Being a holiday horror fan requires some patience. Every October and December is ripe with sinister offerings like poison apples for the picking, while other months – this very November – lack thematic genre representation despite playing host to one of the United States’ biggest calendar celebrations: Thanksgiving. Why is that? What is it about Christmas and Halloween that invites cinematic corruption in the form of slashers, creature romps and “disgraceful” attacks against beloved seasonal comforts (you may be familiar with Gene Siskel’s famous Silent Night, Deadly Night takedown)?
Such a curious phenomenon demands exploration – and here to help are a few veteran filmmakers and actors who’ve graciously added their two cents from inside the industry.
Why Christmas and Halloween Dominate
As far as holiday selection is concerned, two dates make up what feels like 99% of horror’s seasonal production – Halloween and Christmas. These are, in terms of commercialism, the two deepest pools of mythology that filmmakers are able to draw from. Celebrations extend much farther than one single day. Halloween infects the entire month of October with its ghoulish processions, while the jolliness of Christmas miracles become acknowledged as early as November 1 by some (which is sacrilegious in my book).
This highlights an easy-to-thumb reason for such focused saturation: inherent themes. Maybe it’s the corruption of commercialism, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing Halloween killer, or joyous Christmas rituals being warped into deadly sacrificials. “Some holidays just don’t have the kinds of cultural, religious or iconic representations or traditions that benefit storytelling,” says Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End/Everly/Mayhem and contributor to YouTube Red’s 12 Deadly Days). Sound reasoning for why writers would cherry pick certain holidays over others. Why tax your brain to create holiday mythos when so many are etched in stone already?
“There’s something about the magical, almost supernatural nature of some holidays, especially Christmas and Halloween,” echoes genre aficionado and Tales Of Halloween segment creator Axelle Carolyn. “I feel like those two holidays are the ones where mythology is the richest – both the Nativity and Santa Claus for Christmas, and the origins of Halloween with the idea of this veil between two worlds being at its thinnest.” It’s a valid point despite any harbored bias for other holidays. “Arbor Day just doesn’t sound as terrifying,” claims Lynch.
“But also,” continues Carolyn, “[Christmas and Halloween are] the two holidays which genuinely have a ‘season’ rather than a single event.” Moviemaking is a business, and these factors cannot be ignored. “Fans will use these titles to get into the spirit of the holiday, live in the Halloween or Christmas atmosphere for a month; and commercially, it extends the time to turn a profit.” Whether you want to hear it or not, your favorite obscure holidays are forgotten by genre modification because movies require a viable market. “A Thanksgiving movie will give you one weekend, but Halloween is a full four to six weeks.” More attendees, longer theatrical runs, higher box office intakes – viewers can enjoy films all they want, but for producers, a successful film is determined by monetary bragging rights.
Reaching even deeper, Carolyn associates actual production designs and visual cues to filmmaker attraction. “[Christmas and Halloween are] associated to dark colors: orange and black, green and red; which are much easier to reconcile with horror movie aesthetics than the pinks and pastels of Easter, for example.” Red of course being the color of blood, oranges burning through black canvases like a pair of leering cat’s eyes. Winter wonderlands are practically begging for devious corruption, given how pristine white snowfalls can be splattered with gory mists – not exactly the same with an overly-earthtone holiday like Thanksgiving.
“I think most of the time it depends on if there’s a clever pun available a’la Silent Night, Deadly Night,” adds Beyond the Gates writer/director Jackson Stewart. “Halloween evokes a spooky time of the year,” lending an on-the-nose example that doesn’t even rely on solid punification like Better Watch Out, Santa’s Slay, Christmas Evil and other goofy odes to unholy horror. “‘Thanksgiving’ just gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling and tends to inspire that same type of film.”
According to actress Barbara Crampton, individual holiday experiences play into our individual ideologies surrounding respective horror films. “Holidays can be warm and fuzzy or horrible depending on how you spend them,” which I’m sure some of you can attest to. “You live in heightened emotion during the holidays, especially Christmas and Thanksgiving, and a horror movie allows you to blow off steam.” It’s a valid assessment of the holiday frustrations that may build inside some – and how equally thematic horror films can be exploitative catharsis in the silliest, most gratifying ways. Like how Krampus opens with a violent, satirical glimpse of aggravated shoppers wrestling one another for the year’s hottest gift items. Society: horror’s greatest inspiration.
“If you want to strangle your mother or brother, perhaps it’s better to watch that on film rather than commit to the real thing!” Um, if any of Ms. Crampton’s family is reading this, treat her extra nice next holiday season?
So What About Thanksgiving?
Let’s talk about why a holiday like Thanksgiving – still highly represented in American culture by downright barbaric dinner spreads and Macy’s nationally televised NYC parade – is shafted by the horror genre. Thanksgiving itself so rich with the horrors of white man’s colonization and treatment of native inhabitants, yet only Blood Rage and Thankskilling (and its sequel) take advantage of the holiday.
As Ms. Crampton puts it, “Blood Rage and Thankskilling are assuredly someone’s favorite movie of all time, but I haven’t met that guy.” I guess with all that time on set filming Beyond the Gates with Jackson Stewart, she never found out that he regards Blood Rage as his favorite holiday horror classic. “Clearly not the best holiday horror movie, but it’s the one I’m most entertained by and it’s always a delight to show some less fortunate soul for the first time.” Still, these titles pale in norariety compared to Trick r’ Treat, Black Christmas or other generationally loved horror favorites (mainstream especially – I know you Blood Rage supporters are out there).
Mr. Stewart’s favorite or not, Blood Rage is hardly the bastion of quality we look for in a holiday horror movie. To this day, I still argue that the best Thanksgiving horror content we’ve ever been served is Eli Roth’s faux Thanksgiving trailer that was stuffed between Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse entries. Everything worth loving about holiday horror flicks is exploited in an on-point trailer parody that hams up decor and tone – a juicy turkey that bleeds when stabbed, a decapitated parade mascot stumbling around like a bird with its head cut off. You know, the good stuff(ing)! You’d think it to be an easier-than-instant-gravy kind of pitch, right?
It’s not like other Thanksgiving plots would fail, either. Notions of financial gain aside – which I’d argue wouldn’t doom a November holiday that grants Americans two free days off from work – ideals of family dysfunction and colonization would be prime for a home invasion kind of horror flick. Quite frankly, something like Ti West’s You’re Next with more cornucopias or Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation with less cult influences – two dinner party horror flicks that very much nail the psychological breakdown and family squabbling that morph into survival bonding. Thanksgiving horror is right in front of us and we don’t even know it! Although, I’d give everything to hear Eli Roth announce a feature-length adaptation of Thanksgiving – turkey costumers being slain, pilgrim murderers and bloody axes please!
I mean, Thanksgiving doesn’t even get any love in Vertical Entertainment and XYZ Films’ anthology collection Holidays…but St. Patrick’s Day does?
“It’s because in most cases, time spent with the in-laws is scarier than anything any filmmaker could whip up for Thanksgiving,” Lynch jests. “No, it’s because not enough people went and patronized Blood Rage, dammit,” says Stewart about Thanksgiving’s inability to continue churning horror fare. “The Thanksgiving horror titles we have are passable at best – none of which we yearn to return to year after year.” November’s horror wasteland is merely a product of lesser opportunity – why gamble on unproven free-range markets when Christmas spirits are bottled with ten times more ease?
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Source: Slash Film