With all the overdone sentimentality in most Christmas movies, it's always nice to see something take a more cynical and twisted approach. Of course the classic of that is 1984's Silent Night, Deadly Night which was a slasher film with the killer wearing a Santa suit which was controversial in its time and disowned by its initial distributor. Straight-to-video movies and the internet have since made irreverent Christmases fairer game. "Caesar & Otto's Deadly Xmas" does this in a low-budget, somewhat complicated but overall humorous manner.
Although I hadn't heard of them prior to viewing this, Caesar and Otto have been a duo for a while in a few shorts and one prior feature "Caesar and Otto's Summer Camp Massacre." Caesar Denovio is actually Dave Campfield, who plays the character as an aspiring actor/screenwriter with visions of becoming a big star, but in reality he's "the worst actor in the world" (according to Campfield himself) and "out of step with reality," with the only actual on-screen roles to his credit being as a background extra. Otto (Paul Chomicki) is his rather slovenly half-brother, a sort of Costello to Caesar's Abbott. The two share an apartment, at least until Caesar hits the big time and can afford the mansion he's always dreamed of.
"Deadly Xmas" actually begins on Thanksgiving, when the two try to throw a big dinner party (with a menu inspired by Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving) but out of the many people invited only his dad with girlfriend bother showing up. Afterwards, Caesar and Otto find work as "traveling Santas" for a mysterious company called "Xmas Enterprises, the public's first and last stop for online holiday shopping." Caesar convinces the company to finance a horror movie written and directed by him featuring a killer Santa Claus, but in the meantime a REAL Santa Claus killer named Demian (Deron Miller) is on the loose. He's gotten hold of Caesar's list of dinner guests who didn't show up and is killing them off, and of course Caesar is the one suspected. The real motives of Xmas Enterprises prove to be a big surprise as well.
There are a number of side-plots as well, including Otto hooking up with an old high school crush and Caesar being haunted by his college screenwriting instructor. This makes "Deadly Xmas" a bit hard to follow on first viewing, but this is one where you shouldn't worry too much about the plot and just enjoy the twisted humor. There's many callbacks to 80s horror movies, including perennial horror favorite Linnea Quigley as Caesar's agent and a flashback scene with Troma's Lloyd Kaufman as Caesar's grandfather, doing his own take on the grandfather in Silent Night, Deadly Night which explains why Caesar is still a little afraid of Santa Claus now. The production is a very low-budget affair, but those involved try to make that work for them rather than against them.
"Deadly Xmas" was shot on video with a Canon 7D camera, at 24 frames per second in a 16x9 aspect ratio. Overall it isn't gorgeous-looking but fits in with the spirit of the production, unlike some other efforts I've seen (including last year's "Bloody Christmas") where the video-based picture just contributed to their near-unwatchability. This doesn't try to be anything greater than something done by a few guys with a rather cheap camera, so here the picture gets a passing grade being what it is.
The 2-channel Dolby Digital track is above-average for a low-budget production, with reasonably clear dialogue and some good stereo sound effects and music (including a sinister, bass-heavy rendition of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy".)
This DVD is truly "loaded with extras," a phrase I haven't used in a long time. The main feature includes a whopping three commentary tracks- first with Dave Campfield by himself, the second with him joined by other cast and crew, and the third with the producers. As I wasn't familiar with these people's prior work and didn't quite "get it" the first time around, these tracks made me better appreciate "Deadly Xmas" and understand exactly what they were going for. They stress the limited budget many times, and an interesting factoid is that they only had one Santa Claus suit available for the production so everyone wearing it onscreen just had to share it, which got a little messy. Dave Campfield mentions in his commentary that he authored the DVD himself, as he didn't trust anyone else to make it interesting. There are several submenus, each with unique graphics and music.
A 15-minute "bonus short film" is included called "The Perfect Candidate". This features Joe Estevez (who has a short cameo in "Deadly Xmas") playing himself, recruited to run as a third-party presidential candidate. Two commentary tracks accompany this. A 6-minute "Behind the Scenes" feature for "Deadly Xmas" is included, along with some extended and alternate scenes. Two previous Caesar and Otto shorts, "Piggyzilla" and "Otto's First Job," both with commentary tracks, are also included as well as a short "making-of" piece for "Piggyzilla." We also get trailers for Disco Exorcist, Exhumed, Mold!, Dropping Evil, and all three Caesar and Otto entries.
A good number of Easter Eggs are hidden as well- on the main menu, move up to highlight the "X" in the title and get a complete audio presentation of the song "Kill Them All", done to the tune of "Jingle Bells." Move right on the Special Features menu to get another hidden X that will give you a blooper reel from "Deadly Xmas," highlight the YouTube link on the "Piggyzilla" menu to see Otto's video dating service profile, move right on the "Caesar and Otto Trailers" menu to get a hidden rabbit that will show a link to a YouTube video, and finally move up on the "Perfect Candidate" menu to get a hidden American flag that leads to a short outtake.
Although "Caesar and Otto's Deadly Xmas" falls a bit short of its billing as "a cross between Scary Movie and Silent Night Deadly Night" and might seem a bit incoherent at first glance, if you give it a chance it's a lot of fun and if you're already familiar with the characters you'll probably be tuned into it already. I'll be checking out their other stuff and waiting for their next effort.