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FOWLER’S FLIX 10.26.17: MODERN MONSTROSITIES

Artsploitation Films
Craig Anderson's 2016 film, "Red Christmas."
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A couple of weeks ago, I spotlighted the recent genre reissues that were rotting away on my shelves and, true to dastardly form, on the opposite end of the paneling are a pile of more recent horrors, newly made monster flicks and slasher tricks, burnt to disc and ready to stream (or even scream, if you’ve let the right one in) the night away, especially with Samhain mere days away. But, before we can look at the future, let’s start with a trip to the past…

Set in the rugged 1870s, Bender (Candy Factory Films) is the unsettling true story of the “Bloody” Benders, a family of frontier murderers—now they’d be called serial killers, I reckon—that lived tooth and nail on the Kansas plains. When more and more travelers crossing their land seemingly never reach their destination, a doctor comes investigating, only to discover how horrific the family’s deeds actually were, with law enforcement officials finding over 20 bodies on the blood-soaked land.

Filmed as more of an understated thriller, this is a truly chilling side of the West that has never really been explored outside of the clutches of frozen cannibals and wild-eyed backwoods inbreds. With a quietly notable cast including Bruce Davidson, Linda Purl and James Karen, Bender is an under-the-radar descent into what I’m sure was more common back then but never popularized outside of those scummy general store novellas.

Bender (Candy Factory Film) 

From the prairies of Kansas to those ancient Chinese lands where monsters and men tenuously co-existed, the adorably action-packed Monster Hunt (MVD Visual) depicts a fantasy world where cute “monsters” are in civil war with their human oppressors; it’s a situation made even more difficult when a hybrid is born to a human father and the monster queen, with both factions desperately trying to track down the newborn for their own gain.

A monster of a hit in China, Monster Hunt is a really fun mixture of kiddie CGI slapstick and adult kung-fu action, coming together with classic fairy tale storytelling and pure family-based drama that, while not exactly kid-friendly—there are a few scares in here—is still a live-action fast-paced spectacle that everyone under the roof, for the most part, can enjoy. It’s from the makers of Shrek, if that’s a needed selling-point for ya.

When it’s over, however, lock the kids in their room, because you’re not going to want them to see a darkly disturbing frame of Red Christmas (Artsploitation Films) starring genre stalwart Dee Wallace as a typically doting mother who’s gathered her family all together for a remote holiday getaway, as I’m sure we’re all wont to do. But, then, there’s a highly controversial knock-knock at the door and the greens turn to reds.

A mysterious, deformed stranger claiming to be Wallace’s son wreaks havoc on the holiday season and before long, she realizes that, yes, Virginia, this dude is her son, a remnant from a botched abortion a couple of decades back. Filled with a strange bedfellows mixture of left-leaning politics and down-right gruesome effects, this gore-filled stocking stuffer isn’t for everyone, but will definitely be blood-stained milk and cookies to fans of perverse Xmas terror.

The same can really almost be said for the similarly Satanic pseudo-shocker Devil’s Doman (MVD Visual). Rebellious Lisa is your typical back-talking social-media obsessed bubble-headed teen whose computer gets hacked by cyber-bullies and, soon enough, there’s compromising vids of her all over the net. On the verge of committing suicide, a Faustian bargain is made for grue-filled revenge.

Of course, as with any and all demonic pacts, things never go the way for the bargainer as they should and almost immediately a sense of horrific regret sets in. But, is it too late? Will she find some sort of way to break the deal or will she be forced to give birth to the Devil’s baby? It’s all very stupid, but the ripped-from-the-headlines bullying motif does give it more of a social relevance than thought possible, for better or worse.

Finally, from rollin’ dirty right past the gates of the flaming underworld of eternal torment to the supposed Hell of insular celebrity and the inaccessible insanity it can cause is the highly questionable docudrama Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland (Lionsgate) starring spot-on MJ impersonator Navi as the late King of Pop, mostly slumming in this quick-buck tell-all that is apparently from the point of view of Jackson’s “trusted” bodyguards and it feels like it, sympathetic and sleazy at the same time.

Michael Jackson: Searching For Neverland (Lionsgate Films) 

Obviously unauthorized, in Neverland we find the shattered Jackson back in America, living the cloistered life in Vegas with his children. Having lost many of his close friends due to the child molestation accusations he was eventually acquitted of, Jackson lives in a world of absolute loneliness, longing to return to his Neverland home (hence the title) but knowing he never can.

While much of the events leading up to his death are fractured guesstimates at best, this exploitatively ghoulish flick may not be the straight definition of horror, but it’s a creepy-enough voyeur’s look into a secret world to justify it as genre and, even worse, make us question ourselves and our own monstrous need to know the truth—no matter how many versions of it—about a long-buried man of many demons.

I know I’m guilty as charged.

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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