Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Evil (1980)


Title: Christmas Evil (1980)

Director: Lewis Jackson

Review:

Christmas Horror films are a misunderstood sub genre. Many people (mostly uptight conservatives) think films that portray Christmas as something evil or scary should never be made because they soil something that they consider holy and sacred and….WHAT EVER!! First off, those conservative douche bags should remember that one of the biggest ideas behind Christmas, that a fat jolly old man comes down your chimney during Christmas Eve and leaves presents for the “good boys and girls” underneath the Christmas tree is a big fat lie! And according to the bible, lies come from The Devil! So put that in your pipe and smoke it you self righteous hypocrites! Now, on with the rest of my review for this excellent Christmas horror film called Christmas Evil.


Story for this film centers around a young boy named Harry. One night, Harry’s parents decide to surprise the kids by having their dad dress up as Santa Claus and visit their home. The kids are delighted by Santa’s visit! After the kids are put to sleep, Santa decides he wants some action, so he begins to give his wife (while still dressed in a Santa suit) some head. That’s right! Mom and Pop decide to go down on each other while dad is still wearing his Santa suit! If that isn’t freaky enough, little Harry decides to take one last peep at Santa and catches his mom and dad going down on each other. Now Harry knows there’s no such thing as Santa Claus! He’d been lied to all these years! Fast forward thirty years into the future and now Harry is a 30 something dude, working in a toy factory. He has never quite recuperated from what he saw that night, and little by little, the events that unfold during the Christmas season start driving him mad! Can Harry keep his madness under wraps? Or will he go out and pass judgment on the little boys and girls of his neighborhood?


So this movie is that kind of film where the quiet introverted person suddenly goes nuts and is tired of being pushed around, so he finally explodes and decides to make all those people that screwed him over pay! “The worm has turned” is a phrase commonly used for films of this nature and it means that even the most humble person will strike back if abused badly enough! And poor old Harry is abused a lot on this film. Harry works as a manager in a toy factory, but he gets no respect from his employees. His brother constantly abuses him verbally and emotionally. His boss gives a younger kid the position that was supposed to be for him. Basically, Harry gets no respect from anybody in this movie…until he cracks under the pressure! That’s when he decides to dress up as Santa Claus and goes out into town being good to the good people and brutally killing whoever pisses him off! In this way, the film is very similar in nature to Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) though Christmas Evil predates it, since it was released in 1980.



Christmas Evil was a small film, with a meager budget and very low production values. Yet I have to tell you naughty boys and girls out there, the low production values help the movie a whole lot! Everything feels dirty, old, dark, shadowy and poor. The proper ingredients for a guy like Harry to loose his marbles in! Speaking of which the actor who plays Harry (Brandon Maggart) did an excellent job of playing the good guy who goes bananas! There are some memorable moments in the film where we can really feel Harry loosing it. There’s this great scene where Harry glues a fake Santa beard to his face with super glue and starts pulling his beard making sure it’s stuck to his face, all the while he looks at himself in the mirror and laughs maniacally. Awesome moment! Just like in that other Santa Claus gone crazy movie called Santa’s Slay (2005), in Christmas Evil Santa uses Christmas ornaments to kill people! One particularly gruesome moment has Santa slitting somebody’s throat with a Christmas Tree Star. But to be honest, the film does not go over the top with the gore. We do get a bit of gore splattered all through out the film, but it’s not the films main focus. This film is more concerned with showing us Harry slow descend into madness, shinning a light on the fakeness of the idea of Santa Claus, and establishing great atmosphere.


Why had I not heard of this movie before? Probably for the same reason why films like Silent Night Deadly Night and Santa’s Slay are not widely known. Because they make Santa Claus look evil. People don’t like for movies to portray Santa as murderous or evil Any film that does so is guaranteed to live a short life at the box office. For example, Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) though an excellent slasher, was pulled from theaters on the very first week of its release because of raving parents! Some don’t even make it to theaters at all and are sent straight to DVD like Santa’s Slay (2005). A fun Christmas horror film if there ever was any! Apparently, you just can’t go around messing with the cash cow known as Santa. Santa has to retain his squeaky clean image, and it has to remain untarnished and clean so that kids across the world will always dream of getting Christmas presents from him on Christmas Eve. In this way businesses all across the world are assured to make millions, and the economy stays strong. Still, thank god for DVD!


I loved how the film makes an effort to show the fakeness of Christmas. In one scene Santa walks into a Christmas party and begins talking to a bunch of little kids. He begins to explain to them how if they are good, he will give them toys every year to reward them, but if their not, he will give them something horrible! I loved that part of the film because its true. Parents use the idea behind Santa to scare kids into being good “or else you wont get any presents”. So kids begin to learn how to act out of interest rather then being good because its really the best thing for them. Theres another great where Santa tries to go down a chimney, but realizes that this is physically impossible, so he gives up! Another scene shows Santa trying to break into a house to leave some gifts, but in reality, he looks like a burglar trying to break into a house.


This is a very low budget film, with low production values and laugh inducing dialog, yet it is entirely watchable in my book. It doesn’t forget that it’s trying to be a parody of Christmas and at the same time it criticizes it. What makes it so watchable for me are the complete zaniness of the ideas it portrays! For example, Harry is so obsessed with Christmas that he literally has books where he writes down little boys and girls names and all the good and bad deeds that they performed all through out the year! So next time you want to watch a funny and enjoyable Christmas horror film, don’t pass up Christmas Evil, it’s a jolly good time.

Rating: 3 out of 5
 

Christmas EvilBlack Christmas (Special Edition)Black Christmas (Unrated Widescreen Edition)Silent Night Deadly Night / Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2Santa's Slay

Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1992)


Title: Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1992)

Director: Frank Henenlotter

Review:

In the very first Basket Case movie we met Duane and his freaky brother Belial. Both of em where out on a hunt for the doctors who separated them at birth. You see, they were born stuck together. Duane is the "normal" one and Belial is the freaky one. Belial was born stuck to Duanes torso! And Belial is a deformed little monster who has telepathic abilities which he shares with Duane. In the second film, Duane and Belial met with "Granny Ruth" a lady who devoted her life to helping "unique individuals" (read: the freakiest beings on this planet) to adjust and find a place where they can be accepted for who they are. In this home both Belial and Duane found love! But strangest thing of all is that the "freak" Belial is the one who actually gets some action! If Basket Case 2 was the film where Belial was going to "get some" then Basket Case 3 is the one where Belial becomes a dad!



The big attraction for me with the Basket Case films is the continuity they have, one picks up right where the other one left off, so if you’ve seen the previous films, you should enjoy this one a lot. In this installment Belial (the freaky deformed half that was born stuck to Duane) still resides in Granny Ruth’s House of Freaks, and well, his gotten his girlfriend "Eve" (another similarly deformed female) impregnated! That means that Belial’s going to be a dad! Duane is out in the world, searching for his brother Belial whom he hasn’t found yet, you see, Duane and Belial had a falling out of sorts at the ending of the second film. Granny Ruth decides to take all the freaks out on a trip to the country. Unfortunately some people aren’t willing to live with the fact that there’s a whole colony of freaks living in their town, so they go out on a monster hunt to kill Belial and Duane! Will Duane ever reunite with his brother Belial? Will the world accept Belials offspring? Or will they try to kill them off because they are different?


The story behind this Basket Case movie is that Frank Henenlotter didn’t really want to make it. He'd grown tired of the whole Basket Case thing and wanted to make different films. This of course is completely understandable. What’s a filmmaker to do when he wants to make another film then the one producers are willing to finance? You make the one their willing to finance in order to make some cash for your next film, that’s what you do! So Henenlotter did exactly that, in spite of the fact that he didn’t really have his heart on making this movie and he didn’t really get to make that other film he wanted to make. But its weird, for not having his heart set on this movie, he made a very freaking entertaining movie! And he brought that dirty, grimy, dark, grindhouse feel of the first one back!


In fact, this might even be a weirder film then the first two Basket Case films! The first movie will always remain my favorite of the three because it’s so grimy. The first one feels like Henenlotter walked up to the darkest dirtiest alley in New York City and said: "Hey! Who wants to be in a movie?!!"  I love it for that alone. People arent "Hollywood Models" on Henenlotters films. Neither are his locations and sets. The second film is weird and freaky, but too squeaky clean for a Henenlotter film, in spite of the fact that it gets its balls back somewhere around its third act. But this third film in the Basket Case franchise goes extremely freaky. It goes back to the dark and dirty roots of the first film and throws out the slick look of the second. Let’s see, Belial has a girlfriend, she gets pregnant and has a bunch of baby Belials! Just imagine that! Meanwhile, Duane meets a dominatrix chic! If you think that’s nuts, wait for the third act where the freakiness goes into high gear! I mean, Belial goes Terminator on a couple of bastard cops who mess with his offspring. The ending has gross out deaths and gags galore. These deaths are are cartoony, gory, silly looking, and insane, but they are extremely entertaining as well. And just when you think things are over...it goes into freaking overdrive! I’m not going to spoil it for you...but Belial gets some help from some of his freak friends and gets an upgrade! That’s all I’m going to say.


In conclusion, Id say Basket Case 3: The Progeny managed to make things even stranger then the first two films, if that’s at all possible. I mean, saying that this Basket Case film is weirder then the previous films is a bold statement, because the first two are already extremely weird films. But believe me it does. So strap yourselves on tight, and get ready for one weird final chapter for Duane and Belial's freak saga.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5

Basket Case (20th Anniversary Special Edition)Basket Case 2Basket Case 3: The Progeny

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Basket Case 2 (1990)


Title: Basket Case 2 (1990)

Director: Frank Henenlotter

Review:

Frank Henenlotter is one of those directors that is proud to wear his freak badge. He loves for his films to be grimy dirty films, the kind of film you feel they wiped the floor of the movie theater with. Dont believe me? Then take a look at any of these films he made: Frankenhooker (1990) and Brain Damage (1988). You wont be the same after you watch those two movies I can gurantee you that! With this in mind, can somebody tell me why was Basket Case 2 so clean cut?

Story picks up right where the first Basket Case film left off. I appreciated that continuity about it. It picks up with Duane and Belial falling to their "deaths" from the window of that shit box of a hotel in New York. Surprisingly, they both survive! They escape the hospital and end up being picked up by this lady and her daughter, who have a home where Freaks can feel at ease. Where they can be understood and loved for who they are. Will Belial and Duane fit in this new home? Or will the media find them and make a circus out of their lives?


I’m a Henenlotter fan. I love the grimy and dirty nature of his films. The first Basket Case is a prime example of a Henenlotter film. That film was very low budget. The lighting was terrible, the sound was terrible, hell, even the stop motion animation was terrible. Yet, somehow, the story grabs you. It’s characters are so freaky, so mundane and plain bizarre that you simply have to keep watching. The fact that Henenlotter’s films are so low budget and technically challenged is what makes them all the more watchable. Their griminess makes them all the more special. Usually the characters in a Henenlotter film are comprised of freaks, whores, thieves and just plain poor bastards. Since his films deal with such scummy subject matter, the low technical standards add to the feel and atmosphere of the film. It’s a perfect marriage, scummy freaky characters and themes, low technical standards equals b-movie magic. The stuff cult films are made of.


Problem with Basket Case 2 is that it’s not so scummy looking. Apparently Henenlotter got himself a couple of more dollars to make this second Basket Case film. His budget went up, but unfortunately the level of scumminess and griminess went way down. The movie looks too squeaky clean! Where the first film used real locations, real New York City streets, real shitty places, this one used lots of fake looking sets. Scenes are well lit! The film actually has decent production standards! The problem with this for me is that the thing that I love most about Henenlotter’s films was now gone! Everything looks to well lit, there’s actual colors, the lighting is too perfect...technically speaking the movie went up. That’s normally a good thing on any movie, but in Henelotter’s case its not! The grimminess of his films is what made them special for me!


But what the hell, I decided to accept this as a natural progression in any directors career. Can’t blame a guy for wanting to go higher in terms of quality with each film. So I let that go and focused on the film itself. I have to say, it also had its freak balls cut off! The first movie was flat out gory, low budget and raw! The deaths were something special, shocking and in your face. Not so on this sequel! In fact, for the most part, most of the deaths happen off camera! No gore involved! It focused a lot on getting you to feel some amount of sympathy for the freaks. It felt like Henenlotter was restrained somehow. I guess with this movie, he didn’t want to go too out there. I’m guessing he wanted to make a horror movie that was slightly more marketable, something not too crazy like the first Basket Case film. That saddened me as well, for as the movie progressed I saw that I was not going to get that raw shock value that I got from the first one.


Is there anything good I can say about this movie? Is it a complete departure from what I loved about the first Basket Case? Well, fortunately, it wasn’t a complete departure. Belial and Duane end up in this house of freaks, inhabited by some really interesting looking creatures. And by this I mean, lots of dudes in monster suits. Lots of latex make up. The creatures are very odd looking in deed. One creature has its whole face filled with noses, another has its face shaped like a moon, another has giant teeth, you know, crazy looking freaks. Nothing that looks realistic (far from it) but a strange mixture of cartoony and freaky. Belial himself looks way better then he did on the first film. I also enjoyed seeing the actor who played Duane in the first Basket Case (Kevin Van Hentenrick) return. Duane has always seemed to me like this odd ball weirdo kind of guy, a quiet dude that you do not want to mess with and Kevin plays that angle perfectly. His connection with his brother on this film is taken further, I liked that aspect of it where Duane doesn’t want to be a part of Belials life anymore. He is looking to live his own life and maybe find some happiness.


Good news is that finally, somewhere around its third half, this movie grows its balls back! Almost as if Henenlotter said "wait a minute, this movie is too soft for me! I need to turn up the juice!" And he does! The last twenty minutes get really freaking crazy. Just when you think the movie is over with, whamo! Basket Case 2 gives you a good slug to the head and wakes you the hell up. I’m glad the ending was as freaky as it was. I was beginning to think Henenlotter had lost his knack for the truly bizarre.


So anyways, in conclusion I have to say that Basket Case 2 is not as grimy and raw as the first one. It kind of lost its edge. It manages to entertain, and yeah, its still quite the freaky film. Its just not AS freaky as the first film. Fortunately, if you stick all the way to the end you will see a glimmer of the bizarre that Henenlotter is so known for.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5

Basket Case (20th Anniversary Special Edition)Basket Case 2Basket Case 3: The ProgenyFrankenhooker

Scrooge (1951)



Title: Scrooge (a.k.a. A Christmas Carol) (1951)

Director: Brian Desmond Hurst

Review:

There are so many film adaptations of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol that it can become a small task to try and differentiate them all. I try and see a different version every year, just because I want to see them all. See what little differences they have between each other, see what that one is missing, see what the other added. In my search for all of these different film adaptations, I discovered that the 1951 version with Alastair Sim playing the titular role of Mr. Scrooge is one of the most beloved film versions of the story. What makes this one so special?


I’m not going to go into a plot description, because I’m sure 99.9% of you out there already know what this story is all about, I mean, who doesn’t right? Instead, I’ll try and describe the film and what makes it one of the best Christmas Carol’s out there. Number one, the movie is in black and white. This being essentially a ghost story, the black and white makes everything darker, creepier. That’s one thing I have always loved about Dicken’s story, it’s a ghost story and as a result, it’s a creepy film. Which kind of contrasts with the whole Christmas thing in the same way that Nightmare Before Christmas did. But really, isn’t that one of the films biggest attractions? It’s spookiness? And this one has lots of it! The black and white nature of the film makes everything grimmer. The art direction helps a lot as well, you get a feeling you are living in the slummiest parts of London. Old buildings, filled with shadowy hallways filled with old clocks, books, chandeliers…everything is spooky and dark.


A Christmas Carol has been adapted to film on many occasions. Old film versions of A Christmas Carol go as far back as 1910! Just this year we had a version of the story directed by Robert Zemeckis, with Jim Carrey playing Mr. Scrooge as well as all of the ghosts. And it was completely computer animated. I still owe it to myself to check it out. But every film version of A Christmas Carol is just a little bit different then the other. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) is one of my favorites because most of the characters in the story are played by different Muppet characters. Michael Caine plays Scrooge. On this one, we get Alastair Sim, playing old Ebenezer. Gotta say I loved his portrayal of Scrooge. And on any Christmas Carol film, what makes or breaks the film is who you put on that role. The actor has got to nail it. Alastair Sim nailed it! You know that part when Scrooge turns all good and happy and suddenly LOVES Christmas? You know, the part where Scrooge goes almost mad with Christmas spirit? Well, I believe this is the happiest and craziest Scrooge on any of the film versions I’ve seen. He really does seem mad with happiness! Also, this film really dives deep into that whole sequence when Scrooge goes “good”. It’s always my favorite part of A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge suddenly warms up to the world. It always makes me want to go out and do good to everybody, which was probably Dicken’s whole point.


I don’t really believe in Christmas the way everybody does. I'm not a religious person myself. I don’t believe Jesus was born on the 25th (in fact I doubt he was even born at all) and I believe that on its surface, Christmas is really an elaborate sham to get people to buy things compulsively. Ever think about how many things Christmas makes you buy? Gifts for everyone, Christmas tree, Christmas decorations, gift wrapping paper, Christmas clothes, Christmas movies, Christmas music, Christmas food…the list goes on and on. I really see it as a way to boom the economy. It’s strange, but in many ways, I can identify with Scrooges hatred of Christmas. I mean, when he says ‘humbug’ he is saying “this is all false, wake up people!” Still, what I like about Charles Dicken’s story is that it focuses a lot on the doing good to others, making other people happy. That part of the story where we learn about giving to others without expecting anything back. Of the films themes, these are the ones I like the most.


I still celebrate Christmas anyways because I like the festivities, I love sharing time with family and friends, and yeah, its fun to give and get gifts. But I don’t know if I agree with the whole thing about lying to kids about Santa Clause coming at night and leaving gifts under your Christmas tree, Id rather tell my kids I bought them those gifts, because I wanted to. Because it’s that time of year when everyone is extra nice to each other, just because we want to. I see Santa Clause as the first lie in a long list of lies that a person will be taught to believe in through life. But hey, don’t take me for a bitter person, cause I’m not. I love this cheerful part of the year anyways; I just see it slightly different then everyone else. I’ve learned not to put so much emphasis on the buying, and a lot more emphasis on the sharing and the love and the being good to others for no reason whatsoever but to feel good while doing it.


Speaking of the whole religious nature of this film, this version is one of the most Christian versions of the story I’ve seen. Most of the modern Christmas Carol movies don’t focus so much on the whole “repent from your sins” angle of things. I’m guessing this is so because filmmakers realize that not everyone who watches their movies in our world is a Christian, so they have kind of dropped that angle from modern takes on the story. But this particular version of A Christmas Carol is all about repenting from your sins, because if you don’t, you’re going to pay in the after life! Constantly, Scrooge is reminded that he has to repent from his sins on this version.

But all in all, a very good version of the film. My favorite is still the one with George C. Scott as Scrooge. There’s just something super evil about George C. Scott’s portrayal of the character. Next year I will try and go even further back in time, see if I can get my hands on the 1938 and 1910 versions of the story. Consequently, I hope you had a happy holiday season, and wish you all a happy new year.

Rating: 5 out of 5


A Christmas Carol (Ultimate Collector's Edition)(B/W & Color)A Christmas CarolA Christmas CarolDisney's A Christmas Carol


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