Sometimes you want a great Christmas movie, sometimes you want ELVES. This is a crappy still-only-on-VHS one, but it’s pretty fun. Two things you should know:
1. The title is completely fraudulent. There’s only one elf in it.
2. It’s a pretty different interpretation of elves from ELF or something like that. In this version he has nothing to do with helping Santa Claus. He’s a monster created by Nazi occultists to mate with a human and create the master race. On Christmas.
Our heroine is Kirsten, played by Julie Austin (EXTREME JUSTICE, TWISTED JUSTICE [that’s two titles, although it would also be cool as one title]). She’s either a teenager or a young adult who’s a waitress at a department store “snack bar,” hates Christmas and wants it to snow. She doesn’t know that her grandfather (Borah Silver, BLUE COLLAR, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) is a Nazi who buried an elf out in the woods and also is her father and that she was inbred to be “perfect” because she’s the one who’s supposed to mate with the elf on Christmas Eve. Which are all things that are important to know.
By coincidence or synchronicity or whatever she takes her friends out to those woods to dabble in witchcraft, dubbing the group “the Sisters of Anti-Christmas” because “We bemoan Christmas as an archaic, overcommercialized media event.” I don’t know if it’s their invocation or her drawing of a naked lady – “I dreamed those art-deco boobs. Cool, huh?” – or that she accidentally cuts her hand, but she inadvertently resurrects the elf.
Even apart from the Nazi incest, her home life is not great. Her little brother likes to peep on her, and when she yells at him “I’m your sister!” he says “Yeah, you’ve got fuckin big tits and I’m gonna tell everybody I saw!” Her mother (Deanna Lund, STICK, Land of the Giants) hates her cat Agamemnon, so she drowns him in the toilet. I don’t know if her horribleness is supposed to make it not as bad when you find out what happened to her. I still winced remembering that Kirsten had said “she just needs to get laid.”
Anyway, Kirsten has enough problems without the little bastard sneaking around her house. Since this is a time when ninjas had an elevated importance in American culture (the brother wears Ninja Turtles pajamas), the elf is described as “a fuckin little ninja troll” and “I don’t know, a ninja gremlin.” Designed and sculpted by Vincent J. Guastini (DERANGED, DOGMA) he’s a puppet with a detailed, realistic face, but any time he’s on screen for more than a second it’s clear he can barely move or change expressions. Often you just see his feet, which are clearly operated by hands and not holding any weight. So there’s not much chance for acting.
In the grand tradition of CHOPPING MALL and HIDE AND GO SHRIEK, Kirsten and her friends plan to stay overnight in the store, trying on swimsuits, staying in tents, meeting some boys there. This is where they will be stalked and killed by either the elf or grandpa’s Nazi pals. Luckily there’s another store employee illicitly staying after hours: Mike McGavin (Dan Haggerty, ABDUCTED, ABDUCTED II: THE REUNION), an ex-police detective turned ex-mall security guard turned homeless department store Santa. It’s weird that he was the second choice for that job, taking over for a skinny guy with no beard who feels up Kirsten in front of all the kids and then takes his hat off and flips the bird also in plain view when sent on a break.
This is one of those movies where nobody behaves like a human and nothing goes down like real life, so the kids and the manager wait patiently for that Santa to take a break and then come back. Instead he gets “his nuts cut off” by the elf.
This is also the type of movie where horn players on the street play “Deck the Halls” but you’re clearly hearing the sound of a keyboard.
McGavin does his due diligence, being allowed 24 hours to investigate by talking to different librarians about occult symbols and Nazi elves, even showing up at one guy’s house to question him in the middle of Christmas Eve dinner. That’s only after begging an old friend on the force to do something about it. “You want me to put my ass on the line?” the guy asks. Well, yeah, we’re friends and former colleagues and you’re a cop and it’s your duty and job to try to protect people.
Director Jeff Mandel (CYBER-C.H.I.C.) and co-writer Bruce Taylor both worked on some TV show called Super Force, which Austin also guest-starred on. But Taylor actually has a sort of respectable credit, too: a “story by” on that Jodie Foster vigilante movie THE BRAVE ONE.
There are a whole bunch of weird scenes that are hard to explain, but I’d like to highlight the one where the mother looks in the mirror while putting on lipstick. She’s losing it, so she smears it into her lips, then on the mirror, crying. Let’s not be naive, we all know for sure that David Lynch was obsessed with the movie ELVES and put the similar scene in WILD AT HEART the next year as an homage and in fact only made the movie WILD AT HEART because he wanted to rip off that scene from ELVES and also the new season of Twin Peaks and whichever other ones you like by him were only made because of ELVES because he almost quit the business but then ELVES came out and inspired him to keep going for decades.
This is the type of movie that’s shitty and crazy in a pretty entertaining way that would be good to watch with some friends and possibly alcohol. But I watched it by myself and I would say the saving grace is Haggerty. Here is this veteran actor surrounded by people who seem like they’re doing a bad audition for a regional play, and it doesn’t seem to bother him none. He shows up and does the work, mostly talking in a gentle, reasonable voice despite what he’s up against. There’s a scene I really appreciated where he’s looking for a professor and tries to ask a student about where to find him. She’s completely rude and insulting to him, but he says “Thank you very much, you’ve been very helpful. Have a merry Christmas!” And he doesn’t say it sarcastic. He sounds completely sweet and sincere. That was an acting choice, I think. Most people don’t make acting choices in a movie like ELVES.
Austin has moments too. Whenever she talks about snow she gets real emotional and teary eyed. Sometimes it’s the performance you expect in ELVES, but once or twice it transcends.
I bet Scream Factory or Code Red or somebody is looking into putting this out on disc. Not that it needs a beautiful transfer, but it’s worthy of more people having access to it.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.