Christmas

Wicked Wednesday: A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

In all honesty, Christmas horror movies are about as hit-or-miss as it can get. There are the 1974 Black Christmases of the bunch as icons of the genre, then there are the Silent Night, Deadly Night sequels (which rarely make the so-bad-it’s-good level of film making). Take your pick of the worst.

And somewhere in the middle lies this 2015 Canadian snoozer, A Christmas Horror Story. The film is done in the anthology style, though each story is told intermingled with each other instead of shown as separate segments. It’s heavy-handed, unoriginal, but at least has it’s moments of shining glory.

It’s Christmas Eve in the town of Bailey Downs where everyone is preparing for the holidays. Radio DJ Dangerous Dan (played by William Shatner) is covering the shift before Christmas, reminding everyone to head down to the shopping mall to partake in a holiday charity event.

The Virgin Mary

Three teens, Molly, Ben and Dylan, decide to do their school project together at a local prep school where two teenagers were murdered the year before. Together, they watch a video of the police footage of the officers looking at the crime scene. A boy and a girl were found in the basement, murdered, along with the Bible verse, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”

They get keys to the school from Dylan’s girlfriend, Caprice, so that they can sneak into the school and get their own footage.

As they begin exploring the school, they discover that the principal is also in the school. The teens somehow think this makes the man guilty. Sure. No leap in logic there.

The teens head down into the basement, and Molly explains to the boys that it’s the area that used to be where they kept the unwed mothers that went to the convent. She shares a delightful tale about a young mother who had lost her baby years ago.

After the kids explore the room where the bodies were found, they try to leave and discover that the door back to the school is locked. They, again, believe it’s the principal.

But after waiting hours, the kids become cold and hungry. And Molly begins seeing ghosts.

After the ghost of a young girl appears to Molly, she faints. The boys, unable to help, just keep her next to some creep mannequins wearing nativity clothes.

Later, Molly awakes, and sees that Ben is a sleep. She asks Dylan to go into the room where the other kids were killed with her. She tries to come on to him, but he rejects her because of his girlfriend. She glowers at him as the crucifix on the wall begins to shake.

Ben is later woken by Molly, who tries to come on to him as well, only she’s much more successful with him. After they have sex, Molly wakes up from an apparent trance. She becomes frantic, as she wasn’t completely aware of what she was doing. It’s then that Ben realises that Dylan is missing.

The two begin to look for their friend, and find him murdered in the bedroom. As Ben panics, Molly realises that she’s meant to carry the baby of the ghost girl, who lost her baby. The other teens had been killed because they refused to have the girl’s baby. Ben looks on horrified, but is promptly killed by the ghost, who is now protecting Molly and the baby.

The door unlocks, and Molly is allowed to leave the school.

The Changeling

Police officer Scott and his wife Kim take their son to get a Christmas tree. Dad, being one of those law-breaking cops, goes into a private woods to chop down a tree. While heading back to the car, their son Will disappears.

They eventually find him inside a large hole in the tree. The parents take Will home (unbeknownst to them, being watched by an old man), and begin to notice that he’s behaving strangely. He’s aggressive towards Scott, and really likes pasta. He stabs his dad in the hand when Scott tells Will he’s had enough to eat.

That night, Scott tries to get intimate with Kim, but she tells him no. Angry, Scott goes into the living room and drinks while he looks on the evidence of his unsolved murder case of the two teens at the prep school. Kim, meanwhile, falls asleep and her son – or what ever it is – climbs into her bed and tries to feel her up.

He eventually falls sleep, and wakes up to see that someone got into the gifts, shattering the thing that Scott got Kim for Christmas. Assuming that it’s Will, Scott goes into his son’s room and begins to beat Will with his belt.

Kim sends Scott away, and comforts the clearly-not-Will. She receives a call from a man, who says that he owns the land that they took the tree from. He informs her that her son is not longer her son, but a Changeling. Unbelieving, she hangs up on him. She begins to research Changelings when she hears a strange sound. When she goes into the living room, she finds Scott tied up, missing a hand, and very much dead.

Kim calls the man back, who then explains that she must bring the Changeling back to the woods. And the Changeling can’t feel threatened, but when you’re trying to stuff your kid in a bag – it’s going to be threatening. She bashes the creature with a bat, and manages to get him into a bag and back to the woods.

At the woods, Kim meets the man on the phone. He explains to her that she probably won’t get her son back. He’s the Changelings’ caretaker and they won’t hurt them while he’s around. While brandishing a gun about, Kim accidentally shoots the man, killing him. But the Changeling goes back into the tree, and out comes Will, good as new.

Krampus

Caprice’s family are driving together to visit her father’s elderly, wealthy relative, Aunt Etta. When the family arrive, they receive a cold welcome from Etta and Gerhardt, Etta’s caretaker. Before the father goes away with Etta to discuss money, she tells them about the legend of Krampus as it is Krampusnacht. Caprice’s brother then decides stirs up trouble by breaking a Krampus figure.

Gerhardt immediately become upset, and Aunt Etta, upon hearing the ruckus, demands that the family leave. The family drive off, but get into an accident when something jumps in front of their car (they’re Canadians – you’d think they’d know not to break hard in the snow).

The family resort to walking through the woods, back towards Aunt Etta’s house. As night falls, and Krampusnacht begins, the father is attacked by something on a chain. The chain then wraps itself around the brother, dragging him away into the night.

Mom, Dad and Caprice manage to get themselves into a nearby chapel in the woods where they seek refuge. But it isn’t long before Ma and Pa get picked off as well by the beast, which is revealed to be the Krampus.

Caprice runs into the night, trying to escape the Krampus. When she gets to Aunt Etta, she finds that no one will let her in. The girl then decides to face the Krampus herself, and kills him off with a pipe through the neck. As the Krampus dies, she realises that it was actually Gerhardt.

After the death of the Krampus, Aunt Etta allows Caprice in and tells her about Gerhardt. She explains that anyone can become the Krampus if there is anger in their hearts. Then Caprice realises that her Great-Aunt had planned for the family to get murderd by the Krampus all along. She then begins to take on the Krampus form herself.

Santa and his Christmas Elves

At the North Pole, Santa and his elves are preparing for Christmas deliveries when the elves start to become infected by a virus and become zombies. It’s up to Santa to killed them all off for good. He eventually kills Mrs Claus. That’s about it.

But as Santa is about to hitch up his sleigh to leave for the night, he hears someone arrive. The new arrival is the Krampus, who engages in battle with Santa. This is meant to be epic, I guess, but is incredibly cringe-y. Before Santa can kill Krampus, the beast turns into a man who is begging for his life.

It’s then revealed  that Santa is in fact DJ Dangerous Dan’s weatherman, who hasn’t been heard from all night during the massacre in the shopping mall. The man had imagined himself as Santa, needing to kill off all the elves – or rather, the mall employees and shoppers.

Before the weatherman can get away, he is shot by the police and everyone probably has a nice Christmas.

Let’s be honest. I haven’t been this irritated by a movie in a long time. But I feel like I’m in the minority with this one, as it has actually received average ratings. Admittedly, this is a style of contemporary horror that really doesn’t work for me. Nothing is stylish, it isn’t nuanced. It’s ugly as hell. The death and gore is boring and derivative.

And yet, a lot of people here are people I like. Julian Richings and Zoé De Grand Maison both of Orphan Black fame are here. Ginger Snaps producer Steve Hoban was on board. Freaking William Shatner is here!

But all that talent is wasted on a basic, uninspiring, muddled mess of stores. Since the stories are interwoven, the tonal shifts don’t work. The Santa story could have been a hilarious horror comedy if I wasn’t meant to take the scenes around it seriously.

Blame it on my Scrooge-like demeanor this week, but this movie really didn’t work for me.

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Wicked Wednesday: Tales from the Darkside “Seasons of Belief” (1986)

It’s the wrong side of Thanksgiving, which means it’s officially the Christmas season. Internally, I’m screaming. I’m counting down the days until it’s Halloween again. But we all have to at least give it a shot, right?

Christmas horror is good. That’s, at least, something to be grateful for. Especially when it’s from Tales from the Darkside.

This season 3 episode is a wonderfully twisted tale called “Seasons of Belief.” On Christmas Eve, a family settle in together after dinner. The daughter, Stefa, is a bit of a brat – demanding to watch television specials. But her parents insist that the kids celebrate traditionally.

Though the parents are shocked when they learn that their two young children don’t believe in Santa Claus. The parents tell their children that if they don’t believe in Santa, their gifts will all be broken within the month. When they head into the living room, the toy train under the tree jumps the tracks and breaks.

The parents allow their children to open one present each before settling down for a quiet, relaxing time. But eventually the children get bored and beg their parents for a story – a good story.

The story from Mom and Dad, though, isn’t about Sugar Plum Fairies. Dad begins his story by telling his children that the creature in his tale is the most dangerous in the world. Instead of saying the name out loud, he writes it on a pad of paper and shows it to the kids.

On the paper is the name “The Grither,” which Stefa and her older brother Jimbo read aloud immediately. It’s only then that their father tells them not to say the creature’s name. He tells them that the Grither lives on the other side of the mountain from Santa’s workshop. But while Santa’s place is cheerful, the Grither lives alone in a cave.

The Grither believes itself to be the most important thing on earth. So every time someone says his name “in vain,” his ears grow a little larger. Dad informs the kids that since they said his name, the monster will be on his way to their home. The only way to stop the creature’s arrival is by finishing the story.

As Dad tells the story, the family begin to hear scratching sounds, and the shutters on the windows begin to bang. The parents begin to sing a made-up song about the Grither, that the monster supposedly sings about himself. But Dad stops telling the story altogether when the phone rings. Despite Stefa’s pleading, Dad leaves the room to take the call.

While on the phone, he menacingly tells the person on the line, “We’re all here.”

When Dad finally returns, he’s been on the phone for a while. He tells them that he didn’t know the person on the other end of line, but they had asked a lot of questions. Mom informs everyone that the Grither is flying to their home as they speak, via his really giant-flapping ears, apparently.

But Stefa becomes upset, so Dad finally tells the children that if they don’t believe in Santa Claus, the Grither isn’t real, either.

Then, a banging begins on the door and a man begins to sing the Grither’s song. The children become petrified, but the man reveals himself to be their Uncle Michael.

While they laugh at the joke, the front door blows open again, scattering things about the room. Jimbo finally manages to get the door close.

Before the family can collect themselves, a pair of giant arms shatter the glass on the living room windows, and the hands latch themselves over the parents’ heads. The creature snaps both the mom and dad’s neck before seemingly leaving.

Uncle Michael rushes to help the children, to which Stefa tearfully tells them: “That wasn’t Santa Claus.”

No, sweetheart it wasn’t.

“Seasons of Belief” isn’t a particularly terrifying episode of television. Much of the episode is spent telling a story that  the parents clearly believe is false anyway. Little suspense is built, but there is something wonderful about these 22 minutes.

There’s something truly twisted about a pair of parents willing to torment their children on Christmas with tales of monsters. The Grither like the Krampus, if only he was super sensitive and had vanity issues. So I guess there’s something to be said for tradition, right?

Happy Christmas from American of London!

Happy Christmas from American of London! Hope you and your loved ones have a safe and happy holiday. I’m enjoying my first Christmas with my family in almost four years. Plus, I’m in Texas for the first time ever which means I guess means that I should be saying things like “ya’ll have a merry Christmas now, ya hear?” Or something.

I’m off to a day full of Christmas cookies and translating my husband’s Yorkshire accent into American and turning Wisconsin into “normal words.”

Merry Christmas, all!

Wicked Wednesday: Christmas Evil/You Better Watch Out (1980)

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Ah this is a bit of a different week. One, I’m about to leave for Texas tomorrow to visit my sister’s family – so life is going to be a notch more hectic than usual. Two, I watched this film a couple weeks ago in a cinema and not in the comfort of home with my notebook and pen at the ready.

Arrow Films (the distributor) have had a number of film showings at the Prince Charles Cinema in the past few months. Somehow, I managed to be busy during every single one of those events. When I saw Christmas Evil was showing on a night I could venture out, I was determined to not miss it for anything.

Now, I went with my husband and a couple of our friends. To say something like Christmas Evil isn’t to their tastes is probably an understatement, but I was pretty chuffed that all of them admitted they rather enjoyed the experience (my husband stopped short of saying he liked the film, but I’m working on him).

Christmas Evil (also sometimes titled as You Better Watch Out and Terror in Toyland) is about  a young boy who grows up to like Christmas a little too much. Harry (Brandon Maggart) works at the town’s toy factor. He counts down the days until Christmas every day of the year and likes to watch the local neighbourhood kids to see if they’ve been naughty or nice.

Like similar Santa-gone-mad movies, a young Harry spies his mom getting a bit frisky with “Santa” on Christmas Eve night. It’s pretty heavily implied that Santa is just his father dressed up, but young Harry can’t seem to figure out his own reality.

He’s well loved by the children of the neighbourhood, who shout hellos at him and tell him what they’d like for Christmas, but Harry has it out for one particular naughty boy who doesn’t listen to his mother and cuts pictures out of naughty magazines. To scare the boy, Harry hides in the bushes and spooks him, and leaves a sack of coal outside on the boy’s doorstep.

And well, Harry isn’t completely hinged in other places of his life. While he loves working at the toy factor, he’s been promoted to a desk job and moved off the production line, but it doesn’t stop him from getting tricked into working a shift for his asshole co-worker, Frank, who calls in but whom Harry spots in the pub later than night.

At the factory’s Christmas party, Harry becomes wound up when he watches a video of the factory owner. The owner promises to donate toys to the local hospital for disadvantaged children, but only if the workers increase production.

As the countdown to the big day gets closer, things for Harry start to become stranger. Noticing all of these changes is Harry’s younger brother, Phil. Harry doesn’t go to Thanksgiving (he’s waiting to see Santa at the Macy’s parade). Then Harry says he isn’t going to be at Phil’s house for Christmas.

Though it wouldn’t be Christmas without a rampage, and it certainly isn’t Christmas without a fabulous fur-trimmed Santa suit. Harry’s outing is rather a back and forth. You root for him as he delivers toys to the children at the children’s home. You gape as he stabs a man in the eye with a toy soldier. Should you like him? Well, he mostly targets toffs in suits and liars. But, you know, killing on Christmas.

It’s painful watching Harry on his Christmas mission. No one likes him, and no amount of justice seeking will help that. Which in a way, is rather like the holiday itself: nice sometimes, but it’s also cringe-worthy.

What really works for Christmas Evil is the performance given by Maggart. He’s manages to be both unsettling to watch and likable. It’s what separates it from many crazy Santa films. There is (underneath all the silliness) an actual heart to the film that makes it so endearing.

“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!'”

Wicked Wednesday: Tales from the Crypt “All Through the House” (1989)

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Christmas is just ripe for the horror genre to twist and mutilate. There’s just something gleeful about taking a wonderful holiday and turning it into your worst nightmare. GremlinsBlack Christmas, Christmas EvilHome for the Holidays … it’s a never-ending list of quality holiday ruining. And I love it.

So when I learned that there was a Christmas-themed Tales from the Crypt episode, I definitely thought, “Tis the season.”

“And All Through the House” is an early episode from the show, season 1 episode 2 from 1989. And it already shows the greatness Tales from the Crypt would be. I mean, it’s directed Robert Zemeckis and a screenplay by Fred Dekker (who’s written some of the best cult films). The pair create a rather ghoulishly fun 20-minute show.

The episode opens with Nat King Cole crooning “The Christmas Song” over shots of flickering candles, Christmas lights and soft snow falling from outside. It’s a beautiful shot, but also pretty unsettling (because why by Tales from the Crypt if something crazy didn’t happen in the first five minutes?). A wife (Mary Ellen Trainor) is at home over Christmas with her husband, a husband she kills off with a poker from their fireplace. “Merry Christmas you son of a bitch.”

Her young daughter runs down the stairs to check if Santa has been by, her mother becomes flustered and rushes her daughter up the stairs before she can notice the hole in the forehead of her step-father. The little girl pleads her her mother to open the window as it’s too hot for her in the house. The mother obliges before heading outside to dispose of her husband’s body.

She calls up her presumed lover and tells him that her deceased husband’s money will be all theirs. Then proceeds to wrap the dead man’s head in a plastic bag (a la Black Christmas) with a rather festive red bow on top.

As she drags the body out of the house, she misses the radio announcement than a man who murdered four women has escaped from the local institute for the criminally insane earlier in the day. Oh and he’s dressed as Santa, of course.

While trying to dispose of the bloody evidence, the woman misses the fact that someone steals the ax off the nearby chopping block.  Before she can throw the body down the well, she’s attacked by Meth-Face Santa, the escaped patient. After a tussle, the woman gets inside the house and away from Ol’ Rotten Teeth.

She calls the operator, but spots her husband’s corpse spread out on the lawn like a starfish. So she hangs up instead of, I don’t know, blaming it on the ax-murderer terrorising her. Though she eventually gets to this idea after getting a phone call warning her about the escapee. She chops the man when he attacks her through the window and calls it a day.

While she’s busy faking her attack to the phone, she misses the fact that the man is being called up by her daughter through the open window. When she finally notices that the body of the Santa has moved, she’s already late. Her daughter is hand-in-hand with a man waiting to give her her just desserts.

“And All Through the House” is pretty dark and fun, and we even have the Crypt Keeper reassuring us that the daughter is safe. Not much is better than watching an awful person get a taste of their own medicine, especially when it’s well written and directed. And ax wielding has to be a part of the Christmas tradition at this point.

Happy holidays!

Wicked Christmas-y Christmas: Silent Night, Bloody Night

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I’m not a festive person in the slightest. Yes, I’m that awful person that’s still celebrating Halloween in December because I really do not like Christmas. But I do like things like Gremlins playing everywhere and really gruesome festive horror movies. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of crap out there when it comes to the holiday slasher movie. But when done right, it’s really right – like this week’s movie. Silent Night, Bloody Night was released in 1972, and was written and directed by Theodore Gershuny (who also directed Love Me My Way) and co-produced by Lloyd Kaufman (never heard of him).

The movie begins with a voice-over from Diane (played by the always-excellent Mary Woronov), who is walking outside a house while reminiscing about the horrible things that had happened at the house in the months before. Silent Night, Bloody Night gives us a man set on fire… Hmmm. Yes. This is a Christmas movie for me. The man in question is Wilfred Butler. He died on Christmas Eve back in the 50’s. According to Diane’s voice-over, he was a man that was never at home, and his death was an accident. In his well, Wilfred leaves house to his only surviving family member, his grandson Jeffrey. The only request Wilfred has is that nothing be changed from the way he had left it.

Years later, Jeffrey’s lawyer, John, and his assistant Ingrid arrive in the town to sell Wilfred’s old house. Jeffrey wants an immediate sale, preferably by the next day on Christmas, and the town seems like a potential buyer. While John is sitting in his little meeting with the town’s, uh, “head chief people”, he tells them of the plan and they clearly aren’t keen by the prospect. They are all even more visibly disturbed when John says he will be spending the night in the house.

John is a cheating bastard, though, so when he gets killed later on in the movie it’s okay. He and Ingrid have a rather “special” relationship while his wife stays at home. Oblivious to everything going on, the two lovebirds head to the Butler house where John plays the organ for Ingrid, while an unseen man who kills dogs lurks upstairs. Festive!

During dinner, John tells Ingrid that Jeffrey is trying to sell the house for $50,000 in cash when he could get a much larger sum than that if he took his time. Jeffrey is looking for a quick sale, while it doesn’t even seem possible at the low price. Unfortunately, their lovely night of wine and organ playing gets cut short when an unseen creeper in the house hacks the couple apart with an axe. The killer then calls the police to alert them to go to the house. The call is then intercepted by Tess, the phone operator, who has a conversation with the man who calls himself “Marianne.”

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Meanwhile, a man arrives at Diane’s house. She’s home alone after her father, the mayor, receives a call asking him to go to the Butler mansion. The man identifies himself Jeffrey Butler, and says that he hasn’t been able to find the Sheriff at the house or the station. The sheriff isn’t around because he’s heading towards the Butler house. Along the way he makes a stop at the local cemetery. There he discovers a dug-up grave, but when he goes to investigate, he’s knocked out and killed.

Jeffrey returns to Diane’s and she tells him that a woman is waiting for him in the reception room of the house. The two decide to head there together where the find the sheriff’s car at the cemetery along the way. They turn back towards town where they find Towman. The man agrees to go with Jeffrey to look for Tess, and leave Diane waiting. Of course something creepy happens when the girl is left alone. She gets a call from “Marianne” who says they have the diary.

But the voice on the phone point’s Diane in the direction of a mystery: Christmas Eve 1935. While doing some digging, Diane discovers that the name of Wilfred’s daughter is Marianne. She is raped and gives birth to a son name Jeffrey. Butler House was turned over to a doctor, who turns the house into a mental asylum, and Marianne is committed there. This leads Diane to believe that Jeffrey’s mother is still alive, who he believes died in childbirth.

Jeffrey and Diane head to the house (finally, I think) and Jeff ends up hitting poor Towman with his car, killing him. This makes Diane suspicious for some reason. She sits in the car while Jeffrey explores his house to look for Marianne. While poking around, Jeffrey finds a letter from his grandfather. Wilfred expresses in the letter that he doesn’t think anyone will ever read it, but he hopes that Marianne will forgive him. The asylum flash back actually includes a few fun cameos from like likes of New York royalty like Candy Darling and Tally Brown, but none of that matters WHEN THAT TWIST DROPS!

This movie is filled with every twist and turn possible right through to the very end. This is definitely a slow-burn sort of film. It’s quiet in its approach, but the pay-off is rather worth it.  The creep factor is mostly with the version of “Silent Night, Holy Night” that plays throughout the background of the film. This mostly reminded me of listening to the old radio in my grandma’s house at Christmas. Carols be creepy.

But I’m surprised to never have heard of Silent Night, Bloody Night until a few weeks ago. The acting is good and writing is even better. Too many Christmas horror movies centre around the Santa-as-a-killer business, but so many of these truly successful holiday horror flicks take a more interesting, less obvious manners like Black Christmas. I really enjoy what was done in this movie, even though it does have it’s minuses, like the confusing plot and the lackluster off-camera death scenes. That being said, Silent Night, Deadly Night now has joined my list of favourite Christmas films.

On a final note, I just want to take a moment and appoint the MVP of this movie: Mary Moronov’s hair. Her hair in this movie is fucking FABULOUS. New hair goals for the rest of my damned life.

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Merry Christmas from an American in London

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Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

May your days be filled with good food, great drinks and hopefully even better music. If not, always always be glad you’re not a French exchange student in the United States.

This is my second Christmas in my new country and it has had plenty of drinks and great conversations. But I do want to send the message to my friends and family back home that I miss you all dearly and next Christmas – I hope there is snow, schnapps and stollen. What I’ve learned over these few years is that you can still have your dream life and miss the old and I certainly feel that today.

Lots of love to all (and especially those French exchange students….)