A Christmas Horror Story [Fantasia Film Festival] (2015)



In the town of Bailey Downs, strange things are afoot on this Christmas Eve. Surely, it must be the Holiday Spirit, that good feeling most people get around the end of the year making them want to be nice, to be generous, to be… Or maybe it’s something much darker as this eve is bloody and filled with mayhem of all kinds, something akin to what one would expect on Krampusnacht.

A Christmas Horror Story is an anthology film in the vein of Trick R Treat, where there is a kind of wrap around story and a few interwoven tales. In this case, we meet a radio station host, DJ Dan (William Shatner), who tells us all about his favorite holiday. Then the movie starts jumping around between 4 short stories: one following a group of teens in a haunted school basement; one following a young family reeling from the father’s PTSD and dealing with a dark entity; one following a family dealing with financial problems and infighting while also meeting a grim fate; and the story of Santa battling an invasion of evil under his own roof. Each story is written by a different person, yet they all feel like they belong together and intertwine well without the switch from one to the next being jarring which is something the aforementioned Trick R Treat and the upcoming Tales of Halloween do really well too. Each story is not only intertwined in timeline, but we also see characters from one story showing up into the other all the way until the final reveal which some will love and some will hate. Personally, as much as I loved the movie, the reveal had about the same effect on me as the reveal in ColdWater, I could have done without it but still loved what came before once it happened.

All the stories worked so well together that small issues such as the ending can easily be overlooked. I do strongly believe that the work done by the 3 directors had to be demanding of them as they not only had to work as a group on separate projects but they also needed to make sure the completed movie had a cohesive feel, as if it was all written and directed by only one person. Of course, there are subtle stylistic and tone differences between the stories as a ghost story and a Krampus apparition do not necessarily lend themselves to the same type of filmmaking, ghosts needing more subtlety at times while Krampus is usually more brutal to say the least. The three directors, Grant Harvey, Steve Hoban, and Brett Sullivan did great with all the stories and challenges. Sullivan also served as editor with D. Gillian Truster and Hoban was also a producer, bringing extra layers to the cohesiveness of the multiple parts which in less capable hands could have been more a collage of random stories than a complete movie. All of them have the experience and love of the genre to make this into a successful franchise if they want to (rumblings are that a second movie is quite possible if this one does well).

The writing and directing are supported here by a talented cast of actors, of which I must start off with William Shatner of whom I am not the biggest fan. Here however, as the big personality DJ Dan, I actually love him. Maybe it was the small doses of Shatner or the way the part was written, but he was very good here, endearing even at times. The way his broadcast brought the movie and the stories together was close to perfect (for almost almost perfect, please see another review coming soon). The other stand-out performances are by Zoe De Grand Maison, George Buza, and Rob Archer. Zoe De Grand Maison turn a nuanced performance as Molly in the ghost segment going from cunning to sweet and back in a matter of seconds at times. George Buza as Santa in shows a caring side at first as would be expected of Santa and then kicking ass, just the kind of Father Christmas this movie needed… Especially given the Krampus we get here who is the dark to Santa’s light. This Krampus is played by Rob Archer and he towers over anyone else in the film. Krampus, as should be is a badass motherfucker here, an unstoppable force to reckon with who eventually meets his match. He is played perfectly for his segment, very physical, almost animalistic while still part human, which is necessary to keep him scary but not make him too much or ridiculous. Having seen more than my fair share of monster movies, this one is effective and you end up almost rooting for him.

This monster leads up directly to another important part of this movie, the special effects. While the performance behind a character like Krampus is important, so are the effects to bring him to life. This beast is huge and having seen the sculpt in person; his head is a detailed work of art by a talented team of artists. The application of it was also important, its consistency showing as the viewer cannot tell that it was not all shot in one day, comparatively to other movies where the monster changes depending on the day of shooting. Other characters also have fairly complex practical effects applied to them, including a few elves, a child, and other creatures. These as well as the rest of the effects are all very good and the CGI is pretty seamless. They even created entire pieces of decor/background in CGI without having it look fake or like it were too much. The use of CGI here feels unobtrusive and is easily forgotten which is the best way to use it in my opinion. There are a couple of scenes where a more trained eye might notice it but they are few and far in-between, not being enough to take you out of the story as happens far too often in other movies.

All of this made for a fun holiday romp that I highly suggest seeing, particularly with a group when it comes out near you. It’s fun, it’s scary, it has something for every horror fan out there from the casual fan who will love the accessibility of the stories to the more hardcore nerdy horror fan who will recognize the name of Bailey Downs from the get go. Now someone get Ginger in the sequel.