Warning: This review contains spoilers.
A Christmas Horror Story (2015) is one of the more recent attempts to merge the two seemingly contradictory film genres of happy holiday movie and scary monster movie together. While it has the trappings of a Christmas movie, does it succeed as a horror film? Not really.
A Christmas Story is four stories in one. The first one begins with Santa Claus (played by George Buza) fighting zombie elves, while the other three stories are about residents of Bailey Downs who face various supernatural threats.
Working on a school project about two students who died at their school a year ago, three students named Molly, Dylan, and Ben (played by Zoe De Grand’Maison, Shannon Kook, and Alex Ozerov respectively) end up encountering the ghost of a teenage unwed mother who lived at the school during the days when it was a convent.
After stealing a Christmas tree from some woods located on private property, husband and wife Scott and Kim (played by Adrian Holmes and Olunike Adeliyi) must contend with their son Will (played by Orion John) being replaced with a changeling.
Taylor, Dianne, Caprice, and Duncan (played by Jeff Clarke, Michelle Nolden, Amy Forsyth, and Percy Hynes-White respectively) are family members who try to survive an attack by Krampus (played by Rob Archer), a supernatural being described as a demon that “hunts the wicked from sunset to sunrise.” It is also a Christmas spirit that can possess you “if your heart is blackened with anger and vindictiveness.”
At first glance, A Christmas Story seems to be a promising holiday-themed horror film. It is beautifully filmed and contains appealing CGI and real-life scenery that vividly bring Santa’s North Pole factory and the fictional town of Bailey Downs to life.
The movie also contains a nice plot twist that ties together the seemingly out of place story about Santa Claus fighting zombie elves to an unfortunate event that actually happens in Bailey Downs. The performance of William Shatner as radio announcer Dangerous Dan, who loses his Christmas cheer and gets drunk on air as tragedy unfolds in Bailey Downs, effectively reinforces the horror of this event.
There are also some other good performances that make the movie watchable. Orion John is wonderfully creepy as the changeling version of Will, and the actors who portray the family attacked by Krampus are convincingly annoying. Percy Hynes-White is especially good as bratty kid Duncan, who irritates future Krampus Gerhardt (played by Julian Richings).
Unfortunately, these positive aspects of the movie are not strong enough to overcome its troubling flaws.
Dashing through the Dead
While supernatural beings abound in A Christmas Horror Story, the pace of the movie is so fast that you don’t have time to get really scared of them. Another problem arising from the film’s fast pace is that many of the characters such as Dianne and Mrs. Claus are so shallowly developed that it is hard to care about them beyond the level of sympathy for an accident victim when they get killed, which happens to a lot of the characters in this movie.
Even characters with slightly more important roles such as Big Earl, the caretaker of the changelings, and Gerhardt are enigmatic figures whose backgrounds remain mysterious right up to the bitter ends of their lives in the film.
Other problems drag the movie down to average horror flick status.
Too Much Elf Slaughter
I know it’s necessary for Santa to kill the zombie elves to protect himself and Mrs. Claus, but the film’s portrayal of Santa’s violent actions is overkill. Elf heads roll and body limbs are hacked in so many scenes that the shocking effect of these gruesome acts diminishes with repetition, and Santa’s story becomes more like a zombie hunter video game or an episode of Supernatural minus Sam and Dean Winchester.
Too Much Mary Christmas
Molly, Dylan, and Ben’s story tries to create horror around the story of the Virgin Mary and her role as the mother of Jesus, but the use of Virgin Mary symbolism in this story is problematic. As the story progresses, we see that this symbolism does not accurately represent either the ghost or Molly because of their impure actions.
The ghost of the teenage unwed mother who haunts the school basement looks more like Bloody Mary than the Virgin Mary. She also acts more like Bloody Mary too. According to Molly, she claimed her pregnancy was “like a miracle,” yet she died “trying to abort her baby.” Instead of bringing life into the world, the ghost kills those who do not follow her wishes and those who get in the way of her plans, such as the two students found dead a year ago and Dylan.
Molly does not fare much better when she assumes the Virgin Mary’s mantle, which Dylan literally hands to her from the Virgin Mary in the nativity scene in the basement. She cannot resist the power of the ghost, and her purity falls by the wayside because of it. Molly eventually becomes the flesh puppet of the ghost and goes into whore mode, trying to seduce Dylan or Ben to have sex with her. She manages to get pregnant, but it is hardly an immaculate conception.
However, while Molly and the ghost perform evil actions, they are not evil enough to adequately fill the roles of “anti-Virgin Marys.” Neither one of them is associated with Satan or even one of his minions, and Satan is not the father of their sons.
A Christmas Horror Story is not a totally awful movie, but it is not a great one either. There is no groundbreaking innovation in this film. If you are not too picky about plot development and like fast-paced films, then you might enjoy this swift and bumpy sleigh ride of a movie.