The most surprisingly scary movie of the year? It might just be. Few will expect a Christmas anthology movie starring William Shatner alongside Santa battling zombie Elves in the North Pole to bring the jump scares, and yet here we are.
Like Axelle Carolyn's Tales of Halloween, this selection box of interwoven Christmas horror stories (plural, no matter what the title might say) assembles a handful of directors and sets them loose on The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Ho ho ho. Like Tales of Halloween, there's not really a wraparound story, although Bill Shatner does pop up frequently as a late night DJ to fill in some of the gaps.
Brett Sullivan, Grant Harvey and Steven Hoban handle directorial duties, splitting the four stories among themselves. In one, a group of would-be documentary makers find themselves trapped in their haunted school basement, terrorised by the spirits they unearth there. Next up, a family go cut down a Christmas tree in the woods and come back with more than they had bargained for. Another family, meanwhile, battle the festive spirit Krampus while bickering on an emotionally fraught road trip. And then there's the little matter of Santa Claus battling off his own Elves, turned into zombies so potty-mouthed they'd make Bad Santa blush. All the time, DJ William Shatner is sat in his booth, getting progressively more and more shitfaced.
A little festive spirit will certainly help one get the most out of A Christmas Horror Story, but it's by no means necessary. In spite of most of the stories running at a comedic bent, it's surprisingly effective in its shocks and scares. Its basement-set ghost story is by far the dullest, but it packs in so many jump scares that even Insidious might be jealous. The rest do well on that front too, although Santa is played more for its laughs and big action beats than the others. If there's a winner, it's the unexpectedly shocking Christmas tree/changeling tale, although the zombie Elves run a close second.
That all of these stories run at the same time (so we get three beginnings, three middles and three endings in very short order) gives the film a few pacing issues, but it's just too damn enjoyable for that to matter in the long term. It's worth the price of admission for William Shatner alone, who is doing some of the best work we've seen from him in years. Not even a mouse? There'll be plenty stirring from their seats this Christmas Eve, whether it be in shock or peals of Shatner-driven laughter. Ho ho ho indeed.
A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: GRANT HARVEY, STEVEN HOBAN, BRETT SULLIVAN / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: WILLIAM SHATNER, GEORGE BUZA, PERCY HYNES WHITE, ROB ARCHER / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 9TH (DVD)