By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Making his horror-film-directing debut with RED CHRISTMAS after many years doing comedy television in his native Australia, Craig Anderson didn’t shy away from potentially troublesome subjects. RUE MORGUE spoke to the filmmaker about his celebration of confrontational terror.
RED CHRISTMAS, which opened in LA last Friday and continues to other cities in the coming weeks from Artsploitation Films, stars genre favorite Dee Wallace as Diane, matriarch of a large family gathering at a remote house for the titular holiday. Their squabbling is interrupted by the arrival of Cletus (Sam “Bazooka” Campbell), a disfigured, cloaked man whom we know (from a prologue) survived Diane’s attempts to abort his birth years before. Now he’s back for bloody revenge, and it’s up to Diane to protect her family, including her son Jerry, who (like Gerard Odwyer, who plays him) has Down syndrome—though that isn’t brought up by the other characters. Clearly, there’s a lot more to discuss here than in your typical calendar-oriented slasher flick, and we did just that with Anderson following RED CHRISTMAS’ international premiere at last year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
What was behind your decision to make a Christmas horror film?
I love Christmas, because it’s an excellent time of the year that’s full of emotion and iconography. A lot of horror is, you know, a bit twisted and nuts, and I love destroying those things that are held dear at Christmas, especially since it has become so commercial. A lot of Christmas horror deals with that commerciality, in a good way, in that it’s tokenistic and not real anymore. When you remove religion, it’s like an empty bowl that doesn’t mean anything, and I like that doing a horror film set at Christmas can deal with that.
Did you take inspiration from previous movies of this type?
Yeah; I watched them all, and I also went back and watched the old Christmas films like HOLIDAY INN and MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. I enjoy SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT because it’s hilarious, and I took inspiration from those films, in the way they told their stories using Christmas.
Only yours doesn’t have a killer in a Santa Claus suit!
Right [laughs], only at one moment, very briefly, one of the sons of Dee’s character comes out dressed as Santa, and then wears a Santa hat throughout the rest of the film, which does play into the plot in a big way. It uses some of that stuff—Santa as a disguise—but there’s not enough! I hesitated to put the bad guy in a Santa outfit, though; I just felt a cloaked villain representing badness would be good, as opposed to what normally happens, where you take the piss out of Santa by making him the villain.
How did you approach the use of comedy within all the horror?
It’s weird; I think it fails horribly at being a horror/comedy, in that it’s funny at the beginning and then moves into something else. But in my mind, comedy helps deal with minutiae, small events and surface-level things between people, and it’s excellent at that. We often make humorous movies about romance, the stuff of love, but this film deals with abortion, so the horror takes over. I use comedy at the beginning to get you interested and open you up to liking these people; it’s very naturalistic, family-having-a-good-time stuff, where humor is used by the characters. It’s not like SHAUN OF THE DEAD; there’s no attempt to make you laugh, it’s just that these characters are interesting enough to make you smile and sometimes laugh because of what they say. But once it starts to deal with things that are too horrible for comedy to handle, it becomes a genre film.
You’ve got Christmas, abortion and Down syndrome—you tackle a lot of touchy subjects in RED CHRISTMAS!
In regards to the stuff involving Down syndrome, one of the interesting things I learned regarding the discussion around it was the idea of eugenics—and I’m not going to say I’m a conspiracy theorist, but there are a certain amount of the population that do get aborted more than other types, and one of those is people with intellectual disabilities or congenital disorders that could lead to what some people would consider not to be a high-quality life. So that is an issue in the film as well. Those themes are all under the surface, though. They’re all hiding, and if you want to pick away, hopefully you’ll find them. In the end, it’s also just a family being terrorized by a madman on Christmas Day, so it works on that level, but if you start to look further, I tried to put other things in there.
And you cast an actor who actually has Down syndrome in the film. How did that come about?
Gerard is a good friend of mine whom I’ve worked with a lot in Australia, doing film workshops and clown workshops with people who have intellectual disabilities. I’ve known him for years and worked with him on other projects, film and stage, so when I was writing this, I wanted to put him in it just as a member of the family, because I thought it would be excellent just to have him in there, and the Down syndrome would never be an issue. But when I discovered this issue in reproductive rights, I thought, “Ah, that’s a shame, because it means we’re going to have to address this thing I didn’t want to address.” But it was very natural to cast him.
Looking back on what happened with SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, were you concerned about courting controversy with RED CHRISTMAS?
I love any film that’s had controversy like that. I’m a big film buff, and reading about any movie that’s ever been banned or protested, I think is excellent. It’s a work of art, and if it evokes such an emotional response from people, that’s fantastic, no matter what. It sounds lame, but all publicity is good, and I think it speaks to a film hitting on something that people don’t like, or need to express. Ours deals with abortion, and it’s kind of a tripwire that if it was not very good, or it didn’t get as much attention, I could pull that tripwire and change the synopsis from “A mother protecting her family” to “A guy who survived his own abortion comes back and kills his whole family.” Then it sounds very different, and becomes a controversial film.
Taking the example of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT and knowing that that is something that can occur, and you can get people to know about your film through controversy, or through pointing out the horrible idea behind it, that’s something that works well in the modern world. In the case of, say, A SERBIAN FILM getting out there because of the ideas it evoked in people’s minds, that’s something we all have to do now in genre films, to make people say, “Oh, we should see this because it’s dealing with an idea.” Not just because it’s a good film, but because it has an idea that evokes thought.