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.

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.

HOLIDAYS

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available on Netflix

Feature Thesis: Kids of single moms gone get fucked, some sort of way up

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Horror short film anthology a la V/H/S, ABCs of Death, The Theater Bizarre
  • High on surrealism, magic, and fatal curses of womanhood
  • Enjoy: definite female focus; 63% Bechdel pass rate; quality and variety
  • Low CGI, Jump Scares, Freaky Shit, Under-Cover Hiding!

THOTS

Holidays showed up on Netflix one day with a high enough rating to attract my attention. I wasn’t in the mood for an anthology just then, but my interest was piqued. I knew several other worthwhile short horror film collections. In fact, I couldn’t think of one I’d seen which I’d considered mostly bad.

The record remains. Comprising 8 segments which each highlight a specific holiday, progressing in temporal order through the year (starting with Valentine’s and culminating at New Year’s), Holidays offers a surprisingly lady-loaded suite of concise horror. The featured holidays are as follows: Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and New Year’s. Several limit their cast to two (or fewer) acting characters. Seven feature female leads. As for the eighth story, well that one actually managed to get Seth Green on board, who’s almost definitely the only actor you’d ever know by name from this collection. Horror writers and directors know what’s up. Any actor with any hint of a following, or who could even just maybe be recognized by a stranger on a street, is headed straight for primary character. It’d be a waste, frankly, to cast them anywhere else.

It’s interesting to observe what themes or similarities arise between these 8 stories. All and each of stories 1-6 play on various aspects of relationships between adults and children. Half explicitly focus on mothers. Definitely four, and possibly five or six, paint their main characters with a personal, well differentiated sub-species of that familiar friend we all know, by name: loneliness. That loneliness weakens these characters. Their pain and isolation is what lays them vulnerable to magic, danger, the plotline of a horror short.

Each piece achieves necessary differences, as well. Many broad similarities run through the group, but each specific story proves also memorable, and distinct. The eight differ across many vectors, from run time; complexity of topic horror-choice; to how our characters grow through the story; how each achieves, somehow, the goal that their short opened with. There are some that might regret their success in this department. These are horror stories, after all, and horror movie wishes should tend to monkey’s paws. But what I like about them all, and suspect may be a hallmark of a strong short story in whatever medium, is that each main character achieves, in the fourth act, the desire or drive that was revealed to us, off the bat, in the first.

These scripts and plots are crisp and economic. Certain themes weave threads through the collection, and stitch delicate parallels among stories. That justifies their collection.And each short justifies its own existence by the success with which it stands alone; delivers a story; satiates the audience with fulfilled and complete stories achieved in less , twenty minutes. This is an applaudable accomplishment – and Holidays hits it eight times over. Now that’s impressive.

Most horror movies go best with a specific season. A Nightmare Before Christmas is really appreciates best from October to December, for instance. Summer of Blood says it in the title. Black Christmas is similarly subtle; it, Krampus, Shymalan’s recent The Visit – all watch best when outside’s a layer of snow. Carrie’s Carrie comes into her powers when it’s spring for a reason, because spring is the time of blossoms, sexual maturity, of transition from juvenile to mature adult. My Bloody Valentine? I mean, come on.

As a collection of shorts, Holidays seizes the opportunity for relevance in any season, in any weather, on any day, at all. It seems a small feature, but I like it. I like it quite a lot. Holidays heard that song by the Byrds that everybody knows, and took it to heart.

A time for ghosts, a time for gore

A time to kill, a time to hide

A time for God, a time for demons

A time for houses to come back to life

To every scary story, there is a season

There is a film for any whim

(search, search, search)