Christmas thrillers are quite popular these days, as witnessed by the surprising success of last year’s horror comedy Violent Night.
Since the telling of horror stories is a longstanding English Christmas tradition, one would hope that English filmmaker James Crow’s Nightmare on 34th Street would be a fun addition to the dark holiday viewing list. Sadly, this horror anthology isn’t particularly horrific — bleak might be a more appropriate description.
Crow’s intention with his stories here seems to be directed less on providing thrills and more on pointing an accusing finger at the hypocrisy of “Christmas cheer” and organized religion.
After an opening segment that echoes the “All Through the House” segment from 1972’s Tales from the Crypt, the film proper settles down as a decrepit-looking Santa sits next to a kid’s bedside and tells him horror stories intended to fill him with dread.
These tales include a visit from the legendary Krampus, an evil puppeteer named Mr. White who is suffering from split personality, choirboys getting their revenge on a priest, and the psycho Santa’s own violent backstory.
There are bits of welcome dark humor in the film, but even though the bodies stack up like so many cords of wood, it’s never remotely scary and the gore isn’t particularly gory. And the stories all seem to wander off disinterestedly, rather that concluding with satisfying twist endings like the good old Amicus anthologies did.
The film itself offers some striking imagery on what surely was a microscopic budget. Crow does everything — he serves as the writer, director, cinematographer and editor. The only thing he doesn’t provide is the atmospheric music, which is composed by Pete Coleman and Jeff Kristian. You’ve never heard such depressing Christmas carols.
The cheap and cheerful set design is pretty hilarious. Aside from some interesting exteriors and the scenes set in the church, it’s obvious that characters are simply standing around in somebody’s house with Christmas lights nailed to the walls. As for the performances, they run from amateurish to competent.
Nightmare on 34th Street is also unnecessarily long, running for more than two hours. Evidently a shorter version exists, but this review is based on this cut.
It is now available on digital.
Photos courtesy Wild Eye Releasing.