Monday 29 November 2021

Hanukkah (2019)

Director: Eben McGarr
Writer: Eben McGarr
Stars: Charles Fleischer, P. J. Soles, Joe Knetter, Sid Haig, Caroline Williams, Dick Miller and Sid Haig

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

Apparently, Hanukkah films are enough of a thing for them to have their own Wikipedia page, even if that page points out that the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah shows up more often on television than in film. Surprisingly, given that the Jewish people have their own country, there are more Hanukkah films made in the United States than in Israel. It seems that Hanukkah films are kind of like what Christmas films used to be before they got taken over by Hallmark and stopped being about Jesus and started being about the spirit of the season. Then again, maybe we can blame Charles Dickens for that! The most obvious difference is that they’re Jewish, but they celebrate a religious holiday with a religious story told using religious elements: lighting menorahs, spinning dreidels and eating traditional food. They often reference the Maccabees, Judas Maccabeus and his four brothers, who took back Judea from the Seleucid Empire in the second century BC, founding the Hasmonean dynasty and rededicating the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

This is a Hanukkah film because it includes many of those component parts but, because it’s in my Horror Movie Calendar series, it’s unsurprisingly a little unlike most other Hanukkah films, even more so than An American Tail, Eight Crazy Nights or The Hebrew Hammer, all Hanukkah films but an animated feature, a musical comedy and a blaxploitation flick respectively. This one is a horror movie and it revels in being a horror movie, as full of as gratuitous gore and gratuitous full frontal female nudity as menorahs and dreidels. Surprisingly, though, for a movie that’s as ruthlessly exploitative as this one, it even manages to cram in some honest to goodness Rabbinical debate, one character going toe to toe with the killer and arguing against his justification by quoting from the Torah and the Mitzvahs. This Hanukiller may be killing, mutilating and flaying bad Jews but he thinks of himself as a Jewish priest and the book of Leviticus strictly prohibits Jewish priests from touching corpses or even being in the same room as one. So there!

Friday 5 November 2021

Attack the Block (2011)

Director: Joe Cornish Writer: Joe Cornish Stars: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, Jumayn Hunter, Danielle Vitalis, Paige Meade, Sammy Williams, Michael Ajao and Nick Frost

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

Many of the films that I’ve covered in this book are obscure for really good reasons, but this is one I’m hoping you’ve tracked down already. If not, let me be the one to introduce it to you, because this is a hidden gem that’s full of people you know now. I first saw it in 2011, when it came out, at the late and lamented Royale in Mesa. I picked up a copy to show the family and I’m watching it afresh for this project. It’s become an old friend. None of the key players were anybody at the time but, less than a decade later, you would recognise the first female Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker, and the first black stormtrooper in Star Wars, John Boyega. Two more movies on from this £8m indie picture, the writer/director, Joe Cornish, was writing Ant-Man for Marvel. Debuting composer, Steven Price, would win an Oscar for his work on Gravity, though he had quite a career as a music editor before this, working with Howard Shore on The Lord of the Rings and Batman Begins. The only name fairly recognisable in 2011 was Nick Frost in a supporting role as Ron.

It’s here because the fireworks that kick off the movie and partially mask an imminent alien invasion aren’t for Independence Day, a holiday we amazingly enough don’t celebrate in the UK; they’re for Guy Fawkes Night, a peculiarly British holiday that most know about nowadays from the movie adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel, V for Vendetta. I always loved Guy Fawkes Night growing up, with its bonfires, fireworks and the tray of parkin that Minnie Smithies baked for me every year because she knew exactly how much I adored it. Officially, it remembers something far more serious: the events of 5th November, 1605, when Guy Fawkes and his colleagues in the Gunpowder Plot planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament, murdering not only the entire British government in one fell swoop but also the king, James I, as he officially kicked off a new session during the State Opening of Parliament. Let’s say that the political and religious ramifications of the day are not as obvious in 2020, though I’ll get back to that later.

Tuesday 2 November 2021

All Souls Day: Dia de los Muertos (2005)

Director: Jeremy Kasten Writer: Mark A. Altman Stars: Marisa Ramirez, Travis Wester, Nichole Hiltz, Laz Alonso, Mircea Monroe, Jeffrey Combs, Ellie Cornell, Noah Luke, Damien Luvara, David Figlioli, Robert Budaska, Danny Trejo, Laura Harring and David Keith

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

While it doesn’t have a much higher rating on IMDb than Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain, this low budget film looked a lot better from moment one. Joe Kraemer’s lively score underpins some exotic spellcasting, while the opening credits suggest that we’re not just going to be watching a bunch of new names but a few that we’ll recognise too. I spotted Jeffrey Combs, Danny Trejo and David Keith, for a start. And we soon discover that we’re south of the border, in Santa Bonita, Mexico in 1892, adding an exotic feel, even if it’s really Santa Clarita, California with some colourful costumes to liven it up. Clearly the budget isn’t particularly large, but the Mexican townsfolk actually look like Mexican townsfolk instead of white or Native American actors in brownface and Christopher Duddy’s camera does a pretty good job of making it look like Raoul is struggling through a carnival with whatever he’s found in the local mine rather than just the handful of extras that are thrown his way. It’s some sort of headdress, apparently made of gold.

Unfortunately for him, Danny Trejo is already inside his house, watching him hide that headdress and he promptly talks Raoul into shooting himself in the head, so spilling his blood all over the gold. Trejo is Vargas Diaz and he looks fantastic in period attire, with none of his tattoos visible. He’s gloriously colourful in a waistcoat that’s turqouise on the back and red on the front, fringed in gold and accented by a green tie and tiny blue spectacles. He has a gift for the townsfolk. “Reap the rewards of our discovery,” he tells them, which is of something important located inside the mine, because that’s where he ushers everyone to “Enjoy the celebration, which I know you will remember for the rest of your lives.” Turning towards the camera in truly villainous style, he adds under his breath, “every remaining moment of it”. Sure enough, the next thing we know, there’s a huge explosion and it’s in the entrance to the mine, surely killing every one of the townsfolk or, at least, trapping them inside for a slower, more horrible death.

Monday 1 November 2021

Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain (2003)

Director: Christian Viel
Writers: William R. Mariani and Christian Viel
Stars: Bobbie Phillips, Howard Rosenstein, Ginger Lynn Allen, Chasey Lain, Taylor Hayes, Jenna Jameson, Richard Grieco, Brandi-Ann Milbradt, Lael Stellick, Phil Price, Neil Napier, Heidi Hawkins, Gillian Leigh, Simon Peacock, Alex Chisolm, Robert Higden, Alanah Dash

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

You know that you’re in trouble when a horror movie set on a holiday consistently mispronounces that holiday, especially given an overt focus on why it’s important and why it’s an especially cool setting for a horror movie. It’s Samhain, which is a Gaelic word, so not pronounced anywhere near what you’d think—if we turned the M upside down, you’d be closer—and it’s celebrated on the first day of November, making it one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughanasadh. And, if I’m going to call out the filmmakers for getting things wrong, I should take extra care to get things right and point out that Samhain actually starts on 31st October, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset, and runs through most of 1st November, marking the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter, the darker half of the year in these wintry climes of the north. By the way, when talking about the Celtic people, the word has a hard C; when you use a soft C, as the teacher does in this film, it’s a Glasgow football club.

Then again, maybe I’m digging far too deeply here. We don’t have to go too far at all to figure out things wrong with this movie. It opens with generic Nickelback-esque alt rock from a band who go entirely without credit, perhaps because they aren’t a band at all and just a creation of Russian-Canadian composer Alex Khaskin. Then we find our way into a tent in the woods so we can watch an unenthused Richard Grieco getting it on with porn star Chasey Lain, who’s clearly in the movie because of her big eyes, dangerous nipples and willingness to be murdered before the opening credits. Grieco is gone by then too, though he does get to wander in the woods muttering “Amy” a lot, wake up in a cave chained to a stone altar to ask “What the hell is this place?” and revolve on a spit, sans limbs but with pecker intact. The opening credits feature everyone in the cast, I think, highlighting in the process that no less than four porn stars are going to be tasked with actually acting and that never bodes well, even if one is Ginger Lynn Allen.