Elves (1989) **
Director: Jeffrey Mandel
Runtime: 1h 29m
For those with the warped inclination, there is something delightful in the mere act of finding and watching an obscure movie, even if it’s lousy. This impulse is the only thing which could explain the bought of pride and joy that I felt after tracking down and viewing Elves. I mean, the piece of crap doesn’t even have a DVD release; I needed to watch a scan of somebody’s old VHS copy that was uploaded on youtube. Thank god for the Internet, as I don’t own a VHS player nor know anyone aside from my father who does (Incidentally, he has amassed an impressive collection of old tapes he found at the dump, thus establishing beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am not adopted). To be honest, Elves is an obscure holiday horror movie, which for the most part has earned its obscurity thanks to its own crappiness. Those not afflicted with my own perverse impulse to track down the obscure and forgotten are advised to watch a better Christmas horror movie, like Black Christmas (1974), or Gremlins (1984), or Wake in Fright (1971) (Ok, I’m pushing it with the last one).
Christmas is fast approaching, but you could forgive teenage Kirsten for not brimming with Holiday cheer. Her home-life is a mess. Grandpa is a physically abusive cripple, who, unbeknownst to her, is also an escaped Nazi war criminal. Her mother has just confiscated her entire savings for what was essentially a curfew violation. Little brother Willy is a bratty pervert who spies on her in the shower and says he will tell everyone about her “fucking big tits.” To blow off steam she leads her two friends Brooke the airhead and Amy the slut into the woods for a meeting of the Sisterhood of Anti-Christmas. They don’t spend too much time bemoaning the holiday season; Amy is too preoccupied with the group’s upcoming rendezvous with some boys from school. By accident Kirsten cuts herself as they are packing up, and nobody notices that the blood sizzles and smokes as soon as it touches the forest floor. As the girls leave we see a ghastly white claw reach out from the leaves. Like countless Horror movie teens before them they have unwittingly awoken a monster. This particular one is not terribly frightening. Sure it’s ugly, resembling nothing so much as a cross between an albino midget and naked mole rat, but at only two feet tall it is not physically imposing in the slightest. This is the titular menace, but the title lies in that we will only be one elf to worry about.
Things get a lot worse for Kirsten from there. When strange noises wake her brother up in the middle of the night, her mom blames it on Kirtsen’s cat, Agamemnon. So, proving that she’s not just a humorless bitch but possibly a deranged psychopath, Kirsten’s mom decides to drown the kitty in the toilet while her daughter is at work. Kirsten works in the mall food court, and that day things take a gruesome turn when the coke addicted Mall Santa is stabbed to death in his dressing room by the elf. Kirsten takes it in stride; the only indication that the brutal killing upset her comes when her mother asks about her day. She replies “I had a rough day at work, Santa got murdered.” To top off an all-around shitty day, the elf digs up poor Agamemnon’s corpse and dangles the mangled cat’s body outside of Kirsten’s window that night. Naturally, nobody except Kirsten’s grandfather believes that she really saw a monster skulking outside her window.
The management is forced to hire a down on his luck, alcoholic, ex-cop to fill in for the couple days left before Christmas. Despite his rough history, Mike, the new Santa is a pretty amiable guy. Mike’s detective instincts are still sharp, and he notices a clue in Santa’s dressing room that the police have overlooked, a mysterious rune carved into the floor near the body. How the elf found time to etch out the symbol and why he would bother leaving a calling card next to the dead Santa are questions that the filmmakers are hoping the audience won’t ask. Since Mike was evicted from his previous residence, a ramshackle mobile home, he is spending the night in the mall. He’s not alone though, Kirsten and her two friends have invited along a matching trio of knuckleheads for a Christmas Eve Eve overnight fuck-fest in the sporting good section. Even though the girls are organizing this get together only Amy seems at all excited for the probable coitus. Kirsten even openly states that she’s saving her virginity for someone special, or at least worthwhile. I can understand not wanting to sleep with any of these three horn-dogs, but if the girls share my hesitations then why did they go the trouble of staging this elaborate date?
If Elves were a typical 80s slasher the next set piece would take up the rest of the film’s runtime, with the elf picking off the hapless teens one by one in increasingly gruesome fashion. Perhaps the audience would be treated to the occasional break in the gore with a shower scene or make-out sesssion. However, there is another faction at work in Elves, besides the teens and the monster. After the accidental blood ritual in the forest awakens the elf, a group of Nazis turn up in grandpa’s study where they manage to convince him to renew their long abandoned program of scientific experimentation. The ultimate goal of which is the crossbreeding of humans with elves, using a virgin of pure Aryan stock to create a new master race. Also, somehow this will bring about the biblical apocalypse, as the first creature born of this union will be the anti-christ. Naturally, Kirsten is the chosen bride and consequently both the Nazis and the elf will go to great lengths to avoid hurting her. Everyone else at the mall is hosed though, as Brooke, Amy and the three teen douchebags soon discover. If not for a timely intervention from Mike, Kirsten would certainly have fallen into the Nazis hands. As it is, the two barely make it through the night alive.
Nobody believes them when they describe the monster that was stalking through the mall, but five dead bodies are hard to argue with, even for slasher movie authority figures. Hugh, the mall manager, balls out Kirsten for trespassing and throwing a shadow over his place of business of Christmas Eve. Kirsten replies with her usual snark: “I’m sorry my friends bled all over your fucking store. Do you want me to stay and clean it up, asshole?” Naturally, both she and Mike are quickly out of a job. Mike heads out to investigate the rune he found further, while Kirsten returns home, where Grandpa has had a change of heart. He’s decided to give his Nazi comrade the old double cross and spirit himself away with his granddaughter before they can complete the ritual. Kirsten is excited to flee, until she learns that her grandpa/dad pulled a Chinatown with her mom/sister. Apparently the old Nazi could only produce an offspring of pure genetic linage by resorting to incest. Before Kirsten can do anything about this revelation the Nazis arrive to take her into custody. Fortunately for her, Mike, who has just learned the Nazi’s plan from a couple local academics, arrives to rescue her again. Mike buys enough time for Kirsten to escape, but for some reason she opts to head straight into the forest where the elf is waiting for her.
The Nazi master plan makes no sense whatsoever, particularly when the relevant historical information is considered. Most obviously is the question of why the Nazis would want to crossbreed humans with elves to create a new master race. The Nazis already thought they were the master race, and were worried about diluting their pure Aryan blood with lesser stock. Intermarriage with monsters is exactly the kind of thing they would be against, were there any real monsters around. Secondly, there’s no reason why Nazis should be interested in bringing about the biblical apocalypse, nor any compelling reason why they should believe in it. Some Nazis were Christian, mostly from the Lutheran and other Protestant churches, and would probably believe in the book of revelations. However, there was no set religion for the Nazi party and individuals with no religious beliefs, or even subscribers to crackpot paganism (Himmler most notably) found positions among the Reich’s leadership. A majority of Nazis may have been Christians, but for no other reason than that a majority of Germans were Christians. Even assuming these latter day Nazis are also Christian fanatics, there is no reason for them to want to bring about the prophecies of revelations. For one thing if they are aligning themselves with the anti-Christ then they are bound to loose. The literal end of the world would also give their 4th Reich an even shorter duration than its predecessor. The nonsense spouted by the film’s Nazis is, on the whole, only somewhat more ridiculous than some of the nonsense spouted by historical Nazis but crucially it is not the same kind of nonsense.
Depending on your preconceptions, you will either find Elves to be an unusually feminist 80s slasher, or an unusually bluntly feminist 80s slasher. Popular opinion and feminist critique argues that slashers are male power fantasies where sexually liberated women are cut down by powerful, violent men. I personally have always found line of reasoning to be unconvincing, as one of the core components of the slasher is a capable female character that ultimately survives the attack and usually turns the tables on the monster. She is the character who, in serious slashers at least (we will ignore horror comedies such as the later Nightmare on Elm Street movies) that the audience is meant to identify with and root for. I find it difficult to conceive how a genre of films centering on capable women overcoming violent, (usually) male antagonists could be labeled as inherently anti-feminist. The fear being exploited is not a lingering male uneasiness with the sexual revolution, such a fear wouldn’t play with the slasher’s audience, primarily boys and men age 14-25. If any such fear is being tapped it’s a fear of violent, reactionary forces moving in to destroy this freewheeling sexuality (figures such as Leatherface, Mrs. Voorhees, and Papa Jupiter all fit this paradigm). Granted, women usually die in Slasher films, but in no greater numbers than their male counterparts, and usually a good deal less gruesomely. We as a culture are far more sensitive to violence against women than violence against men. Genuinely misogynistic slasher films certainly exist, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
However, even in my own unpopular interpretation, Kirsten from Elves is more outspokenly feminist than most Final Girls. When she convenes the Sisterhood of Anti-Christmas (which sounds like it should be a student club at Bryn Mawr) she reminds her friends that “we’re girls remember? We’re the master race.” Later when Brooke expresses uncertainty about being able to turn down Kirsten revels in the power she wields over her potential suitors. Even her virginity is the product not of any concern over questions of purity, but just the natural result of not having met any worthwhile boy to take it. Given the brief glimpse we get at the three suitors that night I can’t say that I blame her.
The character of Kirsten’s mother wound up giving me a pleasant surprise. Initially I wrote her off as just another obnoxious, over-the-top evil stepmother figure. Confiscating her daughter’s savings account because she went into the woods? Drowning her cat because it woke up her son in the middle of the night? These actions at first glance seem ludicrously cruel and petty, completely unlike anything a normally abusive or neglectful mother would inflict on her daughter. However the revelation that Kirsten is the product of an incestuous rape suddenly makes Kirsten’s mother an understandable, if still loathsome character. While taking out her hatred for her father on an innocent child is hardly laudable, it is at least understandable given the circumstances. She resents Kirsten not because she’s a total bitch, but because Kirsten is a daily reminder of that horrific event. Much of Elves is sloppily written and unbelievable, but Kirsten’s mother at least is not.
That said, on the whole I can see why Elves is a largely forgotten movie today. The villain’s motivations seem like they were cobbled together from at least three different plans, and several sequences are just confusing (Did the Nazis kill all the guys, or just one, you’re guess is as good as mine). The filmmaking is neither inept enough to warrant canonization as an anti-classic or skillful enough to stand out in any way. Overall, the quality of the film reminds me of nothing so much as a TV movie of the week. There are moments of mirth to be found in some of the one-liners, and the elf’s appearance is at least disgusting if not really intimidating. On the whole though, Elves’ overall mediocrity warrants its forgotten status.