Anthology Horror has slowly crept back into popularity over the past decade, proving itself the best way to sample the best of contemporary horror, A Christmas Horror Story is the latest effort in anthology filmmaking and the ever-growing sub-genre of Christmas horror.
A Christmas Horror Story is a lot of fun and ticks all the boxes in terms of evil Christmas content. A family bring home more than just a Christmas tree, a group of students make their way into a private school to film a documentary about a brutal murder, Santa fights for survival in his dystopian Lapland fortress, and a shitty middle-class family are terrorized by an unseen monster.
The stories are connected, but not really in any meaningful way, characters pass like ships in the night, their individual tales untouched by the involvement of any other. The stories aren’t separated into distinct segments either, as is usually the case. Instead all four tales are interwoven and actually make a far more engrossing feature than they might have if split like V/H/S or The ABCs of Death. It feels like we are getting a simultaneous barrage of Christmas bad times.
The stories, though, are not quite there, without their punchlines they fall a little flat. The Changeling story drags its feet until disturbing sexual tensions and domestic violence are exploited by a creature in the guise of a young boy. The worst strand of story comes from the ultimately boring found-footage segment: a documentary style investigation into a brutal murder the year before. It’s vaguely similar to the recently released La Entidad, just condensed into a smaller frame, but even then it doesn’t pull half the scares that film did. On the other end, watching Santa venture through his distinctly dystopian Lapland factory, fighting off Elves who appear to be infected with the rage virus from 28 Days Later, is a hoot. The segment appears to, better than any other, appreciate the ridiculous nature of Christmas iconography and twist it with the dark heart of horror cinema. Instants of practical gore, Santa swiping his way through tiny bodies with a twirl and a flourish, are superb, but oddly rare in a film almost entirely ruled by lame CGI effects. These effects are most noticeable in the relatively grounded Christmas tale of the Krampus. If you’re not aware of folk-tale Anti-Clause, you will be soon, Michael Dougherty’s Krampus promises to be a sharp 21st century version of Gremlins.
So one of the big problems is that the films are relatively unassuming without their final laugh, not enough is going on in each segment to really drag us in. The Santa segment ends on a superb high note which really grabs Christmas cheers by the throat, whilst The Changeling just ends, Krampus finishes with a wicked smile, and the high school investigation whimpers out after too much time in the dark.
An eclectic collection of horror tales put together by a relatively fresh-faced group of horror drifters (Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, and Brett Sullivan), A Christmas Horror Story could have really stood out if it had just been more technically interesting and had the balls to have as much fun as it does in its Santa v the zombie elves segment.
Dir. Grant Harvey, Stevan Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Stars: William Shatner, George Buza, Rob Archer, Zoe De Grand Maison, Alex Ozerov, Shannon Kook, Amy Forsyth, A.C. Peterson