Tag Christmas

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

He’s Home… But He’s Not Alone.

Young Derek is left traumatised when his father is killed by a mysterious Christmas present that was left for him on the doorstep in the middle of the night. The present was meant for Derek with a warning not to open until Christmas. It turns out that a local toymaker is making these deadly presents with the intention of killing children and Derek is next on his list.

 

Having long-abandoned the killer Santa theme, the Silent Night, Deadly Night series did what John Carpenter had originally envisioned for the Halloween franchise: making standalone horror films linked together with a particular holiday theme, in this case Christmas. Whilst this only lasted for two films once the traditional slasher stuff had finished in Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out!, it still provided a platform for some interesting non-traditional Christmas horror material. Horror producer and director Brian Yuzna, one of the men behind the Re-Animator films, was in the producer’s seat for this one and his knowledgeable touch is clear to see. There is a definitive Halloween III: Season of the Witch vibe to this sequel in which an evil businessman plans to murder children during one of the year’s biggest holidays. Whilst this isn’t on the same scale, there’s still a cruel and devilish tinge to the proceedings here. Like a gift that keeps on giving, the film contains plenty of bizarre ideas and moments which will leave you wide-eyed in amazement.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker is a solid horror flick which doesn’t take itself too seriously and would have probably been more successful standing on its own two feet instead of being tagged with the sequel moniker. It’s got an obvious second-rate budget which holds it back on numerous occasions but it’s got far more to do with the festive season than the bulk of the other sequels and manages to inject some mean-spirited fun into its running time. This is still not a film for the Christmas purists who will be enraged at the sight of a man dressed in a Santa suit kidnaping a small boy or toys coming to life killing people. But hey, people don’t take this stuff seriously, do they?

The interesting premise was never going to live up to potential so it’s to the films credit that it manages to come out as good as it does. Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker dangerously settles into a quasi-slasher formula during the middle portion of the film, as someone gets in possession of a killer toy and is promptly dispatched by said toy, but this is dropped for the finale. One can only wonder how much effective the kills would have been with a bigger budget (or whether they have been cut down). The standout sequence featuring the babysitter and her boyfriend being attacked by a multitude of toys in the bedroom is imaginatively realised. Robotic hands, snakes, army soldiers, tanks, and a remote-controlled car with circular saw add-ons launch an assault upon the unsuspecting couple. Considering all of the toys are actual props, the way in which the sequence is devised really gives you the illusion that these killing machines have life. The idea of a face-hugging Santa toy is a bit absurd, though the face change in ‘mood’ from happy Santa (with the toy playing festive music) to the maniac Santa (with the funeral march now the music of choice) is a nice touch).

Veteran actor Mickey Rooney is the evil toymaker, which is an ironic bit of casting given how vocal Rooney was in showing his hatred for the original when it was released amidst a storm of controversy in 1984. I guess he needed the money for his Christmas presents in 1991. Rooney is fantastic in the role, barking mad and frothing at the mouth in some scenes as he rages against his son, Pino. The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable, though two people from the previous sequel are brought back for very brief cameos, no doubt to add continuity to the series.

Anyone who figures out why Rooney’s character is called Joe Petto will then figure out the plot twist at the end of the film. Believe me, it was totally out of nowhere but I liked it. Films that take creative chances with the material and do something out of the ordinary always get bonus marks in my book, even if the execution isn’t so hot. Thankfully, whilst Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker‘s twist makes no sense in the slightest, the manner of its execution is staged well enough to get you to suspend your disbelief for a few moments.

 

If it’s not the sight of a robot dry-humping a woman whilst shouting “I love you mommy” or the street kid wearing rocket-propelled skates, it’s the manner in which Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker goes about its business with the minimal fuss that will have you smiling afterwards. It’s never going to become a seasonal classic but for a fourth sequel it holds up far better than it has any right to and will provide a different alternative to the usual Christmas-themed horror suspects at that time of the year.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Christmas Evil (1980)

Christmas Evil (1980)

You’d better take care…Santa is coming to town!

After witnessing his mother getting a little too friendly with Santa when he was a kid, Harry grows up to be obsessed with Christmas. Working in a toy factory, he keeps a record of which children in the neighbourhood have been naughty and which have been nice. Eventually he is driven over the edge after seeing his company’s disregard for the quality of the toys they make and he goes around town dressed as Santa, killing those who don’t believe in the magic of the festive season.

 

Often thought of as a slasher flick that latched onto the nearest free holiday-themed day that writers could find in the wake of Halloween and Friday the 13th, Christmas Evil is not THE film about a killer Santa which got American parents picketing cinemas, despite the similar poster featuring Santa about to pop down a chimney holding an axe. That, my friends, is Silent Night, Deadly Night. But by the time Christmas Evil has finished, you’d be wishing that you’d put that one instead to get your fill of foolish festive frights.

I think part of the problem here is the way in which Christmas Evil has been marketed, clearly painting itself as a slasher film and hoping to attract the blood-thirsty audiences. It isn’t anything of the sort though, ending up as some second-rate loner-turns-into-psycho movie which just so happens to be set at Christmas. I don’t know where the blame lies – the title was even changed from You Better Watch Out into Christmas Evil so whether it was a director’s thing or a producer’s decision remains to be seen. Whatever it’s called, the fact remains that it’s a dull affair. Like Christmas, you spend way too long waiting for it to happen and then it’s all over in the blink of an eye.

Christmas Evil is certainly, well, Christmassy. The theme is in full effect here – festive music, decorations, trees, snow and lots of guys in red suits and white beards. In many respects it does a better job at recreating this time of the year better than most mainstream schmaltzy Christmas films try to do. Shot on a low budget, one-time only director Lewis Jackson gives the film a decent polish, never once belaying it’s lack of cash. Along comes the mean-spiritedness of the film which, surprisingly enough, isn’t  aimed at the main character but at others around him. For all of his murderous moments, Harry  isn’t the Norman Bates of the holiday season – he’s a nice guy who loves Christmas and is sick of the way others treat it with contempt. He just wants to bring the true spirit of Christmas back to the masses. For this reason, the film tries to earn your sympathy for the character and it does a reasonable job of getting it. But it’s hard work getting there. Boy is Christmas Evil slow, arduous work.

The only redeeming factor to Christmas Evil is Brandon Maggart who jumps into the role of Harry as if he’s going for an Oscar. His slow turn into a psychopath is believable enough but it’s a shame that not much is done with it in the end. It takes too long for him to snap and when he does, he doesn’t really do anything that he wasn’t doing before – well with the exception of a few murders! This isn’t a body count film but when it’s bandied around in the ‘slasher’ sections I expect more than four deaths, three of which happen within thirty seconds of each other. I’m sure that it would take more than four people to die before the delusional Harry was satisfied that he’d got his message across.

Despite the film trying to play itself off as a serious character study, there are too many silly moments strewn throughout which beg the question of why the writers didn’t go for the black comedy approach from the get-go. From a bunch of kids making a human shield around the killer Santa to ward off a group of torch-wielding adults to seeing a load of guys dressed as Santa in a police line-up to an ending which presages the most famous scene from E.T. by a couple of years, the film plants its tongue firmly in its cheek when it deems it necessary. But then in the next breath we’re expected to take Harry’s human drama seriously. It’s an uneven line crossing an one which could have been made clearer at the start.

 

Like an unwanted pair of socks or a Christmas jumper, by the time Christmas Evil has finished, you’d wish that Santa had skipped your house completely. There is more character work in here than a dozen slasher flicks but there’s little else to go on and in the end, it’s so slow that you won’t need the glass of wine to doze off on Christmas Day afternoon – stick this on instead and watch the Zzzzzs start to fly.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jack Frost (1997)

Jack Frost (1997)

He’s chillin…and killin!

Serial killer Jack Frost is on his way to be executed when his prison transport is involved in a nasty accident with a lorry carrying some experiment genetic material. Covered in the chemicals, his DNA becomes mutated, turning him into a snowman and giving the ability to freeze and melt at will. With his new found abilities, Frost sets off to get revenge on the sheriff who busted him and anyone else who gets in his way.

 

If you’re looking for the mushy, kiddie Jack Frost film with Michael Keaton then you’ve come to the worst place possible. This is about as far away in the opposite direction that you could be. But I know which I’d rather be sitting down to watch and it doesn’t involve ex-Batmans! With such an absurd premise for a horror flick, how can you really go wrong with this Jack Frost? If you’ve even made it as far as to putting the VHS/DVD in your player or downloaded/streamed the film, then you’ve passed the test and can sit back and enjoy what low budget film making can offer when it’s at its most creatively ludicrous!

Jack Frost embraces it’s outlandish theme and milks it for all it’s worth. You’ll hate this if you have a low tolerance for cheese and camp but look beyond that and you’ll see a true love for the genre and a desire to make this as credible as possible – we are dealing with a killer snowman but the film knows that too and runs with the prospect. Admittedly it’s a one-note premise but the script keeps things zipping along briskly enough and goes through the requisite slasher elements like a do-it-yourself manual. Basically moving from one clichéd character to the next, Jack slices his way across the town in a variety of Christmas-themed set pieces and accompanied by festive music, the highlight of which probably being death by Christmas tree lights. There’s also an infamous scene in which a nubile young woman (played by Shannon Elizabeth) is on the wrong end of Jack’s carrot when he re-materializes himself in her bath. It all adds to the fun.

The actual snowman suit looks hilarious – no CGI here – and you would never have thought that something like that could be so deadly. There’s not a lot of movement in it so most of the shots of Jack are just of the snowman standing there. He’s got the ability to melt and re-freeze at will which leads for great POV shot as he trickles across the floor in water form. Director Michael Clooney recognises how limited the suit is and uses the camera as best as he can to hide its weaknesses, with the only real problems coming in the finale when the snowman is expected to do more than just stand around.  How do you kill a snowman anyway? If you melt him, he can re-freeze and come back to life. The characters in the film try almost everything including attacking him with hairdryers. In the end it comes down to anti-freeze to put an end to his frost ways. Or not as the sequel would prove.

Scott McDonald relishes the role of Jack Frost, briefly appearing in human form at the beginning but mainly cast for his sarcastic voice. Snowman Frost comes off as some ice-cold version of Freddy Krueger, firing off a series of puns and one-liners, most of which hit the mark but some of which are groan-worthy. Christopher Allport is a bit bland as the sheriff but can deadpan like the best of the film and makes sure that the ridiculous shenanigans seem funnier than they should be by his stoic reactions. There’s a killer snowman on the loose but it could be Jack the Ripper for the seriousness which with he takes his job. The rest of the townspeople are played up to be annoying caricatures and even the aforementioned Ms Elizabeth doesn’t appear fully nude in the bath scene, this coming before her big break in American Pie.

 

Destined to be a cult classic, Jack Frost is one of the few really cheap and tacky films that plays on its own ridiculous premise and turns it into something hilariously enjoyable. If you’re looking to a film about a killer snowman to try and be anything but cheesy fun, then get a damned life. It’s the festive horror flick which keeps on giving!

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out! (1989)

Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out! (1989)

When Your Nightmare Ends, the Real Terror Begins!

Ricky Caldwell, the Santa Claus killer, is now in a coma and wearing a protective dome to shield his exposed brain which was badly damaged when he was caught. The doctors at the hospital are trying to use a young blind girl with ESP powers to get into his mind. But all this succeeds in doing is awakening Ricky from his coma and he pursues the girl, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

 

After the stock footage fiasco that was Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, I’m not sure how anyone could have given the green light to a second sequel but here we are with further proof than even the most obscure horror films can bring about never-ending hell-spawned sequels. And not only that but one of the most idiotic plots ever conceived. One look at the sight of zombie-like Ricky wearing his bubble hat will have you in stitches.

Well at least Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out! is better than the first sequel, although that’s mostly due to the fact that isn’t just recycled footage from the original. There’s an eerie fantasy-like mood to the film as the killer and Laura share a psychic bond and he’s able to get inside her head and vice versa, leading to a few nightmarish sequences. And I’ll credit the script for at least trying to make something a bit more ambitious than the usual cookie-cutter slasher film. But trying to take the threat of the daft killer presented to us as deadly and credible is just a stretch too far.

At least the character of Ricky is brought back from Part 2 and adds some continuity to the series. But this is about where the franchise ends its connections as the whole idea of a ‘Santa slasher’ seems to have been discarded. In this one, Santa is not the killer but one of the victims. His replacement, the ludicrous visage of Ricky slowly staggering around with his brain exposed, makes for potentially the worst slasher ever designed. Who in their right mind could take this character seriously as a threat? In badly-written fashion which is emblematic of the entire film, Ricky manages to escape from the hospital wearing just his gown and his silly protective hat and then seems to have no problem being picked up by a driver who mistakes him for a hitchhiker. If you saw this brain-dead, virtual walking corpse at the side of the road, you’d speed up and fly past. Its dumb plotting and is all-too-lazy for the killer to be able to achieve his goals.

It also amazes me that he manages to kill anyone as he swings so slow, walks at snails pace and generally seems to have little interest in butchering people. The body count is low and there’s not a lot of blood on offer for those wanting to see it. However, it all becomes apparent why the character of Ricky has been written like this to – for the eventual showdown with the blind girl. I mean if he was Jason Voorhees-esque in his superpowers, he’d have destroyed her in a second. But being as slow and immobile as Laura, the odds are evened somewhat (even though he can still see her). Ricky’s leisurely pace is mirrored by the pace of the film, unsure of when to get going and continually taking its time to do anything worthwhile.

Bill Moseley assumes the role of Ricky here but doesn’t really do anything apart from stumble around like some low-rent Frankenstein monster. Moseley would go on to more genre fame as loudmouth Otis Firefly in House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects so it’s nice to see him restricted to a few mumbling lines of dialogue here. Samantha Scully makes for a highly appealing heroine as Laura and plays the part with compassion, making her easy to sympathise with and root for during the tense moments. She’s quite convincing at portraying a blind person too.

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out at least tries to do something a little off-beat with the material it has been given but ends up being its own worst enemy, with lazy scripting and a leisurely pace. It’s still better than Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 though.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Santa’s Slay (2005)

Santa's Slay (2005)

He’s making a list… pray you’re not on it.

When Santa shows up in a small town killing people at Christmas time, it becomes apparent that he isn’t the same person. It turns out that Santa is actually a demon who lost a bet with an angel a thousand years ago and was forced to become the giver of toys and goodwill for the next thousand years. But now the bet is off and Santa is back to his demonic ways.

 

The sight of a killer Santa Claus is enough to send parents into mad protests against the brutalisation of one of children’s most loved characters. Look at the furore that Silent Night, Deadly Night caused when it came out in America in the 80s. Anger and rage on that scale is somewhat a thing of the past but still the notion of Santa Claus going around chopping people to bits with an axe has yet to become widely accepted as ‘correct’ procedure for a horror film. So then I remember seeing a teaser photo of former wrestler Bill Golberg dressed up in a Santa outfit and wondered just how low brow the eventual film would turn out. Wrestlers haven’t had a great deal of success in films over the years (with the exception of The Rock who has made a nice little career for himself so far) and to be honest, neither has Santa himself (I’m looking at the horror genre here). So joining the two together is a potent mix for B-movie magic.

But it would come as little surprise to note that Santa’s Slay isn’t a very good film. It’s not downright terrible but I can sense such a wasted idea hanging around here and sigh when I think of what could have been. The idea of turning Santa into a killer isn’t new but at least society nowadays is a little more inclined to sit back and take it with a pinch of salt. And to be honest that’s all anyone seems to be doing here – sitting back and taking everything with a pinch of salt. Right from the opening scene you know this is going to be a) a complete hoot and b) complete camp. In the opening sequence alone, Santa bursts into the living room of a family on Christmas Eve and proceeds to slay the lot of them, including guest stars James Caan, Fran Drescher and Chris Kattan. It’s a pity that this opening is the highlight of the film and Santa’s Slay never really comes close to capturing this light hearted, goofy but immensely entertaining opening.

As seems to be the tradition for goofy killers nowadays, the Santa character is turned into something of a walking punch line. He spouts off a few corny one-liners before dispatching his victims which become his trademark throughout the film. Fear not because plenty of traditional Christmas sayings are twisted around including my favourite “spreading a little Christmas fear.” Traditional Christmas theme music is given a slightly action-orientated twist. And there are other variations of the usual sentimental nonsense. Turning the usual festive themes on their head is the sort of thing that the old holiday-themed 80s slashers used to do so it’s nice to see this brought back. Candy canes, egg nog and turkey legs are all used to devastating effect!

However you just know that writer-director David Steiman just hasn’t got a clue how to deal with the idea he has and the film becomes a collection of comic horror set pieces based around Goldberg’s Santa smashing people into a pulp. Rather, the comedy is weak and more groan-inducing than outright funny, darker in tone for ill-advised chuckles than played for belly laughs. There’s not a whole amount of plot or cohesion going on as Santa seemingly shows up where he likes just to kill a few people and utter some more cheesy dialogue. He even visits a strip club on Christmas Eve to give us the obligatory “hoes, hoes, hoes” line. There is an attempt to create some sort of overall plot involving a couple of teenagers, their elderly grandfather and a whole load of nonsense about angels and demons and stuff. But once Santa starts slaying, this plot is put on the back burner to the carnage. The bizarre ending seems to sum the entire film up as a big joke, though looking back it actually gets funnier.

Bill Goldberg is very imposing as Santa and is certainly a big plus point for the film – he has fun in the role, does what is required of him and takes a couple of pokes at himself in the process. He makes a menacing and physically imposing bad guy but his character is so poorly written that it’s a wonder he ever bothered to open his mouth as the character might have worked better as a silent hulking monster. There are also a whole host of other faces in there, including one Emilie de Ravin who went on to greater fame in Lost. I bet this is one she’d wish to erase from her memory.

 

I really wanted to like Santa’s Slay and part of me is smiling whilst I think back to some of the more memorable parts of it. However the idea is just wasted so badly and the film ends up a tedious and seemingly endless collection of random killings and chases, tacked together with as much festive cheese as you can shake a stick at.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Black Christmas (2006)

Black Christmas (2006)

This holiday season, the slay ride begins.

An escaped maniac returns to his childhood home on Christmas Eve, which is now a sorority house, and begins to murder the sorority sisters one-by-one.

 

Still short on original ideas in Hollywood, here is yet another remake of a previously forgotten 70s flick. The original Black Christmas is little known outside of the horror genre and it’s a pity because, although it’s not the greatest slasher film out there, it has always been regarded as “the first slasher flick” and preceded the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th by some years. Its relative obscurity has lead to it being cast aside in the annals of the genre with the plaudits always heading towards John Carpenter’s classic first. So it was a good choice to remake, if only for the fact that it would send a lot of people scurrying to the video shops to track down the original. After thirty-two years and given the recent spate of appalling remakes (The Fog anyone?), how does this modern retelling of Black Christmas stand up in the year 2007?

Surprisingly well it has to be said! Black Christmas never going to win any awards for originality and it reeks of the smell of modern teen horror but do you know something – this is one nasty piece of work! For its certificate/rating, the boundaries are pushed as far as they can possibly go and Black Christmas is one mean-spirited festive slay ride. This killer doesn’t just stab people with a knife: he wraps plastic bags around his victims’ heads, choking the life out of them before ripping out and feasting upon their eye balls. It’s uber-violent, sometimes even too violent. It’s nasty and unrelenting at times – everything that Christmas shouldn’t be about – and it plays on this with some choice killings (candy canes should be used more often as murder weapons).

The female cast bobble about in low cut tops, displaying ample cleavage and legs but they’re so bitchy and whiny, it’s hard to root for any of them. Well, being a guy I always want the attractive ones to be kept alive as long as possible. But the pace of the film is such that some of them don’t even see out the first half an hour. The kills begin quickly and don’t let up throughout the film which is good because you’re never any more than about ten minutes away from the next outburst of violence. Some recognisable faces are in there such as Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Die Hard 4), Lacey Chabert (various crappy American teen comedies) and Michelle Trachtenberg (The TV series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) but don’t bother trying to second guess who will survive and who will not because the script tries to mix it up so that its not always the most famous people who survive till the end. There’s a decent sized cast too which means the killer is pretty busy throughout. Thankfully any plodding moments in the film (of which there are many and mainly involve unnecessary flashbacks and pointless non-characters being introduced to up the body count) don’t plod for too long before another body is thrown onto the heap.

On the flip side to all this, the remake just blends into the genre crowd like a Where’s Wally cartoon. At least the original was a groundbreaking trendsetter which influenced the way the likes of John Carpenter approached the subject matter in Halloween, being one of the first films to introduce the tropes that would become almost standard for the sub-genre. This remake could go under the guise of any big budget slasher of the last six-seven years and no one would notice the different. Most of the plot of the original has been ditched and save for the memorable phone calls, this tries to do it’s own thing.

Replacing true atmosphere and scares with a splattering of blood is a cheap trick to cover over the cracks in the film. Apart from the blood and brutality there’s nothing worthwhile to proceedings. The writing seems to have been under draft when production began. The script makes the big mistake of throwing in an unnecessary back story to the killer and an even more confusing series of twists and turns at the end of the film. Do we really need to know what turned Billy into this psycho? Surely the fact that he is a psycho and he’s heading for the house is all we need to know? But I guess that’s what they call padding in Hollywood nowadays – fleshing out back stories! I don’t see the need for horror films to focus so much of their time on giving their killers stories, turning them human and simply watering down any sense of fear or terror they may have caused (see Michael Myers in the Halloween remake or Leather in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning)

 

Black Christmas is a pretty middling remake. On one hand it’s everything that I hate about modern horror – the style over substance approach with more focus on gore and ‘boo’ moments as opposed to genuine scares or tension which is sorely lacking. But on the other hand, it actually delivers as much in the way of modern slasher goods as any other big budget slasher film of the last couple of years that I can remember.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

He knows when you’ve been naughty

A young boy witnesses the brutal murder of his parents at the hands of a thief dressed up as Santa. After being homed inside a Catholic orphanage, he is gradually taught that being naughty deserves punishment, Now a young man, he still hasn’t forgotten his past and when he is forced to dress up as Santa to work in a shop, he snaps and sets about punishing all of the ‘naughty’ people who don’t deserve Christmas presents.

 

One of the more infamous slashers of the early days, Silent Night, Deadly Night had the dubious distinction of being one of the few films with people actually protesting outside, shocked and disgusted at the images of Santa Claus being turned into a homicidal maniac and carrying a bloody axe. The film was pulled from its cinematic release and wound up in limbo for years. Fast forward over twenty years later and no one would bat an eyelid but back in the 80s, this was a big deal and Silent Night, Deadly Night was banned. Certainly the ban gave this film a lot more notoriety than it truly deserves. At its core, it’s a plain slasher film with a rather mean-spirited anti-Christmas message and is going to offend anyone who thinks of Christmas as a sacred time of the year that should not be treated with bad taste.

One thing it does well is develop its protagonist and the film spends the first half of the film showing you the appalling life that this sorry little young boy has gone through. You can actually sympathise with the character of Billy. After getting a rather harsh warning from his grandfather that “Santa punishes naughty people”, seeing his parents murdered and mother raped by a man dressed as Santa and after receiving years of abuse in the Catholic orphanage, it’s no wonder the guy is a little quick to snap when he’s forced to dress as Santa. The film spends a lot of time developing the character of Billy but one has to wonder whether it was designed to make us feel for him. When he starts his killing spree, are we then supposed to cheer him on as he murders innocent people? As good as some of the kills are, he still targets people at random who have been naughty. With a cry of “punish” or “naughty” he then reigns down the ultimate Christmas present – death!

Once he snaps, the film drifts into gimmicky slasher mode as the deaths all feature Christmas related instruments of death. He strangles people with Christmas lights. He impales a naked woman onto a stuffed reindeer head. He beheads someone sliding down a snowy hill on a sledge. He goes around killing random people for a while until finally the film realises that it needs to go full circle with his character and he returns to the orphanage to get his revenge on Mother Superior. The film borders on black comedy at times with Billy giving a young girl a penknife for Christmas after she’s sat on his knee. In another scene, the police mistakenly shoot dead an elderly priest dressed up as Santa in front of a group of young children. I bet a bit more of this would have worked to the film’s advantage. Playing the whole Christmas angle straight was a bad idea because the film constantly pushes its anti-Christmas message to the point where you switch off.

The film has some shockingly low production values though. The film just reeks of low budget and has an amateurish feel from the lighting down to the muffled sound. To say it was picketed by disgusted parents, the film is also relatively blood-free compared to some of its slasher brothers. The acting is really bad across the board, particularly from Robert Brian Wilson as Billy. The character was there for the taking for some proper actor but instead this meat head gets the role. He has been cast because he’s quite a big, imposing chap and at least gives some physical presence to the role, even if he’s charisma-free. Lilyan Chauvin at least provides her Mother Superior character with all of the stereotypical harshness of a disciplinarian nun. Silent Night, Deadly Night tries to throw in a more caring, moderate nun to try and counteract Mother Superior but is ultimately overshadowed and she ends up as some female version of Donald Pleasance’s Dr Loomis from the Halloween films. There’s also an entirely predictable ending which sets up the inevitable sequel.

 

I can see where some people would take offence to the film. If it’s not the negative light in which it portrays Catholic orphanages, it’s the mean-spirited ‘screw Christmas’ sentiment that is continually shoved down our throats more than Santa’s bloody axe. Silent Night, Deadly Night is a decent enough slasher let down by many things. But it’s got a killer Santa in it, what more do you want from your Christmas themed horror?

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)

The Gift of Terror That Just Won’t Wait

A psychopath is targeting men dressed as Santa and killing them all in violent fashion in the run-up to Christmas. Inspector Harris of Scotland Yard is given the task of tracking the killer down. But with so many people dressing as Santa for the festive season, how many more people will be killed before the murderer is caught?

 

Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas is a nasty, sleazy and mean-spirited little holiday flick along the same veins as Silent Night, Deadly Night – only this time Santa is the victim, not the killer. Unlike the off-beat charm that infamous slasher had, this has very little and is a real mess of a film. It’s almost as if the story was based around the single idea that someone goes around murdering people dressed as Santa. In fact that’s almost the entire film in a nutshell. There’s about ten people killed off throughout the running time (mostly people in Santa outfits) yet no main characters for the audience to latch onto.

It’s not surprising though, given the production history of the film. Made in 1983, it wasn’t released until 1985 with plenty of censor cuts – and they’ve done a butcher’s job of it too. Original director and star, Edmund Purdom, was fired only to be replaced by the film’s writer, who was then in turn fired and replaced with the film’s editor, Ray Selfe. So obviously with another two guys adding their input into the film and cutting bits that previous directors had inserted, Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas becomes an incoherent mess. Events and characters are mentioned in the film which haven’t been shown yet (there is Doctor Bridle credited as one of the characters and he’s mentioned but never shown on screen) and various plot threads which seemingly lead to somewhere, end up in a brick wall.

Considering the relative quickness of how the detectives solve who the killer is, one can only assume that this is the greatest police force in the world. So much so that the detective actually follows instructions on an unmarked parcel sent to him by (presumably), the murderer which simply states “Don’t open ’til Christmas.” What idiot would follow that? Oh yeah, the detective here. Apart from the detective, there are no other continual characters. There’s no one to identify with. There’s no one to elicit sympathy from the viewer. Not one character lasts throughout the film for us to root for. I guess that’s the result of the numerous directors, all coming in and butchering the film, editing it left, right and centre to suit their own vision before the next guy came in. The eventual ending and subsequent plot twist finale just reeks of desperation and pointlessness. Did we just sit through the film for that?

The scenes of various people dressed as Santa being sliced, diced, strangled and stabbed don’t gel with the rest of the film. Every now and then another kill is thrown in for no apparent reason than just to up the body count. Arguably these moments are the best bits of the film as the various ways of dispatch are quite brutal, especially for liberal Britain no less. One Santa even gets his manhood lopped off when he’s at the urinal. One of the victims has to be the candidate for the most unfortunate character ever to grace the screen as he gets chased by some obnoxious punks, falls off his bike, climbs over a wall, gets attacked by a guard dog, runs into the London Dungeon of wax exhibits, gets numerous weapons thrown at him which all miss, narrowly avoids a guillotine before finally being stabbed in the stomach. The scene lasts for about ten minutes and does a fair job of creating some tension but the chain of events leading to his eventual demise is ridiculous and like something out of a slapstick comedy movie.

No mention will be given to any of the cast since I find it hard to believe that any of them found any work after this. One final mention must be given to the soundtrack. It’s quite eerie – one of those 80s synthesised slasher scores (you know the type, whenever we follow the killer’s POV this seedy porn music plays) and it’s mixed with some traditional Christmas music to create something effectively anti-festive.

 

Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas is a confusing mess of a film and it’s actually pretty boring when the killings aren’t happening. But there is just something about the film which demands at least one watch. It’s a grotty little flick, full of bad taste and loads of anti-Christmas sentiment but it’s got its own sordid charm about it.

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)

The nightmare is about to begin… again!

Ricky, the brother of the original Santa killer, is in a psychiatric ward after witnessing the death of his brother. He tells all to a doctor and, as he recounts the tragic events surrounding the death of his parents and his brother’s killing spree, he begins to slowly go insane himself. Ricky escapes, embarking on a murderous spree in a Santa Claus outfit just like his brother. His target: Mother Superior, the cruel disciplinarian nun from the original who pushed his brother over the edge. Can anyone stop Ricky?

 

Or should I say Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 1 and 1/2? After one of slasher lore’s most infamous entries, the scene was set for a kick ass sequel which upped the gore and nudity quota, threw a few more Christmas jokes around and generally upset more kids and parents at the sight of a murderous Santa ending the lives of naughty people. Unfortunately we don’t get any hint of that and I feel grossly ripped off, as if I’ve just opened my presents on Christmas Day to find a shiny new xBox 360 waiting for me but there’s no controller to play on it with!

Why am I feeling so aggrieved? Maybe it has to do with the fact that the first forty minutes of this sequel were basically flashback scenes from the original! Even though Ricky wasn’t present during most of what happened thus making any flashbacks illogical, the film still pretty much shows us a highlight reel of the original’s exploits – a sort of ‘best of’ if you would. It’s cheap padding at its, well, cheapest.

Apparently this was shot in ten days and it shows because they’ve only shot enough footage for half of a film! Only people who saw the original would even consider watching this and then that surprisingly means we’ve actually seen this footage anyway so what is the point in recapping the entire film again? You might as well just watch the original in its entirety all over again or simply skip this to the half way point. It’s all well and good seeing Linnea Quigley’s classic ‘death-by-antlers’ scene again but these aren’t brief highlights, these are full scenes played out to the max to fill the running time. Having read up further, it appears that the producers wanted to re-cut the original film and inserted a couple of new scenes of a mental patient to make the original film appear as though it was the figment of their imagination. I’m actually kind of glad that the film turned out this way because that would have been even more criminal.

It’s pretty hard to review this properly since I’ve already covered most of it in my review for the original! I was hoping for a lot more fresh footage because the new stuff with Ricky was pretty entertaining, especially when he goes on his murderous rampage through the streets with the handgun leading to a couple of unique death scenes involving death by car jump-leads.

Eric Freeman is great as Ricky though – the guy is built like a tank and certainly adds a different physical element to the role of the generic slasher. He’s quite a sympathetic character too and, like his brother from the original, it’s easy to understand just why he turns into a psycho. But there’s not really much for him to do. He doesn’t even don the trademark Santa outfit until very late in the film when he’s tracked down Mother Superior (played by a different actress this time, wearing a silly prosthetic mask to make her look like Lilyan Chauvin from the original).

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is basically two films in one. If you haven’t seen the original then fear not as this has all of the best bits. Unfortunately the new footage shot for the sequel just isn’t worth sitting through it all again, especially if you’ve only just recently watched the original!

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆