Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #504
Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 2, 2015
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: Canada
Running Time: 99 minutes
Directors: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Producers: Steven Hoban, Mark Smith
Screenplay: Jason Filiatrault, James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier
Special Effects: Ben Borean
Visual Effects: Darren Cranford
Cinematography: Gavin Smith
Score: Alex Khaskin
Editing: Brett Sullivan, D. Gillian Truster
Studio: Copperheart Entertainment
Distributors: Image Entertainment, RLJ Entertainment
Stars: William Shatner, George Buza, Olunike Adeliyi, Rob Archer, Jeff Clarke, Jessica Clement, Zoé De Grand Maison, Amy Forsyth, Adrian Holmes, Shannon Kook, Debra McCabe, Michelle Nolden, Alex Ozerov, Alan C. Peterson, Corinne Conley, Julian Richings, Percy Hynes White
Suggested Audio Candy
 Alex Khaskin “Carol Of The Bell”
 Douglas Pipes “Krampus”
Christmas is supposedly the season of goodwill to all men. In 1984, with the slasher boom at full kaboom, Charles E. Sellier Jr.’s Silent Night, Deadly Night was placed under the tree and was promptly picketed by furious parents. Despite the fact that Lewis Jackson’s Christmas Evil had already decked the bough with human entrails four years previous, the whole of America was up in arms over Sellier Jr.’s depiction of their beloved Santa Claus as an ax wielding psychopath and his film gained notoriety overnight. Halloween night, Friday The 13th, Valentine’s Day and even birthdays were fair game but, the moment this beloved festival was tarnished, it was seen as a step too far. It still managed to spawn three wretched sequels as there really is no such thing as bad press but its director was seen as a mean-spirited elf for horrifying during this particular public holiday.
Thirty years have passed since then and Michael Dougherty’s Krampus is currently roasting its chestnuts at the box office. It would appear that Christmas is fair game once again and, with anthologies back on the insurgence, there seems no better time to break out the egg nog. A Christmas Horror Story adopts a slightly different approach with the way it tells its tales of yuletide terror, in that its format doesn’t adhere to the usual omnibus rules and regulations. All four fables run concurrent and are interwoven into 99 minutes of seasonal cheer that flits between them at will. They are linked, often tenuously, and we are still provided with a wraparound courtesy of none other than William Shatner, but this is no ordinary anthology. Think of it as Magnolia for Meatbags. It just so happens that I’m one such hunk of mutton.
Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan take on split directorial duties and the approach works rather well, short of a couple of minor blips. For as much as too many chefs do not always a good egg nog pour, they all use the same ingredients and A Christmas Horror Story doesn’t once feel uneven or at odds with itself. Gavin Smith’s cinematography makes the most of any falling snowflakes and there is an ominous tone to proceedings that serves them well. It would have been all too easy to opt for parody but, aside from one sleigh ride to Lapland, this is straight out horror all the way. In this respect, the triple-pronged assault team have it bang on the money and fill our stockings with kindliness. So, the all important breakdown. Beam up Shatner elves.
Shatner is clearly in his element as radio host Dangerous Dan and his gruff tones lend themselves remarkably well to the airwaves. He pops up throughout in impromptu bursts of festive frolic and it is a stroke of genius to cast him as an anchor. In many ways, he is Captain of our Enterprise and, as the film wears and on he becomes plastered on homemade egg nog, his affable blathering veers more towards drunken rant. Shatner is more than up to the task and, as wraparounds go, ’tis the season to be jolly. I’m all for reinvention and, in the case of Shatner, if it ain’t broke right? His casting is more than astute and plays on every last one of his strengths.
The next ingredient is perhaps the weakest as it doesn’t include even a dash of tinsel. However, the tale of three nosy student filmmakers unwittingly trapped in the school basement after hours certainly has its moments. Investigating a grisly double murder that played out last Christmas, aspiring auteurs Caprice (Amy Forsyth), Ben (Alex Ozerov) and Dylan (Shannon Kook) soon discover that history has a way of repeating itself and huddle close for a particularly long night in the trenches. Opting for paranormal festivity, there is no shortage of atmosphere and more than enough dust-strewn mannequins on-hand to encourage our consternation. But it stops just shy of shocking us and a little more meanness of spirit wouldn’t have gone amiss if I’m honest.
Tale #1 ★★★
In the pursuit of an authentic Christmas tree, Scott (Adrian Holmes) and Kim (Adeliyi Oluniké) decide to pilfer one from the local forest and come unstuck as their little boy Will (Orion John) wanders off the snowy path and straight towards the open maw of an ominous looking tree stump. They managed to track him down and crisis appears to have been averted but, while poor Will is away in a manger, they’ve bagged themselves a changeling. This impish doppelgänger is soon guzzling Bolognese like a bolshy boar and hobbling across their ceiling, creating further cracks in an already fragmented family unit. Fine performances across the board, especially from Oluniké as the only real innocent party, escalate this above the usual seasonal fare and the family in free fall dynamic adds a melancholic vibe which hangs ominously like a septic bauble. This segment calls to mind the wonderful Lover’s Vow from Tales of The Dark Side: The Movie and would feel at home in any good anthology.
Tale #2 ★★★★
Once again, family ties play a part in our next woodland romp only, this time, all four members are hoarding skeletons in their closet. A trip to Aunt Edda (Corinne Conley) goes awry once their goodwill goes out of the window and, after a stern warning from hired hand Gerhardt (a wonderfully prim and proper Julian Richings), our old friend Krampus (Rob Archer) wiggles his child-bearing hips down the chimney stack. This one rattles along at quite the clip from the moment those cloven hooves first touch down on sleet. Repentance is the order of the day as harsh home truths begin to hit home and thankfully children are provided no extra privileges. While lacking a little of the last fable’s delicate thunder, it brings no shame to the game.
Tale #3 ★★★
The encore also provides our entrée before Shatner can so much as settle in behind the mic and whisks us off to the North Pole, where the spirit of Christmas is in spiraling peril. Santa Claus (a wonderfully tormented George Buza) is at a loss as his elves have become blighted with a rather nonseasonal disease. This, in turn, leads them to sabotage and it is left to Saint Nick to fend their incessant sneak attacks and restore parity before they can bust Rudolph’s stable doors in or, worse still, empty their sacks into Mrs. Claus herself Molly (Zoé De Grand Maison). The gloves are off as our bearded badass finds all manner of inventive ways to keep his unruly minions at bay and, using his staff of dismemberment, he instigates much of the splatter on our platter. Any Grinches amongst us will be rubbing their furry fingers together with ghoulish glee as an 11th hour kicker shifts this bookending tale into far more sinister territory and ensures we are left on a suitably dour note.
Tale #4 ★★★★
A Christmas Horror Story achieves an admirable balance by adopting such an unusual approach to its narrative and, after an understandably docile first act, hits its stride remarkably well. As anthologies go, it sits comfortably in the upper ferns, whilst never quite reaching for the Star of David. It is solid, not hamstrung by deviating quality, and does precisely what it says on its gift bow. If you are tired of hearing Chestnuts Roasting on An Open Fire for the umpteenth time and feel like a dash of bah humbug then you could do a darned sight worse. Or alternatively, you could watch Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 and take out the garbage. I’ll be doing both and Shatner’s gruff tones will provide the ideal nativity narrative. Besides, that egg nog has got one helluva kick.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Father Christmas sure knows how to slay and wields his staff like a festive Jedi. Lopping off heads left, right and center, with a little impalement and sharp-edged bludgeoning to keep our mince pies bloody, Santa is the all-giving one here and Ben Borean and his SFX team supply plentiful seasonal goodwill. Never what you would call an outright bloodbath, there is still more than enough of a deep red tinge to the snow to suggest that Prancer may well be in season.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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