Thursday, December 13, 2018


All the Creatures Were Stirring (2018) d. David Ian McKendry / Rebekah McKendry (USA)

While several horror anthologies have incorporated a single Christmastime story (1945’s Dead of Night, 1972’s Tales from the Crypt, to mention some of the classics) into the mix, there are precious few compendiums whose energies are directed exclusively toward celebrating the Santa season. (In fact, until 2015’s A Christmas Horror Story, there were exactly zero.) But the husband-and-wife team of David Ian and Rebekah McKendry (the latter being a longtime Fangoria alum, horror journalist, and Shock Waves podcaster) have arrived just in time to fill the shocking stockings and change the stats STAT with their quintet of deadly and droll hors d’ouevres, all present-ed within a snappy wrapping, er, wraparound.

Two single friends awkwardly meet up for a Christmas Eve date/not date, deciding to take in a strange little hole-in-the-wall storefront theatre diversion whose marquee spells out the name of our movie. (Tres clever, no?) They head inside and find themselves watching a sparsely attended, bizarre experimental stage play wherein three mute thespians cavort about using minimal props and the distinctive-looking director (Starry Eyes’ Maria Olsen) enters and exits, swapping out title cards on an easel. These cards and the ensuing “drama” introduce the viewer to each individual episode, which we thankfully get to watch play out in widescreen realism. (There’s a reason most of the audience doesn’t come back after intermission.)

What gives Creatures a big boost in the goodwill department is its creators’ insistence on dark joviality throughout, as well as an emphasis on variety of setting and mood. And really, if you’re dealing with low-budget constraints of independent filmmaking, why NOT make six wildly different short films, banging each one out in a matter of days?

Amicus used to play this game back in the 1970s, packing its anthologies with huge stars like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Jack Palance, Denholm Elliott, getting the most above-the-title bang for their buck, and the McKendrys have followed suit, recruiting their talent from the indie horror pool (House of the Devil’s Jocelin Donahue, Beyond the Gates’ Graham Skipper and Jesse Merlin, Resolution’s Peter Cilella, Cheap Thrills’ Amanda Fuller, and so on.) This approach accomplishes two things: the budget isn’t blown on some convention-touring “star” with a “name,” and we get to see familiar faces that aren’t SO familiar as to be distracting (and who are only familiar if you’ve been paying attention, Crazy Rich Asians’ Constance Wu being the notable exception).

The stories are as follows:

“The Stockings Were Hung” takes place during a holiday office party from hell, where a friendly game of White Elephant turns into a savage contest of survival.

“Dash Away All” sees a last-minute shopper locked out of his car on Christmas Eve in the parking lot where the only other vehicle is a sinister-looking van idling in the corner.

“All Through the House” gives us a spin on the classic Dickens yarn as a holiday-hating schlub is visited by three vengeful spirits bent on showing him the error of his ways.

“Arose Such a Clatter” takes the hit-and-run tragedy of a roadkilled reindeer to its logical, vengeful, glowing-red-nose conclusion.

“In a Twinkling” transports us to another dimension, one where black-and-white TV-land aliens attempt to discover what all the tinsel-strewn falderal is about.

By exploring all sort of stylistic motifs – “Arose” clearly riffs on the Italian giallos with its bold color palettes, “Stockings” is shot like an episode of The Office, and “Twinkling” even switches its aspect ratio to 4x3 in order to replicate the 1960s television aesthetic – the filmmakers heighten our interest and admiration while simultaneously giving themselves not one, but six different calling cards for future investors to sample.

While none of the installments are definitively comic in nature (“House” is certainly the most jokey), there is a delicious sense of play, of allowing the viewer in on the fun. Even though there is the inherent unevenness of nearly all portmanteau presentations, we sense the same creative forces are guiding the quill (as opposed to the everyone-for-themselves grab-bag V/H/S, XX, or ABCs of Horror approach).

The sole extra is a chatty commentary track by the two writer/directors (who reveal that Rebekah was increasingly pregnant throughout the shoot) and their producer Joe Wicker, which is filled with camaraderie, fun facts, laughter, and musing over how many cool people they know. While perhaps not destined to replace your annual viewing of Silent Night Deadly Night, Black Christmas, or Rare Exports, it’s definitely deserves a place on the shelf next to the Elf.

All the Creatures Were Stirring is available now from RLJE on DVD and VOD (with a Blu-ray release curiously scheduled for January) and can be ordered HERE:


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