Sunday Streaming:: Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)

Ssssssh! Let's watch something that we're not supposed to watch. As long as Richard Carpenter is not a regular reader of Kindertrauma, I think we can totally get away with this. Have you ever seen TODD HAYNES' lil' masterpiece SUPERSTAR: The Karen Carpenter Story that is based on the life and times of the tragic genius KAREN CARPENTER? It's so cool because all the actors are dolls and even more strange is just how creepy and moving it ends up being. Sadly this 44-minute slice of brilliance will probably never have a proper release because of all the musical licensing mumbo jumbo and the fact that Richard Carpenter is not a fan of the content in any way, shape or form. But my advice is you should check it out on the down low anyway because at the end of the day, art is more important than all that other stuff and you don't want to go about the rest of your life having missed out on this singular experience. I dunno, I get the Carpenters on my mind every year around this time due to their contribution to Christmas music and I think we can learn a lesson from poor Karen's inability to give herself a break and realize how cool she was in the first place. So let's watch this but whatever you do, keep it quiet!

Krampus (2015)

I've told you guys about my ongoing battle to retain my faith in the experience of leaving my home to watch a movie and how it is constantly threatened by my closest theater being too far away, skyrocketing ticket prices, the existence of bedbugs and my deep desire to avoid being involved in one of America's daily mass shootings. But how in the world was I going to resist KRAMPUS when it sports the kindertraumiest character anyone has ever heard of? How could I say no to the too rare opportunity to see a Christmas-set horror movie on the big screen? Geez, when was the last time I had that privilege? I'd have to go all the way back to GREMLINS. That's sort of fitting I guess because it turns out KRAMPUS is THE BEST Christmas-set horror movie since GREMLINS. But unlike GREMLINS, which was released in the heart of summer, KRAMPUS' release is perfectly timed to get you in gear for the holiday season and if you are a horror fan, it's very likely the best gift you'll be getting this year (and better still, it's sure to become a holiday staple).

Another hurdle I currently contend with is my ongoing battle to keep my hope in modern horror movies alive. At the risk of sounding crusty, my theory is this: once upon a time, there were a lot of great movies being made because a person would have to have a certain amount of talent to be handed the directing reins and basically the cream would rise to the top. These days it seems like opportunity is handed over to the shove-iest tool who yaps the loudest and the result is the avalanche of garbage we call modern culture. I bring this up because KRAMPUS was directed by MICHAEL DOUGHERTY, the whiz behind 2007's TRICK R' TREAT and let me tell you, it makes a profound difference when there's somebody with a personal vision behind the wheel rather than your dime-a-dozen hipster-hack.

More good news is that much like the recent and surprisingly lovable FINAL GIRLS (wow, 2015 is shaping up in its last lap), KRAMPUS occupies its world with talented actors who bring idiosyncratic gifts to the table and generally know what they're doing. Check it out, we've got ourselves the veritable virtuoso TONI COLLETTE, the sharp as a tack ADAM SCOTT, the legendary CONCHATA FERRELL, scene stealer DAVID KOECHNER (channeling some VACATION-era RANDY QUAID and my personal favorite, ALLISON TOLMAN fresh off her remarkable stint on the first season of FARGO. (Did I ever tell you that I'm enjoying the FARGO TV series immensely?) Much of the flick is carried on the shoulders of youngster EMJAY ANTHONY and he excels in the sensitivity department to the point where you might think STEVEN SPIELBERG created him in a lab. The flick has got serious soul and when it's not pulling the rug out from under you, it's tugging at your heartstrings...

Because KRAMPUS isn't a horror movie about physical preservation and chronic worries about fatal flesh wounds, it's a dark fantasy terror tale about the hell on Earth the world becomes when you stifle your spirit and your heart looses hope. That might sound corny but the way it is pulled off is fantastic. My favorite aspect of KRAMPUS is how incredibly other-worldy it becomes. It's as if a curtain falls and suddenly the family home has landed on a far off and extremely hostile planet (I think there's even an ALIEN reference as the out-of-town neighbors are the Lamberts and the Cartwrights). Suddenly anything can happen, any character can be swiped away, and any inanimate object can transform and bite back. There's a willful breaking away from expectations and presumed safety zones and you're likely to get a second hand high off the fumes of unbridled creativity born from the thrill of coloring outside the lines.

Beyond GREMLINS, you might get flashes of THE WIZARD OF OZ, TIME BANDITS, THE DARK CRSTAL and HOME ALONE but as KRAMPUS tips its horns to many a classic, it stands as much more than a patchwork quilt and always maintains a dominant sense of self. You could accuse it of being extremely unfaithful to the legend proper but personally I was having way too much fun to care about that. It's safe to say that some horror fans won't find it scary enough but I'm going to go out on a limb and chalk that up to something missing within themselves and the equivalent of a vampire blaming a mirror for its lack of reflection.

I can implore you to see this movie right? On account of I've never implored you to see anything before? It's a great ride and the timing is so spot-on. It's so much more than simply a Christmas-set horror film. It's a sign post in a wasteland of ice reminding you of the importance of keeping your faith in the face of naysayers and what a great loss it is when out of exhaustion, we trash what we believe in (not to mention the timely reminder of how important it is to put aside differences in order to dispel a shared threat). I mean, it almost made me miss my family for a second. How gross is that!? Oh brother, under all this cross-armed cynicism, I'm really the corniest. Turns out the pessimistic way that kid in the movie was starting to feel about Christmas was pretty much aligned with how I was beginning to feel about horror movies. I'm thankful KRAMPUS showed us we were both wrong.

Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge (1989)

My big plan for this past Black Friday was to quietly (if you don't include multiple listens to DEBBIE GIBSON'S "Electric Youth") stay indoors and spend exactly zero pennies virtually visiting the eighties shopping center that exists perfectly preserved within 1989's PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC's REVENGE. Being so lazy as to avoid so much as getting up from my chair, I opted to look the flick up on YouTube rather than dig through my rat pile of VHS tapes. Some Earth angel had posted a high quality DVD rip and I heartily dug into it only to be abruptly taken aback by a scene I had no recollection of. Wait a minute, since when was titular Eric an accomplished gymnast before his fateful fiery accident? Something wasn't ringing right as I had no memory of the awkward (not to mention ultimately pointless) pre-credits sequence I suddenly found myself confronted with.

Shortly thereafter I was doing something only a true film nerd would do, I was watching the VHS tape of PHANTOM OF THE MALL in unison with the DVD version available on YouTube. What I discovered is that the two versions are strikingly different! I'm sure that this information holds little value to anyone but I'm pasting it up here for posterity in case a visitor from another planet needs such knowledge for a book report on people with cinema-centric mental disorders...

Turns out the VHS version has all of the gore, including a delicious decapitated head sequence and that the DVD version is nearly bloodless and replaces much of the violence with a side story involving the love life of a character portrayed by PAULY SHORE. I guess it goes without saying which version I'm partial to. Even if I were to pretend to prefer character development to people's skulls being crushed in trash compactors, the VHS also includes a segment not found in the DVD edit involving a piano player in a bathroom stall being bitten in the genital region by a king cobra snake. I'm still unclear whether the cobra was a trained minion set upon the piano man as a part of his master Eric's revenge plan or if the sinister serpent was randomly operating on its own behalf but the fact remains that the version I shall henceforth refer to as the "cobra edit" of PHANTOM OF THE MALL provides the superior experience. Actually there is no reason that a talented and industrial editor could not compile the two versions into an ultimate edit unless the reason that nobody cares counts.

In closing, PHANTOM is tons of fun not due to quality so much as its unadulterated bizarreness. I mean, Eric the phantom utilizes PATRICK SWAYZE-esque roundhouse kicks when confronted! How is that not going to be awesome? Plus, the baddie adult who is responsible for disfiguring Eric, dampening his romantic life and building a mall on top of the wreckage of his home, is played by none other than JONATHAN GOLDSMITH who has since grown a beard and has become famous as the "most interesting man in the world" in those commercials for..... (Googling) (Huh, they're selling beer in those commercials?).

And here comes lovely MORGAN FAIRCHILD of THE INITIATION OF SARAH fame who portrays an opportunistic and super shady mayor! If visiting a universe in which MORGAN FAIRCHILD is mayor is not enough for you, there's also some truly impressive stunt work involving people falling from great heights within the mall. Oh, and the great KEN FOREE as a security guard! I probably should have opened with that selling point.

The only real problem with PHANTOM, which was directed by the same guy who did DOOM ASYLUM (RICHARD FRIEDMAN) is that there are little scares and there is zero sense of suspense. I don't know if it's the unconvincing make-up or the fact that you can't help but feel sympathy for poor Eric but there's never even the mildest tang of menace (except for when that cobra is around of course). I shall leave you with the DVD rip from YouTube but really folks, if you truly want to enjoy PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC's REVENGE track down that VHS tape! It's (decapitated) heads above the talky alternate jam.