I have been a fan of writer-director Joe Begos for some time now, watching him improve with every film he's made over the past few years, and when I saw the trailer for Christmas Bloody Christmas I assumed that this would be the peak of his career. It is, after all, the tale of a homicidal, axe-wielding, robo-Santa. Considering how much I'd enjoyed VFW, this seemed like it could become a new festive favourite.
The star of the show is Riley Dandy, playing Tori, a record store owner who wants to spend Christmas Eve getting drunk and laid. Unfortunately, she seems to have swiped right on the wrong Tinder profile, as pointed out to her by her employee/friend, Robbie (Sam Delich). Robbie assures her that she can have a much better time in his company. Tori eventually agrees, which leads to the two of them drinking plenty of whisky, arguing over wildly divergent opinions on music and movies, and eventually heading back to Tori's place for an enjoyably hot 'n' heavy time. Meanwhile, an animatronic Santa figure has malfunctioned. After killing various people en route, it is determined to kill Tori, and anyone else who gets in his way.
Because I knew the main premise of the movie, I was being more patient than I otherwise may have been during the opening act. It's a bit of a slog though, with Begos seemingly more interested in filling the script with references than creative kills and bloodshed. The runtime is about 87 minutes, but it feels a bit longer than that, due to the time taken to get things properly started, as well as a finale that slightly outstays its welcome. Things do improve, thankfully, and there's a great 20-30 minutes in the second act of the film that makes it all worthwhile.
It's also worth mentioning that Begos once again shows how well he uses whatever budget is available to him. He has a lo-fi, grunge (although maybe best to say punk), aesthetic throughout, as usual, but that fits in with his sensibilities, making you feel as if you've just discovered this gem in the Horror section of a local VHS store. The colour scheme is the expected mix of green and red throughout, and Begos makes great use of festive lighting to frame and filter a lot of the action. Almost every set-piece is infused with the pulsing glow of lights, whether they're the ones decorating a house or the blue and red bulbs atop a police car.
Dandy and Delich are fun people to spend time with, and the former is set up from the very beginning as a potential final girl well worth rooting for, and Abraham Benrubi is effective as the killer Santa, his plodding and determined movements accompanied by the whirring and ker-chunk noises you'd expect to hear from such a figure. I looked up a dictionary of technical terms, ker-chunk is definitely the correct word there. There's a fleeting appearance from genre stalwart Graham Skipper, and local law enforcement is played by Jeff Daniel Philips and Jeremy Gardner, both as equally familiar and welcome to horror fans as Skipper. Everyone does a good job in the acting department, especially when considering how enjoyably daft the material is.
Begos does give viewers what they will expect from this, it’s just a shame that he didn’t figure out a way to streamline the script a bit more. But when it is fully into the whole Santerminator mode in the third act, including some fantastic vehicular stuntwork, it’s impossible not to enjoy what’s happening onscreen and admire Begos for achieving what he set out to do. And the visuals are accompanied by yet another excellent synth score from Steve Moore (a long-time collaborator with Begos, as well as the man who gave us that superb score for The Guest).
Maybe not the instant holiday horror classic I was hoping for, Christmas Bloody Christmas is still a bloody good time, it’s a nice mix of fun and mean-spiritedness that I can see myself returning to next year, even if only to spot more of the many little references and homages dotted throughout almost every scene.
If you have enjoyed this, or any other, review on the blog then do consider the following ways to show your appreciation. A subscription/follow costs nothing.
It also costs nothing to like/subscribe to the YouTube channel attached to the podcast I am part of - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErkxBO0xds5qd_rhjFgDmA
Or you may have a couple of quid to throw at me, in Ko-fi form - https://ko-fi.com/kevinmatthews