Before I go any further I must warn you there’s at least 12-inches of fluffy, white spoilers forecasted to fall in this review. Just thought I’d warn you all, so “dress” appropriately, if you intend to tread this terrain.
Ever since Trick ‘r’ Treat (2007) came on the scene, became an overnight cult classic and raised the bar for horror anthologies, it seems everyone and their brother is trying hard to add their own spin to this sub-genre. This year alone there has been two noteworthy entries that have caught my interest, Tales Of Halloween (2015), which I have not seen yet, but keeping my fingers crossed I’ll be able to review when it hits disc next year, and this flick here, A Christmas Horror Story. The latter is doubly significant due to the sudden popularity of the Krampus myth we’ve had this year as well. There are three other films I already know of that are getting ready to either hit disc or debut theatrically end of this year and early next that centers on this anti-Clause being. While A Christmas Horror Story isn’t solely about Krampus, he does show up in two of the tales.
Like Trick ‘r’ Treat the four tales in this film are all linked, but unlike Treat where the movie stayed with one tale (yet having shades of the others skulk through) before moving on to the next, Christmas Horror Story hops between all four throughout its run time. The one constant is disc jockey Dangerous Dan (William Shatner) who loves Christmas and is ready to show it during this Christmas Eve show, but things start out badly when Norman, the station’s weatherman, who’s about to head down to the mall to help out with the annual Charity Food Drive, proclaims his hate for the holiday in no uncertain terms by writing ‘Fuck Christmas’ in red marker on a cue card and slapping it up against the glass for Dan to see before taking off. So, Dan breaks out the eggnog and the bourbon and gets steadily plastered as the night wages on, during which he gets news of a psycho going berserk down at the mall. Details are vague, but he does his job and informs the public to stay away from the mall. This is the town of Bailey Downs and apparently it’s still hurting from the two kids found butchered in one of their schools last Christmas. Hmmm, hang on a minute, Bailey Downs? The last time I heard of a town called that it was in the werewolf movie, Ginger Snaps (2000). Any connection, you may ask? Not that I could see, and I was really hoping to see one.
As I mentioned all these tales are either directly linked to one another or by linked by coincidence. Before we’re introduced to Dan we’re introduced to the North Pole, and Tale #1 with Santa (George Buza), his wife and his elves, but Dear God something unholy is happening to his toymakers, origin of which we never see, all we see is that one of his elves has lost his appetite and this is highly unusual since those cookies look real good. He’s also getting downright unfriendly, reaching his boiling point when Mrs. Claus insists he have one.
“I don’t want a goddamn cookie you reindeer-fucking snow whore!!”
Did that foul-mouthed little fucker say what I think he said?
He sure the fuck did.
Shiny, the elf, then proceeds to take that hatchet he was using to carve that toy and slam it down on his hand, creating a God awful wound and then dying from it. To say the least everyone is speechless, except for one elf that asks Santa if elves can die. No they can’t, he replies, and we, my friends, are off and running…
Tale #2 is about three teens, Molly (Zoé De Grand Maison), Dylan (Shannon Kook) and Ben (Alex Ozerov), who appear to work for some school paper and looking to get their own scoop on the killings of those two kids last Christmas. They were found in the basement wing of this ex-convent, a boy and a girl, the boy was crucified to a wall with hideous wounds to his skull, like brain exposed kind of wounds, while the girl was found hanging upside down in the hallway outside. Molly was able to get the police footage of the bodies and on it we get to see the whole gruesome aftermath.
Their investigation this day into the now restricted area of the school obviously doesn’t go as planned as we slowly learn there’s a ghost at work here. And not of one those two murdered kids, a ghost from the day when the school was a working convent and abortions were done and the girls hidden away. One of these ghosts just wants someone to have her aborted baby, so she possesses Molly, has her shag one of the kids to get her knocked up and kills the other prior when he refused to shag. In fact both boys end up dead, in that same room, and in a similar manner as those two last Christmas. That tale ends with semi-possessed Molly allowed to leave and go on her merry way to have her baby.
Tale #3 is about this unlikable family, except for the daughter, Caprice (Amy Forsyth), who we saw earlier in Tale #1 when she stopped by to drop off the keys to the school she stole to Molly. Caprice is a kleptomaniac, the young son, Duncan (Percy Hynes White), is worse. Damn kid is a serial killer in the making, with just a tell tale hint of it explained later on by Caprice when she’s revealing to her mother what she thinks happened to all their missing pets. The wife and husband, Diane (Michelle Nolden) and Taylor (Jeff Clarke), at least aren’t that bad. They appear to come from a rich family, but Taylor has pretty much bankrupt them and he’s off to Aunt Etta’s home to see if he can get more money, under the guise of a spontaneous Christmas visit from the whole family.
Etta’s not a very likable person either, neither is her man-servant, Gerhardt (Julian Richings), or groundskeeper, or whoever he was supposed to be. Duncan checking out the Krampus figurine incites the ire of both Etta and later Gerhardt. Gerhardt clearly doesn’t like that little kid. Etta asks them to go and they do, but on the drive back their car is run off the road by something weird that runs in front of it. It was Krampus and he’s hunting these morally corrupt individuals because that’s what attracts him. I liked what they did with the Krampus myth in that it’s basically a Christmas spirit and on Christmas anyone feeling murderous or ill-willed can become possessed by it thus turning into it. Yeah, that’s right, Gerhardt was that pissed, and he picks off the family one by one as they cross the snowy woods back to Etta’s house for help.
The twist in this tale is Caprice, the only survivor, stumbles back to Etta’s palatial home and figures out she knew Gerhardt would get possessed and that’s why she hurried the family out and put that black cross on the front door. Finally seeing Etta is no less morally fucked up than the rest of them, she gets pissed and possessed and ends Etta right there on the living room floor.
Tale #3 was the creepiest. Going back briefly to Tale #1 and that police video the kids were looking at, the cop on that video, Scott (Adrian Holmes), is the father in this tale, and he, his wife Kim (Olunike Adeliyi), and their 6-year old son, Will (Orion John), are out in the wilds looking for a Christmas tree to cut down. Incidentally, a car drives by them with the family from Tale #3 in it. Scott takes his family into No Trespassing territory and we’ll eventually learn there was a damn good reason that sign was up. They find their tree but on the way back their kid gets lost. A frantic search finds him hiding in this huge hollowed out tree. They all go home, but you could tell earlier there was something wrong with that kid now. Essentially this story is about a Changeling and that forest is where a shitload of Trolls live, kept in check like cattle by Big Earl (Alan C. Peterson). Once these damn things taste “human pleasures” they’re hard to deal with. These pleasures involve eating human food and feeling up the mother while she sleeps. Threatened they will not hesitate to kill which is what it eventually does to Scott who has a history of temper problems.
Big Earl calls the family and tells Diane to bring it back it to the woods. He can’t do it because it’d smell him coming a mile away. She gets that little fucker unconscious, in a sack and back in the woods where she finds Big Earl lied about you’ll get your son back if you bring it back to the woods. Karma don’t like liars, I guess, and Diane accidentally shoots him dead, but this is the only tale that gets a true happy ending. She finds her son, her real son, hiding in that same tree and they both go home. The creepiest part of this segment was how the Changeling was presented when it was pretending to be a kid. There are some really good creepy scenes of it in its true form throughout that gave me the willies.
Now the final tale, Tale #4, this one has the mother of all clever twists (if you’ve seen 2003’s Identity, though, you’ll get where this is going), basically you’ve been watching Tale #4 all along. Remember when I said the movie hops between all the stories throughout, well, as Tale #1 progresses we see Santa deal out death to his now undead elves, and unfortunately his wife, who’s also become one of the walking dead. And he knows who’s to blame. Cue Krampus. Krampus and Santa have a major battle in the reindeer stalls, but wait this isn’t really happening. None of this tale was really happening. It was only happening in the mind of our madman at the mall, who turned out to be Weatherman Norman. Yes, Tale # 4, is a Killer Santa story, which when I saw it, I thought, ‘oh, of course, how can you have a horror story about Christmas and not do the Killer Santa angle?’ Well, they did, it was just disguised as delusion. In reality Norman put on his Santa outfit and went nuts taking an ax to his elves, which were just ordinary folk helping with the Food Drive. In the end psycho Santa is put down by the local cops. And we eventually end the movie back with Dangerous Dan as he’s now tanked beyond redemption, and you get a little bit of his drunken antics throughout some of the end credits.
On November 24th Image Entertainment releases A Christmas Horror Story on separate DVD and Blu-ray editions!
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English SDH subs only
- Behind The Scenes (14:45)
I was pleasantly surprised to find A featurette on this, although it doesn’t reveal the Bailey Downs in this film is supposed to be the same Bailey Downs from Ginger Snaps. The PR firm that supplied the review copy also sent over a document about the making of the movie that I decided to add to this review below. Consider it a nice addition to the featurette on the DVD and blu-ray.
I enjoyed this horror anthology and hope they do a sequel.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
“I don’t want a goddamn cookie you reindeer-fucking snow whore.”- Shiny, the Elf
By all appearances, Producer Steve Hoban presents as a regular guy. There is nothing about him that would suggest that holidays such as Christmas would be fodder for blood, guts and excessive gore. He readily admits that classic movies like A Christmas Story. It’s A Wonderful Life and the animated, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, are his all time favorites. He even confesses that he has a very warm place in his heart for old stop-motion Christmas shorts, like Burl Ives’ Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer “I love those heartwarming Christmas films, the ones that are sappy and syrupy.” At home, even his kids have been known to protest, “Do we really have to watch that again this year?
But Steve Hoban has another love and that is horror movies. The list of films he has produced detail his exploration of horror in all its forms, ranging from the Ginger Snaps trilogy to Splice to Haunter to the recently released Wolves. Horror is simply a place where Hoban can happily spend a lot of time.
So as inevitable as a snowfall on Christmas Eve, the combination of Christmas and horror was going to twist together in Steve Hoban’s imagination like the stripes on a very pointy candy cane. One might think that this was the result of the usual Christmas rage that takes over the majority of the population – but no. Nor was it the torturous repetition of Christmas carols played in every store in every mall, which some feel is akin to practice of playing loud music incessantly to prisoners or people besieged.
Uniquely, Steve Hoban doesn’t stress at Christmas. In fact, he is typically so hard at work on his films that he regularly comes close to missing the holiday altogether, and that doesn’t make him happy. “Christmas comes and goes and I find myself many times realizing I’ve missed being out at the malls and hearing the Christmas carols and the build up. I’ve actually gotten to the point now where a month or more before Christmas I start playing Christmas music at home. My daughter is fine with that, but for my son and my wife, it drives them crazy. You are talking to a huge Christmas fan. I love Christmas. That’s it, that’s the bottom line.”
This is all to say that there is no psychological explanation about why or how he came to make A Christmas Horror Story. It’s a perfect case of Occam’s Razor and it cuts right to the heart of the matter. “I love Christmas movies and I love horror movies, so the idea of putting the two things that somebody loves together – what could be more attractive than that?” Hoban stated as plainly as can be “Christmas is a magical time and what better time to have various adventures that veer towards the macabre.”
In truth, A Christmas Horror Story is not Hoban’s first effort in this direction. The 2006 remake of Black Christmas (with its 16 producers) was, and, as he put it, “the film didn’t live up to its potential. So every year since, I think, ‘Wow, Black
Christmas was a missed opportunity that could have been a great, fun Christmas franchise that we could go back to now and again. And every October, I look at the slate of Christmas films coming out and say, “Oh yeah, once again it’s the usual same positive, heartwarming, family Christmas films. Where’s the cool edgy film for the teenagers or for me? Where are those films?”
For six years running, Hoban would consider the idea of doing a Christmas film and then in October 2013, he made the decision. He and producer Mark Smith were just wrapping up Darknet, the Canadian horror anthology of interwoven stories about urban terror. While Darknet was a web/television series, “We thought why not do something similar, but on a much grander scale for this Christmas-themed horror movie,” recalled Smith.
The first place they went was to writers who Hoban and Smith had just worked with on Darknet Doug Taylor (Haunter), James Kee (Darknet, Brooklyn Taxi), Sarah Larsen (Darknet) and Pascal Trottier (The Colony). The next place they went (which will be familiar to fans of Ginger Snaps Trilogy) was Bailey Downs (which is also the home of Alison Hendrix in Orphan Black). “We wanted the script to feature several different characters who all know one another and are all connected in one way or another. Their stories interweave much like the stories in Pulp Fiction,” explained Hoban. The key to these stories was that they would touch on different sub-genres of horror: a ghost story, a creature story, a story with a creepy/possessed kid (which is really a changeling story) and finally, a zombie story. The overall script had to deliver on three levels. “We set out to make it scary, to make it fun and make it clever.” Hoban stopped there, but only for a moment, and then added proudly, “I think the idea of Santa Claus cleaving through the elves who have turned into zombies is pretty transgressive. It’s got some really great, creepy, unexpected, disturbing moments in it.”
THE FESTIVE INSPIRATIONS FOR CHRISTMAS HORROR
Writer James Kee attributed blind luck to how he arrived at the Krampusnacht storyline. “I stumbled upon the tradition while noodling around the Internet. Krampus is the anti-Santa who comes to punish the wicked: chain em’, eat ’em, drag ’em to hell. He is still celebrated to this day in the Alpine countries – men get dressed up in these elaborate Krampus costumes, get blind drunk and parade through the town frightening children. So, I thought it would be cool to see this materialistic white collar crooked family discover the true meaning of Christmas… while being chased by a demon from Hell.”
Sara-Brynn P. Larsen liked the idea of writing a slow burn horror mystery that pays off when all the puzzle pieces are uncovered. “The original nugget was to write a segment that was told using a found-footage style where three kids get locked in a basement after investigating a murder and then slowly discover some paranormal activity going on, in the end Brett opted for a mix of found footage and traditional filmmaking. Rather than the commercial understanding of
Christmas, I wanted to thread in subtle hints and elements of the religious origins of Christmas and have a segment that models itself after the nativity story: Principal Herod as an ominous character, Molly representing the Virgin Mary who is going to carry a baby conceived under some ghostly possession instead of being immaculately conceived by the holy spirit.”
Doug Taylor’s sensibilities and dark humour have been on display in Splice, Darknet and They Wait. When approached to contribute a horrible story about Christmas, the first thought that came to his mind was, “What could be more horrible than a race of tiny, servile men and women forced to manufacture toys for an eternity? Furthermore, Elves being immortal, they cannot die. So what if some terrible, dementia-causing illness should suddenly infect them? Hilarity ensues. Finally observing these rabid, flesh-starved killer Elves brought to life on screen has been the Christmas gift of a lifetime for this writer. Can’t wait for Easter!”
A DIFFERENT VERSION OF THE THREE WISE MEN: SANTA, KRAMPUS AND DANGEROUS DAN
- SANTA CLAUS
Steve Hoban’s idea of Santa Claus as a dark knight, as in an avenging Viking might be something that dates back to his days of days of running a comic book store. One thing for sure in Christmas Horror Story is that this Santa is not the roly-poly XXL character swathed in cheap polyester fleece. The only actor was ever considered for the role was George Buza, known for his performances in X-Men, The Adventures of Sinbad and Maniac Mansion, although this is far from the first time he ever played the part. Back in university, Buza portrayed
Santa, followed by another Santa for Hallmark in A Case for Christmas. There was a Santa in a Rogers Wireless commercial and to cap it off, he was a dreaded mall Santa, a job which possibly scarred him for life. “This is the most unusual iconic Santa that I’ve ever played, certainly not your traditional “ho ho ho” version. This Santa is a mass murderer who eliminates the entire population of the North Pole,” noted Buza dryly.
Before launching into the section on Krampus, one point needs to be made clear. In the world of movie magic and CGI and image manipulation, something used liberally throughout Christmas Horror Story (there are 144 VFS shots in the film, ranging from the simple: removing rigs from stunt elves who get tossed around by Santa to the complicated: creating a fully rendered Santa compound or a very nasty Krampus tongue that slides under the door and up Caprice’s leg), there is one thing that’s shockingly, inexplicably real – the abs you see on Krampus. No body suit. No post-production image tweaking. And to the dismay of imposing 6’6” actor Rob Archer who played Krampus, on the days and nights when Krampus appears outside, which were often as cold as -25c, there was also no warm up suit. And as Archer can attest, the body paint that changed his skin tone to a deathly white (and masked a wealth of intricate tattoos) didn’t keep him warm. Krampus was designed by Amro Attia who worked with Copperheart entertainment previously on their film, Splice. He worked in concert with Special Makeup and Creature Designer (Form and Dynamics) David Scott to realize the full look of Krampus. “You can’t have a horror film about Christmas without evoking Krampus,” stated Producer Mark Smith. “Rob was our first, and truthfully only, choice because of his physicality. He has the presence that Krampus needs to have and we didn’t want that presence buried in a bodysuit. He probably works out 23 hours a day and has an hour to sleep because he’s so alarmingly fit. Initially, a healthy physique doesn’t sound very creature-like, but it suited a creature like Krampus in the way we conceived him.”
- DANGEROUS DAN
Small town radio stations function as the heartbeat of a community and it is no different in Bailey Downs. Dangerous Dan is their Garrison Keillor, but with a hefty twist toward inadvertent political incorrectness that is often fueled by a bottle of rum tucked away under his desk. He’s lived in this town his entire life (Caprice and Duncan Bauer in the Krampus story are his grandkids) and under his good-natured demeanor, he is sure of two things: Stormin’ Norman, the station weather man, makes for very good verbal target practice and underneath that pristine blanket of white snow, there is evil lurking in Bailey Downs.
But Christmas Horror Story takes place on Christmas Eve and for the moment, Dangerous Dan is happy to push all that aside because above all else, this man loves all things Christmas, truly believing the goodness of the holiday can cure all.
The producers liked Dangerous Dan both as a character and as a concept. He cleverly knits together the four different storylines. As iconic as is the character, being a town personality, so to is the casting because they landed none other than William Shatner. While the rest of the cast and crew endured filmmaking in Ice Station Zebra, otherwise known as Toronto, Steve Hoban flew down to Los Angeles after wrap to film Shatner’s part. It was a clever choice because as the actor said about Dan, “Snow and cold are highly overrated. Warmth and pleasure are more this character’s mode.”
Hoban was looking for a performance that would be funny, charming and have presence even if Dangerous Dan never leaves the sound booth for the entire film. It is a monologue that, “…becomes the voice of the movie. William Shatner is a naturally affable and funny actor and was able to make Dangerous Dan both hilarious and emotionally serious at the same time. It is an incredibly engaging performance that ties the whole movie together.”
During post-production, having watched all of Shatner’s footage, the filmmakers agreed that they now want to make a film about Dangerous Dan all by himself. “You could watch the footage for hours. Shatner is just that good,” noted Mark Smith. Describing his character “entirely airborne”, Shatner regarded the mix of Christmas and horror to be a match made in heaven. “Yeah, someone’s heaven. We just have to figure out whose.”
IN LIEU OF CHRISTMAS CAROLS
Anyone shopping in a mall around Christmas can attest to the effect of repetitive Christmas carols (in the 1990s, the FBI blasted loud music at the Branch Davidians during the Waco siege in Texas. The repertoire included Sing-Along With Mitch Miller Christmas carols). But that is not what composer Alex Kashin was aiming for when creating for A Christmas Horror Story. He wanted superb harmonies, catchy melodies, amazing orchestrations, the best orchestras and unbelievable mixing. “Right from the beginning we are all were guessing what style of music would fit all four stories in one film. After few days of deliberation, we all came to conclusion that there should be some musical elements that would make each story distinct. More then that, the story of Santa Claus should be stylistically very much different from three others as this story looks and feel like a fairy tale. As a result, the Santa Claus story was done in Hollywood scoring style of 80th, which means completely orchestral. The rest of the music was separated by key elements: female singing, boy singing repetitive motif plus with solo violin and solo cello.”
THE MADNESS OF MOTHER NATURE
In Toronto, the winter of 2013-14 was unquestionably the worst in decades. But in the middle of the face-aching cold that seemed to never end, there was a small group of people, and possibly the only people in the Toronto area, (Steve Hoban, Mark Smith, Director of Cinematography Gavin Smith and the on set dresser, Adam Johnston) who were delighted. “We were incredibly fortunate on the movie. It was kind of a Christmas horror miracle. We had the kind of snow that we haven’t had in decades. It snowed in November and the snow didn’t leave until after we finished shooting at the end of March. We’d get a dusting of snow the night before we’d shoot exteriors so the snow was pristine and perfect almost every day that we were out. I think the citizens of Toronto were very unhappy, but not us,” recalled Hoban with more of the sinister glee that made this movie possible in the first place.