It’s that time of year again. That is, it’s the time of year when the Capitol Theatre opens their doors and invites us in to preview the late shift cult film lineup for the next six months, and then, when we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security, they inflict some cinematic pain on us.
The secret movie at Cleveland Cinemas has actually become one of my favorite events – not because it’s free and I’m a cheapskate, but because it’s always something appalling. much like the films at cinema wasteland, They dig through the depths of their dank cellar vaults and screen films that I never would have thought to go out and seek myself.
This years atrocity on celluloid was a direct to video, shot on tape, Christmas horror film from 1989 called Elves. The production values are so low that it frequently feels like a television – I’m reasonably certain it wasn’t, because of the language and nudity involved (Though curiously enough, the violence is toned down enough that it could’ve passed the censor board) It’s got a synthesizer soundtrack that alternates between soap opera and after-school special. When you combine this of with the crispness of the video tape (and if ever there was a movie that could have used the grain of film to hide imperfections – this is it) and the superimposed credits over a broken Christmas ornimant off a fake green Christmas tree It only serves to make it feel even more like television. (I almost wonder if the director was working on another production, and had access to some sets and equipment and just decided to make the best of it)
This is the story of a young woman who unwittingly resurrects a semi magical elf that was genetically engineered by the Nazis to create either The Master Race or the Antichrist – I’m leaning towards the Antichrist, but they actually don’t make it entirely clear. Al0ng the way she has to content with a strange sort of illuminati that are attempting to protect her by murdering everyone in sight– the elf does a lot of that too. She is aided and abetted by a chain smoking, homeless Santa Claus who does his best to deny her to both the creepy old German guys and the elf.
The movie is actually quite high concept, and I suspect this was not the film the director had in mind. The budget limits him severely, and you can see it everywhere. Not just in the soundtrack, but particularly in the light. Better lighting could have saved this film from some of the mediocre performances by unlikable characters and some of the more subpar effects. Every scene is lit flat – like a soap opera or an episodic television show. I would assume there was either no time to do proper set ups, or that the production simply couldn’t afford somebody who knew what they were doing. It’s a shame, because it sucks the menace right out of the film.
The titular elf (singular by the way, he’s the only one that shows up although they reference the fact that there were more then one at one time) is a brilliant looking puppet that is very poorly executed. Indeed, it’s more of a doll then an actual puppet – I get the impression that at all times there are a pair of hands just offscreen, manipulating it. This is another instance where lighting could really have saved the film. Backlighting this thing or dimming the lights around it while slathering it with KY Jelly to create a surface that could be creepy and reflective – it would have made the monster far more effective then just always showing it in that flat bright light that the movie is shot in. I understand they may not have been able to spring for a better puppet by the way, but many of the scenes would’ve been greatly improved by casting a second head that could have been puppeted Kermit-the-frog style for some of the hero shots. As it is we get an expressionless face and very clunky movement.
We’re told repeatedly the monster is merely 2 feet tall, but with the exception of a couple of long shots in the last 15 minutes of the film, we never really see the monster in context to illustrate this – they could have made this with a man in a suit far more effectively.
I’m not sure what to make of this – the story is far too smart for the production, and the end result doesn’t justify the pretentiousness of the central conceit. I genuinely think I would have enjoyed this more if it had been dumbed down a bit to match its budget – save the high concept storytelling until you can execute it properly.
It’s not a bad movie to put on the background though, and if you’re going to watch it, you need to do it wit friends. Seeing this in the theater was a great time with people laughing at the more outrageous dialogue (“I had a rough day at work… Santa got murdered.”) and it certainly got me in the Christmas spirit. As I mentioned, it was only released on VHS, but there is rips out there if you don’t own a VCR any longer – in fact I noticed somebody uploaded it to YouTube awhile back. It’s worth giving it a try there before they wise up and snatch it down.