Studio: RLJ Entertainment
Director: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Writer: James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier
Producer: Steven Hoban, Mark Smith
Stars: George Buza, Ken Hall, Debra Lynne McCabe, Joe Silvaggio, Zoe De Grand Maison, Shannon Kook, Alex Ozerov, William Shatner
A radio DJ links together tales of Santa battling undead elves, a family stalked by Krampus, three teens investigating a haunted school, and a Christmas tree hunt that unearths a changeling.
¡°Anthology¡± isn¡¯t the dirty word death-knell it used to be. With the popularity of ¡°V/H/S¡± and ¡°ABCs of Death¡± (review here) as franchise series, and projects like ¡°Tales of Halloween¡± and ¡°XX¡± attracting emergent talent in genre entertainment, Mike Dougherty¡¯s ¡°Trick ¡®r Treat¡± no longer finds itself alone as the format¡¯s only applauded 21st-century success story.
Which makes it curious that ¡°A Christmas Horror Story¡± refers to itself in singular terms while an official synopsis with this abbreviated logline simply says: ¡°When Krampus ¨C the anti-Santa who punishes naughty children ¨C is summoned by a young boy, everyone¡¯s fight for survival begins,¡± as though wishing to keep any indications of anthology origins hush-hush. Really, ¡°A Christmas Horror Story¡± should have no reason to fear celebrating its status as an entertaining collection of holiday-themed horror shorts that does for December 25th what ¡°Trick ¡®r Treat¡± did for October 31st.
Featured in the film are these four core stories:
When an undead outbreak turns his elves into obscenity-spewing terrors, Santa goes on a no-holds-barred offensive, culminating in a showdown with the evil entity responsible for the North Pole mayhem: Krampus.
Speaking of the mythical monster, a family of four is forced to confess their most sinful secrets when Krampus comes to punish the wicked on Christmas Eve.
Trespassing in a strange forest to chop down a tree, a couple gradually discovers that the boy brought home from the woods may be something more sinister than their son.
Three teens investigating an unsolved double murder in a high school basement become trapped inside while uncovering the haunting responsible for blood on the walls.
Rounding things out is William Shatner as a nog-spiking radio host spinning Christmas tunes and getting tipsy until he ends up broadcasting reports on a horrible mall massacre. Squeezing in the icon when the narrative doesn¡¯t need him smacks of stunt casting, which it probably is, but Shatner brings enough of his classic game to be an amusing inclusion. It¡¯s hard to tell if he is sometimes flubbing lines, improvising, both, or neither. Whatever the ratio is of casual commitment to professional performance, his presence fits as a fun personality boost.
Comparing Shatner to the cryptkeeper (no jokes, please) or referring to his scenes as a wraparound, even though it seems like that might be his logical purpose, wouldn¡¯t even be close to correct. ¡°A Christmas Horror Story¡± is so determined to buck traditional trappings that it doesn¡¯t play by expected rules of structuring segment presentation. ¡°A Christmas Horror Story¡± runs its separate parts concurrently, bounding back and forth between each story so the energy level of the film as a whole stays on one track instead of resetting rhythm with one-at-a-time start and stop stories.
The downside is that with each segment¡¯s scenes spread out across the 100-minute runtime, there is no option to revisit favored shorts on the quick or out of order. Viewing the entire film in a single sitting is required.
The upside is that this unorthodox approach to an anthology enables the movie to disguise the fact that its segments aren¡¯t quite connected by the same vibe. Santa vs. the elves becomes a gorily gonzo rumble of slightly silly proportions. The trio trapped in their high school basement is strictly serious supernatural business. The Krampus-crazed family falls somewhere in between, and the Christmas tree creature leans towards dark fable territory. A consistent visual look keeps the four stories feeling in common while the scattered breakdown makes it harder to notice how unrelated everything is tonally.
¡°A Christmas Horror Story¡± does come up with clever gags to link each tale, however. Shatner¡¯s broadcast is cut off by a radio knob turned by one of the intrepid teens. Those same teens break into their building thanks to a set of keys provided by the girl going to fight Krampus with her family. And the man taking his family to the forest to find a yuletide tree happens to be the officer who investigated the original murders at the school. Those connections are as loose as they can be, but it is just enough of a thread to keep everything tethered to the snowy, sleepy small town of Bailey Downs.
Krampus carnage at Santa¡¯s workshop is left standing as the sole sore thumb, until the movie unveils a table-turning surprise that also finds a clever way to make Shatner¡¯s seemingly divergent rambling relevant. It¡¯s an inventively killer twist that appears telegraphed in retrospect, but hits hard when you don¡¯t see it coming.
George Buza is delightfully devilish as a take-no-prisoners Santa Claus all out of bubblegum and unleashing kung-fu fury. An Elfman-esque score elevates atmosphere with moody holiday music. Undead elves, bloodthirsty ghosts, a changeling troll, two Krampus appearances, one from Julian Richings, and William Shatner chewing scenery from his seat. How many more presents does this movie need under its tree? ¡°A Christmas Horror Story¡± is festively frightful with a crisp look and sharp hooks, worthy of an annual visit for spirited holiday horror.
Review Score: 80