Fifth Report | Fantasia 2015

christmashorror 75A Christmas Horror Story is a lot of fun, and sometimes that’s exactly what the world needs.

 

 

 

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One thing I love about film festivals is the number of opportunities they give me to discover films I really like but would not have seen otherwise under ordinary film-going circumstances (like going to a movie theater). With a festival, there are so many films to see that it’s easier to take a chance on something, even if it doesn’t seem right up your alley. After all, if you don’t like a film, you can immediately drown your sorrows by seeing another film, and the memory of one good film easily outweighs the memories of several bad ones.

So my first epiphany-like experience at Fantasia 2015 came from an unlikely source: a graphic horror movie with a Christmas theme occupying the last slot of the Monday night programming. As a rule, I’m not big on graphic horror, but for whatever reason, I still decided to give this one a try. The showing was sold out, even in that unfriendly time slot, which was a positive sign, although I figured that might be due to Canadian content. I may have been partly right, but A Christmas Horror Story, directed by Grant Harvey, Brett Sullivan, and Steven Hoban (all Canadians, and all veterans of the Ginger Snaps franchise), earns its right to be seen based on sharp execution of a well-written screenplay, with excellent acting and impeccable special effects.

A Christmas Horror Story is a portmanteau/anthology film, a genre I happen to love (one of my all-time favorites being the 1945 Dead of Night). As the title suggests, it’s Christmas Eve. Like in the Ginger Snaps films, the action is set in the fictional suburb of Bailey Groves (of course, you caught the reference to George Bailey and It’s a Wonderful Life). The film is framed by a story involving William Shatner (born in Montreal) doing what he does best, self-aware parody, as a full-of-himself radio DJ who likes more than a little rum in his eggnog.

Bailey Groves is not entirely the placid suburb it seems to be, however. One year ago, two teenagers were murdered in the basement of a school that once served as a church-run home for pregnant (and unwed) girls. Three current high school students have the bright idea of creating a film about the murders for a school project, so they break in with their cameras and sound equipment. And, of course, they find more than they bargained for. Meanwhile, a policeman and his family venture to what they believe to be a deserted area to steal a Christmas tree, but of course they don’t get away with that either. As a bonus, there’s some surprisingly sensitive (for a horror film, anyway) psychological interpretations of the relationships among the family members. There’s also consideration of how the policeman is still affected by his experience of having discovered the dead teenagers a year ago.

In a third story, a bickering family pays a visit to a rich but grumpy aunt, as the husband hopes to extract a loan to keep his business alive. Instead, they manage to awaken the Krampus, a horned creature from German mythology that is a sort of anti-St. Nicolas, bringing punishment rather than gifts and good cheer. Meanwhile, at the North Pole, the elves have been infected by a virus that turns them into zombies. There’s nothing wildly original about any of these storylines, but all are crisply executed and effective (timing is everything in horror). Another reason this film is so effective is that the filmmakers chose to have all the stories unfold simultaneously, cutting from one to another, which helps build momentum toward a conclusion that pays them all off. It’s no Citizen Kane, but A Christmas Horror Story is a lot of fun, and sometimes that’s exactly what the world needs. | Sarah Boslaugh

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