Tuesday, December 17, 2013


As we near the holidays, whichever one it may be, I like to throw in a movie that takes place during the same time.  I don’t know, I guess it seems weird to watch a Halloween themed movie in the spring or a Christmas movie during the summertime…I even wait until the hot weather to see Jaws.

One thing I dislike about the Christmas season is the soft, over-cheerful movies that come out during this time.  I mean, you have some good flicks like A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, The Family Man, and so on, but there’s always an oversaturation of sugary-sweet Hallamark-esque movies which are too lovey-dovey and just make me roll my eyes to the top of my head when I see them.

The Christmas films I like to watch are the ones that take place during the holiday, but don’t have too much to do with it (or anything at all).  For instance, I like to watch the first Lethal Weapon movie, Die Hard and Die Hard 2, Rocky IV, First Blood and 1984’s Gremlins.

Now, gremlins have long been mythicized for sabotaging aircraft since way back in World War I.  Now, of
course, it was just a funny saying that a gremlin threw a wrench in the engine, causing it to fail, but it’s amusing how the myth remained for all these years.  I always remembered seeing cartoons depicting this creature, like the famous Bug Bunny cartoon, “Falling Hare,” where it takes place during World War II and it shows this little blue and yellow gremlin turning the tables on Bugs, annoying him and giving him trouble on the air field and even in the air.  But the gremlins in this film—at least the bad ones—do more than pull pranks and get into mischief, they straight up terrorize!

Gremlins takes place during Christmas, in the small town of Kingston Falls.  A resident of this community, and inventor named Rand Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), goes on a business trip to try and sell some of his inventions.  Along the way, he comes across this shop owned by an old Chinese man (Keye Luke) and sees a small, furry creature towards the back of the store which the man says it’s a Mogwai.  Rand inquires about it as he wants to get his son, Billy (Zach Galligan), a gift for Christmas, but the old man refuses to sell him the creature.  As Rand leaves the store, the old man’s grandson meets him outside with the little creature and sells it to him with three explicit instructions: keep it out of bright light, do not get it wet with water, and do not feed it after midnight.  Rand takes the creature home and gives it to his son, Billy.  He names him Gizmo and the little lovable gremlin becomes part of the
family right away.  But one day water is accidentally spilled onto him, leaving Billy to find out that water
makes more Mogwais multiply off of Gizmo.  But these new creatures are different compared to Gizmo—most of them kind of dumb, with one smarter and more evil—and they purposely break the third rule of eating after midnight.  Soon, Billy, his girlfriend, Kate (Phoebe Cates), and the whole town, finds out what happens when a gremlin eats after midnight.

It’s a fine line between calling this movie a family-friendly Christmas movie and a horror comedy, because, although there are characters in the film appear to be getting killed, most of the violence committed by the creatures are done off-screen and are never established that they’re actually deaths.  What helps make the film accept the brutal behavior of the gremlins is the fact that they are basically represented as puppets, making the film seem like a grotesque, yet comical, Muppet movie.  So, I’d probably call this a dark comedy/creature feature before I’d call this a family film.

Speaking of the creatures, their designs are pretty cool, even if they are puppets, and have a scary look about them—as they metamorphose to the creepy versions—when they appear on screen.  Most of the time, they only appear from the waist up, but every so often they’re represented in animation (shadows behind windows or the theater scene) or some clever way to show them as walking around.

Above all else, it’s the performances from the main actors that make this film work.  To see Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates running from the creatures, appearing frightened, makes it believable that there’s a threat out to get them.  The ensemble of the actors and actresses featured in this film definitely make this film memorable.

Back about the Bugs Bunny cartoon I’d mentioned earlier, I believe it preceded many of the Gremlins viewings when released in theaters, because I clearly remembered seeing it when I saw the movie back in 1984.  As a matter of fact, Warner Bros. was doing that quite a bit in the 80s and I thought it was great, because that’s how these cartoons were originally shown, opening for films back in the 40s and 50s.

One thing I have to nitpick about this film is the little story Kate imparts to Billy, explaining why she hates Christmas.  Throughout the film, she mentions a few times that she hates Christmas, but never explains why
until near the end of the film.  I won’t give it away, but I really can’t put my finger on it as to why this was written into the plot.  I don’t know if this was supposed to be a joke to the audience or if it was meant to be serious, but it doesn’t come across as either.  I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

My final “bit” on Gremlins?

Although I wouldn’t sit down with any pre-teens to watch this film, I believe the film is somewhat of a family film, with a lot of sight gags and funny-looking creatures.  The theme of Christmas is definitely there as the town is covered in snow and the houses are decorated with Christmas lights, so I love to put this disc in as an alternative to some wimpy tearjerker of a Christmas film.  Gremlins is funny and thrilling, giving us an affectionate story between a young man and a creature, similar to E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.  It’s a must for the holiday season.

P.B. (Post “Bit”):

I’ve been known to mention my affinity for the Universal Studios back lot and all the films that feature some of those sets when watching the films and Gremlins is no exception.  As the film starts, you see a matte-framed overhead shot of the town and it’s clearly the Courthouse Square set used in a lot of older Universal films—Back to the Future being the most familiar—and it looks wonderful in this film as it’s decorated with a snowed-in look, making it seem like a small town in the northwest where it snows a lot.  It’s kind of funny, but if you look carefully, when there are close-up shots of the actors outside, you never see any fog exhaling out of their mouths, as it would if it really were freezing outside.  I’ve been to Universal Studios during the winter and it’s rarely been so cold that I’d have to wear a jacket, so seeing these actors pretend it’s freezing outside is sort of funny.  This fact, however, doesn’t take away anything from this great holiday movie.

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Silent Night, Deadly Night

‘Tis the season to be…killing?

Well, it’s that time of year again.  A time when, as a child, I couldn’t wait for it to come around again, a time for me to start dropping hints for my parents to get me the latest board game, action figure, race car track, or—Gasp! God forbid!—a toy gun or rifle.  Now, it only means that I have to drag the box marked “Xmas lights” from the garage’s storage area and wreck my back as I try to hang them all up within a few hours while listening to my wife dictate everything else that needs to be decorated inside the house.  Yes, the silly season is upon us.

But…what I do nowadays is just go through the motions to make the house look presentable while keeping my wife happy.  However, when the sun goes down and it’s that time in between finishing dinner and bedtime, I like to find a horror flick with some Christmas themes to go along the hacking, slashing, and overall brutal killing of unknowing victims.  So, of course, my first go-to DVD I pull down from my ever-growing library of home media is the cult classic, Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Back in 1984, I wasn’t the constant moviegoer that I am today.  I had barely turned 16 and had no job yet, so when I wanted to go to a movie it consisted of begging my mom or dad for a few bucks, ask them for a ride to the theater, and then ask someone to go with me.  Although I was 16, my parents really weren’t big on letting me see R-rated films—especially R-rated horror movies—and usually hesitated, resulting in a “no,” when I asked to see one.

When Silent Night, Deadly Night was released, my first thought was how I had wished I could see it.  And that thought was forgotten until there was a sudden uproar by Christian groups, protesting and picketing the theaters that showed the movie.  It seems that they had even had petitions signed to have the movie taken out of distribution, all because the killer wore a Santa Claus outfit.  So, of course, after seeing the pandemonium that this movie caused, it made me want to see the movie even more.  But it wasn’t meant to be and I just thought to myself that I’d see the movie someday.

Cut to about 20 years later, as I sat in front of my computer on the Netflix site, wondering what movies I can place in my queue, when suddenly Silent Night, Deadly Night comes to mind.  I placed it at the number one spot and waited eagerly for it to show up in my mailbox.

Well, what can I say about this film that hasn’t been said already?  I guess I can say that I like it.  Hell, I can even say I loved it.  But I really don’t know if it’s because I watched it around the Christmas season or because Linnea Quigley is featured in it or because it has an 80s appeal to it…I don’t know.  Maybe all of the above?

Before I go any further, let me synopsize the film…

The film begins with Billy Chapman going with his baby brother and parents to see his grandfather in a nursing home during the Christmas season.  As his parents leave him alone for a few minutes, Billy’s grandfather suddenly awakens out of his dreamlike gaze that dementia has given to him to tell Billy that Santa Claus is a killer that murders  everyone who’s bad.  As luck would have it, on the drive home, Billy’s parents are brutally murdered by a guy on the side of the road in a broken down car and dressed like Santa.  Billy, now orphaned with his brother in a Catholic Orphanage, grows up and remembers what his grandfather said that fateful night.  The day comes when Billy snaps and takes over the personage of Santa Claus, doing what his grandfather told him Santa was supposed to do.

I really do love this film.  It’s your characteristic type of slasher film from the 80s where the killer goes around, picking off teenagers one by one, as the film uses the same formula we’ve seen in countless horror films of this era.  It’s all for the enjoyment of the audience who enjoys a good scary slasher flick.

However, unlike most of the slasher films from the 1980s, Silent Night, Deadly Night doesn’t go the route of having the killer as some unknown person or have you believe someone’s the killer only to unmask the real one at the end of the movie.  No, this film shows you Billy’s the killer from the start as he’s pushed into insanity after being forced to dress like Santa Claus for a job.  No mystery, no guessing…the film just has fun with how Billy kills everyone who he believes is bad.

The performances are bad and unmemorable, the actors and actresses are not well known (except for Linnea Quigley and the actor who plays Grandpa—you might recognize him as Old Man Peabody from Back to the Future), and overall this movie shouldn’t even be available.  But I think the protests and anger those church groups displayed helped the film rather than hindered it.  I mean, I probably would’ve never wanted to see it if it weren’t for the media attention it earned back in 1984.  I think every news channel featured a few displays of picketing at a theater or two.  Bottom line: this movie is nothing to be concerned about.  Comparitively speaking—and I’m speaking of the movies from the 80s—this movie is pretty tame.  The way all those groups were protesting, you’d think the movie was about a killer who dressed like Jesus

Anyway, my final “bit” on Silent Night, Deadly Night?

If you’re sick of the constant feel-good Christmas movies throughout the television channels during late November and December and feel that familiar urge to see a horror movie, this flick is a good time to not take seriously and enjoy with a tub of popcorn.  It’s a great way to take out that frustration of hanging up Christmas lights all day.

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas!  I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Horror Show

I tell you…Scream! Factory (the side of Shout! Factory that issues the horror genre of films to home media) has done quite a service to a lot of horror fans, such as myself, with the Blu-Ray releases they’ve put out lately.  I’ve already picked up quite a few discs from them, like The Funhouse, They Live, Day of the Dead, Psycho II, Psycho III, The Fog, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, The Howling and Body Bags.  And just like Body Bags, The Horror Show has been out of print for years.  If you wanted to get yourself a copy, you’d have to spend a lot of money on eBay or some other auction site to get one.  I’d almost done that a few times, but changed my mind and held out hope that we’d get a DVD or Blu-Ray back in print someday.  Well, the day has come and I eagerly popped this disc in to give it a looksee.

One of my favorite films from the 80s, 1989’s The Horror Show stars Lance Henriksen and the late Brion James in a silly, but pretty scary film directed by James Isaac.  It’s one of those films that brings me back to the days of hanging out with friends at the local movie theater (that would be the late Meridian Quad for me), playing some arcade games across the way before heading into the theater to get our latest horror movie fix, sneaking in beer or…some other substance…and watching the latest slasher flick.

Yes…the 80s…where the best thing about that era was the horror films and even though most were copycats of Friday the 13th, The Horror Show was sort of A Nightmare on Elm Street rip-off, going as far as using the basement furnace as a plot device.

Here is the synopsis of the film…

Detective Lucas McCarthy (Henriksen) has been looking and chasing after serial killer “Meat Cleaver” Max
Jenke (James) and finally catches and arrests him.  Sentenced to death, Detective McCarthy sits in on the execution to watch Jenke die in the electric chair.  But killing Jenke only brings him into a supernatural state and he decides to get revenge on the man who caught him—Detective McCarthy.

Before discussing The Horror Show, I’d like to take a minute to observe the elephant in the room.
Another film that was released in the same year, called Shocker (directed by Wes Craven), had nearly the same plot and themes, yet I’ve never heard any reasons or scrutiny about how the two films came to be that way.  I can understand if they were a year or two apart, I’d think that one ripped off the other, much like Friday the 13th was admittedly a rip-off of Halloween.  The only rumor I’ve heard was that Craven felt that The Horror Show took the ideas and themes of A Nightmare on Elm Street, so he returned the favor making Shocker.  But in order for him to do that, he would’ve had to steal the script or had a spy view the dailies…I don’t know.  The only thing that puzzles me is that it’s never been talked about.  Also, another confusing element is that this film is also known as House III, as in the second sequel to the William Katt vehicle, House.  Why this is considered to be part of that franchise, I’ll never know.  It also made it difficult to find a DVD copy before Scream! Factory released it on Blu-Ray because you’d have to do a search on House III; if you performed a search on The Horror Show, all you’d get is references to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

With all that out of the way, I’d like to discuss the performances by the film’s leads.

Lance Henriksen is such a presence on screen and I’m surprised he doesn’t get the notoriety he deserves.  He’s as recognizable as any big star from the 80s and 90s, yet most people would snap their fingers and
say, “yeah, I know that guy!” or “that’s Bishop!”  But as senseless and goofy as this film is, he takes his role—and the roles in all his films—seriously, no matter what the subject.  He embraces the hell out of his character in this one and you—as the audience—feel you’ve got your money’s worth when watching Henriksen play Detective McCarthy.

Brion James is another actor of that caliber, where you know him as the villain in a lot of movies from that era, yet you can’t remember his name.  Besides playing a lot of bit parts in early 70s and 80s TV sitcoms and dramas, you’ll definitely recognize him from Blade Runner, 48 Hours, Tango & Cash, and many more.   He’s just that guy…that character actor you’ve seen countless times, but just can’t place him or remember his name.  Sadly, his life was cut short in 1999, but he has over 100 movies under his belt.  With The Horror Show, he definitely left his mark as the obnoxiously giggling mass murderer, “Meat Cleaver” Max Jenke.

The rest of the cast is the typical co-stars you’d see in countless B-horror films—usually slashers—of the 1980s.  Don’t get me wrong, I really feel they’re important to the film and somewhat pertinent to the plot, but they usually play their parts by-the-number, sometimes telephoned in or done, what appears to be, lackadaisically.  But because of those types of performances, Henriksen and James stand out as the good guy and bad guy of the film, knocking it out of the park.

One thing about the film is the son (played by Aron Eisenberg) and how he’s shown getting deliveries of canned food items.  Seems his character gets off lying to these companies, saying that he finds hair or human digits in their products.  To prevent any lawsuits, obviously, the companies send unlimited boxes of food items to make up for it.  It’s a weird subplot device that goes nowhere in the story and I’m not quite sure why this was written into the movie.

Although the film was very memorable to me, and I feel that this film is WAY better than Craven’s Shocker, it still fell to the wayside and was forgotten until Scream! Factory gave it (and us) some justice.  Like all their releases, the transfer of the film is clean and fresh-looking, sounding great and looks spectacular in HD.

So…what’s my final “bit” on The Horror Show?

I’ll say that the 80s were definitely a great decade for Henriksen, he’s awesome in this film, just as he is in almost every film from that time period.  He was definitely a staple in the 80s, from Piranha 2 to The
Terminator and more of my favorites like Near Dark, Pumpkinhead and, of course, The Horror Show.  And it goes without saying that we all know him for his ongoing role as Bishop in the Alien series of films, but I’ll always dig his performances in Pumpkinhead and The Horror Show.  I hope Scream! Factory (Shout! Factory) keeps releasing these wonderful—forgotten—gems.  For fans like me, they are definitely making dreams come true.  And I say to them: “Keep ‘em coming!”

P.B. (Post “Bit”):

I’ll say one thing…it’ll be nice to see all those Body Bags and The Horror Show discs disappear from those auction sites…or at least see them being sold for a reasonable price.  Now, if only Christine and Fright Night can be re-released to Blu-Ray again to get rid of those ridiculous prices people are trying to sell those discs.

Well, thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.