Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Black Swan (2011)

Natalie Portman plays a dancer in a New York City ballet company. The director selects her for the challenging lead role in a new production of Swan Lake (real original, guy), a dual role that requires her to play both the innocent White Swan and the more seductive Black Swan. While her icily perfect technique makes her ideal for the White Swan role, he remains unconvinced that she has the passion and sensuality to play the Black Swan. Soon she's competing for the role with a rival ballet dancer (Mila Kunis) whose extroverted personality (ie sluttiness) make her far more suited to play the Black Swan. With opening night looming, Portman must explore the dark side of her personality, lesbianism etc. At the end she may or may not turn into a black swan.

Wow, this movie was not what I was expecting at all. Some of the criticisms I'd read made this film sound like a ridiculous piece of showbiz camp, like it's Showgirls or something. I was expecting something super melodramatic and over-the-top, like Requiem for a Dream, but for most of the film it's actually a lot closer to The Wrestler. Lots of raw, handheld camerawork, following Natalie Portman as she walks from place to place, like a creepy stalker. I think Aronofsky actually considers this film a companion piece to The Wrestler, and like that film it's about a performer pushing themselves to the breaking point. It also reminded of Roman Polanski's Repulsion, which I mention only because a saw it for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

Also like The Wrestler, it's full of tiny, interesting glimpses into her profession. I don't know how true-to-life it is, but it makes professional ballet look pretty shitty. Portman's got an eating disorder and can't eat a wicked-awesome cake. She fucks up her joints and gets lots of injuries. She's also acutely aware that her time to become a big success is rapidly running out. She's replacing a ballet dancer played by Winona Ryder, who is kicked out of the company due to her age and has a nervous breakdown. Is it making anyone else feel really old that Ryder is getting roles as an over-the-hill ballet dancer and Spock's mum? Anyway, if your 8-year-old daughter (or son) has unrealistic dreams of becoming a prima ballerina, this movie would make a good reality check. Just fast forward the bit where she has a sex scene with Mila Kunis. That's for adults.

This is mostly Portman's movie, but the rest of the cast is great too. Barbara Hershey plays her overprotective mother, a failed ballet dancer who hopes to live vicariously through Portman's success. It's easy to go overboard with this type of thing, but I think they struck a good balance. She's clearly unhinged (her bedroom is plastered with creepy paintings of her daughter) but she's not a cartoon villain. You never really doubt that she loves her daughter, and when she worries about her changes in behaviour you feel it too.

Vincent Cassel is also great as the director of the play, a total sleazebag who uses his position to take advantage of her. You can see where he's coming from when he says that she lacks sensuality and I think he believes his own bullshit when he feels her up during practice to try and bring out her passion. He's clearly across the line though. Hell, at one point he gives her a homework assignment to go home and masturbate, and one morning, just as she's about to complete her course requirements (I give her a B+) she rolls over to see her mother asleep in a chair across the room. Now that's scary.

This film has the kind of psychological horror I really like. No supernatural bullshit, no half-assed rationalisation, no bombardment of ridiculous twist endings, just a good old-fashioned descent into insanity. There's a few fun twists along the way, but unless you're particularly credulous I doubt you'll suspect there's anything going on beyond the psychological. There's a bit of Cronenberg body horror, especially towards the end, but for most of the film it's very subtle. A broken fingernail here, a mysterious scratch there; the kind of everyday injuries you wouldn't think too much of. I like how it all ties into her history of self-harm too. At least, until she starts growing feathers out of her back. She should probably see a doctor about that one.

I imagine this film will get an oscar or two, as it's so actor-centric and actors love to imagine that their work is something sexy and dangerous. I doubt it'll get Best Picture as it's a little too genre-y compared to something safe like The King's Oscar Bait, but if Natalie Portman doesn't win Best Actress or Best Female Actor or Best Actor With a Vagina or whatever they're calling it now, I'll eat my hat and shoes. Sure she did a lot of Actorly things like lose weight and train in ballet for a year, but really it's her performance that's incredible. I've never really been sold on her as an actor, but she blew me away with this one. When she finally turns into the Black Swan you know it, and it feels completely earned.

I thought this movie was super-fucking-good, probably the best movie I've seen all year. It's definitely a genre film though, so if you're expected a completely grounded, realistic character drama then you'll probably be one of those people decrying it as "too silly". I don't know if a steady diet of ridiculous genre films has made me thoroughly immune to movie silliness, but I got swept up like a motherfucker. I was expecting something melodramatic and operatic, which it was, but I was caught off guard by how visceral and immersive it was. This film did the best job of putting me in a character's head than I've seen in ages. Really good shit.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Machete (2010)

It would have been cool if he had a
gun that shoots machetes

Sorry everyone, I guess I'm partly to blame for Machete flopping. I could blame it on hype burnout or the mediocre reviews or having to wait three fucking months for it to arrive in Australian cinemas, but really I just never got around to it. Mea culpa. Really though, did anyone expect it to do well? A feature length version of a parody trailer in a movie that was itself a massive flop, starring a guy that most people only know as "that Mexican guy with the bad skin". Rodriguez took a mighty gamble on this film, and I guess he lost, at least financially.

Clearly a Mexploitation (tm Robert Rodriquez) action vehicle starring Danny Trejo is too good a concept to be consigned to a DVD special feature, but expanding a trailer into a feature length film is an inherently risky idea. A trailer is just a collection of cool moments, and you can't sustain that same momentum for 90 minutes. Rodriguez does his best, and I think he does a good job working those iconic moments into the context of a larger story. The main plot is pretty much exactly what was in the trailer. Danny Trejo plays a Federale who flees Mexico after a drug lord named Torrez (Steven Seagal) kills his family. Working as a day labourer in Texas, he is hired by a sleazy government official (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate an anti-immigration Texan Governor (Robert DeNiro) but he is double-crossed and forced to go on the run. Revenge, etc.

There's not much of a story there, but I've got no problem with that. I'm all about lean, mean action movies that streamline the plot and clock in at just under 90 minutes. Unfortunately that's not too popular these days, so they throw in a whole load of side plots and characters that, while often entertaining in themselves, just seem like padding. I mean, I got pretty excited when I heard about the avalanche of B and C-list celebrities in the cast, but I also caught a faint whiff of desperation, like they were just piling on familiar names for the sake of people who haven't heard of Trejo, plus it makes it almost impossible to balance these characters properly.

Jessica Alba is probably the worst offender as an immigration official who ends up falling for Machete (because of course she does). She has way too much screen time, especially since she can't act. Trailing closely behind her is Michelle Rodriguez as the leader of an underground immigrant support network, although at least she's kind of badass. You've also got Cheech Marin as Trejo's Catholic priest brother, Don Johnson as the leader of a gang of racist border patrol gun nuts, Tom Savini as a bounty hunter and Lindsay Lohan as Fahey's coke-addled daughter (joke goes here). It just goes on and on. I thought this film was called Machete?

I think making those kid-flicks must have done something to Rodriguez' brain. You can see a pretty clear difference between his pre and post Spy Kids career. Grindhouse and Once Upon a Time in Mexico were both overstuffed messes, and only a strict adherence to comic book fundamentalism spared Sin City. This film has the same problem. It starts out with a great action scene; lots of blood, multiple decapations, Steven Seagal speaking Spanish, and a girl hiding a cell phone in her vagina; but after that it wanders off in random directions like it's distracted by shiny objects.

Even if it doesn't all hang together, I can still list dozens of things I liked about the film. I liked the creativity in the violence, such as when Machete gutted a guy and used his intestines to abseil down the wall of the hospital. I liked how Tom Savini's bounty hunter was introduced with a terrible home-made advertisement. One thing I especially loved was Jeff Fahey's performance as DeNiro's scheming, sleazy aide. He nailed the tone perfectly. DeNiro himself doesn't fare so great, playing things a little too jokey and hammy. It's definitely a post-Meet-the-Parents performance.

I remember hearing some right-wingers in the US griping about the film's stance on illegal immigration, which is kind of hilarious. I guess the people who want their dumb action movies to contain right-wing messages only will have to be content with every other action movie ever made. Start with Red Dawn, that's a good one. I thought it was pretty obvious that the political messages in this film were supposed to be exaggerated and extreme, just like in the exploitation films its paying homage too. Like those films it employs a lot of Mexican stereotypes too, like Machete disguising himself as a gardener (although the bodyguard spelling out the satire was a step too far) or marching to war with a fleet of lowriders and rake-wielding Mexican immigrants.

As cool as it was to see Trejo get his due, it would have been nicer if they'd done it a few decades ago. The guy is in his 60s now. He does a good job and looks cool on screen, but that final fight between Trejo and Seagal is mostly just creative editing and stunt doubles. I can't really complain though, as it takes some monster balls to make something targeting to such a niche audience. Good on you, Robert. The end credits optimistically promise two sequels, Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again. If they do ever surface it will probably be Direct-To-Video, but to be honest that seems like a fitting home.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

I bet he regrets wearing white

I like all the Sam Peckinpah films I've seen, but somehow this one slipped me by until now. I even tricked my wife into watching it with me by telling her it's not a Western, which is technically true. She got a bit suspicious during the opening scene, which has guys in hats riding around a Mexican villa on horseback, but after the villa's owner gives the titular order with a $1M bounty attached (the guy knocked up his daughter) a bunch of cars tear out of the place and it's clear that the film is set in the present day. Well, in 1974 anyway.

From the movie title, which is clearly one of the best ever, you might expect the film to focus on this Alfredo Garcia guy, but in fact he never appears in the film at all. The protagonist is actually this guy Bennie (a great performance by Warren Oates), a piano player in a grimy Mexican bar. He gets involved when a couple of goons come in and start asking around about this guy Alfredo Garcia. They're fucking jerks (one of them straight up cold cocks one of the prostitutes) so Bennie plays dumb, but when he makes some enquiries on his own he finds out that Alfredo has been hiding out in and around his girlfriend Elita. When he confronts her she reveals that Alfredo died in a car crash a week ago. He figures all he has to do is head out there with Elita, dig up the body, collect the head, and then turn it in for his reward. No problemo.

Bennie is a weird kind of protagonist. He's capable, but he's not really a tough guy. He's quick-witted, but he's not that smart. He's got a code of ethics, but he's no hero. Plus he wears huge sunglasses all the time, which gets annoying. He's not blind and his future is dim at best, so really the guy has no excuse. He's kind of a jerk to his girlfriend too, who doesn't really deserve it even though she seems like kind of a dimwit. At one point she gets mad at Bennie so he proposes to her, clearly as a ploy to get her to go along with his plan, and she starts crying like a baby. Women and their crazy emotions, am I right?

Of course women usually get the shitty end of the stick in Peckinpah films, and here is no exception. There's a weird digression where a couple of random bikers (one of whom is played by Kris Kristofferson) try to rape her. In typical Peckinpah fashion she starts getting into it, but Bennie manages to shoot them both before things get too Straw Dogs on us. Later, when they find the grave and dig up the body, a couple of rival headhunters knock Bennie unconscious, nab the head and kill Elita. When Bennie wakes up at the gravesite there's a long scene where he tries to revive her, but eventually blames her for the whole mess and leaves her body there. Sorry lady, maybe next time you'll have the good sense to be born with a Y chromosome.

Soon Bennie enacts his revenge on the killers and recovers the head, and from this point on I was expecting a few Hitchcockian suspense scenes as Bennie hides the rapidly decomposing head from the authorities and races to collect the bounty. Maybe a scene where he has to put his sunglasses on the head and pretend it's alive like in Weekend at Bernie's. It's not really about that kind of thing though. There's one scene where a little kid sees the bag sitting on the passenger seat, swarming with flies, but Bennie seems more concerned about the freshness of the head than getting caught. It's more about the journey, with Bennie going crazier and crazier until he's having rambling confessional conversations with the head. They laugh, they love, they develop a bond over their shared love of Elita. It's like a road movie, except that Bennie's comically mismatched travel companion is a head in a bag.

After he's developed a friendship with the head, Bennie decides that he's rather keep it and the money. After a run-in with Alfredo's family ends in bloodshed he goes on a kill-crazy rampage, working his way up the food chain until he confronts the man who issued the bounty at his fancy villa. It seems unlikely that Bennie could get the drop on so many armed bodyguards time after time, even with that clumsy expository line about him being an expert marksman in the military, but to be fair at the time they were shot the bodyguards seemed to be moving almost exlusively in slow motion. I won't spoil the ending, but this is a Peckinpah film so you know it won't end with Bennie and Al stretched out on deck chairs, sipping cocktails on the beach.

By this time in his career, Peckinpah had completed his metamorphosis into a crazy drunk fuck. Having become completely disenfranchised with the studio system, he shot this film in Mexico with a largely Mexican crew, and for once he felt he had a satisfactory amount of creative control. The end result combines the grimiest aspects of noir and westerns into one filthy, nihilistic package. It's Peckinpah's most personal film, in fact Bennie is largely based on a Peckinpah himself, which makes me fear for his soul even though I'm an atheist. Nobody liked it when it came out, but these days the critical establishment is more accepting of films where people break little girls' arms and gun down old ladies, so it's recognised as one of Peckinpah's best. I liked it too.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Gnaw: Food of the Gods Part 2 (1989)

They grow up so fast.

I don't know who was clamouring for a follow-up to Bert I. Gordon's killer rat flick Food of the Gods, especially 13 years after the fact. It wasn't me. Was it you? Whoever it was, they'll probably be disappointed since this film has virtually nothing to do with the first one and even less to do with the H.G. Wells book from which it derives it's name. These days you'd give it the same name as the first film and call it a "re-imagining", but in those days it was standard practice to append an incrementally higher number to the end of the title, regardless of how tenuously the stories are related.

University research scientist Dr Hamilton (Paul Coufos) receives a desperate phone call from his colleague Dr Treger (Jackie Burroughs). It seems she's been testing some experimental growth hormones on a 10 year old boy, Bobby, and as a result he has grown to about 12 feet tall and developed severe anger management issues. Hamilton goes to visit Treger at the house where Bobby is being kept under observation, but the introductions do not go well. "Bobby, I'd like to introduce you to my colleage, Dr Hamilton." "And I'd like you to get the fuck out of here! Get the fuck out my room, bitch!"

It's a great moment in cinematic ridiculousness, almost eclipsing the giant chicken attack from the first film. They play it straight too, which makes it even funnier. A giant child cussing up a storm in tiny pyjamas will never not be hilarious, I don't care how scary your synthesiser music is.

Leaving Treger with Potty-mouth Bobby, Dr Hamilton returns to his lab and gets his science on. Coloured liquids are poured into beakers and centrifuged, computers make beep-boop noises; it's a hardcore science montage that yields a few test tubes of synthesized growth compound. Injecting it into tomatoes causes them to grow to the size of melons, and at the urging of his colleague he reluctantly agrees to test the compound on some lab rats (uh, aren't you supposed to be making a cure?). Unfortunately the rats nibble on the tomatoes during the night, growing to monstrous size just in time for some animal activists to bust in and accidentally release them. After making a meal of one of the activists the rats escape into the huge labyrinth of sewer tunnels underneath the university.

I know horror movies would have me believe that every small town in America is riddled with man-sized underground sewer tunnels, but this one is extra goddamn ridiculous. It looks like an oil refinery. There's even a guy who rides around the tunnels all day in a little scooter. For the next hour or so the rats roam the sewers, popping out every now and again to eat some students. When the bodies start piling up (a couple of jocks here, a grad student there... nobody important but it adds up) the authorities finally send in a flame-thrower weilding exterminator, a parody of Clint Eastwood complete with horrifically synthesized faux-Morricone theme music. He doesn't fare much better.

While Dr Hamilton is trying to convince people of the rodent menace he also has to contend with Professor Delhurst, a research scientist who wants to use the growth serum to create a baldness cure, or something. Delhurst steals the compound, but when he accidentally injects himself with the serum his face to erupt in an orgy of bladder effects and squirting goo that lasts for several minutes. It's a pretty elaborate death scene. When Hamilton enters the lab, Delhurst having disintegrated into a puddle of goo, he remarks "God, you look awful" Oh, Dr Hamilton, you joker.

Naturally there's also an evil capitalist in the mix, Dean White, who refuses to shut down the unversity because of the Big Upcoming Event and all the money it will bring in etc. Surprisingly it's not a Cheese Tasting Festival or a Pest Controllers Convention (you know how these movie monsters love irony) but the grand opening of the unversity's new swimming pool that promises to bring in "all the rich alumni, with their checkbooks". Weirdly enough, they decide to show off their new investment with the white-knuckle excitement of a synchronised swimming display, so I can only imagine that the inevitable giant rat attack came as a relief to those assembled. It's also interesting to note that the rats somehow enter the pool through the underground sewer system, which raises some questions about the building's plumbing.

Once the rats do crash the party it's a complete bloodbath. There is mass panic as people get trampled, crushed and, yes, gnawed. The visual effects aren't that great (lots of point-of-view shots, puppet rat heads and forced perspective... not a huge improvement over the film given the thirteen year gap), but it makes up for it with gore and enthusiam. At least there aren't real rats being killed. Soon the SWAT team arrives on the scene and opens fire. Like in the first film the rat colony is led by an albino Wistar but this time it's Hamilton's pet rat, so it's pretty sad when she gets gunned down by the police just as she's about to attack Hamilton's girlfriend in a jealous rage. Hamilton manages to synthesize a cure but it's too late for Giant Bobby, who slaps the shit out of Dr Treger with his giant rubber hand and escapes into the woods. Fin.

This film is that strange mixture of sincere and tongue-in-cheek where you're never quite sure what's supposed to be funny and what isn't. I like that; it keeps you on your toes. For instance, there's a weird dream sequence where Dr Hamilton grows to monster size mid-coitus, which I'm assuming was intended as disturbing Cronenberg-esque body horror but really just comes off as goofy. It's directed by the Canadian Damian Lee, who directed a string of low-budget action films in the mid-nineties (including the Jesse Venture sci-fi Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe) and is still working today. How about a sequel following up the adventures of everyone's favourite foul-mouthed 10 year old? Giant Bobby's Revenge: Food of the Gods Part 3. Make it happen.

Friday, 4 February 2011

True Grit (2010)

The Coens have claimed that this is a straight adaptation of the book rather than a remake of the 1969 version. It probably does hew a little closer to the book than the original, but that still sounds like damage control. John Wayne casts such a long shadow over the Western genre that it's hard not to see this film and compare it to the original. They had to justify it to all the fans, like the Star Trek remake with all the nerd-pacification alternate-timeline bullshit. Those old folks only make it to the cinema once or twice a year, so if you want some of that sweet vintage cheddar then you've got to make it worth their while. It must have worked too, because this film has made some serious bank.

Personally though, I'm not a big fan of John Wayne. That's not such a controversial opinion these days, at least not as much as it used to be, but I have to put it out there so you know that my enjoyment of the orginal is tempered by it's John-Wayne-iness. Although he does a great job delivering that line "Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!". I'm also going to refrain from comparing this film to the original too much, mainly because it's been since years I've seen it and so I'm bound to misremember a few details and fuck it up.

If you haven't heard of this movie, here's the lowdown. A 14-year-old girl named Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires the meanest U.S. Marshall she can find, Rueben "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), to track down the outlaw Tom Chaney that done killed her father. Along the way she demonstrates that she has True Grit. The end. It's not a particularly original or amitious story, but that suits me just fine. I don't need every film I see to shift paradigms, revolutionise the filmatic language and re-invent cinema as we know it. Sometimes I just want something done well, which is something the Coen brothers are very, very good at.

Jeff Bridges is just so damn great as Rooster. It's definitely more of a character performance than John Wayne's John Wayne impression. He delivers all of his lines in a mush-mouthed croak, sounding a little like Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade. He seems like a genuine alcoholic fuck-up. I liked that a lot, it makes it that much more surprising when he turns out be as genuinely capable as his reputation suggests (although I guess not that surprising if you've read the book or seen the movie). Having an actual 14-year-old play a 14-year-old seems like it could backfire, but Hailee Steinfeld is really good, believably headstrong yet still naive and vulnerable. She's definitely less annoying than the 22-at-the-time Kim Darby.

Matt Damon plays a Texas Ranger named LaBeouf, who is a blowhard and kind of an asshole, but he has some good scenes and a lot of funny lines. He teams up with Rooster so they can take Chaney back to Texas and split the $50 bounty on his head. Mattie is upset since she wants Chaney to be hung for her father's murder and not for murdering some Texan senator and his dog. It's a great dilemma because it's somewhat understandable but also illustrates how stubborn she is about her principles.

I've heard some criticisms that the bad guys are pretty underdeveloped, which I can understand. The murder of Mattie's father takes place off-screen and you never actually see Tom Chaney (as played by Josh Brolin) until over an hour into the movie. I didn't really mind too much, as the changes they've made have very much turned the film into Mattie's own story. When she stumbles across Tom Chaney out of sheer dumb luck, we are as surprised and excited as she is because it's the first time we've seen him too. Even though you don't see the bad guys too much they still manage to fit in a few little moments of nuance, especially for "Lucky" Ned Pepper (as played by "Of-Medium-Luck" Barry Pepper) who is little more reasonable than his bad teeth and saliva-flecked shouting might suggest.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Coen Brothers have turned out another awesome movie. Beautifully shot, acted etc. Yawn. What else is new? It follows the template of most other modern revisionist Westerns, in that it's grittier and more violent, far more morally ambiguous and doesn't shy away from ugly historical truths. Like the Coen brothers' other films, it takes a "warts and all" approach and uses things like casual racism to build an atmosphere as well as wrestle out a few darkly comic moments.

I don't have too much more to say about this film. It's good; go see it. I don't really like using the word "overrated" because it's essentially meaningless, but I think this film is in danger of being over-praised. It's a great movie that I would recommend to anyone without hesitation, but I don't think it's going to have a lasting impact. I don't think it will supplant the original in most people's minds either, even though I like it a lot better.

Christmas Evil (1980)

Santa has something to stick in your stocking

Yeah, I know this would have been more appropriate to post around Christmas, but I'm afraid I has a period of holiday lethargy in mid December that managed to stretch right on through January too. I guess I could save this review until next Christmas, but fuck it.

Silent Night, Deadly Night attracted a lot of controversy due to it's depiction of a psycho-killer in a Santa Claus suit, but it wasn't the first film to do so. Christmas Evil, otherwise known as You Better Watch Out, was released four years earlier and went largely unnoticed. It's not really a Christmas-themed slasher film like Black Christmas or Silent Night, Deadly Night though. It's a lot slower and more methodical, more of a character study really.

The movie begins on Christmas Eve 1947. Little Harry Standling and his brother Phillip watch in hushed awe as Santa Claus emerges from the chimney to deliver their presents and gorge himself on milk and sandwiches. Presumably it's their father in costume (how he was able to climb up and down the chimney is never addressed) and a little later Harry catches Santa eating his mother's cookies, so to speak. There's a screeching musical sting, and little Harry runs upstairs and starts cutting up his hands with glass shards from a broken snow globe.

Seems a little overly-dramatic to me, but in horror movie tradition catching your parents in flagrante all but ensures that you will grow up to be a creepy weirdo. Unlike Silent Night, Deadly Night's protagonist, whose (admittedly more extreme) Christmas experience left him decidedly Anti-Claus, it seems to have the opposite effect on Harry. He develops a twisted obsession with Santa Claus, plastering his tiny apartment with Christmas decorations and working at a crappy toy factory. When he's not being pushed around by his co-workers or complaining about the quality of their toys, he spies on the neighbourhood kids and records their deeds in his naughty and nice books. It appears that each child has been prejudicially assigned to one of the two books, so that things like "bad breath" are unfairly recorded as naughty deeds.

After gleefully watching Santa Claus' appearance at the Thanksgiving parade, Harry decides to cancel dinner at his well-adjusted brother Phillip's, sew himself his own Santa Claus costume and spend the rest of the holiday season spreading Christmas cheer as jolly old Saint Nick. I find it pretty hard to believe that this guy wouldn't own a Santa Claus costume already (he sleeps in Santa Claus pyjamas) but his homemade costume is pretty nice, with a long, flared coat and a dark fur trim. It's a lot more traditional and European-looking than your typical store-bought costume. Since he's not quite fat enough he has to beef up the costume with foam padding, which I figured would be used later to stop a knife or something. No dice, just careful attention to costuming detail.

Those expecting non-stop carnage might be a little disappointed with this film. The biggest scene of violence is where he murders a trio of rich assholes as they exit a church, stabbing one guy in the eye and chopping the other two in the skull with an axe. There's also a scene where he suffocates his asshole co-worker and then stabs him in the neck with a christmas ornament. That's only a few minutes towards the end, though. He probably spends more time stealing presents from the toy factory and giving them out to sick kids than he does murdering. That didn't bother me too much though. If anything it made the film a little more creepy and morally ambiguous.

Most killer Santa films only include one or two scenes with children, since nobody wants to be bummed out with a bunch of child murders, but this one realises the creepy potential of child/killer Santa interaction. He doesn't kill any of the kids or really do anything that bad to them. Sure he spies on them and stalks one of them and leaves a muddy faceprint on the side of his house, but in the end all he does is leave a bag of coal on his doorstep. One of my favourite parts is where a bunch of small children take the side of Santa Claus over their own parents, one little girl even threatening her own father with a switchblade. It reminded me of that episode of Tales from the Crypt where the little girl leads the escaped mental patient into the house because he's wearing a Santa suit.

Eventually Harry's crimes start to catch up with him. He tries to seek help from his brother Phillip, but Phillip strangles him in a rage. He then drags Harry's body back to his van, which he has painted to like a sleigh, and props him up in the driver's seat. Seems like a weird way to deal with the problem, especially since the van is parked right there in a driveway, but it doesn't really matter since Harry then springs to life and drives off. He is then chased by a torch-wielding mob, who I guess escaped from the set of a Universal monster film, and Harry drives the van off the side of a cliff in a panic. Then the van then rockets off into the night sky leaving a trail of sparks as Harry/Santa shouts "Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!" No, I'm not kidding. That's really the ending of the film.

This isn't the best Christmas themed slasher and it's certainly not the most violent, but it has some interesting moments and tense scenes. I'm not sure I can recommend it in good faith to someone who is looking for a killer Santa film, as it's sure to disappoint on that level, but I must have been in the right mood because I kind of dug it.