Silent Night, Zombie Night

Silent Night, Zombie Night

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Today’s feature is a 2009 yule-tide tale of the rising undead: Silent Night, Zombie Night.

Silent Night, Zombie Night was written, edited, produced, and directed by Sean Cain, who also made the films Jurassic City and Naked Beneath the Water, and cut Sand Sharks, Rise of the Dinosaurs, and a handful of documentaries.

The cinematographer for the film was Jim Wright, who has almost exclusively worked in reality television, on shows like The Millionaire Matchmaker, Beyond Scared Straight, Addicted To Beauty, and Million Dollar Listing.

The effects team for Silent Night, Zombie Night included Megan Nicoll (Zombeavers, Titanic II, Jersey Shore Shark Attack, Evil Bong 3-D), Dominic Alfano (Poultrygeist), Tom Devlin (Daredevil, Club Dread), Tina Shults (Transmorphers: Fall of Man), and Jeff Leroy (Werewolf In A Women’s Prison, Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong).

The musical score for the movie was provided by Mario Salvucci, whose other credits include Jurassic City, Sand Sharks, and Rise of the Dinosaurs, all of which also involved writer/director/editor/producer Sean Cain.

silentnightzombienight2The cast of Silent Night, Zombie Night includes Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Vernon Wells (The Road Warrior, Commando), Lew Temple (The Walking Dead), and Jack Forcinito (Jurassic City).

The plot of Silent Night, Zombie Night is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A week before Christmas a viral outbreak turns the citizens of Los Angeles into the walking dead. On the brink of severing ties with both his wife and longtime partner, L.A.P.D. officer Frank Talbot finds himself trapped with them. As death closes in their survival is further threatened by the fact that both men love the same woman.

Silent Night, Zombie Night currently holds a 4.5 user rating on IMDb, alongside an audience aggregate score of 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, although barely 1000 reviews have been recorded between both sites.

As I expected going in, this movie unavoidably looks cheap from top to bottom, but that is something that is only particularly obvious whenever gunshots or other semi-sophisticated effects were necessary. However, the zombies could certainly look worse given what must have been a very stringent budget. If anything, I think they might have gone too far overboard with some of the zombies, to the point that they seem more like monsters than human corpses. Regardless, I was impressed with the makeup work.

Silent Night, Zombie Night is a movie that certainly doesn’t waste any time getting started: instead of building a tense atmosphere or a sense of foreboding, the zombie attacks starts as soon as the camera is rolling. The break-neck pace doesn’t last long, however, thanks to a middle section that drags on aimlessly for far too long. While I didn’t mind the conclusion, the time it took to get there didn’t feel fully justified. That said, there is a nugget of a really good zombie story buried within Silent Night, Zombie Night, but it this team didn’t seem to have the talent or the finances to see it through to reality. There are still flashes of entertainment that shine through at times, but the overall experience of the movie is kind of dull. That said, I went in with very low expectations, and I think it is fair to say that Silent Night, Zombie Night is a rare highlight from the garbage/bargain bin.

The nail in the coffin for me in regards to this movie is that it isn’t really much of a theme movie: the Christmas setting feels like something that was added in at the last minute in a desperate marketing ploy for an audience. I’ll admit that it worked, because I wouldn’t have bought or watched the movie otherwise, but it doesn’t do anything for the content itself. Outside of a few Christmas lights and a Santa zombie, don’t expect a zombie-infested winter wonderland in this movie, because you won’t find it.

Overall, this movie was better than I expected, but not good enough that I would implore anyone to go dig it up. There are still a lot of amateurish aspects to it that are impossible to overlook, like an unnecessary and tonally inappropriate Reservoir Dogs pastiche in the first act. That said, there are surprisingly some bright spots in the human drama aspect of the story, even if the characters weren’t written with as much depth or consistency as they could have been.

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Deadly Little Christmas

Deadly Little Christmas

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Today’s feature is a low-budget Christmas-themed horror movie from 2009: Deadly Little Christmas.

Deadly Little Christmas was directed, produced, and co-written by Novin Shakiba, who also directed The Occultist and produced the serial killer mash-up Dahmer vs. Gacy. His co-writers for the movie were David S. Sterling (Blood Legend, Attitude For Destruction, Vampire Boys) and Jeremiah Campbell (Reptisaurus, Gothic Vampires From Hell, The Curse of Lizzie Borden).

The cinematographer for Deadly Little Christmas was Orestes Gonzales, whose other low-budget credits include Dahmer vs. Gacy, Metal Man, Frankenstein Rising, and The Curse of Lizzie Borden 2.

Deadly Little Christmas was edited by Jason Peri, who also provided the film’s musical score. His other credits have included Alice In Murderland, Don’t Look In The Cellar, Lizzie Borden’s Revenge, and Vampire Boys 2.

The plot of Deadly Little Christmas is summarized on IMDb as follows:

One Christmas a little boy losses it ,and kills his father and the family’s house keeper. He is put away, and all is well. Well, until the 15th anniversary of the brutal murders (When he escapes from the santitarium that has lock him away for so long). Now, the only thing he wants is another Christmas massacre.

The reception for Deadly Little Christmas, from the few people who ran across its straight to video release, was overwhelmingly negative. It currently holds a 2.9 user rating on IMDb, alongside an astounding 0% audience aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Deadly Little Christmas looks and sounds almost as bad as the numerous Uli Lommel movies I have sat through, and has some some really terrible performances to boot. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that I was watching a particularly shitty soap opera while sitting through this movie, given all of the wedged-in familial drama. Even the death sequences are terribly disappointing, and look like they could have been pulled off for a home movie. All of that said, Deadly Little Christmas does have one almost-redeeming factor: a twist that I honestly didn’t see coming.

Despite one bright spot, everything else about this movie is absolute garbage. I picked this up at a bargain bin alongside Silent Night, Zombie Night, a similar straight to video Christmas horror movie. While I also dislike that movie, it stands head and shoulders above this flick, based on effort alone. This movie is just boring melodrama, with shitty cinematography, bad acting, and the most mediocre gore effects available from scouring your local dollar store. Unless you are being forced to watch it for some reason, I advise steering very clear of Deadly Little Christmas.

Christmas Vacation 2

Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure

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Today’s feature is a holiday sequel that no one expected or wanted: Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure.

The writer for Christmas Vacation 2 was producer Matty Simmons, who was a producer on movies like Animal House and the entire Vacation series (Vacation, European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, Vegas Vacation). His writing credits, however, are less prestigious: a lesser National Lampoon movie called Pucked, and a couple of episodes of the television show Delta House make up the majority of his experience on that front.

Christmas Vacation 2 was directed by Nick Marck, who has worked extensively on television shows like Greek, Veronica Mars, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek, Northern Exposure, and The Wonder Years over his directing career.

The cinematographer for Christmas Vacation 2 was Rohn Schmidt, who shot movies like Philadelphia Experiment 2, Beastmaster 2, and Ghoulies Go To College, as well as numerous episodes of The Walking Dead, Saving Grace, The Shield, and Huff.

The editor for the film was Joel Goodman, who cut such films as The Prowler, Lawnmower Man 2, and The Abyss, as well as multiple episodes of Rescue Me and Community.

The effects work on Christmas Vacation 2 was done by a team that included Rick Cortes (How I Met Your Mother, Dexter, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Double Team, Smallville), David Takemura (Drive Angry, Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Lisa Rocco (Masters of the Universe, The Hunger Games, The Naked Gun).

The musical score for the movie was provided by Nathan Furst, who has also done music for flicks like Need For Speed, Act of Valor, Lake Placid 3, and Lake Placid 2.

christmasvacationtwo2The cast of Christmas Vacation 2 includes Randy Quaid (Kingpin, Independence Day, Midnight Express, The Last Detail, Parents, Vacation, Caddyshack II), Fred Willard (Austin Powers, Best In Show), Jake Thomas (The Cell, Dinocroc), Miriam Flynn (Vacation, Christmas Vacation), Ed Asner (Mary Tyler Moore), and Dana Barron (Vacation, Death Wish 4).

The plot of Christmas Vacation 2 is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A holiday to the South Pacific turns awry, when Cousin Eddie’s family and a tour guide are shipwrecked on an island.

In Christmas Vacation 2, Dana Barron reprises her character of Audrey Griswold, who she portrayed in the original Vacation. Curiously, this is the only time that someone played the character twice: in all the other movies, her character was re-cast.

Christmas Vacation 2 has the rare distinction of being a direct sequel to a sequel: Christmas Vacation was itself the third film in the Vacation franchise, immediately following European Vacation.

Randy Quaid, the lead actor in Christmas Vacation 2, has one of the most dramatic Hollywood falls from grace in history. He is an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee who once had a significant film and television career, but descended into the realm of inane conspiracy theories and significant legal trouble starting in the late 2000s, from which he has yet to recover.

Christmas Vacation 2 is near-universally reviled: it currently holds a 2.7 user rating on IMDb, along with a 13% audience aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes.

This is honestly one of the most flubbed comedies I have ever sat through. It is actually pretty astounding how poor the comedic timing is, and how often the attempted jokes fall completely flat. Sequences drag on way too long, punchlines don’t hit, and most of the attempted jokes come from really unpleasant places: mostly mocking people for being unintelligent, old, suicidal, or poor. Alternatively (and unsurprisingly), there are also a lot of farts to be had.

Having a movie entirely based on the premise that a character (Eddie, of course) is inept can only go so far: there needs to be a little more rounding than that, or at least some unusual situations for the character to deal with. Another movie that I was reminded of while watching this was The Jerk, which manages to make this formula entertaining by giving the central character charming naivete and exposing him to outlandish situations, like inexplicably becoming a corporate success. Cousin Eddie, on the other hand, is just written to focus on physical buffoonery in a variety of locations.

Bad comedies are consistently some of the most un-entertaining movies I have ever come across. Rarely do movies like Christmas Vacation 2 have any kind of redeeming value, and I can’t say that this is an exception to that rule. If anything, this is even lazier than your typical spoof movie, which at least put some effort into lambasting the current box office leaders and pop culture icons. Christmas Vacation 2 was a bad idea to start with, was turned into a bad script, and then was executed poorly in almost every conceivable way. Unless you are inexplicably a Randy Quaid completionist or a die-hard fan of the Vacation franchise, there isn’t any reason to give this flick even a passing glance.

For more thoughts on Christmas Vacation 2, I can heartily recommend the coverage of it on the Christmas edition of Red Letter Media’s Best of the Worst. Frankly, they say everything there is to say about it.

The Star Wars Holiday Special

The Star Wars Holiday Special

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Today’s feature, in honor of the release of a new Star Wars movie as well as the holiday season, is 1978’s infamous The Star Wars Holiday Special.

The ill-fated television special had five credited writers: Pat Proft (Police Academy, Hot Shots!, The Naked Gun), Leonard Ripps (Full House, Frankenweenie), Bruce Vilanch (Hollywood Squares), Rod Warren (Donny & Marie), and Mitzie Welch (The Carol Burnett Show).

The Star Wars Holiday Special was initially directed by David Acomba, whose only other credit at the time was a 1973 movie called Slipstream, not to be confused with Slipstream (1989), Slipstream (2005), or Slipstream (2007). However, he left the production before the shooting was complete, leaving the remaining directing work to Steve Binder (The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Pee-wee’s Playhouse).

The musical score for The Star Wars Holiday Special was composed by Ian Fraser, who primarily worked as a conductor and musical director on movies like Doctor Doolittle and Scrooge.

The cast of The Star Wars Holiday Special included the original main players from A New Hope: Mark Hamill (Slipstream, Batman: The Animated Series), Carrie Fisher (Loverboy, The Burbs, The Blues Brothers), Harrison Ford (Blade Runner, Raiders of the Lost Ark), Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker (Time Bandits), and James Earl Jones (Conan The Barbarian, The Ambulance, Field of Dreams). However, they were joined by an odd assortment of actors and entertainers as well: Art Carney (Last Action Hero, Roadie), Harvey Korman (Blazing Saddles, History of the World: Part I), Bea Arthur (The Golden Girls), and Diahann Carroll (Julia, Dynasty).

The plot of The Star Wars Holiday Special is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Chewbacca and Han Solo try to get home to Chewie’s family to celebrate Life Day, which includes various forms of entertainment.

The one most notable thing that fans still credit The Star Wars Holiday Special for was the debut of fan favorite character Boba Fett in an animated short. He would play a key role in the following two movies, and even be edited into A New Hope in George Lucas’s controversial Special Edition.

All of the wookie dialogue, which makes up a significant portion of the movie, isn’t dubbed or translated, making all of their conversations a complete mystery to the audience. This is consistent with the treatment of Chewbacca in the main series, but it wasn’t as much of an issue when there was only one untranslated wookie, as opposed to multiple in conversation.

Carrie Fisher apparently demanded that she be allowed to sing in order to appear in the special. The result could be generously described as jarring and off-putting. Likewise, Harrison Ford particularly didn’t want to participate in the ill-conceived television series. However, Mark Hamill was the most surprising cast member appearance, given he had just been in the serious car wreck that required facial reconstructive surgery, and had barely recovered when shooting began. This accident would ultimately be the reason for the wampa attack at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, to explain Luke’s changed appearance.

The character portrayed by Art Carney in The Star Wars Holiday Special was apparently based on the same notes and character sketch that would eventually turn into Lando Calrissian, a fan favorite character who would first appear in The Empire Strikes Back two year later played by Billy Dee Williams.

The Star Wars Holiday Special was utterly reviled by just about everyone who saw it, and George Lucas immediately sough to bury it after his release. In fact, he was once quoted as saying “if I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every bootlegged copy of that program and smash it.”  Currently, the program holds a user rating of 2.5 on IMDb, along with a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 20%. Astoundingly, however, it currently has a 50% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes (still rotten, but not atrocious), thanks to a number of facetious and ironic reviews.

Overall, The Star Wars Holiday Special is undoubtedly a mess. The only thing that isn’t totally terrible is the animation sequence, which doesn’t make up much of the total run time. The special was clearly poorly conceived and unmotivated, and apparently nobody wanted to be there. Still, the world was in the midst of a Star Wars fever, and anything with the branding would have seemed impossible to fail, so I can understand why it was pushed forward in spite of the obvious problems.

First off, die-hard Star Wars fans have to watch this infamous franchise entry at least once. I think it is also worth checking out for bad movie fans, though it pushes the boundary between being a television movie or just a bizarre variety show. Still, it is a baffling experience, particularly during the musical numbers or the wookie conversations.

For more thoughts on The Star Wars Holiday Special, mention anything about ‘Life Day’ near a Star Wars nerd. Alternatively, I recommend checking out the Best of the Worst entry from Red Letter Media, the thoughts from The Nostalgia Critic, the recent write-up on The AV Club, or the Wookieepedia entry for the special.

Surviving Christmas

Surviving Christmas

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Today’s flick is a 2004 Christmas comedy: Surviving Christmas.

Two teams of writers worked on the screenplay for Surviving Christmas: Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (Made of Honor, A Very Brady Sequel, Josie And The Pussycats, Can’t Hardly Wait, The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas) and Jennifer Ventimilia and Joshua Sternin (The Tooth Fairy, Yogi Bear, That ’70s Show, Rio).

Surviving Christmas was directed by Mike Mitchell, whose other credits include Sky High, Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo, Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, and Shrek Forever After.

Surviving Christmas had two credited cinematographers: Peter Lyons Collister (Arrested Development, Alvin & The Chipmunks, Garfield 2, Halloween 4) and Tom Priestley Jr. (Bordello of Blood, Undercover Brother, Barbershop, Barbershop 2).

The editor for the movie was Craig McKay, who has cut such films as Everything Is Illuminated, K-PAX, Philadelphia, Mad Dog & Glory, Reds, and Cop Land.

The team of producers on Surviving Christmas included Erin Stam (Underdog, 27 Dresses), Betty Thomas (I Spy, Charlie’s Angels), Jenno Topping (Doctor Dolittle, The Brady Bunch Movie) and Patricia Whitcher (The Terminal, Dreamgirls, The Soloist).

The makeup effects for the film were provided by Tammy Ashmore (Zombieland, Taxi), Marsha Shearrill (Semi-Pro, Auto Focus), Suzi Ostos (High Fidelity, Wanted), John E. Jackson (State of Play, Daredevil, Congo), Kimberly Greene (Scream 4, Kingpin), and Tony Gardner (Wild Wild West, Cocoon, Darkman).

The special effects work for Surviving Christmas was done by a team that included Jeff Frink (Dead Heat, Maximum Overdrive, Trick or Treat), William Dambra (Child’s Play, Gladiator), Dominik Duganzdic (The Aviator, Volcano), Ray Svedin (Mannequin, Cobra), Bruce A. Strong (Home Alone 3, Sinister 2), Tom Ryba (Wild Wild West, Groundhog Day), Rodman Kiser (8 Mile, A Simple Plan), and John Rigden (Road to Perdition).

The visual effects crew for Surviving Christmas included Will Cunningham (2012, Ghost Rider), Kent Demaine (Deep Blue Sea, The Core), Karin Levinson (Cop Out, Hellboy), Will Robbins (Minority Report, The Cell), Paul Luna (The Core, The Master of Disguise), and Mark Russell (The Wolf of Wall Street, American Ultra).

The musical score for the movie was composed by Randy Edelman, who also provided music for movies like Balls of Fury, Underdog, xXx, Black Knight, Anaconda, Corky Romano, Osmosis Jones, The Mask, My Cousin Vinny, and Ghostbusters II.

The cast of Surviving Christmas includes Ben Affleck (Daredevil, Argo, The Town, Gigli, Reindeer Games, Jersey Girl, Good Will Hunting), Christina Applegate (Anchorman, Married With Children), James Gandolfini (The Sopranos, The Man Who Wasn’t There, 8MM, In The Loop), Catherine O’Hara (After Hours, Beetlejuice, Home Alone), Bill Macy (The Jerk, Analyze This), Jennifer Morrison (House M.D.), and Udo Kier (Blade, Shadow of the Vampire).

survivingchristmas1The plot of Surviving Christmas is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A lonely, obnoxious young millionaire pays a family to spend Christmas with him.

Bizarrely, Surviving Christmas was released in the United States in late October, before Halloween, which might have contributed somewhat to its financial failure. Speaking of which, Surviving Christmas was made on a production budget of $45 million, on which it only grossed roughly $15 million in its lifetime worldwide theatrical run.

As well as being a box office bomb, Surviving Christmas was reviled by audiences and critics alike. It currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.3, along with Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 7% from critics and 28% from audiences. On top of that, the movie would up with three Golden Raspberry nominations, including one for Worst Picture.

Surviving Christmas is a fundamentally twisted movie. The entire plot revolves around Ben Affleck’s character essentially holding a family hostage for the holidays, in exchange for $150,000. The writing for his character borders on being utterly terrifying and inhuman, like he could snap into becoming Patrick Bateman at any moment. I’m sure he was supposed to come off as quirky when they were sketching out the character, but the way he comes off isn’t like that at all. It seems like the expectation is that the audience will feel bad for his loneliness, but the lengths he goes to are far beyond what anyone would actually do.

If there is anything positive to say about Surviving Christmas, it is that Ben Affleck is genuinely creepy in his performance, even if that wasn’t what he was actually going for. The rest of the cast is pretty run of the mill, and aren’t given a whole lot to do aside from react to Affleck’s ongoing holiday breakdown.

As is the case with most comedies gone wrong, there aren’t any particular redeeming values to this movie. Because the humor doesn’t work, there’s just no gas or power to it in general, making it a really dull experience to try and sit through. I honestly can’t think of any good reasons to recommend it, outside of the novelty of seeing Ben Affleck play a poorly concealed serial killer for the holidays.

For more thoughts on Surviving Christmas, I recommend checking out Paul Clinton’s review for CNN and Stephen Holden’s coverage for The New York Times.

Reindeer Games

Reindeer Games

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Today’s feature is Reindeer Games, a holiday-themed heist film with a dose of mistaken identity.

The writer for Reindeer Games was Ehren Kruger, who also did screenplays for the movie Scream 3, The Ring, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Reindeer Games was the final theatrical film for director John Frankenheimer, whose credits included The Island of Doctor Moreau, French Connection II, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, and Ronin.

The cinematographer for the movie was Alan Caso, who has done extensive television work on shows like Big Love, Dexter, Hawaii Five-0, Lie To Me, and Six Feet Under, and shot a handful of movies like Muppets From Space and Ed.

Reindeer Games had two primary editors: Michael Kahn (The Haunting, Twister, Jurassic Park, Hook, Munich, 1941, The Color Purple, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Goonies) and Antony Gibbs (Ronin, Dune, Rollerball, Bad Boys, Jesus Christ Superstar).

The team of producers for Reindeer Games included the Miramax duo of Harvey and Bob Weinstein, Andrew Rona (Dracula 2000, Scream 3), James Sbardellati (Humanoids From The Deep, Slipstream (2007), Frailty), Chris Moore (American Pie, Good Will Hunting), Casey Grant (Snow Dogs, The 13th Warrior, Dreamcatcher), and Cary Granat (Scary Movie, Mimic).

The makeup effects team for Reindeer Games was made up of Charles Porlier (The 6th Day, Jumanji), Ryan Nicholson (Lake Placid, Supernatural, Blade Trinity), Doug Morrow (Stay Tuned, Bordello of Blood), Holland Miller (The Fog (2005)), Deborah K. Larsen (The Core, Darkman), Crist Ballas (Jingle All The Way, Mystery Science Theater 3000), and Victoria Down (Bordello of Blood, April Fool’s Day).

The special effects work for the movie was done by John Wilkinson (Sucker Punch), Mike Splatt (2012, Final Destination), Grant Smith (X-Men 2, Snow Dogs, Saving Silverman), William Orr (Double Jeopardy, Dreamcatcher), Graham Hollins (Inception), Steve Davis (Jumanji, Friday the 13th Part VIII), and Alex Burdett (Event Horizon, Deadpool).

The visual effects on Reindeer Games were done by the companies Cinema Production Services (The Core, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Faculty, Final Destination, The Adventures of Pluto Nash) and Digiscope (Mimic, Spawn, Volcano, Lake Placid, Freddy vs. Jason, Torque, Van Helsing).

The music for Reindeer Games was composed by Alan Silvestri, one of the most acclaimed film scorers in the business. Outside of Academy Award nominations for Forrest Gump and The Polar Express, his other credits have included Cast Away, The Avengers, Van Helsing, Judge Dredd, Super Mario Bros., Cop And A Half, Predator 2, Mac And Me, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Death Becomes Her, The Abyss, The Quick and The Dead, and Mousehunt.

The cast of Reindeer Games includes Ben Affleck (Gone Girl, Argo, Surviving Christmas, Good Will Hunting, Paycheck, Gigli, Daredevil), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road, Monster, The Devil’s Advocate, Children of the Corn III, The Italian Job, Aeon Flux), Danny Trejo (From Dusk Till Dawn 2, From Dusk Till Dawn 3, Breaking Wind, Anaconda, Machete, Bad Ass, Desperado), Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Snake Eyes, The Green Mile, Mission To Mars), Dennis Farina (Saving Private Ryan, Snatch, Get Shorty), Donal Logue (Gotham, Terriers, Blade, The Patriot, Sneakers), and Isaac Hayes (South Park, Escape From New York).

reindeergames2The plot of Reindeer Games is summarized on IMDb as follows:

After assuming his dead cellmate’s identity to get with his girlfriend, an ex-con finds himself the reluctant participant in a casino heist.

Vin Diesel was apparently initially cast for a role in Reindeer Games, but left the production before filming began. Conflicting reports indicate that he was either fired by John Frankenheimer because of his demands, or the he simply walked away because of an offer for a lead role in The Fast and The Furious, which has proven to be a career-defining performance.

As of 2007, Charlize Theron publicly regarded Reindeer Games as the worst movie she had ever done, remarking that it “was a bad, bad, bad movie.”

The term “Reindeer Games” comes from the song “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” and refers to activities where certain people are explicitly and deliberately excluded, and are aware of their exclusion. Theoretically, this is meant to allude to the multiple deceptions and plots that occur over the plot of the film, all of which Ben Affleck’s “Rudolph” character is oblivious to and excluded from. In fact, an alternate title for the movie was more to the point: simply, Deception.

Reindeer Games has a production budget of $42 million, on which it grossed only $32 million in its lifetime worldwide theatrical release, making it a significant financial failure. Likewise, it was far from a critical success: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 25% from critics and 27% from audiences, alongside an IMDb user rating of 5.7.

One of the big problems a lot of people have with many movies that star Ben Affleck, like Daredevil or Paycheck, is that he isn’t a believable enough dramatic lead. Personally, I’ve always felt that he is perfectly adequate, even in those sorts of flicks. Reindeer Games, though, I think was particularly well-suited for him. As many critics pointed out, this movie was an attempt to mimic a Tarantino-style crime flick, meaning that there is a fair amount of comedic timing and dialogue needed from the lead, which is something Affleck is naturally pretty good at. As much as this was decently cast, that alone can’t make for a good movie.

One of the big problems here is that the screenplay is not Tarantino-caliber, meaning that the dialogue doesn’t flow terribly well, which saps it the story and characters of their potential charm. I actually think that Reindeer Games could have been a really solid movie with a screenplay rewrite. As I have mentioned with other movies, making a flick on a weak screenplay is like building a house on sand: even good directors can’t build a solid structure without a foundation.

Reindeer Games, to the credit of the crew, looks like a good movie. It reminded me a lot of a similar movie that came out a year later: Swordfish. Both movies have decent casts, look good, and try their damnedest to be clever and witty with their screenplays. However, they both falter in a lot of the same ways, most notably in the preposterous nature of their respective stories and the weakness of their written dialogue.

Personally, I couldn’t bring myself to honestly hate this movie. Above all else, it is a disappointing underachievement from a good director, a talented cast, and an interesting concept. In theory, this is a sort of hybrid of Hitchcock and Tarantino, which is pretty damn cool combination of styles. However, it totally fails to live up to that promise. It is totally watchable, but not terribly entertaining: I would place it on the boundary between being a bad movie and being a mediocre Hollywood movie, which is one of the worst spots a movie can find itself in. It isn’t bad enough to be entertainingly bad, and not good enough to watch on its own merits. Unless you are just dying to see a Christmas-themed crime movie and have exhausted all of your other options, there aren’t any compelling reasons to dig this up.

For more thoughts on Reindeer Games, I recommend checking out the How Did This Get Made? podcast, as well as the official review by Roger Ebert. On the flip side, you can check out a positive review from Mark LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle for a dissenting perspective.

Elves

Elves

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Today’s flick explains the historical link between Santa’s little helpers and the Third Reich: 1989’s Elves.

Elves was written and directed by Jeffrey Mandel, who worked on the television series Super Force and the low-budget flicks Firehead and Cyber-CHIC.

The cinematographer for the film was Kenny Carmack, who shot a handful of similar low-budget sci-fi features like Alien Seed and Laser Moon. The editor for Elves, Tom Matties, also worked on Alien Seed: one his few other listed credits.

The special effects work for Elves is credited to Evan Campbell, who has worked on such productions as The Faculty, Spawn, Darkman III, Darkman II, and Super Mario Bros., among many others. The stunt coordinator for the movie was an equally season B-movie veteran: Bob Bragg, who worked on Hell Comes To Frogtown, Friday the 13th Part VII, Mac And Me, Zandalee, and Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood.

The musical score for Elves was composed by Vladimir Horunzhy, who provided music for a couple of episodes of Tales From The Crypt, as well as for the notorious Stephen King miniseries adaptation of The Langoliers.

The most prominent and recognizable member of the cast of Elves is Dan Haggerty, who is best known for his lead role in The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams. He also notably served as an associate producer on the movie.

The plot of Elves is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A young woman discovers that she is the focus of an evil nazi experiment involving selective breeding and summoned elves, an attempt to create a race of supermen. She and two of her friends are trapped in a department store with an elf, and only Dan Haggerty, as the renegade loose-cannon Santa Claus, can save them.

elves1Elves currently holds an IMDb user rating of 4.1, along with a 35% audience aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes. Its limited releases mean that it has mostly spread through word of mouth, but it has developed quite a reputation among bad movie fans as a holiday favorite.

Elves is, above all else, a very goddamn strange movie. The premise, that elves are not just real, but the result of genetic experimentation by Nazis, is so impossibly outlandish that it is hard to believe that this movie isn’t a comedy. When you include how awful the eponymous elf puppet looks, it is astounding that anyone would imagine releasing the finished product of this movie, even direct to video.

elves2Lucky for us all, this movie was made with its atrocious plot and dialogue in tact, and with the cheapest effects the production could afford with spare change. The result is a movie that is nothing short of gut-bustingly hilarious: the performances are laughable (particularly the German accents), but honest, and there is never even one hint that this movie wasn’t a 100% serious effort to make a horror movie. Despite dialogue about evil elves, Nazis, magic, and incest, every one of these performers plays it totally straight, and the result if pure magic.

Elves isn’t quite on the level of Troll 2 or The Room as a good bad movie, but I think it is the closest thing there is for the holiday season. Santa Claus Conquers The Martians and Santa Claus are good fun, but neither reach the heights of what-the-fuckery offered with Elves. For bad movie fans, this is a must see. Unfortunately, it has never received a DVD release, but VHS and digital copies are floating around in the ether, and you can find them with a little bit of digging.

For more thoughts on Elves, I suggest checking out Red Letter Media’s Best of the Worst, The Cinema Snob, Dark Corners of This Sick World, and the Bad Movie Fiends podcast. As it turns out, the real good-bad movies have a way of making the rounds quickly.