Saturday, 12 December 2015


Well, try watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation in July... it doesn't work. Some films, intentional or otherwise are seasonal. Watch Die Hard 2 out of season; all that snow and the holiday setting feel... wrong somehow. Here are three such films - as Christmas is nearly here, I humbly suggest you get a copy and enjoy!.

ABOVE: The original concept of Gremlins as envisioned by the wonderful Roald Dahl, who was to write the screen plays for Charlie and the Chocolate factory, You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang amongst so many other works.
What is a Gremlin?. Well, in WWII, British aircrews developed a grim gallows humour, part of which was anything mechanical that went wrong was caused by Gremlins, mischevious pixie-like creatures that gleefully caused engine failures and the like.
Joe Dante's film brings these creatures to life. Rand Peltzer is a struggling inventor, all his gadgets go spectacularly wrong. Trying to push a toothbrush gadget he goes to a mysterious curio shop in Chinatown and finds a Mogwai.

ABOVE: Zach Galligan is Billy.
BELOW: The enigmatic Mr.Wing (Keye Luke)
The owner Mr.Wing says it's not for sale, but his grandson has no such qualms. There are only three rules to keeping a Mogwai; don't get them wet, don't expose them to bright light and never feed them after midnight.

At home in Kingston Falls (The town square also features in Back to the Future) Rand gives the Mogwai to his son, Billy, who names it Gizmo. When water is accidentally spilt on Gizmo, more baby Mogwai pop from his back, quickly growing into monsters.

Their leader is nicknamed Stripe, and he spawns an army of Mogwai after diving into a pool. The horde of monsters cause havoc in town, the cops don't believe a word of it and its up to Billy and girlfriend Kate to save the day.
Personally, I'd recommend this film, if only to set you up for Gremlins II, for once a sequel that's more fun than it's progenitor. Look out for a Spielberg cameo; he's riding a bike round Rand and Robbie the Robot at an inventor's convention.

John Landis next with a seasonal tale of greed, betrayal and revenge. Eddie Murphy is Billy Ray Valentine, a street beggar and hustler.
 ABOVE, BELOW: Billy Ray's legless veteran act meets with disapproval.
Dan Aykroyd is Louis Winthorpe III, a pompous stuffed-shirt commodities trader. Their paths cross and they are the subject of a cruel bet by Winthorpe's bosses, the elderly Duke Brothers (Played magnificently by veterans Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche; look out for a cameo by them as the Dukes in Murphy's heartwarmer Coming to America).
 BELOW: Don Ameche (standing) and Ralph Bellamy play the Duke Brothers.
The Dukes bet each other that they can turn a street bum into a successful businessman and a hard-working man into a criminal. The amount at stake?; a lousy dollar. When Billy Ray and Winthorpe team up, they manage to turn the tables.
 ABOVE: Framed!.
Add support from Denholm Elliott and Jamie Lee Curtis, appearances by Bo Diddley and Frank Oz (Basically reprising his role as the custody officer from The Blues Brothers) and you have the idea.
 ABOVE: Dan Aykroyd and the young, up and coming Eddie Murphy
Billy Ray's street smarts translate to the Stock Exchange and he's an instant success, poor Winthorpe is reduced to a wreck, coming under the wing of hooker-with-a-heart Curtis. Elliott plays Coleman, the Butler, a brilliant performance that adds real warmth to the proceedings.

ABOVE: A German lobby card shows Aykroyd, Curtis, Elliott and Murphy in disguise for a crucial attempt to get back at the conniving Dukes.
BELOW: Rock Bottom; nothing works for Winthorpe - even the gun.
Look out for an early appearance from James Belushi and a cameo from Tom Davis and Al Franken of Saturday Night Live fame; they play the bickering stoner baggage handlers. John Landis makes an appearance as 'man with briefcase', but I couldn't find him. One of the great 'Eighties films that still towers above the pack today.
ABOVE: Billy Ray, Ophelia and Winthorpe.

 ABOVE: Chevy Chase as Clark.W.Griswold.
BELOW: Johnny Galecki is Rusty, Juliette Lewis is Audrey and Beverly D'Angelo is smoking.
From films set at Christmas, to a Christmas film. You know the Lampoon films - unless you've just arrived on Earth - from Animal House and, more recently the Griswold family's mishaps; National Lampoon's Vacation, National Lampoon's European Vacation set the tone for one of the funniest Christmas comedies ever made.
ABOVE: Clark gets off to a bad start on the lights.
BELOW: And putting a new super-efficient coating on his sled isn't his best idea...
Christmas Vacation stars Chevy Chase as Clark W.Griswold, the hapless accident-prone Dad. Beverly D'Angelo returns as his long-suffering Wife Ellen, Randy Quaid is likable pain in the ass Cousin Eddie Johnson. 
ABOVE: Brian Doyle-Murray is Frank Shirley.
BELOW: Wait 'till Clark gets his electricity bill...
Christmas is approaching fast and Clark Griswold worries about his bonus; he's already spent it on a swimming pool. His boss Frank Shirley is an asshole (Bill Murray's older brother Brian Doyle-Murray does a good job as a mean-spirited skinflint) and the whole family is descending for a visit. Mayhem is inevitable, starting with Clark's quest for the Griswold family Christmas tree.
His attempt to lace the house with twinkling lights is a disaster and Cousin Eddie and family turn up in a rusty old RV to mooch off the Griswolds. Throw in yuppy neighbours Todd and Margo and its going to end in tears.
By the time Eddie kidnaps Clark's Boss the Griswold Family Christmas is complete. This film is a joy; seriously, you've probably already seen it, but it's essential Christmas viewing here at Volcano Cat hq.
 ABOVE: Squirrel!
BELOW: Freeze!

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