'Deathcember' sounds magnificent on paper but sports an unfavorable horror anthology ratio at a whopping twenty-four-and-change segments, many of which seem to be failed by a rudderless vision.
- ☃️ "Crackers" is the winner.
- ☃️ 'Deathcember' is a killer word.
- ☃️ GTFO with this runtime.
- ☃️ Zero fluidity throughout.
- ☃️ Marred by inefficiencies.
- ☃️ All your horror anthology fears come true.
What if The ABCs Of Death spun-off a holiday special? Enter Deathcember, a Christmas horror anthology that acknowledges Ant Timpson and Tim Leauge for inspiring this December genre disaster. Twenty-four visions of sugar-plum punishment are offered advent calendar style, with two additional yuletide, snack-sized tales of terror intercut during the film’s end credits as extra stocking stuffers. The problem is, for such a niche theme, the glaring disparity in segment quality and overall anthology cohesion somehow appears out-of-whack for almost the...wait for it...nearly two-and-a-half-hour duration. There will be no celebratory jingling of bells for this shoddily crafted, slow as molasses, fa-la-la-aw-ful collaboration that never pieces together.
Typically, I’d remark, “where do I even start” in jest. Deathcember, on a rare occasion, deserves such a tee-up. Segments from international talents (sometimes minus provided subtitles) appear to have been given zero prompts beyond the film’s title, nor are there restrictions on timing or any semblance of unity throughout the creative process. Three consecutive featurettes might introduce Santa-suited mongrels gunned down, stabbed, and decapitated - then all of a sudden, we’re watching a mute environmental short about floating, um, vacuum rigs infected with pollen? Even if we’re stuck on the ABCs "homage," too many payoffs slaughter off-camera to support that connective comparison.
There are some standouts I’d like to address before further criticism leaves marks. John Cook Lynch’s “Cracker” radiates a Fallout vibe as some petrified family plays Russian Roulette with those pull-apart poppers containing cheapo prizes. Michael Varrati’s “All Sales Fatal” is worth a laugh for any customer service workers who have to deal with holiday-shopper Momzillas. What to Watch's B.J. Colangelo and Zach Shildwachter’s “They Used To Laugh And Call Him Names” splatters blood on children as turned-toxic Rudolph gets his revenge via antlers. Vivienne Vaughn’s “A Christmas Miracle” is the moodiest of the bunch and features Barbara Crampton, which always helps. Unfortunately, that tallies four advent boxes out of the total twenty-four, plus two additional as already “spoiled,” I guess. Sorry, I don’t take kindly to shoving entire short films into multiple post-credits slots (nothing of substantial narrative or standalone value should ever appear after the credits begin, MCU-burst teases aside.)
Transparent budgetary restraints hamper almost every single Deathcember imagining. These are backyard, abandoned factory, hide-the-blood-tubes projects that are rarely allowed to appropriately explore the ideas put forward - if there’s even a strive to deliver Christmas horror? I think of “X-mas on Fire,” which starts with a low-bar Reservoir Dogs heist scheme where colors are assigned to criminals matching their race (um, yikes) that never becomes horrific. Or the sci-fi “Aurora” mentioned above, about a lone employee at some industrial hovercraft who dies from contamination? I still have no clue how that fits the parameters. Or maybe “Pig,” about a superteam of surviving sexual assault victims who corner one of their assailants at a party that could be any Saturday night rave.
The free-for-all nature of unbalanced entries becomes unbearable at such a daunting length, as sparse treats are buried by too many examples of incoherent editing (good luck deciphering some rapid-fire narratives) and a wraparound that’s straight out of Windows 95. A cheaply rendered winter vacation lodge’s sanctum holds foreshadowing mementos from every short, where a flap opens over each token that sucks us into a black portal - it never becomes palatable.
Critics often lack behind-the-scenes context, but too much about Deathcember screams insufficient project schedules and slapdash cobbling. Be it the “Wild West” approach where singular themes might repeat several times throughout the roster (at least Judaism is represented once), or stop-and-start momentum jerkiness that stings of whiplash at some junctures (credits slamming into an unannounced “corporate report from hell” surprise bit). Anthologies require togetherness to avoid finished fates that resemble stitched-together short blocks no one was using, versus something planned, shaped, and spooking in unison. The latter is never remotely brushed against.
From one snowy field to the next, another red-suited victim to severed heads in gift-wrapped parcels, Deathcember is one disappointment after another. Maybe sisters in a hardware store execute a swift Xmas Fatality but without any backstory importance. Perhaps someone’s daughter delivers some primo creepy-kiddo horror when she thinks she’s killing Krampus, only for the short’s impact to weaken after an additional and needless “mindscrew” finale. Glimpses of ambition flicker when Lucky McKee toys with black-and-white pioneers who are scared of a creature off-screen or Isaac Ezban imprisons a choir whose cheerful melody is the only thing keeping some wealthy family’s infirmed child alive. Still, these flames are extinguished with immediacy by an otherwise unsustainably chilled-over tone. Unable to highlight something like Sam Wineman’s heartfelt touches conveyed through childhood trauma in “Milk and Cookies.”
In the anthology grab-bag sense, it’s like reaching your hand into a sack of coal with a few gingerbread soldiers tossed in. Something sweet to munch if you’re lucky enough, but covered in soot nonetheless.
Deathcember is everything horror fans fear when they hear the descriptor “anthology.” It’s unforgivably overstuffed, jumbled due to lack of oversight, and all marketable concept, no further conceptualization. “The ABCs Of Death, but Christmas” couldn’t be more this critic’s hybrid jam; hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps, yum yum. Nonetheless, what snowballs is an abominable mess of no-guidance tarnishment that pales comparison to A Christmas Horror Story (a favorite) or even All The Creatures Were Stirring (a...not favorite). Rad title, at least?
Deathcember is available on VOD now.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for such outlets as What To Watch, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria, Shudder, Ebert Voices, and countless other publications. He is a member of the Hollywood Critics Association and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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