The Highs and Lows of a Raptors Fan

UTA_5_012512It’s hard out here for a Toronto Raptors fan. Overpaying free agents, blowing draft picks, dealing away franchise level talent, convincing the rest of the world that Canadians don’t live in igloos, it’s never been an easy road to follow.

In their heyday Vince Carter set the league on fire with the dunk heard round the world and a playoff performance that was one bucket away from a third round playoff berth, something Toronto had never achieved before or since.

Many fans bemoaned the loss of both Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter, a formidable one-two punch that had finally helped lend the Raptors some credibility. Though neither would end up achieving their dreams of an NBA championship, both would eventually make it to the NBA Finals (Carter in 2009 with Orlando, McGrady in 2013 with San Antonio).

Perhaps more troubling than the loss of Carter or McGrady was the most recent departure of All Star talent, Chris Bosh. This is not to suggest that Bosh was the more talented player of the three, but he had certainly ingratiated himself deeply to the city of Toronto, going so far as to proclaim that he would “Rep T-Dot Till’ they Bury Me”. Or until a suitable sign and trade scenario presented itself.

c3d0e6384d90a2be5873b5096376All bitterness aside, Chris Bosh leaving the Raptors was the best thing that could have happened to them. Publicly handcuffing them into accepting whatever Miami felt like offering is another thing entirely, but what’s done is done. The fact of the matter is, Chris Bosh is not a franchise player, and he certainly isn’t worth a max contract. Had the Raptors bent over backwards and offered him the $125 million that he felt he was worth, there would have been very little financial flexibility left to overhaul the rest of the roster.

In the end, Toronto maintained a modicum of flexibility and Bosh got what he wanted, money and NBA championships. He didn’t end up choosing to be “The Man” as he had claimed, but as an All Star caliber third banana he no longer had the pressure of carrying an entire team as he’d had to do in Toronto. His numbers plummeted and he became the butt of most Heat-related jokes, but he’d gotten further than any other ex-Raptor to date.

Now, this isn’t about players leaving or not wanting to play for Toronto. The Raptors fanbase has always been a voracious beast in and of itself. The mere fact that the Raptors outlasted the Vancouver Grizzlies had been a point of pride for the city. That is, until the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder gained relevance and both surpassed Toronto’s best playoff run. After 5 years without a playoff berth, things seemed bleaker than ever for our fledgling team.

Oddly enough, things could have been even worse for Toronto. When free agent Steve Nash was considering teams, Toronto offered the 38 year old guard a 3 year $36 million contract. Upon learning that he was in talks with the Knicks, Toronto offered restricted free agent Landry Fields a 3 year $20 million deal in the hopes of jamming up New York’s finances and keeping Nash from signing there. Toronto then drafted Terrence Ross over the far more talented Andre Drummond in the hopes that Ross would be a better fit next to Nash. Luckily for the Raptors, Nash chose LA, promptly became injured and helped Toronto dodge a crippling $36 million commitment.

Jerryd BaylessThat said, Toronto has had it’s share of silver linings over the past few years. The hiring of coach Dwane Casey seemed like a coup, as he was fresh off an NBA championship with Dallas. Unfortunately, having to bring a team’s defense from the ground up takes time, something Raptors fans have become restless with giving. This season is Casey’s last contract year with Toronto. All eyes will be on him as he continues to develop what he’s started, or auditions for his next head coaching gig.

In addition to Casey, the savvy drafting of young center Jonas Valanciunas has been paying off big time. Jonas is on pace to be the best center in Raptors history, and well worth seeing him develop as the centerpiece of Toronto’s young core. In addition to Jonas, the acquisition of Rudy Gay was the shot in the arm that Toronto needed last season, especially after a dreadful 4-19 start that seemed like the beginning of the end. Obviously he is severely overpaid at $18 million per year, but his leadership and talent is something Toronto desperately missed in the wake of Bosh’s departure.

The biggest question mark going into the 2013 Raptors season is whether the team will attempt a long awaited playoff run or unload the contracts of Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry and perhaps Demar Derozen in favour of “tanking” and ensuring a higher pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, widely considered to be the best draft in years. Personally, I’m of two minds on the subject. While I’m not in favour of throwing games and sacrificing chemistry in favour of what MIGHT be around the corner, there is little to be gained by making the 8th seed and being blown out in 4 games. Still, 6 years without playoffs is a long time for fans to go hungry.

The biggest change for the Raptors came with the replacement of GM Bryan Colangelo with former Raptors alumni Masai Ujiri, as well as the hiring of CEO Tim Leiweke. Both are highly respected individuals with a proven track record (Ujiri received the NBA’s Executive of the Year award with Denver, Leiweke won an NHL championship with the LA Kings). Colangelo himself was fresh off winning the NBA’s Executive of the Year award when he joined Toronto, but too many gambles and twists of fate cost him his job.

Andrea Bargnani, Paul Millsap Ujiri’s first order of business was to divorce the team from Colangelo’s 2006 #1 pick, Andrea Bargnani. Much like BC himself, there were high expectations for Bargnani in Toronto, expectations that he was never able to live up to. Ironically, the Raptors received a better deal for Bargnani than they did for Vince Carter, a fact that still rubs a bit of salt in the wounds of veteran Raps fans.

Leiweke and Ujiri have made it clear that a new era is upon us, and they’ve made good on their word in more ways than one. It was recently announced that Toronto has been awarded the 2016 NBA All Star Game, just in time for the Raptors 20th anniversary. In addition to this, Toronto has partnered with hometown rapper Drake to help lend some credibility to both the city and the team. Drake has been dubbed the Raptors’ “Global Ambassador”, and will have a hand in redesigning the Raptors logo and team colours, just in time for the 2015-2016 season.

While I may not personally be a fan of Drake’s music, there’s no denying his impact on popular music and culture. Since announcing their partnership with Drake, the #Raptors have been trending worldwide on twitter, no mean feat for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 5 seasons. Between unloading the albatross that was Bargnani, landing the All Star Game and allying with one of the most popular rappers in the world, Toronto has begun the difficult process of digging out from under several years of heartbreak.

Despite the view of most NBA fans, Toronto has never been at risk of contraction. They’ve consistently been one of the top 10 earners in the league, despite how their record may look to an outsider. While there’s still an uphill battle to be fought, the Raptors have made some big steps in the past year. For a team that’s started from the bottom, it won’t be long before the rest of the league realizes we’re here.

CLE_23_010412

Lazron’s October Horrorthon 2013

Well, it’s that time of year again. The time where I’m not the only person lovingly busting through as many horror flicks as possible. I’d argue that Halloween is my favourite holiday, though I’m also partial to Christmas. That said, my Christmas Horrorthon is never as good as my October Horrorthon, so Halloween might have the edge here.

I’ve been doing this for a few years now, much to the occasional chagrin of relationships past and present. As with most things, there’s been ups and downs. Lack of sleep, regrettable film choices, amazingly obscure soundtracks, it’s all been part of the fun in this horrific October learning curve.

This year will be a little different than years past. For one thing I’ve decided to pick 31 films I hadn’t seen before. Traditionally I’d watched the classic “Trick r’ Treat” on Halloween and “Halloween II” on the 30th. As much as I love those films, and I may still sneak them in, I felt there was already a glut of cinematic atrocities that remained to be seen, thus the painful decision to carry on without those two mainstays.

The other difference between this year and years past will be my inability to watch one film per night. I’ll still be watching (at least) 31 films over the month, but I’ll be out of town 3 days for a wedding, which is apparently more important than terror films. Hopefully I can sneak on the wedding-themed “Rec 3”, but it’s probably best not to ruin everybody’s joyous occasion. Not deliberately anyway.

Those caveats aside, I’m genuinely stoked to be starting another epic list of horror gems. In years past I’ve discovered some truly enjoyable flicks, including Nightmare City, Some Guy Who Kills People & The Dead. Of course, there’s also been stuff like The Burrowers & Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2, so it could go either way.

Another thing I’ve tried with this years list is including youtube links to full movies whenever possible. This will theoretically allow you to watch along with me ! Though you and I both know that’s not going to happen. Still, a surprising amount of them have been uploaded, thumbs up for modern technology.

Anyway, without further adieu, I present you with the latest installment of …

Lazron’s October Horrorthon 2013

1) Night of the Demons (1988)

night-of-the-demons-movie-poster-1989-1020204365“A group of teens decides to have a Halloween party up at the deserted funeral parlor. They accidentally awaken a demon while having a seance. The demon enters the body of one of the women, and soon the teens begin experiencing an attrition problem.”

At one time I actually owned this movie, though I never ended up watching it. I think it was on one of HMV’s 5-8$ Super Sales and seemed too good to pass up. That is, until I ended up selling it before viewing it. That said, it’s got a solid fanbase, multiple sequels and has since been remade. Seems like as good a film as any to kick of the holidays !

2) Curse of Chucky (2013)

Curse-of-Chucky-poster-art“After her mother’s mysterious death, Nica begins to suspect that the talking, red-haired doll her visiting niece has been playing with may be the key to recent bloodshed and chaos.”

I’m not really much of a Child’s Play fan, though I did enjoy Bride and Seed of Chucky. I’ve always found the originals to be fairly boring and unworthy of returning to. It’s rare for a film series, especially horror, to hit its’ stride on the fourth entry, but that’s precisely what many would agree happened in this case. This sixth film (all have been written by creator Don Mancini) is a direct to video affair, though it’s gotten good early reviews and is said to tie the series together nicely. Colour me intrigued.

3) Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972)

014“The vengeful Doctor rises again, seeking the Scrolls of Life in an attempt to resurrect his deceased wife.”

I’m a big fan of Vincent Price and would have to place the original Dr. Phibes film in my top 5 of his work. That film had a perfect ending, one which didn’t seem to leave room for a sequel (much like “The Descent”). I vaguely recall watching this follow up film when I was younger, though I dismissed it as a less than stellar rehash of the original. That said, my love for the original and distance between viewings has lead me to give it another chance. There was actually a third film planned (a script was eventually leaked online) but alas, it was not to be.

4) Body Melt (1993)

body_melt_1993“Residents of peaceful Pebbles Court, Homesville, are being used unknowingly as test experiments for a new ‘Body Drug’ that causes rapid body decomposition (melting skin etc.) and painful death.”

I’ve had a copy of this one for awhile but I’d always heard mixed reviews. I’m kind of a sucker for low budget melting movies though (Street Trash, Slime City, The Stuff), so I think it’s finally time to see whether or not this fits in the pantheon of Melted Masterpieces.

5) Nomads (1986)

NoMads“A French anthropologist moves to Los Angeles and is followed by the evil spirits of an extinct tribe he once uncovered.”

It’s hard not to enjoy seeing Pierce Brosnan in strange, pre-Bond forays (The Lawnmower Man, Mrs. Doubtfire. Nomads). Even in post-Bond efforts his appearance tends to bring a smile to my face. Brosnan made “Nomads” in between seasons of “Remington Steele”, and it actually has a fairly solid fanbase behind it. It doesn’t hurt that it was writer/director John McTiernan’s first film (over the next two years he’d make Predator and Die Hard). I’m most excited to see Pierce playing a french archeologist though. Spot on casting !

6) Slime City Massacre (2010)

SLIMECITYSMALLSIZEPOSTER“In the wake of a “dirty bomb” attack, a New York City neighborhood known as “Slime City” has been evacuated, except for the homeless (“displaced refugees”). Four squatters searching for food in the ruins of the Zachary Devon Soup Kitchen discover a supply of Zachary Devon’s Home Brewed Elixir and Himalayan Yogurt. When they drink the elixir and eat the yogurt, they are transformed into hideous slime creatures driven to murder – an intermediate step as they are possessed by the spirits of Zachary Devon and the members of his Coven of Flesh, who committed suicide years earlier. When a greedy developer sets his sites on Slime City, he hires a team of mercenaries to wipe out the homeless population. It’s a battle royale between the Slime Heads, the mercenaries, and bloodthirsty mutant cannibals!”

I tried to make a double bill of both Slime City films at one point, but I never got around to watching this one. Waiting 22 years between sequels is certainly uncommon, though “Godfather of Gore” Herschell Gordon Lewis waited 39 years between Blood Feast 1 & 2, so maybe 22 isn’t so bad. I guess we’ll find out what 22 years of fundraising buys you.

7) Terror Train (1980)

terror-train-poster“A masked killer targets six college kids responsible for a prank gone wrong years earlier and whom are currently throwing a large New Year’s Eve costume party aboard a moving train.”

This was Jamie Lee Curtis’ fourth film, following the triple threat of Halloween, The Fog and Prom Night (which have all been remade, terribly). I remember the Scream channel playing this one regularly, though I never got around to actually seeing it. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it though, so my hopes are pretty high.

8) The Bird with Crystal Plumage (1970)

argento-ucello-poster“A writer is stalked by a serial killer after witnessing a murder attempt on one woman’s life.”

I must confess, I’ve never been a huge fan of Dario Argento. I was always more of a Lucio Fulci fan, which is borderline sacrilege. I don’t deny that Argento is the more accomplished filmmaker, I just always preferred Fulci’s over the top gore to Argento’s subtle mastery. That said, I’ve set out to rectify my lack of Argento viewings by loading up on his films in this years Horrorthon. With 3 titles on the list, it’s up to his work to speak for itself.

9) No One Lives (2012)

no-one-lives-movie-wallpaper-26“A gang of ruthless highway killers kidnap a wealthy couple traveling cross country only to shockingly discover that things are not what they seem.”

I’ve heard pretty good things about this one, though I didn’t get around to seeing it in it’s brief theatrical run. Director Ryuhei Kitamura has made some incredibly enjoyable films, including Azumi, Godzilla – Final Wars, Versus, Sky High and Midnight Meat Train. None of those films are perfect (with the possible exception of Azumi), but he has an incredibly kinetic visual style that often makes up for any shortcomings in his stories.

10) Stagefright (1987)

stage-fright-deliria“A troupe of struggling stage actors is rehearsing for a small-town production of a play. Everything seems to be as it should until one of the cast members turns up dead. In a panic, the others try to get out, only to find they are now locked in the theater with the killer! Which one of them committed the murder, and who will get out alive?”

This is said to be something of a lost gem of the 80’s slasher set. It was produced by Joe D’Amato, a director best known for quickly made and cheaply produced grindhouse films. He did direct the infamous Anthropophagus and Beyond the Darkness (also featured on this list), so maybe his influence paid off in the end.

11) The Night Flier (1997)

night_flier_poster_01“A reporter is on the trail of a vampiric murderer who travels by plane.”

This is one of the least discussed and highly regarded Stephen King adaptations ever put to film. I’d never even heard of it for years, but it’s legend has slowly grown over time. I’m a big fan of The Mist and The Shawshank Redemption, but as long as this is better than Under the Dome and Sleepwalkers I’ll be just fine.

12) Beyond the Darkness (1979)

beyondthedarknessposter“A young rich orphan loses his fiancée to voodoo doll mischief on the part of his housekeeper who is jealous of his attentions. He digs his girlfriend up, cleans her out, stuffs her, and puts her in bed at the mansion. Following this, he tries out and disposes of a series of young maidens, trying to find the right replacement for her, and the disapproving housekeeper helps him with the disposals.”

As previously mentioned, this is one of the few Joe D’Amato films that has actually received critical acclaim over the years. Much like Anthropophangus, much of the film’s notoriety lies in it’s extreme violence. In fact, its remained banned in Australia for the past 21 years due to its content. Challenge accepted.

13) Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)

Cannibal_Apocalypse-1980-Poster“Giovanni Lambardo Radice and John Saxon are Vietman vets that bring back contagious virus that turn people into cannibals when bitten.”

I actually did have this on several weeks ago, but I tuned out the minute I heard the opening theme. It was so incredibly funky that I knew I needed to make a beat out of it. I spent the rest of the film creating the best beat I’ve ever made, at the cost of following the plot itself. All in all, it was totally worth it, but I would like to give it another go.

14) Dust Devil (1992)

dust-devil-movie-poster-1992-1020470855“A woman on the run from her abusive husband encounters a mysterious hitch-hiker.”

This is another film I’ve heard nothing but good things about. The original version of the film ran 120 minutes, which was later trimmed to 110. After that, a 95 minute version was tested, later trimmed to 87 minutes (much to the chagrin of the writer/director). Since then a 105 minute “Final Cut” and 114 minute “Director’s Cut” have surfaced, all making it extremely difficult to decide which version to choose.

15) The Beast Within (1982)

240984-1020-a“In the beginning of the movie you see a woman getting raped by a man-creature of some sort. The movie takes place years later when the child that was a result of that rape is on the rampage looking for a girl to rape to start the process all over again.”

Another favourite of the Scream channel, this film will be receiving a long overdue blu ray release by cult label Scream Factory (no relation to the channel). I’ve never been a huge werewolf fan, but if the transformation scenes are anything like An American Werewolf in London, this may well be worth the wait.

16) All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006/2013)

all-the-boys-love-mandy-lane-2006-poster-2“A group of high-schoolers invite Mandy Lane, a good girl who became quite hot over the summer, to a weekend party on a secluded ranch. While the festivities rage on, the number of revelers begins to drop quite mysteriously.”

Speaking of films being worth the wait, this was originally scheduled for release in 2006 ! It’s just now receiving a theatrical release (despite leaking online years ago). I’ve heard conflicting reviews on its quality, but my expectations are low enough that I may well enjoy myself.

17) REC 2 (2009)

rec2-QUADv4-final_RGB_LORES“The action continues from [Rec], with the medical officer and a SWAT team outfitted with video cameras are sent into the sealed off apartment to control the situation.”

I’m a huge fan of the original REC (possibly the best found footage horror to date) and have been trying to watch this well reviewed follow up for years now. I think both REC 2 and 3 were on last years’ Horrorthon list, but for whatever reason (likely subtitle reading laziness) they were bumped. I feel it’s finally time to get through these, just in time for next years’ REC 4 !

18) REC 3 (2012)

rec3“A couple’s wedding day turns horrific as some of the guests start showing signs of a strange illness.”

It’s borderline ironic that I’ve not seen this third REC film yet, as I’ll be getting married in June and will now know what to look out for if our guests start murdering each other. In their defense though, it’s more likely to be dessert bar related than demonic possession. Still, can’t be too careful these days …

19) Opera (1987)

Opera“A young opperata is stalked by a deranged fan bent on killing the people associated with her to claim her for himself.”

Our second Argento film is the highly regarded Opera, sometimes known as “Terror at the Opera” (probably to keep from confusing Opera fans who inadvertently rented the wrong tape). I’m a big fan of the iconic cover image and hope the ensuing film lives up to it.

20) Wicked Little Things (2006)

POSTER - WICKED LITTLE THINGS (2)“Karen, Sarah, and Emma Tunney are all moving to a small town in Pennsylvania where, unknown to them, in 1913, a horrid mine accident trapped dozens of children alive, underground. But there’s a problem. They’re still alive.”

The premise of this one always intrigued me, a sort of Night of the Living Dead meets Children of the Corn I suppose. One of the overseas titles for it was simply “Zombies”, so at this point I’m really not sure what to expect.

21) The Kindred (1987)

kindred_poster_01“Amanda’s deathbed request to her son, John, was for him to destroy all the lab notes etc. from her last experiment. She also blurts out he had a brother. At the funeral John meets Melissa, who claims to be his mothers biggest fan. Together with some of John’s friends they go to Amanda’s house, but none are prepared for what they find there.”

From what I can tell, this seems to be a film that relies mostly on creature effects to sell its story. The first film that comes to my mind in that category is the 1982 alien classic “Xtro” (released 4 days after I was born !). If this one comes anywhere close to that level of enjoyment, I’ll be pleased as punch.

22) Midnight (1982)

Midnight“A teenage girl runs away from home because police officer/stepfather puts the moves on her. Hitchhiking to California, she’s picked up by two guys who are also traveling cross-country. Along the way, they decide to camp out in the woods and run across a family of Satanists who keep their dead mother in the attic.”

This one is a bit of an odd duck. From what I can tell, the story has nothing to do with zombies, however, that poster would have you believe otherwise. This likely stems from the fact that its’ writer/director was the co-writer of Night of the Living Dead. Seeking to cash in on any remaining brand recognition seems to have brought on some very misleading marketing tactics. Still, it’s kind of a cool poster.

23) Come Out and Play (2012)

come-out-and-play-hires“A couple take a vacation to a remote island – their last holiday together before they become parents. Soon after their arrival, they notice that no adults seem to be present – an observation that quickly presents a nightmarish reality.”

This one is a remake of the lesser known spanish film “Who Can Kill a Child?”. While its long been known that no american studio would attempt a remake, this mexican made effort was willing to give it a try. From what I’ve heard, it’s essentially a shot for shot remake that pales in comparison to the original. Still, the subject matter is intriguing enough to give it a shot.

24) The Child (1977)

child_1977_poster_01“A newly-hired housekeeper in a remote area is alarmed to discover that her boss’s eleven-year-old daughter is using her supernatural powers to take revenge on the people she holds responsible for her mother’s death, with the aid of her flesh-eating zombie ‘friends’…”

I always think it’s wild when I find out a film like this was made the same year as Star Wars. I mean, the subject matter couldn’t be any different if they tried ! I’ve heard that this is quite an odd film, even more than the synopsis would have you believe. I’m kind of a sucker for lesser known zombie flicks though, so this one got the late add on.

25) The Boneyard (1991)

the_boneyard_german_custom-cdcovers“Children turned into zombies wreak havoc in a coroner’s building with just a burned-out psychic, an experienced cop and two coroners to stop the madness.”

I’m not sure what to think of this one. Apparently it starts strong but has a ridiculous second half, featuring an appearance by Phyllis Diller ! Still, it’s apparently saved by some excellent makeup effects that make the experience much more palatable. Here’s hoping.

26) The Bay (2012)

OR_The Bay 2012 movie Wallpaper 1280x1024“Chaos breaks out in a small Maryland town after an ecological disaster occurs.”

I was definitely thrown off when I heard that the academy award winning director of The Natural, Good Morning Vietnam and Rain Man would be making a found footage horror film. I mean, I guess it’s all the rage now, but it still seemed odd. Reviews were mixed, but the story is an interesting one, and not entirely unrealistic subject matter.

27) The Keep (1983)

aaaaaaa“Nazis are forced to turn to a Jewish historian for help in battling the ancient demon they have inadvertently freed from its prison.”

Speaking of well known directors, I’ve been meaning to watch Michael Mann’s sophmore effort for years now. Another casualty of last years’ list, this year I’m determined to get through it. As cool as the story is, I’ve learned to temper my expectations after years of mixed reviews.

28) The Orphanage (2007)

the-orphanage-poster-800“A woman brings her family back to her childhood home, which used to be an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, her son starts to communicate with an invisible new friend.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, this film has received nearly universal acclaim. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro, I’ve had this recommended to me countless times over the years. I’ve tried not to get my hopes up, but it has to at least be better than “Orphan”.

29) We Are What We Are (2010)

“When the patriarch of the family passes away, the teenage children must take responsibility for the family chores: the preparation of the rituals, the hunting and putting the all-important meat on the table. These newfound responsibilities are even more daunting, however, when you live in the city and happen to be a family of cannibals.”

This was recently remade, though I felt it best to watch the original before the american version is released. Supposedly they’re quite different takes on the material, but I still would have been upset had I seen Quarantine before REC.

30) The Innkeepers (2011)

ExclInnkeepersBig“During the final days at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, two employees determined to reveal the hotel’s haunted past begin to experience disturbing events as old guests check in for a stay.”

I’m not really a huge Ti West fan, though he gets a lot of respect for his throwback-style of filmmaking. I tried to love The House of the Devil, but it was a bit too slow moving for my tastes. Here’s hoping West wins me over with this one.

31) Tenebrae (1982)

tenebre_poster_01“An American writer in Rome is stalked by a serial killer bent on harassing him while killing all people associated with his work on his latest book.”

Our third (and final) Argento film is the classic Tenebrae. It was a bit tough to pick and choose which of his films to watch, though I’d already seen Inferno, Suspiria and Deep Red (my personal favourite). I’m not a huge Giallo fan, but I do love a good mystery. Fingers crossed for this one.

002And there you have it ! Another dreadfully delightful list of 31 terror-riffic treats to fill my head with visions of rotting sugarplums and severed limbs and the like. I’ll do my best to update my reviews daily throughout October, but it’s gonna be a bit of an odd Horrorthon this year, just the way I like it !

Till’ next time, smoke em’ if you gut em’ !

– e

10 Great Lesser Known 60’s Psych/Pop Albums You May Love

One thing I love about music is the thrill of the hunt, the crate-digging (virtual or actual) that eventually pays off in the discovery of a previously unknown gem. Of course, the gems are often few and far between, sandwiched between Moe Koffman comps and Lithuanian hip hop albums (if you’re lucky).

It can often be discouraging when one thinks of the onslaught of albums already released and the plethora still released on a weekly basis. It can be exhausting and nearly impossible to wrap your head around, yet all the more rewarding when a new gem is unearthed.

I’ve always taken it upon myself to pass on such gems to those I felt would glean that same joy from them. It began with passing along mixtapes, emailing mp3’s, even swapping vinyls with like-minded individuals. One of my favourite things about working at HMV was the ability to pass on recommendations to those who would otherwise not have enjoyed them. Well, that and the deep discount on vinyl.

All of this leads us to today’s (long gestating) post. I pride myself on having a wide breadth of knowledge and tastes when it comes to music. I love Folk, Rap, Rock, Blues, Electronic, (old) Country, even Classical. To me, a good song is a good song, regardless of genre.

That said, arguably my favourite style of music is 60’s/70’s Psychedelic Pop. A lot of it is the production, the feel of the music itself, the inherent catchiness of oh so many “Beatle-esque” groups to follow the wake of mania. For me, there’s just something about a catchy 3 minute 60’s psych-pop track with gorgeous harmonies and interesting production. I can’t explain it much more than to dub it a sort of aural magic, rarely mastered but always welcome.

Over the years I’ve sifted through countless of these albums, 90% of them subpar or good for 1 or 2 decent tracks. In a genre championed by many Nuggets-type compilations, finding a lesser known front to back quality album is next to impossible.

For that reason, and of course my love of passing on great albums, I decided to compile a list of 10 great lesser known 60’s Pop-Psych albums that you may love (thus the title). Obviously I avoided well known classics like “Odessey and Oracle” or “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake”, but in my opinion all 10 of these underrated classics deserves a place in your heart.

1) Nirvana – The Story of Simon Simopath (1967)

Nirvana - The Story of Simon Simopath (1967)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nl2ygWrUhw

Not to be confused with that “other” band (who they later sued), this 1967 gem was one of the first concept albums (and not the only one to be featured on this list). It tells the story of Simon Simopath, from life to death. Running a scant 25 minutes in length, TSOSS races by, but never feels rushed. It plays as a complete experience rather than a collection of tracks, though “Lonely Boy” and “1999” are enjoyable standouts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoG7BZnfvKE

nirvana2Nirvana was essentially a duo who hired extra studio musicians to complete their albums and play various shows / television appearances (including a memorable one in which they were covered in black paint by Salvador Dali. Weird). They’ve since regrouped and have continued to play shows to this day (much to the chagrin of confused grunge fans everywhere).

Their follow up album “All of Us” (containing their two best known tracks, “Rainbow Chaser” and the title track) is enjoyable in its own right, but for my money, “Simon” is where it’s at.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g62F3iUI8yM

2) The Family Tree – Miss Butters (1968)

buttershttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4i78Qoaa7M

“Miss Butters” is an album that should really have a much larger following than it does. It’s catchy and well written (one of the songs is co-written by Harry Nilsson himself), truly a delight from start to finish. The first time I discovered it I couldn’t believe it had eluded my ears for so long. Much like Simon Simpopath, Miss Butters is one of the earliest concept albums and tells the story of its title character, from birth to death.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBcQYbjoGog

84135The Family Tree was the brainchild of Bob Segarini, a man I was lucky enough to speak with and properly thank for creating such a gem of a record. “Miss Butters” was their only full length record, though they did record a handful of other singles before disbanding. It’s interesting to note that “Miss Butters” was produced and arranged by the same two men who worked on Nilsson’s “Aerial Ballet” (another favourite of mine). Their skills certainly lend a wonderful, almost ethereal quality to the proceedings.

In my mind “Miss Butters” is one of the greatest lesser known 60’s pop records of all time. The story is interesting and well told, the music is timeless and the harmonies can’t be beat. Simply put, “Miss Butters” is the kind of record you spend a lifetime digging crates to find.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45W6wQiy6RU

3) Grapefruit – Around Grapefruit (1968)

Grapefruit - Around Grapefruit [1968]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNO9KXAm23c

I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t come across this record until earlier this year, but it’s easily one of the best albums on this list. The production, the vocals, the hooks, the weird cover art, it’s all here ! I remember listening to this for the first time and praying that it would maintain its quality throughout the entire record. Luckily for me (and you), it’s not only an enjoyable record from start to finish, it even has a great b-side (“The Dead Boot”) !

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZzFif7tSt4

Grapefruit-Around-the-BBCGrapefruit were an interesting band for a number of reasons. One of their members (George Alexander, born Alexander Young) was the brother of AC/DC founders Malcolm and Angus Young as well as George Young of The Easybeats (impressive family). In addition to this, they were named by none other than John Lennon himself (after Yoko Ono’s book “Grapefruit”). They were originally signed to Apple Records, though the label was not up and running in time and “Around Grapefruit” was released by Decca instead.

Despite releasing a few relatively successful singles, the record was not nearly as successful as all involved had hoped it would be. For their second (and last) record “Deep Water” they ditched their psych-pop sound entirely, favouring a harder rock sound (much to the chagrin of their fanbase). Again, success eluded them and Grapefruit disbanded, leaving behind a gorgeous pop masterpiece just waiting to be discovered.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V920QCpX3LU&list=PLFBA375907CCA4341

(Sidenote – In their defence, “Deep Water” did have the awesome “Universal Party”, which really should have been a hit. Truly a band gone too soon)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7osvKNBR2Q

4) The Idle Race – Birthday Party (1968)

bpartyhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhLs4Q8OguQ

Unlike most of the groups on this list, The Idle Race are somewhat better known. This is mostly due to their singer/songwriter, the incomparable Jeff Lynne. Before he jumped ship to join The Move, ELO, The Traveling Wilburys or write/produce Tom Petty’s biggest hits, Lynne anchored The Idle Race and made this incredible record. The Beatles influence is undeniable, but never comes across as subpar or ripped off. Lynne’s ear for melody and songwriting chops are incredible, making this genuinely feel like a lost Beatles album at times.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUfMre3-Kg0

idle_bannerIt’s ironic that Lynne is the least recognizable of The Traveling Wilburys, as he was arguably the most prolific. He was in no less than 4 groups who released multiple albums, he released 2 solo albums, wrote and recorded for countless artists (including re-invigorating the career of one of his heroes, George Harrison) and when someone needed to sift through and produce the 2 “lost” Beatles Anthology tracks (“Free as a Bird” and “Real Love”) it was Lynne that was brought on board to essentially be the 5th Beatle.

The results of those sessions were astounding, especially considering what he had to work with. It all began with The Idle Race, and even then his talents were easy to hear. Lynne left the group after their second album was released. The Idle Race soldiered on with a Lynne-less third record (which actually wasn’t bad), but “The Birthday Party” was truly their masterpiece.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLlBCLYO0FU

5) The Move – The Move (1968)

the-move-the-move-1968http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5izMtCJTno

Speaking of “The Move”, one could argue that they were actually not so lesser known. They had 9 top 20 UK hits in a 5 year span and were actually quite successful there. That said, and like countless british bands before and since, success in the United States always eluded them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HOUJGHVrUg

themoveFounded in 1965, The Move are probably best known for eccentric singer/songwriter Roy Wood. Wood had become friends with Jeff Lynne and offered to bring him on as a member of The Move, though Lynne initially declined, preferring to focus on The Idle Race instead. While Lynne would eventually join The Move for their third and fourth albums, it’s their self titled debut album that’s always stuck with me.

Oddly enough, The Move had arguably better non-album tracks than album tracks, especially for their second and third albums. Tracks like “Blackberry Way”, “This Time Tomorrow”, “Curly” and “Tonight” were among their strongest. I would also reccomend Wood’s 1973 solo album “Boulders”, another underrated gem.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3f9t_ia3FE

6) The Paper Garden – The Paper Garden (1969)

The Paper Garden album by Paper Garden-1968http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjI9ywWOUMY

The Paper Garden is another band that I only recently discovered. Unlike most of the other bands on this list, The Paper Garden were an american group, hailing from New York. This obscure album was to be their only release, though that almost adds to it’s appeal.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQRR5s6yLcE

bThe sound of the album is something of an amalgamation of Grapefruit, The Zombies, Nirvana and even a bit of Pink Floyd. While not nearly as flawless a release as, say, “Miss Butters” or “Around Grapefruit”, the production is excellent and some of the songs are absolute gems (especially “Gypsy Wine” and “Mr. Mortimer”). All in all, a pleasing listen with a bit of clutter here and there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjI9ywWOUMY&list=PLAFE464A2A135C113

7) The Poppy Family – Which Way You Goin’ Billy? (1969)

poppy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7F94g9EaXO8

The lone Canadian act on this list, The Poppy Family were best known for the title track of this album, the worldwide smash “Which way you goin’ Billy ?”. Oddly enough, it’s the one track on here that I don’t really care for. I mean, it’s okay, but a bit sacchirine, and nowhere near as good as the rest of the album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlke44q6JIg

tumblr_m4ystfOlzW1rvvx1oo1_500The Poppy Family were essentially husband and wife duo Terry and Susan Jacks. This album featured two additional musicians, but they were both released following this record. The Poppy Family released one more album before divorcing and heading off into solo careers, but it was much more of a country record than a psych-pop one (sadly).

I first heard their music when I discovered a stack of records in a vacant lot near my apartment. One of those records was their “Beyond the Clouds / Free from the City” single. I really dug the sound of it and quickly tracked down the surrounding album. Interestingly, I realized that I’d heard elements of two tracks (“What Can the Matter Be?” and “Of Cities and Escapes”) sampled on the classic debut hip hop record by Deltron 3030. Neat !

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbaDQyfDlRM

8) The World of Oz – The World of Oz (1969)

Oz - Fronthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA-zKzB5ujM

Don’t let the name or cover art fool you, this album has nothing to do with the L Frank Baum stories. Like most 60’s psych-pop bands, The World of Oz faded into obscurity after releasing their lone album. Unlike most of those bands however, they were signed by the famous Deram label and given the use of a 33 piece orchestra. The results sound amazing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiFwvsK9ny4

hqdefaultWhile lyrical depth is not something they were known for, the lush production and angelic vocals really set this record apart from the legions of other pop offerings. Their best known track, “The Muffin Man”, is a bit silly, but damn if it doesn’t lodge itself into your brain. There’s certainly a “Twee” element to a lot of their material, but the harmonies and orchestral backing are transcendant at times.

Despite releasing a few moderately successful follow up singles, The World of Oz faded into obscurity. Likely they were hindered by listeners who confused them with some sort of Oz tie-in soundtrack. The album has since become a highly sought collectable. In addition, they too had a great b-side (“Peter’s Birthday”). All in all, the album may not be high art, but it sure tastes sweet to the ears.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjcbkgSDrMo

9) Honeybus – Story (1970)

Honeybus-Storyhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmXN_5pXYjo

Much like “Around Grapefruit”, “Story” is an incredible record that deserves to be known as a classic. Honeybus are mainly known for their hit song “I Can’t Let Maggie Go”. As good as that song is, it certainly doesn’t prepare you for their full length record. Oddly enough, it isn’t even ON their record, though it certainly doesn’t suffer for it’s exclusion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btHlHDWyXd0

Honeybus-2

Honeybus are a bit of an odd case. The man who wrote their biggest hit (Pete Dello) left the group before they began recording “Story” and doesn’t even feature on the album ! Essentially, the group was forever linked with a song that someone no longer part of the group had written. You’d think his departure would have an adverse effect, but as it turned out, members Ray Cane and Colin Hare were both gifted songwriters in their own right.

Somewhat like The Zombies after the completion of “Odessey and Oracle”, Honeybus broke up before their record had a chance to catch on. Dello would later re-join the group for a second album (which was recorded but never released), but further success was sadly not to be. Both Dello and Hare released excellent solo albums in the early 70’s, but the feel of the original record may never be topped.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yF61kPhqvwM&list=PLB933A41659C76EFE

10) The Pretty Things – Parachute (1970)

170786http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnGNDJvZS_w

While technically a cheat (since this was released in 1970), this album was just too good to omit. I’ll also admit that the album isn’t exactly “pop”, though it features enough hooks and catchy material to at least flirt with that title.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlk1m6LOuCU

7358

The Pretty Things are a bit of an odd duck. They were quite prolific and dabbled in many different genres. That said, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of theirs in general. Oddly enough, my first exposure to their music was very likely their track “Cause I’m a Man” from the original Dawn of the Dead. Of course, I didn’t know it was them at the time, but I suppose that goes to demonstrate their versatility.

Their previous album, “S.F. Sorrow” was another concept album (and actually would make more sense in this list since it was released in the 60’s). Apart from their contribution to Dawn of the Dead, these two albums are the extent of my interest in their output. “Parachute” opens with two 3-part suites that flow impeccably and set the tone well. The album is a mix of rock, pop, psych, blues and more. For me (and many others) it was their swansong, but what an album to go out on (technically they had 7 more albums, but anyway).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDLr9dKnN4Y

And there you have it, 10 (9) catchy 60’s albums well deserving of your attention. I’ve been meaning to get this typed up for months now, but I never really got around to doing it until today. I suppose when you’re writing for fun and without deadlines it becomes much easier to shirk and avoid finishing. That said, I hope this has been somewhat informative and will lead even one of you to discover and enjoy something new, as I have. When it all comes down to it, that’s what music is for, and what makes it all worthwhile.

Thanks,

– e

Sorry for the Delay

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So, it’s been awhile. I must apologize for the extended leave of absence I’ve taken from posting on here. Quite frankly, the 25 Slays of Christmas killed me. Not literally of course, but I remembered why I’m never able to complete an entire list of these movies. Honestly, most of them are just terrible.

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For what it’s worth, it was the Lucille Bluth starring TV film “Home for the Holidays” that did it. It sucked. It was super boring and had a shitty ending and while sitting there, trying to write a review for a film I hated and hope to never again see, I just stopped caring. Nobody’s paying me to do this (sadly) and to be honest I just didn’t feel like devoting any more time to a movie that had already robbed me of 73 minutes already.

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As I fell further and further behind in my daily reviews, life happened and I chose to not watch about 8 of the 25 films. I did watch some other good ones, but I may or may not put up reviews for them. I’d feel like I was letting you guys down, but at the same time, if I watched 12 hours of truly awful movies just to tell you how awful they were, why not save us both some trouble and just not watch ? Seems simple enough, right ?

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Anyway, feel free to accept this as an apology for not finishing the 25 Slays of Christmas. I had fun with (most of) the ones I watched and I had fun with my family and friends instead of watching some of the others that I’d just stopped caring about. Expect more of the same (reviews and fun, not letdowns. Ideally) as I will now resume with the pictures and words and such and such.

Thanks for stickin’ around,

– e

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The 25 Slays of Christmas – 9 – “Gremlins (1984)”

http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0087363/

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoK0BzYUTrU

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Well, here’s the moment where I have to admit that I’ve never seen this movie before. I know, I know, it’s a classic and I must never have had a quality childhood without seeing “Gremlins” when I was a kid. I also didn’t see “The Goonies” for the first time until last year so go to town on that one too. I swear I saw a lot of “classic” films when I was a kid, I just never got around to seeing these ones. I saw “Memphis Belle” like 3 times though, that’s gotta count for something.

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Anyway, by this point you must know the plot to this one by heart. That band Mogwai named themselves after that cute little creature on the poster, who was given as a Christmas gift but with strict rules. Never get him wet or feed him after midnight. Both of these things happen and an army of “gremlins” are unleashed upon the nation. Can they be stopped ?! Where did they come from ? Are they basically just Ewoks in some ways ?

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This one has a lot of talent behind it. Directed by Joe Dante (Piranha, The Howling), Produced by Steven Spielberg (1941, Hook), Written by Chris Columbus (The Goonies, Home Alone), Music by Jerry Goldsmith (Planet of the Apes, The Omen) and Starring Corey Feldman, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold and the voice of Howie Mandel ! As the Mogwai. It’s weird, he’s sort of doing a version of his “Bobby’s World” character.

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Anyway, no doubt I’m gonna catch hell for this, but I didn’t really like this movie very much. I think a lot of it has to do with not seeing it as a kid and therefore having no prior attachment to it before this. I mean, as a big horror fan and a kid that was into comics and sci fi it really seems like I would have seen this at some point. I assume my parents thought it looked too scary (I was only 2 when it came out) and didn’t want my fragile little mind being warped. You know what they say about the best laid plans …

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It’s not that there’s anything “wrong” with the movie, far from it. I think I would have loved this as an 8-10 year old. I really couldn’t shake the similarities between the Gremlins jokey kid-speak and the Ewoks. It was all very cutesy and frankly kind of annoying at times. It’s funny to learn about Howie Mandel voicing Gizmo after the fact, it makes a lot of sense. Suffice it to say, at 30 this movie just doesn’t have the appeal to someone coming in fresh.

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I realize I’m in the minority here but considering the hype and talent involved I found this to be a letdown. That said, my roommate loved it as a kid and watched it with me and his girlfriend. She didn’t like it either and he admitted it wasn’t as good as he’d remembered. Sometimes a movie like this just doesn’t work when you catch it 20 years too late. I loved “Labyrinth” as a kid but never saw “The Dark Crystal” (which many people love). I’m afraid that too would be a case of catching the train two decades too late.

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In the end, I respect all of you who love this movie that you loved as a child, but sadly it just didn’t do it for me. Frankly “The Goonies” was better, just saying.

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The 25 Slays of Christmas – 8 – “Rare Exports (2010)”

http://m.imdb.com/title/tt1401143/

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http://youtu.be/T5woAOEvuNI

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I’ve been hearing nothing but great things about this one since it came out a few years ago. It’s a Finnish film (with some English) and apparently more of a dark family film than an outright horror. Obviously there are violent elements, but not the gore of “Black Xmas” or “Don’t Open Till’ Christmas”. I’d meant to watch it last year but just didn’t get around to it. So, does it live up to the hype ?

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The story revolves around an archeological dig hired by a mysterious (and wealthy) businessman who is searching for … Something. They do indeed find something frozen in a mountain and are eventually killed while trying to unearth it. Meanwhile a father and son have caught an old naked man in a trap and set about trying to figure out who he is. Upon deducing that he is actually Santa Claus, they set out to sell him to the wealthy businessman while trying to avoid hordes of elves who will stop at nothing to protect their “boss”. Pretty awesome plot, no ?

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While that description may sound complex or convoluted, it doesn’t come across that way in the film. The filmmakers do a great job juggling storylines and keeping you guessing until all is revealed. A somewhat questionable (but ultimately satisfying) twist ending results and ties up the films’ multiple storylines nicely.

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The acting is well done, albeit with the usual caveats for a child actor. I wouldn’t say he’s irritating or anything, but certainly not the most interesting character. Probably my favourite element was using the one Finnish guy who could speak fractured English as a translator while trying to negotiate the sale of Santa with the businessman. It was a well done bit of comedy and added nicely to the story.

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It’s interesting to see so many recent Christmas-related foreign horror films. This one is a great example, as is “Inside”, a well done French film that I’ll be revisiting in this marathon in a couple of days. I’m also looking forward to watching “Sint”, a Dutch film that also tells a much darker version of the Santa Claus mythos. It’s interesting to see different takes on the subject from different parts of the world. Each have their own flavour and visual flair, lending itself well to the subject matter.

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As implied by the story and reviews, “Rare Exports” is a delight. It works both as a Christmas horror film and just a fun film in general. While not particularly scary it’s never boring, a problem that can sometimes affect films like this. I certainly look forward to watching this again next year, it’s earned it’s place on the ultimate “12 Slays of Christmas” list. Maybe next year we can all pitch in and buy our own Santa !! Probably not though, we don’t have that kind of money.

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The 25 Slays of Christmas – 7 – “Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987)”

http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0093974/

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http://youtu.be/vJe_re68IRI

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You might be wondering why I have the sequel on here and not the original “classic”. Well, for one thing this one is about 50% flashbacks of the original movie and is essentially a “best of” in that sense. Additionally, the new stuff in this one is hysterical and a much more entertaining film, including the Internet classic “Garbage Day” line. Re-watching this one made me go out and buy the recently released 2 disc DVD of both movies. I’m not usually one for DVD commentaries, but this is one I’d definitely like to hear !

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The first SNDN was about a boy who sees his parents murdered by a man dressed as Santa Claus. He’s sent to an orphanage run by the extremely strict Mother Superior. After years of torment he grows up and receives a job at a toy store. When he’s asked to dress as Santa and witnesses a potential rape, he snaps and begins dispatching “naughty” people on his way to exact revenge on Mother Superior. This sequel sees his (now grown up) brother relating this story to a psychiatrist while in an institution. Eventually he escapes and sets off to finish what his brother started.

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Now, technically this is a pretty bad movie. It doesn’t really have anyone of note (apart from archival footage of Linnea Quigley from the first film) and the producers decided to cast Eric Freeman in the main role rather than going with a better actor who had more experience. They chose Freeman for his looks (such as they are) and we all reap the benefits of his amazingly over the top performance. Freeman has since disappeared, despite attempts by fans to track him down. At least we’ll always have this gem of a movie to remember him by.

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Although the original is arguably the best known of the series, there are actually 5 SNDN movies in total. The third carries on the story of Ricky (played by the much more capable Bill Moseley of Devils Rejects and TCM 2 fame) but does not feature him in a Santa suit at any point (sadly). 4 is completely unrelated and involves killer bugs, 5 stars Mickey Rooney as a crazed Toymaker. I initially bought the 3-5 DVD set that Lions Gate released a few years back, but after suffering through part 3 I gave up and sold it. 1+2 (but mostly 2) are really all you need.

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I suppose it takes a certain atmosphere to really appreciate this viewing experience. Freeman’s over the top performance is amazing though, and it really would have been a drag to see someone “better” playing it straight. Nearly every line of his is deliciously laughable, and I couldn’t imagine a Christmas Horror list without this stunning classic. Again, I use the term “classic” somewhat loosely, but if you can’t watch this one and enjoy it for what it is, well, maybe your heart is 2 sizes too small !!

Nah, I’m just kidding, you’re alright.

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