A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
You Better Watch Out
Originally, I would have loved to put up a review for this in the December slot, but it's unfortunate that it took me four months after that to see it. Still, this is very much a movie that falls into the category of "box art looks awesome, how bad could it be?" as far as initial draws. I mean, look at that box art and tell me this movie doesn't look rad! From the trailer, I walk away with "anthology movie" and "Shatner," and at this point I can't argue that my interest has been peaked - considering I love me some anthology films. A modest run time of an hour and a half even further sealed the deal to get me to watch it, but let's figure out if I think you should watch it.
So, the normal flow of an anthology flick in classical horror - I'm talking the likes of Tales from the Hood, Creepshow, or even the more recent Trick 'r Treat - is that you have a "wrapper" story that surrounds the others but could essentially be considered inconsequential outside it's delivery of the stories contained within it. In this case, that part is played by the roll of William Shatner - and I say that roll instead of that plot because for all purposes he's the only person in it. The DJ here references our little stories with things that he does - the family from one story on a holiday greeting card, locations or events pertaining to the other two main stories also being mentioned. Of course, this is but the wrapper of our candy-coated terror for the night, but I should mention that presentation differs from the norm of this little subtype. Whereas most anthology flicks will tell their stories one after the other, this movie will cut between the four stories practically without warning.
Of our four stories, one feels the least at home with the others - all of which are pretty well Christmas oriented in one way or the other - and that would be the story of the Changeling. It's a neat enough story I suppose, even if it feels outside of our initial introduction to this story in which a family goes into a fenced off wood to effectively "steal" a Christmas tree. On their way out, their kid wanders off and gets lost, only for the parents to find him inside a spooky tree - even though it's pretty obvious that the kid isn't acting normal even if we've only known him from less than ten minutes of showing. The father character has ties to the other weakest story of the movie, but their story itself consists of mostly the kid acting strange and then trying to deal with it. This story has some genuinely uncomfortable moments in it, and some of the effects hold up better than others during it's run.
The other of the stories I just mentioned focuses on a group of kids who go to a school where some murders happened a year prior on Christmas to shoot some footage because they found a spooky cop video (that the father of the other story was in) and can't use it in their school project since they shouldn't even have it. This would effectively have to be the highest content of 'jump scares' in the movie, with one being rather effective and most just being "called it" kind of moments. The trio of kids end up going to the school after getting some keys from one of the boys girlfriend - who ties into another of the stories - but after getting into a basement section find themselves locked in. Here we are treated to a somewhat average ghost tale. I'd lie if said it contained some sort of crazy unforeseen twist. Again, effects are pulled off decently enough here, although I'd argue acting falls behind the others with the possible exception of the next I'll talk about. To be fair, it was the only of the four that got me to move in my seat at all - even if it was only the once.
The next story involves the girlfriend I mentioned in the last. Here, a family trip is happening (giving her an excuse to not be with the other kids in that story) as the family of four go on a surprise visit to their aunt's house. When they get there, we get a super brief little explanation of Krampus - which everyone should know at this point, with all the Christmas horror flicks in the past couple of years - and find out that most of the family is rather deplorable when it comes to their moral standings. The son breaks something seemingly out of spite, and the entire family gets ejected from the house by the "scared" aunt. Of course, on the way home they get run off the road by the big scary horned critter itself, and try to get back to the aunt's house before he claims them for being the terrible people they are. This is far more Christmas related than the past two stories and the effects are also more impressively done than the others - although some of that might just be from the fact there is more of them used, what with the hooked chains and the super-tongue and the monster 'suit' itself.
Our final story is by far my favorite of the bunch. Santa's Workshop is having a bit of a problem when one of the elves behaves strangely. After getting infuriated by cookies, he ends up cutting his hand with an axe, bleeding on other elves, and then dying - something that Elves aren't supposed to be able to do. When we next cut in, Santa is boarding up the door and telling the wife to run and hide while he holds of the coming horde of zombie-elves. Throughout this entire story Santa is one bad dude, and although it's all pretty violent (what with cutting up zombie-elves and the likes) the fact that the elves personality changes to cursing little violent versions of themselves somehow ends up bringing some humor into it. Effects here again end up being quite good, and the action is fun and leads up to the cover art moment we spend most this movie waiting for. Santa here also feels like an old-school action here as he delivers his lines, which is a nice little touch that has me feeling he's one of my favorite characters when it comes to acting in this movie.
If I had to lodge any major complaints towards this movie, my primary one would be the hacked-up storytelling method. On one hand, it's kind of nice since it makes them all feel as though they are happening at once, but it also ends up feeling like an excuse to have time pass in one story without needing to show the events in it because "hey, look at that story!" I personally would have preferred the dropping of one of the weaker stories so that more could have been done with the other three. That being said, any of the twists that might pop up in the stories are largely seen coming outside of perhaps two, and the only real stand-out story is that of Santa and his elves. Audio is fine across the board, although expect quite a bit of Christmas tunes to creep into the scenes. Most the stories will have at least one person who does a pretty good job acting, so even the more boring or bland of the stories have the possibility to be found enjoyable I suppose.
For the reasons I came to this movie - that being Santa vs Krampus and Shatner - I left content. For such a bit part in the wrapper segment, Shatner manages to shine through with a rather convincing performance, and by the time we finally get the actual showdown between the others mentioned I was smiling from ear to ear. That being said, everyone will most likely find at least one of the stories they couldn't care less about - and since the cutting intermingles all the stories, it practically forces you to watch that to get to the nougaty center of the candy reward. Considering it's (by today's standards) short run time, I feel relatively good about recommending people should try and check this one out through rental for the Santa saves Christmas from the zombies of Krampus story line alone, but it's also entirely possible people may find even more they like about this than just that.