Bloody Christmas (2012) Bloody Christmas (2012) ½

     Binghamton is a small town with a big problem. Somebody has been murdering children, and the police… well, they’re cops in a crummy horror movie. Detective Steinman (Pesticide’s Robert Arensen) and his partner, Sergeant Reiniger (Vincent Notice), would be having a good day if they managed to detect the ground underneath their feet. One boy, the twelve-year-old son of Gaylen Williams (Geretta Geretta, from Demons and The Becoming), was found on the morning of December 19th with his face totally peeled off of his skull.

     In any halfway competent movie, a situation like that either would be front and center for most of the running time, or would loom constantly in the background over characters plainly foredoomed to get caught up in it. Bloody Christmas is not a halfway competent movie, so instead it wastes the great bulk of its time on the travails of Rich Tague (Steve Montague, from Nikos the Impaler and I Spill Your Guts). Writer/director Michael Shershenovich won’t bother to mention this for roughly half an hour, but Tague used to be a Hollywood action hero. Now he’s just a fat, old loser so washed up that he spends his Decembers playing Santa Claus on public-access cable and in person at the local shopping mall. That line of work leads him to grumble constantly the whole month long about the lost meaning of Christmas, casting the blame at an interestingly trans-ideological mix of consumerism and political correctness. He lives in a Winnebago in what I guess is supposed to be a trailer park, but actually looks more like a police vehicle impound yard. He hates just about everybody in town, and frequently fantasizes about going on a shooting spree. So far, though, the worst thing Tague can bring himself to do is to be rude to the occasional asshole who holds no power over him. About the one person Tague can almost call a friend is Meg (Hack Job’s Angela Thompson), who plays a polar elf on his cable show, and who belongs to Binghamton’s disproportionately large population of vaguely punky, vaguely gothy, heavily tattooed cute girls who wear an unflattering profusion of nose rings.

     Those travails I mentioned begin with persistent car trouble, and escalate from there. Tague’s cell phone stops working, so he misses a call from his boss at the mall. That call was to summon him to an unscheduled shift, so he gets fired from his gig as Mall Santa. His severance check is post-dated, so he won’t be able to cash it until next week. And he’s three months in arrears on his rent, so the landlord (James Terriaca) changes the locks on his Winnebago while he’s out taping a TV segment. None of it seems to have any connection to those child slayings— not even the bits where Tague zones out thinking about shooting people. After all, we already know the murderer doesn’t use a gun.

     Meanwhile, Father Michael (Robert Youngren, of Jack o’ Slasher and Purification), the minister at Binghamton’s denomination-bending church, is not much happier with his lot than Tague. He shares Rich’s distaste for the commercialization and paganization of Christmas, and is justly dismayed by the ever-increasing emptiness of his church during services. Plus, it’s got to be tough being a conservative churchman in a tiny town with so many exuberantly skanky post-adolescent girls. Really lets you know nobody’s listening, that does. The first hint that Father Michael, Rich Tague, and the Binghamton Child Killer might all belong in the same movie after all comes when the priest has a talk with Mrs. Laurel (Adriana Kaegi), one of the few parishioners he has left. Her husband, Jim (The Dead Matter’s Dennis Carter Jr.), has taken up drinking again, and he’s been abusing both her and their son, Tyler (Joseph Kennedy). The second hint comes when Tague, reading letters to Santa from the local children to assuage his misery with a reminder that some people still find meaning in his life, even if he can’t, comes upon Tyler’s plea for some Christmas magic to make his mom more happy and his dad less mean.

     No, that doesn’t mean Jim is the one running around taking kids’ faces off. It just sets up a venue for the confrontation between the killer and Rich Tague. In fact, it’s Father Michael doing all the killing. The pressures of his losing battle with the forces of sin and Godlessness have unhinged his mind, instilling in him a mania for punishment. On Christmas Eve, the padre goes absolutely berserk, and starts beating every sinner he can find to death with a bundle of sticks. He heads over to the Laurel house at the very same time as a drunken and Santa-suited Tague, both of them looking to give Jim Laurel a piece of their minds. Sergeant Reiniger follows shortly thereafter, tipped off by the neighbors to the presence of prowlers on the Laurel property. The sergeant is going to be much needed.

     I’m pretty sure I know how Bloody Christmas happened; it’s all in that bundle of sticks Father Michael carries around on his climactic rampage. In what used to be the majority-German territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, together with the neighboring parts of Switzerland and Germany proper, Santa Claus isn’t the only supernatural being who makes the rounds on Christmas Eve, and the stakes for being naughty or nice are considerably higher. While Santa brings gifts to the good and obedient, the ill-behaved are visited instead by Krampus, a horrible, trollish sort of creature who doles out merciless floggings with a gnarled switch. The truly incorrigible get even worse treatment; Krampus carries them away, never to be seen again by mortal eyes. So now look at the concluding fight between Rich Tague in his fuzzy red suit and Father Michael with his handful of knobby twigs. It’s Santa vs. Krampus, isn’t it? I agree that Santa vs. Krampus is a neat idea, and I’d certainly watch a movie that was legitimately built around it. But a drunken sad-sack in a Santa suit vs. a crazybrains priest with a Krampus stick? That’s not as neat. Even less neat is to mount that at the end of twenty minutes of weary slasher bullshit, which in turn comes only after a full hour of thoroughly unproductive wheel-spinning. Bloody Christmas is two-thirds over before it offers any indication that a plot might be in the offing. Even the goddamned cops mostly just hang around being miserable during the first hour of the film, doing more drinking and sighing than investigating. The only way I can imagine such lollygagging yielding even a faintly compelling film is if the cast and the dialogue were both truly amazing, so that you don’t mind just sitting back and letting the performances wash over you. Bloody Christmas doesn’t have that kind of cast or dialogue, though. The performers all come across like first-year drama students— even Geretta Geretta, who’s been doing this since the 80’s. And the lines they’re given to utter are the purest inanity, as bad as any “written in English by non-English-speakers” script from the waning days of Italian exploitation cinema, but not half as memorable. Bloody Christmas may be haunted by the ghost of a decent idea, but it’s one of those overly polite ghosts that come out only on the anniversaries of their deaths to walk down the hall without imposing themselves on anybody.



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