Two years ago, Haunted MTL brought you 13 short stories dedicated to the holiday demon titled the 13 Days of Krampus. We are continuing our tales of Yuletide terror with another exclusive series of holiday horror stories: The Twelve Nightmares of the Holidays. Be sure to check out our previous authors stories here for even more festive frights. Today marks day 6 of holiday nightmares and with it, I gift to you “Coming to Town“.
Tonight’s the night 6-year-old Andy Mercer has been patiently waiting for, Christmas Eve. For the past few years, Andy has made it a point to fall asleep on the family sofa in their living room in hopes of seeing Christmas’ official icon, Santa Claus. Unfortunately, each year he has attempted this tradition, he’s failed to catch a glimpse of the magical holiday figure, not this year. You see, Andy has a brilliant plan, one in which he’s been plotting with fierce fervor and precision. Tonight’s the night he will prove Saint Nicolas is real, the night he will capture video of the big man in red. All he needs are cozy blankets, plenty of hot cocoa, a charger and his trusty iPhone. Rushing to gather all his essentials for the night’s holiday stake-out, Andy is ready.
Every year for Christmas Eve, it was tradition for Andy’s mom to bake sugar cookies using a secret family recipe, while his father hid in the master bedroom performing last minute gift wrapping. As his family prepared for tomorrow’s big day, it was Andy’s duty to watch Santa’s location through the intricately scientific “Santa Watch” tracking system provided to him by his locally televised news station. His eyes fixed on the screen as he watched Santa’s sleigh inch closer to his neighborhood with each passing minute. “Andy, sweetie?” his mother said, walking into the living room. “Andy, can you please stop watching Santa Claus for a minute and help me?” her hands filled with a tray of freshly baked cookies for Santa, the sweet aroma wafting through the air. Finally breaking his gaze from the screen “But Mom! This is important! Look!… look how close he is!” thrusting his finger at the television.
“Yes dear. I see.” she replied in an exasperated tone. “But Santa Watch can wait a second while you help your mom with these cookies and milk” motioning the tray up as the half-filled glass of milk slightly jiggles.
“Just 1 second mom.” Andy says as he turns back to face the television.
“Andy…” his mother’s tone slightly raised.
“Andy! Help your mother with the cookies or I’ll eat them myself!” Andy’s father instigates from the other room.
“No, you won’t!” Yelling back Andy jumps off the couch and rushes towards his mother hurriedly grabbing the tray of cookies from her hand, almost spilling the glass of milk in the process. The pattering of his footsteps on the hardwood floors brings a chuckle to his mother as she lovingly watches her little, short brown-haired helper carry the delectable treats for Santa to the living room table.
“Ok sweetie, it’s time to start getting ready for bed, otherwise Santa Claus is going to fly past our house because SOMEONE is still awake.” Andy’s mother exclaims, her hands on her hips.
“Ugh, do I have to?” Andy asks in frustration.
“Well, if you don’t want your Christmas presents from Santa then be my guest.” shrugging her shoulders “Stay up as long as you like.” Andy’s mother says in a deceitful tone. “But don’t be upset if you wake up in the morning and see Santa Claus didn’t leave you any gifts.” As she turns to walk away, a slight smirk paints across her face.
“Ok, ok, ok. I’ll get ready for bed” Andy reluctantly claims, his feet shuffling back to the black suede couch. What she doesn’t know is he’s been secretly waiting for his bedtime announcement for the past hour. Sneakily hiding his phone behind one of the family pictures resting on the fireplace. The cord from his charger perfectly camouflaged with all the other dangling cables from the mantle.
While Andy’s mother wrapped him snug in his fleece blanket, the sound of their laughter and his father’s battle with the flimsy wrapping paper in the other room drowned out the sudden announcement cutting over the yearly Santa Watch live feed:
“Residents of Cain County, police are on the lookout for an escaped mental patient standing 6’3, weighing 245 lbs., dressed in Santa Claus attire. Local police are advising all residents to lock all doors and windows as the suspect is considered armed and extremely dangerous. He has been seen carrying a large red sack, and wearing what police are describing as a life-like Santa Claus fa-”
Before finishing the breaking news announcement, the voice is suddenly silenced as Andy’s mother presses the power button on the remote control lying on the armrest of the couch. Brushing her hand through his hair, she stares at him and softly says “Goodnight Andy. I love you sweetie. We’ll see you in the morning” planting a kiss on his tiny forehead.
“Bleh, gross!” Andy says with a smile as he playfully wipes his brow, “I love you too, Mom.” Once confirmed she has left the room, Andy quickly springs from the couch tip toeing to the fireplace to enact his perfectly thought-out plan, his finger firm as he hits the record button on his phone.
“I’ll get you this year Santa” he says while rubbing his hands together. With Santa’s cookies enticingly displayed and Andy’s phone set to record, “Now we wait” he thought to himself. Hours passed as Andy attempted to wait up, only to yet again fail in traditional fashion, falling fast asleep dreaming of the newest toys and gifts Santa would be bringing him. As he lay in his deep slumber, the sudden sound of presents shifting under the tree startled him, his eyes bursting open peering towards the glistening Christmas tree. His eyes adjusting to the light he stared in shock, not believing what, no, whose back he was staring at. A sense of elation coursing through his body. There he was, the man himself, Santa Claus as real as can be. The large black boots, the red and white fur coat, his iconic hat. It was Kris Kringle. Andy rubbed his eyes in disbelief as he sat on the couch watching Saint Nicolas scrummaging through his large scarlet sack of toys lying next to his feet. He couldn’t help but feel elated
“You’re real!” Andy exclaims in a spurt of excitement, startling the holiday figure. As he looks up from his sack of presents, his head quickly turns in the direction of the young boy, making him jump in the process.
“I’m sorry Santa! I didn’t mean to scare you!” Andy apologizes.
“Shhh.” remarks Santa, his index finger pressed to his lips, rising from his hunched position. His large stature begins to walk towards Andy, the bells wrapped around his thick waist jingle with each *thomp* from his heavy boots. Reaching the end of the living room table, he stands there silently looming over the small boy, his body motionless. Andy stares back, though anxiously as a look of confusion begins to wash over him. This wasn’t quite how he pictured Santa Claus. For one, he was much taller and more husky rather than round and stout. His suit appeared weathered with splotches of dirt and some type of crimson substance on the white fur lining the ends of his coat. At his waist was an abnormally long candy cane pointed at the end, with the same red substance dripping from the tips point and starting to pool on the wood floor. Was it frosting? Or red ink maybe? With the room dimly lit only by the multi-colored lights on the tree, Andy was unable to tell. What was even more unsettling was the face that stared back at him. Though it looked like Santa Claus, something was…off. Almost as if he were wearing a mask of his own face. It was fuller than the rest of his frame, but his eyes were hard to see, almost sunken in appearing as black circles. The closer Andy examined, he could make out the outline of Santa’s face more, a streak of red running down either side almost as if he had been cut. Almost as if Santa was wearing a mask of sorts. “But…why does Santa need to wear a mask? Especially one so scary?” he nervously thought to himself.
“Santa, are you ok?” Andy asks nervously. Santa stands there looking back, no response.
“Did you hurt yourself going down our chimney?” Andy quickly follows-up, a faint draft wisping past his face. As he looks to see where the chill is coming from, his eyes glance upon Santa’s boot prints leading from the tree to their front door. There it was, slightly ajar, flakes of snow fluttering through the entryway. Andy turns back at Santa to see him shaking his head “no” in response.
“Oh um…ok.” Andy’s voice shakingly replies.
“Did you bring me any presents this year?” he asks, trying to shift his attention from the door as he looks up into Santa’s stiff emotionless face. Tilting his head ever so slightly to the right, Santa hesitates in his response, simply staring at Andy only to slowly nod his head “yes”, revealing a decadently wrapped Christmas present with a gold bow from behind his back. With eager joy, Andy reaches for the gift only for Santa to quickly pull it back, waving one of his fingers back and forth.
“Guh, do I really have to wait until the morning Santa?” as his body slouches aggressively, crossing his arms in disappointment. Santa simply shakes his head yes in response, walking back towards the tree placing his present neatly with the other his parents brought out while he was sleeping. Grabbing his large sack of gifts and with a fling over his hulking shoulder, Santa begins to walk towards the front door.
“Wait! Aren’t you going to have your cookies and milk? My mom baked them just for you.” Andy implies sympathetically. Santa’s heavy feet stomp once more and stop as he turns to look at the tray of desserts presented before him, first chugging the glass of milk in giant gulps then grabbing only one cookie to take for his travels. Making his way back to the way in which he entered, Santa takes one final look at Andy and with a quick flick of the wrist, waves good-bye, quietly shutting the door behind him.
Andy just sat there a few moments, pondering over the experience he had just had with Santa Claus. He didn’t feel the joy or magic that he thought would come with meeting Santa Claus. Instead, the emotions he felt afterwards were that of confusion but also, a hint of fear. Why did Santa Claus have to use the front door? Why didn’t he say anything? What happened to his face? Was that blood he was covered in? If so, was it Santa’s? If not, whose was it? Many more thoughts plagued Andy’s mind as he tossed and turned, struggling to fall back to sleep.
As the sun rose the next morning, Andy awoke to the smell of brewing beans in the kitchen. His mother singing along to The Jackson 5’s cover of ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town‘ as she pours herself and his father a cup of rich coffee with a splash of French vanilla creamer for taste. Andy’s father groggily walks into the living room, wiping the flecks of morning crust from his eyes. His hands already extended, waiting to accept the warm mug prepared for him by his wife. Sitting from the couch rubbing his barely waking eyes, Andy suddenly remembers the interaction he had mere hours ago. In a sudden burst, Andy throws his blankets to the ground springing from the sofa as he runs to the fireplace mantle to grab his phone, still hidden away.
“Well Merry Christmas to you too buddy.” Andy’s father yawns.
“Huh? Oh yeah, Merry Christmas” Andy replies as he fumbles his phone in excitement.
“What are you doing? Come here and sit down so we can start Christmas” his mother says as she pats on the spot he was just sitting.
“Wait hold on! I have something to show you!” replied Andy, grabbing the golden bow present left from Santa with him. As he plops on the couch, he vigorously starts scrolling through his phone to make sure the video he had recorded throughout the night was saved. It was.
“Oh, that’s a fancy looking present you got there. Honey, did you leave that under the tree?” ask Andy’s dad, looking over at his wife.
“No, not me. That’s not one of your multiple re-wrapped achievements from last night?” she jokingly replies.
Andy’s father glares back and says “Comedian. Ha ha. No, those are my prize-winning wrapping jobs.” pointing towards the batch of gifts just slightly to the right of his mothers, and “Santa’s” gifts. Looking at each other puzzled, Andy’s voice breaks the silence saying “it’s not from either of you! It’s a special gift from Santa! I met him last night while you were both sleeping.” As those words leave Andy’s mouth, their stomachs suddenly sink in fear.
“Wait…what do you mean you met Santa Claus last night sweetie?” Andy’s mom asks, perplexed. “Yeah, what do you mean buddy?” immediately followed by his father.
Looking at his parents, the video of Santa Claus paused on his phone’s screen Andy replies “Well, while you and mom were both sleeping, Santa Claus actually came! I talked to him for a second and he gave me this present.” holding up his special gift. “Look I even recorded it on my phone! I’ve planned this all year and I FINALLY have proof he’s real!” Showing them the video on his screen in utter joy, an image of a man dressed in a dingy Santa Claus suit kneeling over a bag of God knows what is paused on the screen. Looking back at the mantle from where Andy had secretly placed his phone overnight, back to their excited child, they nervously grabbed the phone from Andy’s miniature hands. With a deep exhale, Andy’s parents look at each other once more before pressing play. To their horror they witness the intruder dressed as Santa Claus interacting with their curious son. Hovering over their living room table standing, staring.
Taking the opportunity of his parents’ frightening distraction, Andy begins ripping open his present, flinging torn bits of wrapping paper in the air with excitement. All that remained now was the bright golden bow holding the lid of his now black box closed. With a few quick tugs, the decadent bow manages to untie, draping itself down Andy’s hands. “This is it.” he thought, hands clutched in eager anticipation. Smiling with curious wonder, he hurls the lid of his present open only to have said smile quickly fade, the open box crashing to the floor. Alarmed by the sudden bang followed by the blood-curdling scream coming from their child, Andy’s parents drop the still playing phone in shock, gazing at the terrifying gift Santa Claus had left for him. Their cups of morning caffeine shattering across the floor accompanied by their own violent screams.
As the festive melodies of The Jackson 5 are drowned out by the terrifying screams of Andy and his parents, the yuletide tunes cut and instead a drearier announcement plays through the speakers…
“This just in, police have located the body of a decapitated man near Fashion Place Mall just off highway 66. Authorities have yet to identify the body of the deceased but believe this to be a local Cain County resident and town’s own favorite yearly Santa Claus, Kristopher Kellum. Mr. Kellum’s wife reported her husband missing late hours in the evening last night and has yet to be found. The crime scene is currently being investigated for evidence and/or DNA to help identify the body of the deceased. Local police have yet to locate the victim’s missing head…”
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Movies n TV
The Beach House, a Film Review
The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.
The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.
Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.
What I Like
Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There’s something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn’t consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.
Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror–or Lovecraftian–vibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.
Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.
In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato’s Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
As “body horror” should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don’t particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.
What I Dislike or Considerations
A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.
It’s hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film’s world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance–perhaps, even a plot hole–because the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.
One of the visuals didn’t exactly grab me. While I won’t go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It’s hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn’t exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.
There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can’t help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it’s certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it’s also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.
The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I’m not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. (3 / 5)
If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.
Movies n TV
Every Secret Thing, a Film Review
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman’s novel.
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.
When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.
What I Like
The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.
Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.
The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors’ performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.
Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.
Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn’t glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.
Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.
Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it’s hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.
What I Dislike
Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.
A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.
As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won’t particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.
Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won’t haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
(2.5 / 5)
Movies n TV
Quid Pro Woe
We’ve now reached episode six of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And after the last episode, this one did not disappoint.
We start with Wednesday attempting to contact Goody Addams. Last episode, if you’ll recall, Morticia explained the difference between a psychic dove and a raven. Since Goody Addams was the last raven psychic in the family line, it’s got to be her that trains Wednesday.
But her seance is a failure, and Wednesday is interrupted by a magazine note shoved under the door. It says to meet someone at a crypt for answers.
When she gets there, it turns out that her friends have put together a surprise birthday party for her. Before she can cut the cake, however, she has a vision.
Goody Addams tells her that she must find a specific gate. After some investigation, Wednesday discovers it’s the gate to the old Gates house.
Wednesday goes to investigate, but she isn’t the only one. She is nearly discovered by Mayor Walker. He is also investigating the Gates family, even though they’re all reported to be dead. He leaves a message for Sheriff Galpin and is almost immediately run over by a car.
This incident is enough to get Wednesday’s town villages revoked. Though this seems like an empty punishment since the whole school is on lockdown. Someone burned Fire Will Rain on their front lawn.
Wednesday isn’t one for believing the rules apply to her. She has it in her head that she’s meant to save Nevermore Academy, probably from whatever descendent of Crackstone who’s still around. So she has no problem lying to Enid and Tyler and convincing them to help her sneak off campus and explore the Gates house further.
This, of course, is an incredibly informative trip. The kids find a hidden altar to Crackstone, as well as the missing body parts from the monster’s victims. They also find evidence that someone’s been staying in the house. Someone who’s staying in what looks like a little girl’s room.
Before they can find anything more, the monster finds them. They barely escape, and go to the sheriff with what they find.
Of course, the house has been cleared out by the time Sheriff Galpin arrives. Furious that his son was almost killed, he tells Wednesday to stay away from him.
Because that always works, right?
Galpin isn’t the only one angry. Enid is fed up with the way Wednesday has been treating her. And so she leaves their room to bunk with someone else, leaving Wednesday alone.
This episode was well done. The discoveries at the house were exciting, and I’m almost sure I know who’s behind the murders at this point. Overall, this was a good ramp-up to the season finale.
Finally, this episode did something I was worried just wasn’t going to happen. And for that alone, it deserves praise.
Wednesday has been incredibly selfish and inconsiderate since the first episode. She’s been rude and demanding towards Thing. She’s ignored her friends’ needs and emotions while insisting they put themselves in danger for her investigation. She has respected no one’s boundaries, even while other people have at least tried to respect hers.
And now, it’s finally come back to bite her. All of the people who have been doing their best to show her kindness and support are finally done with her bullshit.
Yes, this is a good thing! Characters are best when they’re allowed to learn and grow. When they don’t come to us flawless. When they mess up and learn from it. Especially for a show aimed at kids, this is essential.
If you’d asked me at the beginning of the season if this character was going to experience honest character growth, I’d have assured you it would never happen. Much to my surprise, it’s happening. I hope that Wednesday is going to come out of this a better person. With two episodes left in the season, there’s plenty of time for that. (4 / 5)
December 20, 2022 at 8:10 pm
Killer Christmas story. I imagine the murderer must have quite the collection this time of year… there are so many to choose from. 😉
December 28, 2022 at 6:07 am
Thank you so much! I had a lot of fun writing this one! ☺️ Definitely a story I can revisit and expand upon 🎅🏻😈 haha.