Christmas Evil (1980): Umm…

AKA: You Better Watch Out (But I prefer the alternative title).

I love awkward movies. I love the strange reaction shots, the nonsensical close-ups, the exasperatedly on-the-nose dialogue, the lazy screenwriting, the pointless zooms, and the weird plot “twists.” There is some sort of pleasure derived from filmmaking that is not quite inept but not quite acceptable. This goes beyond the film scratches and cigarette burns coated on a print that was never cared for. There is something special about these forgotten, hopeless films that draws me to them.

That is precisely why I was so thrilled to watch Christmas Evil. When I first put in the DVD, I encountered some promising signs that this film would live up to my expectations of insane awkwardness: the Troma/Kauffman logo, the fact that it was in 4x3 aspect ratio, and the scribbling film scratches. As the film persisted, my hopes were raised even more. A score that sounded like dial tones, wide-eyed actors with pasted-on smiles, and random musical cues. And things like this:

These two frames are back-to-back, meaning the family just disappears for no reason.

After Harry Stadling witnesses his father (who is dressed as Santa) rubbing his mother’s legs, he is apparently destined to embark on a murderous rampage in a Santa suit some years later. Huh? I mean it’s not like he even sees nudity. He literally just watches his father caressing his mother’s legs…ok….

The adult Harry can be interesting at times. Like when he watches the children across the street with binoculars. Uh-oh. But don’t worry, he’s just making sure they are being good girls and boys. Little Suzie is sweet, but oh no! What’s that? Carlos Garcia reading Penthouse! Cue the musical sting and Harry darts back to his room to record the mischief in the Bad Book. Then watch the music shift from dramatic, dooming chords to a fantasy-like tune as he pulls out the Good Book. Admittedly, I was delighted by this bizarre scenes…so much that I had to show some of my friends, who were sadly not quite as impressed. However, I must say that the film loses steam from here.

EXT. ROOFTOP - DAY Harry darts from the scene before he forgets the autrocity. HARRY: Carlos Garrrrrcia!!!!

I guess the filmmakers didn’t realize that we don’t care much about Harry. The movie focuses on his slow decent into madness, as he eventually believes that he really is THE Santa Claus. The first kill comes at 53 minutes in! The scene is admittedly kind of cool (he kills a couple people at random in front of a crowd exiting what I believe was Midnight Mass). Way too long for me to sit through Christmas parties, Harry’s job at the toy factory, and honestly…I can’t really remember what else happened before he begins his rampage. And I don’t even know if rampage is the right word. He kills like 3 people in 2 sittings. Who was kidding themselves when they thought someone actually wanted to watch a character-driven movie? It really feels like they are trying at times…and that can be a bad thing for us viewers almost thirty years later. As is common with these types of films, they are mostly filler. They are not the extreme, exploitive gore-fests they claim to be. Oh well.

Umm yeah, the color of these shots were not altered. Another interesting aesthetic choice.

One of the best parts about this film is the surprise ending! So stop here if you actually plan on watching it. SPOILER ALERT IF YOU ACTUALLY CARE. Imagine you have just watched a film that is somewhat grounded in realism, as in…there is nothing fantastical, magical, or mystical about it. Yet, when Harry drives his van, which is painted with a Christmas sleigh on the side, off of a cliff, he doesn’t plummet to his death. Instead, the van flies to the moon like Santa’s sleigh! What the hell? Alright then…I have nothing more to say. Screw it. Here’s the SPOILER PICTURE!


Crank in Theatres!

So…I think everyone should go see Crank: High Voltage. I am one of the only people on the planet that 1) saw the first Crank in theatres and 2) actually enjoyed the movie. For me, Crank is exactly what I want in a theatrical experience. Both of the films are unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Frenetic HD cameras swirling around badass Jason Statham. A film made up of a 90-minute action sequence/chase scene. Insane stunts. Crazy characters. T&A galore. Quirky sensibilities. Exploitive qualities. Awesome soundtrack. What more could you want? Oh and did I mention that the movies are about 90 minutes? I don’t know about you, but one of the reasons I love horror movies is their brevity. Other genres could learn a lesson from such concision.

Imagine camerawork conducted by former extreme sports filmmakers. Imagine a movie that doesn’t take itself seriously in the least bit. Imagine breaking the fourth wall at any and every given point. Imagine a random Godzilla-style fight between enemies for no real reason.

The problem with the Crank movies is that people just don’t get it. But, I think that fans of schlocky horror films are the best audience for these movies. So give it a shot, eh?


Horror Business (2005): Not What You’d Hope For

Uninteresting documentary with some unsavory filmmakers.

This documentary kept popping up on my recommendations for Netflix, which is why I added it to my queue probably a year ago. Well, it finally snaked its way up the ranks and ended up in my mailbox a couple days ago.

Promising interviews with H.G. Lewis, Sid Haig, and Lloyd Kauffman, I thought this could be pretty interesting. I was wrong. The aforementioned names are only in the film a couple of minutes total. It appears as though the filmmakers happened to come across them at a convention and asked them to talk on camera for a bit; they don’t look like planned interviews. Instead, the main source of material comes from some very independent filmmakers you’ve probably never heard of, making crude movies on Mini-DV camcorders. They reflect on doing drugs, violence as a means of expression, and how they don’t fit inside the mainstream…how society is so repressed…how Americans live in a culture of fear…blah blah blah blah.

I did enjoy some of the musings of Mark Borchardt (the loveable subject of American Movie). His passion and unfettered hope for a future in the horror industry is bittersweet. He doesn’t care whether he is making studio films or independent films; he just wants to make movies. His desperation makes him so easy to follow and indeed, the documentary could have spent more time with him. However, doing so could lead to a carbon copy of American Movie (which I highly recommend for anyone that hasn’t seen it).

There are some interesting moments from behind-the-scenes of Zombie Honeymoon, which I still need to see regretfully. Yet, whenever something begins to get me intrigued, it is not developed and we never get to the meat of anything.

Although I know that this documentary is made with love for the horror film, it just doesn’t have any real substance to it. A documentary need not have big names in it to be successful. What it does need is a purpose and a clear story to follow; this had no such thing.


Wrong Turn 3! Hell Yeah!

I just heard that Wrong Turn 3 has finished shooting. The plot involves prisoners vs. mutant rednecks. How can that go wrong? The second film was the surprise of the century, as its poster does not tell you how thoroughly enjoyable it was. Henry Rollins acting like Rambo. Girl getting cut in half vertically. Let's hope the third delivers.

Great article on Wrong Turn 3 with Director from BD:


Photography is Fun

Thought I'd post some of my photography for fun. Some of it's kinda creepyish, so it's related to horror, right?

This was taking during the Southern California fires last year. Yorba Linda on Fire!


Horror and Reason

The famous piece of artwork above, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” is said to explain the origin of the horror genre in art and literature. Lack of rationality and appreciation for science forces humans to create imaginary beasts to fear rather than elements of the material world. Rationality is in opposition to the ontological world of good versus evil.

Early horror films were often focused on struggles between good and evil, with science as the enemy. When humans play God, bad things happen. That scientist created a monster! Genetic experimentation led to this abomination! Space exploration brought back alien creatures! Whether it is the Universal Monster films of the 30’s and 40’s or the Flying Saucer films of 50’s, horror’s focus was on external threats from beast-like entities. Evil was to blame, the forces of good could identify such evil, destroy it, and the moral universe would return to normalcy.

However, the 60’s and 70’s brought a change in thinking. Rationality, modern subjective philosophies, the Vietnam War, and the deconstruction of the American family were underway. Horror was not in another dimension, in foreign countries, or on another planet…it was at home. This began as supernatural horror assaulted American households, with films like Night of the Living Dead and The Exorcist. Soon, the mystical or spectacular evil elements were abandoned in place of a new type of horror: the Slasher. These films concentrated on people as the true source of evil. Horror is tangible, realistic, and at your front door. The bad guy is not the blood-sucking monster from Transylvania, but the Sawyer family down the road.

So, I made a reactionary piece to this concept and called it, “The Awakening of Reason Makes a Monster of Man.” Here it is.


The Monster Squad (1987): Good times in a Good Year!

I'm not sure if this qualifies as a review. It's more of a collection of my favorites moments and lines.

This must begin with a statement that no one can deny: 1987 was one of the best years…ever! First off, I was born in 1987 so I am already partial to it. Secondly, this particular year brought us some great 80’s “monster” flicks: The Lost Boys, Near Dark, Evil Dead II, Hellraiser, and of course The Monster Squad. There is a specific tone that all of these films share—a feel-good, evil-fighting, kick-ass tone that will never be replicated. (Well, maybe Hellraiser doesn’t quite fit into the feel-good category for most people.)

Badass Mofo's

Sadly, I had never seen The Monster Squad until now. I only wish I could have witnessed something so cool when I was ten. However, this movie does make you feel like you are ten again. I giggled with excitement as Dracula spawned his monstrous minions: the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon (which is apparently Gillman in the credits?), and Frakenstein’s Monster. This leaves you feeling like a fan boy at an anime expo…without the costumes and creepy fetishes I hope.

How come their treehouse is the size of my living room?

The cast of kids is almost as enjoyable as the monsters. The dialogue between them is dated in all the best ways, giving us memorable lines like “Wolfman’s got nards!”, “Scary German guy is bitchin’” and “If we pull this off, I'm gonna’ shit!” Awesomeness. Then, of course, there’s the wonderfully offensive language that would never occur today in a kid’s film, as they call each other fags, faggots, butt love, etc. The introduction of the older, coolest kid, Rudy, is priceless. He skids to a stop in his bicycle, lights a match off his boots, and sports his best James Dean expression. He then proceeds to force a bully to eat a candy bar he stomped on the ground…precisely why we love the 80’s so much, right? Bullies, evil people, and monsters all get what they deserve and we will never feel bad for laughing about it.

Another gem of 1987 is the spectacular one-liners. My favorite (because it’s the worst) happens after they defeat the Mummy and Rudy hollers, “See ya’ later, Band-Aid Breath!” He could have said toilet paper breath, Kleenex breath, but the screenwriter chose Band-Aids?! Of course, there’s also the classic, “Suck on this you son of a bitch!” addressing Dracula, which you knew was bound to happen at some point during the film. This next one doesn’t really qualify as a one-liner, but it was just as amazing as any other line. When Dracula is holding Phoebe (who is like five) by the throat, he screams, “Give me the amulet, you bitch!” And there’s just something about calling a young child a bitch that is so mean-spirited it’s funny.

Fat Kid with a Shotgun! Watch out!

The “goodnaturedness” of this film kept me smiling all the way through. When the boys all laid their hands out to form the monster squad, and we see the dog’s paw join in, I knew I was watching something that could only be made in 1987. When Frankie flies away into the black hole and Phoebe throws her teddy bear to him, my eyes almost collected tears. When Horace blows away the Creature from the Black Lagoon, pumps the shotgun, and declares, “My name is Horace,” I just knew that I shall show this film to my children someday. And I cannot wait for that day.


The Haunting in Connecticut (2009): Mixed Bag

I have varied feelings about this film, but I mostly enjoyed it. Certain things did surprise me, while other aspects of the movie left me feeling like I was watching a Poltergeist-Amityville-Grudge conglomeration.

The film has a strong opening, as it efficiently builds plot and characters without hitting us over the head too hard. I genuinely felt bad for the Campbell family as they struggle to make ends meet while caring for a child with cancer. I was quickly invested in the characters, particularly Matt with a strong performance by Kyle Gallner, and was not insulted by blatant exposition and hokey scares (which changes later unfortunately). I appreciated the screenwriter’s method of getting the family into this home “with a history,” as it is originally turned down and only accepted under dire circumstances.

The home itself is not overtly creepy or completely dilapidated. The most disturbing aspect of the house is a room in the basement that cannot be accessed, but windowed doors allow the characters to try to peek inside only to see nothing. The sealed-off room kept me guessing, kept me nervous whenever someone got to close to the glass, and wasn’t over-the-top. Of course, many of the cheap scares—shadow crosses frame, lights go out, door creaks open, etc,—populate the screen, but there are some original ones thrown in to sustain my intrigue.

It's ok, I have cancer.

My biggest problem with the film is not its overall story or its basic horror elements, but how routine it began to feel. The way in which all of the small scares kept piling up was not pushing me to the edge of my seat. One might expect the scares to rise in intensity, but these “spooky” occurrences just keep repeating and I never actually feel like anyone (except Matt) is in danger. The not-so-thrilling moldy fruit scare? Just before the climax! Really? After a while, I’m seeing the same old routine over and over again. This is also true with the obligatory flashbacks in sepia tones. Admittedly, the cutting off the eyelid gag almost had me cringing, but the mystery and intensity disappeared whenever the golden ghosts appeared.

The Under the Bed scare never gets old...or does it?

Still, there are some really cool things about this PG-13, Virginia-Madsen-starring ghost film. The first being the metaphysics behind death and its relationship to ghosts. The second and most important of all, ectoplasm. I only wish there was more of it!

I wouldn’t race out to see the movie, but I’d recommend it to anyone that isn’t tired of ghost stories quite yet!


I'm Back!

So I have not been working on The Horror Effect for a while because I was preparing my Thesis film for its premiere screening!!! (Poster above). That's finally done and now I can breathe! And not to mention, get back to work here. New posts will be coming soon I promise.