Movie Review: A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY

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a christmas horror story
Image Entertainment
2015
NR

No Elves were harmed in the making of this film.

  • It’s the season of joy, peace, and goodwill…unless you live in Bailey Downs. Last Christmas Eve, two teens came to a grisly end in a school basement. Now, one year later, a new set of horrors has come to town. As three friends explore the site of the massacre, a malevolent spirit is determined to keep them there forever. One of the first cops to the scene of the bloody murders has new complications as his seven-year-old son exhibits terrifying and violent behavior. And when a local family seeks reconciliation with an estranged aunt for the wrong reasons, they suddenly find themselves running in terror from Krampus, the demonic anti-Santa Claus. Not even St. Nick is immune to the terror as he fights back against a horde of zombie elves. This is destined to be a holiday no one will ever forget…

If you’re like me, and prefer something a bit more dark and sinister mixed in with your Christmas cheer, then you probably gravitate more towards the Christmas movies that fall under the “horror” section of the movie streaming service that you prefer. I used to say, “Video Store”, but who even remembers those nowadays? Besides us old people. Get off my lawn.

Anyway, there’s been some pretty good Christmas horror movies that have come out this past decade–Rare Exports, Sint, Krampus, Anna And The Apocalypse. One movie that somehow escaped my notice when it first came out in 2015 was A Christmas Horror Story. It came out before the movie Krampus the same year; I recall watching Krampus in the theater, whereas A Christmas Horror Story received a very limited theatrical run, before being released to VOD and DVD shortly thereafter. I had to check it out on VOD, and I’m rather glad I did so.

A Christmas Horror Story is an anthology film that features four short horror stories, all tied together with a wrap-around that features William Shatner as an alcoholic radio DJ pulling a late shift on Christmas telling the tales. I could just stop the review right here, and leave it at “You had me at William Shatner”. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t go through with the review, here.

So, there are four stories: the first one deals with a bunch of stupid teenagers breaking into their school after hours to check out the place where two fellow students were found murdered a year prior, then they’re terrorized by a bloody ghost (no, I wasn’t going for British slang, the ghost is rather bloody); the second story finds one of the police officers that was involved in the investigation of the murdered students the prior year on administrative leave, deciding to take his wife and son out to chop down a live Christmas tree, only to come home to discover the son was replaced by a changeling; the third story finds a family visiting their elderly–and very rich–aunt for all the wrong reasons, finding themselves terrorized by Krampus; the fourth and final story finds Santa himself discovering that his elves and Mrs. Claus have turned into zombies, and having to take them all down, leading to a final showdown with Krampus…and then a big twist that I won’t go into here, as I want to have you watch this yourself to find out.

Overall: A Christmas Horror Story was a rather enjoyable watch. It his all the cravings I had for the Christmas spirit as well as my love of the horror genre, with the segments done very well, and the wrap-around story and eventual conclusion that tied everything together working very well. William Shatner as a drunken and sullen radio DJ is worth the price of admission alone. But, we also get the original voice of Beast on the 1990s X-Men cartoon playing Santa Claus, which was a good casting choice. Equal parts entertaining and chilling, grab some eggnog, hot chocolate, and Holiday kettle corn, turn down the lights and enjoy some Christmas horror goodness.

Movie Review: KRAMPUS

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krampus-poster-galleryUniversal Pictures
2015
PG-13

“I just got my ass kicked by a bunch of Christmas cookies!”

When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive.

For an old curmudgeon like myself, who has no use for this manufactured “Christmas spirit” that’s forced down everyone’s throats starting in September and going through the end of the year, it’s a rare movie that actually gets me to smile and get that warm glowing feeling about the part of the Holiday Clusterbomb Season that, more often than not, brings out the worst in everyone. And as you could probably surmise, the recently released Krampus is one of those rare movies that does just that.

Normally, I would wait until the DVD release to watch a movie like Krampus, even though I was greatly intrigued by the fact that it was done by the guys who brought us another favorite holiday classic: Trick R’ Treat. But, I was treated to it as a birthday present, and thus caught it on the day it was released into theaters. And boy howdy, did this dark horror comedy bring me a much-needed distraction to the ongoing existential quandary that comes with turning another year older.

We begin our story with a suburban upper-middle class family preparing to celebrate Christmas with the arrival of the mother’s sister’s family. When gathered together in one house, this goes about as well as would be expected in a Hollywood Christmas movie. That is to say, manufactured tension and drama up the chimney. In a fit of anger, little Max tears up his heartfelt letter to Santa and tosses it out the window the first night, then wakes up the next morning to a surprise blizzard that has frozen the entire neighborhood and knocked out the power. Also, a mysterious snowman has appeared in their lawn. Then a massive scary-looking shadow begins appearing on the rooftops, followed by people disappearing one by one. Then the grandmother tells the tale of when she accidentally summoned Krampus as a child to take everyone in the village she grew up in, except for her as a form of torment. Of course, this is believed to be the senile ramblings of an old lady…until Krampus’ minions arrive to wreak Gremlins-style terror on the clan, until the Anti-Claus himself shows up to drag everyone to the netherworld.

Since seeing this film, I’ve been proclaiming Krampus as an instant Holiday classic. And for good reason: It’s equal parts National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Gremlins, and Ridley Scott’s Alien mixed together and baked into a grizzly looking but tasty cookie. The family dynamic of the characters is palpable enough to warrant a bit of caring about them, and I’m glad they took the time at first to build that. But, of course, this being a holiday horror movie, the horror part is just as effective, managing to build the tension and wisely keeping the scary things in the shadows and implied. And when the scary things do show their ugly mugs, it a very effective usage of mostly practical effects that push this thing over the edge. I say “mostly”, because there’s some unavoidable usage of CGI for what I’ll just refer to as the “cookie attack” that I can understand having to resort to, but still seemed a bit more hokey than I could take. Also, kudos on the movie for faking me out with making me think this was going to take the old “It was all a dream!” cop-out at the end. Very satisfying ending to a very satisfying movie.

So, now I have another movie to add to my list of Christmas themed movies that don’t make me want to vomit up tinsel into the wassail. Indeed, Krampus is destined to be a Holiday classic for those of us who consider “Bah, Humbug” to be a catchphrase this time of year.