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 LORDS OF SALEM

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Watched this on DVD at a girl’s house – doesn’t appear to be available on any conventional pay-to-stream service or Amazon Prime/add-on, but you can get your hands on a copy of it a few ways, so long as you know you want it.

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

Rob Zombie goes faux-retro in this female-centric psycho-thriller. Also, Rob Zombie’s got a hot wife. 

  • Girly Groove Rating: 9/10
  • Scares: 6/10
  • EXTREMELY NOTABLE: A+ in Category “Cohesive Plot”
  • High Psychological Thriller, Moderate-High Portrayal of Hipster Existence 30 Years Before We Called Them Hipsters, High Creepy Historic Witches And Shit,
  • Low  Unnecessary Machismo, Gore, Jump Scares

THOTS

Ever since Witching and Bitching and The Descent I’ve kept an eye out for other feminist horror films I could talk about here. My girl J recently introduced me to The Lords of Salem, and it fit the bill perfectly (something which also thrills me, because I like women and I like horror and I love it when horror actually manages to mix in some equality with the scares).

I really enjoyed this movie. It is not very scary in a traditional, “brawny” sort of way: the horror here doesn’t really get in your face that much, it doesn’t breathe on you and make you jump, or cringe back in sympathetic pain, or need to close your eyes or hide under the blanket or look away.  The script and setting skillfully employ a cinematic technique I particularly enjoy, which is close to “show, don’t tell,” but with a specific angle – I’m speaking here of movies/scripts which manage to successfully establish their temporal setting within a distinctive era, but without having to drop what year it is in the script or through subtitling or even pin down what, really, that year is. The Lords of Salem feels like it’s possibly in the 1970s, through it could be as recent as the 1990s, through and through. The specific year of a setting often isn’t important, but the feeling of its believability is, and we believe the setting of a movie when, as in films like this, every shot or scene consistently, yet subtly, matches to it.

Another of The Lords of Salem‘s greatest strengths is its plot, which is not something I can often say about horror movies. I love scary movies, but (I think) because they are so visceral, and often very immediately, writers seem to have trouble backing up the creep with a solid plot. In other words, I’ve found that horror movies, even really great-seeming ones, typically fall apart at the end. Pontypool does thisLast Will and Testament of Rosamund Leigh does this, to name some examples. Even Creep (future review) suffers from a clear weakening of plot in its last 30 minutes or so. The Lords of Salem completely escapes this pitfall. While the movie does seem to bend to a more extreme angle in its final scenes, they are completely consistent with the logic, pattern, and action of the movie from its very start. The conclusion makes sense. Each character’s motivations and actions as a result remain as believable at the end as they were at the start, and when a character’s mood or attitude shifts, it’s cogently as a reaction to the events in the movie. What I’m trying to say is that outside of the supernatural element, The Lords of Salem makes sense. It is so good to have a movie that actually makes sense from start to finish. You should watch The Lords of Salem just for the satisfaction of that.

I guess I should drop some hints about the plot. Let’s see: vaguely eye-roll-y ultra-alt radio DJ in Salem, MASS hosts some unusual guests over a few nights, gets a weird record, and also begins to maybe see? weird stuff in her apartment. We aren’t sure if it’s mostly all in her head or is really happening until around mid-movie, but that’s okay because she isn’t sure either. It turns out someone is trying to rassle up some trouble from ancient, witch-burning Salem, where it turns out the witches actually were witches in this reality, although that doesn’t seem like it’s common knowledge to the general public. Creepy hijinks ensue and our main character, Heidi, isn’t safe even when she’s alone at home. In fact, she might be safer almost anywhere else.

Go take your next dim rainy day, and watch this movie on it. I’m doing you a favor. Trust that it’s worth it.