[Beyond Fest 2023 Review] IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE

There’s never enough Christmas horror and Christmas slashers are always welcome in my home. Director Tyler MacIntyre and writer Michael Kennedy have crafted a holiday horror movie that is both vicious and kind of heartwarming. It makes sense because the title, IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE, isn’t just a pun in this case.

The movie does work with the original concept of the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. However, it takes the idea of you visiting a world where you never existed rather than being something like a dream or a wish granted by an angel. The premise is more like an alternate reality or dimension where all the good things you did never happened.

The synopsis bears this out, here’s what it says: “A year after saving her town from a psychotic killer on Christmas Eve, Winnie Carruthers’ life is less than wonderful — but when she wishes she’d never been born, she finds herself in a nightmare parallel universe and discovers that without her, things could be much, much worse. Now the killer is back, and she must team up with the town misfit to identify the killer and get back to her reality.”

It also brings up the idea that the holidays can be a time when people feel isolated, and it’s nice to see that acknowledged. It also acknowledges that if someone feels unloved or their good deeds are not appreciated, it is enough to make them consider hurting themselves at emotionally vulnerable moments. Too often, the pat answer when someone dies by suicide is that depression and mental illness are to blame and that there’s nothing anyone can do. This movie points out that how we treat other people in our lives matters. Being deliberately or unthinkingly cruel to someone can have a very real effect on them.

But back to slashing.

At a trim 87 minutes, IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE gets to the point quickly. It stars the able cast of Jane Widdop, Jess McLeod, Joel McHale, Katharine Isabelle, William B. Davis, and Justin Long. It’s super cool to see some of these terrific and personable actors show different aspects of their talent and to have such remarkable acceptance of LGBTQ+ characters as part of the narrative.

Director Tyler McIntyre has built up quite a name with his directing over the years.  This is highlighted particularly in IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE as seen by how well-balanced this horror comedy comes off. He juggles the tone and the performances particularly well. The humor doesn’t eclipse the kills and vice versa, creating a necessary balance. The style of the film is principally light, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t gory and scary kills.

The slasher killer in IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE is excellent. It is called The Angel, which is perfect for this movie, as the idea of Clarence, the guardian angel, is playfully referenced more than once. But the irony is that the killer is an angel dressed in flowing white robes, a reversal of the traditional Ghostface costume. After all, in Christian belief, death is an angel, Azrael.

Do we get a great shot of The Angel being covered in blood, with its pristine white robes spattered in scarlet? We sure do, and it’s great. Are the kills awesome? Yes, and there are times when the film does not show mercy and kills some of the most likable and beloved characters.

One of the best things about the interdimensional structure of the script is that people can be killed multiple times. And they are. Unfortunately, some characters experience perma-death, and they are two of the best characters. I will note that at least the first character to die is not a person of color and that for a film to have emotional resonance, sometimes the death of adored characters is necessary to make the point that life has value and that people are not replaceable.

The film’s themes also include the rapacious hunger of developers willing to run over human lives to make money. It features the gradual creeping of gentrification.  The pursuit of the almighty dollar through retail outlets is seen perhaps as the barons of the large shopping malls that displace smaller local businesses that give a place its character and allow less wealthy people to build their fortunes.

IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE is a wonderfully constructed and executed holiday horror film. It doesn’t have the sleazy character of some of the classics from the 70s and 80s, but it riffs on many of the basic structures of slashers of the past and brings the format more into the present day, particularly with the use of alternate dimensions and LGBTQ+ representation. It doesn’t need to be an 80s pastiche; it is a fully realized creation of its time, complete with its particular brand of humor. Okay, maybe there is some traditional sleaze, but it’s welcome sleaze. IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE is a slasher with a heart of gold.

IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE made its world premiere at Beyond Fest. It will be released only in theaters across the country on November 10th. The film will stream on Shudder at a later date.

Dolores Quintana
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