Friday, December 15, 2017

Worth Mentioning - Slashing Through the Snow

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

A quartet of Christmas horror films turn the snow red.


The filmmaking team behind Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 had a lot of guts, and I don't mean the kind that might be spilled by the slasher at the center of the film. I say they have guts because they dared to release a sequel to the highly controversial Silent Night, Deadly Night where almost half of the film is made up of clips from its predecessor.

The first 40 minutes of Part 2 plays like a filler "clip show" episode of a television series. Traumatized by the events of the previous film, Ricky Caldwell, the younger brother of Billy Chapman, who put on a Santa Claus costume and went on a killing spree before being shot dead in front of Ricky, is now a patient in a mental hospital. During an interview with his new psychiatrist Dr. Henry Bloom, Ricky tells the whole story of the first movie, and audiences basically get to watch Silent Night, Deadly Night all over again, it's just been cut down a bit. That's lame when you try to watch Part 2 even now, I can't imagine how upset some viewers must have been when they first watched the sequel when it was released just three years after its predecessor.

I first watched these films when I was a young kid, so I wasn't especially discerning, but even as a child I thought packing the movie with so many lengthy flashbacks to the previous one was odd. Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 is only half of a movie, but it has four credited writers: Lee Harry, Joseph H. Earle, Dennis Patterson, and Lawrence Appelbaum. Appelbaum was also the producer, while Harry was the director and editor, Earle his assistant director/editor. It definitely makes sense that the editors would get writing credits on this, since they had to build a story around old footage.

For me, Part 2 is nearly worthless, but the film does have fans that are drawn to it for its ridiculous, over-the-top, campy style and the performance of Eric Freeman in the role of Ricky. The ultimate in eyebrow acting. Thankfully, Freeman wasn't just asked to sit in a room and tell the story of the first movie. After 40 minutes, he shifts into telling Ricky's own story, picking up after Silent Night, Deadly Night and charting the path that led him into the mental hospital. This is the point at which the film goes full-on absurd.

Adopted at 10 (at which point he's played by Brian Michael Henley), Ricky had a normal childhood for a while, except for his severe fear of nuns thanks to the terrifying, abusive Mother Superior at the orphanage he and Billy were raised in. When his adoptive father passed away when he was 15 (Ricky is now played by Darrel Guilbeau), Ricky life was shaken up, and when he witnesses a man getting rough with a woman he has flashbacks to a scene from the first movie he was too young to remember. He snaps and commits his first murder.

Move ahead a few more years, Guilbeau morphs into Freeman, and Ricky becomes a musclebound, wisecracking lunatic, able to lift a grown man off the ground with one hand and impale him with an umbrella in his other hand. He attempts to have a relationship with a girl named Jennifer (Elizabeth Kaitan of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood), but that only leads to more bloodshed. A loudmouth audience member ruining Ricky and Jennifer's night out to see a movie (which is somehow Silent Night, Deadly Night)? Ricky kills him. Jennifer has a douchey ex hanging around? Ricky kills him. An innocent guy carrying a garbage can crosses paths with a gun-toting Ricky? Ricky kills him, while dropping the famous line "Garbage day!" A cop tries to arrest Ricky? Dead.

The psychiatrist? Dead. For the climax, Ricky escapes from the mental hospital, puts on a Santa Claus costume, and sets out to kill that awful Mother Superior. If you saw the first movie, you'll be rooting hard for Ricky to succeed at this mission... although, unfortunately, Mother Superior has been recast and I guess the filmmakers were trying to distract us from that fact by saying that the character has had a stroke, and then representing that on screen by giving her a terrible disfigurement on one side of her face. I've known people who have survived strokes, and they weren't left looking like this. The makeup put on the actress's face looks like Mother Superior was burned in a fire, or got acid on her face. It makes no sense at all. And thus, it fits right in with the rest of this movie.

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is awful. I'll never be one of those fans who watch it every year, and especially won't be one of the viewers who skip the first movie and just watch this one, since it contains the first movie anyway. I'd rather watch Silent Night, Deadly Night, which is a really good slasher, and not waste time with this one. That said, this sequel should be seen at least once just so you can witness the audacity of the filmmakers.

On a side note, Robert Brian Wilson, who played Billy the Santa slasher in the first Silent Night, Deadly Night recently appeared in a couple films after taking a 24 year break from acting. One of those films is 2016's A Husband for Christmas which is a pretty run-of-the-mill TV movie rom-com about a man and woman who commit marriage fraud so he, a Brit, can continue living in the United States. Of course, the couple starts to fall in love for real right around the time Immigration starts breathing down their necks. What makes A Husband for Christmas notable is the fact that director David DeCoteau gave Wilson a cameo in which he shares the screen with Silent Night, Deadly Night 2's Eric Freeman.


While watching the slasher movie To All a Good Night, the only feature directorial effort of The Last House on the Left star David Hess, you may be tempted to call it a subpar Friday the 13th cash-in... but then once you realize that the film actually beat the original Friday the 13th (which was directed by Last House producer Sean S. Cunningham) to theatres by more than three months, you'll come to realize that it's actually a subpar Halloween cash-in, and Hess and screenwriter Alex Rebar just happened to be tuned into some of the same ideas and sensibilities as the makers of F13 would be bringing to the screen right on the heels of their movie.

Cunningham's film was much better executed and he was working with a better script, but Hess put in a commendable effort to bring an enjoyably bad slasher movie to the screen.

The setting is the remote Calvin Finishing School, where a student was accidentally killed during a Christmas vacation prank two years earlier. Now it's Christmas vacation time again and house mother Mrs. Jensen remains at the school with a small group of girls who didn't return home for the holidays... and except for virginal, mousy Nancy (The In Crowd's Jennifer Runyon), these girls are quite naughty. They have a plane full of guys flying in to the nearby landing strip for some Christmas debauchery, and they drug Mrs. Jensen's hot milk to make sure she won't wake up to spoil their fun.

Unfortunately, their fun is spoiled in an unexpected way, as someone - someone who is usually dressed as Santa Claus - shows up at the school and starts knocking off the boys and girls one-by-one. Some of the kills are laughable, while others are pretty good. But even the deaths and disappearances of friends aren't enough to cool off the hormones of some of these characters. This group definitely practices "free love" - a girl will hook up with one guy and say she wants to marry him, but that won't stop her from sleeping with one of the cops who are dispatched to the school. That's alright, because her beau has already moved on to the girl who took the virginity of the nerdy guy who now has his sights set on Nancy. They pair up for sex one night and then shuffle partners for the next night, and nobody minds who's hooking up with who.

When she wakes up from being drugged, Mrs. Jensen doesn't even seem all that perturbed that there are boys hanging out at the school, so drugging her appears to have been really unnecessary.

The only person who is really riled up around here is the killer, who is of course out to avenge the death of that girl who died two years prior, although their delayed vengeance is misguided and misdirected.

To All a Good Night isn't a particularly good movie, but if you're a regular viewer of horror you've probably seen a lot worse than this. A decent body count is racked up and the character interactions are enjoyably bad, so its 83 minutes pass by without being too painful.


When director Michael Cooney was first given the funding required to make his feature directorial debut, he was planning to turn the concept of a killer snowman into a dark and nasty horror film. It wasn't until he actually saw the killer snowman that the special effects artists put together that he decided to turn the story, which he had crafted with Jeremy Paige, into one of the goofiest horror/comedies of the 1990s.

That story occurs in the small American town of Snowmonton, the Snowman Capitol of the Midwest. The town may be known for its Christmas holiday celebrations, but it recently made the news for a very different reason: Sheriff Sam Tiler (Christopher Allport) was responsible for bringing serial killer Jack Frost (Scott MacDonald) to justice. This act of heroism has left Tiler feeling anxiety, fearing that Frost may retaliate in some way. He's right to be worried.

A blizzard blows in while a State Execution Transfer Vehicle is taking Frost to his scheduled execution, the bad road conditions causing a collision with a tanker truck carrying acidic solution from the GCC Genetic Research facility. Frost is doused with acid and dissolves into the snow... but this doesn't kill him. It combines his DNA with snow molecules and he rises as a living snowman. It's in this form that he seeks revenge on Tiler, killing anyone who crosses his path as he goes.

How dangerous can a snowman be? If you have any doubts about his lethality, Jack Frost is quickly demonstrating that he is quite capable of taking lives even as sentient snow - freezing people, firing icicles out of his hands as deadly projectiles, using his mitten-like hands to grab weapons, all while changing shape to better creep his way into the kill zone, freezing and unfreezing at will. There are some good holiday-themed deaths in there, involving a sled, Christmas lights, and tree ornaments. The most famous (or infamous) death scene features actress Shannon Elizabeth, at the time a few years away from her breakthrough role in American Pie. Elizabeth's character, the typical horror movie horny teenager, suffers a terrible fate while taking a bath. The killer snowman joins her in the tub and solidifies around her body, trapping her arms and legs within his snowy body... but when he re-forms, his carrot nose is missing, and it's easy to figure out where it is. This is one hell of a scene to have as a "skeleton in the closet" of your film career.

Scott MacDonald looks like a flesh and blood cartoon in Jack Frost's human form, and that cartoonish style carries over into the snowman scenes, where a vocal performance by MacDonald provides the awful one-liners the killer drops while carrying out his devious deeds. Cooney was right to build a horror/comedy around this snowman, because it does indeed look absolutely ridiculous. Knowing that he originally wanted Jack Frost to be a serious film makes me wonder just what sort of killer snowman he had pictured in his mind. Even if the snowman did look better than it does, I still can't imagine how a movie about a killer snowman could be taken seriously.

As Jack Frost whittles down the population of Snowmonton, Sheriff Tiler has to prepare for a rematch with the serial killer, going into battle with the assistance of Stephen Mendel as a government agent named Manners and Rob LaBelle as a scientist who's trying to figure out what exactly they're dealing with here. These guys have a tough situation on their hands, having to find a way to stop a snowman who can re-freeze himself when melted.

While we watch Tiler try to stop Frost again, it's easy to root for him because Christopher Allport brings a very nice, relateable, good guy next door sort of vibe to the role of the hapless hero.

I wouldn't exactly call myself a fan of Jack Frost, but it's so silly that I can't help but feel like revisiting it from time to time and getting another dose of its groan-inducing humor.


Back in 2000 or so, I read an interview with actress Jennifer Lyons where she said that all of her friends had been working on horror movies at the time - this being during the post-Scream resurgence of teen horror movies - so she wanted to give horror a try as well. She kind of got the short end of the stick, since the horror movie she ended up appearing in was Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman. Then again, Lyons has also said that her true passion is comedy, and she certainly couldn't have found a sillier horror/comedy to be in than this one. Jack Frost 2 goes even further with the ridiculous humor than the first one did.

Lyons really has a very small part in the film; her character is introduced and dispatched within the first 25 minutes. The stars of the sequel are actors who are reprising their roles from the previous film - Christopher Allport as Sheriff Sam Tiler, Eileen Seeley as his wife Anne, Marsha Clark as police department receptionist Marla, and Chip Heller as Deputy Joe Foster. Tiler has been left deeply traumatized by the events that occurred in the town of Snowmonton in the first movie, so he and Anne are heading off on a tropical island vacation during the Christmas season. Oddly, they are accompanied on this trip by Marla and Joe, who are on their honeymoon... And even though they have more screen time in the sequel, Marla and Joe leave pretty much the same impression for me as they did in the previous movie: she's not a likeable character, and he barely registers as a character.

Christmas vacation is ruined by the fact that Jack Frost (again voiced by Scott MacDonald) has been resurrected in the name of science and is somehow - much like the shark in the nonsensical Jaws: The Revenge - able to track Tiler all the way to the island resort, where we're introduced to a bunch of new characters and potential victims, including the girl played by Lyons and the returning character of former government agent Manners, who was played by Stephen Mendel in the first Jack Frost and is played by David Allen Brooks this time around. Writer/director Michael Cooney also cast his own father, veteran actor Ray Cooney, as the retired British soldier who runs the resort and is constantly going on about his experiences in India.

The setting is different, but Jack Frost 2 starts off just like old times. The mutant killer snowman stalks the island, knocking people off one-by-one in various ways. Crush them with an anvil made of snow, impale them with icicles, freeze them in a pool, murder them with whatever sort of weapon he can get his hands on. One of the best early deaths comes when a woman eats an ice cube that's actually part of the killer's body. Her head explodes.

Soon Jack Frost had turned the tropical paradise into a winter wonderland, and Tiler has a strong suspicion that something very bad is going on, but he has trouble convincing others of this until Jack Frost shows himself for a show-stopping massacre sequence. This when the movie really kicks into gear for me, which is somewhat unfortunate because it happens around 50 minutes into the 93 minute running time.

What follows the massacre is what I like most of all about Jack Frost 2. After being doused with antifreeze, the snowman stacks puking up snowballs... snowballs which turn out to be offspring that conduct themselves very much like snowy Critters. These deadly little snow babies bring a whole new level of fun to the film and they aren't in it nearly enough. Their arrival is like the "Graboids become Shriekers" twist of Tremors II, suddenly there's a whole new type of monster to deal with, and I find that Jack Frost's children really outshine him in this movie.

Someone else who I think really shines in Jack Frost 2 is Eileen Seeley as Anne. Once Tiler has confirmation that the snowman is after him again, he sort of goes catatonic for a while, so Anne steps up and takes over hero duties from him. Seeley is awesome here, which makes it quite disappointing that Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman marked the end (so far) of her sixteen year acting career.

Even sillier and more absurd than the first movie, Jack Frost 2 is a tough film for me to get into at first... for more than half of it, really... but once the massacre happens and the snow babies take over, I get a good amount of enjoyment out of it.

Cooney has kicked around the idea of doing a Jack Frost 3 in which the killer snowman would be huge, kaiju/Godzilla size. Jackzilla. The giant snowman would then envelope a skyscraper that the now-adult Tiler son is in. This sounds to me like a movie that needs to go into production immediately. Investors, get in contact with Michael Cooney!

No comments:

Post a Comment