Today, horror fans may have a hard time understanding the controversy that met Silent Night, Deadly Night. And it stirred up plenty of angst amongst critics and some parent groups. Nearly 40 years have passed and we’ve seen a handful of ‘Killer Santa’ movies that have elicited collective shrugs. Instead, audiences have mostly ignored movies like A Christmas Horror Story or Santa’s Slay. Maybe 2022 marks the year we embrace Killer Santa’s. Just a few weeks ago David Harbour’s ‘Die Hard meets Santa Claus’ flick Violent Night drummed up some box office dollars. Now Joe Begos returns with his latest exploitation thriller, Christmas Bloody Christmas. To date, critics have been marginally impressed with this story of a killer robot Santa run amuck.
It’s Christmas Eve and local record store owner Tori just wants to get drunk and party with friends. But down the street the department store’s Christmas attraction – a robot Santa Claus re-purposed from the US Defence Department’s cybernetic super-soldier program – short-circuits. Now it’s on a violent killing rampage. When Tori finds herself in its path, she desperately tires to find a way to stop something that was created to be unstoppable.
Christmas Bloody Christmas Plays Its Silly Premise Straight … Mostly
If the above synopsis sounds ridiculous it’s because the premise of Joe Begos’ (Bliss, VFW) Christmas Bloody Christmas is pure silliness. Interestingly, Begos pretty much plays the concept straight. This is The Terminator meets Silent Night, Deadly Night set against a grimy Grindhouse backdrop. Rather than burden his thriller with backstory and exposition, Begos uses an opening montage of bizarro television commercials that signal we’re entering an inexplicably strange world. A strange world where a small town department store uses a military-grade robot as a Santa Claus. And that’s all the explanation Christmas Bloody Christmas offers.
Like his past efforts, Begos drenches nearly every scene in neon red and green lightning though it’s courtesy of Christmas lights this time around.
Everything else about Christmas Bloody Christmas is vintage Grindhouse. If you’ve seen either Bliss of VFW, you’ll also recognize what are now vintage Joe Begos calling cards. Like his past efforts, Begos drenches nearly every scene in neon red and green lightning though it’s courtesy of Christmas lights this time around. Moreover, Christmas Bloody Christmas sets itself in the same kind of ‘lived in’ grime-covered world filled with the same kind of slackers and rough-looking characters who routinely populate Begos’ films. It’s an ugly fairy tale world where one might not blink if a robot Santa Claus starting killing people. The contrast between the fantastical premise and the banal setting alone is kind of interesting.
Christmas Bloody Christmas Revels in Tasteless Violence
Things take their time to bubble up in Christmas Bloody Christmas. At least 40 minutes of the movie are a grungy ‘day in the life’ mumblecore following Tori and her likeable slacker friend, Robbie. Begos drops audiences into random conversations about the merits of A Christmas Story and whether metal singers cutting their hair impacted their musical output. This could easily be mistaken for early Richard Linklater or Bruce McDonald. During its first act or so, Christmas Bloody Christmas rests on the natural performances from Riley Dandy and Sam Delich playing Tori and Robbie, respectively. Both actors make their ‘rough around the edges’ feel likable. In particular, Dandy elevates ‘Tori’ to elite Final Girl status by the climax. Horror fans will be happy to see Jeff Daniel Phillips (The Munsters, 3 From Hell) pop up in a small supporting role.
This could easily be mistaken for early Richard Linklater or Bruce McDonald.
Once Begos puts his killer robot Santa Claus in motion, Christmas Bloody Christmas fully embraces its Grindhouse roots. That is, Begos’ violence shocks as it pulls no punches and shows little restraint. Arguably, audiences who aren’t accustomed to exploitation movies will find the kills occasionally tasteless. If Christmas Bloody Christmas meanders through its first act, it quickly becomes relentless. Less Willy’s Wonderland or Banana Splits and more The Terminator, this DIY thriller avoids the obvious Christmas-themed kills for just straight-up gritty gore. Maybe there’s one or two false endings too many. But the overkill is in line with everything else about this B-movie exploitation thriller.
Christmas Bloody Christmas Gifts Horrors Fans Exactly What You Would Expect
In spite of its widely different approach to a ‘Killer Santa Claus’, Christmas Bloody Christmas has more in common with Silent Night, Deadly Night than that movie’s own terrible sequels. What Begos unwraps for horror fans is pure B-movie Grindhouse with the same kind of grimy, tasteless violence that characterized the 1984 Killer Santa movie. Sluggish pacing and winding dialogue may turn off some viewers. Multiple endings tacked on one another may frustrate others. But this makes for a decent stocking stuffer for the right horror fans.