Review: The Mean One Turns a Holiday Humbug into Horror Nobody Asked For

They can’t all be winners (or even Hallmark Channel-worthy), but some Christmas movie ideas are great on paper, and then falter when it comes to the execution. Case in point: The Mean One, an unofficial, unsanctioned updating of the Grinch story, only in this version, the Grinch doesn’t just kill Christmas; he kills anyone who dares show an ounce of Christmas spirit. If you accidentally knock over a sleigh bell, you’re dead; if you light the wrong-colored candle, he’ll probably stab you in the eye with it; and if you even dream of stringing some lights on your house, you might find yourself headless. 

The film is front-loaded with dopey Dr. Seuss references and features Terrifier 2’s Art the Clown himself, David Howard Thornton, as the green, furry villain (who is never actually called the Grinch, although he looks exactly like the version from Ron Howard’s 2000 film How the Grinch Stole Christmas). The Mean One is a clever idea that never really takes off beyond its premise. Set in the mountain town of Newville (instead of Whoville, get it?), the film opens with young Cindy watching her parents slaughtered in front of her after they’ve decorated the house for the holidays. She drew a picture of the killer in a Santa Claus suit, but the police think she's just imagining such a creature.

Twenty years later, Cindy (actor/stuntwoman Krystle Martin) returns to the town to seek closure, but instead, the so-called Christmas Killer returns as well to finish the job on her family and anyone else who dares to show an ounce of holiday cheer. But Cindy isn’t just here to put the past behind her; she wants to trap and kill the monster that forever destroyed her family. Along the way, she meets the sheriff who originally investigated her parents’ murders (Erik Baker); his recently hired deputy (Chase Mullins), who happens to be Jewish, which I guess makes him immune from the Grinch; the cheery mayor (Amy Schumacher), who is constantly attempting to downplay the town’s dark history; and the town drunk (John Bigham), whose name I’m pretty sure is Doc Zeus, and his wife, who was killed in broad daylight by the Mean One while she was attempting to mail presents.

Directed by Steven LaMorte (Trials of Ember), The Mean One is poorly paced, spends way too much time trying to be cute and clever about its premise, and the acting is…not the best. In addition to sending up the beloved Seuss story, it also fancies itself a parody of the aforementioned Hallmark holiday movies, and reminds us of this with its painful love story involving Cindy and Deputy Burke that takes away from what little tension and thrills the horror elements give us, which isn’t much (spoiler alert!). The film isn’t afraid to get bloody at times, and many of the kills are holiday-themed, so that’s a bonus. I’ll even give the film credit for being funny in places. But the overall production is lacking, the writing is perhaps a bit too on the nose, and you have to have more than a few Dr. Seuss references to make a movie like this really pop. I can see this working as a group watch among holiday-enthused friends drunk on spiked nog, but beyond that, its novelty wears off quickly.

The film is opening exclusively at Regal Cinemas nationwide on Dec. 9, with special advance screenings on the evening of Dec. 8.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.