Holiday-themed films have long been a tradition in the horror genre. In the early ’80s, for example, Halloween’s word-of-mouth success resulted in a whole slew of slashers celebrating everything from New Year’s Evil to April Fool’s Day, and the Christmas-themed horror movie arguably constitutes a subgenre unto itself. The latest is Holidays, an anthology featuring segments from the directors of Dracula Untold, Tusk, Dark Skies, The Pact, and other recent horror movies of varying critical reception. That inconsistency similarly plagues Holidays, held together by the loosest of frameworks and featuring several segments that seem to have been retrofitted to the theme. When patterns do appear, it’s for the worse.
Body horror, for example, is a near-constant throughout, specifically a curious recurring theme of pregnancy. Most of the segments also revolve around girls and young women, who, even as the protagonists of these stories, are frequently in thrall to some outside male force: A coach, a father, a child’s father, a monster, a pimp. Maybe there’s simply something about holidays that brings up issues around family, and this is just a case of parallel thinking. But considering that unsatisfying endings are another pattern throughout the film, it’s probably more like the directors aren’t bringing their A-game.
Speaking of, the first segment, “Valentine’s Day,” is an uninspired blend of teen-girl horror tropes, drawing from the visual aesthetic of Excision, the locker-room setting of Carrie, and the campy mean-girl caricatures of Jennifer’s Body. You can probably infer the plot from there. Down to the Carpenter-style synth score—a trend that’s edging ever closer to oversaturation—it’s a disappointing miss from Starry Eyes directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. Dracula Untold’s Gary Shore does slightly better with the second segment, “St. Patrick’s Day,” which features some intriguingly strange imagery despite being so obviously drawn from The Wicker Man and Rosemary’s Baby that, at one point, a character asks protagonist Ruth Bradley, “have you ever seen the American film Rosemary’s Baby?” by way of explaining her plight.
The third segment, “Easter,” from The Pact and At The Devil’s Door director Nicholas McCarthy, is also a mishmash. But this one is so uniquely nutty—and blasphemous to boot—that despite its deadpan serious tone, the reveal of the grunting, slimy, mutated monster may elicit peals of laughter. (In a good, surprised way, not a bad, derisive way.) Child actress Ava Acres stars as a little girl who’s terrified of both the Easter Bunny and Jesus in by far the most memorable segment of the film.
The fourth, “Mother’s Day,” is all style and no substance, repeating the demonic pregnancy theme of “St. Patrick’s Day” but with a California hippie vibe. It’s too bad that Sarah Adina Smith, the lone female writer-director on this anthology, doesn’t make a stronger impression. But she’s still young. “Father’s Day,” meanwhile, is another standout segment, starring Jocelin Donahue as a lonely single woman who is shocked to receive a cassette tape from her father, who she thought died decades earlier, in the mail. Director Anthony Scott Burns establishes a sense of dread unseen elsewhere in the film, so while “Father’s Day” ultimately cuts itself off at the proverbial knees, for a newbie, Burns handles himself well.
On the other hand, the most experienced director on the roster, Kevin Smith, turns in one of the worst segments, the objectively lazy and subjectively distasteful “Halloween.” All of Smith’s pet quirks—Canadian accents, cartoonish convenience-store snacks, incessant profanity—are here. Harley Morenstein, better known as the creator of the YouTube channel Epic Meal Time than as an actor, stars as a pimp whose stable of “cam girls” (one of whom is played by Smith’s daughter) enact sexually sadistic, emoji-laden revenge after he refuses to let them go out. It’s a total mismatch of tone and content, whose high-gloss look and hammy performances make the torture scenes repellent to watch. And the story has nothing to do with Halloween, arguably the easiest holiday from which to craft a horror movie. Smith can do better than this.
By this point, Holidays has become an unequivocal slog. We’ve made it to the end of the year, though, and at least Legion and Dark Skies director Scott Stewart’s “Christmas”—starring Seth Green as a father whose desperation to get his kid VR glasses for Christmas comes back to haunt him—is fun. Like “Halloween,” “Christmas” leans towards horror-comedy, but this time the Tales From The Crypt-style tale of ironic comeuppance fits the tone. After that, the slasher short “New Year’s Eve,” from Some Kind Of Hate’s Adam Egypt Mortimer, feels like an afterthought. New Year’s Eve itself barely factors into the plot, and the twist becomes obvious halfway through. Like a family dinner with an eccentric uncle, Holidays’ quirkiness is fitfully entertaining, but ultimately exhausting.