“13 Beloved” (2006)

"13 Beloved " ("13 game sayawng") (2006) - posterYou are desperate. You need money. Then you receive a phone call: “Do 13 things we tell you to do and you will get the money.” Do you agree?

This simple premise is extremely effective. The posters of  “13 Beloved” (also known as “13: Game of Death”)(original title being “13 game sayawng”) suggest a slasher movie. The film is indeed gross and gory, but it also tries to expose the fragility of human morality. What are you willing to do for money? Is there anything that would stop you?

It truly deserves the R rating. And I strongly advise you not to eat anything while watching it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The main hero loses his job and his car. His girlfriend dumped him and he is in serious debt. He fails in every area of life that an adult man is supposed to succeed in. And then he answers the phone and gets the offer from “the game show.”

There is a fly buzzing around you. Kill it.

He does it. That’s the first task. And immediately 10,000 baht (about 300 dollars) appear on his bank account. The amount of money will grow with each completed challenge. But here’s the catch: he will lose everything he earned so far if he stops. He also cannot tell anyone about the game. The total prize is 100 million baht.

The second task? It’s great you killed the fly. Now swallow it.

"13 Beloved" ("13 game sayawng") - Eating the fly
To eat or not to eat the fly

If these are the first two, you may ask: what comes next?

“13 Beloved” is a gripping spectacle of violence, dark humor, and disgust. It does not leave you indifferent. And the fact that it is a movie from Thailand does not change the way I perceive it. The story is absolutely universal. It is both modern and timeless. On the one hand, we have cell-phones and the Internet as crucial parts of the plot. On the other hand, the protagonist yearns for splendid goods and financial security, which people have always longed for.

The main character is played by Krissada Sukosol (aka Krissada Terrence) and his performance is excellent. It is interesting that the actor was a member of the pop band before and sang sweet ballads. He believably portrays his character’s transformation from a shy and average guy at the beginning into a blood-thirsty lunatic at the end.

"13 Beloved" ("13 game sayawng") -  Krissada Sukosol (Krissada Terrence)
Krissada Sukosol

What seemed to bother many people who watched “13 Beloved” were comic episodes intermingled with serious ones. Some even saw the whole movie as a parody. I think that the whole movie is constructed as a dangerous and exciting game with set rules. Like a TV show or, more appropriately, an Internet show. Comedy is a part of this aesthetic. The neon sign at the beginning says: have some fun. And this neon sign is written in English. It could represent the whole Western pop culture that the movie successfully mocks, at the same time resembling it. My favorite comic character is a madman with an unconventional fashion sense.

"13 Beloved" ("13 game sayawng") - Mad Man
You need clues – I’ll be your guide!

I think that David Fincher is a director who could successfully remake this movie, as its tone fits his style. Unfortunately, the remake is being made as “13 Sins” (yuck! Did they even watch the original?). It is directed by Daniel Stamm (the man behind “The Last Exorcism”) and looks like a cheap and dull straight-to-video (even if it gets released in cinemas) kind of movie which even my hero, Ron Perlman, cannot save. It makes me sad to see such potential wasted. But on the other hand, this Thai movie does not need a remake to stay remembered by its fans.

The ending can be interpreted in many ways. Some viewers felt confused by it. For me the more grotesque, the better, so I enjoyed it even more. I see it as partly accusing the viewer of the game. Thus accusing me and you, the audience. Do we enjoy watching people suffer for our entertainment? Maybe we are as guilty as the person who would agree on the deal of 13 tasks.

Do not let this movie fall into obscurity. I’m not the only one who feels that this movie need more appreciation. Sound On Sight chose this movie as #2 of “Top 10 Overlooked Horror/Sci-fi Films of the Decade” while Blake Vaugh included it on the great list “Some Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen (But Should!)” on his blog. Perhaps the site Collider.com summed it up best, saying: “Be the first cool kid on your block to get hip to this cult hit waiting to happen.” And if you do, let me know what you think in the comment section below.

5 Creepy and Grotesque Christmas Movies

Christmas movies are usually supposed to make you feel good while presenting kind and warm image of families joined by the Christmas spirit. It is the idea that is imprinted in our minds by the media, advertisements, and commercial tradition. We encourage it ourselves, gathering together at this time of the year and trying to fulfill the ideal of “Merry Christmas. ” But what all this sweetness just asks for are exaggeration and satire. When traditional Christmas imagery gets distorted it leaves us puzzled or even uneasy. Here I give you 5 entertaining  movies that present a grotesque picture of Christmas.

1. Christmas Evil (1980)

"Christmas Evil" poster

A man obsessed with Santa Claus, toys, and children in his neighborhood, decides that in the world devoid of true Christmas spirit, he will be the perfect Santa Claus that will make good children happy and punish adult non-believers. With a knife and an axe.

Probably the best of horrors featuring Santa Claus killer (there are many more movies with such a character, if you want more, I recommend Bloody Disgusting list: http://bloody-disgusting.com/news/18511/), Christmas Evil is a great B movie which presents a truly disturbed individual who nevertheless earns our sympathy. After all, he tries to help neglected children from the hospital or reward nice kids with beautiful toys he makes. He says: “I only have good intentions” and we want to believe him. At the same time, he remains infantile and wants others to remain such, in order to repair his childhood memories, damaged by sexual trauma.

Brandon Maggart in "Christmas Evil"
Brandon Maggart in “Christmas Evil”

An unsure man, he gains confidence only when in the red-and-white costume. Brandon Maggart’s acting reaches far beyond usual B movie stuff, believably presenting increasing madness of the protagonist.

2.  The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" poster

I have a love-hate attitude towards Tim Burton’s movies, but I love this one. It has all wonderful qualities that make Burton’s universe original, engaging and fascinatingly creepy. It tells the story of Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, who gets bored with doing the same performance every year for Halloween. But when he discovers Christmas Town, he decides that all monstrous (or even dead) citizens of Halloween Town should try to celebrate a new holiday. With their usual scary approach towards decoration and gifts.

Jack Skellington as Santa Claus
Jack Skellington as Santa Claus

When you want a perfectly animated mix of comedy, horror, and musical, choose this movie. There is also a nod towards Bride of Frankenstein and the result is Sally, a character truly beloved by fans of the movie. Paradoxically, though monsters of Halloween Town get a very incorrect notion of Christmas décor, the movie reaches the spirit of Christmas all right.

3. Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972)

"Whoever Slew Auntie Roo" 1971 poster

This is a bizarre take on Hansel and Gretel story. Auntie Roo, an American widow, gives an annual lavish Christmas party in her Gothic mansion. Good children from the local orphanage are chosen to go there. But this year, naughty brother and sister, Christopher and Katy, sneak into the party uninvited. They will be the ones that discover the secrets of the old house and its inhabitants. Moreover, Katy reminds Auntie Roo of her dead daughter. And nobody knows what exactly happened to the daughter…

Christopher and Katy vs. the evil witch
Christopher and Katy vs. the evil witch

If you like old-fashioned plots where children are the only ones who know the truth, and no adult person believes them (think “The Night of the Hunter” *) , you will love this movie. The setting is creepy and Shelley Winters is marvelously over-the-top as the title character who is mentally unstable but at the same time pitiful. Child actors also do their best, the boy (played by child star Mark Lester) is clever and caring, the girl sweet and adorable. At the same time, the movie is ambiguous in the same way as Hansel and Gretel story is. If you want a horror movie that is appropriate for children, I suggest this flick.

*interestingly, that movie also starred Shelley Winters, but as an innocent victim, not a villain

4. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Rare Exports, 2010)

"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" poster

A harsh climate of the Korvatunturi mountains in Finland hides the old secret of Christmas. American expedition comes to dig it up. They soon find out what they were looking for and, apparently, disappear. Finnish reindeer hunters living nearby face a series of strange events. The only person who knows what’s going on is a small son of one of the hunters who reads some interesting legends about the real, monstrous, Santa Claus. Tagline of the movie: “This Christmas Everyone Will Believe In Santa Claus.” Ho ho ho.

"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" - Illustration
An illustration that suggests the truth about Santa

A weird movie if there ever was one. And not for children, even though the main character is a very clever boy, played convincingly by Onni Tommila (who also stars in the upcoming movie “Big Game” with Samuel L. Jackson http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2088003/?ref_=nmmd_ph_tt1). Weird, because it mixes many genres: family movie, adventure film, horror, and comedy. There are also a few really grotesque scenes. This mixture does not always work, nevertheless the movie is really entertaining and worth watching. It will make you reconsider the character of Santa Claus for sure.

5. The Day of the Beast (El día de la bestia, 1995)

"The Day of the Beast" Spanish poster

The most grotesque of all five movies, it won’t suit everyone. And it certainly does not try to. Its creator, Álex de la Iglesia, is one of my favorite living directors. He makes truly original black comedies mixed with horror and lots of cultural (and pop cultural) references. This is one of his best works. And, after all, it is a Christmas-themed movie. About the forthcoming birth of the Antichrist.

An idealistic and modest priest finds by means of a study of the Apocalypse that the Antichrist is going to be born on Christmas day in Madrid. With the help of a sweaty long-haired heavy-metal fan and a stylish TV showman of a TV esoteric program, he will try to invoke the devil to find out the place of birth and kill the baby. He also decides that he must do all the evil possible to do so.

"The Day of the Beast" main characters
Three main characters

If you enjoy ridiculous and violent scenes that are accompanied by dramatic music, you will love this movie. It is outrageously funny at times, while some motifs (e.g. the “cleaning” movement) are genuinely terrifying. It also possesses a delightful ambiguity that leaves you questioning everything that happens in the story. For me this film is a “Big Lebowski” of occult horror.

So here you have it, 5 creepy movies to enjoy during your holidays. These movies ultimately prove that the good and the evil lies in the choices we make, not in our appearances. Remember that and enjoy your Christmas, in whatever way you want to spend them.

Happy Holidays! :)