With Red Christmas, Craig Anderson hasn’t just made a solid slasher film in the great ‘Oz-ploitation’ tradition of wildly pushing the boundaries, but he’s also made a film with a lot of heart and thought-provoking moments. Red Christmas may also push a lot of buttons, as it deals with abortion, religion, and sordid family secrets.
It’s Christmas Day in Australia and Dee Wallace plays the matriarch of a family living out in the sticks. It will be the last Christmas in the old family home and she’s gathered her brother, all her daughters, and their husbands for the occasion, hoping to make it memorable. Family tensions rise quickly as pregnant Ginny is angry with her mother for selling the house and taking a European vacation. Religious Suzy is having marital problems as she and her reverend husband, Peter, are having trouble conceiving and he may be attracted to Ginny’s husband Scott, anyway.
Then there’s the only son, Jerry, an adult with Down’s Syndrome, who has a love for Shakespeare and is ultimately bound for an assisted-living home when Dee sells the house, and Hope, the teenage adopted daughter. Some may feel there’s a lot going on for just one family, but coming from a broken home with a lot of step-members and infighting, this seemed like a pretty typical Christmas. Except for the mysterious stranger who arrives at the door, covered in bandages and wearing a black cloak, as if he escaped from some Gothic horror film. That’s Cletus.
To explain why Cletus is there would give away the prolthe film. I went into Red Christmas knowing two things: it’s a horror movie and it stars Dee Wallace. That’s all I needed and so I didn’t read the description in the press kit or watch the trailer beforehand. I went in with nothing but the movie poster in mind, and from the opening moments realized I wasn’t getting what I expected at all. Which is great, and I highly recommend going in as blind as possible, but there will be spoilers at the very end of this review, because there are things I want to talk about. So, when you get to the SPOILER ALERT, watch the movie and come back.
Red Christmas is a tragic horror movie, with emphasis on the tragedy. This is foreshadowed when Jerry (Odwyer) is quoting Romeo and Juliet early in the film. There’s a bit of unbalance in the writing of the characters; some, like Jerry, are very well-developed, while others go from being realistic portrayals to almost cardboard stereotypes. That’s not even a huge critique, because it’s useful shorthand to jump us into the lives of these strangers faster, but I can imagine some people rolling their eyes at the closeted gay preacher or the pot-smoking hippy, redneck uncle. Any flaws Red Christmas has though, are made up in the tension building, the brutal kills, and the amazing Argento-like lighting, not to mention the top shelf acting of Dee Wallace, who really works her ass off in this movie and carries it brilliantly.
Red Christmas is recommended. It was released October 13 from Artsploitation.
On the subject of our killer, Cletus. His origin is told in the prologue in montage in broad strokes. What we see is an abortion clinic being bombed while a woman is having an abortion. The fetus’ body is dumped in a bucket and left as the doctor tries to evacuate the patient. A man comes across the bucket and see the arm move, showing that the baby has survived. Right there, this scene might destroy the movie for some people as it is quite unbelievable, but remember; this is a horror movie: logic and the laws of physics be damned.
One of the things that makes horror movies so watchable is the impossible playing out before our eyes. Such a leap in unexplainable logic helped launch one of the biggest franchises in horror history; Friday The 13th. How did Jason drown as a boy in the 1950s, attack a girl in a boat, as a zombie boy in ’80, and then kill her a good two months later as a full-grown, hulking man? Because it’s a horror movie. Move on. By the time Cletus shows up at the house, we already know he’s Dee’s son, and there’s a bit of Hitchcockian suspense there, where we all know what’s going on while we wait for the truth bomb to go off in the family’s face.
There’s an awful lot to unpack where the subject of abortion comes in; it’s not just that Dee tried to abort Cletus, but that she chose to after discovering he had Down’s Syndrome. All this is while her late husband was going through chemotherapy. She already had Jerry at home and the idea of raising two Down’s Syndrome children alone was just too much for her. The can of worms is ripped right open with this film and we never know, really, what Anderson wants to say with this storyline. I’ve spent the night analyzing it and I feel like ultimately you can interpret Red Christmas in more than one way, depending on your beliefs or political standing. Then again, it may not be a statement movie at all, and Anderson simply used a hot button, sensitive subject to launch an emotionally charged exploitation film. Regardless of how you read it, Red Christmas works as a slasher and gives everything we can ask for from a slasher and then some.
Cletus has a striking look, with his bandages and his cloak, almost like a Bernie Wrightson illustration come to life off the cover of an issue of Eerie. Anderson really evokes the feel of a classic horror comic; I really can’t praise him enough for the way the film is lit. The way Cletus moves in and out of the darkness and through rooms of green, pink, and red is so well done. Then comes the reveal when we get a brief glance at Cletus’ face under the bandages. I think the bulbous, fetus-like head and lipless mouth will play as either revolting or funny depending on the viewer. Personally, I think it’s a great design, very unsettling.