Joe Begos’ fifth feature Christmas Bloody Christmas is a technicolour three-ring circus, stuffed like a seasonal stocking with drugs, gore, sex, neon and metal. I mean, frankly, based on that you should know if you are in or not, yeah? Before the chaos unfolds, however, the film is primarily a hangout movie, in the same “dirtbag” cinema milieu of his third film Bliss.
Begos’ first two films – alien abduction slasher Almost Human and Cronenberg pastiche Minds Eye – showed promise but were perhaps too focused on paying tribute to films the creators loved. With Bliss, however, Joe drew from his own life as an artist (and hedonist!) to craft a trippy, sexy, generation fuck, downtown LA vampire movie, all shot on 16mm. His following film VFW was the only film he did not originate. Whilst it was a decent genre programmer, its “boomer veterans versus millennials” angle left me a bit cold, and its reputation was marred by the abuse scandal that engulfed its producers at Cinestate. However, Christmas Bloody Christmas (which began as a pitch for a Silent Night, Deadly Night remake that Begos retooled) is a pure Begos joint.
The film opens with some brilliantly evocative retro commercials. Through this, we are introduced to the “RoboSanta+”, a robotic Santa that has been designed to replace “your local degenerate mall Santa”. The robot uses re-appropriated military technology. The film then introduces record store owner Tori (a star making turn by Riley Dandy) and her friend and employee Robbie (Sam Delich). The beginning of the film follows them hanging out in Tori’s awesome looking record store. Tori has a potential tinder date (the first indication that despite the record store’s plentiful VHS boxes, it is not a period piece!), but Robbie convinces her to blow it off to go drinking with him.
This section of the film is so great. The banter is so strong and genuine. Robbie is obviously jealous of Tori’s potential hook up and likes her, but does not want to let on. Like with Bliss, Christmas Bloody Christmas feels authentic to the stoner/hesher world, as if it’s made by people who live that life. We see them geek out about music and horror sequels (fans of Blair Witch: Book of Shadows will be delighted!). I frankly just loved their chemistry and spending time with these characters.
We hear on a TV in the bar they visit that the RoboSanta+’s are being recalled because they are reverting to their military programming. The RoboSanta in the toy shop ran by Tori’s friends Jay (Jonah Ray of the rebooted Mystery Science Theatre 3000) and Lahna (Bliss star Dora Madison) wakes up and begins a killing spree. From here all hell breaks loose!
And sweet Christmas does it ever! Begos indulges in some cheer worthy, gory kills and, given a (presumably) bigger budget, is allowed to stage explosions and bigger set-pieces. Christmas Bloody Christmas wisely decides to play the scares and threat straight, and what we get is a lean 87-minute combination of a slasher film and killer robot movie. The influence of The Terminator and Hardware was clear to me.
The film was shot on anamorphic super 16mm, and Begos and cinematographer Brian Sowell created a beautiful looking film. The holiday setting allows Begos more licence to indulge his love of neon and strong colours. The use of POV shots from the killer’s perspective are also delicious. Seasonal horrors often lack the traditional snow we associate with yuletide (on film, at least), but much of the budget was clearly spunked on snow machines. The production design is also strong in the record shop and toy store.
The vibe is ably assisted by the sonorous score by Zombi’s Steve Moore (The Guest, several previous Begos films). The score is at times reminiscent of the aforementioned Terminator, but also adopts chugging guitar, avoiding being another standard throwback synth score. The score is backed up by a great soundtrack of metal and rock music.
The fantastic cast is rounded out with Rob Zombie regular Jeff Daniel Philips as the local sheriff, Troma alumni and director Kanas Bowling, as well as regular Begos players Graham Skipper, Jeremy Gardner (The Battery) and Bego’s editor and right hand man Josh Ethier.
Is Christmas Bloody Christmas original? No. Does the central premise really make sense? Also no. However, who cares? This is destined to be a cult film that will enter horror fans seasonal rotation.
Christmas Bloody Christmas is streaming on Shudder from the the 9th of December
Featured Image courtesy of Shudder and RLJE Films