My Christmas horror experience this year included creatures, the infected, and a backwoods religious experience. Let’s take a look at the only four films I could scrounge up to add to the complete holiday horror movies page during this second holiday season of COVID.
If you ask me, this a Danish 6-episode “series” on Netflix is just a single 2-hour movie divided into 20-minute episodes.
Reminiscent of the “kid befriends little critter that brings big trouble” movies of the 1980s, Elves is about a family that goes to spend Christmas at a house on an isolated island.
The locals are all a little dark and mysterious. Probably because they’ve got the forest gated off and regularly bring cows in there to leave as sacrifices.
When the young daughter finds a cute little critter and takes it home, it’s no surprise that there are bigger critters behind that gate, and they aren’t happy…
There are plenty of suspenseful moments as the critters try to figure a way out of their forest to get revenge on the humans, but despite the title, this isn’t about Santa’s elves and didn’t even need to take place at Christmas. It barely feels like it does, so don’t expect loads of holiday spirit.
For me, the best part is when the little girl cries, “this is all my fault!”, and the mean old lady who is the main gatekeeper of the critters is like, “Yes it is, and now your whole family is going to die because of you.” Heh heh.
BLACK FRIDAY (2021)
It was impossible for me to not get excited about a holiday horror zomcom starring Devon Sawa and Bruce Campbell. What could possibly go wrong?
The writing. The writing could go wrong. It just seems to have totally missed the mark here. I didn’t expect a reinventing of the wheel in a movie about a small group trapped in one location filled with infected people. But what I did expect from a formulaic, cliché plot was for the presentation to rise above those issues by bringing its own special blend of fun and funny. Unfortunately, this film just doesn’t.
Bruce is a manager at a toy store bracing for Black Friday. There are a handful of other stereotypical, predominantly unlikable, cardboard characters, but taking the cake is the Black, gay assistant manager. It is astonishing how horribly this bitch is written right from the start, and his character only proves to be easier to hate as the film progresses, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever—at which point the writing seems to try to suddenly backpedal on portraying him as so loathsome by making him comic relief. It doesn’t work because he has been painted so thoroughly as a total dick. Considering horror gays fricking love Bruce Campbell and it’s hinted at that this dude is in love with Bruce, it’s unfortunate that they didn’t go with that instead to make him a fully realized gay character. Huge missed opportunity. Even so, this still goes on the does the gay guy die? page.
As for Bruce, for most of the movie he seems like he doesn’t want to do the usual Bruce thing—which may have been a challenge anyway because the “one-liners” written for him don’t even work when Bruce Campbell delivers them. That is until about the 65-minute mark of this 85-minute movie. All of a sudden Bruce’s character actually livens up and brings desperately needed humor for a short time.
While it’s supposed to be Black Friday, the brief scene dealing with customers filling the store when the doors open makes this seem more like a going out of business sale that has gone on way too long, so there’s nothing left on the shelves and very few customers in the store. It just doesn’t feel like a toy store rush on Black Friday at all.
In the end, the infected were the highlight for me. The makeup effects look gnarly awesome, they continue to get more gruesome and monstrous, and they have an advantage over your average biting infected thanks to an extending tongue. The horrific presence of these freaks should have sparked way more energy from the cast than it does.
And finally, if you’ve seen Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive and you remember the momentous climax, the Black Friday “boss battle” is very reminiscent of that. But the way in which the main kid fights back is a perfect example of clever elements that could have and should have been packed into this film to make it more memorable.
THE ADVENT CALENDAR (2021)
This French Christmas horror flick celebrates the season using an advent calendar as a vehicle for bringing a demon into a young paraplegic woman’s life. If you’re unfamiliar with an advent calendar, it’s a 3-dimensional calendar that lets you count down the days until Christmas by opening one door a day to find some sort of surprise inside, often candy.
The main girl receives the calendar as a birthday gift from a friend and soon discovers that each day holds some kind of horror…mostly in the form of the young woman inadvertently wishing someone dead and not realizing it’s really going to happen.
There demon is definitely awesome, but there’s just a little too much going on here for what is basically a throwback to the simple, supernatural specter curse films of the early 2000s, like The Boogeyman and Darkness Falls. The main girl is dealing with losing use of her legs. Her boss at work hates her. She’s not allowed to see her sick father. She suffers from flashbacks of the tragic occurrence that led to her losing her ability to walk. She has all kinds of man issues. And to top it off, she’s now dealing with this damn Advent calendar, which vacillates between doing her bidding and doing awful things she can’t take back. Making things even more complicated (for her and us), she gets involved in some sort of stock trading thing online.
Meanwhile, the rules of how the Advent calendar works fail to remain consistent. Just how does the Advent calendar and demon within work? At times her dog seems to be inflicting the agony on people she wishes dead—for instance, he basically eats a Matchbox car that pops out of the calendar and serves the same function as a voodoo doll. At other times, the demon chooses to materialize in the real world on its own to deliver some supernatural slasher action. And at yet other times, the main girl herself has to do the dirty work.
Adding to the turmoil, a number of underdeveloped characters are introduced late in the movie and then suddenly play crucial roles. But what doesn’t play much of a role beyond the calendar is Christmas atmosphere. The film takes place in the dead of December, but it just wasn’t making me feel the Christmas spirit.
I had to dig into the vaults for this French film, another non-traditional Christmas horror film. There’s some heavy stuff going on here, much of it not even explained by the end of the film, and some of it even queer, but if you ask me, this is sort of a retelling of the life of Jesus…if there had been room at the inn.
It’s Christmas, and a traveling entertainer dodges some aggressive advances from what I guess you could consider female groupies, and then heads home.
When his van breaks down on a desolate road, a creepy dude searching for his dog in the middle of the night leads him to a nearby inn. The innkeeper has room for the singer and is very accommodating. He even offers to tow and fix the singer’s van. However, he warns the singer not to go into town.
And that’s when shit gets weird.
After witnessing some Deliverance style anal sex with a real farm animal, the singer is soon trapped in a Misery situation, the difference being that his captor is a man who puts a dress on him, ties him up, calls him Gloria, takes him to go cut down a Christmas tree, and spoons him in bed….
The film is weird and unnerving, with plenty of religious themes, an all-male dance number at a tavern with guys I would swear are not actors but actual inbred hillbillies, and a warped and chaotic shootout/home invasion/sodomy scene that is shot from a top-down view.
And yet with all the disturbing shit the singer goes through and the blatant Jesus symbolism at the very end of the film, I honestly didn’t understand what it all meant.