December 1, 2018 All the Creatures Were Stirring (Movie Review)
Ever thought 1982’s Creepshow or 1990’s Tales from the Darkside could have been more festive? Like it could have done with more sleigh bells, tinsel and Christmas cheer? Well, RLJE Films covers that with All the Creatures Were Stirring, due out on Tuesday, December 4, 2018. It will fill your DVD player, Digital and/or On Demand platform with more dread than another ‘Happy Holidays’ VS ‘Merry Christmas’ debate with a distant relative – or at least, that is the intention of Writer/Director duo David and Rebekah McKendry (The Dump 2012, The Barista 2013).
When Jenna (Ashley Clements: The Lizzie Bennett Diaries series) and Max (Graham Skipper: Almost Human 2013) have a date at a strange theater, they end up watching an odd collection of Christmas stories. These vignettes feature the likes of Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians 2018, Fresh Off the Boat series), Jonathan Kite (2 Broke Girls series, Black Dynamite series), Amanda Fuller (Last Man Standing series, Orange is the New Black series) and more avoiding holiday fears, be it last-minute shopping, dull parties, or evil demons. Just as the tagline says: “Another Reason to Dread the Season.”
But what makes the film fearsome – its goodness, badness, or somewhere-in-betweenness? It certainly has some interestingness. For one, the couple sees a sparse theater set, but this transitions into short films for the viewer. So, while the audience are seeing an office setting in ‘The Stockings Were Hung,” the couple are seeing something more am-dram. One has all the film fripperies of 24-esque split-screens, background music, and multiple actors, while the other has three actors on a dark set doing some enthusiastic miming. Thus, the couple have very different reactions to what the viewer sees, though they may come to the same conclusion either way (“What. The Hell. Was. That?”)
Not only is the title a riff on a line from “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” but each segment is named after lines from the poem (i.e. “All Through the House,” “Arose Such a Clatter,” etc.), though not necessarily in poetic order. They are also distinct from each other: for example, the shorts have separate casts from each other; Wu does not turn up in “Arose Such A Clatter,” Fuller does not appear in “In A Twinkling,” etc. They also use different editing tricks too: “The Stockings Were Hung” is the only one to feature split-screen effects, while “In A Twinkling” keeps a hold on its wipe transitions.
Fortunately, they do not feel like a bunch of separate films stuck together, like 2018’s Blood, Sweat and Terrors; each segment still shares the same writing and direction style, albeit to different levels. “Dash Away All”- where a man (Matt Long: Ghost Rider 2007, Lucky 7 2013) falls afoul of a mechanical mishap and meeting the wrong people – is quite serious and has clean, clear shots. While “Arose Such a Clatter”- where a guy called Guy (Mark Kelly: The Do-Deca-Penthalon 2012, Mad Men series) is stalked by a killer – has a goofy twist and B-movie quality camerawork.
These two are also the weakest segments, but for different reasons. “Arose Such A Clatter” has cheesy direction, possibly intentional given the couple’s reaction at its end, and not much story to go on. While “Dash Away All” has a strong premise, good performances, and makeup on its surprise treat, but an unsatisfying payoff. Despite building up a strong sense of dread, its open ending comes off as a thud. However, the overall film makes up for this with its three strongest segments.
“The Stockings Were Hung,” a story about an office gift exchange gone wrong, gets things off to a good start. The employees are trapped in their building by an unknown killer forcing them to open each gift – some might help them, some might kill them, and others may have other nasty surprises. It does a good job building up tension, as the gift exchange goes on with its dramatic reveals and menacing music. Not to mention, like its gifts, it wraps itself up nicely with a neat conclusion.
Meanwhile,”‘All Through the House” mixes terror with a dark sense of humor. As Chet (Kite), a grouchy jerk, learns the joy of Christmas through terror by three ghosts a la A Christmas Carol. Granted, the ghosts all share the same design, but the story imbues them with menace through the illusions they cast, like the enclosing terror of holiday programming. It uses its cast to play multiple roles, which adds a nice touch. For example, Amanda Fuller plays Chet’s acquaintance Linda, but she also plays one of the illusions Chet bickers with. He is sure Linda would save him, but would she? The segment provides food for thought alongside the chuckles and shivers.
“In A Twinkling” has Steve (Morgan Peter Brown: Absentia 2011, Ouija 2014) trying to prepare for a full-moon-based threat, only for Gabby (Wu) to bring a surprise party along. It sounds like it is going in one direction, before it ends up swerving into another lane entirely. The two end up trapped in a twisted, black-and-white parody of a Christmas party by some unknown force. It plays out more like a classic Twilight Zone episode than a Horror story, where its threat is weird and uncanny rather than nerve-wracking. But it still spins a strong yarn, and even works in a sweet ending without it being too saccharine, which makes for an effective cool-down after the prior shorts’ thrills and chills.
But does that make All the Creatures Were Stirring worth watching as a whole? Quite simply, yes. Its best segments tell strong stories with strong performances, alongside some inventive camerawork. Even its weaker ones still manage to chill (“Dash Away All”) or gain a laugh (“Arose Such A Clatter”) – not to mention, there is still an extra twist in its tail with the couple. This film should prove to be a treat for any Horror fan, whether they love or loathe the holidays. As such, Cryptic Rock gives this film 4 out of 5 stars.