Horror anthologies are on the rise from ABCs of Death to the VHS films to the upcoming Tales of Halloween. RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment mix Halloween horror with Christmas cheer into four holiday-blended tales, along with William Shatner as their surrogate Crypt Keeper, to bring their latest effort A Christmas Horror Story to VOD and digital media outlets beginning October 2, 2015. The result is a surprisingly entertaining, gory and amusing film. With three directors at the helm, Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan, the film successfully manages to weave the four tales without a jarring transition or uneven tone. Each tale has its own merit and independent value, but the box art promises what everyone is unwrapping this ghoulish gift to witness: the epic battle between Santa Claus and the Krampus monster. A Christmas Horror Story delivers not only that colossal clash of titans but a dastardly little twist that nearly exceeds first 90 minutes in every way. Campy, bloody and rousing, A Christmas Horror Story is an early horror X-mas present just in time for Halloween.
Instead of having each tale follow one another, A Christmas Horror Story wisely weaves them together sharing just story elements to tie them together narratively, each story involves or expands upon the character’s home town of Bailey Downs, a modern combination of Frank Capra’s Bedford Falls and Joe Dante’s Kingston Falls. DJ Dangerous Dan (Shatner), working the late shift on Christmas Eve, unknowingly ties each story together as he solemnly remembers the murders at the local high school one year ago, fondly looks at his family photos and wonders where his curmudgeon co-worked has vanished. A group of snoopy teens sneak into the school to investigate and record what happened to the murdered classmates, uncovering far more than they intended. The police officer that was on that very murder scene a year ago, now on extended mental leave, takes his family into the woods to bring home a Christmas tree. In stead of decorating their home with Christmas cheer, they bring home a holiday horror that is out for blood. A man, who may be DJ Dan’s son or son-in-law, drags his family to a nearby wealthy but reclusive relative to plead for an investment in his flopping business. Instead, his family unwittingly attract the malevolent attention of the yuletide creature called Krampus (Rob Archer). In a seemingly unrelated tale, set at the North Pole, Santa faces of a virus that turns his elves into flesh-eating monsters that he is convinced is wrought down on him by the Krampus himself.
In the first tale, Molly (Zoe De Grand Maison), Dylan (Shannon Kook) and Ben (Alex Ozerov) are determined to get to the secrets behind the mysterious murder looming over Bailey Downs last Christmas Eve. Fueled by a series of grotesque police footage files and the keys to the kingdom provided by their friend Caprice Bauer (Amy Forsyth), they head into the basement of the school. They quickly find their way into the crime scene. Soon they find themselves locked with no escape surrounded by unexplained noises and hauntings. The first story is perhaps the most conventional, a typical horror ghost tale that just happens to be set on Christmas Eve. For that reason, it seems the least invested in the holiday themes. Regardless, due to a charismatic cast, especially De Grand Maison from Ophan Black, the story holds together, keeping interest high and delivering the film’s few actual scares.
The Baur family, including Caprice from the previous tale, are heading to their reclusive Aunt’s home for Christmas Eve. Little do they know that the father, Taylor (Jeff Clarke) is leading his family there unannounced to beg for money. During the strained visit, the son drops an ancient totem of the horrific holiday creature called Krampus. On the way home, the family arguments are disrupted when the car spins out of control in the snow, leaving them stranded with no choice but to walk back to their Aunt’s home. On the way, the family become the target of Krampus. This story is devilishly fun as the Krampus attacks this unpleasant and ungracious family, trading potential scares for capricious comeuppance and gruesome gore. The best thing about this segment is the creature itself which also leads into the final segment.
Scott is one of the police officers who discovered and recorded the ghastly murder scene at the high school one year ago. Still reeling from the nightmares of that night, he is determined to make this Christmas extra special for his family, dragging his wife, Kim (Olunike Adeliyi), and son into the snow-covered wilderness to chop down their very own Christmas tree. The couple panic when their son goes missing for a short time until he is discovered hiding in the hollowed out trunk of an old tree. After they arrive home, they slowing become suspicious that there is something wrong with their son as he begins acting strange and behaving violently. Kim receives a phone call from the owners of the property from which they “lifted” their special tree that turns their suspicions into a nightmare. This story has the most promise of being original and frightening. While it hits the right beats and twists & turns, it never quite achieves the potential of its story falling just short. Adeliyi steps in to maintain the quality of the short the more her character rises to the forefront.
The silliest but the most merry and memorable of the film’s tales contains Santa Claus (George Buza) facing a zombie virus infecting his elves. Trapped in his office with wife Marta (Debra McCabe), Santa armed with an ax and a sharpened staff must fend off the horde of flesh-eating elves. It turns the standard cabin-in-the-woods tropes into a unique and undeniably entertaining holiday horror-filled treat. Santa slices and dices through his merry band of mirth-munching monsters. Elf heads fly this way, elf blood splatters that way. Buza makes the most of his role, fully invested in the idea of Santa forced to fend off the creatures expressing the anguish of dismembering his once-close-friends while gleefully slaying them in Ash-inspired mirth. The story dances with going on just a hair too long but, at the last minute, shifts its tone revealing one of the more boisterous, shocking and delirious twist endings that not only saves this story from devolving into the silliest of silly but elevates the entire film beyond its initial perceived aspirations.
All the while, A Christmas Horror Story treats its audience with the inspired casting of William Shatner as DJ Dan who narrates throughout the film as he slowing becomes more and more intoxicated from spiked eggnog. His dialog, presumably improvised, is filled with clever and hilarious jokes and one-liners as he keeps reminding the audience the four tales are all interwoven. He gives Baily Downs a bit of a mysterious and magical nature with his playful banter about the town and its residents. Some of the films laugh-out-loud moments are found in these segments. “F$ck Chirstmas!” DJ Dan’s partner writes on a score card as he darts off on his Christmas Eve assignment. “You know who saw that?” quips Shatner in return, “Jesus saw that!”
A Christmas Horror Story is a delightful, light-hearted, sometimes silly, often gory, much-needed horrific present. It’s a gas. While not entirely successful on every front, it hits far more than it misses mostly due to Shatner’s jests, a comical tone, some campy, bloody effects, an ax-wielding Santa and an effectively crafted Krampus creature. The film benefits from a perfectly timed twist that volleys the film out of a slow decline just as it dangles dangerously close to dropping off the edge of its own tone. But, seriously, it is the battle between Santa and Krampus that many audience members are clamoring for and A Christmas Horror Story delivers that much-anticipated encounter. It is difficult not to smile as Santa swings his ax at the beast as Krampus slings his hook and chain. They go at each other with hints of Asian choreography, quick cuts and high action. It is simply delightful. A Christmas Horror Story is a gory and frivolous treat worth visiting, and revisiting, during the holiday season.
A Christmas Horror Story (4 / 5)