Holiday Hell. 2019.
Directed by Jeremy Berg, David Burns, Jeff Ferrell, and Jeff Vigil.
Starring Jeffrey Combs, Joel Murray, Jeff Bryan Davis, Amber Stonebraker, Lisa Coronado, and Ailsa Marshall.
A mysterious shopkeeper narrates four horror tales, each set during a different holiday.
I’ve (somehow) watched enough “Christmas Horror” anthologies over my career to confirm, without a doubt, Holiday Hell belongs buried below A Christmas Horror Story, All The Creatures Were Stirring, and presumably Deathcember when it releases. If you’ve followed my writing, you know my intention is never to seek low-budget indies just to tear them apart for personal gratification. Holiday Hell *earns* the naughtiest of treatments this holiday season, because this insufferably generic “thriller” fails viewers with each excruciating segment. Indeed, readers, you’ll be put through “hell” – not in the way horror audiences crave, either.
Jeff Vigil kicks things off with “Dollface,” a rudimentary slasher quickie about partying teens killed off by a villain wearing, you guessed right, a doll mask. It never matters why or how, since the segment’s short running time downplays development and most deaths occur off-screen. Details instead favor two girls’ romantic distress when one kisses the other, causing “Queen Bitch #1” to scream “dike” and run away (stupidly mean-spirited and unnecessary), or “Cowboy Boyfriend #1” shouting “Yeeehawww!” while receiving fellatio despite no other character showing any trace of regional dialect.
Fine, here’s one nice thing. “Dollface” features a decapitation and beer bottle kill that at least appear passable by microbudget practical effects standards. See? I’ll never go *full* Grinch. Except how it’s detrimentally obvious not a single actor in Holiday Hell underwent stunt training since “action” is nothing but blurry editing cuts (a recurring theme), and with so many “Dollface” victims (around eight), it’s impossible to remember who’s in peril as booze-guzzlers vanish out of frame.
Next up is Jeff Ferrell’s “The Hand that Rocks the Dreidel,” which – admittedly – smashes the “name pun game” into orbit. Too bad Ferrell’s segment once again falls into painfully generic realms of “creepy toys” terror. Why a family would gift their child the evilest-looking carved Hebrew rabbi puppet in Germany poses quite the question, which, of course, brings with it a protective curse. Enter a babysitter who outs herself as a robber when the boy eavesdrops on her phonecall – a plan she explains via phone to her boyfriend WHO ALREADY KNOWS EVERYTHING – and the doll coming to life to “kill” them both.
Well, Rabbi Stabby doesn’t do much beyond cleaning up after the babysitter accidentally offs her white-trash-rapper accomplice (who’s cheating on her during the call) and a laughably cheap Achilles tendon slice as dolly cuts what looks like silly putty molded inside a pant leg. Ferrell’s moneymaker shot is bafflingly inhuman, then the injured babysitter falls down a flight of stairs (less “falls,” more “touches the railing in a motion that fakely mimics a tumble while edits focus framing on the hand”). Points awarded for what could pass as another Puppet Master creation, but “The Hand that Rocks the Dreidel” does nothing unexpected via conceptualization.
To David Burns’ “Christmas Carnage” we go, starring Joel Murray as a midlife-crisis “loser” whose wife won’t screw him, but he’s sure getting plenty screwed at work. It’s like Burns watched God Bless America and said “let’s try that but with a Santa suit,” but worse. Cue another “sad-sack dude catches his wife cheating with his younger, successful coworker at their Christmas party” motivation, which is the most derivative, throwaway plotline Burns could have explored. Women are only there to bitchily express coldness to their significant others, or cheat themselves with businessmen at a climactic holiday party (including Murray’s rival railing coke off a naked colleague’s breasts then motorboating enthusiastically). Just the most egregious stereotypes about corporate greed and “bad luck anti-heroes,” without saying *anything* new or conversational.
Murray is allowed to go “Psycho Santa” after experimental drugs cause a mental snap, but it’s all boiled down to laughable hardware store puns. He arms himself with buzzsaws and gardening tools, kept in his sack, then kills anyone responsible for his misery. There’s a whole stretch of dialogue that’s nothing but groan-worthy “That’s not how you get ahead!” zingers after, for example, a beheading death. Not even Murray can elevate his character’s dead-air insanity plea.
Last is Jeremy Berg’s “Room To Let,” which follows a young girl who moves into a couple’s rental unit only to discover cult activity. That’s the story. There’s jewelry significance as you’ll find a tie-in to the wraparound I’ll mention shortly, but “Room To Let” exposes one main problem that threads throughout Holiday Hell – no single segment does anything to elevate each premise. “Dollface” is about a killer with a doll’s face, “The Hand that Rocks the Dreidel” is about a murderous plaything, “Christmas Carnage” is about a depressed male who kills people in a Santa costume, and “Room To Let” is about a cult. No other details are worth discussing, because individuality nor creativity benefit filmmaking on a level no higher than basic churn-out production.
Holiday Hell is narratively packaged around “Never Told Casket Co,” with Jeffrey Combs as an oddities shopkeeper who tells each “story” behind one of the items he’s trying to sell. To no shock, Combs works through his role as a professional only to meet a finale that – once again – culminates exactly as predicted. A dollface mask, bloody Kris Kringle robe, ugly dummy – no signs of “holiday hell” horror detected, folks. Not to mention inexpressively drab production designs that never confirm you’re watching horror shorts based on holidays, which may be the most disappointing note out of this entire anthology snoozefest. Holiday Hell never has the means to deliver what’s envisioned, which, in the horror genre, will seal any filmmaker’s fate each and every time.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).