Horror films and holidays go hand in bloody hand with classics like Halloween, April Fool’s Day, Black Christmas, and… Friday the 13th? Sure, we’ll count it. (Hell, one of the best exists in print only — MAD Magazine’s “Arbor Day” is fantastic.) Horror anthologies have gotten into the mix in recent years with the likes of Trick ‘r Treat, Tales of Halloween, and A Christmas Horror Story, but while they all set their stories on the same day the latest entry is laying claim to the entire calendar.
The simply-named Holidays features eight shorts, each set on a different holiday and directed by a different filmmaker, and as is the case with virtually every anthology film, they vary somewhat in quality — most are fine, but two are absolute mini-classics. Unlike some anthologies, there’s no connective tissue here tying the shorts together, and instead each simply ends with a greeting card displaying the title and writer/director’s name. That lack of narrative marrow means there’s no real cohesion, meaning for better or worse this is just a collection of short films.
First up is “Give Me Your Heart” from writers/directors Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer who most recently gave us the darkly beautiful and unsettling Starry Eyes. Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan) has a crush on her diving coach (Rick Peters), but a mix of constant bullying and harsh medical reality drives her to a bloody act of affection. Some serious themes sit just beneath the surface, but the scariest thing here is a threat of a twerking routine meaning we’re ultimately left with a vibrantly-shot story that feels a bit too obvious.
Writer/director Gary Shore‘s “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” takes its cue from Ireland’s historical banishment of pagans to tell a story of magic, fertility, and a terrifically creepy little ginger named Grainne (Isolt McCaffrey). Shore (Dracula Untold) fills the short with visuals that run the gamut between nightmarish and goofy, and while it goes where we expect it’s always good seeing Irish horror that doesn’t feature leprechauns.
The first of the film’s two absolute gems is writer/director Nicholas McCarthy‘s “Easter.” A little girl heads to bed the night before Easter, but her concerns about the candy-delivering bunny leave her nervous and scared. Her mom tries to explain and ends up complicating things further by mentioning Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and it’s all downhill for them both from there. McCarthy (The Pact) delivers a bizarrely frightening mash-up of myths that finds time to be scary, funny, and blasphemous — and that’s my kind of holy trinity.
Writer/director Sarah Adina Smith (The Midnight Swim) is unfortunately the only female voice present, but she brings that viewpoint to the forefront with “Mother’s Day.” It’s a story of fertility, pregnancy, and a suspicious feminine bond that surrounds Kate (Sophie Traub), a young woman who becomes pregnant every time she has sex. Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) co-stars as one of the mysterious women who take Kate under their care with dark intentions. The witchy vibe offers an interesting contrast to the sun-drenched locales, and while it builds to an underwhelming ending it’s an intriguing watch.
The second of the film’s two highlights, and the one I can’t get out of my head, is Anthony Scott Burns’ “Happy Father’s Day.” A young woman (Jocelin Donahue, The House of the Devil) receives a mysterious tape from her father who she believed was long dead. His voice guides her towards a reunion in a deserted seaside town, and it’s an eerie journey that only grows more so with each step. Burns creates and maintains an incredible degree of atmosphere and foreboding through the simplicity of a woman walking while her father speaks in her ears (via headphones). It helps that it’s a hauntingly photographed and beautifully scored walk too. Donahue does a lot with minimal dialogue, and Michael Gross (Tremors) shows concern, love, and something… else… as the father’s disembodied voice. Burns is the only director on the film who has yet to make a feature, and he’s now become the one I most look forward to seeing one from.
Kevin Smith, by contrast, is the most well-known filmmaker here, but in keeping with the trend of his late career he once again shows a misunderstanding of genre material. “Halloween” is about a prick (Harley Morenstein) who manages a trio of cam-girls (including Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn Smith) who finally tire of his cruelty on Halloween night. It’s a basic affair in every regard, from the dialogue to the acting to the action, and none of it works.
Scott Stewart‘s (Dark Skies) “Christmas” follows a good guy (Seth Green) seduced by opportunity and marital pressure to acquire a special gift for his child — a VR headset that shows the viewer glimpses of the darkest recesses of their mind. Bad things happen, but the story leans a bit too heavily towards attempts at comedy to ever land with any weight.
“New Year’s” is the only segment not written and directed by the same filmmaker as Adam Egypt Mortimer (Some Kind of Hate) directs from a script by Kolsch and Widmyer. A serial killer (Andrew Bowen) uses a dating site to find his next victim (Lorenza Izzo), but their first date doesn’t quite go as planned. The two leads do good work, and while the story isn’t as surprising as it thinks it is there’s some gory fun to be had.
Holidays only features one near stinker while the rest are at least entertaining enough, but the movie’s worth seeing based on the combined power of “Easter” and “Happy Father’s Day.” They’re widely different in tone and style, but both do the genre proud and seem guaranteed to take up permanent residence in your subconscious.