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RATED Not Rated
STUDIO Wild Eye Releasing
RUNNING TIME 83 Minutes
• Three Commentary Tracks (Director, Producer, and Actors)
• Alternate Scenes
• Behind the Scenes Featurette
• Short Film: Piggyzilla
• Short Film: Otto’s First Job
• Short Film: The Perfect Candidate
Abbot and Costello meet a killer Santa Claus in a really low budget horror movie.
Dave Campfield (Writer/Director/Actor), Paul Chomicki, Deron Miller, Ken MacFarlane, Linnea Quigley, Joe Estavez, Brinke Stevens, Scott Aguilar
Caesar and his half brother Otto take on duties at Xmas Enterprises as Santa and his elf. However, the bodies begin to pile up when a fellow store’s Santa develops a vendetta against them, and he soon turns Caesar’s list of cancelled Thanksgiving Dinner guests into a list of Xmas-inspired victims!
There’s a number of reasons I decided to review DVDs for CHUD: a desire to get my name out there as a reviewer, lack of marketable skills, an inflated sense of self worth, and crippling gambling debts, to name a few. But the main reason I wanted to do this was so I could discover and share those little movies most people miss with a wider audience. Such is the case with this offering, Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas.
Caesar (writer/director Dave Campfield) is a flamboyant wannabe actor who abuses his large clueless oaf of an older brother, Otto (Paul Chomicki). Caesar is frustrated with his agent (scream queen Linnea Quigley) who has been unable to find him any gigs and Otto is hung up on an old flame (Summer Ferguson) whilst his current girlfriend (scream queen Brinke Stevens) treats him like a doormat.
Caesar’s agent gets him a gig playing Santa Claus for a charity organization, the only problem is that due to a child-hood trauma caused by his grandfather (Troma head Lloyd Kaufman as a carbon copy of the creepy grampa from Silent Night, Deadly Night) so he conscripts Otto in a plot to get the charity to fund a movie starring himself. Meanwhile, Caesar and Otto’s new roommate Demian (Deron Miller of the band CKY) is dressing as Santa Claus and brutally murdering people and framing the brothers in the process.
Deadly X-Mas is actually the third full-length feature to star these characters following their self-titled debut and its sequel Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre, as well as the short films Caesar and Otto in the House of Dracula and Caesar and Otto Meet Dracula’s Lawyer. I was only able to track down Summer Camp Massacre at the time of this review but I can say that it was a bit more solid than this one, even though the writing and directing of Deadly Xmas are markedly improved.
While Deadly Xmas does parody slashers (most blatantly Silent Night, Deadly Night and its sequels) it’s less gonzo horror and more straight comedy, relying on very Vaudeville-like sensibilities such as slapstick and absurdity. There’s nothing wrong with this approach: Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson (and to a lesser extent Edgar Wright and Tommy Wirkola) got their start with this type of movie but where this movie fails is that it skews a bit too absurd on some jokes, landing firmly in non-sequitur humor. For example: At one point Caesar and Otto are individually pulled through a cat door by a man on the other side; this is absurd but the thought of two full-grown men being pulled through such a tiny space is so nonsensical that it’s amusing. However once our heroes get inside the house with the man who pulled them in, Caesar picks up a bazooka off of the floor and asks where the man found this, to which the man replies that it was in the bathtub. It’s a joke so out of left field that it doesn’t even feel like a joke anymore, it’s just weird.
The reason for all these non-sequitur jokes seems to be due to the guerrilla nature of the production and the movies microscopic budget (it would need a few thousand dollars to even be considered low-budget) and the bazooka was a quickie replacement for a lack of bullet casings used to imply that the house was formerly an LA gang’s den in much the same way that the cat door was a quickie replacement for the lack of a more reasonably sized dog door. I’m not going to fault the production too much for these things, as they’re clearly turning lemons into lemonade, but the undeniable fact is that because of these jury-rigged fix-ups, some of the jokes fall flat.
For the most part the dialogue is pretty clever, if a bit self-congratulatory, and the movie finds a lot of ways to riff on its indie nature and budgetary limitations in an amusing way. The slapstick mostly doesn’t work due to budget limitations on stunts and a lack of proper choreography. Campfield needs to bone up on some Three Stooges for the next installment to see how this kind of thing can work on the cheap and low-tech. Also, personal pet peeve: 2012 (when the film was made) is a bit late to be making Dr. Phil jokes.
Deadly Xmas is at its best when Caesar is rambling about one thing or another. Campfield has real acting chops and he makes Caesar’s flamboyant arrogance really work, in the hands of a lesser actor he’d be a lazy gay stereotype (Caesar’s actual sexual preferences are never confirmed, there’s even a joke about this halfway through the movie) but Campfield manages to make a lisp and diva-ish behavior into a sort Ralph Kramden-ish character. Of course, the main reason Caesar works so well is that Paul Chomicki is playing Art Carney to Dave Campfield’s Jackie Gleeson. Chomicki’s line delivery is a tad soft and flat, but it fits his character well enough that it’s forgivable and Otto works as both a verbal and literal punching bag for Caesar throughout. Still I think the lovable oaf schtick would work a little better if he really played up the Ed Norton-ish (the sitcom character, not the actor) qualities of the character.
Honestly, the flattest acting comes for the biggest names in the movie. Linnea Quigley does better than I expected her to considering that the woman’s never been known for her acting, and Felissa Rose (Angela from Sleepaway Camp) does a pretty good job with her small role (she has a much bigger part in Summer Camp Massacre), but Brinke Stevens and Debbie Rochon (Tromeo and Juliet) are really just there to collect a paycheck. Robert Z’Dar (Maniac Cop) and Joe Estevez (Joe Estevez) also pop in for quick appearances of little note, though they both do a fairly decent job in the supplementary short film The Perfect Candidate on the DVD.
Tonally the movie falls somewhere between Crimewave and Freak Out and while it could stand to be a bit more like the former, it obviously has the budget of the latter (most likely less.) Dave Campfield spins straw into gold with what he was able to accomplish on a budget that would make Lloyd Kaufman sweat and his acting, writing, and directing have improved greatly in the three years since Summer Camp Massacre. As unrefined as this movie is, there’s clearly a professional steering the ship and if budget could ever equal ambition I think we’d have a new household name on our hands.
The plucky “lets put on a show” spirit alone makes Deadly Xmas a joy to watch, but hopefully future sequels can make the world that our heroes live in a bit more straight, tonally. Hell, maybe Campfield could do a team-up with some other utlra-indie gonzo horror film-makers and do a crossover with Freak Out’s Looney Doll or Thankskilling’s Turkie; I would watch the shit out of Caesar and Otto’s Violent Thankskilling.
Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas is a love it or hate it affair and as such it’s not for everyone, but it’s got a lot of heart and if you dig gonzo horror I think it’s really worth your time. Be sure to check out Caesar and Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre as well!
In the director’s commentary, Dave Campfield mentions that one of the stipulations of his contract when he sold the movie to the production company was that he would have authorship of the DVD so it would have all the special features it could. This, to me, shows a real appreciation to his fans and potential fans that made me like this guy even more.
Campfield certainly delivers on the special features front as well. There’s a couple of really short films (less than two minutes) which are little more than small gags, and The Perfect Candidate which involves the villain of the movie convincing Joe Estevez to run for president. There’s a behind the scenes featurette and some alternate scenes and trailers, as well as three audio commentaries. Of the commentaries, if you’re only going to bother with one I’m going to recommend Dave Campfield’s director commentary as he really goes into detail on what a labor of love this series really is for him and most everyone involved.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars