Going Old School-Break Out The V/H/S (2012)

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Sometimes you get wrapped in the hype of a movie. You wait with anticipation until you finally have a chance to see it. Your expectations are high. Then, when you finally watch it, you’re ultimately disappointed. Such is the case with V/H/S (2012). This movie was making the rounds on the festival circuit and then On Demand before ever getting an official DVD release. I managed to record it on HDNet during one of their one night sneak previews. It was primed and ready for Halloween viewing but then I got wrapped up in the Universal and Hammer horror flicks. However, now that the holidays are over, it’s time to dive back into some movies. That said, I clearly was expecting too much.

v-h-s-movie-posterFor starters, it must said that I have officially grown tired of found footage movies. For the most part, they don’t work for me. You have to get over the fact that people in peril will continue to hold the camera. I’ve heard filmmakers say they totally understand it but for a Joe Average guy like me who simply doesn’t have to have a camera attached to my head, I think it’s the first thing that I would drop. However, I really like a good anthology and that’s what led me to believe V/H/S was something unique. Reactions had been mixed but I was still pretty excited for what it could offer.  In an average anthology film, the wrap around story is often not very strong but the premise at least has to work to bring you into the story telling. That’s where V/H/S immediately drops the ball. A group of guys are hired by a clearly unstable man to break into a house and steal a rare videotape. Really? Okay, so they guys break in and find a dead body. So, of course, let’s stay and look for the tape anyway. Now, do they even know what tape they are looking for? No. But let’s go ahead and look through all the tapes anyway, we’ll know it when we see it. Yeah…okay. One of the guys sees a figure in the basement but heck, let’s stay anyway. Now, you have to turn off at least part of your brain for a horror movie but stupidity to this level in the characters was a sign I was really going to have to be forgiving.

The different segments are broken down into videotapes that are played on a television. As each story is played, our main characters begin disappearing one by one. But now, you are caring a lot less about them and are more interested in the individual stories. We have five stories and each have pros/cons. The first segment, Amateur Night, was creepy enough. It centered on three guys out to have some fun with the ladies. However, one of them is not what she appears. It works but the shaky cam was already becoming annoying by this point. And really, did we care about these guys? The one laughing guy was really annoying but I suppose we’ve all known his type in our lives. The second story, Second Honeymoon, offered an interesting twist about a couple on a trip and a mysterious figure. This one had a few good moments but the ending was a bit of a letdown. Our third story, Tuesday The 17th, was about a group of kids off in the woods when they encounter a killer. Where’s Jason when you need him? This story didn’t make any sense and was full of plot holes and questions I couldn’t get past. The fourth story, The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger, made even less sense. It’s about a girl who believes her apartment is haunted and is talking to her boyfriend on the computer. The plot twist here was ridiculous and I really didn’t care for the scene with the baby.

After stories three and four, I was getting anxious for the end of the movie. I stuck with it for the fifth and final story. 10/31/98 had some very creepy scenes with arms coming out of the walls and some sort of exorcism/sacrifice going on. This one also addressed the plausibility of carrying a camera as our main character was wearing a Halloween costume with a nanny cam. It’s a stretch but one I’m comfortable with considering the alternatives we’re given in the other segments. By this point, our wraparound segment is done and I was happy to see that story over. Through all the segments I kept asking a basic question. Why is everything in widescreen? Yeah, I know but it would be unique if a director went ahead and made it full screen just for some bonus points.

Each segment is directed by different people. The only name that most will recognize is Ti West (House of the Devil and The Innkeepers). He wrote and directed the Second Honeymoon story and you can clearly that he understands how to build the suspense. I just wish his story would have had a better ending.  10/31/98 had five different directors who also all wrote and starred in it.

V/H/S is now available on DVD and Blu-ray as well as all the usual sources. I can’t honestly recommend the entire movie. You can get by with watching two or three of the segments and forget the rest including the wraparound story. You’ll save a brain cell or two as well as some valuable time.

Merry Christmas! Top Five Favorite Christmas Movies and Animated Specials

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The countdown is over. Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

My Top Five Christmas Movies:

  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)
  2. A Christmas Story (1983)
  3. Christmas Vacation (1989)
  4. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  5. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
  6. A Christmas Carol (1999)

My Top Five Animated Christmas Specials:

  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
  2. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1967)
  3. Garfield Christmas (1987)
  4. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (1964)
  5. Frosty The Snowman  (1969)

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Countdown to Christmas-Scrooge (1951)

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It was Christmas Eve 1989 and my wife and I were living in Paris…Texas that is. I had seen A Christmas Carol (1951) before but that year it was hosted by Patrick MacNee and had been colorized. I also had a VCR that could record it for future viewings. Prior to this, I had seen the movie a handful of times and it had already become my personal favorite version of the classic Dickens tale. It was Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge that won me over. For years, that VHS tape was played every Christmas Eve before I eventually bought a better version. Then it was a new DVD and finally the Blu-Ray I now own. And without fail, after everyone was asleep and the children were nestled into their beds fast asleep, I would eat Santa’s cookies and drink his eggnog while I was transported back to England and wondering whether or not Scrooge would learn the errors of his ways.scrooge1951jma11

Released in England under the title Scrooge, it is in my opinion the most faithful and most enduring version to date. Now, I know each version has its’ fans as well as detractors. But I challenge anyone to at least come up with a better Ebenezer Scrooge. Alastair Sims’ change from a hateful miser to a man full of love and good will is never more believable. Now, the film is not overly cheery and, unlike MGM’s 1938 version, the grittiness of the time period is felt with each frame. Director Brian Desmond Hurst is known for some of his other films, most notably Dangerous Moonlight (1941) but Scrooge was his crowning achievement if you base that on longevity. It’s sad to note that the movie was a flop upon its’ initial release in the US. In fact, it was thought so grim it debuted on Halloween instead of Christmas. While popular in England, it wasn’t until 1954 that the movie began to find an audience. WOR-TV in New York played it first that year and it became an annual holiday classic with each passing year. The popularity rose in the 1970s, surpassing the 1938 MGM version for most popular version.

Besides the stellar performance of Sims, there are several highs and a few lows in the cast. Mervyn Johns does an excellent job as Bob Cratchit, if not looking a little too well fed for a man supposedly struggling to keep his family alive. Hermione Baddeley gives an excellent portrayal of Mrs. Cratchit and the children in this version always seem to work the best for me. In particular is Tiny Tim (Glyn Dearman) who is given a happy and crutchless ending scene with “Uncle” Ebenezer. Kathleen Harrison is fantastic as Mrs. Dilber. Horror fans may recognize her from The Ghoul (1933) or The Ghost Train (1941). I also love the screaming done by Michael Hodern as Jacob Marley’s ghost. Of course, there is also Dr. Pretorious himself, Ernest Thesiger, as the undertaker and a young Patrick MacNee, years before he became the dapper Mr. Steed on The Avengers.  I do think there is a bit is a miscast in the Ghost of Christmas Past when viewed in context with the novel but Michael Dolan works for the film.

The film takes a few liberties with the materials. We do get more of a background into the life of young Scrooge. However, I think it enhances his character and is what makes this version stand out amongst the countless attempts over the years to tell this tale. I also like that we get to see Scrooge’s fiancée in the present helping the less fortunate as well as the expansion of Scrooge’s sister, Fan. She is older here than in the book but again it works to further explain why Scrooge is who he is later in the life, a true victim of several key events that would shape and twist him for many years.

scrooge1951 2Alastair Sim became so connected to the role that he reprised it in the 1971 Chuck Jones produced animated television special. Michael Hordern also reprised the role of Marley. The short was released to the theaters in 1972, eventually winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Sadly, this version remains unreleased on DVD but easily found on YouTube and definitely worth a viewing.

A Christmas Carol is most definitely recommended and would surely be in my personal top ten movies of all time. It’s readily available on DVD and Blu-Ray as well as YouTube. This year, I may very well be watching this twice. I viewed the movie a few days earlier than normal so I could introduce this classic to my good friends Joe and Phil. It should be no surprise that they loved it. However, Christmas Eve just won’t seem right without it so I do believe it will be revisited again before Christmas morning.

Countdown to Christmas-A Christmas Story (1983)

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acstoryIt has no ghosts of Christmas past nor visions of what life would be had we never been born, but A Christmas Story is one of my personal favorite Christmas movies. However, when it was released in November 1983, it went unnoticed. Earning only $2 million in its’ first weekend, critics hated it and it was gone in most theaters by the time Christmas arrived. It’s journey from failure to being recognized by the Library of Congress in 2012 is an interesting one.

The movie is based the short stories of Jean Shepherd and his book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Set in Christmas somewhere in the late 30s or early 40s, it centers on nine-year-old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) who wants only one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB gun. Of course, everyone instantly tells him he’ll shoot his eye out, so he tries in vain to convince his teacher and parents just how important it is. His teach gives him a C+ on a report about and his parents seem oblivious to his efforts. His last hope is Santa Claus. However, the trip to visit Santa at a local department store turns disastrous due to his freezing up at the last moment. Now, one can argue, that particular scene is quite horrific. A pretty traumatic moment many people can probably relate to regarding a visit to see Santa or the Easter Bunny. Of course, along the way, we have a series of vignettes that are truly a slice of Americana circa 1940. We have the bully and his sidekick who torture Ralphie and his friends, the tongue on the freezing flagpole incident, Ralphie cursing while trying to help his dad change a flat tire, the Chinese restaurant carolers, etc. The list goes on and on and funny events leading up to the big day. And all along the way, we are dealt a visual feast with a soundtrack of classic Christmas music from days gone by.A-christmas-story

In 1983, nostalgia for the past really hadn’t kicked in yet. Christmas movies hadn’t quite become the craze they are today. It’s A Wonderful Life hadn’t quite become an annual institution and cable television was in its’ infancy. But what was lost on theater audiences in 1983 would soon find its’ way into our homes. It was released on VHS in 1984 and first appeared in cable TV in 1985 on HBO. By the mid-90s, it had become a holiday staple at Turner Broadcasting, culminating in the first 24-hour marathon on TNT in 1997. Since 2004, the marathon is viewed by millions every year on TBS. That’s not even counting all of the home video releases on VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, DVD, HD DVD and Blu-Ray. Not bad for a film that flopped.

The cast is charming. Besides the adorable Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, Darren McGavin (Kolchak The Night Stalker) plays The Old Man while Melinda Dillon (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) is Ralphie’s mom.  Add young Ian Petrella as Ralphie’s younger brother Randy, and you have the Parker family. Jean Shepherd provides the wonderful narration as an older Ralphie reflecting on year’s gone by. Often forgotten is a 1994 sequel called My Summer Story. It’s cute but rather forgettable due to an entirely different cast with two exceptions. Tedde Moore returned as Ralphie’s teacher and Jean Shepherd was back as the narrator. There are also several PBS special that are also forgotten. And we won’t even mention a horrendous sequel called A Christmas Story 2 that was released in 2012.ralphie

Many of us get nostalgic for Christmas past this time of year. And while this movie was set a little before my time, it does give me a fairly accurate glimpse of the life my own parents would have had as they were born in the early 1930s. Take a break from the monsters and killer Santa Claus to take a step back into a simpler time. Its 90 minutes you won’t regret spending on one of the very best Christmas movies of all time.

Countdown to Christmas-Saint Nick (2010)

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Looking for a Christmas horror movie that feels like a 80s teen slasher flick? Look no further than Saint Nick (2010). The Dutch film is better known as Sint and is a mix of gory horror with a little bit of unintentional comedy. Remember that scene in Miracle on 34th Street where Kris Kringle sings about Sinterklaas to the little Dutch girl? Well, Sinterklaas is real but unlike our Santa Claus, he’s a bloodthirsty killer.saint-nick

The movie opens in 1492 with a mob being led by Bishop Niklas on a rampage of killing and looting. That is until one village has had enough and decides to kill Niklas and the gang. Then we flash forward to 1968 and witness a mysterious figure killing a family. Turns out Niklas and his gang return every 23 years on December 5 when there is a full moon to kill once again. The public celebrates December 5 as his birthday when in reality it’s the day he died. What a perfect time for them to return since so many other people are dressed just like them. They blend in, making it the perfect disguise. We flash forward again to 2010 and it’s time for Niklas (Huub Stupel) and his gang to kill once again. The gang look burned as that is how they died in real life. Bullets can’t kill them but fire scares them away.  Why don’t Jason or Freddy has a gang of sidekicks?

Our main hero is Frank (Egbert Jan Weeber), who is falsely accused of being the killer. Caro Lenssen is his girlfriend Lisa, somewhat shy and innocent. Then we have the ex-girlfriend Sophie (Escha Tanihatu) who is marked for death the minute we see here playing the role of babysitter. And finally we have Goert (Bert Luppes), a survivor of the ’68 killings who witnessed Niklas and is now a cop being laughed off the police force because he can’t get anyone to believe in what he saw. The characters are all created in the standard 80s slasher flick mode. Basic characters who are played by interchangeable actors.

saint nick 2The acting here is acceptable, not quite up to award-winning status but clearly above most direct-to-DVD dreck these days. There are some questionable CGI moments but better than you’re going to see in your average Saturday night SyFy “classic”. You have to admit the scene of Niklas riding his horse on the rooftops as he’s being chased is definitely different. The old school makeup for the gang works but is nothing spectacular. However, the image of Niklas is what makes this movie work. With his bishop outfit, staff and horse shrouded in the shadows, one would think he’s been taking slasher acting lessons from Jason and Michael Myers. Who needs a machete when a staff does the trick? We get a fair amount of gore, which is where the CGI goes astray. Would it really hurt these modern day horror film makers to use real blood instead of paying the local computer expert to insert the fake blood?

One of the more interesting aspects of the movie has to deal with the mystery behind the killings. Spoiler Alert!  It turns out the authorities are behind a massive cover-up involving the Catholic Church. The added background is interesting and a good twist. Not necessarily your run-of-the-mill slasher back for revenge. While Saint Nick lacks the presentation that we had in Rare Exports, it does give children another reason to be scared of the man in the red suit. I recommend Saint Nick for a change-of-pace if you go in with lower expectations. It’s available on DVD but make sure you watch it with sub-titles. Not necessarily a new tradition but worth a look.

Countdown to Christmas-Rare Exports (2010)

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rare-exportsNow I love all the usual suspects when it comes to Christmas movies. However, I also enjoy those that are also just a little different. When I first heard about Rare Exports, I thought the premise sounded very interesting. And when I finally acquired a copy prior to the official DVD release I wasn’t disappointed…for the most part.

Rare Exports is a 2010 horror film made in Finland. The story is simple as it centers around an archeological dig on the Korvatunturi Mountain. When they reach a certain level, they discover sawdust, which doesn’t make any sense. Well, that is except to their mysterious benefactor who reveals the mountain as the largest burial mound in the world. The sawdust was once used to keep ice cold. Could something be frozen in the ground? He hands out new instructions to all of the men on the dig. They can no longer smoke or curse and must wash behind their ears and he’s very serious. In hiding and watching the men are two young boys, Pietari (Onni Tommila) and Jusso (Ilmari Jarvenpaa). They soon flee and leave the compound through a hole in a fence. As explosions continue to happen, the local townsmen are ready for their annual reindeer herding, planning for the winter with the deer meat bringing in top dollar. However, the deer never show and are soon discovered to have been slaughtered. Something came through the hole in the fence. Russian wolves? Only young Pietari understands what’s happening. As it turns out, Santa Claus is not the jolly old man we believe him to be. Pietari is reading through graphic books depicting Santa as a bloodthirsty savage who enjoys beating and torturing children. As the townsmen storm the fence to confront the men at the dig, they find a large hole in the ground and everyone is gone. Later, back at Pietari’s house, his father has set a trap that ends up capturing an old man. Thinking him to be a dead American, it’s soon revealed he’s very much alive with a taste for gingerbread. Is he really Santa Claus or is Santa something even more horrific?

Going into this movie, it’s best to watch it in the original Finnish with subtitles. It adds to the overall bleak tone of the film, full of clouds and cold, snowy backgrounds. I’m fairly certain we don’t see a smile until the end of the movie and the only women we see are in the background. Pietari and his father, Rauno, are clearly broken. It’s implicated that the mother has passed away sometime recently. Rauno misses his wife and loves his son but he has emotionally shut down. As the movie progresses, everyone is clueless as heaters start missing, potato sacks disappear and children aren’t returning home. Pietari tries to get everyone to listen but he’s too young to know any better, right? Think again! He’s cute as he carries around his stuffed…whatever that thing was. He soon is wearing hockey gear and a board over his behind. He’s ready for this Santa Claus.

I won’t give away any spoilers other than to reveal that things are not quite what they seem. The blood and gore is almost non-existent. However, there are some very chilling scenes as the old man comes to life when Pietari enters the room. Then, as more old men begin to appear, a sense of panic and being overwhelmed reminds one of being surrounded by zombies. However, these zombies are carrying weapons and are clearly very intelligent with a primary mission. At less than 90 minutes and readily available on DVD, I highly recommend you add this to your 2012 Christmas viewing. It’s not cheery and leaves you wanting a little more at the end. No Christmas carols here but if you’re looking for a holiday scare, you’ll get a few. The only negative would be the ending. We never quite see what’s reveled in the warehouse and the ending…well, it does require you stretch your imagination a little. Still, there was something fun about watching a Finnish horror movie. After all, how many of those do you have in your collection?

Countdown to Christmas-Gremlins (1984)

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Releasing Christmas themed movies in the summer is not a new practice. Miracle on 34th Street, one of the most holiday themed movies you’ll ever watch, was released in May 1947. So one has to wonder why the powers-that-be felt June 1984 was a good time to release Gremlins. Granted, it’s not necessarily your usual sugary Christmas movie but it is always odd watching a Christmas movie in any other month than December or maybe November.

Gremlins is a solid mix of horror and comedy. In fact, the horror elements are pushed to the limits. Originally rated PG, this was one of several 1984 movies that resulted in the creation of the PG-13 rating. The biggest complaint parents had at the time was that it was marketed to kids with the cute little Mogwai named Gizmo. Of course, what they also got were the other gremlins attacking Santa Claus and trying to kill everyone. Ultimately, critics didn’t like it and, although there was concern upon its’ first release, it has become an iconic movie of the 80s.Gremlins 1

Our movie begins in Chinatown as inventor Rand Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) is trying to find a Christmas gift for his son. In an antique shop, he discovers the cute little Mogwai. Shop owner Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) doesn’t want to sell it as it requires great responsibility. However, his grandson secretly sells it as they need the money. Now, you all remember the three rules don’t you? Keep it out of bright light, don’t get it wet and never feed it after midnight. Yes, we break two of those three rules and chaos ensues. Rand gives it to his son Billy (Zach Galligan) and everything goes well at first. That is until young Pete (Corey Feldman) accidently spills water on Gizmo. It turns out water causes Gizmo to produce more little Mogwai. However, these are different. They seem to be more aggressive and follow a leader named Stripe. Stripe tricks Billy into feeding them after midnight and then they transform into hideous little creatures. Turns out these may very well be the gremlins of lore that plague airplanes and terrified William Shatner in that classic Twilight Zone episode. The gremlins quickly multiply and terrify the town. Gizmo ends up saving the day before Mr. Wing returns to reclaim his Mogwai as man isn’t ready yet for them yet.

Our cast is full of 80s goodness. Hoyt Axton is a country musician who turned to acting in the 70s and 80s. Zach Galligan is one of those 80s stars who has kept busy over the years but his glory days were left behind with parachute pants and multi-colored neon sweaters. Phoebe Cates starred in numerous 80s movies before marrying actor Kevin Kline and essentially retiring from Hollywood. Of course, Corey Feldman is well-known for his string of classic 80s movies as much as his antics outside of the cinema. B movie legend Dick Miller turns in a funny performance as Murray Futterman and some of you may or may not remember actress Polly Holiday who played Mrs. Deagle. She’s better remembered as Flo from the TV series Alice. Bank manager Roland Corben is the very recognizable actor Edward Andrews and a young Judge Reinhold plays aspiring millionaire Gerald Hopkins. Mr. Wing was played by Keye Luke, another Hollywood B movie legend who starred in countless movies and TV series, such as the Charlie Chan film series and as Master Po in Kung Fu. We get cameos from the likes of William Schallert and Chuck Jones. And yes, that was Howie Mandel as the voice of Gizmo.

gremlins 2Gremlins feels like two movies. It starts off as a fun movie about the cute little Gizmo. But once we start getting more gremlins, it turns into a sometimes surprisingly graphic and scary movie. These gremlins weren’t just mischievous, they wanted to kill. It was a big hit in 1984 and again in 1985, when it was re-released to theaters. In 1985, it also became a huge hit on the video rental market. A sequel was released in 1990 that went more for the comedy than the darkness of the original. Gremlins also started a string of copycat films like Ghoulies and Critters. Not to mention all of the games and toys that came out of the movie and are still found on toy store shelves today.

However, as intense as it was in 1984, it does seem a little tame by today’s standards. And that is just fine by me. I was very surprised at well the movie aged. Having not seen it for many years, I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it for a change of pace during the Christmas season. It’s readily available on DVD and, as an added bonus, check out episode 226 of the B-Movie Podcast. Vince and the gang review it just in time for Christmas.