For the last several decades, the major holidays have almost all played an integral role in the horror genre, particularly the big ones like Halloween and Christmas. Countless films over the years have used various different holidays – Mother’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, you name it – as jumping off points for their horror stories, giving us at least a couple different movies to choose from whenever the calendar flips over to another day of observance.
Just released onto VOD outlets, the brand spankin’ new anthology Holidays is the first horror movie to tackle all the major holidays in one fell swoop, and it’s a wonder that it took so long for such a film to come around. Watching the anthology, directed by some of the top names in horror, we couldn’t help but think of other anthologies that have featured holiday-themed segments, and in celebration of the release, we wanted to shine the spotlight on our favorites this week.
Of course, if you disagree with our picks, we’d love for you to drop us a comment!
When Silent Night, Deadly Night was released in 1984, many upset parents couldn’t handle the depiction of Santa Claus as a serial killer, leading them to angrily picket the film. But it was 12 years prior that the very first Santa Claus killer was brought to the screen, and we have the 1972 anthology Tales from the Crypt to thank for that.
Based on a story found in Vault of Horror #35, the segment “And All Through the House” stars Joan Collins as a greedy woman who kills her husband on Christmas Eve, and is subsequently stalked by an escaped lunatic in a Santa suit (a nightmarish Oliver MacGreevy). Humorously, and horrifyingly, the night of holiday terror ends with the woman’s young daughter inviting the madman into their home, believing him to be the real Santa – a pitch perfect Tales twist, if there ever was one.
The same story went on to become a standout episode of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt, which is arguably even better.
An homage to comic books like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, the George Romero-directed Creepshow was released in 1982, and the first tale put a sinister spin on Father’s Day. Appropriately titled, well, “Father’s Day,” the segment was written by Stephen King and tells the story of Aunt Bedelia, a woman driven to insanity by her cruel father, Nathan Grantham. One Father’s Day, Nathan’s demands for a special cake led Bedelia to bash his head in with a marble ashtray, and the bulk of the tale takes place years later – when Bedelia returns to the scene of the crime… on Father’s Day.
Of course, Nathan Grantham soon emerges from his grave and gets revenge on his murderous daughter, driven by his insatiable appetite for the Father’s Day cake he never received on the day he was murdered. Bathed in bright reds and blues, Nathan’s appearances look like EC Comics panels come to life, and the final reveal of the cake he ends up making for himself is as iconic as horror anthology segments get. Oh and don’t forget the Ed Harris dancing scene, which is the icing on this cake.
Singling out one segment in Michael Dougherty’s Trick r’ Treat and proclaiming it the best is nearly impossible, because the collection of Halloween horror stories makes for what is easily the most perfect anthology in the genre’s history. Oozing with atmosphere and festive style, Trick ‘r Treat is all around the very best representation of Halloween that has ever been brought to the screen, but if forced to choose a favorite segment, “The School Bus Massacre” is the one I have to go with.
The segment tells of a local urban legend that began 30 years prior, when a school bus driver was paid off by parents to kill their mentally challenged children one Halloween. Shackling the kids to their seats, the man intends on driving the bus off a cliff and into a lake, and though the dastardly plan doesn’t go off without a hitch, he accomplishes the horrifying mission. In the present, a group of friends go to the infamous quarry on Halloween night to pull a prank on outcast Rhonda, but their plan backfires when the murdered children rise up from their watery grave.
Dougherty wasn’t afraid to head into uncomfortably dark territory to convey the importance of upholding Halloween traditions, which makes “The School Bus Massacre” an unforgettable horror anthology segment – and perhaps one of the best Halloween horror stories ever told on screen.
Like Trick ‘r Treat, last year’s Tales of Halloween was an anthology of stories set on Halloween night, though each of them were written/directed by different filmmakers. The anthology was book-ended by the two best segments, kicking off with Hills Run Red director Dave Parker’s “Sweet Tooth” – a cautionary tale about eating too much candy on Halloween night.
In the short, a teenage babysitter and her boyfriend tell young Mikey the legend of Sweet Tooth, a once-human boy whose parents would steal all the candy he collected on Halloween. Fed up, the boy killed his parents one Halloween and literally ate the candy they already consumed, digging it out of their stomachs, and the teens scare Mikey by telling him that the spirit of Sweet Tooth will come for him if he eats too much candy. As expected, Sweet Tooth does show up, and he’s hungrier than ever.
Out of all the segments in Tales of Halloween, “Sweet Tooth” is the one most ripe for a feature-length expansion, as it gives rise to a brand new holiday horror icon who could easily be the star of his own franchise. But even if it’s the only taste of the character we ever get, it’s sweet enough to satisfy.
Eight different stories comprise this year’s Holidays, and the fun thing about the anthology is that the individual holidays are highlighted in the order in which they take place – it begins with a Valentine’s Day segment and ends with one set on New Year’s Eve, hitting every major holiday (aside from Thanksgiving) in-between. They range from truly bizarre (Gary Shore’s “St. Patrick’s Day) to absolutely bone-chilling (Anthony Scott Burns’ “Father’s Day”), and my personal favorite of the bunch is set on Easter.
Directed by Nicholas McCarthy (At the Devil’s Door), the film’s “Easter” segment is a truly unsettling examination of the titular holiday, centered on a young girl who can’t wrap her head around the idea that the day marks both the rebirth of Jesus Christ and the arrival of a giant bunny. McCarthy blends the two Easter tales together for a standout short film that is surprisingly (given its brief run-time) rich with mythology, and it’s also home to the most nightmarish depiction of a beloved holiday icon that you’ll likely ever see. Pure. Nightmare. Fuel.
Finally, Easter has an awesome horror film to call its own – even if it’s a short one.