Christmas

Wicked Wednesday: Krampus (2015)

It’s Christmaaaaaas!

I’m sure plenty of people are feeling jaded at this time of year. I had to go into Brixton’s M&S to get stollen – I get it! (Their stollen was covered in almonds. ALMONDS!) But occasionally we need to take a step back and assess our own negativity. Is it really worth holding onto? Is that long-held grudge with that one cousin really worth it? Should you have hugged your aunt, even if she’s a bit racist?

I had to take a bit of my own advice here. After watching several weeks of average horror Christmas movies. I wasn’t really looking forward to watching another one. But I decided to take a chance on Krampus. It’s a different than the norm for a few reasons: it has a budget, the cast is amazing, and it was successful.

Sure, Krampus treads very familiar ground, but it’s (successful) twisted and fun approach sets it apart.

The Engel family are less-than-jovial at Christmas. They’re either bickering or ignoring one another. They’re not the family most in the Christmas spirit. Everyone, that is, besides little Max, who still believes in Santa Claus. He writes a letter to jolly ol’ Saint Nick in hopes that the gift he receives is his family’s unity.

But when the extended family arrive, everyone just becomes more irritable. At the dinner table, Max’s letter is read aloud by one of his cousins. He snatches the letter away after an fight, tears it up and throws the remains into the sky.

The boy’s anger calls upon the Krampus, who arrives the next day with a giant blizzard as fanfare. The family and the surrounding neighbours lose power. Max’s sister leaves to look for her boyfriend, but is killed off before she can make her return home.

The family get picked off one-by-one as they fend off the Krampus’s henchmen (in the form of demonic toys). With the help of Omi, the Engel paternal grandmother, they learn the story of the Krampus and why he’s arrived to claim them.

Will the family unite and defeat the beast? Well, the ending is certainly a twisted enough to be both horrible and satisfying. Just like Christmas, right?

The ending is easily one of my favourite parts of the movie, but I’m sure it won’t satisfy everyone. But what will satisfy most people is the performance the cast gives. Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Krista Stadler as Omi and, my personal highlight, Conchata Ferrell as the alcoholic aunt. They’re all parts of what is a treat ensemble cast.

And the movie looks good, too. It’s full of warm Christmas lights juxtaposed with the cold, winter hues of the outside world. I do love a Christmas movie that looks like it’s set at Christmas. Obvious as that is, most Christmas horror movies miss the mark on the details.

The deaths are also pretty good, but as Krampus is only rated PG-13, a lot of the gore is missing. So while it won’t be among the most bloody or graphic you can see, it will be suitable to watch with younger ones. Perhaps perfect for inducting your younger family members into the twisted family of horror? It certainly won over a lot of my non-horror-friends. I think there’s something to be said for that.

As the decade nears its end, it’s easy to look back on the Christmas horror offerings and find most of them forgettable. Krampus, on the other hand, is sure to be a holiday classic in the future joining the ranks of Black Christmas, Gremlins, and Christmas Evil. I saw one review that likened it to the dark gleefulness of Joe Dante. As a Dante fan, I’d have to heartily agree.

It’s definitely a good one. I recommend cosying up with your family on this Christmas night and watching some horror goodness. You’ve survived the holidays with each other, you at least deserve a treat.

Wicked Wednesday: My favourite Christmas tradition

An unintentionally Christmas-y-looking selection.

What is Christmas really without traditions? Emigrating to a new country meant that I gain a whole new set of them. There’s horrible Christmas cake instead of stollen. A new holiday with Boxing Day (though I still don’t get the point). I now enjoy bucks fizz while opening presents! It’s very novel.

About three or four years ago, I stopped going to my office Christmas parties. They’re a bit “too much” with someone with an anxiety disorder. But sitting by yourself all day feels a touch pathetic while everyone else is out partying.

So my first year at home, I started my very first only-for-me tradition: baking while watching cheesy Christmas romance movies followed by the most graphic or fun slashers I can find on my shelves. It started off by accident, but has quickly progressed to a day of the year I really look forward to.

Now, I’m not the type to be attracted to romance films. And I’m certainly not the type to condone enjoying things ironically. But the last few years I’ve started really getting into these Hallmark-esque Christmas fares. They’re not too bad at getting you in the mood for Christmas. And I’m someone who consistently lacks Christmas Spirit.

After all the drama surrounding Hallmark this year, I can sufficiently say with confidence: Hallmark – get stuffed. But thankfully, Netflix seems to have filled the holiday-film void with some of their own. Top ranked: Christmas Prince, The Knight Before Christmas and the ultimate wild and crazy shit show: Christmas Wedding Planner.

On the surface, it might appear as though holiday romances have nothing in common with horror movies. But it’s like grilled cheesy and jam: it shouldn’t work, but it really fucking does.

I present to you the following similarities:

  • They’re both formulaic. Slashers = people die. Holiday romances = people fall in love.
  • They have unrealistic situations. Average American woman becomes queen just in time to save the kingdom! Family of inbreds blow up their house for kicks!
  • The genres each focus more on plot than they do character-building. Sure, these people have jobs, but they’re really just shells to move along the story.

Um, maybe that’s it? But you get me – they’re genre films for a specific type of person.

This year, I indulged in maybe too many Christmas movies. Thankfully my friend was around to go out for drinks and pizza to break up the potentially mind-melting experience. We watched quite a few of them together. Could I tell you the plots of any of them? No. Do I remember what the differences were between them? Definitely not. I’m certain they’re all just one film.

Thankfully I watched quite a few gems at night after coming home with a bellyful of pizza. I like to mix my horror choices between a couple of giallos (early enough in the night while I can still read) and American slashers – great for the hour when your brain shuts off.

AND I got to enjoy this all while eating gingerbread scones. Who’s to say I’m not living the dream?

So I enjoy a wholesome, silly movies from time-to-time. And it might just be one day a year, but it’s a moment to savour…before ruining it with switchblades, bloody mysteries and ominous shadows. If you get a bit sick of the holiday spirit, I recommend you start a similar tradition of your own.

Wicked Wednesday: Jack Frost (1997)

Tis the season for “it was really just okay but mostly forgettable” holiday films! Apparently, I guess.

I don’t set out to watch average films, but the heavy hitters of Christmas horror movies are far and few between. Jack Frost is certainly an average fare.

If you like the original Child’s Play but want more Christmas spirit and a lower budget, this movie is really made for you.

Jack Frost is a serial killer. A particularly nasty one at that. While he’s being transported to his execution, the van he is in collides with a truck carrying chemicals.

Jack’s body combines with the genetic material and the snow, turning him into a snowman.

As a snowman, Jack is able to terrorise a small town. The small town, in fact, where he was caught by the sheriff, Sam Tiler.

So as the townspeople begin preparing for Christmas, Jack wrecks havoc by killing them. Two men from the FBI arriving, looking for Jack but refusing to admit to anyone that they still believe he’s alive.

But Tiler soon realised something is amiss, especially when his son’s bully is killed in a freak sled-related accident.

Eventually, the agents must admit the truth when the snowman Jack appears at the police station. Ruler and the others try to fend the killer snowman off repeatedly.

When blowing up the police station or sticking Jack in the incinerator doesn’t work, Tiler has the idea to use antifreeze instead. The townspeople all believe it’s done the trick. Only, it’s a horror movie that demands a sequel – so of course it’s not the end of things.

When I was younger (I was six when this movie was released), the VHS cover terrified me at the rental shop. I thought about it constantly. Because of that fear, I never was keen to watch it. But turns out there is nothing remotely scary. It’s very much a comedy with gore.

I actually chuckled a little, whereas I never felt any sense of tension. That’s not to say the film doesn’t try its best. Some of the deaths are rather gross and one actually pretty humorous. Only, a killer snowman is so ridiculous it is so very hard to take seriously.

The same could probably be said about a certain killer doll, but there’s plenty of evidence that says otherwise.

If you’re looking for something ridiculous, this certainly fits the bill. It just depends on how much late-90s tastelessness you can handle.

Wicked Wednesday: Sint (2010)

Growing up, my family always kind of celebrated Saint Nicholas in December. It was a strange sort of tradition, not something that was ever really explained to me. We’d just wake up and there would be gifts in our stockings on the 6th. I suppose it was just a leftover “thing we do” from my mother’s family (who were from Brannenborg and Zachodniopomorskie).

I never really “got it” but I really enjoyed it. Especially because a lot of my friends didn’t. It was some wacky thing my mom was obsessed with when we were kids.

So really, what better way to celebrate this, er, holiday I have a vague understanding of than watching a Dutch film about dear, jolly Saint Nicholas?

Much of the Sinterklass (the Dutch name for Saint Nic) lore is ripe for the horror movie treatment. Exhibit A: The endless amounts of Krampus movies that were churned out in the last decade. Many of Saint Nicholas’s “companions” are really rather terrifying or a bit offensive. And clearly, it was an well of inspiration for Dutch icon Dick Mass.

In 1492, the 5th of December, Niklas terrorises a town with his cronies in tow. Fed up with the attacks, a group of villagers seek retribution and set fire to Niklas’ large ship.

And for every 23 years later after, a full moon on the 5th, Niklas begins to rise from his watery grave to attack once again. In 1968, his team kill of an entire farm film except for one small boy, Goert.

In the present day (2010), Frank is a young boy stirring up his own sort of trouble. After being dumped publicly by his girlfriend Sophie, Frank and his friends get dressed as Sinterklass and two Zwarte Piets before heading out into the night before debauchery.

Only their fun is over before it even begins. On their way to the party, the boys stop and attacked by a group of ghouls. Frank’s friends are promptly torn to bits. Frank, on the other hand, manages to get away in the car. But he’s promptly stopped and arrested.

Frank later learns about the shenanigans going on in Amsterdam that night. Several people, including Sophie, have been brutally killed by someone dressed as Sinterklass. And Frank seems the most likely suspect?

He is later moved, where the police transporting him are stopped by the ghouls. They’re also promptly killed off, one is even crushed by Nic’s horse (!). Before Sinterklass can get to Frank, the Saint is attacked by a man wielding a flamethrower.

After the older gent fends of Sinterklass, he introduces himself to Frank as Goert.

Goert is a policeman in Amsterdam, hellbent on ending the Sinterklass’s crime-spree after his family’s murders. He tells young Frank that he plans to set fire to the Sinterklass’s boat, ending his reign of terror.

Frank decides to go along with. I don’t know – seeing is believe, the spirit of the season, etc. The two men set off together to find the ship, hoping for the best and knowing they’ll get the worst.

Sint will appeal to a certain type of horror fan. Anyone who already enjoyed A Christmas Horror Story and the like will certainly enjoy this. The idea alone to twist jolly old Saint Nicholas into a brutal killer will delight many. There are a few fun deaths, though not very terrifying or imaginative.

I, personally, didn’t enjoy it even half as much as Maas’s De Lift. But I do always lean towards older, mouldier cheeses. If you’re looking for a film that you’ll talk about for years afterwards, watch that classic. Otherwise, Sint is fairly standard affair that you might just forget about later.

Wicked Wednesday: Christmas Presence/Why Hide? (2018)

Well.

Watching this was like getting a turd in my stocking. How nice.

Christmas Presence is a 2018 British horror film, currently marketed as a Shudder original. With

A group of friends gather to celebrate Christmas in a manor house after the death of McKenzie’s father. The cast of characters are certainly memorable enough. They get festive nearly right away in the most British way possible: by getting wasted.

The banter between the friends (or frenemies, not sure which one they really are) is pretty enjoyable as they all settle in together.

Eventually, flamboyant Hugo decides he wants to get his friends to test out his new magnetic, absorbent underwear. The group reluctantly agree and get more drunk.

A montage of partying and a fat-shaming later, Hugo is lured out into the snow along where he is killed by a shadowy entity.

The following morning, the remaining friends are visited by the caretaker. He hits at something in McKenzie’s past. She later admits to her friends that her sister disappeared when they were younger. She was never found, and McKenzie always felt guilty because she was there when she disappeared.

The group then notice (speaking of disappearances) that Hugo isn’t around. They begin to search for him, but eventually return home without any luck.

New Age Anita insists that she put McKenzie under hypnosis to discover what happened to her sister. But before McKenzie can make a breakthrough, she’s woke up by an interruption. Anite begins to worry, as coming out of hypnosis could confuse the girl (or something).

And McKenzie does begin to suffer. Though whether it has anything to do with being hypnotized is slightly debatable. She sees Hugo in a wardrobe, and he tells her she needs to tie the others up because they’re plotting against them. She believes ‘Hugo’ and takes Jo’s shotgun to get the friends to obey her.

But it’s all for naught as the spell is quickly broken about two seconds later, and they’re all untied.

They begin to learn that they’re being stalked by something that appears as their biggest fears. One is killed by a fold-out bed. Another by…a pantomime actor? I don’t know. It all gets beyond the point of caring, anyway.

I won’t spoil the ending, of course. Mostly because I don’t completely get it (or I do, but I’d rather wish I didn’t).

Christmas Presence has been helped out by the title change. It certainly gets anyone looking for a Christmas horror movie to watch it. I wouldn’t stop anyone who wanted to watch it from watching it…but I certainly wouldn’t encourage it.

McKenzie is very difficult to like as a main character. She’s a TERF, for one, which makes her instantly unlikable in my eyes (there is a not-so-fine line between a character meant to be unlikable and one that’s constantly irritating). I think she was meant to be liked, which was the even more confusing part. It’s difficult to get invested in a character if you really are just staring at your watch until they die.

Actors Orla Cottingham and Elsie Bennett were actually the best part of the film as the story’s lesbian couple. It was clear that the script was initially hinting at something with Bennett’s character Sam, but it never bothered fleshing it out.

But that was probably the biggest issue with film in general. It could have been much more ambitious, and you can see the effort trickling away throughout. Sometimes wanting to do too much can be your downfall.

Wicked Wednesday: Black Christmas (2006)

Every year I put off watching this. I have no idea what possessed me to watch it this year, but it was 100% an absolute mistake.

Remakes are tricky. They have a bad reputation at this moment in time when the market is saturated with them, but there are many remakes that are incredibly successful. Anything from The Thing and yes even the 2013 Evil Dead are great movies, even sometimes (in the case of The Thing) vastly improving on the original.

Making a successful remake, though, is hard. It needs to stand on its own two feet without being too dissimilar where it only exists to rip off a name, and it needs to be original in its own right.

The 2006 Black Christmas is a cynical money-grab that can kiss my Christmas ass. Even with Bob Clark’s name attached and Andrea Martin’s role as the house mother couldn’t save this sinking ship.

This remake is pretty standard fair when it comes to the plot. If you have seen the original, imagine that but stripped down to its bare bones. The film attempts to add some originality by adding a back story for Billy.

Unfortunately, this is the film’s biggest faux pas. One of the original’s strengths is that we really have no idea what “Billy” wants or why he’s doing what he’s doing. It’s the feeding of small facts throughout the film that makes it unknown feel large and terrifying.

Like many remakes, Black Christmas is trying to create a story about characters that we just don’t care about. Actually, you had me caring about Billy and his father until the father gets killed. The story just gets daft from there – and not even in a fun House on Sorority Row way.

There was a fairly decent cast here, that could have made something convincing if given the right material. Mary Elizabeth Winstead in particular has proved time and time again she has the chops for horror, but she’s entirely forgettable (though I really don’t blame her). But by focusing so much on Billy and his story, it takes away from the time that could be invested in making us care about the Sorority sisters. It’s pretty difficult to care about any of them. They most exist to just be bodies (but I guess this is a slasher after all).

Ultimately, I am incredibly biased. The 1974 Black Christmas is not only my favourite Christmas horror movie, but it’s one of my favourite movies ever. It preys upon all my fears and has some incredibly real horrible moments.

This remake attempts to capture those same moments, but it always falls short. The visuals of Billy’s eyes watching the girls is so terrifying in the original and here it just feels…perverted. I guess both are meant to be that way, but one is much more effective than the other.

Added ‘twists’ are pretty obvious and, again, just not that impressive.

So “in summary”: Black Christmas 2006 is overly-long. It’s tired and cliched. And it’s very, very, very boring. Skip this and just rewatch the original. Not that you probably needed any convincing otherwise.

Wicked Wednesday: Elves (1989)

Oh my.

Oh my.

How does one begin to talk about Elves? This 1989 film is hands-down one of the most bewildering movies I have ever seen. “Bewildering” being one of the nicer adjectives one could use.

So let’s just jump straight into this one.

Teenage Kristen hates Christmas. She hates it enough that she gathers her two friends for an anti-Christmas pagan ritual. They gather in the woods to begin to ritual, but Kristen cuts her hand, and bleeds over the ground. The girls decide to pack it up and head home without doing the ritual. Unbeknown to them, a hand reaches out of the ground as a creature from below awakes.

In fairness to Kristen, anyone would hate Christmas with a family like hers. Her brother pervs on her when she’s in the shower. Her grandpa slaps her about. And her mother drowns Kristen’s cat! JUST BECAUSE! Not exactly the group of people who fill you with festive spirit.

Kristen’s wheelchair-bound Gramps is upset for her being in his room. When her mother finds out, she tells Kristen she’s taking away the money in her savings account. Poor Kristen works a crap job at a cafe in a department store. Despite not being able to keep anything but her tips, she keeps her job.

At the department store, former police officer Mike McGaven visits the store to ask for a job. Though he’s initially turned away, he eventually gets work as Santa after the original Mr. Claus is killed by the elf after he pervs on Kristen. In room where the former-Santa was staying, he finds a symbol on the floor and decides to investigate it.

You can’t stop a cop and he’s old habits, eh?

That night, the elf digs up Kristen’s dead cat and dances it in front of her window. Though it’s clearly trying to protect her, it’s got a sick sense of humour. Seeing an elf (which she keeps calling “troll”) is obviously upsetting to Kristen. Her grandfather becomes angry with her when he discovers her drawing of the Christmas virgin, or whatever.

Mike and Kristen become friendly with each other as Mike becomes a regular at her cafe. Mike, having been kicked out of his mobile home, begins to stay in his Santa room. Kristen plans a night with her two best friends and three boys to pal around the department store after hours.

But there are other plans being formed for Kristen. While she plans with her friends at the cafe, a man in a not-at-all subtle black coat listens in on them.

A group of Germans in similar black coats interrogate Kristen’s grandpa. They remind him that his granddaughter is key, and she will begin a new world order.

Then this fucking line drops.

“When there is no more room left in hell, the elves will walk the earth.”

….

Anyway, Mike’s research on the mysterious symbol eventually leads him to believe that the Nazis are somehow involved with the murder. While he’s out, the girls begin to prepare for their night in at the department store, and Kristen begins to contemplate whether or not she wants to lose her virginity that night. She wants it to be “special.”

When Mike, who has returned to his room at the department store, hears the girls giggling and slapping on blush, he tells them off. But Kristen, pointing out that he’s also there under shady circumstances, makes a deal with him and neither will rat out the other.

But the shady black-coat men break into the store after killing the girls’ boyfriends. The girls scatter in different directions. One girl is killed by the men in the elevator while the other is killed by the elf (again – no idea why).

Mike is able to protect Kristen using his ex-cop skills, and is able to get her to safety. Though she’s blamed for all the damage to the shop and Mike gets into trouble with the police. But that’s not nearly the amount of trouble Kristen gets into with her mom.

At Kristen’s house, Mike tries to defuse the argument happening in the family. But while talking down Gramps, he notices the murder-scene symbol carved into the hardwood floor. Mike leaves the house to continue his search, certain that the symbol has something to do with why Kristen was being targeted.

He goes to two professors for some help, and boy. Here is gets fun.

The first professor says that the symbol is the symbol of the elves. When Noah took two of each animal in his ark, he also took the creeping creatures: elves! And apparently the Nazis news his story and believed.

The second professor shares two different theories with Mike. The first is that the Nazi’s experimented with elves to form assassination teams. The second, wait for, was that elves were used in genetic experiments by the Nazis. Their sperm housed the master-race genes. Since elves were immortal, this was an ideal way to protect their Aryan ideals. The elves must consummate with a virgin on Christmas Eve because plot.

Kristen is told by her grandfather to pack, but her mother catches her. She reveals to Kristen that Gramps is not only Kristen’s grandfather – but her real father!

When she confronts Gramps, he admits that he indeed drugged his daughter and when he rapped her, she was at least unconscious. Because, sure that makes it better. Kristen’s grandpa explains that it needed to happen in order to create Kristen: the perfect Aryan specimen.

Then things get a bit worse/better: Mike manages to escape from his car that is loaded with dynamite, and Kristen’s mom is killed when the elf electrocutes her in the bathtub!

Mike arrives at Kristen’s house to protect her from the Nazis (yes), and Gramps tells Kristen that she knows how to defeat the elf because her dreams already told her stuff…or something. He also drops this little nugget: if the elf impregnates Kristen, she will give birth to the anti-Christ.

Obviously this man doesn’t believe in the woman’s right to choose.

The Nazi’s arrive and kill Gramps. Despite Mike’s best attempts to find them off, he’s shot as well. But Kristen manages to escape with her brother Willy into the woods.

Kristen injures her ankle when she becomes stuck in the elf’s hole (ew), and she can’t run away. The elf eventually corners her. Willy runs off and collects a red gem from Gramp’s study. He brings it back to Kristen, and she uses it to kill the elf.

While everything seems peaceful, the credits begin to roll over footage of a fetus, whose heart is beating. Presumably inside Kristen’s womb. Meaning the elf managed to rape her after all.

So the Nazis win! Merry Christmas! At least Kristen said she wanted to lose her virginity to someone special. Doesn’t get any more special than an elf, right? Eh?

This movie is so wonderfully strange. It’s so horrifying (elf rape!), and straight-up nonsense, but it is truly a spectacle to behold. It has some great lines: “Are we going to be alright?” “No, Willy, Gramps is a Nazi.” And “Are you hurt? Good.” It’s certainly something I want to tell everyone about, even if it’s a bit shit. But it’s shit in a special way.

I have to admit, I don’t understand 90% of this film’s mumbo jumbo, but it certainly makes me laugh.

Elves has not had a DVD release yet, but hey, we can only hope.

And from American of London, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! May it be Nazi-free!