★★★★ out of ★★★★★
It’s Christmas in July as South Korea’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN) film festival presents Deathcember, a winter-holiday–based anthology horror film boasting 26 segments that range from the downbeat to the blasphemous and disturbing to the wickedly humorous.
Directed by Isaac Ezban, Ruggero Deodato, Pollyanna Mcintosh, Lucky McKee, and many others
Note: Deathcember is a 145-minute anthology that is divided into two volumes for some film festivals because of its original longer running time. South Korea’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival screens the two-volume version.
The German horror anthology Deathcember uses the theme of an eerie advent calendar and presents 26 tales of holiday terror mostly with Christmas themes, with a fun kids-on-bikes Hannukah story for good measure (“Before Sundown”). The filmmakers thankfully avoid well-worn tropes of Christmas-themed fright flicks, opting instead for fresh takes. As with most anthologies, the mileage of some installments will vary depending on viewers’ individual tastes, but overall, this collection is a highly satisfying one filled with suspense, gore galore, and works from well-known and up-and-coming international directors.
For examples of some the better-known helmers, renowned Mexican genre-fare director Isaac Ezban (The Similars and Parallel) serves up the brilliantly shot segment “Villancicos,” which sees someone in a coma respond positively to the titular singers, but who flatlines when they stop singing. It’s a fine example of the surrealism and absurdism for which Ezban is known. Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato checks in with the Italian segment “Casetta Sperduta in Campagna,” a chilling piece about a young woman who finds her relatives brutally murdered during her Christmas visit. Lucky McKee (May and The Woman) offers up “They Once Had Horses,” a black-and-white creature-feature western heavy on atmosphere and creeping tension.
Some of my favorite segments from up-and-coming directors include Jason A. Rostovsky’s aforementioned fun, Amblin-flavored “Before Sundown,” which sees a trio of teens pursued on the first night of Hanukkah by what was thought by many to be just a superstitious legend; John Cook Lynch’s brilliant British offering “Cracker,” which combines constantly heightening suspense with wicked humor, a retro feel, and science fiction elements; The Walking Dead and The Woman star Pollyanna MacIntosh’s “Getting Away From It All,” a grue-filled piece that sees a man with a Scrooge-like attitude open his door to a group of carolers; and Dominic Saxl’s (who also came up with the original concept for Deathcember and served as one of the anthology’s producers) creepy tale of a rude, greedy, chocolate-loving boy.
Some familiar faces are on hand in the cast, as well, including genre favorite Barbara Crampton, AJ Bowen (You’re Next), scream queen Tiffany Shepis, and Suspiria (1977) actress Barbara Magnolfi. All of the segments are well acted, with performances ranging from terrifyingly realistic to purposely stylized.
I won’t spoil all of the segments and familiar cast members here because viewers will find plenty of fun surprises in Deathcember, including in-credits and after-credits bonus films. There is plenty to enjoy here, ranging from supernatural creatures like vampires to more gritty, realistic horror. Some dour, rather depressing segments are balanced with other installments that boast dark humor and clever twists. Deathcember truly offers something for every flavor of fright-fare fan.
Deathcember screened in its two-volume version at South Korea’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN) on July 12th. Both volumes have a second screening on July 14th.
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