Friday, December 23, 2016

Worth Mentioning - Every One Has a Dark Side

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody celebrates the holidays by watching Holidays.


The horror genre often dives deep into trends - if something works, horror filmmakers will do their best to hit you with a barrage of more of the same thing until people get tired of that thing for a while. Some of these trends have been for me (the '80s slasher boom), some of them have not (the found footage boom). One trend I have enjoyed seeing in recent years is the resurgence of the horror anthology film. There have been quite a few lately, most notably the V/H/S trilogy and the ABCs of Death movies. When you tally it up, I probably haven't liked the majority of short stories offered in these modern anthologies, but still, it's nice to see anthologies being made and they can be very interesting.

With their anthology offering Holidays, XYZ Films and John Hegeman's Distant Corners Entertainment crafted something that immediately appealed to me more than any other anthology that has come out recently, and that was due to the involvement of one filmmaker in particular: they asked Kevin Smith to contribute a segment, thus ensuring that I would be watching Holidays as soon as it became available for viewing and that I would be buying a DVD copy to add to my collection.

Like the filmmakers who contributed to the ABCs of Death movies each covered a different letter from the alphabet, with Holidays the filmmakers each told a story set on a different (you might have guessed this) holiday. So to celebrate the end of the year holidays, I have decided to go through Holidays story by story and share my thoughts on them.

Things kick off with Valentine's Day. Written and directed by Starry Eyes filmmakers Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, a story which takes the appropriate approach of being a tale of twisted love, but the love here is very inappropriate. Two teenage girls are vying for the affections of their high school swim coach - one is Maxine, an emotionally damaged introvert, and the other is the leader of the pack of girls who relentlessly bully Maxine (a group that happens to make up the entire rest of the swim team). It's not entirely clear if the coach reciprocates his students' inappropriate feelings, but it is quite odd that the guy chooses just one girl to give a Valentine's Day card to.

Essentially Carrie with a box cutter, Valentine's Day plays out pretty much exactly how you'd expect, but there is an issue with the coach that provides a clever, classic anthology ending.

Next up is St. Patrick's Day from Gary Shore, the Irish director of Dracula Untold. Shore's segment is set in Ireland and establishes the fact that many of these shorts are going to be intensely strange. His story ties back into the theory that the "snakes" Saint Patrick drove out of Ireland in the fifth century were in fact pagans, and from that concept he spins a story of modern paganism and snake worship that centers on a lonely young school teacher (played by Grabbers' Ruth Bradley), her odd student, and a mysterious pregnancy.

St. Patrick's Day is so damn odd and goofy, I don't even know how I feel about it in the end. I suppose I appreciate it for taking me down such a weird and unique path, but I would like it better if it didn't take 14 minutes to traverse that path. This segment didn't need to be as long as it is.

Easter, written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact, At the Devil's Door), was the segment that I saw getting the most hype in the build-up to the release of the film, mainly because of its shocking and weird climactic moments. It's about a young girl who is a bit confused by the mixture of the stories about the Easter holiday and what the resurrection of Jesus Christ has to do with a treat-delivering rabbit. McCarthy gives his own answer as to how both Jesus and a rabbit are involved... I guess. I'm really not sure what he was trying to say here, or if he was trying to say anything. Maybe he just got an image in mind and bringing that image to the screen was the whole point. A lot of viewers loved Easter, but I have to file it under "Didn't get it".

Sarah Adina Smith (The Midnight Swim, Buster's Mal Heart) brings us Mother's Day, a short that starts off with a disturbing, intriguing concept: a twenty-something woman gets pregnant every time she has sex. Every single time. No matter what precautions or contraceptives are taken, what stage of the menstrual cycle she's in, even when her boyfriend wears two or three condoms, she gets pregnant. She has had in the range of twenty abortions. A fertility specialist sends her to a weekend ferility ceremony in the desert, and it's when she arrives at this gathering that the segment pretty much loses me, since it lapses into a stretch of strange rituals and people getting drugged out and doing unusual things doesn't hold my attention. Even when the rituals end and the woman finds herself trapped at the desert retreat, I don't get pulled back in because there are no explanations offered for what's going on. What is the ultimate purpose of what these women are doing out there? I couldn't tell you, since the segment doesn't.

After a stretch of strangeness, it looked like Anthony Scott Burns was going to save the day with his Father's Day segment. Burns is unique among the other directors because he doesn't have a previous horror or dark drama movie among his director's credits, just a couple shorts and an episode of the series Darknet. His biggest horror experience came in the visual effects department, where he worked on The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh and The Last Exorcism Part II.

With his contribution to the anthology, Burns crafts a story about a woman played by The House of the Devil's Jocelin Donahue, who receives a package containing a note - "Happy Father's Day" - and a cassette tape. On this tape is the voice of her long-missed father, the voice of Michael Gross from Family Ties and the Tremors franchise. He explains to her that he disappeared over disagreements with her mother, but now that she's old enough / strong enough he can be there for her again. This tape was recorded on the day her father left her when she was a child, and on it his voice guides her through a small seaside community, all the way to his door.

It's when the woman opens that door that the segment craps out. The voice on the tape promised the woman that it would all make sense in the end, but it doesn't. I don't know what the hell that lame visual effect at the end is supposed to mean. It's frustrating, because this segment, even though it goes on a bit too long, is so compelling up until those final seconds, but it all crumbles when the woman reaches her father. I'm left feeling duped and disappointed.

Then comes the moment I've been waiting for, the segment I've just endured confusion, oddities, and letdowns to get to. Halloween, written and directed by Kevin Smith, the filmmaker who became a hero to me when he broke through with the classic indie comedy Clerks. Although Smith is best known for comedy, lately his career has taken a turn into stories of madmen and monsters with Red State, Tusk, and Yoga Hosers, a shift that led him into Holidays.

All of the segments in Holidays are simply titled after the holiday they're set on, but apparently before that decision was made Smith was considering two alternate titles for his Halloween-set segment: Hollow Ian or Camhain. The story was inspired by the Rashida Jones-produced documentary Hot Girls Wanted, which centered on young women getting into the world of porn in the internet age. Halloween centers on young women in the world of internet porn, cam girls being lorded over by an abusive man named Ian (Tusk / Yoga Hosers co-star and Epic Meal Time host Harley Morenstein).

Fed up with the degrading treatment they get from Ian, the three girls (Harley Quinn Smith, Olivia Roush, (SM)Ashley Greene) currently employed by him - if you can call it being employed, since I'm not sure they see much financial benefit from their cam shows - decide to turn the tables on him and force him to put on a cam show of his own. But this cam show isn't of the titillating sort, as the girls get their revenge by making some very horrific things happen to Ian while he's camming.

Smith's Halloween was what drew me to this anthology and it's the segment that I enjoyed the most of the bunch, a simple revenge tale driven forward by a heavy musical score composed by Christopher Drake and featuring some unforgettable moments of implied violence.

From Halloween we leap frog over Thanksgiving and go directly to Christmas, a segment from Scott Stewart (Legion, Priest, Dark Skies). We've had down-to-earth threats and supernatural threats so far, and Christmas is the first one to present a science fiction type of horror. Real life couple Seth Green and Clare Grant star as Pete and Sara, a married couple whose lives are greatly complicated by uVu, the virtual reality system Pete obtains for their son's present.

Pete allowed a man to die so he could get his hands on a store's last uVu, so you know right up front that these characters aren't the most morally pure, and that continues to be confirmed throughout the rest of the segment.

I enjoyed Christmas, it moves along quickly with a lively tone and a humorous edge. It sort of feels like it could have been a Tales from the Crypt episode if it was a bit longer.

It all wraps up with New Year's, which Valentine's Day makers Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer scripted for Adam Egypt Mortimer (Some Kind of Hate) to direct, the only instance in this anthology where a segment wasn't written and directed by the same person/people.

Eli Roth's wife Lorenza Izzo (Aftershock, The Green Inferno) stars as an awkward, lonely young woman who, rather than spend New Year's Eve sitting at home by herself, accepts an online date request from an awkward man who we know to be a serial killer. The date goes about as well as you might expect it to.

New Year's was right up my alley and takes the film out on a high note.

Overall, Holidays is - like any anthology from multiple filmmakers, and most that are just made by one filmmaker -  a movie with its ups and downs, with segments that are appealing, segments that aren't, some that pay off perfectly, and some that don't. There are some shorts in here that I don't really feel the need to watch again, and others that I will be returning to with some frequency.

Compared to other anthologies that have come out in recent years, Holidays had a higher rate of success for me than most and ranks alongside Tales of Halloween as one of my favorites. If you're a fan of this type of movie, you should absolutely check it out.

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