Synopsis: It’s the season of joy, peace, and goodwill… unless you live in Bailey Downs. Last Christmas Eve, two teens came to a grisly end in a school basement. Now, one year later, a new set of horrors has come to town. As three friends explore the site of the massacre, a malevolent spirit is determined to keep them there forever. One of the first cops to the scene of the bloody murders has new complications as his seven-year-old son exhibits terrifying and violent behavior. And when a local family seeks reconciliation with an estranged aunt for the wrong reasons, they suddenly find themselves running in terror from Krampus, the demonic anti-Santa Claus. Not even St. Nick is immune to the terror as he fights back against a horde of zombie elves. This is destined to be a holiday no one will ever forget…
eyelights: Santa vs Krampus. Santa vs zombie elves. William Shatner. the quality of its shorts.
eyesores: its cheap CGI. some of the performances. the relevance of some of its shorts.
It would be easy to dismiss outright a movie called ‘A Christmas Horror Story’. It really would. I mean, its title and box art alone give the impression of a cheap lowbrow knock off by The Asylum. It turns out, however, that the 2015 Canadian production, which was created by the filmmakers behind the ‘Ginger Snaps‘ series and ‘Splice‘, is a surprisingly strong anthology picture.
Composed of four loosely interconnected short stories, it takes us to the fictional town of Bailey Downs on Christmas Eve, where three groups of people are faced with horrors beyond their imagination. It also tells a fourth story set in the North Pole, which finds Santa Claus also confronting his worst nightmare. The picture alternates between bits of each story until its climax.
The first story finds Santa Claus getting ready for his yearly jaunt around the globe when one of his elves turns on him. The demented elf infects all the other elves in turn and Santa is forced to fight off a horde miniscule zombies. Soon he realizes that his longtime nemesis, Krampus, is behind this and a battle royale ensues. Though Santa looks a bit like a biker, it’s a bloody good time.
The second story follows three teenagers sneaking into a local school to video a project on a ghastly unsolved murder that took place there one year prior. Alone in the darkened school, they find themselves trapped in a restricted part of the basement which had remained under lock and key for a year. That’s when they start hearing unusual sounds and seeing a ghostly apparition.
The third story involves the girlfriend of one of the teens, who couldn’t join them because her father planned a last-minute excursion to visit their Great Aunt. The visit, which ends in the family being booted out by the elder, gets much worse when their SUV is stuck in a snowbank and they are forced to walk back through the woods – where something hunts them down one by one.
The final story revolves around the officer who investigated the school murders a year ago. On stress leave ever since, he and his spouse lose their young son, Will, while out in the woods cutting down a pine tree for Christmas. When they find the boy, he exhibits strange behaviour, from eerie gazes, to volatile -sometimes violent- behaviour. Then the mom gets a call from a stranger…
All these stories are glued together by bits featuring William Shatner as a radio DJ, playing holiday classics and rambling about the spirit of Christmas while giving people updates on an incident at the local mall. It’s unclear exactly what is going on but, in the picture’s most delicious twist, it turns out to be related to the first story. I’m no fan of Shatner, but he’s perfect for this part.
What’s terrific about this picture is that each story holds up nicely on its own, though they are all weak on plot separately. The film’s strength is in the way that they were chopped up and edited together: the filmmakers found a structure that strengthened each bit, building on each other and creating a good pace – without offering them in the same sequence throughout.
By the time each comes to its conclusion, ‘A Christmas Horror Story’ has built to a frenzy.
Where the picture weakens is in the afore-mentioned thin plot, which is typical of anthology films – each tale only has maybe 20-25 minutes of screentime to be told, so they’re going to have limitations. But, again, the filmmakers edited that issue away. Then there are some performances that are noticeably weaker than others. And there’s the matter of the cheap-@$$ CGI effects.
It is a low budget Canadian film, after all.
Still, ‘A Christmas Horror Story’ is surprisingly effective. It’s not great cinema and it doesn’t always truly pertain to Christmas, but long gone are the days when Christmas-themed horror films were cheesy and poorly constructed. This is a movie that was smartly done given the genre. And, at the very least, it’s worth seeing for the sight of Santa kicking serious bloody @$$.
C’mon, everyone, sing: “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!”
Date of viewing: November 20, 2016