Monday, December 21, 2020

Deadly Games (1989)


When I first heard about 3615 code Pere Noel (AKA Deadly Games, Dial Code Santa Claus, Game Over and Hide and Freak), the Hollywood Theatre here in Portland, OR, was screening the movie two years ago, and it was described as a more bloody version of Home Alone.  Which is a nice, simple way to sum up the basic plot, as both films take place at Christmas and involve a young boy trying to outwit a home invader.  Also, writer/director Rene Manzor threatened legal action against the US version, claiming plagiarism. 

But that summation is misleading.  In Home Alone, the violence never having long term consequences for the Wet Bandits.  And though the two criminals would be happy to get their hands on Kevin, we know that is not going to happen.  The studio wouldn't allow it. 

But Deadly Games is much nasty, a dark Grimm fairy tale rather than a family friendly holiday comedy.  Once the action starts, characters die and the story never allows you to feel the child hero will survive the film's running time.  And, like the best fairy tales, the story is an allegory, this time about the dangers of living a sheltered life. 

Okay, if you haven't noticed, I am not using the accent marks to properly spell names and the film title in French.  I would if it were possible, but Blogger doesn't have that option.  My apologies, the omission is not intentional, it's due to the limitations of the site.

Anyway, on to the plot.

Thomas de Fremont (Alain Lalanne, AKA Alain Musy) lives in a secluded mansion with some (80s) high tech features like a security camera system, iron shutters that will lock down the windows, and even a trap door in the hallway.  Thomas is a very intelligent kid, but his widowed mother Julie (Brigitte Fossey) indulges his fantasies, allowing him to run about the house like Rambo, chasing after his dog JR and encouraging his belief in Santa Claus, despite the objections of Papy (Louis Ducreux), Thomas' diabetic and partially blind grandfather.  

No one asked JR if he enjoys being hunted down by a Rambo wannabe.

It's a good thing Julie manages an upscale retail store, as her income (and the house left to the family by her late husband) allows her to feed Thomas' imagination and belief in Santa Claus.  And though it might seem very strange, it's clear she is doing it out of love.

During breakfast, Thomas says he plans to stay up late that evening so he can see Santa and capture his image on the security cameras.  Julie tells him he'd better not, because should Santa find anyone watching him, he'd turn into an ogre.  But this doesn't deter Thomas and, as Julie heads out to the store for the Christmas Eve rush, he sets his plans into motion.

Unfortunately, a vagrant (Patrick Floersheim) with an unhealthy attraction towards children gets a job as a Santa at Julie's store.  After seeing him strike a child who pulls off his fake beard, Julie fires the man and sends him to the personnel department to turn in his suit.  The man overhears Julie's boyfriend setting up a big toy delivery for Thomas and sneaks into the van.  After killing the driver and groundskeepers, he heads down the chimney, where Thomas has hidden to witness the jolly old elf's arrival.

As expected, mayhem ensues.

I doubt you'd find a scene like this in a Hollywood version.

Okay, as I said earlier, this film is dark and very disturbing at times.  While Thomas has a bit of an advantage, as he knows the layout of the sprawling mansion, the film never lets us forget that killer has the upper hand, due to his size and strength.  And despite his war game antics, Thomas' weapons are all toys, forcing him to improvise traps as the killer starts taking out the security cameras.   

Adding to the fairy tale aspect of the film are a series of hidden passageways leading to a room full of toys from all the male heirs to the house.  Thomas was shown it by his father, who was shown it by his father, and neither Julie or Papy know of it.  One can see the hidden room as a sanctuary from the responsibilities of the outside, adult world, where the men can go and for a time, relive some part of their childhood.  It's fitting that the faux Santa discovers the room, forcing Thomas to abandon the secret repository of childhood memories.  

And since Thomas believes he is being stalked by the real Santa Claus, who's became an ogre because of his actions, the battle forces Thomas to fight, and possible kill, his own childhood.  In this, the script suggests that one has to be brought out of childhood at some point, less the unsavory aspects of the real/adult world force such a transition in a more traumatic fashion.

 And the killer starts looking like an ogre.  Minus the green skin and flatulence.   

You might find this a bit of a slow burn at first.  But the story is never dull, and the pace gives the audience time to know the main characters, and lets the script set up some obvious issues to complicate matters later on.  Yeah, like Papy's condition, which is mentioned in the opening fifteen minutes.  It's not a spoiler, it's more like Chekhov's Insulin Shot.

The cast is good.  Lalanne/Musy is very convincing, despite the near absurdity of the character.  You believe he's smart enough to reprogram the security in the mansion, and his belief in Santa comes off as genuine.  Fossey and Ducreux do a great job with their roles, and Floersheim avoids camping it up and gives his character a believable sense of menace.  

3615 code Pere Noel is an good Christmas horror film.  Though it's disturbing, and it's dark nature makes it something to avoid if you're looking for some cheesy fun, it's the perfect film to wash away the saccharine taste of the more traditional holiday fare.  

You can find this film (in French with English subtitles) on Amazon Prime under the title Deadly Games, or on YouTube.  It is also available on DVD and Blu-ray, but expect to pay $35 or more on Amazon.

I have a Ko-Fi page, so if you want to support the site, please click the link.  Once the pandemic is over, I'll get back to posting more Horror/Sci Fi/Fantasy happening under The Shadow Over Portland!

That's gonna leave a mark!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Santa Jaws (2018)


Be honest, we all knew this movie was going to happen.  The title is too perfect, and shark movies are still pretty popular on Syfy.  I'm just surprised it took so long for Santa Jaws to come out, considering the school of shark films that came before it.  And I'm surprised that I found myself enjoying this low budget flick.

The film opens as a cop stops a homicidal maniac from killing a women dressed as an elf by kicking him off a dock.  Unfortunately, a great white gobbles him up and suddenly, a Santa hat appears on the shark's dorsal fin and Santa Jaws is born!

Is it any sillier than a sharknado?

The scene is actually the opening of a comic book drawn by Cody (Reid Miller) and written by his best friend Steve (Hawn Tran).  The two are showing it to the owner of the emptiest comic book shop in Louisiana (I'm assuming that's were the film takes place, as it was the filming location, and several establishing shots makes it obvious Cody's family lives in the South) before heading back to their homes to prepare for Christmas.

Unfortunately, the school principle is very unhappy about Cody's not very flattering picture of him and calls Cody's parents.  Cody's mom grounds him, then sends him to his room.  Cody's bad day gets a bit better when he finds his grandfather's gift, a very old looking artist's pen.  Cody uses it to improve his drawing of Santa Jaws while wishing he could spend Christmas alone.  

But the pen has magical properties and soon, Santa Jaws is swimming around the local marina, intent on granting Cody's wish by gobbling up those closest to him.  And it's going to be easy, as his parents own a restaurant at the marina, and are heading there to prepare for the next day's big Christmas boating event.

And, as expected, mayhem ensues.

Wait a minute!  I didn't hear the "Da Da, Da Da" music cue!!

The script by Jake Kiernan (his first) hits most of the cliches you'd expect.  Cody's brother is a jock and dismissive of him, Cody has a thing for Jena, the girl living across the street, but can't summon up the courage to talk to her.  And the comic shop owner gets a hold of the pen at one point, drawing himself a new car, lots of cash and a hot Russian girlfriend.

But still I found myself enjoying the first half of this film, even before the mayhem started.  And I credit that to Kiernan's script, which also avoids a lot of cliches.  To start, Cody's family are not portrayed as nasty jackasses.  Though he's grounded, and his parents don't believe him when he says Grandpa got eaten by a Santa Jaws, they do care for Cody.  Once they figure out that Cody is in trouble, nothing stops them from finding him.  Cody's dismissive brother joins him to fight against Santa Jaws.  His uncle, who arrived earlier with his Internet influencer bride, asks if Cody's still drawing funnies, but later offers to introduce him to the artists he knows in New York.  

It's a nice touch I wasn't expecting.  Sure, Cody's mad at his family, and grounding him before Christmas Eve was pretty harsh.  But the script avoids turning his family into characters that deserve to be stalked by Santa Jaws and raises the stakes for the film's climax.

Whatever you do, don't shoot your eye out!

I also enjoyed Cody's first attempts to neutralize Santa Jaws with the magic pen (oh, come on, that's no spoiler).  It just results in her being a badder killing machine, armed with glass Christmas ornament teeth and a candy cane horn.  And the fact that Santa Jaws is attracted to anything Christmas, from eggnog to ornaments, is perfect, but I wish it was used a bit more.

Despite the budget, the acting is pretty solid.  Most of the cast have some pretty extensive credits according to IMDb, and their ability to avoid diving into campy performances makes the family drama moments resonate, even with the shark mayhem.  

Speaking of the shark, the CGI effects are what you'd expect from a low budget film.  Fortunately, director Misty Talley, who directed several other made-for-TV shark films, mostly uses a practical model dorsal fin to show Santa Jaws, keeping the full body and underwater shots to a minimum.

Now I have a festive horn.  Ho, ho, ho!

The film has issues, but most seem due to the budget and location.  To start, the film has a very small cast, with only one extra that meets up with Santa Jaws.  This not only minimizes the mayhem Santa Jaws is able to cause, but also makes the marina and other locations look deserted, despite the upcoming Christmas boat cruise.  However, extras would cost money, and more shark mayhem would risk overtaxing the CGI budget, so the approach Talley took is understandable.  Still, it's easy to wonder if the family somehow made it into one of Krampus' snow globes before the credits rolled.

Also, the film doesn't feel Christmas-y.  I know the film was shot in Louisiana, so I didn't expect any snow settling on all the Spanish moss.  But with most of the buildings lacking any Christmas lights or decorations feels a bit off.  

Christmas or not, you knew someone would be wearing a bikini.

And, even at just 88 minutes, the film starts feeling overly long, as the joke runs out of steam in the final act.  I know the running time was needed for the film to air on TV, but Talley needed to find a way to add a few more victims into the film, which might have kept the pace from dragging during the final act.

Despite the flaws, Santa Jaws is enjoyable.  The script is better than you'd expect, the cast is very good and Tally keeps story moves at a good pace through most of the runtime.  It's not a film to revisit every Christmas, but it's perfect when the nights get chilly, the eggnog is flowing and you want to watch something silly while you're wrapping presents.  

Santa Jaws is available to stream on several subscription services, including Amazon Prime, Syfy and DirectTV.  You can rent or purchase a digital copy through Amazon and Fandango Now, or purchase it as part of the Shark Bait: 6 Killer Shark Films DVD collection. 

I have a Ko-fi account, so if you feel like supporting the site, please click on the link.   And once we've overcome this COVID nightmare, The Shadow Over Portland will be back keeping Pacific Northwest Horror/Sci Fi/Fantasy Fans up to date on all the events coming our way.

 Damn, who knew candy canes could be so sharp!


Monday, December 14, 2020

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

Anna and the Apocalypse might not be the first zombie musical, but it is the first set at Christmas and it is a blast for fans of horror films and movie musicals.  It's a lot of fun, a bit dark and gory, and will get your toes tapping to the musical numbers.  If this review doesn't have you seeking this film for a holiday viewing, either I've failed in my job reviewing it or your heart needs to grow a few sizes.

The first thing making this film so special that it's not a jukebox musical.  You won't find any popular tunes shoehorned into the script.  Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly deliver a soundtrack that reminds one of an old school 50s musical, with the lyrics and tempo matching how the characters are feeling.  It's brilliant work and is one soundtrack I'll be adding to my collection.  

The story follows Anna (Ella Hunt, in a fabulous performance), as she's heading to school before Christmas break.  Her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming), hitching a ride to school with her, let's slip to Anna's father, Tony (Mark Benton), that she plans to travel after her upcoming graduation, rather than heading to college.  Tony is dismayed by this, but the discussion is put off until later, in favor of two great musical number, "Break Away" and "Hollywood Ending."

 Yeah, it looks like an episode of Glee.  But just wait, this film does have zombies!

During all the music, we are introduced to several students, including Steph (Sarah Swire), who is trying to get an article on homelessness onto the school blog, only to be blocked by the vice principle Mr. Savage (Paul Kaye); Nick (Ben Wiggins), a bully whom Anna appears to have slept with; filmmaker Chris (Christopher Leveaux), who is having difficulty completing an assignment for his class and his girlfriend Lisa (Marli Siu), who has a big musical number in the school play.  Oh, I should mention that Anna's father Tony works as the school janitor.

Okay, our players are set, the zombie apocalypse starts, and everyone heads for the school to save their family and friends, foil Mr. Savage's weird attempt to seize control, and sail off for a Hollywood ending.

And once you hear that song, you'll know what I mean when I say mayhem ensues.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is why it was set during Christmas, as none of the musical numbers deal with the season.  With the exception of one (racy) holiday song performed by Lisa during the school holiday pageant, the film could have taken place during any season.  But, aside from the notoriety, the choice of the season is pretty symbolic.

 Besides, it's cool to watch the hear brain zombies with a giant wooden candy cane.

In the Northern hemisphere, Christmas is related to the Winter solstice, the longest night of the year, marking the symbolic death, and eventual rebirth, of the sun.  The Winter solstice marks the start of deep winter, or the "famine months."  Observation of the solstice was key to determining when to slaughter cattle (providing meat and conserving grains) and how to rationing food stores in order to survive until spring.

So you can look at the use of the season two ways.  One, the apocalypse is the start of a season that will test the characters, one not all will survive.  It's the start of the famine months, in a way.  Though the zombies have plenty to eat. 

But looking at the death and rebirth of the sun, the film becomes a metaphor for taking their first steps into adulthood.  By the end of the film, the survivors have experience the same grief many of us did as high school friends drifted away and the high-school romance fractured under the weight of college or work.  Sure, the zombie apocalypse makes the characters' losses in the movie quite permanent, and the pace is significantly sped up.  But their experiences echo ours as they drive away fro the high school for an uncertain future.    

Singing and dancing appears to make you lose your peripheral vision.

The script by Alan McDonald (based on a short film by Ryan McHenry) subverts the standard coming-of-age film troupes.   My favorite example of this is Nick, who revels at the film's midpoint (and just before another amazing song) that he killed his father, who was bitten by a zombie.  Yet during the climax, he delivers a line that reveals the crack in his bravado, a nice touch for the character.

John is another great example.  His character could have been the stereotypical nice guy (in the song "Hollywood Ending," he sings about how he suspects the nice guy doesn't get the girl), but he's still Anna's friend.  He supports her decision to travel, he says she can do anything, and he NEVER gets creepy.  Sure, Anna starts looking at him differently as the film progresses, but he doesn't try to force himself on her.  He's infatuated with her, but he would rather be her friend than a stalker.

And, at this point, I have to post a SPOILER ALERT.  Skip the next paragraph if you want to avoid having some plot points spoiled.

The film has a couple of characters who don't make it until the end of the film, but their lyrics during the "Hollywood Ending" scene (and if you see the film, you'll know who they are), doom them.  The two were the antithesis of that musical number, and as such, they get their Hollywood ending, as their romance never leaves the school.  It's a brilliant subversion of the Hollywood musical/high school film, as many such romances never survive the crushing pressure of adulthood.

END OF SPOILERS.  Hey, I kept it short for once!

And yes, as I said, you do get a Christmas production number.  Just not one that's PTA approved.

The cast is excellent.  As I mentioned before, Hunt is amazing, but the rest of the young cast are quite good as well.   As for the adult actors, Benton is solid as Anna's father.  Though he's upset about his daughter's plans to travel before college, his love and concern for her future is always evident.  The only problem I have is the portrayal of the vice-principle, Mr. Savage.  Sure, the character is suppose to be an ass, but Kaye is never given an opportunity to delve into why grabbing control of a high school is so important to Savage.  Instead, he just becomes the cliche evil adult the kids have to fight against during the climax.

The script, the direction, the music, it all hit the marks.  Director John McPhail stages the musical numbers beautifully, relying on the cast to convey the mood of each song, rather than a series of jump cuts.  And the cast responses so well, it feels like watching a musical from the 40s or 50s. 

But fear not, zombie fans.  After the song "Turning my Life Around," as Anna and John sing about a brand new day and dance through the zombie apocalypse like Shaun going to the local market, a zombie snowman brings on the gore.  And it's pretty good stuff, considering the R-rating, and you can tell the filmmakers knew they had to have some bloody zombie kills, but inventive ones as well.  And the movie does deliver on that count, but without burying the characters in an avalanche of blood and guts.

 How did we end up on the set of Jack Frost?

Anna and the Apocalypse is a truly infectious movie.  The energetic cast, sharp direction and snappy songs should make this a classic for all horror fans.  Unless your heart is two sizes too small.  That's on you, ya old Grinch.

You can find this film on Amazon Prime, on DVD, or you can purchase an imported Blu-Ray if you have a region free player. 

At least Anna won't shoot her eye out with her weapon of choice.

If you'd like to support The Shadow Over Portland, visit my Ko-fi link and make a donation.  I promise, once the pandemic is over, I'll continue to post reviews and get back to listing all the information on events of interest to Pacific Northwest Horror/Sci Fi/Fantasy Fans.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Silent Night (2012)

 Let's be honest, movie studios have released sequels and remakes almost since the advent of theaters.  And while such films are basically cash grabs, aimed at driving audience interest in a movie with a key character or familiar story line, it's not always a bad thing.  Remakes can take a character in a new direction and become classics, like The Thing and The Fly.  Or you could get a film like 1988's The Blob, a fun update that's a perfect popcorn movie.

Of course, a third category exists, the remakes that leave you wondering why did anyone bother with it.  And that's how I felt about 2012's Silent Night.  I'm not saying the filmmakers didn't love the original.  In fact, the homages to it, and other horror films, are plentiful and show their love of the genre.  But the film doesn't do anything other than tell a similar story with more gore, bigger kills, and little else.

The film takes place in the town of Cryer, Wisconsin, as the town prepares for the annual Parade of Santas.  A man is preparing his Santa suit, with a beard glued to a plastic mask, while a woman chained to a bed is pleading for her life.  This opening is creepy, and had me expect a film more like Maniac than a standard slasher.  But that tone is neutered when our killer heads to the basement, where her adulterous lover is tied to a chair, adorned with Christmas lights and a makeshift electric chair cap, and the film abandons the sleazy feel for over-the-top kills.    

It's no jumper cables down the throat, but that doesn't make it less over-the-top.

The film cuts to Deputy Aubrey Bradimore (Jaime King, My Bloody Valentine 3D, Sin City) being called into work by Sheriff Cooper (Malcolm McDowell, you know his work), as another officer hasn't shown up for his shift (wonder what could have happened to him?).  Soon, Bradimore finds herself trying to find the killer Santa during the town's annual Santa Claus parade.  Which means the script gives us a few red herrings as the killer continues his spree.

And, as expected, mayhem ensues.

It's obvious director Steven C. Miller and screenwriter Jayson Rothwell know and love the horror genre, as well as the original Silent Night, Deadly Night.  And while it's nice to have the filmmakers involved in a remake respect the original, and the genre in general, I feel their sense of excitement in making the movie hampered their ability to create a good movie.

We have Santa with an axe.  What more do we need?

Let's start with the homages, which are plentiful and become detrimental to the film.  Beware, we're getting into SPOILER TERRITORY now, so skip the next six paragraphs if you want to avoid them.

It's not that the homages to the first two films in the series are bad.  Of course, someone will get impaled on a hanging rack of antlers (though given the set up, I was hoping it went in a different direction), nor was the dropping of "re-imagined" dialog ("What is this, garbage day?") an issue.  I didn't even mind the script turning "Naughty" to "Not Nice."  But in trying to fit all the classic moments from the series, as well as other films, it's easy to feel those moments were shoe-horn those moments into the script.  And without making it a part of the story, the film feels like it's just lurching from one homage to the next.

This is NOT what I meant when I said I wanted to hang around the house on Christmas!

The best example of an out-of-place homage is when Dennis (Erik J. Berg) is talking to his catatonic grandfather in a nursing home.  No surprise, as Dennis takes a large wad of cash from his grandfather's wallet (more on that later), the old man awakens and warns Dennis that, should he see Santa tonight, he should run.  It's a classic moment, but in the original, it made sense.  It was part of the story, it had a reason for being in the film.  But here, it's just wedged into the film because it's an iconic moment in the original, with no thought given on how to make the moment fit into the script.

Even worse is when the script begins adding in bits from other films.  For example, we have thw pervy Reverend Madeley (Curtis Moore) hitting on Bradimore as she comes to the church to help dealing with the loss of her husband.  In both Moore's performance and the dialog, it's obvious the filmmakers are paying tribute to David Hale's performance in Re-Animator.  It's jarring, out of place and, sorry to say, Moore doesn't pull it off.  The wood chipper scene might have you thinking of Fargo, but having the kill take place in broad daylight next to a motel neuters the effect and, honestly, isn't needed.  And the film's ending will make you wonder why the filmmakers decided it was a good idea to copy one of the greatest slasher films ever made, as again, it makes no sense to the story on the screen.  

Hey, a wood chipper scene helped the Coens win an Oscar.  What do we have to lose?

Scenes paying tribute to the original are fine, as are moments copied from other movies the filmmakers love.  It happens all the time, but I just wished the script had done a better job of fitting them into the story.

But a bigger weakness is the script gives no indication how the killer knows his victims are naughty (sorry, not nice).  Sure, we know the reverend is stealing from the collection plate, we know just how bratty the teenage girl is to her mother, and we know a soft-core porn shoot is taking place in a trashy motel.  But in those moments, the camera isn't acting as the killer's point-of-view, and it all takes place when no one is around.  The script offers any explanation how the killer is aware of the town's dirty little secrets, he just shows up at the right place at the right time to take people out.

You can bet your ass, I'll know if you've been bad or good!

The scene with Dennis and his grandfather is another example of this problem.  Sure, the theft is used to justify what happens to him, but his grandfather has been catatonic for a while, so having a wallet full of cash on his dresser makes no damn sense.  It's not like grandpa is heading out later that evening.  And no one sees Dennis commit the theft, so the killer shouldn't be targeting him.

But not knowing who should be on the not nice list doesn't matter, as by the middle of the film, the killer starts taking out innocent people.  One could argue that Mayor Revie deserves his fate, as he broke a promise to his youngest daughter.  But I think killing him because he hasn't stopped smoking is a bit of an overkill.  And the police office receptionist seems guilty of little more than reading trashy magazines and spreading gossip.  True, slashers tend to over-react when it comes to their victim's sins, but their actions always follow a pattern.  In the original, Billy had a pattern, created by his traumatic childhood.  His victims were drinking, having sex, being bullies, which would mean they need to be punished, as he was taught in the orphanage.  The remake has a few moments that echo back to that element.  But as the bodies pile up, this new killer Santa's victims stop being "not nice" and more innocent than the earlier victims.

If you had waited a few year, I think his habit would have done the job for you!


That said, the acting is solid for a low budget film.  McDowell is good at the gruff sheriff, and is King, though the script does let her character down a bit at times.  The kills are as gory as an R-rating will allow, and honestly, you know you want to see Santa with a flamethrower.  When the script isn't pausing for an homage scene, the story moves at a good clip and is pretty interesting.  And the identity of the killer is presented in a interesting way, better than many slasher films.  

It's nice that Silent Night wasn't made by people simply looking to cash in on a popular title.  If you watch the special feature on the DVD, you can see the glee emanating from the filmmakers during the shoot.  But the results are lackluster.  Better holiday horror films, new and old are out there, and while this film isn't a lump of coal, it's not the cool gift you were hoping for under the Christmas tree.

Instead of giving you a lump of coal for being bad, this Santa will turn you into one!

If you'd like to support The Shadow Over Portland, visit my Ko-fi link and make a donation.  I promise, once the pandemic is over, I'll continue to post reviews and get back to listing all the information on events of interest to Pacific Northwest Horror/Sci Fi/Fantasy Fans.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)


Easily the most controversial slasher film of the 80s, Silent Night, Deadly Night was released on November 9, 1984, by TriStar Pictures.  But the theatrical run lasted only a week, as the film was pulled due to the uproar caused by the promotional material and the film's basic plot involving a killer dressed as Santa Claus.  

The poster was pretty controversial, with Santa crawling down a chimney with an axe in hand.  But even worse was the decision to purchase television ad time during family-friendly television shows.  Tri-Star knew the film would be a money-maker, but the ad campaign failed to consider the reactions from parents, child advocacy groups and film critics itching to attack another slasher film.

Yeah, probably not the best ad for Prime Time.

Angry families picketed theaters showing the film, worried it would have an adverse affect on children.  The PTA fought to have the film removed, while Siskel and Ebert attacked the film, with Siskel exclaiming, "Shame on you," to TriStar and its parent companies.  The film was condemned by other critics as well, but that didn't keep it from making over $2 million before it was pulled from release.  And fueled by the controversy surrounding it, the film became a hit on home video and spawned four sequels (though the final two were sequels in name only).

With Christmas rapidly approaching, I started thinking about this film again, as the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, OR, has screened it every December for years.  And while it's fun to be in a dark theater with other fans watching the film EVERYONE told you not to see, I have to wonder if horror fans would still be watching Silent Night, Deadly Night had critics and parent groups not reacted so vehemently against it and let the film play out in theaters.  After all, the film Christmas Evil, released in 1980, involved another deranged killer in a Santa Claus suit.  That one didn't generate any controversy and is pretty much forgotten now.  

But I think the script, written by Michael Hickey, from a story by Paul Caimi, is transgressive enough to warrant the film's cult status, regardless of the uproar during its initial release.  I'll explain my reasoning after a brief, minor spoiler filled recap of the film.

Hey, I'm not being naughty!

The movie opens as young Billy Chapman (Danny Wagner) and his family visit his catatonic grandfather in a nursing home on Christmas Eve.  Left with the old man as his parents discuss his treatment, Billy's grandfather suddenly starts talking to Billy about how Santa Claus punishes the bad children and, should Billy see the jolly old elf tonight, " better run boy, you better run for ya life!"

That would be traumatizing enough, but a killer dressed in a Santa suit manages to stop the family on their way home.  Billy's father is shot and sexually assaulting his mother before slitting her throat.  Billy manages to hide, avoiding the killer.

Billy and his baby brother Ricky (who was left in the car during the attack, but not killed) are now in a Catholic orphanage.  As one might expect, he has some issues with the holiday season, which irks the Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin), who believes children can be made to to behave if they realize that, "Punishment is absolute, punishment is good."  Despite the objections of Sister Margaret (Gilmer McCormick), who is less of an disciplinarian, the Mother Superior decides the only way to put Billy on the path of righteousness is to beat his evil thoughts out of him.

Yeah, nothing like some Old Testament punishment to deal with severe trauma and PTSD.  But, given my Catholic upbringing, I can't say that wouldn't be the case with some old school nuns and priests.  

Oh, sure.  Either turn him into a serial killer, or some guy with some major kinks. 

Anyway, we cut to 1984, as Sister Margaret gets a now-adult Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) a job at a local retail toy store.  That's a weak point in the script, as I can't understand her reasoning for getting Billy a job in a freaking toy store.  Sure, it was summer when he was hired, but it's hard to imagine Billy has suppressed his issues surrounding the holiday season enough for anyone to think he'd be fine working in any store reliant on Christmas.

But Billy does pretty well at his job, and even develops a crush on a co-worker, Pamela (Toni Nero), though his sexual thoughts about her trigger visions of his parent's death.  Still, it's easy to hope things work out for the best.  Billy is really trying to fit in, enjoys his job, and Pamela seems like a really nice person.

But surprise, Christmas puts a bit of strain on Billy.  And things get worse as his boss makes Billy play Santa after the hired Kringle is injured and unable to show up.  The parents love how Billy is able to calm their children should they react in fear of Santa, but they don't hear Billy whispering threats of punishment to them.

And things get even worse once the store closes and the employees started drinking.  The final straw is when a sleazy co-worker tries to rape Pamela, driving Billy WAY past the breaking point.  He kills both, than the rest of the employees, before heading out of the store to spread Christmas fear.  

And, as expect, mayhem ensues as Billy leaves a bloody trail on his way back to the orphanage.  He decapitates a sledder, impales a topless Linnea Quigley on a set of deer antlers, and causes the local police to draw their guns on anyone dressed as Santa.

Sorry, but I can only show so much of Linnea Quigley's death scene.

It's a pretty standard slasher film, which leads me to suspect it wouldn't have the same cult following had the critics and parent groups not reacted as strongly against it.  But the script is pretty good during the first forty minutes or so, as we witness the events that leads Billy to the breaking point and, as I mention earlier, you might feel yourself rooting for Billy to overcome his trauma.

Though you know that's not going to happen.  This is a slasher film, after all, and blood must flow.

I will admit I'm not one for slasher movies trying to explain why the killer behaves as they do, at least in our modern remake culture.  The Shape is an unstoppable boogieman, Jason is born of the rage of witnessing his mother killed, and Freddie is just a pedophile who continues his murderous spree in the dreams of his victims.  But as filmmakers bring new versions of these characters to the screen, they want to add something new and unique to the story, and that often involves a backstory that simply neuters the character.

But Silent Night, Deadly Night is different.  Billy is a character whose abusive treatment at the orphanage never lets him process the trauma of that one horrid Christmas Eve.  It also explains his code, as he's been taught that punishment is absolute and necessary.  And, after Billy dispatches babysitter  Quigley and her boyfriend, he bestows a gift to a young girl who swears she was good all year.  Sure, it's a bloody razor knife, but it shows Billy isn't some mindless killer.  In that scene, the script gives the character some depth, showing how his behavior was shaped by the horrible events from his early childhood.  

Good thing you weren't sitting on my lap at the toy store.  You might not be willing to be so close to me.

I don't think the script is trying to absolve Billy of his killing spree.  But I think it's taking the idea that the wrong approach to dealing with a person's trauma will produce disastrous results.  I'm fine if you accuse me of reading too much into the film, but it's in the script.  Billy's grandfather, the killer in a Santa suits actions, and the Mother Superior's attempt to beat the bad thoughts out of him all culminate into a fragile individual one final trauma away from snapping.

And at this point, we need to talk about Billy killing Pamela after he stops her sexual assault by the sleazy co-worker.  It's easy to read the scene as misogynist, as she was lured into the storeroom and repeatable said no.  But don't forget, Billy is a character with a warped sense of right and wrong, and watching her walk into the storeroom without resistance, and seeing what was happening, could override his ability to discern what was happening.  I'm not defending his reaction, but I am saying, given his mental state as written into the script, it's no surprise he reacted as he did.  

Especially considering this is a slasher flick. 

I'm not saying the film is a classic.  While the acting is pretty good for its low-budget, the script delivers some laughable moments, especially with the police over-reactions to Santa-suited men.  And yes, some of the kills are as over the top as any 80s slasher film.  But watching how Billy is molded into a killer is interesting, and the script makes it feel plausible.  Standard slasher mayhem aside, the script makes Billy's journey realistic in a way most 80s slasher films, and their remakes, do not match.

And I'm going to say I think some of the critical backlash came from the portrayal of Catholic nuns.  While Sister Margaret is pretty sympathetic in her attempts to help Billy, the Mother Superior hearkens back to a past most want to ignore, unless played for laughs.  After all, these were the people we entrusted to protect our children from the evils of Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter and the like.  And the Old Testament idea of beating the evil from someone is pretty outdated, even back in the 80s.  And I suspect any of the protesters , had they actually watched the film rather than reacting to the ad campaign, would have been horrified at how the nuns are portrayed.

 Well, I guess what comes around goes around.

So let's get back to the question I asked earlier in this review.  I don't think Silent Night, Deadly Night would be another forgotten 80s slasher film, had those wanting to protect the children just ignored the film upon its initial release.  The cult following might not be as strong, but it would still be there thanks to the transgressive script, good acting, gratuitous nudity and fun, gory kills.  And, to be honest, it's a nice, tart antidote to the most saccharine time of the year, which would only add to it's appeal.

I just opened a Ko-fi account, so if you feel like supporting the site, please click on the link.   And once we've overcome this COVID nightmare, The Shadow Over Portland will be back keeping Pacific Northwest Horror/Sci Fi/Fantasy Fans up to date on all the events coming our way.

He knows if you've been bad or good, so be afraid for goodness sake!

Monday, October 19, 2020




I know it doesn't FEEL that way, but I'm going to stay optimistic.  After all, the nights are getting longer, the leaves are crunching under my feet as I walk to the store, and while it looks like most of the celebrations will be subdued this year, it's still HALLOWEEN!  Nothing wrong with a small, socially distanced gathering with family and friends, and pulling out some classic films from your collection!!

Several theaters are offering stream at home films perfect for Halloween, which I'll be adding to the Horror/Sci Fi/Fantasy Calendar later this week (and I'll post an additional Weekly Update with all I find), but I wanted to get this edition of the Weekly Update out early, as I dropped the ball most of the this month.  

If you're in Vancouver, BC, check out the listings for the Rio Theatre, as the screen will be full of treats through Halloween Night.  The Kiggins Theatre in Vancouver, WA, has reopened and will screen Back to the Future Part 2 and 3 during October.  And you can find several drive-through haunted attractions listed below.  But please check out the links I've included in this post before you leave the house, so you don't head out to a cancelled event.

Unfortunately, we still have some cancellations for later in the year (GeekCraft Expo PDX 2020, scheduled for November, is the latest casualty of the pandemic), and it's doubtful we'll see any real improvements in the next few months.  But things will turn around, and The Shadow Over Portland will be there to keep Pacific Northwest Horror/Sci Fi/Fantasy Fans up to date with all the events coming in 2021.

Just stay safe and healthy, folks.  Wear your masks, practice social distance and let's do everything we can to make 2021 a great, geeky year!

Now Open
The Bella Organic Farm Corn Maze (on Sauvie Island, 16205 NW Gillihan Rd in Portland, OR) is now open through October 31.  The maze is dedicated to our front line workers, who will be granted free admission through the month of September.  To buy tickets and for more details, visit the Bella Organic Farm website

The Topaz Farm 2020 Corn Maze (located on Sauvie Island at 17100 NW Sauvie Island in Portland, OR) is now open.  For more details, visit the Topaz Farm website.

The Stalker Farms Haunted Attraction (8705 Marsh Rd in Snohomish, WA), which you can enjoy in the comfort of your car, is now open and runs through Halloween Night.  For more details and to purchase tickets, visit the official website.

The Spirit of Halloweentown (AKA St. Helens, OR) will be open on weekends starting today and running through November 1.  For a current list of events and advance ticket sales (required to control crowd size), visit the Halloweentown website.

The Haunted Taft October Tours starts at the Sapphire Center (4840 SE Highway 101 in Lincoln City, OR) every Saturday in October, including Halloween Night!  This walking tour will tell you about Whiskey Jack, the Ghost Schooner of Siletz Bay, a local Bigfoot sighting and MORE!!  For details and a link to purchase tickets, visit the Facebook Event Page

The Clark County ScareGrounds is at Oaks Park (7805 SE Oaks Park Way in Portland, OR) as the Oaks Park Haunted Drive-Thru through November 1.  You can experience all the thrills of a traditional huanted attraction, but from the social distance of your vehicle.  For more details and to purchase advance tickets (required), visit the official website

Nightmare Factory, Davis Cemetery, Fearlandia and Creatures of the Night are pooling their talents to present the Clackamas County Scare Fair at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds (694 NE 4th Ave in Canby, OR).  Enjoy the sights and sounds of Halloween from the socially distance safety of your car.  For more details and to purchase tickets, visit the Clackamas County Fairgrounds website.
The Fear PDX Haunted House (12301 NE Glisan St in Portland, OR) is open through Sunday, November 1, and ready to scare you!  Of course, due to the current pandemic, you will need to wear a mask (NOT a Halloween one) and stay six feet from other groups at all times.  Advance tickets are required, and limited each night, so visit The Fear PDX website for open nights and times, a list of guidelines you will have to follow, and to purchase tickets.  You can also check out the Facebook Page.

The Bella Organic Farm Haunted Corn Maze (Sauvie Island, 16205 NW Gillihan Rd in Portland, OR) is open every Friday and Saturday night this month.  Of course, due to the pandemic, you will have to follow new safety guidelines, such as wearing a mask.  For more details on the rules, and to purchase tickets, visit the Bella Organic Farm website.

October, 2020
Monday, October 19
Fathom Events brings director Bong Joon Ho's Memories of Murder, based on the true story of a serial rapist and murderer stalking a small province in 1980s South Korea, to the big screen today and tomorrow.  To find out if a theater near you is screening the film, visit the Fathom Events website
The film is also screening at the Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) tonight at 6:20 pm, and on Thursday, October 22, with a 2020 remastered version.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.

The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen the Sam Raimi horror classic Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn tonight at 9:15 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales (including for all three Evil Dead movies playing this month), visit the Rio Theatre website.

Tuesday, October 20

The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen Mel Brooks' comedy classic Young Frankenstein tonight at 6:30 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.

Wednesday, October 21

Fathom Events let the RiffTrax crew take on the Halloween B-movie Jack-O tonight in theaters nationwide.  To see if a theater near you is screening this event, visit the Fathom Events website.
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen the classic 1931 Dracula, starring the immortal Bela Lugosi, tonight at 7:15 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen the vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows at the Rio Theatre has SOLD OUT.  The final screening is at 6 pm on Friday, October 30.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.  

It's Halloween time, so of course Fathom Events and TCM are bringing Stanley Kubrick's The Shining back to the big screen.  The film plays today, Tuesday, October 20 and Thursday, October 22.  To see if a theater near you will be screening the film, visit the Fathom Events website.
Thursday, October 22
 The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen the cult classic Clue, which can be viewed as an old dark house spoof, tonight at 6:30 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.
Friday, October 23

The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen the Sam Raimi horror/comedy classic Army of Darkness tonight at 10:45 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales (including for all three Evil Dead movies playing this month), visit the Rio Theatre website.
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) dares you to say his name three times as during the screening of Beetlejuice tonight at 8:20 pm (Main Floor seating has SOLD OUT), or on Tuesday, October 27, at 6 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen the Halloween classic The Nightmare before Christmas today at 1:45 pm and on Friday, October 23, at 6:10 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.  

The Kiggins Theatre (1011 Main St in Vancouver, WA) will screen Back to the Future II through Sunday, October 25.  For more details, including showtimes, COVID safety precautions and advance ticket sales (advance tickets are REQUIRED), visit the Kiggins Theatre website.
Saturday, October 24
The Slay Film Festival begins live streaming today and Halloween Night.  Visit the Slay Film Festival website for more details about the two volumes of short films and ticket prices.
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen Interview with a Vampire, starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Christian Slater, tonight at 7:50 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen the 2014 restored version of Tobe Hopper's classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre tonight at 10:45pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.
Seattle fans (and those willing to drive into the city) can experience the Slay Film Festival drive-in style tonight, or on Friday, October 30, and Halloween Night.  Showtimes are 7 and 9:30 pm.  The event takes place at the On the Boards parking lot (100 W Roy St in Seattle, WA) and tickets are VERY limited.  For all the details and advance ticket sales, visit the Slay Film Festival website.
Sunday, October 25
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen the horror classic Rosemary's Baby tonight at 6:30pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.
Wednesday, October 28
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen David Cronenberg's version of The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, tonight at 8:15 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen the hallucinogenic revenge film Mandy, starring Nicolas Cage at his Cage-iest, tonight at 10:45 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.
Thursday, October 29
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen Francis Ford Coppola's version of Bram Stroker's Dracula tonight at 9 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) has added a third screening of the Halloween classic Hocus Pocus, with screenwriter Mick Garris appearing on Skype for a post-screening Q and A, today at 6:20 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.
Friday, October 30 
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen Brian de Palma's Carrie tonight at 8:15 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen the Director's Cut of William Friedkin's The Exorcist tonight at 10:45 pm and tomorrow at 8:20 pm.  Be advised, as of October 14, tickets for both shows were selling fast.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.
The Kiggins Theatre (1011 Main St in Vancouver, WA) will screen Back to the Future III through Sunday, November 1.  For more details, including showtimes, COVID safety precautions and advance ticket sales (advance tickets are REQUIRED), visit the Kiggins Theatre website.
Saturday, October 31
Happy Halloween!
The Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway in Vancouver, BC) will screen the perfect movie for THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR, John Carpenter's Halloween, tonight at 11:30 pm.  For more details and advance ticket sales, visit the Rio Theatre website.