Saturday, December 16, 2017

12 Horrors of Christmas: 'A Christmas Horror Story' (2015)

An anthology film of sorts, with three directors and four screenwriters, A Christmas Horror Story weaves its four stories (plus a framing sequence) together somewhat inelegantly, cutting back and forth among them when laying them out one after another might have been more effective. Then again, it might have also highlighted the disparity in quality among the various segments, which range from fairly creepy to annoying and cheesy, and which resolve in mostly unsatisfying ways. Three of the four segments (and the framing sequence) take place in and around the small town of Bailey Downs, which is experiencing an inordinate amount of unpleasantness on Christmas.

In the best story, a couple with a young child heads out to cut down a Christmas tree in the forest, where their son gets lost and returns to them as some sort of evil creature. It has the surreal tone of an old fairy tale, with the naturally unsettling presence of an evil child (or an evil entity that looks like a child), and the acting from Adrian Holmes and Oluniké Adeliyi as the beleaguered parents is the strongest in the movie. Only when the creature's true nature is revealed does the story falter, thanks to the cheap, silly-looking special effects.

Those effects also hinder a story about an entitled rich family being stalked by Christmas demon Krampus (who's really having a moment in horror movies in the last few years), as they drive home from visiting a miserly old aunt. There's some quippy, snarky dialogue in this segment, but it's mostly just a lot of running away from a monster, and it gets old quickly. The ending has a Twilight Zone-style twist in which a nasty person gets their comeuppance, but it takes too much generic peril to get there. Also generic is a story featuring a group of teens exploring a spooky, probably haunted school after hours, armed with video cameras (although it isn't presented as found footage). Surprisingly, the school used to be an asylum! Imagine that. The eventual explanation for the haunting is somewhat clever and creepy, but again, there are too many horror cliches on the way there.

And then there's William Shatner. The only recognizable star in the movie, Shatner plays a Bailey Downs radio DJ getting increasingly drunk and ranty as he broadcasts on Christmas Eve, tying the various stories together. He's typically hammy and loose, and a lot of his dialogue sounds like it was improvised (although it might not have been). His character also eventually ties in to the movie's weakest story, and the only one not really set in the town, in which a buff Santa Claus must fight his way through a workshop of zombified elves. It's a one-joke premise played out repetitively on underdressed sets, and even if the unexpected twist ending explains some of that away, it's not worth all the tedious gore and lame jokes that lead up to it. For undemanding horror fans, there are a handful of chuckles and some comforting familiar elements here, but A Christmas Horror Story doesn't manage to capture anything distinctive about Christmas or horror.

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