Military technology repurposed as family-friendly holiday entertainment, what could possibly go wrong? That’s the basic premise of Joe Begos’ Christmas Bloody Christmas, the latest entry into the holiday horror sweepstakes. And it’s a worthy gory, scuzzy, foul-mouthed, metal-infused addition to the ever-growing cannon.
The U.S. military developed a new strain of robots for, you know, war, only for them to find a new life as toy store Santas. On Christmas Eve, record store owner Tori (Riley Dandy) just wants to get drunk and bone down with any random guy, most likely her ironically mulleted employee Robbie (Sam Delich), but when one of these Kris Kringle automatons (Abraham Benrubi) glitches out and reverts to its previous settings, she finds herself caught in the midst of its kill-crazy rampage through their small town. But hopefully she’ll still get laid and survive the night.
The narrative takes a while to get down to business. Robo-Santa does his thing early enough, but Tori and Robbie don’t even know anything is the least bit hinky until minute 41. (For context, the movie runs 86 minutes, with credits.) Though the erstwhile Mr. Claus stomps and axes his way through his victims, the bulk of the movie sticks with the primary duo, focusing on their music/movie opinion-based banter and will-they-won’t-they verbal foreplay. The plot essentially follows them around as they paint the town and encounter colorful locals, like a maudlin sheriff (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and a couple horny friends (Dora Madison and Jonah Ray.)
That facet is either going to make or break Christmas Bloody Christmas for the audience. Sure, there’s carnage, heavy metal, and head-splitting, but Tori and Robbie carry most of the load. Dandy and Delich have great chemistry, work well bouncing off one another, and form the admittedly slight emotional core. But it’s also easy to imagine their incessant attempts to one-up each other with deep dive knowledge and obscure hot takes annoying the living shit out of a lot of viewers. Have you ever sat at a bar and listened to a couple friends go back and forth about the most ephemeral minutia of bands or films? (Or books, or sports, or cars, or whatever their specific niche may be.) It’s the cinematic version of that, so your mileage may vary. I, for one, enjoyed their bickering, as it connotes a sense of familiarity and intimacy, but some folks will hate it.
Those familiar with Begos and his Channel 83 Films (Bliss, VFW), you know exactly what you’re in for. And for the uninitiated, this serves as a crash course on what they’re all about. That’s not a knock, just a way to say they have certain aesthetic proclivities and tonal predilections which are all on full display here. This is gritty, grimy, shot-on-16mm horror, awash in a sea of saturated blues and purples and pinks. A near omnipresent score and soundtrack bludgeons you with heavy, psychedelia-tinged metal that alternates with throwback -stylesynth jams provided ably by Zombi’s Steve Moore, a frequent collaborator.
Content wise, there’s nothing particularly surprising or startling. Again, not a bad thing, the result, while predictable, is a goddamn blast. The dialogue sounds like Begos and his buddies gathered around a bottle of whiskey shooting the shit, waxing poetic. We get plenty of blood and violence—the kills aren’t particularly inspired, but the gore effects are solid and there’s something to be said about the simplicity of a madman (mad-bot?) dressed like jolly old Saint Nick with an axe axing a dude in the head. It even shifts gears and plays like a Yuletide riff on Assault on Precinct 13. (Or perhaps more accurately, like the police station scene in Terminator.)
Basically, Christmas Bloody Christmas is exactly the movie I expected from Joe Begos and company, but it’s also exactly the movie I wanted it to be. The momentum flags at a couple of points, and the script really beleaguers the monster-isn’t-dead-yet bit. (Yeah, it’s an unstoppable military-grade murder machine, but damn.) The whole thing definitely gives off the feeling of a bunch of buddies sitting around going, “You know what would be awesome…” but in fun way. Maybe it’s just because what they’re putting down lines up solidly with my sensibilities, but Christmas Bloody Christmas makes for a damn fun watch, one likely enhanced by a room/theater full of rowdy intoxicated weirdos, and should be in heavy viewing rotation this holiday season and for many more to come. [Grade: B+]