There are some things we just automatically associate with Christmas. Tinsel, Christmas trees, crackers with bad jokes in, fairy lights. There are also stories we keep coming back to at this time of year. Scrooge and his ghosts, George Bailey seeing what the world would be like if he’d never been born, and yes, John McClane single-handedly foiling a terrorist attack that is actually an elaborate heist.
But one thing you probably don’t associate with Christmas is hordes of the shambling undead attempting to batter your door down and feast on your brains.
In 2017 Anna and the Apocalypse set out to change all that, becoming the first high school zombie Christmas musical to hit cinema screens. But while zombies and Christmas might seem like an unusual combination, Anna and the Apocalypse reveals the genres are a surprisingly good fit for one another.
Christmas is Not Unlike A Zombie Apocalypse
The streets are empty. The shops are shut. After a mad dash for supplies people have dug in with their loved ones all the food and drink they can lay their hands on, and will now avoid going outside at all costs. If there’s a knock at the door, you turn off all the lights and hide (because nobody really likes carol singers).
At any other time of year if you left your house to find the streets completely deserted, and everywhere from the shopping mall to the houses of Parliament completely empty of life, you could be forgiven for fearing the death of civilisation.
But perhaps it’s no surprise that, this close to Christmas, when Anna leaves her house it takes her a while to notice there was an outbreak of the undead while she was asleep.
Zombie horror movies have traditionally been given over to siege narratives, with the survivors holing up with all the supplies they can in a shopping mall, farmhouse or pub. In Anna and the Apocalypse, a school does the honours as the survival enclave. And like any good zombie movie (or prolonged Christmas with the relatives) it’s not long before tensions start to flare.
Both Christmas and the Apocalypse are a Time for Family
While most of us will be sensibly locking ourselves in our homes with as many pigs-in-blankets and bottles of Baileys as we can carry, it is not uncommon, Covid-restrictions allowing, for people to travel long distances to reach their family at this time of year. It is also a terrible idea that will guarantee an absolute nightmare of a journey.
Most of us, if we learned that society was collapsing and walking corpses were roaming the streets and feeling peckish, would want to reach our families before anything else. Zombie movies that aren’t about finding somewhere to bunker down and trying not to kill your fellow survivors, are about travelling through the blighted post-apocalyptic wasteland to reach the people you love. Just like Christmas, the end of civilisation is when we think about what’s really important to us.
This is the journey that Anna finds herself as she tries to reach her dad through the zombie apocalypse, and just like anyone trying to travel at Christmas, she finds herself in a tinsel-covered hell.
You Have to Have a Good Time
Christmas is about having a good time. Mince pies, dancing, trying to avoid listening to that song about Last Christmas, you’re here to enjoy yourself.
Which might seem at odds with hordes of shambling dead cannibals trying to pull you apart like a Christmas cracker, except, does it really seem so bad? You no longer have to go into work tomorrow, or ever again. Every shop you can get into and out of alive now offers a five-finger discount. And everywhere you look there are slow, stupid monsters that you can slaughter in a variety of creative ways without any need for justification or remorse.
Anna and the Apocalypse is a zombie movie that definitely shows the fun side of the apocalypse. A giant candy cane gets used to decapitate the undead! They kill a zombie dressed as a snowman with a seesaw! There’s a huge fight scene in a bowling alley and, even better, a ball pit! And of course, as with any good Christmas movie, there are plenty of song and dance numbers to go with it (tell us Die Hard wouldn’t have been improved if McClane had belted out a few tunes).
Christmas is a Holiday with a Social Conscience
Among all that fun and feasting and family, however, Christmas has always been a holiday with a message. From your choice of version of A Christmas Carol, to the realisation of the critical role George Bailey plays in the community in A Wonderful Life, to the Grinch himself, a great Christmas story has something more to say than “Merry Christmas”.
Zombie movies, meanwhile, have always been about more than cheap frights and gory splatter. From Night of the Living Dead onwards, zombie movies have had things to say about violence, capitalism, and political power.
Anna and the Apocalypse continues in that tradition, with songs about our obsession with screens and social media, introducing us to Mr Savage, the fascistic headteacher who Scrooge, Mr Potter, the Grinch and Hans Gruber combined would call “an obvious bad’un”.
As soon as the zombie outbreak hits, Potter wastes no time in using the crisis to tighten his grip on the school and turn it into his own tiny kingdom, and while he uses survival to justify everything he does, ultimately, he’s happy to throw everyone to the zombies to preserve his power.
He’s a villain that fits perfectly into the pantheon of zombie movie villains designed to show us that no undead creature can hold a candle to the worst of humanity in the monster stakes. But like any good Christmas story, that darkness never takes away from the fun of the movie.
Christmas is about celebrating light in the middle of the darkest bit of the year. Anna and the Apocalypse’s mix of zombies and tinsel, violence and song and dance, and the worst and the best bits of humanity, shows how zombies are very Christmassy.
Anna and the Apocalypse premieres on Horror Channel at 9pm on Christmas Day.
Plus, check out these channel premieres coming your way on Horror Channel this January:
Universal Soldier – SATURDAY 8TH AT 10:35PM
Office Uprising – SUNDAY 9TH AT 9PM
Stake Land – SATURDAY 15TH AT 9PM
The Stakelander – SATURDAY 22ND AT 9PM
The Wretched – SUNDAY 23RD AT 9PM
Evil Dead II – SATURDAY 29TH AT 9PM