Friday, December 20, 2013

Scary Movies for the Holidays

As we head into the final weekend before Christmas, many of you will be exhausted from long days of shopping, decorating or other yuletide shenanigans. It's time to kick back and watch a holiday-themed scary movie! Many of the holiday horror movies came from the 80s when serial killers and bad taste were in fashion. Some films veered towards the sleazy (1984's Don't Open Until Christmas), or unwatchable (1980's Christmas Evil) but they're were meant to offer counter programming for the excessive cheer and goodwill.

Below is a list notable (but not necessarily great) scary movies for the holidays. Some are family-friendly fare, while some really should only be seen by hardcore horror enthusiasts. Watch at your own risk.

1. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) – This Finnish film is probably the single best holiday-horror hybrid. It tells the story of the "real" Santa and his demon elves. It's also a strangely touching coming-of-age story and feels like a lost early-Steven Spielberg/Tim Burton collaboration. It's beautifully shot and a well-made movie. Highly recommended.

2. Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)  Speaking of Tim Burton, his 1993 masterpiece does double duty on both the Halloween and Christmas fronts. However, during the holidays, the Christmas elements seem to stand out so much more. It has incredible heart and the perfect ending for a warm, fuzzy holiday.

3. Sint (or Saint Nick) (2010)  This Dutch horror-comedy depicts St. Nicholas as a much darker spirit, who goes on a revenge-fueled killing spree on the 5th of December (the day many European countries celebrate Sinterklaas). It's a little over-the-top by American standards, but it's fascinating to see how another culture celebrates and melds Christmas with horror. The DVD version with subtitles is better than the poorly-dubbed version available on streaming.

4. Black Christmas (2005) – Many fans will argue that the 1974 version was a superior film, but this version removed the sleaze and made it feel more  Christmas-y, if that's possible. It still has a serial killer involved, and there is a gory ornament impaling, but feels a little more accessible and modern.

5. Silent Night (2012)  This very loose remake of 1984's Silent Night, Deadly Night is unfortunately also based on a real life massacre that happened in 2008. It's got everything you'd want in a rampant serial killer movie, and it's well-produced throughout but seriously bleak, brutal and dark. This left a very sour taste in my mouth, although in all honesty it could have been Nana's fruitcake. 

6. Gremlins (1984)  One fuzzy and cute critter turns into many malevolent and mischievous creatures when fed after midnight! Hijinks ensue once hundreds of gremlins terrorize a small town on Christmas. It's not specifically a Christmas film, but it's set during the holidays and manages to capture the spirit.

7. Jack Frost (1997)  Ridiculous, silly and full of pun-y one-liners this is the B-Movie of the holiday season. A serial killer is genetically mutated into a living snowman and continues his killing spree on an unsuspecting town.  For full effect, watch this one drunk on eggnog.

8. Santa's Slay (2005)  What if Santa were actually a demon who lost a bet and forced to deliver gifts and joy against his deepest wished. Well at some point, hell is going to break loose. This horror comedy is in the category of so bad its good. 

9. Edward Scissorhands (1990) – Granted this is not a scary movie,  BUT it's a dark and weird fantasy directed by Tim Burton and features a Frankenstein-like creature with razor sharp fingers (sort of like Freddy Krueger). Okay it's a stretch, but the idyllic Christmas setting has made it a family-friendly, lite-horror, holiday classic in our house. 

10. Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009)  The perennial ghost story is re-envisioned with motion capture CGI and features an almost unidentifiable Jim Carrey. It's much darker, somber, and creepy take on the classic story. Set in a desolate and cold Victorian mansion, there's a weird candle person thing and the scenes with the ghosts are downright scary.  The international posters set the tone for the film much better than their American versions that tried very hard to sell the jolly, heartwarming tale (which it still is). This is a great movie to watch with your younger nephews and nieces – it will scare the Christmas right out of them – and you won't be that weird uncle that keeps pushing horror films year-round.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Celebration of Friday the 13th

Tomorrow marks the last Friday the 13th of 2013. We had only two hexed days this year and next year we only have 1 (in June)! For horror enthusiasts, this calendar day is a perfect opportunity to celebrate Jason Voorhees (and his mother... and his impostor... and his body possessing soul?) with a Friday the 13th movie marathon. (The first two are the best but if you need a viewer's guide to the series read this post at Bloody-Disgusting.)

The Blu-ray Box Set
Warner Bros. released Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection on blu-ray this fall, which includes all 10 movies in the series plus Freddy vs. Jason, and the 2009 reboot.  The set also includes a "Killer Extras" bonus DVD and a 40 page booklet excerpted from the 2006 hardcover book, Crystal Lake Memories. 

(Editor's note: Amazon suspended sales of the box set due to production problems that scratched
several of the discs. If giving this set as a gift make sure you the store has a decent return policy.)

The Documentary
The book Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (a must for fans) begat the exhaustive 7-hour (!) documentary Crystal Lake Memories (also released on blu-ray this fall) which features photos, clips, outtakes, interviews, concept art and behind-the-scenes footage that spans the 30 years of the franchise. (The more manageable 2009 documentary His Name Was Jason is also available to rent or buy and it's only 84 minutes long.)

Jason Is Coming Back
As if that was not enough, Paramount has resumed the rights to the franchise and have 5 years to make new movies. Complicated co-ownership of the lucrative property had stalled all plans for sequels/reboots/reimaginings until now. It looks like they are fast-tracking a sequel to the successful 2009 reboot and according to the official website, the sequel is scheduled to be released on March 13, 2015. Rumors suggest a "found footage" approach. 

Inspired Art Posters
A great movie poster gets to the heart of the film, and artists are exploring minimalist takes on classic movies. Take a look at the Friday the 13th art from Francesco Francavilla of Mondo (left) and Adam Rabalais of Deviant Art (right). Please Platinum Dunes, hire one of these guys to design your official poster!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Angry Orchard Cinnful Apple

The Boston Beer Company (the people behind Samuel Adams) likes their seasonal beers. And this year, their hard cider line Angry Orchard put out a seasonal flavor called Cinnful Apple. It's a perfect spicy blend for the holidays and it also features their scary tree artwork with a bloody red background. It's semi-sweet with an almost candy apple-like flavor with a subtle cinnamon kick that doesn't overpower the tart apple. 

At a party last weekend, a kid kept staring at the bottle and asked me why I was drinking Halloween beer at Christmas. I'm not sure I understand the marketing angle of this cider, but it's scary, so that alone is a reason to love it.  (Make sure to check out their site for hard cider cocktail recipes!)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Scary Cookies II: The Recipe to Die For

Yesterday I posted about making scary cookies. Today, Britta, Webmistress of the Dark has shared her favorite recipe for a dark, delicious (and deadly addictive) Pepperkakor, a Swedish ginger cookie thats much more tender than traditional American brick-like gingerbread. I first encountered this cookie at IKEA since they sell Anna's Ginger Thins at the checkout counter. Oddly, many recipes for Pepparkakor call for black pepper so add 1/4 –1/2 tsp if you feel the need to scare the taste buds.

Britta writes:

Below is the recipe I used for the gingerbread I just made. I went conservative with the flour because sometimes the weather changes the moisture, and I've had times when too much flour made the dough too crumbly to roll. I think it needed up to 1/2 cup more flour to roll without sticking. Below are some additional tips:

  • Roll directly onto silicone baking mat, then scoot the mat onto the baking sheet before putting in the oven. (You can use parchment paper but that slides about my counter while I'm rolling.) You can then cut the cookies in place, peel the extra dough from around them, and never have to move the cookies until after they're baked – that keeps their shape perfectly. (Editor's note: Brilliant technique!)
  • It's a pain to try to roll a whole sheet of dough, so I roll small chunks at a time.
  • This recipe doesn't spread so you only need about 1/2" between cookies while baking.
  • Chilling the dough at least 1 hour to set (the flour needs time to absorb the moisture completely). 
  • Spray your measuring cup with non-stick spray first so you can get all the molasses out.

Diane Peterson’s Pepparkakor

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. ginger
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 scant tsp. allspice
1 scant tsp. cloves
2 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour (+ up to 1/2 cup more)

Soften the butter first in the bowl to room temperature. Stir the spices into the brown sugar, then add to the butter and mix until creamy. Add the egg, molasses and baking soda then mix thoroughly. Add flour, then chill until set.  Roll thin, cut out shapes. Bake at 350º for about 5 minutes or until barely firm but not browned. Much more delicate but not so delicate that they break.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Scary Cookies

One day I will no longer be invited to holiday cookie swap parties, but until then, I will be bringing scary cookies to unsuspecting merrymakers. I know the season is all about tinsel and jolly reindeer, but is it wrong to include cookies with sparkly blood? Gravefully, Fred & Friends agrees with me and makes some great cookie cutters.

You can use standard gingerbread man cookie cutter and simply use a knife to cut off arms and heads, or form bites. If you are making a lot of cookies, you might want to get Fred's ABC Gingerbread Cookie Cutters, since it will go a lot faster with a pre-made mold. This is a perfect use for sparkly red blood gel icing. Festive and grisly!

These Gingerdead Men Cookie Cutters make the job easier by employing the cut-n-stamp action – you cut out the shape with one side and stamp the design into the cookie with the other. If you are not great at frosting cookies, these are also much easier to decorate. You make a runny icing and flood (fill in) the indentations. For even less fuss, place a blob of icing on the cookie and run spatula down the front (pressing icing into the indentations and scraping it off the rest of the cookie). Simple!

For Christmas/Coven parties, try this Cursed Cookie Cutter. For an authentic voodoo doll effect, use a toothpick to create holes in the cookie before baking. Once baked, you can easily stick toothpicks into your cookie doll.

Although Dia de los Muertos has passed, decorated skulls make for a rather festive cookie. These Sweet Spirits Cookie Cutters feature more intricate designs that requires quite a few colors of icing to pull off. But even without icing, these cookies look great. 

For advanced cookie makers, these Undead Fred Cookie Cutters gives you the lurching template to start, but your icing skills will be required to fulfill this cookie's charm. With a little creativity, you can make some truly spectacular zombie cookies.