The Christmas horror film is a surprisingly robust subgenre. Some of the most circulated holiday-themed movies in my house are titles such as Santa’s Slay and of course, Gremlins. More recently, Krampus and Once Upon A Time At Christmas have proven to become go to Christmas watches as well. Surprisingly though, there aren’t many Christmas horror anthologies around. Despite their ubiquity throughout the horror genre, there aren’t many for the horror holiday fiends. The new Christmas anthology horror film All The Creatures Were Stirring, comes from the husband and wife writing/ directing team of David Ian and Rebekah McKendry.
Max (Graham Skipper) and Jenna (Ashley Clements) meet up outside of a theater on Christmas Eve. Both of them are orphans, and Max reached out to Jenna so neither one of them would have to spend the holiday alone. Max already got the tickets, so they enter the auditorium to see the titular play.
Then the director (Maria Olsen) comes onto the stage and reveals the name of the first story, The Stockings Were Hung. At an office building, the employees attend a holiday party put on by Suzanne (Diane Sellers); who was so crushed at the low turnout last year that this one is mandatory. At first, things are going routinely but fine. Then the gift exchange happens.
The first present, opened by Alissa (Jocelin Donahue) goes fine. However, the next gift kills the person who opened it. Then the phone rings and a mystery person on the other end demands the group continues playing or everyone will die.
“Then the gift exchange happens…the next gift kills the person who opened it. Then the phone rings.”
This story is a fantastic way to kick off All The Creatures Were Stirring. Throughout its brief runtime, this story efficiently introduces its characters, and swiftly establishes its premise, and creates suspense and intrigue. The directing keeps things moving, and the secrets and jealousy that come to light once the party turns deadly have weight to them.
The second segment is Dash Away All. Eric (Matt Long) is out doing some last minute shopping on Christmas Eve and is locked out of his car. He asks Sasha (Catherine Parker) and Frankie (Makeda Declet) if he can use their phone since his phone is in the locked vehicle. They agree and make small talk. All the while, there appears to be a creature yearning to get off the van. Is Eric imagining this or are the ladies up to something sinister?
I don’t want to give more information than that away for this particular tale, as the who, or what, is in the van owned by Frankie and Sasha is original and exciting. While the acting is fine throughout, the stakes take too long to come into play. Eric does call a locksmith and his family, so the audience knows people will be coming to get him. This robs tension out of the scenes, as there is there is no sense of danger. The reveal is handled well though, and the make-up and special effects are impressive.
All Through The House is about the non-festive Chet (Jonathan Kite) getting the Christmas Carol treatment, which might have dire consequences for him. Kite is quite good here, delivering a very physical performance with excellent comedic timing. However, there is not enough to make this anything beyond yet the millionth adaptation of the story. Though, a brilliant gag involving a black and white movie talking to Chet through his television reveals some originality. Sadly, said gag does not save the perfunctory nature of the story.
“…the couple discovers that the reindeer followed Guy and is out for revenge.”
The next segment is Arose Such A Clatter. Guy (Mark Kelly) is driving home when he hits a reindeer who was in the middle of the road. Driving off, Guy is greeted by Suzy (Megan Duffy) upon entering his place. Soon, the couple discovers that the reindeer followed Guy and is out for revenge.
This suffers from the worst acting of all the stories. Kelly and Duffy don’t have much chemistry, and neither one of them seems all that scared of the reindeer’s deadly attacks. Frustratingly, aside from the next segment, Arose Such A Clatter is the best directed of the bunch. The camera work is energetic, and the off-kilter angles give this section a real Evil Dead vibe. However, it is underwhelming when all is said and done.
In A Twinkling is technically the last story segment. Steve (Morgan Peter Brown) spends Christmas Eve by himself and has been doing so for years now. Well, this holiday his friends Gabby (Constance Wu), Mary (Stephanie Drake), Jill (Tiffany Elle), and Marcus (Craig Lee) bring the spirit of the season to him by just showing up on his doorstep. Next thing they all know, they are black and white and trapped in Steve’s house.
In A Twinkling is easily the best of the bunch. It cleverly meshes black and white cinematography with bright splashes of colors used to highlight strange Christmas customs such as ugly sweaters or the colorful wrapping paper of gifts. This not only lends itself to the odd things the aliens who are doing this want, but it also mixes up the visuals in a very pleasing, engaging way. It helps immensely that the actors here, especially Constance Wu are a lot of fun and react realistically.
“…meshes black and white with bright splashes of colors to highlight strange customs such as ugly sweaters or the colorful wrapping paper…”
To All A Goodnight is the wraparound, and the reason In A Twinkling is not the final piece altogether. Sadly, this whole performance art thing does not work as intended. The idea of each short being acted out on stage is original. Seeing the contrast of the actual piece versus the minimum stage dressings (at the beginning and end of each segment) is highly amusing.
Throughout the film, and during the intermission, the audience sees Max squirming around and generally not feeling very well. He makes mysterious phone calls and continually talks about hungry he is currently. Once In A Twinkling ends, the actors on stage act out the beginning of the film when Max and Jenna first meet, all through their brief conversations between each new tale, until that very moment. The build-up to what Max really is and the resolution of such is not very interesting or fun.
Rebekah McKendry was eight months pregnant when they began shooting All The Creatures Were Stirring. Production stopped a few days before she gave birth and they were back at it about one month later. This is significant as the central theme throughout the movie is that of family. The wraparound concerns two orphans (lack of family) trying to find a connection for the holiday season. The Stockings Were Hung is about how disrespecting or ignoring members of your work family can lead to a toxic, literally deadly atmosphere.
“…two orphans (lack of family) trying to find a connection for the holiday season.”
Dash Away All is about a man prevented from getting to his family and the frustrations that arise with being away from them (with a supernatural twist of course). All Through The House is at its core, about community and neighborliness. Neighbors can become a branch of your extended family if you aren’t a rude Grinch all the time.
Arose Such A Clatter sees a couple reunite for the holidays before the reindeer rampage begins. Finally, In A Twinkling is about the family you choose- friends. Maybe I am reading too much into this. However, it was an interesting connection I saw in each of the segments and the filmmakers’ personal life.
All The Creatures Were Stirring only gets eerie a handful of times, and like most anthologies, not all the segments are worthwhile. However, the directing throughout is good, the actors are all having a blast, and the stories that do work (90% of them) are very original, engaging, and make for a wickedly fun Christmas Eve watch after opening presents.
All The Creatures Were Stirring (2018) Directed by David Ian McKendry, Rebekah McKendry. Written by David Ian McKendry, Rebekah McKendry. Starring Graham Skipper, Ashley Clements, Maria Olsen, Diane Sellers, Jocelin Donahue, Matt Long, Catherine Parker, Makeda Declet, Jonathan Kite, Mark Kelly, Megan Duffy, Morgan Peter Brown, Constance Wu, Stephanie Drake, Tiffany Elle, Craig Lee.
7.5 Christmas Ornaments (out of 10)