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It's Christmas time once again, and what better way to celebrate the holiday than with a horror anthology flick? While it's true that I'm a year behind on checking this one out, it's always better late than never, and with that, I found myself popping the disc in earlier tonight. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, aside from Santa Claus doing battle with Krampus and something about zombie elves, but I was willing to give it a shot. What I got was certainly interesting. There are four stories here along with the obligatory wraparound sequence, and unlike most horror anthologies, they do not play out one directly after the other. Instead, we watch everything play out at once. By that, I mean that we'll see a scene from story #1, then a scene from story #4, then we'll skip over to story #2, over to the wraparound, etc. It may sound confusing, but I thought that it worked out fine. Anyway, the stories go a little something like this.
Review by Chad
Added: December 13, 2016
Dangerous Dan (William Shatner) is a radio DJ who is pulling double duty to spin some classic Christmas tunes and talk to the local residents of Bailey Downs, and we jump back and forth between listening to him talk (while he gets more and more drunk) and the four "main" stories. There's a great payoff at the end, but otherwise, there's not much more that I can say about this one.
Obviously, I can't give away the ending of this story without some serious spoilers, and quite frankly, I just couldn't see myself doing that. The twist is amazing, and it ties in with one of the main stories beautifully. I can't even say which one, but I will say that I didn't see it coming at all. It was very well written and snuck up on us out of nowhere, and it literally made me say "holy shit" when I saw it play out. I'm also going to give the nod to Shatner for making the role work in the way that only he can. I'm not typically a huge fan of the man, but I'll give him credit here. 8/10, with major points tacked on for that ending.
We begin one year ago on Christmas, where a couple of teenagers are found dead in the basement of the local high school. The boy has been crucified to the wall, while the girl was hung from the ceiling. The killer was never caught, and one of the investigating officers quit the force after witnessing some kind of supernatural element on the scene. Spooky. Fast forward exactly one year later to today, and three more teens decide to sneak down into that basement on Christmas break and record themselves for some sort of video project. The teens - Molly (Zoé De Grand Maison), Ben (Alex Ozerov), and Dylan (Shannon Kook) - take it about as seriously as you'd expect, until they discover that they have been locked down there with no hope of escape until break is over... and they also find out that something is down there with them. Something supernatural, and something very deadly.
Honestly, I felt that this story was the weakest of the bunch, and it didn't really fit in with the Christmas theme either. The original murders took place on Christmas break, and this story takes place one year later on the next Christmas break, but that was the extent of the holiday connection. It could have just as easily been Thanksgiving, New Year's Day, or just any random weekend. That may be a little hypercritical, but I felt it was worth pointing out given the nature of the overall movie... you know, a Christmas-themed horror anthology. Even with that aside, it's just an average-at-best story that we've basically seen a hundred times before. We've got teenagers locked in an enclosed area, quick glimpses of ghostly stuff, supernatural possession, jump scares, wrap it all up with an unsurprising ending and call it a day. It's not downright horrible, and it does have its moments (there's one jump scare that actually caught me completely off guard), but it's definitely the weakest of the bunch by far. 4/10.
Next on the list is the tale of a loving family - Scott (Adrian Holmes), Kim (Oluniké Adeliyi), and their son Will (Orion John) - and their decision to head out into the middle of nowhere to cut down a Christmas tree for their house. They find a nice patch of trees, ignore the "No Trespassing" sign, hop the fence, and head off into the woods to find that perfect tree. How could this possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, their son soon comes up missing. The frantic parents hysterically search the nearby area until they find him, intact and in perfect health, and although the family is shaken, they are no worse for the wear. So, they pack up the tree and head home. However, they soon discover that the kid that they brought home with them is a little... different. It might not be their kid, and hell, it might not even be a kid at all.
I really liked this one. It takes a legitimate piece of folklore that is rarely used in film, and brings it to life with a great story and a perfect connection to the holiday at hand. On top of that, the story itself is actually really good, with some great performances by the leads to really sell the whole thing. The reveal of what really happened out in those woods is not something that I would have guessed going in, but once I saw it, it all made sense... and again, it ties back to a creature of folklore that most of you have heard of, but it's one that probably won't pop to mind until the big reveal. I wouldn't say that this is the best story in the collection, but it's certainly a really good one and is very strong on its own right. 7/10.
Coming up next is another tale of a loving and dysfunctional family, this one consisting of Taylor (Jeff Clarke), Diane (Michelle Nolden), and their children Caprice (Amy Forsyth) and Duncan (Percy Hynes White). The gang piles into a car and is headed out to their aunt's place for an impromptu Christmas visit, and we soon discover that their intentions aren't exactly as pure as Christmas snow. Namely, daddy is wanting to swindle her out of some money for his failing business. He doesn't get any, but the family does learn the story of Krampus, Santa Claus' evil nemesis. Krampus is a horned demon who literally whips the naughty with chains before putting them into a sack and dragging them off to hell, and guess who the family runs into on their way home? You guessed it, and wouldn't you know it: each member of this family has been naughty in one way or another.
Once again, I really enjoyed this story, and I particularly enjoyed seeing Krampus brought to life in the way that he was. This is one badass demon who shows no mercy to the naughty, and he's quick to let his chained whip fly to impale those who have been bad. Watching him stalk his prey in the middle of nowhere was incredibly fun, and I actually thought that this was the best of the bunch in the sense of being pure horror. It's atmospheric and tense, and it has everything that a good horror story needs: a great villain, a great story, characters that we want to see get picked off, and a nice little twist to wrap everything up. It's not my favorite of the collection (that's coming up next), but as far as legitimate horror goes, it's easily the pick of the litter. 9/10.
Wrapping things up is a silly little tale that works out far better than it had any right to. This one focuses on the big man himself, Santa Claus (George Buza), and it just so happens that he's dealing with a major Christmas problem. The problem? His elves have turned into zombies and are hellbent on killing him. He'll have to use his trusty staff, his axe, and a few other weapons in order to defend himself and Mrs. Claus (Debra McCabe), but the real problem arises when we discover why the elves have turned into zombies. Here's a hint: Krampus eventually shows up, and we witness an epic showdown between good and evil on Christmas Eve.
As I alluded to earlier, this is easily my favorite story out of the set. While not being as firmly rooted in the horror genre as the previous story, it's still an incredibly fun story to watch and I had a smile on my face the entire time. Sure, the idea of Santa Claus battling zombie elves is silly, but just try to not mark out when he whips that staff out and decapitates one of those undead bastards. The zombie carnage is great and is sure to please any fan of the walking dead, but when Krampus finally shows up and that epic battle starts up... man, it was certainly a sight to see. Huge thumbs up, perfect in every way. 10/10.
Overall, I'm giving this collection a definite recommendation for the holidays. It reminded me of a Christmas version of Trick 'R Treat, and considering how much I loved that movie, that is a huge mark of praise from me. The one story is rather weak, I'll say that once again, but the other three stories, the wraparound sequence, and that ending - my word, that amazing ending - more than make up for it. Rounding out the scores, we find ourselves with a final rating of 7.6/10. That rounding was dragged down slightly by the one weak story, so I'm going to go ahead and tack on an extra "just because" point to make it a nice, healthy 8.5/10, which feels much more appropriate. A Christmas Horror Story is a new holiday classic for genre fans.