Two Front Teeth (2006)

Calling Two Front Teeth, a Christmas horror/comedy hybrid about a vampiric Santa and his elves, low budget is a bit of an understatement (or perhaps I should say overstatement, as I suspect the filmmakers had less money than even the phrase "low budget" usually implies). This is a micro-budget horror film that looks more like an ambitious student project than an independent production, the sort of movie produced by friends on nights and weekends.

That, of course, makes it difficult to review, because barring a handful of miracles that launched careers with projects like these, films at this level are virtually incapable of competing with those made with actual resources. And since no one's talking about this the way they discuss El Mariachi or The Blair Witch Project, you already know it's not one of the exceptions.

At the same time, there's a great deal to appreciate here, starting with that premise (credit where it's due - they beat me to the idea by six years). More impressively, the script as a whole has quite a lot going for it. Granted, it would have benefited from a few more rewrites, but there are some clever twists, fun gags, and even solid character arcs in this thing. The performances are pretty good, as well, aided by the fact the cast is perfectly suited to their roles (I suspect because the parts were written for them, but I don't know for certain).

Unfortunately, none of that really connects due to those aforementioned resource limitations. The comedy in particular is dependent on tone, and they don't achieve the right effect. I think they're on the right track - the movie heavily homages Sam Raimi's work, which is the right match for this material - but while you'll be able to spot the references, they don't pull off the visceral sense of vertigo or exaggerated physics they're going for. As a result, you can see the bulk of the jokes don't land - mentally, I could tell they were funny, but only a handful of moments actually registered as humorous.

Let's back up and talk story, because - surprisingly - there is one. The main characters are Gabe and Noel Snow, a couple whose marriage is in a great deal of trouble. Gabe is a reporter writing for what's essentially a holiday-themed supernatural tabloid called, "The XMas Files," which.... Okay, remember when I said this could use a couple rounds of revision? Dropping that running gag is on the list. As is the tongue-in-cheek character detail where he's terrified of any depiction of Santa Claus. I get that it's a parody of unintentionally ridiculous character flaws in Hollywood productions, but it's less funny than obnoxious.

Noel, frustrated with her husband's lack of ambition and commitment to what seems to be a dumb job, is having an affair with a mall Santa on Christmas Eve. That doesn't last long, since her lover is killed by a vampire elf in the first few minutes. Meanwhile, Gabe's boss is harassing him for the name of a source connected to one of Gabe's stories. His boss also gives him a gun for Christmas, tells him he's worried about Noel, and reveals someone cut off one of his ears. The movie makes us think he's working with the vampires until an act-three reveal that there's another group involved (but we'll get to that).

Gabe heads home, fights the elf-pire, and rescues Noel, who's been tied to a chair. They make it to a car, where Gabe's boss holds a knife to Noel's throat and demands the name of Gabe's source. They ditch him pretty easily, but Noel learns Gabe was planning to divorce her. Having no better plan, they head to get some answers from Gabe's source, a government agent named Pete who dresses like a cowboy. Via an animated flashback (don't get excited - this is either Flash or a similar setup), we learn Pete had investigated a plane crash caused by a reindeer collision. There were no survivors, reindeer included, though he kept the animal's head and mounted it on his wall. He provides a bit of exposition, then the elves show up. Despite some heroics from Pete and Noel (who's far more capable than her husband), things look hopeless until the reindeer's magic nose starts glowing. The vampirelves are repulsed by the light, allowing the protagonists to escape, Pete included.

After a somewhat superfluous stop in a hotel to remove a tracking device secretly implanted in Noel's foot (I think this was mainly an excuse to play with gore effects), they travel to a house which winds up serving as the setting for a showdown. First we get a little more of Gabe and Noel's backstories, including why Gabe's afraid of Santa. They sort of begin making amends as a couple. 

Gabe's boss shows up, as well, along with the people who actually cut off his ear - a group of assassin nuns. Gabe's boss ends up dead after a gun mishap, and the nuns don't last long when the elves show up, this time with their master, who's best described as Nosferatu in a Santa suit. Pete finally gets taken down, too. Following an extended fight in which both Gabe and Noel realize how much the other means to them, the glowing nose frees the real Santa, who explains what's actually been going on.

The vampiric Santa is actually Clausferatu, the Tooth Fairy, and he imprisoned the real Santa. Because the heroes kept Rudolph's nose from Clausferatu long enough, it was able to free Santa, who proceeds to have a kung fu fight with the imposter. Ultimately, Santa wins by punching a hole through the vampire's chest and ripping out his heart.

Gabe and Noel, having resolved their issues, are in love once more. They're about to celebrate when the seemingly dead Pete, empowered by the full moon, returns to life as a were-Easter Bunny. Gabe and Noel get ready to fight as the credits start. Halfway through there's another animated gag about Gabe investigating a possessed snowman that's a mashup of Frosty and the Exorcist.

In addition to the merits I mentioned earlier, I should add the movie's makeup and score seem at least somewhat more professional than the film itself. In the case of the score, I'm not entirely certain that's a good thing, as it strikes me as the wrong score for the project. For the most part, this sounds like a serious horror film, which increases the tonal disconnect between what they're going for and how the movie feels. That said, I don't think even a perfect score would have fully bridged the gap, so take that how you will.

The makeup isn't consistent, but there are a handful of costumes and effects that are pretty well done. I don't want to oversell this - there's little if anything in the movie that looks better than what you'd expect to be able to achieve from things bought at a Halloween store, but it does seem like this is the area most of the production's budget went.

Again, it's virtually impossible to fairly rate something like this, because it lacks the resources and backing necessary to be a typical film. I'm not sure what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish here, so I can't say whether it succeeded in its ambitions, either. The final product isn't something audiences used to even modestly budgeted films would be happy with, but given its limitations, there's a lot here that has real merit, particularly in the script. I'd love to see this remade with an experienced horror director with ten million dollars or so to spend. I think there's the potential for a great little film here... just not quite this little.