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CAMPY HORROR TO THE (BETA)MAX: ‘V/H/S/99’ Review

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Respool that cassette of the damned—V/H/S/ is back with another abhorrently good anthology.

The V/H/S/ franchise has a special place in my heart. Beyond the fact that it was the subject of the very first article I wrote for Horror Press about a year ago with the release of the deadly fun V/H/S/94, I got into anthology horror films and television back in 2015 thanks to V/H/S/2, which is still my favorite in the series. I couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming sequel that’s been greenlit, V/H/S/85, and I think this franchise’s infinite potential is always waiting to be tapped like a tree full of gorey, wildly directed sap.

All this is to say, I try not to let my status as an admittedly biased fan cloud my judgment on these films. I go into these movies expecting high-quality shorts that are fun to watch, and our latest installment in the franchise, V/H/S/99, succeeds on that front.

The movie isn’t pants-wettingly terrifying, and I’ll be honest, it isn’t nearly as scary as V/H/S/94, but what it is, is successful in giving you creative horror tales by new visionaries of the genre who have stories to tell in spades. So, how do these shorts stack up to the tall order given?

The second segment, “Suicide Bid,” is a prime example of how this series can construct a scary scenario with a limited set and location, evoking the vibes of an old Tales From The Crypt story. The claustrophobic conceit and the ending to this segment just washed me in the feeling of someone holding a flashlight under their face and saying, “And they were never seen or heard from again!” before giving a ghostly oooh. It was lovable camp. “The Gawkers,” the fourth entry, utilizes the found-footage aspect of the movie to the fullest, with the absolutely terrible young boys filming it, acting extremely accurately. Along with those peeping toms’ performance is a twist that results in a surprisingly good-looking creature reveal and a satisfying ending.

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The fifth and final short, “To Hell and Back,” was written and directed by Joseph and Vanessa Winters, whom I praised, and they didn’t disappoint here either. I’ve described Terrifier 2 as eating a whole bag of fun-sized Halloween candy really fast and then watching a whole bunch of slasher movies at once. I think “To Hell And Back” is similar as a segment because it feels like running through a really fun haunted house where the scare actors are really into the role they’re playing this year (shout out to returning Winters collaborator Melanie Stone!). Not to mention that the location scouting they did for this was beyond wicked.

But above the rest, “Ozzy’s Dungeon,” the third segment by musician Flying Lotus and writer Zoe Cooper, is genuinely an incomparable short. The closest thing you could put it up against is maybe the best of the Adult Swim “Informercials” episodes, and even then, it doesn’t do Zoe Cooper and Fly Lo’s nasty brainchild justice with how well it recaptures the late 90s children’s television vibes, with a much darker and gross slant. It’s a surrealist horror comedy version of Legends of the Hidden Temple, with a dash of body horror before we get into a violent home movie with a bonkers ending, and it’s perfect. It may just be my favorite segment of all the V/H/S/ films for how truly, and there’s no other way to put it, batshit insane it is. It’s wonderful!

You may be saying to yourself, “Second. Third, fourth & fifth segments. Well, what about the first segment Luis?”. And I now have to rip the Band-Aid off and say frankly…

I did not like “Shredding.”

Though the concept was a good one, and I thought the closing of it was goofy fun, the constant attempts to mask cuts with static-filled, garbled transitions are violently distracting and hurt the pacing of the segment. The constant darkness and everything being close up is accurate to how some dumb teenagers would film their antics in an abandoned venue but it doesn’t make for a great watching experience.

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And I say this to make the point that even though it was rough to get through, the rest of this movie is great! You need to give it a chance, and hell, you may even like “Shredding” yourself, so don’t let this review dissuade you. I say it as often as I can: my reviews and I are not here to tell you not to watch movies, just to let you know what to expect when you park yourself into the drive-in.

BOTTOMLINE: While I missed the old framing device of the previous movies, V/H/S/99 is still a more than worthy contender in the franchise’s legacy. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is firmly tongue-in-cheek for most of its runtime, and it’s better for it. Bloody, strange, and exceedingly inventive in its madcap horror show presentation, I find that every V/H/S/ film leaves me wondering what hellishly fun chapters they will show us next. And V/H/S99 is no different.

V/H/S/99 will be available to stream on Shudder beginning October 20th, 2022.

Luis Pomales-Diaz is a freelance writer and lover of fantasy, sci-fi, and of course, horror. When he isn't working on a new article or short story, he can usually be found watching schlocky movies and forgotten television shows.

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Christmas Horror Parody ‘The Mean One’ Successfully Converts Christmas Classic ‘The Grinch’ into a Scary Story

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If Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch was too tame a Christmas-hating monster for your tastes, never fear; The Mean One is here.

How ‘The Mean One’ Wins as a Christmas Horror Movie

This comedy-horror slasher, directed by Steven LaMorte, tells the story of Cindy You-Know-Who (Krystle Martin) returning to her hometown of Newville – where her mother had been viciously murdered in front of her twenty years prior. The sheriff did not take the young girl’s claims that a monster had killed her mother seriously, so the murder remained unsolved. Cindy’s return to town shows a Newville that is wholly undecorated for Christmas, and as a string of murders begins to occur, Cindy knows her mother’s killer has returned.

With the appearance of the Mean One himself and a good balance of campiness and horror, all spread out amongst an intriguing storyline; The Mean One is a fun Christmas horror movie that subverts a beloved childhood classic and makes it its own.

The Horror-Parody Version of The Grinch

One thing the film did exceedingly well was its presentation of The Mean One. The makeup effects were stellar in creating a monster who is at the crossroads of a terrifying cryptid and a holiday icon. From his dirty Santa coat to his black snarl, he checked all the boxes for how a Christmas-hating monster should look.

Of course, to talk about the monster is also to talk about the man behind the mask, David Howard Thornton. After establishing himself as a horror icon in his role of Art the Clown in the Terrifier films, it was fun to see him transcend another role as a horror villain. With another horror flick under his belt, David Howard Thornton is one to keep an eye on. So far, every character he has been behind has been creepy and entertaining, perfectly matching the film’s tone.

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The Approach to Campy Horror

A horror film with rhyming couplets interspersed throughout could never be completely serious, and The Mean One succeeds because it doesn’t try to be. However, the film is not without its creepy moments that would be well-placed in any modern-day horror movie. Like any good scary movie, there are dramatic reveals, emotional turmoil, and suspense building.

It also injects a sense of fear into the holiday itself as it makes the idea of celebrating Christmas a dangerous thing. It’s a delicate balance to create something that is not very serious but simultaneously creepy, and the film does just that.

The Mean One Tells a Story That You Already Know in a Different Way

When making a horror film based on a traditional Christmas story, the added challenge is changing it enough to fit into the horror genre but not so much that it becomes unrecognizable. The Mean One was clearly up to the challenge as it was able to interweave a story that mimicked the traditional Dr. Seuss style of storytelling, with plotlines of a typical scary movie, while still paying homage to the source material. The integration into horror was so smooth that it felt like it should’ve been a scary story all along.

The idea of presenting the recognizable holiday monster as a cryptid is a genius move and calls to question why the Whos down in Whoville never inquired about the existence of the creature who descended from Mount Crumpit to steal their Christmas away in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

It was not only the Mean One that saw some subversion of Christmas lore. A white-haired bearded man with a red cap who seems to watch over the beginning events of the film (and is aptly named “Doc” Zeus) integrated a little bit of a real-life Santa into the storyline.

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Make no mistake; this film is not a high-budget, major Hollywood production. The blood spray effects are campy to the nth degree, and the movie is not without its flaws. But what it does well, it does very well. The Mean One’s appearance is gritty, fun, and familiar; the storyline is immediately immersive – altogether, it is an entertaining watch.

It delivers everything the premise promises: a presentation of a fun Christmas flick that we all know, but this time for horror fans.

See The Mean One for yourself in theaters on December 9th!

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RUN RUN RUDOLPH, KILLER ROBOT SANTA’S IN TOWN: ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’ Review

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Seasons screamings, everyone!

I have another wonderful treat for you all, hot out the Shudder ovens. If you’re like me, that means your holiday evenings as a horror fan might be feeling a little bit empty in terms of festivity, and Christmas Bloody Christmas is here to make that right. I’m cheery about the film from the jump. Que raro!

Christmas Bloody Christmas follows what happens when an attempt to turn surplus military technology (a.k.a. killer robots) into friendly department store Santa animatronics backfires; our jolly old Saint Nick ends up painting the town redder than a candy cane’s stripes, terrorizing coworkers Tori (Riley Dandy) and Robbie (Sam Delich) amid their budding romance. Is the premise kind of dumb? Yes, but if you’ve been reading my reviews, you know dumb fun horror is my wheelhouse just as much as the highbrow stuff is. And just because something is silly doesn’t mean it can’t be well made.

Writer and director Joe Begos is getting my second shoutout of the year for his work. I thought the foul-mouthed dialogue of this movie sounded familiar, and that’s because he headed another Channel 83 venture I recommended for October, the 2019 vampires-on-drugs film Bliss. There are many similarities between the two directorially, though this is much more oriented for fun than the psychological nightmare Bliss was. Where Bliss was a dark game of Vampire: The Masquerade, Christmas Bloody Christmas is your classic slasher during the holiday season.

We’ve also left the Panos Kosmatos-esque territory of Bliss’s cinematography, which might be due to the influence of cinematographer Brian Sowell who previously made the film Beyond the Gates, another fun little low-budget horror flick I remember enjoying. Neon wasteland cinematography that is replete with a color palette tuned for blacklight posters and Christmas lights in every single shot, and every scene outside being caked in fake snow and decorations help the aesthetic this movie is going for feel fully realized.

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Composer Steve Moore who worked on both Mayhem and The Guest, two of my favorite action horror films, provides an impeccable score for this film of heavy synth rock with homage to some of the band’s name dropped in the film by our leads. And Josh Russell, who did makeup work for The Night House and a little horror remake you may have heard of called Hellraiser (2022), rounds out that group. The crew on this one is practically a perfect assortment of horror movie production irregulars.

Delich and Dandy have pretty good on-screen chemistry as dirtbag crustpunks who need several mouthfuls of soap scrubbed onto those tongues. Dandy in particular is a veteran of fun, romantic holiday movies, and it’s nice to see she can extend her range beyond being a forgettable Hallmark protagonist whose outfit stepped out of a JCPenney catalog. She makes for an enjoyable final girl for this.

The duo talk like their dialogue is on loan from the Hellbillies of a Rob Zombie film, but they’re believable as coworkers in a long-term “will-they-wont-they” relationship. Their exchanges are genuinely funny at points, even if they stay a bit longer than welcome. These don’t veer into trying to impress you with the character’s pretentiousness about music; they’re just two friends drunk and high on Christmas eve, talking about their flailing romantic lives and which of their bands has the best Christmas song.

Beyond characters, the meat of the film is Silent Night Deadly Night by way of The Terminator in its premise. And in its execution, it feels like a lower-grade SNDN film for how cartoonishly violent and mean the kills can get, and I mean that in the best way. A single axe swing chops a guy in half like it’s a board of wood at a kid’s karate class, several people get thrown around like ragdolls through objects, and there are plenty of fake heads and bodies getting demolished for the gore hounds in the audience. Even the robot gets severely jacked up with sparks flying and explosions.  The special effects are hammy, and I love it more for that.

But as much as I like it, this one isn’t flawless. I feel like our dear Santa could have had a stronger design, maybe with a solid mask, and played with more robotic physicality beyond what we get in the third act. The camera work can sometimes be distracting in its attempts to convey high tension, ending up feeling fidgety instead.

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And to be quite honest, I’m very torn on the films ending. While it’s very entertaining and we get to see the full depth of the crazy animatronic Santa we’ve been waiting for all film which I love, it also drags in a way that is funny for some and might be a bit grating for others. Ultimately some editing flaws are exacerbated by the film being an exceptionally tight 86 minutes (we’re talking stocking stuffed to the brim tight), so it could serve well to have a director’s cut.

BOTTOMLINE: Christmas Bloody Christmas is an over-the-top, grindhouse-y spectacular that gives you exactly what’s in the title. It isn’t your standard holiday horror fare where there’s usually more about the film to laugh at than laugh with, but it definitely isn’t humorless. It’s a solid little film that looks like it could make a reliable staple in the rotation of dumb fun holiday horror for many Christmases to come. You know, assuming you don’t get killed by a robotic Santa Claus before then.

Watch Christmas Bloody Christmas starting 12/9 on Shudder!

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