'Red Christmas': Film Review

Red Christmas Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Artsploitation Films
Gory and offensive, but lacking in the scare department.

Dee Wallace is haunted by a secret abortion in Craig Anderson's fright flick.

Offering something to offend viewers from many walks of life, Craig Anderson's Red Christmas uses Jesus' birthday as an occasion for an abortion-themed slasher pic whose boogeyman happens to have Down syndrome. The literal-minded may also take offense at the film, and not just because its Yuletide horrors are being delivered in the dog days of summer. But some horror buffs will appreciate this irreverent little gorefest, especially those with a nostalgic soft spot for topliner Dee Wallace, the scream queen of The Hills Have Eyes and The Howling (not to mention E.T.) who remains impressively prolific even as she nears 70.

Wallace plays Diane, a matriarch whose four adult children have joined her for Christmas at the family's large Australian home. Wait, make that five kids: Twenty years ago, Diane secretly had an abortion at a clinic that was bombed that very day by pro-life extremists. In a plot device sure to annoy anyone who knows how abortions work, her unborn child actually survived the procedure and was rescued by that right-wing bomber. He was raised in isolation, and has now come to greet his long-lost mom.

The gruesomely disfigured young man, Cletus (guess we can add hillbillies to the list of offended parties), covers himself with a frightful black cloak and bandages, but he starts off, as he puts it, "from a place of love." He hopes to make peace with the mother who doesn't know he's alive. But his clumsy outreach provokes disgust at the family gathering, and when he's tossed out of the house, his embarrassment quickly turns to murderous anger.

If Cletus' first three slayings betray a lack of imagination (they're all straight-down-the-middle cranial violations), he's more creative in his siege tactics: When he cuts the power to Diane's big house, sending the family into a panic, he somehow manages to leave enough juice for them to run both their lurid Christmas lights and the one kitchen appliance he will need for a grisly murder in the third act.

In an exploitation flick, such sins are forgivable. But genre buffs may take issue with the pace and delivery of the scares here, as Diane attempts to marshal her rapidly dwindling number of children and in-laws to keep the unwanted guest at bay.

Self-consciously button-pushing pictures like this one usually leaven their transgressions with at least a bit of winking irony, but no humor is to be found here, from the opening frames (slo-mo shots of pro-life and pro-choice factions shouting at each other) to the last. Nor, in its absence, does the action seem packed with any kind of mean-spirited moral lesson. On the plus side, at least we never have to suffer through the contrived healing and "let's all cook together" moments that typically come with dysfunctional-family reunion films.

Production company: Craig FX
Distributor: Artsploitation Films
Cast: Dee Wallace, Geoff Morrell, Sarah Bishop, David Collins, Janis McGavin, Sam Campbell, Gerard O'Dwyer, Bjorn Stewart, Deelia Meriel
Director-screenwriter: Craig Anderson
Producers: Craig Anderson, Dee Wallace
Executive producers: Brett Garten, Artie Laing
Director of photography: Douglas James Burgdorff
Production designer: Emily Borghi
Costume designer: Kate Shanahan
Composer: Helen Grimley

81 minutes