Genre: Horror Directed by: Craig Anderson
Run time: 82 minutes
The Lowdown: I was 11 years old when I first fell in love with Dee Wallace, then Dee Wallace-Stone.
As intrepid television anchor Karen White, Wallace commanded The Howling, making viewers care about her character, and her fate, when confronted by a pack of werewolves hellbent on maintaining their secret hideaway and existence from public scrutiny.
Wallace has been a fixture of genre cinema for more than 40 years. She’s starred in countless classics, from Cujo to E.T. the Extraterrestrial to The Frighteners, and she always elevates whatever property she’s appearing in.
Now 68, it would be understandable if she decided to slow down and take it easy, choosing smaller guest spots on TV shows, and leaving the leading roles behind.
Yet, here she is, in Red Christmas, not only headlining a major new horror film, but starring in a film that proudly, frankly and fearlessly, takes on the mother of all social taboos – abortion – without a seeming care that some viewers may be offended.
Good for her, and even better for us, because horror fans deserve this kind of movie, a thought-provoking, highly entertaining and wickedly gory original idea executed to near perfection by one of the best actresses of her generation.
Red Christmas isn’t just a bonafide cult classic. This is a movie you will watch often, and not just during the winter holidays, because it’s just that damn good.
Here’s the set-up, and it’s a simple one: Diane (Wallace) is a loving mother to three children, two daughters and a special needs son. With her husband passed, she opens her home for a large Christmas gathering. The only problem is the one guest who wasn’t invited – his name is Cletus, he wears a thick dark cloak, and he may or may not be the adult embodiment of a mistake that Diane thought she had taken care of many years before.
Written and directed by Craig Anderson (trust us, there’s nothing in his IMDb to remotely suggest this level of precision and filmmaking skill), Red Christmas may well be the first (and only) pro-choice slasher movie ever made. Or is it a pro-life horror movie?
That’s the beauty of Anderson’s script – he never identifies which side he’s advocating, and an honest argument for both camps can be made.
While it’s not news for a horror movie to garner controversy, it might be worth noting if Anderson fumbled his delivery. But Red Christmas refuses to play it safe. Every aspect is spot-on, from Wallace’s commanding lead performance to Anderson’s whip-smart script with plenty of subversive humor, Cletus’s appearance to the gloriously gory practical effects. This is an old-school slasher remodeled and upgraded for the digital age with a bunch of new and noticeable improvements on the genre’s beloved hallmarks.
We cannot recommend this one more. It’s a must-see.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – You better watch out, you better not cry, Cletus is coming for you.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Three O’Clock High: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 90 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): A high school comedy, written and filmed like a classic western with a high-noon showdown, starring an actor who would later be one of the Young Guns.
But that’s not the only reason why I love Three O’Clock High, the debut feature from director Phil Joanou, with a crackling screenplay by Richard Christian Matheson, which came out way back in 1987.
The reason this film spoke to me when I was 17 years old is because we all – I don’t care who you are – have had our own personal Buddy Revell.
Three O’ Clock High stars Casey Siemaszko as Jerry Mitchell, a nerdish high school newspaper reporter, who gets picked to write a profile on the new student in school – Revell, a brooding hulk with a litany of violent interactions with other students at past schools.
Revell symbolized every boogeyman who ever terrorized every awkward high school misfit. His larger than life persona, whether façade or not, radiated intimidation. The film worked, both as a comedy and a social examination of high school politics, because we all had to contend with a kid like that. Revell represented a personal trial by fire, so to speak; a righteous quest for vindication; a young warrior’s walkabout to become a man.
Thanks to Shout! Factory for reviving another lost classic from my youth.
Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection (Universal, 1,761 minutes, Unrated, DVD): This new collection is a Hitchcock-lover’s dream – 15 films, including Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window and more.
But the real treasure trove here is the more than 15 hours of extras and bonus features, including special content culled for each film, plus 10 bonus episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and a nicely detailed 58-page collector’s booklet.
Escape Room (Lionsgate, 81 minutes, R, DVD): Six friends gather to celebrate a birthday. The girlfriend of the birthday boy reveals his gift – a trip to an exclusive new attraction meant to test their skills and tax their intelligence. Little do they know, this is one Escape Room that’s rigged in favor of the operators. And by rigged, I mean everybody who steps into the room is going to die. Combining a healthy dollop of Saw with the cliched stereotypical friends usually found traveling to an isolated cabin in the woods, Escape Room is the kind of horror film that you simply endure rather than enjoy. There’s just not enough substance here to make it entertaining. Do yourselves a favor. Don’t look for an exit. Just hit eject on your DVD player.
Lilith’s Hell (Unearthed Films, x minutes, Unrated, DVD): To some, Italian director Ruggero Deodato is an idol, an icon of gore-centric cinema, the original purveyor of the grotesque horror mockumentary genre, which spawned a slew of copycat pictures modeled after his own Cannibal Holocaust that purportedly depicted ‘real’ human atrocities.
Lillith’s Hell, a new ‘found-footage’ movie by director Vincenzo Petrarolo, tries to out-meta itself at every turn. Petrarolo stars, not as himself, but as a skeevy independent film producer named Marco, who agrees to finance a new movie by a young auteur named Ryan (Marcus J. Cotterell), which itself is an homage to the realism that Deodato supposedly captured in Cannibal Holocaust. Going a step further, Lillith’s Hell also features Deodato, now 78, playing himself in a brief cameo that bookends the events depicted.
Unbeknownst to Marco and Ryan, the sprawling Italian villa that Marco secures for the shoot, which belongs to a relative, is actually the site where a ritualistic invocation has recently taken place to summon the ancient demoness Lillith, who was Adam’s first wife but was exiled from the Garden of Eden because she refused to be subservient to a man.
The script careens wildly from masochistic treatment of women to religious mumbo jumbo before erupting in an orgy of violence and bodily dismemberment and cannibalism. Petrarolo should remain behind the camera at all times as his acting is woeful, but far less annoying than Cotterell’s.
There’s just no real point to any of what’s happening on screen. Without a reason to invest in any of the characters, you feel nothing when they abruptly get ripped apart. It’s just an excuse to spray blood and show violence for violence’s sake.
If anything, Lillith’s Hell does prove one thing: It’s not just American directors who more often than not totally flub found footage. The failings of the found-footage genre are universal – er, make that international.
Moka (Film Movement, 90 minutes, Unrated, DVD): They don’t make thrillers like Moka much anymore, and that’s a shame. French director Frederic Mermoud leads two screen queens, Emmanuelle Devos and Nathalie Baye, through a riveting tale of a mother searching for answers about the driver responsible for a hit-and-run accident involving her son.
Summer of Fear
Samurai Jack: Season Five
Ernie Kovacs: Take a Good Look – The Definitive Collection
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Leatherface (Lionsgate, 90 minutes, R, VOD): Whenever a film franchise gets close to double digits, as in the number of movies based on a particular property, there’s good reason to be skeptical, especially if you’re talking about a horror series.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has surprisingly avoided having its legacy tarnished too much en route to amassing an impressive seven sequels, prequels and one reboot since the original film debuted in 1974.
With the eighth film, Leatherface, now available on most streaming platforms, it’s fair to say that the Sawyer family can rest easy that their place in horror history is safe (and secure).
On a sliding scale, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 being a 10 and Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III being a 1, I would rank the latest, and second movie to use Leatherface as its title, as a solid 7.5.
It’s not an instant classic like TCM 2, or an unexpectedly entertaining reimagining like the 2003 reboot by director Marcus Nispel, and while it lacks in WTF moments like 1994’s campy Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, it more than compensates with above-average acting and a structured narrative that makes sense.
Much of the credit goes to co-directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, who if you’ve never seen their 2007 instant-classic French slasher Inside, you should do yourself a favor and go watch that first. Bustillo and Maury have a way with brutality and blood that exceeds most of their American master-of-horror counterparts.
However, for much of Leatherface’s 90-minute-runtime, there’s very little blood on display. Instead, viewers are treated to a very well-planned rumination on the nature of evil, and what events might shape a young man to become the embodiment of evil.
In the early days of the Sawyer clan, well before the events of the original film, a Texas sheriff (Stephen Dorff) sets his sights on upending the family’s dynamic before something truly terrible occurs. He strips Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor) of her youngest son, and arrests several of her other boys. The baby Sawyer is institutionalized, but after several years of torment, he escapes with a handful of other mental patients, and what happens to them on the road will galvanize his transformation into one of the most terrifying movie maniacs of all time.
Several other Chainsaw films have tried this prequel route before, with mixed results. Bustillo and Maury, working from a script by Seth Sherwood, making his feature film writing debut, wisely keep the audience guessing as to which escapee is actually a Sawyer right up until the midpoint of the third act. By disguising Leatherface’s identity, the filmmakers are free to explore more universal themes, namely whether someone is predisposed to violence if they are born into a violent family and whether evil is genetic by birth.
For two filmmakers who (literally) exploded on the genre radar with one of the bloodiest, most stomach-churning slasher films ever made, you may wonder what happened to those guys for long stretches of Leatherface. Not to worry, they show up at the right time for several gore-heavy sequences designed to announce the (re)birth of the chainsaw-wielding, flesh-wearing cannibal we’ve known and loved for decades.
Bad Blood: The Movie (Level 33 Entertainment, 80 minutes, Unrated, VOD): A low-budget, splatter-heavy riff on the classic werewolf feature?
Sign us up!
Bad Blood has more ambition than execution at times, but this were-reptile hybrid knows its target audience with plenty of loving genre nods to mad scientists, creepy basement experiments, cocksure detectives in way over their head and a young, blonde teenage female protagonist trying to avoid a transformation worse than puberty.