Elves (1989)

A chain-smoking department-store Santa Claus does battle with a horny Nazi elf intent on spawning the Antichrist.

VHS release pictured: 1989, A.I.P. Home Video.

Starring: Dan Haggerty, Julie Austin, Deanna Lund | Director: Jeffrey Mandel

Elves: VHS of the Month Review

by Sam Rakestraw

* * * SPOILERS * * *

“A chain-smoking department-store Santa Claus does battle with a horny Nazi elf intent on spawning the Antichrist.” Seconds after reading that synopsis Home Video Horrors gave us on the calendar, for 1989’s Elves my mind instantly started dreaming up this awesome story about a badass guy dressed as Santa defending the mall he works at from an army of evil elves in an ironic and darkly humorous clash of iconography with Santa and his elves. Look at the box art, it’s like Gremlins. Come holiday time, our Christmas horror movie Santas are often mean antagonists so a nice Santa is always welcome. But doing this, I kind of broke an upspoken rule when it comes to watching movies like this – have no expectations at all.

Ex-cop turned mall Santa Mike MacGavin (Dan Haggerty) actually plays more of a supporting role in this story about a teen named Kristen (Julie Austin) and a terrible family secret that she comes across during Christmastime. She and her friends Amy (Stacey Dye) and Brooke (Laura Lichstein) inadvertently summon an ancient elf –not one of the North Pole or Middle Earth nature, but one of their more demonic iterations. However, it’s just a single elf and not multiple like the title implied. This little guy is still a menace enough on his own and goes Terrifier 2 on a Santa at the local mall, which does result in a pretty funny chalk outline. Out of a job and home, MacGavin gets hired as the new Santa.

MacGavin really is not a grumpy guy nor does he pass off as the maverick type. You think you’re seeing Kurt Russell in The Thing but as he keeps talking and never raises his voice or does anything crass you realize he’s more of a Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski. But instead of White Russians he’s pounding cigarettes. The elf follows Kristen home and we get to see her awful mother (Deanna Lund) who I just want to smash with a cinderblock after what she does with her cat, her weird little brother Willy (Christopher Graham), and her grandfather (Borah Silver). The elf attacks Willy and the cat gets the blame. The next night, Kristen and Mike’s paths finally cross when he attempts to loiter in the mall while she sneaks in with Amy and Brooke after hours. Naturally, the elf is running about too, but so are some other lurkers.

The elf’s arrival was anticipated by a local group of Neo-Nazis. Apparently, elves were one of many occult figures that they dabbled in during WWII. In true Nazi fashion, the goal was to create an army of human-elf hybrids by summoning and interbreeding with the little monsters –in D&D, we call those halflings. Actually really typical stuff of Nazi Germany. They actually tried to create an army of ape-people –not joking, you can look it up. It’s a modestly small group led by Rubinkraur (Mansell Rivers-Band) who need Kristen as she is the last full-blooded Aryan on the planet and a virgin because that’s always important when doing a Satanic sex ritual.

The ensuing adventure isn’t non-stop action, but a sort of slow crawl of chase scenes and a small shootout. MacGavin spends most of his time out of the mall looking for answers with the local college and occasionally fights Nazis, but he’s also never in the Santa suit. It would’ve been great to see him beat on people like he did in costume. That’s ok, we have Violent Night in theaters at the moment. Still, the idea of Santa punching Nazis with a cigarette in his mouth is hilarious and they really should’ve committed. Meanwhile, Kristen goes down a rabbit hole of her own as she learns her family may be more connected to the sinister plot than she realizes. Her whole world gets turned upside down in one night.

I really can’t stress it enough; I was expecting a massive creature feature as opposed to what Elves is. We had Critters II pull it off earlier this year with tons of little monsters running around causing mayhem and death in a PG-13 setting. Again, the box cover just radiates that energy. It’s got the whole Gremlins 2 look a full three years before it was even released. But the premise that Elves already has going for it is pretty typical of the small independent production company behind it –Action International Pictures. One of the co-founders of it in 1986 was David Prior, the director of Killer Workout. The other two were Broadway choreographer and producer David Winters and Peter Yuval. So, you can imagine the talent going into their projects.

The cast and crew were largely employees of the little studio and the only two cast members with any sort of start power was tv actor Dan Haggerty and Deanna Lund. Even so, Haggerty has his moments in Elves with line reads like Ricky from Silent Night Deadly Night II. Lund has the most convincing role as Kristen’s horrible mother and honestly she would’ve worked better as the main villain –she sure as hell is one. I’ll never get over the cat scene –I hate it. Julie Austin has a little bit of final girl potential as Kristen, but she never got her career off the ground by the 90s.

As PG-13 goes, gore hounds won’t get their fill with Elves which also gives the special effects team a good excuse to not do a whole lot when it comes to kills. So when it comes to redeeming special effects, it all comes down to the elf. It’s a scary-looking, little demon fellow out of an episode of Tales From The Darkside. He’s got the ears though, that’s how you know he’s legit and comes with all the great tropes of a creature movie like the POV camera. Not once does he do anything Christmas-related though –no killing anyone with candy canes or toys. He doesn’t throw down with Mike either. That would have been cool, watching him wrestle with it.

A.I.P didn’t just handle the production of this movie, they also dealt in the distribution with their home entertainment division. In total, A.I.P has made 17 movies and distributed 41 VHS tapes. Elves is just one of a few of their B-movie catalog with several of the same actors and directors. Their tapes are considered collector’s items now and don’t usually include any previews or bumpers on their tapes. When it’s not a scary movie, then it’s an action one. In 1992, David Winters bought Prior and Yuval out and rebranded A.I.P as West Side Studios with a focus less on action films as they often produced. Prior, who made several, was actually a good sport and continued directing for them a little bit afterwards.

Elves appears to be one of the movies like Goremet that can be viewed on YouTube for free with no copyright consequence on the uploader. The quality isn’t great and it’s too dark in places, but it may be our only option to watch it considering Elves doesn’t appear on any streaming platforms either. The most high-quality video of it may still be on the VHS copies, another reason why you should always hang on to your tapes.

Another year, another stack of tapes. Nothing left to say or do other than thank Rotty and Home Video Horrors for another round of great photo art for every season and shout out to you readers and followers. While this is the most wonderful time of the year, these reviews and movies have been the most wonderful times of the months for me. Thanks once again!