Elves (1990)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Christmas Evil

Black Christmas

He-Man / She-Ra: A Christmas Special


Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

An audition tape for The X-Files.
Will Ferrell has finally brought some attention to those most overlooked of all Santa's helpers, the elves. Even the beasts of burden who pull Santa's sleigh get multiple TV specials, but the elves (apart from cutesy asides about secret wishes to become dentists) have traditionally been put on the short end of the stick. Well, now they're mad as hell, and they're going to get back at the rest of us. Or one of them will, at least.

Elves engenders immediate bad B-movie karma by not actually featuring elves, but rather a single elf who doesn't even look like the traditional image of an elf. Predictably, the film's pitiful budget means that we don't even get a very good look at the grotesque little critter. It seems to have a fully human-sized head, and the whole creature must only be about two feet tall., but we never see the creature standing unobstructed. Maybe he just squats a lot.

Another senseless accident at
the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.
The inaccuracy of the title is not the only way that the video box offends. The capsule plot on the back reads in part, "An innocent romp in the woods turns into a hellish nightmare when three young girls accidentally awaken an army of Elves - genetically created by a Neo-Nazi mad scientist during World War II," suggesting someone in the publicity department was a little fuzzy on the exact definition of "Neo-Nazi." The expansion of the part a single deformed psychopath with possibly mystical origins into that of an "army" of goose-stepping freaks also suggests that the copywriters were focusing more on their paychecks and upcoming vacations than on actually watching the movie, but after seeing the film ourselves it's difficult to say that we chose the wiser course of action by sitting through it.

So, the story. As mentioned on the back of the box, we start with three young women: Kristen, Amy and Brooke. They head off to the wood to have a meeting and assert female superiority and become blood sisters. But where most women today do that by having Internet chats after Sex and the City airs, these girls try to actually shed blood. But in doing so some of their (presumably virgin) blood spills on the ground, which (unbeknownst to them) releases . . . The Elf! Sure, he doesn't sound fearsome when we just say "The Elf," but with some spooky music and the right atmosphere, The Elf is no more terrifying than you imagined him to be when you finished the previous sentence.

"Just checking the drains!"
But first, some depressing scenes of Kristen's home life. Kristen has a standard issue mother who doesn't understand her (Deanna Lund), and a pre-pubescent brother disturbingly obsessed with his sister's breasts. Also living in the house is Kristen's wheelchair-bound German grandfather, who dotes on her but harbors a Disturbing Secret.

Kristen and her two friends work at a local department store, mired deep into the holiday season. When the store Santa makes a rude pass at Kristen (Bad Santa! Bad Santa!), the elf shows up and kills him by stabbing him in the candy cane. With no Santa to keep the kids occupied, the desperate manager hires former store detective Mike to play Santa. Mike is played by Dan Haggerty, an actor best known for playing a character on The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. As we remember it, that show was about man who left civilization behind and befriended a bear. We're fairly sure Haggerty played the former, but we wouldn't swear to it.

"Why am I in this movie?
The bear got paid more than I did."
Haggerty's part in the film is to provide the star power. Judging by his presence in this movie, there was a reason he was on a show where he vied for first billing with a bear. Actually, that reason apparently has to do with the fact that Haggerty had some experience as an animal trainer, so he made a good package with the bear. Kinda like how Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw were cast in Love Story, but much, much, shaggier.

Mike was evicted from his home, so he's sleeping in the department store, acting as a de facto security guard. One night Kristen and her friends break into the store to try on lingerie and meet boys, a plan that is interrupted by Neo-Nazis looking for Kristen and her little surreptitious elf guardian. Mike has to save her, and he helps Kristen figure out what the heck is going on. The back-story turns out to be a disturbing combination of the plots H. P. Lovecraft stories, some old Thor comics, and Chinatown. With no actual climax in sight, the film devolves into the shaky-shot "camera in the forest" technique that passed for atmosphere in the '80s with some video ghosting effects thrown in for good measure. That thumping sound you hear isn't on the soundtrack. It's someone else in the room, trying to brain himself on a nearby wall in the hopes of ending the movie just that much quicker.

We're not sure we like this
new version of Green Lantern.
The only reason most people would watch a movie like Elves is to see the monster kill people, but as the elf rarely shows his face, those people are going to be disappointed. Also, the elf isn't really the villain until the final scene. For most of the movie the elf is killing Nazis, and the occasional evil mother. (To establish that we need not feel sorry for mom's death-by-consumer-electronics, she is made to kill Kristen's cat for no particular reason early in the movie.) The switch from the elf killing people in a fairly helpful manner to Kristen trying to kill the elf is not the smoothest transition in movie history. And anyone who hoping for a little satire of the Christmas season had better look elsewhere, as the script has no such clever touches. Santa could do without the help of this particular elf.
Review date: 12/25/2003

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