Holiday Hell is a horror anthology made up of four grisly vignettes loosely centered around the holidays. Tonally, the tenor of the stories have more in common with fun, schlocky horror collections like Tales from the Crypt than with the moralistic parables of The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror.
The framing narrative, Nevertold Casket Co., presents a woman in search of a gift for her sister, who apparently has strange tastes. The film opens with her browsing through a store of trinkets and oddities, each of which, according to the Vincent Price-like proprietor, “tell a story.” He won’t sell an item if it doesn’t have a macabre history behind it. While this classic anthology setup is familiar, it is also effective. Part of us knows that something fateful has brought together this creepy storyteller (played by Re-Animator’s own Jeffrey Combs!) and seemingly naive listener, but their dynamic is charming and dangerous, and even if you can predict where it is going, you want to take the ride to see it play out.
“…four grisly vignettes loosely centered around the holidays.”
The first story, Dollface, is your typical teens getting picked off by a serial killer plot; a group of h***y coeds decides to spend Valentine’s Day in the house where some gruesome murders occurred years earlier only to encounter the escaped killer. There’s a possibility the idea that every character was an overly broad archetype might very well have been an intentional choice. Even so, winking at the audience by alluding to the often cheesy performances of teen slasher films kept me from connecting to any of the tension or drama of the story, not to mention muting the scares. It didn’t help that many of the details of the film’s design—like the fact that the “deserted” house they visit looks pristine and lived in—seemed overlooked or that the violence and gore felt under-realized. Even if the campiness is intentional, that shouldn’t preclude an attention to detail. Financial limitations clearly impacted the ability to have better set-pieces, but as independent filmmakers have always demonstrated, necessity is the mother of invention; in the best-case scenario, lack of resources can generate creatively inspired solutions. Alas, that is not always realized.
"…a pretty blatant Child’s Play rip-off with a Semitic twist."