Thursday, December 13, 2018

HOLIDAY (Sorta) HORRORS: Tell Me a Christmas Story... That Rips Off Classic Horror Flicks

When I picked up NIGHT TERRORS (2014) at a horror convention I thought, "Cool... holiday horror meets anthology... sounds like my kinda flick". After screening it I'm reminded of the classic SOUTH PARK episode where Cartman insists that his hand is Jennifer Lopez (you have to see it to believe it).

When confronted by his pals (plus, um, a lovestruck Ben Affleck and the police) he admits his hand isn't J Lo but is actually a con man named Mitch Conner. After getting his pals to admit that what happened was possible he taunts Stan and Kyle by saying "I gotcha kinda... I gotcha kinda..."

This is how NIGHT TERRORS makes me feel.

Based around the old anthology flick chestnut of "world's worst babysitter tells kid horrific stories" a la BURNING MOON, NIGHT TERRORS valiantly tries to replicate the VHS experience of the 80s – complete with a warning that the VHS effect you're seeing is intended and that this is "not a defective product". Yeah, I'll be the judge of that.

The holiday horrors ball gets rolling as Maddie (Alyssa Benner) – stuck at home babysitting while her pal wants her to come out and party – complies with her little brother's request to "tell me a Christmas story". I'm guessing the kid did not have this poor man's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT in mind but his twisted sister unspools the sordid tale of a savage Santa who butchers some heavy metal dude ringing a Salvation Army bell then heads to a squat where he hacks his way through a bunch of punks gearing up for a night of beer and Oi. One can only imagine the lengths Maddy had to go to in order to explain squatting punks and Oi to her little brother.

Despite the very obvious rubber dummy that Santa axes and the myriad of period details the segment – and the flick as a whole – gets wrong, at least you can have some fun looking at the classic hardcore show fliers that dot the squat's wall. Little did I know that '34th Street Massacre' would be the anthology's only "holiday horror" – and the evening's highlight.

'Baby Killer' mines more familiar territory as mad scientist Dr. Herbert Cain (Richard Hackel) must resort to boosting supplies from the ol' university lab in order to work on the cure for his daughter's disease. Not a big fan of kid peril or baby murder, so I'm pretty much out on this one despite the protestor in a Misfits shirt and the acid bath given to the janitor's face.

The flick wraps with 'Abstinence', which I'm sure was meant as a well-intentioned homage to Fred Dekker's classic NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (one of my all-time favorites). I'll use "homage" because nobody making a horror flick would be so blatant as to lift dialogue straight from the flick and have the nerve to use Tom Atkins' oft-quoted "Thrill me" and think they could get away with it. Unfortunately, the hijacked plot-line, woeful casting and period details pulled me right out of the story, no matter how many people puke blood and pull out their own teeth.

In a nutshell, NIGHT TERRORS – written and directed by Alex Lukens and Jason Zink – offers up watchable but largely forgettable Grade D riffs on three great slices of 80s horror. Granted, it isn't like those flicks cornered the market on evil Santas, mad scientists or college mayhem, and I've enjoyed countless variations on said themes. But if you're going to advance the premise that these segments – and the wraparound – are 80s-era artifacts, at least try and get the details and casting right. I understand that you take what you can get when casting a low-budget, straight-to-video horror flick (friends, relatives, people who will work for food), but nobody walking around a college campus in the 80s gauged their earlobes, the only people who had tattoos were bikers and veterans, and don't cast a "college frosh" who looks old enough to be some dad visiting for Parents Weekend.

Well played, NIGHT TERRORS. You got me kinda... you got me kinda... – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and he promises more Holiday Horrors before Christmas. This review previously appeared in ER #53 which is is available from AmazonNIGHT TERRORS is also available from Amazon.

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