“Holidays” (2016) is a horror anthology flick that explores the darker side of holiday traditions. Or at least, that might have been the general idea.
Many of the stories blaze their own trails and wind up in unrecognizable terrain as far as what images spring to mind when we hear Easter or Halloween, leading to some puzzling moments. The emphasis was put on creating a unique perspective on well-known holidays, rather than dragging out the usual well-worn visual tropes.
A few of the chapters work well. The majority are confusing, bland and not frightening in the least. The worst have absolutely nothing to do thematically with the holiday being illustrated.
Let’s get to it!
Written and directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. Both Savannah Kennick and Madeliene Coghlan give convincing, committed performances as Heidi and Maxine.
We open on a distressed young woman named Max carving a heart with the word “Coach” in it into a girls locker-room bench. In a flashback, we see Max in her swimsuit fearfully climbing the ladder to the high diving board in gym class while Coach Rockwell supports her. Fellow students mock her, led by the evil Heidi as they chant “Maxi Pad!”
Max is busy imagining the coach shirtless and grinning in a shower of golden light. Standing at the end of the board, Max snaps back to reality filled with confidence for the dive when she is suddenly shoved into the air by Heidi. After seconds pass and she falls to surface, Rockwell dives into the pool to save her.
Cue more golden light as Max awakens underneath her concerned crush.
We learn that Coach Rockwell is dying and in need of a heart transplant. The school has organized a talent show to help pay for this operation, and Heidi intends to win Rockwell’s affection with a sexy twerking routine. After listening in on the vicious bully belittling Maxine because her father committed suicide, Rockwell writes out a Valentine’s Day card to the poor girl….a card he had intended for his wife, Tammy.
That small and completely inappropriate act of kindness sets off an explosion of crimson tinted romantic delusion in Max’s head. It’s all there in her face…the initial wariness that the card placed inside her locker may be some cold-hearted trick by her tormentors turning to surprise and the seeming realization of her heart’s fondest wish.
And then, bad things happen.
“Valentine’s Day” begins promisingly enough, but it’s too brief to have real emotional impact, and the outcome can be seen from miles away. When the segment ended, I shrugged and said “Yep. That happened.”
It’s a sketch of an idea, but not a fully developed short film. This issue of abrupt, lukewarm endings plagues the entire anthology.
St. Patrick’s Day
Written and directed by Gary Shore.
This chapter is so batshit crazy, it actually works!
A classroom of elementary school students in Ireland watches a historical video about the origin of St. Patrick’s Day while their teacher Elizabeth Cullen corrects papers. The video’s narrator suggests that 5th century Ireland had no literal snakes, and that Saint Patrick was actually driving out mystics and paganism symbolized as serpents.
A young girl named Grainne, new to the school, seems quite perturbed watching the snakes being hurled into the ocean. Elizabeth later attempts to get her to smile and socialize more with the other students to no avail.
And then the weirdness starts.
As the unsmiling Grainne creates crude magical charms during recess, her teacher gazes wistfully at a crying baby and seems frozen in place for a time on the school’s playground. After class lets out, Elizabeth finds a note reading: “Only your deepest wish can make me smile.”
It is accompanied by a piece of snake-skin in the spiral shape of a coiled serpent, complete with gleaming emerald eyes. A friend calls Elizabeth that night and suggests going out and getting plastered for St. Patty’s and finding her a man.
Cut to Elizabeth dressed as a leprechaun waking up with a hangover in the backseat of her bright green car. Surrounding the vehicle are shopping carts in a familiar serpentine spiral, and Elizabeth finds the shed flesh of a snake on the seat beside her. It must have been one hell of a party!
In class later, the contrary Grainne is finally smiling. At first the teacher smiles back, but the toothy grin takes on a creepier appearance out of sheer longevity. During a trip to the supermarket, Grainne suddenly appears out of nowhere and presses her ear to Elizabeth’s belly, although no signs of pregnancy are evident. One pee stick later and it looks like Miss Cullen might be knocked up. She goes to the hospital to confirm this, and they have some very strange and troubling news for her.
Projectile vomiting, sinister clapping, the attempted ingestion of baby clothes, a 400-day-long pregnancy term, a dancing cult in animal masks, a scary and intense bathtub birth, absolute ridiculousness, and a very odd mother and child reunion ensue. This deliciously nutty tale taps into the occult surrealism of “The Wicker Man” with eerie dreaminess and beautiful editing. Not only is it weirdly funny, it comes at the concept of the holiday from a less conventional angle than you’d imagine. No killer leprechauns, four-leaf clovers or stolen pots of gold are to be found here.
Written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy.
A mom puts her daughter to bed, reminding her that the Easter Bunny comes overnight to deliver candy to good little girls. But they must be asleep, the mother warns, as no child can see the magic rabbit. The child is scared because she heard that Jesus rose from the dead, which makes him a figure of terror in her eyes, but her mom explains that Jesus was a good man.
The kid also wants to know if her father is going to come back, and how the Easter Bunny gets inside houses at night to drop off candy, and what happens if she should accidentally see him?
As the mother and daughter drift off to slumberland, the downstairs sliding glass door flies open and a large mottled egg rolls in. It comes to rest on the carpet and starts vibrating alarmingly, waking the little girl. She cautiously investigates, and discovers freakish, offensive religious themed deviancy. It only makes sense as a child’s illogical nightmare, in which the pieces of varied concerns come together to form a bizarre puzzle.
And then it’s over.
Unlike the first segment, Easter is anything but predictable. I thought we were getting a monstrous bunny who would terrorize the family, but the piece veered into warped Christian iconography, birds hatching from open wounds and an uncomfortable relationship between a very young girl and an adult man-thing. Interesting make up design and lighting. It isn’t bad, exactly…it’s just baffling. I was left wanting to know more, as the short has many fascinating qualities, like a fairy tale mixed with a bit of a “Donnie Darko” meets Cronenberg vibe.
Written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith.
Kate is getting a sonogram at the hospital. She tells the nurse that she makes her husband wear up to three condoms during sex and it doesn’t help. She gets pregnant every time she has intercourse and she has terminated 20 fetuses. She believes she’s cursed.
The nurse suggests she see a holistic specialist who performs a fertility ritual in the California desert, believing that unconventional medicine might be the answer. Kate contacts Persian, the priestess who holds the ceremonies at an unusual home in the remote dunes, and heads out to try her luck.
The ritual involves ingesting peyote, getting naked and writhing around in a pool with other women trying to get pregnant. Except Kate is attempting to do the opposite, which she tries to explain to her hosts. An old, drugged woman whispers to Kate: “Every time you end the life inside you, it will come back stronger.”
After the pool comes hallucinogenic dancing, candles and everyone looking wasted in the house. A large bearded man named Montezuma II appears and has sex with Kate while her female companions snuggle around her.
She wakes in the morning light with a hugely swollen belly and the women who are drugging her food speak as if some months have passed. Eventually Kate escapes their clutches and races out into the desert, where she finally gives birth. They should have listened to her.
Another odd, off kilter story, but the shocking last few seconds are worth it.
Written and directed by Anthony Scott Burns.
In terms of pure mood and intensity, this is the most successful entry. I was riveted.
Jocelin Donahue of “House Of The Devil” plays Carol, a young teacher with a long weekend of grading papers ahead of her. She receives a package in the mail marked “Happy Father’s Day,” and inside is an old 1980’s tape recorder with a cassette. The two sides of the tape are marked A and B in pen.
It’s a message from her long absent father, who apologizes for abandoning her as a child. He says he was forced to leave and that he still loves her. Weeping, Carol goes through old photo albums as her father says they can still be together if she wants. All she has to do is go back to the place where they were together for the last time and flip the tape over to the B side, which will guide her to him. Carol first calls her mother’s voicemail and leaves a furious message (revealing that she was told her dad was dead all these years) and then heads out to find him.
We see a shot of the Earth aligning with the moon in space as Carol arrives at a derelict beach town where the sand is slowly reclaiming the streets. She flips the tape over and we hear herself as a child playing on the beach while her father, some distance away, quietly records the message the adult version of her is listening to.
“What are you doing, Daddy?”
“I’m making a message for a friend.”
“Do I know them?”
Carol walks through the forgotten, silent town with her headphones on, turning at various streets as directed. She can hear her child self on the tape tapping a stick on a chain link fence or laughing or humming as she follows her father to the place where they once parted ways, which means that she has already been to her mysterious destination once before.
She finds a large building with an open door. Her father tells her that he left this tape with people he trusted to deliver it to her when she was old enough. Two journeys, the past and the present, are about to come to an end. Her father tells her that he only got one chance to come to this place of worship to see Him, some kind of powerful guru. Carol comes to a cobwebbed door and crosses a line of salt as she closes in on her ultimate discovery. Meanwhile, her cell phone is ringing back in her car. It’s her mother, with a warning that goes unheard.
It isn’t perfect, and one moment of totally unnecessary CGI hurts it, but this is one of the most intriguing chapters of the anthology and the one that illustrates the power of truly fantastic voice acting. Michael Gross of the Tremors franchise is excellent as the voice of Carol’s missing father, and he’s matched by Donahue’s performance as a daughter who finds out that her dad isn’t everything she imagined he would be.
Written and directed by Kevin Smith.
Meet Ian. He’s buying discount candy at a convenience store on Halloween night while chatting up girls on his cell. He’s offering them positions in his webcam entertainment business if they move out to Los Angeles. He speaks to two different women and convinces them it’s not porn.
Back at his place, Holly and Bree watch a cartoon in which three witches gather around a cauldron. Serena enters crying from the bedroom where the girls are forced to perform sexual acts on cam. She says a customer called her a whore, which hurt her feelings.
Ian shows up and throws a bag of cheap candy at Serena for her “dinner.” He explains that one of the three are “gonna show him their pussy tonight.”
Holly stands up to him.
“You made a big mistake, Ian. You put three women in a room together. Do you know what three women in a room together used to be called? A coven!”
He grabs Serena and tries to drag her off to his room so she can “ride his broomstick” when Holly whacks him over the head. Ian wakes up in a very compromising position, trapped in the bedroom with the cam on. The three girls communicate their demands of him via the laptop.
And then t here’s anal torture, mutilation and Hot Pockets, so bring the whole family! Or don’t. This isn’t really the first or three thousandth thing I’d think of when sitting down to write a skit encompassing the true essence and magic of Halloween, but few of the entries in “Holidays” have conformed to actual logic. They’re very free form and loose adaptations, and did anyone think Kevin Smith was going to miss the chance to gross people out in a juvenile sorta way? Hell no. Ashley Greene of “Tusk” plays Bree and Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith turns in a noteworthy performance as the defiant Holly.
We’re left with a Halloween that’s unscary, unfunny and mystifying. “Holidays” skips over Thanksgiving for some stupid reason, so that leaves us with…
Written and directed by Scott Stewart.
Seth Green stars as Pete Gunderson, who heads out to a toy shop to pick up the latest gadget for his son. It’s Christmas Eve, and the hot item every kid wants is Uvu, a virtual reality headset that creates a different experience for every user. As he arrives, the last one is being sold to a businessman and the store is closing. Pete offers the man $500 bucks for it and is shot down. As Pete watches the slightly smarmy fellow walk to his car, he gets a text from his wife Sara asking about the gift, filling him with despair. Then providence strikes….the guy has a heart attack!
Pete feels bad as he looks down at the gasping, struggling businessman, but it’s Christmas and this is the last Uvu in town. He takes it from the backseat of the man’s car and mumbles an apology before running off.
Back home, Sara is furious that her boss Ed didn’t give her the Christmas bonus she was counting on. She can’t believe that Pete actually got the Uvu, while he is experiencing jolting flashbacks of leaving the dying man.
Come Christmas morning, Pete’s excited boy tries on the crimson VR headset and is visually transported to the rocky terrain of Mars. The kid demands that Pete try it on, and he experiences spanking a female submissive in a dimly lit sex dungeon. Later, as the woman kneels to perform oral sex, the images suddenly jump to the dying man looking up at Pete as he slips away, and then to the city morgue, where two attendants discuss how the dead man would’ve lived if he’d been found and helped.
Horrified, Pete calls the VR company and learns that his video feed can be viewed by others. Eventually, Sara sees what really happened and her reaction is pretty unusual, leading to the reveal of another secret.
“Christmas” is very much in the vein of a “Tales From The Crypt” episode in terms of humor and a nice twist ending. It’s a bit more conventional than the rest of the holiday interpretations in this collection. Plus, Seth Green is the best. It works.
New Year’s Eve
Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer.
Reggie flips through a photo album featuring photos of the same angry woman in the garb of various holidays over the course of an entire year. He lowers the book and we see the woman tied to a chair and gagged with foam antlers on her head. He expresses his disappointment that she hasn’t come around to his way of thinking and is still fighting to escape.
“Tonight at midnight I want to kiss somebody who makes me feel like I can take the tape off their lips.”
He pulls out a .38 and pulls the trigger. It doesn’t fire. Twice. On the third try, the prisoner is slain.
Meanwhile, single and lonely Mandy checks out a dating website and finds Reggie’s profile. They wind up having dinner together. Despite the fact that he has brown, rotting teeth and is nervous and odd, Mandy takes a liking to him and invites him to her place to watch the ball drop. It’s New Year’s, after all.
In the apartment, the pair stand around awkwardly. Without so much as a kiss, Mandy suddenly grabs Reggie’s crotch, spooking him. He agrees to hook up, but heads to the bathroom to freshen up first while she begins disrobing. In the john, he removes a cloth and a bottle of chloroform from his jacket. While mentally preparing himself to abduct his latest victim, he opens her medicine cabinet and makes a terrifying discovery about ol’ Mandy.
This leads him to her shower, and you don’t even want to know what’s in there!
I wish they could all be like New Year’s Eve. It’s a violent, funny hoot that offers Green Inferno’s Lorenza Izzo a role that goes far beyond her dangerous seductress from husband Eli Roth’s thriller “Knock Knock” in terms of villainy. It’s a winner.