A Christmas Horror Story
Interwoven stories that take place on Christmas Eve, as told by one festive radio host: A family brings home more than a Christmas tree, a student documentary becomes a living nightmare, a Christmas spirit terrorizes, Santa slays evil.
William Shatner as Dangerous Dan
Olunike Adeliyi as Kim
George Buza as Santa
Adrian Holmes as Scott
And since we’re remembering and celebrating these traditional phrases for this joyous time of year, let’s bring up another one (perhaps not Christmas-related, unless you received socks and underwear as gifts) which should be added to the roster:
Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in the camp classic, Mommie Dearest – my regular catch-phrase – say it along with me now:
“It’s not good.”
And since we’ve already enjoyed a repeat of those three biting words, let’s apply them to the film I’m about to review, A Christmas Horror Story.
Obviously taking a cue from the title of the 1984 Bob Clark holiday masterpiece, A Christmas Story, this new horror anthology bears no resemblance to that Christmas go-to – not in content and certainly not in quality.
Five separate stories are interwoven with one another, along with an overriding narrative section with William Shatner as radio host “Dangerous Dan” (a la Adrienne Barbeau in another 2015 holiday anthology, the far superior Tales of Halloween).
One story follows Santa Claus (George Buza) in the North Pole as he battles elf zombies after an infection spreads throughout their ranks.
Another tale follows a young couple (Olunike Adeliyi and Adrian Holmes) as they trespass into a tree farm to illegally cut down a Christmas tree. Their son disappears in the woods, and when they take him home, things are totally off and their son becomes despondent and violent.
There’s also the tale of a spoiled rich family visiting their elderly aunt, hoping for a payout – only to find the legend of Krampus.
And then there’s the chapter about three high school kids and aspiring documentarians who investigate a murder scene in a school basement – one year after the event. They get trapped and things get crazy.
There are plenty of crossovers throughout (the father from the tree-stealing episode is also the cop who discovered the murders one year ago in the school basement – where the three young filmmakers are now dealing with their entrapment).
And then there’s the fifth (and wrap-around) tale involving “Dangerous Dan”. There’s some decent humor sprinkled about by veteran actor William Shatner, but his over-the-top presence isn’t enough.
In the case of A Christmas Horror Story – you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. My thought, as the stories continued to stumble on, was that it would have been more effective (both in cohesion and tension building) if the episodes had played out one by one (as in most horror anthologies) rather than mixing it all up. But as it became clearer that the quality of the script was lacking, it also became evident that even had this anthology stuck with the usual set-up, the pieces still would not have worked.
Reason being: the writing is just not good. There was no originality and simply no urgency. There were no characters of interest. Even Santa Claus, as he battled his way through his elf-zombie infested workshop, wasn’t much fun. How is that possible? Again, much of the blame goes to the stories being intertwined. We all love a good anthology, but to borrow a line from Jamie Kennedy’s “Randy” in the original Scream, “There’s a formula to it. A very simple formula.” Simply, A Christmas Horror Story should have stuck to that tried-n-true anthology formula.
There’s not much in the way of great acting here, but once again, I blame the powers-that-be, not the thespians. This poor dialogue couldn’t possibly have been easy to deliver. Case in point, the weird exchange of the spoiled rich family in the church as Krampus is banging the door to get in. First off, we don’t know or care about these characters, so the fact that they’re having a “come to Jesus” moment by confessing their sins prior to being slaughtered by sexy Krampus – doesn’t really work. This rich couple has been at cross-purposes in their marriage, and the father tells his wife basically they’re bankrupt. He didn’t tell his wife because he believes she deserves more. And she thought that, based on his working too hard, that he was no longer interested. He ends the speech with a cliché, “I did it all for you.” Oh, brother. Second – I could care less about these people. They were set up from the beginning as total rich dickheads and now that they are on the verge of death and are admitting their faults? Why do I care?
If I had to choose a semi-decent performance from the midst of all of this, I’d give a pat on the back of Olunike Adeliyi as Kim, the mother in the tree-snatching episode. It’s not a character (or again, dialogue) worthy of writing awards, but she does as much as she can with the dialogue she is provided. And she’s a good crier.
There are some good scares. I found myself jumping (definitely in spite of myself) at a few effective “boo” moments, but that’s because the filmmakers followed Randy’s advice above (at least on this) – by sticking to a formula. I mean, let’s face it folks, whether or not your picture is worthwhile, you can still push audience buttons with a musical stinger and a dead body suddenly falling into screen. Am I right?
Look, the only reason I’m not giving this film the kiss of death (not that a 2 out of 5 star is anything to cheer about), is because the gore effects, makeup and creature effects (particularly that of Krampus – played by hunky actor and stuntman Rob Archer) are really impressive.
Also on the technical front, the film is shot well, and has an overall air of quality. It looks good. And kudos to the score by Alex Khaskin – which, when accompanying the very promising and inspired opening credits, makes for a good start. But frankly, if one of the best things of your film is a cool opening credits sequence, well… ouch.
But I will say this – A Christmas Horror Story has a doozy of a final reveal, and despite the mostly junky stuff to come before it, I found myself impressed with the payoff. Of course, had I enjoyed any of the rest of the picture, this big moment might well have been far more powerful. As is, however, it’s not enough to save the film from its plethora of shortcomings.
Unlike better Christmas horror classics – I’ll bring up another Bob Clark effort – the terrifying Black Christmas – A Christmas Horror Story will not (and should not) become any kind of horror holiday tradition. It doesn’t have any heart, barely any fun and absolutely no spirit. Other than a few technical achievements, this film’s ready-for-flight sleigh is better left grounded.
A Christmas Horror Story is currently available on DVD/VOD.