It’s almost a tradition that anthology horror movies include a Christmas segment – Dead of Night and Tales From the Crypt have excellent examples – and there have even been whole collections of Christmas-themed horror before (A Christmas Horror Story) … but Rebekah and Dave McKendry have put together a distinctive, low-key holiday attraction in this neatly-wrapped package.
The emphasis is on non-family Christmases – especially on how rootless, single, middle class but marginalised folk spend their Yuletides, and there’s a better than average frame story about Max (Graham Skipper) and Jenna (Ashley Clements), who are at a loose end on Christmas Eve in a Californian nowhere and decide to go out together to a small theatre where an odd company of three (Alexander Ward, John Humphrey, Diva Zappa) put on an evening of sketches (some more developed than others) with a Christmas horror theme. The venue is like an el cheapo Lynchian nightspot, with a weird-hairdoed MC (Maria Olsen) replacing boards that announce titles derived from ‘A Visit From St Nicholas’ (‘All Through the House’, ‘Dash Away All’, ‘In a Twinkling’, etc) and gore represented by red streamers. Half the audience don’t come back from the intermission (I clocked directors Mike Mendez and Axelle Carolyn walking out), and a red-faced older patron (Ian Gregory) seems to get nasty entertainment out of the whole thing – which sets up an ambiguous, but oddly disturbing payoff.
The stories offer an office party with deadly secret Santa presents (and other kinds of secrets), a schlub (Matt Long) who locks his keys in his car in a near-abandoned parking lot and seeks help from two odd girls (Makeda Decet, Catherine Parker) who have matching sinister tattoos and a hippie van of horror, a campy Christmas Carol riff about a Santa hater (Jonathan Kite) who wants to spend Christmas doing cocaine in front of a channel that only shows holiday classics but gets pestered by several ghosts, a brief bit about a guy (Mark Kelly) who runs over a reindeer and pays for it, and a Twilight Zone parody in which a girl (Constance Wu) surprises a shut-in (Morgan Peter Brown) with an impromptu Christmas dinner and gets drawn into a charade in black and white (mostly) and a different aspect ratio as aliens come to insist on a Christmas celebration.
The standouts are the parking lot anecdote (which has a fresh, unsettling idea) and the alien encounter, but only the Christmas Carol rehash feels weak. It has an interesting array of indie horror faces in bits – Jocelin Donahue, Amanda Fuller, Brea Grant, Peter Cilella, Archie Hahn, Matt Mercer, Chase Williamson, Lauren Lakis – but doesn’t drag in name cameos, which means that it might be an embarrassment that Wu’s profile has been vastly raised by Crazy Rich Asians this year. Its strongest suit is not doing the obvious Christmas horror ideas.