It’s a dangerous game when horror films try to touch on a divisive political issue. If you go too far with it, you beat your audience over the head with the message. And if you botch the attempt, you alienate and upset people. However, not going far enough can also be a problem. There are many traps that await films that venture down this path.
In “Red Christmas” a family gathers together at their mother’s (Diane played by Dee Wallace) home for the Christmas holidays in Australia. However, a mysterious shrouded figure shows up at their doorstep to join in on the celebration. Diane soon realizes this figure is actually a grown up fetus that she previously thought she had aborted 20 years prior. Now her long lost son has returned to the mother that abandoned him in order to seek revenge.
So based on that description you can easily figure out the political topic this film is attempting to examine. Unfortunately, the execution feels all over the place. First of all, the aborted fetus is named Cletus. Yeah, Cletus the Fetus. Secondly the film starts with a montage of this abortion clinic with various people spouting their beliefs on both sides of the issue. This whole ordeal ends with an explosion inside of the clinic and we’re treated to this shot of an aborted fetus slowly raising his deformed hand from within a bucket it was discarded in. So there is definitely a b-movie/exploitation quality to the film.
And then there are moments when the film gets deadly serious with its message. There’s a particular scene where Diane’s son Jerry (Gerard Odwyer), who has down syndrome, confronts her in the midst of all the chaos to find out why she didn’t abort him and offers her a gun so that she could kill him now. It gets pretty damn heavy at moments. And, unfortunately, that creates a weird imbalance where when things are more emotional, the movie feels like it’s punching above its weight.
But when the movie isn’t trying to depict both sides of the abortion issue, a decent slasher film is taking place. This is a pretty low-budget endeavor, but it seems like they put most of their money into kills. We see eyes explodes, people get their heads caught in beer traps, and a use of an ax that would make Jason Voorhees proud. It’s not an amazing slasher film, but it’s entertaining for what it is and it’s great to watch Dee Wallace kick ass.
Also, on the acting side of things, I have to say that Gerard Odwyer does an amazing job in the film and definitely stands out as one of the highlights. Him and director Craig Anderson seem to have a great working relationship and, while I didn’t totally love this film, I do hope to see them work together again.
My greatest issue with “Red Christmas” is that it doesn’t push in either direction. It’s not absurd enough to be a dark comedy about abortion and it’s not serious enough to provide a meaningful statement on the issue. Instead it just meanders in the middle and leaves you feeling unmoved and a little annoyed with its inability to commit to one direction.
There are a plethora of bonus features on the blu-ray that offer a lot of deep insight into the direction of “Red Christmas.” There’s a excellent interview with Dee Wallace where she opens up about her career and her approach to the character Diane. Then there are two interviews between Director Craig Anderson and Gerald Odwyer and actor Sam Campbell. In one interview Gerald interviews Craig and I wish that one had been a bit longer because Gerald actually asks some pretty tough questions.
Finally there’s a director’s commentary with Anderson and Odwyer that’s exceptionally honest and open about how the film came to be. Anderson isn’t afraid to address scenes that he wish he had done differently and that’s incredibly admirable. This also leads to a very detailed and interesting commentary that will certainly be worth a listen for people who love to get a peek behind the curtain.
Overall, this is a tough movie to recommend based on the subject matter. It won’t appeal to all horror fans, but if you want to see a new slasher film in a Christmas setting with an outrageous premise, it’s worth a look.
“Red Christmas” hits blu-ray, DVD, and VOD services on October 17th.