I am genuinely a lover of anthology films. In the world of horror, it is a wonderful way for a filmmaker to pack a powerful punch in a relatively short running time. The examples of genre films and series that took this format and showed us its inherent value are numerous. From Creepshow to 2015’s A Christmas Horror Story, when done right, it’s just the right formula for an increasingly ADD riddled nation.
Producer PJ Starks (Volumes of Blood franchise, forthcoming Cryptids) has assembled a Christmas horror anthology centered around 5 seemingly connected individuals all bought together on Christmas Eve after an ominous email bids them to unite at a local bar. Passing the time until the true purpose of their reunion is revealed, the 5 decide to resurrect an old holiday tradition: the telling of spooky stories, a past-time rarely revisited since the Victorian era.
Like the title, “13 Slays Till X-Mas” follows 13 tales of Christmas dread, all interwoven in ways that bring the stories back to our wraparound and ultimately the conclusion behind that central yarn that Starks and company have spun. The vignettes here range from one man’s paranoia that leads to murder, to an unwitting duo of hunter’s that stumble upon more than their rifles can bring down. There are some solid entries here. Blair Hoyle’s “One More Gift is exactly the kind of short horror one would expect to find in a holiday anthology; a seemingly regular couple of friends exchange gifts, all the while hiding a terrible secret that belies the very nature of the meaning of sharing. Likewise, shorts “Don’t Kill Santa on Christmas”, “Dead Air”, “Killer Caribou” and Shawn Burkett’s Krampus-inspired “Jungle Bellz” shine, with Dead Air being a standout entry that takes total advantage of a character study that, while set during the backdrop of the yuletide season, doesn’t depend on its resonance to succeed. In these 6 pieces alone, there is a lot to like. Unfortunately, it is the very concept of 13 Slays that buries the film under its own weight when compared to its predecessors.
13 Slays, unfortunately, is a classic case of “too many cooks in the kitchen”. While 6 or 7 stories might seem a little too weighty for a running time of just over an hour and 40 minutes, 13 Slays, and its 13 horrors quite simply doesn’t let most of its stories linger long enough to endear its characters to its audience or build a palpable enough sense of terror to truly get under your skin. 13 shorts by different filmmakers also, at times, highlights all too well the underpinnings of the very shortcomings of indie horror that largely turns off more mainstream audiences: large variances in quality, particularly in acting and craft. While horror indie staples like Kaylee Williams bring their usual a-game, there are others where the contrast is quite simply too bold to ignore, stopping the movie dead in its tracks, breaking down the fourth wall.
13 Slays, even with its faults, is a fun watch, and with so much packed into its length, an EASY watch that keeps a brisk pace through its duration.