On Christmas Eve for over a Decade until 2011, a psychopath dressed as Santa Clause hunts down people on his naughty list, people whom have, at one time or another, been incarcerated. Santa’s violent kill streak ends when detective Thomas Rasch tracks puts multiple bullets into Santa after the gruesome slaughter of three people. After 6 years of imprisonment, with no sign of improvement from his holiday hallucinations, Santa escapes to continue checking and crossing those unlucky souls off his naught list, leading him to Alta, a small, quiet village in the northern most part of Norway where one woman when unpunished on his list. Unbeknownst to Santa, the woman he intends to frightfully dispatch has committed suicide, leaving behind a daughter, Julia, to oversee her mother’s home. Struggling to cope with her the loss of her mother, Julia’s college friends from all over the world embark to comfort her on Julia’s first Christmas without her mother, but the gesture of goodwill only speaks to their impending doom with a serial killer Santa ready to reign in Christmas with red blood soaked, holiday fear.
“Christmas Blood, aka “Juleblod” in the original Norwegian lingo, is Reinert Kiil’s yuletide splattering spectacular. Kiil writes and directs a new horror-holiday classic of the Norwegian variety that turns the jolly, red nose, cookie-eating fat guy into an axe wielding maniac. “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” “Black Christmas.” “Jack Frost.” “Christmas Blood” joins the high ranking level of a niche genre, the X-Mas horror genre, which doesn’t see really the light of day in conventional theaters, but home video unsheathes the new life into films one may have never heard of such as Kiil’s “Juleblod” Yet, the overall body of work for Christmas films is very black and white. They’re either overly feel good films with a blanket of pure white joy and happiness or utterly insane and soaked with the crimson interior body fluid, unless you count Die Hard or Lethal Weapon as Christmas films than one can make a case. “Christmas Blood” is certainly in that far right polar opposite of extreme violence, but is solid and engrossing, chopping body parts away with trepidation and stringed up with multi-colored lights.
Ringing in the holiday screams are young victims typically associated with familiar slasher archetypes. The “Christmas Blood” prey, typically adorned by actresses due to their ability produce toe curling, are a pact of university school friends gathered together to rally around one who has recently lost her mother to suicide. Helen Eidsvag, Haddy Jallow, Yassmine Johansen, Karoline Stemre, Kylie Stephenson, and Marte Saeteren share the limelight as unsuspecting Christmas carnage-fodder and all of the actresses hail from Norway with the exception of Kylie Stephenson, who has odd interjecting into Norwegian conversations with her Australian English dialect. Written as great friends, but also depicted as the worst of enemies as various facets of animosity slithers between them, the actresses pull off of their ill-fated character quirks well: Eidsvag as the innocent and naïve Sanne, Jallow as the drug indulgent and secret keeping black sheep Kitika, Johansen does stern and uptight girlfriend well in Katja, Stemre as a favorably licentious mute Elisabeth, Stephenson is the fun-loving non-national in Annika, and Saeteren as the heartbroken Julia with loss of her mother. I’m not sure if “Christmas Blood” would be a socially acceptable film in the States and not because of the blood-spatter blasphemy of traditional holiday and Christianity values, but because of how the one and only black character is treated throughout the narrative in a predominately white movie. Kitika has no verbal filter, smokes weed despite her host’s severe objection, slept with and was going to sleep with again her friend’s boyfriend, is kicked out into the freezing cold along with said friend’s boyfriend by the rest of her white friends, and is eventually slaughtered and stuffed into Santa’s sack. The remaining cast includes Jørgen Langhelle, Stig Henrik Hoff, Sondre Krogtoft Larsen, and Andreas Nonaas.
“Christmas Blood” is a retro-grade horror film that very merrily feels like a product of the Golden Age of slasher-survival genre from the 1980’s with a powerful and unstoppable aggressive killer, a delectable high body count, and a significant calendar date to infamously memorialize the event, similar to Friday the 13th or Halloween dates that are have been synonymous to Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. Generally speaking, Santa’s already this jolly mystical being worshipped by all and in “Christmas Blood,” that mysticism is really exploited, but as a frightful killer Santa who is seemingly able to be in two places at once and survive a barrage of bullets. Only a couple gripes linger that don’t necessarily derail Santa’s slay-ing of bitchy former co-eds, daft police offers, or any unfortunate person in his blizzard path of butchery. For one, the wordy title card sequence explaining the background of serial Santa’s 13-year killing spree is sorely out of place and slightly kills the buzz built up initially by the gruesome opening scene that sets the morbid tone. Secondly, on the technical side, the lighting is very dim lit. The coloring scheme from the decorative bulbs is festively great and there’s also a very low-tone neon red, blue, and yellow juxtaposed against a bleak, cold setting as if walking through Amsterdam’s Red Light district at night, but with less people, more snow, and no peep shows, but the overall lighting is thin-to-damn near black at times that, shamefully, shades some of the gore work into a silhouette something and your eyes attempt to define what is being seen, but can’t definitively consume the form. Luckily, numerous gory moments make the cut in the light that include exposed entrails and some sheer brutal force with an axe to the neck and to the vagina!.
Artsploitation Films present “Christmas Blood” onto DVD this December. Presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the details are a little lost in the dim lighting as mentioned before, but the image quality looks vibrant on colorful in the mise-en-scene lighting and there are no issues with artefacts. The Norwegian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track is rather pristine like a bow-wrapped present under the tinseled tennenbaum, gifted with clarity, synchronization, and no distortion in any aspect. English subtitles are available and are synched well. However, Artsploitation’s release offers no bonus materials aside from a static menu, but this Reinert Kiil’s “Christmas Blood” snarls Merry Fucking Christmas by bastardizing the popular Scandinavian folkore of the genial Saint Nick into a fierce and frightening killing machine!
On Christmas day, Diane, a widowed mother, has her dysfunctional children and their families over to celebrate the festive holiday at the remote family home set in the countryside Outback. When a black cloaked stranger with a face wrapped in white cloth strips arrives at her doorstep, Diane’s good heart and generosity invites the peculiar man inside in order to not celebrate Christmas alone, but when the religiously zealot stranger reveals a letter and begins to read from it out loud, the mother of four is shocked and angered by the content and violently has him thrown out of the house, threatening him to never return. As night falls and all is calm considering the families offbeat relationship, the stranger lurks outside, waiting to seek deadly vengeance upon a family that houses dark secrets; secrets written on the pages of the stranger’s letter that connect him to Diane and her four children and he’ll stop at nothing to unearth the truth, to get the answers he desires, from Diane, even if that means slaughtering them all to pieces to get it!
“Red Christmas” is the Craig Anderson written and directed holiday classic that spills a lot of blood and sucks out completely the christmas spirit. Under the cloak of a prevalent hot and debatable topic, the social commentary aspect of “Red Christmas” blends an unapologetic slasher with turbulent subject matter that can strike chords with just about everybody, especially parents with special needs children. However, Anderson owns a black horror comedy wrought hard in exhibiting a family with unintentional aspirations to be the worst family in the world with eclectic characters ranging from religious fanatics, to closeted perverts, to pot smoking stoners, and putting them all in one house seems to bring the worst out in all of them on a day where sharing is caring and to pit them against a deadly stranger that forces them to build a malfunctioning opposing defense that works as well as a football bat.
“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Cujo” star Dee Wallace headlines as the mother of three, Diane, and the recently awarded lifetime achievement winning actress’s exuberant strong will and determination of being a badass, kickass mother remarkably unearths Wallace’s natural killer instinct to be an on-screen protective den mother of her children played by Australian actresses Sarah Bishop as the acolyte daughter to Janis McGavin as a inconsiderate pregnant stoner. The relatively unknown Deelia Meriel played the third sister as a free-spirited artist with a dark personality. The fourth child is a key player to the plot so one of the most important roles to the story was awarded to Gerard O’Dwyer, a humanitarian actor who brings encouragement and awareness about Down Syndrome, and the actor uses “Red Christmas” as an appropriate platform to continue his ongoing fight against societal stereotypes while showing off his talent for the theatrics. “Rogue’s” Geoff Mortell and David Collins are hilarious when undertaking their respective roles of a likable laid back uncle with a penchant for the pot and a curiosity sheathed Catholic pastor unsure how to find faith in a faithless house. Rounding out the bunch is Bjorn Stewart, Anthony Jensen, Robert Anderson, and an masked Sam Campbell as the cloaked villain Cletus.
When noting the technical portions of “Red Christmas,” the practical special effects, under the Craigfx team helmed by Craig Anderson and Doug Bayne, implemented to create a mixed bag of horrible deaths is one particular aspect worth mentioning. Just enough to tease the tip of the gore hounds’ testicles while not being submersed in the super-soaked overkill that indie slashers take route now-a-days. Instead, AFI award winner Craig Anderson kept his moments of axing off characters very clean, superbly neat, and visually attractive, honing in on the maniacal killer aspirations in order to create kills worthy of more established Renaissance slasher icons and when the killing begins, Anderson makes certain heighten the tension by importing a vary of vibrantly hued filters that light up scenes like retro-colored Christmas light bulbs. When considering the character development, Cletus, visually, is jarring, like seeing the Grim Reaper in the flesh (or is it bones?), but the character’s written erratically enigmatic in a sense that most of Cletus’ brief backstory is quickly explained through flashbacks in the opening credits, leaving not enough to explain the amount of how deranged and how creepy a bloke like him is and while “Red Christmas” puts Cletus’ motivations right upfront, right on the Christmas Turkey, a subsequent question mark still lies hanging over our noggins about the full and complete story of Cletus and his ill-advised demeanor.
Artsploitation Films proudly presents Craig Anderson’s “Red Christmas” that’s currently playing in select theaters near and far and soon to be on home video come October 17th! For now, a DVD-R screener was provided for this particular review and so I am unable to comment on the audio and video quality. There were also no extras available on the screener. “Red Christmas” harnesses inspiration from other cult Christmas classics, horror and comedy alike, while tackling head-on today’s tough fiery topics like women’s rights, abortion, Down Syndrome, and how people deal with regrets in their present and past. As genre fans, October will always the Christmas month for horror and after thoroughly enjoying the dementedness of Bob Clack’s “Black Christmas” to start the night of mischief off right, make sure to pop in Craig Anderson’s psycho-cinematic “Red Christmas” to totally ring in the complete holiday fear!
Phone sex models broadcast their televised provocatively dressed bodies over the British airways while chatting with lonely customers. During their biggest broadcasting night, all the girls and crew become purposefully trapped in the sleazy studio, making the phone sex business a dead line. Disappearing one-by-one, each model falls viciously victim to a murderous psychopath who could by one of their most disturbed and perverted fans. With the power out and the studio on shambles, the survivors attempt to escape dead air by any means possible, even if that means coming face-to-face with their stalker.
The cast full of busty beautiful women enthralled to a murderer’s maniacal impulses sounds to be a bit of good horror movie fun untamed by the restrictive harnesses of big studio conventions. Director Dan Brownlie and his producing company Brand B Corporation develops “Serial Kaller” to be the limited budget archetype of the slasher films with an inkling into the very real world of broadcasting UK’s phone sex girls or better known as simply “babe shows.” Co-writer and star of “Serial Kaller” Dani Thompson once worked in the business, and appropriately proportionately so, that sparked the idea in her for a killer loose in the bare bones, deathtrap studio of a babe show. The diminutive budget project attached some B movie talent such as Suzi Lorraine and the iconic Debbie Rochon while rounding out the cast with top heavy talent in Jess Implazzi, Aisleyne Horgan-Wallace, Suzy Deakin, and Zoe Morrell.
With all the dazzling, easy-on-the-eyes women in the cast and a sweetly promised premise coinciding, “Serial Kaller” squirms itself onto the independent slasher scene with barely a thrill to offer and a death to deem applaudable. “Serial Kaller” stands out as much as pig in the middle of a stable of horses with mediocre kills, colorless dialogue, and disjointed concept that resembles more like an unfinished thought than a complete work. Brownlie’s and Thompson’s film subtly whispers similarities to, or homages to, that of the England’s 19th century prostitute murderer Jack the Ripper, with the start of an undefinable and causeless figure stalking sinfully innocent sex workers that happen to be, coincidentally, English. Yet, somehow that hint of respect becomes lost in translation; with a title like “Serial Kaller,” one might be under the impression that phones with have a significant role in the story, such as in Bob Clark’s “Black Christmas.” In reality, the phones are just, well, phones, while the story takes a rogue route that’s far from the intentions of the title, losing the motivations and the inspirations of a modern day Jack the Killer.
The correlation between the model’s baleful setup and the murderer circling nearby doesn’t jive to build successful suspense and when the moment finally comes to fruition where a model is about to bite the inevitable dust, there’s no jolt of anxiety toward the situation. The kill effects, consisting of minuscule budget practical and CGI effects, fail to heighten the murderous affairs. Probably the best kill scene in “Serial Kaller” is the electrocution through one of the babe show tech’s genitals, zapping up into the girl that’s unenthusiastically grinding his crotch with her clothes on and exploding out her eye balls. Zany death, but still kind of cool, right?
My good friends at Wild Eye Releasing brought “Serial Kaller” onto DVD, presenting the feature in a director driven retrofitted 4:3 full screen aspect ratio to give homage to once praised VHS nasties. Despite the slight lean toward a grindhouse appeal in the aspect ratio, the picture quality is clean, naturally toned, and detailed. The audio goes without hiss and is well balanced. Extra content includes director’s commentary, behind the scenes featurette, and trailers. The overall, “Serial Kaller” is the epitome of big concept packaged small and can’t quite muster a snowball effect to wrangle in the much needed thrill rush to go along with the scantily-cladded women, but Brownlie’s film redeems a little with Debbie Rochon phenomenal joker-esque performance that, unfortunately, has very little screen time.
Enthralled from last week’s viewing of Richard Griffin’s The Disco Exorcist (see review here) that I checked into the player another Griffin film entitled Murder University from 2012. A fairly generic titled college slasher with semi-comedic values that tries to blend in with similar genre slashers such as Urban Legend, House on Sorority Row, Black Christmas, or Sorority House Massacre. Comedy elements separate Murder University from the rest as well as Murder University doesn’t set itself in the present time of which the setting takes place. I’ll dissect Griffin’s film the best I can because my response post viewing teeters back and forth of a thumbs up for pratical effects and homage or thumbs down for storyline and dialogue.
Greensboro University has a notorious reputation for being constructed by a founder who ritualized satanic values and murdered people for years in the late 19th century. In the late 20th century, the New England university is once again plague by the cult-like killers who call themselves the Greesnboro Devils. A survivor of a recent attack and a shunned detective try to hunt down the motives behinds the killings and the secrets of a legacy of killers.
The upside of Murder University stems from the use of practical special effects. Decapitations became an obvious motif for this film (though there was no reason to explain this and I can only guess that beheadings were a big way to die in the 80s) with a grand total of six axe-chopped decapitations. The detail in the severed heads had high marks as well as other death scenes in the movie. Another throwback from the 80’s is the music and Murder University’s soundtrack certainly have that synth, brit-rock feel in some scenes, but in other scenes, 90’s grunge ruled the screen a long with hairstyles and clothes of a more recent decade.
The downside holds more weight coming from the story and the dialogue. The story comes a part at the seems with lead character Josh Greene as his backstory is intertwined with the murders and to get more of that backstory from his past would have been better than the exposition given nature of who Josh really is destined to be and what Josh is destined to be comes off pointless by default. Was this the divine will of Satan? Were these killers psychotic? What were the motivations? That is the real questions. The dialogue also scores low marks for being off key, choppy, awkward, and explicatively gratuitous. Not everybody is Quentin Taratino and can pull of mouthy vulgarity with ease and the script with Murder University just seems too forced for comfort.
Jamie Dufault has a solid performance as our hero Josh Greene coming from a nobody in college and transforming to becoming the ultimate domineer in the end, but Nat Silva gives an even more solid performance as the killer (when the killer has dialogue) and Samantha Acampora (Josh’s girlfriend Meg) is certainly the eye candy that we wish would show a little more skin than just her bare ass.
Murder University‘s retro entertainment keeps afloat just under chin level and won’t bore you to death. Richard Griffin is two for two in my little black book of directors and I’ll keep an eye out for more of his material in the future. MVD and Wild Eye Releasing release this Not Rated, widescreen disc with deleted scenes and two commentary tracks. This should be a fairly affordable, tongue-and-cheek horror movie if you’re looking for a cheap, yet entertaining, thrills.