Saturday, December 5, 2020

Merry Manic Maddening Holidays: Red Christmas (2016)

Red Christmas (Australia, 2016)
Rating: ***
Starring: Dee Wallace, Geoff Morrell, Sarah Bishop 

I'll be home for Christmas
You can fear it from me
With an axe and bear trap to throw
It'll be a bloody killing spree

Twenty years ago, an abortion clinic gets bombed by a radical pastor as a crowd of enraged Christians rally upfront. In the midst of the chaos, the pastor spots and save a newly aborted fetus clinging to life, raising it over the years in a rather abusive and zealous manner.

Cut to the present and we now follow a somewhat estranged family celebrating Christmas in the remote countryside house they grew up in, only to be visited by a cloaked stranger with a speech impediment. Feeling homely for the holidays, matriarch Diane (Dee Wallace) welcomes the stranger into her home to celebrate with her understandably uncomfortable family, until that is he starts reading out loud a letter revealing a dark secret she's involved with some years ago. Outraged, Diane throws the stranger out with a threat, not knowing about the twisted retribution he will be unleashing against her and her unsuspecting family later that night.

Coming across something between an 80s throwback slasher and a family tragedy, Red Christmas (2016) strolls an effectively dark plot peppered with black comedy and splattery kills, as while you can very much bet that it goes outrageous with its horror scenario, adding in the weight of the resulting massacre is the dynamics and dysfunctions presented here within Diane's clan, cutting it close with some sense of realism to the clichés. 

There's a warm sense of belonging and comfort between Diane's children and their spouses despite portraying the characters engaged in your usual family arguments ranging from fickle to serious, as well as being in that awkward disposition that you have very little control of. It's a modern family dynamic we are all familiar with, thus acting as an underlying cathartic fuel once the killing starts. And true enough, as family members begin to get picked off one by one, it all devolves into this catastrophic nightmare that pushes everyone, particularly Wallace's character to a level of grief and loss that cuts so deep, we all can't help but root for them to defend and save as many remaining members as possible, even if the film may or may not have bleaker plans ahead. This said, I really have to commend cult fave horror and scifi actress Dee Wallace for really selling the movie for me, by bringing it all in her role as an anguished grandmother forced to face a past that's now threatening her and her family.

In spite of this (and too the suggested religious and moral politics here and there), Red Christmas (2016) still couldn't completely take itself too seriously. Not with it having one of the more pathetically polite and goofy killers in this sub-genre, whose unmasking, as cruel as this might sound, actually got me laughing at how exaggeratedly wrong it looked. If you think Gunther from Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse (1980) looked horrendously inhuman, our killer here, named Cletus, is so "impossible" in its deformity that the sheer mechanics of it are mind-boggling. Of course, he's also strong enough to split a body in half vertically with an axe, or somehow hurl a large bear trap over someone's head, dishing out kills that are delightfully brutal albeit his frame. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief, though, as these attacks and murders are delightfully gruesome with all its set-pieces, adequate practical effect works and serious overflow of blood. (And eye juice. And amniotic fluid.) Everything you could ask for in a good slasher movie!

Past the weird mix of straight-faced drama and absolutely crazy splatter, Red Christmas (2016) is an otherwise modest production that did what it can with its low budget to make the product as striking enough as possible; though a few editing could use some work, I love the shade of red-and-green tint during the massacre scenes as it hammer in the messed-up festive feel of the story, as well as the combination of canted camera angles, gross sound designs and a few latex gore to imply the brutality of some kills while keeping it within budget. The direction is simply stylistic and paced well for a slasher, keeping itself interesting enough during the slow moments to develop its characters and their position before hauling out the murders upon them.

Red Christmas (2016) may have its minor problems, but it is still a fun movie overall with a great cast, an interesting premise with a somewhat grim conclusion, and, yes, loads of cool deaths. I have a great time watching it and I'm as sure as heck you would too when you get a chance to see it. Just remember to switch off and enjoy the Christmassy carnage!

1 male had his groin torn off, later found with his face mutilated against a grindstone 
1 female split down in half with an axe
1 male had his head split with an axe
1 male strangled with a seat belt
1 male had his neck crushed with a bear trap
1 male had his head shredded through exposed blender blades
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 female stabbed through the head with an umbrella
1 female gutted with a knife
1 female hanged with an anchor chain
1 male hacked and bisected in half with a pulled anchor 
Total: 11

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