Friday, December 15, 2017

12 Horrors of Christmas: 'Elves' (1989)

Already an object of cult fascination, Jeffrey Mandel's Elves has the potential to be a bad-movie phenomenon if it were more widely available. As it is now, though, I was only able to watch a low-quality VHS rip on YouTube, and even in that degraded state it was still a fun time, the kind of crackpot vision that makes for the most enjoyable terrible movies. Director and co-writer Mandel isn't at the outsider-artist level of someone like Tommy Wiseau or Neil Breen, but he isn't just some Hollywood hack churning out generic crap for a paycheck, either. There's a level of professionalism to Elves that makes it look like a "real movie," which in turn makes its batshit absurdities all the more surprising and delightful.

There's actually just one elf in this movie, and although it takes place around Christmastime, the elf in question has nothing to do with Santa Claus or his toy-making minions. It's a sort of ancient monster that goes back to Biblical times, accidentally raised up by teenager Kirsten (Julie Austin) and her two friends, when they perform some sort of silly "anti-Christmas" ritual. Really, though, that's just a goofy distraction, and the elf rises thanks to the spilling of Kirsten's blood. As we later learn, Kirsten is the product of inbreeding between her Nazi grandfather and her cold-hearted mother, conceived with the sole purpose of mating with an elf on Christmas Eve and thus giving birth to the master race. Yep, the elves and the Nazis are in league with each other, and Kirsten must avoid being raped by an elf in order to save the world.

She's helped by Mike McGavin (Dan Haggerty, best known as TV's Grizzly Adams), a cop turned department store Santa who takes an inordinate interest in the secret history of elves, even accosting various university professors on Christmas Eve in order to learn about the movie's ridiculous mythology. Mike's interest in Kirsten seems like it would edge into leering or prurient, but he's apparently just a really well-meaning guy who's willing to believe all sorts of crazy shit about elves in order to help some teenage girl he just met. (He's way better than his predecessor as store Santa, who feels Kirsten up, snorts cocaine in his dressing room and then gets stabbed to death in the genitals by the elf.) There's a lot of weird sexual suggestiveness in this movie, including Kirsten's preteen brother talking about her "big tits" and her friends all planning what amounts to a sex party for them and their boyfriends after-hours in the department store.

The elf itself is a rather stiff-looking effect, shuffling along awkwardly toward its victims and never speaking or making much noise at all. It doesn't appear to have any supernatural abilities, instead requiring a knife or other tool to kill its victims. Far more dangerous are the Nazi associates of Kirsten's grandfather, who have no qualms about killing anyone who gets in the way of the grand rise of the elf-Nazis. They even plant a bomb in Mike's car, which leads to the hilarious scene of him discovering it in the glove compartment and then awkwardly tumbling out of the car before it explodes. Those awkward moments are the movie's greatest asset, though, as Haggerty and the other cast members throw themselves into the movie's increasingly nonsensical plot. Clean up the picture, get some bemused cast member to do a commentary track while Mandel explains his artistic vision, and a Blu-ray release of Elves could be a cult-movie goldmine.

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