Anthologies have never been front and center in the canon of horror sub-genres, but they do have staying power. Quietly loved by fans and enduring trends like zombie saturation and found footage, they have become a revered bastion of the classic horror formula. The stories themselves either come from books, comics, or talented up and comers and the wrap around story that ties them together can always find a contemporary audience. Couple that with a nice holiday theme, and it gets even better.
Halloween is always so fleeting. It slips away too quickly through hands of eager fans who find that their favorite holiday is being edged out by juggernauts like Thanksgiving and the really big one, Christmas. Every now and then, when a Christmas horror anthology comes along, it’s nice to vindicate the unfortunate brevity of Halloween and convince a friend to watch it with you. After all, it is a Christmas movie.
Holiday Hell, co-written by Jeff Ferrell (Ghostlight 2013) and Jeff Vigil (Darkest Night 2013) and co-directed by Ferrell, Vigil, Jeremy Berg (The Invoking 2013) and David Burns (The Scottish Play TV series), is a 2019 Christmas anthology that stays true to the template of a clever wraparound that binds together several installments (in this case, 4) of dissimilar tales. The wrap around takes place in a Curious Goods type store with a nice nod to Friday the 13th the Series about objects with a dark or maybe even cursed pasts… the kind of place where you might expect to find a monkey’s paw. With the casting of Re-Animator’s Jeffrey Combs (read our tribute to him here) as the shopkeeper, it also channels a bit of an Amicus vibe. Combs is fanatic here, bringing an air of refinement and cadence with a line delivery that makes him instantly infatuating and casts some wonderful ambiguity on the shopkeeper as friend or foe. When a young woman (Meagan Karimi-Naser: Z-Nation TV series) walks into his shop on Christmas Eve needing a last minute present for her sister, he agrees to postpone his holiday a little longer to help her find the perfect eclectic gift. As he walks her through aisles of old wooden curios and display cases, he tells a tale about each object of how he acquired it.
A mask is the segue into a slasher tale of teens plied with alcohol and hopes of premarital sex. An abandoned house used as a clandestine party locale turns out to be a bad choice. They are not alone, and things are not at all as they seem.
“The Hand That Rocks The Dreidel”
In one of my favorite installments, a young boy gets an antique Rabbi action figure as his last Hanukkah gift. After the boy recites an ancient passage, the action really does begin. This one is a lot of fun. Think Trilogy of Terror meets Home Alone. The kid’s name is even Kevin.
This installment in Holiday Hell could easily be compared to Silent Night Deadly Night, but it also echoed more of a Falling Down vibe, of the everyman growing weary of sucking up his true feelings and constantly being put upon. Joel Murray (Better Off Dead 1985) plays Chris, a loyal employee that just been passed over for a well deserved promotion. Even worse, the most obnoxious guy in the office gets it. His beautiful, younger wife seems to have fallen out of love with him, and he’s constantly trying to stay ahead of his alcoholism. Things certainly aren’t great. When he takes a “better living through chemistry” approach by sampling some of his company’s legal drugs – chased with a stiff drink, of course – all his inhibitions go up the chimney. Murray captures that feeling of safety not guaranteed when someone who’s always calm suddenly and completely loses it. I recommend God Bless America, another Joel Murray flick, and also one of the best “mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore” films ever made.
“Room To Let”
The final installment in Holiday Hell is told from the perspective of the girl who initially walks into the shop. When the proprietor notices her unusual ring, he offers to buy it and make it part of the shop’s unique inventory. She informs him that it was a gift from her mother, and tells the story of her humble beginnings and all the sacrifices made on her behalf in a simple little agrarian town.
Holiday Hell is sampler assortment of horror staples like masked deformed slashers, killer dolls, a maniac dressed like a beloved holiday character, duplicitous small town folk, a cryptic shopkeeper and a nice, nasty twist for the wraparound. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Grab a loved one who needs a palate cleanser in between Hallmark films. You’ll both have fun. Holiday Hell is now streaming on Amazon Prime.