Monday, December 12, 2016

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

Well, it's the holiday season, and nothing says Merry Christmas better than a film featuring Santa fighting Krampus!  Well, at least for me, and I'm sure a few of you out there might agree.  And while I can't say A Christmas Horror Story is the best Horror Holiday Movie ever made, it is a lot of fun and a great break from all the saccharine-sweet merriment and joyous tidings spread by most other Christmas movie offerings.

The film takes place in Bailey Downs, a small, snowy town rocked by a double murder on Christmas Eve one year ago.  Dangerous Dan (William Shatner) is a local DJ working to make the season merry for himself and his listeners, with the aid of some spiked eggnog.  Also at the station is the weatherman, who has a distinctly more sour outlook concerning the most wonderful time of the year.  That's too bad, as he's off to play Santa at the local food drive at the mall.  

Of course I'm merry!
I sit here, read a few lines and collect a paycheck!!
As Dan spins the Christmas tunes, four different stories take place.  In one, a group of young filmmakers break into their school to film a documentary about the Christmas Eve murders.  Given the keys by a friend (who gets into a car for a family trip; more on that later), the three head into the basement, guided by a police video of the officers investigating the crime scene.  The murders weren't the only creepy event to take place at the school. The building was first a convent, where a young girl died during a botched attempt to deliver the child by the nuns.  Of course, the trio end up being locked in the basement and the ghost of the young girl starts making her presence known.

The second story involves the police officer seen in the crime video, as he takes his wife and young boy into the woods to find a Christmas tree.  It seems he's been on leave since investigating the murders, and isn't above trespassing on private property to find the perfect tree.  But the uneventful search ends as the couple's son goes missing for a few moments, only to emerge from the trunk of a hollow tree.  The three head home to trim their tree, but the boy starts acting strange right away.  As the evening wears on, the father's behavior indicated that maybe he's not on leave because of the murders alone.  Also, a phone call from the owner of the property revels the couple didn't take their son out of the woods.

The next story involves the girl who delivered the keys to the filmmaker, as her dysfunctional family head out to spread some holiday cheer to their rich aunt.  The family aren't on their best behavior, even after auntie warns them about Krampus, the Christmas demon.  Once the family heads home, a shadowy figure causes their car to run off the road.  Alone in the woods, they soon discover Krampus isn't a legend and is looking to punish them for their wicked behavior.

Let this be a lesson, kids.
Always listen to your stern looking relatives. 

The final story takes place in the North Pole (a location shown in the opening of the film), as Santa and his elves are busy preparing for the big night.  But one of the elves becomes sick and dies, which Santa points out is impossible as elves can't die.  Well, he does come back and soon, Santa is up to his knees in murderous zombie elves.  And, of course, mayhem ensues as Santa fights his way to a confrontation with the cause of it all, good old Krampus.

So, you might be wondering how the final story ties into Bailey Downs.  Well, it does, but you'll have to find out for yourself, as I'm not telling!

The film was directed by Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan, with writing credits shared by Jason Filiatrault, James Kee, Sarah Larson, Doug Taylor and Pascal Trottier.  With so many different filmmakers involved, the results might have ended up as messy as the floor surrounding a Christmas tree after the presents are opened.  But the film is quite fun, aided a solid cast, some good effects and gore scenes, and a few nice twists in the script.  And the Krampus suit is beautiful, well worth seeing in two of the tales.

You know, a lump of coal is starting 
to look pretty good right now...

But the film has a couple of problems.  To start, the first two stories don't really fit into the movie.  Though well written, both would have worked just as well during any other time of the year, and the holiday setting feels added only to work them into the film.  That's not a bad thing upon a first viewing, but re-watching this as a holiday tradition might make you want to fast forward to the juicy holiday stuff featuring Santa and Krampus.

But that will not be easy, as the film is sabotaged by not letting each tale progress for long before cutting to another story.  Like 2006's Trick 'r Treat, the film starts with characters from one tale interact briefly in another.  But instead of letting each story progress to its conclusion, the film jumps from one to another every five to ten minutes.  

Unfortunately, this lessens any sense of suspense, as a revelation or shocking moment is undercut once the focus moves to another story, a pattern repeated until the end of the film.  It would have been better had each story play out to its conclusion.  The next story could start with the character interaction from the previous tale, but allow it to lead into the next segment.  Instead, the film forces the audience to bounce from one story to another, diminishing any sustained sense of tension and fear.

What do you mean, you're cutting away from us?
We're just getting to the good stuff!!

The film's setting of Bailey Downs might seem to be a reference to It's a Wonderful Life.which could have worked had the script focused on the terror lurking under a peaceful winter setting.  But instead, it's a nice little nod to a town where strange events occur, as it was the setting for the film Ginger Snaps (which Hoban produced),as well as a location in Orphan Black (created by Fawcett).  I wish the film and TV series had been referenced in some way in this film, but I guess Santa can't fit everything we want under the Christmas tree.  

The DVD release did spark up a bit of a controversy in the Horror Community, as several Walmart stores sold the film with a slipcover that changed the title to A Holiday Horror Story.  This has happened with other horror films (such as Deathgasm and Big Ass Spider!) being displayed in slipcases changing the title and/or cover art (the movies were unaltered) to something more "family friendly" for display at Walmart locations.  But, if the retailer was attempting not to upset holiday shoppers, it seems a bit strange that the cover art for this film was unaltered.  Perhaps it was assumed such easily offended patrons might not recognize Santa without his "traditional" mall outfit.  I looked online for a statement from Walmart concerning the change, but was unable to find one.

All right, all right!
I'll share the milk and cookies!!

A Christmas Horror Story is a nice little diversion for horror fans settling in for a cold winter night.  It it might not knock any of the classic horror-day films off your list, but you'll have to be a true Grinch not to smile as Santa battles a workshop full of zombie elves, or when Krampus paints a winter wonderland red with blood.

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