THE CHRISTMAS TAPES Poster | ©2022 Terror Films

THE CHRISTMAS TAPES Poster | ©2022 Terror Films

Rating: Not rated
Stars: Dave Sheridan, Greg Sestero, Vernon Wells, Lori Richardson, Ian Rose, Ruby Setnick, Janice Burt, Todd Lubitsch
Writers: Randy Nundlall Jr. & Robert Livings
Directors: Randy Nundlall Jr. & Robert Livings
Distributor: Terror Films
Release Date: December 12, 2022 (digital)

THE CHRISTMAS TAPES has something we just don’t see anymore. It’s set in 2022, but everybody in both the wraparound and individual segments uses full-sized VHS tapes. Indeed, would-be cinema professor/actual home invader Geoff (Greg Sestero) takes it for granted that the family he holds hostage will have a VHS player in their living room, and sure enough, they do.

This is such an odd aspect of THE CHRISTMAS TAPES that it deserves mention. It is not part of the V/H/S franchise, all of which is set in years past when the format was much more common.

What makes it even stranger is that none of the segments have plots or technological innovations that require them to be set in the present. One consequence of this is that we wait to find out if there’s a big explanatory twist for this, but there isn’t. We never even find out how it is that the home invader knows his target group has a working VHS player. So far as we can tell, the filmmakers just like VHS tape.

There’s actually a lot of this-seems-like-fun-so-why-not in THE CHRISTMAS TAPES. The framing device, set on Christmas Eve, has Geoff wheedling his way into the home of dad Bill (Todd Lubitsch), mom Lisa (Janice Burt), son Eli (Joshua Rose) and daughter Rachel (Ruby Setnick), who has just received a VHS video camera as a gift.

Geoff proceeds to brandish a gun and forces the clan to watch a series of VHS tapes he’s brought with him, all set on or around Christmas, and all shot (at least initially) by the characters who appear in them. In between videos, Geoff pontificates on what makes a good movie.

The segments are “Travel Buggies,” featuring a couple who do a travel vlog and unwisely mock a Germanic boogeyman, “The Christmas Gift,” in which a busy exec type wants to be an “unboxing gift” to his kids and the deliveryman shows up dressed as Santa, “Untitled,” with a young man on a strict timetable to get a present to a hotel room, and “The Xmas Spirit,” in which a young married pair move into a new home that’s clearly haunted and bring in a questionable paranormal expert.

Writer/director duo Randy Nundlall Jr. & Robert Livings pay bits of homage to other slow-burn found footage videotape horror, including PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

The filmmakers are to be applauded for their use of location, darkness, and space to create horror suspense on a budget. However, they too often don’t know how to pay off scares.

Also, they don’t know when to quit. Geoff becomes less scary or funny than annoying with his ongoing directorial pretentiousness. The notion of an unreliable exorcist is amusing, but the segment lasts a few beats too long.

We also wait in vain for something in the wraparound to explain exactly who or what Geoff. A tie-in to one specific segment raises more unanswered questions. It’s not that everything should be spelled out, but it feels like if THE CHRISTMAS TAPES is going to be this enigmatic, it should be more frightening.

“Travel Buggies” may succeed best on this front, as it does have a suitably creepy creature, and there are some nice, weird production design details in “The Xmas Spirit.”

Standouts in the large cast include Vernon Wells as the ever-avuncular deliveryman/Santa, Lori Richardson as his likewise upbeat missus, and Rose as the good-natured son of the family in the wraparound sequences.

THE CHRISTMAS TAPES is ultimately a metaphorical stocking stuffer. It doesn’t count as a real Christmas present, but it gets you in the mood for more holiday horror.

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