Retro Cinema: Christmas Evil

CHRISTMAS-EVIL

I love cheesy horror as much as anybody, especially when you tie into something held sacred by so many, like Christmas. Usually, these films are done with the sort of sly wink from the filmmaker to acknowledge that it’s all meant to be silly fun. Unfortunately, I don’t really get that feeling with this Christmas horror film, “Christmas Evil.” And there is good silly and bad silly.

I’m afraid this falls into the latter.

I just want to grab the filmmaker and say, “Oh, honey. What were you thinking?” First of all, the whole “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” reference is nowhere near enough to traumatize a child, turning them into a psychotic adult. Not getting that. Then the whole scene where the deranged little boy decides to break a snow globe and cut himself is really confusing. Is that supposed to be interpreted as trying to slash wrists? It seems like he just cut his hand, which makes no sense whatsoever.

When the movie fast forwards to the adult psycho, I’ve seen many critics talk about the good performance of a man descending into madness. Oh PUH-lease. It was just silly. Bad silly. Not even so-silly-it’s-funny. The things that supposedly make him finally snap are so trivial that you can’t possibly believe even a psycho would be set off by them. And if so, he should have gone off the deep end a long time ago. I mean, a guy fooling you into covering his shift? A couple of fancy New Yorkers teasing you a little bit about your Santa suit?

Christmas Evil 1

Embracing the nonsense yields a few favorite moments: a group of New Yorkers turning into a torch-carrying mob, literally, and a guy falling over an embankment in the snow and you can see the rug underneath the fake snow moving with him. That was definitely an Ed Wood moment, may he rest in peace. And then that last scene with the van doing a “Thelma and Louise” leap and then an “E.T” flying across the moonlit sky… Sweet baby Jesus. That is a hot mess.

This is definitely one you watch after a lot of alcohol, or whatever substance of choice, because that’s the only thing that will make this entertaining. Especially if you get the special double feature edition packaged with “Silent Night, Bloody Night” that is set up movie theater style with the opening concession stand pitches as well as vintage cartoons of Casper and Popeye.

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Go rent or buy “Black Christmas” instead. Or the super size bottle of your favorite adult beverage.

Horror Classics: Salem’s Lot

One of the first books by Stephen King to find its way on celluloid was the made-for-TV flick “Salem’s Lot,” starring David Soul of “Starsky and Hutch” fame. (Don’t even ask me which he was because not only do I not remember, I don’t think I even knew back then.)

Now, when you think 70s and made-for-TV, one usually isn’t too optimistic about the result. But this was the exception, with good acting, nice makeup and yes, vampires that were scary and not emo. Not that should be surprising under the direction of Tobe Hooper.

The plot synopsis: Writer Ben Mears (a thinly-veiled King) returns to his hometown to explore some childhood trauma for a new book. He meets a girl, played by Bonnie Bedelia, and befriends the young teen Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin) who is obsessed with the macabre (a thinly-veiled teenage King) and they join forces when the townsfolk start falling ill and dying unexpectedly. It’s no coincidence this starts shortly after a stranger arrives and occupies the spooky Marsten house, getting it ready for its new mysterious owner who no one has seen.

Or at least no one who lives to tell the tale.

James Mason is supreme as the evil caretaker for one seriously fugly vampire, and this was the first time I had seen a Nosferatu-inspired vampire. Between him, and the vampires tapping on the windows, this one has some genuine creeps. Geoffrey Lewis (Juliette’s dad) also has a great scene, featured below.

Grab this while you can: It’s out of print and you may have to go VHS to stay in budget.

Salem’s Lot (1979) Cast
David SoulBen Mears
James Mason … Richard K. Straker
Lance Kerwin … Mark Petrie
Bonnie Bedelia … Susan Norton
Lew Ayres … Jason Burke
Julie Cobb … Bonnie Sawyer
Elisha Cook … Gordon ‘Weasel’ Phillips
George Dzundza … Cully Sawyer
Ed Flanders … Dr. Bill Norton
Clarissa Kaye … Majorie Glick
Geoffrey Lewis … Mike Ryerson
Barney McFadden … Ned Tibbets
Kenneth McMillan … Constable Parkins Gillespie
Fred Willard … Larry Crockett
Marie Windsor … Eva Miller
Barbara BabcockJune Petrie
Bonnie Bartlett … Ann Norton
Joshua Bryant … Ted Petrie
James Gallery … Father Donald Callahan
Robert Lussier … Deputy Constable Nolly Gardner
Brad Savage … Danny Glick
Ronnie Scribner … Ralphie Glick
Ned Wilson … Henry Glick

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‘The Conjuring’ shows subtle can be scary

The-Conjuring-Images

Horror has always been popular to some extent, but the last couple of weeks, it proved once again how it can crush the box office with the surprise success of James Wan’s latest, “The Conjuring.” It also proved you don’t need gratuitous gore, violence, nudity or things jumping out and shouting “Boo!” at you to create a creepy atmosphere and an air of fear.  In fact, the scariest moments are the most subtle, rather than the “Boo!” moments so common today in the genre.

The film revolves around a true paranormal case investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, the latter being most known as the psychic portrayed in “The Amityville Horror.” Yes, she’s real, and not only can you see her frequently on the TV series “Paranormal State,” but she has a cameo as one of the guests at a paranormal lecture in the movie. (The little old lady in the front.)

Anyway, she’s portrayed in this film by Vera Farmiga, and her husband Ed by Patrick Wilson. The Warrens took on a case in 1971 involving a Long Island family named Carolyn and Roger Parren (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their five daughters (Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver.)

Already, you have to give kudos to Wan on casting (Is there anyone who doesn’t still love Taylor in “Say Anything? Rhetorical question.)

So the Warrens apparently investigated this house and supposedly never released info on this case till now because it was so scary… even scarier than the allegations in “The Amityville Horror.” Yeah, smells a little fishy to me, too, but it’s a horror film, let’s just roll with it.

The film opens with a documentary style interview with some young women where we learn the backstory of the infamous doll “Annabelle” from the Warren’s collection of paranormal artifacts. This doll actually exists in the Warren’s collection and they swear that thing is pure evil, although it isn’t directly involved in the Parren’s story. We also see them lecturing about the paranormal work they do as a sort of parallel story while the Parrens move in and slowly discover their dream house is not the kind of dream they were looking for.

Without giving away major spoilers, the film relies on creating a sense of dread at mostly unseen and barely glimpsed horror, particularly at first. This is a case where it works, because Wan also understands the use of elements like the blindfolded game to make his subjects more vulnerable, creating a greater sense of horror in the viewer when the subject can’t see what we can. Or a single lit match in the total darkness, tapping into one of our most primordial fears.

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As the film progresses, he shows more, until the climax with a scene of possession, which actually, seemed far less scary to me than the rest of the movie. I also wondered at the use of the sheet over the head… was there supposed to be some point of that, or just trying to save some special effects makeup cash? It was puzzling enough to distract me during that segment of the film.

But then, going off on a tangent with a question like that may just be a hazard of the profession.

That Wan — who also directed “Saw” and “Insidious” — created another quality horror film should be no surprise. That it has ruled the box office in the midst of summer and upstaged the likes of Johnny Depp in “The Lone Ranger”… that’s mighty impressive.

Does it live up to the hype? Well, that would be hard to do given how it’s been hailed as the Second Coming of Horror, but whether you  think it does or doesn’t will depend mostly on how easily you scare, and how good you are at blocking out douchebags in the theater who want to add their laugh track to this and any horror film. But it’s rock solid horror, and has a great chance of being seen as a classic horror story in the long run, and will be another worthy addition to any horror collection when it comes out on DVD.

Learn more about what it was like working on the movie later this week when I post my exclusive interview with Shanley Caswell , who dishes on the surprise success of the movie and real vs CGI horror. Meanwhile, check out the interview I did with her a little over a year ago, when she was starting to work on a little film called “The Warren Files” at the time.

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Putting the horror back in horror: 'Rigor Mortis' trailer

Still from the upcoming horror film, "Rigor Mortis."

Still from the upcoming horror film, “Rigor Mortis.”

What is it with Americans and their need to water down horror with so-called humor? Thank goodness the Japanese brought back creepy dread several years ago, infiltrating several American film studios as well, so we at least have something to look forward to besides idiotic college kids fucking and showing off their fake tits in the woods.

But then I suppose we taught them a few things about horror too, but let’s not get political.

Instead, let’s watch a cool movie trailer of the latest Japanese horror flick, “Rigor Mortis.” And not just Japanese horror, but Japanese vampires. Bring that shit on.

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‘Mama’ is one bad mutha of a horror movie

 

MAMA11Guillermo del Toro has written, directed and produced some beautiful dark fantasy films such as “Pan’s Labyrinth” and comic-based movies such as “Blade II” and “Hellboy,” but his most recent producer project, “Mama,” is straight up horror movie. The film, which premiered Friday, eviscerated the competition at the box office to kick off the weekend, with a $10 million opening day. It also happened to be the second week topping the box office for star Jessica Chastain, who reigned supreme in earnings last weekend with her Oscar-nominated performance in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Not to mention that whole Golden Globes Award last week for Best Actress.

What a showoff that one is, don’t you think?

And she’s at it again with her performance as a brunette, garage-band bassist turned guardian angel in “Mama.” The film centers on two little girls who are abandoned in a cabin in the wild after a family tragedy, and have to survive on their own a few years.

Well… almost on their own. Enter the aforementioned “Mama.” And this is one bad mother.

Mama adopts the two orphan girls and doesn’t take too kindly when their uncle’s search team finds them, and takes them off to a psychiatric institute. And while the older girl seems to be adapting back to civilization, the younger one… not so much.

They eventually go home with their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his other half, Annabel (Chastain) creating some friction in their formerly childless relationship. But they don’t come home alone, as Mama tags along, which creates a bit of another problem, such as Mama coming through the walls to play with the little girls when Chastain isn’t looking or hiding in the closet. And that rather nasty bit when Mama decides to push Lucas down the stairs to dispatch him to the hospital for awhile.

Someone did not learn to share or play nice with others in school.

Then Chastain incurs Mama’s wrath when she starts winning over the eldest daughter, and things start to really go downhill from there. Likewise, the relationship between the two sisters becomes strained when they begin to polarize into different camps of “Team Annabel” and “Team Mama.”

“Mama” has some genuinely creepy moments, and of course, those moments that’ll make you jump out of your seat a little. Hey, it’s mandatory for horror film to go for the quick scares. But there is certainly an artistry in the more subtle moments of the film, as well, with a dare-I-say-it “tearjerker” ending?

Hey, there’s no crying in horror movies — that’s just not right. But it is, for this movie anyway.

And that’s the quality that separates this film from many horror films, unfortunately. Most lack a real grasp of the human element, and real emotion, but instead, go for cheap “jump-out-and-go-BOO” thrills. Thankfully, “Mama” bucks that bad trend. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when have top-rate acting with the likes of an Academy Award nominee, and a great cast to fill out the rest of the roles. (It’s amazing the job Isabelle Nélisse does playing a feral six year-old that’s just too far gone to bring back from the wild.) But, sure enough, early reviews of the movie focus mostly on Chastain and are already hailing her performance, deservedly so.

But the primary critique of the film would be the CGI animation of the main character, which is not a very good example of the art, to say the least. And as any horror aficionado knows, there will be audience members who laugh inappropriately during horror movies under any circumstances, and bad CGI just encourages them and gives them an excuse.

But bad horror film etiquette is a whole other topic… don’t even get me started on that.

It’s particularly ironic about the bad CGI as producer del Toro began his career as a makeup artist, and this film screams for a more organic monster, made in real life with makeup. It begs for a monster with as much substance — and humanity — as its actors.

In that regard, “Mama” falls short. But it’s still a whole lot better than the usual horror fare.

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