Friday, December 6, 2013

Santa’s Slay (2005)

Christmas themed horror films often involve a slasher-dressed-as-Santa killing in a holiday themed manner.  And, as with holiday specials on TV, one can only take so many of them during the season.  That makes writer/director David Steinman’s film, Santa’s Slay, so much fun.  Rather than sticking a killer in a Santa suit, Steinman rewrites the legend of the jolly old elf, changing him into someone more sinister, and more cartoonish, than your basic slasher-Claus.

The film opens as a stereotypical dysfunctional family, portrayed by James Caan (yes, really), Fran Drescher, Chris Kattan, Rebecca Gayheart, and twins Alicia Loren and Annie Sorell, are gathered for a holiday feast.  But before the turkey can be carved, Santa (wrestler Bill Goldberg) breaks through the chimney and slaughters everyone, starting with the pampered little dog. 

Ho Ho Ho, now I kick ass

The gore is silly, the humor broad and the scene sets the tone for the rest of the film.   The script never tries to generate any suspense or terror, as if Steinman knew horror fans might need a light, cheesy snack during the annual marathon of serious (at least in tone) Slasher-Claus films.

After a nice montage during the opening credits that sets the stage for Santa’s backstory, the film moves to the Township of Hell, located somewhere with lots of snow.  Nicolas Yuleson (Douglas Smith of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and Antiviral) is living with his crazy inventor, and security minded, Grandpa (Robert Culp!).  And, in a plot point more outrageous than a muscular Santa, our teenaged hero is oblivious to the signals by his cute coworker Mary “Mac” Mackenson (Emilie de Ravin of Lost, The Hills Have Eyes remake and Brick). 

But figuring out Mac’s amorous intentions becomes a secondary concern once Santa comes to town.  It seems Santa is the son of Satan, condemned to bringing joy to good little girls and boys for a thousand years after he is bested in a curling match by an angel.  Now, on the first Christmas free of his obligation to be nice, he’s out to be naughty, and payback on the angel that beat him a century earlier.   

Reindeer my butt.  I have a mighty white buffalo

The script doesn’t offer many surprises.  Grandpa’s identity is easy to guess, Nicholas and Mac’s eventual romance is a given and the script starts to run out of steam in the final act.  The last five minutes contain an outrageous resolution that doesn’t work, no matter how hard the actors try to sell it.  And, as expected, the obligatory set up for a sequel occurs just as the credits roll.

What, I might be in a sequel?  

But the script’s main flaw is the occasional moments of sophomoric humor.  A bit where Grandpa passes gas is just gratuitous, as is the sheriff with the vaguely obscene name.  The scene where Santa lays siege to a strip club seems included just so Goldberg can say, “Ho, Ho, Hos.”  And the bit with a lecherous preacher reciting the names of the dead strippers during a eulogy seems to go on far too long, even though it’s only a few seconds. 

These moments might elicit a giggle or two from your inner nine year old, but the film doesn’t need to rely on such juvenile antics.  The scenes between Nicholas and Grandpa are more believable than you’d expect from a cheesy horror film, the action sequences are great, and the explanation of the curling match that cursed Santa is a terrific spoof of the Rankin/Bass Christmas special.  And it’s really well done. Sure, taking out the sophomoric bits would lessen the film’s running time, but I think Steinman could have written something better, given how much fun the movie.

This is soooooo good.  Don't miss this scene!

The actors do a great job.  As the heroes, Smith and de Ravin are saddled with the least interesting characters, yet both deliver good performances.  Playing off his wrestling persona, Goldberg chews up (and smashes through) the scenery with glee.  The cast members in the opening scene are terrific in their walk on roles, and Culp’s performance is so good, one can excuse him for acting out a fart joke. 

Santa’s Slay isn’t a classic by any means.  But it’s a delightful package full of merry holiday mayhem wrapped up with a big cheesy bow.  The perfect antidote to the incessant cheer surrounding the holidays, this is a film horror fans can share with family and friends (along with the right amount of spiked eggnog) and not end up with a lump of coal in their stocking.

Frightfully Funny Friday Post

Well, as I unfreeze my fingers and gets get started on this week's post of horrific happenings in the Northwest, here's a GREAT little holiday treat, Jason Eisener's short film of Christmas trees revolting against their treatment this time of year, Treevenge.

Be warned, this short is soooooo  NSFW!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Interview with Jeremy Jantz, Part Two

In yesterday's post, I talked with Jeremy Jantz, film student at the Art Institute of Portland, about his senior project, a short, NC-17 style horror film called Heels.  Today, Jantz talks about the sudden decision by the Art Institute to require cuts to his film for it to be included in the senior screening, and how this lead to The First Annual Salon De Refuse Film Festival, on Thursday, December 12.

Please note, this interview was conducted via email exchange.

The Shadow Over Portland: So, your plans to show Heels at the school's screening have changed.  What happened?

Jeremy Jantz: To be honest, it was a bit of a blindside.  I got called into Aldrich's office (head of the DFV department).  He told me it had been decided that unless I censored my film, they wouldn't screen it.  I politely declined.  He offered to let me show another film of my choice.  I offered a seven-minute clip of my middle finger.  Aldrich was not amused.  Up until this point, four weeks from the screening, I was told Heels would screen, simply with a warning and intermission.  Which seemed fair.

TSOP: Was the school's objections due to the nudity, the violence, or the overall content of the film?

JJ: The biggest specific objection was the footage involving a penis.  I was told the female nudity could probably be approved, but definitely not the penis.  Personally, that doesn't seem fair.  It's not men's fault God made penises ugly.  

There were also insinuations that the overall content might be an issue.  However, the penis was such a sticking point that was no real point in discussing the rest of it.  The didn't want to see a penis.  Ever.

TSOP: In our earlier talk, you said you would just rent out a theater and show Heels there, if you had to.  So you are screening your film on December 12 at The Academy Theater, as part of The First Annual Salon De Refuse Film Festival.  Can you give us the details on the festival, and what other films are showing?

JJ: The centerpiece of the show will be the midnight screening of Heels.  I have several other films confirmed.  We'll be showing an adaptation of the Stephen King short story Survivor Type.  Another student, Brendan Jones, pulled his senior film from the official screening in protest over the censorship issues, so I'll be showing his short experimental film, The Test.  I just confirmed Edward Lee's The Bighead, from director Michael Ling.  That should be great, I'm really excited to see it.  And I just heard we've added M is for Massage, an ABCs of Death entry.

TSOP: Are you still accepting submissions?

JJ: I am still accepting them.  I'm really hoping the addition of Edward Lee's The Bighead will add the legitimacy to bring in local submissions.  I can't stress enough how much I want to see that film, and how great those guys are for letting me show it.

TSOP: The festival starts at 10 pm on Thursday, December 12.  How can people get tickets?

JJ: There are no tickets.  It's completely free.  The Academy would have let me charge whatever I wanted, but in the spirit of horror fan fellowship, I'm not asking for anything.  I won't even pass the hat for donations.  The festival is in the large theater, so there/s plenty of seats, but it's a first come, first served thing.  The Academy has been very supportive and has pledged to make it a fine screening.

TSOP: Are you facing any repercussions from the school for screening Heels outside of the Art Institute's event?

JJ: That's difficult to pin down.  I'm having trouble getting anyone to sign off on internship hours, so maybe in a week, when I should be graduating, I'll get my repercussions.  Immediately before my film got pulled, I also refused to sign a contract allowing AI to use my work for their purposes.  Coincidence?  I don't know.

TSOP: Will we see another Salon De Refuse Film Festival next year?

JJ: It's always possible.  If it's popular, maybe I can move into a more traditional festival model to at least cover expenses.  I certainly would like to bring more horror shorts to Portland, even if for mostly selfish reasons.  

I'm hoping that students in the future will realize that they can make the movie they want, the movie they're paying out of pocket for, and the AI screening is not the end of the world.  In fact, I've always looked at it as, hopefully, the least important screening I'll ever have.  It's like getting a participation trophy, although now, I don't even get that.

TSOP: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me, and the best of luck with your festival.

JJ: Thank you.  And I hope to see you there.

The First Annual Salon De Refuse Film Festival is on Thursday, December 12, at The Academy Theater.  The screenings begin at 10 pm and admission is free.  For more information, visit the Heels Facebook page..

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Interview with Jeremy Jantz, Part One

Last night, I posted about the upcoming Salon De Refuse Film Festival at The Academy Theater on Thursday, December 12, at 10 pm.  The festival organizer, Jeremy Jantz, started the festival after being informed his short horror film, Heels, would not be shown during The Art Institute of Portland senior project screening without some editing, as determined by the school.

Back in September of this year, a couple months before The Art Institute demanded cuts in his senior project, I sat down with Jantz to talk about Heels and his desire to make an adult horror film.

The Shadow Over Portland:  I’m talking with Jeremy Jantz, a film student at The Art Institute of Portland.  You’re working on your final project, a horror film called Heels.  Can you tell about it?

Jeremy Jantz:  It’s a short film, about twelve minutes long.  It’s a horror piece based on a short story by Stoker award winning author Lucy Taylor.  Basically, it would fall into the rape/revenge genre, but with a certain amount of twists to it.  And it definitely doesn’t shy away from the nudity or the gore or the subject matter.

TSOP: When we were talking about your film via email, you were saying it was going to be an NC-17 horror film.  What’s the reception from the school to that?

JJ: Well, the instructor, Kyle Aldrich, who initially approved the script and got me started working on it, ironically, he’s trying to sell it to a couple of the other instructors, but then there is a change in faculty.  He’s the head of the department now, so he’s already approved my script.  I’ve already started work on it, they don’t have a whole lot of choice.  At the end of the day, I’m the kind of guy that’s going to make the movie anyway.  It’s my four to five thousand dollars, it’s not theirs.  And, as far as I’m concerned, the worse they can do is not show it in their senior film screening.  If that’s the case, I would rent out The Hollywood Theatre and show it myself anyway.  And they know that.  So, they are in a kind of an awkward position, because if it turns out really good, and they don’t support it, then what do they do?  And the Art Institute, if they want to compete with some of the bigger schools, this isn’t the type of script that would cause a lot of eye blinking in NYU or California.  So, if you want to play with the big boys, you need to be prepared to accept the kind of adult films that they make at big boy schools.  Anybody can make the sort of Tosh 2.0 crap and throw it on YouTube and say this is my senior film.  I really wanted to say, look, we can make adult films.  I’m 37, I’m a bit older than some of the other students there, and this is what I wanted to do.  I’m making the film I wanted to see.  Hopefully, other people will want to see it too.

TSOP:  When you’re talking adult film, are you talking violence, are you talking sexuality, are you talking content or are you talking all three?

JJ:  It’s definitely all three.  The ironic thing is, there’s not any conventional sex scenes in the film, at least not man/woman, man/man or woman/woman.  But there is full frontal nudity on the part of the male lead and the female lead, the female supporting actress gets topless, so basically all three people involved in the movie get fairly naked.  There is gore, there is… I don’t want to give away too much of the end of it, but it definitely goes gory.  I had an effects guy I hired, there were prosthetics that were cast, so you can expect to see that. 

And then, just in tone, it makes a fairly adult statement as far as the way human beings are.  When the story was originally written, the author was trying to make a commentary on how men tend to treat women as victims, and she wanted to say, you know what, sometimes we’re not the victim. 
So, you’re going to see something different, and it’s going to be very violent at the end. 

TSOP:  Let’s talk a little bit about you for a second.  What drew you to the horror genre?

JJ: You know, I’ve been watching horror films and reading horror books since I was little.  I was the child of a single mother and largely babysat by an aunt that was in her late teens.  Not necessarily big on the censoring.  So, on HBO at the time, you could see things like the original Friday the 13th, The Shining, Halloween, Halloween Two…  I actually grew up, four, five, six years old, watching these movies on TV at that age.  So, I guess it just really took root, and it’s been something I’ve been wanting to do ever since.

You don’t see a lot of horror senior films and, ever since the first films I’ve been making, I’ve been pushing it, going for the horror and this is my chance to finally make something I can be proud of. 

TSOP:  Now, you’re talking about going NC-17, which may be understandable for the subject matter.  But if you could film the story as a PG-13 film, would you do that?

JJ:  I would not have in this case, because everything I wrote is true to the original story.  And one of the things I promised Lucy Taylor was that I would be true to her story.  In fact, I used the phrase, “I wasn’t going to Lawnmower Man her,”  because I want her to be just as proud of this too.  The nudity and the violence, it’s what she wrote, and it’s what she intended.  It was published in a collection of stories dedicated to the splatterpunk genre, because the story’s from the early to mid 90s, and splatterpuck was really big back then.  So she wrote it without pulling punches, and to honor her, I have to film it without pulling punches. 

TSOP:  How did you get the rights to film this story?
JJ:  I started out by rereading lots and lots of short stories, looking for something that would strike a chord, something that was filmable.  And from there, I picked Heels, which was my first choice.  She (Taylor) has a way to contact her on her website, so I wrote her a pitch email and said, “Here’s who I am, here’s what I’d like to do.”  She got back to me and said no problem, you have to talk with my agent.  So I wrote her agent an email and within a month, I had the contract signed and I have festival rights for the story.  Not only did I get the rights, but Lucy’s been incredibly supportive.  She blogs about the film, she talks about it on her Facebook page, she likes the updates I put on (the film’s) Facebook page.  So, she’s been a real hands-on participant in bringing this vision to the screen.

TSOP: Do you plan to release your film in festivals around the nation, or around the world?

JJ:  Well, at least as far as Canada.  Canada is on the schedule.  I’m hoping to produce something that I can enter into festivals on an international level and have it be well received.

TSOP:  Who were your inspirations for wanting to be a director?  It doesn’t have to be a genre figure. 

JJ: If I’m going to go classical, I do love (Dario) Argento.  I think he filmed some fantastic stuff and there are some nods to Argento’s style in my film, like excessive blood and garish colors.  And it has a bit of a giallo feel to it.

Lately, I really love Adam Green’s stuff.  I know some people don’t respect the Hatchet series, but I really like it.  I don’t care, I have fun with it.  It can’t all be Kubrick and The Shining, which is a really fantastic film, but there is nothing wrong with just having fun.

And something like that was also guiding me with where I was going (with Heels).  There is definitely an homage to the 80s.  The film is not set in the 80s, but you don’t see any cell phones, you don’t see the cars.  A lot of the art direction and wardrobe choices, I went with an 80s feel.  And I was trying to do that in the same way I think Adam Green was trying to do with Hatchet.  He was saying, look here, those were some fun years, why can’t we just do that?

Ti West is great too, but it’s a different thing.  And I would say, as far as a directing style, it would be more Adam Green.

TSOP:  Any final points you want to mention about Heels? 

JJ:  It’s very practical effects driven, so if you’re the kind of person that wonders why all the stuff is CGI, I’ve got some practical effects for you. 

It’s not going to be a film for everybody, I know that.  But the people that would like it, I think are really going to like it.  There are some crew members I lost along the way, once they read the script.  Their families are going to be there that night, and they were like, “Nope, I can’t do it.”  I had one acting agency that refused to pass my casting call along, I had to cold call Sophia St. James, I had to go to her.  I was in talks with Ron Jeremy’s people for a while.  I couldn’t afford to fly his entourage out here.  So that’s been the journey this film has been, and when you see it, you might have a lot more questions and we can get together and talk about it then.

TSOP: Can you tell my readers a little about Sophia St. James?

JJ: She is an award winning, queer porn star.  She’s on the plus side…  Oh you put me on the spot with the porn star question.  I really needed someone who was sized, willing to do full frontal nudity and was comfortable with that without making it all about the body.  And Sophia St. James really promotes that.  She does burlesque, she does stage shows, a lot of talks and such.  She’s very community minded.  And she’s a horror fan.  She was naming movies at random when she got this role, a couple of normal ones, the 976-EVIL.  Who comes up with that off the top of their head?  It’s a cool movie, but who pops up with that?

TSOP:  One final question.  Favorite horror film?

JJ:  I’m going to go with The Shining.  It’s cliché, but the thing is, it’s one film that so transcended the genre, it really is underrated.  I feel The Exorcist is overrated.  Maybe it’s because I wasn’t raised religiously, but I don’t find it very spooky.  But The Shining is just, wow.  It deserved an Oscar.

Check back at The Shadow Over Portland tomorrow, as Jeremy Jantz talks about The Art Institute of Portland's reaction to Heels, and more about The First Annual Salon De Refuse Film Festival.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Film student Jeremy Jantz starts The Salon De Refuse Film Festival after his school demands cuts in his short horror film

Portland area film student Jeremy Jantz was told last month that The Art Institute of Portland would not screen his short horror film, Heels, at the official senior film screening unless he was willing to edit it.  Rather than make any cuts, Jantz responded by started The First Annual Salon De Refuse Film Festival.  The festival lineup includes The Bighead, from director Michael Ling (based on the Edward Lee novel), Brendan Jones' The Test, a tester reel of Survivor Type (based on a story by Stephen King) and Jantz's controversial short.

The Salon De Refuse Film Festival starts at 10 pm on Thursday, December 12, at The Academy Theater in Portland, OR.  Admission is free.

Stay turned to The Shadow Over Portland for more information on the festival as it becomes available, and for a two part interview with Jeremy Jantz concerning Heels and the Salon De Refuse Film Festival!

For more information on the festival, and updates on the films being shown, visit the Heels Facebook page.