Christmas horror is its own strange subgenre that surprisingly has spun off in multitudes of independent, direct-to-video or hardly-seen films in the past few decades. Much of the subject matter is pretty much the same, with a garden variety of murderers taking the form of Santa Claus (he’s not scary enough on his own, apparently). In comparison, a holiday spent with dreaded in-laws would be a breeze.
Released this month on VOD are the horror-comedy anthology All the Creatures Were Stirring and Slay Belles. The former, directed by Rebekah and David Ian McKendry, features multiple scary stories taking place on or around Christmas. It begins with two old friends who meet up on Christmas Eve to see a mysterious stage production that tells different horrifying holiday tales. With a bizarre host flipping cryptic intertitles on cue cards, a silent trio of players do interpretive dance moves that spin into each story: an office secret-Santa party gone awry, with deadly gifts and incriminating evidence that each employee must take turns in opening, lest they all die; a husband trying to get home in time for Christmas dinner, but instead gets caught in a demonic curse; a Scrooge-like yuppie who encounters three frightful ghosts who make him change his ways; a murdered reindeer looking for revenge on the man who hit him with his car; a group of body-snatching aliens masquerading as friends invited over for Christmas dinner.
The film’s theater sequences carry a Lynchian vibe, but in a parodic sense. If you’re expecting a truly scary film, you’ll be disappointed, but even in each one’s short run time, its story is individually a little funny but also conceptually creative. Unfortunately, the creepy tales seem a bit anti-climactic. I’m sure it’s hard to craft a fully horrifying and developed storyline for each vignette within a limited amount of time, but many of the stories have little to no resolution or are too easily wrapped up, almost as if they’re filler sequences. That said, the sequence with the Scrooge-like yuppie contained the most well-developed narrative and character.
What this film does have going for it is its ensemble cast. In addition to Crazy Rich Asians star Constance Wu, the cast includes Amanda Fuller, Matt Long, Jonathan Kite, Mark Kelly, Megan Duffy, Stephanie Drake, Ashley Clements, Diva Zappa and Brea Grant. It’s extremely well-acted and enjoyable to see the talent play their roles with a pinch of campiness, and they all work well within the limited length of their material.
Directed by Spooky Dan Walker (and really, when you encounter a filmmaker with a name like that, you already know what you’re getting), Slay Belles takes place in the woods, where three women cosplayers explore a secluded cabin for video content and unwittingly release the spirit of Krampus on the world. They get help from Santa Claus (played by Rocky Horror Picture Show veteran Barry Bostwick) to stop the malevolent goat-demon from wreaking havoc on Christmas.
This isn’t Walker’s first film using Krampus, but here, he brings together the holy trio of Krampus, Santa Claus and ass-kicking women. Right off the bat, this film tells you it’s a campy, tongue-in-cheek addition to the B-grade Christmas-horror genre. That, however, is its strength. The Krampus monster is an impressive, made-up monster and not a CGI creation, and Bostwick’s Santa is inexplicably dressed like a biker, with a full-on bandana around his white locks, a vest, and a gold crucifix on a gold chain around his neck. I especially loved that each heroine—played by Kristina Kleve, Susan Slaughter and Hannah Wagner—owned her line delivery and smutty sexiness with a knowing wink. Bostwick is also great; the inclusion of the veteran actor in this schlocky picture doesn’t seem strange or out of place at all.
These films both remind me of how prevalent Christmas-horror movies have become, and in the ensuing years, as the genre continues to take off, I only hope they can be even sillier, scarier and more creative—limited production budgets be damned!