Holidays (2016): Anthology Horror With a Twist (Review)

Poster for Holidays

Holidays is the 2016 anthology film to watch for chuckles and the odd disturbing vignette.  There is a twist in a few of the tales which range from blackly comic to darkly disturbing. 10 directors do there best to bring some originality to the screen and pay homage to existing classic horror films and themes.

Kevin Smith is  perhaps the best known of the lot and his Halloween segment stars his “Yoga Hosers” Daughter Harley Quinn Smith. In terms of  “names” Seth Green  appears in the Christmas segment and The House of the Devil star Jocelin Donahue is Carol in Father’s Day. 

Valentine’s Day starts off the proceedings and has clearly been influenced by the 1972 British offering  Tales from the Crypt.  This old anthology film featured a similar short tale starring  horror icon Peter Cushing and also features  a lot of “heart.”  A lovely homage that proves someone knows their horror films.

The Easter story was equal parts disturbing and creepy. A young girl gets Jesus and the Easter Bunny mixed up in her head, the night before Easter.  This felt like a homage to Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth right down to its downbeat ending.  At points the tale was uncomfortable to watch as it seemed dangerously close to a take on pedophelia.

Two of the holidays on offer, St Patrick’s Day and Mother’s Day were seemingly  influenced by Rosemary’s Baby.  In the Irish tale, a doctor even tells the pregnant protagonist to “think of Rosemary’s reptile.”  Set in Ireland this is more of a darkly comic parody of the Roman Polanski film.  Mother’s Day was more serious in intent and was move evocative of the paranoiac nature of RB.

Father’s Day, starring  Jocelin Donahue, was the saddest  of the lot.  Smith’s Halloween was the quirkiest and there was no sign of a  homage anywhere. This was original horror with a  blackly comic edge.  His daughter starred as one of the three “webcam girls.”

Christmas starred Seth Green, with his real life wife Claire Grant,  and featured a virtual reality  type of equipment that bypasses game play and shows the wearer different things.  A dark humorous look at human behavior,  marriage and murder.

Seth Green in Christmas
Seth Green as Pete Gunderson

Saving the best for last, New Years Eve was easily the funniest segment. Watching this could well put viewers off of dating websites forever. This also feels as though it was influenced by a cult film from down-under.  While there was no direct correlation,  this seemed to be a nod and a wink to the Australian horror film,The Loved Ones. The female protagonist also resembled Robin McLeavy;  who played “Princess” in that 2009 movie.

Rather interestingly the film focusses on “universal” holidays like Christmas and leaves out the more regional ones like Independence Day and Thanksgiving. Even though the film is set in the US it seems to cater to world audiences.

These omissions are  not important but Holidays has been done well enough that after the last holiday on offer, one wishes devoutly for more.  The range of styles and mix of darkly comic horror and eclectic storylines  is nigh on perfect.

The directors and their respective segments are:

  • Valentine’s Day  -Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer
  • St Patrick’s Day  – Gary Shore
  • Easter  -Nicholas McCarthy
  • Mother’s Day  – Sarah Adina Smith
  • Father’s Day  – Anthony Scott Burns
  • Halloween  –  Kevin Smith
  • Christmas  –  Scott Stewart
  • New Years Eve  –  Adam Egypt Mortimer

Fans of anthology films will love this offering  of 10 entertaining stories with not one relying on “found footage” to sell these blackly comic scares.

Holidays is a 5 star gem of a film. A pleasant surprise that is streaming on Netflix at the moment. At 105 minutes the movie streaks by and leaves the viewer wanting more.  The film offers horror with a twist and is well worth a look, or two.

Southbound (2016): Anthology Horror That Rocks (Review)

Film poster for Southbound

There is an long standing axiom that states “too may cooks spoil the broth”  and in most cases that is true. In anthology films like Southbound, however, this does not apply. This five tale offering rocks from the very first vignette to its thread tying finale.  Starring actors who will be familiar to some (and not to others) each performer has splendid bona fides and brings much to the film.

Anthology movies  have become popular over the last few years with the V/H/S trilogy making an impact on the horror community and the two ABCs of Death (I and II) providing another version of the same theme. (Although V/H/S is more in the vein of  “found footage” and “Death” is just bloody good fun and does not share the format of the former film franchise.)

The directors  for Southbound are:

(Sidenote: Radio Silence is a conglomeration of several directors under the “name” the list includes: Matt Bettinelli-OlpinJustin MartinezTyler GillettChad VillellaMatt Bettinelli-Olpin also worked on the script.)

While V/H/S is the main common denominator of this film, the format of Southbound leaves the found footage aspect at home and concentrates on the five stories and how they interact with each other.  It was a wise choice as found footage has been literally done to death.

The film  is set in the American desert of the southwest . Two men, both of whom have bloodied faces and appear to be near exhaustion are driving on a two lane blacktop. Something is hovering out in the desert. Black, long and  decidedly creepy looking. The two stop to clean up at a roadside gas station/diner/motel and find that leaving is a bit difficult.

At the motel three young women in a band leave for their next gig. Hungover and lost, their van breaks down in the middle of nowhere. A smiling couple stop by to offer the trio a lift. The desperate women accept and thus begins their odd tale of weirdness and mayhem.

A man is driving down the same stretch of desert road later that night. Proving that one should not text or talk on a cell phone whilst driving he strikes a young woman with his car. Injuring her badly, he calls 911. With the GPS not working on his phone the man is directed to the nearest town. His long bloody night is just beginning.

In a small town a woman is trying to get served in a bar. As the bartender insists that she close the door first,  a man armed with a shotgun bursts in.  He is looking for his sister. She has been missing for 13 years.  After a couple of shocking moments in the bar the man is taken to a diner and a tattoo parlor.

A mother, father and daughter are in the diner, they finish and go home. Once there three masked men invade their home.

Each segment ties to the the previous one and all are deliciously weird, creepy and downright scary in places.  There also appear to be a few homages mixed in with the proceedings. In the bar, it sounds like the creatures scream from John Carpenter’s The Thing has been used.  Keeping with the Carpenter theme, the use of one bass note as soundtrack has been adopted for certain scenes.

The cast includes veteran character actors like Maria Olsen (with 159 credits under her belt) working along side the directors (and writers) who helmed and scribed the film.  For the record the “crew” that acted in the film included:  Matt Bettinelli-Olpin playing Jack, Roxanne Benjamin as Claire and Susan Burke was cast as Betty. 

Southbound is fast, clever and quirky.  The masks worn in the family segment were of actors; an odd looking Nicholas Cage,  Clark Gable and a cartoonish Ronald Reagan.  Clever and quirky.

The practical effects were brilliant.  The injuries to Jack and later Lucas’ victim were beyond impressive and intermixed with the CG effects flawlessly.

The mark of any good film is that after watching it one immediately wants to watch the whole thing all over again. This multi-helmed (and written) gem falls squarely into that category of wanting the weirdness to continue.

Southbound is Indie Horror at its best. A full five stars for originality and it is a  film that leaves the viewer asking for “more please.”  It is available on Amazon Prime at the moment. Pop a bowl of popcorn,  settle in and  watch this one. If you loved V/H/S or ABCs you will love this one.

Perfect Flaw Edited by Robin Blankenship

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This science fiction anthology has tales from 17 different authors and despite the stories all being unique and interesting; not to mention very entertaining, they have one thing in common.

They indicate a future that makes 1984 and “big brother” seem almost benevolent by comparison. Each offer a vision of an Apollonian society gone wrong, tweaked and perfected until it has gone into a Dionysian free fall.

Smilers by Carolyn M Chang reflects a society that practises positive thinking to the ultimate level.

Cracks in the Concrete by Frank Roger tells of a government that has become paranoid and expects its denizens to be the same.

First Head by H S Donnelly is a nightmarish look at self-preservation gone horribly wrong.

These are just three examples of the brilliant stories in this collection.

If you are a fan of science fiction you’ll love this book. Each author has given his or her take on the future and all the various problems and societal ills that it might contain. Each story takes existing topical problems and forecasts their conclusions in the future.

I have always been a fan of Harlan Ellison, Larry Niven, Ray Bradbury and Issac Asimov, just to name my absolute favourites. Perfect Flaw exhibits a great spectrum of authors who now fall into my list of “new and to be read” authors, whose existence was unknown to me before reading this book.

I have to give a “special mention” to author Michael O’Conner for his story The Choosing. This story took me by surprise by having an O Henry type twist in this tale that left me shaking my head. Although it is hard to pick a favourite out of this anthology, his was the one that stayed in my head long after I read it.

Perfect Flaw has been released by Seventh Star Publishing and is available on Amazon as well as other booksellers.

This is a real 5 out of 5 star book that entertained the hell out of me!

Editor Robin Blankenship
Editor Robin Blankenship

Southern Haunts: Spirits That Walk Among Us Down South Spooks

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Edited by Alexander S. Brown and  J. L. Mulvihill; illustrated by Robert K and published by Seventh Star Press, this anthology of 16 ghostly tales range from Missouri to Louisiana and use real life locations to start each story off.

While some of the stories are not as entertaining as others, the introduction to new authors is an overall treat.  I also liked the different types of ghost stories on offer. Each is an original take on already infamous buildings, roads, and areas filled with southern  spooks and legends.

You won’t meet any chain rattling spooks or moaning ghouls a la Dickens, but you will find a very disparate group of hauntings in this “Down South” multi-locational collection of short stories.

You’ll be introduced to the soothing, healing bath houses of Hot Springs, Arkansas where you’d be wise to avoid one house in particular. [Bath 10]

There is a job opening for a new ghost hunter on an existing team that you may want to pass on to some other job seeking applicant.[Interview for a Ghost Hunter]

And there’s a certain Civil War hospital you wouldn’t want to check into. [The Top Floor]

Southern Haunts is just one of several anthologies on offer at the moment that give us a view of what lies out there just waiting for us to discover it. It is full of variety and has something in it that should appeal to everyone who loves this genre.

This book is available on Amazon.com and other booksellers.

A 4 out of 5 stars for me based just on the variety and the setting. I am, after all, a southern boy who loves his southern ghosts!

Alexander S Brown
Alexander S Brown
J L Mulvihill
J L Mulvihill