There’s nothing quite like Christmas Horror. Book or movie, it doesn’t matter. It’s the perfect blend of salty and sweet. Horrific and whimsical. Ghosts and goblins and ghouls are par for the course on Halloween, but Christmas Horror feels like a special treat. It can be cheeky and schlocky, or depressing and bleak. It can come with a message, or it can be pure carnage. Whatever the flavor and whatever the motivation, Christmas Horror hits different.
The Killing Tree aims for the schlockier side of things. On Christmas Eve, Magna (Gillian Broderick) conducts a ritual to bring her executed serial killer husband back to life. When she botches the spell, Clayton Slayter (Marcus Massey) is resurrected in the form of a Christmas tree. Both enraged by his altered state, and thrilled with newfound powers, Clayton resumes his murderous rampage. However, before he can truly begin again, he has unfinished business to attend to.
Across town, Faith (Sarah Alexandra Marks) is planning for a night of fun and Christmas cheer with her friends. The sole survivor of Clayton’s massacre, and the key witness leading to his execution, Faith hopes to put the horrors behind her and move on with her life. Unfortunately for Faith and her friends, Clayton has other plans for Christmas Eve.
I’m a firm believer in the concept of ‘The Worse the Idea: The Better the Movie’. If you take the most asinine and idiotic idea you can imagine, more often than not the final result is so mind-numbingly ridiculous that it can’t stop itself from being wildly entertaining.
Other times you wind up with The Killing Tree.
After a bombastic and delightfully over-the-top opening scene, The Killing Tree seems poised to be one of the great trash cinema masterpieces of the year. Once the introduction is complete and the movie proper begins, that energy fizzles.
Death scenes come and go without fanfare or charm. Conversations drag on, sometimes for twenty minutes at a time, flooding us with backstory that we really don’t care about. Haphazard flashbacks weave themselves into the narrative with no rhyme or reason. The movie drags its feet getting to the fun parts, only to pull the rug out from under itself just as it’s about to get interesting.
The cast does an admirable job with what they’re given. It’s the performances that can take a ridiculous premise and make it work. If the performers look like they’re terrified of a homicidal tree, the audience should feel that the tree is a threat as well. When the tree finally launches its attack on the cast, the actors do their best to make it seem real. It’s the rest of the movie that drops the ball.
May Kelley as Cindy gives a wonderful performance as she is terrorized by the tree. For a moment, the poolside massacre scene seemed as if it was about to raise the movie to the next level. The stage was set. The characters were established. All the pieces were in place for the movie to pull the ripcord and let loose.
And then it just…didn’t.
The scene ends. It doesn’t reach a conclusion, so much as it stops. Following that, the party massacre scene begins and ends much the same way. The Clayton-Tree quickly kills everyone he comes across, bloodlessly and mostly off-screen. Most of the mayhem is in long-distance CG shots. There’s no close up of the bodies. No reaction shots of the victims or onlookers. Nothing to make it remarkable.
Not to sound like your high school guidance counselor, but the movie just doesn’t live up to its potential. It doesn’t try to be scary. It doesn’t try to be funny. It doesn’t try to be gory, or offensive, or absurd. That’s the biggest problem with The Killing Tree. It just doesn’t try. What should be a farcical romp is instead a meandering slog.
If you’re like me, and you can’t get enough of Christmas Horror, go ahead and give The Killing Tree a watch. It’s an amusing premise and can make good background noise while you’re wrapping presents or decorating the tree. Just don’t expect it to be part of your yearly tradition.
The Killing Tree is available on DVD and Digital November 1, 2022.