You know when you’re looking for a really special present for someone, so you end up going into a quite clearly sinister antiques and curiosities shop? Possibly one that wasn’t there yesterday? And the shopkeeper won’t stop dropping hints about the quite clearly cursed nature of his wares? Sure you do. Everyone’s been there, or so I’m reliably informed by movies and television. Personally, I’ve never had to set foot in such a store, because my loved ones aren’t total weirdos and, for that nature, they’re not that unreasonably demanding when it comes to gifts either.
The shopkeeper in this instance is Jeffrey Combs, a much-beloved genre presence for his memorably creepy turns in Re-Animator, From Beyond and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and turning to four different curios from his shelves, he spins four different sinister stories, each centring around a different holiday. The haunted-antiques anthology format may be borrowed from Friday the 13th: the Series, but Combs makes a highly entertaining anthology host – maybe he’s not quite a Rod Serling, an Alfred Hitchcock or a Roald Dahl, but maybe a Cryptkeeper or a Freddy Krueger – even if the stories themselves aren’t always quite there.
Each has a different creative team behind it but, frustratingly, the segments fail to feel much different from one another. They vary wildly in terms of story, setting and tone, but all of them carry the same amateurish feel, dragged down by implausible dialogue and weak performances just as much as cheap lighting and indifferent editing. The only story that manages to overcome these pitfalls and make a real impression is the second tale, “Christmas Carnage”, which sees a henpecked, overweight recovering alcoholic tasked with playing Santa at his office party, before he’s pushed over the edge and takes revenge on the world. There’s nothing new about the segment, but it’s executed with enough wit and charm to get by.
As to the other shorts, you’ll likely find yourself struggling to remember much about them even while the picture’s still on. Guillermo del Toro claimed recently – explaining why Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark didn’t use an anthology format – that all anthology-movies are as only as good as their weakest segment. I’m not strictly sure that’s true; for Holiday Hell’s sake, let’s hope it isn’t.
Holiday Hell’s theatrical season begins on the 11th October.