Dir. Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, & Brett Sullivan (2015)
The town of Bailey Downs has a complicated relationship with Christmas, as we see through these four tales of terror centered around a local radio host.
As I've said countless times before, the horror community has embraced the anthology tale, for good or ill. There are many that are greatly watchable and many, many more that are bad all the way through, with very that could be categorized as in between. Generally, they are united by a wraparound story that serves to tie the films together, acting as a vehicle through which to tell the rest of the stories rather than a story in its own right. A Christmas Horror Story, set in the fictional town of Bailey Downs, doesn't break any new ground with the format but actually manages to wind up right near the top of Christmas anthology horror by weaving together four genuinely scary stories that come together to form a delightful yuletide whole.
Radio jockey Dangerous Dan (William Shatner) serves as the host for the film, introducing the town itself but having very little to do other than to break up the segments with short, slightly funny monologues. The meat of the film follows a group of high school kids making a documentary in a haunted location, a young family who accidentally brings home something more than a Christmas tree, a troubled household that finds themselves in a fight against Krampus, and Santa Claus himself, who is disturbed when all of his elves begin turning into zombies.
The stories are each well-told individually, though they do suffer a little bit from the method of storytelling (more on that in a bit). The stories themselves are legit, though, with several of them becoming legitimately scary at times. The actors do a great job, especially the child actors, a rarity in film in general but definitely in horror. Despite being more of an indie production, A Christmas Horror Story is very well-made, delivering some excellent production values while avoiding a lot of effects work but shining in the rare instances where they utilize gore. It's by and large good all the way through, another rarity that helps greatly in making the film one that should go on the regular holiday rotation.
The one aspect of the film that I didn't like, and I think somewhat took away from its overall impact, is that the stories were told all at the same time. I get what the directors were going for, but it was often difficult to keep up with all of the individual stories because it would jump right from one to the next. I applaud the unique choice of storytelling, choosing to mesh them together rather than trying to relate them back to one another retroactively, but it didn't quite work for me and left me confused for some of the runtime when I should have been enjoying the excellent stories themselves.
By and large, however, it's an effective film that shares the standard stories of holiday emotions and family drama with more than a little Xmas flair. Anthology movies tend to succeed or fail based on their endings, especially because the stories tend to weaken as the movie drags on. A Christmas Horror Story is having none of that shit, closing on a surprisingly strong note with one of the better endings in recent memory. By mixing the stories together, it does serve to keep the audience's attention throughout rather than being able to tune out on the less interesting stories. Thankfully, there's not a less interesting story to be found, and the entire thing works incredibly well as a Christmas anthology flick.
Who this movie is for: Christmas horror fans, Anthology nuts, Mall Santas
Bottom line: Good-all-the-way-through with a unique storytelling method, A Christmas Horror Story is an excellent anthology film with some creative and interesting stories to tell. The acting is excellent, the direction is fantastic, and while I didn't particularly like the method used to weave the tales, it still works surprisingly well. It's a good film, one that I will almost immediately be rewatching to appreciate better, and I suggest you do the same.