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December 21, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #207 - Santa's Slay

"Why, I'm just trying to spread a little yuletide fear!"
Starring: Bill Goldberg, Douglas Smith, Emilie de Ravin, Robert Culp.
Directed by David Steiman.
Rated R for the interior of a nudey bar and all it's sights, some choice language, cartoonish violence that produces blood and a whole lot of grunting and sneering. Also, for Fran Drescher's voice.
Santa's Slay in Six Words:
Goldberg as Evil Santa? Silliness next.
Why You'll Love It:
Love is a strong word for Santa's Slay, which is best viewed as a comedy (that's not really that funny) first and a horror movie (that's not really that bloody) second. Cheese is on the menu as WCW and WWF superstar Bill Goldberg stars as Santa, who is actually a demon that lost a bet on a curling match with an angel (Robert Culp, a welcome face in the goofy film) and was thus forced to spend 1000 years spreading joy. As you might guess from the title, that time is up and now the massive Santa is bringing terror to the town of Hell, Michigan. It's as ridiculous as it sounds and the whole thing comes off like one big joke, but if you have friends who love bad movies too and you want to celebrate Christmas then this is a good treat to find in your stocking (and then probably re-gift at a bad movie exchange next year).
The Highlights:
  • The opening dinner sequence, in which several cameos occur, should give you a good feel for how ridiculous this movie is going to be. If you can't have a little fun with it, you should probably stop the movie and save some time.
  • The writer/director Steiman clearly must have graduated from The Arnold Schwarzenegger School of Excessive One-Liners (I swear to you guys that that school is out there somewhere; I believe it) and every kill the massive Goldberg makes happened is assisted by some kind of corny add-on. If you're in a punny mood you'll probably laugh a couple of times.
  • The weird thunderbuffalo thing that pulls evil Santa's sleigh is pretty darn cool. Yeah, I'm stretching for highlights here. But it's Christmas and I assume you want to see Santa kill things.
Also Worth Noting:
  •  Hollywood heavyweight Brett Ratner was one of the producers behind the film, and his touch is visible through some of the names who cameo in the film. The "stars" involved range from the great James Caan and comedy hero Dave Thomas to less welcome faces like those of Chris Kattan, Fran Drescher, and Rebecca Gayheart.
  • Also randomly appearing is Tommy "Tiny" Lister, whose time as Zeus in the WWF (and the all-time classic/masterpiece of modern cinema No Holds Barred) makes him the second former professional wrestler in the film. Sadly, he and Goldberg never get to throw down.
  • Totally random tangent - In the real world, people are often very sensitive about saying it's "the holiday season" and not just saying Christmas. It's clear to me that horror movies do not share this sentiment. That's probably because there's not money to be found in a Kwaanza based slasher film, or maybe it's because kids love Christmas presents and dreidels are stupid. My point is this - Thanks for remembering Christmas, exploitative filmmakers.
Santa's Slay is for fans of...
Analyzing the impact of the decline of WCW on what was once it's biggest star, people who love corny holiday puns mixed with blood, Lost completists who want to see how this is actually a prequel to that show, and people whose standards are a little lower because they're just trying to get through Christmas alive. Which is all of us, right?

If You Like This You Might Also Like...
Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)
Tales from the Crypt (1972) (Which is really, really good, and I feel bad for listing it here, but it has good killer Santa.)
No Holds Barred (1989) (The Citizen Kane of WWF stars in movies.)
See No Evil (2006)
Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)

December 13, 2013

Here Comes The Devil

(2013, Dir. by Adrian Garcia Bogliano.)

Review by The Mike.

There's a sequence in the middle of Here Comes The Devil that reminds me of some of the best horror movies ever made. It's one of those perfect moments where a character - in this case, the mother of two young children who fears something terrible has happened to her children - needs more information about what is going on and finds out things are much worse than even she imagined. Up until this point the film does a good job of convincing the viewer that something unnatural is going on with these children, but as the mother finds out more information from her children's nanny, the film hits a Rosemary's Baby-esque high point that is a thing of surreal horror beauty.

The rest of the film isn't quite as effective as this manic, dreamlike sequence, but Here Comes The Devil fits together as an incredibly inventive horror film for a lot of reasons.

The most obvious reason for the film's success is writer/director Adrian Garcia Bogliano, who has put together a psychological horror tale that preys on some of humanity's worst traits while it makes us wonder if something inhuman is at work as well. Bogliano also spends a lot of time building a correlation between sexual behavior and evil - which leads to some uncomfortable themes when the children are involved - which makes the film seem rather insidious as it works its way into the viewer's mind.

The plot, in its simplest form, is about two children who go hiking on an ominous hillside and disappear while their parents are fooling around in the car, and who are simply different when they are found the next morning. Their mother (played by Latina pop star Laura Caro), becomes incredibly concerned about their behavior and doctors and psychiatrists get involved too, but as time goes on she starts to believe something more evil might be going on here - which leads up to that great reveal I already mentioned and the tense final act that follows it.

Caro makes her film debut here, and gives a rather fantastic performance at the front of the film. I had not previously heard of her musical work, so I was shocked to find out she was not an established actress. She works well off the child actors in the film, who are also pretty new to the trade, while never breaking under the dramatic pressure of playing a mother who's face-to-face with evil. 

The film doesn't hit all the right notes - there are a few twists that seem unnecessary and I felt like a few secrets that were revealed too early - but Here Comes The Devil is a dark and unique horror film and the few quibbles I did have didn't prevent the movie from sticking in my mind well after it ended. There's a bigger horror story that could probably be told based around what we learn in this film - in many ways, it plays like the origin story of what could become a gigantic evil - and Bogliano's family-based horror film definitely can be called one of the most interesting horror films of the year.

Here Comes The Devil is playing in select theaters as of December 13, and is also available on all those VOD platforms for rent. You can check out the Unrated trailer on YouTube at this link here.

December 12, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #206 - Dead Ringers

"I've often thought that there should be beauty contests for the insides of bodies." 
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold, Heidi von Palleske.
Directed by David Cronenberg
Rated R for being a David Cronenberg movie and lots of vagina talk and implied vaginal mutilation.
Dead Ringers in Six Words:
Twin gynecologists invent tools, spiral downward.
Why You'll Love It:
By some standards, Dead Ringers might be one of David Cronenberg's least weird films of the '70s and '80s. I mean, it's nearly a drama about two unstable identical twins who lose their way in the rough and tumble world of feminine care. But, it's also a movie directed by David Cronenberg, which means that at some point there's going to be mutations of the body and skin eating and people losing their freaking minds. And when Cronenberg's control of that line between what is real and surreal combines with the lead performance(s) of Jeremy Irons as Eliot and Beverley Mantle, the end result is a surprisingly somber but entirely fascinating drama...with dreams about flesh eating and mutations and lots of pointy instruments.
The Highlights:
  • Irons is both the first and the second best reason to watch the film, and the range he shows as both brothers is quite impressive. It is at times hard to tell which brother is which, but that's due to Cronenberg's devious plot than and not a flaw of Irons' work.
  • The most macabre pieces of the film are probably the bizarre instruments that the brothers develop, which are sure to give anyone with lady parts a few shivers.
  • The relationship the brothers have with their first "mutant" lover, played by Genevieve Bujold, leads to the most Cronenberg moment of the film, a dream sequence that belongs right next to his most bizarre scenes from films like Videodrome and The Brood.
Also Worth Knowing:
  • The film was set to be titled Twins, but Cronenberg lost an arm-wrestling contest against Arnold Schwarzenegger (because he couldn't get Jeff Goldblum to arm-wrestle in his place) and the title went to Ivan Reitman for that comedy about Arnold and Devito being brothers.
  • That last point was not entirely true, as you might have guessed. The film was set to be called Twins, and the title did go to Reitman, but only because Cronenberg had worked with him before and sold him the title.
  • The film is based, partially, on a real life pair of twins and is a loose adaptation of a non-fiction book, which was also titled Twins.
Dead Ringers is for fans of...
Drug addiction and depression, codependent siblings who share everything, the terrors of surgery, the terrors of the vagina, mutations that don't make any kind of sense (which is what makes them mutations, naturally), and Jeremy Irons not having his Die Hard with a Vengeance accent.

If you like this, you might also like...
Sisters (1973)
Videodrome (1983)
Raising Cain (1992)
Adaptation. (2002)
American Mary (2013)

December 5, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #205 - Dorm

"We have a lot in common, you know? No one cares about either of us."
Starring: Charlie Trairat, Chinatra Sukapatana, Sirachuch Chienthaworn.
Directed by Songyos Sugmakanan.
Not rated. Includes Taiwanese boys in various states of undress (but not fully undressed), said boys swearing, ghost stories, death, and unrequited lust for baton twirlers.
Dorm in Six Words:
A ghost story. With friendship too.
Why You'll Love It:
I'm not proud of it, but sometimes I get stuck in the mindset that most Asian horror movies (which is a stupid grouping anyway since that's a whole continent) are the same thing about long haired ghosts and jump scares. It's true that there was a type of horror film that became a fad after the success of The Ring and Dark Water, but there were also several horror stories from the far east that offered a touching and human twist on the age old ghost story. One of the most shining examples of this is the Taiwanese chiller Dorm (or, if you're Taiwanese "Dek hor") in which a teenage boy is sent to a dreary boarding school where his closest friend ends up being the spirit of a boy who died years earlier. With a healthy balance of chills and real world drama, Dorm is a rare treat that offers an original tale while providing some classic chills.  The final product is a touching coming of age story, but also a heck of a horror film.
The Highlights:
  • An early film sequence in which several boys try to scare the new kid with stories of ghosts haunting the dorm provides several eerie visions, leading to an unforgettably tense scene where even the dogs are terrified.
  • Also jaw-droppingly effective is a sequence at an outdoor movie theater, where '80s cult hit Mr. Vampire helps produce a big reveal about the haunting at hand.
  • While director Songyos Sugmakanan provides striking images throughout the film, he also gets fantastic performances out of the young actors involved. Without their work, the film probably would have lost much of its power.
Also Worth Knowing:
  • The film has been released with two different covers at two different times in the good ol' USA, both by the usually excellent Tartan Asia Extreme label. However, both covers sorely misrepresent the film. One features a picture of a boy standing in front of a house (that looks nothing like the titular Dorm) while a long haired ghost hides in the window, while the other makes us assume the boy is possessed by a demon that needs to be exorcised. Rest assured, this poorly marketed film is not what you would expect based on the awful cover art.
Dorm is for fans of...
Stephen King-esque stories where kids deal with horror and the fact that they are kids, ghost stories, dorms that don't look anything like what Americans think dorms look like, women with a reputation for being mean who have incredible posture, and kids who can act.

If you like this, you might also like...
Stand By Me (1986)
Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1991-2000)
Stir of Echoes (1999)
Dark Water (2002)