Deadly Little Christmas 2009
Directed by: Novin Shakiba
Starring: Felissa Rose, Monique La Barr, Noa Geller
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I used to think when I was watching all these slasher features that the directors must have been massive genre fans. In my youthful foolishness, I really believed that they had been as much inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween as I had been and were paying homage through their own attempt at creating something similar. The reality is nowhere near as romantic though and the truth is that money was the domineering factor behind the production of most releases during the cycle’s heyday. Studios looked at the minimal budget of those hits and the income that they generated and rolled out any director that was willing to work for an agreeable rate. There are very few entries that have been made by people with a respect or true love for the sub-genre, which I guess is human nature. Money always comes first.
But, this one could be slightly different. There’s been a bit of a lull in the popularity of slashers for the past few years, so there are better cinematic avenues for a quick turn of cash. Deadly Little Christmas has a great cover with a tag line that says, ‘First there was Halloween, then Friday the 13th. Now the scariest day of them all’. It was shot in 2009 and I couldn’t help thinking that Novin Shakiba could be a guy just like me. Someone who grew up watching and loving these pictures and now he finally got the chance to make his own tribute to them.
It kicks off fifteen years ago in familiar territory with the murder of an adulterous father and his mistress with a blade on Christmas day. A kid walks outside with the knife in his hand and we are treated to a very similar shot to the one from the opening of Halloween and an almost identical score (just played in a slightly different key). Go to modern day and we learn that he has been in an asylum for the past fifteen years and has become mute. You know what’s coming next, right? He breaks out the day before Xmas and heads back to the town where his family reside…
There have been so many DTV quickies released since 1996 that even most true category enthusiasts don’t bother with them and focus more of their attention on the rarities from the eighties. I must admit that even I have trouble sitting through films like Camp Blood and its numerous bottom shelf sharing counterparts, but every now and then you can come across one that makes the hunt worthwhile.
Deadly Little Christmas certainly looks cheap and shows obvious signs of being rolled out on the lowest imaginable budget. This is most evident in its choice of location for the majority of the action, which is a community hall; probably the one most local to producer David Sterling’s house. Now Sterling has a bigger list of B-movie titles under his belt than Ron Jeremy has porn appearances, but some of them are so obscure that they’re not listed on most film sites. I have spoken to directors that have worked with him and been told that he sticks to the tightest of budgets, once not fronting a measly $20 for a prop that was essential to the story. I was also informed that he had managed a shoot that had finished some five minutes under the required runtime, so he decided to chuck in a lesbian sex scene that had no coherence to the story whatsoever. There is of course a market for this kind of thing, but it’s not one that particularly interests me.
As you can imagine and being that slasher movies are relatively simple to manufacture, he has been involved in quite a few and many of them are the worst kind. Deadly Little Christmas is another of that ilk, which only separates itself by having the right ideas, but nowhere near enough of what’s needed to realise them. Shakiba is ambitious with his method of allowing his plot to dictate the flow of the movie, but it is hampered by awful performances and a notably weak script. There’s a twist that was hinted at a number of times and therefore given away far too early, which means that it is everything but a shock when finally revealed.
Between all the lame drawn out dialogue there are a handful of lamer murders. One of them is hilarious as the actor shakes for about fifteen seconds after being stabbed in the ear (you can see it above). The weapon of choice seems to be a retractable blade and the effects mount to a few litres of red stuff and little else. The lack of budget is reflected in the killer’s guise and there’s nothing intimidating about a hooded top and dime store mask. They went for the age old slasher chestnut of lining up all the corpses around a table for the conclusion, but any atmosphere that could have been built soon vanishes when it results in a shouting match between the remaining cast members, which plays more like a let’s see who can be the least convincing competition. Felissa Rose has been in numerous budget flicks (including Sleepaway Camp), but is really bad and unconvincing here. All of the characters lack charm and allure and most scenes are over written and the point could have been conveyed much quicker. This means that the movie feels tired very early on in the runtime and fails to maintain intrigue.
I think that Novin Shakiba is a fan of the category and it can be seen by the amount that he borrows from Halloween that he wasn’t just in this one for the pay-cheque. But his good ideas don’t stand out because they have been surrounded by poor production values and rancid dramatics. How much of this is the fault of the director himself is questionable. But for whatever reason, there is nothing to raise this one above the rest of Sterling’s back catalogue and it is sadly yet another DTV throwaway; albeit one with a Christmas theme.
Final Girl √
aka La Casa Del Terror
Directed by: John Wintergate
Starring: John Wintergate, Kalassu Kay, Lindsay Freeman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Move over Nail Gun Massacre, make way Last Slumber Party and step aside Night Ripper… There’s a new kid in town… Boarding House is the new contender for king of the trash-video crown. This is a movie so criminally rubbish that you’ll believe that you’ve died and been deported to bad movie hell. I Learnt of its existence from The Terror Trap and then looked it up on the IMDB, where I read various write-ups that described the inadvertent humour and jaw dropping cheesy horror. I immediately set about buying a copy and two weeks later, here’s what I found…
It begins with a prologue showing us murders that have plagued ‘The Hoffman House’. A guy is pushed into a swimming pool, which he bizarrely seems to die from. Another stranger is seen pulling out his intestines and an unseen someone with a black glove forces a woman (that really doesn’t seem too concerned) to hang herself. These are all intercut with a computer screen that shows us in text that every person that has ever so much as entered this abode has ended up either hung, drawn, quartered or has suffered some other gruesome fate. So can you guess who will be the next occupants to move in to the mansion and meet their doom? Why of course you can – it’s a randy telekinetic guy and a troupe of beaming ‘hotties’ with a tonne of mascara but not a trace of common sense between them.
This was the first horror movie to be shot on video, which is a big up yours to Christopher Lewis who made the belated claim that Blood Cult, his semi-slasher effort from three years after, was the first entry of that kind. Funnily enough, this one actually had a theatre run, but I have no idea about its box office successes. I can only guess that it was hardly a massive hit.
Surprisingly, to all intents and purposes, Boarding House is not your typical hack and slasher. Director John Wintergate has chucked in a neat dose of outer-body mayhem, which means that the killer can eliminate the useless thespians without being anywhere near them at the time. This gives us the chance to see the drama school dropouts attempting to look as if they’ve suddenly been possessed by a mysterious hellish agony, without knowing where the hell it’s come from. Cue plenty of unconvincing facial expressions and stilted cries as the cast choke and pull off their faces whilst trying to act like they’re completely unaware why they’re doing it! In one particular scene, our heroine screams consistently for about two minutes while she suffers (yet) another of her ‘terrifying’ nightmares, which I think reached double figures before the final credits rolled. I am not sure what was more affected, my eardrums or her throat after that yelling marathon.
The ‘star’ of the movie, Hank Adly (a guy who looks like Rod Stewart might after 12 grams of coke), provided bucket loads of inadvertent humour. I loved the bit where he made a bar of soap fly around his bathtub to show off his telekinetic abilities and impress the on looking bunnies. There’s certainly plenty of nonsensical activity to bring a smile to the lips to those who cherish those classic bad movie moments. The final scene is particularly hilarious, as the killer and two survivors stand off for a telekinetic battle. Staged like a showdown from a Sergio Leone movie, the three gather in a circle and simultaneously gurn as they each try to inflict psychic pain on one another. It’s hard to give you a description that would do justice to the extent of the inadvertent humour, but trust me – it’s worth its weight in comedy gold. There’s a fair bit of trashy gore, which is cheap but brightens up the screen and all of the female cast members manage to whip off their underwear at one point or another. In other words, there’s just enough exploitation to satisfy most fans and one of the chicks was a real cutie.
Somewhat interestingly, Boarding House was something of a first, because it included a warning for viewers of a weaker disposition that would let us know when something horrific was about to happen. Suddenly, the screen comes alive in a maze of colours and that’s when we the audience know that someone is going to get dismembered. I must admit that this was a novel idea if we were about to sit down and watch a Lucio Fulci marathon. I’m not exaggerating my claim however when I state that my four-year-old daughter can create more realistic body parts with her Play Doh kit. This is especially evident in the ‘intestine ripping’ scene, which is clearly an actor pulling corn-syrup coated sausages from the gap in his shirt. Maybe they could have featured a warning before every bad movie moment? In fact they could have just placed an ‘amateur morons at work’ notice before the first credit sequence? Imagine the savings on budget!
Boarding House IS as mind numbingly atrocious as you had probably expected it to be. Even the back cover blurb has NO relevance whatsoever to the movie and I can’t forget to mention the wonderful tagline that promises intrigue, suspicion and a sinister environment (yeah right!). Oh and before I go, I’ll leave you with a quote from the female lead singer of ’33 and a third’ – The heavy metal band that ‘entertain’ the party at the film’s climax. “You say you want a rock romance, you’ve been begging just to get in my pants!” And with that I shall leave you to explore yourselves…
Final Girl √
KILLER INSTINCT 2000
Directed by: Ken Barbet
Starring: Corbin Bernsen, Dee Wallace, Paige Moss
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Killer Instinct opens with a horde of vigilantes chasing a bloodied someone through some smartly lighted woodland. After he stops off to stab an unfortunate fellow that has his back turned, they eventually catch up with him, throw him to the floor and overpower the blood splattered stranger. He must’ve really upset these townsfolk because out comes the noose and the unidentified man is hung by the neck until the screen fades.
Clichés abound when the words 15 years later pop up on the screen and we’re introduced to a troupe of banal teens that discuss a massacre that occurred as many years earlier, which it seems was all the work of the aforementioned guy that we saw strung up in the pre-credits. (Explanation is not the film’s strong point) Meanwhile, in the background, we are given a sub-plot concerning a businesswoman (Dee Wallace Stone) who wants – or is trying to purchase – some property from a ‘desperate for the pay-cheque’ Corbin Bernsen. Anyway back to the teens, who are now (extremely un-originally) talking about spending the night in the abandoned asylum where the slayings took place a decade and a half earlier. Their posse consists of the all the typical ingredients that are now solidly encrypted into the slasher movie guidebook. Annoying guy, slut, randy couple, token (and first to be killed) black dude and girl that can sense the danger that lies ahead. Come on, by now you know the drill!
They finally make their way into the desolate building, which really looks a lot more like a normal house. It’s also worth noting that for a place that has been left to rot for fifteen years, it’s extremely well preserved. There are no light bulbs, so an unusually large amount of candles give us our lighting (but where on Earth did they get them? I counted maybe one rucksack) Meanwhile unbeknownst to them, their chances of leaving have just taken a down-slide due to the doors and windows being mysteriously locked.
After a while, it’s decided that a game is in order, preferably one that’ll split the group up so they can wonder off to their doom. They choose to take off their underwear and put it in a bag so someone else can hide them around the location, before they all separate to search the garments out (seriously!). But before they leave, Wendy (Paige Moss) digs through the briefs and shows them off so that everyone can have a giggle at what their friends were wearing. (I am not kidding, this actually happened).First slasher victims that I’ve seen with underwear fetishes.
It’s hardly shocking when we learn that a masked killer seems to think that their numbers need trimming and sets up some death traps around the place so that they stumble upon their impending fate…
Killer Instinct boasts some competent photography and lighting and the darkened set locations manage to look fairly spooky. The methods of murder are authentic and also a bit more creative than I was expecting. My favourite was when a guy lying on a bed was showered with broken glass from a trap door above him. One piece slices straight through his stomach and is next seen sticking to the floor below the mattress. There was also a smart decapitation and the use of a venomous snake, which is at least, a new one on me.
When the killer is unmasked at the end, you’ll be fairly surprised at the conclusion. I must admit that it wasn’t one that I’d have immediately guessed. But it has to be said that it was rather impossible for him to commit the murders before changing clothes inexplicably quickly so as to keep up the appearance of innocence. Credit should be given to the director for taking out the most annoying character first. If we’d have had to suffer his painful gurning any longer, I’m sure pressing the eject switch would’ve become a more burning temptation.
‘Every cliché has a grain of truth in it.’ Mouths one dim-witted character, which could only have been included in the script as an attempt to excuse the director’s blatant purloining from previous genre pieces. Here it looks like he’s been watching the housebound slashers of yesteryear like House of Death and House on Sorority row, using them as subject matter for this obvious imitation.
The cast is just what you’ve come to expect from this grade of movie. You know, lame, untalented and completely uninspired. Paige Moss was probably the most convincing, but she was still weak. Bernsen and Stone were equally uninterested and were both really slumming it and adding yet another nail to their rapidly sinking career coffins.
The film’s main flaws are its horrendous lack of pacing and equally poor efforts at generating any kind of interest. The two separate plot lines seem as if they have very little in common with one another and I found it hard to keep track of the names of any of the characters, because they were so instantly forgettable. I really couldn’t find anything to be excited about in either the failed attempts at suspense or the leisurely paced showdown. At one point the house caught fire, which sparked some amusing shots of a scaled model burning that were so obviously fake, it was painful.
I can’t really think of many pluses, except to say that at least this movie was more an out and out slasher than yet another ‘I know the rules’ semi-parody. I believe that director Ken Barbet was actually aware of the titles of the boom years and really wanted to make his own inclusion to line up alongside the old-skool heavyweights instead of just trying to be clever and mock them. But with that said, it’s offerings as mediocre as Killer Instinct that are killing off the stalk and slash genre. Although famous for its staggering repetition, the loveable sub-category needs ambition and reinvention if it’s going to survive many more years. I bought this because I read somewhere that it was gory with a healthy production. But it’s not, it’s just lame and ultimately poor.
Oh and don’t trust the cover picture. There are no skeletons here…
Final Girl √√
Into The Darkness 1986
Directed by: David Kent-Watson
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Polly Jo Pleasence, John Saint Ryan
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When discussing icons of cinematic genres, none can be more recognised than Donald Pleasence’s involvement with the slasher cycle. His portrayal of Sam Loomis in Halloween became an iconic ingredient to slasher cinema and perhaps one of the actor’s most recognised performances. His contribution to the category continued and Pleasence donated his unique screen persona to various entries prior to his demise in 1995. Alongside starring roles in four sequels to Halloween, he also featured in Ten Little Indians, Alone in the Dark and the rancid Buried Alive. Another obscurity on his long and illustrious CV was this mid-eighties mishap, which has been pretty much extinct since it’s release in 1986.
UK produced slashers have never been able to rival their American peers when it comes to popularity or creativity. Whilst blockbusters such as Friday the 13th and Halloween dominated the box offices, British offerings such as Goodnight Godbless struggled to exert themselves to any recognition in the annals of horror history. That’s why I had set my expectations extremely low for Into the Darkness.
The movie was shot in Malta and credit to the producers for picking a Mediterranean location to create this addition to the stalk and slash group. It all opens with that old slasher chestnut of a young child witnessing the wrongdoing of his less than respectable parents. A sure-fire excuse to turn a youngster into a homicidal maniac. In this case, it ‘s a young boy who looks on as his flirtatious mother sells her body on the streets of Malta to all that can afford her hefty price. We see through Michael Myers-style POV shots as the parent tells her son, “You’re loving mother’s a whore!” That is of course the psychological landslide that will click into action a forthcoming massacre.
Skip forward a few years and now we’re in sunny London. An unseen assailant follows a prostitute into a rural abode and whilst watching her undress, he draws a huge blade from within his coat. The hooker screams at the recognition of her demise and the screen fades to black. Next up we meet a seedy agent that is looking to cast models for a ‘big-bucks’ photo shoot on location in Malta. After convincing Jeff Conty – an unemployed actor played by prolific UK TV star John Saint Ryan – that his dire financial status requires him to accept the opportunity, Jeff reluctantly agrees. Early the next morning the gang of beaming big haired models and the photographic crew meet at the airport for their pre-briefing. One of the hopefuls won’t be making the trip overseas, due to the fact that she has been brutally strangled Michael Myers style by the murderer. Almost as soon as the crew touchdown on the Mediterranean island, the killer gets to work, slaughtering the models one by one with his trusty blade. But who is behind the vicious murders?
Despite being somewhat sluggish in places, Into the Darkness is undeserving of it’s AWOL status. Brit-director Kent-Watson builds some impressive suspense scenarios and despite the heavy Halloween homage, the film offers a few credible set pieces. Suspects are developed conceivably and the numerous red herrings add spice to the final pay off. Slasher movies are not overly renowned for their huge dramatic performances and Watson’s effort is no exception to the rule. Pleasence is incredibly hammy in his brief cameo, whilst his daughter Polly failed to inherit any of his unmistakable screen presence. To be fair, Ryan carries the movie fairly well and the killer has a ball playing ‘off his rocker’ insanity towards the conclusion.
The climax also warrants a mention, as it’s by far the film’s grisly highlight. Once the diversionary tactics have been crossed off and the assassin’s identity has been revealed, the final battle heralds a few decent twists. The abandoned location sets the mood adequately and the likable final girl (an early performance from Jeanette Driver) does quite a good job against the killer. She lacks the courage and grit of Jamie Lee Curtis and Amy Steel; in fact she cowers away at every opportunity, but as an approachable heroine, she ticks the right boxes. It’s also worth noting that Chris Rea provided the majority of the songs for the soundtrack, which must have cost the producers a small fortune.
Although we are still waiting for a valuable contribution to the slasher cycle from British cinema, Into the Darkness is not as bad as its ‘missing list’ status would have you believe. The IMDb lists that the feature has a title for a DVD release, so maybe in the near future it will achieve a second outing and a stab at recognition.
Final Girl √√√