The Nights Before Christmas
- review by Ellis Reed
This is a bit of a departure from the usual Horrified fare, being a home-grown faux-American festive slasher. It’s the sequel to 2017’s Once Upon a Time at Christmas and features the return of a murderous Santa (Simon Philips, who also shares a writing credit) with his Harley Quinn-style assistant, Mrs Claus (Sayla de Goede). Like the first instalment, the film is directed and co-written by British director Paul Tanter (hence, qualifying for a review here), with Canada standing in for New York.
Although The Nights Before Christmas is a sequel, the events of the first film are referred to often enough—both verbally and in flashback—for it to work as a standalone film. In fact, the film’s working title was the (slightly superior) Twice Upon a Time at Christmas, and I wonder if they changed it to avoid discouraging horror fans who hadn’t seen the first. Looking at IMDb, a third film—One Christmas Night in a Toy Store—is already in pre-production, so the series will be a trilogy at least.
So, to the film. In a gloriously OTT opening, Mr and Mrs Claus escape from their Arkham-style asylum with the aid of some petrol. They then resume their gory antics, leaving the verdicts “NAUGHTY” and “NICE” at the scenes of their crimes. In a ghoulish flourish, these are variously written in blood on the snow or carved into people. The survivors of the previous spree are scattered through the area in varying states of trauma, and the first of the murders suggests that the villains are looking to tie up some loose ends, rather than merely killing at random.
As with the first film, the resulting story blends familiar slasher action with a police procedural. The survivors are swiftly given FBI protection, led by Special Agent Natalie Parker (Kate Schroder). There are a lot of characters in the film, but if Special Agent Parker is the protagonist, then the stars of the show are certainly Mr and Mrs Claus. The script demands larger-than-life performances and they gleefully oblige, piling on more ham than a Christmas carvery.
There’s a lot for slasher fans to love here, including gore and flashes of dark humour—both of which peak immediately before and during a late boardroom scene—and the FBI case gives the narrative an extra dimension. The production is very solid for an independent movie, with Julian Garofalo taking the Bloodie for Best Cinematography at the 2019 Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival. The amount of care lavished on this straight-to-streaming sequel shows an obvious commitment to the characters and franchise which elevates it over much of the competition. The sequel in pre-production suggests a desire to tell more stories, rather than a cash-grab.
In terms of acting, the performances range from solid to outrageous with no distracting duffers. Simon Phillips has been recognised for his (not in a bad way!) scenery-chewing take on Santa; he won Best Actor at the 2020 Sin City Horror Fest and was also nominated for the (wonderfully-named) “Memorable Mobster Flavor Individual Performance” at the 2020 MLC Awards. Of the other characters, Barry Kennedy does a lovely (albeit brief) bit of work as former sheriff Mitchell, while Keegan Chambers is believable as traumatised survivor Courtney.
As a minor criticism, The Nights Before Christmas is arguably a little too long at 103 minutes—I prefer my indie horror to weigh in at a clean hour and a half, including credits—but that’s a small complaint in a fun and well-produced movie. If you like slashers and want some seasonal fare, you could do a lot worse than watching this for free on Amazon Prime. Enjoy!