Directed By: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Starring: William Shatner, George Buza, Rob Archer
Tag line: "You Better Watch Out"
Trivia: This movie was retitled "A Holiday Horror Story" to be sold at Walmart stores
A few years back (2007, to be precise), an excellent Halloween-themed horror anthology titled Trick ‘r Treat was released. For many genre fans, it has since become a holiday tradition, a movie they watch each and every October to put them in the right frame of mind for the 31st. After hearing some positive buzz about A Christmas Horror Story, I was hopeful this 2015 film would join the ranks of 1974’s Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night as one of the Christmas Season’s better horror offerings. Perhaps, like Trick ‘r Treat, it might even be a movie I’ll pop into the Blu-Ray player every single year…
Of course, all bets were off if A Christmas Horror Story wasn’t any good, but the idea of a Christmas horror anthology featuring the great William Shatner gave me hope that it was going to be something special.
Directed by Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, and Brett Sullivan, the movie whisks us away to the tiny metropolis of Bailey Downs, where radio DJ “Dangerous” Dan (Shatner) is hosting his annual Christmas Eve show. With plenty of Holiday cheer (and a couple glasses of alcohol-laced egg nog), Dan says he’s certain this Christmas is going to be better than the last, when two students were found murdered in the basement of St. Joseph’s Academy, a parochial school that, years earlier, had been a convent. In fact, three current students, Molly (Zoé De Grand Maison), Dylan (Shannon Kook) and Ben (Alex Ozerov), are putting together a documentary about the gruesome tragedy (a crime that, to this day, has never been solved). Armed with a camera, they sneak into the school and make their way to the basement, where the murders occurred. Unfortunately, the door locks behind them, trapping the three inside, and it’s while looking for a way out that they solve the riddle of last year’s killings. But will they survive long enough to tell anyone about it?
At the same time this is going on, Scott (Adrian Holmes), the police officer who investigated the murders last December, is leading his wife Kim (Olunike Adeliyi) and young son Will (Orion John) into the woods to look for a Christmas tree. Ignoring signs that they’re trespassing on private property, Scott finds what he believes is the perfect tree, but while he’s cutting it down, Will wanders off, seemingly disappearing into thin air. After a frantic search, Scott and Kim find Will hiding in a hollowed-out tree. Relieved, they head home to start decorating for the holidays. It isn’t long, though, before the couple realizes there’s something not quite right about Will, who, since his disappearance, has refused to talk. What happened to him while he was missing?
Next, we join the Bauer family: dad Taylor (Jeff Clarke), mom Diane (Michelle Nolden), and kids Caprice (Amy Forsyth) and Duncan (Percy Hynes White), who are on their way to visit Taylor’s estranged (and quite wealthy) Aunt Edda (Corrine Conley). After a tense car ride, they arrive at their destination, only to find Aunt Edda isn’t exactly happy to see them. As Taylor and his Aunt talk in private, Duncan admires a pair of holiday figurines depicting Santa Claus and his arch-enemy, Krampus. When told by Gerhardt (Julian Richings), Aunt Edda’s caretaker, to leave them alone, Duncan purposefully breaks the Krampus statue, at which point the family is asked to leave. But they never do make it home, and before the night is out, the Bauers will discover what happens to those who don’t behave as they should.
Finally, we make a trip to the North Pole, where Santa (George Buza) is preparing for his annual Christmas Eve flight. But something is wrong with his elves, which are growing more aggressive as the big night approaches. It soon becomes apparent that the elves have contracted a deadly virus, one that causes them to die, then rise again, leaving Santa and Mrs. Claus (Debra McCabe) to fight for their lives against an army of zombie elves.
With tales spanning a variety of horror genres (supernatural, zombie, monster, etc.), A Christmas Horror Story is, for the most part, an entertaining watch. Shatner is at his smarmy best as Dangerous Dan, who professes a love for Christmas, yet needs a few drinks to get through his show; and I was a fan of two of the movie’s segments: the one with the cop and his family, who find themselves dealing with something they can’t possibly understand, and the argumentative Bauers, who see the errors of their ways only when it’s too late to do anything about it. Though creepy at times, the story set in the school treaded familiar supernatural territory, and despite an interesting conclusion, didn’t bring anything new to the table. Most upsetting of all, however, was the sequence that should have been the best: Santa and his workshop full of zombie elves. Alas, it really isn’t all that frightening, and scenes meant to be funny didn’t make me laugh (once turned, the elves shout obscenities directed at Santa and his wife, which continue until Santa, armed with his shepherd’s staff, finishes them off for good). Though this particular tale did feature the finest ending of the bunch, it was, for the most part, a disappointment.
Overall, I enjoyed A Christmas Horror Story, and will likely be watching it again (probably next December), but to be honest, it didn’t blow me away like Trick ‘R’ Treat did.
So, will it become a yearly Holiday tradition? It’s hard to say at this point. Check back in 12 months, and I’ll have an answer for you.