Wednesday 26 December 2018

Supermarket Sweep #5 Christmas Special! Reviews of The Christmas Devil (USA 2016), Evil Elves (USA 2018), Mercy Christmas (USA 2017), 12 Deaths of Christmas (UK 2017) and Mother Krampus (USA 2018)

Supermarket Sweep returns for a holiday special! Expect Krampuses (Krampi?), dodgy looking Father Christmases, scared teens and...oh, let's just get on with it.

The Christmas Devil (USA 2016; Dir Jason Hull) Oh no wonder I was confused. This 2017 movie, packaged as a stand alone piece, is in reality the 2016 Krampus: The Devil Returns, a sequel to Hull's 2013 dud Krampus: The Christmas Devil. So let's do some catch up. In the first movie, a 1983 prologue sees little Jeremy abducted by a shabby looking Father Christmas character who singles out naughty girls and boys and carries them off into the snowy woods of Pennsylvania. Little Jeremy grows up to be an all round family man and cop, now investigating a fresh rash of abducted kids in his home town, and assembling a posse of mates to carry out a Santa hunt. Turns out that it's the actual Santa Claus doing the abducting, or more accurately his brother Krampus, giving a more literal twist to the old cliche of the twice checked naughty and nice list.

Crummy as that film was, it's a beacon of excellence compared to the sequel. Jeremy (A.J. Leslie from the first movie) is now living as a recluse, traumatised by the abduction of his wife and daughter at the end of the first film, and called upon by cop Dave to help investigate another batch of kiddie abductions. Paul Ferm returns as Santa Claus, and his brother Krampus has also made a comeback, although this time his head is more visible, looking like an angrier Ernest Borgnine at the end of The Devil's Rain. There's a subplot involving an evil mutha whose brother was shot by Jeremy and who wants payback, a storyline which serves only to get Jeremy in front of the megalomaniac Santa ("You mortals make up fairy tales about me to justify your own miserable existence. I have no measure of my actions. I'm a fucking god!"). Director Hull, who handled cinematography and editing duties himself on the first film, has ceded his position to several assistants for the sequel - with fairly inept results. Sound editing is all over the place and scenes are cut clumsily together, not helped by a soundtrack of mangled Yuletide favourites played on a tinny synthesiser. This is basically a stinker of a movie only leavened by some lovely snowy Pasadena locations. Be warned: a rather existential ending sadly paves the way for a third excruciating chapter.

Evil Elves (USA 2018: Dir Jamaal Burden) A director has to be extremely brave or extremely foolish to start their movie with a longish sequence featuring two young actors with no thespian skills whatsoever. But first time director Jamaal Burden - who in the credits offers the words "Through God all things are possible" (which presumably includes getting the funding to make this atrocity) - is clearly not alive to considerations facing 'regular' filmmakers.

"This sounds like that movie Truth or Dare, except with Snapchat filters" helpfully but inanely explains one of the characters (they have names but you don't need to know them) which is arguably a more accurate summary of this inexplicably awful movie than I could ever offer, a film which is apparently a sequel to a 2017 offering called The Elf.

Elves (it's Evil Elves on the DVD cover but just Elves in the title) starts off with a group of kids getting involved in supposed Truth or Dare style game that goes wrong when it turns out that the 'naughty list' they've each written up is being used  to - psychically - take out the friends one at a time, based on their transgressions, with the perpetrators' faces warping (with the aid of said facial filter). Somehow by about the hour mark this has become a story about elves being present at the birth of Christ and a link to the seven deadly sins. Seriously I have no idea what any of this was about. "The elf. It's cursed, or not from this realm," explains another of the characters equally unhelpfully, particularly as at the mid point the killings are carried out not by a person of restricted height wearing a cap, but a bloke wearing a Krampus mask.

Delights in this movie include: scenes where snowfall is clearly sprayed foam (at one point you can clearly see a big blob attached to the head of one of the actors); a grown man killed by Christmas tree lights; an extended scene where another character is menaced by rolling tree baubles; and someone else is clubbed to death with a three foot spindly Christmas tree. All of this cobblers is 'enhanced' by a totally over the top score by Sena Park and Julian Beeston, desperately trying to make it sound like something terrifying is happening. If indeed through God all things are possible, we must pray that this man never makes another film again.

Mercy Christmas (USA 2017: Dir Ryan Nelson) Michael Briskett is an awkward, overweight and decidedly put upon statistical analyst, who wears a Christmas jumper to his own party and papers his front door with seasonal wrapping. But when his boss Andy asks him to work over Christmas, for Michael it looks like the holidays are cancelled. Luckily things get a bit brighter when the boss's beautiful assistant Cindy takes a shine to him, and before you know it she's invited him to spend Christmas with her folks the Roubillards, and bring his work with him. Smell a rat? Uh huh; when Cindy's dad tells Michael that he'd love to have the geeky chap for dinner, and there's suspiciously human looking ribs on the menu, it can only mean one thing. Briskett by name, brisket option. And when Michael's boss turns out to be a member of the same family, not only is the analyst scheduled for the main course, but he's forced to finish a pile of paperwork first!

Nelson's seasonal comedy horror is surprisingly good, well scripted, often very funny and stuffed with old school gore effects. Most of the movie sees Michael trying to escape from the family that slays together, after discovering that the basement is full of other people who have been similarly captured. There's a great ongoing gag where, trussed up with Christmas lights, Michael is gently electrocuted by Andy as an inducement to carry on working; also a prolonged escape scene, with Michael tied to another (legless) captive, is both inventive and very funny.

Newcomer Steven Hubbell is excellent as Briskett, the most surprising action hero that the Christmas movie has ever seen. Casey O'Keefe is also excellent as the sweet by deadly Cindy, and the rest of the Roubillards provide solid support, taking sideswipes at the archetype of the churchgoing double standard Republican family. A big surprise, even more so considering this is Ryan Nelson's feature debut.

12 Deaths of Christmas (UK 2017: Dir James Klass) Ok so this movie, directed by Klass the same year he made The House on Elm Lake - with which it shares some of the same actors and its waterside location - is also known as 'Mother Krampus.' This is pretty confusing as the creature in this film, although female, is in no way connected with the Krampus legend. But it does have a titular link to our next film - of which more later.

Vanessa (Claire-Maria Fox from Scarecrow Rising) takes her daughter Amy (Faye Goodwin) to stay at her father Alfie's place for Christmas. Vanessa has recently separated from her partner Wildon (Tom Bowen) who has run off with a younger woman, Debbie (Dottie James). As if all this family strife wasn't enough to endanger the happiness of the holiday period (and with the prospect of Wildon and Debbie joining the merry throng, secretly invited by Amy), Vanessa's dad is protecting his family from a big secret: back in 1992 he and a group of townsfolk killed a woman, Molly, who had been suspected of abducting and killing kids in the neighbourhood, taking the law into their own hands. But at her death Molly cursed her killers that Frau Perchta, the Christmas witch (a real folk tale, fact fans), would return and avenge her death. And now just as the family arrive at Alfie's, he must reconvene with the original townsfolk, to work out how to deal with a rash of new child abductions, and the presence of a cowled demonic figure, who may well be Frau Perchta herself.

Confused? Yep, there's a lot going on in Klass's cheap, overambitious but very lively film. The director doesn't let little things like budget and quality acting get in the way of telling a story, but I have to cautiously commend him for this mish mash of It, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Witch.

Whether you enjoy this film does involve a certain readjustment of what you you expect from a movie, but if you can see through the paucity of resources, 12 Deaths of Christmas is a rather inventive flick. Frau Perchta is way over used (and slightly too well fed to be an authentic witch), but the real standout is the profusion of gory scenes, which to be fair looked a little incongruous, and may only have only been mounted because someone on the FX team was good at synthetic innards creation. Honestly, I've not seen so many bargain basement disembowellings and entrail fondling (some of which are cooked and in one scene force fed to a victim) since Herschell Gordon Lewis's heyday. It was also impressive to see an ancient witch operating a modern oven and electric kitchen knife, but I'm probably being overly picky. If Klass's The House on Elm Lake was a bit of a drag, here he's tightened up the editing and while it's still a little overlong, it's never tedious. It's perhaps surprising that the story of a witch whose shtick was to disembowel her victims and replace their guts with rocks and straw (or Christmas lights in this case) hasn't been represented on screen as much as Krampus, as I for one would be quite happy to see the horned one rested a little in the movies.

Mother Krampus (USA 2018: Dir Eddie Lengyel) So 12 Deaths of Christmas's aka was also Mother Krampus, but here's a film that goes by the same name on the DVD cover, but also Lady Krampus. Oh hang on, its real title is Mother Krampus 2: Slay Ride. But apparently it's also previously been titled Naughty List and Slay Bells, but the movie itself is just plain old Mother Krampus 2, actually made in 2016. So that's me confused.

It doesn't really matter, as despite the snow on the ground and the occasional festive trappings, this isn't really a Christmas movie at all. Three girls, Athena, Victoria and Gracie, all reaching the end of their community service but far from reformed, are assigned to work in a homeless shelter and run home food deliveries for those in need. Arriving at the house of a seemingly kind old lady, Miss Smith, the trio are persuaded to carry out various chores. But what we know is that it isn't the old lady's house. Dressed in a mask and fright wig combo, she has entered the home, slaughtered the residents and assumed occupation. The trio are joined by another parolee, Candace (and her boyfriend Donnie, who's squirrelled out of sight), and later Paula, their Probation officer. Then Miss Smith proceeds to bump them off.

And that's pretty much it. Lengyel's previous movies (Scarred and Voodoo Rising, both from 2016 for example) have been have been fairly pedestrian backwoods set pieces, not without their indie charm but lacking in drama and overall watchability. Sadly Mother Krampus is no different, although it manages to tap into a sleazy mid 70s vibe, and while the death scenes are inept they are bloody. The director is to be congratulated on making a movie which is refreshingly plot free and concentrates on some characterisation, star of the piece being Roger Conners as drag queen Athena, never far away from a sharp put down, giving the movie a genuinely sleazy feel.

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