Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #586
Number of Views: One
Release Date: April 22, 2016
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 105 minutes
Directors: Kevin Smith, Gary Shore, Matt Johnson, Scott Stewart, Nicholas McCarthy, Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch, Sarah Adina Smith, Anthony Scott Burns, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Ellen Reid
Producers: John Hegeman, Tim Connors, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Kyle Franke, Aram Tertzakian
Screenplay: Kevin Smith, Gary Shore, Matt Johnson, Scott Stewart, Nicholas McCarthy, Dennis Widmyer, Kevin Kolsch, Sarah Adina Smith, Anthony Scott Burns
Special Effects: Brendan Byrne, Jason Collins, Josh Russell, Sierra Russell
Studios: Distant Corners Entertainment, XYZ Films, Destroy All Entertainment, Lodger Films
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Stars: Lorenza Izzo, Mark Steger, Harley Quinn Smith, Seth Green, Clare Grant, Ruth Bradley, Aleksa Palladino, Ava Acres, Michael Gross, Jocelin Donahue, Madeleine Coghlan, Savannah Kennick, Harley Morenstein, Andrew Bowen, Jennifer Lafleur, Ashley Greene, Sophie Traub, Kate Rachesky, Shawn Parsons, Megan Duffy
Suggested Audio Candy:
 Lindsey Buckingham Holiday Road
 Aerosmith Permanent Vacation
 The Dead Kennedys Holiday in Cambodia
 Kenny G Auld Lang Syne
Hoorah for the holidays. It seems that barely a day passes when something isn’t annually celebrated and it was only a matter of time before someone had the bright idea of lumping them all together in an anthology hot-pot. In recent years we have seen something of an influx of group shots and it’s an easy win for up-and-coming filmmakers as it enables them to show what they can do without requiring the same level of time or cost committment as a full-length feature. A Christmas Horror Story and Tales of Halloween tackled two of the more prestigious calendar holidays recently and did a pretty bang up job to boot. Holidays takes eight of our well-worn traditions and approaches each in chronological order, using greeting cards to thread them together. And as we have come to expect from modern-day anthologies, they represent something of a mixed bag.
Straight off the bat, I had my concerns. Call me a purist but, back when I was a kid, the average amount of segments was four of five and even this proved a tough number to negotiate. It’s tough for an anthology to mesh as a whole when there is so little time for each story to make its impact and, with the exception of George A. Romero’s Creepshow, many of them have been hit-and-miss affairs. The difference now is that attention spans have become even shorter, video-sharing websites such as YouTube provide the ideal platform to grab those quick fixes, and it is that much easier for anyone with a crumb of a concept to get their hands on a camera and make shit happen. Personally I’m not sold on the idea of cramming such an excessive patchwork of tales into one compendium, although the exceptional Tales of Halloween proved that it is possible so long as everyone is pulling in the same direction. You see, it’s all about tone, and Epic Pictures’ ten-piece managed to strike just the right balance between horror and comedy, with all involved singing from the same hymn sheet.
Holidays has itself a rolling start in that there is a common link between one fable and the next, providing it with a sense of cohesion and purpose, as opposed to coming across as a thrown together botch job. Each of the major holidays is represented (although curiously no Thanksgiving) and, clocking in at around ten minutes each, none have the time to outstay their welcome. That said, there’s also precious little opportunity for them to shine, as we are onto the next one before we can settle into any kind of tempo with no wraparound present to twine them together. My chief gripe here is that, while well enough made on the whole, the stumbling block appears to be wrapping things up in a satisfactory manner and too many entries close with a splutter, where they should be providing that all-important bang. Anyhoots, without further ado, here’s the breakdown from top ’til drop.
♥ Valentine’s Day ♥
Our first offering comes gift-wrapped by Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer whose Starry Eyes was one of 2014’s leading lights. It would appear that we’re in safe hands and their entrée is as slickly produced and clinical as you would expect from two men on something of a blazing hot streak.
That said, their Carrie flavored tale of doe-eyed high school student Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan), or Maxi-Pad to the mean girls in her gym class, and the lengths she will go to in order to earn her apple from teacher, is a little too slight and obvious to pitch as the opener. Never less than solid, it also lacks anything resembling spectacular, and we have ourselves something of an unremarkable start.
♧ St. Patrick’s Day ♧
The next vignette from Gary Shore then throws in an almighty curveball when steadying the ship would perhaps have been the more calculated move. Nevertheless you have to give him kudos for attempting something so utterly bat-shit and, considering so little is known of St. Patrick’s Day lore, he has plenty of freedom to operate and takes full advantage.
Overburdened teacher Elizabeth (Ruth Bradley) finds herself strangely drawn towards the deeply sinister Grainne (Isolt McCaffery), the one kid in class reluctant to flash her a smile. In exchange for revealing her pearly whites, the ankle-biter requests that teacher make the one wish she is desperate to have granted more than any other – to bear a child. Cue debauched Pagan rituals, gargantuan serpents, and possibly the creepiest little hell raiser since Damien Thorne outgrew his tricycle. Shore’s contribution is literally off its merry head and I couldn’t shake the smell of burning wicker by its typically gonzo conclusion.
Nicholas McCarthy has the unenviable task of following up the debauchery and opts to keep us firmly trenched in twisted territory. This one is all about the over-active imaginations of children and how it may be wiser for mom to keep details of the Easter Bunny vague when the whippersnapper in question is attempting to process the recent death of her father. Throw in a quick bedtime lesson on the resurrection of Jesus and it all blends into something considerably nightmarish.
The amalgam of her fears then pays a personal visit and McCarthy’s tale appeals to the scared kid that exists in all of us. Rich in foreboding, it regrettably skimps in climax, but not before burrowing beneath our skin and laying a fair few rancid eggs.
♀ Mother’s Day ♀
Ellen Reid & Sarah Adina Smith’s offering returns us to the ritualistic in the form of a rather unorthodox fertility support group. One woman incubator Kate (Sophie Traub) cannot seem to stop getting pregnant so her doctor suggests an alternative method to rid her of her curse and packs her off to an old hippy commune for treatment. While all other subjects appear to be enjoying themselves greatly, a coven of randy witches is a coven of randy witches after all and it ironically ends in the pitter-patter of tiny feet. The sole crumb of consolation for Kate is that, after birthing this particular baby, her ovaries may not be so quick to process any future applications. There’s a faint waft of mystery to Mother’s Day and an even stronger one of ceremonial sex, but it ultimately amounts to nothing and comes away feeling the most undercooked of the bunch.
♂ Father’s Day ♂
Sensing his opportunity, Anthony Scott Burns then steps up to deliver an absolute bolt out of the blue and effortlessly the most ethereal segment of the entire package. Jocelin Donahue (The House of The Devil) couldn’t be better cast as Carol, a curious twentysomething who is presented with an opportunity to reconnect with her estranged father, many years after his unexplained disappearance. Using an old cassette player to retrace the steps of a childhood memory they shared, she is guided by his reassuring voice to a place where all will soon make sense.
There’s a sense of longing that hangs in the air like a dense mist and Burns cranks the consternation to the absolute max, with more than a whisper of Lovecraft I might add. As she relives each memory, we feel a real sense of emotional investment, and find ourselves willing her on to the bitter end. When crunch time comes, it’s a tad underwhelming if I’m honest, but not enough to undo all of the stellar work that preceded it.
On paper, this one looks like as sure a thing as they come. Everyone’s favorite mallrat Kevin Smith takes the reins and All Hallow’s Eve couldn’t be more ripe for his picking. So it may surprise you to learn that his donation barely even draws on the festival of Samhain for inspiration and has to make do with dime-store decorations to offer any kind of inkling as to which public holiday he’s representing. Perhaps most notable is that his own daughter Harley Quin Smith pops up as one of a trio of hard-done by cam-girls who decide it’s high-time they turn the tables on their misogynistic whip-cracking governor. The boundaries of good taste are tested, then soundly obliterated, and the emphasis here is plainly on “going there”. It’s hardly thespian and reeks a little of “here’s a handful of twigs for the bonfire lads” but it is what it is and Smith seems more than happy with mild diversion. It just smarts a little that we know full well he’s capable of so much more.
⛪ Christmas ⛪
If Scott Stewart is looking to supply on the ho-ho-ho front, then casting Seth Green as his suburban Santa is a sure-fire way of proposing we jingle all the way. He plays bone-tired father Pete, the sorry pops tasked with tracking down this season’s must-have item, the UVU. This cunning contraption is a VR headset which taps into the user’s innermost thoughts and use them as fuel to present its own interpretation of themselves.
The problem is that Pete didn’t exactly happen across his UVU through the most dignified of means and it makes a B-line for his guilt, while attempting to assist him in understanding the true reasoning behind his sexless marriage (to real-life spouse Clare Grant). While ten minutes feels insufficient for such a fascinating concept to play out to its full potential, Green’s face is a pleasure to watch steadily drop like bottom heavy tinsel, and there’s even time to throw a little affectionate jab at consumerism into the mix.
✌ New Year’s Eve ✌
With Holidays drawing to a close on a substantial flourish, Kölsch & Widmyer crop up a second time, this time on writing duties, and ensure that we go out with the kind of bang that is associated with such a joyous event. Adam Egypt Mortimer parting shot goes straight for the dome and had me at Megan Duffy. After enrapturing me to the tune of prolonged erection for her small but significant role in Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac remake, I’ve had my eye out for Ms. Duffy ever since, although she barely receives her ten count before receiving her marching orders here.
However, before any frown can form, we are whisked away for a first-date between the vaguely mismatched Reggie (Andrew Bowen) and Jean (Lorenza Izzo), a pair of hopeless romantics giving one last crack to online dating. Now Reggie is clearly a wrong ‘un but let’s not forget the kind of kitten sprint Izzo provided Keanu Reeves for his money during hubbie Eli Roth’s Knock Knock and it appears any resulting shock therapy has only loosed the hinges more. Reggie bites some off, then some more, jizzes a bit in his pants, followed by more biting and Jean then karate chops his stuffed cheeks before he can even get his chew in. Positively bustling with nervous energy, Izzo minces within her muzzle until the all-important countdown, before regurgitating every last chunk of crazy into our gormless grinning faces in sickening streamers as the bell chimes.
In the history of sly anthologies, Holidays is undoubtedly one of the most snidy. With no over-arching narrative to thread each segment together and such an uninspiring early show, it all seems a little “grab-bag” and struggles to maintain any kind of workable rhythm. That is until Father’s Day drops anchor around the mid-point; then it’s land ahoy for the duration. With a pre-loaded back-end boasting three of the tastiest morsels it can offer, chances are, we’ll be left clapping politely come the end credits and this could easily constitute as being job done. However interestingly, virtually every tale feels like a greeting card, packed with sentiment but only ever a prelude to gifts that it wraps haphazardly on the timer. Fuck it, an afterthought is still a thought after all and I’m not about to take down the tree on account of a few spoiled presents. But if any of them turn out to be fucking socks, I’m injecting cyanide into the mince pies dagnabbit.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: As you would expect from a patchwork piece such as Holidays, the emphasis is on covering all bases and it does that reasonably well. If it’s a platter of splatter you’re hankering after then the spread may appear a tad thin but there are finger foods aplenty and Mortimer pitches in with something of a treat for dessert. Grotesque it certainly has licked and the snapshot moments are wickedly deranged, including an Easter Bunny/Christ hybrid who may leave us wishing to skip April altogether, and Mowgli’s mate Kaa’s half-witted serpent cousin Gaa. Meanwhile, I would suggest any resident pickle ticklers amongst us open their text books to page four as Mother’s Day at least has a fondue of flesh going for it. You can always bank on a coven of witches to scarlet things up in their birthday suits. How’s that for thanksgiving?
Read Tales of Halloween Appraisal
Read A Christmas Horror Story Appraisal
Read All Hallow’s Eve 2 Appraisal
Read ABCs of Death 2 Appraisal
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Grueheads Films 2016