Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Why ZOMBIES & SHARKS? Well, those are the two things that I’ve had the most nightmares about. It’s the reason I rarely swim in the ocean. It’s the reason I have an escape plan from my apartment just in case of a zombie apocalypse. Now if you’ve ever had those fears or fears like them, inspired mainly by nights upon nights of watching films of the frightening kind, this is the place for you. Look for AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS every Friday for the foreseeable future, horror hounds, where we’ll be covering horror in all forms; retro, indie, mainstream, old and new.
To celebrate the holiday season, I’ve whittled together a couple of holiday horrors for you to check out or reminisce about (or not). Though my absolute favorite all time horror Christmas movie is BLACK CHRISTMAS (the original), I decided to forgo covering that one in lieu of checking out three holiday horror I hadn’t seen a million times. Though not as terrifying as Aunt Trudy’s fruitcake, all of the below films (in their own way) are what holiday horror is all about.
But before we check the films out, here’s what horror comic book goodness you may have missed from my other regular column, AICN COMICS, in a segment we call…
@@@ GRAPHIC CONTENT @@@
Lyzard looks at the Dark Horse prequel to LET ME IN!
Original @$$Hole Vroom Socko checks out the madcap insanity of AXE COP!
Lyzard looks at the newest issue of the Romans vs. Vampires comic IDES OF BLOOD!
Be sure to check out these horror comics reviews from AICN COMICS!
You might have missed it, but due to the new format at AICN, last week’s AICN HORROR column was delayed a bit. I posted my Bearror films column looking at GRIZZLY, PROPHECY, EXECUTIVE KOALA, and BEAR on Monday. I’ll link to it here just in case you missed it!
And now, let’s get our ghoulish X-Mas cheer on!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
CUENTO DE NAVIDAD (THE X-MAS TALE) (2005)
SANTA’S SLAY (2005)
SINT (SAINT) (2010)
And finally…Ho Ho Horror from AICN HORROR!
CUENTO DE NAVIDAD (THE X-MAS TALE) (2005)Directed by Paco PlazaWritten by Luis BerdejoStarring Maru Valdivielso, Ivana Baquero, Pau Poch, Christian Casas, Roger Babia, & Daniel CasadellaRetro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
CUENTO DE NAVIDAD or simply THE X-MAS TALE is one of those little gems you don’t hear about, but as soon as you see it, you want to share it with as many people as you possibly can. The closest thing I can compare this Spanish film to is EXPLORERS or GOONIES, where a group of kids are put into a very dire situation and because the adults around them are either negligent or busy, it is up to them to face the challenge. But unlike EXPLORERS or GOONIES, CUENTO DE NAVIDAD is an undeniable horror film. The best aspect of this film is that the children are in danger. CUENTO DE NAVIDAD doesn’t pull any punches. The terror in this one is for real.
A group of kids find a person dressed as Santa Claus at the bottom of a large hole in a forest. They soon find out that this isn’t jolly old St. Nick, but a female bank robber dressed as Santa Claus (played menacingly by Maru Valdivielso). But these kids aren’t really on Santa’s nice list as they try to blackmail the robber into telling them where her stolen money is by keeping her in the deep hole in the cold earth without food or water. One of the kids, Ivana Baquero (who you’ll recognize as the little girl from PAN’S LARYRINTH) feels bad for the robber, but the rest are little shits to her.
There’s a cool irony at play here that they are too old to believe in Santa Claus, the kids do believe in the voodoo zombie rituals that take place on the Saturday afternoon horror shows on TV. But though this is an endearing trait, you sort of find yourself rooting for the bank robber in this one as these kids are clearly not as clean and wholesome as the kids from Speilberg’s films. And this isn’t the anti-hero affinity one feels while watching Freddy or Jason kill off annoying twenty something actors. This is the feeling that these kids need to be punished for acting the way they do. Sure they have some endearing quirks with one kid loving the KARATE KID so much he applies Miagi’s teachings to mostly everything he does, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that they extorted money from, starved, and tortured a woman in a hole for two-thirds of the movie. So when the red coated robber gets out of the hole and goes looking for the kids, there’s a nice conflict at play.
The film only looses steam towards the end as the mysticism from the Saturday afternoon schlockers are employed, which makes for a last act tonal switch. The decision to go this route kind of lessens the impact of this powerful film, but it ends so quickly, CUENTO DE NAVIDAD does not suffer much for it. When I first heard of CUENTO DE NAVIDAD, I wasn’t too excited to see it, but after watching it, I’m kicking myself for not checking it out sooner. It offers some nice moral ironies, has great performances from Maru Valdivielso and Ivana Baquero (who will definitely be a huge star someday), and has a tone of terror with children that one doesn’t see very much anymore.
SANTA’S SLAY (2005)Directed by David Steiman
Written by David Steiman
Starring Bill Goldberg, Douglas Smith, Emilie de Raven, Robert Culp, Dave Thomas, Saul Rubinek, Rebecca Gayheart, Chris Kattan, Fran Drescher, James Caan, & Tiny Lister
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Look at that cast up there! Really? Having seen SANTA’S SLAY for the first time recently, I can’t believe all of those guys signed up for this film. James frikkin’ Caan? Robert Culp? But side from the guilty pleasure of watching Fran Drescher get her hair burned off and Chris Kattan violently kicked through a glass cabinet, SANTA'S SLAY isn't all that great. Douglas Smith (best known as the kid who kissed Margene in last season's BIG LOVE) plays Nicholas Yuleson, a sheepish teen sad because his eccentric grandpa (played by Robert Culp) always gets him inventions for Christmas instead of anything he really wants. Though he's constantly down in the dumps, Smith has a lot to like, especially since his girlfriend is played by Emilie de Raven/Claire from LOST, so that makes the character pretty damn annoying if you ask me. Santa must think so too because he's come to Yuleson's town (called Hell Township) which is populated by many, many B-list celebrities, and sets his sites on Yuleson to let loose some unholy holiday cheer on him.
SANTA'S SLAY rewrites all of the classic Christmas stories by claiming that Santa is actually Satan's son who lost a bet against an angel while playing a game of curling. Having lost the bet, Santa has to be merry and nice to the children of the world, but every thousand years he gets to wreak havoc again and guess when this film takes place. You guessed it, on the night Santa can go all Rowdy Roddy Piper on the world. Though I'm not the biggest wrestling fan, I know who Goldberg is, but a lot of the appeal of this film is seeing actors you like in roles they usually aren't playing. Goldberg makes an imposing St. Nick and unleashes his wrestling moves numerous times in the film against random folks. Though many horror films using Santa as a killer have a normal sized person go nuts and kill, it's sort of cool to see someone of Goldberg's stature in the red suit.
Though some of the kills are inspired (Santa's got an ox who eats people and the opening sequence where Santa slaughters an entire family of stars is probably the highlight of the film), there's really no rhyme of reason to Santa's killing spree. Him being the son of the Devil may be excuse enough for such a massacre and the randomness may be the point, but it would have been nice to see some method behind Santa's madness. Naughty or nice, if you get in Santa's way you're likely to have a fireplace soot covered boot buried deep into one orifice or another.
Low on scares and gore, SANTA'S SLAY is entertaining. A lot of the one-liners Goldberg spews would make Arnie blush, but just seeing the wrestler kick ass in a strip joint and throw flaming lumps of coal at patrons whilst making out with strippers is something I haven't seen before. For that, any holiday horror completist may want to check this film out. SANTA'S SLAY has fast and fun moments, but it tries too hard to grasp that holiday charm GREMLINS had, yet fails to get a firm grip despite the physical strength of it's star.
SINT (SAINT) (2010)Directed by Dick MaasWritten by Dick MaasStarring Huub Stapel, Egbert Jan Weeber, Caro Lenssen, & Madelief BlankenReviewed by Ambush Bug
Though this is the third killer version of Santa Claus in this week’s column, this one plays things straight. Some horror doesn’t take itself seriously. I think there’s an overabundance of that in recent years, at least in mainstream horror. I enjoy the stories of horrors of real life, the ones that take the real world and either show horrific elements of it or bring horror elements into the real world. From the Netherlands, SINT is a killer Santa film, but it is definitely in the vein a horror fanatic like myself can get behind.
SINT opens up in 1492 with a dour looking bishop and his band of not so merry men make their way through a village, taking offerings and randomly murdering entire households. The townspeople revolt and burn the terrorizing Saint’s boat and with the Saint and his helpers inside to the briny depths. Enter 32 years in the past (which the numbering doesn’t really match if the story is set in present day and the second jump in time takes place in 1968 which would make it 42 years, but who’s paying attention to stuff like that), a typical family home is getting ready for the holidays when the fireplace goes cold. The kids gather round to see Santa Claus, but instead meet a gory, yet off screen, death. It was at this second opening sequence that I was hooked on SINT. The chimney sequence is filmed quick and contained enough elements that were original and horrifying to be one of the more memorable holiday horror sequences on celluloid.
The movie really starts getting rolling when it finally gets to present day. Yes, it becomes your typical young protagonists against a legend story. In fact, it’s very much like the story of Freddy Krueger as an evil man is executed by angry townsfolk only to return for revenge on the descendants, but SINT has an authenticity and works with the tradition of Christmas, a holiday most hold dearly, so there’s a commonality to the threat that Elm Street lacks. There are also elements of HALLOWEEN present with a slightly mad policeman scouring the streets of the town Loomis-style for signs that his theories that St. Nick is not the jolly old soul he is thought to be.
So yes, SINT has a supernatural killer returning from the grave for vengeance against a town. What sets this apart from your typical slasher opus is the execution. I will say that this film does for fireplaces what JAWS did for beaches. With the effective first chimney sequence, SINT makes every step near a hearth filled with tension. Director Dick Maas does a fantastic job of setting a very creepy tone, establishing a new iconic big-screen monster, and fiendishly riffing off of age old tradition. Maas makes every kill stand out and inventive and isn’t afraid to get gory when need be. SINT (Dutch for SAINT) is the perfect combination of the first two films we looked at in this column. It’s got the deadly serious tone of CUENTO DE NAVIDAD’s killer dressed as Santa mixed with the embrace and twisting of the Santa Claus myth of SANTA’S SLAY. When it comes to holiday treats, what I want for Christmas is more films like SINT!
And finally, in the spirit of the season, here’s a bunch of children crying on Santa’s lap set to James Brown music for you…Enjoy the holidays, you sick bitches!
See ya, next week, folks!
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Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the titles for purchasing info)!MUSCLES & FIGHTS VOL.3 & MUSCLES & FRIGHTS VOL.1.
VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS: THE TINGLER #1 and #2 (interview, interview, preview, & review).
VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #20 WITCHFINDER GENERAL (preview, review).
NANNY & HANK miniseries #1, #2, #3, and #4(interview, interview, interview, preview, & review, NANNY & HANK Facebook Page!).
Zenescope’s upcoming WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010.
THE DEATHSPORT GAMES miniseries #1, #2, #3, and #4 (In stores in November 2010! THE DEATHSPORT GAMES Facebook Page!).