Beginning with our beloved gift giver about to board his sleigh and coming full circle towards the end, A Christmas Horror Story weaves together four stories of almost every popular horror sub-genre. With our first story, we have a found-footage style ghost story set within the dark corridors of a school. Our second story follows a police officer and his family in a creature possession mishmash, who despite the warnings of trespassing, illegally cut down a tree. On the way they seamlessly cross paths with the next desperate and foolish family, who wind up getting into an accident, soon finding them being picked off one by one in the vein of a holiday slasher. Finally, we come back around to a festering nod to modern zombies, as Santa Claus must ward off his elves that only want to devour flesh.
While certainly not being a new concept in the world of horror cinema, with George Romero’s Creepshow having carved a place over 30 years ago, anthologies have since become more mainstream with Michael Dougherty’s 2007 woven horror treat, Trick R’ Treat. The greatest similarities come between the character’s paths, often overlapping in some magnificent or minute manor, which works to establish a pace lacking in breakups or cuts that might remove us from the film. With our stories loosely being introduced by disc jockey Dangerous Dan (William Shatner), A Christmas Horror Story jumps back and forth between each tale, often placing too much on our plate. It can feel burdensome to embrace all our stories at once, though there is a decent amount of fun to be had with each.
Establishing its first story with a group of teenagers who should probably want to have sex rather than break into a school (I mean, right?), our group of paranormal investigators wave goodbye to their friend who initiates the third story, who passes the vehicle of our second story. It’s a brief introduction that exemplifies the disorder our film follows, juggling four stories without any real rhyme or reason. It’s a method Trick R’ Treat used much more confidently and smoothly, layering each story like a beautifully decorated tree. Each story lacks a central character(s) that grounds the story in our deepest consideration or appreciation. Besides a staff wielding Santa Clause, we find ourselves rooting mostly for the demise of each character on screen. There’s a superficiality to our horror inspired Christmas treats, resembling a well put together fruit cake that in the end winds up being, well, still a fruit cake.
Directors Grant Harvey, Steven Hoburn and Brett Sullivan certainly deserve praise and applause however, as they manage to blend enough sub-genre’s into one film that doesn’t pander too much to its fans. The shaky camera in our first story is quickly disposed of in favor of deeper shadows and richer tones. Santa moves around his workshop, slaying Christmas elf after Christmas elf, offering enjoyable new levels to our zombie tale. Our stranded family embraces what’s in the shadows, while delivering enough bloody eggnog to satisfy the splatter fiend in all of us. What falls flat unfortunately is our second story, passing on an engaging premise of wrongdoing, family woes and marital hiccups that could have featured some Twilight Zone inspired creatures. Where awe-inspiring makeup brings to life the mythological terror of Krampus, we are too often treated to poor digital effects that only hinder and shift our wonder of our four stories.
While there is a terrific end to Santa’s unwrapping of the undead, grounding our film in grisly and disturbing festivities, it ends up being too little too late. There’s certainly something to be said about the push and veneration for holiday inspired horror films, however it’s one that continually leaves a lot of room for improvement. A Christmas Horror Story is a forgettable yet fun little holiday horror anthology that winds up feeling too adventitious for its own good.