For many people the holidays are a nightmare. But crowded airports, dysfunctional families and expanding waistlines don’t hold a candle to the terror awaiting in Holiday Hell, the horror anthology film that delivers a decadent 4 course meal of frights and light, but deadly dessert.
Anthology horror has a rich tradition with films like Trilogy of Terror, Creepshow and Trick r’ Treat delivering frights that have endured for many years. Recently the found footage genre has opened the gates to low-budget productions that try focus on more realistic violence and mayhem “caught on tape” than cinematically staged morality tales of blood and gore.
Holiday Hell however, seems to have it’s roots in creepy television anthology classics like Tales From The Crypt or more the obscure Friday The 13th: The Series. For the unfamiliar, that syndicated 80’s TV series had nothing to do with Jason Voorhees stalking a new summer camp each week, instead it dealt with an antique store housing occult objects that created deadly circumstances if not kept under lock and key. As it turns out, that’s pretty much where Holiday Hell kicks things off.
The premise of the main wraparound segments is that a young woman played by Megan Karimi-Naser has come to a shop full of artifacts claimed from the sites of macabre goings on in order to find a birthday present for her sister. Each of the items has a story and The Shopkeeper, played by horror veteran, Jeffrey Combs is all too eager to share the grim details in hopes of making a sale.
Combs plays the austere proprietor of The Nevertold Casket Co. with relish as he introduces 3 terrifying tales with a delivery so reserved, you can’t help but share his fascination with these pieces of evidence from grisly scenes of violence. In the back of your mind however, you can’t help but wonder by what underground channels he came to add them to his collection.
The first of these segments is a tale of terror titled, Dollface. The setup is what you would expect from your classic slasher film, a group of horny teens looking for a place to party land in an abandoned home whose residents were famously murdered within its walls. The residence features no electricity, no running water, but plenty of privacy, which as it turns out is the downfall of these party people. It seems the killer never moved out and donning a cracked porcelain baby doll mask, she’s ready to continue the slaughter.
As mentioned above, the cast of victims are your standard snobs and slobs, with the only standout being a young lady with a scar on her throat that has rendered her mute, communicating only via sign language. After the less sympathetic members of the crew get picked off by Dollface, our final girl is attacked and a surprise twist involving one of the party guest’s connection to the home is revealed. Dollface is serviceable in delivering expected slasher action, but lacks the heart one would expect from a killer motivated by twisted love.
Next up is the cleverly titled, The Hand That Rocks The Dreidel, which finds a young boy being gifted a hand-carved wooden Rabbi doll on the last night of Hanukkah. Shortly after, the boy’s parents leave him with a trusted babysitter who it turns out plans to rob the family. Powerless to stop the crazy-sitter, the boy turns to his Rabbi doll to even the score and it comes to life with violent plans to defend the home. Playing more on the novelty of a living doll as opposed to atmosphere, this segment isn’t big on suspense, but the over the top performance of Lisa Coronado as the devious babysitter is a real hoot.
The dialogue seems written for a greasy haired prison inmate as opposed to a Katy Perry lookalike, but the juxtaposition makes for an enjoyable watch, especially when at one point armed with a large kitchen knife she sneers, “You think I’ve never cut a kid?” The boy played by Forrest Campbell isn’t bad either, snickering like Macaulay Culkin as the Rabbi makes short work of the babysitter and her white trash boyfriend, who is equally despicable and hilarious. This segment wasn’t a nail-biter, but did ultimately manage to be a ton of fun.
Segment 3 titled, Christmas Carnage seems to borrow the most from the classic Tales From The Crypt formula. A schlubby, middle-aged man played by Joel Murray is passed over for a promotion and gets berated by inexplicably young, hot wife at home. A rep for a pharmaceutical company, the man pops a pill he’s supposed to be selling and goes on a rampage at the company Christmas Party dressed as a not so jolly, old St. Nick.
This bloody revenge tale is full of puns and one-liners as our psycho Santa takes various tools from his sack and turns people into stocking stuffers. It’s the best kind of horror humor, with Murray playing a very convincing madman on the loose, even shooting one guy in the “Jingle Bells” with a nail gun. This is what I expected from the film based on the poster art and it didn’t disappoint.
The final segment, Room To Let, is actually told by the customer to the Shopkeeper after he inquires about her unique ring. Definitely the most cinematic of the bunch, this tale centers around a young woman moving to a country town and getting weird vibes off the residents, who seem to have something to hide. No surprises here, this is the Cliffs Notes version of Rosemary’s Baby minus the actual focus on childbirth.
The performances in this story are strong and of all the tales told during the run time of Holiday Hell, it feels like this is one that could have been expanded to feature length. It’s not action-packed, but a creeping dread permeates every scene, even those shot in broad daylight. Much more of a psychological terror than gore on the floor bloodbath.
While there are only 4 official segments, the wraparound story with The Shopkeeper itself has a twist ending that plays on the birthday theme presented as the reason for the customer’s visit to the Nevertold Casket Co showroom. I really expected the filmmakers to set-up a sequel with The Shopkeeper becoming an ongoing host for hauntingly macabre stories, but given how it plays out it looks like he’ll have to lease the shop to a new tenant, from the grave!
Holiday Hell isn’t high art by any means, but despite having multiple directors it at least feels like all the pieces are cohesive in some way and aiming towards the same level of mid-range horror. As with all anthologies some segments are stronger than others, but even the weaker entries have memorable moments.
Holiday Hell has been exclusively available on the free Tubi app (an excellent streaming service regularly used by this reviewer) since October and is now available on Digital and DVD as of 11/5 from Uncork’d Entertainment.