As of late, horror anthologies have been all the rage, and it’s no wonder why. This particular format for the genre can be fun and exciting to see how far a filmmaker’s creative juices can flow in short bursts. However, when the conception and cover art of a film are better than the finished product, it is a crushing disappointment. Such is the case with Holidays, a grab-bag of eight short horror films that take on different holidays in the chronological order of a calendar year; each demented little exercise ending with a greeting card revealing the individual holiday and the writer-director. On a segment-to-segment basis, it is going to be a roll of the dice with a collection of films made by different creative voices—there’s no way around that—but Holidays still can’t quite hack it as a whole.
“Valentine’s Day” comes out of the gate first from writer-directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, whose debut Starry Eyes was one of 2014’s most unshakable films. It’s all very “Carrie” as teenage misfit Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan) gets bullied by her catty classmates, particularly queen bee Heidi (Savannah Kennick) who cruelly dubs her “Maxi-Mad.” She crushes on her dreamy swim coach (Rick Peters), who’s in need of a heart transplant, and will do anything to get her feelings requited. The brightly hued fantasy elements and synthesizer musical beats would slap a smile on Brian De Palma’s face, but the story comes to an obvious, morbidly romantic conclusion. In “St. Patrick’s Day,” writer-director Gary Shore (Dracula Untold) inventively eschews evil leprechauns for a pagan folktale. When schoolteacher Elizabeth (Ruth Bradley) finally gets her wish to get pregnant, the outcome is best described by her doctor, “It’s like ‘Rosemary’s Reptile.’” Shore’s tale is a freaky, darkly absurd original, and it somehow works in a particularly iconic Grease character.
The first story to actually frighten is “Easter,” written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy (At the Devil’s Door), in which an inquisitive little girl (Ava Acres) questions her mother why Easter is actually celebrated and is then paid a visit by the big bunny. After an amusing beginning—Mom unintentionally scares her daughter by saying Jesus comes back from the dead on Easter—this yarn becomes a child’s nightmare; with one effectively spun jump scare, gnarly creature make-up, and a bold and bleak capper. Sarah Adina Smith’s (The MidnightSwim) “Mother’s Day,” the fourth segment and the second one involving a bizarro pregnancy, goes nowhere fast, but the premise at least intrigues. 24-year-old Kate (Sophie Traub) becomes pregnant every time she has sex. When she’s referred to a fertility ceremony in the desert, well…where it goes from there amounts to a “That’s it?” ending. Luckily, Anthony Scott Burns (a visual effects artist) comes in as scribe and helmer to “Father’s Day” and allows his contribution to be at the top of the heap. It follows Carol (Joceilin Donahue), as she receives a tape from her father (Michael Gross) whom she believed to be dead and is then guided by his disembodied voice. Burns creates a haunting atmosphere from start to finish, and it’s the kind of short film that feels more like a resonant effort than something tossed off.
October comes next with writer-director Kevin Smith’s “Halloween,” a crass revenge tale in which three webcam girls (Harley Quinn Smith, Ashley Greene, Olivia Roush) have had enough of their disgusting pig of a manager (Harley Morenstein). There is something squicky about Smith casting his daughter as a sex-cam model, but more unfortunate is how little “Halloween” actually has to do with the holiday. In the positive column, the trio’s torturous revenge is certainly nasty and unprecedented, and Harley Quinn Smith (a co-lead in her father’s upcoming horror-comedy and quasi-Tusk sequel Yoga Hosers) has a bright presence.
Next on the docket is “Christmas,” directed by Scott Stewart (Legion, Dark Skies). Following the desperate Pete Gunderson (Seth Green), who’s trying to find the last pair of virtual reality glasses on Christmas Eve for his son, this morality segment takes a turn when Pete witnesses a businessman who bought the last headset having a heart attack in the parking lot and takes the gift. Big mistake, Pete. “Christmas” has a great premise—and Seth Green is ideally cast as a downtrodden family man—but the execution fares so wildly in tone that it’s hard to take the cruel endgame seriously. The second Yuletide contribution, “New Year’s Eve,” is the only one in which a filmmaker directs someone else’s script. Working from a script by Kevin Kolsh and Dennis Widmyer, director Adam Egypt Mortimer’s (Some Kind of Hate) piece ends the entire film on a bum note, coming across too over-the-top to be scary and not really clever enough to be amusing. Instead of ringing in the new year alone, singletons Reggie (Andrew Bowen) and Jean (Lorenza Izzo) meet online and make a date out of it. They look like complete opposites, but Reggie and Jean share murderous interests that will ultimately make them clash as a couple. Bowen and Izzo both go for it, but not much else is impressive here.
There will always be a host of should-haves and could-haves in an anthology feature. Being cut from the same cloth as the V/H/S and ABCs of Death films and Tales of Halloween, Holidays aggressively varies in aim, tone and quality from one segment to the next. With only “St. Patrick’s Day,” “Easter” and “Father’s Day” doing their respective holidays proud and taking advantage of the filmmaker’s inspired visions, that leaves more than half of the other contributions to feel cut short of their potential. This doesn’t mean there aren’t absent strays of talent that its nine filmmakers have demonstrated before in feature-length films, but those looking for the next big horror anthology in this renaissance won’t find it here.Holidays is just too inconsistent to be a cause for celebration.
Available on iTunes and OnDemand, In Select Theaters April 22