The Other Side of Christmas

it's a wonderful knife 2023

IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE

3.5 Stars  2023/88m

“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets to kill.”

Director: Tyler MacIntyre / Writer: Michael Kennedy / Cast: Jane Widdop, Joel McHale, Justin Long, Jess McLeod, Katharine Isabelle, Aiden Howard, Erin Boyes, Sean Depner, Hana Huggins, William B. Davis.

Body Count: 14

Laughter Lines: “Dad gets me a lesbian tracksuit, and you get a goddamn truck!?


What will they think to convert to a slasher movie next? So close on Totally Killer‘s coattails that they could have children, It’s a Wonderful Knife, quite evidently, opts for the wish-I-was-never-born alternate universe composition. But how does it stack up against its time travel, body swap, and time loop brethren?

In the town of Angel Falls, smarmy mayor Henry Waters drags beleaguered realtor David Carruthers (the unrelenting eye candy that is Joel McHale) away from his family on Christmas Eve to try to convince an ageing local homeowner to sell his listed home so a mall can be built on the site. When the old man refuses, a maniac wearing a white angel mask shows up at his door later and slashes his throat, then goes after his teen granddaughter and her friends at a party. David’s children, gay footballer Jimmy, and keen photographer Winnie, are also there and manage not only to survive, but kill the Angel, who, to the surprise of nobody, is Mayor Waters.

it's a wonderful knife 2023

A year later, Winnie is still traumatised by what happened, while her family tries to move on. Sassy aunt Gale (Gale Prescott!!!) and her wife are over for Christmas, but everything just seems to be going wrong for Winnie: Mayor Waters’ brother Buck blames her for killing him, she catches her boyfriend having it away with her best friend, and she hasn’t gotten into NYU.

it's a wonderful knife 2023

Winnie shouts into the night that she wishes she’d never been born and the swirling Aurora Borealis above makes it so. She’s instantly attacked by the Angel Killer, who should be dead, and there’s suddenly a different sheriff who has no idea who she is. Winnie runs home and her parents don’t know her. Worse still, Jimmy was one of the Angel’s victims the previous year – because Winnie wasn’t there to save the day.

it's a wonderful knife 2023

Teaming up with outcast Bernie (known as Weirdo by most), she learns that the Angel has claimed almost 30 victims, the deaths of whom impacted family businesses in town, to the benefit of the not-dead-in-this-reality Mayor Waters. Once she manages to convince Bernie of her timeline-hopping, it’s a race to kill the Angel all over again before the Northern Lights fade away and won’t allow her to return home. Of course, things clearly won’t go to plan.

it's a wonderful knife 2023

It’s a Wonderful Knife goes at a pedal-to-the-metal speed through its plot, ultimately ending too soon, feeling like there was a lot more they could’ve done with the situational aspects of Winnie’s adventure. Some characters feel underdeveloped due to this, with little more to them than a name and sexuality (there’s a lot of LGBT representation here). Still, the Angel racks up a good bodycount, cutting his way through pretty much everyone.

While not quite up there with Freaky (from the same writer) or Totally Killer, there’s still a lot to like and the chases and slashings are on point. Katharine Isabelle is fun as the loose-lipped aunt Gale, and Justin Long leans into sleazy senator central as Waters, appearing to have a ball doing so. Sequel please.

it's a wonderful knife 2023

Blurbs-of-interest: Justin Long was in the first two Jeepers Creepers films; William B. Davis was also in Matinee; Katharine Isabelle was in Freddy vs JasonBones, and See No Evil 2; Tyler MacIntyre also directed Tragedy Girls.

[INSERT CARVING JOKE]

thanksgiving 2023 eli roth poster

THANKSGIVING

4 Stars  2023/18/106m

“There will be no leftovers.”

Director/Writer: Eli Roth / Writer: Jeff Rendell / Cast: Patrick Dempsey, Nell Verlaque, Rick Hoffman, Jalen Thomas Brooks, Milo Manheim, Addison Rae, Tomaso Sanelli, Gabriel Davenport, Jenna Warren, Karen Cliche, Joe Delfin, Amanda Barker, Tim Dillon.

Body Count: 12


Being from a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s a little alien to me, pieced together from Saved by the Bell holiday specials, Friends episodes, tales of brawling families and, finally, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving slasher feature, which comes a whopping sixteen years after the mock trailer he created for Grindhouse (and which, let’s be honest, was the best thing about that project).

Thanksgiving has been a curiously overlooked public holiday in the slasher cannon, with, by my count, only 1980’s Home Sweet Home and 83’s Blood Rage making any ado about it – though I remember someone telling me about a film called ‘Thankskilling’, but maybe that was bullshit.

Roth has always been a bit hit and miss for me, but he shines here, revelling in the nostalgic echoes of early 80s every-holiday-is-a-kill-fest template, and having a bloody good time with it. Emphasis on bloody. He described the movie as a 2023 reboot of what that old trailer would’ve been for, allowing freedom to explore more contemporary themes. Namely: Black Friday.

thanksgiving 2023

Shit a brick and fuck me with it, is the scene that starts this movie accurate? Greedy small town store owner Thomas Wright (the always fun Hoffman) decides to open his joint for the Black Friday madness on Thanksgiving, rather than at midnight, and give away a free waffle iron to the first 100 customers. Crowds gather and get impatient: pushing, shoving, swearing.

When Wright’s daughter Jessica lets five of her friends in through the employee entrance and a couple of them mock those waiting from inside the store, a crush ensues, resulting in shattered glass as hordes of selfish lunatics flood in. Three people die in the madness, including store manager Mitch’s wife (a Gina Gershon cameo).

thanksgiving 2023

One year later (of course), Jessica’s boyfriend Bobby, whose pitching career was ruined by an injury sustained in the carnage, returns after a year ghosting the others, but she’s now going out with the slightly sketchy Ryan (My Bloody Valentine love triangle sighted off the bow) and the six friends involved begin to receive vaguely threatening Insta messages from ‘John Carver’, the town’s Pilgrim figurehead, which coincide with locals who were involved in the riot being offed by an axe-swinging wacko in a mass-produced John Carver mask.

While Jess worries, local Sheriff (Dempsey) leads the charge to locate the killer, and the classless idiots who trampled over dying people for reduced housewares continue to get attacked with electric knives, table top power saws and, in the most ‘ouch’ moment from the concept trailer, a cheerleader on a trampoline bounces down on to a blade that pierces through beneath her.

thanksgiving 2023

Elsewhere, some good chase scenes play out that bring back sweet memories of Prom Night, one of which wrings a great deal of tension in its simplicity, and things culminate in a Happy Birthday to Me-recalling Thanksgiving dinner, with the surviving targets confronted by their sins, and ‘dinner’ is served.

Roth crams a lot into Thanksgiving, recreating almost all of the scenes from his trailer, dropping some subtle clues as to the killer’s identity here and there, and offing people in gruesome ways: One poor uninvolved schmuck is skewered through the head by a parade float, a scene which also recalls Sarah Michelle Gellar seeing the Fisherman everywhere in I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Just a fun slasher movie from start to finish (although the tagline more of a mission statement than a fact).

thanksgiving 2023

Blurbs-of-interest: Canadian mini-icon Lynne Griffin appears as Grandma in the first scene, having been in the original Black Christmas and also Curtains back in the day. Patrick Dempsey was in Scream 3.

“This shit ain’t cool!”

final summer 2023

FINAL SUMMER

2 Stars  2023/83m

“In 1991, Camp Silverlake opened for the final time.”

Director/Writer: John Isberg

Cast: Jenna Kohn, Charlie Bauer, Wyatt Taber, Charlee Amacher, Myles Valentine, Jace Jamison, Ren Farbota, Ricardo Whitehead, Joi Hoffsommer, Thom Mathews.

Body Count: 11

Laughter Lines: “This whole thing just kinda feels like a horror movie; the whole let’s split up and search for the missing kid in the woods.”


Ode to Friday the 13th begins with a double murder at Camp Silverlake in 1986, then leaps five years where the accidental death of a child (named Mason!) during a nature hike is the final nail in the coffin of the camp’s fortunes, but also the lives of the counsellors.

As they prep to close down for good, a stalker in a skull hood begins axing them one by one. Is it the child’s distraught father, who happens to be a troubled ex-employee? The killer from ’86? Or someone else?

Ultimately, the killer’s identity is blaringly obvious, although Isberg attaches additional revelations and an evident tribute to the source material.

The kitten-weak maniac falls over a lot, drops his weapon (nobody ever picks it up despite ample opportunity), fails to finish off several of the counsellors, and cuts a particularly unthreatening figure.

final summer 2023

Elsewhere, there’s lots of wandering around in the dark with flashlights, a blue hue over everything, occasional references to Jason, and a couple of creepy shots here and there, but regrettably it’s too insubstantial. The film appears kneecapped by its budget, evidenced in a string off off-camera kills, slow, clunky fight scenes, and unresolved questions, such as who the killer in the prologue was. A post-credits scene hints at something, but it’s still all too murky.

Thom Mathews appears for a matter of minutes as the local Sheriff, and look out for the bizarre Tom Atkins ‘cameo’.

Killing Time

totally killer 2023

TOTALLY KILLER

4 Stars  2023/105m

“Murder is so 1987.”

Director: Nahnatchka Khan / Writers: David Matalon, Sasha Perl-Raver, Jen D’Angelo / Cast: Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt, Julie Bowen, Lochlyn Munro, Charlie Gillespie, Troy L. Johnson, Kelcey Mawema, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Anna Diaz, Liana Liberato, Ella Choi, Jeremy Monn-Djasngar, Nathaniel Appiah, Jonathan Potts, Randall Park.

Body Count: 7

Laughter Lines: “Let’s give it up for Angie, who wishes there were more people killed.”


Happy Death Day took the time-loop from Groundhog Day and put a masked killer in the mix; Freaky took the body swap from Freaky Friday and switched a teenage girl with a hulking psycho killer; and now Totally Killer takes the time machine from Back to the Future and throws a teen-hunting wackadoo at it.

Slasher films have been entrenched in an inflexible straitjacket of rules and tropes since forever, so this recent advent of pilfering major plot elements from big films and staple-gunning a teen slasher opus to it has made for a welcome mini-cycle of inventively comical ways to keep the genre from being stuck in its own loop of recycled motifs.

totally killer 2023

In the requisite suburban town of Vernon, 35 years have passed since the unsolved Sweet 16 Murders occurred: Three teen girls slain over a short period. Jamie’s mom Pam (Julie Bowen from Modern Family) was the only member of the clique not to meet the business end of a knife and has remained anxiously on edge ever since.

On Halloween night, Jamie revolts and heads off to a concert, leaving Pam to be attacked and killed by the maniac. Devastated, it’s a very fortunate coincidence that Jamie’s best friend Amelia is building a time machine in an old photobooth for her science fair project – and it works! Well, it works when the killer attacks Jamie and the action of the knife blade penetrating the device gives it the jolt required to zap the girl back to 1987, on the eve of the first murder… So far, so Marty McFly.

totally killer 2023

Intent on stopping the killer and thus saving her mom in the future, Jamie tries to blend in and befriend The Molly’s, a Mean Girls crew made up of the victims – and dear ol’ mom, all of whom are your typical John Hughes era rich bitches, along with their vapid boyfriends. Jamie tries to explain the situation to the cops, but as they’ve not yet seen Back to the Future, the concept is lost on them. Instead, Amelia’s mother Lauren, who first drew up the plans for the time machine, is instantly onboard.

While Lauren works out what they need to do to return Jamie to the 2020s, she continues to shadow the teen versions of her parents, the future high school principal, coach, sheriff and various others. Preventing the murders proves difficult though, as time just bends around her and changes it up, rewriting the future as it goes. Interestingly, characters in 2022 are able to sense the changes, with Sweet 16 Killer Tour Guide Chris seeing the adjustments manifest as Jamie runs interference in the past. A helpful ‘time is happening all at once’ explanation makes sense of all this, and is kinda zen.

totally killer 2023

Jamie manages to convince the others she’s psychic rather than explain the time travel thing, and the friends band together to try and trap the killer before he wipes the rest of them out, resulting in a great finale inside one of those Gravitron fairground rides where you pretty much get pinned to the wall of the spin dryer.

The plot was criticised for being too similar to The Final Girls, where a girl essentially time travels back to save her mother, although acting like that was the first film to build itself around this idea is about as productive as pointing out how much that one had to copy from Friday the 13th in order to function. The entire genre liberally steals from its contemporaries and just bends things to fit.

totally killer 2023

Maybe not quite as fun as Freaky, but definitely top tier inside it’s burgeoning sub-sub-genre. It’s a Wonderful Life has already been co-opted and changed to It’s a Wonderful Knife for the end of 2023, doubtlessly scattering other producers to hunt for tried and tested plots that they stir a dead teenager template into. Can’t wait.

Blurbs-of-interest: Liana Liberato was in Scream VI; Lochlyn Munro was also in The Tooth FairyFreddy vs JasonScary MovieHack!, and Initiation.

A lorra lorra confusion

blind date 1984

BLIND DATE

2.5 Stars. 1984/18/106m

“The ultimate hi-tech thriller.”

Director/Writer: Nico Mastorakis / Writer: Fred Perry / Cast: Joseph Bottoms, Kirstie Alley, Keir Dullea, Lana Clarkson, James Daughton, Charles Nicklin.

Body Count: 5


Greek exploitation director Nico Mastorakis turned in this good looking techno giallo, which doesn’t make a whoooole lotta sense.

The ever-amusingly named Joseph Bottoms is an American working in Athens, who is still not over the death of his model ex-girlfriend, but is going out with Kirstie Alley’s …whatever Kirstie Alley is in this movie.

Meanwhile, a shadowy taxi driver is picking up young women, drugging and drawing lines on their nude bodies, and then going at them with a scalpel. Well, supposedly, there’s barely a shaving cut’s amount of blood to be seen. Interestingly, the sole male victim is the only one we see offed.

blind date marina sirtis 1984

One night, Joseph is spying on a lookalike of the dead ex while she’s making out with a guy in a car. They see him, the man gives chase, and Joseph runs into a branch and knocks himself out, waking up blind. The doctors, however, cannot find anything wrong with him and suggest it’s a trauma-induced psychological thing.

Keir Dullea implants a device that will convert signals to Joseph’s nervous system via headphones and Walkman or something, and he sees outlines of everything like an Etch-a-Sketch on dark mode. His stalking with the lookalike brings him to witnessing the murder of another poor soul; the killer sees and gives chase. Joseph decides to later find the killer and manages to steal a car and drive it through the city, despite seeing a bunch of lines like a low-rent version of A-Ha’s Take on Me video.

blind date 1984

Blind Date is a strange one: The police are nowhere to be seen, meaning most of the murders seem surplus to requirements, the victims mostly given no lines whatsoever, just seen topless and pathetic – including Deanna Troi actress Marina Sirtis as a hooker; elsewhere there are gay (?) showtune singing muggers, cerebral Pong, driving around with headphones on, the promise of a sequel that never was at the end of the credits, but also some nice visuals, a sexy cast and all the usual silly coincidences that pepper this subgenre.

Blurbs-of-interest: Bottoms was later in Open House; Keir Dullea was in the original Black Christmas. Mastorakis directed the opening scenes of Darkroom.

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