He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special (1985)


I was 26 when He-Man and the Masters of the Universe premiered, meaning I was way out of its target demographic. In fact, the only reason I knew it existed was due to the insert in DC comic books at the time announcing the fact. It didn’t even appeal to the stoner in me; the stories were too simplistic and preachy, the animation style too limited (and oddly peppered with rotoscoping). No, that part of my heart went out to Robotech (even a bowdlerized Macross was pretty damned good) and later Thundercats. But the kids loved He-Man, and that’s cool. Not every piece of entertainment needs my seal of approval to exist.

Somebody noticed that girls liked He-Man, too and thus was He-man’s long-lost twin sister Princess Adora, aka She-Ra, introduced, and the mythology expanded. It turned out Skeletor wasn’t the ultimate evil, it was a literal shadowy figure called Horde Prime, and Skeletor was only one of his/its minions. The other was Hordak, who had taken over Adora’s planet with an army of robots and some toyetic henchmen equally as incompetent as Skeletor’s. The tone of She-Ra‘s adventures seem different as well: her fellows in the resistance are more focussed on helping and supporting each other than punching the enemy, though She-Ra is not adverse to letting loose with an occasional rotoscoped roundhouse kick.

I’m going to have to leave it to someone who is actually female to judge if this was empowering or not. I do find the inclusion nice, though.

“Hey, a floating space wizard! No problem!”

But we’re here to talk about the Christmas Special, aren’t we? Eternia is prepping for a birthday party for our title characters, and I am surprised to find out that Queen Marlena is from Earth, as she reminisces about preparing for Christmas about this time (like I said, I didn’t follow the show. Probably this was common knowledge among fans). Meantime, Man-at-Arms is preparing a new toyetic jet called the Spy Eye, and floating imp Orko (traditionally referred to as Dorko) breaks into it and while futzing around, accidentally breaks the controls and takes off. After He-Man and She-Ra foil Skeletor’s attempt to steal what they think is an unmanned craft, the Spy Eye breaks some barriers and crash lands on Earth. Dorko… um, Orko… actually gets his magic to work to rescue two lost children from an avalanche. The kids are Miguel and Alisha, and they take shelter in the Spy Eye. They pass the time by telling Orko the Christmas story, though Orko’s more interested in Santa Claus and the gifts than some kid in a manger. They also teach him “Jingle Bells”.

“We would TOO have fetched more than 99 cents at Kay-Bee!”

Meantime our pals on Eternia have figured out that Dorko was on the Spy Eye and are trying to get him back, but She-Ra has to perform an impromptu quest to obtain a Water Crystal to power the Transport Beam (why nobody asks Man-at-Arms how he invented such a powerful device that could only powered by something rarer than unobtainium is open to debate). This she does, but only after encountering the Monstroids, giant robots who are obviously failed toy designs, and are quite bitter about it.

The Transport Beam does bring the Spy Eye and Orko back, but also Alisha and Miguel. So it has to be figured out how to get them home in time for Christmas. Luckily, the Water Crystal only has to recharge, no additional bullshit quests are required. However Horde Prime has sensed a tremor in the Force a new force for good in the universe, and sends Hordak and Skeletor to capture it and bring it to him/it. (It’s the kids and their spirit of Christmas, you see).

“At last I have the means to finally conquer – WHAT THE HELL?!?!”

And there, finally, is our plot major. Bow (the She-Ra male counterpart to Teela) writes a new Christmas song with Alisha and Miguel (gaaaaaah) just in time for them to be kidnapped by Hordak, then captured by the Monstroids, so they get involved with the war between them and the equally failed toy concept race, the Manchines. Then they get scooped up by Skeletor, who gets shot out of the sky by Hordak, and now Skeletor is trooping two kids (and a toyetic robot dog) through a snowy landscape. First he creates arctic wear so the kids won’t freeze, and that is the chink in his armor that lets the children’s innate goodness and love of Christmas leak through.

Skeletor: Tell me more about this “Christmas.”

Miguel: Well, it’s a wonderful time of the year. Everyone has lots of fun.

Skeletor: You mean they get in fights?

Miguel: No, no – they have fun!

Skeletor: Fights are fun. I like fights!

Miguel: And you give each other presents.

Skeletor: And when you open them, they explode, right?

Miguel: No! They’re nice gifts.

Skeletor: Nice? Doesn’t sound like much fun to me!

“Now, He-Man, I am going to destr – WHAT THE HELL?!?!”

All leading up to the final battle, where Skeletor gets knocked out, Horde Prime’s ship grabs the kids in a tractor beam, and Skeletor is awakened by the robot dog licking his bony face until he wakes up and shoots down his boss’ ship to save the children, the most bizarre character turnaround since Jaws turned good in Moonraker. The act makes him feel nauseous, But She-Ra and He-Man assure him that Christmas comes only once a year. “Oh, thank goodness!” Skeletor cries. General laughter.

Oh yeah, the kids get back home. The end.

It’s a generally easy way to beat 50 minutes to death. The most interesting thing for me, only sort of conversant with the world, was wondering who the fuck that was and entertaining myself with imagined names. Skeletor had a double-headed henchman that I was sure was called Twoheador but I later found was the more clever Two Bad; Hordak had a similarly lumpy guy with the more prosaic name Multibot, not Doublebodyor.

I was right about Spikor, though.

“And a Merry Christmas to al – WHAT THE HELL?!?!”

The character that actually triggered my research is only in two scenes at the beginning and end, a guy with an elephant’s head and a telescoping trunk . That was Snout Spout. To think I could have died without knowing that!

People endlessly bitch about Filmation’s limited animation, but the truth is they kept a lot of American animators alive when most of the production companies were going to cheaper Asian houses. I see founder and Executive Produce Lou Scheimer credited with branching out the He-Man universe to girls, and later insisting that the main character of the science-fiction series Bravestarr be a Native American. Those are pretty ballsy moves for a kiddie industry, and deserving of some respect. Even if those closing bumpers were always cloying and highly mockable:

Prince Adam: Not everyone celebrates Christmas, but the spirit of the Christmas season is within us all. It’s a season of love and joy and caring.

Orko: And presents!

Prince Adam: Presents are nice, Orko, but Christmas means much more than that.

Orko: I know, Adam. Christmas is a time of peace and caring and happiness.

Prince Adam: That’s right, Orko. And what would make you happiest this Christmas?

Orko: Presents!

Prince Adam: Oh, Orko!

The 12 Disasters of Christmas (2012, of course)

There was going to be a category in this non-event I was going to call “Christmas-adjacent” but then this one doesn’t quite fit smoothly into that; I mean, it has Christmas right in the title. But what it has to do with Christmas is pretty slight.

You have this idyllic little town in the mountains. Beautiful place, trees all around. It’s apparently Christmas Eve, and the 18th birthday of Jacie (Magda Apanowicz), the daughter of Joseph (Ed Quinn), a local shopkeeper who’s pretty ambivalent toward the building of a MegaDeals mall that will block access to his favorite climbin’ mountain. There’s been some weird weather lately – unseasonal heat waves, mass bird deaths, red water running from the taps. Jacie’s grandmother gives her a ring along with some cryptic utterings that she should have given it to her sooner, that she should have talked to her about it sooner, and then Grandmas gets impaled on the latest climate disaster: Giant icicles falling from the sky like spears. Oh, did I mention Jacie’s donning the ring gave her a tremendous shock and made the weird birthmark on her arm glow?

Grandma! Noooooo!

Let me spare you a lot of exposition – although the unveiling of this berserk mythos is half the fun of the movie, so just stop right here if necessary – this movie likes to trot out the term geomancy quite a bit. Turns out geomantic forces build up over centuries until such time that they can destroy the world unless the Chosen One gathers five rings and stands in exactly the right place at the right time. The last time this happened was during the age of the Mayans, and this is all explained in an ancient picture book with an arcane compass in the cover that will lead our plucky heroes to the rings. And since it is, yes, 2012, it is high time.

“Karen! There’s a cheap CGI tornado right behind you!”

Okay, a visual guide is very handy, but don’t you think the Mayans could have done a bit more in warning us, besides leaving behind calendars that ended in 2012, and spawning a lucrative market of doomsaying literature and cultism? Well, turns out the laugh’s on you, Mayan doubters, because the plucky indigenous Mesoamericans did – by writing “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, a codified explanation of what was going to happen. (Come on, you picked that up from the necessary five golden rings, didn’t you?)

The filmmakers don’t push that agenda too far, because I’m still puzzling over what lyrics are connected to which of the various doom events that unfold. It’s also to their credit that they keep things moving fast enough to minimize thinking too much about what is unspooling before you. To do this, they wind up ripping off a couple of Stephen King tropes, like a force field dome shutting off the area completely from the outside world, and the villainous Mr. Megadeals himself, Kane (Roark Critchlow) getting ahold of the Mayan book and misinterpreting the final image to mean that Jacie has to die to save the world (another thing you should have noticed by now were the Biblical character names).

Pretty much every disaster that comes our way is of the cheap CGI variety that turns you into cheap CGI so you can shatter or dissolve (also: I had no idea electricity could make you explode). They apparently did pay for a life-size icicle spear, though, because they use that one twice. None of this makes a damn lick of sense, but as I said, it moves quickly and the tension-mounting moments are well-executed and exciting. It’s not something that would substitute for an actual Christmas movie, mind, but it’s a far better alternative to treacly Hallmark movies that leave a film of saccharine on your TV set.

A Cosmic Christmas (1977)

Honestly, this impromptu challenge has little chance of success if I don’t toss some short slowballs to myself.

It’s Christmas Eve and young Peter is strolling around town with his pet goose, Lucy (ho ho). After a brief encounter with the town’s young punk ne’er-do-wells (one named Marvin is particularly keen on picking a fight with Lucy, which shows how dumb he is, because geese are frightening), Peter decides to check out what he is sure is a UFO he saw landing in the woods. Peter’s got a pretty good eye, because it is a spaceship, and from it come Plutox, Lexicon, and Althazor, who bear an uncanny resemblance to the Magi. They’re here to investigate a strange stellar event that occurred 2000 years ago, which Peter interprets to mean that they’re here to learn about Christmas.

He takes them into town, where commercialism and petty politics contradict everything Peter has told the aliens about Christmas; luckily he takes them to his own home where his grandmother shares her memories of what Christmas used to be before these durn modern times, and one of the aliens holographically recreates her memories, so Peter’s Mom and Dad get to learn a little bit about the true meaning of the season, too.

Then Marvin crops up and goosenaps Lucy, leading to a big chase that cuts through a mob of townspeople who’ve gathered at the spaceship. Marvin’s bicycle crashes through a fence and then he breaks through the thin ice on a frozen lake; Peter tries to rescue him but gets pulled in, too. The townsfolk form a human chain that winds up short, and the aliens forsake their Watcher ethos that forbids interference and join the chain, rescuing the boys. Everybody makes up and retire to Peter’s home for a good, old-fashioned Christmas feast that would make old Fezziwig proud. The aliens have learned about Christmas, and return to space to spread the word, one supposes. The end.

This was the first of Nelvana Animation’s TV specials, followed closely by The Devil and Daniel Mouse and Intergalactic Thanksgiving. I’m a big fan of Nelvana in this era (so was George Lucas, he hired them to do the animated intro of Boba Fett in The Star Wars Holiday Special, inarguably the most entertaining part of that misfire), it’s so fluid and unique. TV specials like this usually ellide over the religious aspects of the holiday, but Peter goes right ahead and names names to the visitors, which was kind of refreshing after the depressingly bleak secularism of Christmas Evil. That goes largely by the wayside once we’re into Grandma’s Christmas memory, which manages to be warmly nostalgic without becoming overly mawkish. And that climax with the two drowning boys is genuinely suspenseful.

A nice little animated surprise if the kids – or you – are sick of re-runs of The Grinch.

 

 

Christmas Evil (1980)

I figured we might as well get this out of the way.

The psycho Santa is a sub-genre all on its own – without straining, I can think of around twenty of the damn things, and we’re talking feature length, not vignettes as in the Amicus Tales from the Crypt movie. To All a Goodnight (directed by David Hess, no less)beat this one to the holiday slasher punch by a good 10, 11 months. The thing is – though we have a poster that invokes Halloween and Friday 13th (sic), and though it seems to always be lumped in with the other Christmas slashers – it’s not a slasher. What it actually is proves to be a bit confounding.

We do start in solid slasher territory, though, as thirty years ago, two young boys and their mother watch Santa come down a chimney, enjoy some nice bread and butter and milk, leave presents, and go back up the chimney. Later in bed, the younger brother, Philly, tells the only slighter older Harry that it was obviously their father wearing a costume. Harry sneaks back downstairs to discover Santa drooling over Mom’s garter belt (to be fair, Mom is hot). This breaks something in young Harry (just like the Christmas snow globe he uses to slash his hand), and if that poster led you to believe this leads to some carnage a la Pieces or Nightmare, please allow me to apologize on behalf of the filmmakers.

This is perfectly normal.

Thirty years later, Harry has grown up into Brandon Maggart (who was in Dressed to Kill that same year) who has a, shall we say, thing about Santa Claus and Christmas. He works at the Jolly Dream toy factory, where he was only recently promoted from the assembly line to middle management. He is disappointed that his former comrades on the line don’t really care about the quality of the toys they turn out, like in the old days. Then Frank (Joe Jamrog) bullies him into working his late shift so he can take off early for a weekend trip with his family. When Harry sees him in a local bar after the shift, drinking and laughing on the one he pulled on that jerk Harry, the decay begins.

Did we mention that Harry spies on the neighborhood children with binoculars? And that he has two enormous books, one for the Good Children and one for the Bad Children, with a page devoted to each’s good deeds or misdeeds?

The breaking point arrives at the Jolly Dream Christmas party, where a taped message says the company is donating to a local hospital for children with special needs, only to find out it’s all optics, and the guy who came up with the PR campaign has never even been to the hospital. Harry makes his own Santa suit (a pretty good one, at that) makes a slew of old-fashioned tin soldiers and tomahawks and other toys, paints a sled on the side of his van (the man is multi-talented, to say the least),  superglues a beard to his face, and heads out on Christmas Eve.

A simple holiday craft project – for the kids!

First stop is his brother Phillip’s house (Jeffrey DeMunn), leaving gifts. Then to the factory, to steal the toys for his next stop, that children’s hospital, where he is first greeted suspiciously, then joyously. High on his success, he heads to midnight mass where he knows his boss and the PR man will be, to tell them of his success. Unfortunately a couple of drunken New York effetes decide to heckle the Santa waiting outside the church, with the result that they eventually get a tin soldier’s rifle through the eye and a tomahawk upside the head (it seems that pressed for time, Harry just decorated a hatchet with cheerful holiday colors and feathers).

Harry speeds away and happens on a club social where he’s welcomed in and actually has a pretty good time. Before he leaves, he addresses the children there:

But now I want you to remember to stay good boys & girls. Respect your mothers & fathers and do what they tell you. Obey your teachers and learn a whooooole lot! Now *if you do this*, I’ll make sure you get good presents from me eeeevery year. Ha ha ha… but if you’re bad boys & girls, your name goes in the ‘Bad Boys & Girls’ book, and I’ll bring you something… horrible.

There is a tense moment, and then Harry laughs, and everybody laughs, except for one mother who looks rather disturbed. Then Harry heads over to Frank’s where he tries to smother the jerk with his toy bag, which doesn’t work very well, so he winds up slashing his throat with the star from a nearby Christmas tree.

First, I have to ask who keeps a Christmas tree in their bedroom. Second, I have to ask who the hell sharpens their Christmas ornaments?!?

Things go rather downhill from there, culminating in Harry being pursued by a literal torchbearing mob, driving his van off a bridge… and then the van flies away to the moon as Harry quotes from A Visit from Saint Nick

But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

That ending is one of the reasons this movie endures, and it’s the first thing and probably only thing most people know about it. As you may have noticed, Harry has a pretty paltry body count. This isn’t a slasher at all, it’s more a character study of the disintegration of an already damaged personality into madness. The other reason this movies endures is Brandon Maggart himself, delivering an empathetic performance that could have crossed the line at any point into parody, yet never does. He’s had a good career, and there’s a reason for that. He deserved it.

We can’t say the same, alas, for writer/director Lewis Jackson, who apparently started collecting the Yuletide paraphernalia for Harry’s house in 1970, back when was making his first project, The Deviants, and continued to do so for the ten years it took him to get the backing for Christmas Evil, or, as it was originally titled, You Better Watch Out. Make no bones about it, it got made because of the success of the two movies referenced in the poster above. About Jackson himself, details are scarce on the ground; there is apparently a director’s commentary on the Vinegar Syndrome disc I have, which might yield some information, and if I hadn’t done something insane like deciding to watch 25 movies and review them in almost as many days, I might have dug into that.

Or, and let’s be honest here, if the movie had inspired me enough to do so.

Somebody on the Internet put together everything the average joe wants to see in just over a minute:

The Hubrisween Hangover

Told ya I was going to be scarce, didn’t I?

Oh, I had plans, I tell you what. Hubrisween going off like clockwork filled me with so much hope and optimism, you would have thought it was Christmas already. In fact, the Christmas present I should buy myself is a T-shirt with the word HUBRIS in big block letters and a large arrow pointing up at my grossly inflated head. Because I had planned a wondrous thing: another movie challenge which would result in my watching and reviewing 25 offbeat Christmas movies in 25 days.

I blame this on my own personal demon, a tiny Vic Diaz dressed in red that perches on my shoulder and tells me to do things like eat entire pies in one sitting and set outlandish, ruinous movie challenges for myself. If I carry that metaphor a little further, though, it would mean that the opposing angel figure would be a barely-dressed Michelle Bauer, and how the hell I could ignore that is beyond me, so forget I said anything.

This is kind of American Christmas personified, huh.

Any rational person would have said, “Hey, idiot – it’s the Holidays,” but as we know, rationality has little to do with my world. If you follow me on any other social media, you know that after eight years of scraping by on part-time work, I finally went full-time. That means a four-person staff went down to two doing the work of four. Again, that accursed rational person would point out that this meant less time for watching and kvetching about movies. Thanksgiving arrived, I had every bit of two and a half reviews written, and my body said, “Oh, a couple of days off? Good, I’ve been saving this up.” And thus began the loss of a week I do not remember at all. It is not possible to completely cough up a lung, but I surely tried. Still trying, as I type this up. Just not as frequently.

The Victorians had an… um… interesting… idea of what made an ideal Christmas card.

Luckily for the world, my old comrades at The Daily Grindhouse have independently decided to do the same thing (the Christmas movies, not the coughing up of body parts), so keep checking up on them for all your questionable Christmas needs. I’m actually relieved that I don’t have to watch some of the flicks I dug up, but some sound so bizarre I have to check them out. I’d made a vow that there would only be one Psycho Santa movie (and of course that’s one of the few I managed to watch), and I was going to re-watch a few old favorites I’d not seen in a while. But forget about it, Jake, you got too much real world work to do.

I’ll see you around, I hope I hope I hope.

“FUCK YOU! IT’S CHRISTMAS!”

 

 

Greetings, New Followers

I know you’re out there. We always pick up a few new followers during the Hubrisween event, so welcome. Also, I hope you were not fooled by that event into thinking that we always update daily. We generally try to do that once a week, and we generally fail at that.

We are also not sure when we started speaking of ourselves employing the royal “we”.

It was probably about the time I accidentally published this on Halloween day. Hooray for being pulled in multiple directions!

Anyway.

If you look at the little calendar widget to the right, you’ll see that October was pretty solid, but the months leading up to it were… spotty. Truthfully, watching and reviewing 26 movies is time-consuming, and I had been banking reviews for October since July. And I was still writing up Zoombies on Day 30. Every other time I’ve done this, I wound up hating movies for a couple of weeks, which is when you get a post about solitaire games or fidget spinners.

Get to writing, boy. Your cookies depend on it.

This time is different, for some reason. Well, the reason is actually obvious, and that reason is my brain is drying up with age, because I am going to try to do it again next month. With only a month to throw this together, it’s probably going to get smaller in scope as December 1 approaches, but barring untoward circumstances, something will be happening here. The baby Jesus only knows what that might be.

Anyway.

There are only two things you should know about me, going forward.

You are never going to convince me that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a good movie.

You are never going to convince me that The Last Jedi is a bad movie.

If you’re able to live with that, again, welcome. We’ll try to have some fun.

 

Z: Zoombies (2016)

Letterboxd ♠ Master List

So. Back around 2004 or so, I declared a personal moratorium on zombie movies. There were just too many of them, almost all laughably bad. Before you ask, yes, I’m pretty sure it was the one-two punch of Resident Evil and House of the Dead that put a bullet through the brain of those movies for me. I didn’t even rouse myself to watch George Romero’s Land of the Dead until seven years after it was released. So I’ve been very picky about what zombie movies I will watch, and I discovered while watching [REC]³: Genesis that my old zombie fatigue was waking up and gnawing on my skull again.

Since for some reason all movies beginning with a Z (except Zelig) have something to do with zombies, this could be a problem in an A-to-Z movie challenge. Perhaps, I thought, perhaps the problem is with human zombies. Maybe I should check out this Zoombies people are asking about. In the interest of transparency, I should admit that I put it off primarily because I thought it was about fast zombies, or maybe zombies on motorcycles. It’s not.

Let’s start with a promotional video for the Eden Wildlife Park, a combination safari park and endangered animal refuge. This is hosted by Dr. Ellen Rogers (Kim Nielsen, who has simply impossible cheekbones), the granddaughter of the conservationist who started the refuge. We’ll find out later that she’s added such things as a rock-climbing wall and a zip line to attract families and therefore more money for the park.

But never mind that, let’s go the veterinary clinic, where workers have brought in several monkeys that have all contracted an unknown virus. One goes into cardiac arrest and dies, and the desperate vet injects some adrenaline in an attempt to save the endangered species; when the monkey revives, hoo boy, the carnage starts.

See? CARNAGE!!!!

In parallel with that, Dr. Rogers is bringing in her new interns. The newly renovated park isn’t open yet, so she confiscates all their cell phones so no interpark espionage can take place. While their shuttle distributes the interns to their new jobs, they run across a security guard on his bike, headed to the veterinary clinic because they’re not answering the radio.

You can probably write the script from there, if you’ve seen any movies at all in last ten years. Virus spreads to the other animals, has to be stopped before it gets outside the zoo, oh god what about the aviary, we can’t let a single infected bird fly out . Some of you will groan when the credit “The Asylum Presents” appears at the beginning, and those people need to seriously check their B-movie cred, because these guys have been doing yeoman work in that realm for years. Much of Zoombies is done by the numbers, sure – there are a lot of things in the first twenty minutes, like the new security card system acting dodgy, that will have you stroking your beard (or chin, if you are not particularly hirsute) and murmur, “Hmmm, I wonder if that will be significant later.” (Frankly, I was a little disappointed that they never managed to work in the rock-climbing wall)

I will give them this: you are presented with a fairly large cast of characters – which start being winnowed down almost immediately – but among the remainder, you are fairly uncertain who is going to survive, and who might grow into the hero role. I, at least, got surprised a couple of times, and if you can violate my jaded expectations, good on you.

Which is not to say there are no blemishes, oh good heavens, no. They make fruitful use of their location, but obviously, live stunt animals were way out of their budget, so CGI is the order of the day. The devil monkeys in the clinic are pretty good, but later beasties – giraffes, elephants and the like – look like they’re jobbing in from the original Jumanji. I can forgive a certain amount of “Sorry, this is the best we could afford”, but others won’t be so charitable. Lala Nestor, who plays Rogers’ young daughter, Thea, has been directed to say all her lines with an odd smile that shows no teeth, because somebody deemed that “cute”. It takes twenty minutes for it to look psychotic. The fact that she’s written to be precocious and cute and barf-worthy does not help the poor girl, either. She does have the best twist in the movie, though, and at least after that they said she could stop smiling.

Ah, which brings us to the writing. I’ve got absolutely no problem with the plotting (some difficulty with some of the physics, sure, but…) it’s the dialogue. I am painfully familiar with this type of dialogue. It seeks to give us exposition in a clever, amusing way. It is dialogue that looks great on paper but feels entirely too stagey when uttered. I spent most of this movie thinking, Jesus, this is the sort of stuff I would have written twenty years ago, and probably still do. It’s not awful, but the shock of familiarity stayed with me through most of the movie.

Also, I’m not sure why people trying to get away from zombie monkeys think climbing up a tree will do the trick, but it does give the zombie giraffes a chance to shine.

The bitching done: the sequences that are supposed to ramp up the tension actually do, and those are the reason folks watch movies like this. None of the actors are bad, they’re just written that way. Some surprising gore, and some of that is even practical. It’s is a pretty painless way to kill 87 minutes, and remember, that’s a zombie hater talking here.