Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 22, 2015)
Most Yuletide movies opt for warmth and/or whimsy. That’s not true for 2015’s A Christmas Horror Story, though, as it follows the promise found in its title.
Rather than tell one tale, Story digs into four separate narratives, all of which weave together. In one, three teens revisit the site of an unsolved brutal ritualistic murder that happened at their high school. They go there as part of an assignment to create a video documentary, but they encounter more than they expected.
A second piece focuses on a family that brings home a Christmas tree they illegally chop down on someone else’s property. After this, young son Will (Orion John) begins to act strangely.
For the third tale, a family visits an unpleasant but wealthy relative (Corinne Conley) in an attempt to wheedle their way into her will. This doesn’t go well – and involves the evil Christmas spirit Krampus (Rob Archer). Finally, Santa Claus (George Buza) battles undead elves.
We don’t get a lot of anthology films like this, and it’s hard to come up with many that made a dent in the popular consciousness. Pulp Fiction stands as the big kahuna of the genre, and the first Sin City did pretty well.
The horror genre seems best equipped for this style, and we’ve seen some memorable movies in that vein. Unfortunately, A Christmas Horror Story doesn’t join that list, as it becomes a slow, boring collection of tales.
I will give Story some credit for ambition. It attempts to connect the four pieces in a variety of ways and doesn’t take the usual path in which one episode follows another. With its interweaving narratives, the movie bites off more than one might expect.
Unfortunately, it’s still chewing those pieces. The decision to interconnect the four stories doesn’t work and feels gratuitous. The different narratives never really have anything to do with each other, so the film might as well present them one after another – the movie gains nothing via its interwoven structure.
Maybe better editing would help. As presented here, the stories boast no flow or smoothness. The movie simply hops from one segment to another without any clarity or momentum; while I won’t call the transitions clumsy, they don’t benefit the overall film.
That goes for the comments from DJ “Dangerous Dan” (William Shatner) that pop up occasionally throughout the movie. While it feels like Dan should act as a Greek chorus, instead he seems almost entirely unnecessary. Sure, the movie ties him in by the end, but even when this occurs, it creates no impact. The movie could lose Dan and not be worse for it.
Perhaps none of this would matter if the various tales provided entertainment. They don’t – each one offers general horror clichés, and not a single one really comes to life.
Some of that stems from running time. With less than 100 minutes at the film’s disposal, each tale doesn’t receive a lot of room to breathe, so the result becomes hamstrung in that way.
I can’t say I believe that Story would fare better even if the four segments enjoyed more space. They all seem so dull and perfunctory; extra time would probably just make them even less interesting.
Nothing about the production seems memorable. Everything smells a bit bargain basement, and even the inclusion of the redoubtable Shatner doesn’t help. Honestly, he seems bored and doesn’t even muster his usual level of delightful hamminess.
All of these factors leave A Christmas Horror Story as a fairly forgettable effort. I like the concept behind it but the end result flops.