Even though Halloween hasn’t passed just yet, I can’t help myself from getting the slightest bit giddy about my favorite time of the year to be a horror fan. No, I’m not talking about October’s scare-filled holiday, but the time of year when we board up our doors and pray that Krampus doesn’t come looking for naughty boys and girls to kidnap. I’m talking about Christmas, a time of psychotic mall Santas, zombie elves, illegal tree cutting, and the unholiest of all the North Pole’s enemies, Krampus himself.
Those are the tinsel-draped nightmares that await you in this year’s A Christmas Horror Story, which should hold holiday horror fiends over until Michael Dougherty unleashes his own brand of X-Mas terror on the world in Krampus. Deck the halls and batten down the hatches – all signs are pointing to a bloody, violent Christmas this year.
A Christmas Horror Story delivers four different tales of terror spun into one gift-wrapped package, all of which explore an aspect of the Christmas holiday. There’s a group of teenagers who find themselves trapped on Christmas Eve, a family who notices changes in their young child after he gets lost during their tree-chopping outing, a family who angers Krampus, and evil zombie elves who hunger for Santa’s flesh. Radio DJ “Dangerous” Dan (William Shatner) swears the town of Bailey Downs suffers from a Christmas curse, and if these different tales of holiday terror are any indication, he’s probably right – but that doesn’t stop him from cranking out the classics as the deadly night rages on.
Each story is a unique snowflake, but there’s an undeniable winner here – Santa’s last stand. All of the other stories remain in our dull, mortal realm, playing upon legends like Krampus, but unparalleled excitement takes over every time we cut back to the North Pole, knowing full-well there’s an elvish zombie invasion taking place. And no, I’m not talking about Legolas-like elves. I’m talking about Santa’s little helpers, furious and champing at the bit. These knee-high biters are the perfect height for easy decapitations, which George Buza’s badass Santa mercilessly doles out via his pristine golden scepter. Foul-mouthed zombie elves being squashed like insolent bugs under Santa’s feet – need I say more?
The rest of the stories vary in quality, most of which peak predictable highs and lows. While the scariest of the bunch follows three children who are filming a documentary dubbed “Horror In The Hallways,” it also feels cheapened by the implementation of found footage. There’s never a strive to do anything unique with the first-person camera POV, as we find our range of vision is closed off only to introduce quick jump scares worth a scream or two. We’ve seen the documentary-gone-wrong theme too many times not to expect easy cutaway scares, and Molly’s (Zoé De Grand Maison) doomed investigation is no different from the last twenty horror films about isolated kiddies in haunted locations.
A Christmas Horror Story fares marginally better when dealing with more thematic holiday nightmares, specifically when Krampus strikes. That’s not to take anything away from the more subdued thrills of child actor Orion John in his changeling form, but Rob Archer’s embodiment of this pale, horned death-dealer brings a Christmas creature worth fearing. Krampus strikes with ferocity, brings a few splattery death scenes that we don’t get from the other paranormal stories, and fights against Santa in an event more fitting of MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch. A Krampus vs. Santa heavyweight bout is nothing short of a Christmas miracle for horror fans, which explains the rush of adrenaline when Krampus starts swinging his chain-blade weapon in preparation for Santa’s first move.
As a full package, A Christmas Horror Story should take pride in being a perfectly serviceable anthology that any horror fan would enjoy pulling out of their stocking. It may not reinvent the wheel, but all the filmmakers involved enjoy the hell out of exploiting such an innocent holiday for every bit of gleefully gruesome cheer imaginable. Some segments never find the snowballing momentum of Santa’s final fight, but it’s all kept flowing by an alcohol-swigging William Shatner, whose radio presence comforts like an old, protective friend – but he can’t save you. All you can do is focus on Shatner’s precautionary Christmas warnings, snuggle up with your loved ones, and enjoy every minute of the demented holiday carnage that awaits.
Each story has its own twisted holiday charm, but nothing can top Santa's fight against a horde of zombie elves - nor should it.