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Ranking the Segments in ‘A Christmas Horror Story’

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This holiday horror gem can currently be streamed on Netflix!

When A Christmas Horror Story was released back in 2015, it made the cut on both Brad’s “Top 10 of 2015” and Trace’s “Top 10 Biggest Surprises of 2015” lists.

There’s all sorts of craziness in this anthology that delivers on so many different levels; it’s gory, but it’s also goofy, then all of a sudden it’s insanely scary,” Brad wrote. As for Trace, he called it “a very fun movie that knows how ridiculous it is.”

Personally speaking, it was also one of my favorite horror films of 2015.

Directed by Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, and Brett Sullivan, and written by James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor, and Pascal Trottier, A Christmas Horror Story is set in the fictional town of Bailey Downs, which was one year prior rocked by a holiday tragedy. As radio host Dangerous Dan (William Shatner) guides the town through Christmas Eve, various evil forces wreak havoc on the peaceful community.

The interesting thing about A Christmas Horror Story is that all four of its tales are taking place concurrently, and unlike most anthologies, they’re not separated into individual segments or even presented in the traditional way. The film instead jumps back and forth between stories throughout; it’s jarring and a bit confusing at first, but the unique format eventually ends up working in this particular anthology’s favor.

While it’s not exactly the glue that ties the stories together, Dangerous Dan’s double shift on Christmas Eve is what could be considered the wraparound segment here, as the stories break every so often so that the always hammy William Shatner can crack jokes and do what he does best. The character gets progressively intoxicated as the film goes on, and a drunk Shatner – bathed in a holiday glow – is as delightful as it sounds.

As for the individual segments, we figured we’d rank them for Christmas this year!


1) SANTA VS. ZOMBIE ELVES

It’s common for horror anthologies to have one standout segment, and A Christmas Horror Story‘s best tale centers on Santa Claus himself. Set on the North Pole, Santa’s workshop runs red with blood when his diminutive elves start one-by-one contracting a nasty zombie virus, forcing this particularly badass incarnation of Kris Kringle to wield his staff like a broadsword and lay waste to his foul-mouthed helpers.

There’s just something endlessly entertaining about watching Santa Claus brutally kill zombie elves, and the segment is appropriately gory and indeed a whole lot of fun. The tale of North Pole carnage has the polished look of a film with a much higher budget than this one had, and George Buza is fantastic as the jolly old elf.

And just wait until you see the final battle, which paves the way for a delightfully cruel twist.


2) THE CHRISTMAS CHANGELING 

While Santa’s slaying of undead elves is the most fun segment in A Christmas Horror Story, writer Pascal Trottier’s tale of a family besieged by an evil force is easily the best bit of storytelling on display here. When a couple heads off into the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree, their young son briefly goes missing. And when he returns to mommy’s loving arms, well, he’s not quite the same.

I mentioned earlier that the initially frustrating format of this anthology ultimately works in its favor, and it’s this segment in particular that serves as a testament to that. The short is both suspenseful and genuinely creepy, and the frequent breakaways to other stories only add to that level of suspense. Those breaks allow for the tension to mount, and optimum terror to be squeezed out of the concept.


3) KRAMPUS SPREADS HOLIDAY FEAR

Another story sees a husband dragging his wife and two teenage children to his unsavory aunt’s mansion, where they learn the legend of Krampus. After the son intentionally breaks one of the woman’s valued collectibles, which just so happens to depict Krampus, the family of four is pursued by the monster from Alpine folklore… and he’s intent on dishing out healthy doses of brutal holiday punishment.

Beating Michael Dougherty to the punch, A Christmas Horror Story was one of the first horror movies to really focus on Krampus, and the character design here is pretty badass. The story leaves a little something to be desired, as it’s a pretty straightforward monster-chasing-people affair, though it’s just fun to see the hulking beast kick ass and take names. The ending, in particular, makes this one a real treat.


4) LOCKED IN THE BASEMENT

And that brings us to the anthology’s weakest segment. Set primarily in a school basement, where some pretty nasty things went down the previous Christmas Eve, the most lackluster story centers on a group of amateur reporters who are trying to figure out precisely what happened on that cold winter night. They soon find themselves locked in the basement, and hunted by a sinister paranormal entity.

This one is pretty generic horror movie fodder, and worse yet, it barely even feels like it belongs with the rest of the tales. Whereas the other stories are rich with Christmas imagery and themes, the sore thumb of the bunch is only tenuously connected to the holiday, and it never really develops into anything all that interesting. Thankfully, the film’s overall structure prevents the dull bits from dragging the ship down, as they never last very long.


I don’t think it’s out of line to suggest that the creators of A Christmas Horror Story set out to do for Christmas what Trick ‘r Treat did for Halloween, and I must say, they didn’t come up all that short in that daunting quest. What we have here is an anthology that hits the mark much more often than it misses, the four horror stories coming together to form a highly entertaining whole worthy of annual viewing.

All around, this is holiday horror done right.


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