THE NIGHTS BEFORE CHRISTMAS (2019)

Nights Before Christmas.jpg

Studio:      Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment
Director:    Paul Tanter
Writer:      Simon Phillips, Paul Tanter
Producer:  Simon Phillips, Paul Tanter, Ken Bressers
Stars:     Kate Schroeder, Marc Gammal, Simon Phillips, Sayla De Goede, Keegan Chambers, Barry Kennedy, Shannon Cotter

Review Score:

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Summary:

One year after their previous murder spree, serial killers dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus embark on another rampage.


Synopsis:     

Review:

¡°The Nights Before Christmas¡± is a sequel to 2017¡¯s ¡°Once Upon a Time at Christmas¡± (review here). I mention that not for clarity but to jog my own memory because I saw that first film and the thing I remember most is only that I hated it.

Looking back at my recap and review, I¡¯m reminded that ¡°Once Upon a Time at Christmas¡± was about amateur actors playing pretend police while chasing down married psychos in Santa and Mrs. Claus costumes. Because it was themed to the ¡¯12 Days of Christmas,¡¯ their serial killing plot involved murdering three members of the ¡®Frenchens¡¯ family, five golden rings from severed fingers, eight sabotaged milking machines, and nine other ludicrously convenient terror tableaus based on the classic song. Miraculously, each of these instances also tied back to one teenage girl, the secret daughter of Nick the killer Santa. (What would have happened if she didn¡¯t know anyone with the last names Swan or Partridge?) It was like a bad ¡®80s soap opera turned into a bad ¡®90s horror movie. It was also an absurd premise for a procedural mystery, yet ¡°Once Upon a Time at Christmas¡± played everything with 95% seriousness.

I therefore wasn¡¯t expecting ¡°The Nights Before Christmas,¡± which was previously titled ¡°Twice Upon a Time at Christmas,¡± to be any better. In fact, you could argue that the only thing dumber than the first film¡¯s story is the idea of even bothering to give the follow-up a go. I am a sucker for sequels though, so I rolled my eyes with a ¡°why do I do this to myself?¡± sigh and took an ill-advised plunge on Round Two anyway.

So believe me, I¡¯m as shocked as anyone to see myself say this. But I¡¯ve got to give it up to ¡°The Nights Before Christmas.¡± Seriously. Now, I¡¯m not saying it¡¯s a good movie. And despite 3/5 stars for the review score, I don¡¯t really recommend it either. Nevertheless, director Paul Tanter and his team put in the work to churn out the best looking low-budget Christmas slasher conceivable. That¡¯s a hell of a lot more than most holiday horror films do on the DTV level, and the commitment definitely deserves a sincere pat on the back.

It may not matter if you¡¯ve seen the prior movie or not. I did, and my notes didn¡¯t mesh with where the sequel starts out.

¡°The Nights Before Christmas¡± opens with a ¡®Four Years Ago¡¯ prologue where costumed killers Nick and Michelle torture an asylum staff before burning the building and escaping. My synopsis from ¡°Once Upon a Time at Christmas¡± said Nick was last seen breaking Michelle out of jail, a different scenario than the one depicted here.

The movie next jumps to ¡®Present Day,¡¯ where original killing spree survivor Courtney reflects that it¡¯s been only one year since the massacre. I thought the film goofed its own continuity by forgetting what it said about the timeline five minutes ago. Turns out, the prologue takes place before ¡°Once Upon a Time at Christmas;¡± it¡¯s not a recap of the ending. Who knows what happened after the jail escape then.

Maybe that¡¯s on me for failing to get it straight. I still say you¡¯re liable to be baffled about the dates whether you¡¯re familiar with the original film or not. But that¡¯s a negligible head-scratcher considering the weird places where everything winds up going.

Since I¡¯ve spent too much time covering my personal confusion, I¡¯ll simply summarize the plot by saying Nick and Michelle are at it again, and FBI special agent Natalie Something-or-Other is on the case. Natalie thinks the killer couple is going after the two girls who made it out alive last time, yet curious clues connecting new victims hint there may be a different motive in play. Once again, ¡®Santa and Mrs. Claus¡¯ are making a mystery out of murder. It¡¯s up to Natalie to figure out what seasonal silliness might be behind this year¡¯s slaughter streak.

Let¡¯s get this out of the way. Like ¡°Once Upon a Time at Christmas,¡± there won¡¯t be a single second during ¡°The Nights Before Christmas¡± when you¡¯ll be able to stop snickering long enough to accept any of these unknown actors as believable law enforcement professionals. For one thing, they just don¡¯t have the look. For another, the script sets them up to perform inane actions that wouldn¡¯t be acceptable protocol for The Keystone Cops, let alone the FBI.

In sharp contrast to the ¡®shoot first, ask questions some other time¡¯ mentality of many American authorities, the FBI agents in ¡°The Nights Before Christmas¡± love pulling their pistols without pulling the trigger. I lost count of how many times someone holds Nick or Michelle at gunpoint only for the bad guys to get the drop because the person is too timid to shoot. To be fair, guns also jam or have their bullets missing too. But I think the finale is the only time a weapon actually fires.

Although these people may not seem authentic, their wardrobe comes close. What I mean by the movie putting in the work is that, for example, when police personnel process a crime scene, there are at least six cops, three FBI agents, and a pair of forensic analysts milling about the screen. A shameless run-and-gun cheapie would just put the nearest pair of bodies in knockoff Spirit Halloween outfits and call it a day. ¡°The Nights Before Christmas¡± still looks like adults playing make-believe, but at least there are a lot of cops, cars, and costumes putting up an effort to appear like the scope is realistic.

I¡¯ve said before that I¡¯ll always award extra credit to indie projects that brave inclimate weather or uncomfortable conditions instead of taking the easier way out with a single-location yawner starring two people. ¡°The Nights Before Christmas¡± spends a lot of time out in remote forest snow. Locations also include an actual church, a passable corporate boardroom, a hospital hall, and so on. There¡¯s even a car chase. Naturally, it wouldn¡¯t pass muster on a Michael Bay action epic and it is equally unlikely to pull you toward the edge of your seat. What I¡¯m saying though is that this isn¡¯t bare minimum coverage. If you¡¯re willing to give a pass to a Full Moon feature or whatever, then you¡¯ve got to respect how much the filmmakers attempt here.

Speaking of vintage Full Moon style, ¡°The Nights Before Christmas¡± flavors itself a lot like a retro straight-to-VHS Santa slasher. This includes featuring a topless young woman doing an extended striptease for no narrative reason. ¡°Silent Night, Deadly Night¡± (review here) had a lot of unnecessary nudity and I love that movie. It¡¯d be hypocritical to criticize ¡°The Nights Before Christmas¡± for tossing in throwback T&A. At least it¡¯s more sexy than sleazy. Well, until her cold corpse (never mind her blinking eyelids) needlessly appears naked in the morgue too (the agent examining her body pulls the sheet down past her breasts instead of just to her neck).

100+ minutes is way too long for something that¡¯s largely a repetitive series of slicing and dicing. I don¡¯t think any ¡°Friday the 13th¡± films run this long. Like I said, I can¡¯t really recommend the movie unless you want to see a killer Santa with a burned face, cataract eyeball, metal teeth, and British accent terrorize indie actors. If somehow that sounds like your thing, then ¡°The Nights Before Christmas¡± may be the brandy you want in your egg nog.

No matter what, I¡¯m still impressed with what Paul Tanter and company put onscreen, even if much of it doesn¡¯t deliver as intended. If nothing else, I now feel alright about the upcoming third installment ¡°One Christmas Night in a Toy Store,¡± which is preferable to the dread I felt going into this one.

Review Score: 60