Charlie starts noticing his dad seems like someone else. Then everybody else seems like someone else, too.
What's worth more: your security, false or otherwise, or independence?
A woman's husband comes back home from war on another planet a wholly changed man. But is it for the better?
A factory worker named Philbert sees his life change after the Candidate in a uniparty election makes a terrifying, violent statement on live TV.
Holidays. 2016. Directed by Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Kölsch, Nicholas McCarthy, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Gary Shore, Kevin Smith, Sarah Adina Smith, Scott Stewart, & Dennis Widmyer. Screenplay by Burns, Kölsch, McCarthy, Shore, Kevin Smith, Sarah Adina Smith, Stewart, Widmyer, & Matt Johnson.
Starring Kevin Smith, Lorenza Izzo, Seth Green, Clare Grant, Michael Gross, Andrew Bowen, Ruth Bradley, Michael Sun Lee, Ava Acres, Jocelin Donahue, Harley Morenstein, Kate Rachesky, Jennifer Lafleur, Mark Steger, Scott Stewart, Peter Campion, Matt Johnson, Sophie Traub, Megan Duffy, & Shawn Parsons. ArtCastle Productions/Distant Corners Entertainment Group/XYZ Films.
Unrated. 105 minutes.
Anthologies can often end up a mixed bag of tricks simply because of numbers. When you put a bunch of filmmakers, albeit doing their own respective short films, into one container, there isn’t always a good flow. For instance, I thought V/H/S was a lot of fun, whereas the second installment of the series felt more varied in its quality. Then there’s Southbound, which was nearly perfect. Similar to that is the (duh) holiday-themed Holidays. With a slew of directors and writers, as well as a cast that contains several well-known and relatively new faces, this anthology tackles Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s & Father’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and of course New Years Eve. Holidays does away with any notion of sentimentality or Hallmark movie moments. Gone are the strictly comedic adventures of the Griswold family. Nowhere will you find any cute renditions of holidays turned into romantic comedy fodder. This isn’t even a creepy Santa Claus horror flick. These directors and writers take us into the heart of any fear possibly associated with the holiday seasons, from getting that last gift on the shelf for your boy or girl, to unrequited high school love, to motherhood, and so much more.
Prepare to get dark.
Oh, and happy holidays.
The first segment of Holidays is disturbing, top to bottom. Yet at the same time there is a tender element, if only brief and fleeting. A forbidden love story, sort of. A coming of age tale. Truthfully, one of the girls in it really annoyed me; her bullying was spot on, just so damn irritating. But it works, her character is truly terrible. The style of this segment is so retro and also modern. Little dreamy bits make their way into the plot, as Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan) falls deeper into her own imagination; I didn’t even have to know beforehand that Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer directed this segment (they did the fantastic Starry Eyes). Their style of directing is unique, as much as it is awesome. This Valentine’s Day short is gruesome, disturbing, uneasy. A nice way to kick the whole thing off. There’s not even much explicit nastiness, aside from the very end, and still it manages to get savage.
Next up is the St. Patrick’s Day short from Gary Shore, director of Dracula Untold. While that movie was mostly a big load of shite save a few moments, Shore does a fun job with this segment. The focus here is on a school teacher. She looks after the young children in her class, one of whom – a little ginger haired girl – is a bit creepy. Over a couple weeks things start to deteriorate for the teacher, as she has strange dreams, as well as deals with the ever weird behaviour of her little redheaded student. Although I could begin to understand where this was headed, Shore does a great job at making this a highly unnerving little short. The whole thing just made my skin crawl and really took me by surprise. Usually relegated to Leprechaun when St. Paddy’s creeps around each year, I only wish this were a longer bit of work. It’s darkly comic at times, creepy, even downright frightening, spectacularly weird. I hope Shore goes on to do some longer bits of horror, other than big Hollywood fluff like his first feature. His horror chops are strong and sharp here.
Nicholas McCarthy personally wowed me with both his first two feature films, The Pact and At the Devil’s Door – two great little indie horror flicks. His Easter segment is dark and mysterious. It takes a great dig into the foolish holiday, as the little girl questions her mother about what Easter is all about – why eggs and a bunny when it’s supposedly about Jesus? Well, her mother doesn’t know either. When the Easter Bunny arrives – and he does arrive – it is the most horrific depiction of the creature you could manage to conjure up. The fact McCarthy even thought to do what he’s done here is outrageously impressive to me. Honestly, quite possibly the single scariest creature out of any horror film I’ve ever seen with my two eyes. There are some good ones out there, some great ones. This Bunny is right at the top of the heap. Plus, McCarthy turns the concept of the Easter Bunny (and other such figures) into something out of a nightmare, especially with what happens after the little girl is the first child to ever see him. Uh oh.
An interesting Mother’s Day segment comes from Sarah Adina Smith, director of last year’s The Midnight Swim. A young lady is pregnant, having already terminated several pregnancies, and does not know where to turn next; every time she has sex, she gets pregnant. Every damn time. The latest doctor tips her off to some fertility ceremonies out in the desert, so off she goes with hopes of finding an answer somewhere. Everything devolves into utter madness after she takes drugs – a.k.a medicine – at the fertility spa, discovering that each pregnancy, each abortion only makes the life growing inside her stronger. But there’s more than just a bit of hippie bullshit going on at this spa. And before they all know it, the pregnancy’s become something altogether other from a child in her belly. The whole thing is eerie and suspenseful before coming to a wild end. I could have used a little more, honestly. Overall, though, Smith does a good job making her short memorably unsettling.
From mothers, we move to Father’s Day directed by Anthony Scott Burns (Darknet), whose best work I know of is on the fabulous indie The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh. Here, he crafts a spooky short which begins with a young woman named Carol (Jocelin Donahue; The House of the Devil) opening a gift, a tape recorded by her father. What follows is a chillingly tense journey towards a reunion. Along the way, the sound design, the score, the steady tracking shots, the beautiful wide angles, it all winds us up for a super haunting end. Kept me on edge and paid off without having to go too over the top.
Kevin Smith’s Halloween – Hollow Ian, as he puts it – takes us inside a little webcam porno operation, led by Epic Meal Time star Harley Morenstein, as well as Harley Quinn Smith. The whole thing is fairly dreadful, in the right way. Behind everything is a subtle, rattling score that begins as a low piano piece then grows into something more brutal, more sinister. We’re eventually given over to a thriller that gives three young cam girls their long due revenge over a tyrannical, misogynistic boss whose treatment is far less than equal or any bit good. Love how the revenge starts off sort of comical, then escalates into more brutal, nasty, low end stuff. Smith’s writing here is both funny at times, specifically Morenstein’s character at first in his predicament and the girls all around, as well as filled with depravity. I want Smith to give up everything else and continue making horror films because he has a unique, fun voice that brings something interesting to the table.
Director-writer Scott Stewart takes us next into his deep, dark vision of Christmas. It’s a very human drama at the start mixed in with horror, as Seth Green plays a desperate husband and father, willing to do something terribly unfortunate to make sure he gets the last of a special Christmas gift in stores for his son. What’s most interesting is how the gift itself plays into the father’s situation. This could’ve easily remained a dark psychological thriller, but opted rather to explore an almost science fiction type plot that made things exciting and turned into an altogether different piece of work halfway through. This one kept me guessing, it also had lots of dark comedy to make things ride along well.
Finally, New Years Eve rolls around, directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer, who did the vicious little horror Some Kind of Hate. This vision of December 31st is psychotic, nasty. Lorenza Izzo and Andrew Bowen star as Jean and Reggie – two people who meet online for a first date out at a restaurant, only we know that Reggie has recently shot another woman in the head. Hmm. Well, this is one of those cases such as Alfred Hitchcock would’ve liked, or done similarly in his own films, because we’re given that bomb, shown upfront the danger, and now we’ve only got to wait until it explodes. So the suspense and tension coils around us seeing Reggie with Jean, even worse after she invites him back to her place, then everything gets vastly more creepy. Problem is Reggie’s underestimated the situation and never could’ve prepared himself for meeting a girl like Jean. LOVE LOVE LOVE the writing in this little short. So brutal and macabre and just so much damn fun! After things really break loose there are a few moments of blood and gore that pay things off magically, even with a New Years Eve countdown on the television behind the chaos. Also, can never get enough of Izzo, whose presence is always thrilling in some way.
Overall, a 4&1/2-star anthology. This one is up there for me with some of the V/H/S stuff, as well as the recent, amazing experience that was Southbound. The use of all the holidays in unique ways, the terrifying bits and pieces of each segment, the writing, the directing, the acting, the practical makeup effects in many of the segments, it is all so joyfully executed. You can tell when an anthology feels forced, as if none of the work belongs together in one frame. However, Holidays fits together in such an oddly appropriate way. The segments flow from one to the next keeping you off balance. Indulge yourselves. This is available now on VOD platforms, and soon will see a limited release. Watch this, support these filmmakers. Because the smaller indie productions are where all the good stuff is happening. If we keep supporting independent work, hopefully this will keep lots of smaller horror (and genre) pictures alive.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 1 – Pilot
Directed by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck, Running With Scissors, The Normal Heart)
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the next episode, “Home Invasion” – click hereYou’ve got to admire a series that opens things up in the way Ryan Murphy introduces us to his world with this pilot episode. Not only is it creepy, Murphy lays out the familiar pattern we see running through the entire series: flashbacks which speak to the present day events. Plenty of shows and films use flashbacks, but the way American Horror Story overall as a series uses them is such an intriguing technique, which the writers and directors pull of elegantly, as well as quite horrifically. What I love so much about this aspect is the fact that Murphy has only directed 3 episodes of the series – including the first episode of the newest season, Hotel. So, although he is a creator of the show along with Brad Falchuck, it’s still amazing to see how much influence he has had over the entirety of the series. It’s a continual thing we see in each season, how the flashbacks all come to bear on current day events we’re seeing.
With the opening of Murphy’s pilot we get to see a young Adelaide Langdon watching a creepy, and no doubt haunted, house all by herself; we’ll get to know Addie plenty as the season wears on. Up come a couple redheaded little shits, twins, who are mean to Addie and head inside to cause havoc.Immediately, there’s this eerie sense about the house. Of course, once inside the redhead twins find much more than they bargained for upon entering. There’s this absolutely horrific, brief image of a figure in the dark – awful hands and terrible looking teeth, gnarled, vicious coming at them. I thought that was an excellent start to the horror.
Then there’s an amazing tonal shift. We meet up with Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) who has recently miscarried, as is expected the experience was horrible. After a doctor’s appointment, Vivien heads home to her beautiful home. But in the kitchen she thinks there’s a noise from upstairs. Calling 911 and taking a knife from a block in the kitchen, she heads upstairs only to find her husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) obviously in bed with another woman. Though, we never see her. Outside the room, pleading for forgiveness, Ben gets cut on the arm by the knife Vivien is holding. More words from little Addie echo out of the past, words she’d spoken earlier to the twins: “You’re gonna regret it.”
Love the opening theme; quite creepy. Also, as we go on through these reviews just know I’m all the way caught up – I watch the episodes as they come on, it’s only now I’ve started to review them. So, what I really dig is how Murphy has another opening done for each one to go with the theme of every season. Anthologies, when done effectively, are so much fun in so many ways! American Horror Story is at the top of the anthology heap, as far as I’m concerned.
Lots of fun characters introduced here in the Pilot. Soon, we see the family move into a new home – the creepy house from the episode’s opening scene. Vivien and Ben, along with their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga), move on in and then we get to meet more of the cast.
The always amazing Jessica Lange plays Constance Langdon – a Southern belle living in Los Angeles. Not only that, she is the mother of Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), who just so happens to barge on into the kitchen and frighten an unsuspecting Vivian with more prophetic creepiness: “You’re going to die in here.” From these two, expect tons of craziness throughout Season 1.
Evan Peters is Tate, a troubled kid sent by his mother to see the new therapist in the city, Ben Harmon. They talk about death, dreams and visions of death and blood and murder. Sick things Tate has inside him. Meanwhile, Tate sees pictures of himself with blood running down his face – other shots show him walking down the hallway, just as the dream he has described, with a macabrely painted face, skull art, and a black trench coat. Very cool and disturbing stuff already! Tate, from the get-go, was always one of my favourites in Season 1.
I love the imagery right off the bat, all the visions going on every which way. Also, the scene where Ben all of a sudden goes downstairs, lighting the fire, only to have Vivien interrupt him wondering what he’s up to. It’s such a weird, dreamy scene, and even Ben doesn’t realize if he’s awake or dreaming. This begins more weirdness to follow.
Furthermore, there’s the fact Moira O’Hara (Frances Conroy) shows up – she was the maid of the house. It seems she pretty much comes along with the house. But there’s something else about Moira, she’s a shapeshifter.. of sorts. While Vivien Harmon sees an older Frances Conroy, Ben Harmon sees Moira as Alexandra Breckenridge – a young, taut, sexified girl in a French maid’s outfit, legs up to her throat in fishnets. So I love the duality here and the dynamic this introduces into the Harmons’ lives.
It’s as if the house is pushing them all, further and further. With every single turn.
Certainly, the tension between husband-wife duo Vivien and Ben Harmon sets up so much of what we’ll see going on throughout Season 1. What I enjoy about this whole angle is that, similar to a movie like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, not only is the family inside the house contending with the house’s evil, they’re battling their own demons.
While I love Dylan McDermott, his character Ben is the type you hate to love. He’s obviously flawed, as he cheated on his wife in her weakest moment. Then he tries to blame her saying that it was him in his weakest moment, that “you got a dog” when she ought to have been cuddling up with him at night.
So the intensity of their family situation, the anger Vivien has towards Ben and the perceived hostility he has in his head towards his own wife, it all adds to the already supernatural forces so obviously at work in the house.
The creepiest, of course, is when Vivien has sex with who she believes to be Ben, dressed up in the latex-looking suit they’d found hanging earlier in the attic; a weird S&M, tight black getup. All the while, thought she sees visions of Ben, her husband is downstairs holding his hand over the oven’s burner. Immediately we know that American Horror Story means to get up to some awfully strange, intense business.
As well, we get views of the evil looking person/thing from earlier in the episode’s opening sequence. Tate has Violet bring a girl over – the one who slighted her hardcore during her first day of school – and in the basement he intends to scare her. However, Violent sees it all, too. Something horrible, ugly, fierce. It’s balding, stringy hair, and the teeth in its mouth look yellow, jagged. I LOVE THIS! So terrifying.
Denis O’Hare plays Larry Harvey, a man who has obviously been in a terrible fire – half of his face is burned, better yet it’s melted. He warns Ben about the house, after lurking around, skulking at the edges of Harmon’s peripheral vision. Larry claims he killed his family and burned down the house, all due to the house, the voices of the house inside his head – he said he was like “an obedient child.”
We’ll watch how his character plays further into the plot of Season 1 as it moves along. Nice introduction to this character.
Two fantastic actresses – Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy – have the chance to go head to head. However, it’s brief. Yet within those few moments they share a great scene, as Constance (Lange) tells Moira (Conroy): “Don‘t make me kill you again.” This is another relationship we’ll see more of once the episodes roll on. Intriguing to say the least.
One other thing I love in this first episode is the use of the music from James Wan’s Insidious. A neat little touch. This technique is employed time and time again in Season 1, which I find is a nice nod to the genre fans out there. It says that Murphy not only understands the horror genre, he is also a fan.
Great episode. We’ve seen so much setup in less than an hour, it’s almost overwhelming. But not quite!
Stay tuned for the next episode, “Home Invasion”.