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Holidays can be awful, and not just when you fail to get the proper gift for a loved one. Many of America’s most colorful celebrations are coded with ancient mythologies and elemental relationships much darker than yard decorations and window displays make them out to be. The new horror anthology Holidays features a slew of directors—Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer, Gary Shore, Nicholas McCarthy, Sarah Adina Smith, Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Smith, Scott Stewart, Adam Egypt Mortimer—taking on the country’s seven biggest holidays, from Valentine’s Day through New Year’s Eve. Some of the films are haunting, some of them more macabre, but all of them play with holiday symbolism in way that will make viewers rethink a lot of their favorite celebrations. Here’s an individual breakdown.

Valentine’s Day

Following the chronological holiday calendar, the anthology kicks off with Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, it’s the weakest of the bunch, probably because Valentine’s Day is the holiday with the least amount of mythological baggage. As motifs go, there’s the color red, and there’s the heart shape. Writer/directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer put both of them to use in a story about a disturbed young girl with a crush on her diving coach, who just so happens to need a heart transplant. Like Carrie, this girl is mercilessly tormented by her peers. She eventually takes revenge in a grotesque and thematically appropriate way, but the outcome is relatively easy to predict. B-

St. Patrick’s Day

Most people think of St. Patrick’s Day as a day of drunk people in leprechaun costumes puking next to parades, but Gary Shore (Dracula Untold) digs deep into the holiday’s Gothic history. According to myth, St. Patrick banished all snakes from Ireland. This was mostly a metaphor (for pagans, mystics, liars, and con men), but Shore explores a literal interpretation and asks, what happens when the snakes want to come back? His short, one of two in the collection to riff on Rosemary’s Baby, is full of arresting images. One of the best: a schoolteacher who desperately wants a baby waking up in a leprechaun costume the morning after the holiday, like so many other lost souls. Except that’s not a used condom next to her, but an empty snakeskin. Zoom out: she’s actually inside a car, in a deserted parking lot, surrounded by shopping carts arranged in the shape of a snake. Things only get stranger from there. B+


Of all the holidays with both a commercial and religious component, Easter’s two halves fit together the strangest. What does the risen Christ have to do with bunnies, and for that matter what do bunnies have to do with eggs? Such are the questions posed by a young girl at the beginning of Nicholas McCarthy’s short. Her mother has no answers, so the girl tries to find out for herself. McCarthy’s film is shrouded in darkness, but the girl does eventually meet the Easter Bunny, who fuses the holiday’s halves in a mess of body horror. His bunny ears are bound up in a crown of thorns, while chirping little birds emerge from his stigmata. There’s a terrible price to pay for this sight, and a lesson of what Easter is really about – namely, bodily regeneration and the renewal of an endless natural cycle. One of the shortest films here, but also one of the most horrific. It’ll certainly change the way you look at Peeps. B+

Mother’s Day

The other Rosemary’s Baby riff in this package concerns a woman who can’t help but get pregnant every time she has sex, even when she makes her partner wear two or three condoms. Her doctor’s solution is to send her to the desert, a favorite cinematic landscape of femininity even before Mad Max: Fury Road. There she ends up at a fertility retreat, with a cadre of women dedicated to successfully nursing whatever’s growing in her belly . What, exactly, is she about to give birth to? As with the Valentine’s Day short, the story’s thematic touchstones kind of give its twist away. B-

Father’s Day

Most of the shorts here are full of twisted images, demented takes on iconic holiday mascots. Anthony Scott Burns’ contribution, by contrast, is mostly about absence, and is all the more haunting for it. Carol believed her father long dead, but suddenly receives a mysterious message from him in time for Father’s Day. She follows its instructions to the place they last met: a deserted, rocky beach reminiscent of the River Styx. The Greek mythic undertones only deepen, as the woman’s Orpheus-like journey into the underworld (a.k.a the Parthenon-looking building where her father was last seen) is interspersed with cosmic shots of planets aligning. The conclusion is mysterious and thrilling on a primal level. A-


Kevin Smith’s contribution turns the most outwardly scary holiday into a Tarantino-esque revenge fable. Three women lured to L.A. by a skeezy porn producer turn the tables on him once an old Halloween cartoon reminds them a female trio used to be referred to as a “coven.” The horror is sick and twisted (including the casting of Smith’s daughter as one of the captives/strippers/witches), but pales in comparison to the more haunting and disturbing pieces in this collection. B-


Scott Stewart’s short examines the secular commercial aspect of Christmas finally beating the spiritual half to death. It does so by way of a new virtual reality headset, capable of showing the bearer their truest selves – both desires and secrets. After Pete (Seth Green) allows a man to die so he can grab the last copy for his son, he finds himself in a creepy remake of “The Tell-Tale Heart” by way of Black Mirror. B

New Year’s Eve

Finally, some serial killers. The finale piece is also written by Kolsch and Widmyer, and shares some elements with the Valentine’s Day opener – namely, a holiday largely bereft of thematic resonance, and demented protagonists who carry out their love in horrific ways. New Year’s Eve is more effective than its earlier bookend, however, partly because this monster actually finds a counterpart capable of matching his demented affection. Maybe that wasn’t actually what he wanted. B

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  • 106 minutes