COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS – SANTA CLAUS (1959)

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Whenever you see the name K. Gordon Murray attached to a film, you can be assured of two things. One, the film originated in Mexico and was already a trippy adventure to begin with. And two, that there will be some very interesting editing and crazy dubbing. Now, take those two ingredients and throw in some Christmas cheer with a hint of devilry and you get Santa Claus (1959).Spooky Santa

Director Rene Cardona was well-respected in the Mexican film industry and, as hard as it may be to understand, Santa Claus was actually an award-winning film. In 1959, it won the Golden Gate Award for Best International Family Film. Honestly, I’m not sure what competition it had but it couldn’t have had much. The film remained relatively untouched by American director Ken Smith. Never heard of “Ken Smith”? That’s because it was the pseudonym of producer K. Gordon Murray. He’s legendary in the B movie community for bringing many Mexican horror and children’s films to the US audience. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your cinematic tastes.

Santa Claus posterIn Santa Claus, we find that good old Saint Nick actually lives in a castle in space. Instead of elves in his toy shop, he apparently runs a sweat shop for children from all over the world. And as he plays an organ, we see a tremendously stereotypical view of all the children. Meanwhile, in Hell, Satan sends his number one demon Pitch to turn the children against Santa. Santa keeps a watchful (and creepy) eye out on three troublesome boys, a poor little girl who only wants a doll and another boy who is lonely as his parents are always going out. Add in Santa’s helper Merlin, who creates magic dust and an invisibility flower and you pretty much get the idea. Pitch keeps getting foiled at every attempt to turn children evil and Santa, despite some obstacles, ultimately saves the day.

There is definitely some bizarre imagery in Santa Claus. The telescope Santa uses looks like something leftover from War of the Worlds, only with eye lashes added for good measure. Then there are the giant lips that are speakers, moving when Santa tries to communicate with his child labor. We also get the robotic reindeer and the acrobatic Pitch, jumping over furniture for no reason. And, as always, the somewhat annoying dubbing that makes everyone’s voices just seem unnatural.SC 2

So, is Santa Claus worth the 90 minutes? Young children may find it entertaining but the scenes in Hell may easily scare some. The rest of the film is relatively harmless. For parents, they’ll marvel at just how odd this flick is. Not quite on the same “so bad it’s good” level as Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood vs. The Monsters but not too far off. It is easily found on DVD and was even given the MST3K treatment. It is also available on YouTube in its original unedited Spanish version or the edited English version. Just be prepared for a cinematic fruit cake. One slice is more than what most people ever want to deal with.

SC 1Vince Rotolo covered this holiday classic way back in episode 81 at the B Movie Cast. And our other podcast friend Derek M. Koch over at Monster Kid Radio will be taking a look at this classic next week with guest Scott Morris from the Disney Indiana podcast. Be sure to check them both out! Then, come back here as we get to the good stuff with some Charles Dickens.

Countdown to Christmas – The Magic Christmas Tree (1964)

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Now we all know that children’s films used to be much more innocent than they are today. But sometimes you have to wonder what was going on in the minds of some filmmakers. Today, a wannabe Polanksi just cranks out something on YouTube. However, back in the 60s you had to get financial backing. That makes The Magic Christmas Tree (1964) an even bigger curiosity.Spooky Santa

Our story begins at Halloween as we see young Mark and two friends on the playground. Mark decides he wants to go to the town’s haunted house and, once there, he encounters an old woman. After trying to save her cat in a tree, he falls only to awaken and realize that the woman was really a witch. She grants him three wishes with the use of a magic ring. By saying the magic words and planting the ring, a magic Christmas tree will grow. Of course, the tree can talk, much like a genie-in-a-bottle. His first wish is to have an hour of absolute power, which almost turns into a scene out of Carrie. Then, of course, his second wish is to kidnap Santa so he can get anything else he wants. Will young Mark see the error of his ways in time for Santa to make it for Christmas Day?

Magic Christmas Tree posterThis film runs about an hour but could have been much shorter if it wasn’t for some really bad editing. As in, nothing appears to have been edited out. There are so many pointless scenes that you wonder what director Richard Parish was thinking. Not a shock to find out he never directed anything else. In fact, nobody involved in this film ever went on to make another film. Despite being made in the United States, all dialogue and sound effects were added later, giving the impression it was a foreign film. I doubt any country would claim this one. You have the incredibly original idea to transition the film from black and white to color when Mark apparently dreams the whole story. There is the cutting edge lawnmower sequence that involves a turtle and the phone conversation that adds nothing to the plot. Did I mention the beyond creepy sequence with the giant in the woods?

I recently read a comment online is actually a very accurate description. They said it seemed like something you’d watch on the CBS Family Film Festival with Kukla, Fran and Ollie. There were a lot of classic films shown on that series but some were a little different. Thankfully, the powers that be never exposed the children of world to this one.MCT 3

I recommend this one only if you want to see something very bizarre during the holiday season. It is available on DVD but just watch it for free on YouTube but don’t say I didn’t warn you! And be sure to listen to Vince and the gang over at the B Movie Cast. They reviewed this one back on episode 272.

Since we’ve apparently decided to thaw out some leftover frozen turkey, come back next time as head south of the border for Santa Claus (1959).MCT 2

Countdown to Christmas – Black Christmas (1974)

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Years before Jason terrorized Crystal Lake and Michael came home, and more than a decade before Freddy haunted our dreams, there was Black Christmas (1974). So, with only the Christmas lights twinkling in the distance, let’s take a look at the holiday horror classic.Spooky Santa

Director Bob Clark certainly has some highs and lows on his list of credits. Good would include films like Murder by Decree (1979) and A Christmas Story (1983) while bad would be such cinematic disappointments as Rhinestone (1984) and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004). However, the gems can outshine the trash and certainly Black Christmas should be considered a gem. For starters, you’ve got a great cast that includes such names as Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea and John Saxon. You’ve also got a unique holiday setting and, above all else, you have an original plot that was a bit ahead of its time. It offered up a slasher flick in which most of the victims actually had an IQ.

Black Christmas posterOur movie begins with the point-of-view of a man climbing up into the attic of a sorority house at Christmas. The girls are having a party down below and are oblivious to their new resident. Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet) is our lead as Jess Bradford, who answers the phone only to hear an obscene caller. However, this caller has called before and he is clearly not of sound mind. Local lush Barb (Margot Kidder, Superman The Movie) takes the phone only to yell and potentially upset the caller even more. Innocent Claire (Lynne Griffin) wonders why Barb would antagonize the caller and heads upstairs to pack. Minutes later, she is attacked and killed in her room before being relocated to a rocking chair in the attic, plastic bag still over her head and a baby doll in her hands.

As our story progresses and it’s discovered that Claire is missing, Jess seeks the help of the police in locating her. Claire’s boyfriend Chris (Art Hindle, TV series Dallas) has little use of the police but actually is useful in getting them to listen. Lt. Ken Fuller (John Saxon, Enter The Dragon) agrees to help and soon discovers that there is indeed a killer on the loose. Could it Jess’ boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea, 2001: A Space Odyssey)? After all, he seems pretty unstable after discovering that not only is Jess pregnant but that she is planning on getting an abortion. As the bodies begin to pile up and the police attempt to trace the call, its building up to be anything but a silent night.BC 2

Black Christmas capitalizes on the urban legend of the “babysitter and the man upstairs.” Now, if you aren’t familiar with that tale, don’t Google it until after seeing the movie.  Despite borrowing on the legend, it does offer some original concepts that differ from many of the usual slasher flicks that would follow later in the 70s and on into the 80s. There are no sex-crazed teenagers here. In fact, everyone remains intelligent for the most part. Oh sure, there are some questionable decisions here and there, but not nearly as many as we’d get used to seeing just a few years later.

BC 3The list of potential cast members is quite interesting. Bette Davis was originally offered the role of the house mother while Malcolm McDowell was offered the role of Peter. Edmond O’Brien was originally supposed to be Lt. Fuller but ill health prevented him from doing the role. Even Gilda Radner was offered a role and even accepted before having to leave due to Saturday Night Live.

Black Christmas was not a success at the box office and initially received poor reviews. However, the film has since become a cult classic. Despite a short release under the studio’s alternate title Silent Night, Evil Night, director Bob Clark always preferred the Black Christmas title. So, if you are looking for something different and creepy this Christmas, you can’t go wrong with Black Christmas. The movie is available on YouTube, making it a pretty easy stocking stuffer. Just make sure you avoid that lump of coal remake from 2006. Going with the classic is the best choice and one you won’t regret!

Countdown to Christmas – Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

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The holiday season is upon us and Christmas is now less than two weeks away. Behold, the 3rd Annual Countdown to Christmas is on! There will be some of the more unusual gifts under the tree along with some of the traditional efforts as well. To start our festive feast off on a horrific note, let’s break out the eggnog and take a look at Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984).Spooky Santa

It was the 1980s and slasher films were in full swing. We’d already witnessed Michael Myers in the Halloween series and Jason in Friday The 13th. We were just getting introduced to Freddy, so why not take a look at another holiday mainstay. Just what could Hollywood do with our beloved Santa Claus? Plenty as it turned out, perhaps too much. The violence was turned up a notch and the complaints would eventually result in a ban of the film, naturally turning it into a cult favorite. So, just what was so bad about this film?

Silent Night Deadly NightOur film begins in 1971 as five year-old Billy Chapman is on his way to visit his mentally disturbed grandfather. He is with his parents and younger brother. Once there, and when his parents are talking with the officials, grandpa becomes alert and warns Billy about the truth of Santa. Turns out Old Saint Nick punishes the bad boys and girls. On their way home, the family runs into a robber dressed as Santa Claus on the roadside. Billy is terrified but the family stops. Moments later, his father has been shot to death and his mother killed before his eyes.

Three years later, Billy and his brother are now living in an orphanage run by an evil nun (is there any other kind?). After Billy is sent to his room for drawing twisted Christmas pictures, he accidentally witnesses two older kids having sex. Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) catches him and reinforces the concept that evil must be punished. So the stage is set in young Billy’s mind. Santa is the punisher and evil must be punished. Punishment is good.

The film then turns into a typical slasher flick at this point with the older Billy never really recovering mentally. He goes about killing those he feels needs to be punished, ultimately returning to the orphanage to save his younger brother from evil Santa and Mother Superior. Three different actors would play Billy at the different stages of his life with Robert Brian Wilson playing the adult Billy. Aside from some TV appearances, this film is the bright spot of his career. Overall, the movie isn’t necessarily great. In fact, it offers up some rather poor performances. However, the background story is quite entertaining.SNDN 1

The film is legendary for the rather intense images of the robber Santa, which played a key role in parents becoming angry and picketing it at movie theaters. First week sales were impressive, even out-performing the original Nightmare on Elm Street. But they quickly dropped due to the outrage and the film disappeared until it would see an early VHS release a year later. It didn’t help that some of the cast expressed embarrassment over the film.

One of the more amusing stories centers on Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney. He wrote a letter of protest against the film, expressing how the scum who made it should be run out of town. The original would go on to generate four sequels with Rooney actually starring in the fifth installment some seven years later. I guess Andy Hardy had bills to pay and he left his morals at home for the holidays.

SNDN 2Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t a horrible film but it isn’t that well-made either. It is mildly entertaining, especially if you are looking for a little gore mixed in with your tinsel and garland. There are some different types of kills as the body count stacks up. But, there are better holiday-themed flicks out there, so I would put this one a little lower on your Christmas wish list. You can add it to your collection with either the newly-released Blu-ray or paired up with the first sequel on DVD. Catch the trailer and judge for yourself but I must admit, despite it generally being a poorly made film, this one is a bit of a guilty pleasure.

As an added treat, Vince and the gang over at the B Movie Cast reviewed this in episode 312, so check it out and tell them the Monster Movie Kid sent you.

Next up, our countdown continues with a look at an earlier and better holiday horror flick, the original Black Christmas (1974)!

Celebrate Christmas Early with Digital Basement Sublet of Horror

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BSOH Comic 2This past October, the first two issues of the Basement Sublet of Horror magazine made their official debut at the Free State Comicon along with the second issue of the Basement Sublet of Horror anthology comic book. Now, just in time for the holiday shopping season, they are all available digitally online through Indy Planet.

Indy Planet offers a great selection of independent comics in either a print-on-demand or digital download format. That means the rare first issue of the comic, in glorious color, can also once again be added to your personal collection. As a longtime comic fan and collector, Monster Movie Kid endorses the comic book series. They feature great work from such names as Rik ‘Mr. Verlin’ Livingston, Greg Smallwood, Edmend Dunghurt and Larry Phillips. They are entertaining short horror stories and you never know when Gunther Dedmund may pop up to scare you.

Speaking of Gunther, longtime readers of this blog know that yours truly is featured in both issues of this great magazine. Other great contributors include Jon Niccum, Michael Varrati and Ben Urish. Naturally, I fully endorse these magazines as well. And with them being available digitally now, there’s no better time to treat yourself to an early Christmas gift or do some shopping for a loved one.BSOH Magazine Issue 1

As always, special thanks to creator Joel Sanderson. His hard work and dedication is moving these projects ever forward into uncharted territory. With Joel, there is no Gunther and the Basement Sublet of Horror would be empty!

Stay warm and cozy inside the comfort of your home and click on the links below. Start your collection today because there are more great issues planned for 2015!

Basement Sublet of Horror comic issue #1 – $4.99 print-on-demand

Basement Sublet of Horror comic issue #2 – $3.99 print-on-demand or $.99 digital download

Basement Sublet of Horror magazine issue #1 – $5.00 print-on-demand or $1.49 digital download

Basement Sublet of Horror magazine issue #2 –  $5.00 print-on-demand or $1.49 digital download

* Order 5 copies or more of the magazines and get 25% off on this book!
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The Babadook (2014) is the Best Horror Film of 2014

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“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”The Babadook poster

Every year, countless new horror movies are released, some in theaters but most via DVD and Blu-ray. Occasionally we get something original and entertaining, but, more times than not, it is a flick that is rushed and uninspired. That’s why when something good and original does get released, the word must be spread amongst the horror community. So, before we break into the holiday spirit, let’s check under our bed for The Babadook (2014).

In 2005, Jennifer Kent directed a 10-minute short film called Monster. It was well-received and got Jennifer Kent noticed in the horror community. However, it wasn’t the springboard to bigger things for the struggling actress/director. Then, in 2009, she began writing the script from the perspective of a parent and the real struggles of women in the role of motherhood. Once completed, Jennifer would receive $2.5 million from Screen Australia and the South Australian Film Corporation to make the film. However, she would turn to Kickstarter to secure the remaining funds needed to build the sets. The goal of $30,000 was reached and production started in late 2012.

The Babadook 2The story is about a mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), who is struggling as a single mother to raise her troubled son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Her husband was killed in a car accident while taking her to the hospital in labor. Samuel never has a good night’s sleep, believing there are monsters under the bed or in his closet. He builds weapons to fight the monster and protect his mother, but just comes across as destructive. He is a behavioral problem at school and Amelia’s sister no longer wants to visit as she cannot stand to be around Samuel. Amelia’s life is quite depressing, dealing with Samuel at home and an elder care facility during the day.

One night, Amelia reads a book called “The Babadook” to Samuel. However, this book is anything but a pleasant read, as it deals with a monster coming to life from the shadows. Despite all of Amelia’s attempts to get rid of the book, it keeps popping up, reminiscent of the Talking Tina doll from that classic Twilight Zone episode. As it turns out, the Babadook is real, gaining strength from people’s denial of it’s’ existence. What follows is a woman’s downward spiral in madness, also reminiscent of the main character’s descent in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion.

The Babadook is Jennifer’s vision to make the film a very low-fi experience. Although her desire to film it in black and white was thwarted by the studios, it really is a colorless film and that is perfect for the tone of the film. Special effects are kept to a minimum, with the focus instead being on a slow buildup to terror, something rarely done in films today. Jump scares are kept to a bare minimum and when they do occur, they genuinely scare rather than make you groan from being too predictable. Images of the Babadook are brief but damn effective. Then, we also have what the true meaning of the Babadook represents, taking the film to an entirely new level.The Babadook 3

If I had any complaints, it is that young Samuel can be a bit annoying at times. However, that really is perfect because it draws you into the film, making you feel the despair that Amelia feels. The end result is easily the scariest movie of the year and one of the best horror flicks in recent years.

The Babadook has made the festival rounds earlier this year and is now available On Demand. I highly recommend viewing it. It will easily make my top three of first-time home video flicks this year. So, before you starts roasting those chest nuts, have one more belated Halloween treat. Check out the trailer, then head over to the main website and pre-order your copy of the book today.Babadook 1

Countdown to Turkey Day – Tender Dracula (1974)

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Turkey DayAre you ready for one more slice of turkey? Some films are better left unknown. You have “classics” like Manos: The Hands of Fate that cross the line into the “so bad it’s good” territory. Then, you have those films that never cross the line. They just stay in the bad territory, leaving cinemaniacs wondering what the hell were they thinking. Such is the case with Tender Dracula (1974).

The initial thought of Peter Cushing playing a vampire is interesting. After so many Hammer films playing Van Helsing and fighting off the evil Count Dracula, it would be kind of cool to see him on the other side, right? Well, theoretically, the answer is yes. However, when all we get for our desires is a mess like Tender Dracula, the question is better off never being answered.

The plot is simple enough. Cushing plays actor MacGregor, best known for his work on a TV series as a vampire (think Barnabas Collins). Now, after countless episodes, he has decided to switch gears and go into romantic efforts. A producer sends two writers and their girlfriends to Macgregor’s home/castle in an effort to convince him to stay with the horror role. However, is it possible that MacGregor is really a vampire? As the tale unfolds, it becomes more and more likely that he is indeed a creature of the night.Tender Dracula 1

I really have no idea what caused Cushing to agree to do this film. Maybe it was the chance to play something different. Maybe it was just a desire to continue to work as it is well-known that he never really recovered after the loss of his wife. However, surely even he regretted the decision to do this film once he made it to the set. The film rambles on for some 90 minutes with endless talking, odd musical numbers, poor acting and a general lack of common sense. Cushing plays MacGregor so over-the-top that it becomes laughable at times. Now, this was intended to be a comedy of sorts but it is never really funny. This one was a real struggle to make it through.

Tender Dracula 2Is there anything redeemable in the movie? Well, you do have Cushing but even he isn’t enough to save this movie. This French film has never been commercially released in the United States and, honestly, I doubt it ever will. You can find it on YouTube for free, which is how I recommend you go. The print appears to be a VHS dub off a faded 16mm print, which adds to the overall experience (or lack thereof). If you love Cushing, see it once to say you did and then move on. Then, pull one of the Cushing Hammer classics off the shelf to cleanse your palate. Was this a turkey? Indeed, it was the whole damn bird.

With that, let me wish all of you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving! With Christmas inching its way ever closer, there will indeed be the 3rd Annual Countdown to Christmas next month. Some horror flicks, some really odd entries that will leave you with nightmares and more Scrooge to add to our previous year’s reviews of the timeless A Christmas Carol story. Until then, it’s time to go watch some good movies.