Starring George Buza, Percy Hynes-White, Zoé De Grand Maison, William Shatner
Directed by Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
It’s Christmas time in the fictional town of Bailey Downs, and according to bookending narrator DJ Dan (Shatner) this particular town always ends up facing its fair share of disaster at what should be the most merry time of year. And so, holed up in his station with a stock of booze and no small amount of disdain for his co-workers, Dan delivers his Christmas cheer to the airwaves as A Christmas Horror Story gets under way.
An anthology movie with an unusual construction, A Christmas Horror Story spins four seasonal tales of horror which, rather than playing in their entirety in series, lay out their individual acts one after the other instead. Surprisingly, rather than being off-putting, it actually works in the film’s favour, building the piece as a whole to a concurrent crescendo as each woven thread climaxes in order. It also allows for more time with the quite frankly wonderful William Shatner in between.
One story tells of a group of high school students who break into the basement of their educational establishment in order to create a short documentary about an horrific murder which occurred there in the previous year. Trapped and scared, the group find themselves at the mercy of an angry spirit determined to ensure the birth of her own little Christmas miracle. This one is well shot and pumped full of jump scares, with a grim feel and ending that gets the message across: A Christmas Horror Story isn’t messing around. It does fall down due to the cliché nature of its subject – angry spirits and trapped teens – and the pacing tends to drag down the momentum of the overall picture, but it offers enough shocks and earnest performances to be worthwhile.
Another tale, and quite possibly the best in terms of performances and character work, sees a married couple (one of whom is the cop who discovered the victims of the first tale’s back-story) set off into the forest to procure a Christmas tree. When their young son goes missing, the panicked pair eventually find him hiding inside of a gnarly old tree and take him home – only to discover that something is very, very wrong with their child.
Feeling like it could, at any moment, launch into a Demons 2-style woman-versus-demon-child monster-fest, this segment actually holds more restraint than expected, focusing on the strained relationship between the couple – not to mention father and son – and letting the horror gradually creep up on you until the blood begins to flow. It’s great stuff – tense, well acted and relatable in its terror.
Third is the story of an apparently well-to-do family and their bratty children setting off to visit the father’s reclusive, rich Aunt. The family don’t like her, and she doesn’t like the family – but that won’t stop daddy from trying to scrounge some cash out of the wealthy crone. Their trip soon turns deadly, however, when their thoroughly unpleasant son deliberately breaks a Krampus statue in an act of defiance – unleashing the beast to hunt them down and uncompromisingly deliver the consequences of being naughty at Christmas. Boasting some cool monster effects – a rather kick-ass, chain-swingin’ Krampus – this one feels the most like it stepped from the pages of an EC Comics publication, especially given the dark, moralistic final twist.
Last but not least, the bloodiest, and most comedic, entry takes us to Santa’s giant estate at the North Pole, where a zombie virus is turning the elves into foul-mouthed, feral flesh-eaters. It’s up to the old man and his big white beard to lift his sceptre and deliver mercy to the infected as heads and limbs fly in all directions. Riotous fun, this segment is goofy in all the right ways, and packs in a ton of splatter as it works towards a finale that is both mind-blowing and gut-busting in its simple comedic genius.
But let’s get back to William Shatner. The man is a treasure right here – his droll wit making every short segue to the radio station, as DJ Dan gets progressively more drunk and belligerent, something to truly look forward to in between the story segments.
A thoroughly entertaining mix of levity and horror, A Christmas Horror Story is a flick that you’ll want to unbox year after year. Alongside the egg nog and candy canes, this one deserves to be an annual tradition.