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COPS V. TOYS, DAWN OF PLASTIC: ‘Demonic Toys’ (1992) Review

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Some interesting visuals and questionable script choices make for a peculiar but entertaining killer toys film.

For our third week of Full Moon February, we jump to the far-off year of 1992 to study a film focused on possessed toys working for a supernatural entity trying to take form on Earth. That’s right; it’s the Puppet Master 4 & 5 review, baby, woo! Time for Sutekh, time for Decapitron with a tiny Toulon head, time for–

Wait.

Sorry, hold on. I’m getting word from my editor that it’s Demonic Toys. We’re doing Demonic Toys today.

This film was written by none other than David S. Goyer, the scriptwriter who would later go on to make the action-horror Blade trilogy, as well as this article’s namesake Batman V. Superman. I mention this because it fascinates me to see the humble beginnings of big Hollywood writers in small productions, especially when it’s a film this transparent about its thinned-out budget.

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This is a cheap film through and through, as most of the film’s horror is done with hand puppets and some slightly above average makeup. But it doesn’t shy away from showing you the cheapness in all its glory, and that’s what I like about it. This ultimately makes the film one of the truest to the company’s ethos of embracing low-budget filmmaking barefacedly and without shame. Its cheapness produces a cinematic oddity of a movie that I can admire for trying to stretch its dollar.

That being said, admiration doesn’t entirely absolve it of its problems. It doesn’t have the luxury the Puppet Master films did where stop motion could evoke a sense of wonder. There’s no set dressing or shooting on location that gives a strong atmosphere as Subspecies did. As for the toys, Jack Attack, Grizzly Teddy, and Baby Oopsie Daisy may be memorable design-wise thanks to the excellent work of John Buechler and the other SFX crewmembers from Magical Media Industries, but for me, they just aren’t as personality-filled as Toulon’s puppets.

So, enough about what this movie lacks, let’s talk about what makes it unique. An insane script and immediate carnage for one. These infernal playthings receive a sizeable amount of screen time and get to killing right off the bat. Unlike the first Puppet Master, which has a subdued ending, the final reel of this film is bizarre at a breakneck speed. Prepare for a toy shooting gallery; little kids slap fighting, a man in a demonic bear costume, and a junk car exploding like it was a Tesla battery.

Tracy Scoggins leads this film as Detective Judith Gray. She’s serving the same role as Mike Norris from Child’s Play, albeit with a confusing supernatural link to her enemy this time around. Scoggin’s is fine in this but doesn’t stand out performance-wise, especially when she’s being outshone by our two other leads: our antagonist, The Kid, and our other main character, Mark.

Daniel Cerny, who would go on to play Eli in Children of the Corn III, does some great acting as our villain, The Kid. It’s great for someone lip-syncing their lines the entire time, yes, but still great. He surprisingly manages to provide that real creep essence through his facial expressions that matches the deep, reverberating demonic voice he’s been given, an impressive feat.

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On the other hand, Bentley Mitchum’s delivery guy Mark is on the completely opposite side of the spectrum, struggling with his role as the lovable jerk. His interactions with security guard Charnetski are fun because it’s just two blue-collar greaseballs commiserating and waxing philosophical on chicken. Is Mitchum giving a good performance? No, not in the slightest, his line deliveries are terrible and often a bit too loud, but he’s so bad they end up being entertaining. It’s in line with most of the fun to be had with a lot of Full Moon flicks, your classic so-bad-it’s-good movies.

While it can’t hold a candle to its predecessors in terms of visuals, this is still a goofy, fun watch that I’d put just a little above the first Puppet Master movie in terms of entertainment value. It’s got some nightmarish visuals along with all its schlocky effects, and that’s enough for me. My only true regret about this movie is that they set up the Chekov’s gun of having a giant chicken at the beginning of the film, and it doesn’t come to life by the end to wreak havoc. For shame, Charles Band. For shame.

RATING: 3, Leaning Towards 3.5 (Creepy Girls in Gasmasks on Tricycles)/5. I’m docking it some points rating-wise because on a technical level it isn’t that great. While it serves up some fun visuals, there are pacing issues even as it sits at tight 80-some minutes. Even though I personally like this a lot, only you can decide if those flaws can be redeemed by this movie’s absolutely and positively nonsensical ending.

You can sign up to stream ‘Demonic Toys’ here.

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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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