Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Christmas Horror Story

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

A Christmas-themed anthology horror film featuring four-ish stories which sort of intersect with one another. One story follows three high school students (Zoé De Grand Maison, Shannon Cook, and Alex Ozerov) filming a documentary about the basement of an old Catholic school where where two of their classmates were mysteriously murdered the Christmas before. Another story follows their friend (Amy Forsyth) whose family attracts the attention of the Krampus, a demon which punishes the wicked on Christmas Eve. The third story tells us of the police officer (Adrian Holmes) who found the bodies of the murdered high school kids the previous Christmas. He steals a Christmas tree from a private lot with his family and inadvertently brings home a violent forest spirit. The last story is about Santa Claus (George Buza) fighting off zombified elves at the North Pole. Meanwhile, the local radio DJ (William Shatner) gets hammered on egg nog and spins Christmas records.

Instead of the typical one story at a time format usually used in anthology movies, all four stories are going on at the same time which builds the mood at a steady, almost uniform pace rather than losing momentum between stories. The downfall of this format is that the "Kids in the Basement" story is weak and slow, which fucks up the pacing of the rest of the movie.

The "Santa vs. Elves" story seemed really underdeveloped, with big gaps in the narrative, but brought it back with a damn slick twist ending that made up for it. I'm not a fan of the twist ending, probably because of growing up with M Night Shyamalan movies, but this one was particularly clever and well executed, and accounted for all of the qualms I had with the story up until that point.

The story I thought was the strongest was the "Stolen Christmas Tree" story, both because it was the most disturbing, smoothly building claustrophobic tension, and because it utilized an unusual monster, the Changeling, which doesn't show up a whole lot in horror movies despite being one of the scariest ideas in english folklore.

There's also a strongly implied incestuous sleep-rape scene in that segment which, while gross, is weird and creepy and not something I've seen a whole lot in mainstream horror.

There's plenty of blood throughout the movie, including some brutal elf deaths in "Santa vs. Elves", although it could have used some more graphic imagery of people getting fucked up by Krampus in the "Krampusnacht" story.

There are a few startling moments throughout, although the movie, especially the "Kids in the Basement" story, relies predominantly on jump scares, the cheapest of thrills. The "Stolen Christmas Tree" story relies more on something gruesome and traumatic happening and is actually somewhat scary, further solidifying it as the strongest of the four stories.

I liked the aesthetic of the "Santa vs. Elves" story for the most part, and George Burza is a lot of fun as the Odin-esque Santa Claus. It's also the most brutal and violent story so there's that.

Also, William Shatner is delightful as the radio DJ who pops up from time to time to talk about Christmas and drink some more. He's like a crazy old grandpa and I'm pretty sure the liquor he was putting in his drink was not prop liquor. He gets crazier and more delightful throughout the movie and I don't feel that Shatner is necessarily a good enough actor to pull that off. Either way, he's a great touch.

The biggest issue with the movie was the entirety of the "Kids in the Basement" story. It's painfully slow, peppered with jump scares, and not even really Christmas themed. Like, there's a ghost in the basement, that ghost is probably there all the time, there's no reason it had to be Christmas.

Granted, the ghost was given a somewhat original reason for haunting the fuck out of some teens. Ghosts are usually just dead and pissed off and ready to haunt the fuck out of people for no good reason, so it's nice to see a ghost with a plan. The reason for the haunting was unbelievably stupid but, you know, it was original.

Even the way it was shot, it was set up as a found footage thing but then abandoned that gimmick halfway through and continued as a straight up third person ghost thing. There was no good reason for the movie initially being shot in the first person. Like, okay, the teens were in the basement in the first place to shoot a documentary. Back in my day, teens didn't need an excuse to go break into old, abandoned, haunted buildings, they just did it. Maybe it was to get high and laid, maybe it was just for the fuck of it. Fact is, teenagers do stupid, random shit, nobody knows why. I don't need some extraneous, half-assed set up that gets ignored after the first act to believe that some teenagers wanted to break into a basement.

So that story really drags the rest of the movie down quite a bit. The "Krampusnacht" story is only worth mentioning because it is unexceptional. It's not bad by any means. It's not great either. The Krampus looks cool but that's all I have to say about it, it's pretty forgettable all told, and serves as a neutral filler for the rest of the movie.

This movie is a fun venture for people who love Christmas and also love horror movies. I wouldn't call it a must-watch by any means, but it's entertaining and worth watching if you're looking for something new, especially if you've caught the Krampus fever which has been sweeping the nation.

Directed by: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan.  Written by: Jason Filiatrault, James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier.  Starring: William Shatner, Zoé De Grand Maison, Olunike Adeliyi, Amy Forsyth, George Buza, Shannon Cook, Adrian Holmes, Percy Hynes White, Debra McCabe, Alex Ozerov, Orion John, Rob Archer.

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