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FILM REVIEW: ONCE UPON A TIME AT CHRISTMAS

When it comes to the many, many sub-genres of horror, there are few more satisfying than that of holiday horror. If you look hard enough, you can find a film to suit any occasion. Christmas is the big daddy of holiday horror, and I could probably name you 20 films off the top of my head. They run the gamut from fun, to unwatchable, to downright absurd …ELVES anyone? The recent film ONCE UPON A TIME AT CHRISTMAS falls somewhere in the lower middle end of that spectrum. It’s certainly not unwatchable, but it probably won’t make my Xmas rotation with the likes of RARE EXPORTS or SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT. That being said, it’s still a fun watch and an original spin on Xmas horror.

The film opens with a very Harley Quinn-esque Mrs. Claus (Sayla De Goede) murdering a mall Santa. She’s rude and crude, and wearing an Xmas outfit you might find at a sex shop rather than your local Hobby Lobby. She and her one-eyed Mr. Claus (Simon Phillips) are hell bent on destroying this quaint little burg called Woodbridge. It’s sort of an “every town” filled with rambunctious teens, white picket fences, and a mall where everyone congregates. This particular December, there’s going to be a lot of naughty and not so much nice.

Shortly after the mall Santa is murdered, the Claus’s turn their attention to a couple at the make out point. This is the second of a series of continually escalating crimes, building up to their grand finale on Xmas day. This is where we are introduced to what seems to be the real leads of the film being the Sheriff (Barry Kennedy), and his deputy (Jeff Ellenberger). These two enforcers of the law are tasked with trying to solve the puzzle that is this series of seemingly random crimes. The characters in the film are paper thin, which makes it hard for us as an audience to really have an opinion on them, or concern for their well being.  In addition to the law, there are also a handful of teens that seem interchangeable, and really don’t do much to advance the story until the tail end of the third act.

Without divulging too much in terms of plot (it’s pretty flimsy as is), the film is basically a murderous little twist on the 12 Days of Christmas. I actually found myself laughing at the premise, once all the pieces started coming together. I will say that this was one of my main issues with the film. It didn’t play out mean enough to be a straight horror film, or funny enough to be a comedy. In fact, I’m not sure if I was supposed to be laughing at all. The gore and murder set pieces were actually pretty good. One particular rampage in a public restroom was jaw dropping and vicious, going against some of the comedic tone that was built up leading to that point. I know that the film was meant to be a hybrid, but it wasn’t really enough of either, and stepped too far at times in either direction.

The plot and characters were pretty underdeveloped to the point that the story could be hard to sink your teeth into. There is some brief exposition towards the end that attempts to wrap up the Claus’s origins, but it was too little too late for this writer. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the film on some level. It just showed that maybe director Paul Tanter had too many ideas he was trying to put forward. At the end of the day, most of us are mostly interested in the murderous Christmas folk, and less on the towns people who play little more than cannon fodder for the ax wielding couple. The acting on nearly every level left something to be desired, and I doubt that a lot of casual movie watchers will be able to go with the flow. However, if you’ve made it to this level of obscure holiday horror, you’re probable not a “casual” movie watcher anyway.

As of this writing, the director’s IMDB page shows that a sequel called…you guessed it…TWICE UPON A TIME AT CHRISTMAS is already in the works. Maybe this could be an opportunity to distill those ideas into a more cohesive narrative. I wouldn’t be opposed to taking another spin on this ride, as long as it either goes for laughs, or for the jugular.

” A murderous little twist on the 12 Days of Christmas”

1 1/2 Tombstones out of 5

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Andy Breslow

Andy Breslow

Andy has been a lifelong horror fan and genre journalist for close to two decades. He regularly attends film festivals and horror conventions with a personal collection of roughly four thousand films . Formerly a writer/reviewer for Bloody Disgusting, he was most recently a staff member/programmer for a prestigious Denver based genre film festival.
Although he loves all sub-genres of horror, his favorite styles are Italian Giallo and 80’s slasher films. Some of his favorite horror films include ‘Martyrs(2008)’, ‘Audition(1999)’, ‘The Thing(1982)’ and almost anything by Dario Argento.

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