Red Christmas Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Red Christmas
Written and Directed by Craig Anderson
2016, 82 minutes, Not yet rated
Dee Wallace as Diane
Sarah Bishop as Suzy
Geoff Morrell as Joe
David Collins as Peter
Ever since ghostly moneylender Jacob Marley and his supernatural companions first clinked their chains at one Ebenezer Scrooge, the Christmas horror story has become a tradition as festive as mince pies, pine trees and YouTube videos of little girls losing their shit over not getting the latest iPad.
Enter Red Christmas, the latest slasher movie to attempt to spread a little festive joy. Like last year’s Krampus, it taps into the tradition of bickering families at Christmas – an arguing family, beset by a masked, hooded psychopath on December 25th. There’ll be no snow this year though, the film being filmed and set in bright (if misty) Australia. Cult star Dee Wallace is the family matriarch targeted by the black robed avenger, determined to hold everything together even as her kids whine and argue amongst themselves. It’s more You’re Next than Black Christmas, less concerned with its trimmings than the familial interactions and unspoken history. But rest assured, there’s plenty of bloodshed too, putting the ‘red’ into Red Christmas.
It’s also strikingly cheap, known actress Wallace being about the only clue that you might be watching something of any esteem. The tone and atmosphere take some getting used to, broaching the always hot topic of abortion clinics, before cutting to its first sequence with a mostly unlikable, irritating family. Quite what Red Christmas could turn out to be is anyone’s guess. On the basis of the first fifteen minutes, I was left expecting something serious and well-meaning, but otherwise cheap and embarrassing.
Way off the mark, as it happens. Unwrapping this particular present is a lot of fun, as director Craig Anderson peels back the layers to reveal something a lot wittier and cheekier than a first glance suggests. As the sun goes down, so the lights go up, bathing the film in such lurid neon it looks as though the whole thing was shot inside a Christmas tree, the low budget only adding to its sense of headache-inducing delirium. If monster Cletus seems goofy at first, Anderson is savvy enough to hold back on him once the time is right, unleashing him from the shadows like a classic Giallo villain. His history with Wallace’s Diane and the rest of the family keep things feeling nice and personal, the Ghost of Christmas Past coming to bite back with a vengeance. As we saw Barbara Crampton in something of a career resurgence with last year’s slew of genre pieces, so it’s good to see the one-time ET and The Howling star have something to bite into again. The rest of the cast aren’t quite so good, but against such a kick-ass performance from Dee Wallace, they do fine. Kudos too, for its diversity in Gerard Odwyer’s Jerry, a face massively underrepresented in cinema, even in these days of so-called ‘PC’ and, ahem, ‘social justice’.
While neither the Christmas slasher film nor bickering family drama are particularly original, it’s what Anderson does with these elements that makes Red Christmas special. Admirably toeing a line between earnest and goofy (it’s still a film in which a man takes a bear trap to the head) it emerges as one of the craziest, most surprising horror films of the year. How very Christmassy. After all, sometimes the best Christmas present is the one you didn’t ask for at all.