Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, December 2, 2016

Christmas 2016: December 2

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

Last December saw the release of a high-profile Christmas-themed horror story. I saw “Krampus” on opening day, wrote a positive review, and was happy to see it do decent box office business. However, in the days after that film’s release, I heard rumblings about another Christmas-themed horror movie. “A Christmas Horror Story” got the VOD/DTV release standard for most indie horror flicks. It managed to pick up some decent reviews and, at the time, some where even willing to declare it the superior Christmas monster movie. It’s been twelve months but I’ve finally caught up with “A Christmas Horror Story.” I wish I liked it more than I did.

My first problem with the movie is apparent early on. “A Christmas Horror Story” is an anthology film. On Christmas Eve, in the Canadian town of Bailey Down, four stories play out. A group of teens explore a Catholic school, abandoned after murders occurred there a year ago. After a father and mother steal a Christmas tree off a secluded property, their son begins to act strangely. A bitter family on the way home from a long trip are beset by the Krampus. At the North Pole, Santa fights off a zombie-style plague infecting his elves. William Shatner, as an increasingly sloshed radio DJ, plays host. The movie takes a really weird approach to its anthology format. Instead of keeping the stories self-contained, the film cuts between them. Thus, the individual stories’ momentum is constantly interrupted. The audience has to mentally juggle the different characters and plots. There’s no reason to do this, as the stories don’t comment on each other. Instead, the device is merely distracting and prevents the film from building up a decent pace.

Like all anthology movies, some of the stories in “A Christmas Horror Story” are better than others. With four tales to tell, it’s an even split down the middle. The first introduced story, about the haunted Catholic school, is definitely the weakest of the lot. First off, the Christmas connection is tenuous. A Nativity puts in an appearance. Eventually, it’s revealed that the vengeful ghost is that of a pregnant teen girl who died during a back-alley abortion. Obviously, the script is attempting some parallels with the birth of Christ. Yet to what purpose? Otherwise, this story is a collection of haunted house clichés. There’s some loud jump scares and lots of wandering around shadowy corridors. Some business about one of the virginal teens becoming possessed by the girl’s spirit emerges. Eventually, a pale faced ghost girl with black hair appears. None of the characters are that compelling. It’s pretty lame and definitely the section of the film that drags the most.

The second introduced story is probably my favorite of the bunch. The initial set-up, of the dad casually breaking the lawn in order to obtain the perfect Christmas tree, is a good starting point for a horror story. I was pleasantly surprised when the tale slowly revealed itself to be about a changeling. The parents’ probably should have been alarmed by the kid’s odd behavior – which includes scarfing down whole plates of spaghetti and stabbing dad with a fork – much sooner. The horror, of a parent realizing something is wrong with their child, connects the story with reality. The entire episode is set in a tiny apartment and primarily lit by the glow of a Christmas tree, which is a really nice effect. I also like Adrian Holmes as the stressed out dad who makes some questionable decision. The story ends on a nice note too.

The Krampus story doesn’t have a promising start. An asshole family pile in a car and travel to grandmother’s house. There, the boy breaks the elderly woman’s statuette of Krampus, which seemingly brings the demons wrath on them. Eventually, we learn that Krampus is hunting them because they’re all bad people. The dad has been embezzling money through a sham company. The son is a budding psychopath who likes to torture animals. The daughter is a kleptomaniac. Despite getting their just desserts, there’s something weirdly human about flawed, damaged people being targeted by the legendary beast. The Krampus design is cool too and much more traditional then the version that actually appeared in “Krampus.” He’s bone white, hella’ buff, and has long, curving horns. A notable gag involves the monster’s famously long tongue. There’s not much to this tale, and the ending is incredibly lame, but it’s still one of the better segments in the film.

Easily the showiest segment is the Santa-centric one. It’s definitely the best looking story in the film, shot through a moody greenish-blue lens. There’s a certain pulpy appeal to a bad ass Santa Claus slicing through zombie elves with a bladed crosier. And it is fun, for a while anyway. However, this sequence has nothing else to offer. The segments just scuffles pass one elaborate fight scene to another. Furthermore, George Buza’s performance as Santa is slightly off-key. He’s playing up the character’s warm and fuzzy attitude, which badly jives with the story’s content. The elves, after becoming possessed, scream profanity at the fat man, which is nowhere near as amusing as the film seems to think it is. The story concludes with a fight between Santa and Krampus. Sure, that’s neat. It also misunderstands the legendary figures’ relationship. Santa and Krampus aren’t arch-enemies. They’re partners. The twist ending, which ties into the film’s framing device, admittedly caught me off-guard.

I really like William Shatner’s framing device. His mood degrades from up-beat and full of Christmas cheer to weeping and drunk. This provides plenty of opportunities for some fine Shatner shenanigans. Overall though, “A Christmas Horror Story” was a bit disappointing. Obviously setting out to be the “Trick r’ Treat” for Christmas, it’s bizarre story structure and collection of mediocre stories sees it falling very short of that goal. [6/10]

The Real Ghostbusters: X-Mas Marks the Spot

With all the discussion this past year about “Ghostbusters,” I think the old cartoon show is worth a visit. Yes, of course, there was a Christmas episode of “The Real Ghostbusters.” While driving through a snow storm after a rough job in upstate New York, the four Ghostbusters accidentally travel through a time portal. This tosses them back to Victorian London. There, they stumble upon Ebenezer Scrooge and the three ghosts of Christmas. Mistaking the situation for a regular haunting, the Ghostbusters zap and capture the spirits. Upon returning home, they discover a world that hate and despises Christmas, a belief popularized by a book written by… Ebenezer Scrooge! Now, in order to ensure the continued existence of Christmas, the guys must travel back in time and free the ghosts once more.

I re-watched a handful of episodes of “The Real Ghostbusters” earlier this year, in anticipation of our podcast episode on the topic. The series fluctuated between really dire stories that would barely pass kid’s show mustard and surprisingly entertaining, clever episodes. Luckily, “X-Mas Marks the Spot” mostly falls into the latter category. There’s very little slapstick antics involving Slimer, which was always the series’ weakest attribute. The humor is silly but in a good-natured way. Before freeing the Christmas ghosts again, Ray, Venkman, and Winston have to dress up as the spirits and convince Scrooge that they’re really ghosts. (Because, apparently, they know enough about “The Christmas Carol” story to replicate it but not immediately recognize it.) There’s also some amusing moments where Janine agrees to help Egon, not because she wants to save Christmas, but just because she loves him so much.

The emotional subplot, about a grouchy Venkman learning to love the holiday again, is standard stuff but handled in a fairly light manner. The sequence devoted to Egon entering the containment unit to free the ghosts features a surprise homage to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” some surreal architecture, and cameos from previously featured ghosts. The voice cast for this show was also better then average, as Lorenzo Music, Maurice LaMarche, and Laura Summer all do good work. It’s not the weirdest version of “A Christmas Carol” – it’s not even the weirdest version starring a proximity of Bill Murray – but it’s still a decently seasonal way to kill a half-hour. [7/10]

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