Holiday Hell is a fun, if fleeting, deviation from the traditional Christmas movie with suitably hammy performances and thrills.
With the holiday season right around the corner, viewers will be searching for titles to help them get into the festive spirit. If someone's looking for a break from the norm, they may be inclined to check out Holiday Hell, a (very) low-budget offering that combines the terror of Halloween with the spirit of Christmas into an interesting package that'll probably entertain more than scare. Clearly, this is does not have very high aspirations, but the creative team embraces that and tries to make the most of it. Holiday Hell is a fun, if fleeting, deviation from the traditional Christmas movie with suitably hammy performances and thrills.
Holiday Hell picks up as young woman Amelia (Meagan Karimi-Naser) enters an antiques shop, looking for the perfect Christmas gift for her sister. The Shopkeeper (Jeffrey Combs) agrees to stay late to help Amelia find something. In an attempt to sell her on items such as a doll mask or a bloody Santa Claus suit, The Shopkeeper tells Amelia the haunting story behind a select few pieces in his possession, hoping she'll be swayed by one of the terrifying tales.
Holiday Hell is primarily composed of four short films that detail the history behind four items. Each one is directed by a different filmmaker and provides a spin on a classic horror trope (possessed doll, creepy cult, etc.). What helps the individual segments stand apart is their content. For instance, "Christmas Carnage" chronicles a businessman's (Joel Murray) descent into insanity and "Hand That Rocks the Dreidel" covers a rather special Hanukkah present for a small boy (Forrest Campbell). In terms of technical filmmaking, however, the episodes don't truly feel like the product of four different voices, as they all follow a pretty basic formula. This prevents Holiday Hell from coming across as a unique blend of talents. Fortunately, that means there are no jarring tonal shifts across the complete picture, but the vignettes sadly become predictable. Savvy viewers will probably be able to see the trajectory of the shorts minutes after they start.
What makes up for the shortcomings in the writing and production is the fact the directorial team of Jeremy Berg, David Burns, Jeff Ferrell, and Jeff Vigil have a complete understanding of what kind of film they want to make. Holiday Hell is definitely campy horror; it isn't going to be the stuff of nightmares, but it still makes for a fun watch (though there are a few moments of unintentional comedy peppered throughout). Another positive is none of the segments overstay their welcome. They're all fairly well paced and don't drag, which helps negate the issue of predictability a bit. Obviously, Holiday Hell isn't for everyone and primarily appeals to a very specific niche, but the target audience will most likely get a kick out of the terrors the directors have created.
In terms of performances, there unsurprisingly isn't a lot of fine acting going on. Combs is probably the biggest standout, putting his horror experience to great use as the mysterious Shopkeeper. He gives off the vibe of a charming, sleazy salesman and helps carry Holiday Hell's framing device. But more so than the production values, it's the acting where the film's limitations truly show. A lot of the turns here are stunted, wooden, or hilariously over-the-top, which is going to cost Holiday Hell points with some viewers. To be fair, the performances work well enough for a film like this, but even by cheap horror standards, most of them leave something to be desired.
Viewers are going to have to seek out Holiday Hell, which played theatrically in select markets before its digital and DVD releases in November. For movie fans of a certain taste, it's probably worth the effort. Holiday Hell is ultimately a harmless bit of fun that works as either a Halloween treat or the atypical Christmas film. As long as people know what they're getting into ahead of time, they can adjust their expectations accordingly and have a good time with it. That's probably what Berg and company had in mind when they set out to direct Holiday Hell in the first place.
Holiday Hell will be available on digital and DVD Tuesday, November 5.