Saturday, December 22, 2018

December to Dismember: RED CHRISTMAS (2016)

I realize that it is traditional for us here at VJ to be beaten to a bloody pulp by awful movies during the Christmas season, but we always have a glimmer of hope that maybe, perhaps, possibly this year, one will actually turn out to be... I dunno, good. I mean, it could happen, right? Yeah, just like it could happen where that one person in your family won't get drunk and start yelling expletives at selected other members of your family, like they do every year. You can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which gets full first. Once again, my child-like innocence  is shattered like a Panzer tank running over a tree ornament and adding insult to injury, this time the Aussies are to blame.

Opening with a slow-mo, sad strings-laden, right-wing protest of an abortion clinic, a some random, sad-faced dude with a rosary fishes a live, almost full-term aborted baby out of a paint bucket that has been callously shoved into a corner by a nurse's foot. Once he has saved the baby (without any one of a dozen people noticing), he blows the place up while the soundtrack has news bytes of reporters commenting on the awful clinic. Don't you hate starting a movie and 10 minutes in wondering if you should just do yourself a favor and just go do laundry instead?

Picking up years later, single mother of four (who can apparently afford a massive estate house), mostly grown, but definitely not adult, kids, Diane (Dee Wallace), is planning a lavish Christmas celebration for the family. We have son Jerry (Gerard Odwyer), an autistic young man who is obsessed with Shakespeare; daughter Suzy (Sarah Bishop) who is married to a priest, Peter (David Collins); pregnant daughter Ginny (Janis McGavin) and her man-child husband, or boyfriend, Scott (Bjorn Stewart); adopted daughter and pretentious modern artist Hope (Deelia Meriel) and uhhhh, some dude named Joe (Geoff Morrell). We never find out who the hell Joe is - maybe he is an uncle since he's the only other American, aside from Wallace, in the cast of Australians. Maybe it doesn't really matter because you will learn to hate them all.

Possibly echoing first time feature writer/director Craig Anderson's own personal issues, family members can't even manage to stay civil to each other long enough to get their asses in seats. After pregnant Ginny snipes at infertile Suzy about her inability to get knocked up, Ginny and Scott take off to the laundry room to have loud sex, which nobody really seems to mind, except for priest Peter, who tries to get a good eyeful through the keyhole much to everyone's amusement. Yeah, this family is not only unlikable, they aren't even human.

In the middle of a massive tantrum session where the rotten brats are yelling at mom about how mad they are that she's selling the house and taking a vacation, a shambling, slow-talking bulk wrapped in bandages and wearing a black, hooded cloak, knocks on the the door. It's Christmas, so in spite of the fact that he is weird, smells of urine and claims that he wears the bandages to "keep his skin on", they sit him right down in the middle of their family issues. Honestly, I feel kind of sorry for this underprivileged shlub having to put up with these entitled jerks. After giving him a Christmas gift of a mason jar filled with peanuts in the shell, they find out that his name is Cletus and that all he wants to do is to read a letter he wrote to his mother. We are now at about the 25 minute mark and if you still give a crap what happens next, you are a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

The very long, rambling letter tells of Cletus' love for his mother who disposed of him at birth and included enough unsavory details for this group of assclowns to literally throw him out of the house and turn on Diane, who clearly had a secret that she kept from them all these years. Brother, if you thought there was family drama going down before, just wait for the freak-out now. Yes, Cletus is in fact Diane's aborted Down's Syndrome baby from the beginning of the movie. Her excuse is that her husband was dying and she didn't want to bring another baby into the world. Why she decided to wait until right before giving birth to have him dumped in a bucket, we don't know. What we do know is that daughters who have big screaming matches with their mothers, complete with slapped faces, promptly all go hang out in bed together. As far as I know, this is true.

After some random shots of Cletus wandering around wailing about his mother, we get right back to Bitch Central. Ginny and Scott, feeling self-satisfied after their obnoxious liaison, go outside to smoke some pot, which again, bothers nobody, not even Diane. Ok, even assuming you are a progressive, ex-hippy type that somehow managed to become rich and never turned into a conservative nutbag, your daughter is pregnant! Jeezus, maybe if you laid the smack down on 'em every once in a while, I wouldn't be so desperate to see them all horribly murdered. Sadly, the murders are "horrible", just not in the way you would like them to be.

So now, after all this mama drama, you'd think that would be enough and we could get on with the mindless killing. And you'd be almost right. Craig Anderson isn't letting you off the hook that easily though, he's got more personal issues to work out and by god, you will be a witness to them! Dinner is served in slo-motion with emotional strings on the soundtrack (seriously) and lots of fighting and arguing. Following a mind-numbingly extended argument over whether certain left-overs should be refrigerated or not (yes, pies topped with meringue need to go in the fridge - it's raw egg whites, you morons!), Cletus splits Hope in half while she is looking at the remains of Cletus' Christmas gift on the lawn. Don't get excited, you don't see too much other than a quick flash of CGI. Anderson decides instead to focus on a bare foot artfully laying artfully next to the jar of peanuts, rather than investing his pennies into some practical effects work. Laying by Hope's unseen body is a page ripped from a bible. A page from the Bible has about a dozen passages on it, but for some reason Diane and Joe know exactly which passage the killer meant for them to read. In the middle of a panic attack over the presumably grisly death of a girl, they immediately find and read aloud, "when justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous, but terror to evildoers." Maybe Cletus had a hi-lighter marker on him and outlined the passage off camera, before leaving it next to the body.

Hope's death leads to a lot of screaming, running around and, yes, the dreaded shaky-cam. C'mon now, the shaky-cam is like found footage and blue tinting. Even in 2016, aren't we all totally the fuck over that? This is actually how the rest of the movie plays out. The idiots in the house keep on finding reasons to leave the house and promptly get themselves killed in boring ways. At one point Cletus manages to teleport into the house to kill one person in a room and then teleports out again so that he can wait for morons to leave the house again! At one point Diane sees him trying to climb up a trellis to get in a window. Her solution to that problem is to take the shotgun that they have lying around and blow his head off. Ha! I kid, I kid. No, her solution is to ignore the shotgun and run out side and use (I am not making this up) a boat anchor with attached chain to break all of the mansions many, many trellis'. The boat anchor is significant, not because they have an attached boat house (they are land-locked) or maybe a nautical theme (they have bear traps as decorations), nope it's just there because when Diane semi-aborted Cletus, she had a anchor necklace in her hand. Yep, seriously, that's it. Are you feeling my pain yet?

Like seemingly every goddamn indy horror flick these days, RED CHRISTMAS was the darling of many horror websites and blogs. That is until everyone actually saw it. Then it got ditched like Kevin Hart's Twitter feed. It is possible to make a horror movie set entirely in a house, it's been done many, many times before, but it takes more than just having a bunch of people be completely obnoxious. If you aren't capable of writing some decent characters and dialogue, no problem. Throw in an evil book, an evil doll, an evil puzzle box, an evil ghost, a homicidal offspring who is being kept under lock and key, the reanimated remains of an evil scientist's experiment in cobbling together body parts, something! Anything! I can be around actual people who are jerks any day of the week, why would I want to watch a movie about them?

Even worse, the pathetic attempts at heart tugging tragedy are grueling to sit through. At one point Jerry overhears Cletus telling Peter about how he was aborted because he was autistic. This causes Jerry to cry and confront his mother with the shotgun screaming and crying about whether she really loves him or would have preferred to have him aborted. To paraphrase the Bard, "what piece of work is this movie". Ironically, as much a I found this crap unbearable, Jerry's obsession with Shakespeare would have made for an interesting, possibly even enjoyable, character in a totally different movie. As would the (fumbling) attempt to make a Shakespearean slasher film. They are the few halfway decent ideas that this movie has to offer, and are just discarded, like (if this movie is to be believed) all the fully formed babies at an abortion clinic.

Amazingly, Craig Anderson has tried to pretend that this film has no sociopolitical message and that his ham-fisted scenes of completely unrealistic, insensitive depictions of abortion clinics that fall right in line with right-wing fanaticism, is completely incidental and unintentional. Pull the other one Craig, it plays Jingle Bells. Anderson has had a little bit of a career producing Australian TV shows and short films, which clearly hasn't lent him the skills to make a low-budget horror movie. It also hasn't lent him the skills to even interview veteran genre actor Dee Wallace. The entire interview is actually out of focus and even with an apology tacked on, it's pretty damn embarrassing.

As if the script wasn't bad enough, the shaky-cam and hacksaw editing make it difficult to even tell what is happening at times. There is a scene where someone is hit by Cletus who is driving away from the house in what I am assuming is one of their cars. Because of the camera and editing, we have no idea who that person was until later when we see one of the cast limping! The kills are poorly executed as well. There is a scene where Peter has a long prayer session with Cletus before stabbing him with a knife. This, understandably, irritates the hell out of Cletus so he throws Peter up on the kitchen counter and pushes his head on to a spinning blender blade until Peter's CGI eyes go all googly and jets of blood shoot out of his eye sockets. That's pretty much the most graphic effect too, aside from a cop who suddenly and inexplicably, finds himself with a bear trap over his head, snapped tight around his neck, which sprays blood everywhere but for some reason doesn't prevent him from doing a lot of screaming. Presumably in an effort to avoid "unnecessary" expense, in one scene a girl is bloodlessly CGI stabbed through the head with an umbrella, we cut to a shot of the top of the umbrella opening up, popping loose some pink bits in the corner of the frame. Not even a reveal shot of the corpse. Maybe Dee Wallace's fee was the price we pay for this. Not that it matters anyway. There is zero fun to be had here.

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