Category Archives: Seasons Beatings
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
When I was a very little kid, I stole a pack of Dentyne gum from the grocery store. It was so easy- I just put it in my pocket as my Mother was purchasing groceries. The act itself was thrilling. I could not believe that I could think of something like that, do it and then bask in the rewards. I was interacting with the world and I existed. Hubris was destined to trip me up though. I shared my accomplishment with my older brother and after enjoying some of my gum and throwing the wrappers into a bush, my brother promptly snitched (Life lesson #1: Happiness lasts longer when not shared with others.)
So now I was in trouble, big trouble. I had to wait in the stairwell as my mother spun the punishment wheel in her head and determined my fate. As I stood in the hall crying and praying for the power to turn back time (Life Lesson #2: No amount of praying will result in God granting you magical powers) the two cops from ADAM-12 (MARTIN MILNER & KENT McCORD) came into the kitchen and began to discuss my fate with my mother. I saw them and I heard them, I swear. I was trapped in a whirlwind of guilt and horror; I was obviously going to be arrested and sent to jail. I wasn’t a “good” guy, I was a “bad” guy! Oh, the shame!
Time would reveal that no, the ADAM 12 guys were not in my home at all. I had just had, you know, a visual and audio hallucination of some sort. I guess my brain was not formed enough yet to draw the lines between my imagination and reality (this would also explain the night that I saw the Easter Bunny in the living room.) I bring up this story because while watching the Finnish film RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE some invisible elf in my head dragged it out of storage and shoved it center stage. The movie may look like a killer Santa flick but in reality, it’s more about being a kid, and finding a way to overcome feelings of being “bad” while gaining some confidence about your abilities and position in the world. If you watch this one expecting gore, explosive action and big scares, you might feel shortchanged so I’m saying don’t do that.
RARE EXPORTS introduces us to a kid named Pietari who has gone and done something worse than stealing Dentyne. He and a friend, while snooping around an excavation, left a hole in the fence that contains his father’s reindeer herd and now something has obliterated his family’s livelihood. Pietari’s guilt cannot be contained and even though he has been sworn to secrecy about the incident, he knows that Santa sees all and will punish him severely. This is made even clearer as all the local kids about town begin to disappear. Pietari’s father captures an elderly man who he thinks may be responsible for their predicament but Pietari is convinced that the creepy guy is all-knowing Santa himself. The truth is actually stranger and more fantastic than Pietari can imagine so I won’t ruin it here.
This is a highly original film that plays with your expectations and stokes your imagination at every turn. If you a looking for a different type of holiday viewing experience then this is it. It hits a very unusual and singular note by being much darker and creepier than your standard family Christmas movie and yet much more whimsical, nostalgic and ultimately uplifting (literally in one scene) than your usual Christmas horror fare. Director JALMARI HELANDER is compared to SPIELBERG, JEUNET and DANTE in blurbs on the back of the DVD and I can see that, but with the frozen landscape, zero female presence and block of ice excavation, I was thinking hey this is like a kid’s version of THE THING! Okay, well, maybe that doesn’t fit exactly but you know how my brain works. In any case, RARE EXPORTS is a great addition to my pile of required Christmas holiday viewing. Really the only thing that it is missing is a cameo from the guys from ADAM-12.
“The Present” (2005)
I had awful dreams last night and I blame the segment “The Present” from KAZUO UMEZ’S HORROR THEATER VOL 3. directed by YUDAI YAMAGUCHI (VERSUS, BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL.) “The Present” is a Japanese killer Santa story based on an influential manga. Honestly, I don’t know much about mangas but if anything involves a killer Santa, I want to know about it and I want it to be a part of my life. “The Present” opens with a little girl named Yuko having an awful dream herself. It’s Christmas night and her parents console her by informing her that as long as she is good, she has nothing to worry about and Santa will protect her from harm. If she’s bad though, she is screwed!
Flash-forward into the future and Yuko is now a young adult. She appears to be a bit of a wallflower compared to her friends but she agrees to travel with a group to a hotel to celebrate Christmas. Arriving at the hotel, she begins to stumble across crap featured in her childhood nightmare. In fact, the hotel room she stays in is decorated with assorted objects from her youth. Yuko is not feeling it and wants to go home but her friends convince her to stay and then her boyfriend convinces her to have sex. Apparently having sex on Christmas angers Santa and now Yuko and all her pals have to be butchered and fed to the reindeer. Wow, Yuko’s parents were not kidding.
“The Present” is doused in off-putting colors and heavily utilizes disorienting angles and flash cuts. It’s made even more surreal by the fact that it is filmed on some kind of HD video that reminds me of DR. WHO. There’s plenty of blood and gore running through this simple vignette, but the real creeps are the result of the psycho-moralistic undercurrent. It’s kind of like being stuck in one of those Christian haunted houses that tries to scare the sin out of you. I can’t say crazy Santa is completely effective either. He’s got a very impressive throwing star on a chain which he uses to yank off assorted limbs, but for some reason he can’t be bothered to deliver a proper scowl. Maybe this dude looks scary in Japan, but to me he looks like a bored delivery guy.
Assuming that nobody will ever watch this, I’m going get spoiler-y. As if the character of Yuko had not been disparaged enough, we come to find out that she was never the innocent we knew and was just pretending to be “pure” as a way to manipulate those around her. It turns out she doesn’t like Christmas, does not want to spend Christmas with her parents, smokes cigarettes and sneakily smiles to herself when she’s pretending to be coy. Personally I’m still not convinced that she deserves to have her brains scooped out but hey, I’m a liberal. It’s not surprising that the movie ends up being the dream that young Yuko had at the start. What is surprising is that young Yuko takes credit for squashing the brain of the “bad” future Yuko who is yet to be and that her parents rejoice in the fact that she will always be “gentle”.
Well, I’m happy I checked this one out even though I think it’s crazy making and causes bad dreams. “The Present” is so dogmatic that it ends up revealing the most horrible side of Santa I’ve ever seen. Turns out he is just a tool to scare and bribe kids into listening to their parents and submiting to their bourgeois values. Who knew?
Black Christmas (2006)
I’m weirdly proud of my Christmas horror movie collection. Every December I drag out the same rag-tag pile of VHS and DVDs and decorate the house by lining them up on a shelf. When I first viewed 2006’s BLACK CHRISTMAS, I felt only disappointment and frustration. They got the whole thing wrong, I thought and what a sack of horrible choices and bad ideas. I never really expected the remake to hold a candle to the original but with the director of the underrated WILLARD remake (GLEN MORGAN) cracking the whip, I saw no reason why it couldn’t be passable entertainment. Completist that I am, I ended up buying the DVD anyway at a used joint four years ago for four dollars (the price sticker is still on it!) and much to my embarrassment and chagrin, I have witnessed it evolve over the past couple of years into a guilt inspiring holiday staple for me. Honestly and perhaps sadly, as I write this, I cannot wait for this year’s secret eggnog-soaked rendezvous with the film.
Don’t cry, I’m not going to try to sell you on the idea that this is a good film. It’s crushingly convoluted, it makes little logical sense, it’s lethally disorganized and it’s about as scary as a kitten crawling out of a stocking. Even so, it’s hardly an amateurish effort in the technical department. The cinematography is sharp, sometimes glowingly gorgeous and the snowed-in claustrophobic set-up along with the late SHIRLEY WALKER’s sometimes jingly, sometimes ominous score does create a snug little nest of freaky holiday ambience. I know that sounds like cold comfort when you are dealing with a movie that insults your intelligence by throwing snowballs of nonsense at your head on a regular basis, but a movie like this needn’t be taken so seriously.
It’s true, I have decided to officially pardon this ill-conceived mutation based on two reasons. First, regardless of how much of a failure BLACK CHRISTMAS (‘06) may be, it is still a Christmas-themed horror movie and therefore deserves some leeway. When held up against the original it does look buffoonish, but amongst a mini subgenre which includes SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT!, ELVES and DON’T OPEN ‘TIL CHRISTMAS, it’s hardly the runt of the litter. Fact is, with the exception of BOB CLARK’s classic and a precious few others, Christmas horror movies have a tendency to be a bit dopey. It’s an important part of their tacky appeal. Secondly, like many other movies that juxtapose the shmaltziest holiday with rampant depravity, I believe BLACK CHRISTMAS (‘06) operates as and can be considered complete and utter camp. I don’t throw out that word lightly but it’s unavoidable here. Appearing in cartoon form on THE SIMPSONS, JOHN WATERS once identified camp as, “Anything ludicrously tragic or tragically ludicrous” and that fits this flick like a mitten.
Tone-deaf BLACK CHRISTMAS (‘06) has much more than just its holiday setting shoving it into the territory of camp. It’s visually excessive (so many wild garish blinking colors!), it randomly churns out treacly tunes, it’s shamelessly histrionic in places and it centers about a nearly indistinguishable cast of nasal, cell phone stroking, self-proclaimed “spoiled bitch” sorority sisters, a house mother played by a comedienne of a certain age, a long lost sister portrayed by the director’s fierce husky voiced, playing for the balcony wife and not one, but two ill-conceived not very threatening killers; one with yellow (really chartreuse) skin and the other a very unconvincing dude in drag. If this is not a smoking smorgasbord of clueless camp, I don’t know what is. Furthermore and importantly, as cartoon-y and broad as all of this is, the kills, acted out by lame maniacs or not, are surprisingly mean spirited and extravagantly vicious (at least in the unrated version).
To fully appreciate the depth of the bungle you have to examine the DVD’s special features. It is there that you will find that all involved were sincere and unaware of what they were constructing. If we were talking about a knowing parody that would be something else altogether but BLACK CHRISTMAS (‘06) is straight faced and on the level. Its unbelievably burlesque back story is designed to be taken seriously as is the film’s constant drum banging to alert us of its heavy handed “family bonds” theme. I don’t mean to mock the efforts of those involved, I’m just pointing out that this level of delusion is imperative when creating a worthwhile mess. There’s nothing worse than a knowingly ironic, consciously camp film and this clearly is not one. This is uncalculated camp- the best kind. The sad thing is, if you ripped out the preposterous killers and added some patient down time with the victims things would be merry.
It is with the above reasoning and the honest assessment of my private viewing habits that I have come to the conclusion that I like and am in no way angry with BLACK CHRISTMAS (‘06). Being angry at BLACK CHRISTMAS (‘06) would be like being mad at a hot dog for not being a Dachshund. Unlike other remake disasters, this exaggerated misfire, if you have a sense of humor about it, will provide a howl of a good time particularly in the month of December, when the days grow shorter and the whiskey bottle grows emptier.
As I said, I’m not trying to convince anyone to enjoy this fiasco too. It’s just that for me, regardless of the film’s misguided nature, the end result delivers the type of somewhat silly somewhat nasty entertainment that I once spent a lot of time trying to track down on VHS. I’d love to continue carrying the torch of the outraged fanboy who feels unreasonably violated but I can’t. (Henceforth I will simply reserve my righteous indignation for the soul sucking FOG remake. ) This movie may be goofy but it’s got multiple impalement deaths and it churns out dense and hokey CHRISTMAS atmosphere non-stop. Yes, the story is full of holes and kind of blows but it’s a good looking film that features wonderfully unlikable, sassy, up and comers whose deaths you can happily route for. I know it’s not very dignified but I’d rather be accused of bad taste then be a hypocrite. It’s trash like this that makes better horror films so worth the wait. I’m too old to afford to sit around a couple decades for the sardonic appreciation of this movie to become en vogue and so here I am opening up this present to myself early.
Streaming Alert :: Christmas Horror
When it comes to delivering horror, in many ways, Christmas has Halloween beat. Halloween may come with all the obvious dark gruesome imagery but when all is said and done it usually only inspires creative, light-hearted fun. On the other hand Christmas marches with a “Be merry or else” goosestep, casting about insincere niceties while emptying out your wallet and stuffing your stockings with stress and anxiety. You don’t hear about the suicide rate going through the roof in late October do you?
The best way to let off a little steam during the high pressure holiday season is by watching Christmas-themed horror movies. No matter how desperate your lot in life may be, it is pleasing to note that at least you are not being impaled on deer antlers like LINNEA QUIGLEY in SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT.
Tragically though, Netflix Streaming appears to not understand the necessity of Christmas horror films and their selection of said fare is horrendously devoid of the classics that we all know and love. But don’t worry my kiddies as per usual your Unkle Lancifer has your back! I have put together a night of Netflix Streaming X-MAS horror just in case you need it. So double dose the rum in that eggnog and remember every time someone screams, an angel gets its wings!
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: SANTA CLAUSE
Let’s start out with something terrible shall we? Are you all alone this year? Have you been rejected by your friends and family because your nose glows? Well who needs real human company when you have hosts Mike, Crow and Tom? They are happy to supply fellowship and snarky commentary without eating you out of house and home and asking you pesky questions about your personal life! In this episode of the long running series the gang takes a look-see at a craptacular Mexican holiday film involving an outer space Santa and his war with a pajama clad Satan. You all know whom I’m voting for!
DEAD END (2003)
A car trip to Grandma’s house for Christmas morphs into a voyage into creepsville in this movie that I recommend often. (Review HERE) The ending reveal isn’t exactly as original as a snow flake but the atmosphere is denser than a fruitcake and spending time with RAY WISE (TWIN PEAKS) and LIN SHAYE (INSIDIOUS) is more fun than hanging out with any relative you know.
SIX FILMS TO KEEP YOU AWAKE: A CHRISTMAS TALE
Here I was all excited to recommend this segment of SIX FILMS TO KEEP YOU AWAKE (Review HERE) involving a bunch of tykes who find a Lady Santa in a pit only to have her escape and try to kill them with an axe- when I discovered it’s not available! That’s right! Turns out only select episodes of SIX FILMS ETC. are available for streaming and this ain’t one of them! Way to screw up my post Netflix! Ugh, for reasons unknown I try to help you out Netflix Streaming but you always do me wrong… Damn you, you fickle and ungrateful mistress! Eat a bag of coal.
I’m not so easily foiled Netflix! I have a last minute substitution! I was just checking out our AVALANCHE OF CHRISTMAS HORROR! list from last year and noticed that kinderpal David Fullam suggested HARDWARE in the comments section. Yes, the robot head in HARDWARE was indeed a Christmas present and that particular movie is available on Netflix Streaming so there you go. Thanks DF, you saved my post!
SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT/ CHRISTMAS EVIL
If you should happen to not have Netflix Streaming there is no need to worry. Public Domain is here to save the day! If you are ever experiencing a Christmas horror movie deprivation emergency just break the glass that has MARY WORONOV and FIONA APPLE’s dad behind it! I’m talking of course about SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT and the hilarious CHRISTMAS EVIL, both of which are at your disposal any time you like! Check out my full reviews HERE and HERE and ogle the full-length videos below. There’s no reason why everyone can’t have a scary Christmas!
Kindertrauma Funhouse :: Brought to You by the Fine Folks at Ira’s Toys
Deadly Messages (1985)
The Kindertrauma Castle just got HBO in anticipation of TRUE BLOOD, I have a stack of unwatched DVDs acquired from a horror convention and Netflix Streaming continues to taunt me with its well of obscurities so why do I, when the world’s asleep, continue to slide down the YouTube flume? It’s just that there is so much hiding out in that joint that you can’t find anywhere else! Physical copies of many of these gems are hard to come by and I’ve learned the hard way that anything found on YouTube must be quickly viewed as it could disappear back into the nowhere zone forever without warning. Now that so many once elusive titles are just a click away from your door, YouTube is like the last uncharted forest for those of us who remember and mourn the thrill of the hunt. Television movies especially sing to me like sirens and stumbling across a good one that I’ve missed is like stepping into a comfy time portal.
Going into DEADLY MESSAGES (1985) all I knew was that it stared that lady from ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? (KATHLEEN BELLER) and it involved a Ouija board. No gamble there, by merely existing this movie poured milk on my flakes. How could I resist such an innocuous title? DEADLY MESSAGES is just too perfect. BELLER is Laura Daniels, a deliciously spazzy sprite who witnesses a murder and is routinely dismissed by the police. No matter how many times a guy with a hunting knife attacks her, there’s just never enough evidence from the encounter for anyone to not think she’s a hysterical nut. Confiding in her Ouija board provides little solace, as the planchette seems to side with her stalker by saying, “I am going to kill you!” All of this is pretty routine and vaguely hilarious and thankfully takes place during the Christmas season.
Then things take a turn for the amazing. Laura is fired from her job when none of her references pan out and then her long-suffering boyfriend Michael (MICHAEL BRANDON) is told by her doctor that during a brain scan it was discovered that she has been the recipient of shock therapy! Michael confronts her with this info in a restaurant decorated with ROBERT LONGO paintings but she, with her shirtsleeve dangling in spaghetti, insists she has no idea what he is talking about. Next, at a bookstore Michael discovers a series of Nancy Drew like mystery books with a heroine named Laura Daniels. All of the fictional character’s exploits resemble the stories he’s been told by Laura and it appears her entire identity is a big fat lie! Laura insists that she is on the up and up but when her investigation leads her to a mental hospital and the head nurse greets her with “Welcome home!” it’s obvious that the person who knows the least about Laura is she herself (the revelation in considered alarming enough to warrant the coveted HITCHCOCK zoom. ) There’s an explanation of sorts but you’re not getting it from me.
What can I tell you, DEADLY MESSAGES is as silly and implausible as the day is long. I don’t care because it’s damn entertaining too. It makes perfect sense to me that the director (JACK BENDER) and writer (WILLIAM BLEICH) went on to do the superior T.V. movie THE MIDNIGHT HOUR too. Both films have a very cinematic feel for something made for the small screen and are host to loads of splendid atmosphere. As DEADLY MESSSAGES plows towards its climax it’s all howling winds, blowing leaves and over the top musical cues and who can ask for more? It neatly transforms into a different type of movie altogether and I was kind of stunned that something so typical at the starting gate ended up so wonderfully off the wall and quirky. Considering its somewhat hokey woman in peril premise it impresses with several aggressive set pieces, a sneaky sense of humor and a penchant for keeping the viewer guessing. Cliches abound (including DENNIS FRANZ showing up as a cop!) but DEADLY MESSAGES is most fun when it refuses to go by the book.
NOTE: For even more on DEADLY MESSAGES jump on over to TV movie central, our pal AMANDA BY NIGHT‘s MADE FOR TV MAYHEM!
Special Report :: Christmas TV History’s Joanna Wilson on “Edith’s Crisis of Faith”
“Edith’s Crisis of Faith” features the character Beverly LaSalle, a transvestite and female impersonator, played by Lori Shannon. Beverly appeared in two earlier AITF episodes, “Archie the Hero” in 1975 and “Beverly Rides Again” in 1976. A friend of the family, Beverly returns to the Bunker home in “Edith’s Crisis of Faith” in order to invite them to her scheduled performance at the prestigious Carnegie Hall the week before Christmas. The Bunkers are happy to see Beverly and accept her invitation while Edith, who considers Beverly to be “like family,” returns the gesture and invites the performer to Christmas dinner at the Bunker home.
What comes next is disturbing and unexpected. Though the action takes place off camera, we learn that son-in-law Mike Stivic and Beverly are mugged. Eventually we see Mike in the hospital in bandages–he was beaten but will be fine. Mike describes the mugging saying that Beverly had successfully defended him against the gang of violent attackers but then the gang turned on Beverly with a lead pipe. Mike says, “I guess they figured out what he was and they just started smashing him with the pipe.” A doctor tells Edith and Archie in the waiting room that Beverly has died. “Just because he was different,” Gloria later adds. The rest of “Part 1” sees Edith numb in her grief at Christmas time.
The storyline continues into the following episode “Edith’s Crisis of Faith, Part 2” where we see more fully how deeply Edith is affected by the death of her dear friend. Not only is Edith unable to put aside her grief, she finds she can’t even be happy at Christmas for the sake of her two year-old grandson Joey. Even worse, Edith who is usually a person of unwavering faith now questions her belief in a God that would allow someone as kind, gentle and good as Beverly be so tragically murdered. She won’t go to church at Christmas and even suggests that she may never go back. Archie encourages her to return to church but Edith’s disillusioned response is: “Why? What good does it do?” Edith’s family is beside themselves trying to cheer her up but Edith is inconsolable. She even runs out of the room when Archie offers a prayer over the family’s Christmas dinner. Eventually, Mike is the only one able to offer any comfort to Edith. Mike reminds her that we can’t always understand everything. Though Mike’s answer is simple, he is actually making a complex point that a crime such as this is beyond reasonableness–it may never make sense. Watching a character as gentle and decent as Edith suffer so terribly is torturous and emotionally draining.
What many may find difficult here is that this deeply emotional and tragic episode occurs at Christmas–the one time of year most people want to feel uplifted, optimistic and hopeful. That may be the exact point the writers of this episode may have been communicating–juxtaposing this sad episode with the usual bright spirit of the holiday. It also makes it difficult to re-watch year after year as we all so often do with Christmas TV sitcom episodes.
However, the tone of this painful episode is handled correctly. AITF had perfected the appropriate manner in which to handle the sensitive issues of the day in previous episodes that dealt with topics such as racism, bigotry, war, politics, cancer, and more button-pushing issues one wouldn’t immediately associate with family sitcoms. Even other Christmas episodes of AITF took on hot topics such as Edith’s breast cancer scare, the divorce of Gloria and Mike, and my favorite: 1976’s “The Draft Dodger” where Mike’s friend, a draft dodger on the run, comes to Christmas dinner to share a table with Archie’s friend who’s son was just killed in Vietnam.
Yet, Christmas may just be the most appropriate time of year to remind ourselves of our desire for a world filled with peace. Hate crimes such as these unfortunately still exist and occur all too frequently. Part of what makes AITF such a groundbreaking show is the fact that its take on subjects such as this are still relevant today. Perhaps the depth of emotion felt in “Edith’s Crisis of Faith” can serve as an annual reminder to grab our loved ones even closer and find compassion and acceptance for everyone.
Though a situation comedy, the jokes are never at the expense of the social issue but are aimed squarely at the insensitive fool, Archie Bunker. This show so successfully tackled social issues that many other TV series in the 1970s and 1980s went on to try to do the same thing with varying degrees of success.
UNK SEZ: Thanks so much Joanna for sharing such a wonderful post! I have a strong recollection of this episode as well and you really captured what made it so memorable.
Folks, not only is Joanna one of Kindertrauma‘s favorite people in general but she is also the author of the books THE CHRISTMAS TV COMPANION and ‘TIS THE SEASON TV. You can pay her a visit at her official home base CHRISTMAS TV HISTORY!
Happy holidays to you and yours!
aunt john & unkle lancifer