Every Saturday night of my youth was dedicated to the aptly named “Saturday Night Horror Film Festival.” Whether it was a Hammer classic, new chiller, or whatever Z-grade goof-fest we could find tucked away on a Blockbuster Video shelf, my father and I would carve out time to “get our horror on.” This consisted of many horror anthology films: the O.G. Tales from the Crypt film, Creepshow 1 and 2, Night Gallery, Tales from the Darkside, or my father’s personal favorite, Dead of Night.
The genre has always stayed alive, but most recently made a famed public blip on the radar with the V/H/S films. Now with Holidays, a new attempt at themed horror shorts is being released to the public. Does this collection of holiday-centric quickies have what it takes to be shelved next to the most classic of classic spook anthologies?
Here is the short and inarguable truth about all current horror anthologies; one, possibly two, segments shine while the rest lay on their backs looking up at a pair of balloons rising higher into the atmosphere. Each short in Holidays comes especially themed for the chosen calendar date they look to spice up, and they are all simply too literal.
Granted, it is hard to avoid certain tropes that come associated with a marked day of celebration, but when you sit down and write a chiller revolving around Easter, and your main protagonist is the Easter Bunny… well, it’s hard not to feel robbed and cheated over a lack of originality. This is not a statement necessarily on the filmmaker’s inability to come up with something original and fresh, but more of a warning to be careful of the theme you choose for your anthology.
Now, it is the filmmakers’ fault when every single story ends on the most predictable note possible. There is no surprise and shock in any frame of Holidays, and that is probably the biggest disappointment of the entire experience. This is frankly a large problem with all films these days; you can see the end coming so far away that you’d think you actually have the power to see the future.
It is fairly pointless to run through every one segment of the good and the bad. Let’s just say that “Valentine’s Day,” “Christmas,” and “New Year’s Eve” had their charm and wits on full display, but it didn’t save them from any painstakingly obvious endings. They certainly held their own though against the dreadfully uninspired paths of “Easter” and “Mother’s Day.”
This brings me to just one more low point of the anthology: Kevin Smith’s “Halloween” segment. Feel free to write me or call me if you have my number to discuss the pit of anger this very short story built deep inside my stomach, but trying to simply regurgitate any facet of memory still somehow taken up by this short film at this time may cause my brain to explode, full Scanners style.
Amazingly, there is some saving grace living in my mind that keeps me from tearing off into a 42-page wild tangent about story structure, attention to detail, understanding the subjects a writer creates, and maybe 15 other basic points of interest that escape Smith’s latest work, leaving him incapable of producing even a 10-minute film that is not flawed to bone. I don’t mean this as an insult, but it feels as if his thought process still lives inside the mind of a 13-year-old, and he’s stunted by it. Don’t run away disappointed yet though, there are some shiny gems to be had across Holidays’ running time.
Yes, it was hindered a little by the lackluster ending, but “Father’s Day”—written and directed by Anthony Scott Burns—set a decidedly creepy and well-tempered tone. It’s smart enough to know what can and should be accomplished with a short running time that doesn’t leave the viewer feeling empty or cheated.
What’s even better is that the unsettling feeling is drawn out by nothing more than a well-acted vocal performance that is delivered over a static-laden cassette tape. It’s a segment that’s a great example of what minimalism in film is capable of. Horror doesn’t need blood, gore, out-of-this realm cinematography, or all those fancy bells and whistles a large budget can bring to be a success.
It is also only one of two segments in the pack that truly understood what the point of a short film should be, let alone a short horror film. What is the other one you ask? What was the one segment that avoided almost all of the traps I said littered Holidays like a hoarder’s bedroom floor? “St. Patrick’s Day,” of course.
The most uninspired sort might expect the St. Paddy’s Day section of Holidays to be about an evil Leprechaun. But as luck would have it, such cynicism is dead wrong. Kicking off with a wildly cheeky school film about the origins of St. Patrick and his holiday, this brilliant quickie veers into a wonderfully silly and outrageous journey that will leave your sides splitting and your mind in a state of bliss.
If you told me the man who directed Dracula Untold was capable of creating such a strange and funny little nugget of insanity, I would have called you crazy. There is nothing you can do to prepare yourself for the utter bizarreness you’ll experience from your “St. Patrick’s Day” treat and that is what makes it the joyful pinnacle of this cinematic holiday calendar. It’s just too bad it comes so early in the year since it just paints too good of a picture; everything that comes after feels like a secondhand, re-wrapped gift your great-grandmother gave you for your fourth birthday by comparison.