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Posts tagged “The Twelve Slays of Christmas

Christmas Evil (1980)

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the eleventh Slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, sleigh-vans-a-flying, ten vids-a-streaming, Santa’s assassin, crazy dancing eyebrows, Santa vs. Zombies, the anti-Santa Nackles, BILL GOLDBERG!, four creepy songs, Tales from the Crypt, Santa’s demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

 

Christmas-Evil-Variety-Print-Ad-1982

Welcome back to the holiday horror list that I’ve been checking twice. Today’s pick is 1980’s Christmas Evil starring Brandon Maggart (note the misspelling in the print ad above) as the quintessential disturbed man in love with Christmas. Harry Stralding is a man with a fragile psyche. He’s been that way ever since Christmas Eve 1947 when he walked in on his mom and Santa Claus in the midst of some uncharacteristically festive activities. Although the film has established that Santa is just their father in costume (Harry disbelieves this when told by his younger brother Philip, later played by Jeffrey DeMunn), Harry’s glimpse of this encounter causes him to snap. He breaks a snowglobe and in a fit of rage uses it to cut a gash into his hand.

Years later, Harry is still a man with a rather fragile psyche. He works as a middle-manager of a toy factory, but feels dismayed when his coworkers don’t share his same admiration for the Christmas Spirit. Harry lives and breathes Santa Claus — his apartment is packed with red-and-white memorabilia, and he playfully gives himself a white shaving cream beard before shaving in the morning. This is all well and good, but his obsession has a much more sinister manifestation: he’s been spying on the children in his neighborhood. He’s been taking notes in his books of nice and naughty little boys and girls. Harry is pleased to see one boy taking out the garbage for his family, but another perusing a Penthouse magazine only takes Harry one step closer to the edge.

Where will his murderous rampage take him when he finally breaks and decides it is time to punish the bad people of the world? You’ll have to check out my guest appearance on The Phantom Erik‘s 100 Years of Horror podcast to find out!

The 100 Years of Horror is one of the finest horror film podcasts out their as Erik always thoroughly researches his films and covers each picture’s place in the history of the horror genre. Listen in as we discuss, not just the plot of Christmas Evil, but also how it relates to the battle between consumerism vs. traditionalism, what it says about the role of family and mental health issues, and where this film falls in the ranks of other holiday horrors such as Silent Night, Deadly Night, Santa’s Slay, and Santa vs. the Zombies (bleeeh . . .). We also manage to compare it to It’s a Wonderful Life, Psycho, and Maniac! Please have a listen to this excellent podcast by clicking HERE.

sleigh van flying

Christmas Evil, directed by Lewis Jackson, unfairly gets lumped into the slasher flick pantheon of the 1980s. Truthfully though, this is a character study of a man brought to (and past) his breaking point. This ain’t a body-count film, but it is a well-crafted picture portraying one man’s mental breakdown. Or, a closer inspection may reveal that Harry Stradling, vehemently clinging to the lovely essence of Christmas, is sane, while all of us, disregarding peace on earth and good will towards men, are the crazy ones.

Merry Christmas Eve! I’ll be back tomorrow for one last goodie, but until then, feast your eyes on these posters.

Terror in Toyland VHS Box christmas_evil_posterchristmas-evil-polishDamn, Polish is an absolutely terrifying looking language.


Digging into the Short Film Christmas Pile

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the tenth Slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, ten vids-a-streaming, Santa’s assassin, crazy dancing eyebrows, Santa vs. Zombies, the anti-Santa Nackles, BILL GOLDBERG!, four creepy songs, Tales from the Crypt, Santa’s demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

Hopefully my previous slays have gotten you into the horror holiday mood, but if not you are in for a treat today. That’s right, this Axe-Wielding Santa is early for you good boys and girls and I come bearing the gifts of 10 short horrific films. Now, I’ve dug really deep into the pile this year to ensure that you don’t just get all of the same as previous seasonal holiday lists on other sites. But I will admit that there are a few chillers here that I found listed elsewhere that I didn’t want to leave off. Some of the flicks are animated. Some are claymation. Some are obviously amateurish (but still a good deal better than Santa vs. the Zombies, yeech). These yuletide treats were made with love, and I hope you enjoy them just as much as I do.

Honorable mention: there is an excellent 7 minute short film that served as the precursor to Rare Exports. I don’t want to spoil the movie for those that haven’t seen it, but I do want to say that this is a very respectable short that covers the exact same material from the film. If you’ve seen the full-length Rare Exports then the shorter version is interesting to view to see a much more condensed version of the idea!

#1 The Winter Stalker

(these are in a mostly arbitrary order)

The 1980 film Christmas Evil (come back tomorrow for a longer review) details just how creepy it is for a middle-aged man to spy on children (both nice and naughty). Here is a short film written and directed by Stephen Reedy that distills the idea of becoming the target of a Santa Claus stalker.

#2 My Name is Kris Kringle

This one takes things a step further from just stalking children, as Santa is hauled into the police station after hacking up a few naughties with a meat cleaver. It isn’t until after explaining that he is simply following the orders on his list, that the full enormity of the situation comes to light. This very dark tale was written and directed by Drew Daywalt.

#3 I Still Believe

In this claymation short we can see a despondent Santa inches away from simply giving up. He hasn’t wandered into creepy stalker/killer territory yet, but it is very clear that this Old Saint Nick is far from jolly. Then he gets a visit that is simply out of this world. Can extraterrestrials get Santa Claus back into the Christmas spirit? This short was animated by the artist Mr. Oz.

#4 Night of the Living Santa

This darkly humorous cartoon was made by Michael Friedman for aniBOOM. Again, we find a depressed Santa, and see exactly what happens when he gives up. This is probably the most funny pick on the list, as the elves use the Christmas Necronomicon to bring Kris Kringle back from the dead. As you can imagine, an undead Santa would prefer brains over cookies on Christmas Eve!

#5 Vampire Santa

Following the idea of a zombie Santa is this one where Santa Claus is a vampire (possibly?). This is an episode of a show called Boss Hospital by Raym Hensley, which appears to be a little know gem of comedic weirdness. It’s a 2 and a half minute strange non-sequitur, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I enjoyed this. Hopefully you will too as you find yourself repeating “Merry Christ’s Mass” in a few days time.

#6 Elf on the Shelf

Elf on the Shelf is a recent holiday tradition, but a strange one none-the-less. Santa has enlisted the help of these stone-faced smiling creeps the world over to watch over kids and ensure that they stay good during the holiday season. As Child’s Play, The Puppet Master, or more recently, The Conjuring, have shown us, dolls are inherently off-putting. But when imbued with magical powers they become all the more unsettling. There are several weird Elf on the Shelf videos online, but this one is the most effective.

#7 Christmas Morning

Here is an amateur film that has to be, technically speaking, one of the best. It doesn’t suffer from shaky cam, the special effects aren’t too bad, and the song featured is actually pretty funny. The girl lip-synching is a bit off at times, but that doesn’t take too much away from the video’s effectiveness. It was directed by Ryan Richardson and seemingly only featured his family members. I’d be interesting to see what he could put together with more of a budget.

#8 Little Cracker

Well, let’s say you’re a child, and your parents are murdered on Christmas. If you’re not lucky enough to have a grandma to live with, then probably you’d end up in an orphanage. Orphanages never seem to be especially happy places, but as Silent Night, Deadly Night, and this short film (and the following one) show us, they can really be deadly during the holidays. In Little Cracker, director Paul Mayers does a lot with very little to craft a story about an orphan boy who just isn’t right.

#9 The Bottleberry Orphans

This is a creepy poem about another deadly Christmas at the orphanage. The imagery used in the video is great, and the poem is off-putting. Lyrically it doesn’t rhyme, but that adds to its unsettling effectiveness. Unfortunately, this poem is not spoken, so you’ll have to read along with a spooky rendition of Silent Night, Holy Night in the background.

#10 976-Evil 2

My last pick for this holiday themed list of scary shorts comes from the full-length 976-Evil 2. The movie itself is largely unmemorable, but this mash-up of Night of the Living Dead and It’s a Wonderful Life is an excellent way to spice up that annual showing of Jimmy Stewart’s tale of angelic redemption. Just beware of Zuzu’s trowel.

So holiday horror hounds, cuddle up close to the fireplace and try to keep warm while watching these chillers!


Unbelief by Michael Marshall Smith

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the ninth Slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, Santa’s assassin, crazy dancing eyebrows, Santa vs. Zombies, the anti-Santa Nackles, BILL GOLDBERG!, four creepy songs, Tales from the Crypt, Santa’s demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

 

 

Welcome back to the list espouse all of the ho ho horror this holiday season. Today’s pick sees a return to the realm of audio fiction as the latest episode of Drabblecast contains a short story featuring Santa Claus squaring off against a hitman. In Michael Marshall Smith‘s Unbelief the naughtiest of acts is commissioned for a professional assassin. This self-proclaimed family man killer has been hired by a syndicate to off Jolly Old Saint Nick, but outside of the money, he says that it is personal. What is the horror he holds from his childhood that makes him despise Santa so? In a surprisingly tense story, this cold-hearted man struggles with what he claims to be the arbitrary moral codes upheld by the mythical Kris Kringle. In this story, he faces up to the true meaning of Christmas, and how his profession has left him cold and dead inside.

This is an excellent piece and quite a dark departure from the cheesy stuff elsewhere exhibited in this list. Drabblecast is a podcast that delivers strange stories, by strange authors, for strange listeners. If you’ve enjoyed the rest of the stuff in my list of X-mas Slays, then you’re sure to enjoy Drabblecast. Check out the latest episode by clicking HERE.

 

 

In addition to Michael Marshall Smith’s story, the host of Drabblecast, Norm Sherman, chats about the 13 trolls of Christmas, the Yule Lads of Icelandic lore. The Yule Lads are riffs of the traditional Santa Claus, but with much weirder names, such as Meat-Hook, Spoon-Licker, and Window Peeper. These guys don’t have the same demonic bent as Krampus, but they are definitely strange, as if you are a naughty child, then you’ll be left a rotten potato as a gift. In the Drabblecast, Mr. Sherman sings a familiar holiday tune with updated Yule Lad lyrics. It’s hilarious! So, if you’ll looking for a piece of darkness that is both grim and gelastic, check out the Drabblecast.

Until tomorrow, look out for rotten potatoes in your stockings!


Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987)

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the eighth slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, crazy dancing eyebrows, Santa vs. Zombies, the anti-Santa Nackles, BILL GOLDBERG!, four creepy songs, Tales from the Crypt, Santa’s demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

After taking a day to recover from the seventh slay of Christmas — the horror that was Santa vs. The Zombies, bourbon, and an open mic — the list has returned with the Yuletide Schlock Classic that is Silent Night, Deadly Night 2!

Silent-Night-Deadly-Night-2

If you haven’t seen the first Silent Night, Deadly Night film, don’t fret, because the first 40 minutes of this sequel recaps the entire previous movie. All of the kills. Both psycho Santas. The gratuitous sexy bits. All of the gore and none of the goodness! It really is quite amazing how they were able to include just about everything of importance from the first movie — minus the crazy grandpa and the working-at-a-toy-store montage. Then there is another 40 minutes or so of new stuff that is less rushed, less focused, and more crazy than everything from the previous film. (There is an excellent write-up on FEARnet that tells how the producers actually just wanted the editor/director Lee Harry to recut the first movie into something entirely new and different, but fortunately for us fans of terrible cinema, they were able to add some new stuff into the mix.

I won’t go into everything that Psycho Billy did in SNDN1, but I will say that Psycho Ricky tops anything his brother did in his night of mayhem, simply due to actor Eric Freeman’s outrageous portrayal. The story is like this: Ricky has followed in the genetic footsteps of his brother, and like his grandfather, has ended up in some sort of mental hospital for the criminally insane. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by a psychiatrist to be interviewed about his past transgressions. After retelling Billy’s story, Ricky gets into it about how he was adopted by a nice Jewish couple — from a Catholic orphanage — who seemingly shielded him from the horrors of Santa during his childhood. This doesn’t last too long however, as a chance encounter with two nuns and a thick red cloth set off all of his old memories. From this time forward, he gets set off whenever he encounters a tense situation along with the color red.

His first kill is to a would-be rapist, who he runs over with a red Jeep. Later, after growing up a bit, he kills an extortionist in a back-alley (with an umbrella through the belly) because he had a red handkerchief and needed to be punished. He kills an annoying guy wearing a red shirt in the world’s most brightly lit movie theater. He kills his girlfriend’s ex with a car battery jumper cable to the tongue. You guessed it — the car was red. Unfortunately, this is the tipping point for young Ricky, because he then proceeds to kill everyone else in the nearby vicinity. His girlfriend gets it, because she freaked out about her ex’s death and also needed to be punished. This probably wasn’t the reaction Ricky was expecting since the woman whose attempted raper he killed thanked Ricky.

sndn2_cop

He then kills Barney Fife whose firearm lets Ricky continue his shooting spree, killing a football player, a poor soul casually taking out his garbage (despite gunshots in the neighborhood), and an explosion-prone red car. However, he does not kill the little girl with a red bow in her hair riding her tricycle around an urban warzone. She wasn’t naughty enough. The most senseless of these kills — the man acting out a simple garbage day routine — has since been immortalized in this oft seen clip:

The viewer get a bit of Eric Freeman’s dancing eyebrows in that clip as well!

Eventually the cops — better armed and less idiotic than before — catch up to Ricky, but they are more concerned about him foolishly throwing his life away with the revolver at his temple than trying to put down this spree killer. Afterwards Ricky ends up behind bars where doctor #13 has just finished with his interview. He’s finished also finished with his life, as Ricky has claimed another victim by strangling the doctor with his own audio tape. After making an off-screen escape through the orderlies, Ricky finds and kills a Santa Claus, relieving the poor guy of his suit, and makes after Old Mother Superior.

sndn2_mothersuperior

Ricky sets off to finish what his older brother couldn’t accomplish. While Ricky goes after the old wicked nun, the nun accompanying the police, Sister Mary, informs them that Mother Superior has retired, lives alone, and has had a stroke. Judging by her face, she must have had that stroke next to an open fireplace. Ricky easily finds her, and the cat-and-mouse games begin between the Psycho Santa Brother and the world’s strongest nun confined to a wheelchair.

I don’t want to spoil things if you haven’t already seen it, but suffice it to say, you’ll hear some great lines before the closing credits start. Here are some of my other favorites from Silent Night, Deadly Night 2:

I DON’T SLEEP! — Ricky, when asked if he has nightmares

You’re good Doc, but I know all the moves. I could squash you like a bug. — Ricky to the Doc

Fuck this! I’m getting a beer. But I’ll be back! — Attempted Rapist to woman after being kicked in the balls

Red car! Good point! — Ricky to the Doc after he writes this in his girly handwritten notebook

Sounded like some squirrel getting his nuts squeezed. — Ricky about a man being harassed by an extortionist

I’m really MAD now! — Ricky, after getting his axe stuck in Mother Superior’s wheelchair

Overall, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 is not as good as the first one, but most slasher sequels aren’t. This film was less serious than the original, and much more fun overall. It is oozing with camp, and the first 40 minute recap can be pretty boring if you’ve recently watched part one. In terms of my list so far, this movie is miles ahead of Santa vs. the Zombies, but not quite as enjoyable as Santa’s Slay. Technically though, it is a fine film as the editing and music are both strong. Sadly, the atrocious acting (and those damn dancing eyebrows) puts this out of the realm of scary. This film is like that hideously designed, itchy sweater your great aunt made you that your mom makes you wear to the extended family X-mas get-together.

Until tomorrow, keep squirming in that sweater, and keep those eyebrows dancing!

 

sndn2_dancing-eyebrows


Santa Claus Versus the Zombies (2010)

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

On the seventh day of Christmas, this genre gave to me, Santa vs. Zombies, the anti-Santa Nackles, BILL GOLDBERG!, four creepy songs, Tales from the Crypt, Santa’s demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

My my my. I guess I was naughty this year, because this lump of coal has arrived in my stocking. I don’t know quite frankly if I can do this film any due justice at the moment. Maybe I need some time to process. I’m not sure. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus. And yes, zombies do make a cameo appearance. And tucked inside this low budget ‘family-friendly’ zombie film, there is a story about the President of the United States staving off a coup from a top military general. Actually, that’s what most of the film is about. The majority of the film is spent in a bunker with the president and his advisers, while Santa is stuck in a house with a family and some elves. All the while, there are zombies (unseen of course) keeping them indoors. Ay yie yie. I cant’ do this. There’s no way way I can write out any more about this . . .

I GAVE UP on trying to WRITE my thoughts about this movie, so LISTEN to my drunken ramblings:

OR, if you’d like some more coherent and sober thoughts on Santa vs. the Zombies, click HERE!

ALSO, for screenshots of this movie, you can amaze your eyeballs HERE!


Nackles by Donald Westlake

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

 

For the sixth slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, the anti-Santa Nackles, BILL GOLDBERG!, four creepy songs, Tales from the Crypt, enslaved demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

 

 

Today we are getting literary again with another short story based on a Santa-like construct that punishes the naughty. Nackles is the anti-Santa Claus, and he originates in Donald Westlake’s (writing under the pseudonym Curt Clark) story “Nackles” published in 1964. The evil Santa in this story is a bit different than what we’ve encountered before. While Krampus is a black-hearted demon enslaved by the righteous and more powerful Saint Nick, Nackles is an entity of equal power driven by an opposite motive. Also, whereas Goldberg plays his Santa-as-really-a-demon to comedic effect, Nackles is much more cerebral and mysterious.

 

Nackles is the evil alternative of Santa being not just an angelic being, but a godly one. This is a story that questions what Christmas has become in our modern society, with Santa as “a god of giving, of merchandising, and of consumption.” It also explores where the tenacious ideas of god and religion come from in the very first line: “Did God create men, or does Man create gods?

 

Nackles may be a more modern antithesis to Santa Claus than Krampus, but he is no less outwardly grotesque. He is “very very tall and very very thin. Dressed all in black, with a gaunt gray face and deep black eyes. He travels through an intricate series of tunnels under the earth, in a black chariot on rails, pulled by an octet of dead-white goats.” From this description, Nackles seems almost to be a holiday version of Slenderman!

 

flickr / Chris Isherwood
He sees you when you’re sleeping . . .

 

The story of Nackles was at one time being developed by George R. R. Martin and Harlan Ellison as a holiday episode of the 1980s Twilight Zone reboot. Unfortunately, it never came to fruition. Nackles is the perfect entity to exist in the Twilight Zone, as he is a fantastical creation brought to life (?) by the power of imagination. Millions of people believe that Santa Claus is real, and those of us enlightened folks (adults) go along with the whole schtick too. So, if we give lip service to a Santa, why not a Nackles?

 

You can read Donald Westlake’s “Nackles” in its entirety by clicking here.

You can read more about the Nackles Twilight Zone debacle by clicking here.

I’ll be back with another Slay of Christmas real soon. Until then, don’t be naughty!


Santa’s Slay (2005)

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the fifth slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, BILL GOLDBERG!, four creepy songs, an Amicus anthology, Santa’s Demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

santa's-slay

Upon debuting in WCW, Bill Goldberg became arguably the first (or second, behind Stone Cold Steve Austin) most popular wrestler in the world. He went on an unprecedented streak of 173 victories and zero losses. In Santa’s Slay, as the demonic son of Satan, he continues this insane streak by killing upwards of 30 people in the span of 78 minutes. In the film’s opening sequence Goldberg Claus decimates the likes of Rebecca Gayheart, Chris Kattan, Fran Drescher, and James Caan!

Santa’s Slay is a film that surprised me very much; I went into it with very low expectations — Goldberg could never cut a decent promo in the ring, much less carry a film on his wide shoulders — but those expectations were completely shattered. This is an outrageous and fun flick — deliciously cheesy and filled with Christmas camp. You may roll your eyes at some of the sophomoric humor (GONAD, rather than NORAD as the sleigh tracker), but occasionally even those bits had me laughing out loud.

Why exactly is Santa so angry and murderous? Well, it turns out that he has always been this way. He was conceived as the son of the devil thousands of years in the past, and prior to becoming the jolly old gift-giver he is commonly known as, Santa was a violent bully. He derived pleasure out of torturing elves and generally went about causing destruction and mayhem wherever he roamed. Then one day an angel descended down from heaven. This angel and Santa had a curling competition. The angel wagered his eternal soul, while Santa bet that if he lost, he would be kind, jolly, and deliver presents to all the good children all over the world for the next 1000 years. In an animated sequence of the same style as the 1960s Rankin/Bass Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV specials, we see a cocky Santa roll his curling stone right to the edge of a hole in the ice. The angel then wins the contest by bowling his stone into Santa’s, causing it to fall into the water. Thus is the beginning, against his will, of Jolly Old Saint Nick.

The film opens at the end of this 1000 years of kindness with Santa already on his rampage. A scene that start out as typical sitcom holiday special is turned into B-movie gold when Goldberg bursts through the chimney and kills an entire family with implements such as a turkey leg, the star topper of a Christmas tree, and a flaming mouthful of brandy. He even punts a pomeranian for good measure. Even if you have no desire to watch this film (the wrong choice to be sure), you should check out the hilarious opening sequence.

After the title credits which feature a variety of badass Santa pictures throughout the centuries, the movie properly opens in Hell Township on Christmas Eve. Nicholas Yulson (Douglas Smith) and his girlfriend, Mary ‘Mac’ McKenzie (Emilie de Ravin) get the night off early from their jobs at a Jewish deli. Mac drives Nicholas home where we are introduced to his crazy grandpa (Robert Culp). Grandpa is obviously paranoid with triplicate locks on the front door and a basement bunker that has several TVs of surveillance footage. Both Nicholas and Grandpa share a disdain for Christmas and the ability to read Norse. You can see where this is going right? Halfway through his reign of murderous mayhem, Santa targets Mac and Nicholas. Then the truth about Grandpa’s paranoia and an old Norse family connection to Santa Claus come out in the open.

Goldberg as Santa

The plot of this movie is fairly simplistic — run away from the Psycho Santa while he kills everyone around him. What keeps the viewer engaged are the inventive, but not really gory kills, and the fully comedic characters through-out. Santa shoves a candycane through the eye of a mugger. He lights fire to a strip club. He delivers exploding presents to potty-mouthed children on Christmas day. Also, his sleigh is drawn by a man-eating buffalo!

Some great characters to look out for in this are: an old lady who curses like a sailor and chain smokes while swerving all over the road, Dave Thomas as a sleazy pastor who steals from his church congregation to have spending cash at the strip club, and a brief cameo from wrestler/actor Tom “Tiny” Lister, Jr. (Zeus!). All in all, Goldberg and the two leads are the weakest actors in the film, but it doesn’t matter because there are so many great characters in the peripheral of the movie to make up for it.

Along with the acting, the writing is a bit spotty in places. This is more to do with the actors’ inability to handle the lines more than the the lines themselves. It is also a bit choppy because rather than pure dialogue, each character speaks in a series of one liners. Some are hilarious: ‘Don ye now your gay apparel’ said to the homosexual police captain in a Santa get-up. Some funny, but a bit mean: ‘I’m as happy as a make-a-wish kid.’ Some just fall flat: ‘We’re trapped in a closet on Christmas with Santa trying to murder us. How fucked up is that?’ Goldberg’s Santa Claus also speaks mainly in one liners: ‘unfortunately, you’re time is about to expire.’ Patient wrestling fans have to wait until after the credits to hear him drop his in-ring catch-phrase, ‘who’s next?’

goldberg-whos-next

Santa’s Slay was written and directed by David Steiman. Due to its high production values and campy humor, it has already muscled a permanent place in my holiday rotation. So, kick back with some hot cocoa, invite your friends over, and witness the greatest wrestler-turned-Santa since Hulk Hogan in Santa with Muscles. Only, this one is better, because heels are always cooler!


Creepy Christmas Tunes

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

 

For the fourth slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, four creepy songs, an Amicus anthology, Santa’s Demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

 

 

There’s that familiar chill in the air. A fresh dusting of snow on the ground. Folks bundled up tightly on their shopping excursions. Children out in their yards building snowmen or forts. In the midst of it all, your axe-wielding author dashes to and fro in hopes of avoiding that one most dreaded yuletide custom. Christmas music! It is a terrifying assault on the senses, and too much of it can turn even the most cheerful and saintly among us into old, curmudgeonly Scrooges.

 

I’ll be honest, I haven’t reached that tipping point yet this holiday season, although I can only hear singing chipmunks a few times before I finally snap. In light of the holiday close approaching, I thought I’d dig up some X-mas tunes a little more weird than the mainstream fare, and decidedly less grating to boot. Although, like any aesthetic opinion, these are all subject to my personal peculiar tastes. (My all-time favorite holiday song is Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun,” that, although consummately secular, is neither dark nor especially weird.)

So, for my fourth slay of Christmas 2013, I present four songs to add to your Christmas playlists!

 

The first tune on the Pieces of Darkness Holiday Playlist is this haunting rendition of “Carol of the Bells” by Cast in Bronze.

 

 

 

“Carol of the Bells” is one of the least annoying traditional Christmas songs since it lacks lyrics. When played on a carillon — a giant set of bells weighing over four tons — it sounds especially chilling. An antiquated instrument, coupled with the musician — Frank DellaPenna — wearing a strange golden bird mask and dressed head to toe in black,  makes the tune downright eerie. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this character were to pop up in an Argento film, as this entire act is one scarred face away from turning into the Phantom of the Opera.

 

The second tune for tonight is “Sled Zepplin” by Bob Rivers. It is a Christmas parody of Led Zepplin’s “D’yer M’aker,” and although the song itself is not terribly dark, the mellow beat played over clips of crazy Santa Clauses is a thing of beauty.

If you’ve been following my previous Slays of Christmas, you’ll note that two of these Psychotic Santas have already been featured in the list. Crazy Billy from Silent Night, Deadly Night, and the old mental institution escapee from Tales from the Crypt have had their day in the low winter sun, but be on the look out for Harry Stadling in 1980’s Christmas Evil to pop up sometime before Christmas day!

 

Kate Bush’s “Misty” is the next song on our holiday playlist. On its own this song is sad and evocative, but with the claymation video depicting a fatal tryst between a woman and a snowman, it becomes especially creepy.

 

 

If compared to Wham’s “Last Christmas,” about a lover being completely over their ex who left them on December 26th, this song shows the flip-side of the coin: an unhealthily bitter jilted lover. Or maybe it is about the remorse one feels for killing their ex in a crime of passion during the holiday season. It can’t simply be a cautionary tale about what happens when a hot blooded woman has a steamy night of love with a snowman, can it?

 

The last song to add to your X-mas playlist is a perennial childhood favorite of mine — Weird Al Yankovic’s “The Night Santa Went Crazy.” As the title indicates, this song is about Santa Claus going postal at the North Pole, gunning down elves and reindeer aplenty.

 

 

This parody of Soul Asylum’s “Black Gold” has an extra gorier alternative ending. The final verse goes like this:

Yes Virginia, now Santa Claus is dead.

Some guy from the SWAT team, blew a hole through his head.

Yes little friend now, there’s his brains on the floor.

I guess they won’t have the fat guy, to kick around anymore!

But now there’s no more presents, for the children’s enjoyment.

And the elves gotta stand in line to file for unemployment.

And they say Mrs Claus, she’s on the phone every night,

with the lawyers, negotiating the, movie rights!

 

So next time you get sick of incessantly hearing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” or “Jingle Bells,” just put on this song, pour yourself a great big glass of spiked eggnog, and sit back and enjoy the sounds of Old Saint Nick being crazy violent dick.

See ya tomorrow folks!


Tales from the Crypt (1972)

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the third slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, an Amicus anthology, Santa’s Demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

tftc_santa

If Santa Claus knocks at your door tonight, don’t answer. — from Roger Ebert’s review

Ho ho ho! Hope you’re in the holiday spirit, I sure know that I am! Today I am getting at the root of the Killer Santa with the original 1972 Amicus anthology Tales from the Crypt, directed by Freddie Francis. As far as I can ascertain (from a perfunctory Google search) this film is the first to feature a murderous madman clad in the red and white-trimmed suit. If that is incorrect, and you know of an earlier film with a killer from the North Pole, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Tonight’s treat is stocking-stuffed full of revenge tales and evil-doers getting their just desserts — a common thread through all of my X-mas picks this season thus far! Tales from the Crypt sees five strangers united on a tour of some old English catacombs. We, the viewer don’t know why they’re here, and they themselves don’t either. The central five are quickly separated from the rest of the group and joined by a mysterious cloaked figure — The Crypt Keeper. Now, honestly, Ralph Richardson isn’t The Crypt Keeper that I grew up with — he has much more flesh on his bones and much less cheesy jokes than HBO’s early 90s incarnation. But, as a very dry, slightly sardonic purveyor of eternal condemnation, he works in this role. Plus, he was knighted, so you know that means he’s one of the queen’s own actors. Indeed, the acting is very strong through-out this entire picture, but I also get a sense that they are all playing very familiar roles. With the exception of Peter Cushing, who plays a down-on-his-luck trash collector, the main actors are all well-to-do high society types, that just tend to rub middle-class me the wrong sort of way.

. . . And All Through the House

Case in point is Joan Collins as a money grubbing wife who kills her husband on Christmas Eve. The first thing that she does after clubbing the man in the head is not to clean up the murder scene, but to check the safe to see that his insurance papers are all in order. But then two things happen to up the ante. The first is that the couple’s daughter calls down from her upstairs bedroom. The second is that the radio announces that old crazy guy on the loose from the mental institution trope: “a man described as a homicidal maniac has escaped from the hospital for the criminally insane . . . and may be wearing a Santa Claus costume.” (I know this trope seems well-worn, but the only other time I can actually remember it from a film is Night of the Creeps.)

Now the murderous mother has to deal not only with cleaning up her crime scene, but also keeping the madman outside, and her daughter on the inside. The TV version of this episode has much more back and forth between the woman and Santa, but the ending to that plays out much the same here in the original. I won’t ruin either of them for you if you haven’t seen them. Just note that the Santa here is more likely to be seen on a Macy’s float while the latter Crypt Santa is more akin to the drooling on his straight-jacket in a padded cell sort of criminally insane.

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Reflection of Death

The second story in this anthology stars Ian Hendry as a man who leaves his wife and children to run away with his mistress. Only, obviously, things don’t go as they planned. Hendry wakes up from a nightmare during the drive, and moments afterward they are involved in a pretty wicked car crash. The car flips upside down several times, with silly slow motion cuts of each of them banging around the car’s interior. Then, seemingly moments after the crash, the man awakes to find himself in the English countryside, near his burned out car. As the viewers, we follow his POV shot through the woods looking for help, but everyone he stumbles upon runs or drives away. He returns to his wife’s house to have the door slammed on his face and her scream in terror. The reveal of whatever is so hideous and repulsive about this man doesn’t happen until he visits the apartment of his mistress and sees . . . well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. I felt that Reflection of Death was the weakest of the tales in this film. It was one of those easy to see twist endings, as well as one of those weird, too funny to take seriously dream endings. It’s all very well shot and well acted, but just not up to the standard of the rest of the stories.

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Poetic Justice

The third story features the late great Peter Cushing as a down-on-his-luck Mr. Rogers type character named Mr. Grimsdyke. All of the neighborhood children love him, and frequently visit his home to take in puppet shows and recieve gifts. Unfortunately, Mr. Grimsdyke is unfairly hated by his very well-off neighbor played by Robin Phillips. This entitled bastard takes it upon himself to get Grimsdyke to leave the neighborhood in an effort to ease their property taxes. It is laughable to see what the neighbor’s call a veritable pigsty actually be so clean and tidy. Perhaps they were offended by Grimsdyke’s finger-less hobo gloves. So, this young prick makes Grimsdyke’s life hell by first tearing up another neighbor’s rosebushes and getting the police to take Grimsdyke’s dogs away. Next, he gets him fired from his job as a trash-collector and then makes all the families in the neighborhood keep their children away from him. And if that isn’t enough, he sends the poor old man a bunch of NASTY Valentine’s Day cards.

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This kindly old man just can’t take it any more. Distraught after all of the vitriolic hatred, he decides to end his life by hanging himself in the pantry. With smug satisfaction the entitled young man and his father find the body, and for them at least, all is finally right in the neighborhood. Only, poetic justice is served, when one year later Grimsdyke rises from the grave to deliver his own Valentine’s Day card. This story is probably the best of the bunch in part to Cushing who was playing a character pretty similar to himself. Throughout Grimsdyke talked to the photograph of his deceased wife Helen when in reality Cushing’s own wife Helen had passed away about a year before this film. (I can’t comment on the actor’s use of a ouijia board or automatic writing device to contact her though.)

Wish You Were Here

The fourth story is a classic spin on that old story The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs. In fact, they even reference that story in this one! Richard Greene plays a business faced with mounting debts. Either he can go into bankruptcy, or sell off all of his collected artwork to stave off financial ruin. Surprisingly, he decides to be honorable, and sell of his excesses. That is when his wife stumbles across an oriental statue that promises to deliver them the standard three wishes. Immediatedly, despite a caution from the businessman himself, she wishes for their wealth back. Lo and behold, they get a call to meet with their lawyer, but when Greene goes he is chased by a skeletal biker, crashes, and dies. The wife, however, becomes well off because of her husband’s ample life insurance.

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Knowing that she has still has two wishes, and distraught about her husband’s death, she uses another wish — again, despite the warning from the lawyer — and asks for him to be returned to her just as he was before the car crash. Some mysterious undertakers bring in the husband’s coffin and lay it out saying he had a heart attack right before the crash. Second wish wasted. She also wastes the third wish to ironic effect, but I won’t say what happens, except that of all five protagonists, this guy gets the rawest deal in the end, and actually given what happens, he shouldn’t be with the others in the Crypt Keeper’s prescence. It is the foolish wife who brings down all the trouble on this man.

Blind Alleys

The movie’s last story sees Nigel Patrick as Major William Rogers, the newly appointed superintendant for the Elmridge Home for the Blind. He addresses his men in the most military of fashions, and turns the home more into a barracks than a convalescent home. The blind men are not pleased, especially as the major and his German shepherd feast on steak and wine while they must eat meatless slop and sleep in their frigid beds on cold, heatless nights. When one of the blind men dies the others have finally had enough. They decide to take over the hospital and punish the major (and his dog) for how they have treated him.

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The blind men lock up the major and his dog in separate cells in the basement. Then they go to work with wooden boards, saws, hammers, and nails, blindly shambling through their construction zone like zombies. Once they are finished, they open the door to the major’s cell, and he is faced with a Saw-esque torture hall covered with exposed razor blades. There is no going back, and he must proceed . . . to his doom!

This was such a fun film. It much less cornball than the 90s TV show, but I think there is still a healthy amount of sardonic charm and cinematic irony to make this fun for the whole family. It is only rated PG after all! It is well acted with a nicely rounded cast. Also, this is just dripping with Gothic charm as the visuals of a rundown cemetery at the opening and the music, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in the opening and closing, contribute to something that is very British, sophisticated yet atmospheric. It also doesn’t betray its comic book roots, as the blood throughout is bright vivid red. There isn’t anything too gory, but there madman Santa, as well as the Peter Cushing zombie have been iconic images in the horror genre.

If you haven’t watched Tales from the Crypt recently, then the holiday season might be just the time for you and yours to enjoy something shocking, yet pleasing for all, young and old.


St. Nicholas’ Helper by D.K. Thompson

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the second slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, Santa’s Demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

Meet Kramus!

“I’ll feast on the flesh of children tonight until the snow is stained red with their blood.”

— D.K. Thompson

 

Welcome back to the list that keeps on giving, Pieces of Darkness’s Twelve Slays of Christmas! Yesterday I explored a film all about the balancing the gift giving for good children with the punishment of the naughty ones with Silent Night, Deadly Night. Today I’m taking a stab at Santa’s own personal enslaved demon Krampus.

 

If you know nothing about this wooden faced, cloven hoofed, hairy beast, then allow me to enlighten you, with a little help from Wikipedia:

Krampus is a beast-like creature from the folklore of Alpine countries thought to punish children during the Yule season who had misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards well-behaved ones with gifts. Krampus is said to capture particularly naughty children in his sack and carry them away to his lair.

What the opening paragraph fails to mention, is that soon after being hauled away to Krampus’s lair, these children would be dismembered and eaten by the demon. That makes getting coal in your stocking a pretty enticing gift afterall doesn’t it? Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and a Demon Claus too!

Krampus has his origins in pre-Christian pagan times, but eventually made his way into the Christmas traditions of central Europe. He suffered a bit of anti-propaganda from the Austrian government in the 1950s, but today seems to be rising in popularity and has been embraced by as a darker part of the Christmas tradition. There are even bachannalian Krampus Runs where participants dress up like this horned beast, get drunk, and trounce through the snow. (The consumption of child flesh is presumably kept to a minimum.)

 

Or, you could consume delicious chocolatey Krampus. Turn about is fair play demon!

 

Traditionally, Krampus stalked after children on December 6th, as that is The Feast of St. Nicholas, and the one day each year that Santa Claus releases Kramups from his chains. This is the case in D.K. Thompson’s short story St. Nicholas’ Helper. In it, two young girls have disobeyed their mother, and gone out on the Demon Night after their lost cat. Predictably, they are captured by Krampus, shoved into his great child-holding sack, and taken back to his lair.

“Don’t be scared, you’ve been good right?’

“I tried . . . but how good did I need to be?”

What is unexpected is the gory detail that the author uses to describe their fate, and the superb way it digs into your mind conveyed through the medium of audio fiction. Suffice it to say, the fate of the children is grim, especially when considering that all of the barrels stocked in Krampus’s lair are filled with his previous captures — “curing, so their flesh could be sold off as ham.” Also, we get more than a mere glimpse of Krampus, we get to smell him — “wet putrid fur, like an old forgotten carcass picked at by scavenging rats.” And we can almost hear the wet smack of organs tearing free as “Krampus pulled something long and twisted, like crimson serpents . . . and put them in an open barrel.”

The story comes down to a battle between a older, lither, Saint Nick, and his contemptuous demon, but I won’t spoil the outcome for you here. Listen for yourself, but bundle up, as it’s one to chill the blood.

St. Nicholas’ Helper by D.K. Thompson was ‘published’ in Pseudopod — one of the best horror fiction podcasts out there — in December of 2011. It was read by Marie Brennan. Check it out by clicking here! Also, be sure to check back tomorrow for the third slay of Christmas!


Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the first slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, a scream queen hanging free!

Welcome to the first of twelve slays this holiday season. I’m gearing up for Christmas in bloody good style with a look at several Christmas-themed horror genre (film, literature, etc.) picks. First on the list, is Silent Night, Deadly Night, one of the more infamous of the killer-in-a-Santa-suit films. This movie is notable as being the one to make Paramount put the axe to Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th part 4: The Final Friday, and it also has one of the most memorable movie posters from the glut of 1980s slasher flicks. Although this one might not feature the best Psycho Santa Claus, when compared to other holiday-themed horror outings, this one is certainly not terrible.

silent night deadly night title

The movie opens up on Christmas Eve 1971 with a family on a roadtrip to see Grandpa. All of the familiar faces are present: father, hot mother, un-carseat-strapped baby, and little boy in the backseat. Little Billy is concerned that he won’t be back home before Santa Claus comes to his house that evening. But, Hot Mom comforts her son by telling him, “Don’t worry, Santa Claus is going to bring you a big surprise tonight. You just wait and see!”

It doesn’t take a genius to realize this bit of foreshadowing, but the family showing up at a mental health facility to visit the institutionalized grandfather does take aback an unacquainted viewer. Grandpa is in a catatonic state and completely unresponsive to his family or the doctor. The family leaves Billy to go and ‘review papers’ in the doctor’s office. It is telling the sort of parents these two are to leave a kid — maybe 5 years old — alone on his own in an insane asylum. As Hot Mom walks away, she drops another winning line with “Don’t worry, Grandpa’s not going to hurt you.”

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Creepiest Grandpa outside of Texas.

Crazy Grandpa snaps out of his previous state and rants to little Billy about the evils of Christmas. “Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year. I’d be scared too, if I was you,” he says. Santa only gives presents to the nice children, but if you’re naughty, then you’ll get punished. “If you see Santa Claus tonight, you’d better run boy. You’d better run for your life!” Despite the foreboding tone, this warning would prove to better parenting advice than Hot Mom ever provided for Little Billy.

Later, on the drive home Billy confesses that he is scared that Santa will come and punish him, but Hot Mom tries to comfort her son by telling him that Grandpa is nothing but ‘a crazy old fool.” Little does she know, however, that elsewhere in the state some Santa suit clad criminal has just gunned down a store owner in a holdup for a measly $31.

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Predictably, the family stops by this Madman Santa who has been having car trouble. Little Billy urges them to keep driving, but his dad stops to help, and gets shot for his troubles. Billy hightails it to the woods, while Santa deblouses (gotta get those tit shots in right?) Hot Mom before slitting her throat. Santa decides not to pick off the helpless crying baby brother, and instead just shouts into the woods after Billy, who winds up at an orphanage 3 years later. (There is absolutely no closure on this Psycho Santa, so presumably he is still out there in the backwoods of Utah killing Hot Moms and store owners for chump change.)

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Saint Mary’s Home for Orphaned Children is not a very pleasant place for the Christmas-weary children of the world. The nuns running the joint seem to buy into the secular importance of Old Saint Nick, so you can imagine the shock that it causes when 8 year-old troubled child draws Bloody Kris Kringle and beheaded reindeer. The Mother Superior punishes the Awkwardly Mulleted Billy by sending him to his room.

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And Hitler just drew landscapes . . .

Sister Margaret thinks that the memory of the violence that Billy saw is just waiting to come out and be reenacted, but Mother Superior doesn’t care what she thinks. Mother Superior is old school, and feels that it is best to beat Billy’s violent urges into suppression. Which is exactly what happens after finding out that Sister Margaret has let Billy outside to play with the other children. He does, but only after stopping to peep on some older kids doing some pretty advanced mistletoe activities behind a locked door. (Mother Superior beats them too!)

That night, when Billy can’t stay in bed, so he gets tied down to the bedposts. Then the next day — Christmas Day — things come to a head, and although Mother Superior thinks her strict punishments have been effective, we know otherwise. Billy is dragged onto Santa’s lap, and punches the jolly fat man right in the nose. He goes off to cry in a corner, and there is an effective freeze frame of Billy looking up in terror at whatever punishment from Mother Superior lies in store.

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Ten years later, Billy has developed into an 18 year-old dreamboat. This tall drink of water is ripped, and baby-faced, with brown eyes, blonde hair, and just a hint of dimples at the corners of his lips. Sister Margaret has just landed Big Buff Billy a job at Ira’s Toys as the new stockboy.

The filmmakers provide an awesome musical montage of what it was like to work in a toy store in the 1980s. I don’t want to spoil the fun too much, but there is a lot of box hauling, child lifting, time-card punching, and milk drinking, all while Boss Ira nods approvingly, and Billy’s lazy coworker slacks off and drinks J&B whiskey. Unfortunately, things can’t stay all musical montage good for Billy, as Christmas is now fast approaching. Billy has been acting more and more off — staring off into space and suffering wet dreams turning to nightmares — as December 25th approaches.

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The tipping point comes when the regular Santa breaks his ankle and Billy must fill in. Billy is creepy and uncomfortable in the blood-red and white suit, and as children wriggle on his lap and he whispers to them to be good, or he’ll punish them. I really wanted this moment to be dragged out a bit, but instead we cut to the store’s after hours Christmas party, and one of the best lines from the movie with Ira’s: “Seven o’clock! It’s over! Time to get shitfaced!”

Sister Margaret is on her way, after being told that Billy was portraying Santa by the lazy J&B swilling coworker. But it is too late! All of the drunken holiday reveling, and overly forward, ripped-clothes lovemaking (read: attempted rape) makes Billy snap. It’s time to punish these naughty folks!

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He was gonna have headache anyway.

Psycho Santa Billy makes short work of the employees of Ira’s toys in a variety of ways that include X-Mas light hanging, boxcutter mutilation, clawhammer braining, and arrowing through the chest. Then Billy takes his rampage out on the streets. This is when 80s scream queen great Linnea Quigley gets offed in this movie’s most creative kill. As a neglectful babysitter, she leaves her boyfriend on the basement pool table, and goes upstairs, topless, to let in the homeowners’ cat. But when she opens the door, she finds that it isn’t the cat whose collar she heard jingling, but Psycho Santa Billy! He who chases after Quigley, wearing only hotpants, and impales her on a mounted deer head. The boyfriend gets thrown through a window and ends up impaled with a large chunk of glass. Finally, the babysittee comes away with a boxcutter, placed gently in her hand, as she is a good girl and not deserving of Santa’s punishment.

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With these balsa wood doors, I bet the homeowner’s heating bill is through the roof.

Billy continues on his rampage into the woods where he finally gets the chance to use that double-headed axe he’s been hauling around. The hapless victim is a sled-stealing bully who gets his comeuppance with a blow to the neck on a downhill run. His buddy (doppelganger of former pro-wrestler Edge) is left screaming his head off in the night.

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Adam Copeland would survive the deadly, silent night and go on to win 31 WWE championships.

Sister Margaret and the police are worried as the body count is rising. The police are scouring the neighborhoods, but only interrupting tender family Christmas moments instead of finding the murderous Kris Kringle. They deduce that he is heading for the orphanage, so they dispatch officers there, who manage to get there just in time to gun down Santa Claus. Only, it’s not Psycho Billy Santa, but the kindly, old deaf priest who plays Santa for the orphaned children.

As Billy stalks his way to the orphanage, one wonders if Mother Superior will be the next person on the wrong end of an axe swing. Find out if Santa Claus dies by watching Silent Night, Deadly Night yourself. This is an above average slasher film and it certainly deserves to be seen by any fan of horror and/or Christmas movies.

Some Thoughts

It had been years (maybe a decade+) since I’d seen this, so I was thrilled when I rediscovered how good the acting was. Lilyan Chauvin as Mother Superior was obviously the best, as she was classically trained, and ran her own acting school. I thought that Little Billy (Jonathan Best) was far less annoying and more believable than Weird Mullet Billy (Danny Wagner). Also, a superb and creepy performance was put on by Will Hare as Crazy Grandpa. Robert Brian Wilson as Psycho Santa Billy wasn’t terrible, but he’s no Thom Mathews.

The special effects are standard fare, but it really makes me nostalgic for the days of complete physical effects. CGI squibs and gunshots just don’t really cut it in comparison to something as simple as some blood bags detonating.

It was pretty sweet to see all of those old 80s toys in Ira’s toy store. However, it’s probably for the best that toy stores these days don’t stock double-headed axes or bow and arrow sets.

Perry Botkin’s music is creepy throughout, especially the opening with the child singing. Even the funny picks, like the musical montage were spot on in tone and definitively 80s. When you think about it, even outside of a Santa slasher flick, all those X-Mas songs about an old man watching children throughout the year, and breaking into their houses to leave gifts for them, are a bit disconcerting.

Fun fact: this film opened the same weekend as A Nightmare on Elm Street and outgrossed that film before being pulled from theaters after becoming the target of parents’ protest groups.

Silent Night, Deadly Night was written by Michael Hickey and directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr.

I recommend you watch it, and don’t be naughty this Christmas season!