With the uproariously fun Tales Of Halloween stealing the spotlight on every horror fan’s favourite holiday, it’s left to Canadian import A Christmas Horror Story (and, this coming Christmas, Krampus) to pick up the slack for the most festive time of year. Christmas horror is, of course, nothing new but a Christmas horror anthology–particularly one that deals with the strangely uncharted territory of the Krampus mythology–presents a fresh spin on the formula.
A Christmas Horror Story presents five tales of terror, all of which take place on Christmas Eve in the otherwise quiet town of Bailey Downs. The difference here, unlike with other anthologies, is that the stories are interwoven to create a cohesive whole, à la Trick Or Treat. The wraparound story, which features the great William Shatner as a radio DJ who’s lost his weatherman, has perhaps the best payoff. But, as with Tales, one would struggle to locate a weak link in the bunch.
Broadly speaking, the five stories deal with, among other things, possession, a haunting, the Krampus, and Santa himself fighting off some stir-crazy zombie elves. The flick has some ties to Ginger Snaps, as you’ve probably guessed given the town in which the action takes place, so it’s safe to assume we’re in horror comedy territory here but, much like that coming-of-age werewolf shocker, A Christmas Horror Story is just as scary as it is darkly funny.
During the spookiest segment of the film, which sees a trio of nosy teens break into a school after hours to capture footage of a supposed ghostly apparition, one of the best, and most well-executed jump scares in recent memory is employed. Thankfully, it simultaneously kick-starts the creepiest story in the movie as the tension slowly but surely escalates in a way that makes the latest paranormal-themed multiplex-frightener look like the uninspired money-spinner it likely is.
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It’s bravely not found footage either, even though the characters are filming everything (of course). The way in which co-directors Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, and Brett Sullivan cut back and forth between the action is confusing at first but it’s devilishly clever in the case of this particular segment, as it offers us some respite before dumping us right back into it.
Elsewhere, the Krampus vs. Santa face-off is pretty spectacular, watching the creature terrorise an upper class family is bloody good fun. The money shot of the Krampus is well worth waiting for, especially considering it’s a guy in a suit, as opposed to the wobbly CGI used to create Santa’s prominently-featured workshop. Speaking of whom, seeing a bad-ass, blood-soaked Father Christmas laying waste to a bunch of potty-mouthed zombie elves isn’t something most of us would put on our Christmas lists, but trust me, it’s awesome to see. It might sound like kind of a silly image, but such is the fun of A Christmas Horror Story–it’s gory and bloody and scary, but in a jolly, festive kind of way.
There’s a sustained creepiness to the whole thing, a suggestion that anybody is fair game. The body count is quite high (not counting elves), and the gore is meaty and, at times, pretty relentless. The SFX are very special indeed, the practical creations giving a thicker, more three-dimensional edge to the bloodier sequences. Although the instances of obviously computer-generated landscapes are disappointing, the way in which the story they feature is tied up makes them easier to stomach.
The weakest element, at a stretch, is the story that deals with a possessed child on the rampage. Although it’s intermittently amusing, and even quite sweet at times, it’s nothing new. The film grinds to a halt whenever this particular tale becomes the focus, and its ending is a bit too neat given the rampant messiness of everything else on display.
A Christmas Horror Story isn’t quite as accomplished as Tales Of Halloween, and it will probably fall by the wayside once that flick takes off in the way it likely will. However, it is scarier and more inventive than the majority of festive films and the Krampus mythology, although only mildly indulged here, is something different and exciting that will please those who have grown tired of the typical “murderer strikes on Christmas night” terror tale.
Fun, festive, gory and consistently creepy, A Christmas Horror Story takes five separate, and very enjoyable, stabs at creating a new mythology for the festive season. It mostly succeeds, thanks to some great SFX and strong performances–particularly from Shatner, who’s clearly having a ball. The moments when it falters are short-lived thanks to a sharp edit and a relentless pace.
Although it’s unlikely to be seen as one of the best horror movies in a year that’s already given us It Follows and The Gift, as anthologies go, this is one of the strongest offerings of late. And, as Christmas horror goes, this is damn near one of the best ever.
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WICKED RATING: (6/10)
Director(s): Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Writer(s): Jason Filiatrault, James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier
Stars: William Shatner, Jessica Clement, Zoé De Grand Maison, George Buza
Studio/ Production Co: Copperheart Entertainment
Length: 99 minutes