A CHRISTMAS HORROR ANTHOLOGY

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available on Netflix

Watch William Shatner return to his roots in this surprising holiday anthology.

THE QUICK & DIRTY DEETS

  • Moderate jump scares, moderate-high CGI
  • Surprisingly large cast in this expansive, multi-genre collection
  • Blackdel: Y / Bechdel: N

THOTS

Join William Shatner as the appealing “Dangerous Dan,” a local radio station DJ, as he broadcasts his way through Christmas in annual tradition. While Dan drinks, opines, and keeps those classics coming, A Christmas Horror Anthology cycles through four concurrent small-town tales. Basically, the film provides a peep into several lives, as their stories progress over 12 hours or so from Christmas Eve into Christmas. Admittedly, it doesn’t help to consider this construct too hard: it’s difficult to believe anyone with a kid would wait until Christmas Eve to obtain a tree; maybe less so, yet still specious, imagining that 3 teenagers would use the day to finish a school project. Surely, they’re on holiday. But I speak this on removal. In the movie universe, small errors such as these are easy to gloss over. They don’t impair the film.

Many of the horror anthologies I’ve seen have stories which are barely, if at all, interrelated: V/H/S, V/H/S 2, The ABCs of Death 1 (and 2?), Holidays, and The Theatre Bizarre are all evidence. Sometimes there’s a frame narrative to explain this; sometimes there isn’t. When there is, the strength of that narrative tends to vary. A Christmas Anthology provides a pleasant variance from these traits. Including the frame, the movie presents five related narratives using a small-town, everyone-knows-everyone herringbone weave. It gives the collection a very “jes’ folks” feel I enjoyed.

It’s always fun with anthologies to try to kind of crunch some numbers and see if there are any common themes or genres or sort of general bents among the stories. In this film’s established universe, everyone is deeply flawed. Even happy endings have a cost. This seems to imply that, when bad things happen to people, they tend to deserve it – except for the frame tale, which ponders the randomness of fate’s pain. It’s fun to look a little too deep like this. Just keep a little skepticism about planning and intent.

If you’re going to watch a holiday horror movie, A Christmas Horror Anthology’s a pleasant use of your time.

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KRAMPUS

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available for Comcast or Verizon OnDemand Rental (Verizon’s cheaper)

This moral tale’s more like Black Christmas than the Nightmare Before, despite its apparent family-friendly vibe.

I guess I may be a little late to the game on this one; Krampus came out for the holiday season last year. I remember my little sister was positively amped for its theatrical release. I’d been intrigued by the trailers as well. However, we neither managed to watch it until this last week, spurred on by Thanksgiving and the fresh set of winter holidays. 

Krampus turned out pleasantly worth the watch.

Here’s an “I’ll be honest:” I expected a more lighthearted affair. Indeed, Krampus’ first 30 minutes strongly echo the bumbling, comedic feel one can find in seasonal classics like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, maybe a little The Grinch minus its Whoville trappings – you know, that sort of innocent evil story-for-all-ages vibe. The multifold family members which constitute the film’s cast effectively elicit its audience’s empathy and rueful chagrin in addition to a healthy dusting of chuckles. And boy, what an intelligent approach this is to these despicable twelve, Krampus’ consanguineous dirty dozen: here’s a bunch of humans with spades of conflict between them, plus enough off-putting personality traits to count on both hands (and none may need share), but the director still needs to make us, the audience, like them. We need to root for these petty savages. They win us over in two equal parts; with the relatable aggravations that dog all mid-size families, colored in just-broad-enough cartoonish strokes. Paint strife funny and no one will scapegoat anyone for it too much.

Once we get to know everybody, and kind of like ‘em even if we hate ‘em, Krampus reveals it has gloves on beneath the cheer. With one hard hook, this film gets its shit real real, real quick.

Turns out this isn’t National Lampoon after all: no one’s lives are at stake in that holiday comedy. Same with The Grinch and sure, Nightmare Before Christmas, even – since both of these deal in fairy tales, the mind begs to compare and equate Krampus with such fluff. I was frankly shocked at the film’s first character death/disappearance. “I didn’t think this was that sort of movie,” I commented to a friend. “I didn’t think, you know, they’d actually kill anyone.”

From that point, Krampus doesn’t let up. While the serious horror treatment was a surprise, initially, and maybe just to me (maybe I forgot the tone of the trailers, or something), I have to applaud it. I didn’t expect Krampus to put anything real at stake. After all, it was a horror movie, but it was a Christmas movie, too. In my experience horror-Christmas movies tend to 15% horror, 85% gingerbread, tinsel, and loads of at-the-end, good-feels. Not so, Krampus, and it’s both the surprising of my expectation and the serious-ness of its scare which, at the end of the day, have won me over. I have no reservations. I recommend Krampus to you utterly.

If you feel in need of an antidote to angels, cherubs, carolers with rosy cheeks and Auld Lang Syne anytime in the next six weeks, then I say cue Krampus right on up.

THE INVITATION

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Should I? Status: Would Watch

Available From Netflix

What You’re Afraid Your Ex Will Be(come)

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Sub-genre: Psychological Horror, Your Ex Isn’t The Best
  • High on ultra-reality; you’d be scared too cuz it could happen to you
  • Low on jump scares; ultra-low on CGI

THOTS

It’s funny, there’s no obvious reason why this movie should remind me of Hush, but it does. I think it’s the subgenre here that really leads me to tie the two together: although one is a robbery story, and one is an attempt-at-redemption-gone-wrong, they’re both really psychological thrillers on a core level. The Invitation, like The Silenced, was a bit of a surprising departure from good ol’ favorites for me, and a random Netflix choice. However, it proved eminently satisfying, and I recommend it with clear conscience. 

The Invitation is the kind of movie that begins to get you because it’s inherently quite possible. Although one might wonder why any ex would agree to a dinner party hosted by their previous partner, the reasons the film gives are both solidly built and, indeed, after a movie’s worth of explanation through dialogue and interaction, fully believable. As horror movies go, this lends the plot an undeniable satisfaction, not to mention a creepy thrill. You could see this happening to you, maybe in 10, or 20 years, depending on your age, but happening nonetheless. I think that’s what I love about The Invitation: it’s one of those horror movies you can believe. It’s unlike all the fantastical ones where reality is warped or you have to suspend your skepticism about the fact that a serial killer is supposedly both cancer-infected and on the loose long enough to justify 7 films (yes, I’m looking at you, Saw series). This is the film’s greatest strength. And, for the first time, I’d like to call out a film’s acting – every person playing each character in The Invitation does a very solid job.

There are moments where The Invitation will make you doubt the MC’s sanity. And there are moments where it will make you doubt yours, for believing in his.

The Invitation provides a satisfying script with dialogue that’s believable and lays down, time and time again, both context as well as emotional depth into each of our characters. While, at the end, it’s not one of those movies that keeps one up at night, fretting about what’s going bump under the bed, the movie’s very fully worth the time investment. It might not come back to you when you’re walking alone on a street at night, but it’ll come back to you when you talk to your friends after they experience trauma. It’ll come back to you when you’re meeting people for the first time. It’ll make you wonder, who are they, really? And what, exactly, are they capable of?

I heavily recommend The Invitation. I’ll even be honest – by this time last year, I’d felt I pretty much exhausted Netflix’s offering of “best” horror movies, left with dregs in the vein of The Houses October Built and similar. The Invitation and The Silenced have really encouraged me to dive into Netflix’s horror offerings once again. The streaming service seems to have upped its game, or at least, mixed up its movie selection a sufficient amount (at last – finally!) 

I hope you enjoy watching.

THE SILENCED

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available from Netflix

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Girly Groove Rating: 8/10
  • Scares: 7/10
  • Subgenre: Psychological horror; sci-fi
  • High on Asian Schoolgirls; Low on Unnecessary Sexualization; Low CGI; Low Jump Scares

THOTS

I’d never have expected the horror movie about Korean schoolgirls to pass the Bechdel test, but then, there you have it. This surprising psychological thriller holds up to the genuine fear other Asian horror films, like The Ring, The Grudge, Audition, and Shutter, have so famously offered audiences in the past – while avoiding overt supernatural elements almost completely. The end is both surprising and extremely satisfying. And The Silenced is about as admirably cohesive in its plot as you could hope to get, a trait which is becoming a personal pre-requisite to term any movie a “success.”

Another element of the movie which, it proves, I like best, is actually a surprise to me. That’s the fact that, if you wanted, you could quite accurately term the movie science-fiction, a genre which is frequently lumped together with “horror” in movie stories and streaming services. It’s my long-standing opinion that this lumped categorization is a failure to the horror genre made by the MPAA and movie distributors, dilettantes seeking to simplify such categories, not elucidate. The ugly combination of “science fiction” and “horror” into one so-called genre results in movies such as “The Martian” (with Matt Damon) and “Independence Day” (yes, the one with Will Smith and Bill Pullman) appearing on the same list as titles like “Dark Floors” and “The Last Will and Testament of Rosamund Leigh.” It’s simply unfriendly to the viewer.

In this case, horror and science fiction wed beautifully. I’d argue the transition between the two is seamless.

There’s not much else I can say about The Silenced without beginning to feel as if I’ll spoil things, so I won’t. But what I will do, once more, this Halloween season, is recommend that you should watch it.