Orgy of the Dead

Color, 2016, 81 mins. 34 secs.
Directed by Craig Anderson
Starring Dee Wallace, Geoff Morrell, Sarah Bishop, David Collins, Janis McGavin, Bjorn Stewart, Gerald O'Dwyer, Sam Campbell
Artsploitation Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), SchröderMedia (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Anyone Red Christmasused to Red Christmasthe chilly, yuletide atmosphere of post-Black Christmas slasher films will be more than a little surprised by Red Christmas, whose Australian origins mean that its December takes place in summertime. You do get the obligatory Christmas dinner and twinkling lights, but otherwise it's a dislocating experience that throws some highly incendiary topics like abortion, religion, and special needs children into the mix. That's a lot for a horror film to support, and though this one doesn't quite succeed on all fronts, you have to give it credit for dealing with a lot more than just bumping off a roster of one-dimensional characters.

When a fanatic sets off a bomb at an abortion clinic where a very late-term procedure is being illegally performed, the culprit takes off with the recently extracted premature baby that's still somehow among the living. Twenty years later, the unsuspecting would-be mother involved, Diane (Wallace), is spending Christmas collecting her relatives together for the last time before she sells the family home she shared for decades with her late husband. Among the attendees are her brother Joe (Morrell) and younger children and in-laws Suzy (Bishop), priest Peter (Collins), pregnant Ginny (McGavin), Scott (Stewart), and youngest Jerry (O'Dwyer), who has Down syndrome. Their early dinner is interrupted by the arrival of a cloaked stranger, Cletus (Campbell), whose face is obscured with Red Christmasbandages. He attempts to read a letter addressed to his mother but is forcibly ejected from the house when he brings up the clinic bombing, setting off a night of slaughter and vengeance on both sides as harsh truths gradually come to light.

Most obviously, this film made a very good call by using genre vet Wallace (The Howling, Cujo, E.T.) as the emotional and narrative anchor of its story. She's more than up to the challenge of a Red Christmasvery demanding role that requires to run a wide gamut of emotions, portraying a fascinating and multi-dimensional matriarch forced to protect her family while dealing with an external threat from her past. The whole abortion angle is one that hasn't been exploited all that often in horror films (The Suckling and John Carpenter's "Pro-Life" from Masters of Horror are among the less-than-notable predecessors), and the effort to present both sides of the argument here is an unusual tactic to take for a slasher film -- essentially mounting it as a horrific tragedy with no easy answers or resolution. Unfortunately the film is hampered by some illogical behavior and flat-out absurdity at times, such as a highly unconvincing fake baby belly and the fact that a house with its power cut off would still have functioning electric kitchen appliances and flashing Christmas lights everywhere. Red Christmas(Of course, the second half of the film is also bathed in lighting that looks like a Mario Bava-managed German disco). The gory kill scenes are something of a mixed bag, with a couple of absurd axe attacks blatantly defying any sort of physical reality as others (especially a great bear trap bit) delivering the splashy goods in spades. Cletus himself is a striking, pitiable creation as well, with his flowing cloak and halting vocal delivery resulting in some chilling moments (especially his initial conversation with the family, where his explanation for his bandages could induce shivers).

Artsploitation Films brought the film to Blu-ray and DVD in 2017 as separate editions, featuring a strong, crisp transfer befitting a recent film like this. The intense color schemes Red Christmaslook great, with the third act in particular providing an eye-popping if visually illogical experience. Audio options are lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0; both sound fine with the former spreading the excellent synth score out a bit and the stereo one having a bit more of an old-school vibe with stronger bass. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided, which are handy for some muttered lines of dialogue. Extras kick off with an audio commentary by director Craig Anderson and O'Dwyer, who keep Red Christmasthings lively with chats about the very low budget (only Wallace got paid among the actors), the influence of films ranging from The Family Stone to Christmas in Connecticut, a real Christmas family encounter that inspired him, the dicey nature of the subject matter and the research involved, and plenty more. Wallace appears for a video interview (19m43s) with Anderson, which features an opening disclaimer about his inability to keep her in focus(!) but nevertheless entertains as she chats about asking for a violent fate involving a four-year-old girl to be excised, working Cujo and 10, and leaping at the chance to do a highly challenging role after a very long time. A visit with O'Dwyer (9m57s) by Anderson and Campbell with a conversation about how they first got together in 2008 and built up a rewarding professional collaboration starting off with an award-winning short. Don't miss his reenactment of a famous horror scene, too. A blooper reel (3m26s), a brief innocuous deleted scene (45s), and a quick video interview with the director (1m40s) over ice cream round out the main content of the disc, which also features bonus trailers for The Anatomy of Monsters, The Devil Lives Here, and Vampyres.

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Reviewed on October 7, 2017.