TAD Review: A Christmas Horror Story delivers early gift

I love a good Christmas holiday horror movie. I’m even drinking a cup of eggnog as I’m writing this (yes, it’s already in grocery stores). My favourite is A Christmas Carol, the superior 1951 version with Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s essential holiday viewing; I watch it every Christmas Eve without fail (along with It’s a Wonderful Life, which is also a bit of a dark story for such a twinkling festive holiday).

I know the over-adapted Charles Dickens’ classic is not commonly considered to fit into the horror genre, but the story of kooky old man haunted by four ghosts who force him to confront his own loss of humanity is actually rather unsettling even as it uplifts. And the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come—in just about every version of the book ever made—is particularly ghoulish and dreadful as Scrooge is forced to confront his own mortality and our universal fear of dying alone and unloved. That makes it a horror movie to me.

Now I bring tidings of great comfort and joy about a new holiday favourite, A Christmas Horror Story, which screened before a packed house at Toronto After Dark on Saturday night. It hasn’t usurped A Christmas Carol, which in my mind is unimpeachable, but damn if it’s not the most fun of any Christmas-themed horror movie I’ve ever seen.

 

The movie is set on Christmas Eve in the snow-blanketed town of Bailey Downs (named, I presume, after Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey, in It’s a Wonderful Life). An anthology of sorts, its four tales are interwoven, although, for the most part, the characters in one story don’t interact with the characters in any other. While this occasionally results in tension being built up and then quickly deflated as it cuts from one storyline to another to another, that’s a quibble when balanced against the fact that the shifting between stories also doesn’t allow you to become bored by any one.

There’s a badass St. Nick slicing and dicing his way through an army of zombie elves. It’s completely bonkers, but then it just wouldn’t be Christmas until you’ve seen Santa use a severed elf head to crush the head of another elf. There’s a rich family who accidentally summon the Krampus, a gloriously designed alabaster-skinned beast with great ram-like curved horns, who hunts them through the woods. There’s a trio of teenagers Scooby Ganging around the empty school where two students were brutally murdered on Christmas Eve one year ago, which starts out very conventionally with a rather familiar premise only to end up being the spookiest of the bunch. And there’s a family that brings home more than just a Christmas tree from their trek into the woods, which started out strong but is, by the end, the weakest of the four; the way it wraps up is unsatisfying, like when you find new underwear in the bottom of your Christmas stocking.

The movie also smartly intercuts brief scenes set at a radio station where a deliciously hammy William Shatner brings the holiday cheer—and a fair number of laughs—as an increasingly intoxicated DJ who’s pulling an all-nighter.

And while I don’t want to spoil the ending, it’s killer. The audience I saw it with were laughing, cheering and applauding and I could see this winning the TAD audience award be festival’s end.