horror

Wicked Wednesday: Urban Legend (1998)

For years I was intrigued by Urban Legend but was always warned away by anyone who had ever watched it. “It’s terrible,” they said, and I listened. So in its own say, Urban Legend had become its own urban legend for me.

And you’ll never believe how disappointed I was when I finally watched this 90s slasher and came to the realization that it is neither terrible nor a hidden gem. It’s…pretty much every 90s teen horror film that followed in the wake of Scream.

Where Scream brought new life to tired horror movie tropes, Urban Legend tries to intensify the fear of popular urban legends.

And in fairness, it does start on a good note: the infamous “killer in the backseat”. This is my least favourite (meaning favourite) of all urban legends because it feeds on my greatest fears. Poor Michelle doesn’t understand that she’s about to get a starring role in the tale.

While driving one day, college student Michelle runs out of gas and stops at a gas station. The attendant tells her to go inside the building. When she’s inside, she believes he’s attacking her and she run away. Unbeknownst to her, the attendant was trying to warn her about the person in her back seat. The hooded figure promptly chops off her head with an ax.

On the campus of Pendleton University, the news of Michelle’s death is broken by journalism student Paul (Jared Leto). His papers with the article are pulled, though, considering he’s claiming there’s a madman out to get them.

One of the students to hear Paul’s news is Natalie. Despite being quiet about it, it’s revealed that she was a good friend with Michelle. Her friend’s death gets to her, but she keeps their relationship a secret.

But her glum attitude is noticed by her friend, Damon (Joshua Jackson). He tries to “cheer” Natalie up by taking her into the woods and attempting to get it on with her. Natalie rejects his advances, so Damon heads into the woods to take a piss. While out alone, a hooded figure in a parka fights him and puts a noose around his neck. He’s hung when Natalie panics and tries to drive off with his car, which has been tied to the noose.

When she returns to campus, Natalie realises that no one believes her that Damon is dead. Thanks to a convenient course she’s taking on urban legends, Natalie concludes that both Damon and Natalie’s murders are based on the familiar stories. No one believes her. Even her urban legend-loving pal Brenda.

Soon the murders get out of control. Natalie’s roommate is killed while she’s in the room. It’s somehow deemed a suicide. Apparently autopsies don’t exist in this cinematic universe. Or the ability to choke yourself to death exists.

Natalie and Paul team up when he eventually comes to believe in her theory. They go to question their Professor Wexler (Robert Englund), who they discover is the only survivor of a massacre at their school 25 years earlier. Somehow a major massacre happened there and was successfully covered up – only to survive in legend. That’s a thing.

Inside Wexler’s office, they discover a parka and an ax. That’s seemingly murder solved. Only of course not because no killer is that lazy. Even a movie one.

In the build up to the Massacre Day frat party (no idea what it’s really called), Natalie becomes uneasy. She admits to Brenda that she knew Michelle. Years before, they killed a boy in a car accident. Only Michelle covered up the manslaughter and got away scot-free.

In true slasher-movie style, everyone else is killed off during the party. Bodies are discovered and teens freak out. Paul, Natalie and Brenda flee the school. While stopping for gas, Natalie and Brenda discover Professor Wexler’s corpse in Paul’s trunk. They flee and are separated.

Natalie eventually returns to the university and finds the corpses of all the victims. It’s then revealed that Brenda was killer. The girlfriend of the dead boy, murdered by Natalie and Michelle (well, by accident).

Paul and Natalie work together to defeat Brenda. And they believe they succeed after shooting her, getting into an accident, and catapulting her body into a river. That works for offing most people…right?

After all these years of being warned away, I guess I expected a bit…more. Either something truly horrible or really campy. But it’s honestly one of the most whelming movies I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly watchable, though, and I think that counts for quite a bit. It would have been more fun to build up the lore and eliminate more useless side characters.

It tries, but Urban Legend is certainly no Scream. And it’s impossible to not make similarities between the two. One is just much more clever than the other.

Also. For getting top billing, Leto doesn’t do much here. Alicia Witt carries the whole damn thing as Natalie. Popular names be damned! Gersten was great. Rebecca Gayheart (playing Brenda) was equally great at balancing innocent and absolutely batshit crazy.

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Wicked Wednesday: Cry_Wolf (2005)

I have an admission to make: I enjoy reading the last page of books. If a story is too suspenseful or there’s a character I really like, I need to know if they survive or who the killer is.

Considering the amount of mysteries and thrillers I read, this probably makes me a bad person. But that being said, I also think I’m pretty good at guessing a killer before I look at the last page of a book.

That being said, it takes no super sleuth to untangle the ‘mystery’ of Cry Wolf.

Last week, I went on a (minor) rant to my co-workers about how I don’t really care for the aesthetic of 00’s films. I hate the eyebrows, the low-rise jeans, the editing… But I decided I wanted to eat my words and watch an entertaining teen horror romp. When I read the words “boarding school” and “secrets” in the synopsis, I was immediately convinced I needed to watch Cry Wolf.

Cry Wolf is set at the fancy Westlake Preparatory Academy, home to the children of the elite. Joining their ranks is the English Owen. Upon his arrival, he bumps into Dodger, a girl he immediately takes a liking to. She explains to Owen that there is an assembly on about a townie who has gone missing after “screwing the wrong guy”.

Later that night, Owen’s new roommate, Tom, invites him to sneak out and meet his friends at a chapel, including Dodger. She tells Own the rules of a game called Cry Wolf. She, the shepherd, chooses someone to be a wolf and the rest of the “sheep” must discover who the wolf in the group is until one by one they’re picked off.

After playing their game, Dodger later suggests that the group play a bigger version of the game. One that involves the entire school. Together, the kids invent a serial killer. He’s The Wolf. He carries a hunting knife, wears an orange ski mask and camo jacket, and travels from campus to campus killing people. Dodger also suggests that the kids pretend that the missing girl (who was earlier discovered in the woods, killed by a gunshot wound) was the first victim.

Owen sends off the first email and the story takes off like wildfire.

Later, Owen gets an instant message from The Wolf. The messages are threatening, and he begins to suspect the Dodger, Tom and the rest of their friends.

The ‘pranks’ begin to get more bizarre. Tom and Owen find a bloody body piercing. Their room is ransacked. Randal goes missing.

Then one day, Tom goes to his journalism class and a hunting knife falls out of his bag. His teacher, Mr Walker (played by the very studious Jon Bon Jovi), takes Tom away to get expelled or whatever. But Tom manages to stop Mr Walker with one thing: the knowledge that Mr Walker is having an affair with Dodger. The boy had previously seen the two making out in Mr Walker’s office.

But his ‘friends’ begin to distrust him. He skips the Halloween dance, and is later pranked into believing that The Wolf is after him. He and Mercedes (who chases Owen dressed like The Wolf) get into trouble, as do the rest of the group.

The friends are all forced to stay at school over the weekend. But considering it’s a boarding school, I’m not sure why this is such a drag.

Owen gathers the gang together at the chapel, where they begin to admit to their deeds. But this somehow, according to Dodger, makes Owen seem guilty. The others turn on him.

While at the chapel, Mercedes’ boyfriend calls her and they hear her being attacked over the phone. And the one-by-one the kids are seemingly killed off.

Owen gets a call from Dodger who tells him about the gun in Mr Walker’s office. He goes to get it, but is caught by Mr Walker. The two begin to scuffle, and Owen ends up shooting Mr Walker in the chest.

And it’s seemingly all over.

It’s revealed that none of the kids had actually died. They were all (mostly) in on a prank to get back at Owen and Mercedes. Again, this seems pretty steep but whatever. Owen ends up not getting murder charges when his father reveals that Mr Walker was in a relationship with the townie that was killed.

It’s also revealed that Mr Walker had other damning evidence against him. And while it’s seemingly “that’s that”, the film throws in a final twist.

But…it’s not really much of a twist.

Unfortunately, the film is very heavy-handed on the foreshadowing. It makes guessing who the real mastermind easy to spot by a mile away. I almost had hoped that the the obvious suspect wasn’t guilty. But instead we get the very obvious ending. And for me, it made the movie really difficult to enjoy.

I loved the aspects of the children playing horrible pranks on each other. Something about a bunch of rich kids being jerks and getting their comeuppance makes me feel weirdly satisfied.

And while this isn’t typically a type of film I enjoy, I do think that Cry Wolf had its moments. It’s laughably outdated thanks to its technology, but if you can see beyond that (and it’s terribly predictable plot), it’s an alright way to spend 90 minutes of your night.

Wicked Wednesday: Mr Jones (2013)

Found footage films are pretty “Marmite”. Some people love them, others hate them. For me, I think the bigger question while watching found footage movies is why? Very few stories are enhanced this way. Do certain stories need to be found footage? Can the story be better told in a more traditional way?

In most cases, the found footage style is a waste. A ploy to get asses in seats.

Mr Jones is one of the more tough ones to figure out. For one, it falls into the category of “these people are way too attractive to be actual humans”. Think of all the reasons why Blair Witch failed and Blair Witch Project succeeded: are your actors believable? One of the best examples of this is Bad Ben (you’ve watched it already, haven’t you?). But I always find it difficult to enjoy a found footage movie when everyone in the movie looks way too good too be all together in the same setting.

The premise is on the lofty side too. A young couple decide to go out into the wilderness to stay in a cabin for a few months. It’s their sort of “reconnecting” opportunity as their relationship has been going through a rough patch.

Husband Scott is a documentary maker, trying to get work done out in the wild. But he quickly realises that he has no point in mind for his new film, and it doesn’t help matters when he quits taking his medication.

When his wife, Penny, finds out about his self-treatment, she becomes upset. The couple continue to be on the rocks until one night. A group of birds attack the house. And the following day, Scott’s backpack (containing the car keys) is stolen by a hooded figure.

He and Penny eventually track down the figure and find a home filled with strange scarecrow-type figures straight out of the Blair Witch’s house. But while Scott becomes paranoid, Penny becomes absolutely jubilant. When they return to their cabin, she informs Scott that the man they followed is “Mr. Jones” – a Banksy-esque artist whose work is worth millions as the artists himself stays anonymous.

The couple quickly decide to make money off their find and focus Scott’s documentary on Mr. Jones. Scott goes to New York where he begins collecting interviews with various art collectors, experts and the people who have received pieces from Mr. Jones unsolicited. The collectors love Mr. Jones. The experts love exploring the artist’s use of protective charms as his motifs. And the people who’ve received the art? Well, they’re haunted by a nightmare.

Penny, meanwhile, stays in the country where she bumps into Mr. Jones. She notices that the ‘artist’ wears a creepy burlap sack mask. But the man seems harmless.

When Scott returns, the couple decide to step up their game and break into Mr. Jones’s house again. Scott leaves Penny outside to keep watch as he goes through a hatch. He finds an endless maze-like tunnel. He eventually comes across a room, set up in a shrine-style manner filled with the scarecrows.

Scott sees one of the figures, a baby, and steals it from its spot. Meanwhile, Penny comes across Mr. Jones again. When Scott finds her, she doesn’t seem to remember what happened to them.

What follows is a seemingly endless second half of the movie. A little like that tunnel system ol’ Jones has. The couple see doplegangers, dream-like nightmares and other pointless stuff!

It’s a movie that started off with a fairly great idea and plummeted into the world of We Didn’t Finish the Script.

In many way Mr Jones struggled. And it wasn’t just the ending (and the ending was loooooong).

While the use of the high-end cameras was neatly explained away, it just felt silly. The viewer isn’t stupid and can see right through the flimsy premise. There really was no need for the dual perspective cameras, which much of the ‘footage’ relies on. And there was really no need to be filming themselves. Scott wanted to make a nature documentary, why was he filming arguments with his wife? I mean, who edited this footage anyway? Penny?

I also found it distracting that the characters didn’t really stay in character. Scott goes off his medication, but it’s quickly forgotten after the first few minutes. If it was alluded to again, it was way too subtle. And if you were to ask me to characterise Penny, I couldn’t. One minute she’s adventurous, the next she’s boo-hooing because she’s walking in the dark.

Mr Jones will probably hit the right chord with a certain type of person. But unfortunately, I was not one of them. It’s really a found-footage movie that needed to do a lot more soul searching.

Wicked Wednesday: To All a Goodnight (1980)

Why is it that sorority slashers (or in this case “finishing school” slasher) try their best to be as indistinguishable as possible? A rare few set themselves apart, and yet these movies keep trying to do the same thing. Sure they’ll throw a twist on it, but the twist is inevitably always about someone who was killed years ago and their parents are getting revenge.

Is this because the term “house mother” exists? Either way, To All a Good Night is about as standard as it gets when it comes to slasher films. Only this one has a killer in a Santa Claus outfit and mask.

It’s Christmas holidays at the Calvin Finishing School for Girls where students are going home for the holidays. Five girls, though, stick around for a few days more.

During their dinner, their house mother Mrs Jensen tells them that the school president has left and won’t be back for a few days. The news comes to a delight to most of the girls, as a group of boys will be arriving by plane that night.

One girl, Nancy, is a little less enthused. She’s dateless and a hopeless virgin, but at least that cements her right to be Final Girl. She has the school gardener Ralph following her around and warning all the girls about the impending evil.

Unbeknownst to the girl, another student is at the school. While her boyfriend waits outside for her, he’s stabbed by an unseen figure. The girl is also killed when she leaves the school.

Two years prior to the events, a girl died after falling off a school balcony. What was essentially a prank gone wrong, has clearly left someone with the desire to get even.

And they probably deserve it. The girls decide to drug Mrs Jensen so she falls soundly asleep throughout the entire night. Nancy is tasked with the job because she’s easily the most believably nice.

With their house mother out of the way, the girls go to pick up the boys. These four boys are about as irritating as you’d expect. None of them are good-looking, but act like they’re each a special gift from Our Lord. One of the boys, Blake, plays guitar and attempts to sing. Again, about as bad as you’d expect.

The couples begin pairing off, leaving Nancy behind. But at least we have the comfort that she survives. Plus she gets to sit around, chill and drink milk while the others are getting killed by an evil Santa. Though she does have to deal with creepy Ralph following her around again, warning her about evil.

So some kids get their throats slit, while one girl gets her head chopped off when the killer is in a suit of armour! Two ladies and two boys are now out for the count after night one. That leaves the score at: 2 creepy school workers, 3 ladies, 2 boys.

In the morning, the remaining kids begin to wonder what happened to their friends. They tell Mrs Jensen that the boys’ plane has broken down, and they can’t leave until it’s fixed. Meanwhile, Santa buries the corpses of their friends. ‘Tis the season, eh?

Two of the kids, Melody and the “dorky” Alex, run off into the woods together. When Nancy decides to wander into the woods as well, she’s scared by Alex when he leaps out at her. While running away, Nancy stumbles upon Ralph’s corpse in a field.

After the discovery of Ralph’s body, the police are called to the school. This causes the students to become more concerned about their missing friends’ whereabouts. Detective Polanksy tells everyone at the school that he will be keeping two of his policemen on campus to keep an eye out.

One of the policemen is killed off later that night. The other kids, meanwhile, shake-up the relationships a bit. Regular Nancy-tormentor Leia goes off with the not-dead-yet policeman while her boyfriend goes to fool around with Melody.

That leaves Nancy and Alex to search the school unnoticed.

After sleeping together, Leia decides to take a shower, where she discovers her friend’s head in the shower. The policeman is also stabbed before she can leave the room. Seemingly at the same time, Leia’s boyfriend is strangled while making out with Melody by a tree.

Melody finds Nancy and Alex, and explains what happens. When they find Leia, they discover that she’s incoherent, and is simply just dancing around.

While trying to escape the school, the three girls run into Santa, who is revealed to be Mrs Jensen (shock). She begins to attack Nancy, believing she was present when Mrs Jensen’s daughter was killed two years prior.

Melody tries to make her escape by going to the plane. Only when talking to the pilot does she discover that the plane really isn’t working. While looking at the engine, someone in a Santa suit turns on the plane’s propellers, beheading both Melody and the pilot.

Nancy, meanwhile, is trying to fend of Mrs Jensen as she’s stalked throughout the school. In a probably-meant-to-be-poetic moment, Mrs Jensen falls off the same balcony has her daughter did, meeting the same fate.

But before you can say “Merry Christmas,” Nancy is attacked by a second Santa, who is revealed to be the the detective. Apparently he’s the dad or something, there’s really only about half-a-line here to explain things. Before Nancy can be killed, Alex saves her by using a crossbow to end Polansky’s life.

Despite both killers clearly being dead, Nancy and Alex run away from the house, leaving a dancing Leia behind. Why? Who fucking knows. But at least it’s over.

To All a Goodnight shares a lot of similarities to other films, but doesn’t really compete with any of them. It is a sorority Christmas-set movie like Black Christmas, but doesn’t fill the screen with enough Christmas imagery to really work. It’s also like The House on Sorority Row (which this film predates), but it isn’t nearly as memorable or good-looking.

There are some things that are unintentionally funny. For example, 90% of the film is meant to take place at night, but much of the movie was clearly filmed during the day. But it’s not bad enough to be amusing or good enough to enjoy thoroughly. Just skip this one. Even if you don’t, you’ll probably forget that you’ve even watched it.

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.

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?

Christmas Horror movie recommendations for the festive season

gizmochristmas

Christmas is the season of the classic film. No other celebration creates more movies than the holiday season. And really, you can see why, celebrating Christmas one of the new things that most people can agree on (unless you’re Kate Beringer).

Which is also why, I think, filmmakers love destroying Christmas with horror movies. There are so many Christmas-themed horror movies, it even out-numbers Friday the 13th sequels. While Christmas great and all, it’s even better with axes, demons and monsters.

But not all Christmas horror movies are created equal. Here are my personal favourites. I even stretched what it means to be a Christmas movie, because I can:

1. Black Christmas (1974)

Boy, I go on about this movie a lot, but I really do love it. The death scenes can be a bit gruesome, but they’re effective. The suspense is so well-built, it could be the foundation for a shopping mall.

A group of sorority sisters are terrorised during the Christmas season by an unseen man. The body count goes up, and so do the thrills. Olivia Hussey is absolutely perfect as the lead.

Black Christmas one of the finest examples of Canadian films and really gives Bob Clark’s other Christmas movie a run for its money (maybe). And this classic slasher one movie that I go back to every year, whether or not it’s Christmas. But watching it in the days up to the holiday is even better.

2. Gremlins (1984)

Yes. This is kind of cheating. While Black Christmas is one of my favourite horror films, Gremlins is probably my favourite film ever. Gremlins is definitely a children’s film in many ways, but Joe Dante’s horror influences are undeniable.

And if you’ve somehow managed to never see this movie, it’s about a Billy (Zach Galligan) who receives a creature known as a mogwai as a Christmas present from his father. The creature is sweet and loving, but comes with three rules: no bright lights, don’t ever get it wet, and never ever feed it after midnight.

Gizmo, the world’s greatest puppet, “gives birth” to several mogwai with bad attitudes. When they trick Billy into breaking the final rule, they turn into Gremlins, who wreck havoc on the small town.

Gremlins is an absolute classic in every sense. I see it every single year at The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, and it never fails to entertain. Plus is totally scared the shit out of me as a kid, which is a bonus if you’re a truly terrible parent.

3. The Night of the Comet (1984)

Is this a Christmas movie? Well… it takes place during Christmas so it counts. Anyway, it’s my list.

Two sisters survive the passing of a comet that wipes out a majority of the planet’s population when they stand outside to watch the comet pass. They then have to fend of the other zombie-like survivors who are out to eat them. Even worse, the military needs their blood to survive and these valley girls aren’t willing to give up without a fight.

Night of the Comet is the perfect 80’s film. It’s witty, completely absurd, and filled to the brim with excellent characters. I recently re-watched this on the Arrow Video blu-ray release and it was great to be reminded how good this film really is. It’s the perfect cult classic you can rope others into watching because CHRISTMAS!

4. Elves (1989)

Pagan rituals! Nazis! Sinister plots!

Elves is weird. I would be lying if I even pretended to full grasp what the hell this film is. It’s a part of the “so bad it’s good” genre. The plot is just utterly baffling, but I suppose that’s why I rather like it.

A girl is the centre of a Nazi plot to create a race of supermen. Some how this involves elves. Then the girl and her pals get trapped in a department store with said elf.

Sounds totally bonkers? It is, if you didn’t get the message earlier. But it’s rather fun if you’re into that sort of thing.

“I had a rough day at work. Santa got murdered.”

5. Christmas Evil (1980)

The classic “Santa goes nuts” plot. But Christmas Evil is so weird, so wacky that you can’t help but feel a bit of affection for it. Plus John Waters loves it, so you can only guess what type of film this is.

But if you’re interested in knowing more, you can just wait until Wednesday for a more in-depth Wicked Wednesday.  This film is a much better option to Silent Night, Deadly Night, which on the surface is fairly similar (kid sees Santa do something “naughty” as a young boy, boy grows up to be psycho obsessed with Santa). Though that film is the worst option you’d have for a Christmas horror movie. In fact…

6. Silent Night (2012)

I know, I know. Horror remakes are never better than the original, but this is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not exactly what I would catagorise as a good. But Silent Night is still a helluva lot better than the original film it was based on. And I’m constantly told that Silent Night, Deadly Night is worth it. It’s not. It’s really, really not. Though some of the sequels have some truly classic scenes.

Back in the Wicked Wisconsin Wednesday days I wrote about Silent NightI slightly enjoyed it then, and I still tolerate it now.

7. Home for the Holidays (1972)

A made-for-TV film that has everything you could want, really: loads of over-the-top thunder, Sally Field, and a slightly-obvious murder mystery. This was another Wicked Wednesday choice, and I  still rate it as the best made-for-TV film I’ve watched yet. Sure, it gets melodramatic but isn’t that what made-for-TV should be?

And a bunch of people getting killed off during Christmas is always exciting. And the whodunnit is rather entertaining as well.


So what’s your favourite Christmas film? Any horror picks I missed out on?