Nothing gets my jollies jostled like a good holiday horror flick, but Red Christmas falls short of being the next killer yuletide classic. Twisted ideologies are present – along with an aggressive socio-political message (like most good B-Movies carry) – yet execution is more “ho-hum” than “Ho Ho Ho!” There’s surely a demented likability to this Australian family vacation gone awry, but this is a low, LOW-budget affair – and it shows. In the cinematography, performances and special effects, it definitely, definitely shows.
Dee Wallace stars as a proud mother named Diane, whose only wish is for all of her closest family to gather and celebrate Christmas together (a wish that’s granted). There’s predictable sisterly banter (Sarah Bishop as Suzy, Janis McGavin as Ginny), drunken silliness, delectable food, plus Uncle Joe (Geoff Morrell) double-fisting his flask and a rolled joint. All in all, it’s a fairly expected holiday party – until a cloaked, bandaged man (Cletus, played by Sam Campbell) shows up at their doorstep. In a moment of compassion, Diane invites the mumbling man into their cheery home, only to have him begin reading a card labeled “Mother.” Cletus’ words seem harmless at first, until mention of an abortion sends Diane into a mood-swinging rage. Cletus is promptly thrown out of the house, and the family gets back to their December celebration – until dead bodies start piling up.
The plot is simple, and there’s definitely an after-midnight, not-too-sober-watch charm present in Dee Wallace’s gleeful starring vessel. It warms my heart to see the aging scream queen still chasing her sense of horror excitement, and appreciation must be given to her producing credit – Wallace is trying to keep the horror genre alive, and there’s so much respect in her fight. She helped make filmmaker Craig Anderson’s dream a reality, and while I’ll get to why I’m not too high on Red Christmas, there will certainly be enough for some nostalgic 80s slasher fans to embrace. Kills go for broke, acting never gets too pretentious, and blood is spilled. Tons of it. Have at it, gore hounds.
That said, this slasher hopeful just doesn’t have anything special to fight off tremendously stripped budgeting. Those kills I mentioned before certainly go for broke, but suffer from prosthetic stiffness. Maybe it’s an unfair comparison, thinking about how Adam Wingard pulled off a TREMENDOUS blender-to-the-head death in You’re Next while Red Christmas struggles to do the same, but it’s still a comparison that exists. We watch actor David Collins lower his head towards the whirring blade, followed by a cut to some fake-looking dummy (like one of those CPR dummies from health class) laying motionless while blood erupts from cranial evisceration. One temple-caving axe swing works, but most other kills can’t shake some glaring inefficiencies (an umbrella-to-the-eye gag reused from Stitches, where it’s once again done better).
Red Christmas also suffers from an un-cinematic tinge whenever scenes take place in the daytime, as no real technique is exemplified. Most films have a certain aesthetic – a style or vision – but there’s no characteristic to Anderson’s sunlit shots. Then, when nighttime falls, we finally get red/green color filters and strewn X-mas lights that add a bit of thematic vibrancy, but this is also when Anderson starts swinging the camera around like we’re watching a crime-scene reenactment. Tones clash between overly-goofy characters and a villain who strikes zero fear, and it’s only further hampered by scenes of awkward aggression that play out in an pristine outback paradise. It just never LOOKS like a horror movie, despite some enraged kills.
A few characters do find themselves in good graces – Uncle Joe’s free-spirited hippie, Ginny’s super-sexual pregnant daughter – but Cletus just doesn’t have the staying power of a vicious slasher mainstay. When we see him walking around in the daytime – like a costumed Grim Reaper from your local party store – any shock value is ruined. Then, when we glimpse his exposed face, it’s just a giant rubber mask that can’t even move – not even makeup, just a big rubber head plopped on an actor. Again, for those who favor super-cheap looking horror flicks and absolute insanity, this might work for you. But between all the forced cheeriness, expected corniness and disappointing expressionism, quality is not enforced by performances.
For a dedicated holiday horror fan, Red Christmas is like opening a present only to find another hand-knitted sweater from grandma. Sure, you’ll wear the sweater, and it’ll certainly keep you warm, but it’s just not the gleefully gory gift we’d hope to find. Hell, even the title card sets up expectations by calling back to Black Christmas! I came into this one excited, but left only feeling the day-after-Christmas blues. Here’s to hoping you have a holly-jolly time, which you might as long as expectations are adjusted…
Red Christmas is solely for those horror fans who enjoy cheap, CHEAP thrills and low budget fodder (and hopefully a ton of spiked eggnog).