Sunday, 20 December 2015

Don't Open Till Christmas

Title: Don’t Open Till Christmas
Director:  Edmund Purdom
Released:  1984
Starring: Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne, Gerry Sundquist, Mark Jones, Kelly Baker, Caroline Munro, Kevin Lloyd, Pat Astley, Wendy Danvers

Plot: A serial killer is targeting anyone dressed as Santa in London, leaving Chief Inspector Harris (Purdom) to try and track down the killer while seemingly being taunted and offered clues by the mysterious reporter Giles (Lake)

Review:  For some reason when I think of British horror my mind for some reason always seems to go images of gothic castles and period set horror, no doubt thanks to the films of the legendry “Hammer Films”. As such it’s kind of refreshing to find a London set Festive slasher while also another of those titles eclipsed by the “Silent Night Deadly Night” franchise.

Opening to a POV killing being carried out by the killer, this is a film which really wastes little time getting started as even in the opening credits we have harm coming to a Santa….okay it’s a doll which is set on fire and slowly melts while the opening credits roll, but from here its back to more Santa slaying fun, while teasing the idea that the whole film is shot from a killers POV, which sadly it isn’t but atleast director Purdom makes up for it by having another cool kill, this time seeing the Santa being killed via a well-aimed spear while worse still in front of his daughter Kate (Mayne) and whose boyfriend Cliff is soon being suspected of the killings due to seemingly always being in the same place as the murders.

A pretty sleazy offering which might come from some expecting something more classy from a British production, but this film has a real “Christmas Evil” style of sleaze to it as the cobblestone streets and tourists spots are traded for shots of Soho and peep shows, even the first Christmas tree which see is a pathetic stick with a few decorations hung off it which even Charlie Brown would have been embarrassed by. Its off course only the more surprising that the film is as sleazy as it is with Purdom only agreeing to star in this film if he could direct aswell, so the fact that the film turned out the way it did when he had this level of control is pretty surprising.

Where it seems his focus was though for this film though was in finding ever unique ways to kill Santa’s which he really racks up quite the bodycount doing so as they are slashed, stabbed, set on fire and one even has his penis slashed while using the urinal which comes seemingly out of nowhere. There is also an impressive electrocution which is far more spectacular than any previous time I’ve seen this death on screen and next to the roasted Santa makes for a real standout moment for the film. Overall the gore is pretty light with the occasional splatter of blood, but none of the kills feel any less effective for holding back on the splatter.

Where the film really comes apart is with the actual tracking of the killer with Chief Inspector Harris bumbling his way through the case while never seemingly managing to get any kind of a solid leads, with his only ones often coming from the suspicious reporter Giles while the killer himself only taunts Harris further by sending him a wrapped gift with the titular "Don’t Open Till Christmas” message on the label. Elsewhere we get further bumbling from Kate and Cliff which isn’t as focused on the killer either as you’d expect with Kate’s father being killed as I mentioned already and Cliff being a prime suspect. Instead the pair hang outside a tube station busking and Cliff even tries to con Kate into doing porn, when he takes her to his friends porn studio and is essentially just an excuse for Pat Astley to show her boobs which I guess for fans of her work in porn and sex comedies was nothing new and seeing how long this scene is dragged out, with her often being barely covered by a little Santa cape while her being threatened with a straight edge razor brought to mind memories of the equally sleazy “New York Ripper”.

So what inspires someone to go on a Santa killing spree? Well once more its down to Santa being caught in a less than traditional position as like “Christmas Evil” its catching Santa having sex, in this case the killers father cheating on his mother and in full Santa gear no less, before bizzarly acting like he was wrong and knocking his wife down the stairs in a strange little flashback which also sees a child being given a switchblade for Christmas! True this might seem like a spoiler, but its clumsily tacked on the end similar to “Silent Night” almost as if Purdom suddenly realised that he’d spent too much time killing Santa’s and not actually spending any time explaining why the killer is doing what he’s doing.

No doubt I would be rating this movie higher if the last hour didn’t seem like such a mess with various plot threads suddenly being tied up so suddenly that it ends up coming off more than alittle confused, much like the killer suddenly choosing to add kidnapping to his list as he randomly abducts the stripper we see at the peep show earlier who he plans to sacrifice despite her not wearing anything Santa related or even remotely christmasy either.

While this might have its flaws its still enjoyable for the majority of the runtime to make it worth checking out, especially when it currently seems to be overlooked like the superior Christmas Evil. At the same time its London setting is a refreshing change and no doubt what made this film work more than had it been just another American slasher. Still for those of you who like your Santa slashers this is one certainly worth hunting down, even if it is not without its flaws.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Black Christmas (2006)

Title:  Black Christmas
Director:  Glen Morgan
Released:  2006

Starring: Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Lacey Chabert, Crystal Lowe, Kristen Cloke, Andrea Martin, Oliver Hudson, Karin Konoval, Dean Friss, Robert Mann, Jessica Harmon, Leela Savasta, Kathleen Kole, Howard Siegel

Plot: Bily Lenz has been locked up in a mental asylum for the last 15 years after murdering his mother and her lover aswell as gouging out the eye of his sister. Now on Christmas Eve he escapes and returns to his former home only to find that has in the time since his incarcinration

Review:  Yet another remake while one which chooses to tackle Bob Clark’s 1974 original which as I covered in my review of the original was also one of the first slasher and one which would have a much more subtle tone than the slashers which followed in its wake. The remake however is very much a different beast as here director Glen Morgan tackling his second remake after “Willard” attempts to update the plot of the film by adding a back story for Bily while also upgrading the body count and violence seemingly in an attempt to craft a more traditional slasher out of the original.

As a result of this Morgan spends the first hour of the film attempting recreate the setup of the original film while cutting out some aspects such as the abortion dilemma and the fact that everyone seemingly was a drunk. It’s also within this first hour that Morgan also randomly attempts to work in a back story for Billy as we are treated to a series of flashbacks to his childhood and the events leading up to his incarceration, however these are not shown as one sequence but bizarrely spaced out into three separate segments which are clumsily dropped into the film often at the most random of moments. What makes this worse is the fact that none of these flashbacks really add anything to the film and seemingly were only included as a way to explain why Bily is the way he is, much like Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” remake only with much less successful results.

Here the character of Bily still makes his unique prank calls, only now he inexplicably suffers with severe jaundice due to liver disease and which in turn means that we now have to deal with a killer who looks like he’s auditioning for a live action version of “The Simpsons”. If that wasn’t bad enough his sister Agnes is a product of his mother raping him after she locks him in the attic to stop him revealing the fact that she had killed Billy’s father. When it comes to the kills he now also has a fetish for removing the eyes of his victims. Needless to say this is a much more gratuitous slasher we have this time around as subtly is thrown out the window in favour of splatter and a healthy body count.
Surprisingly Morgan had originally planned for this film to be closer to the original, having been friends with Bob Clark and only tackling the remake when he’d got Clark’s permission to do so. However during the production he frequently found himself clashing with producer Harvey Weinstein who insisted that he make the film more gory and part of the reason why Morgan has since disowned the film. Its equally worth noting that the fact that this film was a flop along with his remake of “Willard” caused Morgan to retire from directing which as of the time of writing has yet to change.

Despite Morgan’s feelings about the gore in the film it is one of the stronger aspects of the film when it works, as several moments in particular those involving eye balls being gorged or munched on. The other kills however all come with a high level of creativity which includes a death by ice skate and a falling icicle. This film also might be one of the only occasions I can think of where someone is killed by impaled on a Christmas tree more so when most Christmas trees only have to be looked at wrong to fall over so you have to excuse my scepticism that someone could actually be impaled upon one. Most of these deaths come after the hour mark for this film and once they start happening they quickly start to rack up with no real spacing between them which would be more of an issue if they weren’t so entertaining to watch.

The other main issue here is that none of the girls are particular distinguishable from each other, as they all share seemingly the same personality while once more seemingly been cast for their looks than their acting abilities as unlike the girls of the original I couldn’t really tell who anyone was especially when none of them really have any sort of basic character to define any of them. Infact the only character who gets any sort of character is our crazed killer Billy and that’s more down to the gratuitous amount of flashbacks we get more than anything else.

Consider that Morgan gave us the wonderfully daft Final Destination 1 & 3 I was expecting more from this film, hoping that the critical lashing it had received had been uncalled for. Sadly though this film fails to improve upon the original, though its hard to say if the fault lies with Morgan or the interference from Weinstein, more so when the finish film is left so uneven as it tries to find a place between the two ideas of how the film should be shot.  As such this is now just another failed remake while one scattered with hints of how much better it could have been.

Friday, 11 December 2015


Title:  Celia Aka Celia: Child of Terror
Director:  Ann Turner
Released:  1988
Starring: Rebecca Smart, Nicholas Eadie, Victoria Longley, Mary-Anne Fahey, Margaret Ricketts, Alexander Hutchinson, Adrian Mitchell, Callie Gray, Martin Sharman, Clair Couttie, Alex Menglet, Amelia Frid, William Zappa, Feon Keane, Louise Le Nay

Plot: Celia (Smart) is a nine year old with an active imagination growing up in 1950s suburban Melbourne, who constantly escapes into a fantasy world to escape the ongoing troubles around her, while society deals with both the fear of communism and the rabbit plague.

Review:  This might be the vaguest Alt. Christmas movie I’ve covered to date, especially when the sole link we get to Christmas is in the opening scene which see’s Celia’s class breaking up for the holiday, while the blackboard reads “Merry Christmas” that’s it! No Christmas trees or celebrations, just some festive words on a blackboard. So while the link might not be the greatest, it does however mean I get to cover this obscure Australian film which sits amongst the likes of “Lord of the Flies” and “War of the Buttons” with a playful dark side which at the same time left me wanting to compare this film to arguably Peter Jackson’s best film “Heavenly Creatures”.

 Right from the start director Ann Turner wastes little time in showing the audience an insight into the psyche of Celia which see’s here escaping from her troubled home life via her active imagination which see’s slime covered monsters lurking outside her window, while at the same time sharing a tight bond with the three Tanner kids who live next door and whose parents communist beliefs keep them isolated from the community. Its also through her eyes which we see various adult events unfolding from affairs and barbeques through to events happening in society such as the rabbit plague highlighted through news reel footage which really helps to capture the time period and especially the tensions of the time.

Its worth pointing out that this isn’t a horror film as for some reason the distributors were seemingly keen to market it as judging by the alternative “Child of Horror” title, no doubt the result of them not knowing how else to sell this film, which is understandable when it constantly seems to exist in its own unique world were Celia can switch between blood pacts and childish feuds with her cousin Stephanie (Frid) and her committing and covering up a violent murder with little concern for the consequences of her actions, while the mock hanging she carries out with her friends is awhole other thing entirely. That being said the film is frequently a fascinating and surreal film.

The feud with Stephanie continually makes for one of the pillars of the film here as they engage in a series of tit for tat exhanges, with their rivally seemingly spawned out of their polar world views as Celia fights against the rule governed world of adults, while Stephanie is more happy to submit and more often use them to get a Celia often via her policeman father. However this being said she too has her own bad seed moment when she chooses to brand Celia’s rabbit seemingly out of pure spite. For some reason these confrontations usually around the quarry where Celia and her friends prefer to hang out for no real reason, especially when there is nothing of any real interest there apart from an old shed and it was a setting that I constantly thought would lead to some big moment, but sadly it’s just a setting and nothing else.

The other main antagonist for Celia here is her father with who she has one of the more complicated relationship with as he constantly scoulds her for not following the rules or for her friendship with the Tanner’s especially when he finds out that they are communists. He’s also responsible for her losing her beloved pet rabbit “Murgatroyd” under the rules being enforced by the authorities as part of their attempts to curb the rabbit plague, however when given the chance to reclaim him, he’s happy for her to believe that he has died, despite finding him a couple of minutes earlier. These scenes of high bastardry being countered by scenes of her being taken fishing which only makes it the more confusing how we are supposed to feel about this relationship.

Due to Celia’s behaviour throughout the film its hard to know if this movie should be classed as a “Bad Seed” movie, especially with the events of the film being largely seen through her eyes, while her blonde hair and plats certainly bringing to mind Rhoda Penmark. At the same time a lot of her activities are carried out with her gang of sorts, making it more of a kids gone rogue movie.  

This is far from the most action packed or gory film which means that those horror fans looking for their bad seed fix might find themselves sorely disappointed as it features neither but the interactions between the characters and occasional set pieces really help to carry this film which does at time feel a lot longer as a result than its surprisingly short runtime and what stopped me from rating this film higher. That being said it has enough interesting and occasionally shocking moments to make this one worth hunting down,  more so when it’s the kind of film which is sadly not made enough in these times were films seem to fall into the category of high drama or blockbuster its films like this which make it so much fun to hunt down and experience these movies.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Silent Night

Title:  Silent Night
Director:  Steven C. Miller
Released:  2012
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Jaime King, Donal Logue, Ellen Wong, Lisa Marie, Courtney-Jane White, Cortney Palm, John B. Lowe, Rick Skene, Brendan Fehr, Andrew Hughes, Kelly Wolfman

Plot: A serial killer Santa is on the loose in a small Midwest town picking off citizens on Christmas Eve and it’s down to the local police force to track him down before it’s too late.


Review:  A remake of sorts of the classic festive slasher “Silent Night Deadly Night” which unlike the original seemingly slipped under the radar for most horror fans, no doubt thanks to its direct to DVD release which inturn mean that it avoided any of the controversy that the original film was greeted with. This of course makes it only the more of a shame as this is one of those great rarities a decent horror remake!
It’s worth pointing out that going into this one I had no idea that it was actually a remake, happy to see another Santa Slasher and it only dawned on me after several scenes came off more than a little familiar. At the same time here director Steven C. Miller is clearly keen not to just remake the original shot for shot and here instead gives us an original plot and throws in fun nods to the original when he can. While largely successful it does however mean that the references range from clever such as a sheriff commenting about it being “Garbage Day” to slightly more clumsy as seen with his attempts to work in the catatonic creepy grandpa which comes off misplaced with the scene feeling like it has been forced in especially when unlike the original it has no importance to the plot in the slightest.
While the original focused on the psychologically damaged Billy and the events leading up to his psychotic breakdown, here it’s a much more straightforward story and inturn meaning that the film wastes little time before our killer sets to work as we open to him using his home made electric chair on one of his victims after the great opening sequence showing him assembling his Santa suit. From here it essentially a chain of ever more inventive kills while Aubrey (King) tries to track him down which is no easy task when the town is full of Santa’s for the annual Christmas parade. Even with the killer in the towns midst it soon becomes apparent that he’s not the only crazy in town as we also get the drunk and bitter Santa Jim played here by the continually underrated Donal Logue and who here provides a fun red herring.
While the original spent its time building up the background of Billy and trying to explain how he ends up going on his murderous rampage, here such things are much more of an afterthought with Miller much keener to rack up the creative kills and keep the film moving at a brisk pace than explain why his killer is doing what they are doing. As such when we do finally get an explanation its feels like much more of an afterthought and thanks to its placement in the film as an epilogue of sorts feels clumsier than if it had it been placed in a more prominent position.  On the flip side the kills here are truly inventive as the killer proves himself more than capable with his axe while getting equally creative with a string of Christmas lights and more memorably a flamethrower while the real standout death comes via the use of a woodchipper
While the kills are all surprisingly good it’s equally surprising to see the film shot like an 80’s slasher as we get a healthy dose of gore and splatter, let alone gratuitous nudity which seems to equally be as much a rarity in modern horror as old school splatter and here its used in such a way that it adds to the film rather than feeling exploitive. Again it’s a credit to Miller that he also shies away from reproducing any of the classic kills from the original outside of a girl being impaled in a pair of antlers, though if only one kill was to be carried across I kind of would have preferred for it to have been the sled decapitation which is sadly absent here
Unquestionably it’s a great cast which Miller has assembled here with Malcom McDowell chewing the scenery as the town sheriff while getting the best line of the film when he belittles the killer for bringing “a flamethrower to a gun fight”. Equally on good form is Jaime King who here makes her third appearance in a horror remake, having previously appeared in the remakes of both “My Bloody Valentine” and “Mother’s Day” and here proves herself a great final girl as the deputy determined to learn the identity of the killer with whom they she might share more of a link with than first seems.

While it might be remake here Miller really has crafted a film which stands on its own merits, giving the fans of the festive slasher another film to add to their collection, though by the same quality it’s doubtful that none horror films will find much here to hold their attention, especially as its not trying to be meta or break the mould but this is one which is worth giving a watch even with the horror remake stigma, though it will no doubt leave you wishing that more of horror remakes were like it.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Top 6 Christmas TV Specials

The Christmas special is one of the trickier episodes for any series to tackle, especially as the writers are faced with walking that tightrope between festive cheer and sickening Smoltz.
So here are six of my festive themed episodes which I like to revisit, while frequently managing to bring a fun warped view of the holiday season.
How I Met Your Mother – How Lily Stole Christmas
This show has the distinct honour of manging to kill any enthusiasm I may have had for the show with its final season, which was essentially a drawn out middle finger to the fans who had stuck with the show even as it was becoming little more than a twitching mess with the audience being told that we wanted Ted and Robyn to end up together (we didn’t) while Jason Segel mugging for the camera as he continued to convince himself that he was funny which like Lily’s “Son of a Beesh” quote really made you wonder who was actually running this show. That being said this episode continues to be a delight each year, even if it contains many of the issues which bugged me about the show as Segel spends most of the child acting like a man child which is only the more concerning when you think that this character will somehow end up a judge.
The episode itself has Ted trying to track down Lily after she finds an old answer machine message of him calling her a Grinch (the show using this as a replacement for Bitch) and in revenge steals the winter wonderland she sets up in the apartment and leaving Ted with the task of tracking her down before Marshall gets back home. At the same time Robyn is left trying to nurse a sick Barney who refuses to accept that he has a cold and leaving her to spike his tea with codeine.
It’s a fun episode throughout while crammed with festive cheer and no heavy moral weight as the other Christmas specials would have, mainly at the hands of Ted playing the father role for the group and leaving us the audience wonder why we are supposed to be rooting for him in the first place. Here though it’s about embracing the gaudy side of Christmas as the apartment is filled with Christmas lights, while Ted’s frantic search for Lily ensures that the episode keeps a great pace and ensuring that it’s always fun one to revisit to even if the finale left you wondering why you stuck with it all these years.   
Black Mirror – White Christmas
Created by satirist Charlie Brooker who prior to creating the series gave us the Big Brother with added zombies “Dead Set” and with this series gave us a technology based version of The Outer Limits / Twilight Zone.
While episodes of the show featured one story, this Christmas special instead mixed up the format by giving us a trilogy of tales which as the episode progresses may be more interconnected than first seems. At the same time Jon Hamm gives an amazing performance throughout especially during the segments which take place between the stories as he prepares Christmas dinner with Joe who he shares a remote outpost in the middle of the snowy wilderness with and who has no idea how or why he got there.
Like the rest of the series this special has a real dark edge to it while crafting at the same time a great trilogy of tales all of which come with their own twist which makes each one more memorable than the last, though it’s doubtful that you’ll ever feel the same out Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” again.
The Big Bang Theory – The Santa Simulation
 Here we have a show which bizarrely has managed to find a niche in making great Christmas episodes in much the same way that “The Simpsons” have with Halloween. As such there was a battle between this episode and “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis” who memorably saw Sheldon give Penny a rare hug when she gave him a signed (and used) napkin from Leonard Nimroy.
What won this episode a place on the list though was how much of Sheldon’s background we find out as he is forced to take part in a festive themed game of “Dungeons and Dragons” in which the group have to rescue Santa Claus from a pack of ogres while along the way solving Christmas themed puzzles. Its after each of these puzzles is solved that Sheldon shares a small piece of his childhood christmas’s ending with the heartfelt confession of how he’d asked Santa to bring back his recently deceased Grandfather “Pop Pop” who had been his inspiration to get into science.

It’s an episode which manages to combine some real emotion with some great jokes including Sheldon taking his revenge on Santa by leaving him in the dungeon and ending with a vengeful Santa shooting him with a cannon in one of the episode highlights, which for that reason alone makes this one of my favourites to revisit.
Family Guy – A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas

While I don’t tend to watch the show much anymore this is still a great episode back when the show was slowly being revived thanks to the cult following its DVD’d were creating.
This episode sees Louis trying to ensure the family have a great Christmas only to find things going wrong at every turn as Peter accidently gives away the families presents to charity and the turkey burns (along with half the house) which suprisingly doesn’t faze her until she can’t find any paper towels and it causes her to have a breakdown and embarking on a rampage. Meanwhile Stewie is keen to please Santa who he belives is omnipotent in the hopes he will get plutonium in return.
I love the continuing issues which build up to Louis’s meltdown, while the running joke of Peter constantly tuning into the fictional special “KISS Save Santa” only adds to the high joke count, especially when KISS are present to voice their cartoon selves and at one point use an electric guitar rift to save Santa from pterodactyls makes me wish that they would actually make this special…god knows they’ve lent their name to everything else.  
South Park –  Woodland Critter Christmas
For a show which seems determined to offend everyone, Matt Stone and Trey Parker really have a soft spot for Christmas especially when the specials have frequently proven to be some of the best episodes of the show, let alone how the show got originally picked up with their original short film “The Spirit of Christmas”.
 While on the surface this episode might seem like such a play on the cutesy Christmas animal cartoons, it soon decends into a depraved game of one-upmanship as they somehow continue to find new and inventive ways to make this special more and more offensive as Stan is forced to help the cute forest animals unware that they are all Satanists! The fact that it has a festive and happy narration only adds to the seriously warped humour here, as the most grotesque acts are spoken about with the same innocence you'd expect from this voice over usually associated with more traditional Christmas imagery. But hey what were we really expecting from the guys who gave us Mr Hanky the Christmas poo!
Blackadders Christmas Carol

Blackadder is one of TV's legendry bastards, so having already crossed four time periods over the course of the series, it seemed that he was the perfect choice to play the Scrooge character in this festive special.

The twist here is that we open to Blackadder as an actual good person and a far cry from any of his ancestors and who here like Scrooge finds himself being shown his ancestors aswell as his future self as the Grand Admiral of an galaxy spanning empire while discovering that by being mean things would actually work out a lot better for him. Its a journey which does include seeing a future Baldrick in a thong but its such a fun twist on the classic tale, let alone allowing us to revisit some classic versions of Blackadder. True this one might be lost on those not familiar with the character but for the established fans its a fun festive treat. 

So there you have my festive favourites, but what's going to be on your TV this Christmas?

Let me know in the comments section.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Black Christmas

Title:  Black Christmas
Director:  Bob Clark
Released:  1974
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, Lynne Griffin, Marian Waldmn, Keir Dullea, Art Hindle, John Saxton, James Edmond

Plot: A sorority house finds themselves being plagued with continual and frequently disturbing prank calls from an unknown caller. However its not long before things start to take murderous turn as the girls soon find themselves being preyed upon while Lt. Fuller (Saxton) tries to track down the source of the calls.


Review:  Not only the first of the festive slashers, this film also has the distinction of being one of the first slasher ever while inspiring in its wake the likes of “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”. Despite this “Black Christmas” has never had the same following that “Silent Night Deadly Night” has despite coming out after it and even the superior “Christmas Evil”.

Directed by Bob Clark who over the course of his career would give us numerous cult movies including “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” and the legendry teen sex comedy “Porky’s” and its sequel before being resigned to directing TV movies and more ashamedly the “Baby Geniuses” films. This film however really catches him in his prime as a director with this surprisingly tense and subtle slasher a style which would be lost on the later slashers of the 80’s which became more about the kill than the tension leading up to it.

Opening to the girls of the sorority house throwing a Christmas party while a mysterious stranger climbs into the attic before shortly afterwards the girls receive the first of the films prank calls. These calls are less the humerous variety and more of a madman’s ramblings seemingly intercut with records of screams and other disturbing noises all which unsurprisingly leave the girls as freaked out as it does annoyed by these calls which keep coming. This is a great setup for the events of the film while further topped off by one of the best kills of the film as Claire (Griffin) is killed with plastic wrapping before being placed in the attic and displayed in a rocking chair.

Unlike so many of the other Holiday slashers this film was a surprisingly subtle film and despite featuring a spattering of memorable kills this film is really more about building tension and suspense than focusing on the slasher working his way through the girls of the sorority house. That being said its not free from its share of truly random moments including several characters seemingly always drinking including most memorably the house mother who has hidden bottles all around the house to ensure that she is never without a drink. Barb (Kidder) meanwhile seemingly also never stops drinking from the first time we see her at the opening party to the next day when she is hosting with her foul mouthed boyfriend amusingly dressed as Santa a party for underprivileged kids, one who she is soon seen also giving alcohol to as well. 

The killer here really brings something special to what could have been otherwise a run of the mill slasher as not only do we ever fully see who they are, with an eye and a hand being all we get to see of the killer outside of his shadowy outline. At the same time Clark perfectly distracts us with Jess’s boyfriend Peter (Dullea) a neurotic pianist who is struggling to deal with the fact that she wants to have an abortion. The fact that Jess is also the final girl and that the pure and virginal Clare is the first to die equally mixes things up and breaks the so called slasher rules before they even came into play.

The kills throughout are all creative from the opening plastic sheet suffocation to one of the girls being stabbed by a glass unicorn in one of the more creepy scenes, as her screams are drowned out by carollers while such scenes ensure that things are kept interesting especially when the killer is kept solely to the house which could have limited the film or descended into drawn out chase scenes which surprisingly it never does.

The cast are all likeable enough in their various roles with John Saxton especially standing out as Lt. Fuller who seemingly is the only cop capable of making anything happen in this town, especially when his fellow cops are so quick to dismiss the concerns of the girls when they attempt to report Claire’s mysterious disappearance, though why no one ever thinks to check the attic is beyond me and ensuring that the killer always has somewhere to hide out and generally set out grim displays with the bodies of his victims. The fact that seemingly the only way to track the killer is by keeping him on the phone while they trace the call at the telephone exchange certainly keeps the chase tense, especially as the calls become increasingly deranged and aggressive as the film progresses.

The downside to the film lies in its second half where the film really starts to falter thanks to some poor pacing and poor handling of the cops attempts to find the killer as the final half of the film feels like it could have been trimmed down which might ultimately have made me enjoy this film more than I did.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Santa's Little Helper

Title:  Santa’s Little Helper
Director:  Gil Junger
Released:  2015
Starring: The Miz, Paige, AnnaLynne McCord, Eric Keenleyside, Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Maryse Quellet Mizanin

Plot: Dax “The Axe” is a fast talking and slick businessman who is in fact so good at his job that he manages to eliminate his own job. Now he finds himself unwittingly being put through a series of training exercises by elf Billie (Paige) in hopes of becoming the new Santa’s Little Helper.

Review:  After last year giving us a passable sequel to “Jingle All The Way” with their Larry The Cable Guy fronted and imaginatively titled “Jingle All The Way 2” this film now marks WWE Studios second attempt to cash in on the festive season with WWE Wrestler The Miz being given another lead role after seemingly becoming the face of “The Marine” franchise after he starred in part 3 and 4. This time he also joined by DIVA Paige who shows up as the devious elf Eleanor who feels she has earned the role as “Santa’s Little Helper”.

This film is also another of the occasional jaunts into more family friendly fare, with the company seemingly more happy to churn out action and horror films starring wrestlers from the WWE roster. No doubt this decision is largely based on the fact that most of their product is released for the DTV market with few receiving theatrical releases if any, while it could equally be down to the fact that none of these lighter movies have been any good with “The Chaperone” still haunting me now, more so when you have Triple H one of their biggest ass kickers being reduced to hamming it up in a kids caper movie.

Gil Junger doesn’t really give us anything groundbreaking from the usual festive fare, while in away highlighting how far he’s really fallen since making his directing debut with “10 Things I Hate About You” before moving onto directing mainly TV these days.  Here though he’s clearly working from a script which seemingly can’t decide who its audience is as it flits between family themed material and more adult jokes but never settling on either one leaving the film really at times feeling disjointed at best.

The main meat of the film is the usual arsehole turned good by the festive season fare with the recently fired Dax thinking he’s taking part in an interview and the tasks assigned to him by Billie being all part of the process. These tasks of course only getting more random as the film goes on as he starts by trying resolving conflict by ticking off a bunch of bikers before trying to cheer up some old folks which soon descends into him stripping for their amusement when they turn out to be more sexed up than they first seemed. For some reason Dax never overly questions any of these tasks, while constantly somehow managing to find a way to link them to various business moguls as he tries to figure out who he’s interviewing for.

Of course when Dax does find out the role he’s being interviewed for it does end up being a cringe worthy experience, as seemingly he could have been responsible for everything from curing the common cold to being an astronaut had his childhood been better. The fact that he’s so quick to accept the position and what it entails is only the baffling. Still in a change from the usual child actor gathering that tends to be every Santa’s workshop here all the elves are normal sized actors in their twenties while Mrs Claus constantly seems to be fixed on feeding everyone cookies.

Performance wise the Miz is surprisingly not too bad as an actor, especially when compared to some of the other performances we have seen from some of his fellow wrestlers over the years and here he has a very natural charisma even if some of Dax’s actions are far from believable. That being said his great chemistry with McCord keeps things fun even if none of the tasks seem to relate to anything remotely festive. McCord meanwhile is hardly being pushed here in the role of the bubbly pretty elf, who frequently makes reference to her deformity which is essentially an overplayed way of saying she has normal ears rather than the more traditional pointy ones, but the way it’s played here you would think it’s something much more drastic.

One of the main flaws the film has is the distinct lack of any kind of disenable threat, despite the film not throwing one but three potential villains at Dax. First we have the devious elf Eleanor played here also surprisingly well by fellow wrester Paige, who despite making a large number of threats about claiming he position of Santa’s Little Helper for herself fails to do very little outside of challenging him to an obstacle course race. Elsewhere the film tries to work in villainous turns from his former boss who wants to knock down the local community centre, aswell as the former centre manager who framed Dax when he was a teenager for stealing the Christmas donations. All of which ultimately fall flat and as a result leave the film with a disappointingly flaccid finale, even if it is kind of amusing to see Dax trying to take on a digger bare handed.

While the film doesn’t feel like a waste of time as a casual watch, its lack of substance and general plotting make it harder to recommend nor place it into the cult film bracket, but looking at the mountain of similar movies out there, it’s safe to say you could certainly do worse than this, while the Miz equally makes it a more bearable experience than it may have been with another member of the WWE roster.

Friday, 20 November 2015


Title: Election
Director: Alexander Payne
Released: 1999
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Delaney Driscoll, Chris Klein, Frankie Ingrassia, Jessica Campbell

Review: Released to little fanfare in 1999, “Election” was considered upon it’s release a box office failure and like its fellow Indie comedy classic “Clerks” only really found its audience when it was later released on VHS / DVD. Still despite being ranked at #61 on Bravo’s 100 funniest movies, it remains something of an indie obscurity with few folks seemingly heard of it let alone seen it, while Director Alexander Payne would later go onto both critical and commercial success with his follow up films “About Schmidt”, the dinner party favourite “Sideways” and the recent Oscar nominated “The Descendents”

Based on the Tom Perrotta novel of the same name released a year before the film, it is the story of high school teacher Jim McAllister (Broderick) who secretly is plotting his revenge against the overachieving and highly vindictive  Tracy Flick (Witherspoon), a student who had earlier in the school year engaged in an affair with Jim’s best friend and fellow teacher Dave, which resulted in him being fired and later divorced by his wife Linda (Driscoll) while Tracy walked away from the scandal free of any form of reprisal or punishment. Now having set her sights on becoming student body president, Jim finally spots his chance for revenge, especially with Tracey being set to run unopposed, something he is quick to put an end to by introducing his own candidate by encouraging  Paul Metzler (Klein) a popular football player currently sitting out the season due to breaking his leg to run for election,  something which Paul surprisingly finds new purpose from.
Unwittingly though Paul has also recently stolen his sister’s girlfriend Lisa (Ingrassia), after she decided that she was just experimenting and not actually gay. In response to this rejection Tammy (Campbell) decides to run for the presidency, determined to get her revenge against her brother and Lisa, while also gaining the anarchy vote for promising to dissolve the student government if she wins and so the race to become student president begins, though with so many personal agenda’s it’s going to be anything but a clean fight.

More than happy to play around with the traditional high school conventions, Payne here crafts a darkly comic film, with nearly all of the characters playing against type, hence Overachiever Tracy is more than willing to do whatever it takes to win the election, frequently coming off like Rachel from “Glee” on crack! A hideously smug creation Witherspoon is perfectly cast to play, as she has a sweet and innocent look yet has the ability to switch styles instantly to show her darker side as soon as things stop going Tracey’s  way, while seemingly armed with a endless supply of plots and schemes to ensure she wins the election from baking 480 customised cupcakes to tearing down her opponents posters in frenzied meltdown.

Meanwhile the traditionally loudmouth Jock, represented here by Paul is a much more thoughtful and even philosophical character, yet at time painfully naïve about what is happening around him, especially when it comes to unwittingly stealing his sisters girlfriend and never actually realizes that Lisa is purely using him to spite his sisters advances. Tammy continues what  would seem to be a family trait for being philosophical and while she represents the outsiders, her personal musings on the world around her and her sexuality frequently providing the moments of indie cool and only further helping to separate this film from other high school films.

Constantly switching between the four main characters, with heavy use of voice overs, Payne truly gets inside the heads of both the candidates as well as Jim whose life is none the less chaotic outside of his vendetta against Tracy, as he harbours feelings for his best friend’s ex-wife with who a potential liaison in a motel, which also starts a downward spiral in his luck when all he receives is a bee sting to the eye, while his plans to swing the outcome of the election and their gradual unravelling only adds to the black humour, as Broderick still manages to charm the audience as the nice guy trying to play it bad, even as his choices only grown increasingly morally dubious, as you question just how low he will sink before he truly hits rock bottom.

Despite seemingly have assembled an all star cast, it is really down to pure good luck on the part of  Director Payne that history has seen his cast’s careers for the most part continue to rise, especially as upon it’s release only Broderick was a big name on the cast, with Witherspoon still yet to become America’s sweetheart, despite coming to the forefront of the public conscious the same year when she also appeared in “Cruel Intentions” meanwhile Klein would become more notable for his appearance in “American Pie” again released the same year as this film, only to soon disappear just as quickly as he had burst onto the scene. The most frustrating piece of casting though would be with Thora Birch, who was originally cast as Tammy only to sadly be replaced by Campbell on the forth day of shooting, following creative differences between herself and Payne, still despite being the second choice Campbell still makes the role her own and only makes it more of a shame that she only had a handful of roles after appearing here.

Seeing how it was released during a golden year for cinema, it’s not too surprising that this film got so overlooked on it’s original release, especially with 1999 being the year that saw the releases of The Matrix, Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, Cruel Intentions and err…. The Boondock Saints. Perhaps if it hadn’t been for the original “American Pie” also being released the same year this would have been the high school movie of choice, but still despite this it is still a darkly comic tale of high school life, while providing some of the cast such as Broderick and Witherspoon to play against type. Needless to say this is one vision of high school which rings more than a little true, without feeling the need to resort to fantasy Esq. Visions of what Hollywood perceives High school life to be like and makes an especially refreshing change to what the Disney machine would have us believe High school to be like, while also reminding us that corruption in politics clearly exists at any level.

Monday, 16 November 2015

A History of Violence

Title: A History of Violence
Director: David Cronenberg
Released: 2005
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Ed Harris, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk

Plot: Tom (Mortensen) a mild mannered diner owner living in the small town of Millbrook, Indiana who after foiling an attempted robbery finds himself becoming a local celebrity. However despite his attempts to return to a normal life, he instead finds himself and his family being stalked by a scarred gangster (Harris) who insists that Tom is not who he says he is.

Review:  Despite being known for his love of body horror on which he’d built his reputation, it was clear when this film was released that Cronenberg was keen to move on and explore different themes and ideas, than his cornerstones of mutation, disease and infection which had shape nearly all his previous films. However starting with the much overlooked “Spider” and followed by this film it was clear that he had turned a corner in his career and arguably for the better, Cronenberg perhaps realising that he’d really pushed his body horror obsessions as far as he could.

This however is not to mean that he has lost any of his edge as he opens with a pair of thugs checking out of their motel, only to tease out the fate of the motel clerk and manager, while the pair banter back and forth between themselves. In fact I was surprised to find this film more visceral than I remembered with the central diner heist quickly turning nasty before reaching its gruesome payoff while we also early on get treated to a graphic oral sex scene and clumsy cheerleader roleplay between Tom and his wife which will prove a tender comparison to the rough stairwell sex they have when *Spoilers alert* Tom’s former life is revealed.

This film also marks the first of three films he has to date made with Viggo Mortensen with the other two being the spiritual sequel to this film “Eastern Promises” and his Jung / Freud biopic “A Dangerous Method”. It’s clear though from this first collaboration that the two certainly work well together as Mortensen believably plays both sides of his character first as the mild mannered and soft spoken family man and later as his sadistic and violent gangster personality which he has been hiding all these years from his wife and family.

Despite being based on the graphic novel of the same name, released through DC Comics “Vertigo” imprint, the film actually improves on the source material by focusing on the main story of Tom and the life he thought he’d escaped and in turn cutting out the heavy use of flashbacks that made up much of the original story. In doing so Cronenberg really hones in on the meat of the story, while a tight runtime keeps the action and suspense flowing, even when it takes in subplots as Tom’s eldest son having to deal with a bullying head jock, whose dislike of him comes merely from having caused him to lose a game of softball, which makes the intensity of the bullying all the more baffling. It is unclear whether Cronenberg knew the screenplay was based on a comic book, especially when he has so frequently been outspoken on his disdain for the genre perhaps making this this first and only dabble with the genre.

Here Cronenberg once again assembles a strong cast, though at time Maria Bello comes off far too wooden especially during her seduction scenes which ultimately come off more clumsy than sexy. Still this film really hinges on the performances of both Mortensen and Ed Harris who despite his heavily scared face manages to prove himself a terrifying threat even without the threat of violence as he provides the same sort of relentless torment to Tom and his family he almost manages to rival Ben Kingsley in "Sexy Beast" only without the same prophanity riddled meltdown.

The violence throughout the film while frequently explicit is used with such reserve here, that when do get a moment of violence it remains shocking even if some of the fight scenes especially are so over the top such as the scenes in which Tom is forced to dispatch a group of gangsters threatening his family or the diner robbery. At the same time it’s clear that he’s aware of his abilities and frequently is shown trying to avoid conflict, not only to avoid revealing his previous life, but also you feel to avoid tapping into the side of him he might not be able to supress again, especially if we are to believe any of the tales we are told of his former life one which he is clearly clean to put behind him making the final scenes all the more poignant as he puts his guns to earth and cleanses himself of his sins in the lake before returning to his family, the last scene showing the family wanting to move on while the events of the film are clearly still hanging over them as they try to present the image of a happy family.

This is easily one of Cronenberg’s most accessible films to date especially when it plays more like a traditional thriller while here he shows himself more than capable of producing interesting and engaging films without body horror, while being carried by some strong performances especially by Mortensen who plays both sides of Tom perfectly and making this a thriller with real bite.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015


Title:  Videodrome
Director:  David Cronenberg
Released: 1983
Starring: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Les Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman

Plot: Max Renn (Woods) the president of CIVIC-TV, a station which specialises in sleazy and sensationalistic programing is frustrated in his attempts to find his next big program. However when he stumbles across “Videodrome” a show which seemingly shows real torture and murder with his attempts to discover its origin leading him to discover a much larger global conspiracy.


Review:  Released during a golden period for Cronenberg, who with “The Brood” had finally found his groove after his hit and miss early experiments with body horror (Rabid / Shivers) aswell as the much overlooked “Fast Company”. Here though he would give us some of his most memorable work as he continues his obsession with bodily mutation, disease and infection which this time comes via the voyeuristic violence of “Videodrome”, whose side effects soon see James Woods undergoing a number of bizarre transformations including most memorably turning his torso into a gooey VHS slot.

Working from a script developed from his childhood memories of picking up signals from New York, when the channels in his native Canada had gone off the air while at the same time constantly worried that he might stumble across like Max something that he should see. At the same time basing the films “Civic TV” on “CityTV” which had a reputation for showing soft-core pornography which it branded “Baby-blue films”; Here he truly crafts a strange tale to say the least but at the same time for all its mutations it’s also a surprisingly straightforward story and one which is carried by Woods moral devoid TV Station president who we open to him buying an underground pornography series from a pair of Japanese businessmen and despite it featuring a hidden dildo, he has seemingly grown board by the usual sleaze and grime he has been peddling on the station until now. Needless to say it only makes it only the more believable that he would see the staged snuff TV that Videodrome offers as the future of TV.

Of course being a Cronenberg film it was never going to be enough for Max to head off on a journey into the film making underground to find out the source of this mysterious broadcast which becomes a source of obsession to Max. Instead Cronenberg turns it into something much more interesting as the broadcast comes with the ability to cause vivid hallucinations and meaning that we get such memorable scenes as Max seemingly pushing himself into his television aswell as the aforementioned chest VHS sequence which the film has become renowned for.

While it’s easy to get distracted with all the visual flair being thrown around, but outside of the big set pieces it’s still a journey filled with fascinating characters such as Debbie Harry’s sadomasochistic psychiatrist who finds the vicious images of “Videodrome” the ultimate turn on. We also meet Professor Brian O’Blivion (Creley) who chooses to only appear via video recordings than in person and while it’s true that some moments such as the homeless mission were those attending engage are forced to continually watch TV’S but like so many of these Cronenbergisms which seem so grounded in reality we don’t ever question them no matter how random things seem to get, with the switches between the reality and dreams being so fluid here, that you genuinely reach a point where you stop questioning what is happening and instead just enjoy the ride.

While this film might have its share of gooey moments this is certainly one of his more accessible films making it the perfect starting place for newcomers, while still containing plenty to enjoy for the converted while this is unquestionably fearless film making at its best.
Hail to the new flesh!

Thursday, 5 November 2015

American Teen

Title:  American Teen
Director: Nanette Burstein
Released: 2008
Plot: Documentary following five students from different social groups through their final school year

Seemingly based on “The Breakfast Club” idea of high school hierocracy the documentary looks at five students, each belonging to a different social group while following them through their final year of school as they deal with various issues such as dating and falling out with friends all while trying to figure out what they want to do after school. The documentary switching between its five subjects which include
  • Hannah AKA the “Rebel” – A self-confessed outsider thanks to her liberal views which don’t tend to go down to well in the small-town conservative culture of Warsaw. She distracts herself with her art, music and writing while dreaming of leaving for San Francisco to work in films.
  • Colin AKA the “Jock” – Star of the school basketball team, he is looking to impress the visiting college scouts in order to get a scholarship for college.
  • Megan AKA the “Princess” – The most popular student and queen bee, who aims to follow in her family legacy by getting into the University of Notre Dame, while more than willing to do anything to maintain her position in the social order.
  • Mitch AKA the “Heartthrob  - One of the popular kids and a teammate of Colin’s on the basketball team.
  • Jake AKA the “Geek” – the bottom of the social pile Jake’s prefers to loose himself in video games and the school band, while his introverted nature means he finds it difficult to make friends. His main goal is to find a date for prom or at least a girlfriend.
Directed by Nanette Burstein whose no doubt best known for directing the boxing documentary “On the Ropes” and “The Kid Stays in the Picture” which charted the life and career of film producer Robert Evans. Here though she casts her net in a pretty wide sweep as she attempts to craft a picture of final year students at school, while attempting to avoid the usual pitfalls of just focusing on the popular kids which as someone who school life saw them spending their time lurking in the no man’s land between being popular and the bottom of the social pile, I can assure you that school was far from the happiest of times which most of these documentaries like to proclaim.
Originally Burstein reviewed  more than 100 potential schools for the film of which 10 agreed to participate and which after interviewing seniors at these school, ultimately decided on Warsaw Community High school in Warsaw, Indianna which has the distinction of being the “Orthopaedic Capital of the World” and seemingly little else. This certainly gives it an interesting angle in how eager the subjects are to escape the quiet town life.
Each of the segments is led solely by their subjects as they go about their hobbies or general day to day school life. Hannah comes off especially well with this technique especially with her outspoken nature with Jake coming a close second even if his sections were he’s addressing the camera directly tend to drift into romantic fantasies.  Megan on the other hand largely ignores the camera and generally acts like she is in her own episode of “The Hills” outside of a segment in the third quarter were she talks about her older sister who committed suicide in a rare moment of vulnerability especially when she’s spent most of the documentary seemingly not caring what affect her actions have on anyone unless it in some way benefits her, as she spray paints the word “Fag” on a rival’s house after they overulled her idea for prom while making sure that she e-mail’s the whole school an ill-advised topless selfie sent to her by mistake. Colin meanwhile comes off as an uncharismatic oaf who showboating attitude is currently leading the school’s basketball team into its worse season ever. Perhaps because of this the majority of his footage is kept to him playing, or hanging around his Elvis impersonator dad who is keen to see his son enlisted in the Army rather than resting on his skills as a basketball player.
The real draw here through are ironically the least popular kids in school, with Hannah trying to find her place as she defiantly walks her own line, while coming close to failing the year after skipping school following a break up with her long term boyfriend.  Jake equally makes for an engaging subject as he goes through his own series of failed attempts at romance which are almost as crushing to watch as they are for him to endure, so when he is taken on a drunken bender with his brother you can’t help but root for him finally having something work out well for him.
Unquestionably due to covering these major groups the end result is a slightly disjointed ride with certain subjects coming off better than others, while Mitch really comes off as an afterthought seeing how he is the least featured of the five with his only real presence in the film coming from the brief and surprising relationship he has with Hannah, before becoming arguably the worst person in the film when he breaks up with her via text message.  This lack of footage only makes it less surprising that he was left of some posters for this film.  At the same time the film has come under criticism of being staged, though I couldn’t personally tell and to be honest you’re more likely to see faker footage on reality TV than you see here. Yes it is perhaps overly dramatic is places but then wasn’t school always this way.
A flawed documentary with its mishmash of footage and hit and miss subjects, its occasional great moments tend to get lost along the way, while its animated sections prove to be more of a distraction than adding anything to the film. Ultimately its hard to see what Burstein was aiming to achieve with this documentary, especially when it plays out exactly how you'd expect it to with the rich kids and jocks get what they want, while the geeks and outsiders only get to find themselves when they escape the confines of school. Still if you want to see your school days played out with modern teens then this might be the film for you, only just don't expect any big answers as this film certainly doesn't have any.
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