M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Six of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2015 and going through September 30, 2016. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t! Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Released on April 15, 2016. Available on DVD, BluRay, and On Demand from Vertical Entertainment! Also on Netflix!
Directed by Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer (“Valentine’s Day”), Gary Shore (“St. Patrick’s Day”), Nicholas McCarthy (“Easter”), Sarah Adina Smith (“Mother’s Day”), Anthony Scott Burns (“Father’s Day”), Kevin Smith (“Halloween”), Scott Stewart (“Christmas”), Adam Egypt Mortimer (“New Year’s Eve”)
Written by Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer (“Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve”), Gary Shore (“St. Patrick’s Day”), Nicholas McCarthy (“Easter”), Sarah Adina Smith (“Mother’s Day”), Anthony Scott Burns (“Father’s Day”), Kevin Smith (“Halloween”), Scott Stewart (“Christmas”)
Starring Madeline Coghlan, Savannah Kennick, and Rick Peters (“Valentine’s Day”), Ruth Bradley, Isolt McCaffrey, and Peter Campion (“St. Patrick’s Day”), Ava Acres, Petra Wright and Mark Steger (“Easter”), Sophie Traub, Aleksa Palladino, Sheila Vand, Jennifer Lafleur, and Sonja Kinski (“Mother’s Day”), Jocelin Donahue and Michael Gross (“Father’s Day”), Ashley Greene, Olivia Roush, Harley Quinn Smith, Harley Morenstein, and Shelby Kemper (“Halloween”), Seth Green and Clare Grant (“Christmas”), Lorenza Izzo and Andrew Bowen (“New Year’s Eve”)
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This anthology snags up some talented folks to tell a terrifying tale set to various holidays. Before BlumHouse began making holiday movies with their INTO THE DARK series. Like most anthologies, HOLIDAYS has its fair share of hits and misses, but overall, it’s one of the strongest anthologies I’ve seen this year. While the concept of individual holidays has been fodder for many a horror film, this anthology challenges some up and coming and some established horror-meisters to come up with new scares occurring the whole year round. I’ll be doing a little write-up for each of these segments in the paragraphs below.
Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (the writers and directors of STARRY EYES) open this one off strong with a twisted tale of high school crushes and bullying. This installment is really nicely filmed with tons of fun musical beats as well as a very creepy cast. For some reason, all of the people in this installment, from the “normal” popular kids to the CARRIE-like kid being bullied had an odd psychopathic stare quality about them. This “Valentine’s Day” segment is one of the stronger ones and a good choice to lead off things showing that there is an off-kilter feel to this film as a whole as well as a very dark sense of humor.
One of the most surreal of the bunch is the “St. Patrick’s Day” segment which goes back to the ancient origins of the holiday and focuses on St. Patrick ridding Ireland of all of its snakes. It looks as if one creepy little ginger girl (played amazingly by Isolt McCaffrey) has dark designs for her teacher who wishes she can become pregnant and ends up doing so, but not really getting what she expected. This one ends on with a surreal nightmare that is both ludicrous and haunting. Gary Shore may have misstepped a bit with DRACULA UNTOLD, but in this segment, he shows a dastardly sense of humor as well as a gift at turning the world on end and still keep it relevant to the story. This one owes everything to the creepy little girl whose penetrating stares are the stuff of nightmares.
Next up is another horrifying yarn set to “Easter” from director/writer Nicholas McCarthy who dazzled me with THE PACT. This segment starts out simple enough with a young girl worrying if she is going to be getting Easter candy in the morning and asking her mother what the Easter Bunny has to do with the resurrection of Jesus. But the curiosity of innocence gives way to grotesque answers as the little girl witnesses just what goes on while the kiddies are sleeping on the eve before Easter. This one has some fantastic practical effects of a half-bunny/half-Jesus creature that is truly iconic and horrifying. Plus once you see how little Easter chicks are born, you’ll never want to eat a Peep again!
While the “Mother’s Day” segment is a bit more subdued than the rest of the shorts and lacks the sense of humor that most of the ones thus far had, it still is a thrilling little tale of a young woman who gets pregnant every time she sleeps with a man who is sent to a commune for women who cannot get pregnant. The director of the sublime THE MIDNIGHT SWIM (Sarah Adina Smith) returns with a nicely paced and seductive tale of nuanced evil. Though the theme of motherhood was already addressed in the “St. Patrick’s Day” segment, this one gives it a much more insidious and weighty feel. The shocker ending works well, and while it doesn’t make sense at first, it all makes sense if you listen to some of the lines hinting at what is happening while the expectant mother is in a drug induced haze. Nicely structured with a shocking payoff.
Anthony Scott Burns (writer/director of DARKNET) offers up my favorite story of the bunch with “Father’s Day.” This segment is a master class in how to build tension to a level that actually made me sit up in my seat and curl my knees to my chin. Through some simple and beautiful shots of HOUSE OF THE DEVIL’s Jocelin Donahue walking along an abandoned beach community listening to an audio cassette from her missing father, Burns ratchets up the tension so tightly it strips the screws. All of this culminates in a scene that pays off so perfectly that I had to watch it over again immediately to get the terrifying effect again. This “Father’s Day” segment is the best of the best, telling a story that is perfectly paced and expertly realized. It makes me excited to see what Burns has in store for us in the future.
We go from the best segment to the worst pretty quickly here as TUSK’s Kevin Smith offers up a tasteless and remedial entry for “Halloween.” Sure there have been tons of films dissecting All-Hallows Eve, but surely, if someone put their mind to it, they could come up with something new. And Smith does come up with something new, only new doesn’t always mean good. Focusing on a sleazebag who runs a Cam Girl sex business, this childishly gross segment tries to be funny and shocking and succeeds in neither. Even more crass is that Smith casts his teenage daughter as one of the sex cam girls who revolts against their handler. What does this have to do with Halloween? Very little. This feels like a segment square pegged into a holiday segment and is proof positive that Smith is outclassed and out-talented by everyone else involved with this film. Such a dismal and stupid segment.
DARK SKIES’ Scott Stewart skips to “Christmas” and focuses on the nightmares of holiday shopping as Seth Green plays a dad who does a naughty thing in order to get his kid his dream X-Mas present. But before this turns into a dark JINGLE ALL THE WAY, the real thrills start when the Virtual Reality Occulus Rift technology toy he gets his son begins replaying the dirty deed every time Green puts on the headset. Seems the tech displays the deepest secrets of its wearer, which proves to cause more problems than fun for Green and his family. This segment is pretty short and plays as rather one note, but Green is a fun comedic performer to watch. It’s a light and boppy segment, with a fun punch line ending, but ended up being fluffy and forgettable.
Finally, we end with “New Year’s Eve” directed by SOME KIND OF HATE’s Adam Egypt Mortimer from a script by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (who return from the “Valentine’s Day” segment to wrap things up). There’s a lot to love about this final installment as a serial killer decides he wants to hang out with someone who actually wants to kiss him when the ball drops at midnight, so he offs his current victim and hits the online dating websites. This close to perfect match is Eli Roth’s go-to gal Lorenza Izzo and while the date is awkward, both decide to hang out on NYE. Twists and turns abound in this action heavy and gut-burstingly funny installment proceeds. This installment is loud and lively, which is the perfect way to end the anthology.
All in all, out of the eight stories, only one or two were duds, which is a pretty decent percentage. The shorts go by pretty quickly, so if one of them isn’t your taste, another is coming up soon. This film highlights some of the top tier talent in horror today and pays off with some truly memorable and terrifying sequences. Not only will I be sharing HOLIDAYS with my friends, but I’ll be rewatching some of the films these prolific directors have done before (some of which I haven’t seen like DRACULA UNTOLD and DARKNET). And here’s hoping a sequel will happen either tackling some of the other holidays not used like Thanksgiving, 4th of July, Memorial Day, Presidents Day, Arbor Day, Earth Day, and Labor Day, to name a few or just revisit some of the holidays covered in this film in new and different ways. As far as anthologies go, HOLIDAYS hits the target more often than misses with a unique blend of humor, grotesque imagery, and talented direction.
THE 2015-2016 COUNTDOWN!
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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