Friday, 30 December 2016

Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising (AKA Bad Neighbours 2)
Dir: Nicholas Stoller
2016
***
I quite enjoyed the original 2014 Neighbours as I thought it was a new take on the fraternity comedy that looked at things from both sides of the fence. I'm not sure a sequel was ever needed but when a film is relatively cheap to make and is marginally successful, a follow up film is inevitable. Fine, why not, it's not that bad either. This time around the Neighbours in question are a Sorority rather than a fraternity which means the structure of the film is pretty much the same but the jokes are different. It follows on from the rather sad last scene from the first film whereby Teddy (Zac Efron) realizes that collage is now over and the rest of his life, which he is woefully unprepared for, awaits. His friends have moved on and are successful and his best buddy is soon to be married. Teddy somehow stumbles across a group of female freshmen (led by Chloë Grace Moretz) who have decided to make a stand and ignore the usual Sorority codes and fraternity-lead traditions. Here is where the audience has its loyalties split, as the new Sorority opens in the same house as the fraternity of the first film, while Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne are trying to sell their house after conceiving their second child. When the girls get out of control, Teddy switches sides and tries to help his old foe force the Sorority out and the film becomes a copy of the first. The film is a little less crude than the first but it still has its moments where boundaries are pushed. Zac Efron actually steals the show here as his lovable character Teddy develops throughout the story. Cameos from actors who stared in the first film help carry the film along and there is a nice little appearance from Kelsey Grammer as Chloë Grace Moretz's dad but by and large it is a path well-trodden. I think the best thing about this unnecessary sequel is the challenging of stereotype and sexism in the collage system or at least how it is usually shown in Hollywood. Jokes are repeated but certainly improved upon, particularly the airbag scene. It's really nothing special but very watchable and hard not to like.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane
Dir: Dan Trachtenberg
2016
****

10 Cloverfield Lane started out as a simple script titled The Cellar and followed a similar premise but when the people at Bad Robot Productions put their heads together they decided that with a couple of small tweaks, The Cellar was the perfect opportunity to sneak out a sort-of sequel to their 2008 monster picture Cloverfield. Thankfully the decision to film it with a good old fashioned third-person narrative was made early on and it is a suitably still and well composed visual experience. I honestly don't think I could watch another 'found footage' type film again, I believe the sub-genre is dead until proven otherwise. The original Cloverfield made quite an impact, the truth is it was a very average monster movie but it was the found footage element and the way it was marketed that really made it stand out. I enjoyed it as much as I enjoy any big monster movie but personally I find it somewhat of a turn off when the gimmicky advertising for a film makes more of an impact than the actual film itself. The film itself didn't really do anything new, it did take found footage to the very limits but I would argue that the sub-genre has seen much better. I actually found it unwatchable at times and I wasn't at all fussed about the conclusion. 10 Cloverfield Lane on the other hand has grabbed my attention and has almost made the first film more intriguing. I hadn't really cared about the origins of the original monster but now after watching the next chapter I want to know more. Even though I knew the films were linked I wasn't aware of the film's conclusion and I'm glad to say it isn't predictable at all. There are plenty of 'trapped in a cellar' type films out there but 10 Cloverfield Lane is certainly one of the best and more original of the genre. It's not that it tries anything particularly new either, it just gets the mood and setting right and makes it look easy in the process, although that ending helped. The film's structure is key to its success and the viewer is left second-guessing right up to the end credits. The simple but detailed set was very well thought-through and gave the film that eerie feeling you get from watching old 50s sci-fi movies - a clear tribute to the films it is influenced by. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is well cast as our protagonist and John Gallagher Jr. plays the mystery companion rather well. However, it is John Goodman who steals the show as a volcano of man who is responsible for their survival as well as their suffering. It's not a film full of tricks and twists but of chilling tension. It's really not just for lovers of sci-fi and anyone who didn't like Cloverfield need not be put off by its connection. It was 2016's surprise sort-of sequel that no one really asked for but were grateful for all the same. 
Cloverfield
Dir: Matt Reeves
2008
***
Drew Goddard's Cloverfield is a logical progression in the 'monster movie' genre but it doesn't really cover new ideas, only new techniques. The movie monsters of the 1950's were all metaphors for something much bigger such as the cold war and communism and Godzilla, the biggest monster of them all, is famously really all about fear of the atomic bomb, following the events at Hiroshima. It was producer J. J. Abram who came up with the original concept after visiting Japan. He saw lots of Godzilla toys and declared to others at his production company that America needed their own monster that wasn't the cute and cuddly King Kong. He was quoted as saying "We wanted something that was just insane and intense". After passing an old Escape from New York poster he also stated that he wanted the Statue of Liberty's severed head somewhere in the movie and the idea went from there. I've said it before but I believe J. J. Abram is the biggest creative fraud working in Hollywood today. However, Cloverfield tapped into something quite interesting and very much of the era. The found footage horror sub-genre was inspired by the rise of YouTube, mobile phone technology and the popularity of TV news. The vast amounts of 9/11 footage the world watched was clearly an influence but without wanting to give credit where I don't think it is due, this film does tap into the West's post-9/11 paranoia.  The style of filming, nicknamed shaky-cam, was relatively new at the time and certainly hadn't been used in a mainstream action movie before 2008. It was met with mixed reviews, while it worked as a 'found footage' piece it did get tired quite quickly and those who were prone to motion sickness had a tough time of it. The viral marketing of the film was key to its success, applaudable at the time but less so now that nearly every action/horror has tried the same technique ever since. The build-up was pretty effective, it was intense and quite exciting, it just went downhill fast once the monster was finally revealed. Somewhere between Blair Witch and Godzilla, Cloverfield really isn't that original, and the fact that it played on very real paranoia following 9/11 left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. The marketing was very clever but it made the film rather soulless. Each character even had their own MySpace profile, meaning they cheapened cinema and spoiled social media for everyone at the same time. It was a little bit like being sold a cheap used car, we the customer were bamboozled and we convinced ourselves that this was the one we'd been waiting for but we probably should have known better. In fairness, it gives us everything it promised and we did take a test drive so more fool us for buying into it. Credit due though, I don't love it but it does have clever elements and the found footage genre hasn't seen much better since.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Krampus
Dir: Michael Dougherty
2015
****
In 2015, Krampus finally got a big budget feature and made it to the big screen. He's pretty well represented here too, although there is something a little 'Joe Dante' about him and his Elves in Michael Dougherty's dark family horror. I say family horror because it doesn't include most of the sort of things that generally flag up films as being unsuitable for kids (gore, nudity, swearing etc) but that isn't to say it doesn't have genuine moments of absolute terror. I wouldn't let my kids watch it anyway. As well as getting Krampus right, the film has that all important Christmas feel to it that most Krampus/festive films forget. When three of four straight-to-video low budget horrors pop up with the same name, hoping to cash in on your success, you know you are doing something right and for my money Krampus could/should become the next Gremlins in terms of being a Christmas alternative. I think what I liked and respected most from Dougherty's festive horror is that the kids aren't safe, indeed, the kids do get their comeuppance and rightly so. This isn't a Disney film, it's actually pretty dark but it does manage to fly under the radar of acceptability. It has a Poltergeist feel about it in that it will scare the life out of you, more so than most X-rated horrors, but has somehow been deemed suitable for all generations. The rule seems to be that it's okay to bump off kids (or whatever Krampus does with them) just as long as the scene also includes a talking gingerbread man. It's a rule I can live with. I think the film gets away with a lot due to its clever casting too. Adam Scott and David Koechner have stared in some risky comedies, some with darker tones but overall they're family friendly. Toni Collette has likewise been in some edgy productions, as well as a few great thrillers and clever horrors and Conchata Ferrell plays a familiar character that she has become known for. Put them all together and you have an interesting but rather traditional formula. It almost feels like an 80's film because as well as feeling like a Joe Dante film, it has elements of Goonies about it and it could be seen as a feature length Twilight Zone episode. How you finish a family horror like this is probably the most important thing to get right and the conclusion is awesome and refreshingly unexpected. I genuinely think this could be the next annual re-watch Christmas alternative and it's been a hell of a long time since the last one, so it comes as a very pleasant surprise.
Jack Frost
Dir: Michael Cooney
1997
****
Move over Krampus, Killer Santa and Tim Allen, Christmas has a new baddie: Jack Frost. Now you might think that Michael Cooney's Jack Frost was a cheap and cheeky horror remake of TroyMiller's Micheal Keaton fronted film but you'd be wrong. Miller's abomination of a film was released the year after Cooney's....masterpiece. Okay, masterpiece is an exaggeration but compared to its sentimental family-friendly cousin its Casablanca. It's a nice first though, having a theatrically released big-budget film copy a small budget comedy horror, it's usually the other way round. Criminal possession is a tried and tested formula, how said criminal possesses an object can be easily explained by either science or voodoo and why said possessed object goes on a killing spree is already answered by the fact they are criminals. It worked for Child's Play (Doll), Christine (Car), countless haunted house movies and even a lamp (Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes). That said, I particularly like the explanation that Criminal + 'Genetic material' + Snow = Killer Snowman. It works for me and I challenge anyone to explain to me how this couldn't feasibly happen. There is an element of Terminator 2 about how Jack Frost can go from liquid to solid and back to liquid again at will but other than that this may well be the most original film that has ever been made ever. It's certainly one of the most ridiculous films ever made but when I say ridiculous I mean awesome. So it is a little clunky in places and there are long gaps between good bits but overall it's a b-movie that just keeps on giving. I had assumed the snowman suit would be a bit rubbish and Jack frost would therefore have very little screen-time. I also thought it might be a case of looking cheap and cheerful but it actually looks quite good and it moves quite convincingly. If the aim was for the Snowman to look cartoonish but terrifying at the same time, and I would bet money that it was, then job well done. It's the perfect balance of sci-fi fantasy and comedy horror. People will try and tell you that this is a horrible movie but I'm afraid they've missed the point. Look at 1998's Jack Frost, there is nothing of any quality about it whatsoever. Tell me it wouldn't have been an improved film if Michael Keaton's Snowman had suddenly gone on a killing spree.
The Night Before
Dir: Jonathan Levine
2015
***
The Night Before stars Seth Rogan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie and is directed by Jonathan Levine, so it is fair to say that if you're familiar with these people's work you will know exactly what to expect. The three friends spend each Christmas Eve together because 'family' and they have gotten up to all sorts of madness over the years. After one becomes famous and one has impending fatherhood, the three decide that this year will be their last. Fame and fatherhood are explored as is a love story and general coming of age. It actually all gets in the way somewhat because the film is really sold as an adventure-fuelled evening where anything can and will happen. As it is, lots of sensible things happen and overall plot (and its various sub-plots) trundle on and on and on. Seth Rogan's character finally takes some drugs about half way through the movie and by the time you question the length of this particular evening, you have also probably given up caring much about the characters and what happens to them. This 'comedy' cries out of something funny to happen for the majority of the run time. It's not without its moments but most of them are predictable, obvious or were shown in the trailer. Seth Rogan on drugs, who would have thought it. There are some nice little moments along the way and some appreciated cameos but overall it is the unquestioned fantasy element of the film that really makes it a success. Michael Shannon plays a drug dealer with insight early on in the movie and nothing more is directed at him. He them pops up again and it soon becomes apparent that his is more than just an unusual cameo. The/his conclusion made the film for me, or at least, made up for all the things I didn't like about the film until that point. It's never unlikable, it just tries to do far too much in one sitting. It needed to be simplified and maybe made just that little bit sillier. There is a great part whereby a drugged up Rogan sits within a Church's nativity scene and talks to Jesus as if he were just a guy on the street. I guess too much of that kind of thing would have only worked for so long but the rest of the film is full of schmaltz and far too much self-analysis. It was if the film was saying 'hey everyone, we're a fun, non-serious Christmas film' and then got all serious because it remembered it had to, as if it were a Christmas film rule or something. To be washed down with plenty of eggnog for complete enjoyment.

Friday, 23 December 2016

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
Dir: Todd Strauss-Schulson
2011
***
I'm not a huge fan of what are known as 'Stoner movies' but I can appreciate them but there is something strangely appealing about the Harold & Kumar films. Putting the sex, drugs and risky humour to one side, they're incredibly inventive, refreshingly original and there's never a dull moment. There are two kinds of 'Stoner movie' in my opinion, the type whereby the script is written with stoners in the lead role and ones that are written by stoners. Now sometimes both is true but I find that the stoner films in which it is clear the writers have never once smoked a joint and rely on what they think a drug experience is like are far inferior in creativity than the ones that have been written by people that do burn the herb and were almost certainly high as kites when coming up with their ideas. When watching the original Harold & Kumar film, I could almost picture Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg giggling between themselves in a cloud of green smoke. Then when Kumar and Harold went to Guantanamo it was clear the writer/producers had a few things to say and understood the art of satire. However, in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas I don't believe a single leaf of marijuana was touched. The guys know there stuff but have also become successful and a little more grown up. Indeed, we see both Harold & Kumar have too and life isn't just about getting high anymore. That said, there is more drug taking in 3D Christmas than there is in the previous two films put together but it's all a little different. It has a lot of humour in it that, much like the first two films, didn't tickle my ribs but it probably had more going for it than before. This most definitely a Harold & Kumar adventure but they also get the Christmas element spot on. It's a fantastic festive alternative with so much creativity and some brilliant scenes. It pushes the boundaries of acceptability but the script is undeniably sharp with lots of brilliant ideas coming thick and fast. The 3D element (because every third film of a franchise has to be in 3D - it's the law) is also handled rather knowingly and they proved there was a place for it in comedy after I was sure Jackass 3D had killed it off by reaching its full potential. It's not perfect but it is hugely enjoyable, like I said, this really isn't usually my kind of film but there is a charm to the Harold & Kumar films that somehow shines through, particularly in this festive outing of theirs. It's a niche Christmas film I guess but it's now one of my favourites - Cheech and Chong take note!
Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever
Dir: Tim Hill
2014
***
I have now watched, witnessed and put myself through over a hundred Christmas films and apart from the classics (which are mostly overrated) most of them are beyond awful. Don't get me wrong, I like Christmas and I take part each year with an element of enthusiasm, but I'm also a realist. Christmas films are generally bloody awful, with few exceptions. In recent years the Christmas film has become something of an industry and every year brings one half decent festive film and around 500 utterly despicable ones. This is not an exaggeration. They are generally made in California, are filmed during the middle of summer and start being televised around mid-October. Most feature re-used Christmas film stories, a former b-list star and/or an annoying child or dog. So, the idea of a Christmas film based around an internet sensation and meme star is something beyond something I would most likely detest. Just the very idea that being a 'meme star' is a thing fills me with loathing but the fact that Grumpy Cat (her real name is the annoyingly misspelled Tardar Sauce) has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas and is clearly a soulless and rather unimaginative money making scheme makes me want to punch a kitten in the face out of disgust. However, Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever doesn't pretend to be anything it isn't, in fact, it knows just how cynical and awful it is and reminds the audience every other minute. I can't believe I'm admitting this but I actually quite liked it. The story itself is a little bit like Home Alone meets Paul Blart: Mall Cop and as awful as that sounds but Grumpy Cat (voiced by the suitably deadpan sounding Aubrey Plaza) will remind you consistently that a) Christmas films suck, b) What did you expect from a film that advertises itself as awful and c) "Some people are born great, other become great, and the rest watch cat movies, guess which one you are". It takes a rather satisfying swipe at Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies and reminds everyone just how stupid everything is, which I think is important, especially at this time of year. The festive season is a bombardment of how wonderful things are, how good we can be and how magical everything is. It's nice that a pissed off looking cat can come along and say 'No it isn't', even when you know there are a group of soulless, unimaginative and greedy people behind this monstrosity. It's no masterpiece but as far as Christmas film go its close and a refreshing change of pace. Meow.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Saint (Sint)
Dir: Dick Maas
2010
****
Good Christmas horrors are few and far between but the better ones in recent years have their origins in folk-law and historical events. The comically named Dick Mass (writer and director of the cult classic Amsterdamned) has produced one of the best horror films since the 80s that is both ridiculous and clever at the same time, as well as being a lot of fun of course. It's a bit ridiculous that Saint (Sint) didn't make it across of the globe to be honest, probably due to Dutch festive traditions being slightly different to other countries, but it's especially stupid as it's far better than any American Christmas horror made in the last couple of decades. The main villain isn't Krampus or even a Santa gone bad, it is Niklass (Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas) but a version we've not seen before. This Sinterklaas is the ghost of the original Bishop Niklass who later became a Saint. This story would have us believe that the legend has been retold and twisted over time (which is half true) and that jolly St Nick was actually a tax collector and looted and pillaged rather than gave. When the people of Holland had finally had enough and had nothing more to give (the 5th December 1492 to be precise), they burned Bishop Niklass and his brutal gang to death under a full moon. So now, every time there is a full moon on the 5th December, the ghost of Bishop Niklass and his band of murderous men, return for a good old fashioned killing spree. The film begins with old St Nick visiting a small town in December 1968 and bludgeoning a small family to death apart from a little boy who manages to get away. It's a hell of an introductory scene which gives just a small sample of what to expect for the next 90 odd minutes. Fast forward to 2010 and that little boy is now a grown police officer who has spent the last 42 years preparing for another night of mayhem.  It's very much a horror but it does have a comical edge about it. I wouldn't say it was a horror comedy in the classical sense but there is something wonderfully dark but witty about it. I think that, apart from the excellent gore and unexpected action sequences, it is the story and characters that really shine through. The idea that the government, Catholic Church and local authorities know all about Bishop Niklass' and his murderous visits and have kept it a closely guarded cover-up gives it a beautifully twisted edge. It's exciting, darkly amusing and culturally informative. What else could you ask for from a Christmas horror film?
Santa In Animal Land
Dir: Stefan Sharff
1948
**
Stefan Sharff's 1948 kid's short film about animal's lack of Santa figure is touching, sweet, heart-breaking, heart-warming and utterly terrifying. That might sound a little unfair, and it is a little unfair if I'm being honest as the sentiment is very tender but as much as I love the story and puppetry etc, the truth is that the papier-mâché pets featured look like they either need an exorcism or have just had one. Krampus is a scary character and the Santa in Silent Night, Deadly Night kills nuns with an axe but the jolly St Nick in Santa In Animal Land is the most frightening thing I have ever seen. I believe they ripped its beard off and re-used it in Troll 2 but I could be wrong about that. It's a sad revelation that Santa doesn't leave gifts for animals, although it's a bit odd that when challenged on the subject he admitted he was fully aware of how unfair it was and had also given it a lot of thought without actually doing anything about it. His 'if you want a Santa then be your own Santa' message was also a little confusing. I've always regarded Santa as a busy and rather clever chap but here is is clearly being a bit lazy and emotionally detached. As for giving the job of 'Animal Santa' to a cat, well that's just ridiculous. It's true that if the job was given to a dog he'd only pee on the presents and the rabbit would most likely hump the Elves but giving the most anticipated and most logistically challenging job to a feline is several steps beyond utter madness. It is by far the most unrealistic elements of the entire story. It's rather lovely but you will have nightmares.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker
Dir: Martin Kitrosser
1991
***
While Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker isn't the best of the Silent Night, Deadly Night films, it is the first (and last) film of the franchise that finally gets the 'not taking itself too seriously' balance just right. Of course, when I say 'not taking itself too seriously' I mean refreshingly nonsensical and brilliantly silly. It's also a proper Christmas horror film once again, which gives the series and nice rounded finale. Weirdly, the film sort of continues from where the last film left off but remains unrelated. Both Neith Hunter and Clint Howard return in cameo appearances, with Hunter's Kim commenting in one scene that she's 'gone through some weird experiences, I can tell you' seemingly without being scared and almost finding humour in the fact she was nearly set on fire and thrown off a building by Witches in the last film. Christmas Toys attacking is nothing new in the world of horror but it's handled very well here. There is a scene whereby the killer toys interrupt a sexy moment between the babysitter and her boyfriend that is particularly funny/brilliant/memorable. Possibly the biggest surprise of the film is the appearance of Mickey Rooney, who was quite vocal about his hatred of the first film, what it stood for and its lack of seasonal spirit. He, along with a few other Hollywood cranks (I do love him really) asked for it to be banned, so to appear in the fifth film of the series was quite a change of opinion and quite a coup for the franchise. He's pretty good in it too, playing his over the top and rather crazed Toymaker rather well. What really makes the film though is the last ten minutes. It really is one of those films where nothing much happens for a very long time when suddenly everything happens at once. It took me by surprise and I don't believe anyone who says they saw that plot twist coming. You can't beat low-budget early 90s horror, especially at Christmas.
All Is Bright (AKA Almost Christmas)
Dir: Phil Morrison
2013
****
Christmas films tend to be a bit samey. Either an already established character saves or helps Santa in some way or Santa decides to go on a killing spree. Then you've got your dramas that take place during Christmas which usually see people either fall in love, forgive others after a long term feud or redeem themselves somehow after being a bit mean during the previous year/all of their lives. And then sometimes, not very often, but sometimes a great little melancholy film about Christmas hardship comes along and it comes as a welcome relief. It's not always great to be reminded of how anti-climactic Christmas generally is after the age of 14 but it also quite nice for there to be some balance and for the season to be represented as it really is for many people.  Let’s face it, Christmas is one big opportunity, generally for people to make money whether it's big retail businesses or Churches and charities. In All is Bright, Paul Giamatti plays Dennis, a thief out on parole, looking to make amends with his ex and the daughter he shares with her. After discovering that his ex doesn't want to know and his daughter believes he is dead, Dennis looks for a way to make money and make it up to them somehow. After watching his daughter through a window, he sees that she dreams of learning the piano but her mother cannot afford one. Learning that his ex-partner in crime is now seeing his ex, he forces him to take him on as partner in a Christmas tree selling venture he has in New York City. Paul Rudd plays the ex-safe cracker gone straight and the two of them venture into the back streets of Brooklyn and look at making a few bucks from the trees they sourced locally. Business is tough and the two men find each other's company even tougher. It isn't until Sally Hawkin's Olga, a Russian house-sitter working in the area shows Dennis some kindness and give a little financial advice does their luck pick up. The performances are tender and real. Giamatti and Rudd are both perfect in roles of this type and both give the film a real sparkle, against the bitter and bleak outlook of their characters’ lives and situation. It is a credit to Melissa James Gibson's script and Phil Morrison's direction that such a sad and tough-going film can be so uplifting by the time the end credits role. It's probably most people's idea of hellish seasonal viewing but I thought it was quite wonderful. It's Christmas' first really great independent film and my hope is that it will lead the way somewhat, as I believe this is how it is done. A great little alternative for the festive period.
Get Santa
Dir: Christopher Smith
2014
***
It's funny how so many horror film directors go on to make Christmas films these days. Most are money directors who make them fast, cheap and rely on a killer movie poster but some, like the brilliant Christopher Smith, are very competent at what they do. The general rule is that if they've made horror films, Christmas films and films involving puppies (and indeed Christmas themed films involving puppies) then avoid at all costs. Christopher Smith made the brilliant and extremely underrated Creep (2004) and Severance (2006) and can now boast that he has made the best British live-action Christmas film in the last decade. The words 'best' and 'Christmas film' don't go together very often and don't generally add up to much but in this case I can confirm that while it's nothing amazing, it is pretty good. I'm not the biggest Rafe Spall fan in the world but he's not too bad in this. His 'not quite dead-pan'/The Office-esque reactionary style, adopted by many actors of his generation, is toned down somewhat and even though the clichéd 'father and son' bonding sub-plot is tired, it didn't let the film down and the overall story is fairly original. Jim Broadbent makes for a delightful Santa, so much so you have to wonder why he hasn't played him before (his role in Arthur Christmas not counting as it was only a voice part). While the story has original elements about it, it is largely made up of various used themes borrowed from other Christmas films. I thought the whole 'Do you believe in Santa?' question went on for far too long but it was made up for by some strong supporting performances (particularly by Warwick Davis, Ewan Bremner and Stephan Graham). It also has some pretty impressive special effects for a British film with a moderate budget but over everything, it has a great script with some really lovely lines - mostly delivered by Broadbent's Santa. It's very much a film for kids but adults will be able to enjoy/stomach it too. 
Krampus: The Reckoning
Dir: Robert Conway
2015
*
Christmas films are awful but it used to be that at least Christmas horror films were generally a jolly alternative. The Christmas film industry has blown up recently and so has the Christmas horror film - really not surprising as many of the people who make one also make the other. Robert Conway however seems to be horror all the way and although I hated nearly every minute of Krampus: The Reckoning, it did have a pretty strong story with an impressive conclusion. Unfortunately the acting and low budget have let it down, and when I mean let it down I mean the film really shouldn't have been made at all. Krampus is the new thing in horror, there are plenty of cinephiles, horror fans and suckers like me who will see a great film poster, usually with a demon with a Santa hat on it, and will think 'yes, I will watch this instead of Die Hard this year' but will regret it very soon after. The truth is that there still hasn't been a truly great Krampus film, he's come close to greatness (A Christmas Horror Story and Krampus) but ultimately he is a bit of a one trick pony, while Evil Santas have far more mileage to them. The conclusion to Krampus: The Reckoning is awesome but it is certainly made even more impressive given that you have to sit through what seems like hours of awfulness. Krampus himself, when he eventually turns up, is a very different looking version to what I have seen before in that he looks a poorly constructed CGI Skeleton with horns and not in the least bit frightening. I'm not sure it is even Christmas in the film, I can only imagine Krampus, unlike Santa, works overtime. I hope he got time and a half. I'm not entirely sure whether a bigger budget would have improved the film in all honesty, it has a nice little twist to it (and there are worse Krampus films out there) but it isn't enough to make this film any less awful than it is. You'll yearn for a killer Easter Bunny horror within the first two minutes.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Krampus: The Christmas Devil
Dir: Jason Hull
2013
*
Following a fantastic illustrated intro and some beautiful old-school horror compositions, Krampus: The Christmas Devil goes downhill very, very quickly. Never judge a film by its poster - Krampus: The Christmas Devil promised so much but in the end it is one of the worst horror films I've seen in a long time. I'm not sure how you can go so wrong with a character like Krampus. The story is awful and never convincing, the characters are mostly pointless and Krampus himself is more of a creepy pervert rather than the half man, half goat anti-Santa that he is. I did like the inclusion of Santa in the film, he and Krampus are partners of sorts after all but I'm not sure this was a good representation of him either. Once again with low-budget horror films, the makers add too much of themselves into the story and are a little too self-congratulatory towards the end. Our main character, a cop who was once captured by Krampus as a child, is a clean cut stereotype for most of the movie but is seen in one scene to be listening to hard thrash metal in his police car. I'm not suggesting that people in law enforcement can't listen to loud music but it wasn't in keeping with the story or theme and it came as a distraction and a reminder that this was cheap horror film made by heavy metal enthusiasts. It's all show and no content, I almost feel duped into watching it, it's clear that they know that Christmas horror films are on the rise but it's a poor effort all round. The annoying thing is that they probably made a profit as it seems that all you have to do these days is churn out any old crap, give it an amazing cover - suggesting things that don't necessarily happen within the film, and watch suckers (like myself) give up their time and hard-eared cash on it. Evil Dead showed the way but it seems the lessons have been forgotten. It's awful, avoid it.
Nativity2Danger in the Manger
Dir: Debbie Isitt
2012
**
I wasn't a huge fan of Debbie Isitt's 2009 comedy Nativity! to say the least, so I've shocked myself by sitting down to watch her 2012 sequel but I’m pleased and shocked to report that it is slightly better than awful and marginally better than the first. Once again quality writing is absent (as is Martin Freeman who is replaced by David Tennant who like Freeman, should have known better), it's really not funny, the editing is of a shockingly poor quality and Marc Wootten remains the most annoying (and unfunny) man on the planet. The film is largely ad libbed by people who aren't very good at ad libbing, breaking the golden rule of ad libbing that is 'If you're going to ad lib, make sure you are not just good but brilliant at it'. The story is absurd but is silly enough to rise a smile now and again. Everything I hated about the first film is in this film, so why have I given it two stars rather than just one? Simple. The kids make it good. I think the kids were also given full rein to ad lib. While I'm sure plenty of footage didn't make the final cut (or did it?) the scenes that Isitt did leave in are a little bit irresistible. The kids are all pretty cute already but watching them audition for a song contests, giving them full freedom to change lyrics and dance about is rather lovely. Indeed, my favourite scene was actually one of the outtakes shown during the end credits whereby a little girl sings 'Jingle Bells Batman Smells, Robin ran away.....Santa got stuck in the chimney and....erm, his willy fell off'. That's comedy gold, unscripted, innocent and hilarious. Christmas films are usually awful affairs with Kids doing and saying all the sort of things kids never do or never say. It's quite refreshing seeing kids being kids and being all ordinary. Maybe from now on, get rid of Marc Wootten all just show the kids, or even better, get the kids to direct, write, edit and make the damn movie. Watch it for the sweet and funny kids, just try your best to ignore the stupid adults attempting (and failing miserably) to be funny.
Silent NightDeadly Night 4: Initiation
Dir: Brian Yuzna
1990
***
Silent NightDeadly Night III: Better Watch Out! was the franchises first big misfire - taking the pressure off of Part 2's cheap trick of only being half a movie. The great Brian Yuzna made the wise decision of taking the story away from the original origins, although the script for this film was the first draft written for Silent Night, Deadly Night III. At this point I was over the fact that the main villain wasn't dressed as Santa, I just wanted a good story, although there is something a little disappointing that this isn't quite a Christmas horror, but only because there just aren't enough of them (of any quality anyway). There are no killer Santas here, it is Christmas because in one scene there is a tree in the background but moreover, it's just a creepy horror. Fresh on the tails of Society - and using a few ideas that were written and never used for Society, Brian Yuzna has once again teamed up with the great Screaming Mad George. There is a character called Ricky (played by Clint Howard) but it's not clear whether he is connected or is even the same Ricky from the first films but I personally didn't see him as such. It doesn't really matter, Clint Howard is awesome and that's all there is to it. Add Witches, spontaneous human combustion, huge insects, worms coming out of people and Society-esque wobbly limb business and you're left with a damn fine eerie horror, everything you could want if you're a fan of Yuzna and Mad George - which of course I am. Yunza could have put a Santa hat on Howard (or one of the giant worms) but there was never really any need. At first I wondered whether this was a terrible horror given a title from a well-known and ever so slightly infamous horror franchise but apparently that wasn't the case. It's a great little horror film that has been hijacked by the franchise. It is fair to say the acting isn't the finest and leading lady Neith Hunter seems to spend more time undressed than dressed but she carried the film pretty well. The script is pretty good, so good in fact that even when the film reaches dazzlingly ridiculous heights, it's still somehow believable. Well maybe not believable but you go along with it without questioning it as much as maybe you should and I think that's down to Yuzna, as I feel this way about most of his films. It's also quite disturbing in its content, although not too disturbing that one could feel too effected by it. It's hard to explain but it's one of those great little unique horror films from the early 90s that I love. Seriously, the only thing missing, other than a Santa Hat and axed Nun is Jeffery Combs.