We love portmanteau movies. Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, Tales that Witness Madness, really anything that Amicus ever did? Yep. However, modern versions tend to be seriously lacking, substituting gore and shock for storytelling and proper use of the form.
LIke A Christmas Horror Story. It skirts the very thing that makes the anthology film tick — it has a framing device, but instead of using it to start the story, every single installment seems like it’s happening at the same time. The better way to do this is for each story to have its moment in the sun, as narratively this film feels like cut jump city.
The main thread of the film is Dangerous Dan (William Shatner, The Devil’s Rain!), who is doing his annual holiday marathon radio show. Meanwhile, all holiday hell is breaking loose:
STORY ONE: Three high school kids break into their school — which was once a convent — to investigate the murders that happened in the basement last year. One of their friends was supposed to go, but she had to go out of town with her parents. We’ll get back to her later. Anyhow, everyone ends up locked in the basement, one of them gets possessed and tries to have sex with everyone. Turns out that the ghost is a pregnant teenager who had a virgin conception that nuns killed when they tried to take it out of her body. The ghost just wants her child to be born, so it gets the girl knocked up, kills the boy and lets her go.
STORY TWO: A police officer illegally chops down a Christmas tree for his family, but his son disappears for a while. When they find him, he’s never the same again. The owner of the woods calls the wife and tells her that he is a changeling and that they need to return him. Of course, the kid kills the dad and decorates him like a tree before the mom brings it back, kills the master of the woods and gets her child back.
STORY THREE: Remember that girl who didn’t get to go along with her friends? Well, she’s heading to visit aunt Etta, who scares everyone with her tales of Krampus. On the way home from the disastrous family holiday, they crash their car and are chased by Krampus. Turns out that this is the worst family ever, filled with sins. Luckily, the oldest daughter is able to kill Krampus before transforming into the beast and killing her aunt.
STORY FOUR: Santa Claus has issues — everyone in his life has become a zombie. He fights a horde of his loved ones to the death before battle Krampus, but it turns out that he is really Dangerous Dan’s weatherman and he’s had a nervous breakdown. He’s really been killing people in the mall and the police arrive and gun him down.
This film all takes place in the town of Bailey Downs, where both Ginger Snaps and Orphan Black originate. That’s because they share the same directorial team — Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, and Brett Sullivan.
I will say that the special effects are really nice for the budget. But sadly, the film feels rote. There are few moments of surprise or wonder that things happen the way that they do. Some of it feels made for the Hot Topic hipsters of the world, those that scoff at Christmas while celebrating Krampus because it makes them feel cool and edgy to do so. And yet there are a few cool moments and it’s not like I wasn’t entertained. But I wanted more. I wanted a narrative thread I could follow, I wanted a reason for these things to be happening versus them just happening.
Maybe I expect too much. Maybe Amicus spoiled me. But I felt like I had just eaten several handfuls of Christmas cookies and was left with a stomach ache.