Filmmaker Craig Anderson Discusses Festive Slasher RED CHRISTMAS!
Over the past decade, Craig Anderson has made quite the name for himself in Australian television. A two-time AACTA award-winner, Anderson is the co-creator of cult series DOUBLE THE FIST and has since gone to write, direct and act in some of the most beloved ABC television series of recent years. What most don’t know is that Anderson is a longtime genre fan and spent a number of years planning the festive frightener RED CHRISTMAS before unleashing it upon the world. Since premiering in June at the Sydney Film Festival, RED CHRISTMAS has gone on to tour the international festival circuit, taking in such prestigious events such as Canada’s Fantasia International Film Festival and London’s Fright Fest in addition to garnering high praise from publications like Variety & Scream Magazine.
RED CHRISTMAS follows matriarch Diane (Dee Wallace) as she invites her children to celebrate one last Christmas in their family home. Amid celebrations and domestic drama, they receive a visit from a mysterious stranger. Disfigured and cloaked, they feel sorry for him until they discover his extreme religious motives and anti abortion message. Diane orders him to leave unaware he is her son. Twenty years ago she had an abortion and on that day a religious zealot bombed the clinic. Her still-living foetus was taken and raised by the bomber. After being rejected by his mother once again when all he wanted was love, he seeks vengeance and kills the family who cast him out.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Craig to discuss everything from writing through casting to the release of RED CHRISTMAS.
MONSTER: RED CHRISTMAS is Australia’s first festive slasher, was the concept initially to write a holiday-based horror or did the circumstances of the story later dictate such a setting?
CRAIG ANDERSON: I’ve always loved christmas as a setting for movies – so many of my favourite movies are set at christmas – DIE HARD, HOME ALONE, GREMLINS, THE FAMILY STONE. One of my favourite horrors is Bob Clark’s proto-slasher BLACK CHRISTMAS, which deals with some of the themes my film deals with, so I wanted to nod to that film.
M: Tackling a range of issues, several of which rarely explored in the context of a horror film, was there a particular inspiration for incorporating the topic of abortion for instance in the film?
CA: One thing I love about genre films is that they can deal with taboo topics. I work a lot in TV comedy and it often deals with the minutiae of daily social interaction but it often falls short when addressing darker, more divisive issues- you know, the stuff of nightmares. That’s where I think Horror should step in. I like that Horror deals with death, lust, fertility, darkness, religion and I think reproductive rights can exist in that realm.
M: After completing the screenplay, how long did it take to get RED CHRISTMAS to production and how did you go about financing the film?
CA: About 12 months. I’m just a guy from the Western Suburbs who has gotten into TV Comedy (DOUBLE THE FIST) and worked things out as I went. I knew the Government screen bodies don’t make this kind of film and I wouldn’t want to take notes form anyone inside of them, as this genre (and most genres for that matter) is not what they do. So I asked people for money, convinced everyone I’d ever worked with (cast and crew) to do it on the promise that if it sells they will get their money back. Fortunately, Dee Wallace loved the script, so that helped legitimise the process.
M: Being a perfect blend of horror, drama and comedy, did you find yourselves refining elements in post-production to reach that perfect balance and was there much cut from the final edit?
CA: Balancing the horror and comedy was pretty easy, as I never saw them separate. I just wrote the kind of family that act and speak in a certain way that is entertaining and comical. Then something horrible happens to them and they respond naturally (as opposed to over-the-top comically). Tonally I wanted it to be like a fun holiday movie that went bad. There was only one scene I cut however, in the first part of the movie where it is meant to be a family comedy and this scene pushed it too far. It’s between the Uncle Joe character and the pregnant daughter character. The two of them are drying up dishes and he is drunk and makes creepy remarks about how he finds pregnant women attractive. It was a bit too much comedy and detracted from the story, so I cut it.
M: RED CHRISTMAS has a striking visual style, not too dissimilar at times to Argento’s SUSPIRIA or INFERNO, was the visual aesthetic something you had in my mind from the beginning?
CA: I knew the first part had to look like a Nancy Myers film, but for the second part I wanted to play around with the christmas stuff and when I was a boy I saw a Disney cartoon where two chipmunks run around inside a christmas tree. It was made in the fifties and was over-the-top colourful. It always stuck with me. So when we started lighting the house for horror we worked off that. But we definitely used the word ‘SUSPIRIA’ as short hand for – light this room in a colour. I love Giallo films.
M: Shot late last year and premiering in June at the Sydney Film Festival, it seems RED CHRISTMAS had a swift production, what were some of the key challenges you faced with such a tight turnaround?
CA: It wasn’t intentional, but when it went into post I was the only one working on it, which made it super fast. No committees, no discussions, no notes, no back and forwards. The first time I showed it to anyone I was on a cruise ship in the middle of the pacific. I bought a room and used it like a jail cell in which to edit (also how I wrote the film). I then asked strangers back to my room to watch it. It was great. They didn’t give a shit and spoke all the way through it, in that awesome way that people do when they are at home. They just spoke their mind during every scene and I wrote down what they were saying. It was the best democratic feedback I could have hoped for. As for challenges, they all came during pre and shoot. My friend Gary Doust documented the whole project for ABC and is cutting together a 2 hour documentary about the making-of.
M: Dee Wallace who plays Diane, the matriarch, is quite a drawcard, how did you go about attracting her to the project and did you have a strong hand in the casting of the film?
CA: Again, I was the lone gun man when it came to casting, just contacting agents of famous stars. On my side was the fact that there are not that many roles for women of her age. I also got lucky because an Australian writer named Lee Gambin had been in contact with her and he introduced me and put in a good word. She is such an awesome actor and improved every scene she was in. She also nailed everything in one take, which meant we had to work our asses off to nail the focus the first time around.
M: One of the strengths of RED CHRISTMAS is that it feels like its bore from someone with not only a strong knowledge of the genre but a deep-seated passion for it, are you an enthusiast and if so do you care to share a few of your favourite films from it?
CA: I love horror. As a kid growing up lunchtimes were spent in the school library reading about horror films and then watching them when I got old enough. I love the tropes and the licence they permit filmmakers to do whatever. Even non-sensical experimental stuff and low-budget films work as horror because the genre permits it. Here’s some that if you haven’t seen, you should- BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), HOUSE (1977), PROM NIGHT II: HELLO MARY LOU (1987), GHOST WATCH (1992), PEEPING TOM(1960), TAXIDERMIA (2006).
M: RED CHRISTMAS has played a number of film festivals across the world, Fantasia in Canada & Fright Fest in the UK and garnered incredible reviews, what’s next for the film, is there a theatrical or home entertainment release planned for the near future?
CA: I sure hope so, the response has been terrific and I’ve had a few offers, but because I’m learning as I go I’ve been slow to act on selling it (because I’m scared I’ll screw that up). In the current environment the content creators can be screwed even harder by savvy aggregators that stand in the way of you and the audience. So I figure I may as well take my time and work that out properly. Going to festivals has been great because filmmakers share the stories and help each other to not get screwed in the future. So, in summary, maybe not this christmas, but hopefully every christmas from next year on you’ll be able to watch it.