Category Archives: Christmas Movies

Gremlins (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t get them wet.

During his travels through China gadget salesmen Randall (Hoyt Axton) spots a furry little creature called a mogwai at a Chinese antique shop run by Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) and decides to purchase it as a Christmas present for his teenage son Billy (Zach Galligan). The mogwai, which they name Gizmo, comes with three simple rules that must never be broken. The first is that the creature must never be exposed to sunlight or bright lights of any kind, he must never get wet or be given water and most importantly he should never be fed after midnight. Unfortunately all three of these rules end up getting broken and the result is the creation of ugly little monsters called gremlins that create havoc and destruction on a peaceful town during Christmas Eve.

The concept is great with a nice mix of horror and dark comedy and I loved the idea of having this Norman Rockwell small town besieged with an ugly underbelly. The creatures look amazingly real and Gizmo is especially cute with special effects that are both creative and effective.

However, in the filmmaker’s effort to be humorous and ‘clever’ the film goes off-the-beam a bit by adding in stuff that isn’t logical and hurts the plot’s overall integrity. I didn’t get where these monstrous gremlins were finding all these hats and clothes that they are seen wearing nor how they were able to read signs, or know how to drive vehicles. Their tiny arms would be too small to be able to hold a chainsaw let alone run it and if you look closely during the bar scene you can see that the beer mugs that they are holding have been miniaturized in order to conform to the dimensions of the puppet. Also, the part where Gizmo gets into a remote controlled toy car and ‘drives’ it makes no sense since they are solely powered by a remote run by someone else that is not present.

Since water is the basic fluid for the survival of most living organisms it was peculiar that this one couldn’t be given any. What liquid was he supposed to drink instead? If he can’t eat after midnight then when exactly can he eat  since theoretically any time is after midnight whether its 3 AM or 3 PM. To me though the dumbest part is when Gizmo’s original owner Mr. Wing reappears at Billy’s and Randall’s home looking to take the creature back, but how would he know where to locate Randall as he left him no address and the film makes it seem that somehow he walked all the way from orient to get there, which is really dumb.

The film was also in its day considered quite controversial since it features a scene where Billy’s mother (Frances Lee McCain) traps one of the gremlins in a microwave and then heats it up until it explodes, which many people considered ‘too violent’ for a PG film and it helped to usher in the PG-13 rating. To me I felt this scene was actually the best moment in the movie as it’s the one part where it actually becomes like a horror film and has some genuine tension.

Dick Miller is fun as a maintenance man who despises foreign made products and Polly Holliday is equally amusing as a scrooge-like landlord whose over-the-top death is a highlight. I also liked Hoyt Axton as the father, but the running joke dealing with all of his inventions and gadgets that constantly breakdown gets old real fast and I was confused how he was able to afford such a nice big house when he made such a menial living trying to sell things that nobody wanted and didn’t work.

This also marks the last acting appearance of two great character actors, which include Scott Brady who is amusing as the alcoholic sheriff who refuses to believe that a bunch of gremlins are on the loose until it’s too late. Many consider this to be Edward Andrews, whose role here as the bank manager was greatly reduced when the runtime was trimmed by over 50 minutes for the final cut, last onscreen appearance as well even though Sixteen Candles, where he had a much more prominent role, was filmed later, but released to theaters earlier.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The War of the Roses (1989)

war of the roses

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Yuppie couple destroys home.

Oliver and Barbara Rose (Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner) are a married couple with contrasting personalities who find that they no longer get along and in fact can’t even stand each other. They agree to a divorce and all of the assets except for the house. Both of them want to keep it and Oliver’s attorney Gavin (Danny DeVito) has found a loophole in the law that allows Oliver to remain there even after the separation is final. The problem is that they continue to get on each other’s nerves, which culminates with them locking themselves into the home one dark, harrowing night and using whatever prop available to vent their anger onto the other while inadvertently destroying the house in the process.

Some consider this to be one of the darkest comedies to ever be financed by a major Hollywood studio and when you think about it, it really is amazing. Most major studios shy away from edgy material and water it down until it becomes benign, but this film, which is based on the 1981 Warren Adler novel of the same title, stays quite true to its source material. The humor is on-target while making a great trenchant statement towards capitalism and yuppies in general. DeVito’s direction is visual and imaginative and there are some truly funny moments including the one where Turner destroys Douglas’s British Morgan Roadster with her 4-wheel drive truck.

The reuniting of Douglas and Turner from the Romancing the Stone films was perfecting casting. The two seem to have genuinely distinctive personas and it’s fun to imagine this as simply an extension of their earlier characters of Jack Colton and Joan Wilder and what happens when their rosy romance turns into the realities of marriage. The scene where Douglas’s character saws off the heels of Turner’s shoes is a great connection to their earlier film as his character did the exact same thing there, but it was unfortunate that we never get to see Turner’s reaction to it.

The production is slick, but having DeVito act as the film’s narrator seemed a bit distracting at times and the film might’ve worked better without him although he does have a few verbal gems during the second hour that almost makes up for it. I also didn’t like that the character who he tells this story to never says a single word, which to me seemed unnatural and weird as did his green painted office. Having the two kids of the couple turn out to be pudgy and fat was amusing and helped in a metaphorical way to symbolize the parent’s gluttony for materialism, but then the filmmakers end up ruining their own joke by having the kids later on become thin and attractive for no reason.

Spoiler Alert!!

The knock-down ending inside the home is great and DeVito’s use of Hitchcock overtones is inspired. Seeing the couple trapped on a ceiling chandelier while the camera travels up the wires of the light and into the attic where we see how the added weight bursts the bolts that anchors it is quite clever and even ingenious, but I was disappointed that the two end up crashing to the floor and dying. For one thing I didn’t think it was a big enough fall to have killed both of them. Maybe one, but most likely they both would’ve survived, but with injuries. Either way it would’ve been more interesting to see how they responded to each other after the incident and whether it helped to change them or their love/hate relationship, which to some degree is the film’s most unsatisfying aspect

End of Spoiler Alert!!

Adler wrote a sequel to his novel in 2004 that dealt with a messy divorce of the Rose’s grown son Josh to his wife. That book has now been put into production as a movie entitled The War of the Roses: The Children although no release date or cast has been announced as of yet.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated R

Director: Danny DeVito

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Some of My Best Friends Are… (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Patronizing a gay bar.

It’s Christmas Eve 1970 and a year and a half after the Stonewall Riots that first brought gay rights issues into the national spotlight. However, the patrons of the local Blue Jay Bar are still feeling like second class citizens where dancing between two men is prohibited and those who have come out about their homosexuality are being rejected by their family and friends.

The film certainly does bring up some great issues, but unfortunately pales badly when compared to The Boys in the Band that came out just a year earlier. The direction lacks style and the dialogue is too generic to be riveting. The film also has no momentum as the camera simply cuts from one group of conversing people to another. The on-location shooting done at the Zodiac Bar gives the production a static, claustrophobic feeling since almost the entire thing takes place in one building. The lighting is also dark and shadowy and at certain points even out-of-focus making it all seem quite amateurish.

The action is minimal in what is otherwise a very talky 110 minute runtime. The best moment is when Gary Sandy, who’s excellent in his film debut, and playing a man in denial about his homosexuality becomes enraged when he finds that the woman he has been dancing with (played by Candy Darling who is also excellent) is actually a man, which causes him to drag her into the bathroom and beat her that in turn creates a huge riot that is genuinely tense and startling. The scene where a mother enters the bar and openly disavows her son after finding out that he is gay is also quite good, but should’ve been extended.

Fannie Flagg gets kudos for her highly engaging performance as a snarky lady who never seems at a loss for words or verbal comeback. The way she dances by giggling her large breasts up and done like they are rubber balls is a crazy sight. Rue McClanahan is also good as a bitchy, aging blonde and so is Dick O’Neill as a conservative old-timer who shows great disdain for the ‘pansy pad’ once he finds out that it is a gay bar, but then strangely is still reluctant to leave it. This also marks the film debut of Gil Gerard who appears briefly in a small role.

The film’s few good moments and overall impactful message are badly outweighed by Mervyn Nelson’s dull direction as well as its rambling narrative that lacks a central character and makes for a flat and tedious viewing experience.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 27, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mervyn Nelson

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Static (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody sees only static.

Ernie Blick (Keith Gordon) works at a crucifix factory, but dreams of making it big with his secret invention. The whole town that he lives in is abuzz about it and many take bets as to what it is. However, once Ernie unveils it no one is impressed. Ernie insists that he has created a device that can show live images of heaven, but all anyone else can see on the TV screen is static. Ernie becomes frustrated that no one can appreciate what he has done so he hijacks a bus carrying a group of senior citizens in order to create a media event that will allow him to share his invention with the rest of the world, but things don’t go as planned.

The film has that refreshing look and feel of an authentic indie flick made long before it was trendy and still in its infancy of being a trailblazer for original ideas. It’s fun and clever most of the way including a memorable shot of Ernie’s weird crucifix collection. The humor is subtle and hip with a cool music selection from lesser known 80’s bands. Director Mark Romanek shows great visual flair with his use of unique settings and color designs. The dialogue and characters are both engaging and quirky. I also loved the opening credits, which features a small, static filled TV screen in the distant background along with the sound of a low hum, which I found to be strangely hypnotic.

Gordon, who co-wrote the screenplay, does well in a difficult role where the viewer is supposed to find him likable and appealing despite the fact that he is clearly a bit unhinged. Amanda Plummer as his girlfriend gets a rare turn as being the most normal one in the film, which is interesting. Bob Gunton has a few choice moments as a conniving preacher man named Frank and Jane Hoffman is amusing as a senior citizen who tries to help Ernie on his mission.

Unfortunately the story doesn’t carry the quirky idea to a successful completion. It might have worked better had there been some image of some kind seen and then everyone could’ve debated whether that was indeed heaven or not instead of just seeing static, which comes off like a big buildup to nothing. The satire is too obvious and its overall message frustratingly vague. The violent and completely unexpected tragic ending is jarring and unnecessary and ruins its otherwise pleasant, whimsical tone.

There is also a scene where Gordon and Plummer go to a restaurant and order food, but when it gets served they barely touch it and then a minute later get up and leave after paying the bill, but why pay for something or even order if you’re just going to leave it there untouched? This is an annoying thing that I’ve seen happen in other films as well. I hate to sound preachy, but sometimes when I see these types of scenes I feel like screaming ‘There’s kids starving in Africa, so don’t waste your food people’!

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Romanek

Studio: Siren

Available: VHS 

Christmas Vacation (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Christmas at the Griswold’s.

It’s the season to be merry and to celebrate Clark (Chevy Chase) gets a tree that is too big for their house and his hopes of installing a backyard pool are dashed when his holiday bonus check doesn’t arrive. Meanwhile their home gets crammed with in-laws including his hillbilly cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) who never ceases to be obnoxious and crude.

I first saw this movie upon its release and didn’t much care for it, but upon second viewing I found it a bit more appealing. The humor isn’t exactly sophisticated or original, but manages to be amiable enough to be entertaining. Some of my favorite moments were just the small things like the way Clark angrily kicks the toy Santa in his front yard when he can’t get his outdoor Christmas lights to work or even the goofy reindeer glasses that Clark and Eddie drink eggnog out of. Clark’s innuendo filled stammering when aroused by a beautiful young saleslady is nothing new, but always funny especially with the way Chase does it. The running dialogue is full of amusing lines and good enough to spring up Quote-a-long film showings of this picture at many chain theaters including the Alamo Drafthouse Theater here in Texas.

Even though it has acquired a fervent cult following and been judged a ‘classic’ by some it still has its fair share of issues. For one thing they had too many in-laws over to fit into that mid-sized house and I wondered where they all slept and showing Rusty their teenage son sleeping in the same bed with his teenage sister seemed to border on the perverse. The film also has a frustrating tendency to not follow through with all of its gags including the part where Clark falls through the floorboards of his attic and into the top bunk bed of son’s bedroom below, which I’m sure would’ve caused a lot of issues, but we’re never shown it. The virtually plotless script by John Hughes, which relies solely on rapid-fire gags becomes a bit derivative and tedious by the final half-hour and is saved only by a funny squirrel attack as well as an S.W.A.T. team ambush. I also felt a bit uncomfortable laughing at a cat getting electrocuted, which the studio was going to cut, but then left in when it proved popular with test audiences

Young Juliette Lewis is cute and my favorite of the rotating Audrey’s. Beverly D’Angelo is the hottest MILF out there and I was a little shocked at the way she seems to grab Chase directly on his crotch during the S.W.A.T scene. I liked the veteran cast that made up the grandparents, but outside a few cryptic lines by E.G. Marshall they are essentially wasted especially Doris Roberts and Diane Ladd who play the two grandmothers and don’t have more than a few lines between them. Quaid is a scene stealer, but he gets a bit crude in spots. It’s fun seeing Mae Questal best known as the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl in her final film role as a daffy, elderly aunt and I also enjoyed Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Griswold’s neighbors. They are portrayed as being this annoyingly pretentious, trendy yuppie couple, but the truth is I started to sympathize with them as their house continually gets damaged by Clark’s mishaps and I would have ended up being even more outraged and confrontational than they were had I been in their spot.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jeremiah Chechik

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Elves (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: This elf isn’t friendly.

Kirsten (Julie Austin) feels Christmas has become too commercialized and dreads the season only to find out something that will make her hate it even worse as her evil Grandfather (Borah Silver) who has Nazi ties has apparently selected her to breed with an elf in order to create a superior human race. Now she must work with Mike McGavin (Dan Haggerty) an out of work department store Santa to not only evade her grandfather and his men, but also the elf that now runs wild.

Despite the title there is actually only one elf and it’s not a very good looking one at that. Not only does his appearance resemble the character in Troll, but you never actually get to see an entire body shot of him. You will only see close-up shots from the chest up or close-ups of his tiny feet or hands that look to be that of a puppets. This was most likely because they didn’t have the budget or talent to create a full body suit for someone to wear, but the effect lessens the horror, which isn’t too high to begin with. His hands are so tiny that it would have been impossible for him to shoot a gun let alone hold one, which he does do in one scene anyways, and it also gave me the belief that with his small stature he couldn’t have been that threatening and one could’ve easily just have kicked him away and been done with it.

Haggerty, who most will remember from the 70’s TV-series Life and Times of Grizzly Adams actually does pretty good in an otherwise thankless part. I almost felt that if he would just do away with his trademark mountain man look more parts might open up for him and he wouldn’t be subjugated to having to do this crap, but in any event his presence is the only reason I’m giving this 1 point instead of 0. The rest of the cast flunks including the bad guys with their fake sounding German accents and the bland females with the only exception being Deanna Lund as the hateful mother who has a nude scene, which isn’t bad.

The story is farfetched, convoluted and ultimately boring. The special effects are unimpressive and the action poorly paced leaving way for long intervals where nothing seems to happen. It looks like it was shot on video and then transferred to film, which only accentuates its cheap production values. Outside of a pretty good bathtub death and a shot of an elf fetus inside the womb this film as little to offer or recommend and should not be put on anyone’s Christmas list unless they’ve been really, really bad.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released Date: December 10, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jeffrey Mandel

Studio: Action International Pictures

Available: VHS

Jingle All the Way (1996)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He needs Turbo man.

Howard (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a middle-aged father who finds that the long hours at his job is preventing him from attending some events that his young son Jake (Jamie Langston) is in including his karate exposition. This makes Howard feel bad and he tries to go to every effort to attain the much wanted Turbo Man action figure to give to Jamie for Christmas. Unfortunately every store is sold out of them and he must trek across the Twin Cities to find some place that might have them while competing with a mailman named Myron (Sinbad) who is on the same mission.

The film is energetic and engaging and the segment where Howard runs all through the Mall of America while chasing after a small bouncing ball is funny. The part where he kicks the burning head of a wise man statue out the window that sends carolers screaming and running for cover had me laughing-out-loud. I also liked the scene where he has to take on a roomful of bad guy santas with a giant plastic candy cane. One of the santas is so huge that he dwarfs Arnie and makes him look puny, which is hard to believe but true.

The climatic sequence done during a parade in which Howard and Myron dress up in costume to resemble the Turbo Man as well as his arch enemy and continue to battle each other for the toy is quite lively. Watching Howard flying around the Minneapolis skyscrapers while wearing a turbo charged jetpack is fun, but completely implausible that a costume to be worn at a parade would ever be equipped with something like that. It is also hard to believe that Jamie wouldn’t recognize his own father even if he is wearing a costume especially when he continues to speak in his very distinct Austrian accent.

Sinbad with his engaging personality is good in support. However, the scene where he is seen dumping letters out of his mail bag in order to keep up with Howard while running down a street is a federal offence and would most certainly get him terminated and even given some jail time and since he did it in broad daylight in front of others it could have easily gotten reported.

Langston as the kid is cute, but there are those from the old-school who think that a young child slamming a door in the face of a parent even if he is mad at him is quite rude and out-of-line. Also, being upset with his father because he doesn’t attend some of his events due to working hard at his job isn’t really fair. Becoming enslaved to a demanding job to keep up a cushy suburban existence is a plague of most fathers and if the Dad didn’t do it they might lose that nice house and be out on the street and I’m sure the borderline entitled kid would dislike that even more.

Robert Conrad is great in support as a tough-guy-like cop who is constantly having hilarious confrontations with Howard. Watching him give Howard a sobriety test is ironic since Conrad’s real-life car accident that he had while intoxicated, which occurred just a little after doing this essentially ended his acting career.

Phil Hartman is always good as a slimy character and in this case it is as the lecherous next-door-neighbor, but having him constantly speak his lines like he is a spokesman in a TV commercial becomes irritating. Harvey Korman and Laraine Newman appear in very small roles near the beginning and barely have any speaking lines, which made me wonder why they would even bother to appear at all.

The one-joke premise gets stretched about as far as it can go, but manages to come up with enough different scenarios to keep it feeling like it is evolving. The humor veers a bit too much to the cartoonish and although I liked the on-location shooting done for the most part in Minnesota I felt they didn’t take advantage of the Mall of America locale enough and more could have done more with it. The closing credits take an amazing 7 minutes off the runtime, but it is worth it to stick through them because there in one last amusing bit at the very, very end.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1996

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Brian Levant

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

To All a Goodnight (1980)

to all a goodnight

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Santa stalks sorority babes.

An initiation stunt at a girl’s sorority house goes horribly wrong and one young woman falls to her death off of a balcony. Two years later the girls get ready for a Christmas party by inviting some boys over and soon they are all getting down-and-dirty, but then someone dressed in a Santa Claus suit begins hacking them off one-by-one.

I’m a big fan of David Hess who directed this feature as I feel his performance as Krug in the classic horror movie Last House on the Left was effectively intense and this film is also written by Alex Rebar who starred in the cheesy cult flick The Incredible Melting Man, so I wanted to cut this movie some slack, but found that I couldn’t. Things start out bad from the very beginning with a tacky flashback sequence that is wretchedly acted and photographed and then things go straight downhill from there. Part of the problem is that the scenes featuring extraneous dialogue between a lot of bland, cardboard characters that is usually used at the beginning of most 80’s slasher flicks as a sort of set-up, but here they get strung along throughout the entire movie. The killings themselves are brief and paced so infrequently that you start to forget that this is supposed to be a horror film. The tension is nil and having a setting dealing with snarky, snotty and horny sorority babes is a tiresome cliché.

The killings themselves are poorly photographed in dark lighting, so it is difficult to follow the action. The special effects are cheap and unimpressive. One scene features a couple getting killed while they have sex, which is a poor rip-off of the same scene that was done in Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood. Some fans of the film boast about the scene featuring a death of two people by an airplane propeller, but this is really no big deal because all you see are a few seconds of blood splattering on the outside of the plane and that’s it.

The script is illogical and full of a lot of loopholes. The identity of the killer turns out to be two people using the same disguise, which doesn’t make sense for several different reasons, which is too may to elaborate here. There is also a Leia character played by Judith Bridges who gets accosted by the killer in a shower stall while being completely naked, but for some reason is not killed and instead we see her at the end dancing some nutty dance, but with no explanation as to why. The policemen hired to protect the girls after the first victim is found dead do not dress in uniform and instead look like they are ready to go out to a club to pick up chicks and behave like it, which seemed wholly unprofessional and ridiculous.

Jennifer Runyon makes her film debut here. She had a brief 13-year-run, which included a co-starring role in the 80’s series ‘Charles in Charge’, but has not appeared in anything since 1993’s Carnosaur. She is certainly easy on the eyes, but her voice is too high-pitched and sounds almost like she is 8 or 9 years old or someone who has sucked up helium. Hess also casts his mother Judy Hess in a small role as Mrs. Ronsoni although in the closing credits it gets incorrectly listed as Mr. Ronsoni.

Despite being set at Christmas the action takes place in the warm tropical climate of California, which is okay, but the expectation for a Christmas movie is to have snow and cold. Having the girls trapped in their house because of the frigid weather or being chased by the killer while trudging through deep snow could’ve helped heighten the tension and added an atmosphere.

The pounding electronic music score is the only thing that I liked and helped give this otherwise static and forgettable production a slight distinction.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: January 30, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes (VHS Print)

Rated R

Director: David Hess

Studio: Intercontinental Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

Black Christmas (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s in the attic.

It’s Christmas time at the sorority house, but as the girls celebrate the season they continue to get harassing phone calls from a strange man who speaks in different and frightening voices. Unbeknownst to them the man has snuck into the attic of their house and the calls are coming in from another room. As the night progresses the girls begin to disappear forcing the lone survivor to fight off the killer by herself.

I have not seen the remake of this film and due to negative response that I have heard I don’t think I want to either. This review pertains to the original only. If you have seen the remake and disliked it you should still give this film a try.  Despite its low budget it is quite effective and it slowly builds up the tension in a nice compact style with a great twist ending.

Of course one of the things that make this movie so good is the humor. I loved Marian Waldman as the alcoholic house mother Mrs. McHenry who stashes bottles of whiskey in all sorts of goofy places. The vulgar Santa who swears even as the kids are sitting on his lap is a hoot and a nice precursor to Bad Santa, but my favorite is the poster of a sweet old lady giving the finger.

One of the best moments on the terror end is the part where the killer’s eyeball can be seen looking through a small crack in the doorway, which is memorable. The scene where the camera pans from each girl’s nervous and frightened face as they listen to the weird voices emanating from the phone receiver is very well done although it would have been even stronger had the Christmas music not have been playing in the background.

The performances are top rate and I liked the fact that the girls all have distinct personalities from one another. Margot Kidder as the vulgar and obnoxious sorority sister Barb is a scene stealer and I’d say this is the best performance of her career. I loved when she calls one of the more conservative members of the group a ‘professional virgin’, or has the audacity to call her own mother a ‘gold-plated whore’. The part where she gets a young kid drunk and even swears in front of him is also funny as is her conversation about a species of turtle that can have sex for three straight days without stopping. Yet through all of her outrageousness director Bob Clark still manages to create a three-dimensional character by showing her as also being lonely, moody, and suffering from asthma, which is good.

Olivia Hussey as Jess is terrific. She is poised, confident, intelligent, and sweet and the type of character the viewer can immediately connect with and care about. Her face has a wonderful fragility about it as well a natural beauty. The look of terror coming from her eyes seems genuine and the horror is made more effective because she responds to it in a believable and relatable way.

Keir Dullea is good as Jess’s high strung boyfriend Peter. I had to chuckle a bit seeing him here as it brought back memories of what playwright Noel Coward once said about him “Keir Dullea gone tomorrow”, which seemed to have some credence since he was starring in the masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey just a few years earlier and now delegated to a supporting role in a low budget horror film. I always felt that his reserved and emotionless delivery can work when given the right role and for the most part it clicks here despite the fact that he was pushing 40 at the time and not quite looking college age.

I read one review where the critic complained that he did not feel it was believable for a killer to be hiding in an attic and no one else in the house aware of it, but the house was a big old building and for me it seemed possible especially since it was only for a short period of time. Overall I felt this was a very plausible premise that is handled in a realistic fashion without all the glaring loopholes, which is one reason I continue to enjoy it no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

However, there are a few quibbles. One is the policeman who gets his throat slashed while sitting in an unmarked police car just outside of the sorority home. I would think a seasoned office would be able to spot someone sinking up on him while he is inside a car especially since it was otherwise not a busy street and since it was wintertime I think it would be highly doubtful that he would be sitting there with the driver’s side window rolled down. I also had to roll my eyes at the scene where Jess is trying to get out of the house as she is being chased by the killer and yet for some inexplicable reason the front door conveniently jams even though no had a problem with it before.

Bob Clark shows what a talented director he is and it is too bad his career and life was cut short in a car accident in 2007. It is one thing to have a big budget and access to all the state-of-the-art special effects, but it is another to make a memorable movie on a shoestring. Despite its low budget it doesn’t seem hampered by many of the limitations that other similar films suffer.

Some may prefer lots of gore, which this one has very little of, and a bigger-than-life monster or bad guy, but the reason this is a classic is because they go with the philosophy that less is more. Any self-respecting horror fan should see this film and most likely appreciate it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 11, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Clark

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Special Edition), Blu-ray

You Better Watch Out (1980)

you better watch out

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: This Santa isn’t jolly.

As a young boy Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) witnessed his mother being groped by Santa Claus, which was apparently his father in the disguise, but it nonetheless creating a disturbing image in his mind that shattered the ideal he had for the mythical man. Years later as an adult working a thankless job at a toy factory Harry starts to believe he is Santa Claus and even spies on the neighborhood children to see which ones have been naughty or nice and keeps meticulous records on each. Then on Christmas Eve he dresses up as Santa and delivers presents to some needed kids at a hospital, but also comes into contact with a group of condescending people outside of a church who he then kills. This sends out a police alert where everyone in the city including the regular townspeople is on the hunt for him and Harry tries to avoid them while continuing to deliver his gifts.

For some reason this film never created the controversy of portraying Santa Claus as a killer like Silent Night Deadly Night did even though this film came out 4 years earlier.  Critic Leonard Maltin came down hard on that one in his book, but seemed to like this one, which is the whole reason I gave this one a chance 25 years ago, but I remember disliking it. Since this film has through the years managed to inspire a small cult following I decided to give it another chance, but I really didn’t like it any better.

Part of the problem is that it is very slow and plodding with the majority of the film focusing on Harry as he goes through the daily routines of his pointless and lonely life. Nothing that he does is compelling and sometimes it is even confusing. It is hard to call this a horror film even though that is what it is considered because there are really no scares at all and the gore is at an extreme minimum. Maggart gives a solid performance in the lead, but as my acting teacher in school once said a good actor cannot save a weak script, or as he put it ‘you can’t shine shit.’

There are only two killings and neither of them is effective. The killing done outside a church is captured in a choppy editing style with bloody special effects that look fake and it is carried out by Harry while using a toy ax, which seemed ludicrous. I also didn’t think it made a lot of sense for the victims to have such a snarky and sarcastic behavior especially when they were just coming out of a church service. What is worse is that when the victims are killed no one comes to their aid to see if they can save them they just stand on the church steps and stare at their lifeless bodies. An APB is also put which is broadcast on the TV news stating that the killer escaped in a white van with Christmas sled painted on its side, which is distinct enough that somebody somewhere would have spotted it and yet Harry continues to drive around unheeded.

SPOILER ALERT!

The ending is the weakest part. For one thing some townspeople recognize Harry as being the killer Santa and chase him down through the neighborhood streets while carrying torches, but just where in this modern day and age are people could to find torches. Some fans of the film insist that this is homage to the film Frankenstein, but to be clever it still has to make sense and this doesn’t.  There is also the issue of when Harry drives his van off a bridge instead of going into the river below it instead flies off into the sky like Santa on his sled. Now, since the majority of the film was done from Harry’s perspective this might simply be his last delusional moment before he dies, but the film needed to confirm this and doesn’t, which makes it more annoying than anything.

Writer/director Lewis Jackson has stated in later interviews that he got the idea for this movie while smoking a joint and I think he was still smoking them when he made this thing. The majority of people come away from this thing feeling the same way about it that I did, but I know there are a few that insist it is ‘brilliant’ and if you are one them feel free to leave your comments below and let me know what it is you think I am missing because after two viewings I just don’t see it.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Alternate Title: Christmas Evil

Rated R

Director: Lewis Jackson

Studio: Edward R. Pressman Productions

Available: VHS, DVD (Special Edition and in 3D), Amazon Instant Video