Title: Christmas Eve

Also known as:
Xmas Eve

Year: 2001

Genre: Horror / Slasher

Language: Japanese

Runtime: 81 min

Director: Toshiro Noga

Writer: Tokuyama Koichi (original story), Izumi Inoue (original story)


Atsuko, her boyfriend, Kyoji, and their friends plan on celebrating Christmas Eve up at a cabin in the snowy mountains. Their party is crashed by an unknown individual who has an obsession with Atsuko but there seems to be a game the mysterious man is playing. With each friend picked off, and each attempt to escape thwarted, Atsuko is forced to look inside herself for the answer she needs in order to survive.

Our thoughts:
For as long as Film Bizarro has been around there has been one movie I have been meaning to cover every December but I never do. Something about this year feels different and suddenly I find myself inspired to talk about this unknown little oddity of holiday horror, and that movie is “Christmas Eve” — a Japanese shot-on-video slasher that was released theatrically (supposedly) in 2001.

I picked up a VHS bootleg off of eBay around that time (’03 or ’04) and I don’t even remember how I found it or why my copy had subtitles (I saw “Hausu” within that same time and even that didn’t have subtitles). One thing that I consider strange about “Christmas Eve” is that I came across it when Japanese horror movies were popular and folks were importing titles left and right. Granted, those were mostly supernatural horror films but you would think a Christmas slasher would have caught someone’s attention. Yet, after all this time, I still haven’t seen anyone talk about it.

Then again, I think the movie’s obscurity isn’t because people failed to discover it. I believe it has more to do with the fact that the movie doesn’t make any goddamn sense.

Atsuko (Mami Kurosaka) is on her way up to a cabin in the mountains where she and her friends plan on celebrating Christmas. During the trip Atsuko and her boyfriend, Kyoji, cross paths with a jeep that deliberately runs them off the road. Thinking the worst is behind them, Atsuko and Kyoji arrive at the isolated cabin only to find the place torn apart and their friends dead. Their attempt to leave is blocked by the same jeep from earlier and soon the mysterious person behind the wheel forces the young couple into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. As Kyoji desperately tries to find a way to either stop the madman, or escape, Atsuko begins to lose her grip on reality. With every blackout, haunting visions of the killer lead Atsuko to the realization that she knows him — but from where?

Let me preface this review by saying that “Christmas Eve” is a bad movie. And don’t get too excited by that statement because it’s not a so-bad-it’s-good movie. But, on the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s also not some unwatchable basement produced home movie. It’s merely an average slasher with a moderate budget behind it (yet it was still shot on miniDV). The one, and probably only, interesting aspect of “Christmas Eve” is the level of ineptitude it demonstrates in regards to what it’s trying to accomplish. Granted, it reaches high levels of being both frustrating and fascinating but that’s the only driving force the movie has.

The fundamental problem with “Christmas Eve” is that it is by and large nothing more than a basic slasher — a singular woman is being stalked by a person who is obsessed with her and kills off her friends one by one in order to isolate her. And the reason that’s a problem is because the movie version of this story (this is based on a book) wants to be a psychological thriller.

There is a level of appreciate in the ambition of wanting to do something different and this movie definitely tries everything it can to be more than just a slasher. The issue is that the attempt at making this movie psychological is that it never gives us a baseline for what’s real. Neither in its story or its structure. There’s a continuously shifting timeline, hallucinations, fantasies, fantasy flashbacks, etc., and every moment when time or reality shifts within the movie, it becomes disorienting. That’s an issue in and of itself, but it’s amplified by editing choices that favored an inappropriate style over one that would actually work with the narrative.

Having said that, I will correct myself and say that the editing of “Christmas Eve” is actually the bigger problem here more so than misplaced ambition. The style in which the movie is edited to is so grossly inappropriate and horrendous, that large chunks of the movie are intentionally placed out of order. With no reason or functionality in place to help guide the audience into understanding what's occurring, viewers eventually lose all sense of time and space.

You can never tell where one person is in relation to another (even if they’re in the same room) and it’s impossible to know why certain things are happening (like how characters simply appear and vanish). As a result, the viewer isn’t invested in the story — or the movie at all, actually — but more in trying to make sense out of what’s happening on screen. This unintentional challenge becomes frustrating when the movie is a by-the-numbers slasher and you know that there’s no good reason for it to be this indecipherable.

As an example: Atsuko freaks out at the sight of one of her dead friends and she runs outside to the car. Kyoji follows her and tries to forcibly remove her from the car, only to have her throw open the door, and run away. Except now she’s covered in blood, starts falling down a hill, and the killer suddenly appears from the dark. After some cryptic dialogue is exchanged, Atsuko tumbles to the bottome of the hill, and as she crashes to the ground, the movie cuts back to her being inside the cabin sans the bloody clothes.

Upon the initial viewing of the movie, this group of scenes comes across as random and nonsensical. In which case it must be a dream, right? Well, no. What actually happens is that the movie cuts to an event that occurs about a half hour later in the movie, where Atsuko stabs the killer in the hand and then runs away. Naturally, that begs the question: why do we see that so early on in the movie and why is it treated like a dream? Good question. I have no idea!

The needless shift in time is a problem on its own but the real issue comes from when the altercation scene actually occurs. When the moment finally arrives, viewers have forgotten about the earlier scene of her running through the woods and falling down the hill. Now a simple solution to this self-made problem would be to call back to it by showing Atsuko running and falling again. I mean, you would think they would do that anyway because her escaping is part of the scene. However, in this movie’s attempt to make even the most basic of scenes needlessly confusing, it removes the bits of her running and falling. What we see is Atsuko stabbing the killer in the hand, then it cuts to her being unconscious at the bottom of the hill, then cuts back to the hand stabbing, then cuts back to her running through the woods and then the scene finally ends with Atsuko waking up in a bed (covered in blood).

Not only does this movie create an unnecessary problem by intercutting between two entirely different scenes that have too much time between them, but it’s somehow made worse. Then it never resolves the conflict within the individual scenes. Which, again, begs the question: Why? Why make a movie in this way?

There is essentially a snowball effect that happens from the very start of the movie. The first time the movie decides to play its hand of having a fragmented reality and shifting timeline concept, it creates a logistics problem of not knowing who, what, when, where and why in just about any scene. And once it starts, it progressively gets worse. Details are frequently lost because the movie either fails to deliver the necessary pieces to make the various moving parts work. Or because the viewer loses focus on what’s happened previously, because they are trying the best they can to make sense of whatever is currently happening.

If a viewer is able to understand the story or the individual scenes, it’s only because they're able to naturally fill in the gaps by using basic logic. Not because "Christmas Eve" tells a competent and flowing narrative. Director Toshiro Noga and whoever his editor was, took a simple slasher with a linear story and tried to create a non-linear one in editing. Instead what they made was a confused mediocre movie that gives the impression that crew didn’t know what they were doing.

There’s quite a bit of material to unpack when it comes to “Christmas Eve” (such as the abundant use of milk throughout the movie) but there’s simply not enough time to divulge into each weird, nonsensical moment this movie produces. And I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge there are genuinely some fun and entertaining moments in the movie as well. Like a character getting hit by a car and thrown into a running snow blower. Or that spectacularly awful exploding house that uses early-noughties CGI.

But I chose to focus on the editing and structure of the movie because, well, it's shocking to realize how poorly structured and edited the movie is. Even more so when you notice that this movie had a budget behind it and that it was released theatrically. This isn't some cheap v-cinema title that was dumped into the market. The other reason I focused on the nonsensical nature of the movie is because I believe that's the sole reason why “Christmas Eve” is buried in obscurity. Had the people behind the camera focused on trying to make a competent holiday slasher, this could have been little cult movie that found success outside of Japan. Instead, it’s nothing but an indecipherable and incompetent mess.

Well, "Christmas Eve" is not completely indecipherable because repeated viewings helps in understanding the film’s timelines. Somewhat. As I said earlier though, what drives the viewer’s interest in “Christmas Eve” is the overwhelming desire to understand it. To make sense of it all while it plays out. As you go back, and things become clearer, the entertainment from the movie being utter nonsense is lost and all you’re left with is a dull movie that manages to hid its mediocrity through unintentional methods.

Note: I would like to mention that the screencaps were sourced from my old VHS copy, which is why they're so poor, but also the lack of interesting images is a result of the tape breaking on me. I went back for a second time to capture images, and before I could reach the last 1/3 of the movie (which is where it gets weird), the tape stopped working. Maybe it's salvageable, but for now, it seems like this is the end for "Christmas Eve."

Positive things:
- There are a few genuinely entertaining moments.
- The number of POV shots are ridiculous. There are so many that Scott Spiegel would be proud.
- The reveal of the killer in a dream sequence features him in the 3-point superhero landing stance in front of a refrigerator full of milk.
- The ending is strange enough to make you scream, "What the fuck?!"
Negative things:
- Keeps viewers invested from being needlessly convoluted.
- The editing is shockingly terrible and manages to make an already nonsensical movie even worse.
- Loses any interest upon repeated viewings.

Gore: 2/5
Nudity: 1/5
Story: 2/5
Effects: 3/5
Comedy: 1/5

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