I’m always wary of horror anthologies, having been bored and disappointed by recent offerings such as V/H/S (2012), and its subsequent and subpar sequels, and THE ABCs OF DEATH (2012). All too often I find the shorter format limiting; it’s harder to connect with the characters in such a short space of time, the time limit usually means more reliance on cheap jump scares rather than slow burn tension, and the final payoff usually feels too abrupt. More often than not, I feel like I’m watching a subpar Creepypasta story.
However, when a horror anthology is done well, it’s a thing of beauty. For me, ASYLUM (1972) immediately comes to mind as a premiere example of how to weave together each individual piece into a compelling whole. In the film, a young psychiatrist comes to an asylum seeking a job and is put to the ultimate test as he is asked to determine which of the patients was his predecessor. And while each individual vignette is a delicious slice of horror on its own, they also draw you into the story by having you look for clues to each patient’s true identity. ASYLUM (currently streaming for free on Amazon Prime) certainly set the bar high for all subsequent anthologies and so, I often find myself disappointed.
Despite this, I was intrigued by HOLIDAYS (2016), a new horror anthology currently available on VOD. I had certainly heard great things about a few of the segments and knew that some great names were attached, including Gary Shore, Kevin Kolsch, Nicholas McCarthy and Kevin Smith. But for me the premise itself was the clincher — this was an anthology series that would give original and dark takes on the holidays, on the iconic imagery and folktales that we’ve built our lives around. On that, I was sold.
There’s no question that the standout segment is ‘Father’s Day,” directed by Anthony Scott Burns. It features THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL’s Jocelin Donahue as a woman who receives a mysterious package containing a message from her presumably deceased father (Michael Gross). The woman travels to the beach, where she last saw her father as a child, and, following the directions he narrates to her on a cassette tape, she goes searching for him. The segment is a master class in tension, as the narration lead us down deserted blocks and finally, as the sun sulks into dusk, we are left in front of a vast abandoned building (the same one featured in Werner Herzog’s THE WILD BLUE YONDER). After watching this segment, I had to pause the film for a few minutes because it was that good.
But like most anthologies, the rest of the pieces are fairly uneven. ‘Christmas,’ which features Seth Green and some potentially dangerous VR technology, feels like a boring episode of The Twilight Zone. ‘New Years Eve’ starts out with great potential, as a serial killer heads out on a Tinder-esque date, but the wheels fall off near the end. ‘Valentine’s Day,’ the film’s opening sequence, is a predictable snoozefest.
‘St. Patrick’s Day,’ directed by Gary Shore, is an incredibly funny and freaky take on the Legend of St. Patrick, as a schoolteacher finds herself bearing a strange creature. A genuine laugh-out-loud moment comes when the clinic doctor is explaining the pregnancy and relating it to ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968). ‘Easter,’ directed by Nicholas McCarthy, fell a bit flat for me but it certainly deserves kudos for turning The Easter Bunny into the creepiest creature imaginable.
An honorable mention definitely goes to ‘Mother’s Day,’ directed by Sarah Adina Smith. I really enjoyed this premise, which felt fresh: a young woman seeks medical help as every sexual encounter she has results in a pregnancy. When traditional medicine fails her, the young woman finds herself taking part in a New Age ceremony in the desert ,where things soon turn sinister. But while this piece had potential, it suffered in the end from the short format. Still, I’d be interested to see this fleshed out into a feature in the future.
Overall, HOLIDAYS is worth a watch. The title sequences are gorgeous, and each segment is followed up with a beautiful and sinister vintage greeting card that opens up to reveal the holiday and director. Each story really does gives a fresh take on the folklore behind our holidays, and even when they fall a bit flat, it’s still a fun watch with some good scares. It’s not a perfect horror anthology, but I definitely preferred surviving these holidays to the real thing.
Tags: Anthologies, Anthony Scott Burns, Ashley Greene, Dennis Widmyer, Gary Shore, Holidays, Horror, Jocelin Donahue, Kevin Kolsch, Kevin Smith, Matt Johnson, Nicholas McCarthy, Sarah Adina Smith, Scott Stewart, Seth Green