When it comes horror anthologies, Halloween is often the holiday that gets all of the glory. It’s often around then that you see the mass viewing of films like Creepshow, Tales from the Darkside, and of course, Trick ‘R Treat. Yet when it comes to Christmas, another popular horror holiday, we see much fewer examples of this. All the Creatures Were Stirring looks to change that, with a film that somehow finds a way to perfectly fit the cheery tone of the season…
…Written/directed by David & Rebekah McKendry, All the Creatures Were Stirring is a Christmas horror anthology that, strangely enough, actually comes quite close to being one I could say is fun for the whole family, if not for the excessive amount of gore. Focused on a blind date between Jenna (Ashley Clements) and Max (Graham Skipper), All the Creatures follows the awkward pair into a strange stage show, where they are treated to a bizarre collection of Christmas stories, each with its own significance to the holiday.
There are some of you who will be thrown off immediately by the quirky vibe of the film, yet that is what ends up working so well. Nothing about All the Creatures feels particularly “normal”, even in horror movie terms. From the second the awkward daters enter the theater, there is an unsettling, eccentric vibe. A group of performers on stage enter into each new story with nothing more than a changing of a title card and utter silence as they begin quietly acting out the scene. The theater itself is cramped and claustrophobic, and the fellow patrons all seem a little off, which makes sense, as they’re all here watching this little show on Christmas Eve when they should probably be somewhere else. For those who have never experienced something quite like this, I’ve been to many a strange show in Los Angeles, and the McKendry’s capture the odd vibe perfectly, setting the stage for what is ultimately the quirkiest horror anthology I have ever seen.
I would not be surprised if the McKendry’s have a background in improv comedy. Not because scenes feel improvised, but because there is a fun, unpredictable sense of body language humor present all throughout All the Creatures. We first begin to notice this with the theater ticket taker (Lauren Lakis), who is wonderfully vacant of Christmas cheer, and while saying nothing, provides a good laugh with the way she strangely seems annoyed at every request of Jenna and Max. The McKendry’s make clear from the beginning that this is not your average horror anthology. While most, if not all, are arguably entertaining, All the Creatures is different in that you feel as if the intention is less to scare the audience, and more to have a good, safe time in the realm of spooky things. Despite the fact that three out of the five stories are deliciously dark and bloody, there is an odd sense of Christmas cheer present, even as someone is getting mauled by a killer reindeer, or having their throat ripped out by an otherworldly demon. No matter how dark the stories get, the McKendry’s bring a playful tone to their writing/direction. If you’re familiar with the “beach party horror” age of films such as The Horror of Party Beach, then you’ll know what I mean when I say All the Creatures is like beach party horror meets a Christmas anthology. Sure, people are dying and blood is spraying, but it’s all to the beat of a groovy tune that wants you to strip down to your bathing suit and shake your ass with a tiki drink in hand while it happens.
Some of this is represented by an extravagant display of color and style that reminds viewers we are not watching your average horror film. Similar to Dario Argento, the McKendry’s find a way to fill All the Creatures with gorgeous shades of green, blue, and red, all in such a way that the film takes on a dreamlike quality that could also be compared to the comic-book feel of Creepshow. Christmas is present from beginning to end in the colors which they choose. It’s like visiting the north pole and being tricked into an elf rave party where the punch has been spiked with an abhorrent amount of LSD. And just when you think the imagery can’t get any stranger, the McKendry’s pull one over on the viewer with the introduction of the fifth story, which becomes a Twilight Zone inspired black and white piece with a quite literal alien vibe. The McKendry’s have a unique, mischievous vision which, whether or not a certain story connects with the viewer, is never boring because we are watching something which is wholly different than anything else you’ll see this year. All the Creatures is like the film representation of a Christmas cookie, full of sparkly sugar and sweet surprise, where each bite is just as good as the last.
Like all good horror anthologies, All the Creatures also has a little something for everyone. In this anthology, you’ll find Jigsaw-like madmen, demonic mythology, vengeful reindeer, Christmas-loving aliens, and the sort of ghosts that would make Scrooge tremble in his boots made of baby seals and the tears of orphans. Each tale places one specific theme of the holidays under a microscope, whether it be the pain of being forced to visit a family you don’t like, or the stress of trying to find the perfect gift, all from an inspired viewpoint. And don’t let my comments fool you. All the Creatures may not keep you up at night thinking Santa is going to creepy into your room with an ax to grind, but what the McKendry’s manage to accomplish with the frisky tone is that it disarms the audience into thinking they won’t be scared, but that isn’t the case. Just when you think the film won’t creepy under your skin, the McKendry’s throw a curve ball, where everything nice suddenly becomes naughty, which is especially reflected in the wrap-around story. All the Creatures reminds us you can’t judge a gift by its wrapping paper or shape.
Where All the Creatures falters quite a bit is in the pacing. At exactly 80 minutes, with five stories plus a wraparound which we cut back to after each one, most of the segments aren’t given much time to breathe and let the audience sink into the story before hitting us with whatever supernatural terror awaits. That isn’t to say that tension isn’t present, just that it often feels as if we are rushed into the moment, only to wrap things up before the suspense can build to that agonizing, teeth-chattering point which we often look for in the genre. Because of this, it can be difficult to feel like we really get to know any of the characters outside of Max and Jenna, which detaches the viewer from the emotional experience of the stories. If I were to sit on Santa’s lap and wish for one thing, it would be that the McKendry’s were allowed a longer runtime so that the viewer could be eased into these stories, rather than being dropped right into the middle of the terror without a proper meet and greet with the characters.
With All the Creatures Were Stirring, you may not scream, but you’ll laugh with a holly, jolly cheer. Regardless of the rushed pacing and lack of character depth, there is so much fun to be had and blood to be spilled, that this unique Christmas horror gem is bright enough to place at the top of the Christmas tree and light up your night with an entertaining display of awkward, clever horror. If not for all of the gore raining down like a winter storm, I’d say this is one Christmas horror anthology perfect for the whole family, and even then, I’d say screw it, a little blood never hurt anyone.
You can now stream All the Creatures Were Stirring on Shudder.
By Matt Konopka