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To many people Christmas means seeing the family, swapping gifts, rich food and plenty of booze. For myself, Christmas certainly means all of that but it is also an excuse for a bad horror movies!
This horror desire could well be down to BBC2’s strange tradition of screening random horror films late on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, or simply the fact it gets darker earlier during this season making me long for the macabre. At any rate, I seem to make time for additional time for cheap, potentially dumb, horror film over Christmas.
For 2013, I decided to put some time aside to watch some lesser-known sequels to another movie I own, the 1980’s holiday-horror film, Silent Night, Deadly Night. Although I have actually not gotten around to seeing Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2 yet, when the opportunity came up earlier in the year to obtain a nifty little 3 disc set that jumps over Silent Night… 2 straight onto its three (!) further sequels I simply could not resist the purchase.
[As a quick aside, this entry is must dedicated to my watching all three of these films without knowing anything about them in advance. Oddly enough though, I do know that a fellow blogger John Squires (R.I.P. Freddy in Space) has written a considerably detailed history of all this franchise this very same Christmas.
I am intentionally not reading John’s work before watching these three movies. I want my thoughts on this trio of movies to my genuine first impressions as an uninformed viewer. Still, for anyone curious to learn more about the history of this entire franchise you can find links to Squire’s no-doubt interesting write up’s at this address.
Right, that’s enough promoting of the pro’s, now it’s back to amateur hour via my own blog.].
Come the 22nd of December 2013, I had the DVD set in hand, a black Santa hat on my head, and a Silent Night Deadly Night shirt on my belly. So I was all set finally time to assess the Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 3-5 set
Let’s get it on!!!
Silent Night Deadly Night Part 3: Better Watch Out!
Boy, did they nail the second part of this title… but I’ll get back to this later. Bonus points for adding the ‘!’ into the actual title, though.
OK, a small amount of back story is required to fill in this particular movie. In the first Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) the lead character is Billy Caldwell. As a boy, Billy witnesses his parents killed by a convict dressed as Santa (alongside some additional X-rated, X-mas traumas over different years of development). Billy and his younger brother Ricky end up in Orphange.
Eventually Billy ends up snapping as a young adult. Donning a Santa outfit he sets out to kill anyone he doesn’t like over a festive period. Billy ends up gunned down by the police in front of Ricky.
Consequently, the equally-traumatised Ricky ends up the Santa-clad killer in Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2. Although I have not seen Part 2, Part 3 makes this clear through a combination of stock footage and exposition-filled dialogue.
So Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! Takes place with the set-up that Ricky Caldwell was a killer St. Nick who ended up gunned down by the police and was presumed dead.
Rookie mistake! It is always a terrible assumption that any Slasher has been dispatched in a horror film if you haven’t seen them vaporised at the heart of a nuclear blast and then had their radioactive ashes blasted into space- and even then it’s still a bit murky.
So, with a little back story in place, we can return to the first movie of this set.
Silent Night… Part 3 opens with a girl in her Twenties taking part in a dream-link experiment at College. This is Laura. As will become clear, Laura is a psychic. For some reason 80’s Slasher films seemed very keen on Psychic girls as opponents for brutish killers, since A Nightmare on Elm Street part 4, Friday 13th Part 7 and Phantasm II all had similar rivals.
Not only is Laura psychic but via this experiment, she is also being linked up to the mind of the comatose Ricky Caldwell! As expected Ricky is not dead at all- instead he has a ‘brain bubble’ places around his now-absent cranium. Apparently his brain was shot out in Part 2 and this College Professor decided to rebuild said brain for no apparent reason, and then seal it off in a glass dome. That’s College Professor’s for you; far too much time on their hands.
Ricky is played by noted horror character actor Bill Mosely, possibly best known for his fun turn as Chop-Top in A Texas Chain Saw Massacre Part 2 and for being outright chilling as Otis in The Devil’s Rejects. In Silent Night… 3, Bill looks a bit less scary than any of the other roles I have seen him in. Ricky looks like if Dr. Frankenstein decided to mix a man and a Goldfish Bowl.
Although Laura is linked to Ricky, she herself is not even aware of this. She believes she is just helping out her Professor with his theories on Psychic capabilities and reformation of criminals. Laura is oblivious to Rickey’s past and to the experiments aim. As the Professor tactfully puts it,
“She’ll let me go as deep as I want. She likes me”.
Nope, nothing creepy about that line.
Anyhoo, in addition to being psychic, Laura is also blind. I actually did not even pick up on this for about a third of the movie. Most likely because I was so distracted at what a complete bitch she is to everyone. Seriously. In fact her own back story gets explained that she lost her sight in a plane crash that killed both her parents, and all I could think was good- they didn’t have to live and find out what a horrible **** she turned out to be.
One extra person that did survive though was her brother, Chris. Laura, Chris and his new girlfriend all head to the sibling’s Grandmother’s house for Christmas. Unfortunately for them, Ricky wakes up out of his coma, and thanks to his link with Laura, he has the same plan. Even more unfortunately for them though, Ricky is heading there to murder them all rather than open presents.
Luckily a man with a Goldfish-bowl for a skull and dressed only in a hospital gown is still able to hitch-hike with no problem. So he actually gets to the cabin long before the Siblings and even stops for a few murders along the way.
Meanwhile, the Professor and an obsessed-Cop give chase to Ricky and it all amounts to three equally dull journeys to the same spot. The companions vary from Queen Bitch Laura repeatedly insulting her brother’s girlfriend, Ricky acting like a retarded robot and the bickering professionals who constantly discuss punishment vs rehabilitation. Still, I suppose it wouldn’t be Christmas without a horrible journey. Oh, and then they arrive and kill one another.
The only two things gained from watching Silent Night…3 were firstly learning that even the charismatic Bill Mosely can actually be dull in a film, and secondly that Ricky is revealed to set off into his rages by the colour Red. It’s a bit surprising he chases Laura and Chris then since they wear washed-out blue denim jeans and jackets.
On the plus side, I still like the fact the Sub-Title ‘Better Watch Out!‘ includes an exclamation mark, so I guess it has that going for it.
Christmas rating= “A lump of coal. Did you keep the receipt???”
Silent Night Deadly Night Part 4: Initiation
After Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! I feel ready for anything. My instincts are that whatever Part 4 is like it can’t be any duller than the last entry. Luckily within the first 5 minutes, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation already has more excitement in it than in all of Part 3.
For a start, the film opens with Clint Howard- to me always a little kid from Gentle Ben no matter how many weird Horror films he crops up in- eating Pizza out of a trash can. Suddenly a flaming body tumbles off of a tall building. Then the credits explain just why this shift to action has taken place as it turns out Silent Night Deadly Night Part 4: Initiation was co-written and directed by Society and Re-Animator’s Brian Yuzna! Wooo! Jackpot!
Initiation presents Kim a trashy tabloid clerk wanting to be a respected journalist. She is held back at work by misogynistic staff, helmed by Phantasm’s Reggie Bannister. (Wow, a Phantasm star is a part of this movie along with Clint Howard and Brian Yuzna. This film just got even more interesting!)
To be fair to Kim’s Co-Workers, she is sleeping with the lead journalist at the office and only gets this assignment at his behest. There is no doubt Kim is being held back due to being a woman in all of the office scenes, but sleeping with a man and getting favours is hardly a way to assert her own professionalism in my opinion.
Anyway, now that Kim is on the case, she begins investigating the flaming-body. A little bit of gum shoe action leads Kim to a weird book store in the same building that the victim leapt from. This book store is run by Fima and frequented by Clint Howard, who is called Ricky presumably in a nod to the earlier movies. Despite having just met Fima leans in and kisses Kim as she buys a book. Sadly, I have never had that kind of customer service 🙁
Fima and Kim end up best friends whilst Kim investigates her story. Throughout Initiation, Fima keeps drugging Kim with food and drink, but Kim doesn’t seem to notice. Arguably she’s really not all that sharp for an Investigative Journalist. It turns out Fima and assorted cronies are all Egyptian Witches, out to resurrect her daughter/their god in Kim’s body. it’s all very obvious, really.
All of Initiation is a weird watch. Amongst the odder sights are giant cockroaches, a prophetic Spaghetti meal, a Poltergeheist II-type puking scene and a rape involving Clint Howard in A Clockwork Orange.
In fact, Clint Howard as a mask-wearing rapist is actually pretty damn unsettling and something I certainly never expected to witness in a Christmas movie!
Initiation is cheap to look at and not really scary, but it is also inventive and tries to say something about the additional pressures Women face in the world. Whilst not anything more than a curiosity, at least it is an easy one film sit back and watch due to its bizarre nature.
Oh and you may have noticed a lack of any mention of Christmas aspects raised in discussing Initiation. That is because this is virtually Christmas free, despite keeping the title of Silent Night Deadly Night for this film. At least that is fitting with the fact the film revolves around a different, ancient religion.
In fact the only link really is that at one stage Kim is having sex with her boyfriend when Clint Howard walks in on them, snoops for a bit and then puts on the TV whilst they still go at it. And what does Clint watch? Why, Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!
How’s that for synergy?!?!
Christmas rating= “Thank’s for the nice Valentine’s gift. It’s clearly not Christmas after all, but I liked it all the same”
Silent Night Deadly Night Part 5: The Toy Maker
Last up in this set comes Silent Night Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker. Since Part 4 ditched Christmas and killer Santa’s altogether, I have no idea what to expect here beyond the inclusion of toys. So just as long as that is not the Robin William’s Toys I figure this film will be worth a shot.
Right off the bat, Part 5 opens with a child, a toy and a death. Young Derek, receiving a new toy for Christmas from an unknown source, ends up the sole witness when the toy promptly murders his dad. Well, not exactly ‘murder’.
The toy is a wooden ball that converts into a ball and gag, attaches itself to the face of the victim. It then waits for said victim to stumble and hit their head. As deadly weapons go, it seems pretty ill-conceived and ellaborate compared to something simpler, say a toy that is poisoned, sharp or explosive.
A few days on and for some bizarre reason, Derek keeps the killer toy in his bedroom. Derek is in shock at what happened to his father, but hey Christmas is Christmas so the grieving mother sets out to get Derek a new toy to cheer him up. After all nothing says “We will never forget him” like “Let’s go shopping!” She takes Derek to the local toy store which is owned and run by Mr. Joe Petto along with his son, Pino.
Pino walks very stiffly and acts emotionally cold. Between the names ‘Joe Petto’ and ‘Pino’ and Pino’s movements, there are no prizes for guessing where The Toy Maker is going.
Joe Petto- do you see? DO YOU?!?!?
In an act of genius or desperation, Joe is played by the usually more family-friendly Disney actor, Mickey Rooney. You may also remember him ‘yellowed up’ in his sensitive portrayal of a Japanese business man in the otherwise excellent Breakfast At Tiffany’s. In Silent Night… 5 Rooney is wonderfully creepy although not so much due to his acting as to the sheer bizarreness of his very presence.
Yes, as you may well have guessed, Pino is a robot boy. The film’s plot deals with the uncovering of his and Joe’s attempts to main children via deadly toys. I would give a reason, but if you’ve ever been shopping for children at in December you’ll know understand their vitriol. Derek, his mother, and his long-lost real dad all set out to save the day which leads to a final encounter in the basement of the Toy Store.
Of note in The Toy Maker is one undeniably eerie moment during this final battle. Once Pino is reveled to be a life-size Action Man, he claims that Derek should die and Derek’s Mother should be his new Mommy. So he attempts to rape her with his shiny, sexless crotch whilst screaming ‘I love you Mommy’ over and over. He has also killed his own father at this stage, so this is about as Oedipal as it gets.
Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker was certainly better than Part 3, but not as good as the Brian Yuzna- helmed Part 4. For any flaws, Part 5 is easily the most Christmas- based of all the movies though, and the concept of killer toys designed to kill children is an ideal concept for anyone after a Christmas horror flick.
Christmas rating= “A Turkey, the sort that is still uncooked in the middle”.
So there we are. I ended 2013 watching these three movies and learned that the best one is the only one that has nothing to do with Christmas. Oh well, at least they’ve all now been watched. With that all done it is time to give Silent Night, Deadly Night 3-5 the boot. Well, the stocking.
Next time will be Gluttony-based chop-socky. Hai-yahh!
Thanks for reading.
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The YTC podcast can be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/
As is a personal tradition, on my recent birthday I went to a particular second-hand shop in West London. This is one of my my favourite shops in London as it specialises in obscure art books, music biographies and Graphic Novels. I love going here on my birthdays as I always have some spare cash, and like Forest’s proverbial Chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
Frankly it also reminds me I am still an immature man-baby and not actually getting any older except for now sighing when I get off the sofa.
After spending some of this years birthday pennies (thanks Nan!) I left the shop with several trade paperbacks, including a few of Mike Carey’s run on the Hellblazer comic. Hellblazer may be better known to some readers by the protagonists surname- Constantine. John Constantine. In fact there was a surprisingly slick film with the same title of Constantine based on this property a decade or so ago, although it certainly bore only a passing resemblance to the source material.
Hellblazer is about a British occultist who generally saves the world from demons via sacrificing his friends lives. Only in the broadest terms is Constantine ‘a hero’ in that he does frequently stop supernatural menaces. He is perhaps far more comparable to being ‘a villain’ for his affect on those around him. Bitter, sarcastic, chain-smoking and always in trouble, John Constantine is a Noir figure all of his own. (Or, based on that same description, he’s just a typical surly teenager from Watford).
Now all of this introduction revolving around Hellbalzer/Constantine has only the slightest link to today’s blog. You see I have had a film lurking in my pile to watch for some time. Since I was a child, in fact. A film based on a comic property that I own on DVD but that I have never watched before. A film to rival my previous blog on the adaptation of Marvel Comic’s Man-Thing (http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/hollyweird/hollyweird-episode-xxiv-behold-my-mighty-man-thing/). The film in question is based on a different comic franchise to Hellbalzer, and was actually the first title that John Constantine appeared in as a supporting cast member. Today;s film is DC’s Swamp Thing!
Swamp Thing was always a film that somehow passed me by during my childhood. It came out in 1982, and I was born in 1981. Yet still I knew it existed. I knew of the comic character. I knew of the cartoon series. I remember the film posters in back issues of comics. As a comic-nerd of the 1990’s, I sought out every Superhero film that I could. In the days before Hollywood was interested this ranged from episodes of The Incredible Hulk featuring dodgy versions of Thor and Daredevil, to a Captain America movie made with the budget f a happy hour at the pub.
So it was odd that somehow Swamp Thing always eluded me. It was just one of those films that was never on TV, was not stocked in the local VHS rental shop and that none of my friends owned. What made this even stranger in hindsight is that it was directed by Wes Craven, a gentleman who’s films I grew up loving, from the obvious A Nightmare On Elm Street through to a very worn out copy of The People Under The Stairs.
Curiously enough, growing up I had seen the 1989 sequel, the imaginatively titled The Return Of Swamp Thing. Perhaps memories of how poor the sequel was put me off ever truly investing in tracking down the original.
A movie based on a comic book license that was directed by a horror genre legend had somehow remained unseen by me into my thirties. Now reaching 32, enough was enough and it was time to put that dusty old disc into the DVD player.
Almost instantly, one cast member on screen is a familiar face, Adrienne Barbeau. Barbeau is more familiar to me through Escape From New York, The Fog, Creepshow and- might I add unashamedly- a personal favourite, Cannonball Run.
Barbeau is playing Alice Cable, a Government Agent assigned to report on some mysterious research taking place in the back-swamps of Louisiana. Nothing more is explained to her other than the secrecy is being done to avoid ‘Arcane’ finding out about the project.
After Adrienne Barbeau’s appearance has intrigued me a little, another actor soon draws me in even more. For one thing, this performer is playing a thug who kills another man by snake. Yeah that’s right. A snake. Murder by snake. Guns are for cowards, knives are for chefs, but snakes are for the creative sort of assailant!
As assailants go, they don’t come much more intimidating than this actor, particularly for anyone familiar with his previous turn in Craven’s Last House On The Left. Playing the lead henchmen in Swamp Thing is Mr. David Hess.
Hess is capable in both The Last House… and in this feature too of giving off an aura of uncertain scuzziness, as if either film could take a nasty turn into snuff territory at any moment. I have read reports that the actor, and musician, David Hess was a lovely man. So credit to him for it not showing it through this work.
Cue the Opening Credits. These clearly imply the tone that Craven was most likely aiming for. The credits run via odd screen wipes and boxed off images, giving them a staggered, graphical quality. In other words, at this point it is pretty clear that the film will be an homage to Comic Book sensibilities. Once the credits pass, the narrative returns. Already the film has featured an established horror actress and a familiar, creepy sidekick. What we need now is a hero. A man who screams strength and dignity. Surprisingly then, it’s Ray Wise.
Wise plays Dr Alec Holland, a man working on a plant-animal genetic splicing formula. He hopes to be able to grow plants that can survive in any environment to solve world hunger- which is certainly an admirable goal, although mixing daisies and doves hardly seems the most practical approach. Still, to each their own. Wise manages to fills this role as Dr. Holland with a sense of decency and warmth early on, as well a s a fun-loving energy.
In part down to this charisma, the Doc and Agent Cable begin to bond pretty quickly. Whilst they develop feelings for one another he also finds the breakthrough in his formula. Go Dr. Holland! Quite a week for the big guy!
But since every silver lining has a cloud, the whispered bad guy from earlier, ‘Arcane’, finally appears. In fact he has actually been working with Holland all this time in disguise. Played by Lois Jordan, who was also the bad guy in oo7’s Octopussy adventure, Arcane is a literal ‘mad doctor’. He is obsessed with immortality and believes Holland’s solution can lead to it.
Arcane and his crew, amongst them is the gleeful David Hess, kill the Doctor’s research team and steal almost all of his notebooks- all except for the final one. Agent Cable gets away with this crucial book during the chaos. During this attack, Alec is covered in his plant-animal solution and then set on fire. He runs off screaming into the Swamp, which is probably a good call when burning alive.
This shot of Holland running whilst ablaze is actually very impressive. This is done through a long, single take. These days it would most likely be done via CGI and look nowhere near as good, so kudos to the stunt team for this set piece.
Sadly for this impressive stunt, the entire action scene has a camp value that detracts from it. Aside from the dated haircuts or comic book tone established early on, the fact this scene look laughably awful is due to the fact that ‘the swamp’ is an over lit studio.
By making a crucial set piece seem so fake at this stage the result does not pay homage to comic book fun nor present some hammy replica of schlock horror films. It just looks dumb.
Oh well, whatever, never mind… With Holland covered in his plant-animal chemical and running into the bayou, can you possibly whatever happened to Dr Holland?? I’ll give you a pictoral clue…
This is terrible, but the fact the film takes almost completely in daylight certainly does not help things. Some shadows and slime can go a long way in cinematic creature design.
As if all that isn’t bad enough, at this stage the mute Swamp Thing is now played by Stunt Man Dick Durock. No more Ray Wise. Sigh.
Back to the plot, each time that Non-Ray-Wise-Now-A-Stunt-Man-Swamp-Thing appears, it is to try and save his new love, Agent Cable. His powers are not made particularly clear, although he is very strong and mostly impervious to damage. He can also raise the dead, but that barely gets used for some reason.
Not that such powers help him much. When Arcane works out the link between Agent Cable and Swamp Thing, he lures Swampy into a trap. In a sudden flash, Arcane strikes with… (drum roll)… a net!
He also gets an arm cut off, but luckily a shard of daylight grows it back quite late into the film. Which is pretty nonsensical given he walked around in the sunlight when it happened without healing. Ah well. In a film about an animal-plant hybrid it is difficult to get upset by such issues.
The rest of the film has its plotting that I’m just going to shorten into the key parts; there is a little boy who run convenience store, Adrienne Barbeau’s boobs, David Hess killing people, a muscle man getting turned into a cigar-smoking midget, more boobs, and finally Arcane mutating into a giant Wolf-Thing that faces off with Dr. Holland. At least I assume it was Wolf-thing. The costume is hard to tell beyond ‘furry’ and ‘cheap’.
I have skimped over quite a lot of Swamp Thing film because it is an average watch and not particularly memorable in itself. What actually makes it a more of an interesting watch though is the simple fact that this is a Wes Craven movie. Swamp Thing does not look like any of his others. The cinematography is brightly lit. The design work features pastel tones mixing with more vibrant, primary colours. Outdoor locations are used more than I can recall in his other movies. Even the pace of the film is even more rollicking, seeming more like a family adventure movie than the majority of his work, which naturally is in horror and requires a different speed to it.
As such as a curiosity for Craven fans, Swamp Thing is well worth seeing. But fans of the actual Swamp Thing comic will most likely want something a bit truer to the comic book of recent decades which is more focused on existentialism, ecology, and psychological horrors. Similarly, casual fans of Wes Craven’s more renowned genre movies, such as Scream, A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Last House On the Left may be a little disappointed at the more lightweight, irreverent feel of Swamp Thing.
To Swamp Thing’s credit, the film does at least vaguely stick to the source material as opposed to the Man-Thing movie, even if neither are very strong in their own right. Yet out of the two Out of the two, Swamp Thing is definitely a lot more fun to watch. This is mainly down to the strong cast and breezy direction. Oddly enough, if comparing the two movie adaptations of their similar-looking comic counterparts, it is probably the mysterious man at the back who comes out best. To return to the start of this blog, it is the man who first appeared in the Swamp Thing comic, John Constantine, that has the best film adaptation out there via Constantine.
Perversely though, also Constantine ditched almost everything recognisable from the original comic.
Hmm, Food for thought. Or perhaps just ‘food for things’ in this case.
Next time I’ll be writing up a little festive trilogy for Christmas. Three whole films in one new blog! Wow, what a present! I suppose a friend of mine was once correct when he stated “Santa comes but once a year, but when he does he fills a stocking”.
Thanks for reading.