By Landon Evanson
Horror anthologies can prove a risky endeavor for various reasons, not the least of which would be the fact that Creepshow (1982) and Trick ‘r Treat (2007) exist. However, that doesn’t mean that a handful of studios don’t give it the old college try from time-to-time, and certainly isn’t an indicator that one shouldn’t keep an open mind to new submissions within the subgenre.
Those philosophies are glaringly evident in Art Castle’s Holidays (2016), “an anthology feature film that puts a uniquely dark and original spin on some of the most iconic and beloved holidays of all time by challenging our folklore, traditions and assumptions.”
There are highlights and humdrums with any anthology, and Holidays is no different. A few festivals miss the mark, but the segments that connect with their intended targets more than make up for weaker counterparts. For instance, “Valentine’s Day” is predictable but solid, and if you’re a Tremors (1990) fan, the voice work on the mesmerizing “Father’s Day” will make you giddy. To say nothing of a fun “Halloween” snippet written and directed by Kevin Smith (Clerks), and “Christmas” starring Seth Green (Family Guy).
That said, one Holidays offering towers above the rest of the field, and as we embark on that celebration this Sunday, the focus of this piece rests squarely on “Easter.”
From Baby Firefly’s “Run rabbit!” to the creepy entity from Donnie Darko (2001), bunnies and horror have had occasion to mingle; but never has it been more cleverly or disturbingly pieced together than with Nicholas McCarthy’s (The Pact) marriage of the religious and mythological aspects of Easter.
The short’s premise revolves around a little girl played by Ava Acres (American Horror Story) who’s puzzled by the correlation between the Easter holiday and its baskets and eggs, Easter Bunny representation. The girl’s mother stammers through an effort to explain the conundrum, but unable to satisfy the child’s curiosity, she simply demands that the girl close her eyes and go to sleep.
“But what if I see him? What if I need a glass of water?”
So it begins. If only the little girl’s intellectual and physical thirst had not run so deeply.
Stumbling from her bedroom to replenish her fluids, the lass hears a chirp and cannot help but investigate. No spoilers shall follow, but just know that Holidays is worth a watch if for no other reason than Mark Steger’s Bunny Man.
If that name sounds familiar, it should. Steger has done motion capture work in films such as I Am Legend (2007) and Men in Black II (2002), and portrayed the monster from a little series called Stranger Things (2016). That’s the Demogorgon to you and me.
As one might expect, Steger’s movements and mannerisms perfectly mimic those of a rabbit, but it is the character concept executed by Amira Aranda’s makeup that will leave you clutching the arm rest of your sofa.
Steger’s Bunny Man is more than the Easter Bunny; he is the risen Jesus. With a crown of thorns secured over tucked ears and execution wounds fresh on his hands and ribcage, we soon discover that the chirping the little girl had heard was coming from chicks born directly from the wounds on Bunny Man’s hands. Clear symbolism of the Catholic belief that Jesus’ followers had been absolved from sin, reborn through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.
One need look no further than The Exorcist (1973) to find the worlds of religion and horror clashing, but for our purposes here, we skip over generalities and hone in the tale of the risen Son of God.
Catholics believe that Jesus Christ was crucified and buried on Good Friday only to rise on the third day, otherwise known as Easter. What makes this Holidays segment so unique was that it represented, so far as this writer is aware, the first time the religious holiday and its customary mascot were intertwined.
Having laid eyes on the methodical and mysterious movements of Bunny Man, the little girl attempts to quietly retreat down the hall to the safety of her bedroom. Through scent or sound, however, the Bunny Man detected her presence and quickly moved to obstruct her path.
It is within that dimly lit hall that viewers are afforded a full glimpse of Bunny Man. Tall, thin and sweaty, with dark, dead eyes, the rabbit possesses a deep, almost disembodied voice that speaks through labored breath as it moves in for a closer look. Insisting that it’s just a dream, the little girl doesn’t want to believe that what stands before her is real, opening the door to another aspect of the Resurrection story — Doubting Thomas as little girl.
“No child has ever seen me.”
Easter is supposed to be about exoneration and beginning anew, but Bunny Man is anything but forgiving.
If you want to know how this late-night encounter plays out, you’ll need to stream Holidays on Netflix.
Watching the deliberate movement and hearing the terrifying words that emanate from Bunny Man conjured images of Will Patton’s description of his unwelcome, middle-of-the-night visits from The Mothman Prophecies (2002), “There’s something just creepy about him.”
Holidays promised dark tales with original spin, and certainly delivered with “Easter,” easily the most unsettling chapter of the anthology. The ride lasts roughly eleven-and-a-half minutes, but makes an impact that will endure long after it fades to black. Don’t be surprised if you feel compelled to press pause in the hopes of processing what you’d just witnessed, because you’ll never see the Easter Bunny the same way ever again.