Sunday, December 24, 2017

12 Horrors of Christmas: 'Red Christmas' (2017)

On a much smaller scale than Better Watch Out, Red Christmas is a 2017 holiday-themed horror movie that got some festival buzz and positive response around its VOD release. But while Better Watch Out tackled deeper issues than expected in a surprisingly effective way, Red Christmas attempts to make a political statement in a way that is at best clumsy and at worst tasteless and offensive—and mostly not the kind of tasteless and offensive that makes for a good horror movie. It's a stealth political statement that makes a pretense of being even-handed, the disingenuous "fair and balanced" version of a horror movie.

It's also, however, a slasher movie, albeit not a very well-crafted one. If the scares were stronger and the characters were more interesting and the kills were more creative, the distasteful political message might be more forgivable. But other than the welcome presence of horror icon Dee Wallace in the lead role, there isn't much to recommend Red Christmas as a horror movie, either. Wallace plays Diane, a seemingly well-adjusted matriarch who brings together her extended family (brother, four adult children, two of their spouses) for a Christmas celebration. But as the prologue—which features a bombing at an abortion clinic and a still-viable aborted fetus being whisked away by a mysterious figure—indicates, the family's tranquil holiday gathering is about to be shattered.

Yes, this movie could be retitled Revenge of the Aborted Fetus, because Diane's failed abortion is now a grown-up freak named Cletus, who dresses in a black cloak like the Grim Reaper and covers his deformed face with bandages like the Invisible Man. He shows up on the family's doorstep looking for love and acceptance, but when he's turned away (maybe because he's a scary-looking interloper who starts talking about this woman's abortion from 20 years ago?), he turns violent, killing the family members one by one in gruesome (but not particularly well-staged) ways, while laying the guilt on Diane for her decision to terminate her pregnancy. Also, Diane's son Jerry (Gerard Odwyer) has Down syndrome, and it's revealed that Cletus has it, too, which was the reason that Diane decided to have the abortion.

So writer-director Craig Anderson uses the mentally disabled as a tool for the movie's political agenda, in the same way he uses blood and guts. He does at least try to generate suspense, but the movie is shot with so much shaky camera movement that it's often difficult to follow the action, especially after Cletus cuts the power to the house. Anderson foreshadows weak spots for certain characters only to toss them aside in favor of basic hacking and slashing as each one gets killed, and a lot of the violence happens offscreen, with just a loud crunch and a splash of blood. Like the 2006 Black Christmas, Red Christmas bathes many of its scenes in Dario Argento-style reds and greens as if from Christmas lights, but here the effect is mostly just to make the scenes harder to see.

Even though Cletus is a remorseless killer, the ending gives him a kind of moral high ground (thanks to the heavy-handed device of one of Diane's daughters going into labor during the attack), implying that this murderer may somehow be morally superior to the heathens he hacked up. And after reducing a complex political issue to severed limbs and bashed-in heads, Anderson has the gall to throw in "further viewing" and "further reading" in the end credits, ostensibly representing both sides, as if he's some kind of political science professor. It's nearly as off-putting as all the nasty violence that comes before it.

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