Tuesday, December 31, 2013

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

... aka: Silent Night, Deadly Night V: The Toy Maker

Directed by:
Martin Kitrosser

A present addressed to young Derek Quinn (William Thorne) arrives on his doorstep late one night. Luckily for him, his father Tom (Van Quattro) ends up opening it instead and is killed when a strange ball / toy latches onto his face and causes him to fall and gouge his eye out on a fire poker. Two weeks pass and Derek hasn't spoken a word since the incident. He also refuses to go into his bedroom, where the deadly toy sits on a shelf, and seems to be frightened of packages and Christmas things in general. Derek's mother Sarah (Jane Higginson) didn't see what really happened and is, of course, completely oblivious to why Derek is behaving the way he is. In an effort to cheer him up, she takes him to a small, struggling toy store run by Joe Petto (Mickey Rooney), who crafts handmade toys. Joe seems like a jovial and friendly sort... until customers are out of the store and he starts sucking down Jim Beam and snarling "I oughta break you in half!" to his awkward teenage son Pino (Brian Bremer). Joe isn't very nice to his poor boy, whom he berates on a regular basis and forces to sleep in the cellar, and Pino himself may be more than just a run-of-the-mill oddball himself.

Army vet Noah Adams (Tracy Fraim) shows up in town with a clipping about Tom's murder in his back pocket. He begins  frequenting the toy store, buys up bunches of the toys at a time and takes them back to his hotel room to disassemble them. Seems like he's caught on that something fishy is going on over at Petto's Toys; namely that some of the toys that come out of the place have been designed specifically to kill. Behind on his rent, Noah pays off the hotel owner with a "Larry the Larvae" toy from the store, which ends up springing to life. It forces itself inside the guy's mouth, pushes out his eyeball and causes him to crash and blow his car up. Another boy puts on a pair of roller blades, which are hard-wired to make him go out of control and he's run down by a car. Strange packages keep getting left at the Quinn home by someone. Joe and Pino used to live there and are resentful they've fallen on hard times. And if you think the references to Pinocchio in the character names have nothing to do with the plot, you'd be mistaken.

Sometimes it's a good idea to watch horror franchises in order and in quick succession or else you'll probably miss out on clever little touches when they actually are present. This is one of those cases. There's a lot of poking fun at the previous film if you pay attention and some of it is actually pretty amusing (like the above-mentioned larvae toy). Neith Hunter, who starred as Kim in the previous entry, plays Sarah's best friend and neighbor, who's also named Kim. At one point she says "You would not believe the things I've been through. I hardly believe them myself." in winking reference to all the crazy things that went down in Silent Night 4. Clint Howard, who played Ricky the mentally-impaired rapist bum in Part 4, has a one scene cameo as a department store Santa Claus named, you guessed it, Ricky. 

Not only are some cast members back, but so are some of the crew people. Part 4's director Brian Yuzna also co-wrote the screenplay and produced this one and Screaming Mad George and Tom Rainone are back on fx duties. Yuzna's son Conan Yuzna, who had a small role in Part 4 as Lonnie, also plays a kid named Lonnie here. Cathy Yuzna (Brian's wife) and Zoe Yuzna (their daughter) also have small roles. As silly and utterly ridiculous as this whole thing is, I had quite a bit of fun with it. Production values are fine, acting's OK, there's plenty of humor, lots of nifty little killer gadgets and some moments here and there that genuinely take you by surprise. The ending had me laughing out loud.

Apparently, Mr. Rooney was among those who publicly protested the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) and wanted it removed from theaters, so for him to show up later on down the line in the same series is quite odd. Then again, if there's one thing that can get someone off their moral high horse and make them forget their values, it's a wad of cash being waved in their face. Rooney's presence here probably just boiled down to nothing more than another paycheck for the 70+ year old. This is most certainly not in better taste than any of the others in this series, particularly during a scene where the teenage babysitter and her boyfriend get accosted in bed by a slew of killer playthings that Rooney's character (dressed as Santa Claus!) unleashes upon them. So what's really less moral: a killer dressed as Santa committing axe murders or a killer dressed as Santa who lets killer toys loose in a bedroom where a disembodied hand sticks a finger up a guy's ass and a toothy piece of green plastic chomps down on a girl's crotch? These "good moral values people" are a fuckin' riot!

Director Kitrosser also wrote the third and fifth installments of the Friday the 13th series, directed the Bad Seed rip-off Daddy's Girl (1996) and has served as a script supervisor for Quentin Tarantino ever since Reservoir Dogs (1992). This, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT III: BETTER WATCH OUT! (1989) and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION (1990) are all available from Lion's Gate.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990)

... aka: Bugs
... aka: Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4
... aka: Silent Night, Deadly Night IV: Initiation
... aka: Welcome to Hell

Directed by:
Brian Yuzna

I've always liked Brian Yuzna, despite the fact his resume is all over the map. Though he's been involved in mostly mediocre movies (and some downright bad ones), he'll occasionally take everyone by surprise by turning out a real gem. Aside from his creativity, I think what I enjoy most about the guy is that he seems to possess a great deal of humility and isn't some huge egomaniac who thinks everything he touches is golden like many of his contemporaries. In an October 2013 interview with Phil Wheat, Yuzna categorized himself as "...someone who has made a lot of horror movies that I wouldn't characterize as 'really good.'" In the same interview he pretty much nails the stale state of contemporary genre fare: "Horror has become so mainstream that it seems to have mostly lost that transgressive creativity that used to make it so exhilarating." Yuzna (who was born in the Philippines but later emigrated to America) started out very strongly on the scene in the mid-80s, producing the cult favorite RE-ANIMATOR (1985) and producing and co-writing FROM BEYOND (1986); both loose H.P. Lovecraft adaptations for director Stuart Gordon. Yuzna's directorial debut came in 1989 with the successful and highly imaginative SOCIETY (1989). That same year he helmed the middling sequel Bride of Re-Animator and soon after that landed this gig. Uneven as SNDN4 undoubtedly is, one has to give Yuzna some credit for at least attempting to do something different.

Unlike the three films preceding it, each of which involved a "Santa Claus Killer" (first Billy and then his brother Ricky), Part 4 goes a completely different direction much like HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) ditched the Michael Myers routine for a brand new supernatural horror story set on the same holiday. There's no killer in a Santa suit here (aside from on a TV set) and it's not a slasher flick. It also happens to be completely bonkers! Things begin with a woman whose lower half is engulfed in flames falling to her death from a rooftop. The victim's identity is unknown and there's no explanation behind her death, leaving the murder cold. Kim Leavitt (former model and Richard Gere squeeze Neith Hunter), who works for "The L.A. Eye" newspaper usually doing their classified ads, wants to be taken seriously as a journalist, so she insists on doing an investigative story on the mysterious death. After some persistence, she's finally able to convince her boyfriend, fellow reporter Hank (Tommy Hinkley), into sweet-talking their sexist boss Eli (Phantasm series star Reggie Bannister) into giving her the story.

Kim goes to where the woman had died and discovers the building is owned by the glamorous Fima (Maud Adams), who also runs a bookstore out of the building. Fima, who's extremely touchy-feely right from the get go, gives Kim a giant fig to eat and a free book entitled "Initiation of the Virgin Goddess" before inviting her to a picnic she's having with some lady friends. Immediately after, tons of strange things begin happening. Kim sees a spiral ("The symbol of woman's power") in a plate of spaghetti and notices faces all over the place formed out of food, tree branches, etc. Her apartment becomes infested with bugs, including a king-size cockroach, and a strange, mentally-disturbed vagrant named Ricky (Clint Howard) seems to be stalking her. Fima doesn't really have anything nice to say about men. In fact, she despises them ("There seems to be this parasitic quality to men...") and seems to have sexual designs on our heroine. I guess I'll just let the cat out of the bag now: Fima is the leader of a lesbian witch cult who worship Lilith; biblically-speaking, Adam's first wife (who is reportedly in portions of the bible removed by the Catholic church). Since Lilith was made from the same dirt as Adam, she didn't have to take any of his shit, and these ladies seem to follow the same philosophy.

Kim is drugged and goes through an extremely icky ritual where she has a larva inserted into her stomach and vomits up a huge worm. Fima wants to impregnate her with her mutant "child," but Kim manages to escape before finishing the ceremony. She goes home, starts to lose it and tries to down a bottle of pills. Ricky sneaks into her apartment and, while she's in the middle of having sex with Hank, sits on the edge of the bed, turns on the TV and watches a scene from SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT III (!!) Kim is eventually dragged back to the cult, where she has to go through a second and much more horrifying part of the initiation. What could be more horrifying than yakking up a giant bug, you ask? How about having Clint Howard rape you while wearing a dildo-nose mask while a bunch of old women slather him with oily goo? The finale explodes with a bunch of surreal, rubbery, body-twisting fx courtesy of Screaming Mad George which are similar to what he did for Society, only on a smaller scale.

I'm not quite sure what point the filmmakers were really trying to make here but it's pretty obvious they were attempting to convey some kind of allegorical message. There's an extremely strong and extremely odd anti-feminist theme that runs throughout. Kim becomes loud, shrill, demanding and unreasonable once she starts getting involved with the cult. It's clear that these women are a bad influence on her and she's even told at one point that the only way to become a "whole woman" is by killing a man. When a man is killed, it's no big deal to these ladies because he's "just a man." The only guy the cult has any use for is the slow-witted Ricky, and they use him specifically to do their dirty work. That could be viewed as either them being too weak to do the physical stuff themselves or them being too smart to be risk implicating themselves. 

On the flip side, the men in this film are far from sympathetic and all of the guys Kim works with are smarmy, sexist creeps. At her job, the only way Kim is able to advance her career is through the guy she happens to be sleeping with. In addition, a subplot involving Hank's father (Ben Slack) shows him to be yet another sexist asshole who's intolerant of Kim being Jewish and says that a woman's place is in the home. Maybe what this is really about is a career woman having trouble navigating a sane path; trying to avoid both a lesser position in a male dominated world and extreme feminism. It's is all very strange and muddled, but I'll gladly take the imaginative oddness on display here over yet another routine Santa slasher flick.

There's a plug for Psychotronic Magazine and the cast includes Allyce Beasley, Jeanne Bates (a regular in David Lynch films going back to Eraserhead), Marjean Holden, David Wells and Conan Yuzna (the director's son). The score is from Richard Band. Yuzna followed this one up with the mediocre Lovecraft-inspired anthology Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993) and the very good zombie sequel Return of the Living Dead III (1993). The fifth and final installment in the series was Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker (1991), which is again unrelated to what came before it.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

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

... aka: Blind Terror
... aka: Silent Night, Deadly Night 3

Directed by:
Monte Hellman

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) was a routine slasher flick whose chief novelty was having its axe-slinging psycho killer decked out in Santa garb. The inept first follow-up, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987), followed the exploits of Ricky, the brother of the original film's killer, who also eventually found a Santa suit to wear after escaping a mental institution. At the end of Part 2, Billy was blasted with a shotgun right after decapitating a nun. This entry picks up right where that one left off. Scanning the credits, this has a much higher pedigree than the previous two films, with known actors (headlined by Robert Culp) and a director who'd previously made the critically acclaimed sleeper hit Two Lane Backdrop (1971). There's also an interesting link with later David Lynch film, with cast members Richard Beymer, Eric DaRe and Laura Harring all on board. Beymer and DaRe (the son of Aldo Ray and casting agent Johanna Ray) both had recurring roles on Lynch's short-lived Twin Peaks (1990-91) series, while the sexy Harring (who became the very first Latina to win Miss USA crown in 1985) later snagged the lead role in Lynch's acclaimed, award-winning Mulholland Dr. (2001). But is any of that enough to lift this above the ordinary? Sadly, not really.

Despite being shot in the head (though he's actually shown being shot in the chest in Part 2), Ricky Caldwell (Bill Moseley) is still alive, but in a comatose state in some hospital. Apparently because the top of his head got blow off by the shotgun blast and his brain was "surgically reconstructed," he's now outfitted in some ridiculous head contraption / skull cap made of metal and glass which you can see his brain through! Dream researcher Dr. Newbury (Beymer) is conducting some sort of experiment using Ricky and Laura Anderson (Samantha Scully); a young, blind woman with psychic abilities who recently lost both of her parents in a plane crash. The doctor is hoping to establish a telephathic link between the two so that Laura can possibly communicate with him, though after she starts seeing what's in Ricky's mind (insert flashbacks from the first Silent Night), she's ready to abandon the project all together. Newbury gives her a few days over the holiday to mull it over. Laura, her brother Chris (DaRe, rocking a truly hideous 80s hair band curly'do) and his new girlfriend Jerri (Harring, who eventually has a topless scene in a bathtub) then head off toward Granny's (Elizabeth Hoffman) house for Christmas dinner.

Immediately after Laura leaves, Ricky awakens, kills a bitchy old receptionist and a drunk guy dressed up as Santa ("Hey vegetable, who's your favorite singer? Perry Coma?"), then just walks right out of the hospital door. Despite being dressed in a hospital gown and having his brain exposed for all to see (!), Ricky somehow successfully manages to hitch a ride from a trucker who asks, "What happened to you, man? Did you get a hair transplant?" Ricky kills him, steals his truck, decapitates a gas station attendant who's in the middle of having phone sex and then beats the others to Granny's house and kills her. When Laura, Chris and Jerri show up, it's their turn. The idea that he's set off by the color red (on a sweater, a wrapped present, a car...) is carried over from Part 2. While all that's going on, wisecracker Lt. Connelly (Culp), one of the cops who originally put Ricky out of commission, shows up to investigate, and he and Dr. Newbury make a mad dash for Granny's house to try to save Laura and company. Well, not so mad they don't have time to pull over the car to take a leak mid-trip!

This actually opens very strongly, with a well-done nightmare sequence featuring Laura running through all-white corridors and rooms and encountering both Ricky and a killer Santa Claus. The psychic connection angle is a fairly interesting departure from the traditional slash-n-hack format of the previous entries. This is also, technically-speaking, better-made, better-acted and more ambitious than the first two films in this series... but there's just something that feels off about the whole thing. Some of the dialogue and various silly scenes, albeit sometimes amusing, hint that the filmmakers aren't really taking much of this seriously, though there's still this dark, dreary cloud lingering over the entire film, anyway. It's a combination that's perhaps a little different from the norm, but it's so awkward and clumsy it doesn't work. Slasher fans are also going to be disappointed that's there's almost no gore and nearly every single murder takes place off-screen.

As an inside joke, Hellman has Roger Corman's public domain cheapie The Terror (1963), which he served as 2nd Unit Director on, playing on several TV sets throughout the film. His daughter, Melissa Hellman, plays Beymer's assistant and Leonard Mann, an American actor who usually appeared in Italian productions, has one scene as Laura's shrink. Lion's Gate released a box set containing this, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990) and Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker (1991) earlier this month.

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