Steel Trap

Director: Luis Camara (2007)
Starring: Georgia Mackenzie, Mark Wilson, Pascal Langdale
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

An irritating cross between Die Hard and Saw 2. One New Years' Eve, a disparate gang of bickering bastards meet for a secret party as organised by an unknown source. There are party balloons, nursery rhymes and cake and everything. No booze though, which they should have taken as the first sign to get the fuck outta there. But the piteous fools don't get outta there, and soon find themselves hunted by the party's host - a sinister psychopath wearing sparkly gloves and a metal-looking skull mask.

Steel Trap so wants to be a Saw movie that it's embarrassing. Aside from a few balloons and less cancerous whingeing, it follows the template of a Saw right down to the pig's head and barbed wire. It's a boring film, full of bickering, mediocre performances and a distinct lack of gore. Georgia Mackenzie plays the lead character, a celebrity chef. It's good that she's front and centre, since everyone else is shouty and annoying. Never mind the murder and all the torture, the guest list already makes this the party from hell.

When the revellers weren't arguing and being stupid, I enjoyed some of the kill scenes, the glittery killer and some of the more surreal set designs. The ball gag enthusiast in me coveted the silver piece a character wears at one point.

This aside, Steel Trap is boring, overlong and predictable. Occasional bouts of prettiness can't make up for its lack of imagination, annoying characterisation and rubbish actors. Steel Crap, more like.

A Lonely Place to Die

Director: Julian Gilbey (2011)
Starring: Melissa George, Ed Speleers, Eamonn Walker
Find it: IMDB

Melissa George is an expert mountain climber (no, really) climbing in the Scottish highlands when she and her friends find a little girl abandoned underground in the wilderness. Melissa and her friends rescue the poor dear, unwittingly putting themselves in the sights of the girl's kidnappers. What follows is the plot of Backwoods (that's the largely unseen Gary Oldman/Paddy Considine feature, not the Duff version).

A Lonely Place to Die looks absolutely beautiful, even when Melissa George isn't onscreen. I'm a sucker for some lovely Scottish mountains, and the mountains in this film are very lovely. Even when they're smashing people's heads open, they're lovely. But I suppose A Lovely Place to Die doesn't have the same ring to it.

The mountain climbing and rappelling scenes are reminiscent of Cliffhanger (favourite Stallone movie evarr) whilst the tense forest shootouts and chase scenes have a Deliverance heavy feel. There's even something about The Wicker Man to the film's local Scottish village. It's not a very original movie, but that makes it no less pretty to watch. It could have been Melissa George sitting on the side of a mountain for two hours and I still would have enjoyed this. Heck, I could sit and stare just at Melissa George's grazed knee and be perfectly content.

But it also has the delightfully rat-faced Sean Harris as one of the villains, which gives you yet another reason to watch A Lonely Place to Die. He was great in that music video where his shoes come to life, and he's great in this too. We're spared a horrible child performance in that Anna (Holly Boyd) is practically mute. The action scenes are tense and realistic, making the most of the amazing environment.

It may indeed be a Lonely Place To Die, but when loneliness looks so bloody gorgeous, company is overrated.

25. Black Christmas (1974)

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: Bob Clark (1974)
Starring: Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Olivia Hussey
Find it: IMDB

The Halloween of Christmas movies, in that I was as guaranteed to review this today as I was Halloween on October the 31st. Hey, it's Christmas. Why should I waste my time being original or having ideas when I could be eating chocolate or getting shitfaced. Besides, I'll take any opportunity to sing Black Christmas's praises as I can get. It's an underrated slasher gem and a Christmas mainstay in my DVD player. Black Christmas stars one of the greatest genre actors of all time alongside The One True Lois Lane herself. A creepy criminal harasses a sorority house at Christmas time, growling filth down the telephone until Margot Kidder gives him a taste of his own sweary medicine. 

It's a much darker, meaner movie than Halloween. In some ways, I prefer Black Christmas to John Carpenter's masterpiece. The understated Black Christmas is more stark, grimmer and it stars John Saxon. I find the atmosphere more chilling, a series of POV shots and telephone calls really setting the tone for things to come. Halloween was of course influenced by this minor classic, and it shows. Carpenter's use of the same techniques is more overtly stylised and cinematic, ramping up the tension and pace but feeling more cartoonish as a result. The deaths in Black Christmas feel more real. It's nearly as bloodless as Halloween, but I could have sworn that Black Christmas was gorier.  

In its plastic-bag-over-the-head routine is one of my favourite horror deaths of all time. The bagged corpse in the rocking chair is tremendously creepy. Then there's the House Mother being dragged up into the loft. True story folks, that's what me bringing girls back to my house after a night out looks like.

Elsewhere, John Saxon plays a very archetypal John Saxon character. Were it not for the fact he has a different name in this movie, he could well be playing Nightmare On Elm Street's Lt. Thompson during the day job. There's a disappointing lack of rollneck jumpers to Saxon's performance, but he does a sterling job all the same. Little moments, like his cracking up at the word 'fellatio' are just adorable. Doomed house mother Mrs. Mac (Miriam Waldman) is fun. But best of the bunch is Margot Kidder's permanently inebriated lush, Barb. She's almost as intimidating as the actual killer, chugging wine from the bottle and swearing like a trooper. My kinda girl. That she's relegated to a supporting role is a shame - she's a far more interesting character than Jess (Hussey). All Scream Queens should be as feisty as Barb, it'd make a lot of movies more interesting. Most slasher bastards would wet their knickers after a lashing from Barb's Barbed tongue (I'm looking at you, Leatherface). It's little wonder that Clark Kent was always too shy to ask her on a date. It's the same that Jess is so comparably dull, but she's no worse than any other Final Girl out there.

Black Christmas is a fantastic festive horror treat. A Christmas Cracker, if you will. Ho ho ho. Happy Christmas, y'all. Hope Santa got you all something nice. Maybe a less predictable joke.

24. Black Christmas (2006)

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: Glen Morgan (2006)
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg
Find itIMDB

Better than you'd expect it to be. Much better than the Prom Night and Sorority Row debacles, which I didn't think it would be. Black Christmas doesn't entirely besmirch the original piece's name. It stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead who is literally amazing in literally everything (she was the best thing about The Thing, even better than The Thing itself). There's even a bit of gore and some faintly disturbing scenes of cannibalism and biscuits. And yes, the movie might, but I'm not calling this Black Xmas. 'Xmas' isn't a word. You don't call him Jesus X, do you? 
Black Christmas follows the original movie's template, having a sorority house being stalked by someone who may or may not be an escapee from a lunatic asylum. I love asylum escapee horror. It's delightfully retro. Some impressively cruel and creepy scenes are hidden amongst the chaff. I particularly enjoyed a bathroom scene in which a hidden eye spies upon one of the drunken girls. The sleazy pupil staring through a hole in the floor is a bloody chilling bit of imagery. Once more, the bin liner kill is the most memorable moment in the movie.

Aside from The Winstead, the acting elsewhere is perfectly fine. Michelle Trachtenberg is in this Black Christmas, but try to forget about that; just like you forget about those seasons of Buffy she ruined. Katie Cassidy is in it too, playing out yet another movie that should have starred John Saxon in a rollneck jumper. 

If you only watch one seasonal horror called Black Christmas this festive period, then it should obviously be the one that stars John Saxon. But if you're planning a seasonal feast this holiday season, Black Christmas '06 might as well be on your list.

23. Feeders 2: Slay Bells

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: John & Mark Polonia (1998)
Starring: Bob Dennis, Jon McBride, Patricia McBride
Find it: IMDB

I had no idea that there was a Feeders 1. After watching this sequel, I'm vaguely curious. More than any other movie I've watched on this Advent Calendar, Feeders 2 is the biggest surprise. I loved every moment of it. Feeders 2 has itself a merry Christmassy theme, with the titular aliens invading Earth during The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. It's up to Santa Claus and his Elves to save the day. Really. A handy opening montage recaps the story of the first film.

I don't know what I'd been eating, but I did a dark green shit once. Too much information, I know. But the aliens in Feeders 2 are the spitting image of that green toilet trout.  Maybe they should have called this film Close Encounters of the Turd Kind. They're the worst looking aliens I've ever seen in a film. There's little consistency - sometimes they look like poo, other times like pipe cleaners stuck to a  ball of sage & onion stuffing. They sound annoying too, screeching for every moment they're onscreen. At first it's quite effective, but it soon grates. That this is the film's biggest problem is a stunner. I expected Feeders 2 to be unwatchable. But it's quite the opposite.

Everything is hypnotically bad, from the crappy aliens to the music and acting. That acting - maybe purposefully bad, but I doubt it - is like Napoleon Dynamite, all stilted deliveries and vacant stares. The children are actually better than the adults. 

The music is utterly fantastic, all elevator muzak recreations of 'Oh Christmas Tree', 'Jingle Bells' and 'Greensleeves'. Its rendition of Greensleeves sounds like an early mobile phone ringtone. I'll be hearing it for the rest of my life on the soundtrack to my wettest dreams. 

Just as it begins to droop at the halfway mark, Santa turns up and is attacked by the aliens. I physically did a LOL as an alien attached itself to an Elf's face. It's made even better by the fact that the Elf is so obviously just holding a doll to his face. It's a terrible movie, but I loved every moment of its surreal stupidity.

For what it is, Feeders 2 is quite impressive. Obviously it doesn't take itself too seriously (it's Santa Claus fighting aliens) so you've only yourself to blame if you watch it expecting something good. It's almost competent though, which I honestly hadn't expected. I actually preferred it to Peter Jackson's Bad Taste. Which is a symptom of my own Bad Taste I guess. Feeders 2 is a close encounter of the best kind.

22. Santa Claws

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: John A. Russo (1996)
Starring: Debbie Rochon, Grant Cramer, John Mowod
Find it: IMDB

One Christmas Eve, a jealous child finds his mother humping her new squeeze, a Santa-hat wearing fatty. Little Wayne digs out the family gun and blows them both away. All grown up, Wayne (Cramer) becomes obsessed with B-movie Queen and horror actress Raven Quinn (Debbie Rochon, pretty much playing herself).
Adult Wayne has grown up to look like a caricature of a 1990s' horror nerd, complete with beard and ponytail. He has conversations with a bust of Debbie Rochon Raven and collects memorabilia. Luckily for this stalker, he happens to live next door to the object of his affections. All the easier to knock off anyone who gets in his way, one by one.

As stalkers go, Wayne is very polite. He offers to babysit Raven's children, listens to her woes and murders anyone who gets in her way. He's pretty useful to be fair, not coming across as overtly weird, ponytail aside. It's only his puritanical tendencies that annoy Raven, telling her she shouldn't appear in as many nude scenes or date a producer.

What might look like yet another Killer Santa movie hardly even has a Killer Santa in it.  Wayne dresses in a balaclava and boiler suit most of the time, barely even acknowledging that it's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. There's hardly any Christmas at all in this Christmas horror movie. Nor any horror. It's as though they tacked some Christmas scenes onto their crappy stalker movie and called it Santa Claws. It's a waste of a perfectly good title. There is a claw though, best employed in a scene in which Wayne uses it to comb a woman's hair before poking her to death with it. Eventually Wayne combines the Santa outfit with the balaclava outfit, like some kind of Guerilla Santa Claus.

Far be it for me to bitch about nudity, but there is far too much of it in Santa Claws. Wayne's boring obsession is punctuated with scenes in which Raven's husband shoots naked photographs of various women. I resented these scenes because it made Santa Claws last even longer. It's not proper nudity either, just the softcore stuff that you can find if you look hard enough on Dailymotion or whatever. Not that I would know anything about that.

Santa Claws is not as bad as Satan Claus, but it's still one of the worst Psycho Santa movies out there.

21. Christmas Evil (You Better Watch Out)

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: Lewis Jackson (1980)
Starring: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull
Find it: IMDB

Yet another synopsis which sports the phrase "psycho in a Santa suit". This being the twenty-first Christmas horror movie I have watched in as many days (yeah, I reposted one review, but then I watched Bad Santa again tonight, so 21 still stands), I'd be quite happy to never have to read the words "psycho in a Santa suit" ever again. That said, Christmas Evil (or You Better Watch Out) is probably one of the best Evil Santa movies out there. 

One miserable Christmas Eve (or Christmas Evil, geddit) little Harry finds out the hard way that there's no such thing as Santa Claus. If you're a child reading this, ignore that last sentence. Harry sees momma kissing Santa Claus (and then some)  and winds up traumatised. Adult Harry (Maggart) devotes his life to becoming the One True Santa Claus, living in an apartment full of Christmas tat and keeping a book in which he records the "naughty and nice" children in his neighbourhood. Naughty Moss Garcia, cutting nuddy pictures from a magazine (and also for his "negative odours"). He works in a toy factory and is generally regarded as a schmuck by his co-workers.

The movie offers one of the best psycho unravellings available. I do so enjoy an unravelling psycho horror movie. As Harry notices more and more naughtiness around him and realises that people think he's a bit of a tit, he unravels in style. Christmas Evil might be my favourite Christmas horror movie. 

It's very peculiar to Christmas horror films - you can't help but sympathise with the killer, whoever he may be. Christmas is prime time for losing your shit, whether it be at the works' Christmas party, whilst shopping or during an awkward family gathering. Never have I felt so maddened and nearly insane as wandering around busy shops during the Christmas period. I wish it could be Christmas every day? Yes, because I can drink whiskey from nine in the morning and not sober up until Boxing Day. Abolish Christmas and you'd probably cut the crime rate by 90% (statistics completely accurate and only slightly made up). Well with a whole month devoted to shitty music and shitty TV and spoiling your shitty children, a little murder seems like the very sanest thing to do. And Harry, as it goes, is a lovely lunatic. He tells kids to respect their parents, which is always a nice message.

When Harry's inevitable rampage does come, it's very well done. After bragging that he has "superlative taste" a man gets stabbed in the face with a toy. Which is what you deserve for talking like a prick. Harry does so outside a Church whilst music which sounds remarkably like the Psycho score twitters away. The background music is fantastic. I think Christmas slasher movies tend to sound amongst the best in the genre, whether it be inappropriately timed Carols or just the dodgy score. There's plenty to enjoy in Christmas Evil, most notably its use of 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus'.

Christmas Evil is a fantastic bit of seasonal horror. It has a fun story, great kill scenes and a villain who's at once sympathetic and scary. If you have superlative taste, you should be watching Christmas Evil. Also, watch your eye.

Summer Scars

Director: Julian Richards (2007)
Starring: Kevin Howarth, Ciaran Joyce, Amy Harvey
Find it: IMDB

Six horrible Welsh children skip school in order to fuck around in the woods on a stolen scooter. On their travels, they happen across sinister drifter Peter (Howarth) who ingratiates himself to the children by threatening bullies and acting mentally unstable in a manner that children seem to love.

Despite no budget and a cast of disgusting children, Summer Scars is a watchable cross between Stand by Me and Kidulthood. The children are incessantly unbearable, as is the movie's villain, but  there is some gold in them there Welsh hills. Not much. Maybe the equivalent of a fiver or so in change. But it's a lot more than I'd expected.

Nasty bastard Peter (Howarth) is the woodland-dwelling weirdo. At first he seems like a friendly natured sort of tramp, letting the children punch him in the face and play with his pellet gun. A bit like the training levels in Bully (Canus Canem Edit) where a tramp teaches you kung-fu skills by letting you kick the shit out of him. Only Bingo (Joyce) takes it too far, breaking Peter's not-the-face rule. One of the brats is shot up the nose with the pellet gun and all hell breaks loose. The already creepy atmosphere becomes almost unbearable when Peter starts demanding to see the kids' pubes.

It's a grim and uncomfortable tale, naturalistic in its direction and the acting. Kevin Howarth is suitably horrible as the terrible tramp. I could almost see it as a Shane Meadows film, starring the brats from Eden Lake and Paddy Considine. It's not that good, but it could have been. The children are loathsome, so it's admirable that you end up rooting for them. However, I have a very low tolerance for whining, crying children, so I still hated Summer Scars quite a lot. If they'd finished the film by killing both the children and the dangerous drifter, I would have been a happy bunny. As it is, the climax is predictable but fitting.

There's an old kids' TV show called Tracy Beaker here in England in which Ciaran Joyce plays a chavvy fuck who goes around playing 'hilarious' 'pranks' on the other kids in his orphanage. I couldn't take him at all seriously in this, playing would-be hard nut Bingo. Amy Harvey is the least irritating person in the film, and even she is fairly irritating.

Despite its considerable flaws, Summer Scars is tense, chilling and surprisingly decent. Grim as it becomes, I couldn't quite turn it off. It has an oddly magnetic quality.

I wasn't scarred by the film itself. That poster, on the other hand...

20. Satan Claus

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: Massimiliano Cerchi (1996)
Starring: Robert Cummins, Lauretta Ali, Robert Hector
Find it: IMDB

A serial killer dressed as Santa stalks the streets of New York, lopping off victims' body parts to adorn his Christmas tree with. An actor, a police officer and a voodoo lady team up to stop him. At least, I think they do. Satan Claus is so dingy that it's impossible to tell what's going on. 

I thought I'd seen the worst that Christmas horror had to offer with Don't Open 'Till Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night 3, but Satan Claus makes those movies look like holy Christmas masterpieces by comparison. You can rest some of the blame with the film's low budget, but that doesn't excuse the horrible story or the decision to play it relatively straight. "Is that why you cut off her head?" a man asks, after Satan Claus mercilessly murders his missus, "because it was beautiful?" Seriously, this film needs to work on its lighting; nobody in Satan Claus is 'beautiful'. Satan Claus is so dingy that even its own characters can't see what or who they're doing. The whole thing takes place at night in a city apparently devoid of lightbulbs. Even the movie's police station is drenched in darkness.

Satan Claus (Cummins) himself is terrible. He certainly doesn't seem like Satan, just another dick in a Santa suit. Even as murderous Santas go, he's nothing special. As he goes about his grisly business, Satan laughs like a rubbish Caesar Romero (even making a "hoo" noise at one point) and sings carols like a twat. When not decorating his tree with body parts, Mister Claus amuses himself by taunting the police Captain via telephone. I like how surprised the police are to hear that Satan Claus laughs during his murders, as though they expected sanity (fools, there is no Sanity Clause) from a man who goes around killing people while dressed as Santa. Then, because they had to work in the title somehow, the film elevates him to voodoo devil at the end. The denouement makes no sense. Just because no-one will see your 'twist' coming doesn't make it a good twist. No-one will see the twist coming because we expect movies to make sense nowadays.

A rampage towards the end is amusing, as is a rubbish voodoo witch character (Ali). Some of the dialogue is unintionally funny (the line "work, work, work candy bar. Work, work, work, hot dog" particularly cracked me up) as are the actors' deliveries. Satan Claus boasts the least passionate "you fucking son of a bitch" ever committed to film. A man delivers a desperate monologue on the evils of vigilante justice (yes, he says the phrase "judge, jury and executioner") that's so bad it had me hoping somebody would go all vigilante justice in his face with a shotgun.

At least Satan Claus is only an hour long. It could have been less. It's so dark, I think I might have spent ten minutes watching a blank television screen by accident.

19. The Night Train Murders

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: Aldo Lado (1975)
Starring: Flavio Bucci, Irene Miracle
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

The most miserable entry in our advent calendar, The Night Train Murders posits a terrible hypothesis: "imagine if the plot of The Last House on the Left happened to you... on Christmas Eve." True story: you can make any horror movie 40% more depressing by having it happen on Christmas Eve. Nothing is more depressing than being murdered on  Christmas Eve. Not even burnt turkey.

Of all the Last House On The Left rip-offs I've ever seen, The Night Train Murders is the rip-offest. That it was acquired by the 'Shameless' DVD label is apt, since shameless is the only word to describe its constant thieving. It basically is Last House On The Left. Only the murders happen on a train, which makes it okay. Even the tagline (YOU CAN TELL YOURSELF IT'S ONLY A MOVIE*) is stolen from Wes Craven's infamous video nasty. Most of the time, it doesn't even try. Which is understandable. Because making a movie is hard enough without having to think up an original story too.

To repeat the plot is pointless, since it's Last House On The Left. I suppose this movie being set during Christmas is different. But a Friday the 13th ripoff entitled Saturday the 15th would still be a Friday the 13th ripoff. My point being, I've seen The Last House On The Left, so I could have done without seeing this.

The preamble to the atrocities is boring and goes on for too long. Well, unless you like watching people do boring Christmas shopping and have boring Christmas parties. And then the atrocities themselves are boring and go on for too long. The parents' revenge is boring but doesn't go on for nearly long enough. There's not even a chainsaw, David Hess nor a microwave. The train toss is passable enough, with the lovely young things running afoul of two junkies and their evil ho friend. As you knew was going to happen from the very start of the thing, the girls are raped and murdered. A random commuter joins in for some of the rape.

One of the girls is then violated with a knife, which is icky but fairly original. She dies, as you do, from blood loss/shock. Her friend jumps from the moving train. It's entirely inappropriate, but I did laugh when the second body was thrown out of the window. And Poirot thought that The Orient Express was bad. I'll stick with The Polar Express, thanks. The rest of the movie is no laughing matter. Firstly because the subject matter is so horrible, secondly because it's a dull film, and thirdly because it's shit. The highlight being that one of the actors has a fascinatingly ugly face.

I'm not a fan of rape/revenge movies even when done well. And The Night Train Murders certainly isn't done well.

*You'll know it's ONLY A MOVIE. Because you've seen THE MOVIE before. Back when it was called you-know-what.

18. Don't Open 'Till Christmas

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: Edmund Purdom (1984)
Starring: Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

It's Christmas in London, and a psychopath is on the loose, offing anyone he sees dressed as Santa. Inspector Harris (Purdom) and reporter Giles (Lake) team up to take down the Santa assassin in a plot that's reminiscent of the recent Blitzexcept with Santa instead of coppers. The mysterious murderer goes about garrotting and spearing Santas like there's no tomorrow. Well, after Christmas, his gimmick is a bit redundant, so time is short. His actions seem extreme, but let's be fair to our killer; dressing as Santa is usually the modus operandi of a bell-end.

Aside from the terrible attempt at police procedural, the story is little more than a thinly veiled excuse to have  a lot of people murdered whilst dressed as Father Christmas. The British setting is a novelty, but otherwise it's just another urban slasher movie ala Maniac Cop and the occasional Giallo. The mystery elements are tedious, the red herrings predictable. And in a city populated by people too stupid to, y'know, not dress as Santa when there's a Santa-hating murderer on the loose, the killer has plenty of victims to choose from.

The script is atrocious, even by 80s' slasher standards. People say things like "he was the victim of another Santa murder" and ask "are you any nearer to solving these Santa Claus crimes?" with a straight face. "What possible reason could I have for killing Santas?" asks a suspect. "My father's just been murdered. I can't concentrate," says one poor girl. Indeed not, and especially with that horrible music going on in the background. The acting is just as bad, either stilted or a bad Roger Moore impression. 

If I opened a parcel to find she'd given me a copy of Don't Open 'Till Christmas, I would punch my Grandma square in the fucking face. You should definitely open before Christmas - someone might have given you a copy of this movie, after all. I hope they kept the receipt.

17. Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: Martin Kitrosser (1991)
Starring: Mickey Rooney, William Thorne, Jane Higginson,
Find it: IMDB

The Silent Night I was dreading the most. I hate movies about killer toys. Bah humbug I know, but killer toys are a stupid idea for any movie, let a known the fifth in an established franchise. I hated killer toys when Halloween 3 did them, I hated killer toys when The Simpsons did them, and don't even get me started on that Puppetmaster bollocks. Chucky is my least favourite slasher icon, and I even hate Toyman in the Superman comics. The only killer toy movie I like is Small Soldiers, and that's because it has Tommy Lee Jones as a crazy Action Man.  

The Toy Maker starts as stupid as it means to go on, with a man being strangled to death by a glorified Christmas tree bauble as his young son looks on. The Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise is built on traumatised children, and the death of daddy dearest renders little Derek (Thorne) incapable of speech. In order to cheer up down-in-the-dumps Derek, mum Sarah (Higginson) takes him to a local toy store. The toy shop is run by Mickey Rooney playing a man called Joe Petto. Joe Petto has a son called Pino, be still my aching fucking sides. Not aching from laughter mind, but full-frontal assault with shitty scriptwriting.   

The presence of Mickey Rooney makes for oddly compelling viewing, this being the goofiest instalment of them all. There's only so much I can hate a film in which Mickey Rooney plays a man called Joe Petto. Who would have thought that in a franchise which boasts Clint Howard (who cameos in this movie), Bill Moseley and Mickey Rooney, the latter would emerge as king? At least he has the good grace to don a Santa outfit for us.

It fails completely as a horror movie. Killer toys are inherently not scary. Not even Chucky. Mickey Rooney is even less scary than that. There's no tension, no drama, nor any of the brilliant death sequences that Silent Night, Deadly Night 1 & 2 was famous for. Instead there are stupid Pinocchio jokes and a child called Derek. Fucking Derek, a child who hardly speaks during an 85 minute movie, but still gives its worst performance. Even worse than Brian Bremer as Pino - and Bremer's character is literally a robot.

Instead of beheaded Nuns and garbage day memes, The Toy Maker has a child being run over whilst speeding around on evil roller skates. The scene in which a couple are attacked by living toys pretty accurately summarises why I hate killer toy movies. Even late eighties' Freddy Krueger would have been ashamed of this cock. It's more memorable than Initiation and better than Part 3, but not by much. The ending is just bizarre, turning into a rapey cross between Bicentennial Man and AI: Artificial Intelligence.

In less than ten years, Silent Night, Deadly Night is a series that (d)evolved from a superior Santa slasher into a stupid killer toys feature. Also, Mickey Rooney is a robot at the end and calls a woman "mommy."

16. Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: Brian Yuzna (1990)
Starring: Clint Howard, Neith Hunter, Reggie Bannister
Find it: IMDB

One dark night, a woman jumps off the rooftop of a high-rise building and bursts into flames. Reporter Kim (Hunter) investigates this strange case of human combustion, only to discover a strange cult dedicated to the Egyptian God Isis. Just another Silent Night, Deadly Night movie, folks.

Clint Howard plays a man called Ricky (presumably not that one, given his intact brain) and Reggie Bannister is Kim's editor. Directed by Brian Yuzna, I had hoped for something a cut above the rest from this sequel. It's certainly different to the previous three movies, forgetting the killer Santa motif (well I am getting tired of typing out the name 'Santa Claus') and doing its own thing entirely. It's an approach that didn't work for Halloween 3 and doesn't work for this. The Caldwell brothers and their Santa fetish were the most enjoyable thing about the Silent Night movies.

As she investigates the mysterious woman's flaming suicide, Kim comes to the attention of bookseller Fima, who hopes to initiate Kim into her cult. I much prefer this franchise when it's lopping the heads off've Nuns and pumping Santa full of lead. Fima woos Kim by giving her free books and inviting her to sinister picnics in the park. The slow burning story isn't a particularly interesting one, despite the best efforts of Yuzna and Howard. It has a creepy atmosphere and great background music, and is recognisable as a Yuzna film. It's not alternately known as Bugs for no reason, with plenty of foul insects about to add to the unpleasant atmosphere. There are some genuinely horrible bits involving massive slimy bugs and Clint Howard in a Clockwork Orange style rape mask. A gloopy, surreal nightmarish sequence in the middle of the movie actually manages to be the most creepy thing in the whole series.

Given the lack of a proper villain, Howard is great. Aside from Reggie Bannister in a brief cameo, he's the only actor with any presence. Maud Adams is useless as Fima, whilst Neith Hunter is unremarkable as Kim. A cast of wrinklies round off Fima's cult.

Silent Night 4 wasn't as bad as I'd anticipated - it's far more bearable than its immediate predecessor - but it's a forgettable, directionless entry in a series that should have stopped after the first movie. The story is boring and stupid, the central mystery uninteresting. This Silent Night is for franchise completists only.

15. Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: Monte Hellman (1989)
Starring: Bill Moseley, Richard Beymer, Samantha Scully
Find it: IMDB

It's an unwritten rule that every 80s' slasher franchise should have at least one movie in which the killer fights a teenager with psychic powers. Even better if said teenager is blind. Silent Night, Deadly Night's threequel follows the rules and has killer Ricky (Moseley) trying to kill blind psychic Laura (Scully). Well I think she's supposed to be a teenager, but Scully looks about thirty.

Silent Night, Deadly Night III opens with a thoroughly promising sequence. Fully grown Laura sits on Santa Claus's lap and asks him for "a barbie doll, a bicycle, some roller skates, ballet shoes, and a mickey mouse watch." Thoroughly unimpressed, Santa produces a knife and makes with the stabbing. It's all dream though, manufactured by Doctor Newbury (Beymer) to somehow awaken killer Ricky Caldwell from his coma. Doctor Newbury's plan to use psychics to communicate with coma victims is pretty cutting edge stuff, although I think he overestimates the ratio of genuine psychics to coma patients. It's a success though, and Ricky awakens. Unfortunately for Laura, Ricky is aware of their psychic connection and plans to sever it - with a KNIFE. 

Unlike Silent Night 2, this is a proper sequel - the sort without forty minutes of flashbacks before the story begins. Unfortunately, this means that there's more crappy movie to persevere through than before. I'd sort of hoped that Better Watch Out would spend forty minutes recapping the previous movie in an anarchic "fuck you" to its audience. It could hardly have been much worse than the actual film. Also, you try watching three Silent Night, Deadly Night movies in a row.

Aside from the stupidity of the story, it has Bill Moseley wandering around with what looks like a colander on his head. And in an effort to make their blind protagonist seem strong and wilful, the filmmakers have her acting like a complete knob to people. Upon meeting her brother's new girlfriend for the first time, Laura refuses to shake her hand and makes a blowjob joke. Movie blind people are dicks.

Those hoping that Bill Moseley might do something entertaining will be disappointed by his portrayal of Ricky. Even Eric Freeman did a better job, and he did nothing but stare at people. The remarkable thing being that Moseley made this film three years after doing a completely cartoonish Chop-Top in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2. If I hadn't seen his name in the credits, I'd never have known it was Bill Moseley.

Freddy or Jason would have made mincemeat out of Laura within half an hour, but Ricky takes all day about it. After murdering a hospital Santa and a receptionist, Ricky makes his way to Laura's family home and murders Granny off-screen. It's pretty funny watching Grandma mistake Ricky for a handicapped tramp, but this movie really puts the silent in Silent Night. Gone are the outrageous kills and sleazy atmosphere; Better Watch Out is tremendously dull and without either a compelling killer or characters. Ricky doesn't even don the Santa outfit. Although I suppose the hat wouldn't have fit over the stupid bowl on Bill Moseley's head.

The previous film ended with a Nun's head falling off. This one ends with Ricky accidentally impaling himself on a stick. You better watch out - Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 is a terrible movie.

The Thing (2011)

Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr (2011)
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen
Find it: IMDB

A remake and prequel at the same time. More remake than prequel though, because it's exactly the same story as John Carpenter's The Thing, except less good and with a crappy CGI finale tacked on at the end.

An alien spacecraft is discovered near an Antarctica research site. When alien remains are pulled out of the ice, paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Winstead) is called upon to assist in the excavation. No sooner have they returned the alien remains to their research base than it comes to life, breaks free and starts murdering scientists. The team quickly burn it to death, but not before one of their number becomes infected. Tensions become fraught, a helicopter crashes and soon Kate has a fight for survival on her hands. Unable to decide who's human and who's an alien, the stupid humans bicker and fight until only Kurt Russell can save the day! Bully for them, Kurt Russell isn't in this movie.

Mister Eko from LOST is in it though, which pleases me. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a massive fetish for ex-LOST castaways in my movies. I'll even take Matthew Fox in Smoking Aces with a giggle of delight. Eko isn't given much to do, but he rounds off a solid cast along with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ulrich Thomsen. Joel Edgerton is fairly bland, not even managing to muster a decent beard out of it all. There are some manly beards that are nearly as good as Kurt's though, worn by the Norwegian characters. The most interesting thing about this Thing is the decision to make the cast (and director) so Norwegian. It's an effect that's spoiled, however, by the Norwegian fellows essentially being cannon fodder for the Americans.

The creature designs are fine without being as iconic as the original monsters. There's far too much CGI; none of the kills as fun as the 'hands through the chest' moment in Carpenter's bit. But they sound very good, and I particularly enjoyed a scene in which a man's hands fall off and attack the rest of the humans. If only it hadn't all been CGI, I would probably have enjoyed the monsters more. Rated a mere 15, there isn't enough gore to make up for the crappier effects. I much preferred the videogame sequel for the PS2 - the only sequel or remake that The Thing really needs.

The Thing is a serviceable piece of sci-fi horror, similar in quality and design to the likes of Aliens vs Predator and Whiteout. Even if you've never seen Carpenter's Thing (WHAT), you won't be wowed. The thing is, the best thing about The Thing is that it made me want to watch The Thing again.

14. Silent Night, Deadly Night part 2

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: Lee Harry (1987)
Starring: Eric Freeman, James Newman, Elizabeth Kaitan
Find it: IMDB

The sort of sequel that consists mostly of footage from the original movie. Billy's brother Ricky (Freeman) talks to a psychiatrist about how he came to follow in Billy's bastardly footsteps and become a Christmas killer too. Silent Night, Deadly Night part 2 re-uses even more footage from the original than The Hills Have Eyes 2. No doggy flashbacks this time, but baby ones instead. Ricky even has flashbacks to events he wasn't even present for. There's so much recycled footage that I felt cheated by having watched the previous film in preparation.

But at least the bit where police officers shoot an innocent Santa Claus in the back is repeated. Every Christmas movie should be required by law to have a scene in which police officers shoot Santa in the back. It would certainly make Tim Allen movies seem more entertaining. Later in the movie, Kris Kringle's execution is utilised to amusing effect. But Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 retells literally the whole of the previous film to the extent where there are only fifty minutes of original sequel.

Finally Ricky gets around to telling his own story. He was adopted by a family who gave the kid a decent upbringing but failed to recognise the trauma underneath. If cinema has taught us anything, it's that careful parenting can turn a serial killer into a Batman or a nicer kind of serial killer who only preys on criminals. Where Billy was terrified of Santa Claus, Ricky has a phobia of Nuns. I suppose Nuns are pretty scary. Pause for my favourite Nun joke:

Two Nuns are walking through Transylvania late one night, on the way home from a Transylvanian convention for Nuns. A vampire jumps out at them, from the undergrowth. "Agh!" shouts one of the Nuns, "a vampire. Quickly, show him your cross!" The other Nun shakes her fist at the vampire. "Grr," she says, "I am so angry with you right now."

As Ricky's stepfather passes away, the lad's demons begin to surface. He relieves himself by indulging in his brother's favourite hobby - a little Christmassy murder. But where Billy seemed genuinely disturbed and conflicted, Ricky is a bit of a dick. He's an annoying, overly talkative sort of killer, smugly bragging about his murderous conquests and swearing at his put-upon psychiatrist. Although there is the best utilisation of an umbrella that I've ever seen in a horror movie:

Eric Freeman does some great things with his eyes throughout. Ricky finally loses his shit completely when he finds out that his girlfriend isn't a virgin. It culminates with an Internet meme in which Ricky shoots a man taking taking out his garbage. In a series of increasingly brilliant murders, Ricky kills a guy who looks like Fred from Scooby Doo and strangles his girlfriend with a car aerial.

His rampage ends with him exploding a car with a pistol. This sequence of events is an incredible bit of trashy horror cinema, outdoing anything in the original movie. Indeed, were it not for the abundance of flashbacks and filler, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 would make an even better movie than its predecessor. At once, it is one of the best and worst sequels ever made.

13. Silent Night Deadly Night

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: Charles E Sellier Jr (1984)
Starring: Robert Brian Wilson, Danny Wagner, Linnea Quigley
Find it: IMDB

A bit like Halloween, in so much as it’s set during a titular Holiday. Other than that, it’s nothing like Halloween. After a series of childhood traumas, a troubled, Christmas-hating youth goes on a Crimbo killing spree, murdering everyone on his naughty list. Also of interest: Nuns, shagging, bosoms, a rapey Santa Claus and plenty of assorted festive cruelty.

As the movie begins, we meet young Billy Chapman, his parents and baby sister. They’re a very nice, all-American family, and as such are doomed to die. But before all that, the family visit their crazy grandpa at his home in a cosy mental institution. They then leave young Billy alone with the old coot. Crazy granddad proceeds to traumatise the poor kid, telling him that “Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year,” that Santa punishes the naughty kids, and that he better run if he sees Santa. Sounds like someone’s been watching Santa’s Slay.

Not traumatised enough by his own grandfather, Billy goes on to see his family murdered by a fella dressed as Santa. Looks like Gramps ain't so crazy after all. His parents dead, it's at this stage where a kid either decides to dress up as a giant bat or become a serial killer.

But with no kindly English butler to look after Billy, the poor kid finds himself in an orphanage. Still traumatised by his experience at the hands of Santa Claus, he passes his time by drawing lovely pictures of murdered Santas and beheaded reindeers. Kid’s got talent, reminiscent of the work of Charlie Bronson. More trauma is heaped upon poor Billy as he gets himself a beating from the orphanage’s Mother Superior. Lesson learnt: “Punishment is good”. And so Billy grows up to become the movie’s villain; a punisher of petty crimes; like the Punisher, but with added jolly.

Like many 80s’ slasher movies, Silent Night Deadly Night isn’t too scary, but is plenty creepy. It’s lurid and often gratuitously cruel. Does anyone really need to see a lady raped by a chap in a Santa costume? Not really, but the creepiness of it all is excellently done and partnered with a wonderful soundtrack of standard 80s’ synth and cheesy Christmas music. It’s lighter on the gore than its notoriety might suggest (a bunch of outraged mothers got it pulled from several cinemas), but it’s sleazy enough anyway to make up for the lack of onscreen claret. Plus, there's this, the greatest sequence of events ever to grace a Christmas film since Billy Bob Thornton beat the shit out of a child in Bad Santa:

Of the myriad of Christmas horror movies, Silent Night Deadly Night is perhaps my favourite. The story’s generic, but not so much that it can’t hold a few surprises. Billy’s transformation from innocent wee kiddiwink to traumatised psychopath is a plausible one; you too would likely go crazy if you had as much shit heaped upon you as he gets in this movie. And the pace is not as slow as Black Christmas, the tone less overtly silly than Gremlins or Jack Frost.

So if you thought that the likes of Fred Claus are too light on the stabby-stabby, beheadings and impalements (and yes, it was. Incidentally, that film is vastly improved if you imagine Paul Giamatti burying an axe in Vince Vaughan's fucking face) then Silent Night Deadly Night is surely the flick for you.

12. ...And All Through the House (1972)

It's your Horror Review Advent Calendar.
25 Christmas themed movies.
Ho, ho, ho.

Director: Freddie Francis (1972)
Starring: Joan Collins, Chloe Franks, Martin Boddey
Find it: IMDB

A man is quite happily reading his newspaper one merry Christmas Eve when a disconcertingly sexy Joan Collins walks in wearing a stupid hat and bludgeons him to death. The man is her husband and Joan is hoping to claim his life insurance by murdering the poor chump. As insurance scams go, that one's even older than burning down your own house. I guess screwing insurance companies over was easier in the 1970s. Still, Christmas Eve is a pretty shitty time to be murdering someone. Especially when you have a young daughter upstairs. Little wonder Joan ends up topping off Santa's naughty list.

Whilst disposing of the body, Joan hears on the radio that a serial killer has escaped from a local lunatic asylum. Moments later, this psycho Santa arrives at the door. But poor Joan can't call the police because she has a dead husband bleeding all over the carpet. On lockdown from scary Santa, Joan concentrates on cleaning the mess up. She doesn't count on stupid daughter Carol letting crazy mister Claus in the house. Joan Collins is strangled to death by creepy Kris Kringle and wee Carol is left orphaned on Christmas Eve. Heh, Carol. Christmas Carol, geddit.

A ten minute tale from the Tales from the Crypt movie, ...And all through the House is perhaps the creepiest story in the film (although Peter Cushing's Poetic Justice is the real highlight). It's simple but very effective, with a haunting twist. Particularly chilling is the use of Christmas carols playing on the radio throughout, even during Joan Collins's eventual murder. The killer is understated. Where the 1989 television remake had Larry Drake in fake teeth and heavy makeup, our murderer here could be any department store Santa or fancy-dress dad.... and that's a lot scarier than even Larry Drake. And I love me some Larry Drake.