Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Slay Belles, or: You Can’t Take the Christmas out of Santa

Where would we be without passion projects? Certainly, I’ve wasted a healthy share of my life watching awful B films that have clearly been scraped together by a few dedicated souls. On the other hand, these are the films I remember as they’re so strange, so unpolished, and perhaps tacky, that they fall outside of the norm and make their own special statement. This couldn’t be more true for this week’s pick; there’s a lot I would change about this film, but I’m sure it will be difficult to forget.

The Film:

Slay Belles

The Premise:

Off to explore an abandoned theme park for their livestream, a group of friends is caught up an ancient battle between Santa Claus and Krampus.

The Ramble:

Just before midnight on Christmas Eve, Santa and three women have seemingly tied up and threatened a police officer. Why in the world would Santa commit such an outlandish crime? Let’s rewind to 12 hours earlier.

All prepared to work her regular shift for the holidays, responsible one of her friend group Alexi is pleasantly surprised when gal pals Sadie and Dahlia have made arrangements to cover her shift. The duo of Sadie and Dahlia are minor social media stars, relying on their Adventure Girl videos to make their money. When they’re off to adventure, the two don colorful (and quite skimpy) outfits and explore abandoned buildings.

three women walk together outside, dressed in revealing Christmas-themed costumes

Today’s outing is to Santaland, an abandoned amusement park, and Alexi is thrilled to be along for the ride. However, the ladies certainly have their priorities in order when they stop at a grungy roadside bar. Hoping to drink in peace, the locals are less than impressed with the Christmas cheer the three women bring along. Along with the bitterly sarcastic bartender, the ladies meet police officer Sean. He warns them to be careful as they explore because of a string of deaths possibly caused by a bear. Spoiler: it’s not a bear.

Determined to enjoy their day, the ladies don their festive apparel and record their adventures. Little do they know, they are being watched on camera…and by a sasquatch-like creature. After an encounter with the creature, the group seeks shelter in a cozy cabin and attempts to convince the police dispatcher of what they saw.

a large, hairy creature with large horns stands in a cabin, covered with tinsel

Before long, an older biker appears, claiming the cabin belongs to him, aka Santa Claus. As the women believe him to be a deranged stalker, Santa has to work to prove he’s the real thing–and that the creature is none other than the Krampus.

Santa admittedly epitomizes the Baby Boomer stereotype when he tells his sad tale: Krampus, who is inextricably connected with Santa, is no longer needed to scare morality into children. Just like Krampus, Santa is no longer needed either. Santa honestly utters the line “You can take Santa out of Christmas, but you can’t take the Christmas out of Santa.” However, now that Krampus is on the loose, Santa again has a purpose. But, since the two are connected, Krampus needs to be stopped but not killed.

a man with a white beard and biker outfit stands in a cabin, a deer head with a red nose mounted on the wall beside him

In order to lure out the Krampus, our leading ladies will need to behave badly, which is as cringey as you might expect. Somehow, the plan works, and Krampus is in the gang’s clutches–but, inevitably, he escapes (though not before a dramatic lightsaber-style fight with Santa). The group loops Sean into the plan rather unwillingly, though he’s quite forgiving of being tied up and held at gunpoint, all things considered.

three women with brightly colored hair huddle with an elderly bearded man and a man in police uniform

Though armed and fully prepared to put the plan in motion, things do not go as anticipated. The sudden arrival of Mrs. Claus changes everything–but is she as ready to save Christmas as legend would have us believe?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Spoilers below

I’ve got to admit I enjoy some of the creative ideas here and their potential to create a quirky Christmas horror. The surprise reveal of Mrs. Claus is genuinely unexpected, and I instantly loved her character even though her purpose was largely to cackle madly. I connected with her intense hatred of Christmas and found myself rooting for her. And this is the only Christmas film I can think of that ends with a decapitated Santa.

On the other hand, it’s impossible to ignore how incredibly low-budget this film looks and feels, as well as the truly horrendous acting and dialogue. The soundtrack is unforgivable too, featuring a bunch of obnoxiously loud, shitty dubstep (even for dubstep).

I expected our leading ladies to be way more badass considering this film’s title is Slay Belles. For most of the film, they exist to demonstrate the absurdity of social media stardom. Sadie gets especially tiresome as she giggles incessantly about being naughty and waits for her shitty boyfriend to message her back.

Also, there are so many scenes featuring the incompetent police force and dismissive dispatcher; though ostensibly comic relief, these scenes get old so very fast.

But credit where credit’s due: the filmmakers clearly had fun with this and were willing to take their wild ideas and run with them.

Would belle of the ball Christa pause for a selfie with this one or chase it off with a bat? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Rare Exports, or: Dick the Balls, er, Deck the Halls

We started December on the blog truly expecting we could make it through an entire month of Christmas cheer. I made it perhaps 20 minutes into our first cringingly upbeat film before promptly changing my mind, and I can report similar stats for Christa–and she even shares a significant number of letters in her name with the holiday!

If you can’t escape your true nature, embrace it. Is probably something a Batman villain has said, but it holds up! We’re delighted to celebrate Christmas the Blog Collab way with bloodshed, sinister happenings, and horrible American billionaires. Wait, aren’t we trying to escape reality?

The Film:

Rare Exports

The Premise:

After an American drilling operation disrupts the way of life in a small Finnish town, a young boy tries to prove the evil version of Santa is on the loose.

The Ramble:

In a remote part of Finland, a mysterious American drilling operation has struck gold. Metaphorically, at least–what they’ve really found is a 65-foot-thick layer of sawdust. What’s so great about that, you ask? The sawdust seems to be evidence of a massive icebox for a sacred treasure, apparently with a time limit. Things kick into gear as the crew works to reveal the treasure before December 24th.

a man in a heavy coat stands at the top of a mountain, facing a group of workers at an excavation site

Spying on the worksite are youngsters Pietari and Juuso, who put two and two together rather quickly. Juuso is already rather cynical, but Pietari is quite concerned that Santa may be dead. Pietari takes a familiar course of action to anyone determined to win an argument: he researches the hell out of Santa. However, he doesn’t like the information he finds, learning that, according to many legends, Santa is less jolly and more bloodthirsty than he’s been lead to believe.

Meanwhile, Pietari’s rugged mountain man father, Rauno, is gearing up for a reindeer hunt. He makes a living butchering and selling reindeer meat, and Pietari avoids the shed where the gory work is done by all means necessary. Rauno is a tough but tender dad who makes Christmas a low-key event but is fiercely committed to keeping his son safe–especially as Pietari seems oblivious to the dangers of wolves and other unseen forces lurking in the woods.

After the reindeer hunt turns out to be a dud, Pietari blames himself. It seems something has escaped from the dig site and slaughtered all of the reindeer. The adults blame wolves, but Pietari worries he and Juuso unleashed something sinister when they cut a hole in the fence to sneak into the site.

figures ride on a snowmobile toward a fenced-in area, dramatically snowy mountains in the distance

Fired up and demanding answers, the group heads to the operation’s HQ, only to find the area abandoned. As it turns out, the dig has been abandoned as it’s horribly backfired–whatever mystery is buried in the ice has a heartbeat and malicious intentions.

Shortly after, Rauno’s business partner finds a naked old man dead in an illegal wolf pit the two dug. The two leave the old man lying in the butcher shed as they determine what to do with him. Before they’ve made a decision, the old man begins to come back to life.

Around the same time, the children of the small Finnish town sense they are being watched. Oddly specific things go missing: radiators, potato sacks (but not the potatoes), and the old hairdryer that once belonged to Pietari’s deceased mother. Finally, all of the children except for Pietari disappear.

an elderly man is chained up and hanging from the ceiling of a butcher's shed

When the old man wakes up properly, he’s a bit–make that extremely–aggressive. Suspecting he’s related to the drilling operation and its consequences, Rauno and his friends (including Juuso’s dad) interrogate the old man. Though they learn nothing, they realize he may be Santa Claus. Sensing an opportunity, they offer to sell him to the Americans because that would be something Americans would buy, honestly.

The, uh, “American” with a rather pronounced Finnish accent leading the whole operation is absolutely ecstatic. He’s all too keen to meet the real Santa for reasons I’m not super clear on.

When the two parties meet to make their trade, things don’t go as planned as the men realize their Santa isn’t the real thing. The real Santa is apparently much more sinister. Throw into the mix dozens of naked bearded men, and it’s likely to be an emotionally damaging evening, rather than the nice lumberjack convention this could’ve so easily been.

Will Pietari come up with a clever plan, saving the day while also managing to prove he can be a rugged mountain man when the situation calls for it?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I have to give this film credit for imagination; the title refers to the rare export of Santas from Finland, which the entire film leads up to (spoiler/not really a spoiler?). There are many twists and turns along the way, and the film doesn’t often go in the direction I’d expect. And the cinematography is stunning; all of those dramatic, snowy mountains.

However, I find this film falls just shy of its potential–in part because of how surprisingly…wholesome it is? True, this is the only Christmas film I can think of featuring full-frontal male nudity. And, like, a lot of full-frontal male nudity. But I was expecting horror, and we didn’t get a lot on this front. We didn’t even get to see the real Santa except as a chunk of ice with horns, and I would’ve at least liked a glimpse! The beginning of the film is quite creepy, but the last half or so is almost as sickly sweet as some of the Hallmark-style Christmas movies we’ve watched this month. The emphasis is on Pietari gaining confidence, saving the day, becoming a man, etc. And let’s talk about that, shall we?

There are some super uncomfortable messages about masculinity here. One–Pietari is maybe 10 or so? And yet there’s a lot of focus on him huntin’/shootin’/fishin’ to prove how manly he is. As a character, he was adorable and I never wanted him to grow up. Maybe just let a child be a child? And the men make a rather clumsy attempt to interrogate the old man, which just comes across as mean-spirited even if he is an evil Santa. I also can’t remember any women in this film at all, which is…problematic, to say the least. The idea of a rugged manly community feels like the ultimate ideal in this movie, rather than an unsustainable way of life destined to doom your chances of survival pretty damn fast.

I admit there are definitely parts of this film I’ve taken too seriously, as it’s very darkly funny. But my brain cannot get around the fact that the Finnish dude bros in this film are supposed to have successfully started a business built around selling people. It’s unclear to me if this is something to be frowned upon; the characters involved are all depicted in a pretty positive light. Even if you take this exclusively from the horror movie angle, you should not be selling an ancient evil for profit! It will come back! Period.

Would my festive blog wife give this one a Santa suit to cover itself or send it back to the pit it came from? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Red Christmas, or: Family Is a Blessing

Let the month of Christmas horror continue!  But maybe not with this film unless you’re up for…a rather confusing mixed bag.

The Film:

Red Christmas

The Premise:

A family’s Christmas together is cut short when a stranger appears on their doorstep with a mysterious letter…and an axe (naturally).

The Ramble:

From the get-go, our story is framed by the abortion debate as protesters clash outside of an abortion clinic.  An aborted fetus raises a bloody hand, alive…?  And, to the shock of no one, a key player in the events that unfold 20 years later.

The chaos of Christmas at home takes center stage now, as Diane gathers together her family for the doomed “best Christmas ever.”  This will be the last year in the family home in the Australian countryside, as Diane is selling the home in favor of a jaunt to Europe.  After her husband’s death from cancer, Diane has decided to do something for herself.  Diane’s children have differing opinions about this decision, which will become clear.

A family gathered in a large living room sits around in silence.
It’s all fun and games until…actually, it’s never fun and games.

The grown children at home for the holidays include an adopted daughter heading off to college soon, the token party girl (who is very pregnant), the uptight conservative Christian daughter, and Jerry, the only one of her children whose name I can remember.  Jerry, who has Down’s syndrome, will move to assisted living after the house is sold and seems pretty ok with this.  Also in town is Diane’s brother Joe, playing the role of the drunk uncle, and the spouses of the two oldest daughters.

Diane decides to put some of her money towards fertility treatments for the conservative daughter, who refuses.  Though she’d like to have a child, she believes God will help in that department.  Hey, if it worked for Mary I guess…

When the family all gathers, arguments inevitably arise about the house, sharing what they are most grateful for, and whether to say a prayer (good old Uncle Joe suggests a prayer to his god, medical marijuana).

The family quarrel is mercifully interrupted when a stranger dressed in a dark robe rings the doorbell.  He arrives with an envelope for his mother, which Diane suggests he hold onto.  Making what is likely the worst decision of her life, Diane invites the stranger inside to warm up.  She even gives him a present, though regrets this about 1 minute later when he insists on reading the letter to his mother.  His letter is highly critical of an abortion that happened 20 years ago…provoking an intense reaction from Diane.

A woman guides a stranger wearing a dark robe that covers their face into her home.
Good things always happen when you let strangers with dark hoods into your house.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, you might wonder.  Is the stranger…oh fuck it, you already know this.  Yes, the stranger is exactly who you think he is, aka the miraculously living fetus Diane aborted 20 years ago.  The baby had Down’s syndrome and would have arrived as Diane’s husband was undergoing chemotherapy, which proved too much for her to handle…though she has kept this secret from everyone in the family.

Before he can finish reading the letter, the family insists the stranger leave the house and never return.  They even add insult to injury by throwing his gift at him and threatening him with the rifle that I imagine all Australians have hidden somewhere in every room.

A woman with a firepoker looks out from her house, illuminated in blue by Christmas lights.
If you want to kill a presumed dead fetus the right way, you have to do it yourself.

Almost immediately, the family is back to that great Christmas tradition of getting into pointless arguments.  This distracts them from the first murder of one of their own.  When they discover the body, it does bring the family together, however briefly.  The family (mostly Diane, TBH) concocts several plans, one of which involves an abysmally bad response from law enforcement officers.

It becomes all too easy for the murderer to pick off members of the family one by one.  When all is said and done, which side of the family will survive?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

There are some successful moments in this film, but overall it’s quite a mess.  The tone is very uneven, at times almost a horror comedy, and at other times incredibly dark and low-budget gory.  Pointless family arguments are on the nose but feel out of place here with the grisly murders.  It’s also really difficult to care about 90% of the characters because they’re cookie cutter family stereotypes and they make THE worst horror movie decisions ever.  Diane is the exception to this as she proves herself to be quite a badass.  Too bad everyone else in the family is so incompetent.

I got a lot of mixed messages from this film too.  It was trying to be a bit more philosophical than your average slasher flick, but at a certain point just sort of gave up on conveying any sort of message.  When we finally see the murderer, he’s disfigured in an unexpected way that seems to be making a point about Down’s syndrome…but at the same time not really making sense.

Also, where the fuck was local law enforcement in all of this???  It takes about an hour for the cops to arrive with ONE officer who (spoiler) doesn’t live for very long or help in any way.  Surely this is not the way reports of armed murderers are handled in Australia unless the Australian version of law enforcement is just giving everyone a rifle and wishing them the best of luck?

Would my blog wife marry into this family or let them all meet the business end of an axe?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Silent Night, Deadly Night, or: Axe Santa a Question

One of the best months on the blog, and we’re off with a bang—or, rather, quite a few swings of the axe and several stabs.  Once again, the month of December is brought to you by Christmas horror and the occasional made-for-tv Hallmark cheese tray.

The Film:

Silent Night, Deadly Night

The Premise:

Witnessing the murder of your parents may result in your transformation into Batman…or a serial killer who dresses as Santa.

The Ramble:

Christmas Eve, 1971.  And so our troubles begin.  It’s certainly going to be a memorable Christmas for Billy, who is off with his family to visit his grandfather.  The catch is dear old granddad is in a psychiatric ward, and seems to have been in a vegetative state for many years.  Conveniently, he becomes lucid for just long enough to traumatize Billy about the nature of Santa Claus as a vindictive old asshole who punishes bad children.  Upsetting, but not insurmountable, yeah?

Give it 5 minutes.

a couple with two young children walk down a hospital corridor
Enjoy this moment while it lasts, Billy.

After leaving the psychiatric care facility, Billy’s parents notice a man dressed as Santa whose car has broken down on the road.  In the spirit of Christmas, the family pulls over to help Santa, which turns out to be a serious mistake.  This Santa is an armed robber who proceeds to murder the entire family.  Billy and his younger brother, Jimmy, manage to survive albeit with deep psychological damage.

Things are going to get better from here on out for Billy, you might think.  Though raised in an orphanage by nuns, one of the sisters recognizes his trauma and tries to help him.  She realizes Christmas is a major trigger for Billy, who suffers from PTSD after witnessing the murder of his parents.

a nun talks to a young boy with a mullet
We need to talk about mullets.

Unfortunately, Mother Superior is less than sympathetic and decides to take a page from the how-to guide for raising a child who has experienced trauma in the way most likely to yield a disturbed, troubled adult destined to become a serial killer.  She hits Billy with a belt after he joins the other children for playtime outside without permission, ties him to the bed when he has horrible nightmares, and forces him to sit on Santa’s lap at Christmas.

In spite of this, Billy grows up to be a relatively mild-mannered, polite young man as evidenced by a very ‘80s inspired montage.  He gets a job working in a toy store, which he enjoys but can only end in terrible tragedy once December rolls around.  Noticing a change in Billy, his supervisor sensitively yells at him about being triggered by Christmas and pushes him to do better.  Oh, sir.  You’re not going to live for much longer, are you?

Inevitably, Billy is forced to play the role of Santa for children who visit the store, and is approximately as comfortable with this role as I would be, i.e.  not at all.  Already close to the breaking point, Billy completely loses it when his supervisor kisses and then assaults Billy’s coworker crush.  No one at the store has a particularly great time at the Christmas party.

a girl sits on the lap of a toy store Santa while a group of adults look on
Pictured above:  A terrifying monster destined to haunt your dreams…and a serial killer Santa.

After ruining the staff Christmas party, Billy decides to spread holiday cheer elsewhere in increasingly gruesome ways.  To his credit, he does leave the family cat alone.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, his final confrontation is with Mother Superior.  Who will make it to the New Year’s party in time to become the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop murderer?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

First off, there are a lot of gaping plot holes that are incredibly distracting.  Like, after finding a kid wandering through the woods near a murder scene, no one thought counseling might be a good idea???  And did no one think it would be helpful for the nuns to know about Billy’s incredibly disturbing childhood trauma?

Beyond the plot holes, there is way too much time spent on Billy’s horrific childhood for this to be a satisfying slasher.  At the end, I was just sad after seeing Billy’s continuous victimization throughout his life.  It’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for him when we know a great deal about the trauma he suffered at the hands of the murderer and the sadistic Mother Superior.

Overall, it’s like a less successful version of Psycho with way more boobs.

Would Christa sit on this one’s lap or string it up with some Christmas lights?  Read her review here to find out!