Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about. Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Genre: Xmasploitation/Slimy Monster Movie
Tagline: They’re not working for Santa… anymore.
Released by: A.I.P. Home Video Inc.
Director: Jeff Mandel
Note: This review was originally published on Dec. 20, 2011.
Plot: Poor Kirsten is a teenage girl in a small town who’s having a really lousy Christmas. It all starts when she and her two girlfriends travel into the woods and accidentally awaken an army of evil Elves created by a Neo-Nazi mad scientist during World War II! These slimy little monsters aren’t interested in helping Santa Claus make toys. No, they intend on mating with a virgin on Christmas Eve so that they can create a master race of Nazi-Elves! Thank the North Pole that Mike McGavin (Dan Haggerty of Grizzly Adams), a chain-smoking department store Santa, is the only one in town who’s figured out the Nazi’s dastardly plot. Will he have enough time to end the terror and save Christmas?
Thoughts: Like a lot people on the planet, Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year and nothing gets me more in the yuletide spirit then watching a holiday themed film or two. I love the old classics, such as It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas, as well as the newer classics like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Scrooged and Home Alone. But, I’m also a huge fan of the Xmasploitation film. It’s a genre we don’t see as often as we once did, what with these politically correct times we live in, which is sad because I find nothing to relieve the stress of the holiday season more satisfying than a movie where Christmas is the setting for murder and mayhem and the snow is splattered with fake blood. Call me a sicko, but I consider titles like Black Christmas, Don’t Open Till Christmas, Christmas Evil, and Silent Night, Deadly Night to be as traditional a part of the season as caroling, trimming the tree and drinking a cup of nog.
Elves is a straight-to-video Xmasploitation gem that’s a prime example of this holiday horror sub-genre. As a matter of fact, it’s possibly one of the most delightfully fucked up ones of them all. It opens with a séance performed by the main character Kirsten and her two friends, whom are trying to cast a love spell. When Kirsten’s hand is cut open on a broken Christmas tree ornament her blood mysteriously awakens a slimy, vicious Elf from the earth beneath. She returns home to receive a slap to the face from her grandfather (an actor with the worst German accent ever) because he suspects that she was in his room without permission. Then her mean mother decides to punish her by taking away all the money from her savings account that Kirsten was going to use for art school. Following this, she catches her foul mouthed, pervert brother watching her while she’s taking a shower. It would seem that Kirsten’s only comfort at home is her cat, which her evil mother later drowns in the toilet.
We are next introduced to chain-smoking Mike McGavin (Dan Haggerty), a loveable, down on his luck, ex-cop, ex-security guard and ex-alcoholic, who’s just looking for some part time work during the holidays to avoid being evicted from his trailer. He scores a gig as a department store Santa when the previous one is fired for demanding oral from girls who sit on his lap and is then later stabbed to death with a butcher knife by the Elf while he’s snorting cocaine. What a bad Santa! Haggerty’s old cop instincts kick in and he starts to investigate these strange events. Things get even stranger when Kirsten and her girlfriends decide to spend the night in the closed department store that she works at, so they can party with their boyfriends. Before long they’re being chased and shot at by a couple of Neo-Nazi goons and the vicious little Elf from earlier kills two of Kirsten’s girlfriends. Luckily, Haggerty saves her and they escape unharmed.
The ex-Santa-turned-detevtive hits the library to unravel the mystery of a strange insignia on a pin he finds. This clue eventually leads him to the home of Professor O’Connor, an expert on Nazi lore, who (in one of the most awesome scenes ever in the history of cinema) explains the truth about the Elves. Turns out the Nazis were using the little bastards as assassins during WWII with the main goal of mating an Elf with a female virgin on Christmas Eve to create a master race of Nazi-Elves – the new Fourth Reich! But you really should hear it from the horse’s mouth:
Meanwhile, Kirsten’s Christmas keeps getting shittier. She gets fired from the department store for being there after hours, even though two of her friends were just slain on the premises. Then she gets hit with the news that her Grandfather is an ex-Nazi scientist and he had sex with her mother in order to create the perfect human specimen to be impregnated by the Elf, which happens to be her. Now that’s some fucked up news to get on Christmas Eve!
There have been a lot of new films in the past year that have been paying homage to the Spielberg/Amblin’ movies from the early 80’s, such as Super 8, Attack The Block and Rare Exports. Well, Elves is a movie that was also attempting to capture that Amblin’ feeling, but it did it back in the late 80’s with almost no budget and loaded with tons of nudity, violence, ‘F’ bombs, incest, and many other issues that Spielberg would have stayed clear of. It takes a lot from Joe Dante’s classic Gremlins and mixes a little of Raiders of the Lost Ark in there with the whole Nazi thing. Even the department store shootout is reminiscent to the shootout in Marion Ravenswood’s bar in Raiders.
What can I say? This movie fucking rocks! If I were to give it one critical note it would be that there’s really no reason for the film to be called Elves since only one Elf is featured in it. I would have loved if there were a scene where an army of Elves attack the town and wreak havoc on the residents while they’re celebrating the holiday, but alas this never materializes and I’m pretty sure that it’s got something to do with budgetary restrictions. But, it doesn’t matter ‘cause Elves is cheap fun and totally bat-shit crazy from start to finish. And like all good Christmas themed movies it helps you understand that the true meaning of the holiday is really all about just trying to survive the time you spend with your family. Feliz Navidad, everyone!