The small American town of Bailey Downs, Christmas Eve. It's precisely one year since a ritualistic double-killing at the local school cast a dark shadow over the community - especially as the killer has still not been found. The more superstitious of the townsfolk believe this is because the murderer wasn't human, but was in fact the Krampus - a mythical creature said to be the enemy of Christmas, and intent on slaying those who have sinned.

Talk DJ Dangerous Dan (William Shatner) loves the season, however, and is not about to let such matters spoil his radio show festivities. He's got his whiskey, his eggnog and his good cheer - he's settled for the evening.

In-between Dan's increasingly inebriated ramblings, we're introduced to four stories all taking place at the same time, in Bailey Downs.

First off, there's demure teenager Molly (Zoe De Grand Maison) who convinces a couple of lads from school to act as cameramen for a class project she's working on. Specifically, she wants to break into the school after hours and explore its basement, where the previous year's murders were committed. Best friend Caprice (Amy Forsyth) manages to steal the school's keys, enabling Molly and her eager male buddies to sneak in under cover of darkness ... with dire consequences.

Caprice herself is otherwise engaged: she dragged with the rest of her family by father Taylor (Jeff Clarke) to visit his ageing aunt Edda (Corinne Conley). After failing to beg some money from the miserable old sow, Taylor farms his moaning family back into the car and begins their return journey home ... with dire consequences.

Not too far away, cop Scott (Adrian Holmes) is still recovering from being the one who discovered those two mangled corpses at the school twelve months earlier. He's trying to put it all behind him - and overcome his alcoholism - by taking his wife and son William (Orion John) out to poach a Christmas tree. While doing so, William goes temporarily missing in the woods. When Scott eventually finds him, something is decidedly different about the boy. But he takes him back home with him anyway ... with dire consequences.

Finally, there's the tale of Santa (George Buza), who's busy preparing for Christmas day when his elves suddenly become victims of a virus which transforms them into psychopathic, amusingly foul-mouthed Santa-hating zombies. Santa fights back - but you get what the consequences will be, right?

Much like that other popular "holiday horror" portmanteau of the 21st Century, TRICK 'R TREAT, A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY fashions its four stories around each other - it flits between each one, and as events progress they each begin to cleverly intertwine with one another.

Production values are very good, some slick CGI and highly adept practical FX work combining with solid performances and an impressive orchestral score to convincingly help STORY rise well above usual straight-to-DVD fodder.

The mix of comedy and horror is also quite deftly handled too, the film's three directors - Steven Hoban, Grant Harvey and Brett Sullivan - knowing when to drop the wisecracks in favour of some surprisingly successful scares. The spookiest story is probably Molly's, though Scott's achieves a keen sense of paranoia a la THE THING once it finally gets going. Perhaps the least successful of the yarns being spun is Candice's; Santa's provides the most giggles AND the most gore.

As with all anthologies, however, the film is uneven. This is mainly due to the decision to intertwine the short stories. Resultantly, we frequently cut away from one story just as it's getting tense, and the pace is forever being held back from natural escalation. I wasn't keen on the manner in which the edits between stories often faded to black, either - often making it seem as though we're about to cut to a commercial break.

As I write these words though, I do feel as though I'm being a tad harsh. A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY is good fun.

Entertainment One's UK DVD presents A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY uncut and with a 15 certificate rating.

The 16x9 transfer is excellent: clean as a whistle, pin-sharp and rich in colour. The impressive production values are allowed to really shine through, thanks to this flawless visual presentation.

English audio comes in options of 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Both offer sturdy and well-balanced playback. Optional English subtitles for the Hard-of-Hearing are easy to read at all times.

An animated main menu page leads into a static scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 16 chapters.

Bonus features are restricted to a well-edited, slick 14-minute Behind The Scenes featurette. Hoban is the most instrumental of the several talking heads offering soundbites, clueing us in on how the film came to be, while a wealth of on-set footage is as revealing as it is entertaining.

The disc is defaulted to open with trailers for THE HALLOW (looks interesting), SINISTER 2 (looks generic) and NO ESCAPE (looks tense).

Flawed but fun, A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY is worth a look.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Entertainment One
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review