Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Season Massacre, The (2001)

Directed by:
Jeremy Wallace

In Christmastown, California on Christmas Eve, an eyepatch-wearing psycho is on the loose. Tommy "Oneshoe" McGroo was, according to one of his classmates, a "total fucking loser." He was a geek, his family was poor, he smelled bad, he had a weird pirate fetish and he was a "pussy" who wouldn't fight back and cried a lot. One day, some bullies beat him up and stole one of his shoes. Since his family was so poor and couldn't buy him another, Tommy had to go to school for the next eight months wearing only one shoes, prompting his peers to nickname him "Oneshoe" McGroo. He endured the harassment, figuring on Christmas that Santa would bring him another. He'd write letters to the North Pole, made cookies for the elves and bent over backwards to be good, but on Christmas morning he opened his one and only present and all that was inside was a "pussy eyepatch" with a Christmas tree on it. Tommy snapped and, from that day forward, decided he was going to be a bloodthirsty maniac. Every single Christmas since more and more of Tommy's former classmates have disappeared...

Boom Boom (co-writer Eric Stanze), the guy who relayed the above story to us, and his girlfriend Kitty (Julie Farrar) decide to drive out into the woods to where Oneshoe (Michael Hill) is said to lurk. He gets his testicles ripped off while taking a piss and she's attacked but not killed. Next up a man and his girlfriend sit by a Christmas tree. He unloads a suitcase full of junk like vegetable oil and an ice cream scooper, then undresses her, handcuffs her and starts having sex with her while wearing a paper mache watermelon over his head (??) The killer sneaks in, turns the guys head around and then has sex with the woman instead and she comments about he's gotten bigger. Pointless? Yup. Completely.

Dorcus Cunningham (Jason Christ), a hefty, geeky hitchhiker is headed to Camp Lame Dog Hollow to meet up with the only other five survivors from his graduating class; the ones Tommy hasn't yet killed. Ernie Campbell (DJ Vivona) has organized the group, which also includes slutty Abby (Joy Payne), Poison shirt wearing Danny (Chris Belt), musician Isaac (Michael Wallace) and virginal Lana (Melissa Wallace); Isaac's girlfriend who won't put out despite being constantly serenaded for seven years. The six go to a cabin, drink beer, play strip Trivial Pursuit, argue and then die one-by-one in badly staged amateur gore scenes. The killer surprises Isaac and Lana on a canoe, slashes his throat and shoves an ice pick through her head. He chainsaws Dorcus to pieces, ties Abby to a tree and stabs her between the legs, sticks a screwdriver in Ernie's head and then blasts a smoky hole into Danny's chest with a shotgun. The end.

This is just one of thousands of homemade shot-on-video gore-fests released during the 2000s. Almost all of these are awful and this is no exception to the rule. I actually expected a little better since this is from some of the same people who made the effective shocker SCRAPBOOK (2000). Long credits and outtakes aside, this runs less than an hour and wouldn't even make it that far if it weren't for tons of padding. There are lots of long, obviously improvised and awkward dialogue scenes to slog your way through just to get to the amateur gore fx, some of which are decent enough, but not good enough to merit sitting through this. The only other possible redeeming qualities are a shower scene (complete with slow-motion breast scrubbing), lots of obvious nods to the Friday the 13th series and some decent songs on the soundtrack (especially "A Pirate's Christmas" by Hotel Faux Pas).

Wallace also made the backwoods slasher THE UNDERTOW (2003), which is slightly better but still hampered by terrible acting and awkward (seemingly improvised) dialogue scenes. The DVD is through Sub Rosa.


Exorcism, The (1972) (TV)

... aka: Dead of Night: The Exorcism
... aka: Exorcism by Don Taylor, The

Directed by:
Don Taylor

Rachel (Anna Cropper) and Edmund (Edward Petherbridge, from the Ghost Story for Christmas entry THE ASH TREE) stumbled upon an "pleasantly isolated" country cottage reasonably convenient to London. The place had been derelict for years and, since the home doesn't appear to have an owner or even a descendant who may own it, the couple were able to purchase the plot of land it sits on and get the home in the process. Since then they've fixed the whole place up into a weekend home where they can come and get away from the big city for some peace and quiet. Another wealthy married couple; pompous Dan (Clive Swift) and his wife Margaret (Sylvia Kay), come to stay with them over Christmas, where they discuss socialism, Marxism, generational problems and how there's an undeserved resentment for the rich. The cottage has been updated with a new kitchen, new bathroom and central heating but has retained its old charm... and that's not the only old thing it has retained.

Rachel sits down at the piano and plays a song, but has no clue what she's playing or why she's playing it. It's written off as her subconscious temporarily taking over and raiding her memory bank, but the four will soon realize that's not the case at all. The power mysteriously goes out, battery operated clocks and watches die and the phone stops working. And then everyone starts suffering from signs of what they think is a mass hallucination. Over a lavish dinner, Edmund spits up wine claiming it tastes like blood and everyone comes down with a burning cramp from inside their stomach. Rachel sees the skeleton of a dead child on her bed. Outside the windows everything looks completely dark and nothing can be seen even when a flashlight is shined through. The front door won't budge and the glass on the windows won't break even when they are beat with a hammer. Some inexplicable force has tapped them inside, but why?

Plaster and drywall start falling off of the walls and ceiling, before-and-after pictures of the cottage that Edmund took soon turn into pictures of the home more than a hundred years earlier and poor Rachel starts freaking out, screaming and discussing things that happened there in the past. That's because she's speaking for the former occupant of the home; Sarah Jane Morby. A young woman living during impoverished times, Sarah Jane went through hell there and doesn't want her story to go untold. While the village squire and a select few in their village feasted, the rest of the village was starving and nothing could be done. Her husband was executed for protesting, while Sarah Jane retreated to her cottage, this cottage, where she and her two young children starved to death. There's really no difference between the upfront injustices of yesterday to the more polite, mannered injustices of today.

Despite being hampered with TV production values, this 50-minute-long BBC presentation proves, yet again, that thoughtful writing and good actors are all that is really necessary to make a compelling horror film. No bells and whistles. No flash. No special effects or gore. Just strong, old-fashioned storytelling brought to life by a talented, small cast. Filmed indoors in just a couple of different dimly-lit rooms, this impressively manages to intrigue and entertain whilst being genuinely creepy and having an important holiday-centric message to convey. This would be a superb choice for any parent wanting to introduce their children to the genre. The title had me going into this expecting your usual possession film and, while there is indeed a possession, it wasn't the kind I was expecting to see. There are no demonic spirits to cast out. The only evil is man's inhumanity to his fellow man.

Having watched 300 genre films this year alone, the finale of The Exorcism is actually one of the only things I've seen in the past 350-some days to actually send chills up my spine. And I'd be amiss if I didn't single out Anna Cropper in the cast. She has a brilliant 10-minute-long monologue scene with few cut-aways that's utterly compelling. It's one of those rare scenes that's so vividly-written and well-acted one can just sit back and do all of the visual work in their own mind. Actors with this talent seem almost completely absent from the genre these days, but at least their work is preserved for future generations to enjoy.

This originally aired as part of a short-lived series titled Dead of Night, which only produced seven TV movies. I don't believe any of these have been officially released to DVD or VHS, but if you can track down a copy, it would make a fine addition to any genre fan's holiday collection.


Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman (2000)

... aka: Jack Frost II

Directed by:
Michael Cooney

First he was "chillin' and killin'." Now he's "icin' and slicin'." And viewers will be "moanin'" and "groanin'" through this collection of pea-brained gags, cringe-inducing puns and the cartoon-gore exploits of Jack Frost, the serial psycho / mutant killer snowman. Sheriff Sam Tiler (Christopher Allport) is still haunted by the events of the first film a year later and no one outside of his immediate circle believes his story. Even his shrink (Ian Abercrombie) laughs as he recounts his tale. It's Christmastime and Sam and his wife Anne (Eileen Seeley) are going to spend their holidays away from the wintery chill of Snowmonton on a Caribbean island. Accompanying them on the trip are newly engaged couple Marla (Marsha Clark), the police dispatcher, and Joe (Chip Heller), the dimwitted deputy, both of whom had a hand in defeating the psycho snowman the first go around. Jack's remains have laid dormant in jugs of antifreeze in an unmarked grave for all that time, but a couple of yahoos in need of money have just dug him up and sold him to a science lab for study. A janitor knocks a mug of coffee into a fishtank full of the antifreeze, the tank explodes and Jack's remains seep into a drain. "Things to do, revenge to take."

Everyone arrives at the Tropicana Resort and we're briefly introduced to all our fodder. The Colonel (Ray Cooney) runs the joint, with help from his assistant Bobby (Tai Bennett), and is dead set on everyone having a great time. Even more invested in the fun factor is spastic, irritating activities director Captain Fun (Sean Patrick Murphy), who does childish voices that would make Dave Coulier shake him head in embarrassment, uses annoying phrases like "party pooper dooper" and has a bad habit of barging into rooms unannounced. A trio of teen bimbos; Rose (Jennifer Lyons), Ashlea (Shonda Farr) and Paisley (Granger Green), are there on their very first trip without the parents and flamboyant photographer Greg (Paul Hansen Kim) shows up to do a calendar shoot along with models Sarah (Melanie Good) and Cindy (Stephanie Shon Chao). Jack is also on his way there by sea, stopping along the way to kill a couple of shipwreck survivors (including future HELLBOY star Doug Jones) floating around on an inflatable raft and fighting over their last carrot, which Jack, of course, needs to complete his costume.

After acquiring his carrot, Jack shows up on the beach late that night and kills off the teen girls. He turns into a giant anvil and squashes one, knocks one over onto some icicles and gouges out another's eyeballs with a pair of tongs. When a couple stumbles upon the remains of one of the girls the next day, The Colonel talks them out of saying anything with the offer of free room service (?!) During the next sequence, one of the models uses Jack in ice cube form to get her nipples hard for her photo shoot. After he makes her head explode, he then kills the photographer while doing a lisping gay voice. Agent Manners (played by David Allen Brooks this time), who managed to survive getting his face chomped in the original, also happens to be living on the same island and shows up to help. Jack proceeds to freeze the entire resort, somehow makes it snow and begins slaughtering everyone else in sight.

A naked woman drowns in a pool when Jack freezes the surface, a man gets his tongue ripped out after getting it stuck to a pole ("Cowatongue-a dude!" [ugh!]), an arm is ripped off and others are killed with icicles and snowballs. The survivors loads up their Super Soakers with antifreeze and try to take out Jack but learn he's now immune to the stuff. They also discover that Jack can now give birth to a bunch of cute little toothy snowbabies that like to gouge out eyeballs and bite off fingers. They also enjoy riding around on turntables, dangling from lamps, sipping drinks through straws, doing conga lines and riding on skateboards in scenes that rip off GREMLINS (1984) and CRITTERS (1986).

How about a Jack Frost 3? ... Anyone? Anyone?

Like the original, this is purposely stupid and campy. Unlike the first, which had reasonable production values and some fun moments, this is a real chore to get through and only really becomes fast-paced and fun toward the end. There are loads of horrible one-liners and puns (much more than in the first), the characters are extremely irritating and instead of relying on traditional effects, this one utilizes some CGI with varying degrees of success. There's more gore here and a welcome gratuitious nude scene, but neither is enough to make up for the rest of it. Lead actor Allport, who spent a lot of his screen time in these two films dodging snowballs and such, ironically died in 2008 while out snow skiing. The cause of death? An avalanche.

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