Every week, I do a deep dive into the world of streaming horror, looking for those hidden gems so that you don’t have to trudge through the massive winter storm of available titles yourself. This week, I summoned Elves, a 1989 Christmas-themed chiller that is much shorter on horror than it would like you to believe…
…Directed by Jeff Mandel (Cyber-C.H.I.C.) and written by Mandel & Mike Griffin & Bruce Taylor (The Brave One), Elves is a quirky horror tale which involves a trio of teenage girls who accidentally summon a murderous elf, and discover that one of them, along with the elf, is the central focus of an evil Nazi experiment which plans to breed a virgin with the elf and create a superhuman race on Christmas. Confused? Intrigued? Wondering why Nazis have to always be trying to ruin things for everyone? Don’t worry, because Elves has plenty more where that came from.
Looking at the trajectory of Taylor’s career vs Mandel and Griffin, I wonder if it was such a good idea for all three to be involved in the screenwriting process, as Elves is such a mish-mash of cheesy absurdity, that it’s difficult at any one point to know exactly what’s going on. As is usually the case though, that’s the whole charm of this cheap little holiday horror. First off, our heroine, Kirsten (Julie Austin), is part of a trio, all virgins, who call themselves the “Sisters of Anti-Christmas”, whatever that is. I don’t know why they’ve stolen Kirsten’s grandfather’s “secret book”, but it sure as hell wasn’t to raise an evil elf out of a supernatural forest, yet that’s what happens. The miniature, rubbery green goblin won’t scare anyone, but I’d bet the “war on Christmas” protesters would be up in arms and screaming about satanic youths and what not if they ever caught a screening of Elves.
Anti-Christmas virginal youths aside, Elves is like a ragged Christmas tree just barely holding up an assortment of crazy character ornaments. You’d be hard-pressed to find an ounce of “normalcy” in any one of this film’s characters. There’s Willy (Christopher Graham), a perverted tyke who likes to watch his sister Kirsten shower. Then you have Kirsten’s mother (Deanna Lund), who spends her days at home waterboarding the family cat in the toilet. Or how about the fellow hero of the film, Mike (Dan Haggerty), an ex-detective now day-playing as a mall Santa, because why wouldn’t that be a natural progression? Imagine what his bad days must be like. Some kid named Billy asks “Santa” for a toy gun, and ole Mike recalls “that time a buddy of mine wanted a toy gun for his kid, and instead he got twelve bullets to the face”. Cue Billy crying and losing his faith in everything good. It doesn’t end there, though. Elves also has a rapey grandfather (Borah Silver), and evil Nazis with terrible accents that hardly sound German. None of these characters or their motivations make a lick of sense, and nonsense like that “Sisters of Anti-Christmas” stuff never comes back into play, but sitting down to watch Elves, you’ll have the sense pretty early on that this is not the kind of movie that is going to follow logic or standard plot structure, and you’re either on board with that, or you’re in for a long sleigh-ride down a steep slope straight to What the Hell is Going On Land.
I wish I could’ve been in the room during the writing process between Mandel, Griffin and Taylor. We all like to joke that, “that writer must’ve been on something”, but I legitimately believe that these three had to have had a mound of “snow-dust” lumped at the center of the table. It was the late eighties, after all. Not only are the characters in Elves completely absurd, but the dialogue is unintentionally funny enough to get that holly jolly laugh out of you, though admittedly, for all the wrong reasons at times. One example is when one of Kirsten’s friends, a virgin mind you, asks “how do you stop a guy from having sex with you…I’d rather go through with it and avoid the confrontation”. Whoa! This movie just got dark! In a way, you could actually say that Elves is ahead of its time, since the dilemma Kirsten’s friend faces is a real problem that wasn’t being faced at the time, and is only now getting the attention it deserves. And then of course, there’s the issue of Nazism which is sadly becoming prevalent in the news again, reflected by Willy’s question late in the film, “are we going to be all right,” to which Kirsten responds, “No, Willy. Grandpa’s a Nazi”. Never a good thing when you find out grandpa is a Nazi. Worse when he has a homicidal elf with him. Yes, just one elf. The title Elves is a bit misleading, but my guess is Mandel and his crew didn’t have the budget for more than one.
Despite the hilarity of the premise, Elves somehow manages to overcomplicate itself with the whole evil Nazi experiment angle. It’s honestly enough to just have Kirsten accidentally summon some demented elf that wants to bang her and create more little elves, we don’t really need random Nazis and all of this “master race” crap. But in the 80s, where there are cult books and monsters, there are often Nazis. If you were to really stretch your mind out to its close-to-breaking limits, you might find that Elves is like a no-budget version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which Indiana Jones faces off against a sex-obsessed elf. When you get down to it, Elves is much more an unexciting action-adventure film than it is a horror movie. There are long stretches where the elf is mostly forgotten, replaced by shootouts in which an untrained Kirsten and down on his luck Mike somehow outshoot large groups of trained Nazis in mall showdowns. Perhaps if they all witnessed the elf doing the deed with Kirsten, their flesh would melt off of their faces, too?
I’m exaggerating, of course, but this elf goes about his business much differently than you might imagine. As a sort of “protector” over Kirsten, (really more just watching “his girl” until he can do what he wants with her), Elves treats the elf more like Chucky than it does, say, the crites from Critters. Where Critters is more of a creature feature, Elves oddly goes the slasher route, with the ferocious elf opting for household weapons rather than his own fangs and claws, making this film a pseudo slasher flick. With any ultra low-brow B-horror film, there are two requirements which will allow it to stand the test of time with cult status: An over-the-top story, and outrageous kills/effects. Elves has one, but sorely lacks the other. The elf dispatches his victims in less-than inspiring ways, and the gore leaves a lot to be desired. It’s utterly astounding to me that a film which hints at rape and incest while centering around a killer elf is rated PG-13, but hey, different times, I guess. Whatever the reason for Elves skimping on the good stuff, it’s a mark against the film which all of the bad dialogue in the dollar bin box at Best Buy can’t make up for.
And no offense to Mandel, but the direction of Elves, well, let’s just say the film is on the naughty list. The elf’s POV is nothing more than your average “so blurry you can’t see what’s going on” trick, something which Mandel seems to enjoy, as the angle is used frequently throughout the film. Mandel also seems to have an obsession with overdramatic, blurry slow-motion, which seriously handicaps the finale to the point where it’s nearly impossible to know what we just witnessed. Because of the lack of gore and aversion from fully expanding on the film’s more ridiculous aspects, I found myself wondering if Mandel meant for Elves to be a serious horror piece, rather than…this.
Either way, Elves is the sort of horror film which would’ve been right at home with a company like Full Moon Entertainment, where it could join other insane, tiny terrors such as Puppet Master. Certainly, Full Moon would’ve encouraged a more entertaining body count, at least. As it stands though, Elves has its moments between a ludicrous premise and laughably bad dialogue, but with so many other areas lacking, this one works best as a sleep aid when you’re trying to pass out after all of that spiked eggnog on Christmas Eve.
You can find the full version of Elves on YouTube in spectacularly blurry glory.
Verdict: An elf turd.
By Matt Konopka