Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas 2018: December 22nd

All the Creatures Were Stirring (2018)

I'm not sure why this is but, in the last decade or so, the anthology film has seen a real resurgence in the indie horror scene. The “V/H/S” and “ABCs of Death” films, “Holidays,” “Southbound,” “Tales of Halloween” and probably some others I'm forgetting have crossed theater screens and streaming services in recent years. And now this latest trend has cross-pollinated with the Christmas horror movie, resulting in “All the Creatures Were Stirring.” Unlike most films of this type, which gather together a team of different filmmakers, the holiday horror anthology is entirely a work of a husband and wife team. Rebekah McKendry and David Ian McKendry have been involved with podcasts, short films, and other behind-the-scenes activities but this is their feature debut.

On December 25th, two people meet for a date at a theater. They are presented with five stories. “All the Stockings Were Hung” concerns an office Christmas party held hostage by am unseen psychopath. “Dash Away All” is about a man who locks himself out of his car while doing some last minute Christmas shopping. That's when he encounters two girls with a van and a demonic secret. “All Through the House” has a drug-addled Grinch being visited by three ghosts, who give him horrifying hallucinations. “Arose Such a Clatter” begins with a man hitting a deer while driving on Christmas. Once he returns home, the deer seeks vengeance. “In a Twinkling” has Gabby visiting a friend on Christmas. Both are then abducted by aliens curious about their holiday traditions.

“All The Creatures Were Stirring” earns points for not falling back on traditional Christmas horror concepts, like killer Santas or the Krampus. However, that doesn't mean its ideas are especially original. For example, the first story recalls last year's “The Belko Experiment” and “Mayhem.” Being only a short segment, it doesn't have time to explore office politics in any meaningful way. The villain is obnoxiously hammy. The ending is a complete shrug that doesn't satisfy on any level. Aside from a clever gag involving a deadly jack-in-the-box, it starts the film on a sour note.

“Dash Away All” is slightly better, while also being among the film's longer segments. It has a creepy build-up and utilizes the spookiness of its setting – an empty parking lot at night – fairly well. The audience does wonder what the deal with the two mysterious women are. However, once the supernatural threat makes itself known, the story really falter. The mechanics of the demonic entity are convoluted and uninteresting. While the creature's surprise appearance is a decent horror moment, it doesn't manage to create a thrilling ending. This is also the part of the film that has the least to do with Christmas.

The third segment, “All Through the House,” is probably the weakest part of the film. Its protagonist, Chet, is by-far the most obnoxious person in the film. We're never given a reason to care about this coke sniffing, booty call making, Christmas-hating moron. Jonathan Kite's performance is way over the top. While subverting “A Christmas Carol's” premise for horror, there's nothing scary or spooky about this haunting. The visions Chet is given of his past is ridiculously executed. The other strange things he see are senseless enough that the audience just wanders when this'll be over.

The fourth story, “Arose Such a Clatter,” is probably my favorite part of the film. Which is not the highest praise. The episode is definitely over-directed, with a swirling camera and blood running down the screen. We learn almost nothing about its two characters, other than the guy is a sleazy fetish photographer and his one model has the hots for him. The deer is only ever portrayed as close-ups on a stuffed head. Yet the premise is sort of funny, with an amusingly seasonal resolution. Unlike the other parts of the film, this one actually captures the EC Comics style of bad people being punished for their crimes.

The last three segments of “All the Creatures Were Stirring” have a comedic edge. The final episode, “In a Twinkling,” goes for comedy above anything else. I like the premise of aliens attempting to understand Christmas. Filming the scenes above the flying saucer like it's a black-and-white fifties sci-fi film was mildly clever. Yet the writing is not especially funny. The one attempt at horror, involving stretching CGI faces, is very poor. The short, as a few of these did, ends on a complete shrug. The attempt to throw in some emotional resonance at the very end does not work at all.

The wrap-around segment has a very lame conclusion as well. If the film's Letterboxd page is anything to go on, the reception for “All the Creatures Were Stirring” has been predominantly negative. I would say the film is more mediocre than outright bad. However, it's certainly not the best Christmas horror anthology that could've been made. (“A Christmas Horror Story” from a few years back was better and I didn't even like that one much.) Perhaps these things work better when multiple directors are involved? By all accounts, the filmmakers are nice people, so hopefully their next project is less uneven. [5/10]

Night Gallery: The Messiah on Mott Street

“The Night of the Meek” is a classic Christmas episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Since I reviewed that one a few years ago, I decided to try the holiday episode of that other Rod Serling anthology series this December. Though “Night Gallery” is generally considered a pale imitation of “The Twilight Zone,” “The Messiah on Mott Street” seems to be among the series' better regarded episode. Perhaps this is because Serling himself penned the script for it. (This episode is also packaged with a segment called “The Painted Mirror,” which I didn't feel the need to review.)

“The Messiah on Mott Street” is rather perfect for my household, as its as much a Hanukkah special as a Christmas one. It concerns Abraham Goldman, a 77 year old Jewish grandfather. Abraham lives with Mikey, his nine year old grandson. Goldman is very ill and knows the Angel of Death will be visiting him soon. Looking to instill some hope in the boy, Abraham explains to Mikey about the Messiah. The boy sets out into the streets, full of Christmas shoppers and corner Santas, looking for this aforementioned Messiah. Instead, he finds a man named Buckner. While Goldman's doctor tries to explain to Mikey that his grandfather will soon pass, the boy insists Buckner is the Messiah.

“The Messiah on Mott Street” is a cute fable. The love shared between Mikey and his grandfather is very sweet. The way the old man simplifies the story of the Jewish messiah to the boy is well meaning. The sequence where the boy goes out into the street, arguing with a Santa Claus and a raving lunatic, establishes the boy's naivety well. The introduction of Buckner injects some sweetness and charity into the dreary story. There's even a mildly spooky moment, when Abraham feels the spectre of death floating over his bed. This is portrayed as a blackened shape billowing through the room. The conclusion explains things a bit too neatly, inserting an element of magic-realism that lays down too many cards at once.

Still, the cast really elevates the somewhat clumsy script. Edward G. Robinson, as an old Jew himself, is well cast as Abraham. His gripes are infused with humor while he shows a clear affection for the boy. Tony Robbins, as the old man's doctor, makes a good foil to Robinson's kvetching old man. Ricky Powell is good as Mikey, functioning as a cute kid without overdoing it. Yaphet Kotto, also a Jew, seems to approach the role of Buckner with a healthy sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye. And, naturally, Serling's introductions have a gravity and grace to them. Overall, “The Messiah on Mott Street” is definitely worth seeing, regardless of the quality of the show around it. [7/10]

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