Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all you freaks out there! While most normal people at this time of year can probably be found gathering around the TV set in their jammies with their steaming cups of cocoa and their five millionth viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, we horror nerds are carved from an entirely different hunk of bloody flesh. Therefore, to celebrate this most magical and terrifying of holidays, let us unwrap a double dose of horrorific Christmas carnage!
First up, 2015’s straightforwardly-titled anthology film, A Christmas Horror Story. While most anthology films usually present their stories one after the other with maybe something of an overarching frame story to loosely link everything together, this one actually takes the more original route of weaving all of its stories together into one narrative and shifting back and forth between them, as though they are all happening simultaneously, just in different parts of town and with somewhat interrelated characters. I liked this conceit quite a bit, as it made the film seem more like a single, cohesive whole rather than a disjointed series of unrelated tales.
The film is set in a small town called Bailey Downs, in which a gruesome murder took place on Christmas of the previous year. The framing device of A Christmas Horror Story sees the wonderful William Shatner (aka The Shat) playing a radio DJ named Dangerous Dan, who sits in his festively decorated studio trying to impart some holiday cheer to his listeners while slowly getting drunker and more depressed as the movie goes on.
Really only one of the “anthology” stories ties directly in with the previous year’s murders, but there is an underlying implication throughout the film that this particular town is perhaps suffering under some kind of curse that makes terrible things happen there every Christmas. In the first tale, a group of three high-schoolers sneaks into their school (formerly a convent where some shifty shit took place) and into the sealed off basement of the building where the grisly killings happened one year previously. They’re working on a documentary project for a class, and want to get some footage of the actual room where the two victims (one of which, we later learn, was Dangerous Dan’s grandson) were brutally hacked to death and where the murderer left a line from a Christmas song written on the wall in blood. This goes about as well as you’d expect.
Meanwhile, one of the high-schoolers’ friends who was initially supposed to accompany them on the school excursion instead gets dragged along with her dysfunctional family to visit some estranged and decidedly unpleasant relatives. Turns out that dear old Dad is running low on cash but doesn’t want to tell his wife or kids, so he’s essentially going to beg his terrible parents for money. Said parents are of German extraction, and have a little statue of Krampus on a side table that their bratty grandson purposely breaks, so that also goes about as well as you’d expect.
The third story deals with Scott Peters (Adrian Holmes), one of the cops who investigated the previous year’s murder. He, his wife, and their adorable son are heading into the woods to cut a Christmas tree, and Scott decides he’s up for a little law-breakin’ in order to get the best possible tree for the season. He impishly trespasses onto the land of a dude named Big Earl and finds the perfect tree, but along the way, the son disappears for a time. His frantic parents finally find him stashed into the hollow of another tree, but when they get the child back home, they discover that he ain’t quite the same, and in fact, over the course of the story, it comes to light that the kid has been replaced by a changeling who proceeds to wreak all kinds of holiday havoc.
In the goriest and most hilarious segment, set at the North Pole, a rugged Santa and a decidedly MILF-y Mrs. Claus are forced to deal with a zombie virus outbreak among their immortal elf workforce. The elves, who all have names like Jingles, Shiny, and Sparkles, have turned from cookie-eating cutie pies into murderous, foul-mouthed little terrors who don’t hesitate to call someone a “reindeer-fucking snow whore” before munching on their intestines. Once Santa has taken care of the elfin menace, though, he realizes that Christmas Eve is almost over and he still has to deliver presents to all the good children of the earth. But just as he’s about to set out, Krampus busts in and the two Christmas heavyweights have to go at it mano a mano in a final battle royale. As batshit as this segment is, it actually ends up tying in nicely (and surprisingly) with the overarching William Shatner bit, so in that sense it’s almost like a secondary frame story.
As I said, I really liked the interwoven nature of the stories rather than them just happening one after the other; it was cool spotting all the connections between the characters and situations as the story went on. William Shatner was priceless and pitch perfect as he grew more and more despondent, and despite the stories being helmed by different writers and directors, they all hung together astonishingly well. A couple of the stories were slightly more compelling than the others (for example, I thought the changeling story was by far the creepiest and most effective, while the zombie elves were easily the most entertaining), but this is a consistently solid and fun entry into the holiday horror canon.
Next up, what’s the first thing you think of when you think of Christmas movies? If you didn’t say “abortion,” then you and the director of this movie evidently cannot be friends. Red Christmas, a 2016 film by Australian writer-director Craig Anderson, wades right into some fairly controversial territory and ends up with a strange, potentially pretty offensive film that in my opinion was far better than it really had any right to be.
A weird prologue shows protesters on both sides of the abortion issue waving signs and screaming at each other, and then an unseen woman inside a clinic undergoing an abortion that is interrupted by a bombing. The aborted fetus is hastily chucked into a biohazard bucket, but soon a tiny, bloody hand emerges, and the fetus is “rescued” by a priest who was one of the clinic bombers.
Cut to many years later. Matriarch Diane (a fantastic Dee Wallace) is happy to have corralled all of her grown children to her remote homestead to have one last “perfect” Christmas in the family home before she sells it. Her husband has died of cancer, and she plans to use the money from the sale of the house to take a trip to Europe and treat herself for once in her life.
This isn’t sitting too well with some of her offspring, though, as very pregnant daughter Ginny (Janis McGavin) thinks her mother is being selfish and besmirching her father’s memory by selling off the house she grew up in, and also shirking her responsibilities as a mother, as Diane will have to put her son Jerry (Gerard Odwyer), who has Down syndrome, in an assisted living home. Also causing tension is uptight super Christian daughter Suzy (Sarah Bishop) and her nebbishy priest of a husband Peter (David Collins), who sourly disapprove of the rest of the family’s laid-back, swearin’ and pot-smokin’ ways.
All of this family awkwardness is soon interrupted by the arrival of a creepy dude in a black cloak whose face and hands are covered with bandages and who talks like the Elephant Man. Although we as the audience have already seen this hooded whosis murdering a guy who picked on him, Diane (if not the rest of the family) is initially sympathetic to this stranger who shows up on their doorstep, as he claims he is simply looking for his mother. She lets him in, gives him some tea, and even wraps an impromptu gift for him after he admits that he doesn’t know what a Christmas present is.
But as they all sit there uncomfortably, the man (whose name, we learn, is Cletus, which rhymes with fetus, so you know where this is going) insists on reading a letter to his mother that he has brought. In the letter, which starts out “from a place of love,” he eventually mentions the abortion clinic bombing we saw at the beginning of the movie, at which point Diane flips the fuck out and kicks the cloaked weirdo out of the house.
After that, the killin’ comes thick and fast, as family members are axed, blended, and bear-trapped to death in what essentially becomes a siege-style flick. It will come as a surprise to no one that this hooded killer is actually Diane’s aborted (or so she thought) son who was raised by one of the clinic bombers as a vehicle for vengeance, though he really only starts taking revenge on the family after they reject him. There are also tie-ins with her other son Jerry and his disability, which causes a brief bit of tension between Jerry and Diane later in the film.
It’s sort of a bizarre premise overall, and because of the opening scenes, you’ll know who the killer is and what his motive is from the start, but I don’t think that detracts from the enjoyment of the movie as a whole. Though the story grows out of a pretty controversial topic, it doesn’t really take a stance on the issue one way or the other, so it’s more of a straight slasher than any kind of political polemic. The setup takes a while, but I didn’t mind that, as I enjoyed all the tense, petty squabbles between the family members before the shit eventually hit the fan and they all had to pull together for survival. The death scenes are also pretty great and gory, especially the “blender to the back of the head” kill, which was also very elegantly shot. The single, brief glimpse of the killer’s real face was also a highlight, and all the more effective for only being shown for a few seconds and then never again.
This is not a film for everyone, obviously, and definitely not for the easily offended. It’s not nearly as fun or as crowd-pleasing a holiday horror flick as the first one on our double bill, being pretty much completely devoid of humor, but if you’re looking for a sort of strange, nasty, Christmas-themed slasher with a somewhat original premise and some pretty great acting performances (particularly from Dee Wallace, who is awesome here), then give Red Christmas a spin.
Happy holidays and keep it creepy into the new year, my friends.