A Christmas Horror Story (Movie Review)

A Christmas Horror Story (Movie Review)
5 10

PLOT: On a chilly and ill-fated Christmas Eve night, four varied tales of terror all coalesce around the quaint little town of Bailey Downs. Zombified elves, a demonic changeling and the ancient Christmastime killer Krampus are out to gift the naughty with some gruesome goodies!

REVIEW: Apparently it's never too early in the year to shop around for a gory gift of yuletide terror, and as adduction, we can now point to the technically varnished by overall average anthological outing A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, opening in select theaters October 2nd. With a foursome of vicious interwoven vignettes split among three Canadian filmmakers - some that hit and some that miss - the decision to interlace each disparate story (with one wraparound and one overlap) feels about as misguided as employing five different writers without a single one of them being a director. In other words, I believe the film would have been much stronger if each tale had been told separately, one by one, in order for each to remain a self-contained unit. But packaged as a single intercut vision, there's a sluggish disharmony here that tends to quash the momentum that any one story begins to mount. That said, two of the four stories are worthy spectacles of grue-soaked delight, so if your Christmas horror movie wish-list is relatively modest this year, feel free to check this one off!

Welcome to the town of Bailey Downs, the fictional place where GINGER SNAPS was also set. The in-joke of course is that GINGER SNAPS 2: UNLEASHED was helmed by Brett Sullivan and produced by Grant Harvey, who together make up for two-thirds of the directorial trio here (along with Steve Hoban). Anyway, it seems this snowbound little town has been befouled again, this time by cruel Christmas curse. It's December 24th, and we're first introduced to a scraggily Santa Claus and his gaggle of elfin helpers. A hard night awaits, especially when having to defend against the demonic manifestation of Krampus - the devilish dark-half of old Saint Nick known to stricken the wicked and punish the naughty. We'll get to how the curse is unleashed in a second, but know, this is probably the most entertaining of the four shorts. The elves soon become ravenous blood-hungry zombies who turn on their Jolly master, and the subject is met with the proper dose of frenetic energy and exorbitant carnage you'd want to see. Aside from some questionable CGI at times, this one is easily the most dynamically paced, darkly humored and the one most drenched in drenched in gore.

Next we track three investigative teens looking for answers to a savage double homicide that went down in their own school hallways a year prior. The place has long since been abandoned, and so the kids think it the perfect opportunity to add some creepy production value to their video documentary on the subject. Yeah, well after a whole lot of aimless ambling through dark corridors and ducking feckless bumps in the night, this chapter starts strong but ultimately devolves into another prolonged possession piece that neither adds to nor subtracts anything of real substance to the subgenre. It's adequately acted, as is the entire film, and even has some pretty slick and decrepit decor, but there isn't enough of a lasting impression made beyond a whole lot of shaky flashlights in a what essentially amounts to a dark haunted house to really stick out. Again, it shows promise early, only to quickly peters out.

A third strand finds a family of four out to visit an estranged relative. When said crusty old bat opens the door and dismisses their presence, the young boy in the fam knocks a Krampus statuette to the floor and laughs as it shatters. This summons the infamous yuletide demon - a pallid, muscular, giant-horned beast - that manifests in the flesh with vengeful ferocity. Seeking refuge in a ramshackle church, Krampus soon descends on the family with the grisliest of intent. Shit gets hectic, particularly when the this storyline eventually bleeds into the Santa Claus opener, propelling a brutally barbarous showdown that pits light vs. dark - Santa vs. Krampus - in a sick viscera dripping finale. After a slow and uneven start, this thread ended on quite the uptick with its ramped-up action and powerful presence of the Krampus monster. For me, this was definitely the second strongest tale on its own, made even more potent when cross pollinated with an even more dominant strain in Saint Nick. These two interwoven tales feel the most contiguous to each other, and together equate to the most entertaining parts of the flick.

The fourth and final vignette revolves around a married couple and their young son venturing out to find a Christmas tree. Yet, out in the woods, an opportunistic chimera subsumes the boy's soul and renders him a maniacal changeling. He looks normal, but acts erratic...stabbing his dad with a fork, spying on his mom in the shower, that kind of thing. As the little bastard spirals into a violent outrage, it's up to his mom to heed the advice of a stranger and try to reverse the curse. This takes them back into the woods, where a pretty stock and standard resolution filled with a rash of anticlimactic hokum takes hold. Outside of a cool idea (done way better in the 1980 flick THE CHANGELING mind you) and a few harrowing moments or two, this ultimately ends up being one of the weaker links in the anthological chain.

When all is told, the sum here isn't close to being tantamount to an exceptional Bob Clark CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY. The choice to crosscut each narrative is about as needless as the wraparound radio broadcast, starring William Shatner. In fact, I almost forgot that the Shat was even in the flick, which I'm afraid carries over as the most damning trait of at least two of the four short stories...they just aren't terribly memorable. That said, the two stories that do work, especially when crashing into each other to fuel a frenzied and requisitely gory finale (Krampus vs. Santa), is where I think the film is at its entertaining best. I also believe the film would be much stronger as a whole had each story been told individually, as the uneven strands stitched together end up feeling more knotty than nice!

Extra Tidbit: A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY unwraps in select theaters Friday, October 2nd.
Source: AITH



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