Studio: Uncork＊d Entertainment
Director: Jeff Ferrell, Jeff Vigil, Jeremy Berg, David Burns
Writer: Jeff Ferrell, Jeff Vigil
Producer: Jeff Ferrell, Semih Tareen
Stars: Joel Murray, Meagan Karimi-Naser, Jeff Bryan Davis, Ailsa Marshall, Amber Stonebraker, Forrest Campbell, McKenna Ralston, Lisa Carswell, Jeffrey Combs
A mysterious shopkeeper tells four holiday-related terror tales inspired by strange objects in his store.
Before removing the ribbon on ※Holiday Hell,§ you should know what＊s waiting inside once it＊s unwrapped. The movie is a microbudget horror anthology shot on digital with minimal crewmembers, stars mostly unknown actors, and probably won＊t play on any screen larger than a laptop. We＊re not quite talking about a chalky lump of coal. What I＊m saying is no one should expect to react like that gif kid getting an N64 either.
One draw for genre stalwarts is fan favorite Jeffrey Combs appearing as a shifty shopkeeper in the wraparound. A woman enters his store on December 23rd looking to buy a gift for her sister. It＊s up to this collector of creepy curiosities to tell her the tales behind several unusual items.
Seemingly scenting he＊s headlining a DTV turkey, Combs invests only the minimally required commitment to constitute a professional performance. Amusingly, Combs＊ muted disinterest counteracts his usual over-the-top instincts. This refreshingly results in a reasonably grounded role for once, rather than one of Combs＊ typically scene-eating caricatures. (See ※Creepshow＊s§ ※Bad Wolf Down§ episode for reference.)
I poked around IMDb for a little bit and couldn＊t uncover any evidence that the four shorts in ※Holiday Hell§ come from other sources or earlier production years. Despite being made by four different directors, the segments look similar in terms of production value and play similarly in terms of tone.
This leaves me at a loss to understand why every segment definitively takes place in December except for one lone outlier that apparently does not. It＊s really weird for the wraparound to feature Christmas music in between stories set during Hanukah, an office Xmas party, and the winter solstice. Then the first story merely mentions Valentine＊s Day in a one-off line and that＊s it for its tenuous connection to a holiday theme. If these segments were indeed part of a singular project, why not throw up some colored lights in the vaguely Valentine＊s one and go all in a Christmas vibe?
※Dollface§ has bigger problems than not including any ho-ho-ho in its horror. It＊s a stale slasher setup where eight drunk and horny friends (strike one) party in a house where a notorious double murder took place (strike two) and end up offed in single-file fashion by a masked killer (strike three). One guy finds his face impaled with a beer bottle while another gets decapitated at the jaw, so some effort was put into FX at least. Outside of those two mildly creative kills, you could accidentally throw away ※Dollface§ with torn tissue paper and never remember it was under the tree to begin with.
Dopiness becomes both a blessing and a curse for ※The Hand That Rocks the Dreidel,§ which earns big bonus points for its absolutely amazing title.
The boon is that the segment is so knowingly goofy, it＊s easier to swallow its unconvincingly sold story of a kid whose sentient rabbi doll gives a thieving babysitter her comeuppance. Although it＊s hilariously bizarre, the Hebrew horror in diminutive doll form looks like it stepped straight out of Andre Toulon＊s trunk. Putting ※Puppet Master§ on the brain is inadvertently ingenious, as it inherently lowers standards by bringing to mind how completely crude that beloved series actually was.
※Dreidel＊s§ wicked laugh factor comes with some laziness when it exposes the overall cheapness of ※Holiday Hell.§ The only piece of set dressing in the little boy＊s bedroom is a shark magazine sitting next to an alarm clock on a nightstand. A P.A. with a $20 bill couldn＊t run to Target and pick up a pair of posters to throw on the wall? The babysitter also comes to the home to steal millions of dollars in antiques, art, and jewelry, yet the place looks like a barren-walled apartment in Van Nuys that no one even lives in.
Amber Stonebraker still stays spirited as the babysitter, even when the segment stalls by spending too much time on her stalking about the house. And even though he disappointingly doesn＊t do much, the rabbi doll makes for a memorable little murderer in what amounts to a chortle-worthy short. Chucky certainly doesn＊t have anything to worry about, but Blade and Torch might.
※Christmas Carnage§ continues Joel Murray＊s streak of playing pouty salesmen whose endless supplies of bum luck send him careening into craziness. He＊s as good as ever at it though, setting his level of acting at a 10 while almost everyone else in ※Holiday Hell§ operates at a three.
Murray＊s character covers the full spectrum of sad sack stereotyping. His disapproving wife regularly emasculates him. His boss passes him over for a promotion. He＊s a recovering alcoholic overdue for a turnaround that＊ll make his wife, boss, and rival pay him the attention he desperately deserves.
Long before a concoction of booze and pills gives Murray a head for homicide, anyone with eyes can see where ※Christmas Carnage§ will end up. The segment also goes on too long and shows signs of sloppiness when the lens loses focus a few times.
But Murray＊s devout dedication to making his slaughtering Santa sympathetic earns him the movie＊s MVP trophy. Harmontown comptroller Jeff Davis pulls his weight too as a conniving coworker who takes after Miguel Ferrer in ※Robocop§ by snorting coke off of bare breasts. Their zealousness for gleeful gruesomeness and snarky zingers makes ※Christmas Carnage§ the anthology＊s easy standout purely on the power of Davis and Murray＊s collective decision to say, ※to Hell with it§ and go for broke with personality-filled performances.
I＊m not sure if it would be cute or curt to review ※Room to Let§ with a simple ※bah humbug§ and leave it at that. The final segment is forgettable filler that probably finishes the movie only because a prominent prop plays into the wraparound＊s payoff. Like ※Dollface,§ it＊s more premise than plot, and its loose link to Christmas comes when someone remarks how no one in town decorates for the holiday. That counts, I guess?
Thanks to some okay acting here and there, ※Holiday Hell§ mostly holds its mouth above sea level without swallowing too much water. Factoring in two decent, if trifling segments, and two total duds, I＊ll split the score at 50/100, which errs on the generous side for an anthology this skeletal. What can I say? I＊m all about the gift of giving when holidays are involved. You＊d better be in a merry mood too if ※Holiday Hell§ is to have any hope of spiking your egg nog with entertainment.
Review Score: 50