The Eggnog Is Bloody For Red Christmas (2016)
First, you (obviously) must have a slasher. A good one. A real killer. Not so mamby-pamby run’o’the’mill nut-job but a villainous predator who craves the shedding of blood for a purpose.
Second, the deaths should either (A) mean something to the plot or (B) be as cool as Hell. If not, then what’s the point? The slaughter is just gratuitous, and not in a good way.
And, basically, that’s it.
Now, many storytellers throughout the years have tried to tack on other ideas and/or concepts, but the foundation – a cool slasher and memorable deaths – remains the same, regardless of the era, the star power, or the property. Without those, there really isn’t a slasher film, per se, but more likely just a plain old-fashioned story dripping with blood (if not irony).
Well, so far as Red Christmas is concerned? Somebody forgot the rules …
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“A mother must protect her family on Christmas Day from a demented stranger who is hell-bent on tearing them apart.”
Now – for the record – that synopsis isn’t entirely accurate. It kinda/sorta reads like a premise crafted by a clever marketing executive who knew a thing or two about wooing the widest possible audience with the fewest possible words. And – perhaps as I explained above – maybe that exec even understood what it takes to give the promise of the classic slasher feature. But for all Red Christmas’s obvious posturing – and there is plenty of it – it fails to deliver the blessed yuletide carnage.
Because even independent features have to get into the game of invoking political agendas to spin their yarns, Christmas’s foundation as written and directed by Craig Anderson requires twin acts of terrorism to spawn its villain: a failed abortion along with the medical clinic’s bombing set in motion some less-than-credible events putting Cletus (Sam Campbell) on the path to reuniting with his mother, Diane (the still fabulous-looking Dee Wallace). Cletus was rejected before birth – Diane undertook the abortion upon learning her unborn child who be afflicted with Down’s Syndome – and, naturally, he’d kinda/sorta “rise from the dead” twenty years later in order to wreck vengeance not only on her but also her family this holiday season. (There’s a bit more to it, but that’s enough to get the gist.)
However, Christmas wasn’t content to stop there.
Instead, Anderson layers his story with an entire cavalry of potential victims, each a bit more self-absorbed than the last with no one truly looking out for the other. (Why, what happened to that holiday spirit?) There’s Diane’s drinking and pot-smoking brother Joe (Geoff Morrell). There’s Diane’s daughter Suzy, the financial-strapped wife to a possibly closeted priest (David Collins). There’s Diane’s other daughter Ginny, the anti-establishment kinda/sorta hippie who can’t get through her pregnancy or a holiday meal without the requisite “quickie” in the laundry room with Scott (Bjorn Stewart). And there’s Jerry (Gerard Odwyer), Diane’s Shakespeare-quoting son who also happens to be afflicted with Down’s. This familial mob comes together for what they suspected to be their last gathering at the ol’ family haunt … and, of course, that turns out to be just the case.
See, when Jason Voorhees went on his rampage killing camp counselors and the like, his rage was obviously directly figuratively as those who could’ve stopped his untimely demise. (Granted, this becomes less and less true as the franchise wears on, but I think you get the drift.) Likewise, when Freddy Krueger starts carving up those most pubescent and beyond he’s acting out the anger stemming from his own origins story. There’s a purpose behind the bloodletting, and it’s that connection which makes for compelling killing. Without it? Well … like I said, it’s just gratuitous.
Similarly, features like Sorority House Massacre, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Saw, or even The Driller Killer might offer up lightweight versions of narrative attachment like Jason and Freddy; but what they lack in connection they make up for in sheer, unadulterated depravity. These killers function on a different psychological level, one that compels them to really, really enjoy their gory hobby, so much so that the deaths grow more and more ingenious as the picture wears on. There may be connections between the murderer and the victims, but what matters here is how creative can these unfortunate souls be dispatched.
Red Christmas offers neither. Cletus has a tenuous link to these people at best, one that wasn’t enough for me to accept it as the cause for their respective expirations. And – unfortunately – Cletus was a completely unimaginative killer. In fact, I’d argue that there was really only a single death in here that pushed the envelope the way a traditional slasher film would (it involves a certain kitchen appliance, and I won’t spoil it more than that), but all of the rest? Meh. Pretty routine, Cletus. You’re seriously gonna have to up your game if you want to make Santa’s ‘Naughty List’ in a sequel.
(Mildly) Recommended. It may not be what you wanted from Santa, but it’s what he left for you! Fans of slasher films might be a bit disappointed with Red Christmas, but there’s enough red drippings in here once the bloodshed starts to keep even casual enthusiasts interested. For my tastes (and, yes, I do love all kinds of slasher films), the flick stops just short of where it needed to be, never truly giving Cletus the goods to shine the way great movie villains do. As a killer, he’s far too conventional for my tastes, and another draft with another pair of eyes and ears might have been needed to make this holiday present truly presentable.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Artsploitation Films provided me with a Blu-ray of Red Christmas (2016) for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.