Gruesome Reviews

“Holidays” (2016) – Mixed Bag of Varying Seasonal Stocking Stuffers & Treats

Holidays and horror films have gone hand in hand for ages. Pretty much every holiday has a horror film related to it. Valentine’s Day has My Bloody Valentine, St. Patrick’s Day has the Leprechaun franchise and Halloween & Christmas have too many to count, though the highlights are obvious… Halloween: Resurrection P2, respectively. Some even have anthology films based around their holidays, like Trick ‘r Treat. Yet, no one has honestly tried the concept of taking multiple holidays and giving each their own segment in a horror anthology… until now. Holidays is a horror comedy anthology that splits its run time between eight different holiday themed segments, each made by different filmmakers. I’ll talk about each segment individually below, but the largest recurring theme throughout these varying segments is simply what any holiday based horror film should do; take the basic rituals or iconography of the celebrated day and milk it for all the horrific potential it can unleash. Sometimes, it’s the modern rituals we’re all familiar with. Other times its the ancient origins of the celebration that time has let drift to the wayside.

holidays3

 

Our first segment Valentine’s Day deals with more of the former, as young Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan) deals with constant teasing from girls on her school’s swimming team and her crush on her male swim coach (Rick Peters). Directed/written by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch (Starry Eyes), this segment is perhaps the most gorgeously shot out of any of them, with some phenomenal neon lit inserts of Maxine that evoke a delirious dreamlike quality that feeds into her hopelessly romantic delusions, helped along by Coghlan’s sympathetically widened eyes. The horror that ultimately comes of this may seem more or less obvious, especially for those familiar with burgeoning teen girl angst of something like Carrie. Yet – unlike many of the segments to follow – the brief bit of horror feels earned by the build up and tension raised, feeling like a complete story despite its brevity. It’s honestly the best segment of the film… but you never want to start off your horror anthology on your best segment. There are a few other gems to be found, but it’s safe to say that the Holidays get rougher from here.

holidays-stpatricksday

Case in point, we have our second segment St. Patrick’s Day directed by Gary Shore (Dracula Untold). Before you ask: no, there are no leprechauns in this segment. Instead, Shore decided to base his segment around the supposed origins of the holiday, where its titular saint drove snakes out of Ireland and how one school teacher (Ruth Bradley) becomes the center of revenge for St. Patrick’s actions. For that alone, I give this segment some respect for not going for the obvious… and it’s unfortunate that I can’t give the segment too much else. I mean, Shore gives the segment some solid ambiance through limited lighting and Bradley delivers a solid performance that ties things together. Unfortunately, the segment just sort of peters out on a random note that arbitrarily recalls The Wicker Man and fades to a whimper on a goofy prop. Plus, it seems to have a rather tangential relation to even this older identity of the holiday, feeling rather ill fitting position in Holidays overall.

holidays-easter

In stark contrast, the third segment Easter fits the horror and holiday brackets for Holidays quite well. On the night before Easter, a young girl (Ava Acres) is told by her mother (Petra Wright) about the mysterious Easter Bunny and the usual religious iconography that seems to be conflicting. In the night, the girl wakes up to find a creature who – in a disturbingly frightening fashion – combines both. While the premise for this one is simple, there’s a much more consistent feeling of dread shown here. Through the incredibly haunting design of this monster, the segment completely twists the perceptions of Easter. Director Nicholas McCarthy‘s (The Pact) imagery is dripping with references to sacrifice and search for knowledge that mirror both Christ-like body horror & the deadly curiosity of a child on the eve of a holiday. It brings an immediate connection for when the outrageous horror takes hold, particularly thanks to Acres’ innocent performance. Unfortunately the segment seems to end too early, seemingly missing a beat that would complete this story. Instead, we end this segment on another unfortunate whimper.

holidays4

 

The next two segments center around holidays that are more maternal and paternal in nature, but still suffer from a bit of familiarity with the previous stories. The fourth segment Mother’s Day centers around a young woman who always gets pregnant with every attempt at sexual intercourse. In desperation, she turns to a woman’s group that slowly reveals itself to have more sinister interests. Director Sarah Adina Smith (The Midnight Swim) recalls much of the imagery and themes of the St. Patrick’s Day segment, but without much related to the idea of the holiday beyond some fertility statues. It all culminates in an even more abrupt waste of an ending than the previous segments, making the entire effort feel like a false start. Speaking of abrupt endings, director Anthony Scott Burns‘ segment Father’s Day has an equally sudden one, but it’s more disappointing a whimper because the set up is far more intriguing. Carol (House of the Devil lead Joceline Donahue) finds a tape from her long lost father (the voice of Michael Gross) that tells her the directions to one specific location. That premise is intriguing, mainly personified through Donahue & Gross’ performances and the rising tension that’s built up masterfully. Then… it just ends on a weird jump scare and repetitive look at the abandoned sets that initially confuses before festering into true disappointment.

holidays-hollow-ian

Speaking of festering, our sixth segment is Hollow Ian, which has the most high profile auteur behind the camera: Kevin Smith. Yes, in the vein of his previous pile of garbage horror comedy film Tusk, Smith delivers a segment centered around a one dimensional asshat who makes his money off the Internet. In this case, said asshat is the titular Ian (Harley Morenstein, star of the YouTube series Epic Meal Time) who runs a Cam Girl business that preys on young women who want to make it in Hollywood. Three of his employees (including Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn) complain to Ian about being forced to work on a very slow Halloween, which results in them trying to knock him out after a rape attempt. From there, the segment slides gradually into Smith’s mixture of cringeworthy horrible horror and eye roll worthy vulgar humor that made Tusk such a moronic failure all around. For a segment based around the concept of webcam exploitation and sexual assault, nothing about Kevin Smith’s dark “satire” manages to be funny, horrific or eye opening about any of these themes. Instead, it’s a flatly shot, poorly stitched together idea that justifies its title with face palm worthy failed shock value and closes on a wet fart of a punchline. My personal disgust with Smith’s work shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone aware of my disgust with his modern works, but this is easily the worst project he’s directed and wastes the potential of Holidays‘ most appropriately spooky day to build a segment around.

Holidays-Christmas

Luckily, the last two segments end Holidays on more inspired notes. The penultimate segment Christmas follows hapless schmuck Pete (Seth Green) trying to get his son the hot new gadget of the season; UvU, a virtual reality headset that shows you images based on your internal structure thought processes. Just when he’s arrived at the store on Christmas Eve, he finds that another man has snatched the last one. That man has a sudden heart attack, leading Pete to steal the UvU, leave him for dead and be haunted by the events through virtual reality simulations. This segment is a more refreshing example of dark horror comedy following Hollow Ian, tying together a typical story of haunting guilt into the modern age with some impressive twists and turns that fit into an age that’s on the verge of true immersive VR experiences. It helps that Green’s believable nebbish clashes solidly with his wife -both in segment and real life – Clare Grant‘s more domineering presence and director Scott Stewart‘s (LegionDark Skies) surprisingly effective use of first person shots for the UvU scenes that give us a look into the psyches of our characters in a way that feels potentially prescient.

holidays5

 

The finale segment New Year’s bookends Holidays with another strong outing, which was written by Valentine’s Day writers/directors Widmyer & Kolsch. Reggie (Andrew Bowen) opens the story by murdering a woman he’s kidnapped. Feeling lonely, he decides to find his next potential girlfriend/victim via online dating. Fellow lonely person Jean (Lorenza Izzo) has an awkward night out with Reggie before asking him to come back home, where Reggie realizes he may have met his match. Ending on New Year’s doesn’t just satisfying the Gregorian Calendar ordering of the segments. It also manages to give us another segment that hinges so much on another vital aspect of such a holiday. In this case, the fear of being alone that prays on people, particularly on New Year’s Eve. People don’t want to miss out on the tradition of being with someone when the ball drops, so they’ll pursue companionship at any cost. Director Adam Egypt Mortimer denotes this with the very clinical drab look of our surroundings, showing a flat desperation that is subverted by the gorier actions that send a gut punch to our expectations. The cast’s work here is essential, shown off through Bowen’s sliminess and Izzo’s intense energy that shows her skills can be honed when not under the incompetent rule of her husband/recurring director Eli Roth. Plus, much like our initial segment, this final one actually has a complete arc. It comes to one simply, quickly and to the point. Makes me sort of wish Widmyer and Kolsch wrote all these segments. Instead, we got this extremely uneven anthology film that ranges from memorably solid to cringe worthy awful. Hopefully, if we get a second Holidays, we get a more consistent crop of directors and more intriguing days to base segments on. My money’s on Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Segment Breakdown:

Valentine’s Day: (4 / 5)

St. Patrick’s Day:  (2 / 5)

Easter:  (3 / 5)

Mother’s Day: (1 / 5)

Father’s Day:  (2.5 / 5)

Hollow Ian:  (0 / 5)

Christmas:  (3.5 / 5)

New Year’s:  (4 / 5)

Holidays: (2.5 / 5)

HOLIDAYS poster

Thomas Mariani
Thomas Mariani is a born geek, with a bit of nerd mixed in here & there. A native of the (less) swampy parts of Florida, Thomas has always been a fan of films, television & other sources of media ever since he was a child, having been raised on Jim Henson, Star Wars and the basic cable cartoons of the ’90s & ’00s.

Some of his favorite horror films include Evil Dead II, Poltergeist and An American Werewolf in London. He already has experience writing and podcasting about pop culture, which you can read/listen to on sites like www.oneofus.net, www.horrornews.net or even on twitter as @NotTheWhosTommy.
Thomas Mariani
Thomas Mariani is a born geek, with a bit of nerd mixed in here & there. A native of the (less) swampy parts of Florida, Thomas has always been a fan of films, television & other sources of media ever since he was a child, having been raised on Jim Henson, Star Wars and the basic cable cartoons of the ’90s & ’00s. Some of his favorite horror films include Evil Dead II, Poltergeist and An American Werewolf in London. He already has experience writing and podcasting about pop culture, which you can read/listen to on sites like www.oneofus.net, www.horrornews.net or even on twitter as @NotTheWhosTommy.