Studio: Scream Factory
Producer: Dominic Saxl, Ivo Scheloske, Frank Vogt
Festive fables of fright spin chilling tales set during the Christmas season.
It takes 24 days to work your way through an advent calendar. With over two dozen segments, holiday horror anthology ※Deathcember§ takes two and a half hours, although it might feel like 24 days. Even when end credits roll, there are still 20 more minutes to go, because two additional tales are tacked on there too. It＊s a gift that keeps on giving, except that gift is a six-pack of socks or repurposed fruitcake, not quite the sleek and trendy PS5 you were hoping for.
Many of the moviemakers showcased in ※Deathcember§ are indie upstarts who are either involved in L.A.＊s horror scene or can be connected to it through social media affiliations. If you＊ve ever been to Dead Right Horror Trivia in Burbank, I think at least half of that room is involved in this project in some way. A number of international names break up the list with some foreign flavors. As expected of an anthology that collects separate endeavors, ※Deathcember§ thus reflects its range with shorts of varying quality on levels like scope, storytelling, and satisfaction.
※Deathcember§ starts with ※A Door Too Far,§ the tale of a German boy obsessed with eating those terrible tiny chocolates inside cheap CVS advent calendars. An occult-ish old man curses the kid to become a candy, then the boy＊s sister eats him. The end.
In ※All Sales Final,§ Tiffany Shepis plays an arrogantly entitled mother ＆demanding to speak to the manager＊ about returning a Naughty Pooka doll, a wink at Blumhouse＊s ※Into the Dark.§ Outside the store, ※Final Destination§ scribe Jeffrey Reddick plays a Salvation Army Santa who doesn＊t know to not look directly into the lens. (I told you ※Deathcember§ had firm roots in L.A. horror folks.) It＊s all a setup for Shepis and a clerk to have a vicious fight for a few minutes in a supposed ※superstore§ that looks like a strip mall cellphone shop.
Only two chapters in and I was wondering, ※should I just turn this off?§ as I remembered there were 24 more of these to go. The vibe coming out of the screen told me ※Deathcember§ was going to be more silly than substantial, and probably more shabby than chic. I continued on anyway, and I can＊t say the movie ever proved my suspicions wrong.
※Aurora§ takes the third slot as a sleepy sci-fi yarn that has nothing to do with Christmas. ※Aurora§ isn＊t the only entity guilty of that crime. Several segments take place at holiday parties for their yuletide connection. They could just as easily be St. Patrick＊s Day soirees for as little as the date has to do with anything though.
※Villancicos§ is a quickie where a chorus of carolers becomes a dying boy＊s literal lifeline for decades. ※Deathcember＊s§ overall wearying effect conditioned me to write off some of its stories without paying them much mind. Yet the more I considered ※Villancicos,§ the more I came to appreciate its ending for providing a punchline with wickedly cheeky commentary about the ※right to die§ debate.
※Five Deaths in Blood Red§ wants to be an Italian giallo spoof/homage, except it plays like a stuffy telenovela with its tongue pushing so hard against its cheek, it practically pokes out of its farcical face. It＊s probably intentional for the ADR dialogue to be so blatantly dubbed. It might as well not bother synching to the mouths either, given how hammily the sights and sounds come across.
※Santa Is Coming§ and ※A Christmas Miracle§ are okay. This deep into ※Deathcember,§ anything tolerable enough to earn a shoulder shrug qualifies as outstanding.
One of the bigger names among ※Deathcember＊s§ directors is Ruggero Deodato of ※Cannibal Holocaust§ (review here) infamy. Of all the people I thought would have phoned it in, or who at a minimum has nothing to gain by appearing in this anthology, it would be this 80-year-old provocateur who has only done a half-dozen films in the last 20 years. So to my complete surprise, Deodato turns in ※Deathcember＊s§ best little shocker with his deliciously dark gem ※Lost Cottage in the Countryside.§
I similarly didn＊t expect ※Deathcember§ to deliver a 1-2 punch combo. Yet the film follows up Deodato with Sam Wineman＊s ※Milk and Cookies§ which, unlike other segments, has decent depth for a short. It＊s an actual story as opposed to another drawn-out gag. A wish list for ※Deathcember 2§ should simply read, ※more segments with the creative creeps and charm of ＆Milk and Cookies＊ please.§ Classic EC Comics creators would be proud.
I can sum up Lucky McKee＊s ※They Once Had Horses§ with, ※that＊s it?§ McKee is a personal favorite filmmaker of mine. While I appreciate him stepping outside the box, as usual, to have a go at a black-and-white cowboy play amidst so much typical Christmas carnage, the quickly evaporating effect of his piece makes me feel like McKee took the proverbial piss here.
Pollyanna McIntosh＊s ※Getting Away from It All§ illustrates the movie＊s dominant attitude. As in, few of the shorts feel like they were burning ideas that artists were anxious to bring to a screen. They＊re more often flip one-offs where it seems their makers said, ※sure this sounds like a fun project to participate in, what can I put together quick and cheap?§ I＊m not saying everyone didn＊t take the gig seriously. They just approach it more like a lark than a sincere contender for perennial holiday horror.
※Cracker§ can have a thumbs up for keeping me guessing about where it was going. It culminates in a sly Rod Serling reveal certain to appeal to ※Fallout§ fans. It＊s another premise that＊s a long launching pad to a singular payoff. But the far-out fiction doing the framing has a lot more going for it than ※December the 19th,§ which is more of a pointlessly extended wait to arrive at some haplessly humorous horror hijinks.
Remaining titles are left unmentioned because I only wrote minor notes or didn＊t have a thought worth writing down at all. For instance, I＊d love to say something sweet about ※They Used to Laugh and Call Him Names§ since one of the co-directors is a fellow Clevelander and the piece aims to pay tribute to that city＊s ※A Christmas Story§ heritage. Let＊s just leave it at, there＊s a reason why this short gets shoved as far back as possible as a post-credits coda.
Fat could be trimmed off this turkey, although a 90-minute version wouldn＊t be significantly better. With more lumps of coal than appetizing treats, ※Deathcember§ doesn＊t stuff a consistently thrilling stocking. Christmas is a time for charity though, so in the spirit of the season, I＊ll give it the gift of a 50/100 review score. I won＊t say I don＊t recommend ※Deathcember.§ But considering the draining effect of its dragging length, I don＊t recommend watching it all in one sitting, no matter how much mulled wine you have at the ready.
Review Score: 50