Saturday 31 December 2022

2022 Favourite Movies


My 20 Favourite UK
First Run Movies Of 2022

Okay, so I basically said on Twitter that I wasn’t going to bother posting a ‘best of year’ list for 2022 because, as seems to be the case the last ten years or so, my main ‘first run’ diet has consisted almost entirely of movies made in America. Not that there’s anything wrong with American movies (even the stupid blockbusters) but... it gets a bit boring if you keep having chocolate ice cream and neglect the cherry, vanilla and cookie dough flavours. That being said, disappointment was expressed by certain followers and people who know me so, I had a quick look at what my films of the year list would actually be and discovered that, although the top two or three are US made, the list is actually a little more diverse than that (although many of the films are still English language). So, what the heck, judge me as you will but here’s my list of my favourites from the year and, where I’ve managed to get the reviews up so far, a link to my initial ramblings. Please note, some of these films are dated as 2021 but they didn’t get any kind of proper ‘out of festival’ release over here in the UK until 2022. Please also note that I missed quite a few movies this year so, another reason why a list like this isn’t all that relevant at the moment, perhaps. Oh... and I’d definitely put Diabolik on this list (reviewed here)... but I’m still waiting for a UK release.

20. Thor - Love And Thunder
Australia/USA Directed by Taika Waititi

The only Marvel film in the list and pretty much one of only two traditional super hero movies that made the cut (although Black Adam came close). My review here.

19. The Batman
USA Directed by Matt Reeves

And here’s the other super hero movie... although technically Batman isn’t actually a super hero, just incredibly well trained. Also... and this is his talent emphasised in this particular iteration of the character... he was often referred to as/marketed as the world’s greatest detective, in the comics. This film is not big on action but it does carry some weight in both the atmosphere and mystery departments. My review here.

18. The Unbearable
Weight Of Massive Talent

USA Directed by Tom Gormican

Nicolas Cage playing a public facing parody of himself makes for great fun. I don’t usually watch that many comedies but anyone who has the gall to include the old ‘climbing a wall’ gag and its clichéd pay off certainly has my vote. My review here.

17. Orchestrator Of Storms -
The Fantastique World Of Jean Rollin

USA Directed by Dima Ballin & Kat Ellinger

Nicely researched documentary which is a good starting point for people who have not imbibed on this director’s unique movies. My review here.

16. Prey
USA Directed by Dan Trachtenberg

Never thought I’d put a movie from the Predator franchise in an end of year list but this stealth prequel, the seventh in the series, which throws native American indians in against the fierce alien hunter is maybe the best of these films. My review here.

15. Violent Night
USA/Canada Directed by Tommy Wirkola

One of what I hope will be a franchise... this one has David Harbour playing Santa, punishing the bad guys in this 1980s style, action flick homage with extra gory bits. Hope all concerned pick this one up for another couple of movies. My review here.

14. Troll
Norway Directed by Roar Uthaug

This one basically comes off like, as one character puts it in the movie, a ‘Norwegian Godzilla’. Lots of trollduggery abounds in this stylish monster movie. What’s the Norwegian for Kaiju? My review here.

13. Emily The Criminal
USA Directed by John Patton Ford

I dunno, if Jules Dassin were alive and well and living in the USA today, I can’t help but feel he might be churning out movies like this. My review here.

12. Occhiali Neri aka Dark Glasses
Italy Directed by Dario Argento

You know what? It’s just nice to see Dario Argento returning to form and producing a pretty decent giallo again... although, let’s not mention the snakes scene, okay. My review here.

11. X
USA/Canada Directed by Ti West

I don’t really like US slasher movies but, this one is so nicely filmed and edited, not to mention doing some nice stuff with genre clichés. Really enjoyed this one way more than I thought I would and I’m looking forward to catching up with the back-to-back prequel and sequel very soon. My review here.

10.  Pleasure
Sweden/Netherlands/France Directed by Ninja Thyberg

An enlightening dramatisation of somebody attempting to break into the American porn industry, I’m surprised this didn’t get more exposure in the UK. I’ve not gotten around to scheduling my review of this one yet but I’ll try and get it up within the next couple of weeks. Which has now happened and you can read my review here.

9. Christmas Bloody Christmas
USA Directed by Joe Begos

Ha. This is a real throwback to 1980s Christmas horror genre. Again, another US slasher which is a genre I profess to dislike but this one... about a rogue Robo Santa that won’t stop coming... has great performances, a great ear for dialogue (courtesy of The Mighty Begos) and is just loads of fun. A new Christmas standard. My review here.

8. Everything Everywhere All At Once
USA directed by Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

The multiversal action comedy pitches the great Michelle Yeoh as an inadvertent defender of the multiverse and, Short Round from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom as her husband. This film shouldn’t work at all but it’s just so charming and never gets dull. My review here.

7. Benedetta
France/Belgium/Netherlands Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Paul Verhoeven somehow manages to get away with directing a good old sexy nunsploitation picture which is every bit as exploitative and trashy as the heyday of the genre in the early 1970s... just hiding under the guise of ‘arthouse’ (yeah... it really isn’t). Nunsploitation or is it... funsploitation. My review here.

6. Crimes Of The Future
Canada/Greece/UK Directed by David Cronenberg

Cronenberg returns with a movie which feels like a summing up of his early body horror films but, with more of a sense of humour and an incredible ending. Really good stuff. My review here.

5. Mad Heidi
Switzerland Directed by Johannes Hartmann & Sandro Klopfstein

Billed as the first ever Swissploitation movie... I’m not sure if that’s true or not... Mad Heidi is a pure dose of fun and ‘zombie cheese nazis’ silliness, which needs some kind of physical Blu Ray release please. My capsule review is here.

4. Three Thousand Years Of Longing
Australia/USA Directed by George Miller

Finally a romantic movie that's perhaps a tad reminiscent of some of the kinds of films that Powell & Pressburger used to make. I don’t know why everyone else hated it enough that it actually ended up on a major news outlet’s ‘Worst Movies of 2022’ list but, they obviously have no heart or soul. Or perhaps they’re not used to the kind of quirkiness that this kind of genre cross bred with a large slice of fantasy has to offer. My review here.

3. Memoria
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Wait... what? My review here.

2. Clerks III
USA Directed by Kevin Smith

The 8th of Smith’s live action Jay And Silent Bob movies is also, bizarrely, the most moving film of the year. To say I left the cinema with a tear in my eye would be a bit of an understatement. Weeping buckets on a bus load of embarrassed passengers more like. My review here.

1. Confess, Fletch
USA Directed by Greg Mottola

Finally! Despite the rights to the character of Flynn evading the producers, we finally get a Fletch movie done pretty much straight to the book on which it was based (it even survives the technology update to a contemporary setting pretty well). A worthy successor to the Chevy Chase original which fans of the novels have been waiting for now for decades (let’s not mention Fletch Lives and forget that ever happened). My review here.

Friday 30 December 2022

The Case Of The Lucky Legs


The Case Of
The Lucky Legs

USA 1935
Directed by Archie Mayo
Warner Archive DVD Region 1

The Case Of The Lucky Legs is the third of only six Perry Mason movies ever made (that I can find out about, surely some other countries made some?), all within a very short period during the 1930s. This one, however, has none of the experimental and sometimes sophisticated visual language of the former film, which incorporated some interesting camera movements and dissolve fades to drive the visual syntax. So in terms of film-making, this one comes across as pretty pedestrian compared to the previous entry. However, what the studio did do was push the humour they’d brought into the second film and take this fully into, pretty much, ‘screwball comedy’ mode... which is, of course, a very 1930s genre. Director Archie Mayo would, just over a decade on from this movie, direct The Marx Brothers in the final film in which all three appear on screen at the same time, A Night In Casablanca... so it could be said he was a director who had a flair, or at least an aptitude for these kinds of comedy shenanigans. However, even though I don’t know the character that well, it seems to me that trying to ‘comedy up’ a character like Perry Mason is a bad idea.

Once again, Warren William plays Perry Mason and William Jenkins returns as Spudsy Drake. There are a few other returners in terms of actors but, like the last movie, they returned to different but sometimes similar parts. One person who was new again to the series was the actress playing secretary/future spouse Della Street, the third in as many films, performed here by Genevieve Tobin. This time they’ve given her a succession of equally comic, witty lines to match Perry quip for quip so, yeah, most of the time this film rockets along merrily, so fast you feel you should maybe stand back in case the movie takes off from the screen and damages someone.

This time, the film is about the winners of various Lucky Legs contests across America. It’s a scam and the guy who brings the idea to each state takes all the money from each sponsor and, also, he leaves town before each winning lady can collect on the $1000 they won. Patricia Ellis plays one such girl, who is holed up with another former winner and they both get involved with the murder of the swindler, complicated by the presence of two meddling boyfriends and a sponsor who is also in love with one of them. Luckily for them... and their fortunate legs... Perry Mason is on the case. Not only is he almost implicated in the crimes himself but, to make the comedy shenanigans even more uproarious, his doctor has denied him to eat anything but healthily, due to a bizarrely false diagnosis being brought on by Perry sucking on a ice cube to help cure his hangover. So in addition to the sprinkling of hindering husbands and plodding policemen, we have the various comedy routines where he’s drinking milk and pilfering food from clients fridges. Not the Perry Mason I remember from those few brief glimpses of Raymond Burr in the part on the famous TV show.

Once again, the writers eschew having any kind of court scene for the film... something which I’m told was always the big feature the books would lead up to. Instead, Perry has a moving feast of suspects and law enforcers circulating from his office, to his doctor’s and then back to his office as he sums up his case and proves who the real murderer is. It’s all a bit loopy and, while I love this kind of stuff, I don’t think you’d be able to get away with something like this today and, of course, all the drama of the situation is deliberately stifled by the exclusion of the courtroom... so I can see why the writer of the novels, Erle Stanley Gardner, would be none to happy about the way his legendary lawyer was progressing in his screen adventures.

All in all, being as I have no familiarity with the character, I found myself fairly entertained and intrigued by the direction the writers were taking with The Case Of The Lucky Legs... which was mostly to make the lead character appear and act as ridiculously as possible, aided by his equally ridiculous friends but somehow still managing to save the client’s, not to mention his own, neck. Fans of 1930s screwball should have a fairly breezy time with this one, I reckon. Fans of Perry Mason... maybe not so much. Warren William would play the character only one more time after this so, yeah, I’ll watch that one and report back here to sum up my conclusions fairly soon.

Thursday 29 December 2022


For Whom
The Bell Trolls

Directed by Roar Uthaug
Norway 2022
Motion Blur Films

Just a very quick shout out to the new movie Troll, directed by Roar Uthaug, who did the last Tomb Raider movie (reviewed here). Troll is, as the title suggests, a movie about the discovery of the existence of.... and in this case, the ensuing rampage of... a Troll in Norway. After a bit of emotional set up from the film’s lead protagonist and her father (played by Gard B. Eidsvold), talking about trolls and the place of fairy tale creatures in the modern world, we jump 20 years to find that the kid, Nora (now played by Ine Marie Wilmann) has grown up to be a paleontologist. However, just as she’s finally discovered a dinosaur on a dig, a government helicopter is sent ot pick her up to advise the prime minister (played by Anneke von der Lippe) about what it is they could be facing after ‘something’, has broken out of a mountain and left giant footprints around, after said mountain has been dynamited by people trying to build a road through it. Of course, the something is, indeed, a troll like the ones her estranged father tried to get her to believe in when she was a kid and it’s up to her, her father, the prime minister’s aide (played by Kim Falck) and a young military officer (played by Mads Sjøgård Pettersen) to track the troll down (not a problem) and stop it from being a threat (a bit of a taller order, it has to be said).

And it’s great. Damn near perfect, in fact. Especially since the casting is spot on and you have the movie populated by credible actors who are able to pull the audience in and make the fantastic subject matter more palatable... so good job there. Unlike, say, the excellent Troll Hunter (reviewed here)... which was a ‘found footage’ movie anyway, if memory serves... Troll is a very slick affair filled with fluid camera shots and both fast and slow editing, where necessary, to create the required sense of urgency in any given scene. And it’s got the special effects to back it up, too.

So yeah, it’s basically a giant monster on the loose movie, Norwegian style and, indeed, midst all the many Star Trek, Star Wars and various other pop culture references throughout the movie (not to mention another appearance of the Wilhelm scream), somebody does indeed mention it’s a ‘Norwegian Godzilla’ at one point. So, yeah, if anything, this film is certainly a lot of fun and is one of the better made monster movies of the last ten years or so. Which begs the question, why the hell do I have to be watching this thing streaming on a small screen when the quality and spectacle of this one is of such a standard that I should have been given the option of watching it in a proper cinema screen with a decent sound system? This is where the streaming channels who bankroll these things show themselves to be as much against the art of cinema and the film they are funding as they are in getting the thing made. I would have loved to have seen this on an IMAX screen, for sure.

All this is backed up by an incredible score by Johannes Ringen which, unbelievably, is not available as a stand alone CD (just some stupid electronic download... absolute rubbish option). The whole thing is fast paced, never in danger of being dull and has some extremely likeable characters who are relatable enough to care about when things start getting dangerous for them. And, also, there’s a mid-post-credits scene which helps to throw up the possibility of a second movie if this one makes enough money. So, yeah, once again I find myself apologising that this is, indeed, a very short review of the film but, with a product like Troll, it’s hard to find much of anything bad to say about it. Like I said before, pretty much a perfect movie and one which I will recommend to a lot of people. Don’t miss out on this one.

Wednesday 28 December 2022

Hudson Hawk


Stealin’ Groovy

Hudson Hawk
USA 1991
Directed by Michael Lehmann
Signal One Entertainment
Blu Ray Zone B

For some reason I’ve never really been able to get the hang of this movie. I remember going to see it on its initial cinema run back in 1991 because I quite liked Bruce Willis and the plot looked amazing. I remember coming out of the cinema thinking... well, it’s watchable, just about but, it didn’t really do much for me. However, my dad absolutely loved this movie from the first time he saw it and so, since he’d not seen it in a long while, I grabbed him a Blu Ray of this for a birthday and sat and watched it with him. I have to say... I still think it’s a bit of a mess.

The film starts off with Leonardo DaVinci who, unlike the real life version, has just invented a machine that turns base metal into gold. Why he uses a metal looking crystal which can be split into three parts rather than a single, sturdy component is anybody’s guess but, for some reason known only to himself, the machine goes unused after its initial test run and the three parts are hidden in three of Leonardo’s objects (a statue, a model and his codex). Cut to 1991 and Bruce Willis enters the story as Hudson Hawk, a cat burglar extraordinaire who is released from prison after ten years. He is met by his friend Tommy Two Tone, played by Danny Aiello but, alas, everybody and everyone wants him to steal the three artefacts that hold the three, interlocking components of the crystal. This includes an interested division of the church... with their nun secret agent Anna, played by Andie MacDowell... and a fair few villains who are all working together such as the CIA guy played by James Coburn and the over the top husband and wife team played by Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard.

Shenanigans follow as The Hawk, Tommy and Anna try to stay alive and on top of the frustratingly fluid plot line as pretty much every scene is played for laughs and kinetic energy. And it’s got great actors, as you can see... keeps moving at a fair lick and has some outstanding gags and set pieces. It must also have been a complete nightmare to edit, too and I understand some of the shoot was a bit chaotic here as well.

There are also some great movie references in here too. Coburn’s character, for instance, is foreshadowed by some computer encoded handcuffs placed on Willis which sound the same Jerry Goldsmith melody used for the presidential hotline phones in the Flint movies. Another nod to Coburn’s Flint films comes in a scene where Andie McDowell is drugged and believes she is speaking Dolphin, although the sounds she makes are not quite like those uttered by Coburn when he’s conversing with the dolphins in In Like Flint. Even Coburn’s character name in Hudson Hawk is a famous movie reference... George Caplan, aka the name of the fictional agent Cary Grant gets mistaken for in North By Northwest. Interestingly, the director of Hudson Hawk is Michael Lehmann and the writer of the Hitchcock movie was Ernest  Michael Lehman although, spelling aside, I can’t find anything on the internet to confirm or deny that there’s a family connection there.

And it is a fun film, there’s no denying that. The two cat burglars using perfect timing to old songs they sing to synchronise their movements is a really nice element, for sure. But then again the notorious 1967 version of Casino Royale was also a fun film but, it can still be quite gruelling to sit through in one session. Ultimately, I think there were so many script rewrites and ideas thrown out on the set (which I understand, from what I’ve heard from other directors, is kinda typical of what it’s like to work with Bruce Willis) that the film is kind of like an overcooked pudding with two many ingredients all fighting with each other. I think maybe the film is just not tight enough and, the chaotic nature of it aside, maybe could have done with a few less laughs and a little more focus. My understanding is that, from the point of view of many of the actors, it’s not that well liked a film... with many of the people who worked on it (including Willis himself) not having too much of a kind word to say about it. Which is a shame because I can’t help but think there’s a much better film still trapped in the stone waiting to be chiselled out, so to speak, than was realised at the time. The film is completely silly... something I would normally support in most any film... but it’s kind of overwhelming in the intensity to just cram everything and the kitchen sink in when it comes to the amount of jokes piled into the scenes.

The late, great Michael Kamen’s score is okay but, the action, sound mix and gag rate do kind of get in the way of trying to appreciate it a lot of the time and, perhaps a stand alone listen would be more useful when it comes to appreciating just how good or bad the scoring is. It seems appropriate to the tone but this doesn’t really allow for any melodic recognition throughout the picture to tie things together on an emotional level, it seems to me.

At the end of the day, I’d have to say that, while Hudson Hawk is certainly an interesting diversion for people who want to see just how a movie can, maybe, go off the rails a little (enough to bankrupt the company bankrolling it, is my understanding... it was a huge flop) and it hasn’t aged all that badly, truth be told. It’s still a bit of a mess though and probably one of my least favourite Bruce Willis films, for sure.

Tuesday 27 December 2022

Christmas Bloody Christmas

Ho Ho Horror

Bloody Christmas

Directed by Joe Begos
2022 Shudder

Wow, wow, wow!

Regular readers may remember that I discovered a couple of movies by a low budget horror director earlier this year and was pretty much blown away by them (with reservations... always with reservations)... the pretty great ‘Scanners sequel that isn’t a Scanners sequel’ movie The Mind’s Eye (reviewed by me here) and also, the incredibly cool vampire movie Bliss (reviewed by me here). And now this director, Joe Begos (who I should maybe start referring to as The Mighty Begos), has made a Christmas horror movie... well... yeah, it is just about technically a horror movie in the weird science mode, I think... Christmas Bloody Christmas and, wow again, it’s a dandy.

Incidentally, Dandy is also the name of the incredible lead actress of the piece, one Riley Dandy, who plays lead female protagonist Tori Tooms. Joining her as the lead male protagonist is the equally cool Sam Deitch as Robbie Reynolds. These two are absolutely perfect as Begos knocks it out the park again with an ear for good dialogue in his script, enabling the two lead actors (and others, naturally, including a small role for Dora Madison, the incredible star of Bliss) to give a truly enthusiastic and natural performance. It’s Christmas Eve and Tori, who runs a small town record shop and has a very good working relationship with her employee Robbie, is about to shut up shop for the holidays. And the dialogue between these two is just electric, totally selling the relationship of two people just about ready to fall into bed with each other. The two performers have this amazing chemistry that ensures you absolutely are sucked into their fast paced world and totally care about them. That’s good because, in the infinite wisdom of a faceless corporation, some military defence technology has been used to create a new range of realistic looking and acting Santa Claus robots, which they have deployed into shops and malls to entertain the kiddies. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, something has gone wrong because a random news item in the background of a scene says that they are being recalled by the manufacturer. This doesn’t stop the one in the local toy shop from reverting to its military training, grabbing a handy axe and chopping up all and sundry (including, refreshingly, a little kiddie even). And because Tori was a direct witness to one of the murders on its killing spree... it’s coming for her next!

So, yeah, terminator Santa Claus goes bad and goes on a slaughter rampage. It’s a nicely cheesy set up that could go a number of ways but... Joe Begos, remember! This is a director I’ve learned to trust and he just nails the humour and the ramped up violence perfectly. He introduces the concept of the ex-military, mechanised Santa as the last of a series of adverts (which kind of places the time setting in a satirical, alternate version of our present, more or less) in a way which reminded me of those adverts used for similar purposes in the original Robocop (I think writers like Frank Miller were doing this kind of thing first in American comic books... and, even before him in some of the wonderful British comics like 2000AD in the 1970s). And from there it becomes a very character driven story as we cross cut between Tori and Robbie’s drunken, sex fuelled Christmas Eve to the Robo Santa turning bad and getting into some serious axe wielding with Dora Madison’s character, who is having sex in her toy store with her husband after hours.

And, it looks amazing. If you think of the kind of bright, saturated lighting styles of Mario Bava and certain Dario Argento movies and then multiply it up several notches so it looks like everyone is kinda neon lit, you’ll get some idea. Also, well done to the director for having some serious falling snow in this movie. Usually you get wisps of it flying around in the movies but it really is coming down heavy in some of the earlier sequences in this one and I really appreciated that.

So, yeah, it’s filled with genre clichés for sure... such as snow covering the visibility on the windscreen of Robbie’s ‘not quick to start’ vehicle, in order to obscure vision and tease the audience etc and there’s even an example of that zoom in while pulling back (or vice versa) shot that Hitchcock used in Vertigo, purloined most famously by Steven Spielberg in Jaws. But, again, The Mighty Begos (it’s rare I get to trust a director this quickly and totally) plays the clichés and makes them all fun once more. Some of the practical gore effects... which included head stomps. head splits, eye gouging and more... maybe don’t always seem 100% realistic but it’s a heck of a lot better than using CGI and I really appreciated the look of this one in regards to the technical effects. Also, it’s a horror movie (kinda) so nobody, not even the leads, are safe from the possibility of some kind of harm or even death. You really won’t know until the last few shots if there are going to be any survivors on this one... it could go either way.

Now, there are a couple of little nitpicky things I have to mention... because I almost always do find something not to my taste in a movie, right? Number one, if you’re going to have the lead protagonists indulging in some fairly hot cunnilingus... well it’s usually customary for people to be naked in such situations? Secondly... how many people are living in this town? I mean, if you are going to be continually blowing stuff up and leaving a trail of impressively maimed corpses behind you... then someone’s going to stray out of their house in order to see what all the fuss is about, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t have a record shop and a toy store that could stay ‘in the red’ in town. So, yeah, a complete lack of interest by the town’s inhabitants to the screams and the vehicles/buildings blowing up amongst them would be my number one problem with the movie, for sure.

But, you know what? I don’t care. It’s just a fantastically fun movie and I wish this one had gotten a cinema release because that’s where I would have liked to have seen it. I was somewhat surprised, however, that there was a little, derogatory dig at Blumhouse in the movie... I don’t know how they got away with that. I hope it’s in the spirit of friendly rivalry between Shudder and Blumhouse and not something more malevolent going on, for sure. That aside, though, if you want a seriously cool and engrossing, switch your brain off and gawk at the pretty, fast moving, fluid camera movement with protagonists and antagonist bashing the hell out of each other... tinged with a big slice of Christmas cheer... then Christmas Bloody Christmas is pretty much the new go to movie for the season. It’s an instant classic and I can only hope that we can get a Blu Ray release of the film in time for next Christmas and, also, a nice CD release of Steve Moore’s wonderful electronica score would also be very welcome in this household. Definitely check this one out if you like exceptionally well crafted, Christmas blood and gore. Outstanding.

Monday 26 December 2022

Alvin And His Pals In Merry Christmas Dell Giant

We Wish You A
Merry Chipmunk

Alvin And His Pals In
Merry Christmas with
Clyde Crashcup and
Dell Giant
Issue Code 02-120-402
Dell Four Colour Comics

Okay, I used to love the one issue I had of Dell Comics’ Alvin when I was a kid. Mainly because, since I was born in 1968, I’ve been listening to the original Christmas With The Chipmunks album throughout every December, initially on the original vinyl album from '68 onwards but, from around somewhere in the early 2000s, on a CD version with the same cover reproduced on the front. So, yeah, to date I’ve listened to this album multiple times over 54 years... I guess I must have listened to it well over 200 times (probably more like 300) which isn’t too bad, given that it only comes out to play in December.

This Alvin And His Pals In Merry Christmas Dell Giant from 1963 (which seems to have been reissued, from what I can tell, annually for a few years after its initial release, at the princely sum of 25 cents) is fresh to me and, it’s somewhat disappointing... but also, somehow kinda horrific, inappropriate and also expressive of the duality of man, I thought.

So the big downside is the Clyde Crashcup story, which features as multi-episode, meandering story arc which is printed between various, stand alone Chipmunk stories... along with the usual activity pages and single page text stories. This involves an ‘inventor’ who can just draw things with his magic pen into the air and they just exist as his new inventions. Ignoring the questionable science involved in this, of course, it has to be said that everything he manages to invent in this story is something that has already been invented (such as when he decides to invent Santa Claus before his assistant Leonardo points out there’s already such a being in existence). It’s a convoluted road journey which ends up, after a few dull adventures, with the two titular protagonists hitching a ride back to their place on Santa’s sleigh. Which is also questionable within the confines of this issue if you assume the characters share the same universe as Alvin and the Chipmunks, in terms of Santa but... I’ll get to that in just a minute.

Okay, so the stand alone Chipmunk tales are okay. Starting off on a nice one where the chipmunks mistake various Christmas traditions for more sinister things, when they flashback to their first ever Christmas with David Seville. Various shenanigans in the tales are standard stuff but entertaining enough, especially if you are a kid (which, mentally, I still pretty much am... yay for me).

But there’s a dark heart beating at the centre of these tales in that, in the first story the tradition of the man of the house, dressing up as the make believe Santa (in this case Dave) is firmly established. Which in itself must have been a blow for any youngsters reading this particular story in 1963. However, above and beyond this trauma, there’s something else which makes no sense. In a story where the Chipmunks are dreaming about helping Father Christmas deliver toys on his sleigh, the twist to the story is that they didn’t dream it and they were actually helping out the real Santa Claus. Wait, what? How can this be when the previous story had lifted the lid and  continued the tradition of parents dressing up as the non-existent Santa? In fact, in another story, Dave is telling the boys about how delivering presents is Santa's job... huh? Is he gaslighting them now? No explanation of this dual manifestation is forthcoming in the strip and I’m sure this would have laid the seeds of schizophrenia in various children exposed to this questionable, continuity busting, retrofitting of values already established in the first story.

The activity pages and text stories are all fine and quite wholesome in some ways... although I suspect the page dedicated to showing kids how to Make Your Own Golliwog may not get much of an appreciative audience these days. One lovely page has the music and lyrics printed to The Chipmunk Song, which is one of the tracks on that initial album that got me into the furry trio in the first place... so that was nice.

And then there’s the last, somewhat worrying Chipmunk story in the issue. Dave, Alvin, Simon and Theodore are prepping for Christmas and they buy way too much food. But then they see their neighbours... a father, mother and two kids... out on the street singing Christmas carols for the neighbourhood, as they do every year apparently. However, they are a very poor family with ripped clothes and very little money to eat. So Alvin and the gang invite the neighbours in to share their huge Christmas dinner with them... which is a really nice sentiment and teaches kids about the gift of kindness, for sure. Except... hang on... there’s something fishy going on here. If these jolly carollers are so poor then why are they living in the same neighbourhood as the obviously well off David Seville and his chipmunks? If Dave is living in an upmarket suburb of the USA then surely these poor people would not be able to afford to live in a house in the same district. Similarly, if they are living in more ‘wealth appropriate’ accommodation, then why would Seville be living in a run down neighbourhood when he can obviously afford to look after three growing Chipmunks and overspend on huge amounts of Christmas food? This obviously doesn’t make sense but, again, at no moment in these pages is any attempt made to explain this conundrum.

And, yeah, okay... that’s me done on this rather short but, hopefully, revealing review of the 1963 Alvin And His Pals In Merry Christmas Dell Giant. An entertaining issue but, as you can see, with a darker seam lurking beneath the Christmas values the comic book appears to be peddling. Fun, entertaining and traumatic reading for the kiddies, for sure.

Sunday 25 December 2022

Merry Christmas 2022



Merry Christmas 2022

Season’s Greetings

Hello. Just a quick post to say thanks to all my readers for reading the blog this year. It’s very much appreciated and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas. If you’re stuck in on your own this Christmas, you could probably do worse than amuse yourself with this year’s edition of my Cryptic Film Quiz, which you can access right here... and keep an eye on the comments section of that one because I’ll be adding a few extra clues there every now and again throughout the Christmas holidays. I’m also hoping to post one review a day this week, starting off with the last of this year’s Christmas reviews tomorrow and the day after.

And talking of Christmas reviews... below is an updated list of all the Christmas themed reviews since NUTS4R2 began, so if you are looking for some Christmas pans and picks for the season, just click on the titles to access the reviews. Again, thanks for reading have a good week, whatever you are doing.

Books & Comics  

A Charlie Brown Christmas - The Making Of A Tradition

Alvin And His Pals In Merry Christmas Dell Giant

Christmas At Fontaine’s

Crimson Snow

Dark Side Of Christmas, The 

A DC Universe Christmas

Ghosts Of Christmas Past

Giant SuperHero Holiday Grab Bag

Horror For Christmas

It’s A Wonderful Life Book, The

Mystery In White

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer - DC Limited Collector’s Edition

The Santa Klaus Murder

The Stupidest Angel

Christmas Movies

The Advent Calendar

Anna And The Apocalypse

Batman Returns

Christmas Bloody Christmas

A Christmas Horror Story


Demonic Christmas Tree (aka The Killer Tree) 

Die Hard/Die Hard 2 Double Bill

Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas


The Green Knight

Gremlins Double Bill

It’s A Wonderful Life


Rare Exports - A Christmas Tale

Santa Jaws


Silent Night (2021)


Tales From The Crypt

Violent Night 

Doctor Who Christmas Specials

Doctor Who - A Christmas Carol

Doctor Who - The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

Doctor Who - The Snowmen

Doctor Who - The Time Of The Doctor

Doctor Who - Last Christmas

Doctor Who - The Husbands Of River Song

Doctor Who - The Return Of Doctor Mysterio

Doctor Who - Twice Upon A Time (2017)


23 Favourite Childhood Toys

Greatest Christmas Music

John McCLane VS George Bailey Grudge Match

Wednesday 21 December 2022

Demonic Christmas Tree

Blood N’ Pine

Demonic Christmas Tree
aka The Killing Tree
Directed by Rhys Frake-Waterfield
UK 2022
Dark Abyss Productions

Warning: A treeful of spoilers.

Okay, wow. This is going to be a real short review and, for that I apologise but, it takes a lot of time and effort by all concerned to make a movie so... I don’t want to write too lengthy an article to tell you how terrible it is in various ways.

I watched Demonic Christmas Tree because it has an absolutely brilliant central concept. The wife of a Christmas themed serial killer uses her executed husband’s ashes in a black magic ritual to revive him so he can get revenge on the ‘final girl’ of his initial killing spree and carry on doing more killing... in the name of people who think it’s all about gifts and not knowing the true meaning of Christmas. So kill them all is the mindset. But the ritual goes wrong and, instead, her husband is brought back to life as a homicidal Christmas tree... a living Christmas tree with coloured lights, the killers voice, badly CGI’d twig appendages and, of course, it’s completely mobile and is even seen driving a car at one point.

Now, yeah, you’d think with an amazing, high level concept like that, there’s no way anybody could screw it up. You’d be wrong. The film is actually quite bad and, somehow, dull... considering it has a lot of good things going for it, which you would think would stop that from happening. The cinematography is absolutely fine and the various actors are also... well yeah, okay, nobody here is going to be winning any academy awards but it’s not that kind of movie and they’re basically all just fine too. So what’s wrong with this?

Well, the CGi is not great but, if you’ve ever let badly executed special effects stop you from enjoying a cracking movie then you probably shouldn’t bother watching stuff anyway. I think the trouble here... and I might be wrong as this is only a guess... is that the cast and crew here were maybe, deliberately trying to make a bad movie and, that’s a very fine line to walk. I’ve seen this kinda thing done well in the past, such as in movies like Santa Jaws (reviewed here) but even with a healthy dose of self awareness manifested on screen, as this one kinda has (I hope that’s what it was going for, or this movie is even worse than I thought), this can backfire quite badly if the film is just uninteresting which, I’m sad to say, is the case here. I think the real problem here is the script and dialogue, to be honest. It’s really dire and I could see how some of the actors and the lead actresses here might be singled out by audiences as somehow being bad at their job but, honestly, with dialogue this bad then the best acting in the world is not necessarily going to save it.

The cinematography is interesting because, as I said, it’s technically competent but it is all over the place. Once minute you’ll be following the camera through weird, moving or rotating dutch angles and the next you’ll be into intercut, static shots without any movement whatsoever. But the different styles of shooting various scenes doesn’t really jell very well, as it does on many other films. Here it just feels like different scenes have been shot by two or three different people, half the time. Which apparently is not the case. Also, there are a fair few moments in the movie where there are repeat lines of dialogue of the same thing shot from different angles which makes it feel like the producer was just trying to pad the film out. And it’s these scenes that lead me to believe that this film is deliberately trying to capture the ‘so bad it’s good’ vibe which has been successful for a fair few directors... except in this case it’s ‘so bad, it’s bad’. Because why else would you leave alternative versions of a scene in the picture?

Also, the kills in this are terrible. A lot of them are taking place either in long shot or even just out of the camera view and, instead, we see a lot of that awful looking ersatz CGI blood and, yeah, it certainly looks fake too. And, because it looks so artificial, like some modern, big budget Hollywood movies (to be fair), then it doesn’t have any kind of weight to it when somebody gets killed either.

And that’s me finished with Demonic Christmas Tree. Great concept but terrible execution, it has to be said. I certainly won’t be recommending this one to anybody I know and I certainly never want to revisit this one in future. Steer well clear of this one, would be my best advice.

Tuesday 20 December 2022

The It's A Wonderful Life Book

George Lassos Book

The It's A
Wonderful Life Book

by Jeanine Basinger
Knopf Books
ISBN: 0394747194

It’s been over twenty years since I first borrowed this book from a library and read it... but I was never able to afford a copy and, well I think it’s come back into print now but, this October, I managed to stumble on the exact same, first edition I read all those years ago for the less than princely sum of £2.12... an opportunity I immediately took advantage of. It’s A Wonderful Life (reviewed here), of course, is not just a much loved Christmas movie but, also, one of the all time greats. So I was pretty surprised when I revisited this tome to find that some of the stories about its production and reception were things I’d managed to forget over the years.

If you’ve not read this one and, like me, you have a passion for the film, then I would definitely recommend it. It covers the film from its infancy to its initially disappointing reception and then goes into the life it gained for itself afterwards (the nearest modern equivalent I can think of, of this phenomenon, would be Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner... reviewed here). It’s a very interesting look at the classic movie and it’s done with the aid of key witnesses and participants of the production... as well as by referencing some interesting visual artefacts surrounding the movie.

It starts with both the director, Frank Capra and star James Stewart both returning from active duty in the Second World War... both wanting to get back into their previously successful careers and both very nervous about it. Capra set up an independent film company, Liberty Films, with a few people like director William Wyler but only this and Wyler’s The Best Years Of Our Lives were, I believe, released by them. My understanding, or at least it’s strongly hinted at, is that the perceived box office failure of It’s A Wonderful Life (bearing in mind it was still one of the top ten grossing box office films of the year of its release), lead to the premature downfall and liquidation of Liberty Films.

The tale begins properly when a property bought by RKO for their star Cary Grant proved to be something that they just couldn’t figure out how to make work. They had already made three script attempts by three writers, all of them quite different and based on The Greatest Gift, a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern. This was a story which Stern couldn’t get published so, in frustration, he had it printed up as 200 Christmas cards to give to his friends. Someone at RKO saw it, liked it enough to develop a film about it and bought the rights. But, yeah, they couldn’t make a go of it so it was sold to Capra, who also took custody of the three prior scripts (none of which he ended up using other than a few similar scenes, for his rewrites).

The book then goes through the production process with various artefacts presented such as alternate casting ideas jotted down by Capra and also ideas about the various characters. For instance, for the wonderful Violet, played brilliantly by Gloria Grahame in her first big break, he wrote “She doesn’t count sheep to go to sleep, she counts men.” And there are a lot of stories told, many of them by first hand witnesses as the author of this book researched her tome, where she sorts out the truth from the publicity to the best of her knowledge. There were stories which I did remember from the last time I read it... such as the snow developed especially for the film (shot on an exterior set through a very long hot summer) and the fact that the special effects team who developed this new, more realistic snow for the film received a Motion Picture Academy Class III Certificate of Honourable Mention for this invention. Also, when Donna Reed has to throw a stone a good long distance and break one of the windows in the old, abandoned house which would eventually become Mary and George Bailey’s home, her experiences growing up as a farm girl with plenty of brothers meant that she was able to pitch the pebble and break the far off window first go, without resorting to the sniper Capra had standing by to shoot the window out.

Then there’s the story about the loud clatter of objects as drunk Uncle Billy walks off screen at one point in the movie... the tale going that this was recorded by accident as an electrician accidentally knocked over a stack of props during the take and, with the voice of Uncle Billy improvising against it, a new ending to the scene was born (for which Capra rewarded the electrician with 10 dollars for improving his film).

And there’s also the occasional behind the scenes info I’d forgotten recounted in here, such as Lionel Barrymore being too well associated with nice guy roles so, as the villainous Potter, he was fitted with a prosthetic to change the shape of his forehead to make him look less sympathetic (something I still never notice to this day... I’ll have to remember to look out for it again next time I watch it).

In addition, there are lots of dates and facts about the production, such as when Capra was forced to give the cast and crew the day off due to extreme heat and, also, lots of talk about the picnic party he and Stewart threw for everybody, not long after the picture had wrapped production.

The first hundred or so pages of this book detail all this stuff and the press reaction to it, followed by a look at the modern day renaissance of the film through television showings throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, interviews with James Stewart and Jospeh Biroc (one of the three cinematographers on the film) and even a reprint of the original story, The Greatest Gift, which started the ball rolling. This last is a very interesting read because the essence is there to a degree but Capra and his people sure did more than just add a heap of window dressing. This is all followed by a reprint of the final shooting script, again heavily illustrated by production stills... which was again changed, of course, as it was being filmed with improvised and improved replacement lines and actions directly on set (so yeah, that’s a pretty interesting read too). The last item before a few appendices of more documentation and artefacts is a transcript of a Q&A session with Frank Capra at a College screening of the film he attended in the 1960s. Which certainly gives an insight into how this much celebrated director worked with his casts and crews.

And that’s me done, for another couple of decades (at least) with Jeanine Basinger’s pretty great The It’s A Wonderful Life Book. Certainly a recommendation to lovers of the cinema as an insight into the production of a well loved motion picture and, of course, an absolute must read for those who have discovered and loved the film over the years. One of the more interesting film books you can buy.

Sunday 18 December 2022

Post 2300 - Annual Movie Quizwoz


My 2300th Post

The Annual Cryptic
Movie Quiz 2022

Welcome back, once again, for this year’s Cryptic Movie Quiz for the festive period.

How you play...
Check out the grid above and you’ll see spaces for 14 movie titles running horizontally and, below this intro, are the cryptic clues to assist you in working out what these 'non-Christmas' movie titles are. To help out, I’ve filled in a line of letters vertically downwards spelling out MERRY CHRISTMAS... so you have a letter in its correct position for each of the titles. Please don’t forget to click on the grid to see a larger version of it and maybe print it off to help yourself. A quick note... one of the titles includes numerical digits. Punctuation such as commas are left off the grid.

Email your answers to me at before January 9th 2023 to get your entries in. A few days after that, I’ll stick up the name of the winner (or winners, if it’s a tie or a group effort), along with all the answers, here on my blog. Again, there are no prizes offered as I used to do because, well, times are hard... but if you like solving piuzzles and have some down time during the Christmas break, maybe, give it a go. All answers should be with me by the end of January 9th 2023.

By way of an example, here’s a question from last year’s quiz, followed by the answer...

Example question:
Shoo! It was a bit of a scramble yesterday evening.

Example answer:
Yesterday evening was Last Night. Shoo scrambled up is Soho so... Last Night In Soho.

Or just check out the January solution pages from the last few years to get a feel for how to put these things together. If you keep checking back at the comments section below, I will probably put the odd extra clue down there every now and again to help you out through the Christmas period.

Full marks are rarely scored by anyone (sometimes not even half marks) so... if you’re feeling a bit stuck, there’s still everything to play for. Send me what you’ve got anyway.

I hope you enjoy playing. Make sure you have lots of fun this Christmas period, drink responsibly and play irresponsibly but, don’t spread Covid. And here are the questions...

1. Game of an Egyptian God as a North American warrior.

2. Revisiting where the last shot was fired from half a dozen six shooters.

3. Opposite of a southern lady

4. Ian is the king of the Elephants.

5. A week of non-stop sexual intercourse with a girlfriend named after a month.

6. Sexy texting where 10 becomes 100.

7. Bound from dusk ‘til dawn.

8. Multiple negative sentiments for a droid in Star Wars.

9. Lying and jeering in her final resting place.

10. This Scottish Loch is certainly not happy?

11. This good man is under financial obligation to another.

12. By a body of water, singing that “You got women, you got women on your mind...”

13. Taking a dive from those Autumnal heights.

14. Own up to acting in a lustful manner to the 6th letter of the alphabet.

Tuesday 13 December 2022

Silent Night

It’s Beginning To Look
A Lot Like Apocalypse

Silent Night
Written & Directed by Camille Griffin
UK 2021
Marv Films

Warning: Yeah, I think to do this incredible film justice, this one’s going to have all the spoilers in it. So do yourself a favour if you’ve not seen this one... don’t read this, go into the film blind and then, if you feel like it, give it a read after.

Silent Night is a film I think I might have heard recommended on the All The Colours Of The Dark podcast at some point but, I don’t think I knew it was a Christmas movie. When I was looking at festive movies to watch this year I stumbled upon it and, yeah, I do have vague recollections of it being recommended on that show/cast. I have to say, I was absolutely blown away by Silent Night (why it’s yet another film with this title, I don’t know).

It starts off all jolly and fun as a mother and father played by Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode are getting ready for Christmas guests, their college friends, on Christmas Eve. Their children are all being given the usual, ‘get ready and this is not what to do’ talks and these three kids, just like everybody else, are absolutely amazing in this... and they’re also the sons of the writer/director Camille Griffin. A special shout out to the lead son Art, played by Roman Griffin Davis, who really hammers home the social messages of the film. And then all the guests begin to arrive, played by various actors and actresses who are all absolutely brilliant in this movie... including (and this is by no means an exhaustive list of the incredible talent in this) Annabelle Wallis, Lily-Rose Depp, the extraordinary Lucy Punch and the incredible Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Death herself, from The Sandman, reviewed by me here).

And, as the night of the party gets going, little clues which support the premise of what’s really going on here, start to come into play. It’s an incredibly subtle movie (in some ways... some of the characters are, themselves, far from subtle) and it slowly unfolds the truly horrifying concept. So, for instance, everyone, including the various kids in the movie, are all swearing like sailors as their parents are now allowing it. And the chickens who live in the grounds of the beautiful country manor, where the party is being held, are let loose because... and this is the first real hint... it’s kinder to let them get killed by foxes than the alternative. Another sign that things are not quite right... when the parents forgot to get the sticky toffee pudding in for one of the kids... is that one of the guests goes to the shop to get some. Never mind that the shops are all closed now... just smash through one of the windows and take what you want with, apparently, no real consequence.

Then, things really get spelled out, when everybody is eating Christmas dinner and the kids are discussing whether the Queen will be giving a speech on telly this year (yeah, it’s unfortunate but, this really dates the film) or taking shelter in a bunker somewhere. And so, if you hadn’t somehow already figured it out, we get to the main premise of the movie...

And I tell you now this is not just one of the most awesome Christmas movies I’ve ever seen, it’s also by far the grimmest and downright horrifying... although it’s not really a horror film. The quick summary I read had it pegged out as a horror comedy but, although there are a lot of laugh out loud comedic moments in the movie, right through to the bitter end, it’s not really that either. I’d plump nearer to black comedy but, no, it’s premise and the magnificent way the director, cast and crew manage to hold the tone of the idea, puts it far away from the humourous shenanigans which lightly sprinkle and season this festive feast of despair.

Okay, last chance to stop reading before the big spoiler...

So the central premise is... well it’s technically global warming, in a new form. People have been abusing the earth for so long now that the earth has struck back, with mini twisters which are slowly unveiling a poisonous gas, eventually covering the entire planet. And not just any old poison gas either... one which has you choking up your own guts and bleeding to death in spasms of agony. So, in their wisdom, the governments of the world (most of them) have issued painless suicide pills to everyone who they recognise as being citizens of their lands, to take just before the mini, swirly air currents of doom hit their region. Everyone in the house knows this is their final night before they all take their 'exit pill' and, yeah, its grimness incarnate. As Art says at some point, when everybody is opening their Christmas presents... “The batteries are going to last longer than us.”

And it’s a sweetened pill for the audience too with, like I said, some very funny moments and a wonderful Christmassy score by Lorne Balfe which... well, I wish they’d have put it out on CD rather than just some useless electronic download. It also has a very satirical edge to it too. I’m writing this review just a few days after the death of Irene Cara but it’s a tragic irony that there’s a scene in this where all the party guests are dancing to Fame but with none of them noticing that they’re singing “I'm gonna live forever”. Plus some wonderfully healthy side swipes at the current UK government, particularly and quite blatantly the Tory party, who in their infinite wisdom have decided that no homeless people or illegal immigrants will be allowed the painless death of the ‘exit pill’. I find it amazing that this movie actually started filming before the Covid pandemic hit (and picked up filming after the end of the first lockdown, from what I understand) since it’s very much a prophetic parallel of just how the idiots in power respond to something which they can’t stop or monetise.

The only thing I will say is that the end of the movie is pretty easy to predict... in fact, I’d already figured out what the last shot of the movie would surely be so, when the camera started panning on that particular reveal (you’re bound to get there too, I suspect) then I already knew I was watching the final shot of the film and just what would happen. But, honestly, it’s not a let down of a final moment by any means. I’d rate it right up there with the ending of the movie version of Stephen King’s The Mist for all time downbeat endings, although it’s a little more subtle until you start thinking of the implications of the final two seconds of the movie. So, yeah, I wouldn’t have wanted any other ending on this and the director was right to roll the credits exactly when she did, I think.

And that’s me about done with Silent Night and, I can’t stress enough how much of a recommendation I’m going to give this one to my friends and just what a stupendous movie this is... especially since it’s Camille Griffin’s debut in directing a feature length film. Why hasn’t this woman written and directed more movies already? This is amazing stuff and it’s completely criminal that this has been under seen in this country (as far as I can tell) and that if I want a Blu Ray of this one... and I certainly do... then I’m going to have to import one in from Germany (which I certainly will).  So, yeah, can’t endorse this movie enough. Definitely grab this one for your grimmest Christmas viewing ever.... with the caveat that, although the child actors in this are truly wonderful, I wouldn’t necessarily condone watching this with children present in the room. You have been warned.

Monday 12 December 2022

The Dark Side Of Christmas

Dark Christmas,
You gave Me Your Heart...

The Dark Side Of Christmas
Written by The Hobeck Team
Hobeck Books Limited
ISBN: 9781913793562

Just a short review of this year’s Christmas reading for the blog, The Dark Side Of Christmas, which I discovered by accident on Amazon... and also by way of a shout out to the publishers, Hobeck Books. The tome in question is subtitled “an anthology of twisted winter tales” and, while I didn’t find any really twisted qualities in the book (maybe I’m getting jaded to such things), I did read some enjoyable short stories. Now, while the batting average with me on Christmas anthologies by multiple writers is notoriously low (see some of my other Christmas book reviews over the years to see what I mean), this one was easily one of the best of the collected Christmas themed tales I’ve read in ages.

So, as you can guess, the stories are all written by writers who are ‘on the books’, as it were, of the small independent press called Hobeck who, I have to say, have won me over with this as all proceeds from the sales of this one go to an organisation called Streetreads, who take stories and books to people affected by homelessness. So, yeah, I didn’t know this when I hit the order button on Amazon but I’m pleased that Hobeck are doing stuff like this.

When the book arrived I realised the title, as reflected by the cover illustration of a beam of light transferred into a rainbow by a prismatic effect via a Christmas tree, was in fact an homage to the Pink Floyd album Dark Side Of The Moon. It’s not a group I’m familiar with though so, I may have missed the odd passing reference to this in one or two of the stories. I dunno.... guess I’m just an average brick in an increasingly bland wall at my age.

Of course, everyone is going to react differently to these kinds of collections and it will always be a hit and miss affair, very much personal to each reader. For me though, there were five stories (albeit three of them chapters of a multi part story used throughout to anchor the book) which more than justified the price of the novel. Firstly, a big shout out to Home Alone, Too by Lewis Hastings. This tells of a copper on the beat, new to a small town and his first meetings with someone in the community perceived as being a ‘miserable old guy’. Some small explanatory text before the stories are unfurled, at the opening of the collection (and given by every contributing author), explains that this is a kind of flashback origin story for the two characters who are already in Hastings’ other novels. This was pretty nice and perfectly showed up the rare, kindly nature of warm blooded human beings, for sure.

Another favourite was Payback by Brian Price. This tells of particularly bad, office bullies within an organisation and what happens when one of the victims of her boss fights back in unusual ways... and the chain of events this causes. It’s well paced and told from the viewpoint of four different characters, crosscutting between various strands of the narrative to allow for a complete picture of events to appear.

And last but, by no means least, my favourite three stories in this collection were A Christmas Susan Part I - The Ghost Of Christmas Pasta, A Christmas Susan Part II - The Ghost Of Christmas Presents and A Christmas Susan Part III - The Ghost Writer Of C. Y. Comb... all by Anthony Dunford and Wendy Turbin. To describe these small tales would not do them justice but, I would say they are very funny and filled with many puns and surprises, such as a moment where a robin... oh, no... no spoilers. A sample of the delights in store for readers of these three anchor stories would be...
“Still, it takes all sorts... Putting thoughts of liquorice aside...” So, yeah, these ones were right up my street. I’m pretty sure one of the characters is from a novel written by Wendy Turbin so, yeah, I think I’ll maybe order that one sometime next year.

Other delights on offer throughout the tome include an accidental murder orchestrated from another time zone (oblivious to the consequences a hundred or so years later), a tale told entirely from the point of view of a bunch of turkeys waiting to find out which one of them will be picked to celebrate Christmas with the humans (including a turkey called Arthur Scarbill... yeah, I’m pretty sure this one’s very much a political satire but, regular readers will know I’m no friend of politics), a Christmas murder club and even a tale which, I’m pretty sure, is a parody of the Joseph Rouletabille mystery stories from France.

Plus many more so, yeah, a varied selection, mostly crime and pretty much no horror... although there is certain story of the five I mentioned above which has more than one ghost in it. All in all though, the book held my attention and, yeah I’d say I got something from even the stories I found the least interesting. So as I said, a short review but a definite recommendation to anyone looking to put The Dark Side Of Christmas on their Christmas reading list. The book can be purchased from Amazon and, presumably, all the usual suppliers including the publishers’ own website, where you can find out more about them, download some free books and even listen to their podcast. So, yeah, well worth a quick surf over to their side of internet, I would say.

Sunday 11 December 2022

Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas

Sleighed N’ Slayed

Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas
aka Dont Open Till Christmas (sic)
Directed by Edmund Purdom
UK 1984

Warning: Santa spoilers aplenty.

I love Italian gialli but I don't think much of US slashers... for the most part. I was initially drawn to Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas because Caroline Munro is in it (yeah, I’ll get to that later). As I watched though, it became clear that this was actually a British slasher trying to look like a successful American counterpart... which turned out to be an interesting aspect of the picture. A movie I’m quite undecided about but... okay... let me start at the beginning, where the real horror lies.

After a brief scene setting up a Santa killer... being a killer of people dressed like Santa, not a killer dressed as Santa himself... which sees a Santa sexing up his girlfriend in a car before both are stabbed up good by the killer, possessing the full cliché presentation of POV roving camera with deep breathing on the soundtrack... the two elements of horror and sheer terror come to light.

Firstly, it turns out one of the producers of the film is Dick Randall. My first thought was... did anyone get paid? I bet this was a troubled shoot. I have a good amount of respect and admiration for the cheapy producer but I knew then and there not to take this movie in any way seriously. As the credits role while a Santa ornament slowly burns, we find out that the film stars distinguished actor Edmund Purdom. Not only that, the film is directed by him, which was apparently the deal if he was going to star in it... although I hear trouble with the shoot meant he quit directing half way through and at least three directors had their turn at finishing it. Oh yeah, did I mention Dick Randall produced this? Anyway, to be fair, for a film which kept having scenes rewritten and lots of reshoots, it does hold together really well, it has to be said.

Then the second, true horror of the movie is revealed... the release print title is... and I really don’t like even having to type this crime against punctuation but it can’t be helped... Dont Open Till Christmas. So, yeah, not only did the people titling this not realise that the proper shortening of the word Until should be written ‘til (no, language doesn’t change... it just gets mangled by troglodytes and then followed blindly by idiots who don’t know any better) but they’ve also left the apostrophe out of Don’t. So, yeah, don’t show this film to the easily impressionable or they will never be correct about grammar and spelling again.

Anyway, getting over that shock, the film is a police procedural starring Purdom as Police Inspector Harris who, with his assistant Sergeant Powell (played really quite well for an actor struggling with a troublesome script, by Mark Jones), are investigating a series of Santa-themed killings in London, as anyone wearing a Santa suit is fair game for the twisted killer. And, despite some really good acting by a number of the cast, they can’t seem to outrun the fact that the film actually looks quite amateurish in some ways. Can’t quite put my finger on why but there’s something less than professional about the whole production, it seems to me. And Des Dolan’s score is going full on ‘slasher electronica’ to try and distract from things but, yeah, it never quite succeeds in successfully adding a glossy veneer. But, like I said, although some scenes don’t quite make sense in terms of dialogue, following on from others which cover the same verbal territory, it does still hold together in a coherent manner (if that’s all you need).

There are three things that make up for the lack of production values, however...

One is the early 1980s London locations. It was great seeing places like Covent Garden, Hamleys toy shop and the Portobello Road Market just as I remember them from when I was a teenager. There’s even an extended chase and kill scene which takes place in The London Dungeon in Tooley Street (which I think is where it was located at the time, if memory serves). This film was a real nostalgia trip for me and I loved that aspect of it. I’d also forgotten that the old ‘Nee Naw Nee Naw’ style police car sirens were still in effect at that time in England.

Two, some of the kills are inventive and, sometimes well done (at least in the depicted aftermath). For instance, there’s a peeing Santa who has his penis cut off, a spear through face killing, a guy who gets roasted on his own roast chestnut stove and a bizarre kill featuring a Rosa Klebb style knife boot coupled with a spiky glove reminiscent of the ones worn in Rollerball (reviewed here). So, there was a kind of inventiveness at play in some of the gorier scenes for sure. Added to a generous amount of ‘glamour sleaze’ brought to the production from actresses like Pat Astley, who had been in films like Rosie Dixon Night Nurse, Come Play With Me (reviewed here) and The Playbirds (reviewed here)... and the film is certainly far from boring, at the very least.

And then, good thing number three is Caroline Munro. She doesn’t have much to do, playing Miss Munro, a pop star, who dances and sings her way on stage for one number before showing what a good screamer she can be when a severed head pops up in front of her. She was the main draw for me here but the scene only lasts about two minutes and was filmed in one day, by all accounts.

All in all, it’s a terrible film and, it has to be said, terribly predictable. The title and a Christmas gift given to Purdom at the start will end exactly as you think it will and you will be in no doubt of the identity of the killer, despite some red herrings pushed very hard, by the last act. The killer himself, played by Alan Lake, shortly before his early death, is actually quite watchable and, again, adds something to proceedings. But the film really is obvious so that’s a point against it. Overall, I’d have to say my take-away response to Don’t Open ‘Till Christmas is actually quite confused. On the one hand, it’s a terrible, amateurish looking movie which I really couldn’t recommend to anybody but, on the other hand, I actually quite liked it. Indeed, the London location scenes and, of course, the wonderful Caroline Munro, means I might actually have a look at grabbing a Blu Ray copy of this to watch again at some point. I’d definitely hesitate before committing to buying this as a first time watch though, for sure.