This Christmas, horror fans will want to be not in Paris, on a tropical beach or at Rockefeller Center, but in Bailey Downs, a little hamlet with very much the wrong kind of holiday spirit. A Christmas Horror Story is a quasi-anthology with just about everything a genre nut could want under the tree: teen sex, elf zombies, a demonic Krampus … and Shatner. Fanboy love would be assured for this very entertaining little number even if it weren’t coming from a crew associated with the much-loved Ginger Snaps franchise.
William Shatner serves as the anchor for a quartet of stories here, playing a radio DJ pulling an increasingly eggnog-fueled double shift on his favorite holiday. But Christmas Eve is a fraught night for Bailey Downs, even more so than it was for James Stewart‘s suicidal George Bailey: A year ago tonight, two teens were found slaughtered in the basement of a school that once housed a home for pregnant teens.
An instant member of the Cruel Yule pantheon
That event is directly tied to two stories here. In one, three of the school’s students sneak onto campus to visit the off-limits site of the slaying, inevitably getting locked in that basement with the ghosts of unwed mothers. In another, the police officer who originally found the gory murder scene is attempting to escape his PTSD on a holiday outing with his family. Unfortunately, his son gets lost in the woods; what comes back looks like little Will, but is actually a changeling bent on destruction.
These conventional (and quite well executed) plotlines are paired with more outrageous and holiday-specific ones. A family’s visit to their mean, rich aunt’s country estate is interrupted by a horrific incarnation of Krampus, the folklore character who punishes naughty boys and girls while Santa’s out rewarding good ones. And up at the North Pole, elves have succumbed to a zombie virus, leaving it up to a spear-wielding, unexpectedly nimble Mr. Claus to save his own damn Christmas by putting his old workmates out of their misery.
Directors Grant Harvey, Brett Sullivan and Steven Hoban execute a couple of top-notch scares here, but don’t sacrifice minute-to-minute genre fun to do it. The choice to alternate between stories instead of presenting them as separate chapters contributes significantly to the picture’s lively feel, and despite having a trio of directors telling stories in four different genres (with a black-comic plot creeping into Shatner’s enjoyable interstitial scenes to boot), the film never feels schizophrenic. Throw in an absolutely killer twist at the end, and this is a package many fright fans will want to unwrap every year.
Production company: Copperheart Entertainment
Cast: Zoe de Grand’Maison, Amy Forsyth, Adrian Holmes, George Buza, William Shatner
Directors: Grant Harvey, Brett Sullivan, Steven Hoban
Screenwriters: Doug Taylor, Sarah Larsen, James Kee, Pascal Trottier
Producers: Steven Hoban, Mark Smith
Executive producer: David Hayter
Director of photography: Gavin Smith
Production designer: Tim Bider
Costume designer: Brenda Broer
Editors: Brett Sullivan, D. Gillian Truster
Music: Alex Khaskin
No rating, 99 minutes