A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY is a misleading title because 1) it’s not a horror version of A CHRISTMAS STORY and 2) it’s more than one Christmas horror story. It’s an anthology of several but it jumps around between them like CLOUD ATLAS or something.
This one is made by the Canadians. As a country they know their shit, in my opinion, having given us at least two of the Christmas genre classics, BLACK CHRISTMAS and THE SILENT PARTNER. This will not be added to that list, but it’s worth a watch.
The story begins on Christmas Eve at a spooky North Pole, where a ragged looking Santa Claus (George Buza, THE CHRISTMAS SWITCH, THE CASE FOR CHRISTMAS, A CHRISTMAS WEDDING, SNAKE EATER II: THE DRUG BUSTER) is preparing for his flight. Something seems wrong, and when he turns around there’s a bloody slash across his face. Then it skips to 12 hours earlier.
Also there’s a group of kids sneaking into their school to make a video about some murders that happened there. There are possible ghosts involved, a pregnancy and “unto him a child is born” written on a wall in blood, so there’s your mild Christmas angle. This is easily the least compelling story, made up mostly of routine business with a cocky jock guy (Shannon Kook), a nerd (Alex Ozerov) with a crush, some spooky nun ghosts, possession, etc. They at least have an original and disturbing twist on horror’s traditional fear of female sexuality. Molly (Zoe De Grand Maison, Orphan Black) becomes possessed and turns sexually aggressive toward the boys. Ben, having a crush on her, asks “Are you sure?” as she climbs on him, a mix of fear and Merry-Christmas-to-me. Like when Freddy Krueger turns into a topless nurse or something, the boy seems to sense that it’s too good to be true but he cannot stop himself from giving in anyway due to boner related activities.
That’s familiar, but then suddenly she stands up and backs away, and she becomes herself again, and asks “Ben, what the hell did you do to me?” The shock of this kid suddenly finding out he’s some kind of accidental date rapist is, in my opinion, a little too upsetting for a Christmas movie, but it’s the most effective part of this particular story.
Another one is about a couple (Adrian Holmes [THE HARD CORPS, HUNT TO KILL] and Olunike Adeliyi [SAW 3D]) who bring their son (Orion John) into the woods to cut down a Christmas tree. They lose track of him for a bit and then find him inside a hollow tree. From then on he acts weird, never speaking, walking in on mom in the shower, weird shit like that. Mom gets a call from a mysterious white man (Alan C. Peterson, Bat from STAKELAND II) who says they were trespassing on his property and that that’s not their son, it’s a changeling. She looks it up and a changeling is some kind of troll baby that replaces a human baby. That’s fucked up! How many weirdos do we have in positions of power who were actually replaced by trolls as children? You never know. It would explain some things. Alot of people are saying changelings are running this country. Sad!
This is the story that picks up the most steam, because that’s some cool mythology, and the kid actor does a good job of seeming inhuman as the poor mother tries to coax him out of the living room into the car to bring him back to trade for her real kid. When he attacks you can tell that some shots are little people doing the stunts, and I think the discontinuity kind of adds to the weirdness in a good way.
Then there’s the one about a family of bitter assholes who drive through the snow to visit Aunt Edda (Corrine Conley, ELOISE AT CHRISTMASTIME, CHRISTMAS RUSH, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA). The kids are obnoxious, one of them breaks a knick-knack shaped like Krampus, and the family are asked to leave. On the road again something huge and white darts across, causing them to crash and be stranded. I was hoping it was a Yeti but obviously it turns out to be Krampus (Rob Archer, THE SAMARITAN), who in this version is a tall shirtless muscleman demon with ram’s horns. He definitely can’t compete with the Weta one from KRAMPUS. The family hides from him in a church and at one point there seems to be a red snake slithering on them but it turns out he just has a really long tongue, so that was cool.
The Santa story is the oddest one. We’ve seen so many killer Santas, but very few Santas who are placed in the role of horror protagonist. The trouble starts when one of the elves starts flipping out, cursing at everybody, and he cuts his little elf hand and splashes blood on the other elves. It turns out that some kind of rage virus is spreading through the elf population. They turn into biozombies and he has to kill them with his Father Christmas staff. He’s lopping off the tops of heads, slamming them into the ceiling, bashing one elf’s head in with another elf’s chopped off head. It’s not really played for laughs, not even in an EVIL DEAD type of way. I’d say it’s more like ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, where really the only joke is that this ridiculous idea is being treated seriously. They’ve taken this beloved holiday folklore and zeroed in on two minor aspects that happen to align with horror: that Santa is isolated out in the snow, and that he’s surrounded by a race small enough to star in a Full Moon Video production.
Because this is the story in the most fantastical setting, it’s also the one that shows the seams of the low budget. They’ve got a strong Santa costume and a fanciful digital establishing shot, but they can’t really hide that Santa’s factory is a mundane, non-jolly building that normal humans would use. Part of it I’m pretty sure is shot inside a Goodwill or similar thrift store, with shelves of used crap representing Santa’s creations. But they have an interesting way of making sense out of all of this, which I won’t give away.
Meanwhile, William Shatner is a small town radio DJ named Dangerous Dan who’s enduring the Christmas shift on air. It keeps coming back to him as if he’s the host who’s telling these Christmas stories, but he never is. He keeps reporting about a hostage situation at the mall. This was obviously an easy, mostly improvised day of work for Shatner, but I think he does add something to the movie. He has a believable radio personality and conveys a sense of lonely isolation that reminds me of Stevie in THE FOG.
I did keep wondering if they even knew what the stories were going to be when they filmed Shatner’s part, or even if this was a few different movies pieced together. It feels more haphazard than, say, the way the stories weave together in TRICK ‘R TREAT. But it all works itself out, ending on a better note than it starts on.
I’m not clear on how it’s divided up, but there are three directors: Grant Harvey (GINGER SNAPS BACK: THE BEGINNING), Steven Hoban (producer of the whole GINGER SNAPS trilogy) and Brett Sullivan (GINGER SNAPS 2: UNLEASHED; also editor of GINGER SNAPS as well as this). So I guess they should just say “FROM THE MAKERS OF THE GINGER SNAPS TRILOGY,” which maybe makes it sound a little better than it is. But please note that one of the four credited writers, Doug Taylor, wrote THE CARPENTER.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.