Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Silent Night Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

Are you a fan of the Christmas horror movie franchise Silent Night Deadly Night?
 
When the fifth installment of a movie franchise is finally made, it's best to keep your expectations low.  One of the things I love about SNDN 5 is how it's an exception to that rule. This horror movie has come to have a very special place in my heart--and anytime someone mentions the title, my first reaction is to start laughing! With good reason, this campy fifth installment always makes me smile. I frequently have to watch the same Christmas movies over and over--to write about them, provide further commentary, and sometimes to answer a reader's questions.  SNDN 5 is one of those movies I love watching again and again, seeing how the pieces of the puzzle all fit together once again in the end. How many times have you watched it?



Innocent little Derek--who would want to harm this youngster and what would be his/her motivation?
 
The movie begins with a small boy named Derek walking into his parents’ bedroom while they are making love.  Next, Derek finds a Christmas present on the front porch addressed to him. His father Tom takes the gift away from him and sends the boy to bed. But moments later, the toy inside the package ends up attacking Tom--he defends himself and ends up falling upon a fireplace poker! Poor little Derek is so traumatized this Christmas, he loses his ability to speak. From this set up, we see this story is evoking the familiar scenario of a traumatized little boy at Christmas--just like the first, second, and third SNDN movies. This leaves us to wonder if this is just another crazed ax-wielding Santa Claus serial killer plot line. However, SNDN 5 continues into a much different movie.


It's the TOYS that are deadly in this movie. Not until the very end will you see what kind of Santa and his kooky workshop could make these life-threatening toys!

It turns out that toys intended for Derek are attacking and harming people all over town. A creepy insect doll is offered to Derek, but ends up in the possession of an angry hotel manager. The deadly toy attacks him while he’s driving and he is killed. A pair of roller blades left on Derek’s doorstep end up on the feet of the bratty kid next door and he winds up rolling out of control and into oncoming traffic. Even a battalion of military toys are let loose in Derek’s home and they fire a deadly barrage upon his babysitter and her teenage paramour.  Who is behind these deadly toys?

Could it be Noah--Sarah's stalker?

The mystery story provides viewers with several options for the person behind the deadly toy attacks. At first, we are suspicious of Noah, a man who works at a local shopping center as Santa Claus.  His demeanor frightens young Derek when they boy sits on Santa's lap. Noah is also following--maybe even stalking--Derek and his mother Sarah. Later, we see him in a hotel room with several dozen toys taking them apart. There are many clues to Noah's potential involvement--but what would be his motivation to harm Derek?


Joe and his son Pino--are one of them the violent one?
 
Viewers also become suspicious of Joe Petto and his son Pino.  Joe is the local toy store owner and toy maker while Pino is his prankster, teenaged son.  The elderly Joe owns an old-fashioned toy store that has seen better days. We also see that the friendly store owner has a very dark side--he's a drinker that can be very cruel and critical of his son. But Pino seems to be creepy too. The teen breaks into Sarah's home and goes through the rooms and her closets when no one is home.  What's he looking for? There's also something not quite right about that boy.  


You know Joe's stock is out of date when you can spot a "Julia" lunchbox on the shelf behind the front counter!

Joe Petto is my favorite character in this movie. Veteran actor Mickey Rooney plays against type as Petto, the drunken abusive father. You have to remember that Rooney made his name in Hollywood during the 1930s and '40s playing the character Andy Hardy in sixteen films--a happy-go-lucky, young man with a strong, solid family and a heart of gold.  (Yes--there's a Christmas one, 1938's Love Finds Andy Hardy.)  Rooney also starred in hope-filled inspiring movies such as Boys Town, National Velvet, and upbeat musicals such as Babes in Arms.  You get the idea.  (Rooney also proved himself in more serious roles in Requiem for a Heavyweight, his heavy role in "The Last Night of a Jockey" on The Twilight Zone, and elsewhere. But the highs of Rooney's career are dominated by his roles as the good guy.  He even played Santa Claus for Rankin/Bass's animated TV specials three times!)  So to see Mickey Rooney here at the other end of his career campily playing against his good guy image is awesome.  It seems like he’s having as much fun with it as it is for us to watch him doing it.

This isn't the first kidnapping Rooney commits during Christmas--remember THIS Full House Christmas episode?

The movie even teases viewers with the possibility that Joe is a crazed, killer Santa--we see him kidnap poor Derek from his home in the middle of the night.  But that's not the end of the movie.  If you haven't seen this Christmas horror movie yet--I don't want to ruin the surprise ending.  It is definitely worth discovering its reveal on your own.  So STOP reading--and go find SNDN 5 on DVD NOW!  If you've seen the movie before and you're still reading along, then you must love the ending as much as I do!


I love re-watching this movie over and over, adding up all the easy-to-overlook clues.  Remember the storybook the babysitter is reading to Derek?

It turns out Petto isn’t the creator of the deadly toys after all.  It’s his son Pino, the creepy, abused teenager in the background of the movie the whole time.  We soon learn that Pino is a robot created by his father Joe after Joe’s pregnant wife died in an accident years ago.  In the funnest movie twist I’ve seen in a while, it turns out Joe Petto (read Geppetto) has made a wooden boy come to robotic life--and now this PINOcchio son is jealous of the real boy, Derek.  Pino wants to eliminate the youngster and has been making the deadly toys in his father's twisted workshop.

Adding another creepy weird layer to it all, Pino has Oedipal feelings for Sarah, Derek’s mother, and wants to consummate his love for her! Of course, what every real boy needs is a strong father figure and Noah (Derek's biological father and Sarah's lover) arrives just in time to put a stop to all the trouble Pino has brought.


That kidnapping Santa wasn't Joe after all--it was Pino donning another face!

Pino--or Pinocchio--here looks like a manufactured cross between Davey from Davey & Goliath, and DEVO (when they wore plastic hair.)  Very creepy!

Remember in the original Pinocchio story, the wooden figure just wants to be a real boy!  In SNDN 5, the same is very dark motivation for Pino.

There are quite a few Christmas movies and specials that bring toys to life (many of them on the fringes of being very scary.) Many more weave familiar fairy tales into holiday adventures. SNDN 5 humorously places an original spin on these common story lines, making this mystery unfold within a campy horror film.

Did you recognize what Derek is watching on TV in the beginning of the movie?  He’s watching the animated Saturday morning cartoon series Rambo:The Force of Freedom. Yes--the series has a Christmas episode!
 
SNDN 5 has a few other fun pop culture references in it as well, including an all-too-brief part for cult film/TV actor Clint Howard. (Clint is also the real-life brother of director/actor Ron Howard.) In SNDN 5, Howard plays a co-worker to Noah, another shopping center Santa Claus named Ricky.  Fans of SNDN 4 might remember the characters of Ricky, Kim, and Lonnie who also make brief appearance here in SNDN 5.


Clint Howard as Ricky

Let us not overlook one of the primary elements of the first, second, and third SNDN movies.  (SNDN 5 teases our expectations with this same set up). These stories all begin with a young person who sees something so traumatizing, that they become madmen. I find this to be a brilliant premise for a horror movie--essentially daring viewers to watch a traumatizing story about an ax-wielding Santa Claus where viewers are shown the consequences: they too will be made madmen! (The Ring series of films and its imitators seemed to have taken a similar cause and effect to the next level, from metaphor to literal, but this concept is here in these earlier SNDN films too).  What could be more traumatizing than seeing a crazed, deadly Santa Claus?


Monday, October 20, 2014

Love Boat Christmas (1977)


I know I'm not the only one looking forward to more seasons of The Love Boat being released on DVD.
 
With the hundreds of hours of new holiday programming generated each November and December, it's so easy to forget about the classics. Sometimes we can lose track of our Christmas spirit unless we actively incorporate the past into the present. How long has it been since you've seen this The Love Boat holiday episode? The first season's "Lonely At the Top/Divorce Me, Please/Silent Night" is certainly one of those classic episodes that evokes not only nostalgia for Christmases past but warm TV memories as well.


Father Mike is played by actor Dick Sargent.

The 1977 Christmas episode follows the same, familiar Love Boat formula of three story lines.  In "Lonely At the Top," the crew welcomes Father Mike and six orphan boys from the home he runs.  It is explained that Father Mike brings the orphans each year on the Christmas cruise courtesy of an anonymous benefactor.  The captain seeks Father Mike's advice about feeling lonely over the holidays.


The happy couple that really hates each other is played by actress/singer Florence Henderson and comedian Shecky Greene.

In the second story line, "Divorce Me, Please," a happily married couple embarks on the holiday vacation.  By all appearances Audrey and her husband seem like newlyweds however, viewers can hear the characters' inner dialogue--both the husband and wife "voice" their dissatisfaction with the relationship. Each hopes the other will request a divorce before the cruise is over.


Lila (Donna Mills) tries to calm her angry husband Dan (John Gavin) after he's spent three years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

The third story "Silent Night" is the more serious drama of the three.  Recently paroled from prison, Dan Barton, joins his wife Lila on this Christmas cruise to begin their life together again.  Dan is extremely bitter and resentful for being wrongly convicted of embezzling from his law firm.  When his former business partner Perry also shows up onboard the cruise--Dan confesses to his wife that he's figured out that Perry actually embezzled the money and framed him for the crime.  Now Dan is set on revenge!


Gavin's character is moved by the spirit of Christmas to embrace peace and forgiveness.

Dan confronts his former partner with his awareness that he thinks Perry is the thief--Dan even pulls a gun on Perry!  But when he hears carolers singing the emotional "Silent Night" off in the distance, Dan tosses his gun in the ocean and walks away.  His wife Lila witnesses her husband's act away from vengeance and knows her words of love and second-chances have not fallen on deaf ears.


You know Florence Henderson is a professional singer too--right?

The more lighthearted, comical story of "Divorce Me, Please" sees the husband and wife each trying to sabotage their marriage.  Audrey attempts to spend all her husband's money to make him angry while the husband tries to embarrass his wife by drinking to excess and making a fool of himself.  Neither one gets the reaction they desire and somewhere along the way, the couple re-discovers what they love about each other.  With their love renewed, Audrey entertains the passengers and staff on Christmas day in the dining room by singing the carol "The First Noel."  (Can't get enough? Florence Henderson sings "O Come All Ye Faithful" in the 1969 Christmas episode of The Brady Bunch too.)


The captain tries to be pals with his crew but he's not a very good joke teller.

And in "Lonely At the Top," Captain Stubing seeks a better relationship with the crew.  Following the advice of Father Mike, Stubing tries to become more involved in the interests of Julie, Doc, Isaac, and Gopher--but Merrill fails time after time.  Playing Santa to the orphan boys, Capt. Stubing forgets a gift for one little boy--and ends up giving away a cherished sextant his own father gave him.


Danny gets the spirit of Christmas.  He may not have received the football he asked for but he did receive a neat gift after all.

This lesson helps Merrill understand the value of enjoying what you have--not necessarily what you think you need.  Though each of the crew members bemoans not being able to spend Christmas with their own families, they can still value the good times spent together with their friends on crew for the holidays.


Merrill breaks his own rule about not exchanging gifts with the staff!

These workplace friends end up exchanging gifts and having a fine Christmas--even if it isn't the traditional family holiday they imagined for themselves.  Television has created quite a few stories of friends and workplace friends celebrating Christmas together--just like families.  I'm immediately reminded of Christmas episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers, Friends, and even The Office (those workers seem to resent each other much like family members who at times painfully struggle to get along!)  There are many, many more examples of friends acting like family at Christmas--got a favorite episode?


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Three's Company Christmas (1977)


Do you remember 1977's "Three's Christmas" holiday storyline?

Not all Christmas stories need to be complex, offer a surprise or a twist ending to be thoroughly enjoyable.  The second season episode of Three's Company entitled "Three's Christmas" is a good example of well-defined characters that make this simple holiday story entertaining. 


Remember what Christmas gift Jack receives from his roommates? Both Janet and Chrissy give him a pair of socks!   


Jack offers his roommates affectionate kisses under the mistletoe!

In "Three's Christmas," Jack, Chrissy, and Janet exchange gifts and discuss their holiday plans.  Wanting to celebrate the season with all their friends, the three roommates decide to host a Christmas party for later that same night.


No one can come to their party.  All their friends have already promised to attend the Christmas festivities at the Stevens' apartment.

After calling most of their friends, the gang realizes that everyone is already planning on attending another party--one thrown by their mutual friends, the Stevenses.  Jack, Chrissy, and Janet don't know why they weren't invited, but their hopes for attending a merry party are dashed.


Who could hurt Mrs. Roper's feelings?  Not Chrissy.

Downstairs, the Ropers return home earlier than planned from their family celebration.  Stanley had drank too much--and Helen is once again frustrated with her husband's anti-social behavior.  Instead of spending the evening alone, Helen decides to invite Jack, Chrissy, and Janet to the Ropers' apartment for a small get-together.  Before Jack can make up an excuse to avoid the boring affair, Chrissy cheerfully accepts Mrs. Roper's invitation.  No one wants to hurt Helen's feelings but the evening is looking to be a disaster.   That is, until Jack receives a phone call from his friend Jim Stevens--the roommates are invited to the big party after all!


What a festive pink, plastic Christmas tree, Janet quips.

Predictably, Stanley is stingy when he serves his guests a drink.

Unable to cancel at the last minute, Jack, Chrissy, and Janet swear to each other to stay at the Ropers' party for just a little while.  After Mr. Roper falls asleep early, just as he does nearly every evening, the three roommates plan to go to the Stevens' party.  And, the short evening drags on and on as the trio endures their landlords' attempts to entertain his guests.


Stanley offers to show off his poor skills at card tricks.

Jack plays the piano while Chrissy and Stanley share an old fashioned sing-along.

Janet and Helen can't even stay awake during the party!

When Mr. Roper gets out his bugle, the three roommates make a quick exit.

Finally, Jack can stand no more of Stanley's annoyances and makes his excuse to leave.  Janet and Chrissy follow his lead.  Frustrated that they couldn't leave any sooner, the roommates excitely leave for the Stevens' Christmas party.  Inside the Ropers' apartment, Helen berates Stanley for chasing the kids home from of her party early.  But Stanley reveals that they've been invited to the Stevens' party!  He's been trying to get Jack, Janet, and Chrissy to leave all evening so the Ropers could attend the big party with all of their other friends.  Happy with themselves, Helen and Stanley leave for the Stevens' Christmas party.


Stanley drinks too much--the same offense that ruined the Roper's earlier family celebration.

In the tag before the credits roll, we see Jack and Helen assist a drunken Stanley home from the Stevens' party together.  Mrs. Roper remarks that she's not mad at Jack, Janet, and Chrissy for leaving her get-together to attend the Stevens' party.  Her only regret, once again, is Stanley's behavior. 


Did you catch this episode's reference to the hit song "White Christmas?"

A nice little detail in this popular Christmas episode is the explanation from Chrissy about the origin of her name.  She explains that her birth name is Christmas--she's called Chrissy for short.  Her full name, she tells Jack, is Christmas Snow because "My father was a big fan of Bing Crosby." 

Anybody else a big fan of the song "White Christmas?"


Monday, September 29, 2014

Family Ties Christmas (1983)



Of all the dozens of sitcom adaptations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, this particular episode has been a favorite of TV fans for a long time.  Not only is Family Ties a series that continues to charm watchers but "A Keaton Christmas Carol" from 1983 is a stand out episode.  Why do you think this version of A Christmas Carol stands the test of time?


Everyone in the Keaton family--except Alex--embraces the Christmas spirit this year.

You remember the plot, right?  The episode begins on Christmas Eve with Elyse, Steven, Jennifer, and Mallory decorating the Christmas tree and noticing the beauty of the recent snowfall.  However, Alex doesn't share their holiday spirit--he's not caught up in this "silly sentimental farce."  Although he was asked to get a bottle of cough syrup for his youngest sister's cold symptoms, Alex has forgotten and promises to get some tomorrow--unconcerned that the stores will be closed on Christmas day.  Alex is also not interested in posing for this year's family Christmas photo either.


Alex wants to take a vote--who else wants to skip exchanging gifts this year?

Hearing carolers sharing their Christmas joy, Alex threatens to call the police--even after he recognizes that the group is led by the local minister.

Uttering those famous last words, "Christmas!? Bah Humbug" as he lies in bed, Alex soon finds himself haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  The spirit takes Alex on a little journey to re-visit Christmas from ten years ago.  Alex sees that as a child, he was filled with the right Christmas attitude--he enjoys watching others open their Christmas gifts, he leads the singing of Christmas songs, and it was initially his own idea to begin taking an annual family photo in front of the Christmas tree. 

The Ghost of Christmas Past is embodied by Alex's youngest sister Jennifer.


With the help of re-visiting his past, Alex sees that once upon a time he did enjoy Christmas.

Although Alex wishes he could continue to re-live this happy Christmas from his past, the ghost takes him back to his bedroom in the present.  Immediately Alex is greeted by a second visitor, the Ghost of Christmas Future--this one looks just like his other sister, Mallory.  Alex is whisked away to catch a glimpse of the holiday thirty years in his future--a vision that doesn't look so bright.

This efficient sitcom uses only two of four ghosts that Dickens' original story introduced.


Though they've fallen on hard times, the Keatons exhibit the same cheerful holiday spirit and are grateful for what they have--including a small, brown Christmas tree.

Alex learns in his future he is very wealthy and living in New York while his family is destitute.  His mother ekes out a living taking in other people's laundry, Mallory is pregnant while her husband serves time in debtors' prison, Jennifer sells dirt for a living, and Steven is unemployed--since Alex fired him from his job!  Poor Jennifer can barely speak--she has a severe sore throat from a lingering cold.  Too bad she can't afford to buy herself cough syrup!


Alex's horror in this dark vision of the future resonates with the prediction that he will some day be bald!

On his way to celebrate Christmas in Las Vegas, Alex has stopped by to see his family in order to drop off his laundry.  In line with Dickens' script, present-day Alex is horrified by this vision of himself and his loved ones.  He vows to change his life in order to prevent this future from ever happening.  Sure enough, on Christmas morning Alex has had an attitude adjustment.  The teenager has run to the store for Christmas presents to show each member of his family how much he loves and appreciates them.  And, Alex insists the Keatons pose once more for their annual family photo in front of the Christmas tree.

Alex finally puts himself in the Christmas spirit.

Too bad the only store Alex could find open on Christmas morning was a convenience store--sister Mallory gets beef jerky as her gift!

I have my own theories why this sitcom adaptation of A Christmas Carol still resonates with TV fans.  One strength of this particular episode is that the jokes and punchlines are well written and still sharp after all these years.  Alex threatening to call the police on a happy group of carolers which includes a church pastor is hilarious.  So is Alex's fear of going bald.  Another strength of this sitcom adaptation is that Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge character fits an exaggerated Alex P. Keaton of the future pretty reasonably.  It is not a stretch to see the business-centered, money-focused teen evolve into a lonely, self-centered Scrooge.  But I think the heart of this episode lies in Alex's transformation.  Young Michael J. Fox is thoroughly convincing when he decides to change his future and we see him express what seems like authentic compassion and genuine affection for his family members.  That's a special gift Fox still brings to his roles--and he shows his masterful skill here despite the sitcom's short length format.  It can't be easy to be both funny and heart-felt in less than thirty minutes.  I think "A Keaton Christmas Carol" is an excellent example of how to do both.


Alex finally gets in on the annual family Christmas photo.

What's your favorite sitcom adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Full House Christmas (1994)



There are quite a few Full House holiday episodes.  I've written about the 1988 episode "Our Very First Christmas Show" before.  That Christmas story included actor Sorrell Booke (that's J.D. Boss Hogg to you and me).  However, when I recall Full House Christmas episodes, this 1994 installment is the one that stands out the most in my memory.  Who could forget the year Mickey Rooney came to spend Christmas with the Tanner family?


What's so bad about a Christmas necktie that doubles as drink holder?

In 1994's "Arrest Ye Merry Gentlemen," young Michelle is eager to give her father the first Christmas present she's ever purchased.  When she discovers that her Aunt Becky is intending to give the same gift--one the other members of the family openly mock--Michelle begs her Uncle Jesse to take her back to the store to exchange it.  Although he is cranky, tired of the lack of Christmas spirit in everyone he has encountered this Christmas Eve, Jesse eventually agrees to Michelle's request.


Preschoolers Nicky and Alex think they see Santa Claus trying to harm DJ and Stephanie!

Meanwhile, Uncle Joey has returned from the dry cleaners with his Santa suit, excited to surprise young Nicky and Alex later that night.  Unfortunately, the suit doesn't fit--and the impressionable toddlers overhear Joey moaning and groaning while trying to squeeze into the small sized costume. Terrified of the Santa Monster, the young twins are no longer looking forward to meeting St. Nick!  This hilarious B-story bolsters this episode to make it one of the strongest Christmas stories of the series.


Uncle Jesse is once again impatient with others on Christmas Eve.

When Michelle and Jesse arrive at the joke and novelty shop to return her unwanted Christmas present, the store owner Mr. Dreghorn (played by veteran actor Mickey Rooney) is just closing up and refuses to open the door.  After talking their way in, Mr. Dreghorn doesn't want to bother with making a return--and Jesse tries to convince him to exchange the merchandise.  Pushed beyond his limits, Mr. Dreghorn locks the front door and claims to have pushed the silent alarm for the police.  Yes, Jesse and Michelle are being held hostage on Christmas Eve by Mr. Dreghorn!


Held hostage by Andy Hardy!?

This family sitcom has not exactly created a nightmarish situation.  This madman is Mickey Rooney after all--he's a scamp, not a slasher.  More revealing, Rooney's Mr. Dreghorn has a twinkle in his eye and easily lands all his comical jabs against Uncle Jesse.  (Dreghorn mostly pokes fun of the well coiffed Uncle Jesse--a well-worn source of comedy on the series.  My favorite insult is when Dreghorn refers to Uncle Jesse as Fonzie.  With his slicked back hair, white tee, and black leather jacket--the barb is a solid strike).  Although Uncle Jesse begins to panic, Michelle knows how to read the situation.


Michelle also laughs at Dreghorn's insults lobbed at Uncle Jesse as he fumes about his crisis.

Locked in the store for awhile, Jesse eventually recognizes the police haven't arrived yet.  He tries to reason with Mr. Dreghorn for their release, claiming that the Tanner family is waiting for them to return for the the big holiday celebration to begin.  But Michelle sees what Uncle Jesse doesn't--Dreghorn isn't in any hurry.  Perhaps Dreghorn doesn't have a party he's missing or a large family who are waiting on his arrival?


Their mother Becky reads "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to the twins who just hope the nightmare will end!

Back at the Tanner home, Danny's little talk about Santa Claus with Nicky and Alex doesn't go as well as intended.  After explaining that Santa sees them while they're sleeping and sneaks into the house on Christmas Eve, the boys are more terrorized than before.  Can you blame them?

Have Mercy!  By this 8th season episode, Uncle Jesse's mullet is gone.

Michelle urges Uncle Jesse to invite Mr. Dreghorn to come home with them for Christmas.  Sure enough, the lonely old man was just looking for some company on Christmas Eve.  Uncle Jesse has to apologize for his behavior as well--finding blame in everyone else when he lacks the Christmas spirit.  You're not surprised by a happy ending, are you?


What--no holiday armadillo suit in your closet, Joey?

Nicky and Alex are eventually coaxed into welcoming Santa when Joey has the bright idea to dress up in a pink rabbit costume.  Who could be afraid of the Christmas Bunny?


Dreghorn joins the Tanner family for a merry Christmas--or was it?

Of course, if you want to read the tone of this Christmas episode as a horror story--locked in and held hostage by Mickey Rooney--I think you should go ahead and make yourself happy.  Diff'rent Strokes for different folks, right?  Wait--no, that's another sitcom.  Sorry.  But if you like Christmas horror stories, you probably already know about Mickey Rooney in the cult favorite Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker.  This 1991 camp Christmas classic features Rooney in the title role with a few twists that will leave you wanting to see Deghorn played a bit more ambiguously dark.  If you haven't yet seen SNDN 5--what are you waiting for?