Saturday 23 December 2017

A Christmas Horror Story

Night Of The Living Elves

A Christmas Horror Story
Canada 2015
Directed by Grant Harvey,
Steven Hoban & Brett Sullivan
Entertainment One DVD Region 2

Well this was a nice surprise. I bought this movie to watch in the run in to Christmas this year and expected it to be, at the very most, a halfway watchable, trashy Christmas horror movie with William Shatner in it. Imagine my surprise, then, when I started watching it... only to find that, not only is it a well made and entertaining seasonal movie but, also, William Shatner is pretty cool in it.

Starting somewhat forebodingly and in accordance with my original expectations of this film, the credits highlight some CGI, stylised Christmassy snowflakes which move around the screen and eventually focus on one blood stained snowflake while a famous Christmas song plays out. This is then followed by what looks like a very ropey CGI zoom around what turns out to be, kinda, Santa’s palatial residence. We start with a hook from near the end of the film (most of the rest of this is told in flashback) of a wounded Santa pulling out an axe to greet whatever awaits him outside his door... we then get a kind of ‘gluing’ segment which keeps cutting in and out of the movie, with William Shatner doing an absolutely wonderful job as a Christmas loving disc jockey on his Christmas Eve broadcast (a little like the radio presenter in The Fog, reviewed here, in terms of keeping everything in this film narratively framed).

We then go into one of four stories which all take place on the same Christmas Eve in the small town of Bailey Downs. This is the setting for Ginger Snaps and certain episodes of a show I don’t know called Orphan Black, too, because the directors have all worked on those in one capacity or another. Of course, being as this is a story which takes place at Christmas, I can also only assume that it’s deliberately name checking the George Bailey character of the greatest ever Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. All the stories are independent of each other but they all have a very small crossover with one of the other stories in this movie. And, rather than play out as four separate vignettes, the stories are all crosscut together so they progress throughout the length of the film and reach their respective conclusions at roughly the same time. Actually, this really shouldn’t work nearly as well as the writers and directors have got it to do here so... yep... lot of respect to the people behind this one.

So story number one deals with a murder in a school from a year before where two teens were killed ritualistically... one of them crucified against the wall with a Christmas message written in blood. For her student film, Molly (played by Zoé De Grand Maison) wants to shoot a documentary there so she and her two friends, Ben (Alex Ozerov) and Dylan (Shannon Kook), sneak into the school in the evening, as it’s closed for the holiday, to film the scene of the crime. Molly has been fired up by an ‘on scene’ video report by a policeman who has been off work with stress since the murders. Dylan gets a key from his girlfriend Caprice (played by Amy Forsyth) before she then gets in her car with her family to be one of the main characters in another, concurrent story. After gaining access to a forbidden area of the school, Molly and her companions get trapped in the darkened ‘off limits’ area and are subject to a ‘visitation’ by the ghosts of a restless spirit from many years before... yep, no spoilers here, not saying anything more.

Meanwhile, Caprice goes with her family on a car journey to visit a distant and strange relative. When they are at their creepy relative’s home, her younger brother deliberately breaks a Krampus figurine and the family are forced to leave. They head back home but when the father swerves to avoid ‘the real Krampus’ in a barren landscape, the car gets stuck in snow. The family then gets hunted by Krampus and... more blood and horror ensues.

Meanwhile, again, the policeman who has not been to work since the murder case investigation takes his wife and their kid to cut down a Christmas tree for their home, trespassing in a strange wooded area. The kid goes missing in the forest, pursued by ‘spooky camera POV 101’ and, when his parents find him again in a ‘not in the least bit suspicious’ opening/portal in a tree, things start going wrong for them when they get him home. In a pretty malevolent and ultimately violent way.

And while all this is going on, the ‘real Santa’, played really nicely by George Buza, has an elf on his hands that gets weirdly ‘un-Christmassy’, cuts his own hand off with an axe and then dies.He then returns from the dead and infects all the other elves... who become some kind of zombie creatures bent on Santa’s destruction and under the spell of Krampus. There’s also some very ‘non-Christmas’ dialogue in this section such as an elf shouting "I'm going to eat your f***ing brains out you Christmas c**t." Like all the different story strands in this movie, the action is pretty gory and this one has decapitations galore, not to mention a moment where Santa slices the top of an elf’s skull off with his staff to reveal the brain inside.

And as for the William Shatner sequences... well they’re really nicely done but, also,  there is a specific link to one of the stories here. I won’t tell you which but, one of them has a nice, if somewhat humdrum, twist which caught me by surprise because, although I’d already thought of it, I’d dismissed the notion and wrote it off as a budgetary restraint with an actor in a dual role. So this movie definitely scores some points for being able to take me by surprise here.

The film is not flashily directed but it nicely done and really shows the competence and craftsmanship of the cast and crew who have pulled together to make something which is a heck of a lot more fun to watch than I was expecting. There are absolutely loads of those kind of ‘person bends down or camera looks around to reveal something which wasn’t in the shot before’ jump scare style reveals in the movie but they are, at least, even when expected, well timed and work quite well. There are also a lot of those roving camera point of view shots that horror films sometimes use to indicate ‘another presence’ and build up tension. Again, nothing new here but very well done and it certainly doesn’t call attention to itself in a bad way. And, as I mentioned before, there’s a load of gory violence thrown into the mix and, although this shouldn’t really work in a Christmas movie, the film-makers really seem to get it all to fit together in as unobtrusive manner as possible so, once again, my Christmas hat off to them.

So there you have it. A Christmas Horror Story is not exactly the greatest seasonal terror tale on Earth but it’s certainly not the trashy excuse of a piece I was expecting it to be and I was thoroughly entertained throughout. And where else can you see Krampus and Santa Claus squaring off in a bloody battle to the death? Definitely one I’d recommend to all my friends who enjoy genre movies and one which I will, no doubt, return to in the Christmas movie viewing roster in years to come. No room for elf and safety here.

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