William Shatner, Krampus, and zombie elves come together in A Christmas Horror Story, a festive and frightening holiday horror anthology that makes its world premiere tonight at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival.
There’s trouble at the North Pole at the outset of A Christmas Horror Story. We’re introduced to a weary and bloodied Santa Claus in the reindeer stable before backtracking 12 hours and stepping into the town limits of Bailey Downs—the same place where werewolves roamed in Ginger Snaps.
It’s Christmas Eve and radio DJ Dan (William Shatner) is cozied up behind the mike at the studio, ringing in his beloved holiday with spiked eggnog and tinsel-themed tunes. Elsewhere in town, three teenagers sneak into the basement of a school where a grisly murder-by-crucifixion happened one year previously. Also out and about are two families—one that encounters mystical evil in the forest and another that runs across the vengeful Krampus. Meanwhile up north, Santa deals with a spreading infection amongst his little helpers. It’s not long before Dan's cherished holiday turns into a horrific evening of living nightmares for all involved.
Directed by Steven Hoban (Darknet), Grant Harvey (She Made Me Do It) and Brett Sullivan (Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed), and penned by Doug Taylor (Splice), Sarah Larsen (Darknet), James Kee (Darknet), and Pascal Trottier (Hellions), the tales in A Christmas Horror Story combine for a darkly comedic take on terror, but make no mistake—though more than enough laugh-inducing moments (particularly during Shatner’s humorous and heartfelt solo speeches and Santa’s blood-drenched survival quest) exist, far more genuinely unsettling scenarios fill the frame throughout A Christmas Horror Story’s 100-minute runtime.
A seven-year-old’s altered state and the haunted halls of a former convent offer slow-build, creeping horror experiences in respective stories, while the chain-wielding Krampus and zombified North Pole set the stage for two wildly intense trips down an action-horror avenue that’s well worth taking.
A Christmas Horror Story cuts back and forth between its assorted tales, offering solid samples of each narrative before moving on to the next one. Sometimes the shifts in tone are a bit too jarring or it feels like we’ve been away from certain stories for a tad too long, but it’s still an overall effectively eerie viewing experience that works better than a strictly segmented structure.
Amplifying the film’s dark tone are the largely investable people inhabiting it. Characters who could have easily been written-off as one-note caricatures become impressively fleshed-out before their flesh is ripped out. The people inhabiting these stories are flawed—their family dysfunctions believable and somewhat relatable rather than played strictly over-the-top. The friendships of the trapped basement-bound teens also ring true, their comforting words and Christmas remembrances offering plenty of heart before the horror inevitably hits.
Coming to conclusions for each story in a largely satisfactory manner and featuring an unforeseeable gut-punch ending, A Christmas Horror Story definitely sticks the landing—a feat that can be particularly difficult for horror anthology films—and tells bold, uncompromising holiday-themed tales along the way. A Christmas Horror Story takes dark and violent turns in its journey through December 24th, but still retains a flat-out fun atmosphere in which Christmas miracles just might exist—if you can survive to see them.
Movie Score: 4/5