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)

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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.

Y: Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare (1968)

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So it was *mumblemumble* years ago that the late 60s Japanese Yokai Monsters movies were released on VHS: this one and the earlier Along With Ghosts, and 100 MonstersI think I wrote about 100 Monsters somewhere back there: I found it diverting, even charming at times. I always intended to check out the others, but life got in the way, and so here we are.

In an utterly cool prologue, we are told that an ancient Babylonian demon is sleeping in some ruins, which is a pretty good arrangement until some treasure hunters show up and unearth his magic staff (I am endlessly amused by the fact that the raiders are dressed like Bedouins but speak English). The demon (conveniently named Daimon) awakes and wrecks everything, burying the despoilers under styrofoam rocks, and then leaves for greener pastures.

Which means, as so often happens when it comes to monsters, he is now Japan’s problem. Ever the dick, Daimon’s stormy passage sinks a fishing boat.

It’s medieval Japan again, though, so when the local beneficent lord is checking out his turf before the oncoming Daimon storm, he finds his samurai sword is useless; Daimon drinks his blood and takes over his body. The sudden change in the lord is noticible (after all, he goes into his compound and starts wrecking all altars and holy items, calling for them to be burned), and when the steward inquires as to what is going on, Daimon drinks his blood and takes over his body, too.

A Kappa living in the compound’s pond sees the demon in his true form, and challenges him. In the ensuing fight, he is severely overmatched and kicked out of the compound. He goes to his fellow Yokai monsters in the local graveyard, but they don’t believe him. At least, not until Daimon tires of exsanguinating servants and sends his lackies out to kidnap children from the village. Then the good-hearted monsters decide it’s time to kick some foreign monster butt.

Spoiler: Daimon is still too tough for them, so they have to call on every monster in Japan to fight Daimon, who naturally grows to giant size to do some Yokai-stomping. KAIJU BIG BATTEL!!!! (I thought I was going to be showing my age again with that reference, but nope – they’re still going!)

I see where the IMDb now has this listed as Big Monster War which is a better title, if a bit misleading. The last fifteen minutes delivers on it, but for the most part, so much time is spent on the samurai drama of dealing with a Babylonian vampire, there are times I found myself wondering, “Wasn’t this movie supposed to be about yokai monsters?” It’s 1968, so prepare yourself for the suit technology of that era. The monsters are pretty nicely detailed, but largely unable to so much as crack a smile. The Kappa gets a movable beak, though, and is a good choice for comic foil, the actor moves so expressively; the rest, save for the two with human faces, have to rely on their voice actors.

Heyyyy, Karakosa!

It still manages to be pretty charming, in a creepy fairy tale kind of way. Despite some blood, it’s the sort of dark fantasy you could show the kids. It does help to be familiar with the folklore monsters referenced. I’m glad that it features my favorite, the karakasa kozō, the one-legged , one-eyed umbrella creature who likes to scare people by licking their cheek with its long tongue. Do not judge me.

It is also well worth mentioning that no less than Takashi Miike remade this in 2005 as The Great Yokai War and that is all I need to know.

Man, like I needed another movie to track down and watch.

X: X Moor (2014)

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Honestly, any year when I don’t have to cheat to get a horror movie starting with X is a good year. So I’m not going to have anything to with it’s alternate title, The Beast of X Moor.

X Moor is based on a true story, for a certain definition of “true”; it uses as its basis the urban legend of a great cat resembling a panther or puma sighted in the Exmoor region of southwest England. The bulk of the sightings referenced on that page are from the 1980s, but let’s not let that get in the way of our movie.

Upon learning of a £25,000 reward for proof of the Beast’s existence, Georgia (Melia Kreiling) convinces her boyfriend Matt (Nick Blood) to “borrow” some fancy equipment from his job to get some footage of the elusive kitty. They’ll be aided in this by professional hunter Fox (Mark Bonnar), who seems to feel that catching the creature is a very personal challenge. Perhaps too personal.

After a couple of violent encounters with local hooligans, our documentarians set up their network of motion-controlled night vision cameras and the control center in their central camp, only to discover a dead body – in fact, several dead bodies – and their survival on this expedition is suddenly in question.

There is a plot twist in X Moor I did not see coming, so I’m going to keep mum about it. The story developing from that is itself full of twists and turns, not all of them logical or deserved. It’s fairly well done, and although as a whole the flick just didn’t gel for me, I recognize there are other folks out there that will enjoy it. It might be also be appreciated that although it seems to be setting up a found footage movie, it’s not that at all.