It’s a happy horror holiday as we get another Joe Bob Briggs Christmas special on Shudder with Joe Bob Saves Christmas. This night has everything! Killer Santas! Home invasions! Charity auctions! QVC-stylings! It makes for a nice, full night of heartwarming horror fun. Between Dial Code Santa Claus, Christmas Evil, and heartwarming auctions, there is something worth stuffing into every mutant’s stocking.
On another note, however, I may have gone a bit overboard with Christmas puns during the live tweets throughout the night…
Dial Code Santa Claus
Opening Rant: “Shut the fuck up.”
My experience with Christmas horror films has been fairly limited and because of this, 1989’s Dial Code Santa Claus (also known as 3615 code Père Noël, Game Over, and a billion other titles) was not on my radar. It turns out that I have been missing out. This French holiday horror film is such an odd but wonderful movie.
The movie follows perhaps the bougiest child protagonist since Richie Rich who, eager to contact Santa Claus, uses the internet to reach out to who he thinks is Saint Nick, only to get the attention of a disturbed Santa Claus wannabe who sets his deadly sights on this child and begins a fairly low-key murder spree. The film is an odd sort of artifact for horror fans and has some striking similarities to the holiday classic Home Alone. Both films climax with a home invasion, and while Home Alone‘s is far less lethal, Dial Code Santa Claus does not shy away from deadly consequences and disturbing revelations. The revelation of the state of mind of the pseudo-Santa Claus upon gaining the upper hand in this Christmas battle is absolutely terrifying.
It’s a gorgeously shot movie and the craftsmanship is readily apparent. René Manzor’s stylish approach to the material creates such a wonderfully messed up story that explores growing up in the absolute worst way possible during the Christmas holiday. Manzor still mostly works in French cinema, but as Joe Bob Briggs reveals during the host segments (in between hawking wares) that he directed some installments of various series such as The Red Shoe Diaries and The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. At times earnest, horrific, and that special sort of late-1980s cheesy, Dial Code Santa Claus is a holiday horror film that deserves to be seen and is a perfect sort of film for the spotlight of The Last Drive-In.
As for the inter-film shenanigans we come to expect from The Last Drive-In, the coronavirus is still wreaking havoc with the production dynamics of the show. I felt that it hurt the last Halloween special, feeling oddly isolated and melancholy, but this time around the gimmick does a lot of work to keep the proceedings light, funny, and also allowed for friends of the Drive-In to leave behind holiday wishes. For this special, the team does a sort of QVC-cum-horror network experience, complete with requisite graphics and title cards. It’s a lot different from the usual experience but in a way that fits the tone of the night, particularly given the film selections.
Throughout the night 18 different auctions were dropped on a special website and the proceeds of the bids which climbed throughout the night were designated for four distinct charities. These charities were very much right in the wheelhouse of hosts Joe Bob and Darcy, including The Trevor Project, The National Women’s Law Center, The Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, and the Organization for Autism Research. One of the highlights throughout the night was seeing the bids climb both on social media and the occasional reference on show to the impressive numbers. Bidding continues until the 22nd of December, so if you are interested in some incredible swag for good causes, be sure to take a look.
As far as the first half of the night goes, one couldn’t ask for a better holiday horror film; Dial Code Santa Claus was funny, thrilling, incredibly French, and had a requisite out-of-place Bonnie Tyler sad music montage. Joe Bob Briggs gave the film three stars, but I’d argue he scored it a little low. It is easily worth an extra half-star for the wide-eyed beard-flocking sequence alone. The movie is a great Christmas experience, surely nothing could be better… You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. The second film of the night is even better than the first. But don’t let that detract from the pure, unadulterated joy of Dial Code Santa Claus. I give the movie the four Cthulhu treatment.(4 / 5)
Best Line: “I don’t like your face.” – One perceptive little girl
Opening Rant: Crystal chakras or some insanity in the desert.
The second film of the night, also a new experience for me, was my favorite: Christmas Evil. A film adored by John Waters is always a great sign. Released in 1980 on the heels of Halloween and Friday the 13th, one would expect the film to be just another sort of holiday-themed slasher copycat, but this is far from. Lewis Jackson’s film is relatively tame in violence, skewing more psychological than a slasher, but the film benefits all the more from the approach, crafting an ultimately heartbreaking chronicle of a man drifting further into madness over the holidays.
The film is a b-movie at heart, however, and for however subtle and nuanced it can be, it also delights in the absolute insanity of creating a Christmas-themed horror story. It delivers on multiple levels. The movie follows a man, Harry, who has grown up traumatized by a childhood witnessing of his parents engaged in sexual acts while his father is dressed as Santa Claus. As an adult, Harry has grown obsessed with Christmas, decorating his home with various seasonal decorations and knick-knacks and working at a toy factory. At home, he engages in dressing as Santa and taking on the requisite duties of observing and recording the local children, documenting their behavior in his book.
Harry, put upon by his coworkers and his frustrated younger brother, begins to spiral and believes himself to be Santa Claus, acting oddly but harmlessly, donating stolen toys from the factory to the local children’s hospital. This doesn’t last long, however, and soon Harry’s actions turn to murder and the film’s final act echoes the horror classic Frankenstein in several surprising ways. The film is a bit slow, however, and lacks a certain visual punch, but that’s no dealbreaker.
The film is ultimately a sad story about a broken man who truly needs help and doesn’t get it. It’s actually fairly fitting for a movie set in a season of high suicides and melancholy. This is also the more interesting when paired with a trans allegory, as Joe Bob reveals was theorized by John Waters. Given the time the film was made, the theory slides into place; it would be hard to do a trans movie, but burying the message in a movie about a man who thinks he is Santa Claus is a bit easier to swallow. General audiences didn’t really respond to the film though, so much of this discourse feels newer and in a way a little more timely. It all clicks, however, and whether or not it was intended, is worth discussing further given today’s trans community discourse.
As for the rest of the festivities throughout the night, however, one of the great treats of the host segments was the video Christmas cards featuring Drive-In favorite guests and Silver Bolo winners. Whereas the recent Halloween special felt more isolated, there was a certain level of togetherness presented in this special’s festivities, and those video Christmas cards went a long way towards that. The more live nature of the bidding on the auction also helped out quite a bit, really letting viewers feel like they were a part of something in the now.
While it was a great night for holiday horror, the standout of the films is most certainly Christmas Evil, both as a sort of holiday horror classic, but also on a more intellectual level. Sometimes the Last Drive-In pokes fun at the more scholarly side of the film world in the pursuit of blood, breasts, and beasts, but sometimes Santa Joe Bob gives unto us good little children a little something to chew on for a while, even awarding it that coveted four stars; Christmas Evil gives me just the sort of film I want to gnaw on for a bit. Happy holidays indeed! Definitely the full five Cthulhu sort of film I adore. (5 / 5)
Best Line: “But now I want you to remember to stay good boys & girls. Respect your mothers & fathers and do what they tell you. Obey your teachers and learn a whooooole lot! Now if you do this, I’ll make sure you get good presents from me eeeevery year. Ha ha ha… but if you’re bad boys & girls, your name goes in the ‘Bad Boys & Girls’ book, and I’ll bring you something… horrible.” – “Santa” Harry
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
As always, we begin with the official Drive-In totals, courtesy of the Shudder twitter account:
As for my own totals? Here is what I have:
- 1 Yuki sighting
- 1 Dead dog
- 2 Bad Santas
- 3 holiday themes
- 3 alternate titles
- 3 instances of holiday aardvarking
- 18 auction items
- 25k eBay monthly earning limit
- 23 minutes of exposition
- Globe Crushing
- Overly French holiday traditions
- Child endangerment
- Open-eyed beard flocking
- Christmas terrorism
- Terror train
- Suspiciously rich family
- Mansplaining QVC
- Child slapping
- Child spooking
- Eye gouging
- Santa transitioning
- Catholic Joking
- Gratuitously elaborate handshaking
- Gratuitous Frankensteinesque torch pursuit
- Gratuitous “Hogzilla” chanting
- Gratuitous Bonnie Tyler sad Christmas sequence
- Minitel Fu
- Video Christmas Card Fu
- Silver Bolo Award: Geeks Who Eat
In a world beset by a plague, nothing can be business as usual, and the Last Drive-In is no exception. The show continues to be fun, but after the relative disappointment I felt from the Halloween special, I was concerned that coronavirus was going to take yet another toll on a show I love. I am pleased that is not the case with Joe Bob Saves Christmas. The show found a great gimmick this time around that worked in the necessary COVID 19 restrictions while also delivering on a sense of community that is more vital than ever.
It’s good to be a mutant. (5 / 5)
Well, that’s it for The Last Drive-In until the start of the new season, or another special. What comes first? It doesn’t really matter… we’ll still be covering it and doing our live-tweet sessions here at Haunted MTL.
… the drive-in will never die.
Shutter Island (2010): Review
Leonardo Dicaprio’s films rarely disappoint. It was interesting to see him flex different acting muscles in this psychological thriller Shutter Island alongside Mark Ruffalo and Michelle Williams. When I say that I was not expecting such a turn in the story, I mean that my jaw was pretty much on the floor the entire time. Without any further ado, let’s dive into its mastery, shall we?
A cliché setup done right
We have been here before a million times. A character stumbles into a scene to solve a mystery. Everyone is acting just the right amount of suspicion to make you wonder. Dicaprio’s Edward ‘Teddy’ travels to an extremely remote island where a woman goes missing from a psychiatric institution. He’s experiencing migraines and flashbacks to his murdered wife while receiving little to no help from the hospital staff.
Teddy soon suspects that the hospital is experimenting on patients which fuels his theories on what happened to the missing woman. Things take even more of a turn when his partner also disappears. Unsurprisingly, everyone insists Teddy came to the island alone. Feeling like he’s losing his mind, our protagonist finds out that this is exactly the case. He is a patient in the hospital and the entire investigation is an attempt to get him to understand the truth.
While the whole ‘it was all in your head’ trope has a bad rep for the fans of any genre, this film uses it masterfully. Watching it for the first time not knowing what to expect is obviously a shock and then watching it again, looking at all the clues that were the which you missed – that’s a treat on its own. After all, there’s nothing inherently wrong with using cliches if they are done the right way.
Things that go bump in our minds
A huge part of this movie’s storyline is Andrew’s inability to process the truth. The roots for it stretch far beyond the plot twist. Andrew is unable to acknowledge that his wife is mentally ill and believes that moving them to the countryside will fix everything. After she murders their children, he is further pushed into the world of delusion, convincing himself to be a hero because he couldn’t save his own family.
It’s interesting to note that in his delusion, Andrew is the one who set fire to their house. Is this a little sliver of his mind whispering the truth to him? Is it his subconscious villainizing himself out of contempt, searching for answers that are never going to come? Andrew’s psychiatrist pointed out that his moment of clarity has happened before, only to be undone quite quickly. Perhaps it was easier for Andrew to shut it off rather than live with the knowledge that he could’ve done something to prevent a terrible tragedy.
Shutter Island is a movie that provides both the entertainment value you would expect from a suspense thriller and a deeper layer of thought. Coated with a perfect atmosphere and amazing acting, it’s a piece that will definitely hold the test of time. (4.5 / 5)
Wheel of Time, Daughter of The Night
We’ve reached episode four of Wheel of Time, which means we’re halfway through the season. While it doesn’t seem like much has happened so far, this is the episode where things start heating up.
We begin this episode with a flashback. Ishamael is raising something dark and twisted. As we watch, it takes the shape of a woman.
More on that in a bit.
Meanwhile, Nynaeve is healing from her time in the arches. She is quiet and withdrawn. She’s also awkward and uncomfortable around Egwene now that she’s initiated and Egwene is not. Her new friendship with Elayne isn’t helping.
But the three girls come together when Liandrin tells Nynaeve that Perrin has been captured by the Seanchan.
However, Perrin is no longer in the clutches of the Seanchan. He was rescued by Elyas and a pack of beautiful wolves. Beautiful and deadly AF by the way. If you have any fear of dogs, this episode might not help that.
Elyas explains to Perrin that he is a Wolf Brother. This means that he can communicate with the wolves, and eventually will gain some of their abilities. While Perrin and Elyas don’t exactly get off on the right foot, he does find a fast friendship with one specific wolf. After a time, he introduces himself by showing Perrin an image of himself jumping up and down. From this, Perrin assumes his name is Hopper.
Finally, we return to Rand. He and Selene have been off in the mountains. They haven’t done much more than each other so far.
And that’s exactly what it appears they’re about to do when Moiraine bursts into the cottage and cuts Selene’s throat.
Rand is surprised and furious until Moiraine explains that the woman he knows as Selene is the Dark Friend Lanfear. With this shocking revelation, the two run off into the night.
It should be a surprise to no one that I loved the wolves in this episode. Hopper himself was worth an extra Cthulhu. But this is not just because dogs are cute. It’s also because the dog playing Hopper just does a great job.
On a more serious note, I loved how Nynaeve responded upon coming back to the real world. She isn’t okay.
And it’s a good thing that she isn’t. Too often in fiction we don’t see the fallout of emotional damage. Hell, we don’t usually see realistic fallout from physical damage.
But she is hurt by what she experienced. And you can tell. That’s realistic character building, and we don’t see that enough.
I also really appreciate the special effects in this episode. The first time we see Lanfear, she’s eerie. She’s frightening. Part of this is thanks to Natasha O’Keeffe, who does a great job. But the effects are what really sells this.
What didn’t work
If Wheel of Time has any fault, it’s that there is far too much sitting about and talking about things. In this case, there’s a lot of standing about and talking about things. Some of this was necessary, and some of it could have been done better. Honestly, there just has to be a better way to convey that characters are struggling.
This was most apparent with Rand and Selene/Lanfear. Honestly, anytime the two of them were on screen it was a great time for me to catch up on Instagram.
This might come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t read the books, but Rand is supposed to be the main character. And here we are, four episodes into an eight-episode season, and so far all he’s done is mess about with his emo girlfriend!
That being said, the story is starting to pick up. With four episodes left, I can’t wait to see how far we go.
(3 / 5)
Elevator Game, a Film Review
Elevator Game (2023) is directed by Rebekah McKendry and is the first feature-length production of Fearworks.
Elevator Game (2023) is directed by Rebekah McKendry and is the first feature-length production of Fearworks. It adapts the supernatural myth and creepypasta of the same name while providing an original plot. This unrated Shudder exclusive stars Gino Anania, Samantha Halas, and Verity Marks. In full disclosure, I had the opportunity to interview Gino Anania and Stefan Brunner about the film.
Ryan seeks to find answers to his sister’s mysterious disappearance. To do this, he infiltrates a myth-busting web series that seems to have some ties to her final confirmed moments. Desperate to force a confrontation, he encourages them to play the elevator game. Unfortunately, there seems to be more truth to the myth than expected.
What I Like about Elevator Game & as an Adaptation
I am lucky to have additional insight into the development hell this movie overcame due to COVID. It’s commendable that the film manages to make it of that, even if it requires a lengthy delay of the film.
Usually, I provide a separate section for adaptation quality. However, the source material remains the ritual, which Elevator Game performs accurately. While the myth inspires many creepypastas, Elevator Game doesn’t directly take or adapt any of these works from what I’ve seen. Instead, it makes its own film based on the legend.
As the Fifth Floor Woman, Samantha Halas creates an eerie and disturbing character. While I won’t go so far as to say terrifying, she certainly makes an impression. The revelation that the stunts and performance are all her, as an actual contortionist, I give her more credit.
Gino Anania, given a more complex role than most of his cast members, really does bring a strong performance that creates either friction or synergy with his cast members. I suppose I wanted more of these interactions as some cut sooner than appreciated.
Another amusing element is that the entire motivation for the plot to follow is a forced advertisement from an investor. Something about the chaos being a product of appeasing some investors feels uncomfortably real.
The alternate reality remains surprisingly effective. To be clear, it’s not impressively realistic but stylistic. It genuinely seems like an alternate world with a skewered impression.
Tired Tropes or Trigger Warning
I feel weird mentioning this, but endangering a sister’s life to push the brother’s story forward seems a common trend beyond one form of media.
No discredit to the actors, but the romance feels rushed and unnecessary. Without going into too much detail, to avoid spoilers, there is synergy between the actors but little chemistry in the plot.
What I Dislike or Considerations
Elevator Game remains set in providing a B-movie experience. Its tight budget leaves little room to surprise the viewer visually. While I am surprised at what it accomplishes, it’s far from overwhelming. This film also remains the first production of Fearworks, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. I’m interested in the future, but Elevator Game leaves much to grow from.
Rebekah McKendry may have a directorial style that influences dialogue, but the line delivery evokes an overexpression that’s common in Lovecraftian films. I say this not as a direct negative, but it remains a required taste best known before viewing. As this isn’t Lovecraftian, I fear it removes some of the reality and tension of those haunting elements.
Many of the characters feel underdeveloped, making me wonder if cutting these roles might lead to more invested characters. While the performances hit their marks, a tighter cast might give each role more to work toward. As this is a tight cast already, it seems an odd issue to rectify.
Elevator Game provides an interesting B-movie experience for those who know the legend. For those expecting something different, this film may not work for you. This film overcame a lot to exist but doesn’t break the mold. While I am excited to see Fearworks pursue further ventures toward its ambitious mission statement, I find Elevator Game falling short of its goal.
(2 / 5)