Holiday Horrible-thon Part 1: All Dogs Go To Christmas

Holy crap, where to begin. In past holiday marathons I usually curate a few handfuls of killer Santa movies, with some cheesy made for tv specials and with any luck, some K. Gordon Murray magic. As you may recall, last year's marathon was para-titled "14 movies in 3 days", which isn't nothing. This year I started early due to some unexpected time off. I decided to divide my time between cross stitching and shitty movie watching. The two just go hand in hand. Generally, I start Christmas Eve, If we have company I throw on whichever looks to have the most crowd appeal. Christmas Day is ALWAYS a day of rest. We stay in and watch as many Christmas movies as possible while enjoying our gifts and leftovers, and then the day after Christmas I cap the marathon. I could go up to the new year, but I usually am all holiday'd out by the 26th. Plus I need some Vitamin D and food that is not ham or candy. This year I reached new depths of Holiday insanity. Between my early-December craft sessions and my usual three day marathon I watched a shocking 40 Christmas movies. FORTY. That's not a round number for the month, I haven't made that calculation yet. A record breaking forty-fucking-Christmas movies starring people like Tori Spelling and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. No wonder I'm exhausted. My usual countdown seemed too overwhelming for this number, especially since some were pretty forgettable. Since my hands were basically in constant brainless motion, I decided to pick films that were similarly constantly in brainless motion. What came to pass was an endless loop of Christmas dog movies. How many could there be, you might wonder? An INCALCULABLE amount. Or at least like, 75.

How many did I watch?: 6 , and 1 cat movie. I wish I could flip that ratio but I think it's safe to say that people who love Christmas, hate cats, Because cats or cat owners are the villains in nost of these movies.

So OK, let's do an official Atomic Caravan Holiday Dog Movie Count Down...

6. Adventures of Bailey: A Christmas Hero (2012)

None of these movies are "good", but nothing made me a cringe like the Adventures of Bailey. For starters, I can assure you he is NOT a Christmas Hero, in fact, he basically ruined Christmas for everyone. There's a borderline racist plot involving Native Americans and whether or not they celebrate Christmas. Bailey runs off to see the Indian Medicine man, gets himself and his brother lost, his brother almost DIES from eating poisoned berries. When the medicine man finds and saves his brother, they learn that Native Americans can speak to dogs so they have a conversation about the meaning of Christmas. The kid in this movie has no charisma at all and comes off as a total brat. The film spends a lot of time talking about about how they have to find Bailey and Duke, while not actually doing anything at all. Also, I might have missed something but when the parents drop the kid off at their Quarter-Cherokee Grandpa's house for the weekend, it's not clear to me why the other kids didn't go since they have three children. WHO'S WATCHING THE CHILDREN? Could they just not afford to pay all three kids for that day? This is the kind of movie I would have found lame at any age. No attempt at being entertaining or appealing to kids, just awkward sentimental bullshit. It's insulting.

5. The 12 Dogs of Christmas (2005)

Slightly less nauseating because there seemed to be some actual effort put into the production design, wardrobe and casting. The story is again, totally lame and un-fun, but everything comes together like a real movie at least. They're not totally taking us for a ride. Set in the 1930's, a girl is sent to her estranged Aunt's when her Dad can no longer afford to keep her. Her Aunt lives in a town that hates dogs, There's apparently an old law that says no dogs allowed, she and some other dog lovers save all the dogs, etc, etc. This was the only Christmas animal movie I saw where the dogs didn't speak. They tried to play this one straight, a little too straight for my taste. This was the boring dog movie of the marathon. At least I hated Bailey. I hated it enough to have an engaging roast in my head while watching it. The tone here is just too serious. The one thing it had going for it was a VARIETY of dogs. Is that really a reason to watch a movie?

4. Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups (2012)

There's an inexplicable allure to the many straight-to-video entries in the Air Bud franchise. I don't exactly know how it's come this far. Was Air Bud even good to begin with? I can't remember. It must be like the Witchcraft series. The first wasn't good but it was probably a little better than expected so they signed off on 4,000 sequels. This one stars Mrs. Claus, played by Cheryl Ladd, who's more of a Mary Poppins kind of character than any Mrs. Claus I've ever seen. She goes to a town filled with Christmas spirit to try and find a new um, human representative or something? She doesn't realize she's harboring the Santa Puppies and that they've stolen the head elf's (Mickey from Seinfeld) magic crystal which grants wishes. When a kid passively wishes everyone's Christmas spirit would go away, and it does, all the dumb Christmas movie shit starts happening. Gotta save Christmas, so on and so forth. This one was easier to digest than the previous two, that certainly doesn't make it a good movie. Mediocre, at best. The little girl sings "Oh Holy Night" and got that shit stuck in my head HARD. The weirdest, and most notable visual was Santa's bizarre hair piece...

3. The Search for Santa Paws (2010)

I Thought this was the first one, though apparently Santa Buddies is, and I didn't get around to that one. So, supposing I didn't miss anything, which I doubt, Santa Paws was surprisingly, mildly enjoyable. It suffers from all of the same problems that a talking dog Christmas movie WOULD, but it caught me off guard with it's ambitious fantasy element. The magic icicle, crystals and lots of good screen cap moments. The sentiments are still relatively worthless but for a puff piece, it's really not so bad. I found it relaxing to craft by.

2. Beethoven's Christmas Adventure (2011)

Now we're backsliding from mediocre to so-bad-it's-good. Nothing's ever really "good" when you're dealing with this stuff. Honestly, this one got me conceptually. Beethoven is another weird animal Franchise I would have never expected to spawn so many sequels. We all know that Charles Grodin made the first two movies good (And ALL movies with Charles Grodin, right?). I always felt they had sort of a Jon and Garfield type of relationship, and it works. Boy does it work. But without Charles Grodin, these movies aren't cute. Who are these people who now inhabit Beethoven's life? What happened to Charles Grodin? Excuse me, George Newton? Do I want to know? Not really. But what you all must know about the course Beethoven's life took is that he now talks and his voice is TOM ARNOLD. What I find really disturbing about this casting choice is that history has now been re-written. He was Tom Arnold all along. I feel betrayed.

1. Hercules Saves Christmas (2011)

If there's one talking dog Christmas movie you see, let it be Hercules Saves Christmas. It's just full of weird. There is SO much wrong with this movie that it completely implodes on itself with Wiseauian precision. Let's start with the casting: The "kid" is not a kid at all, he's basically an adult. He could probably buy cigarettes and vote. The man who it is implied will become his adoptive father is in my opinion, too YOUNG. He looks mid-thirties at the latest. There's also something off about the cast of elves, extremely unprofessional and bordering dwarfsploitation. I also thought that a pit bull was a strange choice for a kids movie lead dog. I like pit bulls as much as the next guy, or any docile canine that isn't trying to rip my face off. From a practical stand point, they kind of have a reputation and also they just don't have the same visual cuddly appeal that a Golden Retriever or St. Bernard has. After a bit of research I found out that the creator of the animal planet show "Pit Boss" is responsible for this mess. It all made sense after that. It's essentially a vanity project in the form of a talking dog Christmas movie. Who could ask for more? Hercules is Shorty's real life pit bull, which explains the lack of um, star power? He also does the voice for Hercules AND plays the priest at the orphanage. I also have a better understanding of why the elf population is so erratic. They're dog wranglers, not actors. In addition to the cast being totally bizarre, the general tone of this film is so off. Long stretches with no music, weird editing choices, parody level green screen fantasy sequences and a villain that is painted up like a Juggalo. At one point during a particular awkward piece of dialog, I was reminded of the infamous so-bad-it's-good masterpiece "Ben and Arthur", if that gives you any idea what level this reaches. This is one of the most entertaining movies I've seen all month and I wouldn't have discovered if I hadn't committed so much time to New Dogsmas. So in the end, it was all worth it. I've found a new garbage fart to add to the hall of fame.  A classic to revisit, time and time again. It's a Christmas miracle.


Santa Claws (2014)

I watched a very different kind of Christmas movie called Santa Claws last year. Paralleled only by season and probably budget. This one was put out by Asylum, so you know the drill. It has a Christmas story arch that really gets on my nerves. The whole; not believing in Santa in a world where Santa really exists. This is VERY perplexing. If he exists then isn't it kind of irrefutable? I mean, gifts show up for children. Wouldn't it be like this insane phenomenon? So in Santa Claws, a girl actually sees him turn to gold dust and tornado himself up her chimney but then grows into a woman who doesn't believe in Santa. And in turn won't let her kid celebrate Christmas. Not even a tree, not even a present. So RUDE, almost abusive. The kittens save Christmas, and make her a believer again. That's all I got. While I appreciate that someone said "HEY, enough with the Dog movies, can we get like ONE Christmas Cat movie?". Here it is. Take it or leave it.

In Part 2 I'll give a more general breakdown of some of the highs and lows in the non-dog related Holiday Horrible-Thon. Bye for now!


Belated Schlocktober Rundown

I can't believe it's already December! More so, I can't believe I let all of October, and then November pass without writing about my Halloween marathon. That which is so dear to me. The one thing that's been a constant on this blog since I started it in 2009. Something hasn't felt quite right these past few months as I've been swamped with work. I always feel a little empty when I can't make time for Atomic Caravan but missing all of October sent me to new depths. So even though December is here and I should be working on my Crappy Christmas marathon and drafting my 'Top 50 First Time Views of 2015' list, I feel I would be getting ahead of myself if I didn't take a moment to reflect on the highlights of October's annual marathon.

5. Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

I always try to focus on a director or revisit a series throughout the month of October. Last year it was the Ju-on films, this year my attention was on the Nightmare on Elm Street series. These aren't really films I've felt much of a need to discuss, not because they aren't great because I would just be echoing an already well covered area. Wes Craven's New Nightmare is my favorite, followed by the original; 2-5 are fairly equal in my opinion. I know a lot of people aren't crazy about Dream Child, but I find Dream Master to be the lesser of the series, but really who's counting? They're all Freddy movies and that makes for good times. The one unpredictable moment in the marathon was Freddy's Dead:The Final Nightmare, because somehow in my 30 years of existence I'd never watched it. Shocking, I know. I missed it somehow and by the time I realized, I decided to hold off until I was re-watching the rest all at once. What's interesting about it, and about the fact that it somehow evaded me, is how strikingly different it is from the rest of the series. The other sequels seem united by a collective theme, this one is peculiar from the onset. The tone has changed and the characters are totally unfamiliar. At first, I was off-put by how far it strayed from the formula but after a while I embraced it. There is something very "final" and empty about it. It's the 'Silent Night, Deadly Night III' of the series - bizarre and slightly Lynch-ian. I believe director Rachel Talalay even stated that Twin Peaks had influenced her in the making of Freddy's Dead. I appreciate the risks the film took, and I don't begrudge it's failure. It added interesting if not unneeded dimension to Freddy Kreuger's mythos, and really....would the BEST film in the series have happened after if Wes Craven hadn't stepped in to say enough is enough.

4. Maleficia (1998)

This one was an, um, "experience". It's the goriest movie I've endured in a while. I watched it in French with no english subtitles but it didn't matter much. 95% of the dialog is guttural screaming and Satanic incantations. Senseless, never-ending, ritual-like forest murder from the get go. On paper it's not something that would normally be in my wheelhouse, but the tenacity of Murderdrone pioneer Antoine Pellissier makes is the horror equivalent to watching one of those ambient fireplace screen savers. The violence exceeds a level of normalcy where it almost becomes zen. Red Jammy Jams and purple polyester. Druid-eque Satanists, Satan-Heads, Vampiric Crypt An Daemons, Pastoral Zombies, Goth Girls with Perms. The Works.

I posted lots of pics on Tender Moments.

3. Bloody Moon (1981)

Jess Franco is probably my favorite director that I have such hot and cold feelings for. There's are handfuls of films I dislike or have no feelings toward whatsoever, but there are also canonical masterpieces that I'm thankful exist. You never really know which kind of Franco film you're in for, though after a little experience you start to get a sense of his "eras". My knowledge going into this one was that it was of his German period and that it was his attempt to jump on the slasher band wagon. In my mind this didn't seem like such a far reach, but he is clearly out of his element and it is awesome. As far as I've seen, this is the apex of his career. It seems oddly more naive than his previous work. Usually when I watch his films I feel like he knows something I don't, but in is case he brought himself down to our human level and it is just beaming with weird. He may have gone through the motions but cannot be limited to the confines of a formula. While it indeed is a slasher, there's something more interesting happening just below the surface. It's almost feels as if the players are aliens pretending to be human. There has never been a more beautiful marriage of colors. Pinks, golds and just the right shade of blue through a soft lens. Shadows that don't make sense. This film truly took me to an alternate reality, and has the most amazing wardrobe I've ever seen in my life. It's the kind of film I instantly want to watch again to make sure I didn't miss a single frame. And there's incest. In December I finally caught "Blue Rita" which had the same Alien Transmission vibe, and the most hilarious youtube worthy fight scene I've ever seen. I feel that I've finally tapped into MY Franco Era.

2. Skullduggery (1983)

I wasn't really sure what I was in for with Skullduggery, the census seems to be of a general confusion. It is indeed a "what the hell did I just watch" kind of experience. It's drawing from so many different places, the end result can barely contain the sum of it's parts. Literally overflowing with the elements of five movies, Skullduggery crams them all into one little bizarre mish-mosh. Let's break it down.

1. Role Playing Games. A Dungeons and Dragons inspired slasher? One of the least successful sub-genres of horror (Throw some titles at me if I'm forgetting but Mazes and Monsters is the only to come to mind). What makes it work so well in this movie is that, I sincerely don't understand these games and especially something as vast as Dungeons and Dragons. It's as complex as finding any coherence in this movie. So they're united both in theme and in being unattainable.

2. It's set in a Costume House. Not only does this appeal to me on a personal level because I'm a costumer but it opens a lot of  doors for great and senseless characters. A Wizard of Gore-ish Magician, King Arthur or something, Eve; as in Adam and..., A Gorilla, A Tic Tac Toe Janitor, Bunny Killer, Various Ren Fair looking folks as well as masked Greek orgy types.

3. Dungeon Synth. This discovery is relatively new to me. While the film has been on my watchlist for a while, this inspirational list on Letterboxd by Gregory Joseph propelled to high priority. Dungeon Synth is a musical genre that sounds exactly like it's description. Evocative, atmospheric, visceral, setting the soundscape for a film like Skullduggery with a poetic coldness.

And for your viewing pleasure, I posted pics on Tender Moments.

1. Communion (1989)

Let's face it, Aliens are cool. This movie starts out with a totally sincere and terrifying aura. I'll never un-see the infamous Alien peaking from behind the armoire. Then after the first encounter, it enters pure schizophrenia. In an interview director Philippe Mora said that Walken was the kind of actor that works best with freedom, so he gave him that freedom. I'm sure a lot of people think this was to the film's detriment. His approach certainly does turn would be terrifying moments into something that's more like a joke, but a really hilarious joke you want him to expand upon. I'm sure Author Whitley Strieber was appalled to see his traumatic life changing experience basically mocked by deez nuts. My favorite moment, THEE best moment is when Walken is about to get probed and he looks at the little dude holding the phallus and says "...Can we talk this over?"...and if that's not enough, as the alien draws the dong shaped device close to his face he says "You look like you're about to sing White Christmas." My friends, THIS is a movie. You're removed from the horror elements but instead given this beautiful character study on the epileptic personality of Christopher Walken. I dare say I never truly appreciated him until this moment. He ad-libbed his way into my heart. In the end there's a New Age resolve that totally delights my balls. A few years ago I watched the incredible "The Suns of Easter Island" and my afterthought was that I desperately need more New Age Metaphysical Alien movies in my life, Communion is the only one that's come close since. Strange Science with an ample dose of anal probing.

That's it kiddos, sorry for the belatedness as per usual. Trying to mend fences 'round these parts. I have another movie lined up that I know for sure will be my next full review, I just hope I can deliver before the New Year! Either way I PROMISE to post my Holiday Horrible-thon in a timely manner.



Grandeur Nature (1974)

It would appear that I like movies about grown men who play with dolls. Earlier this year I finally reviewed Joel Seria's Marie Poupee, which has found a place in my personal canon. I'm always looking for movies about dolls. Big and small, Scary or sweet, sexual or innocent. I have a small but decent doll collection myself and the idea of men (or women for that matter, though I haven't found any movies like that) fetishizing dolls is a perversion I find fascinating.

Where in Marie Poupee, Claude is secretive about what he likes to do with dolls and doll-like girls, Michel from Grandeur Nature (played by famed Frenchman, Michel Piccoli) is just the opposite. He's PROUD of his doll. He's open about her as if she's his 19 year old trophy girlfriend. Claude likes to dress and bathe his dolls - but nothing "improper". Michel on the other hand, is constantly humping and displaying her nudity for all to see.

Michel and his wife are in an open marriage, which she's growing increasingly tired of. You get the sense that Michel has been sexually active and is not at all limited to the company of a rubber doll. His bravado exudes experience which has brought him to a place of boredom. His wife is younger,  attractive, and generally OK with him having extra-marital affairs (at least on a surface level), yet he still becomes distant. He's fallen into complete obsession with his Japanese Love Doll, so much that he's lost the taste for real flesh. At one point his wife tries to emulate the doll. This is obviously a final attempt to regain attention from her husband. He throws her around and stuffs her in a closet like an inanimate object. As she cries he reminds her that the doll doesn't cry, doesn't complain, doesn't want for things and is there only to silently serve him. She moves out that week.

As the narrative unfolds his frustrations surface; his dominance and jealousy are revealed. He blames the doll for the sexual attention she gains from the people he flaunts her to. He beats, strangles, abuses, rapes her and finally, has her commit a ritual-like suicide. Once a fair haired beauty, he paints her like a goth slut, as reflective of his feelings toward her.

This movie is not remotely subtle in it's message of sexual objectification. And yes, she IS an object but she's made to look like a woman. It's no secret that Michel has a disdain for women. It's practically rubbed in our face. He's such an absurd man, it's almost impossible to be offended by it. At the end of the day, he's kind of a sad joke. It seems even in a relationship with and object he can't manage to keep himself together. There's something far less sinister about Michel than our previous Doll fondler, Claude. He's simply aware and comfortable with his own kinkiness. Though of course it catches up with him eventually. A person who becomes sexually and romantically obsessed with a thing unravels when their passion boils over from an unresponsive prize.

One thing I noticed is the frequency of scatological dialog. At least three or four times throughout the movie Michel talks about peeing. He even walks in on a hooker peeing and she jumps up out of shock, where we get the pleasure of seeing her full bush. The film never quite crosses that threshold but I was half expecting water sports to come into play. The other perversion that's burned into my brain was when his housekeeper's baby is napping with the sex doll and takes to the tit as if it were full of mother's milk. The image is unshakable. It cannot be shook.

The film never secures itself firmly in a genre. It has comedic elements but isn't a comedy, and it's too farcical (and gross) to be a drama. It's truly an unsung little fetishy cult gem that has somehow slipped through the cracks. It's nowhere near as layered as Marie Poupee. If these films were the psychic apparatus, Marie Poupee would be the Ego and Grandeur Nature would be the Id. It functions on an unconscious level. The organic meets the inorganic and an almost buffoon-like willfulness against his own humanity, only to be met with inevitable coldness and unfulfillment.