Written by: Jeffrey Mandel, Mike Griffin, & Bruce A. Taylor
Directed by: Jeffrey Mandel
Starring: Dan Haggerty, Julie Austin, Deanna Lund
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"Is everything alright?"
"No, Willy, Gramps is a Nazi."
"No, Willy, Gramps is a Nazi."
Like any subgenre you can imagine, holiday horror can be separated into tiersóyou have your untouchable essentials, your wildly entertaining popcorn terrors, some unsung gems, and, of course, passable but forgettable junk. But then thereís that rare plane thatís increasingly become my favorite during the past few years: back when we started OTH, we designated these insane dispatches of cinematic incredulity ďmozzarella madness,Ē a moniker that still falls short of aptly describing the likes of Elves. Hereís a movie that ascends to such mind-melting heights that only a blunt proclamation can do it justice: ďyouíve just gotta see this shit.Ē Trust me: anything and everything youíve heard about Elvesówhose dubious reputation surely precedes it by nowóis true and then some. I almost feel compelled to implore you to stop reading this review now and go watch it immediately because nothing else really suffices.
You donít watch Elves so much as you bear witness its unhinged, glue-huffing madness. Even its synopsis is so breathlessly deranged that itís hard to keep up. Sure, it starts innocuously enough, with a trio of teenage girls (the self-proclaimed ďAnti-Christmas SistersĒ) performing a pagan ritual in the woods (who among us hasnít, right?). When one of the girls, Kristen (Julie Austin), accidentally cuts her hand, it summons a demonic Christmas elf from the ground, a plot development is as ridiculous as it is sufficient. Maybe Iím wrong, but Iím fairly confident this premise could carry an entire movie: demonic, vengeful demon is awakened, demonic, vengeful demon rips up shit, rinse and repeat, kind of like a Christmas variation on Pumpkinhead.
However, I am clearly not a man of vision, at least compared to writer/director Jeffrey Mandel, the insane mind who thought Elves could use a little something more and apparently felt compelled to fling out plot developments like a flailing child slinging paint. Itís perhaps the only way to explain how a movie about an evil Christmas elf (thereís only one, by the way, meaning the title is false advertising) manages to intersect with a neo-Nazi plot to fulfill Hitlerís vision of creating a master race. Somehow, I always knew the true final theater for World War II would be suburban homes and department stores, with a schlubby, alcoholic ex-cop-turned-Santa (Dan Haggerty) and teenage girls serving as humanityís final hope to thwart the Nazis once and for all (well, current political developments notwithstanding).
Most of the joy of Elves is derived from watching Mandel connect all of these dots. Rather than attempt to explain it to you here, Iíll just ask you to trust me again: youíve just gotta see this shit, and, save for a brief stretch in the early-going, thereís rarely a dull moment here as Mandel stitches it all together with absurd plot points, outrageous dialogue, and, um, a department store shootout. Other developments sound like a laundry list of abhorrent stuff that probably shouldnít be in any movie individually, let alone crammed together into one cinematic fruitcake like Elves. When a mother drowning a daughterís cat in the toilet doesnít even register as one of the top three most problematic elements, you know youíre in for a treat. To continue the obvious and hacky Yuletide metaphors, if Elves were a Christmas tree, itíd be decorated with strings of beer bottle lids and at least a few of the ornaments would boast pictures of Swastikas and breasts.
Elves might be decidedly fucked upóI havenít even mentioned the virgin sacrifice and incest anglesó but rest assured that it is delightfully so. Itís not that Mandelís film is so incompetent that it canít be taken seriously, nor is it an above-it-all self-aware gag that invites ridicule. Rather, itís one of those alchemic blends that lands right in the sweet spot of earnest, entertaining romps. Maybe that means it appeals directly to the part of the brain thatís most active when youíre 9 years old (read: thereís an assortment of nut-ripping, bathtub electrocution, breasts, and cool, rubbery monster action), but thereís a disarming charm to it that renders Elves completely harmless. Despite its dark twists and turns, it has to be the most juvenile pass imaginable for such material. You donít even sense that itís out to offend; instead, itís thoroughly committed to being a jaw-dropping hoot, a lightning-in-a-bottle Christmas miracle that could never be recaptured if you tried. And god forbid anyone even tries to do soóone can easily imagine how grating and genuinely awful it would be if anyone tried something like this today because itíd practically demand you to engage with it on a snarky, ironic level.
Mandelís film, however, is genuine as hell thanks in part to the casting of Haggerty. Best known for his portrayal of Grizzly Adams, his presence here is almost alarming, and, try as he might to stoop to the grungy, scuzzy depths of Elves, thereís something inherently reassuring about him. I mean, thereís a reason that most of the characters still call him ďSantaĒ even though he is not the actual Mr. Claus. Of all the absurdities here, this one is perhaps the most unbelievable: somehow, most of these characters are endearing as hellóincluding one of the fucking Nazis. You do not expect Nazis from a movie titled Elves, much less one thatís more or less positioned as the hero towards the end. Truly, itís a gift that keeps on giving, all the way throughout a credits sequence that boasts one of the nuttier ďitís not really over!Ē final reveals.
This is the part where Iíd jokingly bemoan about an obvious lack of a sequel, but, when it comes to Elves, itís more pertinent to lament its relative unavailability. Ironically, a movie thatís so insane that it demands to be seen is quite difficult to see on a quality format. Forget Blu-rayóthis oneís still confined to VHS, which adds a certain level of mystique to its legend. It also almost feels apt because such a fiendishly and deviously charming movie is so rare these days feels like it should be stuck an archaic format. Not that Iím advocating for that at all, of course, since Iíd be the first person to buy a collectorís edition Blu-ray of Elves. Hereís hoping that it arrives in time to be a stocking stuffer in the near future; obviously, this year is a wash, so maybe we should just all channel our inner Charlie-in-the-Box and start dreaming about next year. Visions of Dan Haggerty blowing away Nazis and a demonic elf beats dreaming of sugar plums, that's for sure.
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