Do famous horror faces make everything better?

Holiday Hell, Portal, and Devil’s Junction are three indie horror films featuring at least one horror icon in a fairly significant role for a change rather than just a cameo and top billing. Is more screen time for some of our faves all it takes to make these three worth a watch?

HOLIDAY HELL (2019)

Just like the anthology film Holidays, Holiday Hell features stories that revolve around holidays. But don’t expect a whole year’s worth of seasonal tales. There are only four here.

Jeffrey Combs owns a shop. A young woman comes in for a last minute Christmas gift. He gifts her with some horror stories instead…

1st story – On Valentine’s Day, a group of friends is terrorized and killed by someone in a doll mask. This is simple, low budget slasher fun. It’s dirty and gory with a creepy killer, and one of my favorites in the movie.

2nd story – It’s killer doll horror and babysitter horror all in one…with the doll being an evil Hanukkah rabbi doll. An okay doll slasher, but I still prefer the first tale.

3rd story – This one takes too long getting to its predictable point. Treated like crap by his wife, a guy eventually snaps and does what most guys dressed in Santa suits do in Christmas horror.

4th story – Although Christmas is mentioned, the winter solstice seems to be the calendar date celebrated in this tale. A young woman rents a room in a couple’s home, and soon things seem to be going on outside at night…and the locals are weird. This is as derivative as it gets.

The wraparound conclusion is much longer and complex than the quick zinger endings wraparounds usually get, probably because they wanted to make the most of Jeffrey Combs while they had him. And since the wraparound is substantial and takes place on Christmas, they could have skipped the tired killer Santa story and taken on a different holiday instead. For a film about holiday horror tales, Holiday Hell is disappointingly lacking in holidays. Even so, it still gets a spot on the full holiday horror page.

PORTAL (2019)

Portal is yet another horror film about a ghost hunter show, but it’s refreshing that it doesn’t trap us behind the camera lens the whole time. Not only is it not found footage, it also runs a gloriously short 75 minutes long.

The downside? It is quite generic. Only moments of humor sprinkled throughout and the always likable Ryan Merriman (Halloween Resurrection, Ring 2) as the lead make it somewhat entertaining until something finally happens.

Ryan and his ghost hunting crew steal a secret, forbidden, haunted location from their “supplier.”

As with most of these movies, there is way too much setup as the team roams around getting to know the location, with things occasionally moving in the background to let us know something more substantial will eventually happen.

The only highlight here is that Heather Langenkamp shows up to help them close the portal they accidentally opened, which caused them to release, well, nothing all that frightening at all.

The best parts for me include one of the girls going sort of demonic and chasing her friends, and Heather outshining everyone when she reminds us how horror screams are supposed to be done.

DEVIL’S JUNCTION: HANDY DANDY’S REVENGE (2019)

I know people hate Night of the Living Dead 3D, but the director of that film makes a killer puppet film that’s so messy I finally feel vindicated in thinking Night of the Living Dead 3D isn’t half bad.

Devil’s Junction could have been simple, stupid, killer puppet fun. A group of kids sneaks into an old abandoned TV studio, couples off to have sex, and encounters a bunch of creepy puppets from an old kids’ show.

If only it were that basic. Instead, the movie seems to want to be deeper and more complicated than just another throwaway killer puppet flick—which, let’s face it, is what most of us would actually prefer from our indie horror.

Bill Moseley and Bill Oberst Jr. are on the scene and bogged down by so much plodding exposition I was convinced they were as uninterested in every word they were speaking as I was. They do try to make the best out of what appear to be action moments that weren’t officially blocked, but when two horror actors of this caliber are in scenes together that come across as local community theater, it makes me kind of wish they had just been relegated to one-minute cameos and top billing.

Even the puppets fail to entertain. There are some cheesy one-liners from the leader of the puppet pack, but the puppets do barely any killing, get little screen time, and seem just as bored as the live action actors. Meanwhile, the group of kids spends most of the movie walking around the building looking for a way out. Unfortunately, they also can’t find any tension, atmosphere, or scares.

Just for the hell of it, there are masked figures thrown in. One eventually takes the mask off and is actually related to the story being told, but the opening scene has another masked guy who feels like he accidentally walked onto the wrong movie set for a moment and they just forgot to edit the footage out.

The nail in the coffin is the use of a pop metal song for the opening and closing credits. It is definitely catchy, but it totally kills the possibility of establishing a horror tone right from the start. And since the rest of the movie isn’t very focused, it’s not much of a surprise that a performance video by the band is thrown in during the closing credits.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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