The most wonderful time of the year becomes a nightmare in director Craig Anderson’s new horror film RED CHRISTMAS. The film centers around the worst family reunion you could imagine where an Australian family is terrorized by a mysterious figure from the matriarch’s past. I spoke with Anderson regarding the film’s underlying metaphors, his holiday horror influences, and working with horror film icon Dee Wallace (THE HOWLING, CUJO, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, CRITTERS). WARNING: This interview contains discussion about abortion.

ComicsVerse: Watching the film, it started to dawn on me that between your movie RED CHRISTMAS, going back a few decades to films like BLACK CHRISTMAS, GREMLINS, and more recently KRAMPUS, it seems like there’s a blossoming subgenre of Christmas themed horror films. Why do you think so many horror directors turn to Christmas as a setting for their horror movies?

Craig Anderson: As a producer, I can tell you it’s because it’s cheap to use Christmas carols [laughs]. You have a whole bunch of free music you can use. Maybe I’m demented, but I love the idea of messing with the iconic nature of holiday seasons and getting in amongst that and exploring the dark undertones of holidays. Particularly Christmas because it’s meant to be so happy and full of cheer and joy and so on.

The experience for a lot of people is that’s not how Christmas goes. I think GREMLINS puts it the best where… Phobebe Cates’ character’s father died on Christmas. Y’know, head’s up, not everyone has a good time on these holidays and that’s what I think horror directors love to explore when they do Christmas horror.

Dee Wallace in RED CHRISTMAS

CV: Was Christmas what was on your brain when you sat down to come up with the idea for RED CHRISTMAS or did you work backwards from coming up with the film’s central villain?

Anderson: Well, pretty much, I went with Christmas once I decided upon what the film was about. The central theme or story of what the film is is kinda the stupidest idea I’ve ever had. I thought I would like to try to do that as serious as possible. And then after that, I watched one of my favorite movies, THE FAMILY STONE, which is a light, American comedy set at Christmas with Diane Keaton who is the central mother who has a family who are crazy.

Sarah Jessica Parker plays a character who comes to that house and gets kicked out on Christmas day because she’s conservative and the family are liberal. I saw a lot of messages on the internet where people were angry that a family would kick out someone  on Christmas day. And that’s where I had the idea I’d love to set this movie on Christmas day because it’s all about family and relationships within a family.

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CV: One of the things I found interesting about how you put these characters together — and I was not expecting THE FAMILY STONE to be your influence, but I can definitely see the parallels — but I feel like in a lot of horror films it’s easy to cast the button down religious types as villainous. But all the characters [in RED CHRISTMAS], you can see all their perspectives on things, and you can see how they would rub each other the wrong way as families do. Was it important for you when you sat down to write the film that the characters all be sympathetic in some way?

Anderson: Yeah, absolutely. The film deals a lot with reproductive rights and abortion and eugenics. I was inspired by a documentary made by Tony Kaye who made AMERICAN HISTORY X. He made a documentary called LAKE OF FIRE which is two and a half hours of debate and discussion on reproductive rights. It’s fascinating. What really interested me was you don’t have to be religious to be against abortion, or, that being said, you can be religious and for abortion. And taking religion out of the argument was very fascinating to me. I tried to give each character their own… represent one of those multifaceted discussions on reproductive rights. All the way down from the priest down to the son who has Down Syndrome, and that plays out as an argument during the film as well.

***Minor Spoilers ahead for RED CHRISTMAS***

CV: As you mentioned, you do have a running subplot about the abortion debate at the center of the film. Dee Wallace’s character had an abortion when she was younger, and that child survived and has now come back for revenge. You said earlier this was the “stupidest idea you’ve ever had.” I was wondering how did this idea come to you? I had mentioned BLACK CHRISTMAS earlier and that film has an abortion subplot playing a role too. Was that part of your inspiration you cranked it up to an extreme? What was your inspiration for that central character?

Anderson: BLACK CHRISTMAS is one of my favorite movies, and I love it because it is one of the only horror films that deals with abortion. It’s interesting to note, I think, that horror attempts to deal with taboo issues; but there’s kind of an acceptable taboo. Something that audiences — and I found this because I grew up with comedy and I made comedy television in Australia — but there’s an acceptable taboo.

Whereas abortion isn’t really covered much in horror and there are a lot of other things that horror doesn’t deal with as much. I just found that interesting. And the “stupidest idea in the world,” the idea was… what if the ultimate “justified” or “underdog” character who was going to kill people… and that was one of the ideas, maybe it was someone who survived their abortion and comes back.

I wrote a first draft and it was very stupid, very much a… Larry Cohen IT’S ALIVE type puppet little thing running around. But I wanted it to be more serious because it didn’t really represent how I felt about the whole issue. I did a lot more research and worked with mid-wives and a whole bunch of focus groups with women, which really opened me up to, wow, this is such a hectic debate. There’s so many stories that the film became more serious and became more of a thriller than a ridiculous slasher film.

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CV: You are touching on these taboo issues. Was there ever a moment where you were writing the script and thought maybe this is going too far? Or were you ever worried people might misconstrue your own feelings on the issue or how you feel about this particular topic?

Anderson: Yeah, when I was writing it, on the last draft I ever wrote, a mid-wife said “you should watch birth videos.” So she sent me all these… birth videos because there’s a birth in the film. And I was just crying the whole time, and also I had watched a lot of abortions happen as well on documentary footage. I didn’t know how I felt. I just felt very emotional the whole time, knowing that it’s a very strong issue.

I wanted to pay respect to that, and everyone who came on I explained what this film could be, and how people could take it the wrong way, as a big anti-abortion film. I wanted to be clear to everyone and explain all that. And fortunately everyone was okay with it and came on board. One of the things I found, discovered while I was writing, is that, philosophically, if you personify the clump of cells inside a woman’s body and say it’s a human being, then you’re making the same statement that a pro-life or anti-abortion group may think. So therefore, because my movie is about a man who survived and has come back and is therefore a personification of those things, it is going to be a pro-life statement no matter what I do. Which is a little disconcerting because it doesn’t necessarily align with how I feel.

So I was fascinated with that, and I had to work hard, with Dee Wallace in particular, to make sure that her character represented the pro-choice side and is fighting, always fighting, to survive and to keep her family happy, and have her choices recognized. At the same time, the bad guy is sort of destroying all those choices for her and killing her family.

CV: I was going to say Dee Wallace’s performance keeps it from feeling like a fully pro-life movie because your villain is the somewhat sympathetic, like you said, invariably pro-life character, but our hero is a woman who chose to have the abortion, [and] the film never judges her for that. Can you talk a little bit about working with the legendary Dee Wallace on creating the character?

Anderson: Dee was great because, y’know, she’s a horror icon, she’s a fantastic actor, and at her age, in her sixties, mostly she only gets bit parts in Rob Zombie films, and other types of films. And they’re all paying respect for her. But you don’t get to be the main central hero in a film… at that age. So she was very happy to do this movie. But she also expressed her concerns and told me her personal opinions which I agreed with.

I said let’s make sure you keep playing your objective which is to have a choice and stick to it and to not let the other side, in this case the villain, destroy that choice for you. And she plays it really well from the beginning of the film where she has an abortion because she wants to keep her family safe and take care of them properly. All the way to the end, where her choice is taken away because of this guy who blew up the clinic and made the villain live and taught it to kill, she now has to keep fighting that to have her voice heard and to have her choice respected whilst in the face of this villain who’s trying to stop her from having that choice and consequently destroying her family.

CV: When did you initially shoot the film?

Anderson: We shot the film in November of 2015 and we shot it over eleven days in Australia.

CV: I feel like RED CHRISTMAS is even more politically relevant now than it might have been when you initially filmed it. I mean, the abortion debate has always been a hot topic, but now, speaking as an American, we’re living in a time where the rights of women are really being manipulated by male politicians and this film’s main character is essentially being attacked by a male figure.

Anderson: Exactly, well in Australia it’s not such a big issue [Author’s note: abortion is mostly legal in Australia but with specific restrictions on a state-by-state basis] and I had to do a lot of research into Australian stuff. But I was very aware of all the American cultural side of it. And it’s a much more lively debate here. Also, it’s gotten a lot worse in the last two years. I don’t know if it’s got anything to do with Donald Trump or other people in charge, but even the religious right is growing stronger and taking away clinics and access. It’s making life hard. One of the big research things I did was look at lots of documentaries about what happens when there is no legal abortion, and it’s not a good situation. There are a lot of… deaths that occur because women don’t have rights to health care.

CV: Have you noticed a big difference in the response to the film between American and Australian audiences?

Anderson: Yeah, look, Australian audiences, it doesn’t register as much because we don’t have such an active debate. I walked right into it because I was working with a midwife to talk about birthing and writing the birth stuff. And she said “oh, I perform abortions” which blew my mind. In Australia, that’s something that can happen by a midwife in a hospital. You go into a check up and the midwife will go “you know what, there’s trouble, it’s not a viable fetus, I’m going to just get it out.” It’s that simple.

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CV: Wow. That kinda blows my mind because there’s so many steps a woman has to go through in America to do it.

Anderson: Yeah, whenever I read about America and the whole situation it’s so sad. Coming from it as an Australian, where it’s much easier to do, in America it seems like everything is set up to prevent it. It’s the crazy legislation in every state that is fighting the Roe v. Wade decision that prevents it from being as easy as it should. It’s ridiculous.

CV: To veer off into a lighter topic, [RED CHRISTMAS] really felt like a film where you had to be conscious of horror film clichés or things that people nitpick, like worrying about who’s got a cell phone, can people contact each other. Is it more difficult to write a home invasion type of film where we have so much technology readily available to us? What are you thinking about when you’re putting together the film?

Anderson: It makes everything harder nowadays. It makes me sad that the world got better and technology moved forward [laughs]. My film is dealing with metaphor and analogy, but I had to deal with the stupid real life consequence of phones and stuff. So I put it in the middle of nowhere out in the middle of the bush. And I had it so the cop would take ages to get there. Then I had to work out a way to deal with the phones because they’ve got reception because I had written in that they had no reception and everyone who read it went “no way, that’s such a bad cliché now.”

So I had to work in another way to get rid of the phones. If I had my way I’d do something similar to Michael Hanake’s FUNNY GAMES where the two neighbors just came in and are complete jerks. I think that’s such a good idea because it doesn’t rely on horror and supernatural type stuff… just these guys are jerks and gonna rip the phones. But in my particular script I had to face those challenges and it took forever to figure out how to get rid of the phone.

CV: For people who are interested in your film, what would you compare it to? Or if people liked RED CHRISTMAS and want to see more films in that style what would you point them towards?

Anderson: At the end of my movie I list a few films, kind of like a “if you enjoyed this movie you should check these out.” But I mention a few that are to do with abortion — OCTOBER BABY, OBVIOUS CHILD, Tony Kaye’s LAKE OF FIRE. BLACK CHRISTMAS as well because the film I made, RED CHRISTMAS, I wanted it to be a spiritual sequel in a way in that it’s set forty years after BLACK CHRISTMAS. That type of character who was being stalked by her boyfriend who didn’t want her to have an abortion is dealing with that kind of thing again. So I would recommend BLACK CHRISTMAS. Even if you watch that before you watch RED CHRISTMAS it would give you a lot of stuff to think about.

CV: They’d make a good double feature.

Anderson: The day that that happens I’ll be very happy.

RED CHRISTMAS is currently in limited release in LA and NYC with an expanded release over the next few weeks.

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