Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

**This review contains spoilers**

During the month of December, a young Derek Quinn (William Thorne) anxiously awaits Christmas Day. One night, Derek picks up a gift wrapped package from a mysterious stranger. Derek’s father, Tom (Van Quattro) takes the package from Derek, while lecturing him about the dangers of opening the door for strangers. Derek hides on the staircase, while Tom unwraps the package. Inside, Tom finds a Santa Claus ornament. But it’s not an ordinary ornament. The head spins around to reveal the face of a more sinister Santa Claus with fangs. Sparks fly, and the ornament uses its rubber tentacles to strangle Tom. During the struggle with the ornament, Tom falls into a fireplace poker, and is killed on impact. Derek’s mother, Sarah (Jane Higginson) rushes downstairs to find the body of her dead husband, while Derek sits on the steps in a stunned silence.

Two weeks later, Derek is stuck in a mute phase, and his erratic behavior continues to get worse. In attempt to cheer him up, Sarah takes Derek to the local toy store to buy him a gift. Petto’s Toys is run by the owner, Joe Petto (Mickey Rooney), who occasionally receives help from his awkward teenage son, Pino (Brian Bemer). Pino has an obsession for making masks, and Joe is a depressed and angry alcoholic. Joe is consumed by the recent failures in profits for his store, and Joe takes all of his frustrations out on Pino. After witnessing the death of his father, Derek develops a fear of all toys and Santa Claus, so he refuses to accept any gifts from Petto’s Toys.

Meanwhile, Derek and Sarah are unknowingly stalked by a man named Noah (Tracy Fraim). Noah recently left the Army, but he’s struggling to pay his bills, and Noah is forced to take a job as a shopping mall Santa. One day, Noah tries to learn some more information from Derek during an unexpected visit at the mall. But Sarah snatches Derek from Noah’s lap, as Noah becomes more aggressive and persistent. Sarah seeks advice and help from her neighbor and best friend, Kim (Neith Hunter), but Kim’s rebellious and rowdy son, Lonnie (Conan Yuzna) doesn’t help the situation.

The night before Christmas Eve, Sarah takes one final shot at cheering up a silent Derek by allowing him to open an early Christmas present from Petto’s. The present was another gift from the mysterious stranger, but Sarah never suspected any foul play, because she was convinced Kim left the present for Derek. Derek is still tormented by the death of his father, so he throws the present of roller-skates in the trash. Lonnie sees an easy opportunity, and he steals the skates from the trashcan. But the roller-skates are actually rocket powered. And during a harmless test run, the skates malfunction, and Lonnie is hit by a car.

Eventually, Noah corners Sarah in a long awaited face to face meeting on Christmas Eve. Noah tells Sarah the story of how Joe Petto became a bitter and hateful man after losing his wife and unborn son in a tragic car accident. Petto created a series of toys equipped with lethal weapons, because if he couldn’t have a happy, normal family, then nobody else would either. Unbeknownst to Derek, Noah is his real father, but Sarah wanted a real man, who could provide a secure future for Derek and herself, so she married Tom. Noah went to the Army to become a man, and now he wants to be a father for Derek.

While Noah reconnects with Sarah, Derek is alone with the babysitter, Meredith (Amy L. Taylor) and her boyfriend, Buck (Eric Welch). Meredith and Buck are trying to have sex, but they’re attacked by an army of Petto’s toys, and Derek is kidnapped by Joe Petto in a Santa suit, who uses a red bag to abduct Derek. Eventually, Sarah and Noah arrive at Sarah’s house. As Noah tries to comfort a bloody and hysterical Meredith, Sarah rushes to Petto’s Toys to save her only son. Noah eventually makes it to the toy store, but he’s forced to fight off Petto’s lethal toys. Sarah sneaks into the basement to find the real Joe Petto’s dead body, and here, she learns the truth from Pino: Pino is actually a robot built by Joe. Joe couldn’t handle the heartbreak of losing his wife and son, so he created a robot imitation of his dream child. But during his drunken rages, Joe would break Pino, because Pino wasn‘t a “real son.” After the latest incident, Pino murdered Joe. He made a mask to resemble his father’s face, and after that, he broke into Sarah’s house to kidnap Derek. But Pino’s work isn’t finished. Desperately seeking a mother’s love, Pino plans to kill Derek, and become Sarah’s one and only real son.

Of course, Mickey Rooney is the only recognizable name from this cast. Petto is an innocent old man in front of Sarah and his customers, but he’s an angry, drunken asshole to his son. As the raging drunk, Rooney’s performance is cheesy and over the top, and Rooney throws in this horrible sinister laugh during a fight with Pino towards the end. Rooney isn’t terrible, but his loony codger act is painful to watch at times. Although, Mickey Rooney taking a part in this film is kind of odd and ironic. Rooney was one of the many people, who publicly condemned the original Silent Night film, writing a letter to producers expressing his disgust and disappointment.

Jane Higginson is decent enough. Technically, Derek is the main character. But William Throne only speaks at the very beginning, and towards the end of the film. Throne’s performance is limited to scrunching facial expressions of fear and distress. And while Derek is trying to communicate, Sarah takes center stage as the primary protagonist. Anyway, Tracy Fraim’s Noah is dull and forced. Brian Bemer is spot on, as the creepy and eccentric loyal son, especially during the final showdown, when Pino reveals his true robot form. Neith Hunter is okay, but to be fair, her character is shoved into the background this time around. She’s the one woman support system for Sarah, and Conan Yuzna’s Lonnie is a rebellious troublemaker here. Oh, and Clint Howard (Ricky, the homeless servant from Initiation) has a brief cameo, as one of Noah’s Santa co-workers at the mall.

Well, the Toy Maker is the second stand alone film in the Silent Night franchise. After Ricky murdered Gus and Ann, Kim becomes Lonnie’s legal guardian, and they’re next door neighbors to Sarah and Derek. But The Toy Maker doesn’t make an effort to connect anything to Initiation. Ricky’s out of left field cameo doesn‘t fit within the current story. Kim and Lonnie’s characters actually have an impact on the current story, and Kim actually alludes to her bizarre encounter with Fima’s witch clan in part four, but she doesn’t go into details. So unless you actually watched Initiation, you wouldn‘t have the knowledge for the origins of Kim, Ricky, and Lonnie, because The Toy Maker doesn’t make an effort to provide a backstory for each character. Kim, Lonnie, and Ricky’s appearances in this film are more of a “remember them!” wink for die hard Silent Night fans, and it’s as simple as that.

The Toy Maker tries to return to the cheesy and over the top roots of the first two films. The dialogue, the violence, the music, the antagonists (Joe and Pino), and the story. They tried to resurrect the campy 80’s charm in The Toy Maker, but the efforts are too hit-and-miss for my taste. A prime example of the worst case for misses is when Buck insults Lonnie during a verbal duel one night. Lonnie does his best to get under Buck’s skin, and Buck responds with this: “I eat kids like you for breakfast! That’s why my shit smells so bad!” And trust me, this isn’t the only cringeworthy attempt at humor throughout this film. But on the flip-side of that, The Toy Maker is capable of providing a few cheap laughs. Towards the very end, Pino removes his Santa suit, and praises Joe’s work: “My father could make anything.” Pino looks down to see no male genitalia: “Well, almost anything.”

Too many tonal shifts are a real problem for The Toy Maker. I mean, lethal toys (rubber snake, mechanical hand, tanks, small soldiers, mini airplanes, etc.) are attacking people, so of course you’re not suppose to take this film too seriously. But you’ll see a good amount of blood here (mainly during the big toy assault on Meredith and Buck, and Meredith running out of the house as a bloody mess), and there’s a creepy attempted rape scene during the final minutes of this one. Pino is trying to rape Sarah, and he can’t (for obvious reasons), but still, he won’t give up. And Pino constantly shouts “I love you mommy,” while trying to rape Sarah. It’s not funny, and I’m 90% sure it wasn’t supposed to be a serious attempted rape. It’s just an awkward and weird moment to sit through, and this scene really doesn’t fit within The Toy Maker’s goofy lighthearted atmosphere. Then again, just a few moments before the Pino and Sarah scene, Pino (still wearing the Joe mask) attacks Noah with a small, plastic toy gun, loaded with some kind of corrosive material.

They had an opportunity to make something out of Pino’s struggle to understand and feel human emotions, but it was a case of too little, too late. They spent SO much time trying to unravel the mystery of the mysterious stranger, who delivers lethal toys, and revealing Noah’s backstory. They tried to cram in the machines connecting to the real world dynamic, but we don’t hear Pino’s speech until the end. The mystery of “is Noah a good guy or bad guy?” eats up too much time, because Noah’s true intentions are revealed during The Toy Maker’s home stretch. You would think Noah giving his landlord a toy for his son in exchange for a delayed rent payment was the first sign of Noah possibly trying to help, or working for Joe. As Noah hands his landlord the toy, that eventually kills him, Noah says “it’s to die for.” Noah KNEW something was wrong with the toy, but towards the end he’s fighting to save Sarah, Derek, and take down Pino for good? That’s a HUGE black hole for logic. 

Sub-par cast, below average production values, and a predictable “through the motions” story. Yeah, The Toy Maker can’t rise above the normal straight-to-video horror standards. And The Toy Maker wasn’t the resurrection film for this franchise, because Better Watch Out! buried the Silent Night film series into a deep hole. Initiation disrupted the continuity, and truth be told, Part 2 was a shitty film.

But I enjoy The Toy Maker as a guilty pleasure. The gaps in logic irritate me every time, and you can’t ignore a few noticeable plot holes, but as I said before, The Toy Maker isn’t trying to be a smart horror film (unlike one of its predecessors, Better Watch Out! Which failed miserably on almost every level). Toys are attacking people, and Mickey Rooney’s kooky parody style performance is a shining example of The Toy Maker’s silliness. All in all, The Toy Maker is dumb fun, and another guilty pleasure in the Silent Night franchise. It’s not a great, or good finale, though. And of course, this was the end of the line for the Silent Night franchise, until the remake hit during Christmas time last year.

Final Rating: 5/10

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