The Spool / Movies
Christmas Bloody Christmas isn’t a stocking full of coal, but it’s close
Shudder’s latest is a heavy metal Christmas album come to life stretched too thin.
Read also: the best live TV streaming services with free trial>

Shudder’s latest is a heavy metal Christmas album come to life stretched too thin.

Shudder’s Christmas Bloody Christmas, about a killer Robo-Santa that wreaks havoc in a small town, is that present that catches your eye under the tree. The wrapping paper is beautiful, and the object hidden within looks big and expensive. You finally get to open it. Alas, the magnificent gift in your head turns out to be nothing more than an Amazon box with an ugly sweater inside. 

The first five minutes of this film have so much potential for a low-budget grindhouse classic. Writer and director Joe Begos begins with an invisible viewer channel surfing. A series of quick commercial clips and movie trailers, all featuring dark holiday humor, flash by. For instance, a spot where a kid and his dad happily share a glass of whiskey by the fire. It perfectly sets up an old-school, analog vibe that feels like the physical manifestation of every VHS cover in the horror section of a video store we can assume Begos frequented as a youth. 

The film then moves to a shot that’s maybe the most impressive single take in any Shudder film. With shades of the classic Boogie Nights opening scene, the camera follows our foul-mouthed protagonist, record store owner Tori Tooms (Riley Dandy). She walks from the snowy, empty street covered in prime red and green colors that pop against the white snow coming down. The camera continues to follow her into the store, lit with bright neon colors. Loud heavy metal blasts through the speakers as viewers meet the other main characters, including Tooms’ flirty employee, Robbie (Sam Delich), and her friend, Jay (MST3 K’s Jonah Ray). 

Christmas Bloody Christmas (Shudder)
Riley Dandy’s night is neither calm nor bright. (Shudder)

By the time the camera cuts, I’m ready for some bloody good Santa killing. But after watching the remaining 75 minutes, it becomes evident that most of the filmmaker’s time, attention, budget, and effort went into those opening segments. Begos and his team deserve credit for creating a bold lighting palette. They combine it with a DIY punk rock mentality, crude protagonists, and a pumping 80s score from composer Steve Moore (who also scored the much superior The Guest). Think Alex Cox setting Repo Man during the Christmas season. 

However, a cool aesthetic can’t sustain an entire movie. Christmas Bloody Christmas effectively could’ve been the length of one of the commercials that open the film. The robot Santa malfunctions in a toy store down the street, splits someone’s head open with an ax, and everyone grasps it and gets to go home. Instead, the movie keeps going without adding anything more to get the audience invested. 

Dandy gives a solid performance as the Final Girl. She presents a genuine nonchalant attitude that transitions into believable shock and terror when the violence starts. It may seem weird to praise an actor for being authentic in a movie about an indestructible robot Santa. Nonetheless, Dandy does good work with the not-so-good material given. 

[A] cool aesthetic can’t sustain an entire movie.

Take, for instance, the never-ending scenes where Tori flirts with her record store subordinate, Robbie. The two actors have great chemistry. Their early scenes getting drunk together and bonding in this weirdly empty town square–most of the budget went to the snow machine instead of extras, I guess–are the strongest in the film. Unfortunately, it keeps going and going. Instead of dedicating the already too-long run time for what we’re here for, mechanical Santa disemboweling people, we get these two characters arguing about Christmas songs, Pet Semetary, and Soundgarden. Even if Robbie’s objectively correct that Superunknown is the best Soundgarden album, it doesn’t make for good film.

Also, every third word of dialogue is a curse word. It’s not about being a prude. It’s just a desire for coherent dialogue between characters. The cursing feels so forced and unnatural, as though the actors were nervously improvising their lines. Alternately, perhaps, Begos has only read Tarantino scripts and assumes that’s how people who work in record stores communicate. 

By the time we get to an exhausting ending with Robo Santa going full Terminator, the film’s well past expiration. Still, the director has a strong eye and a go for broke imagination essential for independent filmmakers of any genre. Don’t rush Begos onto the naughty list just yet. This year’s present may not have come together, but I look forward to whatever nasty gift he puts under the tree next time.  

Christmas Bloody Christmas starts decking the halls with entrails on December 9 in theatres.

Christmas Bloody Christmas Trailer: