Every December, fans of shlock gather around their televisions and tune in to Tubi, scrolling excitedly through a new lineup of holiday-themed horror flicks that promise to tickle their funny bones and fulfill their need to watch Christmas get butchered. It’s not that they hate Christmas (though some may), it’s that this holiday in particular seems to bring out the best (and the worst) in low-budget horror.
Starring the legendary Patrick Bergin (Patriot Games, Robin Hood, Sleeping With the Enemy) and a 7-foot-tall Nutcracker doll, Nutcracker Massacre looks like it should fit the bill. Who doesn’t want to watch a traditional Christmas toy come to life and butcher everyone in its path? It’s like a German Chucky doll, but it’s in uniform, and it’s huge! The film opens with a kill scene, demonstrating its intent to scare us, but then…it doesn’t.
Reviewing this movie is difficult. It’s the season for giving, but Nutcracker Massacre has us searching for something positive to say. It’s slow, it’s poorly written, and it’s neither funny nor scary. Had Rebecca Matthews (director) and Joe Knetter (screenplay writer) just gone with the absurdity of the story and presented it as a low-budget comedy horror, it could have been an enjoyable watch. Instead, they attempted to make a serious horror and wound up with a lot of plot holes and inconsistencies. It feels like a Hallmark Christmas movie that someone put in a choke hold and spray painted with glitter while their parents weren’t looking.
Clara (Beatrice Fletcher) is an author scorned, newly single after dumping her cheating boyfriend Paul (Andy Dixon). With Christmas just days away, she calls her aunt Marie (Julie Stevens) for an uplifting chat. When she tells her aunt that she had to cancel the romantic getaway she and Paul had planned (though inexplicably leaves out the part about dumping him), Marie invites her to spend Christmas at her house. Clara is thrilled and packs her bags immediately. While en route, she stops at a cute little antique shop to pick up a gift for her aunt and meets the mysterious shopkeeper/toy maker (Patrick Bergin). He sells her a handmade nutcracker doll and sends her on her way. The setup is so Hallmark, its easy to forget that we’re watching a horror film. Aside from the opening scene, in fact, there is no hint of horror until we pass the twenty-minute mark. Instead, we watch Clara and Marie have a drawn-out sentimental conversation, drinking wine next to a cozy fire. When the nutcracker finally does strike again, it’s silly, but it’s not supposed to be. We know after this that Nutcracker Massacre is not going to scare us or fill us with laughter. No one expects a low budget b-movie to wow them, but they usually give us more to chew on than this piece of dry toast
Nutcracker Massacre is dialogue-heavy, leaving it to the characters to tell the story rather than action sequences showing it as most horror films do. It looks like it was filmed over a weekend, with the majority of the scenes shot in one house, which is naturally limiting. The characters are one-dimensional, though, and unfortunately, the script is so bad there wasn’t much the actors could have done to make them more appealing. The dialogue drags between the same few people until Clara and Paul go back to the antique shop to question the toy maker about the now-missing killer nutcracker. Bergin is a pro with an impressive acting resume, and the difference between his performance and the rest is jarring. We knew from the mustache twist in his first scene that there was going to be more to his character than “simple shopkeeper”. The toy maker doesn’t just know what’s going on, he may very well be behind it all. Bergin delivers a long exposition, narrating the history and lore of the nutcracker while a low-budget reenactment is shown. It’s obvious there was an attempt at making the scene magical, but it was just confusing. Bergin plays his role well, but as with the rest of the cast, it’s impossible to polish a lump of coal.
The screenplay is so full of holes and shoddy patchwork that it becomes hard to follow at points and fails to maintain the viewer’s interest. It had the potential to be much more entertaining than it is, but instead, it feels like someone declared “good enough” without actually reviewing the final product.
We do have two positive notes that we’d like to share in keeping with the spirit of giving, though. While the killer nutcracker is nothing more than a man in a uniform, his headpiece is a work of art. Its resting face is creepy enough, but when he enters killer mode, it becomes nightmare fuel. A second headpiece was created for these scenes, and it is truly unique among horror villains and monsters. It could easily become a popular Halloween costume alongside Jason’s hockey mask or Sam’s burlap head, and its designer deserves props.
The second positive worth mentioning is also our final note because we think you should sacrifice 90 minutes of your life and watch the film, if only just to add this to your all-time favourite movie scenes. Most of the nutcracker’s kills are bland, but when he finds one of the guests cracking walnuts in the kitchen in the middle of the night, he seems to take it personally. The scene is far more graphic than the rest, and the “prosthetic” is absolutely hilarious. We anticipate seeing multiple clips of this scene popping up all over the internet after Nutcracker Massacre is unleashed on the world, and we know you’ll want to watch the rest of the movie hoping the whole thing is just as crazy. It’s not, but you’ll never look at walnuts the same way again.
We’re left with a number of questions, including “How did they convince Patrick Bergin to take this role?” and “Where did all the bodies go?”, but we’ll let you watch it to see what you think. as a gift to the creators and to summarize the film, we have written a poem to commemorate our viewing and the passage of time that we can’t get back.
Ode to The Nutcracker
‘Twas weeks before Christmas, and all around the world,
Families gathered to watch as new shlock unfurled.
They tuned into Tubi with high hopes and glee,
Sure there’d be something there worthy to see,
When all of a sudden they settled on this,
And all of them knew, it was sadly a miss.
They tried to enjoy it, they grunted and mustered,
They made up excuses and quickly ‘came flustered.
They could not redeem it, or get their time back,
But at least there’s that one scene, a nut in a sack.
They picked up their tv’s and threw them outside,
And exchanged their regrets that they’d gone for the ride.
They went to bed sad, their dreams dashed, and then,
With eye rolls and groans swore off b-movies, again.
The fact that the Nutcracker kills people is true,
But there’s nothing benign to say in review.
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Kate’s love of all things dark began as a child and deepened when she realized what being an adult meant. She was born with a pencil in her hand and loves nothing more than writing horrific stories to tantalize her inner demons. Kate lives in Hamilton, Ontario Canada with her husband and her boys, stirring up trouble wherever she can.