Sunday, 18 October 2015

A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Canucks Unleash Grim, Ghoulish, Darkly Hilarious Yuletide Omnibus Horror Picture - 2015 Toronto After Dark Film Festival

Is William Shatner the GREATEST Canadian Actor?
Is he the GREATEST ACTOR, like, ever? Period!!!
Well, he sure fits his alcoholic radio D.J. role like a glove.

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
Dir. Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Scr. James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier
Starring: William Shatner, George Buza, Zoé De Grand Maison, Michelle Nolden,
Amy Forsyth, Oluniké Adeliyi, Adrian Holmes, Jeff Clarke, Julian Richings,
Alex Ozerov, Shannon Kook, Corinne Conley, Debra McCabe, Jessica Clement

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A Christmas Horror Story is so much damn fun, I feel like the Grinch for needing to employ the simple, but necessary act of wanting to like it so much better than I did. So fuck it, let me be Cindy Lou Who for awhile.

This Canadian Yuletide horror treat has many things going for it. The picture bestows the twelve following gifts over the twelve, so to speak, days of Christmas:

a. Babes
b. Elves who turn into the living dead
c. Santa Claus battling dwarf zombies and Krampus
d. Krampus
e. Babes
f. Changelings
g. William Shatner as an alcoholic graveyard shift D.J.
h. Blood, viscera and more blood
i. Hostage-taking in a mall
k. Have I mentioned babes yet?
l. Happy shoppers and clerks mass-murdered in mall

These elements are clearly undeniable and go a long way in masking the film's flaws whilst accentuating several positive attributes that will delight and tantalize.

Though clearly a horror omnibus picture with four grisly tales plus a wraparound story, the filmmakers have made one near-fatal error. Instead of relying upon the tried and true, established so many decades ago in Dead of Night from the legendary Ealing Studios, they've attempted to mush everything together as if it were a multi-charactered drama set in the same locale (the fictional locale "Bailey Downs" of Ginger Snaps and Orphan Black fame) and on the same day.

Alas, it doesn't quite work and has a tendency to queerly bog down the pace and add an occasionally confusing herky-jerky feeling to the whole thing.

The four stories involve some fairly tried and true elements.

'Tis the season to be DEADLY!!!

First and foremost, we get to meet Santa in his magical workshop as he preps for a night on his sleigh dispensing gifts. Alas, a virus begins to affect the elves and soon, the North Pole is turning into George Romero's Pittsburgh.

Another story involves a cop on mental health leave after discovering a gruesome murder in the local high school the previous Christmas. He wants his wife and child to enjoy a quiet old fashioned Christmas and takes them out to cut down their own tree. Unfortunately, he chooses to trespass on someone else's land which results in an unholy possession consuming the couple's child.

Somewhat related to the aforementioned, we follow a group of teens into the very same high school as they attempt to get to the bottom of the murders, which were never solved. Once in the bowels of the old building, they discover some truly gruesome secrets which go beyond their wildest expectations and result in an orgy of blood, sex and Cronenberg-like viscous explosion.

Finally, a greedy family attempts to bamboozle an old, rich aunt into forking over wads of cash. Their actions release the horrifying demon, Krampus (a kind of antichrist figure to Santa Claus). This is not a good thing - for anyone in Bailey Downs.

The wraparound involves William Shatner pulling graveyard duties on his annual all-night Christmas broadcast on the radio, getting progressively sauced as he tries to report on a hostage-taking during a charity drive at the local mall.

This all sounds like fun, right? Well, it is, but only to a point. By throwing the omnibus structure to the wind results in a movie that constantly feels like its struggling against itself and as such, has a tendency to exhaust you rather than thrill you. This is a shame since there's a lot of fine genre writing in the piece, wonderful special effects and not a single performance is any less than delightful within the context of the picture's qualities of insanity.

The biggest disappointment is the big surprise at the end, which comes as no surprise at all, but is one of those annoying revelations you see coming early into the picture, but pray and hope that it won't come to pass. It does and your heart sinks. First of all, because it removes a gorgeous delightful sense of magic the film is imbued with and secondly, because it's a lost opportunity to go the distance into the truly perfect territory of genuine, horrific tastelessness. The movie had the potential to be an omnibus yuletide answer to such outrageously hilarious recent pictures as Bunny The Killer Thing and Canada's own High School Shooting - The Musical. Alas, it falls short.

Stylistically, the picture feels all over the place. With three directors handling the chores for the whole film, their voices (mostly) get lost in the proceedings; firstly because the picture tries to betray its omnibus roots, but secondly and most especially since the overall picture lacks the sustained vision of the Ealing Studio on Dead of Night, the directorial aplomb of Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker respectively for the Amicus productions of Tales from the Crypt and Asylum, then last, but not least, the very strong unifying vision of Axelle Carolyn in the flawed, but effective Tales of Halloween.

All this said, the story involving the kids in the school stands out as having the strongest sense of personal voice - the creepy, sexy and nasty qualities are inherent in the writing, but the story itself goes the added distance in terms of its stellar mise-en-scene and directorial proficiency above and beyond the call of duty.

A Christmas Horror Story is not without merit and is begging to be a franchise, but it's frustrating to watch a picture that has so much potential that's been unnecessarily buried; not allowed to blossom and breathe to the fullest extent.

For a much fuller description of omnibus horror cinema, feel free to read the first few paragraphs of the Tales of Halloween review HERE.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **½ Two-and-a-Half-Stars

A Christmas Horror Story, from e-One plays TADFF 2015