24 micro-short horror films (plus extras in the credits) to reflect an advent calendar countdown. Not as long as advent, and distinctly more interesting.
Like many horror fans, I love a good horror anthology film: the genre seems to lend itself well to short stories, after all. I’ve only come across one Christmas anthology to date, and Deathcember is different, using films of approximately six minutes each, without any William Shatner wraparound.
The idea for Deathcember came from Dominic Saxl, who then – along with two others – made contact with a wide range of filmmakers already established (to a varying degree) in horror. Variety is the key here, and I guess had to be with more than twenty little stories. Some of the filmmakers seem to have treated the project as a showcase, some as a little passion project, and one was cheeky enough to submit a companion piece to their full-length feature. The budget was limited, as with any independent film, but the majority don’t look cheap at all; they all look unique, some in accord with their artist’s usual look, and some diverting from it.
Deathcember successfully manages to avoid Santa-with-axe-type tropes, though still includes slasher amongst many other genres. Let’s see: the genres include twisty Twilight Zone-style stories, sarcastic comedies, an artistic sci-fi, a crime noir, black and white nostalgia, claymation, revenge thriller, and even western; all of them at least touching on horror. The “traditional” horror elements include vampires, creature features, spooky dolls, possession, curses, and body horror. There are sad films, wicked films, vicious, emotional, and sarcastically funny films.
Let me zoom in on some favorites.
- Villancicos, directed by Isaac Ezban, about a family keeping their child from death’s door by continued carol singing. Truly twisted (as his full-length films have been), and strikingly beautiful at the same time.
- The Hunchback of Burg Hayn, directed by Bob Pipe, is a silent black and white film which takes the viewer back to the early years of cinema. Gorgeous production and clever writing made this one almost painful to watch.
- Family Matters, directed by Steve De Roover, is about a young man being introduced to the in-laws. Made my eyes open wider with every scene and I gasped at the ending: absolutely loved this one.
- December the 19th, directed by Milan Todorovi, is an erotic and gory short about two young women getting to know each other. Although this one doesn’t look like a comedy, the over-the-top nature of the injuries caught me by surprise and made me laugh.
- Cracker, directed by John Cook Lynch, is 1950’s style, pastel-colored sci-fi; almost a homage to Philip K Dick or X Minus One. I can’t think of many other films that are tense, shocking, and adorable.
Other directors include Trent Haaga, Pollyanna McIntosh, Lucky McKee, Lee Sang-woo, and the legendary Ruggero Deodato; and as you can tell from all these names, many countries and cultures are covered in Deathcember. It’s no surprise, then, that – including closing credits – this advent calendar takes nearly two and a half hours to watch. Yes, that may be long, but I would encourage watching in one sitting: not all of the shorts are terribly Christmassy, but it’s easier to overlook that when it is viewed as a whole.
Overall, I enjoyed Deathcember, and found its inclusion of a broad range of cultures refreshing. There were a couple of segments that didn’t quite hit the mark for me, story-wise, but their contribution was no less valid. And since Dominic Saxl told me that he has scope for more, I’m definitely open to finding out what treats a second collection might hold.