A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

DECEMBER 23, 2020


I forget who talked me out of watching A Christmas Horror Story back when it first hit in 2015, but whoever it was deserves a giant lump of coal... in their face! This isn't a classic on the level of Black Christmas or Inside (i.e. must-see Christmas horror films) but it's certainly worth watching and gets more right than wrong. By structuring the film like Trick 'r Treat and letting the stories drift in and out (instead of contained chunks) it avoids the erratic pacing of most anthologies, working as an traditional single film experience, as opposed to something like Creepshow where you might hit the chapter skip if you're not in the mood for this or that story.

And all the stories are engaging in their own way; even the wraparound (featuring William Shatner as a Christmas-loving DJ) not only has its own little unfolding mystery (a tragedy at the local mall) but ends up tying into one of the tales in a surprising and kind of awesome way. Careful viewers might be able to spot which one (an actor appears in both, though in one he is not seen in closeup and is partially obscured) and then in turn figure it out, but if you're just soaking it in instead of trying to get ahead of it I'm sure it'll get past the average viewer. One problem I have with a lot of anthologies is that there's no real connection between the tales, and has a wraparound of almost no importance - this one uses the whole buffalo, and is all the better for it.

The stories are also well balanced in terms of sub-genre (though all have something supernatural) and characters: there's a standard group of horror movie teens in one, a dysfunctional family unit in another, a married couple with a mute kid in a third, and... Santa Claus? Yep, the big man himself features in one story, in which the poor sod has to battle his elves, who have turned into foul mouthed zombies. For some reason I had the idea that the movie was a comedic one in the vein of junk like Santa's Slay, but in reality the only real "comedy" in the movie stems from hearing elves swearing as they try to eat Santa Claus and his wife. It might not even register as funny to some people; I just revert into an 8 year old whenever I hear profanity coming from unlikely places (one of them accuses Mrs. Claus of f-ing the reindeer, which is also amusing to my warped mind).

The rest is played pretty straight, and gets surprisingly dark at times; I was not expecting to think about Tales From The Hood's "Boys Do Get Bruised" segment when I sat down to watch this film. The weakest storyline is probably the one with the teens, because it inches into found footage territory as they not only film it (it's not all POV, just a few shots) but they're also - sigh - walking around a closed up building and dealing with a ghost, which is something I am happy to never see again as long as I live. On the other hand, it actually went AGAINST a tired cliche by having a dude rebuke a girl's advances because he has a girlfriend (and the two girls are friends as well). To be fair it's the "ongoing affair that gets uncovered while they're running from a maniac" cliche that I really hate, but still! It's nice to know some of these people have standards! Also the sex is important to the plot, if you can believe it or not (the girl - possessed for the record - needs a "donor").

Also, it's set in the same town as Ginger Snaps (Bailey Downs, for the record), which is the sort of tip of the hat I always like. It doesn't mean anything to the plot; it's just a fun in-joke for those who will get it and won't distract anyone who is unaware. It's part of why I dislike the "name all the characters after directors" kind of thing - it ends up being a distraction, A. because some of those names are unusual (something like "Mayor Cronenberg!" is going to cause an eyebrow cock whether you know who David is or not) and B. you're likely to recognize some (Craven, Carpenter, Romero) and then feel left out when there's one that you don't recognize, or - if you're a bit of a snob - scoff when they throw in one that doesn't deserve to be on the same level with the others. It's best to just let the people who will get it smile, while everyone else is unaware that there was ever a joke at all.

And yes, it makes good use of the Christmas theme. The kids one not so much, but obviously the Santa story is loaded with it, the family unit is visiting an aunt for the holiday when they awaken Krampus, and the other family sneaks onto private property to get a Christmas tree and bring back something else. I noticed a few other modern Christmas ones don't really have much seasonal relevance (the newest Black Christmas goes the total opposite direction of the 2006 one, with a bare minimum of decor and a fairly crowded campus for what is supposed to be break), so it was nice to see them making the effort in that department. Moreso, it's presented with a noticeable and appreciated lack of much cynicism; even the mall element isn't stacked with anti-commercialism sentiment or whatever. Despite this year's unending stream of misery, the season still flew by for me, so I would have been bummed out if, on Christmas Eve Eve, I watched something that was seemingly made by people who hate the idea. I nearly cried yesterday when I turned the tree on, knowing it was already going to be one of the last times I did so for another year (I watched the movie on the 23rd but am writing the review on the 29th, just to clarify). Hell, today is the day my mom would traditionally take the tree down when I was a kid, and I'm feeling I just put it up!

Needless to say this will be added to the rotation. I'm slightly curious if I would be as warm to it if it was presented in the usual "chapter" structure (with Shatner presumably introducing each tale properly), and would be open to watching it that way if someone did a fan edit or something, but I suspect I'd prefer it as is. The ways the stories connect (the teen girl in the Krampus story is friends with the teens in the ghost one, who were tracking a case investigated by the man in the Christmas tree story, and so on) felt a little more natural than other anthologies that have attempted similar things, and as a result you can't really just remove one story which is often what most of these things could really use. It made it more of an "ensemble" movie as opposed to a traditional anthology one; the Love, Actually of horror?

What say you?


Post a Comment

Movie & TV Show Preview Widget