Starring Natassia Halabi, Gabriel Miller, Lisa May, Lassiter Holmes, Les Best
Directed by Justin Price
Only the beginning of October and yet the Christmas decor is already out in full force at stores. Halloween only gets 31 days. Yuletide season, for whatever reason, runs about three whole months now. Seems fitting I find myself just days into the month of October and already I have my first lump of Christmas coal in the form of The Elf.
An evil “Elf on the Shelf” movie; it practically writes itself. I rather wish it had because I suspect it would have written itself a better movie. I was really looking forward to The Elf after viewing the trailer but that “Tales from the Crypt”-ish vibe the preview was selling does not reflect the actual film, sadly.
A man inherits a cursed elf doll that begins appearing on his shelf bringing with it a naughty list of names of those he all knows doomed to die. Those people form a dysfunctional extended family who find themselves trapped in his house during a blinding blizzard (that comes and goes depending on the scene) on Christmas Eve, shades of Michael Dougherty’s Krampus.
The Elf falls squarely into the category of a good premise done in by simply lousy execution. The key word to describe just about everything wrong with this Christmas clunker would be lethargy. The direction proves tedious bordering on ponderous at times. The inexcusably prolonged opening sequence with oddball Nick and his wet blanket fiancé Victoria finding the elf in an antique toy shop features so many pauses, so many moments of actors on the screen neither saying nor doing anything, I kept wanting to yell “Line!” or “Action!” at the screen. The first thirty-plus minutes are so devoid of momentum I’d be willing to bet a tighter production could have covered the same ground in ten. The very thing for which the film is named does hardly anything for nearly half the movie.
Equally lethargic are the actors, particularly the two leads, who often sound as bored as I felt. Performances are pretty unconvincing all around, made worse by the characters being so flimsy their accents are usually their only defining trait and how much they disdain they show towards each other, particularly Nick.
Nobody wants Victoria to marry Nick because they think he’s a mental case or they just dislike him in general. Hard to argue. He’s not likeable. But then neither is she. Neither is anyone. The Elf that murders everyone is the most relatable character.
Nick hates Christmas. He suffers night terrors (technically, shower terrors) stemming from a childhood trauma. Heck, he finds a sinister looking elf doll with instructions about killing people that magically marks his skin and he barely reacts to this with anything resembling a human emotion. A better reason why these two shouldn’t marry would be that they so lack in romantic chemistry I never even believed they were friends much less lovers.
I can already hear some of you saying, “Who cares about the story and characters? How were the kills?” How a homicidal plaything dispatches its victims is what you’re watching for, right? The answer to “how are the kills” would be few, frequently off-camera, not terribly inventive nor gory, and definitely not frightening. Like Child’s Play, the cackling, knife-wielding elf doll uses its diminutive size to get all stalky and stabby on people. Having actors wrestle with a lethal action figure is something Charles Band has been doing for decades, usually to better effect than here, and not just because those effects were better.
Looking like a pale Twilight vampire version of a Hermy the Elf from “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, this Rankin-Bastard has all the makings of something Andre Toulon would have carved up for A Very Puppet Master Christmas. The uncanny valley movement of the computer generated elf used for a few scenes in which we see it walking and stalking proves surprisingly eerier than the pale-faced Christmas Keebler Elf doll. The elf isn’t the problem. What little is done with the elf is the problem.
The best scene has the elf magically controlling Christmas lights to terrorize some annoying carolers. A fun moment, but nothing else like this happens before or after, in both tone and use of supernatural powers to unleash Noel hell. This whole scene felt tacked on. It felt like a scene from a completely different, more light-hearted, Leprechaun-ish take on the material.
Have I mentioned that this movie about a murderous “Elf on the Shelf” takes itself far too seriously without actually being scary or creepy? The Elf is neither scary nor fun. Just a tedious slog that squanders a great premise on a talky yawner.
If you want an enjoyably wacko low budget holiday horror movie about elves seek out the nutzoid 1990 z-grade masterpiece entitled Elves AKA the movie with Dan Haggerty as a chain-smoking department store Santa trying to prevent a Nazi elf from mating with a virgin to spawn the Antichrist.
Leave this elf on the shelf.
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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