On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… Twelve Zombies Oozing, Eleven Naughty Kringles, Ten Mogwai Creeping, Nine Obscene Phone Calls, Eight Santas Bleeding, Seven Cookies Snarking, Six Trees-a-Slaying… FIVE GARBAGE DAYS!… Four Naked Elves, Three Death Cars, Two Curling Duels and a Hell Goat in a Pear Tree…
Paco Plaza, co-creator of [REC], [REC] 2 and the upcoming [REC] 3 Genesis, directs this festive entry found in the 6 Films to Keep You Awake collection (strongly recommended for fans of Spanish horror). The film features the wonderful young star of Pan’s Labyrinth, Ivana Baquero. The rest of the cast is lesser-known in the States, but I have a couple fun casting notes: Pau Poch, who plays Tito, plays a character of the same name in both [REC] 2 and Shiver. In addition, there is a hilarious appearance from Spanish rock singer Loquillo. Speaking of Loquillo…
A Christmas Tale opens with a fantastic retro sequence reminiscent of the many foreign Hammer knock-offs released in the 80s. A blond in a tacky sci-fi costume complete with orange spandex and metal bra is saved by the dashing zombie killer Taylor. (the previously mentioned Loquillo, too cool in an epic pompadour and leather pants) “Calm down, cupcake. The zombie invasion is over.” This hilarious opening turns out to be a scene from ZOMBIE INVASION, a fictional film the young boy protagonists watch obsessively.
From there, the film is a lighthearted period piece set in the 80s. The young boys dash from place to place on bikes and get into trouble. The toys, clothes and posters that litter their rooms delightfully support the time period. One boy is fixated on The Karate Kid. It’s fun and not unlike the tone of Stand by Me and the Goonies. At first.
The children soon find a body, dressed in a Santa suit, at the bottom of a deep pit. It turns out to be a woman. She’s terribly injured, but surprisingly still alive and desperate for help. The kids start out with the best of intentions and try to help her escape the hole, but quickly cease rescue efforts when they discover that their mysterious Santa (apparently named Rebecca) is a wanted fugitive. The cruelty that follows, after the cheerful introduction to the characters and their world, is jarring. They hit her hard in the head with a rock, cover the hole with branches so that no one can find her, and leave her there to starve. They treat her like an abused pet and demand money in exchange for her freedom.
Although Moni (Baquero) is more sympathetic than the others, these children are just awful. And there’s a mean misogynistic streak running underneath the surface as well. I don’t know how other horror fans felt, but I hated these kids. I wanted to see them punished by our suffering Santa. And soon. Moving on…One thing leads to another and it seems that Rebecca has died after surrendering the money. She is later missing when they return to the hole, however, and the group is convinced that she’s been resurrected as a zombie in the fashion of their favorite horror film.
I won’t go much further into the plot, but the cover art makes it fairly clear that Rebecca gets a chance to hunt the naughty children down (zombie or not). Although I felt justice was, more or less, served by the end and there was some closure to the misogyny, it wasn’t entirely satisfying. Not many films have the guts to give me what I really wanted to see; a bunch of kids axed onscreen (let alone a made-for-TV film). Harsh I know. Eh. They’re pretty terrible.
Overall, the film is fun and well-made. I’m always pleased to see a vicious female slasher too. If the mean-spirited nature of the protagonists won’t ruin the experience, 80s horror fans will have a good time.