The season is upon us and it’s time for the 4th Annual Countdown to Christmas. Every year, I mix in some holiday horrors with a tale or two of that clutching, covetous old sinner Scrooge. We’re going to start things off this year with a new horror tale that may very well become a new tradition.
Putting together a horror anthology film is often viewed as an easy way to tell several short stories. Inevitably, one of the entries will be the weakest of the lot and the framework around which the stories are presented can be hit and miss. Add in the overall theme of a holiday like Christmas and you would think the movie would be a big gamble. However, gambling sometimes pays off and A Christmas Horror Story (2015) is one such example of a cinematic jackpot.
Most anthology films keep the stories separate while the more creative ones bring the characters together in some fashion. A Christmas Horror Story does that one better by having all the stories take place simultaneously in the same general area with each story loosely connected to the others. We watch all four yuletide adventures, switching back and forth between the tales.
The thread weaving them together is none other than Star Trek legend William Shatner. He plays radio personality DJ Dan, our host of sorts on Christmas Eve and he does so surprisingly well. The town is Bailey Downs, which also happens to be the setting for the Ginger Snaps films and a location in the Orphan Black series thanks to the filmmakers being involved with both. Other than a brief interaction with a clearly unsettled weatherman and talking to an unseen producer, Shatner’s segments are done solo, sitting in a DJ booth with some egg nog and a bottle of booze.
The first story has three teenagers breaking into a school, which just happened to be a former convent, to film the site of a grisly murder one year earlier. They receive the keys to the school from a friend who is leaving town with her family. Before going in, the three watch a video where we see a policeman investigating what appears to be a ritualistic murder. It left him greatly disturbed and apparently he left the police force shortly thereafter. What follows is a rather generic ghost tale involving a backstory about a pregnant nun and the chain of events that followed. While it would not have been very original on its own, it works well as part of an anthology. It’s done quite well but it is the weakest of the four stories.
The second story follows the tale of the police officer, his wife and his son. They are out in search of the perfect Christmas tree. After trespassing to find it, they briefly lose their son in the woods. Upon finding him, he is acting strangely and as they leave the woods, we catch a glimpse of an odd man. We soon discover that the boy is now a changeling after the man calls the wife to warn her and tells her that if she wants her real son back, she needs to get the changeling back to the woods. It’s a very creepy story that is well executed and further connected by having the former police officer listening to DJ Dan on the radio.
The third story follows the girl leaving town with her family, which we later discover to be related to DJ Dan. The father wants to visit his aunt in hopes of getting money. Driving out to the middle of nowhere doesn’t go well after their bratty son breaks a statue of Krampus. Yes, this mess of a family becomes the victims of the hunt as the legendary Krampus picks them off one-by-one in the snow covered countryside. Some fun visuals and a well-done Krampus make for a fun story that help us get past the rather poorly written family.
The fourth story offers up a bit of twist. We follow the tale of old Saint Nick at the North Pole just as the elves turn into zombies on Christmas Eve. It’s a fun holiday take on the living dead storyline with some crazy visuals as Santa takes down the rampaging elves. Could it be that Krampus is behind all of this?
While the DVD cover capitalizes on the current Krampus mania, the movie is considered by most as the best of the direct-to-home video lot. The cinematography is well-done and the cast is more than adequate. The concept of all the stories playing out at the same time was different and it really worked. And I was also pleasantly surprised by William Shatner who, at the age of 84, has clearly hidden his Dorian Gray portrait somewhere in a closet on his ranch.
Check out the trailer on YouTube and hunt this one down for your collection. On an irritating and very ridiculous note, the powers-that-be at Wal-Mart felt the need to create a unique DVD slipcover and renamed the movie A Holiday Horror Story. Fear not, the inside cover and the movie itself is properly titled. A Christmas Horror Story is a really fun film and one I feel has a very good chance of being ranked up there with some of the other festive horror flicks of the season. I really enjoyed it and can see this becoming a new annual tradition.