If you’d rather see Santa slashing through the snow, check out “Christmas Bloody Christmas,” along with other frightful gems this holiday season.
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By Erik Piepenburg
I’ve got just two wishes this Christmas: That Santa brings me the “Hereditary” gingerbread treehouse kit and that my recommendations make your holidays scary bright.
‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’
Stream it on Shudder.
Like the new film “Violent Night,” this movie is about a killer Santa Claus. Sort of: The degenerate Father Christmas in this case is actually a RoboSanta+ (Abraham Benrubi), a towering animatronic figure who comes to life from a toy store display to terrorize a small town with an ax and a fat sack of bloodlust.
The film opens on Christmas Eve, as Tori (Riley Dandy) and Robbie (Sam Delich) learn that the escaped RoboSanta+ viciously slaughtered two of their friends. Apparently these cyborg St. Nicks were recalled because their mechanical innards were made of repurposed Department of Defense gadgetry that went haywire. Just when it looks like nothing will stop this Santa’s Yuletide massacre, Tori takes up arms and saves Christmas. (Maybe.)
Written and directed by Joe Begos (“VFW”), this is a good-time, lowbrow, low-budget mash-up of “Willy’s Wonderland” and a Lifetime holiday rom-com written by Lucifer. The gore effects are scrappy and the butchering outrageous, especially when the camera takes RoboSanta+’s imposing POV.
Rent or buy on most major platforms.
With “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” and “He’s Watching,” 2022 was a stellar year for experimental horror. I’m adding Johannes Grenzfurthner’s brazen and deeply disturbing film to the year’s best formbusters.
The narrator is a nameless young gay man whose face we never see. (Grenzfurthner plays him onscreen; Ethan Haslam provides the voice.) We know little about him, other than he’s a recluse and is tortured by an increasingly debilitating tinnitus-like hearing impairment.
As he slowly plummets into paranoia, his dialogue ricochets between meandering rants and sadistic invective. His diminished psychological state is mirrored in the film’s whiplash-inducing cuts — from his feet to audiology textbooks to close-ups of slugs — that almost never stop. It’s no spoiler to say the film ends in shocking stillness.
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I’d be underselling this singular film if I called it a scary movie; its Lovecraftian horrors are more vast, more primal. It’s more like a philosophical horror monologue — and it’s as mesmerizing to watch as it is difficult to explain and experience. Grenzfurthner recently told MovieWeb he made it “to explore the idea of a nerd like myself going insane.” Mission accomplished.
Stream it on Netflix.
The mega-monster who gives this folk-horror creature feature its name is a misunderstood brute in the tradition of King Kong and Godzilla — the opposite of “Trolls.” But like that animated film, there’s something deceptively ugly-cute and likable about this Norwegian beast.
The film opens as crews detect seismic activity on a mountainside where a new high speed railroad is being built. The Norwegian government calls in Nora (Ine Marie Wilmann), a scientist, to figure out what might have caused it. She thinks it may have supernatural roots, and she’s proven right when from the earth rises a mountain-high troll covered in moss and dirt, with a big honker, long tail and a bad attitude. When the troll takes a destructive trek to Oslo, Nora finds an unorthodox way to stop him.
Directed by Roar Uthaug, this is a slick-looking, family-friendly movie that lives in the vicinity of “Independence Day,” “Trollhunter” and “Godzilla vs. Kong,” and anyone who has seen those films won’t be surprised at where it goes and how. It’s a good pick for a snowed-in afternoon.
‘A Wounded Fawn’
Stream it on Shudder.
Meredith (Sarah Lind), a museum curator, is optimistic about her prospects with Bruce (Josh Ruben), an antiquities expert she recently met who has taken her on a getaway to his chic cabin.
Yet not long after they arrive, Meredith senses something’s not right. She’s not wrong: What she doesn’t know is that Bruce recently killed a woman on marching orders from a hulking, birdlike creature who watches him. When Bruce refuses Meredith’s request to return home, it kicks off an otherworldly power play that explores issues of violence and male privilege that’s framed quite literally as a bloody Greek tragedy.
During the first half of this unashamedly feminist film, the director Travis Stevens (“Jakob’s Wife”) really drew me in with his DePalma-like use of suspense and stillness, and the dirty-pretty texture of 16 millimeter film.
But then he and his co-writer, Nathan Faudree, switch the script from a creepy psychological thriller to a pretentious mix of mythology and #MeToo that delivers its message with a jackhammer. I had a hard time taking seriously the tragedian togas, masks and wigs — I felt like I was stuck watching classics majors putting on an overambitious, reworked “Oresteia,” and as fanciful as the costumes are, my interest waned. That said, don’t miss the end credits.
Stream it on Shudder.
I’ve seen movies about gay vampires, kiddo vampires, sophomoric vampires. But I’ve never met a bloodsucker like Francis.
Played by Noah Segan, the film’s writer-director, Francis is Jewish and speaks Yiddish; sometimes schlep and schlemiel just make his points better. He’s also, to his surprise, the father of a half-human, half-vampire daughter, Jane (a terrific Victoria Moroles), who shows up one day at his front door. Francis warms to Jane, and is soon teaching her how best to sink her fangs into necks.
Jane and Francis’s unexpected introduction is what drives this good-hearted horror comedy that plays like a cousin to “Bones and All” — another film about a young woman afflicted by a taboo hunger who goes on the road in search of her roots only to find a parent who can’t totally meet her needs. But unlike Luca Guadagnino’s blood-drenched drama, Segan’s film focuses on (not always funny) humor and (almost) family-friendly drama.
Jewishness too — I was a fan of the borscht belt-style zingers (“My phone’s dead,” Jane says. “So am I,” Francis replies.) It’s a shame that the film eventually settles into a by-the-book story about a dad, a daughter and their differences.
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