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    A Christmas Horror Story (2015): Movie Review

    "An effective anthology of terrifying Christmas tales.” 

    It’s Santa Claus versus his zombified elves in A Christmas Horror Story. Other than that, this holiday treat also contains bloodthirsty Krampus, envious changelings, viral plague and haunting of ghosts. Directed by Canadian trio Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan, this anthology film is composed of four different narratives bonded by a curse in the sleepy bucolic town of Bailey Downs.

    It was one Halloween earlier when Bailey Downs paid witness to a heinous crime of double murder. Two teenagers were found viciously slaughtered in a ritualistic fashion in the basement of the local high school. Presently, Molly (Zoe De Grand Maison) is determined to make a documentary of the unsolved crime as part of a class assignment. With her classmates Dylan (Shannon Kook) and Ben (Alex Ozerov) tagging along, she sneaks into the building with a video camera. Unknown to the teenagers, the building was once a convent and a boarding school. So when the basement door mysteriously locks itself, supernatural phenomena begin to happen and an evil spirit soon possesses one of them.

    Caprice (Amy Forsyth) is supposed to go with them but she is not able to make it because of a sudden family trip to her wealthy great-aunt (Corinne Conley). But the visit turns out to be a bad idea as the Bauers are not only coldly received but the patriarch’s (Jeff Clarke) request to fund another business opportunity falls to deaf ears. Worse, the Bauer son (Percy Hynes-White) breaks a figurine of Krampus, a legendary Alpine folklore monster who comes out on Christmas Eve to punish the bad and wicked. Immediately, the family leaves for home but in the middle of the snowy rural road, their SUV stops and breaks down. Just lurking in the shadows of the woods is the real-life massive ram-horned Krampus (Rob Archer) who is intent in making them pay for being naughty.

    Scott Peters (Adrian Holmes) is a local African-American cop who was part of the investigation of the previous year’s murders. He has some sort of a drinking issue and his short temper causes domestic problems over the last year. This Christmas season, Scott misbehaves a little more as he takes his wife, Kim (Olunike Adeliyi), and young son, Will (Orion John), on a “No Trespassing” area to cut down a Christmas tree for their house. Will disappears in the woods for a few minutes but when he returns, he starts to act very strangely.

    Meanwhile at the North Pole, Santa Claus (George Buza) is busy preparing for his annual ride when one of his elves, Shiny (Ken Hall), becomes infected with a virus that turns them into bloodthirsty psychopathic zombies. Soon, all the others also turn, forcing Santa to slaughter them with a messy gore.

    Back at the Bailey Downs, DJ “Dangerous Dan” (William Shatner) does a double holiday shift as his partner leaves him midway through the show. The night soon becomes frustrating for him and in-between spinning records, Dan shares stories and swears that the town has been cursed. Much to his agitation, he finds himself broadcasting the hostage situation at a local shopping mall. 

    A Christmas Horror Story is a product of three separate directors and four screenwriters. It tells four different Christmas-related tales of terrors and a storytelling subplot that connects and packages into them a tight and coherent whole. It is an ambitious effort for a material that mildly reinvents the wheel, but surprisingly, it works as various aspects of Christmas cheer become suddenly horrifying and gruesome.

    Unlike most anthologies, the film does not tell its tales in a single swoop; instead, it intercuts them with the other narratives. It is quite frustrating sometimes because just when the tension and suspense pile up high, the scene cuts and moves to another tale. Yet, such procedure is handled with care, sophistication and satisfaction that the audience are left eager and expectant of what happens next in their favorite story.

    The stories are also very different from each other and fright is delivered in different forms. The unsolved crime in the school is the least inspiring and interesting tale in the movie. It is all too familiar, like a hodgepodge of overused horror clich├ęs. It is further weakened by its found footage style. Zoe De Grand Maison (such a name!) is a lovely screen presence and her convincing acting keeps the movie going. The tale of the changeling is the most subtle and character-driven part of the film. It is heart-breaking as a father’s simple gesture of bonding with his family turns into a grizzly encounter with an otherworldly creature. Adeliyi stands out here as the mother who needs to make sense of what is real and not. The Bauers and the Krampus is perhaps the most physically demanding as there are plenty of chasings in the snow and bloody fights. Michelle Nolden is remarkable as the matriarch who serves as the family’s stronghold. Santa Claus versus the elves is the nastiest of all as the all-jolly Christmas icon regretfully turns into a savage killing machine, turning his North Pole headquarters into a bloodbath. Buza is impressible playing Claus, as well as  Shatner as the tired old DJ in Bailey Downs. 

    A Christmas Horror Story does not offer something new but it presents its tale in a refreshing and engaging fashion. This film requires hard work, particularly in the writing and editing department, but it all pays as the final product is truly terrifying, heart-warming, and funny some times. Plus there is a shocking final twist that is mildly heart-melting. 

    Production company: Copperheart Entertainment
    Cast: William Shatner, George Buza, Ken Hall, Debra Lynne McCabe, Joe Silvaggio, Zoe de Grand'Maison, Shannon Kook, Alex Ozerov, Jeff Clarke, Amy Forsyth, Michelle Nolden, Rob Archer, Corinne Conley, Julian Richings, Percy Hynes White, Olunike Adeliyi, Adrian Holmes, Orion John, Alan C. Peterson 
    Directors: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
    Screenwriters: James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trotter  
    Producers: Steven Hoban, Mark Smith
    Executive producers: David Hayter, Billy Watson 
    Director of photography: Gavin Smith 
    Production designer: Tim Bider 
    Costume designer: Brenda Broer  
    Editors: Brett Sullivan, D. Gillian Truster 
    Music: Alex Khaskin



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