Back in 2019, I reviewed Joe Begos’ Bliss as part of its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. While I was impressed with it on a visual level, it felt empty to me as a whole. An instance of style over substance, in my opinion. Since then, that exploitation flick seems to have garnered a following for Begos, with fans eager to see what kind of mayhem he’d crank out next.
His follow-up, VFW, was a neat little throwback indebted to John Carpenter (especially Assault on Precinct 13). With veteran (no pun intended) actor Stephen Lang at its center, the thriller showcased that Begos had potential as a genre filmmaker – one who was still honing his style and craft. However, VFW is the only film of his in which he does not have a screenwriting credit. Now, in 2022, he has returned with his latest work, CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS. This time, he’s more fully controlling the creative reins as the film’s writer, director, and producer.
A delightfully insane yuletide bloodbath, CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS was first pitched as a remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night: the infamous cult classic that caused a small stir due to its depiction of a killer dressed as Santa Claus. Begos’ pitch was rejected and he instead reworked it as an original film, which ironically wound up affording him an even bigger budget than what he was offered to remake Silent Night, Deadly Night.
Set on Christmas Eve, record store owner Tori (Riley Dandy) plans on spending her holiday by meeting up with some strange guy on a dating app. Instead, her coworker Robbie (Sam Delich) convinces her to spend the night drinking and shooting the breeze. Meanwhile, a decorative human-sized robotic Santa Claus in a toy store short-circuits, causing the monstrosity to come to life and hunt down anyone in its path. What ensues plays out like an 80-minute holiday techno-horror, with nods to Chopping Mall, The Terminator, and so much more.
Begos’ now-signature neon-drenched worldview makes a return here. Shot on 16mm, the copious Christmas lights and decorations are a sight to behold. Coming from someone who worked at a record store, it would be remiss of me not to talk about how cool the one featured in this movie is, with glow paint covering nearly every surface. On the audio front, we’re treated to another synthy score from his composer and frequent collaborator Steve Moore. It’s appropriately 80’s and propels the film’s momentum, from the quiet setup in the beginning to the carnage shortly after. It’s not very Christmassy, but considering the movie itself acknowledges its disdain for nearly all of the music played during the holiday season, it’s not a surprising choice.
The overall production value is fantastic and you can see every dollar that was used to finance this thing on the screen. The robotic Santa itself, according to Begos, cost roughly a quarter of a million dollars(!) and it shows. For a villain lacking in actual personality, it’s impressive how strong of a screen presence it has. You can practically feel the Earth shake with its every step and, for such a goofy premise, it feels menacing as hell.
That’s because Begos understands that, in order for an idea like this to really work, you can’t play it solely for laughs, and you can’t do it cheaply. Considering this is basically a festive slasher/survival thriller turned up to 11, it only works if we the viewers are invested in the characters to some extent. The beginning of the film almost functions like a hangout movie, with Tori and Robbie butting heads and arguing over music, movies, and various pop culture references. Everyone’s personalities can sometimes feel overly intense or abrasive, and the humor is a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s clear that all of the performers here are having a blast bouncing off of one another.
This all adds up to what is perhaps Begos’ most playful film yet. It’s successful because CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS makes a single promise, i.e. murderous robotic Santa, and delivers on that promise in spades. For holiday horror fans, this is sure to play like gangbusters and, like any worthwhile Christmas movie, it’s one that you’ll want to revisit annually to get into that festive spirit.
Christmas came early this year to Brooklyn and we can only feel blessed.
CHRISTMAS BLOODY CHRISTMAS had its East Coast Premiere at Brooklyn Horror Film Festival on October 17th, 2022, and will be released in theaters and on Shudder on December 9th.