Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas 2016: December 18

Wind Chill (2007)

I think my willingness to seek out independent, limited release horror films is well established by this point. I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to my horror, it's true. But how could I not be, when indie horror flicks are often awesome and the studio-produced stuff is so underwhelming? Of course, not every indie horror flick is great. “Wind Chill” was produced by Steven Sodenberg and directed by Gregory Jacobs, a frequent producer on Sodenberg's films. I saw it years ago but didn't remember much about it. I did remember that it was a horror film with some Christmas trappings. Sounds worth re-visiting in December. Was the movie worth forgetting or did I rediscover something?

A female college student's Christmas vacation has been ruined. She was going to spend it on vacation with her boyfriend but the two recently broke up. So she decides to spend the holiday with her mom in Delaware. The only problem is she doesn't have a car. The girl hitches a ride with a guy she doesn't know. As they travel, she discovers that her driver has a crush on her, taking some uncomfortable steps to get closer to her. After taking a turn down a snow-covered forest road, the car swerves off the road. Soon, the two are isolated in the car as temperatures drop well below zero. Worst yet, this stretch of road is haunted by the spirit of a murderous cop and his victims, trapped in a time loop of violence.

The big problem with “Wind Chill” is that it's two main characters are very unappealing. Neither are given names, referred to in the credits as just “Girl” and “Guy.” Emily Blunt, an actress with a cult following who has been on the verge of breaking through to leading lady status for a while now, plays the girl. The character is going through a rough time, for sure. However, Blunt focuses too much on the bitchiness. Instead of rooting the anger in insecurities, she just comes off as unlikable. Ashton Holmes' Guy has a different problem. Throughout the first act, we learn that he's basically been stalking the girl. He knows about her break-up, her favorite foods, and her vacation status by constantly observing her. It's creepy behavior. Holmes isn't charming enough to overcome this.

The guy's behavior is so off-putting that, frankly, it's difficult to buy the inevitable bond the two characters form. They get stuck in a snow bank because of his stupidity. He's the one who chose to drive down a spooky back road, for no reason. Being trapped in a bad situation is supposed to bring these two together. Naturally, it does. They share secrets. They cuddle up together, to share body warmth. Before the end, they kiss. I know the two are near death but it seems unlikely that Blunt would ever grow close to a man who has admitted to stalking her. That's not endearing behavior, to say the least. The actors do their best to sell it. The script tries to, even giving the guy a heroic sacrifice. Yet it's hard to overcome the sketchiness of their relationship.

“Wind Chill” is most successful as a ghost story. Early on, dialogue references Nietzsche's theory of recurrence. That's, if you couldn't guess, foreshadowing. The lonely stretch of road isn't the sight of a typical haunting. Instead, the souls are trapped in a time loop, forced to relive events. Each night, the cop murders a blonde girl. Each night, he flips his car and burns to death. Each night, a pair of priest read him his rites. Unlucky travelers are caught in this loop, falling victim to the killer cop. It's an interesting spin on the ghost story premise. Some grisly special effects, such as the ghostly cop's face melting, are incorporated. The sequences of the spirit stalking the victims are mildly suspenseful. How the car windows ice up when he's near is a nice touch.

The film's Christmas elements are minor but notable. Classic Christmas songs play on the radio all throughout the film. The appearance of the homicidal patrolman is always preceded by Brenda Lee's “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.” As you'd expect, snow, ice, and a wintry chill characterize the entire motion picture. The characters sink what could've been an interesting genre exercise, as there's a cool idea at “Wind Chill's” center. I don't know if the film exactly deserves to be forgotten but it's hardly a lost gem either. [6/10]

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: Alpha’s Magical Christmas

As a child of the nineties, I'll admit an undeniable fondness for the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. The combination of toyetic robots, crazy giant monsters, and cheesy karate antics were irresistible to me and many other similarly aged children. Watching as an adult, the show can be entertainingly goofy but rarely has any value beyond nostalgia. Naturally, being a massive kiddy pop culture phenomena, Power Rangers has a Christmas special. “Alpha's Magical Christmas” was a twenty-eight minute film released straight to video. It follows Alpha-5, the Rangers' robotic sidekick, as he attempts to celebrate Christmas while the Rangers are away helping Santa. In order to placate the machine, Zordon teleports a bunch of kids into the command center to entertain him. That's it.

I'm serious. That's what the whole thing is. The entire special is devoted to the robot bumming around the command center, singing Christmas carols with a pack of bored looking kids. Zordon claims the youths are from all around the world. Aside from stock footage of the Eiffel Tower and other landmarks, there's no evidence of this. They all talk with American accents. In order to pass the time, they decorate a Christmas tree. They build a giant gingerbread house. They unenthusiastically play with some toys. Mostly, they sing pre-canned versions of holiday standards. What's most interesting about this is how the religious content of the songs isn't censored. During the rendition of “Silent Night,” the kids even watch footage of Mary cradling Jesus' head. (Considering Zordon's powers extend across time, this is presumably meant to be footage of the actual, historical Jesus. Which raises some interesting implications. What role does God play in the Power Rangers universe?)

There's really no reason to watch “Alpha's Magical Christmas” but I will say this much: It did make me laugh a few times. Not on purpose, mind you. During an especially maudlin rendition of “I'll Be Home for Christmas,” Alpha flashes back to happier times with the Power Rangers. They spin through the air, dunking basketballs. Alpha, meanwhile, helplessly kicks a soccer ball around. Only three of the regular Power Ranger actors could be roped into this: Jason David Frank, Amy Jo Johnson, and David Yost. (Johnson tries to be enthusiastic but the others are clearly not interested.) The others appear as clearly prerecorded footage. Amusingly, Zordon refers to the remaining rangers as “at a peace conference.” Which references the hilariously awkward way the show wrote the original Red, Black, and Yellow Rangers out when the actors asked for a pay raise. Santa Claus, by the way, only appears in one scene.

“Alpha's Magical Christmas” was clearly a cheap attempt to extend the Power Ranger's brand into the world of seasonal offerings. It was probably shot in a day or two, for pennies. Much to the dismay of Haim Saban, this half-hour didn't become an annual tradition. Hopefully Richard Horvitz – that's the voice of Alpha-5, among other characters from my childhood – got paid for this. Mostly, I can't believe I watched the whole thing. The shit I expose myself to for you, dear readers... [3/10]

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