SHOCK rolls out 9 nasty numbers to spoil the sanctity of the holiday season.
Holiday Horror is a sacred tradition in genre films. From classics like BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) to GREMLINS (1984) the most wonderful time of the year has been littered with corpses and monsters, acting as an antidote to the warm embrace of Hallmark cards and festive cheer.
The horror cinema which emerged in the 2000s was notable for its gory excess and penchant for remakes so its no surprise that when genre cinema turned its eye to Holiday Horror it reinvented the classics and got bloody but also looked at the European folkloric past for inspiration. Here are some of the great (and not so great) additions to whats coming down your chimney.
Often falling under the banner of New French Extremity CALVAIRE (2004) is a creepy little Belgian film (with financing from France) directed by Fabrice Du Welz which explores the complications of the family you choose so to speak. Singer Marc (Laurent Lucas) travels through the countryside on his way to a Christmas performance which might finally catapult him to success. Along the way his car breaks down near a remote village where he is taken in by Bartel (Jackie Berroyer) who is as unstable as he is welcoming. The film is a slow burn which takes a sharp turn into outright madness as Marc begins to lose his sanity and the tenuous community of the town begins to crumble. CALVAIRE (which means Calvary, the hill in Jerusalem near the site of Jesus crucifixion) explores what happens when a community, no matter how small, begins to crumble and becomes a bloody and battered exploration of the Christian origins of Christmas.
From the great Hollywood tradition of nepotism comes SANTA’S SLAY (2005), a film so joylessly unfunny that it could only be written and directed David Steiman, a former assistant to the irritating auteur Brett Ratner. SANTAS SLAY portrays jolly old St. Nick as the son of the Devil who was forced to do good because an angel defeated him in a curling match (actually) sentencing him to 1000 years on the straight and narrow. Now the sentence is up and Santa returns to his old ways arriving in Hell Township (to give you an idea of what this film deems clever) and proceeds to kill its residents in varying Holiday themed ways. Santa is played by professional wrestler Bill Goldberg and the rest of the cast is filled out with recognizable talent including a cameo by James Caan. SANTAS SLAY is content to have its titular character embodied the same traits as Freddy Krueger on a bad day; a braying, repetitive monster whose favorite mode of torture stems from calling women bitches and utilizing Christmas songs for cringe-inducing one liners. Several reviews of the film point out that the majority of the cast and creative team are Jewish making SANTAS SLAY a parody of omnipresence of Christmas but the film simply doesnt have enough going on to justify its 78 minute run time nor does anyone seem to care enough to take down the full version of the film that exists on YouTube.
The original BLACK CHRISTMAS is beloved by horror fans. It defined many of the slasher tropes that would be cemented in HALLOWEEN (1978) while telling a progressive, feminist story with a multitude of interesting characters and a chilling, unknowable killer. BLACK CHRISTMAS (aka BLACK XMAS) 2006 would be a hit with any fans of some Leo Tolstoys longer works as writer-director Glen Morgan takes the creepy elements only hinted at in the original and turns them into a lengthy backstory for the killer. The sorority sisters who are terrorized throughout the film are shown as vapid caricatures in the remaining screen time given to them. The remake falls in line with the torture porn trend with some genuinely gory kills but fails to update any of the elements that made the original a cult classic.
P2 is one of those films thats better than it has any right to be. Forgotten on its initial release, it still hasnt found the cult following that it deserves but then again, Christmas is a magical time of year when anything can happen. Taking a familiar upstairs/downstairs story and then covering it in in blood and guts, P2 spins a classic yarn of hard-working, career driven Angela (Rachel Nichols) who stays late at the office on Christmas Eve and is kidnapped by the parking lot security guard Thomas (Wes Bentley) whose plan involves terrorizing Angela until she falls in love with him. The plot may seem threadbare but what makes P2 worth watching is its tight pacing and the way it punishingly satirizes uncompromising Holiday expectations around family and loved ones. The film is confidently directed by Franck Khalfoun (who would go on to direct the 2012 MANIAC remake) and produced and written by Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur (High Tension). P2 shared a lot of physical and aesthetic DNA with New French Extremity which helps elevate P2 above a normal cat and mouse thriller. P2 is the perfect film to watch if youre skipping out on family festivities this year or just need a reprieve from them.
Continuing with the French theme, one of the most celebrated modern horror classics has to be Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maurys INSIDE (2007). Much like CALVAIRE, INSIDE also subverts the traditional Christian nativity narrative by having a pregnant woman attacked by a vicious assailant on Christmas Eve. While the Holidays provide more of a backdrop to the blood soaked proceedings the Holidays serve as a reminder of how isolated the characters are. Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is attacked by a figure only known as The Woman (Béatrice Dalle) the night before she plans to admit herself to the hospital to deliver her child. INSIDE is mainly a bloody battle between two women for the life of the unborn child with the mystery of why the anonymous woman could want the child unfolds around them. Inside is a gory, thrilling and terrifying film that questions how deeps the bonds between a mother and child truly run.
England follows suit in the Holiday Horror subgenre with Tom Shanklands THE CHILDREN (2008). Set in the beatific English countryside, THE CHILDREN follows an extended family who gathers for the Holidays with kiddies in tow only to have them succumb to a mystery illness which turns them into murderous sociopaths hell-bent on killing the adults around them. THE CHILDREN deftly plays on the ineffectuality of the parents as well as the social taboo of harming children. The film functions as a pitch black comedy as the children play the adults off one another ensuring their survival.
One of the best new entries in the Christmas horror subgenre has to be Jalmari Helanders RARE EXPORTS (2010) which fuses the occasionally disparate themes of love and family with European folklore. Using Finland as a backdrop, Rare Exports (based on a short film of the same name) utilizes elements of the Krampus story without ever naming the horned monster. Set in a remote village, the local children begin to go missing after an American excavation team uncovers something under the ice. It is up to Pietari (Onni Tommila), his father and other members of the community to stop the monster from being fully unleashed. RARE EXPORTS blends fantasy and horror for a film thats almost safe for the whole family and even the darkest aspects of the film are undercut by terrific performances in a film that helps restore some faith in the true meaning of Christmas.
SINT is the decades in the making follow up to director Dick Maas previous efforts DE LIFT (1983) and AMSTERDAMNED (1988) and blends problematic European folklore (Black Peter anyone?) with a more traditional North American slasher narrative. SINT takes its name from Sinterklaas, a mythological figure derived from the Saint Nicholas story, the iconography of which was an influence on the popularized Santa Claus mythology. Sinterklaas supposedly visits good boys and girls on December 5th with presents while his helpers known as Black Peter help dole out beatings to naughty children. SINT implies that when the 5th falls on a full moon Sinterklaas returns in a zombified form in a murderous rage and targets a group of meddling teens who cross his path. The film caused controversy on its release for depicting Sinterklaas as a malevolent figure on the films posters which worried parents of young children. Maas countered the argument stating that if a child could believe in Sinterklaas, they could also believe that a movie was fictional. SINT offers a fun alternative to some of the more head-y Holiday Horrors mixing a slasher formula with European history. While it doesnt reach the heights of films like RARE EXPORTS, it sidesteps the trappings of a shit show like SANTAS SLAY.
When remaking a cult classic horror film like SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT its important for a director to put their own visual stamp on a piece. Steven C. Miller attempted this with his 2012 film SILENT NIGHT which updates the 1984 film with newer plot elements added from the real life case of the Covina massacre, a 2008 case in which Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, dressed as Santa, entered his brothers Christmas party killing all those in attendance. SILENT NIGHT manages to take the cruelty and darkness of the original and update it without saying much else leaving the film to function as a reminder to watch the 1984 version which actually seems charming by comparison to this soulless remake.
Contemporary Holiday Horrors have yielded a substantial offering that run a gamut of themes but they all cross the same tricky road that we all cross at this time of year, our family. Whether close to your family or not, the Holidays are billed as the time to make things right and put everything aside. These films offer a view of the Holidays where something is deeply broken. Whether its an undead saint or a mental patient who gets set off by all the colorful lights, these films posit that what brings us together could lead to our downfall. The best of these films offer an emotional pay off while the worst are content to revel in their misery.