Film Review: Christmas Evil (1980)

Also known as: You Better Watch Out (original title), Terror In Toyland (Germany)
Release Date: November, 1980 (Pittsburgh premiere)
Directed by: Lewis Jackson
Written by: Lewis Jackson
Music by: Joel Harris, Julia Heyward, Don Christensen
Cast: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fendwick, Patricia Richardson, Mark Margolis

Edward R. Pressman Productions, Pan American Pictures, 100 Minutes, 95 Minutes (rerelease)

Review:

“But now I want you to remember to stay good boys and girls. Respect your mothers and fathers and do what they tell you. Obey your teachers and learn a whooooole lot! Now if you do this, I’ll make sure you get good presents from me eeeevery year. Ha ha ha… but if you’re bad boys and girls, your name goes in the ‘Bad Boys & Girls’ book, and I’ll bring you something… horrible.” – Harry “Santa”

I had never heard of this film until Joe Bob Briggs featured it recently on The Last Drive-In. For me, that’s odd, as I’ve delved deep into the bottom of the barrels of horror history, especially in regards to the ’70s and ’80s. However, this was lost to time, as it never really got a proper release due to problems with the production.

It’s only become known in the last few years or so but I’m glad that it did see the light of day and I mostly enjoyed it, even if it’s a bit slow and feels somewhat derivative (not its fault).

Although, this did beat the other, more famous killer Santa movies by a few years. Sadly, just about no one got to see it and the Silent Night, Deadly Night films would go on to steal its thunder and the venom of the do-gooder public that hated that a killer Santa movie could even exist.

What’s notable about this film is that it has a few recognizable people in it such as Jeffrey DeMunn, who would become most famous for playing Dale on The Walking Dead and being in just about everything Frank Darabont has touched, as well as Patricia Richardson, the mom from Home Improvement, and Mark Margolis, who has been in dozens of films but is probably best known for playing Hector Salamanca in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

This is a pretty dark and brooding movie and it almost plays like a black comedy at times. I’m not sure if that was the director’s intent but scenes like the one where Harry a.k.a. Santa talks to kids about being good has an underlying fucked up humorousness about it. Also, the ending, which has apparently divided audiences, also exudes the same sort of vibes.

For the record, I liked the ending and while many saw it as weird and confusing, I saw it as something that was happening from the character’s psychotic point-of-view. I guess some people took the fantastical final moment too literally.

This is decently shot and it looks fine. There’s nothing special about the cinematography or general visuals of the picture but it also doesn’t need that. It looks just as good as other slasher-y type flicks of its era.

My only real gripe about the film is its pacing but there’s still enough here to keep its head above water.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Christmas horror films, specifically slashers.

Film Review: Deadly Games (1989)

Also known as: 36.15 code Père Noël (original French title), Game Over, Dial Code Santa Claus
Release Date: March 18th, 1989 (France – Laon Film Festival of Youth and Children’s Films)
Directed by: René Manzor
Written by: René Manzor
Music by: Jean-Félix Lalanne
Cast: Alain Lalanne, Louis Ducreux, Brigitte Fossey, Stéphane Legros, Patrick Floersheim, François-Éric Gendron

L.M. Productions, Deal, Garance,, 87 Minutes

Review:

If you already thought that French movies were weird, this one will only solidify that assessment.

Man, this is some seriously bonkers shit but at the same time, I really liked it for the most part, as it featured a Home Alone-esque plot, written and shot before Home Alone, actually, which sees a kid have to protect himself and his diabetic, nearly blind grandfather from a home invader. All the while, this kid uses gadgets and traps to try and evade this sinister Christmas intruder.

Now there are some major differences from Home Alone. For one, this is really fucking dark and definitely not a kids’ movie despite premiering at a film festival for children’s flicks. Also, this isn’t about a goofy duo of holiday burglars, the invader in this film is a derelict hobo with a Santa obsession that murders those in his way and sets off to a country mansion to play a deadly game with a young boy.

The movie is strange in that French way that’s hard to describe but it’s something I notice in a lot of French horror and it has to do with the storytelling and its lack of any sort of logic. You see the kid get the psycho Santa killer in a real pickle, multiple times, but for some nonsensical reason, he doesn’t finish him off. One example of this is when he and his grandpa are in the car and the killer Santa is in front of them. The grandpa tells the kid to essentially “Gun it!” and the kid goes, “I can’t he’s in front of the car!” Yeah, no shit French kid, that’s why you run him the fuck down! Watch more American movies!

Also, somehow it seems like the killer Santa knows the house better than the kid that lives in it and he can only appear in certain places at certain moments if he has the power of teleportation.

Maybe I’m being an asshole and nitpicking but multiple things like that happen in the film and then the kid is super clever but then an idiot too, as he’s always leaving himself open for the killer to get to him. This makes me think that maybe French people just aren’t logical, tactical thinkers which may explain a lot.

What I love most about this movie is how imaginative it is. The house is simply fucking cool and impressive. The sets are great and the hidden toy room is just someplace you want to see in real life, even as an adult.

Overall, this is a strange ass movie that will leave you scratching your head a lot. However, it’s also incredibly unique and definitely a very different experience than any other movie I’ve ever seen, which at this point, has been thousands.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other weird, nonsensical French horror, I guess.

Film Review: Haunt (2019)

Also known as: Halloween Haunt (Austria, Germany)
Release Date: August 7th, 2019 (Popcorn Frights Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Written by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Music by: Tomandandy
Cast: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn McClain

Beck Woods, Broken Road Productions, Nickel City Pictures, Momentum Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

Featured on a recent episode of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, I didn’t expect much from this modern horror film. The recent Shudder originals and exclusives that I’ve encountered have been a mixed bag but mostly bad-to-mediocre.

This one surprised me, though, and it was a pretty fun experience that immediately made me think of Tobe Hooper’s great 1981 film, Funhouse. I found out after I had that thought, that this was actually inspired by it, as the film’s directors were fans of that picture.

Also, going into this, I didn’t realize that these directors were the same guys that produced and wrote John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place. A film I mostly liked and also thought was much better than most modern horror offerings.

This film sees a group of teens go to a mysterious haunted house that appears to be some next level shit, as they have to give up their cellphones and sign a release form, which includes some worrisome rules like “Don’t touch the haunted house performers.” Maybe they should’ve asked for a safe word upfront.

Anyway, this goes exactly how you’d expect. The haunted house is actually a trap where the teens get murdered in horrifying ways making this picture one-part Saw and one-part slasher with the Funhouse aesthetic. It’s a really good mix and once you throw in some other weird surprises, this is just a good, fun, mindless horror film.

My only big complaint with the film was in regards to the editing. It was a bit quick and felt kind of disjointed. It made it hard to understand the layout of the haunted house. Maybe that was intentional, to make the viewer also feel lost within it but it’s not like it was an actual maze or anything, it was just a series of rooms and sections broke out into two different paths that eventually intersect again.

Other than that, the film looked good, I liked the antagonists and it definitely registered pretty high on the creep meter.

This is one of those things that could probably be spun into a moderately successful, low budget, horror franchise but unlike everything else these days, they should leave it alone and let it stand on its own merits, unaffected by increasingly shitty sequels and formula fatigue.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other more modern horror films but this is much better than most.

Film Review: Hack-O-Lantern (1988)

Also known as: Death Mask (alternative international title), Halloween Night (US alternative title), The Damning (UK)
Release Date: March 25th, 1988 (UK)
Directed by: Jag Mundhra
Written by: Dave Eisenstark (as Burford Hauser), Carla Robinson
Music by: Greg Haggard (as Gregory T. Haggard)
Cast: Hy Pyke, Gregory Scott Cummins, Carla B., Katina Garner

Spencer Films, 87 Minutes

Review:

This weird ass movie is a combination of being abysmally bad and kind of entertaining, when not mulled down by the really dull parts. The abysmally bad parts kind of win out, though.

Hack-O-Lantern is a Halloween-themed horror movie directed by an Indian guy that doesn’t seem to know much about Halloween. Also, he is relying on tropes and themes that were kind of played out by the time this was released. It’s like the guy watched Halloween nearly a decade earlier and said, “Let’s do that but crazy! Very, very crazy!”

The film is about an old grandpa that runs a Satanic cult while also featuring a slasher, who goes around killing teens. There’s also some weird rock and roll band subplot that sees music videos just kind of randomly appear out of nowhere. I guess it’s not even really a subplot. This is just an amalgamation of bonkers ass shit that makes little to no sense.

I only watched this because it was featured on The Last Drive-In. I can’t call it the worst movie featured on there, as it was at the very least, amusing in spite of its massive flaws.

I don’t think that I’ll ever watch this again or even recommend it but I didn’t hate it, so that’s something.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other Halloween-themed horror movies.

Film Review: Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Also known as: Slumber Party Massacre: The Sequel (working title), Don’t Let Go (Germany), Massacre 2 (Brazil)
Release Date: October 16th, 1987
Directed by: Deborah Brock
Written by: Deborah Brock
Music by: Richard Cox
Cast: Crystal Bernard, Atanas Ilitch, Kimberly McArthur, Juliette Cummins, Patrick Lowe, Heidi Kozak, Joel Hoffman, Jennifer Rhodes, Michael Delano

Concorde Pictures, 77 Minutes, 85 Minutes (Unrated version)

Review:

“Oh come on, baby. Light my fire!” – The Driller Killer

I dig this movie.

The thing is, it doesn’t need to make a lick of sense or even have a great story. This film features a driller killer that is some sort of singing rockabilly ghost and his objective here is to try and murder all the members of a girl band and their doofus love interests.

The film also stars a young Crystal Bernard before she would go on to greater stardom, as a core cast member of the long-running NBC sitcom Wings. She was also on the syndicated sitcom It’s A Living but I don’t think anyone, other than me, even remembers that show. But my mum made me watch it every weekend when it was on and I sort of liked it, back in the day. I was also crushing hard on Bernard because of that show.

I like that this film taps more into the realm of black comedy more than its predecessor, and while I think the original is a tad bit better, I like that this installment was more creative and lively. I love the singing rockabilly driller killer, as well as his tunes. I also love the girl band and all the female characters were fun and kind of cool in their roles, even if their characters didn’t require Oscar-caliber performances.

This film also ups the ante from the original, as it has more gore and some cool gross out moments. The big zit scene was well done and superbly executed for a film with a Roger Corman micro-budget. But this film, like so many from the realm of ’80s horror, just goes to show how great practical special effects can be over the easy-out of modern CGI.

Slumber Party Massacre II is hardly a classic but it’s still a fun romp with an energetic soundtrack, killer tunes and a much better than decent finale that exceeds the climax of its predecessor.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the Slumber Party Massacre series, as well as other teen slasher flicks.

Film Review: Victor Crowley (2017)

Also known as: Hatchet IV (alternative title)
Release Date: August 22nd, 2017 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Adam Green
Written by: Adam Green
Music by: Jason Akers, Sam Ewing
Cast: Kane Hodder, Tyler Mane, Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, Dave Sheridan, Krystal Joy Brown, Felissa Rose, Brian Quinn, Tiffany Shepis, Jonah Ray, Blake Woodruff, Tony Todd, Danielle Harris (cameo)

IncitefulMedia, ArieScope Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Ten years later, you are like the O.J. Simpson of Honey Island Swamp. Wouldn’t you say?” – Sabrina, “Uh. No, I wouldn’t.” – Andrew

After seeing Hatchet III, several years ago, I thought that the film series really ran its course and went out with a pretty decent bang. I didn’t think I really wanted another one, then a few years later, this one came out, which I slept on. I intended to eventually watch it but then it slipped down the memory hole until it was featured on an episode of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs.

I’m glad that Joe Bob hosted this, though, and that he also brought in writer/director/creator Adam Green, as well as a lot of the cast, to discuss the film, the franchise and its possible future.

I love Kane Hodder, so anytime the guy can get some solid horror work, I’m happy. He deserves to work as long as he wants to and since they aren’t making Friday the 13th movies anymore, this is the next best thing. Especially, since the character of Victor Crowley gets to use Hodder’s talents and then turns them up to eleven, allowing him to go ape shit crazy and express himself in stark contrast to the more reserved, quiet Jason Voorhees.

For the most part, this is a decent sequel in the same vein as the other films. It sees a plane crash in the swamp near Crowley’s home. Also, there is a filmmaking crew out there, trying to make a film about Crowley. The two groups converge and end up holed up in the crashed plane, trying to survive the night with the uber-violent Crowley outside.

The film is pretty straightforward and even though it’s a self-aware “wink at the camera” horror film, it’s never annoying about it like most modern horror flicks that try to do the same tired ass shit. This is one of the reasons why modern horror is crap but at least Victor Crowley doesn’t contribute to that problem and actually shows that you can be self-aware and not be a total douche about it.

Ultimately, I liked this movie and I think Adam Green has a really good grasp on his creation and how to traverse through the modern horror world where the competition is lackluster, redundant and uninspiring. While I can’t call his movies game changers, they at least give audiences something new and fun and don’t fall victim to the same, lame modern horror tropes.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the Hatchet series, as well as other slasher films, specifically the Friday the 13th movies with Kane Hodder as Jason.

Film Review: Scare Package (2019)

Release Date: October 4th, 2019 (Spain – Sitges Film Festival)
Directed by: Courtney Andujar, Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins, Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan, Baron Vaughn
Written by: Courtney Andujar, Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins, Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan, Baron Vaughn, Cameron Burns, Ben Fee, Frank Garcia-Hejl, John Karsko
Music by: Alex Cuervo
Cast: Jeremy King, Noah Segan, Toni Trucks, Chase Williamson, Baron Vaughn, Zoe Graham, Byron Brown, Chelsey Grant, Luxy Banner, Josephine McAdam, Aaron D. Alexander, Allan McLeod, Jocelyn DeBoer, Melanie Minichino, Jonathan Fernandez, Dustin Rhodes, Haley Alea Erickson, Jon Michael Simpson, Mac Blake, Hawn Tran, Frank Garcia-Hejl, Justin Maina, Gabrielle Maiden

Paper Street Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

Well, the poster is cool.

However, it also says that this film has seven directors when, in fact, it has eight.

Maybe that’s the problem with it.

This is basically a movie made by a committee and when that happens, you’re rarely, if ever, given a motion picture that has any sort of cohesion or heart.

Also, this is an anthology but unlike most horror anthologies, this isn’t made up of three or four stories, it’s made up of seven. Yes, seven! There are more than a half dozen stories crammed into just 103 minutes.

The weird thing, is even though they average out to a scant running time, most of them feel too long. That could be due to the fact that this is a rather boring movie in spite of it having so much in it.

Apart from all that, though, the film has a self-aware snarkiness about it that’s fairly off putting and lame. It’s like this film is constantly winking at the camera to make sure that you’re aware that none of it should be taken seriously and that it’s just taking the piss out of itself by using material and concepts that have been used a dozen times over and more competently.

The acting is about on par with the rest of the film’s quality and no one is all that believable. I think that’s the fault of this film’s eight directors and twelve writers, though. There just isn’t enough time to care about the plot, the characters or the total package.

Now all of these stories come together in the end but the movie is nowhere near as clever as it believes itself to be.

This is the Twitter of anthology horror movies, as each segment is about the length of a tweet and the whole movie plays like a Twitter thread where it is hard to communicate depth, tone, proper context and nuance. But those that spend too much time on social media will probably dig this because of that.

I was bored watching this and frankly, I’m bored writing about it.

In the end, just skip this. You probably have some chore you’ve been putting off that would bring you more enjoyment.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other shitty and “clever” modern horror flicks.

Film Review: Hogzilla (2014)

Release Date: December 15th, 2014
Directed by: Diane Jacques
Written by: Diane Jacques, Beatrice Moon, Todd M. Webster
Cast: Joe Bob Briggs, William A. Butland, Zachary Dubale, Justin Kane, Joey Malone, Meredith Martin, John Pagnam, Tomey Sellars, Wade White

90 Minutes

Review:

I’ve heard the legend of this film’s existence for far too long. I wasn’t even sure if it was real and if it was, whether or not it was actually completed.

That being said, my only real interest in it was due to the fact that horror host icon Joe Bob Briggs was in it and it was about a giant killer hog. I like giant killer hog movies and there aren’t enough of them and frankly, none of the ones that do exist are all that good.

Well, this one may actually be the worst one I’ve seen. Also, the poster is a lie, as there aren’t a bunch of gun toting hotties in the movie. It’s just a pretty mundane group of normies with no real skills whatsoever. One of them is a Marine, I guess, but you only really know that because he wears camo pants and a very clean t-shirt that says “Marines” on it.

The great Joe Bob is in this and while his scenes are just about the only watchable ones in the film, I guess he’s a ghost or something because he just fades away at the end.

I don’t know, this just sucked. I had hoped it was going to be that type of film that was so shitty it was entertaining and amusing but it was so boring, drab and incompetent that it was a real bore to sit through.

It also sucks as it was filmed in Florida, not too far away from me, and I like killer animal horror from my neck of the woods.

Well, I guess I can claim that I’ve seen it now and that I can verify its existence but it didn’t make me a better person or teach me any worthwhile lessons that I could pass on to someone else’s kids.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other extremely low budget killer animal horror movies.

Film Review: Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Also known as: Tetsuo (original title), The Ironman (alternative English title)
Release Date: June, 1989 (Italy – Fantafestival)
Directed by: Shinya Tsukamoto
Written by: Shinya Tsukamoto
Music by: Chu Ishikawa
Cast: Tomorowo Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Shinya Tsukamoto

Japan Home Video, K2 Spirit, Kaijyu Theater, 67 Minutes (cut down version), 69 Minutes, 77 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“Together, we can turn this fucking world to rust!” – Metals Fetishist

While there are some things I appreciate about this film, I actually hate it quite a bit.

It’s an absolute clusterfuck and while that’s what it set out to be, that doesn’t mean that putting the idea on celluloid is a good one.

This film looks like an industrial band’s music video from the late ’80s. And I’m not talking about a good industrial band on a major label, I’m talking about an unsigned band of college kids that have little to no talent that “borrowed” some film equipment for the weekend.

In fact, my only real experience in seeing any part of this film was when clips would be playing on screens in goth clubs in the late ’90s and early ’00s. In that setting with goth rock and industrial blaring through the club, it worked. As a film, not so much and in fact, not at all.

The only thing in this film I can really give props to is some of the special effects. While they’re not mind blowing by any stretch of the imagination, they are at least effective. The drill penis is a scary appendage no matter what side of it you’re on.

Apart from that, this is a shrill, spastic and seizure inducing fever dream. It’s really hard to watch and to digest, as none of it makes a lick of sense and it’s insane just for the hell of it because, you know… it’s fuckin’ art, maaan…

This is pretentious crap that gives films like Eraserhead some actual merit because at least there was something competent in that picture that allowed its director to grow into something better and more refined. Granted, I can’t say whether or not Shinya Tsukamoto actually got better, as I have no urge to delve deeper into his oeuvre after this unwatchable skull fuck.

If you have ever wanted to stare straight into the twitching eye of insanity while loaded up on a cocktail of uppers and hallucinogenics, than this might be your movie. But if it is, stay the fuck away from me, please.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: industrial music videos by bands that never got signed, as well as Japanese surrealist gore flicks.

Film Review: Mayhem (2017)

Release Date: March 13th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: Joe Lynch
Written by: Matias Caruso
Music by: Steve Moore
Cast: Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand, Caroline Chikezie, Kerry Fox, Dallas Roberts

Circle of Confusion, Royal Viking Entertainment, RLJE Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“My mother used to say that no one raindrop ever thought it caused the flood. I now know what she meant by that.” – Melanie Cross

The Last Drive-In had it’s worst week ever when it showed this, paired with Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Both of these are films I hate but I’ll save my criticism of Tetsuo for that review.

As far as Mayhem goes, fuck this turd.

It basically takes the concept of 28 Days Later and sets it in an office building. The story sees people get infected with a virus that causes them to act out their most violent and sexual impulses. Due to this infection, the entire office building is locked down in quarantine for several hours.

We then get treated to terrible people doing terrible things to one another in what is one of the most derivative and low brow edgy boi movies I’ve seen in quite some time. 

This is a film that wants you to think that it is pushing the bar but you might only fall for that if you’re thirteen. It doesn’t push the bar and in fact, it pulls its punches. Hell, when the two main characters decide to give into their animalistic urges and fuck, they don’t even rip their clothes off. By the end of this film, they should’ve been running around naked, covered in blood, screaming and killing with reckless abandon. I mean, that is if you want me to buy into the juvenile and done-to-death premise.

It’s like this film was written by a deranged middle schooler after a wet dream nightmare following a night of drinking mass amounts of cough syrup while binge watching Workaholics.

It’s so poorly acted that it actually has me second guessing its star, Steven Yeun. Maybe it is best that he got his brain bludgeoned in by Negan on The Walking Dead. Honestly, I was secretly hoping for Negan to show up and do that again.

I guess Samara Weaving was the best thing about the picture but I’m still not sure if she’s got the potential to be an actress that deserves more than this. This film certainly didn’t do her any favors despite being the only real bright spot.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: The Belko Experiment and bad, edgy horror films that try to pass themselves off as high art.