Well, it’s that season again, fiends! That time when we get crap for watching horror movies during the “holidays.” It’s also when we get together with family and take part in that thinly veiled dance where we try not to get angry at family members we have not seen for a while. So why not watch a couple of horror movies that take all those thoughts about the holidays we have and take them to the violent nth degree. Today’s Cineray holiday recommendations are Red Christmas, directed and written by Craig Anderson and Secret Santa, directed and co-written by Adam Marcus, and co-written by Debra Sullivan.
Red Christmas is a slasher movie with an unusual killer and a mixed political message. This one starts at an abortion clinic that is bombed by a pro-life activist. In the aftermath, the bomber finds and takes with him the surviving result of a late-term abortion. Flash forward 20 years to Diane, played by Dee Wallace, hosting her family at her home in Australia. Tensions are high and old wounds show as the festivities begin. Her daughter Ginny is nine months pregnant and likes to smoke pit with her husband, supplied by her uncle, and her sister Suzy arrives with her pastor husband. The two clash and argue a lot with the family between them. And then a mysterious stranger named Cletus, wrapped in bandages, wearing a cloak arrives, and before they understand what’s happening, he is picking them off one at a time.
The slasher element of Red Christmas is pretty inventive, and once the kills start, they are pretty brutal. In typical slasher fashion, the killer has come for revenge, except here, his origin and rationale are pretty inventive. The kills could be a little more revealing, especially for a slasher, but it being an independent film, maybe that was the best way they felt they could keep down the cost. The special effect on the barely seen Cletus is cheesy looking, and honestly, the mystery of how he looks should have held for the entire film, but it’s quick and easy to see past. Finally, it’s a little muddled in its politics.
The next feature Secret Santa follows with more of a family killing spree but a lot more killing and some excellent dark humor. The film follows a family who meets for Christmas Eve dinner and their annual Secret Santa Ritual. Though blood, these are all different people with histories and issues between them. Tensions are high because, well, old wounds often do not heal. During a tense argument, violence ensues, and people start attacking others and complaining of feeling hot while others try to protect themselves and escape. But one of them has engineered the events of this evening and secretly knows what is going on.
The humor and violence of this film are entertaining, and the actors are great. It’s easy to hate some characters as the film progresses, but there’s a complicated family narrative afoot as well. Take the shrewish family matriarch Shari, played here in spiteful, vengeful glory by Debra Sullivan. Even though it’s an independent feature, the film spares no expense with the practical effects. The kills are fantastic, and some are outright funny. There is one WTF moment of particular gruesomeness in the film that will make you laugh out loud.
Now, to be completely honest, my fondness for Secret Santa transcends how great I think the movie is. This is because, when the Horror Vision podcast was only into its fifth episode, we got the chance to sit down and interview Adam Marcus and co-writer and star Debra Sullivan, and the film’s producer Bryan Sexton about the film. They were all excellent guests and very personable and open about the film process. Adam is generous in his advice and very positive, and Debra could not be farther from her character onscreen. She is very friendly and a great actor, considering how much you hate her character onscreen. That being said, more people need to see this horror film, and it’s always part of the reason I pick my Cineray features. Red Christmas can be rented from all the usual places but is free with Prime, Peacock, and Shudder, while Secret Santa is available for rent or purchase through Prime and YouTube.