Typically during the steamy summer months, us horror fans can look forward to a plethora of slashers, cabin getaways and vacationing nightmares on the big screen. By autumn, we're happily moving on to reliving our favorite seasonal classics, as well as the inevitable Halloween release schedule before cozying up inside with haunting holiday horrors in the winter. At least, that was the status quo until Australian director Craig Anderson broke all the rules with his 2017 summer slasher, Red Christmas.
Starring iconic scream queen and spiritual guru Dee Wallace (The Hills Have Eyes, E.T.), Red Christmas is a strong yet unbiased commentary on abortion with the blended aesthetics of slashers, classic Greek tragedies and black comedy.
A profoundly intelligent film, Anderson explores the most absurd scenarios involving the unforeseen dangers of attempting to end a pregnancy. With an honest empathy for those living with Down syndrome and the obstacles and stigmas they face, Red Christmas breaks the mold by casting Gerard O'dwyer (who is living with Down syndrome himself) as both its hero and knight in shining armor, Jerry.
An a fan of the film myself, I might even go so far as to saying Red Christmas just may have replaced Silent Night, Deadly Night as my go-to Christmas horror movie. Sitting down for a Q&A with writer and director Craig Anderson, we discuss the motives and underlying themes behind his summertime slasher, Red Christmas.
Rachael Rumancek's Q&A With Visionary Director, Craig Anderson:
RR: First off I have just got to know, why did you choose the summer for the Red Christmas release, as opposed to winter?
In Australia, where the film is set, our seasons are reversed so Christmas is always real hot. I thought of changing it to match the Northern Hemisphere, but then the Australian audience would think it was insincere and probably reject it. So I’m stuck with a hot Christmas, which is what I’ve been stuck with my whole life.
RR: The characters are all very unique and individually crafted away from horror stereotypes. Were any of the characters written specifically with any of the actors in mind?
Apart from the sensational Dee Wallace, most of the characters were written with actors in mind, because I had worked with a lot of them on Australian TV comedy. From the start, I had always written Gerard O’Dwyer into the script. He was born with Down syndrome, but it doesn’t define him, and I’ve worked with him on projects for over a decade.
RR: Gerard's performance was outstanding. He was both lovingly goofy yet fierce and unwavering when defending his family. Was his character inspired by, or meant to emulate, anyone in particular?
Well, having written for Gerry in mind, it was easy just to change one letter whist writing. When I asked him to be in it, we talked about the name coming from Jerry Lewis, because Gerard and I had once done a clowning routine which featured Lewis’ famous mime typewriter routine.
RR: Without giving away too much away, Jerry eventually faces off against the hooded intruder who introduces himself as Cletus. Although Cletus is clashing with Jerry, he isn't necessarily an evil person. When writing his part did you envision him as bad guy or something different altogether?
Great question. I was always trying to present different sides of the abortion debate and treated the film as if it was a Greek tragedy, where two people have a failure to communicate and end up destroying each other. I was also very sympathetic to whichever actor I was talking to at the time, letting both Dee Wallace (Diane) and Sam Campbell (Cletus) feel as if it was their story, and they were justified in their actions. Regarding good or bad, Cletus commits murder because of his beliefs, which makes him a jerk.
RR: The characters and casting aren't the only unique aspect of the film. In addition to being complex and profound, the film itself is very unique. Where did the idea of Red Christmas stem from?
I tried to think of the stupidest idea for a movie, and thought a pro-life slasher film was pretty stupid. I wrote a dumb draft that was reminiscent of low budget slashers from the '80s, but felt it was too obvious and simplistic for such a heavy topic. It also didn’t align with my personal beliefs. So I spent two years looking into reproductive rights and was fascinated at the ethically challenging opinions on both side. I then attempted to write those views and actions into the script.
RR: Speaking of '80s horror movies and their undeniable influence on the script, which classic Christmas slasher was your favorite, or most reflective of your film and its inspiration?
I love the campiness of 'Silent Night, Deadly Night,' the awesome filmmaking and nostalgia of 'Gremlins', but without a doubt, my favorite is Bob Clark’s awesome proto-slasher 'Black Christmas.' I feel as if my film is a spiritual sequel, as it sees a woman go head-to-head with a crazed killer in a big house, and both films deal with abortion and women’s rights.
RR: As you endearingly think of Red Christmas as your "spiritual sequel" to Black Christmas, have you considered making a sequel or kicking off a franchise of your own?
Well, I think it’s such a bizarre little film that it wouldn’t really need to become a franchise, but that’s me talking as a producer. As a dreamer, I’ve always thought that the only character who is left alive at the end of this film would grow up and go to college where the sequel would be set. That movie would be all about MRAs and misogyny on campus, following a group of women surrounded by angry entitled men who are upset that they are being murdered by a white cloaked ‘Cletus-esque’ character.
RR: There seems to be some debate as to whether Red Christmas is swaying in favor of the pro-life and pro-choice movements. How would you sum up the overall lessons, morally speaking, that Jerry, Cletus and the entire Red Christmas family have to offer?
Well, it’s hard not to be taken as a pro-life story because it’s about a guy who survives his own abortion then comes back to meet his family. But I also worked hard to represent the other side of the discussion too. For instance, Dee’s character has her choice taken away from her when a right-wing nut blows up the clinic and then raises a child she didn’t want. She then has to deal with that denial of choice coming back to haunt her and totally screw up her life. There are also a few talking points in there regarding eugenics and religion.
RR: After all is said and done, what aspect of the film are you most proud of?
Well, I’ve made a lot of low budget TV in Australia and this film was no different. We shot it in 11 days and everyone was working for deferred wages. So I was happy that no one got hurt and that the film got completed. Since then, I’ve learnt a lot about film sales and distribution and am amazed that it got a US release - and that you and I are even talking about it now.
RR: Anything you wish you would have done differently on the film?
For sure, but that’s the difference between having money and having to work with what you’ve got. I don’t have any regrets. Although, the film was sound mixed in 14 hours, and the two times I went out to buy food for everyone are the only two times that there's an audio cue I hadn’t planned on. So next time I’ll order delivery.
RR: Now that Red Christmas has been released and is making its way through the film circuit, would you like to see it curated on Netflix or similar streaming services?
Netflix is great for a wider audience, I’d love that. That’s the big thing about making a movie - finding an audience, and I think that nowadays anyone can make a movie, the bigger challenge is getting it to an audience. Marketing and Distribution is the real trick. I’m so happy that Artsploitation have taken on that challenge in the US, they’re a great company.
RR: So now that Red Christmas is successfully in US circulation, is there anything else you're working on that fans can look forward to?
Well if you’re interested in the rights of first nation people, you’ll love a documentary I did comedy directing for back in Australia called 'Occupation Native.' It’s educational, political and comical. I’ve also written an action comedy about terrorism called 'Blue Terror,' which should have no trouble getting made. In the world of horror there’s that sequel I mentioned ('Red Christmas 2; Coffin Birth') and I’ve nearly finished a script about The Elevator Game, which hopefully sees kids all around the world pissing off adults as they try to hit the right combination of buttons to enter an alternate universe.
Red Christmas is now playing in select theaters and will be available to take home on DVD this October. As the perfect holiday gift for any horror fan just in time for this holiday season, don't forget to write Craig Anderson's insta-classic to your list this year.
Do you have a favorite holiday slasher? Tell us all about it in the comments section below!