Amicus were well known for it. In more recent years, V/H/S have done it badly, The ABCs of Death have done it with mixed results – twice! – and Tales of Halloween did it with a seasonal flavour. The horror anthology, appropriately, is a format which just never seems to die. The latest pot luck of anger, upset and entrails is similarly seasonal, though not tied to any one event, simply titled Holidays.
First up is Valentine’s Day (written and directed by Starry Eyes duo Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer), the high board horror of the high school swim team as Maxine (Madeline Coghlan) is taunted and tortured by the more popular girls led by Heidi (Savannah Kennick). The locker room cruelty reminding of Carrie, the longed for affection of Coach Rockwell offers no protection, only offering more ammunition to Heidi, but when she suggests that Maxine uses “the same box cutter your dear dead dad killed himself with,” she realises she’s gone too far…
Rolling around before the blood has dried is St Patrick’s Day (written and directed by Dracula Untold’s Gary Shore) as teacher Elizabeth Cullen (Grabbers’ Ruth Bradley) tries to elicit a smile from young Gráinne (Isolt McCaffrey), the difficult child in a new school. Telling her class that the story St Patrick’s driving out the snakes from Ireland was a metaphor for the expulsion of pagans and mystics, a night out with the girls leads to waking in her car with a sloughed off snakeskin then the discovery that she is pregnant.
With the image of the coil echoing through the piece, overjoyed, she visits the doctor who is alarmed, gently asking “Have you ever seen the Hollywood movie Rosemary’s Baby?” Borrowing imagery from The Wicker Man, the visually enticing but slight segment is carried by Bradley’s bright performance, the bloody moments leavened by the tongue-in-cheek approach.
The floating festival of Easter (written and directed by The Pact’s Nicholas McCarthy) arrives with a frightened girl (American Horror Story: Hotel’s Ava Acres) tucked up in bed as her exasperated mother (The Pact’s Petra Wright) futilely attempts to differentiate between Jesus coming back from the dead in the middle of the night and the imminent arrival of the Easter bunny bringing candy goodies.
Despite the obvious focus on women throughout, Mother’s Day (written and directed by The Midnight Swim’s Sarah Adina Smith) is the sole contribution with a female point, as Kate (Sophie Traub) suffers with what she calls her curse. Where others struggle to conceive, she finds herself unable to not become pregnant, now past her twentieth termination, the point at which she stopped counting.
Told by her doctor that “I don’t think conventional medicine can help you,” she suggests a visit to the retreat run by her sister where fertility ceremonies are performed in hopes they can help her. While the presence behind the camera may be forward thinking, the new age vibe of beads, shawls, candles and chanting ironically makes this somewhat pedestrian cult seem tamely retro.
Father’s Day (written and directed by The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh‘s visual effects supervisor Anthony Scott Burns) comes around with sadness and resentment for Carol (Jocelin Donahue) when an unexpected package arrives: a tape recorder and cassette, the voice of her long thought dead father (Tremors’ Michael Gross) asking her to return to the place where they played together for the last time.
Most disappointing is the ill-judged Hollow Ian (written and directed by Tusk’s Kevin Smith) as a rancid man attempts to bully and badger and three women whom he has misled into working for him before the tables are turned on Hallowe’en night.
While Smith’s work is often divisive there has always been a thread of intelligence even in his most outrageous works, but in recent years, particularly in the brilliant Red State, he has demonstrated his previously unsuspected capability as a serious filmmaker, but this attempt to address the too frequently misogynist aspects of horror are not so much female empowerment as crass misandry, neither interesting nor well executed.
The season of goodwill has no such presence in Christmas (written and directed by Dark Skies’ Scott Stewart) as put-upon husband Pete (Con Man’s Seth Green) must obtain the must have gift of the moment, the UVU personal virtual reality set for his son’s big morning. With impatient wife Sara (Mega Shark vs Kolossus’ Clare Grant) demanding updates over the phone failure is not an option, and the piece is short but not sweet.
The clock ticks down to New Year’s (directed by Some Kind of Hate’s Adam Egypt Mortimer from a script by Kölsch and Widmyer) and Reggie (Smothered’s Andrew Bowen) is desperate for a date, having killed the last one. Having arranged to meet Jean (The Green Inferno’s Lorenza Izzo), the awkward dalliance of the socially handicapable proceeds over dinner; unexpectedly she invites him back to hers, but who is manipulating who?
The styling of the post-segment titles too obviously giving away the influence of ABCs of Death and the desire to emulate that success, the brevity of those twenty six stories was often their strength, the urgency requiring every element be used to maximum efficiency rather than drawn as is the case here, Father’s Day becoming the most obviously indulgent, the attempted shock too weak, too obvious and too late.
Despite the many voices they all feel of a piece but none feel distinct or overly stylised, and while there are only eight segments even minimal drag is compounded over the whole. While all are technically proficient (though for some reason some are presented in a different screen ratio) and on the whole well performed (the amateur antics of Hollow Ian being the exception), none are outstanding, diverting rather than demanding, the ideas never pushing hard enough to become noteworthy and too many of them just fizzling out rather than coming to resolution.