We’re basking in the afterglow of Christmas 2022 as we write this and we’re always happy to check out a holiday-themed anthology. However, having just watched an absolute stinker in Tales from the Other Side and being so full of chocolate that we fear our feet might fall off, we weren’t expecting much from All The Creatures Were Stirring. This came out in 2018 to average reviews but what sets it apart, aside from its festive theme, is that all the segments are co-written and directed by spouses David and Rebekah McKendry, so we were hoping for a good level of consistency rather than this just being a mash up of low grade horror shorts.
This portmanteau gives us five stories and a solid wraparound tale too. That story involves two single friends (Max and Jenna) who go on a Christmas Eve date to a local indie theatre where each of the stories are then acted out by three actors. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as they appear to be silent for a start but it doesn’t matter as we get to see the stories as proper filmed segments as you’d expect.
The Stockings Were Hung
Given the quiet introduction to this anthology, we were surprised at how hard The Stockings Were Hung hits. It tells the story of some company workers who have their Christmas Eve taken over by some sort of psychopath who turns their Secret Santa gift exchange into the equivalent of a Saw movie.
We very much enjoyed the likes of The Belko Experiment and so this tale of office workers being forced to open booby-trapped gifts was enjoyably tense and well executed.
Possibly the best story on offer, this is the tale of a man who locks himself out of his car on Christmas Eve. With no access to his phone, he’s forced to ask for help from two women in a very sketchy looking van. You’re never quite sure if they’re good or evil until the story plays out in a very interesting way that reminded us a little of Sam Witwer’s excellent story in Tales of Halloween but played for scares, not laughs.
With decent acting, a good sense of foreboding and a truly dark ending, this felt like a decent Twilight Zone story.
All Through The House
Despite feeling very low budget and a little too ‘indie’ even for us, this modern take on the standard A Christmas Carol story offers up a suitably creepy and unhinged take on that old stalwart tale. It features a very grumpy man spending Christmas alone while bickering with his neighbour. However, when he snubs a request to help a young girl’s charity efforts, the ghosts of Christmas decide to go to town on him.
Although this was one of the poorer stories on offer, we still enjoyed it for what it was. Even if the main actor didn’t entirely have the acting chops to sell the story to us.
This story however was the poorest of them. When a man accidentally runs down a deer in his car, he then gets stalked in his house. There’s some weird sex worker sub-plot going on that we didn’t necessarily care much for but when the killing starts and you find out who the killer is, the story descends into farce a little. It’s mercifully short though and it’s still not terrible, so we didn’t mind too much.
Thankfully things take a solid upturn with Twinkling, a story that shows a man trying to hide himself away at Christmas for reasons unknown. However, his girlfriend shows up unannounced and brings three of their friends. The man attempts to explain why this is a bad idea but the girlfriend goes outside for a smoke, only to witness what appears to be some sort of alien nonsense in the sky.
What happens next is sci-fi comedy gold as she realises that he friends are now being impersonated by aliens who are trying to interrogate her over dinner. It’s just weird enough to work and the actors playing the alien imposters do a great job of selling it.
This is the linking story and throughout the film we revisit it to see how the couple are getting on at the theatre. However, things keep getting weirder and Max appears to be struggling with some sort of stomach condition that keeps getting worse. Oddly though, aside from some creepiness in how the final part of this story plays out, there’s not a huge pay off apart from one visual effect that sort of ties it to Twinkling, possibly.
We liked this anthology a lot. The Christmas theme and consistent writing/directing partnership makes for a solid collection of stories that provide a couple of chuckles and some decent scares. It’s not going to dislodge A Christmas Horror Story from its lonely perch at the top of this sub-genre but it stands alone as a great example of how to put together a good anthology on a budget.
Sure, there are a few niggles stopping it short of greatness. Some of the weaker stories are lacking when it comes to acting and a couple of the pay-offs disappoint a little but the best stories absolutely stick their landings. It’s a shame that the linking story stumbles in this area but it gets away with it just through sheer creepiness.
So, this is definitely an anthology we can recommend. Check it out on Shudder now.