Horror fans love a good anthology. There have been many throughout the years, and they deliver a veritable grab bag of horror treats. Just like a bag of Halloween candy, you may or may not always get something to your liking, but chances are there will at least be one Twix or Kit Kat in the bag mixed in with the circus peanuts and black licorice. My earliest and best memories of the horror anthology are most definitely Tales From The Darkside the movie and the Creepshow films which are full of some great stories and classic set pieces that have stood the test of time and remain fun to this day. In more recent years Michael Dougherty’s Trick r’ Treat remains the gold standard, though that film benefits from being the vision of a single director as opposed to many. After Trick r’ Treat’s success, the floodgates were reopened for the anthology to make a come back. However, this new batch of films have been very uneven in their offerings. From VHS to Tales of Halloween, the general result seems to be 1 to 3 great or decent segments and the rest wholly forgettable. So would Holidays be the one to buck that recent trend? Not really. But there is still some good to be found here, so let’s do this one by one shall we?
Holidays has no “wraparound story” as other Anthologies do, it simply presents each Holiday as it’s own short film and that is that. It gets things started with…
Written and Directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer
As a big fan of Starry Eyes, This was one of the two I was looking forward to most. Valentine’s Day tells a familiar story about a bullied high school girl and those who antagonize her. That familiar story is told through a very stylish and bizarre lens. The same eye catching visual style of Starry Eyes is on display here as are the welcome synth sounds from Starry Eyes composer Jonathan Snipes. It certainly is an strange little segment and the performances are at times odd (purposefully I imagine), but I enjoyed it and felt that it may have been a bit too short, but it stuck to it’s holiday and worked for me as a fun (and grim) little start to things, you really have to pay attention too, as the payoff is much more meaningful if you do. The fact that Valentines Day worked so well for me, led me to hope they would all be at this level of quality. It worked because it didn’t try to do too much or be anything more than a quick little tale. Something some of the others could have learned from.
ST. PATRICK’S DAY
Written and Directed by Gary Shore
Up Next came St. Patrick’s Day which revolves around a young teacher in Ireland who find’s herself tormented by a creepy little girl in her class. That description sounds great to me, but I left out the part where said teacher find’s out she is pregnant with something not quite human. This segment was hit and miss for me as I enjoyed some aspects of it. It was filmed nicely and it starts on a good creepy note, as we try to figure out what this perpetually grinning little girl is up to. It kind of loses itself 2/3rd’s of the way through and despite some creepy imagery, descends into too silly territory and ends on what seems like a big joke. I was into it most of the way, but it fell apart in the end for me sadly and I just kind of shook my head with the last couple of frames..
Written and Directed by Nicholas McCarthy
Easter is flatout the creepiest of the bunch. Told from the point of view of a young girl who has many questions about the holiday itself and it’s mixed message of the resurrection of Jesus and the Candy and egg delivering practices of the Easter Bunny. The little girl, played very well by Ava Acres gets a visit from one seriously twisted version of the Easter Bunny. To give more away would ruin the impact, but I will say while I felt it a bit too short and wanted a bit more out of it, it seems McCarthy really got what this anthology should have been all about while crafting one of the few standout moments of the film.
Written by Sara Adina Smith
A story about a young woman who repeatedly gets pregnant, terminates said pregnancies and cannot figure out why it is happening, ends up at some strange fertility clinic in the desert to try and figure out why. I absolutely found this to be the most tedious and boring of all the segments. Not only did it feel redundant after the St. Patrick’s Day pregnancy story, it just provided absolutely nothing. No Suspense, No visual appeal, nothing. I generally try to look for something decent in everything I watched, but this was a complete waste of a slot, and with the absence of a segment for Thanksgiving, it’s inclusion seems even more egregious.
Written and Directed by Anthony Scott Burns
This was the one I was most looking forward to along with Valentine’s Day. Starring TrueHorror.net favorite Jocelin Donahue, it already had points, however I still hoped that it would give her something good to work with as the mixed nature of the previous entries had me a bit concerned. Still as soon as it began, I could tell this was something different. The cinematography and score were top notch from the get go. Father’s Day follows the story of Carol (Donahue) who returns home one afternoon to find a strange package at her door, upon unwrapping it, We see a card reading “Happy Father’s Day” and she discovers an old tape recorder and an unmarked cassette tape within. As she places the headphones on her ears, she hears a familiar voice, her long lost Father whom she thought was long dead. The voice on the cassette (a perfectly cast Michael Gross, yes Michael Gross from Family Ties and Tremors) proceeds to beckon her to reunite with him by following the instructions he provides, starting at the place they were last together. Her journey takes her to an abandoned seaside town (which if I had to guess, would say was filmed near the Salton Sea) as well as on an emotional yet haunting trip down memory lane, thanks to what she hears on the other side of the cassette when she arrives at the previously mentioned town. I obviously won’t go any further as I don’t want to give it all away.
Still there is plenty left to talk about here, have you ever watched a film or listened to music and while doing so you say to yourself “Yes!” or “Perfect”? Usually when something is hitting all the right notes is when this might happen. That is what happened here for me. There is no greater satisfaction for a lover of film than to watch something that matches up with your own aesthetic. From the score and sound design (a huge part of why it’s so effective) to shot selections and compositions, every choice Writer/ Director Burns makes here is on the money. The entire film is shot and scored beautifully. The bleak atmosphere of the locale is almost a character of it’s own. As for Donahue, she shines in what is essentially a silent role, telling her story with the emotions on her face and body language. It’s an impressive performance and the entire film hinges on it as she is riding solo for this one as far as on screen presence goes. Her performance, together with all the other elements make Father’s Day effective on many levels. The way everything builds throughout is simply masterful.
If there was any gripe with Father’s Day it might be the ambiguity of the ending. I have watched it a few times and while I personally didn’t have a problem with it, I know some people will be frustrated or want more out of it and I can understand that. I myself have watched this piece a few times and I have many guesses as to exactly what happens in the end and while I myself might have also preferred more of a payoff, I am just fine with not having a definitive answer as I felt with this film it most certainly was the journey not the destination that mattered to me.
Everyone involved in Father’s Day should be very proud of their work and the outcome. I cannot wait to see what Anthony Scott Burns does next. I only hope he brings Jocelin along for the ride because I expect it will be as compelling and artfully done as this was and I definitely want to see more of that magic. I have seen plenty of horror films this year, and this one, regardless of how short is easily one of my favorites. It might not be straight up horror in the traditional sense, but it is certainly eerie and stays with you long after it’s over.
Written and Directed by Kevin Smith
So imagine you have a horror anthology film, imagine it’s based on holidays. Imagine you are handed the keys to the coveted Halloween based segment in said holiday horror anthology film. Now imagine you take the keys and segment and piss all over it. Sadly that is exactly what Kevin Smith has done with Halloween. Pardon me if I am wrong, but one would think that the Halloween themed segment in a horror anthology should be the crown jewel of the bunch. Well what Kevin Smith has done is take his own vulgar sensibilities and and tell the story of some sleazebag cam girl site owner who provides some of his cam models room and board, in exchange for their working for him. He treats the girls poorly and they exact revenge in a grotesque yet juvenile (in the way it’s written) manner. You know how it’s tied into Halloween? a couple of masks in the background of a convenience store and some stale candy. That is it. I generally can take or leave Kevin Smith and I do find some of his movies entertaining and some funny, but when he can’t reel in his Kevin Smithism’s for something like this or goes so left field with his “Halloween” story, then he shouldn’t have either done it or been offered it, as HOLIDAYS desperately needed another marquee segment to help it all come together. Instead it gets completely derailed by the tonal shift following the restraint of Father’s Day. This and Mother’s Day are the absolute worst portions of the film. This would be fine for “Kevin Smith’s Anthology of Whatever the Hell he feels like”, but for a Halloween segment in a horror film about holidays, it is a complete and utter disappointment and failure.
Written and Directed by Scott Stewart
The Christmas segment stars Seth Green as a down on his luck dad who desperately needs to get his kid this new VR headset game on Christmas Eve. After eventually coming by one using a questionable acquisition method, he eventually tries on the VR headset, and it begins to show him all sorts of weird things that are clearly not part of the game, from there on out, things get weirder. Christmas is a serviceable and mostly fun if not silly segment that knows it and never crosses over into eye rolling territory. It sticks to it’s Christmas theme through out and has a decent payoff, that in itself is a welcome change after the previous segments missteps.
NEW YEARS EVE
Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer and Written by Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer
The final segment revolves around two lonely people (Andrew Bowen and Lorenza Izzo) looking for a New Years Eve date via an online dating service. The only problem is one of them, Reggie (Bowen) is a psychotic who as we come to learn via the opening scene, is lonely because he killed his last date. The two eventually meet up for dinner on New Years Eve and hijinks ensue. It is a very quick segment and it really felt like it needed to go on for another 3-5 minutes at least to give some more buildup before the payoff. As a personal preference I also found the fact the choice was made to give Bowen disgusting brown teeth to be too distracting and kind of made the whole thing a bit unbelievable that Jean (Lorenza Izzo) would go on a date with him let alone bring him home, to do the opposite also would have helped with the climax be more of a surprise I think. Either way New Year’s Eve is a quick, gorey and fun finish to Holidays, yet it needed a bit more running time for me as it is the “finale” and while it’s perfectly fine and one of the more enjoyable segments found within, it just kind of left me feeling indifferent about the entire film as a whole.
Holidays is a very uneven collection of short horror films, I feel that there is certainly something for everyone here, but to go through all of these to find that one or two may not be worth it to everyone. It has some good and even great moments but as a whole it misses the mark. I can certainly suggest a watch for steadfast horror fan. Particularly for Father’s Day, Easter, Valentine’s Day and possibly New Years, but I can’t help but feel that these individual shorts would have fared better separate from one another rather than as a package deal.