Holidays – EIFF 2016

EIFF 2016Festival Coverage

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Holidays is the latest anthology film you’ll want to tick off your list if you’ve enjoyed recent projects like The ABCs of Death, A Chirstmas Horror Story, or the V/H/S films. One of the campest anthology films in a while, Holidays feels closer to George A. Romero and Stephen King’s’s 80’s pulp extravaganza Creepshow, than it ever does to the gritty handheld feel of V/H/S. But then that shouldn’t really surprise, after all, this is an anthology made in homage to Holiday Horror; a sub-genre characterised by OTT massacres and darkly comic thrillers. Many of these films became immensely popular in the late 70’s when the boom in Slasher films made gory flicks with large body-counts a lucrative business. Famous entries would include classics like Halloween and Black Christmas, though camper 80’s endeavours like Thanksgiving thriller Blood Rage seem closer inspirations on much of the humour of this curious collection.

What’s impressive is that each segment feels unique in at least some way, and all of them manage to dodge being straight holiday-themed slashers. Instead there are some really great variations on old stories expressed with definite voices. Opening with uber retro Valentine’s Day, writers/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Wydmyer summon up a black comedy Carrie-esque tale of revenge. After Starry Eyes put them on the horror radar, it’s a tiny bit disappointing in its simplicity but benefits from the distinctive involvement of composer Jonathan Snipes (The Nightmare, Room 237) and cinematographer Adam Brickner (Starry Eyes). The final shots are a nice twist on one of the iconic moments in Creepshow.

Gary Shore’s St. Patrick’s Day is a far more consciously barmy interpretation of its holiday than most of the rest. The Dracula Untold director deserves credit for coming at this one from a fresh, leprechaun-devoid, angle achieving a good mix of tension, laughs, and joyous Pagan folklore. Shore really throws himself into the humour of the story, taking the theatricality of The Wicker Man and merging it with Rosemary’s Baby, providing ample opportunity for some great costumes and nasty birth horror. Luckily for him actress Ruth Bradley leads this one by the nose right through its silliest moments with full zeal. Hoakey elements in the finale can’t stop this being one of the most detailed experiences Holidays has to offer.

Anthony Scott Burns’ Father’s Day is similarly unique, but significantly creepier, following a young woman’s trip to an abandoned building, guided by an audio tape her father recorded the last time she was there with him. Drip feeding us mysterious dialogue and allusions to the shadowy reasons for her father’s disappearance whilst confronting us with ominous imagery, Burns’ aptitude for setting a mood is here more on point than in most of The Last Exorcism Part 2. Much of that boils down to the distinct locations and gloomy cinematography, but a lot of the credit goes to the central idea which builds a great tension as we move deeper into the building and makes the world feel uncomfortably ephemeral. I A vague story and an unresolved ending leave the film more affecting and cryptic than any of the others but for precisely those same reasons, oddly unsatisfying too.

Kevin Smith’s Halloween is great cathartic fun flaunting Smith’s more recent outré appreciation of trashy nasty imagery and concepts. Here, the dialogue is sharp, the humour is vicious, Harley Morenstein (Dead Rising: Watchtower, Yoga Hosers) delivers a great turn as a despicable pimp, and Harley Quinn Smith steals the show as an increasingly enraged online performer. Kudos to Smith for keeping his horror contemporary and using a computer as the eventual mode of communication; waiting for lines of dialogue to come through has honestly never been this hilarious or unnerving. It’s pretty much the only short in this collection that gets so nasty you’ll be wincing, so it won’t be for everyone.

But then, none of the segments are for everyone and none of them are perfect. If anything, Holidays, like the best of anthology films, is defined by its bold inconsistency. None of the films are awful either, or even dull. Each segment has something worthwhile, some trick, joke, narrative fancy, stylistic choice, performance, or special effect that totally works. For instance, Nicholas McCarthy’s Easter doesn’t really wow with its story or highly domestic style, but the effects are arguably the most nightmarish in the collection. Jason Collins (who’s special effects makeup credits include Bubba Ho-Tep, and Southbound) has done an amazing job with his Christ-inspired Easter Bunny, it’s an absolutely horrifying thing to behold and sticks with you through the rest of the runtime.

Similarly, Sarah Adina Smith’s segment Mother’s Day has the makings of a great horror short; a hyper-fertile woman turns to a group of pagan women for help with her constant pregnancy. There’s a great tension to what becomes a kidnap situation and Adina Smith swamps the mid-section of her tale in authentic-feeling ritual, but the story doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s a suitably fem-centric project (the superb Sheila Vand from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night makes an appearance) and one that’s a welcome departure, like Father’s Day, from the usual slasher films that are tied to parent holidays.

Christmas is another one that has a great idea, but doesn’t really hit full potential. Seth Green does well as a man who goes too far for his kid’s Christmas presents, bringing home a virtual reality headset that ends up being a bit of a nightmare. Writer and director Scott Stewart (Priest, Legion) does well with his POV techno-horror but when the final shock is pulled out, the film feels far less fun than it could have been.

New Year’s Eve is a great simplistic end to the film, and an impressive first short film from Adam Egypt Mortimer after his debut film Some Kind of Hate. Lorenza Izzo (The Green Inferno, Knock Knock) is a fantastic strong-headed performer as always, Andrew Bowen is grotesque as Hell as a murderous loner, and the whole thing looks like an easy sell for a feature with Izzo in the lead. Mortimer knows how to freak an audience out and uses every trick in the book to distract us until the twist shows New Year’s Eve has a nice little genre-commentary going on behind its stalker-victim façade.

Overall, Holidays is a great collection of films from new and old genre stars with a distinctly modern edge. Sure the tone and sensibilities scream camp 80’s fun, but the stories, themes, and rampant use of technology make this a very 2016 anthology. When there are all kinds of hark-back ventures going around -to the point where the genre sometimes feels wholly nostalgic- that really means something. For all its vintage posters and retro moves, Holidays isn’t as old-school as you might expect. It’s an achievement built on debuts and follow-ups, although not quite as complete a cross-section as the ABCs of Death, it does go a long way to deliver something more than just a trip down memory lane.

Scott Clark

Dirs. Numerous
Stars: Seth Green, Harley Quinn Smith, Lorenza Izzo, Ruth Bradley, Michael Gross, Harley Morenstein, Andrew Bowen

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