Growing up, I was a sucker for gimmicks. Blame my Mom. Every time a new M&M flavor (did you know they make Coconut and Cherry?) or Oreo remix hit the shelves, our house was the first on the block to sample it. I like to think it’s this upbringing that now influences my taste in horror films, like my adoration of holiday themes (Krampus! Gremlins!) and anthology collections. Or how about an entire horror anthology themed around major holidays that’s aptly titled – you guessed it – Holidays! It was going to take an act of Satan to keep me away from this one…
Let me start by confirming that yes, Holidays works. It’s an admitted mixed-bag of highs and lows (more highs), but that’s to be expected with eight *very* different segments. Some will love Kevin Smith’s Halloween whorishness, while others will start with their typical anti-Smith agenda – same goes for Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s Valentine’s Day heartbreak, or Gary Shore’s St. Patrick’s Day what-the-fuck-ishness. Holidays transforms cheerful innocence into dark, twisted nightmares, and launches a damn fun assault on joyous memories.
Now, let’s dive a bit deeper, as I start with my favorite segment and work my way down.
Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer kick things off with a sweet Valentine’s Day treat, which happens to be my hands-down favorite segment. It’s simple enough to extract a story of young love from something disturbingly demented, yet sports this rom-com cheese whenever a lusting nerd pines over her school’s diving coach.
Time stops during these 80s-synth-rock-fueled, John Hughes inspired close-ups, where the girl’s crush manifests as a glowing pinkish aura. Then it all comes full circle when poor little Maxi Pad (Maxine) gets revenge on some bullies and proves her devotion in the same breath, complete with an unhinged smile that’s miles off humanity’s reservation. Love and horror, what a tremendously rewarding combination!
Up next is an uncharacteristic pick, because Nicholas McCarthy’s two previous feature efforts both found their way onto my naughty list. The Pact and At The Devil’s Door weren’t my speed, and the minute McCarthy’s signature haunted house atmosphere kicked in, I expected more of the same – which, to my surprise, executes organic chills given a smaller, anthology-sized bite.
Easter is by far one of the biggest storytelling stretches, as a fleshy, physical manifestation of the Easter Bunny releases newly-hatched chicks from his stigmata wounds, while a young girl addresses the confusing nature of religion. Easter presents an unsettling look into McCarthy’s torturous genre mind, complete with all of his best visual creeps, and really embraces one of the more ambitious interpretations Holidays offers.
Warning: St. Patrick’s Day goes for Leprechaun gold, led by Gary Shore’s (Dracula Untold) obsession with Celtic imagery. While us Americans use March 17th as an excuse for public intoxication, Shore embraces Paganistic rituals that hearken back to St. Patrick’s serpent-shooing fame.
The amazingly cast Isolt McCaffrey “curses” her schoolteacher and uses her ginger glare to submerge the audience into an increasingly charming mindf#ck of folklore unhinged. A woman’s wish for pregnancy leads to a beastly creation, and the whole chapter wraps up in a very Wicker Tree-esque kind of cultural bombshell. The suggested payoff was never going to live up to our anxious imagination, but Shore still brings enough hissing weirdness to leave mouths gaping – remaining questions or not.
Here’s where I might lose some of you, because my next pick is Kevin Smith’s Halloween segment. From the very first shot – where we see Harley Morenstein sporting a “Pussy Haver/Haver Of Pussy” t-shirt – Smith’s more forward tone immediately starts harping on promiscuous themes. Then we meet a houseful of webcam girls being managed by Morenstein’s cyber pimp, Ian, and talky monologues set in. Pure Smithisms in their signature form.
Halloween is rude, crass, and full of revenge, possibly trying to establish “Oorah” feminism through brutal revenge, which is fine if you’re Pro-Smith (like I am). If not, you will surely be turned off by Ian’s talky perversion, and led astray by an October horror story whose biggest thematic tie-in is discount candy. There’s chatter of witchy woman riding broomsticks, Ian gets sexually aggressive, and he becomes a victim of good vibrations. Short and simple? Sure. But for me, Halloween delivers.
Adam Egypt Mortimer’s (Some Kind Of Hate) take on New Year’s Eve, which is written by Kolsch and Widmyer, disappoints a bit because it’s not terribly thematic, but Lorenza Izzo makes up for that ball-dropping. What we have is a dating app killer trying to find love on what could be the loneliest night of the year, and a grim take on our society’s vicious dating scene. A murderer attempts to get busy, relying on his untrusty, jam-prone revolver – but this is Izzo’s show, and she steals it as usual. It just doesn’t scream New Year’s Eve like how other segments honor their holiday.
Scott Stewart’s (Legion) Christmas gift-giving disaster gets points for avoiding an easy holiday massacre, focusing instead on the impending cultural takeover of virtual reality headsets and internet databases. Seth Green stars as a distraught father who’ll do anything to get a UVU headset (think Oculus Rift), in a very struggling-family-man-frustrated-with-life kind of way. Of course the toy store is sold out when Green arrives, but through unsavory means, he secures the hot-ticket item. It’s one of those technological warning motifs, but a weaker “twist” ending ruins the larger potential inherent in the societal commentary – great idea, but a bit underbaked.
Both Father’s Day (Anthony Scott Burns) and Mother’s Day (Sarah Adina Smith) might be loved by some, because they both go for a more artistically driven, minimalist vibe – especially Mother’s Day, which dabbles in drug-fueled, naked, desert cult orgies. Yet in its existential parental reunification, Father’s Day needed more time to play out, and the same goes for Mother’s Day. Sarah Adina Smith has a wonderfully vibrant indie voice, showcased in The Midnight Swim, and Burns boasts as much style, but unfortunately without a grasp of substance. Neither segment suggests “bad filmmaking,” but when stacked up against other more fluid, terrorizing efforts, a drop in momentum can be easily detected.
Let me conclude with this – Holidays is some fan-approved, fucked-up holiday fun. It’s the kind of party movie that’ll get more laughs than squeals, but it knows its audience, and plays right into their hands. We’re talking a surefire genre treat where turkey basters probably won’t be used correctly, and childhood nostalgia is exploited for nightmarish, concept-driven terror. Enjoy unwrapping this slice of gleefully absurd holiday Hell, which, thankfully, executes a gimmick that could have gone belly-up before its first Valentine’s Day kiss.
Delivering more than disappointing, Holidays is sinister holiday fun for the whole f$#ked up family.