Since I don’t have as much time to write longer reviews than I used to, I figured I would just post shorter reviews for horror/cult films that I feel deserve your attention.
Robert A. Endelson
Starring: Robert Judd, Catherine Peppers, Lela Small, Yvonne Ross, Reggie Rock Bythewood, Ramon Saunders, William Sanderson, Daniel Faraldo, Peter Yoshida
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Score - 3 Howls Outta 4 (7 out of 10)
Plot: A minister dispenses justice on three convicts who take his family hostage.
A blaxploitation version of Wes Craven’s 1972 cult classic THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, 1977’s FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE is best known as a Section 1 Video Nasty due to its violence and especially due to the offensive language recited by several characters to each other. Never having seen this film before, you have no idea the anger that was brewing inside of me throughout my watch. There were points where I wanted to turn off the movie because some of the things certain characters were saying made me feel like I needed a shower due to how disgusting it was to hear it. Considering our current social climate though, the behavior of the villains is probably more realistic than I want to believe. For that, the film works better than it should.
Besides the racial slurs throughout, FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE plays out like your typical home invasion exploitation movie. Criminals forcibly enter a home, take the residents hostage, and torture and humiliate them until the victims stand up for themselves and get some sort of revenge. The police are also around, looking pretty dumb until the last few minutes of the film where they actually realize that justice has to be served in maybe a not-so-legal sense. Straw Weisman’s screenplay does what it needs to do, meaning making us want to see the antagonists get it in the worst way.
I also appreciated the subtlety of director Robert A. Endelson’s direction. He could have gotten carried away with certain scenes, like a LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or a I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. But besides a young boy getting bashed in the head by a rock and a toddler getting a gun pointed at him or her, the rest of the film shows a bit of restraint. There’s a rape scene but it’s more implied than shown. The more offensive scenes involve the antagonists [a white man, a Latino man and an Asian man] degrading the African-American protagonists by forcing them to dance, sing, or speak as if they’re living in the Jim Crow south. A young boy even gets food thrown at him and spit on at certain points in the film. The bits of style [the boy being bludgeoned and a character getting slapped in the face by a Bible multiple times] create a level of surrealism during a realistic looking film that builds tension while also making you feel angry over how these characters are being treated.
The cast mostly do a good job. In particular - Robert Judd is good as the preacher head of the household who does whatever the villains want to maintain peace and keep his family safe for as long as possible until certain events lead him to fight back. Lela Small as the grandmother has spunk and some good dialogue. Reggie Rock Bythewood is a good child actor who has moments to shine. And Newhart’s William Sanderson as the evil Jessie Lee is so despicable and cruel that you want nothing but bad things to happen to him. Sanderson is known for being a great supporting character actor over the decades. He’s lucky this movie was released 45 years ago because he would be canceled big time if a movie like this ever came out today.
1977’s FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE is a film that definitely earned its Video Nasty branding and probably a film I would never watch again. Despite my feelings, I would still recommend it to anyone who wants to see all the Video Nasties and/or looking for a film similar to THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, or DEATH WISH. It has solid performances. The direction is good, using the film’s low budget well. And while the colorful language in the screenplay will offend many viewers [the reason why it’s a Video Nasty to begin with], the home invasion story does what it needs to do despite a conclusion that probably should have been stronger than it actually is. The villains [especially William Sanderson’s character of the racist Jessie Lee] deserved more than what they got, if I can be honest with you. And there are definitely scenes that will upset you for various reasons. I know I was triggered during my watch. This is a film that’s not for everyone, nor could ever be made again.
Starring: Jonathan Torrens, Sarah Dunsworth, Maris Morgan, Jayden Taylor, Mike Cleven
Running Time: 16 Minutes
Score - 3 Howls Outta 4 (8 out of 10)
Plot: Treevenge details the experiences and horrifying reality of the lives of Christmas trees. Clearly, for trees, Christmas isn’t the exciting “peace on earth” that is experienced by most. After being hacked down, and shipped away from their homes, they quickly become strung up, screwed into an upright position for all to see, exposed in a humiliation of garish decorations. But this Christmas will be different, this Christmas the trees have had enough, this Christmas the trees will fight back. Treevenge could be a short film about the end of days for Christmas trees, or perhaps, the end of humanity?
Have you ever thought about the plight of Christmas trees during the holiday season after they’ve been forcefully uprooted and decorated against their will to make your homes look festive?
Of course not because you’re too busy about receiving gifts you’ll return within 48 hours!
But writer-director Jason Eisener, who would later direct 2009’s cult hit HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, did. If TREEVENGE doesn’t make you second guess the angry thoughts those fir trees may have against you that could eventually ruin your holiday, then you deserve a lump of coal in your stocking!
Seriously though, this 16-minute Christmas horror short film is bonkers and surprisingly a fun time throughout. You won’t get character development or much of a story besides the actual plot idea itself. But TREEVENGE goes all out in making this movie one you’ll never forget anytime soon. It has over-the-top hammy acting. It has subtitles that let us in on what the trees are saying and thinking throughout their struggles. Eisener provides visual energy that just grows towards the insane ending of the movie. And some of the kills are just hilariously wicked. There’s one in particular involving a baby’s head, the bottom of a Christmas tree, and… yikes!
TREEVENGE will be an annual holiday horror watch from now on, as it’s the first Christmas film this year that actually got me into the spirit of the holiday.
SAVE THE TREES!
Starring: Riley Dandy, Sam Delich, Jonah Ray, Dora Madison, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Abraham Benrubi, Jeremy Gardner
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Score: 2.5 Howls Outta 4 (6 out of 10)
Plot: It’s Christmas Eve and Tori just wants to get drunk and party, but when a robotic Santa Clause at a nearby toy store goes haywire and begins a rampant killing spree through her small town, she’s forced into a battle for survival.
If you combine the 1984 films THE TERMINATOR and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, you get 2022’s CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS - a slasher film that takes the killer Santa concept and infuses it with 21st century technology.
Director Joe Begos’ best moments are when the killer Santa robot [a former military weapon that’s being recalled from stores due to some dangerous malfunctioning] decides to activate and murder anyone it sees. The violence and gore is the film’s true selling point, as CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS does not hold back on the various ways the victims die. Head stomps, different axe attacks, shotguns making heads explode, human bodies being split open easily - fans of gore will appreciate the awesome practical effects put in by the effects team, which are shot very well by Begos.
Begos also infuses the film with a great Christmas aesthetic. The locale looks cold and wintry, with snow falling and on the ground while holiday decorations light up many of the film’s scenes. Begos loves his neon colors, especially the color red, which gives the movie a foreign feel that I appreciated. And I’m not sure if the film was shot with 16mm film, but it looks great to have that grain on a slasher movie like this.
The synthwave score and the metal songs that play throughout the film also rock.
The movie’s downfall is unfortunately it’s screenplay, which probably houses the most times the word “fuck” has been said in the span of 90 minutes onscreen. Surprised that Rob Zombie didn’t write the script, the use of the word was cute for a few minutes until it just annoyed me. In fact, a lot of the dialogue was pretty bad, as all the characters sounded the same to me - loudmouth, angry and horny characters with no real development or depth to make us know who they were besides their obvious archetypes. The only time I really enjoyed the dialogue was when the two main characters were having pop culture debates and conversations because that’s what I do with my friends. Although anyone who thinks FREDDY’S DEAD is the best NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movie probably deserves to be the target of a killer robot Santa Claus.
It’s a shame the script was terrible because I thought the cast had nice chemistry that could have been brought out more under better writers. In particular, Riley Dandy and Sam Delich were good as the two leads - especially Dandy who made for a tough, badass Final Girl during the film’s tense and action-filled second half. I thought character actor Abraham Benrubi did a great job as the film’s villainous Santa. Not sure if it was still him under the robotic effects near the end of the film, but he did nice work making the character seem threatening and unstoppable. And it’s always nice to see Jeff Daniel Phillips pop up, especially for a movie where he can say the word “fuck” multiple times. He’s had years of practice perfecting it.
Considering the hype, I was a bit let down by CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS. Lame script aside, I thought the rest of the ingredients were there to make this worth a watch for the holiday season. It has a killer Santa, awesome practical gore, good lead performances, a sweet score and metal music, and great visuals that capture the holiday in the film’s title. I don’t think it’s a movie I’ll watch every year, but it’s better than watching Hallmark. More blood and less attractive people romantically getting together over hot cocoa fills my holiday spirit every time.
Starring: Steve Rudzinski, Aleen Isley, Marci Leigh, Autumn Ivy, Garrett Hunter, Scott Lewis, Bill Murphy
Running Time: 50 Minutes
Score - 2.5 Howls Outta 4 (6 out of 10)
Plot: Wally has won a vacation to sunny Amityville! While there he has met a woman: a GHOST woman! Can the spirit of Christmas bring these two opposites together?
More of a cash-grab than an actual installment in the AMITYVILLE HORROR series, AMITYVILLE CHRISTMAS VACATION is less a horror movie and more of a romantic comedy involving a clueless and dim-witted police officer and a ghost who end up falling in love. There’s nothing remotely scary about this movie and the events don’t even take place inside the famous house, but next door. The make-up and CGI effects look super cheap and director-star Steve Rudzinski films the whole thing like a quick student film that will be uploaded on YouTube for free for his friends and family to see. Visually and story-wise, there’s nothing all that special and interesting about this film.
But the cheapness and the over-the-top acting makes AMITYVILLE CHRISTMAS VACATION oddly charming and amusing, especially when the couple falls in love and outside forces want to destroy the relationship before it blossoms even further via scheming landlords, ghost hunters and even a skeleton that’s meant to be the Ghost of Christmas Future. It’s goofy, dumb as rocks, yet way less boring than most of the AMITYVILLE films I’ve seen. Plus, the film is only 50 minutes - how can anyone hate that?
While I don’t think AMITYVILLE CHRISTMAS VACATION is a must-see or anything, I would recommend it if you want something short and silly to watch for the holidays that you can shut off your brain to. This is a quick watch for you and your boo to support the fact that even evil spirits need love during the Christmas season.
Starring: Robyn Alomar, Mary Walsh, Nadine Bhabha, Matias Garrido, Corteon Moore, Emma Elle Paterson, Tori Barban, Dakota Jamal Wellman, Tim Rozon
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Score: 2 Howls Outta 4 (5 out of 10)
Plot: Alana and a group of college seniors board a party train for a Halloween-themed bash, but their fun spirals into fear when a mysterious assailant begins killing the passengers one-by-one.
Back in October, I was surprised to see that Tubi had produced a remake of the 1980 cult slasher TERROR TRAIN. The original 1980 slasher isn’t a top level slasher, but it has memorable moments and a great Jamie Lee Curtis performance. Plus, it had a killer who would disguise himself in unique costumes, as well as a reveal that I didn’t see coming even though it’s in front of you the entire time. And even though I appreciate Tubi, I honestly wasn’t expecting a lot from this TERROR TRAIN remake. But color me surprised - it’s not half bad, even though it’s nothing special either.
Since I had watched the original a couple days before, the new TERROR TRAIN felt like deja vu for the most part. We have the same characters and relationships. We have the same inciting incident, the same beats in how the story plays out, and even the same ways the murders happen in the exact same order. Even a lot of the staging is the same. The only differences are that characters have been racebended, gender bended, a short commentary on a woke society, it takes place on Halloween instead of New Year’s Eve, the visuals look cheaper and the killer costumes aren’t as unique [prefer Groucho Marx over a clown any day]. But the film is still fairly watchable.
What really sets this new TERROR TRAIN apart is the changed final act, that retains a lot of what happened previously but does it with a nice twist that actually works in the film’s favor. The original ending wouldn’t fly in a 2022 society, considering its characterization of a mentally ill character. The new ending adds a new element to the original’s, playing homage to a more famous slasher film of the 1980s. It brings a less problematic conclusion to the remake while also keeping things a bit more open-ended, which gives the film a reason to exist.
And while the direction and screenplay is fine but nothing spectacular, the acting helps elevate things a bit. In particular, I enjoyed Robyn Alomar as Alana, Matias Garrido as Doc and Schitt’s Creek’s Tim Rozon as the Magician. While David Copperfield was more creepy in the original, Rozon is a way better actor and gives the Magician some depth that wasn’t in the original film.
I still prefer the original TERROR TRAIN due to its atmosphere and stronger performances. But the remake is worth watching if you’ve never bothered with the original, or if you’re just curious about this update.
Now let’s see about the sequel to this remake…
Starring: Robyn Alomar, Nia Roam, Romy Weltman, Tim Rozon, Lisa Truong, Emma Elle Paterson, Dakota Jamal Wellman
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Score: 1.5 Howls Outta 4 (4 out of 10)
Plot: A year has passed since a series of gruesome murders took the lives of multiple college seniors aboard the now infamous Terror Train. The survivors are coerced to go on a New Year’s Eve redemption ride aboard the very same train, where a new kind of evil awaits and the terrified passengers must once again fight to survive the ride.
So I guess these new TERROR TRAIN films were filmed back-to-back considering how close both films were released from each other. TERROR TRAIN is a decent remake for what it is, made for modern audiences who may not have seen the original cult clasher. While the ending was a bit open-ended, it wasn’t like audiences were clamoring for a sequel. And from watching TERROR TRAIN 2, the film proves that some stories should be left alone.
TERROR TRAIN 2 takes place a year after the events of the first film, this time taking place during the original’s setting - New Year’s Eve on a train. The survivors from the last film have returned, it seems many beats from both versions of TERROR TRAIN are repeated here, along with the same killer costumes and a simple knife for a weapon. Despite a never ending commentary on grief and trauma, an emphasis on social media and live streaming, and an ending that pays homage to a more recent slasher sequel [although nowhere as effective], TERROR TRAIN 2 is pretty much the same movie as the first one. It’s only less interesting or exciting, with more annoying characters and weird performances that seem to distract from the story rather than enhance it.
The real issue is the film’s story, which makes all the characters look dumb. I can understand getting back on a Terror Train to get over the trauma of what happened there previously. But characters are cosplaying as the killer to scare the survivors, or gaslighting them for having panic attacks when weird stuff goes down. Murders are happening and people think it’s a prank or something, with no common sense that what happened before is probably happening again. So strange and annoying, to the point where I didn’t care who survived this ride.
The direction by Philippe Gagnon is the same as the first, but with less tension and suspense. The kills are ordinary, with stabbings and ax attacks being the focus. There aren’t enough of them though, although there is a lot of CGI blood.. And the film feels a bit rushed, as the final act wraps up fairly quickly and easily without enough time to simmer in it.
The actors are fine, with the highlights of the last film [Robyn Alomar and Tim Rozon] being the best. Romy Weltman seems to be having a blast playing mean girl influencer Pet, also returning from the first film. Her character is really grating but Weltman does a good job with the role.
I just felt like TERROR TRAIN 2 was a film that was spinning its wheels to continue a story that really didn’t need it. While it’s nice to see what happened to the survivors of the first film, the movie doesn’t do a whole lot to make us care. But at least it wasn’t the worst horror film I watched in 2022, so the film has that going for it. I’m hoping this is the last trip on the TERROR TRAIN for a while.