A Christmas Horror Story review: An instant holiday classic.
Directors: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Cast: William Shatner, George Buza, Zoe De Grand Maison, Amy Forsyth, Rob Archer
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Synopsis: An anthology of horror related Christmas tales sees an investigation into a murder the previous Christmas, a young boy acting strangely after cutting down a tree, a family stalked by Krampus, and Santa fighting off zombies.
Tis the season to be gory! Christmas and horror are a strange combination that always seems to work. Since they days of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (and going back further to different cultures’ tales), ghosts and monsters have been mixed with the time of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men. There’s something about mixing a supposedly joyous holiday with extreme violence and dark goings on. With Christmas being camper than…I guess nothing, it is also an easy target for cheap and cheerful horrors which play up to the silly and nonsense. A Christmas Horror Story is not one of those, with high production values and real scares, this is a genuinely terrifying ho-ho-horror.
Taking on the anthology format, this feels like a number of bedtime readings gone wrong. But rather than have each tale told individually, they are interspersed creating a bizarre tapestry. This could have gone awry, as cutting back and forth may have ruined the tension of a particular strand, but each tale has been designed to work with the others, gradually building up to the conclusions.
There are four stories going on here, and each one takes on a different style of horror. One has your typical teens investigating a murder from exactly a year ago, only to discover a mystery and encounter malicious spirits. This story has many jump scares that leave you with uneasiness, which makes a change from simply having tea-spilling loud noises. The creepy basement to the school is so dark and filled with creepy nativity dummies, your eyes start searching through the background, and you’ll swear you can see movements where there are none.
We also have every parents worse nightmare as a family return from cutting down a tree, and their son seems to be not their son anymore. This plays on the idea of a psychological home invasion, and being scared of your own child. The mother and father are slowly driven apart, while the young boy has a range of sinister smiles to make you look at your own sprog with suspicious eyes.
Elsewhere, a family brings on the rage of the anti-Santa, Krampus. Krampus is a hulking demon who wants to punish the naughty. It’s a classic horror hunt film, in which our victims try and escape through gorgeous snow covered woodlands. The Krampus himself is brilliantly realised, while the bickering family hit the right notes of sympathy, while still being irritating enough to give us some pleasure in their fates.
Finally, and kind of absurdly, Santa takes on zombie elves. It’s the dafter story, and one that generates the most laughs. Still, there is a wonderful look to the movie, with some great effects and dark shadows invaded by the warm glow of firelight. The music used also takes a brooding score, and mixes it with cheery Christmas hits that take on a darker personality given the nature of the film.
I love Christmas, I love anthologies, and I love horror movies, but I didn’t expect A Christmas Horror Story to be so scary. It avoids camp for the most part, injects humour with Shatner’s radio DJ, has great stories to tell, and climaxes with one of the greatest endings imaginable. An instant holiday classic that will be filling my stockings with plenty of gore and thrills this Christmas and every Christmas from here on.
A Christmas Horror Story review by Luke Ryan Baldock, August 2015.
A Christmas Horror Story was screened at Frightfest 2015. It is released on DVD on 9th November 2015.