Bruce Dickinson at The Plaza Live in Orlando, FL on 1/18/22 By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

Some bands and musicians I will never tire of no matter how old I get; Iron Maiden is one of those bands. Each and every time I revisit their catalog, I’m instantly transported back to being that fifteen year old kid, still trying in earnest to figure out any and every Steve Harris bassline I could in my old bedroom. And when I finally saw the band live in 2011 after years of admiration, I must have had the most visibly dopey smile around that night as I sat in the audience in complete awe.

So it didn’t take much to get me through the door at The Plaza Live for frontman Bruce Dickinson’s Orlando stop on his new spoken word tour, which just kicked off this week here in Florida. While worlds away from a Maiden or even solo performance, the charismatic singer spent the evening going through both his professional and personal life experiences with enough energy and one-liners to rival just about any stand up comedian.

Beginning with his early life and leading up to his joining bands like Shots and Samson during his college years, he eventually lead up to his induction into Iron Maiden and many of the adventures that naturally came with it, using slides along the way like a professor teaching his course. Of course he also discussed his career as an airline pilot and battle with cancer as well. But don’t expect to hear much singing at these shows; aside from brief a cappella lines from “Run to the Hills” and The Beatles’ “Let It Be” weaved within his storytelling, there was not a whole lot of it to be found.

After a brief intermission, where the video for the latest Maiden single, “The Writing on the Wall,” was displayed, Dickinson returned to answer questions from fans who turned in handwritten cards handed out before the show. This lead to some of the night’s most comical moments, with one particular, KISS vs. Slade inquiry posed from a Liverpool fan being one of the highlights.

I could see this perhaps not going over too well for a mere casual observer. But for a die hard fan, it was just the right amount of history (although I must confess, I was already familiar with many of his stories, having already read his autobiography). Dickinson has no doubt lead a fascinating life, and if you’re able to go in with an open mind, you might just be glad you did.

Film Review: Scream (Spyglass Media Group/Paramount Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

I went into the new Scream relaunch/reboot (requel?) admittedly not expecting much at all. But to my surprise, it was actually a much more enjoyable ride than I had imagined; far from a cinematic masterpiece by any means, but an improvement over its past two disastrous predecessors combined nonetheless (they couldn’t just seriously throw a “5” at the end of the title though?! Come on, stop taking yourself so seriously Hollywood).

In this round (which directly follows the events of 2011’s Scream 4), a new group of Woodsboro teens, many with their own unique connections to the original town killings, become the targets of yet another Ghostface killer (or killers?), with estranged sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) at the center of it all. When Sam and her new boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) enlist the help of former sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette), it quickly leads to more faces from the original reuniting and coming to the rescue, including Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). Even Skeet Ulrich is somehow able to make a brief return as Billy Loomis, but I won’t elaborate any further to avoid spoiling anything.

Long time fans of the series should appreciate all the sly references to the original (as well as other Wes Craven films, including A Nightmare on Elm Street) thrown in, while younger generations should appreciate the more modernized take. The acting isn’t always the greatest, and the gore is at times excessively over the top and unnecessary, but again, this is far from Shakespeare here.

All in all, what directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin have assembled here is a fairly spot-on homage to Craven’s original work (“For Wes” is promptly displayed over the end credits), and at times I found myself so lost in the plot, I honestly felt like I was that kid sitting in the theater with my friends back in the ’90s all over again. This ship finally seems to be steering in the right direction again; let’s hope those calling the shots keep it that way.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

In Memoriam: Bob Saget (1956-2022) By Jesse Striewski

I can remember it like yesterday; gathering around the living room TV set with the entire family every time something new or interesting was set to premiere, long before Netflix or any of the numerous “plus” networks around today. And when shows like Full House and America’s Funniest Home Videos, starring/hosted by funny man Bob Saget, first dropped, I was there to take in everything each had to offer.

Saget was born on May 17, 1956 in Philadelphia, PA, where he attended film school at Temple University. In the early ’80s he appeared in random bit parts in such films and TV shows as Full Moon High (1981) and The Greatest American Hero (1983) before he received his first real “break,” albeit brief, on The Morning Show in 1987, which served as a precursor to his most famous role as morning TV host Danny Tanner on Full House, which premiered on September 22 of that same year. He also appeared alongside legendary comedian Richard Pryor in Condition Critical that year as well.

By 1989, he was America’s favorite dad, so it made sense for him to host America’s Funniest Home Videos that year, the first video clip show of its kind long before YouTube. He would maintain his hosting position up until 1997 (two years after Full House‘s cancellation), leaving big shoes to fill for everyone who has hosted since.

In 1998, he was directing the late Norm Macdonald in Dirty Work, a box office bomb but guilty pleasure none the less. He also made one of the most memorable and talked about cameo appearances to date in Half Baked, also in 1998.

He made his return to TV in 2001 with the short-lived Raising Dad, before landing a recurring role on Entourage starting in 2005, as well as narrating the main character’s voice on How I Met Your Mother that year, a gig that would last him until 2014. He also returned alongside many of his former castmates for the Netflix sequel series Fuller House from 2016-2020. Saget’s most recent work was an appearance on Nickelodeon’s Unfiltered last year, and he will also be appearing posthumously in the upcoming film Killing Daniel.

Saget had just begun a stand up comedy tour when, on January 9, he was found unresponsive in his Ritz-Carlton hotel room in Orlando, FL (a forty minute drive from where I write this tribute). I don’t know why I didn’t make more effort to catch his show at the Hard Rock Live just two nights prior, but I had started kicking around interview ideas prior to his tour (something I now regret not pursuing harder).

Although there’s still many unanswered questions regarding the circumstances of his death, one thing is for certain; Saget leaves a hole in the hearts of many of us. His passing comes just days after the loss of loveable Golden Girl Betty White, and both loses are prime examples of not knowing what one has until it’s gone. Both Bob and Betty were special in their own unique ways, and their legacies are sure to stand the test of time.

Series Review: Cobra Kai Season 4 (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

Like many, I too was excited for yet another new season of the hit series Cobra Kai. But even with some returning familiar faces, the show unfortunately feels more tiresome and strained than ever before this time around.

It starts off promising, albeit predictable enough; John Kreese (Martin Kove) recruits his former partner and Cobra Kai co-founder Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith, who returns to the franchise for the first time since The Karate Kid Part III) to compete with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), who have now splintered off back to their own respective dojos.

It’s painfully obvious this season is solely a Netflix production; not only is it dumbed-down to the most low-brow levels possible every chance it gets here, the characters show such little signs of any actual human development. The adults still exude constant unrealistic immaturity, while the teens continue to answer any conflicts with as much whining and/or ridiculously reckless behavior as possible.

It takes until the eighth entry for things to finally start picking up a little, eventually peaking by the tenth and final episode. And of course the door is yet again left ajar for a fifth season, with Silver (hopefully) hinting at the return of Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) from K.K.III. But even still, the show has sadly become far too self-aware, and not much more than just a parody of itself; I truly hope it can somehow find its way back on track to being “the best around” by the time the next season drops.

Rating: 2/5 Stars

Film Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home (Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios)

By: Jesse Striewski

Aside from Batman, Spider-Man has always been one of the few superhero characters that I don’t mind watching on screen. But as just a casual fan, these newer films with Tom Holland as the titular hero have been much harder to enjoy than the early 2000’s films starring Toby Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi.

I’ll try to sum up No Way Home (what’s with all of the “home” references in the title of every one of the Holland flicks, anyway?) as simplified as possible for fellow outsiders such as myself; Spider-Man/Peter Parker is basically hated by the world for the events in the last entry, Far From Home, and enlists the help of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to erase everyone’s memory of it. In doing so, it allows other previous foes from other dimensions into his world.

It does allow for some exciting moments, and it was interesting to see some of the actors and characters from the Raimi films appear on the big screen again, such as Maguire, Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, and Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus. But eventually it just became as clunky as all of the other ridiculous superhero films these days that I could care less about (like the Avengers or Wonder Woman), and the plot was far too similar to the 2018 animated feature Into the Spider-Verse. And I get there are people really into these movies, but it’s lost on me how they possibly maintain the time and energy to know all of the ins and outs of all these countless characters and storylines (I’d be exhausted if I tried).

I also made the mistake of taking my kid to see it in 3-D, which is the most absurd and shameless gimmick by Hollywood these days, and not only completely pointless for most films (such as this one), it has completely taken away any magic from the concept entirely. But look, it’s not that No Way Home is a bad film per se (it was still better than that new Matrix film, something so disappointing I elected not to even review it at all), it’s just not what someone like me is looking for from a Spider-Man movie. I think I’ll just stick to the simplicity of those old Raimi films next time I’m in the mood for one.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Interview with Actor Monte Markham By Jesse Striewski

Late last year I spoke with legendary actor Monte Markham to specifically discuss his role as Clay Hollingsworth on The Golden Girls for an anniversary piece I was working on at the time for Rewind It Magazine. But with so much more material leftover from our over thirty minute long phone conversation, it felt like a waste not to print the rest (better late than never as they say).

After all, aside from his recurring role on The Golden Girls in the late ’80s/early ’90s, Markham’s acting career spans as far back as the ’60s, appearing on such shows as Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-0, The A-Team, Murder, She Wrote, and Baywatch, as well as such classic films as Midway and Airport ’77, just to name a few.

One of the questions I had asked him regarding his appearances on The Golden Girls was how he felt it compared to other TV shows he’s done. He replied; “As an actor I’ve done just about every type of performance you can do. But four-camera sitcoms in many ways are the most difficult to do because, one; it’s comedy, and two; it’s rewritten everyday at rehearsals. And the camera is in your face, but it’s about 20 or 30 yards away, so it’s like you feel like you’re on stage, but there’s an intimacy of the lens, so you have to adjust performance.I did several of them (sitcoms); The Mary Tyler Moore Show was really a good playing ground on them.”

I also asked why he felt this shows have endeared so many years later, and he stated; “Even with a movie you’ve seen numerous times before, why do you find yourself still staying with it? Because it’s a good film. It’s like with The Mary Tyler Moore show; I did the second episode after the pilot, and I can tell you, the cast were all very nervous about it because the guy who had directed the pilot wasn’t available. I remember Lou Grant coming up to me and asking, ‘Is this funny?’ (Laughs), and I reassured him, ‘No, no, it’s terrific!’ But it was that damn good, and that’s why they’re still in reruns around the world constantly. The interesting thing is, rather than just being old, a good show plays to a whole new audience.”

He also explained what he has done since many of his most memorable roles; “In ’92 I was still doing Baywatch in syndication and playing the Captain, which was great. I had an opportunity to form a company with my wife and son, and we did documentary production for A&E, which lead to doing the first shows for The History Channel. And I didn’t know from there we’d be producing, writing, and directing these documentaries for the next twenty years. It was a great ride, and I was able to travel all over the world, but I couldn’t act at that time because it was impossible to schedule anything, since we were always on the road.”

He continued; “Then in about 2010, we figured we had done about everything we could with that, and it was time to bring it in. So I went back into acting, which was very interesting…a whole different time with streaming, and the whole world being able to watch anything at any time. It’s a different business, a different world now. We just recently had a 30th anniversary party for Baywatch after they updated and remixed it, and the color and everything is spectacular. It’s a whole new looking show, but they couldn’t use the same music because it was tied up in all various kinds of licensing, so they had to re-record it.”

The last thing I wanted to know was what his thoughts were on the (embarrassing) 2017 Baywatch remake. He told me; “Well, in general the remake of Baywatch is pretty abysmal. Baywatch (the show) was what it was; sure, it was a lot of T&A and beautiful girls running in slow motion, but also had some really family-oriented, life lessons in there as well…just a lot of lightweight stuff, but it caught on. I remember back when we were doing the pilot, and looking at the real LA lifeguards around on set who were like, ‘Give me a break!’ (Laughs), even though the first two girls they cast could actually swim really well, but then they kind of got away from that. But when they do a remake these days, they throw all of what made it successful in the first place out the door, making it absurd, so it’s like just basically making fun of itself.”

Book Review: Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen By Brad Tolinski and Chris Gill (Hachette Books)

By: Jesse Striewski

There’s been countless literature dedicated to the late Eddie Van Halen (much of which I’ve read, some I’ve even written personally myself) over the years. But this new collection by authors Brad Tolinski and Chris Gill, might just be the best thing ever transcribed on the legendary Van Halen guitarist.

Covering everything from his early youth as an immigrant struggling to adjust to American life along with his older brother (and Van Halen drummer) Alex, to rising to the pinnacle of rock stardom, this take on Eddie’s life somehow feels fresh, even virtually knowing his full life story by heart prior to reading.

Using both new and archived interviews from numerous associates (such as former bassist Michael Anthony and brief frontman Gary Cherone) of Van Halen’s to help tell the story makes for a fascinating read as well. It’s also refreshing to see every detail of Van Halen’s history as a band, including their earliest incarnation as a trio with Eddie up front on vocals and Mark Stone on bass, covered here.

The sudden loss of Eddie Van Halen late last year was the perfect example of not knowing what one had before it was gone. But Eddie will (rightfully so) be discussed and remembered for future generations to come; Eruption only helps to further solidify his legacy.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Special Edition: The 25 Greatest Non-Traditional Christmas Movies of All Time By Jesse Striewski

What really constitutes a ‘classic’ Christmas movie? Is the term limited strictly to the holiday specials of yesteryear, like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, or Santa Claus is Coming to Town? Or does it refer only to the same films played to death on cable television every year, such as A Christmas Story, Home Alone, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?

Over the years, there’s been many a film with Christmas either on the side or in the background all together, some more obvious than others, some more off-the-cuff. I tried to find twenty-five movies (for December 25th) for those with “alternative” tastes that prefer something slightly less than typical, and once and for all end the debate what exactly classifies as a Christmas movie (and of course, once and for all declare that Die Hard IS in fact a Christmas movie!).

It was not easy narrowing it down; as much as I wanted to include the likes of Maniac Cop 2, Robocop 3, or Jaws: The Revenge, they just did not fit the mold. Other films that also came to mind that deserve an honorable mention include Mean Girls (pictured, above), Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Can’t Buy Me Love, Vice Versa, and even the original Karate Kid, all featured some Christmas in them, but not quite enough to make the list. And as tempting as it was to include some horror films like Black Christmas or Silent Night, Deadly Night, they indeed still fall under the Christmas banner in their own demented ways. So, compiled here for you now, I present the ultimate misfits guide of not-so-obvious Christmas movies…

25. Reindeer Games (2000): What better way to start things off than with an uber over-the-top, early 2000’s action flick starring Ben Affleck, who plays a recently-released ex-con who gets tied up with the wrong people and finds himself in the middle of a casino heist dressed as Santa? A recent viewing proved the plot is still just as bad as it sounds, but if you like a good dose of violence with your holiday cheer, than this one’s for you.

24. Night of the Comet (1984): Okay, I know I just said I was not going to include horror on this list, but I’ll make an exception for Night of the Comet since this mid-80s flick starring Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney is not only more of a Sci Fi/comedy feature, but there’s no killer Santa in sight. Instead, the main protagonists here are zombies after a comet hits the Earth just days before Christmas.

23. Trapped in Paradise (1994): Nicholas Cage, Jon Lovitz, and Dana Carvey star as three bumbling brothers who rob a small town bank. The plot is predictable, and the jokes few and far between, but the winter scenery is on point and enough to put anyone in the holiday spirit.

22. Invasion U.S.A. (1985): Die Hard was far from the first action film to incorporate yuletide carnage in it. This mid-’80s Chuck Norris romp features plenty of exploding Christmas trees as Norris tears his way through shopping malls (among numerous other suburban settings).

21. Light of Day (1987): Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett star as brother and sister and bandmates in a struggling Ohio rock group trying to “make it.” Sure, the actual Christmas side of things are few and far between, but the amount of white snow seen throughout is enough of a holiday reminder, despite the dreary atmosphere.

20. Screwed (2000): When chauffeur Willard (Norm Macdonald) gets a lousy pair of cuff links from his boss for Christmas, he snaps and devises a plan with his friend Rusty (Dave Chappelle) to kidnap her dog and hold it for ransom. Everything that can go wrong, does, as the two bumbling anti-heroes scramble to keep their heads above water.

Dave Chappelle (left) and Norm Macdonald enjoying some holiday cocktails in Screwed (2000).

19. Daddy’s Home 2 (2017): The two co-dads (Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell) from the original Daddy’s Home take their respective families to a ski resort for Christmas vacation, with their own fathers (Mel Gibson, John Lithgow) in tow as well. One mishap after the other leads to a few memorable moments, with the film even culminating complete with an epic sing-a-long of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?.”

18. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009): Paul Blart (Kevin James) is a harmless New Jersey mall security officer who must rise to the occasion when thieves disguised as Santa’s Village employees attempt to heist the mall on Black Friday. The majority of the film takes place within the mall itself, something once as synonymous with Christmas as mistletoe.

17. Dumb and Dumber (1994): Pals Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dune (Jeff Daniels) take a cross-country trip to Aspen, Co. to return a briefcase to the girl of Christmas’ dreams. Along the way, there’s visions of snowy ski resorts and even snowman building, all adding to the holiday vibes.

16. Diner (1982): This early ’80s buddy film who center around a group of friends (played by Steve Guttenberg, Kevin Bacon, and Mickey Rourke, among others) hanging out and experiencing adulthood for the first time in late 1950’s Maryland. Almost every frame is dark and filled with frigid cold, often with Christmas decorations appearing.

15. Less Than Zero (1987): Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, and Robert Downy, Jr. play rich kids lost in the decadence of 1980’s Los Angeles. Scenes of Christmas parties include plenty of “snow” despite the film’s western setting.

14. First Blood (1982): The true O.G. of the Christmas action film, Sylvester Stallone’s first time portraying John Rambo contains more festive cheer than one might realize at first glance. From the sheriff’s office in the beginning, to the big in town shoot up ending, there’s plenty of Christmas decor to spot throughout.

13. Grumpy Old Men (1993): Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon play two bickering old neighbors in Minnesota. Snow covers nearly everything the eye can see in exterior shots (many centering around the two men ice fishing), while interior settings center around the holidays when family comes to visit.

12. Eyes Wide Shut (1999): Stanley Kubrick’s odd masterpiece of cults and cheating spouses starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman immediately starts off at a Christmas party in New York. The film maintains a cold, dark tone throughout, with the Christmas elements contrasting the material perfectly.

11. Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986): Long before there was “The Dude,” there was Nick Nolte’s brilliant portrayal of a homeless man who is reluctantly taken in by Beverly Hills elitists (Richard Dreyfus, Bette Midler) during the holiday season. Things eventually get so out of hand, even Little Richard shows up at the family’s Christmas party.

10. Rocky IV (1985): Going back to the 1976 original, the Rocky films were no strangers to holiday atmosphere. But by the time the Italian Stallion (Sylvester Stallone) got to the fourth entry, it was full-on, with the film’s final fight taking place on Christmas day in Russia. The trend would continue further five years later with Rocky V (1990), which also featured plenty of Christmas, but lacked much of the heart.

9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001): I can’t say I’m a Harry Potter aficionado (to this day I still don’t think I’ve even seen all of the films), but I do remember seeing the first movie and equating it to a Christmas film with much of its festive scenery. For many years the original film was even kept on the Disney Channel’s annual rotation of holiday films.

8. Ghostbusters II (1989): From ghostbusting in Santa hats on the streets of New York, to an outdoor sing-a-long on New Year’s Eve, this 1989 sequel to the original Ghostbusters no doubt contained the Christmas spirit.

7. Hook (1991): This early ’90s take on the classic animated Disney film Peter Pan (which contained Christmas itself) starring the late Robin Williams only featured Christmas in the beginning and ending of the film, but contains enough magic to qualify here. Williams would appear in another similar fantasy film just a few years later in Jumanji (1995), which also featured some Christmas in it.

6. Edward Scissorhands (1990): Tim Burton was hitting his stride as a director by the time he reached Edward Scissorhands in the early ’90s. Johnny Depp stars as the Frankenstein-like titular character trying to fit in in a pristine suburbia, and Winnoa Ryder appears as his love interest. Again, the Christmas season doesn’t appear until near the end of the film, but the snowy flurries from Edward’s ice sculpting throughout the film adds to the seasonal feel.

5. Batman Returns (1992): In this entry, Batman (Michael Keaton) takes on the sleazy Penguin (Danny Devito) and slinky Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) in sub zero temperatures. Children are kidnapped, and Christmas parties are crashed in this final Batman entry with Keaton and directed by Tim Burton.

Mel Gibson gets more than he bargained for while shopping for a Christmas tree in Lethal Weapon (1987).

4. Lethal Weapon (1987): One of the greatest of its kind, the original Lethal Weapon with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover blended fast-paced action over a Christmas backdrop flawlessly. Perhaps the most memorable festive moment comes when a bullet goes through Tom Atkins’ torso into a glass of egg nog (I was thoroughly pleased to see Atkins actually had stills of this to sign when I met him this past October). It’s great to see Lethal Weapon is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a Christmas classic.

3. Trading Places (1983): Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy brilliantly portray an upper class broker and a small time street hustler whose lives are swapped at the whim of two millionaires making a bet. Much of the film takes place in the frigid temps of winter in Philadelphia with Christmas decor in aubundance. Very few on screen Santa’s before or since have compared to Aykroyd’s boozed-up, show-stopping performance.

2. Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard 2 (1990): Yes, the original Bruce Willis blockbuster Die Hard, which takes place at a high rise holiday party on Christmas Eve, is absolutely a Christmas film. But its first 1990 follow up, which includes terrorists taking over an airport on Christmas Eve, is often overlooked as an equal Christmas film. Of course, nothing will ever top Hans Gruber falling off the Nakatomi Plaza in the original, but each deserves their own holiday viewing.

1. Gremlins (1984): Marketed as a horror/comedy upon its initial release, the original Gremlins has since become a staple Christmas time classic. When teenaged Billy (Zach Galligan) gets a cute and fury, foreign creature as a Christmas present, it turns out to be too good to be true when it multiples, and the rest turn into hideous little monsters who wreak havoc on the small town. From start to finish, Christmas is everywhere in Gremlins, which has been a go-to in my household since I first received it as a gift (for Christmas) on VHS when I was a kid in the ’80s.

Christmas caroling gone wrong in Gremlins (1984).

Special Edition: The History of the Holiday Horror Film By Shawn McKee

Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella A Christmas Carol is as familiar as the holiday itself. As a quintessential story of redemption, it’s hard to imagine a world before Ebenezer Scrooge. Roughly a hundred years later, director Frank Capra delivered a similar redemptive tale with the Jimmy Stewart classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Both stories had elements of darkness within their exploration of humanity, but neither delved into the murder and mayhem of the Christmas slasher films that followed. It was only a matter of time before Santa Clause became a serial killer, which audiences would get their first glimpse of on screen in the brief “And All Through the House” segment in the 1972 film Tales From the Crypt.

The1970s and 80s introduced a decidedly macabre take on the holiday genre. Nonetheless, these films exhibited a certain charm amid their profitable nihilism. It was a special time and place, where young filmmakers thrived in merging horror tropes with the holidays, long before Tim Burton arrived on the scene. One of the earliest examples of this twisted trend began with the aptly titled Black Christmas, a horror film that remains frightening to this day.

Black Christmas (1974)

Director Bob Clark played a pivotal role in launching the slasher genre with this tense, atmospheric film that entirely lives up to its reputation. Initially dismissed by critics, the movie has since gained a deeper appreciation for its artful cinematography, serious themes, and stark horror. Clark helped shape the prototype slasher film with a level of quality not often associated with the genre. There have been two worthless “name only” remakes, largely unrelated to the original plot.

The story involves a group of sorority girls being harassed by an unseen psycho who may or may not be known by them. Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and Kier Dullea round out the talented cast, with some other familiar faces in the mix. As the murders continue unabated, we never learn the identity of the killer, which was something rarely, if ever, seen before. Black Christmas heavily inspired John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), which led to the slasher boom of the 80s. Not content with one genre, Bob Clark later went on to direct the cherished holiday classic, A Christmas Story (1983).

Ralphie’s childhood quest for a Red Ryder BB gun is quite different than anything seen in Black Christmas, and it’s a testament to Clark’s versatility. Writer Jean Shepherd’s humorous, semi-fictional accounts of growing up in the 1950s is about as far from a slasher film one could get. Both films, in my opinion, can be appreciated on different levels. Clark cemented two equally enjoyable holiday classics for generations to come.

Olivia Hussey is terrorized in a scene from Black Christmas (1974).

Silent Night, Deadly Night (Part I-V)

The abundance of slasher films throughout the 80s weren’t without controversy. Bloody, elaborate special effects were often removed, following a merciless MPAA crackdown. In short, fans were left with tedious buildups to off-screen kills, amid other frustrations.

These films were seen as an affront to decency by parents and religious leaders alike, and maybe they were right. But nothing angers gore-loving teenagers more than censorship. I can attest to that. One movie, Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), earned special derision from critic Roger Ebert, who called the profits from the film “blood money” in his heated review. He may have had a point as well. Horror movies, in general, are driven by profit. Violence sells, especially when it’s holiday themed.

Silent Night, Deadly Night continued the psychological tropes first introduced in Christmas Evil (1980). In both cases, traumatized, disturbed men unleashed their fury on society, dressed as Santa Clause. I’m still amazed that Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered five sequels, rendered unrecognizable by the fifth installment. The first film remains the best one, and the lengths they went to extend the series are a riot.

The initial outing tells the story of Billy Chapman (Robert Brian Wilson), who witnessed his parents’ murder at the hands of a Santa Clause-costumed killer. Chapman’s subsequent attempts at a “normal life” are derailed when he takes a job as a mall Santa and predictably snaps. It’s a straight-forward slasher that contains a certain depth to its portrayal of an orphaned child, doomed to the failures of the system.

The movie was pulled from theaters, following an outrage campaign in response to its commercials portraying an ax-wielding maniac dressed as Santa Clause. Simpler times, indeed. The shameless sequel presents forty minutes of footage from the original film through flashbacks recited by the brother of the original killer.

Ricky Caldwell (Eric Freeman), our demented lead, supposedly remembers everything about his brother’s descent, even though he was an infant at the time. All of this was intentional. Due to the first movie being pulled so quickly from theaters, the producers didn’t think anyone would notice if they “reassembled” the first film into a sequel. In the end, we were given an enjoyably bizarre suburban rampage, containing the brief but immortal “Garbage Day” segment. The movie is trash, but earnestly tries to breathe life into a pointless endeavor.

Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out (1989) is an anemic straight-to-video concoction, featuring a girl with psychic powers inexplicably linked to the killer, ala Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988). Back then, plenty of films shamelessly stole from the Brian De Palma’s masterful Stephen King adaptation Carrie (1976). It’s a movie so dull and boring, that it completely earns Ebert’s ire from the first installment.

The best thing that could be said about Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990) is that it tries to be something completely different, even while copying Rosemary’s Baby (1969). It’s a cult movie, directed by the talented Brian Yuzna and starring the legendary Clint Howard. A young, ambitious reporter gets intertwined with a deadly witch cult. There’s plenty of mystery and intrigue that’s as enjoyable as a fourth entry can be. I appreciate their attempts to change things up, even if it has nothing to do with the original. It does take place during Christmas, allowing the cynical holiday tie-in to continue.

They weren’t even trying for consistency by the time Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991) rolled around. This bizarre entry features a deranged toy maker, as promised, portrayed by Mickey Rooney. My explanation of the plot wouldn’t do it justice, but it’s worth seeing out of morbid curiosity. In retrospect, I give it even more credit for shifting away from the source material. It’s the most ridiculous Christmas-themed movie you could see outside of Santa Clause Conquers the Martians (1964). One thing is for certain, Silent Night, Deadly Night films are less disturbing than the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, which still ranks as the most traumatic viewing experience of all time.

Since then, there has been an explosion of sorts of modern Christmas horror films, including a loose Silent Night, Deadly Night remake simply titled Silent Night (2012), as well as Krampus (2015), A Christmas Horror Story (2015), and Red Christmas (2016), among others. Each of these tried to put their own unique spins on the holiday horror genre, and all with varying results. But the above-named earlier films will always remain the go-to’s for anyone searching for true fright during the Christmas season.

Series Review: The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers (Disney +)

This sequel series to the popular Mighty Ducks franchise from the ’90s is surprisingly refreshing, despite falling into some familiar cliches. Fans of the original family-friendly films will most likely rejoice with this updated take on the material, which thankfully lacks much of the corney-ness of the old films.

Now a quite literal “mighty” force to be reckoned with, the junior league Ducks have more or less become the bullies at this point. After cutting twelve-year-old Evan Morrow (Brady Noon) for not being up to par with his hockey skills, his mom (Lauren Graham) and him form a team themselves with (surprise!) more similar outcasts.

Of course they have no idea what they’re doing, and their only hope is to enlist the help of former Ducks coach himself Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez), who is now jaded and hates hockey. What follows is of course a predictable, albeit fun, story of underdogs rising up against the bad guys. The talented young cast do more than admirable jobs in their respective roles, and there’s (thankfully!) no unnecessary agenda pushing that the eye can see. There’s even an appearance or two from some of the original Ducks, which should delight many a fan.

Game Changers is not about to change much at all honestly, but it’s likely to bring a smile or two to a few faces. Simply put, it’s good, harmless fun, which is something we can all use a little more of these days.

Rating: 3/5 Stars