore was pretty weak. I get you are shooting for a SyFy friendly audience, but going over-the-top wouldn’t hurt. The worst carnage on display is a random dude in an elf costume who gets his legs sliced off (and done with bad computer effects as displayed in the pic above). Finally, I understand why they shot in Louisiana (probably got one hell of a tax break), but it doesn’t really lend itself to the Christmas-y material. Had they a bigger budget to create a snowbound little town decorated pillar to post in Christmas cheer (think GREMLINS), it could have been a perennial Christmas guilty pleasure. As it stands, it is a perfectly fine 90 minute time killer and probably the best film called SANTA JAWS you will ever see.

Friday, December 6, 2019

December to Dismember: DEADLY LITTLE CHRISTMAS (2009)

I often wonder what the world would be like if Christianity hadn't conquered the world by brute force. Sure, there would be less fear, shame, guilt, fanaticism and ludicrous excuses for mass murder, but would we still have a highly commercial holiday that whips the American public into a frenzy of venomous consumership that brings out more petty nastiness than a Republican at Taco Bell? More importantly, would I have to review mind-numbingly dull amateur productions like DEADLY LITTLE CHRISTMAS every damn year? I like to think not.

Yep, once again, we suffer for their (lack of) art, thinking that at some point, like a homeless alcoholic dreaming of tripping over an unopened bottle, we will find a low-rent Yuletide horror outing that will knock our collective stockings off. Yeah, there's death, taxes, and those stockings aren't going anywhere. The only thing deadly in this movie is the movie itself.

Opening with a flashback to Christmas Eve, 15 years prior to the present time which we have not even seen yet, kids Devin, Taylor and Noel are frolicking under the Christmas tree in their middle-class home, while mom, Mary (Felissa Rose), tells her Swedish domestic (?!), Inga (Noa Geller), that she should relax on her day off. Apparently there was some sort of communication barrier, or cultural faux pas, as Inga decides what she should do is to hop into bed with Santa (Douglas Meyers) who is fine with giving her the ol' Christmas cracker, while his wife and kids are hanging out in the living room. Someone who doesn't have, or has had too much of, the Christmas spirit, stabs them both to death with a knife. And when I say "knife", what I mean is one of those plastic, retractable daggers that used to be sold in the toy aisle of grocery stores. At first I thought this was going to be a gag, since it's obvious that the dull, silver-painted blade is going into the handle, but nope. Not only is this an actual murder weapon, but it is the murder weapon that will be used for the few other kills in the movie. In the bloody aftermath of the coitus interruptus, 10 year old Devin (Shane Carther Thomas) somnambulistically walks out of the front door of the house with knife in hand, covered in blood. Not at all like HALLOWEEN (1978). Totally different holiday.

Flash forward 15 years and the kids have grown. Toddler Noel (Leah Grimsson) is now a catty, fresh out of high-school drama queen, who now produces drama with her sister Taylor (Monique La Barr) at the local Community Playhouse... which is an industrial lot space with a roll up door. While the not-particularly traumatized sisters are enjoying their quiet lives of desperation, brother Devin (Samuel Nathan Hoffmire) has been a guest of the State bughouse and apparently has been emotionless and has not said one word since "the incident". But he is eeeeeeeeeeeevil! We know this because the three women of the family (including Mom, who hasn't aged a day) say so. Apparently the writers didn't want to draw comparison to the John Carpenter movie, so they decided to forgo a speech from his doctor declaring this fact.

Mary (still Rose) goes to visit Devin every Christmas to try to connect with him on the date of his infantile, homicidal outburst. This makes sense when you realize that Christians throw a massive celebration at the (alleged) anniversary of the Romans murdering a nice guy by nailing him to a couple of planks. While visiting, Mary goes all Niagra Falls, Frankie, and begs for him to speak, sobbing "I was hoping for a Christmas miracle!" So was I, Angela, so was I. Oddly, seemingly as punishment for their crimes, mental patients are forced to sleep on beds from a Herve Villechaize estate sale.

Devin finally busts out of the nuthouse, or rather casually ambles out, but not before we get what this movie lives for. Pointless, long-winded scenes of dialogue that are about nothing. NOTHING. Case in point the scene in which Mom drops by the Playhouse to invite Taylor to go out and get some tea and after discussing it to freaking death, Taylor has to turn her down because she is too busy. Sure the actual running time of this scene is only about 68 seconds, but goddamn, those are some long fucking seconds. The scene where Taylor and Noel have a discussion about how they are dealing with the Elephant in the Room (aside from pointing it out every chance they get), is particularly grueling.
Taylor: "Sis, whay won't Mom let us see Devin?"
Noel:    "He's a frickin' psycho, I don't even remember him. Mom doesn't want us to. Why do you think she hid all those pictures?"
Taylor: "They're in a box."
Noel:    "What are?"
Taylor: "The pictures. They're hidden in a box."
Noel:    "What?"
Taylor: "Yeah, they're in the basement, hidden in a box."
Noel:    "Ok, how do you know this and why haven't you mentioned it to me before?"
Taylor: "Ok, a couple of months ago, Mom was doing laundry and I heard her crying, so I went down to see what was wrong and I saw her kneeling down over a box of pictures."
This back and forth actually goes on for much longer, but I'll save you the tedium. The discussion is finally (temporarily) brought to a close when Noel's boyfriend, Steve (Anthony Campanello), stumbles into the scene saying "Hey Hon, it's a bit nippy outside, think I can get the car keys?" Yep, just call him Macho McStudd. Waitin' in the car. With the heater on.

Now that Devin is on the loose, it's time for shit to go down, right? I mean, we are at the 30 minute mark and we have had nothing but trivial conversations, so now shit's gotta get real! Eeh, sort of. The sisters are producing a Nativity play and have sagely procured the help of a couple of pot-smoking douchebags who engage in juvenile trash-talk while smoking a joint. Well, one guy smokes a joint and will only let the other guy have one hit. Is this what the youth of today has come to? Selfish bastards who bogart joints? Man, these assholes deserve to die. And fortunately for the viewer, they do. Unfortunately it's a quick throat-slashing with that damn toy knife by someone in some sort of red and white mask and a hoodie. Uhhh... ok, I guess that is supposed to be Devin. We don't even get a shot of a hand stealing a mask from a Halloween sho... oh yeah, I forgot, totally different holiday.

And we're back to more conversations. The sisters have been digging through The Box and having the same flashbacks to the same flashbacks of opening presents on Christmas. This leads to Mom catching them in the act and flipping out and screaming "how could you do this to me?!" while calling them horrible children who don't appreciate her and that they have now ruined Christmas. I'd like to thank the filmmakers for making me feel right at home with this true-to-life scene. Wait, I don't think "thank" is the word I was looking for.

While the girls chat over coffee (kill me now), Mom is down at the hospital reading the riot act to the staff and police detectives who have been assigned to the case. Since he only escaped a mere 12 hours ago, it makes sense that they should get some plainclothes detectives on the case to look for him there inside the hospital building. "It's a big building" they say. Mom continues to yell, they continue to tell her everything is fine and this seemingly never, ever ends. You could easily get off the sofa, grab a beer, take a piss, make a sandwich, check your email, sit back down and not miss a damn thing. Not that I did any of that. I take this job very seriously. I'm sure the screenwriters (yes there are three of them), Jeremiah Campbell, Novin Shakiba, and David S. Sterling, thought they were very clever when they have Mom give them the detectives the burning line "you better pray that he's still in this building, because horror awaits us all, if he's not." Did you get goosebumps, too? Ugh.

At nearly the hour mark, we get to witness the Christmas play we've heard so much (so much) about, as our smarmy detective Huges (Eric Fischer) is given orders by Mom, who aparently out-ranks the Police Chief, to go to the play to keep an eye on her daughters, presumably even though they are terrible kids and have ruined Christmas. The playhouse, not even packed to the 12 person capacity, has plenty of room for Huges, who sits and watches the play, in which no-one seems to notice that the douchebag stoner leads are absent without leave. Finally the play ends and we are in the home stretch. "Wait," I hear you say, "where's the horror in this horror movie?" Well, uhhhh, after the play, Steve decides to clean up by himself so he can let the sisters go home and celebrate Christmas. Steve's lack of testicular ornaments under his Christmas tree is pretty horrifying, I guess. Presumably, the intended horror is our masked killer stabbing Steve in the head (with that damn toy knife) before he manages to get the place cleaned up. Oh gosh, what will the girls think of him? Yeah, I'm fucking riveted to my seat.

Things finally draw to a close (spoiler alert for anyone who is desperate for a nap on the sofa and plans on watching this mess) when Mom has the girls and the detective meet her at the playhouse because... uh, reasons. Of course the stage is set up with the corpses of the victims set up like The Last Supper, but really only reminds viewers of many far better movies, and we get... more conversations. And then we find out that, surprise!, the twist we could see coming from the beginning of the movie (just over 60 minutes ago), is that Mom is actually the killer and she has been blaming the murder on Devin since day one and Devin gets to have a big, emotional, surprisingly articulate speech for someone who has been in a mental institution and hasn't spoken a word in fifteen years! Seriously, if you are going to advertise, and actually star, everyone's favorite homicidal chick-with-a-dick (spoiler?) slasher star Fellisa Rose, how is nobody going to see this coming? Uhhh... no pun intended.

While nobody is turning in any sort of noteworthy performance, at least Rose appears to be giving it her all. While famous, or infamous, for her role in SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983), Rose wasn't in a feature (and I use the term loosely) again until 2003's Andreas Schnaas helmed disappointment NIKOS THE IMPALER. Since then she has been a mainstay in no-budget, shot-on-video outings in which she easily outshines her co-stars. Maybe that's what she likes about it, or maybe it's just a way to pay the bills. Currently, according to the IMDb, Rose has no less than 25 work-in-progress budget-starved efforts that are looming on the horizon. It's a dirty job, but...

This is the second "feature" movie from director and co-writer Novin Shakiba and his last to date. He has several producer credits for other no-budget, shot on video VOD fodder, such as DAHMER VS. GACY (2010) which also features Rose in a supporting role. He shows neither aptitude nor interest in any facet of the video production, except maybe an ambition to work in daytime television as he is desperately trying wring every drop of emotion he can out of the plethora of vacuous dialogue scenes in this movie. While he seems to clearly enjoy shooting scenes of people talking about their feelings, the scenes are laughable at best, or at least they would be, if they weren't so boring. Probably the best scene that sums up the movie is when the sisters were having yet another heart-to-heart talk and one says "you have to dispel the anguish from your heart!" At which point we cut to a slow-motion flashback of the kids opening Christmas presents. Anguish, I tell ya! The only anguish here is suffering through all of the banal padding in this Christmas turkey.