2022 | Unrated (R equivalent) | starring Riley Dandy | written, produced & directed by Joe Begos | 1h 26m |
From Christmas Slay to Silent Night, Deadly Night to the best of them all Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, the Killer Santa subgenre has been a way for horror to worm it’s way into the Christmas season and deliver ironic yule tide terror since the 80s. The best creation of which however came from Matt Groening’s Futurama in the form of Santabot, a department store robot that was programmed to judge everyone naughty and inflicts a traditional reign of terror every year on Christmas Eve. For his low-budget, 80s homage Christmas Bloody Christmas, writer director Joe Begos steals this idea, and instead of recognizing all of it’s possibilities turns it into a mostly run-of-the-mill slasher movie. The Childs’s Play remake and definitely 2023’s infinitely more fun M3gan did the robot killer much better than this.
It’s Christmas eve and record store employee Tori (Riley Dandy) is getting harangued by co-worker Robbie to ditch her tinder date and spend the night drinking and hanging out with him. But the night is cut short when a life-sized department store Robo-Santa (introduced via a commercial) goes haywire (off screen) and starts slaughtering everyone in town with an axe (for some reason).
With a budget lying somewhere between B-movie and backyard z-grade, Christmas Bloody Christmas (a longer and more pretentious title that doesn’t match the tone at all), moves in 3 obvious acts with a tiny cast, empty city streets, slow-blow effects and an unconvincing Robot-Santa funneling every penny of the production budget into the gore effect, some of which, are pretty gnarly. The first act is painfully talky, we get a clothes-on sex scene in the 2nd act (it’s a hair more explicit than Birdemic) and that preferable to the third act that descends into screaming. Our first glimpse of Tori is fighting against a blizzard of a snow machine to set the mood and our first glimpse of the killer RobotSanta is a 1st person POV with an axe in the frame.
Act 2 and 3 get progressively better, but this is the type of movie where your mileage will vary based on your willingness to accept campy trash to see a few gory kills. I have a pretty high tolerance for this. Beyond this title, Bloody has no assumptions that it is anything more than the Santasploitation it is. It’s mercifully short and moves at a good clip. There are a couple of pretty good head smashings, axings and bodies flung through the air. RobotSanta himself is played by a man (Abraham Benrubi) doing a somewhat herky-jerky robot impression and spends a good portion of the movie identified as a robot with a blinking red light on his chin.
Let’s play Script Doctor. If you’re going to do a live-action, R-rated version of Santabot, I would say the model particularly for this budget level, is the immortal cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Just like the alien, bloodsucking clowns, turn every Santa motif into a creative form of torture and execution. Lean into the 80s Terminator stuff and give us the POV with Santa’s HUD identifying everyone as naughty or nice (building a world and set of rules for why he kills). I want to see sharpened candy canes, Christmas light stranglings, people empaled on reindeer horns. Maybe the robot has downloaded The Night Before Christmas and thinks it is Santa Claus. You can pull this into a lot of directions.
The last thing I want to critique in a horror movie is the characters acting dumb. It’s an overworn trope of the audience itself. The characters in this movie are frustrating stupid. Making idiotic decisions in the face of obvious danger. Refusing to just shoot this thing in the head. The film ends with a one-on-one faceoff that drags on, unable to decide on a way to kill this robot and picking “All of the Above” throwing explosions, shotguns, water and a giant broadsword at this thing to make it spark into it’s final exoskeleton form.
I’ve seen worse than Christmas Bloody Christmas. It works for what it is. It delivers the gore in the run time. It doesn’t take money to exercise some imagination and there is a lot of missed opportunities to this idea. Even if it is stolen.