A Christmas Horror Story – Review
Interwoven stories that take place on Christmas Eve, as told by one festive radio host: A family brings home more than a Christmas tree, a student documentary becomes a living nightmare, a Christmas spirit terrorizes, Santa slays evil.
We are ten days away from Christmas and that can mean only one thing. It is time to open day 15 of our Awful Advent Calendar. Behind today’s door is a Christmas Horror Anthology called A Christmas Horror Story. Starring William Shatner as a festive radio host. This movie features four frightening festive tales designed to shock and delight… Or, potentially, just disappoint.
Taking a few risks, this anthology presents its individual stories as overlapping segments. It feels quite different from other similar films of this type. The big question here is, does it pay off? Well, we are going to take a look and find out. I’ll give a really quick summary of each story which you can skip if you like.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. Check back every day of December for something new.
A Christmas Horror Story – Synopsis
A Christmas Horror Story consists of four individual tales. These stories are loosely connected together via their location. They are also interspersed with segments from a radio show. Host Dangerous Dan, played by William Shatner, keeps receiving worrying news. Apparently there is a heated situation going on at the local mall. Warning people to stay away, he plays songs and occasionally pops up between segments. The first story follows Dylan, Ben and Molly as they head into the basement of their school. Formerly a convent, apparently a pair of students were murdered there the year before. Wanting to film a video of their investigation. The group find themselves in a situation worse than they could have ever imagined.
The second story follows police officer Scott. Scott worked on the aforementioned case of the murdered students. The investigation left him distraught and traumatised. Needing to take a break away from the force, Scott wants to enjoy Christmas. He suggests that the family head out to the woods to chop down a Christmas tree. While there their son, Will, gets lost in the woods. Harrowed, Scott and his wife search frantically. The couple eventually finds Will inside of a tree. Ecstatic to take him back home, the family look forward to Christmas. As time passes, it appears Will is somewhat different, somewhat malicious and somewhat changed.
Santa and Krampus – Synopsis Cont.
In the third story, siblings Caprice and Duncan are traveling with their parents. Visiting their elderly aunt Edda, the siblings find a statue of a goat like figure. Edda tells them the story of Krampus, a being that punishes bad children at Christmas. Feeling bored and frustrated. Duncan breaks the statue in an attempt to annoy Edda’s caretaker. The kid’s parents realise the children are causing problems so take them home. On the way, they are involved in an accident and are forced to walk. It becomes clear that the family are being hunted by someone or something.
The final story takes us to Santa’s village in the North Pole. While making preparations for the Christmas season, Santa notices a problem. His elves are acting aggressively and there appears to be something wrong with them. Mrs. Claus also seems to be struck by the same issue. Suddenly, the elves become violent and begin attacking him. It’s up to Santa to save Christmas but he is in for one hell of a battle.
Christmas Anthology Horror
A Christmas Horror Story is an anthology horror movie. It ties its four tales together with a connecting story. Set in the fictional location of Bailey Downs. A place which you may recognise from Werewolf horror movie Ginger Snaps. The stories here are somewhat linked together by the location and certain events. The teens in the first story are investigating a murder that took place in the school. Scott from the second story investigated this case. Stories three and four feature a recurring character. Story four also connects to the background segment that ties everything together. Characters listen to the radio broadcast which, once again, adds a little extra cohesion.
A Christmas Horror Story, however, doesn’t present its segments as individual stories. They overlap and are not distinctly separate from each other. This is quite unique for an anthology horror. Whether it works well or not is something we will get into. As it stands, this is a pretty interesting movie with a few different, mingling, themes. We have some supernatural goings on. some paranormal stuff. Urban legends, zombie movie style happenings and a fair bit of action. Most anthology horror movies like to mix things up, that’s nothing new. The fact that these things take place within the same world, however, is quite intriguing.
A Nice Mix
Anthology horror is a good fit for Christmas themes. It allows the makers to present a number of different scenarios. There is never the need to commit to any one style. This is very applicable here as the four stories do feel distinctly different. The final segment is particularly noteworthy for this. The blood and gore means it feels entirely separate from the three that precede it. It has a completely different pacing, featuring a heavy action lean. It is both violent and quite comical.
The third is more of an old fashioned “cat and mouse” style horror with a family pursued by something evil. The first and second feel the most similar with the second being almost like an urban legend story. The first is something like a Grave Encounters style romp. Complete with documentary making and paranormal goings on.
An Awkward Fit
Whether they fit together well is up to the viewer. There is an obvious disparity in the quality between the specific segments. The final one stands out for just how much fun it is. It is full of blood and gore and, could, honestly have been stretched out to a full movie. There is something of a twist to it, however, that maybe doesn’t lend itself to well to a feature version. The first segment is almost exactly what you would expect for this type of thing. It’s fairly slow paced and is reliant on the feeling of tension created by the the location. It’s a paranormal story, after all, and they sink or swim based on their atmosphere. It holds up okay but it is maybe a little less interesting than the others.
The second story becomes something of a domestic drama for a little while. It’s a little on the bleak side and doesn’t necessarily fit too well with the other stories. Again, it has a bit of a twist to the story but it is fairly predictable. The third story, again, is fairly predictable but I did enjoy the premise. The opening starts a little slow and the kids are obnoxious. Naturally this is totally deliberate given the events of the story. The cat and mouse style tension was fun but, again, it is fairly slow. The segments don’t necessarily fit together seamlessly. This is, obviously, a common thing with Anthology Horror. The segments shouldn’t have to feel like part of the same film. The problem here, however, is the way A Christmas Horror Story presents the stories.
A Different Anthology Approach
Unlike most anthology horror movies, A Christmas Horror Story overlaps the segments. Instead of watching one segment, then another, then another. This movie switches between them throughout. It does so in much the same way as a standard movie would flip between character stories and the like. It is a really strange way to present a horror anthology. I am not sure whether it works, to be honest. There is a nice novelty feeling to watching anthologies. You can skip past a segment you don’t like or simply pay little attention to it. You can’t really do that here. If there is a story that you aren’t invested in, you have to sit through it to get back to the ones you care about.
This does not do anything for the pacing. You find yourself interested in what is about to happen next. Only to be taken away from the segment for 15 minutes to watch a completely different one. People who lack in concentration are going to hate this. Good luck remembering what happened and good luck staying invested. In my opinion, it is a bad move. I can understand why they did it like this. They obviously wanted the movie to stand out from similar anthologies.
On top of this, the things that connect the stories are fairly weak. I think the fact that the stories are linked is something that is a bit Marmite. Some will really enjoy this, others won’t. The truth is, however, that they really don’t relate to each other in any meaningful way. The kids are investigating a place where Dangerous Dan’s grandson was murdered. Scott from the second story worked on the case and on the way to the tree lot they pass the family from the third.
Parts Feel a Bit Redundant
There is no real reason to have to link the segments together. Just because they all take place in a single town doesn’t mean they need to overlap. I really felt as though this part of the movie was a bit redundant. Still, A Christmas Horror Story is a slave to its presentation. It is worth pointing out that the connecting story here is fairly pointless. Radio show host Dangerous Dan plays Christmas songs. Drinks too much and sends out warnings about an incident at the mall. That is pretty much the entire summary of it.
Linking segments are always hit or miss. V/H/S is a good example of this. Indeed, V/H/S 99 did away with them altogether. Sometimes they are used to provide continuity. Other times they are simply there as a vehicle to get the next segment started. In this case, I am not really sure of the point. I think they just wanted to drag William Shatner in for some star power. With this in mind, they cobbled something together to fit him in. Either way, it feels pointless and doesn’t really add much to the film.
Acting is Fairly Mixed
Acting is a bit of a mixed bag. This is, naturally, a bit of a trend with anthologies. As you can probably imagine, Shatner was cashing a cheque and, pretty much, phones it in. He is just drunk Shatner presenting a radio show and pretending to like Christmas. Zoe Maison, Alex Ozerov and Shannon Kook from the first story are all fine. Molly and Ben have a few pretty intense scenes which they do a decent job of. I enjoyed Adrian Holmes and Oluniké Adeliyi’s performances in the second story. Holmes does a nice job portraying the frustration of Scott’s situation.
The family in the third story were very middle of the road. The kids were absolutely obnoxious, as you would expect them to be given the plot. Corrine Conley and Julian Richings were fun as Aunt Edda and Gerhardt, suitably hamming it up. The fourth story has a wide ranging cast that does the job really well given the action element at play. I really liked George Buza’s no nonsense Santa. It’s always fun to imagine Santa as someone who can whoop some ass. Buza does a great job in what is, probably, the best segment in the entire movie.
Uneven Cinematography and an Okay Score
Cinematography is okay but can be uneven. Again, the last segment is probably the most interestingly shot. I really enjoyed the style of it a lot. Santa throwing his elves around and slashing them with knives is a weird sight but works surprisingly well. There is a distinct overuse of CG in this movie. Once again, this is very common with anthology horror, for some reason. It is particularly lacklustre in parts here. Still, costumes for certain characters look really good. The violence and gore in the fourth segment is really nicely done, as well.
Score is fittingly festive. There aren’t any tunes that will stay with you but it feels like it works well with the movie. The first story was a little lacking in a foreboding piece of music to elevate the mood. The fourth segment’s score, however, was very apt for an action packed Santa romp. As far as festive feelings go, the fourth and second story stand out. The first story could have been set at any time of the year. It doesn’t fit the Christmas theme at all. The third story obviously has an xmas theme but, again, doesn’t revel in it. Still, the Christmas songs that feature here and there tie the theme into the rest of the stories. Taken as a whole, it is a perfectly fitting festive movie.
Still Worth a Watch
Despite the few complaints, this is still a fun movie. The presentation is questionable and absolutely does impact the flow. Segments are inconsistent. Two of the stories are really good, one is a bit boring and the other is just a fairly standard ghost story. The connecting segment feels entirely pointless but, hey, some people love William Shatner.
As far as Christmas Horror movies go, however, you can do a lot worse. It’s a fairly easy watch, has a shortish run time, and has plenty of festive feeling. The fourth segment alone is worth watching for. It is a lot of fun and I would definitely buy into a full movie version. All in all, it could be better but it could be so much worse.
Is it a Knockout?
A Christmas Horror Story is an anthology horror movie that does things a little bit different. Featuring a connecting story that ties things together. This anthology's segments overlap rather than taking place individually. This is something of a gamble and doesn't really pay off. The switching between stories hurts the pace. It can leave you struggling to remember what happened.
This is still a worthwhile watch, however. Segments featuring a paranormal investigation and a family trying to escape a determined pursuer are okay. A segment featuring a family losing their child in the woods only to find him again but changed is interesting and well acted. The last segment, however, is the star of the show and sees Santa fighting off numerous, murderous, elves. There's plenty of festive fun here and a short runtime adds to the charm. Definitely not perfect but still worth a watch. Check it out if you are in the mood for something different.