❉ Trashy thrills and festive gore – but is Christmas Bloody Christmas a cracker or a turkey?
Set in an unnamed American town, Christmas Bloody Christmas is a hugely energetic romp that combines a huge love for the ’80s slashers with a hefty dose of technofear. Written, produced and directed by Joe Pecos (V.F.W.) and starring Riley Dandy (That’s Amor), Sam Delich (Spiderhead) and Jeff Daniel Phillips (Rob Zombie’s The Munsters), the film’s inspirations are often very obvious, but between the director’s love for Halloween, Popcorn and The Terminator, coupled with a lot of enthusiasm, it aims to be the ultimate homage to cheap horror thrills.
On the surface, it’s a massively fast paced picture that never lets up in terms of dialogue or action, but unfortunately, it’s one of those films that relies far too heavily on surface noise. Record store owner Tori Tooms (Dandy) and her best friend Robbie (Delich) spend the first twenty minutes talking incessantly – either about Tori’s unsuitable new date, getting absolutely smashed, or having disagreements over music and film. This is all handled very much in the American independent mould; the dialogue owes a massive debt to Kevin Smith with its never-ending banter, trivial nature and liberal use of the f-bomb, and much like everything Smith himself has written since Mallrats, most of this, unfortunately, becomes tedious in record time – even long before Robbie begins to goad Tori about her masturbatory habits. Tori is unable to get through any more than two sentences without saying fuck, and moustachioed airhead Robbie isn’t actually much better. Their self-import manner and belief that they’re somehow a gift to the youth of the world has the unfortunate effect of making you wish the slashing would dispense with them at about twelve minutes in. It’s really not a great advert for relatable characters or likeable heroes; it merely makes the film’s first half very hard work.
Luckily, when the action belatedly arrives, Christmas Bloody Christmas has a few things in its favour. The premise of a robot Santa that goes berserk mightn’t be particularly original – okay, not original at all; it’s basically a rehash of the original Terminator spliced with the brilliant Santa Claws of Futurama fame – but Abraham Benrubi (TV’s ER) does a fantastic job of appearing heavy and mechanical without resorting to the usual lumbering approach. This gives RoboSanta a reasonable amount of menace from the off, suggesting our would-be heroes couldn’t just escape by walking away rather briskly, and each of his subsequent appearances escalates the sense of peril. Without giving too much away, there’s a great moment when he appears behind a police car, whilst a blood-soaked Tori attempts to convince a disbelieving police force that a giant Santa is out to kill everyone. For slasher fans, there’s a pleasing amount of gore as the result of an axe when a half dead man drags himself up the stairs, and it’s hard not to be (inappropriately) thrilled when a child blessed with all the acting chops of a cremated pizza (also featured) meets his untimely demise.
Assuming you can make it past all of this film’s obvious flaws, the last quarter actually does a great job of conveying entrapment and mounting dread, when Tori basically re-enacts the big climax from 1984’s The Terminator. Somehow, this mechanical beast is even harder to kill than Schwarzenegger’s iconic T-800, and the final set piece appears to go on forever. Considering how much witless dialogue and flat characterisation the viewer must endure to get here, this sustained action (combined with Dandy’s acting skills finally being put to actual use) is hugely welcome, and with visuals bathed in darkness – save for some neon lighting here and there – it really brings home the necessary claustrophobic feel. It’s clear that although Pecos struggles to create engaging characters, his talent as a director comes through via the visual aspects of the film. In using festive lighting to contrast darkness to make the viewer feel trapped with the characters, his simple approach really shines. In fact, the last quarter of an hour almost makes the earlier cinematic slog worthwhile. Also commendable is Steve Moore’s score, which really adds to the film’s love for older horror with heavy Tangerine Dream and occasional Goblin vibes.
There have been some interesting and brilliantly executed films making their debut on Shudder during 2022 (Speak No Evil, Sissy), but for all of its chutzpah, Christmas Bloody Christmas doesn’t reach its full potential. It reworks a couple too many obvious tropes; it has one dimensional, fairly objectionable characters, and it doesn’t even bother to upend its audience with a great twist. There aren’t even any easy jump scares. There are sparks of greatness, but there’s never quite enough excitement to make this a genuine low budget, festive treat. Christmas Bloody Christmas has a lot of energy – that can’t be denied – but that can never be a substitute for likeable and/or relatable characters, and Joe’s fondness for empty dialogue really doesn’t help the film’s cause.
For those wishing to pass an uneven 87 minutes in a really trashy way, there are certainly a few elements here that’ll hit the spot, but unfortunately, with best intentions, Christmas Bloody Christmas is only a shadow of the film it might’ve been had the idea been left in more capable hands.
❉ SHUDDER Presents ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’. Starring: Riley Dandy, Sam Delich, Jonah Ray Rodrigues, Dora Madison, Jeremy Gardner, with Jeff Daniel Phillips, and Abraham Benrubi. Written & Directed By: Joe Begos. Run Time: 87 minutes. Rating: Not Rated. A Shudder and RLJE Films release. Streaming Exclusively on Shudder: For a 7-day, risk-free trial, visit www.shudder.com.
❉ Lee Realgone has been a keen viewer of cult cinema for decades. He spends a lot of time watching Blu-rays from Indicator and Arrow. At other times, he does pretty much everything at the music website Real Gone.