While Christmas Bloody Christmas doesn’t come close to reinventing the Holiday horror film subgenre, it does deliver delightful exploitation cinema-like kills and stylistic tendencies.
“Have a holly jolly Christmas; it’s the best time of the year. Now, I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer.” That’s how one of the classic Christmas songs goes. For many people, it is indeed the best time of the year when people around the world rejoice for a quick vacation and reunite with their loved ones. However, horror fans have much to anticipate because, every year, plenty of filmmakers deliver splatter fests with Holiday cheers – delights for gore-hounds and those who enjoy bloodied eggnog. Of course, most of us prefer Halloween-set films, but there are plenty of great holly, jolly horrors in the minds of creative filmmakers.
This year alone, we have a few projects of that nature: the David Harbour-led Violent Night, a Grinch horror movie called The Mean One (which I haven’t seen, but I’m pretty excited about), and Joe Begos’ Christmas Bloody Christmas. The latter is the one I was most enthusiastic about for a couple of reasons. The first one is that I think Begos is a talented horror film director, as he has proved his stylistic panache in his two 2019 features, Bliss and VFW. And the second one is that it looked like a throwback B-movie with reasonable amounts of splatter.
Christmas Bloody Christmas may not bring much to the dinner table set up by its predecessors – Christmas Evil, Krampus, Don’t Open Till Christmas, Pooka!, amongst others. Still, if you are looking for some bloody delights, a dash of foul-mouthed raunchiness, and a murderous Santa Claus (in a film that’s self-aware of its budget-constraint narrative trappings), then look no further than Joe Begos’ latest. It is exactly what it says on the tin, showcasing its lack of narrative polishing while delivering some cheap thrills. Christmas Bloody Christmas begins with 80s-like short commercials for several Santa Claus-related films, eggnog, robotics, concerts, edibles, and other stuff.
Immediately, you get a sense of what director Joe Begos wants to do, which is a B-horror Christmas movie in the likes of Black Christmas and Silent Night; it’s like Deadly Night, but with a keener sense of self-awareness. The first few seconds feel like you are channel-surfing through the late at night and find yourself wandering through multiple random ads. However, there’s a purpose to these commercials: when you put them all together, the montage of commercials talks about the horror genre in a way that is appreciative while mocking modern pictures (Blumhouse’s produced movies specifically).
After that, a quick introduction follows, presenting some of the characters at the center of the story, with a punk track in the background shouting the film’s title. The characters just want to have fun on Christmas eve, get drunk, and party with their companions, so they don’t spend this Holiday of togetherness alone. But something crashes their party and eventual romantic entanglements: a robotic Santa Claus at a nearby toy store that malfunctions and goes on a killing spree.
As expected, the explanations behind this “malfunction” are kept under wraps for most of the movie, and when it is time to explain, the film does so quite rapidly and without much coherence. Yet, you already know that, when it comes to these types of movies, their narrative and the exploration of their story aren’t the most crucial facet. Sure, some coherence would have been great, as it would have compensated for the lack of character development. Still, what holds the film together (at least for me) are the kills and stylistic tendencies, which resemble those projects that came before – the generation of low-budget throwaway but enjoyable B-movies.
In the first act, there’s a brief scene where two of the main characters in the film argue that there aren’t any good Christmas movies or songs in the world – most of them being quite terrible, except for Pantera’s song “Psycho Holiday”. Robi (Sam Delich) says that there are a couple of good tracks, while Tori (Riley Dandy) is a bit of a “grinch”, belting that there aren’t any good movies. This feels like a straight wink into the camera by director Joe Begos and the cast because it clearly references its predecessors – the Christmas horror movies that came before, back in the 80s and 90s. This specific scene does feel somewhat out of place because it arrives out of the blue while being intertwined with the set-up to the film’s first kill (the “resurrection” of the killer animatronic Sant Claus). Still, it is quite enjoyable because it adds to Christmas Bloody Christmas’ self-aware demeanor. A few seconds pass, and It quickly gets over the rushed character introductions and begins its rampage, not wasting a second spilling blood onto the frame.
The legendary Holiday character goes on a murderous rampage with lifeless eyes and an empty soul. Abraham Benrubi’s performance as the animatronic Santa Claus is key to the film’s positive aspects: instead of doing the same impersonation we have seen repeatedly in the other Christmas horror films, he approaches the role as the opposite of what we’d expect. Instead of bringing joy and happiness, which Santa Claus is meant to spread, there’s a sense of lifelessness: you can see no compassion in his eyes. And his stilted movements and eternal silence add to the robotic element that Begos wants to implement. Another performance that enhances the film overall is Riley Dandy as the “final girl” in the mix, who, coincidentally, has appeared in a couple of Christmas romance dramas. Her transition into the metal-loving sole survivor seems natural, as if she had been doing it for a while.
In the past, Joe Begos has done unique takes on several horror subgenres, and although his latest does lack some inventiveness, he makes up for it with the way he shoots the kills. The lighting in some of the scenes hurts the experience and enjoyment of the kills because you can’t see precisely well, but for the most part, the bright Christmas lights add a delightful color palette to the fierce story with a grimy nature. In the end, you get what you came for: a bloody and jolly good time with some Holiday cheers and fears. Christmas Bloody Christmas isn’t Begos’ best feature (that title belongs to Bliss), and it impersonates Silent Night, and Deadly Night too, on occasion. Still, there are moments of pure enjoyment all over its quick-and-easy 87-minute runtime.
Christmas Bloody Christmas will be released in theaters and on Shudder on December 9, 2022.