02nd Oct2019

‘Holiday Hell’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Joel Murray, Jeff Bryan Davis, Lisa Coronado, Meagan Karimi-Naser, Amber Stonebreaker, Ailsa Marshall, Brian Sutherland, McKenna Ralston, Connor Fogarty, Jeffrey Arrington, Natasha Duvall, Scott C. Brown | Written by Jeff Ferrell, Jeff Vigil | Directed by Jeff Ferrell, Jeremy Berg, Jeff Vigil, David Burns


Who doesn’t love a good holiday horror? I know I do. But what’s better than a holiday horror? A holiday horror ANTHOLOGY that’s what! And Holiday Hell is one such movie…

On Christmas Eve, a woman enters a curiosity shop looking for a last-minute gift. There, she meets a mysterious shopkeeper (Jeffrey Combs) who tells her the horrific stories behind four objects in the shop. As he weaves tales of killer dolls, witches and psycho Santas, the woman senses she might be in danger. She has until midnight to choose her gift, but will she choose wisely?

Beginning with the story of Dollface, Holiday Hell‘s story teller Jeffrey Combs weaves spooky tale after spooky tale. The first, the aforementioned Dollface finds a group of “teenagers” hanging out in a home that was the sight of a Valentine’s day murder, where’s Mrs. Doll (yeah the name isn’t that original) murdered her husband in cold blood and her daughters were locked up in an asylum. Or were they? The titular dollface seemingly is still hanging around the house and chooses this very night to make her presence felt… in a story that follows the usual “bad teens make bad choices and get killed” trope that’s been utilised by every slasher movie ever. However when you have a villain as cool looking as Dollface (think Ringu’s long-haired harbinger of death meets the creepiest doll mask you’ve ever seen) and kills that make the most of the films budget – including one death that sees a guy losing his head whilst GETTING head – you can forgive such lazy plotting.

The second tale, The Hand That Rocks the Dreidel, is set during Hanukah and sees a mother and father give their son Kevin a very special holiday present: an evil looking rabbi doll, who you KNOW is going to come to life – a la the Zuni fetish doll in Trilogy of Terror – and massacre everyone. This short story also throws in a bitchy babysitter and her sleazy, white-trash boyfriend who plan on robbing the house while taking care of young charge Kevin; and both of whom are written as such bastards that you can’t help but root for them to die in the worst ways possible. Amber Stonebreaker, as the babysitter Lisa, is the particular highlight here – she plays evil bitch with such ease you can’t but think that she might be like that in real life too! This tale, whilst the shortest of the four, is easily the best. After all, what’s not to love about a killer doll story?

Christmas Carnage, the third story in this anthology, just screams Silent Night, Deadly Night homage – complete with a killer decked out in full Santa Claus gear. This tale is easily the saddest of the four in this film; it’s essentially the story of a man, Chris, (Joel Murray), beat-down by his job and his wife, who gives in to temptation and takes one of the mysterious “pick-me-up” pills his company sells, only with disastrous consequences! You see, Chris’ company doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to their “Sunshine” pills and the latest one seemingly has some rather interesting side-effects. Namely unleashing Chris’ ID impulses and his psychotic tendencies – this broken man, thanks to the companies new drug, isn’t going to take it anymore and doesn’t care what he does or who he does it too! Joel Murray is a superstar in this segment, his transformation from downtrodden victim to total psychopath is a real joy to watch – he truly makes this story, which again is something of a genre cliche, work.

Holiday Hell’s final story, Room to Let, is a change from the films norm… Instead of Comb’s shopkeeper telling a story of one of his shops mysterious objects, it’s his customer Amelia (Meagan Karimi-Naser) telling a story of the ring she wears on her finger. The story of, Anna, striking out on her own and moving into a room the home of a woman named Lavinia (Lisa Carswell), a woman whose kind demeanour hides something. We know this because this is a horror movie and kind people, especially those who open their homes to strangers, are never ones to be trusted- they’re always, always, hiding something. As is the case here. In fact this is one of those stories where EVERYONE is hiding something – though if you’ve ever seen a horror film about a newcomer arriving in a small town you know exactly where this one is headed… Though it is refreshing to see the bad guys win in this story that’s for sure!

The wraparound, like many that have come before it does, of course, have its own story to tell – one that ties into the final of the four tales and provides Holiday Hell with a more satisfying conclusion that expected.

OK, so the stories within this film may be cliched and yes there’s not really any surprises in any of the four tales (well, apart from a plot device/reveal in the first short) but that doesn’t stop Holiday Hell from being both a fantastic holiday horror and a fantastic horror anthology. It’s incredibly well-made for a low-budget genre film and there’s obviously a lot of love been poured into the film from everyone involved, a love that translates on to the screen tremendously. I can honestly see myself cracking this one out every holiday season – be it Halloween or Christmas!

**** 4/5

Holiday Hell is on limited release across the US from October 11th. The film then hits Tubi as an exclusive October 15th and Digital and DVD November 5th, courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment.


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