A Christmas Horror Story

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Bailey Downs radio host Dangerous Dan tries to keep up spirits on Christmas Eve as all around town people are undergoing their own holiday horrors, and far away in the North Pole, Santa Claus attempts to take back his shop from zombified elves.

Zombified elves seem like a really horrifying idea when you think about it. Now I know that in this case, it wasn’t exactly Santa’s idea to have undead toymakers, but bear with me as I go off on a tangent for a second. In the case of A Christmas Horror Story, the curse that infects the elves spreads throughout their ranks rather quickly, turning the entire elven population in a matter of hours, but let’s say old Saint Nick was able to stop the spread in time, maybe save three quarters of the elves. What then? You can’t really kill Santa’s elves, something to do with magic, Christmas cheer, and deals with the devil. I’m guessing on that last one, but it would make sense. So now you’ve got a small group of zombie elves and a butt load of toys that still need to be made. What do you do? If zombie elves are anything like zombie people, they’re still capable of lending a hand, but they’re going to need to eat. Maybe they’re okay just eating people like the rest of us zombies, or maybe they crave the flesh of other elves. If it’s people, sure, no problem there, the world doesn’t seem to be running out of people anytime soon, so grab what you need to keep the elves huger sated and get used to a new, more gruesome Christmas. If it’s elves though, well, there’s only so many of them. Despite what years of porn have taught us, there’s very little action going on at the North Pole, elves not being into sex, most likely due to the fact that they lack genitals, tends to make a person less than enthusiastic about boning. That means that there’s a limited amount of elves, a very limited amount, and if they can’t control themselves, if they keep attacking other elves and turning them, sooner rather than later all of them are going to be zombified. What happens next? Do they deal with the fact that they’re all zombies and continue making toys or do they go mad and spread throughout the world like a tiny, festive army of the living dead? It could be a completely horrific thing to witness, and Christmas would be dead forever…no pun intended. Just food for thought the next time you think about Santa Claus and his elves, and how bad it was that you didn’t get Candyland. Worse things could happen.

Our film begins in the small town of Bailey Downs on Christmas Eve where radio host Dangerous Dan (played by William Shatner) is attempting to keep his listeners in a jolly mood while fighting off the Christmas blues himself. While Dan goes through his broadcast, the film moves around between four different stories, all happening simultaneously. In the first, three friends sneak into a school after Christmas break to investigate a brutal double homicide that happened exactly one year ago, but they find more than they bargained for when a ghost begins to torment them, a ghost who may have ulterior motives. In the next, a former police officer, along with his wife and young son, sneak into a private grove in order to find the best possible Christmas tree. Joy turns to terror when the boy disappears, only to be found moments later hiding inside of a tree, but when they get him home, it becomes obvious that something is wrong with him, something deadly. Next up is the tale of Caprice and Duncan who are traveling with their parents to visit the family’s very old Aunt Edna, a woman who has a significant amount of money that the father hopes to use in order to dig his way out of debt, but their greed awakens an ancient evil, the beast Krampus. Lastly, we go from Bailey Downs to the North Pole where Santa Claus is under attack from the elves who have all become infected with some kind of a curse that kills them (Santa’s elves aren’t supposed to be able to die) only to bring them back with an immense desire to devour their former master. Santa will not only have to take back his shop, he’ll have to discover the secret behind the curse lest it spread elsewhere.

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{From captain of the starship Enterprise to small town radio DJ}

I’m a huge fan of anthology films, but they’re not always the easiest to make, or at least make successfully. I’ve seen far too many anthology films suffer from a lack of structure, poor planning, and a less than stellar adherence to whatever theme has been set by the movie itself (hint: if you’re going to make some kind of a theme to your anthology, then you best stick with said theme instead of going off the rails and just adding whatever you feel like adding). The best anthology films for me are the ones that try and present an overall story, something that links all the shorts together into one cohesive whole. I don’t mean films like the VHS series that have a central or wrap around story that ties the unrelated shorts together, but an anthology film that feels like a complete story comprised of several smaller parts. They might be my favorite type, but they also seem like the hardest to make work in that, if the structure isn’t just right, it can become a confusing mess with little to no emotional investment for the viewer. Going in and out of stories too quickly, a central story that feels out of place, and stories that are supposed to connect but don’t appear to have any actual connection whatsoever, these are all problems I’ve run into when viewing these types of anthology films. Thankfully, A Christmas Horror Story avoids these problems, for the most part.

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{You don’t want to fall into the trap of carrying around too much dead weight either}

A Christmas Horror Story goes back and forth between all four stories with William Shatner’s character popping up here and there to add a little comedic antecedent while tying the various stories together, but he’s not the only character connecting the dots. Several people either appear in two or more stories, or are at least referenced as having something to do with the plot even if they don’t show up. The cop who was one of the first responders to the school massacre referenced in the first story is the main character of the second story, Dangerous Dan is the grandfather of the two kids in the third story (one of whom is the person to let the first group inside of the school), and the evil Krampus has his hands in a few of the tales, as well as some less obvious hints dropped here and there. It really made the entire thing feel like a complete story with several story arcs happening simultaneously. The one problem I found was that occasionally the stories jumped in between each other a little too quickly, making them difficult to follow and pulling the viewer out of a film that may have had them engrossed beforehand. It’s not a constant nor does it ruin the film, but it does happen from time to time, so be forewarned.

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But what about the quality of the individual stories you ask, or at least I’m going to assume you would ask because that’s how I’m moving forward in this imaginary conversation. I’d say it’s about 60% great to 40% good, or in other words, two stories are great, one is good, and one is just alright. Let’s go down the list from worst to best:

  • The first story, the one involving the trio investigating the supposedly haunted school, was, at least for me, the worst of the bunch. Now, that’s not to mean that it’s terrible, it’s actually quite good, it just feels flat compared to the others. The actors are great and there are some genuinely creepy moments that gave me a chill, but the segment was more than a bit slow and kind of meandered along until it came to its predictable ending.

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  • Next was the third story involving the family of four and their ordeal against Krampus. It was an interesting take on the old legend and Krampus looked amazing. I was a huge fan of their design scheme that gave him a rather menacing appearance without going so over the top with his makeup that he ended up more ridiculous than terrifying. The only downside comes from the family of four themselves. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were terrible actors, they just didn’t seem to have a whole lot of emotional range. A member of the family is torn to shreds at one point and the rest of the family appears only slightly annoyed, the same reaction they appear to have when another member is dragged off into the dark woods. Instead of being terrified or heartbroken at the loss of loved ones, they have a reaction akin to spilling your coffee on the way to work.

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  • Third was the second story involving the little boy who disappears only to reappear shortly thereafter. Out of all four tales, this was easily the creepiest with an atmosphere that made the viewer nervous and apprehensive about what could actually be happening. I don’t want to spoil the ending, even if it’s not terribly difficult to figure out, but it’s quickly apparent that something isn’t right with the young boy after he’s found by his worried parents. The makeup used for some of this episode’s creatures was eerie and very unsettling.

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  • Lastly, and my favorite of the four, was the tale of Santa Claus trying to take back his toy factory from the zombified elves (who would have guessed my favorite would involve the undead). It’s a great take on the old tale of Santa and his elves, the elves here being just as much of a star as their former leader, old St. Nick. I adored how they did the elves, not just in the makeup department, but in how they acted as well. The little guys don’t act like your normal zombies, slowly shambling corpses with no personality, no, these zombies chase Santa around while hurling insults at him in voices that sound as if everyone was huffing helium before takes. You can’t help but laugh when a zombified elf tries to bite Santa while screaming “You fat fucking whore” in an extremely high pitched voice. Santa himself is a bit out of character as well, though in a very good way. Going from lovable to badass in a heartbeat, this isn’t the jolly fat man you loved as a child. Mr. Claus becomes quite the ass kicker as he makes his way through the toy factory fighting off those he once trusted most. Even his outfit has been updated. Instead of his normal furry red suit, he wears something that seemed reminiscent of the Coke outfit we all know while seeming to be more faithful to the time period he would have come from. It was a great design for the iconic suit and I loved it.   The fact that George Buza does such an excellent job with his characterization of Santa definitely doesn’t hurt either.

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There wasn’t a single story that I considered to be bad necessarily, just ones that were better than the others. I think the main problem comes from the tales being so wildly different in atmosphere and idea that jumping from one to another sometimes ruined the emotions that had been built up.

Despite its admittedly minor problems, A Christmas Horror Story is an amazing flick that can be enjoyed at any time of the year. This and Santa’s Slay might be best viewed during the holiday season, but we all need that Christmas in July thing right, or in this case Christmas in April.

 

The Undead Review

 

Directed By: Grant Harvey (Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, Freezer Burn: The Invasion of Laxdale), Steve Hoban, and Brett Sullivan (Ginger Snaps 2: Unleased, The Chair)

Starring: William Shatner (I don’t think I need to list Captain Kirk’s roles), George Buza (Quest for Fire, A Little Bit Zombie), and Rob Archer (Bulletproof Monk, The Samaritan)

Written By: Jason Filiatrault, James Kee (Roxy Hunter films), Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor (They Wait, Splice), and Pascal Trottier (Hellions, The Colony)

Released By: Copperheart Entertainment, Image Entertainment, and RLJ Entertainment

Release Year: 2015

Release Type: Straight to Video

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

About The Undead Review

When I was alive I was an asshole and after I died remained pretty much the same, if not a little worse. You’d think becoming a member of the walking dead would mellow a person out, no more worrying about awkward small talk with people, no more having to be politically correct, and the entire world is your upright, bipedal buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell to be a zombie, just somewhat irritating at times, especially those times you have to watch a lame movie or read a lame book. Thankfully, when I am forced to watch these films or read those books, I’ve got places like The Undead Review to bitch and moan to my heart’s content. {When he’s not devouring the living or sinking his teeth into a good film The Undead Review (Andy Taylor) spends his time writing his own stories or hunting down the paranormal. Oh, and did we mention his blind dog once saved the world?)
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