Christmas

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!

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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….)

‘Walk out to Winter’ or ‘three cheers for British winters’

Roddy Frame/Aztec Camera

This is the time for the Christmas song. There are many diehards that have had their fingers just itching to press the play button of the Christmas radio station even weeks before Thanksgiving. Makes enough sense, but the endless barrage of the holiday tune is a bit much to take at times (how much can you listen to that Mariah one – really).

While the Christmas spirit is very lovely, it is a total loss to ignore anything else that is equally as beautiful at this time of the month – the winter song.

Winters in Britain are completely unlike the ones I survived as a kid in Wisconsin. There’s certainly a lot less snow for one thing, and it’s quite a lot warmer in England. But there’s something in the air here that doesn’t exist in a tumultuous Midwestern winter – the damp. Despite being moderate pretty much all winter there’s this terrible dampness that I believe has lead me to procure some of the worst colds of my life. Even our food gets damp.

Somehow, this is charming. Everything can be charming when you’re an expat!

There is one song, though, that captures the mood of both winters to me: one scene filled with several feet of snow that shines endlessly in the sun and the other a dark and damp cozy place with simmering rain. That song is Aztec Camera’s jangle pop track ‘Walk Out to Winter’ from his 1983 debut album High Land, Hard Rain.

The sound is something truly great in this song – so light and shiny that is feels of winter. The lightness of the chords just gleam off the guitar (in a figurative way, I think). Johnny Marr has been quote admitting that after hearing ‘Walk Out to Winter’ he was jealous of Roddy Frame’s jangle pop guitar, so he wrote ‘This Charming Man’ – which is arguably one of the Smith’s best tracks ever written.

The video, of course, is impossibly twee like much of what came out of Scotland at the time. Where Scottish Roddy Frame runs amok on a beach and fun fair while being pursued by a rather elusive older woman. Personally, I believe that the album version is superior to the single but there is plenty of charm in each.

Long live the Winter song! There’s plenty of room for both, especially if anyone is feeling a bit fatigued in even the most cheeriest of times.