Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tis the Season***



So every Wednesday it seems I have decided I’ll watch a Silent Night, Deadly Night film. Last week it was the third film, directed by Monte Hellman. This week it was Eric Freeman’s tour-de-farce une grande performance as a grown up Ricky with more life in his eyebrows and snarl than most directors could dream of. He competes with Jack in The Shining, for sure, when he breaks apart the front door of a leper-faced Mother Superior peeking inside her apartment. James Newman’s psychiatrist doesn’t have a prayer, particularly when he trusts a psychopath enough to be in the same cell with him, Ricky absent handcuffs or restraints.


Before I watched this I threw  a couple Christmas-themed viewings, the Rankin/Bass special, Nestor, the Long-Eared Donkey (1977) & the Robert Donner Dickens comedy with a very loud Bill Murray (Murray has garnered perhaps unwarranted blame for this when he has said Donner wanted him to noise his character’s voice at high pitch), Scrooged (1988). Nestor was a complete unknown to me until I watched it when featured unceremoniously on the second disc of a Classic Christmas Favorites collection as an added extra with The Year Without a Santa Claus. While Santa was clearly the A-special, I fell in love with Nestor, admittedly. It just hit home, I guess. A long-eared donkey shunned by his animal peers, tossed in the cold and snow by an ungrateful owner upset at him for being born with supposedly a handicap he found a detriment (Roman soldiers taking the owner’s flock of donkeys when one of them feel they were being shafted by Nestor’s inclusion), and shielded by a mother so he wouldn’t freeze during the night which leads to her death; Nestor finds a young life overcome with turmoil and obstacles. But Nestor eventually finds purpose when an angel is sent to comfort him with a mission that will see him being the riding animal of a pregnant Mary as she and Joseph head for Bethlehem. What I felt makes this truly special is Roger Miller’s narration and songs. Not just pleasant and witty, but Miller has a homespun tenor as if he pops out of the back after some barnwork to spin us a yarn.


A bit more jarring and abrasive is Murray’s television station boss, Frank Cross, frightening to execs pitching him ideas for programs that could result in their raking across the coals or firing. He delights in the dismissal of an honest (and right) pitchman, Eliot (Bobcat Goldthwait), who takes him to task (delicately) for a horrifying horror show presentation of Scrooge. Eliot loses everything afterward, his family and the job, returning a drunken loon with a shotgun. All the Christmas Eve, Cross contends with a chatty Brice Cummings (John Glover) aiming to replace him, a senile station owner (Robert Mitchum) with an off twinkle in his eye and a thing with attracting animals to the television, Ghosts who take him to the past, present, and a possible future (David Johansen as the scummiest cabbie with a cancer laugh, Carol Kane as a sadist tinker bell, and a cloaked reaper with grotesque ghouls dancing within his skeletal frame and a television screen for his face, and a returning former boss who is quite the rotting corpse with little patience for sarcasm), those who care for him needling that harsh bravado, and a broadcast of Scrooge yielding all sorts of problems (inflated budget, massive cast, production issues, Glover’s inserting himself in order to impress Mitchum). Karen Allen always reminds me of just how much of a blessing she is in this film, a smile that just radiates along with Alfre Woodard as his very patient secretary, burdened to take care of a family while navigating her boss’ diva antics.


I always enjoy how the movie would alternate Murray’s own Scrooge journey and the production as it is underway, both during rehearsals and development to the actual presentation night. Nestor, though, has his own journey, discovering that he’s not some laughable good-for-nothing as he’s called upon for quite a one-of-a-kind mission, his ears actually serving him well in terms of good hearing. Nestor carries Mary all the way, too. Santa is involved only in passing as are the reindeer. Nestor and Cross both find their purpose. Cross realizes (Murray plays this almost as farce, as if winking to us that this transformation is a tongue-in-cheek gag) the error of his ways and has the television cameras, live and out into a great audience, to rectify what he’s done and what Christmas now truly means to him.


 Ricky gets to rectify a long-standing, nagging, lingering rivalry with Mother Superior. Ax in hand and a naïve doc willing to trust him during an interview of his past trauma, Ricky (Freeman emphasizing his words and feelings with heavy articulation and plenty of face flexing) looks to get his revenge on the nun who emotionally scarred him (and his brother) while also suffering psychotic breaks when “Santa red” triggers his line of sight. Elizabeth Clayton is a thankful inclusion in his back story…yum. And her gulp…never get over that “uh oh”.


Freeman's Garbage Day would never gain much traction as entertainment today, would it? Times have changed but how Freeman performs it so hysterically takes the sting off of what could be quite polarizing. I cop to just skipping the edited-in footage from the first film so this sequel isn't long at all. I am excited about getting a Special Collector's edition of the first film on Blu. The sequel was packaged with the first in an Anchor Bay release I rented from Netflix long ago. It had audio commentaries I didn't take advantage of at the time. I wish I would have. Lee Tracy offers some fascinating history regarding the sequel and its production. It is amazing the sequel has any real material at all.

Nestor ****
Scrooged ***
SNDN 2 **

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