Christmas Bloody Christmas Unleashes Plenty of Ho-Ho-Horrors

Writer-director Joe Begos' killer Santa story lives up to that title, and then some.

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A very dirty, very angry-looking Santa Claus
Image: Shudder and RLJE Films

What if The Terminator was recreated as a black-light painting, and instead of a killer robot from the future, the scrappy heroine had to battle a killer robot Santa Claus? No need to wonder: that’s basically Christmas Bloody Christmas, a holiday slasher propelled by style, many F-bombs, and nifty practical effects.

The latest from writer-director Joe Begos (VFW, Bliss, Almost Human), Christmas Bloody Christmas takes place on Christmas Eve in a small town—a sleepy place with a quaint main street that resembles a neon-lit snowglobe thanks to some deeply committed production design. Local businesses include a dive bar, a record store owned by whiskey-drinking hellraiser Tori Tooms (Riley Dandy), and a toy store called T.W. Bonkers that just so happens to have a “RoboSanta Plus” on display. We only learn scraps of information about the animatronic wonder thanks to TV footage and offhand conversations, but all you really need to know is: it was made by the Department of Defense and was repurposed from soldier duty to replace unpredictably human mall Santas, and it’s been scheduled for imminent removal from T.W. Bonkers—something about a recall due to certain units reverting to their military settings. This is nothing that Tori and the other characters pay any attention to whatsoever, until the Santa in their midst spontaneously shifts into murder mode.

Image for article titled Christmas Bloody Christmas Unleashes Plenty of Ho-Ho-Horrors
Image: Shudder and RLJE Films
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As horror fans well know, scary Santas are a familiar trope that extends even beyond movies and TV; the “robot turned killbot” routine is also a well-worn one. But as robot Santas go, Christmas Bloody Christmas’ not-so-jolly St. Nick is unsettling, even if he’s neither as clever nor as frightening as the genre’s top terror (that honor goes to, of course, Futurama’s Robot Santa Claus). Veteran actor Abraham Benrubi suits up as Santa for most of the movie, at least until his fleshy outer layer starts disintegrating after a few battles, but there’s not a ton for him to do other than prowl around in the manner of, say, a shark or Jason Voorhees, and annihilate anyone who crosses his path.

Mostly, Christmas Bloody Christmas keeps pace with Tori as her Christmas Eve spirals from drunken good time to fighting for her life, and she’s such a force of nature that unless you find her grating, you can’t help but have a good time following her. She’s a foul-mouthed, Lemmy-worshiping whirlwind, full of top-volume opinions on movies and music—but offbeat ones that speak to her contrarian personality, including her takes on horror franchises: Pet Sematary 2 is superior to the original; Blair Witch sequel Book of Shadows is a masterpiece; Alien: Covenant was good, actually. As final girls go, Tori is a far more unique creation than the festive maniac she has to face off with.

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Image for article titled Christmas Bloody Christmas Unleashes Plenty of Ho-Ho-Horrors
Image: Shudder and RLJE Films

At just under 90 minutes, Christmas Bloody Christmas screams along, delivering mutilated body parts, multiple vehicle crashes and explosions, and a menacing Santa exoskeleton, all of which prove you don’t need a big budget or slick CG to make your set pieces have impact. Sometimes, old-school is best, even when the dark lighting (heavy on the neon accents, as mentioned, and Christmas lights for obvious reasons) means the audience can’t see everything entirely clearly.

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But the movie’s three acts do feel a little unevenly divided. There’s the build-up, which is a lot of fun; the “Santa starts picking everyone off and it’s gory chaos” part; and then Tori’s desperate last stand, which goes on for so long it’s almost comical. It’s a fierce brawl that includes RoboSanta Plus revealing a special feature he’s kept tucked away for his most tenacious opponent, and the resourceful Tori is never not entertaining. But you can’t help but wish there’d been room for a bit more story in that middle section—especially considering the movie’s vivid setting, and its introduction of a small but promising ensemble of characters who meet the wrong end of Santa’s axe far too quickly.

Christmas Bloody Christmas arrives in theaters and on Shudder today.


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