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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » All The Creatures Were Stirring
All The Creatures Were Stirring
RLJE Films // Unrated // December 4, 2018
List Price: $27.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 7, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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"In tone, we wanted it to feel like an episode of The Office, almost, except if Jim got his head blown off three minutes into the episode."
- All the Creatures Were Stirring's audio commentary on "The Stockings Were Hung"
Yuletide horror. Horror anthologies. Two great tastes that should taste great together, but how many Christmas horror anthologies have Santa's elves ever bothered to put together? One?! Ugh. Writers/directors David Ian McKendry and Rebekah McKendry couldn't let this stand. If you're cursed with my same fascination with both Christmas-themed chills and genre anthologies, then brace yourself, 'cause All the Creatures Were Stirring is about to be your new holiday tradition.


Framed around an awkward let's-be-alone-together-on-Christmas-Eve date (wait, is it a date?!) at an avant-garde theatre, All the Creatures Were Stirring unwraps five different vignettes, beginning with "The Stockings Were Hung".


Take the Yankee Swap episode of The Office, sprinkle in a little Saw and...I dunno, some Mayhem for good measure (available now from your friends at RLJE Films!), and you're somewhere in the neighborhood. Pretty much everyone in this joyless corporate office is desperate to high-tail it out of there, but a holiday gift exchange has been mandated, so they just have to suffer through it if they wanna stay gainfully employed. At first, it seems like the worst fate awaiting them is getting stuck with a bottle of homemade balsamic vinegar. And then...well, there's a reason a voice on the phone maniacally cackles "I can't wait to watch you all die!" Whoever this sadistic bastard is, he can see every move they make. He's pumping the room full of some noxious gas. The conference room table is covered in gifts: some offering a glimmer of salvation when unwrapped; others leading to instant death. 10 minutes. Play or die.


There's last minute shopping, and then there's this. Eric (Matt Long) is literally the last car left in the parking lot, and...oh, wait, his keys are locked inside. Worse still, his keys and his phone are locked inside. The department store's locked up tight, it's not as if he can waltz over to a payphone to call AAA in this day and age, so...hmmm. Oh, I missed that dodgy looking van back there. Thankfully, the couple of twentysomething-year-old women inside (Makeda Declet and Catherine Parker) are helpful. Really helpful. Too helpful, maybe? They seem to have everything he needs to make it through this headache: a handy phone, a scarf, and even a little nip of the good stuff to keep warm. And it looks like that's not all that's waiting for him inside that van...


Maybe you don't hear about 'em all that much anymore, but the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future have been keeping plenty busy in the nearly two centuries since they visited Ebenezer Scrooge. Next on their docket is – let's see here – Chet (Jonathan Kite). No, he's not a Victorian-era robber baron, but "All Through the House"'s raging asshole is still managing to ruin the holidays for everyone around him. A cut-rate It's a Wonderful Life is playing on every channel. A wreath suddenly appears on the door. That line of coke he's snorting transforms into tinsel. Yup! These three spirits are going to teach Chet the true meaning of Christmas if it kills him.


You better believe there "Arose Such a Clatter". Do you have any idea how much racket it makes when your sedan plows head-on into a deer? This distracted driver (Mark Kelly) finds that out the hard way. It's a tragedy, but at least the fella has enough heart to put this almost-roadkill out of its misery when he sees how the gravely wounded creature is suffering. A sad end to a long life, judging by the size of those colossal antlers. Oh well! There's a reason the guy couldn't take his eyes off those racy photographs on the passenger seat, and he continues racing home for some holiday cheer ::wink!::. It's the strangest thing, though. Everywhere he goes, this beaming red light seems to follow...


The lunar cycle doesn't take a break just because it's Christmas Eve. Steve (Morgan Peter Brown) looks back at the full moon and bellows "not tonight" with action-hero-gravity. He locks the deadbolt. He puts his girlfriend (Constance Wu) off for a night. He starts yanking these heavy chains out of a duffel bag. Oh, you think you see where "In a Twinkling" is going? No. No, I promise you, you don't.


...and what better way to close out this oddball theatrical performance-slash-framing story than to bid "And to All a Good Night"?

Look, you know how Christmas and horror usually collide. Oh, it's a routine slasher, but the nutjob's dressed up as Santa! Or here's an over-the-counter vampire or whatever, but there are some ornaments on a tree over there in the corner while he's guzzling all that blood, so I guess it technically qualifies. That's not the way the McKendrys roll. They've clearly set out to make a movie in which each segment conceptually, thematically, inexorably screams Christmas...and with nary a Krampus nor Santa to be found to boot. Better still, the two of them have quite a few short films under their belts. That's invaluable when crafting an anthology – adeptly establishing a concept, introducing a new cast of characters, and telling a complete, satisfying story in a very limited runtime.

That background – plus, of course, the McKendrys' long-standing passion for the genre – is critical to All the Creatures Were Stirring succeeding as it does. They're both such gifted and inventive storytellers. So often in these sorts of anthologies, it's obvious in the first few minutes what the ultimate crisis will be, which characters will die in precisely which order, and on and on. All the Creatures Were Stirring is far more skillfully written than that. Its vignettes are constructed such that I'd find myself immediately intrigued, yet having no clue where they were going to go from there. I feel guilty even writing those relatively spoiler-free synopses above; ideally, I'd want anyone reading this review to go into the film with that same wide-eyed sense of discovery I had.


All the Creatures Were Stirring boasts one of the strongest hit-to-miss ratios of any horror anthology I've come across in ages. Really, there's only one segment I'm not wild about. "Arose Such a Clatter" has a brilliant concept, but it's the vignette with the least emphasis on characterization, the premise is exactly what you think it is, it unfolds more or less the way you'd expect... But at the same time, it's visually stylish, I'm a sucker for all those nods to the mighty giallo, and it's all of 7 minutes long, so it's not gonna be as meaty as the other segments anyway. I straight-up love basically everything else in All the Creatures Were Stirring, and that goes for the framing story in the theatre as well. Its playful sense of humor is infectious. The McKendrys' approach to horror here is more on the spook house thrills side of things and not so much make-you-sleep-with-the-nightlight-on, but they still deliver their fair share of solid jolts and surprises. They've amassed a terrific cast, including quite a few familiar faces: among them Fresh Off the Boat and Crazy Rich Asians' Constance Wu, Jocelin Donahue, and, yes, the '72 Ford Econoline van from Ant-Man. All the Creatures Were Stirring sets out to make each segment feel and even look distinct, at no point ever feeling like more of the same.

That's a whole lotta words, but I guess the short version of this review would just read "fun". At the end of the day, that's what All the Creatures Were Stirring sets out to be, and that's precisely what it delivers. Highly Recommended.


Video
Don't think of the Blu-ray release as delayed; RLJE Films is just trying to make the holiday season last a little longer. Industry-wide replication headaches have put the high definition release off till January 8th, but you could always do the whole VOD thing in the meantime or...y'know, DVD.

It's been a while since I last reviewed something in standard definition, but even though I've kind of lost my baseline, I'm still walking away happy with what RLJE Films has delivered here. The (generally!) scope image is sharp enough and respectably detailed. Its stylized palette looks terrific, whether it's those Argento-esque hues in "Arose Such a Clatter", hyperaggressive Christmas lights, or the rotoscoped colors in the otherwise monochromatic stretches of "In a Twinkling". Intense reds do have a tendency to bleed a bit, and ringing is frequently noticeable in areas of higher contrast:




Even being the high definition (or, even worse, Ultra HD) snob that I am, I still think this anthology looks pretty terrific in SD. Expect an updated review once that Blu-ray release makes its way into the wild, but as far as this DVD goes...?


All the Creatures Were Stirring is mostly presented at 2.35:1 or thereabouts, although there is a particularly well-executed aspect ratio shift late in the film. The execution of that shift doesn't play all that nicely with constant image height projection rigs, but I don't have a setup like that, you don't have a setup like that, so...whatever. It's great. Oh, and for anyone keeping track at home, the movie arrives on a single layer DVD.


Audio
All the Creatures Were Stirring's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio makes an immediate impression with the opening roar of Johnny Stanton and The Feathers' "More Than Enough for Me". Its music, more than any other aural element, shines. That's what takes the greatest advantage of the surround channels. I can't get enough of, say, the playful bass in the early moments of "Dash Away All" or the theremin-y tinge that further establishes "In a Twinkling"'s vintage sci-fi vibe. While the rears are mostly reserved for reinforcing music, I do appreciate the way they help witches' chants reverberate and "All Through the Houses"' demonic voices echo. There's some nice directionality up front, such as the scurrying past cubicles early in "The Stockings Were Hung". Bass response is respectable, especially – wow! – the creaky Econoline van in "Dash Away All". I kinda just love the sound design in general, and I can't imagine "In a Twinkling" in particular being as effective as it is without some of those sly flourishes. Nicely done.


Subtitles are served up in English (SDH) and French. The only other soundtrack is an audio commentary, which I'd say more about, but that's what "Extras" sections are for.


Extras
  • Audio Commentary: Writers/directors David Ian McKendry and Rebekah McKendry are joined by producer Joe Wicker and actor/producer Morgan Peter Brown for All the Creatures Were Stirring's commentary track. Given the anthology's wild imagination and demented sense of humor, it probably goes without saying that this conversation is a blast as well. Monster movie Judgment Night! A Phantom of the Paradise alum flashing a suitcase full of wooden teeth! Accidentally terrifying passersby on the sidewalk with Stuffy the Deer! Watching C.H.U.D II: Bud The C.H.U.D on purpose! Keeping a running tally of all the Mad Men veterans in the cast! Casting a gifted voice actor in a role with no dialogue! The strip club fat-packed with Santas you were almost watching! There are all sorts of highlights like that waiting for you here, yeah, but the four of them also offer plenty of insight into the production as well. They speak about the long shooting process that allowed them to retool and recalibrate as they went, strengthening one segment by removing backstory, communicating in horror movie shorthand with the crew, and subverting and upending genre conventions. This commentary winds up being nearly as much fun as All the Creatures Were Stirring itself, and that's really saying something.

And, yeah, there's the usual opening barrage of trailers as well. All the Creatures Were Stirring arrives in a transparent case and is lovingly tucked inside an embossed slipcover.


The Final Word
Okay, maybe part of me's wishing I'd saved that Santa GIF for the end, 'cause that really does sum it all up. But this section's called "The Final Word", so I guess I have to resort to actual words.


All the Creatures Were Stirring embraces Christmas in a way that few holiday-themed horror flicks can muster. That commitment to its concept, a strong cast, a devilish imagination, and a cacklingly demented sense of humor all make for one of the strongest genre anthology films to come down the pike in a good, long while. Christmas is a couple weeks off as I write this, so there's still plenty of time to make sure this DVD is lovingly wrapped for you under the tree. Its relatively gentle approach – no visceral gore, no gratuitous sex scenes, no twenty minute profane rants – could actually make for a family holiday tradition. Get the fireplace going, curl up on the couch, and have a hell of a lot of fun. Highly Recommended.
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