You know the rules – no bright light, no water, no food after midnight. Doesn’t seem like a good kind of pet to give your kid, teenager or not, does it? And didn’t Billy Peltzer already have a dog, Buddy the dog who was causing so much trouble with the Lady Grinch of the town, Mrs. Deagle, anyways?
Well, who cares. Rand Peltzer likes the unique and unusual, and his son Billy seems to have inherited his curiosity and kind, well-meaning heart in the bargain. Gizmo, as the cute little Mogwai creature is dubbed, is an adorable bundle of fur with giant anime eyes, who can learn and even talk a bit; seemingly the perfect pet. Yet next thing we know all three rules have been broken and soft fur and giant melty-heart eyes have given way to scales, slitted pupils and a really nasty sense of humor!
Like his dad, Billy is smart and resourceful, and manages to find ways to defeat the Gremlins in this oh-so-very-80’s classic holiday hit. Those little scaly monsters learn to multiply way too fast, which would give any Christmas elf sent against them a run for their money!
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Apparently most of the major holidays have their own entire worlds, with like-minded denizens who inhabit those worlds and make sure their holiday gets observed in the grandest way possible every year. And who better than the always beloved king of whimsy-goth himself, Tim Burton, to bring Halloweentown to life?
As we all know, Jack is our Pumpkin King and he’s the very best at scaring the pants off of everyone in the world. But as it turns out, Jack is tired of his job and is looking for a new one, to actually bring happiness to the peoples of earth. But yknow, when you happen to be a humanoid-ish construct based around a particular holiday, trying to mix another holiday in there is simply unlikely to work. Only our patchwork princess Sally truly understands how Jack feels, and as she’s the only one who really makes sense around this insane asylum, it’s up to her to save Jack from himself! And also, because even Halloweentown has to have an actual villain, Sally is gonna have to help Jack defeat the Boogeyman!
People have a tendency to forget that the second Michael Keaton as Batman film took place during Christmas-time in Gotham, because after all, there is so much else going on. The Red Triangle circus gang has descended in all its bloody glory on Gotham again, as has the charismatic freak-o Penguin, I mean, Oswald Cobblepot, ultimately deciding he wants to run for mayor, and a certain secretary that’s had way too much of men trying to kill her, which leads to her feline resurrection as that badass Catwoman. The movie also happens to feature Christopher Walken as the redoubtable Max Shreck, antagonist industrialist titan of Gotham.
The movie is everything my gothic Gotham-loving heart could want, and set during Christmas-time too, which makes it all the more poignant. Murder, revenge, betrayal, more murder, even rocket-suited penguins, and hey, toss some infanticide in there too!
Danny DeVito got the role of Penguin on the recommendation of his friend Jack Nicholson, who had of course played the Joker in the first Keaton-Batman film. Michelle Pfeiffer took kickboxing lessons and practiced with a whip for her role as Catwoman, once accidentally actually cutting her teacher. And for a great easter egg, the role of Penguin’s father in the very beginning of the movie went to Paul Reubens, better known as yes Peewee Herman. (Bonus easter egg twist – Reubens returned to play Penguin’s father once again on the FOX TV show Gotham!)
One of the best of the worst of D-grade Horror flicks, Jack Frost boasts a mutant killer snowman antagonist, and I’m not even kidding either. On the way to his execution, the truck ferrying the serial killer Jack Frost crashes into a ‘genetics truck’, mixes the genetic sludge with the snow and turns ol’ Jack into a, wait for it, killer snowman! Of course after that nothing would do but for Jack to go hunting down the Sheriff who caught him, with some of the cheesiest bystander deaths you will ever see in any bad Horror movie.
I know – the special effects are bad, the movie is poorly shot and what story there is, is laughingly awful. Nevertheless, it’s a mutant killer snowman and the way Scott MacDonald cackles for his voice is just hilarious. For anyone who’s ever wanted to knife Christmas with the snowman carrot even once, this one’s for you!
Jack Frost spawned a sequel, Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman, which yes I also own and enjoyed. The series was even slated for a third movie, but was cancelled when the actor who played the Sheriff who caught Jack in both films, Christopher Allport, died in an avalanche in 2008.
The legend of Krampus, that anthropomorphic demon that is the antithesis of dear old Saint Nick himself, has been around for a long time of course, but has only really enjoyed ascendance in the last few decades. Krampus comes in the night and takes care of the naughty children, and occasionally adults too, that Santa Claus won’t demean himself to deal with, dispensing coal for the stockings and ruten bundles for the inevitable Christmas beatings about to ensue!
So, like oh so many of us during the winter holidays, the Engel family has issues. Max is a bit of a wuss, his mom and dad are a little pretentious-yuppie type, and German grandma Omi, she’s got a death-grip on traditions older than you might think. Aunt Linda and Uncle Howard, they’re a bit too down-home-y for my taste, their kids are animals that dad probably really does wish were boys, and cantankerous old Aunt Dorothy, also known as ‘eyeroll-she’s-here-too’. And inevitably as the family descends their personalities on each-other, the threat that people who are naughty to each-other on Christmas will receive unhappy visitors, becomes terrifyingly real.
Krampus stands out as a Christmas Horror movie by reminding us that there are real consequences to being assholes to people during the holidays. The things you place your faith in, even and perhaps especially as a child, can come back to haunt you as a regretful adult far too easily. And as a marvelous nod to his other glorious film Trick ‘r Treat, director Michael Dougherty snuck Sam’s lollipop weapon into Max’s Halloween stash.
Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life
The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God.
Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes.
Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God.
We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant.
Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed.
Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus.
Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship.
Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care.
The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love.
Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls.
Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now!
Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!
Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer!
First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive!
So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance.
Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth.
The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge!
First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer.
A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now!
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.
The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.
The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.
The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.