Friday, December 20, 2019

Holiday Gift Guide: Christmas Presence

They say “Satan Never Sleeps.” His minions don’t work bankers’ hours either. That means the evil entity haunting a remote country house will be just as ornery on Christmas Eve. A group of boozy, sexually frustrated friends is in for a harsh holiday in James Edward Cook’s Christmas Presence (a.k.a. Why Hide?), now available on DVD for your last-minute shopping needs.

McKenzie has gathered her friends together for Christmas in an old country manor as if they were characters in an Agatha Christie novel. They are a gossipy, neurotic bunch, especially Hugo the flamboyant fashion designer and Samantha, who aspires to be the lesbian E.L. James, even though she admits she doesn’t know who that is. Schlubby Marcus and his wife Anita, the world’s worst psychic, are barely on speaking terms, while Samantha’s matronly partner Jo is annoyingly chipper. It is already fun times, even before the weird black swirling cloud of evilness starts preying on them one by one.

is sort of like the horror movie version of Branagh’s Peter’s Friends. In fact, Cook spends so much time on character development, the genre stuff largely takes a back seat during the opening and middle sections. However, he rather rectifies matters during the third act. In fact, the film crescendos with a nasty bit of business that comes way out of left field. It is bound to be a divisive turn of events, but you have to give Cook credit for boldness.

Regardless, Presence features some wonderfully caustic dialogue and a number of immensely colorful performances. This is one of the relatively rare horror comedies that is legitimately funny. In fact, it earns considerably more laughs than scares, but that’s okay, since it’s all intentional.

William Holstead and Elsie Bennett binge on the scenery, throw subtlety to the wind, and generally go for broke as Hugo and Samantha. Lorna Brown has some good freak-outs as Anita, but Charlotte Atkinson’s McKenzie and Mark Chatterton’s Marcus ground the film with some surprisingly human moments. The effects are nothing special, but the jazzed-up Christmas carol soundtrack is refreshingly peppy.

It should go without saying, but Christmas Presence is light years better than the Black Christmas remake. It is not among the best of Christmas horror movies (like Better Watch Out, etc.), but it is better than average. Recommended for horror fans in a bah humbug frame of mind, Christmas Presence recently released on DVD and streams exclusively on Shudder.