Christmas Horror Reviews: Christmas Evil and It's a Wonderful Knife
Ah, Christmastime! Santa! Reindeer! People bleeding out in the snow!
Ah, Christmastime! Santa! Reindeer! People bleeding out in the snow!
Everybody else in my house is sick, which means horror movies on the big TV for me! This week’s selections go from the sublime to the ridiculous, and if you think you can tell which is which just by the title, you’re absolutely right!
Oh, wow, this is a gloriously awful movie. Christopher Atkins (star of The Blue Lagoon, A Night in Heaven, and The Pirate Movie) and Michelle Johnson (of the execrable Blame it on Rio as well as Waxwork and Death Becomes Her) star as a TV reporter and her cameraman who investigate a series of bird attacks.
So I read Schrader’s Chord by Scott Leeds over the weekend. It’s a horror novel about cursed records that open a portal to the land of the dead. I’m a music nerd with a soft spot for stories about forbidden texts (or, in this case, records) filled with dangerous arcane knowledge. So this should be right up my alley.
Decided to check out Messiah of Evil on Shudder, even though it was made by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, the duo who brought you the most racist Indiana Jones movie (no, not that one—Temple of Doom) and the execrable Howard the Duck movie that I, as a huge fan of Steve Gerber and the original HTD comics, am still angry about 37 years later. (Oh yeah, they were also involved in Best Defense, a horrible movie with Dudley Moore and “strategic guest star” Eddie Murphy in a glorified cameo. Saw it with my mom, and I’m pretty sure we’re the only people ever to see that movie.)
Anyway, the blurb called this a “forgotten classic” or something, and while that may be stretching it a little, it’s definitely worth watching despite its flaws. So let me start with the flaws. It just doesn’t really hang together as a story, and we never really get to know the protagonist (played by Marianna Hill) that well and anyway Michael Greer as Thom steals every scene he’s in. ( Apparently he did a couple of gay porn movies and basically ruined his non-porn acting career, which is a shame because he’s got a great screen presence, and the question of whether and how much we should trust him is the most engaging through line in the movie.)
The setting seems very creepy because we only see brightly-lit, mostly-deserted spaces at night. The island of fluorescent light in a sea of darkness turns out to be a creepy rather than reassuring image here.
And there are two sequences that are among the best I’ve seen in a horror movie. I’m not going to go into detail, but the supermarket scene and the movie theater scene are both absolutely top-notch. The movie theater especially is a masterpiece of slow burning dread.
The movie is surprisingly squeamish about gore for a movie about cannibals, but those two scenes alone make it worth your ninety minutes.
Doing my best to stay spooky this month, so I’ve watched 2 horror movies in the last two days! Well, one and a half horror movies.
Let’s start with Spirit Halloween. I couldn’t resist the premise, which is that complications ensue when some kids get locked in a Spirit Halloween overnight. And then I saw Christopher Lloyd and Marla Gibbs both being creepy as hell! This could be good!
And yet, it wasn’t. The movie focuses on the kids, who are…let’s just say not as interesting as the old folks. And the whole thing was pretty devoid of either scares or laughs, and you’ve gotta have one or the other in a movie like this.
Ultimately I turned it off halfway through because, unlike so many horror movies, this one felt like it was made with no love. One of the reasons I love horror movies so much is that the folks who make them so often have a deep love for the genre, and the love shines through even when budget constraints or lack of skill get in the way of a really good movie.
Here, though, it’s all really professional to the point of feeling cynical. We’ve got some kids on bikes for that Stranger Things vibe (the main kid here even bears a strong resemblance to the main Stranger Things kid), we’ve got a brand-name tie in, (Which prevents any interesting exploration of the cause of the abandoned storefronts where Spirit Halloween makes its home) and we’ve got some kind of scare-free supernatural happenings with an incoherent explanation. Ultimately a waste of Christopher Lloyd, Marla Gibbs, Rachel Leigh Cook, and 45 minutes of my time.
But surely you can’t go wrong with a Hammer Dracula movie starring Christopher Lee! O, would that it were so! Dracula Has Risen From the Grave does have Lee and a couple of really great images (why are Dracula’s blooshot eyes so creepy? I don’t know! Also him whipping the hell out of the horses is genuinely disturbing), but overall it spends wayyyy to much time with the anodyne young lovers. I realized that apart from the tempera paint blood and the cleavage (only the barmaid gets to show any in this movie so it’s clearly before Hammer fully figured out their brand), what a Hammer Dracula movie needs to succeed is a worthy antagonist for Dracula. That’s where Peter Cushing comes in, except he doesn’t in this movie. So instead of Van Helsing’s steely obsessiveness, we’ve just got some horny young people, and a subplot about how fighting vampires can cure you of atheism.
I watched it all, but if you’re making your way through the Hammer Dracula movies, this one is VERY skippable. It’s on MAX along with Horror of Dracula and Dracula A.D. 1972, both of which are superior to this. (A.D. 1972 also features a great party scene where a San Francisco roots/psychedelic band is inexplicably playing at a posh party in England!)
Alter ego Seamus Cooper penned this five years ago. There were more parts planned, (and promised in the foreword!) but they never came to pass. Cooper tells me he needs time to fully recover his sanity before diving back into the depictions of eldritch horrors therein. So here’s part one: “Something Fishy!” Read at your own risk!
I fully expect questions. How did you come across these manuscripts? Are we but meaningless specks of dust adrift in an uncaring universe? Can a dog really talk?
Unfortunately I have no answers, or at least no satisfactory ones. One day, the first manuscript appeared, quite literally, on my doorstep, typed on an actual typewriter and wrapped in twine. Curiosity compelled me to begin reading, and the writer’s skill compelled me to finish.
I should reveal, in the spirit of honesty, but also as a warning, that I did not sleep for three nights after reading the first manuscript. Months later, a second appeared, and, the process—read, shudder, lie awake for three nights in feverish contemplation of the horrors I had just read—repeated. Manuscripts continued to arrive on my doorstep at irregular intervals afterwards. Have the deliveries ceased?
O God! I pray that they have.
I share these with you now for purely selfish motives. For one of the things that has been most difficult about being the recipient, caretaker, and only reader of these tales is the terrible weight of being the only person alive, outside of the four (or, depending on your definition of person, five) who are the subjects of these tales, who knows the terrible truth about the world in which we live.
I warn you, therefore, that the secrets contained in these tales, once they have settled into your brain, can never be un-known. I’m sure some of you will say, “Very well, then! Let the scales fall from my eyes!” I encourage you to reconsider. For the scales that obscure the true nature of our world provide comfort enough that you can go about your mundane routines and fall into the sweet embrace of Morpheus at days’ end, and after you read this, these simple pleasures may be denied you.
Providence, RI, September 2018
Fun to see a straightforward slasher after decades of meta slashers, and Art the Clown is actually horrifying and David Howard Thornton's performance is fantastic. On the other hand,
TWO HOURS AND EIGHTEEN MINUTES.
Allie's death brings the movie into torture porn territory. Why is Allie tortured so extremely when every other character is dispatched comparatively quickly? Art's glee in this scene is truly unnerving, so maybe that's the only justification you need. The fact that I'm still thinking so much about this movie a day later shows that it's an exceptional slasher movie. Still,
TWO HOURS AND EIGHTEEN MINUTES.
What the fuck, people. Halloween was 91 minutes long. I guess I would be more forgiving of the bloated runtime if everything seemed essential, but there's a lot here that doesn't advance the plot or reveal character or scare us. Brooke dosing Sienna's drink is a long bit that doesn't go anywhere, all the bullshit with Dad's drawings never resolves satisfactorily, and the final battle plays out like the longest pro wrestling match ever, with both slasher and final girl apparently unkillable and also there's some bullshit with a water tank and a possibly-magic sword. Cut 30 minutes from this movie and it's a much better movie. Cut 50 minutes and it's probably an all-time great. As it stands, though, more is less.
With so many movies suffering from bloat these days, I appreciate a movie that gets its business done in 91 minutes. Some really stunning visuals, a fun, but not mind-blowing reveal, and the always amazing Danny Huston, one of my favorite nepo babies.
Ultimately kind of forgettable, and Jena Malone's performance is pretty one-note, but I was entertained enough to stay up late to finish it.
Dead & Buried
Very entertaining twist on the living dead genre. James Farentino is not quite actor enough to pull off the last third, but Dan O'Bannon delivers another stellar horror script. Not sure why this one is so obscure. It's better than most movies of its genre and era.
Definitely second-tier Argento. I like that this one, rather than being about color, is all about batshit camera work. There are several wonderfully memorable sequences, especially when the killer is identified. The needle thing is an iconic image, but he goes to the well too many times with that. The first time, it's shocking and horrifying. The third time, it's like, oh, yeah, there are the needles again.
So I would say good for Argento fans and/or fans of directors who like to go a little overboard with camera angles and movements, but for the general public, pretty missable.
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein
Anything you read about Universal Pictures horror usually describes these movies as an embarrassment. But, as far as I can tell, horror comedy starts here. It's enlightening to watch this and see how influential it is, but, more than that, it's funny! The bad guys play it completely straight, which is key to a good horror comedy, and Lou Costello's terrified idiot is the blueprint for every terrified idiot at the heart of all the horror comedies that came after. A fun, cozy (to me and horror weirdos like me) watch.
Fun thrill ride anchored by Cassandra Naud's chilling performance. I saw the big twist coming at least an hour before it happened, but I didn't particularly care—still a very suspenseful, engaging and fun ride.
That's it. I have officially had it with “elevated” horror. You can tell it's not “just” a horror movie because the first half is boring as fuck! And if you're going to make an “elevated” horror movie, I would like to suggest that you put a little more into the effects because strapping a basketball to Maya's abdomen was a distractingly awful pregnancy effect.
In my ongoing efforts to overcome the sunk cost fallacy, I stopped watching after 45 minutes.