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Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Christmas Tale

In 2008, Lionsgate released 6 Films to Keep You Awake, a conglomeration of six (no shit, right?) somewhat short Spanish horror films from different directors, most of whom, are of Spanish decent. The mastermind behind the this set is Narciso Ibáñez Serrador of Who Can Kill A Child fame and with us being knee deep in Death-cember, the no-brainer film to be discussed from this set is 2005's A Christmas Tale (Cuento de Navidad).

Written by Luis Berdejo and directed by Paco Plaza, who are the writer and co-director of the fantastic Spanish zombie film, [REC], A Christmas Tale is about five pre-teen kids that stumble upon a woman dressed in a Santa suit and trapped in a large deep hole in the woods. They decide to help her out, but when two of the boys go to the police, they discover that the woman is wanted for robbing a bank for two million pesetas.

With this information, the children decide not to help the woman out of her trappings, but instead of calling an adult or telling the police for that matter, these kids take a different route. A few of the youths decide it would be a good idea to try and get the stolen money from this unintentionally trapped thieving Santa, using the leverage that she cannot get out without their help. Cross dressing Santa's aren't down with extortion, but with a choice of losing all of her money, or being trapped in a massive hole and left to die, well, there's no real wiggle room there.

At a scant 71 minutes, A Christmas Tale works like two very different films in terms of tone. The first half is almost like a kid's movie right out of the 80's and is very reminiscent of films like Stand By Me and the Brian Trenchard-Smith film, The Quest (man I loved that movie). It is set in 1985, so you see a film set in that time period, that is also successfully conveying how life was for a lot of kids that age, at that time.

If you are in your mid 20's to mid 30's, you will love all of the bad-ass retro movies and TV shows that these children are in to. They use code names that are all characters from the A-Team, one kid is completely obsessed with the Karate Kid (I still am), and you get glimpses of bedrooms filled with Star Wars toys and Ghostbusters stuff strewn about. A few of the characters watch what is a film within a film titled Zombie Invasion, which is like an Exploitation Zombie movie that is inter-cut into A Christmas Tale. It serves no other purpose than to show that these kids are into the same stuff many of us were when we were kids and I am assuming the filmmakers were into also.

This is very well done and really brings a fun sense of nostalgia in how it is all captured, and it brings about a sense of connection to the characters as you can see a bit of yourself in these kids in one way or another. How far does that connection go though? That is where the film takes a turn from fun 80's kids movie, to a much darker place when a few of the characters become manipulative and it shows how even youth can be driven by greed and power.

We are all like the kids in many ways and most of us would do differently in such a situation. Others...maybe not so much. The way a few of the characters treat their siblings and this woman, who is essentially bad, but still a human, shows how evil some people can be when put into certain situations. There is also consequence in making the decisions that are made and without getting into too much detail, when the woman escapes her unholy hole; she is not too pleased about what the children did to her.

Outside of the trapped woman, there are no adults to be "physically" seen in this film, which shows you that these kids are in their own little world, almost living by their own rules. All of the youthful actors in A Christmas Tale are very solid and believable in their roles, and all but one of the children are boys, with the lone girl being played by a pre-Pan's Labyrinth Ivana Baquero. Maru Valdivielso as the trapped thief in a Santa suit is fantastic and when you get into the more horrific elements of this film, she is quite scary and effective and makes for a great villain of sorts.

A Christmas Tale is an enjoyable, nostalgia filled romp that is very well made and something that is not commonly seen these days. The feeling of retro-kids films is spot on and the horror elements are all in place for a fun holiday fueled ride that is well worth a watch for the Christmas season. I cannot stress enough what a great bargain the 6 Films to Keep You Awake is; with 6 semi-short Spanish horror films for under $20, you just can't beat it.

16 comments:

  1. Matt, thanks for the reminder on this one! I've had the 6 Films To Keep You Awake set for like a year now and I haven't even watched a single one of them yet! There's just never enough time to get to things, it seems. I'll try and squeeze this one in before the holidays are over, though!

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  2. I really love the retro 80s feel this one had and I also loved the movie-within-a-movie that was shown at the beginning. "To Let" is my favorite of the 6 Films to Keep You Awake set, but this one still kicks a lot of ass and is probably my second favorite of the bunch. I think my only complaint about it is that it went balls out with the retro 80s look and feel in the beginning but it wasn't very consistent throughout the movie with the exception of a few little nods to certain things here and there. It felt like it lost some steam in that aspect and I think the retro stuff, while clever, could have been better off in a different scenario with the same characters, if that makes any sense. But then again I haven't seen this in a while, so I could be wrong. Great review, Matt. Quick, to the point, and you nailed all of the important shit! PEACE!

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  3. Great review Matt. I'm hugely interested in checking this one out. DId Serrador direct any of the films in the set?

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  4. Jeff: You should definitely try and check out a few of them. They aren't too long, well, mostly under 90 minutes, so at least you can get through ha few of them pretty quick. Glad I reminded you though, it's a great set!

    Aaron: Thanks, Aaron! I completely agree that the style gets lost in the second half of the movie. It doesn't fit the tone at all, but I do think it is a set up to make you relate to these kids in a way. But it would be better fit in another type of movie, something lighter like a Goonies, or some shit...that would have been pretty awesome. They really did capture a time period quite successfully.

    I still haven't watched To Let, but it is on my radar after reading your review of it and since I busted out the set again, I will probably watch it pretty soon.

    Emily: Yeah, he did The Blame. He is actually the only one who is not Spanish, from what I know, but he obviously has made plenty of Spanish lensed horror films, so it makes sense that he would spearhead such a project. You can get it for so cheap too, Emily, or you can ask Santa!

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  5. Hmmm, great minds, I just watched this last night and was going to a posting on it.

    I may still do so, we can compare notes.

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  6. With all the killer Santa movies I've been watching this month, I'm pretty reluctant to ask for anything other than my life spared.

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  7. Pax: Great minds indeed! This one was of the few films I knew very few people would post about, so I jumped on it. You should still do a post about it though, there is no avoiding overkill reviews of the same holiday themed horror films.

    I wrote a review for Don't Open 'Till Christmas last night, and a bunch of other blogs I read have already covered it, so no matter. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

    Emily: You poor thing! You have done some serious leg work covering the holiday Slashers, and I commend you! You should give A Christmas Tale a whirl though, it would be a fresh breath of air compared to all the wonderful 80's sleaze you have been watching lately!

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  8. A Christmas Tale will hopefully be on its way this week. It's 2 AM on Friday night and I literally sprinted down the block to stuff the latest cruddy low budgetie into the mailbox. I need a healthy palette cleanser after Santa Claws and Feeders 2: Slay Bells, so all A Christmas Tale really needs is a slightly sensical plot and I'll be set.

    So where's your review of Don't Open Til Xmas? I imagine you also loved the slo-mo flashback scene...

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  9. I have a review written, along with one for Black Christmas and I will put them up soon enough...trying to spread the Christmas love so I don't run out before the holidays! I loved the flute solo best!

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  10. Murder suspect/cheating boyfriend/lingerie photographer/street flutist...

    that character wore quite a few hats.

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  11. I've only reviewed Blame and The Baby's Room on my blog. I planned on doing To Let but didn't get around to it. Maybe I'll make some time for it soon!

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  12. Oh yeah...oops! I have a great memory, don't I?
    You should review some of the other ones, it would be cool to hear your thoughts on them all.

    I would love to watch and re-watch all the films and review them all one day since they aren't too long and should make for quick reviews.

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  13. Gosh, I loved this little flick! You've captured a lot of what made it a really unusual offering and one of the very few Christmas-themed horror films I've enjoyed. Bonus points for the "Tombs of the Blind Dead" poster in one of the kid's bedrooms, and I think I recall some Paul Naschy references as well. Really neat-o vintage texture throughout!

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  14. It was the third time I watched it when I did the review and it was a lot of fun noticing even more of the referential stuff. It's a nice homage to youth that many of us can relate to and it isn't over the top, but so perfectly fitting to what many horror and genre fans love.

    This is definitely a film more people should check out and I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it too, Kate! Thanks for dropping by and for the love!

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  15. Looking forward to checking this out.
    I think the only 6 Films movies I've seen is To Let and The Baby's Room.

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  16. Hope you like it, Chris. I need to watch the other films in that set that I haven't seen yet...To Let and The Baby's Room are two of them. Great set for an even greater price.

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