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It's Christmas in Australia as Diane, played by the Dee Wallace, brings together her estranged family for a chaotic holiday gathering. A 20 year old decision literally comes back to haunt her when the ghost of Christmas past comes knocking at her door and is invited inside the family estate. Festivities quickly turn blood red, when the stranger is revealed to be Cletus, Diane's aborted fetus, all grown up, very much alive and ready to terrorize his long lost mother. Diane must face her past and explain the hideous truth that is trying to kill them all, especially to Jerry, her Down Syndrome son, before it's too late. Written by
A mother (Dee Wallace) must protect her family on Christmas Day from a demented stranger (Sam Campbell) who is hell-bent on tearing them apart after being rejected.
The 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival shattered my expectations, and not always in a good way. Two of the best surprises were Geoff Redknap's "The Unseen" and the conspiracy-themed "Man Underground". But then we had the proverbial stinkers. Takashi Miike added a dud to hid otherwise illustrious career with "Terraformars". And then there is "Red Christmas", a modern slasher.
First of all, I am a big fan of Christmas-themed horror films. Not all are winners ("Silent Night, Deadly Night II") but almost all are at least entertaining. And "Red Christmas" has Dee Wallace both starring and producing, which is a good thing – she has been a genre icon for over three decades thanks to "E.T.", "Cujo" and "The Hills Have Eyes", among others. But somehow these two strengths just do not carry the picture.
And then there are secondary considerations. I also love most slasher films, and you have to appreciate the design that went into Cletus. He is certainly one of the more refreshing masked killers we have seen in years, with no comparison in recent memory. And the idea of having an abortion clinic theme was very wise, as it makes you realize how much this is an untapped area for horror. There was John Carpenter's lackluster "Pro-Life" (2006), but no other horror movie touching on this taboo topic comes to mind. So these were some of the few strong points.
But the shortcomings just far outweigh the positives that everyone brought to the table. The dialogue seemed poorly scripted and delivered, while the pregnant woman looked like she was literally holding up a beach ball under her dress. Every character makes poor decisions; and while poor decisions are common in slasher films, these may be among the worst. The lighting – what is up with the neon lighting? I presume it is supposed to be Christmas lights, but it does not look like them (and how are they working if the power is out?). And let us not get started on the stereotypical, one-dimensional closeted Christian pastor.
One of the biggest downfalls is actually making the film a Christmas story. There is a bit of Christmas-related plot (the giving of gifts), but this is rather irrelevant to the story at large. Cletus could have shown up on any day of the year and it would have been just as well. The setting of Australia also seems wrong for Christmas, because an important part of Christmas horror is snow. I suppose this criticism might be unfair to Australians because it more or less suggests they cannot make Christmas horror films but I think my point is really that if you are going for a Christmas theme, really make it somehow recognizable (hint: snow) or important to the plot. Instead, it seems like this was just pandering, trying to capitalize on a title that is similar to "Black Christmas" and this film is not even as good as the "Black Christmas" remake, which is saying something.
I may be coming down unusually hard on the film. After all, "Red Christmas" is better than many of the low-budget horror films that flood the market these days. And I have to give them credit for the practical effects; some are rough, but I'd rather see a bad practical effect than bad CGI. What really disappointed me, to be honest, was how this film made the cut for Fantasia. With the dozens of top-notch world premieres, it is a shame when something like this slips through. Critic Matt Donato really sums it up when he says the movie "falls short of being the next killer yuletide classic." Yep.
When first reviewing the film, I wrote, "Expect it to die a quiet death on video store shelves." This has since come to be half correct. On the one hand, it did not get a wider theatrical release. And for a movie that I saw in July 2016, it seems like October 2017 is an awful long time to go from festival to Blu-ray. However, the company that picked it up is Artsploitation, who have some solid titles under their belt (Jonas Govaerts' "Cub" comes to mind). Soclearly they believe there is something marketable here -- perhaps more than the derivative title and the star power of Wallace.
You do not have to take my word for it. Thanks to the power of Blu-ray, the film can now be yours, and with a nice batch of special features. There are a handful of interviews, and most crucially the feature-length commentary from the director. Commentaries can tell you the secrets of how good films are made, or perhaps in this case give the creator 90 minutes to defend himself. You be the judge.
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