October 6, 2017
Writer/Director: Craig Anderson
Starring: Dee Wallace, Sam Campbell, Geoff Morrell, Janis McGavin, Gerard O’Dwyer
Reviewed by Sean Leonard
I’m kind of a sucker for Christmas movies. Black Christmas, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Jingle All the Way, that old Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys cartoon…you name it, good or bad, I’ll probably enjoy it. So it goes without saying that some of my favorite horror movies are also Christmas-themed. There’s just something special and equally disturbing about combining the happiest, most cheerful holiday of giving with a heaping dose of bloodshed and murder. Australian writer/director Craig Anderson gives us a fresh take on this cruel juxtaposition with his Christmas-themed slasher, Red Christmas.
We open with a montage: a battle of pro-choice and pro-life statements, a radical Christian terrorist setting off a bomb at a women’s clinic, and, amidst all the chaos, a man taking a discarded, still-breathing baby out of a bucket and bringing it home. Then fast forward 20 years, and we meet the family we will be spending the holidays with; i.e., the potential victims. There’s the pregnant Ginny (Janis McGavin) and her husband, Scott (Bjorn Stewart), a fun loving couple, and their polar opposites, the uptight, ultra-religious Suzy (Sarah Bishop) and her husband, Peter (David Collins), who is also a pastor; there’s the medical marijuana aficionado, Uncle Joe (Geoff Morrell); there’s the rebellious daughter, Hope (Deelia Meriel), and the Shakespeare-quoting Jerry (Gerard O’Dwyer); and finally, there’s the matriarch of the bunch, the glue that keeps the family together, last but certainly not least, Diane (Dee Wallace). But then the doorbell rings…
While Red Christmas starts off as a movie about the friction of family holidays, the bickering quickly turns into tension as Cletus (Sam Campbell), a man in a black cloak and a bandaged face, appears at the door, interrupting present time and making everyone uncomfortable when he reads his condescending, Christian-guilt laden letter to his mother out loud to the family. Something he says rubs Diane the wrong way, and Cletus is kicked out of the house. But he doesn’t go very far, instead revealing his Old Testament penchant for eye -for-an-eye-style revenge. And this is when the “red” of the title Red Christmas makes itself evident on screen. Cletus goes on a killing spree, knocking off family members one by one in brutal fashion – bodies split down the middle, axes to skulls, bear traps to heads…even the food processor makes a formidable weapon in this splatterfest.
Before this release, writer/director Craig Anderson had worked primarily in short films and TV, all of the comedy persuasion. I have to assume he’s a horror fan, because Red Christmas is a well-put-together slasher film. From the creepy antagonist to the secluded setting to the somewhat telegraphed reveal, this is a by-the-numbers slasher. The film also manages to discuss deeper issues (abortion is the big one) without making judgments or becoming the director’s soapbox – instead, it lets the characters “debate” the issues without actually debating. The acting is good, with special mention going to the performances of Dee Wallace and Gerard O’Dwyer. While there are a couple of implausible events within the cat and mouse game that takes up most of the second act, they’re not blatantly obvious or story killers; to be honest, we almost expect it from this type of film. And without giving too much away, I want to give extra credit points to the dark, nihilistic finale. It would have been easy to cop out and make everything puppy dogs and rainbows at the end, but instead the film takes a different route, one that even the jaded, seen-everything horror fans should appreciate.
Red Christmas is another quality chapter in the “Christmas horror” omnibus. It’s The Family Stone meets Silent Night, Deadly Night, a brutal dismembering of a family under a blood-drenched mistletoe. Artsploitation Films is releasing this movie in mid-October 2017, a production and distribution company whose back catalog speaks for itself when it comes to disturbing films of high quality from all around the world. This is a must-see for any fan of 1980s slashers, especially those related to the holiday season.