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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sean Kelly

TADFF15 Interview: A discussion with the producers, writers, and cast of A Christmas Horror Story

The holiday-themed horror anthology A Christmas Horror Story screens this evening at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. A Christmas Horror Story is the brainchild of producer/director Steve Hoban and producer Mark Smith. Throughout his 23 year career, Steve Hoban has produced many Canadian genre films, such as Ginger Snaps, Splice, Haunter, and the TV series Darknet, and is often joined by his producing partner Mark Smith (Haunter, Darknet, Wolves). When A Christmas Horror Story had its world premiere this past summer at the Fantasia International Film Festival, I had a chance to speak to Steve Hoban and Mark Smith about the film, along with screenwriters Pascal Trottier and Doug Taylor and actor Rob Archer.

According to Steve Hoban, the idea for A Christmas Horror Story came about because he was always interested in doing a Christmas version of Creepshow and that an opportunity to make the film came when another film project was delayed. "We thought maybe we can pull this together quickly enough and we had just finished working on a TV series called Darknet, that was an anthologized TV series," says Hoban. "We knew that we couldn’t just out of thin air pull out a feature script and develop it that quickly, but we did know what we could develop several short stories really quickly, with the writers that we worked with on Darknet." Hoban wanted to avoid the typical Creepshow anthology, with one story after another, so A Christmas Horror Story was envisioned so that all the stories would interweave and tell the story of Christmas Eve in the town of Bailey Downs, which also happens to be the setting of Hoban's earlier production Ginger Snaps.

Mark Smith explained the process for coming up with the stories, which involved full collaboration with the writers, all of whom they worked with in the past. "We got together and they pitched various stories, about ten different ones," says Smith. "Then we brainstormed and whittled it down to five and by the time we actually went to shoot, we had extricated number five, cause there was too much writing; it would be a two hour film." Two of these writers were Pascal Trottier and Doug Taylor, who had both worked on Darknet. The two further elaborated on their story ideas.

Pascal Trottier's story idea was originally envisioned as it's own feature film, but he thought that it would work great in the world of A Christmas Horror Story. "That story was one of like five ideas and it was my favourite one," says Trottier. "Luckily it was also their favourite and that’s how I was off and running with that story."

The story in question involves a family that comes in contact with a changeling, which has roots going back hundreds of years. "A lot of cultures seem to share a version of the changeling," says Trottier. "And it seemed to fit just perfectly for the holidays, because it’s about the Christmas time, where the focus is on the children and family." The story was also inspired by Trottier's experiences as a parent and how there can be a fear of change involving children. "There may be something wrong with your child and you have no answer for it and no solution for it and that powerlessness is a fear that every parent has."

For his story, Doug Taylor states that when he was approached by Steve Hoban and Mark Smith, he quickly jotted down some ideas. "I just wrote down, literally on a napkin, a bunch of ideas in my home and then narrowed it down to two ideas, one that seemed doable and one that seemed impossible and the impossible one being the zombie elves and Santa story," says Taylor. "Of course, they said ‘We’ll do the doable one, cause for the budget we’re looking at and the time frame we have in pre-production, how could we possibly do the second one.’" There was later a change of heart and the producers decides to find a way to do the zombie elves. "The perfect Christmas emblem would be to have Santa in your movie, the real Santa. So they said ‘We’re actually going to go with that one’ and my reaction was ‘How?’"

The Santa story was undoubtedly the most most flashy of the tales featured in A Christmas Horror Story and Doug Taylor is amazed that the filmmakers pulled it off. "You can write Santa decapitating an elf, but to actually shoot that on a 22 day schedule is a pretty difficult feat," says Taylor. "There were a lot of conversations about what we could pull off and at the end of the day I am shocked that they were able to pull off what they did pull off." Canadian character actor George Buza plays Santa in the film and Steve Hoban couldn't think of a better guy. "For Santa, we knew we wanted a kickass Viking Santa," says Hoban. "So George Buza is the only, the ONLY man we ever seriously considered for that role."

Another memorable casting choice in the film is William Shatner as the DJ Dangerous Dan. "There’s something so unique about William Shatner.  He is iconic for a reason," says Hoban. "His voice is so distinct and so effective that we needed to have somebody that could have significant presence, while just sitting in a radio booth."

Something that was brought up during the discussion is the coincidence of Michael Dougherty (Trick 'r Treat) directing his own Christmas horror film Krampus. "We were a little nervous for a while, until we started seeing some of the imagery," says Hoban. "Fortunately his Krampus looks more like the original Krampus. He’s more of a traditional Krampus, while ours is a more unexpected Krampus." Hoban elaborates that the Krampus in A Christmas Horror Story was designed to resemble a Nordic demon and be the antitheses of Santa Claus, with the Krampus being white with some red, to contrast with Santa being red with some white.

The Krampus was performed by actor and stunt man Rob Archer, who became involved with A Christmas Horror Story, due to him being a friend with one of the producers, who had also worked with Archer on the television series Lost Girl. In playing the Krampus, Archer wanted to differentiate his performance from other portrayals. "There’s two different things that I really wanted to change. One was coming in with my own body," says Archer. "I always pride myself and showing up with my own abs, being ripped and muscular and not needing CGI, not needing prosthetics for that. It’s just plain old me." The second thing Archer wanted to do was add an animalistic element to the Krampus. "You see that in some of the fight scenes, where the body language, the way I shift my body, the way I tilt my head, I stop and then lunge. Very animalistic elements and that’s what I wanted to add to it."

Archer elaborates on his make-up for the film in how, aside from the prosthetic head, it was entirely his own body, with very little clothing, performing in -20 degree weather. He even tells a funny story about the make-up application process. "Tracy, the lead on the special effects team, said ‘Never in my career did I have to go to Home Depot and buy paint rollers’ and she goes ‘We went and bought paint rollers, because you are just so damn big, it would take us even more time using our normal stuff.’ So, I had three special effects artists with paint rollers doing the base paint, like they’d never go to Home Depot for an application."

In preparing for the release of A Christmas Horror Story, Steve Hoban hopes to learn from his experience as a producer on the 2006 Black Christmas remake. "We were very disappointed with the release of that film, cause it came out at the wrong time of year," says Hoban. "It came out on Christmas Day, as opposed to coming out during the Christmas release of movies, which is November through December. So, it was very successful on that one day, but after that people don’t go to see Christmas movies after Christmas. We felt like there was a lost opportunity, so we always wanted to get back to combining Christmas and horror."

A Christmas Horror Story screens as part of Toronto After Dark's Zombie Appreciation Night tonight at 9:30 PM at the Scotiabank Theatre

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described ├╝ber-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).