PLOT: An anthological octet of standalone horror tales explore the dark-side various holidays: Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Halloween, Christmas and New Years Eve.
REVIEW: What is it about holiday horror that, at its absolute best, can seep so deeply into the filmgoing consciousness and stay put for a long time? Think about it. HALLOWEEN, BLACK CHRISTMAS, APRIL FOOL'S DAY...to various degrees, these flicks rank among some of the all time most memorable in the genre...and have done so for more than 30 years. Is it the safe, warm, familial, seemingly feel-good nature of celebrations themselves getting flipped and subverted toward violence that make it so effective? Is it the morality of religious observances getting usurped by utter evil that's so unsettling? Well, whatever the case - the grossly uneven new 8-part horror omnibus HOLIDAYS tries with no real conviction to explore such a phenomenon, instead spreads itself far too thin with its abundance of underdeveloped chapters and farcically forgettable stopgaps to ever make a truly durable imprint. Worse yet, there's no contiguous through-line to make the overall experience feel like an organic whole, save of course for chronological order. No, sadly, aside from a really cool idea and a mildly amusing date or two - this here is one squandered collection of HOLIDAYS unworthy of feting!
To truncate as breezily as the film does, we start with VALENTINE'S DAY (directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer), where a bullied high-school girl harboring a crush on her heart-ailed swimming instructor takes extreme measures of revenge. She plans to win the heart of her coach by giving him a new one, literally. Clever conceit I suppose - just as the overarching theme of holidays is - but frankly, we don't give one iota of a damn about what happens to anyone. There's not enough time. Not on Valentine's or any other holiday! ST. PATRICK'S DAY (directed by Gary Shore) gives us a bit of gnarlier tale, about a cherubic ginger-headed Irish lass who curses her schoolteacher by impregnating her with a giant snake. Pagan worship takes hold, upping the vexing oddity quotient by enough of a deal to make this one of the more memorable entries of all. But little that's worth. In the end, the anthropomorphized snake comes off as more risible than truly terrifying.
EASTER (by Nicholas McCarthy) treats us to a little girl who, in the middle of the night, happens upon a f*ckd up deformed-monster-bunny-man-child that can hatch chickens in the palm of his hand. Some decent FX work here, little more than that, as the bunny threatens to subsume the poor girl's soul for all damnation. MOTHER'S DAY (by Sarah Adina Smith and Ellen Reid) rounds out the first half of the film, giving us a glimpse at yet another odiously hexed female, who, no matter what protection used, cannot have sex without getting pregnant. She heads to the high desert to partake in a cult-like, drug-laced fertility ritual that ends in a random and totally extrinsic non-scare. It's like it was tacked on in a rush of panic, knowing the creepy mood and atmosphere wasn't lived in for a long enough time to really stand on its own.
For my two pence, the most entertaining stretch of the flick occurs over the next three vignettes, starting with Anthony Scott Burns' FATHER'S DAY. Granted, it was also the least potentiated, but this one refreshingly took on an offbeat tone and minimalist approach that starkly stood out from the rest. Michael Gross voices the disembodied ghost of sorts that, before his death, left a letter for his daughter (Jocelin Donahue) to be opened once he was gone. She does, and it takes her on a strange escapade along a dusty, deserted road in the middle of nowhere, the whole time listening to the directions of her soothing, innocent father's voice. It's eerie, no doubt, and much like every single chapter in the flick, would have benefited greatly had more time been devoted to it. HALLOWEEN injects some much needed levity after which, helmed by Kevin Smith and starring his daughter Harley Quinn, about a trio of witchy cam girls who turn the screws on their low-rent pimp of an employer on Halloween night (played by the Epic Mealtime dude) - doing so to the tune of actual, literal torture porn. I won't say more than that, other than, as a longtime fan of Kevin Smith, he brings the trademark humorous dialogue and amusing sight-gags that make this one of the better episodes of the entire flick.
CHRISTMAS unwraps a tale involving Seth Green and his real life wife Clare Grant, as the cash-strapped man of the house seeks to buy a present for their son. A virtual reality oculus rift type of gadget called UVU (you-view) that allows you to be immersed in whatever world your subconscious desires. Only thing is, daddy steals the gift from a man fallen ill in the street, and before long, the twisted purgatorial visions Green witnesses are that of the man he stole from. Another pretty novel idea, this one from director Scott Stewart, somehwat redolent of THEY LIVE, but one that ultimately had too little time to bear out fruitfully. The flick ends with perhaps the weakest of galas, NEW YEAR'S EVE (directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer), about a serial online dater with a penchant for whacking his matches with a wood-axe. Lorena Izzo plays the girl in question, tasked with evading and ultimately quelling her assailant in the countdown to midnight. Nothing special here, and certainly not the kind of rote, anticlimactic nightcap you want to celebrate.
And frankly, that suboptimal sentiment extends over the entirety. I honestly believe that, had there been half the holidays and twice the runtime dedicated to each - had there been four or five tales only that were given enough time to develop with a tautly scripted, well balanced beginning, middle and end - the overall movie would go a lot farther in staying in the minds of those who see it. As it is, there's simply not enough invested in any one chapter to really get to know, identify with and/or emotionally root for the characters involved. It's impossible to. To wit, aside from the calendar, there's no real wraparound tether to the narrative that make the movie feel like a singular unit. Instead we get an interstitial, momentum-killing greeting cards smashed between each chapter telling us who wrote and directed. This completely saps the fluidity of the flick and creates an oddly arrhythmic flow, breaking the concentration of the viewer and making each segment feel totally unrelated. Had the transitions been a bit smoother, with the whole movie encompassing only ST. PATRICK'S DAY, FATHER'S DAY, HALLOWEEN and CHRISTMAS, and fully fleshed out each, HOLIDAYS would be a far more memorable.