It’s Christmas Eve and no one is stirring apart from us as we snack on EVERYTHING while watching A Christmas Horror Story (2015). This festive horror portmanteau pulls together four tales set in the town of Bailey Downs that all occur on one particularly odd Christmas Eve. The film is held together with a linking story which shows a radio DJ, Dangerous Dan (played by William Shatner), slowly descending into drunkeness as he gets details of crisis at the local shopping mall.
So far, so perfect but A Christmas Horror Story is different to every other portmanteau we’ve covered. It doesn’t show the stories in any kind of order but rather chops around between them all, essentially giving us each story’s exposition first before jumping around all the way to each story’s pay off. It’s a little bit weird. No other portmanteau does it that way and there’s a reason. It’s stupid. However, short of cutting and pasting the footage yourself, there’s no way around it. Thankfully though, we can present them in some sort of logical order.
*MASSIVE SPOILS AWAIT!*
The first story features three annoying students (Dylan, Ben and Molly) who break into their school to get footage for a school project they are working on (which sounds like committing a crime, filming it and then showing it to the victim but whatever). They want to investigate the unsolved murders of two students one year previously who were killed and their bodies staged downstairs in an abandoned part of the school.
Following up on footage of the police investigation, they go to the scene of the crime and find themselves trapped in the basement of the school. An area that was part of a convent where a young girl had her unborn baby aborted by nuns.
Molly is possessed and ends up killing one of her friends and shagging the other one. After having sex she snaps out of her possession, and is a bit fucked off to find that she’s just had sex, but realises that she’s there to carry the ghostly child of the dead former convent girl.
What’s good about this story is that their own footage occasionally shows people that they can’t see. It’s good for a jump scare at least and while you’re not rooting for any of them to survive, the sense of peril is pretty grim.
The second story is also has a slightly ridiculous start. Scott is a police officer who decides the best way to get a Christmas tree is to steal one from private land. He takes his wife (Kim) and son (Will) along for this particularly stupid ride too.
His son annoying falls behind and after a frantic search they find him in the hollow of a tree. They take him home and set up the tree. However, something is up with Will. He’s not talking, he’s eating platefuls of food as fast as he can and is generally being a bit of a prick.
Scott eventually has enough when Will smashes the presents under the tree. His wife protects Will but even she knows something is up and when the owner of the land they stole the tree from (Big Earl) phones up he tells her that that’s not her son and that she’s taken home a changeling.
Kim remains unconvinced until she finds Scott dead with his hand cut off. She’s ready to listen the second time the phone rings and listens when Earl tells her to bring the changeling back. She does (once fake Will is done eating Scott’s fucking hand) but haggling with changelings isn’t an exact science and it turns out he has no idea how to get Will back, he just wanted his changeling back.
Kim accidentally shoots Earl, inadvertently freeing the changelings, which leads to the main one giving her Will back.
This story really doesn’t benefit from the film’s overall structure but is a good tale when you focus on it. Will’s deadpan face as he wreaks havoc is just right and the desparation of his parents is palpable and it evokes a bit of a Gremlins feel which is just what you need at this time of year.
The third story taps into that thing no one wants to do at Christmas. Driving hundreds of miles in the freezing cold to go and see an elderly aunt. That’s exactly the fate of Taylor and his family as they visit their miserable, but rich, Aunt Edda. Edda lives in some sort of stately home and when Taylor’s two moody kids piss her off, the whole thing becomes a bit of a disaster. Especially when Duncan, the youngest, deliberately smashes a figure of Krampus (the anti-Santa).
As they drive home, the family are hunted down by Krampus after he appears in the road, causing them to ground their car in the snow. Duncan is first to go, dragged off by Krampus’ chains. Taylor, who is already wounded at this point, is too busy bleeding to death to really do anything but also gets the chain treatment as he is pulled out of shot by the neck.
The mum and daughter hide in a church and think that confessing their sins will get them out of trouble. It gets the mum killed, leaving Caprice to run off. She eventually gets back to Aunt Edda’s house and eventually manages to spear Krampus through through the throat and then sets fire him. As Krampus dies he transforms into Gerhardt, Edda’s moody groundskeeper (played by Julian Richings, who is the scariest looking actor ever).
Edda explains that Gerhardt was transformed into Krampus because of his anger at the family’s actions and that anyone can become Krampus if they are pissed off enough. Caprice realises that Edda kicked them out so that Krampus would chase after them and not kill her and is just about pissed off enough about it to transform into the big guy himself.
This story does a good job of making the characters obnoxious enough that you want them to die and Krampus is realised quite well, making him just about scary enough to carry the story. The ending is quite good too, empowering the least annoying one in the family and setting it up as a decent twist.
The final story is a legit banger. It focuses on Santa himself who is besieged by miniturised murderers when a zombie outbreak transforms all of his elves into crazed killers.
For the most part this story just focuses on Santa dispatching the elves in badass ways. He’s entirely an action hero for the whole story and it works in the best, most hilarious way. However, while the entire film has been playing out, Dangerous Dan has been telling the listeners to stay away from the hostage crisis at the mall and eventually it turns out that this whole story is a delusion in the mind of the killer. He thinks he’s Santa killing zombie elves but is actually a disgruntled weatherman who has been slaughtering staff and shoppers alike at the mall.
It’s a quite brilliant send off for the whole film and while we really didn’t enjoy the mixed up format of A Christmas Horror Story, the four tales all work well on an individual basis and the linking story (and the links between the tales themselves) really holds it all together. Shatner’s performance is absolute genius. He plays it for laughs but there’s substance there too. Especially when you realise how he is linked to the other tales too.
In the end you get four good stories, all wrapped up with a proverbial bow thanks to William Shatner and while the format of the film left us cold, we still enjoyed the wintery chills offered up by this festive frightener. A Christmas Horror Story is decent.